The official unofficial smart-ass of 2012 masters ‘cross Worlds

A quick quiz. Who has two thumbs, used to write a blog, and is now the official unofficial smart-ass and John Gadret worshiper of 2012 masters ‘cross Worlds?

Me.

I was seeking some clarification about the seeding heats which several age groups at the now-in-progress UCI Masters Cyclo-cross World Championships (the first EVER ‘cross world championship of any kind held outside of Europe, hosted by Louisville, Kentucky) had to contest prior to their actual world title race, which brought me to the event’s technical guide.

And there it is on page 2’s “Dear Racer” introduction, for all of the masters ‘cross universe to peruse, a link to my very own ode to America’s only ‘cross world champion: Matt Kelly-Low Budget Superstar, cited as “a fun read” by masters ‘cross Worlds organisers Joan Hanscom and Bruce Fina.

Page 2 from the 2012 UCI Masters Cyclo-cross World Championships tech guide

I don’t know if some lowly staffer has punked the tech guide, or if the Matt Kelly-Low Budget Superstar decision indeed came down from on high, but it was, to say the least, a surprise of epic proportion.

I had no earthly idea this would be included, and if I had I’d be in Louisville right now, in a booth, autographing tech guides and prepping all within earshot for the 2013 arrival of his freakiness, John Gadret, to Eva Bandman Park for the full-on elite ‘cross Worlds next year, where I can assure you he won’t again be abandoned by his chain-smoking pit crew on the last lap if he’s got a medal in his sights.

And I’d also be laughing, because a certain former employer of mine, with a flying P logo, gets some not-so-nice PR about its total ineptitude when it came to supplying US team edition kits for the Poprad, Slovakia world championships. D’oh!

One way or another I’ll be in Louisville next year for ‘cross worlds, and maybe there will indeed be a Matt Kelly-Low Budget Superstar booth containing me, living legend Matt Kelly, his rusty LeMond, and his rainbow jersey to inspire our compatriots to bring home the gold in what will likely be the only ‘cross world championships hosted in the United States for some time.

Get Your Grand Tour On (redux)

As the 2011 Tour de France starts in earnest today, I thought it would be a good time to revisit my homage to the clip-art genius of David Rees, creator of Get Your War On, with my own version, Get Your Grand Tour On, which first aired on Bobke Strut just prior to the 2008 Tour.

With the unfortunate passing of Laurent Fignon in August of 2010, this will be the first Tour without “The Professor”, but maybe not the last…


And a hat tip to Brad Evans, who beat me to the punch with the re-airing of GYGTO.

Lone Biker of the Apocalypse

Me 'n' J.G. banner

It’s true. Judgement Day will soon be upon us. May 21, 2011.

Planet Earth has been stricken with earthquakes, floods, nuclear meltdown, war, pestilence, turmoil. And the last sign that The End is upon us? John Gadret has won a Grand Tour stage.

Yes, his Freakiness lit it up today on the steep finishing pitch at the conclusion of stage 11 at the Giro d’Italia. With 300m to go, as the GC contenders balked for a split second in their pursuit of Katusha’s Daniel Moreno, John Gadret turned on the afterburners, laid waste to his Giro rivals, reduced Moreno to a puddle of goo, and finally captured that elusive uber win.
It's true. John Gadret won a bike race. Photo by Roberto Bettini.
It’s true. John Gadret won a bike race. Photo by Roberto Bettini.

After a few off-seasons of denying his love affair with cyclo-cross, Gadret once again put in a winter of muddy goodness and has reaped the rewards.

That bastard had best keep his affinity for mud, Dugast tubulars, and embrocation alive and kicking through Louisville, 2013, because I’m going to sit that flyweight Frenchman down in a bar stool, shake his hand, and buy him a beer.

My work will then be done.

I’m not dead yet”

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice that Bobke Strut has been updated about as often as John Gadret wins bike races. Like once a millennium.

Frankly, I’ve run out of gas. But…I still have a few ideas which need to be shared and will put my nose to the grindstone to get those cranked out. For real.

I don’t need no stinkin’ road bike

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One of my favorite moments of cycling lore and legend involves Swiss superstar Thomas Frischknecht at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. On July 30, 1996 Frischknecht earned a silver medal in the mountain bike event. One day later, with a slot on the Swiss road squad suddenly vacant due to the last minute withdrawl of Tony Rominger, Frischknecht slapped some road wheels on his Ritchey ‘cross bike and rocked the road race. The 26-year-old Swiss survived the 222km event to finish 110th, 4:08 behind compatriot and gold medalist Pascal Richard, for likely the first and last time a cyclist competed in both the road and mountain bike events at a single Olympics.

Fast forward to the 2010 Tour of Slovakia and a certain Czech ‘cross world champion with a similar mindset.

Zdenek Stybar in yellow at the Tour of Slovakia. Photo by Patrik Pátek.
Exhibit A: Zdenek Stybar reigns supreme at the Tour of Slovakia. Photo by Patrik Pátek.

Zdenek Stybar scorched the 1.3km prologue on Tuesday to claim the Tour of Slovakia’s first leader’s jersey and then tried to defend his lead Wednesday in the 176.8km opening stage.

[Oh hell yeah] On his ‘cross bike.

Zdenek Stybar at the 2010 Tour of Slovkia. Photo by Patrik Pátek.
Exhibit B: What the… Photo by Patrik Pátek.

Not only is Stybar resplendent in yellow, but the reigning ‘cross world champion is getting in some dismount practice out on the road while his fellow competitors wonder if they’re hallucinating.

On the opening road stage Stybar finished fourth in the same time as winner Alexander Porsev, but the Russian took over the race lead due to the winner’s time bonus. No matter, though, as Stybar took it right back today.

Let it rip Zdenek.

Cue the Corones

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Four years ago, John Gadret was slaying it on perhaps the most climber-friendly ‘cross course in Europe: the Koppenbergcross, which, yes, takes in a chunk of the cobbled Koppenberg each lap. The problem was, what goes up must come down. And Gadret doesn’t really do down. Not when you weigh maybe 128 lbs. So he’d light up the Koppenberg, and then get schooled on the descent until finally the elastic snapped at the hands of the Rabobank tag-team of Sven Nys and Richard Groenendaal.

I’m sure Gadret was thinking, “Damn, what’s a dude gotta do to get a ‘cross course that’s uphill the whole way.”

Cue the Plan de Corones.

John Gadret flattens the Plan de Corones. Photo by Sirotti.
John Gadret flattens the Plan de Corones. Photo by Sirotti.

Only former Giro champ Stefano Garzelli and world champion Cadel Evans rode it faster today.

Just for shits and giggles, Angelo Zomegnan should have tossed in a few barriers and carved steps into the upper slopes when it hit 24%. Gadret would have killed it.

Gadret, currently in 17th overall at the Giro and steadily moving up GC as the mountains get scarier, is a rare breed indeed: a world class ‘cross rider who can hold his own in Grand Tour mountain stages.

The last man who proved his mettle in both realms was Switzerland’s Pascal Richard. In 1988 at the age of 23, Richard won the pro ‘cross world championship and then set his sites on the road. At the 1994 Giro Richard won the climber’s classification, one stage and finished 15th overall. The next year Richard won two stages and improved his GC finish to 13th.

It’s doubtful Gadret will ever come close to matching Richard’s palmares, which also includes two Monuments (Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Giro di Lombardia), an Olympic road race gold medal (the first of the pro era), 2 Tours de Romandie, a Tour de Suisse and a Tour de France stage. But let’s see if Gadret can at least match, or top, Richard’s Giro-best 13th overall.

And it should come as no surprise that the all time king of kings when it comes to combining ‘cross and road palmares is Belgium’s Roger de Vlaeminck. Just look at what he did in 1975: Belgian ‘cross champion, world ‘cross champion, three stages and overall at Tirreno-Adriatico, Paris-Roubaix champion, seven stage wins/points jersey/4th overall at the Giro d’Italia, Tour de Suisse champion, Championship of Zürich champion and a few other wins thrown in for good measure in some Italian one-day races.

Unreal. And all with a pair of sideburns that weigh as much as John Gadret.

Appetite for destruction

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Since John Gadret let the world know today that he’s still amongst the living, I figured I should follow suit from my lengthy exile from the interwebs. For all the talk about how Cadel Evans felt at home on dirt, JG loves him some Tuscan slime just as much. Gadret is the only Giro rider who also rocked ‘cross worlds this year in Tabor, and if the freaky one had his way today I’m sure he’d have preferred an additional dash of uber cold and ice to really make everyone weep.

John Gadret flanked by a pair of Giro champs, Damiano Cunego and Stefano Garzelli. Photo by Sirotti.
John Gadret flanked by a pair of Giro champs, Damiano Cunego and Stefano Garzelli. Photo by Sirotti.

The last time Gadret rode the Giro was in 2006, and after showing some brilliant results in the mountains he unfortunately left in an ambulance after crashing out in stage 18. Perhaps he should heed the commentary of stage six winner Matt Lloyd who, when describing the destruction of the Giro’s opening week said with a laugh, “The beauty of this race is that even if you’re one and half hours behind at the end of the first week, you can still be in top five at the end.”

JG’s currently in 30th overall, 12:00 back. Let’s see how he does tomorrow after the Giro’s first summit finish…

The Cyclo-cross World Championship is Decadent and Depraved

Since I just finished reading each and every last page (all 715 of them) of Bill Simmons’ lengthy tome The Book of Basketball, it got me thinking about applying his Martian Premise to the 2013 Cyclo-Cross World Championships, recently awarded to Louisville, Kentucky.

The Martian Premise in a nutshell:

Let’s say basketball-playing aliens land on earth, blow things up Independence Day-style, then challenge us to a seven-game series for control of the universe. And let’s say we have access to the time machine from Lost, allowing us to travel back Sarah Conner-style and grab any twelve NBA legends from 1946 through 2009, transport them to the present day, then hold practices for eight weeks before the Final Finals. Again, we have to prevail or planet Earth as we know it ends. Which twelve players would you pick?
Page 673.

While I’m not really sure if Hunter S. Thompson would groove on the concept and aesthetic appeal of cyclo-cross as an athletic endeavor, nonetheless I’m invoking the Martian Premise to reach back in time and deliver 1970 Hunter S. Thompson and partner-in-crime Ralph Steadman to Louisville, Kentucky (Thompson’s hometown and bête noire) for the world ‘cross championships in 2013. Because the thought of the cream of the world’s ‘cross peloton racing for rainbow bands in Kentucky is pretty much the same as aliens landing in the US and blowing things up Independence Day-style.

Why 1970 Hunter S. Thompson, you ask? Well, that’s the magical year in which he crafted the first instance of gonzo journalism: The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved, also the first collaboration between Thompson and Ralph Steadman. It’s also the year in which Hunter S. Thompson nearly became elected sheriff of Aspen, Colorado on the “Freak Power” ticket, a political race which saw the creation of the most badass campaign poster ever conceived, courtesy of artist Tom Benton:

Hunter S. Thompson's campaign poster for his run at Aspen, Colorado sheriff in 1970, created by Aspen artist Tom Benton.

And I don’t think Thompson and Steadman would need an additional posse of ten to round out my Martian Premise, those two will suffice just fine in Louisville.

Just imagine it, Thomspon unleashed at what will be the craziest two days of ‘cross racing this country has ever seen. He’s just the tonic to go toe-to-toe with DBDs, offer up bourbon shots on run-ups, fire off large-caliber handguns into the air for shits and giggles, heckle souls like nobody’s business and just be wired to his core with the manic energy afoot amongst rabid tifosi.

And how could you go wrong with Ralph Steadman’s illustrations to chronicle the shenanigans afoot? Especially when I arrange for Hunter S. Thompson to have a meet-and-greet with the alien to end all aliens John Gadret.

Ah, yes…one can dream.

And while (woefully) the sport in which Hunter S. Thompson cared the most about is professional football, I unearthed a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon connection between Thompson and a legend of cycling. And a legend of motorsports, too, which is a veritable Hunter S. Thompson passion.

It all started in one of those cosmic coincidences, in my case buying some Flying Dog Brewery beer while immersed in reading the definitive tome of Thompson’s life, William McKeen’s Outlaw Journalist: The Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson (highly recommended). I always wondered why Flying Dog Brewery beer is adorned with Hunter S. Thompson quotes and Ralph Steadman artwork, and now I found my answer.

The founder of Flying Dog Brewery is a certain George Stranahan, who opened the brewery’s precursor, the Flying Dog brewpub, in Aspen, Colorado. Stranahan has had an interesting life and is amongst other things things the founder of the Aspen Institute for Physics - a world-class center for theoretical physics; a professional photographer; creator of the “Mountain Gazette”; founder of the Woody Creek Tavern; and a 40-year friend of Hunter S. Thompson. Stranahan’s bio on the Flying Dog Brewery website states his and Thompson’s “common interests as drinking, talking politics, guns, noise, and some drugs”.

Now, to the Kevin Bacon part. Hunter S. Thompson’s famous abode, Owl Farm, located in Woody Creek, Colorado, about 10 miles outside of Aspen, was acquired from George Stranahan. Stranahan had been coming to Woody Creek since the mid-1950s and settled permanently there in the early 1970s. Stranahan came from a wealthy family and owned real estate in the Aspen area, a portion of which became Thompson’s famed compound.

Stranahan’s money can be traced back to George’s grandfather, Frank Stranahan, and his great-uncle, Robert Stranahan, who founded the Champion Spark Plug Company in 1905. Frank and Robert Stranahan’s early partner in that endeavor was a certain Frenchman named Albert Champion, the Champion of Champion Spark Plugs.

In the early 1900s Champion came to America to avoid both conscription in France and to take up the sport of auto racing. He quit driving race cars after nearly being killed in a race accident, but remained involved in the design and manufacture of spark plugs and magnetos in his workshop.

The Stranahans and Champion had a falling out, which led Champion to depart from the Stranahan partnership and form a rival firm called AC Spark Plug Company (the AC is Champion’s initials), now AC-Delco.

But before Champion made his mark in the world of motorsports, he first came to prominence as a cyclist with two notable wins in his palmares. As a 21-year-old in 1899, Albert Champion won none other than The Hell of the North, Paris-Roubaix. He later became the French motor-pace champion on the track.

So there you have it…the Hunter S. Thompson/Paris-Roubaix connection, courtesy of a trivia contest based on Hollywood’s iconic bike messenger, Kevin Bacon.

Ice Ice Baby

Part I

In the not too distant past, the Clark Kent to my Bobke Strut earned a living by being a state government employee, more specifically a librarian. The job had its ups and downs, as any means of employment usually does, but one of the awesome perks was my department had a sweet travel budget.

Sweet travel budget=conferences galore, nationwide. I’ve been to San Francisco, Washington, DC, Miami Beach, Minneapolis, and Chicago among other places.

And then there was Baltimore. ‘Going to conferences’ is frequently synonymous with hitting the local bars ASAP as soon as one’s sessions conclude. As luck would have it, there were quite a few bars to frequent in the immediate vicinity of my conference venue.

The gods must have surely been smiling down upon me, for somehow I stumbled across a drinking establishment with this sign inside:

The sign denoting the Vanilla Ice VIP area

Now, I thought Mr. Robert Matthew Van Winkle had retired that persona, but apparently not. And then…sweet Jesus…I peeked into the VIP area and saw this:

The sign denoting the Vanilla Ice VIP area

Now that’s fucking awesome.

In case you wondered, no, I did not happen to encounter Mr. Vanilla Ice in person as I was there a tad bit too early. Besides, it would have ruined the day in which none other than John Waters gave the keynote speech at my library conference. Several hours after he uttered his last word to the throngs of assembled librarians I was still in shock. John Waters knows how to spin a yarn, and he regaled us with stories of Baltimore and his film-making career for approximately an hour. Suffice it to say, I didn’t think I’d ever see the day at a library conference where a speaker was telling stories about being teabagged. Now that’s how you deliver a memorable keynote address.

I’ve always wondered if the party(ies) responsible for booking John Waters only knew him through his later films such as Hairspray, or if they were consciously aware they were also unleashing the creator of Pink Flamingos on the audience. Waters told a story about such a scenario, where a person rented Hairspray, liked it, then rented Pink Flamingos and tried to sue him for obscenity.

Of course, I had to get a book signed afterwards.

Vanilla Ice sculpture

Part II

And speaking of Ice, in a quirk of cosmic fate the weather in my neck of North Carolina happens to be the same as Tabor, Czech Republic - the iciest, snowiest ‘cross Worlds since Poprad, Slovakia in 1999. So I thought, time to bust out the ‘cross bike and take in the snow and ice right outside my door.

About one hour later I returned home, with a bit of Mother Nature as a souvenir.

Despite the ice on my shoe covers, the feet were toasty warm
An icy drivetrain
Oodles of ice
Who needs functioning brakes
Ice Road Bianchi

Part III

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And speaking of Ice, the freakiest man in cyclo-cross, John Gadret, is back at it. He blew off ‘cross season last year in order to focus on his road career and, uh, that didn’t quite work out. So he’s back, and will be seeking World Championship glory tomorrow in frozen Tabor, the one time out of the year he can ride sans his usual AG2R La Mondiale chocolate madness kit.

Now John Gadret has what one would call a love-hate relationship with racing ‘cross bikes on ice. You see, he would love to knock the lights out of his pit crew at said Poprad ‘cross Worlds in 1999 because he hates losing out on a certain silver medal in the U23 race. It turns out that a young JG was solidly in second place on the last lap in Poprad, so solid that all of the French pit crew at the second pit area bolted their positions to congregate at the finish line in celebration.

Unfortunately, Gadret flatted, rolled into the pit area, and was a bit freaked out to find nobody there. So freaked out, in fact, that by the time he bummed a wheel from neutral support and got back in the race he dropped to fifth place.

D’oh.

Bart Wellens won gold, fellow Belgian Tom Vannoppen won silver, and an incredulous Tim Johnson, unaware of Gadret’s mishap when he crossed the line, nabbed bronze, the first-ever ‘cross world championship medal for an American.

Let’s see what my favorite “hairless spider monkey” can uncork tomorrow in Tabor. My guess? 24th place, about 3:30 down on a raging Zdenek Stybar.

Same as it ever was…

An elderly Frenchman tosses his day's pros under the bus
Photo source: LIFE photo archive

“These punks today, riding bikes, getting paid mad money, they don’t know what it was like when blah blah blah blah…”

I’ve been poking around some on the LIFE photo archives, unsurprisingly perusing their images related to cycling. When you enter the phrase “bicycle racing” into the search engine, 31 photographs are returned. As one would expect, there are some Tour de France photos, some 6-day photos from the ’40s, several Little 500 pics, and then there’s a certain Monsieur Fourcet (as seen above).

The caption to this photograhs reads, “Veteran cyclist Fourcet expessing low opinion of modern racers, saying they no longer have good legs and are much too lazy.”

The location is France.

The month is July.

And the year is 1953.

Jeez, you’ve got to wonder what it takes to impress this guy. It’s quite likely the photo was captured while the 1953 Tour de France was in progress, won by that well-known slacker Louison Bobet, his first of three consecutive Tour victories. Alongside other perennial softies such as Raphaël Géminiani, Gino Bartali, Wim Van Est, Fiorenzo Magni, Hugo Koblet, Charly Gaul and Jean Robic.

And as luck would have it, there’s some stellar prose recently created concerning Louison Bobet: the ever-interesting Dave Moulton penned a Bobet primer and Rouleur #12 has a profile of Bobet’s younger brother, Jean, a rider (and writer) of no modest abilities in his own right. You’ll have to get your hands on the issue (or better yet, his book Tomorrow We Ride) to read his account of Louison laying waste to the field on Mont Ventoux during the 1955 Tour, while he endured his own personal level of hell to finish his first Grand Tour.

Laziness, indeed.

I Will Survive

Tyson Apostol-Survivor contestant-former professional cyclist

When major television networks, such as CBS, deem someone a “professional cyclist” I tend to get a wee bit suspicious. Yeah, sure he is. Just like I am, because, after all, I’ve won money pedaling my bike, too.

But wouldn’t you know, the man pictured above, Tyson Apostol, contestant on the current rendition of Survivor, indeed raced as a full-on Euro pro for three years as far as I can tell:

Prior to racing as a pro for three years in Austria, Apostol spent a season learning the ropes at the Belgian Cycle Center.

Here’s pretty much the extent of the palmares to be found on ‘the internets’:

  • Amateur
    • 2002: Tour de Berne (Switzerland) – DNF
    • 2002: Martigny-Mauvoisin (Switzerland) – 15th
    • 2003: Giro del Lago Maggiore (Switzerland) – 9th
    • 2003: Stausee-Rundfahrt (Switzerland) – 125th
    • 2003: GP Jang Goldschmit (Luxembourg) – 18th
    • 2003: Circuit des Ardennes (France) – DNF stage 2
    • 2003: Schifflange (Luxembourg) – 15th
    • 2003: Flèche du Sud (Luxembourg) – 99th overall
    • 2003: Tour de Jura (Switzerland) – DNF
    • 2004: Pro/1 Valley of the Sun – 36th overall
    • 2004: Prix des Flandres Françaises (France) – 30th
    • 2004: Grand Prix Demy Cars (Luxembourg) – 53rd
    • 2004: Vlaamse Havenpijl (Belgium) – 26th
  • Professional
    • 2005: Giro del Lago Maggiore (Switzerland) – HD
    • 2005: Stausee-Rundfahrt (Switzerland) – 96th
    • 2005: Settimana Ciclista Lombarda (Italy) – 105th overall
    • 2005: GP Schwarzwald (Germany) – DNF
    • 2005: Tour of Slovenia (Slovenia) – DNF stage 5
    • 2005: Brixia Tour (Italy) – DNF stage 3
    • 2005: Rund um die Nürnberger Altstadt (Germany) – DNF
    • 2006: Driedaagse van De Panne (Belgium) – DNF stage 1
    • 2006: US Pro TT Championship – 53rd (DFL)
    • 2006: US Pro Road Championship – DNF
    • 2007: Ronde van het Groene Hart (Netherlands) – DNF
    • 2007: Albert Achterhes Profronde van Drenthe (Netherlands) – DNF
    • 2007: Paris-Camembert Lepetit (France) – DNF

According to the Survivor website, Apostol is described thusly: “In many ways Tyson can be brash, egotistical and unapologetic but, oddly enough, he has no tolerance for ‘know-it-alls’ or individuals who lack common courtesy. In addition to, as he describes it, ‘looking awesome,’ his favorite hobbies are exercising and sunbathing. If he becomes the next sole SURVIVOR, he plans to use all of the money for selfish purposes, starting with ‘the most smoking motorcycle around.’

That sounds like Mario Cipollini. Or most of the Rock Racing roster.

Can Apostol prevail and upgrade his meager cycling-centric income to one padded with a $1,000,000 injection of cash?