I was lucky enough to get an answer to the question posed in yesterday’s post. It was a question about a certain Marco Pantani finish in the Giro d’Italia. My stars must have been lined up because the answer was from Matt Rendell: the same Matt Rendell who wrote the book that I am sure goes into depth on that stage win: The Death of Marco Pantani: A Biography. The answer is at the end of my previous post.
If writers of this caliber are going to read my blog, then I’d better check fur spellung. I really liked Matt’s A Significant Other. Now, he can be assured that I will read his other books. And in case you were wondering what these other books might be… here they are:
Olympic Gangster: The Legend of Jose Beyaert – Cycling Champion, Fortune Hunter and Outlaw. Matt Rendell (Mainstream 2009–this just came out in July!).
Blazing Saddles: The Cruel and Unusual History of the Tour de France. Matt Rendell (Velo Press reissued-2008)
The Death of Marco Pantani: A Biography. Matt Rendell (Phoenix 2007)–see pic above.
A Significant Other: Riding the Centenary Tour de France with Lance Armstrong. Matt Rendell (Phoenix 2004).
The Official Tour de France Centennial 1903-2003. Edited by Matt Rendell and Nicolas Cheetham (Weidenfeld and Nicholson 2004).
Kings of the Mountains: How Colombia’s Cycling Heroes Changed Their Nation’s History. Matt Rendell (Aurum Press 2003).
(If I missed any, please let me know)
On to the race report for the 2009 Gateway Cup.
Let’s start at the end. Click here for the results of the entire Gateway Cup. But even with this information, you keep reading. Why? Because it is the story that we want. We want information, details, and fleeting glimpses into the feeling of racing… a feeling that often boils down to degrees of pain. My friend Finn gave me this apt quote today: Pain is just the feeling of weakness leaving the body. Dunno who said this. Will track it down soon.
Let’s pick up one story then. Mine. I arrived late into St. Louis after a rain-soaked drive down 61 from Iowa City, Iowa, on Saturday, September 5, 2009. I thought that I had missed all the races, but luckily, the men’s pro-1-2 race started a bit late: I saw most of the race. This race was the “St. Louis Hills” stage in the Gateway Cup, the third stage. Even though each of the four races was a criterium, it was still a race that tracked each race and presented leaders’ jerseys for the rider with the lowest accumulated time (in the women’s and men’s pro-1-2 category; I am not sure if they had leaders’s jerseys for the other categories).
OBSERVATION #1: The course was a 1.3 mile, extremely wide and smoothly surfaced rectangle around Lafayette Park. Flat corners and only a moderate hill—more of a steady incline—running through the start/finish to corner #1.
This short vid of corner number 4 gives you a feel for the wide open course. The course is not perfect though. There were crashes (I didn’t see any but I did hear about them), and the hill wasn’t steep enough to cause real selections.
OBSERVATION #2: Great vibe! Everybody was friendly, from the racers to the crowds and even the announcer was nice. Wait, those guys are always nice. Why was the vibe so sweet? My best guess is that there are very relaxed open-container laws in St. Louis. For example, you could walk up to a host of tents along the course and get a selection of wine and beer. My favorite was the Bertolini’s tent which sold yummy toasted ravioli with grated parmesan cheese and marinara sauce. These snacks and sips were quite a civilized way to watch a bike race (hey Iowa, are you listening?).
OBSERVATION #3: The pro-1-2 field was alarmingly big. How many? 124. But when they are flying at you at 35 mph, it looks like 190 riders.
OBSERVATION #4: Noticed that my friend Brett was riding the tail-end race moto. It looked like a nicer gig than riding the lead moto because when a rider popped off the back, he could chat with him for a few seconds. Brett said that he has been in over 50 races this year as official moto. Way to go Brett!
OBSERVATION #5: Saw one of my teammates in the race! Duane Dickey. Well, he is not actually my teammate. We wear similar kits (Iowa City Cycling Club), but he is pro and I am a cat. 6 rider. Anyway the important thing was that he was REPRESENTING for the Iowa City Cycling Club (Go Smurfs!). The problem was, he was riding near the back, so I yelled encouraging words to him: “Hey Dewey, move up for love of God!” I think he listened because a couple of laps later he moved all the way up to the lead of the pack. Stupendous! Maybe I should become a cycling coach.
OBSERVATION #6: “Big Shark” is the name of a fantastic bike shop in St. Louis and they sponsor a decent bike team. In fact there were about 59 Big Shark riders in each race. No, that’s not accurate, but you get my point. They were stacking it. Dan Schmatz was their leader as he had won the previous night and was in the leader’s orange jersey.
OBSERVATION #7: Also saw Clark Priebe who rides for Sioux City Velo/Powerade. I like this rider as he put on a great show in the Iowa Criterium Championships where he got third. I think he is 44, and I like to see fast guys over 40 sticking it to the young punks. More on the topic of young punks later.
THE FINISH: With five laps to go a small break formed and finally, the race got exciting. A group of 5 pinched off the front. In one lap they got 8 seconds: Duane Dickey, Keith Harper, Jeff Hartman, and Brian Jensen. Because Keith and Jeff are Big Shark, their teammates got the front and put on the brakes. Brian Jensen is a formidable racer and I have seen him crush the entire field at the Iowa City Criterium before (2008), so, I was worried for Duane (who, as you might remember, got to the front because of my encouragement).
This group held about 8 seconds going into the final lap. I predicted that Brian would win. The announcer predicted that Brian would win. The crowd knows that this five-rider group will stay away. The course is too easy and too many Big Sharks are controlling the pack. Sewn up!
[Yes, these are a bit blurry. Hey, they are going fast, and I can’t get my stupid camera’s Fstop to reconfigure correctly. Operator error? Perhaps.]
But today held some surprises for sports fans all over the Midwest. For example, Northern Iowa University played the University of Iowa Hawkeyes in Iowa City today. The Hawkeyes were predicted to blow UNI out of the corn fields. But the UNI offense turned the defensive line of the Hawks into baby chick Hawklets. With only 25 seconds left in the game, the Hawkeyes were leading by 1 point and the UNI Panthers had the ball on the Hawk 30 yard line. The Panther kicker was reliable and it really looked as if the Panthers were going to win. A 40 yard attempt was well within the kicker’s range.
But for the first time in years, the Hawks blocked a field goal! Iowa was celebrating and going crazy. But then the whistle blew and a Panther had recovered the blocked football. In fact, the ball was blocked before the line of scrimmage, and so, and so, that meant that the Panthers had the ball and there was 1 (one!) second left. And they had another down left. Egads! This kick is the same distance. Surely the Hawks would not be able to block another kick, will they?
But they do block the second kick. The Hawks do win by one point. Hard to believe. I like the Hawks, but I also like an underdog. I was hard-pressed to choose which way I wanted that game to turn out.
And so it is in a similar vein that my own prediction of Brian Jensen stomping the gizzards of the other four riders does not come to pass. The pack catches the lead five and the sprint turns crazy, pell-mell, raucous, dangerous, cacaphonous.
I am in the wrong place to watch the sprint: near the top of the hill, looking down on the finish line. This is actually a scary place to watch the finish because the line of riders is skittering and lurching and lunging and flicking everywhere. Here is the pic that I came away with:
It may be the Worst Sports Pic of the Year. I will enter it into that contest next week. But wait a sec. Do you notice that an orange jersey is visible on the right side? Hmmmm! Well, that is Dan Schmatz! And he won the race. Ha. So my pic is not too awful. And do you notice a black and white kit near him? Cole House=#2.
As I learned a bit later, the finish was not as close as I imagined. Here is what went down from three different perspectives.
Brett: Brett was behind the race and saw the pack catch the five leaders on the backside of the course. He had just talked to Duane and asked him what happened. Duane said: “things looked good and then everybody started dicking around on the backside, and that was it.” (I realize some of this language might be a bit rough, but I ask for your patience, these are athletes under duress.).
Todd Campbell: When I walked by Todd, I did not know him, but he looked fairly pleased with his race and so I collared him like the aggressive journalist that I am. Todd races with Epic Bikes out of Kansas City. He said that he came in around 30th (a bit further back actually) and that it was a fine finish for him. He said that the last three corners made the entire race. He was well back with one lap to go, and then two things happened. First, he took some chances on the pancake flat corners and advanced a bunch of places with each corner. And second, the Sharks were getting tired at the front and they couldn’t contain the pack. The guys at the front were “blowing up right and left,” which made it easy to advance as along as you caught a kind wheel moving up instead of back.
During a lull in our conversation with Todd, we both looked over at Steve Tilford who was nearby (check his sweet blog here). “Oh, I know Steve” said Todd. “He did well. Maybe third.” I said that I had just come from the podium (the side of the podium really)
And I did not see Steve up there kissing the girls. Todd thought for a moment. “Perhaps he is contesting the finish.” How about that for some intrigue! [It turns out that Steve was fourth]. Todd was very nice for talking with me, and I hope he does well in the upcoming races.
Cole House (BMC U23) and Chad Hartley (Gear Grinder): Although they are on different teams, they travelled down from Wisconsin together, and they seem to be friends of some sort. Or, enemies that get along really well. Cole was second and Chad was third. It is hard to duplicate the ribbing that went on during the interview. While they would talk they would take turns interjecting a comment, usually a one word quip. Their favorite word, hands down, was “sketchy.” This term was liberally applied to riding, riders, ability, and everything else. They might have a future as a comedy team if the biking thing does not work out. But unless all of their legs suddenly were to fall off, that ain’t gonna happen. These guys have an excellent future ahead of them. In order to duplicate their cross-court verbal style, I have inserted their inserted words using parentheses.
Me: So, Cole, how [Chad: sketchy] did the final lap play out?
Cole: I saw it coming together as Big Shark [Chad: sketchy] were losing their lead guys and I also knew that I had [sketchy] to be near Dan’s [sketchy] wheel (Schmatz) because everybody was sure he would get the lead out for the sprint. I finally got to his wheel at the third corner, but then I lost it [Chad: naturally]. Then on the final stretch, I gained a few places but I could still see two riders in front of me. Dan and Chad. I was pretty lucky to just beat Chad at the line.
Me: So Chad, it seems that you launched early. Tell me about your finish [Cole: sketchy].
Chad: I had to go early today because yesterday I went too late. [note: yesterday, Cole was fourth and Chad was sixth]. When the catch was made on the backside I went [Cole: nnggguuh]. Caught and passed the remnants of the break and put my head down [Cole: sketch]. As I rounded the last corner I thought I might get it, but it was a long, long way to the finish. Slightly uphill.
These two guys gave the best interview I’ve ever had. We talked for over twenty minutes. We talked about Wisconsin, European racing, and the complexity of the U 23 system. Their directeur sportifs should bump up their pay and slot them to pro teams forthwith! (And by the way, Cole and Chad never finished outside of the top ten each of the four days of the Gateway Cup! As Finn would say, “they are so chronic,” which, for the uninitiated, means extremely good.)
I drove off feeling positively amped with excitement. I went to bed early because a big day of race lay ahead. And possibly, just possibly I might even enter a criterium. Drum roll please……my first crit in 4 (four!) years.
STAY TUNED TO THIS BLOG FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT: PART III; OR WHY IS THIS NUMBER PINNED TO MY JERSEY AND WHO ARE ALL THESE RIDERS TRYING TO KILL ME?