Monday, June 30, 2008

Why Manhattan Beach Grand Prix

I never do well at the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix so I usually ask myself on Sunday morning why I go. Breaks rarely succeed and blood is often spilled in the frantic final laps as everyone wants to be up front for the last 180-degree sweeping turn. Not my cup of tea generally.

Yet I think part of my compulsive obsession with bike racing is because it's pretty much the only aspect of my life where I take risks. I drive like an old lady, I invest in bonds and blue chips, and I garden. Sheesh! So while my rational mind asks "Why go to MBGP?", my inner adrenaline junkie fondly remembers surviving all the close calls and near calamities, ...and it craves more!

So I take another hit.

Or two, as it were, since yesterday I did both the 45+ and the Pro/1 race.

45+ Race
70-80 starters with most of the fastest SoCal guys, but conspicuously missing Thurlow Rogers as he's off to Kentucky for Masters Nationals. (BTW, the TT was earlier today and Thurlow won the 45+ with bro' Druber 2nd and Metcalfe 3rd case you were wondering.) Anyway, not wanting to burn up my legs before the afternoon race and feeling a little tentative about my knee, I planned to ride conservatively. If by chance a break got a good gap, I'd try to scoot across; otherwise, just enjoy the speed and cornering. As it turned out, nothing went and Amgen/Giant skillfully controlled things to keep the field together. I only made two efforts the entire race... once when a $150 cash prime was announced and I saw Roger Worthington on my wheel, I figured he might have a chance to get it so I buried myself for most of the front side and a ways on the backstretch. Then he went but was quickly swarmed and I think Rich Meeker got it. Then on bell lap, when it was clearly going to be a bunch finish, I just went to the front and pulled hard with a silly notion of trying to keep it safe. Crashes don't happen when the group is single file. But soon I sputtered out and the big bunch-up happened anyway, until Strickie punched it with Meeker on his wheel and they took 2nd and 1st. And here's a blurry photo of a paper print of a photo from the finish-line camera...

Pro/1 Race
As we staged for this NRC speed-fest, Cookie asked me, "Who's the Echelon dude in the back?", to which I responded, "Oh, he's just some old Polish guy who enters these races and then gets dropped within the first few laps ...not sure why he does it." But then I started thinking, when you get right down to it I'm really no different than ol' Wieslaw Koscielewski (the Polish guy). I mean, I've got no chance either, and really I'm just doing the race for the thrill of it, and hoping not to get dropped. Should I really be here?? Hmmm...

...and then the rope falls and we all scramble from the staging area to the line, and the adrenaline rises immediately. The call-ups: Fast Freddie Rodriguez, Rahsaan Bahati, Tony Cruz, Kyle Gritters, Brad Huff,...

So I decide, Hell yes I should be here!! What a rush to race with the best riders in the US, a privilege really. Only an idiot would pass up such an opportunity.

And so I enjoyed almost every minute of it. I got a good start and spent the first five to ten laps near the front of the field, sticking on my wheel, jumping hard out of the corners, and exploiting any bunching to move up. Plus, lots of little bumps and tight squeezes to feed the adrenaline junkie.

Health Net - (c) Ken Conley
Following a real bike racer. Photo by Ken Conley

But then I started getting lazy and drifted back, where the surges began to bite more deeply into my quads. I wasn't exactly the tail-gunner, but I probably gave him a nice draft. Up in the distance I could just make out Daniel Ramsey riding off the front with various and sundry partners. I heard later that when he was caught once, he immediately went again. Wow! Then none-too-soon for me, Ralph announced 5-laps-to-go, so I re-focused and started to move up.

Of course I wasn't the only back-of-the-packer with this brilliant plan, so it got quite hectic in the corners and everyone shot for the gaps at the slightest slowing up front. Then with 1.5 laps to go, the turn at the far end of the course proved too much and a bunch of riders got tangled. A guy fell in front of me and I skidded to a stop. Nice... from 30 mph to zero ...going into bell lap in a NRC crit ...adrenaline meter pegged. So on bell lap I sat near the back on Ramsey's wheel, foolishly hoping that he might try to move all the way back up along side the line (he's one of the few who could pull that off) but he threw in the towel.

Chaos reigned at the front as the leaders went through the final 180. Check out this great picture sequence from Cleave Law:

Jelly Belly rider first in the corner, leans way over and slides out on the paint.
Copyright © Cleaveran O. Law

Fast Freddie plows into his front wheel.
Copyright © Cleaveran O. Law

...and does a complete flip!
Copyright © Cleaveran O. Law

The entire crash sequence can be seen here. Cookie was sitting pretty for a top-25 result when he got derailed by the second crash in the sequence. By the time I came through the corner, 50 riders back, Freddie was up and yelling at the stunned Jelly Belly guy. Adrenaline rush indeed.

The real story of course is that Rahsaan Bahati made it past the downed riders and went on to win for the second year in a row. I'll bet he gets a rush from Manhattan Beach!
Rahsaan Bahati Wins - (c) Ken Conley
Bahati wins again. Photo by Ken Conley

When I get a chance to filter them and do some editing, I'll put up a few pictures from other races. A bunch from the cat-4's plus a few from the 35+ and some of the Women pros.


Greg Knowles said...

I'll bet Freddie's adrenaline meter was pegged as well. Thanks for the coverage.

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