The Cyclo-cross World Championship is Decadent and Depraved

Since I just finished reading each and every last page (all 715 of them) of Bill Simmons’ lengthy tome The Book of Basketball, it got me thinking about applying his Martian Premise to the 2013 Cyclo-Cross World Championships, recently awarded to Louisville, Kentucky.

The Martian Premise in a nutshell:

Let’s say basketball-playing aliens land on earth, blow things up Independence Day-style, then challenge us to a seven-game series for control of the universe. And let’s say we have access to the time machine from Lost, allowing us to travel back Sarah Conner-style and grab any twelve NBA legends from 1946 through 2009, transport them to the present day, then hold practices for eight weeks before the Final Finals. Again, we have to prevail or planet Earth as we know it ends. Which twelve players would you pick?
Page 673.

While I’m not really sure if Hunter S. Thompson would groove on the concept and aesthetic appeal of cyclo-cross as an athletic endeavor, nonetheless I’m invoking the Martian Premise to reach back in time and deliver 1970 Hunter S. Thompson and partner-in-crime Ralph Steadman to Louisville, Kentucky (Thompson’s hometown and bête noire) for the world ‘cross championships in 2013. Because the thought of the cream of the world’s ‘cross peloton racing for rainbow bands in Kentucky is pretty much the same as aliens landing in the US and blowing things up Independence Day-style.

Why 1970 Hunter S. Thompson, you ask? Well, that’s the magical year in which he crafted the first instance of gonzo journalism: The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved, also the first collaboration between Thompson and Ralph Steadman. It’s also the year in which Hunter S. Thompson nearly became elected sheriff of Aspen, Colorado on the “Freak Power” ticket, a political race which saw the creation of the most badass campaign poster ever conceived, courtesy of artist Tom Benton:

Hunter S. Thompson's campaign poster for his run at Aspen, Colorado sheriff in 1970, created by Aspen artist Tom Benton.

And I don’t think Thompson and Steadman would need an additional posse of ten to round out my Martian Premise, those two will suffice just fine in Louisville.

Just imagine it, Thomspon unleashed at what will be the craziest two days of ‘cross racing this country has ever seen. He’s just the tonic to go toe-to-toe with DBDs, offer up bourbon shots on run-ups, fire off large-caliber handguns into the air for shits and giggles, heckle souls like nobody’s business and just be wired to his core with the manic energy afoot amongst rabid tifosi.

And how could you go wrong with Ralph Steadman’s illustrations to chronicle the shenanigans afoot? Especially when I arrange for Hunter S. Thompson to have a meet-and-greet with the alien to end all aliens John Gadret.

Ah, yes…one can dream.

And while (woefully) the sport in which Hunter S. Thompson cared the most about is professional football, I unearthed a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon connection between Thompson and a legend of cycling. And a legend of motorsports, too, which is a veritable Hunter S. Thompson passion.

It all started in one of those cosmic coincidences, in my case buying some Flying Dog Brewery beer while immersed in reading the definitive tome of Thompson’s life, William McKeen’s Outlaw Journalist: The Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson (highly recommended). I always wondered why Flying Dog Brewery beer is adorned with Hunter S. Thompson quotes and Ralph Steadman artwork, and now I found my answer.

The founder of Flying Dog Brewery is a certain George Stranahan, who opened the brewery’s precursor, the Flying Dog brewpub, in Aspen, Colorado. Stranahan has had an interesting life and is amongst other things things the founder of the Aspen Institute for Physics - a world-class center for theoretical physics; a professional photographer; creator of the “Mountain Gazette”; founder of the Woody Creek Tavern; and a 40-year friend of Hunter S. Thompson. Stranahan’s bio on the Flying Dog Brewery website states his and Thompson’s “common interests as drinking, talking politics, guns, noise, and some drugs”.

Now, to the Kevin Bacon part. Hunter S. Thompson’s famous abode, Owl Farm, located in Woody Creek, Colorado, about 10 miles outside of Aspen, was acquired from George Stranahan. Stranahan had been coming to Woody Creek since the mid-1950s and settled permanently there in the early 1970s. Stranahan came from a wealthy family and owned real estate in the Aspen area, a portion of which became Thompson’s famed compound.

Stranahan’s money can be traced back to George’s grandfather, Frank Stranahan, and his great-uncle, Robert Stranahan, who founded the Champion Spark Plug Company in 1905. Frank and Robert Stranahan’s early partner in that endeavor was a certain Frenchman named Albert Champion, the Champion of Champion Spark Plugs.

In the early 1900s Champion came to America to avoid both conscription in France and to take up the sport of auto racing. He quit driving race cars after nearly being killed in a race accident, but remained involved in the design and manufacture of spark plugs and magnetos in his workshop.

The Stranahans and Champion had a falling out, which led Champion to depart from the Stranahan partnership and form a rival firm called AC Spark Plug Company (the AC is Champion’s initials), now AC-Delco.

But before Champion made his mark in the world of motorsports, he first came to prominence as a cyclist with two notable wins in his palmares. As a 21-year-old in 1899, Albert Champion won none other than The Hell of the North, Paris-Roubaix. He later became the French motor-pace champion on the track.

So there you have it…the Hunter S. Thompson/Paris-Roubaix connection, courtesy of a trivia contest based on Hollywood’s iconic bike messenger, Kevin Bacon.

Comments (5) to “The Cyclo-cross World Championship is Decadent and Depraved”

  1. As a louisville-born cross racer, fan of HST, and a member of the Cycling team, it is my duty to make Bourbon Hand-ups a “thing” in the 502… I tried this year during the OVCX and USGP but for whatever reason shots of bourbon don’t see to whet the whistle - but they will definitely put the fire in your pistol and the warmth in the cockles.

  2. your alive!

  3. Now I want a bottle of Karmaliet, perhaps two.

    Mr. Champion worked for Mr. Charles Metz in Massachusetts making Orient bicycles and eventually motorcycles. It seems racing was in his blood. With the resources of the Waltham Manufacturing Company and collaboration with Metz, another inventor, he succeeded in developing technology fulfilling his need for speed and came into his own as a manufacturer. I’m sure Charles Metz was glad to have him.

    The local cycling track was dirty and quick. Writer Chris Klein refers to a reported motorcycle accident that may have sapped the will of Champion for pushing the limits of speed himself, but not his desire for making fast machines:

    A little more A.C. info here:

    I really enjoy your writing, this post inspired me to revisit some research of the Waltham cycling track. You may be familiar with links and information above.

    Connecting dots can lead to see bigger (and often more interesting) pictures. I didn’t expect it from references of Hunter S. Thompson’s background. Thanks.

    Heal quickly and completely.
    I hear tell that writing is a great balm.

  4. Where the hell you been?? Nice to have you back!

  5. It used to be that I could say that my site was marginally more current than yours. Even though your post dates to February, my rationalization based on your absence has been undone.

    Good to read your words/hear your voice again online.

    Nashville, TN

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