The Tour of Cali rolled through our 'hood out here in So Cal a few weeks ago. I was able to catch the last day, where they did laps up the infamous Rock Store Climb. It was spectator-friendly, and the fans did come out. The race was, of course, exciting to watch as the riders grinded up the hill time after time--but even more interesting was the fan mania. Grown men in costume busting a gut to run alongside the riders up the climb again and again. Yeah, I know, nothing new, but honestly, why? I ended up egging on some of these folks for sprint races and chatting with a few of them. A few days later, I spoke with sports psychologist Dr. Richard Lustberg about it all. Here's what he--and the Almost Naked One, the Fro, the Pickle, and the Pope--had to say.
Why do fans do this?
It's a way for the spectator to become a part of the event, and insert themselves into the situation. Thus, the emphasis is no longer about the athletes' experience but becomes more about the spectators personal experience.
So you think it's safe?
Overall, I condone fan excitement but if the situation ends up threatening the athlete, well, there has to be some intervention. Boundaries of our sporting culture have drifted over the years, so with the line becoming blurred, it's easy to cross. Think about the Phillies incident; security repeatedly asked the fan to settle down but to no avail, so they tazered the fan. They were just doing their job, protecting the athletes.
Do you think it affects the athletes' focus?
Not if the athlete has mentally prepared themselves. They are trained to hold focus.
THE ALMOST NAKED ONE
Your style was much more calculated then the rest of the chasers. You waited for the last few laps to sprint in nothing but your underwear. Why?
I like to sit back and size up an event before I decide how many clothes to take off. This particular race said "underpants" to me.
Were you surprised the Quickstep rider slapped you in the ass?
I think he was more surprised when I turned around and he realized he had just spanked a dude.
Did you beat pickle in any of the sprints?
That doesn't' sound appropriate.
I heard you are well known for being overt. What else have you done?
Actually, I'm quite shy and introverted. Occasionally, my clothes fall off at inopportune times in public, but I can't be held responsible for that.
Did you write anything on the road?
I do 3D chalk art on the side and made a drawing of the sun setting over El Capitan at Yosemite.
Did you know you'd be chasing the riders up the climb, or did you get into it during the heat of the moment?
I brought my treadmill in the car and warmed up on it for 30 minutes before the run.
Was this the first time you chased pro riders? Was it exhilarating?
Yes! It was very exhilarating! I always think that the fans are idiots for doing this when I see races on TV, but it was actually a lot of fun and didn't endanger the riders. I'm the one who ended up with a welt on my butt.
What do you do for a living, and how often do you ride?
I work in wholesale food and beverage, 18-wheelers' worth. I ride to work at least three days a week and nights and weekends recreationally.
When I asked you to stand in the the middle of the road with your pants at your ankles and pretend to be texting, why did you listen to me? I thought it was funny you called me weird.
You have an authoritative tone. I thought it best not to resist.
What made you want to chase the riders up the climb? Was that the plan all along?
I figured, why not? It's my home turf. I had brought the wig totally last minute, just before heading out, in case we got a good spot on the course. I wouldn't have ran if I didn't have the wig. I was really stoked to be out there and that gave me courage.
Did you ever beat the Pickle? Wait, that sounds bad, but you know what I mean...
I started running earlier than Alex, the Pickle, so I was slowing just as he was picking up speed. But the Pickle, he is fast. Maybe he was doping.
How many beers were in you for the first sprint?
I believe I only had one beer per lap. The beer did not make me run. I would have ran on water alone, maybe faster, even...with less nausea.
Did you wish that fro was real?
No, the fro was kind of hot, and not in a good way.
Did you know going into the event that you'd be writing things like, My other ride is your Mom!
My friend Ilya gets credit for writing that. I didn't write anything. Next time I will paint giant squirting penises like the Euros. Also, I discovered that runners are more in control of where they're going than it looks on TV. There was no chance any of us were going to interfere with the race. Also contrary to popular belief, the riders looked entertained and were never annoyed. In the end, I made it onto the front page of CyclingNews.com, twice! Alex, the Pickle, made it onto the homepage of VeloNews.com. I still have that stage on my DVR to show to friends, so it was worth it. The fro will run again.
So play this out for me. You woke up the morning of the race and thought: I am gonna slip into a pair of green tights and don my pickle outfit and start chasing riders up the climb. How much beer did you have prior to the chase?
I can't recall what I had before the race actually came around to our point along the course, but I can estimate that it was at least a few shots' worth of Tequila, two beers, and plenty of water. I don't think any of this was actually in my system by the time it all started, though. You see, I'd been there since 8 a.m., setting up the LACBC's Bike Valet next to the La Grange tent, just south of the switchback that eventually became the running of the bulls...er...pickle and other characters. I stopped drinking any alcohol by 11 and was drinking mostly water and Coke the rest of the day. Besides, having that stuff in me would've hurt my performance! The plan was simple, really: Have a great time.
How much did me egging you on to crush the rest of the maniacs chasing the riders help in your victory for each sprint?
As the race went on, and thanks in part to some egging on by a particularly awesome woman, it turned out that I sprinted up the hill eight times. With each lap, one sprint for the leaders, another for the peloton. I'm guessing with each sprint it was about 140 meters up that incline--and I was undefeated. It became a race within a race. It was all in good fun, and definitely worth it.
At what point did the event become more about you beating the other runners than it being about the riders?
It was the last day of the Tour of California and we made sure not to get in the way of the riders. We had fun with the day. Some of the riders had a great time, too. You could tell with their laughter, even in struggling at full speed up the hill.
Why a pickle?
Why not? It's a bit random, right? Not the usual "warrior" type character. No Devil, no Pope, not what people come to expect. It's a vegetable--but, better yet, it's a pickle. Cucumbers are good, but pickles are f*cking delicious! Who doesn't want a pickle?
Nice water bottle. Why the Pope?
I went to the Tour de France last year and asked the Devil if he'd take my photo, and he waved me off. So, I wanted to be the antithesis of the Devil.
Photos by Michael Darter