Tour de France 2021

Today, July the 18th, 2021, marks the end of this year’s edition of the Tour de France, and what a glorious edition this was. Perfect!

My Love of Bicycle Racing

Eddy Merckx wearing the yellow jersey and leading in the mountains

I have been an assiduous fan of the Tour de France and other races for over 50 years now, listening to live radio broadcasts early on, and even biking to watch the big races, like Liege-Bastogne-Liege or others as they came near my home in Belgium. I grew up with the phenomenon of Eddy Merckx, the Belgian champion who won the Tour de France five times and still has the record of the most stage wins on the Tour (34.)

Fascinating Human Prowess

Wout van Aert, champion of Belgium, clears the summit of Mt. Ventoux for the second time to win the 11th stage of the 2011 Tour de France.

The Tour de France is a grueling 21-stage race with a couple of rest days in between. The layout of the race changes every year, sometimes starting in neighboring countries but always ending in Paris on the Champs Elysees. Each stage has a different profile. Some are better suited from a sprint finish, others have mountain-top arrivals, and some are time trials where each rider starts on his own and competes against the clock.

Mountain stages include multiple summits, classified by difficulty. This year, Stage 11 included the double ascent of Mount Ventoux, 1,909 meter or 6,263 ft. high. These efforts, repeated over the 21 stages, require astounding physical capabilities and drive. These athletes train all year round for the racing season which includes celebrated one-day races (Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, la Fleche Wallonne, Milan-San Remo) and multi-day tours such as the Tour de France, Vuelta a España, Giro d’Italia, etc.

Strategy and Complexity

Rapid and dangerous descent following a climb. The French landscape is always candy for the eye.

Those familiar with me know my interest in complexity, and that is one think I love about the Tour. There are races within the race for different jerseys which are awarded at the end of each stage: Riders are ranked in the General Classification (GC) based on the total accumulated time in the race. The rider on top of the GC at the end of a stage wears the yellow jersey for the next day. The green jersey is for the rider who accumulates the highest number of points given at race finishes – sprinters tend to grab the highest number of points. The polkadot (King of the Mountain or KoM) jersey is for the rider who accumulates the most points on mountain climbs. The white jersey is for the rider under the age of 16 who has accumulated the least time.

Riders are part of teams (of 8) sponsored by private companies (they used to be country-based.) Teams are made of a million moving parts, and each team has a strategy for each stage and for the Tour as a whole.

Tadej Pogačar is surrounded by his UAE-Team Emirates colleagues, easing aerodynamic effects and reducing Pogačar’s efforts.
  • Teams typically have GC specialists who would be contenders to win the race or be in the top 10 in Paris,
  • Teams have sprinters who rush to the front at the end of (typically) flat stages to collect available green jersey points (not as easy as it sounds)
  • Teams also have breakaway specialists who put pressure on the riders, breaking away, and trying to win stages, a prized mention on their resumes…
  • Teams have mountain climbers whose job is to go after KoM points.

Usually, top riders in a team are assisted by other riders, the so-called “domestiques” who assist their top riders and make sure that they are in the best position to score points. Domestiques also help top riders by sheltering them from aerodynamic forces and wind that take so much energy on the road. Domestiques may only be allowed to win stages with the blessing of team directors, perhaps as a way to deny other teams points or for other strategic reasons.

Teams now depend on sophisticated communications systems connecting riders, team directors, race director, and support staff. Developments during the course of a day, such as crashes, breakaways, strong winds, the physical conditions of particular riders, etc. require team directors to devise short-term strategies to maximize points gained in one category or another. Riders may drop out and abandon the Tour because of injuries or because they may have exceeded overall time limits. As teams thin out over the course of the 21-stage race (and some teams may loose more riders than others,) team directors will readjust their race strategy, and perhaps promote some super-domestiques to leading roles. It is fascinating to follow these strategic dances coupled with the drive and amazing physical efforts of each rider on a daily basis.

This Year’s Tour

Hundreds of amazing landscapes and landmarks every day!

This years’ edition of the Tour was fantastic! The route and sequence of stages were excellent, with twists and turns, not only on the road but in the competition. The weather was great, and the views outstanding, as always. A huge number of excited fans and spectators were watching the proceedings from the side of the road (much publicity was given to an incident where a rider was hit by spectator sign which then caused a major crash, but this was in part due to the riders being too close together and too fast on a very narrow road.)

Three things I will remember most about this year’s Tour:

Mark Cavendish wins a stage.
  • The return of Mark Cavendish: Mark, age 36, had not won a stage of Europe’s three Grand Tours of Italy, France and Spain since 2016. He was recruited into his Belgian team less than a week before the 2021 Tour began. Then he won stage 4, and stage 6, and stage 10, …and stage 13! Mark equaled the record number of Tour de France stage wins of Eddy Merckx (34 wins,) an amazing accomplishment. None of this, quite frankly, would have been possible without the so-called Wolfpack train, Cavendish’s teammates, and particularly Michael Mørkøv, who spotted him in the final 200 meters of the stages he won. An amazing combination of strategy, teamwork and talent.
Mark Cavendish and the great Édouard Louis Joseph, Baron Merckx better known as Eddy Merckx
  • A bold new generation of riders: Great new riders have emerged from this year’s TDF: Tadej Pogačar, 22, won last year after snatching the victory from his countryman Primoz Roglic at the penultimate stage. This year, Tadej was an assured, strategic (yeah, I like that word) rider who was in control throughout the race, with three stage wins, and as comfortable in the mountains as in the time trial. Wout van Aert, champion of Belgium also won three stages, including the sprint in Paris, denying Cavendish a record 35th stage win. I guess his countryman Baron Eddy Merckx was pleased! Jonas Vingegaard, a 24-year old first-time Tour rider from Denmark did not win a single stage this year. He was “promoted” when his team boss, Primoz Roglic, abandoned the Tour due to injuries. Jonas ran a very smart race, being there when it mattered, gaining time on his competitors and consistently moving up in the GC day after day. He finished second this year. Watch out next year!
Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard in Paris 
  • Grown men crying: Another thing I will remember from this year’s Tour is the sight of grown men not afraid to cry when overwhelmed by the joy of their stage wins. I think we have come a long way from the days when men crying in public was frowned upon. First it was Julian Alaphilippe in stage 1, then Matthew Van der Poel who won stage 2. He dedicated his win to his late grandfather Raymond Poulidor, the famous French rider who always finished second and never wore the yellow jersey. Then it was Mark Cavendish in stage 4, realizing he had won over his illnesses and inner demons. Then Matej Mohoric in stage 7. Boyz, crying is OK 🙂

See You Next Year!

Fans and spectators add to the
excitement of the Tour.

#TDF2021 #TDF #tourdefrance

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It did not take long for political jockeying to begin following yesterday’s passing of RBG. Republicans want to confirm a new Justice now, Democrats later. Our country’s political system and the balance of power between its branches was a bold experiment carefully crafted by the Nation’s founders. This system has been able to maintain the rule of law in this country, the backbone of our democracy. RGB’s power and enduring impact derived in part from her commitment to the rule of law, in front and behind the bench. RBG shaped and encouraged the fight for liberal equality everywhere. In the last three and a half years, conservatives have been able to appoint a large number of federal judges whose convictions will be felt for decades. This is our political system.

At the same time, tectonic social and economic forces are reshaping our society. The digital economy is fracturing our way of life, exacerbating nationalism, pushing millions of gig workers into poverty and creating super-national corporations increasingly controlling what we see, hear and read.   Climate change is rapidly letting us know who is really in charge.  While we are bickering about red versus blue, these greater forces are the real threats.  We will not be able to move forward until we find a way to understand one another, find common ground, commit to the rule of law and, like RBG, develop a bias for action. 

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Covid or not Covid?

July 5th, 2020. The spread of the Corona virus in the U.S. is reaching a level so high that the chances of beating the pandemic are becoming slimmer by the day. What do I mean by that? When the spread of the disease is in the 2-5% , it is possible to contain the spread by convincing people to avoid contacts with others. Basically, chances of contracting the disease (We still know little about how it spreads) are one in 50 to 20, meaning that one in 20 or 50 random people you meet are infected.

If one in 4 Covid tests are positive, like in Arizona currently, the chances of being in the presence of someone infected increase dramatically, meaning that one in four people you randomly meet are infected.  Not good! 

I am now convinced that my chances of getting infected over time are 100%, even if I stay put at home and only go out to get food. What about the cleaning lady who comes every other week? Or the folks dropping a package at my house?    Their chances of getting infected are increasing by the day too.  Lethality is dropping somewhat and doctors are finding better ways to mitigate the impacts of the disease in those infected but this is of little comfort for millions of Americans who may be in a high risk category (I just turned 65…)

As of today (Juy 5th,) there are about 3,000,000 confirmed Covid cases in the U.S, with 132,000 attributed deaths.  If everyone in the population gets infected, this would mean nearly 15 million Covid-related deaths.  Significant!  As a benchmark, 600,000 die of cancer and 38,000 die in traffic accidents in the U.S. every year.  

Bottom line:  It may be too late to reverse the course of this disease even if a vaccine is found and tested soon.  Too many are already infected as the progression of the disease shows.  Moreover, we don’t know how long the immunity of a vaccine or the so-caled “herd immunity” would last.  So, what is the best public health strategy if it becomes increasingly likely that everyone in the U.S. will get it?

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Why I now support Bernie Sanders

I have been supporting Pete Buttigieg since the beginning.  I liked his poise, his intellectual stances, his moderation, his ability to answer complex questions.  But at the same time I kept thinking about my kids, their peers and their future.  I have been able to earn enough during my prime working years to save for retirement.  Many in my kids’ generations however live month to month, unable to afford college, even community college, working days and nights to make ends meet and spending their extra cash on credit card interest.  To them, Bernie Sanders is the answer.

Why are Millenials and Gen Zs so devoted to Bernie?  I think I figured it out, and as I did, I became a convert myself.  Morality is more important than power.  Bernie speaks with a moral voice, consistent and uncompromised and that, I think, is why he will win the hearts and minds of voters.  Will he win?  He might, but if he does not, he will have accomplished something far more important:  He will have reawakened and rekindled the hopes of our diverse country in morality, in equality and in the rule of law.

A few weeks ago, Bernie was briefed by U.S officials that Russia has been trying to help his campaign as part of Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the 2020 presidential election as related in this article by the LA Times.  His unequivocal, uncompromised and moral response got me to switch my vote: “Here’s the message to Russia: Stay out of American elections.”  His response was in sharp contrast from President Trump’s, minutes before, who dismissed the reports and said that this was “a rumor” started by the Democrats.

What about socialism?  Our country is already half way there!  Just take a look at how much our Government spends to help and assist various groups: social security, healthcare for the poor and the elderly, food stamps, grants to non-profits of all kinds. Oh, and what about small watershed grants, coral reef conservation, farmer loan guarantees, rural community development grants, high energy cost grants, and more and more…

The stock market may appear to be doing well but our country is not doing well by many other measures:  Ability to save, drug epidemics, lagging healthcare results, increasing suicide rates (using readily available firearms), and poor education results compared to other countries.  If elected, Bernie may not be able to affect much of that, but in the meantime, he is changing our discourse and painting a brighter, moral future.  And for that, he has my vote.

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Acorn to Arabella

I don’t have cable so YouTube is my TV entertainment… I recently watched a few maritime videos after which YouTube suggested other maritime-related pieces. That’s how I came upon “Acorn to Arabella“, a project based in Western Massachussetts to build an old-fashionned wooden sailboat. The two young men in charge document their journey with a series of YouTube videos as the sailboat takes shape.

You can find a lot more info about the project on the website above, on Facebook and by watching the YouTube episodes (see beow), but I thought I would share a few reasons why I like this series:

  • The project is about building this old-fashioned wooden boat while leveraging social media to attract viewers and creating a community of volunteers and sponsors. To me, this is a perfect combination of the old and the new, and hopefuly a sign of things to come. One of the young men is a skilled craftman while the other is a videographer and photographer.
  • Construction of the Arabella sailboat is based on old-fashion techniques and hard work. There is a focus on manual labor, home-made and old-fashioned ingenuity, rigs, gears and recycling. For instance, wood is harvested and shaped by the team, tools are designed to build copper rivets on site and valuable items from a similar old but no longer serviceable boat are recycled for use in Arabella.
  • Presentation and narration are articulate, professional, honest, detailed and complete but never feel boastful or commercial. The videos are of professional quality, well edited and scripted, and progress is fun to watch without requiring a huge amount of concentration… (it’s not like I am going to build my own boat tomorrow…)

To me, this is an honest, cheerful and heartening story of skill, determination and community, and a welcome respite from the day-to-day barrage of bad news. Take a look!

All the videos on YouTube

Year-and a half summary


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Israel to launch moon spacecraft

Amazing news!  According to Newser, Israel will launch this week (Feb 18 2019) what it hopes will be the first private spacecraft to land on the moon   The landing craft, dubbed Bereshit, or Genesis, will fly atop a SpaceX Falcon rocket that will be launched from Florida on Thursday (Friday morning time in Israel.)

In the photo to the left, Opher Doron, general manager of Israel Aerospace Industries’ space division shows the moon lander being readied in a clean room near Tel Aviv.  The small craft, roughly the size of a washing machine, will have to make several orbits before landing on the moon.


In related news, I have myself designed a space vehicle designed to fly to the moon.  The vehicle is similar to the Israeli moon lander and also roughly the size of a washing machine.


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2019: New blog page on Family History

Jan 2019: I have been working on my family tree for a while and it has been a wonderful experience!  My family tree is available on I plan to present my family history in the form of a series of chapters or stories which I will post here as they become available.  My ancestors’ family names include (so far):

Markowicz, Wysocka/Wysocki, Bresler, Olej, Goldberg, Nitka, Tondowska/Tondowski, Laskier, Kujawska/Kujawski, Russek, Liwerant/Liverand, Horowitz, Szif.

The places where my ancestors are from include:

Poland: Zdunska Wola, Warta, Lodz, Burzenin, Nieszawa, Wyszogrod, Widawa.
Belgium: Liege, Antwerp and Brussels

My extended family includes many more surnames and places.  Branches of the family are found in Israel, Brazil, France, the U.K., the U.S., Canada and many more.

Stay tuned…

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Welcome 2019!

Welcome 2019! 2018 was the end of the “anything is possible” era: Man to Mars, hyperloops, Trump lies, the stock market can grow forever, etc. This notion that anything goes is about to meet reality. The World has limits, the Earth has limits, we, as humans, have limits. We know it, but most of us behave like we don’t.

2019 will bring reality back into the mix: The manned mission to Mars will be infinitely delayed, the hyperloop will remain empty, climate change will bite us where it hurts. Trump will still lie but it will no longer matter… Happy new year! There is work to do!

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Dominique Markowicz

My cousin Dominique Debora Markowicz was born July 17, 1958 in Liège, Belgium, sixty years ago today.  She was three years younger than me. On December 15, 1973, at the age of 15, Dominique very sadly passed away in a traffic accident in Brussels.  I did not know Dominique well, I met her a few times when I was young, but everyone who knew her was and remains deeply affected by her amazing lust for life.

I am quoting from a book of remembrances that was put together for her memorial service:

“The problem was her laughter… no way to stop it!  In ancient Greek class, we invented all sorts of games to try to get her to laugh in class…”

“One day, Dominique and her dad are called in to school to see her physics professor. Your daughter is too boisterous in class, he said, too loud.  Behind her dad’s back, Dominique silently puts her index finger on her lips, telling the professor to stop and remain quiet.  Her professor stopped talking and smiled…”


“I knew Dominique since 1968 when she joined our school in the 5th grade. I can see her in sixth grade, at a swimming competition. I can still hear her laugh when I congratulated her for helping us win that day”

“I saw her in classes occasionally as I was walking through the school. She was always active, asking questions, responding, and paying attention to her professor, to the lesson and to her friends in class”

“I can see her at school were our path crossed a million times, and each time, there was a smile. Dominique’s smile was everything. Her love of life was everything.  And this is how we will see her forever.

Marc Vandervennet
Athénée Royal de Woluwe-Saint-Lambert

« Fifteen years. Fate is so cruel, Dominique.
We miss your smile and your kindness so dearly.
In class, your seat is open, but it is taken in our hearts.”

                                               C. Meurant, Physics Professor

“One day, we came to school together.  We sat on the steps, outside. It was windy.  I like the wind, Dominique said, and then we chatted. I felt like I discovered you for the first time that day, even though we knew each other’s for years… I have loved you since that day and you will always be my best friend”


This is my yahrzeit candle to you, Dominique.  Your memory is a blessing.



Please leave a comment if you knew her or wished you had.

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Trump versus Obama

I know, you are expecting some heavy political discourse here, but I will be brief.  My friend Amy posted this great video on Facebook. Make sure you see the punchline below the video…

But Chancelorette Merkel was not rolling her eyes whith Obama. Maybe she had something else on her mind…

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