J.D.A. (Just Drivin’ Along…)

Brent's bike Slice's bike Sprinting for the finish... Victory is mine!

Firstly, I’ve realized that when I made the teaser comment about bikes getting run over by an 18-wheeler a couple of weeks ago I never explicitly stated the bikes were riderless at the moment of impact. I, of course, knew the story behind these pictures, but how could anyone else? Cyclist/motorist collisions are never anything to trivialize and it always makes me feel rather queazy when I read or hear about accidents. That being said, let’s get to the hilarity behind these photos…

The scene: 1989. July. The day before Superweek started. I’d already been in Milwaukee for over a week staying at a teammate’s home in Whitefish Bay. Two more of our friends were en route from Virginia to join us in the whole Superweek experience. One was named Brent (that’s all I can remember, he was a friend-of-a-friend) and the other was a college classmate/teammate named Slice. At about 1ish-2ish am the evening before the first stage Brent and Slice rolled into Whitefish Bay. I was sound asleep but Tom, whose house we were staying at, got up to let them in. I sort of woke up, heard some commotion downstairs, thought I heard some notion of a bike-related horror story, but quickly returned to my slumber.

Then I went out to the patio Saturday morning.

It seems Brent had neglected to re-tighten the clamps holding his rack to his roof even though it had been installed for in excess of a year (maybe even two). Unfortunately, the roof rack parted company from the roof while they were hauling ass through Chicago at about midnight the previous evening. There was some kind of sickening, vaguely metallic noise…then silence…then a shower of sparks in the rear-view mirror. In the partial neon darkness of an illuminated interstate an 18-wheeler following directly behind their car obliterated the rack and its two bikes. Brent and Slice quickly pulled over to the shoulder but the big rig never even blinked. No horn, no brake lights, not even a middle finger from the cab. The driver was probably hopped up on meth and what was a few pieces of scrap metal spot welded to his bumper, anyway. Brent and Slice perused the shoulder and their lane for the remains of their bikes and what’s pictured above is all that’s left. Brent’s bike, the red one, somehow managed to have numerous pieces linked by brake and derailleur cables. Slice’s bike, formerly a sweet, blue Rossin, was really mangled: just a partial rear triangle/seattube/downtube/mangled left crank. Wow.

Brent and Slice managed to get some loaner bikes for Superweek, so all wasn’t lost. I never saw Brent again after those weeks of July, but I did keep in touch with Slice from time to time. Ever the aerobic machine, he actually ended up riding pro for Navigators for a few seasons (1994 and 1995, I believe) under his real name, Frederick Norton. I’m pretty sure he still mixes it up on the road in northern VA these days.

Remembrance of Ass-Kickings Past: Daniele Pontoni’s First Visit Stateside

The main players (complete with their finishing place) tackle the first set of barriers in the 1999 Long Island SuperCup.
10.23.1999 Wantagh, NY: Daniele Pontoni made everyone look silly during his first venture to the US. A jet-lagged Pontoni made short work of the field in Boston one week previously, and now Long Island would witness what a fresh, rested Pontoni could unleash. Drawing from visual cues (all of the protagonists still bunched) and my circumspect memory of the Long Island ‘cross autobahn (that course was screaming fast), this appears to be the first set of barriers on the first lap. This photo looks so benign. How come I wasn’t in this shot? There’s still a relatively big bunch, how hard could it have been to match these guys pedal stroke for pedal stroke for perhaps all of 1 minute? Well, I’ve only done a handful of elite level ‘cross races and nothing amazes me more than the frenzied velocity of the start. It’s the cycling equivalent to getting launched off of an aircraft carrier: 0 to Mach crazy batshit speed in about 200 meters. What’s even scarier is that about 1 to 1 1/2 laps later Pontoni simply rode the cream of American cyclocross off his wheel. I don’t even think he attacked, he just tooled with everyone for a lap and then set a tempo that unhinged the likes of Bart Bowen and Frank McCormack. Where was all the power coming from? Pontoni’s a 5′5″ pixie! 

After about 40 minutes of negotiating totally flat expanses of grass, concrete, and pavement punctuated by the occasional near vertical ascents and descents of a few glacial drumlins, a super-smooth and super-relaxed Mr. Pontoni lapped me. I could tell the increasing buzz and roar of the spectators probably wasn’t for me and all I could think of as Pontoni smoked me in a sketchy off-camber section was “No international incidents…no international incidents…” I was afraid that if I even looked at the waifish Pontoni funny I’d knock him off his ride and have to answer to the local Buttafuoco contingent. I like my fingers and kneecaps intact, thank you very much. And amidst the din of the crowd I caught a faint, high pitched “Thank you” from Daniele since I ceded the best (and only) line and nearly crashed myself in the process.

Pontoni is once again returning to the U.S. for our country’s premier ‘cross series and I wonder if the 38 year old still has the moxy. Sure he owns 2 world titles, sure he’s been the Italian national champion 10 years in a row, but I really believe that homegrown American ‘cross talent has made progress in the past 5 years. I think Pontoni will win most, if not all, of the races but I envision well-earned, hard fought scrapes. I’d venture $$$ (some mad start money) is the primary lure for another Pontoni visit to the U.S., but hopefully his appearance on U.S. soil can lend gravitas to the possibility of an American World Cup race or World Championship. (And if we’re real lucky could this guy grace us with his presence?)

Stay tuned…

Thank you to everyone responsible for adding clicks to the counter while my brain has been on sabbatical. New material is on the way, including “Remembrance of Ass-Kickings Past” (1999 Long Island SuperCup: Bobke Strut lines up against ‘cross uber-man Daniele Pontoni, find out what a former world champion says to pack-filler when their sorry asses get lapped after a mere 40 minutes), James “Babe” Cromwell’s late 1970s, pre-famous-actor, SoCal cycling career, a “where are they now” treatment of the rider roster from my first nationals experience (San Diego, 1983), and a photo-essay of what happens to nice bikes (one owned by a future Navigators pro) when they get run over by a very fast, very oblivious 18-wheeler on the outskirts of Chicago. Damn that was funny.