Wednesday, January 31, 2007

John Lieswyn

I've been wondering what John Lieswyn is up to in New Zealand since his retirement from pro cycling. Not surprisingly, given his go-getter attitude, John writes, "I'm frantically busy as I have opened a bike shop in addition to my city council job."

Good on ya, mate! Check out John's shop, Crank It Cycles.

Cuba Commentary in the Post-Gazette

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette rarely offers insightful commentary on current events in Cuba, or US policy towards my wife's country. However, in today's edition there appears an opinion piece by Alejandro de la Fuente, Associate Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh (my alma mater).

Full text of the piece is available here on the Post-Gazette's site.

My position on the issue is clear - I would like to see the creation of a free, democratic Cuba with a capitalist economy that allows Cubans to realize their inherent potential and capacities. While change has to come from within Cuba, it can certainly be influenced positively by the United States. However, that would require an enlightened policy approach, which thus far has been lacking.

Fuente writes, "...In the meantime, the U.S. government surrenders the little influence it may have to contribute to a peaceful democratic transition in Cuba. All we can do is wait. Almost 50 years have passed, Fidel Castro is dying, and we are still in the midst of Churchill's 'everything else.'"

I'm still waiting for my Yuliet...

Monday, January 29, 2007

Castro Death Celebration

Re: The city of Miami is planning an official celebration at the Orange Bowl whenever Cuban president Fidel Castro dies.

My friend writes: "...This is an ill advised, knee jerk, reactionary act, with not a ounce of forethought as to the consequences. I guess Miamians forget the heat they took about Elian, and now they will do it again in a government sponsored shing-ding..."

I agree, and must ask again, doesn't the Miami-based Cuban exile community (as represented by those planning to celebrate Castro's death at the Orange Bowl) understand PR and strategic communication tactics? Apparently not, because what the City of Miami is proposing to do will undermine what little legitimacy remains for the US gov't when calling for a transition to democracy in Cuba.

Let everyone who has suffered as a result of Castro celebrate his death in private, in their own homes, with their remaining family members; or go to church, pray for the souls of the many who died because of that bastard. But to make a public display of jubilation, when, in reality, the US was ultimately impotent and incapable of destroying Castro and his regime is distorted.

Again, celebrate his death in private. Weep for your dead loved ones. Weep for the property you lost and the fact that you're exiled from your homeland - the most beautiful country in the world. But please, the only appropriate public ceremony in the US when Castro's death is announced would be a candlelight vigil to 1) honor and remember those who died as a result of the tyranny and 2) to refocus attention on the millions of Cubans who will continue to suffer because the tyrannical system Castro put in place continues as strong or more so than before.

Fernando Cuevas

I just got off the phone with Fernando Cuevas, who is one of the nicest guys in cycling today. He comes from a long-line of passionate bike racers and devoted coaches and his family is known for their exquisitely-made Cuevas custom frames. For those who don't know him, a comprehensive interview with Fern can be found here on

Fern is sick right now. He has multiple myeloma, and it's shutting down his kidneys so he's on dialysis. He is considering a peripheral blood stem cell transplantation. I know that Fern and his family have had a tough year, with the loss of parents and grandparents and all the trauma that brings, especially in a tight Latino clan like his. This illness is as ill-timed as any could be. But Fern is tough - he's a fighter and he's got too much left to give back to the world to be taken from us now. Still, he needs your support, your positive energy. If you're religious, pray for him. If you're not, send him that positive energy, for the world will be a worse place without him. Anyone needing Fern's contact information should leave a comment here or contact me via email.

Donations to support Fern and his family during this difficult moment can be made by clicking the button below (scroll down).


According to a long-lost-friend who I met for coffee this weekend:
"You look like a slightly more tan version of Vino these days!"

Hmmm. I'm flattered, I think.



Thursday, January 25, 2007

Yellow Jersey Gap

At university, I studied history and political science, and remain a close follower of international relations and diplomacy (this despite my often having been undiplomatic in my personal and professional activities!). I also like a good comic strip, and am fascinated by "As the Toto Turns," over at

Tuesday's strip was my favorite - how could it not have been, when Vladimir Putin made an appearance and deplored the possibility of a "Yellow Jersey Gap"?!?! Hilarious.

The link to the strip is here, but I couldn't resist posting the original below. Credit to

Montecatini Terme

Came across this great 20-year-old article on Montecatini Terme, where I lived in Italy last year.

July 20, 1986

Situated in Tuscany's Val di Nievole, Montecatini is an experience in reverse time - a Henry James novel with a Fellini-esque edge. The town and its spas combine intrigue and activity; here the cure lies not only in the thermal waters, but in the environment as well. Ubiquitous music, endless boutiques, rainbow gelato stands, garish night auctions, crowded street markets and menus that feature 21 pastas and 25 desserts help to persuade that here is a potential slice of heaven on earth - a melange of Tuscan cuisine and culture; a legendary spa, with a lingering air of Dolce Vita.

What makes Montecatini different from other spas is the diversity of its therapeutic waters. The benefits of the waters have been known since the Etruscans settled in the area during the eighth century B.C. The Tettuccio Terme dates back to the 14th century. However, it was not until after World War II that Montecatini and its Grand Hotel e La Pace had its first modern renaissance. From 1955 to 1965 it was an international playground. The waters drew movie stars, soldiers and sheiks, including Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn and Prince Rainier. Recent guests have been Stephanie Powers, Robert Wagner and a sheik who arrived with an entourage of 40 wives, dozens of servants and armed guards.

It still puzzles long-term hoteliers here just what it was that originally attracted the celebrities of the 60's and what, a decade later, made them leave. The challenge now is to maintain Montecatini, prove that its popularity was not just a passing fancy, but an enduring experience, and to lure American tourists, as well as the rich and famous.

The origin of the Montecatini waters, which still entice 150,000 visitors annually, has always been a source of interest. Since 1931, the subject has been treated in more than 700 scholarly papers. What is known is that the waters come from deep within the earth, gushing up to the surface at a temperature of 75 to 95 degrees, and getting richer and richer in salts. As the water is filtered through the subsoil, it is cleansed of bacteria and noxious impurities. Nine underground springs supply the Montecatini baths, each supposedly with different curative functions.

Read the entire article here.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


"el móvil que usted llama está apagado o fuera del área de cobertura"

I'm bored and frustrated, listening to this message on a daily basis when trying to reach Yuliet. The phone networks have been unreliable recently, and Yuliet's old Siemens S65 is finally kicking the bucket. Of course, if you know anything about mobile and landline phone penetration statistics, you know that in Cuba, communication is "restricted," to put it lightly. I think the stats read something like 51 landlines per 1,000 people and 1 mobile phone per 1,000. To quote

"Despite strong economic growth in 2006, Cuba still occupies last place in Latin America for both mobile phone and Internet penetration, and is fifth from the last in fixed-line teledensity. The government has blamed the embargo for the country’s poor telecom development, which has prevented the implementation of submarine fibre-optic cables; thus, Cuba has had to rely almost exclusively on satellites for international connectivity. However Etecsa, controlled 73% by the government and 27% by Telecom Italia, holds a monopoly in both fixed and mobile services. It offers GSM, TDMA, and AMPS services through its subsidiary Cubacel, though mobile rates are prohibitive for the vast majority of Cubans. In addition, Cubans cannot legally buy a computer or subscribe to an ISP without having a government permit."

So, for all those who've inquired, the Yuliet update in a nutshell is that the Cuban government continues to resist granting her the medical release that is a standard requirement for all applicants for US visas anywhere in the world. While in almost any country other than Cuba a person could quickly and inexpensively complete this process and obtain the necessary tests and exams to confirm that they were not the next "Typhoid Mary," in Cuba it's not so straight forward. Furthermore, the process is ridiculously expensive and the Cuban government charges upwards of $1,000 (US) to deliver the paperwork. Such a high fee serves two purposes - it's a means test for applicants trying to leave the country, and it is a massive source of foreign currency for the regime.

I believe that this could be a revenge tactic or punishment by the Cuban government for Yuliet's desire to emigrate. Should it really take 1-2 months more for her to get the exam results and certificate, as she was told on Monday? After all, we've already been waiting for this since late-October, and I can assure you that my wife is most decidedly not carrying some horrible communicable disease that would wipe-out half of Pennsylvania's population and most of the citrus crop in California.

There are other concerns now, too, which I unfortunately can't yet publicize. The salient fact, however, is that a legally married husband and wife are still being intentionally prevented from reuniting by the machinations of a communist totalitarian state. For what it is worth, the US government remains supportive of our plight and I am in direct contact with USINT in Havana.

My buddies at Napoleon Hill sent me this aphorism today:

Though it may not seem so when you first encounter a serious blow, you can never lose two of the most important assets you have. These are the power of your mind and your freedom to use it. Once you have turned them to understanding what laid you low, you can begin forming new plans. You may not have the money you once had; you may lack the allies you had cultivated. But you still have the benefit of a universe that eventually rewards honest effort, as well as gaining the experience of mistakes you will never make again. Remember, no matter where you are now, whatever you can conceive and believe, you can achieve."

The question is what to do now? Obviously I'm a tenacious guy and I'll keep fighting, as will Yuliet, because I'm not about to divorce my wife from afar and quite the struggle because I tire of sleeping alone in a big bed. This is like being in a meat grinder, or perhaps better said, it is like trench warfare that gradually wears you down. I'm not losing hope, for la esperanza es lo último que se pierde. But I am tired of being in this endless holding pattern, wondering when my wife and I will finally be able to really begin our life together.

Do I lament stopping my cycling career after a great season in Italy under the mistaken impression that Yuliet and I would have been be sipping champagne at Kennedy Airport in August 2006? Not really, as all good things must come to the end, and I leave bike racing with my health, despite having taken some serious crashes and consistently risked my life on tricky mountain descents. I do, however, realize the need to have something into which I can channel the energy and excitement that I consistently brought to my training and racing.

I feel almost like I'm being disloyal by "getting on with my life" in the traditional sense of pursuing other career opportunities, travel, etc., while my wife waits endlessly in Cuba for release that may or may not come. It's not a problem, but I'm just too loyal...she's my wife after all, and I wouldn't have married her if I didn't want to be with her. We made a commitment and I intend to see it through to a Golden Anniversary and beyond.

Everyone, thanks for your continued support and inspiration.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Baby Thoughts

Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you're there!
If I go underground, you're there!
If I flew on morning's wings
to the far western horizon,
You'd find me in a minute ---
you're already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, "Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I'm immersed in the light!"
It's a fact: darkness isn't dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they're all the same to you.
Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother's womb.
I thank you, High God --- you're breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration --- what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I'd even lived one day.

Reflections of King David found in Psalm 139

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Dr. Michael Francis Jiménez

During this period of transition from professional athletics to the next phase of my career, I've had ample time to reflect upon past glories and triumphs and search for greater understanding of who I am as a person and what has influenced my development.

Even a Venn Diagram couldn't illustrate all of the connections and inter-relations between the individuals and events that significantly shaped my life. However, during my time as an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh, there was one period of study with one professor, Dr. Michael Francis Jiménez, that was the catalyst for me to return to Latin America and eventually realize my dream of living in the region. If it hadn't been for the inspiration with which Dr. Jiménez taught, and the energy he brought to the classroom, I might not have been so willing and eager to seize the opportunity to travel to Cuba when it arose in April 2001 while I was a Coro Fellow at Carnegie Mellon.

I've told the story countless times, but in its simplest form, I was offered the chance to represent the United States at a cycling competition in Cuba, and even though I had been focusing on my work as a Fellow, I left school and again took up the bike. While that decision cost me a master's in public policy, I met Yuliet only a few days after landing in Havana...and three years later we would be married in Vedado.

This is the first January since 2002 that I've not been finishing my preparations to compete in the Vuelta a Cuba, and it is a strange feeling. Granted, this new set of challenges - namely, transferring all of my experiences and successes as an athlete, coach, team manager, race organizer and author into a viable career marketing plan as a means to securing gainful, lucrative employment outside of cycling (say that in one breath!) - requires as much or more energy than did achieving success in sport. But when I think about the adventure that (re)started for me in 2001, I can't help but also think of Michael, and remember that he was perhaps the most inspiring, kind and caring individual I've ever met.

Today I Google'd his name, and found this page, a remembrance to him. Thank you for everything you did for me and all of your students, Michael, and god bless your family.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Congratulations to Yoanka Gonzalez of Cuba for her silver medal in yesterday's women's points race at the UCI Track World Cup in Los Angeles. Yoanka, an ex-teammate of Yuliet's, is a great rider and a nice person and I'm happy to see her able to continue her cycling career at such a high level.

Results - Women's Points Race final

1 Sarah Hammer (Opc) 13pts
2 Yoanka Gonzalez Perez (Cub)
3 Dorronsoro Olaberria (Dur) 10
4 Charlotte Becker (Ger) 8
5 Jianling Wang (Chn) 7

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Second time I've received this message from Napoleon Hill. Think they're trying to tell me something?


Without a plan for your life, it is easier to follow the course of least resistance, to go with the flow, to drift with the current with no particular destination in mind. Having a definite plan for your life greatly simplifies the process of making hundreds of daily decisions that affect your ultimate success. When you know where you want to go, you can quickly decide if your actions are moving you toward your goal or away from it. Without definite, precise goals and a plan for their achievement, each decision must be considered in a vacuum. Definiteness of purpose provides context and allows you to relate specific actions to your overall plan.

This positive message is brought to you by the Napoleon Hill Foundation. Visit them at

Cat in Refrigerator

Lots going on in my life as I continue the battle to free my wife from a communist totalitarian state while also transitioning into a new career after retiring from professional cycling. That said, sometimes you just need to laugh. And laugh I did after this recent exchange with a good friend:

Me: "Hey, before I sign you remember when your friend, the crazy guy (Dan, I think?) guys found a flattened cat on the road and picked it up and put it in someone's refrigerator on the side of the street??????"

My Friend: "Actually it was a dish washer. The cat was flattened and he put in so half the cat was hanging out of the washer. Afterwards they stole a construction barrel with a flashing [light] so every time the light would flash you could see the flattened cat."


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Antonio Branduzzi, April 26, 1949 - Jan. 9, 2007

Antonio Branduzzi / Embracing personality behind Il Piccolo Forno

April 26, 1949 - Jan. 9, 2007

By Bob Batz Jr., Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Antonio Branduzzi, a Tuscan immigrant beloved for his sweet personality as well as the tortes and other treats he made at his Strip District bakery, died yesterday at St. Clair Hospital. He was 57.

The cause was complications from heart failure he suffered on Dec. 20, said his wife, Carla.

Mr. Branduzzi, of Scott, was co-owner, with his wife, of Il Piccolo Forno, "the Little Oven," on 21st Street in the Strip. The bakery/pasticceria was next to and open to La Prima Espresso, making for one of "the" gathering spots in the city. One of the main, warmest ingredients was Mr. Branduzzi's personality, which his wife summed up in one word: "Embracing."

Coffee shop regulars yesterday morning were somberly quiet in tribute to the man who was anything but.

Leaders of Slow Food Pittsburgh and other foodies lauded him as a force for good food. But Mr. Branduzzi was more than that. The moustached, bald and round-bellied baker -- with sweat on his brow, flour on his apron and a lot of Italian in his speech and gestures -- was one of the distinct characters in the daily drama that is Pittsburgh.

As he told a visiting and hungry National Geographic writer in 2003, "I came here from Lucca, Italy, 17 years ago, and I felt right at home. Maybe because a lot of Lucca was already here."

His wife, born and raised here, met Mr. Branduzzi on a trip to her father's village near Lucca. When her father returned there to die, Mr. Branduzzi comforted her. As she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2005, "I felt it was my destiny to marry him."

While the couple lived in the village, their first-born, Domenic, was born. But they wanted him to grow up in Pittsburgh. So while she started cooking at a local trattoria, Mr. Branduzzi, who had worked as a craftsman making picture frames, became a baker's apprentice.

When they moved here in 1987, they put their new skills to work at the Common Plea restaurant, she as a line cook and he as a sommelier, before he started working nights as a baker at La Normande.

It was around 1991 that they started making mele, or fruit turnovers, and other pastries for La Prima Espresso. The goodies were such a hit that owner Sam Patti suggested they set up shop in the back. In 1992 the couple moved next door and opened Il Piccolo Forno bakery, where in recent years they also sold soups and salads and pasta for lunch.

The sauce of the day was up to Mr. Branduzzi's whim. When it was gone, it was gone. But he wanted customers to savor it, and so many did.

"You know how some people can play a musical instrument by ear? He could play food by ear," said Mr. Patti, who described his friend as "a gentle, gentle soul."

The bakery's menu brochure noted one of the rules he'd learned in the Old Country: "Fare tutto con amore" -- make every recipe with love.

His friend, Larry Lagattuta, summed up Mr. Branduzzi's way as, "Never telling. Just doing."
He recalls spending a night baking with Mr. Branduzzi at home and all the things he learned, including how Mr. Branduzzi loved American rock and soul music. Mr. Lagattuta also learned that he himself wanted to become a baker, and went on to open Enrico Biscotti in the Strip. "Here is a guy who, with his gentle way, literally changed my life." He shared everything from baking "secrets" to stories with many others in town.

"His hands were connected to his heart and his brain, and people felt it," said his friend and fellow baker Ray Werner, who frequently was comforted by Mr. Branduzzi's trademark "Hey, what you gonna do? It's OK."

Mr. Branduzzi made regular trips back to Tuscany, where he enjoyed hunting -- everything from birds to boar to porcini mushrooms. He also loved playing poker when he could, which wasn't much, since he went to work at 3:30 a.m.

Mostly, he cooked. He and his wife always made food for gatherings of the Associazione Lucchesi nel Mondo, Pittsburgh Chapter, where he was a board member.

Mr. Branduzzi and his wife also helped out at the restaurant their son, Domenic, opened in the spring of 2005 in Lawrenceville, Piccolo Forno.

With his work ethic, passion for real ingredients, conviviality and generosity, Mr. Patti said, "He just embodied everything food is."

Besides his wife and son, Mr. Branduzzi is survived by two daughters, Anna Maria, 17, and Angela, 15. He's also survived by a brother, Julio, of Corsagna, Italy.

Arrangements are by Bagnato Funeral Home in Carnegie. A memorial service is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church at 21st and Smallman streets in the Strip District.

The family will receive friends afterward at nearby Il Piccolo Forno

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Mutual Confidence


Most of us have two basic questions about others when we enter into a relationship. They are: Can I trust you? And, do you really care about me? Depending upon our previous success in partnerships with others-personal or business-the answers may be slow in coming. Confidence in another is often developed gradually as those involved in the relationship commit themselves to each other’s success and happiness. Although trust and confidence are the basic underpinnings of all successful relationships, they are fragile. A relationship that has endured for months or even years can be irreparably damaged by a few unkind words or a single thoughtless act. Don’t allow yourself to act in haste or to lose control of your emotions in important relationships.

This positive message is brought to you by the Napoleon Hill Foundation. Visit them at

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Advice from a friend...

"How is married life treating you these days? That was a pretty interesting story about going to Cuba. I think there could be a book in that. You should at least sell the story to one of those sentimental weekly womens magazines. "A young couples struggle to be reunited" women pay money to read about that stuff. Its full of danger, romance, heartache. All the things that your average Jonny and Suzie lunchpail yurn for in their dull lives. You should at least go on Oprah. But in all seriousness Im glad it worked out for you guys and I hope I get to meet Yuliet some day soon."

Thanks, Phil. My sentiments exactly. Yuliet interviews with US Gov't for her visa tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

What a Finish!

2006 US National Criterium Championships

Congratulations again, Kayle.