Casablanca 25 years ago Vol. 6: The perfect race Pt. 4

The Perfect race - finale:

Jim Michener was vomiting into a trash bin in the center of the track, his muscular hulk shuddering, rattling the metal against concrete. He stood up and wiped his mouth as I passed by. “Good luck against Jamie – he’s tough, but you can beat him.”

These encouraging words came from my defeated semi-final round competitor at these Junior World trials. Jim had given me a run for my money two races in a row, possessing an uncanny ability to wind it up from 300 meters and keep the acceleration going all the way to the line – a race strategy directly in contrast to my ability to produce surge of speed and then try to sustain. Jim confessed to having thrown-up after each and every race.

Match sprints and short track speedskating have much in common in terms of the waves of lactic acid induced nausea and weakness after each event and the need to recompose in a relatively short interval of 15 minutes for the next round.  Showing back up to the line after a maximal anaerobic effort is parallel to spooning up another plateful of whatever food you just threw up – “as a dog returneth to its own vomit…”

My stomach troubles were further exacerbated by the self induced pressure that had been building for 6 months since the day I hadn’t been selected to the national team training camp. I could hear Ed’s voice in my head, “What are you getting all high and mighty about Coyle?…If you are as good as you say you are… just come back in July and win the trials." Jamie had pulled out of the last sprint and was probably fresh, I was still shaky and breathing from the effort.

Jamie and I lined up at a safe distance 15 minutes later and without theatrics the 4th gun was fired for the potential finale of the Junior World Championship trials. By now, all the Juniors had clustered right down by the line and were on their feet yelling at us from the moment the gun went off. The “cool” kids were cheering for Jamie but I noticed that I had adequate representation in the stands.

I drew pole position and was required to lead the first lap and did so without deliberation, setting a pace of 20mph and following the black pole lane for one lap.

We came around with 2 laps to go and as soon as we crossed the line I swung up and slowed. I had seen Jamie’s face on the line - he’d been bested despite the theatrics and tactics – his guidance would be to take the race on merit. Sure enough as I slowed, he paused and then pulled through on the pole lane and we continued around the backstretch and into the far corner, 1 ¼ laps to go.

We entered the final straightaway with 1 lap to go and the bell began to ring, Jamie moved up the track and began upping the pace such that we were traveling 25mph by the time we hit the start/finish line. I kept about a 3 bike length space between us and I rode high towards the barriers where the juniors were leaning over, screaming almost right in my ear as we streamed by. I kept “slingshot room”

We sped through the corner high up the track, both of us out of the saddle, Jamie ever vigilant, watching me, riding down lower to intersect any early attacks. As headed for the far side of the turn Jamie jumped and dropped down to the pole, accelerating to more than 30mph as we crossed the 200m mark.  I followed, halving the distance between us in order to capture the benefits of the draft. Whether he knew it or not, Jamie was coldly eliminating my strengths of a quick acceleration, short sprint and bike handling. If the race were to become a straight out drag race it would be close.

Then pride interceded: midway down the straightaway, Jamie paused in his constant acceleration and, looking back, dodged up to just above lane two ( about 5 feet above the pole lane) providing a tempting hole to dive through. I was not foolish enough to spring that trap and hovered above waiting. The pace stabilized for a moment - breathing room.

The final corner approached and I started to accelerate laddering up the track out of the saddle to keep the distance between us steady while increasing my potential energy. Jamie bobbed and weaved trying to own all three lanes looking back. As we began the turn in earnest, Jamie committed, turning his head forward and hitting it hard. Back out of the saddle, he scissored down to just above the pole lane and our pace leapt from 30mph to 40mph in 20 meters – it was on.

The even pace on the backstretch had given me a moment to reload my springs and I uncoiled everything I had remaining. The G-forces in the corner pressed me into the saddle and as I leaned far to the left, the cracks in the track rattled through my forearms. I arched over the bars forming a protective shell over the motor of my quads and calves thundering below and that warm hum began as power throbbed through my legs into the pedals. I matched Jamie’s acceleration and more: despite having the outside lane and longer trajectory, I closed the distance and began riding up on his back wheel.

As we exited the corner I had drawn even with his hip and my front tire had come into view. Jamie flicked up and we had momentary contact and then he dropped and locked onto the pole lane. Any movement from there and he would be disqualified. Meanwhile the liability of the outside lane around the corner delivered its double rewards of higher rotational velocity and declining altitude as the corner flattened. I burned the remainder of my reserves and loosed the catapult, now shoulder to shoulder with Jamie, both of us hammering into the pedals.

Pulse hammering in my brain, my head, hands and hamstrings delivered a pulse of speed down the short straightaway, elbow to elbow for a moment, I then surged past Jamie to cross the line with a ¾ length advantage.

Sound returned and a sudden roar filled my ears and I realized I had done it. As I swung high up the track to absorb my speed I realized that I had won the Junior World Championships Trials and the one and only spot to the Worlds in North Africa. I raised my hands… again only to cradle my head – this time in relief – and spun down around the corner, cheers echoing from the far side of the track.

I finished the warm-down lap, slapped high fives with a core group still at the fence and then retreated to the apron. Richie and a few other juniors were there to catch me and hold the bike as I unstrapped, and Richie shared the unofficial 200m time – at 10.96 possibly a new junior record.

I quickly gathered my things, and as I prepared to leave, there he was, the “man” himself, Eddy B., who shook my hand, smiled stiffly and in his thick accent said, “Yes, good racing. Jamie not race well though…  Perhaps we must bring two sprinters to Junior Championships…” and then he was gone.

Disappointed that I would potentially yet have to face the threat of my mortal enemy across continents I was thrilled with the outcome of the most stressful and rewarding races of my career.

I crossed the track into the shadows of the stands and as I re-emerged into the lights, was humbled to find two dozen junior elite athletes waiting to escort me back to the Olympic Training Center. The sun had set yet I could feel the warmth radiating from the stucco buildings and we parted the trees on the sidewalk as we passed through the park for the 10 minute ride back home.

Conversation was mostly hushed but I rode at the arrow of the peleton with honor guard coverage for street crossings. As we entered the parking lot, an arbitrary paceline formed to give me a leadout to the PedXing sign and I took the bait, winning the parking lot prime sprint with a surge towards the line and a bike throw and we all laughed as we headed for the cafeteria.

It was Richie Hincapie who brought a dose of reality back into the ceremonies. “Great race – I hope you get to go – you earned it.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, my voice turning shrill, “I won the trials, of course I’m going.” I paused and thinking said, “but I guess Eddy B. thinks Jamie should go too.”

“No Coyle…, that’s not what I heard. I heard Eddy talking to Campbell about maybe they should bring you too…”

My mind raced back to Eddy’s words, “Perhaps we will have to bring two sprinters to Junior Championships.”  “No,” I said, mind blackening with the darkening sky as realization set in, “they were talking about Jamie – Jamie might get to go – I won…” “I won the trials..”

“Sorry John, but all these trials disguise the reality that it is coach’s discretion – Jamie’s going already. That was decided long ago. But the good news is you still might get to go if you keep beating Jamie at practice…”

Seeing my face he added, “Sorry man, thought you knew…”

Days 2 through 10 of the never ending junior world trials began the next day…

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(Video – this is the 2007 world championships, final race. This race went down in a classic match sprint pattern almost identical to the race w/ Jamie. If this were us, Jamie would be in blue, and I’d be in orange)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kVb1JteAV4&feature=fvsr]

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Back to the Diary:

Tuesday – sprint day:

Today I got up at 9:20, ate breakfast, then slept until 12:00pm. My neck was still stiff – yesterday I couldn’t even turn it to the left. I couldn’t see traffic coming. Anyways, after getting up, I got ready for a ride, only to discover my front wheel was missing. I later discovered that Scott had taken it on Craig’s advice when he discovered he had a flat. I was the only one racing today and I couldn’t even go for a ride so I waited.

I decided to go to Azdine’s room and listen to my Brian Adam’s tape I loaned him. I was really shaken by his room. It is about the same size as mine at home. I figured Azdine had a pretty good job and would be reasonably well off for a Moroccan. I was wrong. All that Azdine owns in life can be easily laid in a normal suitcase. He has no furniture other than his bed. He shares this cement floored and cement walled room with another worker. He has no other furniture besides a small table. On it he has all his worldly possessions – a half-full suitcase of clothing, 2 magazines, 7 or 8 copied cassettes, a walkman type tape player (no radio or recording) and two small speakers powered by the walkman. My box of tapes is worth more than all he owns.

His tapes are funny. He has one for the English class he is taking, along with a magazine-like textbook, one store bought tape of “1984 Superstars!” a K-Tel type tape of top-40 music, a couple of Arab music tapes, a couple copies of American music, presumably off the radio, and his second and final store bought tape, “Canary Birdsongs,” for his 3 canaries.

I don’t know what he does with his money – maybe it isn’t much and it all goes to pay rent and for his class or maybe he is saving it.

At the track, I waited while the coaches and Mr. Kirkbride (who, by the way has been staying in my room since Friday) put my bike together. I guess the tread had flaked off my white, light tires, so they put Panaracers on those wheels. I tried warming up on the new tires, but they are narrow profile and slid very easily – I almost fell when I slid from 2 feet above the red line to the pole line, so I switched to my trust old heavy Wolber rims and tires.

My first sprint was a 3-up. I was the 6th ride out of 8. I was up against a Bulgarian and an East German – both big and muscular. The Bulgarian had qualified 11th and the East German 5th – their times 11.6 and 11.5 respectively.

I drew lane 2. The East German led slowly on the pole until the backstretch. He picked up speed and climbed the banking. I was about 10 feet behind him when the fat Bulgarian came underneath me, then hooked sharply and hit my front wheel – trying to knock me down. I made it though, but I didn’t want 3rd, so I dove underneath and was in first by the end of the turn. I led across the finish with 2 laps to go and around the corner and down the backstretch. Then the East German dove to the pole and started leading. I dropped down in second and was sitting comfortably a little below the red line where the German was riding when I was slammed from underneath again! The Bulgarian had slipped underneath me and from the apron he shot up and hit me. I bounced up, and then down a little and still, before I had time to recover my composure he came and hit me again.

At about this point I got mad. I don’t know if he was just trying to intimidate me, if he wanted 2nd position that bad, or if he didn’t like the USA, but I didn’t like him, so at this point – about halfway through the corner, I took a steep angle down the track and chopped that stupid Bulgarian.

He was 5 feet onto the apron after that – there was no doubt about my intent on that move – he knew then that I wasn’t intimidated.

The German steadily picked up speed – apparently thinking that the Bulgarian was the one to worry about – and that the Bulgarian certainly couldn’t come around from third.

The Bulgarian made his move around the second corner. I saw him coming out of the corner of my eye, waited until he overlapped my wheel, then rode him up past the third line before diving back to the East German’s wheel – who was sprinting now. I was just he and I now…

I knew it would be nearly impossible to pass in the uneven corner so I waited. I felt good, so I let a small gap go then made a run at him at the end of the corner. Into the straightaway we came, neck and neck – but the East German had a very strong kick, and the straightaway was short (wide turns, short straightaways) so I missed beating him by 6 inches. Oh well.

Craig was very pleased with my ride and I knew I had ridden well but I didn’t win and if I lost the repechage round I was out – done.

Back at the hotel I talked with Azdine at his house on the roof. There is some garlic up there in a corner – who knows why – aging I guess, or to ward off vampires. Anyways, I showed him how to freak people out by throwing it (the garlic) into the street.

Not about to be outdone, Azdine grabbed one, went to the back part of the hotel roof, leaned over and pointed to a lady seated by the pool of the hotel next door. I laughed because I thought he was joking, but then he threw it – hard.

It shattered on her table. She freaked out screaming and was looking up in all directions. I was on the ground I was laughing so hard. Azdine is a lot of fun. We talked for an hour and then I went to bed.

Casablanca - 25 years ago Vol 3: The Perfect Race Pt. 1

Northern Africa - dreams of wind, sand and stars. After the failed junior camp and the alienation I felt from the team and other riders, my thoughts in between began to fill with the idea of Casablanca, Morocco. Like the call of the muezzin I could feel what it might feel like to race my bike in the land of the sun and souk, the Fez, of blue eyed Berbers with engraved faces and crisp white cloth.  Months later, my chance to prove out Ed’s challenge and travel to Africa presented itself: the Junior World Team Trials. Colorado Springs: The sun was white hot in a metallic blue sky and just beginning to angle west, etching a crisp web of the lattice of my spokes onto the shimmering concrete. My hands were shaky on the bars of my red Serotta “Murray” bike and my stomach was a cavern of nausea.

My coach wheeled me to the line first – high up on the apron of the track. Jamie rolled up beside me, but instead of parking 10 or even 5 feet away on the 20 foot wide track, his handler pushed him so close that our forearms were touching. He leaned in, jostling with each word, “Whatcha got Coyle? “Whatcha got?” He laughed. “You’re going down – down – down.”

I ignored him and waited for the starter. “Toreador, “Attencione, “Go!” We were off. Vibrating with energy, we tuned the strings of our fast twitch muscles and eased off the line, looking at each other, twitching.

The “match sprint” event on the track is a 2 man showdown. Time matters for nothing and there are few rules – contact is permissible and the first man across the line wins. Three laps and one kilometer long, the dynamics of the race and the qualities of aerodynamics find equilibrium at a magic set point at around 200 meters to go. Should a racer start a sprint much prior to 200 meters (about 10 seconds at 40mph) then the competing racer can use the cover of the “draft” or reduced wind resistance in the wake of the lead rider to slingshot around prior to the finish line. Should the lead rider wait to start a sprint too far past the 200 meter mark, then the first man to “jump” or accelerate has the advantage – and the following rider has the advantage due to lack of visibility of his actions. A human on a bike can accelerate for 7 or 8 seconds before faltering – the first rider to jump with even a minor advantage after the 200 meter mark is able to accelerate through the stall point that might otherwise enable a chasing rider to accelerate past.

These subtle elements of position, timing and advantage filter backward into the first 800 meters of the race, and the “cat and mouse” game often starts right from the start line. “Track stands” – moments (or even minutes) where both racers come to a complete stop and balance without moving to avoid being the in the slightly disadvantaged forward position are common.

The starter shot the gun, blue smoke fading into the metallic sky and Jamie and I slinked forward. I was face forward, all muscles relaxed yet on full alert. Jamie rode below me with his head cockily angled at 90 degrees to our progress, taunting. 10 feet, 20 feet, 50 feet, we progressed at 5 mph.

Without warning he leapt up from the saddle – and I matched instantly – but without forward progression – a fake. Just as suddenly he sat down, and even as I matched, he steered upward, and rammed my front wheel at 6mph.

On the slippery embankment, both tires lost contact, and we both slid out and skittered to the bottom of the rack, bikes entangled. “That’s it Coyle? That’s all you got?” He continued to barb as we loosened our straps and exited our bikes.

I quietly returned to the line and mounted my bike. Seconds later he materialized, lining up even closer so that this time his elbow could touch my abdomen and our handlebars were touching. “Welcome to my track Coyle – MY Track! You are going down again, and again and again…”

The starter raised his pistol…

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Back to the Journal:

Friday:

Couldn’t sleep last night – did much today. Got up at 9:30 and ate a light breakfast – hard boiled egg, croissant, French bread.  After breakfast I was about to go for a ride when Scott and I decided to go to the bazaar. We went to the bank first where I exchanged $80 into 720.80 durhams – their money is similar to Canadian except the bills are a trifle shorter and wider. Each bill has the picture of the president. Exchange is $1 = 9.1 durhams.

We then saw the bus right outside, so we ran and caught it. It took us north into downtown past the main street I rode down, to the market. At first it was very similar to Tijuana where haggling is concerned.  It is just trillions of small shops selling everything – food, spices, clothing shoes, appliances, utilities – everything. It had a distinctly foreign smell of mingled food, leather, sweat and refuse.

We walked down the crowded cobblestone streets about 10 feet wide. At first we couldn’t find anything but women’s clothing (I should have shopped for a Caskan but I didn’t). We walked for about 30 minutes through shops full of brightly colored women’s clothing until we finally turned around and went through and alley and back the way we came. The alley was behind the shops and we discovered that there actually people living in these horribly run-down buildings – all of which would have been condemned in America.

We finally found the men’s stores. Curious I walked into a leather store – just to look – but the storeowner wanted me to do more than that – he had me trying on jackets like a tornado. All of the jackets were very nice and of the finest quality. One in particular caught my eye – it was the finest in the shop to me, and the owner quickly affirmed that opinion – though he might have said that about any one of them I’m sure.

Anyway, this one was not a motorcycle type jacket – although black, it was very dressy, “Straight from Paris,” said the owner. It looked really cool as he tried it on me, zipping it up and doing the belt as well. I then took it off and asked Scott if he liked it. He said he did, but then I started looking around. The shopkeeper would grab anything I looked at and try to put it on me. I had Scott put a stop to this nonsense – every time I looked at something I would tell Scott and then he would explain that I didn’t like it.

The Arab protested loudly in French and broken English, but at least he stopped putting them on me. The one jacket I had admired was the only like it in the store – it was the best one and th shopkeeper knew it. We found out when we priced the two I had narrowed it down to. The one I really liked? “1700 durhams, but I give it to you for 1200”.

That was too much, so Scott haggled with him for a while on the other one, - very much like my friend Bill’s jacket. In a short while we had it down to 450 durhams from 900 so I knew I could the other one cheap. I wanted the other one so Scott went at it.

He started yelling “500” in French while the Arab yelled “1100!”. This continued and the volume escalated. Scott anchored at 500 and the Arab moved to 1000, then 900, 850, and then 800. We got stuck at 800 – he wouldn’t go any lower – so we headed out.

He literally yanked me back in, put the jacket back on me, zipped it up, and then put a mirror in front of me. “For you, 750 durham…” but Scott refused, saying “impossible” and jabbering away even louder in French. He was literally shouting “550! 550!” and the shopkeeper was shaking his head shouting even louder “700!” even as he was wrapping it up. Once again we started to leave.

The owner relented.. “650!” he yelled. Unimpressed, Scott yelled, “600!” (this was all in French). Finally after another 10 minutes of haggling we got him to 630 durhams. At this point with a nudge from Scott I opened my wallet and handed him 620 durhams – he counted and then demanded the other 10. He almost gave it all back rather than sell so low, but he gave in and handed me the jacket – 620 durhams - $68.80 – for the finest leather worth well over 200. It was odd, but everyone seemed pleased that it was a hard fought battle. Me - for the jacket, Scott for his mastery of French and haggling, and the shopkeeper for… a real foe?

I also bought another jacket – gray Denim – for 160 durhams – we could have gotten it cheaper, but we had to get back – we had spent 60 minutes in the leather store. I had to borrow 60 durhams from Scott to do this. It was so much fun shopping there – I’m going to buy some nice shoes next time I’m there. We finally left because Scott had a team time trial practice as 2pm. We found a man who spoke English on the way out and he found us a taxi and haggled it down to 15 durhams for a 5 mile trip for 2 – that’s $1.50 – cheap. The bus was only 2 durhams – 22 cents, but they were so crowded with assuredly smelly people we decided to take the taxi.

Everyone like my jacket and they all want to go there. When I go back I may buy some leather pants for the heck of it.

After returning, I went for a ride. I rode to the track – to make sure I knew how to find it – then I decided to take the scenic route back to the coast. I headed back toward the poor section (slums) to see what they were like – BIG MISTAKE!  The homes were made out of sheet metal (corrugated) or rocks – they were terrible. I was following a pretty big road and there were black fires burning everywhere and it was getting harder and harder to see any distance in front of me.

When I turned a corner, the road dead ended into a huge garbage dump maybe 4 stories high. It smelled awful, but what was the worst were the adults and children scrambling over the top “fresh” layer looking for food – it was pitiful and it made me sick. I knew I shouldn’t be there in all my cleanliness and expensive bike and so I turned around and cruised out of there because people were starting to yell and it didn’t sound nice. I trucked out of there and turned towards the coast. (Mistake #2 – I should have turned and gone back the way I came)

It was more slums with more dead ends. I was getting pretty scared because I didn’t see one kind face and I was turning around and around at every other street because they kept dead ending and the roads kept getting dirtier, narrower and rougher as did the people. Finally I saw an alley that served as a tunnel to the main street by the coast so I sprinted down it as shouts rang all around and behind me. I think some men were following me and had cut me off – there were 7 or 8 men in their late teens sitting outside their slum that I swear I had seen before. Fortunately I was almost past them before they saw me – who knows where I would be now if they had – but as it was, when I was 100 feet past them, a brick thrown at high velocity struck the ground next to me and the shattered pieces skittered forward under my tires and bounced, tinking, off my frame.

After that I time-trialed like crazy for the next mile on the bigger road because still the people didn’t like to see a beach boy like me invading their slum. But I had made it to the coast, only to be cheered by the more satisfied people of this huge crazy city. (Jamie was also attacked and a big dent in his camera showed what saved him from a brick…)

I made it back just in time to leave for the opening ceremonies which were held at the velodrome. I will explain these later – goodnight!