Sunday, April 26, 2009

100 Sundays

This is a story of commitment and dedication.
There always needs to be someone who gets the ball rolling. There always has to be that person who sticks with an idea and makes it happen. Hopefully you know who that person is where you live. Here in Michigan, that person is Paul Alman.
It was a simple idea in 1984: set up a criterium (Chapter 12 p. 143) course on four Sundays in April and let bike racers race. Let them get ready for the season. Use it to train young riders. No prize money, just a crack house for addicts like us.
It has become a springtime tradition. It's where riders and families re-connect after a winter in hibernation. It's where you test your fitness level against other racers. Sometimes you come to the Ann Arbor STS (spring training series) raging, and other times you come hoping to simply not get dropped. There are similar series elsewhere in the country, but this is not about the series but the person who has stood out there rain or snow or shine flipping the lap cards, ringing the bell, and orchestrating the whole thing. Yes, it takes a team, but there needs to be a leader.
25 years later, Paul is still the guy ringing the prime bell, counting the laps, handing out the primes, and deflecting the credit to everyone else.
There were some Sundays when Frankie Andreu would come home from the Spring Classics campaign fresh off a ride at Paris-Roubaix.
There were some Sundays when snow and cold chased the weak into the basement.
There were some Sundays that felt like the Tour de France.
And perhaps best of all there were a bunch of junior racers who were given the chance to try the racing world in a nurturing environment. Many of them are still in the sport today doing quite well.
All from a simple idea that someone continued to back up with action for 100 Sundays.
Well, he finally decided to pass the torch to someone else and go on to other pursuits. (His wife, Mary, will finally be able to do fun things on Sundays in April. And she'll get to take him along!) So we hung around after the race on Sunday, ate all of the Ann Arbor Velo Club's food, drank all of the Ann Arbor Velo Club's beverages, and saluted Paul. Here's a photo of him addressing and thanking the troops.

Paul, for those of you who are interested, is also the guy who gave me my first announcing job. Back in 1985, he let me set up a sound system and yammer for a couple of hours while the races were going on. The next year, he paid me $50 to do it.
And 17 years later, he was the first one to read my rough draft of Roadie (all 500 pages of it - really rough), and was the first to say it had potential. In fact, he might have been the only one to say that.
And he once gave me some of the best advice that I use to this day. "Never say no." When given a chance to do something, do it. That simple advice has lead to some great adventures, and has never landed me in jail.
So before he shuffles off to his other pursuits, I needed to thank him as publicly as this blog would allow.
As I said, hopefully you know who that person is where you live. Hopefully there's some of that in you.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Lot of Jumping to Conclusions

Let's look at the basics of this Theo Bos debacle: what cyclist of ANY experience level would be so stupid as to throw another rider to the pavement at 35mph into their own path? I refuse to accept the notion that he did it with intent to take the Yellow Jersey out of the race. Absurd. Put yourself in his position and imagine how desperate you'd have to be. You can't do it, can you?
Bonehead move? OK, I'll buy that. I've seen plenty in my years in the sport. Most of them were just bad judgement in a panic situation. But there have been some mean-spirited acts on bikes: I remember a rider grabbing Tim Swift's brake lever during a crit in Grand Rapids. It sent Swifty right over the bars and the rider kept going. Or in Pittsburgh in 1994, Paul Curly standing in the middle of the course swinging a broom at Graham Miller. Or Gaggioli swinging a barricade at Jeff Hopkins in Anniston AL. And those are just the races that I was AT. Those were mean boneheaded moves.
Bos had nothing to gain from taking Impey to the pavement. Nothing worth risking a broken neck of his own. But everyone is calling for harsh penalties for him. Bob Roll wants a one year ban. Some have said a lifetime ban.
But with the basic idea of self-preservation in mind and that no one ever WANTS to crash, I look at the situation again with Theo Bos putting his hand on Daryl Impey's back during the final sprint in the Tour of Turkey. And the ensuing misfortune.
Watch it. The crash happens at 3:30 or so into the clip.

I posted the longer version of this sprint because it's important to see how much side to side movement there is in this sprint, and it's amazing how relentless the final kilometers of a bike race are.
What's most interesting about the rush to judgement is that most of the action takes place OUTSIDE of the viewing area. We can't see what's happening to Bos' bike.
i see a rider in a sprint putting his hand on another rider. Bad move. But one that you can get away with without incident 99% of the time. I've had people touch my hip during races. I sometimes wonder if they're coming on to me.
Bos' problem is all that side to side motion, and he picked the wrong time to do it. Bam Boom Crash, a ride in the ambulance.
Robbie Hunter says "braking is 1st human reaction!". Not if you're a track rider which Bos is. What brake is he used to reaching for?
I guess I'm just amazed at how many people are quickly frying the guy before all evidence is in. Perhaps in a deathbed confession, Bos will say, "I meant every bit of it." but I doubt it.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Different Tour de Georgia

Note: Depending on where you fall on the Sports Fan Continuum, this post may be right up your alley or it might bore the pants off you. If it's the latter, send photos.

Augusta National, Saturday April 11th, 3rd round of The Masters.
Through a very generous friend I made during the Tour de Georgia in 2004 (and 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008), I was able to obtain badges to The Masters golf tournament. If you’re on the far end of the continuum and have no interest in the topic, keep reading. This isn’t about golf.
It’s also not about the +1600 miles of driving to get there and back. I would have driven farther.
It’s about reaching a higher level of whatever.
A lot is made of the beauty of the Augusta National course as if that’s why the event is so special. Or that the field of players is the best in the game. It’s a beautiful place, certainly, and the field is amazing, but there’s more going on here.
I walked around for a couple of hours taking it all in, looking at the famous sights I had only previously seen on TV, and thinking that I was getting it all. It's an exquisite scene that's quite different from other major events.
Let me rattle off some cool things that I noticed:
- you will not pay $6 for a Pepsi and $8 for a brat. You will pay $2.50 for a cola and a homemade sandwich wrapped in a baggie.
- you won’t see sponsorship logos plastered all over every flat surface. There are none.
- when a player steps up to their ball, you will hear 20,000 people go absolutely silent.
- the course is beyond imagination.
Those were my initial impressions.
A friend of mine met us at The Old Oak Tree at 2pm. (That’s where you plan to meet up with people because it’s the easiest landmark to find, and since we don’t have phones we just had to plan ahead and be there.) He stepped out of the Clubhouse right at 2p, and I’m glad he did because he said something that really made me look deeper into the experience.
He said that “this” (pointing to the event) is what mankind aspires to be. And he’s right.
You don’t see it on TV.
TV will show you a skewed glimpse of the event and a flattened view of the course.
Beyond TV, The Masters is unlike any other sporting event – even other golf tournaments. It writes its own rules and sells out to no one.
The grounds are immaculate. The workers are friendly. The Patrons are polite. Everything is in its place and well done.
My deeper look into things revealed more:
- you will never be greeted by a tired and ornery volunteer. You will be greeted with a smile and a warm friendly comment by a respectful helper – even at 4pm after a long day on their feet. "How are you today? Where are you from? Are you having a nice time?"
- you will not deal with drunk patrons making a scene. They’re ushered out. (I pity the guy in the bunker on 17.)
- you won’t step around trash, nor will you see over-stuffed trash bins. You’ll see friendly workers diligently keeping the place spotless.
- you will sit next to people from around the world who are as interested in you as they are in the game, and as interested in the game as you are.
- you will place your chair next to your favorite green or fairway, and walk away knowing that people may sit in it while you're gone, but they'll politely vacate it with a pleasant comment when you return.
- you will shoot knowing looks at other first-timers who also "get it".
- you won't have loudspeakers telling you when to cheer. You won't have digital scoreboards telling you to "mAkE sOmE NoIsE!" You'll find knowledgeable fans paying attention to the field of play and recognizing great moments on their own.
- you won't see heavy-handed security details standing between you and the action; you'll see older gentlemen in green coats asking you to hold still for a moment while the golfers pass by.
If mankind aspires to be a beautiful place where people respect all that's around them, act with dignity, move with grace, and treat each other with genuine concern, then my friend was right.
Now if we could just spill that outside the fences of the golf course...

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Now I Remember

Though i wrote a book extolling the many great things that cycling is, there are a few things that I find to be a pain:
- packing the car..... I know I'm going to forget something [probably shoes], so I have to run through the bag a million times to make sure I've got everything, and it's got to be in the right place.
- driving the car to the race ..... I would have ridden to today's race had there not been a 30mph headwind all the way there.
- getting dressed in the car ..... My shorts felt like they were on backward. It took me 10 minutes to get them back into the right position.
- loading the car to come home .... I'm less particular about packing when I leave the race site. You know that scene at the U.S.Embassy in Saigon in 1975 with the helicopters on the roof? That's how I leave a bike race.
(Funny, idnit? that all four of those whines involve the car?)
So what do I love about bike racing?
Speed.....Going really fast in a pack of riders. It's hard to describe the feeling of blazing down the backstretch inches away from the other riders. And then you look up ahead and see the front of the field making the turn that is still 200 meters away from you. And you see how fast they're going, and you think "Holy shit, they're flying." And then you realize that you're flying too because you're connected to that train. And being at your limit at moments like this and having the dread fear of seeing a rider in front of you give up, slow down, and open up a gap in that train in front of you that may be impossible to close. And you want to yell at that rider, but you know it won't help, and you'll need that energy to close it, so you keep your mouth shut.
Strange conversations..... last week, at 30mph, I was discussing a new recycling program with another rider for about a lap and a half. "So, did you get your new bins yet?"
Sounds ..... when people aren't talking about recycling, the bike race makes some pretty cool sounds. For some reason, you can't get those sounds during a Tuesday training ride.
Food ..... does this require an explanation, really?
OK, so until next week: Enjoy the snow. You know i'll have something to say about that!