Tuesday 29 December 2009

In your dreams, Sonny: Riding with Liz Hatch in California

Liz Hatch at Santa Rosa, 2008
Photo © Photosport International

I have been enjoying the recon films produced by CycleFilm for a number of famous gran fondo rides in Europe.  Most recently, I have been going through the l’Etape du Tour ride routes of 2007-2009.  I am waiting for the release of the 2010 version, which will cover climbs in the Pyrenees I plan to do in summer.  Some climbs in this region are included in the older DVDs but the new one has been delayed a bit.  As a consolation prize, CycleFilm’s Markus Neuert sent an e-mail giving customers on-line access to some of his videos pending release of the new l’Etape DVD.  One of these was a film released in April featuring U.S. cyclist Elizabeth Hatch, entitled “Ride with Me.”

Although I have enjoyed the recon videos, I was wondering what this film would be like.  Markus has produced another little video, “From Podium Girl to Playboy,” about a California model who is trying to, well, move up the beauty scale, I guess, but her momentary participation in the Tour of California is pretty much as close to cycling as she got.  On the other hand, Liz Hatch is a professional racing cyclist and with her movie star looks it is not surprising she is the subject of her own film. 

Cycling, as Liz Hatch says in the film, is not in the Big 5 of American sports.  She does not go on to point out the obvious: men’s cycling is not in Big 5.  Women’s cycling is pretty much invisible and, in fact, it is hardly to be seen in Europe either.  While living in Europe for four years I think I was only able to see two women’s races on television, in comparison to excellent coverage of pretty well all major men’s races.  It is hard to be a star in a sport that nobody much cares about.  Her fellow Texan, Lance Armstrong, like him or not, made a lot more people interested in cycling because of his outsized personality as well as accomplishments in the peleton.  There are not many cyclists who can do this.  Liz Hatch understands the art of self-promotion and she even calls herself being “a product” as part of her job.

Of course, cycling is not the only sport with attractive athletes, and a number of female bike pros have been featured as models but Ms. Hatch, who was featured in a photospread in the “lad mag” Maxim, seems to have attracted a lot of annoyed reaction.  The tone of comments on cycling forums on the Internet is pretty mixed, and it appears that what irritates these people is they see Liz Hatch as the Anna Kournikova of cycling, more famous for her looks than her achievements.  Putting aside the fact that Lance Armstrong never earned as much in a year as Ms. Kournikova (who failed to win a Grand Slam singles event in her career), is it such a bad thing that glamour is associated with a sport?  Particularly one that gets very little attention otherwise.  In fact, I cannot think of ever actually having seen a documentary about a woman pro cyclist before.

The CycleFilm production is around 48 minutes, and, as the title suggests, is a ride with Liz Hatch in the San Francisco area.  I wish I could be doing this myself at the temperatures here tonight are -20C again.  I rode much of the same route in 2004, ending my ride in Tiburon at Marin County Brewing before returning to the city by ferry.  In the film, Ms. Hatch is chatting with Markus Neuert as he drives and she cycles alongside.  The route climbs the famous Mt. Tamalpais (the “Mt. Tam” of mountain bike fame) and takes us along the Pacific coast.  Several times she stops for a break and speaks to the camera about herself and her profession.

Liz Hatch looks great on her bike, with her matching team kit.  She looks comfortable on the big climb (making a disparaging comment about her “fat carcass”) and is really fast on the coastal segment.  But what impressed me was her comments about what cycling, and racing, means to her.  It seems she was a wild party girl and on a downward spiral at the age of 24.  She was a big fan of cycling and the death of Marco Pantani made her look at her own life, shake off her depression and launch herself into a career as a pro racer.  It is clear that she loves riding, although considering the beauty of the surroundings in this DVD this is nothing to wonder at!

These details are not in the video: in 2006 she turned pro, and in 2007 joined the Vanderkitten Racing Team, where she achieved her greatest success with four criterium wins in 2008.  In January 2009 she was badly injured in a crash and at the time the video was being made she was still working to come back into form.  By July she transferred to another team and is racing in Europe, and probably missing those rides in Marin County.

It certainly takes some self-confidence to become a pro racer but Liz Hatch does not come across as arrogant but as a sensitive and sympathetic person.  I think for someone to become a professional at 26 is difficult, particularly in a sport so particularly unforgiving.  She talks at times about wondering what she is doing but her love for racing is evident.  She talks about the difficulties that the sport imposes on a personal life.   She talks about her rather old-school training methods, and demonstrates that she is pretty incompetent at peeling bananas.  She talks about her tattoos (being not very with-it, I am uncertain why good-looking young women like to have sentences--an Oscar Wilde quotation on the neck?--permanently engraved on themselves).   She may not be an Eddy Merckx, or, perhaps more appropriately, a Jeannie Longo in terms of wins but perhaps finding happiness in what you do is its own reward.

She does not discuss how women’s racing could become more popular, or talk much about her teammates.  She does touch on doping but it is not clear to me how prevalent it is in women’s cycling.  This DVD is really just a nice day’s ride with a strong and intelligent companion.  After watching it, I think I would like to ride with Liz Hatch.  You might too.

You can get the documentary directly from CycleFilm for €14.99 (including shipping) here.

1 comment:

Will said...

nice review!

(happy new year)