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Behind the Blue Curtain

July 28, 2005: Lance's Tour curtain call

By:
Cycling News
Published:
July 28, 2005, 1:00 BST,
Updated:
April 21, 2009, 11:59 BST

Index to all entries A part of any team's Tour de France tradition is the after-Tour party, and when...

Index to all entries

A part of any team's Tour de France tradition is the after-Tour party, and when you've won the race seven times consecutively, you have to go large... but unlike last year's historic event, a sit down dinner ala Haute Cuisine, at least eight standing ovations, and a hall literally fit for a king, this year's post-Tour party, was, well, one helluva party! Before the official festivities Lance held a private dinner thankyou just for the riders, Johan and Dirk - a perfect way to hang out, laugh, and relive the previous three weeks in privacy. OK, maybe tip back a beer or two...

But while the boys had some quiet time over 600 guests were arriving at the Paris Ritz amid some very tight security indeed. Call it one last curtain call for Serge, Erwin, Thierry and Pierre, plus add several dozen uniformed and large plain clothes types for good measure. Definitely an "A list" party, with the heads and representatives of all the major sponsors in attendance; Lance's Foundation's Board, and even a celebrity or two with the likes of US Senator John Kerry and pop star Lindsay Lohan working the crowd.

One of the things I thought was actually quite humorous was that it was clear who were staff/riders versus guests, since only the guests had the opportunity to bring nice clothes, the staff/riders coming off just over three weeks on the road and living out of suitcases. But everyone officially with the team had on their "best" jeans and 10//2 Nike t-shirts, and no one seemed to mind. Another example that shows just how anonymous the support riders can be when not in their team kits: all the guys (sans Lance and George) accidentally walked into the rear of the hall amid 50+ guests and laughed and joked and enjoyed some champagne, but only a few of the invitees came up and said congratulations simply because they didn't know who they were - but that would soon change.

Dan Osipow herded the large crowd from main reception area down into a very large disco/gathering room and the champagne continued to flow. Following a very cool retro video of all seven Tour wins set to U2's "Where the streets have no name," Dan then went on to introduce key sponsor and managerial folks who gave words of congratulations to Lance and the guys. Then it was time for Johan and the boys to be introduced one-by-one. Johan went first and was really quite moving, noting the historical significance of the past seven years, but then also how he - who many, myself included, view him as the best director in the sport bar none - met Lance through basically a chance meeting. He then sincerely thanked Lance for literally changing his life as the crowd cheered enthusiastically.

Dan then introduced each of the riders with some very special guests in Manuel "Triki" Beltran (who crashed out of the Tour during Stage 12) and Viatchslev "Eki" Ekimov. "It wouldn't be July in Paris without Eki," Dan said as he brought the 14-time Tour veteran down the stairs. When asked how he was recovering following his quite serious back injury before the Tour, Eki said he was good, noting that a few weeks ago he would not have been able to have walked down the stairs nor be on the trainer getting in some bike time. I spoke with Eki later on and he said it's his every intention to race a few more times this year, but purely to build back his confidence as he looks to the 2006 season full gas.

Following all the guys it was time for The Guy, and as usual Lance was very humble and thanked the sponsors for all their support, thanked the team for all the work they did, and then finished up by asking everyone in the audience to continue to support the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team - as well as the sport of cycling in general - as strongly after he retires as they do right now. Bravo...

And then: the moment. During his speech Lance had saluted his long-time rival Jan Ullrich, commenting on the many battles they had over the years and what a sportsman and a gentleman he was. He said that Mark Higgins had just told him Jan might stop by later on - and two seconds later Jan strolls down the stairs to stand by Lance on the stage, and the crowd just goes insane! The two great riders then saluted each other, said some very nice things in retrospect with Jan acknowledging one simple fact over the previous seven years: Lance was just too strong to beat. Dan noted in his column: "...someone in the audience then shouted 'We love you Jan!' causing Lance to say "See, they like you better than they like me!"

For me this was a moment similar to last year's party, when Lance was saying his final words of the evening, and reflecting on the historic sixth Tour victory he made sure the crowd knew who the real cycling star of the evening was and brought the legendary Eddy Merckx to stand by his side.

After that it was simply a huge party, as the guys jumped right in the middle of the crowd - led by Yaroslav 'Popo/I have the white jersey' Popovych who was really ready to dance - while Lance accepted congratulations from the many folks still there well after 1am. Word was that the party went on until after 3:30, but like many of the staff I had an early train to catch and was literally running on fumes, so we headed out into the night and to the team hotel. Damned if Jan and his girlfriend didn't jump on the same elevator as us, and we got the chance to personally congratulate him on his Tour and thank him for the all the memories he's provided - with total class - over the years.

And that's really all for now - thanks for checking in.

Cheers,
Chris

July 23, 2005: Time Trial support

By:
Cycling News
Published:
July 24, 2005, 1:00 BST,
Updated:
April 21, 2009, 11:59 BST

Index to all entries One of the things that I think a lot of people suppose is that all of the...

Index to all entries

One of the things that I think a lot of people suppose is that all of the riders have one of their directors and a team mechanic behind them in the car, spare bike and wheels at the ready, vocal support streaming in via their race radios - not so for many, not so at all...

I caught up with Discovery Channel mechanic Geoff Brown as they were prepping the bikes for the Stage 20 time trial. I asked him how a TT plays out in terms of support for a rider who's not expected to compete for one of the top places.

"Here at the Tour de France, all of our riders have spare TT bikes, but that's definitely not the case at many smaller races," Geoff explained. "In those races, the guys will use their Trek Madone road bike as a back up. And of course we always have spare wheels, too."

But even here at the Tour not all the DC riders get to have one of the directors working with them along the route, simply due to the scheduling of the riders and the fact that there are only three DSs available in Bruyneel, Demol, and Yates.

So for Chechu Rubiera and Jose Azevedo they were followed by a Mavic neutral support vehicle with Bontrager wheels as their back up. And that's the way the TT support goes, on the road and here at the Tour - thanks for checking in, see you in Paris!

Cheers,
Chris

July 19, 2005: How to become a pro

I caught up with Jim "Och" Ochowicz, President of USA Cycling, the day after the demanding Stage 14 to the top of Ax-3 Domaines. I asked him about the impact of having three Americans in the Top six on the day, and in the GC standings as well - and then the conversation soon turned to developing junior riders to possibly get them into the pro ranks.

Chris Brewer: Yesterday was a big day for American cycling, wasn't it?

Jim Ochowicz: It just goes to show that there's a lot of depth within the cycling community in the United States. But that didn't just start up overnight, you know - they didn't just show up at the Tour de France. All three of those riders (Armstrong, Landis, and Leipheimer) started off with youth programmes and through different paths got to the point where they were able to come to Europe and race for top professional teams.

CB: With Lance, Floyd, and Levi doing so well they're serving as great examples as to what you can become. What advice would you have for young aspiring riders?

JO: You have to start by thinking locally, by racing in local towns and testing yourself there.

CB: So what's the first step?

JO: You usually start at your local bike shop. There's always a community of local racers who come in there and shop, and often these shops are sponsoring the local racers as well. Local bike shops can be instrumental in plugging new riders into local teams and clubs that will in turn be their initial development point to becoming a racer. And once you start to work with these folks, you just have to find ways to grow within that system.

CB: So the Big Question: How do you become a pro cyclist?

JO: Like I said, you have to start somewhere. You have to get involved somehow, some place, some way - for example, we all know that Lance got started through triathlon and then somebody noticed he wasn't too bad on a bicycle...

The bottom line is that results talk, and Lance was basically scouted out of the bunch. If you want to move forward at some point you have to have results that catch the eye of those who can move you up the chain.

And there are teams trying to develop riders today in the USA much like we did back in the day with 7-Eleven and Motorola and even Team USPS. These teams give young riders a chance and more importantly expose these riders to top racing, whether that's the US domestic scene or here in Europe.

Another example that we have within USA cycling for those young riders ready to move upward is our Belgium-based U23 program. In this project young men 23 and under get to race all over Europe and in a variety of different style races. While it's not the level of the Tour de France it's the next level below.

CB: Thanks for your time, Jim - so to sum up: start locally, learn from everyone you can, and get some results! But by all means have fun in the process...you can of course get more information at the official USA Cycling web site, www.usacycling.org.

Thanks for checking in,

Cheers,
Chris

July 19, 2005: How to become a pro

By:
Cycling News
Published:
July 21, 2005, 1:00 BST,
Updated:
April 21, 2009, 11:59 BST

Index to all entries I caught up with Jim "Och" Ochowicz, President of USA Cycling, the day after...

Index to all entries

I caught up with Jim "Och" Ochowicz, President of USA Cycling, the day after the demanding Stage 14 to the top of Ax-3 Domaines. I asked him about the impact of having three Americans in the Top six on the day, and in the GC standings as well - and then the conversation soon turned to developing junior riders to possibly get them into the pro ranks.

Chris Brewer: Yesterday was a big day for American cycling, wasn't it?

Jim Ochowicz: It just goes to show that there's a lot of depth within the cycling community in the United States. But that didn't just start up overnight, you know - they didn't just show up at the Tour de France. All three of those riders (Armstrong, Landis, and Leipheimer) started off with youth programmes and through different paths got to the point where they were able to come to Europe and race for top professional teams.

CB: With Lance, Floyd, and Levi doing so well they're serving as great examples as to what you can become. What advice would you have for young aspiring riders?

JO: You have to start by thinking locally, by racing in local towns and testing yourself there.

CB: So what's the first step?

JO: You usually start at your local bike shop. There's always a community of local racers who come in there and shop, and often these shops are sponsoring the local racers as well. Local bike shops can be instrumental in plugging new riders into local teams and clubs that will in turn be their initial development point to becoming a racer. And once you start to work with these folks, you just have to find ways to grow within that system.

CB: So the Big Question: How do you become a pro cyclist?

JO: Like I said, you have to start somewhere. You have to get involved somehow, some place, some way - for example, we all know that Lance got started through triathlon and then somebody noticed he wasn't too bad on a bicycle...

The bottom line is that results talk, and Lance was basically scouted out of the bunch. If you want to move forward at some point you have to have results that catch the eye of those who can move you up the chain.

And there are teams trying to develop riders today in the USA much like we did back in the day with 7-Eleven and Motorola and even Team USPS. These teams give young riders a chance and more importantly expose these riders to top racing, whether that's the US domestic scene or here in Europe.

Another example that we have within USA cycling for those young riders ready to move upward is our Belgium-based U23 program. In this project young men 23 and under get to race all over Europe and in a variety of different style races. While it's not the level of the Tour de France it's the next level below.

CB: Thanks for your time, Jim - so to sum up: start locally, learn from everyone you can, and get some results! But by all means have fun in the process...you can of course get more information at the official USA Cycling web site, www.usacycling.org.

Thanks for checking in,

Cheers,
Chris

July 18, 2005: All's well on rest day

The team is spending a welcome three nights in a row in the same small-but-secure hotel just outside of Pau, and that means easy transfers as well.

Even so, the fans have somehow figured out where the hotel is and have camped outside the gate waiting for a glimpse or better yet an appearance by any of the riders or staff. They are respectful, though, and the well-dressed gate guard ensures that only those who are supposed to be there are allowed into this temporary sanctuary.

The guys were honored to have America's winningest cyclist Davis Phinney in the area to say hello, and Davis' son Taylor came along as well - Tay's well over 6 feet tall, lean, and spends lots of time on the bike...

The team rode either one or two hours yesterday - Lance and George opting for the two-hour version. The mechanics were working on getting all the racing wheels just right so Lance put on a HED 3-spoke aero wheel on his bike, and when he came in after the ride joked, "My team is so fast that I have to use a TT wheel just to keep up with them!"

The mood is very relaxed and confident, knowing that Stage 16 has some challenges, but barring Tour de France drama things should work out nicely all the way to Paris. The "Texas Crew" - the Discovery Channel's video team - scored a major interview with George, logging some 20 minutes on camera.

For those who know quiet George, that's an incredible amount of talking. Here's a typical interview I did with him before his stage win:

"So how are you feeling today?"

"Good"

"Is the goal of the team - to stay on the front of the race all the way to Pla d'Adet?"

"Yes, but that's our goal every day."

End of interview (grin)...

All is well in the Discovery Channel camp - thanks for checking in.

Cheers,
Chris...

July 18, 2005: All's well on rest day

By:
Cycling News
Published:
July 19, 2005, 1:00 BST,
Updated:
April 21, 2009, 11:59 BST

Index to all entries The team is spending a welcome three nights in a row in the same...

Index to all entries

The team is spending a welcome three nights in a row in the same small-but-secure hotel just outside of Pau, and that means easy transfers as well.

Even so, the fans have somehow figured out where the hotel is and have camped outside the gate waiting for a glimpse or better yet an appearance by any of the riders or staff. They are respectful, though, and the well-dressed gate guard ensures that only those who are supposed to be there are allowed into this temporary sanctuary.

The guys were honored to have America's winningest cyclist Davis Phinney in the area to say hello, and Davis' son Taylor came along as well - Tay's well over 6 feet tall, lean, and spends lots of time on the bike...

The team rode either one or two hours yesterday - Lance and George opting for the two-hour version. The mechanics were working on getting all the racing wheels just right so Lance put on a HED 3-spoke aero wheel on his bike, and when he came in after the ride joked, "My team is so fast that I have to use a TT wheel just to keep up with them!"

The mood is very relaxed and confident, knowing that Stage 16 has some challenges, but barring Tour de France drama things should work out nicely all the way to Paris. The "Texas Crew" - the Discovery Channel's video team - scored a major interview with George, logging some 20 minutes on camera.

For those who know quiet George, that's an incredible amount of talking. Here's a typical interview I did with him before his stage win:

"So how are you feeling today?"

"Good"

"Is the goal of the team - to stay on the front of the race all the way to Pla d'Adet?"

"Yes, but that's our goal every day."

End of interview (grin)...

All is well in the Discovery Channel camp - thanks for checking in.

Cheers,
Chris...

July 16, 2005: The Disco team car

Since we recently went on the team's bus I thought it only appropriate to also go inside a team car as well. As you might guess, with Lance being a national spokesperson for Subaru, their Legacy model is also the car of choice for the team, too.

Working from left to right, Johan's in the driver's seat (of course) and has a ready supply of Powerbar product in his door. In the centre console there is a TV attached to the top of the dashboard, then a GPS navigation system in the main console. The team radio hangs from the rearview mirror, plus Johan will have at least one cell phone and a blackberry with him as well.

Depending on the day and circumstances, either a guest will be in the passenger seat or possibly another DC staff member.

In the back the mechanic takes his place; usually it's Chris Van Roosbroeck with Johan. The wheels are stacked for easy access, the tools and maps all in their proper place as well. But according to team mechanic Geoff Brown, the one important item you cannot forget is the small blue cooler on the floor - it has their lunch in it!

And there you have it - an inside look at the Discovery Channel team car.

Ciao for now!
CB

July 16, 2005: The Disco team car

By:
Cycling News
Published:
July 18, 2005, 1:00 BST,
Updated:
April 21, 2009, 11:59 BST

Index to all entries Since we recently went on the team's bus I thought it only appropriate to also...

Index to all entries

Since we recently went on the team's bus I thought it only appropriate to also go inside a team car as well. As you might guess, with Lance being a national spokesperson for Subaru, their Legacy model is also the car of choice for the team, too.

Working from left to right, Johan's in the driver's seat (of course) and has a ready supply of Powerbar product in his door. In the centre console there is a TV attached to the top of the dashboard, then a GPS navigation system in the main console. The team radio hangs from the rearview mirror, plus Johan will have at least one cell phone and a blackberry with him as well.

Depending on the day and circumstances, either a guest will be in the passenger seat or possibly another DC staff member.

In the back the mechanic takes his place; usually it's Chris Van Roosbroeck with Johan. The wheels are stacked for easy access, the tools and maps all in their proper place as well. But according to team mechanic Geoff Brown, the one important item you cannot forget is the small blue cooler on the floor - it has their lunch in it!

And there you have it - an inside look at the Discovery Channel team car.

Ciao for now!
CB

July 15, 2005: Iconography

When Lance Armstrong rolled out his new Trek TTx bike for the Stage 1 Time Trial, it was not only aerodynamically and mechanically fast, but very fast looking as well. Painted Lance's favorite "bad ass" black, the TTx also had a very new look, and especially the rear Bontrager disk wheel: lots of symbols all around the disk. I caught up with Nike's Scott MacEachern and he explained that this was all about "Iconography" and it revolved around Lance and a former / famous graffiti artist named Lenny McGurr, aka "Futura 2000".

"Lenny came to the Tour last year and was super-inspired - he's a former racer himself as well as fixed gear messenger back in the day in Brooklyn, New York," Scott said. "He's a well-known graffiti artist and came up with the concept of telling Lance's story through icons. Nike thought this was really cool and started collaborating with Lenny to further inspire him and to develop over 40 icons."

Just before the Tour de France Nike launched Lance's new "10//2" signature line of clothing. "We thought it'd be cool to include these icons as a part of the 10//2 program," Scott said. "We felt that by using these icons as a form of language we can tell his story in a new and in-depth manner that's never been done before."

And as everyone knows, there's always something special done on the last day of the Tour, but Nike's going to up the ante this time around. In the final six days of the Tour you'll see a different series of special icons along the top tube of Lance's bike, commemorating his life and his 6 previous Tour de France victories.

So be on the lookout for "Iconography", and thanks for checking in.

Cheers,
Chris

July 15, 2005: Iconography

By:
Cycling News
Published:
July 16, 2005, 1:00 BST,
Updated:
April 21, 2009, 11:59 BST

Index to all entries When Lance Armstrong rolled out his new Trek TTx bike for the Stage 1 Time...

Index to all entries

When Lance Armstrong rolled out his new Trek TTx bike for the Stage 1 Time Trial, it was not only aerodynamically and mechanically fast, but very fast looking as well. Painted Lance's favorite "bad ass" black, the TTx also had a very new look, and especially the rear Bontrager disk wheel: lots of symbols all around the disk. I caught up with Nike's Scott MacEachern and he explained that this was all about "Iconography" and it revolved around Lance and a former / famous graffiti artist named Lenny McGurr, aka "Futura 2000".

"Lenny came to the Tour last year and was super-inspired - he's a former racer himself as well as fixed gear messenger back in the day in Brooklyn, New York," Scott said. "He's a well-known graffiti artist and came up with the concept of telling Lance's story through icons. Nike thought this was really cool and started collaborating with Lenny to further inspire him and to develop over 40 icons."

Just before the Tour de France Nike launched Lance's new "10//2" signature line of clothing. "We thought it'd be cool to include these icons as a part of the 10//2 program," Scott said. "We felt that by using these icons as a form of language we can tell his story in a new and in-depth manner that's never been done before."

And as everyone knows, there's always something special done on the last day of the Tour, but Nike's going to up the ante this time around. In the final six days of the Tour you'll see a different series of special icons along the top tube of Lance's bike, commemorating his life and his 6 previous Tour de France victories.

So be on the lookout for "Iconography", and thanks for checking in.

Cheers,
Chris

July 14, 2005: The team behind the team

Lance Armstrong often says how proud he is of the eight riders who have supported his string of Tour de France victories. But another basic truth is that without a virtual armada of support staff the riders simply couldn't race, let alone win. The Discovery Channel Pro Cycling team is at the top of the list when it comes to the number of staff they bring to France each year. "We're trying to run an efficient ship, but then the Lance Factor changes everything," said team Director of Communications, Dan Osipow.

Dan broke the team's support staff down into these numbers:

4 mechanics
4 soigneurs
3 directors
3 team physicians
3 media reps
2 security personnel
1 chef
1 logistics director
1 bus driver
10+ staff working sponsor/VIP logistics

At any point in the race Discovery Channel will have 10-20 additional VIPs to not only manage but make sure they have a very good time, and then when the race gets to Paris the number literally goes into the hundreds. "For Paris alone we start working 12 months in advance to secure enough rooms to handle everyone that comes in," Osipow said. "And no matter what you do to plan, I guarantee you'll have a tonne of changes occurring right before the end - people who can't come, people who want to come, and you've got to make it all happen."

It's arguable that amongst all the folks behind the scenes, Director of Logistics Louise Donald is the busiest. "I think she's the busiest person on Tour!" said Osipow. "She handles all the team logistics, credentials for the entire staff, the critical vehicle stickers, and oversees all the guests we have as well." A huge job indeed but one she carries off very well, and somehow finds the time to be married to team mechanic Geoff Brown.

So now you know what it takes to keep Discovery Channel on the road and hopefully atop the podium - and they can get you a nice room with a view, too.

Thanks for checking in,

Cheers,
Chris

Author
Behind the Blue Curtain

Chris will be bringing us daily updates from within Discovery Channel HQ, getting the lowdown from team management. Discovery Channel is the team on everybody's lips at this year's Tour de France. Why? One name - Lance Armstrong. This network of riders and staff previously existed as the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team, helping Lance win his six Tour de France crowns, and in 2005 they're gunning for a seventh title. Follow the progress of the team here on Cyclingnews.com from 'Behind the Blue Curtain' Australia UK USA