OPINION: Yes, cycling is cool
My name is Bryan DeMain and I'm a cycling fan.
I forced my sons to wait 100 minutes for guys on bikes to whiz by them in less than 30 seconds. Then we left.
How could I do that to them? Here are a 3- and 5-year-old, sitting around Wheatland High, while their father keeps telling them, "It's gonna be soooo cool! ... Any minute now."
I'm a cycling fan. Not cool, Dad.
Apparently, they see cycling like most people in this country — not cool.
I've been an in-the-closet fan for years, fearing seclusion and being outcasted.
As Americans, we talk NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA, or even NASCAR, in some circles.
But let's face it, at one time it was Lance Armstrong and that's it.
It's not exactly hip to talk Thor Hushovd or Michael Rogers.
Ever hear this question: "Who is the greatest hitter of all-time?" Pete Rose, Ted Williams, Willie Mays. Names get blurted out all day long, and with good arguments too.
Now let's say you're hanging out with a couple of buddies and this one gets thrown out there: "Who is the strongest American sprinter in cycling right now?"
The record stops. Silence.
Then you hear stuff like, "guys in tights on bicycles huddled together doing nothing isn't cool."
That's the take of most American sports fans on cycling.
But this is how we get when we don't necessarily understand things — it's dumb, boring, uninteresting, irrelevant. We poison the well before we draw from it.
That's why Monday was awesome.
For the first time since I became interested in this fourth-tier sport eight years ago, I was there watching the greatest cyclists on Earth — just short of Alberto Contador, Tony Martin and a couple others who opted out of the race — cruise through Wheatland.
I sat, then stood. I sat again, then stood. You know how that goes. It's an adrenaline rush for the riders and for fans. I was with my kids, but I was the kid.
My kids? They couldn't have cared less. That was until the mobs of squad and team cars finally made way for the breakaway group.
I jotted down the four riders — mostly from weaker teams trying to pose that always tempting threat — build a lead on the peloton and maintain it. Breakaways work on occasion, but don't have a high success rate.
My sons found entertainment in the fire trucks, ambulance and squad cars — there were almost as many as the 126 riders.
Three minutes later, the peloton, like a swarm of bees slowed before making the north turn at John Sohrakoff Jr. Field.
The riders averaged 25-30 mph on Monday. Professional cyclists can hit speeds like your car on Highway 65 while descending hills.
Cyclists work in groups. Teams have sprinters, climbers, pace setters, and their No. 1 overall guy, who they try to keep fresh until the end of crucial races. They have up-and-comers and grizzled veterans, just like all sports and teams. They fall, they bleed, they sometimes have to stop and fix their bike and then play catch-up.
There is tragedy. Just last week Wouter Weylandt of Belgium died descending on a hill in Italy. He raced with this same group of riders who came through Wheatland.
It takes strength, endurance, teamwork and toughness.
Five or six years ago, I watched a group of 30 road cyclists fly up and down the streets of McKinleyville — no pads or no safety cages, just a helmet and "tights."
Then at 35 mph, a rider's bike slipped from underneath him. One side of his body succumbed to brutal road rash, lots of blood, he limped off. He was OK.
He was racing for a mere $150.
In my book, that's cool.