....or Hoff's Big Day Out
This past weekend was a happy one indeed for it saw yours truly embarking on a much needed road trip with my little German friend. Those who keep a keen eye on the cycling calendar will know that the US Pro Road Championships were held in Greenville SC on Sunday. Ahhhh Greenville, so much better than Charlotte in so many ways. I suppose the only thing keeping me in NC is the fact that I like to be on top. How's the view from down there SC? Not too good is it? Not too good at all.
So back to my road trip. No visit to Greenville by car can be completed without a thrilling passage through Gaffney, home of the water tower painted to look like a peach. Why does their water tower look like a giant peach? How should I know? I'm from the cool Carolina. SC is just weird. Anyway, I have passed by this massive salute to the fuzziest of the fruits many times without stopping for a close up look. I almost drove by again but in a last minute, multiple lane changing decision I gave everyone on the highway a little thrill while I careened toward the exit in search of my prize. It was everything I hoped it would be. It was so large that I had to stand many yards back to take in its majesty. Just like the Statue of Liberty. Only sticky. Because The Hoff is a camera whore I had no choice but to take advantage of a photo op.
I find it strange that my wife pretends not to know me when we venture out in public. I can't understand why she would do that.
Giant Peach? Check! Off to Greenville!!
Having been to this race in the past I arrived in Greenville with a plan. A perfect plan. A plan that I formulated after I missed my turn. First stop, Paris Mountain. Any trip up Altamont Road leaves one feeling a bit weary. I've done it on my bike and actually found it far more pleasant than driving up the hill. I am slightly stronger than my car so that makes sense. Stupid 4 cylinder. Well, I suppose all that matters is getting to the top. The Hoff and I set up shop at the top of the climb and we were even joined by The Little Italian. We created a cheering section with international flair. We did of course have some company on the hill.
Hoff loves talking trash with the other fans
They said two '80s style thumbs up in one photo could not be done. Nay I said. Nay.
Our arrival time was spot on and we nabbed a great little shady area to set up camp. We watched the race come up the climb just once and were slightly underwhelmed. The riders did not appear to be climbing quite as quickly as last year. The breakaway seemed to be gifted a ton of time and for a moment I thought the race would be quite boring. I would later learn that you should never make fun of U23s on Nat day.
Having been satisfied by the passage of the race caravan on the uphill side of Altamont we decided to make a move to the descent. The first curve coming off the hill is a frighteningly tight bend and a great place to observe some solid bike handling skills. Last year I sat to the outside of the turn and was nearly run over by a rider who clearly didn't understand that the good line was not through my chair. For safety's sake I sat to the inside this year. If you ever have the chance to do so, don't. You get dizzy pretty fast pivoting repeatedly to watch the riders complete the turn. Dizzy is bad.
Who doesn't love a good high speed turn?
The Hoff respects warning signs.
With my thirst for Paris Mountain action quenched I decided it was time to head into town. Greenville is a beautiful city made only more so by the presence of countless cycling fans. I was quite surprised to find that Ben King was still holding his lead when we finally found our seats on the edge of the circuit. I thought for sure he couldn't hold on for the win. Besides, this is Hincapie's race and I am an armchair quarterback. How could I be wrong? I'll tell you how. You can't make solid predictions if you mix your sports metaphors. It just can't be done.
One of the highlights of watching the racers complete multiple circuits through the center of town was having a rider I wasn't paying attention to throw a water bottle at my feet. I wasn't paying attention because Taylor Phinney had just passed and I was still basking in his 2X 4000 Meter Pursuit World Champion Glow. The light is blinding. Nevertheless, I am now the proud owner of a discarded water bottle and am living every 8 year old cycling fan's dream. It took a great deal of restraint to keep myself from immediately licking every inch of the bottle. Everyone knows that the true path to speed is ingesting the saliva of a professional. Training certainly doesn't cut it.
If I were 25 years younger the joyful expression on my face would be a lot less lame. I think The Hoff looks a little embarrassed in this photo.
Not long after I caught my bottle we moved over to the finish line. Ben King rolled through with arms held high to become the US Pro Champion. It was a beautiful sight. I for one did not believe for a second that he would hold off the pack and was only more impressed as a result. I'm sure many of the riders were glad to be done and rushed off to escape the heat in an ice bath. It can be a long day for spectators as well.....
When you are a big hairy man like the Hoff, you have to take extreme measures to stay cool.
After I had time to digest the details of the race, it seemed all too fitting that a young man like King took the top spot on the podium. I'm certain that many residents of Greenville wept as they watched old George roll away. We need champions. We need heroes. We need those we can look up to as great patrons of the sport. But we need the next generation as well. As a sports fan we can never turn back the clock. However, the men we watch are immortal. They never get tired. They never get old. They just get replaced with a new name and a new face. I look forward to seeing our new National Champion in his stars and stripes jersey over the course of the next year. And of course, I look forward to being in Greenville in 2011 to watch a new challenger push him to the limit.