When you crash out

We’ve learned that the world of pro cycling has its ups and downs, and one of the big downs is being out of a race before it’s over.

We drove to Pismo Beach on Tuesday morning and picked up Eric at his team hotel just as his RALLY teammates were mounting up to ride down to the beach for their start. The team of eight would be seven. On Stage Two in California Eric had suffered a crash on the roads out of Modesto that cost him his bike and some time. When you go down in a pro race you seldom know why—someone ahead hits a pothole or two guys touch wheels or something, so one goes down then three behind him, then five or six behind that. Eric hit the pavement at 30 mph, and if you don’t break your collarbone (the most common serious injury in cycling) then you mount up again and speed to catch up. Unless your bike is damaged. Eric’s right-side brake lever shifters were damaged, so he stood and waited for a replacement from his team car that follows the race.

The yellow jersey, Marcel Kittel, went down at the same time, but Kittel’s team is strong enough to send someone back to help pace him forward if it became necessary. Eric pretty much knew he’d be on his own to make his way back. The tail end of a pro bike race consists of dozens of vehicles: officials, team cars, media, neutral support (sponsored by SRAM and willing to help anyone), medical, and law enforcement. In order to chase back to the peloton you dodge the cars, drafting behind each one for a minute or so and playing leapfrog all the way through. Eric was riding a replacement bike from the top of his team car, and it’s a race bike like his own but isn’t dialed in on his body specifications—so it’s a tough day ahead.

The toughest part is that he knew he’d have to catch the group before they started climbing and if he couldn’t do it he’d have to climb alone. He couldn’t do it, and he did climb alone which is like a death sentence for a sprinter like Eric—he spent the rest of the day pushing through the wind by himself. Exhausted and sore from hitting the pavement, he suspected the worst. The UCI time cut is 10% above the winner’s finishing time. Stage Two, Modesto to San Jose, was won by Rafal Majka who also went into the yellow jersey. Majka took 3 hr 44 min, so the time cut would be 23 minutes later. There were 41 riders who finished together 20:46 back, and they were all safe. This grupetto included most of the big-team sprinters like Kittel and Jon Degenkolb and Wouter Wippert. None of them climb well, and they all know how to conserve their energy for the next day’s race. That was the group Eric couldn’t catch.

The team drove to Pismo Beach that afternoon, and we later learned what a terrible day it had been all around for the team. No one had made the break group so the whole RALLY day had been pretty much of a disaster. Besides Eric, Adam De Vos had also suffered a minor crash that left him sore and bleeding and all had lost time in the race standings. Evan Huffman, their best overall, was 12 minutes down.

In Pismo Beach the next morning I pulled into a Shell station across the parking lot from their team motel, and Carol walked over. Eric came out wheeling his bag, got in, and we left Pismo Beach about two hours before the race start. We talked about how to spend the day. He had a flight out of LAX at 7 pm, so we just needed to get him to the airport about 5. We decided to take our time getting there and see a bit of wine country on the way—the Santa Ynez Valley that the Hollywood film Sideways had used for locations.

In California

We are in Yosemite to meet relatives, one of the most adventurous couples I know: spouse’s brother and his wife.

imageCalifornia’s longstanding drought has been declared officially over, so the waterfalls in Yosemite are all going full blast.

We walked. We walked all day to the sights in and around Half Dome Village and Yosemite Falls. We walked even though my sister-in–law had hip replacement just a month ago. We also rode the shuttles, but at times they were slower than just walking. So we walked. imageWe had late lunch at the glorious park lodge, The Ahwahnee.

At the end of the day we left the national park and found our way to Modesto to a motel reservation, because in our family tomorrow isn’t just Sunday, and it isn’t just Mother’s Day.

Tomorrow is bike race day.

1916

Imagine being born in 1916, and still alive today.

You turned 5 in 1921, and then 10 in 1926, the Jazz Age, the “Roaring Twenties.” The US stock market crashed when you were 13. Talkies were supplanting the old silent movies, and radio was becoming the big thing in modern communication.

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        Max Reinhardt caught her high school performance & wanted her in his film

Imagine. You lived in California, and you wanted to be in the movies, and you were lovely enough, and talented enough, and lucky enough to get a break. And you made it. Not only you, but then your sister, too. And you’re a star. You’re a leading lady. You even land the key supporting role in the most popular Hollywood film ever made. You’re nominated. Academy Award for best supporting actress. But, you don’t win. Then your sister wins an Oscar, and then you’re nominated again. Again, you don’t win.

WWII  rages across Europe and Asia, so you do your part trying to make appearances for War Bonds. The war ends, movies are big again, bigger than ever, and again you’re nominated. This time you win, and three years later you win again: 1950. Two Academy Awards: Best Actress in a Leading Role.

You are 34 years old. By Hollywood standards you are already becoming history, no longer suitable for lead parts. You soldier on with your career. In all, you appear in 60 movies and TV shows, the last being in 1988. People have VCRs, and they can watch your old movies, whenever. People still know who you are. GWTW still has fan clubs.

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Personal computers get big, then the Internet. More and more people get their 15 minutes of fame. But when an old movie comes on, there you are. You. When you were young. When you were a teenager. When you were the loveliest girl on the screen.

On July 1, 2017, Olivia de Havilland turns 101 years old.

If you like Black & White movies there are a lot of choices to watch including her two Academy Award roles:  To Each His Own (1946), and The Heiress (1949).  If you prefer Color you’re still in luck, because two of her best-known performances were shot in TechniColor: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), and Gone With the Wind (1939).

My favorite of hers in Black & White is probably Captain Blood (1935). It’s a rousing pirate movie in which she plays the beautiful but haughty governor’s niece who is captured by pirates, sold as a slave, and purchased by Peter Blood with whom she’s in love. Errol Flynn plays Blood, and Basil Rathbone is the bad guy who wants her. So you pretty much know there will be a Hollywood happy ending, and a classic sword fight, and she is marvelous throughout.

I recommend you watch anything she was ever in.

Every day

imageI read somewhere that you should do one thing every day that scares you– today I got out of bed. I was up early, all by myself, and I made coffee. I do this every day if I’m the first one up. Then I try to write.

My spouse likes scary things too. Today she’s “subbing.” No periscopes or torpedoes involved, it’s much worse than that– they’re kindergartners. She takes a deep breath, and submerges into a world that is less than four feet high. All the furniture is little, and all the voices are high-pitched. Most kindergartners are well-behaved and eager to learn, but they have their moments– the moments that make most people avoid six-year-olds in groups of 22. Even half that number is a LOT of six-year-olds, but as I said, she likes scary things.

Later, we will go over to the house that we are working on– it’s a single-family suburban home that we are converting, first into a disaster area, and then into real estate. It’s slowly coming along and will be ready to be on the market soon. This week we are installing kitchen cabinets.

Yesterday I had some time to think while I stood in a corner with an upper cabinet on top of my head as I pressed upward to keep it tightly wedged straight against both the ceiling and the two walls. This can be more difficult than you might imagine. My son’s job was positioning everything with care and then doing the actual attaching. A DeWalt rechargeable drill running with an empty cabinet shell serving as sound box is interesting to hear when you have your skull pressed under it. It’s like a sound track from the dentist’s office.

Now I get to do another of the scary things — posting this.

From a Race Dad

The sky was so blue,

The sun so bright!

The trees stood so green,

And clouds their wispy white.

That day! The sun crisped colors

In just the way that makes artists crave New Mexico—

And magnified the kits to max the greens

And oranges and blues, helmets sheening,

And girls radiant in their hair.

At Pinos Altos race news was rare,

So no leaders, gaps, names.

Just pure racing that day, and pure waiting,

Ironic in that place that communicates

Most easily into the mysteries,

That very large array of riders,

Coursing under that sky

Whose every night brings

The stars within reach.

I even thought of ee cummings,

His leaping greenly spirits of trees.

And all we could see—

The sky so blue,

The sun so bright!

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The armadillo drive

On Sunday the Tour of the Gila finished in Pinos Altos, NM, a few miles from Silver City on the continental divide. The Rally pro cycling team was feeling celebratory. They rode downhill back into Silver City for postrace milkshakes at Sonic. It’s a tradition for the winner to treat his team before everybody packs up and heads to airports. Pro cycling teams don’t live or train together and usually only see each other at races.

My view of the podium in front of the Buckhorn in Pinos Altos, NM: Team Rally from left: Eric in orange vest, Adam DeVos, Evan Huffman in red race-leader jersey, Rob Britton in polka-dot King of the Mountain jersey, Danny Pate, Sepp Kuss, Colin Joyce, Mateo Dal Cin. Best Overall Team

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Inside the Buckhorn Saloon

The terrible thing about the immediate post-race time was that everyone knew that a cyclist from team Axeon Hagens Berman had been badly injured in a crash. He was already evacuated to hospital by helicopter, but there was no news. It’s not unusual for cyclists to crash, and they wear no protective gear except a helmet. Dressing in skintight lycra to avoid wind drag doesn’t help.

Usually there will be a Tweet from hospital with a brave and droll comment from the injured that he has a broken collarbone (the most common cycling injury), or some other shorthand for pain and recovery that other cyclists all understand. No one had anything yet. The Axeon (pronounced “action”) team is a developmental team in the pro ranks, so all the riders are young, generally 23 and under. This rider is 21. Age 21 with no news became two bad things. The third bad thing was that he’d been described as “airlifted with facial injuries,” which meant he’d hit his head. The road where the crash occurred is steeply downhill and he’d been trying to “chase back on,” cycling shorthand for “Oh my God, I’ve got to catch up!” Chasing back to the peloton’s relentless pace in the final stretches of a pro race can be an impossible task, and if you can’t do it quickly chances are you can’t do it at all. My mind at times like this goes to my own son. There’s nothing I can do about that, and it didn’t help that the injured happened to have our same last name. Yeah, so there was that.

We popped down to Silver City ourselves, said good-byes, stopped at an artist store we’d admired, and hit the road. It was still early afternoon, and we had the intent to get into Texas, not so much for love of Texas as to lose the timezone hour. Amarillo would mean eight hours done. First, back to Albaquerqee (still can’t spell it!) by a different route, a beautiful mountain road through Gila National Forest that Tour of the Gila had used as a race route. We hadn’t driven it yet, because we’d arrived last Wednesday by heading straight to the day’s finish line. The road was a gorgeous twisting mountain drive with plenty of S-curve advisory signs down to 15 mph and even 10 mph. Pro cyclists during a race routinely take these at double or even triple the posted limits. A little sand or a small bump can be a problem. We stopped briefly at turnouts, got out of the car, and admired the views. New Mexico: Land of Enchantment. And copper mining. And road runners and lizards and tumbleweed.

Armadillos too? No, those were the next day. In Missouri we had a contest going to see who could spot roadkill armadillos first. We saw a combined fifteen dead armadillos! Sure there were the occasional raccoon or possum as well, but those armadillos! Armored, but not enough to cross a highway.

**Note: one correction, I found out later that Chad Young whom I described as trying to “chase back on” was, in fact, bridging up to the lead group in the race– same effect on the frantic nature of the effort required, but a world of difference in what it means to cyclists. I regret that error

All the world’s a Stage . . .

The world of bicycle racing is a pretty strange world, and one of the strangest places is southern New Mexico: The final stage of 161.9 km (100.6 miles) and total elevation gain of 9,131 ft (2,783 m), known as The Gila Monster, finished on the continental divide at Pinos Altos, NM, (over 7,000 ft. above sea level), the main feature of which is a restaurant-bar and honky-tonk, The Buckhorn Saloon, a former brothel and proud of it.

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Rally Cycling, after winning Tour of the Gila 2017. Evan Huffman, center in red leader jersey, was the overall winner over five days of racing. Two not pictured.

But maybe the strangest thing about a pro cycling race is that it’s a team event that a team can’t win. Instead, an individual racer pulls out victory. At Tour of the Gila, considered one of the most grueling races in the world, Evan Huffman figured out a way to do that, but he could not have done so without his team pictured above. From left, Sepp Kuss, Adam DeVos, Eric (in green sprinter leader’s jersey), Evan (overall winner), Rob Britton (who ended the day as best climber jersey, known as King of the Montain), and Mateo Del Cin (Stage One winner) were six of the keys to victory, but Danny Pate who serves as their road general, and Colin Joyce, third place on Stage One that began the weekend, were still coming in.

This table shows the rider standings before the final stage of racing:

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In this table, far right shows the amount of time a rider had to make up to put himself into the overall lead. On the last day Evan Huffman had 25 seconds on Eisenhart, 33 seconds on Ellsay, 34 seconds on Tvetcov and 38 seconds on Mannion. (The two other riders within one minute of Evan were teammates Dal Cin and Britton.) The rider in 14th place Naveaz won the day’s race but not by a large enough margin to make any difference in the overall five-day race, because he’d started the day down 1:39.

At the day’s podium presentations, after all the real prizes had been announced Rally Cycling, the whole team, took to the platform as the fastest overall team.

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You’re gonna need a bigger vase

imageimageThe flowers. Yeah, not sure why, but bicycle racers get flowers when they win.

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Stage 4 flowers: Tour of the Gila

Late afternoon: I watched Stage 4 from a coffee shop porch, because it was one story up and the view was excellent all the way to the finish banner on the main street of  downtown Silver City, NM — a fast circuit of laps, each a bit more than a mile. The 40 laps took the racers 1:30:19 to complete, an average speed of 28.9 mph. They drank bottles of water, but I drank iced tea and chatted with other fans enjoying the same vantage point. Two businessmen from California who’d participated in an amateur race earlier in the day, several family members of an 18-year-old new pro in his first big stage race, and some others, everyone happy to be there on a day at altitude with bright sun and gentle winds. On a full crit docket the Pro men race last, so this had been going on since 8 am. My day started about 6 when I threw on shoes and hustled from our hotel to move my car off of the closed street.

As the pro race developed it looked like Eric would have a decent chance to take the final sprint. Attacks off of the front by racers taking a chance to build a short lead into the wind had all come to nothing, and with two laps to go the field of cyclists was all together, one swarm strung out about a block long and traveling close to 30 mph. They whirred out of sight, and we waited the minutes for the lap to complete. Next time would be one to go, and when the lead group banked around the final corner and into view it consisted of a straight-out train of four Cylance teammates in blue, and Eric in Rally orange tucked in behind looking comfortable. I knew that’s good. One to go. Then they were gone again.

Crowd noise increased, the race announcer told one more story that I didn’t hear, then came the motorcycles accelerating out of the way, then suddenly orange at the front, out of the saddle, Eric pumping hard with his bike rocking and Travis McCabe near his wheel, but getting dropped. The line of pro racers strung out behind that, but nobody caught up. I couldn’t see the actual line on the pavement, but I could see Eric’s right arm suddenly thrust skyward and someone asked me if that was him, and I screamed Yes!

Two sprint victories in three days! Interviews and flowers still to come. His Mom got the flowers this time, their first vase a McDonald’s coffee cup, then at home, glass.

When you can only see one thing

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Compared to Wednesday’s race the second stage of Tour of the Gila is much more conducive to a sprint finish, so naturally we wanted to see Stage 2 up close and personal. Cell coverage is rather spotty outside of town, so we had no info or updates at all. Nothing on Twitter, no TourTracker app, not even the race announcer at the finish line knew much.

We did know Eric would have a decent chance to contest the final sprint– it’s a race he had won twice before (2012 & 2015), and it has the type of “race profile” that fits his approach to winning. A Race Profile is a little chart that shows gains and losses in elevation, and in New Mexico it looks like a schematic of a mountain range– however, we’ve learned what to look for, and Stage 2 looks like what we like to see: all the climbing is over well before the finish and the last few miles offer a fast approach back into town so sprinters can move to the front and position themselves for speedy acceleration in the last 500 meters. That’s when things are apt to get interesting.

We found a vantage point about 100 meters upstream from the finish line where we had views both backwards to the final turn and onward to the finish. Then we waited for things to come into view. In front of a pro race there are always motorcycles, police cars, and officials. Behind the racers there are always team cars and support vehicles, (for example, the ambulance in the photo). In between are the cyclists.

As they came into view we saw orange. That is always a good thing, but other colors were swirling around in front and behind the orange. The orange was Eric, still trying to make his way to the front. His ideal position is “second wheel” which means he’s right there, but has one guy in front of him, one guy who is crushing his way through the air making a little invisible hole to hide inside of. In a classic sprint lead-out that guy is a teammate who is helping on purpose, but usually it’s an opponent who has started his all-out sprint earlier because he knows that’s his best chance to win. That guy was Travis McCabe, one of the best racers in the US. After a ride of 80 miles Travis and Eric had 100 meters left to see who would be on the top step of the race podium. They flew past our 100 m vantage point at about 35 mph with Travis ahead by a bike length and Eric trying to come around him. The last 50 meters of a sprint finish only takes about 2 seconds, but they are long seconds. I know that Eric has a full-on sprint that is faster than Travis McCabe’s, but faster enough to make up a bike length in 50 meters?

It was, and Eric had flowers to present to the most important spectator.

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