Mission Accomplished!

Jack seeing me off just before the race

This past weekend, we took a family trip to Las Vegas for three reasons – to visit some of Renee’s family, to do a “dry run” of having Jack in a car for a 5-hour stretch in anticipation of our upcoming move and finally, so that I could participate in the Las Vegas Gran Fondo, a road cycling race through the Red Rock Canyon area.  Believe it or not, we actually had a great, energizing weekend on all fronts.

Jack did great… as long as the car was moving.  He only started to get fussy when we returned to LA and hit the inevitable stop-and-go traffic that defines this place.  Renee really enjoyed seeing members of her family, including some that she had not seen since her childhood.  And I had a great race on Saturday, completing 100 miles and 8000 feet of climbing in just over 6 hours.  Somehow, I managed to finish in first place among roughly 60 riders.  Jack wanted to enter the race as you can see, but was disqualified since he had 4 wheels instead of 2.

 

Jack disqualified for using 4 wheels

All in all, a wonderful trip which gives us some confidence for our upcoming cross-country move  to Texas 9 days from today.

Refreshingly Human Reaction

For those of you that have followed this year’s Tour de France coverage, there was a spectacular crash on Stage 9 yesterday caused by one of the media support vehicles that swerved into one of the riders going 40 mph.  The driver was clearly at fault, attempting to pass the riders after being instructed not to, then visibly swerving directly into the riders once the road began to narrow during the pass.  There were two riders affected, the actual rider hit by the vehicle (Juan Antonio Flecha) and the rider behind Flecha (Johnny Hoogerland) who was hurled into the air upside down and directly into a barbed wire fence… again, going 40 mph.  Remarkably, both of these riders managed to remount their bikes and finish the stage, despite Hoogerland’s shorts being completely ripped from his body and blood gushing down his legs for the remaining hour or so of racing.

Hoogerland got the worst of it from an injury standpoint with 33 stitches, but both of these men were in a 9-rider breakaway and each had a chance for a stage win in this year’s Tour.  You have to understand that winning even one stage of the Tour de France can make your career as a rider, so the emotional turmoil from having that opportunity taken from you must be hard to bear.  Not to mention the mental trauma associated with such a horrific accident where there was no warning and no rider fault.  To make matters worse, Hoogerland is the leader in the King of the Mountains classification (wearing the Polka Dot Jersey) which he will likely not be able to defend.  Hoogerland’s podium appearance after the stage shows his physical and emotional distress.

It was widely speculated yesterday that there would be legal consequences for the media company and driver that failed to obey instructions, then caused such a consequential accident.  Hoogerland’s Tour is likely over, certainly any success in the balance of the race has evaporated.  Yet his team manager announced today that the driver had taken ownership of his mistake, apologized and that Hoogerland had accepted his apology.  There would be no legal action taken.  Matter closed.

Some may think that this sort of risk simply comes with the territory in one of the most dangerous competitive sports in existence.  Well, sure, but the argument “that’s the risk you take” rarely stops individuals from threatening or taking legal action in other situations, personal or professional.  And certainly not when there is neglect involved and the act is caught on tape.  We live in a culture where a hot coffee spill gets you $640,000 in cold, hard cash.

I find Hoogerland’s reaction commendable.  It’s refreshing to see human compassion, forgiveness and calmer heads ruling every once in awhile.

What do you think?

What’s Up G?

The waiting game is brutal, we are now 2 days past Baby G’s due date which normally might not be so bad, but we’ve been told for the past 6 weeks that “this baby is coming early”.  The OB/GYN said this morning that the earliest they would induce labor would be next Tuesday, putting us in week 42.  So at least we know worst case.  And we want to meet him!  The Nana’s have traveled from far and wide and are waiting here with us.  Renee has been handling everything amazingly well – including daily trail hikes, stairmaster and bumpy car rides to “encourage” the little guy to start his journey.  So what’s up G?  Let’s get this train rolling!

As for me, its been hard to get motivated to write, work, read, job search, think, exercise, you name it.   The Tour de France has been a great distractor and reason to procrastinate as it is every year for me.  This year’s Tour is particularly engaging and unpredictable.

I’ll probably continue to be off the grid for awhile with regards to any professional posts unless something comes along that I just can’t help reacting to!

Professional Cycling House of Cards?

I love cycling.  I love riding my road bike and I love watching the pros, especially on the Grand Tours (France, Italy, Spain).  I’ve seen every moment of every Tour de France since 2002, and Lance Armstrong for me has been a true inspiration, an almost freak of nature in his ability to suffer more than others and dominate his sport – and doing so before and after recovering from near-fatal testicular cancer.  Truly amazing.

So, I couldn’t help being completely mesmerized, despite writhing in pain, at watching Tyler Hamilton’s interview on 60 Minutes this past Sunday.  Tyler, in the most believable exposition of the dirty side of pro cycling yet, proceeded to explain how he and many of his teammates on the 1999, 2000 and 2001 USPS team, including Lance Armstrong, used a systematic performance enhancing drug (PED) doping system including injections of EPO and blood transfusions in training and during major races.  This interview occurred after Tyler testified, under subpoena, for the Grand Jury investigation into the use of performance enhancing drugs where Lance Armstrong is the focus of the investigation.

There have been others who have told stories of systematic doping on Lance’s teams, including Floyd Landis, a teammate of both Lance and Tyler on the USPS team.  Floyd’s allegations for me seemed at the time to be easier to dismiss, in part I think because he raised significant sums of money from thousands of people for his legal defense, denying his guilt for nearly four years and when he finally did admit to doping, then allegedly started sending letters and emails to Lance’s camp and cycling officials that “felt” like a desperate attempt to take others down with him.  And that’s exactly how Lance and his legal team dealt with these and other accusations – these guys are cheats and liars and are simply not credible, we have testing and the facts on our side.

Yes, Tyler is also an admitted cheat in pro cycling having served an 8-year ban from the sport due to doping.  And he’s denied using PEDs and implicating others, keeping his mouth shut until the moment he was forced by subpoena to testify under oath.  And, he’s writing a book so the 60 Minutes piece certainly serves his interest for generating book awareness.

Despite these facts, what makes his situation different and far more believable for me?  A perfect storm of 3 things in my mind:

  1. Timing and Momentum.  With a Grand Jury investigation going in the background, it brings focus, attention and credibility to the PED problem in professional cycling, especially with Jeff Novitzky, the investigator that uncovered the BALCO scandal that ultimately exposed Marion Jones and Barry Bonds.  And its not just Lance under investigation, its entire teams, coaches and the governing body of professional cycling itself (UCI)
  2. Terms of Tyler’s Deposition.  Tyler’s deal with investigators during his deposition – immunity from prosecution, but if he is found lying about anything related to his testimony, he goes to prison.  It’s important to understand that Tyler didn’t just do the 60 Minutes interview, but he also told the same story under oath and under the threat of going to prison for lying.
  3. Hincapie’s Nail in the Coffin.  Simultaneous to Tyler’s Grand Jury testimony, it was reported by CBS News that George Hincapie, Lance’s closest teammate for every one of his 7 Tour de France wins and who Lance has described as “like a brother to me”, told Federal authorities under oath that both he and Lance used PEDs during their time together.  Here’s a guy who’s never been implicated in PED scandal, has never been tested positive for PEDs and has absolutely no reason to admit to such a thing – except that he was under oath in a federal investigation.  Just like Tyler.

It’s easy to come to Lance’s rescue given he’s the most tested athlete in history.  Over 20 years and 500 tests with not one positive test, although Tyler alleges Lance did test positive in 2001 and the governing body in cycling (UCI) “made it go away”.  It’s easy to come to Lance’s rescue, that is, until you hear Tyler talk about the ease with which testing for PEDs can be beaten.  According to Tyler, there’s a manageable difference between doping enough for performance enhancement and doping too much for detection.

So what does all of this mean for pro cycling and for Lance?  For cycling, I believe it can only bring about positive results, albeit painful in the short term, provided the investigation is thorough and the truth is rooted out sufficiently to result in real reform within the sport.  The success of the code of silence over so many years in cycling is astonishing.  Perhaps exposing the truth and reform also sends a vivid message to our children about right, wrong and consequences about illegal doping in sports.

For Lance, I fear a far worse outcome.  Lance has done not only miraculous things for cycling, but as a philanthropist he has inspired millions worldwide – both through his personal story and by his ability to leverage his brand to raise incredible sums of money for cancer research.  If his story is a lie and his brand is predicated on cheating his way to the top, won’t that have repercussions among those affected by him now if not certainly in the future?

I also fear that despite how strong the prosecution’s case, that Lance will forever deny any wrongdoing.  There is simply too much at stake for him to admit guilt.  And this will result in a long and difficult-to-watch fall from grace the likes my generation has never seen, certainly in sports.  I would argue that if its true, its in Lance’s interest to get in front of it now, take a massive painful hit and at least attempt to put it in the rear view mirror.  A slow, defiant march to the bottom, potentially ending in prison for obstruction and fraud, eliminates any hope of rear view mirror.

I still hope the investigation turns up facts and data that proves innocence, as much innocence as possible.  But I believe in my gut, based on the facts revealed to date, that we are way beyond the fantasy of innocence.

I hope I’m wrong.

I Fought Mt. Baldy, and Baldy Won

What an epic day yesterday!  As I wrote in a previous post several months ago, the Amgen Tour of California, the most important pro cycling race in the U.S. that spans 8 single-day stage races throughout California, rolled through Los Angeles yesterday.  Everyone knew Stage 7, up Mt. Baldy twice and covering 76 miles and 10,000 feet of vertical climbing, would be the deciding stage of the race.  And it was!  Team RadioShack ruled the day, with Levi Leipheimer winning the stage just ahead of the overall race leader and ultimate winner Chris Horner.

Since the pros didn’t start the stage until 11:45am, it gave us amateurs a chance to test our mettle by getting up early and riding the course.  With Renee in the support truck, I headed out at 7:30am intent on riding the entire stage route before they shut down the roads for the pros.  Here’s the play by play:

As soon as I mounted my bike in Claremont at the base of the mountains, it’s a 20-mile climb to the top of Mt. Baldy.  This first climb of the day ascends 5400 ft. to an elevation of 6500 ft. at the summit of Mt. Baldy.  I was grinding it out for nearly 2 straight hours, most of it was manageable at 5-8% grades… until the last 3 miles from Baldy Village to the summit of the ski area, which involved 15 switchbacks and 2000 ft. of elevation gain!  The last quarter mile was a 22% grade gut-buster to the summit.  I actually felt pretty energized once I reached the top, which is good since I still had nearly 60 miles to ride, including another 10-mile climb at the very end.  The next 40 miles were a series of rolling hills and a fast descent through Glendora Ridge Road, San Gabriel Canyon and ultimately all the way down to the base of the mountain to the town of Glendora.  After a pit stop and some fuel in Glendora, it was back to climbing, up Glendora Mountain road and to the final King of the Mountain (KOM) marker at the summit – a 10-mile climb covering 4000 ft. of ascent.

At 3 miles into the climb, I was pretty wiped.  I had been on my bike for nearly 5 hours, was out of food and had about half bottle of water, and I still had 7 miles to the summit of the climb, THEN final 15 miles of rolling hills to the finish in Baldy Village.  And the sun was beating down strong at this point.  I knew I would have to bum some food off some spectators once I reached the summit of the Glendora Mountain climb.

About 1 mile from the summit, I looked down and realized I had a slow leak in my back tire.  No wonder I was dragging!  I needed to make it to the top where the KOM marker and all the crowds were gathered so I could change my tire and get supplies if necessary.  At this point, with no cell coverage and the roads closed, Renee could not get to me.

So I pulled into the summit parched and with a flat, changed my tube, pumped it up and BOOM! my tube was pinched and exploded.  At this point, tired, hungry, out of water, out of tubes, 67 miles and 9200 ft of climbing behind me – I was toast.  I only had about 15 miles to finish and reach Renee, but they were about to close the roads for the pros to come through and even with a good tire it would have taken another hour.  So I took off my shoes and helmet, took a seat, and waited 30 minutes to watch the pros come through.  By the way, what took me nearly 6 hours to complete, the pros rolled through in under 4.  Incredible.

Luckily, about 30 minutes after the pros came through, Renee had received my message and showed up with Gatorade and snacks in hand!  It was an epic day of cycling and gorgeous views that rivaled some of our views in France (just with more smog and no random cows in the road).  We finished off the day with burgers, fries and beer.  A perfect end to a (near) perfect day!   Here are a few pictures from the day.

Just getting started. Looking fresh and nervous!

Summit of Glendora Mountain, KOM and where I was stuck

Summit of Glendora looking back from top of last climb.

Constructing finishing chute on Mt. Baldy summit.

Tragic Day in Cycling

Today was a tragic day for cyclists worldwide.  A professional cyclist lost his life during Stage 3 of the Giro d’Italia, a 3-week stage race that is Italy’s equivalent of the Tour de France.  Wouter Weylandt, a 26-year old Belgium pro racer who ironically won Stage 3 of this race just one year ago, crashed on a downhill descent and died on the scene from head and facial injuries.  It’s the first death in a major pro tour stage since 1995 and even longer for the Giro since 1986.  As much cycling as I do, this story makes me sick to my stomach.  But what makes it unbearable for me is that Wouter’s girlfriend is 5-months pregnant with their first child.  The similarities between us are eerie and unavoidable to consider.

This is a sport I love.  My passion.  And it’s dangerous.  While I’m not (always) hurtling myself down mountains going 60 mph like these pros do in a race situation, cycling even for us amateurs involves mountainous descents at high speeds and even worse, traffic on busy roads.  I read this story about Wouter this morning after having spent about 7 hours on my bike this weekend and having climbed and descended nearly 10,000 ft.  And I’ve got a child on the way too.  Scary stuff that forces reflection, particularly with a baby on the way and the gravity of that responsibility for the rest of my life.

Compounding my personal struggle with personal risk taking, my father died in a kayaking accident when I was 9-years old.  Another dangerous sport, but one that my father loved.  He was and avid kayaker, known for his responsible and thoughtful risk appetite, he simply did not take undue risks even though his sport is inherently dangerous.  His death was the result of a freak accident.  And I respect his choice to pursue his passion despite the lack of his presence in my life.

So here’s the deal.  I’m not going to stop living my life and doing the things I love the most.  And I want to teach my son that same philosophy – to unwaveringly, but responsibly and thoughtfully pursue his passions.  I don’t live a particularly dangerous or adrenaline-junkie lifestyle.  Cycling is probably the most dangerous thing I do and its not clear to me that driving your car on LA freeways is any safer.  My point being there are risks all around us, however remote the probabilities may be.

Is that a selfish view?  I don’t think so.  There are endless reasons not do do something, especially if that something involves a perceived or even a real danger.  It’s the responsible and thoughtful pursuit of happiness that I try to use as my own personal barometer.

But here’s the rub – what constitutes “responsible and thoughtful” behavior in the pursuit of our passions, dreams and interests may be completely different for you than for me.

What do you think?  How much risk is too much risk in the pursuit of personal happiness?

The Morning Ride

Today was the first day I’d been out for a before work, early morning cycle ride in probably 8 months.  I’ve been doing my riding almost exclusively on the weekends, not regularly, and I’ve really missed getting in a 2nd or 3rd ride in during the week.

It was gorgeous this morning.  I did a short version of my typical route from Venice, out the Pacific Coast Highway to Topanga Canyon, then up Fernwood to the top of saddle peak and back.  Here are the stats from my Polar 800CSX computer:

  • Time Elapsed:  2:16:41
  • Miles:  34.45
  • Elevation Gain:  2,620 ft
  • Max Speed: 40.1 mph
  • Avg HR:  142
  • Max HR:  168
  • Calories:  1,805

I love geeking out on statistics, especially when I’m training for some event.  Believe it or not, just by tracking this stuff leads to improvement.  And I’ll need lots of improvement to get ready for Mt. Baldy with only 5 weeks left until my 75 mile, 10,000 ft climb.

I’ve got a 6,000 ft of climbing day ahead of me tomorrow.

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