The official unofficial smart-ass of 2012 masters ‘cross Worlds

A quick quiz. Who has two thumbs, used to write a blog, and is now the official unofficial smart-ass and John Gadret worshiper of 2012 masters ‘cross Worlds?


I was seeking some clarification about the seeding heats which several age groups at the now-in-progress UCI Masters Cyclo-cross World Championships (the first EVER ‘cross world championship of any kind held outside of Europe, hosted by Louisville, Kentucky) had to contest prior to their actual world title race, which brought me to the event’s technical guide.

And there it is on page 2’s “Dear Racer” introduction, for all of the masters ‘cross universe to peruse, a link to my very own ode to America’s only ‘cross world champion: Matt Kelly-Low Budget Superstar, cited as “a fun read” by masters ‘cross Worlds organisers Joan Hanscom and Bruce Fina.

Page 2 from the 2012 UCI Masters Cyclo-cross World Championships tech guide

I don’t know if some lowly staffer has punked the tech guide, or if the Matt Kelly-Low Budget Superstar decision indeed came down from on high, but it was, to say the least, a surprise of epic proportion.

I had no earthly idea this would be included, and if I had I’d be in Louisville right now, in a booth, autographing tech guides and prepping all within earshot for the 2013 arrival of his freakiness, John Gadret, to Eva Bandman Park for the full-on elite ‘cross Worlds next year, where I can assure you he won’t again be abandoned by his chain-smoking pit crew on the last lap if he’s got a medal in his sights.

And I’d also be laughing, because a certain former employer of mine, with a flying P logo, gets some not-so-nice PR about its total ineptitude when it came to supplying US team edition kits for the Poprad, Slovakia world championships. D’oh!

One way or another I’ll be in Louisville next year for ‘cross worlds, and maybe there will indeed be a Matt Kelly-Low Budget Superstar booth containing me, living legend Matt Kelly, his rusty LeMond, and his rainbow jersey to inspire our compatriots to bring home the gold in what will likely be the only ‘cross world championships hosted in the United States for some time.

I don’t need no stinkin’ road bike

Me 'n' J.G. banner

One of my favorite moments of cycling lore and legend involves Swiss superstar Thomas Frischknecht at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. On July 30, 1996 Frischknecht earned a silver medal in the mountain bike event. One day later, with a slot on the Swiss road squad suddenly vacant due to the last minute withdrawl of Tony Rominger, Frischknecht slapped some road wheels on his Ritchey ‘cross bike and rocked the road race. The 26-year-old Swiss survived the 222km event to finish 110th, 4:08 behind compatriot and gold medalist Pascal Richard, for likely the first and last time a cyclist competed in both the road and mountain bike events at a single Olympics.

Fast forward to the 2010 Tour of Slovakia and a certain Czech ‘cross world champion with a similar mindset.

Zdenek Stybar in yellow at the Tour of Slovakia. Photo by Patrik Pátek.
Exhibit A: Zdenek Stybar reigns supreme at the Tour of Slovakia. Photo by Patrik Pátek.

Zdenek Stybar scorched the 1.3km prologue on Tuesday to claim the Tour of Slovakia’s first leader’s jersey and then tried to defend his lead Wednesday in the 176.8km opening stage.

[Oh hell yeah] On his ‘cross bike.

Zdenek Stybar at the 2010 Tour of Slovkia. Photo by Patrik Pátek.
Exhibit B: What the… Photo by Patrik Pátek.

Not only is Stybar resplendent in yellow, but the reigning ‘cross world champion is getting in some dismount practice out on the road while his fellow competitors wonder if they’re hallucinating.

On the opening road stage Stybar finished fourth in the same time as winner Alexander Porsev, but the Russian took over the race lead due to the winner’s time bonus. No matter, though, as Stybar took it right back today.

Let it rip Zdenek.

Cue the Corones

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Four years ago, John Gadret was slaying it on perhaps the most climber-friendly ‘cross course in Europe: the Koppenbergcross, which, yes, takes in a chunk of the cobbled Koppenberg each lap. The problem was, what goes up must come down. And Gadret doesn’t really do down. Not when you weigh maybe 128 lbs. So he’d light up the Koppenberg, and then get schooled on the descent until finally the elastic snapped at the hands of the Rabobank tag-team of Sven Nys and Richard Groenendaal.

I’m sure Gadret was thinking, “Damn, what’s a dude gotta do to get a ‘cross course that’s uphill the whole way.”

Cue the Plan de Corones.

John Gadret flattens the Plan de Corones. Photo by Sirotti.
John Gadret flattens the Plan de Corones. Photo by Sirotti.

Only former Giro champ Stefano Garzelli and world champion Cadel Evans rode it faster today.

Just for shits and giggles, Angelo Zomegnan should have tossed in a few barriers and carved steps into the upper slopes when it hit 24%. Gadret would have killed it.

Gadret, currently in 17th overall at the Giro and steadily moving up GC as the mountains get scarier, is a rare breed indeed: a world class ‘cross rider who can hold his own in Grand Tour mountain stages.

The last man who proved his mettle in both realms was Switzerland’s Pascal Richard. In 1988 at the age of 23, Richard won the pro ‘cross world championship and then set his sites on the road. At the 1994 Giro Richard won the climber’s classification, one stage and finished 15th overall. The next year Richard won two stages and improved his GC finish to 13th.

It’s doubtful Gadret will ever come close to matching Richard’s palmares, which also includes two Monuments (Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Giro di Lombardia), an Olympic road race gold medal (the first of the pro era), 2 Tours de Romandie, a Tour de Suisse and a Tour de France stage. But let’s see if Gadret can at least match, or top, Richard’s Giro-best 13th overall.

And it should come as no surprise that the all time king of kings when it comes to combining ‘cross and road palmares is Belgium’s Roger de Vlaeminck. Just look at what he did in 1975: Belgian ‘cross champion, world ‘cross champion, three stages and overall at Tirreno-Adriatico, Paris-Roubaix champion, seven stage wins/points jersey/4th overall at the Giro d’Italia, Tour de Suisse champion, Championship of Zürich champion and a few other wins thrown in for good measure in some Italian one-day races.

Unreal. And all with a pair of sideburns that weigh as much as John Gadret.

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.

Ice Ice Baby

Part I

In the not too distant past, the Clark Kent to my Bobke Strut earned a living by being a state government employee, more specifically a librarian. The job had its ups and downs, as any means of employment usually does, but one of the awesome perks was my department had a sweet travel budget.

Sweet travel budget=conferences galore, nationwide. I’ve been to San Francisco, Washington, DC, Miami Beach, Minneapolis, and Chicago among other places.

And then there was Baltimore. ‘Going to conferences’ is frequently synonymous with hitting the local bars ASAP as soon as one’s sessions conclude. As luck would have it, there were quite a few bars to frequent in the immediate vicinity of my conference venue.

The gods must have surely been smiling down upon me, for somehow I stumbled across a drinking establishment with this sign inside:

The sign denoting the Vanilla Ice VIP area

Now, I thought Mr. Robert Matthew Van Winkle had retired that persona, but apparently not. And then…sweet Jesus…I peeked into the VIP area and saw this:

The sign denoting the Vanilla Ice VIP area

Now that’s fucking awesome.

In case you wondered, no, I did not happen to encounter Mr. Vanilla Ice in person as I was there a tad bit too early. Besides, it would have ruined the day in which none other than John Waters gave the keynote speech at my library conference. Several hours after he uttered his last word to the throngs of assembled librarians I was still in shock. John Waters knows how to spin a yarn, and he regaled us with stories of Baltimore and his film-making career for approximately an hour. Suffice it to say, I didn’t think I’d ever see the day at a library conference where a speaker was telling stories about being teabagged. Now that’s how you deliver a memorable keynote address.

I’ve always wondered if the party(ies) responsible for booking John Waters only knew him through his later films such as Hairspray, or if they were consciously aware they were also unleashing the creator of Pink Flamingos on the audience. Waters told a story about such a scenario, where a person rented Hairspray, liked it, then rented Pink Flamingos and tried to sue him for obscenity.

Of course, I had to get a book signed afterwards.

Vanilla Ice sculpture

Part II

And speaking of Ice, in a quirk of cosmic fate the weather in my neck of North Carolina happens to be the same as Tabor, Czech Republic - the iciest, snowiest ‘cross Worlds since Poprad, Slovakia in 1999. So I thought, time to bust out the ‘cross bike and take in the snow and ice right outside my door.

About one hour later I returned home, with a bit of Mother Nature as a souvenir.

Despite the ice on my shoe covers, the feet were toasty warm
An icy drivetrain
Oodles of ice
Who needs functioning brakes
Ice Road Bianchi

Part III

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And speaking of Ice, the freakiest man in cyclo-cross, John Gadret, is back at it. He blew off ‘cross season last year in order to focus on his road career and, uh, that didn’t quite work out. So he’s back, and will be seeking World Championship glory tomorrow in frozen Tabor, the one time out of the year he can ride sans his usual AG2R La Mondiale chocolate madness kit.

Now John Gadret has what one would call a love-hate relationship with racing ‘cross bikes on ice. You see, he would love to knock the lights out of his pit crew at said Poprad ‘cross Worlds in 1999 because he hates losing out on a certain silver medal in the U23 race. It turns out that a young JG was solidly in second place on the last lap in Poprad, so solid that all of the French pit crew at the second pit area bolted their positions to congregate at the finish line in celebration.

Unfortunately, Gadret flatted, rolled into the pit area, and was a bit freaked out to find nobody there. So freaked out, in fact, that by the time he bummed a wheel from neutral support and got back in the race he dropped to fifth place.


Bart Wellens won gold, fellow Belgian Tom Vannoppen won silver, and an incredulous Tim Johnson, unaware of Gadret’s mishap when he crossed the line, nabbed bronze, the first-ever ‘cross world championship medal for an American.

Let’s see what my favorite “hairless spider monkey” can uncork tomorrow in Tabor. My guess? 24th place, about 3:30 down on a raging Zdenek Stybar.

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…”

Cyclocross World Cup-Koksijde…The full story, Part 2

Cyclocross World Cup-Koksijde…The full story, Part 1

Cyclocross World Cup-Koksijde

World Champion Erwin Vervecken emerged from his camper fully kitted out and proceeded to check the tire pressure on one of his four bikes. No pressure gauges for Erwin…it was assessed simply by pressing his palm down on the tire and letting the mechanic know whether air needed to be added or released. World Champions do not pump their own tires, or even let air out…truly the essence of PRO.

I’ve returned from Belgium and will have much more to say about the World Cup at Koksijde as well as the 6 Days of Ghent. I’ve got about 120 photos all together from both events plus two short video clips from Koksijde.