Evanescent Riders: L.E. ‘Juan’ Gunderson
The name Laurence Ernest Gunderson is not one that the general public know too well, at least before the events of the past week. The US cyclist was relatively famous within the sport, but ask Joe Average who he was and you’d be met with a blank stare. But now, he’s back-page news on newspapers on lawns, campuses and in those bins out the front of general stores everywhere a bin is placed.
Gunderson’s story is one that polarizes opinion almost as much as whether the moon landing was faked, which by a twist of fate we may never know, as the ‘other Gunderson’, astronaut Buzz Gunderson died this week, taking his firsthand knowledge of what went on up there (or in the Paramount Studios) with him. But Gunderson the cyclist’s story has been hogging the limelight all week, which shows that celebrity and scandal is more relevant to the fat masses of consumers than a history making event will ever be.
Born to parents when he was less than a day old, Gunderson’s father reportedly took one look at the slimy, bloody mess that was his illegitimate son and left immediately, muttering something along the lines of ‘ooh, he looks a bit nasty, I’m off”, leaving mum Marjie to raise the little devil as a single parent. This would prove to be an invaluable tool later in Gunderson’s life, constantly citing the fact he was raised by a single mother as something that only he had the indignity of suffering from, and how his horrible existence of three meals a day (compared to the usual five of most US children) left him thin and weak. As he developed slower than other kids his age, he took to cycling as that sport seemed to be filled with thin and weak individuals. He felt he could fit in with, and then look down upon, this group of social misfits.
After not showing any remarkable talent for cycling, Gunderson decided that if you can’t do one sport well, may as well do three poorly, and entered his first triathlon. As is customary for anyone new to this hybrid sport where you swim in your cycling shorts, cycle in your running shorts, and run in your own excrement, Gunderson was required by the governing body to have one of his testicles removed, as anyone with balls wouldn’t be seen dead in Speedos on a bike. His coach ‘Calm’ Chris Michaels reassured Gunderson that he was no less of a man than any other triathlete, and that in a few years he should be able to ‘grow a pair’ and look other athletes in the eye and lie through his teeth. Michaels would present Laurence with a morning ‘breakfast cocktail’ of vitamins which he said would help grow back the missing appendage within a few years, at least by the time he was ready to be having sex with women who looked like his mother. Gunderson soon earned the nickname ‘Juan’, referring not only to his woman-who-look-like-his-mother-izing ways, but also his solo stone.
But something didn’t feel right to Gunderson; he was 16, had one nut, was riddled with acne and hair was growing from places it hadn’t before. Like his palm. But he was beating triathletes with many more years experience and talent, and could lift a small car off the ground using only his tongue. Coach Michaels thought that this sort of power could be better used being channelled into one sport, rather than three, so he gave Gunderson the choice. He chose swimming, but after ten minutes of “are you kidding? that’s not even a sport, it’s like cooling off on a hot day”, Gunderson accepted the threats and chose cycling.
The time was the early 90s, and looking back now we know that it was a period of upheaval in the sport. New training methods were being used, and cyclist’s bodies were changing too. Many were getting physically bigger, a phenomenon put down to widespread consumption of red meat in this formerly clean and healthy vegetarian-dominated sport. Gunderson hated meat, he couldn’t even touch it, as it made him feel ‘icky’. He likened it to some people’s fear of hypodermic needles, yet this wasn’t a problem for Gunderson. Meat though, eww. Gunderson vowed he would take on those ‘frog-leg eating… frogs’ on their own turf, on his own terms, and show them. A few good results came in the first year, but in his second season he was constantly getting dropped by the Euros, and he became increasingly desperate for a solution. He sought out the services of infamous Italian butcher ‘Dr’ Aldo Lamborghini, and his results started to pick up again. Many believed Lamborghini was administering red meat to his his riders, a claim he refuted by saying all he gave them was litres of orange juice a day. “It’s no worse than injecting EPO” he said, before retreating into a walk-in freezer marked ‘juice storage only’.
Juan was now making a name for himself as a cyclist of some talent, winning semi-Classics like Flesh-Wallow and the Palmolive Gold Race, but his big break came when he took out the Whirled Championship road race at the tender age of 21. Only 16 other riders had accomplished this feat, so the calls of next big thing had been heard before and seemed more like a smokescreen for his remarkable rise from good rider to fairly good rider. He managed to win a stage at the biggest race in the world, le Lap de France, after a teammate died from an orange juice overdose and the peloton let Gunderson ride away the next day as a mark of respect. Even though Gunderson celebrated like he’d done something truly remarkable, everyone knew this would be as far as he would get in the biggest race on the calendar. He was never touted as a future Lap winner.
Then, in 1996, Juan started to feel something wasn’t right with his health. Had all the orange juice that Lamborghini administered been having a negative affect? He’d always wondered why the juice was colored red rather than orange, and tasted like blood. Lamborghini would always just shrug and say the juice was from blood oranges, a feasible explanation as far as Juan was concerned. Anyway, the Euros were doing it, so Juan had to do it to keep up. Then, one morning while out training, Gunderson’s lone testicle started to ache and swelled to the size of a cashew. Was it from something the 16-year-old-who-looked-like-his-mum that he’d banged the night before had done? Had he made one too many bad cyclocross remounts while he practiced riding across a field dodging fallen Spanish riders ‘just in case’? Gunderson had no time to think of the causes, and found himself in Bostin, Taxes hospital that afternoon.
The doctors were concerned, and asked Gunderson if he’d ever tried to enhance his testicles by false means, by injecting silicone, golf balls, Kinder Surprises or by eating red meat. Witnesses such as teammate Andy Frankeu (conjoined twins who were later separated to become the Schleck sisters) claim they heard Gunderson tell the doctors he had eaten “steak, sausages, 2 or 3 lamb chops a day, even experimented with liver and kidneys but they were ‘kinda gross'”. He was given a 5% chance of being a likable person again. Gunderson liked those odds.
After six months of intense colonic irrigation, glasses of wheatgrass every morning, and an apple a day, the doctor was finally kept away. Gunderson returned to training and racing, and sucked from the get go. This is where any man with any respect should’ve just given up and gone to live on the ranch with his mum and his wife-who-looked-just-like-his-mum. But no, Gunderson was made of sterner stuff, and decided that he’d not only race the Lap of France, he would win a stage. Others laughed. “Haha, Gunderson? He can’t climb, or descend, or time trial, or even stuff his jersey with bidons properly.” So when in 99 he took out 4th in the prologue, the cycling world sat up and took notice. And so did the rest of the real world. The man with no balls, who’d survived and beaten his horrible affliction of being a meat-eating asshole, was now the media darling, the miracle man, the saviour of this once meat-tainted sport. And all on orange juice. When he was caught with a sirloin in his shorts after a stage, he escaped sanction when he explained the cut was only there to ease pressure on a saddle sore.
Coming 4th in a stage of the Lap is a huge achievement for any pro racer, but doing it with no balls is remarkable. So when Gunderson won another stage the next year, the cycling world really went into a spin. Which was what Gunderson put his amazing transformation down to. He had not only lost half a kilogram when he was in hospital, but he’d been advised by ‘Calm’ Chris Michaels that he should slow his pedaling down to around 32 rpm, using a low gear and hanging on to the window sill of the Lap director’s car at every opportunity. They wouldn’t care, they’d turn a blind eye because they wanted the miracle man to be the story, not the means as to how he became a miracle man. Everyone saw him do it, and no-one said a thing.
The next year was even more astounding, as Gunderson proved his stage win was no fluke by taking another, this time on the famed Alp d’Ooze. He flashed his now famous ‘look’ at the most talented rider in the race, and known meat eater, Lars Ullrich. Not wanting others to feel bad that he was the best (even though he’d tell anyone who’d listen otherwise) he ‘made a donation’ to rival Paolo Mankini on the Von2, allowing him to roll over the line first while pointing and yelling out “I let him win, I’m still better.”
When Gunderson equalled the record of 5 stage wins held by the greats Edward Smirkx, Benny HeyNow, Michael Injuredbrain and Jack Drunketil the fairytale was complete. The poor kid raised by a single mum, with no balls and only orange juice and talent on his side had equalled the best. No one would ever top that, ever. Not someone who was a semi-Classics specialist. No way.
But as we found out this week, Gunderson did go on to win a further two stages, and etch his name in the visitor’s book at the Lap museum in Tournai, rural France (or is it Belgium? Not sure, somewhere close to the border). But questions were being asked; how could someone do this all on orange juice, when the rivals he was beating were known meat eaters? Was it really the half a kilogram he’d lost when he had his second testicle removed? Was it the slower cadence? Or the hour and a half of training he put in every Tuesday, Thursday and two hours on Saturday, if there wasn’t something else on? Gunderson repeatedly repeated what he’d been repeating before; he’d never eaten meat, and had never tested positive for likability. Former teammates, who had been caught with their own hands in the freezer, started to give accounts of Gunderson’s rampant carnivorism. Tales of barbeques at the team hotel, ham sandwiches on the team bus, rendezvous’ with strange men on motorcycles in the night carrying mini chilly bins, plastic cutlery found in rubbish bins… the evidence was mounting. All the while Gunderson maintained the line, “never eaten a steak”.
That his teammates all say they’ve seen him eating meat didn’t seem to matter to the public, so admiring of his work with the Eatstrong Foundation he helped set up they are. Former leiutenant and bestest buddy Big Harry Georges has even stated that “Juan cooked for me all the time. Usually steak, after he saw RdV in A Sunday in Hell mucking down on a t-bone before Paris Roubaix. He became obsessed. “If that’s what the Euros do to win, then that’s what I’m gonna do” he’d say, poking me in the chest with a tenderizer to emphasize his point. It got scary. I had to eat meat too, or Juan said I was off the team and would never be able to walk into a butcher’s again.” Another, Tylor Phony, said Gunderson actually ate the unborn twin foetus from his pregnant dog, slicing it open and ripping it from the dying pet in front of Phony’s eyes. “It was like he was possessed, he just kept screaming “We’re gonna win tomorrow, we’re on a mission from Dog!” It really freaked me out, and I was too scared to tell anyone.”
So after years of rumors, which became hearsay, which became sworn testimony, it should’ve been no surprise to anyone that Gunderson was finally charged with meat doping offenses this week. The writing has been on the specials blackboard for years, and now his goose was cooked. In a nice sherry sauce with baby potatoes and spinach. So why do the public still seem divided? It’s easy. There are two types of people in the world; carnivores and vegetarians. The carnivores rule the earth, due to their belief they possess superior strength from all the blood, gristle and fat. The vegetarians are morally pure and in better health, but find it futile to offer any defense. Therefore the carnivores feel like they are right because they can yell louder, for longer, all while maintaining a facade of purity and do-gooding by using their meat-funded lifestyles to prop up charities like Eatstrong, and hiding their rampant abuse, killing and eating of animals. Gunderson still maintains that he “never ate a steak” and he has done more to support community gardens in Bostin than any other former pro cyclist with no nuts. He calls the meat-doping investigation a “which cunt?” and that he’s the cunt which they are unfairly targeting.
I don’t think we’ve heard the last of L.E. Gunderson. He may have lost his 7 stage wins, but he’s still a winner in the duped public’s eyes. He’s always stated; “I’ll never give up, because not finishing something is kinda like quitting, and I’ve never left even a strip of fat on my plate, ever.” If this makes it to the Pie Court, it could be a bloodbath.