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I don't know.... we could call it:
©1 January 2024 Levite
Aunt Judy was dead.
But when we attended the old fashioned wake in her slightly musty and seriously over-cluttered townhouse in Cleveland, we found out something that she had done that, in the couple of years, changed... no, 'changed' is the wrong word. It totally disrupted, overwhelmed, consumed, and then became our lives. And our children's lives, and two of our cousins, several of our friends, and the Lieutenant Governor of Ohio, who called a friend of hers in Canada, and ... we're getting way ahead of ourselves.
Aunt Judy, the late Judith van Sittart from what she always called "the Low Countries", who had moved from Belgium to Denmark, then spent several years in Old England as Mrs. Stewart Wilkinson, where the Mr. Wilkinson in the equation was so disagreeable that Mrs. Wilkinson moved to Cleveland, Ohio, leaving the Mister in England with his name.
The only thing that Aunt Judy brought with her was a love of cycling, and several odd, decidedly British, expressions and attitudes.
She was the one that taught our children the "proper" way to ride a bicycle.
According to Judy, there is riding around a park for pleasure, to watch the ducks in the lake, and to feel the breeze, and have a conversation about the "pudding" we had after dinner last night with whoever you were riding with. And then there was riding to get someplace. And then there was the riding she loved.
On a bike ride with Aunt Judy when she was well into her sixties we found out that we had no idea how to ride a bike up a real hill in the Cuyahoga Valley Park, when she announced a race to the top with the loser buying the winner their choice of ice cream at the next stop.
We had all already ridden a good distance through the park, and our legs were telling us about it, when she passed the sign that began the measured part of the climb, leading our kids with several of their friends in tow to the top of the hill, at speed.
She maintained her pace and didn't slow down significantly. The oldest children were teenagers, the youngest was about ten.
Judy had a banana split and explained about positioning on the bike for maximum effort and minimal wind resistance during an extensive climb.
It wasn't until later that we found out that the hill she had burned to the top of while our legs and lungs just burned was a rated climb for the local cycling club.
But the incident made enough of an impression on our son and one of our daughter's friends that they got into the club and became competitive cyclists who both experienced some success.
After that we stayed in contact with Aunt Judy, and came up and rode bikes with her when we could, and listened to her talk excitedly about "putting together" a bigger race than the club's current three day amateur event.
It was at the wake when we found out that Judy had not only remembered that challenge, and its ice cream reward, that she had been thinking of us as her health failed during the final few months of her life.
When we visited her during that period she told us about her plans for a real American Grand Tour of Cycling. And we listened, and humored her by looking at maps and going through various state pages about cycling routes and who had the best climbs and so on.
She took our interest seriously, and it was there in her actual formal drawing room, with a huge old secretary cabinet with built in desk that was full of papers, and maps, and cycling pamphlets from all over the US, that we found out that she was well on her way to making her tour happen.
We stood there and looked at the information while an old friend of hers from the cycling club smiled with a mouth full of gleaming dentures and a bottle of flavored Dutch gin. "You will, help with it, no?"
Mr. Sammons was still smiling as he poured us each a generous amount of the gin.
"What was she planning?" We asked.
"Full. Grand tour. Twenty, one stages, time, trials. Big Mountain... in West, Virginia. Hundred, thirty mile stage... in Iowa. No mountains, in Iowa."
I had a map with three different possible routes that began in Tennessee and dipped into Mississippi to finish in downtown Memphis after racing past Graceland. There was a letter from the tourism office in Memphis saying they were interested if the planned event moved forward.
My husband was looking at photos she had collected of a route in Michigan, including where she would put the feeding zones and which hotels were available near the finish towns for different stages in several states for the first three years of the race.
Mr. Sammons handed us a folder with answers she had gotten from several bus companies and an RV manufacturer, then he spoke in his halting way, "Miz Judy, she would, not, take no, for answer. So some, of them, say yes."
The RV company was interested in being an associate sponsor. "So I see."
We looked at each other, and at the stacks of paper information she had collected, and then we realized that there was probably even more on the aging computer sitting on the table next to the secretary because several of the papers were printed emails and web pages.
"Some more of that, and, we'll...."
"We'll look at it."
"Yes. Good. I will help," Mr. Sammons said and poured us a bit more of the gin. "I kept, donation book, for her. Paid for stamps. Paper. You know."
"Donantions," we whispered together. "OK."
We spent a good hour going through the material on the desk and on the computer.
She had a journal on the machine, very nearly day by day, and on some days there were multiple updates. The notes included ideas for stages, and others on how teams that didn't want to send a full compliment of riders could work with another team, or two, to put a combined group in the field, although she wasn't sure about having co-ed teams as that would confuse the 'overall team standing' unless there were at least three co-ed teams.
And then we struck absolute Judy Gold.
She had recorded several videos about her ideas for what the race should be. As it turned out, Mr. Sammons' had his grandson come with him over the course of several weekends last fall and Aunt Judy sat and explained her ideas to his camera.
"And I don't want these stages to be designed to break riders or cause an entire team to collapse like they do in Europe. No. I want this race to build up the espoir, and other young riders. To give them experience in doing this in this format over a long period of time. Not cause them to quit and go home and then sell cars or something." She said in one without prompting. In another video Mr. Sammons asked her questions about having men and women racing at the same time and she went through the various classes for each. And then at the end she said something unexpected and did so with some force, "And NO, I am NOT going to call my riders 'neo-pros'. And nobody else had better either."
We'd never even heard the term, but right then and there we banished it from our vocabulary. However, we did look up 'espoir' and found out it meant the group of riders that were from their late teens into their early twenties and were new to the professional ranks.
In the other video we watched she was showing charts and diagrams while explaining the scoring for different prizes for sprints and climbs.
"How many videos are there?" I asked my husband as he scrolled through the folder.
"Over a dozen. There were some other videos in the other folder, but I don't know if they are hers or not."
"We'll watch them and find out."
The group of people in the addition on the back of her house was starting to break up, but we were just realizing the scope of Aunt Judy's project. And how much progress she had made toward it.
We looked over the journal and began to notice notes about cycling websites. Aunt Judy had always had vicious temper for businesses that misled their customers, or those that pretended to be something they weren't, and so on. And the same temper included websites that, as she put it in another video, "pretended to be about cycling and instead only had a bunch of ads for everything else."
Her notes included comments that some cycling club web pages hadn't been updated in five years, or had pictures of places she recognized that they claimed were local for the club, but were actually, in one case, three hundred miles away. She had web addresses, names of sites, and even lists of items on their links page that were of interest. All of it listed under the state it was in. And all with date of first and last contact.
She had been working on this for over three years before her health prevented her from working on it regularly. The last date we saw was an entry for a cycling club in Michigan, she noted that they had a new president who seemed more interested in mountain biking than road racing. The date was from just a month or so before she went to the hospital.
When we had visited her in the hospital, Aunt Judy had mentioned that she was still working on "her tour" but she didn't go into any detail about it. We had told her that when she got out we'd try to come up and help her with it until she was back on her feet.
She'd gone from the hospital to a convalescent center, but then when she didn't get better, she went to a nursing home.
Judy had sent off a few letters, and had journal entries about her thoughts about some of the other stage races in other countries, what she liked about them, what she didn't. But the entries were written with a shaky hand and were sometimes disjointed in what they said and how they said it. Aunt Judy was clearly not at her best when she wrote them.
It took us well over an hour to pack everything up and then three trips out to the car with it.
As we packed up we discovered four poster-sized maps of the US with possible routes for a four week, twenty one stage race marked on them.
"Look at this," my husband said to me, "she's even got team configurations. She wanted this to be an equal race for men and women, eight rider teams, all in one peloton. Same start, same finish. She was serious about it."
"That's what she said in the video. She was very serious about it. And she was looking just over two years out for it to actually happen."
After seeing everything else she'd done, it didn't surprise me that she had been in contact with some world-class cycling teams and was well on her way to selling them on the idea of coming to the US and trying to take the blue leader's jersey.....
No, really, that's what I held up out of a box of brightly colored jerseys.
Aunt Judy had spent some time eliminating other colors to indicate the overall leader, the leader of the climbing competition (she had told us years ago that she despised the 'K-O-M' abbreviation used on race coverage), and the other jerseys. So she had settled on five special colors that weren't instantly associated with other races, but could be seen, as she put it, "from the helicopter", and had each made in men's and women's sizes.
The overall race leaders jersey for men and women was a medium electric blue that almost glowed in sunlight. The sprint competition leaders would be a white and blue checkerboard pattern. The climber jersey was striped. And so on down through what she called 'the teammate to watch' which was a neon orange.
Her jerseys would definitely stand out in the peloton!
...."She wanted this to be a second tier, development race," I said reading off a copy of the letter she'd sent to some of the major European teams. "This was not to compete with the three big tours in Europe, but instead be a proving ground for the younger members of the teams." I turned the page and looked at the reply from one of the team offices. "And they're interested." I turned another page, "This one wants more information." Then I looked at him. "You know what this means."
"We've got to try to do it." Then he turned back to the calendar page of the notebook he was holding, "to meet this date," he figured on his fingers for a minute, "what, nineteen months from now, we're going to have to boogie."
One Stage At A Time
We couldn't spend the hours she had spent on the project. But we could devote a day here and there to it. And the first thing we did was to let the officials she had been in contact with at the various groups and teams and even cities and states know that her idea of a major US stage race hadn't died with her.
We heard back from several of them almost immediately, confirming that they were indeed interested and hoped that it would eventually become more than an idea.
And we heard back from more than one that said to let them know when we had live contracts with a TV network for coverage and they'd think about becoming involved.
Judy had broached the idea to a couple of TV outlets. But her letters evidently didn't get any further than some admin's waste basket. She had letters back from several sports websites, and a national magazine said that when her riders lined up for their first stage they'd have a reporter and photographer there with them.
Then we made a major discovery in her notes that changed our role from just trying to figure out what she was doing and where she was at with it to something else entirely.
Our new role was to be "co-chairs" of the committee that was organizing the race, and our first committee meeting was coming up at the beginning of April.
The meeting was in person, and on line. The in person attendees would be everybody from the president of one of the largest cycling clubs in the state to a couple of college kids who were working a sports marketing internship. The on line attendees included representatives from sports or tourism offices in several different states that we'd seen her route pass through.
Other invited committee members included a sports promotion manager from one of the companies that was to be a primary sponsor and some from a handful of other businesses.
Aunt Judy's first projected date was just over a year away.
We had to get serious about it.
And we only had a matter of a few weeks to become as familiar with all this stuff as Aunt Judy had evidently been.
We decided to divide and conquer.
Because my husband had found the maps, I gave him the route. The stage towns, climbs, and even the trash disposal zones were all his.
I got the teams, their hotels, transportation, where we could find kitchen space so their cooks could make their food for the road, and all that.
That left a lot of other stuff, but it was a good start. Judy had left good notes on some things, but then only mentioned other aspects that needed to be handled. I was hoping to get some of the other committee members to volunteer to coordinate things like local ambulance services to work each stage. Then we'd need somebody to babysit our relationship with the world cycling body who we were hoping would recognize our race. And that's not to mention Judy's idea for a leading publicity caravan to entertain fans along the route.
And I was sure there were at least nine hundred and fifty other things that we'd need done in the next year or so.
But, fortunately, Aunt Judy had been WAY ahead of us on all of that as well.
One of those things that we didn't even know needed to be done was something Judy mentioned in one of her videos.
"I've reached out to the high schools and colleges along the route of the tour. Most of those don't have official cycling clubs, but some do, and a few showed interest in starting one. I've invited all of them, with or without a club, to participate in the stages near them. Riding the route before we use it to identify things that might be a nuisance to cyclists. And would be even worse during race conditions with a large breakaway running at speed, not to mention the main body of the peloton coming through with over a hundred riders."
We paused the video and looked at each other.
"I don't remember seeing anything about colleges," I said to my husband.
"I think I saw a notebook with that on it," he answered, "give me a minute."
He got up and went over to one of the tote boxes of folders and notebooks and plundered through it. Then he started on a second one. "Here it is," he said triumphantly, then he flipped it to a random page, "here we go, Penn State, three contacts, one of them is in the sports information office." He showed me the page.
"I guess she did it. We need to get in touch with all of these." I turned back a couple of pages, "Iowa and Iowa State." Then I turned a few more pages. "There's a lot of them. But, most of them have email addresses."
"That'll save a ton of postage, which will make Mr. Sammons happy." He said, and re-started the video so we could see what else she had to say about the colleges.
One of the things we tried to do was to go out and at least drive the routes she had picked for the states around us.
The kids rode some of them, we walked one of the climbs to a hilltop finish.
On planned stages that were further away, we spent a lot of time on the online ground level view, 'riding' it one way, and then the other way. Looking for landmarks and places where we could put mid-stage timing gates for things like sprint points. We printed images of the places she had planned on having starts and finishes. Then we found the contact information for the town, and sent them an email asking if it were possible to use the site.
By the day before the meeting, we felt like we were no longer simply pretending to do the background work for the race, we were Doing the background work for the race. And we were working through the national route, one stage at a time.
We even understood Aunt Judy's master checklist.
But it was way more than a checklist. Although we did find the original document, and that's what it was. But in the last couple of years, it had grown, and was now a massive file saved to its own folder on the computer.
After looking at it, we copied the file to a flash drive and saved it onto a couple of other machines. If something happened to the old computer there was no way we could recreate it.
Her master checklist was a forty five page spreadsheet, one page for each stage, and all seventeen teams. Plus a page each for the 'opening' and 'closing' ceremony cities. And then a final page of contacts of every sort from all over the world.
Each stage already had a dedicated volunteer who was from the area where the stage was occurring listed on the spreadsheet. The name linked to a subsidiary page that had contacts for everything from the local sheriff to get roads closed, local clubs and civic groups that might help direct traffic or pick up trash, and where sponsors and vendors could set up to sell T-shirts and coffee mugs. For each stage manager there was a primary phone number, an email address, and even a home address where we could send boxes of 'stuff' that they would need, and most of them had a separate assistant for the stage that got a copy of everything.
The towns listed at the top of the columns on her pages were the start town, then several columns in ten kilometer increments, a city for the intermediate sprint, more kilometers, and the closing city. And then if there were any special sights or landmarks that would be of interest to fans (or TV cameras) those had a column as well. Each column had rows below for everything from trash zones and where to recycle stuff, and if there was a medical clinic or bike mechanic in the town.
There was even a symbol to put in the kilometer cells for notable land art for that competition.
Aunt Judy had very nearly thought of everything. Which was good for us.
All we had to do was make it work. Without Aunt Judy. Which was bad for us.
How about a North American Tour?
The meeting started on time, but there were two additional attendees who we were introduced to at the opening. One of them was the Lieutenant Governor of Ohio, who had heard about the race through a friend of hers, who happened to mention it to another friend across the Lake in Kitchener, Ontario. Who just so happened to be planning a race up there.
And just like that, our race became International as Stages One and Two moved from Ohio to Canada.
Which we thought would make it even more appealing to the sanctioning body.
Once that impromptu part of the meeting was over, we went through our agenda, including asking those in attendance if they knew anybody willing to do things like organize medical transport coverage for each stage.
We found out during the meeting that Aunt Judy had been all over the "race doctor" and "race lawyer" positions, and had not only recruited a medical doctor, two Registered Nurses, and a chiropractor. She even had two convertible cars for them to ride in with a couple of sponsors tentatively lined up for them on the medial side.
"Well, that explains this note," I said as something in Judy's race journal suddenly made sense. "Judy wrote 'nurse Katie' next to those items, and that was the end of it."
Retired Registered Nurse Katie nodded at the camera, "she asked me to take care of it, and sent me several of her proposed routes to work on. I've talked to everybody except Mississippi. They want me to come down there with a proposal in person for the Graceland stage and the one next year along the Gulf."
"That's the same answer we got, and that's what they told Judy. To do the Graceland stage, we're going to have to make a road trip."
For the legal angle, she had simply drafted another old friend of hers, a former Ohio state senator who happened to be the senior partner of a downtown law firm. They had worked together and set the race organization up as a not-for-profit. Then the senior partner had simply told a junior lawyer and a paralegal intern to "handle it for him." And so we got to meet Ms Genevieve and Miss Stephanie, both of whom attended the meeting in person.
And so we found out that some of our communications with cities and teams could be taken as a contract and we needed to be more careful with making promises and commitments.
"Miss Judy never appreciated that side of things," Ms Genevieve said, "but there was no stopping her."
"No, there wasn't, as so now, here we all are," we answered.
We had the perfect volunteer to organize the starting and finishing line assembly crews for the stages. Mister Miles Templeton had plans to put together two full road crews that would leapfrog each other. The 'odd crew' would have already put together both ends of stage one, while the 'even crew' was preparing to assemble the start and finish for two. Then as the race moved to the second stage, the odd crew would take theirs down and move to the third stage cities and set it all up again. Then as we raced the third stage, the evens would be prepping four.
Mister Miles, as he liked to be called, had a bit of news for us. "I found out something interesting while we were working all this out. We need three crews. Some of the stages are too far apart to cover in one day. And I was wondering about having a fourth crew that was something of a 'rapid response' unit that stays just ahead of the race with a bare bones setup in a van and a couple of guys just in case something gets damaged by a thunderstorm or something."
"Of course," my husband answered, "we know it doubles the expense, but to not be able to have the finish line and award presentation because the crew got hung up in traffic or had a flat tire or something is unacceptable. We want this race to look professional all the way through, which means the ends of stage nine and stage sixteen looks just as good as stage two."
Everybody on the call agreed.
Then Miles added a bit of good news, "I've got an automobile manufacturer's North American operation willing to take the title sponsorship on the finish line and award stage, if we'll put their name everywhere, and they'll throw in a set of panel trucks and a couple of cars. AND," he said dramatically, "they'll include a group of their summer college interns to do the work."
That got a round of applause from the group.
"How big do they want their name on the backdrop?" we asked.
It was a perfect lead in for Mr. Sammons and his financial report. He was happy to tell everybody that, unlike the last meeting most of them were in with Aunt Judy, money had been coming in as donations large and small, and doing so faster than it was now going out. Primarily because we did more with email and online than she did.
"Miss Judy still did most of this with real mail. She just liked getting letters," he had said several times.
Mrs. Roseamenelle Schmid was Aunt Judy's personal choice to act as our ambassador to the various official cycling and political bodies. Both in the US and internationally. The lady had connections everywhere from DC to Zurich. During her own introduction she mentioned serving on an Olympic Committee on two different occasions a couple of decades apart. That, and she spoke fluent French and, as she put it, "enough German to get in trouble". She was exactly what we needed.
"I have been having quite good luck building interest with the international community. There is interest in extending provisional recognition to our race as long as we continue to make progress toward an actual event." The lady said, then she added, "And I have personally attested to them that you are not perfidious in the matter."
"Thank you, ma'am."
Then the lady had a recommendation that we instantly agreed to, and put her in charge of, as if there was any doubt who would be doing it.
"It is my considered opinion, as we are all novices at the on course intricacies under racing conditions, that we approach the primary sanctioning body to if they can supply, or even just suggest a person who could be the primary race director, and several commissioners to verify timing and scoring."
But then we had to give our own report to people who not only knew what they were doing, they had been at it for a year or more.
"Well," I said, "we figured out how to read Judy's master spreadsheet."
"Really?" somebody said in the video conference.
"My laptop doesn't even want to open it," one of the members of the local club said from across the table from us.
"We opened it, and went through it and even updated some of the information in it. And then saved it! And backed it up on a dedicated flash drive."
Several of the attendees applauded us for that, and we were on our way.
The next order of business was to introduce Cousin Amy who had been volunteered to handle the social side of the internet for us at the wake.
We didn't think she was serious about it when she answered, "yeah, sure, I can do that" that day. But then I called her later and she said that if we went through with it it sounded like fun.
Now she was managing the official website and four different social pages for us, and updating things almost daily. And the best part about it was we never even knew she was doing it. She'd sit quietly in our dining room, and then take a picture or make a comment, and that was it. A day later I'd see one of her posts on a site had two hundred likes and fifty comments, some of which were in French or Spanish. Which was a good thing.
She was also making Mr. Sammons happy by selling race memorabilia and even memberships to two of the sites. Members got special shirts and hats, and to attend special briefings and access to 'inside information' about stages and teams.
We'd seen the information the members got exclusive access to and, personally, I didn't understand why anybody would pay to see pictures of the bikes a team was bringing or the planned trash zone in a state park on stage 14, but they did. And I was happy that they did.
But then something came up out of the blue.
In the video link one of the people based in St. Louis whose name I couldn't remember right then raised his hand, but when I acknowledged him, the young woman next to him spoke up.
"What about the jazz concerts?" She asked.
"Well, not just the jazz, but blues and country and other American music," the young man that had raised his hand added.
We looked at each other, then my husband fielded the question.
"We saw those plans, but we've been working so much on getting the race itself put together we haven't done anything on it."
"We've got some groups interested in performing and a couple of sponsors, you know, a music company and a couple of radio stations, people like that," the young woman said.
"That's wonderful," I answered, "why don't you guys handle that, and when we get dates for the stages you can work that side of things out."
"Did you want the concerts at the beginnings of the stages or at the finishes?"
We answered simultaneously, "When possible, both!"
"Oh," they both answered, "well, I guess..." They exchanged looks, "We'll do it."
Later we found out the young couple in St. Louis, Autumn and Sid, were members of the Gateway Cycling Club, and were also active with a jazz ensemble, as Melody and Sid, that was planning on playing several dates during the tour to promote jazz, and themselves. Which we were fine with us.
Aunt Judy had gone into some details for her pet Land Art contest. She wanted the director of each stage to appoint a local committee to advocate for local entries, and then judge the winners in a handful of categories to submit for the overall prizes for the winners for the entire tour.
But we needed somebody to oversee the entire project and set the guidelines that they could then argue about with the local groups as to how land art in in Iowa can be compared to the art in the Pennsylvania mountains or the forest in Wisconsin.
So we asked around and decided that it needed a committee with some members who had a background in agriculture. As well as somebody familiar with various types of art installations. Then perhaps somebody who had some engineering or construction background who could talk about how difficult it would be to so some things.
It took a bit of time, and a few false starts we got a semi-retired art teacher to chair the committee, and then several people who had expressed an interest in it signed on because they weren't the chair.
So, today, Mrs. Diasco talked about how she had contacts in along several of the proposed routes and the committee had begun finalized the categories for large scale land art, such as in a farm field or pasture, as well as smaller presentation that somebody could do on a lot in town. They also had a category that we hadn't thought of, decorated buildings and vehicles.
"If that's OK with you. We thought it would get more people involved and make it more interesting in places where one of those giant things with horses or tractors moving in a circle like bicycle wheels was impossible.
"That's a great idea Mrs. Diasco. We'll add it to the information package for the stages."
A young man who only went by the name "Todd" from the cycling club who had said he lived "way downtown in Cleveland" had volunteered to run our version of the famous Publicity Caravan from the French tour for Aunt Judy. And now he was up to his neck with it. He explained how the lineup for the caravan had changed more times than he could count because sponsors kept adding units, or pulling out, and then wanting to put "just one car back in".
The lead unit would be equipped with real time cameras and live communications that fed back to race command to show us road conditions and any issues that we needed to take care of. And a similar setup would be in the trailing car. But everything in between was in an almost constant state of flux. As was what they would pass out to any fans along the road.
One sponsor, who evidently thought the race was only a few miles long, on one day, through one town, had an absolute fit when they realized it covered almost two thousand miles, over at least parts of twenty states, through well over a hundred cities and towns, and so on. They pulled out and made some unpleasant comments about us. Then, a couple of weeks later, Todd from Cleveland told us that the sponsor with the heartburn was back, with their home office in tow, and wanted to have three motor units in the caravan and their name on the starting and finishing displays.
"They're going to hand out cell phone stands and stylus ink pens along the route to people. He said they've already got plenty and there's more on the way."
"So that's why those things showed up here, we'd wondered why they sent them after they pulled out."
Todd laughed, "We're overrun with them. I've got five cases of five thousand each in my car because we didn't have anyplace else for them. They sent enough to stop in every town we go through and pass them out to everybody."
"OK," I finally said after a prolonged discussion about feed and trash zones along the stages and what could be recycled where because not everything was available in every area the race would pass through and nobody wanted to haul a truckload of empty drink bottles and protein bar wrappers three hundred miles to recycle them in another state.
Everybody got quiet.
I continued, "Dates. When are we aiming this thing to happen. We're going to need a year to get it up to speed, but we've got to lock in some dates to work with."
Then somebody spoke up, "Judy didn't want it conflicting with one of the major European tours, or California..." they trailed off.
My husband continued, "... or Australia, or Switzerland, or Qatar, or.... We can't schedule around everything. We're going to try to work on a range of about four weeks early in summer, or maybe around October, and let the chips fall as they may. Even Aunt Judy mentioned how crowded the sports calendar is, and she had scratched out several possible openings because of other events. We don't see a block of days free except in the dead of winter, and we're not going to have our teams have to do a stage on skis. So either early in the summer or later in the fall. We're going to see what we can work up by offering those two ranges, and see who bites."
There was some discussion, but finally the consensus was that we had to firm up at least a target month and get going.
I read through a proposal letter indicating that we preferred to stage the race beginning in the last week of September and running through October, but there was a possibility for a May - June window as well, and asked everybody, teams, proposed stage cities, sponsors, local clubs, and even those TV networks that had turned Judy down flat, which was their first choice, October, or June of the following year?
"A May start means we have right at a year to get it rolling," somebody said.
"All puns at no extra charge," came the immediate answer.
"Fall is ahead by almost two to one."
We spent the next day sending emails and actual certified mail letters to every contact that had ever expressed any interest in the race. And included more than a handful of those that said they wanted little, or no, part of it just to let them know we were still doing it.
And we got some very interesting emails back, in one case, in a matter of hours from the 'Director Sportif' of one of the better known US based teams.
"Our team has always been in favor of the American Development Race occurring toward the end of the racing calendar to assist our team in evaluating our up and coming athletes as to who will be brought into the top tier for the next racing season."
We both read it a couple of times, then my husband said, "well, they could have said that six months ago and saved us a lot of trouble."
"What fun would that have been?"
And so it went. The professional teams and cycling clubs were mostly in favor of a fall race so their younger talent could 'show what they've got' as one Sports Director put it.
Several stage cities were looking at spring dates to coincide with various festivals and events that they already had on their schedules. But there were others that were agreeable to both. And only a handful that said that there was no room on their fall calendar for anything extra. And then we got a suggestion back from a finish town in Nebraska that wanted to know if we could set up the stage a day early so they could race the last forty-two kilometers of it as a marathon.
Our reply was "we'd be delighted to do that" and added it to things we could offer other cities as a bonus attraction.
Most of the sponsors would be happy with either, although one of them said that a spring race would fit better with their plans for a new product launch, but they could work with a fall race as part of their holiday preview.
And then we started getting first class letters back. And some of them were from overseas as well.
My husband held up a letter with a fancy logo on it, "Here we go, the All Japan Cycling Club wants to know where to fly into if the race is going to start next September. They say they already have another international commitment in June."
We called a meeting of the committee on short notice.
I've never used the word "fraught" in a sentence. I've seen and heard others use it to describe something that really did not fit the definition of the word.
The committee's discussion of trying to get our Twenty One Stage race route laid out so we could approach the towns that had agreed to host some portion of the event with their date so they could begin their planning, was, indeed, "fraught".
One we had decided that we would begin a stage in a certain town, then we had to first, clear it with the town, then apply for the permits for holding a public event of the size we were proposing, as well as going through every town, and county and state along the route for a temporary road closure, and the permits to set up the signs and banners and the gate for the intermediate sprint or climb, and then have even more permits and permissions for the finish town.
Aunt Judy had been ahead on this one as well. Which was a blessing for us.
Judy had exchanged emails with organizers and promoters for every cycling race on the planet. Or very nearly every one of them. We had stage worksheets from Australia, checklists from California, a proposal packet from Spain (in Spanish), a sponsor contract from France (in French), and the carefully written notes from a stage worker in Italy (we're still not sure what language they were in).
We paused and re-read an official letter from the US Coast Guard about her plan to cross an active drawbridge along the East Coast. Then we agreed with her note under it.
According to the Coast Guard, shipping traffic took precedence over all land based traffic, including cycling races, and if a boat approached the bridge, it would be opened regardless of the timing of a cycling stage. Judy's note was to find another way to cross the river in question.
Which was one reason she suggested no fewer than three possible routes for every stage, with a plethora of possible starting and finishing cities, just in case somebody in one of the towns had a sudden change of mind, or there was a drawbridge on the route.
No sooner had we sent out the dates to our first and second choice cities, and notified our third choices, that one of the cities in Ohio, our home state no less, where the Lieutenant Governor was one of our biggest boosters, sent us an email saying that they simply could not accommodate any date in October due to a variety of factors.
OK, fine, we thanked them for letting us know and that we had an alternative city for the finish of that stage.
Two days later they wrote back apologizing for the misunderstanding and asking if they could be reinstated as the finish of stage five.
The same thing happened with other cities. Some backed out in no uncertain terms, others were all in favor of the date and wanted to know if they could stage both a 5 K run as well have a concert. We thought that was an excellent idea and told them we'd highlight both of their added events on the background material for their stage.
It wasn't long before we had stage cities with art exhibits, indoor and outdoor, there was one with a square dancing contest that was a fund raiser for a hospital, and we ended up with an American Tour Dog Show on a stage that was hosting an Intermediate Sprint.
One day I was sitting at our table as Cousin Amy showed me a 'greatest hits list' of posts on one of the social sites as various people debated about stage towns and routes. Of them all, the best comment came from somebody that went by HillBoy17 who appeared to be in West Virginia. He was advocating running the route that began in Pennsylvania and went toward Cleveland through Henderson, WV because he could "Garantee that Moth Man will be on the side of the road!"
I told Amy to write back to him and let him know that next year's routes were still being discussed and that would be a factor in Henderson's favor.
"Really?" She asked me with both eyebrows raised.
"Sure. Think about how much TV time it will get to have Moth Man on the side of the road on the approach to the bridge."
"Oh, yeah. OK."
Once we had a firm calendar we were able to tell some cities that we didn't have a lot of 'wiggle room' for what days the various stages were scheduled.
We were trying to coordinate road closures and beginning and ending setups, along with various fixtures along the routes, such as those sprint points, and feeding zones, and all the rest, for twenty one stages, which meant we were fielding calls and emails from around a hundred cities, and almost that many counties, and more than a dozen states. Even with individuals assigned as managers for each stage, and dedicated directors for the mobile crews, and a specific director for the publicity caravan, and medical support, as well as somebody to handhold the various teams, we were still on the phone or the keyboard all day every day. Or so it seemed.
"There are no 'time outs' in cycling."
"There is now."
We totally lost track of the days, and in some cases, we seemed to have missed a week at a time.
I had to take a leave of absence from work. I was lucky that my employer had become intrigued with the idea of the race, and had even gone so far as to be a minor sponsor and would be listed in in the brochure as a 'contributing sponsor'.
My husband had a similar time at his own job. He had asked for, and been granted extended vacation time, and he had been 'gifted' vacation time by others, and ended up taking a leave of absence of his own. While his employer didn't sign on as an official sponsor, they did end up doing so much for us that we listed them in the 'thanks to' section of the brochure anyway.
The email account for the race routinely flashed messages about how this or that folder was full no matter how we had it sort the incoming mail. Finally, we hit on a solution that seemed to work, we put in filters that sorted team emails into different folders, sponsor emails went another way unless it was a contract, then it went to the legal team, and media inquiries to a different folder again.
We had to buy separate cell phones with "unlimited" voice time and larger voice mail boxes because, as it turns out, there are limits to "unlimited", and we'd both gone over. And in one case, we'd gone over while on an International Call, which gets expensive in a hurry.
At least our postal carrier had a sense of humor about it as we went from getting a handful of letters and large envelopes at a time to getting bundles of mail of all sorts almost every day.
Our dining room had been the dedicated 'cycling tour' room. But now that had expanded and consumed about half of the living room, and there were large monthly calendars that extended around the corner and the last month we had to plan for, October, was next to the kitchen door.
We got team packages from Japan, from Kazakhstan, from all over Europe, which meant we got really good at using the online translators. Several manufacturers and sponsors sent us promotional material. Some of the packages had shirts and hats in them, and some of those items we could wear, but we didn't want to give the impression that we favored one team over the other, so we passed them out to friends and family that were helping out. Some of the coffee cups with team or manufacturer logos on the side we kept and displayed over the mantle.
Then large cartons of banners and displays for various sponsors began to arrive. Some of which came by motor freight and required a group effort to unload. And so, in one fell swoop, our two car garage and back porch were overrun with race items. And that's when my employer proved their worth and became even more important than just granting me time off. The owner of the company sent out a truck and a forklift and a couple of big strong guys to help sort the cases and cartons. Then they delivered several of them to a local trucking company that had offered to distribute the items to the crews that were going to prep the starts and finishes for the cost of the fuel needed to get them there, the company was donating the labor and an ever growing bit of warehouse space.
And then help materialized from unexpected places in totally unexpected ways.
On the day we were sorting the outbound packages for stage towns, and the guys from my work were loading it into the truck, two couples from our church showed up unannounced with drinks and sandwiches and several bags of spicy potato chips.
Another weekend an old friend of the family rang our doorbell and handed us a chicken dinner.
A local pizza place began sending extra items to our committee meetings when we placed an order and Amy dutifully mentioned them in her online posts.
In August, when we had the big, live, stage crew meeting and training. And were going over the diagrams with the crews and explained where, what, when, and how the timing lines had to be arranged. Where the TV camera stand had to go, and all of the other endless details that went with it, the cycling club from our local high school showed up and with patience and a sense of humor that you wouldn't expect from a bunch of teenagers played the role of professional cycling teams to give the set up crews more of a sense of why things had to be the way they were. Aunt Judy had wanted them involved. So they were involved. And we loved it as well.
And that's not even mentioning all the various events that we collectively referred to as "the side show".
I found out from a TV reporter from Iowa that we were hosting an art exhibit in a stage town that I had never heard of before. So I went and checked the board, the town was on a stage, but the race just passed through, it wasn't even a sprint point, just a town along the route. I got back on the call and confirmed the town was part of the race and went on about how interesting some of these sorts of local events were. Later, Amy sent me the clip from that newscast with my audio in it. It didn't sound too dumb.
We got a package of promotional material for a Christian rock band from Canada. It took me several phone calls to find out that they were appearing at TWO concerts at different finish stage towns as well as before the parade in Toronto.
I had known about the marathons and 5K races and those kind of things, because we had to make sure that the finish lines were set up a day early. But I didn't know that instead of one or two such races, there were fourteen, and some of them involved bicycles!
It got to where the board with the notes about the ancillary events on each stage had so many different color notes pinned to it that we created a second board, one for stage start town events, and one for finish town events. And then a third one for on course towns with their own events, like art exhibits or a children's bicycle parade that would end just before our caravan got to town so the kids could watch it.
And, as the numbers of the days in August got larger, and September loomed on the horizon, we began to think that maybe this thing was going to happen after all.
"What the hell are you wanting to do to my town square?"
We had been to Mississippi and explained the race to everybody we could find along the route. Most officials were wary of a traveling circus of people from all over the world of every description spending a day in their town. But they were also all in favor of the extra business and outside money that would come to town, even if it was only for one day, or, in the case of a start of finish town, two days. A few didn't want to agree to all a stage passing through would entail, until they realized we had two or three other routes lined up.
In one case, the county board refused to allow the race to cross the county line, so we moved it on the fly to, quite literally, the next county over, with an equally scenic portion of the route along a river, and the total stage distance was within a few kilometers of the proposed length.
We'd walked across covered bridges in Indiana and listened to how the hundred year old boards on the floor of the thing could be made safe for bicycles. All while staring through a gap in the boards that you could see the river below through.
There were brick streets that we had to really think about including. And more than a few patches of gravel that we had to take into consideration.
And then there was.....
"Oh, yes ma'am, we'll make sure we get those potholes filled in."
"Pothole? This road looks like it was bombed by the Marines."
"It's not that bad." The county road supervisor said.
"Really?" my husband said and stepped into the crater in front of us. He went down into the water in over his shoes and up to his ankles, "I'd hate to hit this in a semi."
The supervisor looked at it with wide eyes. "Let me promise you, this will be filled in this afternoon," he said and took out his phone.
My husband spent the evening in the motel bathroom with the hair dryer drying out his sneakers.
Elsewhere we met with mayors and state sports commissioners, and police chiefs and even highway department supervisors in New York and Ohio and Missouri. We'd shaken hands with governors and university athletic directors. And then we had lunch with a radio network president and drinks with a sports magazine editor.
And then, as Labor Day Weekend dawned, we got an angry phone call from a city manager who, as it turned out, was on vacation when we were in town, and whose administrative assistant had approved everything and then she went on vacation without explaining anything to her boss. So he called us and wanted to know what we were going to do to 'his' town square.
It was just part of the fun.
The three 'set up and take down' crews were well rehearsed and had carefully labeled parts in labeled bins on labeled shelves in their vans with the auto manufacturer's 'label' on them. We had even taken the suggestion to have a couple of people on each crew take photos of various parts of the process, and the finished units.
Then we had them do a 'worst case scenario' set up. They had to do it with half their crew, as quickly as possible, in a gravel parking lot, in the dark. We were only sorry that we couldn't arrange a rainstorm for them.
The first crew stood there and looked at us. Then the guy who'd said, "I could set it up with my eyes shut," shook his head, and said, "well, I'm game. You never know when we'll have to do it like this."
His partner from the university cycling club laughed, "I just hope we don't have to do every stage like this." He looked over at us, "start the clock."
The two of them worked like demons, and got it done in a respectable time, and looking reasonably like the one they'd done earlier in the day on pavement.
And the came the Wednesday when we hit the road to the starting location in Canada to meet the teams as they arrived and do the presentation to the media and the international governing body of the sport in Toronto on Friday. We weren't looking forward to the list of events, including two major press conferences, one with the international press that was in from the home countries of the overseas teams, and another for the news media from the regions our race would pass through beginning with the stage one time trial loop around Kitchener, and then the second stage from there into the US ending in Buffalo.
We'd had a couple of press conferences in Cleveland. The first was almost comical because there was no national media there, and the only TV reporter there didn't have a camera crew. So we sat at a table with five of our people, talking to six members of the media, and one microphone from a radio station that was recording us so they could play it back later.
So when we had the race announcement press conference I expected more or less the same attendance.
Then I found out that Mrs. Schmid had moved it from the back room of the restaurant where we'd had the first one to the conference room at a hotel on the Interstate. And it was a good thing she did, when we got there we parked next to three different TV trucks, then walked past two national sports website cars and met the guy from the radio station that was at the first press conference at the door.
"The place is full," he said to us as we walked in, "this is the real deal."
"Good, I think we're ready."
We were. It went spectacularly well.
I had totally forgotten about making Press Packs with maps and information about the race. But we had some very good student interns, and two of them... and I did know this... they spent two days gathering the information and printing stuff, and then reloading the ink in the color printer, and stuffing folders and putting all of that and a race travel mug in a tote bag with our logo on a bright blue jersey on it. And they had more than enough for everybody that was there.
I don't remember much about that first major press conference. I tried to relax and just answer questions. And I did. I've seen the video where I talked more than I thought I did. But I didn't hog it, others made their presentations about the marathons and concerts and all that. And Nurse Katie told them all about the medical units and how one of our local volunteer fire companies had loaned us an ambulance, with crew, including an EMT, to travel with us from stage one to stage 21 and follow the convoy on every stage, they would be in addition to local providers who would provide services to anyone who needed it.
There was even one question that we deferred to Ms Genevieve who explained about crossing the border under race conditions at speed without having to go through the usual customs nightmare.
The final question was about the Publicity Caravan. They had noticed that ours wasn't as large and diverse as the one in France. That was easy for Todd from Cleveland to explain.
"The Tour has been running for over a hundred and ten years. This is our first race. Give us a century or so and I'm sure our caravan will be like theirs."
Later I remember sipping a drink in the hotel bar and talking to a TV producer about being on their race coverage with any news and updates. I think I agreed to it.
Most of the teams were already either here or in Toronto. We'd seen a couple of them out riding in formation. Then as we got closer to town we saw team buses and vans with the team name and main sponsors all over them.
The reality of the fact that the project we'd been working on actually involved other people from out in the world came into sharp focus when we walked into the travel store and the young lady working there was wearing one of the race T-shirts that I had helped design back in the spring, and a customer was out by the gas pumps in one of our blue leader's jerseys.
Then when we came out with our drinks, a group of people got out of a van, all wearing team shirts from one of the European outfits. They weren't the riders, they were the soigneurs and other staff for one of the teams, all chattering happily in their language.
We drove down to the line up location in Victoria Park, there were signs and tape where various things will be. Right down to where the team check in table would be for the time trial start on Sunday. Then we drove downtown to the actual starting line where various dignitaries would declare the race under way. The actual racing start of stage two on Monday at noon would be after several kilometers of neutral area, and we expected a breakaway almost immediately.
Our setup crews were already there. We saw them downtown looking at the area and marking locations for the archway for the finish line a block over from the time trial start. So we stopped and chatted with them for a few minutes. They'd even been out on the course and marked where the three intermediate timing arches would go. Stage two would use the same start, then go by the college on their way out of town.
"Couldn't be better," we said to them and left them to their work.
Later, at the motel in Kitchener, we relaxed and made plans to go into Toronto in the morning to see where the team presentation and parade would be on Saturday at the convention center before everything else. Then after lunch, we'd come back to the convention center for the pre-race news conferences and a banquet.
Amy and Mr. Sammon's grandson had set up an internet command center in the motel's lobby and were busy with several social secretaries from different teams. They had even set up two spare laptops so they could log in to whatever they needed to log in to. I listened to them discussing a live stream later that evening, and I left them to it.
From reading her diary, I think the parade was Aunt Judy's favorite part of the whole race. It was in her earliest notes. She wanted the teams to ride in a short parade in the city that was hosting the first stage. But not only the riders, she wanted the team cars with their director sportif, and the trainers, and mechanic, and even the team bus following them, so the people in the city could see everybody on the team and cheer for them.
One of her entries about the parade summarized it. "Those guys with the feed bags on the side of the road are never seen. Nobody applauds for the mechanic. The team director is always the bad guy. Let's let them have the spotlight and cheers for one day."
Well, her parade had changed a little, but it was still her team parade.
Instead of her opening being in the start town that nobody had ever heard of, it was going to cover a couple of kilometers of downtown Toronto. And instead of starting with an introduction across a stage in the city park, it was going to start with a concert featuring 'Melody and Sid' from Saint Louis and then the Canadian group. Both music groups would play a couple of dates later on the tour in small towns and medium sized cities, but mow they were on the stage in front of the Convention Center next to the giant CN Tower in the largest city in Canada.
After the short concert there would be the team introductions and parade.
Every team would be led by an antique car with a banner on the side and a local beauty queen sitting in it waving at the crowd. They'd ride slowly down the route and end at a plaza where there would be a 'meet and greet' with fans and the press and real people would get a chance to see international level athletes face to face.
Lunch was very good, and the next thing I remember was telling a TV camera that the second stage is pretty representative of the other flat stages. "Kitchener south then east to the lake across the bridge in Niagara to Buffalo, with the first sprint along the lake in Grimsby."
One of the European teams had sent two of their riders who had been involved in an accident last year and had been seriously injured and had taken a long time to get back to form. They had been doing some rehab rides, but this would be their proving ground to show that they were ready for a Grand Tour again and be on next year's top squad. Which was exactly one of the things Judy had mentioned a couple of times.
Their being here and appearing out riding along the time trial route in their team kit was one of the lead stories in the cycling news. And it came up in the press conference.
"How is it fair for a rider who has won stages in the major races in Europe to compete with the other riders in the race?"
I answered with, "Think about how good it will look for one of those other riders to win a stage against them."
Of course somebody asked if it was supposed to be the Grand Tour of North America why weren't we having a stage in Mexico? The answer Mrs. Schmid gave them was "I have been in contact with several authorities across the Southern Border. They are willing to work with us if this first event is a success. As it is already a success, I will be in contact with them and we'll see what we can work out for next year." They were satisfied with that.
There was some interest in the fact that we had four female teams, and three co-ed teams, and two teams that were a combined effort by two smaller operations that had sent a selection of their up and coming riders to be led by a veteran of several grand tours. But while there was interest, it wasn't as big of a story as I thought it would be.
What did turn out to be a major issue with a reporter from a French sports site was our unique "Judy Prize".
We'd come up with it after we'd told some of the committee about Aunt Judy blistering all of us to the top of the hill. We decided that there would be a special award for the fastest male and the fastest female climber to the top of the longest hill of the race. Not the steepest or the overall hardest because of things like sharp turns or something, but the longest. We came up with a specially designed plaque and a patch they could put on their team jersey and then a sponsor offered a nice cash prize for it. And then we designed a banner to put at the start and finish of the climb announcing the Judy Prize Climb.
Well, the French didn't see the humor in a North American race having something the French didn't have, and it was obvious in the tone of his question that he didn't approve.
All we could say was that it was unique to our race, and left it at that.
And just like that we had had our first news conference for the international media. After an hour break we would be back for the local media from various outlets in the US and Canada.
One of the reporters from Texas asked the same question about Mexico, and Mrs. Schmid gave them the same answer.
But most of the local reporters wanted to know about local impact, including the expense somebody would incur to create land art for the contest. How much revenue we brought to town, either that or how much inconvenience there would be to people who wanted to go shopping the day we were passing through. We assured them that actual road closures would be limited to when the race was actually in the area, except for the few blocks in town where the start and finish lines were. Which was also the reason that we didn't have a stage start or finish in a major metropolitan area. The largest city we finished in was St. Louis, and with that, we didn't have an extended run through the city proper, we crossed the river, made a turn, and finished near the arch.
"With the land art, there is no requirement for cost. If somebody wants to do it and has bails of hay or spare bedsheets to paint and hang off a building with the city logo on it for a stage. That's entirely up to them. The publicity some of those installations bring to stage towns along the major tours sometimes lasts for months afterward. So if the town wants to sponsor it, or even do it as a civic project, that is entirely up to them."
"Them and the farmer whose cow pasture is now an art exhibit."
There was even a reporter from Mississippi who was aware of the way part of the Graceland route had been moved. They asked about whether that stage would be on the route next year. We answered honestly that, like the Grand Tours in Europe, we planned to move the stages every year.
But now came the part I'd been personally dreading. The 'sponsor reception'.
Over the summer and earlier this month we had met with various sponsor's representatives, and even the odd CEO of a cycling company... no I mean that, the chief executive of the equipment company was one of the strangest people I'd ever met. He came into the meeting wearing cycling shorts, as we expected, and mountaineering boots, which weren't expected. He talked about what he called 'American Baseball' for about ten minutes, then asked us what we liked for breakfast when we were traveling. Later, he jumped up and showed us a new portable tool kit for skiers to put in their backpack. After that, he said he'd loved meeting with us and he'd see us again at the race.
All told, in our meeting where he would be the one solely responsible for committing their company to several hundred thousands of dollars of cash, plus a traveling repair truck and a van full of spare parts, as well as the technicians that went with them, for a month.... the proposed race was discussed for less than five minutes.
But he told us that somebody he called Cornella would give us the papers we needed on the way out.
'Cornella' was really named Mary Beth. Who had played basketball at Cornell University, and was now one of the legal reps for the manufacturer. We put her in touch with our own 'legal department' and the deal was all but done.
Today, the 'strange CEO' was at the race. Shaking hands and talking baseball with other, not quite so strange company reps. He remembered us, and took me by the hand and towed me over to meet his opposite number at another cycling company, and then he introduced all of us to a previous winner of the tour in France.
So there were advantages to now being friends with the strange CEO.
But then there were others to meet and welcome and finally we had to have dinner with the mayor of Toronto. the Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, and a several other dignitaries.
The dinner was very good, and we really enjoyed the 'fashion show' part of it where several volunteers from the racing clubs from some nearby colleges walked through modeling our category leader's jerseys as well as several of our own promotional T-shirts and even 'hoodies'.
Finally, it was all done, and we essentially had to sneak out of the building to head back to the motel.
But we weren't quick enough to get through the lobby before Cousin Amy and her cohorts roped us in to making a statement on their live stream broadcast, for which, they were now wearing a leader's jersey.
It wasn't painful, and we were soon behind our closed and locked door and essentially crashed.
Team Introductions and Parade
We arrived back in downtown Toronto to the portable stage provided by the city for the team presentations. We got to stand offstage and listen to the music performance by the gold mining brothers who spent the off season in a band.
After their set the Master of Ceremonies, a local radio personality who had made the mistake of stating in the presence of somebody who knew somebody how much he enjoyed cycling and had spent some time riding in competitive races when he was younger. Now he was on stage, with a female sports presenter from a Toronto TV station, and they were both obviously in their element and were quite good at their jobs.
Fortunately, our part was minimal. We were introduced as the organizers of the race, we said how delighted we were to have the first two stages of the North American Grand Tour in Canada and how wonderful everybody had been.
The audience cheered, and the MCs moved on to a few other introductions while we stepped back into the line to greet the teams as they were brought out.
The male MC introduced the first team. In a moment, the female presenter went through the names of the riders and the sports director without stumbling at all. They came out with their captain pushing his race bicycle and others walking behind. The team came through the reception line and we all shook hands. They went out to greet the people while the roles on the stage were swapped and the female host introduced the next team with minimal delay and the male read through the names.
And so it went until all seventeen teams were out walking through the crowd until they got to their bicycles in the parade line up. Then, as our friends from Saint Louis played some rather lively jazz as Melody and Sid, the parade began.
We stayed on the stage and watched as the teams of riders, and the support staff, and even their custom coach team bus rolled by. All seventeen teams went by. Slowly.
Then that part of our day was done. And we had another reception and then, later, we were on Amy's live stream chat with fans from all over the world.
Fortunately for us, several riders had been following one or more of her online accounts and had agreed to stop by for a few moments. We greeted them warmly and thanked them for participating, and bowed out.
"wouldn't 'Time Trial Day' be a better title?"
how about Stage One Day
We sat in the motel room and drank coffee in silence.
We'd had the TV on a local station that was talking about the time trial, then I got a text from Amy that we were on the sports channel, so we turned it over there and caught the end of their opening live segment from down by the starting line where fans and team personnel were already gathering. Then we turned it off.
"We've got to go." One of us said.
"We've at least got to put in an appearance." The other one answered.
And we sat there in the quiet and finished our coffee.
"OK. Let's go."
We had an official 'race official' parking pass, but we still had to park some distance from the sign in area. Which meant we got to enjoy the spectacle of the pre-race activities.
We walked through the lineup for the publicity caravan and heard the radio chatter associated with their trying to find two flatbed trucks used as floats for an energy drink that were supposed to line up as the fifth unit. Then we heard the announcement that the drink trucks were there and were on their way to line up. Then we saw them with the group of young people that would hand out drinks to fans along the route.
Next was the arriving teams that were checking in and going through all the pre-race checks of riders and bikes and team cars and everything else. We could hear live music from the main staging area
There was a good deal of pre-Stage One ceremony and pomp, and some commotion as the teams made their way to the starting line where they'd race the closed circuit as a unit. We showed a security officer our official IDs and went and stood by the starting line where the first team was being introduced and the countdown clock for their start was running down.
Back, years and years ago it seems, back when we got home from Aunt Judy's wake with a carload of cycling race stuff. We'd stood in our dining room and looked at one of the smaller maps where she'd outlined a US stage race with the first stage starting in Cleveland.
We'd looked at each other and shook our heads.
"I'll believe it's real when the riders actually start pedaling," I'd said.
"THREE!..... TWO!!!! .... and ONE! GO!"
"Do you believe it's real now?" My husband asked me.
Eight riders in matching uniforms were pumping their bicycle pedals like they were trying to fly. In just seconds, they'd gone from being all side by side into that amazingly close slipstream formation and were rounding the first corner in a single tire track.
I had tears in my eyes. "Yes. We did it. Aunt Judy did it. It's real."
[NOTE: The above story was written as good-natured fiction, it is to be taken as such. There is no multi-stage grand cycling tour of North America, as detailed in the story, at the time of publication (but there should be!). Some of the incidentals, such as the Canadian band of gold mining brothers, covered bridges in Indiana, and Graceland DO exist.
Thank you, Dr. Leftover, TheMediaDesk.com]