Friday, November 5, 2010


Some of my favorite things about the sport of cycling - or any sport, really, but cycling especially - are the nicknames. The annals of cycling history are brimming with great nicknames that don't just sound cool, but also capture the essence of those they reference.

Eddy Merckx's relentless attacking style earned him the nickname the Cannibal. Marco Pantani, with his gold earring and bandana was called the Pirate. Lance Armstrong has been known as the Boss, and Jan Ullrich der Kaiser.

One of the peloton's best descenders, Paolo Salvodelli, is called, the Falcon. Little Paolo Bettini, the diminutive Italian sprint ace, was called Cricket. Laurent Fignon was the Professor, Bernard Hinault, the Badger.

Tornado Tom Boonen
Mark Cavendish is the Manx Missile. Fabian Cancellara is Spartacus. Michael Rasmussen is the Chicken. And my personal favorite: Alexandr Kolobnev earned the nickname the Sniper for his habit of fiercely contesting a single, one-day race per season - and then spending a year reloading.

Other sports have good nicknames, too. Before there was Tim Lincecum, former Philadelphia Eagle Javon Kearse's ridiculous wingspan had people around the league calling him the Freak. One of my favorite players of all time, Brian Dawkins, has always been known as Weapon X. Outside of sports, Neil Peart of the legendary prog-rock band Rush (and probably the best rock drummer in human history), is called the Doctor - because when he comes in to the studio to lay down a track, he "puts on a clinic."

I've had a few nicknames in my day. Unfortunately, none of them were as cool as the ones above ("Tornado Tom" excluded). Let's see.

Buddy (1983-1988) - This is what my dad used to call me (and still does, sometimes) when I was very little. When I was really young, he'd ask me, "You want a cookie, buddy?" For years, I thought "cookies" were actually called "buddies." Kind of a Pavlovian association?

Little Andrew (1985-2001) - I have an uncle (on my dad's side) named Andrew. When I came onto the scene, he became "Big Andrew" and I became "Little Andrew." This is still how I'm called by the Valko clan when I head home for the holidays.

Alaskan Boy (1997-1999) - When the family moved to Delaware from Alaska, I joined a local swim team in Dover. Having not really been exposed to the sun in years, I was white. WHITE. You should see the team photo - I can be pinpointed in two seconds. Mark Woodall started calling me Alaskan Boy and that stuck around until I established myself as the team's most dominant breaststroker.

Crash (2003-2005) - I spent two summers during college as an intern at Air Products and Chemicals, and this is just about the time I bought my first real road bike. There was a small crew of relatively serious cyclists that would ride during lunch - 17-22 miles, fast - and I'd go out with them several days a week. Once, early on, I didn't realize the group was coming to a stop at an intersection and had to scramble/unclip/intentionally swerve into a ditch to avoid rear-ending the other riders. From then on, they called me Crash. It's okay though, because before I moved away, Alex and I made a point to ride back out to APCI and totally own them on their lunch route.

Will (2006-2008) - This is not a sporting nickname at all. After college, I took a job with IBM. On the first day, Scott and I made a bet: who could introduce themselves by their middle name the longest? I won. For two years, everyone in the IBM world knew me as "Will." (This was also my own, personal way of stickin' it to the man. A corporation can't suck your soul away if they don't even know your real name, right?)

Rabbit (2006-2008) - After college and during my stint with IBM, I moved back in with my parents. I was on the road so much that it just didn't make sense to pay to rent an apartment on my own. On weekends, my dad, his friend Cabot and I would head out for flat rides on the Ohio rails-to-trails system. Cabot took to calling my dad the wolf, partly because of his salt-and-pepper hair and weekend scruff, and calling me the rabbit, because they always seemed to be chasing me. Good memories.

The Phanatic (2008-2010) - This nickname was more talked about than put to use, but when the Mission Cycling crew found out about my obsession with Philadelphia sports, they coined this one for me.

Pocket Rocket (2010) - The small group of folks who I swim with in the mornings has apparently been calling me this for some time now. I am probably the shortest guy at morning practice, but I also lead the fast lane. I am noticing a trend here - most of my nicknames seem to serve as a commentary on my height. Stupid height! I'd much rather be tall and fast than short and fast!

That's about all I can think of right now - I don't think I missed any. Despite this lengthy list, most of my teammates through the years have simply called me Valko. So unless you have a better nickname than the ones above, Valko'll do just fine. In the meantime, I'll see if I can't earn myself something slightly more bad ass in Busselton this coming December.