Friday, March 21, 2008

Cycling Awareness links

Still feeling a bit beaten up from my fall last weekend in Cannes (see next post), I offer a few cycling safety links, e.g., "Look out for Cyclists" below. The door-opener guy in Cannes could stand to have read no.7 in the Yield to Life driving tips on Dave Zabriske's website. There has also been a lot of news on the cycling-driving relationship, and related accidents and deaths in VeloNews lately.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Road Trip: Paris-Nice

Last Wednesday, Jason and I met up with Serge from Hot Point bikes in Geneva to ride the velodrome - a first for both of us. Riding the velodrome is a bit unlike other cycling disciplines in that the bike is a single-speed, fixed gear, meaning there are no brakes, you pedal slower to slow yourself down. You can't just let your legs stand still while the wheels move (forward or backward); if the wheels are moving, so are your legs, in proportion. In fact, if you try to stop while pedaling, the cranks force your legs around. It's a great workout. The Geneva velodrome is particularly short - 167 meters around to be exact, which means the banks are steep in the corners: 43 degrees and you'd have trouble walking up it. I was told one must ride 27 km/hr (about 18mph) to allow the centrifugal force to keep you from sliding down the banked walls. After about 40 minutes of riding alone, we decided to try a pace line; the three of us row, on each other's wheel, going around the banked track. It was a bit intimidating. There is no room for error. We each took turns of 2 laps out front, then rode up the wall to fall back in line behind the others. Once we got the hang of it, we were moving quite briskly. We also learned that if you shoot up to the apex of the wall and back down to the base, you pick up incredible speed to carry you through to the next corner. Did I mention it was a great workout.

This past weekend (14, 15, 16-Mar-08) Jason and I packed up the car on Friday morning drove down to Nice for the Parc des Maurettes campground at the nearby town of Villeneuve-Loubet. On the way, we passed by a huge tire fire near St. Tropez - it was so big we thought it was clouds from a distance. Upon our arrival at the campground, we were told that even though this was not "camping season" they would let us set up our tent and stay the weekend. Apparently, despite the spring temperatures, it is outside the norm to bring a tent in March since the other sites were occupied by RV-type campers. The weekend would present a few more roadblocks we were to soon discover. Still, it was an incredible one-of-a-kind experience. After getting permission to set up camp, we realized neither of us had printed out any information on the Paris-Nice bike race we had just driven all morning to see. Fortunately a fellow named Paul from Britain at the campsite was there for the race as well, and he was kind enough to let us photocopy the race information. (We ended up going out to Cannes for the Saturday finish with Paul). Opting to head to Nice for dinner rather than get a Friday evening ride in, Jason and I stopped in the supermarket for some wine on the brief 5 minute walk to the beach on the Mediterranean sea. Briefly taking in the view of Cannes to our left, and Nice to our right (interrupted only slightly by the Marina Baie des Anges), we cleaned up for the train to Nice. After figuring out which platform went our direction and how to pay, we were on our way. Once in Nice, we wandered around a bit, but being hungry, stopped at an Indian joint in a cobblestone alley for an outdoor dinner. After dinner, we walked around a bit before heading back to the train station for our trip back to the campground. Only problem was that the next train back didn't leave for over 2 hours! I suppose we would have done better to check the timetable when we arrived in Nice, but we didn't think for one minute that the trains would be so spread apart since they run at least every 30 minutes in Geneva on the weekends. Not having the luxury of walking back, or waiting for the 12:30 train, we took a taxi ride that cost us more than the campground for the weekend. Finding the gate to our campground locked up when we arrived, we had to hop the fence to get back in (despite our telling the owner we were going out, they did not bother to tell us they lock up at night, or more importantly, the code to get back in). Waking up on Saturday morning to chirping birds, we met briefly with Paul to discuss our afternoon plans while we ate breakfast. Our plan was to go out to Monaco to get a picture on the Formula 1 circuit, then head back to meet up with Paul for the trip out to Cannes to watch the race come in over the mountains. The ride out to Monaco was unreal. Mostly flat with a few hills thrown in, there were amazing villas terraced above us spotting the hills to the left, flanked by the sharp drop off to the sea on the right. Once we arrived in Monaco, we made our way up to a hill, which incidentally we discovered was the location of the Prince's Palace of Monaco as the crowds and guards evidenced that either a royal procession or changing of the guards was to take place shortly. Back down the hill, we headed for a stretch of road on the F1 circuit to capture a few photos. As I rounded one marked corner, Jason was still getting his camera ready, so I rode maybe a hundred meters back up the marked shoulder of the one-way street to ride through again for a better picture. Just as I was turning around to do that, a motorcycle cop zoomed up to confront me. After yelling at me in French, and then English, I was told to turn around and go back down which was fine by me since that was what I was in the process of doing. Despite this apparent understanding, and given that I was in fact now headed in the proper direction, I was reminded several times that I was not to be riding here. Having had enough of Monaco, and anti-climatically riding a section of the F1 circuit, it was time to make our way back for lunch. The ride back was equally stunning - cliffs, houses perched on them, the sea, the windy roads. Arriving back at the campground, we rendezvous'd with Paul, ate a quick lunch of sausages and baguettes, and hopped back on our bikes to head out for Cannes. Originally we planned to head up to the Col de Tenneron, but not seeing any signs for it and not finding it on the GPS, we headed for the city center to see the finish. When we arrived in Cannes, the crowds were sparse, so we got a decent vantage point to see Davide Rebellin cross the finish line ahead of the others on a small breakaway. We met up with Serge from Hot Point bikes in Geneva and his dad (who incidentally would come very much in handy as a translator in about an hour). After the race, we decided to wander through the team cars and buses to see if we could meet up with any riders. It was quite busy as everyone seemed eager to leave Cannes for the depart in neighboring Nice the next morning. On our way through the crowds, a woman stopped me and asked me for a water bottle "can't you just give me one of your extras from the car?" she asked. She thought I was a rider - not the only one of the weekend as it would turn out. Some time later, we started to leave town. Just after leaving the staging area, things got a bit interesting. As we were heading through town with the team cars, I rode out front with Jason and Paul in tow. Then all of the sudden, out of nowhere, some local guy who was clearly not paying attention to the fact that there were huge crowds of people, bikers, and other cars opened his door right in front of me. I had zero time to react, and hit the deck straight away. My initial instinct was to get out of the way of other traffic, but before I could do that, I urged the guys in the team High Road car to pull their car forward off of my rear wheel. English did not appear to be their native tongue, so this took longer than I would have liked. The guy who opened his door on me didn't speak English either; great. Fortunately, Serge happened to be passing by, so a true lifesaver, he translated. The guy in the High Road car hopped out and took down everyone's information, but before I could ask him for half his sheet of paper, he hopped in the car and took off; great again. I wanted simply to exchange information with the door-opener guy, but some British fellow in the crowd kept yelling that we had to go talk to the police, so we did. Turns out the local police (whose office was conveniently right across the street) cold not help us, but told us we had to go to the national police to get a report. So off we went. With Serge still translating, once we finally arrived at the national police office, we were told that they did not issue such reports, and they could only help if someone wanted to press charges. Clearly this was not what anyone wanted. It was at that point that the door-opener guy mentioned nonchalantly, that he had a form in the car for insurance, and that we just fill that out. So after walking around town, we were on our way back to his parked car to exchange information. We then followed Serge to his car so he could do some triage on my wheel. Finally we could get on our way back to the campground. Only problem was it was getting dark. Not having much of a choice, we headed home to the campground as the soreness and stiffness from my close encounter with the door set in (which is still lingering, especially in my right hand pointer-finger which is quite swollen). Making our way back home, we showered up and headed back to Nice for a much deserved pre-St. Patty's day burger and beer at the Irish pub. Fast forward to Sunday morning, again waking up to the birds cuckooing. Packing up our gear for good, we started off by car Sunday morning for Nice for the pre-race festivities. Meeting up with Serge and his dad again in Nice, we strolled about the team cars and buses where we saw legend Sean Kelly and Pat McQuaid. We then met up with Australian champ Matthew Lloyd of the (Predictor) Silence-Lotto team who was a nice fellow and by the way had a beautiful green, white, and yellow Aussie colored bike. We didn't run into his teammate and former mountain biker Cadel Evans. (Who I root for as a fellow mountain biker -- especially since the other prominent former mountain biker turned pro-Tour roadie Michael Rasmussen is presently "suspended"). We also had the good fortune to run into fellow American Bobby Julich of the CSC squad who I had seen previously in the CSC invitational crits back in Arlington, VA, and with whom Jason and I chatted with for a few minutes. He's a really down to earth guy, and a great American cycling rep and incidentally now living in Nice. Can't blame him, it's beautiful. After seeing the race roll off, Jason, Serge and I rode out to Eze, then up to the Col to catch the race. We rode up the back side and caught the race at the 16km mark, just prior to the top of the Col. After seeing the initial break and what we thought was the entire peleton and a few stragglers pass by, we presumed no riders were behind. So off we went to try to get down to Nice before the roads opened up to the public. (Strategically we had to time this perfectly: right after the race, but before the roads opened). With about 1km to climb, we started off slow, then picked up the pace as we crested the Col. The three of us soon raced down towards the sea on the race route which was still closed to traffic -- for good reason we would later find out. As we collectively put the hammer down, we screamed down the mountain, and at one point it dawned on me (and Jason and Serge too I would discover once we finished) that we might be on the open course with riders back. The police were stopping crowds from crossing the streets, and people were shouting: "Allez, allez" and snapping photos of us! They thought we were in the race. Not to let our fans down, we all raced down as fast possible towards the finish. It was unreal. We took lines of our choice. We had 100% access to the roads into the finish in Nice. It was only in the last few hundred meters that we were flagged off the course. We pulled off into the team car area, and it was at that point that we all realized that we were on the open course -- the clock was still running, there were still riders out! As we pulled up to talk to Serge's dad, people walked over and looked at us, checking out our bikes and apparently thinking we were riders. Imagine driving your car up to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and pulling a few pace laps, it was unheard of. I can't help but think a director or cop somewhere along the last 15km noticed that we were not riders but in good spirit radioed ahead to "just let these boys have fun." I can just hear Phil Liggett announcing: "A couple of fans have found their way onto the course and are having a go at the last bit as the crowds cheer them on. Surely they'll get pulled off the course before they get swallowed up by the riders at the back of the pack!" Despite a few missteps along the way, all-in-all, it was an unforgettable experience; I'll never forget riding down the course of Paris-Nice. Up next, Alp D'Huez.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

78e Salon International De L'Auto Geneve

Monday 10-Mar-08 Jason, Lily, Rodolfo, Claudia and I set out for the 78th International Motor Show here in Geneva. Some highlights include the new VW Scirocco, the Bugatti Veyron, Audi Typ C (for aspiring racers), Audi R8, and lots of low CO2-emissions debuts. I think the pictures say it best.