On the Donut Ride last Saturday there was a new face. He was a bigger guy, very smooth on the bike, wearing a nondescript kit. Smasher and Ollie were off the front, and gradually the chase group got smaller and smaller.

Seth Davidson/Kare Dehlie Thorstad

We hit the bottom of the Switchbacks and after a while it was just me, Newbie, and Toothdoc. Toothdoc is working on a Ph.D. in dentistry at USC and only rides once a week, thank dog. He’s small, fit, a very good climber, and always rides away from me with ease.

Newbie took a couple of very long pulls up the Switchbacks, and I helped him by sitting on his wheel and refusing to come through. He looked like he was in his late 20’s or early 30’s. I’d never seen him before. He was obviously a good rider, but would be too big to keep up with Toothdoc when we hit the short, steep little wall going up to the radar domes.

I scrambled hard on the wall to hang on. We could see Smasher and Ollie just ahead, which is kind of like saying we could see the Crab Nebulae. It didn’t necessarily mean we were ever going to reach it.

Toothdoc punched and I sagged like the old bag of skin, beer, and donuts that I am. He and Newbie pedaled away. I figured that it was a matter of minutes before Toothdoc punched again and Newbie would crack, hopefully enough for me to struggle onto his wheel. His size meant that unlike the usual cast of shrimps who lay waste on this 20-minute climb, I could actually get sheltered, kind of like sitting behind a barn door or Charon.

The twosome vanished from view, and when I eventually turned the corner just before the flat spot I was shocked to see Toothdoc looking like Newbie had given him a root canal with a rusty chain ring. Newbie was pedaling away, and almost caught Smasher and Ollie.

We regrouped at the college. “Good riding,” I said.

“Thanks,” said Newbie.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Robbie.”

“Do you mind if I call you Newbie?”

He laughed. “Not at all.”

“Good. Because I was gonna call you Newbie anyway.”

We descended, went through San Pedro, and started the next 20-minute ascent from Miraleste back up to the radar domes. Toothdoc had abandoned, and once we hit the first section of the climb in Better Homes, Ollie and Smasher were going full gas again. I hung onto Newbie’s wheel as he dragged me along, last in the line.

This time I hung onto Newbie as we punched up the wall, and made it to the top of the climb without getting shelled. Okay, I did get shelled. But only in the last 200m. “Man,” I said. “You climb like a beast for being such a big guy.”

“Thanks,” Newbie said. “But this isn’t really my forte. I’m struggling.” I noted that he hadn’t appeared yet to break a sweat.

We did another big regrouping and dropped down the hill, raced through Portuguese Bend, and chased down our own teammate, Smasher, who was off the front. It’s very pro when you’re a masters racer to chase down your teammate.

At the top of the Glass Church there were only six riders left, and Smasher attacked again. This time Ollie and I worked overtime to bring him back. Newbie had a funny look on his face, like, “Why are these idiots chasing down their own teammate?”

Ollie successfully brought Smasher back in the middle of the bump before the sprunt, and I attacked. When you’re extra pro you attack your teammate after catching him, but only if you’re sure that your attack will drop your other teammates and bring along the strongest guy in the group, in this case Newbie.

“Sprunt’s coming up,” I said.

“What?”

“The sprint.”

“Where is it?”

“I’ll tell you,” I said, but I didn’t add “after we pass it.”

Newbie put his head down and unleashed an acceleration that was inhuman. I suckily latched on and popped by just at the line. “There it was!” I shouted, raising my hand in victory.

Newbie grinned. “Good job, pal,” he said.

“You too,” I said. Then I gave him a little lecture about sprinting. He nodded at all the right times. It’s good to pass on your knowledge to those who are just starting out. This is the duty of the older generation. The ride ended and we all went our way.

On Thursday morning Tregillis was talking to Davy. “You going to the track this weekend?”

“Yeah,” said Davy.

“Have you seen Robbie Lea around?” said Tregillis. “I heard he’s in town.”

“Yeah,” said Davy. “He’s been at the track all week.”

The name “Robbie” rang a bell. “Who’s Robbie Lea?” I asked.

Tregillis and Davy looked at me as they often do, with a look that combines amazement at such ignorance and fear of appearing in the blog.

“You’re kidding, right?” Davy said.

“No. Who is he?”

“He’s America’s top Olympian on the track. More than two dozen national titles. He’s one of the most accomplished racers in the sport. Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of him.”

“Oh, him,” I said. “Yeah. I taught that guy how to ride on Saturday.”