Saturday, September 24, 2016

Reconnecting with the tribe

Some hate Vegas--but I always have fun out here
If it's September, it's time to travel to Las Vegas and attend Interbike. One of the largest gatherings of industry insiders in the world, Interbike has been a fixture for the US retailer and international visitors for two decades or more. Some of my readers may not even know that I run a small bicycle retail establishment, Tandem Pro, from the confines of my house, and so I have been to Interbike more often than the number that the digits on my hands and feet combined would yield.
At the finish line of Crossvegas, the UCI world Cup opener for 2016
For the past ten years, Interbike has also become synonymous with "It's 'Cross Time!" Initially just a sideshow, Crossvegas has advanced to World Cup status, and this year it marked the opening round of the 2016 UCI Telenet Cyclo-Cross World Cup. So what could be more fortuitous than to be assigned to such a race and also attend Interbike?
Fancy bikes such as Markus Storck's special edition Aston Martin-inspired
road bike are pure bike porn
For four days I was out here in Vegas to work and to "work." The race stuff took place on the first two days, and then I spent my time at the tradeshow. I had been put up in the Monte Carlo, and Interbike takes place in the Events Center of Mandalay Bay. So I got a chance to use the better part of $50 in credit with Lyft, Uber's pendant that is trying hard to break into the market in Vegas. Show hours are from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., with the last few hours usually spent with a beer in hand chatting with like-minded retailers and exhibitors.
Really? Is this going to sell?
If one attends an annual event over such an extended period one makes friends whom one sees the next year, and the next, and the next. The bike industry is so appealing to me since it exudes the same feeling of community that a good mountain bike race has. I talked to dozens of long-time industry insiders whom I have met over the years, some of them owners of big companies, others grunts who every year seem to hold a similar job with a different bike company. One exchanges ideas, asks how the kids are, bemoans that we're all getting older, and hands out fake compliments about how good we look. It doesn't matter--it's just really, really great to see these folks as it provides a sense of tribal belonging that humans still crave thanks to our ancestral roots.
Empty aisles and Korean eBike peddlers
Interbike itself has lost much of its luster. Gone are the heady days of the mountain bike boom in the mid-nineties when one booth after the next showed off something with a wow factor of 1,000+. Thanks to the Internet, new products now are old news before they ever make it to a tradeshow, and customers in general are better educated on what's hot than retailers. As a result, Interbike seems to me on the decline--fewer exhibitors (maybe not by number as long as the East Asian suppliers flood in with their products that nobody gives a damn about) and definitely much, much less foot traffic in the aisles. On Thursday at noon, with another day and a half of show to go, it felt as if it was five minutes before closing time on Friday. Anemic is a complimentary term. Large bike companies such as Trek, Specialized, and Giant now have their own private dealer events, and fewer and fewer retailers see the need to come out to Interbike. It'll be interesting what the next few years will bring.
The Aria is one of Vegas' newest creations
The Chandelier restaurant, inside the Aria
Beautiful use of space by another Aria restaurant
Outside of Interbike I used my time to reacquaint myself with Vegas. In the two years since my last visit here, the new Aria has sprung up, with its fabulous shops and restaurants; the High Roller has become the largest wheel in the world; and removing the ceiling from Vegas by establishing more outdoor spaces with shops and restaurant instead of slot machines has become de rigueur in new developments. Quite frankly, this make-over was long due as Vegas' old casinos (for example the Imperial Palace--now completely redone and reborn as The Linq--as well as the Monte Carlo, Excalibur, and Flamingo are all still steeped in the '60s and '70s). If you haven't been to Vegas in a decade, do yourself a favor and go out there again: It's a different place.
The High Roller is larger than the London Eye; rides at night are $50
Of course, they still try to part you from your money in every possible way. But what used to be just gambling has moved into all facets of the hospitality and retail industries, and the possibilities to dine and shop are endless. Just don't expect too many bargains. Yep, that was indeed $10 for an IPA in the Beerhaus in a 12 oz plastic cup. The breakfast buffet on a Saturday in the Monte Carlo is going to set you back $29 with tax. Ouch. But those who come here bring a wad-full of greenbacks and don't give a damn, and Vegas knows that and milks it.
Paris is still here
Thank goodness for us old guys, sex still sells. Be it lovely mock copettes, body-painted breasts, or simply the unending stream of imported gals on a bachelorette trip, there's eye candy everywhere. And right next to it are the eyesores that even Vegas cannot gloss over: homeless people who are lying in the streets, veterans "proudly" asking for help, and other who are simply hungry and silently hold up a small card-board sign. Yep, that's Las Vegas, too.
Sex continues to sell in Vegas
So I leave you with a pic of an older man reaffirming his vows to his beloved wife in front of the Bellagio, with one of the many Elvises holding watch and tourists cheering them on. Vegas is Vegas and will always remain Vegas.


Monday, September 12, 2016

Is it West Texas? Or is it Kansas? Oh no, it's Alberta!

Canada, oh Canada
A week after returning from Rio it was time again to pack the bags. Destination: Alberta, Canada. I was scheduled for a CADF gig at Canada's only international stage race, the five-day Tour of Alberta. With promising weather, I decided to take the Ritchey along, even if it meant that I certainly wasn't traveling light. So, it was a good thing that the race organizer had Lexus of Edmonton on board and I was given the keys to a brand-spankin' new RX-350 crossover, with a mere 61 miles on the odometer. Sweet!
61 miles on the odo, and all mine for a week
I spent the first night close to the airport and then the next morning drove the 300 miles south to Lethbridge, where the Team Managers' Meeting was scheduled on the eve of the first stage. The drive south, mostly on an interstate-like highway, was definitely not the most scenic I have ever taken. Yes, Alberta has mountains (on its west side  are Banff and Jasper, and BC beckons beyond), but dead center it is flat to slightly undulating, for mile after endless mile. Seriously, it was like driving through the area between Tulia and Amarillo and then north, with pasture land stretching as far as the eye can see. Oh, and there were the wheat fields of Kansas, too. The Great White North? In the winter, for sure; but in early September it was hot and windy.
I-27 north of Lubbock? Guess again.
There were the familiar pick-up trucks, and John Deere dealerships and western wear stores completed the picture. The Tim Horton's and speed limit signs in kilometers remind one occasionally that this is Canada, but don't expect a dramatic change from your normal surroundings if you are a West Texan who is looking for an exotic vacation. This ain't it.
Typical town between Calgary and Lethbridge
Once in Lethbridge I got installed in my hotel for the night (yes, we stayed here only one night; we had to transfer about 160 miles after the conclusion of the first stage to the starting point of the second stage--and that even though the opening stage didn't conclude until about seven o'clock in the evening [and my work even later]!) and ventured out for a short ride on the race course, which was a 6-mile loop in and around Lethbridge with a dive into the river valley and climb back out of it. Once again I had to think about Lubbock--we also have holes in the ground, plus we even have some overpasses. I didn't see any of those in Lethbridge.

My second ride of this trip--and as it turned out last, thanks to crappy weather and long car transfers--came the next day when I battled a ferocious headwind for about 16 miles going south of town and then flying back to the hotel. Total mileage for this trip: 46 miles ridden, and about 950 miles driven. Expressed in kilometers, the driving part sounds even more impressive. Oh well, this is after all work and not a vacation.
The first stage was the only one that was sunny and hot
What would a sign-in be without a Mountie? 
The work was easy and pleasant, after the Rio debacle. Medalist Sport, who organized this event, is a classy outfit, and they are supportive and easy-going. I really love working with these folks. Having my car and being my own boss is certainly a big plus, and the fact that the weather unexpectedly turned sour once we hit the hillier parts in the west is just a bad coincidence. The racers had a much tougher time than I who just looked out of the hotel window and said, "OK, it's 38 degrees and drizzling, so I won't ride today." I tell you, being a professional bike racer most of the time is not a glamourous job for the vast majority of these guys.
Locals queuing up at the Beavertails trailer ...
... a lonesome C&W crooner on stage in front of a few picnic tables ...
... and Drayton Valley (really!) celebrates the finish of a ToA stage.
Official mascot of the Tour of Alberta--never caught his name
As always, I can't tell you details about my job, although I wish I could. I would tell you about young men with dreams and an iron will to make their chosen career the best it can be, because they simply love to ride their bikes, and I would tell you about the veteran team directors who in occasional private moments confide their struggles. It's a privilege to be working within this inner circle of professional cycling, a sport that must be tougher than pretty much any other that I have ever witnessed. And to be accepted and respected by these people means a heck of a lot.
My one and only view of the mountains--got here at 1:30 a.m., and left at 9:00 a.m.
We ended up in Edmonton for the last two stages. First came a short 15-minute time trial in the main city park that we shared with an ITU international triathlon event. The last stage was an exciting circuit race right outside of the Westin in downtown, where we stayed for two nights. And then the race was done, and we all celebrated at a fine taproom half a block down the street, and when they closed shop, we moved over to the Irish pub across the street until they closed, too.
Post-race party time
As I told those who wanted to hear it, the Tour of Alberta was a vacation compared to Rio. Things were more relaxed, the support was fantastic, and we all felt appreciated, whatever our role was. The only thing lacking was the exotic aura that Rio did indeed possess--but that's what you gotta expect in West Texas, or Kansas, or Alberta, eh?