Tuesday, February 26, 2008

There Will Be Ice

Last night I had dinner in Long Beach, where I live. That was nice. I was in Long Beach one night last week for dinner too.

This morning I got up and drove to meet my cousin, and we jumped on a plane and went somewhere colder.

Piet Mondrian

The clouds drifted slowly across the Plains in loose ranks like herds of buffalo grazing.

Transistors on a circuit board

Our flight connected through O’Hare.

This was as close as we got to seeing Chicago.

For those keeping score at home, here’s the current weather outlook.

(Latest word as I type this: Tomorrow’s high will be 18°F.)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Get on Your Bikes and Ride

The starting gate for today’s time-trial Prologue of the Tour of California was right in front of Palo Alto’s City Hall. The gent on the left is counting down the seconds before this rider from Team Astana (Ivanov? Kemps?) launches down the ramp and hits the road.

The course ran down Hamilton Avenue to Cowper, took a sharp left to University Avenue, then doubled back up University toward Stanford. Here Dmytro Grabovskyy of QuickStep hustles past the Stanford Theater, which was refurbished several years ago by David Packard (son of the famous founder of Hewlett-Packard) and now features classic films with cartoons, newsreels, and a mighty Wurlitzer organ. (Grabovskyy finished 19th in a field of 132 riders—not bad!)

Bobby Julich, whom we had seen a few minutes before as he wheeled off to the start line, hammers toward El Camino Real.

Rabobank’s Paul Martens pushes along under Alma Street and the CalTrain railroad tracks.

Bradley Wiggins comes up from the underpass on his way to an impressive second-place finish.

Rory Sutherland of HealthNet strains every muscle for the stopwatch.

I’m all for any team sponsored by Jelly Belly. Here their Matthew Rice strokes up Palm Drive toward the Oval and the finish in front of the Stanford Quad.

Not to be outdone by snack foods, Chipotle Mexican Grill had to field a team, and they got David Millar on board. (Technically it’s Team Slipstream, powered by Chipotle. Whatevs.) He’s quite good. He’s another guy who’s worn one of those little yellow shirts the French dole out on certain days in July. And in this picture he’s wearing the jersey he won as the 2007 British National Road Race Champion. He finished ninth today, eight seconds behind the winner.

Slipstream, by the way, had four of the top 10 riders today, and five of the team’s eight riders finished in the top 15. Not bad.

QuickStep’s Paolo Bettini, gold medal winner from the 2004 Athens Olympics, 2006 and 2007 World Road Race Champion, 3-time champion of the UCI Road World Cup series (2002, 2003, 2004). Also has won stages of the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a EspaƱa—the big three annual national cycling ordeals. The big teams aren’t sending their B-list riders to the Tour of California.

Antonio Cruz rides across Stanford campus, this year for BMC. Last year he rode on Discovery’s team, together with George and Levi and Alberto and that whole crowd.

Watch this guy closely. Fabian Cancellara is about to win today’s Prologue, covering 2.1 miles in 3:51. (For me, that’s a good average time to cover a mile.) He’s a two-time World Time Trial Champion, and he’s wearing the jersey to signify it.

By winning the Prologue, Mr. Cancellara became the first non-U.S. rider ever to wear the leader’s “Gold Jersey.”

George Hincapie started second to last (the honor of the final start position went to Santa Rosa’s Levi Leipheimer, who won the Tour of California last year). He came in only 10 seconds behind Cancellara today, which a rider like George can pretty easily make up for over the next week. His team—High Road—also did fine, with Bradley Wiggins taking second overall. Three of High Road’s eight riders finished in the top 10 places, and five in the top 15, leaving the team in first place overall right now.

Warming Trend

Team Gerolsteiner warms up in front of Palo Alto City Hall.

Today the 2008 Tour of California kicked off with its Prologue ride through the streets of Palo Alto and Stanford, where I rode my bike growing up. I felt like Dave in Breaking Away, energized beyond belief when he hears that his heroes from Team Cinzano are coming to ride in his Midwestern hometown. Cinzano isn’t a major team sponsor anymore, but the teams whose buses were parked all over downtown Palo Alto today were all the big headliners whose names I see every year when I’m watching the Tour de France.

The large crowd of spectators was well behaved, and the Tour organizers gave us all excellent access to the teams before the riders started. My brother and I wandered around checking out who was warming up next and what gear they had.

The Prologue was a “time trial.” That means that instead of riding in a pack, jockeying to see who can get to the front by the end, the riders start off one by one, at one-minute intervals, and they race the course alone, each striving for the best solo time. Riders in time trials use special bikes designed to be more aerodynamic than a regular road cycle. This model from Specialized has remarkably low handlebars. Time trial bikes aren’t built for comfort.

The guy on the left is Oscar Freire, three-time World Cycling Champion, riding for Rabobank. Sitting there calmly warming up before his stint in the time trial, right there about a half-block from where Ramona’s Pizza used to be. He very charmingly let several people take pictures with him as he came up to speed.

On the cycle closest to us is Jens Voigt, who has worn the leader’s yellow jersey twice in the Tour de France and consistently plays a prominent role in whichever team he’s riding for.

Bobby Julich has been riding with Jens Voigt on Team CSC since 2004, and they rode together on Credit Agricole’s team a couple of years before that. Bobby won the Paris-Nice road race in 2005. He came out of the trailer as we were watching Jens start his warmup. Bobby was due to start in a few minutes. He put in a few last warmup strokes on his machine, then rolled off toward the starting line. We saw him on the course a few minutes later.

After the race, most of the riders headed off to their hotels for some well-earned quiet time. Here’s Levi Leipheimer at his team trailer, where he was finishing up with putting away his cycle. We saw George Hincapie in the parking lot too, putting in a few minutes of cool-down time on rollers before heading for the showers.

Roads, Rides, Rules

Right in front of this window dozens of world-class cyclists were warming up for an international road race. All the exercise equipment in this room sat idle.

(I’m actually in this one three times, if you count my shadow.)

Dude, some of us would like to just get across this street so we can get home and have some pizza. How soon are these bikers going to round up their little road rally?

Ivy League videographer. (Check out that great hat!)

Riding into the light.

And the desired outcome is . . . ?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Passing Nod

A friend once defined a crank as anyone self-educated to a level of expertise on a given topic.

In cycling, cranks may fit into the bottom brackets, but everyone knows they’re what keep things moving forward.

In a little piece of synchronicity, I ran across Sheldon Brown’s name twice in the past week.

The second time was when I had a look at my old friend Al’s StumbleUpon page. Al recently ran across Sheldon Brown’s humor page and liked the haiku about (or by) dogs.

The earlier mention of Sheldon Brown was on the Astana team website, in a blog entry by Chris Brewer, who took time out from building homes for cancer survivors in New Orleans to note Sheldon’s passing. He died last week of a heart attack following several months of struggling against multiple sclerosis.

Nobody’s starting a campaign to make Sheldon’s birthday a national holiday; there will be no state funeral for a bike mechanic. But in his low-key, idiosyncratic way, Sheldon put in his best effort over the years to help bring light to people who wandered into his corner of the world looking for assistance.

Sheldon Brown knew an enormous amount about how bikes are put together and how to maintain them. He didn’t keep his wisdom under his hat; he shared it with the world on his website about bicycle technology. He spoke with equal authority and patience on everything from coaster brakes to PowerTap hubs.

I can vouch for the guy: More than once, trying to figure out the right way to repair or adjust some doohickey on my own bike, I ran across one of Sheldon’s pages when I did a Google search on the problem. I have various printed bike-repair manuals too, but often it helps to have more than one perspective on a repair or upgrade before you start tearing things apart.

I don’t think I ever ran across a Sheldon Brown page that sounded like generic instructions or that didn’t show his distinctive personality. I always found his remarks complete and thorough; they tended to anticipate exactly the problems a typical gearhead would run into. He always offered his opinions on what made sense to him, and frequently peppered his advice with specific experiences he’d had.

For those of us who lie in bed at night and think about goosenecks and crank pullers, down tubes and gear ratios, Sheldon provided an invaluable online compendium on the mechanisms of cycling. Since he published so exhaustively, his legacy remains. We cyclists can be grateful a guy like Sheldon came our way.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Me and George Hincapie Conquer the Hills

Big George accepting my challenge. As you can see, he’s riding for Team High Road this year. High Road rose from the ashes of T-Mobile, a winning team that had been sponsored for years by Deutsche Telekom, until last year they decided to withdraw support. George rode for years with the U.S. Postal/Discovery team (as it changed sponsors), but left that team last year right before it broke up. He will be competing in this year’s Tour of California, and he told us all he’s going for the win.

I’d ride in the Tour too, but I have a day job. It is a shame to miss all that scenery. But the coffee’s free where I work.

The guy speaking is from Amgen’s anti-cancer team. Next to him is a woman from The Wellness Community, a non-profit that helps folks with cancer. Next to her is a cancer survivor. Then of course Big George—or, as the announcer called him, “General George.” He’s 6'3" tall, which means I had a minor height advantage over him—I’m shorter, so I don’t block quite so much wind.

He weighs somewhat less than me, though, so I suppose he gets the girth advantage.

But that means I’m carrying more fuel to help me up those hills.

All the people who came to ride the hills. The organizers asked us to wear our jerseys, so they could identify which riders were with the group.

I didn’t know any of these people when I took this picture, but it’s funny to see it later, because now I recognize a few of them.

The kid in the lower left corner rode out ahead of me with some others early in the ride, but got clobbered on the first major hill, where I overtook him. I commiserated as I caught up with him, explaining that I train only on the flat. He was right up to speed and said it was a few months since he’d been on a bike at all. Everyone has to have a story for why they’re struggling. He was a good companion for a while—he caught up to me again on the flat, and we drafted each other for a few miles. Then we hit some more hills, and again my legs had a little more left in them. I looked back, and he was further behind me, and then further, and then I didn’t see him. By the end of the ride, I don’t think he was more than a couple of minutes behind me. I saw him after we finished.

The guy in the yellow helmet passed me about a mile before the finish, with one other guy. I’m not sure where they came from—there hadn’t been anyone behind me for quite a while. I was still going strong. They were the only two who passed me on the ride.

The guy in the white helmet right behind him—with a red wrist protector—led out early in the ride with another friend. About three or four other people from our “wave” (we started in bunches of a couple dozen riders at a time) surged out and joined him. I tagged along behind them by a few bike lengths, half drafting, until we hit that first big hill and they hiked right up and over it while I lagged a bit. Except for at the turnaround, I didn’t see them again until after the ride.

Everyone was very friendly, not competitive. Lots of good riders. It was a real pleasure to be with this group.

This is Big George and the posse he started with. Hmm. This picture is from in front of George Hincapie. Hmm.

I got George’s autograph on my route map after the race, and wished him luck in the coming Tour of California. I also thanked him for the jerseys. (They say Amgen in big letters, but I noticed they were his clothing brand.) He was very laid back and accessible.

The hills were gorgeous and green for the whole ride, but I didn’t stop to take any pictures, so you’ll just have to imagine them.

I was mostly just there for the ride, but I didn’t mind the cause either. On my ride up to the starting point, I took a spin around the cemetery where we buried Dad after he lost his fight with cancer back when I was in college.

The ride to the starting point also took me past my old middle school, where the principal—Leo Lowe—way back in the 1970s used to encourage me to stay fit, to the point of taking me and some of my fellow students to San Francisco on weekends to run in races organized by the Dolphins Club and some other groups, 10K races on scenic routes through the city. I lost touch with Leo Lowe long ago, after he moved to Southern California to a good position with another school district. But it pleased me to know that if I could stop in the office today and see Mr. Lowe, I’d be able to give him a good report on the effects of his influence decades later.

The other guy back then who encouraged me to stay fit—along with Dad and Leo Lowe—was my uncle Dick, who sent me Ken Cooper’s original Aerobics book when I was a lad, not too many years after the term was first coined. It explained scientifically how running and swimming and cycling worked to keep folks healthy. At the time Cooper’s ideas seemed a little out of left field to most people, like one more fitness fad. I put Dad’s and Dick’s names up on the signature wall where riders could mark their connections with people who had fought cancer.

And the whole ride started at the Stanford Blood Center, where Mom spent a lot of hours over the years, giving a pint at a time, in pretty much uncelebrated generosity. I have a few free T-shirts she gave me from time to time when the Blood Center celebrated a new location or some other milestone.

All in all, a good ride, with a lot of great riders, for a fine cause. My little contribution is the least stick on top of a big pile of good wood.

Not bad for a Sunday.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

How I Shop for Clothes

I can come up with plenty of reasons to be against cancer. Many of those reasons are the names of people I have loved dearly.

It turns out there’s another reason to fight cancer: If you pitch in to raise funds for the fight, they give you a free T-shirt.

I could tell you that the couture is the reason I intend to be strapping on my bike shoes this Sunday at a single-digit hour of the cold morning to start a 20-some mile ride.

But I have to be honest. The real reason I intend to ride this Sunday isn’t the cancer, and it’s not the T-shirt, and it’s not even the scenery, although those are all excellent causes.

The real reason I’m going to be out humping it over the hills this Sunday is that Big George Hincapie is going to be there—the only guy who rode with Lance Armstrong on all 7 of his Tour de France victories, and now a veteran of 11 Tours de France (including last year’s stunning team effort by Discovery that put two of their riders on the podium at the end of the race).

George Hincapie is about 35 years old. In a sport of the mind like cycling, that makes him a relative pup. (In the Tour de France, they give a special jersey to the best “young rider,” because they assume a kid doesn’t have much chance against the crafty older lions of the contest. You qualify to win the “young rider” prize right up until you’re 30 years old.)

So I’m going to get out there Sunday morning and show George what a real rider looks like, or at least what the back of a real rider looks like. I’m sure once I get up to speed, he’ll never have a chance of pulling around me.

If you want to be part of my fight against George Hincapie, or my fight for a free T-shirt, or even the fight against a wily old opponent like cancer, you’re welcome to chip in.

The money won’t go to me, but I’m sure the people it goes to will be earnestly grateful. They can use all our help.

To join the fight, grab your credit card and click here.

You will win the gratitude of many.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

More Pesky Sunsets

I like the one above because it’s got oil wells in the foreground, if you look closely.