Friday, September 30, 2011

The Magic Bus: Homeward Bound

After such an amazing week in Copenhagen there would undoubtedly be an emotional collapse. But today could bring me close to a nervous breakdown.

I’m still processing the death of my sister just two weeks earlier. I’m two weeks away from my Providence race (thankfully Laura Low, Glenn Stillwell, Tom Stevens and others are on the job). The cost of living in Copenhagen has completely broken my bank. And between the time changes and the paucity of Internet connectivity I’ve kept in touch with my wife and family by a single Skype session, two phone calls, and text messages. I was way off the back with e-mail and expected to be fired by every client I had.

Everybody in my family is emotionally scraped up. And I’ve been over here in cycling la-la land…And I would have a few "las" on my final day abroad. It's like being served too much cheesecake.

Sarah McLachlan’s “Building a Mystery” is playing over and over in my head, notably the line “you’re so beautiful; a beautiful fucked up man.”

The alarm went off at 6 a.m. and I had to spend 75 dk to get online just to check my itinerary and eat aspirin to ward off a hangover inflicted by those British folks. I saw that thankfully the flight did not leave until 1 p.m. I collapsed into bed for another two hours.

Again, I would sit alone at breakfast, starting to write this piece. But this morning I would have company at the adjacent table when Mark Cavendish’s mother and her husband (not his father) sat beside me. We had a splendid time discussing his career and they were very complimentary of the job I had done.

Actually I was in agony over a mistake I had made. After successfully peering into the mob of cyclists and seeing the Australian Michael Hepburn unravel in the rush for the sprint to decide the U-23 race and then seeing just a sleeve of a jersey in the train station of the women’s race to recognize Giorgia Bronzini I screwed up on Sunday in the big race. It’s announcing, not Tweeting, but somewhat similar. You need to think before hit send. But sometimes you cannot do so.

In the decisive crash that took down Thor Hushovd, I saw the USA jersey, Garmin helmet, and white glasses of the famous sprinter, Tyler Farrar. And made mention of that. Unfortunately what I really saw was the Garmin helmet and white glasses of the famous American roleur Andrew Talansky.

So I screwed up. But at that level, I wish I had paused and double checked. But you cannot retrieve words.

Only at the end when Farrar emerged in the sprint to finish 10th did I start to question my call.

We lingered over coffee and I savored this last morning in Copenhagen. I knew how much shit was about to hit the fan upon my return. All I could do about it, however, was get home. And for a bike nut, this trip home would be fantastic.
I got a ride to the airport with the organization’s shuttle, joining Guy Doblar, a Belgian official who served as the chief commissar, Kurt Sauer, an American official who lives in Tokyo and surprised me with his command of French and Japanese, two other officials, and the Danish driver. I sifted into the airport experience. The first element of re-entry into America came on a television, where I saw the highlights of Buffalo defeating New England with a buzzer-beating field goal. Believe it or not that proved to be a top sports story in Denmark, where there are several fans of American football.

But the big story in all the papers would be the men’s road race.

After a purchasing a hot dog in hopes of fending off this sickening hangover and anxiety disorder of my return to, I headed towards the gate. On the people mover a guy stepped in behind me. I had noticed him earlier. He had a distinct look about him, slender and fit with jeans, T-shirt and long gray hair cut well. But something about his features, which had some resemblance to Charlie Watt of The Rolling Stones, gave off intensity. He had seen some things in his life. One could tell.

“Ah, the voice!” he said, smiling to me. “You were amazing.”

I thanked him for the compliment and asked about how he liked the event. Turns out he’s Peter Dejong, chief photographer for AP. He’s covered 15 Tours de France and probably as many wars: Somalia, Bosnia, Iraq…Cycling is the one sport he adores to cover. Although he lives in Amsterdam he was headed to Paris, where his girlfriend resides.

We dug into an intense discussion on everything he had done; he took as much of an interest in me. We talked all the way down the ramp and on to the plane.

I had found him so fascinating that I never looked around the gate. I filtered down the aisle to my seat, 21D, with a kind older woman from Jutland in the middle seat, 21E. The window seat remained empty.

As others filed onto the plane, I looked up to allow a passenger to get to 21F. There was the French sprinter, Romain Feillu. Holy shit! Then I looked up to see Sylvain Chavenel a few rows up. Behind me sat Laurent Jalabert! Ja-Ja himself! Thomas Voekler had his young son with him. I was on the plane with the entire French elite men’s team! They all few coach!

I spoke politely with Feillu in my horrible French for perhaps two minutes and then let him be. I did not get my photo with any of them; I did not ask for an autograph. I never do that.

We arrived in Paris’ Charles DeGaulle Airport where camera crews were there to greet the cyclists. L’Equipe, the greatest sports paper in the world, had high praise for the French performance overall at worlds and the media responded.

I filtered out to Terminal E, pressed through customs with a pile Third World line cutters and found myself removed from cycling entirely…..poof……with nothing to do for four hours. And having been cleaned out by the Danish cost of living, I could barely afford the Orangina.

Processing all of this - the loss of my sister and the emotion of her service; the thrill of Denmark; the looming stress of our event in Providence; my own health issues (more on that in a later blog) – just braided together into a confused torpor. And I had nothing to do: no Internet, no phone, and no money….Just me and my little cart to wander about looking at things I could not afford.

And then it occurred to me that the date was Sept. 26…..I had been so wrapped up in my own stuff that I had again proven to be a finalist in the world’s worst father contest. My daughter turned 15 on Saturday without so much as a text from me. What a jerk, eh?

I nearly came unraveled.

Eventually I got home….After a bus and subway transfer I met my wife at Alewife and got the update on all the hardships of life at home, including my daughter’s loss of her left lens of her eye glasses, rendering her practically blind.

Home again. Dig in.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Great Britain: Start to Finish

This would be the big day. The elite men’s 266 km road race. Denmark is infamous for rain and gray skies. But through the entire week only the second half of the women’s time trial had been wet. For Sunday’s elite men’s race Copenhagen received the most spectacular weather of the year.

After breakfast I walked to the start area, dressed in my UCI shirt and suit coat. Peter would be at the road circuit in Rudersdal and I would handle the ceremony of the sign-in and start with help from Jens, a fine guy who handled the Danish with ease.

I arrived to find about 500 people gathered around the fences for the sign-in. But I studied some nearby cross walks and realized rivers of humanity were striding into the venue. It was 8:15.

At 8:30 I started to work the crowd and Jens slipped right in fine. Effectively I just started goofing on assorted countries and telling jokes. It’s sort of fun because I can wheel out the same jokes I’ve beaten to death in America with nobody noticing.

At 8:50 the first rider appeared: Thomas Voekler. We were on a tight time table so I spared him the interview. After a slow start I called teams to sign in and they just poured in the venue. By 9:15 there were 5,000 people in the square. The biggest crush came for the Danes of course but Hushovd, Cancellara and Cavendish drew massive cheer.

As I read off the teams, I realized Germany had built a perfect team for this race with two great closers in Danilo Hondo and Andrei Greipel, with Tony Martin and Bert Grabsch there for the leadout train.

Before they all were done I had to assemble the start. This is effectively a roll call of 200-plus riders by country and then by name. This includes Arabic, Basque, Slavic, and Flemish names. One has to simply be comfortable making mistakes and keep on rolling. The riders don’t mind too much when you butcher the pronunciation and most of them I get close.

Then I hand off the microphone and dash for the Tissot car, leaving Jens in charge. The poor guy’s microphone totally shit the bed and they had no announcing for the start.

We rolled.

I’ll leave the race reportage to the pros, but will give you a couple of insights that may have been missed on some websites.

The crowds assembled along the sidewalks as we rolled out of town for the 28 km from Copenhagen to the road circuit in Rudersdal simply blew me away. As we reached the actual circuit, however, they seemed a little sparse at first. As we approached the final turn, however, the crowds thickened to enormous density. And at the home stretch the place was packed. And those crowds would continue to come in all day. Police called the crowd 250,000! That would be nearly 100,000 more than Australia.

I jumped into the booth with Peter just as the field roared by, with a breakaway of little known riders off the front. That group would gather an eight-minute gap in two laps and then the front of the bunch went all red and blue as Great Britain went to work with Germany helping out.

After about 100 km the most significant event of the race occurred: a curb-to-curb pileup that put defending champion Thor Hushovd, Tony Martin, and American sprinter Tyler Farrar stuck in the back.

With no radios in the riders’ ears, no teams were able to respond to the inventory of crashed riders.

Hushovd was stranded with no team support and never recovered. And Martin never got back. Farrar, however, turned in an amazing performance to get back up to the main bunch and appeared on the wheel of Taylor Phinney for the sprint.

Another great ride was Ben King of the US. In his debut ride at the elite world championships, King worked with the Germans and Brits in the chase. Just 23, King is part of an American youth movement still gaining a place with the Pro Tour riders. King’s boyish looks seemed to hardly help as initially the Germans seemed to be asking him to stay out of their way. But King persisted brilliantly at the front for several laps, at one point over cooking a turn and putting a foot down. I can only fathom how a crash at the front would have been detrimental to his career.

Thereafter the race became a desperate series of attacks with stars: Johan Van Sumeran of Belgium went off and caught the survivors of the break. But British team continued to churn faster and faster, ultimately producing one of the fastest worlds in history, with an average speed over 46 kmh (about 27 mph). Only Cipollini’s Squadra Azzuri at Zolder went faster.

At one point, Nicki Sorensen of Denmark fired off the front. I delivered a Cosellesque "NOW COMES DENMARK! NOW COMES DENMARK! NO COMES DENMARK!" And the place went apeshit, with Peter picking up off that in Danish. The audible roar shook the place.

But the Dane would be retrieved. Still the host country would finish with five guys on the first page of the results, a stunning but overlooked achievement.

Thomas Voekler fired off the front to drive a three-rider break that produced great applause. The French had gone with every move, but that would be the last move.

The British retrieved Voekler, who even went solo before surrender, and started the setup for Mark Cavendish.

They were nothing but fantastic, holding Cavendish at 20th position for five hours. But in the final 3 km they curiously surrendered the front. Australia swarmed on the right; Germany punched through on the left. And suddenly Farrar appeared on the wheel of Phinney! And then Fabian Cancellara appeared.

But this would only be a flourish of the matador’s cape. As they turned to face 800 meters uphill to the finish, Cavendish dismissed the train and got on the back of a motor bike, just one rider, Geraint Thomas.

By the time they leapt off the saddles, the front of the field had no British jerseys for the first time all day. But as the bunch stretched apart, doors started to open on the right side and Cavendish punched through and drove to the line. On the far left of the field, however, rode Andre Greipel of Germany who forced photographers to make a huge gamble on Cav. The Brit paid off. Holding of Matt Goss of Australia and Greipel, who won bronze in a photo finish with Cancellara.

For Great Britain, this would be the first gold medal in the men's road race since the late Tommy Simpson did it 46 years earlier. The entire country lead the medal count with six medals. The US was shut out.

And then done. Really done. I knocked out the awards ceremony with Peter. Received some truly kind comments from people, swapped a few business cards, and moved towards the booth to retrieve my bag.

Please read the race reports elsewhere for more details. Those guys do a good job.

The sheer size of the crowd then overwhelmed me. Despite having all access badges, I could not move in the road and had to go outside the fences and climb back in to get to my booth to gather my things.

This event was like a massive air mattress slowly deflating.

After debriefing and bidding farewell to Peter Piil, I gathered my things and a beer and looked for my ride…..Uhhhhh……

I went from being the toast of the event to being absolutely orphaned.

Finally I just hopped an event van and went to the press center, where I found Philippe. We made the drive back to the hotel for that vacuous lobby procession that follows every event of such a magnitude.

There would be a drink with Peter V. (I don’t dare misspell his last name here on the fly to get this done) and a Belgian agent for television and riders. There were handshakes all around but I stayed in for dinner….again alone.

Crossing the lobby, however, a pile of British folks detained me for drinks. Conversing in English was fun. And only at the tale end of the discussion did they point out Mark Cavendish’s mother sitting at the end of the group. Turns out I was in the epi-center the world according to Cav, whom they had followed and supported since his days as a junior.

These encounters at this event never seem to end. Fantastic.

Good night Copenhagen.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Dinner with the Piil Family

Let me start with apologies. I don’t mean any disrespect in rushing my reports on the Saturday events. My schedule became crowded with obligations and I could not sit and write as I had hoped.

Let me follow up with a comment on modesty. I do not fall for the fanfare of Mario Cipollini for his accomplishments, although he earned every degree of them. What has stunned me is the humility of cycling compared to the bullshit braggadocio of crappy American athletes – high school football players who win things like state titles only to poop-the-bed of real professional athletic tests at the top level. I don’t begrudge them for that, but I tire of cycling heroes who do things such as win a stage in the Tour de France and never consider themselves worthy of much praise.

And yet here I encounter such people who have done such things yet feel as if they have accomplished nothing……..This is sad. I’ll detail this later.

This day would end with a fantastic family dinner with my new best friend from Denmark, Peter Piil. He’s my announcing colleague. Super professional and proficient in Spanish, Danish, German, and history and art and sport and travel….We’re practically soul mates.

I’ll fill you in later on meeting Paul, his 80-year-old father in law who continues to ride 12 km each way every day and remains sharp as tack and thin as a rail. The entire family comes and goes by bicycle.

Americans cannot fathom this. As people wish to leave, they do so individually. It’s really, dare I say, an American concept. But in America people are stranded by the car in which they are attached. Everybody at this table – and we had perhaps 10 people – could go in and out of the dinner party as needed because most were traveling by foot or by bike. We sat on the ninth floor of this apartment, with all of Copenhagen beneath us, smearing fois gras on toast, devouring roast beef, and enjoying fresh melon. I got an overview of Danish history – from 800 AD to World War II – and a great deal of conversation, which I dearly craved. He is not just a wonderful announcer, but a TV personality in the making who wants to avoid the hype.

He is complimenting me incessantly about how I have “inspired” him. But after discussion I learn as a television reporter Peter has done the Olympics several times, W

We had finished the day with the junior men and the elite women’s road race. The junior men’s event would see a remarkable finish with Pierre Henri Lecuisinier – I know, sounds like expensive kitchen equipment, pounding away in a late move and outlasting Martin DeGrave of Belgium and Steven Lammertink of the Netherlands.

And then we had the women’s event, an exercise in patience. This would go from being one of the cruelest slow races to one of the most savage finishes I’ve witnessed in decades of watching women’s cycling.

This thing started so poorly I had to walk around to get oxygen. This was curb-to-curb rolling about, with Judith Arndt riding dead-freaking-last for the first 80 km. I could not feel anything but pity for Emma Pooley of Great Britain, the only one to animate the event with attacks early on. But Arndt insulted her by remaining last. When I explained the term “DFL” to the Malaysian official she laughed for about 20 minutes.

Humor is in short supply in Malaysia.

After six of the dullest laps of racing ever witnessed, the attacks began. Arndt advanced. Linda Villumsen, a Danish native riding for New Zealand, tore off the front and sounded alarms. All the favorites put out the fire and then Clara Hughes of Canada countered. She opened up a massive gap quickly and held a 30-second margin with one lap to go. Farther back there would be crashes that took Evelyn Stevens out of the contest. Then came wave upon wave of leadout trains. With just two kilometers left they collected the brave Canadian. And only in the final turn, with 600 meters to go, did the Italians appear with 2010 champion Giorgia Bronzini in tow. They fired uphill to the line and put Bronzini perfectly in place to outsprint Marianne Vos of the Netherlands and Ina Teutenberg of Germany. The result nearly matched 2010, with Vos scoring her fourth consecutive silver medal in the event.

From there I headed back with Philippe to the press office and sat around with a bunch of friendly French guys. Up walks Sean Kelly, speaking perfect French with an Irish brogue (strange, eh?). Next to me is Charly Mottet, who works as a technical delegate for the UCI. And we drive back with Philippe Chevalier. I would later learn in another drive with him that he was a rider but “not a champion”…..And then he notes that he rode with Greg LeMond for Cyrile Guimard’s Renault-Gitane team. Afterwards I learn he won a stage in the Tour de France, but he modestly describes himself as “not a champion.”

Eeeesh…. The humility of it all.

I arrive to the hotel to find Peter. He drives me across town to his in-law’s apartment. En route I learn that in Denmark cars are taxed at 180 percent of their value. But as a result of that the prices of cars are so low that people will travel to Denmark, purchase a car, and ship it home at a huge savings. People that do own cars own tiny ones.

We arrive at the apartment and use an elevator that is no larger than a phone booth to get to the ninth floor. Two average Americans could not fit in this thing.

We arrive to this splendidly compact home that overlooks Copenhagen at night. There is a table set for 10. This would be the only meal I shared with another person the entire time in Copenhagen. Announcing for a straight week requires a lot of quiet time alone. That and I don’t know anybody, so the dinner invitations do not come to me.

But I adored this family as they splashed between Danish and English for their guest.

I had no idea what to expect for food. We started with a loaf of fois gras and toast and jam. This was followed by cole slaw and roast beef and potatoes. We finished with fresh melon.

Quietly at the end of the table sat Paul. We had wine; he had good Danish beer.

Peter engaged me in a Reader’s Digest edition of Danish history, which is first written in 800 AD. The Romans never got close to these people and they did a lot of ass kicking over the years. These are the folks that put the Saxon into the Anglo-Saxon. Only then did they integrate our alphabet into theirs.

But in 1940 the Nazi’s swept in and occupied them on their way to Norway and Viktor Quisling’s attempt to match Hitler in both politics and haircut.

Paul was 10 years old then. He can recall assorted horrors of the war, notably when the Allies screwed up a bombing and destroyed a school.

The cool thing about Danish Resistance is how it involved bicycles. Every day the King of Denmark would ride about on horseback. This promenade became a daily declaration of Danish sovereignty. The citizens would escort him on bicycle. Each day became this massive bicycle celebration.

Peter and I hit if off fantastically and I dearly hope to return the favor when he and his wife, Charlotte, return to the US.

The only concern I had that night was stretching my voice the night before the elite men’s race. He drove me home in his compact Fiat through light drizzle, pointing out assorted landmarks.

I got into bed before the biggest day of my announcing career.

Thanks for reading. Two more dispatches after this!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Copenhagen Road Race 1

The Eritean Express and the Beauty of the World Championships

So today would be the first day of road races in Copenhagen with the junior women and under-23 men. I feel like I’m running a grand Quidditch match at Hogwarts. We have to read names that are Malaysian, Vietnamese, Dutch, Russian, Latvian, Greek and Eritrean.

I love it. I love different language. I love different culture. I love the world.

To quote Joe Strummer: “I’m so bored with the U.S.A.”

After a night of bad Richard Gere movies that ran too long and Skype to home that ran too short, I awoke to an alarm. For me this is rare. I have this weird knack for waking up about five minutes prior to an alarm actually sounding.

I crave the day I sleep in, not because my schedule allows but because my body allows. I’m kind of a stressed person, I suppose.

But I nearly hit a button which would have led to me oversleeping ….. That would have been bad. I love this gig. I actually like stumbling through French. But I’m still somewhat of an outsider. People in this organization are kind to me, if not downright affectionate. But they are also equally stressed and I’m trying not to cause them additional stress. I do not get invited out; I do not get pulled over to tables; I do my job…and quite well, thank you. But I spend my nights alone in a hotel room writing this stuff.

Copenhagen sounds exotic, I know, but I’m not on vacation. I spend time researching riders. Do you know how futile it can be to find info on junior cyclists? And the Under-23 riders are just as tough. Guess what I did today before the U23 race? I spotted a French rider’s bike during the sign-in ceremony and snapped a photo of the stem.

Now most of you are thinking this thing had a Garmin or a Power-Tap or some other ridiculous device. No, this thing had the Rosetta Stone of the race. The rider had the list of numbers to watch taped to the stem.

Look, I got to watch guys such as Baden Cooke and Tom Boonen race as Under-23s. That’s on top of several great American and Canadian stars in the making. But in the moment of seeing them we are all like “Who?”

The U23 race is where to get the autographs before the lines get long. This is where announcers build up their mental data banks.

But this guy’s list gave me the info on who to watch.

The World Championships is ALL about protocol and pageantry; and I’m all about rock ‘n’ roll….So maybe it’s a bad fit. But I’m playing by their rules. And I learn a lot.

The day starts at breakfast with everybody, the officials, the UCI staff, the dignitaries, etc. busting down the door for the hotel breakfast. Then it’s off to the races held 30 km to the north of Copenhagen. I drive with Philippe of the UCI, a great guy who four years ago spoke no English but today can carry a conversation with me. My French is about 20 percent of his English…. We get along great. But like all my friendships here they are on wobbly stilts of language. English to French; English to Dutch; English to Flemish; English to Danish.

English is not superior, but it is the global default. It’s the second language of nearly every culture on the planet.

We arrive in car lathered in UCI stickers and get access everywhere; this is a far cry from 1980 and showing up with Dave Cox and Billy Rudnick in a VW Beetle with five bikes and no hotel room. That is where my cycling odyssey began 30 years back.

I unload, find my way to Lars the sound guy, get a microphone, and meet up with Peter. Then starts the pageantry.

The junior women must sign in, go to have their bikes inspected, and then assemble by nation. They are wonderful athletes but the sheer magnitude of the World-Holy-Crap-Championships flusters all. They stumble with cleats and wheels and the sheer spectacle of it all.

Peter Piil, a super announcer, rocks the sign-in next to me, calling each name. Then we dash to the start line with a French guy whispering in my ear to speed it up, to have all the riders assembled with five minutes to start, to interview that dignitary with the flag in and clear the media and be on that side of the fence or the other and I do it all with a smile to show that I am not nearly as stressed out as I truly am.

The poor junior women feel the same stress.

We get them to the line at 9:24.50 and start them at 09:30.00. I pride myself on that like a pilot.

These poor ladies roll about a kilometer and then smash into the fences, with a New Zealand rider down next to Jessica Allen of Australia, who won the world championships three days earlier. Game over. Winner gets a trip to a Danish hospital.

Racing just 70 km these women race brilliantly despite a few more crashes. This boils down to a bunch sprint with Lucy Garner winning to get Great Britain its fourth medal. Jessy Druyts breaks the drought for Belgium with a silver. And the Danes get their fourth medal with Christina Siggaard winning the bronze.

I took great joy in watching Thi That Nguyen of Vietnam (pronounced Tee-TAT Gee- YEN) attack solo and then ride to a solid finish. Kids from Asia and Africa and South America who may never get to some coveted European club can earn their berth on the start line here. And then they can prove their worth and valor by attacking as she did or by simply finishing with the bunch.

After a short break we start the U23 race, a 168 km race; 12 laps on a 14 km loop. There is the same drill with the sign-in ceremony and then the same French guy whispering in my ear that we need to start on time and “der are too times as many ridoors in these race.”

Peter and I pound out the procedure. The ceremonial starters would be Michael Plant, VP of the Atlanta Braves and a member of the UCI Management Committee (a great guy) and Tom Lund, president of the Danish Cycling Federation and the Cycle City Copenhagen program (And also a great guy). I interview Mike in English; Peter interviews Tom in Danish. We start on time.

The race unfurls in a curiously negative fashion. Although Brazil has just two guys in the race they both go up the road in separate two-rider breakaways. They are doomed.

With three laps to go they are finally recovered and a counter attack is launched. After assorted skirmishes a breakaway forms with riders from Denmark, Italy, South Africa, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, and Eritrea.

…..Upon reading this a sound of a needle scratching a record should run across your brain. Eritrea?

Do you mean war-torn, impoverished, African hell-hole of a nation, Eritrea? Yes. Eritrea has become a cycling-crazed country. They had dozens of flag waving fans at the finish line. I spotted them and tried to give them a sporting experience like never before.

They started three riders, two of which would hang in the field, one of which would end up sideways in the feed zone, but one of which Netnael Berhane, rode in mythical terms that only Homer could describe. The kid crossed a gap to a breakaway and went right to the front to take his pulls. And he never missed a pull.

As announcers we both played this up. And the Eritrean fans went nuts, banging on signs, waving flags, and dancing.

Sure, Australia and Belgium and Italy would organize the chase and retrieve this break.

But with less than one lap to go, when they were caught, Berhane was the last one to surrender the break. We love that the Spartans fought the Persians to the death. We admire the 54th Massachusetts for charging into the cannons at Fort Wagner. And we revel in Cool Hand Luke defying all the authority. But this kid from Eritrea is what makes the UCI and the Worlds a great thing.

The heavily favored Australians took control of the race with newly crowned TT champ Luke Durbridge pounding to the front to set up their ace, Michael Hepburn, for the win. But they found themselves stranded on the front. The Italians swarmed from the left; the Belgians swarmed on the right; and they still had 800 meters to go. They were characters in Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade, left with an impossible task.

And as the bunch swarmed to the front and made a right turn to charge uphill to the finish, Berhane of Eritrea dug in and stayed right in the wedge. Amazing.

Just like in the junior women’s race, all the cannons fired too early. The French emerged on the front with not one but two strong riders; the British found a door and pushed through. As Italy and Belgium faded, the French surged forward to finish 1-2. And the Brits put on a late charge to score their sixth medal of week.

Oh, the Americans? They did not place a rider in a single breakaway and only managed to get Jacob Raathe in 81st place. Not a single medal yet this week for America. They rode well but fell short when it counted.

And the so-called Rosetta Stone taped to the French guy’s stem? Not one of the 34 numbers listed on his stem of the “Riders to Watch” made the podium. And only one made the top 10.

These riders all spent way too much time looking at each other. They would attack, stop, and look back. I stated on the speakers during the race, Merckx, Kelly, Maertens, Hinault….those guys never looked any where but straight ahead when they attacked.

And how about the French guy who had those numbers taped to the stem? He rode to second place. As Ulysses S. Grant said in 1864 about Robert E. Lee, “stop thinking about what he is going to do to you and start thinking about what you’re going to do to him.”

The Eritrean guy got 28th. Frankly, he deserves a pro contract.

Thanks for reading. More to come.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Copenhagen: City of Cyclists

City of Cyclists

“Rush hour” in Copenhagen proves that bicycles are the salvation of cities. Overall, American “mode share”, or the percentage of trips made by bike, is 1 percent. We get excited by certain cities – Portland or Boulder – where the mode share reaches between 5 and 8 percent. Witnessing that, average Americans would describe those towns as having “everybody” on bicycles. On my daily commute, I proudly can note that on the Beacon/Hampshire Street corridor in Somerville and Cambridge that the mode share in September will reach upwards of 10 percent in the world’s largest college town.

Copenhagen mode share overall is 40 percent! And there are corridors where the mode share, by my estimate, is 70 percent and the remaining mode share is 20 percent pedestrian. The remaining 10 percent is split between buses and cars.

The impact on an American visitor – even a cycling evangelist such as me – is staggering. As I walked from the hotel to the race venue at 8:30 am I encountered the morning traffic jam. The first thing an American notices is the lack of noise. Watching Copenhagen “rush” is akin to watching a skating rink. Everybody is gliding about quietly on bikes.


American’s used to such ridiculous vocabulary as “work out” and “exercise” and “play date” would likely assume this picture to be painted with athletic types intently pedaling about with helmets and Lycra. Throw that out.

Everybody is on heavy-duty bikes with chain guards, fenders and upright bars. They are dressed for work: men in full suits; women in heels and dresses. Nobody is sweating or breathing hard. They all whisk about without helmets or concerns. And they do all the stupid things on bikes Americans do while driving to work: texting, smoking, eating, and talking on phones. The only difference is they have a sustained heart rate of 120 bpm and we’re stuck in traffic.

Old folks press by on pedals, children spin along, parents move toddlers in basket bikes, handsome executives with chiseled looks, and statuesque women in heels. Everybody is on bikes.

And they are running not in pods of five or ten….They are riding in rivers of cyclists that defy counting. Not the thousands, not the tens of thousands, but the hundreds of thousands. Daytime, night time, rain, sun, snow…..They ride.

They ride at night. They ride in rain. They ride side-by-side. They ride hand-in-hand. They put their children on bikes. They put their children on boxes attached to bikes. They ride.

When the Arabs held us hostage in the early 1970s, America responded to its addiction to oil by putting its foreign policy on a military footing. But the Danes gave the Arabs the ultimate FU: they stopped driving. This addict simply got clean.

And today mayors from around the world – including Tom Menino of Boston and Michael Bloomberg of New York secretly steal away to look at Copenhagen for answers.

It works.

There is no expressway, parkway or highway in the center of Copenhagen. These planners looked around the world and realized that widening highways to alleviate car congestion is akin to punching more holes in your belt to alleviate obesity.

Most major corridors have three users: the cars get the center; there is a bike lane separated by a curb; then, separated by another curb, there is a walkway. This is not one or two streets but every street.

There is a train system, bus system and as importantly a bike system. Bike are parked everywhere. The race center is City Hall and by way of taking an alternative exit I found myself in the basement where employees get indoor bike parking. In my Boston office building with more than 1,000 workers I am one of perhaps six cyclists and we are left to fend for ourselves. In Copenhagen this City Hall has perhaps 300 workers and I counted more than 200 bikes in this parking rack.

So to my American friends reading this and smirking about this utopian rant, I offer a few curious beneficial byproducts to this system:

1) TRAFFIC: If you read letters to the editor about American cycling initiatives or listen to the anecdotes of Americans, you’ll hear about the frustration and anger caused by cyclists. But the core of this emotion is the frustration endured when a cyclists – paying little in the way of fees, insurance, taxes, fuel, etc. – gets to the front of the line. But American motorists need to realize that more cyclists mean less traffic and more parking spaces for them. Downtown Copenhagen has no traffic jam for motorists. Granted the fees and fuel to own and operate a car in Denmark are equally prohibitive. But when motorists do need to travel in Copenhagen it is done so without delay. I pity any American in an ambulance during rush hour.
2) BEAUTY: The weight loss industry in America is $60 billion a year while our bike business is just $6 billion. A 60-year-old Danish woman – wearing no make up while pedaling every day – is far lovelier, sexier, and more fashionable than the average 20-year-old American female trying to mask obesity with tattoos and piercings. If the Danes did away with smoking they would live and love to be 150. In America, meanwhile, we need only visit a Walmart on Saturday night to play “bingo”. Simply shout bingo when you see an American with either an air hose or a Rascal scooter. You’ll be stunned by the time you leave.
3) SAFETY: Many of my friends reading this will be incredulous about this report. Most will question the safety of urban cycling. But they cannot comprehend a life with so few cars. The indoctrination of Americans with cars starts with cartoons. Fred Flintstone got to work in the past via car; George Jetson gets to work in the future via car. Right? But if the mode share shifts slightly, great things happen. Every study ever conducted concludes that as cycling mode share increases people are safer: the motorists slow down; the pedestrians gain confidence; cyclists gain proficiency. Increasing cycling is the only thing shown to actually improve safety for all users.

So into Copenhagen lands the UCI road world championships.

Being here I took out a hotel bike twice so far. Once at 3 a.m. to alleviate jet lag. An absolute magical hour I’ll never forget.

But today, the rest day for us, I ventured out again in mid-day bike traffic. I rolled about with ease and without a helmet. There were so few cars out that I never had an agro moment.

This cycling mad country, by virtue of pedaling everywhere at 15 kph, has enormous respect for cyclists who can pedal faster than 50 kph.

Of note is that Tom Lund is the president of the Danish Cycling Federation which oversees racing and also the head of the Cycle City, which has been at the vanguard of making Copenhagen the world’s greatest cycling city. American bike advocates, fueled by the recent exploits of Tim Johnson, have learned to embrace racing to advance their cause. The racers, however, have much to learn.

Today I had a day off so I took a hotel bike and just started riding. The separated bike lanes are incredible. The entire culture is so attuned to cycling that it feels safe. Take away the cars and the rage and it feels safe…In 1996 when Copenhagen really got active about becoming the world’s greatest bike city, there were 252 serious accidents for cyclists. That number has dropped to 92 last year and 78 percent of those involved a car, meaning they were not bike accidents but car accidents.

This sounds awful to some but when you see the sheer number of cyclists, rivers of cyclists, who do so safely. Copenhagen cyclists pedal 3.2 million kilometers between every one of those accidents. A cyclist in Copenhagen is far safer than a motorist in America.

Denmark can lead by example.

This investment has paid off. American visitors I meet in the lobby are stunned by the bikes and the same quiet rush hour.

This city is the world’s best bike city by Discovery, a top five tourist spot in the world by The New York Times, and the second safest city in the world by Trip Atlas. But it is also considered the world’s best business city by Forbes Magazine. Just ask the American executives in the lobby of my hotel….Guys from Nebraska and Missouri and Kansas just stand in awe of this place.

OK, I’ll write about road racing tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

Copenhagen Time Trials

This would be just my second world championships as announcer. The UCI had added the juniors to the mix, so racing started Monday. Although hard to believe, the UCI had not held a world time trial championships until 1994.

And for the first time, the UCI had decided to integrate the juniors with the elite worlds. Here is out it would go: the junior women and the Under-23 riders would go on Monday; the junior men and the elite women would go on Tuesday; and the elite men would go on Wednesday.

There is the second UCI event under way here too. That is the convention of the UCI, its key committee members, its promoters, and its best officials. I was brought in when the UCI changed its official language from French to English. In the Czech Republic, I worked with a guy who spoke Czech. Then came Australia, where we did the entire thing in English. Germany had me work with Germans (but they spoke impeccable English.) And in Denmark, I got to work with Peter Piil (no relation to Jakob Piil). A real pro with nine Tours under his belt, Peter speaks perfect English and has great experience in radio and television doing all sorts of sports.

We met on Sunday afternoon for the awards rehearsal and hit it off. I had pushed through jet lag on just two hours of sleep and had little reserves.

Anybody familiar with time trials would recognize the junior women’s event. The first group would do a 13.9 kilometer loop, leaving at minute intervals. How the officials seeded this event is beyond my imagination but they pinned it right. The last rider to start, Jessica Allen of Australia, rode to a win ahead ahead of Elinor Barker of Great Britain and Mieke Kroger of Germany, who finished second and third respectively. They would launch the medal haul of those three countries.

After a lunch break, the UCI changed it up for the Under-23 race. Instead of one lap, the young elites would do two laps of a slightly longer course to complete a 35.2 kilometer race. I must admit the UCI came up with a brilliant crowd-pleasing idea to do this. They send the riders off in batches. Just as the last rider leaves the ramp, the first rider of the batch nearly completes the first lap and begins the second. And after a 20-minute break on the start ramp, the final rider of the batch has started the second lap. This enables the start of the second batch. This is repeated for five batches. The fans see a lot of action; the Shimano neutral support can support every rider; and the television cameras can cover the event.

On to this technical urban course went the Under-23 riders. The Australians came to Copenhagen sharply focused on medals and titles. Michael Hepburn rode the course with particular ferocity setting the fastest splits at ever check. Then he made a mistake, going off course and on to a sidewalk on a turn and causing tire damage. On a subsequent turn he appeared to suffer a puncture and crashed.

He leapt up, got a replacement bike, and kept pedaling to post a crushing best time of day.

This course would make a triathlete cry. There were a number of tight turns, patches with cobbles, and countless raised pedestrian crossings. Riders were given a tail wind to start but had to jackhammer against a headwind on the way back to the start-finish. Average speeds would drop 5 kph in this wind.

Then came the Danish phenom, Rasmus Quaade (don’t ask by it is pronounced Quail). With some of the sloppiest form I’ve ever witnessed at the World Championships level, Quaade stomped out a time 11 seconds faster. On the hot seat, he had to wait for Australia’s Luke Durbridge, the 2010 silver medalist. He rode a perfect ride, winning by 35 seconds.

After one day’s racing, Australia had three medals, two of them gold. And these riders had about 5,000 spectators watching.

Day two returned to the Junior womens’s course only to have the Junior men and then Elite women completing two laps for a 27.8-kilometer race. The very first bracket saw New Zealand’s James Oram post a blistering time more than a minute faster than any other rider in his bracket. And it seemed fast enough to stick. Most of the favorites fell short until the later brackets. It would be a Dane, Mads Wurtz Schmidt, who bested the time by just 4.11 seconds. With the Danish crowds in a lather, Wurtz Schmidt had to watch the entire final heat roll. One Aussie, David Edwards, seemed capable of beating him but fell short to finish third, behind Oram and Wurtz Schmidt. The crowd went bananas as Denmark scored its second medal of the week and its first gold in several years.

The elite women would go next in the exact same format and same course but in vastly different conditions. The first batch of riders had a clean course, with Canada’s Rhae-Christie Shaw setting the first fast time of 37:46. She took the hot seat and watched her teammate, Clara Hughes roll off. A two-sport Olympian, Hughes had been out of the sport for a number of seasons. She started to best her teammate at every checkpoint on the first lap.

And then it started to rain.
As the rain intensified, Hughes came in with a new fastest time of 37:44. Canada had 1-2 and the course conditions worsened.

In the penultimate bracket rode Evelyn Stevens. But the Wall Street wizard could not master the bricks in the rain. Instead New Zealand’s Linda Villumsen, born and raised in Denmark, rose to the occasion and posted the new fastest time of 27:28.

In the final bracket rode Canada’s Tara Whitten, America’s Amber Neben, and Marianne Vos of the Netherlands. But most attention went to the Germany’s Judith Arndt and defending World Champion Emma Pooley of Great Britain.

At the first time check, nobody on that list shook the standings, save for Whitten. On the leader board were three Canadian flags in the top five positions. As Neben and Vos faded, however, Arndt started to advance. She pounded out a 37:07 to bump Villumsen out of the lead and await the arrival of Pooley. Perfectly built for the hilly course in Australia, Pooley simply could not match the speed of Arndt. She finished third at 37:31, bumping Whitten off the medal stand by just two seconds.

Having started off a bit sluggish, the women’s time finished in electrifying form.

And the women received a huge crowd for their ceremony, with numbers easily exceeding 8,000 on the City Hall Plaza.

Wednesday would be for the elite men. Nobody went to work and the lunch time start drew tens of thousands of spectators around this course, extended out to a 23.2 km course on which these superstars would do two laps.

Preparing to announce the world championships is somewhat futile in that one has no idea who will be riding until the day before. Some federations – such as Italy, Gret Britain, Australia and New Zealand - put amazing focus on the worlds, but others do this event almost as an afterthought. They may have some individuals who give the event its due priority and get some medals. If a federation treats the worlds like it’s just another crit, they get the medals they deserve.

So for an announcer the drill goes like this: walk to the media center to get online. (The Marriott folks chisel their guests here just as badly as back home, not even offering wi-fi in the lobby!). Grab the start list and start researching. With events of last week, I could not do my normal preparation. Peter Piil, my colleague, saved me with a printed booklet of every riders palmares. That said, finding stuff on juniors is nearly impossible.

Then I pen in a coded set of letters and numbers next to each name in the start list giving me a quick reference sheet of talking points. I perfect this thanks to Larry Longo, with whom I have done countless call-ups at mountain bike races over the years. Bringing more than 100 guys to the line is a real challenge that trips up a lot of beginner announcers. I like to think that nobody can match us in doing a call-up.
For many riders there is nothing next to their name. Then I head to the Tissot timing booth, a cockpit of information that includes a television monitor, microphones, timing screens, and our paper work.

To our left sat Phillippe of Belgium and Beatrice of Malaysia. He speaks French and English fluently; she speaks English, Malay, Thai and a handful of other dialects. Phillippe served as the boss at the ‘cross worlds in Germany. The best officials are typically the nicest of people. They can be firm but patient. You know they are in charge.

So in this booth is this amazing kaleidoscope of language and color: Phillippe steadily speaking French and English into a radio; Peter pounding out the call in Danish; and my rantings in English. All the while, the screens are blooming in colors and information used by all to study this speed. If the road race is a poetic MS Word document, the time trial is a linear spreadsheet, an Excel document of speed.

As I prepped for the elite men’s time trial, however, I could not be anything but awestruck by the resumes of the guys in the very first bracket, seeded to be slowest. Just about every guy had been national champion; most had posted UCI wins, and several had scored the podium at the worlds at some point in their career. Almost every name had something noteworthy penned in the margins.

The early star in the men’s event would be Jesse Sergent, a 23-year-old from New Zealand who destroyed the entire first bunch with a 58:10. For non-cyclists reading this dispatch, know that a major achievement of a cyclist is to ride 40 kilometers in under an hour. This means a rider is traveling in excess of 25 mph. But these guys were riding 46.4 kilometers and going under the hour routinely.

In the second brackets Alexandr Dyachenko of Kazakhstan dualed with Nicola Castroviejo of Spain. The Kazakh took the hot seat with a time of 57:03 and stayed there until the final bracket of 15 riders lined up. Each of these guys in the final bracket had two-page resumes, a stock ticker in fine print of amazing results.

But everybody knew this race would not be about anybody but two: four-time World Champion Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland versus the upstart Tony Martin of Germany.

Everybody brought their best. Jack Bobridge, a former U23 world champion in his debut, posted the fastest splits and out-rode his American nemesis Taylor Phinney. Former world champion Bert Grabsch plowed a massive gear to also lower the split times. And England’s Bradley Wiggins whipped about the course with leg speed developed on the track.

When Martin rolled of with number 2 on his back, however, the game was on. He blew away the fastest split time at 10.8 km and kept pouring it on. Behind him, however, was an uncharacteristically flustered Cancellara, who learned with 10 minutes to start that his bike needed to be adjusted to fit UCI regulations.

Like seeing Babe Ruth in a cold sweat, I could spot immediately off the ramp that Cancellara did not have his typical form. His gear was too light; his position unstable; the bike rocking too much. Conversely, Martin’s back could be used to serve hot drinks and not a drop would be spilled. Smooth as glass.

Meanwhile the Dane, Jakob Fuglslang, rode with the country behind him, turning himself inside out in front of 30,000 spectators, delivered top-five splits. He was writing a Rocky Balboa script along the way only to have Martin pound out an Apollo Creed punch line with his subsequent numbers.

Martin rode the first lap and closed on David Millar, who had started 1:30 ahead.
During the second lap, Cancellara and Martin received their splits via radio earpieces. Martin could enter turns cautiously and explode out of them. Cancellara, however, had to take risks, bombing into corners with abandon, only to have Martin continue to add to his margin.

Finally Cancellara took too big of a risk on a cobbled corner, got the bike on a bad line, and went into the fences, barely staying upright and coming to a dead stop. Game over. He had to concede gold then; but the silver had also slipped away as Wiggins rode a perfect race to get Great Britain its third medal.

Martin pounded out a convincing victory with a time of 53:43. This guy rode a technical course on a windy day at an average speed of 51.8 kph. This means if you lined him up with a good regional rider, the fastest guy you ever see riding through your town, and then stopped them both after one hour, Tony Martin would be more than 13 kilometers, or about 8 miles, up the road. That puts him in another area code from the fastest guy in your town. He put 1:15 on Wiggins and 1:20 on Cancellara.

Here’s the medal count after the time trials:

Australia: 4
Great Britain: 3
Germany: 3
Denmark: 2
New Zealand: 2
Switzerland: 1

Note: nothing for the Americans, the Belgians, the French, and the Italians. Zink, zip, nada, zed. Something will have to change in the road races.

And then we are done. I eat alone. Stay alone. And prep for the road races.

Thanks for reading. Tomorrow, I’ll write a bit about Danish cuisine…..That should be a short dispatch!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My Five Rules on Death and Dying

Five Rules on Death and Dying

I feel blessed to be bathed in the fluorescent light of the Amsterdam airport. Given the emotional and geographic and sensory geysers of the last two weeks this three-hour reprieve is deserved.

Pre-dawn in such places is hallowed. Traveling alone we are contained, given shape and form, by the forces of society in motion. And yet we are left alone, anonymous. I feel like the characters in Hopper’s Nighthawks; they can only guess at my regrets, tragedies, frustrations, fatigues, and desires.

And I can only guess at theirs. We have a magnetic deal on the distance we can and cannot be from one another. So we move around each other in brittle polite silence.

But I have no feelings right now. I have been scrubbed clean of thought. I am barely putting out a signal… Please and thank you are handrails of recovery.

I am en route to Copenhagen to serve for the second time as the UCI official announcer for the road world championships. A dream gig, eh?

Indeed it is and I will work hard – beginning today when I study every start list and bio - to secure this job for as long as they’ll have me.

But honestly I need this Amsterdam interlude for the personal cushion.

For as nervous as any announcer may be to call the world championships, I am coming off speaking at my sister’s funeral. That was a tougher gig.

My sister’s death last week would produce my family’s sixth funeral in ten years. They were not distant relatives but immediate, earth-shaking deaths to my family.

My speech to conclude my sister’s service had three components: thanking so many people for their support; outright plagiarism of truly gifted writers; and my five rules on what to do during times of death and dying.

Here goes:

Rule One: Ask
Rule number one is “Ask.” I find it terribly rude to allow somebody to suffer without asking for information.

So let me tell you what happened.

Less than two weeks ago, I sat on the sixth floor of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, chatting away with my sister, Kim. Although a bit loopy on meds, she used my conversation to move from grave and disoriented to upbeat and chipper. I had no illusions and recognized her slide toward death, but we had the most pleasant of chats.

The cancer that first hit her in 1984 and returned in a new form in 1986 and then a new form in 2007 and yet again in 2010 had found a new home. After her breasts, her lungs, her bone marrow, and her blood had been raided, the cancer found a new place in her brain. Her legs, her speech, her ability to even swallow were being shut off by her brain; like the fuse box in a house, the cancer had found the spot where it could flip off switch after switch after switch.

But she had always bounced back and I kind of hoped, listening to doctors, that we could get her to the holidays and who knew? Perhaps another summer of beach trips with my kids.

When I left her to travel to California for a Best Buddies event, I said “Love you…” in that sing-song way that is not intended to be the final good bye.

And she replied “Love you, too,” in the same manner.

And I bounced back – just as the door closed – “Love you more.”


Rule Two: Show Up
Rule number 2 is “Show up.” For five straight years we had been showing up for my sister in Herculean ways. We had learned a lot about medical things. But after countless pre-dawn pacing sessions at the ICU of hospitals, bidding farewell to my sister on the sixth floor – not the ICU – gave me confidence that I could start a trip that would take me to Monterey, Calif., for Best Buddies and then to Las Vegas for Interbike, and then after an eight-hour stay in Boston to visit Kim and swap out socks and underwear, I expected to head off to Copenhagen.

Off I went to the Audi Best Buddies Challenge: Hearst Castle, where I scrambled about and tried to forget about Kim for a bit. In effect, I was asking people to employ my own rule number 3 on managing death and dying: “Make no Judgment.” For what you see is not what you get. There is no correct way to grieve. Everybody seeks comfort in different ways during such circumstances.

I had been away – calling cycling events – when my father passed, my sister’s husband (which happened a week apart in September 2001) died, and when my sister passed in 2002.

When I touched down on Thursday, Sept. 8, in California, I started getting some bad text messages about Kim’s condition. The next day, like the calving of a glacier, her body simply started to collapse under the enormous pressure of all the cancer. “Success” would have meant enormous suffering just to gain another month. We made the decision to stop curative treatment and begin palliative care. She went off oxygen and on to morphine.

As I worked the Best Buddies event, doing my best to be upbeat for these riders doing this great charity event. The numbers kept coming; oxygen dropping, heart rate running at almost 140 bpm, and morphine increasing. Three times during the event, I called home to talk with my wife and children, including my brave 17-year-old son who sat loyally by Kim from Saturday morning on.

My son had learned the first two lessons well.

I could handle her passing; but talking to my children left me in puddles. Three times I withdrew from the event and hid behind buildings to simply sob uncontrollably.

Rule Three: Bite Your Tongue
My third rule on death and dying is “Bite Your Tongue.” Everybody grieves differently; everybody is a work in progress; we all seek comfort in different fashions; and there is no correct way to grieve. I had a lot of work to do that day and I did it. My work is fun and upbeat. So when it came time to announce the Friendship Criterium, where pro riders and celebrities pair up with Buddies on tandems for fun races, I asked my dear friend and colleague Larry Longo to help announce, in case I broke down.

As I got started, however, I realized my sister Kim – a teacher of teachers – needed me to knock it out of the park for these kids. So Larry and I rocked it.

Once I got to the post-ride barbecue, I settled my clients, took care of some production details, and realized my phone – after all the calls and texts – had died. Smashmouth came on. Pardon me for not grieving appropriately, but I love that band. I totally got into the show and checked out. I hate to admit if felt great dancing with the riders I knew and especially the Buddies. In hindsight, Kim would have loved that I did it.

My initial plans called for me to head to Las Vegas. But I awoke to dismantle those plans to get home, hopefully in time to see Kim before she passed. Oddly, few people save for my closest of colleagues realized my situation. I felt as alone as I have ever felt…..ever.

Throughout Sunday – as I worked phones with airlines and untangled myself from obligations with the event – I kept receiving the metrics on Kim. Her amazing little heart continued pumping at 138 bpm for the third straight day.

The best I could get out of my airline was a 6 a.m. flight out of San Francisco. This gave me a night with my dear friends, The Simpsons, in Burlingame. This included dinner with a 14-month-old boy, John Paul Simpson.

I collapsed into bed at 9:30. I awoke at 4:30 and learned by text that Kim had passed. I had missed it.

I just wanted to get home. I returned a rental car, simply leaving the key on the seat to make the flight. I fought through security, found my way to a window seat at the rear of the plane. At the last minute, a heavy woman wedged into the seat next to me. I’m typically judgmental and annoyed by heavy Americans.

As I sobbed and typed, my head turned towards the window, this lovely woman simply kept handing me tissue after tissue without asking any questions. No judgment.

I arrived and silently stumbled through the Boston transit system. As I came up the stair at Alewife Station, I found myself side by side, stride for stride, next to my nephew, Nathan. We emerged to see my brother, Gary, and sister, Beth. My wife Deb was two cars behind them with no knowledge of their presence. Somehow were all together. Nice.

Rule Four: Make Lasagna
I got home, dropped bags, and we swung by the home of my wife’s colleagues, Liz and Steve Curran. They had prepared a full dinner for my family. I truly can handle the death stuff; but these acts of kindness – often by people who don’t know the deceased but know the family – move me to tears. We received dinners every night. And time after time I am swept away with emotion.

We had a whole ham one night. Then came wonderful teriyaki bowl from my sisters colleagues at Wediko Children Services. And the lasagna from Best Buddies continues to feed the household.

My later father, a sullen WWII vet, would remain on the periphery of such events – deaths, operations, births, etc. – and simply mutter, “What are you going to do?” If the situation were a flat tire or a broken pipe or grass fire, he would be at the helm and fixing things. But in medical circumstances beyond his reach, he shut down.

Making lasagna cares for people caring for the ill or the injured. When there is nothing else to do, feed people, care for their children, and help them with their laundry. These acts are profound.

My friends at Harpoon heard of my sister’s passing and forced three cases of beer on me. Flowers arrived. Notes were sent. Comments on Facebook and e-mail and text were crucial to me.

Thank you.

Rule Five: Laugh
On behalf of my family I wish to apologize for anybody we may have ever insulted at assorted wakes, funerals, receptions, and hospitals for apparently having a good time at an inappropriate moment.

Throughout my sister’s illness, we went through wild swings in moods. But there is closeness with this experience – with friends, family and casual daily coffee-shop acquaintances – that is profound. Trust me, I broke down and wailed like some Greek widow on a number of occasions.

I actually believe it should be required. This death process with my sister started in 1984, when she was first diagnosed. The past five years have been a steady degradation of her health and quality of life for her. Having her dignity shaved away, layer by layer, has been as difficult to witness.

For the family this past five years has been a series of fire drills followed by eye-blinking meetings with medical teams followed by vacuous bedside vigils. Some were alone with Kim and blinking monitors and beeping devices; some were with her awake and chatty; and others were with family and friends.

Once in the ICU last winter, with Kim intubated on a breathing tube and unconscious, my brother, Gary, my nephew, Nicky, and myself passed the time in this gravest of locations….In this somber place we were laughing uncontrollably about something. We could not stop.
Kim’s passing was hard. I lost a business; turned down a job opportunity of a lifetime; lost countless promotions and failed to close several deals due to my time required in a hospital or a rehab facility or simply spent holding a hand or walking a beach.

But I had so much quality time with my family and witnessed the emotional growth of my children and their cousins. One could not buy such an experience or tutelage.
Kim’s service we took the opportunity to pose for a family picture. Surrounded by the sound system in the middle of the Putnam Room at the BC Alumni House, we staged for the shot. Macy Gray’s “I Try” came on.

This entire family broke into chorus, clutching one another, waving back and forth in broad smiles. Kim’s passing had made us so close to on another. These children were so strong as a result of this experience.

Afterwards many of the kids continued to dance.

And I trust that in the event of my passing folks that come together have some laughs….hopefully at my expense.

I’m now in Copenhagen, having announced the first two days of competition. I’m totally alone, surrounded by folks speaking Danish, French, German, Flemish and assorted Scandinavian dialects. It’s good that I have nobody as it protects my voice.

The emotional strength to go through this wonderful, albeit lonely, travel experience came from my family.

Today is the men’s elite time trial. I’m going to crush it.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Burgermeister and My Dinner with Hanka

Sankt Wendel Day Two

The Burger Meister and My Dinner With Hanka

SANKT WENDEL, Germany (Jan. 30, 2011) –Alone again after an amazing race, I tramped through the team area, past all the Fidea trucks and the French federation trucks, and up a hill to a school-like building where a small banner fluttered with the words “VIP.”

My announcing colleagues had told me to meet there.

Zdynek Stybar and Marianne Vos had just posted repeat victories. The Belgian fans were bouncing in their massive beer tents, content that Sven Nys and Kevin Pauwels had restored the axis of the earth with the silver and bronze medals. The sun had dropped beneath the hills towards France, but the blue sky offered another hour of winter light.

I entered the building to find two ladies staffing a table who spoke neither English nor French nor Spanish but only German.

Allow me to digress on language and culture. A few weeks back I encountered a troubling thread ignited innocently enough by an old friend from my hometown neighborhood. She expressed in her status some understandable frustration with being asked to press one for English on a phone line. I understand that English is our language in America.

But what really discouraged me were the responses she got from people that were so flame-throwing hostile that I had to respond. Things such as “THAT IS TOTAL BULLSHIT!!!!!," and "THIS IS THE GREATEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD, LEARN ENGLISH!!!," were in this thread.

Typically such people are so frightened to leave their own country not for fear of running into other cultures; what they fear is running into their own types.

We’ve all heard it. I happen to believe myself to be the greatest of Patriots. I have walked nearly every Civil War battlefield. I weep at monuments. I live right next to the Battle Green in Lexington. I travel to Congress every year to lobby for my cause. I also believe rock ‘n’ roll to be the finest of exports we’ve ever had.

Whether we like it or not, the Taj Mahal, the Great Pyramids, the Eiffel Tower, and Victoria Falls happen to be in other countries. And if folks in other countries are going to drink Coca-Cola and log on to Google and wear Levis jeans, some of us actually need to leave our country to go there. And some of the braver ones actually like to travel. And I might even choose to work in another country.

I also realize a lot of folks for a lot of reasons want to live and work in America. Clearly there is a strong demand for labor here, too. Heaven forbid a white kid should ever mow a lawn, eh?

And if we’re going to fill Holiday Inns and sell Big Macs next to our national parks, they are going to come here, too.

Some folks watch protests or some speeches and assume that the world hates Americans. They kind of overreact to that emotion.

Here is the news flash for those folks who only view the world through the pinhole of Headline News: People typically ADORE Americans.

So armed with nothing more than a smile and no language, I stared down this 60-something women who looked balefully over the top of her reading glasses to deny me entrance.

I said the only word that I could muster: “Burgermeister.”

And she arose and started to escort me upstairs.

Enter Klaus Bouillion, burgermeister, or mayor of Sankt Wendel.

I have met countless mayors and senators and congressional folks. I even met a president once and attended a White House function. But Klaus put them all to shame.

I first spied him with a radio headset, snowpants, and an unzipped winter jacket, driving a quad about the venue. He never came off like a mayor. Before I knew who he was, I actually questioned why he was hanging around the stage. Later I saw him driving stakes into the ground and supervising some earth moving equipment. In the middle of my announcing, he pulled me aside and stammered at me in German for two minutes, patting me on the back the whole time. Beats me what he said, but I liked him!

For those unacquainted with what I do, I announce bicycle races. And I had been brought to Germany to announce the 2011 World Cyclo-cross Championships. Look, friends, I love the NFL. But for a live sporting event, American football does not come close to big time cyclo-cross. When you’ve tried it, come and tell me otherwise.

And this day would be one of the biggest of the big time 'cross races one could see.

So for day two I awoke to find Will Matthews, a photographer friend, at breakfast. To my surprise he was with the soft spoken Phillip, a video shooter I had met in 2004 working in Europe for OLN (Now “Versus”). Afterwards, I tramped over in the same chill, through the same gingerbread neighborhood, and arrived at the venue.

After the customary coffee and cake, we hit it for the women’s race. This proved a fantastic race with the local heroine Hanka Kupfernagel, several times world champion pounding away at the front. Then the American Katie Compton took over and dispensed with all but Marianne Vos of the Netherlands and Katerina Nash of the Czech Republic. Compton dropped Kupfernagel, but not the others. With just over one lap to go, Vos attacked, went clear and stayed away to repeat as world champion, her fourth 'cross worlds title. Compton finished second, Nash third, and Kupfernagel, for just the second time in the history of the event, finished outside of the medals in fourth.

Then came the intermission. I did some soup in the press room, had a fun interview with Dave Towle for Velo-News television and another for Chandler Delinks' video project "Cyclo-What?", and then augered into thejam-backed beer tent. There I found the Portland Cross Crusade guys on the main stage, having just completed the wedding of Doug Moak, a great stake-pounder and all-around good guy, to his new bride who was just loving enough to allow Rick Potestio to serve as the JP for a wedding in a Belgian beer tent. Hopefully Rick won’t do the divorce if that should become necessary.

Then came the big one; the elite men’s race. The sheer power of this field assembling is daunting. But the passion of the fans eclipses the caliber of these racers. There were easily 3,000 people packed into the stadium before the race started with tens of thousands more on the course, having staked out positions throughout the venue. My colleagues and I spent 30 minutes warming up the finish line crowd by effectively making fun of them.

And there stood the smiling Burgermeister, laughing at my joke that I had enjoyed my stay in their local jail. (Germans are funny; they thought I really HAD been arrested for peeing in a fountain!)

Czechs, Germans, French, Spaniards, Americans, Swiss and other fans poured in but the Belgians were out in force divided into factions. This group for Nys; that group for Pauwels; and another for Albert; and they all were jammed on the fence with drums, bells, costumes, flags….

I made it a point to ridicule the Belgians for having yet to score a medal.
I did the call up without incident and the men were off. I pounded them with Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. These fans are not used to having any music play during an event; they went bananas.

The race unfolded fantastically with about a dozen riders in a wedge at the front after one lap. Right in there rode America’s Jonathan Page. His countryman Tim Johnson rode in a second group charging forward. From the leaders broke a group of six: Zdenek Stybar of Czech Republic, Marco Fontana of Italy, Philip Walsleban of Germany, and three Belgians: Sven Nys, Kevin Pauwels and Klaas Vantournout. Nys and Stybar broke free. Both had won world titles at Sankt Wendel in 2005; Nys as an elite and Stybar as an Under-23. The story lines were fantastic as they rode a minute ahead of the others. Farther back, Page had flatted but Johnson charged forward and seemed poised for a top 10 result.

Two riders rode with such grit to warrant mention. Jose Antonio Hermida of Spain, the world mountain bike champ, lined up dead last but pounded through the traffic and up to this group in about five laps. And Francis Mourey of France spoiled his first-row start with a high-speed crash starting the third lap. He would leap up with mud and blood, and charged back to contention.

For the Americans disaster struck. Page flatted and went out of the lead group. And just as Johnson’s group whirred down the track, a rider smashed in on his left side and put a pedal into his front wheel.

Johnson went down like a stack of cans. He lay crumpled in pain on the gritty running track; I directed traffic around him but did not interrupt the medical staff. Earlier the chief official had concerns with my being on the track. But right then it came in handy. As I directed traffic around Johnson, the fans became focused with concern, pointing on to the track.

I looked over to Johnson’s bike. The front fork had a hub, but the rim had been entirely chopped off. The front wheel had collapsed beneath him.

On the track were the cut spokes as if a box of spaghetti had been broken in the supermarket. That this audience recognized the potential for a puncture impressed me.

My presence really helped when the medic jumped up to pick up the spoke, nearly darting into the path of three riders. I pulled him back by the shoulders of his coat and re-directed him to the medical task at hand. I took over the collection of the spoke when safe, handed the spoke to a spectator…..Then they all yelled for another. With each spoke I handed off – and there were nearly a dozen - the applause grew. THESE FOLKS WERE NOT CONCERNED ABOUT THE PUNCTURES!!! They wanted Tim Johnson’s spokes as souvenirs!

Stybar pulled away from Nys. With one lap to go, Mourey joined the second group in the race for the bronze medal. But as he arrived, Walsleban attacked to the delight of the Germans. But Vantournout countered and set up Pauwels for a savage follow up attack to finish third. Mourey charged to fourth; Walsleban in fifth.

Awards were held. We were done. As is customary, several fans were kind enough to come up to our fences. I signed one autograph and hugged a half-dozen drunken Belgians. People were really nice to me.

Then one fan waved me over to the fence, pointing down to the ground,and speaking in Flemish....which is kind of Dutch, but with a peanut butter sandwich in your mouth. Seeing no flag, no phone, no wallet, nothing of any value, I wondered what he wanted.

"Sven Nys," he said.

Then I spotted it: he wanted the cork popped from Sven Nys’ champagne bottle. I looked over and saw the other two corks and retrieved both for him, thereby bringing the corks from all three podium finishers. I held out my cupped hands to offer him the corks.

He panicked and in a squint, asked me imperatively “Which one Stybar???”

I looked at his panicked face….And then matter of factly pointed to the one on the right. “Stybar….That one, Stybar.”

I nodded with complete certainty. He left with joy.

And with that, the whole thing ended. A season of racing, several weeks of studying, incredible days of packing and preparation came to a vacuous close. My German co-announcers asked me to attend a VIP reception, of which I had not known. I cruised again through the press tent. Then I made lonely traipse through the raucous Belgian beer tent. Pushing a snowblower would have been easier. I followed my German friends’ instructions, walked through the team areas to discover the VIP reception.

VIP? There was not a single suit and tie in the place.

With my pantomime escort, I entered a school cafeteria where legions of police, marshalls, firefighters, and event volunteers gathered around tables. By most standards, these VIPs were not Very Important People. But more than 500 citizens of Sankt Wendel had volunteered services; by Klaus Bouillon standards these were indeed very important people. Some ambitious people get to the top by walking on the backs of people; Klaus Bouillon has been stacking up friends like cordwood.

Ironically, my German colleagues, with mastery of this native language would not get by the two women; they never arrived.

I was escorted to the guy in charge, who spoke English. He said to standby, not to worry, and we would figure it out.

Had I been frightened of the language barrier, I would have walked back to the safety of the hotel and the people I already knew. But I took a shot.

I wandered about politely, somewhat aimlessly. Then I saw him.

The Burgermeister, after running heavy equipment, recruiting sponsors, driving stakes, cooking sausages, picking up litter, and performing tasks I’ve never seen a mayor perform, appeared to me. He wore a blue apron and carried a rack of dirty dishes, when we spotted one another. His eyes lit up; his smile was like opening drapes on a sunny morning. The dishes were put down, and he waved me forward. I was given great treatment in the food line, enjoyed fantastic potatoes au gratin and schnitzel. As soon as I sat down, a beer was put on the table.

Seeing that I sat alone, the Burgermeister came and leaned on his heavy, strong arm, talking right into my ear and sufficient English.

He had a hand the size of a ham, pumping my hand with a big smile, told me I had to come over later to try the greatest sausages in the world. He then went off to greet others. In walked a small group of people with a minimum of fanfare. A long legged blond with a shiny parka stood nearby, her back to me. I had failed to cut my schnitzel well, leaving me with way too big of a piece in my mouth. As I gnawed on meat the size of a deck of cards, she whirred about , saw me , and politely asked if the seat was taken.

Without hesitation I recognized that Hanka Kupfernagel, perhaps the greatest German cyclist of the last 20 years, sat down next to me. Her boyfriend, Phil Spooner, sat across from me. We exchanged the most pleasant of pleasantries with minimal discussion on her race. Our discussion would be punctuated with the occasional gushing fan that came up for an autograph, photo, or simply to unload incredibly sugar-coated adulations on her.

Her English proved impeccable and her boyfriend, a professional race car driver from the UK, offered up splendid conversation. Hanka had to get up to make an obligatory visit to another table, but scored me a beer before leaving…..Opening the cap herself.

Phil and I continued on for a bit with discussions on driving, music, culture, history and just about anything BUT bike racing.

Then the Burgermeister, still in his blue apron, took the microphone. In my severely limited German I heard him thank all the townspeople group by group. I took out my camera in hopes of capturing an image of him to post later.

As I fuddled with the phone camera, the Burgermeister started another thank you. In the German I heard the words “meister,” “speaker,” and “American” and he suddenly switched to English, paid me the highest compliments as the “world famous speaker from America.”

And the place gave me a tepid, standing ovation.

Such grace given to a man who had crashed their party moved me.

With that we all sat down and I enjoyed a phenomenal hour with Hanka, speaking about her life growing up in East Germany, her boyfriend’s career racing 24-hour events, The Beatles, Elvis Presley, the economics of the EU, and the re-unification of Germany during her lifetime. She would be a fabulous dinner guest with or without her cycling pedigree.

Without a photo or autograph (something I strictly forbid myself from ever doing), I packed up and tramped back through the Gingerbread neighborhood, remarking on its topographic and climatic similarities to my native Western Pennsylvania. A platinum sky escorted me back to the hotel. I caught up on e-mail, joined some Americans in the bar, and then joined the UCI for dinner afterwards. Again the conversation swung from French to English to Dutch. I found I could vaguely follow the French, especially when Enrico Carpani, a charming Swiss press officer for the UCI who is fluent in Swiss, Italian, French, and English, provided his vivid hand gestures.

I have come to realize that languages are much like jigsaw puzzles. What at first is a jumbled mess becomes an elegant pattern that our brains organically start to process. A word, like a puzzle piece, so obscure at first suddenly calls out to your brain …its shape, its color, its pattern, its rhythm, its position – suddenly makes sense.

Having apparently pleased the UCI, we began discussions for next year. “It would be good if you learned some French, eh?,” Melanie Leveau said.

“I’m on it,” I replied.

After a nightcap with photographer Will Matthews, I clocked out to sleep.

I awoke, grabbed breakfast, and caught a ride to Frankfurt. In the front seat rode a member of the UCI management committee en route to Spain. Our driver spoke English. He worked for the Burgermeister.

I pulled out two business cards. On the back of one I wrote a note to the Burgermeister inviting him to the states and pledging to do my best to return the hospitality to him.

All I can hope is that if the Burgermeister does travel to America, he does not reach out an open hand to our citizens, hoping only to discern the difference between a dime and a quarter (neither of which have been stamped with their numerical values) and encounter the mean-spirited individuals I had to deal with on Facebook.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Tale of Two Races; Juniors and Under-23

SANKT WENDEL, Germany (January 29, 2011) – I got to announce two amazing races today at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Germany. Although held on the same course on the same day, they unfolded so differently that they may have been held on Mars and Venus.
I won’t bore you with race details as my friends on the news sites can do a better job. But I’ll give you some behind the scenes stuff.
I could not sleep last night; staying awake until 2:30 a.m. When I awoke, still groggy, I stumbled to breakfast with some UCI folks. What is amazing is that the conversation flows from French to Dutch to Flemish to English without much of a hitch.
With that I dressed and made the walk, alone, through the crisp January air through a gingerbread neighborhood. In being here, I have not been in an automobile since being dropped off. This is a walking town, nestled into the hills on the Western edge of the Black Forest.
I arrived to the venue about 9 a.m. under clear blue skies and a frozen course. I made my rounds, gathered some start lists, and chatted with some journalist friends, Charles Pelkey, Rob Powers, and Jan (sorry, Jan forgot your last name!) a great photographer from Canada. We also have Lynn Lamoreaux and Christine Vardaros over here.
From there I met my German counterpart ….counterparts! Turns out we had two guys working with me, Sven Simon and Jens Meiskowicz (sp?). These guys were great, and they were both fluent in English.
Before long, it’s on: junior men. These poor kids warmed up on a corrugated frozen course, making tire selections accordingly. On the first lap, they went over the barriers and this berm, about three meters tall that crossed the course at 45 degree. But in the 30 minutes before the race the sun had softened this stuff into a peanut butter. When the field hit this thing they tumbled like bowling pins. They got up and went back at it, with continued crashing that rattled the young brains of these racers.
Most of the favorites, the Belgians and Dutch in particular, were just unable to recover. Off the front went Clement Venturini of France who danced on the course where others stumbled. Most Americans speak about Belgium, which dominates the elite men and packs the venue with fans. But the French actually have perhaps the best overall national program at the worlds. Venturini got such a large gap that on the final lap he crashed and tangled his bike in the fencing. He had enough time to detangle the machine and ride comfortably to a finish.
What really impressed was that Venturini’s teammates, twin brothers Loic and Fabien Doubey, pounded away to finish the sweep of the podium.
Boom. Done. Awards, and then a 90-minute break during which time people flood into the massive beer tents and start dancing to horrid sing along disco that becomes infectious. It’s great if you’re with a crowd; but being alone I walk through and stay on task.

I walked about, chatted with some friends, and then examined the berm causing all the problems. I could not walk up the thing without hanging on to the fence posts. This greasy mud surely would wreak havoc on the second race…..

Alas when the U23s started, we expected mayhem. Instead the entire field, save for some clumsy Belgians who routinely tried – and failed – to find a line up the right edge – bombed right over the berm. This shocked everybody. They were like a charging infantry going up against an fort deemed impregnable only to clear the wall and discover they had no other orders….This race had surges but the group rode as a massive juggernaut with as many as 40 guys in the front group. The American Danny Summerhill rode brilliantly, with his nose right up in the wedge in a position to win. Only he punctured and came out.
Another great ride came from Valentin Scherz of Switzerland, who led with two laps to go. Americans adore this young man as he spends his first three months choosing to race in the States.
With those two laps to go, there I called out to my German colleagues that the name of the person who would win this race would be a name we had not mentioned. It became a race of patience; a battle of the one who kept his powder dry longest would be able to fire best last.
The mud had grown thick and heavy; the pits were busy every lap.
In the junior event all of the favorites were splattered about the course in confusion; their winner, Venturini, had placed 18th in the French national championships! That’s like Detroit winning the Super Bowl.
Although many of the favorites were gone in the u23 race, the powerful teams flourished. With one to go the Belgian carried their blue flag forward. Wietse Bosmans launched a firm attack. The Dutch went into pursuit, led by Mike Teunnissen. And quietly, a lone Czech rider, Karel Hnik, went along. Suddenly they had a gap. And across came the top-ranked rider, Lars Van Der Har – who won the World Cup without winning a single event – firmly on the pedals.
Van Den Har made contact at the high point of the course and descended like skier to the track hitting the clean surface with 10 bike lengths. Dutch gold, Teunnissen makes it for Dutch silver, and Hnik brings the first medal for the proud Czechs.
Everybody floods into the beer tents for sloppy parties that make New Orleans seem like an Arizona shuffleboard game.
Me? I walk back to the hotel, endure an international promoters meeting,where I got confirmation that my event, the Providence Cyclo-cross Festival - having received the highest marks by the UCI - would be recognized as Category 1 for 2011. And we would be partnered with our friends at Gloucester one week prior, also receiving a long overdue Category 1 status.

I will dearly need support from all my friends as the promoters of the USGP have decided to move off their date to move on to our date for their Fort Collins, Colo.

We have big plans to be revealed in the coming weeks.

I had dinner, went back to the room, and read about Upton's Charge at Spotsylvania....Where amid the gravest of consequences, he had been told by everybody that his strategy for overtaking an entrenched fortress would NEVER work.

Well, go read about Upton.

The Belgians are coming tomorrow. Be very afraid. This place with have five times the crowd……As an announcer, I’ve been very tame so far at every World Championships done to date. That changes Sunday.
Thanks for reading.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sankt Wendel Course Preview

Sankt Wendel Course Preview
SANKT WENDEL, Germany (Jan. 28, 2011) – I just returned from the venue where I had to the awards rehearsal. This is my third world championships as an announcer and I’m getting it down. I have two sound guys, Roland and Jean Rene, who are French. Between my French, Spanish and English, we’re going to get along just fine.
I also walked the entire course. I try to do this before every race I announce.
This course may be perhaps the best “racers” course I’ve ever seen. The holeshot will not be as important as most ‘cross race as there are several places where a strong rider can advance and make up for a mistake or two. There are three power sections, grinding uphill grades on relatively smooth surfaces, where there will be a selection. There are a few technical sections, but given the weather conditions those should have a nominal impact on the race. There are several crowd-pleasing, white knuckle drop-offs all of which dump riders into sweeping turns.
In talking to Meredith Miller, who should excel on this course, the tire pressure will be kept low – we’re talking 23 psi – to keep her gripped to the course on those downhill turns. Also with us was Danny Summerhill, who planned to ride the course with a pair of Typhoons. There is a lot of talk of file treads as the course drained from super sloppy on Thursday to considerably drier and faster today. And forecasts call for sunshine.
Although frightening to watch, these drop-offs should be handled without incident for most of the fields. But the juniors, who go first, will have the course with its frozen ruts causing the most problem. Expect some blood on the first two laps of their race.
This course was designed for a January race and an expectation of racing on snow. But that is not the case, so we’ll get a high-speed, tactical race that could go down to a sprint on the running track.
Katie Compton will be great on this course. She could win with two mechanicals and a crash, given her form. But Hanka Kupfernagel will be on her best form racing in front of her German crowds.
The juniors are a bit of a lottery. But I’ll study results all night to get some handicapping done. Likewise the U23s have some parity, but we could see a great ride by Danny Summerhill on this course.
In the elite men? This course will favor the strongest team and that will be the Belgians. Will they show the respect to Sven Nys and ride in support? Clearly the strongest pair have been Kevin Pauwels and Niels Albert. I like Pauwels on this course. Zdenek Stybar with his injured knee will have to ride smart to win here, but he could do so. Remember he won a U23 title on this course.
The Dutch will not have Lars Boom. The Americans do not have Ryan Trebon on the start list.
Thanks for reading. Gotta fly.

From Plumbing to Presidents; Lexington to St. Wendel

SANKT WENDEL, Germany, Jan. 27, 2011- Greetings from the Autobahn. I’m traveling at 200 kph inside an Alfa Romeo wagon. I’m traveling from Frankfurt to Sankt Wendel.

Although it is 7 a.m. the sun will not appear for another hour. Few realize how for north most of Europe is on the planet. When the melting ice caps push the Gulf Stream to the south, these guys will be hit with some incredible winters.

But for now there is no snow here. And the temperatures are relatively mild, given what I left in Boston 8 hours earlier.

I apologize for not filing a blog for some time. This is for two reasons: absolutely chaotic life; and really not a whole lot to write about….other than chaotic life.
I don’t wish to bore people with irrelevant pontifications on matters. But this weekend will get some readers as I’m traveling to Germany to serve as the UCI’s official announcer for the World Cyclo-cross Championships.

I must tell you of the complexities of actually getting here. Although I had a lot of the juggling act shared by many folks in my current station in life this past month has proven particularly difficult.

I will let you know it ends up with torches at dawn.

I have the overarching stresses of debt, homeownership, and working my own consulting business which I suppose could be called successful as in a time of 10 percent unemployment I’m pinned down with paying work. But there are also the challenges of marriage and parenthood. We have three kids and each presents a wonderful set of hurdles to our lives each day, especially my 14-year-old daughter Emmy as of late. I’ve learned why folks tattoo LOVE on one hand and HATE on the other. I do adore her.

I suppose the hard times started in November when a woman turned left in front of me on my bike, leaving with a destroyed left thumb. Surgeons had to put all the tendons, ligaments and bone back together. This left me in a cast and sling for six weeks. There is considerable pain in the thumb and I’ve had to endure the inability to open jars, button pants, tie shoes, and control exactly which part of my body and clothing is in the path of my urinary stream…..Especially in portable toilets in winter with a lot of clothing.

Add to this that our first floor heat has not worked this winter. With a wood stove, we can survive just fine….we thought. Just after the New Year holiday all shit went down. For starters we love our kids so much we simply blew way too much money on their holiday experience. Then the exhaust fell off the car. This makes us the loudest family in Lexington and shall be so until a few pay checks hit. Two days later my laptop died, along with much of the data stored inside. A week later our dryer crapped out.

Overall of this we have my sister Kim. After displaying fatigue over the holidays, she discovered severe bruising on her body in early January. She is a survivor of breast cancer, lung cancer, and myeloma. So such issues raise big time concerns. So on January 14 she made the sad trek to Dana Farber Cancer Institute for a painful bone marrow biopsy, with my wife, Deb, holding her hand.

She has yet to leave that hospital.

They admitted her with a diagnosis of plasma cell leukemia. And her condition nosedived. After four days at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, with each of us taking turns being by her side, they rushed her into ICU and decided to intubate her. This means unconscious with a breathing tube. This also means one might not come back; something this family has witnessed. Panting and delirious, she waited until as many of her siblings could arrive. She got three of us: Patty, my wife, Debbie, and then after pounding through traffic, myself. Her sister, Beth, became mired in traffic on I-93 and could not get there in time. They bid goodbye on a cell phone, sheets of tears ran down Kim’s face.

And then she went under.

I fully expected her to die. Her condition had become nearly hopeless. And I questioned traveling to Germany. My wonderful family, starting with my wife, insisted that I go, realizing the importance of the trip.

Throughout this we experienced a deepening, darkening winter in New England. We’ve already received double the average snowfall. And as I readied for this trip we experienced cold weather not felt in New England in six years. In dealing with my sister, I neglected to let the faucet drip as the temperatures plummeted to 11 below.

On Monday morning the baseboard water pipe exploded beneath the stool of my son, Madison, interrupting his enjoyment of Lucky Stars. So we shut off the downstairs heat water….OK, we can live with that. Besides the weather promised a thaw.
Indeed. We received an amazing thaw in two ways the next day.

In the late afternoon of Tuesday my phone started to jingle with text messages. My sister seemed to thaw back to life….Every ten minutes I received a text from my sister, Patty, who was at Kim’s bedside.

”….Eyes are open….”.

“….They lowered the sedation….”

“….She’s breathing on her own….”

“….Numbers look good…”

And then the phone started to jingle with texts from my wife.


“….They’re going to extubate her….”


“The tube is out, she’s sitting up.”


“They’re pulling the other tubes out.”


“Kim says ‘HI.’”

The OFF button on the phone seemed a good option.

I hustled home and dug into the amateur plumbing competition. We had three ruptured pipes. In digging out all my supplies, I did an inventory, ran to Lowe’s before they closed at 10 p.m. I got most of the way through, with my wife re-connecting the dishwasher supply (she’s great at these moments, a beautiful woman who can also figure out shit like this.) We did not attempt the baseboard, but chose to attack the closet as shutting that off had cut off the bathroom water supply. After all the wall demolition, cutting, sanding, flux, etc. I discovered my torches simply sucked….(Don’t get a torch with an ignition button on the nozzle). I had a wild yellow flame that nearly ignited the entire house when I tried to work.

So at 7:30 a.m. I appeared at the Ace Hardware like Dustin Hoffman appeared at the church in The Graduate. I got a new torch, raced home with the blaring muffler, and with a sharp, blue tongue of flame, knocked out the repair, installing not one but two sleeves perfectly!

Sadly, I have rarely solid feelings of competence in any thing that I do save for announcing or promoting bike races. But fixing a pipe like that just filled with me manful pride.

Then, having yet to have a shower , I dashed to the bus to travel to the office, put in a full day, with a brief connection with my sister, and then…..

LUFTHANSA Flight 143 to Frankfurt…..

Ok, folks. Some people whine about flying…..After the two months I just survived, with two working thumbs, bags packed, a Civil War book, and a delicate aroma of soldering paste, I got on this plane. Movies, blankets, wine, dinner…..Quit yer complaining folks. I knew my family had indoor plumbing. I could sleep.

I awoke 29 miles outside of Frankfurt. We hit the deck. The airport shops were closed at that hour of 6 a.m. and I still had no adaptor for my electronics. I met Urs, my driver, who spoke no English. We tore off to Sankt Wendel, completing a Sesame Street education on German.

Upon arrival they dumped me into a Gesthaus that did not match up on my itinerary. But I showered, slept a few arrivals, and then tackled the town. Although cold, I managed with a wool trainier, cashmere blazer, hat and no gloves. I walked about 2 km to the accreditation office, met Simon Burney, a friend. I learned I was not in the correct hotel, walked 2 km back to the hotel, packed and transferred to the Angel Hotel, the host HQ for the event. There I got a snappy UCI scarf for the event and checked in to room 007…..Relax, no stunning blondes awaited me in the room.

I got online briefly to send a limited dispatch home. No phone this trip; just Skype. But the batteries were going fast on the laptop. So I went on safari for an adaptor.

The first shop wanted to cut my cord and re-wire the whole thing. He told me the nearest place get an adaptor was in Saarbrucken, which I think is in Austria.

“Nein, bitte.”

The kid at the T-Mobile Store spoke English and directed me to Alpha Tecc, a superstore.

“Yes it is beyond the train station…”

So with my snappy blazer and dress shoes I started walking.The whole place is like a scene from the The Bourne Identity, gray and cool skies with grim characters trudging to and from work. At the train station the first three folks could not, or would not, help the chirpy American who spoke no German. (You get a little sensitive about the whole World War II thing…) Finally a guy kindly directed me towards the store I needed. I started walking.

The town center gave way to housing. The speed of the cars increased along with the distance between intersections. After 10 minutes of walking I found another guy, and put my note in front of him with the Alpha Tecca name. He nodded affirmatively, and directed me to continue …..”swei kilometers.”

I had to digest what he said. Was that seven kilometers?

I froze….No wait, that’s two kilometers. So I started clicking away with the dress shoes. I got to the equivalent of a Best Buy, found what I needed, and started heading back.

When I travel I love walking. But this was pushing it.

After walking more than 10 km that day in my church shoes, I got back to the hotel, encountered Brook and Mia Watts, stuck in the lobby as other Americans filtered in. Bruce Fina, Joan Hanscom, Betsy and Gregg (of Louisville)filtered into the lobby.

All chatted and then the UCI Honchos came in. I found myself having beers with Pat McQuaid, Michael Plant, and Bill Peterson, along with Brook and Mia. We continued to dinner, with McQuaid defecting to another party.

Cyclists love to gripe about everything in cycling politics. Well, there I sat next to the UCI president, a member of the UCI board and the president of the USA Cycling board. We have some solid discussions on all sorts of subjects, including doping. We must develop these relationships should they serve us any purpose.

Schnitzel, beer, and then Skype back home.

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned.