Tuesday, June 24, 2008

ToPA - Team Meetings and Presentation

The second full day of ToPA (for me) dawned bright and early after yet another 4 or so hours of sleep. I had to leave my beloved car behind for the duration of the race and pick up a caravan car in exchange. With Bethel I go to my dad's and get a broom or two, perhaps a leaf blower. Here there's a parking lot full of cars and trucks and minivans and stuff. It's a different world.

The trip itself was a bit difficult. First of all rush hour traffic in Philly is the worst. I mean, yeah, I-95 in Connecticut is bad, but this was just plain horrible. Nightmare.

Because I had simple directions (take the first highway, take the second one, take an exit, and turn left), I left my laptop with all its wireless internet stuff on the desk in the hotel room.

Of course I promptly got lost.

It happens every time I decide not to geek out and bring the laptop, sit it sideways with Google Maps up, and fiddle with it as I travel over the roads on the screen. Okay, I should buy a GPS system, but with a 17" screen, this non-GPS laptop is an acceptable alternative.

So I was lost. Normally I'd call Robin or Andrea, but of course they were in a very important meeting. When things go wrong, they have to go really wrong, otherwise it's not a challenge.

To avoid complicating things more I made very sure I didn't run into anyone.

I started driving the standard Race Homing pattern, i.e. figure out about which direction the target lay (lays? lies?) and then just keep turning to keep the car pointed in that general way. It sometimes works, especially if you're only a few blocks from a race and trying to find it, but when you're 5 miles away from the site and on some winding country roads, it isn't quite as effective.

As my alloted time wound down I started to worry. I knew the Tech guys needed to get out of the supply depot by 9 AM, and my extra half hour was now about 14 minutes.

I did what any guy would do in such a critical emergency.

I called the missus.

Luckily she wasn't with a client, she wasn't on the phone, and she got logged on and started checking the maps. I guess a second reason I haven't gotten a GPS is that the missus has come through every time. If possible, and this was one of those times, she guides me literally to the target destination, walking me through each turn, each cross street, her voice calming me down, settling my nerves, and steadying me as I drive along.

My version of aural therapy worked its magic again as she guided me to the lot only a minute or two late. I thanked her, said some quick good byes, and pulled into the lot.

A guy waved some keys at me. He told me I got to drive back Michael Aisner's caravan vehicle.


He asked if I knew the way, I automatically said yes, and he sent me off. I got in, started it up, and realized that I had no idea how to get back. After I relayed this to the lot guy, he told me to hang out for a sec because there were four other vehicles going to the hotel.


Carvans are cool when you have team cars or whatever, but to have five stickered up cars in a row?

Very cool.

Of course one peeled off quickly, another we dropped at a light, but I tailgunned the group all the way to the hotel.

Aisner is a big name in the US scene, the guy who made the Coors Classic, the guy who ferverently told the world why Philly was so great ("The most important thing was that this course was made for TV" or something like that), and he's been working the mic around here for a while.

So, out of respect for him and his contribution to US cycling, I didn't open a can of tuna fish and leave it in the corner of the car, or crank the volume on the stereo on a heavy metal station, or anything weird like that. In fact I pointed all the vents to neutral locations, found a background music kind of station, and carefully parked the minivan nose-out so it'd be easy to drive away.

Good thing too, because when I parked the minivan, Aisner and Todd Gogulski, the two commentators for the race, were walking towards me. Gogulski is another US name, formerly a Coors Light rider, and known, in my memory, for a heroic but ill fated break at CoreStates one year. The two of them were off to the press conference and climbed in, accepted a ripped page with directions to the press conference out of my Tech Guide.

The Guide, I've learned, is worth its weight in gold, and mine is already battle scarred, stains, and notes scribbled here and there. Now I can add "ripped pages" to that list. It's like Aragorn's leather duster, a coat that the actor got at the beginning of filming and was told to wear it as hard as possible, to get it truly weather-worn. My Guide is starting to take on that characteristic.

Andrea and I started setting up for registration, the manager's meeting, and some other stuff. It's weird, with registration it's all different than, say, Bethel. See at Bethel you have 200-300 riders, all registering for various races. At this race there was only one event, only one person from the team registered the team, so we really helped out only 18 people.

Big difference, right?

Well, those 18 people got a bucket load of stuff. Three numbers per racer, race bibles, Tech Guides, tons of pins (yeah, they use pins), staff and rider passes (the things that hang around their necks like rock star backstage pass things), and the packets I prepared the day before. Some got vehicles, some got supplies you can't fly cheaply across the Atlantic. It was interesting to see the same release form we use for Bethel, with the same kind of handwriting (except for the really prepared teams which printed them all out), but for such an important race.

Oh, and before they got to me, they had to go through the UCI officials too.

With all that out of the way the manager's meeting went on. It was pretty interesting, the rules, the regulations, notes, etc etc. Basically the officials were running a really tight ship. No derailleur "adjustments" up big climbs, no "cleat adjustments" when chasing back on a flying field.

However, to be fair, and I've never seen this before, once a rider gets back into the field on his own power, he's allowed to drop back to the team car (just behind the commissar's car), and receive relatively substantial shelter. The way the comms see it, that rider earned his way back to the field, demonstrated his level of strength, and is now allowed to drop back and take what shelter he wants while he loads up on bottles or dumps some clothing in the team vehicle.

Dope controls are very, very strict here, and it's just amazing that anyone would even think about doping. The message is that this stuff is treated very seriously, it's very official, and you can kiss a fledgling career goodbye if you choose not to try to follow the regulations as best you can. Each day alternatives are chosen for dope tests, and even though they may not be tested, they still have to sign in.

If you don't, you're suspended. Ouch.

After all that, you'd think it was all done, right?

Wrong. We just got into the middle of the afternoon and we still had the team presentation at a Ronald McDonald House a short drive away. Robin had collected my staff clothing for me and tossed me a very nice red Tour of Pennsylvania shirt for the presentation and dinner. I ran upstairs, changed into pressed khakis, slipped into the shirt, and turned into a somewhat presentable Race Tech kind of guy.

For the next few hours I got to meet with a bunch of folks I only read about until now. Being Robin's sidekick (lol Robin's sidekick? Okay, I was a big fan of the very high tech Batman when I was a kid) was a boon because he knew all these guys. Suffice it to say that it was pretty cool to listen to cycling war stories with these guys that I consider to be almost fictional as far as their reality is concerned. I mean, seriously, how real are the people you read about in the news? To me they're just names and stuff. But in real, well, they're real. And it's always cool to see that.

We schmoozed with them for a while, I had to tell the story of how I ended up there a few times, and since the blog featured in the story, some very important people now have my blog name (if they can remember the name).

I ran into someone who remembered me from "something". Ends up he is a buddy with a guy from the Valley in NY. We shared some stories, I talked to him about my LEO thing, and it was very cool. Amazing how small the world really is.

I didn't eat until the last second so I was still trying to swallow the last of the chicken as I boarded the trolley bus thing for the trip home. Ends up someone had saved Robin a couple seats, and being Robin's sidekick, I took the other seat. Aisner and Gogulski were there, as was a certain Canadian named Steve. Very nice personable folks, and they don't have to be, they could be mean and nasty if they wanted to. They're just doing what they love and it shows.

I was really glad I didn't leave the radio blasting in Aisner's vehicle. And, no, I really wasn't thinking about the tuna fish thing until I started typing this up.

Robin and I got back kind of late and walked next door to Target ("Tar-jay") to do some shopping. I needed a cheap ($7.99) duffle bag to carry my new gear, and I also needed to replenish some supplies. Specifically I lost my two good pens already - not the Cross or Mont Blanc, to sooth the missus's fears, but two roller ball pens I like, and I got a few more, meaning I got some extras. You know. Just in case. I think 15 ought to do okay, what do you think?

Then, while talking to the missus, I got the 911 kind of call from Robin. Luckily the fourth person in our team (Robin, Andrea, Brian, and now Amy) had just arrived, albeit after a hellacious trip. The team had another crisis plopped in their lap, resulting in yet a bit more brainstorming. I started slurring words, something I do when I'm getting accumulated fatigue, and I realized my focus was starting to fade a bit. Amy's relative freshness made me realize how tired I felt, a revelation because comparing myself to a tired Andrea or Robin made me feel fine.

With a slightly less early wake up call tomorrow, I had to call it a day. My eyelids are drooping and I'm backspacing more than I'm typing.

I feel like I've been doing this for weeks. And would you believe it, we haven't even gotten to the beginning of the race. No one has even turned a pedal in anger.


Tomorrow: the TT and the first Crit.


Yokota Fritz said...

Looks like you had a good time! :-)

I'm amazed also at the level of doping control that occurs these days. I think it's good evidence that the UCI and USA Cycling have committed themselves to making the sport as clean as possible.

Anonymous said...

Amazing you have any energy left to do a post! But keep the reports coming as you can - love being there (virtually) alongside!

Aki said...

fritz - I think as a 2.2 race, this is big time for these riders. And the tests are big time too. Based on some answers I got out of the USADA reps, I figure it costs in the region of $1-1.5k for each test performed (including the actual test cost, courier costs, and rep travel costs). I think this is great for the sport.

SOC - I've committed to doing posts. It helps that I mentioned the blog to a bunch of people. Also it's interesting to see what I write when I'm totally and completely exhausted. Personally I feel the quality is a bit compromised but it's a bit more raw and that's not a bad thing. It's not easy though, but if I don't relay stuff right away, I feel like it may disappear from my sleep-deprivation-affected short term memory.