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: 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!

One month until Tour de France

I pedaled to the Avid Reader in Sacramento–the only bookstore left between Arden Fair Mall and Elk Grove where new books and magazines are sold. I was looking for a specific book and browsing for new fiction to read this summer. Much to my surprise and delight the Velo Tour de France 2015 Official Guide was on the newsstand!

Ultimate 2014 winner Vincenzo Nibali heads to the starting line wearing the yellow jersey.
Ultimate 2014 winner Vincenzo Nibali heads to the starting line wearing the yellow jersey.

I read this issue from cover to cover every year. The Velo Guide cover traditionally features the winner from the previous year. Vincenzo Nibali dominated and ultimately won the 2014 Tour de France. The reporters had an irritating habit last year of saying “Nibali retains the yellow jersey…” and then adding “after Froome and Contador crashed out.” Ignoring that Nibali wore yellow before they crashed out. And that not crashing is one of the objectives of the race, essential to winning.

This year the sportswriters are salivating because Froome, Contador, and Nibali are all starting this year. I am excited because Nairo Quintana returns after a year off. He took the 2013 Tour de France by surprise placing second overall. His team Movistar bet on Alejandro Valverde last year and sent Quintana to win the Giro and was on his way to winning the Vuelta when he crashed out. It should be an exciting battle.

The race leaders run the gauntlet of news reporters after each stage.
The race leaders run the gauntlet of news reporters after each stage.

The Velo editors rank their favorites for the Tour each year. The magazine is written several months ago so it does not reflect the spring season. They rank the leaders in the following order: 1. Alberto Contador, 2. Chris Froome, 3. Vincenzo Nibali, 3. Nairo Quintana, 4. Thibaut Pinot, 5. Tejay Van Garderen, 6. Andrew Talansky. Contador just won the Giro. How will that impact his performance at Le Tour?

This issue also features profiles of each of the teams. For the first time, there will be an international team from Africa: MTN-QHUBEKA. It is helpful to track the changes in names as familiar teams change names as sponsors change. My favorite team is much easier to call out as their name is shorter: Etixx-Quick-Step.

Peter Sagan fine tunes his bike before a stage. He is wearing his "second skin" the green jersey.
Peter Sagan fine tunes his bike before a stage. He is wearing his “second skin” the green jersey.

They spend much less time handicapping the other jerseys. I was disappointed with the feature on the green jersey. At one time the green jersey point system made it the sprinter’s jersey. Then they changed the scoring system with more emphasis on intermediate sprints that perfectly suited new rider Peter Sagan. I love watching this exciting cyclist. He has completely dominated the green jersey in the last three years. The writers did not have the advantage of seeing Sagan win the Tour of California before they wrote this article and they cast a shadow on his chances. The bigger miss though was a clear explanation of how the green jersey point system has changed to reward sprinters more.

As Cyclingnews reported in October:

“The changes favour stage winners and will only be in place for the nine flat stages of the race. The winner of the stage will score 50 points, 20 more than the second placed rider, who will score 30 points, boosting the stage winner’s points total and rewarding stage winners more than rider who place consistently.

The jersey leaders at stage start.
The jersey leaders at stage start.

The first 15 riders to cross the finish line to be rewarded with 50, 30, 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 points respectively on the nine flat stages. The remaining 12 stages will continue to award points in the same distribution from 2012 to 2014 when the classification was last changed with 45, 35, 30, 26, 22, 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 points to the first 15 riders  across the line.”

I will be interested to watch how this changes the competition for this jersey. And I will be watching the continuing evolution of major talent Peter Sagan as a racer.

The issue also features a stage by stage description of the race. It changes ever year. This year it moves counter-clockwise around France after a time trial in Utrecht and a second stage in the Netherlands. If you look at the profiles of some of the stages you might think the Tour is not as hard as its reputation. Exhibit A. It is not the challenge of any one stage, it is the relentless pounding day after day, kilometer after kilometer. With hundreds of other nervous riders. On narrow European roads including cobblestones. Exhibit B. The mountains–Pyrenees and Alps. Just ask Secretary of State John Kerry who recently broke his leg riding one of the Tour de France routes.

Catching a Concert at Oracle Arena

Recently I attended a concert at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. I do not appreciate reminders of my advancing age. This whole experience made me feel old! First, I could not remember the last concert I have been to at a big arena. (I actually tried to recall.) I do remember going to see U2 at Arco Arena (aka Sleep Train Arena) in 2000. It was amazing. They designed a set that created an intimate-like setting for 17,000 fans. The sound waved through our bodies as we all sang along to every song. I believe Gwen Stefani and No Doubt opened the concert but they did not make a big impression, except that they seemed dwarfed by the set. In contrast, the arena erupted with electric lights and excitement when U2 took the stage and did not ebb until after the last encore. The sound was not as good as a concert hall, but it was as good as it gets in a basketball arena.

Needless to say, my bar was set kind of high. Fast forward to 2015 and the Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull concert. My friend Noel put out the call to action on Facebook and a number of us–all Enrique fans–responded yes! Noel was able to get tickets at the box office. In fact, the price had just been dropped to $29 for nosebleed sections.

The Sushi House restaruarnt at 2226 South Shore Center, Suite B, Alameda, Califronia
The Sushi House restaruarnt at 2226 South Shore Center, Suite B, Alameda, Califronia

We agreed to meet for dinner beforehand at the Sushi House in Alameda. It was Valentine’s Day so we expected it to be packed. They do not take reservations so I scrambled out of the car to sign up on the wait list while Noel parked the car. We were seated within 20 minutes.

Bento box includes starters of soup and salad and is enough to feed two!
Bento box includes starters of soup and salad and is enough to feed two!

While the service at the Sushi House is intermittent, the food is abundant and delicious. We ate as much as we could before we had to dash to Oracle Arena to make the show. So glad we carpooled! Can you believe parking is $45 a car?

Because I am an Enrique Iglesias fan, I assumed Pitbull was opening for Enrique and not the other way around. Showing my age, right? Oh, it gets worse.

Some sort of DJ rapper was on stage with a couple of excellent hip hop dancers. They were dwarfed by the sets and we could not understand what they were singing for the pounding bass drum beat that felt like a second heart beat throughout my body. I had to overcome the overall desire to retreat to the outside hallway. Conversation impossible. I also kicked myself for forgetting my earplugs.

The view of confetti falling from our seats in the first row of the highest tier at Oracle Arena.
We were in seats in the first row of the highest tier at Oracle Arena.

After what seemed an eternity, Enrique took the stage. Again I was taken by surprise because I was expecting Pitbull. (Full display of the power of assumptions; and admission that I never read my ticket). He sang beautifully on the ballads and with energy on the pop songs. He had a rapper and several excellent vocalists and guitarists accompanying him. He has a couple of songs on his Sex & Love album that feature Pitbull and yet Pitbull did not appear (the rapper filled in) during those performances. I naively thought maybe Pitbull was a no show. The staging was a bit clunky and old-fashioned. The use of fireworks and confetti felt like it was fulfilling audience expectations rather than inspired by the music.

Enrique saved Bailando for the encore and I loved it. My whole fascination with the Sex & Love album was inspired by my Thomson tour guides’ fascination with the song during the Tour de France. We sang it on the bus several times a day and it conjures up fun memories of Aussies and Americans singing in Spanish through the French countryside.

Enrique wrapped up about 11 p.m. and we all looked at each other, gathered up our stuff to go and proceeded to the lobby. Almost immediately another DJ came on to keep the crowd warm. We then realized that Pitbull’s performance was still to come.  We all agreed that we should at least stay and sample his show, so we sheepishly returned to our seats.

The DJ finally ended and six dancers skipped onto the stage and began to disrobe into essentially lingerie. Then Pitbull made his entrance. I know I have been playing the old fart card in this post, yet I do know most of Pitbull’s music from Zumba and pop radio (I adore!). I am still mystified how he can be the main attraction. Most of his songs “feature” Pitbull, that is a singer like Shakira sings the chorus and Pitbull jumps in with his Miami rap schtick. It is all backed up by a club beat. In fact, people play some Pitbull song to get the party started in clubs and at weddings. Now imagine, 15,000 to 16,000 people have been drinking since 6:00 p.m. (or smoking), and then Pitbull starts his act and turns the place into a giant club. People suddenly feel they have permission to act like they do in a club. Only it feels a little overwhelming because it is 100 times bigger. Whereas Enrique talked to us and invited us to drink with him and sing along in Spanish, Pitbull shouted at us to get up and act up. Except his songs did not sound like his songs because he only sampled a little bit of the chorus. So it was a few bars of Shakira and then all Miami club jabber. A few songs in and I let the group know I was okay with leaving. We were of one accord.

We returned to Alameda and found a Mexican restaurant with a bar still open and enjoyed margaritas and conversation. At last the music was not so loud.

How Trek Travel Surpasses Expectations

Complimentary photo book of Tour de France adventure in Yorkshire
Complimentary photo book from Trek Travel

I picked my mail up from the post office and what did I find? A surprise from Trek Travel. They put together a beautiful photobook of our Tour de France adventure in Yorkshire. It was very satisfying to go through the photos and see pictures of all of us riding our Trek bikes, meeting our favorite riders, standing on the podium in London, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, of course.

I loved my Trek Travel experience and this is just another example of how they surpassed my expectations.

P.S. Trek Travel has also added Jens Voigt to their team. He will be joining a handful of trips in 2015!

P.S.S. Read more about my Tour de France adventure–from Leeds to Paris–in my earlier posts.

Art of the 101st Tour de France

Supporting Greig Leach’s Kickstarter campaign to bring his beautiful drawings together in a book was a no-brainer. I’d seen some of his drawings in the news. We were both following the entire tour. I like how he captured pivotal moments of each day in line drawings with watercolor in his Book du Tour. I received my copy about 2 weeks ago and I have been going through it slowly. It brings back so many great memories.

book du tour

It is also time to sign up for cycling tours at the 2015 Tour de France.  I can personally recommend either Trek Travel or Thomson Bike Tours.

If you are interested in a spectator tour, then Thomson is the only one offering these. The brilliant Jacinta McHale is returning to lead them.

And on a completely silly note, those of us who traveled with Jacinta in 2014 were thrilled to see Enriique Iglesias’ song Bailando won the Song of the Year at the Latin Grammys.

#LeTour2015: The Big Route Announcement

The 2015 Tour de France route was announced this week. It is moving counter-clockwise this year. The Grand Depart is in Utrecht, Netherlands. The Bon Voyage Utrecht organizers released the funny video above. Looks like the host city is putting the same level of effort that Yorkshire did in 2014. This video suggests it will have its own quirky personality.

If you are planning to watch a Tour stage in person and without a tour company, make your hotel reservations now. I suggest you focus on host towns that have a finish and a start.

The other big Tour news this week is the new point system for the green jersey. After three uncompetitive years when Peter Sagan repeatedly ran away with the jersey, the organizers have returned to an approach that rewards sprinters who win stages. You can read the details here.

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.

Touring Buckingham Palace State Rooms

 

 

Outside Buckingham Palace

About a month before my departure for the Tour de France I read a tweet from VisitBritain about the state rooms at Buckingham Palace opening for visitors from July 26 to September 28. On previous visits to London I toured the fascinating Mews (stables) at Buckingham Palace so I clicked through and bought tickets.

Did not give it much more thought until I was in France and looking at my itinerary for the end of my trip: ticket on Chunnel to London, check; hotel reservation at The Ampersand, check; tickets to War Horse at Theater and Buckingham Palace state rooms, check and check. Leaving myself a little time left over to go book shopping.  My flight from Heathrow was not scheduled on Air New Zealand until 4:00 p.m., so I had time to take the tube to the airport. I was all set to make the most of my 24 hours in London.

London is an easy city to navigate with the underground, taxis and footpaths through parks. My hotel’s location was perfect: a half block from the South Kensington station on the Piccadilly (red) Line. The Ampersand did not exaggerate its charms in the Booking.com email advertising its special rate. It is beautifully decorated and the service was superb.

Buckingham Palace

I already blogged about the thrill of seeing The War Horse on stage. So let us fast forward to the next morning and Buckingham Palace. A quick trip on the Tube and soon I was walking past the Queen Victoria Memorial and looking at the gorgeous Buckingham Palace gates.

I was just here on Tour de France Stage 3 and so I reveled for a moment in happy memories. When bike guide Daniel asked me the highlight of my trip while we were in the Pyrenees, I said riding the race course into the heart of London, turning the corner at Big Ben and seeing Buckingham Palace and then the finish line. I felt like a rock star. I reserved the possibility that Paris might top it, but it did not. So it was great to be back to the best spot of my Tour adventure so soon.

The Royal CafeIt took a few minutes to find the visitors entrance on Buckingham Gate Road, and then a couple of minutes to change my computer print out for actual tickets. I arrived just in time to the correct waiting area to be able to get through security and enter the state rooms a few minutes past my appointed time. 

Wow, the Queen must feel like she is slumming it when she visits the White House.  During the week, she lives above the store, so to speak, and what a store! Beautiful works of art, mostly portraits of family, fill the rooms where official drawing rooms and ballroom. In addition, there was a very interesting collection called “Royal Childhood.”

Buckingham PalaceI decided to forgo the free headphones and enjoy the rooms and the overall ambiance. After the walking through all of the rooms, I enjoyed a snack at the café and a browse at the gift shop.

The exit takes visitors through the garden. I wondered if the Queen or any of the royal family gets to enjoy the garden on their own or only on official occasions. Not that I feel sorry for them. This is one of their many stately homes and most of the others offer much more privacy. Still, what must it be like to grow up seeing art masterpieces hanging on the drawing room walls?

Garden at Buckingham PalaceAfter a quick trip back to the hotel, I hopped on the Tube to head to Heathrow Airport with about 10 pounds of new books. Air New Zealand docks in the hinterlands so I got plenty of exercise before the 10.5 hour plane ride home.

South Kensington Tube station

Spending time in Yorkshire and London reminded me why I have returned again and again to England and Ireland. Looking forward to the next opportunity.