Thursday, January 17, 2008

Down For A Cause - Pro Night At The WRC

Colorado’s Wheat Ridge Cyclery, proudly owned and operated by the Kiefel clan since 1973, played host to a very interesting collection of personalities this past Saturday night in an effort to raise funds and awareness for the Tom Danielson Junior Racing Series and Project Rwanda.

Led by the dynamic duo of Michael Aisner and Bob Roll with help from the ever-cool Ron Kiefel, the event dubbed “Pro Night” boasted a packed lineup consisting of Danielson, Alison Dunlap, Ned Overend, Nelson Vails, Dr. Andy Pruitt, Danny Summerhill, Jock Boyer and the one and only Tom Ritchey.

Aisner and Roll got things started with a little banter about the programming choices made by the Versus network and the truly impressive beard that Bob has been cultivating in the off-season. Granted, Wheat Ridge is pretty close to Boulder but the general consensus was that the Killing Shows have got to go. Unfortunately it seems that Bob does not have a lot of clout when it comes to programming at VS. Anyway, Aisner has always been a great showman and Roll is always far more entertaining in person (not to mention...huge. Bobke must have been lifting over the winter 'cause the Guns were blazing) so it was pretty cool to have both men behind the microphone for the evening.

The surprise guest of the night was Steve Johnson, the CEO of USA Cycling who made the short drive up from Colorado Springs with his wife and gave a somewhat critical presentation of the Beijing Olympic preparations. Aside from determining that Johnson is a pretty typical CEO (take that however you want) and thinking it was somewhat ironic that the Floyd Landis Fairness Folks had their event at WRC just a few months ago, I was left with the understanding that the road events will be exceedingly difficult due to both the terrain and pollution, the velodrome is nice and the BMX venue is freaking awesome.

It was also fairly obvious that Mr. Johnson was significantly less than enthused about the way the Chinese delegation was interacting with the participating countries. I can see where he was coming from but I did find it odd that he chose to be quite so open about his dissatisfaction with them. I don’t think that Johnson portrayed the situation too poorly but I hope the US riders don’t get short-changed because of politics. “Oh, sorry we forgot the air conditioner for your warm-up tent in this 95 degree, 98 percent humidity weather…but your leader has been saying bad things about us.”

After Johnson was done showing slides of the Beijing smog and the garbage dump/mountain bike venue, Alison Dunlap took the stage as the lone female personality of the evening. Staying busy in her post-career life, I imagine Dunlap is quite pleased that she will not have to compete in the Cross Dump (not Country) event at the Olympics this year. Although she did remind everyone that the riders make the race, not the course. True…but that XC venue is heinous right now. You can’t sugarcoat some things.

Next up was the truly cool Nelson Vails, the only attendee rocking a full suit. As part of the intro, they showed the 1984 Olympic Sprint Finals between Vails and Mark Gorski which I hadn’t seen before. I am not exaggerating when I say that each of Nelson’s thighs was thicker than my waist. It was actually kind of frightening watching him on the bike because it seemed like the frame was going to snap underneath him. Then they showed some sweet old commercials that he had done which I would like to see on YouTube in the near future. Excellent stuff if you can locate it. The Ray Ban ad in particular was classic.

After Nelson, they introduced Danny Summerhill and Ned Overend to highlight the past/present and future/present of the sport of bike racing. I include “present” for both guys because, despite their ages, these two can hang with just about anyone out there today. Summerhill seems like a good kid despite having gone to Cherry Creek High School (the hated, hated CCHS) and Overend just simply rules.

One of the funnier moments came when Aisner followed up Overend’s comment about believing you can win with his own story of Alexi Grewal intimidating some poor Dutch racer in the Coors Classic and “Beating them before the race even started.” Those familiar with the two Colorado racing legends couldn’t help but laugh when the unfailingly polite and reserved Overend replied, “Yeah, Alexi and I kind of had a different approach.”

Tom Danielson was next up to the plate and was his consistent, well-spoken self. While he may not be the most dynamic personality in the world, it’s tough to argue with the efforts he has made to give something back to the sport off the bike. I don’t know of many other pros giving out scholarships and backing an entire state-wide Junior Racing series. Good job TD. Now forget the Lance-Nike-PR training, let your hair down and get to the Tour already.

At this point, the vibe shifted a little bit as the uber-mellow Tom Ritchey took the stand to talk about Project Rwanda. Although you will not get the full effect of Ritchey’s world-class handlebar mustache and serene thoughtfulness in person, please take the time to visit the Project Rwanda website for more information about this very worthy cause. The mission of “Using the Bicycle as a Tool and Symbol of Hope” should be enough to get anyone passionate about the benefits of The Bike to find out more about how a project like this can truly make a difference in the lives of those who see the bicycle as a functional vehicle instead of a recreational toy. I cannot do the effort justice in this format so please take the time to learn more about it from the source. In case you missed the link earlier, here is the exact address:

At some point in the near future I will write more about Ritchey and a few of the other MTB Fathers from the Bay Area that I have been fortunate enough to get to know and work with over the years. Granted, I am a little biased toward these guys but I am also continually impressed with their contributions and advocacy outside the ropes of the racing scene.

But getting back to the racing element, Ritchey and Aisner then introduced Jock Boyer, who has taken on the role of director and coach for a group of Rwandan racers. Now, Boyer occupies an interesting place in cycling history but it could be argued that few individuals would be better suited to bring a nation of inexperienced racers up to speed in the sport than the first American to race in the Tour de France. And most importantly, even fewer would be willing to make such an effort. In this respect, the fact that Boyer has gone as far as spending over half the year in Rwanda is a testament to his belief in the cause and dedication to helping his riders develop and see the world.
The evening concluded with the auction of a bike designed by Tom Ritchey to help with the transportation of up to hundreds of pounds of goods. Built for durability with a long rack in the rear, the machine isn’t going to be breaking any land speed records but is apparently critical to the timely delivery and transportation of coffee, which has become a major source of economic development in Rwanda. A number of people bid on the bike but it ended up staying in the Wheat Ridge Cyclery after being bought by the Kiefels. That seemed like the right thing.

Actually, there was a raffle that followed the auction and despite the fact that they gave away about a thousand different things, somehow C-Mac and I did not get anything. Oh well, we were certainly rewarded with an entertaining and educational evening that helped support some very worthy causes. Nothing wrong with that and yet another confirmation of why we are so fortunate to live in the CO.


sebastian said...

thanks for the report! it's nice to know that nelson vails is still in touch.

Kk said...

Wow, Nelson, WOW.

Great writing Calirado.

Eli the Slayer of Mice thinks Lord Cosmo rocks!

CaliRado Cyclist said...

Hey, sorry I have been out of the loop for a bit. Recent business travel is not helping the creativity-bone.

Yeah, Nelson is super cool. He actually shows up at a lot of events and is always the Mack. I've seen him out in Cali for the ToC the last couple years, driving caravan cars and taking care of business.

He'll marshall some events and fools don't even know he's a freaking Olympic medalist. Suckers.

Better Recognize when N-Vails is in the house.