Michael Jackson may be gone, but you can still try to duplicate his moves at a free dance class Thursday night.
Ballet Austin and the Butler Center for Dance & Fitness present the Michael Jackson’s BAD class, which will take place on the Dell Hall Stage at the Long Center, 701 West Riverside Drive. Doors open at 7 p.m., instruction begins at 7:30 p.m., and the dancing continues until 8:45 p.m.
As the cyclists spin their way up and down hills, through picturesque villages and over stretches of rough cobblestone in France, Armstrong waves his arms, yells at the monitor and lets fly with the occasional cuss word. It’s all recorded and livestreamed for fans around the world through Armstrong’s WeDū portal.
“I get pretty animated when I watch,” Armstrong said Sunday, while driving from his summer home in Aspen to catch a polo match down the canyon with his fiance, Anna Hansen, and two of their children. “And I do slip up and say bad words from time to time.”
“With broadcasting, a lot of times you have a boss and you have a certain decorum and you’re beholden to certain sponsors or a governing body,” says Hager, who for years co-hosted, along with Sandy McIlree, the morning show on Austin radio station Mix 94.7. “(Armstrong) gives such a raw honest look at it because he’s not beholden to anyone. He can say whatever he wants.”
These days, Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner stripped of his victories in 2012 after a doping scandal, makes no apologies. He knows some people will tune in, and others, still angry over the cheating scandal, will never again listen to a word he says.
It’s all part of life post cycling for Armstrong, who launched “The Forward Podcast with Lance Armstrong” in June 2016. That program, available for free via YouTube, FaceBook and iTunes, features Armstrong interviewing an intriguing parade of celebrities, from musicians such as the Avett Brothers and Bob Schneider to retired NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., politician Wendy Davis, former Austin police chief Art Acevedo, billionaire businessman John Paul DeJoria, and free diver Tanya Streeter. Talk focuses on everything from current events to politics, family life and the arts, and it rarely touches on cycling.
But some fans still want Armstrong’s perspective on bike racing, so last year, he teamed with Hager to add a separate series of podcasts just during the Tour de France. The pair built on that idea this year, and have once again put “The Forward” podcast on hold while they spend a month producing “The Move,” which includes daily coverage of the 21-stage Tour de France, plus some other special features.
Hager, who’s done his own share of recreational bike racing, drove his trailer to Aspen, where Armstrong owns a home, parked it in the neighbor’s driveway, then plugged in a bristling array of audio visual equipment. He tees up questions for Armstrong as they watch, which helps listeners who may not understand the nuances of bike racing.
“He knows enough about cycling to be dangerous, but spent 20 plus years talking to people on the corner of Main Street and First, so if it starts to get technical or wonky he can bring it back to Every Man Jack speak,” Armstrong says.
“The Move” podcast lasts about 30 to 40 minutes, but real Armstrong fans can get more content. A $60 WeDū season pass allows members to observe Hager and Armstrong as they watch the last 20 kilometers of each stage of the Tour live, before they record their podcast.
“I always said last year I wished people could see him while he’s watching the Tour unfold. Whether it’s a climb or sprint, he jumps out of his skin, he’s losing his mind,” Hager says.
Members can also watch pre-production meetings and participate in special evening “happy hour” sessions, when they can email questions directly to Hager for discussion. They also get a WeDū Tshirt and discounts on merchandise.
“We’re legitimately having cocktails and fielding questions in real time,” Hager says. Former professional cyclist George Hincapie dropped by for a session last week; NASCAR driver Jimmy Johnson is expected this week.
A season pass will include the behind-the-scenes coverage of other cycling races, too. So far, about 1,000 fans from around the world have signed up as members.
As for this year’s Tour, it’s particularly technical, according to Armstrong. Sunday’s stage included 15 sections of rough cobbled roads – the most ever in the Tour de France. Monday is a rest day, and coming days will include some short, explosive mountain stages.
“The first week was very hectic, with a bunch of nervous finishes. The guys are already tired,” says Armstrong, who picked a favorite – 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali from Italy – early on, but is backpedaling a tad on his choice. “I might regret picking him, but it’s too late.”
“There’s already been quite a shakeup, there’s been a team time trial, and some very technical stages in what almost looks like Austin that are real hilly but don’t have long climbs,” he says. “Now we have the rest day and three days in the Alps, culminating with Alpe d’Huez on Thurday, then some transition days where they basically have to ride across the country to the Pyrenees. It’s hard and hot. The Pyrenees are really the show this year, I think.”
After the tour ends July 29 in Paris, Armstrong and Hager will put together a “best of” podcast featuring edited versions of some of their favorite interviews from “The Forward.”
“We’ll edit it down, put those up, and then launch a new structure for ‘The Forward’ in the fall which will be more based around specific themes like fear or cancer,” Armstrong says.
Does all the Tour watching make him yearn for his racing days?
“Not at all,” he says. “I’m happy to be in Aspen, Colorado.”
Which is where he plans to stay for the summer, before returning to Austin sometime in September.
He has another bit of business coming up, too: a wedding.
Armstrong got engaged to Hansen last May, but neither one is saying when a wedding will happen, or exactly where, but they are considering both Marfa and Napa Valley.
For more information about WeDū, or to sign up as a member, go to www.wedu.team.
Austin cyclist Lawson Craddock, who crashed midway through the first stage of the Tour de France, finished the seventh stage of the race Friday, despite a broken scapula and nine stitches in his eyebrow.
That’s good news for cyclists back in Texas, because for every stage he completes, Craddock has vowed to make a donation to help repair the Alkek Velodrome in Houston, where he learned to race. The facility suffered damage during Hurricane Harvey last year.
Craddock, wearing race number 13 – pinned to his jersey upside down, per tradition, to break the unlucky spell – hit a full water bottle dropped by a cyclist in front of him at a feed zone on Day 1 of the 21-stage, 2,082-mile Tour de France. Without any room to maneuver, he careened off road on his bike, hit a spectator and crashed spectacularly. In typical Craddock style, he picked up his bike, hopped back on and continued, blood streaming down his face. At the finish line, a doctor examined him and found a fractured scapula, or shoulder blade. The cyclist also needed seven stitches in his eyebrow.
“It was a huge mental blow, really. I put a lot of work in just to make it to the Tour this year,” Craddock says. “I knew immediately something wasn’t right, but halfway through the first stage you don’t want to pack up the suitcase and go home.”
Craddock, who had decided before the tour began that he’d auction off a pair of custom Houston Strong cycling shoes to raise money to repair the Alkek Velodrome, amped up his efforts to motivate himself to push on. He decided to donate $100 for each Tour stage he completed, and invited fans to join him. So far the Go Fund Me effort has raised nearly $70,000 for the Greater Houston Cycling Foundation, which runs the velodrome
“That blows my mind,” Craddock says. “When I get on after every stage and wake up in the morning, I check the donation page. There’s been a lot of suffering in this last week, but seeing the support I’ve received all across the world has kept me going. It just really makes me proud to be in this race and know every pedal stroke I make, every time my shoulder gives me a jolt of pain, it’s all really worth it.”
Craddock covered about 140 miles in Friday’s stage, then plopped onto a table for a vigorous massage and some chiropractic work.
“It definitely doesn’t feel great, but every day has gotten a little better,” he said by phone from the table. “The biggest issue wasn’t the fracture, but the muscles contracting around it every time I move my arm. It’s not ideal, it’s not pain free and it still hurts, but I’ve made leaps and bounds over the last week, and it’s given me a lot of hope I’ll be able to continue the race.”
No telling if he’ll make it all the way to Paris. He’s already fatigued.
“When after a week your body is working overtime to recover a fractured bone, and then add the stress of the Tour de France, it’s not ideal for the race,” he said. “But I’m looking at this as 21 individual races, and waking up in the morning with my only focus being making it to the finish that day.”
First, though, he’s got to make it through Sunday’s Stage 9, the Roubaix stage, which winds over rough and punishing cobblestone streets.
“Your body gets jolted all over the place,” Craddock said. “I haven’t sat down and thought about how to get through that, because the main focus has been finishing the stage at hand. If I can get through tomorrow, that will be a big obstacle to manage those roads.”
Craddock started track racing at Alkek Velodrome in Houston at age 10. He moved to Austin in 2011 and has been racing at the sport’s highest level since 2014. He counts among his career highlights competing at the World Championships in Richmond, Va., in 2015, and winning a stage of a multi-day race on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe in 2011, where an official race car clipped him as he crossed the finish line, knocking him down. He still won the stage and saluted from the ground.
He rode in the Tour de France in 2016, becoming the second Texan (after Lance Armstrong), to complete the grueling stage race. He didn’t make it to the Tour last year, but landed a seat on the EF Education First-Drapac team this year, alongside team leader Rigoberto Urán, runner up in last year’s Tour.
“Ambitions were high. The main goal was to win the Tour de France,” Craddock says. “I was looking forward to being part of that.”
Austin trails are getting a boost, thanks to grants from REI Co-op.
The outdoor retailer committed $75,000 to six local nonprofit organizations this week as part of its annual grant program.
The money goes to:
• The Austin Ridge Riders Mountain Bike Club gets $8,000 to help build the Country Club Creek Greenbelt Trail.
• The Hill Country Conservancy gets $10,000 to implement a volunteer program to support ongoing maintenance along the Violet Crown Trail.
• The Shoal Creek Conservancy lands $22,000 to extend the Shoal Creek Trail by 7 miles, connecting it to Lady Bird Lake.
• The Trail Foundation gets $10,000 to create a new public access boat ramp to Lady Bird Lake at the Holly Point Water Access Point.
• Keep Austin Beautiful receives $10,000 to support bi-monthly water and shoreline cleanups of Lady Bird Lake.
• American Rivers Inc. gets $15,000 to efforts to protect and restore rivers and conserve clean water in Austin.
“Our goal is to awaken a lifelong love for the outdoors in everyone,” said Marc Berejka, REI community and government affairs director, and REI Foundation president, in a press release. “One of the primary ways we do this is by stewarding and maintaining the outdoor spaces in the communities where our members and employees live, work and play. This year’s investment will help build and maintain trails, protect waterways and create access to outdoor recreation.”
Sometimes overly aggressive grackles throw a kink in the best-laid exercise plans.
Zach Thorne and his partner, both runners, live near 13th and Guadalupe streets, and head out frequently on 8- or 9-mile jaunts through downtown and around the University of Texas campus. Sometimes, though, dive-bombing grackles send them off course.
The birds, which he suspects are protecting nests, have, on occasion, drawn blood. (Watch a bird peck a movie star’s head in this trailer from the movie “The Birds,” which Thorne has definitely seen. It creeps him out.)
“We change our running routes ever so slightly to avoid them, but they seem to find us no matter our path,” he says, adding that he’s convinced the birds remember him and seek him out for harassment. “I’ve heard they have excellent facial recognition and can perhaps communicate between themselves to alert their flock about dangerous predators.”
Thorne is hard headed, though. He runs despite the birds, sometimes removing his shirt and twirling it overhead like a helicopter to keep the birds at bay. He’s even considered wielding a badminton racket for his forays, though he hasn’t reached that level of desperation. Yet.
He’s got one bit of advice for other runners: “Be nice to the grackles, cause they remember you.”
This crusty fellow wandered by after a wild rainstorm swept through the desert Monday near Sheffield, Texas.
He was rooting around for bugs. I happened to be walking across Independence Creek Preserve, a Nature Conservancy property near the confluence of Independence Creek and the Pecos River, when our paths crossed.
The nine-banded armadillo appeared completely unfazed. ‘Dillos have terrible eyesight; they rely on their sense of smell to find food. This one didn’t seem to notice – or care about – my natural odor, either.
He strolled closer and closer, and at one point dug his nose in the dirt just a foot from my camera lens. Then he reared up on his back legs, his wriggly, pink-tipped nose wagging. And look at those ears! Nubbly and tough, but at the same time delicate like rose petals.
Our eyes met – his tiny and squinty, mine wide and curious – and then we continued down our respective paths. I think we both appreciated the magic of a rare July rainstorm in West Texas.
Anyone is invited to participate in this Saturday’s Back the Track Relays at Austin High School, 1715 Cesar Chavez Street. Proceeds will help fund the resurfacing and renovation for the school’s track and field, long a popular place for the local runners to train.
The USATF-sanctioned event will include 50-meter, 200-meter, 800-meter, 400-meter and 100-meter races, the long jump, and a 1-mile run dubbed the Austin Mile Challenge.
Entry fee is $15, plus an additional $5 for youth and $10 for adults who also enter the Austin Mile Challenge. All proceeds will go to the Back The Track account at the AISD Office of Innovation and Development. For more information go here.
The meet is capped at 175 registrants (no cap for the Austin Mile Challenge). Participants are limited to three events. No refunds or adding events the day of the meet.
It’s free yoga time again at the Hyatt Regency Austin.
This month’s Pints & Poses class starts at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the Zilker Ballroom near the hotel’s parking garage. Austin yogi Ferny Barcelo will lead the smooth vinyasa flow yoga class, assisted by Zuzu Perkal. DJ MadCoins will play meditative music to accompany the class.
Hotel guests and local residents are invited to the free class. Afterward, they’ll get a coupon for a free beer at a pop-up bar on the hotel’s Zilker Terrace covered patio. Parking is also free. Bring your own yoga mat.
Heads up, users of the Butler Hike and Bike Trail around Lady Bird Lake.
The Trail Foundation, the non-profit organization that works to maintain and enhance the 10-mile trail in downtown Austin, will host a special event this fall to close out its 15th anniversary celebration.
Twilight on the Trail is set for 5-8 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Four Seasons Hotel, 98 San Jacinto Boulevard. The fund-raiser, which will take place of the usual State of the Trail breakfast, will include cocktails, live music from guitar and harmonica-playing trail stalwart Woode Wood, and staging of some of the trail’s most iconic projects inside the ballroom.