Confessions of a Cycling Fan

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This email got me thinking about my relationship to cycling as a fan and rider.

I have followed professional cycling for decades or since Greg LeMond won his first Tour de France. I have spent much of my precious time and resources as an avid fan in Italy, France, England California and Australia. When the UCI ejected Peter Sagan from the Tour de France last July, my fan heart was broken.

I never thought Lance Armstrong was clean because I saw an interview with Greg LeMond talking about getting dropped by riders who the year before were middling racers. Then he knew the drugs were winning. Lance was up among the elite riders who were winning and they were getting caught doping. My assumption was that he was better at not getting caught. So I left some room for being wrong and cheered Columbia High Road and other riders on. Besides he was a bully, that was clear without a urine sample.

Somehow I survived those wretched years when the press broke a new drug scandal every year. I remember once I was traveling in Africa and spent some time with a German couple. He was a sports writer and the German press had just made a big deal about not televising or covering the Tour de France because of the drugs. I couldn’t understand how you could just stop caring. I was still in the throes of attraction to cycling.

Now I understand. Sometimes the corruption of the officials and the lack of fair play doesn’t just knock the wind out of you, it hits you with such a punch you just don’t give a flying fig anymore. I have huge respect for Peter Sagan. His cycling skills are unparalleled today. And his attitude is super fun and eccentric. He brings excitement to the sport. Oh, and he’s won the world championship 3 years in a row. He was on track to win the green jersey again, when his crash with Mark Cavendish drew the ire of race officials. They didn’t just relegate him for that stage (like they did Mark Cavendish when he had a similar crash back in the day), but ejected him from the race. Later the UCI dropped the disqualification, as if that does anything to erase the stupidity of the first decision.

The rest of the season I followed the Australian team and their excellent videos on social media. Orica Bike Exchange’s Backstage Pass was awesome. I stopped using my NBC Gold Pass to watch races. Still I wondered if I’d go back to feeling good as a fan after a break.

Then I received this email about Peter Sagan’s Fondos in California. Nope. I have a precedence. After many years as a USC football fan, I read about the concussions, then I took my family to a home game and the pre-game videos of greatest “hits” made me sick. Haven’t watched a game since. The Olympics, well who hasn’t lost faith in the Olympics? The latest in scandals is the Russians’ systematic doping. But that has been going my whole life. See the documentary Icarus on Netflix for a refresher.

I am sad to announce my heart break was finally irrevocable. I am a former cycling fan.

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!

 

Are You Ready for Tour de France 2016?

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Stage 1 of Tour de France 2014 in Yorkshire

Today is the first official day of the Tour de France (July 2). I have been following the Tour since Greg LeMond raced, although back then I could only read about it in the newspaper. The “golden years” for me was Versus coverage on the cable sports station. It was thorough. I could watch live in the morning as soon as I got up (most stages start before 5 a.m. PST), then watch again in the late afternoon as soon as I got home from work, and then watch the evening program with Bob Roll and others doing special reports. 

I know this sounds nuts. Afterall, I already knew the outcome of the race on the second and third viewing. But, as any good Kiwi can tell you, there is a lot to be learned by watching a sporting event a second or third time. Plus I find cycling and the commentary as relaxing as listening to baseball on the radio.

In 2014 I made the commitment to follow the Tour from team introductions to the finish line. While the overall experience is richer, it is actually harder to follow an entire stage in person. Television coverage continually improves too. GoPro cameras and a better satellite feed mean that you see more of the race and from a greater variety of vantage points than ever before. 

However, now I do not own a television (only a computer) and watching the Tour de France becomes more of a challenge. I thought I had it figured out because I have Xfinity Comcast internet service with the extra television package. I have not tried to use it before and, alas, I do not subscribe to NBC Sports. I did download the NBC Le Tour de France Sports Gold app on my iPad. For $29.99 I will have live access to watch the racing for this race and many others.

I am a little disappointed that I cannot review the race when it is complete via the app. This is a challenge mainly because with the summer heat I also like to ride my road bike when the Tour de France is broadcasting.

Thanks to the internet there are lots of awesome resources. Most of the teams have websites, so I watched Mark Cavendish pull on the yellow jersey at the award presentations on Team Dimension Data website. I have mentioned in this space the terrific Orica Backstage Pass videos: the Stage 1 video gives you a taste of what is in store on the Tour de France. There is also the websites of Cycling News and Velonews for in depth coverage and videos. Here is Cycling News great recap of Stage 1

Twenty more stages to go. I am ready.

7 RAGBRAI Lessons: Wisdom Revealed

1. Be part of a team.

A team is not required to participate in RAGBRAI, but why do it alone? I appreciated Team Larry in the morning when they got me going by 7 a.m. I appreciated them when I rode with a member along the way. I really appreciated them when I got done at the end of the day and we swapped stories. I learned so much from the hundreds of years of experience of the collective team.

RAGBRAI Team Larry 2015
Team Larry 2015

2. Be thankful you have your arms and legs.

Whenever I felt sorry for myself when the lactic acid was building in my legs going uphill, I only needed to look over at the person with no legs pedaling up the hill with their arms, or the tandem bike where one of the people could not use their arms or could not see. If they can overcome those challenges I can deal with a little discomfort.

3. Drink lots of water.

It is so easy to get behind in drinking water. I love Nuun and I drank at least one bottle of water with these magic electrolyte tabs, sometimes two a day. When I substituted diet Coke or beer or chocolate milk I fell behind and got dehydrated. This is the fastest route to getting a headache or “hitting the wall.” If it is humid drink even more. Similar wisdom: use sunscreen (and keep slathering it on) and use chapstick with UV protection. Get plenty of rest.

Biker catching some z's on floor of fire station.
Biker catching some z’s on floor of fire station.

4. Brake for pie.

There is a National Public Radio team (NPR) that gets lots of attention each year because their team name is No Pie Refused. This is a great philosophy for RAGBRAI. There is so much good pie available and it supports good causes. Tony from Chicago substituted rootbeer floats for pie. I normally brake for pie so RAGBRAI was awesome.

Rhubarb pie a la mode from United Church of Christ in Alden, IA.
Rhubarb pie a la mode from United Church of Christ in Alden, IA.

5. Ask for help.

I found myself wanting to appear tough and self-sufficient to Team Larry, so first I would only text my questions to my daughter. Ultimately I had to ask Cousin Sandy for help finding a dentist, then ask the dentist to come in from the Rotary booth to fix my tooth. And the list goes on. The great thing about RAGBRAI is that people were helping people all around  me: I saw a dad help his younger daughter up hills by putting his hand gently on her back to help her uphill; I witnessed members of the Air Force Cycling Team helping women change their flat tires; and lots of local town volunteers were ready to help with directions or other assistance. Ask for help and graciously accept it when it is offered.

6. Be open to new experiences.

Try new foods like chocolate dipped bacon. Or stop for the slip n slide or the car museum. Talk to the person next to you on the road. Eat with the person you just met in line. Good stuff happens when you remain open and present to what is happening in this moment.

Chocolate dipped bacon is amazing!
Chocolate dipped bacon is amazing!

7. Unplug, but not the coffee.

There is very little cell coverage in rural Iowa, so I enjoyed this excuse and disconnected from the news and thinking about work.

These volunteers had the best intentions of providing free coffee--except they blew a fuse and so no coffee.
These volunteers had the best intentions of providing free coffee–except they blew a fuse and so no coffee.

Bonus wisdom: Enjoy the view. It may not be changing much but you are outdoors, it is green, and you are on your bike. And as the great Manx sprinter Mark Cavendish says, Any day on your bike beats a day working in a bank.

Corn fields and more corn fields make up the dominant view.
Corn fields and more corn fields make up the dominant view.

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!

Tour of California, Stage 2

I had so much fun watching the Amgen Tour of California I decided to drive to Lodi to watch the finish of Stage 2. Lodi is about 50 minutes south on Highway 99 from downtown Sacramento. The race started in Nevada City in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The route was almost entirely downhill to the farm town of Lodi.

Welcome to Lodi!
Welcome to Lodi!

Lodi is known for zinfandel wine grapes. They have a Zinfest wine festival every April. It is a charming smaller Central Valley town. It was interesting to see the range of support. One cranky business owner put up a sign complaining about the road closures. This was made up by lots of entrepreneurs with food trucks and selling water and cherries. Fans lined the road and were in a festive mood. I watched some guys on tricked out bikes ride by advertising Bikes and Bites. (I checked it out on the way home but it was closed to enjoy the race.)

The finish line for Amgen Stage Two in Lodi.
The finish line for Amgen Stage Two in Lodi.

It is fun when the people around you follow cycling. I enjoyed chatting with Jill from Folsom. Like me she saw the race earlier and got caught up in the excitement and drove to Lodi to watch the finish. We were positioned about 200 meters from the finish so the racers were going to pass us three times.

Cheerful young woman selling water and cherries.
Cheerful young woman selling water and cherries.

The three breakaway riders were still away when they passed us the first time. The second time around the sprinters did not appear to be very organized. Lead out trains were not obvious but they had managed to catch the breakaway. Etixx Quickstep had done all the work to close the gap and it may have burned out the lead out riders. The final time around we could see Cavendish and Sagan in the front but it looked like everyone was scrambling.

PeletonIt took a minute or two but then the App informed us: Cavendish won again. Sagan second. So worth driving down to watch in person!

Stage 20: Tony Martin Wins Time Trial!

Today is Stage 20: the one and only time trial. I have been following Tony Martin’s career since he rode for Columbia HTC.  He has mastered the discipline of the time trial where the best in the business maintain their focus and wattage for a solid 50 to 70 minutes.

Tony Martin, 3 time world time trial champion, crushed it! 

This year Tony was put on the spot at the pre-Tour Team Presentation when they asked him how Mark Cavendish is as a leader. He froze. You could imagine the thought balloons above his head as he fished for something to say that would please the home crowd. Mark just leaned across the bikes and grinned at him. It reinforced the image some may have of a reserved Germanic machine.

Waiting outside the Omega Pharma Quick Step team bus yesterday at the departure, I saw the other side of Tony Martin. He has a charming smile and he has charisma. He also speaks English well and is very patient and polite with fans.

Bike camera installed on Tony Martin's bicycle.
Bike camera installed on Tony Martin’s bicycle.

Yesterday the mechanics outfitted his bike with the on-bike camera. (They were going to upload the film to the OPQS website depending on how the race went; did not see anything on site). 

Davide of OPQSI started the tour without a “favorite team” as I admire riders on BMC, Trek and other teams. Then standing at OPQS team area waiting for riders to wrap up their team meeting, I chatted with Davide Bramati, the sport director, and began to realize how many of their riders I admire. Of course there is Mark Cavendish. This video of Mark Cavendish in team car with Davide Bramati is fun. 

Mark’s early departure meant that his teammates were freed up from recreating the lead train on possible sprint finishes and Matteo Trentin won stage 7 and Tony Martin won stage 9 and now stage 20.

This is the team where Brian Holm is also a sports director. I enjoyed watching him in the Tour movie Chasing Legends. Plus they have “Prince Harry” or Mark Renshaw.Mark Renshaw

In the first week, back in Yorkshire, (that feels like a million years ago) one of my Trek Travel teammates really like OPQS and now I can say they are my favorite team too.