Spandex ya’ll

So not quite as timely as AGMA had hoped after my last post, but an improvement (if I do say so myself…)  Two posts in one month is promising.

But I had a VERY good reason why I am not posting until now….

Regular readers can probably guess.

Maybe.

Or have no clue.

Hints:

  1. AGMA hasn’t been able to travel internationally since March 2020.
  2. It’s July.
  3. The biggest cycling race of the year takes place in July.
  4. The biggest cycling race of the year takes place my very favorite country to visit (think wine, cheese and baguettes.).  The country of Monet, Édith Piaf, and Pepé Le Pew

YES!!

AGMA put my mask on, got on an airplane, and flew across the pond to see my boys in spandex.  

Viva la France!

It was like a religious experience.  

I had a 2 week trip planned in July 2020 to see the last week of the Tour de France plus see some other sights, but we all know how that turned out.  We barricaded ourselves in our homes (other than those who moved from Atlanta to Chicago…) in hopes of keep the contagion sweeping across the globe from landing on us.  It was a time of grave concern for our friends, family and country made worse by the total ineptitude of The Fat Orange Virus in the White House and his enablers. 

The cancellation of a pleasure trip seemed inconsequential given the ever increasing numbers in ICUs and funeral homes.

Fast forward to early June, 2021.  AGMA is healthy and fully vaccinated.  France is opening up to vaccinated American tourists in mid-June.  I’ve been watching European cycling events all spring on my laptop via a VPN (a way to get around geo-restrictions on cycling events.)

AGMA sensed a perfect storm!

I casually say to Hubs, “Would you mind if I went to France in July for a week to watch some of the Tour?” 

“Nope…”

I made my airline reservations that night.

AGMA knows the Delta variant is surging in parts of France.  But I also know that masks are mandatory pretty much in every inside space and on any form of transport there.  Hey – I survived COVID in the US when we had a “president” who wanted us to drink/inject bleach.  I felt confident I would be okay.

And it was wonderful!

Without boring those who don’t really care about the Tour de France (I will never understand you, but I still love you!), my first 2 days were spent in a town – 3 train rides away from CDG airport – called Libourne in the Bordeaux region.  It’s a charming town right on the beautiful Dordogne River, which was quite high and flowing quite fast because of all of the rain in Europe the previous 2 weeks.  Think those horrific, deadly floods in Belgium & the Netherlands.  The theme of high, fast flowing rivers followed me on my trip (both in Paris and Lyon.)

The main shopping street in Libourne
City Hall in Libourne
The very high Saône River in Lyon

Damn climate change.

I was in Libourne for the end of stage 19 and the beginning of stage 20 of the Tour de France.  Because stage 20 was a time trial and riders took off individually with a minute between each rider, I had a wonderful opportunity to see all the riders up close and personal.  I positioned myself near the beginning of the TT and close to one of the broadcasting cameras.  And some of my friends saw me on TV!

You can say you knew AGMA when…

Before all the riders had taken off, I had to hustle to catch my trains back to Paris.  The next day was the stage 21; the ride into Paris. 

On Sunday, July 18th, I went through the vaccination verification check near the Arc de Triomphe to scout a spot to watch the riders do their 8 circuits on the Champs-Élysée.  AGMA found a group of Danish fans who spoke excellent English and I settled in for the 4 hour wait until the riders showed up.

You do some very strange things for love…

Wout van Aert (Belgium) won the stage, Tadej Pogačar (Solvenia) won the yellow jersey (overall winner), the polka dot jersey (best climber), and the white jersey (best young rider). A cycling superstar at 22!

And Mark Cavandish (England), at 36, a sprinter that most people felt was way beyond his prime and the ability compete with the world’s best, won the Green jersey (best sprinter.)  And not only did he snag the Green jersey, but (and this is a WAY BIGGER deal!) tied the record of Eddy Merckx for most stages won EVER in the Tour de France.

I need a cigarette now….

What did AGMA do in France after the TdF you ask?  

I walked.  I walked for 5.5 hours in the Louvre.  I walked for hours all over Paris.  I walked more hours all over Lyon.  Hours and hours.  My new technowonder Alexa Echo watch told me that I averaged 19,000 steps a day for the 7 days I was gone.  Honestly, I didn’t know these stumpy legs had it in them.

And (this is really TMI so look away if you tend to be queasy) AGMA sweated.  Buckets.  It was hot in France.  The heat combined with hours of walking outside in the sun exacerbated by being in buildings that were supposed to be air conditioned, but…ummm…not really.  Buckets.  

It was kinda gross.

In Lyon, which is a WONDERFUL city by the way, AGMA had a COVID test per US requirements to go home.  I was negative so I had to leave the next day.

But the cherry on top of the trip was the flight home.  It was a Air France direct flight from Paris to Chicago.  And it was nearly empty. 

E.M.P.T.Y.

I was in the first cabin in economy (being the value traveler that I am.) There were 78 seats in the cabin.  There were 14 people in the cabin.  AGMA became the undisputed queen of row 20, and was able to lie totally flat to nap on the 4 middle seats.   And they gave me champagne with dinner and cognac after dinner.  

The perfect way to end a most unusual, exhausting, amazing, sweaty trip!

Viva la France!

Goats who dance

goats

On any given day of the week, you will find me hard at work on AGMA in my favorite coffee shop, Dancing Goats Coffee Bar.

Seriously, how can it be anything less than awesome with a name like Dancing Goats?

When I decided to start AGMA (the blog) in December of 2013, I knew I couldn’t write at home. Home was not the place to birth AGMA – too much cat hair.

I needed excitement.  I needed inspiration. I needed a place full of diverse, interesting people. I needed the stimulation of hipster surrounds.  Because AGMA – the blog and the person – is nothing if it isn’t hipster.

But most of all, I needed great coffee.

Not sure how I found Dancing Goats. It’s about 4 miles from my house so I must pass at least 6 other coffee shops on the way here. But it’s located in Decatur, GA which is a liberal enclave in the very red area surrounding Atlanta. It’s also close to world class Emory University and the all-women Agnes Scott College. DG is quite large inside with lots of seats, natural light and great wifi.

And they have great coffee.

Many a time, AGMA has come to Dancing Goats write with no clue as to what I was was going to write.  And many a time, DG has come to the rescue, providing the most interesting source material in the world – human beings. Something I see or hear will flip a rusty switch in my brain.  Actually, they’re all rusty.

Dancing Goats has provided many ah ha moments.

And did I mention they have great coffee?

My favorite seat at the high counters by the windows. On the wide end. There are 4 of them in the shop. It’s hard to explain….

During the school year, it gets really crowded. Sometimes I have to sit somewhere else. This is very definitely a 1st world problem.  But AGMA can’t seem to write as well as I can in one of the four favored seats.

Today I’m in one of the four.

This could be a Freshly Pressed post in the making.

I’ve met incredibly interesting people at DG. College professors, graduate students working on their doctorates, film industry folks, foreign visitors, business types, harried moms with their toddlers… All ages, colors, shapes and what ever else you can think of. Like I said, human beings.

…who all love great coffee.

And today, I was reminded just how much I love the staff here.

They’re normally stellar and recognize their “regulars”. AGMA tries to come once a week so I think that qualifies me as a regular…

And did I mention they make great expresso drinks?

Today, as I was ordering my mocha (fyi, AGMA is a mocha whore), the young lady behind the counter asked, “Is that a Tour de France shirt you’re wearing?”

I was stunned.  This woman was my very favorite person in the world at that moment!

“Why yes!” I said excitedly, “It starts tomorrow you know!” And I proceeded to show her the Tour de France logo on the sleeve.

“It’s official Tour de France merchandise.”

Yes, boys and girls… YES!!!

It’s what AGMA longs for 48 weeks of the year. It’s 21 days of sheer joy and delight. It’s the time of year where you will find me glued to the television (or my phone if I have to be out and about) every morning for 3 hours. It’s the biggest, most grueling annual athletic event in the world with the best athletes in the world. (Yeah – I said it…)

It’s the Tour de France!!!

(crickets)

For those of you who are relatively new to AGMA, I have this recently acquired inexplicable passion for professional men’s elite cycling. I just LOVE watching it. And it’s not the tight spandex suits these very fit young men wear.

Butt it doesn’t hurt.

I had the thrill of actually being there twice in the past 5 years, and it’s an experience like no other. It’s pretty much the best party ever!

Imagine that you are a fanatic football fan and get to go to the Super Bowl, or a crazed college basketball fan and get to go the the NCAA finals. Or (very timely) a serious soccer fan and get to go to the World Cup finals.

SSSSSSCCCCCCOOOOOORRRRRREEEEEE!

That’s what it’s like for AGMA.

They guesstimate that, in 2016, between 10 to 12 million fans lined the roadsides in France over the Tour’s 3 week duration.

It’s really a sad that, once Lance Armstrong fell from grace (as he should have),  American interest in cycling shriveled up like Cadet Bonespur’s winkie.

But that’s another post (on the state of American cycling, NOT CB’s winkie…)

AGMA will try very hard to find time to post over the next three weeks, but I’m making no guarantees.

I’m going to be very busy managing my four – countem’, FOUR – TdF fantasy cycling teams. I’ll report how well my teams did in August.

AGMA knows you’ll be holding your breath until then.  Naturally.

Watch out world, the SpandexAvengers are on the loose!!

I need a cigarette…

H-E-L-L Ohhhhh

11.10 Bicycle Hell (from "Puck")
Source: Library of Congress
Format: RGB tiffAGMA’s going to hell.

I’ve made that declaration in the past, but now I’m sure of it…

All thanks to that once a year sporting event that to me, is like catnip to a cat. Like an empty New Jersey public beach to Chris Christie on the 4th of July. Like a Mar a Lago chocolate cake to tRump.

In other words…totally irresistible no matter how fat you are.

I’m speaking, of course, of my totally inexplicable obsession with men’s elite cycling, espeically the Tour de France.

This year, AGMA has three TdF fantasy teams. I spent hours pouring over rider data on procyclingstats.com.

I agonized over whether I should have more GC riders than sprinters. Or more sprinters than punchy Classics riders. Or visa versa? Should I have a time trial specialist? Should I look for a ‘dark horse’ rider to emerge out of the peloton to do great things?

It was harrowing.

But the real trouble started when I shelled out $39.99 for NBC Sports Gold Cycling coverage. Live streaming coverage to your phone, laptop or tablet, unlimited replays, special features and over 30 hours of extra coverage. And the live streaming includes both commercial free coverage with some Thunder from Down Under commentators or the NBCSN coverage with commercials.

“Why would anybody choose the streaming coverage with commercials over commercial free?”, you ask?

Oh dear ones, you have so much to learn…

Because TdF announcing royalty, the Harry Caray and Vin Scully of cycling, Phil Liggett (73) and Paul Sherwen (61) are announcing on NBCSN. They do the commercial world wide English language coverage (except in Australia I guess) and are cycling announcing icons.

Plus you get to hear the NBC team of Bobke Roll, Christian Vande Velde, Steve Porino, Steve Schlanger and, my favorite retired cyclist of all time, Jens Voigt.

Be still my heart.

Numerous times in the past several weeks, AGMA’s had my cell phone propped up on the outside of our glass shower enclosure while the bluetooth speaker blasts Phil and Paul (and all of the commercials.)  I did this today as a matter of fact. God forbid I miss any of the action while I’m showering.

But this is a huge improvement over past years when I tried to shower and get ready in the morning during the commercial breaks.

We’ve never, ever had a TV in our bedroom so I would have to run up and down the stairs during the commercials. Round about 4 days into the race, AGMA moved my toiletries and hairdryer down to our 1st floor powder room so I could finish getting ready within ear shot of the race call.

But no more.

AGMA’s free to go where I want to do what I want and not miss a minute of the action as long as I have my phone.  I love technology!

I had a MRI scheduled a few weeks ago. I checked in, then settled into a comfy seat in the waiting room with my phone and earbuds. Based on past experience, I thought I had a good 20 minute wait at least before they called me back.  They called AGMA back 5 minutes later.

Seriously?

But the worst, and the reason I’m pretty sure I’m doomed, is that I’ve been watching the Tour in church. During mass.

H-E-L-L

I have my muted phone on the bench beside me sort of covered up with my sweater. But I only glance over a few times to see where things stand. As I told a friend, “I only watch during the Psalm singing and the offering hymn. Nothing’s really happening then anyway.” He burst out laughing.

H-E-L-L

But as Luther Ingram sang, “If loving you is wrong, I don’t want to be right.” And I DO love my boys in spandex!

Sadly, my fantasy teams are not doing well. A combination of riders dropping out of the Tour for various reasons and just plain stupid team selections have got me in the middle of the pack in most of my leagues. Not bad, but not the top 5% finish AGMA had last year in the Velogames league.

First world problem.

Stage 16 went off today. Australian Michael “Bling” Matthews won with a brilliant Team Sunweb plan and fabulous team support. He’s also very close to taking the Green Jersey away from German Marcel Kittel.

I can hear you now.

ZZZZzzzz….

But, mercifully for you, it’s all over soon.

Sunday is Stage 21. They finish on the Champs Elysees in Paris. It’ll be so exciting! It always is.

Then Monday. Monday. Monday starts PTDFM (post-Tour de France malaise)

Back to the present. Back to the news. Back to reality.

And back down the rabbit hole with the Family Von Trump.

H-E-L-L

Batsh*t Crazy Part III

archdetri

I don’t want to whine, but it’s lonely being a Tour de France fan.

Most people don’t understand why the hell you watch it.  And they sure don’t want to hear about what happened on yesterday’s action packed stage that you are bursting to share with somebody. Anybody.  Hello….

You end up talking to the barista at Starbucks or the checkout person at Target.  They’re at work; they can’t walk away from you. Captive audiences.  Maybe I should go to some cycling shops to “browse”.  When one of the employees asks if they can help me, I can say, “How about the stage of the Tour yesterday?  Crazy, right?”

Not just crazy.  It’s batsh*t crazy.

So, the great thing about my trip to France last year was that I was surrounded by people with the same obsession.  They know who the riders are and what teams they’re on.  And what a GC rider and a peloton is.  And, most important, they know that the English language television announcers of the Tour are like rock stars!

Yeah – rock stars.

Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin are the Tour announcers who broadcast to all English speaking countries.  Bob Roll, or “Bobke”, is a former American professional cyclist who augments – along with a couple of other guys – the broadcast for American audiences.  All 37 of us.  R-O-C-K S-T-A-R-S!

I had my picture taken with all three.  Now just let that it sink in.

It happened this way children…  On that first fateful day of my TdF experience last year – Stage 17 in Chorges, France – remember, just when I though things could not get any better?  They did.  Both are long stories – blah, blah, blah.  But I got to meet Bobke and Paul. This is a big deal and the 36 other people in the US who are cycling fans understand this.

These guys, along with all of the other media type folks and broadcast vans from all over the world, are behind an impenetrable fortress of chain link fencing at each stage finish.  No credentials = no access.  Without access, it’s hard to stalk…eh…talk to you’re favorite “rock star” announcers.

Honestly, it was dumb luck.  It was being in the right place at the right time.  Twice.  It was being bold enough to holler “Hello!” Asking if they’d mind getting their picture taken with you.  Granted, the pictures are with them on one side of the chain link fence and me on the other, but I’m getting the “shoulder touch” from both.    R-O-C-K S-T-A-R-S.

Our group went on to watch three other stages in the French Alps.  I couldn’t even get close to the media area for me to try to stalk…eh…find Phil Liggett, the missing link in my triumvirate of cycling broadcast gods.

Then, quite unexpectedly, in Paris, the amazing city of lights, magic happened. Ah Paris!

Stage 21 of the 100th edition of the Tour de France.  The cyclists were going to be coming into Paris at dusk.  It was 90 degrees F at 9AM.

To kill time, I decided to walk down the entire Champs Elysees from the Arch d’Triumph to the Place de la Concorde.  Wanted to “soak” up the TdF experience.  It was hot, humid and crowded.  I was soaking it up alright…

Almost at the end of my walk, by the media trucks and busses, BEFORE of the chain link fence was erected, I spied HIM.  It was Phil out in the open – no credentials needed.  He was a sitting duck! I walked up to him and babbled like a tweener meeting Davy Jones at a 1968 Monkees concert.   Some nice bystander took a picture of us.  Got the “shoulder touch” again.  Yeah – that’s right.  I needed a cigarette. I don’t smoke.

The fence eventually went up, the cyclists arrived, the Arch d’Triumph lit up, the awards given and it was over.  It would have been a serious let down if I hadn’t stayed in Paris 10 more days…  Ah Paris!

The 2014 Tour de France ends tomorrow.  I’ve been watching it on TV.  I’m in Atlanta.

Pass the Prozac please.

Batsh*t Crazy Part II

KeepCalm

Yeah – I’m going to write about the Tour de France again.  I warned you in my last blog post that you’d hear more about it.  Sorry.  But ya’ll know that even if you don’t like professional cycling or sports in general, there may be a few things to smile at below…

And I can use “ya’ll” because I live in Georgia.

Today is the first anniversary of a most momentous occasion in my life.  One of THE most momentous occasions of my life.  It ranks right up there with my wedding day, the birth of my two children and the time I got to see “Dancing With The Stars” live.  But probably not in that order…

A year ago today, I stepped off a train in Grenoble, France.  I had a bag full of American flags and custom t-shits, a digital camera full of pixels waiting to be pixelated, and visions of rotating road bike wheels and cyclists in spandex in my head.  I was on a pilgrimage.  I was excited beyond words.  I was going to see the Tour de France!

My roommate during this adventure was a delightful 36 year old woman from Australia who didn’t mind rooming with a woman old enough to be her mother.  Easily.  Actually, there were quite a few Aussies in our tour group.  Australians are wild and crazy cycling fans.  They dress up in crazy hats and wave very large Australia flags.  They have blow up kangaroos and blow up guitars. They like to drink beer before, during and after the race.  Of course, I hung out with them instead of the Americans.  Duh.

Before I left the USA, I had custom t-shirts made up to take with me. The first one cheered on the American cyclists.  It had all their names listed on the front and on the back it said “Born in the USA”. The second one said “I (heart) le Tour de France 2013” on the front and “Please sign here” in French on the back.  I had fellow travelers and strangers by the side of the road sign it as a keepsake.  The third one, my favorite – see above – said “Keep Calm and Shut Up Legs” in honor of my cycling hero and huge cycling fan favorite, Jens Voigt.   “Shut up legs” is his famous – amoung cycling fans – catch phrase.  The back said “Jens Y’all”.   Yeah…Georgia.

I wish I could say I was making this up, but sadly it’s all true.  My name is Aging Gracefully My Ass, I have no life, and I’m a uber geek.

There are 21 Stages (cycling days) to the Tour.  Our first big day watching the Tour live and in person was on Stage 17, a time trial stage.  Normally, at the end of a “regular” racing stage, the cyclists go to a restricted area with their team buses that’s off-limits to the general public.  General public like me.  Bummer.  But if you have lots and lots of money then it’s possible to get what they call “VIP Access”.  No $$=no access.  Bummer.

Without going into detail that’s boring – but it’s probably too late – under the right conditions, a time trial stage can give you unrestricted, uncensored access to these incredible world class athletes.  It’s like hanging out with the German team right after the World Cup or chilling in the locker room with the winning team at the Super Bowl or being back stage during “Dancing With The Stars”.  Like “you can see the glitter on their sequins” access. Serious.

We had the right conditions last year.

And that’s when this late middle age cycling fan’s dreams came true…  I saw some of my very favorite elite professional cyclists up close and personal.  Like “you could smell their sweat” up close and personal.  Like “get an autograph and a hug” up close and personal. Like “have a conversation with Brent Bookwalter” up close and personal.  At this point, my experience was getting close to exceeding that of my wedding, the birth of my children AND “Dancing With The Stars”.

Combined.

The scales tipped and I went over the edge of “best experience ever” when I met The Jensie (Jens Voigt’s nickname.)  He signed my “Keep Calm and Shut Up Legs” t-shirt.  While I was wearing it.  I think he may be my “senior crush”.  He was the oldest cyclist in the Tour last year at the ripe old age of 41.  He’s the oldest cyclist in this year’s Tour.  I’m old enough to be his mother.  Okay – a very young mother but still…  Does this make me a cougar?

Okay, this post is getting too long and there are still LOTS of good stories to tell.  One more post maybe…?  It’ll be the last, I promise.

Batsh*t Crazy Part III – coming soon to a WordPress blog near you!

Batsh*t Crazy

crazyfans

Some people love professional football (American or the other kind), basketball, hockey and/or baseball.  Translation… love = go batsh*t crazy for.  They plunge into a deep and wide valley of depression when the season is over.  The Internet provides a critical, possibly life saving service to these diehard (translation… diehard = batsh*t crazy) fans.  They‘re able to connect with other like-minded (translation… like-minded = batsh*t crazy) fans via email, message boards and social media.  They can immerse themselves into an alternate reality, like a 14 year old with World of Warcraft, that appears to decrease the anxiety of the wait until the start of new season.  My husband is one of these types.  I’m thankful.  It keeps him off the streets.

Some people live for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and the chance to relieve Warren Buffett of (say it like Dr. Evil) “one billion dollars” with their bracket selections.  This year I got ten correct picks out of a possible sixty three.  Banner year for me.

Some people have been in a state of ultimate bliss since the World Cup started on June 12th.  The “every four year” type of event allows for forty seven months of depression and hysteria-building.  That’s pretty special.

I watched the USA vs. Belgium match last week at a very crowded, hot, stinky bar.  I’m on the wagon, was at least 15 years older than the next oldest person there, had to stand up the entire game crammed up against a very large sweaty man who was drunk, and the USA lost.  It pretty much sucked for me.  I did win $36 in an idiot proof random pool though.  That notched me up to being okay with it all…

Add Wimbledon (OMG) into the mix and some people out there have been chain smoking since Sunday they’re so positively orgasmic.

But honestly, none of the above can even remotely compare to the greatest sporting event in the entire universe which started last Saturday.  I see heads nodding out there in total agreement…

The Tour de France! Ta da!

(cue cricket sounds…)

No really – it is!  Everyday for three weeks in July, I’m glued to the TV set for 5 to 6 hours starting at 6:30 AM or so to be able to watch it live.  It’s way better when you watch it live.   Except for the commercials.   You get really tired of the same seven commercials after three weeks.

Of course I DVR the entire thing as well.  You never know when you might need to revisit a particularly interesting section of cobbles that caused three cyclists to brake their collar bones.  Or see moronic, idiotic fans get mowed down again while trying to take selfies in the middle of the road with their backs to 200 charging cyclists.  It’s all great fun!

My son’s to blame. He became interested in cycling as a hobby during the late 2000’s and was smitten. Instead of a daughter-in-law, I have three-bikes-in-law – road, time trial and mountain.  And two grandkittens.  I think that’s going to be it from him.

He started watching the Tour de France right before he took up cycling.  It inspired him.  I started watching it with him for a little “mother-son” bonding time.  But it all seemed a bit silly – grown men riding bikes trying to beat each other to Paris over three weeks. It would have taken them a lot less time to get there if they had taken a direct route, but they went all over kingdom come to finally end up in Paris.  What was up with that?  I did, however, love the breathtaking scenery on many of the stages and those fit young men in their little biking shorts.  Hey – I’m old, not dead!  Aging gracefully my ass…

Over the course of the next two years, I learned the real skinny about professional cycling.  The Tour de France (and other similar cycling races) is an athletic symphony blending world class talent, strength, skill, courage, daring, strategy, dedication and intelligence in the perfect song of sport.  I’m not biased.  Really.

Expect to hear more from me on this in the next three weeks.

Cycling = Best. Sport. Ever.

Yeah – I’m batsh*t crazy.