I touched Mario Cipollini's ass.
The Tour de Georgia came to a conclusion yesterday in Alpharetta, Georgia. I was lucky enough to attend the stages contested on Saturday and Sunday. Big time bike racing has come to Georgia, and it was a blast watching the show.
On Saturday the plan was to leave R-Ranch and cycle up to Brasstown Bald to see the finish of Stage 6 as the cyclists climbed the freakishly steep final 5 kilometers. (Stage Profile.)
We first saw the peloton about 30 miles from the finish, as hundreds of people gathered at a small intersection to see the group ride by. First we saw one of Mario Cipollini's Domina Vacanze teammates cycle by alone, and behind him a minute or so the only other remaining survivor of the early breakaway. A few minutes behind them was Lance's group, which included most of the climbers. Perhaps seven or eight minutes after the first guy came the main pack including my favorite, Super Mario, the one and only Lion King, yes, Mario Cipollini! He was surrounded my his Domina Vacanze teammates, and looked rather fresh, enjoying a nice ride in the country.
We hustled over to Brasstown Bald joining thousands of people lining the steep road. As a decent cyclist who could climb well before all my Ironman training, I cannot make it up the road to the top of Brasstown Bald. It is just too hard. These professional cyclists were going to hit it after over 120 miles of mountain riding. We positioned ourselves about halfway up the mountain, right before a very steep section. Helicopters and caravan cars announced the arrival of the riders. First we got to see Cesar Grajales of Jittery Joe's cycling team, as he had attacked Lance and company, and was stealing the show. Following him was Lance, Chris Horner, Jens Voight, Bobby Julich and other climbers.
After the climbers and UCI officials went by, the rest of the peloton arrived strung out for miles along the road. We saw one cyclist, a professional road cyclist, just fall over on the steep part. Another picked his head up right in front of me, looked at the steep section, and said "This is just insane!" Soon the crowd was pushing the cyclists up the hill. Yes, this is illegal, but done at every race. The European cyclists would look over at the crowd beside them and say in a pitiful little voice the only English they probably knew: "Puuushh! Puuusshh me!" We did. I would push maybe 15 meters and somebody else would take over as we did a fireman brigade of sorts. After one long push of a very tired cyclist, I turned around and saw Cipollini right behind me! He was sitting up waving the crowd over to help puuusshh him up the hill. I knew I had to help puuusshh him. The problem, other than I was exhausted, was that about eight people were currently puuusshhing him up the insanely steep hill and I could not get my hand on him. I ran along side waiting for the really fat guy to run out of gas, which he did. After pushing a race official/volunteer out of the way, I finally had my shot to help push Super Mario up the hill. Yes, I touched Mario Cipollini's ass! Good times, good times!
Stage 7 was on Sunday, and I had been given some VIP USPS Sponsor Tent passes. I do not know what I did to deserve these, but the president of my company and our USPS account manager made sure I was on the list. My buddy and I were treated like royalty at the tent and trailer. We had free food, free drinks, a live television feed from one of the race motorcycles, and a viewing platform next to and above the finish line. I don't know what was better, seeing the race from the sponsor tent, or yelling out to buddies as they walked among the crowd below us trying to see the race.
Former professional cyclist. television announcer and Tour de France funny guy Bob Roll was walking around the tent, very close to the bar. My buddy was tempted to go up and talk to him, but did not know what to say that was not a cliche question he hears everyday. I knew what I would ask him: "Bob, yesterday I touched Mario Cipollini's ass. Can I touch yours today." I was not sure if he would see the humor, and did not wish to get tossed from the VIP area, so I kept my mouth shut. I should have done that more in my youth, like when getting arrested.
When the cyclists began the four lap circuit at the end of the stage we would watch the television feed inside, and when they approached the finish line, run outside to see them pass. Then back inside to see the live feed. It was not looking to good for Cipollini, as he seemed to be too far back, and his team was having trouble getting their train in gear, even with the USPS team helping to control the pace after a deal made yesterday for help reeling in the breakaway. (Yes, it appears Domina Vacanze helped reel the breakaway in even though their teammate was leading it.)
Some say that the final group sprint of a bike race is one of the greatest spectacles in sports. I agree. Seeing a group of 70 cyclists going close to 40 miles an hour as they hurl themselves towards the finish line with little thought for safety is like nothing else I have seen before. I like the strategy of the set up, the sight of a well-oiled team working to launch their sprinter, and the graceful dance of the sprinter on his pedals- which is what they show on TV. But the pure raw power you see at the live race overwhelms all of that. Wow! Cipollini lost the lead meters from the finish line, as Gordon Fraser of Health Net had the opportunity to come around the greatest sprinter in the sport and beat the Lion King fairly. What a sight!
The USPS team trailer was parked right next to the sponsor tent, and people mobbed the area trying to get a sight of, and maybe even an autograph from, Lance. I didn't bother, but went back for more food. George Hincapie made an appearance. On television he looks fairly big standing next to the other cyclists. In person he is not that tall, and has the upper body of a 8-year-old. His legs were rather gnarly looking, having huge, bulging, varicose looking veins. He did have a beautiful young lady sitting next to him wiping road grime off his face, however.
After the awards ceremony, we headed out. Our walk was interrupted when security came ushering Lance Armstrong by us. He was not four feet away from me. I could have touched his ass. I didn't. Instead while others were trying to get his autograph and shake his hand I was yelling: "Where is Sheryl?" Now that would be an ... nevermind.