Story and photos by Cathy Mehl
Any good tourist guide book of San Francisco will include information on
seeing the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Coit Tower and Lombard Street. A
better guide book will list festivals and celebrations held in the City each
month, with times and dates for each event. But the best guide book, the one
you’ll want to buy, will list an annual bike race held in downtown San Francisco
the middle of each September. Next to this entry will be many, many asterisks
denoting and events NOT TO BE MISSED. Last weekend the T-Mobile International
took place on the streets of San Francisco, and I know now, first hand, what a
great event this one day race is shaping up to be year after year.
I arrived in The City late Thursday night and settled into a hotel in the
financial district, located close to the race hotel, start/finish line and
Cycling Expo. First up on the schedule was the US Postal visit to Niketown on
Friday. The Posties held center court, with Chechu, the Ace, Benjamin Noval,
Damon Kluck, Big George himself, Mike Creed, Eki and Pavel Padrnos in
attendance. Dan Osipow chatted with each Postie before opening up the session
to the audience. Of special interest was Eki’s comment that if Lance rides two
more Tours, he will ride them also, or perhaps he’ll stop at fifteen, as that
seems like a good number.
At any rate, retirement was not mentioned, which is welcome news to Eki fans.
George was asked about the stage up Alpe d’Huez, and he said while he never
feared for his safety, there were a lot of boos this year, particularly from the
Germans. Mike Creed was asked to recount an event that had taken place at a
school the day before. It seems he and Damon were appearing at the school, and
participating in “races” with the teachers and administration. Damon’s race
went okay, he came in third like he “was supposed to” but when Mike took his
turn, a local radio DJ cut in front of him, causing him to crash and hurt his
hand! Dan said the session then turned into a bicycle safety/helmet discussion.
Dan also fielded a question about Floyd leaving the team, and while he said
it’s hard to lose a great rider like Floyd, he thinks the new signings for the
team are good and the team will remain strong. He also said he thinks the full
roster of riders will be announced shortly after the Vuelta.
After the questions, people got to parade up front and have their favorite
USPS rider sign their “stuff” and I do mean STUFF! It looked like anything
goes, as we saw jerseys, posters, autograph cards, French newspapers, and
stuffed animals making their way down the line of riders. One lady had a baby
stroller full of stuff and not a baby in sight! And one cutie gal had her white
t-shirt signed, while she was still in it! The Posties were having a tough day
at the office, that’s for sure.
It was really special to see this dedicated team getting the props they so
richly deserve, and a big thank you to Niketown, San Francisco and manager Cal for making it
happen and treating us so well.
Later that evening we attended a dinner/auction/The Tour Baby! film screening benefit for
the Lance Armstrong Foundation, hosted by Scott Coady. It just so happens that
Scott and Janna go way back as friends, and Scott made special recognition of
our Site Goddess, thanking her for all her hard work in fund raising for the
Peloton Project for LAF. We all knew SG was a star, and now 400 more are sure
Various teams were in attendance, such as Webcor, Navigators, and I think I
saw some Jittery Joes there as well. At the head table was seated Dee Dee Barry,
Chris Horner, Mark Walters and none other than our favorite race announcer, Phil
Liggett. Phil interviewed the riders and used little tidbits of the interview
to launch into a stories about by-gone days of cycling. He was very
entertaining and funny, as well as approachable to the public during the silent
auction. I told him I’ve been watching the Vuelta in Spanish although I don’t
speak the language, and was really getting a kick out of the Spanish announcer
calling the sprint finishes, as he talks SO FAST and gets SO EXCITED! I told
Phil I thought that’s what he must sound like to someone who doesn’t speak
English. He got a big laugh out of that one, and said I was probably right.
Of special note was Phil’s interview with Chris Horner, the winner of the
2003 race. First off, Phil told Chris he looked better without that “bloody
beard”, which drew loud laughter. Then he told Chris to let him in on his plan
for the race so he’d know what to say on television! Chris was very confident
about his form and the form of his team, and said they had come to win in front
of the home crowd - sure enough, they did!
Later, after the auction part of the evening, in which various
cycling-related items, team car rides and trips were sold to benefit LAF, we all
watched Coady’s movie, The Tour Baby!. This is Scott’s behind the scenes look
at the 2000 Tour de France. What makes his film special is that several weeks
before he left to make the film, Scott didn’t even know how to operate a camera,
but he somehow managed to get up close and personal to riders, commentators,
media, and we even see him on the USPS bus talking with Lance himself! It’s a
funny, clever look at the world’s third most popular sporting event, and the
proceeds all go to LAF. Later on there was music, go-go dancing, and I hear
Phil was a shoo-in for the Best Legs Contest.
Saturday was a goof-off tourist day, as my son had never been to the City, so
we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and found all the riders on their training rides to
Sausalito and into the Marin Hills. Saturday evening some of the DP gang and
college friends of mine got together for a delightful dinner in the Mission
District, at a place called the Last Supper Club. Fun with friends, that’s what
this night was about.
Race Day came early, as the women’s race started at 7AM. It was cold and
breezy for most of their race, but these ladies were tearing it up on the
streets of San Francicso. We made our way to the Buena Vista Café, home of the
Irish coffee, and met up with some cyber friends who call themselves the Bicycle
Group. This group was the original ruler of the OLN message board, but once the "Only Lance
Network" bailed out on the Vuelta, and most other cycling events, this group
bailed out on OLN and started their own forum. This is the group that
originated the Bring Back the Vuelta petition which over 15,000 of us signed,
but alas, to no avail. This is a diverse group of people brought together with
the common bond of loving cycling, and it was a pleasure sharing their passion
for the race. I hear Phil Liggett now owns one of their t-shirts!
Fast Freddie in his stars and stripes.
After we caught Nicole Cooke flying into the finish line, we stuck around
for the start of the men’s race before taking the media van up to the top of
Fillmore. One would expect the trip to be uneventful, since the van is on the
race course following behind the racers, but somehow the vans got BEHIND the end
of the race, and eventually San Francicso’s finest stopped both vans and kicked
us off the course! To say the law enforcement were less than enamored with
their duties that day would be an understatement, as they were very unhelpful in
getting the vans of photographers and journalists anywhere near the race…but our
driver prevailed, and we only had to walk a short distance to the top of
Fillmore. What a circus! The crowd was huge and lively, the view was
spectacular, and the racing was thrilling.
The crowd would start to buzz when
the riders came into sight at the turn way down below. The media was allowed
inside the barriers way over on one side, so we scooted in there, huddled
together and started screaming our heads off as the riders came through.
Sometimes we had to scrunch up against the barriers and make even more room if
the riders came WAY over. We were all cheering for the riders, snapping away
with our cameras, and then yelling at each other who we had just seen: “There’s Chechu! There’s Ivan!”
Once the riders turned the corner onto the flats, we
stood up and smiled and ate Jelly Bellies until they came around again…How the
riders continued to climb that hill, lap after lap, is beyond me, but they sure
provided fans with a huge thrill each time they came around.
After much effort, the DP gang made it back to the finish line and some of us
watched the finish on the Jumbotron. It was an exciting finish, as Webcor and
USPS organized to chase, and finally Charles Dionne was launched up Taylor to
stay away for the win. Talk about team work - at the finish line, it was hard to
tell who had actually won the race, Chris Horner or Dionne, as both of their
faces had huge toothy grins that would not stop. Chris had told Phil Liggett
the team was there to win, and one thing we’ve learned about Horner is that he
doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to speaking his mind. Great job, Webcor.
Later at the press conference, George Hincapie spoke of just not having it to
finish off the job that day, but giving full credit to Dionne for his race
tactics. GH said this was the end of his season, and he’s anxiously awaiting
the arrival of his first child in a few months. Freddy Rodriquez, still
sporting his torn kit and bloody thigh, spoke of his frustration with mechanics
all day. It seems his spare bike was not ready when he crashed, and most of the
race and much of his energy was spent trying to get things right, with
adjustments taking place down to the last lap.
He also spoke of the high
caliber of talent at this race, and said he saw no reason a World Cup couldn’t
be held there someday. Charles Dionne was flying high as he fielded questions,
speaking of his desire to race in Europe, and his disappointment in not being
selected for his Canadian Olympic cycling team. He said to himself, “Ya know
what? In today’s race we got Freddy, we got Hincapie, we got Ekimov, we got
Commesso. Ya know what, this is Olympics for me today here and I want to prove
it and I want it.” And prove it he did. Huge congratulations to Charles and I
hope he gets that ride in Europe.
It was a great day of racing in the City by the Bay. Loud, rowdy fans,
cowbells clanging in the air, plastic slappers ringing out, and forever fond
memories of sitting on that hill inside the barriers, smashed up against
Locutus, Crazy Jane and Celia screaming our heads off and smiling until our
faces hurt as the riders went by. I probably did leave my heart in San
Francisco, but I’m going back next year to retrieve it. See you there!
Gord Fraser being a specator at top of Fillmore
Lance visiting before the race start
George, Mike and Eki and Niketown