Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cipollini's Balls

Nobody gets the Lion King by the balls, except the Lion King.

The relationship that was started last fall in a Las Vegas discotheque could come to an end if Mario Cipollini does not get his say in the management of Rock Racing. The Italian, who came out of retirement at the age of 40 to race in the Tour of California last week, and his lawyer met with the owner of the team, Mike Ball, yesterday to discuss the coming season.

"We need to sit at the table and make clear who is in command," said Mario Cipollini in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport's Luigi Perna. The Italian from Lucca and lawyer Giuseppe Napoleone were scheduled to meet with Ball later in the day.

"The boss is Ball, but after him it is me. Therefore I want to manage the squad starting now. I can organise the participation in [Milano-] Sanremo. To find men to race is not a problem. ... If Ball does well it will continue, otherwise goodbye. I now understand that the name Cipollini still has value, in the United States and elsewhere."

Cipollini was happy with his return, but not with the fiasco surrounding the team and Ball's backing of Tyler Hamilton, Oscar Sevilla and Santiago Botero. The riders, all allegedly linked with Operación Puerto, were barred from racing by the organiser, but continued along daily by riding behind the race caravan and signing autographs for fans at the stage villages.

"For a week I had an infinite amount of patience ... Maybe it was my great desire to return to racing with an important project. However, we can't go forward like this. We are not able to continue to pull along this heavy weight that ruins our image, and now Ball also understands this. It is not enough to advertise and show off models."


His name was Matthew Manger-Lynch.

Not nearly as tragic, but sad none the less, to see that the Chicago Tribune editors cannot resist the urge to inject a soft undercurrent of anti-bike vitriol into even the most somber of cases.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Gimme Some of That Democracy

Ten minutes is a small price to pay for the insight Tony Benn drops. Should our paths ever cross, the drinks are on me.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Mysterious Disappearance of the Lying Hero

Last summer, like all summers before them, I was bombarded with tales of high mileage, pro-caliber average speeds, and a rare and profound love for cycling. Individuals and groups each wove a tapestry of intricate stories detailing heroic conquests aboard their trusty steeds. Racers were dropped, obscene wattages were produced, and punishment was meted out with unchecked brutality. Blow by blow accounts of hard fought city limit sprints were recalled in language analogous to historic battles like Antietam and Stalingrad.

Their supreme dedication and pathological affinity for letting everyone in on their awesomeness elevated our great sport to inspiring heights. I was jealous of their kids. Who wouldn't want such gallantry in their genes? These wondrous warriors of cycling chic. Martyrs who would carry our sport to such places that Coppi, Anquetil, and Merckx (if only they knew their names) never dared. We should dream easily knowing these guardians were manning the gate of our beloved sport. If only they were still here.

The shop has sat eerily silent the past few months, save for the quiet, time worn echoes of the old guard stirring. The once vibrant, promise-filled exuberance of warmer, sun drenched days are gone. Cycling's newest heroes have, predictably, been vanquished. Victims of loving the myth more than the ride.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Mad Props Vol. 10

The year was 1993, Paris-Roubaix, France.

Franco Ballerini was riding a like a man possessed with such grit and determination that all anyone could do was latch onto his rear wheel and hang on for dear life. He exuded a superhuman-like aura of complete dominance. And with this supreme confidence, it seemed Ballerini was powering toward a stunning victory, his first, in the incomparable L'enfer du Nord. It looked as if he could beat anybody that day, living or dead. Anybody, save one: Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle, smiter of Gods.

At 39, Duclos-Lassalle was the grand old man of the peloton. He was racing with guys half his age and showing them that they still had to wash behind their ears because they were naive little bastards. Duclos had nearly 15 years of suffering on most of these hotshot noobs, and if a neo-pro didn't salute him as they crossed paths, ten thousand push ups in molten lava would have been lenient. For Gilbert was a tough as nails Frenchman that could will entire empires to eat "Freedom Fries" with their assholes just by blinking. Limbaugh cowered.

"Gibus" had been racing professionally since 1977 and didn't fall into the sad pattern of old pros whose glory days were long behind them. He was supremely unique in that he actually improved with age. I remember reading an interview with Duclos in the early nineties that spelled out his weekly training schedule. It went something like this:

Monday - Motorpace 5 hours
Tuesday - Motorpace 5 hours
Wednesday - Motorpace 5 hours
Thursday - Motorpace 5 hours
Friday - Motorpace 5 hours

Hard old man indeed. Even diamonds were jealous.

On that day in 1993, Duclos outfoxed Ballerini with a show of spectacular patience, determination, and cunning explosiveness. Whether out of hubris or desperation, Franco had done nearly all the work in the breakaway and failed to recognize that Gibus' skills on the track were as legendary as his longevity. Some say it was Duclos' very hand that had reached out of the sky and maneuvered Franco Ballerini to do his bidding. Regardless, Duclos claimed his second consecutive cobblestone trophy in a photo finish that Ballerini initially celebrated as a victory of his own. It was a devastating mistake that played out in dramatic fashion on the public stage before millions of ebullient spectators. Duclos ascended to the ranks of the immortal on that crisp, spring day.

Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle, you deserve some Mad ol' Props. We salute you.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Ruminations of the Rising Sun

If there's one thing you invariably do in a land where you don't wholly speak/understand the language or culture, it's observe, think, and reflect. There's only so much time you can spend delving into English/Japanese translation tools to explain a few simple topics such as how best to serve shochu (15 minutes) or why I rarely carry a cel phone (impossible to quantify). Thus, I spent a considerable amount of time living as a mute during my brief stint in the east. A mute, contemplating some of the following:

-Shochu really is best served in a 5:5 ratio.

-American's habit of tearing through wrapped gifts like rabid wolfmen may be considered poor manners, but watching someone spend 10 minutes to open a box isn't so great either.

-There are some spectacular rides on incredibly varied terrain to be had in Kyushu.

-I read the book "The Good War" by Studs Terkel while there. By all accounts, WWII wasn't so "good".

-Cold weather has little effect upon Japanese dress. Including extremely short skirts.

-WTF? Seven bucks for a bottle of Miller???

-Cheap Japanese beer is better than cheap American beer.

-Expensive Japanese beer is a lot like cheap Japanese beer.

-The lack of viable, safe, clean, respected alternative modes of transportation in the US is a savage embarrassment.

-Everyone slurping udon in one room is kind of disgusting.

-Sadame-san moves around better than the 7 year old fatty with the Mountain Dew glued to his porky little hands this past summer.

-Sadame-san was born during the second year of Theodore Roosevelt's Presidency.

-Cel phones can be used is public places with discretion and courtesy.

-Cycling helmet use in Japan is on par with the old BS rides: nonexistent.

-Mt. Kempo is approximately a 10km climb with an average gradient of 7% and a maximum of 13%.

-Outdoor and cave onsens are the best way to kick it old school and an excellent post ride haunt.

-Soft core porn mags are shelved, uncovered, next to the manga. Sugoi!

-Customer service is the best I've ever experienced. Even from the 16 year olds. Worst-Buy, Walfart, and just about every other big box retailer don't hold a candle to them. Not even a turd candle.

-That goes double for government services (Wow, you mean you won't talk down to me and sigh loudly because I'm wasting your time?)

-Dogs are dogs. Not pseudo-people in cute fur outfits.

-Fish heads aren't so bad. Puffer fish testacles aren't either.

-Pig intestine is wretched.

-Central heat and AC needn't be standard issue in homes when all you use is one room at a time.

-Weird Japanese television shows seem to be relegated to American TV screens. I didn't see any.

-Tommy Lee Jones is on every single Boss Coffee vending machine.

-Japanese ads have a superb knack for making Hollywood stars look completely ridiculous.

-Obama would easily take a Kyushu primary.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

If I Were a Betting Man

Aside from "doing as the natives do", such as eating strange animal parts, laughing uneasily during pauses in conversations I don't understand, and riding on the wrong side of the road, I had the great fortune to view the east's finest contribution to bicycle racing: keirin.

At breakfast, my shivering in-laws told me it was "samui", which translates to "typical spring day in Chicago". This, of course, also means it was raining. With sub-zero temperatures and snowstorms battering my comrades back home, in my opinion, this was perfect weather for a day at the races.

First stop for the keirin shuttle.

I was soon at the bus station awaiting the free keirin shuttle bus to whisk me away to an unknown cycling paradise I'd only seen on posters and grainy You Tube videos. As the bus arrived and we piled in with a bunch of stinky old dudes, it was obvious this wasn't to be anything like the romantic setting of the six day races I'd gloriously imagined our cycling forefathers enjoying in pre-war Europe.

My suspicions were confirmed with the sight of the near empty grand stands surrounding the track. I quickly concluded that keirin is like horse racing, only with bikes, therefore you amass a crowd that isn't motivated to stand around for hours on end, day after day, for a love of equine beauty, but a good old fashioned fist full of yen. Beneath the cheap, blue seats of the grand stands, were thousands of coughing, sniffing, smoking men (and maybe six women) huddled around monitors, tables, and on the floor surmising odds and scribbling in bets. It was a disgusting, gag reflex inducing, fantastic sight.

Grumpy old men that spit and sniff incessantly.

Regardless, my purpose was clear, I didn't come here to lose money. I came to see some racin'. So I did just that. And, it was top notch, tooth chippin', white knuckled racin' that I was served.

The riders all go through ritualistic preparation routines before the bell announces the start of the race. Green pounded his thighs so hard I swear I heard the rumble of muscle fibers snap to attention, White stretched his arms like a contortionist on speed, Red slapped his face wildly, Black adjusted and re-adjusted his toe straps, while Pink motionlessly stared at his handlebars as if in an LSD induced trance.

Riders rolling out.

The build up of intensity and adrenaline is akin to watching the last 1000 meters of a sprint on the Champs-Élysées. A ringing bell sounds. Slowly at first, then gradually builds in tempo and decibels on the last lap. Like Pavlov's dog, the crowd's pulse instinctively quickens and crescendos into an eruption that spews a froth of heated banter. Meanwhile, a colorful line of nervous riders marking one another, lock elbows around the final turn and unleash a fury that would make Michael Hubner blush. As the finish line is crossed there is a collective gasp. Insults and praise are heaped on the grim riders as they finish their cool down lap.

As the competitors leave the track, the riders for the next race make a brief appearance and do a single lap to show their form in a ritualistic stretching of the legs. When the parade lap ends and the riders duck into their humble shelter, two sweeper teams in groups of four swab the track of debris. This marks the perfect time to get another cup of free, low grade coffee or tea, take a leak, and find another seat with a different view. Just as you're settling into your plastic vantage point, the announcements introduce the next race and the riders begin to slowly roll out toward the starting gate.

It was indeed a splendid sight to see. The charged atmosphere of competition, tall odds, won and lost coin, minus all the self absorbed posturing of the local crits, was a breath of fresh (metaphorically) air. All unraveling before me in an environment that was both foreign and familiar. I dig that shit. I will dig it again, I am sure.

Bowing to the crowd.

Pre-race rituals in full effect.

The race begins.

Monday, February 11, 2008


I'm stinking. I'm smarmy. My mouth is mossy and I'm too tired to sleep. Or think. Or write, for that matter. It's the ol' internal clock, if you catch my Tokyo drift. I'm fifteen hours ahead of where I should be. Be that as it may, I believe I'll have awakened enough from my slumber and shock of actually having to work again to post some updates, observations, and opinions on Wednesday.

I'll leave you with a few spy photos to whet those curious appetites.

Is that a Keirin bus I see? Hmmmm....

Who was travelling upon this glorious steed and what tales might he tell?

Kyushu isn't cool with Don Knotts impersonators.