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.

Hump Day RAGBRAI Day 4

Nancy and me at fire stationLast night we slept little because of the concert in town and then people coming home from the concert. We took off about 7:15 a.m. and worked our way through the bike congestion in Eldora.

I chatted briefly with an Australian cyclist from Perth. Then I caught up with team member Nancy. We rode the first 20 miles together at a smart clip. We stopped briefly at the first town and the 6 coffee pots had blown a fuse so no coffee. We were on our way to collect our bikes and I ran into Tony from Chicago. So you never know on RAGBRAI.

Nancy and I did stop at Chris Cakes for pancakes in Ackley. It was in the Volunteer Fire Department main bays and it was a fun atmosphere. The cooks tossed pancakes into the line every once in a while! I met Steve from Chicago and he joined our group from Team Larry for breakfast. Bacon on the roadThe towns were closer together today and this hump day is also the shortest–just 62 miles to my host family in Cedar Rapids. Nancy moved on at a faster pace after a few more miles. We had more long rolling hills. It feels like the uphill to downhill ratio is 2:1.

I stopped in Aplington and indulged in the chocolate dipped bacon. It is delicious and the creator Karen is going to send me the recipe.

At this point I decided to go all in and get the walking taco or taco in a bag. I had fun talking to a group of the US Air Force Cycling Team. They have impressed other riders with how much they have been there for other riders–helping to change tires and offering encouragement to people struggling with the hills.

I stopped again in Parkersburg and enjoyed a piece of pie. Maybe I should have eaten some more protein and less sugar because at mile 53 I hit the wall. There were people collapsing from dehydration and falling over. The ambulances were busy. and it was sobering. On one of the steepest hills in the last 7 miles I shifted to the lowest gear and I was still teetering, so I pulled over to the side with a “biker off”. Moments later a woman passed me and then fell over. Her chain broke and may have caused her fall. Suddenly my decision to walk up seemed smart. I struggled all the way home, but I didn’t have to walk again.

I took some time to myself to recover and then enjoyed the convivial Team Larry circle and a delicious homemade dinner from our hosts. And they very kindly let me watch the Tour de France Stage 17 coverage on NBC Sports.

Take a bag of nacho doritos and add seasoned hamburger, lettuce, cheese, sour cream and salsa.
Take a bag of nacho doritos and add seasoned hamburger, lettuce, cheese, sour cream and salsa.

Louise from Bimiji shared with me her experience riding near a woman cycling with her trumpet. At one point she stopped at the top of a long hard hill and played the theme from Rocky for all of the other riders. The impact was tremendous for those struggling up the hill. That is RAGBRAI. Fingers crossed for better sleep and a better day of riding.

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 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!

Tour de France Rest Day: Behind the Scenes

Imagine two small cities quickly constructed for the departure and arrival of the Tour de France stages each day.  The finish is a much bigger production because all of the media broadcasting from wherever the finish is that day.  Just moments after the finish, crews begin breaking it all down to move to the next town. It reminded me of the circus, except the circus does not move everyday.

 When you walk behind the scenes you have to watch your feet. There are wires snaking everywhere.  There are also water tanks and septic tanks. Surprise, there are also open air urinals. There are trailers and tents for every imaginable kind of media.

 I was walking by one smaller trailer and I saw a photojournalist with large lenses hanging off every each arm. “Are you one of those photographers who bravely takes pictures hanging off the back of motorcycle?” I asked.  He said yes and invited me to step in the trailer and see the small tribe of photographers all hurriedly downloading their photos to send to AP or Reuters or other news services. I snapped a few photos and he introduced me to Jesus– “one of the best”.  I left them to their work and continued exploring.

 I found the NBC Sports trailer and the announcer Paul Sherwen hugging his kids. There was a tent where the stage winners went from one interview to the next in English, French, Italian, Spanish or German.IMG_1152

 The packing up was getting more intense and I realized that I better stop taking pictures and pay more attention to where I was walking. Where is my lens cap? Not my pockets. Oh fudge.   A few moments later I passed the photojournalist’s trailer and there was Jesus holding out my lens cap. I thanked him and wished him good luck and a safe tour.