By Patrick O’Grady
Roberto Gaggioli is out for the season, I hear. No worries. He should be able to find suitable temporary employment while he’s serving his suspension — say, as a debt collector for a New Jersey loan shark, a job in which going after someone with a club is all part of the day’s work.
As all gossip-loving leg-shavers should know by now, thanks to the rumor mill, our own Neal Rogers and USA Cycling, the Monex rider-director is said to have armed himself with a 2-by-4 for a chat with Jonny Sundt following an Alabama criterium last month, in clear violation of Rule 1O2(a) and 1O5(c) of the U.S. Cycling Federation Racing Rules, to wit, “Blunt Objects With Which You May Not Pummel a Fellow Competitor,” and “Boards (See also ‘Sticks’).”
Now, I wasn’t there, and don’t know either of these gentlemen, but it seems to me that the only plausible excuse one could offer for picking up a board prior to a post-race debate over racing etiquette would be that the other guy picked up his board first. Unless, of course, one party to the dispute is a cycling columnist and cartoonist with the delicate hands of an artist rather than a pugilist, in which case he may bring knives, firearms and 285-pound teammates named Tiny into the dispute.
Sundt didn’t end up with a skull full of splinters, happily, though the Jittery Joe’s Klein he used as an impromptu shield will never be the same, its down tube looking rather like one of Tiny’s crushed and empty beer cans. But things could have turned out very differently, and I wonder whether Team Monex’s “chairman of the board” has ever considered the consequences of being the only shaven-legged new fish in jail, where a 2-by-4 can be hard to find when you really, really need one.
Lucky for Gaggioli, neither Sundt nor Jittery Joe’s was willing to call the cops. Me, I see someone approaching with a board and foam on his lips, I’m punching 911 into the old cell phone. And afterward, I’m working very hard indeed to see that the guy gets the honeymoon suite in the graybar hotel, not just a suspension from bike racing.
And that’s my point here: It’s bicycle racing. Fist-fighting over a criterium is stupid enough, but what the hell makes anyone think it justifies re-enacting the Robin Hood-versus-Little John quarterstaves scene? If I want to see guys in funny clothes thumping each other with blunt objects, I’ll take Errol Flynn and Alan Hale, thanks all the same.
It’s your job, you say? All about respect, is it? No one’s gonna take your line or steal your wheel unless he wants a bump into the barriers or a punch in the jaw? Oh, please. Every day, working stiffs manage to punch in without punching someone out, no matter what kind of smack the loudmouth in the next cubicle over is talking.
When was the last time you saw a clot of writers from Bicycling, Cycle Sport and VeloNews pummeling each other over a dubious bit of phraseology? “You sonofabitch, you poached my quotes!” “Bullshit, your stuff reads like a 1040 form.” Violence ensues. Yeah, right. Though I once worked for a quarrelsome managing editor who loved a good bar fight after a few drams. He liked hockey, too, and I bet he’d have liked bike racing, if he’d ever seen Gaggioli in (or after) a crit.
It seems absurd, but there’s something about sports that brings out unsportsmanlike behavior in some over-amped nitwits. Several of my college pals were ball-sports junkies and street-fighting fools, and they liked nothing better than to combine the two pastimes — say, by starting a riot under the hoop in an intramural basketball game, or instigating a dustup at home plate during a city-league softball game. And they wondered why I preferred to hang out at home, drinking beer, watching “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and drawing cartoons. It’s easier on the knuckles, to say nothing of the jawbone.
We’d like to think cycling is a sport for gentlemen, blessedly free of this sort of knuckle-dragging, chest-thumping belligerence, but alas, the Gaggioli-Sundt incident is only one example to the contrary. There is, of course, the fabled Jeroen Blijlevens-Bobby Julich punch-up on the Champs Elysées at the 2000 Tour; more recently, Radisa Cubric and Kurt Massey drew three-month suspensions for throwing hands after a crit back in April, while California’s Keith Horowitz got a year off for an unspecified instance of acting the fool at the Solvang crit a month later.
In announcing these most recent sanctions, USA Cycling warned sternly “that such behavior will not be tolerated, and riders who engage in physical violence during or after an event will receive the harshest penalties that can be applied.”
USAC chief of staff Sean Petty added: “Besides being physically dangerous, it’s a negative for people that see the sport and pay for the events. No one wants to be involved with that. This is not the World Wrestling Federation. That’s not what you’d expect at a bicycle race. Being physically attacked is way over the line, and there’s no room for it, especially when we’re trying to grow our sport.”
Now, I agree with USA Cycling about as often as Gaggioli and Sundt kiss each other on the lips. But the Empire is spot on here. Frankly, I think that anyone with an uncontrollable urge to turn a simple bike race into assault with a deadly weapon should put his rage to work where it will do the nation the most good: in the armed forces. Uncle Sammy will supply all you head-banging hotheads with baggy desert-camo’ skinsuits, a “target-rich environment,” and maybe even a nifty Hummer for a team vehicle.
And while you’re out in the desert, getting a taste of what violence is really like, maybe some poor grunt who’s had a bellyful of it can come home to his family and friends, slip into his cycling-club kit and carve a few corners with the chain gang without having to keep one eye peeled for a thug with a deadly weapon.
What’s that? You talkin’ to me, buddy? You got a big mouth, pal … you got the guts to write that stuff down and send it to email@example.com? Don’t forget to include your full name, hometown and state or I’ll hit you so hard, they’ll stop you for speeding in Baghdad.