Thursday, December 1, 2011

L’art du Départ (The Art of the Start)

Liam Rolling at a Cross race near Avignon

Cyclo-Cross is a wild hybrid sport that takes road biking, cross country running, mountain biking and trail running, and somehow manages to merge them all together. The sport is primarily done on a cyclo-cross bike. The bike itself is a hybrid, taking the light frame of a road bike, beefing up the fork and wheels, and using a sort of skinny mountain bike tire. The handlebars of the bike are like that of a road bike, with the exception of an extra set of brake levers in the front. There is also more clearance between the actual brakes and the wheels; because quite often you ride through mud. Cyclo-cross is fun, but it is also physically demanding and very technical. The courses are usually over single track made up of some combination of mud, sand, loose dirt, and rock. The riders often have to dismount their bikes and run or jump over obstacles with the bike on their shoulders.

Cross terrain can be tough

Last year, the first year of cross racing for the Flanagan boys, was a tough initiation. Falls were common, their starts were horrible, and the technical tight turns and descents were intimidating. It takes awhile to learn and adapt. It also takes a lot of courage to stick with something that, at first, you are not great at. It is hard to go from always being on the podium (in the top three) to being back in the mid pack at 15th or 16th. By the end of last year’s cross season Liam did manage to crack the top 5, and was often in the top 10, but each race somehow left him a little disappointed. I guess when you are 10 and 11 it is hard to sit back and be patient with yourself (I can’t say that it is easy at 43 either.)

Liam started cross training this year in Late Summer

By the end of last year’s season Liam was getting the technical turns, dismounts, obstacles, and the descents, but when we looked back at what went wrong it often came down to the start. In cyclo-cross the start is all-important. You can’t win the race with a great start, but you sure can lose with a bad one. In Liam’s category you have about 40 kids all gunning to get into the top five positions within the first 100 meters of the race. If you are much further back it becomes nearly impossible to catch up and very difficult to pass in the single-track sections.

We started really focusing on starts at the end of this summer. It takes a lot of practice and motivation to be able to generate that type of explosive speed from a stand still. We worked on imagery (from hair on fire, bees chasing you - to the more zen “powerful volcano warrior”). In November it all started to click. Not only were the starts getting faster, but Liam’s ability to put in bursts at speed started to come together as well. His cadence (the revolutions per minute he could turn over the pedals) also markedly improved.

First Cross Podium finish at La Ciotat

A few weeks ago, at a tough race in La Ciotat, Liam succeeded to get onto the cyclo-cross podium for the first time with a third place finish. Then, last weekend to show that it was no fluke, he finished in third again at an even bigger regional cross race at Les Pennes Mirabeau. At that race, last Sunday just outside of Marseille, he had a beautiful start. It was like watching ballet – a work of art. It was a choreographed burst of speed, a high cadenced dance on the pedals, a zen flow through the tight turns, and then out on to the single-track in the lead!

The Art of the Start

Practicing a little Zen into the turn

Benjamin Division Podium at Les Pennes

On Sunday, after the junior races, there was a pro race that we watched in the afternoon. The pros raced over much of the same course that the kids had raced over. There were several Tour de France riders at the event. It was a little off-season cross to keep their skills sharp. Rémi Pauriol (the mentor of the boys’ vélo club) won the race. Professional riders Rémy de Gregorio, Yoann Bagot, and Maxime Bouet also raced. The riders were really cool with the kids, before the race they took a lap of honor for a retiring pro, and the kids were able to ride along side by side with the pros. It was one of those relaxed, down-to-earth home town events. Very different from the times we see these guys in July at the Tour were there is a lot more hype and pressure.

Chilling with Pro cyclist Maxime Bouet before the start

Maxime on Course

Pro Cyclist Rémi Pauriol mentor of our club

Rémi on course going for the win

Pro Podium at Les Pennes

It was one of those events that gets you pumped to be a cyclist, in fact, with mild weather the whole Fall has been really great for cycling. And I have to say that year 4 of the Father Son Tour is off to a great start.

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

Bill and Liam

* Note to the guys who have been following the blog. You may have wondered what happened to the end of our season last year (ie.. Levi’s Granfondo, Livestrong Challenge Austin). We had (or at least I had) a rough ending to our last season. I Won’t spend too much time on it – I had to have minor surgery to remove a basal cell carcinoma (this is a form of skin Cancer that for the most part is very treatable) in Switzerland in August – I started riding too soon after the surgery and the incision got infected. We had to cancel our trip back to the states. It turns out that you use the muscles in your upper back for almost everything, and it is an area that can be very hard to heal. It is all good now, and good thing because if I lost too much of my conditioning I would have to buy a moped or an electric bike to keep up with the boys!

Monday, September 19, 2011

One Word - Dedication

It is true that winning is not everything, but, man, it is certainly great to work really hard and have it all come together! I think the story of our first year in France is a story of dedication. It is a story of obstacles overcome. Occasionally, it had its share of set backs and bumps in the road, but in the end it is a story that shows that hard work and keeping your chin up really does pay off.

Bringing it home in Marseille

When we arrived in France a year ago Tavi and the boys hardly spoke a word of French. We where changing houses, schools, leaving friends behind, and moving to a new country, where we literally knew no one. Tavi and I had a long talk and agreed that we wanted to put the boys ages 6, 8, and 10 directly into a French public school. There were other options – international schools were just 15 minutes away in Aix, but I had the feeling, that, if the boys could get through the first few months, over the long haul the public school would be much better in the end for their assimilation into France. We told the boys that it was going to be tough, but that, they could do it – we smiled a lot, put on a brave face, and talked it up. Underneath the cool façade, we, of course, had our doubts and fears. Could they actually do it? What would we do if it didn’t work out?


I still remember the boys' first day of school in France. The boys soldiered into their new school, however, just before disappearing into the building hesitantly looked back at us with the expression that said “are you really sure about this?” It is hard enough to start a new school and make new friends, but to do so in a place where you don’t fully understand the culture or speak the language is very, very difficult. The boys sat in class on their first day and didn’t understand anything that was being said in the classroom. “Hello, what’s your name?” was the extent of their new classmates English and the boys didn’t speak much more French. It was difficult and I think at times all the boys had their doubts that they were actually going to be able to do it. For the first few months we would ask the boys how their day went after school. “Terrible” was always the response. It was tough – tough to learn the language, tough to make new friends, tough learning how a new culture works and not to be misunderstood. Some days the boys were in tears.

Sometimes it is a difficult road ahead

Then one day, just before Christmas, we asked the question about how the day went, and we got “OK.” It wasn’t a “great” or “super” but it wasn’t “terrible” either. This was the day that I knew that we were all going to be all right in our new home. Soon the boys started receiving invitations to birthday parties, having sleepovers and actually getting some praise from their teachers. They started to get compliments on their French. It didn’t all come at once, and there were a lot of difficult days, but they did it.

One pedal stroke after another

All through our first year in France, the boys were also working hard on their cycling. They are all big fans of riding their bikes. I must admit that, as a parent, I planted the seed with my love and enthusiasm for the sport. They have now taken that involvement to a new level. We have a tennis club down the street, and handball is big in our town as well. The boys like those sports, but it would seem that, for now, their true passion is cycling. They have all chosen to stick with it.

Just as there was a new language and culture to learn with the boys’ French school, there was also a whole different rhythm to riding and racing bikes in France. It took a while to adjust and adapt to the French way. The boys worked really hard. Liam had some early success in his very difficult category, but then had essentially a whole year of what we call “paying his dues.” There were many races in which he felt he could have done much better. In some races there was bad luck – a flat tire, a crash, throwing a chain. That is bike racing. It is a crazy, hard sport. It is a lot of fun, but in order to excel at it you need a lot of dedication. In this day and age of attention spans of a nano-second, Liam is an 11 year old with a ten-year plan, and he sticking to it. I do admire him for that.

Finally, in the last few weeks, everything here has come together as we head into our second year in France. The rentree (when all the French come back from their August holiday and return to school and work) went by, for the most part, without a hitch. The boys now, after all, speak the language that their classes are taught in - which is a huge plus. It was the smoothest start to any school year that I can remember. We now have lots of great friends in our little French village. Liam has moved up to middle school, called “college” in France. He made the school mountain bike team that had four national champions last year. We had a return to road racing last weekend with a few wins in Marseille. It was a difficult field on a very hot, hilly course that was well suited to the Flanagan boys’ strengths. Both Roan and Liam won their categories!

On this day - it all came together for Liam

Roan on the podium in Marseille

Liam has really gone the extra mile this year. He knows what it takes to do well here. Roller sessions after school, longer rides on days off and weekends, cross training, eating and sleeping well are all part of his routine. I guess it all comes back to that one word - dedication.

Rolling at home after school

Now, as we head into our second year in France, we are all even more thrilled and excited to be here continuing with our great adventure. And, to make things even better, we speak the language well enough to get what is going on -- at least -- most of the time.

Live Strong, Train Safe, and Live Well!

Bill and Liam signing out

Monday, August 29, 2011

Racing in the Land of Tall Girls on Flat Fast Courses in Assen, Netherlands

Year two for Liam - now the Assen veteran

The Team - L'eqipe Franco-americane Aubagnais

Assen is a small town in the north-east corner of Holland. It is probably best known for the Assen TT motorcycle and formula 1 racetrack. To us, Assen has come to mark the boys' biggest bike race of the summer - the European Junior Cycling Tour - a six-day stage race for kids that takes place every year around the 1sst of August. It was our second year in a row at the event, and I suppose it is becoming a bit of a tradition. You get hooked on the atmosphere of this race, which has become a sort of jamboree of youth cycling – a mini Tour de France. It is complete with camping, time trials, criteriums, classic road stages, cobbled sectioned omloops, and they even have podium presentations complete with podium girls and flowers. All you need is a little rock music and you could call it Cyclapoloosa.

The podium after day 1 in Liam's Catagory IV, the girls are one year older and it seems one foot taller than the boys in the catagory

Always great to see reporter Jose Been

Friend and Assen local legend Bert Prent

We spent the week in Holland camping, racing bikes, making new friends and catching up with friends we have made along the way. It was great to see Jose Been, a friend and reporter who has covered the race for the last two years. Also, several of our Dutch friends actually made the trip to Assen to spend a day and see Liam race! Gaby Zwaan came out for the second year in a row to spend the day and have lunch. I think Assen is really growing on him! Always great to see Gaby - the guy has got lots and lots of energy. We wish him well in his upcoming opening in New York. Our Dutch friends and Livestrong leaders Annemiekeh and Karen also came out and set up a Livestrong information booth at the opening ceremony. These guys really work hard at raising money and awareness in the global fight against cancer. It was great to see them, and hopefully we will see them again in Austin at the end of October.

Friends and Livestrong leaders Annemiekeh and Karen

Fellow artists Gaby and Aidan

This year the Youth Tour had 800 or so kids, ages 8-18, mostly from Europe, but also from as far away as Australia. It is really a great venue for the boys to improve their cycling skills, discuss cycling strategy with fellow race participants, and learn to handle both the successes and set backs which naturally come with a bike race that takes place over six days. Professional rider Eric Zabel who was at the event with his Young Heros Canyon Cycling Project, called the event “cycling at its most pure and best.”

Back at camp watching one of the races with our friends the Tveters

Sofiane on the way to winning the sur place competition

The only draw back to racing in Assen is that it is located 1400 Kilometers from our house in Provence. It is a long, long drive. This year all three Flanagan boys were racing, and we also brought along Sofiane who is a friend and fellow teammate of the boys. Liam had told Sofiane about the youth tour, and it had really captured his imagination. The trip was a big deal for Sofiane, as it was his first time out of France, and, in fact, first time north of Lyon. It turned out to be a grand undertaking. I got just a little taste of what it is like to be a director sportif for a cycling team with our team of four from the Velo Club Aubagnais. It is tough work! During the trip we passed through Luxemburg, Belgium, Holland on the way there, and Germany and Switzerland on the way back. 2800 kilometers covered in the car and many on the bike. We used rides in locations all over Europe to break up the trip. It was really quite the European cycling adventure. We went through a lot of pasta and even more bananas. Four boys can really eat when they are cycling everyday.

Base camp for the week long race

The Assen Race Report –

Day 1 – Prolouge- was a flat fast time trial. The course was an out and back kilometer along the canal in the center of town. There was a start ramp and timing just like in the pro races. Liam was 29th Aidan was 25th and Sofiane was 49th in there respective categories. The competition was tough and many categories had over 70 riders in them. Roan raced the Fat Tire division as he is not old enough to race in the 1st category.

Sofiane getting ready to roll on Day 1

Liam bringing it home on day 1

First taste of racing for Aidan on Day 1

Roan mixing it up in the "fat tire" division

Day 2 criterium – What stood out most for the boys on this day was the speed. All races were extremely fast. Liam was 30th and finished with the first group in the same time. Sofiane was 25th and also finished with the first group. Aidan finished 25th and lost some time. Roan experienced his first criterium in the fat tire race.

Day 3 Classic road stage. –The toughest thing for me on this day was getting all the boys out to their different start locations. The race was a true point to point race from the surrounding towns all finishing at the Wheeler Home where we were camping. This had been Liam’s hardest day last year, so this year he was extremely focused. He had a good race and finished with the lead group in. Sofiane also did very well this day and both boys were moving up the general classifications. Aidan had a good race, but lost some time to main group. The day was a rest day for Roan as there was no Fat Tire race this day

Day 4 Time Trial on the famous Assen TT race track - This is really a highlight of the race. The cyclists are able to ride a time trial on the actual motorcycle / Formula 1 track. All boys had time trials from 2k to 8.5k. Liam had a great day and had a 17th place finish which put him in the top 20 in the general classification. Sofiane was starting to feel the strain of multiday racing and had some trouble in the final kilometers. Aidan and Roan raced their first time trial.

Aidan rolling on the famous Assen TT

Liam had a great 6 k time trial to finish in 17th in 10min 03 seconds

Day 5 Omloop - An omloop is like a big criterium course and in the Assen version it comes complete with its own section of pavé (cobblestones). This was a tough day. Speeds were high and the course was technical. Liam had a touch of wheel and subsequent fall. He could not bridge back up to the lead group, but finished at the head of the second group in 25th for the day. This was the hardest day for Sofiane as he just didn't have the legs. Aidan had his first taste of the cobbles and really liked it with a 24th place finish. Roan had the dayff as there was no Fat Tire race.

Liam trying to get back to the group after the crash on day 5

Sofiane and Liam five days in - Cycling is a tough sport

Day 6 Final Criterium - The last stage of the Tour is a criterium which takes place on a course all around the main campground of the race. All the boys did very well this day and were able to finish in the main groups.

Final results-

Sofiane finished in 42nd place in Catagory VII

Liam finished in 25th place in Catagory IV

Aidan finished in 26th place in Catagory II

Roan finished the Fat Tire Race and had lots of fun

It was another great year of making friends and racing bikes in Assen!

After the race, the "team" rolling in Heidelberg, Germany

Livestrong, Train Safe, and Live Well!

This is the Flanagans signing out!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Maiden Voyage of a new Bike by the Seine and Eating Crepes on the Left Bank - Tour #3 is in the books!

Liam and I have been lucky enough to be able to follow several stages of the Tour de France and make it to Paris for the final day of the bike race for three years in a row. For us, the road to Paris never seems to be in a straight line. ( In fact, many times I feel like a pinball bouncing around France in July) It is hard to imagine the distance that this bicycle race covers on a daily basis. Simply following the Tour is, in and of itself, a very difficult challenge. I think it is for this reason, that each year when Liam and I make it to Paris for the final stage, we feel a tremendous since of accomplishment standing on the Champs Elysées. I can only imagine the since of pride the riders must have as they take their parade lap around the Champs after the finish of the grueling event.

Year Three under the Eiffel Tower

We have a tradition each year of taking a bike ride down by the river Seine and through the streets of Paris on the last day of the Tour. The final stage is always on a Sunday, and as it so happens there is a beautiful section of road that runs along the river that is closed to vehicles and only open to cyclists on Sundays. This ride is always a highlight of our Father Son Tour. This year the ride was going to be even more special because it would also be the maiden voyage for Liam's new Trek bike.

Liam Rocking the New Trek by the Seine

The new bike was a special project that had been a year in the making. We first talked about it with Joe V last year at the Tour de France. At that point, Liam was too short really to fit on a 700 c wheel road bike. So the task at hand was for Liam to grow!
Liam would measure his height and instep on a daily basis. By the Spring, mission was accomplished. It is amazing, that if you keep feeding these kids food, they do grow. In April, Joe hooked us up with Mark Andrews in the Trek Race department who was able to work with us on some of the specifics for the bike that Liam needs for his racing here in Europe (special gearing, etc...) Over the last three years, Liam has been very committed to the global battle against cancer through the Lance Armstrong foundation. So when the folks at Trek told Liam that they could do a special paint job in black with yellow Livestrong, he knew immediately that this was the bike for him. We were pretty sure that we would have the bike for Liam's upcoming August race in Assen, but we weren't sure if it would arrive in time for our July riding in the Alps and in Paris during the Tour de France.

Have bikes will Travel

On Friday, during stage 19 of the Tour, while we were on L'Alpe D'Huez, we got word that the new bike had arrived at our home in Provence. Provence is several hundred miles in the opposite direction from Paris. There were some logistics involved, but Liam really wanted to be able to take his first ride on the new Trek be down by the Seine in Paris. It turns out that France has some pretty fast trains, and the TGV was our solution. We headed back to Provence on Saturday and then took the TGV up to Paris the following morning. We were in Paris by 10 am and riding by noon. And what a ride it was! The new bike was everything we were hoping for and Liam hopes to be able to do some pretty special things on it over the next few years. Thanks Joe, Mark Teppy, and all the folks at Trek. You guys make rocking cool bikes!

Champs a few hours before the Tour

Paris is the perfect city for riding a bicycle. It is a city that is laid out with huge boulevards and grand monuments. Often when you are walking you think that you will just pop between the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, for example, and it ends up taking an eternity to walk. On a bike it is a piece of cake and takes only a couple of minutes. Over the years, Paris has become very bike friendly with dedicated bike lanes and a cutting edge bike share program. It is a true joy to bike around this spectacular city.

Paris is an awesome city to see on a bike

After our ride Liam and I changed and headed out to watch the arrival of the Tour. This year we watched the Tour from two places in the city. The first was along the Seine, as the race made its way to the Champs, and the second was on the Champs by the finish. I think the crowds were bigger this year than I had ever seen them before. We watched the finish and then the parade of the teams taking their honor lap down the Champs in a literal sea of humanity. It was a sort of mass celebration of cycling and sport with a few beers thrown in here and there (especially by the Australians in the crowd celebrating Cadel Evan's victory.)

Team Leopard Trek on the Champs Elysées

After the race, Liam and I headed back to the left bank and spent the evening hitting our favorite crepe stand and walking around taking in the July Parisian evening. The city has truly become a familiar friend to both Liam and me.

Left Bank with favorite Crepe

I hope that you enjoy the video and that it gives a since of the great atmosphere and spirit of the day. We will be heading to Holland later in the week for The European Youth cycling Tour. It is a 6 day true stage race for kids 8 to 18. Stay tuned as we are planning to be able to get up a few updates on the blog during the race!

Heading into Assen Liam is rocking his new bike

Livestrong, Train Safe, and Live Well!

This is Bill and Liam signing out.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Back to the Alps for Fireworks on a Mountain

Each year that we follow the Tour de France it seems that one particular location becomes a sort of hub, and comes to symbolize our experience for that year. In 2009, the center of our Tour universe was the lake front town of Annecy in the Haute Savoire. For the 2010 Tour, the mountain town of Morzine became the central link that seemed to connect all of our experiences of that year. This year I can pinpoint the exact location of the nucleus of our Tour - The Casino Supermarket parking lot in the town of Bourg d'Oisans. I know what you are thinking - "what is he talking about?" Well, I will explain. You see the Casino Supermarket happens to be located at the base of L'Alpe d'Huez. It is actually quite a nice spot, as supermarket parking lots go. There is some grass and shady trees for a picnic around the edges and plenty of ample parking all around. I have been in that parking lot over the last two and a half weeks no less that six times. The first was for Liam and my climb of the Alpe from the blog post "21 switchbacks." We also came back down to this spot after that climb, and reflected on our great feat of that day with a celebratory baguette. The third time was not actually in the parking lot, but near it as I was getting ready to push up the Alpe d' Huez during the Etape de Tour. Tavi and the boys got stuck behind road closures and actually waited for me to come off the mountain after the race in said parking lot. I descended down and we all had another celebratory baguette in a cool shady grassy section of the lot. This past week when Liam and I went back up for Stage 19 of the Tour, which was the exact same course as the Etape had been, we knew where to go to make as our base camp for the day's adventure. Amazingly, in a sea humanity, on race day, we were able to find parking at the Casino. After a day of experiencing the carnival of the Tour and the fireworks on the mountain we came back down to our hub in anticipation of heading off to Grenoble for the following day's time trial. Here things did not go as planned, and we ended up being stuck for about 6 hours until the traffic started moving. While we waited Liam (always eager for a race) set up a Casino parking lot circuit and raced his bike with some local French kids for hours. That was a lot of fun to watch!

Epicenter of our 2011 Tour

The days race was amazing! Liam got his second ride up Alpe d'Huez in as many weeks (it was the third time for me.) As usual, Liam was drilling it. We made it up to about 3 k from the summit, and then turned around and descended back down to Switchback #9 to watch the caravan and race come through. I think that we captured the race pretty well in the video. The French were out in full force to watch Thomas Voekler. Although Voekler lost his yellow jersey to Andy Schleck this day, his 10 or so days in yellow seems to have reignited the French national passion for the Tour de France. A young Frenchman and team mate of Voekler's named Pierre Roland won the stage and in the process took the white young riders jersey of the Tour. It can safely be said that the future looks bright for French cycling.

Thomas Voekler captured the imagination and admiration of France

Frenchman Pierre Rolland- Winner of the stage and white jersey

As expected, the 21 switchbacks of Alpe d'Huez were pivotal in the outcome of this year's Tour de France. The stage set up a showdown between the Australian Cadel Evans and Luxemburg's Andy Schleck for the following day's time trial. The 2011 Tour would be exciting right down to the wire. It was a big party on the mountain and, as always, thrilling for Liam and I to be there so close to the action.

Cadel and Andy in battle

Top 10 for American Tom Danielson

For us the journey from the Alpe to Paris would be by way of Provence in order to pick up a huge surprise for our annual Sunday ride down by the Seine on the last day of the Tour, but I will leave that for another post coming soon!

Liam's front seat to the action

Always happy in the mountains

Live Strong, Train Safe, and Live Well,

This is Bill and Liam signing out!