Thoughts on the end of the Tour

Tadej Pogačar has won the Tour de France. If you care, you already know that. If you don’t, there must be some other reason to read this.

Pogačar is the youngest rider to win the Tour twice. At 22, he is still eligible to win the Best Young Rider jersey three more times. He dominated the Tour, winning three of the four jerseys. He proved himself to be a well-rounded rider, winning a time trial as well as mountain stages. He proved himself to be an aggressive rider, attacking on climbs when he didn’t have to, when other riders would have been content to follow wheels and know they still kept the overall lead; and his joyous grin when he stood on the podium was infectious.

The green jersey is another story. Mark Cavendish is a one trick pony if there ever was one. While the story of his return is a good one (he was a late addition to his team), as a road racer he does only one thing well. He is the best in the world at accelerating from 40 to 45 mph over the course of 200 meters after being led to that point by his teammates. He tied Eddy Merckx’s all-time record for Tour de France stage wins. Merckx was a complete rider, winning sprints, time trials, mountain stages, the hour record, tours, one day classics… Cavendish wins sprints. He was very nearly the Lanterne Rouge (last place overall for the Tour), beating only two of the 141 riders to finish the race. One of those was his teammate and super domestique Tim Declercq (AKA “The Tractor”).

Cavendish’s hope to break Merckx’s record came down to the final stage. While the final stage is viewed as a formality in terms of the overall win, it is a big deal to others. Finishing with 8 laps on the Champs-Élysées, it gives breakaway riders a chance to be seen by millions out in front, not just out in front in some obscure spot in the French countryside. The breakaways are inevitably caught (this year not until the ultimate lap of the Champs-Élysées), to set up a final moment of glory for the sprinters. Here was Cavendish’s chance to break the record in front of the Paris crowd.

He was beaten to the line by Wout van Aert, a finish I find fitting. Van Aert is a complete cyclist. He won the stage up the iconic Mont Ventoux. He won the final time trial on the penultimate day of the tour, and then he beat Mark Cavendish in the final sprint. He also won the world cyclocross championship three times consecutively. When compared with Merckx after the tour, van Aert said, “Eddy Merckx won the GC of the Tour five times and he won basically every race in the world of cycling. I’m just a really little cyclist compared with Eddy.”

Mont Ventoux, image from Wikipedia

My new favorite bike racer is Guillaume Martin, author of “Socrate à vélo”. Martin is the son of an Aikido teacher and a drama teacher. He holds a Master’s degree in philosophy. “Socrates on a Bike” is said to place famous philosophers in the peloton and discuss them as bike racers with regard to their philosophies. I say “is said to”, as I am relying on the words of others from their reading in French and writing reviews in English. As I don’t read French and have not found the book in English, this is hearsay. Speaking of French, there was a time that French was the language of the peloton. To be accepted among Tour riders, one had to speak some French. At the end of this year’s tour, Tadej Pogačar, a Slovenian speaking in Paris, gave his speech in English. To me, that is sad. The ride is in France, the top three riders were Slovenian, Danish, and Ecuadorian, and he spoke English to the crowd. [Editor’s note: I briefly passed through Richard Carapaz’s home town of Tulcán, Ecuador, just over the border from Ipiales, Colombia, in 1982. Sadly, I have no memory of the town, with my first stop being in Ibarra, 126 km to the south. I found my journal from that trip. There was not much about Tulcán, but I did find this, written in Colombia in my last days before returning to the US (March, 1982): “The brain can efficiently store and retrieve just so many visual images…and to share those images with another is then difficult, indeed. My poor head overflows with images that will remain primarily private…”]

The Death Ride

The 2021 edition of the Death Ride was to have been Sunday, July 18. It was billed as the 4oth Anniversary and the “Death Ride Resurgence.” The 2020 edition was billed the same way but canceled due to the pandemic. This year’s was canceled at the last minute due to encroaching wildfire. Mark, please post a comment here to let us know you’re OK.

Back on the bike

I was able to remove my toe splint without cutting it off, so the swelling is down. Saturday I was able to clip into a pedal – I’ve been riding with one foot clipped in and the other with my heel on the pedal to avoid pressure to the broken toe. I still walk funny, pushing off from my little toe instead of my big toe, but I think I am ready to rejoin the Wednesday Night Bike Ride. This week is a hard and hilly route, so we’ll see.

Or maybe just the kayak

Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats…in or out of ’em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems to really matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination, or whether you reach some where else, or whether you never get anywhere at all…” The Water Rat in The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. I guess I’ll hit the water now…

MAYCO – “Hope for Humanity”

I am off the bike this week, except for commuting, due to what may be a broken big toe. I say “may be”, because the treatment for a break or a soft tissue injury is the same. Without x-ray vision, I don’t know which it is. I haven’t found a good reason to pay for a doctor’s visit and an x-ray. If broken, pain and tenderness to palpation say it may be in two places. (The bike had nothing to do with the injury. Many have asked.)

The usual treatment is “weight bearing as tolerated”, meaning you walk on it as long as you can stand the pain, and a “post-op shoe” or other hard-soled shoe to minimize the bending of your toe when you walk (since you naturally push off on your big toe, stressing it with every step). Walking hurts more than riding a bike.

I splint broken fingers and other body parts – why not a big toe? So I devised this toe splint, which seems to be working. It fits (snugly) in a shoe, but feels better barefoot – which is true of life in general. The second toe is taped to prevent abrasion from the casting material – a semi-rigid material called “Orficast”, which looks like a roll of tape and is moldable, hardening after being soaked in warm water. While I walk a little funny since the toe won’t bend, it hurts a lot less. I gave up the cane yesterday.

Since I’m not writing about biking, I offer this post-mortem on a remarkable institution which would have marked its tenth anniversary last summer, were it not for a pandemic.

A 15 year old musician wanted to be an orchestral conductor. He looked around and found that, in the US, there were no undergraduate conducting programs. To realize his dream he would not only have to finish high school, but also get an undergraduate degree – then he could try conducting if he could get one of the coveted spots in a Master’s program in conducting. He discerned there was another way. He could start an orchestra.

With no funds, and being too young to form a not-for-profit corporation with which to fund it, ingenuity was the only recourse. He recognized that there were no opportunities for young musicians to play chamber orchestra repertoire, so he formed a chamber orchestra. He recruited musicians from WYSO (the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra) and the University of Wisconsin School of Music. He envisioned it as a mentoring program, so paired college music majors with high school students as stand partners. Over the years, he added workshops in historically-informed performance practice with local professional musicians. He enlisted faculty members (including members of the Pro Arte Quartet, the world’s oldest consistently-performing string quartet) to appear as soloists, so the student musicians could have the experience of performing with professionals. He developed a conducting apprenticeship program so other young musicians could get podium time during rehearsals and performance before an audience. He mobilized conductors to mentor him, found summer training programs, and served an apprenticeship with the Madison Opera Company – their first-ever conducting apprentice. World premieres and supporting young composers were an integral part of MAYCO, with a newly-commissioned work nearly every year. (2015 saw the US premiere of British composer Cecilia McDowall’s “Rain, Steam, and Speed”.) Eventually he partnered with an arts funding organization to provide a means by which donors could help fund the orchestra.

Joseph Mallord William Turner Rain, Steam, and Speed – The Great Western Railway 1844 Oil on canvas, 91 x 121.8 cm Turner Bequest, 1856 NG538 https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG538
Jerry Hui, composer of “Glacies”

Partnerships were negotiated with WYSO and the university (and later, churches and an art gallery) to secure rehearsal and performance spaces, as well as use of larger instruments (e.g. percussion and piano). The orchestra performed on the Sunday Afternoon Live at the Chazen performance series. (Scroll down to August 5, 2018 on the Chazen Facebook page to hear a few seconds of the sound check for the performance we listened to online in a Tim Horton’s in Niagara Falls on that date.)

A series of top-drawer university violinists served as concertmaster until the conductor married the last concertmaster and they became co-artistic directors.

Little did the founder know at the time, but starting musical organizations as a teen ran in the family. His aunt’s brother, George Shangrow, founded the Seattle Chamber Singers at 18 and directed them until his death at the age of 59. That was never the plan for MAYCO, which started as a program to run until he went off to college. Then he thought about how to run it virtually while away at school, returning for the summer performance season. Since it was conceived as an organization run entirely by and for youth, it was going to end some time unless the founder became Peter Pan. It did, in fact, hold a “Finale” performance in 2016, before returning for an “Encore” in 2017. Due to an offer he could not refuse, he stayed in town for his undergraduate music performance degree and continued the orchestra until it was struck down by the pandemic.

George Shangrow, from the Orchestra Seattle website
MAYCO Co-Artistic Directors Thalia Coombs and Mikko Rankin Utevsky

The late John Barker, classical music critic and Professor of Medieval Studies, gets the last word: “Hope for humanity is not always easy to conjure up these days. But last Friday night at Music Hall, on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, brought me a genuine dollop of it, thanks to the concert by the Madison Area Youth Chamber OrchestraThe MAYCO players brought it [Shostakovitch’s Ninth Symphony] off with real flair, under Utevsky’s amazingly expert direction. (And, by the way, he is a splendid writer as well, as his notes for the program booklet demonstrated.)That our area alone could produce such talent is what has stirred my hope for humanity.” (Excerpted from The Well-Tempered Ear)

Poster for the concert reviewed by Barker above. Poster design, photo, and feet by Mikko Rankin Utevsky

Favorite Ride

It was sunny, hot, and humid when I left work. A light wind; a great day for a ride.

I arrived early at the meetup point. Someone said there was a thunderstorm in Dodgeville headed straight toward us. As I waited for my friends to arrive, I checked the radar. A thunderstorm cell was headed our way and looked like it would arrive just as we were to start. The air turned cool. The wind died. The sky turned dark. The wind picked up. A few raindrops fell.

The rain stopped. I checked the radar. The storm cell had changed from a yellow to a green spot and had veered south. It would be raining on the roads we were to ride, but would probably move east ahead of us. We saddled up and hit the road.

I had forgotten to bring a cue sheet, but these were roads I know well. I rode the 30+ mile route from memory. We rode on some slightly damp roads but never felt more than a few drops, just enough to cool us down a bit.

As we rode along Dougherty Creek, we came upon a steep and deeply verdant hillside with a small herd of Brown Swiss cattle. I imagined this is what Switzerland looks like and why the Swiss settled here and called it New Glarus.

The ridgetop vistas were stunning, as usual. The corn is probably neck-high. The short and steep climb from Dougherty Creek to the ridge seemed easier than usual. The broad sweeping curves we carved at 35+ mph on the descent into town brought ear-to-ear grins to our faces. Pizza and beer closed out the evening.

After darkness fell, one high cloud still caught the sun.
I learned a new use for Coban/vet wrap this week. (Note stegosaurus listening in the background.)
Dividing Ridge Road

I raced a train to work today. As I approached the tracks that I would parallel, I heard the crossing bells. I didn’t hear a train horn so I figured the engine was not nearby. Rounding a bend I saw hopper cars going my way. It was time to guess – if I was near the end of the train I could head for the nearest crossing and wait; if I was near the head of the train I could try to outrun it and cross up ahead.

I figured action beats inaction so I continued parallel to the tracks, and upped my speed. Approaching Brearly Street I heard the train horn. I was gaining, and knew I’d made the right choice. Approaching Paterson I saw the engine and knew I could pass it. I had three more chances to cross before I would have to revise my route. Approaching Livingston I heard the crossing bells come on and knew I couldn’t make it there. I found a reserve and went faster. As I approached Blount Street I knew I could make it. I heard the engineer back off the throttle a bit for the upcoming curve. Just then, the warning bells started. I had the train by more than a block, it was moving at 12 mph, and I could go just a bit faster than I was already. The crossing was a new one with rubber at the tracks so it was a smooth crossing. After I crossed, I backed off. As I turned on Main Street I saw the engine cross Blount. I felt the burn in my lungs from a hard effort. I still had 4.5 miles to cool down before I got to work.

Taking it easy, I made the turn to Carroll Street. The walk light at Johnson was on, which meant I knew I could make that crossing. It started to blink “Don’t Walk”, which meant I could make it as long as I didn’t dilly dally; my light would turn yellow on the 11th blink. I made the crossing and now I could sit up and take it easy the rest of the way. I could get to the wooded lakeshore path and enjoy the beauty of a cool and crisp morning – a morning that required a jacket. I could watch the dappled sunlight filtered through the trees. I could look out over the sailboats gently swaying on their moorings. I could wave to the early morning runners. And I could arrive at work way earlier than I planned, thanks to that early morning sprint.

AM commute, though not today.
Three years ago today. Dubois, WY.