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.]

cyclocross tokyo 2013: a really late race report

Since meeting Chandler and Tim at Cyclocross Tokyo last year, I’ve taken the liberty to clog their inboxes with rants about ‘cross, Tokyo, and bikes, and stalked both of their racing seasons. I sent a lot of emails with exclamation marks. I met up with them at the Gran Prix of Gloucester. They kept telling me that “yeah, yeah we can’t wait to go back to Tokyo,” but a part of me doubted they would make the flight over after Louisville. I mean, isn’t going to sleep for a week with an ice cream IV the natural thing to do after Worlds, not run off to race again, in Tokyo?
But last Friday two Fridays ago, I was sitting in a bar in Ginza with Tim, [Rapha-Focus mechanic]Tom Hopper, and [Rapha-Focus team manager]Jeff Rowe, having a beer at 3pm. We sandwiched coffee at Café de L’Ambre [where Tim had a café oeuf, a meticulously poured-over coffee with a raw egg yolk in it] between the watery beer and a stop at a whisky bar, and thus started the weekend.

24 hours later, I was cheering on Chandler in the Cat 2 race on the same course that the pros would be racing on the next day. Lined up pretty much in the last row, Japandler moved his way steadily up while Tim, JF [a Boston friend of Tim’s, in town for business], and I screamed and yelled. We all tried to shame Chan into at least beating the guy on the Surly Pugsley, until we realized that that guy was beating everyone. Well, until he rolled his tire and had to switch to a regular ‘cross bike [“oh, that guy that was riding everything?” Chan would later say]. Chan came in 4th, and I got to play podium girl for the first [and last] time in my life.

I only really found out how much sand was actually involved in the course after JF’s masters’ race the following day. There was the long stretch of sand that was there last year, but this year an additional beach section was added, presumably to allow for more spectating space. A pavement sprint led right to a wide curve along the beach [a few guys endo-ed as they hit the sand], before the riders raced through the twists in the trees. A small ramp added some excitement between the wooded sections, before a descent back onto the beach, into sand that seemed to swallow front wheels. I had seen Chan ride the high line the day before, but most of the amateur field had chosen to run the sand section. Both Chan and JF would say that it was the hardest race they’d done this year. It looked brutal.

Back at the Sram tent, with the sun coming out, Tim’s primary concern was how much he would be sweating, and Jeremy Powers’ primary concern seemed to be trying to walk without stepping on a herd of Japanese fans. Arnie from Red Bull came to hang out, as did Sam from the infamous Behind The Barriers. The latter would, later that night, get footage of me weaving around the streets of Shibuya after chugging 1.5 beers with him........Yeah.

I actually did a lot of weaving in and out that day. Once the gun went off, JF and I ran around the course, shooting pictures of Tim and Jeremy with our respective iPhones. JF, having raced a few hours earlier, was familiar with the best places to get pictures, and we jumped over Shimano tape and ran through sand to cheer on the guys. Japanese national champion Yu Takenouchi led the race just like he did last year, and flew through the sand like it wasn’t even there. Jeremy and Tim would close the gap between the trees [with Jeremy bunny hopping the barriers every single lap, to waves of cheers by the fans], but Yu would stretch it back out once on the beach. The field was getting lapped; the course more crowded. The elite field did a total of thirteen grueling laps, with Yu holding on until the last lap, when Jeremy cleaned up any hope of a Japanese win. Tim claimed the last spot on the podium, and the race was done.

The sun was slowly setting by the time the guys finished the podium presentation and conducted quick interviews. We were all shivering in varying degrees, I finally met Alex of Sram who also worked the pit with Japandler for Tim, and I found out that Tim has these zip up tights that are like the Lycra equivalent of basketball rip-off pants [par for the course, I guess, when you’re the “Michael Jordan of the cyclocross world”].

Getting shitfaced off less than two beers and wandering aimlessly around Shibuya followed, plus some riding around town and a night with Red Bull. But more on that later.
[Lots more pictures here.]

das pro und the rookie

Since I’ve started cycling, I’ve often wished for a cultured, sophisticated friend of the European variety. I imagine this well-connected friend, preferably reasonably attractive and trilingual, would never lack in single, male friends with chiseled features and lithe bicycles. This friend would somehow always have access to villas and chateaus, dispersed across the European Continent, in which one could crash for weeks at a time, conveniently located near spectacular riding routes. There’d be a flat in London, too, should the need for a Vivienne Westwood shopping spree ever arise, but the majority of our time will be spent in Italian cafes or the French Alps. Always in our respective kits.
Unfortunately, either birds of vastly different feathers don’t like to flock together, or, the more gentle explanation to my self-confidence would suggest, that this type of fun-at-parties, almost-annoying-cultured-in-that-European-way-but-doesn’t-come-off-as-a-total-douche friend simply doesn’t exist. Never mind that Europeans probably can’t see much charm in the cultural atrophy and addictions to reality TV that your typical Americanized individual has to offer. It’s much easier for me to explain this empty hole in my friend roster to impossibility.

Conceding that this friend can only truly exist in the confines of fantasy, it’s not a stretch, then, to imagine this individual handing you the cyclocross equivalent of the Devil’s Handbook. Except that it’s a DVD called, “Das Pro und the Rookie,” featuring lots of Belgian people, Tim Johnson, and Chandler Delinks speaking French.

It’s not porn, but as a ‘cross neophyte, the documentary is like a primer on what I need to know to most effectively pretend that I know what I’m talking about when discussing this particular discipline. Which is to say, it might be pretty close.
Because who doesn’t get off on sticky, slippery bikes races in exotic and freezing Belgian cities? If I’m honest with myself, the answer to that question would be, “mostly everyone.” But because a reality that doesn’t parse perfectly with my imagination disturbs me, I choose not to interact with the ‘cross-ignorant and thrill-deprived. It’s made for a markedly happier state of mind, and friends who would totally understand why LOLing on the trainer while watching “Das Pro,” is completely acceptable, and expected, behavior.

And this documentary – made by Chan and Todd Prekaski about Chan and Tim’s respective 2010/2011 ‘cross seasons – is that good. Not just “I’m friends with Chan and Tim so I have to say it’s good,” good, because honestly, after Chan outright ruined season three of “The Wire” two hours after I first met him, I don’t feel like I owe him anything. This was confirmed on Monday when he ruined “Dexter” for me. Thus, I’m arguably in the perfect position to rip Chan a new one…and this documentary is still hilarious, well-paced, and knows how to deliver the excitement of a ‘cross race through a video lens. I was actually disappointed that there wasn’t going to be another episode next week.

That’s not to say that it’s dumbed down entertainment a la reality TV [no cat fights are involved here]; it’s intelligent and interesting, and never regresses to macho-ness or over-analysis. “Das Pro,” gives you ‘cross as it is in Europe, raced by Chan in the Master’s World Championships, and by Tim and Team Cannondale p/b in the World Championships, with the additional twist of Chan’s commentary and some great video editing. As any good documentary should, it also reflects reality – the ups and downs of racing, as well as the camaraderie between the pro[s] and the rookie. It’s not a collection of clips of how these guys would like to appear, either. The sarcastic banter between Tim and Chan, how genuinely nice Jamey Driscoll is [he told me with a straight face that no, Chan was really lying about that spoiler in “The Wire,” even though he wasn’t]; these are things that are, as far as I can attest, real. I almost wish I could pull a Chan here and give away some major spoilers.

But as the future of younger souls rests on the fact that I don’t, I’m keeping my lips sealed. Because proceeds from the sale of “Das Pro und the Rookie” DVDs go towards Tim’s Mud Fund, a scholarship set up for promising junior and U23 American ‘cross racers to take some of the financial stress of racing off of their shoulders. It’s what I’d imagine my fantasy Euro friend’s philanthropic father would be into, because he would surely love ‘cross.
Clearly, I’m loathe to give up my European friend aspirations, even if they’re of the modest, super-loaded-attractive-friend-with-hot-bike-friends-and-tons-of-connections variety. The footage in “Das Pro” hasn’t exactly killed my boner for Europe, either. There’s something inspiring, though, about Americans racing their guts out in this almost peculiar cycling discipline, going head to head with Belgians who look like they were genetically engineered to portage, mount, dismount, and run a bike through mud and snow. It’s almost enough to forgive them for that whole spoiler thing.