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!

 

Planning 2017 Bike Trips

It’s that time of year. Tomorrow the ISO will announce the official 2017 Tour de France route. Rumors are flying on Twitter and Facebook about some of the stages being more than 400 kilometers. Ugh. When will they learn from the Vuelta and the Giro that shorter stages are more competitive? The race is already an endurance test. As a fan, the main reason you should tune in to the route announcement is to begin planning your own adventure–especially booking your hotel.

You can cycle or spectate with an official tour, such as Trek Travel or Thomson Bike Tours. Or you can plan your own adventure. I recommend looking for places where there are starts and finishes close together. The Pyrenees are also terrific: beautiful, many viewing spots within reach, lots of hotels to accommodate teams and fans.

The catalogs for bicycle trips are also arriving. Trek Travel’s beautiful brochure arrived and I spent several happy hours looking at the possibilities. With Trek you know your hotel will be fabulous, the food fantastic and the guides/support reliable, and you pay dearly for this top of the line experience. The Adventure Cycling Association tour catalog also landed in my mailbox this month. These trips are less expensive, generally a bigger time commitment and a bigger physical challenge than your typical bike tour. Two people in my RAGBRAI 2015 group met while riding across the USA with Adventure Cycling Association and they had all positive things to say. You can select from fully supported, Inn to Inn, self contained or van supported rides (and more).

I’ve been dealing with some health issues so my goal is to work my back to the place where I can consider one of these adventures. My ideal trip in 2017 would include the start of the Tour de France in Dusseldorf, Germany in July. What destination is in your future?

 

Remembering Yarn Crawl in Bergen

Reprinted from a 2013 Redesigning 49 post, “Sweater Countries” in honor of Slow TV an Evening of Knitting:

Tevis observed that I always seem to spend the most time in countries that are known for their wool, knitting and sweaters. He is right: Ireland, UK, Peru, New Zealand, and now Norway. Our last full day in Bergen it was pouring rain, so I left Tevis working in the room and I went on a yarn adventure. I started with the yarn shop closest to my hotel. It was well-lit and had great sample projects in the window. Nellfrid, the shop clerk spoke broken English and I said I only knew two words of Norwegian “tak” (thank you) and uffda, although I haven’t heard anyone say uffda. Nellfrid explained that uffda is more commonly shortened to “uff”, like the weather today, uff.  I really wanted to buy the yarn for a project in the window for Cameon’s daughter. Alas they didn’t have enough yarn or the pattern. Nellfrid sent me on my way with directions to a bookstore and another shop across  town.

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“Across town” is about 10 minutes walking. On the way I stopped at the Norli bookstore. It is strange travelling in a country where the bookstores are not a temptation (almost everything is in Norwegian). Good thing because bookstores still abound in Norway.  They did not have any interesting knitting books in English, so I ducked out quickly went to the yarn shop in the very touristy section of town that one blogger called “similar to JoAnn’s”. I actually liked the cosy basement full of yarn. The clerk spoke English and she explained that they did not have the full line of Rauma yarn and directed me to Husfliden. This is where I bought yarn in Oslo. Actually, not. The shops look identifical (same goods, type of displays, etc.) But the clerk assured me that they were not related. They had the yarn and the “recipe” I needed (insert sound of cash register). I am going to have an adventure using Google translate. Or I will impose on Susie and trade some services.

Now I was close to the train station and I remembered that there was a good coffee shop there as well as a yarn store called Norwegian Spirit. By now it was pouring. The coffee and chocolate croissant revived me. I also met a  delightful waitress Cecilie.  The Norwegian Spirit had some ready made traditional sweaters and some others made by the shopkeeper, a textile artist. They also had a recipe book from the original designer for Oleana Knits. (Insert sound of cash register here)  That led me to the Oleana flagship store. The factory is just outside Bergen. And wow! The designs and the prices are amazing. While skeins of wool are a bargain, ready made sweaters are not.

I was starting to flag Thought about jumping on the bus and going to the Knitting Factory and Museum but the rain and my soaked feet prevailed. I hit one more store where I was rewarded with a penguin.

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I practically skipped back to the hotel–I had such a good day. For a smallish town they have a lot of yarn shops. Nellfrid says knitting is very popular due to the weather.

Tevis was still working hard and I wanted to watch the Tour de France with company. I ventured out again and after a couple of tries I found Finnegan’s Irish Pub. The Pub Man, from Manchester with an Irish mum, loves Le Tour too. He was having all kinds of difficulties opening (no hot water, etc.) However, he was more than happy to set me up with the Tour on television–on the British sports channel so it was in English!–and at one point he locked me in so he could pick up parts. He popped in every so often to find out how the race was going. By the time Kittel won the sprint and the stage the pub was filling with customers. Lovely, lovely day.

Postscript:  I have learned the hard way… take patterns in your native tongue when you travel so you can wool shop for projects you know you can complete!

Vuelta Postcard: David De La Cruz wins!

David de la CruzAs a cycling fan, the time invested often rewards you in a special way. Such is Stage 9 of La Vuelta in Spain. I first met David de la Cruz when he asked Sarah and me for directions on the American River Parkway. He was preparing for the time trial in Folsom in 2014 and we had a short conversation with him and his Net App Endura teammates. Then I had a brief conversation with him at this year’s Giro outside the Etixx-Quick-Step bus as he stopped to sign my flag. He’s just 27 and he signed a contract extension just three days ago with Etixx-Quick-Step (one of cycling’s most competitive teams). He had yet to win any stages in a major tour.

Today’s stage had a steep descent in the middle and then ended “lumpy”. The series of steep hills at the end allowed about 11 riders to survive in the break away and stay away. David de la Cruz with Etixx-Quick-step cycling team was able to keep up and ultimately attacked on the final climb and left all but one rider behind–Dries Devenyns (IAM Cycling). He shook him off with 700 meters to go and rode hard to the finish in the hopes of also winning the red jersey for the overall lead. Once the group that had red jersey Nairo Quintana came in it was official–he won just about every prize today–the stage, most aggressive, the combo jersey and the overall leader’s red jersey. His grin on the podium was about a mile wide. He earned his joy.

I am watching la Vuelta bike race every morning on NBC Sports Gold app. I startled Lulu this morning with my enthusiasm for de la Cruz’s achievement. Someday I may be able to travel to Spain to watch the third grand tour. It is always 3 weeks in August, and because it follows the Giro and Tour de France it often gets green riders who need grand tour experience or stars who are a bit tired from the Tour de France and this year the Olympics. Alberto Contador is back after injuries forced him to abandon the Tour de France. Chris Froome is contending even though he’s been almost around the world competing.

When I was on the Giro I appreciated how relaxed and less formal the race was as compared to the Tour de France. People kept saying, “Then you’d love the Vuelta.” One thing I do love is the good behavior of the fans. They appear to be there for the cycling and not so much to appear on television or to harass the cyclists (as in the Tour de France). There are also many more policeman only the side of the road and they appear to be much more willing to blow their whistle and remind people to stay back.

We are barely into the second week and I am looking forward to much more world class cycling.

 

Respecting Cyclists: Share the Road!

RAGBRAI 16 routeOMG! Pay attention motorists. Today is the first day of RAGBRAI–the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa–and the first year that they are honoring fallen cyclists killed in crashes with motor vehicles. Riders were asked to respect a mile of silence to remember those cyclists who were killed by motorists this year.  And dammit if a motorist didn’t already strike and kill a 72 year old cyclist at 6:40 a.m. on the very first day!

What is it going to take for car drivers to pay attention and share the road?

As I write this the Tour de France has wrapped up this year. It is a halfway point in the racing season and already there have been serious accidents involving motorbikes and automobiles and cyclists. In January six members of the Giant-Alpecin team was seriously injured (requiring hospitalization) when a British woman was driving on the wrong side of the road in Spain. Another rider is still in hospital in a coma, and the list goes on. Tony Martin and others are lobbying for changes in the way professional races are organized to increase safety.

As many of you know I am enthusiastic for the Bike and Build program where young adults ride their bicycles across the USA from east to west, stopping to build affordable housing along the way. Unfortunately there is no way to make it completely safe. In 2011 Bike and Build suffered their second fatality and it was one of Sarah’s team leaders, Christina. Last year we were heartsick again when 2 people were struck by a vehicle and one killed. And then it happened again this year.

I know some cyclists act like idiots and cause aggravation by disrespecting traffic signals and taking risks; they should knock it off. Drivers remember–especially if you are in an SUV–you are like a tank to a pedestrian or cyclists, and it takes you about 1 ounce of energy to stop or start. Plus cyclists and pedestrians are doing good things for their health and the health of the planet. So share the flippin’ road.

This is a heavy-hearted post. So much needless loss of life. And we know the drivers must live with this on their hearts too. Here is some comic relief. If only we could create this kind of joy on the road everyday.

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.