A year at the Mothership

Editor's Note: At the serious risk of self-indulgence, VeloNews' web editor Steve Frothingham has decided to share some memories of his first year with the Web site.

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Editor’s Note: At the serious risk of self-indulgence, VeloNews’ web editor Steve Frothingham has decided to share some memories of his first year with the Web site.

I arrived at VeloNews’ Boulder headquarters, aka, “Big Blue,” aka, “the Mothership,” on Valentine’s Day. It was just a few weeks after finishing a stint at The Associated Press in New Hampshire, editing reports on some first-term senator named Obama and his preposterous campaign in the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary, held January 8, 2008.

I arrived in time to meet most of the staff as they headed to the Amgen Tour of California. As the New Guy at the Mothership for that race, my most memorable moment came on stage 6. Web developer Kevin Hankens and I were congratulating ourselves for quickly posting results, a photo and a brief report on what appeared to be another solid victory for Mark Cavendish. Then I got a hasty phone call from writer Fred Dreier: “Froth, Cav’s been relegated! Pagliarini won!” Oops. A quick rebuild of the homepage, some fast reporting by Dreier, and we had the new winner on the page in no time. Lesson learned: save the victory salute.

My first reporting trip as a Velo staffer was a journey into old memories, to New Mexico’s Tour of the Gila. I first raced the Gila in 1987. And last spring while unpacking from my move to Colorado, I discovered a newspaper clipping from a couple years later, when I was interviewed by one Patrick O’Grady, then with The New Mexican, about my team’s chances in the race. I can still recall the sounds of Patrick’s keyboard, tip-tapping as I shared my predictions with him over the phone.

The Gila was also one of the first races I reported for VeloNews, as a freelancer, in the mid-1990s. In 2008, it was fantastic to revisit Silver City, meet many domestic racers in person for the first time, and follow the Mexican Tecos team as it dominated the race.

It was shocking, however, to arrive at the scene of a large crash on one of the final stage’s screaming fast descents (one that scared the bejewels out of me when I was a racer). Instead of chasing the lead pack, we stopped when I saw Bissell’s big Tom Zirbel sitting on the road’s edge, in his Gila leader’s jersey. He had broken a collarbone and left the race. And then I saw Tecos’ Fausto Esparza on the ground, and watched as he was loaded onto a back board and into an ambulance. Esparza, a friendly face at Tecos who had been interpreting for me all week, remains paralyzed from the chest down at last report.

My next trip was to the Mt. Hood Classic, a beautiful and difficult stage race in Oregon. My biggest memories from there, besides my first view of the race’s eponymous peak, was of the vibrant Portland bike scene. Hundreds of bikers came out to the hilly Portland criterium, held in a verdant city park on an extinct volcano. It was a different kind of bike crowd from the one in my new home town of Boulder — less concerned with V02 Max and wattage recordings, perhaps, but maybe even more passionate about the wonders of two-wheeled, human-powered fun.

I was, again, the Guy at the Mothership, during the Tour de France, putting in long days along with fellow web editors Patrick O’Grady and Charles Pelkey, posting hundreds of pages of reports, photos and results from the crew in France. My biggest satisfaction was being able to finally use my “Thor de France” headline after Thor Hushovd won stage 2. I had been wanting to use that hed for years!

My next big reporting trip was not too far from my new home. VeloNews had not made a big deal of the nearby Leadville 100 in previous years, but this time, as a new Colorado resident, I thought it would be fun to drive up to the old mining town on my day off and take in the race. The fact that Lance Armstrong was racing made it attractive enough that I figured I could get the company to pay for my mileage.

So my 14-year-old son and I got up at oh-dark-thirty to get there and absorb the frantic start scene at sunrise in Leadville.

The access was unfettered: late in the race we were able to drive behind Armstrong and Dave Wiens for miles on a dirt ranch road, watching and recording some video. After Wiens — one of my long-time personal heroes and one of the sport’s nicest guys — won the race, I asked Armstrong if training for and competing at Leadville had sparked any interest in returning to racing. He gave a non-committal answer, saying something about how much he enjoyed the race and his plans to run the Chicago marathon in October. But it was only a few weeks later that our Neal Rogers scooped everyone with his report that Armstrong was coming out of retirement. And in later interviews Armstrong said that Leadville had, indeed, got him thinking. I wish he had told me so that day.

WARNING: Serious name dropping and glamorous jet-setting report to follow:

A few weeks later I zipped from the Interbike show in Las Vegas over to New York to report on Armstrong’s first news conference following his announcement. The newser was a sleeper — most of the “questions” from the packed room of reporters began with the reporter’s story about his or her own cancer recovery or that of a loved one.

The venue, however, was fun. It was the opening day of the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting. Armstrong helped open the conference with former President Clinton and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Other attendees in the room: Muhammad Ali, Bill Gates, Bono, President George H.W. Bush, Al Gore, the Queen of Jordan, the president of Liberia, French President Nicolas Sarkozy (and, everyone noted, his wife), and E. Neville Isdell, the chairman of The Coca-Cola Company.

I reported most of the news from the downstairs media room (it was the best news conference buffet I have encountered since a 1996 Michelin Axial launch in Bologna, Italy), but I went up to the main room to stargaze a bit. I sent a text message to my wife, informing her that I intended to flirt outrageously with the Queen of Jordan. Dede, knowing my flirting skills, said to go for it, but somehow I never got the chance.

Other memories from my year at Velo?

– Riding in the Team Columbia director’s car at the Tour of Missouri, awestruck as the team planned and executed a massive throwdown at the end of stage 6, trying (unsuccessfully) to rip the leader’s jersey off the back of Garmin’s Christian Vande Velde.

– Watching Tyler Hamilton and Blake Caldwell sprint at the end of the U.S. professional road race in Greenville, and listening to the silence from the huge crowd — most of which just wanted to see hometown hero George Hincapie win — while officials reviewed the photo finish before declaring Hamilton winner.

– Chatting with Jamey Driscoll as he assembled his bike the day before the national cyclocross championships in Kansas City. Driscoll is one of the quietest and most modest racers on the ‘cross circuit, and appears to possess a massive engine and an equally prodigious maturity and focus. The Vermonter stunned many with his second place at the championships.

– Having the Boulder Cup ‘cross race arrive in my Boulder neighborhood. There’s nothing quite like going out to get the Sunday paper from the driveway and finding Taylor Phinney getting dressed for the race in your front yard.

– Instant messaging with Fred Dreier while he was at the Beijing Olympics, working his butt off and still finding time for daily rides in the icky air.

– A year’s worth of fun with the most impassioned group of co-workers I’ve ever encountered. As Jason Sumner mentioned in a recent column, the crew here walks the talk — almost everyone in the building rides and races and wants to be the first to know the latest news and results. I’m looking forward to another great year as a member of this bike club that happens to put out a magazine and maintain a Web site.

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