ANGEL WINGS: INSIDE A RATTLESNAKE’S HEAD
(THE BOWMAN CLASSIC 2004)
Russ Roundhouse Gabriel landed a devastating uppercut to a hanging chin late in the fight, in the fifteenth round, as the seconds ticked out, and scored a resounding knockout win on The Kalahari Bowman Classic on 7 February 2004.
Only seconds earlier, Gabriel had been against the ropes, head down. But his elbows were always up. Then, one door opened, and another one closed, and Gabriel stepped through, and planted a freewheeling roundhouse that dropped his remaining challengers to the canvas. With his knee-buckling punch, Roundhouse painted his portrait squarely in the center of this season’s WBL tableau. Only two small spots remained unpainted on this picturesque presentation, only two more events to go. This picaresque serialized story, known as “WBL 2004,” was hastening towards its denouement, and a Shooting Starr still shined bright in Lemon-drop Yellow.
The percipient Gabriel made the second of his three decisive moves when he placed himself in a three-man chase only four miles from the finish, as he was turning right onto Beaverdam Road. (Today’s finish line was the fickle Blue 911 sign at the Oglethorpe County line at the end of the day’s toilsome nine-mile Gene Dixon Attack Zone.) At this point in The Zone—with four miles to go—Gabriel and his two companions, Michael Wolf-Boy and Steve Broglio, were chasing a lone breakaway artiste, Jake The Rattlesnake Rosenbarger. Rattlesnake held a ten second gap over the three chasing desperadoes, one of whom was Roundhouse, and smelled a kill. The Lone Rattler headed down Beaverdam Road and cut through the cold, gray air like a jagged-edged titanium arrow ripping towards the neck of its intended target with calm apathy. Gabriel, Broglio and Wolf-Boy knew they couldn’t waste time, knew they each had to bury themselves beneath a truckload of pain, now, or this show was over. So they backed the truck up and unloaded the pain, but the curtain in front of them was dropping like a leaf fluttering to the ground. Rattlesnake laid low in the drops, fully committed, as he approached the left hand turn onto Smithonia Road, now only three miles from the line. The three chasers were not gaining on Beaverdam Road. Rattlesnake held taut to his lead. He was headed for his greatest victory of his nascent career. The curtain was falling, and Snake knew it.
As Rattlesnake floated towards the Smithonia Road turn, he realized this was one of those rare days cyclists live for. His thoughts drifted off the tracks and sailed away like an army of angry clouds racing by overhead: This is the reason for the miles and miles I have slogged on the bike. This is the reason I have pulled my cap lower and pushed forward on those sad, sorry days when slanting sheets of pelting rain have pummeled me all day long. This is the reason I have driven nine hours in a two-door Honda with three guys and three bikes and seven sets of wheels, slept four hours in a filthy room at The Scottish Inn with six other rancid cyclists and a small, but irritated kingdom of flies, and raced one hundred miles the next morning at 8 a.m. on two bottles, one of which is actually full, through some hillbilly mountain town that time left stranded somewhere in The Midwest. Yes, this is the reason—because today, I have Angel Wings. It was true, instead of legs, Rattlesnake found ye ole allusive angel’s wings. He pedaled without pedaling. He couldn’t feel a thing, only the glow of victory spreading through his veins like warm blood. He felt he was levitating six inches off the ground and hurtling forward to his destiny, his encounter with Fate. And indeed he was. His mind continued driving straight, while the tracks of reality bent and turned away. Rattlesnake pressed his nose to the handlebars and stared at the mesmerizing sheets of black asphalt rolling away under his wheels in an interminable succession, lulling him into a sweet trance filled with golden-framed images of rose petals of glory and exultation.
Fifteen seconds after Rattler turned, and five seconds later than the three chasers, another group of six turned right onto Beaverdam. These half-dozen castaways pressed the pedals like they were sprinting for the last boat from a rescue mission as it hauled in its boarding planks. Snot poured out of their nostrils like water from a faucet. Small white chunks in a noxious, lathering foam gathered in the corners of their mouths and crystallized like corrosion on a car battery. These six were the remnants of a ten-man break that had immediately punched clear at the beginning of the nine-mile Attack Zone. After the ten formed, about two miles inside The Zone, buffeting busters bludgeoned the pack head-on and prevented those left behind from ever crossing the gap to the ten frontrunners. Roundhouse made this group, his first crucial move.
By the two-point intermediate sprint in front of Gene Dixon’s Estate home, four miles into The Zone, the fortunate ten were two minutes clear of the battle-weary and war-ravaged remnants left behind. But the ten aspirants for gold were not cooperating. Instead, they ripped and rent each other to shreds. They talked bad about each other’s mothers. They disparaged the other’s women-folk. There was a violent series of starbursts and flaming explosions and spectacular counter-attacks within the ten-man group leading up to the intermediate sprint, but all the ten escapees came back together as they hit the bottom of the slope of the hill leading to the sprint line at the top. Heading up the hill, Shooting Starr, Broglio, Bibens, the impressive and stout of heart Jim Brock, Slim Tim, Rattlesnake, Aqua Velva Fuqua, Wolf-Boy, Gabriel, and The Announcer all eyeballed each other and jockeyed for position. Slim Tim set a rapid tempo at the front for his Nalley-Lexus teammates, who were tucked in behind. Approaching the top, 200 meters away, The Announcer bolted, but Broglio fastened a rope. The Announcer kicked and spat and cursed and barely held off a charging Broglio and won the sprint, and the two points, and took over sole possession of The Atlantis Hydroponics Red Sprint Jersey. As the two headed down the hill on the backside of the sprint line hording all the oxygen within a 50-meter radius, they glanced behind. Behind, there was a 100-meter chasm filled with nothing but empty space and lonely black asphalt. Broglio whispered, “Hit it.” They did. Five miles to go, and The Announcer thought, “This is it. Go!” But behind, another thought: This can’t be it. Go!
The two glory seekers pushed up the next riser, the last hill on Gene Dixon Road, and headed towards the right hand turn on Beaverdam Road. It was on this one mile incline that Rattlesnake hit the turbo blasters, rocketed out of the chase, and caught and blew by Broglio and his confrere like they were a couple of disreputable cows standing in a lonely pasture. There were less than five miles to go. The backdraft caused by Snake’s forward thrust stymied the two former leaders and five behind made contact. Now seven chased one. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth in this seven-man group of flying flagellants. As the seven approached the right-hand turn onto Beaverdam Road, Gabriel made his aforementioned second of his three decisive moves. Broglio and Wolf-Boy sprang clear from the rest and joined. As the three chasers turned right on Beaverdam, there were four separate and distinct groups: one off the front chased by three at ten seconds; another four chasing three five seconds down; and forty or more scattered throughout the countryside one-hour and seventeen minutes in arrears. And up the road, at the very front, hammering without hammering straight down Beaverdam Road, a Rattlesnake dreamed:
At the press conference, I’ll thank all ‘the little people.’ I’ll remind the kids that hard work is the answer, now that I’ll be a role model. I’ll take everything more serious, my new responsibilities that is. But one night of leisure won’t hurt. So tonight I’ll party. In fact, it’ll be good for me to let my hair down a little. Of course, I’ll wear my leathers, like an Indian would. Ooooooooh, I do love the sticky feel of leather against my flesh. I’ll have to have an entourage too of course. Kim can be part of it. It’ll be a small token. And Broglio can carry a basket filled with rose petals and toss them on the ground over which I walk. This’ll be great! And when I’m mobbed by the hoi polloi, “HEY! HEY!” I’ll explain that I’m soooo busy that I can’t possibly “HEY, JAKE, YOU MISSED THE TURN! JAKE! HEY JAKE! take time to…What? I did what? Ooooooh crap, I missed the turn! A door flew open.
It was true—Rattlesnake missed the left hand turn onto Smithonia Road and continued straight, following right behind his fleeing thoughts that were driving straight ahead. By the time Snake circled and returned, Gabriel, Broglio and Wolf-Boy had flown by and dropped the Belgian hammer. Snake managed to latch onto the chase of four behind, now five, as they flew down the hill towards The Mur de Winterville. Bastard! Bastard! Bastard! Nihilist Bastards! The three in the lead wailed up The Mur knowing the limpid rationality of absurd randomness had granted them a shot at immortality. Behind, the five chasers slowly inched their way closer to the leaders, but the effort was like crawling across shards of broken glass. And it was late in the day, 2 p.m. on the summit of Everest so to speak. Rattlesnake recognized the steep angle of the sun’s rays without a watch—he saw the chasers would not latch on to the leaders by the finish at this pace. So he attacked, again, after the final right hand turn onto Blue 911 Road. Only one mile to the line, and nine weary journeymen, all within thirty-seconds of one another, pushed themselves beyond the red zone, into the purple zone, one last time.
Incredibly, Rattlesnake began to close down the five-second gap before the final fast downhill, now only half-a-mile from the line. As the trio dove down the last speeding drop, Rattlesnake made contact. Ha! Absurd! Could he pull this out? The fans watching on closed circuit T.V. were on the edge of their seats. And now, as if that weren’t enough, The Announcer bolted from the remaining four behind. He was attempting to cross on the last downhill, a sure-fire suicidal move. At the front, the four frontrunners jockeyed for position, caught unawares The Announcer was closing. A door left open. 300 meters from the line, The Announcer made the bridge. He tried to hide in the back so he could die alone. Then: Bam! The contenders exploded to the line with the reverberating crack like a rifle shot. Roundhouse kicked into high gear and looked like a thoroughbred winning The Kentucky Derby as he pulled away. He left no doubt. Roundhouse placed his stamp on yet another dramatic finish after a gut-wrenching, soul-searching Attack Zone in WBL 2004. Roundhouse made his third, and final decisive move: He held his arms up at the line and closed the door behind him. The curtain fell.
The day began ninety miles, and four-and-a-half hours, earlier. Two days of lugubrious rain and bitter cold finally gave way to a sky filled with blue. But The Zealots didn’t know that the blue above them was only a hole, and a temporary one at that. This hole was moving south, and the ride wasn’t. But the hole didn’t move south right away. It stayed above The Zealots until they passed the point of no return, the point of no turning back, about an hour in. When it (the hole) did leave, it (the hole) took with it (the hole) anything remotely resembling warmth (like even one tiny sliver of the sun’s rays). So to stay warm The Zealots had to motor—and did they ever!
Signing in with smiles galore on what promised to be a “character building” day in The Kalahari desert were lots of mentally ill masochistic Zealots. After all, this morning followed an evening sky lit up by a full snow moon, one sure to entice all the crazies out to play. Some of the lucky flagellants were: Roberto Rivers, holding firm in seventh; Matt Gentry, ready to rock; Jason Crosby, ready to roll; Big Daddy Garland, ready to get down on it; Brian Berger, spreading a little Brooklyn jam; John Green-Jeans, with fried fish on a stick; Greg App, gonna make sure they all get it; John Patrick Jones, give him liberty; Todd Branham, with pain from the mountains, Birmingham Ron Williams, sweet home Alabamy pain; Chad Madan, good ‘n mad; Charles Rossignol, about to boogey down; Aqua Velva Fuqua, smelling like lavender; Ed Moreadith, ready to hurt; Eric Anderson, always on the move; Rob DeFoor, ready to hit the door; Peter Josfki, no kin to Jennings; Jonathon Baggett, with big bags of trix; Jeremy Krupat, spreading good cheer; and Eric Ritenour, who said he’ll be “right in an hour.” After Ms. Kim Budde dried the eyes of the weeping Zealots (Ms. Candi, our new CEO, was absent), she dropped in behind and the group set sail.
On the way out, the pack headed east. The ill-tempered buster was at the group’s back. The Greenville Godfather Jason Leslie and The Major General Jacob Fetty hit the front and never looked back. They whipped the crowd into a frenzy and the denizens of The WBL raced towards Bowman and the first sprint at the Elbert County sign at an amazing 134 miles-per-hour. Approaching the first sprint at the historic Broad River Bridge, The Greenville Godfather decided to shake his moneymaker, and everyone else’s too, and he dished a mile-long helping of unbearable pain. He tore a group of six off the front like a nine-day old Band-Aid ripping off a four-day old scab—and taking half the scab with it. He and his five hell-hounds were so far up the road, we couldn’t see who won, though Sweet Home Alabamy did roll across for second. Afterwards, the store stop. The group trickled in for the next two-and-a-half hours.
After the store stop, the group arced in a semi-circle and began the trek home. Only now, the wind had turned on them, like a fake-friend. The wind pounded them in the face relentlessly. But the bellicose group fought back. They drove like hard-charging battering rams straight into the furnace. The push home refused to yield, but several pairs of legs did. Once a gap opened, the winds of Fate, not cruel, but simply heartless, would sweep them backwards, lift them skywards, and heave them up and over the forests of pine blanketing the landscape. So when the aspirants hit The Attack Zone, they had already been beaten, bruised and battered. And things were only going to get worse. Man, I’d like to party tonight, let the hair down. The devil with this darn bike. If only I could think of a good excuse. Hey!
As The WBL 2004 winds down, Shooting Starr is still in command. His lead looks unassailable, but a disastrous day could still spell doom. A juggernaut has occurred at places 3 through 10, and those spots are wide open. Iona Wynter and Erin Winter are not only locked in a tie for the lead for The Blue Jersey, but each has catapulted into the top ten Overall. The Announcer has moved ahead in the Red Jersey Competition, but it is still anyone’s to steal. WBL 2004 is shaping up to be the most difficult season of rides mingled with the most dramatic series of grueling finishes. Will the final two weeks be similar? Chances are the answer is, “Yes.” And I’m coming back, and bringing my wings.
- Russ Roundhouse Gabriel +10
- Rattlesnake Rosenbarger +8
- Wolf-Boy +6
- The Announcer +4
- Broglio +2
Non Pro, 1, 2:
- Shooting Starr + 5
- Jim Brock + 3
- Elbert County ? (let us know)
- -Announcer +2
- -Broglio +1
- Pro, 1, 2 (+2)
- Non Pro, 1, 2 (+3)