The Red Hook Crit
I wanted a killer start at the Crit, so I downed a caffeinated energy gel pack before the race start. That was on top of the Six Point IPA that I'd downed a few hours before, a nice recovery gift to myself for qualifying in the heat. It's kind of fucked they call it a "heat" because Red Hook on the last Saturday in March is cold as a witch's tit.
I brought my bike up to the starting line and, from the center of the track, saw the crowd had grown massive this year. That afternoon it was just a bunch of dudes in spandex, sporting an above average percentage of beards, even by Brooklyn standards.
Now with the sun sunk behind the East River and the floodlights on the truck parking lot, the crowd waited at the edge of the racetrack and on top of the trucks as if they were sky boxes.
No cops. The Crit still had that James Dean vibe from the early years, even though Rockstar Energy Drink logos blazed on every surface and riders came all the way from Italy and France for the decent prize money and the pure love of hurtling through a truck parking lot at night on a bike without brakes, alongside 100 other maniacs.
We took position at the starting line, some 99 dudes and the single chick who'd qualified. We were twitching to ride. The dude on my right had a Bianchi Dura Ace and the dude on my left had a Scott Foil Premium. Some serious hardware, but honestly I didn't give a flying fuck. Me and my Fuji roll with the best of them.
"Hey watch it!" somebody yelled and a couple of dudes up front tangled handlebars. The dude with Bianchi made a wisecrack about "lovers locking horns" and a few of us chuckled but mostly we were quiet and focused on the race.
The pacesetter, an old motorcycle, rolled onto the track and scanned the crowd with a headlamp and the crowd leaned back. Somebody said "Let's do this" and, it sounds cliche, but time felt like it literally froze. We were all standing there, ready to push off and the low rumbling from the motorcycle and the chatter from the crowd seemed to trail off and leave a Zen-like silence.
Then out of nowhere the starting gun fired and the motorcycle ripped a huge snort and the lizard brain kicked in and we were pumping down the straightaway for our lives and the crowd was cheering like crazy.
I caught up with the front group at the first turn, wide and gentle as a wet nurse. These were famous or semi-famous dudes, dudes with Strata sponsor deals and sick cameos in Red Bull commercials, and they were jostling like dogs to set up an early dominance.
We turned and faced the main drag. The crowd was pressed against a steel guard rail, made to keep 18 wheelers on the highway. On the inside, there was a line of orange cones that ended at a hairpin turn, swiveling the course 180 degrees, back to the finish line.
We sped down the main drag, leaning right into the rail, to max out the turn radius. We were inches from the crowd, eye-level, a flashy blur of smiles and smartphones.
"Hey, watch the fuck out!" A dude ahead of me screamed and then I heard it: the crash of bike and bones against steel.
He went down hard, his helmet flew off, and a spurt of blood flew. The crowd shrieked like banshees but we kept charging. This is what they come for anyways, the blood sport. It's about 10,000 times more exciting than their Sunday morning loop through Prospect Park, apres-lattes.
I glanced back to catch the race officials lifting the dude and his mangled bike off the track, as the peloton came charging through.
The next 13 laps were a blur. We simmered through the turns, so nobody crashed, and my tires sliced through the asphalt like chocolate pudding. It felt good and smooth like fixies do.
I love to ride when I get in the zone. I feel like time sucks down some big drain pipe and it's just me and the road sharing a spliff with nowhere in particular to go. And then there's my bike, a Japanese beauty who speak fluent stone and man and only lets herself known through smiles.
When the lap counter snapped 10, I felt a surge of killer instinct from all the riders around me. We leaned in and pushed momentum and, up ahead, the pros snuck ahead, one quick centimeter at a time.
That's when my man Bianchi came from behind me, completely out of nowhere, pedaling like a maniac. I saw motherfucking Bianchi's plan. He was going to veer into the cones and take the hairpin on the inside. Fucking crazy, I thought to myself, no way he makes it. Let him go.
Sure enough, Bianchi shit the bed. He slammed his pedals too late and the dude behind him yelled, "Fuck!" They went down together at full speed in an ugly sale of bike and limb.
It was gnarly and I sped across the finish line on pure adrenaline after that. The pros pulled away even more, putting Bianchi a and his amateur nonsense officially behind them.
Somebody yelled, "You got it dude!" and at first I thought he was cheering for the pros, but then I realized the front group was too far ahead. I was on my own, flying between the front and chase groups, and he had to be cheering for me.
At Lap 8, a chick yelled, "Hey, it's that guy!" and her friends cheered for me. As I came around the next few times, a bigger section of crowd was screaming "It's that guy!" and "Lone wolf!"
Somehow I was getting more love than the front group. Each lap I came around, more of the crowd was cheering for me, even though I had no shot at winning
It was crazy. People were throwing their arms up in the air as I sped by, like it was their happiest moment on earth. A group was chanting "Lone wolf! Lone wolf!" in unison. A guy on the roof of a semi did a crazy dance. The Press Corps snuck onto the track to get a shot of me as I came barreling down the pike, and the race officials had to muscle them back. As I took the final lap, the whole crowd did The Wave.
I came in 11th place. After the race, the winners took the awards stage and got handed fat stacks of dollar bills and bottles of champagne. They sprayed each other and the prize babes in a gushing wet mess. It all looked pretty fucking glorious from my place on the loading dock, in the shadows behind the stage.
Anyway, at the after-party some dude saw me and yelled, "Lone wolf!" He and his buddies asked me like a hundred questions about the race and bought my beer. Chicks asked to take their picture with me. One dude said, “Next year, I am going to ride.”
I didn't win The Crit, but you know what? If you don't win, it's good to be popular.