Derek had been cajoling me to do the last CBR crit of the season for over a week. “C’mon, dude,” he said. “The field will be easy. All the fast guys will be at nationals or tapering for it.” And then the biggest lie of all: “It’ll be fun!”
When you are old and slow and tactically stupid and racing your bike on the fumes of dead dreams, you are vulnerable. “Okay,” I groused. “But I’m not shaving my legs. I’m done with that shit.”
Derek smiled. “No problem.”
I met him at the corner of Anza and Carson at 11:25. The race started at 12:35, and it was a forty-minute pedal if you caught all the lights, which never happens. This gave us a very comfy 40-minute safety buffer. We chatted and pedaled along the mostly empty Sunday streets of Torrance until the street became not-quite-so-empty, then pretty-trafficked, and finally stopped-completely-dead-in-a-sea-of-cars.
We threaded the lanes until we got to the source of the problem: The world’s longest freight train. “What the hell is this?” Derek asked.
“They run the really long ones through town on Sundays to minimize traffic disruption.”
“Crap,” he said, looking at his watch. “How long does it take?”
“I’ve never been stopped at one for more than thirty minutes.”
As the endless train endlessly rolled by at a whopping 5 mph, we sat stewing in the heat. The plus side was that if it lasted much longer we’d miss the race, which was fine with me because I didn’t want to do the 35+ category anyway. If it was hopeless racing with my own leaky prostate peers in the 50+, throwing down with the snotnoses was something much worse than hopeless. The last two 35+ races I’d entered I hadn’t even finished.
Still, the fast guys wouldn’t be there …
“Let’s go!” Derek said as the caboose rolled by. We were now touch-and-go for making the race, and the pre-race race began. Plowing into a nasty headwind and catching every single red light on Carson, we time-trailed to the race course moments before liftoff.
As we hurried to the sign-in tent, I saw that Derek had lied and lied well. There was Pat Bos, a guy I’ve never beaten. There was Dan Reback, a guy I’ve never even thought about beating. There was Michael Johnson, a guy that almost nobody has ever beaten. And there was Kayle LeoGrande, the guy who ritually beats everyone else.
The field was tiny and the course was windy, with a small bump leading up to Turn 4. The good thing about the small size of the field was that the race would start slow. I knew this from decades of experience — no one, no matter how good they are, wants to batter for a full fifty minutes in a race with no shelter.
Just before we started, Bart came up to me. “What the hell are you doing racing with these punks?” Bart had gotten third in the Old Farts’ Category earlier in the day.
“Funny, I was asking myself that same question.”
Armin the Great came over and clapped my shoulder, which hurt. “Don’t worry. You will do fine.”
I wanted to believe Armin, but when the gun sounded, his prediction sounded insanely optimistic. At Turn 1 Kayle jumped away from the field with Derek and two others in tow. The pain shot from my legs to my bowels to my eyes as the guillotine edge of reality made itself clear. This was going to be another day of “moral victories.” I already had them classified:
- Moral Victory #1: Getting out of bed and riding to the race.
- Moral Victory #2: Starting the race.
- Moral Victory #3: Finishing the first lap.
- Moral Victory #4: Beer.
As we finished the first lap the breakaway looked like it was gone and gone forever. Kayle had already kicked two of the breakaway companions out of the lead and they rocketed backwards, shattered, like pieces of a Morton-Thiokol booster rocket spiraling away from the Challenger space shuttle.
Then I heard the churning, whirring sound of accelerating carbon, and without bothering to look I sprunted hard. MJ came tearing through with Kayle’s teammate, Pat Bos, on his wheel. I latched onto Pat. MJ was flying solo and wasn’t about to let Kayle ride off the front like that.
The speed and wind and misery were so intense that I recounted my four moral victories and decided that now, as we finished Lap 2, was the perfect time to quit. I looked up and saw that MJ had reeled in the break, which contained Kayle and Derek. Everyone sat up except for Mario of Cal Pools, who attacked on the little riser. Derek and Rodrigo Flores went with him, and they pedaled away.
Then Dan Reback jumped and I went with him. A lap later we had bridged, leaving fistfuls of IQ points and galaxies of pointlessness scattered in our wake. We waited for Kayle or MJ or Pat to bridge, but somehow our ragtag group stayed off until, with fifteen minutes to go, we saw that miraculous sight of all miraculous sights: The remnants of the field that we were about to lap.
I have only lapped a field once. It was in 1985, at the crit at the Tour of Georgetown. There is nothing quite like it — it feels like a combination of having unprotected sex while mowing down your opposition on a battlefield with a machine gun. Only better.
We went around in circles for a few more laps. Teammate Eric Anderson set up Derek with the perfect leadout, and Derek responded with an amazing front-tire blowout as he railed through the final turn. I wound up fourth, losing to all my breakaway companions (including the one with a blowout) except for Mario, who sat up in Turn 3 and didn’t even try.
Still, lapping the field? (Yes, it was tiny.) Finishing ahead of two national champions who are contenders for a national championship next week? (No, this wasn’t a very important race for them.) Not getting immediately dropped and flayed by a field 15 years younger than my proper age category? (Dang, I’m old.)
I’m calling this one Moral Victory #5.
For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog, which is kind of a bargain. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!