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PEZ-Report: Ride For The Roses
Lance Armstrong and his cycling buddies used to race in the Texas countryside for a dozen roses in the early 90s. When the winner gave the roses to his girlfriend, few of the riders could have foreseen events from 1996 to the present. This past weekend was the annual running of the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s Ride For The Roses, to raise money for cancer research. Here’s the PEZ-eye view…

After an indoor Expo fair Friday and Saturday, a run Saturday morning, and a cancer film preview Saturday evening, 6,000 of Lance's friends and supporters joined him on the ride this past Sunday, raising over $4.2 million to help cancer patients and their families. The roses now go to cancer survivors at the end of the ride.

Lance is passionate about supporting cancer patients. At Saturday evening’s film preview in Austin, he talked about the irony of fame allowing him to do good things like this, but also getting in the way: “This is a big stage, whereas seven years ago I couldn’t have created a big stage like this. Quite frankly, the Tour, and the training, and the travel take a lot of time. If I was just one person here in Austin, I could devote even more time to it.” When he finally stops racing, his legacy may just grow even larger.

Gregg Germer considers his next wheel purchase…

The Homeboy In Austin
I spent Saturday with Gregg Germer of Houston, a PEZ’s own “Homeboy in Belgium”, which starts up again in April as Gregg tries to break into the European pro ranks. Gregg mingled with friends and checked out the Bontrager wheels exhibit. We went to dinner at a Sixth Street restaurant where his mother watched him compete in a Ride for Roses night criterium a few years back. He showed me where he crashed but remounted his bike during one of the races. Gregg noted big stars who attended earlier Roses events, such as Eddy Merckx around 1997 or 98, when Barton Springs and the hill country were included. In a Forrest Gump-like maneuver, Gregg found himself at one Roses event standing between Lance and Miguel Indurain, not realizing that crews were filming the two big stars – sure enough, there were the three of them on the news later!

Not Your Average Sunday Ride
The criterium is no longer held, and the Ride no longer takes in the Texas Hill Country to the west of Austin. Instead it flows out to the flat and rolling terrain northeast of Austin, passing through the small town of Elgin. I did the 70-mile ride last year through a wonderful display of March wildflowers. This year’s October date interfered less with Lance’s tour preparations. A long Indian summer (in Texas that means high 80s temperatures) was rudely interrupted on ride day, when a cold front brought temperatures in the 50s, a 15 mph wind, and gusts up to 30 mph. The start turned into a display of both stylish and improvised cold weather cycling gear.

Chris Brewer is Lance's webmaster, and a big supporter as well.

I opted for the back of the open flatbed media truck, which followed Lance and his friends on their 40-mile fun and publicity ride. This was no pansy co-out. The media truck was a bit like a peloton, with jostling among colleagues for position and much crouching and maneuvering for aerodynamic efficiency. I joked that we should be the ones with the helmets, as the ride became like a tennis match on the small back roads, with us looking ahead for oncoming oak limbs, then behind for photo ops. Finally we stopped at the cancer survivors rest stop in Elgin, where Lance did a whirlwind meet-and-greet, eating cookies, signing books, posing with groups, chatting with survivors and volunteers, then getting back on his bike.

After interviewing Tyler and snapping a few photos, I walked back towards the media truck. I looked down to see a bicycle wheel at my feet. I stepped back and awkwardly moved the same way the bike went, then stepped further back to see Lance balancing on his bike as he moved away from the gazebo full of fans. I said, “Sorry!” He said, “That’s okay!” and rode off down the road with comrades in pursuit. There I was, the human musette, almost knocking over the Man on his big day. Lance seems pretty good at balancing racing and cancer patient support, also. Something tells me it will take a lot more than a dorky journalist to knock Lance off his route, whether it be a sixth Tour win or the coming decades of work against cancer. Vive la Lance – et Vive Les Amis de Lance! – all 6,000 of them!

Jim Hoyt, owner of the Richardson Bike Mart near Dallas (pictured above), has known Lance since he was 7 years old: "When he was first doing criteriums, my wife Rhonda would say, "Go Lance", and he would go and lap the field for her." Jim attended the Tour the last five years: "This year I got there for the Pyrenees, and the next morning he won (at Luz Ardiden). I lost a $1,000 bet on the (Pornic) time trial, though. It went to a charity in Wisconsin. We had been in a winery that afternoon. A little bit of liquid courage got mixed in with my emotion." Jim also attended the Hamilton World Championships to see another local protйgй, Patrick McCarty, whom he's known since he was 12.

Tour Of Hope Lance is truly dedicated to helping find a cure for cancer, and spent Oct. 11-18 supporting, the Tour of Hope, a cross-country relay of teams of amateur cyclists with ties to the cancer community. Breast surgeon Doreen Wiggins is a mother of four who cycled the Alps stages as she followed the 2001 Tour with her husband. Yet even that experience could not prepare her 1pm-4pm and 1am- 4am shifts of the Tour of Hope. Nocturnal wildlife made a distinct impression, especially when she ran over several Texas rattlesnakes: "It was pitch black and you couldn't see anything, so it was quite the moment when you came across one. It was like, eeeeek! Once there was a rat eating a rattlesnake in the middle of the road. All your other senses heightened because it was dark, you could smell the smells more, you could hear more, you just became more focused."

Lance joined each squad at some point on the Tour of Hope, including jumping on a red eyeplane to make a 5:45am ride in New Mexico, and riding night stages. Fellow team member Patrick Reilly related: "It was 11 o‚clock at night, we came around a corner, and a group of kids had Tour of Hope signs at a corner gas station in Viscuta, Illinois. They had gotten wind that we were coming through their small town, but they didn't know that Lance was going to be there. One of them says, "Oh my god, it's Lance Armstrong!‚ Suddenly the entire group starts running across the parking lot chasing them, "Oh my god, he's really here!‚ Even Lance got a kick out of out it."

Each squad on the team had a Carmichael Training Systems coach, which made a huge difference. Patrick was previously a 15-18 mph recreational rider, but he could hang with a local team at 25- 26 mph by the end of his training. He was still in awe of Lance's distinctive "back and forth" take-off when he and Lance's friends rode with him: "Every time they saw a county or city limits sign, they would take off racing. The acceleration was amazing."

The Tour of Hope promoted clinical trial research, while the Lance Armstrong Foundation supports a broader set of projects, including a gripping PBS film series on children with cancer and their families scheduled for airing in 2005. Sally Reed is chair of the Foundation's mission message center, providing emotional support for those going through cancer. Sally didn't have such support when she went through breast cancer: "That‚s why I'm such an advocate. Whoa, I really needed this. Someone who's been diagnosed needs something like this, absolutely. You're seeing the baby part of this. The birth of the resource center. It's going to be phenomenal."

Get more info on the Ride For The Rose at the Lance Armstrong Foundation website:


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