Summer 1986. Lasalle Criterium, Montreal, Quebec. The sun is hammering down on a depleted field. I have been cursing my empty bottles but now the shaved ounces might just make the difference. Third wheel into the last corner then out of Kev’s draft …up against the barriers looking for shelter from the crosswind. Half a wheel at the line gets us another prime. Kev and I have been after the primes all day (in fact, all season) and will have a little pile of money and product to show for it. This is 80’s style gutter racing: hard, fast and scrappy. We are trying to win races, sure, but we also have to make some money so that we can afford to actually get to those races.
Every weekend we make the drive from Ottawa to Quebec (yup, in the pre-mountainbike, halcyon days of road racing there were at least three races worth driving to each week. Local crowds, prize-money, the lot.) and set out to make some money. The prime laps are our first targets. Let’s face it, the really fast guys don’t need little bits of cash. Their entry fees (tires, bikes, travels cost too, for all we knew) are paid by sponsors so they can save themselves for the glory of the finish line. A few of us, trying to break through, scrabble over the money available at the primes (sprint laps) early in a race.
When I say money I use the term loosely. The fact is when the primes are announced the riders can almost never hear what the value is. A mix of French, Italian, English and crowd noise over which a bell is clanging is impossible to decipher. But just the sound of the bell is enough to whip young, desperate sprinters into action.
Today, Kev and I split up $120 cash, one tubular tire, a 6pack of Coke complete with a cheesy cooler case, and a Silca Track Pump. Not a bad haul …except the coke. This just pisses me off. That we worked so hard, forced ourselves deep into the redzone for a box of Coke is like a slap in the face. I feel like giving one a good shake and offering it to the race organizer. Kev gets the better of me(as always) and we instead offer it, cooler and all, to a family that is picnicking on the course. And, no, we didn’t shake it before we handed it over!
Normally we sell whatever we can right after the races but today I argue the merit of keeping the Silca pump. At the time these made-in-Italy pumps were rare and expensive. I was sick of mooching around at races looking to borrow so I argued that we should have a pump of our own. It was a shared asset for years until Kev went off to Europe …to become a real racer. The pump? It stayed with me.
Now, this Silca is beaten and obsolete. I have replaced parts over the years but until a few weeks ago it tirelessly did it’s job. Sure, I saved a bike from that era and I have a jersey and a hat, too. But unlike other keepsakes, I have used this pump many times a week for creeping up on twenty-five years. Just last week I bought a new pump. It is shiny and smooth as butter but I doubt it will share my 60th birthday celebration. The Silca remains part of my story. It is a reminder of all those years of gutter-racing when I was a kid. It reminds me that if I work hard I too might last a long time.