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 Cyclocrossworld.com 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.

czeching it out

Last week was a dry and fast one in Tabor, then a wet, sloppy one in Plzen last night. I'm not talking about my recent escapades with European men, but the Cyclocross World Cup series.
My second and third pro cyclocross races watched through grainy live feeds [and most likely the first of many with Dutch commentary], the Cyclocross World Cup series is integrating itself seamlessly into my Sunday nights. I nap expressly to stay up later for the twisted curves of the 'cross course, and self-medicate copiously with coffee the following Monday. I'm aware that I'm regressing to full-on weird behavior again, where my schedule is dictated by pixelated bike racers with impossibly foreign names like Sven Nys and Radomir Simunek, Jr. This would probably be considered alarming behavior by normal people, particularly for a single 20-something living in the giant playground that is Tokyo. I am, however, fortunate enough to have friends who believe that this is a legitimately acceptable way of whittling away hours that could be spent sleeping on a Sunday night. They even encourage it.

Call it the payment in arrears due for neglecting my race spectating addiction for too long this year, but the irresistible draw of the World Cup series is probably due more to the simple romance of anaerobic hell done the European way. The pro/WTF of Sven Nys snapping a chain in Tabor and still coming in fifth, riding around the course all like, "aight, get out of the way." Pauwels looking pretty much as miserable as I do when I climb stairs [except I don't do it with a bike on my shoulder, at any pace that is faster than "plodding"]. It doesn't hurt that, when you see someone you're lucky enough to call a friend racing in the World Cup series in his iconic Red Bull helmet, you're completely allowed, even in the cycling world, to emit low timbered "YEAH, BRO!"s like a frat boy watching the Superbowl.

"You look refreshed today," an attorney commented yesterday.
"Really...?" I responded. I was three cups of coffee in, and the last time I saw my reflection in the bathroom mirror, it looked like I was still celebrating the pre-Halloween weekend in the guise of a corpse. But mud and 'cross had been on my mind all day, flashes of dirt-splattered legs and failed dismounts softening the computer screen glare and fluorescent lighting of the office.
Back in my three-walled cubicle, I stared down at my calendar. Three more weeks until Koksijde. Three more weeks until another live stream of awesome.
[First set of pictures are from Tabor, the muddier ones from Plzen.]

game on at gloucester

It’s 5 a.m. and jet lag has me wide awake. It’s Sunday; the Sunday after the first day of Gloucester. Did I really see Lyne Bessette’s Paralympic gold medal yesterday? My stomach rumbled and I could still smell the giant bowl of rice Tim and Jamey were diving into after their race, inside a Cannondale team truck packed with about 10 frames of varying sizes. I remember running and nearly tripping over blue Shimano tape marking the race course with Chandler, his video camera in one hand. Didn’t we all last hang out and do the same kind of thing in Tokyo? But we were in Boston – er, Gloucester, this time, right?

The past few days have been surreal to say the least. One moment I was at Haneda airport in Tokyo at 5.00am. Next, I was in NYC Velo and it felt like I’d never left. Less than 24 hours later, I was in Boston, feeling like the nameless narrator in Fight Club, just as he’s on the cusp of fabricating Tyler Durden, his brain going a little haywire on too much Starbucks, travel and Dunkin coffee. Did I make this all up? Did I actually see Ryan Trebon smile, at me, in real life? [me: are you going to introduce me to Ryan “Dreamy” Trebon? Tim: …he’s too tall for you.]

The commuter rail receipt in my back pocket claims otherwise, but it could all be in my head. After taking the usual Chinatown bus up to Boston and spending the night watching “Lost in Translation” with Jeremy B. and Carrie, I jumped on the commuter rail to Gloucester. One of the biggest UCI races on the East Coast, Gloucester was the first cross race I watched back in 2009. I heard Richard Fries yell into the mic as Tim Johnson took the win that year, and hardly knew whom either of them were.
Since then, my knowledge of cross has progressed to a value greater than zero, but still less than one. Most of what I know can be condensed into what I’ve mentally fabricated as an appropriate slogan for cross: “Masochists who like to get dirty, unite.”

I’ve clearly yet to dip a cleated toe into the slippery mud of a run-up, but there’s nothing like a great cross race to make me want to ditch smooth pavement and banked corners in favor of mud, rain, and barriers. And the Gran Prix of Gloucester – two days of quality racing on a huge course that seems to stretch and weave its way across the entire length of Stage Fort Park – is one of the most entertaining cross races you can watch on the East Coast. Lucky coincidence had me arriving in NYC three days before this particular race, with more than a few friends racing. As an added bonus, heavy rain on Friday ensured the course would be slick and slippery on Saturday. Perfect weather for cross spectating.

Lucky coincidence also had me running into Tim [Johnson] just as I arrived at the course. He gave me directions to the Cannondale tent, among the multitude of team tents pitched in the parking lot and all along the paved road leading to the uphill finish. Dozens of bikes and wheels leaned against SUVs and team vans. Cowbells clanged as racers spun by and I shouted at Jeremy Jo, who smiled at me in surprised recognition. And then I saw a Paralympic gold medal.

Shown to me by Chan’s wife, Jenny, as I met her and Lyne, it looks incredible. I’m still not sure I actually saw it, and that I was less than a foot away from it. It was a surreal start to the day and was a sign of good things to come. After unloading gifts, I watched Tim warm up, bumped into Jamey Driscoll looking super cute with longer hair, yelled at Andrea Smith as she sprinted past in the Elite Women’s race, and was once again lucky enough to shake hands with some great people giving good advice.

Because as the Elite Men’s field lined up, Jim [of Giro] told me to “get up to the front, don’t be shy.” It defined the next hour, as I ran after Chan and Pat, slipping, ducking, and jumping around the course to the best spots to get pictures of the race. We yelled and cheered on the men in green, and laughed at the heckling. Waves of cheering erupted as Tim rode past, in hot pursuit of Jpow as Dylan McNicholas of Team Cyclocross.com hung tight with Jesse Anthony. I clapped and cheered and ran. I had the time of my life.

Tim came in a solid 3rd with Ryan Trebon coming in 2nd after Jpow. After the awards ceremony, I ended up crawling through a space in the mostly enclosed Cannondale tent and climbing inside the team truck to say goodbye and secure promises of a reunion in Tokyo. It only sunk it later exactly how much fun I’d had. So much so that racing cross – even as the personification of an American muscle car [low to the ground, only good at going in a straight line] – began to seem like a very good idea. Because, you know, I can totally learn how to turn…at speed…in mud. Totally.

I’ll be heading back to Tokyo too soon with lazy legs and a scary obligation to practice turning. I’ll miss Richard Fries’ voice and the smell of mud and cyclocross. The pitch of cowbells and the uniquely American practice of heckling. But most of all, I’ll miss the friends who keep gently – but insistently – enabling [and encouraging] my entrance into a world of barriers, run-ups, and other super hard shit. Spectacular face-plants, here I come.
And, Tim, Chan, Jamey, Ryan and everyone else at Cannondale – I’ll see you in February, with high five hugs.
[Lots more pictures here.]

riding obstacles

Remember when I was entertaining the idea of actually trying to race my San Jose? In a cyclocross race when I can barely run?
Yeah, that was funny. Especially because at this point, how heavy I can make my bike has become a personal challenge for me. I am piling on the pounds, yo. In fact, I’m tempted to lose 5 pounds so I can just put that back onto my bike.
But back to cyclocross, which I seem to still be chasing, despite the fact that the season ended sometime in December. I’m not careening down trails or going off-road and jumping over logs, but I climbed over enough obstacles both on and off my bike this weekend that it felt like cyclocross was right around the corner. I almost felt like I could be good at it too [except for that whole “learning how to run” thing].


Because when you’re riding in NYC, it involves a little more than rolling out of your apartment and heading southwest for however long you feel like. So, a quick recap:
9.20 - Wake up. Gauge how much I want coffee.
9.40 - Watch Mike make an Americano. Debate what I want for breakfast [this ended up being 2 slices of Ezekiel bread with almond butter and an apple].
9.45 - “You want to go on a ride, right? Where do you want to go? Wait, you want to go, right?”
10.05 - Slather on the [Chomper Body] Ballocks because why would Mike have any of their awesome women’s specific Booty Balm?
10.15 - Check the weather. Stare at my Underarmour leggings. Ask about 4 times if I should wear them “just in case.”


10.40 - Think I’m ready. Forgot to pack any food. Cut up a Larabar.
11.00 - Finally ready to leave. My bike is not. My pedals get changed.


11.15 - Headed out. Bikes are wheeled out into the hallway; we’re both in socks, holding our shoes Sidis.
11.20 - With a bike over my shoulder, awkwardly bang my way down the narrow stairwell. Put on shoes at the bottom and finally leave the building


11.40 - On our way to Central Park. Nearly get killed by two taxis and almost run over a few pedestrians. Still getting used to clipping in and out after a whole winter in toe clips.
12.00 - Laps in the park. That one hill that is not a huge deal feels like a mountain when shifting gears isn’t an option. It sort of sucks but I somehow manage to climb that motherfucker without dying. I’m notified that I make weird grunting noises.
2.14 - Headed out of the park. Decide to take the West Side Highway back.


2.30 - Ahhhh. What a view.
2.35 - Get stuck behind some hippies on bikes. The sweaty Lycra smell that I associate with cyclists is replaced by the distinctive scent of patchouli. Yum?
3.05 - Home. Done. Reconfirm that the Dover ride is way easier to actually get to.
3.10 - Climb six flights of stairs with shoes on this time, plus the bike on my shoulder. Push away thoughts of luxuries like elevators.


4.00 - Devour that Moroccan Chicken Salad that I’ve been thinking about for the past month from Atlas Cafe. YUM.
Riding a bike in NYC: not for the faint of heart or those who just sort of like it. If you want to do more than 10 miles, get ready to dodge stuff and climb stairs. Kinda like cyclocross...but without the dirt.