The New York Times
July 23, 2006
Cycling Fans Go on Tour, Ending Up With the Band
By VINCENT M. MALLOZZI
Tom Shaw and the Cutters, a band of American cycling fans who took their own bows on a stage dominated by Lance Armstrong, were rooting today for one of Armstrong’s former teammates to win the Tour de France.
“Floyd Landis,’’ Shaw said. “He’s our guy.’’
Shaw, an entertainment producer who grew up in Philadelphia and lives in Manhattan, completed his first tour of fan duty in July 2001. From Paris, he drove 11 hours with his friend Tom Sabol to L’Alpe d’Huez, the most famous climb on the Tour. They arrived in the evening and pitched a tent on the side of a cliff.
“In the morning, we saw thousands of people riding up the mountain, thousands more milling around, and snow-capped mountains everywhere,’’ Shaw recalled. “We were blown away.’’
They found a place along the course where riders representing the United States Postal Service team could see and hear them cheer. They wore T-shirts with “Cutters” splashed across the front, a reference to the cycling team from Indiana in the movie “Breaking Away.’’
“Every cyclist has seen that movie,’’ Shaw, 31, said.
After winning that stage, Armstrong was returning to the team bus when he spotted Shaw and Sabol.
“Hey, Cutters, are you from Indiana?’’ Armstrong said.
Inspired by the recognition, they moved to the Pyrenees a couple of days later, thinking of ways to put their act in a higher gear. At a beach shop, Shaw bought a huge inflatable whale and Sabol an alligator, and they strapped them to their backs.
“We looked like two idiots,’’ Shaw said. “But we wanted to make sure that the American riders saw us cheering.’’
Their mission was accomplished when the Americans Tyler Hamilton and George Hincapie whizzed by with smiles on their wind-chafed faces, and Hincapie yelled, “You guys are nuts!’’
After Armstrong won his third straight Tour, Shaw and Sabol — wearing jeans and flip-flops — crashed the victory party at a Paris hotel. While tiptoeing through the front door, they were spotted by Armstrong, who waved them in.
Shaw and Sabol returned home with stories of their excellent adventure, but relatives and friends were skeptical.
“Everyone thought we were showing off,’’ said Sabol, 30, a geologist in Flagstaff, Ariz. “They were like, ‘Yeah, right, whatever.’ ”
The next year, they invited four other friends from their days at La Salle University. Everyone wore a Cutters T-shirt except Shaw, who dressed as Uncle Sam.
During a stage in Bordeaux, the Cutters handed out priority mail stickers that other fans placed on their clothing as a sign of support for the United States Postal Service team.
After Armstrong won his fourth straight Tour, the Cutters returned to the hotel where the Postal Service team was staying, and they were stunned when every member of the team emerged to offer high-fives as a way of thanking them. Landis, then a rookie, caroused the longest with the Cutters.
Armstrong invited Shaw and his friends to the official victory party, where Shaw announced that he was giving away his inflatable whale as the first Cutter of the Year award.
“And the winner is,’’ Shaw said, prompting Armstrong to stand, “Floyd Landis.’’
The Cutters returned the next three years, cheering as Armstrong steered to victory each time, the seventh time with the Discovery Channel team. Shaw refuses to believe the people he has heard accuse Armstrong of dominating the Tour with the help of performance-enhancers.
“You can’t be a fan and not question it or analyze it,” Shaw said. “But as far as Lance is concerned, he’s a guy who trains harder than everyone else. His diet, his physique and his equipment is superior to everyone else’s. And that was evident when you hung around him.”
During Armstrong’s reign, the Cutters stole a few beams of his spotlight, appearing in newspapers and on television. They began working for the Web sites of two corporate sponsors, and interviewed riders for “The Roadside Tour,” a show on OLN.
Before long, cycling fans wanted their autographs. Shaw even began dating one of the women who helped the leading rider slip on the yellow jersey.
After skipping this year’s Tour for a chance to see World Cup soccer in Germany, Shaw said that he would resume his pilgrimage to cycling’s holy land next year.
“Most of us are all grown up now with real jobs, and some of us are married,’’ he said. “But I’ll be back next year, for sure.’’
Bonus photo from NYT: