This is my tradition: giving a live blow-by-blow report of a bike race, mainly to my instant-messaging correspondent, but also (shortly afterward) to my albertnet readers. Since nobody is paying me, I don’t have to bite my tongue when I see something untoward, like an obvious doper, or something really toward, like a podium girl. Read on to learn about the final stage of the 2014 Tour de Suisse, which (spoiler alert) ends up being a lot more exciting than the Giro d’Italia.
Biased Blow-By-Blow – Tour de Suisse Stage 9
Well, I got up at 6, ready to report on the second half of the final stage of the race, but every Internet video feed I fired up was giving me goofy Euro types sitting around talking about motorcycle racing. So I read the fine print on steephill.tv which said the coverage doesn’t start until 6:30. I just tried again, at about 6:20, figuring I could at least make fun of the motorcycle commentators’ clothing, only to find the footage has started “early!” But wait, this is the footage from yesterday, 2.6 KM from the summit at Verbier. Johan Chaves (Orica Greenedge) has just attacked. I know what will happen but you don’t so I’ll fill you in. The way Greenedge has been winning this year you’d almost call them “Greededge.” Did I just type that? That is just horrible. That’s something that a really bad commentator would say and don’t worry, I’ll never do it again.
Chaves is joined by some other bloke briefly but has now crushed him. He looks really good. Bauke Mollema (Belkin) is chasing hard. He was like 6th in last year’s Tour de France and I consider him a favorite for the Tour de Suisse overall. He had crummy time trials but he’s a great climber.
I’m sneezing so hard, it’s amazing this cat is staying on my lap.
Race leader Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) is climbing like a climber, which he isn’t, being a time trial specialist. I hate it when time trialists hang with pocket climbers, and when pocket climbers win flat or flattish TTs. So as long as Martin gets shelled in today’s mountain stage, I’ll still respect him. If he hangs on for the win, of course I’ll have to label him Not Normal (i.e., start doubting his cleanliness—I mean, even more than is customary given that he’s a cyclist).
Yesterday I actually missed this coverage, joining too late, but did get to watch the podium presentations. Stage winner Chaves had never won a ProTour race before, and was just gleeful. Big grin on his face over the line and again at the podium. None of this grim Nadia Comaneci stoic stuff for him, no looking constipated like Cadel Evans, and he didn’t do anything totally lame like Alberto Contador’s standard “pistolero” salute, which he always holds for several seconds just to make sure all the photographers get it. Nope, this was just pure glee, even down to petting the two St. Bernards they brought onto the stage.
You can’t see his glee in this photo, of course, because the feed is so blurry his face looks like those creepy blank ones on the school kids in “Pink Floyd The Wall.” But look at that giant hunk of Le Gruyère cheese he gets as part of his spoils! It’s freaking awesome!
Okay, today’s coverage has finally started. The riders have about 45 KM to go. There’s a breakaway of three just ahead of the yellow jersey group. It’s a pretty small group. Ah, and looking at the little status banner at the top of the screen, I see that there’s another group 24 seconds ahead of them. Of course, these aren’t very big gaps. I won’t bother saying who’s in these breakaways, other than Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin), who has the most badass-sounding name in all of cycling, and Andy Schleck, who in years past could have been considered a favorite but who, in his modern “all-losing-all-the-time” incarnation only serves to make the breakaway look bad. Schleck lost over two minutes yesterday and now is almost 7 minutes behind in the GC. On the plus side, he’s off the drugs and high on life!
The break has consolidated into one group and has 1:22 now. Martin has lost all his teammates. They’ve crossed the penultimate summit and are bombing the descent. Remaining is the final HC climb up to Saas-Fee. To clarify, Saas-Fee is a little town with a ski resort, not what you pay for Software As A Service. On paper the climb looks pretty brutal, piling up well over 3,000 vertical feet in about ten miles.
The gap is up to almost two minutes. If it keeps going up I’m afraid I’ll have to start noting more of the names here. Most notably, Rui Costa (Lampre Merida) is in the break; he is the current world champion and sits in third overall in this race, only 1:14 behind Martin. Costa, a Portuguese rider, won this race last year and the year before. Bauke Mollema is in there too; he sits 5th in the GC, another 36 seconds back. Ah, and the 4th rider on GC, Mathias Frank (IAM Cycling) is also in the break, 1:14 behind Martin. He has extra motivation here because he’s Swiss, so if he won he’d get not only the adoration of the home crowd, but the “Bester Schweizer” (“Best Swiss rider”) award. Here he is getting that award yesterday:
Why the horns on the podium girl? I have no idea. Lots of spectators have little red horns, too. I haven’t had time to research it. But I did look up “Bruno’s Best” after yesterday’s podium ceremony. Check it out:
That BMC guy was the Most Combative rider yesterday, and won a nice wooden bowl containing a bottle of Bruno’s Best salad dressing. He doesn’t look that happy about it, and I can’t blame him. If his solo attempt had stuck, he’d have won the cheese! Have you tried Le Gruyère cheese? It’s delicious, and no, they don’t sponsor me in any way.
The riders are still descending, and there haven’t been any crashes, so I’m going to follow up this “strange prize” theme with a tale of my online real-time race correspondent, Peter, winning a schvarkenslull back in 1991. What’s a schvarkenslull, you ask? Well, I don’t know if that’s an actual word—Pete says it’s just what he and his US teammates called it—but it refers to the pig’s dick he won in a race in Germany for finishing dead last. Here’s our chat on that lofty topic:
Pete: “I was in a pissed-off mood. I was dead last, but it wasn’t like I was the first guy who got dropped, either ... it was a really hard day, and like 40 people dropped out. I was like the last guy legitimately racing. So after the race these German guys come up, chuckling, ‘You’re wanted on the podium.’ I can’t remember if I went to the podium or not. I was so chapped because these douchebags are acting like this is the funniest thing ever. So I got some money, a non-trivial amount, something like 50 Deutsche Marks, about $50. And the schvarkenslull.”
I first saw the pig’s dick in 1994 when I visited Pete in Colorado. It’s this very long, slightly curved dick skeleton, completely encased in a block of amber and mounted to a nice wooden plaque. He had it on prominent display in his apartment. Really bizarre.
Pete: “So the question is, which is worth more, the schvarkenslull or the deutche marks?”
Dana: “But you don’t have it anymore?”
Pete: “I gave it to [national team coach Chris] Carmichael, sometime around 1994.”
Dana: “Didn’t somebody ask for it at the time, when you were first awarded it, but you refused to give it up?”
Pete: “Yeah, I guess that’s right.”
Dana: “Who was it?”
Pete: “The only guy who could have legitimately asked me for it was Carmichael.”
Dana: “So you refused to give it to him in 1991, but relented and gave it to him later, sometime after 1994?”
Pete: “I don’t remember, it was a long time ago!”
Dana: “Dude, you’re supposed to remember everything about those days. You’re supposed to spend every moment of your autumn years reliving all the glory days, when your life was exciting and everything seemed to matter!”
Pete: “Look, giving away the pig’s dick wasn’t exactly part of the glory days. Now you’re pushing my buttons, bitch!”
Well, after a mix of boring flat stuff and ads, the race is finally getting exciting again. They’re all on the final climb. Mollema’s Belkin teammate, Stef Clement, goes out the back of the breakaway. No, wait, I guess that’s the main group. Maybe he helped earlier? I don’t know.
The gap is 2:01 (down from its peak so far, 2:20) with 19K to go, all of it uphill. Schleck has been dropped from the group and is fighting to stay in the yellow jersey group, and the sport in general. Cadel Evans is in this group, though I know better (from the Giro d’Italia) than to expect a lot out of him, as much as I’d like to see him win the stage. (He’s in 10th overall, 2:30 down, and would have to have an amazing day to do anything in the GC.)
Dang, more ads! The Brasil tourism board, Hyundai, and Samsung are all doing World Cup-themed ads. I’m really glad I’m not trying to watch that. No offense to soccer fans, but (as I’ve opined before), pro soccer is completely whacked.
Martin is really suffering, his mouth contorted to the point that he looks a bit like a goldfish. The riders are really flying and Jenny paid $23.41 for her Beats by Dre headphones. (Sorry, pop-up ad.) The gap is actually down to 1:49 now. The break, which had like 16 riders at one point, is down to about half that. A lot of pretty tall guys, though it must be said this video feed is kind of warped.
There’s a Giant-Shimano guy on the front of the Martin group, doing a whole lot of work. Now Martin takes up the chase himself. This group is a bit bigger than it had been earlier.
Gap is down to 1:42. I suspect that Frank, Mollema, and Costa are going to strike out again. They have not only Martin to worry about, but one another. We’ve got a real race here!
Oliver Zaugg (Tinkoff-Saxo), up in the break, gets some food from his team car. I guess at some point they’re no longer allowed to do that. I wonder if everybody is properly fueled? (I mean properly, not inappropriately.)
Sander Armee (Lotto Belisol) detonates from the breakaway. He’s going backward. He’s a really tall guy, or is that my distorted feed? Nope, just looked it up: he’s 6’3” and not ideally suited for such a huge climb.
Costa has no teammates in the break. The only team with more than one rider is IAM Cycling, with Johann Tschopp and Marcel Wyss, working for Frank. I can’t shake the idea that their team is sponsored by a dog food company. That would be Iams. One time a guy cornered me at a cocktail party and blathered for like 20 minutes about his awesome career as a radio sports commentator, and when he finally (out of politeness) asked me what I did, I said I sold Iams pet food (“out of my garage for right now, but...”).
Okay, the last volley of ads is finally over. It’s under 10K to go and the lead is back up to 2:01. The other riders in this break are Andre Candoso (Garmin-Sharp), Jeremy Roy (FDJ.fr), and Steve Morabito (BMC).
A Movistar rider has attacked the yellow jersey group. He gets hauled back.
Wyss has just been hammering on the front of the break for a good while now. I reckon he’ll blow before too long.
Okay, suddenly the gap is down to 1:36. Either the yellow jersey group really picked it up, or the split was wrong earlier.
Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin) has just attacked the yellow jersey group, and they let him go. I wonder if he has the legs to bridge up to the break and help Mollema? Ten Dam is a great climber. I raced against him once, in La Marmotte, a brutal road race in France with three HC climbs. He deprived me of victory (along with the next 187 riders behind him, who also deprived me of victory, and the 7,000 behind them, who did not).
It’s under 5K to go, gap now up to 1:44. Martin is grinding away on the front of his chase group. In the break, the IAM boys are right on the front, with Wyss continuing to do most of the work. The last bit of this climb looks (in the profile picture) to be the steepest. They’re on this little flat section just heading toward it.
Wow, Wyss finally detonates! Not surprisingly, Tschopp totally attacks. Only Mollema and Costa can stay with him! Tschopp goes to the other side of the road to try to shake Costa. The problem is, he’s actually shaken his team leader, Frank, which really isn’t useful. Mollema is just barely staying in contact. Morabito has blown and is dropped. Zaugg is the only other rider staying close. Now Costa himself is drilling it on the front. He’s been sheltered the whole race and is looking really good. That is, looking strong. I’m not actually attracted to him or anything.
Wow, Costa is soloing! He suddenly has this massive gap! I don’t know how he can manage this, he’s just brutally strong. Frank has made it back up to Mollema (maybe Tschopp went back for him?) and has now dropped Mollema.
It has occurred to me that the Tour de Suisse GC is a race between two reigning world champions: Costa (road) and Martin (time trial).
It’s under 2K to go so Martin, still over 90 seconds back, will miss the podium. Still, two stage wins and eight days in yellow ain’t bad.
Mollema has come back and turns the tables on Frank! It’s a real battle between these two, but Costa is fricking gone, way the hell off the front. He’s only got 1.3K to go. Mollema and Frank can still see him, but he’s way up the road.
They’re under the 1K banner. Mollema is absolutely drilling it, with Frank dying on his wheel, but the gap is still pretty big. Frank needs to stay in contact with Mollema to hold on to second overall but both these guys are assured of podium spots.
My feed freezes just in time to miss Costa’s victory. And Mollema has dropped Frank, but not by enough to pass him in the GC.
Morabito crosses for 4th or 5th.
Wow, on the super-slo-mo I see why Frank got dropped: within 100 meters of the line he dropped his fricking chain! What is it with these team mechanics?
Wyss crosses the line. What an awesome job he did today. Too bad Frank didn’t manage to win the GC today, but I’ll bet he’s pretty pleased with Wyss’s efforts anyway. Frank, sitting down at the side of the road, blows a kiss to the crowd. Yeah, he only got second overall, but he’s probably really stoked about that Bester Schweizer award!
Martin has finished, and must be disappointed (though not particularly surprised) to lose the GC victory. To top it off, the Velominati guys will be bagging on him on their silly little blog for breaking one of their stupid Rules.
Costa has his world champion jersey totally unzipped, which is pretty lame because a) it can’t be that hot on this Alpine summit, b) he has no chest to speak of, being a cyclist, and c) he has no chest hair. I just figured out why he did this: he’s wearing CrampSys clothing, which I happen to know fits like a damn tourniquet. I won’t burn your retinas with an image of Costa’s chest, but here’s his victory salute from the replay:
He’s doing the chest-pointing victory salute, which either means “I won this race, me me me!” or “I won this because of my sponsor, Lampre!” (Lampre “specializes in pre-coated steel production,” so I’m not sure how they helped Costa’s riding, other than paying for it.)
So just to recap, the stage was Costa, Mollema, Frank and the final GC is Costa, Frank, Mollema.
Costa comes up for the final podium celebration. Here’s his glass trophy—I hope he doesn’t drop it. Now his podium kisses.
I have to say, I cannot go on record approving of the podium girl tradition. But insofar as it does go on, and there’s nothing I can do about it, and any act of rebellion I might make by refusing to watch would be pointless and ineffectual, I go ahead and watch, and frankly, I don’t mind making the most of it. Say I’m eating soup at a restaurant, enjoying it, and somebody points out it’s made with veal stock. I’m not a proponent of veal production either, but I’m not going to spit out the soup, which after all has already been made. Can’t I be ideologically opposed to something without being aesthetically repelled? So I’m just going to say it: these Tour de Suisse podium girls are really easy on the eyes.
There, I said it, and I guess I better shut up now.
There, I said it, and I guess I better shut up now.