Wednesday, March 20th, 2013 10:56 pm
Posted by: mayhem
I arrive in LA on Friday morning after an 18 hour overnight drive from Colorado hoping to catch some rest before the race. The desire is crushed by last minute bike maintenance and a 4 hour registration line (1 guy checking people into the registration party? wtf). Lesson learned.
Moving forward – it’s Sunday morning, and the lessons keep coming as I circle the street in front of Tangs with an eye out for where the front will be forming. At 4:10am, I discover a line forming on the west side of Sunset Blvd with the State bicycle team completely occupying the front. I pull up beside them and they’re quick to tell me there’s no space and I need to move to the back of the line. I stay. As others begin to realize what’s happening, the line quickly extends across both directions of traffic and cars are no longer able to squeeze through. Roadblock appears at the front of the pack and announces that the rolling start is about to begin.
Looking around me in the crowd, I see some very excited and some very nervous faces; but am mostly shocked at the quality of gear adorning my cohorts. At least in the front, those without carbon wheel sets appear to be in the minority. Roadblock reveals that there will be two squad cars pacing out the race a mile in front of the lead group along with at least one more directly in front of the group. He sends off the two lead cars and the rolling start begins.
It’s immediately clear how big of a cluster fuck the first few miles of the race are going be as my neighbors squeeze in on me and fail to hold the wheel in front of them. Roadblock, who manages to keep the swell of eager riders behind him for 15 tortuous blocks, releases us and the race is on. I’m stuck in the middle of the road with 7 to 8 riders to each side of me. I make some minor forward gains but enough people are moving up the sides that I remain distant from the front.
At the first hill (I say hill, though in reality, it is a poor excuse for one) the pack squeezes as less strong riders are unable to keep pace. I make contact with the people on either side of me, my bars, my hands and my body, all I can do is hold the wheel of the bike in front of me and hope for the best. Moments later the rider to my right and I lock horns. He pulls away hard in an attempt to free himself and I keep going forward. Our bars separate and for a second I think I have made it. Then, in a flash, the rider is under me and my bike bucks me over its’ bars. I do a complete flip with my bike landing 15 ft ahead of me. Without pausing I get up, scoop up my ride, which other than a crooked saddle appears unscathed, take two quick steps and remount to begin my first attack on catching the lead group with a sharp pain now emanating from my right hand.
What feels like only moments later I’ve found the front. There are several mini-climbs and turns as the mass swarms its way around the dark downtown streets. The sides of the group open up around turns and leave opportunities for moving up. I find myself inside of the breakaway. I am pushed to the back as the front riders are quickly replaced by those coming off the back. Once pushed all the way to the back, I complete the cycle, moving up in frustration as riders are replaced in line after getting pressure from their sides for position. Shortly after the group races back up Sunset past Tangs donuts, the truly spectacular nature of this event hits me… the police escorts blowing up their lights and sirens, the whir of bikes all around me, the immaculate and super smooth LA streets, the adrenaline.
As the swarm continues up on sunset and begins to climb I am coming off the back of the group I look back and see that the breakaway has riders falling off like the tail of a comet. I make a move up the side and within seconds am at the front of the breakaway. The front has two police escorts, lights blazing and sirens howling. Each live intersection we go through they pulse the sirens to alert oncoming drivers as well as the riders. …maybe next year the LAPD could hook up a helicopter with a spotlight? Only single cars, here and there in the racing path are consumed by the swarm. A scooter feverishly works the front and sides of the breakaway as a guy hangs off the back aiming a camera.
Around the 20th mile, I make contact with the pavement a second time. I am closer to the front than I should be for not knowing the course. A late right corner is called. I hear skidding behind me. A geared rider to my front left gets on his brakes and cuts hard directly in front of me. In my inability to match his slowing and cornering, I am poised to take out his back wheel. Instead I shift my weight forward pulling myself over the top of the bike and over the top of his rear wheel. Our tires kiss as I go over of my bars. He rides on unimpeded as I slide 20 feet on my right hip into the curb. I stand up immediately then pause to take quick inventory of my injuries before jumping back on my bike. A single deep breath later, the adrenaline overpowers any idea of staying put. I remount my bike, whose seat is now back in the correct position and push down the street of my missed turn.
Luckily the break has arrived at the bottom of a small incline and I’m back in the game. Scooter-bro filming the race erupts with excitement as I move back up, having recognized me as the guy who had just gone down. He confirms that he has the wreck on tape. Despite the exciting news that I will likely be fixie famous for crashing on tape and catching back up, I’m starting to feel the injuries. A fellow rider points out my flapping bib number is now only connected by 1 pin and I rip it off and stuff it in my jersey pocket. My right wrist is nagging me from deep in the drops and every pedal upstroke pull creates shooting pains from my lower back. Though I still have gas in the tank, I move to the back of the group as the pace picks up. Flying down the final straight, a slight decline and shouts of, “1 mile left” push speeds to 40+ mph.
A geared rider only a few back from the front swings out hard to his left from his position in line to make an attack. He does not look first to ensure room for such a move. My teammate is directly off his wheel on the left side and has to swerve to avoid making contact. A cascade of swerving riders moves through the left side of the breakaway until finally someone fails to comply and connects with the dodging rider at his side. They both go down hard. I can’t believe that no one else is involved as several narrowly escape exploding bikes and bodies to the left and right. This solidifies my choice to remain in the back of the break for the last half mile and finish solo.
Next year, if there is a next year, I’ll definitely be doing a lot more planning. If you’re thinking about riding this race fixed, RUN BRAKES, both a front and a rear. Riding in a mixed race demands it, else you hurt yourself or someone else. Due to the sheer amount of injuries this year I would be surprised if the event was able to go down again next year, save major modifications to the start and separation of competitive from noncompetitive racers; perhaps even a qualifying event.
The 2013 Marathon Crash race is by far the most exciting race I’ve ever participated in. Not for the faint at heart, this race will chew you up and spit you out. Being injured for Red Hook will suck, but yeah, the experience was definitely worth it.