Thursday, August 28, 2008

Random TdF Observations: Post #1

My Montenegro trip, fascinating as it was, sidetracked me from following up on my Tour de France trip. A lack of Internet in Tuz (and a head-spinning agenda) made it impossible to write and load. So here we are several weeks after the fact, and I'm finally getting around to it. Luckily, my observations are so stupid that no one else has beaten me to the punch. And they would certainly never appear on any televised coverage.
Case in point...
The final day in Paris is extraordinary on many levels, but one that I felt worth noting was the feeling of brother/sisterhood that the entire organization and families certainly must feel after three intense weeks on the road. Similar, I'm sure, to the bittersweet feeling you had on the last day of summer camp: you don't want to it to end, but you can't wait to get home.
I noticed it in many ways. First, I noticed it when the first staff cars started rolling up the Champs Elysees hours in advance. They would pull to a stop in front of the viewing stand we were seated in, pause, get out, wave to someone in the stands, get back in, continue driving. It's kind of like a kid in a school band concert finding mom or dad in the audience and giving a quick wave. And it was so cool to see almost EVERY car, truck, and motorcycle do it at some point.
I also loved to see each of the sponsors bring out their huge transport trucks in the Publicity Caravan. Until this day, these supply troops have been working in the background all Tour long, and now they get to shine up the rig and roll up Main Street, take their curtain call, and wave to their families as well. Horn blaring. Very cool.
And then this happens. OK, you gotta watch. This is their first time through, so the anticipation was killer.
But then the race finishes, and each team does a parade lap of the Champs. And they all wave to the crowds, but I noticed that they also wave to each other as they pass indicating a brothers-in-arms relationship that was very cool to see. It wasn't easy to capture it in a photo, but I got r-e-a-l-l-y lucky with my crummy little point-and-shoot Nikon. That's AG2R in blue waving to the blob of red on the right which is the Caisse d'Epargne team going the other way.
Even my travelling companion
and I said our goodbyes to our friend and souvie booth operator Sebastien who we met in Roanne and saw every day along the way forging our own connection with the rolling circus.
It was very much like the end of summer camp. The only thing missing was the kid who got covered in poison ivy and got duct-taped into bed at night and had allergies. And I'm sure he was in this group. Probably works as a UCI Commissaire now.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Road Trip: Crna Gora

Actually, there wasn't much 'road' in this road trip to Montenegro; it was 18 hours of airports and airplanes. And I will turn this post back to the topic of cycling. Stay with me.
My 'day job' took me to Montenegro for a visit to our Sister City of Tuz just outside of Podgorica. Look it up on the map. I had to. (Since I work for a local government, I had to pay my own way to avoid the wrath of our stingy taxpayers. So it's more correct to say that my day job 'invited' me to Montenegro and I accepted.)
Montenegro is only 2 years old as an independent country and is still struggling to recover from Communist rule when it was part of Yugoslavia. In fact, they're still feeling the effects of the Ottoman Empire even though that's been gone for almost a hundred years. The scenery is breathtaking. The government is making slow but steady progress.
Our Sister City relationship is much less political in nature. We can only help teach them how a democracy affects a small community and how city services can be administered effectively in such an impoverished environment. We've also come up with a few 'humanitarian' programs to help provide materials to operate. School supplies are our first priority. Their high school is run down beyond anything you'd want to attend and has no budget for the basic needs.

And there are other programs that we're working on along those same lines that I won't bore you with. (You're welcome.) We're careful not to just throw American money at a problem and call it a success. We're not sending them fish; we're teaching them HOW to fish. At one of our many feasts, I was seated next to a man who has started a cycling club in the region. He is starting with nothing but an objective to keep kids healthy and out of trouble by keeping them active in a variety of sports - cycling, tai kwon do, etc. His enthusiasm was infectious. They have miles and miles of amazingly challenging roads and trails to ride on, and they're doing quite nicely. But he needs clothing and other expendables that are hard to come by over there. Helmets, for example, are a pressing need.
Knowing that American cyclists throw away more than these people will ever have, we've begun a clothing/equipment drive amongst my local Club. We're also working to gather new helmets to send over. When we get the means, we'll likely supply them with our used bikes that gather dust in our three-car garages.

If your Club is interested in doing something similar, I urge you to explore the possibilities both locally and internationally. The day we get our asses kicked by Montenegren cyclists that we've helped get started will be a happy one.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

No Internet in Montenegro

I'm in the small town of Tuz Montenegro until the 19th. They are in the former Yugoslavia. Internet is scarce. Stories are plentiful. WIll be back on line next week.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Pave` Maria Part II

Real quick: here's the video that goes with the following post.