With the Tour de France in full swing and bringing a ton of excitement to the sport, Podium Cafe has become the go-to destination for anyone who follows cycling closely. The analysis, dedication and timely nature of the biggest event in cycling has propelled the site to new heights in traffic and participation. Chris Fontecchio is the main editor and writer at Podium Cafe and he is this week's subject of the Better Know a Blogger. Without further ado, get to know the SB Nation cycling expert:
Blez: You're in a unique circumstance in that you write for one of the few sites in the SB Nation network where most of the people who likely read your blog also actively participate in the sport. Does that affect your blogging at all and if so, how?
Chris Fontecchio: We talk all the time from personal experience, without a great deal of embarrassment. Cycling is pretty unique because the sport is so much more accessible to armchair fans, like me. Yes, none of us will have Lance Armstrong's cardiovascular system, but we get people all the time talking about how they rode up Alpe d'Huez, and how that climb is actually much easier than Mont Ventoux or the Mortirolo. Can you imagine someone blogging from personal experience about how it's easier to elevate a fly ball in Fenway than you might think?
I think the way it changes blogging is by making us more comfortable analyzing our sport. People who blog on the side can only get so close to their subject, but if you've experienced endurance sports in general or raced a bike in particular, there's just so much that seems really familiar. Still gotta check yourself though... we're all a far cry from the pros. I race, and that lends insight, but only up to a point.
Blez: What kind of bike(s) do you own and do you have a dream bike?
CF: I have three bikes, one Cannondale from spare parts that I use in time trials, one steel Italian racer (Viner frame, Campagnolo components) that I put together in 2001, and my main race bike, a Litespeed Sirius with Campy. All racing-quality road bikes. My wife said I could get a cyclocross bike this fall, though I'm not sure she meant it.
Dream bike: not really. They change a lot. But there's an old Eddy Merckx steel frame in my local bike shop that I wouldn't mind...
Blez: Do you have a favorite brand of bike?
CF: After years of Italian snobbery, I have to say my Litespeed is just a great value. Buy American -- we have great bikes here, without the "hey, it's from Italy!" markup. Things have really changed though: back in the mid-80s brands were a huge deal, but now I understand that materials and frame design are what matters, not the decals.
Blez: Have you always followed professional cycling?
CF: My high school buddy Steve Berthiaume (now an ESPN sportscenter host) sat me down in front of CBS' broadcast of the 1985 edition of Paris-Roubaix, just a great year for an unbelievable event. By the time Greg LeMond became the first American to win the Tour 16 months later, I was hooked. LeMond is the first international hero of American cycling, no doubt.
Blez: Who is your all-time favorite cyclist and why?
CF: LeMond. Cycling fans don't develop exclusive allegiances like we do with team sports, so there are a lot of guys I root for:Damiano Cunego, Danilo Di Luca,etc. I also root for George Hincapie, Tom Boonen and Alessandro Ballan, even though they're fierce rivals for the same spring classics races. But LeMond brought the sport to America when I was really falling for Cycling. And the conclusion of the 1989 Tour de France is the most unbelievable sporting event I have ever witnessed. He was great, one of the last all-rounders to win the Tour, but he was also smart and innovative.
Blez: Do you enjoy all forms of cycling?
CF: Pretty much. Road, mountain biking, I've been on the track for a few minutes which was fun. Not so sure about trials; I can't imagine bouncing on a BMX bike on top of someone's fence. Nothing beats riding a ridiculously lightweight road bike up a mountain pass though.
Blez: Where do you live and what kind of biking do you have around you?
CF: Seattle. The city is OK for road cycling once you figure it out, nothing but wet hills. But the surrounding area has good variety, and within a few hours you can ride roads almost as good as what you find in the Tour as well as some world-class mountain biking. And the weather thing is overblown; put some clothes on and remember how much worse they have it in Belgium. After growing up in Massachusetts with bad drivers on flat, narrow, often frozen roads, I'll take Seattle.
Blez: What's your favorite part about blogging?
CF: The community that has evolved around it. We named the Podium Cafe after a theoretical place for people to sit around and shoot the $*^t about cycling, for hours on end. And that's what has happened. The internet connects like-minded people really well, which can be pretty important at times. Now, in Boston you can't swing a dead cat without hitting another die-hard Red Sox fan, but cycling fans can't expect to connect with each other through work or their usual social circles, so the 'net is critical. A lot of people come to the Cafe expressing real joy and relief at finding people to chat with about the sport. And it really is an incredible sport.
Blez: What do you find the most challenging?
CF: Balancing the need to let people be themselves and enjoy each other's company, without making newcomers feel like they've stumbled on an exclusive club. Regular Cafe members have gotten to know each other well, which is great, but I think newcomers don't always feel welcome to join in. I also think newcomers to the sport find our discussions hard to understand. It's like being newly interested in baseball and stumbling on Nate Silver's latest statistical madness. Might not be that helpful. And I don't have much time or space to help fill in the blanks, unfortunately.
Blez: What's your overall approach to blogging for Podium Cafe?
CF: Mostly I try to be opinionated. Everyone knows where to find the basic facts about the races and riders, but I don't think the big media outlets do opinion stuff well at all. In fact they rarely even try. So when we start ranking the sprinters at the Tour of Italy, whether we're right or wrong, we're at least starting a conversation that's a lot more fun to engage in than whatever is on the cover of VeloNews. I think that's how we add value to what's already out there. of course, it helps to be right a lot though...
Blez: How would you describe Podium Cafe to a cycling fan who had never heard of it?
CF: A place where you can really follow the sport with other cycling fans. You can just get the basic information about what's going on -- often faster than big outlets. But you can also hear from people all over the world about different races or other less-well-known aspects of the sport. If you're really into it, you can have conversations with like-minded, often very well-informed fans. And like any SBNation site, you can make your own blog within the blog, thanks to all our amazing tools. There is no other cycling site like ours, anywhere. Oh, and we invented our own fantasy game too.
Blez: What is the community like?
CF: The vocal ones are a lot alike: nice, respectful, like to joke around, and tend to follow the sport pretty thoroughly. You don't get a lot of people who only follow the Tour or Lance; you tend to get people who follow it year-round, from Australia in January through the fall season in Italy and even the winter bike shows. Very knowledgeable -- I learn something about the sport from another PdC'er almost every day. I think there are a lot of less vocal members too, people who register to play our fantasy game but don't speak up much. Since 75% of them are kicking my butt this season, I suspect they are more knowledgeable than they let on too.
Blez: Podium Cafe is becoming a major source of news at Yahoo! Sports. What has that experience been like?
CF: Well, we're just getting started, but the traffic is just mind-boggling: double or triple the visits. At least a 10% increase in registered members in just a few days too, so it's not just people clicking through once. It's a huge opportunity for us, so I am adjusting the tone for a broader audience, but not so much that it changes the site. Just enough so that people understand what's going on and feel welcomed to join in. The Yahoo! people are very responsive so far too, which is excellent.
Blez: Is there anything about yourself that you think might surprise your readership?
CF: I don't shave my legs in the offseason.
Blez: What do you do when you aren't blogging?
CF: I've got two boys under 6 years old, end of story. Well, family, work and trying to get race-fit too. That's all there is.
Blez: What are some of your favorite movies, TV shows and books?
CF: My wife and I are big fans of the HBO series from the last few years: Sopranos, Big Love, Six Feet Under (best series ever), etc. I love every movie Guy Ritchie has made. Books are somewhat elusive in my life right now, but I can recommend a cycling book above all else: Giro d'Italia, by Dino Buzzati. So beautiful at times it makes my head spin. Oh, and a new one: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Nothing like the undead to put a sappy Victorian novel in its place.
Blez: Thanks so much for taking the time out to talk to us.
CF: SB Nation does so much for me and the Cafe, it's the least I could do.