A Quarter Century of Ferrous Frames, Fright Wigs, and Fab Fashion: Part 2

Not quite as nostalgic a trip down memory lane as bikes 1-6. No Detto shoes, Benotto tape, untamed hair…but there are still some fine memories tied up with these rides:

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Matt Kelly-Low Budget Superstar

Matt Kelly as seen in an ad for Lemond bikes, Rolf wheels, and Icon bars/stems: VeloNews, March 1, 1999

A trip down memory lane to Poprad, Slovakia…

Hoopty bike:
1999 Junior Men Cyclocross World Champion Matt Kelly is likely the first and last person to win a world title on clincher tires (and Trek’s house-brand Icon bars and stem have likely never seen another world title, either). No Dugasts here! Check it out–he’s sporting a Michelin Mud on the front and a Ritchey Speedmax on the rear. And equally as low tech is Kelly’s steel 853 Lemond frame, likely simply one of the Lemond road frames with a ‘cross fork plus a set of cantilever bosses welded on for the rear brake. For the 1998/1999 ‘cross season, Lemond did not offer a ‘cross bike to the public–this is a one-off supplied to Kelly. Look at the cable routing, these are most definitely not ‘cross friendly with both derailleur cables routed along the downtube and the rear brake routing designed for a road caliper brake. And I bet the reason he’s sporting a Speedmax rear tire instead of a Michelin is that the Michelins are too fat to fit in the road chain stays, while a skinnier Speedmax will just fit (as long as you keep your wheels exquisitely trued).

The Belgian that Kelly outsprinted was Sven Vanthourenhout, who had won each of the 26 cyclocross races he had entered that season. While Vanthourenhout was raging in Europe, Kelly had a comparatively sparse American ‘cross schedule. In fact, the bulk of his training was done in the basement of his Wisconsin home on the trainer. It was Rocky vs. Drago in Poprad, and the underdog American defied logic and precedent to emerge with a rainbow-striped jersey.

Hoopty threads:
“Hey bitches, you go to ‘cross worlds with the skinsuits you have, not the skinsuits you might want or wish to have.”–Performance Bicycle management

Team issue Performance skinsuits sucked ass in cold weather. In steps Verge…

“It was cold in Poprad, Slovakia during the recent [1999] world cyclocross championships. It was so cold that the official U.S. team uniforms brought by the team proved woefully inadequate. Fortunately, a couple of ‘locals’ knew just how cold it would be in Poprad and, about a week before the event, started constructiong long-sleeved, knicker skinsuits at their Polish clothing factory. Michael Magur and Brad Hogan, who own the Poland-based Verge Sport, carefully reproduced the graphics on the American uniforms–including all of the sponsor’s logos–and set off for a day-long winter drive from Poland to Poprad. The trip concluded with a treacherous three-hour drive on a snow-covered single-lane road over the Tatra Mountains. No guard rails and lots of snow.” VeloNews, March 1, 1999.

Hoopty pit crew:
I forgot about this story from Poprad–how a Frenchman in the espoir race got screwed by his pit team. A Frenchman named John Gadret. On the final lap Gadret had his silver medal wrapped up–Wellens was out of reach about 1 minute in front of Gadret and the duo of Tim Johnson and Tom Vannoppen were about 40 seconds behind Gadret thinking they were duking it out for bronze. Gadret’s pit crew thought he was home free, too, and abandoned their post at the second pit and ran to the finish line to greet their silver medalist to-be. Alas, Gadret suffered a flat just before the second pit and he rolled into that pit area expecting a smooth bike change to carry him over the final kilometer. To his horror, there were no French mechanics or bikes to be had–he had to bum a wheel off neutral support after his frantic search for his chain-smoking compatriots came up empty. A weeping Gadret crossed the line in 5th place, and if he wasn’t so freaky skinny and freaky cold he likely would have given his slacker pit crew a world-class beat down.

Shameless Self-Promotion…

My straight-laced, journalist alter ego weighs in on the state of American cyclocross, aglow in the aftermath of the Hooglede-Gits medal-fest.

Pay a visit to cyclingnews.com to peruse the feature article. Enjoy!

I Love You, I Hate You, Drop Dead!

What does Jonathan Page’s performance at the recently concluded 2007 cyclocross world championships and Artie Shaw’s semi-autobiographical novel have in common? Well…not much, except that catchy title popped into my head while I was watching Page come so damned close to putting on a rainbow jersey Sunday morning. I haven’t been worked into such a berserker frenzy watching a bike race since I lost my voice at the 1999 Presidio ‘cross nationals–just one of several thousand spectators whose ravings helped propel underdog Marc Gullickson to a national title.

They call me The Vituperator: There’s nothing quite like a room full of people urging unspeakable things to happen to fellow human beings, likely upstanding citizens each, and the results of such raw, venomous exhortations. At one critical point, when Page and Franzoi were making everyone in Belgium spit beer through their nose, I believe I started screaming “DIE FRANZOI DIE!!!” just as they hit the sand pit. And lo and behold, Franzoi flipped over the bars leaving Page and Vervecken alone to duke out the world title endgame. I wished fire and brimstone would rain down on Vervecken over those last couple of laps, but that bastard’s mojo is more powerful than anything I could deliver. As an alternative, I was wondering where Trebon and Wicks were at. If they were lapped together by Page, the two tallest lads in ‘cross could “crash” in front of Vervecken and put their collective 13′ of height and super-sized rigs to good use by blocking the course. Come on, Vervecken, you’ve already won 2 world titles and have podiumed 4 other times. Can’t you toss Mr. Page a bone and ensure his livelihood for the remainder of his ‘crossin’ days?

30,000 Belgian Vituperators: I hadn’t realized the venom that Belgians feel towards the Dutch. But it was damn funny on the first lap when Gerben De Knegt Camiel Van Den Bergh rolled down one of the drop-offs to the 180 back to the stairs run-up while out in front on his own, and there was a thunderous wave of “BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!” all the way around that section of the course. Plus a whole lot of beer cups (empty? who knows…) heaved out on the course. And it also looked like De Knegt Van Den Bergh waved his fist in the air briefly, as if to say “Eat me, Belgium!!” That was just pure theatre.

The VIP treatment: Did anybody notice King Albert II of Belgium during the awards ceremony? He doled out the medals to the Elite podium…and he was wearing a press pass on a lanyard just like all the other schmoes on stage. Can’t the king just stroll in without any ID? I bet Eddy Merckx could.

Moto-rific: I hope that guy on the quad bike who took out Bart Wellens with an ill-timed plastic barricade ricochet had a full tank of gas. Because if he didn’t just keep on riding, like out of Belgium, then he’s probably already been “paid a visit” by the Bart Wellens goon squad.

“…Spends his winters finishing between fifth and 10th in cyclocross races”, so says Cycle Sport in their recent Ag2r 2007 team preview. John Gadret rolled in a respectable 8th on Sunday, fulfilling his 5th-10th obligation. There’s strength to weight ratio, which he’s got in spades, but there’s also pure power, which somebody weighing about 128 lbs most definitely lacks. Which is why Gadret negotiated the sand pit on foot nearly half the time, having simply run out of gas. And unless the freakiest man in cyclocross uncorks something Page-esque in his future, I think the Bobke Strut Gadret-orama will be coming to a close. At least until he shows up in Providence this October on Sven Nys’s chartered plane…and I’ll be there stalking him in baggage claim.

Coming tomorrow, or a couple of days…Lest we forget, Matt Kelly won the US’s second ‘cross medal and only world title on a frigid Poprad day in 1999. I’ll tell the story of the hooptiest bike to ever win a ‘cross gold medal in modern times.

The Sound of No Hands Clapping (in Belgium)

Photo ©: Roberto Bettini

The wrong Frenchman (in my humble opinion) won the Treviso World Cup last Saturday, but what a masterful performance by Francis Mourey. He even repeatedly ran the stairs with his stubby legs just as fast as the svelte Vervecken and Nys - no easy feat. Of course, the Treviso parcours was much more dirt criterium than cyclocross so it makes sense that Mourey, a FdJ road pro, would prevail in the 3-up sprint, but you can never count out Sven Nys who just plain knows how to win no matter what the conditions. 5:51 laps on a 3.2km circuit (better than 20mph avg. speed) is just nuts, and the race director in Treviso admitted that changes would be made for the 2008 world championships to take place at the same venue. I had a hunch Mourey would win, even if the cycling.tv duo all but wrote him off, but that last 100 meters was a thing of beauty. Fluid RPMs trumped raw Belgian power bogged down in big gears.

If wee John Gadret hadn’t been knocked off his bike about every other lap on the crazy steep-maybe-you-can-ride-it,-but-there’s-a-good-chance-you’ll-run-it 26% power climb by flailing competitors who crashed and burned when their forward progress ceased and desisted, maybe he could have improved on his 10th place finish. I can’t wait for the remaining World Cup races to be broadcast on cycling.tv.

And I believe that freaky-tall Ryan Trebon will be making his way across the pond very soon to do battle in Europe all the way through the world championships next February. I think Francis Mourey’s head would barely crest the top tube if he happened to be walking next to Trebon’s ride in the pits.

What goes up must come down faster…

Me 'n' J.G. banner

“It’s the first race where you can’t hide”
-Sven Nys opines on the Koppenbergcross

When you weigh all of 128 lbs. including the field-full of cow shit and slimy Belgian mud plastered on your limbs, when you rock Giro mountain stages in the company of Ivan Basso, when you’ve got the watts to finish strong in the Giro di Lombardia, when you live for hard-guy courses in Belgium, then the climber-friendly cobble-rama that is the Koppenberg Cross is your time to strike the fear into Sven Nys. If only John Gadret could go downhill like he goes up. But a podium spot in the heart of Flanders ain’t too shabby for someone heretofore relying solely on ProTour road fitness. Says Gadret, “I’m really happy with my performance as this is the first important cyclo-cross for me. Up until now, I didn’t enjoy specific cyclo-cross training so I’m certainly lacking the technical skills that other riders have mastered,” Gadret explained. “My goal this season is to win an event in the world cup.”

That’s right, it’s just a matter of time…a time, that is, when Gadret can convince a World Cup ‘cross promoter to have a ‘cross hillclimb.

Koppenberg Cross: Gazet van Antwerpen-trofee #1 Oudenaarde, Belgium 3rd @ 0.30
Challenge de la France Cycliste #1 Henin-Beaumont, France 2nd @ 0.12
Cyclocross World Cup #3 Tabor, Czech Republic 12th @1.11
Cyclocross World Cup #2 Kalmthout, Belgium 25th @ 1.10

Me ‘n’ J.G.

Me 'n' J.G. banner

The skinniest-and-freakiest man in cyclocross has been busy putting the finishing touches on his inaugural ProTour road season, while getting his feet wet on the ‘cross circuit. John Gadret is one of only two riders (Enrico Franzoi of Lampre being the other) who has let it rip in 2006 in the Spring Classics, a Grand Tour, Fall Classics, and the Euro ‘cross circuit. His initial forays into cyclocross this Fall seem a bit subpar, maybe he got even freakier-lean to rock the hills (on the road) at the expense of raw power necessary for ‘cross, but there’s plenty of ‘cross to come…

Superprestige #1 - Ruddervoorde Ruddervoorde, Belgium Gadret did not show his face. What?…Just a wee bit tired after Lombardia? Roger De Vlaeminck would have made the trip. In fact, he probably would have hopped in a car in Como and driven himself overnight from Italy to Belgium. Kids today are so soft.
Giro di Lombardia Como, Italy 34th @ 4:03
Giro dell’Emilia Bologna, Italy 11th @0.38
Cyclocross World Cup #1 Aigle, Switzerland 25th @ 3.04
Vlaamse Houtlandcross Eernegem Eernegem, Belgium 17th @ 3.09

Zeddam On My Mind…

John Gadret goes toe to toe with a 14 year-old heckler

Never mind that Belgians have swept the elite ‘cross podium for the past 4 years and have won 20 of 24 elite ‘cross worlds medals over the past 8 years. John Gadret has been on a tear, only a few scant seconds behind Erwin Vervecken and Sven Nys these past couple of weeks. And with countrymen Francis Mourey on hand, a willing and enthusiastic partner in Gadret’s Franco Mallachi Crunch, and with the undeniably inevitable Belgian infighting probably already manifesting itself at this very moment, John Gadret is primed to make history.

John Gadret is Faster Than You

Poster for 2006 French Cyclocross Championships John Gadret outsprints Francis Mourey for the 2006 French cyclocross championship

Sweet. John Gadret avenged being pipped at the line by Francis Mourey in 2005 with a reversal of the scenario this afternoon in Sedan. Only time will tell if this augers well for ag2r’s burgeoning ProTour campaign, or if it’s all downhill from here this season. Here’s hoping for the former. And in case you wanted to meet every living soul who had anything to do with putting on the 2006 French ‘cross championships, your wish has been answered.

Enter the Dragon

John Gadret Belgian-Beat-Down Tabulator banner

John Gadret unleashes a can of kung-fu whupass on hapless Bart Wellens
Image source: http://www.pezcyclingnews.com/photos/races05/cross05/druivencross-thekick.jpg

Vlaamse Druivenveldrit: Overijse, Belgium. There’s nothing like hecklers who pull out all the stops. John Gadret, frustrated by a rather mediocre ‘cross season and comfortable in the knowledge that he’s been hooked up with ProTour squad ag2r for 2006, verbally lit into Wellens from the sidelines lap after lap after lap. Egged on by his cadre of Wellens-haters and fuelled by about 2 liters of Duvel flowing through his slight frame, Gadret thence stripped down to his stylin’ Bruce Lee kit and uncorked a lightning fast strike to Wellens’ noggin.

Bart Wellens is lucky to be alive.

And then not one week later, having let all of Belgium cyclocross know that he’s not a man to be trifled with, Gadret uncorks his best ride of the season at Superprestige #6. If only there was some sprinting horsepower in his spindly limbs. Here’s hoping that having absorbed the final morsels of old school Belgian knowledge from his Jartazi-Revor-Granville goon squad handlers, Gadret will give ag2r its first win of the season in this weekend’s French cyclocross championships.