At Foolish Craig’s, a restaurant and juice/coffee bar on the fashionable Pearl St. in Boulder, Colo., diners and imbibers halted their conversations mid sentence in order to catch the latest action from the Tour de France flickering from the TV hoisted above their heads. When American Floyd Landis was presented with the Yellow Jersey, signifying that he is the leader of the great race, there was an audible, “YESSSS!” to go along with a few happy fist pumps.
Actually, Foolish Craig’s is no different than any other establishment in Boulder. Instead of the Rockies-Reds matinee burning up the airwaves, it’s the bike race from France that has everyone’s attention during a busy lunchtime. If there were sports talk radio just for the hip and trendy folks in Boulder, all of the chatter would be about Landis, the latest on the summertime European running circuit, and the Denver Broncos.
Colorado still shuts down when the Broncos play and it’s still impossible to get a ticket for a game. Lets not kid ourselves and think that endurance sports have surpassed the NFL just yet.
Nevertheless, Boulder is crazy for Landis. So too is the establishment – the New York Times recently published a six-page feature detailing the 30-year-old cyclist’s plans for surgery to replace his broken hip following this month’s Tour de France. Imagine that – a guy is at the top of the Tour de France (the Tour de France!), riding all of those miles day after day with a broken hip. No wonder cycling crazy Boulder and the pages of the New York Times have dedicated some prime space for the guy.
Yet meanwhile, in Landis’ hometown of Lancaster, Pa. where he grew up and graduated from Conestoga Valley High in 1994 …
And in the Philadelphia area, where the budding superstar pedaled thousands of miles along the Schuylkill, through Valley Forge and the environs cranking out another routine century …
Ho-hum. Have two-a-days started at Lehigh yet?
This is where it gets tricky. Take away the altitude and the 300 sunny days a year and there really isn’t that much different from Boulder and Lancaster/Philadelphia areas. In fact, some in the know have suggested that the roads and trails in bucolic and wide open Lancaster County are better than the mountain cycling routes in Boulder County.
According to a story in USA Today, Philadelphia was rated as one of the best places for bike riding, though the ratings seem to have ignored smaller metropolitan areas like Lancaster and Boulder. Nevertheless, here’s what appeared in the Sept. 23, 2003 edition of the national paper:
Home to the USA’s most prominent cycling race, the Pro Cycling Tour’s Wachovia U.S. Pro Championship, which is run the first week of June. Need a personal challenge? “Try an out-and-back ride on the Schuylkill River Trail to Valley Forge starting at the Philadelphia Arts Institute and climbing the steep and infamous Manayunk Wall.”
At the same time, stories have appeared in The New York Times and Kiplinger’s with throwaway sentences in which Lancaster is called “one of the best places in America for cycling” as if this was a given and common knowledge.
You know, bike riding in Lancaster. Of course.
Still, it’s hard to believe our region is rated so highly, especially when one considers what goes on outside of the actual athletics in both places. Though Boulder and the area surrounding Philadelphia are approximately the same size (for now… Boulder’s growth is ridiculous), running and riding are a way of life in the Colorado college town and participatory sports is serious business there. A common conversation heard in Boulder goes something like this:
“Well, I work for (Insert tech company here) by day, but really I’m getting ready to move from trail running to the triathlon.”
With 60 Olympians living in Boulder County, it’s easy to understand why playing instead of watching sports is a big deal. It’s also easy to see why the communities for sports like running and bicycling have transformed the area.
Perhaps Boulder is best summed up by Marc Peruzzi in the August issue of Outside magazine: “The Dunkin’ Donuts went out of business, but the oxygen bar next door to the gay-and-lesbian bookstore seems to be doing well.
“In most American towns, outdoor-sports aficionados are part of an elite counterculture minority. Mountain bikers and climbers have cachet. Not so in Boulder. Recreating outdoors in the norm here, and it’s in your face.”
Maybe it’s starting to get that way in our area, too. Yoga studios are springing up and are a much more mainstream style of exercise and cross-training than ever before. Actually, in my neighborhood in Lancaster, the question isn’t where you take your yoga class; it’s which discipline you practice.
Along with this come the restaurants with healthier foods, the supermarkets that cater to that set, as well as the chiropractors and physical therapists. Bottom line wise it all means higher property values and a better quality of life.
But there are still battles to be waged. Despite the 300 sunny days a year, it still snows quite a bit in Colorado. However, the first thing that gets plowed as soon as the trucks get rolling is the biking and running trails. Meanwhile, we still haven’t learned how to share the roads here.
Perhaps most telling is the way the locals react in Lancaster when the pro cycling tour rides into town every May. Instead of embracing it the way the Philadelphians have (OK, it’s another excuse to drink… who are we kidding?), Lancasterians view the top cyclists in the world coming to their little town as an inconvenience full of traffic jams and clogged streets, rather than something that makes the town special.
But personally, I’ll never forget watching the 1998 race where one rider made his return to the sport after battling cancer for the previous two years. After the race, in which he finished in second place but was clearly the strongest rider, I sat down next to the guy with our backs against the Hotel Brunswick on the corner of Queen and Chestnut streets for a little chat about the race, his comeback and his chances in France later that summer.
Who would have ever guessed that after that ride through Lancaster on a warm afternoon that Lance Armstrong would go on to win the Tour de France seven years in a row?
Maybe not Lancaster County’s Floyd Landis. He knows what pedaling on those roads can do.
If Landis goes on to win the Tour de France, it will cap off a pretty interesting year in sports for Lancaster natives. On the PGA Tour, Manheim Township High grad and Lancaster native, Jim Furyk, just missed winning his second U.S. Open with his second-place finish. Furyk, the former basketball standout for the Blue Streaks (who can forget that jumper from the corner he hit to beat Lebanon in the 1988 Section 1 title game?), will finish this year rated in the top 10 again and will make another Ryder Cup team.
Must be something in the water there.
Riding (or running) in Lancaster
Looking for the best places to ride (or run) in Lancaster? Pick up Sil Simpson’s Short Bike Rides in Eastern Pennsylvania. It’s an excellent guidebook with all the inside info from a guy who is a riding and running junky.
As for the running routes, email me. I have a ton of them stashed away.