Monday, July 17, 2006

Soulard Sucks

Okay, technically that title is not correct and I was going for shock effect, mostly. The Soulard race is one of the St. Louis classics. It's just one of the ones you plan to do every year even when you know that the organizers and officials have planned for your race to end in a clusterfuck.

It's almost like you could set your clock by it--yeah, it's a couple laps to go in the masters race at Soulard; time for one big pack to merge with another big pack; time for three or four sprints to go off in different directions all at once; time for some guys to turn right and some to go straight and some others to go down; time for the "officials" to ask the racers who placed where; time for the protests; time for an "official" vague interpretation of the rules and reality; time for middle-aged guys to dispense with their dignity and argue for their just deserts even though they may have taken absolutely no pulls in the entire fucking race; time for Jimmy to go sit in the shade and drink a cold one.

Soulard is a crit-lovers crit---except for the lack of prize money, but crit lovers have always ignored that. The thing about Soulard is it's a very cool course in a very cool venue and always with good competition. The prize list has always been shit, but you never raced Soulard for the money. The fields have always been good there because of the setting and because the course is fun. Soulard is about the funkiest neighborhood in St. Louis. So while you're tearing around this course that makes about ten 90-degree turns, the locals, who have been up all night partying, are continuing their revelry with sidewalk BBQ's, or maybe just draining the keg and cheering you on.

Soulard is held in conjunction with Bastille Days, which is a big neighborhood party time. So Budweiser always has a few tents set up on a ball field right near the start/finish line. They sell beer, burgers and brats and have competitions that people who have been up all night drinking can do. It use to be big games of volleyball, which was cool because all these hot, half-drunk chicks would be out there in bikini tops jumping up and down trying to volley. But now volleyball has been replaced with washer-toss. Either the hard-core St. Louis drinking crowd is getting older or they're getting redder-necked, but washer toss is not nearly as fun to watch while you're warming up or waiting for the pack to come back around.

And what happened to the Bud Light girls? Honestly, I can remember when you were thinking that they might have to rope off the entire racing area and check ID's, only allowing adults. They always had one of those dunking tanks where you could throw a softball and if you hit the target, a Bud Light girl wearing the briefest of briefs would drop into the water then slowly climb back up for another--and for the angry women, they had it so that you wouldn't be able to hit the girl with the softball. It was all for charity, of course.

Soulard is a perfect amalgam of Midwestern American culture---there's either a bar or a church on every corner. The churches are the really stately kind with tall bell towers and lots of stained glass---no flashing signs out front with idiotic message like, "Hello, this is the Lord and I'm really pissed off." The bars have personality, too. After the masters race fiasco I finally found Ricky, my teammate, in the one that is just across from the start line. He was about four or five beers into his self-medication after crashing out in our race. He'd already had time to make several friends in there, one of whom was very proud of her augmented breasts. He introduced me to all of them.

Did I mention the fucked-up masters race at Soulard? Happens every year. I'm thinking maybe they could conduct a clinic for new officials so that these people can get an idea of what it's like to have absolutely no chance of picking who is finishing where and just be standing there with a clipboard in hand and be totally overwhelmed cause people are sprinting in all directions and there are crashes and near crashes and people protesting and other people doing another lap then sprinting again.

Here's what they do. They seperate the 40+ and the 50+ into two different groups with different numbers and a different prize list and different start times, and everyone is instructed that racers from one group can not work with racers from another.

Right. Does this remind you of another head-in-the-sand, in-denial scenario? Hint: yellow-line rule.

What happens every time they do this is one pack mixes with another, and always at a very dangerous point. Did I mention the ten turns? For the past couple of years it has been on the last lap when members of both packs are driving hard for a placement.

This year, my team had controlled our race from the start. We were the only attacking team and we had two good guys left in the chase group and one guy away solo. We were looking to do more damage in the final lap, only we were denied the chance. As we headed to the line to get the bell for the final lap, we were absorbed by the finishing pack of the other group. Some in the our pack went ahead and made the turn to head into the final lap for us, but for the rest of us turning to make that final lap would have meant taking down half the 40+ finishing pack who all were finishing straight (they open the barriers to let the final sprint be straight, instead of having to negotiate a hard right turn). So essentially what happened is that some of the riders in the 50+ pack who had been responsible for animating the race got screwed out of a final lap.

The officials assured all that the finishing order was correct, even when half the field didn't get to do the final lap. That's like awarding the world series trophy to whoever is ahead in August. But then, these are the same officials who didn't even know that there was a 50+ guy away solo and that he was lapping our pack along with the rest of the 40+ guys on that last lap.

The officials wanted everyone to come over and tell them where they think they finished. I saw lots of guys over there like a bunch of vultures feeding on some slimy road kill. For the past two years I've asked why they don't race us as one pack. I've never gotten a lucid answer as to why they continue this kind of bullshit, which makes racing more dangerous than it need be. It's fucking stupid. To me, being 55 years old means that you should have more dignity than to have to argue for table scraps. I know some good men were over there doing that, cause they felt forced to. I went to the bar and had a beer with Ricky. Later.


Blogger Butthead said...

Tell us more about the bar.

9:04 AM  
Blogger seth said...

Soulard reminds me of none other than the old Moline course. Except officials usually had their shit together there.

10:00 AM  
Blogger JimmyMc said...

Hey Seth, that's true about the officials. But no course has more personality than the old Moline course. That was a crit.

10:33 AM  
Blogger stranger said...

What you need is a sign of your own. This is Jimmy, AKA the god of wrath. I'm eternally pissed off.

1:40 PM  
Blogger ProPam said...

Are you sure those "bikini tops" weren't sports bras or maybe even regular bras?

7:24 AM  
Blogger Fingerbang said...

I'll bring it up at our club meeting. I kind of can't believe we ran the race this way again after Ethan trashed a wheel running into a curb last year, right? Starting everybody together in one pack and awarding prize money seperately would have to be easier.

We really don't have any time to get another race in there. You wouldn't believe how quickly those streets were completely filled with parked cars after the races ended.

3:24 PM  
Blogger JimmyMc said...

Yo Fingerbang, (There's something cool about that greeting) I'm glad you have the insight to see that I really do appreciate the race. But really those two packs out there at once is nuts. I would just as soon have one race with one prize list and I think only the cherry pickers would disagree. Bring on those 40+ punk kids.

6:31 AM  

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