Racing with the stars in Curacao

Editor’s note: This story, written by Edmund Hood, originally appears at Pez Cycling News.

“We’ve said it before; if the stars are out, Pez won’t be far away. The recent Amstel exhibition race on the Caribbean island of Curaçao, was contested by the likes of Mark Cavendish and Thor Hushovd – with Alberto Contador running out as winner. American Patrick Lyons was on the scene, mingling and racing with the stars. Here’s what he had to say…

PEZ: A little background on you first, please, Patrick?
Patrick: I’ve been a cycling journalist since 2005. Prior to that, I have been involved in cycling since 1980. I raced a few seasons in Europe in the mid 80’s with some moderate success. I competed for the Military during my enlistment in the Army.

After that, I was a pro for two seasons with the now defunct National Cycling League; which was a city based professional criterium league that had a lot of potential but kind of fizzled out. Since then, I have competed in the World Police & Fire games in 2001 and had a top 20 placing.

PEZ: How did you land such a tasty gig?
Patrick: I interviewed the promoter Leo Van Vliet in 2005, and he invited me to the race.

PEZ: Tell us a little about Curaçao.
Patrick: Curacao is 45 miles north of Venezuela in the Caribbean Sea. It’s the ‘C’ island of the ‘ABC’ chain. The island is 38 miles long and approximately 7 miles wide. Year-round average temperature is 81 degrees. The terrain varies a fair bit across the island. The majority of the island’s residents speak Papiamentu, which is a Creole language influenced by Portuguese, English, Spanish, and Dutch. The capital is Willemstad.

PEZ: How did the race come to be?
Patrick: Leo had spent time in Curacao in the past and with his relationship with Amstel in Europe he was able to continue their involvement by promoting a race that featured the big stars. It’s good for tourism on the island and the riders get an opportunity for a working holiday with their fans.

PEZ: Who chooses the field?
Patrick: Leo Van Vliet, the promoter. He also promotes the Amstel Gold Race. Leo also has won 2 stages of the Tour de France & Gent-Wevelgem during a very sucessful career. Last year, he was named Coach of the Dutch Professional Squad for the World Championships.

PEZ: Did Lance get an invite?
Patrick: Yes but could not attend due to prior engagements. Plus it would have been a little awkard with Bert being there.

PEZ: What’s the course like?
Patrick: There were actually 2 races this year. The first one was the Jan Theil Criterium at the Zanzibar Beach & Resort (won by Tour hero, Kenny Van Hummel of Skil.) That course was a 1.8 km circuit with a very fast descent and a false flat climb up the back stretch.

The Amstel Curacao Race is an 80 km out and back course that features a climb of the Grote Berg, the highest point on the island, and a climb over the Queens bridge that spans the harbor in the Capital city Willemstad. A lot of heat, wind usually accompanied with rain and rough road conditions.

PEZ: Is there a good crowd, are they enthusiastic?
Patrick: It’s the biggest sporting event on the island of each year. Fans come from around the world to spectate and participate in the race. It’s also covered by Television in Europe and a live radio broadcast on the island. So the answer is YES they are enthusiastic. The climb up the Grote Berg is like a TDF mountain stage with crowds packing the road on both sides and you ride up through a tunnel of screaming fans. Pretty cool.

PEZ: Are there decent standard local riders?
Patrick: Yes; the two big hitters on the island are Quentin Winkle and Barry Bakker. But you can see the difference between the Europeans and the local riders.

PEZ: How serious is it?
Patrick: For the pros, it’s a working holiday of sorts. But for the local amateurs, it sets the pecking order and bragging rights for the next season. The amazing thing is that you get to race with all of the stars that you see in the magazines and Television. It’s the ultimate fantasy for a club racer.

PEZ: You finished top 20.
Patrick: In the Jan Thiel Criterium yes; I had a very good day.

PEZ: Did you get to ‘hang with the stars?’ Who’s coolest?
Patrick: The coolest thing about the event is that you get to interact with the riders in a way that would be impossible during the season at the high pressure World Cup events. As far as the coolest, that’s tough. I’ve met some of my cycling heroes over the past few seasons, Francesco Moser, Johan Van Der Velde, just to name a few. But of the current riders, Frank and Andy Schleck along with their agent Orlando Van Den Bosche are by far the coolest. Mountain bike star, Bart Brentjens, is also extremely down to earth and cool.

PEZ: Who’s the best swimmer?
Patrick: From what I hear, it’s Frank Schleck. But they are all amazing athletes.

PEZ: Who looks least scrawny, with his shirt off?
Patrick: Tom Boonen by far is the most buff of the crowd and Thor Hushvold is pretty thick.

PEZ: Was there much scuttle butt about Alberto/Astana and Brad/Sky?
Patrick: No, there was no real talk about the business end of the sport. While all the rumors were circulating, about money and contracts, Contador was swimming with the dolphins. I’m guessing he’s pretty confident of his financial future.

PEZ: How many years younger do wish you were?
Patrick: I’m 45 now; it would have been nice to get a result like this at 25-30. But just being part of it the past 5 years is enough. I’ve made my bones.”

The Cuba of the 1930’s

A tour of the city of Havana, Cuba in the 1930s filmed by Andre de la Varre. Just a quick glance of their YouTube page shows travelogues from Argentina, NYC, and even Travel by Air.

Garden of the Gods

If You’re in the OOC Testing Pool and USADA Asks You to Update Them on Your Whereabouts…

So, first arrives via email a gentle reminder that the deadline to submit whereabouts info is approaching, and I’ve yet to submit mine… Despite Todd Wells’s complaining to the contrary (he gets paid enough that he should be able to handle this not-so-herculean task), at least in the USA it’s all pretty easy, friendly and professional; after awhile I’d even become Facebook friends with the Doping Control Officer (DCO) who collected my samples, so often did we interact professionally. Of course, it’s possible that if the DCO is jerk, the sample collection process could be tense and unpleasant (just as it would be if the athlete was a scheissekopf). But if you have a DCO who is “cool” at best, or professional at worst, and you’re not a stronzo, it actually is about as pleasant an exchange as could be expected. I remember one time while trying to hydrate enough to pee (using BEER of course, which the DCO refused when I politely offered him a bottle – I think it was a Chimay or some other Belgian trappist), we were listening to new music on Itunes and he was giving me music suggestions while my kidneys and bladder did their stuff.

[Note to USADA: DCO’s like the guy you send to collect my samples are the kind of people to continue to employ! Not, by comparison, someone like the Euro-tester who broke Kevin van Impe’s balls. The Quick Step rider was at a crematorium in Lochristi, Belgium when a drug tester showed up demanding the rider provide a sample, and warned that he would face a two-year suspension if he refused…] So then you gotta hustle over to the USADA website and log-in.

Lots of good, supplemental info. I’ll give USADA credit…they certainly play fair with athletes if there is no violation to adjudicate! No complaints about the website and the material available therein.

Then you’re into the inner sanctum. At least they tell you what you need to know in order to make the process go smoothly. SWEET! The system will pre-populate for me!

Now there is still a lot left to do, but I’m tired. But I’m trying to show all the fans out there that I personally am playing fair (even though I’m just training right now with no competitions scheduled), I’m not an hijo de puta, I’m trying to walk the straight and narrow, USADA is not the nefarious organization that Floyd Landis and co. have made it out to be, etc. I really wanna go to bed so I’m going to hold off on filing my Q3 info until later. If you want to see more of that process, let me know…I’m happy to share. The only hard part for me is remembering to update my whereabouts when my schedule changes…

I envision being out one night in say, Miami, and connecting with some beautiful Latina named Sandra and going back to her place, only to realize at some point later during the night, “Hijo de puta! I have to update my USADA whereabouts because if I don’t it’s guaranteed that tomorrow will be the day they show up at my house at 6AM to control me and I’ll be curled up in a bed here and not at the address that is listed on my form! Now how the frakk do I use the SMS-feature to update USADA? [The ‘mood’ is killed and several minutes pass as I plod through my BlackBerry trying to find the note I took for myself on the topic of remote updates via text, for just this occasion.] Finally, I figure it out, and then ask, in a manner that will always be awkward no matter when or how it is phrased, “Oye, mi amor, que es tu dirección? Necesito avisar a mis reguladores en USADA que si mañana vengan a las 6 de la mañana para pedir que hago peepee, ellos deben pasar por aca en vez de mi casa. No te preocupes! Soy ex-deportista infame y la gente tiene ganas de saber con quién ando! Ellos son como mi propia Papparazzi!”

Thanks for reading, folks. But before I go, please let me give a tip of the hat to Tanya L. for her love of Chimay, my cousin Robert for manning-up, defending his PD’s honor and finally trying a Chimay, D.S., for significant consulting services rendered on an upcoming cycling-related project, and Phil I., for keeping me entertained with stories from OZ.

But alas, before I go, there is a wag of the finger to a certain Charlie…it is easy to speak ill of someone when they are not present, but to do so repeatedly, in the presence of friends and acquaintances of he who you seek to malign, is disappointing and embarrassing – for you. Even the walls have ears (and sometimes , like Davide Rebellin learned much to his horror in 2001.). What do you get out of incessantly bad mouthing someone? I knew a guy who once was so desperate to win a race in Gotham that he offered this other guy a lot of money to sell him the win. The other guy, who had already been corrupted by the sport to some degree, incongruously still thought it unethical to buy and sell races, so he politely declined, yet never mocked the rider who ultimately finished a dejected third in front of his big money sponsor. And he certainly didn’t expose him publicly for being a fraud who would criminally seek to cause a race to finish in a way other than on its merits. While the guy who won was no saint, neither was the guy in third, and what was worse was that he didn’t seem to realize that he stood only to ruin his reputation for having violated this rule:

1Q2.General Misconduct. The following offenses may be punished by suspension or lesser penalties: (a) Acts of theft, fraud or grossly unsportsmanlike conduct in conjunction with a sporting event; (b) Entering competition under an assumed name; (c) Offering, conspiring, or attempting to cause any race to result otherwise than on its merits.”

I am required by USADA to submit the information discussed in the pages above because I violated significant rules, codes of ethics, tenets of socially accepted behavior and the codes of honor and morality under which I was raised and educated. I pay the price for my serious errors in judgment every day, but I do my best to hang-on and fight towards arriving at a time and a place in the future where the events of 2006-2007 will no longer exert such a negative influence on my waking hours. I saw a lot of stuff on the bike – not the kind of horror experienced by soldiers on the battlefield – but cycling’s own unique forms of corruption and destruction and betrayal and hate and violence and criminality and duplicity and pettiness and scorn. And yet it took place across the backdrop of some of the most beautiful places in the world, through fields of flowers in ” Pescia, Italy (click through on that link if you can), along the Caribbean, through the Alps, across the pampas of Argentina, here in Pittsburgh, apparently in New York City and even in Wyoming of all places. And I still love to ride my bike.

I’m sorry to those who I disappointed, I lament that I deprived your of diaries that some of you found to be entertaining for what I conveyed outside of the race; I’m sorry to those clean riders – wherever you were – who didn’t finish in the money…I’m contrite. I’m paying my dues more than you know. I’m happy to fill out USADA’s forms and share with them what I knew about former teammates and squads and riders from Chile to Cesenatico to China. I can’t control what people say behind my back, and I have little time these days to waste swatting away the juvenile insults that seem so popular with the the bike groupies.

What’s Important?

For years it was being quick on a bike and living hard and fast for the moment. It’s taken two-plus years without the bike to peel away dozens of onion-like layers to reveal what was at the core of that obsession with cycling, and why it became so easy to resort to drastic measures to stay competitive. It’s also more clear to me why the thought of leaving the sport for a normal job (if you can call being a diplomat or a spook “normal”) was so unthinkable…and something so scary to contemplate. Who says running away has to be done à pied?

Perhaps more on this to come sometime in the future, either in this blog or a book. But until then – stay frosty. I’m off to Ohio tomorrow to visit a sick relative and pass spectrally through my old, old ‘hood.