Don’t get too excited, you perverts, this is serious shit.
One of the reasons I started blogging was because there are some pretty nasty negative blogs about Masters bike racing, and some of them have said very unkind things about people who are both excellent racers and really great people. My buddy Shawn O’Neal is one of them. Shawn doesn’t really race on a bike racing team, because he has other sponsors from his triathlon successes. That’s pretty unique at his level of racing. Most tri guys never get past Cat-5, while Shawn was bucking for a mandatory cat-2 upgrade a few seasons ago. I feel partly responsible for his transition to Masters racing. I knew that I’d known him for a while, and I think we had butted heads in duathlons at the turn of the century. I said, “Hey Shawn, how old are you?” He answered, “Well, I guess I’m 41.” So I said, “Well shit, why don’t you race Masters with us?” And he said, “Maybe I will, let me see.” Sure enough, he’s been ripping us up ever since.
Shawn has a very aggressive attacking style, he’s like Velo Force’s Kurt Russell on meth. But, you know, if you’re an independent, attacking isn’t a bad strategy. It’s up to everyone else to chase, and you may stick something solo or in a break. It’s not like you have teammates up the road.
Shawn has a great attitude, and he’s one of the guys I really like to see at the races. One of my best memories of last season was sitting on the sidelines at the Tour of STL with Shawn and Jeff Williams watching our Team Mack teammate Mark McGeen sticking in the winning break of the Cat 1-2 race. It was awesome! Mark knew he had to do something, and he buried himself for the last three laps, securing a podium finish. We were screaming like little girls! Gee, imagine that, rooting for a person who isn’t on your team. Shawn just thought it was cool that a nice old guy like Mark had a shot at a 1-2 win at the tender age of 49.
And then there were horses….
Shawn was also there for my worst memory of the 2007 race season. The Brimfield IL road race for the IL State Championship. The day started off ok. I pulled into the parking lot to see an exhuberant Marilyn Powell, one of the nicest people in all of cycling. She had just taken second in the masters race. It went downhill immediately. Something had happened. A woman pulled Marilyn aside even as we were talking. I thought nothing of it, everyone wants Marilyn, and I went to pick up my number. Cat 4 men started coming back into the parking lot. A few of them were almost crying, and talking about a horrible wreck. A woman in the women’s Cat 4 race had gone down, and it pretty much nullified the men’s Cat-4 race which followed. The guys I spoke to weren’t interested in racing after seeing whatever it was they saw. Details were sketchy.
At one point I was standing with Gary Dyer, and while we were concerned, the lack of information and the delays seemed to be wearing thin. Then, a young guy said “the woman died.” I didn’t believe it. How could he even know? He was standing there with all of us, it’s just a rumour, we all need to calm down. The kid was right.
The young woman was Beth Kobeszka, a promising young racer only 24 years old, three years older than my daughter. She was a graduate of Northwestern University and raced for the XXX team, which has a large contingent of young, lively, racers many of whom started out as bike messengers. Kobeszka was killed when she was forced over the center line and an oncoming pickup truck pulling a horse trailer at a high rate of speed hit her head on. The XXX team suffered another death in 2007 when Pieter Ombregt was killed in a crash in a training race in the Chicago area. It’ll be hard for me to even look at the XXX people this season.
We didn’t even really race the Masters race. The pack tooled around the course. There was not a single violation of the center line rule (contrary to at least one report). Shawn O’Neal put in an attack with Dave Stone late in the race. Nobody could really chase, or even tried. Shawn cramped, Dave won. At one point, Kurt Russell looked back at me and he wanted to attack and I think he knew I’d follow, but we’d have had to have crossed the center line on the rolling hills. Right where Kobeszka was killed. We could see Shawn and Dave just up the road, but it just wasn’t important anymore.
There was a memorial lap after the Masters Crit the day after Kobeszka’s death, we did the lap in shock and silence. I didn’t even care who won (we had three guys on the combined 30+ and 40+ podiums, but it was pretty hollow). After the Memorial lap, I pulled off the course before the barriers, and there they were. Right in front of me; her parents. It was pretty jarring. I couldn’t say anything. But it was too late to look away, or ride to another turn off, or act like I hadn’t seen them. I had to look them straight in the eyes, and just nod my head, and try not to cry.
Another horse nut just about took out Shawn this weekend. He was out with two training partners and some wacko redneck in a pickup truck with a horse trailer ran them over. Corky Miller (Ghisallo) and Nicole Burge suffered broken collarbones, and are lucky that is all that it was. Shawn’s report states “the driver, he/she went out of way to run us over!” Horses.