the night kbk and tommeke saved my life

There has been a general lack of interesting stuff going on in my life [I know, I’m clearly doing this unemployment thing, wrong]. Other than the fact that I’ve been eating cookies professionally, and barely riding, absolutely nothing has been going on. There was an outdoor ride last Friday but I’ve been trapped inside, since, reluctantly playing the waiting game with winter. The temptation to throw my trainer out the window has been growing by the day…and I usually fucking love that thing.

The subsequent inability to write has given birth to Blog Doubts, which are actually worse than Writer’s Block, because at least with the latter, you can say something like “well, it takes a while to write a real book/essay/short story.” With a blog, a week without an update signifies impending death. As everyone knows, the Internet does not fucking wait. [Unless, of course, you are famous, in which case, I’ve seen the Internet actually temporarily stop functioning.]

So while I was stuffing my face with cookies, because I’m aware my fame is limited to being blacklisted by cycling news sites because I complain too much about grammatical mistakes and typos, I was freaking out. I’ve been doing this for a while, but surviving a winter still leaves deep, traumatic, scars from throwing myself around my apartment due to boredom for about three months. Let’s not discuss that plummeting power to weight ratio, either.

This past weekend, I’d been so busy staring at a blank Word document in guilt that I completely missed Omloop Het Nieuwsblad [but Lotto didn’t do so well anyway so I was okay with pretending it didn’t happen]. I snapped out of it the next day for Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne on a beautiful Belgian afternoon. With Boonen, who sort of saved my blog.

My thoughts and feelings on Boonen, like any attractive male not on Lotto-Belisol, are complex. I had a fleeting crush on Tom when I was first introduced to pro cycling. He was easy to like: tall, talented, and absolutely delicious-looking; people even expected me to swoon and drop my panties for the guy. A few years later, when I actually got into pro cycling, I re-tested my crush on the infamous Tommeke. But depressingly, in those few short years, Boonen had cut off the Euro-mullet [those adorable, curly, dirty-blonde locks!]. I mean, he still looks better than 98% of the population; I just didn’t want to hit it that much anymore.

Despite the general lack of sexual attraction, I still like the guy. Like a lot more than I should. He’s amazing [2005, 2007, 2009, 2012] when he’s not sucking [2013]. I want him to be on form; mostly to satisfy my bloodlust for a showdown between an equally healthy Boonen and Cancellara, but maybe a little bit because of that panty-dropping smile, too. So when Boonen sprinted to the finish against Moreno Hofland last night, I – consciously cheating on Lotto and feeling appropriately guilty about it – held my breath for Tornado Tom.

I still think it would have been different if race radios had been involved. I still think Lotto could have reeled that breakaway in, and I still think if that had happened, Greipel would have won.

But with Tommeke back, Lotto loss or not, I think it’s going to be a great classics season. And because of that, I also think that last night, Tom might just have saved my blog from dying a slow, silent death.

tim johnson does tokyo...on tv

For the past three years, I’ve been bookending the cyclocross season from opposite sides of the world. It starts in the mid-fall in Massachusetts and ends in Odaiba, a man-made island in Tokyo Bay. Oddly, I watch the same guys race in both locations; first through dirt and grass and a New England fall, then through sand and a relatively warm Japanese winter.

Except this year, I caught the tail end of Holy Week in a dry Providence, Rhode Island and finished off the season of mud and cowbells on a slushy, snowy Tokyo beach.

To be honest, I spent the snowstorm on Saturday in the comfort of my own home while Chandler apparently raced through it. I dug out proper rubber boots for the following day and made plans to meet up with Tim, [his wife and former pro] Lyne Bessette, Chandler, and his pregnant wife, Jenny. As usual, fun times and general ridiculousness were expected.

I did not, however, expect to end up on Japanese TV.

When I finally caught up with Tim, he had a three man video crew following his every move. I had initially assumed that it was part of Cyclocross Tokyo; that maybe they were getting footage for a promotional video. How wrong I was. Tim had apparently agreed to be a part of the show “YOUは何しに日本へ?” [roughly translating into “Why Did You Come to Japan?”], in which a TV crew will select and follow a foreign visitor for a few days. They’d been with Tim, Lyne, Chan, and Jenny since the four had landed at Narita airport.

“So this is like ‘Tim Johnson Does Tokyo’?” I asked.

“Kinda,” he said.

In hindsight, the whole situation is more awkward than I’m currently comfortable admitting to myself. Even after I was informed of the reality of possibly ending up on national TV, there was a race to watch and the likes of Katie Compton, Wendy Simms, and Lyne Bessette to cheer on in the elite women’s race.

We speed walked through packed snow and slush, from the podium to the start line, and cheered as Lyne tore up the almost un-raceable course. Spectators yelled encouragement in Japanese as the American and Canadian athletes sped by, racing through slushy sand and heavy mud. It was the most exciting women’s race I’ve watched, in Tokyo.

Katie predictably took the win, and after congratulations were dispensed, the five of us, plus the TV crew, wandered around the course until the elite men started [Tim’s shoulder injury from World Championships kept him from racing this year]. The five of us screamed and cheered at Barry Wicks while being video-ed by the TV crew. It was awesome, albeit slightly awkward.

The men’s race ended with Zach McDonald taking the win, with Yu Takenouchi and Barry Wicks rounding out the podium. We watched Tim present the awards to the winners before calling it a day. Like every year, I came home exhausted, legs worn out, but happy and giddy. Road season is calling, but there’s nothing like ‘cross on a Tokyo beach in February.

[Tim also gave me an adorable bottle of maple syrup. So you know what that means: MAPLE SYRUP CHUGGING CONTEST!!! Also, more pictures here.]

is this real life?

I can still hear him singing my name, the sound echoing off the twisted turns of our cinder block dorm hallways. My name would be delivered thick with fake charm that we both knew he didn’t have to use, but the effort was flattering. His was the first Boston accent I fell in love with.
We were never together; more tightly bound confidantes and wingmen to the other, old-school, die-hard friends. We drifted apart for a while after college but he still IMs me with the same opener, chanting my name from across the world to tell me the kind of stories that make “The Hangover” pale in comparison [...except no one has gotten Tased in the face...yet].
“So I spent the weekend with M,” he told me the last time, “and he wakes me up going ‘yo, my apartment’s on fire.’”

What followed was a story involving a fire, getting electrocuted, somehow jamming a door so it wouldn’t open, then ripping it off its hinges, and getting pulled over by a cop on the way home. There was more, but I probably shouldn’t elaborate. In any case, he put it/his life rather succinctly, mid-story: “…And I was like IS THIS REAL LIFE???

That same thought crossed my mind on Sunday. Shivering in my cold apartment, bundled up in fleece and sweaters, I watched my favorite team racing in shorts and short-sleeves in the People’s Choice Classic. 25 laps around sunny, hot, summery Adelaide – there was even a crash! – and it felt like everything was back. Adam was racing, Lotto – in red this year! – controlling the front, Giant-Shimano [that’s going to take some getting used to] creeping up and Sky edging forward. It felt like I was back. Kind of like 2013, except with that heady feeling that things this year are going to be even better.

It’s surreal and wildly optimistic because it’s still January. I know that it’s going to get worse [read: February] before it gets better [read: March/spring/Spring Classics]. There’s a long way to go until the Grand Tours, better weather, and less fantasizing and actual doing of travel plans. Really, what in the hell is a week-long World Tour road race doing in the middle of January, hanging out there like it belongs with the cyclocross crowd? This time of year is supposed to be reserved for the misery of icy mud, not tantalizing hints of the road season to come. I understand that the seasons are all fucked up down there, too, but does the Tour Down Under really have to showcase their Australian summers while the rest of the world is freezing its ass off?

It’s January, guys…is this real life???
Despite my grouchy bitching, it so fortunately is. To paraphrase the Game of Thrones* series ROAD SEASON IS COMING. I couldn’t be more glad.
* Not that, you know, I read fantasy books or anything...

life, relaxed

“Your blood work is great, actually,” the doctor had said, while clicking various parts of his computer screen semi-absent mindedly, the way some people do when they’re playing solitaire out of desperate boredom. “There’s nothing wrong with you that I can see. It’s probably not cancer.”
“That actually doesn’t make me feel better,” I wanted to say. I clutched my churning stomach instead.
And so, I was going to write something about how much time I’ve spent in hospital waiting rooms and doctor’s offices in the past four weeks, for being an otherwise healthy individual. But a few new prescriptions have gotten things somewhat back to tolerable, and with both the Australian National Road Championships and the U.S. National Cyclocross Championships on the same weekend, navel-gazing self pity no longer held much appeal. I was even able to crawl back on the bike and back into the gym this past weekend. I call that good progress.

A year or even six months ago, I would have called it lame, unacceptable, barely-counts-as-progress, progress. But the good thing about being sick and no one being able to actually fix it for good? It forces you to not be such a perfectionist lunatic. It takes everything you take for granted, takes it away, and makes you realize how good you have it when your body is sort of half functional. I don’t like the word “laziness,” so let’s just agree to call this new phenomenon going on in my head, “chilling the fuck out.”
This newfound attitude of mine means, of course, that I’m turning into the worst trainee ever. Or, as I like to think of it, just a less crazy one. For once, I didn’t beat myself up for not being able to train when I couldn’t even make it to work last week. I pushed out some intervals on the weekend, pat myself on the back for doing something and got on with my life. Fortunately, I don’t ride my bike for a living, so 1. I’m not going to get fired from cycling, and 2. no one is going to hate me for skipping a workout/underperforming/getting fat instead of fit [other than possibly my coach but let’s not worry about that for now]. It’s a pretty good set up for now, this whole “not freaking out” business. I’m enjoying it; savoring it like a fat kid’s first bite of a cheese fondue pizza.

I know I’ve lost a bit of my edge, my climbing ability, and overall power. I’m nowhere near where I was this time last year. But the ironic thing is that I think I’m happier for it. It’s not that the bike and I are breaking up; we’re just growing into a healthier relationship. You know, the kind where we’re not so codependent on each other. I still think there’s very little a good bike ride – or at the very least, a good bike friend – can’t fix; in the past four weeks or so, though, I’m getting around to not being so desperately needy about it. It took a while [like, three decades] but I’m learning to actually apply what I know to be true: the bike – like any sane male – will be there for me, always, but not if I get all crazy about it all the time.

That said, I was glued to my phone on Sunday during Australian Nationals, while baking banana bread with my sister. This involved doing the easy stuff like measuring out flour and making my sister do the actualy work like mixing and cleaning up while I kept tabs on Adam’s race. The walnuts we sprinkled on top got a little burned but I blame that on juggling a post-race congratulatory email, knitting on teeny tiny needles, and attempting to carry on a conversation at the same time. Still, the banana bread apparently came out amazing, Adam came in 13th at Nationals, Tim took the bronze the next day, and my legs were worn out enough from my weekend spins that I passed out at 9.45pm.
Life, relaxed, feels fucking pretty good.
[Special, super big thanks to BTB TV for letting this girl watch US Cyclocross Nationals live, all the way from Tokyo. You guys rock!]

mud, cx, and the glass slipper

I’ve been to the Glass Slipper once. We went because of the Yelp reviews.
I wasn’t as drunk as I could have been, and as the only clothed woman in the establishment, felt the side glances from the other patrons somewhat acutely. “No place for a woman,” a man kept growling [into his $9 beer]. But it was a friend’s birthday, and we were intrigued by the promise of girls with knife wound and bullet hole scars. I asked to use the bathroom and was sent upstairs, where the dressing rooms were. “Don’t come down the stairs, honey,” the woman told me, “you’ll end up on that stage if you do.”

I remembered to take the elevator down, but can’t recall too much of what happened after my staring contest with the toilet used by the strippers there [“well, it’s clean,” I thought, “but do I really want to sit on that?”]. I know I crashed on my friend’s couch for a few hours afterwards and rode my singlespeed, cyclocross Bianchi home, covered in that thin layer of grease and sweat that every almost-all-nighter seems to require. The back of my eyeballs felt sore with lack of sleep, the veil of a headache was edging into the corners of my brain. And back then, I had no idea what cyclocross was.
The echoes of that night at the Glass Slipper still linger. Not so much when I talk to the guys who were there, or share stories from Boston, but most sharply on colder days in the fall, when I’m watching guys in skinsuits – both familiar and strange – getting dirty and sweaty. I’ve never set rubber to mud, and to paraphrase the guy at the Glass Slipper, CX is “no place for [a roadie who has difficulty turning right].” But like the inappropriate and obnoxiously drunk plus one at any given wedding, I yell and cheer, despite the peculiarity of my attendance. Because when your friends are into stuff that you might not know anything about, to the point where you’re forced to line up your visits to the U.S. with big CX races, there’s nothing to do but to embrace it. To open up your arms, front like you know anything about disc brakes, and hope that no one notices that you’ve never, ever ridden a CX course.

A happy affiliation with Tim Johnson and Chandler, however, mean that I’ve escaped detection thus far, and to continue my covert operations in the CX world, I immediately headed towards the bright green Cannondale truck and tent on my first day at the Providence Cyclocross Festival this past Saturday. Once again, it seemed to work; somewhere between the inappropriate jokes and the, well, even more inappropriate jokes, I lost the self-consciousness that is triggered by the sight of tire tracks in slippery mud. I’d made it to Rhode Island just in time for the Elite race, and after dispensing the necessary hugs and hellos, comfortably slipped back into the role of the shameless, screaming spectator.

Despite the fact that [or, perhaps, because ]almost every cyclist I know on the east coast is somehow involved in ‘cross – as team mechanics, racers, or otherwise – showing up to big CX races has always implied a bit of voyeurism. Because road has always been my chosen sexual orientation; skinny, slick rubber on unwrinkled asphalt is what primarily gets me off. That doesn’t rule out going gay for ‘cross – and the idea’s been more than tempting – but given my general clumsiness and dearth of bike funds, it seems unlikely.

Clearly, that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it. Stumbling around a taped off course, trying to find the best spots to heckle and state the obvious [“Go faster!”], can give even the road-confined spectator a vicarious race high. Because one of the greatest things about ‘cross is that it’s as fun to watch as to [presumably] do. After a summer of vacationing in delicately cultured European locales – through live feeds or otherwise – the familiarity and accessibility of ‘cross is like walking into a New England home. One that’s just slightly chillier than you’re used to, but you can smell the apple pie baking in the oven.
Admittedly, there was no apple pie involved this year at Providence, but there were beers with Tim and Chan and Todd, and some non-dairy soft serve covered in toasted coconut. There was screaming and cheering and hiding out in the Cannondale tent when it started to pour, with two guys named Sam. There were friends to cheer on in the Cat 3 race, friends that stopped by the race just to hang out, and all the things that make an annual pilgrimage to the U.S. worth every single yen.

I may never quite belong there, but every year, when the air starts to get a little sharper, I hope I’m stateside, screaming inappropriate things at guys I may or may not know, from the side of a muddy, wet, ‘cross course.
[Thanks Tim, Chan, Todd, JF, Tom, Sam, Sam, Dave N., Oscar and everyone that hung out with me last weekend. Hopefully see some of you guys in Japan!]
[Also, lots more not-so-great pictures here.]