Monday, May 07, 2007

Blood, Sweat, Gears (and Beers) at the Fat & Skinny Tire Fest

With the Village at Winona just down the street from us, there are events going on all the time. At Christmastime, we're treated to live music from a group of horn players. We make a point of strolling through the Art Fair in June. And there's one event that we can't possibly ignore: The Annual Fat & Skinny Tire Festival. Part of the reason we can't ignore it is that the road races pass right in front of our house. (These are the "skinny tires" — the fat-tired mountain bike races are out in the woods.)

The whole island pretty much shuts down for the races. They start early on Sunday morning, and you have to move your car off the streets the night before, as they block off the roads. (This makes getting to church a little tricky; we parked over by the post office and used the stroller to get the kids to the car.) Most everyone sits out on their porch or sidewalk to watch.

Nick and Brett had the party across the street in full swing. Fortunately, we all liked the music they were playing, because it pervaded everything. We could tell whenever the peloton was approaching by the distinctive mix of sound: Dance music, cowbells, cheering, and chattering whir of 50 speeding bicycles. I hadn't remembered cowbells from the races I watched in Spain, but everyone on the block had them. I wondered what they knew that I didn't.

We ribbed Nick mercilessly about taking the siding off his house the day before the races. Several news crews got footage of the party along with the race.

Half the races were over by the time we got home from church. The Category 4/5 race was going on when we got there, so after we tucked the kids in for their naps, I told Deborah I was going to walk arund the block and get pictures.

Lest you be impressed by such pictures, keep in mind that these are only one of about 70 that I took, and I also mananged to get a good number of shots of the opposite curb, with no bicycles in sight.

Bicycle Racing, Winona Style.

After I got that shot, I crossed the street, and headed up the sidewalk towards the finish line. Some of our neighbors were out, watching the races. As I was walking by, one of them said, "Hey, would you like some sausage casserole?"

Well... OK...! It wasn't the way I was used to being greeted, but I certainly didn't mind. As I was sampling the rather generous portion on my plate, and debating between the variety of hot sauces available (I think I like these people...) they also offered me a Bloody Mary, which was also portioned out rather generously. I had no excuse not to stay and chat a while.

My outgoing hosts on this section of the sidewalk turned out to be Hal and Jennifer Harting. (I could have sworn her name was Lisa or Lindsey, but the phone book says Jennifer, so I'll go with that.) Hal has a fierce shock of long, pure-white hair, and rides the 1978 BMW motorcycle that I have stopped to admire on many occasions. We chatted a bit about riding, and I asked about the wide assortment of cowbells that were on the picnic tables, and being rung with every passing lap of the race. "I went into TSC [Tractor Supply Company] and said, 'I want some cowbells,'" he explained. "They asked, 'Well, what tone do you want?' and I said, 'All of them! Give me two of every one you have.'" From the looks of it, TSC carries at least 6 different tones.

Realizing I had promised to help prepare lunch, I cut short my trip around the block, and said I needed to get back home, where, I joked, Deborah would want to know where I had been, why I had a drink, and why I hadn't brought her one.

I should joke more carefully. I probably wouldn't have drawn any attention at all, walking along with two large cups, but the Hartings had garnished the drinks with two of the biggest celery stalks I've ever seen. I felt a little conspicuous.

Paul, Deborah and I fixed lunch. We set the table for four out of habit, and only after a long while did we realize that we really only needed three. It's strange having May gone. Was it really only Friday morning that she left to go back to New Hampshire?

The final race started as we were finishing the lunch preparations. Once everything was in the oven, we retired to the picnic table (provided by the town, free for the asking, for this event) to watch the race. I provided color commentary for Deborah and Paul, pointing out what strategies the racers were using, and oppining on whether the currect breakaway would succeed. After a few dozen laps, I got up walked the other way around the block towards the finish line, to see what there was to see there.

Quite a bit.

Most of the spectators were out by turn 1, where there was also commentary broadcast, booths, tables, and all manner of things bike-related.

This sign still reeks of irony.

Some of the races are sponsored by the local orthopedic industry. Warsaw, IN, is the self-proclaimed "Orthopaedic Capital of the World." This trophy is made up of a sprocket and three hip implants.

You can't see it well in the picture there, but at least one of the hips says, "do not implant." Good thing they said that; after what I saw, some of the race participants might have been tempted.

Turn 1 is a devilishly tricky left-hander coming off the bridge — blind, tight, steep, downhill, off-camber, and recently painted. I had marveled that there hadn't been accidents on that corner in previous years; this year, I saw two in the 15 minutes I was standing there. They were nasty.

Can you see the disgust?

The first one I saw was about 10 laps before the end of the race, when a rider blew a a tire going through the corner. He went down, and the rider directly behind him went over the hay bales. The second rider jumped up and got back into the race, apparently not realizing that he had clobbered one of the spectators pretty badly — a young girl, about 10, I think. The paramedics took her away on a back board. When the rider found out what had happened, he quit from his third-place position in the race and asked to be taken to the hospital to see her.

I don't have further details about who she was, or her condition. She wasn't mentioned in the newspaper I bought this afternoon.

The second one occurred just three laps before the end, as one rider's tire slid out in the turn, taking down about 8 riders; about half of those managed to get back on and keep riding, the others out of the race for injuries or mechanical reasons. One guy couldn't get up right away, prompting a lot of jumping and handwaving around the corner to keep the fast-approaching pack from running him over. It occurred to me that bicycle racing could learn a lot from motorcycle racing — on the track, you have corner workers with flags, watching out for problems just like this one, and ready to wave different colored flags to signal the approaching riders of the problem ahead. It wouldn't be practical for long races through the countryside, but it could be a lifesaver — possibly literally — on a criterium like this one.

Nice shot, Gary! I'm actually in this photo; you can see the top of my head and Aiden's right where the tree meets the red jersey. After that, I moved to a safer place...

Getupgetupgetup, the pack is coming....!

As I was heading back home after the end of the race, I met up with Gary Neiter, the photographer for the Warsaw Times-Union, and prof. for all of the photography classes I took at Grace. He didn't recognize me at first, but we chatted for a bit once he remembered me. He was floored to meet Aiden, and more so when I said he was my youngest. Ah, yes, time has passed since I was in his classes back in 1997 or so!

After lunch, I went and joined the party across the street for a while, and was pressed with more food and drink. (Yep, we have friendly neighbors!) Even some of the guys who had been racing were there. Brett gave me a short lecture on various beers available and their merits, I chatted with John Hawkins about photography, and a number of people crowded around to see my pictures and news of what had happened at the other end of the race course.

And that was plenty of excitement for a single afternoon.


Anonymous said...

Please contact me at My teammate is the one who accidentally wiped out the little girl and the race official is trying to suspend him from racing (yeah, go figure!). Your account of the crash corroborates my teammates account. Please contact me as soon as you can. Thanks,

Andy said...


You've got mail.