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.
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.
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