Lance’s last Hula. A dirt Moco Loco in Maui.

By Rob Quinn

Dateline: Kaananapali Maui. XTERRA World Championships. 2011.

Shiiiit. Moaned XTERRA Bike Course Chief Circ Toepel. A man of exacting detail and few words. These were the first swear words I had heard from this man, even after marking, running and sweeping the XTERRA Mountain Bike Courses twice.  I had spent 10 hours a day next to him. I was a walk-on volunteer at the U.S. National Championships in Ogden a few months earlier. Circ sized me up like a trail boss. 

Reminded me of Robert DuVall in Lonesome Dove.

Asset or liability? ol Circ was thinking. I told him matter-of-factly I know what I’m doing. I can handle a long day. 

credit San Diego Union-Tribune

“I’m here with my high school aged daughter Erin and we’ve been chasing points all over the West so here we are. Since the mountain bike course is closed to only competitors, and it’s too early to pop one behind the Zion curtain, I thought I’d sign up for 8 hours of torture.”

Turned out to be 10. I don’t know if you guys have ever marked a mountain bike course, but with two people that are in sync, you can really make hay. Circ and I were an efficient team. Reminded me of a sledge-hammer – pin setting team that met at Promontory Point Utah when those tracks met and connected the United States–you know if I had been around then, sometimes I wonder.  

Circ’s wife Cindi is a bit of a legend in XTERRA circles. She is a seven time World Champion. Circ runs the courses, Cindi wins the races. The two were named Mr. and Mrs. XTERRA.  Apparently, my work in Odgen was good enough to get Erin’s World Championship entry waved and I was now a member of the XTERRA staff. Cool.

My parents did not give much advice in life, but I do remember this. “Work hard and keep your mouth shut and good things usually happen”. It’s the second part of that advice I may have missed.

Back to Shiiiit.

This was the first year that XTERRA changed sides of the Island and was now based at the Ritz Carlton in Kaanapali, leaving long time host Grand Wailea. This mountain bike course was the real deal. Muddy and challenging. Some XTERRA courses are non-technical. This one was not. You needed to be a “real” mountain biker win, place or show. 

Circ and I had jerked around too long after the swim started and we needed to be on the far side of the course to open a gate that was locked until the racers approached. Shouldering large framed back backs to sweep the course we rode at such a pace that the first bystanders were perplexed thinking the first racers on the course had frame packs. Wait, what?.

Our XTERRA supplied Giant Trances had soft shocks so we were bobbing like crazy. To add insult to injury I had left my Speedplay Pedals at the condo and was riding with Speedplay cleats on Shimano pedals. This was already a weird day, and it was about to get a whole lot weirder. 

We made the gate by mere seconds. As Circ unlocked that hinge the first three pros blew by. In that were the favorites. This guy named LANCE ARMSTRONG (we’ll get to him later) Austrian Michael Weiss (eventual winner) and Spain’s Eneka Lianos. South Africa’s Conrad “Caveman” Stolz had already fallen victim to Lances blazing bike pace. Something, I’m told the experienced XTERRA pros expected and loathed. 

Circ and I looked at each other and giggled. We dodged the bullet. Can you imagine not having that gate opened during the Worlds. Holy shiiiiit.

Now we had another mission. Cut across the course on a social trail and post ourselves at the corner turn that was so sharp, so off-camber and so loose, carnage was all but promised. On a sensible level this is a closed course so somebody had to be there to pick up the pieces, and put em away. We had radios to get the play-by-play from the chopper above. Lance led at a late gate but Michael Weiss had overtaken him and was now in first. The pros had a few days to pre ride this course so this devils corner was no secret. Weiss hit the brakes just in time and barely slid through, wildly over correcting but pulling it off. We heard Lance before we saw him, breathing like a race horse on Derby day sucking in that pure sea level Maui air and pretty much putting the hurt on a bunch of Euro dudes in Man-kinis. You could tell he was shocked by the audacity of Michael Weiss.

Lance came in HOT with Enenko on his tail. Too Hot.

Lance went down full-pedal stroke. Hands on grips. A highlight worthy 20 mph, straight on the noggin. The most violent non-downhill wipeout I’ve ever seen just happened a foot away from me. Lance’s wipeout was so violent that it threw him and his bike off the trail and out of harm’s way. In seconds the rest of the field appeared. Lance was so concussed that had “The Look”

Not “The Look” but the look you have when your picture is taken at 11:50 on New Year’s Eve. His eyes were crooked as if his brain was sideways in his skull. Simply put; his shit just got knocked into next Tuesday.

Circ was the first to speak, “Where are you?”. No answer. My turn “Who are you?”. No answer. 

Instead, in the sort of a primal instinct like when the old fire engine horse hears when the bell ring, Lance instead turned his attention to the fact that others were passing him.  Just like that he fixed his handlebars and hopped on his bike, seemingly with a high level concussion and all, somehow finishing the Worlds in 22nd place. He later admitted he recalled nothing of that day. Side note: That was Lance’s second multi-sport event in 22 years. With the U.S. Championships in Ogden being the first.

Everybody has a bellybutton and an opinion on Lance. He’s one BAMF in my book. Personality and politics aside. What he did is not normal for most humans. 

That marked the beginning of end the Lance era. Soon after that he got the “Nuclear Implosion” that he said he needed during the ESPN 30/30 Special that aired in 2 parts following the epic Michel Jordan “Last Dance’ that did higher ratings than the Super Bowl in some markets. 

Dr. Irv Grossmam, I know you are dead but hopefully you like my headline. He was my journalism Professor at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire in the 80’s. A caustic New York “Larry David” type of dude before Larry David…I thought he was hilarious and brilliant. A middle-aged New Yorker, exiled from Madison Avenue teaching writing to a bunch of hung-over midwestern kids. Growing up in the household of a New Yorker I knew all ethic city terms. He’d call me the slang term “Goyim” and I knew what it meant. Basically, Yiddish for White boy. 

Irv was a headline man. Make’m clever, Make’m funny but don’t make em boring you Goyim. So what I did, is I took all the mojo from Michael Jordan’s last dance but inserted Lance and Hula since it was in Hawaii and sort of symbolized the beginning of the end. A Moco-Loco is a local Hawaiian dish. 

Let’s step back in the hot tub time machine to Odgen Utah a few months before. Ominous storm clouds were beginning to gather in the Lance camp.

XTERRA is an in-between sport. Perfect for my daughter. A good swimmer, a good runner and a great mountain biker but not the best. If you can dollar cost average these assets good things can happen in XTERRA. It’s an odd combination of odds and ends that bring in a World Championship field. 

XTERRA wanted to go from niche to mainstream…and Lance Armstrong was a horse worth betting the franchise on. He had just come back and got 3rd in his comeback Tour De France. Had set a Leadville 100 course record on the Fat Tires and he was “The Lance”. So much anticipation rode on Lance that for the Odgen event XTERRA made up day glow signs that said “Lance” and “Caveman” and “Michael Weiss” (Austrian’s don’t have nicknames I guess) and “Eneko” trying in a very cheesy way to create a prefab rivalry with some of the existing XTERRA “Stars” and The Lance. It came off with all the genuine essence of plastic surgery gone wrong; overdone and fake. Lance finished out of the top ten in Odgen, but his bike split was one of the fastest and he pushed the existing “Stars” to the next level and nobody was thanking him. The comfortable status quo had once again been blown apart by a Texan named Lance. I thought this might actually work. 

The storm clouds that gathered that day on the top of Snow Basin Ski area were a precursor for what type of shit was about to go down in Lances world. 

I had just limped in after 8 hours on the course. Picking up all the markings and hundreds of ½ used GU’s that I put in a separate garbage bag. At the end of the day your gloves and hands were soaked in GU. It’s either ego or the fact that for $500 people think that cleaning service comes with the T-shirt or there is no place to put empty’s in a Man-kini. I’d never seen so much trash on a course after 30 years of running events. Wait till Maui somebody else said in the crew. As usual we missed the post meal BBQ and awards (Erin won that one) but I did manage to commandeer two cans of Wasatch Brewery IPA’s that …only in Utah they managed to boil down to a 3.4 % content. I decided to take a load off my dogs and sit in on the press conference. First interview was Lance! Time to pop a LDSIPA coldie and sit back and enjoy the show. And what a show it would be.

The “Old Lance” shows up (really not that much difference from the “New Lance” now the contrite thing has worn off, if ESPN offered any insight into this complicated dude). The first question was a doozy “There are records that prior to your Tour de France comeback you had dealings with infamous dope Doctor Dr. Michael Ferrari. True or false”.

I immediately apologize to the people sitting in front of me, I just spit my beer out after that one.

The Old Lance gives that journalist “The Look”. Not the one he’d be giving me in a few weeks. The one he gave Marco Pantani or anybody else that crossed him.

Lance, his TEX-ass now in full rage says this press conference is over y’all and he walked out. 

I look at the XTERRA executive team and they had a look usually reserved for intestinal distress. Rome is burning. 

Feeling empowered and a little wobbly from those Utah delights I watch a scene so ironic but one that would be a visual of the future.

While most XTERRA contestants sat in the parking lot in Snow Basin in vans and pick-up trucks getting ready to eat, camp or play with the dog, Lance’s caravan of two blacked out, CIA -looking-Suburban’s cut a stunning contrast to what everybody else was driving (and two?). As the Suburban’s headed into the ominous storm clouds of a Utah afternoon it would be a proper symbol of the storm that was about to engulf the greatest bike racer of all times.

Pickin’ up those pieces

Pickin up those pieces

Putting them away*.

*Picking Up The Pieces, Widespread Panic.

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