Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Racing the Pro-1-2 event.

Finally, we have the perfect video to show what it's like to race in the Pro-1-2 field.
The video begins with the nervous wait on the starting line.

@:26 Riders ready? Go! The adventure begins. Hold on tight.

@1:57 The inevitable happens; the rider gets dropped in explosive fashion.

Oxygen is scarce as he rides around in circles for the next 5 minutes. He knows he'll never see the pack again.

@6:48 At this point, just over 6 minutes into the race, the officials pull him off the course.

@7:14 Here, you can see that the rider has thrown his helmet at his car as he approaches.

@7:21 The rider arrives at his car.

He then sits and stews in silence for a few minutes.

@7:50  He is not alone. Far off in the distance, you can see another rider returning to his car.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Vicious Cycle

Women's cycling is stuck in a vicious cycle. And it's one that has been spinning at a high rate for as long as I can remember. (I date back to 1983.) I saw it when Twigg, Bliss, Yeaton, Golay, Reinhart, and Pic were racing. It's still going. Lately, the cycle has received a lot of attention after the Amgen Tour of California held a women's event during the San Jose time trial. A lot of the issues came rushing forward.

I touched on it briefly in Roadie (the greatest book ever written). The cycle: women's pro racing is less developed than men's pro racing in many areas: rider salaries, prize monies, and number/stature of events. This is due in large part to the relatively low number of female participants across the country. With fewer participants, fewer riders progress to the highest level. With fewer elite racers, there are fewer elite level events and usually lower prize lists at the ones that do exist. As such, it's not financially viable for a female athlete to become a full time bike racer.

So what's a promoter to do when only only a handful of elite-level women show up at a regional event? They'll be forced to lump them together with lower categories in order to create a field. If you're that elite racer, you'll simply ride away from everyone. What fun is that? As I said in Roadie, if you enter your first tennis tournament and face Maria Sharipova in the first round. If that's your bike race experience, how long would you stay in the sport? The answer is "Not very long." In fact, roughly 90% of the first-year licensees don't return for a second year.

Currently - in my region, anyway -  a woman's only choice for a group training ride is a hammerfest involving 100 men. On Sunday, she will race against the other five women who didn't sell their bike after the first season, or they'll combine her field with another field (either the juniors or masters) which removes all semblance of a bike race. That's what women face upon entry into Roadie-world.

Women's racing is at its best when women race within their own category. It's real bike racing. Exciting. Competitive. Interesting. Compelling.
When women are forced to race all together as one big amalgam (which is 90% of the time), it is downright impossible to watch, and it's defeating to everyone involved. That - right there - is, to my trained eye, what kills it.

The answer is not simple. It is not enough to simply put on more high profile races. It is not enough to simply offer more prize money. Those are bandaids. Those have been tried with disappointing results.

Money doesn't solve it. Remember when USAC dumped a ton of money into the 1996 Olympic team thinking that medals would inspire growth in the sport. (For example, $25,000 for team pursuit "super bikes".) It doesn't work that way. It never does. It has to be organic.

The better answer is to grow more bike racers at the grass roots level. Teach, nurture, cultivate, train, and develop new riders. Put more people into the pipeline. With more people, you'll have better racing. Then, by offering women-only training sessions and skills courses, we can provide a better environment for developing the sport. And then, cream will rise to the top without washing away the rest of the crop.

It's a slow process that's already underway with several clubs and teams taking steps to recruit and train new women riders. When we get more numbers, we can stop forcing women to join a predominantly male group ride and stop lumping them in with the Masters or Juniors on Sunday.

If your region isn't doing anything in this direction, start now.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Last Days Of Lance Armstrong

      He stood in the middle of Kansas with the entire country around him. But then ... oops, evidence surfaced....California slipped into the ocean. Followed by more evidence... Maine and New Hampshire dropped off the map. And then more evidence. There goes Oregon. Then Florida. As more and more facts surfaced, the country that elevated him fell away. Today, Lance is surrounded by only his posse. Or in this analogy, an acre of supporters. This week, almost all of his sponsors dropped away. Soon, the posse will collapse. And Lance will be standing on a rock where Kansas used to be. Lance Armstrong has denied using performance enhancing drugs to win his seven Tours de France. Now we see the fabric unraveling. We see the mountain of evidence, and we now know that he was the kingpin of an extensive organized crime ring involving the governing body, sponsors, trainers, and a cast of thousands.

     It could have been different.

     Lance could have come clean right from the start when the first serious allegations came out. It would have saved all of this trouble from happening. America forgives and forgets very easily. He could have avoided all this. Instead, the Texan in him - the brashness that drew attention to him in the first place - dug in his heals and held his ground - fooled into believing that the people he bullied would remain silent, and that those who feared his powerful wrath would leave him alone. He was also fooled into believing that the fortress he had built around him would hold back the advancing mob. Had he come clean immediately, his entire persona would have been elevated further. He would have been made the patron saint of forgiveness. And we would have moved on.

     It could have been altogether different.

     As outlined in David Walsh's book 'From Lance to Landis', Armstrong's ego couldn't take losing to European farm boys. He had dominated the American scene as a clean rider, but when he made the jump to European racing, he got has ass handed to him. That's when "the program" began in earnest. Lance emerged as a Tour contender in 1999, one year after the Festina Affair, a drug scandal involving a French team at the TdF. Lance came along as a cancer survivor with the personality and panache of a Bernard Hinault, and the UCI saw the opportunity to present a new and cleaner image to the world. 'Look what we have done. We have entered a new era in sport. We have a new hero.' (Actually, I think the UCI was caught with their pants down when Lance won the '99 TdF. They didn't have the technology to catch him, and after the huge response by the cancer survivor community, they didn't dare try.)  Now we're learning that the reality was completely foul. The drug problem was made worse than ever. Lance, quickly capitalizing financially on his 'success' and the popularity of his cause, suddenly had the means to become the mob boss of cycling.

    It should have been different.

    Maybe I'm an idealistic fool who still believes in honesty, but it seems to me that if I had super powers (other than my sense of humor and my Tortilla Soup recipe), I would use them for good not evil. Lance's super powers are his intense personality, fearlessness, and his amazing athletic ability. He could have used them for good. Instead of going to the dark side and delving into the drug world, why didn't he use his brashness, fearlessness, cockiness, and powerful riding to destroy the Omerta from within? Demand that they race clean. Call them out. Challenge them. Change the world.

     If anyone could have done it, it was the Lance freakin' Armstrong that I knew before the drugs. He was a superior athlete with an ass whoopin' personality. That's a Texan that we could all respect. I saw it with my own eyes almost every weekend as an announcer in 1991-92-93. He was a specimen of confidence and heart. He despised losing. He did amazing things on the bike to prevent it. He took no shit from anyone. He was awesome.

      Instead, he took the lowest road possible and drove it to the end of the earth.

      The problem here is more than a question about simply using drugs. He has railroaded innocent people, ruined careers, shattered opportunities, squashed dreams, stolen monies, and generally f***ed everything up for an entire sport.

     And it didn't have to be that way.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Taking a break.

If I were to spin this story if I worked for, say, a government entity, it would go like this:
In an effort to allow my mind to fully refresh and recover from the intense thought that comes with completing two full books within a few weeks of each other, I have decided to take some well-deserved time away from the computer keyboard.
The truth (pictured) is a little less glamorous. I can't type very well.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Book #3

I wonder how real writers\authors do it. How do they write books?
I'm guessing that they are much more efficient than I. They probably use something fancy like an outline or something. They probably go into it with some idea of the structure. I'm betting that they know what their book is going to look like long before they type the first sentence.
I have a very loose idea of the general look and feel that I'm aiming for when I start a book, but I don't even come close it with the final product. For instance, Roadie started in my head as a 25-volume set of humorous encyclopedias on the topic of bike racing but ended up as a thick pamphlet.
Book #2 (as yet untitled) started as a humorous "War and Peace" for kids. A 752-page romp through the cycling world through the eyes of a 14-year-old. But somehow 750-pages is a little ambitious for a romp, so I scaled it back to about the size of a thick pamphlet.
I was a little more realistic when i sat down to write Book #3. It began as a thick pamphlet which I stretched out (by enlarging the font) to something more hefty, about as thick as a Nikon owner's manual.
Stay tuned. It's a good one.
The process I use is probably wrong. I just write. And when I get to a certain number of words, say 60,000, I look at what I have and decide if that's long enough. If not, I keep going. When I reach a comfortable number of words, then I go back through and cut out everything that doesn't sound right. It's a lot easier than you might think.
Oh sure, I jot down some notes. I have certain points that I need to hit, but otherwise, it's just a challenge to see how many words I can get into a single Word document. Then cut some out.
Book #2 was a narrative story, so I should have had some idea of where it was going. I didn't, but I should have. We'll see if the publisher notices.
Book #3 is more like Roadie, a collection of humorous lessons, thoughts, and anecdotes on the topic of relationships.
Yep, you read that right.
It's short by design. I stopped writing when I reached 20,000 words (approx. 80 pages) and then trimmed it back to about 19,500. Amazingly, I could only find 500 words that didn't sound right.
If you notice the books in the humor section of your local bookshop (if it hasn't been boarded up by now), you'll see that they're pretty small. Many of them are the size of a Nikon owner's manual. Mine will fit right in.
Now while I'm sitting on pins and needles waiting to hear from VeloPress regarding Book #2, I'm beginning an even tougher process of finding a publisher for #3.
Stay tuned. Should be a fun 2012.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Book #2

When I sat down and wrote Roadie, I had no plans to become a writer; I still wanted to be an astronaut or a game show host. I only wrote it to see if it could be done. Seriously. I didn't look any further than getting it on store shelves. But then it did well. It won the Michigan Notable Book award in 2009. It sold. Suddenly, I found my calling.
So, what next?
I had a couple of conversations with the people at VeloPress about what the next project should be. I suggested a cycling-related book that they had no interest in. Apparently, a romantic comedy western wasn't on their radar. Instead, they wanted a book aimed at younger readers. The 'tweeners'. Apparently, there's a shortage of sports books for that age group. Supernatural vampire ghost romance novels?? Plenty. Sports? Not as much.
On top of that, VeloPress has had a difficult time cracking the young reader market. It's a hard audience to write for, but a lucrative market to tap into.
I, as I tried to warn them, know absolutely nothing about the 'tweener demographic. Zero. I'm not even sure if I'm spelling it correctly.
This, then, is a match made in heaven. Together, we'll go far.
So I set off to write a fictional story. Starting with a very daunting blank page, I had to develop a story line, create characters, develop a conflict, add a subplot, tie it up nicely, and make it reach an audience I know nothing about. The only thing I had in my favor was that it would be centered around the sport of bike racing. That's it.
I submitted a very weak first draft, and received three pages of notes from the publisher. I took it back and changed everything but the font.
I just completed it on Monday. Sent it to VeloPress, and am now waiting to hear if they're going to buy it or pass on it. No guarantees. It might end up in a dumpster somewhere.
Let me give you a TV Guide-style hint of the story line: a kid who lives for football discovers bike racing by accident and becomes hooked by the end of the book. There are no supernatural occurrences, no vampires, and no pirates.
Now, let me share a little about the writing process (in case I'm never asked to speak at a book signing). I went on long bike rides without my iPod. That's the secret to uninhibited creative thought. When I listen to music, I get distracted. When I don't, I can think much more clearly. As such, I do my best thinking on the bike - constantly dumping ideas into my voice recorder app.
The creativity ebbs and flows. I went through periods in which I couldn't stand to look at it. And I went through periods where I couldn't type fast enough.
We'll see how it goes.
While I'm waiting, I'm working on Book #3. It has nothing to do with cycling. It's a humor book on relationships.
You see, I'm a bit of en expert ...... on humorous relationships.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cinelli launched her career.

Take a look at this photo. Tell me what TV show she starred in.
I was a freshman at Northern Michigan University. My major was broadcasting. My minor was photography. One of the class assignments was to photograph people, so I asked her to be a subject.
Let's back up... How did I meet her? I met her in the dormitory dining hall. Van Antwerp Hall was full of geeks and gomers. Luckily, we shared the dining hall with Hunt Hall which was full of normal and attractive people. (How does that happen?)
I had seen her many times before and had been looking for my opening for weeks. Then one day she showed up at dinner wearing a ... you're not going to believe this... it really was something special... if you're a male cyclist, you would have reacted the same way I did... she was wearing a baby blue, wool Cinelli jersey.
Hot? Are you kidding me? It was a long-sleeve wool jersey. Wearing that indoors was, yes, probably very warm.
Oh, you mean HOT? Yeah, I knew that's what you meant. Though it hung on her like a shower curtain, it was still the most alluring thing I'd ever seen. Seeing my chance, I sat down at her table and struck up a conversation. (Thankfully, I didn't trip and fall on my way across the room. Though I do remember my legs feeling somewhat rubbery.) Well, since this happened in 1983, I don't really remember what pithy remark I opened with, but it must have been a classic. She was kind. We hit it off right away. (As it turns out, the jersey belonged to her dad.) And when I needed a subject for my photo class, I asked her.
She was studying something thrilling like accounting or finance at the time. But after this photo shoot, she changed her career path. (It must've been something I said.) She followed her boyfriend to Minneapolis. Met Prince. Starred in a music video. Moved to L.A. Got a part in the first Lethal Weapon movie. That's about the time that I lost contact with her. I moved on to bigger and better things while she moved on to much bigger and much better things. Eventually she got a regular part on Cheers as Woody's girlfriend, Kelly Gaines. I could see her on Thursday nights on NBC, except for the fact that I didn't own a TV.
Oddly enough, it all started because of Cinelli.
And that, my friends, is a true story.