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.

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