Monday, December 29, 2008

That Distinctive Voice

I was a bike race announcer a long time ago. I went to a LOT of races between 1988 and 1996. Long story short: I burned out on it and decided to do other things. After being away from the sport for a while, I happened to be in Georgia in April of 2003, and I just happened to be at the last stage of the Tour de Georgia. Expecting to hear Jeff Roake's voice on the P.A., I heard an entirely different sound. Some new guy was doing the talking. I asked a race worker who the dude was. She very sweetly said in a sweet ol' southern voice, "Why, that's the voice of American cycling, David Towle!"
Wha... ? Who the...?? Where's The Guy with the Beard - Jeffy Roake?? THAT'S that voice of American Cycling.
As it turns out, Dave was, and still is, and will be for a while to come, the voice of bike racing:
Here's a clip of him working with Jeff Roake at the Tour de Georgia in 2007:

At first, I was jealous mixed with concern. He's got all the good gigs, and his style is vastly different from Jeff or mine. (My "style" was somewhere between irrelevant and uninformed.) It didn't take long to see that he's got the potion. He and Jeff work well together, and the events benefit from it. He's a character.
He's not easy to catch up with, but through the magic of Facebook, I was able to catch him with a few minutes to scribble down answers to my questions. (Now I wish I had asked better questions.) Here's what I got out of him during his Irish adventure:
1. What's the best part of your job (on stage)?
I'd have to say the feeling that I get when it's all going down in the final few k's at a major stage race like The Amgen Tour of California or Missouri... When I can look out and see how stoked people are and I'm getting them the info they want and making the crowd laugh, that is as good as it gets!
2. What's the least favorite part (on stage)?
Having people who want to be interviewed when it really isn't relevant to the racing. They see an opportunity to spread the word or boost their ego but the people who came to see the race could care less and tune out. I'm obviously not including event sponsors, as I am crystal clear that they pay the bills and we wouldn't be racing without them. It's the people that try to weasel their way into the show who haven't paid for the right to be there that kill me....
3. What don't people understand about being an announcer?
That it is a hell of a lot harder than most people realize. When you see someone who is good at what they do working, well, it looks easy, but it really isn't. It's an amazing job, don't get me wrong, it's just not always fun and games as things can get really stressful.
4. If you could change anything about cycling....?
I'd really like it if we could spend more time talking about racing and less time talking about doping...
5. What do you make of this Old and New season we're heading into in which the Old Guard has returned?
I think it's awesome that Lance is back. It helps all of us who are involved in the sport. The races, racers, sponsors and people like myself really benifit from the increased level of attention cycling will recieve next year. Heading into 2009 it seems like the "buzz" is back.
6. What amazes you about the sport?
How tough the racers are. The more you know about pro racing, the more you realize the level of dedication they have for their jobs far superceeds what 98 percent of the rest of the world does. I realize that there are people who work for UNESCO for an example that are off the charts dedicated, but these men and women are just amazing.
7. What makes you sick?
People who have no idea what they are talking about shooting their mouths of with bizarre opinions and hurtful statements.I'm not a big fan of the groupie's that follow the bigger races too, but I guess that goes with the territory....
8. How excited are you about the Amgen Tour this year?
It's by far the best week I have each year... Medalist and AEG make my job so much fun and give me the biggest stage to do what I love each year. The racing is great and always lives up to the hype. Let's just say it's an understatement to say I can't wait to be in Sacramento in 6 weeks.<<
He's sayin' what the other 400 crew members are all sayin': California is going to be upside down insane this year. And he'll be the one you hear above the din at the finish of each stage.
47 days to go....

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

2009 Wish List

Nothing under my tree this morning because the gifts were delivered over the course of the year.
A romp down the CA coast with the Amgen Tour, the trip to Belgium+France with Sarah, a surf weekend at San Onofre, racing with Fred and Tony at the Superior Bike Fest weekend in Marquette, great rides with Bonnie and John (and the Cat in the Hat), the DSO gig and the new group of friends to come from that, goofing with CJ and Krystal, hangin' with volleyball friend Joy, tennis with Cruise, the flat water days at Stoney (even when being chased by an amphicar), the trip to Dubrovnik, a week on the road in Missouri of all places, and the best summer of golfing ever.
The Big Cookie was, of course, the release of "The Book" which has been a complete blast in every way.
Diamonds all.
So for 2009, my list is short. I just want a repeat of 2008 with only a few additions:
I wish for...
1. . . . someone to beat Astana at every outing. Except for Levi. And Chris Horner.
2. . . . Chad Gerlach to have a great season. (watch his Intervention episode on YouTube.)
3. . . . cycling to become just a little more mainstream, but never fully so. That wouldn't be as good as it sounds.
4. . . . more riders to go to Marquette for Superior Bike Fest. I'll still win it, but it would be a helluva lot easier if there were more wheels to suck.
5. . . . a sponsor to come along and scoop up the pro riders who got left out in the post-season shuffle. There were a lot of them.
6. . . . another trip to the Tour de France.
Oh yeah, I suppose I should also wish for a turnaround in the economy, world peace, and success for the Big Three.
And a sleeve of Titleist ProV1 balls.
That should do it!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Rhinos on Parade

If you're a bike club, how do you fit into your community? Friend or foe? Do people see you as just a source of traffic headaches? A cache of misfits? If they were to choose a club to join, would your group even appear on their radar? Or would they go straight to Rotary? Are you doing ANYTHING to further the cause of cycling?
It's all about public image, and if your club does nothing to bolster the image of cycling (specifically YOUR group), then you're missing something. We all want cycling to be accepted by The People, and this is the sort of stuff that getting to that point requires.
Watch this:

On the surface, it looks kinda dorky (why doesn't spell check recognize the word "dorky" Is that a computer nerd's doing?): a bunch of hard core cyclists riding in a small town parade.
But here's what it does: it shows the people of the town...
A. who they're sharing the roads with.
B. that bikes CAN be ridden in the winter, quite easily in fact.
C. that you're a part of the community which plays a big role in putting cycling (of all kinds) in the mainstream.

The Rhinos have a good thing going in Clarkston. The sponsor of the Club gets positive exposure.
And the whole thing costs nothing.
Side note: one of the kids in the crowd was urging us to "do a wheelie". Do a wheelie? Me? On this bike? On ice? Trust me; you don't want to see that. And i don't want to break a hip.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Open Letter to Chrysler Headquarters

If you stand at the end of my street, you can see the main building of the Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills about 8 miles away. They're announcing massive lay-offs today. Something like 46,000 workers at a bunch of North American plants are going to be idled.
Now, I don't mean to make light of it. I just want to make a request to whomever is in possession of the keys to the Test Track:
If you get laid off, can you leave the keys someplace where we can get at 'em?
I wouldn't normally ask, but the 10-foot chain link fence with razor wire on the top is just too hard to climb over carrying a bike.
You see, if you look on Google maps you'll see a very cool test track located adjacent to the complex. It's about 1.5 miles in length, has some great curves on it, and a grinding hill. We used to hold bike races on the track back in the 90s. It was the perfect place for racing. (it was on that course that I got enough points to upgrade to Cat 1, but never did)
I'm just afraid when they convert the headquarters into a storage barn for hay bails from a nearby riding stable, they might inadvertently misplace the keys to the Test Track.
Just wanted to make that request before things get too crazy over there.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Let's Play "Any Other Questions?"

Shorter rides and shorter workouts leave a lot of time for boredom.
Here's the game:
You're in school. At the end of class, your professor asks, "Any questions?"
Provide one.
When I was at NMU, I had a friend in a lot of my broadcasting classes who ALWAYS filled the subsequent silence with an off-beat but somewhat intelligent question completely unrelated to the topic of the day.
"What's the freezing point of yogurt?"
"What's the capital of Madgascar?"
"How's my hair look?"
You get the idea.
When he was absent, I would fill in for him.
"Is the tambourine too loud on Good Vibrations?"
"Can you get me on for 18 at Augusta National?"
If i get enough responses in the comments box, I'll offer up a prize to the best one: shwag from the Tour of California. So tell your friends to play along.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Jef Mallett - The Hand That Rocks the Pen

When VeloPress told me they'd found an artist to provide illustrations for my book, I was anxious to fly to Boulder to meet him and see his work. As it turned out, Jef Mallett lives about 60 miles due west of me. Since I don't get a newspaper, I had never seen "Frazz", so my learning curve was considerably less graceful than the ones he uses in his drawings. First of all, anyone who puts cycling in the mainstream in such a clever way (as in Frazz) is a champion.
I'm thrilled to have his drawings in my book. Not only does he capture the humor in a unique way, he also does the sport of bike racing proud by presenting it so well in ink.
And since he's reclusive and hard to find, I thought I'd pull him out into the spotlight and ask him some random questions.

1. What was your first paying job?
Shagging driving-range balls and washing the mud off golf clubs at a country club, a job that taught me important life values -- like, I'd much rather ride a bicycle than golf.

2. What was your first job as an artist?
I'm guessing that would be illustrating a poster for the musical "Oklahoma!," as put on by my father's students in high-school choir. First non-freelance art job, with a steady paycheck and benefits, would be staff illustrator for the Flint Journal.

3. Did you pick your career? Or did it pick you?
It picked me. I tried other directions -- as logical as newspaper illustration and as illogical as nursing -- but kept veering back to cartoons.

4. If you weren't a cartoonist, what would you be?
Probably either some other kind of illustrator or some other kind of writer. Which, I was both for a long time before I found my way back to cartooning.

5. Who was your biggest influence?
I cast a wide net for influences -- I really couldn't come up with just one. I'll take the easy way out. The dedication to my first collection of Frazz strips reads
"To my parents, for the foundation;
To my wife, for the framework;
To my teachers and mentors, for all that crap in the attic."

6. Do your parents express any shock in the idea of making money as a cartoonist?
They're musicians.

7. What comic strips do you think are funny?
Nothing, but nothing is better than "Cul de Sac," by Richard Thompson.

8. Who in general (actor, comedian, etc.) do you find funny?
Gene Weingarten, humor columnist for the Washington Post, is probably the funniest man in print. He is also the smartest man in the funny business.

9. Have you ever been accosted by an avid Frazz reader? Did I hurt you when I stepped on your foot?
The worst that ever happens is that someone needs more attention than I can give them at a given time, but they almost all understand. Those who don't tend to get disappointed, not mad. The angry ones hide behind screen names and e-mail. That was you on my foot? I'm in awe. I'll never wash that shoe again.

10. How many miles did you ride/swim/run in 2008?
I'm not kidding when I say I have no idea. I ran my first Ironman in November, so it must have been a lot.

11. What was your first bike? Where is it now?
Very first bike was a no-name, 50-pound sting-ray type with handlebars that not only swooped up but curly-queued and circled back down. Serious style. I loved that bike. I'm sure it's been recycled into somebody's engine block by now.

12. How many bikes do you have?
Lessee ... road, road, tri, fixie, mtb, and the front half of a tandem.

13. Which bike do you ride most?
Used to be a toss-up between the road (Cervelo Carbon Soloist) and the tri (Cervelo aluminum P3). But then I got a Power Tap and installed it on the P3, so that gets the lion's share now.

14. How was the swim across the Mackinaw Straits?
Exquisite. A definite feature on the lifetime highlight reel. Understand: I used to hate swimming, and then grew to accept it as the price one paid for getting to race the rest of a triathlon. I now absolutely love swimming. I really think the Mackinac swim was the main turning point. There's your lesson: If you hate something and suck at it, try doing it to the extreme and see what happens.

15. Were you in any way sad it was over when you were approaching the shore?
You read my mind. Absolutely. Every single landmark (each of which was a part of the Mackinac Bridge, naturally) came and went too fast. This wasn't part of your question, but I returned to the bridge a couple of months ago. After seeing it from water level, I got to see the world from the very top of one of the pillars. Unbelievable.

16. What words would your wife use to describe you?
"Crazy" and its various synonyms get used a lot, but she doesn't seem to mean it literally. "Driven" and "inconvenient" seem to show up in conjunction with each other, but she ultimately acknowledges that she likes the package. She seems happiest when she describes me as "funny."

17. What's your next big thing?
Writing a book about triathlon, and doing more of them.

18. What was your highlight of 2008? What are your goals for 2009?
For '08, it has to be the debut Ironman. I also had a blast at a ridiculously hard half-Ironman in the Maryland Appalachians called the Savageman. They stuffed 5,900 feet of climbing into 56 miles, including one pitch at -- this is not a typo -- 31 percent. It was as gorgeous as it was tough. Highly recommended.
For '09, I'll be racing Ironman Louisville, aiming to break 11 hours (missed it by less than 3 minutes in Florida, and I was way under-prepared for the run after some ugly surgery in May got my training off to a late start).

19. What project are you working on now?
See "next big thing," above.

20. Did the residuals from Roadie pay for your house in France?
Of course, but it's not as rosy as you think. Brad Pitt never rakes the leaves at his villa next door; he just lets them blow over onto MY lawn. If it weren't for his wife's topless sunbathing, I'd sell the place in a minute.

Of course, now that I read his answers, a million other questions come to mind. Now, if YOU have questions you'd like to ask him, leave them in the Comments box. I'll do my best to get answers out of him if I can find his house in France.