EM: So sincerely I was up until midnight last night, I get up at 4.20 to go to work In the morning. I was up till midnight and I ran into writers block so maybe you can help me finish this...
TCOD: 4.20! Hahaha! Ok so I don’t know where to start here, let’s just get into it, what’s the deal? Why the Elk, why the american football shirt?
EM: Well it started in 2002 er, I was laid off it was a bad time in American history Bush Senior I believe took us into uh, well Bush Junior that would’ve been. Taking us into our second war in Iraq. Desert Storm, it affects the airlines and the aviation industry that I’m in.
So I had been laid off, I knew it was coming, it worked out perfectly. My brother was in Germany. I was getting laid off with a severance so I was gonna come off with a good pay, I was gonna be financially stable and I’ve never been to Europe but I had been really a fan of Lance Armstrongs’ comeback I wasn’t a fan of Armstrong prior to cancer, I was a fan of his Cinderella deathbed story though. And he’d already won two Tours of France, so I had this opportunity, my brother was in Germany with his bike, we had always wanted to cycle the Dolomites, so we were gonna go for a long haul Tour with loaded touring bikes to the Dolomites and back up to Australia. Austria. which we did.
Now I said “brother, listen man, while you wrapping up on that I’m gonna go meet Eddy Mercx.”
My first trip to Europe. I got my bike and I touch down in the same airplane that I built, the triple 7, the finest commercial jet to date. And I’m flying first class in it, with my network. excessive baggage, I got my bike in the cargo bay, I got my big longhorns, they weren’t that big then.
TCOD: Smaller than this right?
TCOD: Smaller than what you’re wearing?
EM: Yeah the first year. But they were really a head-turning headgear. You know really. It was very head-turning It got a lotta positive reactions. And that was the beginning of it all but, it was all about the Armstorng comeback. Armstrong was a cocky punk prior to cancer. I thought he was ballsy and I thought he was just very... too confident, I thought that he was the next great.
So we, haha, now I’m just reflecting on that, you probably know why now, he was so confident. I don’t know. I don’t know what to say but uhhhhh, it was great I touched down there and I went and directly intercepted the Tour with my long-horns dedicated...
I HOPE YOU’RE RECORDING THIS?
TCOD: Yeah, I’m recording this twice. I got voice recorder here and my garage band.
EM: Good so you can really get a good uh, you can, I’m worried that you’re gonna have to go “now what did he say?”
TCOD: Nah I got this shit covered man. I, I, I know what I’m doing. Maybe. Hopefully.
EM: You’re very professional Steve.
TCOD: Yeah yeah.
EM: So uh, I wanted, I mean I’ve never seen a greater Cinderella story in sports than Armstrong was. And uh to go on my first, let alone my first trip to Europe, and to see the TDF for the first, day one touching down you know. I’m flying in this airplane first class, warm nuts, champagne all the way across the ocean, on this airplane that I built and uh, get in my rental car, ford diesel hatch-back, bike in the back, intercept the Tour towards Avingon and uh, I think I just got that bike built up out of the suitcase just in time to intercept uh, I think that was the stage and I was running late.
It was too bad cause it was a Mount Ventoux summit finish and I missed it, but I got to see the peloton pass at the base of Mount Ventoux, bout, I mean you’re talking, I can’t tell you how exhausting it is to get my gear together, catch a red eye flight. I’m a terrible packer, I’m always running late to the airport, and uh, I may have missed the flight and then just cause it’s such... The production wasn’t ready. I’ve missed more than a few flights because the production wasn’t ready, whatever, or life you know. So uh, but I did get to see Armstrong with the head gear.
I tell you that first ride, I got such a positive reaction. I’m in time trial form on my bike with my steer head, the long horns on and just mostly the Spaniards that were in France viewing that roadside Tour were just uh, it was just uh, EL DIABLO! They started calling me El Diablo or whatever, being there, it fed me, even though I was tired. It was intoxicating to get that reaction.
And there it was man, I saw Armstrong on his way up to the top of Ventoux in 2002, the next day it was the Col du Galibier if I’m right. It doesn’t make sense maybe there was an easy stage between there. The third stage was the Col du Galibier, boy, to start out the Tour, on your first experience of the Tour, that was my first good day. I cycled uh, have you been to these territories?
TCOD: Yeah for sure. I saw you pretty much every stage on that TOC though, and I wondered, who is this guy? How is this guy alive? How’s he doing this? How can you be in all these different places?
EM: It’s a sport for myself. Lately I’ve been married, 3 years now, she loves to assist. She loves to travel. She’s a great co-pilot, she is an incredible navigator so I don’t have to, I get to hear her voice instead of Siri or whatever and she’s really good at putting the race bible together. That has the map, from the organisation you know, we’ll have that in hand, with the GPS, and I’m never late with that kind of team work, and I get to experience the road. You know I’ve always liked to road trip, it’s so dynamic. The elements of following a UCI race, you got the race drama, you have a favourite that I suit up for, I have their name on the back of my jersey. You got a great new kit, I design a new kit, I’m sponsored by several cycle producers (Mt. Bora, Rudy Eyewear), they’re always giving me great support.
It’s just the whole road trip, it’s so dynamic with what I’m doing. And in some I’m hooked, I was hooked from being a long horn in 2002. The drama of these races, I’ve done a few Vueltas, 2 or 3, I’ve done a Giro, I’ve done the Tour 5 or 6 times, and it’s a fantastic. They designed those routes to show the best of that country, and I have no itinerary, I just go with the flow. I intercept that Tour and uh, I camp out a lot you know, it’s easier on the budget. Plus the joy of tenting. If it’s pouring down with rain I check into a hotel.
But there’s a lot going on, there’s some sort of mystique, I am connected to the stars or whatever. These helmets produce wins. Somehow I’ve got a history, I never was a looser for my first 4 Tours, I saw Armstrong ‘02, ‘03, ‘04, ‘05. I was never a loser wearing longhorns, came home, then I was going to Europe on top of the world, I was going to see another Tour, to repeat and I would always come home, champagne, warm nuts, first class. A winner. The whole round trip was very special. And uh, Armstrong retires and I go, “I just wanna support the next great American cyclist” and that was Levi Leiphiemer, and I thought about Montana where he grew up, was raised, and the animal that is a symbol of Montana, that really would be a nice trophy head is the rocky mountain elk.
I thought yeah right, how you gonna mount a 6 point elk rack on a helmet? And I have a taxidermist who did my longhorns, this guy is a master of his craft, and we located the rack, and if you can dream it, he can build it.
TCOD: SO THESE ARE REAL?!
EM: Look, I shouldn’t get into that cause that’s controversy... It could work sideways against me but... You know, let’s not touch on this.
So it was good fun, now, Levi through those years. I went to more Tours of France, I went to support Levi in 2 Vueltas, I believe another Tour and the Giro. He was a teammate of Armstrong's so I sported an old kit, so I had the long horns, my longhorns grew year on year so they were getting pretty big towards Armstrong's comeback. So I’d do multi kits for multiple riders you know, you can’t hit a laundromat every single night so it’s nice to have a fresh kit and a fresh head.
So it was good fun and Levi came in second place to Contador at the Vuelta he did well. Then there’s another guy, I built this helmet here, this is dedicated to Chris Horner. I think the first time I wore it was the day Floyd Landis spilled the beans, this is Armstrong's come back Tour at the Amgen.
I’m in the woods waiting for them to come up in the high country and I get word Armstrong went down. So Armstrong had his worst day I think of his history in the sport for one thing, the exposé by Floyd Landis. Now that was the beginning of this whistle blowing case. That was Floyd Landis’ first... And Lance had the cancer, and then within minutes he’s on this bike for the stage start. So I remember the interview, I saw this afterwards but I remember it to be, Lance makes his first response to the whistleblower case that Landis initiated that day. Lance, 7 minutes into that stage then goes down and really hurts his face and eye, horrific bloody eye, horrible day and he never did make it up the mountain. Withdrew from the Tour, you know his Tour was done, and there’s 3 stages left.
But I did this for Chris Horner who was his team mate, I always love the personality of Chris Horner cause he’s always smiling man, I love the good nature of him and uh, the uh, talent in the hills. So I wore this and I had a good run. Graham Watson got a photo of the first run. Made a good image. And the next year Floyd came back to that same Tour and won it.
The results I get out of this, it’s good karma man, Chris never won a Tour, I built this, he wins a Tour, then he wins a Vuelta.
Then I did uh, Chris Horner was having troubles with his health and he couldn’t make the Amgen Tour properly, stage 12, I think it was 12, it was the heatwave stage at Palm Springs, so I did another kit for Jens Voight.
Jens probably gave me the most respect for my efforts to mascot, probably out of all the cyclists I’ve done, he gave me the most respect. He would high five me, he would celebrate when he’d see me. Get ahead of the group and high five me, he’d tell me
to “START RUNNING!”.
Whatever, here’s a stage in Palm Springs, the hottest weather I’ve ever seen in a professional race, it’s 120 degrees, mountain top finish, Palm Springs. Two cyclists at the finish heat stroked and had to be hospitalised, I think several cyclists dropped out of the race after that stage. There was a heatwave, that was stage 2.
From San Diego the day prior was a heatwave and it just got worse for Palm Springs. They probably should’a scratched it, they’d done such a long Tour, there was a lot of controversy on that stage, uh Jens, I’m wearing the elk rack, I’m carrying a load, I’ve got my flag in the other hand and I’m pushing these suffering heat stroke victims up an 18% grade on the last kilometre to the mountain top finish.
I ran 25 reps pushing these guys, I didn’t carry the flag all the time, I had the flag probably the first 8 reps and then I really got into it, just pushing these guys up that were non contenders. And I pushed Jens.
So these cyclists had to cycle off that mountain to their team bus which was at the base of the hill. Jens pulls over to salute me and he tells me, “I can’t believe the stamina you have with that getup and the flag”, and he gives me thanks for pushing him, and he says “not only me, how many people did you push? You pushed a lotta people today”, and this is my deal. I’m not just, it’s good to just make that connection man, to these incredible athletes man, in the greatest sport on earth.
They got a lot of gratitude I think. I think I earned their gratitude for me, because they remember, and they’re always asking me for a push now, they know I can push. I can give them 40-50 meters up the ugliest climb and they really appreciate it. I’ve never had any cyclist say, it’s rare, I’ve had it maybe once, say, GET THE FUCK OUT THE WAY! I think it was uh, a no-name team, somehow, but it was very short lived, it was three stages, it was one Tour, so a lot of good vibes.
Last Tour, the Santa Rosa finish Amgen Tour. I got a double header, and this is why I prefer the lesser Tours, the Tour de France you got one chance to see the race, Vuelta, Giro, Utah, US Pro Challenge, you can see that race on occasion, they do a lap so you can see it 2 passes, often I can get 3 visits to one stage. The first 10 miles, the 50 mile mark and the last 100 miles.
The highway is free so you’re not going mad, you don’t need a straight jacket from the madness of getting caught up in French gridlock.
So we had this chance to double header stage 5 or 6, Santa Rosa finish, it was the most beautiful stage, last may, California Tour, and we had a chance to double header, the first hill, probably 30 miles out on the coastal canyons, the last cyclist, took him probably 7 minutes, he’s a broom wagon cyclist, and I said I’m gonna give this guy a big RAH-RAH and really just give him a full vocal you can do it! You can make it up! You can rally!
And I’m giving him this big RAH-RAH running with him, just pumping him up with my RAH-RAH, and he drops a chain, on the hill. Hahaha. So he has to get off the bike, un-jam his chain and I just kinda ran away, I don’t wanna be a part of this, hands off. Cause I was shoulder to shoulder with him. I did a loop, by the time he got back on the bike I got him from a standstill, I said I’m gonna push ya, and he was very receptive and I got him from a standstill, pushed him like 30 metres right over the top of this hill.
That's kinda cool. And then maybe get in my car and drive 45 miles just in time to beat the road closure and get on one of the most historic climbs in the Amgen Tour. Coleman valley road in the Nappa valley area, some of the most beautiful coastline.
TCOD: That’s wine country right?
EM: Yeah and if you look at some of the pictures, you look at the press on the Amgen Tour, and type in my name, this photographer on the hill got probably 4 pictures that are really beautiful, colourful, at the top of the valley with the ocean in the background, now, mind you Peter Sagan blew my mind that day so I created a new mascot for Sagan. I’d never mascoted before for Sagan until this Tour, and this guy is electrifying...