The Mengoni Gran Prix is probably the oldest and biggest of the “big” Central Park races. I say “probably” because oddly no one has written down the list of past editions and winners of the big races. Which is strange when you think about it. These races have a big build up, but afterwards, no one thinks to add the names of the winners to any sort of permanent accessible record. It’s as if the Menogni race were a beer goggles fueled one night stand that we all slink away from afterwards. And it’s not just Mengoni, all of the large NYC races seems to disappear in the bike walk of shame. If you’re trying to find out who won the Harlem race in 1985, you’re out of luck. 1993 Spring Series Champion? Just start saying that you won it yourself, because there’s no way to confirm that you didn’t win it. (I’m in the process of staking a claim on second place in the 1992 Harlem cat three race, because a podium seems more realistic than a flat out win.)
I am, of course, playing the classic bike racer role of “sanctimonious complainer who has no intention of doing anything about the problem”. In this case, I am just pointing out a very odd circumstance. If you are promoting a race as a “big” one, it would probably be wise to treat the results as “big” also. They write down the names of the winner of the Indianapolis 500—and have done so for every one of them, so it may be time for someone (again, I’m not volunteering here, just being a bitchy bike racer) to start recording the winners of the big NYC races, it’s the bare minimum we can do.
So now that I’ve pissed off every race promoter and CRCA board member reading this post, I’m going to type about myself. I was late registering for Mengoni, because Mengoni is a sprinter’s race, and I bring a butter knife to those sorts of gun fights, and with the new airline-style pricing model for race registrations, I paid $423.25 (again, pissing off a lot of promoters here again) for the pleasure of racing Central park with 79 other cat threes. But it would be worth it because team Rockstar would be bringing our esteemed fast man, Sprinter Josh—making the financial sacrifice worthwhile.
I set my alarm for 3:45 to allow time for my pre-race launch sequence (2 coffees, 2 poops, 2 hours before a morning race) and drove in with NJ bike pal Evan. I signed in, pinned up, shared a “prison moment” in the Central Park men’s room with some other racers and then set about looking for my other teammates. I found Aaron. I found Chas. But Sprinter Josh was nowhere to be seen. Josh, who self-identifies as a track sprinter, has developed a set of parameters for participations in non-track events. There must not be rain. Right turns are tolerated, but not encouraged. There cannot be excess heat. There cannot be excess cold. Hills (of which Harlem Hill is considered to be one) cannot be excessive and preferably not included at all. It’s a long list and I won’t bore you with any more of the details (there’s a whole section about post-race pastries), but we thought that all the stipulations had been met by race morning, and indeed, Josh had paid his $423.25 to join us in the park on Sunday morning. But alas, the only sprint Sprinter Josh would be participating in would be the sprint to the edge of the bed with his body pillow.
And so Aaron, Chas and I lined up to the sprinter-friendly Mengoni Gran Prix sprinter-free. We adjusted our plans for the race, changing our settings from “try attacks and if unsuccessful, drag sprinter to the finish” to “try attacks”. And that’s what we did. We seemed to be a team in the minority in this race tactic, as many teams seemed to be playing the “drag sprinter to the finish” game. Each move or attack by Aaron, Chas and myself ended in panting and regrouping. As we were coming to the bell, I attacked on the West Side rollers and immediately built up a gap sizable enough to disappear from sight of the pack behind. Which is either a testament to my attacking savvy or a testament to the field’s estimation of my potential success in a solo break of a lap and a half. Since we were racing at a 14 minute lap pace, I would need to do the last lap and a half at 13.5 minute pace to have any hope of success. To be honest it, was at least a four man job, and there I was all alone. But I persisted anyway, because bike racing. And there was always the off chance that someone would jump away and join me on my YOLO attack.
No one did (again, another clear testament to the field’s belief in my abilities)—and I was caught at the carousel. We heard the bell signaling one lap to go, and the inevitable field sprint was upon us. I possess the head, eyes, shoulders and elbows of a competent sprinter (once I finally get sprinter’s legs, I will really be onto something), so I can place myself in the proper position for a sprint, but I really need a mile-long leadout to wear out people who can actually sprint. Aaron and Chas valiantly tried to provide this endless leadout, but it was a tall order. I was perfectly positioned on Cat’s Paw Hill to bring an actual sprinter to the line, but unfortunately that sprinter was me. I tucked into the draft of the damnded, and halfheartedly made my way through the traffic to the finish line, avoiding the inevitable last lap crash and finishing somewhere in the top twenty. Chas, Aaron and I discussed the race after over coffee and then disappeared into the early morning as Sprinter Josh edged out his body pillow for the win under the covers.