Occasionally I like to look at things I’ve become accustomed to from a different perspective. Pretending to look at situation or circumstance with a fresh set of eyes can be revealing, and at the very least it allows me the opportunity to employ an accent in my mind when thinking about things. (I just pretended to be Canadian when I thought that last sentence, because it makes me giggle to mentally say "abooot".)
Saturday’s Prospect Park race was a typical park race on a typical late spring/early summer’s morning. I arrived at Prospect Park, got into my bike outfit, rode to the park entrance and used the ladies room (before 6am on race days, the bathrooms become Darwinian-ly unisex). I pinned up, discussed strategy with my teammates and lined up for the 15 lap race. These activities are all part of a ritual that I, along with many others, have repeated probably around 500 times over the course of a racing "career". I can do these things on autopilot, and it’s only when the ritual is disrupted that I take notice.
Saturday’s disruption to ritual was the presence of a new face in the race. New York races often have guests taking part, as racers who are in town to do bigger regional events will join park races to get some training in. Local racers take notice of these guests, because the racing community in New York is a tight one, and a new racer in our midst (especially one who may be fast—or European) is something we take notice of.
Saturday’s guest was rumored to be a Euro (allegedly Dutch) track pro who may be riding for Rabobank and was riding for a local bike shop. This start line information may or may not have been accurate—rumors at the start line can be very inaccurate— like a spandex clad game of telephone. The presence of a new face in our little pack got me thinking, "What must it be like to come from Europe and do a Park Race?"
I have to think that there are locals races all over Europe, but I get the feeling that they are not held at the same time as our Park Races are. I chatted with Patrick (the Euro pro—I welcomed him to New York during the race—there’s no reason to not be friendly in bike races), and he expressed his astonishment at the 4:30 am wake up for the race. We didn’t talk much more during the race, because we were averaging over 27 miles per hour and that made conversation difficult.
I wasn’t able to speak to Patrick after the race either, but I do wonder what he thought of Park Racing. I wonder if he thought the racing was fast. I wonder if he thought the racing was aggressive. I wonder what he thought of the race passing a recreational rider on both sides near the end of the race. I wonder what he thought of participating in what I have come to know as the "most Park racing-est moment I have ever seen".
As we were nearing the last third or so of our race, we were coming to the downhill section when we were alerted to danger ahead. The road was almost completely blocked by downed riders and scattered equipment, prompting us in the 1/2/3 field to essentially neutralized ourselves (you can do this, you know, and many times racers will take the initiative and pause the racing themselves, to, you know, not die…), we all rolled to a near complete stop, and carefully passed by the downed riders. Actually, let me amend that, all of us neutralized ourselves, with the exception of four riders.
It was these four riders that managed to pull off the "most Park racing-est moment I have ever seen". They craftily decided to attack after clearing the bodies in the roadway. Attacking through a crash is a classic Park tactic, right up there with drafting the pace car or jumping onto the back of a passing field. These four savvy park veterans saw an opportunity, and made the most of it, and gained a gap in a fast moving race. This caused some spirited discussion in the field behind, and the result of that discussion was the decision that the team of one of the breakaway riders should chase the break down—because it’s generally frowned upon to win a race after bunny hopping bodies in the road.
The cause took about a lap or so, and the breakaway riders were welcomed back with PG-13 words. The race bunched together again, and stayed that way until the field sprint. I rolled in after chasing down a late move by Patrick (welcome to the Park), but I didn’t want to discuss the race with him afterwards, because I really didn’t want to admit that we race like this all the time.