Riding is Life


RIP Chris Baldwin, a brilliant and curious cycling mind

In memoriam of a consummate professional and a good friend.

Have you ever met somebody who seemed to operate on a higher plane than the rest of us? Somebody whose brain moved quicker, more nimbly, soaking up more information before spinning it all around like a pizza chef spinning dough and releasing it back to the world for our collective benefit?

That was Chris Baldwin. His is not a name that will be particularly familiar to most readers, as his job was to direct the limelight, not sit in it, and he did his job well. He was a press officer, first for Team Type 1, then for Astana, and finally for Novo Nordisk (TT1’s successor) until 2017. He was also a reporter, covering oil-related beats and utilizing his fluency in Russian. He spoke seven languages; he seemed to pick them up as if by accident. He was an American living in Amsterdam. He loved his dog Cash, who was by his side when he passed away in his sleep on April 12th, a heart attack taking his life at 52. He was weird and wonderful and, for close to a decade, an integral part of the English-speaking bit of pro cycling’s great mobile circus.

He was the only man I know who could even begin to humanize Astana for a “Western” audience.

Sometimes he’d text me a paragraph in the middle of a bike race, stream-of-consciousness stuff, and I’d have to read it three or four times just to pick up what he was laying down. He drew lines between things that, to me, had no business having lines drawn between them. But the lines were there; the rest of us just couldn’t see them until he did the drawing. He described Arnaud de Lie as nine pounds of sausage in an eight-pound sack and I cannot unthink the perfection of that phrase. I was utterly fascinated by his mind.

Chris Baldwin, left, as I remember him. Always nearby, never in the center of the shot. Photo: Cor Vos

He spent three days trying to convince me to interview Tanel Kangert during the 2013 Giro, where I was on assignment for VeloNews. He said the kid was good, ready for a breakthrough, about to do big things and I should be among the first English interviews. He insisted. He grabbed me by the arm and pulled me under the extendable fencing and I acquiesced, pulling my recorder out on a warm morning in Valloire. Tanel sat in the door of the Astana bus and told me about Estonia, his junior years, and that he was going to shoot for the break that day. He did, finishing a close second to Benat Inxausti, and I had the almost-man story thanks to Chris.

He texted me two months ago. The profile on his WhatsApp is a photo of Cash. He said he loved what we were trying to do. I told him we were going to kick off a newsletter soon, asked if he’d be interested in writing for it. It’ll be a news roundup, but with an edge, I said. Bland is the enemy. Jonny Long is developing the structure. Did he want to write up something as a sort of test? Just watch a day of racing and news and punch up his thoughts. Intake a day’s worth of bike-related data, spin up that pizza dough, and send over whatever came out of it. Don’t hold back, we said.

He sent over three of them. Jonny and I loved them. They were a hair on the chaotic side, whirlwinds of analysis, effortlessly and sometimes breathlessly weaving fact and news with an unmistakable voice. He texted me after sending them and said, “These are dialed up to 11, I figure you probably want more like 8 or 9.” Yeah, probably. But I’m glad I got to read 11.

He was a breath of fresh air, different by default. We didn’t quite have the budget to put him on contract yet but as membership increased, that was very much the plan.

I would have loved to see his byline on this site. So, in memoriam to a good friend, a consummate professional, and a brilliant mind, here are some of our favorite bits from those newsletter tests. The unreleased writings of the inimitable Chris Baldwin.

Milan-Sanremo – 03/18/2023

Poggio, Poggio, Poggio.

It’s the MSR Wrap-Up Newsletter and that means a new year of bike race broadcasting has officially begun. You may briefly yell indoors again.

Watching on Saturday, how could you miss Matteo Trentin drop anchor on the final climb to help teammate Pogacar up ahead? Matt de Neef puts the lotion in the basket with all the Italian race photos.

At the end of 300km, Trentin’s one move was all it took to shake off the squirrels and allow the Final Four to coalesce on the Poggio.

Coalesce. Crescendo. Climax. Kate Wagner says no, that’s not right. You’re doing it wrong because MSR is in fact a CULMINATION.

Recombined with other key moves to flesh out the whole day at MSR, Cosmo Catalano and Dane Cash have already noted the significance of UAE’s and others’ teamwork in their eminently listenable MSR podcast, ginned up whole out of nothing but smart people talking.

For those who prefer to chuckle while reading, Caley Fretz has Saturday’s blow-by-blow for you here.

And it is, really. MSR on a Saturday in mid-March is the marker that distinguishes a global opening to the racing year that is littered with southern summer half-starts in faraway Argentina or Oman or someplace warmly antipodean and unreachable.

For the shoe and gear fetishists, whose only want is to gawp at MSR tech, like Van Aert’s 30mm tires and Jasper Philipsen’s dimpled skinsuit, then Ronan McLaughlin has scrollable full-screen tech photos, optimized for the unpack.

Who is Alfredo Binda and why is Trofeo spelled that way? Shirin Van Anrooij made the interlake hills north of Milano and south of Lugano her Trek Segafredo playground on Sunday, winning in a way that makes the future look bright for younger stars in the women’s peloton. Catch Abby Mickey’s Trofeo Binda race analysis.

Brugge-De Panne – 03/23/2023

De Panne means laps. Laps means tactics. Tactics means teams. Teams means Belgium. Belgium means Classics, and today is the first day of the most exciting part of the season, and it lasts all the way until late April in Liege. And that means we have to watch all of the racing to see how all of the riders are dealing with the circumstances.

You can learn a lot just by watching.

We start with 40k to go – super sloppy and proper slippery on the trickiest parcours in Belgium. There is a temperate Atlantic rain and leaden mist in the sky. These Depanne Koksijde roads are narrow and criss-crossed with tram tracks smothered in gravel. Sand from the beaches and nearby North Sea dunes. Road stripes and crosswalks are icy muffin top glaciers and even the asphalt itself is a skating rink.

Groenewegen is in that lead group but he is being made to work at every turn. There is a group of all the best sprinters at the front, a minute and a half in front of the rest of the peloton. Olav Kooij, Groenewegen’s Dutch Replacement, is in there, Demare. Philipsen. Jakobsen. Quick Step has four. Alpecin has two. Rope-a-dopes ongoing.

Molano gets a Super Mario Bros UAE mechanic’s push, but the team guy looks like he is a 47-year old infantry corporal from construction in a Territorial Army brigade. Lunch is always smokes and a banana. EF has a guy clap out, the Arkea guy from Spain with the beard went right down on his bike when the guy in front of him jiggled a paint strip with two arms while Arkea guy was adjusting his glasses and then went disappointingly down. Hit the same bump, couldn’t withstand the shock. Do your pull ups and keep doing yoga for that whiplash. Address the neck and the spine side body stretch. Keep both hands on the bars at all times. Squint.

This has slowed down, there are two minutes gap now. Winds are shifting, and putting Groenewegen face first into the hardest sector is everybody’s common goal. You can see rivals working together to do it. It warms you to see it.

It is agreed then that this will be the last group into the finish. The guys in back can try, but pretty much everybody here has a chance in this group if they can be smart about where they get stuck in the rotation when it happens. Right now Dylan is about 3 meters off the front being allowed to just pedal through at his broadest and most muscle-sapping vector that goes directly into the face of the wind. It’s nice to see how he keeps a sprinter’s slower cadence as he works himself back. You can almost get to like him.

But you can’t really. You can’t like Dylan Groenewegen unless you are his close personal friend or his family and coaches.

Our culture created a sprinter who is at once sublimely lethal and seemingly amoral and apathetic in regards the needs and feelings of others. Matteo Trentin would smash his tuxedoed banquet table forehead cummerbund corn fed butter face Jayco Acula whatever that team is called this year into that same clothed-in-white-linen table with a wooden baseball bat from behind in utter surprise, to his medula, to the befuddled and terrorized bemusement of a taverna’s weekly speaker’s dinner for regional salesmen gathered round after some autumn circuit that ends in sometime in November and somewhere in Torino.

“A man becomes preeminent, he’s expected to have enthusiasms” is how it went. And then DeNiro in DePalma’s ‘Untouchables’ as Capone smashes the brains out of a cheating supplicant inside his economic mafia, and the repeated blows are seen from a camera above as blood spills out into the white tablecloth upward, because we are looking down from somewhere up.

Anti-Slip work shoes would have done that Quick Step mechanic a whole lot of good in that bike exchange for Lampaert. Who shouts at the TV moto to come right back into the break of predetermined Groenewegen-fuckers. This is going to be like that American rapper 69 with the face tattoos and the rainbow dreads getting his ass pummeled by dudes he obviously ratted on to avoid prison time in a gym restroom somewhere in Hollywoodland. Everybody in this breakaway wants to get that babbling rat from Amsterdam in front of him and drag the guy’s muscle fibers down a percentage point or two with a shiv they chewed out of a cinnamon toast flavored gel and some oakley temple pieces.

Pascal Ackerman is off the back of the front. Philipsen works so hard for his team in these middle moments. You watch him control zones of known roads against precalculated winds up ahead and the wind goes snap in these gentle undulating groves.

Lotto DSTNY guy hikes up the left side ahead of a turn and then – sling – he finds himself mid-rotation once again, without having pulled. Who is going to enforce this in the anticipation of slips going into turns?

They head out to sea and guys come off the back named Dylan, Arnaud and the Dutch rider looks like a chunky block of immature cheese at the center of a giant wedge emerging into a paler hunk of salty buttery murk. These are the most difficult passages, and those in the back are at a disadvantage for all the whipcracking going on.

Arnaud is eating himself alive to get them both up a notch or two. They dangle at 12m off that mid group behind the front four. Philipsen is super-tuned and looks the strongest. Kooij is there.

Lampaert is there as is the new to me Frison.

Philipsen in a fantastic race he dominated top to bottom. Champion’s ride. Champion’s win. Groenewegen way way way at the back of it all, Arnaud by his side.

To his sister Brooke, his dog Cash, and everybody who knew, worked with, laughed with, and admired Chris, the entire crew at Escape Collective hope his writing, his voice, offers some solace. May he rest in peace.

Chris’ obituary can be found here.

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