Lance ignoring me at the Discovery Channel team launch
My friends often ask me if I’m nervous when I interview a famous rider. In the beginning I was extremely nervous. I remember my first interview was with Fred Rodriguez and Bobby Julich. I wrote down everything I was going to say to them, even my phone greeting to leave on their voice mail if I needed to! Now it’s not that much of a big deal to talk to these guys as I’ve realized that they are, for the most part, normal people. I think the only person I’d be a little nervous interviewing would be Lance Armstrong. My only interaction with him was the last time he raced at Tour de Georgia. It was at the Brass Town Bald press conference. It concluded and Armstrong was walking out. The press were yelling last minute questions. He walked by me and as he passed I called out, “Lance, it’s Neil from ROAD Magazine.” I’d heard from a connected source that he’d checked out ROAD and liked it. He stopped, turned around and walked back toward me. “You have a cool magazine,” and walked away. That’s all the interaction I’ve had with Lance.
My favorite interviews I’ve done are any with David Zabriskie. That guy is interviewing gold, plus I think he’s a good guy. He is also the only athelete who has tried to kick me. Out of the times I’ve interviewed him, the best was in Las Vegas in Tim and my suite. He was up there with his wife Randi, his agent Doug Katone, teammate Christian VandeVelde, and T.T. world champion Kristin Armstrong doing the photo shoot for the latest issue. It was relaxed and we talked casually about stuff and then did our proper interview. Another good interview was with Floyd Landis. Photographer John Seguesta and myself had arranged to go to Floyd’s house and do the interview as well as a photo shoot. Floyd was easy to work with. He was open to our idea of using his motorcycle in the shoot. I recorded my interview with him with two devices: an electronic recorder that Landis’ brother-in-law held for me and a tape recorder that I had set on the handlebar of his motorcycle that we were using as a prop for the shoot. After the interview I checked my recorders. The tape recorder recorded nothing, which to this day I still don’t understand why. It has 40 minutes of hissing. The digital recorder had about 10 minutes and then stopped, which I think a button had been pressed when I gave it to his brother-in-law and that stopped the recording. I thought, “Oh, I’m screwed!” I told Floyd and he said no problem, let’s go inside and do it again. Floyd’s wife made us snacks, we sucked down a few beers and watched his corgis race around the living room. It turned out to be a pretty good interview. Every once in a while I feel like I should download the audio of the interview to the blog. But the problem with that kind of stuff is that it’s funny to me, but to anyone else listening it just sounds like two guys laughing at dogs. I guess it’s just one of those things you have to be there to appreciate.
Another good interview is Tony Cruz. We live nearby and we’ve gotten to be friends since he has moved into the neighborhood. Tony would give me the honest scoop on what was going on in races and we would talk for almost an hour, which is really unheard of when talking to athletes. Usually you get 15 minutes and they are gone.
Levi is another guy who was really good to talk to. He had no problem with me calling him in Europe and bugging him at random times. He doesn’t have any kind of superstar attitude and would talk to me when we said we’d talk. A couple of years ago at TdG, Levi’s brother helped us out big time with VIP passes so we could drive to the parking lot at Brass Town Bald. If we hadn’t gotten those passes we would have been forced to walk a couple of miles uphill with several pounds of camera equipment.
The crappest interview that got better as time went on was David Millar. He was at the San Diego wind tunnel prepping for his return to professional racing with the Saunier Duval squad. I was there along with a few other magazines. We all stood around and waited a turn to talk to Millar. I was introduced to David and he was asked when he wanted to do interviews. “I’m not doing interviews today.” I had gotten up at the crack of dawn and driven for two hours to talk to the guy and now he can’t talk to me! His people told me to hang out. David was a little stressed because of all the attention and he really wanted to focus on what he was doing at the tunnel. I could understand that, I don’t like to be bugged during production week at the magazine. So I hung out from about 9:00 am till about 5:00 pm or so as they did the wind tunnel testing. David would walk by me occasionally as he left the tunnel and I would say something casually, trying to build up any kind of rapport with him. All the other magazines had left, but I was determined. Finally it was arranged; I’d go out to dinner with the team and would be seated next to him. We sat down next to each other at an Italian restaurant and chowed down. I remember we were both starved from a long day. We talked about random stuff during dinner and when we were both done, he said we should go to the restaurant bar and do the interview. After the interview was said and done I think it was about 11:00 at night and I got home around 1:00 am. Again, I think it turned out good and Millar is a cool guy who I think was a little nervous about talking to the press. I hope to talk to him again real soon at a training camp.
I know I have other interview stories to tell and if I remember them and they are half-way amusing I’ll let you know.
Levi checking out our Tour of California book