Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Club Profile - Velo Club La Grange

The Acura LA Bike Tour had the opportunity to talk to Velo Club La Grange board member and local category 2 bike racer Marco Fantone.

Acura LA Bike Tour: The club is one of the oldest and largest clubs in the US. Can you tell us about the formation?

Marco Fantone: La Grange was founded by Raymond Fouquet in 1969 in Westwood Village. La Grange is a small side street off of Westwood Blvd. and the intersection of La Grange and Westwood was the location of Raymond’s restaurant; “La Grange”. Translated from French, La Grange means “the barn” and apparently this particular barn was the starting point for the legendary Nichols Canyon ride, which continues on to this day. Word has it that there was steady growth within the club during the 80's and substantial growth during the “Lance Era”.

ABT: In the mid 80's La Grange had one of the best teams in the country on both road and track. What did that team accomplish?

MF: Don’t have the answer to this one.

ABT: I seem to recall them dominating on both road and track, having such riders as Olympic gold medalist Steve Hegg, Dave Lettieri and Thurlow Rodgers. Any aspirations to resurrect a program of that level?

MF: Comparing a top-flite team from the 80's to today is like comparing the Stone Age to modern technology. Not to take anything away from the accomplishments of those 80’s teams, but because there has been so much growth and interest in cycling in the U.S., the current level of commitment from both a time and monetary standpoint are much greater now than then. We have been fielding some very strong amateur teams over the past 5 years with surprising results.

ABT: Is developing young riders an initiative?

MF: This has always been something very close to Raymond and while the club has worked with a number of younger racers over the years, the influx of young riders to the sport, at least in our immediate area, has been thin. Ironically, the one demographic making a huge impact on the club has been in the 35-55 age range. Apparently, quite a few people who can no longer run, play tennis or shoot hoops have discovered cycling as the perfect no-impact cardio workout.

ABT: Aside from racing, La Grange has always played a part in local
politics. Why is that important to the club?

MF: Not sure if “politics” is exactly the right word; more like “public policy”. Because we are all cyclists who see the world from both the perspective of a cyclist and a motorist, we are in an excellent position to provide our input and feedback when it comes to cycling-related issues. Our strength comes from relationship building and over the years we have established numerous relationships on both the local and state levels as well as with important entities such as Cal Trans. I could briefly use the PCH repaving project last year as an example of how our involvement benefits all cyclists. Every cyclist who rides PCH is aware of specific pinch points that leave almost no room for both a cyclist and motorist. When it came time to re-stripe PCH, we contacted Cal-Trans and were able to speak directly to the lead engineer on the project. We introduced ourselves, and the club that we represent, as cyclists who are intimately aware of the hazards of PCH and asked if a three foot space could be striped off near the Bel-Air Bay Club, one of the more dangerous pinch points on the southbound side of the road. They reviewed our suggestions and today, a three foot wide space exists where no space existed before.

ABT: Best area to ride in LA?

MF: The hills above Malibu; probably the closest place to LA where you can feel like you’re tackling a Tour climb!

ABT: Best bike shop for Acura LA Bike participants?

MF: Helen’s Cycles has shops throughout LA and has a staff that seems to have the ability to assist virtually any level of rider, from timid beginner to the know-it-all pro racer.

ABT: If someone were inspired by the Acura LA Bike Tour to ride his or her bike more often, would La Grange be a helpful resource?

MF: The La Grange Friday ride has been the first step for hundreds of first time riders to get out on an organized pack ride. We all remember our first experience on the Friday ride; how intimidating it was to be riding with all of these individuals in matching kits and here we were in our plain wrap attire with mis-matched everything! But what a new rider can learn in the first few months is amazing; better bike handling skills and overall, more confidence.

The greatest aspect of being part of a club such as La Grange is the depth and wealth of knowledge within the ranks. We have an internal e-group of which some 300 of our 450 members are logged on to. It’s probably safe to say that if you have a problem you’re trying to tackle, there’s a club member who has already “been there, done that”. I’m now closing in on the big 4-6 and have been with La Grange since July 1997. I’ve seen the club grow from just over 100 to nearly 500 members over those years but perhaps more importantly, I’ve seen a change in the coexistence of cyclists and motorists in west Los Angeles. With greater numbers has come greater respect and perhaps a bit less hostility than in years past.

As with most things in life, it’s a work in progress!

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