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June 21, 2005

Start Reading "Lance Armstrong's War"

My wife Kathleen was laughing at me this morning when I told her that I was about to finish the new book Lance Armstrong's War by Daniel Coyle, a contributing editor for Outside Magazine.

Kathleen said, "Wow, you finished a long book! This is going to open new horizons for you," as if I'd never read a book that didn't come out of the junior reader section of the public library before. Since she reads as regularly as I eat, she has earned a certain right to chide me.

Lance Armstrong's War provides a lot of details about the successful attempt to win the 2004 Tour de France that even the most interested outsider couldn't have known. If you watched The Lance Chronicles on the Outdoor Life Network last year, you probably came away from that show with a few unanswered questions-- I know I did. This book fills in a lot of those details.

It also tells some of the inside story of the 2004 Tour de France, including the public relations threat posed by the book L.A. Confidentiel: Les Secrets de Lance Armstrong and the death threat against Armstrong that was made before the Alpe d'Huez Time Trial. I agreed with Lance's comments after that time trial that the time trial to Alpe d'Huez was too dangerous, but he didn't say and we didn't know that a threat had been made against his life at the time.

The book also discusses the degree to which Dr. Michele Ferrari was involved in Lance's 2004 Tour preparation. This will probably be a revelation for many American fans who have been given the impression that Ferrari played a small role relative to that of Chris Carmichael. Coyle explained that Ferrari was present for some of key parts of Lance's training in Europe and in other parts of the world last year. There's no doubt that both Carmichael and Ferrari played important roles in Lance's training.

There are a ton of small insights in this book that I haven't seen in any other place. For instance, many of the leading riders in the pro peleton were advised in the 2004 season by either Dr. Ferrari or Luigi Cecchini. It seems that riders align themselves with these advisors based partly on their abilities to help them reach training goals and partly because of their relationship or lack of relationship with a teammate or rival.

I also had not realized the degree to which Watts per kilogram of body weight was considered a benchmark of success in professional cycling. We often read about the statistics VO2max and lactate threshold as being important indicators of fitness and they certainly are, but they are apparently not the supreme indicators of pro cycling race potential.

Operation Gadget has talked about fitness gadgets like Polar Heart Rate Monitors and the Lactate Pro electronic lactate threshold meter, but we haven't discussed devices like the CycleOps PowerTap power meter as much. I saw Floyd Landis using a PowerTap at the Dodge Tour de Georgia, but many fewer riders use tools like PowerTaps due to the expense associated: $1,200 to 1,300 for the electronics alone.

Lance Armstrong's War provides more insight into how Armstrong thinks about threats to his goals and weapons in his arsenal. The attitude that he has developed over the years pervades his relationships and defines the organizations that he has put together. There are reasons that everyone in Armstrong's inner circle uses a Blackberry, and you'll learn some of them by reading this book. One of the key insights into how the team motivates itself is that Armstrong's perception of the advantage gained by his use of technology is more important than the actual advantage. This helps explain some of the enthusiasm that the Discovery Channel team had for their AMD-powered personal media players which were demonstrated to me at the Tour de Georgia.

There's also more focus on Lance Armstrong's Tour de France rivals than I would have expected from reading about this book. It's primarily about Lance Armstrong, his advisors, and his teammates, but there are very detailed discussions of Tyler Hamilton's 2004 season and his perceptions of what took place, as well as Iban Mayo's many problems during the race and Floyd Landis' decision to leave the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team after the 2004 Tour.

I think I could go on about Lance Armstrong's War and reveal all of the interesting information that it contains. Instead I'll say that I thoroughly enjoyed and wholeheartedly recommend the book. I think it's very balanced and doesn't shy away from discussing issues that are of continuing concern within Lance's inner circle.

Whether you are a big fan of Armstrong or not, you will find information in the book that you will appreciate. It's written in a style that makes it a brisk read. Everytime I picked it up, I read at least one chapter. I've been recommending it to friends who follow cycling before I even started reading it, and my recommendation is even stronger now that I've finished it.

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May 11, 2005

Treo 650 Saves the Day During the Tour de Georgia

I've written a couple of stories about gadgets that I wish I had when I was covering the 2005 Dodge Tour de Georgia. One gadget that I'm proud to say I had with me for the all six stages was my palmOne Treo 650. The Treo 650 has quickly become the key component of my technology arsenal, and I would have been unable to file stories in a few really important situations without it.

I got my Treo 650 on March 31. I actually bought two Treos, the other one was for my wife. We had agreed to get his and hers Treos because we had both previously been heavy wireless email users and were in need of technology upgrades. The purchases were timed so that we would receive the Treos and have time to work any glitches out before I left on my trip to the Chicago Showcase Hockey Tournament. That took place right before the Tour de Georgia.

When I arrived at the Tour de Georgia opening press conference, a critical component of my laptop was not working. My WiFi network card was unable to maintain a connection to the hotel conference center's wireless network. For a moment I thought that I would be unable to publish a report on Lance Armstrong's retirement announcement, by far the biggest news story of the event. In a moment of panic, I pulled out my Treo 650, connected to my site's Movable Type backend using the built-in Blazer web browser, and published my story.

The palmOne Blazer Web Browser and the Treo 650 hardware provides the best handheld Internet experience I've ever seen, but that's only part of their appeal. These tools are also excellent for quick access to websites that have flexible page layouts and useful for emergency access to web-based business applications when your primary computer is unavailable or not working. The Blazer browser is helped immensely by the enhanced display (320 x 320), which has twice the resolution of the Treo 600 and most other PalmOS handhelds.

The Treo 650 is often compared to Research in Motion BlackBerry handhelds such as the BlackBerry 7230. After using both devices for long periods of time, I have to say that the Treo offers a superior web browsing experience both in terms of responsiveness and fidelity to the look and feel of the web page. When I used a BlackBerry, I found myself gravitating toward WAP-enabled sites, but the Treo gives me two different ways to look at HTML-based pages and the speed necessary to allow me to see them before I get frustrated. The Blazer Browser on the Treo 650 also implements a number of key JavaScript actions, Cascading Style Sheets, and other advanced features that make its browser far more likely to work with modern, full-featured websites than a Blackberry's browser.

Probably the most impressive feature of the Treo 650 is the integration between the PalmOS Contacts application and the Phone application. The Contacts application lets you do things like type a first and last initial and bring up a short list of people and their phone numbers. Using the 5-way navigator button, you can then choose the number you want to call. This part of the Treo User Interface is optimized for one-handed use, and it's a significant improvement over most mobile phones as well as first and second-generation Treos.

The Treo 650 has the potential to be a great mobile email platform if the right wireless email client is chosen. I tried Versamail, but found that it did not work well with my three primary IMAP email accounts. I then tried Chatter Email which bills itself as "the most powerful email client for Treo". This is a very well done, surprisingly mature mobile IMAP client that I recommend wholeheartedly. In my opinion, Chatter Email is the most BlackBerry-like email implementation on a non-BlackBerry device today, provided that your IMAP server supports the IMAP IDLE command.

Another email client that has been recommended to me by several people is SnapperMail. This appears to be aimed at the POP3 email users of the world, rather than IMAP users like me. If you use the Post Office Protocol for email, I would definitely give SnapperMail a try, although VersaMail might also be a good choice for you.

The Treo 650 is a much more stable, reliable handset than any of the Treo models I've used previously. Back in the days of the 180 and even during the heyday of the 600, I wondered if I'd ever see a palmOS-based mobile communicator that would run without crashing for days at a time unless the addition of third-party applications was blocked. After using a 650, I have to conclude that a number of features have come together in this device to improve its stability:

  1. core application code maturity making third-party applications that leverage the key features of the Treo less likely to crash it,
  2. CPU performance ensuring that the Treo keeps up with the data that it's receiving, and
  3. non-volatile memory making data loss a thing of the past.

The true test of my Treo 650's reliability was when I went on my recent two week trip to Chicago and Georgia and didn't take the computer on which I have Palm Desktop installed. With previous Treo models, this would have meant that I ran the risk of losing the data on my Treo if a serious application crash occurred or if the device ran critically low on power. Thanks to the non-volatile memory and improved stability of the Treo 650, I got through the two week trip without any data loss. That would have been impossible on the Treo 180 and improbable on the 600.

I like many of the other features of the Treo 650 including Bluetooth support, the unsophisticated, VGA-resolution digital camera, and the Documents To Go 7 Professional Suite that lets me view Microsoft Office documents without being near my PC, but to be honest, I could do without any of these features and still be incredibly happy. The 650 is what I hoped all the previous Treos would be: a durable, stable, and highly usable mobile communication device where I can install my choice of a wide variety of third party software. When the chips were down, it helped me succeed at the Tour de Georgia. If you need capabilities like these, I'd definitely give the Treo 650 a try.

May 4, 2005

Canon EOS 20D: A Digital SLR Would Have Helped Me Get Tour de Georgia Finish-line Shots

I wanted to ask for a photographer's vest for the Dodge Tour de Georgia, but I didn't feel that I had the right camera to make it worthwhile. If I had one of those vests, I could have stood inside the barriers just beyond the finish line and gotten shots of riders throwing their bikes at the line to try to be first.

The right camera would be a very good digital single lens reflex camera, like the Canon EOS 20D. This is an 8.2-megapixel camera capable of shooting 5 frames per second for 23 consecutive shots. It has a startup time of 0.2 seconds. The EOS 20D isn't the most expensive digital SLR out there, but it has a good price/performance trade off, and it uses a better grade of some of the same technology that I already use in my Canon Powershot A95.

In order to do this right, I'll need a very large Compact Flash card that can be written to at the fastest possible speed. The Lexar Media 2-Gigabyte 80X Pro Series looks like a good choice. If I wanted to economize, there's a 1-Gigabyte version of the same product.

The lens that we would want to shoot finish line photos at a pro cycling race could easily cost us a lot of money. If you remember the article about the photo that professional sports photographer Harvey Levine took of me riding my mountain bike, he used a 400mm F/2.8 Nikkor lens for that. The cost estimate on it was $6,000 used. Most people rent it.

The closest Canon lens available through Amazon.com and its affiliates is a Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Super Telephoto Lens. It's much cheaper and probably significantly slower. Some people say it's fast enough for sports and that might be true if the action is coming right at you, as in a pro cycling race finish line shot.

If I'm shooting, I want something smaller so I can use it without a tripod or monopod. How about the Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM Telephoto Lens? That's half the cost of the 400mm Canon lens, plus it's significantly smaller, lighter, and faster. I can deal with only having a 200mm telephoto lens if I have a photographer's vest. About the only thing to think about here is the lack of image stabilization.

If I need something to stabilize my shot I'm going to try a Manfrotto 684B Bogen Neotec Monopod, although I'm sure someone will come along and tell me I'm wrong. I've never purchased a monopod before, what do I know?

The whole rig, camera, memory card, lens, and monopod will set us back something like $2450 and we'll also get a Canon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 autofocus lens for the shots a normal person's camera could take. This setup won't turn me into Graham Watson overnight, but I'll be a thousand times more likely to get the shot that they use on the cover of VeloNews or Cycle Sport than I am with my PowerShot A95.

12-Inch Powerbook G4 Would Have Made Writing Tour de Georgia Stories Easier

The working environment for credentialed members of the media when I was at the Dodge Tour de Georgia was different every day. We worked in two different offices, a hotel conference room, the theater in the observation tower at Brasstown Bald, and a conference room at women's club, depending on where the stage finished.

The two constants in our work environment were electricity and a WiFi network. Cramped working conditions and long walks with all of our gear just to arrive at some locations meant that having the laptop with the biggest display and desk footprint could be a drawback. Hassle-free wireless network capability was the key.

In a report from Rome called WiFi Working Again for Me, I lamented the fact that my laptop didn't have built-in WiFi. My D-Link DWL-G650 AirPlus XtremeG Wireless Card that had worked well for a year became so flaky that it was effectively unusable. I had to replace it. I replaced it with the same brand and model WiFi card, but that didn't work until I downloaded and installed a new driver off the Internet using a hard Ethernet connection.

It would have been a lot easier to cover the Tour de Georgia with a compact, easy-to-use laptop with built-in WiFi, and the laptop of choice in the media center was an Apple Powerbook.

I would have chosen a 12-inch Apple PowerBook with a 1.5GHz G4 processor, an 80-Gigabyte hard drive, and an 8x-Speed SuperDrive (DVD+RW/CD-RW). The small form factor would have worked well at the top of Brasstown Bald or at the women's club in Dahlonega where we worked in pretty close proximity to each other. The 12-inch display still gives you 1024x768 resolution, which is good for the small size of the notebook itself, and would be good enough for photo selection and editing.

I would have teamed this up with a multi-function USB 2.0 memory card reader to make camera memory card handling painless.

These gadgets would have made me the master of the Tour de Georgia media work room.

Gadgets I Wish I Had at the Dodge Tour de Georgia

I think that an appropriate way to wind up Operation Gadget's coverage of the 2005 Dodge Tour de Georgia is to point out a few pieces of technology that would have made our coverage better or would have made covering the Tour de Georgia easier. This idea came from my friend Frank Steele of The Tour de France Blog.

Rather than try to everything into a single article, I think I'll write an article for each one individually. Look for the articles to start appearing here later today.

May 1, 2005

Don't Miss the Tour de Georgia on OLN's Cyclysm Sunday on May 1

I've been remiss in not pointing out that the Outdoor Life Network will be showing two hours of Dodge Tour de Georgia highlights on the Cyclysm Sunday program. The Tour de Georgia episode will air today, Sunday, May 1, 2005 at 5:00pm Eastern Daylight Time.

A few moments of Lance Armstrong's retirement announcement press conference were shown during last weekend's Cyclysm Sunday telecast. During that segment, I noticed myself on camera for about three seconds when the assembled media was shown. I replayed that part of the program for Kathleen, so she could see that I was there. Now she wants to make sure that our TiVo records today's program, in case I get more airtime.

April 29, 2005

They Called Me "The Blogger" at the Dodge Tour de Georgia

Josh Hallett wrote an article called Bloggers as Media: Operation Gadget gets Credentialed for the Tour de Georgia which included an email that I sent him where I gave the rationale for covering the race, the approach I used to get a credential, and why covering the Dodge Tour de Georgia seems to have been worth it.

Josh and Frank Steele from TdFblog.com have been corresponding with me regularly since before the Tour de Georgia started. It was clear to me that both of them thought that it was great that I received a press credential. It was also clear that they intended to cover the TdG in some fashion, but that they would do it without official recognition from the organizers.

I decided that it was important for me to do a good job covering the Tour de Georgia, and that had to be obvious to the media relations staff. If I was successful, it could open the door for more bloggers in the future. I thought that would be a good development for the event because it hasn't received the attention that I think it deserves from the mainstream media outside of Georgia.

Over the week I spent in the Media Center, people started calling me "The Blogger". I don't think they meant it in a pejorative sense. They just knew (or heard) that I write for a blog. Several of the writers for mainstream publications were very nice to me, quick to offer help and to answer my questions.

I'm now pretty sure that I wasn't the only credentialed blogger at the Tour de Georgia. Representatives of the site called CoolBicycling.com covered the Tour de Georgia and were recognized for a question in the Lance Armstrong Retirement Press Conference. Looking at their site, it doesn't seem like a pure weblog, but it has the feel of a small scale website run by enthusiasts. A woman named Sammarye Lewis, also known as Velogal was definitely there, blogging and snapping photos. I checked out her photo and I know I saw her at a number of places during the Tour. I'm just not sure if I saw her in the Media Center itself.

I'm pretty confident that I did a good enough job reporting on the Tour de Georgia to be invited back next year. I hope that my work was good enough to impress members of the media relations staff so that they offer credentials to more bloggers next year.

I also want to encourage other bloggers to apply for a credential for the Tour de Georgia even if they cannot attend all of the stages. A number of reporters, photographers, and cameramen from the mainstream media only came to a few stages themselves. Following the entire Tour over six days is a significant commitment.

Thanks for reading the coverage of the 2005 Dodge Tour de Georgia on Operation Gadget. This is probably not the end of the Tour de Georgia story, but it's a convenient time for me to thank you. I'd also like to thank a few people who made it possible for me to bring these articles to you:

  • Kathleen Aiello
  • Jane Kuykendall
  • Bruce Turner
  • Frank Steele
  • Josh Hallett
  • Todd Fryburger
  • Chris Nolan
  • the people I interviewed for my major articles
  • the Tour de Georgia media staff, including:
    • Jennifer Vincenzo
    • Patty Peoples
    • Brian Cooley
    • Colin Cooley
    • Caren West
    • Laura Bellinger
    • Shawn Moseley
    • Robby Bain
    • Courtney Clifford
  • members of the media who befriended me, including:

How Hard Did the Riders Work in the Tour de Georgia?

If you've talked to me by phone or email since I returned from the Dodge Tour de Georgia, you know that I was exhausted when I got home and it took me two or three days to start to feel reasonably normal again. This gives me even more respect for the effort that the riders have to put forth in a pro cycling stage race.

You may remember that I spent two weeks on the road, not one. The first week I was in Chicago at the Chicago Showcase Hockey Tournament where I officiated nine hockey games in five days. On Wednesday I unpacked the Polar S625x that I've been testing recently, uploaded my exercise data from the week in Chicago, and found that I had burned 15,645 calories in 16 hours and 31 minutes of intense exercise. That's the most calories burned I've recorded in any one week in the three years I've been journaling my exercise with Polar Precision Performance Software.

I don't think I realized how hard I worked in Chicago. When I got to Augusta for Stage 1 of the Tour de Georgia, I went out and ran four miles as if I needed the exercise after the workouts I had over the previous few days. I wanted to run again, but I ran into logistical and time constraints later on in the week. I drove almost 1,400 miles following the Tour de Georgia and spent hours each day in the Media Center posting my stories. There just weren't enough hours in the day until I went back home.

My immediate thought after I uploaded my exercise data from the S625x was, if I burned over 15,000 calories during the Chicago Showcase, how many calories did the riders burn in the Tour de Georgia? Let's assume for the moment that the pros have similar fitness levels and metabolic rates to me. This is an underestimate of the pros' fitness levels, but I'm in very good aerobic shape since my Polar heart rate monitor estimates that my VO2 max is between 50 and 60. On the other hand, as difficult as the Chicago Showcase was to officiate, the riders in the Tour de Georgia probably worked harder during the difficult mountain stages than I did on the ice. This is why I think a ratio calculation is worth doing.

Tom Danielson completed the Tour de Georgia in 26 hours 53 minutes and 44 seconds. That's 1.63-times the amount of time that I was on the ice at the Chicago Showcase. If you multiply my calories burned by 1.63, you get 25,506 calories.

To give you an idea of how the number of calories burned relates to the number of calories needed to maintain current body weight, the Basal Metabolic Rate Calculator on DiscoveryHealth.com says my body needs 1,883 calories per day. Tom Danielson is smaller than I am (both in weight and height). He only needs 1,547 calories per day by this calculator.

So when I burned 15,645 calories, that's the number of calories I'd burn if I lied on the couch for 8 days and 6 hours. If Tom Danielson burned 25,506 calories, that's the number of calories he would burn if he sat around for 16 days and 12 hours. Can you imagine burning enough calories to live for 16.5 days in only 6 days of life?

Even if I overestimated Danielson's physical effort somewhat in these calculations, the aerobic capacity of a pro cyclist is unbelievable. I wish I had capabilities at this level. Danielson's weight to power ratio is such that if he were a car, he would need a supercharger.

April 28, 2005

The Paceline Links to Operation Gadget

A special welcome to the readers of The Paceline, the official website of the Lance Armstrong and Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team. The Paceline linked our story about Discovery's use of AMD Personal Media Players to review time trialing techniques, and gave us a nice traffic boost.

For those of you who've never been here before, Operation Gadget is a weblog covering electronic gadgets and sports technology. Our coverage differs from that of sites like Engadget and Gizmodo in that we focus on the kind of technology that appeals to athletes and other sports-oriented people. Operation Gadget also talks about selected cycling, running, multi-sport, and ice hockey events that are of interest to me. I'm Dave Aiello, the site's editor.

As we look ahead to the summer, I'm planning extensive coverage of the Wachovia Cycling Series, a series of three pro cycling races in the Philadelphia area. Those races will take place during the week after Memorial Day. I also write about the Tour de France each year, but I'm planning to do it from here in the United States in 2005. I'm also writing about the Bristol-Myers Squibb Tour of Hope and what it's like to apply for the 20-person team that will ride across the country in October 2005. Whether I'm chosen for the National Team or not, I plan to ride in the Annual Fund Raising Ride in Washington, DC again this year. I rode in it and blogged the experience in 2004.

Thanks again for coming by. I hope you enjoy Operation Gadget and that you make us a regular visit on the Internet.

More Tour de Georgia Photos Added

I added more photos from Stage 6 to the 2005 Tour de Georgia Album in the Operation Gadget Photo Gallery. Most of these are close up photos of bikes that the riders rode in the final stage.

I didn't realize that backfilling photos would change the order of the photos and the URLs for specific photos as well. Not sure how to work around that "feature" of Coppermine Photo Gallery.

Sorry if I broke links that others set on their sites. If you are one of these people, please note that most of the URLs did not change, only a few of the URLs for Stage 6 photos have changed, and no photos have been deleted.

April 27, 2005

How Bad Was the Weather on Woody's Gap?

Hail Storm on Woody's Gap
Hail Storm on Woody's Gap: This 2-second MPEG
movie may be all you need to appreciate the
furious hail storm that occurred while fans were
waiting for the riders to pass by. [ Video: James Bailey ]

See more TdG photos in in the
Operation Gadget Photo Gallery.

One of the moments of the 2005 Dodge Tour de Georgia that deserves some more attention is the hail storm that took place on Woody's Gap before the riders crossed it for the first time during the Stage 4 ride from Dalton to Dahlonega.

I posted an article summarizing the conditions on Woody's Gap at 12:30 pm, just as rain began to fall. I had hoped to watch the peloton go through Woody's for the first time, then travel back to Dahlonega to post my articles. I was unable to do this because there was no place to park by the time I arrived.

It turned out that a few people who found places to park near Woody's Gap wrote in with stories, photos, and movies of what happened up there. Todd Fryburger posted a lengthy comment to my Woody's Gap Conditions Report and later sent me a two-second MPEG video clip. Here's what Todd said about the Woody's Gap experience:

James Bailey, a rider with the local Bass Ale / Taco Mac team in Atlanta, captured the attached photo and video clip from atop Woody Gap during the infamous Stage 4 hailstorm. Those who were desperately seeking shelter can attest to seeing an unidentified individual (who we believe was a member of the "Creed Nation") do a rather impressive dance in the middle of the road wearing a speedo at the height of the storm. He no doubt suffered "hail-welts" in a number of strange places.

The clip that Todd sent me is only two seconds long. When I saw how short it was I thought, this couldn't possibly give you the sense of what it was like to be up there. After I watched it on my computer, I decided that I was wrong. Better yet, the Operation Gadget server can probably handle the load of a number of people downloading a 769 k video clip better than it could something several times larger. Many thanks to Todd and James for sharing the file with us.

Josh Hallett was also up on Woody's Gap. He pointed me to a photo that he took of the hail that was left after the storm passed. That photo helps me because I drove through two hail storms that day, but never stopped at a place where I could see the size of the hailstones.

When you look at how dark it got, as well as how much hail and rain fell in a short period of time, the words of Lance Armstrong after Stage 4 make more sense: "Really freaky weather. We didn't get hailed on, it was a miracle."

He wasn't kidding.

April 26, 2005

Back from Two Weeks on the Road

I had an uneventful flight from Atlanta to Newark yesterday afternoon. This ended my two week trip to the Chicago Showcase and the Tour de Georgia. My wife Kathleen met me at the airport and we went food shopping at Wegmans on the way home. At least I'm trying to get right back into the routine.

I have a number of things that have to get done today, so I don't expect to get too much posted on Operation Gadget-- at least until later this afternoon. I think there are probably some more photos from Stage 6 that need to be posted. I held off on some of them because I knew that the media center in Alpharetta was going to be shutdown pretty quickly after the race ended.

I promised Josh Hallett that I would tell him the story of how I became the only credentialed blogger at the 2005 Tour de Georgia, and I'll try to do that today. I think it's better if someone else tells that story than for me to tell it myself. After all, it's kind of a news story.

I also promised emails to a number of people who I interviewed along the way at the Tour de Georgia. None of those emails have gone out yet, and I don't feel like getting a reputation for not doing things I promise to do.

April 24, 2005

Discovery Uses Personal Media Players to Fine-tune TT Technique

Lance in Wind Tunnel on Personal Media Player
Lance in the Wind Tunnel as Seen on the PMP:
Discovery is using AMD-powered
personal media players to help improve time trial
performances. More PMP Photos.

See more TdG photos in in the
Operation Gadget Photo Gallery. [ Photo: Dave Aiello ]

On the final day of the 2005 Dodge Tour de Georgia, I had the pleasure of meeting with Bart Knaggs of the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team. He showed me a personal media player that the team is using to help hone time trial riding techniques. The personal media player they use is a prototype unit called Vassili made by First International Computer that incorporates the AMD Alchemy Au1200 processor.

Bart explained that five Discovery riders went to Allied Aerospace in San Diego over the winter and tested in their Low Speed Wind Tunnel. That facility is outfitted with AMD technology to control the system and record the data. They videotaped every rider's run from 3 angles: top view, side view, and head-on. While they're riding, a data screen is projected onto the floor of the tunnel right in front of the rider so they can see how changes in position affect their drag and power output throughout the run.

Video was produced for each rider that shows each of the three angles plus the data screen. The idea is to show the riders their runs prior to TT stages during their warm up as a refresher on which positions will provide the optimal balance between maximum power and minimum drag. After a time trial is over, they take any available video and still images and compare it to footage of the wind tunnel and see if there are any biomechanical differences.

Knaggs also said that AMD and the Discovery Pro Cycling Team are building a little application that runs on the Vassili that will let them take the profile of a time trial and use those characteristics to help choose optional equipment for riders' time trial bikes.

He said that the team tried to make a small adjustment to Lance Armstrong's positioning during the Stage 3 Individual Time Trial in Rome. The adjustment turned out to be a poor one, so they came back and reviewed the position footage that they had on this device, compared it to what they saw, and they will factor that information into future training and racing.

The team sees this kind of biomechanical analysis as the next frontier beyond standard measures such as heart rate, cadence, and watts produced. He thinks this will be particularly important for younger riders such as Tom Danielson who is still improving his technique in larger ways.

This portable media player technology and the programming that goes with it are a few of the key contributions that Advanced Micro Devices is making as a sponsor of the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team. The team is high on the portable media player concept because of its extreme portablility and its flexibility in that applications can be run on it as well. They don't always have the time or space to use a laptop.

It's not to surprising to me that a professional cycling team has been shown personal media player technology, but the fact that the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team has embraced the technology to this extent certainly does. Most of the cycling world first became aware of their commitment to wind tunnel testing last year in the first episode of The Lance Chronicles. They've now expanded this testing to multiple riders on their team, and they are constantly referring back to the results and benchmarking themselves against them as they train and tinker.

Stage 6: Fraser Wins Stage, Danielson Clinches Yellow Jersey

Gord Fraser of Health Net Presented by Maxxis edged teammate Greg Henderson to win Stage 6 of the Dodge Tour de Georgia which finished in Alpharetta. Tom Danielson came in with the field, so he retained the yellow jersey and placed first in the General Classification.

Provisional Results are as follows:

  • 1. Gord Fraser (Health Net Presented by Maxxis)
  • 2. Greg Henderson (Health Net Presented by Maxxis), Same Time
  • 3. Aurelien Clerc (Phonak Hearing Systems)

Winners of the Race Overall (provisional):

  • Tom Danielson, General Classification
  • Greg Henderson, Sprint
  • Jose-Luis Rubiera, King of the Mountains
  • Trent Lowe, Best Young Rider

Made it to All Six Starts and Finishes

I didn't set out to see every start and finish of the Dodge Tour de Georgia, but I managed to do it anyway. I drove up to Blairsville this morning from my base of operations off of I-85 just north of "The Perimeter".

Now I know what it's like to drive like a Director Sportif. Driving up US Highways 19 and 129 from Dahlonega to Blairsville, I was able to drive tangents on the northbound side of the road. This meant I was driving 50 miles per hour, then 10, then 60, then 25, etc. I rented a car, remember?

Over 1,200 miles driven so far in pursuit of the Tour.

I arrived at the Media Center in Alpharetta about 20 minutes ago. It was another case of showing my media credential, asking for help, and getting it from the local law enforcement community. From what I hear from media employed by bigger outlets, I've been extremely fortunate.

Getting Off of Brasstown Bald

We had fun getting off of Brasstown Bald last night. I was with two other journalists and several members of the Tour de Georgia media staff when we left the Observation Tower at about 9:15pm. We opened the door and walked directly into a cloud which was encircling the summit at the time. Visibility was so poor that a number of us stumbled down the stairs to the road because we couldn't see the steps while standing upright.

Laura Bellinger was driving the van that I rode in from the summit to the 1-km-to-go parking lot, where my car was parked. She tried a variety of headlight configurations, but it was tough going until we sighted the double-yellow line after the top-most switchback turn on the way down. Thank God my car started.

By the time we drove the 3 kilometers down to the junction of Georgia Highway 180 and the 180 Spur, we were out of the clouds. I was back at my aunt Jane Kuykendall's place in the Atlanta suburbs by midnight or 12:30 I guess.

April 23, 2005

Finish Photos Stink, Made Up for it in the Press Conference

The only bad part of being at the Media Center at the top of Brasstown Bald today was that our viewpoint didn't give us a good look at the riders finishing. I was very close to the finishers less than 50 meters from the line, but I was 25 feet above the riders and they were riding practically against the barriers on my side of the road. I don't think any of my digital camera photos of the riders at the finish came out.

On the other hand, I was ideally situated during the press conference. I was less than 10 feet from Christian Vandeveld and Lance Armstrong. Tom Danielson was three people away from me, so I didn't have quite as clear a shot of him.

Stage 5 Photos now posted to the Tour de Georgia Album in the Operation Gadget Photo Gallery.

Living on Clif Bars and 100 Calorie Snack Packs

I'm still at the top of Brasstown Bald, taking advantage of the WiFi network that the Dodge Tour de Georgia provides to the credentialed media. We've got a faster connection at the top of this wind-swept mountain than we did in Dahlonega.

One of the things that we were warned about was bringing extra food and water. I was worried when I was on the road from Gainesville that I had no food and only half a bottle of water. When I arrived at the parking lot at the 1 km to go mark, I dug through my trunk and found my supply of Clif Bars and Nabisco 100 Calorie Snack Packs. I've been surviving on these since breakfast. So far I've eaten two Clif Bars and four of the 100 calorie things. I haven't seen anything else to eat here except for the food served to VIPs.

I've got a media credential that got me up the mountain, but it didn't get me free food today. At least the media guys had three or four cases of water, otherwise we would have been in real trouble.

Stage 5: Danielson Rides Leipheimer Off His Wheel, Armstrong Third

Team Discovery Channel rider Tom Danielson put on a burst of speed in the last 1 km of the race to the summit of Brasstown Bald to win Stage 5. Levi Leipheimer of Team Gerolsteiner was second. Lance Armstrong finished strongly in third place, pointing defiantly down the hill, presumably at Floyd Landis who had been the overall race leader until today.

Provisional results are as follows:

  • 1. Tom Danielson (Team Discovery Channel)
  • 2. Levi Leipheimer (Team Gerolsteiner), +15 seconds
  • 3. Lance Armstrong (Team Discovery Channel), +1 minute, 8 seconds
  • 4. Floyd Landis (Phonak Hearing Systems)
  • 5. Bobby Julich (Team CSC), +1 minute, 44 seconds

Leaders in the race overall:

  • Tom Danielson, General Classification
  • Greg Henderson, Sprint
  • Jose-Luis Rubiera, King of the Mountains
  • Trent Lowe, Best Young Rider

Maxxis Inflatable Tire Not in Place on Brasstown Bald Due to High Winds

Race radio just announced that the Maxxis Inflatable Tire that normally marks one kilometer to the finish has not been erected on Brasstown Bald today due to high winds. It's also snowing intermittently here at the summit and at least part way down the mountain.

I brought all of the weather gear I had with me on the trip, and I felt warm enough on the walk up from the parking area 1 km away. My biggest problem-- no gloves!

The lead group is 10 km from the finish.

4:55pm update, Race radio says that the lead group is 5 km from the finish and riding at 14 mph. That's incredible for the conditions.

TDFblog Has a Good Summary of Stage 5

Frank Steele has a good summary of Tour de Georgia Stage 5 up on TDFblog, including descriptions of the major climbs. I talked to him earlier and he was trying to see the riders on a couple of the mountains along the way to Brasstown Bald. It's really difficult to imagine that he can make it up here if he stopped elsewhere along the way, but I wish him luck.

How I Made it to the Top of Brasstown Bald

Through a little luck, perseverance, and the help of a few friends from the Dodge Tour de Georgia media crew, I reached the summit of Brasstown Bald where it is lightly snowing at the present time. Here's my story:

  • 12:10pm, [ Left the parking lot in Gainesville, GA after the start of Stage 5 of the Tour de Georgia. Headed for the mountain top finish at Brasstown Bald. ]

  • 1:14, We left the race start in Gainesville, GA at noon in a rush today, in order to get to Brasstown Bald. I was originally scheduled to ride with another reporter covering the race, but we were unable to connect. My car was supposed to be driven by a Tour de Georgia security person, but I ended up taking it back.

    Now I'm following a Tour de Georgia marshall's vehicle that contains the staff from the Media Tent in Gainesville. We're racing up the "Alternate Route" and we're making very good time. At one point we were on Georgia Highway 60 and we passed Dahlonega, but I'm not sure what road we're on now. I'm planning to show my media credential if anyone tries to stop me from going up the road at any point.

  • 1:17, I guess the trip odometer on the Nissan Sentra I rented only goes up to 1,000 miles, since the last time I looked it said 990-something. That's kinda funny.

  • 1:20, I wish there was someone who was riding with me to man a video camera so we could record the kind of lines we're taking through some of these turns. The road is not switch-backed at this point, but we're doing turns where we're going 1/3 to halfway around a circle and the road is definitely banked one way or the other. The marshalls van is hard to follow because it stands so upright on the road that I can't see cars or bikes in front of them.

    As the road went up hill, some of the more performance-oriented Dodge vehicles provided by the sponsor blew by the Sprinter van. I decided to stay with the Sprinter because they helped me get to this point.

    We just passed a Lone Star Flag painted on the road with the word "Thanks" written above it. I wonder if this stretch of the road is part of the course.

  • 1:23, We just passed a sign that read "Entering Union County" and another that said an Appalachian Trail trail head is here.

  • 1:29, One of the things we still have questions about is a directive sent out yesterday that said that credentialed vehicles would be allowed on the Georgia Highway 180 Spur until 3:00pm. The van in front of me is an official Tour de Georgia vehicle, while my car is not, but I have a credential around my neck. It will be interesting to see what the police are going to have us do up ahead.

  • 1:31, We just made a right turn on Georgia Highway 180 and passed a sign that said 12 miles to Brasstown Bald.

  • 1:36, We're about 10 miles from Brasstown Bald and we're starting to see spectators standing up here. I've seen course markers so we are on the course now. Another thing we're seeing is that amateur cyclists are riding in both directions on Highway 180, which is a two-way road. We had been told that cyclists other than the racers would not be allowed on Brasstown Bald, but where this exclusion takes effect is unclear to me. Another thing I saw was a sign staked by the side of the road that reads "No Paint on the Road". I wonder why. [ Subesequent reports indicate that this is a National Park Service restriction. ]

  • 1:38, I just got a call from Robbie {Bain} from the vehicle in front of me. I didn't realize that they knew I was behind them, They said that I would probably have to park my car someplace along here and jump in the back with them. That's real nice of them that they will help me get to the shuttle. Good thing that I brought my little recorder so I'll be able to describe where the car is parked.

  • 1:43, It's suddenly wall to wall cars parked on both sides of the road. Apparently this is the outer limits of the big crowds. We're just within 10 kilometers to go.

  • 1:44, I'm really surprised that they've let all these vehicles come up this far. It's just wall-to-wall cars up here. I should take a picture of this because it's just insane. I've never seen this many cars parked along the roadside in the Tour de France. I'm sure that by the time they get to this point, the riders will be fairly strung out. I hope there's some place for me to park up here.

  • 1:52, We just hit 5 km. We're coming to the 180 Spur junction. I'm assuming that I'm going to have to dump my car here somewhere and get in an official vehicle. I can't believe they're going to allow me to go up the spur.

  • 1:55, Believe it or not, they've let me onto the spur. Now I'm on the road going up the hill onto the Brasstown Bald. I just passed a sign that says "No parking for the next 3 miles." I'm driving up the road that the riders are going to ride up to the finish. I have no idea where we are going to park up at the top, but they let me in, so here I go.

  • 1:56, I thought that no bikers other than racers we're going to be allowed on the mountain, but now I see amateurs ascending and descending on this road. This makes driving tough because we are having to take whatever line we can up this narrow two-way road to avoid both walking spectators and cyclists.

  • 1:58, I wish I'd brought my Garmin Forerunner 201 because it would be really interesting to plot the slope of the 180 Spur to see how steep it really is. I would say this is not as steep as l'Alpe d'Huez and it's not as switchbacked to that extent, but the people who are walking up here have a good forward lean going. Oh, now we're coming to the first switchback. I can see from the sign ahead.

  • 2:08, I've hit a large parking area. There's room for quite a few cars here. The cars ahead of me have come to a stop. It looks like this is the end. I'm seeing fencing to separate riders and spectators. It looks like where we might end up parking.

    I just spotted a road which exits this area and continues up the hill. God knows where that goes. Maybe this isn't the end.

  • 2:10, Here's the big screen, so I guess maybe this is 1 km to go. Man, we've got another kilometer. Where are we going to go?

  • 2:19. I've found the Clif Bars in the trunk of the car!

  • 2:32, I'm walking and about half a k from the summit {breathing heavily, carrying a fanny pack and a full laptop bag}. I'm inside the barriers now.

  • 2:43, Arrived at the Media Center in the Brasstown Bald Observation Tower. Started up my laptop.

April 22, 2005

Stage 4 Photos Posted

I've posted and captioned my photos from Stage 4 and they are now available for your viewing pleasure in the 2005 Tour de Georgia Album in the Operation Gadget Photo Gallery. There are a number of photos of the stage start in Dalton and my visit with the race referees. There are also a couple of photos of the stage finish in Dahlonega including the scene and the winner of the stage, Brian Vandbourg.

How Race Referees Police the Tour de Georgia

How Race Referees Police the Tour de Georgia
Race Referees: I talked to Jim Patton, Kirk Leidy and
their coworkers from the race referee crew before Stage 4
of the Tour de Georgia.

See more TdG photos in in the
Operation Gadget Photo Gallery. [ Photo: Dave Aiello ]

Before the start of Stage 4 in Dalton, I met up with Jim Patton, Kirk Leidy, Cindi Hines, and Bill Samford, the motorcycle-based race referees. I wanted to find out more about what they did to enforce the UCI rules during the Dodge Tour de Georgia.

Patton and Leidy are referees riding one-person motorcycles. Hines runs the time board, where she displays the time gaps between riders. Samford drives the timeboard motorcycle.

The crews ride BMW 1100GS motorcycles. I took a number of good photos of them and their equipment that you can see in the Tour de Georgia photo gallery.

Patton and Leidy both enforce all of the UCI rules within the peloton. They carry paddles that have separate red and green sides. They use them to control the caravan cars. Holding up the red side of the paddle means that cars cannot pass their position. The green side of the paddle means its OK to pass.

When they see an infraction deserving a penalty, Patton and Leidy write the details on a diver's slate. This is a plastic board that can be marked with a golf pencil and will not erase until swiped with a glove. In Stage 4, there were a number of penalties including fines for failure to obey referees' instructions, and disqualifications for motorpacing. Most of these were probably observed and recorded by Patton, Leidy, or one of the other referees.

I asked Jim Patton how he got into being a race referee. He said that he was a racer at one time and an officer in the U.S. Navy. He wanted to stay with the game of cycling and this was a good way to do it.

I also got a chance to talk to Kirk Leidy who told me that he and Jim use Garmin GPSmap 60Cs to keep track of their position during the race. They are able to get the GPS coordinates of the route in advance, load it into the 60C's memory, and get advance notice of important points on the course.

Race officials collaborate on computing time gaps. They each have several stop watches on their handlebars. They use radio communications to mark the time at which the lead rider passes a certain point. When the chasers reach that same point, the watch is stopped and the time gap is recorded. These gaps are relayed to Hines who writes them on the board and shows them to the riders in the lead pack.

As an ice hockey official who works competitive games, I have always been interested in what cycling race referees do. I was really pleased to have the opportunity to talk with the referees working the Dodge Tour de Georgia and find out a bit about the similarities and differences between officiating the two sports. The race referees say it really helps to have had previous racing experience, which is similar to the sense most hockey officials have of previous playing experience.

The referees also have to stay with the players in cycling, which is a bit easier for them since they are on 1100cc motorcycles than it is for hockey officials who must skate. Then again, the technical skills that race referees have (car and motorcycle handling within a moving peloton) are unique and require practice that they can't get until they start officiating cycling events.

Race Radio-- Come In Please

This is the second day of confused stage results in this year's Dodge Tour de Georgia. Lots of outlets initially reported that Jose-Luis Rubiera finished second in the stage, but now many sites and publications are reporting that it was in fact Viatcheslav Ekimov.

The other issue was that the fixed wing signal relays (airplanes) were grounded today, due to the extremely bad weather. One reporter in the Media Center said that with 20k to go in the stage there was still no access to race radio, which meant that most "live" report sites had spotty information.

The big video screen that was across from the Gold Museum in the center of Dahlonega didn't have a live feed until about 1 mile before the finish.

Stage 4: Vandbourg Just Ahead of Ekimov in Tumultuous Mountain Stage

Team CSC rider Brian Vandbourg edged out Team Discovery Channel's Viacheslav Ekimov to win the mountainous fourth stage of the Dodge Tour de Georgia. Marco Pinotti and Jason McCartney reportedly came in next, followed by 20 to 22 other riders. That group included Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis and most of the other cycling heads of state.

The race was punctuated by rather severe weather conditions as a storm swept across Northern Georgia, noticeably lowering the temperature from this morning. The storm featured rain, hail, thunder, and lightening. See my previous report from Woody's Gap.

Lance Armstrong was very quotable today. "I think it went pretty much the way we expected. Really freaky weather. We didn't get hailed on, it was a miracle." He also said that Floyd Landis is very strong, "but he has no team. They can roll on the flats, but as soon as they go up hill, they all drop."

I wish I had my camera ready when I saw Floyd Landis roll by on his way to the podium. He looked more upset than any other yellow jersey wearer I've seen. One spectator observed that he didn't look like he had any fun today. Since Landis had to ride without any teammates to stay with the lead group, he had to respond personally to every attack. I don't know how he will be able to respond in the same fashion over even more intense mountain terrain tomorrow.

I'd like to point out that Gabriel Richalot of Le Parisien was the first media person to identify Ekimov as the second place finisher.

The stage results are as follows:

  • 1. Brian Vandbourg (Team CSC), 5 hours, 33 minutes, 2 seconds
  • 2. Viatcheslav Ekimov (Team Discovery Channel), Same Time
  • 3. Marco Pinotti (Saunier Duval)
  • 4. Jason McCartney (Team Discovery Channel), +8 seconds
  • 5. Bobby Julich (CSC), Same Time
  • 7. Lance Armstrong (Team Discovery Channel)
  • 8. Floyd Landis (Phonak Hearing Systems)

Leaders in the race overall:

  • Floyd Landis, General Classification
  • Greg Henderson, Sprint Leader
  • Trent Lowe, Best Young Rider
  • Jose-Luis Rubiera, King of the Moutains
  • Team CSC, Team General Classification

Woody's Gap Conditions Report

I just returned from Woody's Gap, a key mountain pass in Stage 4 of the Dodge Tour de Georgia, that's about 14 miles northeast of Dahlonega. I drove up there in my rental car, trying to join Josh Hallett the writer of hyku | blog.

When I crossed the line that said KOM (King of the Mountains) on Woody's Gap at about 12:30pm, it began to rain. Then it began to pour. Thunder and lightning started about 20 minutes later. There are some reports of hail at Woody's Gap as well.

After realizing that there was no place to park within 2 miles of the summit in either direction, I turned the car around and came back. I got back to the Media Center in Dahlonega about 1:45.

I would call the conditions above Dahlonega "inhospitable" rather than truly treacherous, but there were places on the descent from Woody's Gap (which must be crossed twice) where it looked like moss and flower buds had fallen from the trees. If riders come upon those stretches at high speed and on an unfavorable line, they may have trouble.

I told Kathleen that the crowd up on Woody's Gap was not as large as you might expect at one of the classic summits in the Tour de France, but it was large. The areas where cars could be safely parked off the pavement were filled for at least five miles on the Dahlonega side of Woody's Gap. I didn't see any people camping up there, but I was not able to look closely since I was driving.

April 21, 2005

TdG Photo Catch Up

Frank Steele from TdFblog pointed out that I told him that Floyd Landis was having a press conference at 6:00pm tonight. He called me to see if I attended. I told him I didn't and here's why:

I have posted over 150 photos of the Dodge Tour de Georgia so far and a lot of them were missing captions, due to a variety of technical problems that I'd been experiencing at the Media Center during the last few days. I'm catching up with the captioning now, courtesy of the sports guys at the Rome News-Tribune who work these hours normally anyway. Everyone else from the Tour de Georgia media contingent left a long time ago. I think that says something about my determination (or something).

Here are some links into the photo gallery for people catching up:

Captions are still going up on Stage 3. I will continue until I am done. Then I am going back to the hotel and going to bed.

WiFi Working Again for Me

I was just talking to Bridget Bentz from the Team.Discovery.com website, telling her that my story of the Dodge Tour de Georgia seems bound to be one where technology problems hinder my coverage. The good news is that I finally got my new D-Link DWL-G650 AirPlus XtremeG 802.11g Wireless Cardbus Adapter working in my laptop. I had to replace my old one because it started to die on me here at the Tour de Georgia, and the Media Center runs on WiFi.

This is not really a problem as long as the Media Center stays at the Rome News-Tribune offices here in Rome, GA. They have WiFi throughout the building, but also an abundance of Ethernet connections. [ Thanks for your help guys, you've been terrific. ] When the Media Center moves tomorrow to the Women's/Community Center in Dahlonega, we will probably go back to WiFi as our only source of Internet access.

I got about one year out of my last D-Link DWL-G650 AirPlus Adapter. I first started using it back in April 2004 (see Finally Working with Wireless Network at the Home Office). I had it installed on my laptop for virtually the entire year with hardly any problems. I hit the road last week for my trips to Chicago and Georgia and it started flaking out on me. I bought a new one while I was here in the Atlanta area, thinking that would minimize any driver-related problems that I might encounter.

The new DWL-G650 didn't want to work yesterday, and that appears to be the result of trying to continue using the old version of the D-Link driver. I upgraded to the new version, rebooted, and the new DWL-650 started to work!

The folks from the Tour de Georgia seem to be packing up. I hope the Rome News guys let me stay a while. I've still got some photos to upload and caption.

Stage 3 ITT: Landis Puts Some Time Between Himself and the Heads of State

Floy Landis Leaving Start Area
Landis On a Roll: Floyd Landis finished first in
the Stage 3 Time Trial at the Tour de Georgia.

See more TdG photos in in the
Operation Gadget Photo Gallery. [ Photo: Dave Aiello ]

Floyd Landis of Phonak Hearing Systems demonstrated good early season form by taking the Stage 3 Individual Time Trial around Rome, Georgia. Rain had some impact on the outcome, with Bobby Julich falling 28 seconds behind, good for fourth place and Lance Armstrong in ninth place at 1 minute 46 seconds. The stage results are:

  • 1. Floyd Landis (Phonak), 39 minutes, 58 seconds
  • 2. David Zabriske (Team CSC), +19 seconds
  • 3. Christopher Baldwin (Navigators), +22
  • 4. Bobby Julich (Team CSC), +28
  • 5. Nathan O'Neill (Navigators), +43
  • 6. Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner), +50
  • 9. Lance Armstrong (Team Discovery Channel), +1:46

Leaders in the race overall:

  • Floyd Landis, General Classification
  • Greg Henderson, Sprint Leader
  • Trent Lowe, Best Young Rider
  • Andrea Tafi, King of the Moutains
  • Team CSC, Team General Classification

Frank Steele from TDFblog and I talked to Scott Ogle one of the TV cameramen that I mentioned in How TV Cameras Follow the Tour de Georgia to get his impressions of the course. He said that there was a lot of standing water on the downside of Mount Alto and Lance Armstrong in particular took it easy on the descent.

Of his performance, Armstrong said, "Clearly I'm disappointed. I didn't feel great but I thought I'd do a better ride than that.... {It} clearly shows that I have some work to do." He also said that he's "probably behind on fitness" this year, compared to 2004. "I thought I caught up, but like I said, now I know I haven't, and now it's time to reevaluate the season."

Regarding Discovery's plans for the rest of the race, Armstrong said, "If we still have ambitions to try and win, we have to be aggressive. We'll just play it by ear. Now the race is on the shoulders of Phonak and CSC, and we'll just be secondary players and see if we can mix things up a little."

Floyd Landis was pleased with his performance, saying, "It couldn't have gone better. I didn't expect to win this morning. I know there are some very strong riders here.... My idea was to go see how well the first half went and then if I had the possibility to win take some risks downhill, but if I wasn't doing well I certainly wouldn't have taken any risks."

In order to make up one minute 46 seconds, Discovery will need to break free from both Phonak and CSC. However, Frank Steele and I agreed at lunch that Discovery brought a squad that's optimized for climbing, so they will have to make their moves tomorrow and Saturday.

By the way, last year on this same course, Lance Armstrong was the only rider to finish in under 40 minutes.

Other Bloggers Here at Stage 3

Stage 3 is an Individual Time Trial of 18 miles around Rome, Georgia. There is a short steep climb called Mount Alto about midway through the course. Robby Hunter will start riding last. He was declared the yellow jersey late last night. Lance Armstrong will be four places in front of him, and he will start at just about 1:00pm.

A couple of other blogger following the Dodge Tour de Georgia are here today:

Check them out.

I realize that I'm a little behind in my photo captioning process. We had no Internet access at my hotel last night.

Will the Real Yellow Jersey Please Stand Up?

There was quite a bit of confusion at the end of Stage 2 yesterday into Rome. Initially, the announcers on the podium called out the name of Rene Hasselbacker (Team Gerolsteiner, race number 51) as the winner of the stage. This was quickly corrected to a second presumed winner, Michael Rich (Team Gerolsteiner, race number 52). I heard this correction announced before I left the finish area.

By the time I walked the five or six blocks back to the Media Center, the referees corrected the announcers by saying that Peter Wrolich (Team Gerolsteiner, race number 56) had won. All of these corrections were apparently due to misread race numbers.

The declaration of the General Classification leader after Stage 2 was not made for over three hours after the stage finished. Tentatively, Tour de Georgia media relations said that Peter Wrolich would wear the yellow jersey. I believe he was presented with the yellow jersey at the end of the stage. At about 9:00pm, one of the media relations people came into the press room to say that there had been a "complication" in declaring the GC leader and that we should hold any story filings that we possibly could until the leader could be officially declared.

The media people came back a little while later to tell us that Robby Hunter would wear the yellow jersey and start the Stage 3 time trial last today. (Lance Armstrong will be starting fifth-from-last, at approximately 1:00pm Eastern Daylight Time.)

I had posted preliminary results right after the race. I corrected the GC leader to Robby Hunter after I left the Media Center, using my Treo 650. I hope there will be a bit less confusion today.

April 20, 2005

How TV Cameras Follow the Tour de Georgia

How TV Cameras Follow the Tour de Georgia
Television Motorcycle: I talked to Scott Ogle and
his coworkers from the mobile TV crew before Stage 2
of the Tour de Georgia.

See more TdG photos in in the
Operation Gadget Photo Gallery. [ Photo: Dave Aiello ]

Before the start of Stage 2 in Fayetteville, I met up with Scott Ogle, Greg Peterson, Billy Diaz, and David Taylor, two motorcycle-based TV camera crews. I wanted to find out how they captured the pictures of the Dodge Tour de Georgia that are seen on television and on the big screen at the finish line.

Ogle and Peterson are freelance cameramen. Diaz and Taylor are the motorcycle drivers. Ogle said that it made sense for each of them to be freelancers, since there is no single production company or television network with rights to all the cycling races in the United States. Freelancing also gives them the flexibility to work other sports and work in other countries.

The crews ride BMW 750cc motorcycles chock full of microwave equipment. I had never had the opportunity to see this gear up close, but I got a number of good photos that you can see in the Tour de Georgia photo gallery.

The process used to transmit the TV signals from the motorcycles to the stage finish is similar to process used in the Tour de France which was documented last summer on Operation Gadget. Basically, the motorcycles have microwave transmission antennas mounted on a mast that extends above the rear wheel. The microwave signal travels from the motorcycle to a helicopter or a fixed-wing aircraft which relays the signal to the production truck located near the finish line. From there, any necessary satellite feeds can be uplinked and closed-circuit feeds can be sent to the finish line for use by announcers or for display on big screens.

Each member of the two camera crews has worked a many professional cycling events in the past. I asked Scott Ogle what the worst conditions he's ever experienced in a race were? He said "Snow." (It subsequently snowed lightly during Stage 5 of the Tour de Georgia at the summit of Brasstown Bald.) He also said that in one edition of the Tour de Trump race (1990 or 1991), it rained for six days straight.

After seeing Scott Ogle's blood type printed on the back of his helmet, I thought to ask how dangerous they felt their work was? Greg Peterson said during Stage 13 of the 2004 Tour de France, his motorcycle was hit by a Team Gerolsteiner support vehicle and forced off the road. He and his driver stayed upright, but made an abrupt stop. They regrouped and caught the peloton right as Tyler Hamilton abandoned the race. This was a dangerous situation, but turned out well for his team because they shot the footage of Hamilton climbing into the Phonak Hearing Systems support vehicle that was shown on the Outdoor Life Network.

It's pretty clear when you watch these guys work that shooting five to seven hours of television while riding a motorcycle takes a lot of strength and endurance. An example of their physical effort is this photo where one of the cameramen is standing up on his motorcycle to get his shot during the Stage 1 rollout in Augusta. I asked Scott Ogle what he did in order to stay in shape? He said that he runs and rides his bike regularly. Most important, however, is his stretching regimen. He stretches daily, and if he's filming a bike race he performs his stretches both before and after the race.

Stage 2: Peter Wrolich Edges Quinziato and Armstrong

Lance Armstrong was right there at the finish, but the win went to Peter Wrolich. The unofficial results are as follows:

  • 1. Peter Wrolich (Gerolsteiner), 4 hours, 46 minutes, 26 seconds
  • 2. Manuel Quinziato (Saunier Duval-Prodir), same time
  • 3. Lance Armstrong (Team Discovery)
  • 4. Ivan Fanelli (Team LPR)
  • 5. Bobby Julich (Team CSC)

Leaders in the race overall:

  • Robbie Hunter, General Classification
  • Greg Henderson, Sprint Leader
  • Mauro Santambrogio, Best Young Rider
  • Andrea Tafi, Most Aggressive Rider

Andrea Tafi of Saunier Duval-Prodir had the long breakaway today. He was caught less than 10k from the finish. A lot of people in the press room were rooting for him.

Lance Armstrong must have felt strong today. According to Wrolich, Armstrong could have won but he was all alone (without any teammates) as they crested Watchtower Hill for the last time. Lance had to counter a move by Levi Leipheimer well before the finish line. Leipheimer unofficially finished sixth.

Foster Abandoned Yesterday Due to Dehydration

CyclingNews reported that Christian Foster of the Jittery Joes-Kalahari Cycling Team abandoned yesterday due to dehydration. According to them:

We talked to team director Micah Rice, who said Christian only drank about five bottled during the race yesterday, whilst the rest of the team drank at least ten. Christian is being discharged from hospital today and of course, did not start the race.

It's been hot here in Georgia, with temperatures in the mid-80s.

That's "Peloton", Not "Peleton"

Kathleen Aiello (my wife) pointed out that I was misspelling the word peloton in my posts yesterday. It's surprising that I made that mistake, but I guess that's what happens when I go without a spell checker. [ Thanks Kathleen! ]

April 19, 2005

Stage 1 Results: Robbie Hunter Takes the Sprint

Stage 1 of the Dodge Tour de Georgia ended in a sprint finish on the streets of Macon. The unofficial results are as follows:

  • 1. Robbie Hunter (Phonak), 5 hours, 47 minutes, 52 seconds
  • 2. Ben Brooks (Jelly Belly), same time
  • 3. Michele Maccanti (LPR)
  • 4. Daniele Napolitano (LPR)
  • 5. Greg Henderson (Health Net)
  • 15. Lance Armstrong (Team Discovery)

Dan Bowman of TIAA-CREF was on a solo breakaway for much of the stage, but was caught. One reporter asked what he thought of while he was leading all by himself. He said that he thought of many things, including "how much it hurts" and reasons why he was moving so slowly. Apparently the race took longer than everyone expected due to a pretty significant headwind. Bowman's comments were among the funniest moments of the press conference after the race.

Mavic Keeps the Tour de Georgia Riders on the Road

Mavic Keeps Riders on the Road
Mavic Support Motorcycle: I talked to Scott Hodge and
his coworkers from Mavic before Stage 1 of the Tour de
Georgia. See more TdG photos in in the
Operation Gadget Photo Gallery. [ Photo: Dave Aiello ]

This morning I was running on the outskirts of Augusta at about 9:30am. About a quarter mile from the end of my run, two yellow motorcycles passed me and stopped at a gas station just up the street. I ran over to the pumps and introduced myself to the motorcycle riding bike mechanics of Mavic. Mavic is a bike component manufacturer that primarily makes wheels for road and mountain bikes. They provide "neutral service support"-- meaning that they perform quick repairs to a rider's bike if they break down when one of their team cars is not nearby.

The Mavic mechanics were en route to the start of Stage 1 in Augusta. They suggested that I shower, change clothes, and meet them over at the start for a longer conversation.

I caught up with the Mavic guys about 90 minutes later. I spent a good bit of time talking to Scott Hodge, shown in the photo at the right. He told me that three Mavic service cars space themselves in the front and middle of the peloton, as well as behind the last rider on the course. The motorcycles continually shuttle back and forth amid the peloton riders, looking for mechanical problems that cannot easily be covered by a team vehicle.

Much of the work done by the Mavic motorcycle-based mechanics is quick wheel changes. They carry a number of different front and rear wheels because bikes often have different gearing. The wheels are attached to the motorcyles using a custom mounting bracket that fans the wheels out behind the second rider's seat.

The Mavic support team said that they can do a bike swap and a pedal change for a rider in under a minute, if the bike is really messed up.

Mavic rides BMW GS650s motorcycles, which Chris Zigmont said are "really maneuverable and really torquey".

One of the more interesting pieces of equipment the Mavic motorcycle riders use is motocross kidney belts. They use them mainly for support late in a stage. I believe that Paul Rinehart said that they are really helpful in the fifth and sixth hours of continuous riding.

Update: I forgot to mention that the motorbikes used by the Mavic support guys were last used in the Sea Otter Classic in California. That event ended on April 17. The bikes were trucked across the country in time for the start of the Tour de Georgia.

Photo Gallery Started for Tour de Georgia

I resolved some of my Compact Flash card reading problems, so I was able to start a Tour de Georgia Photo Gallery and post about 30 captioned photos. No really good photos of cycling action yet, but a lot of photos of support vehicles and what I saw at the starting line for Stage 1.

Check out the photos, and let me know what you think by mailing me at daiello [at] operationgadget.com. Thanks.

Where You Can Find Live Coverage of the Dodge Tour de Georgia

Note to readers: This article is about the 2005 Tour de Georgia. Click here for live coverage information for the 2006 Tour de Georgia.

I'm a little late with this for Stage 1, but the best places I've found for live coverage of the Dodge Tour de Georgia are as follows:

April 18, 2005

Will Lance Get into the Cycling Equipment Business When He Retires?

One of the things that I thought was stange about the Lance Armstrong press conference that took place earlier today was that Lance made repeated allusion to the notion that cycling was one of the best fitness activities he could think of. This struck me as strange because I had never heard him speak of cycling as an activity instead of a sport.

I mulled Lance's words over for a while and came to the conclusion that I expect Lance to endorse a line of cycling gear after he retires from professional cycling. The most obvious partner for this activity would be Trek and/or Nike. These companies are already Armstrong's and Team Discovery's sponsors, so it seems like a no-brainer for the relationship to become deeper.

I'm thinking that there will be Lance Armstrong co-branded products, in the same way as brands have been created around legends like Eddy Merckx. The difference is that Merckx has a very direct involvement in bike product development at his company, while I expect Lance to be more of a strategic advisor and product endorser.

Made it to the Opening Press Conference

I made it to the Radisson Riverfront Hotel in Augusta shortly before they closed the door for the big press conference. Obviously this was a momentus event, as advertised.

There was a press conference before Lance Armstrong spoke. A group of cyclists, representing a cross-section of the Tour de Georgia teams, appeared to answer media questions, including:

  • Ben Brooks of Jelly Belly-Pool Gel
  • Gord Fraser of Health Net Presented by Maxxis
  • Bobby Julich of Team CSC
  • Floyd Landis of Phonak Hearing Systems
  • Levi Leipheimer of Gerolsteiner
  • Nathan O'Neill of Navigators Insurance
  • Saul Raisin of Credit Agricole
  • Andrea Tafi of Saunier Duval-Prodir

This press conference was funny because there was a perceptible lack of focus in the questions and answers. Floyd Landis tried to head fake the media by suggesting that Lance would continue to ride for the foreseeable future. Andrea Tafi gave a long answer in Italian to a question about finishing his career here in Georgia. The translation, provided by another rider on the podium, was quite short. It was like a scene from the movie Airplane.

Bobby Julich was the most articulate athlete on the panel, providing thoughtful answers to questions about whether America could produce another generation of cycling stars to replace people like himself and Lance as they retire in the near future.

Technology has become the achilles heel of Operation Gadget coverage. I was unable to get my laptop on to the wireless network during the press conference, so I borrowed an IBM Thinkpad from the Tour de Georgia office staff to file today's reports.

The Treo 650 has proven to be amazingly useful. I have been able to keep up with email using it. I even posted the first version of the Lance Armstrong retirement article using the Treo. I couldn't really blog the press conference live, but I got an article up before he stopped speaking.

Lance Armstrong Announces His Retirement

Saying that he's "100 percent committed to retiring" after 14 years of pro cycling, Lance Armstrong announced that he will retire on July 24, at the conclusion of the 2005 Tour de France. He said that his children are the motivating factor and he has gotten a lot of advice on this from his mother. He also thanked Sheryl Crow and Johan Bruyneel for their roles in his success.

Armstrong made the announcement at the opening press conference for the 2005 Dodge Tour de Georgia. He decided to make the announcement at this time to deal straight up with the fans and the media. Hundreds of media representatives attended the press conference.

Lance was joined on the podium by Johan Bruyneel, director sportif of Team Discovery Channel, and Dan Osipow, director of corporate communications.

Stan Holm, director of the Dodge Tour de Georgia said:

While we certainly wish {Lance Armstrong would} never stop racing... we're thrilled and honored that he has chosen the Dodge Tour de Georgia as what could be his last professional race here on American soil. We are pleased that the 2005 Dodge Tour de Georgia will be the platform to celebrate Lance's career and we look forward to finding ways to work together in the future on our shared goal of defeating cancer in our lifetimes.

The Tour de Georgia officially begins with Stage 1 tomorrow morning at 11:30am.

Update: A transcript of the Lance Armstrong press conference is available at ThePaceline.com. Note that the URL may be a temporary one (lance.aspx), so the page may be relocated at some point in the future.

April 15, 2005

Tour de Georgia Starts Monday with the All-Important Press Conference

I'm still at the Chicago Showcase, but the Dodge Tour de Georgia starts Tuesday, and Operation Gadget will be there. I'll actually (somehow) be arriving on Monday afternoon, for the much-anticipated pre-race press conference, where Lance Armstrong has indicated he will tell the world some exciting new information that will pertain to his future. (The actual race starts Tuesday morning.)

There are a number of good options for people who want to follow the race from afar. I like to think that this site will be well worth reading, and I encourage you to come back often during the next 10 days. Frank Steele over at TDFblog is an Atlanta-area blogger. He's been providing good coverage this week. I'm hoping to meet him at some point so we can talk about what it's like to work on blogs that have heavy pro cycling components. Another place I'm looking for journalistic coverage is VeloNews.

April 8, 2005

Finding Hotels for the Tour de Georgia

I spent a little while on the phone this afternoon looking for hotel rooms in a couple of places along the route of the Dodge Tour de Georgia. Here are the locations I'm interested in:

  • Monday, April 18 in Augusta, lots of choices,
  • Wednesday and Thursday, April 20 and 21 in Rome, a couple of options, and
  • Saturday, April 23, Blairsville-Hiawassee-Young Harris-Hayesville, a challenge to find a place.

Towns County, where the Brasstown Bald is located, is apparently a lightly populated area that's more of a vacation destination than a series of suburbs. Visiting sites like Expedia doesn't help too much. I relied on the telephone to call the Towns County Chamber of Commerce and the Blairsville Chamber of Commerce (Blairsville's actually in Union County).

The people I talked to at the chambers of commerce were really nice. I told both of them that it was quite helpful to actually call because I don't know how far these towns are apart from each other. I guess I could have referred to the Georgia map I bought at the bookstore the other day, but I know that the map wouldn't have told me about the little motels and bed-and-breakfasts that the chambers knew about.

I'm looking at this research as part of the fun of planning the coverage of a professional cycling race. I'd run into the same problems if we were covering the mountain stages of the Tour de France-- there are only so many hotel rooms and many more people who want to stay over and watch the race. The difference is that I speak the language of the people in Georgia, so my search for rooms is pretty streamlined by comparison.

April 7, 2005

16 Teams to Compete in the Dodge Tour de Georgia

Six UCI Pro Tour Teams, two other major professional teams, and eight teams from the North American domestic scene will compete in the 2005 Dodge Tour de Georgia beginning April 19 in Augusta, Georgia.

The teams participating in the Tour de Georgia are:

Stan Holm, Executive Director of the Tour de Georgia, said:

The caliber of teams matched with Georgia’s beautiful yet challenging terrain ensures the 2005 Dodge Tour de Georgia will be the best yet. While we’re an invitation only event, we had teams from around the world reaching out to us, clamoring for an invitation and looking to make their mark in front of an American audience. The Dodge Tour de Georgia is the most anticipated stage race in the U.S. hands down and one of pro cycling’s most exciting new races anywhere. And, as many are predicting, this just might be the last time fans can see Lance race here in the U.S. All I can say is get ready!

Lance Armstrong has indicated in recent interviews that he plans to make a major announcement at the Tour de Georgia. Some media people have concluded that the announcement will be made at the opening press conference on Monday, April 18. I am planning to be there, so I hope to provide a report if makes an announcement.

April 4, 2005

Operation Gadget Covering the 2005 Dodge Tour de Georgia

I'm pleased to announce that Operation Gadget will cover the 2005 Dodge Tour de Georgia in person. I was granted a media credential for the event and I expect to be in Augusta on April 18 for the opening press conference and team presentations.

I'm planning to blog the Tour de Georgia and provide as much insight as possible into the largest professional bike race in the United States.

The Tour de Georgia grew substantially last year when Lance Armstrong and his U.S. Postal Service Cycling Team took part for the first time. Over 700,000 spectators watched one or more stages live in 2004. In 2005 the race is again expected to grow, thanks in part to the fact that Armstrong will defend his 2004 general classification victory. This will also be the first appearance of the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling team in a stage race in the United States.

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