Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Trainer Season - Phil, Paul and a Suitcase of Courage

It was sunny yesterday in the Alps, I got over the first big summit, the Col du Madeleine, at nearly 2,000 meters high the scenery was breath-taking, I felt in great shape, but it was early, as I was being told. I hung on through a long plummeting downhill into the valley below, in the distance was where we were headed and another 90 mins, most of it heaven bent. I knew it was there that I would be "opening up my account" and "hoping to avoid being dropped". I just had to "shut [my] eyes, suffer and grab that wheel".

About 90 minutes later I hit the remote and turned off stage 17 of the 2004 Tour de France, and another day with Phil & Paul. Outside my window it was clear, sunny, mid-20's, stinking cold!

You need all the help you can get to survive the Trainer-Season. There was a time when I hated the trainer. An hour seemed an eternity. My friend Lash once said, "If the doctor told me I was going to die in a week, I'd climb on the trainer, it would seem like a month." Now, partnering with Phil & Paul and armed with the hundreds of hours of play-by-play Trainer-Season is almost something to look forward to.

Time and time again I pop in the Tour. Granted there are other races, Spring Classics for example, but the voices of Phil & Paul are a July thing. They feel warm. It's hard to imagine a month of mid-summer mornings without them and a cuppa Earl Grey tea starting each day. It's even harder to imagine the Tour without them - I've even contemplated the day that... well... never mind, that just couldn't happen.

Who are these guys? From a 2004 interview with Outside Magazine these bios:
"Phil's earliest ambition was to be a zookeeper. But in 1967, he got a job as a cub reporter with Cycling and Mopeds magazine, in London. Before long he'd moved on to ITV, where he landed in front of the camera one day in 1978, reporting on a London bike race, and discovered he was good at it. In short order, ITV made him their main commentator for the Tour, and over the next few years his verbal acrobatics impressed enough network suits that he was asked to report on cycling for the BBC at the 1984 Summer Olympics, in L.A. By the nineties he was covering skiing at the Winter Games for CBS.

Paul began as a cyclist as well but stuck with it a little longer than Phil. He suffered through seven Tours (his best finish was 70th, in 1978) and was an excellent sprinter, he says, but in the mountains he couldn't keep up with the likes of five-time French champion Bernard Hinault. Still, he won two British national championships, in 1986 and '87, and became something of a multitasker: In 1986, while he was still racing professionally, the UK's Channel 4 hired him to help Phil manage the herculean task of covering the Tour. The two have been a team ever since, even with Paul's periodic extracurricular activities, like working as the PR director for Armstrong's Motorola team in the mid-nineties and, in 1999, lending help as a translator when Lance was having trouble with the French media during his first Tour win. But his line-crossing days are over; now he splits his time between covering cycling and running a gold mine in Uganda, where he and his family live.
Phil & Paul have helped World Cycling Productions become a bit richer off of me - the DVD collection now stands at nearly a complete decade, plus the historic stuff. I know their overlapping voices so well now that I catch myself saying their lines just before they do - a bit spooky sometimes, especially when I'm "coming down the finishing straightaway like a grand prix motor car" and gasping "like a goldfish".

Part of the reason it is so great to ride with them is they love cycling. They love it the way we do. They are cyclists. Phil was once quoted as saying, "One of the nicest things in the world is to go out and climb a mountain ... look at the scenery ... talk to no one ... freewheel it home. And all of your problems of the day are gone."

Phil I couldn't agree more. So this week I've started the winter Trainer-Season, made survivable only thanks to my daily ride partners. Over the coming weeks Phil & Paul will be a part of my everyday routine as I "reach into my suitcase of courage" and begin "dancing on the pedals", even if they go around and around in the same place. More than once I'll ask, "Bridge to engine room-more power."
But this much is certain "sunshine, I'm giving it all I got". In the end I'll know, "That's what you get when you suffer - you get results."

Thanks Phil & Paul!

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