Glimpses of the Tour de France

So I said to my wife Janet the other day, ” Well dear, guess what time it is?” She said, ” What time is it, dear?” I said, “Its Tour de France time!!!” Her response was “Ugh” because she knows that for the next three weeks, I will be in the basement at night watching the recap coverage of the day’s stages on TV. Nothing like Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen in their coverage backed up by Bob Roll and Christian van de Velde. Phil Liggett has some classic commentary like, ” He is digging into his suitcase of courage.” or ” The Heads of State are all assembling at the front.” I laugh when I hear him say,” He is riding like a scalded cat.” Or perhaps his classic,” He is wearing the mask of pain” His foil, Paul Sherwen, was actually a Tour de France rider who keeps the affable Liggett grounded when he says, ” Yes, sadly Phil, you never rode the Tour.” I love the hilarious banter between these two very knowledgeable Brits.

I have never been to the Tour but it is definitely on my bucket list. I would love to take in the pageantry and scenery of the French countryside and to see some of the iconic climbs of the Tour through the Alps and the Pyrenees.

But I have had some brushes with the Tour which included a wonderful experience a few years ago riding with our 3 time Tour champ, Greg LeMond.

Thanks to my friend Scott Weiner, I had this opportunity for two weekends in separate years, and when you get to spend that kind of time with a guy, you get to ask great questions about the Tour and get some amazing answers from a truly interesting person. You can still see glimpses of his strength when he cranks up those massive thighs on the flat or when he takes pictures with his hands off the bars for miles. A riding talent to say the least and a very friendly and approachable champion.

Riding in the Netherlands a number of years ago, I got to see up close and personal, the fervor of the Dutch people for cycling. The world seemed to stand still as all the shop owners, businessmen and women, children, and travelers all stopped to see the stages on Eurovision wherever they could. All the chatter in the cafe’s was about the Tour. I was there during the event and rode some of the classic roads of the Amstel Gold Race- the premier road race in the Netherlands. People constantly talked to me about my thoughts on the Tour and showed their visible excitement for what is like the Super Bowl of sports in Europe.

But I also have an interesting local connection to the Tour who is a most interesting guy. Jean Marc Chatellier owns an excellent French bakery in Millvale, Pa. He and I always talk about the Tour at this time of the year and I find that I frequent his bakery not only for his absolutely delicious pastries, but to spend the time talking to him all about the Tour. I like his takes on the controversies, the French riders, the Americans, the UCI and the Tour organizers. If you get the chance, go visit Jean Marc and take the time to watch this video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NZ4E_6NVQw&sns=em

I know that a lot of cyclists and people in general have lost interest in the Tour because of all of the doping scandals. In this edition, the controversy has been all about the Cavendish/Sagan crash and the ultimate expulsion of the reigning world champion from the event. But aside from all the madness, the Tour remains one of the most revered sporting events in the world. It puts the beauty of France on display every year and personally, I love watching all of the action. Janet eventually comes to watch especially when NBC shows the beautiful mountains and French countryside. She wears her” mask of pain” most times as she was not a bike racer, but knows how much I enjoy the tactics, and the history of this truly remarkable event. It is a lot more than guys just riding their bikes around France.

So I will be in to see Jean Marc tomorrow morning probably to see if I can get one of those exquisite cheese brioche rolls right out of the oven like the last time to accompany my extraordinarily strong coffee. He will greet me and drop what he is doing to chat about the crash, the UCI, the French riders who now are making a mark in the Tour. He is proud of his heritage and of his knowledge of cycling. I am glad to have made his acquaintance for many reasons. Vive le Tour!!!!! Thanks for reading. Word Press followers, click on the title to see pictures and video.

Cycling the Miles for a Cause

IMG00227-20100731-0812IMG00375-20110730-0915DSC00468 A number of years ago my next door neighbor’s son came to me and asked me to do the MS150 Bicycle Ride to Erie. It was dubbed the “Escape to the Lake” and it was a benefit for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society http://www.nationalmssociety.org It was a lot of fun and especially for a young 8th grader who had never ridden much outside of our local North Park. This ride is always well attended and supported and the fun thing that year was staying overnight in my freshman dorm up at Allegheny College in Meadville,Pa. As I walked around campus and stayed in the dorm, I thought to myself,” Did I really do this” It seemed like the distant past.

As time went on, I opted for the camp out at Allegheny and also at Edinboro State University because I enjoyed the down time in my camp chair and sleeping under the stars in my dome tent. Always liked camping but I am the Lone Ranger when it comes to that sort of activity with my family. The neighbor kid eventually grew up and got married but I still kept up on the MS 150 until AAU Basketball got in the way of those weekends and I had to make a choice between being a good father in the stands at courtside or riding the MS. Fatherhood won out. But the MS Rides live on and they benefit research that is finding a cure for a very debilitating central nervous disorder. The money you raise goes to a worthy cause and you get a wonderful ride in the country with a well organized event as your reward.

Moving on, I had the opportunity to ride some events with my friend Scott Weiner down in Maryland at the Catoctin Challenge. The Maryland events were fun and organized by a really funny and good guy, Phil Heffler, who made a habit out of heckling his riding friends. He painted” last hill” on the road for miles even though there were many killer ascents ahead of us. He painted lanes for his riders and then a separate lane for a girl who was riding. Those signs read,” this lane for good riders.” Then he had the separate lane for his lady friend right next to it. Really hilarious stuff and Phil roamed the course having fun berating his friends and supporters. Phil organizes rides every year from Frederick, Maryland to Pittsburgh and if you want to take part in his hilarity and well orgnized rides, contact Phil- pheffler@aol.com

Several Maryland rides benefitted the 1-6 Organization http://www.1in6.org for men who were abused as children. This organization was supported by the Roz and Marvin Weiner Foundation as title sponsor with the honored guest being none other than our 3 time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond. The interesting thing about riding with LeMond was that he is a very engaging person. The funny thing is that most of the people on the ride either did not know much about LeMond or had their own agenda on the ride so about 6 of us got to ride both days with the former Tour champion. The stories that he told on the road were amazing and the development of a lot of current companies involved in cycling equipment had their seminal influence from LeMond. Scott time trial bars, Giro Helmets, and countless others were entrepreneurial and research endeavors by LeMond. You learned a lot about world class cycling and the development of product by riding weekends with Greg LeMond. These were also camping events and my fix for the outdoors under the stars was satisfied in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland.

My friends Pete Hilton, Eric Durfee(the local) and Mike King and I rode in “America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride” in Lake Tahoe one year which benefitted the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. http://www.lls.org Riding a road bike around the most beautiful lake in the country surrounded by the Sierra’s is indeed breathtaking. This ride also supports a very worthy cause and riders come from all over the country to these events. My friend Tim Hamburger is very involved in this organization and if you are inclined to ride or support this organization, Tim would be appreciative. His countless hours of training riders for this event is exemplary and his volunteering spirit is appreciated by all of his riders and event organizers.

Sometimes, these events hit close to home. My friend Jim Pottinger is riding an event in Vermont to beneft the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in honor of his son who has T1D juvenile diabetes. Becket is a cheerful little guy but the stress that he goes through with daily testing of his blood and the disruption to his young life as well as his parents is something that the JDRF addresses on a daily basis. http://www.jdrf.org Please consider supporting Jim on his ride. http://jdrf3.convio.net/goto/BecketsBikers

This weekend, Maggies Marauder’s go into action at the MS150 Keystone Ride up in State College,Pa. Pete, JR, Cyndee and Barry, Don, and a bunch of my pals will take part in this ride that benefits MS. Maggie Schneider is dealing with MS and this group rallies around her as she rides to raise money for the issue that she deals with on a daily basis. Consider supporing the Marauders who are led by team captain Bob DeZort and the memory of our friend Chip Kamin who helped found the group that rides in this event.

Riding the miles for a cause is not only worthwhile and a really fun event to benefit a particular organization, but it is amazing to see the folks who can ride those kinds of miles. You have the experienced cyclists who ride a lot of miles and these events are not much of a challenge. But you see most of the people on less than adequate bicycles riding with a smile and making it to the end with folks scratching their heads and saying,” How could that bike and that person make it 150 miles?” You see the same thing at marathons and ask the same question. But the heart of individuals who have a goal not only physically but the goal to support their favorite cause is impressive. Please consider supporting these organizations, riders, and I encourage you to take part in these events if you have never done so. A worthy cause, riding a lot of scenic miles, camping under the stars( or hotel room if you prefer) great entertainment, good food, all make for an exciting weekend. Now that I don’t have the AAU Basketball excuse anymore because my baller is headed to college, I may have to make a return to the roads of the cause. Thanks for supporting and reading.

A True Gentleman

DSC00468 I am going to “shift gears” here for a moment( no pun intended) and talk about a true American sports icon. The picture you see here is of yours truly in the foreground and a gentleman you might not instantly recognize if you are not a cyclist. This man is currently the only American to win the Tour De France. In fact he won it 3 times. His run was interrupted by an unfortunate hunting accident with his brother in law where he was accidently shot. He recovered and went on to win the Tour again. An astounding feat considering the scope of his injuries. I am speaking of none other than Greg LeMond.
I have had the good fortune to be invited to a charity bicycle ride in Maryland for the last three years where Greg was the featured guest. JR Ellis, Ken Krieger and I were invited each year by our friend Scott Weiner who is on the board of 1 in 6. 1-in 6 is an organization that was formed to help men who were abused as children. Greg is also on the board with Scott and devotes countless hours in serving the needs of men all over the country. The significance of 1 in 6 is that one out of every six men have been abused as a child. An astounding statistic that makes one take notice. Greg is not only involved in the organization but spends a considerable amount of time every year with many charitable organizations as well as his many businesses which are related to the bicycle industry. LeMond is an innovator. For instance, he was a seminal founder of the technology that inspired Giro Helmets. He worked with Boone Lennon, a former US Ski Team coach, to develop the aero bar which puts a bicycle rider in an aerodynamic position during a time trial in a bike race. In the 1987 Tour, Greg used the aero bar and his position allowed him to ride between 35-37 MPH during the final time trial of the Tour that year. Greg won by 8 seconds over Laurent Fignon, a Tour winner from France and very competitive rider. One of the interesting things that Greg recounted on our ride was that he was criticized for using the bar almost as if he was cheating. But Greg said that Fignon had the opportunity to use the bar but he and his coach Cyrille Guimard refused to use it. Over a 2500 mile race that averaged 25 MPH over three weeks, the race came down to 8 seconds. Had Fignon opted to use the bars, who knows what the result would have been but Greg was the innovative winner.
JR, Scott, Ken and I rode many miles with the Tour champion during these events and the interesting thing is that most of the people in the ride either were concentrating on their own ride or they don’t really know what Greg has accomplished in his 52 years. As you can see from the picture, he is older but the guy can still ride. You will also note that he has a camera around his neck. He is so comfortable on the bike that he can ride for long periods of time without his hands on the bars and take pictures of the Maryland countryside. Amazing!!
Again, LeMond is an innovator and his stories of the industry and his involvement are riveting and makes riding with him educational as well as very pleasurable. The nice thing about LeMond is that he is personable, will sign autographs for hours at a time and spends long hours after the ride talking to anyone who approaches him. A truly admirable way to live for a world renowned celebrity. No question is left unanswered and his passion for the sport of cycling has not dwindled one bit since his Tour days. As you take another look at this picture, you will see that I am saying something to him and he is amused. Imagine the patience of this man listening to my stories for 85 miles. But, this is LeMond. Professional, caring, innovative, and entrepreneurial. A true gentleman.
You will hear a lot this week about another Tour champion who has been disgraced. There have been many allegations and truths that have come out in recent weeks which contrast the career of Greg LeMond. In keeping with the guiding precepts of my blog, I always concentrate on the positive and the lighthearted stories. No matter what you hear this week, always know that there is at least one guy in the sport of bicycle racing who has always been a clean competitor and a true representative of the American spirit that went to Europe and competed against the worlds best on their stage. LeMond was a pioneer breaking into the old world network of European Road Racing. I am so fortunate to have made his acquaintance and look forward to riding with him again this summer. If I am invited Scott( hint, hint). If you would like more information on the 1 in 6 organization, you can view their web site at http://www.1in6.org. Thanks for reading.