A Note from Fatty: Part II in the video series about my weekend with Team RadioShack is now posted. Check it out:
In today’s video, you’ll see me ogling the signed Madone, as well as drooling on my own. This is also the video where Johan Bruyneel and I present the giant checks for LiveStrong and World Bicycle Relief.
I always experience an odd moment at the beginning of a major ride or race. Just before it begins, I think something along the lines of, “It’s finally here. It’s starting in just a few seconds. This thing I’ve been thinking of as ‘in the future’ is about to become the present.”
This thought is usually accompanied by a twinge of nausea. Or, in this case, by a pretty big batch of nausea.
But then I start riding, and the nervousness goes away and I start enjoying the ride or race or whatever.
Except in this case, the nervousness just changed.
For the first hour or more of the ride, I never took either hand off the bars, not even to get a drink. Whenever we stopped at a light, I unclipped well ahead of stopping. I focused constantly on keeping a good distance behind the next bike, and was careful never to suddenly brake or stand.
I just did not want to crash these guys out.
That said, the first several miles — from the hotel to the base of the Mt. Lemmon climb — was easy. The road was flat, and people were talkative. I stayed in the middle of the pack, riding and talking with the U23 racers (Ben King of Australia shown with me here).
After riding a while (45 minutes? An hour?), we reached the base of the climb. Feeling good, feeling fresh, with adrenaline surging, I drifted toward the front.
Every couple of minutes, Johan would pull up beside me in the team car and ask, “How’re you feeling? How’s the bike? You doing OK?”
I’m pretty sure Johan was concerned for my health…as well as for his riders’ safety.
We eventually narrowed into (more or less) two columns, with me and Chris Horner — yeah, really — in second position.
And then the riders setting the pace dropped back, and I was in front.
Now, I would assert that I did a pretty good job holding the pace where it was. I learned later, however, that there was some grumbling toward the back about “Fatty ramping the pace up right at the beginning of the climb.”
And by “toward the back” I mean “by Lance Armstrong.”
Yes — and I believe this was caught on film — Lance complained about my pace.
Which may be the single most awesome thing that has ever happened to me.
Getting Some Help and Advice
I dropped back a little after a few minutes of pulling — and Lance rode up alongside of me.
“Pull those armwarmers down, Fatty, or you’re going to overheat,” he said. And then, “This climb’s 25 miles long, and you’ve got a car beside you. You don’t need any extra weight; give me that second bottle.”
Which I did, without — to my relief — crashing Lance out.
We then rode and talked for several minutes — honestly, just chatter. He mentioned he really likes the 2010 Fat Cyclist kit, and asked me to send him a jersey, socks, and set of armwarmers.
I believe I can oblige him on that.
Then Lance rode forward, moving on to talk with someone else. Putting me in the surreal position of sucking Lance’s wheel.
Then, as Daniel the video guy leaned out the window with his camera, Lance dropped back and said, “Put your hand on my back like you’re giving me an assist up the hill.”
And that brings up one of the most interesting things about my ride with Team RadioShack — what Lance is like on the bike. I noticed him moving back and forth in the group, talking and joking with his teammates — especially with the U23 riders — and looking like he was having a great time.
I kinda got the sense that this is the “real” Lance. A guy who loves riding his bike, and who loves riding with his team.
Which sounds pretty familiar.
The Fuse, The Bomb
About nine miles into the climb, I found I was having a hard time staying with the group. I was maxed out, and it wasn’t enough. I kept asking myself, “Am I losing power, or are they accelerating?”
I was pretty sure they were accelerating.
Half a mile later, I knew it was over — I couldn’t hold their pace any longer. “Goodnight everybody,” I said in my Donny and Marie voice.
“No way, Fatty,” replied Taylor Phinney, and he gave me a push back to the group.
I dropped back a couple more times, each time getting a boost back to the group by various riders.
And then, around mile ten, it happened. They accelerated. Hard. They just flew up the hill.
Within moments, I was at the back.
And then, moments later, I was shot out the back, babysat by a couple of club riders who were along with the group. Though I do take solace in the fact that I was able to catch and drop one of the U23 sprinters.
And after the club riders peeled off, I was completely alone.
OK, the truth is, I was never completely alone. Because Johan told one of the team cars to stay with me at all times — piloted by Philippe, with Glenn taking all these great photos. And with The Runner cheering me on.
I can’t even tell you how many times I was given an opportunity to pull over and throw my bike in the back, calling it a day. But here’s the thing: would you, given the opportunity to ride with (and eventually be dropped by) a top pro team, want to finish the ride by abandoning?
No, me either. So I kept climbing.
Then I saw the pros start coming down. Flying. Several of them yelling “Go Fatty!” as they went by.
Or maybe they were yelling “Slow Fatty!” Hard to know for sure.
But it reminded me a lot of Leadville — the way the fast guys on their way down are willing to shout some encouragement for the slower guys still working on getting to the top. Very, very cool of them.
I kept climbing.
And then the team car passed me and waved me over. “You’ve passed the turnaround point,” Philippe said.
“Whu?” I replied.
“About half a mile ago. That’s where everyone else turned around.”
“So I’m the first one to get here?”
“Yes, I suppose.”
At which point I drew an imaginary finish line on the road and crossed it. “I win,” I said.
I was fully expecting to freeze to death on the descent — snow was more than a foot deep on either side of the road, and the wind was cold and strong.
So I have Glenn to thanks for my life: he loaned me the jacket he was wearing.
Knowing that I would never catch the pros on the descent — they had a massive lead on me and were increasing that lead every second — I cruised comfortably down the road. Enjoying the view. Considering that I had been on a ride with the pros.
And making sure I turned whenever the road did.
By the time I got back to the hotel, everyone else had been back for half an hour or so. Still, Johan was out in the lot, waiting for me. We talked about the bike, and talked about the ride.
Then, after a quick shower (and after somehow managing to not lay down and take a nap) I met Johan and Lance for lunch, where they assessed my riding performance (mediocre but tenacious) and told me what my big surprise is: I get to bring my family to the Tour of California for a stage, and ride in the team car. Lance suggested I try to be there for a mountaintop finish stage. Which sounds pretty darn good to me.
And then we talked about doing it again next year.
PS: I’m heading out right now to be interviewed for The Story, a public radio talk show hosted by Dick Gordon. Assuming I don’t completely freeze up and stutter and pass out, this interview should air sometime in mid-January. I’m nervous as can be. Wish me luck.
One of the cool things about last weekend was that I had two people following me around most of the time — Glenn with his monstrously enormous camera for taking stills, and Daniel with his monstrously enormous video camera.
Thanks to them, I’ve got great pictures and video of the whole event, and didn’t have to worry about taking any of those pictures myself.
Daniel is now editing the video down into a couple segments, the first of which I received last night. And while I die a thousand deaths anytime I see and hear myself talk on video (do I always talk out of one side of my mouth? Does my voice really sound like that?), I expect that you’ll enjoy it.
By the way: Brad, you owe me another $50 for being a billboard for CarboRocket.
How to be Popular
Here’s an amazing fact: I was able to sleep the night before my ride with Team RadioShack. Seriously, I was. Sure, I woke and checked the clock about every hour, but I slept. Didn’t even take an Ambien.
I think it’s important to celebrate life’s little victories.
Around 7:30 the next morning, I came down to breakfast with the team. I brought along my secret weapon — a big box of t-shirts Twin Six had sent me for the occasion. “Here are some shirts,” I said, “that you can wear without making your sponsors mad.”
I was immediately mobbed.
And then it was time to get fitted on my new Trek Madone.
Getting Ready for the Ride
The mechanics area felt like home. Not that I’m a bike mechanic — far from it. But I do hang around with and talk with bike mechanics whenever I go to a shop.
And the mechanics there were terrific. Really, they were just like your favorite mechanic at your favorite LBS. But with a much greater likelihood that they speak Belgian as their native tongue.
Within a few minutes they had unboxed the bike I had brought for the trip and measured it so they could set up the new Madone to the same specs.
And then I got to check it out.
You know, I don’t even know how long I stood there, ogling my new bike. The Runner, on the other hand, very likely is painfully aware of how long I stood there, ogling.
With my sexy new bike ready to go, I went upstairs and got changed. It was time for the pre-ride meeting.
It was as I got dressed — shorts, short sleeve jersey, armwarmers seemed like plenty; it was nice and warm outside — that I started getting serious butterflies, and a major case of “What am I doing here, I have no business riding with these guys.”
It’s a common thing for middle-aged guys with a gut to get when they’re about to go on a monster climbing training ride with a top-tier pro team.
I came downstairs, walking back toward the bike room with The Runner. Chris Horner and Levi Leipheimer were a little bit ahead of us, further down the hall. “Those guys have no butts at all, observed The Runner.
It’s good to get the female perspective from time to time, because while this was a fair observation, I do not believe I would have ever made it myself.
Most everyone was gathered in the bike room, making last minute adjustments to their rides. Lance was sitting, ready to go. Twittering.
I noticed that a lot of the riders were wearing considerably warmer clothes than I was. “Well, they don’t have the walrus blubber,” I thought, counting on my subcutaneous layer of fat to keep me warm should the need arise.
While waiting for Johan to begin talking to the team, I affixed a Fat Cyclist sticker to my new bike.
Yeah, I could have done a better job applying it, but it gets the point across.
Johan then got up and told the team that I’d be riding with the team today, and — I will love Johan forever for this — asked them to take it easy on me. Since there is no way in the world I would have ever been able to stay with these guys for even one minute if they chose to leave me behind, this was a very nice gesture.
And then it was time to get out the giant checks.
Together, we raised more than $135,000 for LiveStrong and World Bicycle Relief. In just a few days. And believe me, I never lose sight of the fact that it’s all of you who are doing this incredibly generous thing — for LiveStrong, for World Bicycle Relief, and for me.
I don’t think there’s any way I can thank you enough.
Then, giant checks put away, it was time to ride. Time to do what the whole trip was about.
And that — finally! — is the story I will tell tomorrow.
PS: Bicycling.com has a nice article / slideshow about my ride with Team RadioShack. Check it out here.
PPS: Again, thanks to Glenn Kasin for the use of all these photos.
PPPS: And thanks to The Runner for the “giant checks” photos, as well as for following me around the whole weekend.
A Note from Fatty About the Contest Winners: Congratulations to the big winners of the contest from last week!
Roger L, the winner of the custom-painted “FattyFly,” is yet another bike winner from New Jersey. I do not know why New Jersey-ites keep winning bikes. Maybe they are more likely as a populace to donate, and so the probability of their winning is higher? This photo is of Roger, evidently about to clear the water crossing. Roger says, however, “what you don’t see is me trying to dab a second after this photo is taken. Instead, my clipless pedals won’t let me out and I end up going for a swim. Those photos mysteriously vanished from the camera — the camera must have gotten wet. My trusty Gary Fisher Sugar let me down, maybe 29″ wheels would have been the trick.” Roger’s now faced with a conundrum: get the orange version of the FattyFly, or the pink? If it were my bike and I were choosing the colors, I’d go with the orange, but that’s just me. Feel free to help Roger out by weighing in on this very difficult choice in the comments. I’m sure he’ll take your advice under advisement.
David H, the winner of the Team RadioShack-autographed Trek Madone, is from Missouri. David’s bike is already on the way to him; he’ll have it in a few days. I have lost track of how many times people have said to me, “He sure as heck better not be planning to ride that thing.” Because, yeah, it’s definitely a collector’s item. David reports that “I’m a cyclocross fanatic and am a huge Richard Sachs and Jonathon Page fan.” And further, that he has “been riding and racing for 10 years and am the fastest 42 year old that lives on my street.”
Andrea S, the winner of the trip to see the Tour de France,is also from Missouri– but she doesn’t yet know she has won! You see, Andrea did not provide a phone number when she donated, and the email address she entered does not work. So, if you’re named Andrea S, and you donated, and you’re from Missouri, email me and prove to me you are therightAndrea by telling me your full name and address. And give me a phone number I can call, for pity’s sake.Update: Andrea has now checked in, and I have her contact info. Congratulations, Andrea!
Again, thanks to everyone who donated — with more than 3700 people donating reasonably small amounts of money — an average of around $35 — we were able to raise a huge — $135,000 — amount of money in a ridiculously short period of time. I can’t even begin to tell you how proud I am of my readers, who are evidently the most generous people in the world.
And now, onto the story.
Riding With The Shack, Part I – The Night Before the Ride
I could tell this was not going to be an ordinary trip before we even made it to baggage claim. (I say “we,” because as a beloved and increasingly famous and important cycling blog megastar, I deemed it necessary to bring along an assistant. The Runner would be acting in that capacity, though she was quite clear that her real reason for coming along was to accomplish one of her life objectives: to lick one of Lance Armstrong’s calves.)
You see, there was a guy — Glenn, of Capital Sports Entertainment — waiting there for us. And a cameraman (Daniel). They had a sign and everything.
(All photos from today’s post taken by Glenn Kasin, who is a great photographer as well as logistics guy and babysitter of award-winning superstar megabloggers)
We drove to the resort, talking the whole way. I of course had two very big questions on my mind:
What is the big surprise Johan has in mind for me?
What kind of ride was in store for me tomorrow?
They gave me no satisfaction — not even a hint — on the first question. For the second question, they did give me a hint: “Do you like lemons?”
A few years ago, that would not have been a very good hint. But that was then. Nowadays, it’s plenty. I got out my phone, went to the browser app, and did a search on “tucson lemon.” Within seconds, I knew that it’s actually Mount Lemmon (two “m’s”), which is both beautiful, and a monster of a climb.
We arrived at the parking lot, and while we were pulling out luggage, the second thing happened that made me realize this was going to be no ordinary trip: Johan Bruyneel — Director of Team RadioShack — walked up, shook my hand…and then gave me a big hug.
We talked for about ten minutes — him completely calm, me a stuttering swooning goofball.
I had just met Johan Bruyneel. Seriously. Furthermore, he told me that I hadn’t needed to bring a bike with me after all. They had decided to give me a bike to ride. “You mean loan, right?” I asked.
“No, this is for you to keep,” said Johan, offhandedly.
At which point I began to stutter, but I choose not to replicate that here.
“Seriously? Another one? This must be the big surprise you were talking about, right?”
“No, you’ll learn what that is tomorrow,” said Johan. He was enjoying this.
And so was I.
I checked into my room — an extremely nice room, I should say; substantially nicer than a Motel 6, for example — and headed downstairs, where Johan waved me over to join him at his table.
Dinner was buffet style: pasta with marinara sauce, chicken, potatoes, salad. Exactly what you’d expect. We started eating before most of the team had arrived — dinner was buffet style.
Viatcheslav Ekimov — “Eki” — was sitting a couple tables away. “Do you know who Eki is?” asked Johan.
“Eki, this is Fatty,” Johan called out.
“Hey, Fatty,” waved Eki.
“How’s it going, Eki?” I shouted back, not really knowing what else to say at that moment.
I got down to serious journalism, then, and asked Johan, “So, do any of your riders get fat during the winter?”
“Oh yes,” said Johan. “That’s one of the reasons we have these training camps, so the riders can see each other and put pressure on the ones who have gained weight.”
“Really?” I asked. “These skinny guys?”
“Some of them put on several kilos during the winter,” replied Johan. “In fact…” He began to point, and then thought better of it.
Somehow, I find it comforting that pro cyclists put on winter flub, too.
And then Lance came in. He waved and yelled, “Hey Fatty!”
As usual, I demonstrated my total suaveness, and said, “Thanks for being here.”
“Well, thanks for having me,” replied Lance, clearly curious as to exactly what kind of drugs I was on.
Yes, that is The Runner sitting beside me in that photo. Caught off-guard by his unexpected appearance, she did not at that moment ask Lance if she could lick one of his calves.
Around then, Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner came in too, sat down, and began eating.
It took a while, but I screwed up my courage and went over to talk to them.
It turns out that I really hadn’t needed to worry, because right as I got there, Levi looked up and said, “I am so sick of pasta marinara and potatoes.”
“Yeah,” replied Chris, “But the giant cookies they have here never get old.”
You don’t get quotes like that reading VeloNews, folks.
By the way, Brad, you owe me $50 for wearing your shirt (Brad outbid Bike Snob NYC by $5.00)
After dinner, as I was heading back to my room, Lance hopped (not literally) into the elevator I was taking up. “You know we’re riding Mount Lemmon tomorrow, right?” he asked.
“Someone mentioned that, yes,” I replied. “Is that good or bad?”
“It’s a 25-mile climb,” said Lance. “And 6,000 feet of gain.” The elevator was at his floor now. Lance looked over as he got off.