People race bicycles for different reasons. Whatever your reason, I hope it’s not to win, especially if you participate in CBR crits. Winning a CBR race is simply not possible. The reasons are simple:
1. You are not smart enough.
2. You are not brave enough.
3. You are not skillful enough.
Some people might add, “You are not fast enough,” but they would be mistaken. Your grandmother could win the 45+ men’s race if she was smart, brave, and skillful enough.
You are not smart enough
Beating 100 evenly matched people in a flat, four-corner crit requires brains. It’s simple, but frighteningly complex. You must know every rider capable of instigating, bridging up to, or hanging with a breakaway. You must know every rider capable of winning the sprint. You must know when these two types are riding in combination, and you must know when to go with them and when to let them ride away. If you do not know all of these things, you cannot win a CBR crit.
You are not brave enough
Most CBR crits end in a mass sprint. You must be prepared to die in order to win. Although the chance of death is small, the chance of crashing is significantly higher. The probability that you will have to muscle your way to the third or fourth position is 100%, and will require that you bump into other riders, most of whom are larger than you, and who will scream at you in a threatening manner, and try to chop your wheel or knock you down. In order to stare down these perils, you must be brave. Few people are brave. You are certainly not brave. Some are foolish (further frightening the non-brave), but only a handful of riders–less than ten in the 45+ races–have the courage and confidence to risk it all so that they can be in position for the final turn.
If you have ever said to yourself, “It’s just not worth it,” or “I could get seriously hurt doing this,” or “Why am I risking my life and livelihood for a $75 payout?” you are not brave enough. You will therefore, absolutely, never, ever win a CBR crit.
You are not skillful enough
In addition to brains and courage, you must have enough whupass left in the can to come around the four or five other riders who are also potential winners. The only way you can do this is by conserving. However, the only place you can truly conserve is by safely tucking into the middle of the field. This means that you must have the skill to take the turns without getting knocked down by the guy in long socks and hairy legs. Far more importantly, you must also have the skill to weave your way through the dense, clotted peloton with three laps to go. Harder still, you must be able to dislodge other, equally skilled riders, from the wheel that is going to lead you to the line.
Even if you could do the other two things, you will never be able to do this. So you will always lose. Always.
Alternative goal #1: Lighten up
Since I will never win a CBR crit, I have to come up with other reasons to pay $33 for the privilege of risking life and limb in a two-wheeled free for all. The first and most important goal for me is levity. By training and riding and blogging over the winter my head becomes filled with visions of glory and victory. Left to my own devices, by the time January rolls around I can actually visualize myself winning crits, winning road races, winning time trials. This is a huge burden of seriousness.
Missed rides begin to have outsized consequences. Training regimens become the subject of deep thought an reflection. Interval training and 20-minute wattage start to loom large in daily waking life. Boulevard somehow morphs from an annual SoCal beatdown into a Cycling Monument that I actually have a chance of winning. The seriousness is almost too much to bear.
CBR crits and the first few road races of the season inject a wonderful air of levity into the whole affair. Once I’ve been hammered into dogshit and flung mercilessly to the side of the road three or four times there’s nothing but levity left. The seriousness and earnestness of being a “bike racer” has dissipated back into the ether, dispelled like a bad charm for another six to eight months, and replaced by the reality that I’m an old man, slower this year than last, and just as big a flailer now as I ever was.
Alternative goal #2: Don’t crash
The only thing needed to achieve goal #1 is to pay the entry fee and start the race. That’s too easy, though, so I race with a second goal as well: don’t crash. Crashing is very bad and it takes you to an unhappy place. It hurts. It bends and breaks expensive equipment and tears nasty gashes in Joe Yule’s prettily designed, costly Italian cycling uniforms. It brings a plethora of injuries, from road rash to broken bones to paralysis to death. It involves casts and ambulance rides and missed work and anxious relatives and, worst of all, a feeling of profound stupidity, best summed up by the self-reproach of “What was I thinking?”
Not crashing, on the other hand, is sublime. So sublime is it that nothing, not even the candy bars and pistachios from a prime win, can compare with finishing a race and saying to yourself, “I didn’t crash!” This is how soldiers felt when they waded ashore at Omaha Beach, flopped on the sand, and realized they hadn’t had their nuts shot off. Trust me.
Alternative goal #3: Hammer
One of the best things about cycling is hammering. However, it’s not friendly if you do it overly much in a group. It gets you dis-invited to rides. It gets you shouted at. It’s not appreciated. In a CBR crit, however, it’s okay to hammer. In fact, most of the field appreciates it when you hammer, because they can sit on your wheel and conserve. They will even say things like “Good pull,” or “Good job, dude,” even as they are thinking “What a fucking idiot.”
I like it when people say, “Good job, dude!” even though they think I am a complete fucking idiot and even though my “good job” makes it easier for them to beat me. It encourages me to hammer even harder. I can achieve my goal of hammering at every single CBR crit and never make a single enemy. Best of all, I will be completely exhausted and wrung out. I will have paid Chris $33, but I will have gotten about $75.83 worth of hammering out of the deal. It is the best bargain going.
Even more incredibly, if you just hammer and hammer and hammer, once in a blue moon you will hammer yourself into a breakaway. In my case, unfortunately, I just keep hammering until I’m dropped out of my own breakaway, but that’s a different story.
Alternative goal #4: Feed the hungry cyclists and Chris Lotts
If you pay money into an investment fund with 0% chance of return, where you and all the other investors’ money is distributed to a pre-arranged club of insiders, it is called securities fraud and punishable by many years in federal prison and getting repeatedly raped. However, if you pay money into a CBR crit with 0% chance of getting any of it back, where you and all the other racers’ money is distributed to Chris, Thurlow, Meeker, Charon, Rahsaan, Walshy, and a handful of other winners, it’s called “bike racing.”
In case you hadn’t noticed, it is pretty incredible to be able to race with national and world champions, almost as incredible as getting to hear Chris rip off a handful of Jesus jokes in the presence of the devout. Without my money (and yours) these guys wouldn’t be racing here. They’d take their talents somewhere else and instead of bragging to the wife that I was “beat by a world champion” I’d have to admit that I was “beat by Stewy Tiddlebottom, that guy with the pot belly and hairy legs.”
Finally, the nitty gritty: Today’s race report, CBR Anger Management Criterium, 45+ elderly gentlemen’s race
Prior to the race Fukdude had advised, “Dude, just conserve, don’t fuckin’ waste energy or hammer at the front like a ‘tard, follow a good break if one goes, if not, conserve, stay out of the wind, ride like Vince, dude, fuckin suck wheel all fuckin day, and if you’ve got good position and legs at the end, go for it.”
I took this advice to heart, but found myself in a familiar dilemma. Whenever I drift back into the pack I end up riding next to the one guy in the whole peloton I don’t want to be anywhere near. He is always on the verge of crashing. He’s always wearing something really strange like knee-high socks, or a jersey that covers most of his ass, or shorts that don’t cover hardly any of it, or he’s riding a steel Waterford with pannier loops…whatever it is, it’s terrifying, and I can’t get away from him.
Drop further back, and boom, he’s there in front of me. Accelerate towards the front, and boom, there he is again. Pretty soon it starts to freak me out, like, “Is he following me? Or worse, am I following him?” The anxiety and fear of crashing reach fever pitch, and so I just head for the wind and hammer. Oddly enough, I never see him again the rest of the race. Until the end. When he passes me.
I did an exemplary job today of containing myself for the first fifteen minutes of the race–just enough time for the winning break to establish itself and ride away from the field. After that I found myself unable to get away from the Crazy of the Day, and it was freaking me out. He was wearing these things that looked like snug-fitting long pants with dress socks, and an old Bell helmet, and he had long, curly black hair, and he swerved wildly every few seconds.
I couldn’t stand it, so I just hammered. In the wind. Over and over and over until I was completely thrashed.
And it’s Secretariat by a furlong!
Before the final turn I sat up with Harry and watched the crazies go pounding by. Not the crazies who were vying for the win–they weren’t crazy–but the crazies who were going to risk everything for 43rd place. As we turned the final corner in last place, a rider with a clean shot at the finish line, no one in front, no one to his right, and a single rider two feet out passing on his left, swung out and clipped the passing rider’s rear wheel for no reason at all.
“Why the fuck did he do that?” I wondered. “Was he trying to find out what happens when his front wheel whacks someone else’s rear wheel at max speed? Shit, all he had to do was ask. I’d have been happy to tell him.”
Surprise! He fell! Fortunately, he was towards the tail end of the field and there were only a handful of riders behind him, all with plenty of pavement and plenty of daylight to easily avoid the carnage. Except for one guy. This particular rider had read and memorized every page in the “Dummies Guide to Field Sprinting”…except the last page. That’s the page that has nothing on it except this one phrase, in red, 34-point type:
“DON’T EVER, EVER, EVER SPRINT WITH YOUR FUCKING HEAD DOWN!!!!!”
So with his head down, going full gas to nail down 43rd place, Lummox hit the other downed goofball full on. The spray of carbon shards, the whistling noise of flying steel derailleurs, the cracking of rims, the hailstorm of spokes, the flimflam debris of hurling water bottles, the grinding of carbon on pavement, the thudding of heavy, lard-like bodies on the tarmac, the groaning of the wounded, the blood, the twisted bodies, the broken frames, and the mayhem, all mixed in with screams of “Get the medics!” and “Don’t move!” and “Jesus Christ did you see that!” and “What a dumbfuck!” all combined to punctuate the end of the race with the disaster and catastrophe that riders like I had paid good money to avoid.
Harry and I stopped and cleared the wreckage out of the road as the two victims writhed and moaned in agony. To the idiot who had caused the whole thing and who didn’t look much hurt except for the three acres of road rash on his arm, I bent over and asked him, “Are you hurt?”
It was a pitiful sight, indeed. Fortunately, neither of them died.
As I was leaving the site of the race, a couple of guys rolled by, eyebrows raised, and a polite nod. “Good job out there today, dude.”