John Kerry: The road bike warrior

"John Kerry descended like he stole the friggin' bike from the GOP."

Published September 3, 2008 10:49AM (EDT)

Those of us who watched, attentively, John Kerry's acceptance speech at the 2004 Democratic convention and his speech at this year's convention in Denver can be excused for wondering what alternate reality we slipped into between campaign years. In 2004 he was stilted and cautious and that whole "reporting-for-duty" shtick, complete with salute, was just painful. In 2008 he delivered one of the most stinging attacks on McCain of the entire convention. He was relaxed, looked like he was having fun, and let the fur fly. I can't have been the only one to wonder how 2004 would have played out if the 2008 Kerry had, uh, shown up for duty.

Water under the bridge, yes, I know. But a link recently passed to me by one of my cycling buddies offers fresh reminders of the difference between then and now.

In 2004, Republicans seized every chance they could to mock Kerry for riding an $8,000 titanium frame Serotta road bike, contrasting it relentlessly with George Bush's more manly Trek mountain bike. Rush Limbaugh took particular glee in painting Kerry as an elitist -- hell, everyone knows road-biking is the sport most beloved of the pusillanimous French!

What I didn't realize at the time is that Kerry was no amateur weekend warrior -- the man can ride!

Here are some excerpts from an account of a ride during the convention Kerry did with Jonathan Vaughters, the director of one of the two American teams to compete in this year's Tour de France, Garmin-Chipotle (named after the team's two sponsors).

Vaughters tells the story:

What I was expecting was the normal 12 mph dawdle with the Senator wearing some ugly Bermuda shorts or whatever. However, when Senator Kerry showed up at Slipstream HQ in Boulder, man, it was a different story ...

On to the ride. Immediately he bumped shoulders with me on the first corner and thought nothing of it. Then he took the first 22 mph pull with me, side by side, for a good 10 minutes. I was somewhat impressed, for sure, but of course we still had some hills to go up. so I withheld judgement.

Chugging along at a fair clip, about halfway up to Jamestown, he had dropped half the group and started asking me for ideas on how to improve some of the anti-doping legislation he has been working to introduce into the Senate. Of course I was so excited he had interest in this area, I spoke until I was blue in the face. And he just about dropped me. Conversation at 280 watts at 6500 ft is not the easiest thing for me, much less a 65 year old guy with a job like his ...

He deftly rode out of the saddle and had quite a nice pedalling style on the steeper grades. Truly impressive.

OK, but all this said, when we got to the top, I knew his undoing was at hand. Descending is the enemy of people who have speeches to go to at night and important jobs to go to in the morning. I have years of experience of riding with sponsors and other folks with real jobs, so I know to take it easy on the descents. Else they get hurt or, at the very least, their egos get a bit bruised.

But man ... o' man ... John Kerry descended like he stole the friggin' bike from the GOP. As we hit the first switchback, he immediately put his weight back, counter-steered, and carved the corner like a pro. He put three bike lengths on me like Magnus and Stuey used to do to me back on Credit Agricole. Unreal. This guy was a pilot on the bike. Down the switchback of Lee Hill and over 90 kph and he was not phased ... one bit.

The entire post makes for a great read. Even if it does make you wonder -- if the guy has no fear on a screaming descent, why wasn't he more aggro in 2004?

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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