The Cosmic Thump: Alto

The Cosmic Thump: Alto

Rob the Don Giannini, a made-man within the Eastern Connecticut Mafioso, nailed the first ever trifecta on the Porterfield Tire Alto World Cup Event on 2 February 2008 as he drilled not one, not even two, but all three sprints on the day and became the 11th winner of the Granddaddy of them all. The encomiums for Giannini rained down from the rafters after the 112 mile event. Not only did he win the most cherished ride of the other season, not only did he become the first Zealot in the history of the WBL to swipe all three of these surly sprints, but he also catapulted himself into the Overall Lead in WBL 2008 with his monster grab on points. The 33 points Giannini scored thrust him to the top of the 2008 leaderboard and beyond, and he may have sewn up the Overall with his spectacular display of sprinting prowess.

At the post ride press conference the two winners were swarmed by the media. I tried to get close, but because I finished 42 minutes in arrears, I was 30 rows back from the stage, drowning in a sea of stinking bodies shouting out questions and jostling for position. Potter and the Don were on the stage and looked magnificent. Don Giannini had already run a comb dipped in motor oil through his hair, as Italians are wont to do—especially those Italians who will shoot a person in the head, strangle a confidante with piano wire, or toss a friend whose wearing nothing but cement block shoes into the East River—and Potter had let loose her bands and cords and her hair was a wild, unruly shock of white, like untended vines after a year of growth. The only glitch was the Don’s choice of clothes. He had changed into black dress shoes, black silk stockings, and a bathrobe. The Don was smoking a fat cigar and flakes of ash were stuck to the front of his robe. Underneath the robe, he was completely nude. It was a look that gave me pause.

I had just about given up all hope of getting any closer to the two megastars when Giannini arched an eyebrow, stood on his tip-top-toes, and pointed into the pack of pressed together people. He was pointing at someone standing near me and cocking his neck like a parakeet. “HEY YOU,” he shouted.

I looked around. Everyone around me looked at me. I looked back at the Don.

The Don stepped over to the microphone and leaned into it and said, “YEA, YOU.” He now appeared to be pointing right at me. I looked around and the other reporters had moved away from me, leaving me ringed by empty space.

I looked back at the Don and put my right had over my heart and mouthed, “Me?” A 12 foot grin slid onto my face. I was thrilled that the winner of Alto had singled me out in this frothing sea of humanity. I took one step towards the stage, still grinning like a schoolgirl.

The Don leaned back into the microphone and said, “Yea you, ya dumbass.” Potter leaned over and chimed in, “Yea ya dumbass, we mean you.”

My blood drained into my feet. My smile evaporated. My knees knocked. I knew the Don’s mother’s maiden name was Gotti.

“Yeeeeesssssss,” I managed to whisper after a few false starts and a couple of throat clearings.

“You’re that Humble Chronicler aren’t you?” the Don said, bearing his pearly whites.

“Why yes, I am.” I took another step towards the stage. Perhaps I had misread his intentions and he was simply one of the many enamored by my writing. I have achieved a certain level of prominence among the illiterati. “You’ve read me?” I asked. I was smiling again.

“Yea, I’ve read you, ya punk.” My smile vanished again. “How would you like to end up with a horse head in you bed?” the Don asked.

“Yea, a horse head,” Potter added.

The ring of space around me widened a little more.

“Why, I’m not sure I understand, Mister Gotti.” My knees were knocking again.

Potter leaned in to the microphone. “I’ll repeat. He said, ‘How would you like to end up with a horse head in your bed?’ Are you hard of hearing, or just a dumbass?”

I could feel the sweat trickling down my back. “Why no, I hear just fine. I have 20-20 hearing. I guess I’m just a dumbass.” I smiled and shrugged my shoulders. I looked around for a corridor to bolt through, but I was hemmed in by the crowd.

“Then hear me loud and clear, you dimwitted dolt. You watch what you say about me. We’d all hate it if either you or your horse went missing. You-know-whattamean?”

“Yea, you watch what you say about him, ya dumbass,” Potter added. The two winners then high-fived and turned their attention from me and resumed answering questions from the other reporters.

“Yes, Mr. Gotti,” I managed to mumble while stumbling backwards, but I don’t think he heard me. I turned and headed for home by way of the liquor store. I needed the hard stuff roaring through my brain in order to think this through. And of course my writing is better when my hand has been steadied by the bottle. I have more confidence, and I’m willing to go out on a limb, to throw caution to the wind, to say anything about anyone. I just need to remember not to hit the send button until I’ve sobered up. I tried to think of nothing but good things to say about the Don and the Vixen. It was difficult. This would change everything. This would take some doing. When I arrived home I drained the bottle, tapped my skull with the empty glass, and proceeded to put pen to paper.

There was a thumping throughout the universe this week. Stargazers picked it up with their mountaintop stethoscopes—high altitude observatories. Astral observers deduced that the celestial thumps must be gamma rays and they turned their telescopes toward the starry firmament. Gamma rays emanate from deep space, those nebulous corners of the cosmos we least understand. Scientists believe that gamma rays herald a supernova—the catastrophic, cataclysmic collapse of a star. A supernova is the most powerful event in the universe since the Big Bang. It the autophagous annihilation of the self, and it burns as bright as a billion stars. Most of us are oblivious to the fact that these fiery furnaces are blazing above our heads, and gamma rays, like a dinner bell, are augers of what will follow. But I intuited this heavenly thump presaged an earthly conflagration instead of a celestial one: The Porterfield Tire Alto World Cup was on the horizon, and riders would implode during Alto with at least as much fury as a supernova. I hoped to have front row seats for all the fireworks so my ride story could be based in fact, not fiction. I try very hard not to simply make stuff up. I’m not always successful.

A bevy of strong men and women came from high and low, and far and wide, following the cosmic thump to its epicenter, Sunshine Cycles in downtown Athens, to cross swords on Alto. Last year’s winner Cleve Blackwell was on hand along with Trinidad’s Sportsman of the Year, Emile Abraham the Tobagonian Torpedo. Present and accounted for were well known hellhounds, hammerheads, and pedal banging pedagogues from many of the dark blotches on the globe: Scotty Edge, Andy Guptil, Ricky Aqua Fuqua, Big Jon Atkins, Chris Pic, Thomas Brown, Travis Hagner, Whit Clifford, Dustin Mealor, Madeleine Puissant, Joey Rosskopf, Matt Schectman, Rob Simpson, Tim Stone, Dan Vallancourt, and David Winston were just a handful of the hammering fools who signed in for the epic adventure. And the WBL was proud to have them all in attendance, every last one, except perhaps Jay Wansley. The group’s overall Average Reputation Rating (ARR), which was already hovering at an all time low, plummeted even further down the scale with J-Bird’s presence. But all’s well when the sun is shining, so the pack clicked its heels twice, rubbed a lucky rabbit’s foot, threw salt over its shoulder, begged for forgiveness from the powers that be, revved its engine, raised anchor, hoisted the Jolly Roger, hid J-Bird Wansley somewhere in the middle of the melee, and set sail for Alto. After two weeks of false starts, the task was finally at hand.

Alto is famous for not only what it is, but also what it isn’t. During the trek to Alto a Zealot won’t see highways choked with cars, shoebox-shaped strip malls, flashing neon signs, fast food joints, manicured lawns, fancy car dealerships, name brand convenience stores, billboards with beautiful people, boutiques, nor bike lanes. The route to Alto drives a spike straight through the heart of the rural South. This is the land of hard knocks and rough times. The true songs of the South—the Blues, gospel, mountain folk—are born of desperation and despair in the face of insurmountable obstacles. This is also the locale of sideshow freaks and carnival barkers, hucksters and flimflam men, plantation homes and haunted houses, moonshine and Coca-Cola, red-eye gravy and chicken mull. Only the South could produce icons like Elvis, Flem Snopes, Muddy Waters, Dolly Parton, and the banjo picking boy in Deliverance. This is the land and this is the lore from which Alto is carved. Such is the aura and such is the prominence of this mythical ride.

The path to Alto runs due north from Athens and passes beside both the best and the worst these parts have to offer: rolling pastures with galloping horses; green grass fields with stand-still cows; falling down barns eaten over with ivy; tin roof chicken houses dug into a hill; country stores with benches out front; yapping dogs running hog wild; fallow fields of churned up dirt; barbed wire fences lining the road; hawks on poles casting a curious eye; immense stands of barren hardwoods and green pines; vultures picking out the innards of road kill; birds echeloning in a V headed back home; rusted out cars growing vines out the roof; beauty shops in mobile homes down a dirt road; and the occasional farmer on a John Deere throwing up a hand. This rugged route over this hardscrabble land of fiercely independent folks is good for one’s soul. For all yall Yankees Zealots, it’s a window to the past.

About 20 miles into the day’s peregrinations, the group was met by sirens and flashing lights and treated to a police escort through Commerce. The pack cruised into Commerce on the south side of town, rocketed down Main Street, and flew out the other end. Every intersection was blocked by Commerce City squad cars with flashing blue lights. It was if Lynard Skynard was driving through town in a Ford truck with Elvis’s hound dog in the cab. The Don was briefly terrorized when he saw the flashing lights and the guns and the badges on the officers. “I thought it was a hit and I was about to pop the cop with a cap,” the Don said after the ride. “I mean, geeez Loueze, ya-know-whattamean?” When the Don spoke he was shrugging his shoulders and touching his left ear to his shoulder as if he had a nervous tick. He was holding his hands in front of him as if he was chopping the air. His feet were about a foot apart.

“I was reaching into my back pocket for my bazooka, ya-know-whattamean?” the Don said and slapped Hagner on the side of the arm. “Hey, ya-know-whattamean?” He slapped Hagner again. Then he leaned way back on his heels and laughed said, “That copper don’t know how close he come to getting his bell rung, ya-know-whattamean?” He slapped Hagner on the side of the arm again. Hagner rubbed his arm and looked at the spot. The Don looked over at Carney and said, “Hey, you tryin to give me a heart attack or something, you-know-whattamean?” The Don was laughing so hard he snorted and blew out snot. He pinched his nose with a used tissue he had in his bathrobe’s pocket, then opened the wad and looked at it, and said, “Geeeez, whatza matta wid me, you-know-whattamean?” He thrust the open tissue towards a reporter. “Take a look at this headcheese I just blew out my nose,” the Don cackled. The perspicacious Reader may realize that couth and refinement mean little to the members of the Mafioso as well as the organization at large. The Don put the tissue back in his bathrobe pocket. “Waste not, want not, ya-know-whattamean?” he snorted.

At the 42 mile point the pack reached Catfish Corner and the eponymous restaurant bearing the same name which specializes in fried catfish and hushpuppies, homemade tartar sauce, grits smothered in butter, and iced tea. (Open only on weekends.) With a left hand turn onto the Yonah Homer Road, the group flew down the 1 mile corridor to O My Gawd Gulch. Crossing the bottom of the gulch the Whistler blew in terror: The Alto Triple Stair Step was at hand.

Heading up the first bump of the Triple Stair Step, the smallest, the group kept the pace at a reasonable tempo; but once the group headed towards the second hump, a much nastier pitch than the first, Alex Hagman unhitched his wagon and headed for the hills. The aggressive Hagman pushed out to a dangerous 10 second gap as he hit the bottom of the second hummock. He stood and stomped, his slender arse bobbing to the beat.

Behind Hagman the pace ratcheted upwards on the second climb, but still stayed within a temperate zone. But after cresting the steep part of the second hump, though the road is less severe, it does not level out. The road continues to angle upwards for another quarter of a mile. The uphill slant of this part of the roadway puts many riders in no-man’s land: The big ring is too much and the little ring is not enough. But the quandary is settled every time when the wiry climbers in the bunch go to the front and press down on the accelerator. This is payback time, karmic justice in full swing. All a fat boy can do is shift to the big ring, hug the handlebars, and pray for rain. Or simply cut the chord and tumble out the back.

Over the top of the second climb, after suffering up the quarter-of-a-mile incline to the crest, the group briefly descended and the third monster entered into the riders’ field of vision—a black thread falling out of the sky. This is the beast of the Triple Stair Step. If the Alto Triple Stair Steps were three sisters, the third would be the one kept chained in the attic. This torturous incline tops out at 17% and separates the wheat from the chaff. The third hill is too steep on the lower slope to draft so a rider can rely on nothing but his or her own getty-up and go. There is no place to hide on the third hill, and if climbing is a weakness, a rider will be stripped to the bone by the buzzards. Hang with the herd or death will quickly follow. This hill has caused quite a few lesser lads to give up cycling for good.

As the group began its assault on the monstrous third hill, Hagman was brought back into the lair. The group of 30 stretched thin on the steep slope and snapped in two. After the 3 minute ball busting prayer session up the most severe section of the hill, 15 riders moved clear. Behind, the hill was littered with bodies cartwheeling backwards. But like the second hill, the third also continues slanting upwards in a most malevolent manner. But the second section of the third hill is vicious. It slants upward for nearly another mile, and the grade is roughly 7%. It’s like an Irish River dancer rapping out a tune inside one’s skull. A rider’s lungs feel as if they’ve swelled with water and his legs have filled with sand. The strongest riders in the bunch were in the front group of 15 and it contained all the favorites: Giannini, E. Abraham, Hagner, Hagman, Pic, Big Jon, Clingenpeel, Thomas Brown, Guptill, Shectman, Vaillancourt, Pete Connell, Andy Brackett, and Ryan Graham to name a few.

After the four mile climb up the Triple Stair Step, the 15 front runners took a right hand turn onto the Old Cornelia Highway (it was 3 miles to the Alto City limit sign, 100 samolies (cold, hard cash), a plethora of points, and 5 days of fame) and hammered down the road. 20 seconds later 5 more turned right, followed by another group of 6 at another 10 seconds back. The front group put the pedal to metal and kept it there. The 2nd and 3rd groups connected, but could never came closer than 20 seconds to the first 15. At the front of the lead group, passing the prison with 1 mile to go, four daredevils bolted away off the front in a bold move for the line.

Hagman, Schectman, Hagner, and Clingenpeel opened up a 5 second gap when they attacked up Prison Hill. They quickly fell into formation and opened up the throttle. This was a dangerous move so close to the line. Behind the line pulled taut. The alarm bells clattered and panic set in. The four were captured with half a mile to go. (2 points to the Four Horseman for aggressive attacking.)

The group passed under the bridge and the veterans of this sprint, waited-waited-waited, then-bam, Big Jon hit it and motored away just as the green sign came into view. The only other one quick enough on the draw to even respond to Big Jon’s lightning strike was the Don himself. The Don latched on to Johnny Boy’s wheel and squeaked by him at the line. Thomas Brown scorched across for 3rd with Ice-Pic coming across in 4th. On the ladies side, Madeleine Puissant danced up the hill to claim the points.

Team Type 1 Alto City Limit Sprint:

  1. The Don (10 pts.)
  2. Big Jon (8)
  3. Pic (6)
  4. Schectman (4)
  5. Pete Connell (2)
  1. Big Jon (5)
  2. Andy Brackett (4)
  3. Ryan Graham (3)
  4. Scott Thomas (2)
  5. John Best (1)
  1. M. Puissant (5)
  2. K. Potter (4)

After refueling in Alto, the pack rocketed down Apple Pie Ridge, topping out at 60 miles per hour on the fall off the wall of the descent near the bottom of the slope. (See Tale of the Tape link for all ye in disbelief.) The group then began a fierce section of rollers leading to the final nail in the coffin, Crackback Hill. The 10 miles leading to Crackback are stuffed fat with baby monsters, and after 70 miles of thigh twisters, these babies began to tear the stuffing out of one’s legs.

Crackback Hill rose up at the 75 mile mark. The Whistler screamed in agony and off the group scampered. Crackback Hill is a 600 meter back breaker straight up a beanstalk. The grade is a constant 12%. On the brutal run to the top, the Don, Emile, and Schectman moved clear and sprinted for an invisible line with the Don edging out Abraham and Matty S. for the win. Ryan Graham took top honors for the Cat 3’s, and M. Puissant tapped up the hill the swiftest again for the ladies.


  1. The Don (5)
  2. Emile (4)
  3. Schectman (3)
  1. Ryan Graham (3)
  2. B. Bryant (2)
  3. R. Simpson (1)
  1. Puissant (3)
  2. Potter (2)

After Crackback the reward came. The next 20 miles are gently undulating hills that allowed the pack to motor along without taxing its engine too terribly. As always, there are a couple of mildly discomfiting climbs, but mostly there are fast flowing sections of roadway unencumbered by obstacles. This section is the calm before the storm. It is a brief reprieve. As such, it is a much cherished section, like the last meal of a soon hanged man.

Climbing into Commerce, the Zealots were again greeted by the boys in blue, but this time they were out in full force and affection. The boys in blue showed their genuine love for the WBL and gave the Zealots a 21 gun salute with all the bells and whistles. Traffic stopped still while the pack drove through town, following the flashing baby blues of the patrol cars in front. The boys in blue escorted the pack from the front and the rear, as well as blocked off the intersections as they ushered the pack safely through town, dropping the Zealots back off on the south side. After waves, cheers, and saluds! from all, the group left Commerce behind and prepared for the final assault. The Alto Attack Zone was closing in. 96 miles in to an already murderous day, the group turned left—east—on Steep Dog Road and entered the portal to the final Kill Box of the day.

Whit Clifford immediately flew the coop in a proven move. Cliff opened up a gap on the steep descent, and punched it up the other side—the cantankerous slope of Steep Dog Hill. The pack behind kept its head up the slope and climbed the hill at a reasonable pace. Cresting the 200 meter climb Travis Hit Man Hagner leapt away from the pack.

Hagner caught and passed Cliff before the right hand turn without slowing down to even offer condolences to a dying man. Hagner took the right hand turn 1.5 miles into the 9 mile Attack Zone, looked to his right to size up his gap, pulled back on the reins, and motored away. He flew down the next hill without even glancing behind.

Several shot off the front, including Joe Edridge, trying to make contact with Hagner, but the group would have none of it and quickly ran all chasers down. But Hagner kept pressing his luck at the front, refusing to concede. All breakaway artists know that at this point, this is a test of fortitude: Who will be the first to crack?

As the pack took the left hand turn onto Seagraves Mill Road, Nashville’s resident pedal banger Jason Guzak attacked up an incline and connected with Hagner. Behind, the pack watched in stunned silence. Hagner and Guzak, both recognizing this golden opportunity, fell into formation and buried themselves in pain. The two escapees moved out to a 15 second gap on Seagraves Mill. As they approached the final uphill tilt in the road on Seagraves Mill the entire world knew that if they could make it to the top of this quarter-of-a-mile climb, it was only 3 fast miles to the line. The win may hinge on this hill—it often times does.

The hill pitches upwards at the top, and the two were straining every last ligament to crest the climb first. The pack behind smelled blood and pounced on the two though over the top. The two attack artists stayed away for nearly 4 miles, but they were run down approaching the final right hand turn onto the Nowhere Road by a rampaging herd of wild buffalos. Alto was on the line. 40 were still left at the front fighting for the win.

Nowhere Road is a fast rolling section of roadway, but it didn’t stop the attacks. Guptil, Blackwell, and Vallaincourt all made valiant runs toward the line. But the speed built into this stretch of roadway is too fast. This section of pave is a sprinters’ paradise. This is a section of roadway that can be ridden at 35 miles an hour for over two miles. Even Hercules can’t escape the grasp of a group with that type of bloodlust. There was no chance for a break to succeed at this point. The sprinters moved to the fore.

With 500 meters to go the group was ripping to the line. With 300 meters to go, suddenly, Emile Abraham was pinned in—Giannini bolted for the line. But Giannini went from 200 meters out—he may have gone too soon, the pack was flying now, chomping at his backside like a gang of pit bulls. But the Don’s legs continued to build speed and he kept the accelerator penned to the floor and surged away for the win, pedaling all the way over the line just to make sure. The speedy young Turk Thomas Brown, another one to keep ye eye on, held on for 2nd and Abraham let off the gas and took 3rd. Ricky Aqua man Fuqua, in an incredible day for the Vets, finished off the sprint in 5t place overall. Potter ripped it up in the final Attack Zone and stole the show for the ladies. Sauld! Well done, Ladies and Gents.


  1. Giannini (15)
  2. T. Brown (12)
  3. E. Abraham (9)
  4. Man (6)
  5. Ricky Fuqua (3)
  1. Ricky Fuqua (10)
  2. Ryan graham (8)
  3. B. Bryant (6)
  4. R. Simpson (4)
  5. Atkins (2)
  1. Potter (15)
  2. Puissant (12)

With two to go, the Don may have WBL 2008 in the bag. But Toccoa is on tap, and along with it, another day with big points. As we take our leave of the Don and the Vixen, they’re still on the stage, smoking cigars, drinking bottles of champagne, answering questions, and cackling, completely oblivious to the fiery inferno raging above their heads.