Every pre-race team meeting this year by every team in Southern California began with the same question. “How’re we gonna beat Meeker?”
Everyone would then kind of stand around and draw circles in the dust with their big toe. “Uh, let’s attack him early and win out of a break.”
“He always marks those.”
“Let’s take him with us in the break, then.”
“He can outsprint anyone in the break.”
“Let’s chase all the breaks, including his, and lead our guy out for a field sprint.”
“He always wins the field sprint, remember? He’s the fastest guy in the nation for his age group in the crit.”
“Well, let’s let him dangle off the front, then run him down towards the end when he’s all tired from working in the break, and then we’ll crush him in the sprint.”
“We tried that at the states road race, remember? He was off the front for 45 miles, we brought him back, and he still won the sprint.”
“Hey, I’ve got an idea! Let’s send him to London for a few weeks!”
So Rich went off to London to watch the Olympics with his pal Chris Horner, and while he was gone other good riders got to shine. Then he came back.
The secret to beating Rich Meeker in a crit
Today we learned that the secret weapon in stopping Rich from winning is by getting to the guy who glues on his front tire. If you can get to that guy, you’ve suddenly got a chance.
The Brentwood Grand Prix takes place in the global center of hot chicks, fake boobs, guys in Ferraris, Schwarzeneggers, OJ Simpson (before he got life without parole), and the full on West LA vibe. Is your region’s signature event in a place called Hooterville? Is your best crit of the year in an office park?
Brentwood GP happens along a tight, technical little course with a couple of grinding bumps, fast tailwind, hard headwind, and oh-fuckit turns that test your ability to actually handle a bike. Of course, there’s always at least one guy in any crit who is so terrible, jerky, sketchy, twitchy, and unable to control his bike that I’m terrified shitless throughout the race. To make matters worse, that guy is invariably me.
John Hatchitt, our strategy guru, chaired the team pre-race planning session. “We got seven guys. Alan won San Marcos last weekend convincingly. If we play our cards right we can win this one, too.”
“What about Meeker?” I asked.
“Here’s the plan. Wanky, you will get dropped after the first couple of laps, then pulled. So we need to make maximal use of your 150-watts of incredible power. When the gun goes off, hit the front and string it out.”
“It will give you a chance to crash on the first or second turn before people have gotten too tired to avoid you. Rondash, Frias, Harry, and I will stay towards the front, cover any moves, and keep Alan in position in case Meeker rolls off.”
“How’s he gonna beat Meeker?” I asked.
Several dudes glowered at me. “Then, with two or three to go, we’ll get Taylor up into position for the finish, along with Alan if he’s not off the front.”
“But what about…”
I never finished the question, as my teammates sped off to the line.
Breaking bad. Really, really bad.
The race started at a torrid pace, with everyone hustling to get to the first turn, a 180-degree pivot that went up a little bump and then dove down through a chicane and onto a wide straightaway. As we went through the first turn I heard behind me the grinding, skidding, cursing, smashing, banging, whanging, panic-inducing sound of some wanker falling on his ass.
The sound scared me so badly I jumped hard and raced away, dragging the pack behind me for a solid forty or fifty amazing yards. As I swung over, Meeker came through breathing fire and hand grenades at a speed normally reserved for things with large internal combustion engines.
Fifteen minutes into the 50-minute event I was hauling through the start-finish with Hatchitt in hot pursuit of a $150 prime. Steve Klasna, who needed gas money just as badly as I did, powered by with a hard surge. “Fuck,” I thought. “He can have the money, because I got cheered by Christine Reilly, who distinctly yelled ‘Dig deep, Wanky!’ as I zipped through the turn before the finish.”
I had wanted to tell her that if I dug any deeper I’d be in China, but the recent shortage of oxygen in the Brentwood area made that impossible.
The peloton paused after Klasna took the prime, and I rocketed 75 slots back to check on some of my good friends and make sure they were okay. One of them was a dude in a black kit with a giant red license tag hanging from his seat rails that said “Handicapped.” Some shit even I can’t make up.
Meeker then “rolled off the front,” which is what people say when someone jacks away from the wankoton so hot and hard that you couldn’t catch them with 200-lb. test and a fishhook prime of hookers and blow. It was classic Meeker: you take the prime, I’ll take the vee.
They don’t make Yugos any more
This was the critical moment in every race where the contenders, the wannabes, the couldbeens, the oughtahaves, the shouldacouldas had to either man up, put their heads down, and close the gap in the teeth of a headwind or do what bike racers do best: look at each other and say, “You go!”
To which the other dude says, “Fuck that. You go.”
By which time the 30mph gap means you will have to go 32mph without the cozy protection of all the people whose wheels you’ve been sucking for the entirety of the race.
Alan, never a fan of the Yugo, instead hopped into his Igo, and bridged. Klasna tried, but was winded from his gas money effort. Various other riders tried, but in a flash Hatchitt and Meeker’s teammate Roger Worthington came to the front and began doing “efforts” that were just slower than the break, allowing their teammates to establish and then build on their lead, but going fast enough that no one wanted to chase.
Although the gap yo-yoed, at one point getting down to ten seconds when Frank Schroeder and his merry band of assassins tried to close the gap, the constant teamwork of SPY and Amgen, and the iron legs of Flores and Meeker, meant that the break succeeded.
With five laps to go I knew it was my turn to move to the front so I could help with a last lap lead-out. I sprinted down the straightaway as hard as I could, using my last ounce of power, and in a flash had moved up from 76th to 73rd. So much for that. The only thing that remained was for Meeker to beat Alan in the sprint and for someone else to close the field sprint clusterfuck.
When tires go bad
On the bell lap, however, a miracle happened. The closer, the state road champ, the state crit champ, the national crit champ, the badass who doesn’t just bring home the bacon but brings home the entire pig, Rich Meeker himself came red-hot into the next to last turn and rolled a tire.
Fortunately, although Rich is now five pounds lighter from skin loss, he wasn’t badly hurt. Even more fortunately for team SPY, it meant that our closer, Alan Flores, got to roll across the start-finish first, hands held high for a zillion meters.
1. Suze Sonye cracked out an impressive win in the Pro/1/2/3 race, capping her season with win number 389. Apparently all those beatdowns on the NPR are paying off. Oh, waitaminnit. She’s been one of the winningest chick bike racers in SoCal since she was in kindergarten.
2. Emily Georgeson nailed down an awesome win in the women’s Cat 3 race. What a badass. And a cuteass.
3. Shai Oved, the La Grange dude who discovered all those flying snakes in Austin, got 2nd in his Cat 4 race for two weeks in a row. Props!
4. There’s some club called FFKR Architects Racing. Like, how do they pronounce that? “Yo, we ride for fucker archictets,” or something?
5. Rider Unknown took first in the Cat 3 race. Way to go, Rider!
6. Teammate Tait Campbell got second behind Rider. Nice weekend for SPY!
7. Monster Media snagged four out of the top ten in the 35+. I watched it for a couple of laps but it made me ill to watch, they were going so fast. My buddy Aaron Wimberley got eleventh, after telling me on Thursday, “Dude, your attacks are like watching a big blue bus leave the bus stop. They’re slow as shit and everybody’s on it, including the fat guy with a walker. You need to learn how to accelerate.”
8. My other buddy, Josh Alverson, who normally rides for Bike Palace, raced the 35+ event for team Poor Number Placement. I hope they have a good bro deal or something.
9. Amy Hutner gave me an awesome hug after my race. It’s so wrong that bigamy is illegal in California.
10. Pischon Jones was one of the few big boy sprinters to gut out this tough course in the Cat 3 race. Nice job, even though you were cramping like a dog.
11. Tink learned that when you have no teammates, and the course is relatively flat, you can’t ride fifty good racers off your wheel. She did, however, put on a toughness clinic.
12. Today’s race was marked by the absence of Greg Leibert. If he’d been in the 45+ race, there’s no doubt that he or Klasna would have made the break with Rich and Alan.
13. Greg St. Johns showed up and shot photos. This is like having Picasso show up and sketch the fruitbowl on your dining room table.
14. CyclingIllustrated.com was there in force and with live HD streaming of the race. This will become a standard before long. JB is always on the cutting edge, and not happy unless it’s the best.
15. The people and machines who put on the BWGP did a phenomenal job. If every crit were like this–challenging course, beautiful little village with restaurants and shops so that people could watch the action up close while eating a hamburger gut bomb–cycling would p*wn NASCAR like pole dancing p*wns curling.