By James Raia

5 things you must do to keep your dog well groomed

Dogs are some of the best pets anyone could ask for. Many people have dogs because of their energy, loyalty, love, and overall happiness they bring to your home. However, some people fail to understand that, just like we care for ourselves and our hygiene, we should do the same with our dogs. Dogs can be relatively clean animals, but they can’t be properly clean without some help from us as owners. There are multiple things that we should keep in mind to make sure our dog is properly sanitized, more than just giving them a shower or grooming their coat. Below, we go over five essential things every dog owner ought to do to keep them clean.

Brush, brush, brush

Your dog’s hair is perhaps the most important thing you should care for, particularly if your dog has a medium or medium-long coat of hair. Your pets spend a lot of time outside, and even if you keep them indoors, they can get dirty really quickly during their routine walks. Their hair can gather dust, pollen, and dirt, so a daily brush can keep all that dirt from accumulating, as well as keeping your dog’s coat from matting.

Trim or grind your dog’s nails regularly

Not many people pay attention to their dogs’ nails. Some owners believe that the nails get naturally trimmed from friction while walking, or that it is not that big of a deal to keep them untrimmed because they don’t bother dogs. This could not be farther from the truth. Owners need to regularly check their dogs for abnormally long nails or irregularities. Take care of them with a dog nail trimmer or with a dog nail grinder if that makes it easier for both of you.

Be mindful of fleas and ticks

Not grooming and brushing your dog’s coat can quickly make them develop bad odor that can, in turn, attract bugs and pests. Among the most common ones that often follow dogs, we can find flies, fleas, and ticks. With all of them, you have to be careful not to let them get out of control, but particularly the latter two. Fleas and ticks can transmit diseases to your dog and family, reason for which you should always keep handy the best flea medicine for your dog.

Wash your dog’s teeth too!

Just like us, dogs need to take care of their teeth to make sure they don’t break or fall out. Dental hygiene is important for dogs, but luckily it is just as intuitive as it is with us. Brushing or washing their teeth regularly to some extent can be enough for them to enjoy a full set of teeth without any major issues down the line. You can use a literal brush or your finger to get to all of your dog’s teeth.

Check unsuspected parts for dirt

Last but not least, dogs are just like people, in the sense that they accumulate dirt in the most unsuspected places. Every once in a while, check your dog thoroughly for any signs of unkempt areas. The most likely parts you are neglecting during your clean-ups might be the ears and their paws. You can save your dog some great discomfort by checking their paws and ears after walks in search of any foreign objects aren’t stuck there.

Greg Lemond: Finding New Challenges At 40

With little media fanfare or reminiscence, Greg LeMond turned age 40 in June 2001. Now nearly a decade removed from the top echelon of professional cycling, LeMond and his wife Kathy and the couple’s two boys and a girl, all teenagers, maintain their long-time residence in Medina, Minnesota.

The family also spends considerable time in Montana where the LeMonds own a fishing cabin and are building a family compound in Yellowstone Ranch, near Big Sky.

Since his retirement, LeMond has remained entrenched in cycling as a businessman. Some of his ventures away from cycling have not been as successful as he hoped, but his LeMond bicycles are extremely popular. He also has several additional ventures and business relationships, including cycling accessories that bear his name, a new arrangement with StairMaster and a new partial ownership of DeFeet, an athletic sock company in California.

LeMond has been wearing DeFeet socks for nearly a decade and has joined with the company to offer a line of LeMond apparel.

Always gregarious, LeMond spent more than twice his scheduled autograph-signing time at Interbike, the cycling industry’s major trade show, in Las Vegas.

While a steady flow of trade show attendees waited for autographs, LeMond chatted with each person and gladly posed for pictures. He also chatted with actor (and athlete) Robin Williams who tapped a surprised LeMond on the shoulder. LeMond also talked with other former athletes, long-time friends, business folks and cycling fans, greeting all comers with a hearty handshake and a smile.

Eventually, the former three-time Tour de France winner (1986, ’89 and ’90) left the expo with several friends, business colleagues (and a reporter) for a long lunch at the adjoining hotel’s Chinese restaurant.

Between story-telling, jokes and various exchanges with his small entourage, LeMond answered a wide-range of questions – his rekindled relationship with his father, his exercise interests and his family life. It was all done during a hearty offering a dim-sum, one of LeMond’s favorite dining choices.

Here’s part of the two-hour, lively session with LeMond during lunch:

Question: What was it like for you to turn 40?

Greg LeMond: It wasn’t like I had a middle-age crisis, but I did realize that I’m not young anymore.

Q: How much to do have a chance to exercise these days? You look good. You’ve lost weight?

GL: No, I haven’t lost any weight. I’ve seen photos when I say to myself, ‘Do I look that bad?’ I “porked out” a little bit this past summer, so maybe I’ve lost five pounds since then. But I’ve pretty much been the same weight the past few years, about 195 pounds (LeMond is 5-foot-9). I’m a lot more muscular than I was. When you are racing, if you know anything about exercise, you’re always breaking down muscle. You never have any muscle mass. In the three years after I stopped racing, even without any weight training, I gained about 30 pounds of muscle mass. But I’ve just starting running (about 45 minutes), so I can exercise while traveling. I’ve hated running forever. But in the last couple of weeks I’ve actually liked it. It feels less painful now than it did when I was racing. In the winter I cross-country ski five days a week and last year I did 45 days of downhill skiing. And in the summer, I still ride three days a week.

Q: For several years you and your father didn’t speak. But you’re back on good terms, right?

GL: I think why our relationship went sour is that because for the real fundamental part of my career, my dad never told me what to do. I was always independent. He advised me, and I asked him for advice. But he was never one to say, ‘You have to do this or that.’ As things got more important and my life became more businesslike, with the money and more responsibility, I think he got over concerned and all of a sudden our relationship dynamics changed and I wanted for him to be more like my dad than a businessman. But now we’ve been on very good terms for the past two years (after a four-year break). He likes to hike and he’s doing well in real estate (in Reno, Nevada). That time was brutal and it’s not something anyone should go through. But it’s much better and my dad is very affectionate.

Q: Do you watch cycling and are you still involved with competitive cycling in any way?

GL: It’s so hard to be involved in the sport unless you’re involved with a team or in television commentating, that’s about it. And I have no interest in commentating. I did want to get involved with sponsoring a professional team, but it didn’t work out Mercury. But we are still working toward that. But there are a lot issues in cycling right now that I don’t want to be associated with. But the sport will continue to thrive, and eventually I would like to get back into cycling.

Q: Do you look at the (cycling) results in the newspaper?

GL: Occasionally. But this summer we (the LeMond family) were in Montana. We had no television, no TV. So I couldn’t follow it. But I do like watching the Classics. Those are the races I think are incredibly exciting, the one-day events. It’s on OLN (Outdoor Life Network) and that’s going to help the sport a lot. But I’m just not a guy who watches TV. I never have been. I don’t watch other sports at all, well the only sports I watch occasionally are the winter sports in the Olympics – skiing.

Q: What has it been like for you since your career ended?

GL: “I did a lot of promotional stuff with my bicycles. I visit a lot of retail dealers and other stuff by businesses But this past year it’s been kind of calm. I was involved with the Mercury Cycling and that kind of fell apart for multiple reasons. I thought I was going to be spending time at the Tour de France and going to World Cup races, but that went by the wayside.

Q: A few years ago, you did television commentary at the Ironman in Hawaii. Do you have anymore plans for TV work?

GL: No. I didn’t care for it. I just didn’t care for the way they did cycling. Now, with the Outdoor Life Network, it might be a little bit better now that it’s live. But usually during the Ironman, you get about 11 seconds to say something intelligent, and it’s pretty hard to do it. It’s always that you say these stupid little comments. It’s not really commentary. I’m not into that, but I might do it again as I get older.

Q: Different guys react differently when they cross the line in victory. Did you ever plan how you were going to react, particularly your famous finish at the World Championships in Chambery, France?

GL: Usually, if you’re solo and on a long breakaway, maybe you could think about what you want to do. But I’ve never been so arrogant to think . . . well I don’t know. My reactions have always been spontaneous. Oh, my God, the sprint in Chambery! I was just watching Sean Kelly’s wheel. You don’t really know where the line is. I was just trying to keep him away. I looked up at the last second and said, ‘Wow! I beat Kelly. I won the sprint. I won the Worlds. He beat me in Milan San Remo and at Lombardy, both times for potentially my first Classics win. I remember I felt lousy the whole race (in Chambery) then the last two laps I felt invisible.”

Drink Up With Hydration Systems

One day in the early 1990s, a cyclist named Michael Edison was participating in the Hotter ‘N Hell Hundred, a Texas endurance event at which the heat can reach triple digits and where participants’ suffering is commonplace.

Edison, a former paramedic, was a novice rider at the time. As his ride progressed, he noted that while negotiating his way through the field of 1,000 riders, he constantly bumped others while repeatedly reaching for his water bottles.

When Edison returned home to Northern California, he began various experiments to discover a more efficient way to drink fluids.

Using the tools of his former occupation, Edison attached medical tubing to an I.V. bag, stuffed the bag into a sock and then sewed the sock onto the back of a T-shirt.

He called his invention a “camel back,” for its hump-like shape on his bike. And thus, hydration systems Camelbak, the hydration system industry’s leading company, began. At least, according to the manufacturer’s web site.

Little more than a decade later, numerous manufacturers offer hydration systems, all many generations removed from the original container Edison crafted out of medical supplies, an old T-shirt and basic sewing skills.

With larger holding areas (bladders), accompanying storage areas and ease of use, more exercise enthusiasts who were once long-time water bottle users have switched to hydration systems.

Here’s a sampling of the hydration systems available at the 2002 Interbike trade show in Las Vegas.

Camelbak Products, Inc.1310 Redwood Way, Suite C, Petaluma, CA 94954. Tel: 800-767-8725; web site:

As the first company to offer hydration systems, Camelbak took the risk and suffered accordingly. Its prototype bladders leaked as did its early drinking tubes and shut-off systems.

But the company now offers more than 75 styles and promotes its line for recreation, industrial and military use.

For runners, popular styles are the Day Trekker, FlashFlo, Rim Runner and Lobo ($65), the manufacturer’s largest capacity (70 ounces) that includes the external fill option. Its has myriad side compartments and features, including a pump port, sternum strap and removable waist belt, and it’s promoted as machine washable.

Camelbak has also expanded and has promoted heavily its kids’ line. It includes the Skeeter and Scout, two 35-ounce packs that feature extra cargo areas for kids’ outerwear and other items.

Like its competitors,Camelbak’s line now also has new pastel color options, geared toward the women’s market.

* Hydrapak, 2991 Shattuck Ave. #202, Berkeley, CA 94705. Tel. 510-549-0559; E-mail:; web site:

Comfort is key component of hydration systems. Does a pack fit properly andare discomfort or irritation problems during long workouts kept to minimum? Correspondingly, is the mouthpiece easy and efficient to use?

Last fall, Hydrapak introduced its “Air Scoop” technology and EasyFlo Shutoff valve.

The Air Scoop Technology pack, geared toward cyclists, features a firm back support and space “pods” or cushions, according company literature. The pads are designed to keep the pack shaped in ergonomic curve and spaced about 3/4 inches off the user’s back.

The EasyFlo Shut-Off Valve, standard on the company’s 2003 line, features a bite-activated valve introduced nearly two years ago. But it has the addition of a push-pull shut off feature similar to a sports water bottle top. Hydrapak’s current line includes 16 packs ranging in price from $30 to $125.

* Ultimate Direction, 1255 Powell Street, Emeryville, CA 94608. Tel. 800-426-7229. web site:

Like its competitors, Ultimate Direction has vast offerings, including its new styles specifically designed for women in pastel colors and featuring smaller company logos.

The walkabout, for example, is available in black but also in two-tone options of slate/blue and lemon/blue. Its features a 20-ounce bottle and two large main access compartments for equipment, clothing, food, etc.

It has a single adjust waist belt with an offset buckle and “shockcord” system on the bottom of the pack for gloves, hat or a parka as well as additional key and waist belt pockets. It weighs 13.9 ounces and is priced at $40.

Ultimate Direction also offers a wide variety of women-designed water vests and other hydration options that include “double-barreled” valves promoted as having “18 percent greater flow than other valves on the market.”

Pedaling In Holland: Land of Tulips and Windmills

The Netherlands is known for many things. Windmills, meandering canals, tulips, clogs and remarkable artwork are the tourist guide highlights.

But for those with recreating interests, the country features an elaborately intertwined transportation system of waterways and bicycle paths.

As many residents choose to view as daily commuters, touring the country on two wheels can be reduced to simple statistics: 16 million people, 15 million bicycles, 0 hills.

Business people in metropolitan cities and in small villages bicycle to work. Mothers often pedal two or more small children to school on one bike. Friends give each other lifts across town, with passengers often sitting sideways on the front or rear of the bike.

Few cyclists in The Netherlands wear helmets. It’s not that the citizenry doesn’t understand safety. Rather, cyclists in Holland are offered thousands of miles of special paths as well as preferred commuting rights. Likewise, the country’s cyclists are not viewed as adversaries to cars or pedestrians.

Therefore, as a nation of cyclists and of vast waterways, it was logical that nearly 25 years ago tourism companies began offering unique vacations – combining cycling with traveling on the country’s web of canals and waterways

The idea: As an alternative to hotel accommodations, visitors pedal through the countryside during the day and then stay on a boat that progresses each day along the waterways to a designated city. The program began in France in 1981, then in Holland in 1988.

For durations of several days to several weeks, cyclists sleep in private bunks (with bath/shower). Breakfast and dinner are served communal, and participants pack a sack lunch on the boat after breakfast to eat along the day’s journey.

As part of a longer trip to Holland, Gretchen Gaither and I were among a 20-plus person trip on the 38-meter boat Liza Marleen, a refurbished motorized barge that’s part of expanding fleet of Cycletours, the largest of the cycle-boat entrepreneurial outfits.

During our three-plus day journey, we bicycled about 35 miles per day at a casual pace. The accommodations, meals, snacks, bicycles and a guide are all included the price. The bikes, stored on the boat each night, are clean, 24-gear Gazelle Medeo hybrids. They are equipped with hand brakes, two “panniers,” (sidebags), a water bottle, lock and repair kit.

Our group included travelers from six countries – an Iranian physician and his family from Stockton, two couples from Australia, three French-Canadian women traveling together, and a retired couple from Germany. A solo traveler from Scotland, whose demeanor was reminiscent of John Belushi with an accent, later joined us.

Piet, our accommodating guide, was a Dutchman with an easy manner and refreshing sense of humor. On the evening of our arrival, he explained the rules. There were few.

The “peloton” (group), he reiterated, would progress as fast as the slowest cyclist. Traffic signals and signs were to be obeyed. Stops would be often and for important reasons – taking pictures, apple pie and coffee in quaint villages, watching ducks meander across tranquil streams, looking at windmills, watching workers build a thatched roof, visiting a stork farm or simply gazing into the pastoral countryside.

Our journey was the Southern Tour, and it took us to Utrecht and Schoonhoven, among other cities. As Piet instructed, we traveled as a group. If someone showcased their competitive nature, our tour leader was happy to oblige. He could provide a map and the cyclist was their own to get back to the boat.

Piet’s nickname was “Mother Duck,” an appropriate moniker considering his way of gathering his tour members for important times – boarding ferry boats, announcing meal breaks or gently scolding wayward cyclists when they didn’t follow proper etiquette on the pathways.

Prices for Cycletours’ array of trips vary depending upon length of stay, accommodations, season, etc. A week’s stay (seven nights, eight days), for example, ranges from $400 to $700 per person. Tours are scheduled April through October.

In addition to Holland, Cycletours has more than 200 excursions to more a dozen countries, Belgium to Italy, Denmark to Austria. Its trips are casual and appropriate for families, corporate retreats and for anyone who enjoys meeting people from around the world and living and cycling with them.

It is not a good vacation choice for those seeking a quiet, private time or anyone whose goal is to win each day’s journey.

How To Run And Enjoy The Marathon

As a practical guide to the 26.2-mile journey, How To Run And Enjoy The Marathon is a series of 15 self-help and service-oriented articles about running marathons – the proper shoes to running etiquette – is written by James Raia, a journalist and veteran middle-of-the-pack marathon and ultramarathon runner in Sacramento, Calif.

A contributor to many newspapers, news services, magazines and internet sites, Raia began to run long distances in 1983, the same year in which he completed his first marathon, the California International Marathon, in 4 hours, 12 minutes and 30 seconds.

How To Run And Enjoy The Marathon is based on the author’s more than 20 years of writing about the sport — its nuances, its elite athletes and its trials and tribulations.

Since he began training for his first marathon, running has become an integral component of the author’s lifestyle. Raia has completed more than 65 marathons and ultramarathons, including several 50 milers and double marathons. His fastest marathon, 3:07:42, was run in 1990. A two-time finisher of the Boston Marathon, Raia for the past several years has completed many of his marathons in the 3:45 range.

How To Run And Enjoy The Marathon is chock-full of practical advice about the wondrous journey on foot. Its chapters include:

* Marathon No. 1: It’s not all about pain
* What Marathon? Plentiful choices abound
* The Basics: Common sense for the masses
* Marathoning For Dollars: Running is fitness on the cheap
* Want To Finish: Join the club
* Fleet Feet: If the shoe fits, wear it
* Need Motivation? Take a break
* Now Hear This: Just Say No To Headphones
* Night Moves: Exercisers Need A Visible Presence
* Women Marathoners: Running Safe Means Running Smart
* Running vs. Walking: Marathoners Can Do Both
* Runner’s Creed: Share Thy Space
* Marathon Time Limits: The race directors’ dilemma
* Marathon No. 1 (Revisited): Don’t Forget The Little Things
* Reference Guide: Where to Find Out More About The Marathon

The Tour Within the Tour de France
by James Raia
Price: $8.95

The Tour de France is the world’s greatest cycling event. As the bicyclists climb into the mountains and quickly pass through the rolling countryside, many other postcards of life occur away from the competition – the ambience, the restaurants, the uniqueness of the villages and the people who live and work among fields of sunflowers, near ancient castles and among fields of expansive vineyards. The Tour Within The Tour de France includes 24 essays about the author’s first six years of attending the race.

Riding For Less

(This article orginally appeared in the Sacramento Bee on 3/5/03.)

Beyond the yellow jersey, which designates the leader and winner of the Tour de France, the most prestigious attire a cyclist can wear showcase the colors of the rainbow.

The horizontal stripes, usually positioned against a white backdrop, are awarded to world titlists in track racing to cyclocross, mountain biking to road racing.

Yellow or striped jersey, a pro cyclist donning either uniform also benefits from the color of money.

But for a woman cyclist, winning a world title doesn’t necessarily translate into a financial windfall. Rather, it only enhances her hopes of a earning a decent salary.

In short, women’s professional cycling is suffering. Within a few days in late January, the Women’s Challenge in Idaho, and the Women’s Tour de France were canceled. Both events were unable to secure title sponsorships in the floundering economy.

The Idaho stage race, the country’s most lucrative for women, had a 19-year tenure, with long-time lucrative sponsorships from computer and food companies. But a pending 2003 sponsorship failed after several months of negotiations with a food company in Nebraska, and the race collapsed.

The estimated $500,000 in hotel, restaurants and other revenues brought to cities as the cyclists pedaled through Idaho for two weeks in June abruptly disappeared.

“I had a feeling the race (sponsored by Hewlett-Packard) was questionable in 2001,” said Julie Young, the part-time Auburn resident and long-time international rider. “After the stock market crashed, they just seemed to be hanging onto a shoestring budget and hoping the economy would recover. I think it would be hard for them to justify sponsoring an event while laying off so many people.”

The women’s Tour de France, scheduled for its 12th edition in August, did not secure its dates with the International Cycling Union, the sport’s global governing organization. Likewise, the women’s Tour of Snowy in Australia was canceled, and the women’s Tour of Spain postponed its debut until next year.

In Northern California, the most well-known women’s racing occurs at the Sea Otter Classic. With new dates, it will be held beginning April 9 in Redwood City and will progress to its conclusion on the Monterey Peninsula four days later.

Last year, Alison Dunlap of Colorado spoke prophetically about her sport’s status after one day’s race at Sea Otter event on Cannery Row in Monterey.

“I would still have been able to race had I not won a world title, but the support probably would have been a lot less,” said Dunlap, wearing her rainbow jersey as the 2001 world mountain bike cross country champion. “A lot of top riders struggled to find teams, and I probably would have been one of them.”

Dunlap, a two-time Olympian, estimates only 30-40 women worldwide can compete full-time in either mountain biking or road cycling and support themselves without securing part-time employment. Dunlap competes in road and mountain biking. She’s also a five-time national cyclocross titlist, a discipline where there’s little financial reward.

“I raced for five years on less than $10,000 a year when I was on the road (only) from 1992-1996, so it’s doable,” said Dunlap, 33. “But now on the road, top women are making $35,000 to $50,000. On the mountain bike side, the top women are making $90,00 to $150,000.”

Young, who rode professionally for a decade including multiple trips to the women’s Tour de France and World Cycling Championships, left the sport following the 2001 season.

A St. Francis High School graduate who originally attended UCLA on a golf scholarship, Young was a valued team rider who also claimed her share of races. Yet when 2002 season began, the interested teams offered her unsatisfactory contracts.

“I always told myself that I would stay in cycling if there was the opportunity to support myself financially,” said Young, who for the final two years of her career captained a team sponsored by an internet used car web site. “But when that time came to an end, it was time to move on. Still, I was really clinging onto cycling. I loved everything about it to the end.”

While including herself in the top financial echelon of the sport, Dunlap and her husband are nonetheless seeking other opportunities. They’ve started the Alison Dunlap Adventure Camps in Moab, Utah (

“Right now we’re only running the camps in the spring and fall because of my racing schedule,” said Dunlap. “But if I weren’t able to support myself racing, we would immediately start doing the camps year round.”

Despite the cancellation of its well-known women’s stage race, women’s cycling, at least in Australia, is hoping for a resurgence.

A new multiple race series is being planned for early next year as the sport’s best international competitors will begin their Olympic team preparation in warm weather.

“I think women’s cycling can re-gain a stronger position,” said Dunlap. “Sponsorship is always in cycles. Next year it will be better and the Olympic year is always the best. If we look at how we are doing now compared to 15 years ago, there is no comparison.”

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The Greatest Cyclists In Tour de France History (Part One : Jacques Anquetil to Bernard Hinault)

Tour de France champions all have different styles. But through the race’s more than 100-year history, the best have also all been the same in some respects. They’ve  all had great individual skills and a focused desire to win.

Naming five of the best Tour de France riders is easy. Each dominated the event during their tenures.

Lance Armstrong won a record seven consecutive Tour titles. Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault (both Frenchmen), Eddy Merckx of Belgium, and Spaniard Miguel Indurain all captured the race five times.

Great champions like Gino Bartali, Fausto Coppi, Greg LeMond, Jan Ullrich, and Joop Zoetemelk are listed for diverse reasons — longevity, perseverance and their ability to overcome personal tragedy.

Plenty of other great bicyclists have competed in the Tour, but here’s my list of the 10 finest in history

Jacques Anquetil

Greatest CyclistsContrary to the regimented training of many champions, Jacques Anquetil became the Tour’s first five-time winner with a unique, playboy lifestyle, a profound swagger and tremendous skill as a time trialist.

Raised in the country, Anquetil’s career curiously involved number 17. He won the Grand Prix des Nations, and then the unofficial time trial world championship, at age 17, and he raced for 17 years.

Anquetil claimed his first Tour title in 1957 with nearly a 15-minute victory over Marc Janssens of Belgium. Anquetil celebrated his notoriety with as much vigor as he rode. He led a party lifestyle and fit the part of a Southern California surfer: Anquetil had blond hair and blue eyes and often drove a sports car to races. Anquetil was infamous for smoking and drinking, and he uttered among the most often cited quotes in Tour history: “You can’t ride the Tour de France on mineral water.”

Four years elapsed before Anquetil claimed his second Tour in 1961, and he then won three more consecutive titles. Following his cycling retirement, Anquetil was in poor health for many years and died of stomach cancer in 1987.

Lance Armstrong

Brash and explosively talented, Lance Armstrong was age 21 in 1993 when became the youngest cyclist to win the World Championship road race. But youthful confidence doesn’t always mean much in the Tour de France.

Armstrong completed the event only once in his first four attempts, a 36th place overall finish in 1995. It was the same year his Italian friend and teammate Fabio Casartelli died during the race following a tragic hillside crash.

Armstrong’s two-year absence from the Tour following his 1996 race abandonment was largely spent in recovery from his well-documented battle against testicular cancer. Armstrong returned to the Tour in 1999 more than 20 pounds lighter. Much to the surprise of the French media, Armstrong won the prologue. He also captured three more stages en route to the first of his six Tour titles, with more than a 7 1/2-minute margin over Alex Zulle of Switzerland.

During his record-setting 2004 Tour victory, Armstrong won three mountains stages and both individual time trials en route to a nearly 6 1/2-minute win over Germany’s Andreas Kloden.

Armstrong, who retired after his 2005 win, was a dominating individual rider, a masterful tactician, and a consummate team rider. Many of Armstrong’s stage wins occurred in epic battles against the sport’s finest, including German Jan Ullrich, the 1997 race winner, and deceased 1998 race titlist Marco Pantani of Italy. Armstrong has withstood numerous crashes. He has also spoken out in response to numerous drug accusations.

Gino Bartali

Many Tour de France riders’ careers are fleeting. An ill-timed, split-second decision has stopped more than one cyclist’s career. But not even WWII stopped Gino Bartali of Italy.

After winning his first title in 1938 — the first year individual riders weren’t allowed to race but were required to compete for teams — Bartali returned a decade later and won again. While his doomsayers thought the 34-year-old was too old, Bartali’s fans remembered his dominating pre-war mountain performances.

Bartali logged huge chunks of training miles and was devoutly religious. He didn’t get along well with his equally famous countryman, Fausto Coppi. In fact, the two argued as the 1948 race approached and, in disgust, Coppi refused to participate.

Bartali remained unfazed. He attacked early and won the first stage in 1948, but faltered the next day. At the end of the first week, Bartali trailed Frenchman Louison Bobet by more than 20 minutes in the general classification. When the race entered the Pyrenees, Bartali responded, knowing the seventh stage ended in the faithful city of Lourdes. He claimed the stage, won two more stages in succession, then crushed the field in the Alps.

Bartali eventually won seven Tour stages in 1948. With descending skills as strong as his climbing abilities, he claimed more than a 16-minute win over Belgium’s Brik Schotte. Bartali’s second Tour win placed him in a one-member fraternity. He’s the only Tour rider to win overall titles a decade apart. Bartali also finished the Tour in second (1949), fourth (1951 and 1952), and 11th (1953), and he completed his Tour career with 12 stage wins.

Fausto Coppi

Gino Bartali entered the 1949 Tour as defending champion. He and Fausto Coppi reconciled, and the two Italians were ready for a much-anticipated battle. Coppi had already won the Tour of Italy three times, but at age 29 — six years younger than his compatriot — he was ready to claim his first Tour.

The two Italians often rode near each other in the second week in the Pyrenees. When the race entered the Alps, Coppi showed his still-youthful strength. He left Bartali as the race arrived in Italy and claimed a mountain stage and time trial en rout to an 11-minute overall win over his aging countryman.

Swiss riders Ferdi Kubler and Hugo Koblet, respectively, won the 1950 and 1951 Tours. Coppi returned in 1952 after overcoming two sub-par racing years and the 1951 death of his brother during a road race. Coppi, 33, was in superior shape, and he won his second Tour by nearly 30 minutes over Belgian Constant Ockers. Coppi won five Tour stages in 1952, including the inaugural ascent of L’Alpe d’Huez, the event’s most famous climb.

Coppi participated in the Tour only three times. His career was interrupted by war, numerous injuries, family tragedy, and his feisty temper. He won nine Tour stages, but when he left the sport, his life crumbled. Coppi divorced his wife for a girlfriend, a scandal that shocked Italy at that time. Coppi’s untimely death at age 40 from Malaria only further added to his legend.

Bernard Hinault

Like Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, and Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault — the last French rider to win the Tour — made a stunning debut in the controversial 1978 race. Riders felt the route was too difficult, and they dismounted their bikes at the end of one morning stage to protest.

Michel Pollentier of Belgium won the stage to L’Alpe d’Huez and claimed the yellow jersey. But Pollentier was quickly disqualified from the race. During the post-stage drug test, he was caught using a contraption that held fake urine.

That’s when Hinault capitalized on Pollentier’s departure. He won three stages in his race debut, including two time trials. He claimed his first title by nearly four minutes over Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk. With a defending French titlist, the host country was overjoyed. Hinault won in dominating fashion in 1979, claiming seven stages and further displayed his determined, sometimes harsh nature. His demeanor and gritty facial expressions earned him the nickname “The Badger.”

Hinault’s only weakness was tendonitis. Suffering from severe knee pain, he abandoned the 1980 race as it entered the Pyrenees. Hinault won again in 1981 and 1982, but he missed the 1983 race when his tendonitis returned. Hinault was determined, and after finishing second to compatriot Laurent Fignon in 1984, he claimed his fifth title in 1985. American Greg LeMond was Hinault’s teammate and appeared in position to outshine the French star. Hinault was weakened by crashes, but Hinault hired LeMond as a support rider, not a race winner. LeMond was upset, but he relented. Hinault, who wore the yellow jersey for 78 days in his career, concluded his Tour efforts in 1986 when he finished second to LeMond.

Hinault had 28 stage wins in eight Tour appearances, and he is now part of the Tour organization and greets podium finishers after every stage.

Lance Armstrong Interview: Twitter, Time Trials and Transparency

Lance Armstrong has returned to competitive cycling after a 3 1/2 year retirement. The seven-time Tour de France titlist, cancer survivor, father of three (soon to be four) children, and global businessman will compete in about a half-dozen races in 2009 for two reasons: to expand his mission of global cancer awareness and to return to the top level of competition, which he said he’s missed since his retirement after the 2005 Tour de France. A few days prior to the Tour of California, I interviewed Armstrong for a cover story for the Sacramento News & Review in February as his team concluded its training camp in Santa Rosa, Calif.

Question: For the last couple of months, you’ve had a Twitter account and you’re very active on it and it’s very popular (more than 70,000 followers. Editor’s note: Lance Armstrong now has more than 154,000 followers). Are you an investor in the company, are you a hyper toe-tapper type or just what’s your interest?

Lance Armstrong: I don’t have a financial stake in Twitter, no. I didn’t even know about it three months ago. But sometimes I feel like I work for them. I get asked about it and it’s unbelievable what gets written in regards to me and Twitter (laughter). But, hell, I wish I had a little piece of the action. But I don’t. But in the end, it’s profitable or beneficial for me and it’s beneficial for the foundation and for the team.

Look, in the last 10 years, primarily 1999 to 2005 I wasn’t the most openly transparent person in the world. And it led people to say, ‘Well, hmm. We don’t know where he is. We don’t know what he’s doing. He won’t talk to us. So, he must be up to no good.’ And even if they didn’t write that you’re up to no good, they would think that you’re up to no good and it would lead to speculation and rumor.

Something like Twitter comes along or accessibility to video blogs, you say, F-it. I’m going to come back and you may not care, but I’m going to tell you what I had for breakfast and I’m going to take a picture of it. I’m going to tell you when I’m on a training ride. I’m going to tell you when I’m at my son’s flag football game. I’m going to tell you when I just cracked a bottle of bad-ass red wine.

You can take my biggest detractor in the press room and if they read that, then after awhile they’ll realize, man, this is really him telling us what he’s doing. And then they realize, ‘You know what? This guy is not secluded in a dark room with a team of mysterious doctors up to no good. This guy is a regular f-ing guy.’ So, I’ve got no stake in Twitter, but Twitter has helped.

Q: Throughout your career, you’ve been a team leader. What do you think of Lance Armstrong as a domestique (team rider)?

L.A.: It’s definitely a possibility. I think it’s healthy for me to remind myself why I came back. And I came back because I wanted to take the Livestrong message around the world and I came back because I wanted to ride my bike again. It’s very simple; it’s not complicated.

It becomes complicated when somebody says, ‘Lance you won the Tour seven times. If you get fourth, you’re going to ruin your legacy. You’re going to ruin a perfect record.’ That’s their impression. That’s the pressure we put on ourselves. We want athletes to be perfect and we want them to hit the game-winning shot, walk away and never come back. Sometimes, they (the athletes) get in the locker room and say ‘F-it. I want to come back. And that happened to me.

Q: From the pictures and video I’ve seen, you look thicker or stronger in your upper body. Has your body changed?

L.A.  When I started training last summer before I decided to come back, I was spending a lot of time in the gym. In the last couple of years, I’ve put on some upper-body mass and put on weight. That’s for sure. And I continued to train in the gym all the way until October. So it’s going to take a few months to get that off. It’s already come down considerably. But the pictures and the cameras can be deceiving, too. But really what the scale says and it’s what it says in April that’s a good comparison, not in February. Still. I’m much lighter at this time of the year than I normally would be.

Q: You’re going to be a father again, and your fourth child will be about one month old or so when the Tour de France comes along. Will you bring him or her along to the finish like your other children or do you have a different plan at this point?

L.A.: He or she will be at the Tour, for sure. Quite honestly, my schedule this year pretty much revolves around my kids’ schedule. (Former wife) Kristin (Armstrong) has been the real hero and very helpful to me and understanding on this comeback. It’s not optimal that I fly from here back home for five days before the Tour of California. That’s the schedule Kristin and I have set out and the kids want to see their old man. I will always travel back and forth to have quality time with my kids. That’s what we’ll do this week and so all that will stay the same as it was the first time.

Q: With all the demands on your time, how do you determine how much time you give to cancer patients and how it occurs?

Lance Armstrong: It’s definitely changed. As the momentum of the foundation has grown, the requests have also grown at the same time. Sometimes the stuff is structured. I’m going to go to hospital ABC tomorrow. You have to call the hospital and the hospital knows you’re coming and you’re either going to give a talk or walk around.

Normally, those are very private and low-key visits. They’re designed for the patients and their families. But I get a lot out of them. The patients in their rooms get a lot out of it. But it’s motivating for me to go do that. And when I say motivating, it keeps me in perspective. It keeps reminding me why I do what I do on a daily basis.

Q: The Tour of California will have a few guys coming back to the sport and others with whom you’ve had long relationships like Ivan Basso, Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton. Any thoughts on being back in the peloton with some of the guys you came through the ranks with?

L.A. Cycling has evolved, but you still have some of the same characters and that list goes deep. Add George Hincapie to that list. There’s a lot of history with juniors to amateur racing to 11 years as a pro. I think for me, the thing to keep in mind at the Tour of California is that Levi (Leipheimer) is super motivated and super, super fit which he confirmed to us here at training camp. So we just have to ride for him and hope that he hammers the time trial as hard as he can like he did last year.”

Q: Speaking of the Tour of California, do you recall the last time you raced in California?

L.A.: Ojai Criterium, 2005. I’ve never raced Redlands or the Sea Otter Classic. But I did do the Race of Champions, which was up there on the same course at Laguna Seca. Back in those amateur Subaru-Montgomery days, we did Visalia, Fresno and we did crits at UCSB (Santa Barbara). There weren’t all in the same area as the Tour of California, like the Tour of the Unknown Coast, I think, in 1990. But some of it was the same. And I did the San Francisco Grand Prix in maybe 2002, 2003. So, there was a lot of California stuff like that, but never the bigger races from around here.

Q: Since you announced your comeback last September and when you began to win to win some of the regional races, has what’s happened on the bike been different than what you thought it might be?

L.A.: No. The improvement has been pretty consistent on what we’ve seen in the tests and in training. All of that feedback is improving and tracking nicely. The question mark is whether it gets to a point and then just stops improving. But I tell you . . . what’s the date day?      . . . Feb. 6. Take Feb. 6 versus any Feb. 6 from any of those other years (1999-2005) and there’s absolutely no comparison.

I had a chat today with Benjamin Noval. He was on my team for a bunch of Tours (de France) and he’s on this team. He said there’s absolutely no comparison to those years. He said I’m much more fitter, much leaner, much more race ready in February this year than in any of those years.

Q: One of the theories going around is that Astana will ride for you in the Giro and then you and the rest of the ream will ride for Alberto (Contador) in the Tour. Any thoughts?

L.A.: I haven’t done the Tour of Italy before, so it’s a box I wanted to check. I don’t know if I’ll be at my top condition at the Giro. But my aim is to be at the top of my game on July 4 (the start of the Tour de France). The Giro leads into that. But if my condition this July is the same as it has been in other Julys and I can get to 90 percent of that in May, that’s good enough to win the Giro. There’s a big IF in there.

We don’t know if it will be the same base on age, based on times, based on an old, creaky body. But all the indications are good. I think realistically, if I were top 10 (in the Giro), I’d be happy. If I were in the top 5, I’d be very happy. And if that takes me into a good month of June, rest and recovery, plus some training, and then the good thing of not having the stress to crash diet or really worrying about race weight going into July then I think it’ll go well.

Q: I’ve read some about your art collection. When did you first get interested in it, and do you remember the first piece you bought?

L.A.: I was started buying art when I build my first home in late, ’94. I always thought that will you can have help designing a home and building a home and picking out furniture, lights, etc. But the owner of the home should pick the art on the walls.

You should pick what your canvas is for the interior of the home. Some people just have the designer go pick out the art. But from the very beginning I wanted to have an active role in what actually went on the walls, especially if you have a home that’s a great art space. It started very recreationally back then, but then through the years, I picked up some good pieces, even when I was racing and traveling. Some of it is fairly important pieces of work, some of it is just stuff you see on the streets and you like and you say, ‘That appeals to me. That appeals  to me. I’ll take it.’

But in the past three years when I was off the bike or just riding a little, probably the thing I was the most passionate about on a consistent basis was the art world. I traveled to different art fairs around the country in Miami or the Armory in New York, just spending time there, not as a hardcore, education art aficionado. But just as somebody who has an appreciation for it. So you pick a Damien Hirst or Andres Serrano.

Q: During the training camp and at other times, you’re wearing the Livestrong kit but your teammates are in the Astana kit. Could you tell me about that arrangement?

L.A: Those guys are paid to race. I’m not paid to race. I’m racing as a volunteer for Livestrong. Legally, I can’t wear Livestrong in the race or I would, but anytime outside of a race I am going to fulfill my commitment to my organization.

Again, it would different if it were Discover Channel (his former team) and you were getting a big, fat salary. You have to train in that kit. But the fact that I’m not taking a salary from Astana means that I can wear what ever I want to wear, I think?

Q: I read one of your Twitter comments about having a glass of wine but no dessert at a restaurant. Can you tell me more about your fascination with Twitter?

L.A. (Laughing) The record will show three things: A. You’re a normal guy; B. You’re open and accessible and you’re giving regular media interviews; C. You’re the most drug tested athlete in the world. Those three things for me have nothing by upside.

Q: Is there any update on your ranch outside of Austin that you put up for sale awhile back?

L.A. No. Selling the ranch . . . we just weren’t getting out there enough and quite frankly the home we ending up building in Austin is big and it has a big yard and the kids love it and now the weekends are occupied there with sports and activities and birthday parties. We weren’t getting to the ranch.

So in exchange, we built a home in Aspen. It’s great for training. It’s great to escape the Austin hot summers and it’s a great community. And that home, although it doesn’t have big walls per se like my home in Austin does, it’s a good art and art will be integrated in that home, too.

The History Of Mountain Bikes: It Was Called The Stumpjumper

(This article originally appeared in the Sacramento Bee in April 2006.)

During the mid-1970s, Mike Sinyard, his friends and other carefree cyclists from California to Colorado began to negotiate winding dirt trails and careen down rocky hills.

Mountain BikesThey rode modified, fat-tired machines called clunkers and hoped for the best. They crashed their modified and renovated 1930s and 1940s Schwinn, B.F. Goodrich and Hawthorne bikes, wrecked their bodies, thrived on the thrill and returned for more.

Perhaps Sinyard landed on his head less often than others. And with a unique convergence of ingenuity, timing and risk-taking, the proprietor of a then seven-year-old road bicycle manufacturer and distributor in San Jose, took another uncharted leap.

Sinyard believed other thrill-seekers might want to get in on the fun. Soon enough, the Specialized Stumpjumper was born.

While others were about to do the same, Sinyard took a business risk not too dissimilar from the chances he took on his bike. With the help of a framebuilder friend from Santa Cruz, he offered mountain bikes to the national public.

With the slogan “It’s Not Just A New Bicycle, It’s A Whole New Sport,” the composite steel, 15-speed, 29-pound bike made its debut. The Stumpjumper had 26×2.25-inch tires, it was painted blue and it cost $750 ($395 for the frame only). The bike’s first production order was 250 units and sold out quickly, followed by another 250.

“It was perceived as quite a risk,” Sinyard recalled. “In fact, when we came out with it, it wasn’t like all of our customers said, “Wow. That’s great. We’ve been waiting for you.

“Most of the customers said, ‘Mike, what are you doing with that big kids’ BMX bike? We don’t want that. What does it have to do with adult bikes? People are going to get hurt on it. We’re going to be in trouble. There was quite a bit of resistance.”

Tom Ritchey, Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze and Keith Bontrager — all now manufacturing stalwarts — were among the mountain bike daredevils who had custom-made machines in bike shops before Sinyard.

Charlie Kelly, another mountain bike pioneer, introduced a publication called Fat Tire Flyer a year before the Stumpjumper’s debut.

But it was the Stumpjumper that jolted the industry. Many others were soon in the mountain-bike-for-the-masses mix and the sport’s popularity catapulted into the 1980s.

In 1988, the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame opened in Crested Butte, Colo., and two years later hometown favorite Ned Overend won the inaugural World Mountain Bike Championships in Durango, Colo. In 1996, mountain biking debuted in the Summer Olympics just outside of Atlanta.

Despite its quick ascension, mountain biking’s success then underwent a vast economic transition.

Early American pro riders like Overend, John Tomac, Tinker Juarez, Alison Dunlap and Missy Giove thrived financially in the sport. The now-retired Dunlap carried a huge American flag across the finish line victory en route to her 2001 world title in Vail, Colo., and the emotional display likely prompted more women to ride mountain bikes.

But the professional component of the sport, short on corporate sponsorship, soon plummeted. Recreational mountain biking began to dominate.

According to the National Bicycle Dealers’ Association, nearly 45 percent of the 18.3 million bicycles sold in the United States in 2004 were mountain bikes.

Mountain biking’s largest Northern California gathering is the Sea Otter Classic, a four-day festival of amateur and professional road and mountain biking at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey.

This year’s 16th annual edition, scheduled April 6-9, includes ts usual diverse selection of pro races, noncompetitive public rides and exhibitions.

While bicycle riding and racing occurs on the raceway’s track and on the recreation area’s surrounding hillsides, the raceway’s infield simultaneously hosts dozens of cycling industry vendors — bicycle manufacturers to T-shirt vendors, nutrition products to apparel companies.

Specialized also will unveil a museum dedicated to the Stumpjumper. The display will include original models, memorabilia, appearances by some of the sport’s pioneers and a lot of reminiscing.

“It’s important, particularly for one reason,” said Sinyard. “It’s not that long ago, but some of the sport’s current best riders weren’t even born yet when the first Stumpjumper was introduced. It’s a little self-indulgent, but it’s also having some fun with the sport and its history.”

The Stumpjumper’s quarter-century milestone is also intimately detailed in a new book, “Stumpjumper: 25 Years Of Mountain Biking.”

The 128-page hardback volume, commissioned by Specialized and produced and written by veteran cycling journalist Mark Riedy, details the history of the mountain bike with a Specialized focus.

The timeline of the various Stumpjumper models, interviews with industry pioneers, and photos of early riders and their favorite mountain rides are all included. The front and back covers are side views of an ancient stump.

“The mountain bike (beginning) really was not so much a technological movement as it was a real mental kind of switch,” said Riedy. “It was a revolution of how people looks at bikes and what bike could do. All those guys (mountain bike pioneers) . . . their big contribution was really a way of looking at bikes and a way of thinking about what bikes are capable of.”

Unlike some manufacturing advancements, the mountain bike’s history also has a unique twist.

Sinyard surmises that a mountain bike more technically advanced than the original Stumpjumper now costs as little as $300, less than half the amount of Specialized’s first production offering. An entry level Stumpjumper, however, now costs an estimated $1,300.

“What we’re seeing is that a lot of the riding is returning to the original roots of the sport,” said Sinyard. “It’s hey, let’s get out with our buddies out and go out for a ride. If it’s raining and muddy out there, that’s all the better. It’s a lot of the spirit of self-expression. I would say it’s escape.”

Cycling in Yosemite: A Pedaler’s Paradise

ParadiseWith rides named Jolly Old East Nicolaus, Deviled Ham Sandwich and Pepe Le Pew’s Stinkin’ Sweaty Ride, two Sacramento-area cycling clubs offer escapades for beginners to experts.

The Sacramento Wheelmen and Sacramento Bike Hikers also offer popular tours to Yosemite National Park, where embellishment or clever nicknames aren’t needed.

“We sort of hijacked this ride from the Sacramento Wheelmen,” said a chuckling Steve Cimini, who with co-organizer Hazi Alwan recently traveled with about two dozen Bike Hikers members on a five-day journey to the park. “They put on a similar tour, and Hazi and I participated in it a few years ago. We kind of looked at each and said, ‘You know, we could do a better job.’ ”

Cimini’s remarks speak to the friendly nature between the two clubs and also to the attractive nature of pedaling in Yosemite, an exceedingly popular destination. Both clubs offer the same approach – recreational enjoyment.

“This is a tour; it’s not a race through the park,” Cimini said about his club’s tour of Yosemite. “So you take your time. And if there’s something you want to spend some time doing, you definitely should do it. You stop the bike once in awhile and get off it.”

With their bikes transported by van to Merced, the participants departed Sacramento early on a Sunday morning via Amtrak. Upon arrival and after collecting their gear, the group rode approximately 50 miles to Mariposa for a one-night stay. The next day, the riders advanced 25 miles to their base camp, Cedar Lodge, eight miles shy of Yosemite.

For the next two days, participants determined their own cycling, hiking or sightseeing tours in Yosemite Valley, with the fifth day reserved for the return ride to Merced.

“One of the reasons we’re leaving on Sunday morning is so we can spend most of the time in the park in mid-week,” Cimini said. “The crowds will be a lot less, and it will be easier to get around and see all the sights. It’s a very scenic and very beautiful route.”

The Wheelmen’s annual trip to Yosemite began several years ago, but it’s on hiatus this year, replaced by a journey to the Sierra Nevada gold-mining hamlet of Columbia.

“The middle day took the riders twenty miles from Cedar Lodge into Yosemite Valley, a short trip but with 2,000 feet of vertical with a couple 8-degree pitches,” said Sacramento’s Geno Masuda, who wrote about the 2002 Yosemite trip for The Wheelmen’s Web site. “Most of the riders spent the day enjoying the grandeur and sights of the Valley, visiting the Ansel Adams Photo Gallery, watching the film on the history and geology of Yosemite, and lunching on the patio of the Awahnee Hotel.”

Touring with a club, of course, isn’t a requirement for cycling in the national park.

Yosemite spokeswoman Kerri Holden points casual cyclists toward the valley’s 12 miles of paved bike paths and recommends two short routes that are also detailed on the park’s web site.

Route No. 1 begins from Curry Village, progresses past the horse stables and continues to Mirror Lake. There’s a designated bike stand just before the lake. On the return journey, Holden suggests, “Stop at the stables and visit our friendly horses and mules.” The estimated round-trip distance is two miles.

Route No. 2 begins at Yosemite Lodge, advances on the bike path across Cook’s Meadow and over the bridge toward the chapel. The course continues past the Le Conte Memorial and arrives at Curry Village. Again, Holden suggests a snack break: “Stop for great pizza or ice cream at Curry Village.”

The return to Yosemite Lodge is accomplished by simply following the bike-path signs. The estimated round-trip distance is five miles.

On either route or a self-determined ride, the paved cycling path in Yosemite Valley is primarily flat with occasional slight inclines and includes views of the Merced River and Half Dome.

While many cyclists visiting Yosemite bring their own bikes, a variety of rental bicycles (including tandems and hand-crank models) and accessory equipment (trailers and helmets) are available at Yosemite Lodge (209-372-1208) and Curry Village (209-372-8319) from early spring through late fall.

Bike rental prices vary from $5.50 per hour to $21.50 per day and include a helmet, which is required for cyclists 18 and younger and recommended for everyone.

Cyclists, who are required to pay $10 for a one-week day-entrance pass, also pedal on the open roads of the park, away from the valley and its designated bike path. The roads don’t have a cycling lane. Maps are available at the various park entrances.