Sunday, December 21, 2008

2007-2008 Holiday Letter

2007 was a busy year, and we never got around to writing our annual holiday letter. We procrastinated, and consequently we are doing a joint 2007-2008 update.

As usual, in 2007 Tom spent countless hours on his bicycle, and Tracy spent countless hours immersed in her studies for her Doctorate in Education. In between the hours in the saddle or with a nose in a book, there were opportunities for travel, relaxation in Seattle, and the introduction of two new four-legged friends into our lives.

Tom rode 8800 miles during the year, a few less than usual, but he did manage to climb over 500,000’ on his bike during the course of 2007. 63,200 of those feet involved riding across the Pyrenees Mountains of France. He started on the Mediterranean Coast in El Port de la Selva, Spain, and finished on the “Gold Coast” at Biarritz, France.

Tom continued in his role as a director on the Cascade Bicycle Club board, and helped develop a new annual event for the club held at Mt. St. Helens. It’s called the High Pass Challenge. Tracy was “volunteer extraordinaire” throughout the whole process. Tom also managed to ride in the event, and got to wear the #1 bib number for the only time in his life! Of course, Tracy managed to throw her leg over her bicycle for the occasional ride, but her real focus this year was running.
In 2006, Tracy enrolled in the University of Washington’s Leadership for Learning Education Doctorate program. She spent one Friday/Saturday a month engaged in class work, with a considerable amount of time between class sessions reading and writing. If all goes well, she’ll walk across the stage in June 2009 with her “funny hat” and purple velvet robe.

After staying close to home in 2006, we decided to take flight a couple of times in 2007. In February, we took a vacation to sunny, warm Oahu. With a hotel right across from Waikiki Beach, we determined that the best way to spend seven days in tropical paradise was to stay close to the sand and surf. We took walks, lounged by the pool, and cruised the beach each day. The weather cooperated nicely so that we were able to return from Hawaii well refreshed and slightly tan.

In April, we flew down to Scottsdale to stay with Tom’s long-time friend, Karen. Her place just outside the main part of the city provided a terrific base for another week in warm, sunny weather. Tom took his bike on this jaunt, and spent some time exploring the hills around Scottsdale. We also drove down to Tucson—taking the bike, of course—to spend a couple of days down in that area. Tom had the chance to ride up through six climactic zones to the ski area on Mount Lemmon.

The coup de gras to this year of outside-of-Washington travel was Tom’s trip to France. He spent a total of 11 days in Europe, including 550 miles of cycling over 7 days crossing the Pyrenees.

When we were in Seattle (which, really, was most of the time), we made 2007 the year of exploring the city like a tourist. We toured SAM’s newly expanded digs, walked through the Olympic Sculpture Park, enjoyed various neighborhood haunts like the Shanty CafĂ©, watched the Blue Angels, biked to Alki and back, contemplated “riding the ducks” (although Tracy’s not sure she could handle having to quack on command), and spent many, many days at the Pike Place Market.

A sad note to 2007 was saying good-bye to Madeline, our calico cat. She died in April after a pampered life. Toward the end of May, as we were enjoying the annual University of Washington Street Fair, we were captivated by two new feline friends. Aspin and Mente, two fluffy little calico girls named for two passes Tom rode over in France, joined us in June (they had to get big enough to come home) and have made it their personal mission to torture their new “brother” Zeke, our orange tabby. They’re adorable. They’re naughty. They make us laugh every day!

In 2008, Tracy continues on in her fourth year as principal of Phantom Lake Elementary in Bellevue. In October, Tracy passed her General Exams, and upon completion of her dissertation will earn her Doctorate in Education in June of 2009. Already the most intelligent and highly educated person Tom has ever known, Tracy just keeps pouring it on. :) Who knows what the next great adventure lays ahead in her career path?

We spent a long Memorial Day weekend at Lake Chelan at a friend’s place. While Tom focused on cycling in preparation for his upcoming trip, Tracy focused on relaxing lakeside.

Tom went back to Europe in June for what he views as the cycling adventure of a lifetime. Spending almost three weeks with his friends Laura and Tim Wyckoff in Germany, France, and Italy, Tim and Tom managed to climb in excess of 93,000’ over some of the most storied roads in Europe. Tom flew to Munich, where Tim and Laura are spending three years while Tim works as a patent attorney. Laura was not working while Tom was visiting, and she volunteered to “sag” and support the two riders. First up were the Dolomites, and then Tim and Tom rode up the mighty Stelvio en route to three rest days in Bellagio at Lake Como. Next up (literally) were the famous climbs of the high French Alps, and finally a ride to the Mediterranean Sea through the French Maritime Alps.

Upon his return from Europe, Tom began publishing this blog.

Tom and Tracy volunteered as a team at the second annual High Pass Challenge, and Tom claims to have had more fun than last year when he rode in the 114 mile event.

Despite not doing a single ride in excess of 100 miles in 2008, through mid-December, Tom has managed to ride his four bicycles a little over 9200 miles, accumulating over 620,000‘ of climbing in the process. Given that we are experiencing the most prolonged cold and snowy (yes, snowy in Seattle!) weather since 1990, it’s possible that he is done for the year.

We don’t know anyone who we think would claim to have had a great year economically in 2008, but we do have a lot of friends who have had a fantastic year otherwise. Count us in that camp.

We hope you and yours have a wonderful 2009!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lance Armstrong: Best of the Best...Regardless

Lance Armstrong won seven Tour de France races in a row. No matter how you cut it, no matter how you view it, he is the best of the best of all time, regardless of how he accomplished it.

From a competitive standpoint, it simply doesn’t matter whether he used performance enhancing drugs or not.

It has been pretty well established, without naming names here, that virtually all of his main challengers in his seven tour victories were either directly or indirectly associated with some type of devious and clandestine plot to artificially increase their own chances of winning the tour.

Lance Armstrong beat them all convincingly.

This is not intended for anything other than pure speculation, but the way I see it, there are three possible scenarios that explain his dominance in the Tour de France:

1) Armstrong is an extremely talented athlete, even at the rarified elite level, and he raced clean. His incredibly focused and specific approach to the TDF, his mental fortitude, his bike handling skills, his drive and dedication to be the best, enabled him to overcome the illicitly gained “advantages” that many of his competitors had. He also consistently benefited from not only the strongest team, but a team that was extremely well coached and dedicated entirely to his cause. Depending on the drug, how it is administered, and the doctor interviewed, one is led to believe that drugs in sports can give an elite endurance athlete anywhere from a 5-15% performance edge. Armstrong closed, and then exceeded that gap, entirely through natural methods.

2) Every top level professional cyclist of the era was taking performance enhancing drugs. Armstrong had more talent than anyone else, still had the best team, still had the mental toughness, and therefore was able to dominate the 180+ person professional peloton and win seven Tours in a row. The “playing field” had effectively been leveled, and he still was the best.

3) Every top professional was taking drugs, Armstrong still had the other advantages, and in addition to that, he had the best medical team.

Regardless of which, if any, scenario makes any sense at all, one fact remains. Lance Armstrong is the best cyclist ever to compete in the TDF, and then there are the others, all five time winners. Seven of a kind trumps five, and Armstrong’s tour victories came in the modern era. As in most sports, today’s cyclist athletes are more highly trained and talented, and consequently participate in a more competitive sports environment.

Jack Nicklaus dominated professional golf in an era during which it has been acknowledged that there were a few top level golfers who were quite a bit more talented than the rest. In fact, they were called the “Big Four”, and there was Palmer, Player (this has to be the all time greatest name for a pro athlete!), Trevino, and Nicklaus. Most of the major tournaments of the day were won by these four, with Nicklaus being the most dominant. In today’s world, the Big Four could be equated with the “Big 100”, as the skill level is so elevated just to gain entry to the professional golf tours around the world, let alone win a tournament of any kind, that a type of parity has occurred.

Despite this perceived parity, Tiger Woods has managed to dominate the game like no one since Nicklaus, and he is well on his way to being the greatest golfer of all time. He is the Lance Armstrong of golf.

Most physiologists seem to agree that in terms of raw physical capacities at the highest levels of elite cyclists, differences of a few percent exist amongst the athletes. Greg Lemond reportedly had a Vo2 max of 90, and that number has been associated with Floyd Landis. Armstrong’s team has largely been silent on this subject. After Armstrong retired, Dr. Ed Coyle published the results of a long term study of Armstrong’s physiology tests. These tests dated back to the early 90’s when he was first a member of the international peloton, and long before his cancer. Even with Armstrong’s well documented weight loss, Coyle’s tests revealed a Vo2 max of between 82 and 84 when Armstrong was at his peak.

While this level certainly places him among the most physically gifted endurance athletes in the world, his aerobic capacity as measured by Vo2 max alone does not alone explain his dominance. Of course, there are many other physiological metrics critical for success, but Vo2 max has long been one of the gold standards, along with power at LT, that has been used to gauge an athletes’ odds for success.

As I stated above, I don’t really believe it is important exactly how Lance Armstrong was able to win seven Tours in a row. He was the best of the best amongst a very deep, talented field, many of whom have been linked to drugs.

I think he is still the best, and I think he has come back to prove it. At age 37, out of the game for almost four years, he has reentered the sport. He’s done so at a time when even the harshest critics of cycling feel that significant progress has been made in the fight against doping, and that the 2009 Tour should be one of the cleanest tours in the last two decades. The playing field should be as level as it has been in a very, very long time.

Why would he come back if he didn’t intend to race clean? Why would he risk his legacy when he has nothing to gain, and everything to lose?

Just imagine if he wins the Giro, and/or the Tour de France. That will shut everybody up, once and for all.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Alpes-Maritime of Provence 2009 Tour

I have decided I’m going back to Europe in 2009. I’m returning to the French Maritime Alps.

CBC’s International Tours Group has partnered up with VeloSki Tours to offer Cascade Bicycle Club members an incredible trip from 9-6-09 to 9-18-09:

The trip size will be limited to 10-12 riders, and I have heard fantastic things about VeloSki. VeloSki is owned and operated by Pacific Northwest people, and the principals have many years of experience from years of guiding for the Seattle based Erickson Cycle Tours company.

In 2007, I took a trip to the Pyrenees with Cycle Miles, a German tour company. It was my first commercial tour, and I was blown away by how hard the guides worked to make sure we had an incredible trip.

The 2009 tour includes 12 days and nights in Europe’s Maritime Alps. The price includes accommodations and exceptional tour support. All accommodations are three-star. The early-bird price is 2000 Euros (until 1-15-09), or about $2530 at today’s exchange rate. This price includes everything except for your airfare and all but two lunches/dinners.

Yes, the economy is horrible, but this is a tremendous deal, considering the level of service that VeloSki offers on their trips, and the fact that group size is limited to 12 riders. See below for a word from Tom Napa about VeloSki. Tom is a local Seattle rider whom you may know.

To get a clear picture of the VeloSki tour’s value take a look and compare the 2009 Erickson Maritime trip to VeloSki’s:

CBC has negotiated special pricing for Cascade members on this trip, and I am helping to get the word out, and answer any questions that I can. I was just in this region in June of this year, and it’s one of my favorite places to cycle in the world. That’s why I am going back.

Let me know if you are interested, and maybe we can put together a group of people who know each other.

From Tom Napa:

"Just an unsolicited endorsement regarding VeloSki and Larry Smith who runs
the company. I have taken 2 Tours with VeloSki....the Swiss Alps in 2007 and Austrian
Tyrols in 2008....both exceeded my expectations in every regard. The routes
were scenic and as challenging as one would want. Larry typically has at
least 2 routes to choose from everyday....a challenging one and one less so. The
accommodations are typically local 3 (if not better) star establishments
that I look forward to returning to on my own in the future. And the meals
are memorable....not to mention wine/beer with dinner.

Larry has led groups for years previously with Erickson and for the past 2
years has been on his own. He knows the cycling roads of Europe like we
know the Burke Gilman Trail! He'll take care of you and your bike from the
moment you land till the time you take-off for home. It’s well worth the
commitment in time, training, and dollars...especially as the US$
strengthens. I highly recommend whatever trip VeloSki/Larry has arranged."

Friday, December 5, 2008

What's Wrong With This Picture?


"Most cyclists in Spain are legally required to wear helmets, so when a Spanish policeman saw a group out for a ride and one rider not wearing a helmet, he pulled that rider over. Fortunately, Team Astana's Chris Horner knew that professional riders are not covered by the law.

Astana is holding its training camp on Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, and a group of riders including Horner and Lance Armstrong went out for a ride, when the group was stopped by the Spanish police.

"Horner found it funny because he knew the rules – he lived for some time in Spain – and knew there is an exception for professional riders," Astana spokesman Philippe Maertens told Cyclingnews. "He had to explain the rules to the policeman." After showing his identification to prove that he was, indeed, a pro rider, he was able to go on his way.

The 37-year-old actually had his rider's license with him as proof. "He always has it with him as he knows the Spanish rules," Maertens said. "Probably he was the only one who had it with him."

The Spanish law requiring helmets took effect in January of 2004. The exceptions are: when riding in cities or towns, during "periods of extreme heat", when riding up steep hills, for medical reasons and professional cyclists. Any riders during a competition are not required to wear a helmet, either. Violators are subject to a fine of up to 90 euro".

What kind of helmet law is this?

By the way, by "What's wrong with this picture", I didn't mean the helmetless head. This shot could be from Lake Washington Blvd. in Seattle on a Saturday morning (no offense intended). Why would a professional cycling team go to a place with narrow roads and a lot of traffic to do a camp? Maybe they are just heading out from their hotel in search of the open roads?

I hope to see you on the Tarmac.