June 1/08 12:28 pm - Matt Hansen's Report on the Return of 'Bike Racin' In Toronto'
Posted by Editoress on 06/1/08
Bike Racin' In Toronto
By Matt Hansen
Top-level racing returned to Toronto this past Friday for the first time in 10 years. The last time bike racin' hit the streets of Hogtown was Curt Harnett's Queen's Park GP, which, despite being a success, ended its run after one year. So, it was with interest that I headed down to the St. Lawrence Market to see just how much Torontonians had missed shaven-legged, spandex-wearing bike warriors sprinting out of corners and cussing at each other. In fact, even as I rode my bike along front street I feared the worst--would people even watch the race? Would those who did attended simply be there to complain?
I was wrong.
As I approached the familiar site of police and barricades and dudes warming up in legwarmers, I couldn't believe my eyes. Crowds! Big crowds! To watch the race! I'm sure most of the lookers-on, save for the usual "family and friends" which sometimes fills the bulk of bike racing audiences in Canada, had come across the race by chance. But they stayed--and for a real show. After the Masters and Women's race ended, the showcase race began and the peloton did not disappoint. The Symmetrics/RACE/Jet Fuel battle began in earnest when sprinter Andrew Pinfold developed a personality disorder and decided to break away early, with RACE's Dustin MacBurnie. After a few laps, the race's fate was sealed--with those two up the road, and Pinner being a decidedly quicker finisher, those in the know knew that the pack was racing for third. But for newbies to the race--it was still pretty neat. Flurries of attacks from Jet Fuel, counter attack after counter attack, primes, a bit of rain--made for some good watching.
Sure, once Pinfold and MacBurnie lapped the field it got a bit confusing--even for those who know bike racing, but for the most part the reception was great. The bike pavilion set up alongside the start finish line gave a hint of carnival atmosphere, and what with the bars alongside the course--it almost felt a bit Belgian. (Even if the people in the bars weren't watching the whole time, I'm sure they caught a glimpse.)
And the race did stay exciting. Once Pinner and MacBurnie got back into the pack, Symmetrics went to the front and kept the tempo up, with RACE riding safely on their wheels. A counter emerged with Mark Walters (Team RACE), Eric Wohlberg (Symmetrics) and Derrick St. John (Jet Fuel), and later, Buck Miller (Team RACE). With the pack bearing down on them--lead by Zach Bell and Andrew Randell, who impressively drove the field for almost 40 minutes--Wohlberg decided it was time to show the crowd a bit about the good old days--and soloed away.
It was up to Miller to chase down the venerable strongman after his team-mate Walters dropped off the pace--and despite a valiant effort, was absorbed as the pack came up for the sprint for 4th. Bell and Randell, despite having led the field for 3⁄4 of an hour, still had the legs to sprint and took 4th and 5th. Then it was just Pinfold, MacBurnie and Wohlberg on the road. As Pinfold and MacBurnie took their sweet time--MacBurnie must have known his days were numbered--Wohlberg kept a comin'--and almost caught them! Pinfold did what he does best and put 5 bike lengths into MacBurnie, who was happy with the second.
And guess what? People cheered. People were excited. The crowd stayed--even when it rained for a few laps. Hell, maybe it even got bigger. It was 9pm on a Friday night in a busy part of Toronto--and we was watchin' a bike race. I wandered round the course and heard good things from those new to the sport. The usual, "look how close they are?" and "do they ever fall?" and "why *do* they shave their legs anyway?" (I did inform one spectator the connection between cycling about drag queens, but I'm not sure they understood) truly showed that the race was a success.
I've been to a lot of bike races and no matter what (even in Belgium), there's always one person who complains. The race is blocking traffic...this slowed me down...why do they shave their legs...etc. etc. And true to form, as we headed back to the bar, one curmudgeonly able-bodied lady yelled something about "blocking handicapped people." Which, I'm still not sure what she meant. Did she mean the huge crowds? The bike pavilion? The media that came? I guess I could have asked the two guys in wheelchairs at the finish who I had spotted earlier cheering on the cyclists, but I think they had already left.