Ronnie Toth competed in Sunday’s Manhattan Beach Grand Prix; a race that nearly killed him only two years ago after he collided with a barrier on the sidelines. Below is a reflection of the race, along with an insider’s look at the final Cat 1-2 men’s race.
On Sunday I competed in a race that nearly took my life two years ago. Toeing the line at the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix Pro race took a courage and poise that we are seldom faced with on a daily basis.
Flashing back to donating two liters of blood to PCH in a 45mph collision with an awfully mean metal gate that left me in a nearly week long coma and 1 in 6 chance of succumbing to the injuries. I was a fortunate man to survive.
I was well aware of the dangers of racing at such speeds and sure to give extra clearance to the orange gates of death. A nice addition this year was that crowd control gates were zip tied at the top make sure that if someone did collide the gates would not separate causing additional injuries. The injuries I sustained two years prior included a humerus (bicep) bone that decided to exit my body and a face that was ripped open from my left eye, clear across my nose, leaving my sniffer to be replaced by a rib in subsequent surgeries.
Fortunate doesn't begin to describe the favor I had with the humble surgeons that pieced me back together. The decision to compete in the same event that nearly vacated me from this mortal coil was not an easy one. It was a calculated one, but one of passion and one of desire to thrive through adversity. The accident ended up becoming one of the best things that ever happened to me. It solidified parts of me that needed cementing and brought to fruition attributes that had been lying in wait, for the perfect opportunity to become salt and light to a dark and bland world. I realized through the ordeal and months of recovery that every human is fighting a battle. You may not be in a hospital bed, but people are daily going through the fires and pain in enduring all the worst that life can throw our way. I challenge you to see these fires and this pressing struggle as burning away that which you do not need and bringing into fruition the person that you are meant to become.
I had a smile on my face the entire time gliding through corners at 30mph for 90 minutes on Sunday. A smile that can only come from the inner joy of doing what you love and being fortunate enough to use my body and subject myself with 100 other fellow superhero clad gents in magical stretchy pants as we debate at 180 beats per minute who truly is the sweatiest dreamer in all the land. As I followed wheels I gave a bit of extra space to my right as the same malicious orange gate scowled at me with a magnetic vengeance and instead of fear I shot back a knowing grin that I can and have found the formula for what it means to thrive on.
There were around 100 men signed up for the men's Pro event. It ended up being a 28 mph average two hairpins each lap. A stacked field led to a hot pace from the gun with Brandon Gritters getting a 50-meter gap, with a pace hovering around 30mph. At speeds this fast and such a deep talented field, it is difficult and unlikely that a break will stick. The InCycle Cannondale UCI Pro team was present and looking to set up a bunch sprint for their duo of brothers, Corey and Justin Williams.
At some points, a break of 7-10 riders would get a 30-meter gap on the field. But with the 7 percent grade hill, each lap where we were coming in at 34mph made for a fast surging peloton to shut down a gap relatively quickly.
The race had an equal $8000 payout for the men's and women's Pro races.
There has been a certain shift in spectator turnout at USAC races in recent years. It seems less and less people are racing and fewer spectators line the course. Compared to a race like Red Hook or even our own local Wolfpack Hustle: Shortline Crit, the turnout is nothing in comparison. Fixed-gear is growing immensely. Even the latest Long Beach FUSAC race had more of a turnout. Certainly something interesting to observe.
In the end it came down to an expected bunch sprint with the pace being too fast for any of the breakaway attempts to stick. Justin Williams of InCycle Cannondale was able to get a 4-5 bike length gap sprinting head long into the final hairpin with 200 meters to go. He held the gap and took home the win for the boys in green.
The top prize was $1800, but you have to remember that in the top levels of pro cycling that gets split with his team of eight riders, equating to about $230 each. To put it in perspective, a solo rider finishing 15th-20th place would take home a similar $230 portion of the prize purse. It takes a team to win at a big race like this so it's tricky.
In a peloton this large and with this much talent, it takes a huge amount of timing or fire power to be able to stay at the front and not be swarmed in the closing laps when the pace heats up but slows suddenly as lead out men become exhausted and can no longer push 34mph into a crosswind. There's certainly a fitness portion to it but even luck factors in as windows of opportunity to reach the front open and must be acted upon instantaneously. It becomes very easy to have the pace lull and 20 riders come up the right side as pace slows on the left. In a matter of five seconds, you can go from being fourth wheel in perfect position for a sprint to 24th wheel and surrounded by riders with no way out. It's a good amount luck, timing, and skill honed through experience. There were three crashes mid race as riders fought for position and the pace slowing then quickly accelerating coming out of the hairpins.
I hope that others never have to face the questions that I asked myself during the road to recovery with jaw wired shut and a taste of blood in places it shouldn't reside, but take heart in this: you can get through the fire, you are not alone, and you too can define your own version of what it means to thrive through adversity as you seek to exhaust your own human potential in this short life we have been given. In this life, you will have trouble, but remember others have gone before you, and you CAN persevere. Find a way to thrive despite your circumstance.