Monday, 19 November 2012

unreserved success on the reservation and the only bike "race" so unique it takes two definite articles

I'm sitting in a hotel in Tucson, nursing a bruised ego and mourning a broken wheel. Yesterday's El tour was a bit of an adventure, as it always is. There's something about starting a ride with over 8,000 riders of all (and i mean all) abilities. Sitting in the starting "chute" on my left was an Olympic medalist on the track, on my right a world champion ironman and in front of us all a guy with a camelbak, a triple and a peaked helmet. The ride began in it's usual way, 8 miles which my SRM shows went down at 53 km/h and my mind recalls went down with un paralleled levels of sketchiness. The we hit a river crossing which i firmly believe is as close as i will ever get to storming the beach at Normandy, albeit carrying a bike on my shoulder. Some pretty unorthodox portages were going down all around me and at least one plucky individual attempted to remount a la cyclocross and failed to clear his top tube, let alone saddle. the results of this maneuver were roughly akin to lying down in front of a herd of migrating wildebeest, in cleated carbon shoes.

Having stormed the suburban neighbourhood, i set about riding in front of a large group of cyclists in order to facilitate riding behind the group up ahead for the remaining 103 miles. Having successfully facilitated the conjuncture of the two groups in question i commenced my usual race routine of pretending i had a wind allergy and eating peanut butter flavoured energy products. Things were going swimmingly until the Tucson curse struck.  To add to my run of Tucson luck which includes flat tyres, broken bones and now broken rims. I hit a rock yesterday with such phenomenal force that i put a huge dent in my rim and i mean huge. with the help of a stone and a tyre lever and some Eugene Cristophe attitude  i banged most of the dent out of the rim. 5 flats later, a bike shop refused to help me, or lend me a pair of pliers or spot me a tube (thanks Oro valley bikes) but thankfully the pre thanksgiving spirit of blatant douchebaggery hadn't spread to the folks at ACE hardware who set me up with a hitech duct tape, rasp and pliers based solution which got me home in 4:58, with 60 psi in my rear wheel trailing quite the collection of "cycling enthusiasts" in my draft as we battled a strong headwind (i'm using the royal we here, i didn't see a rear wheel for 60 miles even when i was urinating people wouldn't come around). Good training day then.

We're here in Arizona working with the Pascua Yaqui people, i'm setting up a scheme here through Ayuda  to get a dozen pascua yaqui volunteers to ride one of the various el tour distances in 2013 during world diabetes month. Having spent several long days on the reservation i am feeling incredibly positive about this project and the support we have from gopro to document it and make it. we're still in the process of selecting our volunteers but having already met some of them these last few days i can safely say that we have an enthusiastic base of support int his community. These are not people inherently adverse to exercise, but people who don't get the opportunity to take part in the activities i love. These are a people with a rich history of struggle, endurance, art and community. They love to move, to dance and to sing it's just a question of creating the right environment for this to happen and benefit their health. I want the participants in my scheme  to be ambassadors for their nation, both in the local Tucson community and in the diabetes world was one that these people jumped at and i am honoured to be able to help them do that.

Obviously logistics are proving difficult. We still need to secure bikes, but we have a supporter in mind. The roads in Tucson are not the greatest and the drivers not the friendliest but these people have over come much worse obstacles. Funding is never sufficient and financial times are hard for everyone.  It gets hot and people are scared of low bloodsugar but when cycling but these are not issues we can't overcome when cycling is not just a hobby but a genuine way of improving one's health and that of one's community. When one is faced with a situation where diabetes is a leading cause of mortality in adults not even termed middle aged,  then riding a biek becomes about a lot more than pinning on a number and riding an insignificant 50km in a car park, or 200km around Tucson, it becomes about community and wellbeing.  I hope that this project can extend beyond cycling and be about a re-evaluation of the native American community in Arizona and a new perspective on exercise within that community. I want these guys to be role models for their nation and examples for their friends and families and to lead their brothers and sisters into a new world of health and happiness and to do so on a bike.

Friday, 2 November 2012

beer, bridges and no more bottles

Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest, this would perhaps explain the lackadaisical attitude of the assembled bike racers, spectators, judges, police and sundry hangers on at the final showdown of our south of the border stage race. When we arrived the hangers on weren't even ready to hang on yet, let alone the racers ready to race. Fortunately the police were, like good cub scouts always ready and had taken to ripping some hot laps on their motorcycles.

The program was pretty clear on this one, high noon, and given that it was a crit we were able to find the start without our usual confusion and panic. Of course, we hadn't accounted for the time change. The suspicious lack of riders gave me a flashback to yesterday "are you SURE we're in the right place?" i asked as the car park slowly filled up with women, veterans, a taco trailer and none of the elite riders. After a brief chat with some of the assembled possee it was decided that there had indeed been a time change, the direction of which remained unclear. In order to facilitate an increased amount of confusion, and a longer trophy presentation ceremony it was decided that we would now race first, at 10am, with the other categories racing at the same time. Huzzah! Nothing excites me more than passing a novice peloton 200m in the air over a busy motorway.

Oh i didn't mention that did I? see this wasn't just your run of the mill criterium, no sir, this was a criterium on stilts, literally. The course was a hot dog loop on a closed section of a major road (vuelta perrito caliente?), with the toppings on said sausage being the climb of a freeway overpass, the descent and then the re-ascent of an adjacent overpass. Never a dull moment.

Having spent the best part of three hours waiting, lamenting the lack of coffee, drinking my extrem endurance  extend and eating the oranges which seemed to be a sponsor gift as they appeared at the start of each stage i was somewhat surprised to hear cries of "cinco minutos" reverberating around the streets of the empty city. lycra flew, glucometers bleeped, gu packets were stuffed down shorts (this isn't some kind of spinal tap prosthetic, there aren't pockets in my skinsuit) and the central barrier of the freeway saw some cyclocross action as i rushed into the bunch. Having hurried up, we began to wait, and wait. riders were told they couldn't start without gloves, so they got gloves. the GC presentations began, and we clapped. finally we took the line, got mentally prepared, breathed deeply and looked at each other and the course ahead. I had a good spot at the front of the grid and intended to go from the gun. i checked my pedals and shoes, my sunglasses and gloves. And then the inflatable finish gantry fell on my head and knocked me onto my arse.

Once we'd finished making light of the situation, pulled the giant, flaccid rubber structure from the course and disconnected the generator,we raced bikes. I attacked, got my head down and started riding hard enough to taste blood in my mouth. i looked around to see a hefty and growing gap. Sadly the main reason it was growing was that i had overshot the 180 degree turn by about 100 yards. Arse. After more blood tasting i got back on and we adopted the usual format, i was wearing my tractor beam and some of the other guys had the good sense to lock on and enjoy the ride. while some more of them managed to give the bunch the slip, and so we rode around in circles, like a merry go round. on the bridges we revelled in silence and the sound of our gears and gasps. on the corners, we were surrounded by smoke, dust and noise.

Descending after 60k i realised i was hydration free and so i vacated my bottle cages. Despite my immaculate aim, the bottles were filched out the back of the pickup by the time we'd made the 180 degree turn and our team helper was graciously proffering a coke on the other side of the road. Having indicated that i would prefer to be fed without having to climb over a concrete barrier in the middle of the road, and completed another lap i couldn't help but notice a flag being waved. The bottle wasn't offered next time around, as it turned out the beer was getting warm and the race dull, so they'd cut a couple of laps. Charming.

We made it to the final corner, i sprinted like a novice, got off my bike and found that coke which i'd wanted 12k before. We sat in our bibshorts, ate oranges and almonds and drank beer from one of the 9 kegs which the organizer had secured. We waited longer than we rode and clapped as trophies were handed out and phone numbers exchanged. ONce we were off the bikes we were the best of friends. we ate more tacos and i drank a delicious horchata. We sat in the back of pickuptrucks and then walked into the USA as the people who'd give everything to do the same looked on, and hawked air fresheners.  Bike racing is all about contradictions and so is my life; a $15,000 bike and not a penny for food parts of my body which don't work as well as most people and parts which work better than nearly all of them. i hope you've enjoyed being part of the circus, don't go anywhere,there's always more to come.