Ben Popper coming through to the finishing straight. He moved up one spot from Day 1's finish. © Mike Clark

Ben Popper racing on day 2 in Toronto. © Mike Clark

by Ben Popper

A few weeks ago, I made a pilgrimage to Toronto.  We crossed the border looking for that UCI point, knowing that Saturday’s race was C1 and offered the prize to the top 15, but that with its new NACT status the race would be harder this year.  I lined up with that in the back of my head- just take 15th- and went at it.  I was sitting in 14th and could taste that point. I could smell it just sitting there 30 minutes away, and then I hit a rock.

I hit lots of rocks.  But this was a special rock.  This rock was placed there specifically to tell me to CHILL THE EFF OUT, it’s just a race.  Who needs UCI points?  I’m not a pro, I never claimed to be, and it doesn’t matter whether my name shows up in the rankings, I probably get more high fives on most race days than those fancy pants people do anyway.  Nevertheless, it took a rock, a broken spoke, and an out-of-commission-for-the-weekend wheel to transmit that message, and I landed in 20-somethingth place.  It’s ok.  I raced Sunday, drank some Canadian beer, made jokes with my friends Wes and Kevin about Canadian Jesus, and headed home, intent not to race for some stupid point but for FUN.  And so I did.

I raced twice at the Louisville USGP two weekends ago.  I went around in circles as fast as I could.  I only got hung up on my nuts once, and I guess it was entertaining to a whole crowd of people, but it really hurt, trust me.  Racing is what it is, some days I have it, some days I don’t, but let me tell you, finishing in the top 50% of a USGP is something that makes me feel good.  Like I belong!  Like that “1” on my license isn’t just because I bugged the hell out of some official!  Anyway.

As usual, though, things didn’t go the way you’d expect from someone lining up with the big boys.  See, my race matters, but so do my friends, and their races, and that meant that I had to be at the course at 10:15am to shout and heckle.  The timing threw a wrench in the nutrition plan (When to drink coffee?  When to eat pancakes?) and before I knew it, my stomach was growling and it was noon.  The only nearby source of food was Mexican, and having little choice, I had to do it.  Salsa isn’t generally good race food, and though I ordered the blandest thing on the menu- a chicken sandwich- I couldn’t resist that salsa on the table.  Bad idea.

Needless to say, this mixed well with the morning snack of bits of penis-shaped Appreciation Cookie (complete with appropriately-placed white frosting) we had presented to the My Wife Inc. crew, and I was fueled for a reaaaaaaaally nice race.  GULP.

Luckily the legs were burning at a fever pitch that blocked out the heartburn, and I could go for it.  Until I wiped out and hung my nuts up on the saddle on the remount, but I already mentioned that great highlight of the weekend.  I went around in circles, many times, and finished in the top half of the field and on the lead lap.  YAY.

That night it was more Mexican food with friends, and then I got a 10pm call from my friend Kerry.  He was camping alone in the dark stretches of the course and had a bonfire going.  Now, I’m an Eagle Scout.  I know fire, I love fire, I love setting things on fire.  And whether or not I needed to be “respectable” in the morning, I needed to join him and set some things on fire.  It was creepy being back on the dank, dark, hazy course, completely abandoned, just Kerry, the fire, and me, but what a memorable night.

The next morning, we nailed the nutrition problem with a great big egg sandwich and some home fries and then rolled to the course.  In front of the fire, Kerry and I had hatched a plan for a “beer down,” where he’d give me a PBR out of his pocket during the race, per the All Hail The Black Market trend.  I stood right in front of the announcer’s stand- you gotta make sure you get credit! – and he reached in his skinsuit pocket, grabbed a PBR, and handed it right to me.  BAM!  The announcers needed some explanation, but it was flawless.  I guess the officials didn’t love it, though, because Kerry said some guy that was riding near him got a warning… he thinks they mistook that guy for him.

Anyway, did I mention that I got to ride my bike, too?  Oh, what a day.  I lined up feeling like I had sat at a bonfire till 1am and filled my lungs with smoke, which I had, and I thought the one decent result on the weekend would be enough.  Then the guys just weren’t nailing the technical stuff and I found myself riding around them.  I love the days where the power-happy roadies have to bow to bmx skillz!  I crept from the 30’s into 18 and rode there, pulling a train of four around for like five laps.  I knew it was a death wish, but it was fun.

I popped with a mighty explosion on the last lap, and folks rode around me like I was standing still.  Luckily, only 26 people were on the lead lap, so I rolled to the finish as the last one on the course, just puttering along with the little energy I had left.  In fact, Julie had to convince the officials in the pit that someone was still left on the course– I fell back that far.  Some of the other guys from that train in 18-21 place hung out at the finish to thank me for pulling them around.  Glad I could make their day.  I was too busy having fun to think about race tactics or anything, so it’s all good.

Then we went to New Albanian Brewery and drank socialist beers.

It was a good weekend.  Stick around, things are getting even better. Thanks for reading.

Enjoy The Popper Diaries? Want to heckle Ben? Throw a comment below.