Friday, October 31, 2008

Back on the Grid

So the race is over, obviously. Chrissie simply killed it, and Crowie proved me wrong. The women's race was the strongest race I'd seen in a long, long time. In the time from then to now I got to watch my wife finish in Kona for the first time, which was pretty damn rewarding for both of us.

Post race, was a blast. Even with a downpour drenching the awards banquet and the post-race party at Huggos on the Rocks, there was no stopping the fun. Before the rain came, Oakley opened its rolling O-Lab, which was actually quite interesting beyond the music bumping from it every time I walked by.

After the race, a bunch of the Oakley athletes were on hand as Chrissie Wellington auctioned off her race day glasses, with the proceeds going to breast cancer charity. I ran into Torbjorn Sindballe with Marc Andre Perron, Thunderbear's man at Argon 18. He was bummed about the fact that the mercury was just a tick above what his threshhold was for race day. And just a tick over meant that the boilerroom was ready for shutdown. Which was what ultimately happened to him. Hopefully he'll have a cooler day (and great draft marshalling) at Clearwater 70.3 Worlds next weekend.

So the O-Lab showed just how wicked the optics are. Greg Welch put a couple of tech guys on myself, Thomas Hellriegel and Stephan Vuckovic as they showed us about optic curvature and impact resistance. It was really impressive.

And reassuring. Welchy noted that Kenny Souza's crash years ago on Mount Palomar left some nasty scars under his eye, and that his glasses, which stayed intact, likely saved his eye. Below, Thomas checks out a lens that they fired a BB at.

Well, gonna keep this short, got some Halloween trick or treating to do with my nephew, then a three-hour ride tomorrow. Still loving the Santa Anas here in So Cal... winter's not here yet!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday Night Lights (Out): Everyone Underground, and Chrissie's Sunday Sunnies Auction

Twas' the night before Ironman...

Friday is always the eeriest day of Ironman week. You see nary a peep. Sure, early morning you have a few folks doing sprint efforts along Alii, trying to milk in that last hard workout.

This morning, I joined Donna on a short, easy 20-minute run along Alii, then a little swim at the pool. There, we ran into her TeamTBB teammate Chrissie Wellington. She asked me a favor to get the word out about a little something:

In an earlier post, I mentioned that Chrissie would be wearing a pair of pink Oakley Enduring sunglasses, a limited-edition version with funds that benefit breast cancer awareness. Oakley is donating $20 of the $165 price to the Young Survivalists Coalition, a group dedicated to improving the quality of life to young breast cancer victims. You can order them online at

Chrissie wanted to do more. So for those in Kona Sunday after the race, you'll have a chance to win Chrissie's sunnies. Chrissie will be on hand (with many other Oakley-sponsored athletes) with her race glasses at 1 p.m. at the Oakley Rolling O-Lab. (If you've been in town near the expo, it's hard to miss the MASSIVE truck and trailer booming reggae and rap. That will be the place to be.

Then her glasses go up on the auction block.

Want what could potentially be the race-winning glasses? Be on hand and bring your checkbook.

I forgot to mention yesterday that I ran into Terenzo Bozonne, who is in town with Specialized. Two nights ago I was invited to the Specialized House to join Macca, Terenzo, Peter Reid, at a Specialized Riders Club event. Good food, good beer, good company, good time.

Specialized also gave me a binder with their white paper findings of the Transition versus the benchmark Cervelo P3. It was interesting. I believe these have been posted at Slowtwitch, but as soon as I can get a digital version, I want to post this.

Anyway, Terenzo was signing autographs at the Saucony booth, and had a wrap on his right hand. And that hand was swollen and scratched. What gives, I asked?

Well, seems that a ride to breakfast saw him hit a pothole and go over the bars. He thinks he broke a few bones, but said there's not much he can do about it anyway, "I just gotta get on with it."

Meantime, he had to used that tattered hand to sign autographs. He insisted pulling me into his shot—with that bad hand. With Clearwater coming up on his radar, I hope his worst fears aren't realized, that it's just badly bruised hand better heal up fast.

Time to shut down... today I'm taking photos of the pros bikes as they check in their bikes. Tomorrow I'll be on the back of a moto shooting the race, sticking mainly with the women's race.

My picks: Could go a few ways in the men's side. If it's windy as hell on the bike and the packs disintigrate a bit, I like Normann. He looks soooo cool at the pro press conference. He said "I feel like the old guy, like Jurgen Zack here." No way. It's all the same guys as years past, and he's beaten them all.

If it's like last year, it is gonna be another battle between Macca and Crowie.... with the mental edge to Macca.

Women? Chrissie, hands down. It'll be a battle for second, where I like her teammate, Erika Csomor. After that, a scramble.

And I look to Donna to simply enjoy the first race, have fun, and do her race. Whatever place that put her is fine with me. She's done unbelievable work training with the strongest team in the sport and she goes well in the heat. If she goes like she did in China, just does her race and keeps it steady, it'll be a rewarding day. She ran into Michellie Jones this morning, and that was her advice: do your own race, don't worry about anyone else around you. Good advice from a champ.

A last bit: after my test of the Cervelo P4 yesterday, I saw Zipp designer Dave Ripley at the Zipp booth across the way, and spied two sets of Sub 9 disc, littered with autographs. Click on the image and you'll see Emma Snowsill, Andy Potts, Belinda Granger, Desiree Ficker, Terenzo Bozonne... a ton of sponsored athletes. I believe one will be for the office walls at Zipp HQ in Speedway, Indiana, but with the other, they're going to be doing a fundraising draw. This would be a very nice wheel that you'd never want to ride!

Before checking out for the bike check-in, I want to wish all those racing the best of luck and best of experiences tomorrow.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Thursday in Kona

Well, the final preps are being made; I'm making some of 'em. Strapping race numbers. Helping sort nutrition. checking tires, wheels, spare tube bag, all that minutae.

It's been a busy week for me, playing media guy on one side, playing sherpa for Donna on the other. And being a sherpa is kicking my ass. Donna's bike needs more service than a Ford. Gotta help her get a creak out of her bottom bracket tomorrow sometime.

I did manage my first swim of the week as Donna and I headed out to see Scott Molina and a good San Diego friend, Kevin Purcell, at the Coffees of Hawaii floating coffee bar. But after that, today was a busy one: had to cover the Roch and Huddle's underwear run, was off to two press conferences, having a rendezvous with Ironman folks about race day protocol, attending the pro race briefing.

One person I saw at the pro meeting: Andy Potts. The Olympian is having his first crack at Kona, and he's bound and determined to have a good time. He told fellow Triathlete editor Brad Culp and I he had a conference with Frenchman Benjamin Sanson.

The reason: The two will conspire to attack the hell out of the swim. He aims at a 46-minute swim. Lars Jorgensen had the fastest one, in 46:41 in '98. If he and Ben pair up, I wouldn't put it past him.

I asked him "do you want to keep that plan on the lo-lo?" He said "No way, I don't care who knows!" Then I said "Are you worried about anyone sitting on your feet?" His reply: They can if they want to, but they'll blow up."

I love his attitude. He'll be fun to watch out there Saturday.

I also got my first ride on the new P4. I cannot go into detail tonite, but it is nothing short of fantastic. I want more miles on it.

Gotta run, got more duties to attend to. Tomorrow should be more chill. I hope. Gotta get that BB sorted first...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Landed in Kona, and Custom Kits: Can you look pro too?

I've finally arrived in Hawaii and have, with my wife:
media registered
athlete registered
done a quick tour of the expo
had the bike tuned
And finally, made the press debut of the new SRAM shifter.

Which was unreal cool. The "trigger" people were thinking was not what I was envisioning—but was every bit as ingenious as I had imagined. Will get to that.

But first, I took Donna to the pool this morning, and ran into Michael Lovato. His training kit was one of the sickest out there; tribal tattoos and well-placed sponsor logos. So pro.

Which begs the question: who will have the sharpest kits in Kona this year? I can bet you one thing: Chrissie Wellington will look a hell of a lot sharper then she did when she came across the finish in first last year. She surprised everyone with that win, and

For most pros, looking after sponsors on your race apparel is paramount. And so is looking professional, with a color and match that shows you know what you’re doing, that you take your job seriously. The rest of us just take what’s available off the shelf.

Well, we don’t necessarily have to anymore.

The handiwork of custom design with many of the pros who will be racing this Saturday in Kona falls to one of the most creative designers in the sport: Kristin Mayer. Kristin and husband Dan live just a block away from my wife and I in Encinitas. So we often see one another at masters. Or we’ll honk at one another from our car as the other is headed out on a run.

Kristin’s an accomplished triathlete, scooping up podiums in her age group on any given weekend around here. But when she’s not training, she’s at home, in front of her computer, doing design work for HerSports magazine. Or, increasingly, with her race apparel design line, Betty Designs.

Which is where Kona comes in. If you see race-day shots of Michael Lovato this weekend (or have seen shots of Heather Fuhr and Michellie Jones, you’ve seen Kristin’s work. It all started in the late ‘90s, when Murphy Reinschreiber, agent to many top talents, wanted to lend a more professional look to his athletes. He wanted to make sure they didn’t look rag-tag, that their sponsors were properly placed for exposure, and that the athlete could add their style to the mix. “I would get to work directly with the athletes and try to come up with colors and motifs that reflected their personalities,” Kristin recent told me. So she went to work doing designs for Fuhr, Lori Bowden and Fernanda Keller. Working with Michellie Jones presented some cool new opportunities as well, designing both the race kit she wore when she won the 2006 Hawaii Ironman world title, but her matching bike motif as well.

“They really understood how to market her as an athlete and create the complete visual package to showcase her sponsors,” Mayer says. “Michellie wanted to support her sponsors, but she also wanted to look great and stand out from the rest of the women on the race course.

And as Murphy will contend, standing out doesn’t mean wearing white compression socks. Just bring up the subject with him and watch him get red.

After doing work for the pros, Kristin decided to broaden her design, making blank palates that anyone could buy. After all, age groupers like to look stylish, too. “In 2002 I began creating my own race gear out of the desire to race in something unique and "cute" and would match my race clothing to my helmet to complete the package,” she told me. “Through the process I found that the unit costs on producing a full custom tri top and short was less than some off-the-shelf (more boring) options out there. While fabrics and constructions are limited, the ability to come up with unique colors, patterns and motifs out-weighed this fact.

So after a few test runs (including doing the design on the super-bright HerSports tri team kit) Mayer launched Betty Designs last year, bringing custom design to teams—and individuals.

I know what you’re saying: most apparel companies do custom too. But not the way Kristin does it. When you see one of Kristin’s kits, you know it. Bright colors on contrast. There’s nothing reserved about her kits. Which is why they pop in photos. Instead of picking some pre-set design, Kristin works with you on what you want your custom race kit to be.

“I feel that I spend more time on a personal level with my clients and they walk away with something that really reflects who they are.

What’s it cost? Because minimums range from six to 10 pieces per item, an athlete/team can expect to pay around $1,200 and up for full custom race gear, all told. Some may blanch, but many will think, “well, I’m already spending on a custom paint job for my bike, or for $1,800 in wheels.” Age groupers that want to look the part, that are on a world stage like they are in Kona, and want to look after their sponsors in a very professional way, can do it, custom, while presenting themselves—and their style—in their best light. All they have to do is get out in it and go fast to back up the looking-fast part.

Kristin put it in perspective: “For athletes who spend thousands on their sport each year the cost is well worth it. After all, if you feel like you look good, you perform better.”

If you’re looking at going custom, you can visit Kristin’s website and check out her work at Meantime, keep an eye out for Lovato this weekend to see her art in motion.

Because Lovato his other apparel choices in the past, including a hot dog Speedo and compression socks at worn at the Underwear Run last year, that was not art in motion. It was far, far from it.

After my swim (or at least for me, watching Donna swim, and running into the who's who of Saturdays' race—including Lovato, Cam Brown, Eneko Llanos, Chrissie Wellington, Paul Amey and Chris McCormack—we bolted for HP to have Donna's bike tweeked and dialed, then to the Royal Kona for the big press debut of the new SRAM shifter.

The technical term for the new shifter is the 1090-R3C aero shift lever. 1090 represents the top-level for all their road componentry.

And R2C? That is an acronym for how this thing works: Return to Center.

So here's how it works: the lever pulls up and pushes down. But instead of staying up or down, the lever physically pops back to its "level" start position. The shift you made, one gear at a time takes place, ratcheting the cable to your effort, but the lever returns to it's start spot.

It looks like you could dump gears just like on a road shifter, with quick, successive clicks.

It means no wrestling, shoving with your thumb or torquing your wrist to pull the lever up. In short: no stress. SRAM staffers said the Astana team doctor, who serves as the team psychologist, said it's a huge mental advantage to the athlete for that don't have to wrestle the bike to get it to do what you want.

While Michellie Jones, Torbjorn Sindballe, Levi Leipheimer and Chris Lieto have been the prototype testers since April, Michellie was on hand at the press conference, and I had a chance to play with the prototype on her bike. It is WICKED. I have loathed the act of literally leveraging your whole body when having to engage a downshift on the rear derailleur, or pull the lever to lift the front ring. Michelle mentioned that they are particularly awesome when its cold out, or immediately out of the water with wet hands. I think we can all attest to how hard it is to shift with numb and/or wet fingers.

To the left are early prototypes.

The front shifter will have two trim positions. While the existing protos are comprised of alloy, the finished product will have a carbon lever, with ti hardware. Other facts that SRAM dropped on us:

  • Their wind tunnel testing of the levers reported an average savings of 10-15 watts at 30mph. I'll have to ask how they tested that.
  • It will be mountable to existing integrated Zipp VukaShift extensions.
  • SRAM's 1:1 actuation ratio of cable pull means it will work with SRAM componentry only.
  • Projected weight for the set is 195 grams.
Saturday, Chris Lieto will be the one man using the prototype R2C levers. SRAM says spring is the date we'll get to use 'em as consumers. No price as yet.

My last salve: something that brought a smile to my face, found in Donna's race registration paperwork. You can click on it in full, but it is a letter that says, in essense, leave your family out of the finishing chute. Let's see if it happens.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Vegas Redux II: Celebrity Sightings

I’m purging Vegas from my system since I’m getting on a plane tomorrow morning for Kona. While much of what was seen is out there, I have to say there were a lot more athletes there than I’ve seen in the past. There were several I didn’t run into (multiple-time Ironman champ Mark Allen and coach Luis Vargas of and some I saw but was too on-the-go to see (like Simon Whitfield).

So after four days in LV, who did I see? Conrad Stoltz, showing off the new AviStoltz trail shoe that he helped design with Avia. Low heel, aggressive tread, a sealed tongue and mesh upper that helps keep sand out.

 founder Dan Empfield (left), with Gerard Vroomen of Cervelo. This was minutes before the debut of the P4. The tension was palpable.

This trio includes three Ironman winners, two from this year: Ironman Canada winner Bryan Rhodes of New Zealand is on left. In center is former Ironman Malaysia winner Marilyn McDonald of Canada and TeamTBB, and on right is Marilyn's husband, Chris McDonald, recent winner of Ironman Wisconsin and fellow TeamTBB team member. While Rhodsey will be in Kona this week, Chris is passing on Hawaii this year to focus on the fall race at Ironman Arizona.

Cervelo's Gerard Vroomen, with Swede bike powerhouse Bjorn Andersson, and the new P4.

Ironman 70.3 specialist Chris Legh of Australia, chatting up Dave Ripley, one of the designers and product managers on aerobars at Zipp Speed Weaponry.

2006 Hawaii Ironman World Champ Michellie Jones and Holly Bennett, the head marketeer at Gu Sports. Holly was a champ to be on her feet at the show in Vegas given that she had just come from racing Ironman 70.3 Cancun and was bruised up from a bad bike crash. Michellie had gone down with her and essentially played the sherpa for Holly. A cool reversal of role from one of the classiest athletes in our sport.

Dan Empfield and VeloNews technical editor Lennard Zinn, discussing the finer points of fine linen that drapes the P4. Lennard will be in Hawaii for the first time to watch the race, and when he heard about SRAM marketing guy Michael Zellman's affinity for open-water swimming in brightly-colored Speedos (see my below post), he said he, too felt repressed for his desire to wander city streets in minimalist attire.

With all the pale Germans and leathery Brazilians that will be traipsing around town eating mahi mahi sandwiches in cafes wearing nothing but Speedos and Crocs, those two will finally feel liberated and fit right in.

Scott Forrestall (left) and Vinu Malik, the brainchild owner of FuelBelt. Vinu and Scott are both fast cats, kicking one anothers' asses in training over in their home base of Rhode Island. Vinu qualified for and is racing this weekend in Kona. I wish I could run business and be as
fast as this guy. Both are great cats, too.

Felt Racing-sponsored pro Tim DeBoom, and namesake Jim Felt. Felt is one of the nicest guys in the sport, and Tim, as historically one of the quietest, most secluded pros, has opened up to the point where he's doing a column in Triathlete about his experiences... which are really, really enlightening. Dealt some bad hands in races, Tim has been a warrior and while he was often dissed for being fleeting with the press, he was always genuine with me and has been one of my favorite pros to deal with.

Rhodesey with Tim Moxey of Nuun Nutrition and Blue Seventy Wetsuits. Tim is often on the other side of the camera, as one of the finest multisport shooters in the game. He's also all-around fun guy to be around with a wit you cannot touch. Rhodesy is the couch-surfingest pro on the Ironman circuit. He's spent time crashing on the air mattress at my old condo before, and has probably spent time rifling through your cereal cupboards, too. Arrrgh, mate! Good guy.

That was just a collection of the peeps I ran into. I also saw a few cool things, three of which I wanted to mention before I sign off of Vegas and onto Hawaii: First was the Pearl Izumi Tri Fly shoe that P.I. made up for Jan Frodeno before he won his Olympic gold, and had on display. It was a very nice one-off, especially for a guy who no one expected to figure into the top five, let alone the win. A nice way for a company to look after its athletes.

Another was the low-key setup by newcomer Feather Brakes. A moto-cross brand, they come into the superlight road aftermarket brake market with not only a pretty product, but one they aim to improve on performance-wise. The CNC'd bodies, with ti bolts and springs weigh 199 grams complete. They have upgrade kits to add anodized color accents (blue, pink, gold, black and red) to your bike. But they have a barrel that attaches to your brake cable and hooks onto the cam lever, making it easy to open the caliper to remove the wheel. We cannot wait to try this one.

Finally, I present MotorTabs. Nothing new save for a new six-pack offering (which is nice for the cash-strapped that wants to buy in small lots). However, this effervescent, drop-in-the-bottle-and-add-water) is THE most underrated nutritional tab on the market. Michellie Jones uses it, but whateverl nutrition is not sold on who's using it; it has to work for the user. I have used a lot of stuff, and when it came to my training for my ultra this spring, this was my go-to hydration. Greg Sellers, owner of the company, told me there have been several big-name riders on major road cycling teams that buy his stuff and use it instead of the sponsor-supplied goods, because it works. Good hydration, good salt, easy on the belly and easy to re-up on the go. They have fruit punch, orange, lemon-lime and a new grape flavor, but for me, lemon-lime is the go. I have heaps of drinks at my disposal, but when I go to the cabinet to do my bottles up for ride morning, I always go for these tabs as a default. This stuff is so good, I gotta recommend it.

I'm out. Next stop: Kona.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Breaking News: SRAM to make big bar-end shifter debut in Kona Wednesday

Well, it seems Interbike wasn’t good enough to do a launch. And triathletes get the benefit of it.

I’ve just gotten word that SRAM is making a major presentation Wednesday in Kona, revolving around its time trial/triathlon shifting system for triathlon. The rumors that have abounded for over a year will be answered at a press conference Wednesday.

The press release says:
“This new SRAM shifter has been in development for over three years, it’s like no other gear changer on the market, and will redefine aerodynamic efficiency and comfort – so please join us to be the first to see it.”

Man, I love being in the media. There’s nothing cooler than getting the first look.

There had been rumor, as far off as a year ago, that a new shifting system was in the works. The new Red group came and went without an update to the carbon shifter that came with the debut of the brand’s first road group, Force. Many, myself included, were beginning to think it was wishful thinking, vaporware.

But this is SRAM, which has been exceptionally progressive. Progressive in not only in presenting three tiers of road groups (top-end Red, mid-tier Force and so-called entry level Rival) but re-designing the two latter groups inside a year’s time. Hell, major Shimano lifer (well, at least until a week or so ago) Lance Armstrong will be rolling his debut on SRAM.
I became a fan of SRAM when they debuted Force the first time. The above shot was from their press launch at Sea Otter a couple years ago…. I’m in the center, with SRAM’s Alex Wassman on my left and respected VeloNews scribe Lennard Zinn to my right. From there, they’ve stepped up the product, functionally and ergonomically. We have a Rival group in our office to test, and while most cases would see me not too jazzed about stripping a bike to put on an entry-level groupset that costs just $919 complete (compared to the $2,099 Red gruppo)

At Sea Otter this spring, SRAM did debut the 500 level alloy shifter and alloy brake levers, in alignment with the Rival group. They were very nice and represented a great value, but there was nothing truly innovative, despite my optimism.

Now, SRAM turns its attention to triathlon, and is making the debut on the world stage in Kona. I’m thinking they won’t trot out a revamp this time.

Now, consider that the bar end shifter was never meant for use on tri bikes. They were created well before Boone Lennon created the first aerobar—Campagnolo had ones with rubber covers in 1953. In the 70s and mid-80s, SunTour created barcon shifters that mounted on the bottom end of drop bars, where bar plugs typically go today.
So basically, while advances in tube shaping, frame materials, water bottle shapes, training, nutrition have evolved over the years, the lowly bar end shifter remained untouched, unevolved and neglected for decades. The most radical thing that happened came three years ago, when SRAM made the lever out of carbon. Sexy, yes. But functionally, it was the same thing.

Then along comes SRAM, which has been one of the most excitable brands in the market today. When you’re pushing the envelope, I guess it’s hard to not get jazzed. SRAM road PR manager Michael Zellmann is a big guy. If you’re in Kona and see a 6’3 dude traipsing around town, that’s your guy. He’s also a time trial powerhouse—think Torbjorn, just without the ability to swim. (Sorry Michael—but you’re welcome to throw on your tangerine Speedo and prove me wrong at Dig Me Beach next week).

Seriously though, being a SRAM marketer aside, as a TT guy I think MZ’s presence in Kona means he has a truly vested interest in delivering this debut. He was here to do the first count of groupsets last year at the pier. I think this year, he'll see a bigger presence in the race.

“We are excited to be launching our third bar-end shifter into the triathlon market in three years at this years Ford Ironman World Championships,” Zellmann told me this past week after sending the press release. “Triathletes have been underserved on drivetrain and shifting options for years.”

If they're on par with what they’ve delivered across the rest of their road range the last three years, I don't think I'm off base in saying we can expect to be wowed.

So what does that mean? Zellmann was mum. The rumor, as far as I have heard, involved something different than a traditional lever that moves up and down, pulling on the cable. Some of the Triathlete mag staff were in Chicago for the Chicago Triathlon this spring and visited the SRAM offices, taking a tour. Ad sales rep Sean Watkins said he was accidentally send into a room where something was on a table that he couldn’t sort out, and he was quickly whisked out.

Further, sponsored pro Michellie Jones has been spotted training in San Diego testing the prototypes. I’ve not seen ‘em. The term “trigger” has been bandied about, but for the last year, and despite my incessant badgering, SRAM has confirmed nor denied any of it.

So after the “how rad and revolutionary is this gonna be” question comes the “will anyone be running it in the race” question. Considering the tech-o-philes that SRAM sponsors, including Chris Lieto, and Normann Stadler, perhaps there’s a chance.

We’ll find out all Wednesday. Michellie is slated to be there to talk about her experience with it, and SRAM and Zipp will have several of their other goods on display, including the new SRAM S40, S60 and S80 wheelsets, and the new Zipp SLSpeed Stem… one of the newest objects d’art from Interbike.

I must say, I’m glad SRAM opted to make Hawaii the debut instead of Vegas. Further proof that SRAM is recognizing the tri market as an entity unto itself.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Oakley: Who's wearing what in Kona?

I'm not in Kona until Tuesday, but am already learning what's going on in the way of product there.

Greg Welch, the 1994 Hawaii Ironman World Champ and current Oakley triathlon marketing man-of-the-world came by the Triathlete offices yesterday. I'm working on a cool-as-hell feature about the history of Oakley in triathlon for Slowtwitch, and Welchy took me on a tour of Oakley HQ in Foothill Ranch, Calif. several weeks ago. I have to say, I was enlightened and bewildered by the sheer magnitude of the place and staff. There is so much creative brainpower there, it's no wonder they are so dominant in sport, and come out with some of the best-looking designs in sunnies. Even the building itself has a raw industrial vibe. The seating in the lobby: a row of pilot ejection seats, straight from some fighters. With all the snowboards, dragsters, bikes, motos and other accoutrements around, It's Disneyland for active adults.

And that's before you get to see the skunkworks. I even managed to go up some back stairs, down a grey hall, through some air conditioning hardware outside, then back in to an alcove of exposed piping, to get into a room that serves as a mental decompression chamber, complete with beer taps and nice, coooold beer. I'll be revealing shots of this amazing room soon (those that enter must sign the wall). It was fun to go around and search the sigs.... saw Conrad Stoltz's autograph up there.

The fact that my visit was also Welchy's first visit? When he does spend a lot of time roaming the halls in the aero position in the original Eyeshades. But that does tell you how underground this secret room is, even to those employees. We had to get clearance from the top Oakley brass to even get in there. I was honored to enjoy a beer with Blick, while Welchy—and I kid you not on this—threw two dead-center bullseyes in about three tosses at the dartboard.

Note the brass placard on the door. I had to leave my Glock 9mm 19 and Beretta .22 snub with the tip-up nose with the doorman. They don't play.

There was a lot I was not permitted to photograph... in fact, Welchy asked to hold my camera a few times, to assuage fears that I might see something and go rogue. And there's stuff that wont see the light of day, at least not next weekend. Like the custom helmet paintjob they had lined up for Samantha McGlone. It was cool, in pure Oakley style, and that's all I can say. I'm sure we'll all see it next year. Sam will be champing at the bit.

After seeing what Welchy's colleague Steve Blick did for the Oakley athletes at the Tour de France, I have wondered what Greg had up his sleeve for his athletes for next Saturday's race. Many Oakley athletes have a national motif in their eyewear, some just go for the basics. But a few of the high-profile athletes have something special we can all look out for.

Welchy said Aussie Craig Alexander will be wearing a green and yellow Radar, representing his Aussie colors. Reigning womens world champ Chrissie Wellington? She'll be wearing the new Enduring (which Welchy helped design) in pink, which follows a breast cancer initiative Oakley is promoting with that limited-edition version.

And Danish bike power Torbjorn Sindballe? He will be just the third pro Oakley athlete to be wearing the new Racing Jacket (Thor Hushovd and George Hincape were the others at the Tour this July). This one hasn't hit the market yet, but Torbjorn will be wearing the black and yellow Livestrong version of the Racing Jacket as he tears down the Queen K. I got to check out Thor and Hincapie's race prototypes, and they were waaaay raw prototypes they raced in. While the lens is fully encased, it has an ingenous method of releasing (through the nosepiece) to open a hinge, allowing the lens free for swap. Thunderbear clearly won't be easy to miss.

On the left is Steve Blick, the road marketing manager with George Hincapie's Racing Jacket, with Andy McSorley with , the eyewear brand manager in center holding Cadel Evans' purple Radar. And of course there's Welchy, holding his baby, the Enduring women's optic.

Many other Oakley athletes will have color combos that Welchy put custom assembled for the athletes. But in fact, the custom element isn't that unique to just the pros; Oakley just launched a full custom program online, where you can design your own glasses, from frame to earsock to "O" icon color to frame etching message, all to your taste. I understand Oakley will have it's rolling optics lab in Kona around the race as well.

I'l have more as I get on the ground next week, but for now, the news is filtering in, little by little. Stay tuned...