Sunday, September 30, 2007

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Training Secrets Revealed

Looks like the California boys have been training hard in preparations for the Tour de Cullman. Papa Beezer and the Brown Wonder have ridden several Tours and Cullman Spring Classics. They definitely win the longest travel award, living in northern California. This also shows some of the networking magic of the Tour. TJ Tucciarone who lives in the Oakland area brought Papa Beezer and Brown Wonder to the Tour a couple of years ago. Now they are in the mix and definitely add a lot to the ride. They are known for their preparations the night before the Tour. Usually Al, TJ, Beezer and Brown Wonder have a prerace strategy meeting in Nashville which lasts well into the morning of the ride.

.............................Papa Beezer and Brown Wonder

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Three Weeks Out!

This past weekend North Carolina uber master Chris Rossi was in town. Bill St. John and Rossi are old friends from their motorcycle racing days. He is riding a new Pinarello Dogma built up with campy record and zipp wheels. On Saturday Bill headed up our ride which was a modified Spring Classic route. Myself, Rossi, Bill and Cayce Cherry rode. We ended up with close to 60 miles and a lot of climbing. With the heat and humidity I think its still summertime.

Sunday's ride was a modified Tour de Cullman route, which of course included the Circle of Death. I think all of our legs were sore from the day before, I was trying to slow the pace down. As we made the first climb which is at least second toughest of the Tour and I know the steepest, Bill was showing some good form and attacked. As we crested the top of the first climb Chris made contact and that's the last I saw of them. Nobody seems to want to hear my excuses but I am struggling this year and after 25 years of riding its okay.

I got some great video footage of Rossi and St. John on the tougher section of the final climb to the top of Skyball Mountain. Rossi made the move somewhere on the lower slopes and put the hammer down. I think anyone in the masters division needs to take note. He has been a perennial top 10 finisher in all the Tour de Cullmans he has ridden in. With the new bike he seems pretty motivated.

Monday, September 17, 2007

History of the Tour

Several people have emailed me about the format and some history of the Tour de Cullman. The ride has morphed over the past 13 years into a fun ride with some serious competition thrown in.

The original tour back in 1994 was a reunion ride for a group of former racers, most of who raced in the eighties. The ride was composed of a couple of category 2 state champions, a master state champion, a professional triathlete and a bunch of guys who loved to spend time in the saddle. We all spent many three hour plus rides together around the University of Alabama, so as most cycling people know you formed that unique bond. In the late 80s we all went our separate ways and had to get real jobs.
The idea for the Tour de Cullman came after seeing a few of the guys years later. We talked about getting back together and going riding again. I put the ride together and hosted it at my house in Cullman. The first year we had 12 riders. The plan was to go out for an easy ride then return to my house, have a party and revisit old times and rides.

You know what happens when you get a group of cyclist together. What started out as an easy stroll through the Cullman countryside turned into a 45 mile hammer session. Even though everyone was out of shape it didn't take long for the pace to go off scale. Soon the chatter in our group was we needed a sprint and preferably ending on a hill top. I thought this was suppose to be a fun ride. We ended up sprinting to a telephone pole on top of Stouts Mountain, with Richard Prewitt edging Arthur Patrick by a fraction of a wheel.

After the sprint we took it easy and rolled back to my house. We refueled with lots of homemade pasta, bread and some great beer. Everyone had a great time and it was a unanimous decision that we had to do this every year.

The next year everyone invited someone/networked a little and had 25 riders. The tour also got a little longer and tougher, moving the KOM from Stouts to Skyball Mountain. One thing that stuck in the format was Jacques Emplaincourt telling me that great European races end with an uphill sprint. Everyone enjoyed the laid back competition but also the challenging terrain of Cullman and Blount counties. The second year I added an official King of the Mountain trophy. This seemed to really unleash the beasts and soon I was informed that it became an official underground race.


An important influence of the more recent Tour de Cullmans is the gran fondo rides in Europe. I think you can make the ride appeal to more people and definitely make it more fun by having everyone start and hopefully finish together. One thing I have found is that hobby riders like a challenge and competition. Even the slower riders like the tough route and want to know where they finished in the KOM compared to the elites. The most important thing to me is to have riders of all abilities, male and female, elite to novice. Over the past 13 years it has been an interesting collection of people.

The Tour de Cullman rolls out at noon from my house on the southeast side of Cullman with a strictly enforced tourist pace (less than 18mph). We have a motorcycle escort and a gentleman's agreement is you cannot pass the motorcycle. We ride with support through Cullman and Blount Counties for 22 miles at a very easy pace. When the peleton crosses Chamblees Mill Bridge the motorcycle increases the speed to 20 mph. This is to separate the faster riders from the people wanting to just enjoy the ride and take it easy. A green flag is dropped once we roll onto "Race Horse" Johnson Parkway. At this point you can drop the hammer and go with the riders competing for the KOM or you can continue on at any pace you like.

The road is smooth and leads up the the first climb of Skyball Mountain where the selection is made. Once you start the first climb you begin the Circle of Death. The circle is roughly 20 miles with several tough climbs and some fast descents. It is also some incredibly beautiful countryside. At the end of the circle you begin climbing the 4 mile accent back up Skyball Mountain. The KOM is on top of the mountain, the 40 mile mark of the ride.

Once the first rider reaches the summit the watch starts and the riders times are recorded. There is a trophy for the overall KOM male and female, masters male and female (40+), most aggressive male and female, and the Cullman division.

The riders celebrate the finish with accordion music and some refreshments. When all the riders have reached the summit we regroup and ride back into Cullman at your own pace. Back in town after the ride, the "Podium" begins at 4:00 with the same format as the first tour; fresh pasta, bread and beer (plenty of other liquids).

Cullman Espoir

Local rider Austin Oliver is preparing for his first Tour de Cullman. He is the 14 year old son of local rider Dr. Tom Oliver. They can be see on the roads several days a week. Austin has been racing this summer in a few triathlons and has had several great finishes. Tom and Austin competed in the Mountain Lakes Triathlon in Guntersville and also the Frantic Frog in Scottsboro. They both ride Cannondales tricked out by David Edwards of Bicycle Works.

Austin looks like a favorite in the white jersey division and maybe a dark horse in the local Cullman rider division. I know he will be the youngest to complete the whole ride and race the Circle of Death. Look for him on the top of Skyball!

Saturday, September 8, 2007


One of the more interesting facts about the Tour de Cullman is the route and climb up Skyball Mountain which passes through Blount County, Alabama. There have been several Bigfoot sightings. Before the first climb of Skyball, The Tour de Cullman passes through a heavily wooded and hilly area called Chamblees Mill. There is a single lane wooden bridge and ruins of an old water powered mill. The road was originally a wagon trail and is on the Streights Raid route from the Civil War. The section of road was made famous during our bike tours for the comments by Jacques Emplaincourt. He said never take the section out because it reminded him of the Arenberg Forrest sector in the classic Paris Roubaix.

In the Tour de Cullman once you cross the wooden bridge the tempo begins to get a little uncomfortable. You know the climbs of Skyball await and on the first climb the selection is made.

Below is an article that describes a history of some Bigfoot sightings on Skyball mountain. The article was published on The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization website.

Report # 1830 (Class C) Submitted by J. B. on Friday, September 17, 1999.

Two separate sighting reports of a creature YEAR: 1975

SEASON: Summer

STATE: Alabama

COUNTY: Blount County

LOCATION DETAILS: These both occurred in Blount county, Alabama. The first sighting was in 1975 about 2 miles from the Chamblee Mill bridge.

NEAREST TOWN: this area is located in a triangle between Blountsville, Hanceville & Holly Pond.

NEAREST ROAD: 2 miles from the Chamblee Mill bridge.

OBSERVED: I myself have never seen a bigfoot. But, I have two reports that were told to me. These both occurred in Blount county, Alabama. The first sighting was in 1975 about 2 miles from the Chamblee Mill bridge.
A friend of mine had just dropped me off after football practice. He was driving home on the road that crosses the bridge, this area is located in a triangle between Blountsville, Hanceville & Holly Pond. He saw a large black or brown hairy figure stepping out of the woods as he was coming around a curve. He was startled and almost wrecked his car. His story later appeared in the Cullman Times, a paper in Cullman, Alabama. He later told me that he never was more affraid in his life. He looked it right in the eye and it stepped back in the woods. The location he saw it at is about a mile from my childhood home.
The second sighting occurred on Skyball mountain some 2-3 miles from this sighting. My brother was driving alone on the road that crosses Skyball mountain. The area has very few homes on the mountain. There are streches of the road that are 2-3 miles before a house is located. The time was late evening around 11 pm or later in August 1991 or 1992. He had just topped a small rise on the road and began to smell a strong odor (he had his window down). He looked to the right of the road and saw a large dark figure walking through the tall weeds that were beside the road. He first thought it was a horse but it stepped out on the road. He described it as 8 feet tall, large, hairy, no neck, coal black eyes and covered in dark brown or black hair. He said it looked dead at him and he stopped his car. He thought about putting car in reverse but instead just sat there looking at it. He said it must of stood there a minute or longer. It smelled awful, it had long arms and large dark hair covered hands. It just walked off in to the woods on the other side of the road and he drove home.

OTHER WITNESSES: The early sighting: He had just finished dropping me off after football practice and was driving home.The later sighting: He was out driving around after taking his friend home.

TIME AND CONDITIONS: late evening hours and late Summer for both events.

ENVIRONMENT: This areas has pine trees and hardwoods as well. A creek is not far at all.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The King Lives!

Labor Day weekend proved to be some great training and a few surprises. The weekend got off to a fast start with Transitions Multisport proprietor Tracy McKay in town for some recon training. Tracy has ridden in most of the Tour de Cullmans including the first one back in 1994, taking the KOM once.

I tried to hide behind my coffee cup when he knocked on my door. Tracy is sporting a little lighter chassis as he prepares for an Ironman next month. I will try to post a video of part of our ride. On our way thru Hanceville we had an interesting sighting.

Only in Cullman do you have an Elvis sighting

Later during the weekend we rode the Circle of Death loop. As we made it over the first climb and were descending down Skyball road we passed a horse and buggy, then we came up behind a group on horse back.

We had a good group that included Toby Rumbarger, Scott Montana, Casey Cherry and Bill St. John. The ride proved brutally hot with pleanty of suffering and some mechanicals thrown in for some added pleasure.

The highlight of the ride was when we returned to the St. John farm and Bill had prepared us homemade organic smoked sausage, and a couple of nice beers.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Bicycle Touring

Philip Thompson (Spring Classic Winner) called me Wednesday night and had a special request. He had a cycling tourist staying in his front yard and was helping him find accomodations as he headed north. I volunteered my front yard.

Jeremy Aranoff passed through Cullman, on his way to Canada. Originally my yard was going to be the campground, but it was pouring down rain so Jeremy put up his tent in my brother Oscars garage. Jeremy is riding his bicycle back home to Canada after spending the summer in Alabama. He is an Architech and gave his summer to helping less fortunate in Greensboro with designing and building residences. The program is done through Auburn University.

Having been on two cycling trips, I could relate to Jeremys adventure. He has a great plan of doing 50 miles per day, which will put him back in Canada in two months. Jeremy hopes to get a job in Montreal.


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