It’s a typical winner’s podium-style moment at the Trans-Cascadia, a four-day race in the Pacific Northwest. The top three riders (in this case, Geoff Kabush, Chris Johnston and Brian Lopes) stand side-by-side as the photographers capture the moment. There are smiles. There are camera flashes firing away. There’s a bottle of champagne in the air, aloft in Kabush’s hand. Yes, there’s always a champagne bottle, but this one is key to the story, so pay attention here. And then there’s a punch.
You’re not expecting the punch.
You are watching this seemingly innocuous moment captured on someone’s Instagram feed and wondering why in the world this is even Insta-worthy, when Brian Lopes turns and sends a right cross into Geoff Kabush’s chest. For the record, it’s a well-executed right cross. Lopes drops slightly, pivots on the ball of his rear foot, twists with the hips and sends his right fist into Kabush’s chest. There’s a neat, meaty—Pop!
at the end of it. You can watch it below.
Someone took their Tae Bo classes seriously.
Kabush staggers back a step, but looks stunned, rather than hurt. Lopes backs up and fixes Kabush with a stare that seems to suggest that some hurting could well be in order if Kabush is truly in the mood for it. Then he walks out of the frame.
All of which led us, and other people, to ask, Wait, what just happened here?
If this happened between professional athletes following a hockey or football game, the media would promptly get into the why, where and how of it.
In the days since the video went up on Instagram, the public has been quick to make judgements about the incident. But rather than speculate about motivation or responsibility for the act, we thought we'd just get down to the facts of the matter.
So I called up Kabush. And I called up Lopes. And this is what the two racers had to say.
I’ve got nothing to hide. Go ahead and shoot, man.
So what's the story here? There’s no interaction that we can see in the clip of you two conversing or having a hostile encounter, but I imagine something must have triggered the punch. What was that?
I can give you the facts. It was the last night celebration at dinner and we were having some fun. I took the win, so I was pretty excited. We had a little presentation in the dining tent and I sprayed some champagne. Lopes being Lopes, I wanted to get him with some champagne. He sprinted out of the dining tent, and me and Chris [Johnston] nearly ate shit on some tent wires chasing after him. Well, Lopes circled back and I was going to try and get him again with the champagne because I hadn’t gotten him very well, but he ran up into his hotel room, where he was staying for the last three nights of the event.
A little while later the organizers wanted to set up some portraits of the winners and the top three finishers—this was in the parking lot. After much work trying to get Lopes out of his hotel room, he finally came out. I was still trying to have a good time and I had the champagne bottle with me and he [Lopes] could tell that I was still up to some mischief, so he very seriously said to me that he would "punch me in the f*ckin’ face" if I got him wet again with the champagne bottle because he was wearing his last clean set of clothes and he planned on traveling in them the next day and he was pretty serious.
So, we proceeded to take the podium photo. I still had the champagne bottle in my hand and he told me, "Don’t f*ckin’ do it! Don’t f*ckin’ do it!" ….but.... I just couldn’t resist. And, yeah, so I poured a little champagne on him. Luckily for me, he didn’t punch me in the f*ckin face. And, well, you saw the video from there…
I just want to get this right. So, he’s telling you not to pour the champagne on him and you do it anyway. You poured it on his head during the photo?
Yeah, I dumped a little bit on his hat there.
There’s always two sides to any story. If you had to guess what Brian’s perspective would be, what would you say it was?
Well, I know Brian from way back. All the way back to `97. Look, I’ll give credit to him. I think this event [Trans-Cascadia] was pretty far outside of his comfort zone. I think he had a tough time embracing the unknown—the party-in-the-woods atmosphere. It’s a tough crowd. But, yeah, I don’t know…. Camping in the rain, partying in the woods…you kind of have to embrace it and, well, I think it was a tough week for him. He’s a pretty tightly-wound guy. I was just trying to have some fun, but it took a turn there. It’s a story I can laugh about anyway. As we all know, this is not the first Lopes incident we’ve seen.
Have you talked to Brian since the incident?
No, never saw him after that. He was gone the next morning, off on the shuttle home, I guess.
I didn’t see him at the last big party on the final night either, but then again, I didn’t really expect to after what went down. I think everyone was a little stunned when it happened, but in retrospect, it wasn’t a complete surprise. We just all had a good time and partied out on the last night. That’s what that event is all about. I hope it doesn’t reflect badly on the guys or the event because I think everyone had an awesome time.
Have you heard anything from either of your respective sponsors?
No. I certainly haven’t heard anything negative. I’m not getting any criticism, that’s for sure. You know, I was hoping to help loosen up Brian, but I think at this point Brian’s not going to change. I’m sure I’ll see him again and it’ll all be fine.
Photo by Philip Beckman
So, let's get right to it—what happened there?
Basically, the short story is that we had the podium, we all got the champagne and I had no intention of spraying anyone. Geoff turned to me, right away, and I tried to run, but he got me pretty good. So, after that I went up to my room. I had to download some footage from my GoPro. My pants were all soaking wet, so I changed into my last set of clothes. Ten minutes later, someone came up and said they were doing more photos because they’d set up some lighting in the parking lot. I said, ‘Alright, but tell those dudes they better not spray me because I am in my last set of clothes and I’m getting on a plane tomorrow.’
So, I walk down there and the first thing I see is Geoff walking around with the bottle of champagne still. So I looked at him and told him, ‘Dude, don’t spray me. I’m in my last set of clothes.’ And he just kind of looked at me with this look that said, I’m going to get you.
So, I said to Geoff, “Dude, I’m serious. Don’t spray me. I’m going to f*ckin’ punch you if you spray me.”
So then we huddled under the lights for the photo. Geoff was in the middle because he won. He put his arms up above both me and Chris and I just had this feeling—because he [Geoff] still had that champagne bottle in his hand—that he was going to friggin’ pour it on me. Now, I’m not even looking at him because I’m looking at the cameras, but I’m telling him “Dude, don’t do it. Don’t do it, Geoff. I’m serious. Don’t do it.”
And the next thing you know, I have champagne running down my head and down my last set of clothes so I f*ckin’ turned around and punched him and that’s pretty much it. I felt like I’d warned him—asked him—three of four times not to do it and he still went ahead and did it. I walked away after that.
There’s always two sides of a story. If you had to guess what Geoff’s might be, what would you guess his perspective would be?
I don’t think there is
another perspective. That’s exactly what happened. From the time I walked out there, I warned him three or four times not to do it and I even told him what I would do if he got me wet again. And, he’s the one who provoked me to do it. Now, whether it was right or wrong…obviously, punching Geoff wasn’t the right thing to do and I have no problem telling him that I’m sorry. But, I mean, I asked him numerous times not to do something and he still did it, so that’s pretty disrespectful on his behalf. I mean, he already got me wet with champagne once. Why does he have to go and do it again after I’ve gone and changed?
So, that is the point of distinction you’re making here, because a lot of people are going to watch this video and say, “Well, it’s a podium moment—of course you’re going to get sprayed with champagne? What were you expecting?”
Absolutely. I mean, it’s not like I got mad at Geoff for spraying me with champagne the first time. I did try to run, but he still got me and it is what it is.
During the actual podium moment people are going to spray champagne and I get that. I don’t really care to do that—spray other people, that is—but I understand it’s going to happen. Sure. But this wasn’t on the podium and, again, I asked him several times not to.
Like I said, I have no problem saying sorry to him, but I feel like he owes me an apology too.
You guys go back a long way, right?
Sure, I’ve known Geoff a long time. I mean it’s not like I’ve ever been buddy-buddy with him, we’re always been on different circuits, so I’ve never hung out with him, but at the same time I respect him as a racer. He’s an awesome racer and he’s accomplished a lot. I have respect for him. I would just ask that he have respect for me as well and it didn’t feel like he was giving me any at that point.
Well, I’ve talked to both of you now and while Geoff clearly didn’t want you to hit him, you have fairly similar stories about what actually went down.
Yeah, well, I’m not one to really sugarcoat shit. I say it how it is. It’s not always the right thing to say at the time, or the best way to go about it… and me punching Geoff wasn’t the best way to go about it at the time, but what do you do when you’ve provoked that much? It is what it is. I don’t lose sleep over it. I’m not going to see the guy and hold any grudges or try to kick his ass. I’ve had conflicts with lots of people and they just roll off my shoulders. Life goes on.