Kudos to Charon Smith for a great year of racing in 2011. I said earlier in the year that he was going to churn out some impressive results, but I was just making that up because I like the guy. Over the course of the season, though, I got to see what a dedicated, hard worker he is, how much he puts into racing well, and how all that has translated into winning.
At one of the early CBR crits this year, a break was up the road containing two Pista Palace riders, KB and Travis Wilkerson, both of whom are Charon’s teammates at Surf City Cyclery. Once it looked like the break was going to stick, Charon launched a blistering attack and bridged to the break. A Pista rider had latched on, so now the six-man break had three riders from each team. The Pista riders were Michael Johnson, Chris DeMarchi, and John Abate, each one a threat. Once Charon latched on, the attacks came fast and furiously. With his teammates covering the attacks, the pace ramped up until MJ took a flyer that couldn’t stick. Abate then launched for the finale, but when Charon uncorked he crossed the line with enough daylight between himself and second place to park a small aircraft carrier.
It’s nice when a buddy starts showing the brains, patience, confidence, and speed required to beat the snot out of the competition, but in Charon’s case it’s even better because the people who he invariably credits for the win are his teammates who get him to the line, his mentors who’ve taught him that you race with your legs but you win with your head, and his sponsors at Surf City, who shower him with cool free shit.
His second big ride of the year was at the state crit championships. Charon was on the podium for third in 2010, but like everyone else in the stacked 2011 field, he wanted the top step. States is always a hardcore race, whether on the road or in the crit, because it’s for glory, for bragging rights, for the jersey you get to wear all year, and for the 2,000 times you have to explain to your co-workers what a crit is and why they should give a shit, which they never do except for that one cute chick who kind of has a crush on you so she comes out to watch you race and she’s bored out of her pants watching the idiots in the parking lot go ’round and ’round in circles on some blindingly hot fucking day until it’s your turn to race and you crash out on the third lap and she goes back to the office and tells everyone it was really slow and boring and you have to sit in your cubicle embarrassed as hell, porn surfing while covered from head to toe in Tegaderm.
This year, our man from Surf City found himself in the awkward position of wanting to win but, with three laps to go, slotted into the loser’s corner, stuck at about 30th wheel and no way to navigate the densely packed bunch. This is always the point in a crit where I tell myself that winning’s not important anyway, and I’m just doing it for the workout, and it’s too dangerous this late in the race, and I’m no sprinter, and this is just a tune-up for my real goal of the season, which is _______ [fill in name of race I’ve never won or competed in here].
For Charon, though, it’s the point where he jumps out of the sheltered, cowering safety of the herd, takes the wind in his teeth, and charges up the gutter to fifth wheel. Some hapless schmo suddenly finds Charon’s friendly, rock hard shoulder up against his, and has to decide how badly he really wants the wheel. He makes a clever decision and decides he doesn’t really want it that badly after all. At the wind-up for the finish all hell breaks loose and Chris DeMarchi goes for the win. And if it weren’t for Charon, he’d have gotten it. So now the jersey is Charon’s for a year.
The next frame from Charon’s 2011 highlight reel was at Ladera Ranch, a race with tight corners that demand you race up front. Chilling at the back and sipping on your chai latte at Ladera will get you an express ticket to being punted out the backdoor, as the tight turns mean constant accelerations, which get harder and more extreme the farther back you sit.
Since the race goes off just before nationals, everyone’s transitioned from simply drinking the Kook-Aid to mainlining it, and the attacks are nasty and incessant. Charon’s only mate in this dogfight was Michael Johnson, and between them they fended off or covered each assault. On the last lap, slotted in behind Kosel, DeMarchi, and MJ, Charon locked, launched, and lit up the sprint for another wide open smackdown.
So it’s been a good year. But frankly, the results aren’t nearly as impressive as the attitude. Rather than getting infected with bike racer assholitis, which seems to increase in severity the more someone wins, Charon has gone the other direction: helping, mentoring, encouraging, and inspiring others. Looking forward to 2012!