Monday, March 26, 2012

Black Hills Counterpoint

photography: Tony Allen-Mills

"When I was in high school, some friends of mine went out to that area, and we were messing around and we had a fire going and before we knew it, it was out of control. We tried to stop it, but it was just spreading, and we were a bit drunk. We jumped in the car and got out of there just as the fire trucks were pulling in. About a month later they announced it would be a park. They were calling it Black Hills. Looking back, they probably chose it for some real reason, but I always assumed it had something to do with us turning the place into a blackened heap of ash."--Seth, MABRA cyclist

At the end of the 1/2/3, Tony's Garmin said we had done over 2,000 feet of climbing in 1:07 of racing. That's not bad for a circuit race with only a single, short climb. The sun had come through, for the first time, just so Ryan McKinney could have some proper backlighting for his victory pose.

It is clearly a new year in the MABRA elites. XO remains strong, but their dominance is now at least tempered with DC Velo, Bike Doctor, Kelly, and NCVC. It makes the racing better for the rest of us, who now can at least take our chances in likely breaks or rely on at least two or three teams exerting themselves.

It's true that many of the best local riders weren't present. Two monsters at last year's race--Phil Gaimon and Joe Dombrowski--have moved up to real racing. They were out, respectively, winning Redlands and placing 15th on GC.

A little more on Redlands: locals Nate Wilson, by the way, finished 29th overall, and Keck Baker, Jared Nieters and Tim Rugg were all there also, Keck finishing in the top 30. Last year's winner (of Black Hills), Phil Gaimon, this year won Redlands.

Rugg, unfortunately, was not able to finish the race. Word is, he was thrown out of the race for bestiality. A human was trying to love him, and the rules of Redlands strickly forbid human coitus with animals. Said a spokesperson for Redlands, "It's a shame, Rugg was in the middle of his warmup and was sexually attacked by a human woman--Rugg often has that effect on humans females, but it's just very immoral for a human woman to have sex with a beast like Rugg, and we can't allow it to disturb our race. Who knows what kind of foul spawn would emerge from a womb infested with Rugg?"

Sad news indeed.

Back to Black Hills.

I arrived early, watched the 4/5, rode the Masters, watched the womens' and 3/4, then rode the 1/2/3.

After it was all over and I was eating my Filet-O-Fish, with its scientifically formulated tartar sauce, a question popped in my head: What, aside from speed and distance, is the difference between Black Hills Cat 4/5 and Gent Wevelgem?

Is it merely the speed of the race that makes it interesting? Clearly, no. If that were the case, you could take any local century, put it on fast forward, and you'd trump the Tour de France.

If it were merely about speed, watching a triathlon would be interesting.

Clearly, it's not about speed.

Is it that the pros don't make mistakes? That it's painful watching unskilled riders?

The pros make lots of mistakes. They constantly hit the deck. They constantly make the wrong choice.

The difference, I think, is in the degree of polyphony in the best races. Or, to make an analogy to music, the more advanced the race, the more advanced the counterpoint in the race. Good races play out like good songs: building tension, abiding by a kind of complex logic, and finishing harmoniously.

Watch a Cat 4/5 race, like the one at Black Hills. The game is simply about sitting in. A spectator completely ignorant of bike racing would get it right: "they ride around in a group and then they go really fast at the end."

Watching a Cat 4/5 race is typically like listening to a simple melody. There is only one thing happening.

Take that ignorant spectator and have him watch the 3/4 race at Black Hills. He'd see, with a few laps to go, a small group detach and ride away. He'd assume that the rest of the peleton grew weary and fell off the pace.

There's something to that, but it's not quite right. There were strong riders in the pack who chose not to chase, and there was congestion which limited their coordination.

To continue the musical analogy, there was slighly more than one thing going on in the 3/4 race at Black Hills.

Now, if our ignorant spectator watched the 1/2/3 race, he'd probably say the same thing happened as in the 3/4 race. This time, he'd be totally wrong.

If you watched the race from inside, you saw dozens of attacks, most by different people. You saw four squads--XO, DC Velo, NCVC, and Kelly--initiating attacks and responding to attacks on the front. And you saw one or two really good riders who were solo, but playing the game smart. If you look at the finish, below, you'll see two DC Velo riders on the podium, XO, Bike Doctor, then at about fifth position a Kenda pro who helped drive the winning break. I think he hung on for fifth.

There was a polyphony to the action in the 1/2/3 race--a kind of complexity I can only assume becomes more intricate at higher levels.

Or maybe it doesn't. I wouldn't know. I will say that the 1/2/3 race at Black Hills was beautiful bike racing.

And this is what brings in the new season--a re-awakening of counterpoint, the beautiful dance of teams trying to win the game. You forget about it in Winter's group rides. You don't much think about it when you trudge up a climb or hop on the trainer. If you sit among the 4/5s, you only rarely get to be a part of such smart collective action.

It's only a bike race, but it's a good one.

Thanks to Bike Doctor for bringing in Spring in style. I'm not saying I contributed anything to it, but that's OK. It was fun to watch.


chainfree said...

Great read, Kevin! Thanks for the positive thoughts on the race. Legs a little sore today from the daily double?

Calvini said...

Yeah, the old bones are creaking like a fred's drivechain this morning.

Thanks again to you guys for putting on a great race and also for bringing it in the race. Good, aggressive racing out there.