Local cyclists share in enthusiasm of Tour

For a few hours yesterday morning, Joe's Mt. Washington Bike Shop could have been a cafe in the French countryside.

Patrons shared pastries and coffee and stood in small groups discussing not baseball, not football, but that most European of sporting pastimes -- cycling.


On a television at the center of the Falls Road shop, Lance Armstrong was busy pedaling to a record sixth victory in the Tour de France.

"We've been watching for the last three weeks at home, but this is like the Super Bowl," said John Marchelya, a Baltimore financial analyst who brought his wife and 2-year-old son to watch with about a dozen other enthusiasts. "You really want to experience it with other people as a social event."


Cycling is not known as a spectacle that makes Americans gather. But yesterday was different, area riders said -- a chance to celebrate their sport at its best. That's why they congregated at bike shops or champagne brunches or at least talked about the Tour as they pedaled through their weekend rides.

"I can't wait to see Armstrong with the American flag on the Champs Elysees," said Juan Carlos Radzinschi, a Baltimore attorney who shops at Joe's. "That's the best part, very emotional."

Radzinschi rides 20 to 30 miles a day on the same model of bike Armstrong used to win the 2001 Tour. He wears one of the yellow bracelets Armstrong has promoted to raise money for cancer research. He said he is inspired by the Texan's sheer excellence.

"The way he rides is perfect," Radzinschi said. "He is a machine."

The shop's owner, Joe Traill, said excitement has been building, with virtually all his customers talking about the Tour for the past few weeks. "It's been either, 'What happened? Did you see what happened?' or 'Don't tell me what happened because I'm watching it tonight,'" he said.

Traill, whose wife, Katie, went to France to watch Stages 9-13, said "it's the perfect sporting event, because every day you have a little battle, but at the same time, you have a bigger story unfolding over 23 days. It's like watching sitcoms and reading a book at the same time."

Some area cyclists opted to ride yesterday morning rather than huddle around televisions. "Lance who?" joked a few of the eight riders who had gathered at 9 a.m. in the parking lot of an Ellicott City strip mall to begin a 58-mile trek across the hills of Howard County.

"To me, this is more enjoyable than being in France watching the professionals race, because I'm doing it," said Carl Boyd, the 44-year-old Ellicott City resident who organized the ride.


He and his fellow riders are members of the Baltimore Bicycle Club, a loose network of 3,000 Baltimore area cyclists who take weekend rides gauged to a wide range of skill and fitness levels.

Though Boyd said he hardly follows professional cycling, most of the men said they have monitored the Tour closely and talk about it while riding.

"The Tour de France thing has gotten manic," said Stuart Lamb, a 44-year-old home theater salesman from Columbia.

Lamb began riding three years ago when he realized that walking golf courses wasn't keeping him in shape. He now rides more than 100 miles a week on his collection of 15 bikes. He's also become an avid fan of professional cycling.

"I used to be a normal American and knew very little about it," he said. "But now, any important stage gets TiVoed."

That story was familiar in the group.


Bob Rohlfing, a 56-year-old Baltimore teacher, said he used to watch clips of the Tour on Wide World of Sports but didn't follow professional racing seriously until he began riding three years ago. Now, in addition to pedaling 10,000 miles a year, he subscribes to cycling magazines and keeps a close eye on the winter training regimes of Tour contenders.

The buzz this spring was that Armstrong might be vulnerable. He looked good but not great in his tune-up race and some European cycling pundits predicted he would be unable to hold off such rivals as German Jan Ullrich and Spaniard Iban Mayo.

But Rohlfing, who was wearing a yellow "Lance" bracelet yesterday, said he figured Armstrong did not want to peak early.

Traill said he's not sure American enthusiasm for the Tour will remain as high after Armstrong stops riding.

"Americans love to watch Americans win things, and they have little time for watching things Americans don't win," he said.

But why worry about that now? He has already had calls from customers who want the commemorative bike that will be produced in connection with Armstrong's record victory.