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By Fred Dreier
The Austin-Bergstron airport is a lonely spot to spend a Sunday night.
The place is completely vacant – save for a lone security guard and a guy washing the floors – and any form of caffeinated sustenance is either locked up behind a closed café door or held within the glowing beastly machine that won’t take my #@$%ing dollar bill.
Reassuringly, a soothing voice continually reminds me that “any bags left unattended will be subject to search and could be destroyed,” despite the fact that there is nary a soul to either abandon – or destroy – pieces of potentially hazardous luggage.
The chairs here all have pokey stainless steel armrests, rendering them useless as makeshift bunks, and I’m guessing the marble floor would make a pretty crappy cot, so sleep is out of the question. It’s going to be a long night in Austin, but you know what? The thought of spending it here is really not giving me the ultimate buzz kill, and I think I know why.
In all of my 8610.75 days (do the math on that one!), I’ve never done this before. Any of it. It’s all new to me. It’s fitting that at the tail end of my first road assignment for VeloNews, I find myself repeating the phrase, “wow, haven’t done that one before” one more time.
Shoot, before this trip I hadn’t even been to a NORBA race, or Texas for that matter.
So now, as I face the prospect of spending my first night in an empty airport, I think I’ll fill you in on the weekend’s other “new to Fred” activities.
Mountain Biking, Texas style
Sheep outnumbered spectators at Friday’s marathon, cow pies outnumbered everyone in the Tapatio Springs parking lot, everywhere I looked there was barbecue, barbecue and yes, more barbecue. It did not take much convincing for me to see this weekend as truly a Texas-style event.
On my inaugural trip to Texas, I was a little worried to read threatening slogans on almost every highway sign. Seems like Texans have taken the “Don’t mess with Texas” thing to the extreme, and they proudly sport it on T-shirts, street signs, and extra-large bumper stickers (my theory is that Texans evolved with larger bumpers).
After being inundated by the Texas threat and driving past about 500 gun stores, I drove into the not-so-hilly Texas “hill country” with caution. I had no intentions to “mess with Texas” as they say, but what if Texas wanted to mess with me?
I was unarmed.
Turns out, the fears were a little unwarranted, and everyone I met turned out to be friendly. Really friendly. Exceptionally friendly. Maybe a little too friendly.
After Saturday’s sloppy mucky sport-class cross-country event, racers descended on the Tapatio Springs Golf Club’s lobby looking like mud creatures from Black Lagoon. While the lobby had been one of the last clean sanctuaries at the venue, after the rain began it, too, turned into a hotel property that would have made Keith Moon proud. (If you’ve taken the time to do the math on Mr. Drier’s above quiz, you’ll realize that this young man could only have come up with the Keith Moon analogy by having read about “The Who” and their dubious record as it relates to public accommodations in his 11th grade history textbook – Editor)
The two gallons of coffee I downed an hour earlier determined what my first order of business would be and I searched out a once-tidy men’s room shortly after the racers did. The floor was a slimy slick of water and mud and I nearly broke my neck sliding across the tile. Looking up, I noticed a man at the sink across from the urinal dousing himself with water. His face bore streaks of earthy grit, and his body was as naked as they come.
He was showering. There was a first.
He took one look at me and exclaimed, “Howdy! Wet enough for ya out there?”
Maybe I didn’t need to use the urinal after all….
Duped by the Mutton Chops
Leave it to those full-facial-hair joker boys from Maxxis to pull a fast one on this dimwitted Colorado bro-guy. Midway through Saturday evening, I found myself waiting for the official times from the day’s short track to be posted –a practice that, because of the bazillion timing SNAFU’s, eventually became second nature –when I heard race director Lisa Nye announce that, in ten minutes, the “Costume Criterium” would begin. The race was open to anyone who could muster up a disguise, and carried a $50 cash prize.
Realizing the number of cases of Shiner fifty bucks could score, I scurried to muster up a half-assed concoction. On my way, I bumped into Maxxis’s whiskery team manager Eric Wallace, who was also hurrying to assemble a diddy of his own.
A quick parking-lot change later, I was clad in my bibs, shoes, and some swimming goggles –but I needed something more, something waterproof, something that represented why I was there. The fat stack of VeloNews stickers I had brought to stick on random cars popped into mind, and minutes later I arrived at the staring line as the chamois-clad VeloNews sticker guy. I heard random voices describing my costume as “lame” and even downright “shitty,” but I was undeterred.
To my surprise, lined up next to me was Maxxis’ mullet wig-wearing Geoff Kabush clad from head to toe in a blue leisure suit. Kabush grabbed the microphone and verbally browbeat the other contestants in a thick Canadian yawl, taking time to label all of us as “hosers.” The killer instinct boiled inside of my hoser stomach. I wanted to rip him to pieces.
When the gun blew and we left the gate, I made sure to throw some elbows into Spiderman and the human gorilla while chasing down the cocky Kabush. Kabush would not give in, and the two of us mustered some good attacks, while trying to avoid a tanless mud-covered speedo-clad racer (a.k.a. “The photographer formerly known as Tom Moran”). The race came down to the wire, and at the line I edged out my mulleted adversary and raised my arms to the sky Pettachi-style, with fifty bucks and a lot of pride soon to be in my pocket. It didn’t matter that Kabush was racing in a full three-piece –I had just beaten an Olympian at his own game…or so I thought.
The following day, after a morning full of boasting and bragging, I stopped by the Maxxis team trailer to spew some trash talk to Kabush. There he was, side burns and all, spinning on the trainer, and when I slapped him on the back and spat my first round of brags, he looked at me with a funny grin on his face. Wallace stepped out of the trailer, pointed at his champ racer, saying, “Geoff, you owe me 50 bucks.”
Both looked at me and, to my surprise, started laughing. After some coaxing, I got the full story.
Turns out, the racing Kabush from the day before was none other than Wallace himself, clad incognito as his talented athlete. Kabush had bet Wallace that he couldn’t pull off the move undetected and as my gullible gloating self proved, he definitely could.
After looking at a photo of the Kabush-clad Wallace, I spotted the distinguishing feature that had me sold –the bushy sideburns that both Kabush and Wallace sport. That was the first time I’d ever been flummoxed by facial hair.
Chauffer for Hire
Midway through Friday’s time trial I caught up with the elusive racer I was looking to profile: French Canadian Olympic Silver Medalist Marie-Helene Premont. Premont, a student at the University of Quebec, had flown in from Quebec City only days before for the Rocky Mountain-Business Objects team camp and photo shoot, and was flying back the next morning at 6 a.m. to take a test in microbiology. She was looking at a full night of pre-exam cramming, and told me that my chances for a lengthy interview were slim, at best.
Still, I had hope. I chased Premont around all afternoon, but only got her team manager, Lesley Tomlinson, who attempted to set up several interview times. She even proposed I drive Premont back to the hotel from the race venue. The trip was only about six miles, and I agreed.
Unfortunately, while I was again waiting for results, Premont slipped away for the night to study. An apologetic Tomlinson told me my best (and only) shot for an interview would be the next morning on the ride into the San Antonio airport.
I pictured myself riding in the back of the team van with a tape recorder up to Premont’s mouth. It didn’t sound too painful.
But the next morning, after my catnap, I rolled into the Rocky Mountain team’s bed-and-breakfast to find Premont sitting on her bike box with her bags packed and ready to go. A bleary-eyed Tomlinson shuffled out of the room, hugged her racer and thanked me and then disappeared. Before I knew what was happening, I was loading Premont’s belongings into my own rental –lifting the rear seat to slide her bike box in.
As I rolled down the driveway and on to the road, trying to understand how I had come into this situation, Premont looked at me.
“Do you know how to get to San Antonio Airport? My flight leaves in one hour, do you think we’ll make it?” she said in a thick French accent.
I looked at my gas gauge resting almost a full notch above “E”, and pictured the surrounding topography in my mind. San Antonio, I guessed, was south of here. The airport, for all I knew, was in Outer Mongolia.
“Suuure,” I replied, doing my best to lie.
Though Premont is a native French speaker, I could tell she sensed my fib.
I hit record on my tape recorder, remembered some questions, merged onto the highway, and assigned Premont the duty of navigator by handing her the map. I had my interview, but that was my first-ever stint as a soigneur.