Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why Larry Longo Rocks

“J-School” is this thing folks once attended to learn how to write before people adopted such literary tools as “OMG” and “LOL” as a means of communicating. I went to one; I got a masters’ degree; I worked for 10 years as a reporter; I ran my own magazine (right into the ground, I should add) for 14 years.

A lot of people say nice things about my announcing, but they don't realize how much time I spent reading and writing. Those things come in handy when speaking.

While in journalism school I had to read a book entitled The Literary Journalist. One of the most coveted and dog-eared pieces on my shelf, this book was a collection of great magazine writing. Every author proved fantastic.

So in collecting the pieces they polled all of these all-star writers on who they believed to be the finest writer alive in our language. Several of them said without question Tom Wolfe. So then the interviewer decided to go ask Tom Wolfe who he considered to be the finest writer.

Without hesitation Wolfe responded: John McPhee.

So a lot of folks as of late have said really kind things to me about race announcing. This I find hard to believe because whenever I bark at a race I do nothing but chronicle all the mistakes I make. (Trust me, there are several.)

As one of the promoters of this month’s Providence Cyclo-cross Festival I knew one thing: I did not want to have to announce my own race.

You see, an announcer is like an obstetrician. We don’t do all the hard work; we don’t have the labor pains; we don’t conceive the thing in a fit of passion; and we certainly don’t have to pay for the bills after the thing is delivered. But when it is crunch time, we arrive relaxed, adjust a few things, respond to any emergencies, provide a bit of coaching, and hopefully deliver a cleaned up bundle of joy.

We’re relaxed; it’s not our baby.

So when I found out I had to go to Australia as the guest of the UCI, I had to find my own replacement for Gloucester and that helped me fund the selection of just about any announcer I wanted.

There are loads of great announcers. I like most of ‘em and consider several to be good friends. And I would hire several of them in a heartbeat.

But I chose California’s Larry Longo.

I could not figure out why I liked him so much until after I hired him. As I ran another feverish errand across the venue on Sunday at Providence I heard Larry's voice. (That I could hear him so well is a testament to the great Glenn Stillwell, but more on him and our secret at Providence later.)

“…..So we can call it Cyclocross Singles…..Bachelorette Number One, what’s your name?”

He had gone off the script, off the event schedule, and casually engaged other staffers and exhibitors and sponsors in this piquant dialogue that was fun. Larry keeps your ear. Few announcers do that.

Dave Chauner taught me when you promote a sporting event you are essentially building a stool that stands on four legs: spectators, sponsors, media, and participants. And an announcer has to inform, educate and entertain all four of those elements.

And most announcers do a good job of that. And let’s face it, we all have our own favorites based on our own selective criteria.

Larry Longo realizes there is a fifth leg to the stool: the staff.

He’s easy going, relaxed, and like a good obstetrician assures them all that the baby’s going to come out just fine. And when a staff relaxes, they perform better. Working alongside of Larry at crits, mountain bike events, road races, and now ‘cross events, I’ve never once seen Larry get the officials or the marshals or the medical staff or the organizers ruffled or aggravated.

He sands down everybody’s rough edges.

Only when serving as a promoter do you realize the importance of that element of the job. And know this, being laid back does not mean being lackadaisical. Larry’s as prepared and educated as he needs to be for every day’s work.

He can whip a crowd up, but he can also calm them down. And he keeps you listening all the time... for his jokes, his observations, his way of kindly mocking a staffer, or wishing Mitch Wippern happy birthday EVERY DAY that Mitch Wippern ever worked with Larry. All of it on the microphone.

If you get the chance; hire him. If you want to learn the craft, learn from him.
Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Patience Pays Off

Patience Pays Off

I did not file yesterday as I had to head right the start of the men’s race.
By now you probably know that Georgina Bronzini of Italy and Thor Hushovd of Norway each won their respective world road titles. The coverage should indicate the ferocity with which each successive field raced. But this course rewarded patience. The rider we mentioned the least would be the favorite.

My job was to simply start ‘em on time. But there is considerable fanfare before each event, all of which is subject to the regimen imposed by the UCI. But it works.

The women’s race was held entirely in Geelong. At noon I start the team
introductions one hour before start. Then you do it all again at the start line, calling every rider to the line. A real pro, Rik did a great job of either speeding it up or slowing it down according to the schedule.

The women raced very negatively at first but finished with utter savagery on the road circuit. What we learned on this difficult circuit was that patience paid off. The rider who waits would win. Emma Pooley destroyed herself, only to see her compatriot Nicole Cooke leave with Germany’s Judith Arndt with 6 km to go. They would be caught on the homestretch by the bunch to be swarmed by the field led by an Italian leadout train. Bronzini came through, with Dutchwoman Marianne Vos winning her fourth consecutive silver medal ahead of Emily Johannsen of Sweden, whose helmet bounced off a spectator leaning over the fences with 50 meters to go.

But the bigger victory was the event itself. The rematch of the AFL Grand Final drew most of the attention with the Magpies crushing the Saints. Regardless there was easily 50,000 spectators out for the event.

I finished off the day, as always, alone. I got a beer at a bar surrounded by Magpie fans resplendent in black-and-white attire. I then opted for a quiet sushi bar for a snack.

I had an 8 p.m. dinner meeting with the marketing department of the UCI. I waited in the bar, alone, until drawn to a table where the other UCI staff gathered. They all spoke French until I found a guy from South Africa.

I finally got out to dinner with Middat, Nicole and Tobias. We spoke English. Although there were a lot of discussion topics, the outcome is this: they booked me for the ‘Cross Worlds in Germany AND the 2011 Road Worlds in Copenhagen. Cool, huh?
I finally stayed awake until 11 p.m.!

Towards all that stuff, I must say that patience pays off. I have never tried to sell myself to promoters. I have never tried to undercut another announcer or take a job from my brothers or sisters in this profession. I've been patient. I'm prouder of that than I am of actually securing such prestigious gigs as these.

When I woke, I found Rik in the lobby. He would join me at the start in Melbourne. We made the drive to Melbourne, a beautiful, gritty city with amazing architecture. It’s a blend of Victorian charm and Bauhaus zeal.

When we arrived there were maybe a few thousand people bounding about like charged electrons. We figured out what we had to do and went to work. We were at Federation Square. There would be a team presentation on a stage followed by the start about 300 meters away on a bridge.

I did comedy and Rik and I tried to do some race handicapping to fill the 15 minutes before the teams were to arrive. Just having the PA running drew in the crowds. The number probably crested at 1,000, and that was just for the presentation. About 5,000 people were on the bridge for the start.

Per usual, the teams fail to arrive on time and when they do, confusion reigns. The Americans were one of the first to arrive. I enjoyed seeing the guys I knew, Ted King and Christian Vande Velde are two of the nicest pros you could ever meet. They were relaxed and at ease. We got a few teams up and down and then waited a painful three or four minute between teams. Then they ALL came at us, Latvians, Poles, Colombians, Swedes….

Mark Cavendish, Thor Hushovd, and especially the Aussies with Cadel Evans drew
At one point Michael Albassini of Switzerland stormed up on the stage, stammering, “There is no rule zat we have to do these. We have no time. Thees is stupid….”

Rik, myself and the official said nothing, nothing.

“FUCK off,” he said… Running up during another team’s photo op and signing the board …and continuing to curse us as he left the stage and he rode away.

Then Fabian Cancellara rolled up, with a sheepish Albassini in tow. The man they called Spartacus, a true class act, made this donkey return to the stage for the photo. He said nothing this time when he passed by me on the stage.

Sports are show business. The sooner riders realize that, the better. And patience is typically rewarded.

We rolled them up again for the start, where the great Phil Anderson helped Pat McQuaid do the start duties.

The riders would go over the massive West Gate Bridge and roll 85 k to Geelong to start 10 laps on the circuit.

We drove to the circuit, turned up the hi-fi, and worked the finish stretch. In short, we signaled the start of the race for these fans who had staked out fence-side seats hours earlier.

Read the coverage. A great race unfolded with underdogs, local heroes, Rocky Balboas and Apollo Creeds all racing brilliantly.

Despite unbelievable heroics from Cadel Evans, a late breakaway was caught by the 40-rider field, survivors of unbelievable savagery that sent most of the sprinters to the DNF list. Save for one: Thor Hushovd, who never felt the wind in his face until 100 meters to go.

Boom. Done.

The Americans were dreadful. But if you study the event you’ll realize that Italy sent riders and directors to Australia twice to profile the circuit and study the event. Although unsuccessful, they were in every major move with big numbers. They were able to select the right time for the job. They finished with several riders.

Other teams show up as an afterthought and the results show.

And then it’s done. I walked back, actually stopping to have my picture taken with fans and even signing two autographs. What fun and flattery.

Headed home I young lady from Geelong named Bethany intercepted me. She ran a local community radio program on cycling. I had gotten her into the media box to get an interview with Cancellara.

She owed me a beer so I took her up on it. From there I would encounter other UCI folks in the lobby.

I never got out. No sites. No tourism. No clubbing.

But I did fasten down some friendships with some important folks. And I’ll improve the relations when I travel to Germany and Denmark in 2011. But I hope to have some family along next time.

Game over. Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie

I have found a few Americans over here. Mike “Mikey Havoc” Sayers is working for the American team along with Jim Miller, both good guys but super busy and staying somewhere else for lodging. Then there are the riders, but they too are so pegged and freaked out, that even during the team introductions, I appear to them like some character in Alice In Wonderland.

Adam Howes could not believe his eyes when he came on stage to see me.

"I'm in over my head on this one," I whispered when I saw him.

"Me too," he replied. Great kid.

But finding Ted Essenfeld and his family has been great. He’s a NewEngland bike guy serving in the Navy as a lieutenant. He married Ski, an Aussie gal from Darwin and Perth (far away from Melbourne), who talked her into going home for a month. They have two great little kids and got to hold a one-year-old infant last night, which is an amazing human connection in this environment. Many of you remember Ted for his son, Ryder, who wiped out Tim Johnson en route to the podium last year in Providence.

We got to have dinner together last night at some place called Hog’s Breath. Imagine Bugaboo Creek and you’re close.

I loved it. But I did have to concern myself with sleep and my voice. Despite being convinced I had I stayed out WAY past my bed time of 8, I arrived to the room at 7:30 (19:30). I had one more bad beer downstairs and then collapsed at 8:30. One would think with the whole British Empire thing, one could find a decent IPA in this town. That’s not to be.

Only through viral means did I realize Geelong has a bit of an inferiority complex. People look down on this place compared to Melbourne. I have yet to even go to Melbourne. But it’s clean, kind, and quaint with fantastic Victorian architecture.
The leading cause of death with tourists such as me is getting whacked by a car, as they drive on the left side of the road and we tend to look the wrong way before stepping off the curb.

So here’s the drill: wake up, check e-mail, write blog, shop around alone, get start list, cliean up, go to the venue, announce, eat, sleep, and repeat. I found some sleep meds last night at a “Chemist” store and added a pack of “Throaties” lozenges. Thankfully Ski, a native Aussie, guided me through the process.

My hotel has Graham Watson, Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen, the Spanish team including Luis Leon Sanchez, the Polish team, and some others.

I know you must all think this is like some cycling Valhalla. In many ways it is. This event has just so many layers of stuff. There must be five miles of hard fencing on this 15 k course. There are TVs everywhere. I cannot fathom the tenting bill alone, which would dwarf the entire budget of most US races. It’s a massive arena for cycling. They’ve built bridges just for this race. They’ve removed rotaries (a.k.a roundabouts). They’ve re-paved and re-painted the entire course.
But then there are some things you cannot fathom they do without….. I cannot find water! There is no food while you’re working. And I don’t have a schedule of what I’m supposed to do. I go to the office every day and receive my instructions in a hybrid of French and English.

Yesterday at 11:15 I learned I would do a team presentation at 12. This would be cool.

Everything is super formal and structured. And like I always say, the first casualty of battle is the plan. When the officials don’t show up at 12 you cannot start the team presentation.

I did them all with just one glitch. All you do is look to the left to see you have and then go. I have no help and no order. I accidentally looked over and called Japan to the stage when in fact they were the team from Hong Kong (who rode brilliantly I might add).

But I nailed the names of just about everybody - Lithuanians, Norwegians, and even the one kid from Eritrea – without a hitch. But starting late I had to speed up the process, with teams going up and down the stairs at the same time, jostling for pens to sign the board, and freaking out about riding the biggest race of their life.
The race itself played out fantastically, albeit negatively. Everybody is so geeked out because of the magnitude of the result. There were some fantastic attacks and breakaways, not the least of which was Ben King of America going at the gun with a chase by Ben King of Australia. Both would be caught but they were brilliant.

The ride of three young men really impressed me:

Daniel Teklahaymanot of Eritrea. Riding alone, this kid from the poorest of poor countries, not only finished with the bunch, he threw down a handful of impressive attacks late in the race.

Tony Gallopin of France. He went three times in the last two laps and nearly made them stick. A real engine, Gallopin could be the next great French classics star.

Moreno Moser of Italy. The nephew of Francesco Moser, he showed amazing strength and speed in his solo move that nearly succeeded.

But the race was a controlled affair designed to bring the race to a bunch sprint with Michael Matthews of Australia where he needed to be. He won by several bike lengths. The crowd went bananas.

A tie for third with Taylor Phinney of the US and Jeremy Boivin of Canada could not be broken even with the best of Tissot timing going to the very pixel on the camera. They shared bronze.

The chant “AUSSIE, AUSSIE, AUSSIE” was heard during the medal ceremony, with the return “OY, OY, OY!!!”.

Great stuff.

Ok, so it’s off to the women’s race now. The crowds will be super small today because the Grand Final of the AFL (Australian Rules Football) will be today. A marketing mistake you ask? No. The game was last weekend but they played to a tie. In their rules, they simply wait a week to play again. It’s the Magpies versus the Saints.

We’ll see.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Some Theories on Announcing

Sleep is the ultimate elixir.

The mood is elevated and the stress is coming down thanks to patching together some sleep last night.

Yesterday, with Cancellara winning his fourth world time trial title, it finally hit me the stunning grandeur of this experience. I think it hit me when I saw fans hanging on fences to get a glimpse of the man they call “Spartacus.”

For so long, I’ve lived by the mantra of “it’s only a bike race” to calm myself when announcing.

Anxious to simply get working, I hit the office about 8:30 yesterday, grabbed a start list and started studying as much as I could. My crew call was for noon, with the race set to start at 1 (or 13:00).

I got there at 10 a.m. and found Bill and Greg, our sound guys. They simply had the feeds running on the television monitors and already a crowd of about 500 folks were around the finish line. I had burned some CDs.

The first thing about my announcing attitudes is that I learned as much from Joe Strummer as I learned from Phil Liggett. When The Clash played the Harvard Square Theater, Strummer arrived to discover a movie theater totally inappropriate for his show. Her personally removed the first 11 rows of seats and put them in the alley. After the show, he personally put them back.

The lesson is that you do what needs to be done. And you need to be comprehensive about what makes the production work. As a result I’ve been on ice-over trusses, up in trees, under stages, and up high in ladders. I’ve suffered hits to the head, cuts, bruises, some mild electric shocks and nearly suffered a self-immolation on Lemon Hill trying to fix a generator.

You see the day before I noticed they had no music playing. None.

So I asked Bill what the rules were for music or such.

“They didn’t tell me anything, really,” he said, appearing somewhat bewildered.
“So we can do what we want?” I asked.

He just smiled.

This venue has probably 100 speakers. More speakers are quieter but you can really impact a crowd. I realized I needed not one, but two wireless microphones. One at the finish, one at the start, to make it all work.

Working with Bill, I put on a bed of music and started testing the wireless mics for their range. I also started live conversations with every course marshal, stage worker, security guard and timing official. In short, I was getting passports from everybody who works so hard to make this event happen. When the crowds thickened up, these guys all gave me carte blanche.

My colleague is Rik Fulcher, a really pro announcer who knows loads of material on cycling. He’s THE announcer in Australia, which is a cycling mad country.

He arrived on time and started writing down bio info on everybody to race. When I told him I would prefer to be in the street, he offered some resistance, noting he would not be able to hear me. I looked to a pair of headphones and said I’d be right back.

Bill smiled and said, he could put the feed right into those phones. I returned and said, you’ll be able to hear me in there.

Rik had the splits, the scoreboard, the television feed, and the bios. I had a start list. Together we made a great pair.

But WAY too many announcers believe it's about WHAT you say. Like it's some high-speed trivia pursuit contest. Trust me, there is always some guy in the crowd who knows more than you. Our job is to inform, educate, and then entertain, and in that order. Many can do the first two elements better than I.

So I choose to make it about HOW you say it. How much inflection you can bring to it. The announcer licenses the audience to respond accordingly.

Us talking about the television feed over the PA meant we would be simply duplicating what the television guys were doing. In short, we were putting ourselves out of a job. So while Rik handled the inside stuff, I could talk about stuff NOT on the cameras. And I could do what I love to do: work the crowd. I goofed on accents, I made fun of Australian rules football (Magpies versus Saints in the Grand Final Saturday, mind you) and I ridiculed their lack of enthusiasm….Until it all changed.

You also have to make them like you before they will listen to you. A simple voice over the speakers simply becomes a sound, like the adult squawking in Charlie Brown cartoons.

Eye contact with the crowd is extremely important. Working with kids, with families, with riders, with directors - especially when you can make some grouchy East European team boss wink and smile - changes the tenor of the relationship. The crowd then hangs on your every word. Then you can ask them do things. Like .... freakin' get excited.

So those are a few of my theories on announcing...Just a few. I'm holding some secrets back.

The way this time trial worked is like nothing else I’ve ever seen….and despite the UCI’s peculiar ability to sanitize most events, this format proved fantastic for the fans. The riders started about 300 meters from up the hill from the finish, leaving at two minute intervals, and completing two laps on a 22.4 k circuit. This is where it got cool. They sent them off in batches of 10. After the first 10 left they would not start the next batch until the top of the hour, leaving at 13:00, 14:00, 15:00 and 16:00 hours.

Confused? So was I.

Then it became beautifully apparent. The guys came through to start the second lap. After the last guy went through, the next batch of ten would start. So as I was calling the start ramp, Rik was calling the finishes. The thing worked miraculously for as I could work the crowds on the arrival of so many great riders – Sylvain Cavanal, Bert Grabsch, Michael Rogers, David Zabriskie, et al - before the cameras got there.

So as I Rogers roared to a best time of day finish, Cancellara entered the stage with the magnificence of a lion. The whole thing electrified the crowds.

So you know how the racing went; read Velo News or another site of your choosing. Millar rode the ride of his life but Cancellara simply crushed the event to win his fourth world title.

Rik and I pulled off a pretty production, despite the fact I made about three major mistakes. Just the mis-calls that happen and nobody seemed to mind…it’s just this stage is so big. There were probably 30,000 people there for a Thursday afternoon time trial.

Walking around the podium ceremony and ensuing scrum with fans and media, I finally registered just how big of a deal the world championships could be. At one point, as I am conditioned to do in America, I thought there had to be a guy somewhere that could beat Cancellara.

“Like where?,” I asked myself. “Jupiter?”

This is the best of the best on the entire planet. And then I realized why fans hung on the fences simply to get a glimpse, a photo, an autograph of Cancellara. Cycling, my underground renegade sport, actually had a serious crowd control problem.

And I had this freakin’ all-access badge to cut through all the gates and security. And because of my passport established earlier, I simply walked through with a smile.

I was expected at a UCI gala in Melbourne. But the ride for the event never materialized.

Honestly, I was delighted on behalf of my body and my voice to skip the thing.
Despite going face down into the pillows last night at 8 (or should I say 20:00?) into a deep slumber, I awoke at 11:30 (23:30) to sheer terror.

I have so many nagging details of my life – namely Providence, which is next weekend – which are making it difficult to shut off the engines of my brain. And my body is totally confused between a three-hour time change to Las Vegas, then back two hours to Wisconsin, then the18-hour time change to Australia that is has simply decided to sit down like some mule and refuse to move of the Eastern Daylight Savings Time. I sat up for four drowsy hours, having no sleep meds, booze, or any chemical means to shut things down.

Finally, about 2 in the morning, I got it under control and went back down. I awoke at 5:30, having put together two patches of 3.5 hours. Not enough….but enough.
This whole thing seems glamorous, but it honestly is not.

Today, with the U23 road race, I’ll bring it down a notch.

But just a notch….


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Geelongings in Australia


First off, let’s get this straight. Australia can be a cold place. I am looking out over the Pacific Ocean, having seen the sky melt from ink to purple to pink to blue…. And I’m convinced that I should be in a state of delight.
I write this from a Sheraton on the harbor of Geelong, which is bike crazy about the UCI World Road Championships where I’m serving as the UCI’s official announcer. Beats me why a bunch of folks who speak French want to fly a guy from Boston to Australia to talk about bikes. But they did and I’m honored.
Outside it’s about 45 degrees, but warming under the sun. Inside there’s a great buffet. Graham Watson is sitting at the table next to me.
And this is all so very, very, incredible. They gave me an “infinity” badge….meaning I get a little emblem on it that is not a numeral but the sideways eight…We’re talking all-freaking access.
Let me get to the candy to keep you reading.
This is my life since Sept. 20:
Fly to Las Vegas, room at the Palazzo large enough to hold a small criterium, and getting to call a thrilling edition of ‘Cross Vegas. After working the floor for three days, I fly to Madison, Wisc., chatting with Swiss pro Christian Heule and Velo-News editor Neal Rogers on the way. Room at McGovern’s (too small to hold my suitcase, let alone me and Will Matthews and I) in Sun Prairie, Wisc., an adorable town. I call two of the seminal cross races in U.S. history with Tim Johnson and Jeremy Powers simply crushing a world class field in the opening rounds of the Greenware USGP. After a night in Chicago with Chris Dimmick and his wife, Laura, I board a flight to Australia.
Have I not dropped enough names and places for you? It gets better.
I arrived yesterday in Melbourne after 24 hours of flying – which is hard to fathom but true - only to be whisked away by Colin Paul, a great fellow, in a UCI-badged Skoda to Geelong, about 70 k away.
Australia is stunning. Imagine putting the Netherlands in California. And despite all the men looking like total rugby bad-asses, everybody is so kind.
So why am I lonely and cold and depressed?
For starters there is the simple element that every parent can understand: hungry, angry, lonely, and tired.
“What?,” you ask…..”Richard Fries, tired and lonely?”
I arrived to find not a soul who knows me. Most of the organizers speak French. I go to the finish line to start announcing but the place is in a state of fenced-off lock-down. This massive garrison is bracing for an onslaught of 500,000 cycling fans. But for this Wednesday time trial a crowd of maybe 6,000 had gelled along the start-finish stretch.
After receiving six different instructions on where to go, I walk 10 blocks back down the hill – right where Colin had dropped me off initially – to find the office. I finally charm my way past a few desks and get my accreditation. Finally I stumble back up the 10 blocks to get to the announcing booth.
Throughout all this I’m listening to a pair of Australian voices with minimal inflection. I know we think of these folks by way of the ‘Croc Hunter and Crocodile Dundee…but there was none of that. And there is no music. It’s like an event in Oz but you have no idea where the hell the Wizard is actually standing…we only hear the voice.
I finally get access to the cage around the booth. The effort cost me 90 minutes.
When the door swings open to the Tissot timing box the visual is akin to the bridge of the death star in Star Wars. (Makes me wonder how Ted Bowles on his own could start, finish, and accurately time the entire Florida state time trial championships with nothing more than a folding chair, orange cone, clipboard and bullhorn. (Of course he did have Jean Bowles by his side.)
What first impacted my senses, however, was the assault on my olfactory senses. Never have I been hit by a communal case of halitosis such as this. Twelve men and one UCI female had been in this tin box for several hours.
Not one said hello. And nobody wanted to speak English.
Remember that I said “lonely.”
Finally I spotted a friendly face, a young man from the UCI who actually liked my announcing at the ‘Cross Worlds. He smiled widely and showed me to the announcer.
I wound my way through all this electronic spaghetti and computer screens to find Rick Fulcher. His knowledge of cycling is encyclopedic. And we have this massive amount of data on three screens – splits, bios, and the live television feed – to complement the digital boards and Jumbotrons on the street.
I sat down just in time announce the last half of the Under-23 men, including the arrival of Taylor Phinney.
Despite my best efforts to pronounce the name “TAY-lor” the Aussies – via live, TV, and radio – the name keeps coming out of their mouths as “TY-lor.”
Boom. He sets the fastest time, knocking an Aussie, Luke Durbridge, out of the lead. He fends off a German, Marcel Kittel, who ended up in third. Phinney wins his third rainbow jersey , providing all American cycling fans with an immediate replacement for Lance Armstrong.
But in the booth, the experienced seemed sterile for me. About the only thing I could draw satisfaction from was that I saw Wittel riding – and without any splits or bios declared him one of the fastest kids on the course. And he was.
Part of cycling is to appreciate the basic element of riding well. Like watching Tiger Woods swing a golf club or Kobe Bryant stroke a jumper. There is far too little appreciation – and articulation – of what makes a rider smooth. We are too focused on power measurement and heart rates and gear ratios.
Tomorrow I’m going to talk a little bit about my beliefs on announcing, some of which are why I’m here.
We knock out the U23 podium – a meticulously formal affair – and take a break. From there we launch into the women’s event. They alter the course for the women. Where the u23 men did two laps on a 15.9 k circuit, the gals did a single lap of 22.8 k.
Again we spout off a lot of data but I get to talk about Evelyn Stephens, who won Fitchburg in her rookie year of elite racing. She blasted out the fastest time only to be knocked down a spot by the legendary Jeannie Longo of France. But the big guns fired with Emma Pooley of Great Britain going a lot faster. Amber Neben got close, but New Zealand’s Linda Villumsen bested her to sit in second. The final rider to start, Judith Arndt of Germany, would push her down by two seconds to snare the silver.
Whereas the Aussie announcer did the u23 podium, I got to do the women’s ceremony.
Then it’s done. And I’m alone: alone for dinner; alone in a room; alone and tired. And it’s cold.
So I collapse into bed at 7 p.m. I might as well be in Columbus, Ohio. I’m without my home; my coffee shop; my family. I’m homeless.
My phone starts ringing at 1 a.m. by some East Coast folks who know not where I’m at. And with that I’m awake, haunting the lobby and catching up on my e-mail – just about all of which is bad news – and setting my teeth on writing this horrible blog entry.
Finally the lobby blooms to life with all that if fabulous about cycling. Italian, Dutch, and French mix with the Aussie English.
A UCI marketing person takes pity on me and spends a few minutes at my table. I discuss my breaking from tradition, putting on some music, and getting out of that booth with the “publique”.
“I think that’s what they want,” she replies.
Game on.
I’ll tighten up the blog entry tomorrow. I’ll let you know what happens. I promise.
And I owe you some reportage from the ‘cross scene too.
Thanks for indulging me.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Why Boston Rocks

For years, America’s bicycle advocates and Bicycling Magazine have scolded Boston as being one of America’s worst cycling cities. We were lumped in with such horror shows as Tampa, Dallas or Miami.

Those brickbats helped to spawn many recent changes. But Boston never deserved to be in the same category as Tampa (where, by the way, I attended college). Boston has stunning advantages over several other cities, including some that are often placed on pedestals as examples of bike havens.

The initiatives of Mayor Thomas Menino and the effervescent Nicole Freedman are to be applauded. I’m a big fan of bike lanes, signage, racks, etc. Not that I needed them but they create a stamp of approval for citizens. I state repeatedly that bike lanes do not gain cyclists road share as much as they gain cyclists mind share.

They have put in 15 miles of bike lanes in Boston, which nicely complements the network of lanes and rail trails in neighboring communities. And the work of MassBike, securing access for cyclists on the local transit system (albeit somewhat restrictive) has yielded great returns. And the recent bike summit in which the top department heads of Metro Boston took their lumps and pledged to improve the cycling environment proved a brave endeavor.

With just a bit more of a nudge, a new study out confirmed for me that Boston could become the Copenhagen of America. While the podium for that competition is currently held by Portland, Minneapolis and San Francisco, I foresee Boston moving to the top in just 10 years.

Many traditional bike advocates will smugly chuckle at my prediction. They would dust off the top spot on the podium for such locales as Chicago, Denver, or Sacramento, where great headlines have been written, before ever considering Boston.

Those cities currently holding Bike Friendly status deserve the applause: Philadelphia, Portland, New York, Boulder, etc. But in 2009 such places as Naperville, Ill., Columbus, Ohio, and Irvine, Calif., and received bronze status as Bike Friendly cities.

Having visited each of those towns, I will tell you that none of them are all that bike friendly. These are sprawling locations with most of its socio-economic pulse beating out of strip malls along arteries wide and fast and clogged with customers of Wendy’s, Best Buy, Home Depot, and Cracker Barrel.

The sum is often a lot less than the parts. I do not state this to tear down these designations nor to discourage those trying to win them, but I must challenge the criteria. Part of the criteria could be the end result of those efforts: what percentage of the population is actually cycling.

I am reminded of some of the horrible tree forts we once constructed as boys. Adding more nails and some scrap lumber did not make up for a poorly designed or executed base of the fort. We cannot simply apply a checklist of items – a bike lane, some racks, a rail-trail, etc. - and attach that to a fundamentally flawed design and label that as “bike friendly.” Frankly, Irvine, California, with its freeways and malls and high-speed limits should NEVER be given such status so long as a cyclist cannot comfortably access the majority of its commercial outlets.

My gut belief in this was borne out recently by the Alliance for Biking and Walking Benchmark 2010 study. It’s a powerful study you can see here: Alliance for Biking and Walking 2010 Benchmark Study

Despite its oft vilified lack of facilities, Boston comes in at number 15 with 1 percent of all trips being done on a bike. And yes, Boston out-pedals New York City, which has made massive advances to its bike infrastructure. So guess who is not in the top 10? Those cities we’ve been celebrating such as Columbus, Irvine, Naperville, and Louisville.

And those Sun Belt nightmares of Dallas, Tampa, Miami and Houston are the bottom of the barrel.

What makes a city truly bike friendly? A lot of people on bikes! Louisville, Ky., is a city I visit often and must compliment for its efforts to improve cycling. They have bronze medal status as a Bike Friendly Community. But they rank 37th on the list with just 0.3 percent ridership.

So what keeps Bostonians riding? Consider these factors:

1. Not much of a college town. Suffolk County alone has 24 colleges and universities. College kids ride bikes. Boston is the world's largest college town. With or without bike lanes, more bikes make it safer and less hostile for more bikes.

2. The T. A critical component to making a city bike friendly is to give the bike commuter a Plan B in the form of a transit system. In our case, this would be Plan T, as in the MBTA. This is perhaps the finest transit system in America and recently they’ve allowed bikes on their trains and buses. This means darkness or foul weather can be overcome.

3. Compact design. When searching for an environmentally benign urban design, a lot of planners point to New England in the 1600s. As one of America’s oldest cities, Boston was built well before the automobile. Boston was built for walking. A bicycle can quickly get a person to any neighborhood in short order using any number of secondary or tertiary routes.

4. Getting somewhere. By bike in Boston one can actually GET somewhere. Too much emphasis is placed on cycling only for recreation. Florida’s Withlacoochee Trail, a splendid 44-mile path is one example, of where bike paths are not needed. It starts and ends nowhere. In Boston a cyclist can get to and from work, clubs, museums, restaurants, pubs, and schools far more conveniently than by car.

5. Bike culture. So much of American bike culture, dating back to Col. Pope’s manufacturing, came out of the Boston area. And much continues to come out of the Boston metro market in terms of shops, events, advocacy, clubs, and industry.

So what fills me with such confidence in our ability to become the Copenhagen of America?

It’s the OTHER half of the study, the walking part. While Boston is number 15 in biking, it is number one for walking. And when you combine Boston’s bikes with its pedestrians it is again number one, with 14.3 percent of the population walking or cycling to get around. And those gritty Northeast cities often shunned by those cyclists in the Pacific or Mountain time zones totally rock the stats. Boston, Washington and New York City have three of the top four slots. Philly is also in the top 10.

When you view the combination of walking and cycling, the list of cities NOT in the top 10 prove astounding. Those not even CLOSE to Boston include all of these communities deemed to be Bike Friendly Communities:
Long Beach

Me saying these Bicycle Friendly communities may NOT be all that bike friendly is akin to saying the emperor has no clothes! But if the true measure is how many people per capita are actually riding the list changes dramatically. As Boston has received little more than brickbats, many of those cities have gotten a lot of bouquets by leaders of bike advocacy.

While San Francisco and Portland will continue to lead the way, Boston will likely gain tremendous ground in short order. And the Sun Belt cities will undoubtedly continue to struggle. Converting a city of pedestrians into a bike friendly community is a far simpler task than trying to overhaul a city where cars are overwhelmingly dominant, transit is non-existent, and bikes are seen as curious toys for weekends.

Should Mayor Menino and his associates follow through on just some of the initiatives outlined last week, we should be enjoying that podium presentation by the year 2020.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Fatty

The Fatty and the Bike

Spotting him from a distance, I felt like that wildlife scientist who rediscovers Elsa, the lioness they once saved and then returned to the wild.
For I believe I had a small role in saving somebody. But in truth, the bicycle had saved him.
Actually I heard him first, loudly calling out “If you want, honey, I can adjust that derailleur!” And then I spotted him in his familiar day-glow green T-shirt on this fantastic April Saturday. And a few feet away stood his wife. Also in day glow green. I served witness to a mating ritual of sorts. And I glowed.
We could hardly describe him as “buff”. But this would be the first time I saw him standing in a single layer of clothing from the side. A large man, he stood about six-feet, four-inches tall and held about 220 pounds on that frame. He stood large, but not fat.
I live in the affluent suburb of Lexington, three towns out from Boston, and positioned on the nation’s busiest bike path, The Minuteman. With three kids, I had done a fair portion of the school pick-ups. With all the nannies and au pairs and stay-at-home moms, we fathers tend to notice one another.
My first reaction to him more than eight years earlier, I must confess, had been smug indifference and superiority. He was, well, a fatty.
He likely tipped the scales then well above 300 pounds. We enjoy writing such people off, don’t we? Admit it. “At least I’m not THAT guy,” we can say to ourselves on our lowest day.
His boy, a few grades behind my eldest son, would become a fatty too. With my pompous jackass attitude, I could recall thoughts of how he had brought that condition on himself with bad food, video games and sedentary behavior.
He wore his hair long, parted on the side so it hung over his eyes, requiring constant swipes of his hand and swings of his neck. And his boy, a miniature replica of the father, had the same hair and gestures. The tenderness of a ritual, however, burned empathy into my impression. This father and son would walk home together, both heads down, in a silent sad procession. The father cradled his arm around the boy’s shoulder for what I imagined to be a daily restoration of his son’s soul. The classroom of isolation and taunts and teases; the schoolyard and daily reminders of all things a fatty kid cannot do.
This would be all I would know of him … or so I thought.
One winter night two years ago I joined my friend and client Anthony Gallino of California Giant Berry Farms for a night out in Boston. I took my West Coast friend to Boston’s North End for dinner at the The Daily Catch. We drank wine and slurped down pasta, with my back to the window and Hanover Street. About 10 p.m. we arose to leave and I turned to see the street covered in three inches of wet snow. The snow fell in a pounding, wet carpet with flakes the size of communion wafers. The storm had hit heavier and harder and about two hours earlier than I expected.
“Whoa,” I said. “I gotta ride home in this!” The Californian implored me to take a cab, insisting such a ride would be impossible. But per usual, my household finances prevented that. I escorted him back to his hotel, took a subway to my office, and then suited up for what I thought would certainly be a sucky ride. Getting ready for a night time ride in snow is like Mike Nelson suiting for an episode of Sea Hunt.
By the time I threw my leg over the bike, the depth of the snow had accumulated to six inches with more coming. From Boston to Lexington is a climb of 300 vertical feet over 15 miles, meaning there would be more snow up there in 30 minutes. I splattered out into the empty city with just myself and the taxis and the plows.
When I went over the Longfellow Bridge into Cambridge, the derailleurs and brakes had become snow-cones. Riding nearly blind, I had dragged my Oakley’s down to the bridge of my nose to allow some air to defog the lenses. I removed them all together once but the deluge, even with a hat and brim, blinded me.
Despite all this apparent hardship, the ride began to improve. I felt better. With the roads evacuated I felt no danger from cars. And the neon and fluorescent signs of Kendall, Inman and Porter squares lit the way sufficiently. By the time I reached North Cambridge this ride had become a spectacular outing. I rolled ghostlike through a city in bunkers, a lone blinking red light pressing through this corridor.
I reached the main intersection in Arlington set to begin the final assault to Lexington. As I waited at the light I spotted the lines. Fresh bicycle tracks drew northward. Another rider rode just ahead.
I pressed on the pedals and within minutes could see the blinking red light on the horizon. I reeled this rider in near Arlington Heights. Although I easily pressed by him, I felt I had to say something on that horrific night.
“Not so bad, eh,” I called out laughing as I pressed by.
I spotted his day glow jacket. He rode aboard a Jamis cyclo-cross bike converted for commuting with racks and lights and a fender.
Then I realized his identity. The Fatty would be the only other cyclist I saw that night. The snow and splash and the boogers glistened on his face, giving the appearance of uncontrollable weeping and rage and determination.
That I rode my bike that night is of no consequence. That HE rode the bike that night is an unimaginable act of courage. I would see him later that winter and in some of the shittiest weather and the darkest of nights. I could blow by him at will but I would always make a supportive comment. I chose to leave our relationship that way.
He made that ride one of the greatest commutes of my life in 30 years. One never knows when one will have a fantastic ride. Often it will start in the worst of conditions.
Spring eventually broke that season, much like it did this past weekend in New England. After four months of serving as monastic beltway for the hardest of commuters, the bike path bloomed again with bright jerseys and tank tops and headphones and sun glasses. I rode home one evening through the fair-weather flower of humanity. There were tri-guys on their bars; bare-chested skaters, tightly clad women, and the rest of the spectrum of humanity drawn to this wonderful facility.
And then I saw the Fatty.
He labored silently forward on his Jamis. Neither the fastest, nor the fittest, and no longer the fattest, he plodded along without any trophy for having gone through the winter. I drew up to him near an intersection where a coagulation of narcissists formed. With dozens of health club escapees paused at this intersection, I put my hand on his back, and loudly said for all to hear: “NONE OF THESE FOLKS WERE OUT HERE IN JANUARY WITH YOU AND ME, EH?!?!?!”
I winked and rolled by.
This man, who perhaps had not a single athletic trophy on his mantle, picked his chin up, drew his shoulders back, and replied loud enough for all to hear, “AINT THAT THE TRUTH, BROTHER!!!!”
And I rolled on.
I’ve seen him from time to time, always peppering the pass with a nice comment….
“Looking skinny!”
“Every day, every day!”
“The tough guys ride in January.”
But we’ve never met. Even this weekend, when he spotted me studying him, I simply tipped my hat and walked back home. Although I felt like some mystical Clint Eastwood character, I confess that HE had become my inspiration for so many things.
I could not help but recall that the weight loss industry in America takes in more than $40 billion every year. And most of their nonsense fails. But the little bike industry, bringing in about $6 billion every year, can outperform that industry for improving the health of our nation, one fatty at a time. This one bike path and some lanes had done that for him; and these facilities can do that for thousands and thousands of others.
Even the worst of the Rascal-driving fatties in the Walmart can be saved by the bicycle. For proof you need only read the amazing story of Scott Cutshall. In 2005 this young father weighed 501 pounds and decided to change his life. On his first ride he managed to pedal 1.9 miles….It took him three hours.
The short story is here:
He also ran his own blog: http://istanbultea.typepad.com/
The mantra of the blog became this “Ride every day, no matter what they say.”
His blog became a centerpiece of inspiration for heavy cyclists everywhere. Recently he stopped posting on the blog. But he provided a final weight: 170 pounds.
If cyclists want to truly capture the hearts and minds of Americans, I believe we should not simply discuss the Tour de France, greenhouse gases, foreign oil, or the correctness of sustainabilty. We should simply discuss weight loss. That's what so many Americans are desperate to do. And we can do it one Fatty at a time.
Thanks for reading.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ronde de Rosey: Stop Calling Me "Serious"

My Most Enjoyable Ride of Late

Preamble: I’m NOT a “Serious” Cyclist

Sorry this took so long to post. Crazy week.

By now, many of you have heard about this thing the Ronde de Rosey. Before I describe my experience I have to state how much I have come to hate being called a “serious” cyclist. Too often I go to things called “fun” rides and everybody is pissed off or suffering or miserable or broken down. And if you offer somebody advice they sneer and say, “Look, I’m not really a serious cyclist like you.”

Funny, I didn't think I was all that serious.

Folks need not confuse being competent with being serious. If anything, this competence makes us more joyful. I think of this when I watched the film Man On Wire, about Philip Petit, who walked the tight rope between the World Trade Center towers. He simply had a ball doing what looked so hard.

But he did it with joy!

This competence proved most joyful at this ride.

If you will endure my report and get to the end, you’ll see a link to Natasha McKittrick’s photos of this event. They’re real good. Some others are on my Facebook page or you can read the blogs of others on my page. Chip Baker (who has helped me with my blog, thank you) writes a great account and Rosey has some equally entertaining materials.

The one thing that stands out about the pictures is that everybody is smiling!Even guys fixing flats are having fun!

The Ronde de Rosey
OK I’ll start with a confession. On the day I was born Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. In short, this means I’m eligible to race the 50-plus category this season. And given the outcome of my riding on Sunday in the Ronde de Rosey, a five-hour, 65-mile cyclo-cross epic in the burbs and bogs of Boston’s “MetroWest” region, I may just pull a license to race.

This whole episode has given cause for hyperbole. I believed this to be one of the greatest 10 rides of my life. Mind you I’ve been riding a lot for more than 30 years.

I believe I am allowed some degree of hyperbole due to my age. Men hit this age and suddenly every experience – athletic, professional, personal, and emotional – receives extra importance as it may be their last great whatever. You fill in the blank. It’s why tough men hit 50 and weep uncontrollably at elementary school plays.

On March 21 I did the inaugural Ronde de Rosey. This was a 65-mile outlaw race organized by a guy named Scott Rosenthal and I must say it proved to be the most fantastic ride I've done in a long while. I can say his name because nobody got hurt or lost, well, all that badly.

This thing would be a cyclo-cross tour. Teams of 3-7 riders were sent off in waves every five minutes, loosely handicapped so the fastest guys went last. Each squadron was given a cue sheet and forced to take a no-whining pledge. In short, you charged down the road and every 5-10 miles you were routed into assorted trails, boardwalks, conservation lands, aqueducts, etc. You had to figure shit out. Check out the photos and you’ll see all sorts of problems being repaired on the fly. Again, this event was NOT for beginners.

Here’s another confession. I really just talk the talk; most of these guys on the ride know me only as an announcer. Few have ever seen me ride, let alone compete. And five hours on a borrowed ‘cross bike would not be easy. To worsen things, I stood for three hours the night before at the Equinox Fund Raiser and had too much to drink. My legs felt like concrete at the start and I predicted bad things at the end of this ride.

As the first few waves rolled off, I only had a single goal. Catch the guy riding the thing on a single speed and wearing suspenders.

I'm an off-road sissy, but this thing proved nothing short of FANTASTIC. We were calf-deep in water several times. There were extended stretches of flooded, muddy abandoned rail beds. This event proved a testament of gratitude for all the hard work done by Conservation Commissions, railroad engineers, public works crews, groundskeepers, and Scout troops who built boardwalks and cleared and marked trails.

We would ride as a unit on the road, mashing about on ‘cross tires on the road and then – where the legions of motorists saw nothing but the cyclist saw something else – dive between two glacial boulders that mark a trail head and dissolve into a wooded trail network.

Island Hopping

The first few trails were patches of woods before we turned in Newton into Cutler Park. We had to sign in. “Go out, do a lap of the island, and come back the way you came” said the marshal.

“Island?” In fourth grade I learned that meant surrounded by water. Sure enough we came to a long boardwalk submerged by recent rains. We roared around the island and when we returned, Team Hupcake Express had passed every team; this included the guy with suspenders. But as we left we saw the real fast guys entering the park, guys like Cort Cramer, Peter Sullivan, Peter Bradshaw, and Pete Smith, all elite level ‘crossers.

We had to get on it hard. The collection of trails were secret ribbons – sometimes right up against Interstate highways – that few people glazed over in automobiles realize even exist.

I just lit up with joy surfing on the Weston rail bed – an abandoned line that those folks refuse to convert into a bike path for fear of some scruffy element coming in to town – and dashed through the final 200 yards in a foot of water. Rosey met us there and confirmed our fear; we were the leaders.

As a promoter the beauty of this event is that we made zero traffic impact on anybody. No motorists ever realized a cycling event unraveled in their neighborhoods and on their roads.

The highlight of the day would be the group of us splattering onto the pavement, dripping wet from the knees down, speckled with mud, and overtaking a road poser – this is written by a true roadie, mind you – as we entered Concord. Having been overtaken by six mud-splattered crossers with 50 psi in the tires, this ninny chose to attack us on a downhill. Only Chip Baker’s calm demeanor kept my sword in the scabbard.

Riding with the “Hupcake Express” as a guest, I assumed I would be a deterrent to their progress. But as it turned out, each of the five starters brought a unique skill set to this potluck of pain. Ronnie, a former BMX racer, set the trails; Chipster would be the navigator; Mark, a former hockey player, could pound on the roads; Eli would be the ‘roleur” or all-arounder who glued the thing together. We stole Rich from a hapless group of guys on road bikes to serve as our own Mark Trail of singletrack sections. And I would kick in and drive the pace inside of Route 128 in the urban environment. This would be like the Oceans Eleven, the MI Force, of cycling on this event.

Our squad only had to overcome a single puncture in Wellesley College. And the Chipster went over the front once in Cutler Park. (I’ve never seen a guy smile while he’s crashing.) But the he-man of the day would be Eli. In the fourth hour of riding, and clearly a bit bonked, he took a digger off a board walk. What would have been a simple dab on a trail would be a five foot drop into slop. He bounced up, announced the entire episode had been planned for my in-flight entertainment, and re-mounted.

Only afterwards did this he-man confess that two weeks earlier he had separated the same shoulder on which he just augured into the dirt. And on Tuesday I learned doctors had him in a sling.

A Test and a Triumph

In the fourth hour Colin Reuter and company caught us. But he admitted to dumping half his team, some navigational discrepancies, and then announced in Lexington Center that he had to stop for food.

When he pulled off, we drilled it.

Pounding down Massachusetts Avenue, all of us spattered in mud, we ground into an unusual headwind, drawing some unique stairs from the preppies and hippies. Guys on bikes would roll up to us at stop lights, look up and down, and just have to ask: “Where the hell have guys been?”

With this route as my daily commute, I took the flag for the regiment and brought the guys right through all the Harvard Square traffic, occasionally dropping back to check on Eli, and over the river into Boston.

Triumphant, we spun up to the host tavern, The Washington Square Tavern, to discover nobody else ahead of us.

Beers and tall tales followed. Just check out the pics here:


I would like to propose we consider doing a similar ride on Monday, Oct. 11, Columbus Day, after our cross event in Roger Williams Park event, starting and ending in the park. I may ask for a good entry fee with proceeds going to the Bikes Belong Foundation, totally earmarked for a grant to support the East Coast Greenway Alliance’s work in New England.

We can do the whole thing in Rhode Island.

Comments sought.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bike Lane Bliss: The Rift

Bike Lane Bliss: The Great Rift

NOTE: This blog entry is the first of five straight days of blogging on bicycle advocacy, as I head to the National Bike Summit in Washington, DC. This is my third trip to this most encouraging of events in American cycling.

BOSTON, Mass. (March 8, 2010) - Anybody who has ever laughed at Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian,” would have to chuckle over the locally vicious divide in our world of bicycle advocacy. This infighting is comically similar to the fratricidal hatred between the Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea.

This past week I discovered an online debate about my local advocacy group, MassBike, having the audacity to take a position to officially support the development of bike facilities and bicycle specific infrastructure.

I realize the reader is twisting up their heads like Nipper, the dog in the RCA ads. Seems kinda like the bleeding obvious stance for a bike advocacy group to take, right?

Wrong. And here is what frustrates so many truly enthusiastic cyclists about advocacy. People who may be lifelong commuters, bike industry leaders,

The world of bicycle advocacy divides into two basic camps: “Vehicular cyclists” and - if I may take the liberty of creating a label – “Infrastructure cyclists.”

This past week MassBike posted on its site a decision to stand on the “Infrastructure” side of the aisle. You can read it here: http://www.massbike.org/2010/02/26/massbike-believes-in-bicycle-infrastructure/

As innocuous as this statement reads, I found the venomous comments to be most revealing.

This rift is also why I developed this blog.

Let me give a broad overview of this rift. Vehicular cyclists argue that bikes should simply be part of the flow of vehicles on our roadways, subject to the same rules as automobiles, and deserving of the same rights. The Infrastructure cyclists argue that cyclists should ALSO have facilities – bike lanes, bike paths, bike boulevards – dedicated to cycling.

Look folks, right now just one percent of all trips in America are done by bike. To return to the Monty Python metaphor, I feel the real issue is with The Romans. We need to address how the 99 percent of the population perceives bicycling and stop quibbling.

I happen to believe that both sides are right and all of them are wrong. In my own 30-plus years of cycling, I’ve always subscribed to the basic tenant of the vehicular argument. What helps is that I raced for 20 years and have no trouble operating smoothly and safely within the mix of automobile traffic. I do not confine my riding to a prescribed lane, especially where that lane features the danger of doors, delivery trucks, and distracted pedestrians on their phones.

That said, I’m also a father of three and reside nearby a popular bike path, The Minuteman. I also commute daily through Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston where I routinely ride in designated bike lanes and see a growing number of beginner commuters employing those facilities. And these beginners include my older sister, who became an urban commuter well in to her 50s.

Overall, however, I believe the locus of most American bike advocacy is wrong. Not because they aren’t good people, or devoted cyclists, or smart. The vast majority of bike advocates are hard working folks doing a thankless and important job.

This does not mean I give up on them. I believe every cyclist should be involved in advocacy. I’m certainly not giving up on bike advocacy. I just want them to adjust their aim. I believe change is marketed more than it is legislated.

That said, I honestly believe that the best thing to do for American cycling would be to put many of our established bike advocates in charge of marketing automobiles.

I’m not joking. Having sat on a few boards and enjoyed a lot of advocacy discussions and meetings, I have come to believe that advocacy leaders would be well served to read a bit less NHTSA data and watch an occasional episode of Mad Men.

You see, I don’t believe we have a problem in engineering; I believe we have a problem in marketing.

One of the greatest mistakes of cycling advocacy may be its constant emphasis on safety. There’s a basic principle of marketing: safety equals fear. If you’re constantly discussing how to make your product safer, you’re constantly telling people that your product is dangerous. When Volvo introduced the three-point seatbelt in the early 1950s, Detroit car companies resisted that product’s introduction in American models. They were not concerned about cost; they did not discount their efficacy. But they did not wish to give the impression that their product was dangerous.

Any bike commuter who has ridden an office elevator can recite all the times people have questioned them about the safety of their enterprise. Then those same skeptics of cycling confidently march to the parking lot and partake in an exercise that kills more than 40,000 people each year in America.

They have been brainwashed to believe that cars are safe and bikes are dangerous.

But carmakers do not aim for the minds of the market, they aim for the heart. They use sex, status, speed, power, and convenience to sell their product. Only after Ralph Nader did they start to occasionally advertise the safety of their product, but were cautious to only show their product in clean labs with dummies inside sterile cockpits to convince customers these products were safe.

Those guys are brilliant. Here they have a product that is deadly, ruins the environment, destroys the quality of communities, economically cripples families, fosters an addiction to foreign oil, and spawns global warfare. And they have people lining up to buy more. If 40,000 people died in plane crashes every year, the entire fleet would be grounded.

Here is the bicycle, arguably the most perfect of all inventions. This product is environmentally benign, improves communities, is proven as means of weight loss, improves one’s sex life, saves households thousands of dollars, and requires no fossil fuels to operate. These guys have the fountain of youth to sell and all they can do is bicker about how to use the product correctly.

What’s the most important thing a cyclist can get to make a bike ride safer?

Reflective straps?
Body armor?

No. It’s another cyclist.

Even if it’s an incorrect cyclist, it’s another cyclist. Every cyclist carves out a little bit of the collective attention span on the roads to look out for cyclists. Multiply that by 100 and your entire traffic grid slows down and starts paying attention.

I believe in bike paths and bike lanes and boxes and such, not because they get us road share, but because they get us mind share. They’re constantly reinforcing the notion to pedestrians, motorists and cyclists that bikes are part of the transportation grid.

Are there mistakes in engineering? You betcha. In the development of highways for automobiles all sorts of mistakes were made – and some with tragic consequences – in the process of constantly improving the system.

But demand preceded supply. Nobody went out and advocated and engineered and constructed our Interstate highway system and THEN encouraged folks to drive. They built that amazing system – love it or hate it, the Interstate system is a spectacular achievement – because the cars and drivers had overwhelmed the existing system of roads.

My bike path, the Minuteman, provides a good example of how vehicular cyclists do not appreciate rules of marketing. When first constructed, this rail trail drew some concerns that cyclists would be exiled from roads. The motoring public, the argument went, would not tolerate cyclists riding along the parallel route, Massachusetts Avenue.

What happened, however, was a derivative of the gas station principle in marketing. We assume that the market is a given size and if there is a single gas station at a crossroads, the creation of a second gas station at that crossroads would split the market in halve. When in reality the original gas station sees an increase in their business.

The same held true with my bike path. The cycling traffic on Massachusetts Avenue actually increased, despite the fact that the Minuteman Bikeways saw traffic blossom to an amazing 10,000 users per day.

Are the users on that path a touch wobbly? Yes, but every cyclist is a work in progress. Today’s wobbly beginner is tomorrow’s hardened commuter.

One of the most amazing facts about cycling, borne out by a recent study of traffic safety in the Netherlands, is that as more people take to cycling the entire system becomes safer. And not only do more cyclist make it safer for more cycling, they make it safer for EVERYBODY, including motorists, pedestrians and transit users. That’s opposite of what putting more cars on the road creates, which is a more deadly system for every user.

And although I’m grouchy about the conduct of advocates, I’m deeply grateful to all of them for the hard work done over the past 30 years to get us a small degree of respect on the American roadways and trails.

By practice, I’m a vehicular cyclist. By preaching, I’m an infrastructure cyclist. By observing, however, I’m a marketing guy. We need to sell cycling as sexy, as fun, as healthy, as economical, as quick, as independent, as convenient.

But to date, cycling advocacy has been like an army – if you’ll pardon the military metaphor – operating strictly with infantry. I’m not saying we stop worrying about transportation policy and engineering. But we’re operating without any of the artillery of marketing and the cavalry of lobbying that the folks who built a car culture used to win.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Of Fistfights and Flowers

Bike Lane Bliss:
Of Fistfights and Flowers

What has perplexed me for years is that the same person who would hold a door for me at a coffee shop is the same person who would maniacally drive into me for causing them less delay than I created in the line at Starbucks.
And yet consider this inventory of hardware:
· One Craftsman 9/16 box wrench
· One empty Southern Comfort bottle
· Countless lit cigarettes
· One Lipton ice tea plastic bottle half full of tobacco spittle
· One cup of beer
· One heavy gauge steel chain with engine hook attached
All this has been tossed at me by motorists. Nothing has ever caused bodily injury. But it certainly wounds one’s pride. And I must say that the vast majority of that inventory came at me before Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France.
And the roadside scuffles have been too numerous to list. Most of the altercations are simply shouting episodes with empty threats. On a few occasions carloads of young men have emptied out of cars and attacked groups with whom I’ve ridden.
I would be lying if I did not confess to particular joy while catching one such driver, who had swerved, honked and not-so-politely instructed me where to go. Finding him mired in beach traffic, I drew up to the man’s car with his girlfriend next to him and got my helmet fully inside the passenger side window to ask what he wanted to say, giving the middle-aged guy a Flomax moment right there.
But upon reflection, I realized that win, lose or draw, I achieved little from those altercations. And the residual impact would be a negative regard for every cyclist those people encounter thereafter. The result of all those altercations between cyclists and motorists fostered the creation of the Facebook page “There’s a Perfectly Good Path Right Next to the Road You Stupid Cyclists.” Right or wrong, that page had nearly 40,000 “friends.” (The group urging Facebook to remove the page, mind you, had 46,000 friends).
To be a cyclist in America requires enormous patience with people. One has to draw a lot of lessons from folks like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. There is one key difference. Those folks did not choose to be subjugated to discrimination and cruelty; they were simply born into a bad situation. Cyclists choose to be minorities. And if the horns and epithets and projectiles of anger prove to be too much, they can simply quit cycling.
For nearly 30 years I had ridden bikes with a brazen defiance. With a bit more speed and a lot more confidence than most cyclists, I never display cowardice while riding in traffic. I hate day-glow green. That is not to say I have no judgment. Yes, I wear a helmet. And yes, I ride with full-on lights at night and have reflective straps. But I also don’t festoon myself in so much reflective garb and accessories so as to advertise fear.
It’s a fine line between riding in a deliberate, confident fashion and riding in an arrogant and aggressive style.
Really decent people have been known to fly off the handle when motoring behind cyclists. Consider the case of Michael Bryant, a former Ontario attorney general once touted as a front runner to serve as Ontario’s premier. This guy made prosecution of road rage a cause célèbre during his service as the top law enforcement man in that Canadian province. And then last summer he snapped on a cyclist, striking the guy and then purposefully dragging this young father repeatedly into lamp posts and obstacles, and then leaving him to die.
So what unlocks that mentality? What turns a mild-mannered professional into this homicidal maniac?
Conversely, what changes that seething person behind the wheel of a 3,500-pound weapon, into the same jovial person willing to politely wait for the potato salad at a company picnic?
One day I discovered the answer.
Upon riding home from my Boston office I had cause to get my wife some flowers. After picking up a bouquet, I hopped back on the bike and pedaled north on Massachusetts Avenue in Lexington, a broad roadway made famous in April of 1775. Cradling the flowers in my left arm, I kept to the right and out of the way of rush hour traffic. As traffic stacked up to turn left, I felt a car press up behind me, swerving right to continue straight. The engine revved and then shut down, apparently due to my presence in the roadway. I could feel the irritation of the driver behind me and braced for yet another conflict. I refused to change my line; I refused to be intimidated. I was just a guy trying to get home.
The car swerved to reveal a Subaru Forester with a suburban mom wearing an exasperated look. In the back seat sat a small girl with her window half down. She pointed to my colors and my bike and smiled upon spying my flowers.
The mother’s entire expression rinsed into a warm grin and something about the flowers connected me to something human. The flowers told the world I had somebody at home and a nice personality.
She backed off the accelerator and calmly passed by, even offering a little wave of support as every motorist behind passed me with a smile.
I have read that in designing spaces to control large crowds – such as town squares and stadiums –flower beds are always respected and never trampled on.
I saw that in an instant with that driver.
Realizing I cannot always ride with a bouquet of flowers, I had cause to reflect on how can I, as a cyclist, create that reaction with others.
So I have developed 10 basic and somewhat broad rules that have since served me well. I will touch on each in future blogs but for now I find that when I break these rules, bad things happen. My rules for riding include:
1. Be Nice
2. Be Deliberate
3. Use the Magic Word (And it is not “please”)
4. See and Be Seen
5. Say Nothing Mean
6. Please and Thank You
7. Yield Down
8. Pay it Backwards and Forwards
9. Have Compassion
10. Forgive
To read the list takes less than a minute - to fully integrate these rules into one’s cycling requires a lifetime of practice.
I’ve been cycling for nearly 30 years when – by accident – the power of those flowers revealed themselves to me. Like Thomas Merton’s revelation, I had been given this gift. And like Merton, these lessons blend elements of Christianity and Buddhism. But unlike Merton, I choose to pray on a bike on Sundays.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Bike Lane Bliss: Intro

Bike Lane Bliss: Introduction

I’m Richard Fries. I’m a cyclist.
This means more than 40 years as a racer, tourist, advocate, publisher, historian, commuter, journalist, announcer, and now, blogger. (And a woeful mechanic I might add.) I ride year round in pretty much all weather. And yes, I have a car, a house, and a sort of normal life, too.
This blog will hopefully be random. I think about a lot of things but from the vantage point of a cyclist.
But having watched a lot of bad cyclists somehow get accredited to teach others how to ride, I felt something had to be said. This blog will not be intended to dismantle the teachings of 'effective cycling' and 'vehicular cyclists' and other experts. Its just that I see a lot of folks who are quoted in newsapers and television interviews on the subject of cycling doing some of the most curious things in traffic. This book is not about replacing those teachings, but enhancing those teachings.

Although you’ll get a smattering of elements on history and politics and personal anecdotes, there will be two primary themes: travel logs from me as I work as a race announcer and cyclist; and a sort of zen guide to urban cycling.
Towards the latter, this blog is intended to be a first draft of a book designed to help people love bicycle commuting. I’m trying to let people realize I do not ride my bike to and from work every day because it’s the correct thing to do. I love, indeed crave and require, that time of each day when I ride through the congested and seemingly daunting streets of Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Arlington and Lexington. And when I got my latest job offer in the heart of Boston, I saw the commute in the city actually as a plus, not a minus.
Where others find fear, I have found bliss.
I hope that these words expedite somebody else’s development as a cycling commuter. But when one finds that bliss between two automobiles traveling at 28 mph one finds a release from all sorts of fears that prevent us from enjoying other things in life.
There are certainly some skills that I will write about. And there are observations of what to study in those canyons of steel and glass. And yes, there will be “things” to discuss in chapters on equipment and clothing, so you suburbanites can read on comfortably knowing you might be able to buy something to speed up the process. But this is not a step-by-step, how-to blog. There are plenty of great bike shops to help you there.
But the overarching lesson is the simple Buddhist phrase: “Be here now.”
As one cycles in a city, one makes a lot of observations of others inside of automobiles. We cannot help but recognize just how much of their life is abuzz with distractions. There can be mobiles phones, texting, Top 40 radio, hot coffee, cold drinks, Yorkshire terriers, Greek salads, dashboard gauges, fellow passengers, eyeliners, one shoe off, crying children and the occasional squirt of cream filling from inside a donut.
If the cyclist makes a mistake, the cyclist gets hurt. If the motorist makes a mistake, the cyclist gets hurt. So guess who pays extra attention? But having to be hyper aware IS the gift. I want others to recognize the gift. To overcome that fear is liberation.
The payoff in urban cycling is achieving that meditative state of being relaxed yet vigilant. The stress is being processed with rhythmic breathing. The balance is achieved between the physics of the bike and the wheels and the body as engine.
I’m not trying to frighten readers. The average year round commuter hits the ground about once every eight years. And most of those are minor. Although much of what I do may startle some, I can assure you that as I approach my 50th birthday with three children, a wife, and a mortgage, I would not do this if I perceived it as risky.
The urban cyclist is stripped down to the simplest and most elegant of machines, the bicycle. The urban cyclist must be hyper aware of the surroundings. Study the seasoned Manhattan bike messenger who may shock us riding confidently with a fixed gear, no helmet, and often no brakes. But look again: that rider will not have headphones. Rarely will there be a cell phone on their ear and only in a safe place. That rider is coolly studying the entire flow of the landscape. That rider will have 260 degree picture of awareness. That rider understands the importance of paying 100 percent attention to the surroundings.
Few Americans – some of them extremely smart people - ever achieve that degree of awareness….ever. Study the health club and find folks “running” on treadmills while plugged into CNN. They have divorced their bodies from their brains and their souls. Rarely do I find an American all in one place at one moment.
These writings come mostly from observations made in my life as a cyclist. Others come from my cycling heroes such as Scott Chamberlain, Alan Rodzinksy, Gene Oberpiller, Chris Iglehart, and a legion of impresarios too numerous to list. But for the literary types out there, I hope you’ll recognize that I am applying several elements taught in the books by Eugen Herrigel (Zen and the Art of Archery), Timothy Gallwey (The Inner Game of Tennis), John R. Stilgoe (Outside Lies Magic), and Richard Louv’s (Last Child in the Woods). I also have applied stuff learned from Joseph Campbell and Robert Bly.
And, oh yeah, I like Star Wars movies.
Please read, comment, forward, etc. But all I ask is that before motorists make any comments here, they would be well served to try riding a bike the city to comprehend the experience.
Thanks for reading.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Coin-op Purgatory

Coin-op Purgatory

LEXINGTON, Mass. (Feb. 6, 2010) - Greetings from the Lexington Laundry Village. A coin-operated purgatory seemingly designed to correct any visions of grandeur from a week prior. I deserve this.
Laundromats - like bus stops and motor vehicle registries and court houses - serve a purpose to shave away at a person's sense of dignity.
This is a gray Feburary day. And not just the skies: From the salt of winter, the "black" top is gray; the "red" brick is gray; and even the fire engine that just passed has been powdered gray. And my eyes just fell on some guy's XL men's briefs dropped on the asphalt...they too are gray.

Nobody opens a laundromat because they love to help people get clean clothes. They open laundromats to make money without having to work. There is no wi-fi; there are not even power outlets. This dispatch is being typed only after I scoured the place for an outlet. (This is a skill I've developed with nearly 20 years of event work.) They tried to hide the power outlet near the ceiling, so my laptop is presently being fueled from a heavenward cord.

And folks in laundromats are not pretty. We're all here in various states of desperation and frustration. And we're all dressed rather poorly. It's not like singles troll for love in laundromats - unless one is on a college campus - as these folks are in a destitute demographic. What's odd is the mechanical silence; nobody talks. It's hard to strike up a conversation while carrying your fudge-striped undies across the room.

My re-entry home from the Czech Republic has been less than celebratory.

My poor wife had been stranded by me with a case of bronchitis and a car that would not start in near-zero temperatures. My plan to attend the Cyclocrossworld.com party was aborted after we learned our 13-year-old daughter, Emmy, had been fending off a 39-year-old online stalker in a virtual reality site called There.com. We got the police involved and spent 90 minutes in the station.

I got the car started but the washing machine broke. Even my day today started with Ginger, our dog, barfing on the rug. Eeesh...

And for added fun I had a disciplinary hearing for my job at Best Buddies International to discuss my "behavior." I cannot discuss the details due to confidentiality but it did reveal that somebody in my work environment simply did not like me.

I've never experienced such a thing; why would they not like ME?

Again, I deserve this. The Czech Republic - where EVERYBODY liked me and the cars worked and the laundry was done - is simply not real.

So I got through that, enjoyed a great event that I helped plan for Thursday night but I missed Madison's pinewood derby due to my poor aptitude in scheduling. And then after some bouncing about Friday for work, I find myself here in the Lexington Laundry Village. The new car battery and the washing machine fix should just about wipe out our checking account.

So this blog of mine was sparked to life to write about a trip to the 'cross worlds. But the true impetus of this blog came as a result of the incessant talking to myself while living by bike.

Heretofore, we'll move on to those observations.

I'll try to spice it up, from here, you know, write about sex or something. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Racing Day 2: Giants to Midgets

Tabor Day 4
Race Day 2

From Giants to Midgets

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (Jan. 31, 2010) - "Hey, pssst, pssst....You want a Japanese midget in a cage?"

We had walked by about a dozen guys hawking sex workers and strippers as we walked through Prague Center with about a dozen Americans, looking like good targets for these guys. But I have to admit the offer of a Japanese midget in a cage caught my ear.
"What?" we collectively asked.
"Japanese midget in a cage," he repeated. "You can kick it."
As if that would whet my appetite for this product more.
We kept walking totally confused.
It had been the strangest, most comical cherry on top of a sundae of extravagant experiences during the weekend. Witnessing perhaps the great 'cross event of my life had me on a high. This whole midget thing kind of popped that bubble.
I arrived at the venue for the big day, the elite women followed by the elite men. I emptied out of the van driven by Beat Wabel, the Swiss star who won the World Champion in Munich more than 20 years ago.
I must admit to being nervous, but eager, to announce for the giants of this sport that I love.
After checking in to the office, I started the process of preparing for the call-ups, updating research, and codifying each rider's palmares into a few key symbols, letters and numbers. At 8:40 a.m. I heard the music come up. Frank, our sound guy, obviously had arrived. A pleasant fellow, he had been cut from the cloth seemingly used to make all sound guys. Long hair, beard, and bags under his eyes from working late nights in clubs. And they tend to prefer hair band music. I opened the office door to hear "I'm looking for the hotty with the million dollar body...." He would play Nickelback and Bon Jovi all morning while I worked, repeating about four songs over and over and over.

I've learned to simply let sound guys be sound guys. With Frank alone in the booth I stepped in reviewed the music I had prepared for the day. I asked to push the music up to its highest level. He did. I put a piece of blue tape on the mixer at that level and instructed him to push it there when I gave the cue. I returned to the office for my work. Then on came Jindrich. Mornings with Jindrich had become something a kin to visiting Treblinka.....A monotone, authoritative voice instructing the prisoners "Work will set you free." The entire Soviet bloc housing surrounding us kinda just creeeped me out at first. Then I came to recognize that Jindrich was simply being the pro announcer; he was reading the PA tags. So we got it down. He read the sponsor tags; I read the sponsor tags. He re-capped the Saturday races; I re-capped the Saturday races. He did the pre-race line up; I did the pre-race line up.

We had about 90 minutes until the start and I had everything in place. So I ran up to the town to take money out of a bank machine. I streamed back in to venue with spectators. They poured in jangling with bells; fluttering with flags; honking with horns; and banging on drums. The whole place converged with a buzz.

Upon my return we went right into the show. Laura Van Gilder had confessed to being nervous on this snow and ice. Katerina Nash was visibly tense, with all the Czech Republic expecting a win. The event is truly stunning for those of used to being a modest fringe sport. In the Czech Republic, 'cross - and not just cycling, but cyclo-cross - is truly a big time sport. The crowds paraded into the venue with huge Katerina Nash banners and Zdenek Stybar photos.
I spent several weeks preparing for this moment, studying results, watching Sporza, and researching rider bios. The junior and under-23 categories were a bit tough to work as there is very little material on them to study. But for this day I had prepared for months, if not years.

And then it's there.

"Elite women, report to staging!"
Thankfully Frank had figured out the gig by now. He drove up the music and the crowds, like iron filings to a magnet, drew towards the staging area. There is nothing in my opinion quite like the start of a big 'cross race. Mechanics, soigneurs, officials, riders, coaches, and media all converge into this one location. For a November New England race the start line can get mighty crowded. For the world championships it is an amazing crush of people.
We lined em up, got em off, and went to work on the call. In the first-lap traffic, Katerina tumbled hard. She leapt back up but the Orange Line had left the station: Marianne Vos, Daphny Van Den Brand and Sanne Van Paasen were gone. Across came Hanka Kupfernagel. Katie Compton, sadly, went right out the back with her legs knotted in cramps. Truly a tragic story of sport.
Katerina, drawing on the support of the crowd, came back up to Van Passen and moved into fourth. But every time she challenged Van Den Brand for third she would bobble or dab or fall. She clearly rode as strongly as any body in that race, but 'cross is a game of mistakes, mishaps and mechanicals. And while Marianne Vos danced about cleanly on this course, Nash simply had too many demerits that day.
Vos won ahead of Kupfernagel and Van Den Brand. Jindrich and I knocked out the podium. I had my own bobble there but nobody noticed.
During the break I made my way down to the concession stand. I bought three T-shirts, two mugs and a pack of stickers. I handed the guy 2,000 Czech Krona, expecting him to ask for more. He gave me 1,300 back. I had gotten all that stuff for about $8. In hindsight, I wish I had bought the entire lot of stuff! I could have sold it all in a day back home.
I got some lunch, checked in on the dancing at the beer tent, saw the Cross Crusade boys, and then made my way back to the office.
So here's a confession. I really do not think I'm all that good of an announcer. I don't have a great voice. I don't show up with reams and reams of research on riders. I don't study websites and magazines every day. And quite honestly I don't spend all that much time with bike riders due to my competing interests of my family and other friends. I will say this: I'm a quick study. I had spent a long time prepping for this race. Once the race is under way, an announcer pretty much sticks to the roster and adds a bit of analysis and when possible, a touch of color for spice. Many of the greatest announcers from whom I learn are NOT cycling guys but from other sports. One of the hardest things to teach is something I learned from the guy who announced Hank Aaron's record home run. He called it and then let it go. Just let it breathe. Good advice.
Part of what I have tried to do as of late is talk less, especially before the event. My Czech colleague just kept pounding on the mic before the race. I feel it creates the Charlie Brown effect; you know, the squawking horn of the teacher. Just noise and inflection but no content.
For what they would pay me to call the World championships - the flight, the hotel, the fee, the meals - I truly feel I earned it in just 17 minutes.
I truly believe less is more. Ever since I was a boy, I have loved watching great athletes in that precious hour before competition. And I try not to talk.
The lunch time band ended. I had Frank hit it hard with "The Things You Say" by Cicada. Then Jindrich did the sponsor thing, the preview thing, and then it hit me. I would be talking about 'cross in front of 35,000 people and probably 10,000 of them knew more about the subject than I.
I left the announcing booth at 1:20, with the race to start at 2 p.m. Jindrich would keep talking; Frank went back to Nickelback. I pissed about three times, ate some cookies, and then did the calculations based on the music I had given Frank.
Six minutes to go.
I had checked the sound, walked up and down the stretch. I had drilled Frank to keep the sound up high. With the final race, he got it.
Three minutes to go.
I fist bumped Frank; winked at Jindrich; and grabbed the wireless.
One minute to go.
I took a drink of water and left the booth. At 1:43, Frank pulled down the sound entirely and I gave the hard call to staging. Then Frank brought up Fat Boy Slim's "Right Here, Right Now" really hot. The place went electric.
This is where I like to let it go. I took a moment just to watch his massive crowd just move to this music. I am told they rarely have any music at European 'cross. The whole scene simply pulsed with this music and this pressurized atmosphere. I bathed in that moment. The giants all moved into the pen and the Czech official, Miroslav Janout, gave the signal. With that, I gave a brief introduction, and Frank swapped the music to the call up song. For this, I had chosen a cut by Hardfloor. I get great music from a lot of sources, including Dan Ferguson of the Bay Area, my son, Grant, Joan Hanscom, and continue to use stuff from the best sound guy I ever had, the late John Pavlat. Living in the world's largest college town, Boston, also helps. But this cut came from one of my best sources, Merlyn Townley, the ace mechanic. He has great access to the trance scene which I use a lot.
With that thumping, I took a breath, then earned it. I would call all 66 riders to the line, starting with Zdenek Stybar and ending with Pekatch Dror of Israel. The names were Flemish, Czech, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Basque, Hungarian, Japanese and even Mongolian. And the announcer cannot stop to read. I learned from Larry Longo how to codify all the palmares, the career highlights, in tiny symbols next to the rider's names. It looks like cuneiform at first glance. For example, next to Stybar was "WC2xu23cz." That means World Cup winner, two-time Under23 World Champion, current Czech national champion. Those symbols were next to about 25 names. The others, sadly, only get their number, name, and country called.
Once staged, I cram along the fence to return to the front of field, stopping to tell Jonathan Page that I would talk to him in one hour on the podium. He smiled.

After the crowd work, clearing the media, I have to shut up for the final, wonderful, 30 seconds.
"They're off, they're, they're off!!!!

With that, Frank tapped the deck for The Hives "Hate to Say I Told You So." Giving this song to Frank could be akin to giving cocaine to a lab rat. He would play that about six times during the race. I kind of liked that.
After the start, Jindrich took the first half lap. And he totally pinned it. The locals said they never heard him so excited.
The race was nothing less than brilliant. Stybar led early. Then went into the second pit with a flat. He would emerge with a new bike in 12th. From there, the Czech team went to work. Radomir Simunek, the son of the Czech legend of the same name, went to the front and kept the Belgians in check. He went just hard enough to keep them from attacking. Martin Zlamalik drifted back to help pace Stybar back up to the front. Martin Bina lingered at the back of the lead group, paying attention to the Belgians in front and looking for Stybar coming back from behind. The Belgians all rode as individuals. And why not? They are each millionaire athletes with web sites, contracts, fan clubs, and clothing lines. The Czechs all rode for Stybar. The friendly Swiss star Christian Heule, who raced in the states in September, went to the front and led for two laps. But then Stybar, in two big moves, returned to the front. Simunek had done his work and he faded. Stybar surged. Despite a few mishaps, he just pulled away leaving Klaas Vanternout and Sven Nys in his wake. Up to them came Martin Bina. French rider Francis Mourey - like the entire French team that weekend - rode brilliantly but stayed out of the bar fight between the Belgians and the Czechs. To the thrill of the crowd, Stybar rode to a solo win. Vanternout rolled off to finish second. And the legendary Nys, with a reputation for his acrobatics, stumbled, bumbled and tumbled on the course. He and Bina swappped savage attacks and counter attacks on the final lap and brought the fight to the pavement with Nys winning the sprint.
The crowds went bananas for their beloved "Stee-bee". The cameras could not see him through all the massive flags on the finishing stretch. I let Jindrich take the finish call completely in Czech. He went three minutes HARD on the mic. It was great.
Podium. Anthem. Done.

Three months of excitement and preparation and anticipation...Done.
I had a few beers in the beer tent and returned to the office. It's a massive void after something so big. I texted home that I was done. From there I had some final fireworks ahead. Dinner with the Americans in Prague.
We found our way to Bruce Fina's car and piled in. From there we drove to the American team hotel in Tabor. We exchanged the post race pleasantries, sympathy for Katie Compton, empathy for Laura Van Gilder, wounded in an icy scrape of a crash, and installed pillars of suport for a number of young riders accustomed to podium finishes back home. The elites had out performed the junior and Under-23 riders. Meredith Miller would be the highest placed American with her 12th in the women's event. Amy Dombroski (14th) and Mo Bruno Roy (25th) put three Americans in the top 25. The elite men were sold with three riders in the top 30: Tim Johnson in 14th, Jamey Driscoll in 19th,and Jonathan Page in 30th.
From there we whisked our selves to my hotel; Dan and I packed out. And we drove to Prague in two vehicles. The winter darkness closed in around us. After an unremarkable drive on the autopista we dropped into Prague. The darkness obscured the geography. Initially the city unfurled as any other European capital. We arrived at the Hotel Perla and dropped our bags off. Then the group gathered for a walk to dinner. Around one corner the city's charm simply cracked open like an oyster laden with pearls. Every building led to another amazing building to another amazing street. All the Americans, with Dan, a Brit, and Joachim Parbo, the Dane, in tow, filled into a room. We must have been 20 strong. The food of the Czech Republic is unremarkable. But the beer flowed and there were toasts all night.
And walking home through Old Town we were besieged by the flyer-wielding guys offering strippers and sex workers and such. That included the Japanese midget in the cage...we collectively realized he may have mixed up "kiss" and "lick" to arrive at "kick". Hoping that would move us to learn more. I could not fathom there would be sufficient demand for a Japanese midget in a cage ... let alone the even more demand subgroup of the demographic looking to kick it.
We laughed for blocks until arriving at home.
I shared a rooom with Dan. The were two beds, shoved together, but we were so exhausted we did not complain. As I lay in bed, with a full wall mirror in this classic European hotel room and this classic European city, I came to realize how much I had missed my wife who was to have come along but we failed on the money end to make it happen. The "North Bend" debacle in concert with the lack of a bonus conspired against us.
I passed into a coma.
In the morning I awoke for breakfast and joined Joachim Parbo for breakfast. Bruce, Joan and Dan joined. Then Dan and I hit out for a two-hour whirlwind tour of Prague. Having been to Paris, London, Barcelona, Madrid, Brussels, and other cities in Europe, I can say Prague tops them all for stunning architecture.
As we ripped back for the cab to the airport, I could not help notice that the same guys were still out putting leaflets into people's hands. Only now they were hawking classical music and opera.
I headed home feeling as if I had been gone a month. The flight home is never as remarkable and as electrifying as the flight away. Especially to Europe.
Thanks for reading.
The last day had started with giants and had ended with midgets. To what I would return I could not say.