Call it whatever you want, but I’m going to call it marinated beef tacos cooked on a grill and offered up by the cycling dogs at Velo Club LaGrange. There I was, watching people hurl themselves at incredible speed within inches of steel death, and all I could think about were the smells of tacos and grilled onions wafting across the course.
Since it was a special Paleo Keto diet day, I had resolved to only eat what a caveman would have eaten, so when they handed me my plate, towering as it was with beef tacos, I manfully resolved not to put any cilantro on top. No caveman would have ever eaten cilanatro. Two plates later, I was wasting away in Lowerdigestivetractville, and noticed that wherever I went there was magically a wide berth around me.
This was the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix, formerly known as a place where your chances of falling and breaking your everything were 1 out of 2, magically transformed into a race where the whole day long only three people jumped off their bikes and flung themselves onto the pavement. This at an event where three bicycle falling off incidents per race used to be the norm. Since one of the riders was from Team Lizard Collectors, where we sometimes forget to take the asphalt magnets out of our jersey pockets, one of the bicycle falling off incidents doesn’t even count.
Why the change? After 55 years of sending the pack downhill at 40 into an off-camber, declining radius turn 200m before the finish, the organizers simply did what works in lots of situations: They ran the course backwards, just like we used to do with records.
Of all the races, some said that the toughest was the Pro 1/2 race, won by Cory Williams in a one-hour, gritty breakaway. Some said it was Charon Smith’s come from behind finish in the Master’s 40+ race. But as an expert analyst of the SoCal amateur bike racing scene for years, I can tell you without doubt that the toughest, most hard fought win of the day was in the Age 3 girls’ kiddie race.
The field was stacked with little Suzie Plimpton, Carmen Gonzales, and tiny terror Jo Anne Liu. Their fathers and mothers, working the pit, had tuned up the girls’ race machines making sure that the pink streamers were combed, the purple pedals were washed, and the orange training wheels were properly lubed. The competitors, champing at the bit, had to ride an entire 200 meters into a bitter headwind, and when the chief South Bay Wheelmen referee sounded the whistle, the three girls raced off the line at a furious pace.
Pretty soon Carmen had spun out of her 23 x 15 single speed, and as she carved a gradual 90-degree sweep to the left, little Suzie charged hard, her streamers flying out straight behind the bars. The audience went wild, with several parents proudly activating their $30,000 streaming videography equipment while synching with Strava and YouTube.
Just when it looked like little Suzie would take the win, she had to stop for a rest, at which time she spotted a shiny dime on the pavement and dismounted to pick it up. Carmen had righted the ship and was now heading not necessarily in the wrong direction back towards the starting line but generally towards the finish. The crowd went wilder, but when it looked like Carmen would overtake little Suzie, tiny terror Jo Ann Liu surged hard after having stopped to eat a cookie and have her dad adjust her electronic derailleur and disc brakes.
Jo Ann flew. Little Suzie flew. Carmen flew. All three crossed the finish line in something approximating a similar time, the parents all celebrated, the audience cheered louder than they had for any of the other races, and everybody got a ribbon.
Which is exactly how it should be.
For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog and get none of the news that’s fit to print but all the news that’s fun to read. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!