Friday, November 20, 2015

Greg LeMond Introduction

I wrote this and read it from the podium at a pre-El Tour de Tucson dinner, probably in the early 2000's. Greg was the Guest of Honor, as he damned well should have been...

Twenty years ago in cycling, Americans were outside looking in. We could love cycling, but it could never be OURS. We'd never excel like Belgians, Dutch, French and Italians.

We were too soft. European racers were tough lads who saved themselves from the mill or mine by pedaling hard. We'd been sissified by indoor plumbing, power steering and too much TV.

We thought there could never be a Merckx from Illinois or a Gimondi from Arizona. We just didn't have it. We'd never produce a Tour de France star. No way.

After all, just finishing the Tour was hard enough, even if you were a stoic European pedaling machine. An American finisher? Unthinkable.  

So, as an American bike rider, you learned to pronounce European names and bought European bikes with European parts. You wore European clothes and read European magazines. You resigned yourself to living in a third-class cycling nation.

Unless, that is, you were Greg LeMond.

If LeMond ever picked up on that sense of unworthiness, he never bought into it. Never. He showed us what a load of rubbish it all was.

Even as a fresh-faced kid, LeMond was always competitive with the best seniors. He was never tactical or economical. He'd break away if he could, and often won alone. He'd grin, braces sparkling in the sun, and ride away from guys with famous names.

He just kept getting stronger. When he left to race on European teams, when he won the world's championship, we watched unprepared, unbelieving. He wasn't JUST American; he was SO American.

Suddenly, we were staring at photos of cycling superstar Bernard Hinault on a horse, Hinault with a cowboy hat and a Winchester rifle. Hinault, who had crossed the ocean to visit LeMond at his Nevada home, to welcome LeMond to his team. 
Still, we feared LeMond would win a few more races and then fade from the scene, merely a fluke, our fluke. We'd return to cycling obscurity.

That's not what happened, though, is it? Nearly everything a bike rider could do, Greg LeMond did, and in style, always in style. And drama? Too much drama.

All that drama kept what he did from looking too easy, as if he were simply born to win and nothing could stop him from doing so. It didn't look easy for LeMond to triumph; it looked hard, on the bike and often off it, too. He did it anyway.

He made us believe we could do it, too, or a few of us could. He made us believe that he could keep doing it, that he would keep doing it and would never become distant and difficult and too good for us.

He was the new American contender, the American world champion, the American Tour winner and a brave American shooting victim. Then he was the American comeback hero, the American winner of the closest Tour in history in 1989.

And what better guy to come from our ranks and go out to meet the world! Who's a better guy than Greg LeMond? Always willing to sign the autograph, always good for a thoughtful quote, always happy to meet fans, always patient with everyone, always Greg LeMond.

We knew he was a terrific guy, one of us, and we trusted him. We knew he was open-minded, curious and progressive about equipment so we paid close attention to his choices. We based purchases on his choices.

Do you wear sunglasses when you ride? Are they Oakleys? Do you own aero handlebars? Do you wear a Giro or some other sleek helmet? Do you ride clipless pedals? Got a cyclometer? Is your saddle pushed way back? Do you ride a LeMond?

Greg LeMond changed bike-racing forever everywhere, changed pay scales, attitudes and ambitions. He played on a world-size stage. At the same time, he was and will always be our guy, one of us: Our first genuine Eurostar, our three-time Tour winner, our trendsetter, our ambassador to sport, our champion.

Until Lance Armstrong arrived with his own style and his own drama, Greg LeMond was the only bike rider Joe Sixpack had ever heard of, ever cheered for. No other rider changed our lives the way Greg LeMond did.

Maybe, if you think about it, you're riding bikes or supporting El Tour today because of the glow Greg LeMond put on cycling. It's my feeling that we've never had a more appropriate guest of honor at El Tour...

Whatta guy! Ladies and gentlemen: Greg LeMond!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

From 2004, more or less: The Sunnyside Women's Road Cycling Clinic

This piece ran in the Bicycle Paper, a free Pacific NW cycling newspaper. The clinic ran in the days before the Cascade Classic Stage Race in Bend, if memory serves.... What fun!

Every July for the past five or six years, Sunnyside Sports, a great bike shop in Bend, has promoted a weekend road cycling clinic for women. I’ve helped out at all but one of them and promoted two of my own in Tucson. My two followed Sunnyside’s model faithfully. Why fool with a successful formula?

You wonder why you’d need to educate cyclists. Can’t they learn all they need to know from books or magazines or their computers? I’m afraid they cannot. No diagram ever taught a new rider how a pace line rotates or how hard to pedal while at the front.

No series of photos or drawings ever made a safer, faster downhill bike-handler. No article has conveyed the feeling of drafting at 25mph or riding confidently elbow-to-elbow, chatting the miles away on some sun-dappled country road.

And it has become difficult to learn group skills on local group rides. Few want to teach and few seem happy to be taught. Perhaps our veterans are reluctant to act like self-appointed experts – and newer riders act as if they know all they need to know – especially, if you ask me, new guy riders.   

Whatever the reason, many club cyclists ride for years at the same scarcely adequate skill level. They don’t have the tools to enjoy road cycling fully.

So Sunnyside Sports initiated the Women’s Road Clinic. Here’s how it works – and how I organized my own clinics. No reason you couldn’t do a similar event where you live.

This year, in the weeks before the clinic, Sunnyside did bike fittings for each participant, making sure each woman was comfortable on her bike and in a position of control and power. At previous clinics, we’ve done that during the weekend, but it is time-consuming and depends on careful scheduling. Fittings are best done before the clinic weekend.

On Saturday morning, the staff divided the women into groups by estimated comfortable road speed. This year we had about 15 women total, divided into two groups. Each group enjoyed the attention of three instructors.

Our group rode a few miles out of Bend to a quiet road, where we stopped and got off our bikes. We talked about basic group riding, technique and etiquette, and about pace.

We talked about fear of following close and how to maintain a steady pace uphill and down. Staffers talked about delightful, often unexpected, conversations we’ve had on rides. We said we think of cycling as a social sport, and we’re thankful that it is.

The women formed into lines ON FOOT and walked through the motions of two common rotating pace lines, so everyone understood how they worked. I don’t know who came up with this training method, but gosh it’s effective – and safe. Try it at home.

Then we rolled out onto the lightly traveled road to practice our new skills. Raggedy at first, soon the women were riding like the USPS “blue train.” We’d stop a time or two to discuss what was happening and to listen to suggestions or questions.

By the time we’d ridden up and back, we were a pretty doggoned accomplished group. We rolled back down the highway into Bend looking red-hot. For many of the women, this was their first “sitting-in” experience, as it has been every year at the clinic. It’s amazing how fast the transition happens: cautious solo rider to polished pace-liner.

Makes even cynical, white-socks roadie instructors proud.

After lunch, each woman “fixed a flat” on her own bike. Each demonstrated that she could remove and replace her front wheel and her back one. Each indicated that she knew which brake lever operated which brake and how to properly apply them.

The students then listened to a presentation about turning a bicycle. Then they mounted up for cornering practice on a twisty course in a parking lot that sees only weekday use.

On the grass nearby, the women learned to ride close together. They bumped elbows. They jumped their bikes over (or reached down and picked up) dropped water bottles. They briefly touched the rear wheel of the rider in front of them with their own front wheel.

For many of the students, this was scary and adventurous beyond their expectations. They performed like veterans nevertheless, scarcely revealing what must have been wide-eyed fear. Bravo, says this old roadie!

Saturday evening after dinner, a grizzled magazine columnist read a few truly boring stories to an increasingly sleepy-eyed group.

“Could I have more coffee, please. Yes, caffeinated will do just fine.”

After dinner in Tucson, by the way, a woman staffer talked about woman-specific issues and a male staffer discussed riding safely and confidently in urban traffic.

Sunday morning, staff and students assembled at a wide spot in the road east of Alfalfa, Oregon, for a real road ride – with hills and wind and maybe a drop or two of rain. We talked about climbing, about standing up and sitting in the saddle, about gear selection and pacing oneself on the hill. We talked about descending, relaxing on the bike and remembering how to use the front and rear brakes.

Each staffer rode with only three women on that Sunday. As I watched my little flock, I could see lessons the women had learned at the clinic come to fruition.

On the way back, we split into two tiny, two-rider packs. We flew back to the cars, forming and splitting, forming and splitting again as our climbing or descending skills separated us. Again, I was proud of my students. I couldn’t have selected one of them as “most improved.” They were all “most improved.”

Please do put together a clinic like Sunnyside’s in your community. For your instructors, select four or five riders who are empathetic and enthusiastic about cycling, who are, to be frank, nice. Use Sunnyside’s model or design one of your own to meet your particular needs.

When I did my first one here in Tucson in 2001, I had no problem recruiting qualified, volunteer instructors. Afterward, several of them said they’d enjoyed the experience far more than they could have imagined. A few called the clinic weekend “life-changing.”

Sharing your love for cycling with excited riders is life-changing. It changes all those riders’ lives…and it changes yours.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Not Green -- about my old Bianchi Specialissima

In 1976, I was riding a new, black Raleigh Competition - but I longed for a more distinguished mount.

The Raleigh was a “neo-pro” as we called entry level racing bikes in those days. It was a mix of Reynolds tubing varieties as most bikes were then; deciphering the various Reynolds decals was an art of no particular usefulness, like reading bar codes at Safeway.

Though my Raleigh rode and handled just fine, and exhibited no vicious habits, I felt I should have a bike befitting the rider I intended to be: a faster, stronger, tougher, more graceful version of the adequate club cyclist I was. Ah, vanity.

I made that longing known to Tony Tom, then (as now) proprietor of A Bicycle Odyssey in nearby Sausalito. I told him I could not afford to buy a new Masi or Ron Cooper, desirable as they may have been.

Instead, I wanted to buy a used frame to build up with parts I’d remove from my Raleigh. Weeks later, Tony showed me a homely old Bianchi, its paint stripped off in preparation for a new finish that had never been applied.

Oh my, a Bianchi, I thought: A bike for the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix, for the hairpin turns of Alpe d’Huez, for the bike path from Sausalito to Mill Valley...

Ugly and unready for prime time as it was, the old Bianchi was romantic. And it was cheap. Tony looked at me, knowing I was imagining the jerseys a guy with an older racing Bianchi might wear – and the embroidered shorts. He smiled.

I bought the frame. I never saw it with a square inch of original paint on it. Nearly 30 years later I can’t remember if I even knew what color the factory painted it. Not green, I remember that much.

We guessed that it dated from the early ‘60s, so it probably needed paint by 1976. It was a Specialissima, Bianchi’s top model. Made from Columbus tubing, far heavier than today’s featherweight tubesets, it was entirely conventional except for the “integrated” headset, much like those of today.

Unique to Bianchi for years, the old headset design had long been abandoned by the mid-’70s. The headset in the frame was trashed. I searched and found a new one at an old shop in Berkeley, last old-style Bianchi headset in the world, it seemed. Luckily it never wore out in the years I rode the bike.

I took the frame home to my apartment. On my tiny patio, I removed the rest of the paint with foul-smelling liquid stripper. I sanded and sanded the frame, which was entirely chrome plated. The areas of chrome that had not been painted were polished. Areas that had been covered by paint were not.

I decided I’d have it painted sand-and-sable, light brown and chocolate brown, a color scheme common on older British automobiles. The lugs and a panel on the down tube would be tan. The rest would be a rich-looking chocolate. Sounds lovely, huh?

That’s exactly how it turned out. Lovely.

I couldn’t find old-style Bianchi decals so I thought I’d have the name hand-painted on the down tube and the emblem hand-painted on the head tube.

I found a painter, and he got it dead right: Having never seen a Bianchi emblem, he painted an eagle on the head tube that was nearly perfect, its head facing in the proper direction. He got the script perfect on the down tube sides, too.

I began building up the bike with the parts from the Raleigh. I realized that from the time I began dismantling the Raleigh until the Bianchi was complete, I had nothing to ride. Gave me a sense of urgency I might not have had.

I had to buy a few new things. I bought a larger diameter seat post to fit, and a new Italian bar and stem; I just couldn’t imagine anything steering my Italian thoroughbred but Cinelli or TTT.

When I got the bike together, it rewarded me for the effort. Solid and long from axle to axle, it glided down the road, steered flawlessly and gave me confidence on twisty descents.

It felt deluxe, if you’ll forgive the old-fashioned word: smooth, expensive, capable, unflappable.

At that point, I had only one pair of wheels, built on the low-quality French hubs from the Raleigh. I had the French TA 3-pin crank; a Brooks B-17 Narrow saddle; Huret derailleurs and shift levers from France and spongy Swiss Weinmann centerpull brakes, all from the Raleigh.

In a matter of months, all those parts went away. I bought Japanese sidepull brakes because I couldn’t afford Campys. I could however afford a used set of high flange Campy hubs. I bought them cheap and replaced their bearing races. Tony Tom built me my first set of handmade wheels.

I bought a worn-out Campagnolo Nuovo Record rear derailleur and put a new spring and new pins and bushings in it. I bought a Cinelli Unicanitor saddle.

I learned a lot as I built up that Bianchi and as my relationship with it evolved. I learned to trust Campagnolo: the old two-bolt seatpost, the everlasting hubs and pedals, and eventually all their parts.

I learned how to wrap cotton tape, and how to break and re-rivet chains. I learned how to ride a pace line and sprint for city limit signs. I learned to stop for coffee after rides. I learned how much I enjoy the company of cyclists.

I was preparing for my writing career, but I thought I was only having the time of my life.

I rode the Davis Double Century on that Bianchi, the one and only time I did it. I began racing on it, met a long-term girlfriend while riding it and made dozens of friends while I had it who remain my friends today.

I wonder who has that old Bianchi today... Perhaps YOU have it, and don’t realize your old two-tone-brown Specialissima meant so much in one cyclist’s life.

If you do own that bike, let me know through the folks at the Bicycle Paper. I’ll come visit. Be good to say hi after all these years.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Tour Williamette, 2001 - from VeloNews

No use denying it: I behaved badly at Tour Willamette. I whined, I screamed at God and the race organizers, I was not always graceful with my Shimano co-workers. In my defense, I will say that I was not alone.

Strong men abandoned, sat up and softpedaled, chose mid-event to experience the blissful warmth of follow vehicles, climbed off in feed zones, turned around a few miles into road races and rode back to the cars. Quit.

I would have quit, but I had a job. As a Shimano volunteer, I had to carry a mechanic on my motorcycle in the road stages, and there were four road stages. After a short hillclimb TT Tuesday evening, there were road races on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

On Saturday, you'd think you might get a break, but Saturday there were TWO stages, a time trial and a crit. Sunday they threw a 120-mile road race at you, 120 miles over two mountain passes, the frosting on the cruel cake.

Wouldn't be so cruel, but Tour Willamette happens in April in the Willamette Valley, in Oregon, not far from the coast. Other things happen there too at that time, things like cold, rain, hail -- and snow at relatively low elevations. I speak from experience here.

I rolled into Eugene during the prologue and didn't see any of it, but I know it was cold out there. I'd ridden the motorcycle from northern California and been rained on the last couple of hundred miles.

The first road race, Wednesday's, was wet and cold, no fun for me or the riders. You'd be cold and uncomfortable every mile, every mile wishing you were someplace else. Deprived of sun and warmth, I began to lose my sense of humor on this first road stage, but I was a load-a laughs compared to what was to come.

All that first day, I dreaded the next day's race. On Thursday, we knew, we had to drive or ride to the start maybe 45 slow-road miles out of Eugene, then work a 100-mile race on BLM roads in the remote country and get the cold and the rain.

By the time I reached the start on my motorcycle, I was frozen through, my hands unresponsive. I sat in a Shimano car, heater running, shivering in my motorcycle gear -- really good, expensive gear, largely ineffective in April in Oregon.

That race was hours of bone-chilling cold for my mechanic and me, and surely for the racers, who wore plastic rainjackets from start to finish. Lots of guys' hands wouldn't work the brakes or the gears. Guys' faces looked like zombie faces. It wasn't a race so much as a fight for survival.

One section was up and down a steep, mud hill. Some riders had to dismount and walk. We're talking riders who've had their photos on VeloNews covers. My motor slid around under us and coated its underside with Oregon mud. Exhaust heat baked the mud onto the muffler.

The front tire dumped large amounts of Oregon mud into the lower part of my motorcycle's fairing, so that after 10 minutes of post-race hosing in the hotel parking lot, big clods of mud were still washing out. I remember every clod.

I hated it extremely, every minute of it, from leaving the motel at the break of dawn to returning there late in the afternoon, cold and wet and uncomfortable all day long, my motorcycle never to be pristine again.

I was not subtle in my speech to co-race-workers. I told them bluntly what I thought of Oregon, Eugene, springtime and the Tour Willamette. Some reacted with shock at my frankness. I think it was the short, effective Anglo-Saxon verbs.

The next morning, the sun shone on the start area at the appointed time, but alas the start was postponed. By the time we did start, large hailstones pelted the pack and the support motor crew alike. I had to ride one-handed, the other gloved hand covering my face. I felt even more dismay and even less love for springtime Oregon.

The hail and something like snow covered the road as we left Cottage Grove, south of Eugene. Traction? Who knew. Maybe the motorcycle will slither from under us and we will crash to the icy pavement, I thought.

My mechanic panicked a bit. Remember, Maynard, rubber down, he said.

I figured: The cyclists aren't falling down, so my mechanic and I probably won't. We didn't. A blessing.

As we left town, the hail stopped and the sun came out. Nice. The race had been shortened before the start from nearly 100 miles to 75. Suddenly, mid-race, we happened upon an unmarked, unmanned corner on a fast descent. Some riders went one way, some another.

The officials stopped the race, then released the break, then the pack at the latest time-split they had. One race stoppage? Probably a record low for Tour Willamette, and the officials and riders smiled throughout the mess. It's not Le Tour, after all, not brain surgery.

Somehow, instead of the 75 miles we expected, race distance turned out to be less than 60 miles. We loved it, a "rest day" in the weak Oregon sunshine.

Sadly, though, at the finish I noticed that my motorcycle was puking coolant over the side of the engine. When I got it to the BMW store in Eugene, we discovered that the radiator had a hole in it. A new radiator would have to be ordered and would not be in until Tuesday.

The race would be over on Sunday, but I would be stuck in the rain and the cold until Tuesday. Or even Wednesday... The horror.

One of the local guys who'd been helping out on his own motorcycle told me he had another that he'd loan me for Sunday's road race. I borrowed that bike and it served valiantly.

On that motor on Sunday, I was following a Crown Vic sheriff's car down one of the endless descents. The road was a cleared black ribbon between scenes of winter wonderland, nothing but white snow and bits of green from the trees.

Somehow, a snow-bank appeared suddenly behind the cruiser and I hit it. The front end of the motor flicked back and forth three or four times while I said oh sh-t oh sh-t. As luck would have it, we did not crash. Coulda, mighta, didn't. Danger is part of the fun at Tour Willamette. Big fun.

If you race or work races all season, including the Tour Willamette, you will have as many stories from that race as the rest of the races combined. Is that good? Does that make it a great race? You make the call.

Someone said they're gonna move it to May next year. Will I go back? Nah.


Thursday, October 22, 2015


Cyclists who share roads with cars suffer abuse from the drivers of those cars. Who knows why? It's been that way long as anyone can remember, since WWII certainly. Since before SUVs and in-car gadgets, before cell phones and text messaging.

Drivers imagine that the roads belong to them. Trying to understand why they feel that way, how they got that way, won't help us much. Abuse from drivers is like gravity; it sucks whether you understand it or not. 

Driving makes most people feel rushed even when they have plenty of time. They're in a hurry even when they aren't looking forward to getting where they're going. It's a disease and it's epidemic.

Though drivers hurry, traffic seldom does. So drivers sit tense, frustrated behind the wheel, anger barely suppressed, primed, tight-jawed, ready to act out that anger.

Cyclists are different. We feel unjustly persecuted on the road, abused by callous motorists. So we ride tense, anger barely suppressed, tight-jawed, primed, ready for someone, anyone, to offend, so we can act out that anger. 

Clearly, cycling in such a wound-tight state does nothing for our health, happiness or fitness. Why are we so tense? On some level we choose to be. 

We choose to react to each motorist offense as if it were personal, as if it were directed at us as individuals by someone who knows us. As if the offense were committed on purpose, and we, you or I, were chosen to be its victim. 

If we didn't take each offense personally, would we fly off the handle, screaming and gesturing the way many of us do? We'd never get that upset over motorist stupidity and carelessness directed at somebody else. Would we? When it happens to the other guy, it's no big thing. Right?

In moments of clarity, we know better than to take motorist abuse personally; we know it's not personal, but we forget ourselves. We lose that precious distance, that gap between the thing that happens in the instant - the driver cutting us off, maybe - and our reaction to it. 

I do better, I know, when I can keep that dash in there, that instant of detachment. 

During that instant, I remind myself that, sure enough, still another driver has acted stupidly. No doubt drivers will, after all, occasionally act stupidly. I try to remember that no screaming, gesturing cyclist has cured any driver of acting stupidly. Not yet.

If we each could detach for just an instant, we could defuse those personal explosions in traffic. We could watch the action from a distance, as if we were in a car two freeway lanes away, watching one driver cut off another. 

We could shake our heads at driver stupidity; gosh, they really do stupid stuff. 

We could remember that we drive too, and we've done stupid, careless stuff. That once or twice we've scared ourselves, not seeing a cyclist until almost too late. We could remember being surprised by a daring urban cyclist with limited imagination and thinking: that guy's crazy.

If we could keep a little distance, we could remember that people in cars don't know us or hate us as individuals. They lump us together: all the same, always in the way, clogging their roads.

If we could keep a little distance, we might remember that we too sometimes lump individuals into categories, pigeonholes, so we can dislike them more conveniently. We can dislike them without the bother of getting to know them.

If we learned to keep a little distance, we could relax on our bikes. Cycling friends would see that we're no longer so ready to yell at drivers. When they'd ask us what happened to calm us, we'd explain about the distance. Many things might change - if we could keep just a little emotional distance.

Can we change drivers in any way? Not likely. We can change ourselves. We can relax our jaws. We can drain our pools of standing resentment. We can ride looser, physically and emotionally. 

We can stop wasting energy resenting people who don't think or care about us, individuals who share nothing but an unreasoning, angry need to get someplace 15 minutes away in 10 minutes - without focusing on what they're doing.

Remember, we cyclists came from the same places drivers did, went to the same churches and schools, had many of the same life experiences. At times, you couldn't have told us apart. Honest.

Our paths split when they chose to continue traveling in dirty, shockingly expensive, lethal steel and glass cages, listening to shock-jocks and traffic reports, breathing the AC, picking their noses, talking to themselves or merely staring out tight-jawed at the world.

While we evolved.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Waving Back at Marty

Recently, Marty Jemison, great guy and fine ex-pro, posted on Facebook that he is surprised by how many cyclists do not wave -- even when waved at.

First I was outraged that any dork on a bike would fail to wave at what amounts to cycling royalty. But as I thought about it I decided that many people are simply unaware that cyclists have traditionally exchanged greetings...or salutes -- that we acknowledge one another.

We bike riders like cyclists. We respect a cyclist who's out there on his/her bike for whatever reason, but we especially like and respect sporting cyclists, racers, ex-racers or never-racers, out there for fitness and training and the simple love of rolling on two wheels. We've always ridden. We intend always to ride.

We figure that if we see a rider wearing Lycra on a pro-style bike, that person is a bikie like us. We wave and feel a moment of dismay when he or she doesn't wave back.

We forget that thousands of folks who couldn't tell you what GC means or have never heard of an echelon ride bikes like ours and wear outfits like ours. They've never watched a Tour stage. The only racing cyclist they can name is Lance. They ride bikes but they are not bike riders.

They don't know how things have always been among bike riders. Probably they don't want to know. They ride for weight loss or cheap victories on the bike path or because cycling is somehow cool and all their friends have Strava too.

They feel no comradeship for cyclists beyond their circle of friends. They and we have nothing in common, despite the similarity of our appearances. Is it any wonder that they do not wave? Many will not make the slightest gesture, say the merest triviality, spend the first dollar....without knowing that what they are saying or doing or buying is cool -- accepted among their peers as cool.

Evidently: Scowling is cool. Acting too cool for school is cool. Authenticity that can be purchased is cool.

Waving at us? Uh-uh. Even if we're Marty Jemison....

I Ride Motorcycles Too!

This was written before Lance Armstrong's Fall from Grace. It ran in CityBike in the SF Bay Area and in Motorcycle Sport and Leisure in the UK. 

Until a few years ago, I did not follow motorcycle road racing, not US racing, not World Superbike, MotoGP or the 500cc class in the two-stroke era. I didn't know what I was missing - a lot of great racing, dammit. Thanks to an old friend who raved about guys named Rossi, Gibernau and Biaggi, I thought I'd watch just one race through to the end - even if I got bored. 

I did not get bored; I got hooked and I'm still hooked.

I should explain too that I also write about bicycling and ride my motorcycle as support in top-level bicycle races. So I've come to know lots of people in bicycle sport, including star cyclists. In the '90s I came to know and like Lance Armstrong, both before and after he got sick. 

Every year in his hometown of Austin, Texas, Lance promotes a 100-mile charity bicycle ride, not a race, called the Ride for the Roses - to raise money to fight cancer. I rode the first one in '97 or '98. Lance had gotten better by then. He was back on his bike but a Tour de France win was not in the cards. No way. Everyone agreed. 

He'd nearly died from the cancer. He'd been weakened by the disease and the treatment. And he wasn't a Tour de France kinda rider. No one would have bet on him to finish on the podium in one Tour, let alone win seven of them. 

Because I was in Austin and known to Lance, I was invited to a group dinner at his favorite Mexican restaurant. We sat at a long table in the somewhat noisy place, one of those situations where you can't really talk to anyone more than one seat away. It was all cycling people, or so I thought, all friends of Lance's. I couldn't tell who was local and who'd come from out of town, like me.

A guy sitting next to me asked me how I knew Lance, meaning how I fit into the cycling picture. I'd rather not tell people I'm a writer. So I told him that I ride a support motorcycle at major bicycle races; that's how I connected with Lance. A guy sitting next to that guy overheard our conversation, leaned forward and asked how motorcycles are used to help out at bicycle races. I ride motorcycles too, he said. 

Seemed like a good guy to me. Lean and tanned, he looked like a cyclist, a riding buddy of Lance's, probably. 

I was not, in hindsight, acting like a hotshot motorcyclist at that table. I was explaining what jobs guys on motorcycles might do in bicycle races. Most bicycle race fans aren't aware of it but there must be a dozen job descriptions for motorcyclists at big-time bicycle races.

As I described what the motorcyclists (or their passengers) do in the races, the guy one seat away seemed especially interested. I thought: He's a local bicyclist who also rides a motorcycle. He'd like to help at races and see the action from the best seat in the house. 

What's your name, I asked the guy. Kevin, he said. I live not far away. I'm a friend of Lance's. 

At that point, his face started to look just the least bit familiar. I couldn't place him, couldn't decide if I'd seen him before or if he just looked like someone. We talked a bit about what I do in the races. I think I told him about how surprisingly fast the guys go on their bicycles on technical descents and how hard I had to ride to keep up. I'll bet that's right, he said. 

I really liked talking with the guy. I felt I'd made a friend I might have for a long time. He had that knack, the rare knack that probably can't be learned. He's more interested in you than you are in him. As we talked, I became surer that I'd met him or seen his face at races...or somewhere. 

So I said, hey Kevin, what's your last name. Schwantz, he said. 

My heart went to my mouth. I wondered if I'd bragged about my motorcycling skills or experiences to Kevin Schwantz. I decided I had not. Not that I knew who he was, not really. I knew he'd been an outstanding rider. After years of paying no attention to motorcycle sport, I did not know who he was in context and what he'd done in context - ride the wheels off some of the fastest motorcycles in the world.

I knew he was a racer and saw he was a good guy. I did not know, so help me, how many motorcyclists would lop off a limb to be sitting where I was - and relating to Kevin Schwantz as just another friend of Lance's, eating Mexican food with the guys.

After dinner, the group of us went to Lance's house, nice place on the lake. I hung out with Kevin. We leaned on the wall and talked about this 'n' that, perhaps noticing as we did that there were numbers of quite attractive young ladies at Lance's that evening. 

Anticipating your curiosity, I don't think we talked about motorcycling much. I remember feeling later that I'd met a super guy, a guy who might never let you know where he'd been or what he's done until you knew him quite well. A guy who seemed to have no need whatsoever to impress you. Who never dropped a name.

What motorcycling story could you and I tell that Kevin Schwantz couldn't top - if he had the slightest desire to do so?

I've thought about that evening a hundred times in the years since. When I see that Kevin Schwantz is going to be a guest here or there or I read something about his racing school, I wish I could be there just to say, Hey Kevin, remember me? We hung out at Lance's. 

I didn't know who you were at the time. I figured you were just one of the guys. I was right.