Monday, June 18, 2012

Harlem Sky(skin)scraper Classic

Racing criteriums in or around New York City is generally regarded as a questionably safe activity.  Maybe collarbones and bicycle frames aren't considered valuable commodities further south, or perhaps living in a concrete jungle makes some people ride like they have nothing to lose.  When I posed the question "Pinnacle or Harlem" to the Internet, the response was unanimous.  Apparently, an amazing cross country racecourse in our New England backyard beats traveling far from home to risk asphalt death every time.  But if I listened to advice like that, this would be another blog about how my mountain bike fell apart and I ate donuts and wept about it.

I'm mostly okay with toiling away year-round in office parks for the amusement of Masters racers and the bored significant others of my fellow racers.  I'm not doing anything exceptional here.  But a few times a year I get to go to a race that has HUNDREDS OF SPECTATORS.  And they're cheering!  And usually at least a few of them know my name!  Yarmouth and Gloucester are great examples of this.  I had it in my head that Harlem would be too.  So when Gregg Izzo (GLV) mentioned that he wanted to go play in the 2/3 crit and we could stay at his parents house the night before, I was sold.

With a steady diet of Wugazi (WU TANG IS FOR THE CHILDREN), McDonalds, and poor-to-middling gas mileage, we made it down to Long Island with enough time for the Izzos to feed us pizza, show me the bed (NOT A FLOOR!) that I would be sleeping on, and to get 9.5 HOURS OF SLEEP.  Host housing is incredible, especially when they treat you like a surrogate son.  We rolled out the next morning after a home-cooked breakfast, almost murdered our roof-racked bikes parking in an underground garage, and got ready.  In true tourist fashion, we warmed up by riding up and down 125th Street in traffic, doing sketchy u-turns whenever we hit a red light.  If there's a better way to warm up in NYC, the locals weren't telling.

The race started just as everyone expected - we made it through two corners before someone hit the ground hard.  The peloton split around one (Rapha?) rider and his bike, sitting on the ground looking forlorn and confused.  For the first time this season, I felt like I had good legs and could do what I wanted in the pack.  I still wasn't going to try to break away, because we were going 30mph, but I could move up easily and often.  Predictably, the race was choppy and offensive.  But I followed Gregg and the J.A.M-NCC boys when I saw them, tried to stay out of trouble, and for the most part succeeded at being sneaky and saving my legs.  With seven-ish laps to go, I moved up to the first 3 wheels, touched the front, then let myself get swarmed, because doing work is for New Yorkers with ten teammates in the field.  Gregg was right behind me, we had good position and an outside shot at money.  So of course something stupid happened.

Sometime around this point, someone crashed like the economy in corner one.  According to Gregg's parents, he succeeded in somehow coming over (around?) (through?) the barriers and bouncing off a planter.  This unlucky soul was almost injured a second time when the field was warned at the last possible moment that his body was occupying the outside line.  Coming through the finish line at the end of that lap, we heard "neutralization", so we rolled a slow lap.  However, the back half of the field heard "stop at the finish line" and obeyed.  We came back through from our neutral lap to realize the top 30-40 riders had just been relegated to the back of the field.  

So we were now starting from the back of the field, but maybe there would be enough laps left to redeem ourselves, resort the pecking order, and create a finishing situation where the strong teams were back on the front and pushing the pace to avoid Crashfest 2012.  But why would that happen?  This is New York City.

Instead, after 15-20 minutes to cool our legs and remember that we were hungry and sweaty, the Powers that Be decided that the most intelligent course of action would be to restart us from the line with a 3 lap death race.  Everyone on the road recognized that this meant that people would certainly crash and might be seriously injured.  Cat 2/3 races are already dangerously uncivilized.  Having a 2.25 mile 5 minute sprint race for $750 with the back of the field starting first is borderline suicidal.  I considered quitting (every race report I will ever write will contain the phrase "I considered quitting") but pride and stupidity won out.  

The last 3 laps were a blur.  There was a bad crash in corner one every single time we went through.  Riders would go to the front, their cold legs would give up, and they would simultaneously bounce back into the field and stop pedaling, becoming a human-shaped roadblock.  Down was up.  Up was down.  Rain was falling up into the sky from the pavement.  The homeless started a fire in the middle of corner 3.  Mayor Bloomberg threw a beer at me.

Back in reality, somehow Gregg and I escaped the four or five crashes in the last five minutes and made it back to decent position somewhere in the top 30 with one corner to go.  He found his way onto the wheel of two locals, one of whom had dreams and aspirations of leading the other out.  Instead, someone in their general vicinity stacked it into the barriers at full speed.  We slammed the brakes, swung around the crash, and everyone decided that it wasn't worth sprinting with the prize money, unencumbered by the crash-itis, riding rapidly away from us.  I saw Gregg just ahead and tried to fake-sprint him to the line as best I could with a line of riders in front of him who had already quit.  I snuck up on him and threw in a gratuitous and silly bike-throw.  Someone just ahead of us crossed the line to finish, went into turn 1, and crashed.

We finished our cool-down lap, I yelled at New Yorkers and Team Mountain Khakis (they were nonplussed and didn't seem to grasp the gravity of the situation) about how silly the last ten minutes of my life were, and rolled up to Gregg's parents.  His mother had been standing at corner one, and had a front-row seat to the carnage that had just unfolded.  She was understandably shaken.  Mrs. Izzo's words of wisdom to Gregg:

"I hope you have six sons and they're all crit racers."

Bromance is PRO.

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