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.

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.]

a tokyo state of mind

If there is something I’d like to be remembered for, it is my absolute inability to drink.
I don’t say this with pride; I simply believe that it is one of my more positive – albeit incapacitating – traits. Boyfriends have found my post-half-a-beer stumbling adorable, friends know they never have to include me in a second round, and my family will happily pour one less glass of good wine. I like to believe that the money I have saved ex-boyfriends on alcohol somehow cancels out my sociopathic propensity for screaming fights, and that between friends, I still retain some utility as the generally sober one with no driver’s license. These thoughts run through my throbbing temples – the beginning of a hangover – just as everyone [irritatingly, happily] starts in on their second round. A good night usually has me drinking large amounts of water and running to the bathroom for the rest of the night; a less successful one has me spontaneously passing out on some random, semi-horizontal surface.
Having come to terms with the fact that a glass of Chimay will make me cross-eyed, I generally stick to what I know best: premium American beers known better by three-letter acronyms and girly drinks so watered down they have the inebriating effect of juice. I ordered a tall glass of something similar on Tim and Chandler’s last night in Tokyo, at a yakiniku restaurant full of fake geishas with plunging necklines.

“What is that, like a wine cooler?” Chandler asked.
“Yeah,” Tim said after taking a sip, “but worse.”
But it was something I could finish, which had, to me, some semblance of significance. Like a triathlete’s proud “Finisher” t-shirt, it seemed like an achievement I could refer back to later in the evening, should my night not conclude with the check. “But I finished that drink,” I could say defensively, “remember? Back at that restaurant? Like an hour ago? Remember?”
I came back from the bathroom, however, [escorted there by those same geishas] not to my empty glass, but a full one. Courtesy of Arnie of Red Bull.
“High five, Kaiko,” he said.

A drunken blush had started to invade my entire face by the time Arnie, Ai [also of Red Bull], Chandler, Tim and I crammed into an elevator and back outside. To go to karaoke. This was going to be interesting…in part because Arnie ordered vodka shots as soon as we got there.
Vodka and I have a somewhat troubled history. The first time I drank an entire shot of vodka, the room spun, and I ended up with my face in my sister’s toilet for the majority of the night. Until 4 a.m., that toilet seat was the most reassuring headrest I’d ever known, its surface so cool and welcome it didn’t occur to me until much later that that morning, my left buttcheek had rested in the same spot where my face was. But at that point, I was beyond being “gross,” and was actively embracing “downright disgusting.” I even went so far as to attempt to talk to a then-boyfriend while slumped over that porcelain fixture, as if my inability to refrain from convulsively bringing up nacho remnants every time I opened my mouth would somehow wither in the face of [college] love. It didn’t.
I finally stopped retching, took the next day off, but told my boss at my internship the truth a few days later [“I think I drank a little too much the other night”]. Later that summer, I was asked to parade in front of the Grand Hyatt hotel next to Grand Central station wearing a sandwich board. I would like to think the two events are somehow not related.
Afterwards, I swore off vodka shots like I swear off boys post-break-up; just long enough to forget about all the bad shit that went down. One could argue that my vodka abstinence lasted a bit longer, due to the fact that the mere mention of gray geese was enough to give my esophagus spasms [something, admittedly, no man in my life has been able to do before]. Mental gag reflexes had abated, though, by my best friend’s bachelorette party. As the sole bridesmaid without an acceptable, bullshit excuse to not get properly shitfaced, I did my first vodka shot in forever, topped off with most of a Tom Collins. We ended up at South Brooklyn Pizza later that night, where I crammed bread, cheese, tomato sauce, and gobs of roasted garlic into my mouth while mostly ignoring the group of guys we had collected on the way. I rolled outside, cheese probably stuck between several teeth, and promptly dropped the ball on reciprocating flirting with an incredibly handsome British banker [his handsome-ness certainly didn’t help the situation]. Instead, I crawled into a cab to pass out on my sister’s couch, half-bedazzled and fully clothed, but without pants. Thank you, alcohol.

Back at the karaoke booth, still in denial that I was already on my way to getting tanked, I took an obligatory sip off my shot after we all raised our glasses. I thought I was in the clear, until Tim pointed to my mostly-full glass. The last train literally and figuratively pulled out of Shibuya as I picked up my glass and clinked it against Tim’s [which Arnie had somehow refilled]. Bottoms up.

From there the my night got a lot more awesome. Arnie serenaded us with ballads like Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” Ai was hitting all the high notes that no one else could, Chandler and Tim were adding the appropriate screams to Guns ‘n Roses songs, and we all yelled along to “Thriller.” …And then I started rapping.

Let me clarify: I do not usually do this. In fact, until that night, I have never subjected a person I had only met several hours prior, to my inner gangsta [Sorry, Ai!]. Much like masturbation, I will admit to doing it [come on, everyone lip syncs into their mirror, right?] but that doesn’t mean I’m doing it in public. As proof, I could list long-term boyfriends and close friends who have never so much as heard the words declaration “it was all a dream/I used to read Word Up magazine,” escape my lips. I may hum along to a rap chorus, but my real rapping sessions have largely been conducted in the safe confines of my room, and even then with the paranoid, self-consciousness of Michael Bolton in “Office Space.”
But feeling either generous or cruel [depending on one’s assessment of my performance] in addition to simply drunk, I was enthusiastically channeling Snoop Dogg in “California Gurls” and Jay-Z in “Empire State of Mind.” Jaws seemed to drop a little before general laughter followed. Tequila shots appeared. I actually drank half of mine.

We wrapped it up around 3 a.m. with a Lady Gaga medley and said our goodbyes. I staggered into a cab, didn’t hurl as soon as I got home and randomly drunk-emailed friends while lurching uncontrollably. All with my pants undone.

The next day, for the first time in my life, I was [horribly, disgustingly] hung over. Tim and Chandler emailed a last goodbye from the airport, and I told them to come back soon, for Round 2.
Because come to think of it, we never did get around to Biggie or ‘Pac...

bonsai bike shop bromance

I’m not one for stereotypes, but unless I am PMSing and therefore off my fucking nut, I am very predictably a push-over.
I have supplemented this unique trait by tending to have friends who will demand my time and attention by dragging me out to ultimately enjoyable events that I am always hesitant to go to. That’s not to say I don’t give them the obligatory, initial, most likely annoying, quaffing [as Biggie put it, “…and she starts off, ‘well, I don’t usually,’…”]. But a murderous glower, clenched teeth, or an exasperated tone are usually enough to get me out of bed and into some half-decent clothes. Depending on who’s doing the asking, of course.
Well, until last week, that is. Because when Chandler told me to just show up to their hotel on Monday after Tim wrapped up some interviews, I was PMSing, but miraculously refrained from whining or otherwise coming up with some lame excuses. I emailed back an okay and without another word, got my ass to Odaiba.
…Just in time to catch a photo shoot with Hiro Ito of Cannondale, Koichiro Nakamura, and Hideyuki Suzuki by the random Statue of Liberty replica near the hotel. I predictably paparazzi-ed.

After a late lunch of okonomiyaki, plans as to what was next were up in the air, but there were vague murmurs:

“Yeah, let’s go there then.”
“Okay, yeah that’s a good idea.”
“Bonsai? Okay, okay.”
I was all, “Tim’s into trees???
Bonsai or Bonsai Cycle Shop, it turned out, is actually the name of one of the coolest bike shops I’ve been to [and not just in Tokyo]. Opened last September, it’s a beautiful bike shop that also houses a small café run by the incredibly talented Natsuki-san. Yoshida-san and Natsuki-san greeted us at the entrance, the door opening into a space surrounded by the smell of freshly baked double-chocolate muffins. Yoshida-san explained that he wanted to build a shop around the three things that cyclists consumed: coffee, dirt, and chocolate. He managed to do a lot more than that, though, offering a space filled with awesome frames, bike parts, and custom jerseys. The shop is impeccable; details [like the lighting fixtures and the small Oriental rug in the workspace] tying everything neatly together. Like all great shops, the care that went into every detail is obvious, resulting in the sense that everything is painstakingly curated, but only enough to be inspiring as opposed to inaccessible.

Soaking up the good vibes of the shop, I was half a centimeter into a perfectly done Americano when Tim called me over for some translating. Yoshida-san patiently waited out my version of translation, which consisted of listening to Tim’s question in English, nodding that I understood, then attempting to telepathically convey the question in Japanese through imaginary laser beams emitting out of my eyes. It didn’t work; my mangled Japanese produced far better results.

Like the book Yoshida-san produced when I told him Tim and Chandler were on the hunt for gifts for friends. Called simply, “Le Tour de France,” it’s a collection of amazing photographs from the 1986, 1987, and 1988 TdFs by Yasufumi Kitanaka. It’s also a publication that’s been out-of-print for some time; Yoshida-san told us that the publishing company happened to be nearby with more than a few boxes of these books in storage, thus making Bonsai Cycle Shop the only place in Japan where you can get these gorgeous books. A sucker for most things involving bound pages, I purchased one to savor – a few pages at a time – between the pedaling and ride route searching.

I could have easily spent a few more hours there, just looking at stuff. But dinner was calling and there was more discovering to be done. We said our goodbyes, and I promised to pay another visit soon [a promise I followed up on yesterday, to see Yoshida-san’s new Indy Fab and sip a post-ride Americano.]

Tempura and some shopping in Shinjuku followed, after which Tim and Chandler wrapped up the night with a public display of bromance.

24 hours later, I’ll briefly contemplate not being such a push over before saying a mental, “fuck it,” and having one of the best nights of my life. But more on that later.
[Some more pictures here.]

beer in bed pans and late night ramen

It’s 2 a.m. and I’m sitting next to Jamey, both of us waiting on our respective bowls of late night ramen. Tim is threatening to hose down the toilet seat in the only bathroom with urine before Chiharu and I use it [Jamey: “don’t worry, urine’s pretty sterile”], Chandler is taking quality shots of the guy next to me who is passed out in his bowl of ramen, and Ben is exclaiming something loudly in his Belgian accent. Oh yeah, and I’m in Shibuya – oh , sorry, Shi-BOOYAH – with a bunch of cyclocross pros.
…What the fuck…?

The day that started with Cyclocross Tokyo picked back up again in Shibuya with a visit to a mental hospital-themed bar: Alcatraz. A suggestion by Chiharu of Champion Systems, scantily clad “nurses,” showed us to our table before the lights went out, strobe lights came on, and ominous shrieks from surrounding tables followed. Impatient and close to cracking after a long day, I flipped through the menu in the dark with the aid of an iPhone light, only to glance up to see a masked man inches from my face. I screamed. Possibly louder than I did earlier in the day.

After the bar determined that both Chiharu and I had been sufficiently targeted and terrorized, we ordered bed pan pitchers of beer and drinks served in test tubes and Erlenmeyer flasks. Beer has never looked so unappetizing.

We left the bar and wandered around until Chiharu turned to me: “we should take purikura!” [Purikura is short for “Print Club,” a high tech version of a photo booth that will turn the photos taken into small stickers. The booths let you draw on the pictures, choose different background colors, and offer a range of filters from “glamorous” to “cute”.] It was probably the best idea of the night. We ducked into an arcade on the corner and crammed into the nearest open booth. Shenanigans ensued, including taking pictures that made our eyes look bigger.

More beers followed at an English pub with a few beers on tap, Chandler told us all about kegel cramps, and we finished off the night with the aforementioned ramen. I jumped into a cab, got home to an email that the guys had lost Don’s glasses and wallet, called around, found out that the items were recovered, and finally passed out.

Surreal night? Definitely. Crazy? Compared to a few nights later, not even close.
[Make sure to check out CycloWHAT? for more Tokyo trip madness.]