It is July – the month of the Tour de France — that cycle-palooza event in France. The Super Bowl/World Series of Cycling. To me it’s as exciting as March Madness! It took me awhile of watching to see both the subtlety and strategy of the peleton. It is an amazing athletic competition – riding 100+ miles almost every day for 21 days. There is pageantry so deserving of such an event; the enthusiasm of the cycling fans who show up from around the world; the incredibly beautiful French countryside and mountains. There is the medieval beauty of the small French towns. For the city planner types, it is interesting to carryover the French city design (probably similar around Europe) to early built American cities.
The riders probably weigh less than 150 pounds soaking wet…and need to eat 5,000 calories a day. I would love to eat 5000 calories a day…well, maybe not; unless of course, I could work them all off the next day. I know that when I have ridden in century rides, I work off around 7,000 calories while putting in at least 2-3,000 during the course of the ride.
The sprints in the middle of the rides and at the end of the races are a wondrous example of teamwork and science, with the domestiques bringing food for the team, and the team buffeting the lead rider from the wind. When the team paceline develops in front of the lead rider (riding at the rear of the paceline), it reduces the energy output of the team leader by 30-40% while maintaining the speed of 30-40 mph. The peleton provides the same dynamic for the multitudes of teams in the race.
Equally epic to the Tour De France is a ride known as America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride. It is a 100 mile tour around Lake Tahoe on the Nevada and California sides. The scenery up the switchback to Emerald Bay, the colorful support area at Truckee (also mentioned on the Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72 album; an epic recording, but I digress), the pageant of lunch at King’s Beach, the slow grinding 8 mile climb to Spooner Junction with its spectacular views, and the rowdy finish line back in Tahoe, Nevada, creates an epic ride, a pageantry of recreational and serious cyclists, many of whom are riding to raise money for a well deserving charity. This year’s ride was marred by hazardous road conditions that saw rain, sleet, snow and ice through the higher elevations creating very unsafe cycling conditions. Riding a bicycle downhill at 40+ mph has its own challenges; but riding with ice on the road, well, it’s downright dangerous.
The majority of Northern Ohio TNT team riders were not able complete the ride due to the weather; many riders were taken off of the course. It was a huge emotional let down. These men and women had been training since February – riding every weekend on group rides; giving up family time; riding after or before work to get their bodies in shape. For most, it was their first experience doing this type of cycling. Everyone was riding for a friend or family member who had died at the hands of cancer or in honor of a friend or family member who had beaten the spectre of cancer. The backs of their riding jerseys are filled with names of people for whom they are riding in memory and who have lost their lives to cancer or in honor of those who are still battling or have won the fight. Their disappointment hung like the heavy gray clouds that blanketed the Tahoe area on that June day. Many of the riders were in tears feeling cheated and let down; feeling that they let down the family members, friends, financial contributors and cancer fighters back at home
Not to be defeated, the Northern Ohio TNT team members decided that they were still going to ride that 100 miles. 15 of the team members and coaches showed up yesterday to ride through Medina and Wayne Counties on a very hilly course that tried their mettle. When the e-mails went out seeking SAG support, 13 alumni riders and Holly Coughlin, Jenny Friedman and Kim Cockerham from the Cleveland Leukemia & Lymphoma Society office were there to support their new team members: Stori, Bill, Jeff, John, Ellen, Rick, Lee, Michelle, Lee, Gary, Drew, Nicole, Cathy, and Bob.
The morning started out cool in the 60’s. As the afternoon sun rose, the temperatures climbed in the 80’s. An 80 degree sun heats asphalt so that the heat reflecting from the road is as warm as the sun on your back. These volunteer athletes were not racing for the coveted Tour “maillot jaune” but for something more sacred: raising money to eradicate cancer as a death sentence; to hopefully spare a family member or friend from its scourges. To paraphrase Melissa Etheridge’s seminal song, they “ride for Life.” I want to point these folks out because what they do is as epic as what I have been watching on TV this past week ( and for the next 20 days, thanking to Versus TV and DVR equipment). This group could have shrugged their shoulders, beaten back by the weather in Tahoe and gone on. But not this group. They wanted that century ride; they wanted that feeling of accomplishment, that their training meant something and that the money they raised from friends and families (minimum of $5,000 per person) meant something.
After the lunch stop, the temperature continued to climb in the mid to high 80’s. Those of us providing SAG support had cars equipped with repair tools, extra tire tubes, ice water, Gatorade, oatmeal cookies, pretzels (for extra salt), watermelon, bananas and other such foods to fuel the riders. There was a car following groups of 3-4 riders and other cars spaced every ten miles to provide whatever was needed. We had one rider who was impacted by the heat, rode slowly, wanting desperately to finish no matter how long it took her. She rode for 10 hours to get to the finish line. To her credit and to the credit of her team, when she arrived at the finish line, hours behind her teammates, her teammates were there to cheer her accomplishment!!
As I remember my old high school friend Rick Stark telling me, “Team In Training will change your life.” Indeed it has. And I could see that look on each worn out, over-heated face yesterday, for as each rider dismounted at the end of the ride, the look of joy, the sparkle of life was in each of their eyes. They may not have worn the maillot jaune, but it was woven in their hearts in such a way as it will never be separate from their being. I congratulate each of these riders. I write this with a growing lump in my throat and watery eyes, grateful for their sacrifice of time, of body and their growth of spirit that will inspire me forever. GO TEAM!