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.


  1. Thanks again Richard for your amazing work. A truly amazing event became even greater with your fantastic enthusiasm. And thanks adding dimension by sharing your stories from the races! Stay safe!

  2. We have been with you on this wild ride of yours and hold you in our hearts...great highs and great lows...your life flows seamlessly from one to the other in a constant ebb and Winston Churchill once said, If you find yourself in hell, keep going. I say, Live fully with a big you do, Richard. Above all, keep writing...we need your words. xo Kate & Gary