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 steephill.tv, 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 cyclingnews.com. 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.

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