Wednesday, April 7, 2010

DVD Review: Bicycle Wet Dreams

Get your mind out of the gutter, this is a mockumentary about a nobody bike racer from a D3 continental team who comes out of nowhere to race in a spring classic. Granted it is a minor race (the Ronde de Waddelstram Classic) but the typical spring classic none the less. Ridden in terrible, rainy, windy weather, through muddy farm country, complete with ‘crappy’ roads, if you know what I mean.

It starts when a famous and highly respected bicycle luminary named Vroomen happens to catch the finish of a midwinter ‘transition’ race. These are races where riders transition from cyclocross to road racing; the poor man’s version of a winter training camp in Majorca, only there is no sun, no soigneurs, no Mediterranean, and no time at the beach. Just a little less mud than ‘cross’.

Anyway Vrooman witnesses this finish where a local bloke by the name of Lars Paulus van Jonsboom (those in the know refer to him as VJB) comes within a hair if winning this race. It is not the near win that is so impressive as the fantastic way in which he loses: VJB appears to have the race well in hand when, just after passing under the red kite he gets a flat, and because he’s less than 10 seconds ahead of the pack no support vehicle can get to him. It’s a very minor race and there is only one neutral support car and team cars don’t carry much in the way of spare gear. What mystifies Vroomen is that not one of his teammates stops to offer a wheel, or any support for that matter. VJB gets a DNF!

Vroomen is intrigued and upon further investigation learns that this is not an uncommon Scenario for VJB. Lots of near misses and in almost all cases he’s well ahead of the pack when some disaster or another befalls him.

Well the Mockumentary starts with VJB getting a tryout with Vroomen’s very exclusive D1 Dutch team at their mid winter camp in the Canary Islands. VJB does not distinguish himself at all and of course the teammates are all rooting for him to fall into the shark infested waters. He’s essentially on his own. Towards the end of the camp Vroomen takes him aside and confides that he’s probably not going to be ’on the bus’ once they head north for the spring classics campaign. VJB says he figured as much but explains that it’s the combination of Spartan offerings at the training table and hot weather that is holding him back. “Take me with you to the rainy north country coach, and I’ll show you a thing or two!” The vernacular puts Vroomen off, and frankly he thinks VJB could stand a little less in the nourishment department, but his pluck is appealing. Vroomen agrees to give him another week of training rides when they are back in Belgium as a courtesy more than anything.

Fast forward to long cold and wet training rides on the shores of the North Sea and sure enough VJB leads the team day after day on 6 hour training rides. By now the teammates are conspiring to break his legs, something VJB is used to and avoids by always riding at least two bike lengths ahead regardless the pace, which of course infuriates the mates all the more, … and sets Vroomen to slavering. “Mijn God” exclaims Vroomen, “Zijn dijen zijn als een Nederlandse gordel! Ja und he’s like a Dutch Belted in udder vays also. But sure he can ride his bicycle!”

So Vroomen decides to take a chance and enters him in the Waddelstram Classic, a tune up race that is always crappy enough that most of the team feign colds or other maladies to get out of it.

VJB is psyched but a little disappointed that he does not get to actually wear official team kit. It seems that all the gear in the team’s lockers is at least 3 sizes too small for the big fella. They have to send one of the soigneurs out to a bike shop to get ‘authentic replica’ team gear in plus sizes and ‘sport’ cut.

As the neutral rollout proceeds from the back streets of Olympiastadt into the farm country the peloton huddles like a flock of penguins in an Antarctic gale. All struggle to avoid being on the sharp end of the bunch. All that is except for van Jonsboom who appears to be more than willing to punch a hole in the wind driven rain. From the aerial shot, He looks like the lead buffalo plowing the way for a herd of gazelles. 5K into the race things liven up and though the race favorites make spirited attacks, somehow VJB is always there with the leaders seemingly in no distress at all despite the heavy rain, sharp headwind, and his plus size. Phil and Paul are calling this race and cannot come up with enough superlatives to describe the incredible performance they are witnessing. This is no suitcase of pain, more like a steamer trunk stuffed full of bloody, screaming, quadaceps muscles ripped from the legs of crying nancy boy racers!

Every now and then VJB slows and takes something from his jersey pocket which fairly bulges, and eats. Race officials are suspicious and ready the pee bottles; team soigneurs are extremely nervous! Though he falls back whenever he noshes, he seems to have no trouble coming back to the pack, in fact he seems reinvigorated and comes back to the bunch more jovial and more animated than ever. Suspicious indeed.

The peloton hates this foreigner but with so much scrutiny there is no room for hijinx. A silent pact is made and they isolate him on the front. In these conditions such a move would usually signal a quick end to the average rider but VJB appears oblivions.

As they enter the Foret Caitôle the race tilts up along the tumbling Waddellstram. The race becomes animated and serious attacks are undertaken. The forest provides some cover from the driving wind and rain and the race favorites sense this is the time they can do damage to the big oaf. On the steepest climb VJB goes backwards and is spit out the back like a mouthful of bad cabernet. Vroomen is crestfallen; the peloton is satisfied to see the ‘normal’ order restored. Over the top the pace quickens and the descenders force the race to string out in a long winding line of blurring colors. VJB is nowhere to be seen, Phil and Paul wax poetic about the impressive but doomed challenge of the unknown and unheralded stranger.

Out of the forest the race enters the low country. Farms, fields, and kilometer after kilometer of tortuous chip seal served up with the return of the cutting wind and sheets of rain. Still they ride on, keeping the pace high sensing that soon the weaker among them will surely crack and the 'real' race will begin for the true contenders.

The pack leaders look over their shoulders nervously and see far behind, but getting closer the trouble maker. Immediately the pace quickens by an additional l0 Km/hr. Still he continues to gain and in less than 10 minutes he’s integrated back into the pack. At the half way point in the race it’s all back together. Just then VJB slows and reaches into his jersey pocket to find …nothing! His secret fuel was exhausted on the climb and it appears he’s feeling the 'hunger knock'! Still he fights on, his form gone but slowly, slowly, he loses contact. 5 minutes later, the pack nothing more than a colorful speck in the distance he drifts to the side of the road and dismounts. Vroomen in the team car pulls up and asks excitedly what the problem is? ‘Outta chow” the big foreigner says. “Vee haf cakes, vee haf cokes, zhels, vatever is it you vant! “Naw” says VJB “There’s only one thing that could get me back to the bunch and I‘m out.” “VAAAT!” screams Vroomen. “Pizza Pocket” says VJB, “Preferably stale”. So ends the brief pro career of Lars Paulus van Jonsboom.

By now I’m sure you’ve figured out that I rode home from work today. If you’re not in this part of the country you might not be able to appreciate just how typically ‘April’ the weather has been the last week. I picked this day, this windy, rainy, cold day to ride my bike the 42 Km home from work.

Anyone who has ridden a bike for very long can appreciate the difference between getting caught out in the rain while riding and stepping out, mounting the bike and starting to roll while the wind drives sheets of rain across a parking lot that is fairly flowing water to the storm drain. In those conditions it can be very easy, possibly even justifiable to take off the helmet, turn around and go back inside thinking something like ‘”Maybe tomorrow”. Not me, oh no, I’m from here. I needed the miles and I figured it will just make that short sleeve jersey ride in late June all the more sweet.

So in those conditions with a couple of hours ahead of you, what do YOU think about? Are you obsessing over watts, maintaining a certain heart rate, reworking troublesome spreadsheets you left back at the office, are you…what? When I started out my legs felt like lead so I was thinking this is not only going to be a little unpleasant, it’s going to be so for a little longer than it would normally be. But once I got going, and Lars Paulus van Jonsboom came up from behind, complete with Phil and Paul commentating, the Kms just started ticking off. I actually had less distress on the climb over Waddell creek than usual, but I had to throw that in because I am sure that if anyone else were along I would probably have been dropped like a cigarette in the boys can at James A. Garfield HS when Mr. Mahaffy popped in for a surprise visit.

Unfortunately about half way through the ride my lights did sort of dim and I ran out of colorful commentary and the imaginary peloton did ride away from me. Alas I was still 23Km from the imaginary velodrome finish on Arla court. I didn’t let it get to me, I was actually riding ahead of my average which really surprised me.

Though that stretch along Mima-Gate is terribly exposed and I was getting hammered with wind and rain I just put my head down. I’ve been through worse. Every once in a while a rusty pickup would pass by with a load of muddy firewood on, or maybe half a dozen bales of hay, and then I‘d get a face full of it, not just hay straw but lots of road spray because these roads are, you know, pretty rough chip seal and in steady rain they hold lots of water, like the piece of gold shag carpet that’s been in the yard behind that trailer ever since the flood rehab.

And speaking of that pickup with the 6 bales of hay, what is it with horse people? I rode by those horses, their butts slick with rain water, their soaked manes plastered to their necks. They stand there in the ‘pasture’ bereft of anything green, sometimes nose to the ground but mostly just standing, butt to the wind.

What possesses ‘horse people’ who start off with one horse, one which might be as much as they can handle or maybe a little more than they can handle and then … more horses! Three horses, or five horses! Don’t get me wrong I don’t love horses but I have nothing against them, they are just the innocant victims in this tragicomedy. Ask a horse person why so many and they’ll always say; “I just love horses!” So they take their 5 horses and put them out on a ‘pasture’ that’s no bigger than your back yard. In two months the horses have grazed the ground bare. In summer it is a dusty collection of dried or drying hose turds, rocks and the occasional flag of scotch broom. “Oh we hay them!” Fine, why don‘t you come over here and stand in this toilet, I’ll drain all the water out and give you three slices of dried bread a day. Here’s the part that hurts; In our country, from about late October to early June that dust patch becomes a horse sewer outfall. Its churned and mixed and the poor horses stand there, up to their hocks in a mix of mud and horse shit and … wait. “We feed them extra in winter!” Fine, step into the toilet and I’ll give you a couple extra slices of dried bread a day, oh and could you move a bit to the left? I’ve got five horses that would like to make a deposit for your feet. See you in June when we’ll cut your rations of dried bread back. What did horses ever do to deserve this much ’love’ from horse lovers?

Well there was one positive sign of spring on my way home: Though the Alpacas have not yet gotten their summer buzz cut (and a good thing too even though they do look awfully goofy) as I approached Osprey nest number two there was a big ole bird with black wings, white breast and head eyeing me suspiciously from the nest platform. Funny, they can stand farm tractors, sod trucks, and red necks in pickups but that huffing chuffing yellow raincoat on two wheels gets her up and making that easy 360° turn that brings her gliding back to the nest platform just behind me as I slooooowly pass by.

So how was your ride home, did you win your race?

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