Monday, May 25, 2009
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
From VeloNews Online today:
A motorcyclist escorting media at the Tour of Italy died after being involved in a traffic accident Tuesday morning, race organizers announced.
Fabio Saccani, 69, was driving to the start of the race's 10th stage at Cuneo in the Italian Alps when the accident occurred near the town of Bra in the north-west of Italy.
Organizers held a minute's silence for the veteran motorcyclist, who was participating in his 33rd Giro d'Italia, at the awards ceremony following stage 10.
Because I work at bicycle races on the motorcycle, the loss of one of the guys gives me pause. But the loss of a guy who's worked 33 Giro d'Italias...unthinkable. However well we ride our bikes and motorbikes, we do not ride better than Fabio Saccani.
I have always heard that the Euro motordrivers are ex-motocrossers or road racers - they are not recruited from rank and file motorcyclists. And conditions at the Giro can vary widely: visibility, traction, road surface and gradient. Saccani did 33 three-week Giros...and who knows how many other tours and single-day events, in Italy and across Europe.
I rode with Jim Ochowicz in the 7-Eleven car at the Giro years ago. I was stunned by the speeds on the descents. As we screeched around the corners, I could read the kilometer speedo of the Italian cop on the MotoGuzzi descending next to us - inches away. They're heroes, all those guys...
Godspeed, Fabio Saccani!
Monday, May 18, 2009
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Monday, May 11, 2009
Friday, May 8, 2009
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Everyone asks about Levi and Lance, the Astana teammates riding at the Gila for Lance's bike shop in Austin. The few people who ask about their Astana teammate Chris Horner are fans of US racing - who watched Horner when he dominated our events just a few years ago.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
I was on my way home from Silver City on the motorcycle. I stopped in Santa Fe and spent the night at a sumptious Motel-6 on motel row. As soon as I got out of the shower, I called Tamar.
Monday, May 4, 2009
Saturday, May 2, 2009
While the women were racing the downtown crit, I walked around metro Silver City looking for the Livestrong Team car, hoping to find someone who could point out Axel Merckx. I've never met Axel.
I asked a couple of guys in Livestrong t-shirts, as if that set them apart, and they said, hey we just bought the shirts.
So I walked a bit further and saw a tall guy in a different looking Livestrong shirt - it had one of those skinny Euro t-shirt collars. I asked him if he were with the team and he said he was in perfectly clear English with a slight Euro accent. Are you Axel, I asked. He admitted he was.
I told him I drive the SRAM support motor and that I needed a favor but not for me. I told him about Michelle and how the race revolves around her, how all her friends and family work as volunteers, and how everyone connected with the race loves her.
And I told him she was sick with cancer and was undergoing treatments. I asked him if he would try to get a message to Lance about this woman, and that a call or a few minutes spent with her would thrill her and be a fine thankyou to the woman, the race and the town.
He said he'd try to do that, pass my message along, but that he couldn't guarantee what would happen.
If it were me, he said, I know what I'd do.
I knew it was a longshot when I came looking for you, I said. But my friends and I sat down and talked about how we might reach Lance, and asking you seemed to be the best way to go.
I'll do what I can, he said.
And I thought: That's what I've done too, whatever I could.
I'll be working tomorrow and then starting for home. I won't be near a computer for a day or so. Thanks for following my Tour of the Gila reports.
This is a great bike race. Not perfect but perfectly epic.
This is my 10th Tour of the Gila. Since I started coming here, my contact person at the race, the person who arranged my lodging and made sure I was okay, has been Michelle Geels. Year after year. Michelle must be in her 40s; she's a FedEx or UPS driver, maybe, but race week she's the go-to person. She knows everyone here. Her friends and family all work race jobs.
There would not be a Tour here if not for her. Now she's got cancer. She's enduring chemo treatments and has lost her hair. Her mother Trish (who handles race housing) and Trish's boyfriend Steve (he does the neutral support except for the elite women and pros) both shaved their heads in solidarity with Michelle. Is that sweet or what?
So Michelle is sick and skinny and it makes you uncomfortable to see her.
Now it's race week and as we are unable to forget, Lance is here. You don't see Lance but you see evidence that he's here: helicopters, Dutch journalists, TV cameras, five or six still camera operators as passengers on motors...and Lance's personal photographer. She's on a motorcycle too.
Lance is staying somewhere secret. He appears as the start gun goes off and disappears just as his bike's back wheel rolls over the finish line. He's not hanging around anywhere. Maybe he brought a chef and other staff... Who knows.
It seems to some of us that it'd be great if Lance could call or visit with Michelle for a few minutes, that it'd thrill Michelle and it'd be Lance's thanks to her and to the race and to Silver City. And I'll bet Lance would love to do that, for everyone's sake.
You wonder at the same time how many times someone has asked Lance to talk to a very sick person, how that sick person is so important in so many lives....and would love a moment with our survivor hero.... so much suffering.
No one knows even how to get a message to Lance. The Livestrong Team is here, Axel Merckx as their manager. I'm going to try to talk to Axel today. I've never met him but everything you hear about him is good. Maybe he can talk to Lance or knows someone who can talk to Lance...
I'll let you know if I can do any good. If you're reading this, send some good energy Michelle's way and wish me luck with Lance...
Friday, May 1, 2009
If it's a flat tire, I watch the rider and time my braking so I stop behind him on the shoulder. I plant my feet so my mechanic's getting off the motor doesn't topple it over. I watch as the mechanic runs to the bicycle, removes the dead wheel and puts in a new one. The mechanic picks up the dead wheel and pushes the rider, who has just remounted his bicycle, off to a rolling start. I follow on the motor and the mechanic jumps on.
We ride up to one of the support cars, wiggle in behind it and ride up to the rear door on the right side. My mechanic hands the wheel thru the window to another mechanic in the back seat, who in turn hands out a fresh wheel. We ride forward and through a gap in the line of cars to our position just behind the pack.
Savvy riders realize they have a flat, raise an arm and ride over to the shoulder. They have shifted gears until the chain is on the outermost cog. They get completely off the bike and stand next to it, waiting patiently (no kidding) until the service is complete. Sometimes the wheelchange goes badly and seems to take forever. In most cases the rider is cool and says nothing, even as he watches the pack disappearing in the distance and his race going up in smoke.
I have done as many as 20 services in a race - in the rain at the Olympic Trials in Jackson, Mississippi. I have done as few as none - yesterday at the Tour of the Gila in Silver City, New Mexico.
If the rider needs a bike, my mechanic will radio his need and his bike size and pedal choice to the support cars. One of them will drive forward past the pack and stop a distance up the road. While they are driving, a mechanic will stretch out the window and get a bike down from the roof. He'll put a wheel in it if the front has been removed and put pedals in it. He'll stand on the shoulder with the bike so the rider can pedal up and switch bikes in seconds. The seat post binder is quick release so the rider can adjust the seat height as he goes.
Often riders finish well on bikes loaned them by support crews. When I worked for Mavic, for a year or so we loaned bikes with Mavic's electronic shifting, so riders had to figure out how to change gears on their strange loaners - midrace!
Some of the team mechanics understand what we do and why we're there, but some are so proprietary about their riders and the riders' bikes that they'd rather we ignored their guys.
If a team has only one team car, as is typical, and the team has riders in the pack and in the breakaway, the car can't be both places. We help riders whose team cars are unavailable - because the team has riders in both places or because the officials won't let the car into the short gap between pack and break.
If the officials do allow cars into that gap, pack riders will draft the cars and catch the break. Generally, if the gap in 30 seconds, the officials will put a support motor behind the breakaway. When the gap reaches a minute, they'll put a support car in - and the team managers can choose to stay back behind the pack, or go forward to their rider or riders in the break.
More later.... from scenic Silver City NM
If you draw #17, and the commissaire announces over race radio that one of your riders needs a service (could be anything from a chat or the retrieval of his rain vest to a broken bike or flat tire) you're a long way back. Could take you a minute or so to work your way up.
As SRAM neutral support here, we have a motor (we hardly ever say motorcycle, just motor or moto) behind the pack with a driver and passenger. The passenger carries a front and rear wheel, plus a few tools in a fanny pack. We also have three cars behind the commissaire car that follows the pack, each with wheels and complete spare racing bikes.
And we have another motorcycle and another car in front of everything, waiting for a breakaway. When a break forms, the motor will drop back behind it. When a big enough gap exists between pack and break, the car will drop back and the motor will wait to see if the break splits. The motor will follow the rider or riders who break away from the breakaway.
Our second motor driver (that's how we describe the guy steering the motor) is a cyclist and motorcyclist...and I believe a licensed official, but he has never worked tech support. So he is working the breakaways, where he can learn the job in relative peace, dealing with a few team cars and an official car and motor or two. Nice and restful up there.
On my motor, Steve Donovan and I are positioned in front of the commissaire's car and the medical car and the nearly 20 team cars, and behind the 160 bike riders. Because the bike riders are always needing something, water for instance, from their cars, the cars come up to the pack and take care of their riders - again and again and again.
The cars want to be where we are, and they can't understand why we're there, in their way. Often they express their bafflement by placing portions of their cars quite close to our legs or the taillight of the motorcycle. Inches away, I'd say, on narrow, winding country roads, roads you'd love to ride on your motorcycle or bicycle, but roads that seem awfully confining with a car brushing your shoulder.
If the team is lucky enough to have a rider in the break, the car will go up to the break to take care of that rider. THEN, we take care of mechanical problems and flats for that team's riders who are still in the pack. You'd think the team drivers would understand that and cut us a bit of slack, but they do not. Their priority is retrieving that rain jacket or the handing off of water bottles.
More later today about what we do and why we matter....and should not be run over.