Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Liftoff to Liege

After a weird and ashy week it looks like the runway is clear for liftoff to Liege - so blogs may post a bit slower for a couple weeks.

Speaking of liftoff - flying the rainbow seems to be exactly what Cadel Evan's career, personality, and life needed. The dude just took a brilliant Flèche Wallonne today in the Belgian Ardennes and looks in great form (as well did the Schlecks) for Sunday's Liege-Bastogne-Liege. From Cadel's post race interview it's clear he is a proud of his new stripe, “To race in the rainbow jersey is an honor and to win is even better. I’ve been second before, so to finally win is great,”“I feel liberated with the rainbow jersey. It’s a special honor to ride with the rainbow jersey on my shoulders and the goal this season is to honor the rainbow jersey.”

You can see the last K up the Muur de Huy here.

I'm psyched about seeing L-B-L live, racing around the course like a crazy Wallonner, and getting to interview a handful of the riders about their Lanterne Rouge thoughts - including 1999 winner Jacky Durand. After months of research my brain is about to burst - need to do a brain-drive-dump and take in some new thoughts on the book and telling of the story. L-B-L is a great place to connect with most of the Tour guys, teams, and support staff there.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ronde Portlandia Style

Last Saturday was not your "classic" Ronde weather, and for those that have braved any or all of the previous three editions of Ronde van oeste Portlandia you know how nasty those little climbs of our west hills can get with 20 degrees less warmth and a 100% more rain. All-n-all it was a grand day out. And despite having a lot of fun photographing and filming the lot of you, I did miss sharing in the few thousand vertical feet of grunting, sweating and complaining with a smile - and of course the IPA re-hydration after wards. And my special apologies to tandem partner John - Stealth was missing all the fun.

PS - great to see the so-call non-climber fairer sex out there in serious numbers - good job ladies!

PSS - and for all of you who decided it was a lovely day to take your bike for a walk... up a hill, celebrate having the legs to do it!

Friday, April 16, 2010

la double flamme rouge

Between watching Icelandic volcano reports and trying to get a new iPhone set with appropriate apps before flying out of here for the L'Equipe archives in Paris, (and a detour north to Liege for the Ardennes classic) I have been piling up the research on the Lanterne Rouge book so I thought I would share some of it; btw I always capitalize Lanterne Rouge out of respect - after months of reading and research I think these guys deserve it, every bit of it, including a capitol L and a capitol R. One bit of research involves one of the true characters of the 1990's peoloton, he will be featured prominently in the book, former French Pro and current Eurosport commentator Jacky Durand.

Jacky was my first real Lanterne Rouge, I mean the one that somehow pedaled through my brain and stuck. It was the summer of 1999 and I was in Nairobi Kenya working on a documentary project spotlighting the horror faced by orphaned baby African elephants, eventually called Wild Orphans. Each night I would return home, grab a pint of Tusker lager and catch the few minutes of coverage afforded the folks in Kenya on the local 'tellie'. It's there I spotted Jacky Durand. He was being featured because he was not only doing what I later realized is pure JD, attacking like a man possessed (which may explain my like for Jens Voigt, they're cut from similar cloth), but he was also in firm possession of the Lanterne Rouge, eventually trailing U.S. Postal's Pascal Derame by a solid five minutes into Paris.

What made this red lantern burn doubly bright was the fact that JD had also locked up the coveted Le Prix de la combativité (The Combativity Award), also known in English as the most aggressive rider prize. In his own way making a mark on history, the double was a feat never before or since accomplished, but equally he laid to rest the ridiculous notion that Tour rouge riders are too slow, too lazy or simply just not up to the task. In Jacky's own words:

“I'm not a revolutionary of any sort, but on the bike, I've always refused to come out of a mould. It astonishes me that most riders are followers, even sheep. A lot of them, the only people who know they're in the Tour are their directeurs sportifs. I couldn't do the job like that. They finish the Tour without having attacked once, maybe the whole of the season, even the whole of their career. I'd rather finish shattered and last having attacked a hundred times than finish 25th without having tried. Yes, I get ragged about it, but it's always in a friendly way. In the bunch, the guys know that Dudu is as likely to finish a long way behind them as first.”[ L'Équipe, 14 July 2000]
And he had a history of being Le Prix de la combativité. Here is Jacky in 1992, one of the greatest 'attacks' in Tour of Flanders history - 217km remaining, longest break in the past three decades, ultimately winning on his own.

Ronde / Tour des Flandres 1992 : Jacky Durand l'inconnu

Probably few blog posts over the next few weeks as I TGV my way around France and Belgium, but will try and get a few things up, along with photos - cycling related and otherwise. To all of you out there racing hang in there, even if your bringing up the rear, and for pete sakes just once in a while, take a flyer or a JD, and attack!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Andrew Messick has reoccuring nightmares of Henri Desgrange

History is a funny thing - ya know, the way it keeps repeating itself, but nobody bothers to listen, or read, or watch.

Look around, far and near, choose a subject, it's not hard, and you'll find historical stuttering. Sometimes it takes a few months or years, but if you can step away from the myopic perspective we 60-year-lived humans have, you find history weaves a pretty nice sin curve over and under the x-axis of all time.

Today AEG Sports president Andrew Messick denied rumors that ASO, Amaury Sports Organization, the French events and media mega-conglomerate that owns the Tour de France, Dauphiné Libéré, Paris-Roubaix, Paris-Nice and other major cycling events (as well as the French Open in tennis, is positioning for a takeover of the Tour of California, calling it only a
“media partnership.” (Messick denies ASO takeover of California Tour) You, and Mr. Messick, might want to post those words up on the bulletin board for a future re-read, maybe under the header "History Repeating Itself."

Just a brief ride down the muddy cobbled road of cycling history might shed a little light on the new business arrangement AEG and ASO are team time trialing into. The ASO, or the true grand patron of the Tour de France, began life in the marketing madness of the Parisian newspaper L'Auto. A century ago L'Auto was being gapped off the circulation wheel by rival L'Velo. To avoid DNFing L'Auto's heads Victor Goddet and Henri Desgrange masterminded a race called le Tour de France and went on to demolish the competition and create a race legend.

For the next 50 years L'Auto dominated the sport print media in near monopolistic fashion - and fever. L'Auto ceased publication in 1944, a by-product of its ambiguous allegiance during the Occupation, with Liberation its assets were sequestered. In Phoenix-fashion it rose 18 months later from L'Auto ashes as L'Equipe, at it's helm Goddet's son Jacques. The 1960's telecast economic woes for print media with television assuming a more attractive role -
L'Equipe was struggling, prompting Tour Director and L'Equipe head Goddet to capitulate to a merger of the paper and subsidiary cycling gemstone to Émilien Amaury (1965); with whom he had earlier made his successful bid to relaunch the Tour de France after WWII. Over the next decade and a half the two men transformed the conglomeration into the Amaury Group (ASO). The Amaury Group is owned by French publicity and marketing entity EPA (Éditions Philippe Amaury).[1]

In the past few decades le géant de sports de la France has been gobbling up events most recently the Dauphiné Libéré, and driving interest in Vuelta a España. “(UCI president Pat McQuaid) has heard these rumors too,” Messick said, referring to the ASO takeovers. “He and I talked about it, and I told him they are false.”, from the VeloNews article. Of course McQuaid heard them, he is having the same Desgrange nightmares. ASO is cycling, and has reduced the UCI to as insignificant an organization as can internationally exist. McQuaid knows once ASO has Tour of CA, and Australia that doesn't leave the UCI with any toys to play with. Kinda like the early days of the Tour and being a Isole - good luck on getting anything but the broom wagon to show up when you have a mechanical.

ASO has continued to grow, becoming more powerful, controlling more and more of what is professional cycling and spreading the sports media marketing tentacles first unleashed by Henri Desgrange. So Andrew Messick, those reoccuring nightmares you keep having, the ones where the ghost of Henri Desgrange keeps taking everything you own, take note, history says the giant he left behind is looking west, all the way to the coast of California.

PS - Andrew, how's your French?

[1] drawn from a fascinating book The Tour de France 1903-2003: A Century of Sporting Structures, Meanings and Values, editors Hugh Dauncey and Geoff Hare.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Borrowed Bike Blogs and Cancer

Just as I was about to start writing I had a change of thought - blog, my blog, has no right or wrong; blogs ARE for writing any ol'crap you like, or sharing someone else's blog crap if you like - it's my blog.

So today's blog, is about sharing someone's blog - her name is Lindsay, she is a cyclist, a damn fine one (and Lindsay, you always will be), she rides for Hammer Velo in Portland, she is pedaling her way through the crappiest race a young woman must - a shitty circuit course called breast cancer. Having been a spectator, a DS, a mechanic, and crew for more than one woman on that race I found Lindsay's blog refreshing and thought, just maybe one of you out there who read this blog might be, or know someone who might be, about to enter that breast cancer race as well - if so, Lindsay's blog might help.

Confessions of a Lapsed Triathlete
Stories about Biking and Why Cancer is a Huge Pain in My Ass

Excerpt from Lindsay's Blog:

"I've hit a mental breaking point, one which led me to think one of the thoughts I had forbidden myself to think for the last 4 weeks:


I am a fucking state champion bicycle racer. I eat vegetables, pay my bills on time, floss my teeth and use my turn signal. What is it about this universe that decided that I needed to be the one that has to be scarred, needs help bathing and getting dressed and can't even get out of bed without pain?

Something tells me that when I die, someone will tell me its because I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000."

Finally, she posted this, something everyone should eventually read:
"Having swallowed my pride, I have compiled the following list. I present, in no particular order,
"Things You Can Do to Help."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Fabulous Fabian

"A man for the Classics" the phrase goes - and they all say it, or write it - Phil, Paul, Sean, Andrew, cycling journalist of every accent and ilk. But the question eventually rises to the surface, just like the Cancellara cream last Sunday in Flanders - to be a MAN for the Classics don't you have to win one of the bloody battles? Better yet a couple of them?

Fabian was fabulous in Flanders on Sunday - period - full stop. His victory was storybook. The kind of win freckle-faced Flanderian kids lie awake at night an dream of - attack on the Muur and solo to the line. He said, "The way I won, for me, it's quite special." and, "When I get old and I can say to the young riders: 'I won the Tour of Flanders alone and I attacked on the Muur,' it's a perfect scenario – the gladiator won the battle." Attack on the Muur, solo to the line - it's the final pitch grand slammer over the green monster at Fenway in the world series, the buzzer beating trifecta in the NCAA national championship - it was why they made the movie Breaking Away. As Fabian said, "it was one of those days your legs feel 100%, so in your head you feel even stronger."

And a Man for the Classics has to be smart - there is no tomorrow - no opportunity to get a few minutes back on GC - Fabian knows that, Classics are two-handed surgical wins, a tactical scalpel in one hand, a laser-knife conviction of confidence in the other; Fabian wheeled them both: “If I could have stayed with him, then I think I could have beaten him in the sprint, and I think he must have known that,” Boonen said. “He was never planning on going to the finish with me. The only place where he could attack me is where he attacked me, and he put me into difficulty.”
Georgey Porgy -
“I’m disappointed,” he said. “I had good legs on the Molenberg and I hesitated when Fabian and Tom went. That was a big mistake, and from then on everyone in the chase was watching each other. I got a little caught behind the breakaway guys we were catching on Molenberg, and that was a big mistake. I really think I could have gone there, but it’s Flanders, and you have to be 100 percent focused at all times. It’s really unfortunate, I think I could have gone with them. I had really good legs today.” from VeloNews.

In an article over on CyclingNews entitled "Hincapie regrets missing Cancellara and Boonen attack", George did some whining. It's like 6:30 Am, I've been up since 5 watching this, with a cuppa tea and dose of hope, watching to see if George can finally make his fate. Then it happens, the camera angle is perfect, staring into the face of the contenders, the cobbles are dry, all the "Men for the Classics" are there, Cancellara strikes up the right, Boonen negotiates wheels and accelerates through the leftside and they are gone, up and over the Molenberg - GEORGE WHERE ARE YOU????????

George resigned himself to sit-in and hang for the final sprint for fifth place. He finished sixth, behind fellow American Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions), first time Flanders rider Tyler Farrar (hang on folks, Farrar wins Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen this kid could be a Man for the Classics).

This is crazy, George Hincapie has placed 10 times in the top 10 of Flanders, six times in the top 10 at Paris-Roubaix, not to mention a host of other spring northern Classics, so, the power is there, the opportunity is there, the experience is there, so what isn't there?! What is it you don't get? Maybe we have all been drinking the American-cycling-media cool-aid. Or maybe our perspective a bit too distant from this side of the Atlantic. As the broadcaster on Eurosport online offered during the race, somewhere around 35kms to go and George still looking for someone else to take up the chase - " he really a man for the Classics? Or is this just American marketing?"

All I know for certain is there were definitely two men for the Classics Sunday - they took matters and the race into their own hands, Boonen was brilliant, but Fabian was Fabulous. Three down and two to go - Liege and Lombardia - watch Cancellara reinvent himself.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Business of Bikes - Selling the Tour

If you have even the slightest curiosity about the Tour de France beyond who Lance Armstrong is and what he is likely to tweet next, it's likely you know this thumbnail history:

In 1903 Henri Desgrange, editor of L'Auto (ancestor to today's l'Equipe, owned by ASO, who owns the Tour), was desperate to win a circulation war with competing sports newspaper Le Vélo. and insure his papers survival. The Tour de France was suggested to Desgrange as a sales promotion, yes, to sell stuff, mainly bike advertising to bike makers. The new race was to be like the hugely popular Six-Day races (the Madison), only on the "roads" ringing France - so more people would buy more papers. The sporting gimmick was a huge success. L'Auto's circulation quadrupled, competitor Le Vélo 'bonked' into obscurity (although they did give us a century of Bordeaux-Paris) and Desgrange went down in history as the father of the greatest sporting event in the world.
Okay, so did you catch that little line - "to sell stuff"? Ever wonder why cyclists look like rolling billboards? From its outset bike racing and especially the Tour was about marketing, merchandising and sales. To twist an old saying,... while in the middle of sale, a bicycle race broke out... this one they called le Tour de France.

In the Tourmalet sized mountain of facts, figures and fiction I have been digging through while researching my book on the Lanterne Rouge there has been an interesting side track (that won't have much place in this book) about the business of the Tour. As the lights in the Tour history begin to shine more brightly I have begun to see so much of why the big picture Tour de France is what it is - simple stuff like why teams, why some of the archaic rules, but also why the sport has taken some of its left and right turns, why cheating, especially doping, has had a love affair with the Tour, and why the sports media we have today, influencing all sports, has such deep roots in the countryside and Cols of France. Desgrange's little newspaper
L'Auto also enjoyed windfall advertising profits. It's actually amazing that today we don't call it Le Peugeot de France. Although today's mega-sponsors, or officially Club du Tour, are comprised of Goliaths - including Nike, Crédit Lyonnais, and Coca-Cola - and they have their influence.

For example (just one example), from a look at the Top 10 in GC in 1914, last Tour before the first World War would forever change the face of this and many other events, it's clear bike maker Peugeot-Wolber, known as the "Goliath" of the French bike manufacturing business at the time, wanted to clearly establish that they were not only the choice of professionals in the the Tour de France, but on some level, they were the Tour de France. The public as a result bought Peugeot's bikes hook, line and sprocket.

General Classification
1st: Philippe Thys, (Belgium), Peugeot-Wolber, 5405km in 200h 28' 48" (27.028km/h)
2nd: Henri Pélissier, (France), Peugeot-Wolber, @ 1' 50"
3rd: Jean Alavoine, (France), Peugeot-Wolber, @ 36' 53"
4th: Jean Rossius, (Belgium), Alcyon-Soly, @ 1h 57' 05"
5th: Gustave Garrigou, (France), Peugeot-Wolber, @ 3h 00' 21"
6th: Alfons Spiessens, (Belgium), J.B. Louvet-Continental, @ 3h 53' 55"
7th: Emile Georget, (Belgium), Peugeot-Wolber, @ 4h 20' 59"
8th: Firmin Lambot, (Belgium), Peugeot-Wolber, @ 5h 08' 44"
9th: François Faber, (Luxembourg), Peugeot-Wolber, @ 6h 15' 53"
10th: Louis Heusghem, (Belgium), Peugeot-Wolber, @ 7h 49' 02"

(54th: Henri Leclerc, (France), "Isole", @ 99h 04' 45" that year's Lanterne Rouge for perspective. Isole btw are individuals, or soloists not associated with teams, an opportunity open until 1914. No Isole ever won the Tour, Ernest Paul in 1909 finish 6th on GC, the best every Isole.)

(A remarkable footnote to that year's TdF - All living Tour winners from 1905 through 1923 (Louis Trousselier, Lucien Petit-Breton, François Faber, Octave Lapize, Gustave Garrigou, Odile Defray, Philippe Thys, Firmin Lambot, Leon Scieur and Henri Pélissier) start the 1914 Tour de France as well as 1926 winner Lucien Buysse.)

One of the things you have to marvel at studying the TdF is the adaptability of its sometime-maniacal genius/founder/director Henri Degrange. It was his race, and he ruled it with an iron fist, every year tweaking and turning up the torture screws on the riders, but he was also never so self-consumed to constrict his beloved Tour's success. One of the great pieces of Degrange's marketing genius is the publicity caravan, created in 1930, it will celebrate its 80th birthday in this year's Tour de France. If you have never seen the Tour live this "little" piece of the Grand Boucle is lost - and according to 39% of the people lining the road, you have missed the Tour. If you are feeling a bit empty about now, cheated by Versus, then the folks at ASO have created a nice bit of youtube to buffer the pain - the music is half the hype: