A Virtual Yellow Wristband

Those yellow bracelets. Launched in May 2004 as a fundraiser for the Lance Armstrong Foundation (Livestrong), they took the cycling world by storm. And indeed, a lot of the world. The majority of riders in the peloton in the 2004 Tour de France wore them.

It would be personal what the band meant to each wearer. Generally, it would mean, “I support people with cancer” or “Cancer research” or “Cancer awareness.”

I joined the masses and had one but wore it sporadically. But when I was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, I slipped it back on and wore it full-time, 24/7. Ironically, over the course of 11 years, the only time it wasn’t on my wrist was when I was fighting cancer. When I was being treated at Johns Hopkins I could not wear anything. Johns Hopkins had their own tubes and wristbands for me.

In June 2013 I was in Durango, Colorado, where I met Bob Roll. Eight months earlier, Lance Armstrong had admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. So by 2013, many, if not most users had thrown their yellow bands away.

Barry with Bob Roll

The yellow band represents Livestrong – the cancer-support organization. It does not represent Lance. But for most people, the yellow bands became a lie. Some believe that it was all a sham. Lance was a fraud. Livestrong was a fraud. And those bands ended up in the trash.

I continued to wear mine. And at Ride the Rockies, where just one year earlier most riders would be wearing one, now they were much less popular. But Bob Roll was still wearing one and I commented to him about it. He said he would never remove his. By last year on the Tour de France broadcasts, I saw Bob was no longer wearing one. (And maybe earlier than that too.)

I posted to our group, Cyclists Combating Cancer. I asked them if they still wear them or when they stopped. Most (who responded) still wear them. But two answers stood out.

Peter Collins

Peter Collins stopped wearing them as they broke. But he added that (cancer) “no longer defines me. I am always aware of it but it is no longer in the forefront of my life.”

And a couple feels like the organization is a fraud. Jerry Kelly summed it up:

Jerry alleged that the CEO (Doug Ulman) and the Board lied about what they were doing with donations.

I hold no animus toward Lance Armstrong. Only he knows in his heart what was behind the creation of the Lance Armstrong Foundation (the nickname became Livestrong and the organization later took that name, erasing Lance’s name from the organization). And only Lance knows what was behind the creation of the yellow bracelet. It was alleged that this was to take pressure off him for doping allegations. One great big yellow distraction.

Lance Armstrong and Ron Kiefel

In June 2016 I was in the audience at Ride the Rockies in Aspen as Lance addressed the crowd. Moderator, Ron Kiefel, was selecting people to ask questions. He just called on raised hands with no idea what the question would be. I was not picked.

I wanted to have everyone stand if they ever wore the Livestrong bracelet. And then have everyone remain standing if they were still wearing it. And then ask Lance to address all those people who just sat down. (Or better would be to stand if you ever wore the yellow band and to sit down if you still are wearing it. Then Lance could address those still standing. It would have been brilliant!)

I would like to know. And what does Lance think of those of us who still wear that yellow band?

I hate cancer. I wish I never had cancer. I am a survivor. But I will not let cancer define me. And after 11 years of wearing this, I began to think I was being defined by cancer. My grandchildren have never seen me without the yellow band.

Today was to be the Livestrong Challenge in Austin. It was changed to a virtual event. And when the event went virtual, my band just went virtual.

I support cancer research. I support Livestrong and a number of other cancer-fighting organizations. But it’s time to turn a new leaf. I will wear my virtual band. You just can’t see it.



This year’s tour starts in the shadow of Mt. Sopris and the charming community of Carbondale; a small town with big views surrounded by ranchlands and unending Colorado sky. The 50-mile day will treat cyclists to Missouri Heights – perched on a bluff – then meander along the Rio Grande Trail en route to Aspen.

It was 46° when Terry Moran and I rolled out of Carbondale at 7:00 a.m. We picked up the Rio Grande rail trail and followed it along the Roaring Fork River for five miles.  I told Terry I would commit to riding with him only on the last day to ensure that he made his flight. He said he figured as much as the climbs would separate us.

On the Rio Grande Rail Trail

We turned onto the first climb and Ride the Rockies was officially underway.  It was the last I would see Terry. The air was thin and I was breathing heavy. But I felt good enough to roll past Aid Station 1.  I caught a guy wearing a “Five Borough Ride” jersey and we talked all the way to station 2.

Terrance Moran at Ride the Rockies

It’s a funny thing about talking to people on the road. Often it is without introduction or names. If you roll into a rest stop together, as we did, there may or may not be an expectation that you roll out together. In this case, I lost my mark.

The Rockies in the distance

Leaving the stop I had a brief conversation with the people at the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s. Once back on the road we had a pretty good descent which led us back to the Rio Grande Trail.

Aid Station 2

The trail splits the Roaring Fork Golf Course. I stopped for 10 minutes to talk to one of the guys at a cart path intersection.  He told me this is a private course and hard to get on to. He also stated that Lance Armstrong comes out to play occasionally.

Splitting Roaring Fork Golf Course

Eventually we were directed off the trail back to a road. A road which seemed to never stray far from the trail. Briefly I was with a man from Washington and a woman from Charlotte. But I noticed the trail and road never really separated. I told them I was going to jump back on the trail. It was more pleasant (no traffic).

Riders coming through Roaring Fork Golf Course

Except for once when I jumped back onto the road to Aid Station 4, I just stayed with the trail. I didn’t stop at the station but went through it to pick up the trail again. Then we started to get serious separation. The trail climbed higher while the road stayed next to the river.

The Wanderer

I met a cyclist coming from Aspen. Fully loaded. He said he was just wandering. He started in Tucson but couldn’t find a campground in Aspen. He thought he might head to Canada but really just wanted to know if he could buy a beer in Carbondale.

Rio Grande Trail near Aspen. Dirt.

I stayed on the trail thinking I was doing better than everyone else. Then it turned to dirt. Oh well. It was only 2-3 miles into Aspen.

Don Sheppard

Riding into Aspen I looked over and saw Don Sheppard on the road. I first met him in Italy two years ago.

Micha and Neil

Once I reached the school I checked in with my friends from the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s. While there seeing old friend, Lauren Hunt, two cyclists rolled in I had met this morning at the hotel. Micha and Neil had ridden the Sellaronda last year so we chatted about the route.

Bike Corral in Aspen

I went to the hotel, the Limelight Hotel. It was 11:30 a.m. and my room wasn’t ready. I then escorted two cyclists back to the school/headquarters. I went back to check on the room. Still not ready. This time I went to eat. I found CP Burger. While I was waiting I heard the name Lance Armstrong called. When I ordered the young man told me when my order was ready they would call “Sidney Crosby.” I took that as an omen. The Penguins would win the Stanley Cup tonight.

My receipt, not Sid’s – an omen before the Pens would win the Cup

The cycling seminar featured the real Lance Armstrong.  It was a Q&A session with tour host, Ron Kiefel. It was a full house. Lance said his only regret was the way he treated people. He wished he could do more with cycling, but he’s banned. And he worries about the Livestrong Foundation.

Lance Armstrong and Ron Kiefel
Lance Armstrong and Ron Kiefel

When asked about tomorrow’s route over Independence Pass, Lance called it “easy.” People laughed. He further explained that if the pro peloton rode it, the sprinters would stay together in the peltoton over the top. Easy for the pros.

Lance said he owed an apology to each of us; those who defended him over the years. But he didn’t stick around to talk or apologize. That’s Lance.

Livestrong for Alex


Six years ago I didn’t see myself doing charity rides but then … cancer. And today I lined up for my fifth Livestrong Challenge. Two were in Philly (actually King of Prussia) and now the third one is in Austin.

Lexi Rogers
Barry with Lexi. She was my bicycle buddy for the Texas 4000 and we got to meet at In N Out Burger Saturday night.

I wanted to ride with 13 year-old Alex Shepherd in Oregon but never got the chance. At his service in June, I told his dad, Dan, I’d like for him to join me in Austin and we would ride for Alex.

Dan at the end of the road
Dan at the end of the road

I arrived on Thursday and attempted to find a route called the Volente Loop using a downloaded file on my GPS. The problem was there were a couple of spots where the route crossed over (think figure eight) and the GPS wasn’t sure, or probably I wasn’t sure, which way to go. At 16 miles I found myself back at my car. OK, at 95 degrees, I gave up.


Friday morning I went to the airport and picked up Dan. We didn’t have much time as he assembled his bike then we rode downtown to meet Will and some of the Cyclists Combating Cancer group at Mellow Johnny’s. We rode over to a Rudy’s which is delicious BBQ in a gas station.

Four of Seven Yellow Jerseys at Mellow Johnny's. I think the Tour de France called and want these baclk.
Four of Seven Yellow Jerseys at Mellow Johnny’s. I think the Tour de France called and want these back.

Yesterday Dan and I went to Livestrong Headquarters to pick up our registration materials. After lunch were able to do the real Volenti Loop. Still hot with some punchy hills and “heavy” pavement. Those 42 miles seemingly took something out of me.

Dan adding Alex's name to the wall
Dan adding Alex’s name to the wall

This morning we timed our entrance perfectly. I had raised enough funds to get a priority start in the first coral. I wanted to ride with Dan but being in the front coral meant I could ride out with the top fundraisers. Our CCC team is almost always the top team but this year we were second to “Lance and Friends.” Well good for him (seriously – if he puts his name out there he will get donations to his former charity).

Ready to roll out
Ready to roll out

Lance Armstrong lined up in the first group and I thought if I had a chance to ride next to him, I would. I got to the coral at 7:29 a.m. One minute to spare. But there were lots of cyclists in cue and I was at the back of the group. I never even got a glimpse of Lance at the front.


We rolled out at 7:30. Our plan was for me to soft pedal if I wasn’t with Lance and in either case, we would meet at the first stop at Mile 10. I wasn’t with Lance and I began to back off the pace. At Mile 6 Dan and I joined up, both looking splendid in our Team Alex jerseys.

Texas 4000 at Rest Stop 2
Texas 4000 at Rest Stop 2. Ayesha (middle). Ayesha is part of the 2016 Rockies Team.

I rode up behind a man wearing a picture of a child and said “Tell me about your daughter.” I slowed to talk and I think Dan saw that it wasn’t all about the riding. The best moments of the day would come from riding.

On the road
On the road

At the second stop, I met the kids from the Texas 4000. That was a surprise to them as I started dropping the names of Vanessa and Lexi and others who were part of the program the past couple of years. They seemed genuinely excited to meet me. Well, I was excited to meet them too.

Always my favorite gas station

Each “challenge” is designed to feature a challenge on the century route. While this route was mostly flat with some rollers, I remembered well the Wall. Around Mile 50 you could see this butte in the distance. As one got closer you could see there was a road straight up the side to the top. Closer still, you could see almost everybody pushing their bikes.

As Dan pushed on I told him we should back off a little. Don’t want to hammer it and then have nothing left for the big climb. At Mile 48 we pulled into a rest stop. There I met Rudy the Chicken. A girl was holding him and offered to let me hold him. She now has me rethinking my love affair with Chick-fil-A,

Barry with Rudy the Chicken

As we rolled out I wondered about the Wall. Dan went ahead and I found myself next to a woman, Christy. I asked her if she had ridden this century before. She looked at me and said “I rode a century yesterday.” She must have heard “ridden a century before.” We talked.

Dan Shepherd
Dan and Rudy

The next 25 miles went by as quickly as any I have ridden this year. Not quickly as in fast but quickly as in the time few by. Mostly, Christy and I rode side by side and did not notice we were pulling 12 riders. Christy’s friend, Christa, and Dan were busy talking too.

Christa and Christy

Back at the rest stop (with the chicken – we had made a loop) there’s always that moment of truth when you have been riding with strangers. Do you wait for one another or do you move on? Not sure who but we waited for one another and the four of us rolled out of this rest stop.

Dan chatting at the Texas4000 Rest Stop

Both women are strong. Both are triathletes. Christy has been to Kona for the Iron Man Championships. Do I need to say more? But on this day, her derailleur wasn’t functioning and she was stuck in a small ring on the back. Not the 11t but close to it. Having ridden a century the day before in Houston and now riding in a “big gear,” I actually had a chance to stay with her.

One of the rest stops

At the next stop, we found a mechanic. He put the bike on a stand and said a piece of hair was in the derailleur and he removed it. None of us believed that was the cause but her bike functioned again. The mechanics also confirmed that Lance and friends came by really early but apparently did not ride the full century. I never saw him the entire day.

We rode back to Austin enjoying more talk about cycling, doping, school, and politics. Once we passed a man, fit-looking, who was struggling, and he looked over and saw two women. Whatever struggles he had that day he put behind him because he took off just like someone lit an afterburner. It was apparent he wasn’t going to get “beat” (it’s not a race, it’s a ride) by women.

Christa and Christy

As we approached the finish line I soft-pedaled and let the three of them go on. I still find the first 99 miles of these challenges to be easy but the last mile difficult. Even while talking about cancer all day I wasn’t really thinking about cancer. But the last mile is one where I think of others and I reflect on my own journey. I slowed down and moved to the right where volunteers handed out yellow roses to cancer survivors. It was my 5th time receiving a rose but it’s still hard.

Yellow Rose went home with me on the airplane

Back at Camp Livestrong, Dan and I went to the food tent. While we were there a woman came by pimping her kid with a donation jar. She told us her sad story of how she needs money because he child has brain cancer. Dan and I were taken aback and I was the first to ask “What kind of brain cancer?” We know a little about pediatric brain cancer. Dhe had no answer. She started backpedaling both from her story and from our table. Pathetic but perhaps a pathetic cry for other help.

Cards in Memory and Honor of

I made bibs/cards for 60 people that I wanted to put on their message board. Just as soon as we started putting them up, workers started tearing them down. It was 4:00 p.m.


With nothing more to do, we gathered our belongings and went back to shower at the hotel. Dinner. Pack the bikes and reflect on the day. It was a great day of talking about Alex, Jake “the Hero” Grecco, and others affected by cancer. The talking was therapeutic as was the riding.

UCI Women’s Individual Time Trial


Last year I saw an opportunity to be a course marshal in Richmond for this year’s world championships by volunteering for the Collegiate National Championships in 2014. I should have but had some time conflicts. The hook was volunteer then and get guaranteed spots in Richmond.

The road to the trail
The road to the trail

I took my chance. And I sort of forgot until August. I went online looking for events and the Men’s Road Race and Individual Time Trials were already full. But the Women’s Time Trial was open. I signed up.

Virginia Capital Trail
Virginia Capital Trail

Having been in town on Sunday for the Men’s Team Time Trial and to pick up my volunteer credentials, I was worried about where I could park and still get to the course. I settled on parking at Dorsey Park which is over near the airport and looked to be connected to the Virginia Capital Trail which I rode yesterday.

Virginia Capital Trail
Virginia Capital Trail

Bike selection was an option. Road bike or mountain bike? I didn’t want to take a road bike and have it sit in a big crowd unattended. I settled on the mountain bike.

Virginia Capital Trail - Flood Doors
Virginia Capital Trail – Flood Doors

I had flat pedals on it and decided to change to Shimano SPDs. I was lazy. I hand tightened the left one but the right one didn’t want to cooperate. I “tightened” it a couple of turns and took my pedal wrench with me to finish when I had wheels down.

Dutch National Team
Dutch National Team

I found the park and parked the car. I saw a large pond or a small lake with a paved path around it. I followed the path which just circled the lake. When I reached the southernmost point I saw a construction road or maybe it was just a dirt road. A construction worker standing there assured me it would connect to the trial. I took it and was really glad I was on the mountain bike with its wide tires.


I found the trail and headed to Richmond. I looked down and realize I forgot my water bottle. No worries. I stopped at a Valero gas station and checked out the water bottles which I thought would fit in my holder. I bought one. I was wrong. I put the bottle in the holder but it wasn’t snug enough. As I rode it would try to fall out but the base would keep it in – barely. My legs were hitting it on every pedal stroke. This wasn’t working. I ended up holding the bottle in one hand while I rode.

Advertising but not for Chick-fil-A
Advertising but not for Chick-fil-A

I had entered the trail in what was probably the last mile of its rural section. It was 10 miles to Richmond. Even a suburban trail, this was a nice alternative to riding with traffic. I went through the area at Rocketts Landing which was our start/finish area two years ago for the Cap to Cap ride. This was a really neat area.

One of the Junior Men
One of the Junior Men

I reached the canal area – walked my bike for a block (its the rules) then had to find my way to my location. I had just pulled over to mess with the water bottle and I saw the Dutch National Team go by. I forget I was on a mountain bike with a bottle that was falling off – I gave chase. I thought I would join them. One good press on the pedals and, wham!, the right pedal came off still attached to my show. My chase whimpered away.

Balance Bicycle Shop
Balance Bicycle Shop

Oh yea. I was supposed to use the pedal wrench when I got ready to ride. I tried to thread the pedal into the crank but couldn’t. I decided I could ride one-legged to my assignment. I have ridden one-legged on the trainer many times. What could be so hard? Hills, that’s what.

Ann-Sofie Duyuk, Belgium
Ann-Sofie Duyuk, Belgium

I tried but I had to discount to get up one of those streets. But at the top I rode up Grace to my assignment. I was early and found a bike shop, Balance Bikes. They took 15 minutes top to tap that out and repair the pedal. I could ride again.

Kristen Anderson, USA
Kristen Anderson, USA

My assignment was on the campus of VCU at Grace and Belvidere Streets. The course went up Belvidere and came back through. Belvidere Street had a median. The course here was barricaded the entire way. I had an opening to allow people to cross the street. There was 90 seconds between starts with a motorcycle leading the way.

Aude Biannic, France
Aude Biannic, France

I had four hours as crossing guard. But it was fun. Riders were going in each direction so I had to be careful. One man from Belgium came up and spent more time with me than any other. He was as excited as a school girl meeting Taylor Swift when he looked at my phone and saw the Belgian rider, Ann-Sofie Duyck, leaving the start house. He ran over to the other side of the street and cheered at her in Flemish.

Carmen Small, USA. Credit: UCI Feed
Carmen Small, USA. Credit: UCI Feed

He came back. We talked. He saw my Livestrong bracelet and tapped it. “He’s a good boy, you know. What, all the others are good but only he is bad?” He was referencing Lance Armstrong, of course. We talked about cycling and doping. But mostly we cheered.


Kristin Armstrong was second on the course because she had no international points. Her time held up most of the day but she would end up fifth, being beaten by Linda Villumsen, a Danish woman who now rides for New Zealand. Evelyn Stevens, third from last, finish a disappointing sixth.

After everyone went home I had to fight traffic to get back to the trail. But I was glad I was on a bike – even a mountain bike.

He's a good boy, that Lance
He’s a good boy, that Lance

A word about the Women’s Time Trial: The men got a 30 miles point-to-point course from Kings Dominion to downtown Richmond. The women and U23s got an urban course of 29.9 km (18.5 miles). Their course was heavy on turns. In fact, it was a 15 km course so the women had to do two loops. To accomplish this the first 11 went at 90 second intervals and then no one else for 30 minutes. So they departed in four waves of 11. It just seemed a strange way to run a race. I’m sure they would have liked departing from Kings Dominion too.


Livestrong Weekend


PROLOGUE – How I got here began at Christmas. My wife wanted to find me a book about a cyclist who battled health problems so naturally found The Happiness of Pursuit by Davis Phinney. The book follows Davis’ life and career and is part about his cycling career and part about his battle with early-onset Parkinson’s disease. Davis also wrote about his father, Damon Phinney, who died from prostate cancer. Damon founded a group called Cyclists Combating Cancer (CCC) and I was intrigued.

It was hard to find an Internet presence for Cyclists Combating Cancer but I did. I got on an email thread for CCC and they were looking to purchase a table for ten at the 15th Anniversary of Livestrong. They had nine and needed a tenth. I replied that I would attend “in a pinch” but preferred they still look for a 10th. I’m not sure if they tried to find a 10th or just informed me that I was in. So I flew to Austin for the LIvestrong Anniversary Gala.

It’s not about the bike — is both a Lance Armstrong book title and a frequent comment of cyclists. But it’s not about the cyclist either. Arriving Friday for the Livestrong Gala was a bit weird. With a damning USADA report just released outlining years of doping and Lance electing not to defend himself, this would be his first public appearance since the report. But nowhere would people be more supportive than at the 15th Anniversary Gala. If Lance had friends then he was among friends.

Yellow Carpet Entrance at the Gala

I was conflicted as I knew I would be. Lance, the founder of Livestrong deserved the benefit of the doubt. But fresh in my mind was the report detailing 15 years of cheating. Of lying. And yet I knew.

Two years ago I celebrated being cancer-free by flying to France to ride in France and to see the last week of the Tour de France. I flew my daughter, Ashley, over to meet me. She was in Business or First Class on American Airlines from Dalles to Paris. She was with a Vice-President for Amgen and the VP turned the conversation to doping. And then she asked rhetorically “Who do you think supplied Lance with his EPO?” That was strange for this person to offer such a statement unsolicited and I never told anyone else this information. But the truth would eventually surface.

With all of Lance’s teammates lining up to take admit their part, the time was right for him to take responsibility. But he seemingly never addressed any of the allegations other than to rely on the tired statement that he passed 500 drug tests.

Minimum Bid for Lance’s Seven Podium Jerseys: $10,000

From backstage Lance appeared and the crowd stood. I wanted to remain seated but also wanted to see so I stood too. It was weird for me. During his prepared remarks, he only talked about Livestrong. But there was a technical glitch so he and Matthew McConaughey appeared together and Matthew referred to the past few weeks. Lance said he has had better days – but he’s also had worse. That seemed sincere until …

Twelve minutes before the Gala

…This morning I was in line with the 100-mile group to roll out of the Palmer Event Center for the Livestrong Challenge. I couldn’t quite see the stage but I could hear Lance. And he told the crowd that he has had better days – but he’s also had worse. It left me wondering if it was just a line that his PR people came up with.

In Memory of Jake the Hero Grecco,

But it’s not about the bike. And it’s not about the cyclist either. Livestrong is about the 28 million people with cancer (or is that fake too?).

Memory and Honor Bibs at the Livestrong Village

Yesterday I made a “bib” in Memory of Jake the Hero and promptly hung it at Livestrong. I made another. I hung it there too. I made one in my hotel room and the wind tore it off. I made a fourth.

None of my bibs survived the strong winds

We rolled out of Austin on a warm morning. The temperature was already in the mid-70s. I never felt comfortable in a pace line and did very little riding on others’ wheels. If I was going to I was scared off around Mile 22 when some guys started to pass me and when one got right beside me to went down hard and took out three riders with him. He just missed taking me down.

I think every farm in Texas is a ranch

The wind was quite strong but never so much that I complained. I love riding with the wind in my face — maybe not quite this much, but it was fun.

Big flags. Big wind.

The elevation was listed as only 2,200′ for 100 miles which seems like almost any flat ride would have that. I expected more and believe that was off by at least half.

At Mile 48 we were riding on the flat plains when I could see cyclists ahead climbing a “wall.” My initial thought was “What in the hell is this?” followed by “Alright!, finally a real hill.”

I’m not that good. But I like to climb. And this one was formidable. It wasn’t overly lengthy, maybe 3/4 mile, but it went from the valley floor to what must be a butte summit and rose quickly. I had not used my granny gear and never thought I would but seeing this hill up ahead knew that I would.

Only about 200-300 yards in they had painted “16% grade” on the road and I’m sure it was. I would estimate that fully 2/3 of the riders I saw were walking at some point. I passed many — slowly, but I passed. I would not let a hill beat me.

At the top was a rest stop manned by the Texas 4000 — the University of Texas group that bikes 4,000 miles from Austin to Anchorage. I had met some of the kids yesterday at check-in and a couple even called out my name. That was pretty cool actually.

Texas 4000 Rest Stop

The Livestrong Challenge is well-supported with a rest stop about every 10 miles. And I stopped at every one to fill my water bottles. At each stop, I’m sure stronger riders kept on going so I may have lost my place in line with faster riders. Actually, when I lined up at the start I was at the end of the 100-mile group anyhow so basically anyone faster than me I probably never caught. I was here for a relaxing and reflective ride.

Some of the Texas 4000 These students were doing community service for their 2013 team

Around Mile 70 we pulled into Blanco Vista, a new suburban community. While 3,999 riders stayed on the street, I took to the path/sidewalk which was about 20 feet wide. I curved back and forth making for a fun ride. Riders looked at me leaning into the curves of the empty path. I told them this was lots more fun. I was feeling great!

Bike on stand at rest stop. The back wheel never felt right.

At Mile 78, I decided I could lift the pace a little bit. Once I hit the road I started pulling back people for the next 20 miles. Not once did I get passed by anyone. As I approached an intersection a policeman slowed me down to let out opposing traffic but told me not to stop and lose my momentum. Once traffic cleared he waived me on. I popped out of the saddle for an extra burst and he said “Wow! You look like you just started riding.” I told him I felt good.

Texas 4000 Information Stand

And I thought about that. Maybe all the fast riders started before me and were gone but this is the place where lots of distance riding kicks in. For those riders who were pushing themselves beyond a typical 20 or 30-mile distance, the body simply isn’t used to it. And I actually felt better at Mile 80 than at Mile 10. For him to recognize that meant a lot.

I stopped to help this deaf rider at Mile 69

For the next 10 miles, I just pulled people back until I came to an intersection with about 30 cyclists waiting. Once we got the green I moved past them all except one rider, Mark from Irvine, California. He came with me and sat on my wheel. He told me he was glad I came along. He said he just wanted to follow me (in my draft) as long as he possibly could. I obliged. I don’t really know if it costs me anything in terms of energy doing all the pulling. Usually, we would swap off but I felt that strong I did all the pulling. I even backed off at a couple of rises in the road so I did not drop him.

Riders on Course

With one mile to go in city traffic, we were in with other riders we caught. And after feeling good all day with no signs of cramping — it hit. A severe cramp in my right hamstring. I could not pedal. We were going downhill and I unclipped but any position hurt. I thought I might have to be sagged back with a mile to go. But I would crawl to the finish line first.


We came to the last light before entering the riverside park at the Palmer Center where the finish was. I unclipped, and put both feet down. When the light turned green the cramp was gone and that was that. Mark and I rolled into the finish, I stayed to the right for survivors.

Still selling Livestrong gear

At the Philly Challenge, the survivors’ finish was a separate chute to the right. And that was special. In Austin, it was just staying to the right. Still, the announcer called out my name and I was handed a yellow rose.

Stay to the right

My friend, Vanessa, came down to meet me at the finish. And that was special. It was the first Challenge where I had someone at the finish.

I don’t know the future of Livestrong. But I hope it remains a vibrant cancer-supporting organization. At the heart of the fundraising are the challenges. They are wonderful events – to ride – to reflect – to remember.

At the finish in Austin

As for Lance, I had a great day on the bike. When people passed me I didn’t feel challenged that I had to beat them. And over the last 20 miles, I averaged more than 20 miles an hour – solo — which is the best I think I ever have done at distance by myself (wind-aided). But it never was about beating every person I passed. It was simply me having fun. I hope that someday Lance can ride a bike for fun. Maybe Lance can find peace on a bike.

LIVESTRONG Challenge 2010


With very tired legs and a body to match, I arrived at the hotel shortly after midnight and was asleep by 1:00 a.m. I got up at 5:00 a.m. and headed out of the hotel to Montgomery County Community College for check-in at 6:00 a.m. And no breakfast.

I went to get my ride packet and the volunteer handed me a top contributor’s jersey. That’s all. Thankfully another volunteer corrected her and told her that I get level C (jersey) and the gifts with levels A and B too. But I didn’t get the iPod and will dispute that with them afterward.

Last year I checked in and they rang cowbells and made an announcement that I raised $2900. It was actually more. It was a very welcome introduction.

This year I raised $5,000 and nothing. Sort of disappointing. Maybe more disappointing was that I had qualified for the recognition dinner last night but had to miss it as I was en route from Mt. Washington, New Hampshire to Philadelphia.

I returned to my car and started the assembly of my jersey. I wore the new LIVESTRONG jersey and added my race bib, my honor bib, my memory bib, and my survivor bib. Before I rode I posted a picture of my bibs on Facebook with this heading “Really wish we didn’t need these events.” Then I made my way to the start line.

Livestrong-Philly (2010) Jersey and Bibs
Lots of people honored one person. I honored a bunch!
More names were written on the back too.

At the start line, I could hear Lance Armstrong address the crowd but could only see the back of the stage and his legs. He addressed the 3,300 cyclists and said that he looked forward to a day when we could gather and just ride. He said, “I really wish we didn’t need these events.

After the comments from Lance, the ride went off 10 minutes late at 7:40 a.m. It was announced that he would ride 100 miles but I heard he cut it short at 45. It was dry at the start but around Mile 20 it would start to rain and it rained steadily and hard at times.

Some of the 3300 Cancer-Fighting friends at Livestrong-Philly

The start was slow, it took perhaps 4-5 minutes before I began moving even though the front of the 100-mile riders had already departed. The first 7-8 miles consisted of working my way farther and farther toward the front. I blew by the first two rest areas and reached the intersection of where the 70-mile group turned but the 100-mile group continued for 30 miles.

I was told that shortly after I went through the intersection LIVESTRONG closed the 100-mile route due to the weather that was moving in. There weren’t too many of us who got to ride 100 on the day. Call me lucky.

Raining at Landis Store. Love how the riders tried to crowd under the tent for protection even though they were soaked.

I was a little sore from yesterday’s climb up Mount Washington but not so much sore as simply without power. When I came to Landis Hill, the longest and steepest hill on the route I wanted to walk like I saw others doing, but knew I couldn’t. I had all the excuses — Mount Washington, four hours of sleep, a 12-hour drive, no breakfast — but knew I had to keep going. And I did.

Rest stop #9 (or #10?). This was at mile 90 and was marked SURVIVOR REST STOP. I stopped hoping for some survivor swag but no one there knew why it was called that. So I ate cake.

A number of people complained about the rain. My standard response was that fighting cancer isn’t bright and sunny. Metaphorically speaking, I expect a rainy day.

I was most disappointed that no one commented about my bib – FU Cancer. In a crowd of people who hated cancer, not one person. One did say “I like your bibs.” And that was all.

Yellow rose at the finish line – Livestrong-Philly 2010

When I saw the sign for 30 miles to go I started rehearsing what I would do when I crossed the finish line. Last year was tough. For many survivors who cross the finish line, it is the end of a difficult journey. For me, it was the realization that my journey had just begun. And it was tough.

A Century must be 100 miles, no?

Crossing the line as a survivor is emotional. I can’t explain it but you can ride 99 miles and be fine and when you come to the finishing chute in the last mile it becomes very emotional. I wish for none of my friends to ever know what I’m talking about. Today would be different. I was looking forward to crossing this finish line with positive emotions.

After riding all day with no power left in my legs (thanks, Mount Washington) at Mile 90 my legs came back. I started passing people. Tons of people. I both wanted this moment to last but yet wanted to get to the finish.

With one mile to go the sun came out. It would be the only time I would see the sun all day. I entered the right side of the chute for survivors. My final 200 meters went way too fast. Or I went way too fast. I hope they had photographers to capture the moment because I grabbed a rose and held it in the air and almost ran over some people who had stopped. Oops.

On the day the Challenge was only 97 miles. So I rode the extra distance, with the rose between my teeth, to make it 100. It had to be 100.

Livestrong-Challenge Philly 2010
The Rose and the Jersey are from the Livestrong Event
The blanket and the medal are from MWARBH

After I changed out of my soaking wet clothes, I went to the luncheon in the tent.  I wore my Mt. Washington Auto Road Hillclimb shirt. Strangers came up to me to ask about the race. Was I doing it? (Yes, already did – yesterday.) What gearing did I use? (24:28)  Did you know my friend rode it yesterday? (Uh, no, I don’t think so.)

Wear a bid that says “FU CANCER” and none of the 3,300 cancer fighters wanted to acknowledge it. But put on a Mount Washington shirt and strangers come up and talk. Even with people who hate cancer, they don’t want to talk about it.

Livestrong Challenge Philly 2010 – It’s raining pretty hard

Right after I got back to the car a deluge occurred. Just another day fighting cancer.

Livestrong Challenge Philly 2010 – It’s raining pretty hard



At 6:00 p.m. this evening I rode with 100 other cyclists from Pauillac to a spot in the countryside. This time I wore shorts and carried two backpacks. The distance was only three miles (five km) but traffic was completely backed up. We learned to ride like the French. Simply ride into the left lane and when oncoming traffic approached maneuver very carefully back close to the yellow line.

I went to my bike, and removed my pedals, seat, and Garmin mount. I am sorry to see our riding end. For the six days of riding, I rode 300 miles and climbed more than 29,000 feet. I am sure I rode more on Wednesday than anyone in our group and today our group of eight went “exploring” (i.e., had a hard time following the Trek Travel directions) and we ended up with even more miles. Plus when I arrived at the viewing location I turned around and went riding on my own. I am sure I rode more miles than any of the 25 people in our group this week. On the bike is the one time I feel good.

Au revoir my French kids

We left this morning from Bordeaux with one of the Trek Travel guides, Stephanie, to ride to Pauillac. When we came to the Tour route at Avenson we were required to dismount and walk across the road. On the other side, we waited as the Tour caravan was coming by. This time I was in an excellent position to grab the swag they were throwing. I scooped up three polka-dot caps and saw some young kids. I ended up giving all three caps to the kids. To a child in France, they LOVE getting something from the Tour.

Candy. Gave it to the kids. Key chains. Gave them to the kids. The green foam fingers. Gave to the kids. In turn, their mother taught them to say “thank you very much” to their new Santa Claus. I only kept laundry detergent (true) and the L’Equipe newspaper.

We arrived at the Trek location which was the amazing Chateau Pichon.

Chateau Pichon

Lunch was downstairs through the wine cellars. Both lunch and the location were awesome.

Our viewing location was right on the course and we could cheer and photograph each rider as they came by. Since I kept the newspaper, I was the only one in our group that had the list of riders in order as they were coming, unless they had been passed by the rider behind them.

Lance Armstrong

The most memorable moment was sitting and trying to talk with the locals. Just like soccer parents, they brought their chairs and sat next to the course. They remained seated until Lance Armstrong was coming. Then everybody stood. They truly wanted to see this great champion of their tour. Don’t tell me the French (people) don’t love Lance. They do.

It was well-known this was Lance’s last Tour de France. He had come out of retirement last year and finished third. Bad luck, among other things, had caught up to him and he was well down in the standings (23rd). This would be the last time France would see the Texan.

The roadside locals stood for Lance. It was the only time they stood. They did not for the Yellow Jersey (Alberto Contador) or for second place (Andy Schleck). Only Lance.

L-R Standing: Rich McCrea, Donna Thackrey, French Guy Tom Michaud, Debbie Michaud. On Wall: Dave Thackrey, Mike Bandemer, David Eenigenberg.

Tomorrow I will board an early private train ride to Paris to see the final stage of the Tour de France and to meet Ashley in Paris.

EDIT/EPILOGUE – Fabian Cancellara won the Individual Time Trial (Stage 19). Alberto Contador won the 2010 Tour de France but was stripped of the title in 2012 because he failed a doping test. He blamed tainted Spanish beef for his positive test. Andy Schleck was named the winner of the 2010 TdF.

Source: Procyclingstats.com

A Flat Run to Bordeaux


Lourdes – Budos (motorcoach)
Budos – Bordeaux (bike)

Our bus was one hour late this morning so we had time to check out Lourdes. I don’t think I will be coming back here soon. (And am not posting any pictures either…)

We had an uneventful ride to the village of Budos where we ate a picnic lunch before our ride through the vineyards to Bordeaux. All week we rode in a large group or smaller ones and the couples stayed together. Today the men and women formed separate groups. We had 15 guys trying their best to organize a pace line — that’s what I get for starting it.

Barry in Budos, France

While we all were self-identified “avid” cyclists for signing up for this event, we had different abilities and levels of experience and it took 15 miles to sort it out. One inexperienced but strong rider would move to the front and then pick up the pace which would blow the line.

King of the Mountain – La Brede, France

Another rider would alternately pedal furiously and then coast, near the back, which would send the end of the line yo-yo-ing. It was very tough to follow his wheel.

James, Rich

I moved to the front as we reached the town of La Brede and saw the last “King of the Mountain” opportunity for our group. I picked up the pace and then attacked while announcing “KOM Points!” It so happened that our guide, Big Wave Dave, was at the top of the hill and I was caught way off the front and blew the peloton to pieces. It was great! (Credit Dave with these photos.)

Dave, Paul

It wasn’t until we left La Brede that we had four of us in a nice relaxing line each taking 20-second pulls. Dennis, Tom, Peter, and I formed a nice team.

We had a fifth rider join us, Paul, who immediately went to the front and tried to do all the work himself. He apparently was oblivious that while he was working up front, we continued our 20-second pulls, sometimes letting him get 20-30 meters out in front while other times we passed him effortlessly. And we laughed the entire way to Bordeaux. (Sorry Paul)

We rode into Bordeaux, checked into the hotel, then went out on the course to watch the finish. The actual finish line was impossible to get near to be able to see (4-5 people deep) but we could stand there and watch the big screen. Instead, Peter and I chose to go to the end of the finishing chute to see riders come by after the race and go to their team buses. Mark Cavendish won the stage. And I got some good pictures including what will be probably my last photo of Lance Armstrong.

Lance Armstrong handing his water bottle to a young fan

Dinner was at the L’Orleans restaurant. I had duck. It was very good and will probably be the last time I ever eat duck. Our evening was a group meal but one of our riders, Susan, missed it. Instead, she ended up meeting up with Robbie Ventura and Frankie Andreau and eating with them. I think she won the night.

Duck, duck, goose. (Kidding – just duck)

Tomorrow will be the Individual Time Trial and our last day of riding. I am sad to see that end but also just finished chatting with Ashley, who will be flying out tomorrow to Paris where she will join me in the City of Lights on Sunday. One exciting week is drawing to a close while another is still ahead.

EPILOGUE: Actually, it would not be the last photograph I took of Lance nor the last time I would have duck on this trip. And nor would it be the last time I would visit Lourdes.

Col du Tourmalet


Stage 17 – Pau to Col du Tourmalet (174 km)

We were up at 5:00 a.m. for the bus ride to Argeles-Gazost. It was 80 km (50 miles) from St. Lary and would take about one and a half hours. We had to move out early for the opportunity to bike to the summit finish at the Col du Tourmalet. We heard the crowds were large and the Gendarmerie were going to close the summit by 11:00 a.m. (for a 5:00 p.m. finish). People have been camping at the summit for a week before the Tour for the opportunity to see the Tour pass on Tuesday and finish there today. There simply was not room for more people at the top.

We did not have breakfast at the hotel. Instead, our guides were able to get an assortment of breakfast breads and pastries for the bus. They never made it to my seat.

On Tuesday’s ride, we reached our viewing location at LaMongie too late to be allowed to ride to the summit. Instead, we were four kilometers short. Today would be the approach from the other side but we had to be on the road early.

Riding in the rain

We got our bikes and waited patiently in line at the Carrefour supermarket to use their one toilet. There were two Trek Travel groups on our bus so we had almost 60 riders to go up the mountain. And 50 wanted to use the bathroom. I was in the last group of 10 or so to roll out and we were already 15-20 minutes behind the other riders.

Donna Thackery waiting to roll out

We headed out in a heavy thunderstorm with lightning all around. Rain was coming down hard and we rode through streets with 6″ or more of standing water. I’ve never been more soaked on a bike — which is simply to say completely soaked.

Note: Because it was raining so hard during the day, it was not a day to risk camera damage by taking lots of pictures.

Raining hard in Lourdes

Our guide, Greg, took us to a bike path that looked remarkably similar to the Washington & Old Dominion rail trail in Virginia. It clearly was a former rail line with long straight flat sections along the Gavedepau River. We left the town and got on a road with a slight incline that ran along the river. The river was running high and very powerful due to the storms of the past couple of days — and the one we were riding in.

Along the trail, I had dropped to the back simply to sweep the group. But as the road tilted up slightly I started passing our riders and bunches of riders whom I did not recognize. The road was two lanes but still with wide shoulders as it followed the river.

Alongside the river. Notice the chalk/paint on the road.

We turned off the river road and onto a road where the climb began. It was 18.5 km to the summit of the Tourmalet. We went through the little town of Luz-Saint-Sauveur and it was, at times, difficult to maneuver through the people walking in front of us. But once out of the village it was good riding.

The route was lined with campers, cars, and tents. Even though it was 9:00 a.m., cold and raining, some people would stand and clap as we rode by, others shout “Allez! Allez!” All were voices of encouragement. I think.

Ski lift on Tourmalet

My preconceived notion was that I would come to France and ride up the Tourmalet while thousand of drunken Frenchmen would hurl insults at us. Nothing could be further from the truth. Well, they may have been drinking, a lot, but all were very respectful of anyone on a bike. Especially, climbing on a bike.

(Actually, I would meet drunken fans but they usually weren’t French. They come from other countries in Europe and often wear orange, if you know what I mean. 😉

On the Tourmalet

France has a culture of cycling. One sees couples in their 70s and 80s biking — without helmets, of course. But I have ridden more than 200 miles here, much of it climbing mountains, and have been passed by hundreds of cars. Not one person has yelled at me. Zero. I have ridden by plenty of HUGE dogs and not one had barked, growled, or chased. Even the dogs like cyclists here.

Trek Village

On Tuesday we had a restaurant in LaMongie which was four km from the summit on the east side of the Tourmalet. I thought we were going to a restaurant today as well. I would be wrong.

For a while, I rode with a young man from Norway until we separated.  Then I fell into a Trek group with Scott from Rochester, NY, and Bobbie Jo from Oakland. The three of us chatted while we climbed and it seemed in no time we were at our Trek Travel Tent/viewing area. It wasn’t a restaurant but a tent. A big tent, but still a tent.

Trek Travel Tent viewing location

We were at kilometer 8.5 and I wanted to continue to the summit. Even though it was cold, raining, and generally miserable, I viewed this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Besides, going up was actually easy. I was generating enough body heat to keep warm.

Inside the Trek Travel tent

I climbed through a number of switchbacks all still lined with campers. There was an exceptional presence of Basque people who came from just over the border in Spain although there are French Basque as well.

A very proud young Basque fan

I reached the 4km to the summit sign and the road was barricaded. No one was being permitted through. Some cyclists tried to scale a hill nearby with their bikes and it was comical to see the hill win as they would fall and slide back down the muddy hill. One reached the road only to be turned away by the Gendarmerie.

Passing the cars and campers was not much different than walking through the parking lot at any NFL or soccer game. It was Tour de France tailgating and the aroma of the grills was great.

I know there are cheaper trips. But today I was glad I was with Trek Travel. After passing the Trek tents and wanting to ride as far as I could until being turned away, I rode with a man from New Hampshire.

Me: “Where are you from?”

Him: “New Hampshire”

Me: “Mount Washington is much tougher than this”

Him: “You have ridden up Mount Washington?”

Me: “Yes”

Him: “I’ve done the running race 11 times but would never try to bike up it.”

He told me he was with another tour company. They would be biking to their hotel on the other side of the mountain after the race. He had a rain jacket but we were soaked. And with the summit already closed, the poor guy had nowhere to get in out of the cold and rain for the next 5-6 hours.

I turned around and descended back to the tent area. It was dry as I began my descent but I could also see in the distance this beautiful cloud in the valley. It was rain. Cold rain. And I had to ride through it.

Cozy warm, I guess

At the “Trek village” there were three smaller square tents. One contained our travel tote bags we had sent up ahead with our van, one was a women’s changing area, and one was for men. I walked into the changing area and there were wet cycling kits hanging anywhere one could fashion a hanger but mostly on the support poles of the tent. I changed into my dry clothes for the day and went inside the large reception tent and sat down with a bunch of people I never met before.

There were 10 travel groups with Trek Travel doing the last week of the tour and this was the first of three locations we would converge. The other two are at the time trial in Bordeaux and the finish in Paris. Here I sat with Chris Fusco and Lori Rackl from Chicago. Lori is on the “trip of a lifetime” but is also writing a story about it for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Lori wanted to interview some people from the Chicago area and I stood up and rang my cowbell. People became silent and I simply called for Hollie Eenigenburg. Hollie and her husband, Dave, own the Trek bike store in Schererville, Indiana. So Lori did an interview with Hollie with me interrupting occasionally. And then she interviewed Paul Sommer, another rider from Indiana.

Lori interviewing Paul

Throughout the day the rain came down hard. There was no heat in the tent other than what 250 people will create. Some riders still had wet clothes on or sent only a short sleeve shirt in their bag. They were in trouble.

A few times, the sun came out, and large cheers erupted. But rarely did the sun shine for more than five minutes. But people moved their wet clothes from inside the changing tent to hang them on whatever fences they could find only to be poured on again.

Part of the grupetto

We were served dinner inside the tent and they had four large flat screen monitors where we could watch the riders until they were ready to go by us. Or we could stay in the tent and be dry. To watch meant to go outside and scale a 20-meter steep hillside.

The caravan came by and I climbed the steep hill. I felt silly wearing my referee/Ultimate Frisbee turf shoes on Tuesday while everyone else had tennis shoes or flip flops. Today, I was the envy of everyone who slipped and fell on the hill trying to get up to the main road.

We had front row viewing to Andy Schelck and Alberto Contador going past, trailed not by much by Lance Armstrong. A number of the group then ran back to the tent to watch the finish on TV. I elected to stay in my position and cheer on every last rider making the climb. I waited for the grupetto. I can always watch the tour on TV. How often can I see these guys in person?

Alberto Contador (l) and Andy Schleck (r)
(Credit – Pretty sure this came from our Trek Travel website)

The descent afterward was wild. There were literally miles of cars stopped trying to go back down the mountain. Only bikes could fly down the mountain because we used the incoming lane. It was downhill all the way until we reached the bike path and then we rode 18 km to Lourdes where we would check in for the night.

My blurry shot of Lance Armstrong

Lourdes is an interesting city. Think Gatlinburg, Tennessee, or Niagara Falls, Ontario. Or maybe Ocean City, Maryland. It’s been referred to as “where the Vatican meets Vegas.” People come here to be healed or buy healing stuff, I guess. There are more hotels per capita than any place in France. People are wheeled down the streets in their wheelchairs, except in the middle of town where they have their own wheelchair lanes. Lots of people limping. And of course, they’re all smoking.
Most moving moment of the day: On the run-up to the climb seeing mile after mile of LIVESTRONG messages painted on the road. Everyone remembers or honors someone with cancer and I’m sure thousands more messages got submitted but not painted. I was choked up and pulled over to gather myself. I hate cancer.

This would be a day that I was reminded that while I am a survivor, cancer will always be in my life. I have good days and bad, mostly good, but the Tourmalet was a reminder that one does not beat cancer without losing part of yourself to cancer. It was a bad day and I will never be normal again. It was part of the reason I elected to stay outside in the cold rain to watch the Tour go by.
UPDATE: It was only after returning home, on August 9, 2010, that I received a message from LIVESTRONG that my message of hope had been one selected to be painted on the road. I don’t know if it was one of the ones I rode across on this day or not.

Source: procyclingstats.com

Andy Schleck beat Alberto Contador in a two-up sprint for the win. The pros raced 108 miles and climbed 15,381 feet.

Col d’ Aspin and Col du Tourmalet


Stage 15 – Pamiers › Bagnères-de-Luchon (187.5km)

We began our day with a beautiful breakfast spread at the Mercure Sensoria de Saint-Lary-Soulan. One field up for the day, we rolled out of the hotel for seven miles and then began an absolutely gorgeous climb up the Col d’ Aspin. It was quite chilly at the start here in the Pyrenees and many riders wore arm warmers and or jackets.

The excitement was great. Yesterday it was I can’t believe that I am (finally) riding in France. And today it’s we’re going to see an actual stage of the Tour de France. And, of course, ride in France. Climb a major mountain.

Marking 100 years since this was first climbed in the TdF – 1910

We rolled out as a group and stayed together for the first 10 km to the town of Arreau which is where we started yesterday. I noticed that Rich McCrea had dropped off the back to adjust his bike or clothing and I dropped back to pace him back up. Of course, it wasn’t necessary but he appreciated it.

In Arreau we turned onto the climb of the Col d’Aspin. The climb was 7.3 miles long (11.8 km @ 6.5%) but not as steep as the climb yesterday up the Pla d’ Adet (8.8%). When it is a steep climb like yesterday’s up Pla d’Adet, I do not want to stop for any reason but keep my heart rate elevated. This is training for Mount Washington, after all.

A view from the top of the Col d’Aspin

But on this climb the scenery was spectacular and the grades, at times, were not that difficult so I pulled over 2-3 times to take photos. It was also like a Reston Bike Lane group ride where I am often called the Ambassador for Cycling by calling out “Morning!” to everyone we pass. Today was no exception. “Bon jour!” “Bon jour!” And I was usually greeted with “Bon jour!” until one young man was beside me and spoke English.

Adrian (L) and Barry (R)

We started talking and I found out (1) he is from England (2) his dad is from the U.S., (3) his mother is from France; and (4) his grandparents have a summer place in St. Lary which is where he, and we, are staying. Actually, Adrian Register, has dual citizenship, U.S. and French. Mostly me, but much of the group adopted him on our ride today. He rode with us up both climbs and we were able to get him to join our viewing. And he returned home with us as well. Meeting him will be one of my highlights of this Tour. One of our group even asked me if he was my son.

Barry at summit of Col d’Aspin

The descent down the west side of the Col d’Aspin was great but there were no signs warning the sharpness of the blind curves ahead. They could be sweeping curves or hairpins. The roads were hard to read and, like yesterday, I came away with an appreciation for how fast the pros descend and the risks they take.

We continued our descent until we reached the village of Saint-Marie-de-Campman at which point we began the climb up the Col du Tourmalet. It was crowded here with lots of cyclists, presumably about to climb the Tourmalet. Or maybe this was their viewing location.

Saint-Marie-de-Campman is a weird little town. Many residents have these almost-creepy lifesize dolls or mannequins in their windows or on their porch.

And then we began the 16.9 km climb (10.5 miles). This was longer, much longer, that the Aspin, and about the same steepness (actually 7.4% average). Much like the Aspin, stopping shouldn’t have been an option except the scenery demanded photos. It was so beautiful.

Dennis McDonald on water bottle duty

At a bridge overlooking a waterfall and crystal clear stream, we stopped for pictures and met a newlywed couple from Cincinnati, on a bike trip. Dennis McDonald went down to the stream to fill his water bottles. And he filled the bottle of our guide, Dave Edwards, who in turned, filled my bottle.

Crystal clear waters

Better than water from the Laurel Mountains in Rolling Rock Beer, we were told we can drink from any stream pouring down off the mountains. Having contracted an E.Coli infection last year, I probably should have known better than to drink the water, but I did. And it was great!

Snow shed on the Tourmalet and 5k to the summit

Ignoring my climbing instincts of never looking up, lest I be mentally defeated, I enjoyed looking for the summit which seemed so far away. It was far away. Adrian and I discussed what we were seeing and eventually decided we could see a snow shed with a number of campers lined up. And we were right.

Looking back at what we climbed (from the snow shed)
That is the village of Artigues

Just before the snow shed a number of cyclists had stopped. To our right we could see why. The view to the valley jumped out and demanded that we stop and take a picture. It was both beautiful and intimidating realizing that we had just climbed so far up the Tourmalet.

We continued the climb to the ski village of LaMongie. There, Trek Travel had rented out a restaurant which would be our viewing location. We could choose either the rooftop view or street level. Or both.

The front of the restaurant was open to the street. Inside there was an open buffet. Adrian had climbed the mountain, actually two, from St. Lary and was going to look for a viewing location. One of our guides, Marquette, quietly invited him to join us. Trek Travel had 10 trips operating this week and at least two of our groups were at this restaurant. Maybe more, but not all 10.

Road closed to the summit

We were still four kilometers from the summit and it looked so close so Adrian and I slowly tried to make our way through the hordes of people in the street. We had gone about 500 meters when we were met with barricades across the road and manned by Gendarmeries. The race route had been closed to the summit and we had to turn back. But that was OK.

A view from the rooftop restaurant (three hours before the race)

We ate lunch and waited with excitement as the race caravan came through. It’s a parade on wheels as sponsors come by and throw newspapers, candy, caps, and even jerseys, to the crowd. What fun.

Waitress at our restaurant

Then some team cars rolled through, one by one, not speeding but not real slow either. They were traveling at the speed of the race. When the Astana team car came by, it was met with a chorus of boos that followed it all the way up the mountain.

Yesterday, Stage 15 to Bagnères-de-Luchon, Andy Schleck went to attack but dropped his chain. Alberto Contador then attacked while claiming he didn’t know Andy had a mechanical. Most fans saw that as attacking the integrity of the sport, their sport in France, and they let Team Astana know they did not appreciate Contador’s attack to take the yellow jersey off Andy Schleck.

Lance Armstrong in the breakaway

Although Lance Armstrong came out of retirement (2005) and returned last year and finished third, bad luck if not bad form followed him in this Tour. He was in 38th overall, almost 40 minutes off the lead of Contador then Schleck. He was reduced to stage hunting.

We were watching on the TVs inside the restaurant and saw that Damiano Cunego and Sandy Casar were in the lead group. When they finally came up the climb, there was Chris Horner and Lance Armstrong. I wasn’t even ready to photograph. Lance? You go!

An added benefit of having Adrian with us was he seemingly knew every single rider in the peleton. We knew a few of Radio Shack, Lance’s team, plus a few others but that was it. This guy knew them all.

Two Americans and former teammates
#25 – Levi Leipheimer and #126 – George Hincapie

Contador came through with Schleck and was met with a chorus of boos. I wonder if Andy knew those weren’t for him.

Jens Voigt in the grupetto

The stage started in Bagnères-de-Luchon and climbed over the Peyresourde. On the descent off the Peyresourde Jens Voigt crashed. Both team cars were ahead so he had no replacement bike. The Mavik neutral support had been supporting a junior’s race and offered what they had – a kid’s bike. How does this happen? When he rode by his he was quite bloodied and bruised.

Jens Voigt on a child’s bike
Source: cycling-passion-com

When it was time to descend everyone had to ride down the Tourmalet. This was a friggin’ blast. Cars and campers lined the road on the way down and hundreds of cyclists went down in the left lane, which was open to oncoming traffic. Sometimes it meant passing 2-3 cars then cutting in while others meant passing 10-20 cars even while entering a blind curve. If cyclists ahead of you go through it one assumes there’s not a camper coming up the road. One can be wrong.


Traffic was backed up solid the last two miles. Advantage: cyclists.

At the bottom there was a bus waiting that Trek Travel had chartered. Anyone who didn’t want to climb the Col d’Aspin from the west side could take the bus back. Many did. I didn’t. And neither did Adrian although that offer probably didn’t apply to him but I bet our guides would have permitted it.

Returning over the Col d’Aspin
A few hours earlier this was the KOM point with banner and barriers.
They tear it down fast.

At the top of the Aspin, someone got a race report that Lance was only a few minutes back of the lead. He wasn’t ahead by 40 minutes for the virtual lead so it must have meant that he was simply at the front end of the break. We knew we had time to see the finish if we hammered the descent on the Aspin. We did. At the base of the mountain in the village of Arreau, we stopped in a bar and watched the end on their big screen. Lance didn’t win although he was at the front with about 100 meters to go. Pierrick Fedrigo won the stage in an eight-man sprint. Lance finished sixth (same time), the top end sprint no longer present. Contador remained in yellow with an eight seconds lead over Schleck.

Town of Arreau

A lasting memory I will take from this trip is that of my grandfather’s cowbell. Many mountain top climbs have people ringing cowbells and Trek Travel handed out very small tiny baby cowbells. I gave mine to Adrian. I either didn’t hear the directions well enough or follow them exactly but we were to pack what we wanted on top of the mountain yesterday for transport ahead of time since it would be closed to traffic at some point. As I was getting ready to go this morning I found the cowbell.

My grandfather, William T. Lowmaster, had been a farmer and before his estate sale, I was able to get a very old cowbell from his barn. This hand made (I think) bell had a wooden clapper. The sound was absolutely super. It was heavy and the sound was solid. When I rang my cowbell, people listened, even the cows on the hillside. I was told some people thought I went and stole the bell from the cows. Not true.

One of our guides, Nicole Kimborowicz, transported the bell to the summit so I had it when I was there. Thanks Nicole!!! For a brief time this afternoon, I felt a connection to my grandfather just ringing that bell. And all the Trek Travel bell holders were jealous.

Lovely town of St. Lary

Our day ended with a ride back to St. Lary, saying goodbye to Adrian, and then exploring St. Lary for dinner. It’s not quite Gatlinburg but think mountain village with open shops on the street. It was a GREAT day in the saddle.

Stats and graphics from procyclingstats.com

EDIT/EPILOGUE – Generally, the cycling community saw Alberto Contador’s attack two days earlier when Andy Schleck dropped his chain as very unsporting. Although Thomas Voekler would win Stage 15, Contador took 39 seconds on Schleck, which was the same amount that he would win the Tour. The title was stripped from him two years later. Andy Schleck was named the winner of the 2010 Tour de France.

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