OMG. Muscular Men in Spandex

Yes, it’s that time of year again – time to watch the Tour de France. As usual, there is something for everyone.

Scandal. You didn’t think they’d pull off another Tour without allegations of doping did you? Of course, I for one am shocked, shocked that there could be doping in professional bike racing, but it seems it would not be the Tour de France without allegations, investigations and excuses. Everything from the dog ate my drug test to the latest – Alberto Contador’s positive results from tainted meat? Personally, if I were a Tour contender who did not want to risk doping allegations, I’d only eat food harvested from my own organic farm to avoid such utter nonsense. But where would be the fun in that?

Drama. How about Mark Cavendish head-butting his fellow competitor on the very first day? With a Lance-free race, there’s room for everyone to shine or draw shame. 

Horror. Today, in stage five, there must have been at least ten crashes. Blood on the highway, Tour-ending injuries for some. Determination in the riders who finished despite injury, pedaling away, heads down, trying to catch up as their shredded jerseys fluttered in the crosswind.

Athleticism. These guys are the most athletic competitors, hands down, among any other athletes you’ll ever see on TV. One could even say they’re riding with physicality, except they do it all day, every day, for almost a month, not just for the last few minutes of a one-hour game.

Charm. What would the Tour be without the charming commentary of cycling’s beloved Phil Liggett? Funny, entertaining, always the gentleman. He talks about the cyclists as if they’re his dearest sons – calling them boys or lads. He’s the only person I know who can pull off expressions like “Mercy me” without sounding silly.

Endorsements. With a Lance-free Tour, the commercials are actually interesting this time around. No silly nonsense from Lance and the Radio Shack nerd ad nauseam, as Lance pedals away on his bike in the office. That’s what I do in my office by the way – come to work in bike clothes and pedal all day. No Lance riding behind the Nissan Leaf. I was beginning to think he came with the car. They had to come up with real commercials this year.

And last but not least, for the ladies: muscular hotties in Spandex.

My muscular hottie in Spandex (© Huffygirl 2011)

So, the Tour does have it all. Watch for more drama in the sprints as feisty Mark Cavendish vies for the green jersey over the next few stages. Once in the mountains, expect to see Alberto Contador, last year’s winner, duke it out with Andy Schleck, whom some (okay, me) say he cheated out of winning last year’s Tour. Andy’s brother Frank, who dropped out with an injury last year, may be another yellow jersey contender.

And while you’re at it, dust off your own Huffy, get out and ride, and pretend that you’re part of this year’s Tour de France.

© Huffygirl  2011


Grown-up toys

My husband and I are at a point in our lives where we’re finally allowed the luxury of having grown-up toys. Our grown-up toys? Bikes, and cycling accoutrement. While other people our age are buying big-screen TVs and  recliners with cup holders, and taking it easy sitting around their patio fireplace with a Bud Light, we’re accumulating  bikes and, well, bike stuff. The list of gear you can get these days for cycling reads like the list of spam combos  from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But instead of “…there’s egg and bacon; egg sausage and bacon; egg and spam; egg bacon and spam; egg bacon sausage and spam; spam bacon sausage and spam; spam egg spam spam bacon and spam; spam sausage spam spam bacon spam tomato and spam…” its:

There’s bike shorts and jerseys, and bike socks and shoes; bike helmets and seat bags and tire levers;  bike tires, bike tubes, bike lube, bike goo, bike arm warmers and knee warmers and bicycle gloves; bike bike bike bike bike stuff forever. (Sorry Mel!)

The list goes on. Between us we’ve got enough bike shorts to dress the US Postal Service team.  Reach carelessly into a certain kitchen cupboard and you might bring down a cascade of bike water bottles upon your head. We’ve got bike computers, bike tools, and bike bags. The more we ride the more we worry about safety, so now we’ve both got bike lights. (Really, it’s a good idea. You don’t want to get run over, especially at our age.) Chest straps from heart rate monitors are perpetually draped on the shower rod to dry. We have to keep the bike computer away from the laptop or the wireless internet will change the mileage. Used CO2 cartridges rattle around in the recycle drawer, not used for vitalizing beer kegs, but for filling flat tires. We could bike with the bare necessities and still get there, but the accoutrement make it so much easier. After all, we’re not getting any younger.

There’s bike food. Hammer Gel. Sports Beans. Shot Bloks. Cliff Bars. Luna Bars. Need I say more? Yum.

Who says we look ridiculous? (© Huffygirl 2011)

Then there’s bike clothing. I have a jacket whose only pocket is  on the back. There was a time I would have thought that was crazy, but not now. It’s great exercise, trying to reach back there and get things in and out of your pocket. I swore I’d never wear “those shorts” until my first long ride in regular shorts. And jerseys. “Why do you need a special shirt to ride a bike?” I used to think, until I found out that those T-shirts I was wearing flapped in the wind, slowing me down, and how are you supposed to carry your food and Kleenex without any pockets? Our oldest son, looking at pictures of us in our biking clothes, says “Why don’t you wait until you’re wearing something less ridiculous looking to take your picture?”

Of course we don’t buy all theses things – they make great gifts. Who wouldn’t want to find a bottle of Chain Lube and a Quick Stick  in the toe of their Christmas stocking? Our kids sigh as they stand at the counter in the bike shop and dutifully ask for whatever the current bike gadget is that we need, while their contemporaries are getting their parents sensible gifts like slippers, chocolates and spa packages. Hey, I loved the headlight and Blinky  my son got me! Sigh. I guess we are just refusing to grow up, and by implication, grow old. Better than sitting in the hideous recliner with the cup-holders I say, or slogging around the nursing home with walkers. We intend to go out with our boots on, although they’re actually bike shoes.

(Disclaimer: In no way does Huffygirl mean to insult persons who sit in hideous or non-hideous recliners, either with or without cup-holders.)

© Huffygirl 2011

The Ultimate Exercise: More on Le Tour de France

I continue to be fascinated by watching the ultimate exercise, aka The Tour de France. As a cyclist myself, I know what it’s like to be going uphill, breathing hard, heart pounding, hoping to get to the top of what I consider to be a challenging hill.  Yet, to the typical Tour rider, my hills would not even be considered a hill. Maybe a little blip in the pavement to them. Today I watched as Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck battled to reach the summit of  Col du Tourmalet. These boys had been riding for hours, yet, did not even appear winded. Their level of fitness continues to amaze me. At one point the commentators noted that they could tell the riders were really working hard to reach the summit, because they could see that from heart rate monitoring data that riders were reaching “excessive heart rates” of – wait for it – 154.  

Most of us will never reach the fitness levels that Tour competitors have achieved. After all, their job is training and riding. It is their job to be as fit as they are, and they would be unable to compete had they not reached the exceedingly high levels of fitness that they have achieved. The rest of us – we have home and work responsibilities that preclude us from spending several hours a day in exercise. Our jobs are routine – we work in factories, offices, schools, hospitals. We drive kids, bathe toddlers, carry groceries and mow lawns. We don’t need to be fit enough to bike up a mountain. Yet,  as a whole, Americans lack basic fitness and endurance, and at least one-third of us are overweight or obese. 

Tour de Chicago, aka Bike the Drive 2010


The past two weeks I’ve noticed more people than usual biking and walking on my local trail.  It may just be a coincidence, or may be inspiration from the fantastically fit riders we’ve been seeing each day in the news these past three weeks. Whatever the reason, I hope that more people will be inspired to challenge themselves to become more fit. 

Meanwhile, who to watch in the next few days of The Tour? Today, Andy Schleck won the stage, but still remains 8 seconds behind Alberto Contador, who stole the yellow jersey from Andy three days ago. Experts predict that Contador will win, but I’m still pulling for Schleck, who besides being an amazing young cyclist, just seems like a nice guy. In any case, it should be an exciting  finish, and a fantastic display of ultimate fitness.

Le Tour de France: A Cycling Girl’s Beginner’s Guide to Watching the Ultimate Exercise

Not The Tour, but close: Bike the Drive, Chicago


I’m fairly new to watching bicycle racing. Last summer for the first time, I watched almost every stage of the Tour de France. I found it fascinating and exhilarating to watch. Turns out that bike racing is the ultimate athletic event. It’s come a long way from the days when riders smoked cigarettes during the race, thinking that it improved their performance. In other team sports such as football or baseball, the players are only in the game part of the time, and some team members never play. Teams that have offense and defense allow half of their players to sit around and rest and drink Gatorade while the other group is up. Not so with bike racing. The entire team is working hard throughout the whole event. This requires a level of athletic ability that is seldom seen in other sports. These bike guys are all lean muscle mass, with cardiovascular fitness well beyond what most athletes can ever hope to achieve. No linemen with sloppy waistlines and big guts in this group. They’re not bad to look at either. Young – most are under 35, although there’s a few “elderly” guys such as Lance in their late thirties to early forties, which is considered old for professional bike racing. So good looks aside, why is it so fascinating to watch young muscular hotties careen around at impossible speeds on bikes? I don’t claim to be an expert but I can offer a beginner’s guide to all things de Tour. 

The teams: Teams consist of nine riders, and are sponsored by companies or countries. Don’t expect to see national loyalties though – riders on a team are often a mix of nationalities. The team’s goal is to help their “star” rider to win. For instance the guys who rode with Lance the seven times he won, had no hope of ever winning the Tour themselves. Their jobs was to do everything in their power to help Lance win, and hope that when he retired (will this guy ever retire?) that they would get a chance to be the star. 

The strategy: How does a team help their star win? The non-star team members do everything from drafting/pulling, pacing, blocking, to getting water bottles and snacks. When the star is lagging and needs a break, another teammate will ride in front of him. The second rider “drafts” off the first by riding close to the first rider’s back wheel. In that way, the second rider gets part of the pull off the leader’s back wheel and has an easier time riding. (You could try this yourself sometime and you’ll see it works. But be careful – if your wheels touch, you’ll both go down! It takes a lot of skill and practice to draft effectively without crashing.) Pacing is another way of helping the star by setting the pace the star needs to catch up, and offering encouragement along the way. These guys don’t stop to eat or drink – the non-star team members get water bottles and energy food from the support car, and hand them out to the star, so he doesn’t have to slow down to get it himself. 

The gear: These guys are not riding Huffys. Each bike costs thousands of dollars, and every team member has more than one bike. You’ll notice that each team has a support car, carrying a back-up bike for each guy on the team. If any problems arise with a rider’s bike, the support guys have the new bike off the car and ready to go in seconds. There’s plenty of money in the gear they’re wearing too. These guys are wearing lightweight carbon fiber bike shoes that cost hundreds of dollars, high-end sunglasses (Oakley anybody?) and the best in clothes, helmets, monitors and accessories. Each rider has a radio earpiece to hear communication from the team coach. They can’t talk to each other, but the coach keeps a running commentary on what is happening to the team, who needs help and so on. If a rider needs anything from a band-aid to a water bottle, he raises his hand and his support car will pull up to find out what he needs. Speaking of water bottles – when they’re empty the riders cast them aside (for delighted fans to pick up) – no recycling or reusing for these guys. 

The race: The route varies each year but this year consists of a prologue, time trial, and 20 stages. Riders accumulate points for their times that add up at the end to determine the winner. The overall winner does not have to win every stage to get enough points to win – they win by accumulating more points in their strong areas. The different stages allow the other team members to shine – they might not be able to win overall, but if they’re good at climbing or sprints, they can win the stage that features their strong area. These guys are not just out for a Sunday ride – the TV coverage will show their speed at the bottom of the screen, which is frequently over 30 mph. Going downhill is fraught with pitfalls – they may achieve speeds of 50-60 mph while navigating steep slopes and curves. Sometimes adoring fans (or dogs!) are in the way, and as we’ve seen already this year, if one rider crashes, many others go down with them. 

The riders: You’ll usually see a few riders out front, which is called the breakaway, followed by the rest of the pack, aka the peloton. If a second breakaway group splits off behind the first, they’re called the chase. 

The drama: As in any sport there’s politics, backbiting, and betrayal. (Remember Floyd Landis?) A good way to catch up on the behind the scenes drama is to watch the TV coverage and check the web site and interview clips. Many riders have Twitter feeds as well. 

The jerseys: We all know the overall leader gets “the yellow jersey.” There’s other jerseys too. The green jersey for the highest sprint points, white jersey for the best young rider, and the polka dot jersey for the best climber, aka King of the Mountain. 

So don’t be left out. Check out the Tour coverage on your local TV or web, then dust off your Huffy and join the fun. There’s nothing like being out riding your bike during the Tour and imaging yourself wearing the yellow jersey. 

(Special thanks to bicycling guru Pete for teaching me so much about The Tour!)