Sunday, January 31, 2010

Perspective

"Too much bloody perspective." (<<< another line from that classic movie Spinal Tap.)
We go about our lives quite routinely. Everything in its place and time. I wake up at 7:50a. I run through the shower. I sit on the kitchen counter eating Grape Nuts (which are neither grapes or nuts). I arrive to work, usually late but before the boss. I work. I come home from work, I go to the gym, I come home, I write (or I stare at blank pages). I cook some sort of edible substance that passes for food. I look at my bike sitting on the trainer begging to be ridden. I look away. I laugh at how much money I spent on the trainer. If it's Thursday I watch an hour of TV. I go to bed.
We take it all for granted. Groceries. Book stores. Bike shops. Sushi at that place downtown.
This week, I'm forced to take time off for reasons that aren't really important, but it involved anesthesia, an incision, and a gown - not in that order. As a result, I'm sitting on my arse watching Netflix and staring at blank pages. My training regimen derailed, I'm looking at a gaping hole in my training calendar.
This is the time of year when every serious Roadie should be hitting it hard in preparation for the upcoming season. There's an adage that says, "Winter is for fitness; Summer is for fun." Well, it's winter, and I'm having neither fitness nor fun. And like any typical Roadie, I'm imagining/fretting that every other racer is becoming Arnold freakin' Schartzeneger during this 'off season' and will crush me like a worm at the first race of the 'on season' which begins seven weeks from now.
I've had some friends complain about catching a cold that puts them out of action for a few days.
Well, all it takes is one quick look at any news outlet for a dose of perspective: Haiti.

(photos of the people of Haiti taken by my brother, David)
I've never really been in an Earthquake (see story below). I can only imagine what it's like to have your house shaken like a polaroid picture and discarded. In Haiti, routines will take many months to restore... if you live.
Snap back to reality. My four days on the couch are embarrassingly minor when compared to 4 days trapped under the rubble that was once your house.
It shouldn't take a major catastrophe to remind us of these things.

My one and only experience with an earthquake: San Francisco, 1994. I'm in the hotel lobby at 5am to catch a shuttle to the airport. As I'm checking out, the man with a heavy accent behind the counter asks me, "deed you feel air-di-quate?"
I thought he said, 'did I feel adequate?' as in, did I sleep OK? Hmm that's a funny way to ask it, but I got it. I try hard to understand people who speak funny, so I was happy that I figured it out quickly without making him repeat it. I dismissively said, "Yeah, Everything was fine."
No, he asked it again with emphasis on the Air-di-quate?
Long pause.
Ooooh, earthquake! Yeah. No, I didn't feel it.
Apparently, it was the kind of shaker that rousts everyone from their room and into the hallway.
I slept right through it, and now must rely on my imagination to know how horrible it must be to literally have your world come crashing down around you.
A week off the bike is no big deal. Even in February.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Zirbel

So here we are again with a rider that everyone liked getting dragged into the torture chamber. The news came out recently that NRC Champion Tom Zirbel's "B sample" tested positive for a big fancy pharmaceutical word: Dehydroepiandrosterone. That confirms the negative result on his "A sample" which pretty much seals his fate for the next two years: his name will be surrounded by question marks; his life will be surrounded by nothing that looks like a bike race. Nobody in this sports wins an appeal against USADA, so the rider with one of the best attitudes and brightest futures will likely serve a two year suspension.
His accomplishments from the past season are for nought despite his protestations of innocence.
(Photo by Dan Socie - Zirbel riding the Grand Rapids Criterium)
And every columnist/reporter/observer is saying the same thing: how can this happen? How can a professional athlete make a conscious decision to ingest a banned substance? OR, if it was unintentional, how can a professional athlete not know what he's putting in his body? They're also asking "Why Tom Zirbel, of all people?"
There is a supposed financial reward if you don't get caught, but the amount of testing these riders go through in - and OUT - of competition makes it almost impossible to slip through the cracks. (For example, if you win-place-show in a big race, you'll be ushered straight into the Medical Control RV that's parked a few feet away from the podium. Nobody hides from the testers if they're carrying a silver medal at the national championships.) And the risk far outweighs the reward; you'd have to be an idiot to think you could get away with it. (Zirbel has even said as much.)
So into the torture chamber he goes. In his prime at the age of 30, Zirbel will miss two valuable years of peak earnings. He will give back his silver medal and NRC title. He will live under the shadow of doubt as cycling fans ask: did he or didn't he?
If he did, shame on him. If he didn't, shame on the flawed system.
And that's a question that should get equal footing. What if he's telling the truth? At what point do we re-evaluate the system to ensure that it's not broken? That so many people are questioning the outcome of these tests heightens my curiosity.
Why, even four years after the fact, are so many people in the cycling world still not believing that Floyd was guilty in 2006? And why do people stop talking altogether when Lance's name is mentioned?
The whole thing is curious.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"It goes to eleven."

Another famous movie line from yet another famous movie that every decent upstanding American has seen countless times...
In this instance, it applies to eleven speed shifting.
I'm just putting this out there now: I'm never switching to 11-speed.
I see no compelling reason to switch. Why bother?
In the comment box,
1. Convince me otherwise in 25 words or less.
2. Name the movie referenced in the Post Title.
3. Tell me how many times you've seen the movie.
If you haven't seen the movie yet, I laugh at you with vigor.
Last minute addition:
4. Tell everyone your favorite quote.
Here's mine: "I envy us."

Monday, January 18, 2010

"Put THAT In Your Book"

Quick. Name the movie.
I'll give you a minute to think about it. Here's a hint: Costner imitates a buffalo
I've been repeating that line a lot lately as I put together a story for the book that I'm currently working on. The ideas come when when they come. I don't really control them. They come to me. I say to myself, 'put that in your book'. I collect them in a mental sack and type them up when I get to my keyboard. Some of them come to me just as I'm going to sleep. Some come to me when I'm at the gym. I love when an idea comes to me during a staff meeting at work. My co-workers see me frantically jotting down something in my notebook, and they assume it's work-related.
It's work. And it's related, but not to them.
So what kind of book is it?
It's not a how-to book.
It's not a history of cycling book.
It's not a war-stories book.
It's definitely not a sequel to Roadie.
It's a 'tweener. It's aimed at the younger reader from 10 to 15 - a tough market that VeloPress has yet to crack with any measurable success. And I think I'm the one who can do it, even if I don't have any characters who are vampires.
I'm happy to report that I'm finally rolling on it. I sat on three of four pages for several of months as I was developing characters, carving out a story line, and inserting a lesson or two. I'm up to 40 pages now and have the outline laid out for almost the whole story. I'm still leaving room for plot twists and character revelations. And I hold out hope that I'll stumble upon a workable conclusion sometime between now and when I finish the damn thing.
No, I'm not going to divulge the plot line here. It's about bike racing. That's all you get right now. What you can do for me in the meantime is start making a list of every kid you know in that age range, and get ready to buy them a book for Christmas 2010.
I hope to have it completed by March for a Fall release...that is, if VeloPress likes it. If not, I'll have 250 pages of electronic recycling material.
Dances With Wolves. The title of this post. It's a line from that movie.
Put THAT in your book.
Ironically, somewhere in that same scene, the same character delivers this classic line: 'why don't he write?'.
He don't write because he's probably trying to come up with a storyline.

Side note: Dances With Wolves is the same basic premise as Avatar: soldier goes out to the frontier to study the locals. Becomes one of them. Fights against his own army. Dances With Wolves had better music. And as you know, music is a drug.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Music is a Drug.

This is a post about music, and it comes with a sample or two for you to listen to while you read it.

If you attend special events of any kind, you may have an opinion of what sets the good events apart from the not-so-good events. Traffic, parking, security, and clean bathrooms are the basic items that MUST be addressed in the plan. Then we add the items that add value: food vendors, attractions, information, and ease of movement.

One sign of a well-though-out event is the use of music. It's usually the last detail to get attention during the planning phase, yet it's a key component in the overall tone of the venue. It is, to be sure, the soundtrack for the event. Poor music choices won't kill an event, but a good music track will make it so much better.

Anyone who produces/manages a special event needs to devote time to this art. Any good bike race announcer will put a lot of thought, time, energy, and MONEY into the music they play during the bike race.

The challenge is to find good music that helps set that mood without drawing attention to itself. OK, I'll admit it, we're pulling a Disney and working to manipulate our audience by using the subliminal effects of music. If we do it right, people won't even notice what we've done. If we do it wrong, the event misses an opportunity.

You can't simply throw together a mix CD of popular music. There's much more to it than that. For example...

We'll start at the end of the race: the link at the top of this post is the song I like to use during the last lap of the race when things are at a fevered pitch. It's called "The Race" by Yello. It's a different arrangement than the one I used, but you get the idea.

This year, I've taken a page from Brad Sohner's book and started using Thunder by David Robidoux. That's right. I stole his thunder. It's written for NASCAR, but it fits the mood of cycling. You'll have to search for it on iTunes.
I'm open for suggestions on which music to add to my race library for the coming year, but be warned: I already have an extensive collection of field-tested family-friendly race-approved music, and I have off-the-beaten-path tastes. So if you're going to make a recommendation, it can't be too mainstream.

Mainstream music usually comes bundled with its own agenda or pre-assigned meaning from too much exposure on the radio. The obvious choice of popular music may not work at a bike race. For example, if it was used at the Olympics, we won't touch it. We aren't the Olympics.

As I said, Thunder is a NASCAR song, but it also happens to be obscure enough that the bulk of our audience probably won't draw the connection. It works.
( Photo caption: although I'm talking to Davis Phinney, I'm never beyond arm's reach of my sound equipment located right behind me. There's nothing worse than having the music end. (And I mean that in a philosophical way, too.)

Classical music works well if it's not really well-known. Beethoven's 5th? Not so great. Mendelssohn's 4th Symphony 4th Movement works really well. It worked really well in the truck drafting scene in Breaking Away. (If you're listening to the first clip, you'll need to pause it.)


Other types of music that don't work: heavy metal, rap, and certain types of techno.

We (Brad and I and others) also avoid matching words to fit the action. It's too easy. Too simplistic. Don't bother suggesting "Start Me Up" by the Rolling Stones at the start of the race. That's been done at NBA games for years without any creativity whatsoever.

We'll also avoid cliches, so I can promise you that you will never hear Queen's "Bicycle Race" coming out of my speakers.

And if you ever want to insult a race announcer, take a stack of unlabeled homemade mix CDs up to the stage and say, "Your music stinks. Play these." Hoo boy! That's a dandy way to make friends. (Actually, we have a pretty effective counter-tactic in our bag of tricks that you will NOT appreciate, so maybe you'd better not try this one.)


(Phot caption: Look! There's Price Stevenson running the music for Jeff Roake at the 1995 DuPont.)

{Random unrelated thought: for reasons I can't really explain here, I probably won't be playing Coldplay's Viva La Vida at a bike race in the near future. Maybe next year. We'll keep our fingers crossed.}

I think announcers have the best job because we get to talk about a cool sport all day long. But the hidden thrill is when we emulate the great sound track artists of cinema... Ennio Morricone, John Barry, Jerry Goldsmith, Michael Kamen, etc... but in real time. That's magic.

OK, now pause the music that's playing now, and get ready for greatness. To wrap up this edition of Play That Tune, I have one more song for you. Here's the piece that I use at the very end of the day when I end the show. After thanking the sponsors, I sign off with this one. It plays while I pack up my belongings and head to the car after accepting the accolades of all my fans and admirers. (Come to think of it, it's usually a pretty quick walk to the car.)

This rather simple song, to me, IS bike racing. I've played it at almost every single race I've worked including the Olympics, USPro Championships, and the first Tour de Trump. Great great tune.

Thank you, everybody. Have a safe trip home.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Interview with a Common Man

I worked with Todd Koltes during the summer of 1994 when I was doing play-by-play for the National Cycle League on ESPN2. I think we had a total of 7 viewers. None of us ever got paid. It was a dream job.
I reconnected with TK during the Dahlonega stage of the 2006 Tour de Georgia. Just to show that we're all alike, see how much you have in common with this Pittsburgh native.

1. The first question I always ask someone from Pittsburgh (because they always have an answer): exactly where were you when Franco Harris made his immaculate reception? (Franco was the owner of the Pittsburgh Power in the NCL.)
Well, unlike most true Pittsburghers, I won't confess to actually being at the game. (There were by some estimates, 250,000 people packed into Three Rivers Stadium for that game) I was a bit young at the time to remember. One story that stands out for me was one day, at the time I worked for Franco, he was doing interviews at our office for local news channels on an anniversary of the famous catch. The mystery surrounding the play was if the ball actually hit the turf and it was an actual catch. He told the reporters that he enjoys the mystery and controversy of the play, and that he would never say one way or the other if the ball bounced. After everyone left, I sat in his office and said, 'ok Franco. The camera's are gone. Just tell me....I'll never tell'. He looked at me for 5 seconds, laughed and said, "riiiight!!! Like I'm gonna tell you something I have never told anybody before"! I was a bit humbled by the fact that the great Franco Harris would not share his secret with me. Oh well......The mystery persists.

2. Glad we got that out of the way. You raced in the 1980s and 1990s. What was your favorite part of the sport? If you're not racing anymore, what part about it do you miss the most? What parts DON'T you miss?
I loved the beauty of the sport. That is what attracted me to it. I suppose the culture of it, too (Or counter culture, some might say). I most loved the tactics of the sport and teamwork, despite being an individual sport. Speeding through the corners elbow to elbow trying to get in position at the end of the race. Being such great shape. Comraderie with teammates on rides and traveling to races. I guess I DON"T miss the long solo training rides in the miserable heat or freezing cold.
This is the key question: 3. You're now a pilot for Delta. What comparisons can you make between racing bikes and flying commercial airlines? In other words, how did bike racing prepare you for pilot-hood?
Well, piloting certainly doesn't require the physical tools. Unfortunately it's quite the opposite. Lots of sitting on the rear and eating airport food. I would have to say it takes a lot of discipline and commitment to compete at a high level in cycling as well as becoming a pilot. There are so many years of training, tests, check-rides and evaluations. Most people that set out never make it all the way. Studying days on end for checkrides is a lot like setting out for a century.

4. When did you become a pilot? What made you choose that field? And as a pilot, during the flight, what is the most exciting moment?
I think I always wanted to be a pilot, I just really never knew the road to take to get there. I always loved airplanes, and when I was a kid my Uncles company had a small twin engine plane that I got to ride in up front when he went to a couple business trips. I was hooked. It wasn't until years later when I decided to go for it and make it happen. Franco also told me to strive to do what you want in life and go for it and not make any excuses. So I signed up for lessons and kept getting my ratings back from 1995-1998 until I got my commercial license and flight instructor ratings. In reality, flying mostly is sort of tedious. Exciting moments are usually in bad weather, landing in heavy rain, snow or fog. The heart rate there can get pretty high, like the end on a 2 minute power interval! I have had a couple wake turbulence events that get you going, too.

5. You've been to more cities than a Cat 2 racer. Which spot in America do you always want to go back to with your bike?
Everytime I am in Northern California I dream of having the bike! Utah looks pretty awesome, too! I lived in Dallas for 3 years, but didn't care for that much.

6. What's your favorite cycling destination? Don't say Monaco. I know that's a lie.
Well, I have to say the French Alps! My favorite rides of all time were Alpe d' Huez, and Mt. Ventoux. You would be familiar, because you were on both of those rides with me! (That's us freezing with Mark Cesar on the Ventoux. I can still fit into that jersey!) Closer to home I have to say I have a couple of rides in the North Georgia mountains used in the Tour de Georgia that I LOVE riding. Great roads and climbs!

6a. How many bikes did you own at your peak? And which one was your favorite?
Hmm. I never had a big fleet. I guess 4 was the most. 3 road bikes and a mountain bike. My first Carbon bike was a Giant our team got from our bike shop sponsor. I really though that one was cool.

7. Who do you like in the 2010 Tour? Can you catch a hop over to catch the last few stages?
I would love to. I keep telling myself one of these years I definitely will. Probably not 2010. We just had a baby girl in July, and she will only be 1. I think Contador will surely be tough to beat. It will probably be a duel between Contador and the Schlecks again.

8. Is Jake on ABC's The Bachelor crazy? He eliminates the USAF Captain right off the bat? What's up with that?
HA! Jake works at my company and I know him. I have actually flown a few trips with him when I was a First Officer. Good guy! I hope he finds a good one! Not sure about the USAF pilot. I thought he should have kept her around for a while!

Just thought I'd give you a peek into the normal life of a guy i know.
I'm working on a theme here. Stay tuned for future posts.
Now go ride! Or ski.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Polar Ride 2010

By the time I was able to muster the confidence to shoot while riding one-handed on slippery roads, the pack of riders had thinned out to a lead group of about 12 riders. I'm sure the FRCC website will have photos of the entire group, but I missed it.
A wind chill of 10 degrees. Icy roads underneath a sloppy layer of snow. 100 riders of all abilities.
A typical Polar Rhino Ride presented by the Flying Rhino Cycling Club.
It was an idea that was just crazy enough to work. Now it's in its 20th year.
I saw riders of age 10 or 11, and riders in their 70s. That's a cool way to start the year.