Thursday, October 17, 2013

Tuscany 5

Tuscany 5

The Art of Racing in the Rain

Hopefully you watched, or at least read, about the most dramatic pro men's world championships in recent memory. I'll spare you the race details the journalists all covered.

Allow me to provide some behind-the-scenes scenes.

The Italians do not do everything well. They could use a lot of help with airports.

But one thing they do very well - from sculpture to architecture to bike races - is presentation.

The elite men's race started in Lucca, a fantastic fortress of a city about an 80 minute drive from Firenze. While the other start ceremonies were managed by the Italian announcers, either Barbara Pedrotti or Allesandro Brambilla, the UCI announcer traditionally tends to the elite men's race. I drove with Allesandro while he pointed out assorted cycling landmarks in Italian.

We arrive, get a coffee, and then hit the stage. This entire Medieval fortress town is quietly bracing for this event. Everybody is out in the morning rain, all looking as if they were waiting for a bus. We are a feeble intro ... like the guys who jiggle the cables on a stage before The Who comes on.

 Upon arrival I saw the sign-in stage arranged in the traditional fashion, with one grandiose exception. Carpenters had built a complete elevated runway with a ramp, covered in felt, and equipped with a pair of A-frame racks. The crowd fencing had been arranged to funnel the superstars right up the ramp for their sign-in ceremony and a team photo.

The thing looked spectacular.

But the first casualty of battle is the plan. We rambled on with assorted pieces of Italian cycling trivia. I held my own in English, going on about Alfredo Binda and Tulio Campagnolo and such.

Cyrile Gauthier and Thomas Voekler showed up first. They kindly waited. The French team joined and the photo came off well. Up came a lone rider from Algeria. Then the Mexican team.

The famous Mediterranean climate had provided us seven-consecutive days of perfect weather. The luck ran out on the biggest day.  

Rain started hard. Umbrellas came up. None of the spectators moved. But no other riders showed up either. Forty minutes to start and the board remained bereft of most signatures.

Alex Howes, an American I've watched compete since his days as a junior rolled up. Soon thereafter came Andrew Talansky. I got some words with both but they told me what I knew.

Rain adds enormous stress to a bike race. The mechanics, the soigneurs, the directors and especially the riders have so much more to do. There are rain coats, arm warmers, food, shoe covers, hats, lenses, gloves and vests all to find. Everybody knows there will be more punctures, more crashes, more selections, and more abandons.

Now add the enormous stress of racing 277 km in the world freakin' championships. And nobody wants to stand on their legs in the rain any longer than necessary.

As a result of these elements everybody is late to the sign-in ceremony.

After 30 minutes of stalling with jokes, trivia and card tricks (ok, there were no card tricks) we had about 20 of the 208 riders signed in.  And then they all poured up the ramp like freaking Visigoths.

And we had one pen.

Suddenly the greatest pros in the world were stacked up in a massive line. Heaps of bikes were all over the beautiful stage.

And then the rain really started to come down. Suddenly nobody would leave the cover of the stage. The line crammed forward to be under the canopy. Within two minutes the Mount Rushmore of the sport resembled the Marx Brothers in A Night at the Opera.

This platform became a bike dork's dream. I found myself pressed between Cancellara, Cavendish, and Froome. Contador, Valverde, Porte, Phinney and Roche all smeared into this subway car of fame. The whole thing was like an Al Hirshfeld cartoon in The New Yorker.

And into the chaos rolled the Italian team. These $10,000 bikes were heaped up as if in a campus police auction. Vincenzo Nibali skidded off the runway and wedged his foot in the slender gap to the stage.

Throughout this entire process Brambilla is going on and on and on about each rider's palmares.

"Well this is a shit show," I say out loud, catching a laugh from both Cavendish and Froome.  

Through it all Cancellara stood lias resolute as a statue; power resonated from his soul.

Barely able to reach down and extract my phone from my pocket, I see the time: 9:49 a.m.  Off to the side I notice a Colombian rider nearly get bumped off the stage due to the crowding; his teammate grabbed his jersey to rescue him from the fall.

"Screw it," I said aloud and routed  the microphone upwards along my body.


And they all left.

Nobody noticed, or mentioned, the soft spoken Portuguese rider, Rui Costa signing in.

Like the condemned soldiers at Agincourt they trudged into the sloppy weather to contest perhaps the most epic 277 km in recent cycling history. I'll leave that story to my colleagues.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Tuscany 4

Il Circuito Fantastico

FIRENZE, Italy - Sept. 28, 2013 - Fabian Cancellara met my question with a dismissive gaze. Our eyes locked.

"I'm not here to talk about Sunday. I'm only here to talk about the time trial and to celebrate my bronze medal," he said on Wednesday.

The question I had asked was whether his preparation for this celebrated road race circuit had altered his training for the time trial. We were both speaking in code.

Cancellara had arrived in Firenze visibly lighter than he had in Australia, Copenhagen, or Valkenberg, where he brought more weight and hence, more power, to the pedals. And he finished way behind Tony Martin and two seconds behind Bradley Wiggins.

The following day, unbeknownst to him, he would give me the real answer to the question without saying a word. For that would be the day I would get to ride Il Circuito, the final circuits for the 2013 Worlds.

I hold Cancellara in the highest regard for three reasons: 1) He races - and wins - with savage abandon; 2) in Australia I saw him patiently give interviews to every reporter in six different languages in the boxes, including one nervous Aussie college radio journalist I got into the very last reporter box in the line; and 3) when his asshole Swiss teammate came to the sign-in table in a raging tantrum over the protocol required for the 2010 road worlds, screaming at me as he stormed off the stage, Cancellara forced him back to the stage, apologized to me for the guy's behavior, and made him pose for the team photo.

The guy is awesome.

But he was cloaking his priorities for this world championships. He was here to win the road worlds, not the time trial. Because this circuit is perfect for Cancellara.

My first exposure to the circuit came by stumbling on to the route Wednesday morning. I had a few hours, had purchased a map, and simply saw a town that looked interesting and could be indexed by my knowledge of the region. In short, I only had to go the same place I had gone every day and keep going. I rode to Fiesole.

Simply following signs to this town I wound up on the course. Riding alone, the climb cracked me. I pounded up to a beautiful town adorned with bleachers, signage and fantastic sculpture. I realized I was on the course and pressed upward for an additional kilometer of climbing.

The following day would be my lone day off. I ate breakfast and kitted up with my People for Bikes kit, complete to the socks, and rolled towards the circuit. My credential got me on at 10 a.m. when all the teams were to ride on the closed course.

Mind you, the pre-ride on this course draws a live audience that matches the crowds seen in most American pro races. Entire  schools are released to let the kids go course side to cheer on all the riders.....But oh how they waited for the Squadra Azzuri.

Just as I approached the course I came upon the entire French junior and under-23 team. I hopped on.

We rolled upwards towards Fiesole at a comfortable pace, with about a dozen amateurs tagging long like so many remoras on a shark. The boys were just rolling comfortably and I stuck. With such a draft this climb felt easier. The stretches that crushed me the day before were tolerable. As we hit the switchback a French junior turned his head to see me, by then breathing audibly...but at 52 years of age.....screw off kid....I'm still here!

I swiveled my head back to realize I all the amateurs were gone. Just me and the French kids rolled up to Fiesole.

Just as I cracked into Fiesole, expecting to continue upwards as I had the day before and contemplating dropping off, I saw the fencing. Fiesole was the top! I had survived and started the descent.

The climb, it turned out, nearly matched that of Old Littleton Road, aka the "Harvard Climb" outside of Boston. About 4 km with an average grade of 5 percent and a maximum grade of 9 percent. I simply got into the hurt box and stayed there for about 10 minutes.

I stopped at the top. Checked my text messages. Then did the descent ... like a clumsy boxer .... There is just one turn that requires a bit of brakes. And then I hit the Via Silviate, the shorter but harder climb that followed. This climb hits your legs like an eight-pound sledge. The average grade is 11 percent but the steepest pitch hits 16 percent. The effort is about three minutes.

I survived and then rolled down through the technical fast section to the finish, where I paused with some journalists. When asked by Italian television how I viewed the loop for the world road championships, I paused.

I had one word: "Dynamic."

And it went viral. Of the four road worlds I have called, this is the one route that will produce the truest of road champions. This course does not favor pure climbers, does not favor sprinters, and does not favor the strongest teams. This course is for the best all around individual rider.

I did the climb again, but with a large group that included the Austrian national team. I descended with the Belgian and Dutch teams. I charged through the city section, where I encountered Evelyn Stevens, who seemed chirpy about the course.

Then I rolled towards Fiesole for a final loop. I planned to climb alone but noticed a large swarm of red coming up from behind. The Swiss were on their laps. And right in the thick of it rode Cancellara. A flotilla of amateurs had tacked on the back. Of course I did the same.

We were going about 30 kph as the grade became steeper. The amateurs started to pop like circuit breakers. I filled a few gaps and came within a wheel of the man they call  Spartacus. His uphill surge to win Flanders reportedly put out a sustained wattage of 750. This man could pop light bulbs. And yes, I was flickering.

He rode while speaking to a colleague, his hair flowing as if in a photo shoot. With Firenze below us in full splendor to the right, Fiesole above us to the left, we approached the the switchback where a crowd of nearly 500 had assembled just for a glimpse at such men as Fabu.

Swiveling his head to study the route and breathing through his nose, he lifted off the saddle, and pressed the pedals.

I came off like a flake of dandruff.

I almost went paperboy on the climb to recover and then saw Seamus Downey, who raced for the Killian's Red team in the 1980s. His son, Mark Downey, would be in the junior event. With my heart rate settled, I resumed in time to see Gavin Mannion, the young American son of an Irish immigrant Tommy Mannion living in the Boston area, climbing easy.

At the top I regrouped, and checked my text messages to ensure I could secure a ride by 2 p.m. from Barbara to attend a junior conference. She noted instead that she needed to leave by 12:15 for an Italian press conference. I looked at the time: 11:50 a.m. and I'm 8 km from the finish line and another 4 km from the hotel.

I'm also soaked in sweat, kinda hungry, and really thirsty.

I reply: "See you at 12:15"

I bomb the descent, no brakes, and end up catching the other American U23 riders. I hit the savage Via Salviati pretty hard and nearly vomit going over the crest. Then I press the urban turns and roll right through the finish line.

I got to the hotel and even managed to shower by 12:16. We made it to all the appointments.

But in riding it hard I learned a lot about this circuit.

Matej Mahor of Slovenia, the emerging superstar who, as a junior, won the silver medal in the 2012 time trial world championships and then took the road race in a bunch gallop, returned in 2013 to win the Under 23 road race at age 18. In his press conference he confirmed what I had suspected: the Fiesole climb was not hard enough. Mind you he was climbing it at 40 kph, but he noted, as I learned, that at speed there is considerable draft. Ironically, the faster the group goes the easier the climb becomes.

Mahor also confirmed the second climb to be significantly more difficult.  

And after that climb, the technical elements made chasing difficult.

The issue is that riding without radios, riders were struggling to organize their team efforts. Directors cannot drive forward to provide info. There is only the one 800-meter finish straightaway to enable any rider-to-rider communication. The rest must be done while climbing to Fiesole.

There will not be a large eight-rider leadout a la Copenhagen or Zolder. The winner will be the best sprinter of the climbers. But this will not favor Chris Froome or Robert Gesink. The winner will have to get over the Via Salviati and then be able to go 70 kph into the city, attacking and counter attacking, and then manage a drag race sprint in the final 800 meters. The finish is for a true bike racer.

But Mahoric confirmed another of my suspicions. In the press conference he noted that he had shed six kilograms in preparation for this race. And he noted that loss of weight had reduced his power in the time trial.

I had noted that Cancellara appeared significantly thinner than previously seen in time trials.

The pro men will do 10 circuits on Sunday. There are clear favorites: Peter Sagan of Slovakia, Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway, Phillippe Gilbert of Belgium, Alejandro Valverde of Spain, Fillippo Pozzato of Italy, and Geraint Thomas of Great Britain.

And there are some outsiders to watch: Diego Ulissi of Italy, Bauke Mollema, John Degenkolb of Germany, Carlos Alberto Betancur of Colombia,  and Matti Breschel of Denmark.

Of note is that France's best roleur, Sylvain Chavanel is not on the start list, leaving Thomas Voeckler to carry the tri color into Firenze.

But know this: the Swiss have brought nine pro men to Italy, their largest worlds team in memory. And Cancellara is THE man here.

Oh yeah, one other thing...Forecast is for rain.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Tuscany 3

Tuscany 3

Scooter Culture

FIRENZE, Sept. 27, 2013 - Obviously there are tremendous connections between this lovely country and cycling. Bottechia. Binda. Campagnolo. Coppi. But zero in on Tuscany and you find an even prouder concentration of cycling heritage that dates back to 1473 when Leonardo da Vinci sketched out the first known design for a bicycle. And they boast of hosting the first ever road race in 1870, a contest from Florence to Pistoia, on some of the same roads used for this year's world championships. Gino Bartali. Fiorenzo Magni. Franco Ballerini. Mario Cippollini. Paolo Bettini. All Tuscan cycling legends.

 And there are amazing rural roads I've already discovered in my limited experience here. There is a weekend culture of cafe cycling, riding, sipping, riding more, sipping more. It's fantastic.

Back home, however, one would believe that Italy offers a mechanic on every corner offering to lube your chain in extra virgin olive oil, cars that clear away your path, and children cheering you on every climb.

Reality check.

Refreshingly, I can report that Italy has all sorts of cyclists, but in terms of cycling transit they are barely ahead of Cambridge, Mass., despite the presence 500 km of bike paths.   I see riders rolling the wrong way down streets on dilapidated bikes with under inflated tires. I discovered this after my own puncture downtown resulted in not one but three vagrant cyclists riding with broken spokes and loose axles and even looser racks approaching me, desperate for help. Using only pantomime and pointing for communication, I provided a 10-minute infirmary for these folks whose bikes offered a single  redeeming value: presta valves. And then they rolled off into the darkness, headed the wrong direction on one-way street with no lights.  

But in the urban environment of Firenze (which sounds a lot sexier than Florence, the name of my recently deceased aunt) there is nominal bike culture. I would say New York, San Francisco and even Boston has as much true "bike culture".

And even when I do encounter a cyclist aboard curvaceous carbon-fiber road bikes I realize America has not cornered the market on dorks. Guys here are just as bad with their knees out, their headphones in, their bibs on over their jerseys, and their seat way too low.

One looking for true bike culture would be better served making the pilgrimage to Copenhagen, Amsterdam, or even Portland for the true Valhallas of bike culture.

But in Firenze we find scooter culture has taken root. And it's crazy.  They shoot the gaps at the lights, swerve from lane to lane, dive in and out of turns.

At every intersection they swarm at the front of the line, waiting for the red to go green. I don't mean one or two; try a dozen, revving, smoking, scooters at the intersection. And every green light is like a 12-wide start of a moto.

When my beloved Firefly finally arrived, I dove into the urban setting that night in search of one thing: scooters. The trick is to find a plump couple on one scooter, slowing their start.  Once up to speed, I could get on their draft and roll up to 60 kph.

And despite the noise, the danger, and the smoke, I see the value of scooters in the landscape. When gas hits $7 a gallon in 2016, we will see scooters in America before we see bicycles on a large scale. The good thing here is that Scooters have shattered  the car-only paradigm. They are the mosquitos of the road. Motorists have just learned to assimilate scooters into their mentality.

There is no yelling, no epithets, no horn honking in anger. No matter what the infraction, Italians all just swerve around and keep going. They don't take it or mean it personally, as American motorists so often do.

And with that, the scooters carve out a space - not so much on the roadway as much as the collective mentality - for bicycles.

Of course in all this craziness pedestrians are just screwed.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Tuscany 2

FIRENZE, ITALIA, Sept. 26 - European cities initially disappoint Americans. They simply don't do suburbs well. My experience with most European cities is that of oysters. Brussels, Girona, Maastricht, Paris, Madrid .... Grotesque outer shells concealing marvelous ingredients.

And Italians really don't do suburbs well. The Tuscan landscape, famous for its manicured trees and inviting architecture, had been scratched with graffiti, confusing signage, and curious waste management. My arrival at Hotel Meditteraneo, placed along the historic Arno River, had been marred by my bike's non-arrival.

Arriving early, my room would not be ready for several hours. I walked a bit, took Euros out of the ATM, drank cappuccino, and charged everything I had with a battery. My phone rang.

The voice of Rita Bellanca, all four feet, eleven inches of her, came through the line. Her power triples her size as she - without a single UCI logo on her clothing or a credential around her neck - essentially runs the show. And nobody dares to cross her.

Rehearsal for awards was about to start. The hotel staff had not given me a packet left with my credential and a note regarding the rehearsal. I leapt into a taxi and we took the most un-interesting ride to the finish venue.

Expecting cathedrals, fountains and statues, my short ride was a conveyor belt of dumpsters, scooters, trampled plants, grit, train tracks, grime and improvised fencing.

Expecting the grandeur of Rome, I arrived at a finish venue placed alongside a Soviet style athletic complex, which afforded the organization the necessary facilities for offices, parking, television production and grandstands.

Don't worry, the images on TV will be great.

There are about 100 people on site doing all sorts of things.It's like walking on to a Broadway set before dress rehearsal. Cranes and booms and cables and scissor lifts whirring about. Guys are on scaffolds, on ladders, in trailers, under stages, behind stages....There is a melange of Italian, English and French being spoken....And of course the cigarettes everywhere. Somehow I'm comfortable in all this. Sound guys, TV guys, timing guys, officials, cops, marshals, and sprinkled throughout all this are podium presenters. I cannot help notice this one Italian brunette with long hair and even longer legs stacked atop five-inch heels. Man after man shout to her from a distance. She responds to all with a pearlescent smile. Some get close and she adorns them with the classic double kiss. I can only apply one word to her looks: voluptuous. One man walked by gazing at her and stumbled over cable covers, nearly falling to the ground.

I had work to do. Accustomed to sorting these things out, I sift my way to the awards podium and realize I'm actually early. Traveling in some dirty shorts, a T-shirt, and a sport coat, I'm looking pretty bad. I hardly have a command presence. And with no sleep, I don't feel in command. These rehearsals are where I meet my counterpart in the native language. I've met some great announcers over the years. They are typically journalists who are passionate about the sport, knowledgable about the riders, connected with the promoters. Kaes in the Netherlands, Heinrich in Czech Republic, Mark in Belgium, Peter in Denmark, Rick in Australia, etc., etc., etc. All are good. Real good. Frankly, they all know more statistics and results than I.

Here I encounter Allesandro Barbella, who has worked the Giro and several other prior world championships. And yes, he's good.

We bumble through  through the awards with a small contingent. Then we head inside, where I meet Angelo, who is managing the production for the entire thing. We arrive to discover the largest production contingent I've ever seen pre-worlds. Typically we have about five people: the sound guy, the two announcers, the UCI person, and then the local person.

I count 13 people at the table, 12 of which speak Italian. And then the long tall brunette comes to the table, walks all the way around the table, and introduces herself to me. "Barbara Pedrotti". And she presents a card.

I have no idea what she is doing at the table. Nor can I fathom what the others are doing. After some basics in English, about how the rotation works, who goes where, how we'll be working the "RRRRRRRadio Toscana," what the rotation will be, Angelo turns to me.

"Richard, you are the leader; you are the boss."


Feeling like a child on the first day of kindergarten, I meekly accept the task while listening to how it will work. And then - even filtered through Italian - I realize I DO know how this thing will work. I  discuss the art of "catching" and "throwing" in announcing an event. I discuss the principle of "less being more", working with the music, using "ramps", and pacing the work. All stuff I've learned from Glenn Stillwell.

After I speak for 30 seconds in English, about three minutes of conversation breaks out in Italian. And then we do it again. Increasingly it becomes evident that one person has the greatest command of English: Barbara Pedrotti.

She will be helping as an announcer around the remote starts and as needed throughout the week. All the races start elsewhere and finish in Florence.

Then I learn the radio station has provided some DJs and personalities who will be on site, weaving into the program. I realize these guys really want a big show and they want me to run it. Like high school basketball, I'm running the three-man weave.

Barbara gives me a ride back to my hotel via the most arcane route possible. Only with a few days exploration of Firenze do I now realize how circuitous her route was.

I bid adieu and retire. I still have no bike. I still cannot see the attraction people have for Italia, for Toscana, and for Firenze.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Tuscany Chapter 1

Diary Sept. 21
Florence, Tuscany

I type because I can barely speak. My voice is like broken glass, shards of vowels and jagged consonants, only worsened by a wheezing, lingering cough and punctuated by eruptions of phlegm.

I can only pray that eight days in the Tuscan sun will rescue this situation. But I am bringing this shattered voice to the UCI World Road Championships, where I would announce for a week straight.

With more than 20 years experience announcing cycling events, I have developed a set of rules to protect a fragile voice. A voice for a professional speaker is like the arm of a professional pitcher; abused and then restored over and over and over. To protect the voice I have some rules I try to follow. Sadly I broke most of them in the days leading up to this important event.

This chaos started in San Simeon, a lonely California beach town with a Twilight Zone fog that cloaks a hidden neon monster far worse than anything that lured Ulysses into danger. I write, of course, of the karaoke bar.

After working to produce another highly successful Best Buddies Challenge: Hearst Castle, I informed my two guest elite riders, Benny Swedberg and Tobin Ortenblad, that they would not be going up to the Hearst Castle for a dip in the Neptune pool as they hoped. Instead our two elite guest riders were asked to help load boxes from our registration tents. Deflated, they crinkled their pressed suits around the bags, tents, and boxes kindly.

"Grab that," I instructed, pointing to the massive team cup, a silver chalice presented to the highest fund raising team. "That will come in handy."

After a curious look, Tobin, got the cup. We loaded into my rental car and headed towards San Simeon, pulling into the San Simeon Inn, the only institution with a bar still open.

"Let's go," I said, trophy in hand. They were incredulous.

From outside we could see the patrons, most seated, arms folded, legs exhausted from work stretched out, faces flat in response to a dreadful attempt to sing a Roy Orbison song.

The patrons included about two dozen Latino men, most of our event staging crew, a handful of our charity riders who had pedaled 100 miles from Carmel to San Simeon. Despite the occasional attempts by an Elvis impersonator to de-fibrillate these flat-lined corpses, most were too exhausted to move... Or were they?

I strode into this neon blue haze triumphantly, hoisted the cup above my head as if I had just won Wimbledon, and planted it on the table. Swedberg and Ortenblad seemed stunned.

Then it started. Waves of my colleagues and friends and riders and clients entered by the car load. There was whiskey and beer involved, but I swear I kept steering towards ginger ale. I strode about the place giving folks photo ops with the trophy, and little by little this fostered an almost tribal cohesion. Inevitably, somebody filled the cup with beer. And with each song sung, rock 'n' roll, country, Mexican ballads, the cup went to the singer for congratulatory swigs...  

After a day of announcing, I did my best "Get Off My Cloud," "Hey Ya," "Sweet Caroline," and even joined one of our ride teams we've nicknamed "The Mermaids" for a horrific rendition of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun."

The entire place veered out of control like a reckless bus of a party. Tired legs were renewed and dancing broke out, spilling into the sound equipment, the video monitors, and cocktail tables. The woman running the Karaoke with Elvis, an exhausted woman pushing 80 (and pushing it kinda hard), sat in a scowl as we smeared into her space.  Upon learning my colleague Jon Brideau had turned 29 that day, Elvis crooned birthday wishes followed by shots of tequila.... which I wisely avoided.

Surprisingly no ankles were sprained. No glass was broken. No marriages were ruined. No cars crashed. And yes, unlike the 1924 Montreal Canadiens, I remembered to bring home the trophy from the party, which had become a Petri dish of bacteria and viruses shared by all.

That I did not contract smallpox is surprising. But the next morning, September 8, I could feel a monstrous infection growing in my respiratory system. As of this writing on September 25 the last cells of that bacterial terrorist organization remain active in my body.

Sleep is the ultimate elixir for bodies, for minds, for souls .... and for voices. Screw that, right?

After the karaoke chaos, I collapsed into my room well after midnight. I have a problem in that regardless of when I go to bed or where I am on the planet my eyes flip open at roughly 5 to 7 a.m. EST.  

Like .... any where.

This curse is so profound that I rarely turn on alarms. True to form, I  bounce awake in San Simeon and go to work with a) getting everybody packed up, and b) getting my sorry ass to Northern California to visit with the Simpson family, my home away from home in California, and grab a redeye.

Mind you this would be the first of a redeye triathlon. I would do a redeye home from California and karaoke, work a week, ride my ass off, and then catch a morning flight to Las Vegas, a redeye home, and then another redeye to Europe.  

By the time I arrived in Italy my sleep cycle had been so scrambled I could find myself nodding off or waking up at the most unusual times and places.

A key to anything involving your physical being - be it cycling, dancing, modeling, announcing, surviving, etc. - is to hydrate. Makes sense, right? But it is so easy to end up de-hydrated. I firmly believe that a lot of people's hunger is actually their thirst.

That does not mean I actually practice what I preach...

As I swirl towards the World Championship experience,  I find myself drinking anything BUT the stuff I should be drinking.

To really enhance the dehydration process, I travel to the desert town of Las Vegas with about 3 percent humidity.  

So I broke that rule, eh?

Crowded bars, night clubs, sports bars, and any environment that requires one to drive their voice to simply get over the din are brutal for announcers. I have an idea, let's go to the Interbike show in Vegas!

With that, let's just add I announced at 'Cross Vegas, watching Katerina Nash and Sven Nys provide a clinic on cyclo-cross.

That was followed by the next night announcing the USA Crits Final at Mandalay Bay,  a phenomenal crit under the lights. I went from that event directly to the airport for a 1 a.m. flight.

Both events are promoted with a fanfare and production value rarely seen in American races, most of which are conducted as slaughterhouses with rider entries funding the entire enterprise. These evening events only showcase about four events on the card and then focus on fans. And there were 10,000-plus on Wednesday and 4,000-plus on Thursday. The bigger the crowd the harder you push. I push hard.

I pushed hard - really hard - both nights. I worked the first night with John Lefler and Larry Longo, two of the best in the business whom I fly in for Providence. The following night, I worked with Chad Andrews, whose enthusiasm for cycling drips off every word he utters.

As an aside I must say that seeing Dave Towle, who did the live webcast commentary, was a treat. He has a most infectious sense of humor that always results in me laughing hard enough to pass legumes through my sinuses.

So we broke that rule.

Have I mentioned I was serving as a production consultant for the inaugural Connecticut Cycling Festival held in Hartford while I was in Italy? My first pair of announcers backed out the week prior, and I had to scramble to fill their spots with two others. Fortunately I learned of the availability of Ian Sullivan, a new announcer I had yet to hear, and the legendary Joe Jefferson. I had to manage several details, write several checks, and leave several notes before I left for Vegas.

And yes, I'm heading up a great staff putting on the Providence Cyclo-cross Festival, which is like putting on an outdoor wedding for 5,000 to be held Oct. 4-6, about four days after I return from Europe.

So I fly to Paris, unable to sleep on that leg of the journey. I make the most confusing transfer in the world's most confusing airport, Charles Degaulle, to a small plane headed for Pisa.

Boom. I pass out. Like totally zonked to the point where I never even see Pisa for the landing and the staff have to wake me up so they can clean the plane.

Fogged over from the sleep, I stumble down the stairway to the glare of the Tuscan sun which strikes me as  lot like Southern California but in miniature, and hop on a shuttle.  I enter this modest airport's baggage area which is before we get to immigration, only to discover the bathroom is out of order.  I really had to pee.

Although "AIR FRANCE" never appears on any monitor belts begin to whir about with luggage. Shuttle after shuttle empty. Belt after belt churns. I begin to realize half the folks here are American tourists, and most of those are over age 70. And most of those are really cranky about the bathroom the signage the luggage and generally the lack of a Denny's anywhere nearby.

My bags don't arrive.

I really have to pee.

But my beloved Firefly with S and S couplings making its European debut is lost. We manage to find my one suitcase but the bike is lost.

And framed by all those elements, I land in a country where I don't know the language, the geography, the customs, and a single human being, and prepare to announce the most prestigious single-day bike race in the world. In effect, I'm walking into a temple that will hold 300,000 people - of which 100,000 have an encyclopedic knowledge of cycling - and I'm expected to preach the sermon.

Avoid stress you say?

Check that one off.

Completely shattered with little sleep, no voice, a bladder full of urine, sinuses loaded with phlegm, and a cell phone loaded with text message and e-mails, I exit the baggage area without my beloved bike. The electric doors slide open and there stands an unshaven young man in a T-shirt with a piece of notebook paper scrawled with one word "FRIES."

Werner is Portuguese. I'm American. We're in Italy. We pile into a Skoda van, drop the windows, and head for Firenze (Florence). The Tuscan wind blows joy into my body. I'm revived.

And we're off. Welcome the 2013 UCI Road World Championships. Hang on.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Winning Over the Old Man Wilsons of American Politics

Winning Over the Old Man Wilsons of American Politics

Much has been written and stated regarding Washington gridlock lately. Coming from the National Bike Summit this past week, I can report one piece of good news. On Capitol Hill the bicycle lobby - and most of the proposed bike legislation - is increasingly received warmly by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. The same guys who have been locked in some weird prison fight, one wrist taped to one hand and a shank in the other, have come to appreciate the happy, healthy bike stuff.

For a decade we've been nice and patient, knowing bicycling's truths to be self-evident. We learned to take off the day-glow vest and put on a suit or a dress, to shave, wear deodorant, and not to eat lentils out of a faded yogurt container during a meeting with a U.S. Senator. With polite persistence from us, even James Imhofe (R-Oklahoma) will get it. These guys have been to enough bike path ribbon cuttings; they have received enough positive constituent feedback from business owners; they have been fed enough economic data. They have come to realize the ROI on bike investments - in both financial and political currency - could be better than any other crust of bread available in this political refugee camp.

Here is the good news from Washington. After 13 years of lobbying by advocates and industry leaders (sadly the racing community does not show up) the folks on Capitol Hill no longer see bicyclists as easy targets. I enjoyed watching 10 lawmakers, from both sides of the aisle, speak at our Bikes PAC reception. I relished the speech a day prior by Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, a Republican and stalwart supporter of bike investments. And I was privileged to be at a private dinner with former Rep. James Oberstar.

I came to this year's summit somewhat deflated and defeated. After the 2010 election and ensuing financial acid bath, federal funding had dissolved. Our ranking champion Oberstar had been bounced out of office by a nut-job Tea Party candidate. Much seemed lost.

But every lawmaker had one message: Physician Heal Thyself. These guys used to laugh at this dis-organized and disheveled mob. But some, especially Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) rallied our forces. Every politician who spoke had enormous praise for how our forces - actually rewiring all the circuitry after the disastrous 2010 election - simply flowed around any and all obstacles, like water. We kept things going with or without Washington's help.

Like Obi-Wan Kenobi taking the sword from Darth Vader with his protege Luke Skywalker watching, Oberstar, who had organized, galvanized and trained these Jedi Knights of bike advocacy delivered a message this year: You can win on your own.  And the games is being played in your hometown.

Indeed the victories in bike advocacy are no longer in Washington DC. Great bike policy has gone viral. And its not just in Portland or Boulder. There are so many great things happening in such unlikely places as Atlanta, Indianapolis, Memphis, Richmond, and Orlando.  Even AAA, historically an enemy of any transportation funding for anything BUT automobiles and highways, has become pro-bike, going so far as to develop television ads promoting cycling and sharing the road. And they sponsored the summit just to get this word out.

And there is more going on than just bike lanes and bike paths. Commercial real estate developers in such horrid places as Tyson's Corner - which went from being Virginia farm land in the 1950s to the 12th largest commercial center in America without even being a formal municipality - are starting over to erect new buildings that weave transit and cyclepaths and bike parking into their design.  Aaron Georgelas, a developer and cyclists overseeing the construction, described this as the "most important suburban experiment in the world." They have realized that in 1990 walk-up traffic in stores was at just 24 percent. But by 2001 that number had grown to 33 percent and by 2009 that figure had leapt up to 49 percent.

These "Beltway" communities, suffering from perhaps the worst traffic congestion in America, have surrendered after decades of incessant construction. They have realized that widening highways to alleviate congestion is akin to letting out one's belt to alleviate obesity. After 50 years of relying on highway designs developed in the 1950s, engineers and planners and developers have started over. Woven into those new manuals are bicycles. This community has fallen in love with the Washington and Old Dommion Rail Trail, the Mount Vernon Trail, the C & O Canal Towpath, and countless other bike facilities that also serve walkers and skaters and joggers.

Get this, Arlington County, Virginia, will no longer issue a certificate of occupancy to a new commercial building unless it provides indoor bike parking, welcoming bike access (no more locking your bike behind the dumpsters) and showers for its tenants.

I have often stated that the easiest way to build a bike path is to build a bike path. By this I mean once you have one path, it's easier to show the benefits and then build a second. But now that reference point is being established with businesses trying to both attract customers and retain employees. I do not know of any bike facility, lane, or path in America that has failed. Even in such regions considered politically hostile to cycling as Florida, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Mississippi, bike paths flourished. No community has ever torn up a path or painted over a lane to revert back to its prior design. These lanes and paths are simply assimilated into the traffic landscape in the surprisingly stressless fashion with which a family adds another child. There is a bike lane down the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue, arguably America's most famous street, and the motorists have not been impacted at all.

Another example is in Brooklyn, where city planners overcame inflammatory journalism and a hysterical minority opposition to construct a European style separated bike lane in 2010. The rewards have proven staggering. Sales tax revenues along that strip have gone up 50 percent since the project was completed. And the commercial vacancy rate has  dropped to zero.

A major revolution is underway, according to Bruce Katz of The Brookings Institute. He described this as the "urbanization of the suburbs." Where sprawling strip malls are dying, developers and communities are turning inward to create centers that have urban feel and cater to walk-up access and bike riding customers. His findings on demographic trends proved astounding, including one that indicated the automobile to no longer be such an aspirational object for American youth. In the 1990s more than 50 percent of 18 year olds had a drivers licenses; that number has plummeted to just 29 percent. While a teen coming of age in the 1950s saw the car as freedom and independence, a teen coming of age today sees the car as an expensive, cumbersome and dangerous hassle that needs to be purchased, insured, fueled, parked, registered, and maintained just for the privilege of sitting in a smoldering line of traffic.

Cyclists, however, hold certain truths to be self-evident.

But my takeaway from DC in 2013 is is that it is not about DC. It's about you and your town and your business and your lifestyle. You need to be the change you want to see. And the Federal and State governments - struggling to deal with obesity, energy supply and climate change - will support you.

This came to light for me a week prior to the National Bike Summit.  I attended a public hearing, what may be the final hearing, in a different Arlington, the one in Massachusetts. After five years of hearings, debates, votes, editorials, social media campaigns, leaflets, and placards, the public filled the Town Hall to review this plan to take a mile long stretch of Massachusetts Avenue, presently as lawless as the OK Corral, and add medians to protect pedestrians and bike lanes for cyclists. But in order to use the $5 million in approved Federal funds, they would need to ascribe to national standards for lane width. Hence this lawless and lane-less strip would need to go down from four lanes to three for motor traffic.

This has infuriated a sector of the public who complain of morning congestion on that roadway all ready. Reviewing the audience, I realized the vanguard of the opposition to be cut from the Old Man Wilson cloth. You know the guy, Dennis the Menace's neighbor portrayed by Walter Matthau. They were mostly overweight, probably in bad health, looked to be in some physical discomfort, and pretty pissed off in general. Get this, one guy was stupid enough to spend $100,000 of his own money to defeat this plan.

I learned that despite unanimous support from the Board of Selectmen, majority support from Town Meeting, support from state lawmakers, support from town engineers, and about 80 percent of the speakers being in favor of this plan, a handful of Old Man Wilsons can stall things in America. If you read a Ezra Klein's article in the Jan. 28, 2013, issue of The New Yorker on how the filibuster has crippled Congress from passing any meaningful legislation, you realize how much easier we've made it to stop things from happening than to make things happen in our system.

We need to be patient, like water. The average age of a new car buyer in America has now reached 55, the oldest of all time. For folks over the age of 55, those born prior to 1957, the only thing they have known is the ever expanding network of roads and infrastructure for one mode of transit: the automobile.

But I realized that affairs in Arlington, Mass., are just as important as those here on Capitol Hill. When studying cycling infrastructure, as with military history, we must realize that geographic choke points are what converts places such as Ticonderoga into historically significant locales.

And this is what the opponents to the Arlington plan, and bike haters everywhere, cannot fathom. The locus of their logic is that the bicycle is a toy used solely for some gleeful Pee Wee Herman spree. The Minuteman Bikeway runs from Bedford through Lexington and in to Arlington Center, where it crosses Mass. Ave and continues about 1.5 miles southeast towards the Alewife subway station. But for those heading due south into or out of Cambridge or Boston for work or shopping by bike, the straight line is Mass Ave and not the bike path. In short, it's the hypotenuse of the triangle. Staying on the bike path adds about 10 minutes to the commute of the average Boston-bound cyclist.

If the Arlington plan goes forward, legions of soft-core cyclists - students, commuters, children - will be able to comfortably roll north from Boston and Cambridge to the Minuteman Bikeway with a safer, dedicated bike lane. And this means restaurants, coffee shops, doctors, dentists, movie theaters, gift shops, specialty shops, and that adorable salvage shop nobody notices when whirring by at 45 mph in a car will get more business.

People and animals prefer the shortest distance between two points. And Arlington, like Ticonderoga, is a choke point between the high tech and bio tech and defense tech jobs and internships of the Boston Beltway and the worlds largest college town. College kids ride bikes. And young parents saving for a home ride bikes. And middle-age folks trying to fix their hearts and lungs and heads ride bikes.

All the stuff written about here, however, is all "pull" marketing. Meaning the self-evident benefits of cycling - less expensive, more expedient, less stressful, more healthful - are the only thing working to date. Like a boxer with just one hand, we're winning over the Old Man Wilsons of the world.

But the "push" marketing is the second hand.  When Peak Oil hits in the coming years (many forecasters, including such wild-eyed hippies as Deutsche Bank and Bloomberg, see 2016 as the critical year) gasoline prices are expected to dramatically rise. Some see $8 a gallon in the near future.  

At such a juncture, our society will no longer view cycling as something Americans want, but instead what Americans need.

The blueprints are being laid out today for that change. Capitol Hill is ready to support this when the mandate arrives. They have learned, as Janette Sadik-Khan, New York City's Transportation Commissioner, stated during the Summit: "Turns out that what is good for Trek, is good for America."

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Firefly Can Light Up the Darkest Month

Let's start with a text sent to my good friend Gary Thornton on Feb. 23 at 6:37 p.m.


At that moment me, two of my children, and wife were preparing to head into Boston for a People for Bikes fund raiser, ostensibly to softly launch the third edition of Tim Johnson's Ride on Washington.

I had gone through the woods that morning to harvest fire wood to heat my home in the wood stove as the oil tank was empty. I had scoured the refrigerator of our dwindling supplies for some dinner. My wife had emptied the change jar to get our daughter some butter so she could make cookies for Tim Johnson, who had texted his request to her.  And I checked the gas gauge on the Subaru, comforted to see the fuel light had not flicked on...yet. With a winter storm gathering, I questioned the wisdom of our attendance at yet another festive event as we anxiously moved up Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

I had spent the bulk of the day at the Lexington Depot helping out with the inaugural Best Buddies Indoor Time Trial. "Are you getting paid for that," my wife had asked sternly the day before.

"Nope," I replied, adding nothing. The silence roared her frustration with our state of affairs. Who could blame her?

When flirting with co-eds, there's a maxim that is oft repeated by college boys, especially the ones with liberal arts majors and no freakin' clue what to do after graduation:  "Do what you love and the money will follow," they proudly exclaim. And usually about five years after that those guys are jaded and doing something they do not love but saving for a home and paying for kids and then saving for retirement....

I'm living proof that the maxim can truly be applied to a life. But the first word is "do." And know that all love, always, will be tested. And the money may not be that much. And exactly how far behind that money will follow you is constantly in question.

My family has been patient and forgiving with me, following this Don Quixote husband and father as my Sancho Panzas of reality. The travel, the events, the fund raisers, and the campaigns to the make the world right and just for every deserving cyclist....all is fine so long as the mortgage gets paid and the children get fed and the house feels heated.

Two weeks prior to this weekend my luck, after a number of years, ran out. With a son in college, a massive mortgage, an overdue tax bill, broken appliances, home insurance, car insurance, holiday bills, dental bills, and assorted financial meteors were crashing through the roof. And the shimmer of Louisville's World Championships had worn off as I waited for the wire transfer from Europe to right our ship. Each day became a scene from a Samuel Beckett play; each time I logged on my bank account it felt like another match burned by Jack London as winter and darkness closed around me.

And with the gloom of February on our sky, the dashboard gauge for every commodity of our lives - gas, firewood, food, heating oil - went into the red zone.  Me going off to serve yet again as an evangelist for cycling did not go over well. At such manic moments every expenditure of money, time or energy is harshly scrutinized.  And few are embraced...

On the dashboard of my life, however, the one red light that has never come on was the bike. Bikes keep working practically for free. They rarely fail you.

So off I went to the indoor time trial to put on a happy face to encourage more people to tilt at the windmill of cycling with me...

I have a great relationship with Best Buddies, a great organization for which I work part time helping to convert executives into bike nuts. They grant me flexibility with my schedule and enable me to pursue my passions in cycling. There are times I get the better end of the deal; and times they get the better end of the deal.

This indoor time trial had proven truly successful with nearly 60 participants on Computrainers run by Performance Breakthrough Coaching. With openings in the final slot I had opted to jump in. I rolled my bike up to John Caton, the mechanic from Belmont Wheelworks kind enough to support our event, and asked him to simply lube the chain. Mind you  the bike was in horrible condition from a month of winter commuting.

"I know, I know," I said. "I'm about three weeks away from just tossing the cassette and chain."

John looked aghast as the salt and the grit and the gooey residue of lube and dirt on the drive train. "You just need a new bike.... No, seriously, you need a new bike."

But I loved this bike, a 1996 Merlin Extralight. I had overhauled it about two year earlier with a Sram Red Group and Mavic Ksyriums. I adored this bike despite its dinged top tube and one-inch head tube. This thing - with fenders and stickers and a worn saddle - had outperformed The Africa Queen and still begged to be pushed harder and faster. This bike had seen national championships, stage races, a ride from New York to Boston, festivals, urban adventures, and countless sloppy commutes through Boston winters. This bike had been locked to racks during countless public hearings and testimonies and pep rallies to improve cycling. And this rig proudly made the 2012 Ride on Washington with bikes far younger and more modern.

And this bike rode comfortably. Recently Kevin Wolfson, one of the founders of Firefly Bicycles in Boston, had e-mailed about my fit, noting a customer had commented how well I sat on that Merlin. While I just felt right on the bike, I confessed to Kevin to having never really done much measurement save for knowing my seat height to always be 74.5 cm.

After being prodded a few times by Kevin, I finally got out a plumb bob and level and measuring tape. I became somewhat self conscious. What if my fit turned out to be the goofiest of contortions? This was me, the guy teaching all sorts of corporate big shots about cycling for Best Buddies and other adventures. The process bugged me.

Ultimately I did a lot of research, especially on saddle setback. There is little done on this which is kind of important. I found myself absorbed by a little known guru of fit: Bernard Hinault. Le Blaireau had actually written about fit in the early 1980s and his format would be used by Greg LeMond and Laurent Fignon and other European hard men. It's a balanced fit between the powerful aero position of the Dutch and Belgians and the upright climbing set up of the Spaniards. Let's leave triathletes out of the discussion entirely.

My measurements, I boasted to Kevin, were spot on according to Hinault's formula! And I had done this all without lasers or algorithms or protractors! Imagine that.

I proudly grabbed this old perfectly fit bike for the time trial. Dirty and fendered, it locked into the trainer. I warmed up a bit, jumping off to make announcements, change music, and top off my water bottle, and then jumping back on. A friend grabbed the tire and noted my low tire pressure, which I use in the icy conditions, and suggested more. I gassed them both up to 110 psi. I continued my warm up and readied for the painful 20 minute race. Moments before the start I heard the explosion. My rear tire, its casing raw from all the salt, blew apart on the sidewall.

The final dashboard light of my life came on. Even my bike, this perfectly fit,  beautifully storied bike, had failed me....

A rider offered me a rear wheel, but knowing the horrid condition of my chain and cassette, I asked John to switch over the cassette to the loaner wheel. When the cogs came apart in John's hands everybody could see the sludge that had amassed. Holding this syrupy stack of pancakes, he crammed it all together.  I re-mounted the bike into the trainer.

The race proved painful but worthwhile. Jeff Capobianco, the coach and boss of Breakthrough Performance Coaching, charged through the 10 k course. I tried to stay with him initially but realized the futility. He was putting out a solid 400 watts; I chose to stay at 275. He set the fastest time of day. I rode respectably to second in that group and 19th overall.

Not bad for a fat old man and dirty old bike and borrowed wheel, eh?

Still shaky from my ride, I helped with cleanup and started wrapping up sound equipment. In came Thom Parsons, the talented videographer from He complained about believing he could ride in the 3 p.m. heat, which did not exist.

Nonplussed by the disappointment, he pulled out his video camera - as he does at every event - and did a quick stand up with me explaining where we were and what I was doing. I went on and on about Best Buddies and the time trial.

Then he paused and asked me to talk about this 1996 Merlin, which I adored.

"So when are you going to get a carbon fiber bike?" he asked.

I replied that if I was to buy a dream bike it would be a Boston-built titanium bike.....either Seven or Firefly.  The things are light, fast and bomb-proof. And they handle everything with elegance. End of interview. And he rolled on to meet at the fund raiser.

After breakdown and clean up I went home, where I anxiously puttered about - still shaky from the ITT -  as my wife and kids got ready to join me for the trip to Boston.  Then I remembered the door charge was $5 for an event I was supposedly to help present. This corrosive panic came over me.

I live by the mantra, if you have to ask for something you don't deserve it.  But it became evident to me that I did not even have the $20 to cover the donation at the door for all four of us. And then I learned Grant, our oldest son at Suffolk University, would be coming.

I sheepishly sent the text above to Gary Thornton, who had come all the way up from Pennsylvania to promote this fund raiser.  And he replied:


Given Gary's devotion and effort going into this thing, I felt relieved to see the threat of a winter storm had softened. Frankly I could not figure why a guy from Philly would put on a fund raiser in Boston. He had claimed the advice came from my friend Bruno Maier at People for Bikes, noting the Boston scene just had more going on for advocacy. We left our house in a dark drizzle and carefully nursed the Subaru to Boston without the fuel light coming on.

Once inside I spotted Gary and tried to help he and his delightful girlfriend, Janine Carroll, get the room set up. We were there about 20 minutes early to do just that. As I took lids off deli platters and set out food, my adorable daughter Emma, who loves to attend cycling events with me, stayed within inches of me, lightly punching me the entire time, as I walked about. Madison, my youngest son, took my Samsung phone and started the battery drain with games. As the crowd filtered in, my daughter continued to pelt me with  affectionate punches, as I greeted the guests and worked with Gary to develop the "run of show."

Tim Johnson texted Emma to let her know he was running late....which is standard for Tim. Gary and I reviewed the run of show. The brewery team would start the event with a description of the beers being sampled.  And then I would go on. Then Tim.

Guests streamed in. I cannot begin to name them all but they were all fantastic friends and loyal supporters of cycling in the Boston market. Most were at the first Redbone's events I helped to promote. Others put on 'cross races or crits. They are all stalwart supporters of cycling for both sport and transit.

One attendee truly stunned me with her attendance.  Kate Powlison of Bikes Belong not only made the trip, she did so from her hometown of Erie, Pa., with her mother! Kate lives in Boulder, rode the Ride on Washington (and then the Reve Women's Tour de France). A graduate of Williams College, Kate continues to defend the merits of New England bike culture against anybody in Colorado, California, or Oregon.

Hmmm.....Long way to go for a Harpoon, I thought, but it is fine beer.

Tim arrived, grabbed the cookies from Emma, and we readied for the pitch. The basic Tim Johnson Ride on Washington dog and pony show ....It's one which I am the dog and he is the pony.

Right before I went on, Tim tugged at my elbow.

"Keep it short....I'll talk about Ride on Washington....You just keep it short."

I've been doing this awhile. I can stretch it out; I can speed it up. I can edit on the fly.

I had nothing written, so I took Tim's cues, hopped up on the chair and spoke about how important Tim is to advocacy. And how important it is for racers to embrace advocacy. And how important getting cool people to embrace advocacy - not just in their statements but in how they ride - is to our movement. "Be the change you want to see," I told the crowd. And then I introduced Tim.

He had set the trap. Gary had set the trap. Kevin had set the trap. My daughter Emma and my wife had set the trap. Thom had set the trap. Bruno had set the trap. Kate had set the trap.

Tim started to speak...ostensibly about advocacy. But in a lecturing judo move he nimbly changed topics and instead spoke about ... well... me.

Ride on Washington never came up. He just went on and on about .... me.

Then Gary leapt up on the chair and went on and on .... about ....well .... me. At this point I'm feeling really uneasy. Tim whispered in my ear, "They got something for's a water bottle."

By then I realize the whole thing had been a ruse. The entire audience had come out for me. And then Kevin Wolfson, our navigator for the Ride on Washington, wheels out a custom ti Firefly.  The folks at Sram had donated a Red group and Zipp 101 wheels. And they had it built to my specs, gathered up through a range of faux questions from Kevin and my daughter, claiming to be working on a geometry project for a teacher. And Harpoon, the greatest brewery on the planet, had donated the space. Dozens of people in the cycling community had donated to this cause. My cause.

In football they called it getting "ear-holed," when you are clobbered by an unseen blocker.

I was speechless....aghast....embarrassed. Where I am so well-spoken in public, I stammered   and stumbled about thanking those I could. There were photos. There were hugs. I could not get my breath.

Finally I had to help evacuate the back room and get my kids home. We put this piece of art on the roof of the Subaru, in a pelting rain. As we motored through Boston the fuel light came on.

After dropping off my son at Suffolk University with a tray of sandwiches, we splattered up Arlington Heights where the rain converted to snow. We got to Lexington. We shuffled into our cold home. I made popcorn and the four of us bundled into the bed together, laughing and wrestling and glowing in each others' warmth.

The only thing we did have at that moment was each other.

I woke up pre-dawn, started a fire with the last of the wood, sipped coffee and studied this new bike as one views a sleeping puppy just brought home, trying to imagine our future. I simply glowed. I had a new, sturdy and invincible bike.

The next day, the wire transfer came from Europe.

Thank you to all for getting me through such a dark moment with the brightest of friends and warmest of family.

I will pay it forward.