Friday, September 26, 2008

Interbike - Day Two, A Day Late

Interbike. The middle day. The tough day. If IB was a stage race, this was the long day after the opening stages of the race.

For us it was a long, long day, with some technical or scheduling difficulties that made posting things impossible during the evening.

My first issue was getting my bike down to the convention center so that I could ride from there to the race. My bestest friend said it would be okay to leave my bike and gear in his very spacious suite in the nearby Palazzo so I rode my bike down. My quads were twinging hard, my throat was a bit sore, and the lactic acid built up right away.


Because I wanted to get to the show early, I rode over early. When I went to change into my street clothes, I realized I forgot an important piece of clothing.

Let's just say that if "Chamois time is training time", I trained from 8:00 AM to about 11 PM in my Connecticut Coast Cycling Verge shorts.

(I will point out that I wore my Carpe Diem Racing Verge shorts on my ride down, so I wasn't in "just ridden" shorts all day, I was in "just washed" shorts all day)

Our first goal that day was to catch the early-ish Lance press conference. Being the star struck kind, that was something I really wanted to do.

But then a different star struck.

Actually, I didn't know who it was, but when I called to find out the Lance room number, my suite-space lending friend just told me, "Get to the media center NOW."

Usually he's very level headed, very calm, and very good at explaining himself, but the curt, tense voice made my Spidey Sense tingle. The missus and I barged into the show entrance, expecting our magical (media) passes to do the trick, but alas, they didn't. A kind soul, overhearing our predicament, realizing our (well, okay my) desperation to get in, offered to escort us in.

The same guard that diligently blocked our way just a minute before now diligently let us through, the Early Entry Pass the newest greatest pass ever invented.

We walked quickly to the media center, our rescuer explaining why he chose to rescue us. Suffice it to say that when a good friend of yours is "good people", inevitably his friends are also "good people".

We strode into the media center and I stopped, slack jawed.

The Lion of Flanders sat there.

No, not a lion lion. But better. Now, to those that didn't know the kid inside me, this was like seeing, well, Johan Museeuw. Oh, right, he is Johan Museeuw. But it's hard to convey the significance here. Yes, he won a bunch of World Championships, a few Paris Roubaixs, even Tour of Flanders a couple times.

But this is what I remember of him.

First, as a young rider, he was on Lemond's absolutely decimated 1989 Tour de France winning ADR team. The team, at full strength, gave Lemond a great base by placing an incredible fifth in the team time trial, but in the mountains they just melted away. Only a few ADR guys finished the Tour, but one of them won it by eight seconds. Museeuw finished a bit worse (106th, 2:13 down), but he was one of the few guys that can say that he finished.

Second, as a slightly less young rider in 1990, he jumped out of the field on the Champs Elysee and sprinted to an easy looking win in the last stage of the next Tour. I thought he'd be the next big sprinter.

His name stayed on my radar.

He joined a team that sported wild looking glasses (Brikos), even wilder looking kits (the Mapei colorful block kit, complete with colorful block shorts), riding colorful Colnagos, and, for a short time, Spinergy RevX wheels (!). I was probably the biggest fan of the Mapei team at that time - kick ass kit, tough as nails look, and a team that worked togther. Here was a team that used teamwork (and, as I realized later, very strong racers) to win the biggest classics out there.

Probably one of the most well known wins was their 1-2-3 at Paris Roubaix, one given to Museeuw (they rolled across the line in predetermined order). It would have been 1-2-3-4 except that the strongest rouleur ever in Paris Roubaix (Ballerini, who could even put Museeuw in trouble) missed the break because he flatted literally seconds into the break.

The kicker for me, though, was the 1996 Ghent Whevelgem, where two Mapei "non-sprinters", Museeuw and Ballerini (Museeuw had lost his finishing kick at this point), take off early, forcing a lot of very strong teams to chase. Then, when they're caught, Ballerini and Bortolami infiltrate the next break, again forcing the big sprinters' teams to chase. Then, with 2 km to go, when things finally get back together, Mapei set up a till-now-invisible Tom Steels for a thrilling win.

Museeuw, ever the team player, took Steels to his jump off point.

I watch this tape over and over in the winter, every winter, while I pedal away on the trainer.

At that time a kid in the shop, equally awed by the show of strength, teamwork, and the incredibly obnoxious kit, told me he'd talked to a friend of ours named Nick (both a friend and customer of the shop) about this wunderteam.

"Nick says he wants to buy some Mapei kits, go to Gimbles, and kick everyone's butt."

We liked Nick's plan so we decided to adapt it.

Specifically we'd go there to attack like crazy and lead me out for the Route 120 sprint, my preferred sprint (but not the "final" one). We all got kits and I trained like mad in mine. Night time downtown sprints, Gimbles, whatever. It's a kit that, in a country like the US, makes you look like a clown, so you'd better be really fast if you're going to earn any respect from the locals.

(My suite-loaning friend, a bigger fan of the Francais des Jeux team, decided to get that kit instead, but, to his credit, he had the first ever 1-2-3 Paris Roubaix team kit, the Gewiss one).

I ended up wearing out two pairs of Mapei shorts (I raced in them regularly, believe it or not), one jersey, one pair of socks (gift from my best friend), and countless jerseys. I could never wear the Brikos (again, a gift from my best friend) because my prescription insert was too thick and my lashes squished up against the lenses. But I bought fresh jerseys just to get signed, and over the years I got Tom Steels, Fred Rodriguez (now of Rock Racing), a couple others.

I'd been carrying a Mapei jersey everywhere in Las Vegas, hoping to run into Museeuw.

And now, here he was.

I didn't know if he was about to leave so I quickly dug up the jersey and a fat Sharpie. Our Early Pass savior was even more prepared - he had big books, a jersey, all sorts of things to sign - I guess we caught him when he was leaving the show area to retrieve it all. I lent him my Sharpie as he didn't have one.

When Museeuw asked him to pull on the top part of the jersey, our savior looked puzzled. I knew the drill so I explained that if he held the top, Museeuw would hold the bottom, stretching out the jersey so he could sign the stretched part.

Ah, that worked well.

My turn, and he took a lot of time to not only sign the jersey but to add "Lion of Flanders" at the bottom.


His handler/manager then regaled us with details of the bike and of the new Museeuw wheels. My suite-loaning friend picked up the wheels and showed me the decals.

"You're the one that hates the sliding off decals, right?"

I murmured my consent. You know those decals on frames and wheels where it looks like the decals slid a bit before they dried? I hate them, just hate them.

"Check these out"

The rims were carbon (and flax I guess), laser etched with "Museeuw" and a stylized lion head. And the letters ran nice and parallel to the brake surface.

Now that's what I'm talking about.

We checked out the rest of the bike, but, alas, in my shell shocked state I didn't take any pictures. However, unfortunately for my aero road bike kick, it's a Belgian bike. It's meant for cobbles, for steep hills, for long rambling rides across dirt roads between farmers' fields. It's not a Tour of California bike, one for wide, smooth roads. And therefore it's not an aero road bike.

My friend left for the Lance press conference, Museeuw went into the early morning IB show, and I sat shell shocked at the printer. The missus and I printed and collated a bunch of stuff related to my primary (and heretofore secret) mission here, deciding to skip what ended up being a historic press conference. As a BikeForums member posted, "Lemond Lance Steel Cage Death Match in Las Vegas"

Oblivious to the fireworks taking place just a little bit away from us, we got ready to do some stealth autograph seeking. See, we'd gotten word that Lance would be signing some stuff at the Oakley booth after the press conference, and so we sort of dilly-dallied in that area until a square jawed Oakley guy (the missus thought he looked like Lance, and although I think everyone looks like everyone, I didn't think this guy looked like Lance at all, but I kept my mouth shut) started talking to passers-by out of the side of his mouth, Popeye like. One of the words murmured was "Lance".

My ears perked up.

"What was that?", I asked him.

The Lance-lookalike sized me up. Hesitated for a moment. Then decided I was okay.

"Want to get something signed by Lance? He'll be here in 15 or 20 minutes," the words came out of the side of his mouth.

"Okay!", I replied, trying to put on my best "wow I'm so lucky" face on. I don't think I had to try too hard regardless of our dilly-dallying.

The guy slipped us some wristbands.

"Without these bands he won't sign so put them on."

We diligently put them on.

I realized in a minute or so that we had nothing for him to sign. No yellow jersey, no book, no nothing. I found the drug, uh, wristband dealer guy and asked him if there'd be posters or something.

"Yeah, yeah, but you gotta get in line", he replied. "And put your band on!"

I hurried back in line, we put the bands on.

A very pissed off looking Lance signed things for us, very nice, very patient, lots of cameras going off in his face. We'd find out later why he looked so angry, but at that moment I thought maybe he didn't like something I wrote.

It was only about 10 o'clock in the morning. Now what?

I had a short agenda for the day. One was to find Robin Zellner, the guy that I worked for in ToPA, say hi to him, pick up an autographed picture from his new team Vanderkitten (he's managing it, it's not his team, but whatever). I also wanted to track down Michael Z from SRAM since he commented on the SDC blog.

I ran into Robin pretty early on, along with the owner of the Vanderkitten team. They were on their way to a meeting of some sort so I declined his offer to get the team to sign something, take pictures, etc.

We ran into Andrea, another ToPA person, so that was nice. She met the missus, we caught up on news and such, had a great little chat.

I went looking for Mike Z but he seemed really busy. The first time I went he wasn't even there, and the SRAM guy I spoke with told me, "Well, he's really tall so he's easy to find, and he's wearing a shirt like mine," pointing to his red (of course) SRAM shirt. With this in mind I kept an eye out for a tall guy in a red SRAM shirt.

Finally, on maybe the third round at the SRAM booth, the missus found him sort of free, and approached him with that "mission" look on her face.

"Hi, you're, uh..."


Michael is not only a tall guy, he's both friendly and funny. We chatted briefly too, before he had to go do real things.

I also ran into a long time Gimbles rider at a booth. I was so focused on my mission I didn't realize who I was speaking with until the guy put his hand up.

"Aki, Aki, who do you think you're talking to?"

I actually assimilated who I was talking to.

Oh. Hi Chris.

I guess I get mission focused.

Our show closing mission was to visit the Velopress booth and pick up a book written by Joe Parkin. He's a US pioneer in the Euro scene, and he wrote what I hope will be an interesting book. He raced for Tulip, a team I associate with my all too brief Belgian racing trip.

I rounded the corner and saw a lone guy sitting on a chair, a pile of books beside him, no one in front of him.

How depressing.

I decided I'd try and make him feel better by walking right up to him. Then the missus piped up.

"The line's over here."

I looked over at a line of people stretching around the corner.


Gotta ease with that mission focus.

Joe Parkin's long shaggy hair, bandaged right wrist, and shaky handwriting belied his patience and the brief insightful comments I read while walking away from the booth (I put the book away before I ran into a person, place, or thing).

The missus and I had another meal at our new favorite place, the Grand Lux Cafe, and then trekked over to our friend's suite where we'd stashed my bike and all my gear. I changed to get ready for...

The Industry Cup Crit.

By then I'd started feeling alternating chills and heat, my forehead was drenched in sweat, and I felt so quesy I wasn't sure if I could make it to the race itself. The missus actually asked if I was going to race, it was that bad. I thought of all the time and effort and money I spent to get the bike here, and of the opportunity to race with Museeuw. I figured there wouldn't be another chance like this, so I really had to race. I had no choice.

After changing and getting outside, my head cleared up. Maybe it was the Dayquil, but whatever, I felt a bit better. I caught up with the bikehugger group, following a pack of assorted jalopies, one pulling a bike powered blender (drinks at the course), another loaded down with a thumpin' sound system pumping out some bass heavy tunes, with more than a few DLGs. I started talking to the guy sitting by the blender thing (he was just a passenger) and it ends up he's from, the DLG's makers.

The course itself was a crazy loopy course, doubling back on itself to extend the course and to offer some challenges to the racers. My first stop was with the SRAM neutral support, where I lubed my chain (I cleaned it before coming out here but didn't lube it) and pumped up my tires. In the dark I pumped until the gauge pointed to about 2 o'clock, about 110-120 psi on my pump. As I pumped up the rear tire, I realized the tire had been really low, so I picked up the pump and looked at the gauge.

The 2 o'clock related to about 160 psi.


I could pump up the rear to a more reasonable pressure, but then the balance between the front and rear would be messed up, and the rear wouldn't act as an early slide indicator. Or I could fiddle with the front valve and release some air, but if I pulled the valve out that wouldn't be good. My mission focused mind didn't realize that I was next to two cars full of spare wheels and bikes, but, hey, I was really focused.

I warmed up a bit, trying to convince my body that I felt okay. I started wondering, are these nerves? Am I actually nervous for a race? Or is the bile in my throat, the churning stomach, and cold sweat indicative of another West Coast cold?

A hard jump confirmed that I wasn't feeling good - my calf almost locked up and I veered right as my leg, refusing to stretch out, yanked me down a bit. After that incident I decided that I'd take it easy, spin a bit, get the blood flowing, drink Powerade, and hope for the best.

At some point I realized I needed to get to the line and asked a passing rider where we stage.

"SRAM pits"

I looked and, yes, in my mission focused mind, I also missed the lane going from the pits to the course. The twenty or thirty racers there obscured it, so that's my excuse for missing it. I put my foot down next to a big non-bike racing guy talking somewhat fervently on the phone.

"Yeah, tell Johan he needs to get his butt down here now."

I glanced at him, and with more pressing things on my mind, pulled out the ice cold bottle of water I scored from yet another friend who did me yet another favor. I broke the seal, poured what I could into my bottle, and sprinkled some on my head.

I heard the guy again.

"Yeah, they're doing stuff down here. They're all here, the racers are getting read. You know, like filling bottles."

I lifted the rear wheel to get the chain onto the big ring.

"Checking gears."

I looked up at him. Sprinkled more water on my head.

"Spraying water on their heads. You know, racer things."

We rolled to the pre-line up line. I took my standard "20 feet off the back" spot. The first racer called up was someone that, forgive me, I forget. The second one was no other than the very famous Johan Museeuw.

No one budged.

The guys in the front row looked at each other, looking for Museeuw in disguise. Everyone behind them craned their heads to look forward because, you know, if you're the Lion of Flanders, that's where you'd be.

He wasn't.

So everyone looked towards the second row. I was one step ahead, scanning the rear of the field. As everyone started scanning further and further back... I thought, uh oh.

Suddenly, as if on cue, everyone turned and looked at me.

No, I'm not Johan.

Everyone quickly figured that out and looked away.

But, for one brief moment, all eyes were on me.

With that out of the way, the rest of the call up went ahead, and we got going. I thought we'd start pretty slowly because the first turn was tight, the field was fence to fence (the whole course was fenced off), and it was sort of dark. But, as slowly as I thought we were going, guys started doing lurid powerslides as they braked into the turn, me being no exception.

"I shoulda taken air out of the tires. SRAM was there, I could have taken a wheel."

How the mind works as your bike slides into Turn One.

Every single turn on the course caused my rear tire to skip, hop, and slide across the pavement. The second left, the third left, the 270 degree right, the next two 90 lefts, and the long sweeping left into the finish. Only the shallow left at the far end of the course was anywhere near stable. I felt like I was driving a car in Gran Turismo with flat tires, the rear end of my bike went anywhere it felt like.

I had to rethink my cornering, slide back a bit. I briefly contemplated sliding out on purpose so I could take a lap and reduce my tire pressure, but that was a brief desperate moment.

I ended up behind a guy from ToPA so I thought, oh, this guy is good, I'll hang out here. Ends up he's aerobically good but technically terrible. We went backwards through the field, he went slow through the turns, fast on the straights, and I couldn't get around him or the guy directly in front of me, a guy with 1.5 legs. Before a couple laps were up we were off the back.

Suddenly guys were hollering "Up, up", and we flew into Turn One and a scene of chaos. Guys were all over the road, bikes, and my skittering rear wheel barely got me through without running over some guy laying on his back. A guy rolling away from the crash told us to mellow out, take a lap.

But we weren't in the field when they crashed, so I thought we wouldn't get the lap. Plus the official from Bethel was here and I knew he couldn't cut me any slack. So after 30 seconds of softpedaling I decided I'd do the comet thing and go out pedaling hard.

I was far enough behind that people were crossing in front of me, and I took some perverse pleasure in simply riding as fast as I could through the turns with blatant disregard for anyone running across the course. My escapade lasted only two laps before the Bethel official blew the whistle, pulling me from the race.

Spectators scrambled to let me off the course, the whole sweaty red-faced bike racer thing giving me right of way almost anywhere around the race course.

I met up with the missus at the bikehugger VIP booth and regaled her with tales of daring and stuff. Okay, I said I almost got sick out there and I had too much air in my tires. As the book Roadie states, racers tell the same story over and over again right after a race, and I was no exception.

We went looking for Nelson Vails with our good friend I spoke with in the morning, along with our Early Pass friend (good guys stick by each other). We found him, he posed for pictures with the missus, and we were on our way.

I rode back to Binions, the missus took the Deuce. We left our bags at our friend's suite in the Palazzo.

I got back, brimming with post ideas, and booted up the computer. Then I realized. No Wi Fi here. That's why I brought the broadband wireless modem. But that modem was sitting in my bag... at the Palazzo.

Forcibly knocked off the internet, I thought about riding back up, getting the modem, and riding back. But I figured that forgetting about the modem and stuff was a sign, and the missus and I settled in after a very, very long day and night.

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