Monday, December 5, 2011
Thanks to Craig at Richmond Cycling Corps and the great folks at Road Holland for helping those of us on Altius stay on the crest of the cycling fashion wave. We may not take racing seriously, but how we look is another story completely. Richmond Cycling Corp started carrying Road Holland a couple of months ago and those of us that saw their items at the RCC opening were blown away by the style and attention to detail. A few phone calls and emails later and the fine folks at RH were willing to do some custom embroidery to add the Altius logo to their sweet Arnhem jersey. We can continue to look good either at the back of the pack or the front of the beer line.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
This is it the longest short trip I have been on. The last day sneaks up on most of us. From a race standpoint – we have been in the lead wire to wire so far. This has allowed me to be closer to the action than in almost any other race. The guys have raced hard and smart. The mechanic and soigner have been great keeping everything running smoothly. One last stage and most racers are looking tired. The flurry of attacks that were going on earlier in the week have trailed off. Gabon’s entire team has been eliminated on time-cuts. Teams are running out of supplies and coming to us for help. Only the Euros and TT1 throw away our bottles – every other team gives a bottle back when they take them and most squads are actually using 2010 issue TT1 bottles. We will probably leave behind 100 more this time too. Our hope is that every team today will be tired enough that we can just ride wheels to the finish.
Today I was back in the team car for the final stage – it’s often like the co-pilot in a rally car. Keeping track of the race, looking up rider numbers, there are things to do to help the process which I like. From the beginning the race moves at a sane pace and although there was a lot of terrain change this keeps until 15 K to go when a Rwandan rider takes a flier. In the 3 years of this event no Rwandan has ever won a stage so this poor guy had a lot on his shoulders. He timed his break perfectly and got out as far as 37 seconds before the time started coming down. In the car there was a nervous silence, anything could happen; a flat, a crash, a goat on the course so as the K ticked down we kept waiting and hoping. With 1 K to go Kiel went for it. As the yellow jersey wearer he wasn’t just going to coast in. The Rwandan won but only by 50 meters over Kiel but to the untrained eye it was great for Rwanda. They won a stage and beat the yellow jersey. The streets were packed the last few K so the noise was great and the Rwandan people were thrilled. Kiel was first and Joey was second overall but on the final day a Rwandan won the KOM jersey, the stage jersey, and best overall team. It was a huge day for cycling in their country and certainly one they can build on. Kiel and Joey also won two motorcycles for their stage wins which they are donating to the Rwandan Diabetes Foundation. Alex Bowden was the one diabetic racer on the squad and he finished this year over 2 hours ahead of his finishing place last year showing continued development for him. We would have popped champagne if we could find any, instead it was large bottles of Mutzig (Budweiser of Rwanda) We thought we had brought a strong squad but the cycling gods smiled on us as well this year.
The other group that came with us rode every stage ahead of the race and did at least seven clinic visits. They had the opportunity to interact, educate, and be educated by Rwandans with diabetes. Money and resources are so limited in Rwanda that this will continue to be an uphill battle but through the Rwandan Diabetes Foundation they have targeted and enrolled 680 children with type 1 diabetes who are guaranteed access to diabetes medication and testing supplies. A few years ago these children most likely would have died from this disease and now due to a very charismatic leader of their diabetes foundation and the contacts with TT1 there is hope for them. This week we also set up diabetes stations at every finish so we could test anyone who wanted to know if they have diabetes. This part of the trip was a great success.
From my standpoint, I really wasn’t terribly useful in my opinion. We lost 2 riders from the team but there wasn’t much I could do on either. About half the people in the group had some sort of intestinal issue but having seen them all, I had the worst version of any of them. It’s good in many respects not to be needed in my role, I just feel like I’m taking up space though at times.
As I sit in the Brussels Airport at a Starbucks writing the last entry and reflecting, I feel the trip was a great success. The team reached goals on multiple levels so I hope the sponsors are very happy with the work that Phil is doing. Rwanda was a beautifully lush country that was far more developed than I had imagined. The people were fantastic – friendly and eager to show their country. They were understandably frustrated that all the outside world knows of them is the genocide and not the amazing 16 years that have followed. Would I go back, I’m not sure on that at this point, I’ll have to think on that a little more when I’m not so tired.
Murakozie (Rwandan for thank you) for reading.
Stage 7 We weren't too sure how today would go. Plenty of climbing but lots of tired legs as well. As usual there were tons of hills so we expected folks to try to get away. About 10 k in Alex gets a flat which was horrible timing as the speed was starting to kick up a bit. He had to spend the next 25 minutes chasing back on. Jack, being the resourceful director that he is told our photographer on his motorbike to go back and "take some close-ups" so he motor paced him for a few K until the refs figured out what was going on. He fought like heck but finally caught on. Then it got crazy for me. An Ethiopian rider crashed and since I was in the medical car again we stopped. It was quite the scene. There was our car, the ambulance, the other medical car with lots of shouting and screaming. It was 180 from how I like to do things. Despite all these vehicles we still ended up using mostly the medical stuff out of my fanny pack which cracked me up. Dr Albert was really wanting this guy to have a broken wrist I think. He was eager to get an X-ray so we left the race which was odd protocol. Normally the ambulance leaves but the race doc stays with the race. Anyhow this gave me the chance to visit a hospital though. The X-ray machine was probably as old as me but did the trick and no fracture. At this point the racers were only 10 k out so no real need to go back and we got lucky no one else got hurt. It certainly made me realize that although Albert was a nice guy, his form of medicine and how I want my riders treated is a bit different. We stayed in yellow again and the guys were healthy so all is good there. We were back to another hotel on Lake Kivu and whereas our first place at the lake was tranquil, this one was more of a party spot. We were told we have a nightclub at our place as well if we were interested. The furnishings were a bit rough but we did have hot water, at this point I take most things on a scale and hot water and recognizable food are 2 of the biggest items.
Friday, November 25, 2011
Today was going to be the easy day. It’s not unusual in the race to have a short stage midway through. Today was only 70 K and not much significant elevation. A break should get up the road and we can rest. Unfortunately at 1 AM though, Will came to the door feeling horrible. He had the stomach bug and there was not much I was going to be able to do. I tried a few things but Will just looked horrible in the morning so we pulled him before anything worse could happen to him. A funny part though was when he came to the door at 1 AM, the first thing he said was “ I feel horrible” quickly followed by “Wait, you guys are sharing a bed?” Yep…
Because of Will not riding, he took my spot in the team car and I had to go find a ride. I hooked up with the Doctor for the race, Dr. Albert. This was pretty cool. Apparently in Rwanda med school it is 6 years and they all come out trained in general practice. He is now 2 years into his general surgery training and 2 more to go and then he wants to do orthopedics which is 2 years. All of his training is here in Rwanda and he seemed to one smart dude. His training is obviously very Western based. He tells me that Rwandan health care is sort of run like a co-op. You pay 3100 francs ($5.00) per year and you are given a government insurance card. If you get sick in your village you present to the local clinic where they determine what else you need. The clinics are run by nurses and doctors come at least 3 days a week. If the issue is complex they may need to take you to the hospital and all provinces are required to have at least 5 ambulances per province. Dr. Albert was quite proud of their system and it sounds far superior to surrounding countries where tribal bush medicine is still mainly practiced. I asked him how these same medical beliefs had been removed here and it sounds like there was a very robust education program in the past 10 years reaching out to the countryside to teach them that “witching” was not medicine. There still are pockets where witching is practiced but traditional medicine is much more accepted here which may be why our diabetes talks are so well received.
The stage was short and uneventful and finished in a town that seems the least developed of any we have seen so far, however we are staying at a pretty nice hotel. It’s about 2 K away from town and in a compound with an armed guard but it’s all run by nuns. As with any good nun establishment it has a nice bar within the compound and the food is quite good. We all get own rooms and each shower has a hot water heater above the shower you have to plug in a little ahead of time. Our photographer, John, described the furnishings as “1985 Ohio Motel” and as I have a point of reference on this, I think he is pretty close – lots of light tans fluorescent lights and a tiny TV. Again the people are very helpful and friendly but it’s been raining pretty hard and the town itself was sketchy so I think I am going to celebrate Thanksgiving at the nun encampment. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you back home.
I really have no idea what day it is anymore. After the race gets going everything simply becomes stage numbers and the rest of the world sort of ceases to exist. This is further impacted by the fact that we are off the grid here and can’t get any internet so we really are in our own little world. Our hotel near the Congo was very interesting. From the outside it looked like some nice little place you might see at the Outer Banks, and even the inside looked nice. Someone had spent a lot of money to get nice materials however the assembly was horrible. Most fixtures did not work, electrical outltets did not work, TV’s did not work, toilets flooded and there was no hot water. This made for an interesting evening. This was also the first room without a mosquito net. There was this cozzing arounstant high pitched buzzing around my head all night long followed by the occasional “I took my malaria med tonight, right?!” In the morning though, it was business as usual.
Stage 5 was going to be a hard one. A 25 K climb right from the gun and lots of hard climbs and technical descents. Racing here has also been a bit unorthodox as the African teams are not highly schooled in cycling strategy and therefore they try some crazy things that make us scratch our head and then figure out if we need to respond or not. Today’s race was more chess with Kiel getting up the road with 2 South Africans an Ethiopian and a Rwandan. They made their break on a downhill and got up to 3 minutes and then the negotiating started. We were going back and forth with the South African squad trying to explain that we would work with them and they could move their riders up to second and third on GC however their team director wasn’t interested so Keil rode tempo to the end and buried them for the stage win. Joey rolled through a couple of minutes later and stayed in yellow with Keil now moving to second. 5 wins in 5 stages. Not bad considering we only had 2 wins all year long as a team before this.
The hotel was a real adventure. Very nice people but a light bulb from the ceiling, one bed, no running water on the top floor- pressure couldn’t get it up there. Door handles had been removed and the doors themselves were paper thin however the walls were 12” thick concrete. 2 amusing items – Jack and I would get to share a bed and the toilet faced a floor to ceiling window 3 feet away that would open from the 6th floor overlooking the entire city. It was quite a view and others from the team would visit us just to use the toilet. While in there at one point I hear Jack exclaim “My People!” I’m not sure who looked up but it was pretty funny. Dinner was ok 2 Guinness and an orange but fortunately had scored Nutella and crackers earlier in the day so it certainly wasn’t the most nutritious meal but I won’t get scurvy.
My med count is dwindling – people are loving the pepto and I have been giving it out like candy. I have gone through 60 in 5 days. Basically almost everyone has had some stomach issues to this point. I had to go to a Rwandan pharmacy to try to find more. It’s very much like a European one here you have ask the pharmacist what you want and they help you out. I asked for “pink tablets to aid digestion” and bam, they had some. Looks like it might just be and antacid but I will go with what I can get. I have given out a bunch of ibuprofen, some cipro, phenergan, Benadryl… I don’t leave the room anymore without carrying my bag of meds as invariably I will see someone who will ask me for something and I have to return to the room.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Today is the day we are to leave Kigali and head out to see other parts of Rwanda. 155 K with tons of climbing. The first 20 k in fact are almost all uphill and the Ethtopian team sends all 6 of their riders to the front and drills it. These guys just kill themselves for the first 50 K and do a great job of splitting the field but also do a great job of blowing themselves up. Like stages from a rocket they fire and then come off the back. This would work fine except they were down to their last person with 50 K to go. This blistering attack served to separate Kiel from Will and Joey who would normally look out for him in the hills. At one point he was with 5 guys from Rwanda and the last Ethiopian and this was not good, the Rwandans began attacking him and 2 Rwandans got up the road. Well crap, we tried seeing if anyone else would help but it quickly became apparent it was us against Africa. Kiel slowed it down a bit and allowed Joey and Will and their group to catch back on. Once they were back in the speed started to pick up some but then the African teams would attack, we would catch them and everything would slow way down so the Rwandans were up to 3:30 up the road and were in the yellow jersey if the stage ended then. Joey who is 6”2” 175 and looks huge next to most the Africans and they don’t realize how fast he can be, so he decided to try something. The last 40 K was mostly downhill and after one of these frustrating African attacks Joey just drilled it and the next thing he was 30 seconds up the road. Joey started the day in 5th place only 30 seconds behind Keil so this wasn’t a bad move and he can fly going downhill. I the last 20 K he pulled back the two Rwandan teammates and put another 45 seconds into them to win solo. We kept the yellow but it landed on Joeys back. Boy did it feel good. The African teams had been playing pretty smart as a group to beat up on us so to be able to keep yellow was awesome and shows we aren’t just a one trick pony. The only downside today was that Ty dropped out. We were up the road supporting the leaders and Ty was a few minutes back when he got a flat. There was no support vehicle but the Belgian squad gave him a wheel. Unfortunately at this point though he was over 5 minutes down on the back of the race. He tried for 40 K to catch back on but to no avail and abandoned.
Tonight we are staying on a beautiful lake right on the border with Congo, literally we can see the border 100 meters up the road from our place. It’s beautiful although the food is still a little hard to identify. It was also an amazingly beautiful ride through the countryside as well. The sides of the road were packed with people and some great t-shirts. A UNC and Clemson t shirt almost side by side on some kids and my favorite “It’s better as a blonde” made me laugh as the wearer was far from blonde. The area today passed several volcanos where some of the best coffee beans in the world come from. We also passed through the area where Gorrilas in the Mist was filmed. I have taken a bunch of pics and will post tem when I return.
Today’s fun notes - we crashed the car. Caravan driving is a little crazy. Standard rules of the road don’t apply. There are caravan rules but they mainly cover order of the vehicles. Essentially though the idea is to stay as close as possible to the cyclists which is always easy until you start going down hills. At that point a good cyclist can easily out-pace a car. Back home we have great cars that can be driven hard and hold the road. Here each day is a learning curve about the car. Yesterday the brakes went out partway through. Today we were coming down a twisty turny descent in the rain when the wheels locked up on Jack. Nothing was said we just calmly went off the road down an embankment and into a cluster of trees. Well f*#% this is fine. We literally plowed over these small trees which broke our speed but now how to get back in the race. Paul our mechanic and I jumped out or the car and tried to push but no luck. Then out of nowhere at least 40 Rwandans came out of the hillside. The all jumped in to lift and push our car back onto the road. They then all mobbed us with hands out to be paid. I reached in my pocket while we were scrambling to get back in the car and threw up a bunch of Rwandan francs – making it rain so to speak. We sped off (although not quite as fast) to catch the race. Amazing, we can’t find any obvious damage to the car at this point.
People are also starting to wear on each other as well. The team is tight but the rest of the group is having their issues. They ride the stage route a little earlier in the day and then are supposed to go to local diabetes clinics. They are getting packed houses with people who have diabetes and want to learn more. Interestingly one question they keep getting is whether this is like HIV because it is the only other “blood disease” that white people come to teach them about. However this makes for a very long day. Today they rode 100 hilly miles in the rain and were then supposed to go talk. Things got a bit chippy, not mention that when their blood sugars were getting a bit low themselves they get even more like this. We’ll have to keep an eye on them over the next few days. What they are doing is great but we need for them to keep wanting to do it as well.
Monday, November 21, 2011
Stage 2 and 3 was a gamble for me but for the team it was kicking ass and taking names
Prologue The good, the bad, and the ugly
Today was the day to get started and the guys were starting to look like a rat in a cage with a snake outside – a bit on the anxious side. The ride today was simply a 4 k time trial, out and back and expected to take 4 ½ minutes. There was a presentation of teams Rwanda, Tanzania, Gabon, Kenya, South Africa along with Belgium, France and US. There were several more teams that cancelled at the last minute and rumor has it, that it was due to drug testing here. I don’t know how true that is as everytime something bad happens in cycling it is blamed on drugs. There are a good number of spectators out and we certainly appear to be the oddity of the day. The Minister of Sport makes it out along with several other dignitaries. Sadly, as soon as we park we are swarmed by kids who are simply begging for anything. About every 5th child looks up at me and says “I’m hungry, can I have some food.” It’s very conflicting and some of the riders are struggling with this. There is the knowledge that “Yes I can help one but what happens after that.” The swarm of kids goes on all day and by the end you start to feel like a bad person for shooing them away like pigeons.
Finally the race starts, one minute intervals, go as hard as you can. We did not bring time trial specific stuff to the event so we thought we might be at a bit of a disadvantage. I am surprised to see that many of the African riders at least have aero helmets and some are even sporting disc wheels. Fortunatley 4 K is is pretty short though. Our riders seem to be rolling pretty well but it’s hard to know as the announcer is not speaking English. At the end however it turns out that we swept the podium 1, 2, and 3. Talk about a solid start. Nothing helps team morale like a win so the guys were very excited. Some racers on this squad have been going since January and are pretty fried so this certainly gives motivation. Our top rider on GC is Kiel who is an up and coming talent but missed almost all of this year for medical reasons so he is fresh and hungry which helps as well.
Now for the ugly – on the way home from the race I started to rapidly feel like crap. I got back to the hotel and began the process of losing things both ways along with fever and chills. It was a rough night but I am feeling a little better at this time so we’ll see how today goes. That really sucked though, I can’t remember the last time I felt that poorly and I am hopeful that I am the only one this week to get this. Ahh, third world food.
There are 2 stages today. A short one this morning then a 3 hour cool down and a second coming back this afteronoon. I am going to give it a try but its never fun to put toilet paper in your medical bag just in case.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Kigali, or at least what I have seen so far, is a pretty amazing city. Well paved roads and big sidewalks. The car exhaust is a little much though so I thought if I were going to go for a run I would do it early. It wasn’t feasible for me to bring a bike and with my broken wrist, running is my exercise of choice for the next few months. It’s plenty bright at 6 AM so I went out and started running and noticed something amazing. There were hundreds of Rwandans out doing the same thing. This was not an organized thing, just groups of one and two joggers out. Men and women and all smiling as I went by and giving a encouraging quick clap. I thought Richmond had an active running community but this was fantastic to see.
Back to the hotel for breakfast and they are playing Kenny Roger’s greatest hits with “Islands in the Stream” and the “Gambler” bringing back some memories. I hadn’t heard KR in years. Sadly I had to hear from some of the 20 something riders about how they knew of Kenny Rogers from their parents.
I am getting ready for the prologue in the hotel, but in the background through our window there are all these great Sunday morning sounds filling the valley below our hotel. Multiple churches with singing and drumming and although they are not synchronized the sounds complement each other to provide a cool Sunday soundtrack.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Rwanda day 1
Made it to Kigali at 8PM last night. Bags arrived and all was looking good. I found the bus for the hotel and travelled there with a French cycling team. They were not the friendliest team and as I later found out the French and Belgian squads that have come here in the past don’t have the greatest reputations. Apparently the colonialist mentality still exists. Anyhow, I made it to the hotel only to find out that TT1 wasn’t there? Well shit, I had nearly drained my phone playing Angry Birds on the 8 hour flight from Brussels and didn’t even know if I would be able to reach anyone. I also didn’t realize that most folks really seem to prefer French here over English so my rusty Frenglish wasn’t getting me very far either. Ding, I get a text from the team DS Jack Seehafer wondering where I am, primarily because I am his designated drinking buddy. We go back three years and have shared many beers over that time. I am sure it was a $20 text with international rates but boy was I happy to see it. I was able to get one of the hotel workers where I wasn’t staying to give me a ride over to the new hotel, another $10 well spent. This hotel is nice; internet, big rooms, nice staff and a bar. Jack and I immediately got a few beers and all was good.
Day 1 I wake to the outside sound of people horns and bright sun at 6 freakin AM. A little early but that’s the way they roll. Sunrise is at 5:30 here. Breakfast is an interesting mix of baked beans, rice, beef stew and cheese. I tried it all but would take sausage gravy myself. I’m guessing we aren’t going to get that. Next we were off to pick up the team car to drive in the race. Back home we are spoiled with 2 BMW 3 series. Here we get a stick shift Toyota Corolla with 110,000 miles on it and the trim falling off. Good news is than any further damage will be hard to judge. We have a sticker on the side that says Team Type 1 and a big American flag on the door as well. We had to then hit 3 supermarkets to get all the food the riders need for the week as well but we should be ready to go.
Now that we are done with the shopping, two of us decide that it may be fun to go to one of the markets so we hail 2 mototaxis. Here there are tons of these motorcycle taxis. For basically $1.25 they will take you all over town – the thing is you are riding on the back of a motorcycle in a pretty crazy city. Sharing the same helmet that every other rider basically forever has worn – I simply try not to think about that too much. It was a blast though. The market had all sorts of food and we have also discovered where all the clothing from the 80’s ended up. Tons of 20 year old looking clothing everywhere. There wasn’t anything truly unique other than fresh goat at the market. Another ride back on the motorcycle and then some time to kill
We have a whole entourage here – 22 people in total. Only 10 of us are really for the race. The other 12 are here for either the purpose of diabetes education or documenting the trip. One of the cool things is the other folks that tend to come along at a bike race. One of them is a gentleman named John Wendell. His day job is the Afghanistan correspondent for Time Magazine. He’s taking a vacation to take pics of the race for us. John, Jack and I went out to meet one of his friends Simone. She is an old friend of his who is a correspondent for a German newspaper and has spent the last couple of years on the Congo and Sudan. Jack and I got to sit back and listen to some crazy stories about covering bombings in Afghanistan, riding bikes beside armored convoys, drunken Moscow evenings, and parties in the Congo where people literally wear pants made of gold. I don’t think I could do what these folks do but it was an absolutely fascinating set of stories from folks that have no sense of fear and end up crazy situations.
Off to bed – tomorrow is the prologue. Only a 4 K TT, but the President will be there and it will be on National TV so I will shave just in case. We’ll see what kind of interesting things I can come across tomorrow.
Tour of Rwanda
Travel Day Part Deux
I was originally scheduled to leave Richmond for Rwanda yesterday 11/16. Unfortunately 10 minutes before my cab arrived I received a call from US Air. In a warm manner that only a computer generated voice could deliver I was told my flight from Richmond to Philly was cancelled. 45 minutes of phone work with a very nice agent named Ashley revealed that my only option was to essentially re-book me for the exact same trip one day later. Unfortunately Kigali, Rwanda is not a hot spot of flights. Having researched many options on this flight beforehand I think I may have taught Ashley a few things. Anyhow, I now sit here in the Philly airport waiting for my next leg to Brussels. From there, Brussels to Kigali. I at least get a window seat so if the weather is good I should get to see some amazing landscapes flying over Africa.
Rwanda was a little known place to me a few months ago when I was asked to go on this trip. It’s a country about the size of Maryland located in east-central Africa. Probably like most Americans the only noteworthy thing I knew of Rwanda was the genocide that took place in 1994. I also know from cycling magazines that Joques Boyer (first American Tour de France racer) and Tom Ritchey had found something unique in Rwanda that made them want to introduce cycling to the people there. As I read up on Rwanda it really is an amazing story at this. In 1994 in a period of great instability over a 2 month period nearly 1 million Tutsi’s were methodically killed by the rival Hutu’s. It is completely unfathomable to me what happened there, and almost as amazing is that there has been remarkable reconciliation and stability since 1996. I have a few patients of mine from Rwanda. They were very excited that I was visiting their homeland but also found it very difficult to talk about Rwanda for long before I could see old ghosts staring to come over them. If interested “A Thousand Hills” is a great book about the circumstances leading to the genocide, 1994, and the time since then.
I will be part of a 19 person delegation with Team Type 1 going for this event. TT1 went to this last year partly to compete in the race but also as a humanitarian mission. They were able to establish contacts within the country to start diabetic training for local health clinics and the also delivered a significant amount of diabetic supplies. Building on that, team founder Phil Southerland wanted to return this year to expand on the groundwork laid. We have a race crew of 6 riders, DS, soigner, mechanic and me. We also have a crew of diabetic athletes and teachers who will focus exclusively on the outreach side of things. Rwanda is small and stable enough at this point to allow us to set up a comprehensive program of care to try to help every type 1 diabetic in the country. It’s a pretty cool and I am proud to be part of it – it sucks however I will be nearly 2 days late arriving to meet the rest of the crew.
The race itself is a 6 day, 8 stage race. This one is a little out of my comfort zone. First I’ve never had to get a bunch of shots just to go cover a race. Second, I’ve covered hundreds of cycling races at this point but none where my backup is so scarce. It’s a luxury in the States to have great medical care. Last year when my counterpart with TT1 arrived for this he found the medical kit in the doctor’s car only contained a box of gauze. I have drugs, vitamins, IV fluids, suture material and all sorts of wound care material. My medical bag at check-in weighed 40 lbs and I am sure I will get there and wish I had something else. I am nervously looking forward to the experience and hope my crew all stay safe and if they do get hurt, it’s something I brought stuff for.
I have no clue what internet connection will be like but I will try to keep updates coming for those interested. Now, off to Brussels (is 8AM took early for a Belgian beer???)