Most urban centers have their mid-week hammerfest, their own take on your local Tuesday Night Worlds. Philly has The Drive; Tucson, AZ has the Shootout ride; Southern California roadies enjoy the legendary Wednesday ride from UC Davis; and nothing beats the oldie-but-goodie, reportedly 60+ years running, the Gimbels ride, just north of NYC.
If you’re on the other side of your 30s and hail from the Boston metro area, you may remember the Smackdown ride. Held religiously every Wednesday, starting from the Porter Sq area and picking folks along the way till its official departure in Lexington, the Smackdown attracted all manner of riders: pros, semi-pros, pack fillers, local hammers, and further varieties of the Joe Racer sort. It all began in early 2000, my buddy Raj plus a few other good friends needed a mid week stinger that didn’t require driving far, or the hassle of dissing work early for racing purposes (read: Wompie – but I do it anyway). It lasted a bit over an hour over rolling terrain, going through chunk-busting bergs, idyllic New England hamlets, and ending at the summit of the Col du Lex. Though the route wasn’t particularly unforgiving, the high speed (near 40km/h average was standard), the constant need for good positioning, and running a wicked tight paceline were very effective at polishing minor etiquette flaws (folks were vocal at proper riding) and revealing holes in one’s fitness. Bottom line is if you could hang with the first group, you were fit to race, period. The ride grew, became very popular, and required some clever tinkering to accommodate the size of the field. Soon we were dividing the peloton into 2 groups, the chased and the chasers (or kop van de wedstrijd and achtervolgers if you will), but with the ride’s growth came the logistical issues: departure time during rush hour traffic, unrefined riders, locals getting pissed off – consequently cops taking notice, plus stretches with poor pavement eventually sealed the demise of the Smackdown. It just got downright dangerous, and ran counter to what we initially set out to do, which was to do a hurtfest effort to mimic the closing kilometers of a race.
As a reminder, folks around here are not slow.
But the ride eventually died. The local guys stopped going, and we quit calling it Smackdown so as not to have the racing community associate what had become a reckless stunt fest with our club. Once we pulled the plug and de-baptized the workout, it withered. Its brilliance dimmed, and now it sits right there, in the back of our collective memories. I do miss it, though, mainly for the harder-than-racing, orbit-popping, lung-hacking action. At the same time, I don’t long for the nervous near misses, the yelling, or the general lack of respect from some riders/racers. Toe straps, Debbie Gibson and Smackdown belong in the same category of necessary pain for self development, albeit in the past, outdated, and definitely not coming back. For a while I felt a bit lost, and resorted to actual racing on Tuesdays at the local-ish Wompatuck series. Though very fast, close to traffic, and generally safe (unless your name is Kyle), it requires maneuvering to sneak out of work early, extra cash for the boat trip, food and race fee, plus astute political shenanigans with the wife or significant other so as to soften the indignity of coming back home at 9:30pm, filthy and famished. It’s a very good workout, but it has the surf-ready feeling that if your fitness is not up to snuff you can still hang, yet if you choose to work you can definitely hurt yourself. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Womp. But availability is paramount when your riding windows become shorter in the light of, (ahem), responsibilities, duties, obligations.
Enter the CRW 42. Looped around Dover, it starts in the outskirts of Newton on a well-marked route that includes unrelenting up-and-down action over choppy pavement, with narrow roads and scarce traffic. Departure time is at 8:30am on Saturdays, 2 groups, similar flavor. Perfect, right? So a few buddies decided to take a good look only to astonishingly report back about the eye-crossing efforts just to finish the ride. It’s longer than the old Smackdown at 42mi/67km, it has 2 very specific hurt spots, but is peppered by lefts and rights and ups and downs that render surfing impossible, quickly exposing vulnerabilities of both the physical and skill variety. Not paying attention? You’re dropped. Hit the hills with the wrong gear? Off the back you go. Let a gap open? Buh-bye peloton. Mis-shift after a turn? You’ll see stars as you chase at 50km/h to get back on a very fast moving field. The group consists of local heavy hitters, predominantly masters racers with similar riding constraints, but just as equally endowed with motivation, game faces, deep dish wheels, and embrocated legs. I jumped in, of course, and the experience was remarkable. Riders in less than race-ready condition were gone before the halfway point, the drilling was constant, average speed high. The post ride hurt felt very familiar: the exhilaration that inebriates the senses after successive deep diggings, and the morning after your glutes, hams and quads remind you of a very good thing done. It was safe, fast, painful, and it challenged me in ways that some USAC events don’t.
The best part? Some of the attendees are old enough to have ridden with toe straps, hum along Debbie Gibson’s tunes and most importantly, fondly remember Smackdown.