Friday, December 17, 2010

Joyeux Noël - Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année! Over the last four months we have made the transformation from a family visiting France to a family living in France. It is a change that has happened slowly, but one that has had a profound impact on our lives. From our new home in Provence, we have seen the seasons change from summer into fall and then slowly move to winter. Gone are the high-pitched drone of the cicadas, the heat of the sun, and the intense smell of lavender. If we walk through the garden, however, we can still smell subtle hints of lavender reminding us just what joys spring will bring. The trees in the yard are now bare. Their leaves changed from green to yellow and to a dark shade of red and then rained down when the winds came through. We witnessed the vendange - marked by the local wine growers hauling their grapes through town on old wagons pulled by even older tractors on their way to the local cooperative. We tried our hand at picking the olives from our five or six olive trees around the house. There is a local moulin d’huile, which will exchange a liter of very good (award winning) olive oil for 10 kilos of fresh olives.

In November we had our first snowstorm, which, according to the locals, is very rare occurrence in Provence. For the boys, who have grown up in Southern California, this was their first time to experience a snowfall. They are ready for plenty more of the magical white stuff falling from the sky. We head to the Alps for the boys first ski trip tomorrow, and as Europe has had the most snowfall it has seen in 30 years, conditions promise to be fantastic!

Over the last four months, through it all, we have managed to ride our bikes . Our local bike routes have turned into a mosaic of seasonal changes that, each day, offer something new to the senses. Sage, rosemary, burning leaves, fermenting grapes, freshly harvested fields, and the smell of rain are to name a few things that constantly delight the nose. We have experienced, first-hand, the light of this place - the same hue that has drawn painters here over the centuries. On our rides, the eyes are continually dazzled with the intense light and colors of Provence. The sound of this place now, in the winter, is most days one of a peaceful silence. Of course, on other days, when the mistral kicks up (intense winds that blow down the Rhone valley from the north), there is just the unquiet sound and fury of the wind. During the mistral the landscape takes on a barren and almost lonely feeling. When the wind stops and the sun comes out, life returns to the soil and the landscape is once again radiant and welcoming. It is hard to describe in words the connection that one develops to a place by this kind of experience on a bike. With this connection comes a profound sense of where and who you are. One with the planet so to speak. We are really enjoying our time in France!

From our family to yours we wish you very happy holidays and a New Year full of love, joy and adventure!!!

Live Strong, Train Safe, and Live Well!!!

Bill and Liam

Monday, November 15, 2010

In France, T'is the Season for Cyclo Cross

Roan's back before he had even raced!

The Cyclo Cross season is in full swing here in France and all three Flanagan boys are in on the action. Cyclo cross in France is a crazy sport. Fall marks the time of year when basically all of the training and racing of the Ecoles de Cyclisme here in France, take to the fields and forests around the country. We have been training in the forest twice a week and racing on most weekends since the beginning of October. These forest or "bois" sessions are a lot like the movie Rambo, only played out in the woods on skinny-tired road bikes. The first time we went to practice I thought "you have got to be joking!" Get twenty kids on road bikes and turn them lose on rocky forest trails? I'm sure there is a method to this French Cyclo cross madness. The words "teaching les enfants agility" comes up a lot, but man, at first I thought they were all crazy!

Liam in Action

Crazy Sport on skinny tires

We had our first Cyclo Cross race the weekend before heading to California for Levi's Granfondo. The race was on a multi-looped course up in Chateauneuf de Dadagne which is a small town up near Avignon. The event took place on what looked like a rocky goat field. It was tough! The only one of the Flanagan boys who really did well was Roan (the youngest at 6 years old) who was second in his race. Liam was on the deck several times, and, at other times, he was catching big air in places you didn't really want to be catching big air. Halfway through I told him to back off and just get through the race safely. He had 103 miles to ride in California the next weekend!

Le Petit Champion - Roan is a serious force on the bike!

As soon as we returned from California we got right back into the fields, rocks and mud. Everyone told me that the kids didn't need special dedicated Cyclo Cross bikes. I soon noticed, however, that the kids who were winning the races (kids, by the way, that Liam was putting the hurt on in road races just a few weeks earlier), all had specialized proper Cyclo Cross bikes. Liam doesn't get intimidated, but this cyclo cross thing on skinny tires was knocking him around a bit. Liam had saved up some money, and I pitched in a bit and we were able to find a cyclo cross bike that would work. What a huge difference tires make. Also a little trick is to run the tires at about half pressure. We were clearly cyclo cross rookies! The first few races we were running skinny tires with 100 psi! It is amazing Liam was able to finish at all...

Roan (6 yrs old) in Action

Aidan (8 yrs old) in Action

It all goes back to the saying "that which does not kill us, makes us stronger." All three boys are getting incredibly strong on their bikes. Roan, the youngest, has been in the top 3 in all his races, winning several. Aidan is getting stronger and more agile every week. He had his first top 5 cyclo cross finish at the last race. Liam has been struggling to get into the top five, but if anything it has only given him more motivation to train harder and refocus a bit.

Some of the crew from the Aubagne team

Our most recent race in Vitrolles - which took place after three days of serious rain - was a complete mudfest. The boys had a blast! We are definitely starting to have some serious fun in the mud in France. Whether this translates to improved performance on the roads this Spring remains to be seen. Somehow, however, I think the French have a method to their madness - and we are hoping to see a pay off for all the hours in the dirt, rocks and mud later in the year.

The Battle Field (aka The Mudfest)

Live Strong, Train Safe, and Live Well!

This is Bill, Liam, Aidan, and Roan signing out!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Back to California for 103 Miles at Levi Leipheimer's King Ridge Granfondo

If the video is cut in half it can be seen in full screen on You Tube by clicking on the top

When I think about the King Ridge Granfondo in Sonoma County, California, many emotion laced words and feelings come to mind. First and foremost is a feeling of community and family. The event, which is now in its second year, has grown to include 6000 cyclists, however, it still manages to keep a small town feel. Walking into Finley Center in Santa Rosa for Packet pickup is a lot like coming home. The race just has this awesome feel to it! From the warmth of the volunteers, to the shared camaraderie of the participants, to the sponsors, and even down to the jerseys designed by Odessa Gunn - the event is truly first class. In many ways traveling to the Fondo was coming home for Liam and me. We are now living in France, but for the last several months training for the Santa Rosa ride has been our link back to the states.

Levi Leipheimer - The man behind the event

The other words that come to mind when I think of the Granfondo are beautiful, majestic, and very, very hard. The Granfondo route is over some of the most beautiful terrain in California, or, for that matter, the world. Vineyards, redwoods, mountain tops, and insane sweeping, rugged coastal views are just to name a few things that one experiences on Fondo day. Of course, there is a price to be paid for experiencing so much beauty in one day on a bike. The toll is the sweat and effort of pedaling a bicycle 103 miles over a course with 8500 ft of climbing!

This year the Coleman Valley climb came at 78 miles

Last year in 2009 after completing the 65 mile event Liam (then 9 years old) decided that he wanted to come back to Santa Rosa in 2010 and give the full 103 mile route a go. At 10 years old he would be the youngest participant to have completed the King Ridge Gran route. I was mixed about the idea. For his age, Liam is somewhat of a freak of nature when it comes to endurance. I had no doubt that if he put his mind to it he could complete the 103 mile ride, but the question for me was how to get him there without injury or over training. I also wanted Liam to know that there was always the option to do the 65 mile route again, if he wasn't up to the full 103 miles. Liam worked really hard all summer and did a lot of cross training. Take a look at the blog post "What it Takes" for more specifics on his training. Then, of course, there was the question of me getting in to physical shape to do the ride as well! The whole project turned into a wonderful bonding experience. We literally turned our new house in Provence into "training camp." Our training rides became our way of exploring our new home in a way that few people can. By training in France and completing the journey in California - Provence, France and Sonoma County, California somehow seem much closer together now. A simple bicycle has bound these two areas together in a new forming concept of what now constitutes our home. Our experiences on and off the bike has radically changed the way we see the world. The world is now truly our home!

Ben King and Liam

Yesterday October 9th, 2010 we completed the "century ride" journey. Liam kicked butt out there! He was incredibly strong throughout the day and rode like the warrior he is. Liam now can proudly say that he has ridden 103 miles over one of the toughest century courses in the country.

After finishing the ride we came over to say hello to Levi and thank him and Odessa for the event. To Liam's surprise and honor they asked him to go up on to the Fondo stage with them, US Road Cycling Champion Ben King, and Dave Towle. That was pretty darn cool!

The post Fondo Stage

The event was a huge success not only as a bike fondo, but also for raising funds for the community, the Forget Me not Farm, and the battle against cancer through Livestrong. Levi, Odessa, all the volunteers, sponsors, and participants made this possible. I say it a lot and I will say it again - Together we can and do make a difference!

Livestrong, Train Safe, and Live Well!!!

Bill and Liam signing out!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

New Rhythms, New Rides - What it Takes to Make a Difference.

We have settled into our new home in Provence, and are slowly starting to step into the rhythm of our new lives in France. New food, new schools, new friends, new language, new culture, new places to explore, new rides to find, and new ways to train are just to name a few of the things we are all experiencing together as a family. It is experiences like these that open one's perspective and world view. I think we are all taking it in stride - so far so good!

Our home for the year in Provence

A new "secret" cove

First day of school in France

The boys are in the French public school which started a few weeks ago. In France this time of year is called the rentree or reentry. All the French children start school again around the first week in September. This , of course, has been difficult because the boys, at the moment, speak very little French. They probably want to kill us now, but hopefully they will thank us later. There is one little girl in Liam's class that does know some English. It happens to be the swear words F U. Periodically throughout the day she will shout it out to Liam just to see his reaction. He is a good sport about it, and actually finds it rather funny. One thing the boys do love about their new school are the lunches. They have an hour and a half lunch and it is quite a deal. I want to go to school with them! Wouldn't it rock to be able to do the fifth grade again complete with a great French lunch? The boys don't exactly share my enthusiasm at the moment, but I think this may change as their language skills start to improve.

Monastery in the Saint Baume

Saint Baume

On the weekends and during our days off, we have been exploring small French villages on the coast and in the mountains. We have also been doing a lot of (beaucoup) bicycle riding. The weather is great, the riding is amazing, the food is fantastic, the wine is, well very French ( tres bon,) our French neighbors and people we have come into contact with have been super friendly and helpful.

Through it all, our link back to the States has been the training and fund raising for two cycling events in October back in the United States. Liam wants to attempt a century ride which is a ride of 100 miles in a single day. This is a huge task for a 10 year old. It takes a lot to put in the training required. For a 10 year old it is important not to over train and stress the joints. Therefore, Liam is doing a lot of cross training to supplement his riding. Rowing, trampoline, swimming, and running are all part of the current program. I think Liam is, at the moment, the, or, one of the hardest working 10 year olds in cycling.

Taking cross training to new heights

As hard as Liam has been working on the bike, he has been working equally as hard to champion the fight against cancer, and for local California charities. So far, this year, Liam has raised $300 for the Levisgranfondo charities, and $1140 for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Thank you to all those who have joined Liam to make a difference! And for those who still wish to join Liam in his campaign, there is still time. The events are in October! Let's make some noise! 28 million people in the world are effected by cancer. Lets shrink this number and eventually snuff out cancer.

New training grounds

Livestrong, Train Safe, and Live Well!

Bill and Liam

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Six Days of Racing at the European Junior Cycling Tour Assen

As we were driving from Bordeaux to Paris for the finish of the 2010 Tour de France, Liam could not stop thinking about the Junior Cycling Tour in Holland. Mike and Clare Barry had first told Liam about the event when we had met them at the final time trial at the Tour de France. The Barrys are the parents of Michael Barry who is a professional cyclist from Team Sky. When Michael was younger, a highlight of their year was when they would make the trip to Assen so that Michael could get some great experience racing bikes with other kids his age in Europe.

When we arrived in Paris, we looked up the European Junior Cycling Tour Assen (EJCTA) on the internet and discovered that there was still time to enter the event in 2010. The event would take place from August 2nd to the 7th. EJCTA is a six day stage race complete with time trials, criteriums, classic road stages, and cobbled sectioned omloops! It had captured Liam's imagination! Liam would turn 10 on July 27th, and he would be able to get his international USA Cycling license. After a flurry of activity, we were able to get Liam an international racing license and an entry into the stage race.

Incredible experience for Liam to race with other kids his age in Europe

After the incredible Dutch flavor we had to this year's Tour de France, it is great that Liam's first stage race would be in Holland,. We had met so many great people from Holland out on the roads of the Tour. The experience was really a perfect book mark for the Tour.

A taste of racing over the cobbles

Assen is in the Northeastern part of Holland which is a 6 and half hour drive from Paris. Liam and I packed up the tent, sleeping bags, and bikes; and set off for a week of cycling and camping in Assen. A quick look at the weather and I knew that the experience was going to be a wet one. Rain was in the forecast for the entire week.

We arrived in Assen on Sunday just after noon. As we pulled into town, all you could see were kids from 8 to 18 on their bikes getting ready for the event. It was a jamboree of youth cycling. We set up our tent at the Weilerhome which was the main venue for the event which was in its 46th year. From the beginning all the organizers and volunteers of the race were very helpful and friendly. In the camp ground Liam immediately began to make friends with other kids his age. That is really what the whole experience is about!

Liam started rolling by day 4 for the tt on the Famous Assen race track

The racing was tough. Day 1 we had a problem with Liam's gearing. In Holland, young racers are only permitted to have certain limited gear ratios. For the first time trial Liam was locked out of his big chain ring. This was difficult for a kid who is used to pushing big gears in the Alps. We got this problem fixed with a visit to a local bike shop, but not until Liam finished 29th in the first Time Trial. Liam also had to get used to the fast pace these riders go. Up until now he had been riding with me - his dad ( I don't go tearing around all the time at 24 MPH.) It took Liam a few days, but he started to get the hang of it and by day four, five, six he was right up there with the leaders. He made the comment on the last day of the race, that he wished the event were 20 stages long.

Assen is Famous for its Fomula 1 and Motorcycle track

All through the week there were great activities for the Tour participants. A highlight, for us, was a visit to the local ropes course. It was a great experience and an opportunity to meet some of the other kids in the race. We will always remember swinging from the trees 8 meters high in Assen!

Up in the trees in Assen

Many of our Dutch friends and friends from the cancer fighting community gave us great messages and support on Twitter and over the internet throughout the event. These really were great for Liam's moral. In fact, Gaby Zwaan the Dutch artist actually made the trek to Assen to see Liam Race. That was very, very cool! Liam was also proud to be racing in his Livestrong kit. He is just as passionate about a world free from cancer as he is about bike racing! He also realizes that there are many out there putting there heart and soul into this fight.

Liam did really well for his first experience in a UCI sanctioned bike race. After six days in Assen, Liam finished 20th overall on GC, he met some great European kids his age, got some great racing experience, and generally had a blast. We hope to be back next year for sure, and Liam already has his eyes on a top 10 placing on the GC!

Alexander a new Dutch friend and fellow cyclist

For more information about the event in Assen and some great articles from the race by reporter Jose Been click here for the link to the EJCTA website.

Life Strong, Train Safe, and Live Well!!!

This is Bill and Liam signing out!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bordeaux and Paris - A Wrap To The 2010 Tour de France And On To The Junior Vuelta in Assen, Netherlands

The final days of the Tour de France are always a marathon, whether you are riding the race, or simply trying to follow it as a spectator. This year was no different. The final stages of the Tour took place in Bordeaux and Paris - cities which are roughly 400 miles apart. I had never been to Bordeaux, however, I had experienced firsthand the flavor of the region through years' of enjoyment of the great wine produced in the area. The city itself did not disappoint. The town is built along the inlet of Gironde with beautiful cathedrals and cobbled sections of the old city. There are cafes, brasseries, and restaurants throughout. From my experience, the meals here are all about pairing food with wine that accents the flavors and essence of the creations. In Bordeaux, food and wine are truly an everyday art. This was a huge contrast to camping on the Tourmalet - where the standard was canned tuna and stale bread. Liam was excited to be able to get chicken nuggets and frites, followed, of course, by a scoop of ice cream. We were definitely back in civilization!

Ride along the Gironde in Bordeaux

In Bordeaux, we would be able to see two stages of the Tour de France. On Friday, a sprint stage would finish along the Gironde, and, on Saturday, the final time trial would be a point to point race from Bordeaux to Pauillac. We spent Friday morning riding along the Gironde and were able to ride the final few kilometers of the finish. It is always great to get on a closed of section of the Tour de France and tear it up. We were having so much fun that we actually road the final 2k finishing chute a few times. A headwind was coming off the river and could have been a factor in the race. We found a spot with a large monitor of the race about 150 meters from the finish. The sun was out and we were able to relax on the grass and take in the scene. We ran into Joe and his wife Liz from Wisconsin. It was fun to take it all in with them. The carnival atmosphere really started to pick up as the race approached the town. As Liam had predicted, the sprint finish was won by Mark Cavendish - in an awesome display of power.

Fun taking it all in with Joe V and Liz

Next day was the time trial. Normally Liam and I ride the TTs, however, the logistics of getting back to Bordeaux from Pauillac and then getting to Paris that night were going to be too difficult. I also had some safety concerns about the roads. When you are not sure, it is better to give it a miss. We decided to skip the ride for now, but we will return to Bordeaux this fall, to do some more riding for sure. In any case, we were able to get a good view of the riders as they came through the city of Bordeaux.

Liam with Mike and Clare Barry

On Saturday, we had the opportunity to take in some of the time trial race with Mike and Claire Barry. Mike and Claire are the parents of Michael Barry who was in the Tour and rides for Team Sky. Over the years we have met many of the parents of professional cyclists, and they share one thing in common - they are all very nice, down to earth people. Mike and Claire shared the story of Michael riding Mont Ventoux with his dad on a tandem at nine years old. We shared with them some of our Father Son Tour adventures. It was a lot of fun. The Barrys also told us about a youth stage race in Assen, Netherlands where they used to bring their son. Liam immediately wanted to do the race. The race is in its 46th year and is now called the Junior Vuelta. It is the largest youth stage race in the world and it takes place over 5 days with time trials, criteriums, and road races. To make a long story short, Liam is going to do the event which starts on the 2nd of August. (A little of the story - Liam turned 10 on July 27th and was eligible for his international USA Cycling license. We contacted the race in Holland and they had room in the event for Liam. We got the all the permission letters from USA Cycling by fax and we are good to go!) Unfortunately, there are not any hills in Holland, but the experience will be invaluable for Liam. He really wants to start learning race strategy from these kids over here! We will be reporting from Liam's first stage race next week on the blog.

After the TT in Bordeaux, we headed out to drive the 600 kilometers to Paris. We actually pulled into the City of Lights before midnight on Saturday night! Last year we didn't get into Paris until 7 in the morning on Sunday. It is a real feeling of accomplishment pulling into Paris after following a Tour de France. I can only imagine what the riders feel. Liam and I had 4000 miles of driving and about 1000 miles of biking under our belts. Sunday morning we headed out on our bikes for a Paris ride. The city has become very cyclist friendly over the last few years. During the weekend, they actually close off the road by the Seine to cars, and it is available to cyclists and in-line skaters. The Velibe program of free bikes throughout the city has been a huge success, and has resulted in drivers being much more aware of cyclists. We had a wonderful ride all over the city. I can't think of a better way to spend a morning in Paris.

Gaby on the Champs

After our ride, we headed to the Champs for the finish of the Tour. We met up with Gaby Zwaan who had had come from a meeting with Doug Ulman, the head of the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Gaby had given his painting of Lance Armstrong to the Foundation. I think that it has found a wonderful home in Austin, Texas. Liam and I hope to see it at Livestrong HQ when we are there in October!

Sharing cycling tales with friends from the road

Liam and I met a group of Australians who had ridden many of the same climbs we had. We shared our tales of the road and watched as Lance rode up the Champs for the last time in his career, and the race was written into history. It was another great year on the Champs in Paris at the end of July.

This year, Liam and I have dedicated our Father Son Tour to the fight against cancer. 28 million people are affected by this disease. It is a number that Liam and I hope that someday in our life times will be 0. If you followed along and enjoyed the blog, please consider a donation to the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Link can be found on the right at the top of the blog. Together we are making a difference in this important fight. Thanks everyone for coming along for the ride.

Livestrong, Train Safe, and Live Well!!!

Bill and Liam signing out!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Stage 17 - To the Mountains and into the Rain and Fog

At the beginning of the week, Liam and I drove 1000 kilometers or 600 miles to catch back up with the Tour de France in the Pyrenees. The final few stages are always the hardest to follow. The distances between stages seem to increase and the crowds are much bigger. This year the weather has been really tough. Conditions have been extreme both hot and cold. Tavi and the boys decided to stay in Switzerland and see the finale of the Tour on the television. It was probably a good thing because the next few days were pretty tough and at times miserable. It was a miserable that in retrospect was a lot of fun, but when you are in it you say to yourself, "what was I thinking!" The rain started as soon as we hit the town of Lourdes. In Lourdes we got some supplies and headed up into the mountains. In route we passed over many of the Livestrong messages on the road that had been made by the chalkbot. It was beautiful and at the same time a little sad to see all the messages to loved ones that had lost their battle with cancer. There were also many uplifting messages of survival and inspiration. Liam and I had left a message earlier that was printed on July 19th. We were e-mailed a picture of it.

Top of the Tourmalet

The Tourmalet was socked in with rain and fog. It was useless to even pitch a tent. Liam and I ended up sleeping in the car. The first day we climbed the last 12k of the mountain in the rain and fog. The Tourmalet is a tough climb with a constant 10% plus grade. Liam was riding very strong as usual. In the last k or so we rode to the summit with a group of Dutch riders who were raising money for a children's cancer foundation. The ride which covered the entire route of the tour de France was called the Tour for Kika. It is always amazing to see all the inspirational things people are doing around the Tour de France. They are the stories within the story that make this race so special.

"Le Tour Man" Some real characters on the road

Race day the weather was no better. Liam and I hiked up the mountain in the rain to get a good spot to watch. We decided to watch about 1 and a half kilometers from the summit on a very steep section where attacks would be certain. The sun actually came out for about 4 minutes before the rain and fog returned. By the time the race came through visibility was about 50 feet. We had a blast, all the same, meeting the characters that were on the mountain that day. After the race came through, we hiked back down the mountain to our camping spot, packed everything up, and said goodbye to the mountain. We made it down to the Autoroute at midnight and to Bourdeaux at 2:30 in the morning. We tried to find a hotel room , but to no avail.... Yet another night slepping in the car! The finish of the tour is like the last few miles of a marathon it is a real test even for the spectators. In Bordeaux the next day a bed, a hot shower, a great meal, and a glass of wine was waiting. However, that will be in the next blog.

The Sun Came out for 4 minutes in two days

We are off to ride and watch part of the last time trial through the vineyards of Bordeaux. Livestrong, Train Safe, and Live Well!!!

Bill and Liam