I think I’ll follow that guy

Most CBR races that I do start the same way. About twenty guys push and shove and jostle and squeeze to make sure they’re in the very first row. After the race starts, I never see any of them again.

I always lollygag at the back before the race with Big Steve. He doesn’t care where he starts. He’s more concerned about where he finishes.

There is another guy who always starts at the back of the back of the back, and then two wheels behind that. He’s at every race, and he’s one very rotund fellow. You look at him and you think, “Dude, lay off the Oreo triple stuf. You are going to have a heart attack before we get to Turn One.”

Then you notice that even though his belly is testing the physical stretch limits of his jersey, so are his massive quads. Then, if you’re still paying attention and haven’t written him off because he’s obviously pushing sixty, you notice the bands on his shirt sleeve, the rainbow ones. And you’re like, “Whaaa? World champion of what? Carrot cake?”

The race starts and it always starts fast, and my goal is always the same, every single time: Follow that guy. There are a lot of good reasons to follow him, and not just because Gibby Hatton is one of the best track racers in the history of U.S. cycling. For me, following Gibby is a lesson in humiliation, and I’m never happier than when I’m under the lash.

“What could be easier than following an oxcart?” you wonder. Well, it’s harder than it looks. For one, even though he hardly ever pedals and it looks ridiculously easy, you quickly find out that he’s the most efficient rider in the peloton by a factor of ten. That would make sense, because at his professional zenith he was the No. 2 highest-earning keirin racer on the Japanese professional circuit.

For another, Gibby doesn’t use his brakes. Whereas I’m the kind of rider who replaces his pads in between events, Gibby has been using the same set since 1982. They still have the shrink-wrap on them. This means he slingshots through the turns. While the idiots are grabbing brakes and wobbling and dodging curbs and spraying up fountains of carbon brake pad powder, Gibby is coasting at 35. Out of the turn he pedals once or twice to hold his momentum, and in the process he’s passed forty people.

There’s another great reason to follow Gibby’s wheel. It will give you your adrenaline rush for the decade. Sure, he looks like a walrus on a bike. But a more delicate, graceful, perfectly coordinated rider I’ve never seen, or imagined seeing. He floats through gaps that shut with a clang once he’s through. He edges around kooks with the gentlest shift of weight on his saddle. He creates openings by lightly tapping on someone’s thigh … and it’s the tap of authority that doesn’t say, “May I come in here?” but that says, “I’m coming in now.”

The best reason of all to be on Gibby’s wheel is that if there’s no breakaway, he’s going to put you in the top five or higher if you can come around him (you can’t). At 58 years old, by the time everyone has wheezed and gasped and struggled to the final 200 meters, Gibby will finally activate the thighs, and the acceleration is vicious, fearsome, and effective.

I’ve never been able to follow his wheel for more than two laps. It’s like following a solo by Louis Armstrong, or matching the steps of Fred Astaire, and today was no different.

After the race started, some people went fast and some went slower, some people dreamed big dreams and some people dreamed small ones, some people got tired and some people quit. Leading into the final turn three riders decided to throw all of their bike parts and bodies high into the air and then splatter painfully on the ground. With 200 meters to go, the Walrus, ever perfectly positioned, mashed hard on the pedals. It was his first real effort in the whole 60-minute race.

Two riders were ahead of him, much younger and much faster. But not cagier, and not better at using all the right effort at just the right time. Gibby nipped them at the line.




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35 thoughts on “I think I’ll follow that guy”

  1. Racecraft, fantastic to watch. Anyone who makes money in Japanese Keirins has got to have a ton of it too. Great story – thanks.

  2. Did some roller racing a couple of weeks ago and Doug, the mechanic in the back room of The Peddler in Long Branch, came this year. The strong (and weak) atomic forces were challenged to keep his body clad in his spandex kit, but was I surprised to see how fast his legs could knock out 2k on the rollers. Wow. He didn’t win, but he gave the top roller winners a run for their money.

    1. Judge the book by its cover and you’ll read a lot of bad books. And miss out on the best ones.

  3. I still remember watching him “make room” in a keirin with a particularly lovely head butt. *lol* I wish I could find that out on YouTube. It was a clip for the ages.

    1. In our leaky prostate races, he only needs to tap you lightly. Space magically appears.

  4. Yep, it’s not about the size of the Dog in the fight, it’s about the size of the fight in the Dog!


    Age and skill often beats youth and strength.
    Especially watch out for the quiet ones that try to avoid the spotlight.

  6. Thanks Seth, for introducing me to Gibby, I did some Google research impressive! it’s always good to study the masters, in a lot of ways it’s a privilege to see them at work, and if you’re lucky enough and are paying attention always a great way to learn.

  7. I started watching and learning from Gibby in 1976. I was just a kid. But he had a rainbow jersey and a fierceness about him that made you pay attention. Not to mention, a really good guy.

  8. Reminds me of the country song…”I ain’t as good as I once was but I’m as good once as I ever was” Keep winning Gibby!

  9. I love following Gibby. All of the things in the article are true. Best of all he is a good guy

    1. Well, if everything in the blog is true, you can be sure it wasn’t written by me.

      1. walrus = stuffed sausage = win! and that my friend tastes better than any shoulder you get in any final 200 meter sprunt. Serve it up Sucka!

  10. Gibby was pointed out to me by $ at just after the race. “THAT guy,” he pointed, “is a multiple World Champion.” “Him?” I said, thinking to myself, I LOVE THIS SPORT ‘CAUSE YOU JUST NEVER KNOW LOOK AT HIS THIGHS… (yes, that was all one sentence in my head.) “Yep. He just won my race.” Said $ grinning. And then he and Tim asked Gibby if he would take a photo with them. Which he did, graciously and (also) gracefully. Thank you for writing. 🙂

  11. About 10 years ago I lined up in the last row of the Cat 3s at Chris Thater. To my left was grizzled fellow who looked familiar. Sure enough it was Patrick Gelineau, who seemed really old to me when I was racing as a junior in the late ’70s. Next to him was this guy who looked like he had gone over the hill and crashed going down the back side. That, it turned out, was Gibby “The Bear” Hatton, who took risks in tandem match sprints that seemed insane even to my adolescent male brain and always managed to play the back of a miss-and-out much longer than seemed humanly possible. We all got shelled in relatively short order that day in Binghamton. It’s good to hear that Gibby has made it back up to the front.

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