Continuing with Michael Bogey, who spends his time in the company of things that go fast. Bogey competes or has competed in luge, go-karts, motorcycles, and race cars. Boats, airplanes, skis, skates, bicycles, and rent-a-cars -- he merely drives them faster than normal people can comprehend. He is also the only person I can invite over to watch a bicycle race at 5:30 in the morning and be certain he'll show up.
I invited Michael for breakfast and race because he's cycled in Europe on several-to-many occasions, has, in fact, cycled over the same road this morning's Tour de France will travel. And he rides high-end, custom-made bikes, somewhat similar to what the fellas on the Tour ride. His last bike, bought three years ago, cost on the ugly side of $6,000. He got a deal he said, and started to recite, "OCLV 120 Carbon frame" this, and "Oversized ICON Air Rail OD Carbon Fork" that. Three paragraphs later I still had not recognized the name of one alloy or one part. "STOP vomiting bicycle drivel!" I screamed.
I should note that this regrettable outburst occurred back in the days when I was living in darkness, before I became a bicycle fan. Now, I am eager for bicycle parts commentary, in fact, I shall insist upon it as the morning goes along.
Right now we are watching Lance Armstrong roar downhill from Cormet de Roselend. I remark, somewhat off topic, "I've read you get a 30 percent boost by riding in the tailwind of another cyclist."
"Yes. Drafting. It's big. Huge. It's one or two gears." Silence. Michael, eyes locked onto TV screen, quietly says, "I was in Saint-Béat in 1995."
More silence. This is one of those silences that asks for a respectful acknowledgement that something big has occurred. Trouble is, I don't know what I'm supposed to acknowledge. I have no idea where Saint-Béat is or why it's important to my guest. When something like this happens I usually repeat the speaker's last few words. "You were in Saint-Béat in 1995?"
Michael says, "Fabio Casartelli was killed. He was on the Motorola team. Lance Armstrong was his teammate. Fabio was the star then, he was the 1992 Olympic road race champion."
"What do you mean killed?"
"It was the 15th stage of the Tour. Fabio crashed during the Col de Portet d'Aspet decent. Rhea (Michael's 1995 girlfriend) and I were staying in the village of Saint-Béat. We'd bicycled in the day before. We planned to watch the Tour pass by."
"What do you mean crashed?" You can tell there's a problem with repeating the speaker's last few words. It quickly becomes as annoying as your spouse's favorite nag.
"The descent is more than 4,000 feet," Michael says. "A professional bike rider will be going 50, 60 mph on a descent like that. Fabio was in the peloton and entered a sharp curve. There were large concrete barriers placed alongside the road to keep automobiles from making a 1,000-foot vertical detour. The accident wasn't his doing, two riders in front of him fell. Fabio had no time to avoid the pair, his bike slammed into their pile-up, he was thrown forward at 50 miles-an-hour and smashed into the cement barrier head first."
I wince. "Damn, didn't realize a bicycle race could kill you."
"Yours is consummate ignorance," Michael says, shaking his head and staring at me as one would stare at a dead rat. "The Tour is littered with broken backs, arms, and legs."
Of course, had I stopped and thought for a moment, I could have gotten here on my own. Racing bikes are made of the lightest possible materials. Fabio wasn't wearing a helmet. Add 50 mph and bingo, you have a one-way ticket off planet. Got it. "How did you find out he was dead?"
"When the riders came through we saw that many wore inappropriate expressions. This caused us to ask around. No one spoke English, so it took awhile, but you could sense something horrendous happened."
Suddenly, the annoyance I feel when bike riders get in my way while I'm driving shows a new angle. I mention this to Michael who says, "In Europe, everybody is respectful and you operate your bike as if it were any other vehicle. You're treated respectfully within the context of your space. After that trip, Rhea and I got back to Anchorage. We put our bikes together at the airport and bicycled into town just like we were in England or France or Italy. Some guy in a pickup truck tried to kill us on the way in.
"Americans consider bikes as impediments to their progress. They don't understand that a bicycle is the primary means of transportation in a lot of countries and uses the same roadway as motor vehicles. They don't see bikes as having a right to that space."