Thursday, October 29, 2015

Colorful Sport - Colorful Memories

Colorful Sport — Colorful memories
Gregory E. Larson

           The peloton rushed past in a blur of color, so fast that it was difficult to focus on the jersey of a single bike rider. That was my experience when the top cycling teams in the world participated in the annual Tour of Missouri, which occurred from 2007 to 2009.  The final race day in 2009 was a criterium, or multiple lap course on a closed circuit of streets in the heart of Kansas City. I strategically positioned myself where the riders had to suffer a climb to the highest spot on the course on Wyandotte Street just south of Liberty Memorial. With the riders rushing like the wind, I snapped a photo as the peleton rounded the curve.
Pro Riders - 2009 Tour of Missouri

          At the front on the right side of the photo is Jens Voigt (now retired), a fan favorite among Europeans and Americans because of his jovial attitude and the fact that he stayed clean and didn’t use performance enhancing drugs. His signature wide-open mouth is sucking in as much oxygen as possible at the beginning of the hill climb. Jens is known for his famous saying, “Shut up, legs!” referring to the pain he feels when the race or the hill climb is at its worst.
          Dave Zabriski, in the yellow jersey, farther back on the right, is being protected by his Garmin team mates. Zabriski won the week-long tour because of his tremendous time-trialing ability.
          One might ask while looking at the photo, “Why do the riders wear such colorful clothing?” Actually, the bike jersey is a very functional shirt, fitted for the rider to lean forward, with rear pockets for stashing food, maps, and clothing. The fabric is high-tech wicking material that helps the perspiration evaporate quickly. As for the colors, most cyclists prefer to wear bright colors, so they can be seen by the traffic around them. The pro racers wear the bright team jerseys and shorts to identify them from the other riders, and to catch the eyes of television viewers. The outfits are like a miniature versions of a NASCAR paint job, and they proudly display their sponsor’s names and products.
          Over the years, I’ve participated in many organized rides. On the more difficult ones, I had to dig deep, both mentally and physically, to discover my inner self. On other rides or tours, it was for the sheer joy of spending each day outdoors, in my element, doing something I love.  When I touch the slick jersey fabric between the fingers and look at the colors, the memories of each tour or event become vivid. Here are some of my favorites to share with you — a photo of each and a brief thought or two of what it meant to ride in unusual locations from Texas to Italy.

Bike Tour of Colorado - 2000
          This week-long tour through the San Juan Mountains in began and ended in Telluride. Brothers George and Ferenc, who are friends of mine, invited me to ride with them and experience all the energy, joy, exhaustion, and pain along with 2000 riders from all fifty states. The toughest day included three mountain passes on the way from Ouray to Durango. We experienced sleet, rain, and forty degree temperature — not a good combination for riders exposed to the elements. On that day, the Colorado Highway Patrol made a decision to shut down the ride at the top of Red Mountain Pass. I had mixed feelings as I walked away from the bicycle, shivering all the way to the bus.
           The weather improved during the week, and I have many memories of great food and drink: fish and pasta, DQ Blizzards, espresso and chocolate, and giant breakfasts of eggs and pancakes. The stop in Creede, Colorado, included an underground party in a gold mine.
          At the end of the tour, I felt like a member of the family.

The Triple By Pass - 2002 
          It was my second attempt to fully complete the one-day, 120-mile ride over three mountain passes (Squaw, Loveland, and Vail Pass). The ride, which was limited to 2,000 cyclists, started in Evergreen, Colorado, just west of Denver, and ended in Avon, Colorado, ten miles west of Vail. The sunrise vistas during the early climb up Squaw Pass inspired me to relax and conserve my energy for the long day ahead. Another memory is the truck diesel smoke I inhaled while riding six miles on the shoulder of I-70, just before riding up Loveland Pass. My buddy, Jim and I rode our way up Vail Pass on the forest-floor bike trail under the I-70 viaducts. We coasted into Vail, where spotters stopped the traffic as we rode through the big roundabouts near the interstate highway. The pace slowed during the final ten miles to Avon in the late afternoon. We completed the ride after ten hours of cycling and 10,000 ft. of vertical climbing. The finish gave us bragging rights of completing one of the more difficult one-day rides in the country.

Bike Across Italy - 2005 
          For my wife, Gretta, and me, this was the first European cycling tour, and the longest. We covered about 650 kilometers over nine days (roughly 400 miles) from the Adriatic Sea on the east coast to the Tyhrennian Sea on the west. Very few miles were on level ground. The adventure was a big eye-opener for me, a quick way to experience Italian culture first-hand. The rustic, ancient cities, authentic Italian food, and the Italian-speaking people gave us unique memories each day. Coastal country, wheat fields, Apennine mountains — we saw it all.
          Each day when we finished the ride, we’d check into the hotel, shower and take a relaxing walk around the village, usually stopping at a bar for wine or beer. Gretta and I were the happiest couple in the world, sitting in the sun, sipping our drinks.  One of my favorite memories was hearing town bells ringing while we rode through the countryside. At the beginning and end of the tour we dipped our wheels in both seas to make the ride complete.

Hotter-n-Hell Hundred - 2005 
          Wichita Falls, Texas, throws a big party in August each year for a crowd of 14,000 cyclists. The prime event is a one-day, one-hundred mile (century) ride along the flood plain of the Red River. Although I completed this ride several times, my favorite memories are from the 2005 event when my friend, George, and I rode the tandem bicycle, with George as the captain on the front of the bike. It’s a fast-paced ride, even faster on a tandem due to the momentum of two riders on one bike. The 300 tandems were allowed to start behind the pro racers after the jet fly-over.
          George and I had a goal of completing the ride in five hours (an average pace of twenty miles-per-hour). It is a flat course and there’s always a group of bikes around for the initial fifty miles. There were lots of thirty-something riders clustered around us, many of them using our tandem as their draft — not bad for a couple of riders in their fifties. A few hills near the end slowed us down and we finished in five hours, fifteen minutes — after the pros, but before the vast majority of amateur riders. The finish line had a grandstand with announcers, and a nice-sized crowd had remained after the pro racers completed the route. I had my fifteen seconds of fame as we turned onto the final stretch and the announcer said, “Here comes a tandem, folks. I’d think you’d have to be pretty good friends to ride a bike together for 100 miles!” I raised both hands and waved to the crowd as George steered us across the line.

Mondo Bici 
          This outfit, consisting of the bike jersey and bib shorts was a gift from Gretta. After seeing the bright clothing in the Mondo Bici bike store in Fermignano, Italy, she decided to buy it for me to wear during the annual time-trialing competitions in Kansas City. After months of emails and ultimately wiring the money to the store in Eastern Italy, the outfit arrived just in time for the competition. This is a case where, truly, clothes make the man. The moment I wore the Mondo Bici race-team red, I felt like a champion. In 2007 I rode a Cervelo time-trial bike of matching color to a second place finish among fifty competitors in my age group (my only medal placement in eleven years).  I didn’t get first place, but I rode like the wind, and more importantly, I looked and felt invincible.