The Central Scrutinizer

In PRO cycling there exists a Holy Trinity…of mustaches.

1. Eric Van Lancker,
2. Danny Clark,
and the Führer of Fuzz— 3. Urs Freuler

Fast forward a couple of decades to the ever enigmatic Dave Zabriskie, channeling the ghosts of ’stache past. And with Zabriskie being Zabriskie, he seeks inspiration from a disparate blend of icons: part Frank Zappa…part Ned Flanders.

I had a serious case of Frank Zappa on the brain and am nearly done with the Zappa: A Biography by Barry Miles. I knew nearly nothing about his life, other than what I had gleened from listening to “Joe’s Garage” in my teen years and seeing Zappa go head to head with Tipper Gore in the PMRC wars on Capitol Hill. Now my brain is overflowing with too much trivia. Who knew that Zappa’s father worked in the defense industry conducting research on mustard gas, that Zappa lived pretty much on canned chili and hot dogs, that Zappa played a bicycle on national television, that he was such a prolific composer of classical music pieces…And I now can make sense of “ Smoke on the Water” lyrics. But back to cycling…

Zabriskie’s path to his current grooming state reminded me of a story from years ago at a 7-Eleven training camp in the Santa Rosa area of California (what is it with that part of the world that inspires pros to experiment with facial hair?). It seems that most everyone on the squad grew some bushy beards over the winter, culminating with the union of said undernourished Grizzly Adamses in numerous epic pre-season rides (we’re talking 8-9 hours a day, Roger de Vlaeminck style) through some of the same roads utilized in the current Amgen ToC. At the camp’s conclusion the hirsute pros were scheduled to board a plane and meet the corporate bigwigs of 7-Eleven and the squad’s management was horrified that a band of unkempt Wookies was about to descend on a boardroom of straight-laced, midwestern MBA grads. So the orders went out to lose the beards. But what exactly constitutes “losing a beard”? Well…they lost the beards. Technically. However, everyone turned up with some serious Neil Young-esque chops instead. Sweet.

Besides being entertained by the Slipstream dynamic duo of Zabriskie and Cozza during the recently concluded Amgen ToC, three other happenings caught my eye.
First…an amusing tale of neutral support improvisation by Bobby Julich at the base of the Sierra Road climb. And Bobby’s so amped up he even chimes in with “This had to be the slowest wheel change ever”. Too funny. And like someone commented way down in the thread…that wheel will be kicking around the CSC service truck for years to come until somebody eventually turns it into a wind chime or some other form or cycling inspired art.
Second…So what happens when you’re hauling along in the ToC, you get the munchies, and you discover that what you thought was an energy bar is really your cell phone? Well, what do you think? You start taking pictures. Check out Ted King’s (Bissell Pro Cycling) birds-eye view of Tom Boonen’s ass, the Sierra Grade laughing group, and a self portrait. He definitely should have called in a pizza to arrive at the finish.

“Yeah…Dominos? Can you deliver a pizza to the finish line of the Tour of California in downtown San Jose? My name is Ted King…Look for a guy in a red & white Bissell Pro Cycling kit with #147 on his back and bike…I’m the really hungry one. I’ll be there in about 30 minutes. Later.” Click.

And since I’m probably one of about 5 people in the country who doesn’t have a camera in his cell phone, can someone explain how those photos came out reversed?

Years ago I was in the pro/am Tour de Moore road race on an exceptionally gloomy morning. It never rained, but there was a permanent sense of twilight even though it was approaching mid-day. About 75 miles into the race I started to catch some flashes out of the corner of my eye and all I could think is “What the hell is that?”. We’re really close to Ft. Bragg and the only explanation my oxygen-starved brain could concoct was some wayward Special Forces team got off base and was conducting live fire exercises on an unsuspecting public. With silencers, because there wasn’t any noise. Well…it turns out that a certain unpredictable character by the name of Andy Crater, who may or may not have been tripping on acid, brought along a disposable camera and decided to take some commemorative action photos of the peloton in the heat of battle. Perhaps they still exist out there somewhere. I can still remember him pop up like a prairie dog, stick his arm up in the air holding the camera, and snap away.

Third…I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir, but Radio Freddy has a wonderful collection of photos from the ToC. Of course, you already knew that.

American Heav(il)y Vegan Weekend

I’m not quite sure I’d consider a trip to Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games a worthwhile endeavor. In fact, if I was about to win my country’s Olympic Trials road race, I’d be tempted to do a track stand about 5 feet in front of the finish line and wait for some other unsuspecting suckers to roll across in front of me. Sure…there’s the honor of representing one’s country on the world stage, the theoretical ideal of athletic purity and integrity, the brotherhood of man, the opportunity to meet a hot handball player and toss your current wife and kids to the scrap heap, the collective abstract elements of the Olympics. Then there’s the concrete reality of Beijing itself where it seems that

1) You can’t breathe the air…
2) You can’t eat the food…
3) You can’t talk smack about the host nation’s stellar record of innumerable human rights violations…
4) The “the internets” will likely be filtered if not out and out blocked to stifle non-sanctioned, non-goverment constructed Pravda-esque puff pieces of journalism from escaping the borders.

There’s a very good possibility that those ascending the podium of the Olympic road race, having sucked down the best that Beijing’s smokestacks can belch forth during 245.2 gruelling kilometers of competition, will all leave Beijing with a Superund site for lungs or even worse…transform into Toxic Avengers live on NBC or be seen fending off C.H.U.D.s emerging from the netherworld to assault the unsuspecting peloton out on the open road. I don’t think anything some old-school Belgian or Spanish soigneurs can concoct from amphetamines, heroin, cocaine, HGH, EPO, and bovine hemoglobin tossed into a blender and dosed out via syringe can compete with good ol’ fashioned, epically scaled industrial pollution for damage to the human body. Seriously…years will be removed from the lives of all endurance athletes who dare compete this summer from the benign (and rather necessary) act of breathing air.

The last time the Summer Games rolled into a sprawling mass of pollution, urban blight, and rampant human rights violations was forty years ago in Mexico City. Athough I think the Beijing Olympiad will be hard pressed to outdo the freak-out factor endured by the 1968 American TTT squad (consisting of John Howard, John Allis, Butch Martin, and Jim Van Boven)…

Any hopes for an impressive ride, however, were shattered in a bizarre incident only minutes before the team was to start their ride. They were standing together, making final checks of their tire pressure and equipment, when a Mexican man committed suicide with a pistol within five feet of the team. Howard and Martin were splattered with blood.

‘About 20 soldiers rushed over to the body, which was lying in a pool of blood’, Martin said. ‘An officer took charge and put sheets of newspaper over the body. The soldiers kept the crowd away. I had to get a towel and wipe the blood and brains off my arms and bike. Later, we learned the guy had committed suicide because he couldn’t find a job to support his wife and kids.’

Howard said, ‘Had the gory suicide not occurred, the U.S. press would not have not have reported the race at all. In fact, the coverage ommitted the results, and no other cycling events were even mentioned.’

John Howard and Peter Nye. Pushing the Limits (Waco: WRS Publishing, 1993), 29. 

…one can never underestimate communist China for lowering the bar to unanticipated lows in the manner of the Mexican authorities in 1968…

The vast sums the Mexican government had spent on building facilities for the Olympics prompted some 300,000 Mexican university students around the country to protest. The students felt a country with so much poverty was misguided in spending money on the Olympic Games. With the Olympics drawing international media attention, the students decided to use the Olympic Games as the forum for their protests. On the night of October 2, 10 days before the Olympic Games were to open, a crowd of 10,000 students held a protest in the Square of the Three Cultures in Mexico City.

‘Mexican police flew over in helicopters, dropped flares, and fired heavy machine guns down on the students,’ recalled Butch Martin. ‘We saw the flares and heard the shooting from the Olympic Village, about two miles away.’

The deaths that resulted were largely overlooked in the U.S. press, but John Rodda, an English journalist covering the Olympics for the Guardian, reported that more than 260 were killed and 1,200 injured from the shooting.

John Howard and Peter Nye. Pushing the Limits (Waco: WRS Publishing, 1993), 27.

On a lighter note, the article in the New York Times about how all of the food consumed by American athletes will be flown into China and guarded as closely as a Senator in the Green Zone jarred loose a lost weekend from my teenage years. Except my story had the opposite scenario–I needed to transport crappy food into an oasis of purity. My tale of dietary woe is a long, July 4th weekend spent racing criteriums in Connecticut chaperoned by a couple of militantly vegan hippie cyclists about 10-15 years my senior. A weekend spent sleeping in tents, athletic endeavors fuelled by lord knows what kind of bulk food bin roughage cornucopia, campfire conversations about their perpetually never finished Ph.ds in theoretical mathematics, and talk of cycling esoterica such as purging the grease from hub bearings and replacing it with kerosene for the absolute minimal rolling resistance in time trials.

Realizing the company I would be keeping for 3 nights and four days, my dad filled a cooler chock full of food and beverages more to the liking of the teenager that I was…copious deli-meat sandwiches, cookies, candy-bars, bags of corn chips, generic label soft drinks…not a fruit or vegetable in sight. It was to be my non-vegan bubble of dietary normalcy, left lovingly out on our side porch for me to bring to CT for the weekend. To this day, when reminded of this particular weekend, my dad still shakes his head in wonderment about just how I managed to leave our house and get in the hippie-mobile without noticing the rather portly cooler in my path. It was positioned at the top of a pretty narrow set of porch stairs, and I’d either have to exercise some yogi guru flexibility in my gait to step over it and not fall down the stairs, or I had to exercise some concerted upper body strength to slide it out of my path. Either way the result was the same…I left for CT without my food. And I, all of 16 or 17, had to live like a vegan for maybe 80+ consecutive hours.

Probably the only item of nutrition in common between my palate and theirs was water. That’s it. Of course, they brought shitloads of their grub along and made every effort to gently convert me to their healthy ways. But my teenage palate just could not stomach what they offered me. Even their pasta (the pasta and sauce both made from scratch) was nasty. I would take a portion size insufficiently nutritious for a flyweight supermodel downed by about a gallon of water per bite.

My only respite was the time I spent warming up for each of my three crits that weekend. I made sure I was suited up and on the bike wellllllll in advance of my events.

“Yeah, I’m a freak like that. Really…I need about 2+ hours on the bike before I roll up to a start line. I’ve got a diesel engine like you couldn’t believe. And my ritual must, MUST, be performed alone.”

I nonchalantly slipped a wad of cash into my jersey pocket each day and would ride off in search of a grocery store during my extended “warm-up”. I left my bike inside by the cash registers and waddled around on treacherously waxed floors in my Dettos scooping up Pop Tarts and Coke which I dutifully consumed on site. I didn’t dare bring my booty back to the car for fear that I be brandished a junk-food heretic, have a scarlet “J” burned into my flesh, and be cast off and left to ride my bike home from CT.

Needless to say, this wasn’t exactly the formula for athletic excellence. Never mind vanquishing foes in competition, all I could think about each race were the smells of hamburgers grilling outdoors in backyards near the race venues. Perhaps sensing the culinary calamity I endured that weekend, my elder, wiser cycling chaperones stopped for pizza during our drive back to upstate NY and offered to by me a personal sized pizza topped with anything my heart desired. Those guys really were alright and would be my partners in cycling crime for many, many weekends to come through my teenage years. And it’s probably their doing that the lightbulb ultimately clicked in my head about the efficacy of natural, non-chemical nutrition.