Monday, May 20, 2013

Ride Report - 2013 Tour of California Mount Diablo Stage


I’m on battery.  Very little time here, probably less than I think.  My battery is bad.  My PC will bluescreen any second because that’s how it announces it’s run out of juice.  So this report, about my big ride to watch the Tour of California Mount Diablo stage, will be merciful and quick.  It’s targeted at my bike club pals, so if you’re not one of them there may be some unfamiliar proper nouns in here, but just roll with it.  If the text, brief though it may be, becomes too much, scroll down for the photos and movies.  And then go back and read the text so you’ll know what the hell you just saw.  Or not.  Whatever.  (For the report of last year’s Tour of California Diablo stage, click here.)

Full (but quick) report

Breakfast before the big outing was a plate of leftover Fettuccine Carbovera.  I’m coining a term there for Erin’s ad hoc creation.  It was like a Carbonara, to gratify the family’s saturated fat centers, but also like a Primavera, with a bunch of vegetables she threw in, probably to assuage her guilt at serving a starch-bomb to the family to begin with.  Very tasty.  With this I had a glass of my homemade Caffeine Water, which is like that Vitamin Water people drink except that instead of having corn syrup and artificial color to complement the needless easy-to-get vitamin supplement that gives people, including college-educated full-grown adults, an excuse to drink sugar water, my drink is just water and an off-brand caffeine tablet.  When NoDoz was recalled well over a year ago I had to switch to this off-brand, which I’m convinced doesn’t dissolve readily, because I end up getting no benefit from it during my ride and then being bizarrely unable to sleep like eight hours later.  So I dissolve it which makes a beverage with such a foul flavor, it must give me a performance advantage. 

I was pleasantly surprised to see four EBVC dudes waiting at the coffee shop.  Sean had pre-flaked and based on my flakage chart I didn’t expect to see him, and I figured at least one other guy would probably flake as well.  I was less pleasantly surprised by how few of us decided to spend the whole day standing out in the sun to begin with.  It wasn’t easy for me to get a furlough:  I missed one daughter’s soccer game and the other’s violin recital for this.  As I was leaving they let me know how unimpressed they were with my decision.  Parenting is hard, but they’ll thank me for this tough love later.  I don’t know why they’ll thank me—probably just to make me feel guilty all over again—but they’ll thank me.  If they don’t I’ll make them.

I’d been thinking of Jens Voigt that morning, and even cornered my younger daughter and made her watch his interview following his brilliant win in stage five, where he said, “I was really hurting so I thought ‘now or never.’”  I explained the point of this to my daughter—if you feel good the others do too, so you better attack when you’re suffering to make sure they are, too—figuring it might help her soccer game.  She’s good at soccer but in my opinion doesn’t suffer enough, yet.  I also told her about how Jens Voigt is known for saying, “Shut up, legs!” as they scream at him during a solo breakaway effort.

I was late meeting the guys, yes.  But not as late as Tony said.  His 10-minute-late claim is about as realistic as “clean coal.”  I timed myself and was exactly 5 minutes 40 seconds late.  It’s not my fault.  I was all ready to go, and ahead of schedule, when I suddenly realized I wasn’t done with my, uh, toiletries.  This wouldn’t have been a problem except at that moment my wife started taking a shower.  We have only one bathroom (a sore point in our family, I might add).  She would be talking to painters and buying paint and shuttling the kids around everywhere all day so I had to be careful what more I asked for.  Could I manage to ride without doing this download?  “Shut up, bowels!” I said to myself.  Well, I said it to my bowels, really, in my best stern German voice.

So, yeah, I was late.  It was worth it.  No offense, guys.  We made good time meeting up with Ian and Matt at Whole Foods, despite getting totally wrong instructions from some guy in a parking lot who probably just stands around giving bad directions to people.  Diablo was mobbed.  It was hot.  I was wearing a backpack.  It contained a good camera, a big thing of sunscreen, two glorious sandwiches (in the special internal sandwich pocket), an orange, a hat, sandals, phone, and in the outside pocket a totally brown banana that I brought just to get it out of the kitchen where it was slowly killing the flowers I’d bought for Mothers Day.  Ripening fruit put out ethylene gas.  Erin refused to move the flowers from over the sink.  They were her flowers.  I got a big furlough today.  I didn’t argue.  Plus I hoped to aggravate Ian with the brown speckledness of the banana.  As he is known for pointing out, he likes a firm banana.

There were spectators here and there reclining along the side of North Gate Road.  I couldn’t decide whether or not to tell them the racers would be coming up South Gate, making this vantage point utterly useless.  In the end I didn’t tell them.  Perhaps they had their reasons.  It’s often best not to engage.  Today I engaged with a shoeshine guy.  He was right in my face and I decided there was no harm in getting a quote.  He said, “Let me look at your shoes,” and then squirted this stuff on them.  Now I was on the hook.  Smooth.  “You’ve been had, don’t feel bad,” he said.  Now my shoes stink.  I don’t know what he used to shine them, but the fumes are making it hard to think.  To the extent you hate this report it’s his fault.  Oh, and that of my battery because it’s making me rush so much.

My backpack was heavy and suffocated my spine.  Remember “Goldfinger”?  That woman died because her spine couldn’t breathe through the gold paint, and she wasn’t even trying to pedal a bike up the harder side of Diablo.  (The racers themselves did the easy side, South Gate.  We did North Gate, for fear of being harassed by one another for being wimps.)  I was one second slower than last time from Checkpoint Charlie to the ranger station, due to the backpack.

Here are some photos, which perhaps we’ll use in the “Men of East Bay Velo Club” calendar.

While we waited for the racers for a couple hours, we tried to watch the race on our smartphones.  I got about five seconds of video before it froze, so I gave up and stashed the phone in my pocket.  Ten minutes later Phil Liggett is suddenly talking out of my pocket.  I had to force-kill the app to save my battery.  Ian theorized that the titanium in my leg was interfering with the signal.  Mark and Lucas had better luck and were getting the blow-by-blow report, and could see that our local hero, Nathan English, was in the breakaway with Andy Schleck.  We were pretty excited about that, of course.  Local Boy Makes Good!  But as the racers approached Mount Diablo itself, Nate got caught.  Lucas was yelling at his phone, “C’mon Nate!”  I guess that’s progress:  a generation ago men our age were yelling at football players through the TV.  At least phones could communicate, unlike TVs, and at least Lucas didn’t call him a dumb bastard or anything like football fans do.

The other guys bought sandwiches at the Food Whole.  Lucas showed his off.  It did look fancy.  (Oooh!  Brie!)  My sandwiches didn’t look so fancy but deep down inside I’ll bet Lucas was envious.  Mine were handmade by college grads:  I made one, my wife the other, and I looked forward to testing the theory about whether a sandwich always tastes better when somebody else makes it.  But I queered the whole test by not using identical ingredients.  One sandwich had avocado, cheddar, tomatoes, salt, and pepper; the other had mozzarella instead, and the addition of cucumbers.  I tried to brag:  “These cucumbers were marinated in Italian dressing all night.”  Mark correctly guessed that they were leftovers from one of my kids, not any premeditated culinary scheme.  The cheese in my sandwiches was nicely melted from the hot day and my stuffy backpack .  On the other hand, the banana had gotten even riper—let’s face it, flat-out rotten.  But good.  (By the way, Alex, who met us up there, had the best lunch of all, that being sandwiches he made fresh right there on the mountain, using a really cool knife to cut charcuterie and a cheese that was so fancy I can’t remember, or never knew, its name, all on an Acme baguette.  I was too jealous to snap a photo of it.)

Eventually the racers approached.  We could see them, ant-like, on distant stretches of road.  Just find the copter and look down.  A million support vehicles drove by, along with an astonishing number of snub-nosed (well, short-fuselage) school buses with the “School” part covered up.  They were carrying VIPs, no doubt, to a point farther up the road than we mere fans were allowed to go.  Probably those people were rich or good-looking but had almost no interest in cycling.  That’s just how it goes.

I focused my camera, zoomed all the way in to 16x, on a switchback way down the mountain.  I thought the helicopter might rise up behind the riders and I could catch a really good shot, maybe even a really cool movie.  As I sat there waiting for it, it actually happened!  Somebody next to me said, “Here’s your Airwolf moment!” and it was almost too good to be true.  Actually, it proved entirely too good to be true, because in the heat of the moment I totally choked and failed to snap a photo, much less make a movie.  The helicopter rose out of view and man was I pissed at myself.

When the racers came by I almost made good on my vow not to try to film them, which is almost impossible, and just to enjoy the visual spectacle through my eyes alone.  But I couldn’t resist, but also didn’t really look at the camera screen, so what you get below is kind of a Blair Witch Handheld Cinema Verité  kind of thing.  It has its moments, particularly the part where you can see the BMC boys, including race leader Tejay, with my very own bike (the grey and black Orbea) in the background!

Nate came by.  He ended up riding pretty well, passing by former Tour de France winner Andy Schleck.  Here are a couple photos of him.  I wonder if his all-time Strava record for Mount Diablo fell.  I could check, except I’m not on Strava (nor Facebook, nor Twitter, nor Tumblr, etc.)  … I refuse.

It didn’t take as long for the racers to go by as I’d expected.  They were all flying.  If the tables were turned and any one of these guys was standing on the side of the road watching me ride by, even on my best day, he’d shake his head and think, “Poor stupid bastard, why does he even try?”  And he’d be right.  I am humbled, which is humbling, because I think I was pretty humble to begin with.

The descent was madcap.  Throngs of cyclists, of varying ability.  Skilled, unskilled, bold, cautious … the worst combination was bold and unskilled, followed close behind by skilled and bold.  Nobody should be bold in such circumstances.  Some of the lesser pros blew by us, one of them trailing garbage.  Throughout my descent (I went it alone, not wanting to cause—or become—collateral damage) I kept hearing this whistling sound.  What was it?  Finally I realized:  it was the whistle built into the Fastek buckle of my daughter’s backpack.  (I borrowed the one without the butterflies on it but probably still looked like an idiot, but it didn’t matter because I couldn’t see myself anyway—BAM!)

At the bottom we regrouped right where the team vans were all parked.  We saw Jens Voigt himself roll up, and suddenly I remembered Mary Beth’s request to get a photo of him.  (She couldn’t come to the race because she had to walk her dog or something.)  As luck would have it, I already had my phone out, to call my wife and say I’d be late (and to ask her to put a fresh rug in the doghouse for me).  So I flipped it into camera mode and pointed it at Jens.  He looked over and even waved, and—dammit it to hell, the thing wouldn’t snap the picture!  I don’t know why.  It just didn’t feel like it.  I almost spiked it onto the sidewalk, but instead ran over to Jens’s bike.  The rumor I’d heard turns out to be true, about what he has painted on his top tube:

The guys were leaving and I scrambled back to my bike and took off in a hurry, further cementing the fear I’d had periodically all day that I was leaving things behind.  I think I actually made it home with almost everything—only my hopes of the Airwolf shot and the Jens Voigt shot were left behind.

A few of us rode to Bart, to mitigate the Dutch we’d be in with the wives for staying out too long.  At least we wore plenty of sunscreen, and we didn’t hit a pub on the way and show up at home drunk.  Punch-drunk perhaps, but it’s always that way after seeing a live sporting event of this caliber.

Dinner was crab cakes.  I made the tartar sauce myself.  There were mashed potatoes—mine plus the kids’ because they’d somehow spoiled their appetites.  I had a beer, a San Miguel, which is a pointless nothing-beer … it’s not watery like a Corona, which goes down nice on a hot evening after a long ride, nor tasty like a Belgian ale, nor powerful like an IPA.  But it was cold and liquid and didn’t bother me a bit.  Not having another beer cold did bother me a bit, but it’s just as well, considering how (relatively) slow I am on Mount Diablo these days with my off-season belly.

It’s almost time to switch Bart trains, so I can make a bunch of new enemies based on the stench of these shoes.  I can’t believe my luck, that this laptop battery has held out so long.  I hope you also consider this to be a stroke of luck.  I guess if you’re still reading you do.


I was so absorbed in this report, and my nagging fear of sudden battery death, that I got off at the wrong Bart station.  I hope you’re happy.  Oh, and one more thing:  Mary Beth, here’s a photo of Jens Voigt.  Obviously it’s not from this race (wrong kit); I snapped it at another great American bike race.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Biased Blow-by-Blow - Giro d’Italia Stage 15


In an earlier post I discussed the merits of totally biased reporting on the Giro d’Italia stage race.  This morning, I caught the last 30K of today’s stage—the crucial climbs of the Col du Télégraphe and the Col du Galibier.  Below I provide my blow-by-blow of the race for the benefit of anybody who may have missed it and wants a more colorful commentary than is offered by the responsible journalists at

My biased blow-by-blow of the final 20K of Stage 15

As I join the action, this lousy commentator, Declan somebody, is speaking.  This isn’t surprising; he’s like the ubiquitous iron pyrite to Sean Kelly’s occasional gold nuggets.  “It’s exciting to seem them scrapping it out.”  This pointless statement is only somewhat redeemed by the odd Britishism at the end.  Look, pal, you can’t make a race seem exciting by simply declaring that it is.  Besides, it’s exciting  to begin with so if you don’t have something intelligent to say, just be quiet.

The race is approaching the Col du Télégraphe.  What would this climb be named today?  Col du Cell Tower?

I remember this climb from racing La Marmotte, a one-day cyclosportif.  The Télégraphe is the kind of Category 2 climb that makes me laugh at anybody who calls some local climb an HC.  It’s brutal.  Of course, you laugh at the Télégraphe itself in retrospect if cruel fate has you tackling the Galibier next.

It’s incredible that I woke up, without an alarm, just in time to tune in as the race approaches this point.  I’d like to thank my parents, for not giving me an allowance and thus forcing me to become a paperboy and lifelong morning person, and my wife, for selecting curtains for the bedroom that are about as opaque as a single sheet of newsprint.

Cadel Evans is removing his arm warmers.  I’m glad I didn’t have to see him putting them on, since I’m rooting for him.  Putting on arm warmers is one of the more dangerous moves in cycling:  several times my fingers have slipped off the top of them, causing me to punch myself in the face.  Not a good move, especially as you begin a descent.

It’s kind of fun watching the ads on Eurosport.  There’s something kind of amateur and facile about them, compared to ours ... Euro ads don’t fill me with the same sense that I’m being manipulated subconsciously somehow.

It is said that the (movie) camera adds five pounds (or is it ten)?  If that’s the case, these stage racers would be kind of creepy in real life.

“The action is starting to hot up.”  This is the second time I’ve heard this during the past week.  It validates the assertion that “there’s scarcely a word in the language that can’t be verbed.”  I don’t like this expression “hot up.”  Needless to say it wasn’t Sean Kelly who said it.  He doesn’t go for such silly linguistic novelties; he’s as old-school that way as he was with his equipment (last guy still using toe clips, etc.).  This Declan clown probably says “process-eez” as well.

Robert Gesink has attacked!  Peter Stetina is dropped.  Kelly says, in so many words, that Gesink is doomed.  I have to agree:  the poor guy is hauling a giant titanium rod up the mountain, inside his femur, and if that isn’t a disadvantage, it’s at least enough to keep me making excuses for my own poor performance.

Gesink has removed his helmet and put it back on, while climbing a 10% grade at like 15 MPH.  He should get some sort of award for that.  (In the US he’d probably get DQ’d.)  I have no idea why he did that, other than perhaps to show off.

He’s with some Euskaltel bloke.

Some announcers say “Hay-sink,” others “Guess-ink.”  I choose the former because my expatriate brother (over in Holland) says they pronounce Gouda (the cheese) “How-da” over there.  I usually try to be as Euro as possible, on the theory that it gives an air of sophistication to my lifelong role of social outcast.

Three guys have attacked the main peloton.  I’m not going to figure out their names because they’re doomed anyway and their names won’t matter in another few kilometers.

The Euskeltel guy, Esteban, makes a gesture to Gesink that seems to mean “keep it steady, no bursts.”  Either that or “Keep your head down, we’re about to be shelled.”

Betancur of AG2R has pointlessly attacked.  I say “pointless” because AG2R seem to be the doomed-attack specialists.  That said, Betancur had a great result yesterday.

We’re getting a super-slow-mo of Esteban’s hand gesture.  Declan takes it to mean “Let’s slow down and see who can come up to us and help.”  If so, perhaps he’s right. 

A Radio Shack and a Sky have come up.  Kiserlovski and Hanao.  Gesink may well benefit from having breakaway companions with proper helmets.  Estaban’s helmet is one of these weird Orbea ones that look like they’re on backwards.  I doubt it slows him down, but I just can’t picture anybody winning in such a helmet.

Gesink’s group is being joined by Di Luca.  Perhaps that’s just the kind of dope-fired muscle this group needs, though the filthy soulless doper hasn’t had his dosages right in years, judging by his results.  He’s in this gross neon yellow, including yellow shorts, so he looks the dork that he is.  (My daughter would point out that actual neon is never yellow in color, by the way.  But you know what I mean.)  A rider like Di Luca should be wearing a very dull, unassuming color because that would be the closest thing to him just going away, which is really what needs to happen.

Evans is sitting a couple wheels behind Vincenzo Nibali in the peloton, looking fine.  The way he holds himself on the bike, you can spot him easily from away off.

So apparently the leader of the race is this Movistar guy.  He also has a funny looking helmet, Catlike I think, and only 29 seconds over the group behind him, so I think he’ll be caught.  Then again, riders have done well with those awful Giro helmets with barely any vents, so perhaps my silly-helmet-can’t-win theory is bogus.

Wow ...they’re showing some footage of the snow atop the Galibier.  It’s like fricking Hoth or something.  Unbelievable.

My wife actually comes over to watch for a minute.  I tell her they’re on the Télégraphe.  She remembers this climb from driving the La Marmotte course with me a decade ago.  “It’s green,” she says—indeed, greener than it was in July when we were there.  Now she’s lost interest.  Her interest lasted far less than a minute, actually.

Gesink looks super-strong.  He’s forging ahead and the others are scrambling to close the gaps he’s creating.

Giovanni Visconti is the Movistar guy. He’s finished the Télégraphe, which is to the Galibier what paying your phone bill is to paying your mortgage.  Having cracked at the summit of the Télégraphe myself, I pity anybody in this race who has overestimated himself and overcooked it.

Visconti has only 11 seconds on the next group.

I guess these guys aren’t doing the entire Galibier ... the race promoters had to move the finish line down 4K from the top because of the conditions.  Cool, they’re showing a marmot up there, immensely fluffy and not minding the snow.  Well, he’s not complaining, anyway.  What would that sound like?  A marmot complaining, I mean?

Visconti is in a full tuck on the short descent to Valloire.  He’s really hauling ass.  It’s always a thrill to get to coast after so much climbing.

Okay, Visconti is a couple minutes ahead of the Gesink group.  There’s also a trio of chasers, though, who are only 20 seconds behind him, but there’s very little footage of these guys.  It’s hard to come late to the party and sort out who’s where.

Visconti is now on the lower slopes of the Col du Galibier.  This climb starts off bad and then gets worse, and then even worse.

The chase group is Pirazzi, Weening, and Rabottini.  Weening is starting to drop the other two.  Everybody’s legs look heavy ... or perhaps I’m just projecting based on how badly this climb destroyed me, twice (2003 and 2006).

Visconti ditches a bottle and gets a replacement.  Based on how it smacked the road I’d say it was at least half full.  Maybe he didn’t like what was in it.

Gesink’s group isn’t really that far from the pink jersey group ... only about 40 seconds.

Every few minutes I get a pop-up ad that blocks my screen for 20 seconds.  It’s always for the Flash player and pretends to be a system message from my PC advising that I need this Flash plug-in to see the video.  How stupid do they think I am?  I hate them.

Rabottini has attacked the other two in his group.  I know nothing about this rider other than I hate his bright yellow uniform.  Surely he’ll pay for this.

Evans is still two wheels behind Nibali back in the group.

There’s a light rain, droplets on the camera lens.

Wow, Rabottini is really flying.  I hope he knows what he’s doing.  Actually, I hope he doesn’t.  But good on him anyway.  I’m ambivalent.  Who is this guy?

So, 9K to go.  It’s a pity they’re not going all the way to the top, because it’s in the final few kilos that the grade gets really steep.

Declan just said “Hay-sink.”  This is noteworthy because he said “Guess-ink” earlier.  Perhaps Kelly has rubbed off on him, or maybe he’d rather be right half the time than risk being wrong all the time.

I think Gesink et al have been absorbed.

Pirazzi and Weening are about ten seconds behind Rabottini.  Is there a pasta shape called Rabottini?  There ought to be.

Wow ... footage of the finish, and it’s snowing pretty hard up there!  Remember that Tour de France in 2003 where a heat wave hit France, and Lance, the pretend leader, almost lost his yellow jersey to Ullrich due to dehydration?  That was the same week as La Marmotte so I experienced that heat wave firsthand.  It was like 95 degrees at the base of the Télégraphe, but still cool atop the Galibier, and there was still snow up there then, in July!  It’s just a harsh summit all the way around.

It’s 6K to go for Visconti and about 8% average grade from here.

Rabottini may be starting to fade ... he’s 55 seconds behind Visconti now.

The peloton is stretched out in a line.  The hammer has gone down!

Astana has a guy on the front of the peloton keeping it steady for Nibali.

Some Euskaltel guy has attacked.  Olympic champ Samuel Sanchez, perhaps.  Two guys have gone with him.  He’s got 5K to bridge a 2:19 gap ... he might do it.  It’s Damiano Caruso with him.  “They’re not danger men,” Kelly asserts.  The peloton does seem to have let them go ... or maybe those two are just going too fast.

I wonder if I myself can hang on?  I don’t know if it’s the sight of this awful climb or what, but I’ve had a mounting urge to defecate all morning.  But I can’t bear to miss any of this race!  Don’t worry, if things get ugly for me I’ll keep it to myself.

My wife came in again to open the window blinds.  “Is it stimulating for you to watch this?” she says euphemistically.  She knows me well!

Visconti now has 1:07 to Rabottini, 1:51 to Sanchez and Caruso.  But now there’s an ad for Support & Advice for Caregivers blocking my view.  I couldn’t care less about caregivers right now.  Sorry.

It’s totally blowing snow now as Visconti makes his way, and there’s gobs of snow along the margin of the road.  He’s got less than 3K to go.  He looks pretty miserable.

Back in the group, a Lampre guy has attacked the (depleted) field.  Astana is right on the front and this is their move to cover.

My video feed is breaking up here and there ... a problem with the satellite, or this web server I’m connected to?  I can’t complain though because it’s warm in my house here and these guys are racing through a blizzard.

Evans is dangerously far back in this group.  Uran is bound to launch an attack any second now, and Nibali will be keen to capatilize if he can. 

Nibali has attacked!  He’s got a Lampre and some yellow guy.  Evans is grinding his way back up as well.  The field is in tatters.  DAAAAAAAMN!

The group is less than two minutes from Visconti, who has 1.3K to go.  Rabottini is being slowly slaughtered by the mountain.

Two more guys attack and Nibali is right on them.  Evans is drilling it to stay on Nibali.

Visconti is under the 1K banner.  It’s an 11% grade for him.

A Colombian has just attacked the group.  He looks to be about 12 years old.  He’s just darling.

Evans attacks!  It looks pretty impressive but a few seconds later he’s been completely neutralized.

My kid is in my face!  She’s asking for my camera so she can record a soap opera with her Polly Pockets!  I can’t shake her!

She’s gone.  I contrived a difficult location for her to search in for the camera.  That’ll take her at least a couple minutes.  Not very nice, I know, but it’s coming down to the wire here!

I think Visconti has got this one in the bag!

He has 150 meters to go, though he’s barely moving forward anymore.  Longest 150 meters of his life I’m sure.

He’s got the win!  Pretty good victory salute, considering.  He got both arms up in the air, which I’d say took about 25 more calories than I supposed he had left.

A few random dudes have dropped the GC contenders and will get the time bonuses, thus effectively neutralizing the GC battle.

I guess the lead group has crossed the line ... another dang ad blocked my view.  Wow, the pack shattered toward the end there.  It’s onsies-twosies over the line.  Here comes an Astana guy who must have detonated right at the end after slaying himself for Nibali all day.

Nibali 7th, Evans 8th ... only 54 seconds behind Visconti.  They were closing it up fast there.

Super-slow-mo of Visconti winning.  Man:  sheets of snow coming down.

This Lampre guy not only has the ugliest helmet in the race, but probably in all of cycling.  A plain white dome, no vents, and little pink and blue piping.  It’s so eighties.  He should be relegated for that helmet as it’s a disgrace to the sport.

No real change to the GC.

At 23:00 CST Eurosport will be showing the Tour of California.  Right on!  I’m glad our race seems legit to the UK broadcasters and their fans.

A bunch of ads now.  There is this Eurosport ad that hasn’t changed in like three years.  They’re certainly getting their money’s worth out of it, assuming it still has any effect on the viewers.  It’s not like this ad is the reason I’m watching Eurosport .  I mean, where else am I going to watch the Giro d’Italia ... the Nashville Network?

Hmm.  After the commercials, I’m suddenly thrust into the Tour of Norway.  Oddly, it’s much sunnier on this course.

Switching to DEFCOM2, Rai Sport (in Italian).  It’s a combo of talking heads and footage.  Visconti has his weird stuffed bucket thingy and his flowers.  He’s getting his kisses.  The podium girls, in sleeveless dresses, are real sports.  Visconti is looking at the champagne bottle as if to say, “Do I have to?”  He should be spraying hot coffee on everybody.

Okay, that does it.  I have to go see a man about a horse.  This concludes your albertnet coverage of Stage 15 of the 2013 Giro d’Italia...

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Biased Blow-by-Blow - Giro d'Italia Stage 12

NOTE:  This post is rated PG-13 for mild strong language and mature themes.


In my previous post I discussed the merits of totally biased reporting on the Giro d’Italia stage race.  This morning, I caught the last 20K and narrated it, via instant message, to a friend, as I did with Stage 10.  As before, I find that this blow-by-blow report merits a place on my blog, for those who missed this stage (and just as importantly, the follow-up ceremony).

In case anybody was wondering, I only took about half an hour out of my workday for this, around 8 a.m.  My workday started at 6:00 and believe me, I made up the time.  I wouldn’t want anybody to think I’m a slacker, particularly in this economy.

My biased blow-by-blow of the final 20K of Stage 12

Cadel Evans is wearing one of those ridiculous new Giro helmets that seem to have almost no vents.  They’re like old hockey helmets, or something the bad guys would wear in a bad ‘50s sci-fi movie.  Taylor Phinney has one too.  What’s the world coming to?  Oh, some Sky guy attacked but I was too distracted by the helmet to see who it was and what he was trying to do.  These helmets must be a terrible distraction to the riders too.

The Eurosport announcers keep mentioning Scarponi, is in “Scarponi had a problem.”  Yeah, Scarponi has a problem—he’s a doping, lying d’bag.  All other smaller problems are incidental.

Hesjedal is wearing a plain grey jacket.  Perhaps he’d rather leave the spotlight to his teammates, after their double victory yesterday (stage victories in Giro d’Italia and Tour of California).

23K to go.  Probably less than half an hour on flat roads like these.

There’s a break of five off. They’re 2:10 ahead. Pretty good chance they’ll be reeled in and spanked for their insolence.  

Wiggo and his Sky brethren are all off the back.  Sean Kelly speculates that Wiggins chickened out again on the descent, but he (Kelly) is being very diplomatic about it.  That restraint is probably costing him dearly ... his tongue is probably bleeding.

The other announcer, Declan, is talking about how Bradley’s tummy hurts.  That’s not how he put it, of course.   He said something like “intestinal virus.”  But we all know this is a euphemism for what he’s thinking, which is “Awwww, does our tummy hurt?”

I guess that’s pretty uncharitable of me to make fun of Wiggins, but I just can’t help it.

Ah, now it’s a “chest infection” though when Declan said it it sounded a bit like “yeast infection.”  I’m sure that’s not what he said, though ... he’s not that catty.

You can tell Wiggo is suffering because he’s back with a couple Euskaltel guys who are no better at riding the flats than I am!  Actually, they’re far better, but the ratio of their performance in the hills to their performance on the flats is similar to mine—that is, fricking sad.

[A reader writes in, “Damn, you’re insulting youseff!”  My response:  “I can’t help it. It’s how I was raised.”]

Man, they just showed a super-slo-mo of Bradley’s face, and he really does look miserable. He looks even more miserable than Cadel Evans did when he got his podium girl kisses yesterday.  I’m sure Evans enjoyed the kisses—who wouldn’t?—but Evans always looks miserable. He makes Nadia Comăneci look like Mary Lou Retton.

You know what those stupid ventless Giro helmets remind me of? Those awful Brancale helmets from the early ‘80s.  The riders must be getting a LOT of money to wear them.

On slow days like this it’s not uncommon for a commentator to mention other news in cycling.  So I guess I should say something about Laurent Jalabert’s statement to French authorities yesterday.  He’s taken the art of half-confession to a new low.  Kind of a quarter-fession.  “Yeah, the doctors gave us some stuff, and we didn’t know what it was, but I’m sure it was fine.  Just for our health, you know.”  I can’t say I’m crestfallen or anything.  I hadn’t had a lot of respect for Jalabert anyway, because the way that guy dodged the inspectors and “fought for riders’ rights” (i.e., bitched and whined), I always assumed he was lubed.  Plus I hated his nickname, “Jaja.”  I know that’s probably not his fault, but he should have tried to squash it.  I do like saying “Jalabert,” though.

Wiggo is probably not going to make it back to the bunch. He’s running out of time.

Dang, my video feed just crapped out!

None of my Eurosport links is working now.

These free Internet feeds are always spotty but why must it crap out now?

Okay, it’s back, but they’re showing tennis!

At least the announcer has the right accent.

I tried a Dutch link ... no dice, just the top ten list from like stage 2.

I just got an inquiry from an online follower:  “Did Wiggo get dropped by his teammates? That’s what the typed [cyclingnews] feed is saying.  But wiggo did catch the chase group.”  Well, I guess you can’t count on just any race feed you stumble on!  Last I saw Wiggo’s teammates were surrounding him like gnats, but they were all way off the back.  The “chase group” is bereft of GC contenders.

Okay, I’ve got coverage again, in Italian.

9.3K to go, 35 seconds to the break.

Wiggins is 3 minutes down!

Cav is near the front. Maybe he’s yelling at his bitches to haul in this break already.

Note that I have nothing but respect for Cav’s teammates. I’m just trying to use the pro-athlete vernacular here, imagining what Cav might call his domestiques when he’s not being interviewed, post-win.

Cav’s interviews, incidentally, are very interesting and show some real polish. I guess when you win that often, you plan your speeches in advance and perhaps even rehearse them.

This announcer enjoys saying “Vi-CHEN-zoe NEEE-bal-ee” as much as I do. It’s obvious.  Frankly, there’s nothing to say about Nibali on a stage like this. He’s in pink, he’s in the group, he’s just waiting for the stage to be over.

I love how precisely the peloton handles these breakaways, letting them dangle out there, 24 seconds now, just enough to give the guys false hope.

I wonder if other languages have their own version of “DENIED!” which is what I imagine all the English-speakers in the peloton think when it finally swallows up these poor breakaway guys.

Sky is doing a total TTT off the back, with a bunch of sad-sack hangers-on sucking wheel behind.

It’s 5K to go, the break has 18 seconds.

Can they hang on?!” Declan asks. To which I reply, “Can you come up with a better rhetorical question than that, you dope?!”

Kelly is being politely silent.  (I’m back on an English-language feed now, thank goodness.)

“We will see quite a few riders pushing about trying for Cavendish’s wheeel,” Kelly says of the sprint.  A week or so ago there was a lot of jostling in the sprint finish and afterward Declan asked Kelly if he ever pushed guys around in a sprint. “Of course,” Kelly replied. He didn’t add, “Because I was a real man and why the hell wouldn’t I?” because this was implied.

The break is caught.

2K to go.

Oh, wait, the break is still 10 seconds up.

But the group is flying.  The break is doomed.

I love how this group can blow by a little town in like 30 seconds because they’re hauling ass so fast.

I have no idea who was in this break, BTW. Just random guys. It’s not worth learning their names, just like you don’t name the goldfish you feed to your piranhas.

The pack is setting up for the final sprint.  (I refuse to say “gallop.”  Any commentator who uses that hackneyed term ought to be tied to a chair and beaten.)  Cav is right in there.

Cav launches!

He went really early.

Cav wins by a good margin.  Man, he’s still got it. Made everyone else look like a chump.

Cav has rolled up to his handlers now and man, he looks blown.  Chest heaving.  Wow, he went so hard, I think he warped his mouth.

His lower lip is all distended.

You can see his breath.

He’s starting to smile but it looks pained, like when I saw Don Johnson filming Nash Bridges despite being like 80 years old.

Wiggins is still out on the road.

Okay, Cav’s mouth is now working properly. Whew.  For a minute there he looked to become one of the ugliest men in the peloton, his mouth gaping like a fish’s.

One of Bradley’s henchmen accidently gapped the Sky group. Man. Wiggo must really be hurting.

There’s some discussion about the race officials taking the GC time at 3K to go, because of the rain. That makes about as much sense as ketchup on a hot dog.  I mean, a crash or mechanical, that makes sense. But it’s not like these guys aren’t used to suffering in the cold and wet.

Wiggo lost 3:38 today.

I wonder if Froome is watching and feeling all smug.

Quite a modest victory salute from Cav. Just a slightly raised fist, about eye level. Maybe his upper body is stiff from the cold.

I wish I could hear Wiggins summing up his awful day.  Probably some gloriously colorful and profane expressions, unless he pulls off that stiff-upper-lip, keep-calm-and-carry-on business. In that case I’d like to hear his interior monologue.

Only 3 riders went down today, despite the awful weather.  It was a pretty dramatic crash though.  Those dudes slid for days.  I have it on good authority that the roads in Europe, when wet, are slick as snot, because there are so many diesel cars and trucks.  It takes a real downpour to wash that crap off.

I wonder how the points competition will change now. I guarantee you Cadel didn’t get any points today.

They’ve set the highlights reel to this awful music, sort of the British version of John Tesh.  It has about five discrete notes.  I’m sure this is the elevator music they play in Hell.  And the elevators are always broken down.

I’m really relieved about Cav’s mouth returning to normal. He’s such a high-profile rider, it would be a shame if his mouth became permanently distended, to the extent of being able to accommodate a tennis ball.  He didn’t look right.  This sport needs all the nice smiles it can get among its top riders.

You know, whenever somebody is bagging on Cav for being off the back on the first climb in a race, when it’s more of a molehill than even a climb, not categorized or anything, and they’re saying he’s fat and all that, they need to remember just how fricking fast that guy is. I mean, DAAAAAMN!

They just got a nice aerial shot of Nibali adjusting his junk before taking the podium.

Cav is diplomatically saying, “Those other teams were a bunch of losers. They wouldn’t chase, even with the break a minute ahead with 10K to go.”  By “diplomatically” I mean that I totally paraphrased what he said, which was probably closer to “Our team had to do most of the work but the guys really heroed up.”  Actually that’s not right either, but you get the idea.

Cav has a bit less razor stubble than usual. Maybe he got a phone call from his mom last night: “Come now, Mark, tomorrow’s pretty flat and you’re bound to win ... can’t you just shave tonight? You’ll be on TV again  tomorrow, and you look so shabby with all that stubble.”

Wow, Cav won a t-shirt, just like a US amateur! He’s thrown it to the crowd and now has been given one of those silly, dumpy little pillows that look like a tub of movie theater popcorn.

He’s spraying the bubbly. Takes only a small sip, because as much as he wins, he’d be an alcoholic if he indulged much in the victory champagne.

I love it when you get some guy on the podium who pounds a bunch of the champagne.  It doesn’t happen very often but when it does I’m like “That’s my boy!”  I remember Davis Phinney would down at least three beers during a post-Coors-Classic press conference, but then those were Coors beers which aren’t exactly IPAs or strong Belgian ales.

Nibali gives a 5-second interview. Boring as ever. Of course, it’s possible he’s quite eloquent yet concise;  I don’t speak Italian, after all.  For all I know he said, “A difficult stage, but beautiful ... glancing over the peloton on a stretched-out straightaway, the riders looked like little dots of color on the wet, jet-black road.  I was reminded of Ezra Pound’s poem about ‘petals on a wet black bough.’  And now if you’ll excuse me I have to go warm up my balls.”

They’re giving Nibali the weird ceremonial maglia rosa with the zipper in back. Remember that Bill Murray movie where he was doing a TV ad in Japan and the jacket was too big, so they put binder big clips on the back to snug it up? They should have those handy for when a pocket-climber wins a stage.

Man, it’s windy out there. The ticker-tape from the awards ceremony is blowing around, all the way down in the road. I thought it was snow at first.

Well, other than Wiggo detonating, this was a pretty boring stage, predictably enough. I’d say the greatest excitement was when I lost all my video feeds with less than 10K to go, and there was all this suspense about whether I’d actually get to see anything.

I just fired up cyclingnews, and have learned that 2nd and 3rd place went to Nacer Bouhanni (sounds like a SoCal health food, but he’s French) and Luka Mezgec (nationality unknown ... a “citizen of the world” perhaps).  Luka Mezgec is a weird name, like a cross between a cheesy American pop singer and an Iron Curtain thug.  What do other sports fans do, who have to see the same old names again and again?  This sport is chock-full of anonymous characters.  I love it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Biased Blow-by-Blow - Giro d'Italia Stage 10


This year’s Giro d’Italia is off to a fantastic start. I’ve been able to catch at least the final ten or fifteen minutes of several of the stages. This race has been more exciting than the Tour de France the last few years, perhaps because it’s not quite as important a race, so not everybody has put all his preparation into it—you have a mix of ambitions, so it’s less predictable.

Following the Giro often means catching the last few minutes in a replay on, often in another language, or watching live on a postcard-sized live video feed over the Internet. (I guess people with cable TV have a better experience but I know nothing about that.) Click here for details on how to find online cycling coverage.

The other way to follow this race is via the live text-based coverage on As a special treat, I did my own version of that today, at the request of a friend with whom I was instant-messaging. (Perhaps he was too close to maxing out the data allotment on his smartphone to view the live coverage himself.) I discovered, when I looked over my chat transcript, some key differences between my blow-by-blow and that of cyclingnews:
  • My updates were more frequent; 
  • I made no attempt to stick to journalistic standards of objectivity and unbiased reporting—in other words, I bagged on some guys who I thought deserved it and made fun of others for no good reason; 
  • My coverage extends beyond the end of the race to the sometimes silly behavior of the guys on the podium and to the all-important podium girls. 
I’m not saying my blow-by-blow is better, or that the cyclingnews journalist’s salary is rightfully mine—just that there’s a place for biased reporting. You can be the judge: my transcript is below. But first, here’s a bit of commentary on why such race reports shouldn’t be restricted to “just the facts.”

In praise of biased reporting

Nobody watches a sporting event without a bias. Okay, maybe somebody does, like a guy ogling both teams in women’s volleyball, but a real sports fan is always rooting for one team and/or one athlete. When your home team is playing, that’s an easy call (though sometimes fans have odd favorites, like my Bay Area colleague who’ll root for the Cardinals even when they play our Giants). When a fan’s home team isn’t playing, he’ll generally contrive a reason to favor one team over another. Don’t you?

Cycling is no different. In the ‘80s it was easy to pick a grand tour favorite: at first we all rooted for LeMond because he was the only American racing in Europe. When Andy Hampsten and Ron Keifel made it over there, I rooted for them because I’d made homemade pasta with them once. When I watched domestic criteriums I favored Davis Phinney because he once let me suck his wheel through a terrible headwind on a ride around the Morgul Bismark course. And when I watched the ’83 Coors Classic I rooted for Dale Stetina because he’d coached a bunch of us the previous year.

It’s harder now, in the post-Lance era, to pick a favorite. Sure, I’ll always root for Peter Stetina and Taylor Phinney because they’re the offspring of my ‘80s heroes. And when, say, Tejay van Garderen goes up against Tom Danielson, I’ll root for Tejay simply because he has a clean slate in terms of doping.

But what about when none of the Americans are in contention in a grand tour, or aren’t even racing? Have I contrived other loyalties, among the race favorites?

Whom to root for in this Giro

I do have my non-American favorites. I wouldn’t mind seeing Ryder Hesjedal do well because he’s on an American team and is from North America. On the other hand, I want Michele Scarponi to lose because he’s a known doper. Ditto Danilo De Luca. I always like to see the Dutch Robert Gesink do well, because—like me—he broke his femur somewhat recently so his success gives me hope.

Current Giro d’Italia race leader Vicenzo Nibali doesn’t move me one way or another. I haven’t seen any particular personality in him; he’s just this odd, quiet Italian guy … a bit of a cipher. I do like him to be in the mix, though, because I love saying his name, with as thick an Italian accent as I can muster. I stride around the house booming “Vi-CHEN-zoe NEEEEE-bal-ee!” and my kids say, “You’re weird, Dad.”

And now it’s time to mention Team Sky. In an earlier post I examined whether or not this team is good for cycling, so I won’t go into too much detail, but let’s just say I’m not a fan. Sky made the 2012 Tour de France a real yawner—the way the US Postal and Discovery Channel teams did a decade ago—by being too dominant. Suspiciously dominant, in fact. Am I saying Sky is, like Postal, a bunch of dopers? I’ll stop just short of that, but it sure doesn’t look good.

For example, where did this Chris Froome character come from? And given that he’s built like a pure climber, how can he time trial so well? There’s plenty of precedent for great time trialists who can limit their losses in the mountains—for example, Eddy Merckx, Greg LeMond, and Miguel Indurain—but pure climbers don’t tend to excel in time trials. Three exceptions to this rule: Tyler Hamilton, Levi Leipheimer, and Alberto Contador—doper, doper, and doper. Froome is another suspicious exception … his excellence in the time trials looks too good to be true. (Plus, he’s kind of a dork.)

Now, in case you’re still not with me on this Sky thing, consider this year’s Criterium International stage race. As was the case all spring, Sky was too dominant to be believed. As an increasingly select group of top riders hammered along on the biggest climb of the race, Froome accidentally dropped his teammate, race leader Richie Porte, along with everybody else. Froome looked over his shoulder with utter nonchalance, and appeared to decide, “This pace doesn’t really hurt, and I guess this is a race, so maybe I’ll just keep going and win.” (For a race synopsis in which Froome is quoted—“It wasn’t my intention to attack so early in the climb”— click here; for a video of him accidentally dropping his yellow-clad teammate, click here and advance to minute 58:10. At 58:30 there’s super-slo-mo of his look back.)

In this same race, Porte waited a few kilometers before launching his own attack and crushing the rest of the world class racers. So Froome and Porte finished 1-2. Did that look clean? No. For a rider to beat that good a field should require that his domestiques completely sacrifice themselves, which generally means losing several minutes by the end; meanwhile, to solo to victory a rider should visibly struggle and show that he’s suffering. Those guys looked like replicants, which makes the whole team look bad. So I never cheer for any of them.

On a more pleasant note, let’s look at the one contender I’m really rooting for in this year’s Giro d’Italia: Cadel Evans. I like him because he’s from Australia (I always like non-European riders to succeed in this sport, as it makes it more international); because he’s paid his dues, having toiled away on the bike for many years; because he’s under-appreciated by most cycling fans (more on this in a minute); because he’s on an American team (BMC); and above all, because he loses a whole lot of the time—which suggests he’s clean. He's never been accused of doping and his successes have never looked, to me, too good to be true. I’ll give him and the newbies (e.g., van Garderen, Stetina, Phinney, Andrew Talansky) the benefit of the doubt when it comes to doping.


Lots of my friends talk smack about Evans because he has this oddly high-pitched voice that can sound whiny; because frankly sometimes he does whine; and because he loses a lot. Well, his voice isn’t exactly Morgan Freeman’s, it’s true—but he’s a bike racer, not a stage actor. As for whining, I can relate. If I had to do the kind of stage races he does, I’d be not only whining, I’d be bawling like a little girl. And though Evans has lost a lot over the years, some of his victories—the World Championships in 2009, the Strada Bianche stage of the Giro in 2010, and the Tour de France in 2011—were gritty, hard-fought, truly badass performances, made all the more special by his all-too-human track record.

My biased blow-by-blow of the last climb on Stage 10

Well, Hesjedal seems to have cracked already. Tommy D is trying to pace him back up.

Sky has all of its guys motoring away at the front of the peloton on this Cat 1 climb. There’s a break 4 minutes up that will be caught. Probably John Belushi could hang in this group if he had as much secret sauce as Team Sky has.

The Eurosport announcer, that Declan guy, is doing too much of the talking. Sean Kelly can’t get a word in edgewise, nor is he particularly inclined to.

Fair bit of snow on the ground.

Wiggins is too well ensconced in his Sky cocoon to even see, but he must be there.

Wiggins is now dangling at the back, clearly struggling.

Wiggins is dropped, as is Scarponi!

Di Luca is dropped.

Some AG2R guy is attacking. It’s [Dominico] Pozzovivo.

Evans looks solid so far.

Rigoberto Uran [Team Sky] has broken away and has 30 seconds.

Hesjedal is way off the back. He’s the Dana Albert of this year’s Giro!

Pozzovivo looks really good.

Nibali has dropped Evans!

Evans is clawing him back. Pozzovivo looks to be in good position to win the stage.

Wiggins has dropped the vile Italian doper [Scarpone]. So he’s alone now.

It’s possible Uran is dropping back to help him ... odd to see his advantage drop so quickly.

Well, I’m obviously no oracle ... now it looks like Pozzovivo is getting caught.

Wiggins looks like he’s hurting but is riding pretty well ... he looks calm and is being smart.

Evans is drilling it at the front now! He flicks his elbow to get Nibali to help. Nibali won’t, which is silly ... any chance to take time from Wiggo, while also demoralizing him, should be seized.

[Carlos] Betancur (AG2R) has attacked.

Wow, the front group is really small now and gaps are opening right and left. Evans is drilling it, on the drops, out of the saddle!

Uran has the quintessential Eurotrash hair.

He’s also got this stage in the bag. He’s across the line with a dramatic stage victory.

Nibali is dropping the hammer! Ferocious attack. Evans is chasing him down.

Betancur is 2nd.

Nibali got 3rd, Evans 5th.

A fricking ad just popped up on my screen, so I can’t see anything more.

Wiggins has crossed the line, over a minute down on Uran (who might have now passed him up on the GC).

[Mauro] Santambrogio was 4th.

Wiggins lost 37 seconds to Nibali and Evans.

Awesome stage. Uran moves into 3rd, a second ahead of the hipster knight.

Nibali took a few seconds off Evans via the time bonus for 3rd.

Nibali’s attack toward the end … man, he was flying. It’s very impressive Evans was able to stay on him.

Uran’s hair is majestically trashy. It rivals the flat-top mullet I rocked back in ‘88.

The podium girls are towering over Uran. He looks like a little boy whose parents ruin his life by letting him have really long hair.

Uran just took off his cap and gave his curly locks a big shake. I’m pretty sure he thinks he’s a rock star. I guess he is, today.

Nibali is presented with another pink jersey. He is clearly secure enough in his masculinity that he can pull off pink, even juxtaposed with his baby blue shorts. It helps that he’s taller than the podium girls. By the way, these podium girls are not as pretty as the ones for the Amgen Tour of California. Just sayin’.

Evans was just interviewed. He seemed relaxed but I was as surprised as ever by his high-pitched voice. It’s not his fault. He needs some anti-helium, if such a thing exists. He’s getting his points jersey now.

Evans did a better job than Uran at getting his kisses. Uran had thrust the arm of his flower-holding hand in front of the podium girl’s face, so she had to awkwardly dodge behind it to peck his cheek. It’s a tribute to her professionalism that she didn’t roll her eyes.

Back to the Evans interview ... the interviewer tried to seed some intrigue and trash-talk by pointing out that Nibali kind of chopped Evans when he attacked him at the end. Evans either didn’t take the bait, or was still too oxygen-deprived to understand the question, because his response was blandly incoherent.

Now Eurosport is onto a motorcycle race promo showing a racer stacking at high speed and sprawling grotesquely over the road. They show it again and again and it’s so vulgar.

I can’t watch anymore. Now there’s a promo for “Dancing WDSF Grand Slam - Hong Kong” and I’m pulling serious cultural Gs.

Stay tuned

That’s it for today. By the way, you may feeling like chiding me for calling Uran’s hairstyle “Eurotrash,” since he’s Colombian. Rest assured, I meant this as a tribute to how well he’s assimilated to the European peloton.

Stay tuned to the Giro d’Italia, if not this blog. I might post another such report, if I feel like it, and if I have any sense that this one went over well. If you enjoyed it, by all means say so by commenting below, checking the “Useful” and/or “Funny” box below, or e-mailing me.