I knew it was going to be a great day at the races when JR, after finishing his race, donned his trademark fedora, lit up his trademark cigar, hopped in his pimpmobile and gunned it. He’d forgotten to put away his rollers, though, which got sucked up into the undercarriage by the spinning car wheel. This created a small explosion followed by lots of cracking, grinding, and broken parts flying everywhere.
One of the onlookers pithily observed, “Yo, JR, them things roll smoother when you put the bike on them instead of the car.”
I’d had to hire an investigator to perform “deep Internet” searches to find enough qualifying events for my Cat 3 participation upgrade, but after digging around for six months he found out that I had completed a 45+ crit in 2004 that gave me the magic number of race completions to move out of the certain death category and into the probable suicide one. I was raring to test my Cat 3 skilz in the local CBR crit held in South Compton, but affectionately called “Dominguez Hills” by the promoter so as not to scare people away.
**NOTE TO READERS UNFAMILIAR WITH BICYCLE RACING IN THE U.S.A.**
Excerpted from O’Dooligan’s “Encyclopedia of World Cycling”: The U.S.A.-type “criterium,” or “crit,” is an event held on a flat, ugly, unchallenging course with four turns, of one mile or less in length and never enough port-o-potties. The “race” places an emphasis on being easy enough not to require any particular bike handling skills except for gradual turns and crashing on the last lap (Cat 3/4/5). Slow enough that anyone can finish, even the incredibly fat guy whose buttcrack hangs out of his shorts, but fast enough that no one can get away, the denouement of the race follows a set pattern: high speeds the first three laps, a futile breakaway that is reeled in, lollygagging until the last six laps, another futile breakaway followed by a mad dash on the last lap which is won by the team with the best lead out train. (U.S.A. amateur bicyclists actually have pro-style lead out trains, with a designated sprinter. The point of this is so that the same person can win every time, and the helpers, although losers, can share in the $75 prize list.) Crit racing is especially popular among wankers who fear hills, tactical racing, and being stranded long distances from the burger shoppe, and by promoters who like charging $34/head for 125-man fields, and then chopping 15 minutes off the 40 minutes of racing time promised in the flyer.
Dog is on your side
As I warmed up for my race by lying in the grass eating M&M’s and sipping on an ice cold Hoppy Snockered IPA, Prez shouted over at me from the sign-in table. “Hey, Wankmeister! Wanna switch numbers? You’ve got my number!!”
I looked at my number, 316. “What are you talking about?”
“That number! I want that number!” Then I realized it…Prez is a super devout Christian, and 316 is, you know, that part from the Bible, Tebow 3:16–
For Dog so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but finally bring the fucking Lombardi Trophy back to Denver.
Without thinking, I hollered back. “Sure, you can have it! All you have to do is come over here and lick the sweat off my nuts!”
A few moments later up came Prez’s lovely wife and their three awesome children. “Listen here, Mr. Pottymouth,” she said. “You’ll be cleaning up your oral toilet now. Our youngest overheard that last remark and said, ‘That’s gross!'”
Normally that would not deter me, as I’ve always viewed filthy language to be an integral part of a proper upbringing, but she is so pretty and reputedly has a badass left hook, so I apologized profusely and promised to do better.
Today’s class assignment: compare and contrast
Earlier in the morning I’d completed the 45+ race and had placed an extremely competitive 58th, just behind the elderly lady who used to race professionally, and several bike lengths in front of the chubby short fellow with a ponytail and downtube shifters. I could immediately tell the difference between the 45+ field and the Cat 3 field. Only a fraction of the Cat 3 field appeared to be on drugs, and unlike in 1984, last time I’d lined up for a Cat 3 race, the average equipment expenditure per biker was easily $8,000, except for the enormous guy (290 pounds of sweaty love, easy) in the CVC jersey who probably spent an additional grand on fabric extensions and a steel truss apparatus to keep the worst part of his stomach and ass contained in his skinsuit. (*Note to sneerers: yes, he beat me by several bike lengths).
As you’d expect from a field comprised of young, healthy, well-trained, competitive athletic men in their 20’s and at the height of their physical abilities, the race was much slower than the 45+ event, many of whose 100+ entrants were well into their 50’s. That’s the importance of having a healthy diet!! The other difference was that in the old farts’ race it was virtually impossible to move up without a crowbar. The field was tightly packed and everyone fought like hell for every position, even Ol’ Gizzards, that guy who looks like he came from the Pleistocene and who dropped me so badly at Boulevard.
The Cat 3 field, on the other hand, was much looser, and despite the fact that only a handful of riders were juiced to the gills, the riders were more verbally aggressive. This is because even when you fill a 55 year-old skinbag with the most potent drugs known to man, it still only gets him a ten-minute erection, whereas a 25 year-old on no drugs whatsoever is so filled with testosterone and serotonin and thyroxine and triiodothyronine and norepinephrine and sperm, sweat, boogers, and three-headed satanic skull tattoos that have the wrong kanji for “Merchant of Death” that, when placed in an even mildly competitive situation, he will try to kill you.
So whereas the duffers would say, “On your left, dude,” or “Sorry!” if they pulled a boner, the Cat 3’s, when they got excited, which was pretty much the entire fucking race, except at the end when they really got worked up, tended to scream “YOU STUPID FUCKING IDIOT FUCKING ASSHOLE WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU FUCKING DOING YOU DOUCHEBAG ASSHOLE FUCKBAG FUCKER FUCKETY FUCK FUCK FUCK!”
Counting…it’s not just for children anymore
But the biggest difference of all was the final lap. In the 45+ field, everyone knew the script by heart: fart along, flail a bit, maybe think about taking a pull, and then in the last five laps either drift to the back away from the action or move to the front where the action is. Then, with roughly 50 guys in contention on the final lap, on turn three half of those guys eased up and called it a day. Finally, around the final turn, of the remaining 25 vying for the win, half threw in the towel and you had a nice, clean, safe sprint to see who’s going to get the twelve-pack of energy drink and case of pistachios.
With the 3’s however, only about half the field knew the drill, as most had only just upgraded and it takes hundreds of these cookie-cutter races over a period of years for the pattern to finally take hold in the igneous, reptilian brain of a bike racer. What this means for you and me is that, with five laps to go everybody thought, “FIVE laps to go!”
Then it took them a couple of laps to count down to one, by which time they realized, “It’s now THREE laps to go!” After another lap of down-counting, they all realized at the same time that there was only one lap to go. Whoops,make that two. Or was it one?
Whatever! They all dashed for the front at the same time, and since no one had been riding very hard for the last fifty minutes, and they were all young and dumb and full of cum, the peloton pressurized like firing a water hydrant through a garden hose. Unlike the 45+ field, where the combination of powerful drugs and lots of experience automatically separated the field, each little Cat 3-er suddenly saw himself as a possible winner of the race.
Not yet beaten down by the relentless hammer of reality and decades of defeat, and finally having worked out the math so that it was clear, even to them, that there were only two turns left before the sprint, many of the Cat 3’s celebrated their youth and enthusiasm and vigor and passion for sport by taking the third turn too wide, clipping a wheel, and causing a massive collision which sent half the field of cursing idiots into the curb, carbon frames snapping, 3-lb water bottles flying through the air like oversized bullets, the terrible sound of plastic helmets shattering on pavement, the grinding shriek of metal spokes popping and shearing away from their carbon rims, bodies slamming with the dull thud of a bag of potatoes dropped off a roof, and the surreality of twisting and weaving my way around, through, and over heads, arms, legs, torsos, and the detritus of that $8,000.00 charge on the Specialized credit card that was only just paid off two weeks ago.
I’m b-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-c-k. Or just a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-c-k.
As if any proof were needed that the Cat 3 race is ridiculously easy compared to the 45+, I took a strong 47th, narrowly beaten out by the lummox with the steel undergirdle, but well ahead of the guy with the friction headlamp and panniers. Couple more of these races and those punks’ll know whose boss without having to read about it in a fucking blog.