Monday, July 27, 2009

Vive le Tour!

Wow was this one of the best tours ever, or what?!

Ok, so my team didn't get on the podium, but they were really close! And yeah I'm no big fan of Contador, Astana or Lance, but there was really some great riding that put the two of them on the podium.

For me this tour had more excitement than any of them I've watched, even if it was almost locked in by Contador a week ago, there was drama in every stage. I know a lot of people mumbled about UCI changing the format, but watching the boys hammer up Ventoux on the last Saturday of le Tour was AWESOME!

And yeah, to quote Wiggins, bollocks to all of you who wanted to whine that Hincapie "deserved" the yellow. Hey, I like big George as much as the next person, and his perseverence after busting his shoulder last week is awe inspiring, but the only way he deserved yellow was to ride 6 seconds faster. He didn't, oh well, move on. Watch the replays of each sprint finish and count how many time an HTC rider blocked Tyler Farrar or Julien Dean in the last 50 meters of the sprint and then come whine to me about Garmin's despicability. In the end, Brad Wiggins beat out Frank Schleck for 4th by 4 seconds, so it was a wise strategic decision for the Garmin team. And yeah, it was nice to see them thumb their noses at Columbia for a change, anyone who pays attention certainly knows they've been on the receiving end of Columbia's crap for some time. Ok, off the soapbox...

And were those Schleck boys amazing or what? Andy is a climbing machine, and my second choice to Garmin getting Wiggo on the podium would have been to see those guys finish 2-3, that would have been tres coolio.

And who'd have thunk you'd see two US Teams duking it out for the win of the final stage in Paris? Sure both of their sprinters are Brits, but that's beside the point, these are US based and sponsored teams, in only their second TdF, and they both have established themselves as solid teams, it's going to be fun watching Farrar kick Cavendish's butt next year!

Ok, yeah, some pundits say this wasn't one that will go down in the anals as a "classic" and they're probably right, but I think it marked the beginning of a new era of classics, as we saw Wiggins grow into a real contender, and saw the increased prominence of other youngsters like Nicolas Roche and Brice Feillu.

Sadly it's the last of the Grand Tours, and as such a lot of folks forget about cycling until next year, but there are a lot of one day races here in Europe and I'm hoping to get out for some of those. The only downer is I'll miss the Tour of Missouri, riding in the Mavic car last year was a blast!

And next year, who knows where anyone will be? Team Radio Shack will certainly grab up some of the "popular" US riders, Levi, George, but where will Alberto wind up since Vino is coming back to Astana? As for me, I hope to be in Rotterdam on Jul3 and Jul4 for Le Grand D├ępart!

It's a great time to be a cycling fan!

Friday, July 17, 2009

An Argyle kind of day

Holy cow!

This has been one of those days that you just can't make up, and it all happened because of "thrown together" banner....

So everyone knows we're in Germany, yeah yeah you're tired of hearing it I know.... and most of you who know me know I'm a cyclist.... Germany + cyclist + July = ?? anyone? .... anyone? ... Beuller?...

Yes it's the Tour de France! Today was one of the closest stages to us, Stage 13 from Vittel to Colmar, with the starting city only about 350km away. So I took a day off and Joe and I planned our day, up early, off to Vittel, see what we can see and then go out on the course somewhere and try to get some good shots of the peloton. We had our cowbells and an American flag - and no bodypaint.....

Then late yesterday the girls and mom decide it would be a good idea to "throw together" an Argyle banner, Julia worked until nearly midnight on it and I think it's just awesome.

So Joe and I get up this morning, pack up all our necessities and head out for Vittel, including of course our fabulous Argyle banner. Why Argyle you ask? Well that's easy, because I am simply a huge Garmin Slipstream Racing fan and they wear Argyle, right down to their socks.

The drive was uneventful, though we did have some torrential rains, and we arrived in Vittel almost 2 hours before the start, and about 15 minutes after the beginning of the caravan departure. The caravan is way cool, it's a parade basically of all the different race sponsors, and it precedes the racers by roughly two hours, handing out candy, water, treats, etc., sort of like a really long (200 km today) parade but without any marching bands.

So we watch the caravan and then head towards the starting area, with our ultimate goal being the team bus area, to see if we can get a glimpse of the boys.

There was already a pretty good crowd around the start, but it would get bigger before it was over.

Then we got into the bus area, of course there was the Astana bus - no we didn't get Lance's autograph, but we did see him ride by, I might even have a picture of his helmet around here somewhere.

Then we saw other buses of course, Lampre, Cofidis Bbox, Agritubel, Quik Step (they get pic since they ride Specialized) , Caisse D'Epargne, Saxo Bank (another Specialized team)

So then after we watch the Saxo Bank bus go buy we look and here comes the Garmin bus!

Amazingly, it parks directly in front of Joe and I and then the team cars pull in, go figure the spot we'd pick to stand and watch the buses roll in would be the spot where the bus for my team would park, what are the odds? So we grab the Argyle banner from the backpack and drape it across the barricades so the argyle is facing the bus. Next thing I know this nice guy (Dr. Allen Lim) walks up and asks us about the quilt, and I explain that my wife had made it the night before for us to bring down. I asked if the boys would be doing autographs before the race and he said probably not. Then he paused and asked "you want to get that autographed don't you?" Of course I replied yes, so he contemplated for a moment and then said, "I can probably do that." And off he went into the bus with the quilt - and the super sharpie I just "happened" to have handy. A bit later he comes back with the quilt, with the autographs of all 9 riders! Oh, and a couple of camera crews, one was a nice guy from Garmin documenting the tour and the other three were from Versus! So we told them about the quilt, and they filmed it from several angles. A few minutes later Joe was interviewed by a crew from The Daily Show!

So then the boys all mounted up, and headed for the starting area, we did likewise, with Joe wearing the Argyle like a cape. Of course we picked up some more schwag along the way, took shots of the riders, and commiserated about Levi having to withdraw. Then after the start we did an evaluation and decided that with all that had happened the day had nowhere to go but down - so rather than chase the peloton through the course we decided to head back home, a good choice it turns out as the stage was rainy and cold all the way into Colmar.

So we had a great day, a great adventure and the experience of a life time. An Argyle kind of day all because of a "thrown together" argyle banner. Who knew? I think maybe Argyle is where it's at. :)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Happy Birthday G'Pa?

Wow, what a day.... what a week... so we finally go the new ride this week. One of the many perks of being a Cisco employee in Europe is the company car, not just any old company car either. It's a complicated process but basically you get an allowance, and a list of car models and then you get to order your car. So we went with the BMW, and since we are 5 we figured the wagon, so it's the 5-Series Touring Wagon. Next is the "bigger motor or more options" debate, we went with the more options so it's the 520D. Now that's not to say the motor is small, it does 225 on the Autobahn comfortably. And it looks pretty good too don't ya think?

And of course there are the options, leather power seats (and in BMW-ese that means power headrests too) built-in navi, built-in bluetooth, a USB port, sun-roof, leather seats, run-flat tires, parking distance control (front-rear parking radar) and my favorite new toy, 'BMW Night Vision' an infra-red camera that feeds a display in the dash.

We had been planning on a weekend trip to Munchen with Julia's dad - who is in town for a month - but something came up at work and I couldn't take Friday off, so instead we decided Bill, Joe and I would drive to Munchen by way of Castle Neuschwanstein. Why Munchen? Well, when we asked Bill, "what do you want to see while you're here" the only thing in his list was a concentration camp. So we drug him down to the Schwarzwald last week to the World's Largest Cuckoo Clock last weekend and this weekend it's Dachau.

The drive to Castle Neuschanstein was nice, the car handles great, has adequate power and lots of cool gadgets to keep everyone occupied. Bill rode in the back because the extra-long sunroof gives him a great view out the top as we're driving into the Bavarian Alps. The last 25km or so were on the Deutche AlpenStrasse, which was a lot of fun. The navi of course worked flawlessly guiding us in her polite nicely-clipped British accent ("please leave the motorway now") right to the parking lot at the beginning of the trail up to the castle. Our "plan" was to just do a 'drive-by' get a look, do the "ooh ahh" thing and then roll on to Dachau, but you really don't get any good views of the castle driving in from the West, and we had about 90 minutes to spare so we decided to head up. And "up" it was, just guessing I'd say it was 12% for at least a mile on a lovely shaded paved (and horse-pooped) road. The horse poop is because one of the alternatives to get to the top, or almost the top, is a horse-drawn carriage and they leave their presents on the roadway as an additional obstacle to the hearty/foolish who walk it. There was a lovely waterfall along the way that gave us a nice excuse to stop and take a breather...errr.. picture.

Then once we got to the top it really was gorgeous, naturally we took a couple of snaps to prove we conquered the hill, and then because we had to get to Dachau in time for the 2:00 film showing it was back down the hill, I still think going down was worse than up, but the experience was worth it. Once back at the bottom we grabbed a Brat, Pommes and a Coke and were back on the road again. When we left Hohenschwangau we headed north on ST2016 and about a mile out of town Bill says, "look at that view" and Joe had to get a shot, so we pulled over - here's the result. Worth the stop I'd say.

Then it was on to Dachau, what an experience that was. In case you've been living in a cave for the last 60 or so years Dachau was the first concentration camp built in Germany, by the Nazis in March of 1933. As we walked along the pea-gravel path to the memorial site and entered through the gate into the prison site all I could think, and say, was "what a horrible place." To which Joe responded with such an insightful question, "If it's so horrible, why do so many people come here?" A thought-provoking question, no doubt. Anyway, we got there in time to see the 1400 showing of the 22-minute documentary "The Dachau Concentration Camp" and then went through the museum. After the museum everyone had seen enough and we headed back home. I think Joe's expression in this picture, taken on the way out, pretty much sums up our mood. It was, for me, a sobering, educational - and frightening, experience.

The words on the gate, which I so nicely clipped off on the right say "Arbeit macht frei" which means "work brings freedom", or literally in English "work makes (one) free." This slogan was placed at the entrance to a number of of the Nazi concentration camps. The thought of all those prisoners having to see that each day as there were marched back from whatever forced labor effort they had, starving, sick, dieing, provided a fitting finish for my visit to this place that where more than 25,000 died.

On the drive home Joe remembered that this was the the second Saturday in July, the day of the second Schlossbeleuchtung (castle lighting)! One of Heidelberg's most famous landmarks is its Schloss. Each year in June, July and September, there is a Castle Lighting (Schlossbeleuchtung) to commemorate three times when the castle went up in flames (1689, 1693 and 1764). The first two times were due to wars with the French, and the last time by lighting. It's a great show, it starts with what sounds like mortar fire from the Alte Brucke (old bridge), which signals the lighting of the castle resulting in an eerie red glow as if the castle were on fire. This is followed by a spectacular 15-minute fireworks display. Since we're between the Alte Brucke and the Schloss, Flower and I went down to the street and watched this year, it was awesome.

All in all, it was a eventful day, 800km in the car, 1mile up and down a 12+% slope, a concentration camp and a castle burning.... not sure it's the kind of birthday he would have asked for, but I'm sure it's one he won't forget....

Happy Birthday G'Pa...