Saturday, June 29, 2013

Biased Blow-by-Blow - Tour de France Stage 1


As I’ve blogged before, there’s a benefit to bike race coverage that is far from unbiased and fair.  Sports fans have their favorites and so should commentators.  So I woke up early this morning to give a blow-by-blow account of today’s Tour de France opening stage.  I gave this account to nobody, because my normal audience apparently wasn’t online.  Well, if they thought this would be a humdrum sprinter’s stage without any real excitement until the last kilometer, they guessed wrong.  Read on for a blow-by-blow account of one of the most bizarre Tour de France stages in decades.

Biased blow-by-blow – Tour de France Stage 1

As I join, the British Eurosport commentator (Declan, I think) is saying “Omega Pharma know how to marshal a run-in” and “I’m not so very fond of this team’s livery.”  And now, “We’re going to take a break, as the cows munch on their buttercups.”  So different from American football announcers whose most flowery language is something like “This ball club knows how to get the job done and move that ball up the gridiron.”

The great thing is, even when the announcers take a break, the coverage continues.  It’s just quiet and I can decide for myself what’s going on.

My feed has already died, two minutes into my coverage.  Okay, “Refresh” is my friend.

Now they’re showing footage of some weird watercraft with a crazy parachute-like sail.  I guess it’s like an ultra-light, a hang-glider with raft attached.  Presumably it’ll lose control and crash into the peloton at some point.  Why else would they be showing it?

My cat is now polluting her cat box, rendering my work area uninhabitable.  Thank goodness for Wi-Fi ... if she’s done #2 I’ll have to relocate.  I wonder if the Hotsy Totsy Club would show this race?  It’s certainly the kind of bar that would be open right now.

The whole peloton is together now.  It’s 18K to go.  They’re riding along the coast of Corsica.  My kids were astonished to learn that the race starts on an Italian island.  (My older daughter reads almanacs all the time and needed no explaining about what Corsica is.)  I was equally astonished that anything I could say about the Tour de France would be even remotely interesting to anybody in my family.

This feed isn’t very hi-res.  The faces are just blurs, like those weird plastic faces of the schoolkids in “Pink Floyd The Wall.”

Whoah, somebody ran right into the fencing!  It’s Johnny Hoogerland.  He looks okay, but is probably embarrassed, not just to have crashed but to have a name like Hoogerland.  At school they probably called him Boogerland.  Oh, wait, “Booger” probably isn’t an international term.  That said, this is the same guy who crashed into a barbed wire fence a couple years back; one more crazy mishap and “Hooger” will become a verb meaning “to crash into something.”  I may start using it now, actually:  “Man, I hit this huge bump on the descent and for a second thought I was going to totally Hooger!”  It has a nice similarity to “auger” so the phrase “Hooger in” also presents itself for consideration.

Cadel Evans is right near the front.  His teammates are keeping him safe.  I’ll bet you thought I was going to say “henchmen,” didn’t you?  Naw.

It’s another crash!  I hope nobody blames the race promoters, because it happened on a dead-straight section.  If Andy Schleck had gone down he’d surely complain about unsafe conditions.  Hesjedal is involved!  By which I mean he has been part of this general Hoogerage.  What was he doing so far back, in the chaff of the pack?

Oh man, the Orica-Greenedge bus has gotten stuck under the finish line banner!  They’re afraid to move it because it might tear down the finish banner.  Some wily teamwork from this team, I expect ... an ingenious strategy to confuse the other teams with a totally screwed-up final sprint.

It’s crazy, they officials have shortened the stage by 3K because of the stranded van!  The new finish line is the banner declaring 3K to go!

This has thrown the teams’ strategies into chaos.

Cannondale is at the front going for broke.  Orica Green-Edge is right up there, surely all according to plan.  They must have studied the parcours 3K from the finish and mapped out their approach perfectly.

The new finish line isn’t exactly on a straightaway.  Terrible place for a finish, and of course none of the timing equipment, photo-finish cameras, etc. will be set up. 

The bus is suddenly freed!

Oh man, there’s been a huge pileup!  It was all chaos because they abruptly announced they were putting the finish line back to its original spot, and a bunch of dudes stacked.  See?  It’s just like talking on a cell phone while driving—your attention cannot be properly shared between sensory inputs.  Chavanel seemed to hit the fencing.  Sagan is down, Cavendish is down!

“Goodness gracious me, what a mess!”  says the Eurosport commentator.  I wonder what it takes to get a British announcer to cuss?

It’s a bizarre situation.  Andre Greipel is standing on the side of the road, presumably with a mechanical issue.  So many big favorites aren’t represented in the lead group now.

Shimano-Argos is bunched at the front, so you know the normal order has been totally thrown out the window. 

They’re on the final stretch, a ton of white Shimano-Argos jerseys.  There’s a bit of a climb here and it’s really sludging things up.  Can I coin a verb?  To sludge?

Steegmans has launched early!  It’s a totally crazy move!  He’s totally flying even though his handlebars are like stupid touring bars, Randonneurs, from the ‘80s! My mom had those bars!

Oh man, it’s not to be, they’ve overhauled him.  I’ll bet they just couldn’t stand to see those horrible handlebars up the road.

“Goodness me, it’s a hellish run to the line!” says Declan.  There, he cussed!

It’s a Shimano-Argos guy who wins!  I never even learned his name!  It’s like a bridesmaid somehow body-checking the bride right off the altar!  And his helmet, cosmetically, is the equivalent of a bridesmaid dress—that is, it’s deliberately ugly, the kind with no vents anywhere!  Absolutely nuts.

Okay, the winner was Kittel, who seems to have been named after a brand of cat food. 

A bunch of Cannondale riders come over the line, pretty far after the winner.  I’m guessing the officials will give all the riders the same time (well, except Hoogerland).

Kittel looks so happy, I almost can’t bear to make fun of his name and his helmet.  What kind of jerk am I?  But enough about me.  This is Kittel’s first Tour victory and he is beyond stoked.  I’ll bet he finds that Orica-Greenedge van driver later and shakes his hand!

They just showed the super-slo-mo of the sprint, and man, Kittel really had a great sprint—he blew by several other dudes (none of them the favorites, of course, as the favorites were still untangling themselves 3K behind).

This feed has crapped out several times during my coverage.  I am not amused.  My free entertainment should be flawless!

They’re saying that the big crash happened before they restored the original finish line, which means it was within the final 3K of the finish at that moment, so even though it was more than 3K from the actual, ultimate finish line, all those riders should get the same time.  If the race officials don’t come to this conclusion, you can well expect a mass mutiny from the guys who crashed.

“I expect Cavendish has had the stuffing knocked out of him, but we’ll surely see him in contention on the final Corsica stage in two days’ time.”  I guess this Declan guy isn’t so bad.  I use that stuffing expression all the time, having come across it in a British book about race mechanics, but I don’t actually get to hear it all that often.

It’s unbelievable how chaotic everything is.  They’re having to kill lots of time because it’s impossible to sort out all the jersey winners, I expect.  In all the confusion nobody seems able to come up with Kittel’s first name.  The cyclingnews blow-by-blow guy hasn’t found it yet.  I need a bigger monitor so I can have the start list up here.  Hang on.  Okay, it’s Marcel Kittel, of Germany.  He is so happy.

The podium girls are in yellow and black.  I think it’s supposed to be a Powerbar theme, but it makes me think of Livestrong.  Surely this cannot have been anybody’s intention.

The coverage has ended and I’m into “Tour de France Extra.”  Sean Kelly is being interviewed live.  He looks absolutely the same as he did in the ‘80s.  “To hear suddenly on the race radio that the finish line has changed again ... I think there was a lot of panic in the peloton,” he says.  “Shimano-Argos took advantage of the situation ... it was a dream day for them.”  Yeah, like one of those weird dreams where your dog can talk, and everybody is in pajamas.

The points competition podium girls are in bright apple green, like the points jersey, of course, but also continuing my bridesmaid dress conceit.  It’s not a great color for any woman but they’re pulling it off somehow.  Pure professionalism.

They’re showing the replays of that final sprint.  I love it when it’s a good, close win and the winner couldn’t have predicted his success, and thus doesn’t have some overly complicated victory salute.  Just a classic arms-up.

Kittel gets the white jersey for best young rider.  The podium girls for this have Kelly green trim on their white dresses, which is sartorially inexcusable but also somewhat necessary because they can’t afford to be mistaken for brides.

Okay, this color-coordination of podium girl dresses has got to stop.  White dresses with red polka-dots?  I haven’t seen such gross fashion misconduct since Sha Na Na appeared on “Hee Haw” back in the ‘70s and sang “Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”  That I remember this should tell you how much it scarred me.

Word has come down that the bus incident was ultimately a result of politics.  The French union responsible for sorting out such matters went out on strike because any work involving the finish line banner is supposed to be done hours before the finish, and the request to disentangle it from the van’s roof came during their cigarette break.  They were apparently offended at the suggestion that they interrupt their normal routines—almost as offended as a French waiter is when a stupid American tourist actually wants his order taken or something.  All this must come as a relief to the van driver, who will ultimately be thought of as a mere pawn caught in a deadly game.

(Yes, that whole preceding paragraph was pure fiction, unless I’ve accidentally stumbled on the truth.)

Kittel is being interviewed, but he only speaks German.  The British announcer is pretending to translate:  “I wasn’t sure during the race that I could win.  It was very confusing toward the end.  I am very surprised to be in yellow and I would like to thank my team.”  I’m sure that what he’s saying actually bears no resemblance to this.  I’m going to “translate” it myself:  “What, a bus got stuck under the finish line?  I didn’t know that!  I thought I just dropped all the sprinters in the final kilometer!”

Oh, he’s speaking English now.  “The team did a great job, they kept me out of trouble, so big thanks to them.”  Wow, I guess that British announcer really does speak German!  And amazingly, Kittel actually is claiming absolutely no knowledge of the situation with the bus!  I wonder what he thought happened to Cavendish, Greipel, et al?

The moral of the story?  Put away your race radio and focus on what you’re doing!  It obviously worked for Kittel, and I trust I don’t need to spell out the smartphone analogy....

They’re interviewing some Lotto guy and he’s predictably disappointed about how things went.  But I really want an interview with that bus driver!  Think back to the very first thing I heard this morning from the Eurosport commentator:  “Omega Pharma know how to marshal a run-in.”  It’s too bad the same can’t be said for the actual race marshals....

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