Fireside PEZ: 10 Questions From A Fan

You gotta love PEZ-Fans – you’re just like us. In fact, every one of the guys I list on the Pez-Crew, was at one time a Pez-Fan… myself included. So when PEZ-fan Richard Peotto emailed me 10 questions, how could I not return the love and give some thought to the answers?

And it’s been no secret over the years that the fastest way to get a story posted on the site is to send one already written, with pictures, that requires as little work from me as possible.

But another great way to do it, or even just get your questions answered, is to do like PEZ-Fan Richard Peotto and send an interview… for me! Sure it plays to my ego – and I’m okay with that. But in this case, Richard’s questions were actually interesting – and similar to many I’ve received from other Fans over the years.

So as we close down 2010, I poured myself a glass of Glenrothes singlemalt, settled in to my favorite chair, turned on the fire, and asked Mrs. Pez to take a picture. Then I went back downstairs to my desk and wrote out the answers…

– These questions and intro were submitted by Richard Peotto, Pez-Fan –
• The web site is in this fan’s opinion one of the top-rated pro cycling sites. It is unique in the sport, with their Roadside coverage of major cycling events, which brings the many flavours of the countries where riders race to the fans at home. Their pictures emphasize their dedication to the sport and come in several varieties – race coverage, taking a slice of time from the race to enhance the action; daily distractions, offering head-turning photos; pre-route and along-the-route photos to show what the riders and fans get involved in and general interest photos highlighting the countryside. The ‘Tech n Spec’ covers the latest in industry innovations from around the globe. All in all, one very comprehensive and compelling sport web site that draws me back on a daily basis.

So, I thought I’d ask the creator of the site 10 questions …

1. When was the start of the website and did it come as a sudden idea or was it a long-time ambition?
PEZ Sez: Can you believe it…? We’re coming up on 9 years in February – wow. This is the longest job I’ve ever had, and save for Mrs. Pez and grade school – the longest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Wait – maybe that doesn’t sound quite right…

A great question, though, one I never get tired on answering, and while I can’t remember if I’ve changed the story over the years, here’s the latest version: Back in 2001, as a career marketing guy, I found myself out of work for six months, and unable to get a job that was worthy of my time, experience, ego, etc. I’d interviewed with a lot of dummies, guys I simply could not see myself working for, and I’d done enough things in my career that I felt I should be the guy in charge. The only solution was to work for myself – do it my way and all that…

To answer the question, I suppose it was a bit of both. I needed something to do so I figured if I wasn’t getting paid it should at least be something I liked. But I also saw an opportunity to create some really interesting and fun to read content about pro cycling. Back in 2002, there weren’t nearly the options we have today for web-based cycling content – but I still found the reportage to be just boring to read. I thought: “Come on – being at a bike race is so much fun, why can’t they recreate that feeling when I read about it?”

I’ve always seen myself as an entertainer of sorts (usually back yard shows, amateur bands in high school, other assorted small–audience gags) and thought I could create a site that was visually fun to look at, with well written, intelligent and entertaining content that covered the many aspects of the sport that I love. I knew a guy who’d built a database engine and he agreed to let me use it for free (or at least pay him sometime in the future, should I ever make any money.) I knew enough Photoshop to do the graphic design myself. I just didn’t have any content – so one night over some beers a good buddy basically told me to: “go get some.”

Pretty soon I was trolling a Yahoo chat group and found a couple guys guy posting bits on races from Europe – so I emailed ‘em and asked if they’d like to send me some bits to post on my site. Alastair Hamilton was one of those guys and he’s still with me today – covering race reports and interviews from Spain, and of course compiling our weekly EuroTrash news round ups.

2. How much work and preparation went into getting started?
PEZ Sez: Being a one man show at the beginning, you normally do the least amount possible to get something done, right? It really boiled down to getting the site built and up, and then finding some guys to help with content. I guess I was working at the site part-time for the first couple of years, until the business side of it got traction and it became a fulltime deal. I recall having a conversation with the ever-loyal and loving Mrs. Pez announcing that I was pretty much stopping looking for a ‘real’ job so I could focus full time on the site. (She’d seen the progress and was with me 100%.)

3. How many people did you have with you when you began?
PEZ Sez: Including me? One.

4. Did you personally cover races in Europe?
PEZ Sez: The first couple of years I made no money, so was supporting myself from savings and other meagre means. Flying to Europe wasn’t an option – just a dream for one day in the future. My first trip to Europe for the site was to cover the 2003 Tour. It was the centenaury edition and had a cracker of a route – visiting the orginal route’s main cities. If I was going to be serious about this business I had to be at the Tour. Sometimes it’s better to just jump into the deep end – you have no idea how deep the water really is – and that’s a good thing. Looking back I shake my head at my struggles to cover that race – France didn’t even have decent internet at the time – I was using a dialup modem from most of the hotels – ! But it was two exhilarating weeks – just me and my rental car (which was not much bigger than a roller skate and had manual air-conditioning (just roll down the windows…)

Mrs. Pez wasn’t thrilled that I’d be so far away for two weeks, and when I got back, she said: “Well, now that you’ve been to the Tour, you don’t need to do that again.”
Secretly I was already planning my next trip.

5. Your pictures have always been stellar, they seem to capture raw emotions [e.g. Cadel Evans and Alexander Vinokourov – mud-spattered from the 2010 Giro; the Poem and Poppy of Nov 11, 2004; Hincapie’s heartbreak in Roubaix 2006], what is the criteria for selection?

PEZ Sez: Well thanks! A lot of us here share a passion for really cool photos. I’ve always liked things that look cool, and looking at cool things – beautiful women (goes without saying right?), scenic vistas of the great places to ride, racers battling each other on epic rides, a mouth watering negroni… .

When I finally had enough money to start working with Cor Vos, I knew we had a great opportunity to show readers some of the real beauty of cycling through the amazing photos he and his photographers have taken. No one else was doing it, and we’re still one of the few places where fans can see big format photos by big time photogs. Over the years, we’ve some other great shooters too – Darrell Parks for example, and I always encourage my own guys to really work the camera when they’re on a roadside assignment. The criteria for selection – ? Usually we start with what’s topical, then look for something we think is really visually interesting.

6. How did you start with Daily Distractions or was that a natural fit?
PEZ Sez: Let’s see… Wanting to start the day by looking a photo of a beautiful woman… what could be more natural…? But if I didn’t do it someone else would have and then I’d always be thinking “damn I shoulda done that…”. We’ve been posting the beautiful women of cycling for years now, which I think makes DDs the largest collection of its kind. And how can you not love it… I get a lot of emails from women submitting their own photos, and I recently received an email from Ana Glowinski who designs the Ana Nichoola brand of women’s cycling gear, and I’d requested a few snaps from their winter launch in London – she came through of course, then reminded me to send the Pez socks: “Because we all secretly want to be Pez girls I’ve sent you some more pics, but only if we get socks!!’”

7. What was one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
PEZ Sez: Actually believing I could do it. There I was back in 2001 – no job and fewer prospects – wondering just what the hell I was going to do. I was in my prime earning years, and making less money than when I’d been student in high school. There was no support group encouraging me to go build PEZ, it was pretty much down to me. Even at the worst of times, you have to get out of bed each day and keep stepping forward – no matter how slow, or painful, or uninspired those steps might be. Of course none of it would have happened if I hadn’t leapt off the cliff – and it was right around this time of year – when I decided to jump. I knew all the reasons why the idea was gonna explode in the hangar, but somehow found the courage to spin the propeller and aim for the runway… I learned that self belief is 90% of the battle, and now I know the meaning and rewards of choosing to do something you truly love.

8. Some websites are struggling to stay alive, is this business competitive?
PEZ Sez: Clients’ marketing budgets get smaller every year – especially since 2009, and annual advertising contracts complete at the end of December – which means that right now I have little to no idea of how much I’m gonna earn next year. There’s a feeding frenzy as all the magazines and website clamour for slices of ad budgets, which makes December my busiest month of the year. I’ve discovered that no matter how much sleep I lose worrying about next year though, things always seem to work out fine in the end.

9. Although the Tour is the biggest cycling event of the year, your coverage of the Giro has always impressed me, do you have a favourite grand tour? A favourite classic?
PEZ Sez: For me it’s the Giro for sure – the Italian culture, the riding, the geography, the food, wine, women, their sense of style, the language, I love it all. It’s easy for me to write stories at the Giro because I find the whole thing so damn entertaining. I’ve been there enough times now that getting around is easy, it’s like a second home almost, and with limited travel time in my year, I have to choose my Euro-trips wisely. I covered the Tour in 2003, and would love to go back, but by now we’ve got Ed Hood & Gord Cameron who’ve covered multiple Tours, so they really know the TDF better than I do, and it makes sense to send our best guys to cover a given event.

My favourite Classic is the Giro di Lombardia – and I’ve never seen it live. I’ve been booked a couple of times then had to cancel the trips. It’s on my docket for 2011 – so my fingers are crossed. There’s just something magical about the final race of the season, the coolness of the air, the leaves turning colors, the awesome corsa around Lago di Como… I’ve been dreaming for years about a full day on the race, then celebrating with a piping hot plate of risotto Milanese, and a perfectly cooked tagliata di manzo (red inside), washed down with a smooth barbera d’asti… my taste buds are tingling just thinking writing about it…

10. Who do you feel has been the most captivating figure in cycling from the past and who is the most captivating currently?
PEZ Sez: I started watching road cycling in 1986 – LeMond, Fignon, Hinault, Kelly, Roche… that was a great era of racing and I miss it – I wish I’d been a fan before then so I’d have better known the players and the races. The modern era of doping has changed racing forever and we’ll never see guys riding all season and battling for Classics, Grand Tours, and everything else on the calendar like we used to. I was a big Pantani fan, and was heart-broken by his downfall and saddened by his lonely, tragic death. I realize now that he was very likely part of the whole ‘90’s era of cycling, juiced to the gills, I suppose like most of the bunch – regardless – he was exciting to watch and was a rider with the personality to match his exploits and live up to his nickname – I mean who doesn’t secretly wish they could be a pirate – even just for one day?

Racing now is so different that we have riders who captivate at different times of the year and for different races. I’m excited about the Contador-Schleck rivalry – it’s too bad they only meet at the Tour. For the Classics I love the Boonen, Cancellara, Hushovd, Flecha, Pozzato and the rest – April is a fantastic month of racing.

For a bunch more on the PEZ history, plus Ed Hood’s own interview with Pez, see the links below.

Thanks – R Peotto
About Richard: “In my passion to get the best cycling and race coverage out there I’ve tuned into a number of websites, some for just racing news, some for technical advice and explanations and some for just anything cycling. As a recently retired firefighter I have been able to put more time into following this passion, but I’ve been at it for some time. I still have VHS tapes from the 1985 Tour [Hinault vs Lemond] and tapes and DVD’s of the years since [Indurain, Ullrich, Pantani, Armstrong, etc.] – they are very useful for training with the winters we have in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada – we already have 2 feet of snow on the ground. So trying to keep up with cycling on the web led me to the PezCyclingNews site some time ago and as they have grown, so has my appreciation for their dedication to the sport.”

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