Must See: Tour Down Under

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City of Adelaide goes all out to welcome UCI cycling event Santos Tour Down Under and its fans.

When I was following the Tour de France in 2014, the Aussies I met encouraged me to come down for the Tour Down Under. The City of Adelaide really commits to making the Tour Down Under a success. Victoria Square is completely dedicated to the 6 stage race with a festival open to the public (free access) all week. It is right on the streetcar line and just across the street from the Adelaide Hilton, headquarters for the Tour Down Under race management, all of the cycling teams, and many fans.

Signing autographs at BMC booth.
Cadel Evans, Tour de France champion, now retired, is Australia’s most successful cyclist and a huge favorite with fans.

While the race starts and stops all over South Australia, it returns every night to the Victoria Square to turn over bikes to mechanics set up in a main tent. Thus there is a routine for cyclists and fans that makes the race easier to watch (and probably to ride).

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Free haircuts for gents in the Village by one of the sponsors. I do not understand: caffeine shampoo by Alpecin.

There is Willunga Hill, but South Australia does not have Alps or big mountains, so the race favors sprinters. It is also a great race for tuning up your legs and fitness as teams enter the new season after 2 months “off”.

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Jens Voigt signing autographs and posing for photos with fans at the Trek booth.

This is a UCI sponsored event so it draws the main European teams, but a mixed bag of headliner riders and domestiques. Just as the Tour of California attracts all of the American riders, this race draws all of the Australian cyclists.

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View the race from Victoria Square on the big screens.

When I arrived on Thursday, Stage 3 was taking place outside of town. I had to wait to check in so I stowed my bags and headed downtown to find a bookstore. I got distracted and returned to the hotel just in time to watch Simon Gerrans (Orica Greenedge) nip Rohan Dennis (BMC) at the finish line. The bonus points extended Gerran’s lead. He was heading towards his 4th win (nonconsecutive).

I met up with my Tour de France friend from Perth for dinner. He and his cycling club spent the week cycling out to the race course. They were having an absolute ball riding, watching the race and having a few beers. They were not the only bike club, every day the festival area and the race course were awash in Aussie cycling clubs, including Greg’s club the Eaton Dogs from Bunbury, Western Australia.

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Cyclists ride to the start of Stage 6. The final stage is 20 circuits through the Adelaides CBD.

The next day I spent about 18 hours going to Kangaroo Island for a wildlife safari. Fortunately I caught the tail end of the highlight television broadcast. Simon Gerrans won his second stage win and solidified his lead.

I was tuckered out from the big day out on Kangaroo Island and thought I would just watch the race and call it a day. So I bought a wood-oven pizza in the village and found a seat to watch the last hour of the Queen Stage on the big screen. Tassie rider Richie Porte (BMC) won the biggest climbing stage for the third straight year. He wrote his name on Willunga Hill–no one could beat him, not even the Columbian climber Sergio Luis Henao winner of the King of the Mountain jersey, could catch him.

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My candidate for a new logo!

The final day was a 20 lap circuit through the central business district. Because it was only 90 km it started at 1:30 instead of 11ish. This allowed me to relax and enjoy some time to read before slathering on the sunscreen and heading out. I checked out the course on King William Street just as the peloton was headed to the start. I realized that while it would be thrilling to find a shady spot on the street, I would only be able to see them go by 20 times and I would not see the finish. I opted for the village again at Victoria Square. The big screen projection screens allowed me to watch the televised version of the race.

Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen announce the race with assists from Robbie McEwan and Jens Voigt. On Australian television they show about 10 minutes of racing and then 10 minutes of advertising. It is a bit frustrating. Still, it was great to see the entire race, including the sprint finish with Caleb Ewan (Orica) beating Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data) by a comfortable margin.

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Lots of people rode their bikes to watch the race. Cycling clubs from around Australia made this a club outing for the entire week.

The overall race was won by Simon Gerrans, though this was never in danger. Team Orica controlled the race and Richie Porte, who moved into second place with his win on Willunga Hill, was quoted as saying, “I cannot sprint out of sight on a dark night.”

Adelaide is a smaller city and very walkable. I loved staying at the Hilton, but there are lots of hotels to choose from at different price points. The CBD is a $20 cab ride from the airport. Buy bus tickets to get out to the racecourse, or ride your bike. Or focus on downtown Adelaide like I did and enjoy the village and the rest of the city. There are VIP tickets for better viewing spots with grandstand seating and better access to alcohol. One of the most endearing aspects of the Tour Down Under was the easy access to so much of the race and amenities without having to buy expensive access. I was able to meet Jens Voigt and Cadel Evans at events in the festival village. I could have easily collected signatures by handing out in the mechanics tent.

The weather was sometimes broiling or hot and humid. Yet I would say this was well worth the time and expense to get to Adelaide to see the Tour Down Under. Well done everyone!

Santos Tour Down Under encourages a new generation of cycling fans.
Stage 6 was family day and these kids got their faces painted in the village.

Tour de France: Making New Memories

Jens Voigt in his element: media interviews. He earned the KOM jersey in Stage 1 2014.
Jens Voigt in his element: media interviews. He earned the KOM jersey in Stage 1 2014.

This time last year I was having an absolute ball in Yorkshire with Trek Travel. This year the Tour is in Holland for the first two stages and I am watching it from California. Today in Stage 2 the wind, rain and nerves resulted in a split in the Peloton with a group of a couple dozen riders about a minute ahead of the rest of the Peloton. Crashes and pressure created a third group that fell off the back of the race for awhile. It was exciting to watch. One additional bonus was hearing Jens Voigt’s commentary scattered throughout the broadcast on NBC Sports.

When I arrived in York and met my Trek Travel tour guides I had a mental list of my cycling heroes that I definitely wanted to meet and ask to sign my California state flag. 1. Greg LeMond, 2. Jens Voigt, and 3. Fabian Cancellera.  Just 24 hours later I had all three!  And Jens Voigt and Fabian Cancellara struck me as opposite personality types. Fabian seemed almost shy whereas Jens is an extreme extrovert.

Cancellara's nickname is Spartacus and his Trek bike is tricked out accordingly.
Cancellara’s nickname is Spartacus and his Trek bike is tricked out accordingly.

Whereas Jens retired, I am still following Fabian Cancellera’s career. He had a serious crash at the beginning of the season and it was uncertain if he would make the Tour team. He is definitely coming on form as he came in third in the Stage 1 Time Trial. As he started Stage 2 he said in an post-race interview that he had not been thinking about winning the yellow jersey for the 29th day in his career. I guess it is possible that it was not a conscious thought, but he is such a canny cyclist that I do not believe that he had not figured out the scenarios where he could win the yellow jersey (fastest time overall).

The Trek Team must have given him a free pass to do what he can as he was the only Trek team member to get into the breakaway group. The three great sprinters were also in the group: Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan and Andre Greipel. (Of the four favorite GC riders only two made it into the breakaway: Chris Froome and Alberto Contador.) If Cancellara placed third, the bonus time in the sprint would give him the yellow jersey. Tony Martin was in a similar situation and he also made the breakaway. However, there is a difference between theoretical opportunities and having the bike skills, experience and confidence to execute.

Cancellara preparing for Stage 2 in 2014
Cancellara preparing for Stage 2 in 2014

The sprint started at 500 m to the finish. It may have been too early for Mark Cavendish as he was out fast and first. The Peter Sagan broke wide and poured on the gas. Then Greipel’s huge engine kicked in and he surged forward. But who was the only rider with them at the finish? Fabian Cancellara. And he took advantage as Mark Cavendish faded to take third place and grab the yellow jersey.

I am delighted. This may be his last Tour and I am enjoying the new memories he is making!

Prep to Watch Tour de France 2015

Tour de France 2015

With only 2 days until the start of the Tour de France 2015 on July 4, it is time to get serious about the apps and other tools you need to watch every stage. I need multiple platforms and options for tracking, since I am going to be in Portland, Oregon and riding RAGBRAI (Iowa) for half the stages.

First I need a way to stay on top of the Tour when I am riding my bike, so I need an app for my Android. Cycling News Tour Tracker. The basic app is free but they are asking for a small donation of $1.99 to GoPro and get more features to help cover the cost of building the app.  I am willing to do this for $1.99. I opened the app and it defaults to the info page and already I am getting psyched: “Utrecht Individual Time Trial Starts at Saturday, July 4, 5:00 a.m. Welcome to our live mobile coverage of the 2015 Tour de France. While we await the start of the race, you can find previews of each stage…”

Teams will be introduced in a ceremony tonight. Let’s see if Utrecht can do as good a job as Yorkshire in making the teams feel welcome. I’ll check back with Cycling News Tour Tracker and see how quickly they load the names of the riders.

Phil Liggett with American Julie
Phil Liggett with American Julie

Next up is my iPad. I could download the official Tour de France app from NBC Sports on my Android for $19.99 but if I am going to spend that kind of money I want to be able to view it on a larger platform. I again have the option of the Cycling News Tour Tracker for free or GoPro and a couple of other options that are free. None, including Cycling News, of the others are rated yet. NBC Sports has 3.5 stars with 9 reviews. When you open the app, the splash page is the official logo of the Tour de France, which entitles them to the camera feeds from Tour helicopters and motorbikes.

Everyone once in a while I see a snarky comment from a cycling fan who tracks the Tour from a European channel with different announcers. I discussed this with fellow avid fan Brian Lovell and we both agree that Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett are the voice of the Tour and we cannot imagine a July without their commentary. It is like the attachment you get to the home team baseball announcer for your favorite team. Once I heard them criticize Paul for giving us so much information about the French chateaus. Guess what? If you watch the race in Norwegian or French you get those too. I am pretty certain that the Tour organization requires it as part of their boost for tourism. I meant to ask when I met them but forgot in the excitement.

Paul Sherwen with kids in London after stage.
Paul Sherwen with kids in London after stage.

Finally, I do not own a television. I have Comcast but refuse to figure out how to watch television on my computer because I really do not want the temptation to watch more programming than I already do on websites like Comedy Central, PBS and Netflix. Still I want to be able to get up early in California and watch as much of each stage as possible. Even if it means my morning ride starts a little later and I catch more heat.

The web application costs $29,99 for the Full Tour Access. Single Day Access is $4,99. I am opting for Full Tour Access, which allows me to watch all 21 stages for the entire distance of 3,360 kilometers. I used this method 2 years ago when I was not watching the Tour in person and my only disappointment is that you do not get the color commentary with Bob Roll and others. This year NBC is adding Jens Voigt to the team. So I will check out Capitol Dime bar, although you can never hear what the announcers are saying in a sports bar. Or hang out at my daughter’s house to watch a couple of stages. When I am in Iowa I will have to use my hot spot and watch it on my computer or find it on in a bar?!

Back in the day when the Tour was on Versus cable channel, I used to watch it 3 times a day!

Tour of California, Stage 3

Stage 3 of the Tour of California started and finished in San Jose. It was a day of climbing and descending over Mt. Hamilton. I checked in via the app and saw there were several breakaway attempts and finally one stuck. It was a larger group of around 7 and then one by one they fell back and were reabsorbed into the peleton. One rider, Toms Skujins with Hincapie Racing Team went off the front and established over a minute lead. The rest of the break then becomes the chasers.

After 2:00 p.m. I switched to video and began watching on my iPad while I worked on my computer. Pretty soon I found myself holding my breathe as Toms increased his lead over the chasers and the peleton. He took risks downhill and almost went off the road at least twice. Gradually Paul, Phil, Christian and Jensie (the announcers) began estimating whether or not Toms would stay away and win the stage.

I learned that Toms was from Latvia and had been racing a long time (he is 23) but without the elusive pro contract. The Hincapie Racing Team was formed to develop young riders and give them opportunities to compete with the pros. The team has been aggressive in all three stages. They look lean and mean in their black cycling kits. Today George Hincapie must have been doing somersaults and back flips.

Cyclists jump into the breakaway because even if they are not successful at staying away they get a lot of attention for their sponsors (obviously even more when the race is televised). And as Jens Voigt has pointed out, while you may only have a 1 in 10 chance of being successful in a breakaway, if you do not try you will not have any chance.

When the lightning strikes, and the 1 out of 10 tries succeeds, it is thrilling. As a fan you want them to succeed. While Toms continued to pour every ounce of his energy on the road, the peleton got their act together and began to seriously chase. They gobbled up the remaining two chasers and narrowed the time gap. The announcers were trying to do the math about distance and time and finally determined Toms still had a chance but they were not sure if he would gain enough time on Peter Sagan to win the leader’s yellow jersey.

Meanwhile, after a day of mechanical difficulties and other challenges Peter Sagan and his teammates began to attack the last hill into the finish. (What sadistic person designs an uphill finish?) I really admire Sagan. He is such a great rider and he’s won lots of green jerseys as a sprinter. He is a consistent rider and is so talented at 25 that I wonder what kind of rider he will develop into… maybe a more playful version of the Badger. Who to cheer for today??

I began cheering for Toms so loudly that Lulu came into the room and started barking and jumping around. The gap continued to close but Toms was getting closer and closer to the finish. At last he crossed the finish line and he won the stage. Then the clock started ticking to see if he would wear the yellow jersey.

Now I could cheer for Peter Sagan. He turned himself inside out to win the sprint for second and retained his second place overall in the race. Toms managed to win the overall lead.

Enjoying the perks of victory with a huge smile and a wink!
Enjoying the perks of victory with a huge smile and a wink!

Imagine in one day changing your fortunes. Skujins has the attention of pro cycling managers now. He will probably have a contract for next year by mid-summer. He clearly was enjoying the thrill of victory and trembling from exhaustion and excitement. It was wonderful to witness.

Tour of California Bike Race, Stage 1

18th and L in Midtown SacramentoThe 10th annual Amgen Tour of California bike race started on Sunday, May 10 in Sacramento. I have moved to midtown Sacramento so I was thrilled when I looked up the Stage 1 route and learned that the final circuit around Capitol Park would turn left at my building. Turns always mean a bit more drama.

The best part of the being the host city for Stage 1 is the teams arrive a few days before the start and you see them training on the American River Parkway. Sacramento has a well paved, wonderful 30 mile+ bike trail stretching from Old Sacramento to Folsom Lake. Apparently some of the riders got a little careless and especially the great bike handler Peter Sagan bumped into some cyclists on the trail. The speed limit is 15 miles per hour but the flat wide trail with great pavement is too great a temptation.

The men’s race started on L Street at the North entrance of the Capitol. They cycled out of town on their way to Rio Vista. Shortly afterward the women’s Stage 3 circuit race began. We watched them go round and checked out the festival. I bought some Nuun. Stopped at the Trek Factory Racing booth to take a picture of the bike that Jens Voigt’s used to break the 1 hour record. I also asked about using slightly wider tires on my Trek road bike to gain a little speed in the hopes this will save me a little time in the saddle on RAGBRAI.

We all relaxed and napped while the riders were out on the road--even Dozer.
We all relaxed and napped while the riders were out on the road–even Dozer.

There were a lot of fans out on a Sunday and Mother’s Day. We bumped into a few family friends. We returned to my apartment home and watched the women from my balcony. I need to learn more about women’s cycling. I have been watching the men’s racing for years so I know the players and teams. I am going to invest some attention to learn more about the top women racers. Leah Kirchmann (CAN) won the Stage 3 circuit race and Trixi Worrack (GER) hung on to the yellow jersey to win the overall Women’s Race.

We downloaded the excellent Amgen Tour of California Live App on the iPad and phones. You can watch the video from 2:00 p.m. to the finish plus other features.

I dozed while I listened/watched the video. I sat up when one of the Jelly Belly riders went off the levee on the road winding along the Sacramento River on the return from Woodland. Lucky for him he let go of the bike and landed just before the riprap rocks. (He finished last; but he finished.)

This close!When the 3 breakaway riders crossed the Tower Bridge I ran downstairs with my camera to get a first hand look. The turn itself was 3 fans deep so I moved down L Street a little towards the Lutheran Church. I did not think about the physics, but it was perfect as the riders had to move to our side of the street on the curve. The first time around I was surprised by the wind/blow back and thrilled by the speed. The first two of four circuits Sagan’s Tinkoff Saxo team lead out train was in front. The last two times the front lead out train was Cavendish’s Etixx Quickstep (my favorite team).

Mark Cavendish's lead out train in front.
Mark Cavendish’s lead out train in front.

The last time round the church bells were pealing and the fans yelling and the cowbells clanging. We turned to the App to find out who won and there was a bit of a delay… Cavendish first, Sagan second.

AMGEN Tour of California, Midtown Fashion Show and More

I had such an exciting morning. It is a great way to warm up to a busy and fun Mother’s Day weekend.

The entrance to the bike trail is just behind Blue Diamond Almond factory on C Street.
The entrance to the bike trail is just behind Blue Diamond Almond factory on C Street.

I am getting ready for RAGBRAI (7 day bike ride across Iowa in July). After 7 days off my bike because of travel to Southern Utah, I was trying to find the motivation to begin training. The good news is there is a cool training plan by David Ertl on the RAGBRAI blog. I am getting a late start, so I set out to ride for 2 solid hours and see how many miles I cover. As a bonus I thought I might see some professional bike teams working out before the AMGEN Tour of California.

I was about 4 miles down the trail when I saw a lone rider in a Trek team kit. It was one of my all time favorite riders: Jens Voigt! I said something like, “Are you Jens Voigt?” He said yes and he needed directions to his Sacramento hotel. I gushed about being a fan and was so excited that I left out an important left hand turn in my directions. I continued riding and felt an adrenaline rush. It was as exciting as the time I saw All Blacks Captain Richie McCaw at breakfast in Chicago. Only this time I was not so gobstopped and I was able to say something to him. Maybe it helped that I met Jens before in Yorkshire.

Riders from the Trek Factory Racing team were among the very first people to sign my California state flag.
Riders from the Trek Factory Racing team were among the very first people to sign my California state flag.

Afterward several more teams passed me from behind. You can hear them coming from a distance–they sound like a light rail train. It is not a question of being “dropped” since I could not keep up with them for any pedal strokes. It is great for inspiration. Team Giant-Alpecin, Team LottoNL-Jumbo, Cannondale-Garmin, and Hincapie Racing, Optum Pro Cycling, Drapac Professional Cycling teams whizzed past me. The much larger Tinkoff-Saxo team has a different standard for passing space (barely any)!

I turned around after 70 minutes and one the way home I saw Jens Voigt returning with the Trek team. He recognized me and gave me a big “hey” wave. It made my day. It also reminded me of my wonderful Tour de France experience with Trek Travel in Yorkshire when I collected the signatures of the entire Trek Factory Racing team on my California state flag. It is framed and hanging above my couch. You can experience your own one-on-one moment with Jens Voigt. The Tour de California is selling tickets to three meet and greets with Jens with the first one for Stage One in Sacramento on May 10 (tickets only available for Stages Four and Six). You can download the map for Stage One and watch the race near the Capitol or along the Delta route.

The Tour of California is going to go down 18th Street and turn onto L in the closing circuits of Stage One on Sunday. But first on Saturday I am throwing a little supper party before the fashion show on Capitol Avenue and 19th Avenue at 6:30 p.m. to benefit WEAVE (Women Escaping a Violent Environment).

Then on Sunday after the kids and I go to church it will be the Amgen Tour until mid-day. I am really looking forward to it.

Racing to Write a Tour de France Guide

I am setting ambitious deadlines to write a Tour de France guide for spectators and amateur cyclists for release this fall. Jane Friedman’s class “How to Write a Powerful Book Proposal Workshop” has really helped me focus. So I will not be traveling as much and writing more. Instead of taking a hiatus, look for posts on Norway from a trip my son and I took together just before I began this blog.

In the meantime I will tweet progress reports on the Tour de France guide. My goal is to be high-fiving you all with a finished book by the time the Tour de France 2015 route is announced.

Jens Voigt high-fiving fans at the end of Tour de France 2014 in Paris.
Jens Voigt high-fiving fans at the end of Tour de France 2014 in Paris.