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


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.


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...