Every time I watch bicycle racing I am sucked into the excitement anew. It is a truly amazing sport, strangely carnal yet sophisticated. We see a field of warriors stepping out onto the course and preparing to do battle. Warriors whose attacks are strategic and technical, planned, yet brutal all at the same moment. It is a sport in which the winner can suffer just as much as the loser and frequently even more, a sport in which the measure of pain felt is held to be as competitive as placing in the event. There can be strategy, technique and planning but, often the outcome relies as equally upon hammering, force, wrestling and unexpected crashes. There are finely tuned, high end race bicycles yet, the bicycle itself, the simplest and most efficient vehicle that man has ever developed, is rarely a determinate factor in the outcome. It is all about the competitor piloting it.
The races at Burlingame delivered everything mentioned above. Starting early in the morning the Cat 4's were marked with blazing speed and intensity which only rachetted up as the day wound forward. In each passing race the field grew larger. Each rider was more and more determined to win.
The Burlingame crit was a seven tenths of a mile loop. The categorized races lasted forty minutes, while the Pro level Men's event was a sixty minute race. The course itself consisted of three sharp 90 degree turns, one left 90 and a wider sprawling turn that opened up to the straight sprint finish. Criteriums such as the Burlingame race test handling skills as well as endurance. Every sharp turn presents a repetitive, yet evolving, challenge (at speed). With every lap the field the competitors change position and condition, the position of the rider within that field (the peloton) changes, so every lap unfolds differently. Now throw in then 70-100 other hungry competitors all vying for that same first position, and you've got yourself in the middle of an organized melee.
The sound of clicking freewheels and the shock absorbing clanks of carbon fiber hauling over brick and paved bumps in the road, mixed with the grunts of effort and shouts of commentary from within the peloton. The sound hinted at the fact that, while this is an individual competition, that the peloton functions as a fluid group. Alliances form and dissolve, sometimes lasting only fleeting seconds, to move riders cooperatively within the pack, But when the group is not cohesive, the results are catastrophic. Such catastrophe was seen here not only at Burlingame but at most most criteriums at one point or another. One unexpected move or err in handling yields collisions, collisions with no margin for error. Some are slight, minor mishaps. Others can be destructive season ending entanglements involving five or more racers. This days's dust ups were no exception, Mack "Little Dragon" from Arete Racing walked away from one such crash in the Pro race but, as he walked away we noticing the bloody stains on the back of his jersey, He remarked "Hmmmm, I have no road rash on my back, the blood must be someone else's. My wheel is destroyed. I hope the frame is ok, it's irreplaceable".
Again expressing the duality of racing, a few of the Cat 3 and 4 riders from Team Roaring Mouse walked away from the day of races having experienced mild scuffles that ended with minor road rash or a black eye while other riders from the team walked away with spots on the podium. Rick Delgado, a Roaring Mouse and the infamous radio DJ from New York who (a few years earlier) was relieved of his position on an unamed radio station due to an incident involving his fans calling in while partaking of public acts of lewdness in St Patrick's Cathedral. Taking up bike racing in his spare time and putting the incident behind him, Rick secured two podium spots for the day, 5th place in Cat 4 race and 4th place in the masters 35 + 4's race.
To know pain is to know life. To taste adrenalin and savor it as fuel in an unyielding sprint is seductive. However the display of pain illustrated by the shuddering face and anguished quivering mouth of the downed racer from the severe crash in the Pro race is not something easily forgotten. And it's that image in my mind that will remind me that when I start to think about trying racing, that I should give it serious thought. It is in this regard that the human body is both tremendously durable while at the same time remarkably fragile. Podium spots are an alluring draw in all sports but, determining the source of blood stains doesn't usually factor in, in most. This is what makes cycling (especially in criteriums) unique.