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Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood: ‘Breaking Away’ with Bart Simpson

  • By Neal Rogers
  • Published Jan. 14, 2004

By Neal Rogers

Damn, this guy is pretty good

Photo: Newsweek

Remember that scene in the classic 1979 film “Breaking Away” when the main character — Dave, the naïve young cyclist — was racing against the Italian Cinzano squad he so admired? Remember how, at first, Dave was thrilled to be riding with them, even challenging them, until one of the Italians put a frame pump through Dave’s wheel and the young blond-headed kid ended up in a ditch while the darker-haired “pros” rode away laughing?

Well anyone who knows that scene well and also watched “The Simpsons” on Sunday night probably recognized a quick parody of “Breaking Away” featuring Bart and the neighborhood bullies, but for all those that didn’t catch it, I’ll try to fill you in on the show’s first real homage to bicycle racing.

The somewhat disappointing episode focused on Homer’s failed attempt to build a warrior robot in order to earn Bart’s respect, but it began with great promise, as Bart and his pal Milhouse tricked out Bart’s BMX bike with a “Psycho Cycle” conversion kit.

Bart’s attempt to look cool backfired, however, when he encountered a group of “older boys” on geared bikes. Some tough riding commenced, but the thuggish teenagers proceeded to drop poor Bart on the heretofore-unseen Alpe d’Springfield with but a few clicks of the almighty shifter.

“First gear, boys,” one of the punks said to the other, and off they went.

Frustrated, Bart intentionally sabotages his BMX bike to force Homer to replace it with a new “ten-speed” — (remember those?) — a promise Homer swore he’d deliver on once the “kid bike” stopped working. So Homer took Bart on a spot-on trip to the local bike shop, where he allowed Bart to pick out a beauty. Only instead of paying the shop owner to assemble the boxed bike, Homer insists he can do the job himself.

D’oh!

The following morning, Bart could hardly contain his joy as he marveled over his new ride. He immediately took off down the road, still wearing his pajamas, when he spotted the older boys out for one of their “group rides.” Here, on an ordinary neighborhood street in Springfield, America, the “Breaking Away” homage began.

Like Dave, Bart joined the intimidating group. He found he could hold the pace, and even challenged the far more experienced riders, to their chagrin. Finally, Bart made his move and launched a fierce attack, only to watch his front wheel roll away from him, followed by his handlebars and, subsequently, the entire bicycle, the product of Homer’s shoddy craftsmanship. And like Dave, poor blond-headed Bart ended up in a pile on the side of the road.

Although it was only the first five minutes of the half-hour program, it was great to see the show’s writers give a nod to both to an Academy Award-winning film and the all-important neighborhood street sprints that bike riders across the world grew up with. Has anyone else out there watched a front wheel roll away from his or her bike? I know I have, while in the air launching a BMX street jump when I was 8-years-old, and it was horrifying. And memorable. Double D’oh!

Good stuff. I haven’t yet been able to locate an image from FOX TV, but if and when I do I’ll post it here in my column.

And while I’m trumpeting the vast wasteland that is television, I feel I should give due respect to Comedy Central’s news-parody “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” which cracks me up on a nightly basis.

What’s that, jumping on the bandwagon, you say? Okay, true, Stewart was the cover story for Newsweek’s “Who’s Next 2004″ issue just last week, but I’ve been following Stewart for a little longer than that. His 1993-95 run on MTV’s “The Jon Stewart Show,” was hilarious and, looking back, about ten years ahead of its time.

In the Newsweek piece, mention is made that Stewart has emerged victorious from battles with insomnia and hypochondria and has cut out drinking, smoking and drugs from his lifestyle. Whatever the reason, he’s really hit his stride as of late. As in cycling, it’s amazing to see a guy on top form, and these days Stewart is the best late-night talk show host on TV. He’s clearly the best “Weekend Update” styled anchor of all-time, and he’s never been a “Saturday Night Live” cast member. If you haven’t seen this show, you’re missing out.

***

It looks as though the “relaxed-season” is just about coming to a close here at VeloNews. With copy for issue #2 (featuring the world cyclo-cross championships and our international road season preview) beginning to come together, and the follow-up to last year’s first-ever VeloNews Buyer’s Guide following, there’s certainly not a lot of idle time around these parts.

And that Buyer’s Guide is looking pretty fancy, I must say — and I can say this, because I’ll have very little to do with its production; tech editors Andrew Juskaitis and Lennard Zinn can take most of the credit for that love child. Myself, I’m getting geared up for some time on the road. Later this month I’ll head out to Southern California to attend the team presentations of Health Net — held in the same San Diego hotel where my 10-year high school reunion was hosted — the T-Mobile women’s squad and the U.S. Postal Service Cycling Team presented by Berry Floor and brought to you by Nike, Subaru, Trek, Visa, um, Comcast, and, uh, Robin Williams.

Then it’s on to Malaysia for the Tour de Langkawi, my first international excursion working for VeloNews. And with two North American teams bring big contenders for the overall, it promises to be an interesting 10 days of racing. Health Net, presented by Maxxis: The Sims Bustin’ Out has accepted its invitation and will bring a tough-to-beat roster of strongmen Gord Fraser, Greg Henderson, Michael Sayers and Brice Jones set to contest sprints and block wind for overall contenders Danny Pate, John Lieswyn and Scott Moninger. Wow. If any combination of those three GC riders is on form, watch out.

In 2003 a still-unsigned Fraser rode for the Canadian National team, battling it out in the sprints before heading back to the States to join Sayers at Health Net. This year Canadian National returns with two-time world cross-country champion Roland Green, who is contesting the event both for training and to aid Canada’s chances of keeping its top-30 status in the UCI’s nation rankings; currently, Canada is ranked 29th.

As long as our neighbor to the north stays within the top-30 countries it can qualify up to three riders in the Olympic road race. Otherwise, only a rider in the top 300 individual rankings — in this case, U.S. Postal’s Michael Barry — would be allowed to compete.

Green will be backed in Malaysia by seven-time national time trial champion Eric Wohlberg and Wohlberg’s former Saturn teammate Charles Dionne as well as national road champ Dominique Perras, Cory Lange (Marco Polo) and a couple of off-road scrappers, Chris Sheppard and Peter Wedge. Green won the King of the Mountains jersey last year and finished fourth after an untimely puncture during stage 6.

Not long ago I spoke with Wohlberg — fourth in the time trial at Langkawi last year — about the feeling within the Canadian National squad. “As it stands right now we’re going to have to maintain our country’s UCI status,” Wohlberg said. “We’re well aware of the selection procedure. Only Michael Barry has the opportunity to earn UCI points with regularity, so there’s a good chance we’ll have a national team to go to the Wellington Tour in New Zealand and then head straight to Langkawi.”

***

For those who are dying to see some racing on TV, OLN has announced it will air the 2003 Montezuma’s “spend-all-night-roaming-up-and-down-crazy-cold-mountains-at-14,000-feet-but-you-won’t-finish-because-no-one-ever-has” Revenge on February 11 at 12 o’clock noon EST. If you’ve never seen the footage of this race, it’s pretty unbelievable. It was voted the “World’s Worst Race” — it even says so on the race’s Web site.

Still trying to decide on whether or not that cable bill is worth it? If so, you might want to check this out: OLN has also posted its preliminary 2004 cycling schedule .

I say “preliminary” for a few reasons. First of all, because last year the network provided sporadic coverage of domestic events — i.e. the USPRO championships, San Francisco, the Sea Otter Classic — that was unscheduled until just a few weeks before their respective airdates.

Secondly, you might notice that both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España do not have “(Live Daily Coverage)” next to their listings. I have contacted OLN on this matter and have not yet received a response as to whether this is an oversight or if the network is discontinuing it’s daily live coverage of two out the three great Tours.

Anyhow, here it is:
OLN’s 2004 [preliminary] Cycling Schedule:

Paris Nice (Live Daily Coverage)
Criterium International
Paris-Roubaix
Fleche Wallonne
Liège-Bastogne-Liège
Tour of Romandie (Live Daily Coverage)
Giro d’Italia
Classique Des Alpes
Tour de Suisse (Live Daily Coverage)
Tour de France (Live Daily Coverage)
Vuelta a España
Paris Tours
Tour du Faso

***

The Atlanta-based Jittery Joe’s cycling team, also known as “The Bean Team” for the sponsorship of an Athens, Georgia, coffee roaster, has released its 2004 roster. (Jittery Joe’s Cycling Coffee is an organic, shade-grown coffee and all proceeds go straight to the Jittery Joe’s Pro Cycling Team.)

Last year saw Jittery Joe’s spend the season somewhere in between the first- and second-tier D-3 teams, with a KOM award at the T-Mobile International in San Francisco courtesy of Colombian Cesar Grajales. Jeff Hopkins — the young Australian sprinter with numerous NRC podium finishes to his name — will be back as well, along with Jonny “El Gato” Sundt, Chad Hartley, Jake Rosenbarger and Jesse Lawler. Back on the roster will be former Mercury rider Chris Pic, who raced for 7UP-Maxxis in 2003. Jittery Joe’s will also be working with the Roswell Velo team to bring up young riders through the ranks. Known as the AG Edwards-Nalley Lexus team, they will be led by former national collegiate cyclo-cross champion Jed Schneider. Also on the development team will be Tim Henry, Brian Bibens, and John Murphy. These young riders will be racing with Jittery Joe’s at select events.

Cesar Grajales

Photo: Jittery Joe’s

2004 Jittery Joe’s roster:
Jeff Hopkins
Cesar Grajales
Jesse Lawler
Jonny Sundt
Chris Pic
Jake Rosenbarger
Chad Hartley

Alternate riders:
Jed Schneider
Brian Bibens
John Murphy
Tim Henry

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Neal Rogers

Neal Rogers

Neal Rogers is editor in chief of Velo magazine and VeloNews.com. An interest in all things rock 'n' roll led him into music journalism while attending UC Santa Cruz, on the central coast of California. After several post-grad years spent waiting tables, surfing, and mountain biking, he moved to San Francisco, working as a bike messenger, and at a software startup. He moved to Boulder, Colorado, in 2001, taking an editorial internship at VeloNews. He never left. When not traveling the world covering races, he can be found riding his bike, skiing, or attending a concert.

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