Words from Sam: Harlem Skyscraper Classic
June 17, 2018 // Next stop for me in the USA Crits series was the Harlem Skyscraper Criterium. It was my first real test after a little downtime following a frustrating OKC Pro AM. Harlem is a grand and storied race. The atmosphere is incredible, and there are very few races that draw such a crowd.
The race course takes us around Marcus Garvey Park. A large 4 corner square, there was only one was I was going to race this as the solo Toronto Hustle-er: Sit in and wait. It’s a frustrating, and often nerve-wracking way to race, but as a sprinter without his squad, it’s often my best option for success.
I’ve become somewhat of a tailgun artist. The trick is to spend as little energy as possible in the first half to three quarters of the race, so that you have a little bit more energy to get yourself out of trouble if you need to.
At around 17 laps to go, the race had slowed, so I seized the opportunity to make the jump from very last wheel (where I’d been happily eating snacks and waving to my friends) into the scrum. I love making the move into the front of the race, and finally allowing myself to race my bike a little bit. All the hitters have been throwing haymakers all day, and I get to sneak in, undetected, fresh as a daisy.
One of this race’s hallmarks is its tendency to illicit risky racing. You can either elevate your game to match the aggression, or you can be happy with a mid-pack finish. When facing this choice, it’s rare that I choose the former.
Coming into 4 to go, it started to get even more fight-y. Bouncing, and shouldering, and dodging, and fighting for a few good wheels. There was no team big enough to seize control, so you are left to surf the waves as people dive for the corners to move up. Staying in the top 10 wheels is a battle, but so vital in the closing laps. Hearing massive pileups exploding behind me reassures me that I am in the right spot.
Bell lap is furious. EDA manages to seize control and keep it just fast enough so that we aren’t getting swarmed. I’m sitting 10th wheel: too far back for my liking. I dive for corner 3, knowing I’ll spend a little time in the wind before the sprint, but that it is more important that I am further up. We are full gas into the final corner.
I set up inside. I’m on a good, but historically sketchy wheel. He swings right to set up for the left hander, expertly putting his rear wheel into the spokes of the rider to his right. Then he swings left, expertly closing the door on me as I begin to wind it up.
Anytime you touch your brakes in the final sprint is basically a death sentence, especially against the likes of Justin Williams. If you are doing anything other than accelerating when he is, you’ve lost.
I managed to mash my way back into 10th.
Initially, I’m disappointed. One change, three pedal strokes, is the difference for fighting for a podium, and fighting for 10th. In retrospect, a top 10 in a national level contest is always a good result, and it’s important not to lose sight of that.
I’ll tell you this: I cannot wait to have the full might of the #6IXSQUAD in a few weeks in BC. It’s going to be amazing!