Saturday, February 25, 2012

Christian and the Water Bottle and More Editing Woes

I once asked Christian Vande Velde at one of his public appearances if he just randomly tossed his empty water bottle during a race or if he did it with any calculation, aiming it for a fan with an American flag or someone wearing a Garmin jersey or someone with a pretty smile. He said he tried to be selective, but didn't offer any specifics. He just said that he hoped whoever got his bottle washed it out before using it.

The next time I see Christian I will have to ask him why he didn't mention a water bottle incident that his teammate Frankie Andreu wrote about in the book "Lance Armstrong and the 1999 Tour de France," by John Wilcockson and Charles Pelkey. The book included Andreu's diary from that 1999 Tour, easily the best part of the book offering up many juicy insider stories, including a couple involving water bottles.

Andreu wrote that on one stage as he and Christian approached the daily feed zone, where they get fresh water bottles and a bag of food, they challenged each other to try to throw their empty water bottles into the open hatchbacks of cars. Christian succeeded, but he didn't. He added that George Hincapie, "being the nice guy that he is," gently tossed his to a guy standing along the road. It hit him square in the chest and nearly knocked him over as that water bottle had the same velocity as the speed Hincapie was riding, about 25 miles per hour.

He mentions another Christian water bottle incident late in the race on a very hot stage. It was towards the end of the stage and Christian was riding with the gruppetto at the back just trying to survive. Many of the riders were out of water. Christian had some to spare. He was making deals left and right of water for beer to be collected at the race's end in Paris. He earned himself nearly a case.

1999 was Lance's first Tour win and Christian's first Tour. At 23 he was the youngest rider on Lance's nine-man Postal Service team. The 32 year-old Andreu was the team elder and captain. He said they babied Christian the first week of the race, but he grew stronger as the days passed, and by the end, "he was floating like a buoy instead of sinking like an anchor." More than once he comments how good Christian's legs were leading the team on a mountain stage where he wasn't expected to be so strong.

My personal library includes several of these books devoted to a single Tour published by the Velo Press, books I've found in used book stores for a buck or so, but have never gotten around to reading. I've been letting them age, assuming the Tour they're describing is too fresh in my memory. I figured they weren't much more than a collection of Wilcockson's stage reports I'd already read in the "VeloNews." That is true to an extent, but there is much bonus material, including the Andreu diary in this one and other rider diaries in others, along with stories leading up to the Tour and post-Tour reflections.

Enough time has passed that reading the pedal-by-pedal account of Lance's first great Tour triumph was riveting and a delight to relive. It made for a fine winter read, especially since I am now so familiar with so many of the towns and mountain passes the book mentions having ridden The Tour route the past eight Julys, I have a warm set of personal memories to associate with a good many of them as if they were fond friends, just as I regard the many buildings I go in and out of as a messenger. The book made me all the more eager for this year's Tour and also to read more of these Tour books.

One of the reasons I was inspired to finally dive into the 1999 book was a comment to my blog post on the book "Team 7-Eleven" from Dave Trendler of Velo Press, which published the book. He thanked me for bringing attention to the book, but wanted to challenge my pointing out the book wasn't consistent in its spelling of "L'Alpe d'Huez." He cited a recent letter-to-the-editor in "Velo" magazine about that very same issue, not realizing I was the one who wrote that letter-to-the-editor.

I wrote him back saying I'm highly attuned to the spelling of "L'Alpe d'Huez." It has almost become a crusade for me. I've read dozens of books on bicycle racing and all too many of them can't decide on which version of the three possible spellings they wish to use. My preference, as it is with the French, is to accord this iconic climb the honorific capital "L." Others prefer spelling it with a lower case "L" or no "L" at all. I have no quibble with which choice a book or publication chooses. But when it obliviously hops from one spelling to another, sometimes on the same page or same paragraph, it is an indication of sloppy editing and a grave insult to the dignity of this most revered climb. The worst sin a writer can commit is misspelling someone's name or even worse a hallowed shrine. L'Alpe d'Huez isn't alone in being so dishonored. It happens to Greg LeMond (as Lemond) and Christian Vande Velde (as Vandevelde) from time to time as well.

This VeloPress 1999 Tour book offered a classic example of not knowing how it wanted to refer to L'Alpe d'Huez. I pointed out to Trendler that among the staff of "VeloNews" (now "Velo") John Wilcockson is one writer who invariably spells it with the capital "L." Wilcockson grew up in England as a fan of the Tour and has followed it as a reporter for over forty years. He is a genuine authority. I was not surprised at all to see that he stuck with the capital "L" in this book, except for two occasion. The first was when he quoted Tyler Hamilton, showing great journalistic integrity, not altering the quote to reflect his preference for the spelling even though he uses the capital "L" spelling in the preceding sentence. The second instance though was simply a slip up by whoever was editing his copy. But my "L'Alpe d'Huez" spelling alarm went berzerk when it saw Andreu's copy. His daily stage diary, right along side Wilcockson's stage reports, spells it "Alpe d'Huez." Same book with two authors allowed to spell it two different ways. One is left to think "who is right?" and why couldn't this issue be settled before this book went to print.

I have a French friend who is much much more fluent in English than I am in French, so we converse in English. If I happen to stumble and refer to the climb as "Alpe d'Huez" when I am conversing with him, he looks at me with a befuddled look, his ear not quite attuned to realize what I am saying. When I quickly correct myself with "L'Alpe d'Huez" his face lights up with immediate recognition.

Multiple spellings of L'Alpe d'Huez does not happen in European publications. They decide on one version and stick with it. It is only us Americans, who haven't had the argot of bicycle racing ingrained in us since birth, who make a hodge-podge of it, sometimes even dropping the "e" from "Alpe." The various spellings are all close enough that they don't seem to register with American copy editors. But for someone with an attuned eye to such a thing, it is as painful to spot as it would be for an American to read a French book on baseball that alternately referred to the great Yankee slugger as Babe Ruth and Baby Ruth.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"Urban Flow, Bike Messengers and the City"

Bike messengers have been the subject of a few books and movies and dozens of newspaper and magazine articles, and now with "Urban Flow, Bicycle Messengers and the City," a PhD dissertation that has been published as a 240-page book.

Jeffrey Kidder was languishing in graduate school at the University of Georgia, not sure if he was really doing what he wanted to be doing, when he read "The Immortal Class, Bike Messengers and the Cult of Human Power," the highly acclaimed book by Chicago messenger Travis Culley. He was so infected by Culley's enthusiasm for the job, he quit school and went to New York to take up the profession. Before he left a professor suggested he make a master thesis of the experience. He wasn't sure if he would or not, though he plunged into the job taking "copious field notes" and regarded himself as a "researcher." This was in 2002 and he was 25 years old.

He thoroughly lived the life, spending a year on the job before returning to school to work on his thesis. Four years later he continued his research for ten months in Seattle. Then he did a final stint of messengering in San Diego while earning a doctorate at the University of California, San Diego. He is presently an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Northern Illinois University.

His research also included reading whatever he could find on the subject, even a "Chicago Tribune" Sunday magazine article "Pedestrians May Swear at Bicycle Messengers, But Companies Swear By Them" from 1991 that featured me. He limits himself to just six quotes from "The Immortal Class," though only four are listed in the index. The book also is a year off on its publication date, giving it as 2002, rather than 2001. Otherwise there was little to find fault with in this quite readable and insightful portrayal of the world of bike messengers. Kidder may not have the literary flair of Culley, but he is a genuine writer having worked as a journalist in Boston before trying graduate school.

He does lapse into high-falutin scholarly prose from time to time, almost requiring a decoder to understand, but it is largely a most entertaining account of what it is like to be a messenger. Even though only five per cent of messengers in New York, and not much more elsewhere, are women, for some reason that he does not explain he uses the slightly distracting "she" rather than "he" when he needs a pronoun to refer to the generic messenger.

He doesn't shy from profanity when quoting messengers, using the f-word 18 times, a little less than half of the 44 sprinkled throughout Culley's book, but significantly fewer than the 98 in the very gritty and authentic "Nerves of Steel," by Rebecca "Lambchop" Reilly, published in 2000, a book he also references a couple of times. He refers to Reilly as a "folk historian." Unlike "The Immortal Class," her book is not easy to find. Similar to Culley she got her start in Chicago. She went on to messenger in eight other cities. Her book includes a legendary incident involving me when the most hated bicycle cop in Chicago at the time, "Hollywood Jack," crashed into a pedestrian when he was chasing after me.

Kidder divides messengers into two categories--those who are doing it simply as a job (occupational) and those who do it because they love it and it defines them (lifestyle). The majority are in the latter category, as was I. I'm presently on sabbatical, but the book had me hungering to be back out there on the streets riding like a man possessed. I am one of the microscopic minority to have stuck with it more than ten years, truly loving it and making it my life. Few even last a year, many quitting soon after they start, not realizing how demanding a job it is. Kidder too was initially overwhelmed by how exhausted and hungry it left him, often konking out at the end of the day even before he could finish his dinner.

But he stuck with it and grew to love it and its culture and the messengers he came to know. He continually refers to the job as "fun" and "play" and not just play, but "Deep Play," the title of one of his chapters. The prime objective of his research, "the sociological puzzle" he wanted to solve, was "why messengers find meaning in a seemingly menial occupation." His conclusion was that messengers have "creative control" over their work, making it seem more like play than work.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect he discovers of the "job" is that messengers love their vocation so much they duplicate it on weekends competing in underground alleycat races that simulate their work day. It is unfathomable to think that people in other occupations would want to spend their weekend playing at their work. The phenomenon is a constant theme of his book. He alludes to how dangerous these races can be, as is the job, but he doesn't mention the fatality in a Chicago alleycat race on a Sunday morning a few years ago when a racer flew through a red light, curtailing them here for a few years.

The alleycat races support another of his theses that messengers appropriate the city for their own use. It is their space and they live by their own laws, defying traffic signals and other behavioral norms. They regard themselves as outlaws able to do whatever they want even doing graffiti or drinking on the job.

The delight messengers have for riding hell-bent in an urban environment and wanting to do it even when they're not being paid truly defines the lifestyle messenger. When I visited a messenger friend in New York, I was thrilled to go out and ride with him for a day, to experience what it was like to messenger in the Big Apple. When a messenger friend from London visited me in Chicago, the highlight of his visit was tagging along with me for a day on the job. The pay may not be the best, but that's not what attracts people to the job. It is their love of biking and the freedom from an office environment the job allows and the sense of community it gives them. It may not be the most respected of professions, but if I were ever to expand upon my Confessions and write a memoir of my own, I would call it "Proud to be a Messenger."

Friday, February 17, 2012

"Hell on Two Wheels"--A Torrent of Tears

Abundant evidence supporting the supposition that bicycle racing is the sport of tears can be found in "Hell on Two Wheels," by Amy Snyder, a recently published book about the 2009 Race Across America (RAAM), a race known as the most extreme test of endurance in the world. The winner invariably completes the 3,000 mile race in less than ten days, averaging not much more than an hour of sleep per day.

Riders are driven to tears of agony and tears of triumph in their sleep-weakened state all along the route from San Diego to Annapolis, Maryland. The first race was contested in l982 by four foolhardy souls. There were 28 solo riders in the 2009 edition, four of whom were women. There were another 150 riders competing as part of two-person, four-person and eight-person teams, though Snyder did not have the space to write about them. Of the 28 solo riders fifteen finished. Only 200 riders have completed the route, 26 women. There is no prize money. The winner receives the same medal as every finisher.

The book abounds with instances of riders and their support staff breaking into tears as they struggle and as they succeed and as they find inspiration from friends and relatives to keep going. Crying is such an integral part of the race that two of the book's photographs depict racers overcome by their emotions, thrilled at accomplishing something they put so much effort into.

Patrick Autissier, a 47-year old French rider, confessed that he cried more than he had in the previous twenty years as he faced the realization that he couldn't go on less than 600 miles into the race. His wife too is brought to tears.

Snyder reports there wasn't a dry eye among Tony O'Keefe's support crew when he tells them he is going to quit a little over half-way. He was a 48-year old Lieutenant Colonel in the Canadian armed forces and most of his crew were hardened soldiers. Months after the race he told Snyder that the experience had opened him so emotionally that he now cried at weddings.

Another military man, 44-year old Jure Robic of Slovenia, who had won the race four times previously, more than anyone, was a prolific crier from his very first race in 2003. He succeeds by pushing himself to the brink of madness and is prone to weeping uncontrollably. As the defending champion in 2005 he nearly quit the race near its completion, even though he was a day ahead of everyone else, sobbing at the roadside unable to remember what his son's face looked like.

The racers often cry from moments of uplift, taking a call from a loved one that gives them some cheer and the motivation to keep going. Christophe Strasser, a 26-year old rookie from Austria, teared up as his crew read him email messages of support after he crested the Rocky Mountains. Several days later "the tears flowed freely" as he spoke with his girl friend during the night. Marko Baloh, a 42-year old Slovenia, "cried like a baby" in the 2006 RAAM 120 miles from the finish when he realized he was going to make it after failing in his first two attempts. When he was hospitalized in the 2005 race, one of his crew members, Allen Larsen, who won the race in 2003, wept at his bed side, so saddened for him.

It is a wonder that anyone would want to subject themselves to such a torment, especially more than once. Even a slow-paced, couple-month bicycle ride across the country can be an ordeal, and is a notable accomplishment. Making it a torturous experience, subjecting the human body to such extremes, seems utterly senseless. The human body is not constructed to endure such an endeavor.

In the second edition of the race Michael Shermer's neck muscles gave out and were unable to hold his head upright. He fashioned a brace to keep going. It was no fluke, as in the following years others suffered the same malady. It was discovered that the neck is not designed to support the head at such an angle that the bicycle riding position demands for as many hours as these racers ride. It is a syndrome that has come to be known as "Shermer's Neck."

Riders now do special exercises to strengthen their necks, but it isn't always enough. Nearly all come equipped with various devices to hold their heads upright in case their neck goes. The Canadian soldier O'Keefe did not. His crew managed to construct a device so he could keep riding, but it restricted his vision. He crashed going over some railroad tracks he didn't see. He wasn't badly injured, but he feared for his safety and decided to quit.

The riders can also suffer extreme nerve damage to their hands. It can take six months or more for them to regain control of their fingers, leaving them dependent on others to dress and eat. Many suffer combat-type psychological damage as well that takes them months to recover from.

Snyder writes at length about the pain and suffering the riders endure and how they manage it. She intimately profiles quite a few of the riders, interviewing some of them in their homes overseas. She drove back and forth along the route during the race and followed the racers' blogs and used the phone to contact every crew at least once a day. She gained as good an understanding of the race and its participants as one could without actually competing in the event. She provides an amazingly well-informed account of the race and its many aspects.

A team of officials patrol the route monitoring the racers, assessing time penalties for going through red lights and other infractions. Robic was assessed a 15-minute penalty at the very start for urinating in pubic rather than going to a port-a-potty. He was given another 15-minute penalty for passing a rider in an inappropriate manner and a final 30-minute penalty for going off course and not going back to where he went astray. The penalties infuriated his crew of Slovenian soldiers so much they started tracking his nearest competitor with a camera trying to catch him violating the rules as well since he was penalty-free. There is a penalty box 50 miles from the race finish where riders must do their time. When Robic had to serve his, it caused quite a furor. Robic wasn't the only racer to accuse an opponent of cheating.

This may not be an event that many people would want to attempt, but it certainly provided abundant material for a fascinating book. And it proved more than ever that the deep emotional stake that bicycle riders invest in an undertaking is quite frequently manifested by a rush of tears coming from nowhere.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bicycle Racing, The Sport of Tears

Laurent Fignon begins his memoirs, "We Were Young and Carefree," recounting his devastating eight-second loss to Greg LeMond in the 1989 Tour de France, when LeMond accomplished the unthinkable, overcoming a fifty-second deficit on the last stage, a fifteen-mile time trial from Versailles to Paris. Fignon, finishing just after LeMond, collapsed to the pavement at the finish line in total disbelief. He was in shock. After he gathered himself together and headed to the doping control he encountered his teammate Thierry Maire.

"Without thinking," Fignon writes, "He threw himself at me and burst into tears. In those welcoming arms I wailed like a child. Long, long sobs. It had never happened in public before."

One of the singular aspects of bicycle racing is the deep emotional investment, unlike any other sport, of the riders to win a race, often an investment of months and years of concerted effort and great deprivation. Succeeding or failing to win a race a rider has put so much effort into can lead to a spontaneous burst of tears--either tears of jubilation or tears of utter despair. It is a sport of "want-to," of how single-mindedly one can focus and devote oneself to getting something they really, really want, and how hard one can willingly push oneself, or "hurt oneself," as Fignon regularly phrases it.

A rider can cultivate an extraordinary depth of motivation by dwelling on the storied history of a race, wishing to join its pantheon of conquerors, finding inspiration in their heroic exploits that time has elevated to legend. The length of a race, the time spent in combat, further heightens one's desire to succeed, to conquer, to justify all the time and effort, all the pain and suffering one has committed to winning. Every moment on the bike increases one's hunger. A race can be six or seven hours long, two or three times as long as most sporting competitions. And a stage race like the Tour de France, going on for three weeks, with all that extra effort and focused attention, truly maxes the thrill of victory or agony of defeat, resulting in volcanic eruptions of emotion.

At times it can be a delayed reaction. Christian Vande Velde, at his recent appearance at the Chicago Garmin store, said that after his Garmin team won the team time trial at last year's Tour de France, when he retreated to the team bus, the full impact of what they had accomplished finally hit him and he was overcome with tears, something he wasn't embarrassed to acknowledge. He knows it is a reflection of how much it meant to him. Tears are something racers are proud to earn, knowing from experience, whether their own or witnessing it in a teammate or fellow competitor, that it is the ultimate emotion.

Laurent Jalabert, a prominent French rider a decade ago who in ten Tours de France won five stages, twice on Bastille Day, and twice won the points jersey and twice the king of the mountain jersey, but never the yellow jersey felt unfulfilled when it came to The Tour. He said, "In the Tour, I never shed tears of joy." Winning the race was his ultimate goal. Though his other successes in The Tour would have thrilled many another rider, he had a higher aspiration. Only that would give him that great joy of tears.

Some riders prefer to keep their tears private, regarding a public display as a chink in their toughness. Jacques Anquetil, the first five-time winner of The Tour, was a man who tried to express a minimum of emotion. His wife revealed though that he gushed tears in the privacy of their car after his monumental achievement of winning the Bordeaux-Paris race a day after winning the nine-day Dauphine-Libere race, an accomplishment that "L'Equipe" called the greatest sporting feat of the 20th century.

Fignon too tried to go about his business with a stoic detachment, admitting his outburst after that 1989 loss was the only time he cried in public in his career. If he were truly embarrassed by the tears, he might have blamed them on his teammate crying first, but he didn't need to do that. Tears are so intrinsic to bicycle racing, they are hard to avoid. Fignon knew, though, he had a special toughness to resist them, as he said he never cried when he was spanked as a kid. He knew nothing about bicycle racing at the time, but looking back, his resistance to spanking revealed he "knew how to hurt," an essential quality for a cyclist. He was not entirely resistant to tears though. He admits that after he was offered his first professional contract by Cyrille Guimard, the preeminent team director at the time, he was so thrilled that he "may have had furtive little tears in my eyes." Tears are an indication one really cares about something, and he truly cared about his cycling.

Twice he mentions other cyclists who shed tears at climactic moments--Pascal Simon, when he had to abandon the 1983 Tour after having clung to the yellow jersey for several stages with a broken shoulder, and also Jean-Francois Bernard after winning the Mont Ventoux stage in the l987 Tour. Fignon went on to win that 1983 Tour, his first of two. And like Bernard he too had tears on Ventoux in 1987, but of a different type. He suffered greatly on the climb, and had to begrudgingly acknowledge he would not be a contender to win The Race. After he climbed into the team bus "well a way from prying eyes, I wept for a long time."

The uber-emotional Mark Cavendish isn't bashful at all about acknowledging his tears, almost flaunting them. His autobiography, "Boy Racer," abounds with mentions of tears of many strains--after winning sprints, over a coach's criticism, over not medaling at the Beijing Olympics, when he proposes to his girl friend and then when he breaks up with her, when he learns his parents are divorcing, for being disqualified in a Tour de France sprint, when he is dropped by the peloton on the first stage of his first Tour de France in 2007, in the hospital at the bedside of a friend in a coma.

Davis Phinney, another emotionally-charged sprinter a couple decades Cavendish's senior, who twice won stages of The Tour de France, also regularly mentions giving vent to tears in his autobiography "The Happiness of Pursuit," even once referring to "squirting some tears," when he had bad luck as a 17-year old in the junior nationals. His book is as much about his battle with Parkinson's Disease as it is about racing. He also writes considerably about his father's fight with cancer, not letting it prevent him from going to France many times to ride the legendary climbs of The Tour de France. The touring company he went with liked him so much that it erected a plaque in his honor at the summit of the Col de Fer. The book culminates with Davis and his daughter Kelsey bicycling to the summit of the Col de Fer to watch his son Taylor, now a prominent young rider, pass in a race. Seeing the memorial and seeing his son he "wept tears of joy and sorrow."

The book also recounts his courtship of Connie Carpenter, a l984 Olympic gold medal winner, who achieved prominence before he did. Phinney repeatedly says she was "out of my league." He drove her to tears once when she visited him in France early in his career, and he was too exhausted to give her enough attention. But that story had a happy ending, as do most of those in the book, one way or another. Davis mentions tears of a type not often described in cycling books--tears over a movie, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," a French movie about a distinguished French magazine editor who becomes paralyzed after a car accident and can only communicate with the wink of one eye. Davis could very much relate to him in his battles to fully function.

My recent rampage through cycling biographies also included the memoirs of Bernard Hinault--"Memories of the Peloton" written in 1988. I didn't expect much crying from this hard man and there wasn't. His motto was, "As long as I live and breath, I attack." Attack is his constant refrain, appearing on just about every other page of his book. Such a man makes others cry. One of those he made cry, though tears of joy, was France's national team director when Hinault won the World Championship in 1980 in France. Though Hinault called that day the "greatest day of my life, by far," he acknowledged no tears of joy in his celebration. Calling that his greatest victory is quite a statement, as he won the Tour de France five times, the Giro d'Italia three times and the Vuelta d'Espagne twice. Only Eddie Merckx, with eleven, won more Grand Tours. But it was a victory he had targeted for years. It had been 19 years since the last French winner, Jean Stablinksi, one of his early mentors.

He does admit to crying once on his bike, during his final Tour de France, that legendary 1986 Tour that is considered perhaps the greatest Tour of all time, when he waged psychological war fare with his teammate Greg LeMond, trying to make him a worthy winner, he maintains. He was brought to tears as he climbed the Col de Vars lagging behind LeMond, relinquishing the yellow jersey, that he claims he was only keeping warm for LeMond. It wasn't losing the jersey that had him weeping, but rather a pain in his knee and the comment of a photographer who told his motorbike driver to slow down and stick with Hinault as he looked as if he was going to abandon. "I might have given up but for that photographer's words," he says. But he recovered and the next day he attacked once again and then led LeMond up L'Alpe d'Huez to their triumphant shoulder-to-shoulder finish.

Besides all these biographies there have also been several histories amongst my recent submersion in the world of books on bicycle racing. They too recount instances of racers being brought to tears. Marguerite Lazell's "Illustrated History of the Tour de France," one of a veritable peloton of books written about The Tour in 2003 to commemorate its 100th anniversary, claims Hinault climbed off his bike in tears at the finish of the 9th stage of the 1979 Tour at the Roubaix velodrome, when he finished three minutes and 45 seconds behind Joop Zoetemelk and lost the yellow jersey. He regained it a few stages later, going on to win the second of his five Tours. This incident of tears though was one of a number of questionable assertions she makes.

One of the most egregious was claiming that when the yellow jersey was introduced to The Tour in 1919 midway through its 13th edition it was meant to spur on the racers, as they were lagging. It was the first Tour after a four year hiatus due to World War One and the racers weren't so fit. To think the yellow jersey was immediately a coveted object that would inspire the riders to super-human efforts is ridiculous. Race director Henri Desgrange forced the jersey on the leading rider Eugene Christophe so spectators could more easily identify who was in the lead.

The jersey was at first an object of embarrassment. Christophe said that spectators shouted at him that he looked like a canary and would chirp at him. Subsequent wearers thought it made it too easy for other riders to keep track of them. There is even debate whether 1919 was the first year of the yellow jersey. Three-time winner Philippe Thys claims he was made to wear a yellow jersey in 1913, though no papers from the time can confirm this. There is much to the fascinating story of the yellow jersey that Lazell overlooked.

She does get right another of the oft-recounted episodes in the history of The Tour--the legendary stage in the 1934 Tour when rookie Rene Vietto, who was looking like a new climbing sensation, had to give up his wheel to his team leader Antonin Magne in the mountains and sat on a ledge weeping, waiting for a replacement wheel, watching his chances evaporate. The photo of the forlorn Vietto is one of the Top Ten images in the history of The Tour. Her book includes two other photos of crying cyclists, both of the high-strung French rider Richard Virenque. The first shows tears of shame after he had to abandon the 1998 Tour when his Festina team was caught with a car load of doping products. The second captures Virenque glowing with tears of exaltation after winning the Mont Ventoux stage in 2002.

Both "Pedalare! Pedalare!" a history of Italian cycling by John Foot and Lazell tell the story of two-time Tour winner Italian Ottavio Bottecchia abandoning the 1926 Tour in tears. Foote describes tears of a different sort from a long-time popular Italian broadcaster who would "burst into tears with very little prompting" during his broadcast of the Giro d'Italia. When Eddie Merckx was ejected from the Giro in 1969 with a huge lead for failing a drug test, a charge he heatedly disputed, the next day's newspaper featured a huge front page photo of a sobbing Merckx. Two years later when Gianna Motta tested positive for drugs, he too was photographed in tears in his hotel room. The greatest Italian crier though was Marco Pantani. After he was ejected for having an excessive hematocrit level from the 1999 Giro with only a couple of stages to go holding a comfortable lead, he went home and cried for days, according to his girl friend.

Since Foote's book was largely focused on Italian racers, it ignored the 1988 Giro that Davis Phinney's 7-Eleven teammate Andy Hampsten won. The climatic stage in the snow over the Gavia pass that won the race for Hampsten was so brutal it was known as "The Day That Grown Men Cried." Among those brought to tears of pain were former Giro champions Roberto Visentini and Giusepppe Saronni. Phinney gives a very detailed description of that stage, one that was more a matter of survival than racing.

I can fully relate to tales of tears on the bicycle, as I, as a touring cyclist have had personal experience with them. The effort and full commitment a touring cyclist puts into achieving a goal can effect him in a similar, though milder, manner as it does the racing cyclist. I was shocked that when I began to tell people about that glorious moment when I arrived in Alaska after bicycling over 3,000 miles from Chicago, the last 1.000 on a dirt road, that I would choke on tears and couldn't continue. I had no idea that my efforts had had such an effect on me. I felt triumphant when I reached Alaska and the end of the unpaved stretch of the road, but there were no tears or great celebration at that point. I still had 300 miles to Fairbanks and the end of the road, though the worst was over, and I knew I had essentially achieved my goal. I laid my bike down on the ground, half on the dirt and half on the pavement, for a photo.

I made that ride in 198l, over thirty years ago, but it still has a lingering effect on me. If I'm not careful, I can be overcome by emotion and can't continue when I'm tellinganother about reaching Alaska. No other of my many trips has had such an effect on me, not even my 7,000 mile ride the length of South America battling head winds and banditos and long stretches without food and water, or my ride across Australia including the 750 mile stretch of no towns across the Nullarbor, or my ride across India where I was descended upon by dozens of people whenever I stopped and was blasted by horns by every passing vehicle almost to the point of deafness for thousands of miles, knowing my limits of tolerance were being tested.

The challenges of the Alaskan Highway had me continually on edge--rough roads, clouds of dust, swarms of mosquitoes and flies, prowling bears, long stretches without food and water and motorists continually telling me that they thought they were brave to be driving the road and couldn't imagine attempting it on a bike. Books were written for motorists on how to survive the road. I couldn't have imagined how deeply satisfying completing that ride would be. That welling of emotion always lets me know. They are a badge of honor unlike any other.