Casablanca 25 years ago Vol. 5: The perfect race part 3

Two starts and two crashes. As I disentangled my bike from Jamie’s for the second time my blood was boiling. I was tempted to respond to the taunts but I kept my mouth shut. In the process of returning to the start line the steam burned off and instead of being furious, I was radiating with a new kind of energy…

Back up on the line I clasped each hand calmly over the bars and waited. Below me Eddy B. and Craig were giving Jamie a serious talking-to. No one had bothered to talk to me.

I had been there nearly a week, had won every race, and yet despite being a favorite to win the only spot for the U.S. team at the World sprint championships, Craig had only said hello, and I had yet to even meet Eddy B.

In the first days I timidly waited for my opportunity to talk to this legend (Eddy B.) but with each passing day I realized it was not a meritocracy – other criteria were being used to evaluate the riders. Despite winning 17 races the prior season I had not even been invited to the spring camp. No U.S. team coach wanted anything to do with me. Now I had skinned up shins, knees and elbows thanks to their “favorite.”

Head down on the line I waited for the gun. Where before there was fear, nausea, and doubt now there was clarity. “No way I lead this out,” I thought, “and… no way he beats me.”

Jamie moved forward from the line at a relatively brisk pace without the usual theatrics. A stern warning from the referee did the trick and we managed to complete the first lap without mishap. However, halfway through the second lap, just upon entering the relatively flat section of the backstretch, Jamie stopped. I locked my legs and skidded to a halt next to him, both our bikes angled slightly down the track, bodies rigid and standing up, forearms and legs providing a contracting set of forces that compensated for the gyroscopic effects of the wheels. A “track stand.”

A few seconds ticked by and we hovered motionless. Then 30. Then 60. Now the crowd of junior riders assembled for the trial began to voice their opinions. “C’mon! Race!” “Hold it and race in the dark!?” “Want a slurpee, slurpee?” (7-11 riders were known as the slurpee team.) “C’mon Carney, kick his ass and lets head to the arcade!” “Coyle, Coy-le, Coy-ale!” I could hear my best friend at the camp, Rich Hincapie (brother to George – the Tour de France great) chanting and building energy for me. Now I could hear Clark, Rishy Grewal, and others.

Still we balanced and ants trickled through the cracks and the sun beat down on our backs and we grimaced and waited. I had no intention of taking the lead. I could-have and would-have waited for hours. I was calm.

Perhaps sensing this, 3 or 4 minutes later, Jamie pretended to sprint, but merely pushed away and I followed casually. I felt that odd sense of “knowing” and instead of my vision narrowing it widened and I could see the track ahead, the track behind, the boys in the crowd chattering and still we had over a lap to go.  I followed Jamie’s wheel pretending I was in his thrall.

The bell was loud as we crossed the line and it brought with it anxiety and acceleration. The junior racers and general audience had come to their feet roaring in anticipation. We paced by the blue finish line and entered the corner gaining speed, Jamie’s neck swiveled, eyes darting every half second to gauge my position. I waited, stalking. This was it - predator and prey. We filed neatly through the corner and as I waded through Jamie’s draft he accelerated.

Around the corner and there it was – the horizontal line of the 200 meter mark, and suddenly, oddly, Jamie slowed - tight on the pole lane. I rolled up next to him, wheels overlapping. He smirked and then began to accelerate again, out of the saddle but head angled to the right, watching me continuously. I rose from the saddle as well, but allowed my momentum to keep me just even with his hip, playing his game.

We proceeded down the backstretch gaining speed but still only at 24, 26 mph,  Jamie always watching, gauging. The plan was now explicitly clear – he intended to utilize our overlapping wheels to  ride me up the track and then dive back down before I could respond. I knew when and where it would start.

I knew too, what I would do.

150 meters to go and we entered steepening confines of the final corner. As predicted, Jamie began rising from the pole lane as the slope began to increase. Watching my wheel, he climbed from the pole lane up through lane three, rising toward the fence, starting to accelerate as he readied for the final pounce…

I beat him to it.

As we neared the top of the track I pushed my bike forward while slowing my pedal stroke. Under his watchful eye, I prepared my escape - my wheel staying even with his seatpost even as my center of gravity retreated. At the top of the his arc, just before the impending jump I thrust my bike backward and body forward to clear his rear wheel. Head down, shoulders up, I breached my handlebars between my knees, hands narrow on the stem, twisted sideways and cut left down the track.

I cleared his wheel by 1/8th inch plummeting down the track. Throwing the bars forward and re-gripping the drops, I put every single shred of energy, fear, hatred and pride into the muscles and electrons surrounding my legs and heart. Out of the saddle my tires tore against the surface of the track with the beautiful sound of ripping paper. 

Like Han Solo I sat down and hit hyperspace as the backdrop blurred and the track streaked by in a hum.

Octaves rising I was head down hitting 200 rpms down the final straightaway. I knew, just knew, that no-one, just no-one could sustain that kind of onslaught. It was a crowning moment, an emblem of every single one of my limited strengths. Never in my life had I been mind-gamed or out-jumped. Here, in the most important race of my life, my arch-enemy had just overplayed his hand. I had dropped the ace, and the roar of the crowd answered my move. With a surge of pride I raised my hands from the bars to celebrate victory and dared a peek to my right just prior to the line.

Sure enough… no Jamie. To the rear, no Jamie – and then… the Joker as trump card...

Instead of raising my hands to the sky, I put them on my head. There he was, 50 feet back, freeing his feet from the straps and then pedals windmilling, legs splayed widely as he looked quizzically down at his bike…. He had aborted when the win was out of reach - and now the theatrics again - an invented equipment failure. He coasted across the line then immediately dismounted, inspecting his bike and pedals from the side.

It was effective – no celebration for me. At least one more round before the chance at desert, sands, and bizarre bazaars. And... Jamie was fresher for pulling out.

Back to the Diary, 1986

Sunday:

Today I got up with difficulty and ate breakfast. I then rode my bike for an hour – once again getting lost. I ended up riding right past the market place (bazaar) – packed as usual. I then saw the Hyatt Regency – right across from the bazaar. Then I rode right past the Libyan Arab Airlines – scary – but some strange part of me was tempted to go paint an American Flag on the wall.

I was first up in the 200m time trial and I sat around for 2 hours watching pursuits after my warmup. I tried to warm up on rollers, but then I got a flat in my front. I didn’t climb the banking until the last lap which was wrong. I had to climb before jumping, which took away the impetus of my jump, so basically I jumped up the track, then had nothing. I was dead before I started. My time was terrible – 12.31. I was not very happy. The next 2 times were slower, but then came a rush of good riders. I was really worried about the qualifying. I had to beat 9 of the 33 riders to qualify.

The next 6 riders were all in the 11’s – a Russian did 11.3 – a whole second faster. The Moroccan riders were very slow – all in the 13’s. But the crowd cheered them anyway.

With 12 riders to go I still had to beat one to qualify. Jamie rode 31st. Then I beat a Korean – he rode 12.37 – Ahhh – sigh of relief. Craig had said that if we didn’t make the top 24, he would send us home. I’m sure he meant it for me… but what about Jamie? That’s what I was worried about the most. Jamie rode a 12.52. He was stunned – devastated. He didn't make the cut. I’m sure he’ll blame it on the diarrhea he had though. I ended up 20th – but I could do much better. Oh well…

After it was over I returned to the hotel, chatted with Azdine and wrote all this – goodnight.

Monday:

Today I got up at 12:00 noon. I then ate lunch then went for an hour ride. I was once again struck by the extreme poverty of the people here. The apartment complexes are horribly run-down. 50% of the people here are unemployed. I talked with Azdine again during lunch. Yesterday I let him borrow my jacket and I was really worried about it the rest of the day – although needlessly. I was just suspicious after seeing how Mustafa turned out.

After my massage today I rode to the track. We missed Mike’s ride. He lost with a slower time than yesterday – a 3:43. He was pretty upset. The other guy only beat him by 2/10’s of a second. I guess they both relaxed at first then at the end Mike kicked, but then the other guy kicked also.

Everyone predicted that Aaron Frahm would do a good kilo, but I knew that he wouldn’t do that well, because I’m riding so slow as is everyone else because of the low altitude and humid air – our bodies have not adjusted yet. Anyways, the first rider did a 109.8 – very fast for this track – an Italian. Aaron rode a 1:12.20 – the slowest of the first 5 riders. The Moroccan rode a 1:18.6. They are so slow – I feel bad for them. The guys were bummed about Aaron’s kilo – we have the technology, but not the speed. Aaron had a rubber skin-suit, funny bike and disc wheel. The Spaniard after him did a 108.7 without anything – not even a funny bike – normal, stock everything – he ended up third. A Russian (who else) won and a Pole was second. Their times? 107.7 and 108.1. 

After the races we went back to the Hotel. Dinner was excellent, starting with bean soup (no beans – just mush – good!) and a shishkabob of some fish – it was great. Azdine gave me two.

After dinner Azdine came to my room. He wanted some help with his English class. I helped him figure out some pre-test dittoes. He is really nice. I found out he has a room on the top of the hotel. We talked and then exchanged addresses, and he wrote in Arabic in my other book. Then Craig said I had to go to bed so goodnight.

Next up - the conclusion of 'the perfect race' and racing the fat Bulgarian...

Casablanca 25 years ago Vol 4: The Perfect Race Pt. 2

1986 Diary - Friday: The opening ceremonies were very different. The stands were packed – dignitaries and athletes on one side, and spectators on the other. The spectators were packed in extremely close – Americans never get that close – strangers were practically sitting on each other’s laps.

In the center of the velodrome were approximately 500 brightly dressed dancing girls who formed groups in circles and danced and sang between events. Also, a solid line of girls in pink pants and white shirts ringed the track (which doubles as a dog racetrack – having the pulleys and everything for the mechanical rabbit as well as kennels right next to the second turn.) These girls did nothing that I could see. While waiting the King and his son came and sat down along with 50 body guards. They started the ceremonies by introducing the King to the public, and then jabbering away in Arabic about god-knows-what for 10 minutes. Finally some bands played in the infield – small groups either banging on drums or cymbals and dancing faster and faster – I needed a camera! Hopefully I’ll get pictures from Stefan or Dave…

We were supposed to ride 2 laps “in our sweatsuits for ceremony” said Craig, so we brought our road bikes and normal shoes. It turned out to be a 20 lap points race with track bikes, cleats, and helmets. We are so uninformed. I could have won some money if I had only known. A Russian broke away (with 3 teammates blocking) many of the other teams didn’t know about it, and those who did, only the Moroccans had more than 1 rider (2) beside the USSR w/ 4.

After it was over, I chatted with some of the other teams’ riders – mostly Australia and Japan before returning to the hotel for dinner.

After dinner, Scott, Stefan, Greg and I went out to the ocean. We sat on the rocks for awhile as the tide started to come in (drawing of the beach/rocks). Then Scott and I went out to the end of the rock promenade and sat on a rock that jutted far out into the breaking waves (drawing here). At first the splashes went up straight over our heads and then returned straight down - we were surrounded by a temporary white wall of water - and it appeared we were getting soaked, but we weren't. But after a while the waves got higher and higher until one big wave swamped us. It was a lot of fun. Scott is a really fun guy.

When we returned, Scott discovered that he had locked his key in his room, and that the only way to get in was to climb from my balcony to his - but there were two rooms in between. We both went - just for the adventure - but the second balcony had a man in it. Fortunately his back was turned and he didn't see us before we turned around - we couldn't go that way... But then Scott devised a scheme. He climbed to the first balcony, and then got ready to go to the next. As soon as he was ready, I walked down the hall and knocked on the 2nd room door. While the man got up, Scott moved.  Upon opening the door, I could see Scott traversing the balcony giving me the sign - "stall!" - he hadn't gone all the way yet - there was a chair. So I looked surprised and asked the man if he spoke English. He said, "a little," so I talked to him for a minute and then said "au revoir" and Scott was already back in the hall through his own room. It was a fun adventure/scam – Ferris Buhler would have been proud.

Saturday:

Today I got up, went to breakfast and then took the bus to the market w/ Stefan. Before leaving we talked to 3 pretty Moroccan girls for a while (Stefan did all the talking – in French.) I guess they told him they liked my eyes and thought I was very tan – my skin was darker than theirs. I heard them say “magnifique”.  Anyways, once inside the market we walked for a while before meeting a very nice man who spoke English. He told us that he would show us all the best places and haggle for us. We were suspicious, but at least he kept all the people off of us. He took us to a “caskan” factory.

 

His name was Mustafa. I bought my mother a beautiful lavender 2 piece caskan – embroidered. We later found out that Mustafa was pretty much taking us to only the places where his friends worked – he didn’t take us anywhere else – it made me mad. I think I may have paid too much for the caskan and the robe I bought myself.  I paid $20 for the caskan and $10 for the robe. I also bought a knife for $25. It is curved – really cool. I bargained it down from $50. This lady with a baby tried to beg 1 durham (15cents) off us and we gave her nothing, but it was good we didn’t – we needed it for the bus ride back. I also bought a scarf of really nice cloth for $3.

 

Stefan went crazy – he bought all kinds of stuff – jewelry, silver, bags, a caskan, scarf, etc. he borrowed $25 from me and 40 durhams too. Mustafa grabbed a t-shirt I had bought to trade and later he informed me it was his – I had “given it to him for a souvenir.” He later tried on one of my 7-11 hats and when I tried to get it back, he got violent. I was totally sick of the place after all this, especially when the storeowner of the knife place asked me for a little flag for a souvenir, and when I wasn’t looking he took 3 – all of them. I finally got them back though (2 of them.)

We finally got out of there although 5 Arab shopkeepers followed us out trying to sell Stefan silver.

Upon returning, I took a nap then went to watch the TTT finish. It was really cool to see all the teams finishing and especially cool to see the good old stars and stripes coming up over the hill. From where we were on the hill, we could see a half of a mile, and it was 4-5 people deep on both sides as far as we could see.

 

After this, we talked to some teams again. I really want to trade my U.S.A. sweats for the Italian sweats – they are so nice.

We then left for the track. We (Jamie and I) warmed up with the team pursuit. We then did 4 jumps in which I pretty much beat Jamie easily even though he was riding a 45 and I was riding a 47.

Then we each did a 200m time trial. I did a 12.14, and Jamie did a 12.42. Apparently they painted the 200m mark wrong because we couldn’t be that slow – both of us.

We then returned and ate and chatted with Azdine the waiter. He is really nice – he speaks a little English, and has offered to take us to the market. He does think I got a good deal on my leather jacket – I do too. He really likes it. It’s the best! I still have $48 left – not much huh? But the jacket is worth more than I have spent so far so that’s ok. Tomorrow I will write postcards – goodnight!

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The Perfect Race Part 2: 

Nothing had changed in Jamie’s attitude when he lined up next to me after our first aborted race. The referee’s vague warning was issued with a wave of his hand and a complete lack of eye contact. It had little effect and I faced the same leer with now whispered challenges. We rolled off the line.

This was the finale of the match sprint trials for the 1986 Junior World Championships and most of the 70 or so other junior racers had turned out to watch - most of whom had already competed in their own events. Unlike other events where riders could qualify for several open spots on the national team in said event and win an all expenses paid trip to Africa, in the match sprint there was only one spot. It was a 2 out of 3 series showdown with winner-take-all.  Jamie and I had already raced 6 times that day: 3 mano y mano matches where a third race was unnecessary - we were both undefeated.  

The trouble had started upon my arrival – the national team coaches had wanted to own all the practice times and use those practices to “evaluate” riders, but my coach Roger had other ideas and after a verbal showdown with Eddy B. he demanded some time on the track for me and a few other 7-11 riders (“slurpees” as they called us). I was glad he had created space for me to train, but felt even more isolated from the U.S. team and coaching staff who had failed to invite me into the fold. I was not ignorant of the fact that these same coaches would become my future team were I successful. Meanwhile across the track I could see Jamie working directly with Craig, Anje & Eddy. Clearly they had determined that he had the talent they were looking for and had invested a lot in his success.

This was an old rivalry. The days are long in the summer of youth and hence its shadows stretch longer across the seasons. The fact that this match - this head to head combat - had started at age eight was the equivalent of the 100 years war. Jamie and I had always been at odds. From my very first race in the rain around the Dearborn towers nearly a decade prior we’d been evenly matched in talent – but with temperaments that put us at odds. http://johnkcoyle.wordpress.com/2008/10/16/clair-young/

Six years and decades of memory prior Jamie and I had matched up at our first national championships for the “midget” category in San Diego in 1980. The clear favorites of the bunch, the rivalry extended to our parents as well, with Jamie’s dad taking repeated opportunities to provide intimate and intimidating details of Jamie’s training regimen, diet, preparation and successes with my own father in the early days prior to the event.

Having faced similar posturing at prior races, my father decided to strike back in his own way the night before nationals began. He stopped at a local bike shop to pick up a cardboard bike box to fly my bike home after nationals, but instead of leaving it in the room, he boldly set it out on the deck of the sprawling motel we were all staying at, taping it carefully closed as though it were a new bike straight from the factory. Sure enough Mr. Carney saw it and my father calmly explained that it was my new, custom made, superlight race bike from Europe (rather than the 20 year old repainted steed I was riding). My dad and I chuckled about Jamie's dad's curiousity about that box for years.

Jamie and I were closely matched in those first nationals but I came out the victor, and he a close second. These competitive clashes continued to play out over the years – as did the contrasting approaches and personalities. Jamie was the extrovert – the fun trash talking ‘typical’ sprinter. I was more like the typical road rider – independent and relatively self absorbed – but without the endurance. I wished I could fit the mold of one or the other but I didn’t yet know what my strengths were.

Rolling forward for round 2 of race 1 of the Junior World trials Jamie was again slightly in the lead. As the banking steepened, he suddenly looked back at me, grinned, and then steered up the track. My front wheel hooked sideways and even as gravity pulled me toward the concrete, it also pulled my front wheel down into his rear wheel we both collapsed again into a heap at the bottom of the track. We'd raced twice and only progressed 90 feet total. The raspberries from the road rash were starting to shine in the heat.

This time the referee’s warning was stern – another incident and Jamie would be relegated. We lined up again and this time my coach waited until Jamie pulled to the line before rolling me to the start line well above him.

The starter raised his gun…