It's not every day that the biggest sports celebrity on the planet sends out a tweet saying:
@lancearmstrong Hey LA - get out of your cars and get on your bikes. Time to ride. 7:30 tomorrow am. Griffith Park, LA Zoo parking lot. See you there..
Does Lebron James say, "Come on down to the Staples Center and shoot some hoops with me, or does Manny Remirez beckon, "hey baseball fans let's all hangout at Dodger Stadium and play three flies up?" No they don't, but Lance did exactly that yesterday afternoon. And while I had to do a double take at the tweet, the opportunity was too good to pass up. Griffith Park is a 20 minute ride from my house.
Here's a clip of the ride along with the madness that ensued afterwords.
Fortunately, the most fame I attracted (other than this Blog, which is totally blowing-up [not]) was being featured in this morning's LA times. I even made the picture. That's me, second row all the way to the right (partially obscured). Also further proof that I like to sat near the front of even a 2000 person peleton.
The media scrum was more surprising to me than the rider turn-out. While not every cyclist uses twitter, word spreads quickly by other means. My Team's mailing list was flooded with the news of the ride and we had a strong turn-out of 15-20 guys flying this year's Black and red colors. I counted at least three news crews the topper was when the news chopper came in low to cover the action. I heard lance say, "Wow, we even got a news chopper - only in LA!"
Being at or near the front for most of our three laps around Griffith Park I had a couple of opportunities to talk with lance. The first chance was at the top of the hill on the first lap. I pulled up next to him and suddenly couldn't think of anything to say. I had thought ahead of a few anecdotal comments to break the ice. First, for example that my coach Rick Babington, works with Chris Carmichael, Lance's coach, and had worked with him early in his comeback last year on his new time trial position. That's a good one. Or perhaps, that I had just gotten back from Belgium where the racing was WAY harder than in the US. Also a good ice breaker. no? But there I was riding with LANCE and I couldn't even say anything. He finally said the first words. Pointing down at my Ergomo power meter, he asked, "What the hell is that thing?" Not as cool an opener as what I had planned, but hell, I was talking to LANCE ARMSTRONG. I told him it was an old power meter and that it probably wasn't as good as the wireless SRM that was mounted on his bars. Clearly unimpressed, he had nothing more to say to me. With that we crested the hill for the first decent down to the Zoo.
Things went notably better for my second interaction and amazingly, someone snapped some pics at nearly the exact moment of this encounter. On our third and last lap heading up the hill in the park I found myself next to him again. This time I was more composed. A little out of breath from the climb and doing my best not to show it, I simply thanked him for doing this. How totally cool for him to do an open group ride with anyone and everyone who wanted to show up? And not without some risk. There were huge gaps in people's ability and group riding skills. The smallest incident could send the champion to the deck. He said, "Why not?" This time, with out a comment about my antiquated power meter. I then told him that I thought this ride was more dangerous than any Crit I'd ever ridden in and he completely agreed. "You Should have seen what it was like in Dublin," he told me, "there were guys on the deck everywhere." Then another rider, Joseph Ainsworth, who was on Lance's other flank, said, "Jim, can you imagine this in Belgium?" This was a perfect opening! Joe had done me a big solid, opening the door to talk about racing in Belgium. I told Lance that I had just gotten back from racing there. But our time was up again. We crested the hill and began the final decent back to the Zoo parking lot. Completely satisfied with my LA encounter I floated down the hill, avoiding the big sand patch and the giant road bumps at the bottom and thinking that it was amazing that I hadn't witnessed a single crash. Until the very end, that is.
Just when we were about to complete the ride and turn back into the parking lot, the media frenzy was at high tide. Dozens of photographers and video camera crews were lined up on the road. It looked more like the end of a pro tour race than a fun ride in the park. It was at the height of the press attention that some guy inexplicably toppled over. No one in front of him, no hole in the road - the spectacle must have been too much and he just fell down. The pack let out a giant and simultanious "OOOHHH!" Luckily for us all he was out of the bunch and caused only embarrassment for himself. A dumb crash is bad enough without the entire Los Angeles press corps there to make record of it.
On my ride home, I chatted with a random cyclist who told me about an even more embarrassing crash he witnessed and participated in. Apparently a woman ahead of him had crossed her front wheel up and went down. He attempted to jink to the right, but his shoe caught on the waist her cycling shorts, sending him over the bars. More shockingly however is that as he launched over the bars, his trailing shoe pulled the poor woman's shorts all the way down to her ankles! Where was the media for that one? Just another reason to wear bib shorts I suppose.
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