Harlem Rocks! Thrills and Spills at a New York City Classic

Father’s Day, June 18, saw the 35th running of the Skyscraper Harlem  
Classic criterium in the fabled uptown Manhattan neighborhood.  
Beginning with kids races and some family fun, the day really started  
to roll as amateurs, women, and ultimately the professional men’s  
peloton took to the four-corner course around Marcus Garvey Park.  
While a morning rain provided for slick turns and plenty of crashes  
in the amateur races (locals don’t call it the “skinscraper” for  
nothing), the skies cleared and the sun dried the course for the pro  
men to take on 55 laps of criterium madness.

This year’s race enjoyed a shot of adrenaline provided by the Rock  
Racing team and its owner Michael Ball. With television coverage  
provided by WCSN and New York race promoter John Eustice at the helm,  
this year’s edition drew some big names including “Fast Freddy”  
Rodriguez, Tyler Hamilton and Rahsaan Bahati from Rock Racing, Ivan  
Dominguez and Jose Manual Garcia from Toyota-United Pro, and a solid  
field of speedsters from local and regional teams.

“I truly believe this race is a diamond in the rough,” Ball told me  
before the start, buzzing with excitement. “This is a great event and  
I want to turn it into something really special.”

In fact, Ball says he wants to develop a larger series in New York,  
possibly with a race in each of the city’s five boroughs. Big-time  
professional racing doesn’t come to NYC as often as it should, but  
when it does the riders always seem to enjoy it.

“New York is an awesome city and racing in New York is my kind of  
style,” Rodriguez commented. For teammate Hamilton, who came at the  
last minute at Ball’s request, the excitement of New York was enough  
to push through the fatigue of a heavy spring racing schedule.  
“Michael asked me if I would come and I thought why not?” he said.  
“He’s done a lot for me so I’m happy to be here for him.”

As the men wound themselves around the park, New York’s local racers  
didn’t disappoint, mixing it with the bigger pro teams. Rock Racing  
also delivered on their promise to put on a good show, taking the  
reins with ten laps to go and lining out the team in the hopes of a  
leadout for Bahati. Things were going according to plan until  
Dominguez and Toyota teammate Garcia swarmed the leadout train and  
left Bahati scrambling for new wheels. Meanwhile, it was young  
sprinter Eric Barlevav from Time Pro Cycling who provided the  
ultimate spoiler, pipping Bahati for the win with bike throw so  
dramatic that Barlevav took himself out and slide 40 feet down the  
pavement after crossing the line.

Amazingly enough nobody else crashed as a result and as the winner  
tried to process the pain and figure out what the heck happened, race  
announcers confirmed that he had snatched victory from the Rock  
Racing crew. A cringe became a smile and Barlevav peeled himself off  
the pavement, collected his flowers, and took the traditional Harlem  
victory lap on a borrowed bike. “I feel pretty good!” he told the  
race announcers when they asked for a damage report.

Time teammate and final leadout man Adam Myerson told me after the  
race that he had to abort his own victory salute from 10 riders back  
as he realized Barlevav was hitting the deck. “It would have been  
better if he didn’t crash,” Myserson laughed, but a win is a win.

As for Bahati, who tired to put the Rock Racing stamp on the event,  
he cheerfully claimed credit for the victor’s untimely tumble. “I was  
pissed! I put my voodoo on him!” Bahati joked on the podium.

With a new look and a fresh enthusiasm, the Harlem Skyscraper looks  
set to rock and roll on with even more in store for 2009.

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