Vive Le Tour

Right around July the 1st, I usually surprise my wife with my annual statement,” Guess what time it is dear?” She says “what time is it?” I tell her Tour de France time and she groans because for the next three weeks she knows I will be glued to the “telly” and watching the Tour on a DVR rebroadcast every day or evening whenever I have a chance to sneak it in. This year because of the Pandemic, the Tour was delayed to September so my statement came as a real surprise to her but nonetheless, I tried to make it as unobtrusive as possible without missing all the exciting action of the world’s most grueling bike race. I always look forward to the insightful commentary of Phil Liggett and although we all miss Paul Sherwen due to his untimely death, the team of Bob Roll, Christian Vande Velde and Chris Horner fill the gap with expertise and insightful commentary.

This year we had a surprise as a young Slovenian, Tadej Pogacar from the UAE Emirates Team pulled off a stunning victory in the final time trial and won the stage by one minute and 55 seconds. He took back the yellow jersey from Primoz Roglic, his best friend on the Dutch Jumbo Visma squad, to create an unsurmountable 59 second lead going into the final celebratory stage into Paris. Really exciting and the role of young people in this year’s Tour was impressive. Not only did Pogacar win the Tour at 21 years of age, ( the youngest since 1914), but we had a star in our own right make his mark on his first Tour as well. Sepp Kuss, who rides in support of Roglic on the Jumbo Visma team, had an outstanding Tour and was the strongman in the mountains. Watch for him as a rising star in future tours. His stock is rising rapidly as he was a relative unknown up until this time riding out of Durango, Colorado.

MERIBEL, FRANCE – SEPTEMBER 16: Arrival / Sepp Kuss of The United States and Team Jumbo – Visma / Col de la Loze (2304m) / during the 107th Tour de France 2020, Stage 17 a 170km stage from Grenoble to Méribel – Col de la Loze 2304m / #TDF2020 / @LeTour / on September 16, 2020 in Méribel, France. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images,)

I kind of lost a little interest in the Tour in recent years due to the doping scandals. But I always at least watched the recaps. This years excitement kind of reminded me of when Greg LeMond overtook Laurent Fignon back in 1989 to win the yellow jersey. France was devastated at the unbelievable result. LeMond rode the final time trial at an incredible 34 miles per hour average with the newly created time trial aero bars on his bike. I had the opportunity a number of years ago to ride twice with Greg at a charity ride in Maryland. It was my good fortune to have a little bit of the Tour rub off on me those days when I asked Greg numerous questions about the Tour. He said a lot of interesting things like, ” Fignon had the opportunity to use the bars but refused. It cost him 14 seconds and a Tour loss for France.” He also was kind enough to sign autographs for everyone long into the night. His friendly demeanor was impressive and the guy still showed flashes of brilliance on the ride although he was not in great shape due to a massive schedule of charity events and business travel. The three time Tour winner was also kind of a character. Our one friend riding with us kept trying to hammer Greg and near the end, Greg shot off to hide behind a pine tree. Our friend eventually came roaring by on his bike looking for LeMond. As he passed, LeMond came out from behind the tree and laughed with us at the wasted effort of our friend trying to hammer him to the finish. As we finished, our friend looked incredulously at LeMond and asked where he went because he was trying desperately to catch him. LeMond just chuckled and we all had a laugh at that one. The guy could take pictures for miles on end without touching his handlebars and his riding skills were obvious that day.

Those days of riding with the champ restored my faith in the race. He told a lot of stories about the organization, the history of the event, and the audacity of the upstart Americans who were making their presence known on a basically European stage. As many know, the French have a bit of a superior air about them when it comes to Americans. I can remember being in Geneva, Switzerland with my wife and trying to impress her with my limited French at a bar. The bartender was French and looked at me with disdain when I basically asked him for a glass of glass. I had a laugh about that one but his reaction was like I was Chevy Chase in European Vacation. A typical rube American trying to make his mark. The Tour is a French event and it seems to be clean at this point. They have made it their point to always have the race and make it fair as a matter of national pride. When the Tour ended this weekend, I was a little down as I always am because it is one more year passed for me, and also the Tour. I am a fan and hope that someday, I can perhaps see it in person. On the bucket list for sure. Thanks for reading

The “B” Team Bringing Their “A” Game

A little while back, I was on a rather spirited mountain bike ride up at Laurel Mountain with some pretty strong riders. Among them was my friend Steve Gurtner, who is a strong rider in his own right. But that day, he looked at me and said, ” Pat- we are the ” B” team bringing our “A” game. I laughed out loud and will always remember that line because it fits my persona to a “T.” In all honesty in all of my cycling over the years, I have always ridden with stronger, more talented riders and always felt like I was that “B” team constantly having to bring my “A” game in order to keep up. Take my early days in road cycling with the ACA.( Allegheny Cycling Association). I had the good fortune of riding on the road with some pretty talented guys who took the time to bring us “B” team guys into the fold. People like Mac Martin- a national class rider who took us out of our comfort zone and gave us the finer points of road racing on training rides. I can remember being in our local criteriums when they would put the “B” group in with the “A” group and we had people like Mac, and Matt Eaton, and the Chew brothers who would lap us but help us in the group with tips and suggestions not only to help us, but to improve their place in the group. Things like ” bridge that gap, Pat, so I can get up there.” I definitely had to bring my A game in those races in order not to jeopardize my participation. These guys were national champions who were kind enough to give us tips and help us in a race situation. But we had to dig deep and bring that “A” game. They would roar by us but help us along the way.

Moving ahead to mountain biking. I rode with the Greenlee’s Mountain Bike team back in the day and was coached by Chuck Greenlee, the owner of the shop, and head honcho of the group. I would go on their training rides with the expert riders who were nice enough to wait for me at the corners. But I had to step it up again in order to participate. I was no expert rider like those guys, but if I wanted to improve, I had to dig deep and remember being totally exhausted after all those rides on week nights. It all helped at race time but still, I was bringing the” A” game because I had to.

My Tuesday night rides, which were famous for bringing riders of all abilities to ride our local park, were eventually taken over by the expert riders who used my ride as a training ride. Eventually, the only way I could keep up was to take short cuts. Not quite bringing the” A” game but a tactic that I still use today. I still often ride with riders who are younger, stronger, more talented than me and I need to bring that” A” game week in and week out in order to participate. I remember riding with Scot Nicol, the founder of Ibis Bicycles, who is my age. I asked him, ” How long do you think we can ride like this Scot – at our age?” His response which I have recounted many times was,” Don’t even think about it, Pat.” ” Just keep riding.” I suppose he is right. I want to do this cycling thing as long as I can and if I have to be pushed by a talented group, so be it. I will be back out in Bend, Oregon in a few weeks visiting Jeff and Julie Chetlin, Tim and Barb Girone, and their posse of younger, talented riders. So hopefully, again, I won’t think about it and hope to hang on.

Finally- when I thought about this post, and the meaning of that great quote by Steve Gurtner, I also thought about it in general terms. Don’t we all have to bring our “A” game to the game of life? Sometimes we have to dig deep to be kind, considerate, generous, courteous, in these times of uncertainty? Don’t we have to bring that “A” game even when we are tired and don’t think we can keep up? If we do dig deep, it not only benefits us, but also those around us to whom we show mercy and kindness even in the midst of fatigue or despondency. Yes, most of us are the “B ” team, but if we can bring that “A” game as often as we can, life will improve in just a small way. We might not be national class and can’t change the world, but we can certainly “bring it” and help out one individual, one life, one neighborhood at a time. Thanks for reading.

ACA photo courtesy of Eric Durfee. Another “A” guy in many ways.