AUSTIN, Texas -- Bike messengers from all over the country gathered in the south-west corner of Austin for the 2011 North American Cycle Courier World Championships.
The race was the end of a week-long series of events and races starting with track races at the velodrome Houston the weekend before and finishing with the weekend of chaos in Austin -- including a ride between the two cities. During the week the racers were invited to race weekly cyclocross and a criterium races in Austin. The Friday before the race, after registration, there was an alley cat race and gold sprints at Cheer Up Charlie in east Austin.
Qualifying for the main race on Sunday happened Saturday. The top 30 percent qualified for the three-manifest race Sunday. For the qualifier, racers were organized by their race numbers and started 10 seconds apart. The course is actually a road course car race track and the rider could only ride clockwise around the track and had to pick up packages in a very specific order, but could drop off in any order. If a rider missed a pick up, they had to ride a lap to go back.
The rain forecast for the weekend made the race organizers change their plans a little. The main race had virtual or "understood" packages, which still had to be picked up in the same order as they appear on the manifest and could still drop in any order. The main race had three manifests and half of the riders were given one and half another. They each had to complete one manifest, then get another. All of the racers had the same final manifest.
The main race had the typical alley cat start, where the bikes are laid down in order facing the same direction. At a signal, the rider run up to their bikes and the race is on.
The racers had some time to figure out basic routing so they didn't have to do it as they raced. Although they have to pick up in order, they can drop in any order, usually on the way to pick ups. Keep in mind the race was done in laps and the check points were numbered one through 10, with 10 following 1.
The first checkpoint was sponsored by . During qualifying, the racers had to stop to have a portrait shot before running under the tent to step through race car tires before getting to the table. During the race, there wasn't any photography but the racers had to sign or tag or scribble on one of two Chrome messenger bags.
The ninth checkpoint was a bit of chaos. I think it was sponsored by a shoe company, but all I remember is the cloud of marijuana smoke (no, it was annoying) and the guy with meth teeth. They were trying to jam Pringles into the riders' mouths. It was hilarious. They were so enthusiastic, compared to the more subtle second and third check points.
The eighth checkpoint, on the inside of uphill esses, got pretty muddy and resembled a cyclocross course near the end of the race.
I can't help but think if I didn't talk to the people so much at check points, if I wasn't so careful packing the packages (I did it for riding through Manhattan in traffic in bad weather, not for a wide race track in a race) and if maybe I got rolling faster from the check points I would have qualified. I don't know. I'm not the slowest guy in town and I can still rip through traffic like when I was a NYC messenger, but it's been a couple of years and many of the people with whom I competed do it every day. Many are at least 10 years younger, some are on TV. I don't care, I had a good time.
Besides, if I were racing I wouldn't be able to take photos of the racers whilst riding on the track with them. And a certain famous messenger didn't qualify from the same mistake I almost made. Hey, defection occurs and the day was guano loco.
Maybe I'll get to go to the Cycle Messenger World Championships in Chicago.