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?)

Comments (1) to “Remembrance of Ass-Kickings Past: Daniele Pontoni’s First Visit Stateside”

  1. I think your Kluck is Justin Robinson, Kluck presumably is patially hidden somewhere two riders to the 1-2 oclock to pontoni’s center of the universe.
    is it cross season yet? Will gadaret race this year after the collarbone incident? Will anyone figure out what happened to Damon Kluck, was he one of the anonymous riders mentioned in LA war who tried to ride as much as lance and had career ending knee injuries as result? Is it cross season yet?

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