I’ve been racing the Harlem Skyscraper Classic for over 15 years—that statement is not a boast or a claim to being an "ironman" or anything like that—it’s mostly a by-product of being old and having never crashed at Harlem. Through a combination of luck and (by this time) experience, I’ve managed to stay out of the barriers that surround the 1.5 mile circuit every time I’ve raced at Harlem. Now that statement is a boastful one, because not getting my ticket punched at Harlem after over 15 participations makes me a rare bird indeed. And it’s because I haven’t yet crashed at Harlem that I keep coming back to race at Harlem.
But I am getting ahead of myself with all this crash talk. (I also don’t believe in the superstition of not talking about crashing, I talk about it all the time—so much so that my proctologist has asked me to no longer discuss it.) Let me paint you a word picture of the mindset of team BH/Comedy Central going into Sunday’s category 2/3 race. Firstly, there were many of us registered. We had 10 racers signed up for a field of 120, which meant that we would be able to have an effect on the race just by showing up. And were also optimistic about our chances on Sunday because we had a strong squad—our sprinters Evan and Ale have been doing very well lately, and fast sprinters are a good thing to have at Harlem. We also had a good team that could get into breaks and help control the field if needed, so we were an optimistic bunch of brightly dressed fellows on Sunday. We emailed our plans back and forth and devised strategies for Sunday’s race.
I did my usual pre-Harlem ritual of pre-crashing myself before the race began, because I find that if you go into a race with the knowledge that you will inevitably hit the deck, it makes it easier to get down to business. Our team rode a few short laps in Central Park to finalize our race plans, and we then made our way to the start for our furious forty minutes of racing. As I mentioned before, the field was filled to its limit of 120 racers, which is a lot of people on the course at Harlem, a situation akin to shoving a teamster into skinny jeans—things were bound to spill out of control—and our race was primed to "muffin top" all over the place. The problem with racing at Harlem is that with barriers surrounding the course, there’s no room for error. Any mishap or misstep will give you a ride on the barrier train, and the only stop is scabby town.
Things started off hectically with a crash after turn two on the first lap (the difference between cat twos and threes and cat fours is that we wait two turns before guys started hitting the deck), but we soon settled into a rhythm of trying to skin ourselves from the inside out. The pace was high and moving anywhere in the field required finding room to move and then sprinting past about 20 guys before the turn, then making the turn and then losing about 10 places. This is what happened. On. Every. Damn. Lap. My laziness wishes were granted when teammates Ale and Evan got away in a two man break near the middle of the race. Staying away from such a fast race was a tall order, but they were able to hold off the pack for about 10 laps or so. They were eventually caught and with ten to go it was time to start preparing for the sprint, because moving up was going to take forever in the game of jump, gain and lose we were playing.
Then there was the crash. With about 6 or so to go, Misha C inadvertently spooned the barriers in turn one (thankfully he was hurt but not hurt seriously, and I hope him a speedy recovery and doesn’t mind that I said he spooned the barriers). I am unsure of the timeline here, but I assume that Misha was near the middle or rear of the field when this happened, and as we came around to turn one there were officials at the start telling us to slow down and that we were neutralized. This is when the field split up. Everyone that was in position near the front of the field (i.e, the fast guys) rode around the course at a slow pace, while the rest of us stopped at the start line and crowded together like a tightly packed herd of really colorful cows. When they made their way back to the start line, our sprinters were positioned about 40 guys behind us as we stood at the line and waited to see what was going to happen.
After a long pause, the race officials decided that we were going to have three more laps, making the race essentially a really long track sprint contested amongst about a hundred guys. A few racers dropped out right then and there, but the rest of us had paid our money to finish, and finish we would. Three laps would amount to about 5 minutes of effort, and I planned on just riding hard for the rest of my time on the course, as we would need to stretch out the field to have any hope for our sprinters to move up. They blew the whistle for our second start, and there was an immediate flyer off the front of the race. I went to the front and chased for about a lap an a half, because no one else seemed to want to. The race caught the riders off the front and as the bell rang for the finish, my day was done. I moved to the side of the field and tried to not get anyone’s head wedged into my backside, and I rolled quietly past the final lap crashes on turns one and four. Chase G of Arc racing won the race. Our sprinters didn’t fare well in the final sprint crap shoot, but we all did manage to survive the day, and at Harlem, that’s plenty.