12 Seconds Too Slow

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Who says you have to race a full ‘cross season to let it rip at the Worlds? John Gadret’s ‘cross season began in Overijse, Belgium on December 16th and not much more than a month later he was in for the kill in Treviso with a mere 9 ‘cross races in his legs.

Treviso 'Cross Worlds screen shot
The announcers thought he was Mourey for a while, but that’s none other than JG at the head of affairs.
Treviso 'Cross Worlds screen shot
Given a clean line free of traffic, Gadret can ride the 26% wall. He puts that power to weight ratio to good use and is the first over the top on the 7th of 9 laps.
Treviso 'Cross Worlds screen shot
Still at the head affairs along pit row…Lars Boom appears to be suppressing a yawn, just biding his time before he makes everyone else in the race look silly. Of course Boom, too, is not immune from the silliness. When his helmet comes off after winning the Elite world title, it appears that Boom must have cut his own hair the night before with an out of control electric razor.
Treviso 'Cross Worlds screen shot
The announcers finally have to acknowledge that there’s another Frenchman besides Mourey in the race.
Treviso 'Cross Worlds screen shot
And the hammer drops…Boom just flew the coop seconds ago on the last lap and Gadret, in 2rd at the moment, is powerless to close the ever increasing gap ultimately finishing 9th, 12 seconds back. Amazingly for a world championship ‘cross race, the top 20 all finish within 30 seconds of each other.

Who’s the Boom King?

Lars Boom.

Every time Boom hit the front in Treviso a particular Flight of the Conchords tune popped into my head….

“Drum boom bass and the party’s boomin’—Boom-ba-boom-Lars Boom takin’ off to the moon…”

Livin’ Large on NBC

NBC's Guinness World Records Show airing January 26, 2008.

About a month ago, totally out of the blue, I received an email from a producer at NBC television. Long story short, he wanted permission to use a couple of photos I took of the McCrary Twins’ tombstone (situated outside of Hendersonville, NC) in an upcoming program about the Guinness Book of World Records. It appears that quality photos of the McCrary’s final resting place are hard to come by and through the magic of “the internets” said producer found this post on Bobke Strut.

Anyway, the program is airing tonight from 9pm-11pm EST on NBC. The McCrary Twins check in at #17 in the top 100 countdown. I can’t vouch for the overall quality of the program, I have no idea how my photos will be used, but I’ll definitely be DVRing the show to peruse my handiwork.

Russell Mockridge

Russell Mockridge in the 1955 Tour de France. Photo source: My World on Wheels: The Posthumous Autobiography of Russell Mockridge by Russell Mockridge. 1960, Stanly Paul, London.

I’ve been somewhat fascinated by several pro cyclists through the ages whose appearance does nothing to instill fear into their peloton rivals. In fact, quite the opposite. Just take a quick glance at them—Jean Robic, Mariano Martinez, Jan Raas, Gerrie Knetemann, Martin Earley— a cast of characters more likely to sit across a desk from you granting approval to mortgage loans than ripping people’s legs off in the Euro pro ranks. Add to these ranks Australian phenom Russell Mockridge (pictured to the left), seen here rolling to the start line of a stage in the 1955 Tour de France.

Mockridge’s story is rather extraordinary, and it’s one that’s likely not too well known outside of his native Australia. I’ve very recently read his autobiography, My World on Wheels: The Posthumous Autobiography of Russell Mockridge, and it’s an exceedingly well-done piece of cycling-related writing. Tragically, Mockridge was struck by a bus and killed during a road race in Melbourne, Australia on September 13, 1958 at the age of 30. He was primed to return to Europe for the 1959 road season and perhaps make his mark in the Tour de France, but one will never know if he could have done what only Patrick Sercu did later in the 1974 Tour de France: make the complete transformation from Olympic gold medalist as a track sprinter to Tour de France stage winner and green jersey winner.

There are several resources online which summarize Mockridge’s career: an Australian newspaper article about a cyclist who crashed in the same accident that killed Mockridge, an earlier piece on cyclingnews.com, and the very recent Les Woodland penned cyclingnews.com article***. Here’s a brief timeline:

1948: Competed in the Olympic Summer Games held in London without success
1950: Two gold medals (match sprint, kilometer TT), one silver medal (4000 pursuit) at the Empire Games
1952: Paris Grand Prix match sprint…only person to win the amateur event and then beat all the pros in the open event
1952: Two gold medals (match sprint, tandem sprint) at the Olympic Summer Games in Helsinki
1953: Turned pro in August, moved to Europe to pursue career as a pro track cyclist
1954: February—DNF at 6 Days of Gent
1954: Rest of season—turned to the road competing (with some success) in Belgian kermesse events
1955: Track—Victory at 6 Days of Paris (teamed with Sydney Patterson and Reginald Arnold), steady number of regional madison and omnium events throughout France
1955: Road—Mockridge’s sole full-on Euro season highlighted by Paris-Roubaix (41st place), Tour du Vaucluse (1st place in a 160 mile event which included an ascent and descent of Mont Ventoux), Tour of the Midi Libri, Dauphine-Libere, Tour de France, World Championships (Frascati, Italy…DNF), Paris-Tours.
1956-1958: Track and road racing in Australia

Russell Mockridge anecdotes:
1. Why was his autobiography so well-written? Mockridge apprenticed as a journalist and nearly left cycling to pursue a journalism career after his 1948 Olympic participation. And while it’s not too unusual for cyclists to transform into journalists, Mockridge is likely the only world-class talent to give up cycling to pursue a career as an Anglican minister. Following his performance at the 1950 Empire Games, Mockridge enrolled in the University of Melbourne to become a minister and did not pedal a bike for 14 months. He then abandoned his aims at the ministry and returned to cycling for the rest of his life.

2. Mockridge had a well publicized showdown with the Australian Olympic Federation when he refused to sign their fidelity bond. This contract made it illegal for an Australian Olympic athlete to turn professional until 2 year after the Olympics. Mockridge was ready to give up his Olympic team slot in protest, but a last minute deal was brokered in which Mockridge would only have to remain an amateur for one year instead. Mockridge won 2 gold medals at the Games, remained an amateur for exactly one year per his contract, and immediately turned pro the following day.

3. Here’s an amusing anecdote which occurred January 1, 1954 while Mockridge was living miserably in Gent trying to earn money exclusively as a pro track cyclist:

[Oscar] Daemers [manager at the indoor track at Gent] lived in a flat in the velodrome building, and I went over to see him on New Year’s Day to discuss contracts. It was bitterly cold with some snow flying around. I strolled into his office, wearing shorts, which to me was perfectly usual. Daemers was horrified. ‘Your legs—they will freeze’, he gasped. Several other cyclists in his office at the time shared his view. They made it plain that I was either crazy or the original dead-end kid. It had always been my habit to wear shorts no matter what the weather conditions. I looked at it from the point of view that if you have to race in bitterly cold weather wearing shorts why not train in them, too? Surely one would toughen you for the other. But this is not the custom of cyclist in Europe who believe in keeping their legs thickly wrapped up no matter the conditions. I complied with this idea when I was in Europe but since I have returned to Australia I have reverted to wearing shorts in the winter-time…I have never found it detrimental to my muscles or condition.” My World on Wheels. pgs. 89-90

4. Mockridge devoted a chapter of his book to doping and here are some select comments:

Dope is the ‘bomb’ that will send a rider romping home miles ahead of everyone else in the race and have such a bad after-effect that he will never ride well again. Stimulants, according to Louison Bobet, are the milder types of drugs in more common use, which, if used wisely have definite advantages without being harmful.” My World on Wheels. pg. 130

I believe that I have, unwittingly, taken stimulants or drugs sometimes—particularly during the Ghent and Paris six-day races. During the course of these races bottles of various liquids are constantly being handed to you by your soigneurs and there is just not the time to insist on a written analysis of their contents. I had sufficient confidence in my soigneurs in these races to take what they gave me as I did not believe that they would knowingly give me something that would be harmful.” My World on Wheels. pg. 132

Mockridge’s description of racing his first 6-day event (the 6 Days of Gent) was undoubtedly the most vivid chronicle of pain and suffering I’ve ever encountered involving track racing. Mockridge almost finished the event in 2nd place with his much more experienced teammate, but just two hours from the finish Mockridge blacked out on his bike from complete and utter exhaustion, crashing heavily. He could not recover and DNF’d.

5. Russell Mockridge rode the 1955 Tour de France for a composite Luxembourg national team in the national team era of the Tour (1930-1961). Since Luxembourg did not have enough riders to complete a full squad (only four) several riders of other nationalities, such as Mockridge, were recruited to compete. There were Germans and Austrians as well on the 1955 Luxembourg squad. And what of the “Vampire” on Mockridge’s jersey? Russell Mockridge rode for the French trade team Vampire-D’Allesandro in 1955 and Tour riders were allowed to wear a trade team panel on their national team jerseys. I believe Vampire was the bicycle sponsor for his squad. Mockridge’s most notable teammate in the Tour was Charly Gaul who ultimately finished 3rd overall. Mockridge defied the odds and the critics to become the first track sprinter to ever finish the Tour (plus the first Australian post WWII) and he wrote of his premier naysayer, French journalist Andre Leducq:

After the stage [Stage 8: Thonon les Bains-Briancon], Andre Leducq, winner of the Tour in 1930 and 1932 and now a journalist, was quoted in the Press as saying, ‘I did not have much time for sprinters until this Tour, but if Mockridge finishes I will shake his hand as warmly as I shake that of the winner.’ He added that if I did finish I would have accomplished the impossible, meaning that pure sprinters, as I had previously been classified, just do not finish the Tour de France.” My World on Wheels. pg. 162

And at the Tour’s conclusion…

Sitting on the grass verge waiting my turn for a bouquet-laden lap of honor—each finisher is applauded as if he had won the race—I noticed [Louison] Bobet speaking with M. Mercier (they were probably discussing bonuses) the cycle manufacturer whose machine he rides, and journalist and twice winner of the Tour, Andre Leducq. Leducq was the man who had stated that if I finished the Tour he would shake my hand as warmly as the winner’s hand. He was a man of his word, and was lavish in his praise of what seemed to be a lowly position in the overall race.” My World on Wheels. pg. 174

6. Mockridge finished the 1955 Tour in 64th place. Only 69 of the original 150 riders finished. Mockridge was overshadowed by British rider Brian Robinson who finished 29th overall (one of only two British national team riders to finish, the other being Tony Hoar in DFL) and stole the spotlight as highest-finishing English speaking oddity. While Mockridge finished the Tour de France that year, he was so physically destroyed from the effort that he never fully recovered his strength for the remainder of the 1955 Euro road season. He did, however, finish Paris-Tours (his last Euro race) with the lead pack which turned out to be the fastest road race over 200km in history…an average speed of 27.5mph for 153 miles. However, that record would stand for only 1 year…

7. The longest race in Australia is the Warrnambool to Melbourne at 163 miles. In Mockridge’s day it was run as a handicap and in 1956 Mockridge set out with 11 other riders as the scratch group. Mockridge beat his fellow scratch companions in a sprint, and set a new fastest road race for events over 200km. Those 12 riders covered 163 miles at over 28mph average speed. Even more extraordinary was 1957’s event in which Mockridge and one other competitor were the only two scratch riders. Primarily powered by Mockridge, those two riders did a two-man TTT for 163 miles (with Mockridge winning the sprint) and averaged a scorching 27.5mph. Wow.

8. While in Australia from 1956-1958, Mockridge was the reigning national road champion as well as match sprint champion on the track. While building his strength on the road year after year, he still had the jet engine turn of speed in his legs to win 5 mile velodrome scratch races in about 9 minutes. European track stars would head to Australia for competition and get their clocks cleaned by Mockridge and others. He was nearly wooed back to Europe for the 1958 Giro d’Italia, but the invitation came too late for his liking. Mockridge didn’t feel he had a big enough window to arrive in Europe well in advance of the Grand Tour, rid himself of all travel related adjustments, and lay down a massive final block of training in the mountains. It seemed he had every intention to return to Europe in 1959 to take part in the Tour de France. Since his humbling experience in 1955, Mockridge set out to truly become an exceptionally powerful endurance cyclist and he felt he had the strength and the experience to return in 1959 and actually compete and not merely survive. Unfortunately his life was cut short in September, 1958.

***If you really have plenty of time to kill, this is what initially popped into my head upon reading the latest Les Woodland feature, John Turturro’s signature line from the forgettable film Secret Window. I mean, what are the odds of two Russell Mockridge stories coming out in such rapid succession?…Just kidding, of course, Mr. Woodland!

Iran-Canada Affair

Nigel Tufnel: “It’s like, how much more black could it be? And the answer is none. None more black.”

That was my overriding philosophy governing attire back in the early 90s. None more black. And when you try to cross international borders looking like a homeless Johnny Cash, The Man tends to get a wee bit uppity. Even when that border is the benign line separating upstate New York from Canada. But I didn’t know that then. Why? Because I was brash, 23, and oblivious.

So it’s October 1991 and I had the grand plan to witness in person the sole UCI World Cup held in North America: the GP des Ameriques on the legendary Montreal Mont Royal circuit. It was all so simple: drive to my friend’s house in Cornwall, Ontario on Saturday, watch the race on Sunday, drive back to New York on Monday. Simple, that is, until I hit the US/Canadian border. Everybody I’d ever talked to about travelling to Canada says it was a piece of cake, you just get waved through.

Me? I was asked to park my car and answer some questions inside their Canadian border bunker.

“Come with us, sir”

Perhaps it was my black hole of a wardrobe: black Doc Martens boots, black jeans, black t-shirt under a black sweater, black beret (don’t ask…I found it on the side of the road while doing a training ride in Telluride, CO that summer and should have taken a cue from the previous owner and just left it there to rot). Perhaps it was my grooming habits straight out of Barfly: I had about a 2 week growth of stubble; stringy, greasy hair; ramblings about a need for fuel and drinks for all my friends. Perhaps it was my passport. My Canadian friend, Denis, said to show the border patrol a passport since they tend to grant it more weight than a mere drivers license for ID purposes. That was object #1 of interest to my Inquisitors, particularly the lengthy trip to Ireland with a sidetrip to London taken 2 years prior. They took my passport, typed who knows what for lord knows how long into a computer, and proceeded to grill me.

Canadian Border Patrol: “Do you have any felony convictions?”
Me: “Uhh…that would definitely be no.”
CBP: [typing some more] “Are you sure?”
Me: [thinking to myself, “What the fuck is on that screen?”]

I had to explain my foreign exchange student visit to Ireland. I had to explain that, no, I didn’t steal my father’s car. And, yes, he knew that I was using his car for a weekend trip to Canada. I had to explain that the teenage cycling friend of mine, Dave, who was accompanying me had his parents’ permission. And then the kicker was when they asked for my friend Denis’ phone number so they could verify “my story”.

CBP: “Hello, is this Denis?”
Denis: “Yep.”
CBP: “I’m agent so-and-so with the Canadian Border Services Agency. Are you expecting an American friend this weekend?”
Denis: “Peter, is that you? You’re too fuckin’ funny.” Click.
Denis thought I was punking him and he hung up on the border agent. I asked for the phone and called Denis back. This time he stayed on the line, I handed the phone to the agent, and they set things straight.

Finally, about 1 hour later, I entered Canada. Their suspected IRA mule was clean.

The World Cup event the following day is largely a blur. I remember seeing Sean Kelly tooling around before the start. I got a good glimpse of Greg LeMond on the start line. Watching the Director Sportifs inflict innumerable dents to their rental team vehicles in a real-life game of bumper cars while jockeying for position on the narrow Mont Royal ascent each lap was a hoot. Top-to-bottom, it was probably the most star-studded single day race field I’d ever witnessed. Denis, Dave (my American partner in crime), and myself watched a good deal of the race on the ascent of Mont Royal as well as a section of road near the base of the climb where the peloton made their way back into the park having climbed and descended the Mont. It was along this stretch of road that my other international incident occurred.

We were trying to worm our way up against the snow fence to see the peloton approaching approximately mid-race but were finding the tifosi to be rather firmly afixed to their prime vantage points. So…I noticed behind me a set of stairs leading up a steep bank to an exquisitely manicured lawn about 6 feet higher than the sidewalk along the parcours. Set further back from the lawn stood an equally exquisite domicile. What’s the harm in just standing on their walkway for a couple of minutes?

While standing innocently and benignly on the walkway, just as the helicopters and motorcycles signalled the peloton’s imminent arrival, a squawking voice—heavily accented—blurted out of some heretofore unseen loudspeakers,


WTF??? What did I do now? So I quickly glanced around behind me and happened to read a sign letting me know that this building was the Iranian embassy. I was trespassing on the sovereign territory of Iran and someone was none too pleased. And that voice could be the same guy flaunting his microphone technique in the Strait of Hormuz—”I am coming at you. You will explode in a couple of minutes.”

I fled the premises lickety split.

Belgian strongman Eric Van Lancker (Panasonic) crossed the line first, outsprinting Dutchman Steven Rooks (Buckler) and Irishman Martin Earley (PDM) in a small group finish. To me, the hero of the day was Martin Earley who remained off the front for nearly the entire race. He went with the early move and survived all day in a fluid break which saw all of his original companions dropped and replaced by fresh legs as the race progressed. If I recall, also, Eric Van Lancker credited his STI shifters with assisting with the winning sprint. Rooks and Earley had to shift mid-sprint on their downtube shifters while Lancker could simply flick the rear shifter while in the drops sprinting full-out.

A smattering of photos from my day in Montreal: October 6, 1991…

The snaking peloton nears the end of a lap approximately 1/3 of the way through their 155 mile journey. The aforementioned Iranian embassy is about 300 meters to the right of this photo awaiting my imminent transgression.
Martin Earley (left) and Dag-Otto Lauritzen (right), off the front, make their final ascent of Mont Royal
Moments later, the peloton rockets up the climb.

Post-race we scored the best bagels of my life at a tiny shop near Mont Royal. The following day I crossed back to New York without incident via an interaction with American border patrol guards lasting maybe 15 seconds. Good thing…because I had a shitload more than my legal allotment of beer in the trunk.

Fancy Duds for Fancy Lads

Every now and then those beguiled by The Obsessive Study of Athletics Aesthetics see fit to discuss professional cycling. And imagine my bemusement when a former teammate of mine’s Team Slipstream design piqued their uni-centric attention. Hey Mr. Vaughters, you truly missed the boat in 2008. If you’re going to worship at the argyle altar, then thou shalt worship at the Madonna del Ghisallo of argyle altars. Maybe 2009…if only to see Dave Zabriskie’s face when his new kit arrives from Pearl izumi.

That ’70s Show

Roger De Vlaeminck

F1 legend Jackie Stewart

Roger De Vlaeminck and Jackie Stewart, bedecked in 1970s sartorial splendor. And those bastards are just tough as nails.

I’ve been thinking about Roger De Vlaeminck ever since a recent issue of Procycling planted the seed. Just as Edmond Hood’s favorite curmudgeon opined, when I think 1970s Euro cycling I think of De Vlaeminck. The man oozed style out of each and every pore on his body–the Team Brooklyn kit, the sideburns, the mullet-ette (fellow ’70s style maven David Bowie rocked the same lid in April 1973, perhaps the same April day De Vlaeminck roared over northern France cobbles…if only De Vlaeminck dared to sport only a Team Brooklyn colored jock, that would have been a sight to behold), those glorious blue Gios rigs, the cheek of rolling through Flanders in a Ferrari. Stage victories in all three Grand Tours (including 22 Giro stage wins–the Italians who signed his paychecks valued the Giro over the Tour). 400km winter training rides (in Flanders, of course) in preparation for the Spring Classics. Victory in the 6 Days of Gent (partnered with Patrick Sercu). Six straight Tirreno-Adriatico titles. A ‘cross world championship thrown in.

And then there’s the matter of winning all five Monuments of Cycling. Only three men have accomplished that feat, all Belgian hardmen: Rik Van Looy, Eddy Merckx, and Roger De Vlaeminck. De Vlaeminck won his first monument (Liege-Bastogne-Liege) in 1970 and rounded out all five with a Ronde victory in 1977. And that 1977 Ronde was weird…De Vlaeminck sucked Freddy Maertens’ wheel for the final 100km and unceremoniously roared past him with about 200 meters to go. Never mind that a Flandrien had won…De Vlaeminck was peppered with boos mounting the podium. The Ronde saw no official 2nd and 3rd place finishers that year. Second place Maertens and 3rd place Walter Plankaert were both DQ’d–Maertens for the combo of doping and an illegal bike change, Planckaert for doping, too.

No one has duplicated the Five Monuments feat since De Vlaeminck and if Sean Kelly couldn’t do it, than likely nobody will in the foreseeable future. Kelly came oh so close to joining the club, but three 2nd place finishes in the Ronde were as tantalizingly close as he would come to bagging his fifth, elusive Monument. There are two sprints I’d wager Kelly would like to repeat: the 1989 world title loss to LeMond…and being nipped at the line by Adri van der Poel in the 1986 Ronde.

As I’ve noted before, ex-pro cyclist Paul Kimmage currently pays the bills as a sportswriter for the London Sunday Times where he primarily interviews an eclectic mix of sporting figures in what’s known as “The Big Interview”. A recent conversation with F1 legend Jackie Stewart is exemplary, in particular Stewart’s discussions about the horrific proliferation of driver deaths in the 1960s and 1970s. From 1963 to 1973, 57 F1 drivers lost their lives while racing. Stewart himself had a mind-blowingly harrowing accident at Spa, Belgium–an incident which very easily could have killed him and spurned his activism as an F1 safety advocate. As described in Kimmage’s interview:

On the opening lap he narrowly avoids a multiple collision and is lying third behind Jochen Rindt and John Surtees when he reaches the Masta straight. The visibility is appalling [due to heavy rain]. He is travelling at 170mph. He heads towards the Masta Kink–a right-left-right swerve–and the car begins to aquaplane. It flies off the tarmac and flattens a woodcutter’s hut, then careers over an eight-foot drop on to the patio of a farmhouse.

A few moments later Graham Hill spins off the track on the same plaque of water, but catches a luckier break with the slide. As Hill prepares to rejoin the race, he spots the wreckage of his teammate’s car and leaps bravely to his assistance. ‘Jackie? Are you down there? Jackie?’ Stewart groans, but is barely conscious. The American racer Bob Bondurant joins Hill at the scene. There is no rescue crew. There are no marshals with yellow flags.

Stewart is trapped. The fuel tanks have ruptured and flooded the cockpit; one spark from the electrics, and the drivers are toast.

After a frantic search for a spanner, they manage to unscrew the steering wheel and lift Stewart to safety. ‘Graham, get my clothes off,’ he pleads. His overalls are soaked in high-octane fuel. He doesn’t want to burn.

Stewart continues the saga in another interview:

I lay trapped in the car for twenty-five minutes, unable to be moved. Graham and Bob Bondurant got me out using the spanners from a spectator’s toolkit. There were no doctors and there was nowhere to put me. They in fact put me in the back of a van. Eventually an ambulance took me to a first aid spot near the control tower and I was left on a stretcher, on the floor, surrounded by cigarette ends. I was put into an ambulance with a police escort and the police escort lost the ambulance, and the ambulance didn’t know how to get to Liege. At the time they thought I had a spinal injury. As it turned out, I wasn’t seriously injured, but they didn’t know that.”

“I realized that if this was the best we had there was something sadly wrong: things wrong with the race track, the cars, the medical side, the fire-fighting, and the emergency crews. There were also grass banks that were launch pads, things you went straight into, trees that were unprotected and so on. Young people today just wouldn’t understand it. It was ridiculous.”

Stewart soon advocated for mandatory safety measures (measures likely taken for granted today–full-body harness seatbelts, full-face helmets, removable steering wheels, fire-proof clothing, fire and ambulance crews on-site, track safety barriers, etc.) initially making him a pariah among many drivers, promoters, track owners, F1 fans, and the press. He dared question “tradition”, despite the alarming mortality rate of his fellow drivers.

I’d speculate Stewart really didn’t know who was interviewing him, other than that Kimmage was a journalist for the Sunday Times. It would have been curious if Stewart turned the tables on Kimmage and spurned a conversation about safety issues in professional cycling—the proliferation of “road furniture”, dicey stage finishes in Grand Tours, or particularly the lightning rod issue of mandatory helmets. The hue and cry bubbling up from within many members of the pro peloton resulting from the UCI’s 2003 ruling requiring hardshell helmets (as well as the backlash stateside in 1986 when the USCF outlawed leather hairnets in favor of Snell/ANSI approved lids) echoed many of the sentiments from within the inner circle of F1 racing when Stewart pushed for change. Paul Kimmage had long since vacated the Euro peloton before hardshell helmets were mandated and I haven’t been able to divine his opinion on such matters. However, if Kimmage ran the UCI I’d wager there’d be rider discretion regarding helmets in keeping with the philosophy of his era, insurance companies be damned.