The pro season is over and Paul is back at home on his ranch/ goldmine in Uganda Africa. (I didn’t know where it was either, so I checked the map.) It’s early November and Paul is enjoying home after about 150 days of reporting cycling races around the world. I got the time zone wrong and ended up dialing Paul about 3 hours after our appointed meeting time. Luckily I got him (for the first time) as he was driving home at 11:00 PM on Saturday nite, after an evening of fireworks celebrating a 300 year old English tradition of trying to blow up parliament.
Luckily, Paul is no stranger to unusual interview times, as he once held court around a campfire near his home in Uganda for a story in Cycle Sport. I have to share the first part of our chat with Paul’s 5 year old son Alexander, and his friend Damian.
The PEZ-Crew and I had compiled a list of questions we know you want answers to, but as we started talking, the conversation took on a life and direction of its own. Before long we’d talked for an hour and an half, on topics like how big Africa really is, the behaviour of typical Ugandan boys, car bombs, his buddy Phil, and – oh yeah – bike racing.
Talking to Paul is a lot like watching him on tv, except that you get to ask the questions. He answers them with his characteristic emphasis and pronunciations that have become so distinct to cycling fans.
PEZ: Thanks for agreeing to speak with us, and I’m pleased that you’d even heard of us!
Paul: Oh yeah… I’ve seen your site, I saw the article you did on Phil as well
Paul stops the car to drop off his son’s friend…
Paul: Boys ! Just typical Uganda boys, climbing in through the car window…that’s the way we do it here… about 30 seconds north of the equator.
INTO and Out Of AFRICA
Uganda seems like an unusual place to find a cycling personality, especially since the cycling scene there is almost no-existant. Although Paul mentioned the local mtb scene is picking up, even if it is just riding over the potholes in the roads…
PEZ: So how did you get from Britain to Africa?
Paul: “Well, my dad was an industrial chemist, who came out to Africa in the 1960’s, and we were dragged along, and grew up and went to school here in Uganda and Kenya. We returned to the UK when my dad’s contract was up. Hemingway once wrote: “a man who has lived in Africa has Africa in the blood.” And it’s completely true, if you’ve grown up in this place it’s very very difficult to leave.”
Paul’s wife is American from South Carolina, and together they have a 5 year old son Alexander (who is English tonite, but is sometimes American or African depending on when and who asks him) and a little girl who’s 6 months old, named Margaux- like the famous chateau. Paul met Katherine when she worked for ABC Sports on the Tour de France for 5-6 years.
Paul loves talking about his home: “One thing I’d be really interested for your readers to understand is how big Africa is. The USA would fit into Africa 3-1/2 times!”
PEZ: How much of Africa have you seen?
Paul: I’ve seen a hell of a lot of east Africa – Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, Egypt, across the border into Congo.
PEZ: I think we have a perception over here that Africa is still a lawless land, where people are killing each other left right and center…
Paul: Oh, you’re talking about Los Angeles? (laughter…)
Paul continues: “The sad thing about Africa is that if there’s one bad incident that happens in the whole of Africa, then the whole continent is tarnished…People talk to me about what happening in Zimbabwe, well it’s 3 hours away by plane! It would take you 8-9 hours to fly from Capetown to Cairo. But in some aspects it still is the wild west – 100 km from here there are elephants and lions, and guys walking around butt-naked with spears… But tonite in the city here, I could take you out to have a risotto porcini if you want and very nice glass of wine.
“I’m quite happy to live up on the mine in the bush…I’m sitting on the veranda of my house right now, and although it’s dark, there’s a full moon and I can actually see Lake Victoria – about 5 km away from where I’m sitting. It’s twice the size of Holland.
“We have two rainy seasons and two hot seasons, we’re actually right now When it rains here you get 2 inches in a night, in fact a couple of hours – torrential tropical downpours.
“The gold mine that I run is about 140 acres, and I have a 1929 house in town, which we got when my son got to be school age.
Bike Racing, Riding, and Having Fun
PEZ: What got you interested in bike racing as a youngster?
Paul: Well., I didn’t actually get interested in bike “racing” to begin with. I got interested in bike “riding” because when we went back to England, I wanted to get out into the countryside, so the bike was a vehicle to get out into the country, and I started riding further and further and eventually started doing 100 miles a day…I basically joined a club initially to do tourist riding, and then I rode a few small events. I was never really very good until I got to university and got a coach an d started riding a lot better.
PEZ: When you turned pro, was cycling something you still enjoyed doing and had “fun” at?
Paul: I think for most professionals it is fun riding a bike, there’s a lot of freedom to it. I think that initially for quite a lot of the Americans that came over, they didn’t have that love of riding the bike. That’s one thing about Lance Armstrong in the second part of his career I suppose… to begin with, training was a real chore for him. Then I think he learned to “enjoy” riding the bike. That’s a real important thing because if you can’t enjoy riding the bike, you won’t be able to put in the real hard days training, when it’s pissing down rain, and snowing. The thing about riding a bike, is there is a kind of true escapism, because you can get away from everything, and it actually gives you time to think and plan to do other things…
Here in Africa driving is a challenge. The roads can be dangerous with potholes, and uncontrolled trucks, but I actually enjoy driving because it gives you time to get away and to think and work things out…
PEZ: How much riding are you getting in these days?
Paul: I don’t ride a bike here very much at all. It varies, this year actually I hardly touched my bike at all because I had a hernia operation in the early part of the year… Here in Africa I don’t ride at all. If I do ride it’s in the States or the UK.
PEZ: Do you get a chance to ride when you’re covering the Tour or Giro?
Paul: We actually cover the Giro from Conneticut, so Liggs and I get a couple of bikes and we go riding together. He likes to thrash me (laughter). Phil rides a lot.
Getting Bombed In Spain
Our own PEZ Spanish Bureau – Alastair Hamilton used to work as a mechanic on the Raleigh-Banana team in the UK that Paul managed, and had a few good questions…
A: Did you ever get over the loss of your pen knife when it got blown up by the ETA?
Paul: hahahaha! I was very lucky because a lady who was a friend of my wife worked for Credit Suisse, and she actually replaced it for me. I love knives.
Paul fills us in on the story: “It was 1992 Tour de France, Phil and I were staying in a small town just outside of San Sebastien, and the Basques Separatists put an incendiary device under our vehicle, and blew it up. Phil, to this day, claims that he was very happy about the fact that my cd collection was destroyed…I like quite a lot of blues, but my musical taste is quite wide and varied. The knife was one of those large Swiss Army ones… called the “Champ.” Today I carry and use the Swiss Army “Tool”.
Once again we’re interrupted by he events of parenthood, and Paul asks: “Could you call me back in about 5 minutes? I’ve just arrived home and I need to put my little boy in bed, then I’m free to talk…” Hmm, he’s acting just like a regular dad!
And on that note we’ll also take a break – and be back with Part 2 on Thrusday. – ed.