Breaking point: The point at which a person, object, or structure collapses under stress; the point at which a situation or condition becomes critical. Random House Webster’s College Dictionary
We had just finished the first club race of May 1983. The old course along Tontogany Creek. I was parked behind George Pheul, who had just removed the wheels from the frame he built from a kit and was loading it all into the trunk of his ‘70 Dodge Dart. The other finishers were mingling around the start-finish line, eager to learn the order of finish, calculate club points. Jeff Klinksick, our ubiquitous club officer, guarded that information as he wrote on his aluminum clipboard. After changing shoes astride the passenger’s seat, I got up, leaned against the side of my ‘72 Opel, and touched my carotid arteries. Ten minutes after the finish, I could still feel the throb of the effort.
"How’d it go out there?" George asked, knowing only that I had finished either second or first. He held a wheel in each hand and waited for my reply.
"I was just hangin’ on," I said, looking at my Nobilette, Old #16, which lay against the front quarter panel. From his vantage back in the peloton, George had no way of knowing what happened up the road.
The sky was overcast, 60 degrees. There were only a dozen or so starters lined up on Cross Creek Road, a golden opportunity to gain club points on the college kids and summertime riders. This season the club championship would be wide open. It was the first season in what had seemed like an eternity without Clif.
Clif Meuller, club champion in ‘81 and ‘82, had recently moved to Illinois to work for Schwinn. Clif... Partly for his stoic demeanor; partly for his immaculate everything; partly for the way he controlled the front, chased everyone down, and summarily won every sprint; and partly for the way Clif convinced everybody to believe that that’s the way it should be; for all of these reasons, through the paraphrasing of a then-popular joke, Clif had received the nickname God. I was eager to assert my Devine right and ascend to the Sprinter-Enforcer Throne.
Marty Shelley At the MVW Tontogany Road Race
BANG! Jeff Klinksick fired the .22 starter pistol. Before I could cinch my toestrap, Marty Shelley, in his trademark green and black skinsuit and Brancale helmet, attacked and forced everyone to chase. He made the turn on to Robinson first and attacked again. We all knew what Marty could do if he got away. The time trial was Marty’s passion and forte. He entered mass-start races ostensibly for time trial training, taking pleasure in the pain he inflicted and the riders he sent off the back. My natural instinct was to join the chase, help keep Marty in check, prevent the opening of an irretrievable gap. But my room-mate, Jeff Aufdencamp, had urged me to adopt, now that Clif was gone, a let-things-develop-and-bridge-up-later approach to club races. Let things happen. It’ll make a better race. So, since I was on Jeff’s wheel, I sat back.
Marty kept the pressure on, hammering away in his big gear. Inevitably the second-in-line would leave a gap and force somebody to come around and pick up the chase. By the second lap the field was strung out. On Robinson it was down to Marty, Jeff, and me. Marty pushed his gear down the grade leading to the four-way stop like a man possessed, made a nice right-hand turn, climbed the short, steep hill on Tontogany Road, and started the backstretch with a 50 meter gap into a steady headwind. Still behind Jeff, I was in perfect position use Gary Dauer’s patented move. I let Jeff drift about three meters ahead, shifted to my 52X14, and sprinted directly at the rear wheel of his Ochsner, à la Mark Tyson (Dauer would never have gotten so close). The timing was perfect. I switched Jeff at the bottom of the little roller-coaster downhill and blew past him on the way up.
Meanwhile, Marty was finding his time trial rhythm some 100 meters ahead. I rode the 14 for all it was worth, shifted up to the 15, and made an all-or-nothing pursuit. I got close near the ess curve and caught on after flying through the second four-way at Cross Creek. Marty glanced over his shoulder. He wasn’t happy to see me.
The first leg of the Cross Creek stretch had a crosswind from the left front quarter. After chasing on, I was eager to find whatever shelter I could, but Marty rode his steel-meshed Wolber Invulnerables in the gutter. After about thirty seconds of riding in the stones, Marty gave me an opening to move into his slipstream.
"Pull through!" he shouted. "Come on, pull through!"
The longer I stalled, the more I recovered, and the road was about to bend to the right, away from the wind. I pulled through into a rear-quarter crosswind, drifted over to the left, shifted up to my 16, and started spinning. Use a bigger gear to sit in; spin a cog smaller when taking a pull. I wasn’t accelerating, but I was giving Marty a rest. It seemed like I was out there a for a long time, but I wasn’t about to turn my head and give him the it’s-your-turn look. Finally, before we crossed the one-lane bridge on Cross Creek, Marty came aroundundefinedwith a vengeance, riding the gutter, showing no mercy. I shifted back to the 15, jumped, and got back on Marty’s wheel. As Cross Creek straightened out due north, I hit the 14, and that’s the way we passed the start-finish for the end of lap three. Whatever obligation I may have felt toward maintaining this two-man break vanished the moment Marty jumped at the end of my pull. I was quite willing to mark him for the rest of the race, four more laps, like a match sprint. We made the turn on to Robinson, and we both looked back at the long homestretch. Nobody in sight.
The Robinson and Tontogany legs of the course afforded decent shelter for the hanger-on. Marty tried to bait me into another pull. Nothing doing. Not if you’re gonna jump me. Right before the ess, I took a long look over my shoulder. We were still clear. I expected Marty to maintain the pressure until the end, avoiding a sprint at all costs, which he did. But I was wired to the wheel of his custom Doug Fattic, using every advantage the turns and terrain offered. Marty had to go through the four-way stops first, so I could back off, use less brake, and go through faster. Marty was a prodigious downhiller. Even so, on the roller-coasters, I could time a mini-run at his wheel on the way down and freewheel some on the way back up. It wasn’t as bad on the front and back stretches of the course, directly with and against the wind. There I found a rhythm, something like an musical piece in 6/8 time: my Campy 167.5s spinning out the melody; his Dura Ace crank arms pounding out the beat. I needed all of these energy-saving tricks because Marty jumped out of every corner, sprinted over the top of every hill, and rode the gutter wherever doing so minimized his slipstream.
DING-ding, DING-ding, DING-ding, Klinksick rang the bell for the two-up sprint. I started salivating, thinking through the various scenarios that might take place on the last lap. We both took one last look back down the road after the first corner. No one. My response to Marty’s surges had become reflexive. Marty jumped after the second four-way stop which I had anticipated, backing off before the corner, letting Marty look for traffic, and taking the corner at a higher speed. Every muscle in my body relaxed as I felt my Regina 5-speed freewheel wiz.
There is no imperative preventing a blatant wheelsucker from winning a field sprint. To the contrary, the axiom goes, the only lead that matters is that at the finish. But where in the set of all positive integers does a field become a group, divesting of the hanger-on any modicum of anonymity? There would be no dilemma in a federation race, sitting on an anonyms wheel, prize-money at stake. Time a run at the opponent known only as a jersey, switch him or it five meters from the line, snatch the envelope won through his hard work, and drive home.
I took a pull 800 meters from the line. A pull strong enough to earn tactical carte blanche, to be able to call it all fair after I set Marty up and came him around at the line. It felt good, this role reversal of sorts, pulling the hammer to the line in my 15, power spin mode. I was still rolling when Marty came through after the one-lane bridge. Hard. I had to accelerate to catch his wheel. With the finish line in sight and no room on the inside, I moved out. We were side by side, 200 meters from the line. Marty accelerated half a length ahead, no room to get back in the draft and make another run. It was a drag race to the line. We were both thrashing away, Marty gaining more ground. Speed, distance to the line, cumulative struggle, all revealed the futility of further effort. I sat up and shrugged my shoulders at the handful of spectators and DNFs.
From his post at the crossroad, Jeff Klinksick began announcing the order of finish: Tenth place, Harry Fraszewski... ninth, Jeff Youngs ... eighth Dave Pickering...
"Marty won," I answered curtly. "I got outfoxed in the sprint. I couldn’t get set up to come around." I grabbed my Nobilette by the seat, shifted to the 52x13, and set the chain on its braze-on hanger.
"That’s the way it should be," said George, with a nod of approval. He closed the trunk of his Dodge and walked toward the crossroad, "the two best riders in the club dueling it out."
I caught up with George and said thanks. I meant it. Coming from George Pheul, that was a serious compliment. His cycling aesthetic was forged 25 August 1974 at the World Professional Championships in Montreal. George and I found our spot in the loose semicircle of racers as Klinksick continued his countdown, reading from the aluminum clipboard undefinedseventh, George Pheul... sixth, Joe Holmes... fifth, Doug Marty... I remember well the Montreal story, how George watched Eddy Merckx break away from field on the first lap. He had staked out a place near the top of Mount Royale, the only major climb on the circuit, to watch the making of history. Only Raymond Poulidor of France dared to follow Merckx. undefinedfourth Scott Gerken... third, Jeff Aufdencamp... second, Dave Teall... Halfway through the 262 K race, Merckx dropped Poulidor and soloed to victory. After Merckx’s move, the Frenchman climbed past George, made eye contact with the crowd, shrugged his shoulders, and gestured: what else can I do? undefinedand first place, Marty Shelley.
When I saw Marty’s name on the e-page of this publication, I recalled the duel he and I had a few years back. Marty remembered too, and he shared his recollections with me. Then Dave Barnes and Neal Carter did some archival digging, and I was able to pen the above narrative. If you’ve enjoyed it, I need to credit Marty, Dave, and Neal. Thanks guys.