Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Garbage Bag for Christian

For the fourth holiday season in a row Christian Vande Velde made a magnificent Christmas present to his hometown fans of Chicago--a free public appearance talking about his career and life in the peloton.

I haven't missed a one and have been greatly enriched by each. I've reciprocated his Christmas spirit with a gift for him of some Tour de France souvenir from that year's Race that I figured would have a special meaning for him. My first offering was a course marker, a relic that is a prized item for anyone who has been a part of The Tour, whether as a rider or a follower. He was so thrilled by it, I asked him if he'd like another. He said absolutely, so that was a repeat gift one year. Another year my gift was a Tour edition of "L'Equipe," the French daily sports newspaper, with a photo filling its first page of he and Lance battling it out in the mountains. That also put a large smile of delight on his face.

I could have brought him another course marker this year, but I thought I'd surprise him with something different--one of the official green Tour plastic garbage bags that line The Tour route. When I presented him with a course marker the first time, I wasn't sure whether he as a rider would be cognizant of them, as he certainly didn't need them to find his way, as the peloton is led by an armada of gendarmes on motorcycles. But he was well aware of them as their bright day glow background are hard to miss, especially when they come in pairs or trios pointed at an angle warning of a sharp turn ahead.

I was curious if he'd be aware of the garbage bags, as they aren't mounted high like the course markers and are generally hidden from the racers by the throngs of fans lining the course. They are hung on barriers or attached to trees or posts at waist level. But Christian has surprised me over the years by being aware of aspects of The Tour that I suspected would only matter to fans.

I presented the bag to him folded with The Tour logo facing out, and asked, "Do you know what this is?" hoping he'd instantly recognize it by its distinctive soft green color, and reward me with an exclamation of delight as he has in the past. But I stumped him, even as I unfolded it further to reveal what it was. After I explained it to him, he playfully chided me saying, "What's with a garbage bag? Where's my course marker."

"You don't have too many?" I asked.

"Hell no," he replied.

"Okay, next year I'll be sure to bring you some more course markers."

Before I could feel too bad, he held the bag up and showed it to his sister, standing off to the side and said, "Look at this. An official Tour garbage bag. Isn't that cool?"

Then he asked, "Do you know about the garbage disposal zone along The Tour route for the riders?"

"Yes, it's just before the feed zone. Do the riders actually take advantage of it?"

"We sure do. Every one's emptying out their pockets of wrappers and unused energy bars before they load up with more food. You should hang out there. You're always so skinny, you could use the food.

I was standing with my friend Elizabeth, who brought along several bicycling calenders of her photographs for him to autograph. They are a fund raiser for the annual world wide Ride of Silence the third Wednesday of May every year in memory of those killed while riding a bicycle. Elizabeth spearheads the Chicago edition that attracts several hundred riders. Christian wasn't aware of the event, but he turned instantly serious at the mention of the subject. He's known his share of racers who've died over the years, including one in the Tour of Italy this past year in a horrific crash. Christian crashed five times in this year's Tour alone, and is well aware of the dangers of the sport, as are all the racers. He says he has a German teammate who rides with a small block of wood that he taps at any thought of death or close call.

There were only about forty of us on hand for this year's event at the Garmin Store on Chicago's glamour shopping street, Michigan Avenue, the stretch known as the Magnificent Mile. A cold drizzle discouraged all but the most hardy of cyclists of coming by bike. The Garmin representative who introduced Christian asked, "How many people bicycled here?" Only three of us raised our hands. Then he asked, "Who came the furthest?" A guy sitting in front of me spoke up first and said, "I came a mile." My friend Craig said, "I came three miles." When the Garmin rep turned his eyes on me, the only other one to have raised his hand, I said, "I live in Wicker Park, about five miles away." Christian immediately piped up, "That's no surprise. No one bikes further than George."

Christian began by saying how much he enjoys this annual gathering with his fans and being able to spend some of the year in his home town with family and friends, since he spends so much of the year traveling all over the world to race. When he asked for questions there was a hesitancy in his audience, who seemed awed by his presence, allowing me to dive right in.

"Are you back from Hawaii?," I asked.

"No, I didn't go out there this year. My teammate, Ryder Hesjedal, who I always stay with, got married to a girl from Missouri and wasn't there, so I did my December training in San Diego instead."

"Did Ryder still have his camp for paying customers?"

"He did, but I wasn't a part of it this year."

Our informal exchange wasn't enough to give anyone else the courage to raise a hand or speak up so I simply continued, as I could have all night. "Tell us about your team time trial win at this year's Tour. When you were here a year ago you predicted you'd win it."

"I did?"

"Yes, remember I asked if you would assume the yellow jersey afterwards, as you had in the Giro a few years before with the pink jersey after Garmin won that team time trial, and you said it would probably be one of your sprinters and you were right about that too."

"The win was one of the biggest thrills of my career. I broke into tears in the team bus afterwards. I kept remembering how far our team had come in the four years I had been with it and all the effort we put into building the team. It was quite emotional for all of us."

He continued on saying how proud he was of how well Garmin did in the Tour with two other stage victories and defending the yellow jersey for a week and winning the competition for the best team. They put a lot of effort into winning the team victory, which is determined by the times of the first three riders for each team on each stage. Garmin had three strong climbers, Christian, Hesjedal and Tom Danielson. Christian said they had to be very vigilant on certain stages not letting three riders from other teams get too far up the road. "It upset some riders that we were trying so hard for the team victory," Christian said. "Stuart O'Grady chirped at me once, 'Haven't you guys won enough. You ought to give the rest of us something.' But that's not the way it goes"

At last some else spoke up asking, "What language do riders chirp in."

"When I first started riding in Europe in 1998," Christian said, "It seemed that there were more Italians in the peloton than anyone else and that was the dominant language. Now there are lots of English riders with us Americans and the Australians and English and all the Dutchies speaking English and Belgians and a lot of Germans, so you hear more English than anything else"

The next question came from a young man up front who wanted to know,"Did you dig deeper on your team time trail or the Vail Pass time trial at the Colorado race?"

"At Vail, by far. I was standing on my pedals the last three kilometers. I was 17 seconds behind Levi at the mid-point check point and I made up all but half a second of that by the summit. I held the record for the climb for about a minute, until he finished."

Christian had also finished second in the opening prologue of the week-long race that attracted crowds of Tour de France proportions and finished second overall, his best achievement of the year, ending his season on a fine, fine note tht seems to have him inspired to do even better next year.

"What's your favorite race to watch and which is your favorite race to participate in," another asked.

"I love watching the Tour of Flanders. I've raced in it a bunch of times, but I never want to race it again. I'm happy to just load up with snacks and sit and watch it from start to finish on television. And my favorite races to ride are the Tour of California and the recent Colorado race."

Christian went on to say he wouldn't be riding the Tour of California in 2012 though, as he'll be riding the Giro in Italy instead, indicating how serious he is about doing well in this year's Tour de France, as the three-week Giro is much better preparation than the week-long California race. Some years the Giro course is too demanding, as last year, which left Contador weakened for The Tour despite dominating the Giro. But the Giro course this year isn't the killer it has been.

A young man wondered what Christian's thoughts were about collegiate bicycle racing. "I'm all for it," he said. "I didn't have that opportunity and so didn't go to college, as I wanted to pursue the bike racing. That's an experience I missed and I'm not sure if I'll be able to do it after I retire."

Then he mentioned that he went riding earlier in the day with Bo Jackson, the Heisman trophy winner who was a star in both football and baseball, a man who was able to get a good education and also pursue his athletic career.

"How was Bo on the bike?" I interjected, drawing a laugh from the audience.

"Not so good," Christian said. "He weighs about 280 pounds. We were riding on a trail and his bike was sinking into the ground."

A woman said, "I don't know that much about the sport and can't understand how everyone on a team can sacrifice for one rider who gets all the glory."

Christian explained that its hard on some teams with individuals who don't get along so well, but at Garmin he enjoys a great camaraderie and respect with his teammates. "We're all like brothers. We're together so much, sharing hotel rooms and eating breakfast and dinner together, we become very close. I was very happy to sacrifice for Thor at this year's Tour when he was in the yellow jersey and I know he'd be happy to do the same for me. We'll miss him. He was just offered too much money by the BMC team to turn it down. They're printing money over there."

The Garmin rep cut off the questions after half an hour so everyone could go down stairs and line up for an autographed photo from Christian and a one-on-one exchange. No one passed up on the opportunity. If this had been Europe or Colorado or California there would have been several hundred people drooling at this chance. Though I would have loved to have seen such a mob here, I couldn't be overly disappointed that there were only a handful of us, allowing for a truly intimate and relaxed interchange with one of the sport's significant riders. Its a little over six months until The Tour starts in Liege, Belgium at the end of June. It can't come soon enough.

For more photos of the Garmin event see

To read about Christian's two previous Garmin appearances, see these posts:

Monday, December 19, 2011

"Team 7-Eleven"--Pain in the Peloton

On the surface, Geoff Drake's book "Team 7-Eleven, How an Unsung Band of American Cyclists Took on the World--And Won" is the history of the first American team to race in the Tour de France and a biography of its director, Jim Ochowicz, but the book has a strong underlying theme of how demanding and painful bicycle racing is, so much so that "pain" is a category in the index. There are ten entries, though there could have been forty more.

Drake knows his subject well. He was a young journalist covering the sport of cycling during the ten years of 7-Eleven's existence up to l991, when its sponsorship was taken over by Motorola. And he is a racer as well, though not of national caliber. He doesn't comment on his own racing, but it is clear he has spent many an hour in the saddle trying to keep up, describing the pain and suffering of racing with the eloquence of one who is on the most intimate terms with it. He never passes up an opportunity to comment on how much one must suffer to race. He calls it the "rider's lot," as is one of the sub-heads under "pain" in the index. Sprinkled throughout the book are references to pain as "the constant currency of racers" and racing as "relentless pain." He asserts that a racer must have a "capacity for suffering" and a "high tolerance for pain."

Early on he devotes half a page of testimony to his close personal relationship with pain and suffering on the bike, describing it in detail. "It is as if every muscle is being pickled with acid," he writes, "Every fiber screams to be released from its state of purgatory; every rational thought says to stop...For a normal person, this load of physical stress is one of unimaginable agony. But for elite cyclists the searing in the lungs and limbs is commonplace--like punching a time card at the office."

No book on cycling can avoid the mention of pain, but few dwell on it to the extent that this does. When describing the great camaraderie of the 7-Eleven racers, beyond that of any other team he asserts, he said it provided "an essential buffer against the monumental pain and suffering that the sport engendered," one of the many references overlooked in the index.

Writing of the legendary stage in the l988 Giro d'Italia over the Gavia in the snow that led to the team's and Andy Hampsten's greatest victory, he said the riders spent the day "on the threshold of life and death." He quotes Hampsten's Norwegian teammate Dag Lauritzen as saying, "I knew pain, but that day was terrible."

He further implies that suffering is synonymous with racing when he refers to the list of Eddie Merck's wins as "the full continuum of suffering." A photo of Lauritzen in The Tour de France, where he won a stage riding for the team, is titled "Sufferfest." No opportunity is lost to associate racing with pushing one's self to one's threshold of pain and beyond. He describes Ron Keifel as one who "had the universal quality endemic to successful cyclists, which was that he knew how to suffer." Keifel pays teammate Bob Roll the ultimate compliment: "That guy could suffer."

He acknowledges that there can be pleasure in the pain. He says, "The best athletes will reach out and embrace the pain, welcoming it home like an old friend." He quotes Hampsten on his winning effort in a time trial at the l988 Giro that "it hurt so much it felt like a meditation."

Amidst all this pain obsession is the great story of how Ochowicz with much determination put together a team of American racers who could battle on equal terms with the European veterans of the peloton, winning stages of the two premier races in the world on its first attempt--the Giro d'Italia in l985 and The Tour de France in l986, and grew into the team that won The Tour de France with Lance Armstrong from 1999 to 2005.

Eric Heiden played a significant role in winning 7-Eleven's sponsorship, as he was fresh off winning five speed-skating medals at the 1980 Olympics and was as prominent an athlete as there was in the world. Any company would be thrilled to be associated with him. Their initial investment in the team was $250,000. Ochowicz thought he could afford six riders, paying them each $12,000, and using the rest of the stipend for expenses. He settled on Heiden, Roger Young, Danny Van Haute, Tom Schuler, and Ron Haymen. He couldn't decide between two up-and-comers, Greg Demgen and Jeff Bradley, for the sixth spot, so offered them each $6,000 each, which they accepted.

They were the most successful team on the US circuit. Everyone wanted to ride for them. The next year Ochowicz added Davis Phinney, Ron Keifel and Alex Steida, who became the core of the team and figured prominently when they finally went to Europe in 1985. From those humble beginnings by 1989 it could afford to offer Greg LeMond $5.7 million for a three-year contract after his second win in The Tour de France. Ochowicz thought he had an agreement with LeMond, but he settled on a better offer from the French team Z. The following year he won The Tour for the third and final time.

The book concludes with the end of 7-Eleven's sponsorship due to an economic down turn, but with the good news that John Vande Velde, father of Christian and a former Olympic racing teammate of Ochowicz, arranged for Motorola to take over the team.

As knowledgeable as Drake is, his book, as just about every other cycling book written by an American who did not grow up living and breathing bicycle racing as he might have baseball or football, has a fumble that no European book on the sport would commit, failing to be consistent when it comes to that greatest of climbs--L'Alpe d'Huez. On page 261 he spells it right, but on pages 240 and 286 he leaves off the honorific "L" that the French always accord it. L'Alpe d'Huez also qualified for an index oversight with only two of the three mentions listed.

Inconsistent spelling of L'Alpe d'Huez is all too common and as aggravating as the frequent misspelling of peloton. "Velo News," now "Velo," is a chronic offender, sometimes referring to it three different ways in the same issue. It can have alternate spellings on the same page. Its just not well enough ingrained in the consciousness of American writers and editors.

Bill and Carol McGann in their two-volume "The Story of the Tour de France" capitalize the "L" in their first volume but use lower case in their second. Since it was introduced to The Tour in 1952, it was only mentioned three times in volume one, covering the years 1903 to 1964. In the second volume it is mentioned more than thirty times, going with the lower case "L" this time, though four times without any "L" at all. Curiously it is listed under "L" in the index of the first volume, but under "A" in the second. As with Drake's book, several mentions are not listed in the index.

Drake and the McGanns had a minimum of factual and editing transgressions compared to many American books on The Tour. One of the worst was "The Tour de France for Dummies" even saying the Tourmalet is in the Alps. Wait until my report on Samuel Abt, the "New York Times" reporter who covered bicycling racing in Europe for a couple of decades and wrote eleven books about the sport from 1985 to 2005. His mistakes go on and on.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Anquetil The Great

Having so thoroughly immersed myself in The Tour de France the past eight summers, riding the route just ahead of or after the peloton, and soaking in all the media attention and the fervor of the tens of thousands of fans who line the course, has fully infected me with a craving to learn all I can about its lore and history, not only to relive my own Tour experiences but to better understand how it has become such a cultural and sporting phenomenon.

From its very beginning in 1903 the spectacle of men racing bikes beyond what was assumed to be possible has touched a chord with the masses, not only in France but all over the world. Countless books have been written on it, including a recent glut in English during the reign of Lance. I've read as many as I've been able to get my hands on, not objecting at all to being reminded of its many legendary episodes that I know so well, as I'm happy for another interpretation and the usual revelation of a few new obscure incidents that heighten my understanding of its magnitude and extent of its appeal.

The recent biography of the great French cyclist Jacques Anquetil, "Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape," by the English journalist Paul Howard, though not exclusively about The Tour de France, did offer up quite a bit of material that further helped me fathom the meaning of the Tour de France and the hold it has on the French. It included some near incredulous anecdotes that only a well-researched biography could provide.

Anquetil was the first rider to win The Tour five times, his first victory in 1957 at the age of 23, and then four more from 1960 to 1964. He was one of the greatest racers ever, right up there with Coppi and Merckx. He was the first to win all three Grand Tours (France, Italy and Spain). He broke the record for the hour at the age of 22, held at the time by Coppi, and then broke it again ten years later, though it wasn't recognized, as he declined to take a drug test afterwards. He won the Grand Prix des Nations, the unofficial world time trial championship, an unequalled nine times, the first at the incredible age of 19.

In 2000 when every sports publication around the world was compiling a list of the greatest sporting achievements of the century, "L'Equipe," the peerless French daily national sports newspaper, named his victory in the week-long Dauphine Libere race followed by winning the one-day 557-kilometer Bordeaux to Paris race the day after, not only the greatest exploit in the history of cycling but also the foremost athletic accomplishment of the century.

It was unthinkable to even attempt such a feat. It was barely twelve hours between the end of one race and the start of the next and a distance of several hundred miles. A special plane, reputedly arranged with the assistance of DeGaulle, flew Anquetil from Nimes the Saturday evening after he won the Dauphine to Bordeaux for its pre-daylight start.

Even on limited sleep after an eight-stage hard-fought race he triumphed in this most demanding test, the sport's longest one-day race, a race that had been established in 1891, twelve years before the first Tour de France, and discontinued in 1988 as being just too much, nearly two-and-a-half times the distance of even the longest Tour stages. Anquetil was known as a great tactician who meticulously plotted out his many wins. He won with calculation rather than panache. This was a dare beyond his reckoning. He was so overwhelmed by his win that he admitted it was the only time in his career that he cried afterwards, though not until he was out of the public eye, safely ensconced in a car with his wife.

He undertook this previously unattempted double in 1965, a year he had decided not to contest The Tour de France. He had grown weary of winning it and not receiving all the accolades he thought he deserved. His great rival Raymond Poulidor was the more popular of the two with the French, something Anquetil could not understand or accept. In an article he wrote for a French newspaper entitled "Why I Don't Like Poulidor," he complained that he had ridden in 80 races with Poulidor and won 77, yet the public thinks they have a duel going. "The result was decided long ago," he wrote.

Another year when he elected not to ride The Tour, he rode the route a day ahead of the peloton and reported on it for a television station. It actually paid him more than he would have earned if he had won The Race. He upstaged The Tour again in a year he didn't participate with a series of articles written during The Race admitting to doping and paying off riders to let him win. "You have to be an imbecile or a hypocrite to imagine that a professional cyclist who races 235 days a year in all weathers can keep going without stimulants," he wrote.

The 1964 Tour, the last that he won, was one of the most exciting ever. That was the year he and Poulidor battled shoulder-to-shoulder up the Puy de Dome, an unheard manner of racing. Anquetil was in the yellow jersey. All he needed to do was cling to Poulidor's wheel. Poulidor was the superior climber, but Anquetil wanted to psyche him by riding right along side him and not minding if he occasionally brushed into him. The photo of their battle is the most iconic in the history of The Tour, summing up all it represents, competitors giving it their all.

Poulidor did spurt ahead in the final kilometer to win the stage but not by enough to strip Anquetil of the coveted yellow jersey. The Race came down to the final time trial soon after on the last day in Paris. Poulidor rode the time trial of his life encouraged by an estimated half a million fans cheering him on. It looked as if he would finally win The Race, but in the last few kilometers Anquetil had an explosion of his own energy and regained the lead, winning the overall by 55 seconds, the closest finish in the history of The Tour up to that point.

The nation had thought 1964 would finally be the year that their favored underdog Pou-Pou would prevail. A well known psychic made an outrageous prediction that Anquetil would crash on stage 14 and die. It was a stage in the Pyrenees. It was so widely reported that the journalists allowed on the course in cars and motorcycles trailed as closely to Anquetil as they could. It was a rainy, foggy day with visibility on one descent of just a couple bike lengths. It couldn't have been much more perilous. Anquetil was very unsettled by the prediction, but he rode fearlessly.

After Anquetil retired he and Poulidor became good friends. The thawing was facilitated by Anquetil's young daughter, who had a fascination for Poulidor, preferring to exclaim Pou-Pou rather than Pa-Pa. Anquetil was one of those riders who regarded the bicycle as an instrument of torture and only rode his bicycle a handful of times after he retired. One of those occasions was to re-enact his ride up the Puy de Dome with Poulidor. Another time was on his young daughter's birthday when he delighted her and her friends by riding into their swimming pool on his estate.

Putting "Sex" into the title of the book was not inappropriate. Anquetil led a most notorious sex life, marrying the wife of his physician when he was 24. She was 31 and had two children. She had to abandon them, though they eventually opted to live with her and Anquetil. Anquetil was eager to have a child of his own after he retired. His wife Jeanine was incapable of having another child. As they discussed possible surrogates, Jeanine suggested her daughter. She was only 18 at the time, but was agreeable. Anquetil fell in love with her, so carried on relations with both wife and step-daughter for twelve years with the agreement of both, all living in the same chateau.

His daughter Sophie thought it was wonderful to have two mothers. In 2004, seventeen years after the death of Anquetil, she wrote her biography with contributions from her mother and grand-mother. The story was widely known, but it still caused a media circus, especially with the three of them on the talk-show circuit promoting the book. The final twist to Anquetil's sex life was divorcing Jeanine and marrying the wife of his step-son, who had come to live with the Anquetils to oversee his farm. She too wrote a biography in 1989, two years after the death of Anquetil at 53 from stomach cancer.

The title of the book isn't the only play on a movie title. Many of the chapter titles pick up on the movie theme--The Apprentice, A Star Is Born, Mission: Impossible, Italian Job and The Cyclist, the Wife, Her Daughter and His Lover and then The Cyclist, the Stepson, His Wife and Her Lover.

What a life and what a book.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Questions for the Pros

Friends: There are more bike blogs out there than you would want to know, hundreds and hundreds. "Outside" magazine recently published a list of what it considered the top ten. Among them was

Fatty, as he is known despite not being fat, achieved fame back in December of 2009 when he sent a mock letter of application to Johan Bruyneel to ride for the RadioShack team in the second year of Lance's comeback. Johan played along with the gambit. He said if he could raise $10,000 for World Bicycle Relief and $10,000 for LiveStrong within a week, he'd be welcome to try out for the team at its training camp in Tucson later that month. Fatty offered up a couple of bikes to his readers to raise the money and pulled in a staggering $135,000. He had a fine time at the camp, though he didn't ride well enough to earn a contract.

This past week Fatty announced that he would be conducting periodic interviews with pro cyclists and solicited questions from his readers. At last count more than 140 of his readers had responded with a wide range of quite good questions. Fatty was so impressed he said, "You guys are knocking it out of the ball park." Scanning the identities of those submitting questions, more than 25 of them had blogs of their own.

More people wanted to know how the riders deal with pain and suffering than anything else. They were well informed on how demanding the sport is with a few asking if they'd want their children to pursue the sport. One asked, "Do your parents think you're crazy too?" Another series of popular questions had to do with what the racers thought of the various bikes they've been obligated to ride due to the team's sponsors and also the uniforms they've had to wear.

There were the usual questions about shaving and eating and maintaining their weight and taking a leak in the middle of a race and sex and what they'd be if they weren't a cyclist. A couple of readers who race wondered if they too had to take a pee every couple minutes just before the start of a race.

There were quite a few questions relating to the human side of the riders--if they had ever been to summer camp, their favorite pie, who was their best friend as a kid, memories of their first bike, their hobbies, if they were ever picked on for being a skinny little kid. Others wanted to know if they ever ride just for personal enjoyment and if they have a favorite ride. At least five readers wondered about their mechanical aptitude, if they could fix a flat tire, and if they'd stop and help a cyclist in distress when out on a training ride.

There were quite a few trying to understand what its like to be in the peloton--their reaction to the closeness of the fans, if it smells in the peloton, the cost of their socks, if tubulars are really that much better than clinchers. Several asked how easy it was for them to fly with their bikes. At least four questions related to podium girls, including "Do you exchange pleasantries with podium girls, or do they all just ask if you can give them Mario Cipollini's phone number?" One of my questions was if they randomly tossed their water bottle when it is empty or if they are selective to whom they throw it. Someone else asked if they aimed corks on champagne bottles when they were on the podium at specific individuals in the crowd.

Readers wanted to know if David Ziebriskie is really that weird, if they are afraid of Jens Voigt, if they'd want to go riding with Bob Roll, if Levi Leipheimer had ever put them in a head lock, Frank or Andy, if Thomas Voeckler is as disliked as has been reported.

There were those interested in their mindset of living in Europe--if they give their shoe size in European or American measurements, how many languages they speak or what key phrases they knew from other languages.

There were a handful of goofball questions asking if they'd consider riding The Tour on a fixie unicycle, if they ever sing in the peloton, what is their favorite flavor of road grit, why don't pro bikes have bells, how many bugs they swallow in a year, if they ever feel the need to take pictures of their bike when out riding, chunky or creamy.

All in all the readers were quite knowledgeable. Of the fifteen readers who included the word "peloton" in their questions only three (20%) misspelled it as "peleton," an all too common mistake among American neophyte fans of the sport. Another of my questions was to ask the racers to spell "peloton." It is so little used in our lexicon that it has yet to qualify for spellcheck.

Since the vast majority of those offering up questions had more than a few, Fatty has well over 500 questions to choose from. It will be a challenge not only for him to narrow them down but for the racers to provide answers as interesting as the questions. Let the interviews begin.

Later, George