My favorite pasty Skeletor has been busy these past couple of weeks working his way into take-no-prisoners form for his date with destiny at the end of January, 2005:

November 14, 2004. Cyclocross World Cup #3. Pijnacker, Netherlands: 14th place.
November 20, 2004. Hooglede Cyclocross. Hooglede, Belgium: 9th place.
November 21, 2004. Super-Prestige #4. Asper-Gavere, Belgium: a smoking 4th place.

A silver lining to my cloudy ‘cross season

Upon the conclusion of the NC ‘cross season opener in Winston-Salem, where in all likelihood I re-defined my benchmark for “feeble-legged”, if someone dared to say, “Peter…in a few weeks you’ll be on the podium at the state championships” I’d have replied incredulously, “Just how many bong hits have you done this morning?” Well, Dirty Cycling’s narrative of this past Sunday’s NC State Cyclocross Championships is a fine read, particularly since yours truly now owns a silver medal from the Men’s A race. I’ve held a USCF license for the past 23 years and my karmic slot machine finally paid out after a disheartening abundance of “mechanical, crash, what-might-have-been, and just plain shitty luck” investments over the cumulative breadth of my competitive efforts. I honestly don’t know how it happened, but I never crashed and I didn’t flat and sometimes when lady luck is smiling that’s all it takes…

Evolution at work: the existence of Homo cementis manhattanis

Cover photo of a soon to be released photo documentary work regarding NYC bike messengers

Back in my undergrad days, my evil genius roommate coined the phrase “Homo cementis” as a term of deferential respect to anyone deserving “hard guy” kudos. Thusly, Homo cementis manhattanis is my turn of phrase for hard guy bike messengers, particularly those cheating death in NYC. You’ve got to love people who make a living on their bike whose sartorial selections are not lycra and space-age polymers but Home Depot work gloves, puffy, faux fur-collared jackets, straight-legged hipster pants, and old school adidas footwear. Plus, they’re absolutely hauling ass through city streets on an abused, iron constitutioned fixed-gear machine. And there’s a good chance they’re chain-smokers. I’ve done my fair share of riding on city streets in Boston, Brooklyn, Atlanta, San Francisco, Milwaukee, and San Diego and fancied myself a smooth and suave traffic veteran (mainly because I emerged unscathed), but nothing I’ve ever done compares to the insanity documented here (the files are huge, but be sure to check out “rumble through the bronx” or “drag race NYC” if you’ve got a fast connection). Way back in 1991 I had the opportunity to work as a bike courier in Boston, and on occasion in those Robert Frost retrospective fork-in-the-road moments I wonder what would have become of me had I chosen that career trajectory. I probably made the wise choice, having surely avoided either a) out-and-out death, b) a maiming “door prize”, or at the very least c) a bitter life of abject poverty. I’ve read a few books by bike messengers and the common theme is “I’m angry, I’m broke, I hate everyone”. I don’t know anything about the Eddie Williams book, but at the very least I’m curious to see if an old high school buddy of mine who worked, or may still be working, as a Manhattan courier ended up captured on film.


I’m going to keep an eye on John Gadret’s ‘cross season since I think he’s capable of pulling off something big in St-Wendel, Germany come January 30, 2005. I was all set to roll out the tabulator for yesterday’s Niel Jaarmarkt Cyclocross event, but it appears that Mr. Gadret was AWOL. Maybe he hit the Duvel too hard after his recent victory in Vossem.

Yet another reason I’m glad I no longer work at the Evil Empire…

Too funny. (Especially since I know Hairy Shorts Guy and Underwear Safety Man). Virtually all of the models in the Evil P catalog are employees at the home office in Chapel Hill. Not only do they get paid nothing (in the literal sense: model pay = $0.00), the clothes modelled (such as the shorts and polypropylene sported by Hairy Shorts Guy and Underwear Safety Man) get put back into stock for unknowing customers to purchase, and now to add insult to injury those poor souls cajoled into modelling are being mocked by cyclingnews.com. I’m pretty sure all of my photos are no longer in circulation, although I was primarily utilized as a sock model and thusly afforded the luxury of anonymity.

‘Cross, Crap, and Carrots…

So it’s post-race, I’m sitting in a pasture in Valle Crucis, I’m utterly depleted physically and mentally, I’m covered in a sheen of slimy filth, and I have an open, oozing wound on my leg. Then I look up and start pondering the meaning of all those mysterious Health Dept. warning signs and police tape cordoning off large sections of the pasture. Then I remember the total devastation wrought upon Valle Crucis earlier this year due to hurricane induced flash flooding (there’s still plenty of evidence hinting at the destruction). Then it dawns on me that, hmmm, maybe all those floodwaters destroyed everyone’s septic systems in the valley. And that the lovely sheen of filth spread over my open wound is in reality a film of poop juice. Then I joked to my wife about Johan Museeuw crashing in the filth of the Arenberg Forest during Paris-Roubaix and nearly having to have his leg amputated due to infection of an improperly cleaned wound. My wife didn’t really see the humor in that and out came the baby wipes, Neosporin, and sterile gauze. Yeah, I guess I’m kind of attached to my leg and don’t want it lopped off from gangrene.

All this talk of filth and feces got me thinking about one of the all time great descriptions of what it means to be a hard man each Spring in Northern Europe. Here’s an excerpt of Maynard Hershon interviewing Bob Roll and Alex Stieda in a 7-Eleven pre-season training camp:

Hershon: Tell me, Alex, about the “typical pro moment”.
Stieda: In my mind, it’s racing in Belgium, or anywhere, but Belgium comes to mind. It’s pissin’ rain, the wind’s coming across the road at an angle…
Roll: Slowed down by nothin’ whatsoever…
Stieda: No trees…no hills…the wind’s whipping across your face. Anything you say gets torn out of your mouth and thrown out into the cow shit. Cow shit’s getting sprayed up at you off the road ’cause you’re riding through where the manure spreader was the day before.
Roll: It washes out onto the road. You have pig shit and cow and horse crap and human feces coming up in your mouth the whole race…
Stieda: …from the spray from the rider in front of you. You look up; there’s five echelons up the road. You look back: there’s no echelon behind you. You’re the last guy, just hanging on.
You can’t pedal any harder. You pull on the bars harder, just trying to keep up. You’re giving everything. You look up the road and there’s a guy from your echelon attacking, trying to get to the next echelon. Nothing you can do. That’s a typical pro experience…
Hershon: Bob?
Roll: That freaking orange soup, man…those freaking last month’s carrots. To begin with, they grow those carrots in grey earth that’s been overused for centuries. The carrots only grow a couple of inches long and pretty narrow. They boil them for a few hours…This is all over Europe, you know…
Stieda: Not just France…
Roll: No, not just France, but Belgium and Holland and Germany and Switzerland. Not Italy, because in Italy they have…
Stieda: They have a love relationship with food in Italy. Anywhere else it’s more of an abusive relationship.
Roll: No, the carrots don’t grow very well. They boil them for a few hours. Then they serve ‘em up. You can’t eat them but they don’t throw them away. They make soup out of them and freeze it. They’ve killed everything; any nutrient that ever snuck in there is long gone. And they serve it to you a couple of years later. Everywhere you go it’s the first course.
Stieda: It’s a fact.
Roll: So when you’re suffering there in the gutter, eating cow shit, you’re thinking, gee, maybe I’ll get some orange soup this evening. What a bonus. That’s all you can think about. That’s a typical pro experience. If you can’t get used to that, you better stay home and go out to Chart House and have a giant filet mignon every night…for about the same price.
Stieda: Luckily, we weren’t paying for that soup. The team paid for it. Ah, I guess we paid for it one way or another…
Half-Wheel Hell & Other Cycling Stories by Maynard Hershon, 1994.

John Gadret: Undead and Otherworldly

John Gadret as seen in the March, 2004 issue of Cycle SportJohn Gadret's alter-ego as seen on the cover of Daniel Clowes' Eightball, issue #17

If John Gadret did not possess the pallor of a wraith, some creative facial piercings, and tattoos on his left leg, then his existence to me in the world of professional cycling would likely have remained largely anonymous. But there he was, in all of his pierced, shaved-headed glory in the March, 2004 issue of Cycle Sport, the cover boy of a feature article concerning the launch of Belgian Division 1 squad Chocolade Jacques. Newly crowned the cyclocross champion of France and a 2004 neo-pro on the road, racing under the tutelage of uber hard-man team manager Andrei Tchmil, here was someone who for some reason struck a chord with me and has remained a rider of interest all year. He had a decent road season, particularly in his support of Tour of Britain champion Mauricio Ardila. And then, hardened with a season of pro road racing in his legs, he started kicking ass in the current Euro cyclocross season: most recently scoring a fine 3rd place at the Koppenberg ‘cross and then shocking the Belgian ‘cross mafia with a victory at Vossem. Stick it to the (’cross) man, Gadret! And while I’m hardly a Francophile (even though Gadret is nearly Belgian with his home in Calais), I feel empowered to cast aspersions at dumbasses such as the woman I saw driving a car near Winston-Salem with the utterly stupefyingly simple-minded bumpersticker “Boycott France” (and immediately in front of this simpleton was a motorist sporting the equally contemptible bumpersticker “Allah is not MY God”). Hope you’re enjoying those “Freedom Fries”. Vive la France.

Off-The-Back Grumpies

Wide-Eyed and Legless: Inside the Tour de France by Jeff Connor, 1988.

This book is long since out-of-print and has eluded me for years. Finally, through the magic of ebay, I purchased a copy from a bookseller in Australia.

Jeff Connor spent the 1987 Tour de France embedded with the British ANC-Halfords squad and pulled no punches chronicling their trial by fire in the team’s first and only Tour appearance. The book assumes the reader has virtually no knowledge of cycling since that’s what British sportswriter Jeff Connor possessed before his editors sent him to France, but the educational elements don’t seem too gratuitous. What the book deftly delivers is the internal power struggles of mixed nationality management and staff (British, Belgian, German, French), creative financing (none of the riders received payment due to the bankruptcy of the title sponsor during the Tour, echoing the future debacles of Le Groupement, Linda McCartney, Mercury/Viatel, Team Coast), and the wholly improbable cast of characters thrown to the wolves-Brits Malcolm Elliot, Graham Jones, Paul Watson, and Adrian Timmis, Aussie Shane Sutton, Czech defector Kvetoslav Palov, Frenchmen Bernard Chesneau and Guy Gallopin, and the scourge of Lance Armstrong, youthful Kiwi Steve Swart. Malcolm Elliot was the team’s star and came oh so close to winning stage 12, but the team’s fortunes were unflatteringly summed up by one of only 4 ANC riders to finish, Czech Kvetoslav Palov, “We have done nothing”.

I remember a phrase coined by some anonymous Cat 2 rider in New England regarding the feeling of getting dropped but still persevering to the finish: “off-the-back grumpies”. Every little thing would piss him off- a piece of litter, a smoking spectator polluting a small section of the course’s air, someone on the side of the road wearing a stupid hat, sharing a paceline with riders wearing ugly jerseys, in other words just about anything and everything was eligible fodder for venting the humiliation of being shelled. Off-the-back grumpies aptly sums up the collective mood of ANC-Halford’s riders, mechanics, soigneurs, and director sportif, but what a story they tell in the background of Delgado’s and Roche’s duel for Tour de France supremacy.

Low Tech Wayback Machine: 1983 Road Nationals

80s graphics in all its glory... 1983 Road Nationals course map, replete with the ominous sounding Bud Light Wall Rider roster, pg. 1 Rider roster, pg. 2 Rider roster, pg. 3

Aaaaah…1983. My first year as a licensed USCF competitor, my first national championship. This was back when nationals competitors were chosen through district championships. Each state/district was allotted riders on a percentage basis; basically, more riders in your state means more riders go to nationals. National team riders were given automatic spots and a select few as well were given exemptions from the district championship system, but everyone else had to deliver the goods in their state/district race to compete at the national level. At that time I was living in NY North (NY at that time had 3 districts: NY North, NY West, and NY South. There wasn’t a state championships per se, there was Empire State Games but you couldn’t count on all of the best riders taking part.) I was extremely naive and clueless, yet I managed to win the NY North Intermediate championship which gave me a starting slot in nationals. Not knowing if I’d ever qualify again, my parents decided (with a bit of pleading on my part) to fly me out to San Diego. I’m not quite sure where I finished (I think I got 21st or 31st). All I remember was a guy from Virginia won (Andrew Gellatly) and I don’t think I ever heard of his name again. It’s funny how people win titles young and disappear from the sport.

There was rising excitement about next year’s Olympics in Los Angeles. Who could possibly imagine that the 1983 men’s silver medalist Alexi Grewal would trade that in for an improbable Olympic gold in 1984. And how about the future achievements of these riders: Davis Phinney, Andy Hampsten, Ron Kiefel (1983 national champion), Jeff Pierce. Dig a bit deeper and check out these names: #42 Chris Carmichael, #72 Richard Fries, #83 Boone Lennon, #123 Ned Overend, #244 Bob Roll. A number of riders are still going strong today: #8 Steve Tilford, #53 Dave LeDuc, #113 Ronnie Hinson, #127 Michael Carter, #144 Paul Curley, #147 Chris D’Alusio.

You also may recognize the names of a few of the youngsters:
Junior Men…#1 Roy Knickman (1983 champion), #30 Scott Moninger, #98 Greg Oravetz, #107 local rider Derek Powers, #109 Matt Koschara, #123 Kurt Stockton, #129 Lance Donnell, #133 Richard Scibird

Intermediate Boys…#6 Aaron Frahm, #28 Mike McCarthy, #32 Yours truly (with a typo), #90 Rich Hincapie, #124 Jame Carney

Midget Boys…#28 Jonas Carney, #55 George Hincapie, #67 Robbie Ventura

So many of the men became the first generation of road pros in America, off the top of my head I counted at least 35 who went on to ride professionally. And how about the women? Connie Carpenter, Rebecca Twigg, Cindy Olavarri, Betsy Davis, Jeanne Golay, Beth Heiden, Marianne Martin…

Other random notes about San Diego…Bud Light was the title sponsor but was prohibited from selling any beer at the race since it took place in a city park. Doh!…Unsurprisingly, racing in late July in San Diego was hot as hell. 95 degrees on the start line? I’d lived my whole life in the Northeast and I thought the apocalypse was upon us…My dad and I stayed in some crazy hotel that was decorated as a medieval castle…We ate some of the best pizza of my life at a nearly hidden Italian restaurant tucked away in the back of a fish/produce market…As I’ve previously mentioned, I witnessed Andy Hampsten and Roy Knickman ghost ride their Team Raleighs in a Burger King parking lot…My first and only ride on a track took place within the confines of the road venue at the San Diego Velodrome. I remember talking to some elderly Italian gentleman who asked me if I was in town for road nationals. I chatted with him for a bit and he pointed to his grandson who was tooling around the track, “He’s lazy and will never amount to much on the bike. You…you seem like a hard worker. What’s your name?” He then put a little star next to my name in the official race program as someone to keep an eye on. Pretty cool, my first fan other than my parents…