Friday, April 9, 2010

How far are you willing to go to watch a bike race?

If there's an award for being the most dedicated cycling fans, it has to go to Oran and Jo Kelly.
Originally from Ireland, now living in Vancouver, BC, they spend their vacation time chasing (literally) the bike race. We met them along the road of California last February. Through the rain and cold, and over mountain and valley, they played leap-frog with the peloton for the entire 700 mile route. So while we're plodding along at 24mph, they're on a high speed Road Rally through the countryside trying to get ahead of us to catch another glimpse.
Now that's dedication.
They're living the cycling fan dream that I so often espouse. Were I not involved in the Tour as an announcer, I would definitely be doing what they're doing. So I live vicariously through them... while I clutch my race credentials and free food and thank my lucky stars to have the job I have.
Thought I'd ask a few questions of the guy on the side of the road:
Question: How did you become a race fan?
Oran : As a kid watching the Tour on a black & white TV at me Gran's, I stayed with her over the summer, so it was always the Tour on TV at teatime... Ireland only had 5 TV channels at that stage, it was on the new "I'll not be watching that Channel" according to my Dad...My Gran always spoilt me....
Question: Who were your first favorites? (Since you're from Ireland, you had BETTER say Sean and Stephen.)
Oran (Kelly): With my name it could only ever be Sean, though I'm not quite as grumpy as him (yet!), Jo may give ye a less biased view on this sometime though.
Question: What do your friends/coworkers say about your vacation choices (Tours of California and Missouri)?
Oran : The California trip didn't cause too much of a reaction, as a lot of them head down there on a regular basis.
The trip to MO in September was met with the slowly stuttered response Mih-ZUR-ee ??? And an almost pained quizzical look on our co worker's faces... Followed with the standard, "No, we aren't racing... No, we are not good enough no matter how hard we try" to their questions about the racing...

Question: Describe your typical day at the Tour.
Oran : Typical day usually starts the day before... How's that for a typical Irish answer?!
After the race/team buses we head back to the rental car and the ubiquitous Garmin GPS, (Great team, but an even better race fan accessory), to look for the nearest laundromat, (Gotta get the 7-Eleven jersey cleaned for the next day). Laundromats vary amazingly across a State, some are in less desirable areas, but give tourists an insight into areas that you never get from a Rough Guide tourist book... As the jerseys go through a less arduous spin cycle than the riders did for hours before, we get the road atlas out, ( A good 50+ page State Road Map with all back roads/dirt tracks marked is usually the first purchase we make & vital for any dedicated race fan)...
Then its like a military operation, using the stage map/log to work out where the race intersects with non race route roads, what time the race will get there, is there likely to be a break away, what time we will have to be there before the critical road closed sign goes up, is there a back up plan, what is the last possible spot we can see the riders on the road, where exactly is the finish in town, how can we get onto a road that brings us into the finish from the opposite side of the race route? (Always keep a few quarters in your pocket for a parking meter)... I'll use a highlighter to mark the maps & then Jo writes down a list & times of all the road numbers/turn offs/directions/nice to be there/must be there time cut offs, (The people who produce the race route should really chat to us about making this easier), as I wander about chatting to the other folk in the Laundromat, (Team Type One's staff were usually in the same place as us and were great to chat too!)

God Bless America for building most of it`s town in a grid fashion, makes it so much easier than the haphazard random street distribution in European towns... Then it`s time to find sommat to eat.... The trusty Garmin then gets us back to the Hotel to watch whatever race footage is available on the net... Our GPS must have some sort of Irish virus, the road back is always via a liquor store, for a few stout to sup on while watchin' the race highlights... Missouri had some superb microbreweries...

Next morning it's up and away from the hotel after making the most of the breakfast, we always leave with a few muffins in the pocket for out on the road... Never stay in a place for more than one night, the owners tend not to appreciate the extra ration's we 'liberate"...Then it's off to the start area, parking in the strategic spot picked out during the recon the evening before... The smaller teams usually arrive first, so it's a good opportunity for a quick hello with some of the riders & mechanics... The smaller teams are always open for a quick chat.

Question: How did you get to SIX stops on the route in one day?
Oran : The stars aligned in a way a drunken Belgian with a fistful of frites on the hallowed Pavé can only dream of...

Question: What was the highlight of your Tour?
Being on the road to experice as much as we could.... MO & CA offer so much... Thank you to them both..

Question: What's the best schwag (souvenirs) you got?
Hard to narrow that down... Weird as it may seem, the Cervelo mechanic, Alejandro, gave me the cables off the bike Thor Husvod won on the sprint into Modesto in California... Inego Cuesta always spoke to us wether on the race route or at the team bus... The QuickStep D/S/Mechanic took a pic of us from the race car on the way past on the race route... Tom Boonen stopped on his warm down to chat & sign a bidon
I should mention CSC/Saxo have always been wonderful in how they treated Jo, podium flowers, team signed musettes & podium caps a reflection of how great they are as a team away from the cameras as well as on the road... Is it wrong that a pro-peleton team has given her more bunches of flowers than I have?... I'll move swiftly on me thinks...

I'll be seeing Oran and Jo in just a few days when the Amgen Tour of California gets rolling. It's a week that goes by REAL fast. Expect a ton of reports from the road. And maybe a shot or two of these two cycling fans!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Pin Protocol. (Newbies, listen up!)

I touch on this topic in "Roadie - The Misunderstood World of a Bike Racer" (Available at, but what you don't know is that I had to cut a lot of text out of that original draft in order to make a book that one person could carry. (Believe it or not, the original draft was almost 500 pages long! Needless to say (but not preventing me from saying it anyway), it lost weight in the editing process.)
One of the things that I cut out is an explanation of HOW to correctly pin a race number to a jersey. Pay attention,friends, spouses, Romans, countrymen, etc. You may be called upon to perform this task.
The correct procedure:
1. Grab SIX pins from the box of pins at the registration table. That's right. Six.
2. Lay the number flat on the back in a position that will be seen by the officials/camera.
3. Ensure that the number is oriented correctly. NOT upside down.
Tips #2 and 3 seem obvious, don't they? Yes, well, that's because you are a dreamer.
4. Near the corner of the number, you will poke the pin through the number. DO NOT use the hole that is provided in the number. That is designed for runners, walkers, and other charity event participants. (see photo)
5. The pin should go DOWN through the number.... DOWN through the jersey... UP through the jersey.... and UP through the number again..
The number should now lie flat.
6. Repeat this step at each corner. You should have two extra pins because you followed my direction and took six from the box at registration.
7. Use the last two pins to affix the leading edges of the number. If you want to go crazy, you can use EIGHT pins. Get an early start.
Last week, in a horrible rush, I allowed a newbie teammate to pin me. Big mistake. Not only did I have a parachute on my back throughout the entire hammerfest. I also had a straitjacket that could embarrass Houdini.
I got back to my car lacking the manual dexterity that comes from said hammerfest. I tried to remove my jersey (a pullover). It won't move. The worst scenario has happened: My teammate has pinned through through my bib shorts and to my baselayer. TWICE! Now, picture this for a moment: I can't just pull everything off in one piece like you would a pullover because it's all pinned together. You know how a woman can remove her bra without removing anything else? Very hot. I also can't do that because I'm pinned to my shorts AND baselayer.
I am now alone in the parking lot trying to reach behind my shoulder blade to remove not one but TWO safety pins. If I pull up too hard, I give myself a wedgy. If I try to go low, I almost break my arm. My fingers aren't working well because my hands are still shaped like the handlebar. It took me several minutes to get the first pit undone, many of which were spent just resting from the effort.
I fight the temptation to get a pair of scissors and cut myself out of this mess.
The lesson is obvious: when called upon to pin a friend's number on, PLEASE follow the procedure above.
If it's a rider from another team, ignore everything that I've just said.
Now, you're probably wondering how this story ends. It doesn't. I had to wear those clothes to work on Monday morning. I was finally able to find a coworker able to undo a safety pin just after lunch.