By Patrick O’Grady
“Down is to hell.” — Hattie, in “Nobody’s Fool,” by Richard Russo
Before I hit the road for the 2002 Sea Otter Classic, my annual respitefrom the ravages of winter in Custer County, Colorado, the boys at VeloNews gave me a jingle. They were a man short of total coverage, and asked whether I’d bang out a quick 500-worder on the Otter’s mountain-cross competition, the latest and greatest entrant in the gravity grand prix.(See “Lopes,Chausson repeat in Sea Otter mountain cross“)
“Have some fun with it,” they urged.
Well, with all respect to the Otter, the athletes and VeloNews,I suspect the fun part of the gig will be cashing the check. Watching armored“Road Warrior” extras carve 30-second parabolas through the dusty MontereyCounty air, backed by a soundtrack composed for air hammer and table saw,is not my idea of the ideal spectating opportunity.
When I think of races I’d like to watch, grueling climbs like L’Alped’Huez come to mind, perhaps because I am particularly inept at descending;imagine a double amputee negotiating Bailey’s Bailout after six inchesof snow and three fingers of Scotch and you’ve got the idea.
I won’t deny the athletic ability and courage of riders like Brian Lopes,Anne-Caroline Chausson, Cédric Gracia, and Katrina Miller. It takesskill and guts to sail, four abreast, over tabletops, across washboardand around hairpin corners. I enjoyed meeting the riders, and I’m delightedthat they enjoy their work.
Still, I’ve always felt there was something wrong with gravity sports,and with Easter just around the corner, I think I’ve finally figured outwhat it is.
Down is to hell.
Remember your Milton? In “Paradise Lost,” he wrote:
Him the Almighty Power
Hurl’d headlong flaming from th’ ethereal sky
With hideous ruin and combustion down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In adamantine chains and penal fire,
Who durst defy th’ Omnipotent to arms.
“Hurl’d headlong flaming … with hideous ruin and combustion down….”
Have you ever heard a better description of gravity racing? Andanyone who straps on a little Kevlar and plastic before launching himselfinto space on a motorless Ducati most definitely “durst defy th’ Omnipotent.”If Milton were alive today, VeloNews would be calling himin mid-March, and I’d still be on the copy desk at The New Mexicanin Santa Fe.Now, I don’t believe that Brian Lopes is the devil, although he doesride for GT, and has developed an unhealthy interest in track racing, inwhich all turns are sinister, or to the left.However, I’d feel better about mountain cross if it had a little moreyang to go along with its yin, an ascent toward the light to counterweightits descent into darkness … something like the old Bud Light Roostmaster.Briefly popular in the mid-1990s, the Roostmaster was a short-course,high-intensity circuit race combining the big-air thrills of gravity racingwith the little-ring climbs of cross country. And thus you saw winnerslike John Tomac, who spent so much time airborne that he should have beenrequired to take out a pilot’s license, and Juli Furtado, a notorious terrestrialwho did all her ass-kicking from the security of terra firma.The Roosters then sang the same hosannas that the mountain-crossersdo now: fun to do, fun to watch, potential savior of a dying sport. Butthe feisty Roost is long dead and deeply buried, while cross-country, indefiance of all diagnoses, keeps tottering about, hacking, spitting andbabbling to itself, like the immortal Amarante Cordova in John Nichols’“The Milagro Beanfield War.”Maybe mountain cross will do what the Roostmaster couldn’t — injecta little new blood into the decrepit old bastard. After all, at 30 secondsa pop, it’s perfect for the short attention span of TV. But the Big Eyeis always looking for The Next Big Thing, and never fixes its cyclopeangaze upon one spot for long (anyone besides Rishi Grewal and me rememberthe made-for-TV “Ride For Your Life,” from 1991?).All in all, it looks like an uphill struggle to me, and mountain-crossersonly go down. We all know where that path leads, don’t we? Can I get ana-men?
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