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By Steve Frothingham
It might have been something like what a visiting left fielder at Fenway Park experiences, but some long-time ‘cross fans were shocked by the heckling — and then by a following scuffle amongst some expensive bikes — after the men’s elite race at U.S. Cyclocross Nationals on Sunday.
Although no criminal charges are being pursued, frame builder Richard Sachs may sue to recover what he says was thousands of dollars in damage to his team’s bikes, which were trampled in the scuffle.
At least one of the participants, Cale McAninch, says he’s willing to pay his share of the damages.
It all took place at the end of a long, cold day of racing at Kansas City’s Tiffany Springs Park, while race announcer Dave Towle was interviewing Jonathan Page inside the announcer’s trailer. McAninch, an amateur racer from Springfield, Missouri, began yelling at Page from outside the trailer, telling him that he should go back to Europe and stop making excuses for his performance. The yelling was loud enough to briefly pause the interview.
Page’s brother-in-law, Wade Book, asked McAninch to quiet down. The conversation between Book and McAninch led to a shoving match — captured in still pictures and video — that moved behind the trailer where many of Sachs’ team bikes were laying on the grass. Page’s wife Cori (Book’s sister) and McAninch’s Boston Mountain Cyclist teammate Jim Farasy also got involved. Some of the participants stepped or fell on the bikes during the scuffle.
According to Cori Page and film maker Sam Smith, who filmed the fight, McAninch shoved Book first and continued to push him back toward the bikes.
McAninch told VeloNews on Thursday that he happened to be walking past the announcers’ van when he heard Page being interviewed.
“I shouted a few off-the-cuff remarks, not anything obscene,” he said. He said Book told him to show some respect and McAninch responded that he had the right to express his opinions. McAninch said Book put his hands on his shoulders and a shoving match ensued.
“I never threw a punch, I threw him, and he landed in the Richard Sachs fleet. If it wasn’t for the collateral damage to the bikes, this would all have been put to bed,” he said.
McAninch was highly visible during the day, running around the event shirtless in shorts, although he was dressed during the scuffle. Pro road racer Brad Huff also was in shorts and shirtless at the chilly event, but was not involved in the shoving or the heckling.
A Kansas City, Missouri, police officer at the event investigated.
“There were no serious injuries and no one wanted to prosecute, so it’s up to Mr. Sachs to pursue this civilly,” the officer said.
Sachs said he has contacted the participants to give them a chance to reimburse him to avert a suit.
“We have precision instruments here and then 600 pounds of person falls on them,” Sachs said. He hasn’t fully assessed the damage. “Several of the bikes will be in need of re-paints, at least,” he said.
McAninch said he was willing to pay for his share of the damages. “I’m not accepting all the blame for this, but I was a third of it,” he said. “I just wish I hadn’t been there at the time and heard the interview. I’m not a Jonathan Page hater.”
Page, who was third Sunday, said the heckling was “uncalled for.”
“I don’t feel it needs to be part of American bike racing … I don’t go into their job and start booing them,” he said.
Cori Page said she had never encountered such heckling, even in the rough and tumble world of European cyclocross.
“It really was very disappointing,” she said.
She said she held one of the scufflers in a headlock. “I saw my brother getting the crap kicked out of him; I had to do something,” she said.
Since the incident, the Pages have received hundreds of supportive emails and comments on their Web site, www.thejonathanpage.com, which had to be shut down for a while because the webmaster could not keep up with the influx of comments.
“That’s been encouraging; it really was just two out of thousands of people,” she said.
Smith plans to post a video of the scuffle online Thursday or Friday. Smith has filmed scores of bike races in the U.S. and Europe over the last few years, and said he’s never seen anything like what happened Sunday.
“This isn’t like NFL football, where there is one guy in the stands yelling. You are ten feet away — you are talking about a guy who is right there,” Smith said.
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