What's Cool In Road Cycling

Tour of Courage: The PEZ Report

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That was a big weekend – not just because the Tour of Courage Society almost reached its $6 million goal, but also for us here at PEZ – ! In attendance were Lance, George, Johan, Chris Carmichael, Phil Liggett, Linda Armstrong Kelly, Lori-Ann Muenzer, PEZ of course – and we rubbed shoulders with ‘em all. Here’s just some of the cool stuff that happened…

About 40 riders who had each donated $25,000 were led by Lance, Phil Liggett, George Hincapie, Chris Carmichael, and Lori-Ann Muenzer on the 120km ride through the most scenic Canadian Rockies.

Our weekend began with a short press conference with Lance just before the start of the Saturday night dinner. The room was small, filled mostly with Calgary media – tv, radio and newspaper. We were the only cycling media in the room, and I planted my butt firmly front and center. As we waited for Lance to arrive, I realized this was the first time I’d be close enough to actually say something intelligent. My pulse quickened, sweat immediately formed on my brow, and my throat went dry.

Lance walked in quickly, the room hushed and cameras flashed. He took the stage, and looked straight at me – ! Then he looked away and asked “Okay, who’s first?”

I froze like a deer in the headlights. Was this how Jan felt on Alpe d’Huez? I found myself at a complete loss of questions – my brain was blank. I felt like a little kid trying to get up the courage to ask for an autograph…

Finally I went for it – I asked how his knees are doing (he’s had a little tendonitis since the Tour). He said they were doing pretty good, but that he’s not riding every day.

The gala dinner was amazing – great food, lots of courses – about what you’d expect for $500 a plate. At least two things about the night stood out and were defining moments in a weekend of defining moments for us at PEZ.

1. Several weeks ago we offered to be the online media partner for the Tour of Courage, and went about running a few stories and publicizing the event, to help sell more tickets, maybe encourage a $25,000 donation, and do our part for the cause. I hadn’t really bothered to look into exposure for us at the event. Then at dinner. I noticed the jumbo-screens placed all around the room – and I beheld one of the most beautiful sights I’d ever laid eyes on – the PezCycling News logo – shining brightly and 20 feet wide!

2. Then there was the “shout out” from Lance. He was telling a story of how he and Johan would scour the internet before the Tour looking for news on Ullrich and his weight – “does he look fat in that picture?” And then I hear him say something like “we looked everywhere, …we’re looking at Pez…”

Boom. I almost fall outta my chair. Did I just hear Lance Armstrong actually say he reads Pez? Waow. Then the guy beside me goes – “hey man- you got the shout-out from Lance!” I can’t remember if I even heard anything else he said after that…

When I started PezCycling 2-1/2 years ago, and the only people reading were me and my cat – let’s just say I had no idea we’d come so far…

The busses rolled out of Calgary at 7:30 AM Sunday to the ride start at Longview. This was the big event – about 40 riders had donated $25,000 each for an exclusive ride over the Highwood Pass led by Lance, George, Chris Carmichael, and Phil Liggett.

Trek Travel and Ridley Cycles from Calgary stepped up to handle logistics for much of the ride. The bikes were lined up under a big tent, each capped with a special baseball cap for the event, mechanics were on hand for last minute tune-ups. Each of the riders received a big duffel bag from Oakley, stuffed with custom riding gear for the day – helmets from Giro, clothing from Sugoi, glasses, gloves, shorts, jerseys, vests – all done up in USPS colors. Pretty cool.

Breakfast was in another tent, complete with heaters to battle the early morning chill – it was only about 10Celsius. This pre-ride feedzone was complete with everything you could want, including a couple of chefs cooking up your fave omellete.

About 10 0’clock, the sound of an approaching helicopter signaled the arrival of Lance – and everyone got even more excited. Lance’s schedule is jam packed at this time of year as he makes several promotional appearances – Friday night he was in Toronto, Saturday night Calgary – today riding the Highwood Pass, and then Monday speaking to the President’s Council somewhere in the USA.

The focus of today was the ride, and since no “official” media time was booked with Lance, and as I’d yet to actually meet him, I was on my toes looking for those few seconds to go mano a Pez with the guest of honour.

Lance gets Pez’d – socks that is.

I hope I never become jaded or blasй about meeting the people that make our sport so cool – and certainly there was no danger of this happening on Sunday morning. I saw Lance coming my way – walking with purpose as he usually does – so I just stepped into his path and before I could even stick our my hand he beats me to the punch…

“PEZZZ!” he says.

I introduce myself and say thanks for the shout out last night. He doesn’t stop, as he’s gotta get changed for the ride, but I hand him a brand new pair of PEZ socks before he gets away.

“Hey – Pez socks – thanks!” He says. And he’s gone.

I’m standing there wondering if I was just dreaming the whole thing, when one of the guests who watched the exchange says: “hey that was cool…”

”Hey Pez – check out my feet…”

Given the schedule for the day, it seemed this could be the extent of my time with Lance. But later we had a quick chance for a photo opp. Of course I’d prepared a couple of interesting and witty things to say if I got the chance, but sadly I turned into a blubbering idiot when I stepped up for my photo.

In fact, when Lance said “look at my feet”, I had no clue what he was talking about, and I’m standing there looking down blankly… He goes – “I’m wearing the PEZ socks!” Then he totally deadpans me: “I’ll probably get fired by Nike for this, but I’m wearin’ the PEZ socks…”.

Feet by Lance, socks by… Pez!

I know I said something, not sure if I was coherent at all, but in that moment my wit and intelligence left me completely. And then it was over. I was floating above the clouds dreamily – completely and utterly stunned and amazed that the biggest man in cycling is actually wearing a pair of socks with my nickname on ’em. How cool is that?

Phil Liggett told me he suffered like a dog on the ride over Highwood Pass. He had been belly-aching about how tough it was going to be the whole weekend, so on Sunday morning I finally called him on the sand-bagging.

A Man On The Rivet: Phil had to draft our car after his wheel change.

Turns out the ride was worse than Phil could have imagined – first he had to take a wheel from George Hincapie, whose bike was equipped with a 27 tooth gear, next he was subjected to Lance’s querie of “Are you still here?” as they made their way up the climb – and then when things got really bad, and with “no reason to rush into hell” he found himself at the mercy of Johan Bruyneel who was running alongside Phil screaming “Liggett-isms” into his ears. Sorry I doubted your suffering Phil.

Canadian Content: An unexpected treat was meeting Canada’s Gold-medal Olympian Lori-Ann Muenzer. She told me the hilite of the day for her was sitting on Lance’s wheel on the descent. Must be nice!

On a weekend of many peaks, one of the highest was the summit of the Highwood Pass at 2206 meters – the highest paved road in Canada. Joe Dutton, the event’s organizer, told me ride was “much harder” than he’d expected. The pace set by Lance & co. wasn’t for slouches – they covered 36km in the first hour – and several riders popped out the back before the climbing even started. No worries for the weary however, as sag-wagons shuttled all stragglers ahead to the next drop point, everyone enjoyed plenty of pedaling.

Overall the weekend was a huge success, and full of lifelong memories. New friends were made and a lot of good things happened.

But perhaps the highest-point of the entire weekend was an unexpected promise made by Lance to Joe while on the ride, to come back next year and help finish the job of raising the $6 million.

Visit the Official website: www.TourOfCourage.com

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