BOBKE STRUTs into Chatham County

Signed title page of my old school Bobke book
Bob Roll came to Chapel Hill this past Tuesday night under the aegis of book promotion (his new book is basically an Idiot’s Guide to the Tour day France) and he spent approximately 1 hour rambling about professional cycling and answering questions from the rather substantial crowd (I’d guess about 200 people). The Bob Roll you meet in person is by and large the same Bob Roll you see on OLN: he can tell a good story, he’s got a wry sense of humor, and he’s just as amazed as the audience that he’s carved out a niche for himself on television. Bobke vividly personifies the stock from which Euro pros blossom: an admittedly poor student, a blue collar upbringing, and a genetic predilection for enduring season after season of pain and suffering on a bike. What sets him apart from the rank and file members of the pro peloton was some nascent intelligence and sense of purpose which manifested itself in his writing and immersion in the cycling culture of Italy and Belgium. This is a man who wrote poetry on his sidewalls, a man who worships Fausto Coppi, and a man who survived years of the primal, shitty, Belgian Spring Classic weather. To me, he’s the Mike Watt of professional cycling. While Bobke has quite a knack for pleasing a crowd at a book signing, I’m sure he’d be even more of a hoot in a bar after slugging back a few beers. I wanted to get him into Local 506, buy him a bunch of rounds, and hear him pontificate on the stories which didn’t find their way into print. I wanted to hear why he called the organizers of the Tour of the Adirondacks a bunch of douche-bags and vowed never to race there again and I wanted to see the Bobke Strut live in person.

I’m having trouble coherently organizing my thoughts so I’ll just spew forth with my memories of the Bob Roll Experience: Bobke really loves Lance and is convinced (as I am) that he’ll win his 6th Tour this July, Bobke likes to drink, Phil Liggett can drink Bobke under the table, Bobke noticed Kirsten Gumm’s “two new friends” but reserved further commentary, Bobke is under the spell of pro cycling omerta and refuses to believe Jesus Manzano’s drug allegations, Brasstown Bald is as tough as any European hors categorie climb, being a television announcer sure beats roofing houses in Durango, riding the Gavia Pass in a blinding snowstorm was Bobke’s toughest day on the bike (that was my softball question to see if he’d say anything else, but his vivacious description of being blind and screaming for Massimo Testa at the finish line while being filmed live on Italian television was in itself worth attending the event. Bobke’s quote to the world was “This sport SUCKS!”), just like one of Bobke’s heroes he was the Man in Black, and it’s always heartening to see ex-pros who look slim & trim.

Flashback to 1996…

1996 Tour DuPont rider roster for the Raleigh, NC Time Trial stageI’m a geek when it comes to cycling memorabilia. While I was looking through my Graham Watson books for a picture of Bob Roll riding the cobbles in Paris-Roubaix, I came across this program from the 1996 Tour DuPont’s TT stage in Raleigh tucked away in one of the volumes. I’m always fascinated by looking at past start lists to see which Euro pros have raced in the U.S. (quick quiz: did you know that Tom Boonen was on the podium of the 1999 Univest Grand Prix and that a young Laurent Jalabert finished on the podium of the 1990 USPRO race in Philly?) While I remembered Mapei sending their A team (Tony Rominger and co.) to do battle with Armstrong, check out who else made the trip. I’m pretty sure that these guys hadn’t really hit the big time yet, but nonetheless look who was here: Erik Dekker, Robbie McEwen, Michael Boogerd, Daniele Nardello, Marcel Wust, Leon von Bon, Arvis Piziks. And there’s also the contingent of Belgian/Dutch hard guy domestiques who live for the Spring Classics: Nico Eeckhout, Geert Verheyen, Tom Desmet, Erwin Thijs, Serge Baguet. What I was most amazed about was I missed my chance to meet the legendary Dane Claus Michael Moller. I have some sick fascination for this guy who’s been banned from racing in Denmark (due to failed drug tests) and survived on crap teams in Portugal. He must be pushing 40 these days, but he’s still going strong and lighting it up in the smaller Spanish and Portugese stage races. What also struck me was seeing all the American domestic pros who were such a huge part of the racing scene in the 90s who now are largely, if not totally, forgotten. Just like Bob Roll mentioned that Doug Shapiro disappeared into the woodwork, I wonder what happened to these guys who were on the forefront of pro cycling’s rebirth in the States? It’s also interesting to note the surprisingly few riders who competed both in the last incarnation of world-class stage racing in the U.S., the 1996 Tour DuPont, and the recently completed and fabulously successful Dodge Tour of Georgia: Scott Moninger, George Hincapie, Bobby Julich, Trent Klasna, Chris Horner, and last but not least Lance Armstrong (and an honorable mention should go out to Jonathan Vaughters who competed in 1996 and was the USA National Team D.S. in Georgia) are the only repeat competitors.

I was a spectator for a few of the 1996 Tour DuPont stages. I saw the TT stage in Raleigh, followed the peloton from Raleigh to Greensboro the next day, and then saw the start of the stage in Mt. Airy the day after that. It still boggles my mind that these guys raged through downtown Raleigh, that Leon von Bon won a hot spot sprint on Franklin Street near Peppers Pizza, and that Radisa Cubric nearly won the stage finishing in Greensboro while racing on a freshly fractured wrist. That bastard (Cubric) is still terrorizing (both figuratively and literally) the Masters and Pro/1/2 fields in the Southeast. I got to meet and chat with both Graham Watson and Phil Liggett in Mt. Airy, NC. That was an odd encounter. I remember talking to Graham Watson and looking over his shoulder to see some goofy-ass Barney Fife impersonator strutting around Main St, Mt. Airy. I don’t think the Euro pros quite understood what was going on or why this character fired the starting gun. Main St., Mt. Airy is also the place where I got to meet for the first and last time living-legend Sean Yates. What I remember the most, however, was the incessant bitching and griping that dominated the local news the evening of the Raleigh TT. Never mind that Lance Armstrong just kicked Tony Rominger’s ass, the only thing reported on was all the pissed off people in Raleigh who were inconvenienced by the streets being closed on a Friday afternoon. While I think the Tour of Georgia proved that the U.S. public can tolerate road closures (aside from the geezer who creamed the U23 rider with an SUV in the TT), unless there’s a rock star performer of Lance Armstrong’s stature it will be a tough sell in the future.

All The News (except cycling) That’s Fit To Print…The New York Times

What does it take to get some press coverage for professional cycling into The New York Times? While I don’t turn to the NYT for cycling information, I do notice when articles appear about the sport. They’ve done a competent job of covering the Tour de France with writers Samuel Abt and Frank Vescey, but I was rather shocked that not one iota of ink was spent on covering Lance Armstrong’s stellar victory in the Dodge Tour of Georgia. I distinctly remember one of the cycling websites mentioning that the NYT had a reporter on location and I’d be rather curious to find out the fate of his/her race reports. If Lance Armstrong kicking ass on his native soil, Super Mario Cipollini winning a field sprint, and exciting racing on a daily basis from domestic as well as Euro-pros doesn’t warrant coverage, what does? Even having Sheryl Crow show up in a helicopter didn’t do the trick. Not even the specter of calamity (the U23 rider Craig Lewis getting creamed by an SUV during the time trial) piqued the Times’ interests. Sadly, I think pro cycling is doomed to even deeper obscurity and marginalization once Lance Armstrong retires (and I’d be willing to bet big bucks that if he wins his 6th Tour de France this year he’s going to pack it in on the podium).

I’m heading up to Richmond, VA on May 8th to check out the CapTech Classic and am curious about how the Fox TV coverage will pan out. Maybe there’s still hope. I’ve been heading up to Philadelphia for the Corestates/First Union/Wachovia/Whatever Big Bank Rules Philly Now race for the past 6 years and am truly impressed by the support of cycling exhibited by a major metropolis. It seems that San Francisco is also equally enthusiastic about their San Francisco Grand Prix. I’m crossing my fingers that the Pro Cycling Tour will propel domestic professional cycling out of niche obscurity, but perhaps domestic cycling’s heyday will always be the early 20th century, never to be repeated again.

Only about a month or so ago I had the good fortune to spend a week in Hawaii. While most of our time was spent on Oahu, we made a detour to the Big Island where I found a bike shop in Hilo very reminiscent of this New Yorker cover. None of the bikes were new, but it was a pleasant trip down memory lane all the way back to the Mongoose I cruised around South Orange, NJ on in my youth back in the 70s. Bikes were stacked together, hanging from the ceiling and parts were strewn about in bins and on shelves. The owner, Bill Jackson, was super friendly, laid back, and full of stories about each of the bikes in the shop such as the old school Cannondale mountain bike, the Steelman ‘cross bike, his sweet ti singlespeed he got off of ebay, 80s road bikes with Grip Shifts…We were there just as the shop was closing at 5pm and a friend of Bill’s showed up with a whole bunch of beer to kick back before heading out on a ride. It’s shops like this that keep the lore and legend of our sport alive and I rue the day when these repositories of cycling history go belly up and fade into the woodwork. The owner of this particular shop had carved out his niche in Hilo and seemed to be doing alright, and he talked about some grand masterplan of taking his used bike/part business online. He offered to set me up with a mountain bike and take me for a ride, but sadly we were pressed for time and were flying back to Oahu early the next morning. One of these days a big bag of cash is going to drop out the back of an armored car while I’m out on a ride and all that dough is going to finance a long-term, I mean really long-term, stint in Hawaii on the Big Island.

I could be condemned to Hell for every sin but littering…Mike Doughty

John Lieswyn hit the nail on the head the other day with his comments about roadside litter (Tour of Georgia preview, April 6th entry). I live in the Triangle region of NC and it’s never ceased to amaze and appall me how much garbage is either tossed out the windows of vehicles or flies out of trucks without any tarp covering their payloads. I was out on a ride yesterday a bit north and then west of Durham and as an experiment over a 10 mile stretch of road I started counting to myself every time I passed a piece of trash on the side of the road. I never counted higher than 5…That’s a ridiculous amount of trash, and I’m not counting minute particles of Evel Knievel's skeleton and the punishment it's enduredpaper or cigarette butts. This is bottles, cans, magazines, kitchen-sized trash bags stuffed completely full, fast food detritus (bags, fountain drink containers, wrappers), broken furniture, miscellaneous clothing items…Is it too much to ask to keep your crap inside your vehicle until you get home or wherever else you’re headed? And cyclists who pitch Powerbar or GU wrappers are equally as guilty. Keep that shit in your jersey pocket until you get to a garbage can.

One Tough Mofo…

I think Joseba Beloki needs to give Evel Knievel a call so he can get his head screwed back on right and purge retirement thoughts from his mind. This is Evel Knievel’s skeleton and as you can see, among other shattered bones, Evel broke his femur not once, not twice, but FIVE times. Joseba only broke his once and he’s a shattered man. Granted, Evel wasn’t pedalling his Harley over 14 Greyhound buses, but Joseba could use a pep talk from Mr. Knievel nonetheless. I think this all stems from Lance Armstrong’s Jedi Mind Trick campaign that’s going full on in his attempt to attain 6 Tour de France victories and cycling immortality. Lance’s constitution is also Evel-esque in nature (who else would race the 2000 Olympic Games with a cracked vertebrae in his neck?), and now he’s waging psychological warfare among the podium contenders for Paris. Jan Ullrich? Pudgy and can’t finish a race…Joseba Beloki? Feeble-minded and can’t finish a race…Vinokourov? At least he’s getting results, but there’s no way that he can consistently out-climb or out-time trial an insanely focused Armstrong. To me, it’s looking like an all-American showdown between Lance and Tyler. I’d love to see what Hamilton can do with all his bones connected.

Roll out the red carpet…

How cool is this? Bobke’s coming to Chapel Hill! I know where I’ll be next Tuesday night…

Tuesday, April 27 7:00pm
Author Event at McIntyre’s
Bob Roll, ESPN Tour de France commentator and an anchor for the Outdoor Life Network’s coverage of the 2004 Tour de France, will discuss his new book, The Tour de France: A Nuts and Bolts (and Spokes) Guide to the Greatest Race in the World. Bob was the first American to compete in both a Tour de France and a Mountain Bike World Cup.

Get Your War On

Pardon this brief diversion into political commentary, but I felt compelled to share the latest clip art genius from Chapel Hill native David Rees. Click on My New Fighting Technique Is Unstoppable for the complete Get Your War On opus.

When cycling was king…

1. 2. 3. 4.

5. 6. 7.

Professional cycling has such an amazingly rich heritage in the United States and, sadly, it remains largely forgotten. Here are just a few photos I’ve found documenting professional track cycling in the early 20th century.

1. 1929, Chicago, IL: Full-length portrait of six-day bicycle racers Hy Kockler and Carl Stockholm. This shelter on the infield of the indoor velodrome serves as their home during six-day races.
2. 1908, Salt Lake City, UT: Construction of the Saltair velodrome. What happened to this structure? At this moment I don’t have any information about its fate. At least the United States will soon have 1 indoor velodrome, which I feel is necessary to host world class track events. Thank you Home Depot for underwriting the ADT Event Center. Here are some photos of the construction progress.
3. 1906, Salt Lake City, UT: A motorpacing still life photograph. A cyclist strikes a pose behind the derny on the outdoor Salt Palace velodrome.
4. 1930, Chicago, IL: Informal full-length portrait of six-day bicycle riders Charles Winter and Fred Spencer holding a disassembled bicycle.
5. 1926, Chicago, IL: Informal portrait of cyclists Fred Spencer, Bobby Walthour, and Frank Kramer standing next to a bicycle. Kramer is wearing street clothes. Check out the loaf of hair on Walthour’s head.
6. 1929, Chicago, IL: Full-length portrait of bike racer Carl Stockholm riding rollers.
7. 1917, Chicago, IL: Portrait of cyclists Francesco Verri and Reggie McNamara sitting on their bicycles on an indoor wooden velodrome for the Bay Bicycle Race.

The Chicago photographs were found on the American Memory website hosted by the Library of Congress. The Salt Lake City photographs are part of the Shipler Commercial Photograph Collection hosted by the Utah Historical Society.

Euro Racing Truisms

Thanks to the Wayback Machine I recovered this gem penned by Bill Innes. If you’ve ever got some time to kill and want to read the rest of Bill Innes’s stuff put into the Wayback Machine and check out his series of entries in 2001.

Euro Racing Truisms
31 July-2001

1. You will be confused.
2. You will begin to understand the metric system.
3. You will start to comprehend temperatures in Celsius.
4. You will have money from many different countries.
5. You will wonder why American money is one color.
6. Going to the supermarket is an adventure.
7. You will buy things at the supermarket that you don’t need (because they look cool)
8. You will get tired.
9. You will get sick.
10. You will get tired of race food.
11. Waiters will get you anything you want.
12. You will miss Mexican/Chinese food.
13. Waiters cannot get you a burrito (no matter how much you ask).
14. You will get tired of hotels.
15. You will wonder why windows have no screens.
16. There are a lot of bugs in Europe.
17. You will watch a lot of Eurosport.
18. You will watch a lot of Mtv.
19. You will see a lot of television that you don’t understand.
20. The movies have an intermission.
21. There will be one American song that you will hear incessantly.
22. You will hear Euro-techno-pop-dance-crap at all hours of the day.
23. You will want to buy a scooter.
24. You will wonder why America doesn’t import small/fast/nimble/economical/well designed Euro cars.
25. You will wonder if you really need an SUV.
26. You will rarely see an SUV.
27. You will be amazed at how fast people drive.
28. You will be amazed at how narrow the roads are.
29. Drivers will not yell at you while you train.
30. You will motorpace a lot.
31. Races are fast.
32. Italian races are faster.
33. You will race a lot.
34. You will see very high heart rates.
35. You will spin out your 53-11 regularly.
36. You will spin out your 53-11 uphill (in Italy).
37. You will love your bed.
38. You will cherish the act of sleeping.
39. You will cherish the act of eating.
40. You will love the bread.
41. You will love anything for sale in a bakery.
42. Everything in Italy tastes better.
43. You will begin to understand a foreign language (or three).
44. You will drop out of races.
45. You will try to win races.
46. You will never win in Italy.
47. You will hear rumors of drug use.
48. You will see drug use.
49. You will be tempted to use drugs.
50. You will never win a race in Italy without drugs.
51. Race promoters will always find cobblestones.
52. Race promoters will always find a really annoying hill (or mountain, or two).
53. Race promoters will always find at least one dangerous turn.
54. Race promoters will always play Queen’s “We are the champions”.
55. You will have this song stuck in your head for the entire drive home.
56. Euros do not like turning.
57. Euros will fight for every centimeter of space.
58. You will be cut off regularly.
59. You will curse at other riders and they won’t understand you.
60. You will crash.
61. You will never warm up with your helmet on.
62. No one will ever yell at you for not wearing a helmet.
63. You will wear shoe covers even though it’s hotter than hell.
64. You will wear leg warmers even though it’s hotter than hell.
65. You will see riders racing on equipment that you wouldn’t train on.
66. These riders will beat you regularly.
67. You will learn to get by without things you once thought you needed.
68. People you hardly know will help you.
69. People you hardly know will wish you luck.
70. You will see a lot of spectators at races.
71. European women wear very tight clothing.
72. European women wear transparent clothing.
73. Italian women are the sexiest women on the planet.
74. You will miss your girlfriend.
75. You will be happy that you’re not racing in an industrial park, again.