Tour de France 2017 Starts Tomorrow

This year, as in every year, I briefly thought I would watch the Tour de France casually. I would not become obsessed and thus avoid the highs and lows of cycling in July and the gutted feeling when it is over and forgo getting up at 5:30 a.m. PST.

Then I got this email.

Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 9.51.21 AMI bought the NBC Sports Gold pass for cycling during the Tour of California in May. It did not include the Giro but it will include the Tour de France. I watch on my computer, follow VeloNews and the @letour on Twitter and watch every episode of Orica Scott Backstage Pass on YouTube. Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 10.06.51 AM

The favorites are Chris Froome (Sky), RIchie Porte (BMC), or Nairo Quintana (Movistar) for the overall General Classification or yellow jersey. The race begins on July 1 with a time trial in Dusseldorf, Germany. Will my favorite Tony Martin win on home turf? Will Germans Marcel Kittel or Andre Greipel turn themselves out to win a stage at home? Will Mark Cavendish be healthy enough to compete? Will best rider in the world Peter Sagan win the green jersey again? We’ll know when Le Tour finishes in Paris on July 23rd.

If you like listening to podcasts. My cycling favorite is The 3 Domestiques. I listen on the Stitcher app to Matt Keenan, Sam Edmunds and Dan Jones discuss pro-cycling with great interviews.

So set your alarm and don’t miss the drama, the athleticism, and the tradition.

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I bought this fan kit in England and mailed it home in a box of books. It just arrived!

 

Pro Cycling Shines in Sacramento

20170514_152403It is hard to beat Sacramento for watching a bike race on a sunny day. AMGEN Tour of California Stage 1 ambient temperature was a perfect 73 degrees with barely any wind. The only kink in my plans was the coincidence of Mother’s Day. There were many fans along the road and in the VIP tents, but it was still possible to find a place to watch the finish at about 3:15 p.m.

20170514_152209World Champion Peter Sagan moved to the tail end of the Quick Step lead out train for Marcel Kittel. Then it looked like he might get boxed in. Across the line it was Marcel Kittel first, Peter Sagan second. Thrilling!

20170514_152831Afterward I hung out to watch the jersey presentations and delighted to talk to the first female commissaire that I’ve ever seen at the international level. I asked her how she earned her spot. She said she paid her dues refereeing local races. Normally she rides along in an automobile. Today was one of the few times she was on a motorbike. I asked if she had to prove her ability as a motorcycle driver. The UCI provides a driver and she rides along. I asked how many women there are at this international level–not many. This race has three!  Could this be my third career? haha.

Enjoying le Tour de France as Spectator

I have stood along the side of the racecourse on many a stage of the Tour de France. I followed the 2014 from Stage 1 to 21. I have been a spectator at the Tour of California, the Tour Down Under and the Giro d’Italia. Watching a professional bike race in person is a thrilling experience. Whether you are traveling across the globe or stepping out your front door, there are certain dos and don’ts to being a good spectator.

I have a new appreciation this year watching religiously on my NBC Sports Gold app. I set my alarm every day at 6:00 a.m. to watch the day’s Tour de France stage. This year I have spent as much time yelling at spectators to behave as I have at the cyclists to race to the finish.

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A spectator accidentally deflated the 1 K marker; photo telegraph.co.uk

The spectators need to exercise self control. Here are some suggestions. First and foremost, pay attention to your surroundings at all times. After the caravan of sponsors go by you have about an hour before the first cyclists will pass. If you pay attention and stay sober enough you will hear the helicopters, notice an increase of motorcycle police and official race cars. This will get more and more intense and then you will see either the breakaway group of 2-20 (on average riders) or the whole frickin’ peleton of 180+ riders. Then there are always a few stragglers fighting to get back with the group. Notice how fast they are going compared to you on foot? This is why it is foolhardy to try to interact with them. Besides it is not about you.

  1. Never touch a cyclist or his/her bike. You think you are helping but you are actually more likely to throw them off balance or off their cadence. (Yes, there are more and more women’s cycling competitions. Same rules apply.)
  2. Never throw anything at a cyclist: water, pee, chalk, smoke, fireworks. This is rude and dangerous. On RAGBRAI when amateurs are cycling across Iowa, spectators sometimes turn on their hose and offer to spray cyclists, but it is entirely voluntary, they never cover the entire road. Same with high fives, etc. And it is non-competitive. In a race the cyclists are going full gas throwing something at those speeds can hurt!
  3. Stay off the racecourse. This means that you can not extend your arms out over the barrier to take a selfie, or lean into the road with your mongo camera lens to take a photo. It also applies to your children (don’t hold them over the barrier so they can see), and your dogs (always on a leash please!).

The race organization ASO also has much egg on its face for a series of logistical catastrophes. On Stage 7, the inflatable red 1 kilometer marker collapsed and caused an accident. When the race entered the Pyrenees it was clear that the ASO was not investing enough in safety as many spectators interfered in the race. Then on Mt. Ventoux, the ASO moved the race short of the mountaintop because of severe winds but didn’t move the fan barriers. At 1 kilometer to the new finish the crowd closed in resulting in an accident, a broken bike and Chris Froome, the race leader (yellow jersey) did a 100 yard dash up the road.

Could this have been avoided? Absolutely. The ASO decided to move the finish line the day before, so they had time to move the barriers. The ASO excuses just grated on everyone’s nerves. It might have caused more angst, but the tragedy in Nice shifted the focus.

George Bennett’s run in with a spectator was impressive on Stage 9. For some crazy reason a spectator decided to cross the road as the cyclists came roaring around the corner. Bennett put out his arm and she fell backward out of the road. Asked about it later and the New Zealander said he “Sonny Billed” her. (Sonny Bill is a fantastic rugby player for the All Blacks.) Cyclists should not need rugby experience to compete at top levels.

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Sonny Bill Williams of the All Blacks; Irish Times

One of the marvelous things about cycling is how accessible it is to fans. Sure you can pay for VIP access, but most fans enjoy it either on television or from the racecourse for free.

Remember after 21 days of racing the top 3 finishers are often separated by only seconds. So if you think waving a flag in front of their bike and screaming in someone’s face can’t make a difference, look at how close the finish can be:

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On Stage 4 Marcel Kittel edged out Bryan Coquard by mere millimeters.; Daily Mail

You can still dress up like a devil, or bring your inflatable kangaroo. You can hang your team or country flags. You can play music or sing and dance. You can experience your heart leaping into your throat as the peleton takes a corner and goes by so fast your eyes water. And you can go home satisfied that the race was decided by hard work, talent, grit and luck.

Let’s be careful out there.

 

Fan Favorite: Orica-Greenedge, Part II

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Esteban Chaves after a rest day training ride.

We met lots of cyclists who were racing in Italy the 3 weeks of the Giro. We missed some–one of my favorite riders Marcel Kittel of Etixx-Quickstep, dropped out before Tuscany. Fabian Cancellara of Trek-Segafredo dropped out after the time trial. So I was ripe to add riders to our favorites list.

 

It was easy to like Esteban Chaves with Orica-Greenedge. He is an energetic and charismatic young climber from Columbia. His smile is 1,000 watts and his teammates clearly like him. We met him on  a rest day and he was relaxed and happy to be on the Giro. He is 29 years old but has the boyish looks and energy of a teenager. I instantly became a fan.

There did not seem to be too much team pressure on Chaves to win. Sometimes a team with a leader in the top 5 closes down and you can feel the tension of expectations. This team still felt like they were mostly having fun. This is probably an advantage on a 3-week bike race when your chances depend on surviving crashes and the daily grind until you can get to the final mountain stages when the real race begins.

In the last few days of the Giro the competition did get real. Chaves took the overall lead on stage 19. The maglia rosa (pink jersey) Steven Kruijswijk dropped in the rankings after a weird crash into a snowbank during a momentary loss of concentration.

The Sicilian Shark Vincenzo Nibali won the stage and closed the gap taking second overall. There was one more mountain stage before the final (largely ceremonial) last stage. Nibali attacked to win the 20th stage with Chaves on the podium in second.

If Orica-Greenedge was disappointed, it is difficult to tell from this loving tribute on Backstage Pass. Thanks Dan Jones for the terrific use of Steve Jobs’ speech.

 

Coping with Le Tour Rest Day Withdrawal with Netflix

Watch on Netflix: Rising From Ashes about Rwandan bike racing team.
Watch on Netflix: Rising From Ashes about Rwandan bike racing team.

I do not expect many of you to relate to my Tour de France withdrawals on a rest day. You have to be obsessed to find the rest day between stages 9 and 10 a trial. I was distracted by my drive from Roseburg OR to Sacramento, still I got home at 5:30 p.m. and all I had was stage reruns on-line. I wish I had known about the clutch of cycling movies on Netflix. Bicycling magazine just tweeted these five titles.

A couple of them I have watched on Air New Zealand: Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist and Stop at Nothing: the Lance Armstrong Story. They are both intense films that give you a window to the passions that drive a world-class cyclist. Any film about Lance makes me angry. So how do you cleanse?

30 for 30: Slaying the Badger is a documentary focused on Greg LeMond. He is one of my heroes and this focuses on Greg’s relationship with Bernard Hinault (the Badger).  One of the other films I have yet to watch: Clean Spirit. I have yet to watch it and the description reminds me of my favorite cycling film, Chasing Legends. Clean Spirit is about the Argos-Shimano (now Giant) team in 2014 Tour de France season and includes Marcel Kittel. Rwandan cycling team

The final film is the most inspiring cycling film yet made: Rising From Ashes. I first learned about this documentary about the Rwandan cycling program after the genocide at Storylines Conference. I ordered the DVD and watched it many times even though my copy skipped. It was my first choice for viewing today. Parts are difficult to look at especially because it is real; however, it is overwhelmingly uplifting. Everyone should watch this film! Plus watching people ride on homemade wooden bikes will make you hug your bike.

Tour de France Finale in Paris

It was a very emotional day: the final stage of the Tour de France. After 21 stages in 23 days I can hardly believe it is actually over. It was also an exhausting and hot day. It took some staying and recovering to appreciate that I was actually on the Champs Elysees watching the last eight laps of the 2014 Tour de France.

IMG_3206My favorite moments were actually trying to snap a picture of the lantern rouge, the only Chinese rider Jl Cheng of Giant Shimano.  At the start of the day he was almost 6 hours behind Vincenzo Nibali. Today he was lapped by the main peloton. Ouch.

We were about 150 feet from the finish line, but it was on the other side of the road so it was only on a distant large screen television that I could see Marcel Kittel just barely beat Andre Greipel. 

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The end of the race was a nice surprise. Much of the crowd stayed and cheered for the riders as they made their way to the team buses. Some even high-fived us as we reached over the barrier. The winner of Stage 19 stopped to speak to his friend. Families helped to celebrate the end. 

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Thomson Bike Tours went on a river cruise. I chose to walk slowly back and see the team buses and savor the last moments of this magnificent event. The Vittel water sponsors were peeling off the logo from the vehicle and I got a section of it. Sounds strange I know, but it looks really cool.

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I paused to see Jens Voigt, Frank Schleck and others at the Trek Racing Team bus. Then I spied Gabe, my Trek Travel guide. It was great to give him a big hug and bring my experience full circle. 

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Now I cannot wait to get the DVD from NBC Sports so I can hear about this year’s tour in English!

Yorkshire Rocks Stage 1

Everywhere we went today there were cyclists and walkers and drivers headed to the somewhere along the Le Tour de France Stage 1 route.  Estimates range from 1 million to 3 million people lining the course. At the end of the race Paul Sherwen said that the racers will not be dealing with sore legs so much as sore ears from the crowds shouting all day. There were a few occasions where the fans did not leave enough room for the peloton. Overall the atmosphere was fantastic and Yorkshire should be proud. 

We cycled from the top of the moors (14 miles) to West Tanfield. Brian and Gabe did the full 52 miles today but the rest of us chose to give our legs a break.The scenery was even more breathtaking today and the weather cooperated. If you saw it on the telly–the photography was untouched. It was really that beautiful today.

Trek Travel arranged for a private room at the Bull Inn in West Tanfield with a television, lunch service and easy access to the course.  The first “rush from the room” was for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, aka Prince William and Kate. It was lovely to see how thrilled all of the Yorkshire people were to have their support. It was fun to observe how great both of them are at meeting and greeting people, especially children. One person overheard Prince William jokiing with a young boy who ran round to get in line for a second handshake.

Trek Racer Jens Voigt broke away with two other riders from the start. Then Jensie shed those two after the first big climb. The last climb of the day did him in and the peloton caught him before West Tanfield. We were about 30 kilometers from the finish so the peloton went by very fast. It was thrilling. How can they go that fast on these hills???

In the last 500 meters Trek Racer Fabian Cancellara made the race even more interesting by charging past the sprint trains and going for the finish. Unfortunately he ran out of gas before the line. The stage was won by Marcel Kittel of team Giant-Shimano. For me this was completely overshadowed by Mark Cavendish’s crash. His injuries have most likely taken him out of the Tour.  I am disappointed for him and le Tour. It will be less exciting without him.

We had quite a hike to the car (parking was some distance from the village, thus incentivizing bicycling to the race). We had time to shower at the Timble Inn and meet up on the patio for canapes and drinks. Another delicious dinner was on offer but I was still full from the Steak and Ale pie at the Bull Inn (yum).

Tomorrow is an early start and I need to pack. Good night.