“King of the Mountains” used to only be a TdF designation. Now it’s Stravanese for “fastest dude on a particular stretch of road.” QOM, in obeisance to gender-equality-and-making-sure-women-have-a-reason-to-use-Strava, is “fastest chick on a particular stretch of road.”
But this leaves out the designation that most of us acknowledge as worthiest of all, the force of nature. The FON.
What’s a FON? A FON is a rider, not necessarily a physically gifted one, who dominates through sheer force of will. The FON doesn’t really care about anything except finding the most extreme edge of the hurt envelope, and pushing it until there’s no one left who can follow. Whatever else a FON is, they’re hard. They suffer, and they don’t give a rat’s ass about the weather or the seasons or the terrain.
A FON can be friendly, or not. What distinguishes them is that, once the race begins, they are pitiless. “Nichts wird geschenkt.” Sometimes masked with humility, sometimes dripping with arrogance, a FON will never show mercy, though he may shake your hand and congratulate you at the end on your impressive second place. Behind him.
Here’s my personal list, based on experience and observation:
1. Jeff Fields. No apparent physical aptitude for road racing. Won countless crits and road races over a twenty-year stretch through sheer force of will and refusal to countenance losing to his inferiors, which was everyone. Smart, canny, wrung blood from turnips, and was always unwilling to concede defeat, even when beaten. The first and toughest and bad-assedest FON I ever met.
2. Roger Worthington. Less apparent physical aptitude even than Fields. Unbelievable beast and hater of losing. Wins at all costs. Outsprints the faster guy, outclimbs the billygoat, out time-trials the specialist, chases down and crushes the starry-eyed youth even in the on-legged decrepitude of his dotage. Runs on venom and bile. Just when you think you have him in a choke hold, you realize he’s got you by the balls.
3. Thurlow Rogers. You’ll never get to know him on the bike because he rides everyone off his wheel. Decades of wins in every facet of road cycling. Rides his bike to annihilate and destroy. Doesn’t understand anything except “full throttle,” as in “throttle the competition.” If you’ve raced against him, he’s beaten you. If you’ve beaten him, chances are good there was a deal.
4. Scott Dickson. First American victor and record holder for number of Paris-Brest-Paris wins. If this doesn’t mean anything to you, Google it, fool. Scott is the quintessential hardman. Trains in Iowa. Year round. Talks cheerfully to you while he gradually whittles you down into a puddle of quivering meat. Pardons his victims, but only after they’re dead. Drinks his whiskey straight. Has ridden a hundred miles every day, rain, shine, or snow, since before your father was born.
5. Michael Marckx. Surfer-runner-triathlete-madman-cyclocrosser who believes that the only effort worth putting out is the total one. Despises all placings other than first. Doesn’t believe in “moral victories.” Pain is proof that whatever you’re doing is working. Excruciating pain is proof that everyone else has been dropped. Satisfied only when everything has been perfectly executed, or you’ve been ground down into slop.
6. Greg Leibert. Strangely happy and friendly guy who indiscriminately obliterates his competition. His only mode is attack. Solo wins. TT wins. Breakaway wins. Never takes the easy path, never calculates the safe route, hits and hits and hits and hits until the wall comes tumbling down. You’re the wall.
7. Old Dude Who I’ve Sworn Never to Mention by Name on my Blog. New to cycling, is a methodical killing machine. Listens, imitates, studies, learns. Cabinet full of trophies in his third year of racing. Not interested in your excuses, or more importantly, in his. First Supermaster ITT, silver. Relentless. Gets in your head. Friendly on the outside, black widow beneath the veneer.
8. John Morstead. Weird engineer dude who destroyed everyone in Texas in the 80’s and 90’s and rejected an offer from 7-11 because he thought cycling wasn’t as good a career as engineering. So in addition to being a FON he’s smart. Son was a kicker for the Saints. Picked up bike racing after a 20-year layoff, showed up on his steel steed and rode away from the field. FON + fuck you, posers.
9. Dean Buzbee. Words don’t do justice to this battle-axe. Cycling motto is “Just hammer.” Doesn’t care when, where, or with whom. Just hammers and wins. Terrain, weather, season, all irrelevant. Just hammers. Showed up at the Texas state time trial one year and won the whole shooting match without a shred of aero anything, anywhere.
10. Andy Coggan. Somewhat unhinged scientist power-geek who, when he races, wins. Just like that. Sets records. Shatters egos. Redefines an entire sport with his research on human performance. Dimly aware that the rest of the world regards him as a cross between Godzilla and Enrico Fermi. More interested in understanding performance than demonstrating it, thank Dog.
Who’d I leave off?
*Updated list…after receiving some suggestions and thinking about it a little more, I’ve added the following:
11. Rahsaan Bahati. I left him off the list the first time around because he has so much natural talent and, worse than that, because he’s such an incredibly nice guy. Then I considered that virtually everything he’s achieved, he’s done without the help of a team, on the pure force of his indomitable will to win…that he came from one of the toughest neighborhoods in America…and most of all, that when it comes to racing no one ever gives him so much as a millimeter…yeah, Force of Nature for sure.
12. Christian Walker. Left him off the list because he also seems like a guy who produces due to incredible natural ability. In the words of Knoll, “Chris Walker can put you in the snot bubble with him and park you in misery until something dies in you. He merits a mention.” Part of being a FON is having some quality that’s not explained by talent, skill, training, or hard work. It’s the unwillingness to concede defeat, and the character defect of hitting and hitting and hitting, no matter how big the odds, until you win. Knoll and G$ say he’s a Force of Nature? That’s good enough for me.
13. Kevin Phillips. Hammer? Yep. Winner? Yep. Won’t even consider putting you on his master’s pursuit team unless you’re willing to cough up blood and commit to making the top step? Yep. Spiritual leader of all that is cycling in the South Bay? Yep. All-round badass on the bike, friend, inventor of the Man Tour? Yep, yep, and yep. Force of Nature? Yep there, too.
14. John Wike. In many ways, John is the ultimate FON. Looks like he should be a doughnut salesman, not a bike racer. Has no particular suitability for cycling that anyone would recognize…until you see him ride. Takes huge risks and almost always pulls it off, i.e. has the biggest balls out there, nutsack covered with a layer of hair and hide that is thicker than an elephant’s ass. Holds the downhill speed record on Tuna Canyon. Bubbles inside with a thirst for conquest, rides with passion and panache, glory and guts.
15. Lance Armstrong. Uh, no. He’s a genetic freak. Ask Eddy Coyle, Ph.D.
16. Eddy Merckx. When you’re the greatest cyclist in the history of the sport, you don’t need to be on some stupid list dreamed up by a Cat 3 blogger. Same for anyone who’s ever won [insert name of badass European classic/stage race here].