So with a lot of time spent (more than usual) in both toilets at the cabin, sort of crop- dusting the whole place, there was nothing more to expel or express as far as I could tell, but I've learned through bitter experience to bring a wad of T.P. tucked into a pocket somewhere, and I've learned to keep the suspenders of bibs down, until I'm on the start line counting down and it's out of the question to try one more time. This year I'd not arrived from Minneapolis until late late late, kids snoring in the car, the dog filling up the minivan with dogbreath, so I had to pick up bib and bag and timing chip at the start line. So now I'm back there on Main Street and getting the usual appreciative smiles and stares from people who erroneously think I have the nuts or hubris to ride a cross bike, but it's just my warm up ride. Not a lot of other folks warming up today. Coming in on 77, I usually see pairs and triplets of nervous legshavers reconnoitering Rosie's field, spinning, surveying the 3 miles of fatal asphalt, you get a polite nod from the one or two stragglers, but mostly it's the race-face thousand-meter stare, not in my own experience intentional aloofness, just the cyclist's natural introversion and narcissism, the same disposition that makes most racers spend a few minutes after every ride quietly admiring in the full-length mirror the shapeliness of their quads, glutes, and calves, pledging to do something about the soft mid-section, the spare 700c around the waist &c.
So not that many people warming up on the radio tower hill either, the weather coolish, a few drops of rain in the air, an unusual number of anecdotally younger/newer riders, lots of wool jerseys and baggie shorts and even some street shoes and rat traps, and the usual garish kits of Riverbrook, eMag, Grand Stay, and a particularly ugly new hot peach and turquoise number from something called the “Ride Club,” some strong riders, even preferred, looking like they’re wearing bib-overall shorts (peach colored) over a turquoise pinstriped shirt, I’m guessing this is some sort of nod to Super Mario/Donkey Kong? all courtesy of champion systems, and they seem to know and enjoy the fact that theirs may be the single ugliest cycling kit to ever line up in Hayward, there are strangers asking to take their photos, and they dutifully smile and tuck their thumbs under their pits. The usual appalling soundtrack is playing over the PA, and there are variations and extensions on the usual announcements, for example, a rational explanation as to why riders need to be with their bikes 30 minutes before the start (last year it was 60 minutes, if memory serves, and so you know what’s the point of warming up?) because it takes that long to find unattended bikes and extract them and the last thing you want is 1999 bikes trying to make their way around one that isn’t moving, there are too many other things that can go FUBAR without having to deal with that, and also no announcements this year about urinating on the lawns and in the yards of the good citizens of Hayward—one year they claimed they’d disqualify racers if caught, including a certain previous champion name of Geno—so they have either got us trained well, or finally brought in enough biffs to handle the volume, the demand (or would it be the supply?) &c.
But so announcements made, national anthem sung, unusual number of de-helmeted riders evoking maybe a surge in patriotism or at least respect for the guy they keep calling Bobby “Mudcat” Johnson I think who sings the anthem and flubs just a couple of lyrics and hits all the notes, and the cannon goes off unexpectedly, about 10 seconds to 10, and the rollout is pretty sane, but it’s hard to believe how many riders are somehow ahead of the front line where I started, there must me at least 350 bikes in preferred, which would put me at the absolute back of the pack in any other major citizen’s race. I do love the spectacle of riding down Main, even if it’s abs. mandatory to watch the wheel (or two or three or four) ahead of you and keep a hairtrigger finger on the brakes, the crowd roaring and ringing their Norwegian cowbells, and the scaffolding with the guys taking the photos that will be on next year’s poster and handbills. We roll out, the pace is slower than usual, we make the corner on Railroad Street and the speed picks up, I notice singlespeeds all over the place, their butts bouncing comically on their seats as they try to spin their gears at 18 MPH, and I’m regretting that because I’m going to be see-sawing with them and the tandems on the hills for the next 2.5 hours and then midway down Railroad the inevitable major crash comes early before we’ve even hit 77 at top speed, one of the Race Club dudes I think is sitting on his ass in front of his bike looking like he has no idea how he got here, what he’s doing, a handful of other riders are clipping back in, arranging themselves, and as the peloton parts in an organized and genteel way, I hear the guy ejaculate “Fuck!” just as I pass.
On 77, the lead ATV has pegged it to say 50 MPH, because the field is already strung out I’d say at least 1000 meters, we’re still moving at a good pace but too comfortable, and I’m boxed in as solo fliers come steadily up the sides. Incredibly there’s a lineup of incoming cars in the left lane, so for the first mile on 77, we’ve got just one lane to divide 2000 ways. What’s more, I can see that there is already a break at the head of the field, probably 40 rides have split the field, just 2 miles into the race, and they’re a good 20 meters already ahead of the chase, and my main thought is that the geared fellows are going to punish the singlespeeders, having regretted humoring the Lalondes last year, and saying to themselves never again because yes brains can beat brawn in any race, true, but there is simply no excuse for bringing along a 52/11, say, and not using it to flog the piss out of a one-geared wheel sucker in the flats of Phipps and Janet Rd, God bless you.
A few drops of precipitation. Glad to have put the brimmed cap on under the helmet, and the glasses are already useless, and I realize I’m going to have to red line it here a bit to get position before Rosie’s field, this is the place to gain say 20 or 30 positions, and then maybe sit in a bit. I usually hit it pretty hard all the way to Mosquito Brook, finding that people mid-pack are often too conservative on the early hills of the Birkie trail, especially the climb up to the 42K trail marker ahead of Bitch Hill, and often if I’m riding my personal race pace I’ll pick up another dozen riders, but today is not that day, and I’m hoping that sitting in and riding easier and holding position will pay a dividend in the last 8 miles, where in the past I’ve felt strong anyway but crampy and capricious—feeling strong for a mile, then feeling terrible for a mile, and yo-yo’ing between extremes like that. So yeah. A spontaneous new race plan. When the facts change, you change your policies, adjust to new realities.
Tomorrow: Part 3, the exciting conclusion (probably)
An Amusement & Diversion for The Genteel Cyclist. Daily.