Sunday, September 23, 2007

My Self-imposed Ban from Mountain Biking. A True Story

I’m not a mountain bike racer, and this is why.
It’s not because I don’t enjoy it. It’s not because I wasn’t any good at it, necessarily.
I simply and wisely decided it best to never return to mountain biking after the 1993 NORBA Nationals at Shanty Creek Resort in northern Michigan.
I was shooting video for ESPN’s coverage of the event, and my assignment was to follow On-Air host Penny Davidson around the course and shoot various B-roll and stand-ups all over that damn mountain.
At the very end, we’d grab an interview with the winners. In this case, the winner of the Women’s event, Julie Furtado. Julie was the queen of mountain bike racing for years. Elevated to Goddess status after winning Championship after championship, she was even more vaunted after this race in which she completed a sweep of the season-long series, and was riding through a knee injury which would have sidelined mere mortals.
After the race, there was a media crush around her.
Now me, I’m used to being one of those uncredentialed people who gets pushed aside by the real media, like the rest of us. “Stay behind the ropes, please.” But here, I was holding an ESPN camera, and to remind me that we’re “The Man”, Penny physically pushed me right through the crush to the front of the pack. I landed at Julie’s feet ready to shoot - albeit a little off balance. Penny was right there with the microphone ready, and we were immediately into our interview. It was very exciting. I mean, very.
In my haste to get into position, my left foot landed on a rock. I think it was a rock. I couldn’t really see it because my eyes were stuck to the camera’s viewfinder. I tried to live with it, but it was throwing me off balance. The longer the interview lasted, the more I was falling over. My camera shot would soon reflect my imbalance. What a rookie!
So I did this: I kicked at the rock with my left foot trying to dislodge it. I kicked it hard. Real hard. The damn thing wouldn’t budge.
For some reason, Julie Furtado was wincing. My thought at THAT time was that she must still be in pain from the race. Wow, what a tough girl. That’s kinda hot.
Oh wait, I see what the problem is. At the exact time that I made this discovery, everyone around me had made the same discovery: I’m kicking the Queen Mum. I’m kicking her left foot which is attached to her bad leg. Oh shit.
And that, my Roadie friends, is why I’ll never go to another mountain bike race.

I think I have the video of that interview somewhere. I'll try to find it and post it, only if you PROMISE not to tell any mountain bikers where to find me.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Slow News Day

I'm sorry that I have nothing of great import to add to this blog at this time. It's been a slow week.
As this photo will attest, we've had other periods of inactivity in our history.

I hope to have something interesting to say soon.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

We're not that far from the pro ranks.

When we want to say that a professional athlete is normal, it's common to say "they put their pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us". In cycling's case, we say "they stop at the Quickie Mart on their way to the race, just like we do".
This video was shot en route to the start of the final stage of the Tour de Georgia.

At first glance it's nothing more than a short clip of a bike racer and his friend stopping at a store. But that's a Team caravan vehicle, and he's a fully-dressed pro rider riding in what we consider to be one of America's premier cycling events.
I just think it's funny to imagine Colts quarterback Payton Manning stopping for a 3 Musketeers bar on his way to the stadium on Sunday dressed in full pads. (I'd have used a Detroit Lions star in that example....IF WE HAD ONE.) It's just one of cycling's many quirks. We have no stadiums, no locker rooms, and therefore even the riders who are at the top of the game behave no differently than riders who are just getting into the sport.
They sit on their sunglasses and break them, just like the rest of us.
They get sick of riding in a car from race to race, just like the rest of us.
They poke their fingers when they pin their numbers on, just like the rest of us. Sorry, no video to back that up.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

101 Uses

C'mon now, haven't we all thought about building a bike like this when we're harrassed by motorists?

This photo came from the files of TACOM at the Tank Command in Warren, MI. Everything looks perfectly workable to me with the possible exception of the hat. It could use some vents.

Monday, September 10, 2007

How do you explain it?

I was working as an announcer at the new Priority Health Grand Cycling Classic in Grand Rapid, MI this past weekend. It was an amazing event that had been well promoted on radio, TV, print, and billboards throughout this medium-sized market. As a result, it attracted a very large crowd that hung around through all of the under-card events as well as the Pro-1-2.
These are fun events to work because we KNOW that we have spectators who have never seen this spectacle before. It’s our chance to educate them, highlight the excitement, introduce them to new athletes, and hook them into the sport.
But how?
We have their attention for, let’s say, all of 90 minutes. You and I both know that this sport is built on MANY layers. How do we convey all of those layers to new spectators in that short span of time?
Wait wait wait!
Better yet . . . how do YOU convey it to the people in YOUR life?
How do you get them to understand the nuance and minutiae? You can start with an explanation of today’s race, but you’ll quickly discover a need to explain the breakaway. But to do that, you need to explain a paceline. But before that, you need to explain drafting. Etc. Etc.
Eventually, you’ll need to explain why you paid $2000 for a bike that you WILL ride in the rain, and $4000 for a bike that you WON’T ride in the rain.
Or why you can tell your wife that it’s too hot to mow the lawn, but then turn around tell her that it’s not too hot to go out for a 4-hour ride.
Or why you’re forcing her to spend yet another weekend at a bike race.
When you return to work on Monday morning, you’ll patiently listen to 20 coworker’s stories about gardening, boating, home improvement projects, and backyard volleyball, but you won’t even bother explaining your own weekend (in which you nearly died chasing down a breakaway only to get caught and counter-attacked by the winning break) because you know they just won’t understand.
When I finally got tired of being an outcast in my own life, I decided to take action. I decided to take all of those explanations and stories that I’ve refined and used in my bike race announcing career, added some humor (not much), and put it all in a book.
THAT, my bike racing friends, is why this blog exists: to let you know that help is on its way. You will soon be able to hand a book to your boss that will explain why you can hardly walk on Monday morning. Your grandmother will be able to come to a bike race and understand why you sat up and let a breakaway get a gap. Your best friend will grasp the concept of shaved legs.
Hang in there. The book is getting ready for the printer as you read this!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Marshals - a brief look

This is a very short clip of the Marshal vans heading to a Tour de Georgia start venue.

Just thought you might like to see a truly behind-the-scenes peek at what it takes to put on a major bike race. I promise that I will come back to this topic in the future to show how this logistical phenomenon plays out each day unseen by the general public.
Without this collection of people from every corner of the country, these races simply wouldn't happen (particularly in Gwinnett County, GA).

Best Race I Ever Saw

This is a long post, but it’s pretty good. Or so I’m told. Or so I'm telling myself.
And though the rules state that I won't post race reports, this one is exempt.
Athens, Ohio in 1992 hosted The Brick Criterium. So named because the streets of Athens are made almost entirely of Nelsonville and Athens blocks fired in a kiln not far from town. The street makes a lovely clak-clak-clak sound whenever you walk or drive over the bricks. In Belgium, they call them ‘klinkers’ because of that sound.
There was a steep little hill on the backside going up out of Turn #2 and down into Turn #3 (O’Hooley’s Descent, just past the pots and pans banging frat house). At the bottom of O’Hooley’s was a stack of hay bails that had to be seen to be believed. It existed only to keep riders from going into the bookstore.
This is the summer that Coors Light had the American Criterium Dream Team. Jonas Carney, Chris Huber, and Roberto Gaggioli had won almost every race in sight.
This was also the summer that Subaru Montgomery - one of the other dominant teams in American cycling – had sent their top riders to Europe to race longer Road Races on cobblestone streets in the rain: Nate Reisse, Bart Bowen, and Darren Baker.
Another name to mention here is Radisa Cubric, a tenacious at-that-time-Yugoslavian rider who always found himself in the mix of almost every race he entered.
Riders Ready: Go!
The race began, and immediately the sky unzzzzzzzipped. Suddenly, the klinkers were a river bed. Tires became ice skates. In the first lap, between the 5 crashes and the many riders wigging out because of the rain, the field completely shattered.
As the secondary announcer, I would start the race on the main stage with Big Voice Jeff Roake, and then I would grab a wireless microphone and take up my usual position on the top of the hill on the backstretch to offer a different perspective.
Within two quick laps, here’s how it looked: Coors Light had three riders in the lead with Radisa Cubric hanging on for dear life.
They were followed by a string of national and regional riders in groups of two and three. 45 seconds later, the three Subaru-Montgomery riders who had gotten off to a horrible start had formed into their own desperate chase group. They had been caught behind several crashes and were picking and weaving their way through the carnage.
By the time I got to my position on the backstretch on lap #3, they were exactly a half of a lap behind the Coors team.
It looked like the race was already over before it began, which is a total bummer in this town on this course where great racing has always been the rule. But – and that’s a pretty big but - what we really had at hand was a rain-soaked team pursuit on cobbles. Really, the other riders might as well have been invisible at this point. All our attention was focused on the two groups in question. It was, for intents and purposes, a team pursuit. And if you’ve ever seen a team pursuit on the velodrome, you know that they can be heart-stopping.
And for the next 60 laps, we watched as the team that had spent its summer racing on wet cobbles all summer long put those skills to use and fought back against the Criterium Kings.
The gap was 50 seconds at one point. Then it was at 45. Then it was at 42. Then it was at 40.
Slowly by surely, it came down. The only question: would they catch them before the finish? Well, of course, at some point in this process, Coors Light became aware of the frantic chase behind them, and they ratcheted it up a nacho or two. So, too, did Sub-Monty.
As rivers flowed in the gutters, and as many of the original field pulled out, this battle went right down to the wire.
I think you can guess that Subaru-Montgomery was able to catch Coors Light. I mean, why else would I be telling this story?
As I recall, Gaggioli slid out on the wet bricks in the final turn, and I’m sorry I don’t know off-hand who actually won the race (I’ll research it and post it later). But Subaru-Montgomery put two riders on the podium.
And the POINT of my telling you this story is this: I’m pretty sure that Winston Churchill wasn’t talking about bike racing when he said “Never ever, ever give up.”, but boy, it’s really something to keep in mind during a bike race.
You’re helping to write the script. Don’t put down the pen.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Mind the Gap

When the breakaway has more than a minute's lead, the Commissaire will allow vehicles to ride in the gap between the leaders and the Peloton for as along as the gap is at least one minute.
In the gap, we find several cars - in this order - UCI Commissaire #2 (driven by '84 Olympic silver medalist, Nelson Vails)... MAVIC Neutral Support .....Team Cars for those riders .... VIP #1 (driven by USAC's Sean Petty) .... VIP #2 (driven by former pro Kevin Livingston) .....Greenville Pollice..... Media Car (me) ..... Greenville Police.
As you can guess, it creates quite an entourage.
But, if the gap starts to close, then you will hear Radio Tour (Lorinn Rhodes) direct all vehicles to clear the gap by either pulling ahead or pulling over and falling in behind.

On the climb, the pace exploded in the race, and suddenly the alarm bells started going off as the field closed the gap very quickly. The crowd is standing in the road to get a better view, but preventing us from passing. In this video, we are in a panic to get out of the way. Once we clear the crowd, we must FLY down the hill to stay out of the way. Remember that riders can descend as fasat as the cars can, so we have to get all those cars out of the way. You can hear Radio Tour say that the field has gone over the top of the climb. That's only a few seconds behind us. if we hesitate for an instant, we will be swarmed by the riders.
Note: the crowd thinks that the horns and sirens are just to stir the excitement, but what they really mean is "GET OUT THE WAY!". Totally ineffective.
More to come.

OK, so the racing in Greenville...

It's a different vibe here than other events I've done. Open only to U.S. Pro riders, this USACycling Championship event is smaller in scale (than, say, the Amgen Tour of California or Tour de Georgia) but with more intensity. Winning this race makes you a little richer ($14 after expenses), but it improves your wardrobe for the next 12 months as you get to wear the champion's jersey everywhere you go. That also has some benefits when negotiating your contract for the coming year. It's almost on par with getting a PGA Tour exemption. Nobody's ever going to mess with you again.
So we saw a 7-man breakaway jump out to a 3-minute lead, but that's as long as the leash reached. The Peloton wasn't going to let things get out of hand like they do in a Tour de France stage where the early breakaway can get a 30-minute lead. This leash was a short one.
I was located in the Media Car just in front of the lead riders with VeloNews writer Joe Silva and a local Greenville reporter. This was my first time in that position. I'm usually driving either one of the official's cars in the caravan or the mobile P.A. vehicle farther out in front of the race. Both of those jobs are somewhat social in that there's a lot of talking and laughing in the cars. Not in the media car. Since our task was to report the race to others, we actually had to pay attention to what was going on. In contrast, it was pretty intense.
I was typing the real-time on-line updates for the race's website. Let me challenge you to this: get in a police car that's in a high speed pursuit and try typing on a laptop while watching video on your screen and watching the chase out the back window instead of the front. Actually, I'm kidding, it was pretty easy and kinda fun. The hard part was seeing my screen in the direct sunlight. Big woo.

You learn to trust the drivers. My driver was Andy Lee who works for USACycling. Nice guy, but I can't say that I got to know him any better since no one was talking, but he brought the ship home safely. I know that much.
The most exciting time was when Levi surged on the final climb up Paris Mt. and dropped Andy Bajadali, the last guy who had a chance to hang with Levi. We later learned that Levi didn't really want to drop Andy 23 miles from the finish, but couldn't wait around for him as the hounds were nipping at his heals. He did the right thing and pressed on alone holding onto a 1-minute lead at the end.
And now he holds onto that cool shirt that makes him easy to see.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Hey, we're on the old course!

Labor Day weekend, 2007. I'm in Greenville, SC for the USACyclingChampionships working for Medalist Sports as the on-line update blogger.
(For those of you who just tuned in to the sport, you'll never see a bike race on TV in this country. You'll see every other sport from No, the only way to "watch" a bike race is through the Internet either by streaming video or by reading real-time minute-by-minute text-based on-line updates from the race. It's not great, but it's better than it used to be.)
So my job is to sit near the finish line, relay the radio reports, and type the details of the race for the benefit of readers around the globe.
The cool thing about this weekend - away from the race itself - is that Greenville has been the site for other great events such as the old Michelin Subaru criterium, the '95 Tour DuPont, and the '99 Collegiate Nationals. So as we've been driving and walking around town, we've had those special unique-to-cycling moments when you realize that you're on the old course.
"Hey, this is the DuPont route! This is where Sheehan and Hegg and Abdujaparov attacked!"
"This is where the start/finish for the Crit was!"
Bike racers know what I'm talking about. Whenever we drive through a town that hosted a bike race, no matter how long ago, we will invariably be struck with the discovery that "we're on the course!"
The clues can be very subtle. A tree. A gas station. A wide spot in the road. An intersection. Yet, riders will recognize where they are, and they will probably lapse into a full-on play-by-play of the race with astounding clarity and recall (except that they'll finish a few places higher this time around).
And if they're like me, they'll have breakfast in the same restaurant that they ate in 14 years ago. That's where I'm headed now: Gene's Restaurant.
More to come later! Go ride now!