Most people assume that I have raced an alleycat before. Considering the known factors it would only make sense: over ten years on a fixy, membership on an urban based cycling team with roots in the alleycat/track community, worked as a messenger downtown for a short spell and as everyone knows, grew up listening to punk rock and currently hold radical political views. But alas, I have not raced one. Friday night was my first.
Prerace, I rebuilt my rear fixed hub (replaced the cartridge bearings) on my trusty Fuji fixed. I swapped my 17 tooth cog out for an old 16 tooth track cog, to give me a total of over 77 gear inches. I installed one blinky headlight, one bright headlight and a loud brass bell and a blinky light to both my bag and my seatpost; I wanted high visiblity while wantonly flouting traffic laws. I ate a meal 2 hours before "staging", had an hour nap and then a cup of coffee and a banana at registration.
Staging was at the little courtyard across from the Diesel Cafe in Davis Square (Elm St). The temperatures were below freezing and milling around waiting for the race to start was just like a cyclocross race, only there was less tension and more cigarette smoking. There were somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 riders.
There was no announcement about start times. One of the organizers, Tammy, just randomly yelled out an address at the other end of Elm St (near the intersection of Somerville Ave) and mayhem ensue. Many tried to mount their bikes right there in the crowd, lots of spilled riders. Experienced in maneuvering through crowds of panicked cyclists who are off their bikes, I ran through the crowd and mounted on the fly in the middle of Elm St. once the traffic lightened, perhaps shouldering a few track standers who were obstructing me (old habits die hard).
I believe that I am the blur on the left:
There were dozens of riders ahead of me. I put down a full track sprint and passed riders quickly as they popped. At the first intersection, a young woman slid into a curb. While it looked painful, she was walked away and was at the afterparty. Seeing her go down reminded me that I was one of the better pack riders here, which gave me wings as I kicked it into overdrive on the slight rise after Ace Wheelworks. My only goal was to catch Bradshaw so that I could stay on his wheel.
I was one of the top ten to get to the checkpoint. Since I knew the CP worker well, he favored me with one of the first manifests. This pattern was repeated throughout the race, as my manifest was signed first as I rolled into CP's while others waited in line.
The first address was on Elm St in Cambridge. I didn't know where it was. Some one said that it was outside Inman Squ, maybe off of Cambridge St. Since I was clueless, I followed the guy who sounded like he knew where to go. We went down Somerville Ave, then some side streets and ended up on Beacon St in Somerville. We had about a half dozen riders, with me taking a monster pull, as everyone knew that I had legs. A rider in back steered by calling directions to me.
At the intersection of Beacon and Washington, we had a red light. There was traffic, but there was a hole, so I shot through it, ringing my ding ding. A car was taking a legal right off of Washington onto Beacon into my lane. I called out the hazard to the riders behind me and swerved while gently locked my rear wheel to narrowly avoid the front bumper. Morgie was glued to my wheel and didn't have much warning. He was faced with either hitting me, hitting the car or going over the curb. He chose the curb, went over his handlebars and his race ended with a broken or severely sprained wrist (Morgie, feel better).
Morgie and Lauren:
Once through Inman, we saw Elm St. and I looked up the left side of it while everyone else jumped down the right side. Apparently there was a bunch of blinkies down there that I missed. I scrambled to catch up. The worker was not there yet. High tension waiting. We had been told that we had to complete that checkpoint before all of the others. So we complained while waiting for the worker.
When the worker arrived a minute later we were told that we had to go to Cambridge Bicycles and get something from Marty and bring it back. We burned over to CB and of course, Marty wasn't there. We got Kip to give us business cards and headed back to Elm.
At this point I was on Croth's wheel. He was cutting lanes and rolling intersections more aggressively than I was comfortable with. I would catch him on the straights and get dropped again if there was a blind corner, a stop sign or a light.
After the uneventful CP, Croth, Bradshaw and myself sort of ended up together. We used my iPhone to find the CP in Watertown. Evenone else was discussing the CP's in JP and Brookline, so we decided to hit the Watertown CP to avoid the crowd.
Bradshaw set a blistering pace once we got to Mt. Auburn. Croth and I had a hard time even staying on his wheel, let alone taking pulls. Once in Watertown, the streets became suburban and dark, cars were less considerate. We has a hard time seeing street signs. Headlights kept blinding us.
We missed our turn. We went at least mile out of our way, perhaps two. When we consulted the oracle (iPhone), we noted the names of the surrounding streets. We eventually deduced that a certain street had to be our turn, even though it lacked a street sign. We went down it and the street became even darker. After fumbling in the dark and hitting unexpected potholes, we found Elm St. and the CP.
As we rolled into the CP, I realized that I had a flat rear tire. Croth and Bradshaw rolled out while I flipped the bike and did a crappy job changing my flat.
The next group of riders arrived as I was finishing up. We agreed to work together to get to the Brookline CP. As we dodged traffic on the fast section of Arsenal St. after the mall heading to the river, I heard weird rattling from my rear wheel. Since I had just overhauled the hub, changed the cog and fixed a flat, I didn't know what to think.
I ignored the sound and maintained the paceline. The exploding rear tire sounded like a gunshot. The car behind me backed off. The riders around me were spooked. I nearly dumped the bike since we were hammering at 27+ mph and my tire came off the rim from the force of the explosion. I ground the rim and remaining tire to a stop.
In my mind, there were sparks, but in reality, I was unable to look behind the bike.
Luckily, I had extra tubes and fixed the tire again, only taking more care to insure a good job this time.
Obviously my race was over. My chances of winning a PedalStrike cap or even a Rapha cap were blown. Many riders would have turned around and rolled slowly back to Cambridge and settled into the afterparty. I am not that guy. I didn't want a DNF. Also, I had this little fantasy that I was going to ride so fast and so efficiently through the last 2 CP's that I would still get a respectable result.
People carry maps:
I literally blew every bit of strength that I had pushing my 77 gear inches up Market St. in Brighton center and then up Washington St. toward Washington Squ. This was where I figured out that I was overgeared. I went harder than I went at the Fitchburg TT last year. At Brighton center, I was on the verge of vomiting. By the time I passed the Brighton projects, I thought that I'd never make it all the way to JP and back.
The rest of the way down Washington and Cypress is downhill. I found the Brookline CP with no fuss. I was forced to run around the block before the CP worker would sign my paper. I wanted to kill the poor girl working that CP.
Another group coalesced and I was elected as head of the group. I didn't mean to, but I rode them off of my wheel after the first turn. By the time I got to the base of South Huntington (less than a mile from the Brookline CP), I couldn't see their lights anymore. Natasha tells me that riding away from my group was treachery. If it was, I am sorry.
After wandering around JP a little I found the CP with help from a rider leaving the CP. Without the tip, I would have wandered for alot longer. Rob Arnold was waiting in a park for me. He made me play rock/paper/scissors until I won before he would sign my torn, crumpled piece manifest.
I hightailed it back to Cambridge Bicycles to turn in my manifest. Luckily, I caught most of the lights and had very few close calls.
I was about 40th to finish.
While I plan to continue USAC racing as my primary competitive activity, alleycat racing is awfully fun. The rules are much less strict and riders must rely on their wits and geographic knowledge as much as their fitness and tactics. I also have a new respect for the level of skill that someone like Croth has in traffic. Riding his wheel through heavy traffic was terrrifying, yet amazing. Those Lucas Brunelle videos do not convey the level of stress and danger involved in these races.