Photos courtesy of Julio Bustamante.
The Wolfpack Hustle Marathon Crash Race of 2013, the last time cyclists were "allowed" to race the Los Angeles Marathon course in the early hours of the morning, as the route was still being closed down and cars and other impending obstacles remained on the road (the danger being part of the glory of it all, if you could survive), before the runners showed up to pound the pavement at 4:00AM, was the start of my mildly-successful racing career.
The first time I ever tried to simply ride the route—as opposed to racing it—was in 2011. It rained, and rained hard. I bonked. The person I was riding with got an unchangeable flat. I remember I had been staring hopelessly at a handmade sign that had the number "eight" painted on it, thinking for a moment that it meant I only had eight miles to go out of the 26, when in wet reality I had only ridden eight miles, total. I turned around and rode back to the car defeated, frustrated, cold and shaking.
2013 was my year for redemption; an opportunity to face a few fears and jump over a few emotional hurdles. I had actually trained to compete this time, and was certainly a lot more prepared than when I'd made my first attempt. Hurling through the eerily empty streets of a closed-off downtown Los Angeles en route to the beach at night was exhilarating, to say the least, as I tried keep up with whatever fast group I could find.
It was a very anticlimactic end to the race. During the last stretch, I sprinted around a confused Jeep, with its driver probably wondering in alarm why he was being swarmed by a sea of fast-moving cyclists. I sprinted quickly away from the other woman (now a good friend) gunning for whatever position we were trying so hard to take home and I finished with what I felt was one hell of a valiant effort.
Afterward, as I mingled with the group of a thousand or so tired participants, talking about the race as the sun began to rise and a hazy, bored morning began to show itself above the Santa Monica pier, I wondered how on earth I had done. The friends I had come with wanted to leave. I unceremoniously lagged behind as we rode uphill five miles to a Denny's, where I stared blankly at my scrambled eggs and hash browns, still confused as to whether I had even made the top ten or not.
A few very long, drawn-out days later, as is typical with Wolfpack, the official list of finalists was posted online. I was sitting outside my parents house, still in my car, when my then-boyfriend gave me a ring and said in his monotone canter, "Asia. You got third."
Third? Third place? A spot on the podium? I had been hoping for ninth, or an extremely optimistic seventh, or just something, really. Just an answer. But third? Mind blown, I hung up the phone and bounced around in the car like a five-year-old on her way to Disneyland, grinning from ear to ear.
All this to day, you can only imagine the disappointment I felt when last year's Marathon Crash Race was cancelled, followed by the elation that its replacement would be landing in my hometown, in Long Beach, renamed the Short Line Crit for its close proximity to Shoreline Dr. and the small size of the course.
It was a chance for my friends and family to get a taste of this life-consuming hobby of night riding I had developed, which I didn't realize was that strange until I started participating in USA Cycling-sanctioned events and garnered some experience dealing with those daytime rules and regulations.
Wolfpack Hustle races are not sanctioned. They're badass, for lack of a better word. But if you can get the City on your side and a decent insurance plan to cover the riders, then your name is Don Ward and you've successfully turned what is potentially a very dangerous event, that traditionally occurs under an always less-than-protective blanket of stars, into something legitimate that hundreds, sometimes thousands of cyclists look forward to every single year.
For some, it's just a really fun getaway from the arguably snobby sanctioned race culture, for others, like myself, it presented an opportunity to simply try out a race without having to buy a racing license or even know that much about typical racing etiquette. Thanks to the Marathon Crash Race and a number of other factors, I've been cycling competitively for almost three years now and, while I would still consider myself a newb, the only way you'll get me to stop is by prying that bicycle out of my cold, dead hands. The sense of empowerment and independence garnered from simply riding this two-wheeled machine, not to mention doing well in a race, have done wonders for my self-esteem and I'm afraid of the highly caustic persona I'd inhabit without the excuse to roll outside and hammer out thirty miles or more.
A criterium is different from the 26-mile raucous dash for the finish that the Crash race was. A criterium consists of laps ridden around a closed course. It's a little bit less about strength and stamina and a little bit more about positioning yourself for the sprint finish. If you can make it to the final lap without having exhausted yourself completely, you can try and gun it past your competition to line. Or, if you're the warrior woman that is Jo Celso, you can just lap the field so the sprint is the least of your worries.
2015's Short Line Crit will be the introduction to the third year of the Wolfpack Hustle Unified Title Series, a larger series of races that will consist of a second race in Huntington Park, the third in Downtown Los Angeles and the final competition in Austin, TX. This year will be the first time the series has gone national. Ward, Wolfpack Hustle’s relentless leader, hopes to add an East coast city to the series by 2016 and plans to keep Long Beach as a permanent facet.
“Downtown Long Beach Associates couldn't be more friendly to work with,” said Ward. “I’m so thankful for the opportunity to have a race especially in bike friendly Long Beach. The City of Long Beach epitomizes what I look for when considering location and I plan to make Long Beach a permanent part of the series for as long as the city will have me.”
This year's Short Line Crit will be the same as last year's race, with 24 laps ridden around a four-corner, square-shaped course in the heart of the East Village Arts District. It's a great setup for spectators, and thanks to the Downtown Long Beach Associates' (DLBA) enthusiasm for bringing all things two-wheeled to our City, Saturday, May 30 will not only be about the race, but will feature a City Cross obstacle course, Gold Sprint races from a stage and other "fixie" competitions. Enthusiasts can enjoy the scene then visit the Beachwood BBQ and Brewing & Friends craft beer garden, vendor booths and listen to live music. In other words, Bike Fest 2015 in downtown Long Beach is going to be an event that you'd be crazy to miss.
Brian Addison, Communications Manager at the DLBA, couldn't have said it any better about where Long Beach is headed as far as bikes are concerned. Addison iterated, "We're both honored and thrilled to have Wolfpack come down once again to Bike Fest; we feel that it screams volumes about the importance of collaboration as well as positioning DTLB as a premiere biking destination."
He continued, "Wolfpack is a distinctly respected and recognized group that has, in many ways, altered the way bicycling and competition are viewed throughout the region. By sponsoring and hosting the Short Line, we are not only bringing some of the fiercest bicyclists straight into the Downtown, but are leading the way in how bicycling events are done."
Last year's event attracted over 300 competitors, about 50 of them women. According to Ward, qualifiers this year will be run at a closer time to the main event, in an effort to tighten up the schedule. The qualifiers will begin at 4:00PM with the award ceremony at 10:00PM.
At the Short Line Crit 2014 I managed another third place in the women's road category and a less than desirable placing for the fixed gear category. I clambered onto the podium to awkwardly open a bottle of champagne next to the other women who had absolutely killed the competition. This year, I'm determined to do it differently, to actually give myself a fighting chance against the out-of-towners who deservedly crowded the stage last year.
In the words of Addison, "Long Beach needs to win this time," and with that, you'll sure as fire see me putting up a fight for those dog tags come May 30.
For more information about Wolfpack Hustle and the upcoming Unified Title Series 2015, click here, for the latest news about Bike Fest 2015, click here and for more information and to RSVP for Bike Fest 2015, click here.