Our last day, and our biggest day. The preparation for this ride started on Wednesday at our team meeting. Fränk Schleck stated that he was going to offer two rides: The planned 155 km four-country ride and a shorter (100 km) ride that would only be able to take in three countries. To do a second ride, he would offer a guide, probably Glen Leven who is a mechanic for Trek-Segafredo, but no other support, i.e., no motorbikes. But he would need at least three volunteers.
Fränk asked us to think about what we were ready for after a week of riding. Two riders were consistently sagged throughout the week when we had time limits. I think Fränk was looking at those two as “volunteers.”
Even after the rest day, I wasn’t feeling much better. I was better but I wasn’t much better. The decision time was last night at the team meeting. I would love to go long and say I did a four-country ride but my body was telling me to volunteer for the shorter group. And I came to terms with that.
In walked Jens Voigt to our team meeting. “Shut up legs.” And Jens is going to ride with the long group. That conflicted me as I wanted to ride with Jens but wasn’t sure I could keep with the group. But that option was quickly off the table. Fränk announced there would only be one ride. Everyone would start but if he felt someone was holding back the team he would tell them to get in the van, no arguing, no discussion. Having that decision out of my hand, I had to go long.
We rolled out of Mondorf-les-Bains and a gap quickly developed back to the two riders. After 20 km (12 miles) just outside of Peppange we stopped as Fränk had gone back to help pace them. When they reached our group they stopped and got in the van.
My goal today was to finish. My strategy was simple. I thought I could stay with Jambo as we had ridden together quite a bit this week. We could form a grupetto of two if we had to as Fränk would not force Jambo, one of the organizers, off the course. But I didn’t have to resort to such a strategy.
Our first border was Belgium. We stopped at a non-descript border next to a farmhouse. The occupants were not thrilled we were there. They opened the door and their house smelled like a thousand ashtrays.
We rolled through a very scenic wooded section in Belgium, but only for 6.5 km (4 miles) and crossed back into Luxembourg. On another wooded scenic road, Fränk had us go from riding side by side (in twos) to one long paceline. And I was on Jens Voigt’s wheel. The speed ramped up as we kept this going for 10 km or more.
We stayed in Luxembourg and crossed the country, west to east, traveling 64 km (40 miles). We crossed the Moselle River at Wormeldange to enter Germany and pulled over just inside the border. Next to the river in Germany was a bike trail with lost of users on this Friday afternoon. As I was taking a photo a German man (or maybe a Luxembourger on the wrong side of the river) started speaking to me in German. I think. When he saw I didn’t comprehend he asked, “what language?” He switched to English.
“But why no German?”, he asked. “You’re wearing the Luxembourg colors. I told him we were riding with Fränk Schleck. And Jens Voigt.
“Jens Vote?”, he exclaimed. I told him to come over and meet them. He said no and kept riding.
We got on the bike path and hammered it for 19 km (12 miles). As we reached France, we stopped and one of our sagged riders joined us for the final push to home. Fränk made sure we rode at the pace of the slowest rider and we would finish the week riding together.
As for me, I pushed through and maybe I shouldn’t have. But I had to, no? I was fearful all day that Fränk would say “you’re holding us back,” and secretly wished he did, but he never came my way. Jens only passed me going up one climb because he was ahead of me on all the others. As crappy as I felt, I never was last on a climb or even second to last.
It was a challenging day. I was just hanging on at times. I was breaking the ride into five-mile segments, just trying to get to the next one. There were times I wanted to cry out “I’m done.” But I kept going. And ultimately, I ended the day with the satisfaction of completing the day, and the week, that I set out to do. At the team meeting, I was recognized for powering through and never quitting.
What a week it was. Riding with the Brothers Schleck and Jens Voigt. Separate days in Holland, Luxembourg, France, and Germany and a four-country ride that included Belgium.
This was a rest day so we would only ride 28 miles. Tell that to your friends who can’t imagine riding 28 miles – on our rest day that’s what we did. And it was easy.
Fränk Schleck met us in the morning at the bike room at the hotel. Once we were ready, his brother, Andy, the 2010 Tour de France winner, showed up to lead the ride. Like Fränk, he also lives in Mondorf-les-Bains. Can’t lead the ride? Have your little brother, the TdF champion, fill in.
I did not plan on being at the front of our group as we rolled out from Mondorf but found myself there with Andy Schleck. I was at the front for two kilometers until I moved over to give someone else a chance to chat.
Andy asked me how I liked Luxembourg. I loved it I told him and that Frank undersells it. He agreed. It is a beautiful country. Andy asked where I was from and then added he gets to the States a lot, mostly California.
We rolled to his bike shop. It is very clean (Frank says “too clean”). There is a cafe in the back and the former TdF champion was making and serving espresso for those who wanted some.
The shop could have been any American bike shop. That is any clean American bike shop. Andy is a Trek dealer, along with other brands. Shimano, Camelbak, and Bontrager products are on the shelves as are Cliff Bars and Power Bars.
But there is one difference. There is a lot of memorabilia from Andy’s career and also from some of his teammates.
We had decided as a group to add another 4 km, uphill, to our ride. The Luxembourg American Cemetery was only 2.4 miles away. It was very moving. General George S. Patton is buried here. We presumed to be buried with his troops.
Only 39% of the original soldiers that were buried here remain. The other 61% have been repatriated and are buried on American soil in the U.S. And here the rain came, but only for a short time.
When we left we were in rain but by the time we got back to Andy’s shop (retracing our route) it was dry. Although it looked like we would be in rain for a while, this was the only time we were in rain and it lasted no more than 10 minutes, It was a very moving and very meaningful day.
EDIT/EPILOGUE – This post was originally titled “Team Andy” because when you get to ride with a Tour de France winner (2010), why not? But from a week of riding in Luxembourg and four other countries, our visit to the Luxembourg American Cemetery was among my best memories. After moving hosting for this site and losing some post which had to be restored manually, the name Luxembourg American Cemetery just resonated. Almost forgot that I rode with a Tour de France champion that day. Sorry Andy. 🙂
Another beautiful day in Luxembourg. We looked forward to another brilliant ride. One problem. My illness, and I think it’s a cold, got worse. I had a bad headache last night and was feeling like crap. I thought about sitting this one out. But I hoped a bike ride would make it better.
You see, I have a history with this. About 10 years ago to the day (actually June 6, 2009) I was sick. Very sick. I should have been in the hospital. Instead I went for a bike ride. A long, hard, bike ride. It did not make it better. But I knew then to call the doctor.
Before rollout, Frank and Andy Scheck‘s dad, Johny, came to meet us. He is the father of the two Brothers Schleck and the unknown brother, Steve. He had also ridden in the Tour de France, from 1965-1973 less 1969. It was a nice gesture and most of our group knew him from last year.
We followed the beautiful Moselle River and onto some streets and roads. We had a little nasty climb ahead, and it started to rain. It wasn’t heavy, and it didn’t leave the roads a mess, it just refreshing, actually.
We would follow the route of the Medio Schleck Gran Fondo with one diversion. Gusty, our guide and friend, wanted us to visit his place, a place that Frank, and Gusty, call Gustyland.
We stopped and had a 45-minute snack. Martine Schleck had brought some delicious bread and cake. Gusty’s wife, Donny (sorry about the spelling), served some meats and cheeses. There is always laughing when you are around Gusty and today was no exception. He proudly showed off how he hunts pigs (wild boar) with knives.
The views kept getting better. We were on the switchback of the “last” climb, well, except Frank lies. He doesn’t do it intentionally, he just doesn’t realize that what is a bump in the road for the former winner on Alpe d’Huez during the Tour de France, is a climb for us mortals.
Frank calls out “Last climb! Last climb! Give it your all. Leave nothing here.” One problem was I couldn’t see how far the climb went. Still, I did my best and did leave the small group I was with. It was a small victory.
We came to the overlook at Stadtbredimus. Vineyards and a river view. And Gustyland somewhere in the distance.
Frank said he had good news and bad news. The good news is we were about 10-15 km from the end (his distance measures were off too – LOL). The “bad news” was he was willing to take some riders and go an extra distance.
Normally I would be all over that but I wasn’t feeling well. I needed to finish in the pack and call it a day. Frank ended up with perhaps the two strongest riders for the week, both named Scott. As we rolled back towards home, they turned left. I could see a vineyard, a steep farm road, and hear Frank let out the best “Dr. Evil. laugh you will hear.
I was glad with my decision. We rolled on through some beautiful paths and farm roads back to the hotel. The boys came in an hour later looking pretty beat. And today, the ride did make it better.
Today’s ride started in Luxembourg but in just 10 km (six miles) we came to Schengen and the Moselle River where German, France, and Luxembourg come together. We crossed the river and had a 100 km day in Germany.
We were on farm roads when my eyes starting tearing. Or crying. I didn’t know what was happening. I thought it was hay allergies. But it would be a harbinger of things to come.
We were coming into Mettlach. We were on a downhill on a busy street. I was 7th or 8th wheel when one of our riders passed me. Fair enough. One problem was the road flattened out and he lost contact with the group upfront. So I was now in the second group; missing out on the first group and their fun. Maybe.
There were four of us. We were trending downhill, next to the Moselle River, for 20 km (12 miles). It was glorious. At first only Gusty was doing the pulling or pace-setting and we were riding into the wind. I went up front to help. Our other two riders did not.
Will Swetnam, who started the trip without his bike because of Condor Flugdienst Airlines, finally had his bike delivered to the hotel and he was now on his bike instead of Frank’s. But there was one problem. The battery that controls shifting (Shimano Di2) was dangerously low. He started with 10% life remaining and it dropped to 5%. He could no longer use the big ring up front for power and he dropped off the front group. We came rolling by and picked him up. So Gusty, Will, and I took turns at the front while the other two enjoyed the fruits of our labors.
(Note: I am not complaining. I enjoyed more fruit this week than I deserved but it is nice when one can contribute so others can rest. I did not want Will to help, but he did.)
We came to Saarburg which is a beautiful city. But riding in a paceline we had no chance to take photos. We stopped at a Biergarten where we were served these huge pieces of cake. We were rewarded after a 45-minute break by starting on a climb. Ugh. Lactic acid. And it was an eight-mile climb at that.
Still, we were together for most of the ride but I dropped back to take a photo of three other riders. After the photo, the support van followed them as well as a car with an “L” on its plate. It was from Luxembourg.
Surely, I thought, with a Schleck van in front of us clearly marked, this driver would be excited to see Frank Schleck. I was wrong. He was impatient and the horn blaring as he went by should be discredited to Luxembourg and not Germany. Maybe he thought we didn’t notice.
But once he got by then I was able to pass the follow van and join back up with the group. When asked where I was I said simply I was caught up in the caravan of cars. Like a pro.
We reentered Luxembourg at Remich, again crossing the Moselle River. We had an easy roll in back to Mondorf. It was a 100 km day on the bike. It felt good except for those watering eyes would lead to a sore throat at dinner. This was not going well.
LUXEMBOURG CITY, LUXEMBOURG
On the schedule, this was a rest day as we had ridden 100 km in France and 100 km in Holland the past two days. Fränk Schleck proposed we see Luxembourg City.
We had two non-riders in our group for the week but Fränk found some “city bike” rentals for Svetlana and Jackie to ride. We had four cars, four people in each, and drove to the outskirts of Luxembourg City.
Fränk (or Gusty) led us down a very pretty and heavily wooded trail next to a small river. When we reached the old city, the streets were cobbled. Frank pulls up and stops at a bike shop. The owner knew Fränk, and I wondered throughout the week what percent of the country knew him and Andy. What stood out was the owner was wearing a Livestrong bracelet.
Those Livestrong bracelets were a fad. They were fading long before Lance came out and admitted doping but the number of people wearing them dropped precipitously after that. It is rare to see a Livestrong band supporter now and I didn’t think we would see one in Luxembourg. We did a fist pump.
We made out way to a glass viewing elevator which would give us a great view of the city. Bikes permitted.
Lunch was in the general plaza area. Unsure if it was lunch or a snack, I ordered a Coke (Zero) and a banana split. There was no time for shopping but this rider was awed by the beauty of this old city which is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
As we were getting on our bikes, Fränk was first and just started to pedal away. A waiter came over carrying a cell phone. At first I thought one of our group left their phone on the table. But then I realized the waiter had recognized Fränk and was coming for a picture. Fränk had just pulled away but I am sure he would have gladly posed for a photo op with the waiter.
When we returned I went for a ride in France to give her a second chance. This time was better than Saturday’s ride.
Our group, Rooster Racing, drove from our base in Mondorf, Luxembourg to The Netherlands, to ride part of the course of the Amstel Gold Race, Holland’s most famous race. One (at least this one) envisions Holland as this flat country of windmills, canals, and tulips. Well, that may be true in the north, I don’t know, but in southern Holland it is hilly. Damn hilly.
We boarded a 17-passenger bus for the 3-hour ride to Valkenburg. Upon arriving we parked in a train/commuter parking lot. The Schleck van had all our bikes onboard and we only had to reattach the front wheel to our own bikes. Today’s route would be 100 km while the actual course for Amstel Gold is two and one-half times that.
Before rolling out, we took a moment to recognize (American) Fathers’ Day. There were seven of us: Gusty, Bob, Paul, Carl, Bryan, Fränk, and me. With four children, I had the most, plus include four more grandchildren too. Maybe I don’t belong in this group. None of the others had grandchildren.
The Roosters’ motto is “Do Good, Ride Hard, Live Well.” We each had a minimum of $1500 fundraising for the charity of our choice. And I chose the one that would benefit Bethany.
We waited at the top for two of our riders. I may have been 15 seconds down but a couple of riders were 2-3 minutes down. Once we regrouped we came to a church celebration in Bemelem. It was part parade, part Mass, and part funeral although I doubt if it was a funeral as we would hit others like it throughout the day.
We had to detour around the small village. Fränk would talk to the policemen and I wonder how many recognized him as a former pro cyclist or more importantly, the winner of this race, their race, in 2006. It was his “coming out party” (winning the 2006 Amstel Gold Race) as he told us.
The terrain, not just the hills, but the course itself is especially dodgy. The streets are narrow. There is a lot of road furniture including speed bumps and bollards.
Being urban, or suburban, many residents don’t have garages and park on the street. The roads that aren’t urban often are farm roads with narrow bridges and sharp corners.
We had four steep climbs on this course. One was Keutenberg with has a 22%-24% pitch. Another is the Cauberg, in Valkenburg, which is a steep city street. In the race, it is often used up to as many as four times. We only climbed it once.
After the first big climb (which may or may not have been the Loorberg), Fränk tagged two riders and made them ride in the van(s). Our bus driver was contracted by law so we did not have time to spare to ride three hours each way and bike for more than four hours (or so). They would have to be sagged until the end of the route.
Will Swetnam’s bike did not arrive with him in Frankfurt so he was riding Fränk’s bike. Yep, set up for a skinny pro racer. When we came to the second big climb Will was up the road but I eventually caught him. We weren’t racing but I pulled away. We crested and were about 300 meters from where the group had pulled over when Will went speeding by. I had sat up to wait for him and he smiled and said, “I had to do that.”
On the remaining two climbs, Keutenberg and Cauberg, I didn’t give Will a chance. I did feel bad, just a little, that he was riding the bike of an Amstel Gold winner. But hey, he was riding a bike of a former Amstel Gold winner.
We had gone through the small village of Eys. The course turned sharply onto a farm road with a narrow bridge. Then a nasty climb – the Eyserbosweg. At the top where we all gathered, Fränk said that during Amstel Gold that if you’re not in the top 30 when you come to that bridge you have no chance of winning. It was a very interesting insight that put this course into perspective for us.
The two riders that had been sagged had been dropped off at the base of the Cauberg. They got to ride up it and wait for us. We rolled in, met them, and we all finished the course together.
When I ride, be it a cancer ride or an MS ride, and see someone has a name written on their body or their bib, I ask them to tell me their story. New to this group, I thought someone would ask me who Bethany is and why her name is on my calf. No one did.
However, at the team meeting this evening, Jambo (Jim Ray), one of the two organizers, put me on the spot and said that he saw the name Bethany and asked if I would mind sharing with the team her story. So I stood, choked back a tear, and said it was Father’s Day, she made me a father, and I am riding in Luxembourg for her health to find a cure.
Thank you, Jambo, for asking me to share that. Today was a very special ride.
I love France. In five times of coming here in nine years, I never experienced any road rage. Until today. Early in our ride a car did not like being behind these cyclists and went by with its horn blaring. Damnit France, you went and screwed up.
We rolled out of Luxembourg and only went two kilometers before we were in France. We began a climb up a gradual hill for perhaps one km. Some of our group got dropped, a harbinger of things to come. We waited at the top of the climb which allowed me to talk to some teammates and guests that were with us.
We had two motorbikes with us who helped us navigate intersections safely. Gusty’s wife, Donny (I hope that’s right), also rode.
Although we were on a different approach coming back, we were on the same ridge opposite the one we had started on. It was Mile 40. I was sitting fourth wheel on a 500-meter climb and got about 150 meters from the top and popped. I was on the right and waved my teammates past me. I just needed to spin slowly and finish the climb, and maybe rejoin them on the descent.
I rode in the morning in Frankfurt, which was really a bunch of wooded bike trails near the airport. I never did find Center City Frankfurt. In the lobby of the Airport Hilton, I met Julie Trimble then went to breakfast and met Dan McDonogh and Scott Hesford. We all assembled in the lobby of the hotel before heading over to find the bus.
But because I had assembled my bike yesterday in Germany, Dan said that was even better because the bus was short on storage space under the bus. We kept it out the case and rolled it onto the charter bus for Rooster Racing for the 2.5-hour drive to Luxembourg from the Frankfurt Airport.
We arrived at the Park Hotel and Fränk and Martine Schleck were there to greet us. Fränk told me that this day, picture-perfect and sunny, was Luxembourg, 270 days out of the year. Do you think he was lying?
While others were standing around waiting for their bikes to be assembled, I was able to grab mine and go for a spin. I asked Fränk where to go and he told me to turn right, “but it’s a busy road,” and go about two kilometers and make a right. There were two cars in the two km (1.2 miles). Ha! Busy indeed.
Although we had met some people on the bus, we would meet the rest of the team at dinner. Our hosts were the Schlecks, Fränk and Martine, plus Fränk’s trusted sidekick, Gusty. Our team mechanic was Glen Leven, a team mechanic with the pro team, Trek-Segafredo.
Our riders were Dan, Julie, Scott (met at breakfast), Margaret O’Rourke, Scott Ireland, Bryan Huneycutt, Paul Lewandosky, Bob Pane, Will Swetnam, Carl Bond, plus two non-riders: Jackie Hartman and Swetlana Martynova.
I would have to know everybody’s name and I was very nervous about remembering them. Since my memory-loss accident last year in Ohio, I have had problems remembering simple things like names. I was quite nervous about the week.
I rode every day in Finland, from Friday through Wednesday. This lends itself to one post, a lengthier post, instead of many.
On Friday I built the bike late after arriving from the U.S. via Iceland and went for a bike ride at 9:00 p.m. – because Finland. Actually, I arrived in Helsinki and drove to Forssa to visit our Finnish daughter (Laura Vainio was an exchange student who lived with us in 1995). I had the bike built as Laura arrived home from work and then began and afternoon and evening of visiting and eating so that was the reason I didn’t get wheels down until 9:00 p.m. That and I knew it would be OK.
Laura was excited to have arranged a bike ride for me on Saturday. I met Karolina and Kole Andersson and Johanna Nikander. They had mapped out a “Forssa Loop” ride which would take us (mostly) through beautiful countryside. Johanna is Laura’s sister-in-law and the Anderssons are friends.
Karolina is a FIBA (international basketball) referee and the two of us chatted the entire way. I intended to ride with each person equally but I had no clue how far the route we were riding was. When Karolina said that Johanna and I were turning and she and Kole were going straight, I felt like a jerk because I hardly said a word (yet) to the other two.
Karolina and I are officials. I don’t know basketball and I think she doesn’t know soccer, although she may. But you didn’t need to, to discuss officiating. Her philosophy is the same as mine and she faces some of the same challenges I do in dealing with other officials.
Johanna and I rode to their summer house/cottage on the lake and were met by her husband, Jarko, plus my hosts, Laura and Samoli, and their kids, Oskari and Olivia. Oskari and I went to sauna and then swimming in the lake. When we ended, Laura went to offer me a ride back in the car but I told her I would bike home. Of course, I had to find my way first, but I did.
We rode mostly on country roads where there was little traffic. Near the city are wide bike paths. Samuli said it is “recommended” that cyclists ride the paths and not the roads. Laura looked it up and said it was the law that where there was a bike path the cyclist couldn’t be on the street. I guess I violated the law. A lot. If it’s the law it is not strictly enforced like it apparently is in the Netherlands.
On Sunday we had mapped out a ride, albeit short, because I was leaving for Nurmijarvi in the early afternoon for soccer. Just as I was leaving Forssa, I saw a cyclist heading in the other direction. In Forssa I saw plenty of people on bikes but few cyclists. And I knew she was a cyclist.
At first, I thought it was cool I saw a cyclist. And in 20 seconds or so, I decided I would turn around and see if I could ride with her for a little while. When I turned she was already 250 meters up the road (street). And I thought with traffic lights I would not catch her. But I kept her in sight and slowly (as in 5-7 minutes) closed the gap.
That alone should have told me what I needed to know. But I got closer then pulled beside her. I knew I was violating all social norms. A man approaching a woman. A much older man approaching a much younger woman (I had thought she was probably in her early 30s when she went by). Approaching someone with an earbud in. Anyone approaching a Finn (sorry for the stereotype, kids).
I saw her and she was much younger than I had thought. But I told her I was from the U.S. and asked if I could ride with her. She said sure then stated she was going to Pori, about 90 km (55 miles) away. We rode on a bike path until it ended then on Highway 10.
Astrid was good. I didn’t struggle so much to keep with her than I did “work hard.” I was sweating. She was not. When she told me she had competed in a triathlon yesterday (she won by more than three minutes), I told her that I had ridden with a couple of triathletes the day before. And to my surprise, or maybe hers, she knew them.
After I returned I told Laura the story of how I approached a young woman to ride with me. Laura was horrified. “Oh no, you didn’t,” she exclaimed. I did and I told her that the mystery rider also knew Johanna. So I had Laura call Johanna to try to figure out who I rode with. It took about three seconds for Johanna to say that was Astrid Snäll. It was more in the form of “Oh, my God, I can’t believe you met – and you rode with, Astrid Snäll. Turns out she is a top-ranked runner and triathlete in Europe. But she was very down to earth and let me ride with her until I had to turn back.
On Monday I went exploring and found a train museum with handcars. I made Oskari and Olivia join me on Tuesday with the handcar. The car was built circa 1900 and was quite a workout to keep it moving when the track turned up (a 1% – 2% grade).
Air was a problem. I did not bring a hand pump instead planned to buy a CO2 cartridge when I arrived. The local bike shop in Forssa was only open Monday thru Friday and when I went on Monday, it was 11:45 and he was closed for lunch. Karolina had a pump I used on Saturday and on Tuesday I rode over to Johanna and Jarko’s place and they let me borrow theirs. I didn’t have a plan if I had a flat on the road in the middle of nowhere. But I made it out of Finland with no flats for which I am grateful.
As for differences or similarities to the U.S. (or to Virginia):
- Johanna says drivers hate cyclists in Finland: SAME
- I never had to worry about glass: DIFFERENT
- Karolina says some drivers have road rage: SAME
- Many more bike paths near cities: DIFFERENT
- Wave to cyclists and they don’t wave back: DIFFERENT
- Peaceful feeling out on the road with the wind in your face: SAME