Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood: Damn the man

Yeah, Pavel, you tell ’em, babe. Tell ’em how it is. Fight the power. Damn the man! I’m referring, of course, to the unseen “up yours” finish-line salute Thursday’s Giro d’Italia stage winner threw as he crossed the line. Tonkow explained his reasoning — “No one's got any faith in me, everyone thought I was finished” — but actually, I felt like throwing the same gesture at a race last week, to the unidentified genius that took out my rear wheel in the first 5km of the Colorado Roubaix on a flat, straight and completely manageable dirt road. I’d been focusing on this local race for months

By Neal Rogers

The happy couple

The happy couple

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Yeah, Pavel, you tell ’em, babe. Tell ’em how it is. Fight the power. Damn the man!

I’m referring, of course, to the unseen “up yours” finish-line salute Thursday’s Giro d’Italia stage winner threw as he crossed the line.

Tonkow explained his reasoning — “No one’s got any faith in me, everyone thought I was finished” — but actually, I felt like throwing the same gesture at a race last week, to the unidentified genius that took out my rear wheel in the first 5km of the Colorado Roubaix on a flat, straight and completely manageable dirt road.

I’d been focusing on this local race for months — pre-ridden the course a half-dozen times, made sure I was running the right tires — all to find myself at the bottom of a pileup before the race had even begun, spewing out curse words I’d never even heard before. Once off the ground, I found a good percentage of my right side significantly bloodied, and my front shifter and seat post pointed in opposite directions, like something out of a Dali painting.

I was able to finish the race, but after a hard 17-mile lap spent chasing with a group that dissolved once we passed our cars in the parking lot, I never did get back to the front, and I all but detonated on the final lap.

Damn the man.

But before I get too deep into self-pity — I mean, who needs to sleep on his side? Who cares whether you stick to your clothes, really? — I’ll share the details of a phone call I received a few weeks back.

The voice on the other end of the phone belonged to Sean McEndree, SPC/E-4, U.S. Army. Sean was calling to track down a back VeloNews issue — “Death of an Icon,” the tribute to Marco Pantani. Sean had just returned from Iraq after an April 9 ambush outside of Baghdad left him shot by an AK-47 and filled with shrapnel from a mortar round’s “direct hit.” He’d missed most of the coverage regarding Pantani’s death, and as an avid cyclist with a long road to recovery, he was looking for something to read.

We got to chatting, and he explained that some of the shrapnel had torn through his ribcage and liver, while other bits were permanently lodged in his leg. He was home on convalescent leave to have his injuries reevaluated. Following the attack he’d lost four pints of blood and nearly died, but was doing much better now, and was focusing his energies on building up his Litespeed Vela with an Easton carbon seat post and FSA crankset to “lighten it up.” I may have even made an awkward joke about him needing to shed some bike weight now that he was carrying a little extra lead. Thankfully, he laughed.

I was happy to throw the Pantani issue in an envelope, along with a few other key issues he’d missed while he was away. I gave him a call back on Friday, to see how he was doing.

“I just got back on my bike this week,” he told me. “I’ve probably been going harder than I should be, but it’s just so good to be back on the bike. My first ride I only went 20 miles, but averaged just over 18 mph.”

While he’s not sure how his liver will recover, doctors tell him the human liver can regenerate itself, and he’s expecting to return to about 80 percent of his former strength. He’s planning a 100km ride over Memorial Day weekend, less than two months after nearly dying in Iraq. He hasn’t gotten the definitive word yet, but his unit is slotted to return to Iraq in November.

“If I have to go back,” he said, “I’ll go.”

Damn, I say. Damn the man, and his wars.

Meanwhile, my concept of going into battle is a local road race I’ve reconnoitered for months. Yeah, I guess I can handle a little road rash.

I mean, who really needs to sleep on his side?

* * *

Congratulations to Health Net-Maxxis’s Greg Henderson, who won the world scratch-race championship today in Melbourne, Australia.

I’ve gotten the chance to know Henderson a bit, as he spends much of the racing season living here in Boulder, Colorado, with local pro Chuck Coyle (Vitamin Cottage). The last time I saw Henderson was the night after the final stage of the Tour de Georgia, and his final words to me, as the hotel elevator doors were closing, were, “Next time you see me, I’ll be world champ.”

Right he was. Nice job, Greg. Congrats.

* * *

Congratulations are also due – overdue, actually – to Nathan O’Neill (Colavita Olive Oil) and Karen Ewing, who were married in Georgia on May 9.

Theirs is a pretty neat story: They met at the 2003 Tour de Georgia, when Karen, the event’s director of operations, presented Nathan with flowers after he won the prologue time trial. One thing led to another, as they say, including Karen standing by Nathan through his horrible neck injury last summer. Ask him about it, and he’s quick to credit her as a major factor in his recovery.

All the best, Nathan and Karen. Don’t they look happy? Check out the Felt logo on the head tube.

* * *

Following up on last week’s column regarding the possible one-year suspension Monex rider-director Roberto Gaggioli is facing after his altercation with Jonny Sundt, the verdict is: Nothing. Yet.

A call to USA Cycling’s technical director Shawn Farrell on Friday turned up little, other than that the hearing was set to begin at 3 p.m. that afternoon and could take a few hours. Farrell added that the panel had 10 days to deliberate, although he didn’t expect it to take that long, and most likely the decision would be announced Tuesday, June 1, the first business day back in the office.

* * *

The U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame is hosting its 18th annual induction dinner and ceremony on Sunday in Bridgewater, New Jersey. Former Tour de France competitor Jonathan Vaughters will be the keynote speaker. Cost is $70 per plate, or $650 for a table of 10.

This year’s inductees include:

Reggie McNamera (Veteran, pre–1945)
John Vande Velde (Modern, 1945-75)
Alexi Grewal and Ron Kiefel (Modern, post-1975)
John Tomac (Mountain Bike)
Perry Kamer (BMX)
Bill Woodul (Contributor)

For more information on the riders being inducted, have a look at their biographies.

* * *

Okay, so this is some seriously delayed race coverage, but in all the clamor to get my Sonoma NORBA race story filed in our new issue, in conjunction with our upcoming Tour de France Guide, and the riveting Giro that’s been ongoing, and my road rash … anyhow, I completely neglected to inform our readers about the road racing that took place in Sonoma at Infineon Raceway as part of the California Outdoor Sports Championships, held May 13-16.

Sierra Nevada's Glen Mitchell says the team likes to work for each other

Sierra Nevada’s Glen Mitchell says the team likes to work for each other

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It wasn’t an NRC event, though, sadly, it was quite possibly the windiest, most poorly attended road race I’ve ever witnessed. Still, the weekend did see some strong riders take the start, including Eric Wohlberg, Trent Klasna, Ben Jacques-Maynes, Sterling Magnell, Russell Hamby and Glen Mitchell of Sierra Nevada, and Jackson Stewart and Zach Walker of Ofoto-Lombardi Sports. Other teams included the local McGuire Pro Cycling Team and various members of Chris Horner’s Webcor Builders squad.

I also caught a glimpse of Ted Huang (Webcor), racing again after a rough crash at Redlands broke his jaw, and his girlfriend Christine Thorburn, who won the criterium and took fourth in the circuit race around the speedway.

Although I was there to focus on the NORBA events, I had a quick chance to speak with Jacques-Maynes and Mitchell about the men’s road races — Mitchell won the three-hour, 11-turn, 2.5-mile circuit race, while Stewart took a windy 90-minute criterium win. And with the tape already transcribed, let’s go ahead and hear what the Sierra riders had to say.

Ben Jacques-Maynes: Russell Hamby made the early break. About an hour and 20 minutes into the race he got captured. McGuire did the big chase back, and Glen and I countered. We took Zack Walker from Ofoto with us, and the three of us rode it out for the hour-45 remaining. We got the gap out and started lapping guys. We were almost at the end of the field, and then they started attacking. With three laps to go, Glen put in a big hard attack at the crest of the big hill and got a good gap on Zach. I sat on for a little while, let him pull into the headwind, countered him up the next hill and got away, and we finished one-two. Wohlberg attacked the field and took fourth.

Glen Mitchell: We were all working well together. We didn’t want to start playing games until three to go. Why destroy a good thing? Then it was a matter of testing the legs. Zach rode a good race, but it was going to be a bit hard for him against two teammates in a three-man break. I put a hard attack, with two of us working against one.

And how, I asked, did they determine who would take the win?

Jacques-Maynes: Glen definitely deserved the win. And there are other things to think about. Olympic qualifications are a consideration. I had a good win at Cat’s Hill [the weekend prior], so we try to share the love. We only had five guys today, but we got three of those guys in the top four.

Mitchell: On this Sierra Nevada team, we’re all willing to work for each other. Early on I punctured my rear wheel, and Trent Klasna gave up his wheel for me. That pretty much destroyed his ride, but he felt that he wasn’t riding as well as I was today, and that meant it was the end of the day for him. When you’ve got teammates like that, there are chances for everyone to win.

Mitchell went on to tell me a bit about Sunday’s criterium.

“It was pretty close to a 2km course,” he said. “The wind was stronger today, and it played a factor in the slight uphill. It was aggressive from the start, and it was just a matter of getting the right guys off the front. Five minutes into the race there were six of us off the front – two Ofoto’s, Eric Wohlberg and myself, Mike Taylor from McGuire’s and Gavin Chilcott from Santa Rosa [Dewars Racing Team.].

“We worked well together and kept it steady at a minute. We were away for about an hour. We tried to mix it up near the finish, but to be honest the wind was too hard; to try and go solo was impossible. It came down to a five-man sprint finish. You just had to take your chance coming into a headwind – do you lead it out, how long do you wait before you try and come around someone? It was close on the line, about a wheel length between me and Jackson [Stewart]. Eric was close [fourth] with Mike Taylor [third].”

* * *

For those with a trip to Philadelphia on their calendars, don’t forget to check out the second annual “Cocktails for Cancer” fund-raiser, which the Society for Cancer Awareness is hosting June 4 at the Manayunk Brewery.

Proceeds from ticket sales and a raffle will be donated to Planet Cancer, a Lance Armstrong Foundation Community Participant and The Neil “Skip” Hamsher Memorial Scholarship Fund.

The event runs from 6 to 9 p.m., and the cost is $30. Tickets are available at the door or in advance by contacting Matt LeVeque at: matt@cancer-awareness.com.

* * *

And for those pushing on to Nature Valley Grand Prix in Minnesota just days after Wachovia week, the third Yoplait Women’s Cycling Summit Conference will return as part of the Great River Energy Bicycle Festival. Participants will include riders and managers competing at Nature Valley as well as cycling luminaries from across the country.

The mission of the task force is to build women’s cycling at both the grassroots and elite levels in North America. The conference is open to anyone who is interested in building women’s cycling.

A core goal that came out of past Yoplait Summits was to create a web site that could be used to accumulate and share information and to open channels of communication between women cyclists and their supporters. The Task Force web site went live in January and is continuing to be developed.

The second goal — the creation of the Women’s Prestige Cycling Series — has been achieved. This women-only series is highlighting women’s racing by giving them a spotlight that the women don’t have to share with the men. Series events include the Redlands Bicycle Classic (held March 24-28), the Nature Valley Grand Prix (June 9-13), the Tour de ’Toona/International (July 26-Aug 1) and the Bermuda Grand Prix (Sept 23-26).

Topics at the Yoplait Summit in June will include a mid-series review of the Women’s Prestige Cycling Series, getting media coverage for women’s racing and grassroots development programs.

The Yoplait Summit began last year at the Great River Energy Bicycle Festival. It now takes place twice annually: at the Festival in June and at the Interbike trade show in October. The Third Yoplait Summit will take place on Friday, June 11, from noon to 3 p.m. at the Park Inn Suites, 7770 Johnson Avenue South, Bloomington, Minnesota. Directions can be found at www.MinnBikeFestival.com. Contact David LaPorte at director@naturevalleygrandprix.com for more information.

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