Saturday, July 31, 2010

2010 Tour de France Live!

A week ago today we were at the Tour de France's individual time trial in Bordeaux, France. We had been in the Pyrénées for days before that, climbing famous "cols" (mountain passes) like the Col du Tourmalet and roads to dead-ends in beautiful ski areas like Superbagnères and Pla d'Adet. We stayed in Luchon-Bagnères to watch the end of one stage and the start of another. But it wasn't until that day in Bordeaux of NOT climbing the hills that I finally stopped to fully appreciate one thing: We were in France, at the Tour de France! It took me over 50 years to get to the Tour, and I may never experience it "live" again, but there we were.

I've always liked riding my bike, but it wasn't until five years ago–the summer of 2005–when I really got into bike racing as a spectator. The timing was strange, since American Lance Armstrong had just retired after winning his seventh Tour de France. Lance didn't get me into bike racing. My wife did. When I came home one night after riding up Torrey Pines hill 50 times in one day (just to see if I could; 162 miles, over 20,000 vertical feet of climbing), she said to me with a concerned look on her face, "Why don't you try racing OTHER people?" With that, I joined the San Diego Bicycle Club (SDBC) and dabbled in some bike racing. I've raced "track" at the velodrome, I still race time trials, and I will try some road/crit racing again someday. I'm not very good at it, but I love it.

By experiencing bike racing personally, I got a dose of the incredible adrenaline that comes with the sport. That personal racing experience turned a potentially boring spectator sport into something I really enjoy watching. (Having played football and soccer made those sports more interesting to watch, too. This formula didn't work on me for baseball because I thought it was pretty boring even when I played it.)

This doesn't explain WHY I'm so passionate about cycling now, but I am. I'm glad of it.

  • I'm glad I have a passion to follow.
  • I'm glad it can burn 7,000 calories in a day.
  • I'm glad there are a few million other people "into it" enough to make the Tour de France the incredible event that it is.
  • I'm glad we went to see the Tour de France live.

We finally made it to Cycling Mecca. We were at the Super Bowl of bike racing. And I'm so glad it sunk in before it was all over.
Vive le Tour de France!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

America’s Lower-Left City

In early July of this year I began exploring routes away from San Diego's coast in an effort to find some sunshine. The weeks of "May Gray" and "June Gloom" went way overboard this year. Almost every day, the forecast was "increasing cloudiness," which seemed comical long after the sky was filled with nothing but clouds.

This exploration allowed me to see more of San Diego County, both within and outside San Diego's city limits. One day my friend Dennis and I decided to put a hundred miles on our bikes. We passed the city limits more than once. At one point during our long ride, Dennis pointed out how embarrassing San Diego's new "tag line" is. I thought we were still "America's Finest City," but Dennis pointed out how someone in our finest city's government decided it was time to change that tag line to "A City Worthy of Our Affection." I had never noticed this before, and when I realized he wasn't kidding, I suddenly felt very embarrassed for San Diego. This was a bone-headed move at so many levels…

  • "America's Finest City" was a great tag line. Why would we change that? Did someone else steal the honor from us? Was it because of the horrible maintenance of the roads? I will admit that most cities (and unincorporated communities) around San Diego have smoother roads than San Diego does. Dropping this tag line is a horrible admission that—for some reason unannounced to the constituents—we aren't even going to claim that we're the finest. Very sad.
  • Worth of our AFFECTION? Since when does one think of cities as something to get affectionate about? This new phrase sounds like something a committee of undereducated bureaucrats came up with. From what I've gathered, it's actually borrowed from one of Mayor Sanders' "state of the city" address several years ago. How misguided is that? Dump a great tagline and replace it with an awkward phrase in an uninspired political speech? Clearly the city doesn't employ a good marketing person…at least not one with any pull. Very embarrassing.
  • San Diego has been in financial trouble for quite a few years. Can you imagine somebody at city hall signing the purchase order to replace all those city limit signs just so this lame tagline can replace the good one? Way to go, SD. Don't spend that money on fixing our roads, maintaining our parks, or beautifying major tourist routes like Torrey Pines Road heading into La Jolla. Spend it on a bad tagline. Very wasteful.

So there we have it: Very sad, embarrassing, and wasteful. If we have an interim tagline before we become "America's Finest City" again, how about making it, "San Diego, the City's Management is Worthy of our Attention." Let's not let this sort of nonsense continue on our watch, using our tax dollars.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pass the Baton

On July 11th 2010 we witnessed the end of the third major round of Lance Armstrong's bike racing career. His bike racing career was preceded—and may be followed again--by an impressive triathlon racing experience.

Round 1: Before he won a single Tour de France—and before most Americans heard his name—Lance was a very strong cyclist. He was the US National Champion and World Champion in 1993. Unfortunately, most people who don't follow cycling closely have no idea who the national or world champions of the sport are. Round 1 ended after Lance discovered that he had cancer that had spread throughout his body in 1996.

Round 2: After fighting for his life against cancer, Lance won 7 consecutive Tours de France (1999-2005) and became the most famous cyclist in the world. Bicycle manufacturers and bike shop owners rejoiced as America rediscovered the bicycle. American bike racing fans rejoiced that the sparse smattering of victories by Americans in European road bike racing was replaced by American dominance of the biggest bike race in the world. Unfortunately, Lance grew bored of winning the Tour de France and "retired" in 2005. Granted, it's a lot of very hard work, and he already had enough fame and fortune for a few lifetimes.

Round 3: After getting inspired to race again through his Leadville 100 racing experience, Lance decided to return to the pinnacle of the sport to race the Tour de France in 2009. It's a tall order after leaving the professional peloton for a few years, but Lance did well and finished 3rd in 2009. For 2010, Lance had a year of racing under his belt and a full schedule of "warm-up" races leading up to the Tour. When he finished 2nd in the Tour of Switzerland, I started to think he might really have the form to be a real threat to the other top Tour contenders. But after multiple crashes and perhaps a bonk on the final climb yesterday, we'll never know how well he could have done in this year's Tour. This is Lance, not SuperLance. Getting those 12 minutes back is not in the cards.

I HOPE we'll never know how well he would have done if those crashes hadn't happened. Because now, working as a "domestique" for his teammate Levi Leipheimer in the coming weeks, he should sacrifice his stage-by-stage finish times to help maximize Levi's chances of winning the Tour. This may mean pacing up hills right through his anaerobic zone, then peeling off and dropping back. It should mean taking pulls in front of Levi to help Levi stay as protected and rested as possible for the crucial moments. It should mean wearing himself out as a loyal teammate to the point where his own time trial performance in Bordeaux will be lackluster. I hope.

I've seen some journalists and readers guess that Lance may go for a stage win, like some sort of "farewell" performance now that the GC (overall win) is not in the cards for him. I'll be disappointed if this happens, because it will mean that he chose—even if only for one stage—to put his own need for more glory ahead of the need to help his team place well in the race. I'm optimistic. I don't know why Levi's web site still has the video of him and Lance talking about his broken wrist from last year's Tour on the home page. Maybe he thinks it's good karma. I'm not so sure about that, but Levi has been on the Tour podium before and I'd love to see Levi finally win in 2010.

Even by his own admission, Lance hasn't replaced "The Cannibal" Eddy Merckx as the greatest bike racer to have ever graced the planet. But he is currently the most popular, and continuing this race as a great teammate, racing in Ironman events, maybe even racing in US continental races will help perpetuate his popularity among generations of athletes. Wouldn't it be cool to hear about Lance racing in 60+ Masters categories a couple decades from now, after the battle with cancer and the Tour victories? Physically fit (and fearless!) athletes who race into their 70's, 80's and even 90's are the greatest sources of inspiration to me.

Here's to Rounds 4-15. Go Lance!