Monday, August 21, 2006

I knew this before Butthead did

Disclaimer: Both Butthead and Porkchop, possibly using variations of anonymity, will accuse me of going on about this race only because they didn't go. But this isn't about them, cause, basically, they weren't there.

Although Butthead and Brad Huff are friends, Butthead has really only seen Brad in his disguise as mild-mannered Clark Kent. Oh, sure, he's raced with him a couple of times this season, but it's like how Kent's colleagues knew he could type about four hundred words a minute and somehow always knew exactly what color Lois Lane's panties were. Butthead, like them, knew the boy was good, but he, like they, really had no idea that the boy was from a different planet.

Butthead's gonna put a comment in here something about being in a break with Huffy and knowing how good he is, but come on. Butthead did not see Brad get called to the line in the season's only pro-only national championship crit. Hearing Eddy VanGuys announce the names, Frazier, Henderson, O'Bee, McCormick, and you just hoped your buddy, mild-mannered Brad Huff, was gonna be okay after sixty-two, eight-turn, one-mile laps with the best professionals in North America.

Butthead did not see the look of composure on Brad's face as he calmly sat at the back of the pack through the entire first half of the race. On every pass down the long hill someone attacked out of the pack and snaked the entire pack back and forth at what had to be around 40 mph. Brad's teammates covered all of these early moves while he sat about three saddles from the back gulping food and pushing fluids. At one point it looked like he had to take a piss on the fly and then did the old water bottle douche--but like a gentleman, he was off the back while attending to bidness--and he accomplished all of this with absolutely no experssion on his face. I'm not even sure he ever opened his mouth to breathe or even raised out of his saddle, while all around him pro riders wore death masks and blew snot like they were grasping at the last chance.

Butthead did not see Brad's steady progression to the front at almost precisely the halfway point. He was an absolute machine. For thirty laps he sits third or fourth saddle from the broom. Next lap, he's ten up. Next lap he's 20 up. Next lap he's mid-pack. Next lap he's top 20. Next lap he fires a warning shot and opens up a fifty-yard gap with a HealthNet guy on his wheel and holds it for two solid laps, like he's just stretching his legs and checking out how much faster he can take some of the corners if and when he really wants to. Two laps later he jumps out of the pack to snag a $100 preme, again, just to polish up on that last corner before the stakes go into the stratosphere.

If Butthead would have seen this he would have thought it looked a lot like how Brad handled things at Webster Grove---but this was a Grove on another planet.

Butthead didn't watch Brad calmly reel in counter attack after counter attack--from the top professional teams in the country. These attacks were not coming from Mesa, Dogfish and Big Shark. These attacks were from HealthNet, Navigators (a lot from Navigators!), Jittery Joe's and Kodak.

Butthead was not standing in the next-to-last corner with me when there was ten laps to go and a different team was launching an attack down the backstretch on every single pass. If he had been, he would have seen how hard Brad's team worked to help him bring these back. But he also would have been concerned when, with about five to go, it was very clear that Huffy was all on his own. Several of his top teammates, like Michael Creed, had cruised to the side and chosen that corner to watch the end-race craziness.

On the last lap, Butthead did not see the pack round the third-to-last corner so spread out across the road that at least ten guys were sitting in the national pro crit jersey with nothing in the way but three hundred meters and two tight corners.

If Butthead had been standing there squinting 100 meters up the street he would have seen one rider jump hard from the middle of the pack in an audacious early first-or-last Ricky Bobby move. Had Butthead been there, it would have taken a couple of seconds, but then he would have heard Brad's teammates yell and he would have seen that it was Brad who had just thrown it down and was now flying through the next-to-last corner with the pro peloton spread behind him like a big human funnel.

How they got through those last two turns is a mystery to guys like me and Butthead. I mean, I saw it and I don't even know. They were fucking flying and nobody was backing off, cause every single one of them had to be thinking there could be a total pileup that only he could find a way through and then he'd be standing on top of that podium. This level of racing requires a different mindset. I remember Joe HIll once told me that he loves it at the end of a race when it gets really crazy in the last lap. Joe said the first thought that comes to mind is, "I could win."

Butthead did not see that they were so tight heading down the last stretch to the last corner that no daylight showed between them as they rounded the turn. Somewhere between the next-to-last corner and the finish line, only one guy managed to get by Brad--Hilton Clarke, an Aussie, which meant that Brad Huff was the new U.S. National Professional Criterium Champ.

Butthead knows this now. Can't you see him sitting by the phone, speed-dialing Huffy's number from about the time he could calculate that the race might end? So he may have heard sooner than most, but he didn't see Brad on the podium--just the biggest crit podium of the season--and he didn't see the way Brad rode that race. He didn't see Brad working those professionals, not so much like he is one of them, but more like he owns them.

Butthead, I know you're out there and you are constitutionally incapable of acknowledging that you missed something. But, dude, that was sure enough a sight to see. Later.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Rosie

All I can think is there are a lot of folks who have yet to discover some of the better features of a racing license. It's mid-August, yet this season somehow represents the winter of discontent for far too many. Here in the great Midwest, it's hot as Hades in the waning weeks of a long season, and bike racers are dropping like flies. Honestly it would take abstract calculation to count just the ones I know---and all that means is that I need more than my fingers to count 'em. A few of the biggest races are left, but there is no more time left. At this point, if you're not where you want to be, every race is too far to drive, too hot, too wet, too sketchy, too expensive, too much---wah, wah, wah, wah, wah. At this point in the season, if you're not where you want to be, you hate life and you blame bike racing for it. Stop reading this Goddamned column right now. There's still time to sign up for a team triathlon somewhere and find some of what racing that bike is good for.

This month, I'm turning 55, I'm retiring from my job of almost 20 years, I'm moving all my wordly possessions to another state, I'm saying so-long to many 25-year friends, I'm homeless, I'll soon be jobless, I'm contemplating new career moves, and, no fucking shit, the only thing on my mind this morning is that I need to do some big miles on the bike this week to get ready for the Hotter-N-Hell road race that's coming up. That, and I need to get a CB radio installed in the flamin' van so I can jaw with the truckers on the way down to Wichita Falls. And man, that's what I love about racin' bikes. If I wasn't starin' down both barrels of the hotter-n-hell hundred, I'd be totally freaking out about shit that don't get fixed by freakin'.

This occurred to me when I ran into my buddy Ronnie Sapp yesterday at the bike shop--he was walking out when I was walking in. He told me when he got back from the tour of KC the day before, the stresses of raising a teenager had sent him back out on his bike for four hours. So after driving four hundred miles and doing two hard races in two days, the bike was still there for him for as long as he needed it.

And this would be another example of when I'd have to resort to cognitive function to count the number of times the bike has been my personal therapist. It starts with the reality check of an upcoming race and really wanting to make, in fact owing it to, some people go as hard as they possibly can in order to beat my ass---this is called being a playah. So like one of those times when things aren't making you happy and you'd like to put on a good buzz and find somebody to kick your ass, or drive your car 120 mph, or kick your dog, or kick your girlfriend/boyfriend, or kick yourself, instead you throw your leg over that bar and you pound those pedals until the world looks straight again. When it's rainy, or cold, or hot, or the day's been a long one, you might need an upcoming race, or an upcoming season, to remind you that the bike is always there. The bike don't nag you to ride it. And it don't tell you how long or how hard or how far. The bike only listens and does whatever you tell it. Later.