Saturday, July 20, 2013

Biased Blow-by-Blow - Tour de France Stage 20

NOTE:  This post is rated PG-13 for crude humor and references to drug abuse.


As I’ve blogged before, there’s a benefit to bike race coverage that doesn’t try to be unbiased or fair.  Sports fans have their favorites and so should commentators.  So read on if you want a blow-by-blow account of the last real stage of the Tour de France before tomorrow’s parade around Paris.

Biased blow-by-blow – Tour de France Stage 20

As I join the race, the peloton has about 60 km to go, which puts them at the base of Mont Revard, which, at 16 km long with an average grade of 5.6%, is a Category 1.

There’s a breakaway about a minute ahead of the peloton.  A couple of polka-dot jersey contenders in there:  Europcar’s Pierre Rolland (who, going into today, only needed one point to overtake Froomestrong in the KOM classification, so I’m really rooting for him) and also Igor Anton Hernandez (Euskaltel) who, if he outscores Rolland in the KOM sprints and wins the stage, will win the mountains competition.  Igor must be praying to St. Jude, the Patron Saint of Lost Causes.

Speaking of lost causes, Jens Voigt has dropped the breakaway!  I think desperate solo breakaways must be written into his Radio Shack contract.  It’s tempting to mock him for this, except that every so often he does win this way.  He’s 1:38 ahead of the peloton, with the rest of the break only 52 seconds ahead.

If I’m not mistaken, Tejay Van Garderen is going off the back with Phillipe Gilbert... wait, I’m wrong!  They’re going off the front of the peloton, chasing after the breakaway.  That’s kind of bizarre.  I guess somebody told the riders something silly like “anything can happen!” and they’re so tired they believed it.  It’s refreshing to see such an attitude, when compared to my own towering cynicism of this race and this sport.

Speaking of Tejay, I did catch the final 10 km of the “dueling Alpe d’Huez assaults” stage.  That was some truly thrilling bike racing.  It was a shame to see Tejay overhauled at the end, but Christophe Riblon (AG2R La Mondiale) looked to have earned it, and his delighted grins were pleasing to behold (especially after all the closed-lip Dubya-like smirking we’ve had to see from Froomestrong).

It’s early and I’m doing this report without caffeine, so I was a bit slow to understand why Gilbert and Tejay were chasing the breakaway.  Tejay made sense, of course, but this isn’t exactly Gilbert’s kind of course.  But then, I’d forgotten (due to Gilbert’s white world champion jersey) that he’s Gilbert’s BMC teammate, so he’s earning his salary by getting Tejay in position for a stage win.

Anton is going after Voigt and is about 35 seconds behind.  If the two of them were to connect and stay away, Anton’s KOM ambition would be nicely served.  Well, really nicely served would mean a side salad, but you get my point.

Gilbert is dropped.  There’s another BMC rider helping Tejay chase but I can’t figure out who it is.

Speaking of Tejay, he’s becoming a minor celebrity around the Albert house.  Not because anybody here besides me really cares about the Tour de France, but because I’ve nicknamed our grocery store after him.  My wife likes to go to Trader Joe’s, and I never liked that name.  That doesn’t mean I’ll call it Traitor Joe’s, because that’s too obvious (and surely some over-ideological group actually calls it that).  Some people call it “TJ’s” and I just cannot abide that either.  So I call it Van Garderen’s.  So far this name hasn’t stuck, but then my kids are highly impressionable so I’m holding out hope.

There are a bunch of commercials on Eurosport now and only one of them has featured women in bikinis, so while I wait for the coverage to resume I’m ruminating on whether anything can really happen this late in the Tour.  Of course the answer is no, but it’s fun to dream.  For example, what if Froomestrong got a bad blood bag, like Tyler Hamilton did in 2004?  That could open things up.  Stranger things have happened.  After all, I really didn’t expect Greg LeMond to take 58 seconds out of Laurent Fignon in the final stage of the 1989 Tour to win the whole thing by 8 seconds.

Speaking of which, I’ve been thinking a lot about that stage, bringing my new bitterness and doubt to the picture.  Specifically, could Fignon really have lost all that time merely due to saddle sores?  That never made any sense.  I’ve often had terrible saddle sores for the second stage of the Everest Challenge, which is a five- or six-hour race, and given all the suffering of the route and the pace, the saddle sores just didn’t figure in.  How could they have been more than an annoyance to Fignon over a mere half-hour effort?  This morning it finally hit me:  Fignon didn’t have saddle sores, he had hemorrhoids.  As a proud man, he didn’t want to admit it.  Now, I know what you’re thinking:  could hemorrhoids really slow a guy down?  Sure!  Think of all that blood leaving your body!  Hemorrhoids lower your hematocrit!

Voigt now has 3:20 on the peloton.  He looks pretty miserable.  I got a good look at his face (a rare moment of good screen resolution) and though many would find his expression inscrutable, I’m pretty good at scruting.  Here’s what I think is going through his head:  he’s an older guy, like me, and as a kid may well have heard the song “You’re Every Woman in the World to Me” by Air Supply.  (He’d have been listening to an 8-band radio to try to learn English, you see. )  So now he’s got that song stuck in his head like a thorn in his paw, and he’s realizing how utterly stupid the lyrics are.  Every woman in the world?  Yeah.  You’re Gisele Bundchen, but also Kathy Bates, and also an octogenarian in a nursing home drooling on herself, and unfortunately “every woman in the world” also includes a third-world mother whose kids are starving.  You’re all these things, and how?  And why?  No doubt, Jens is hating life right now.

Everybody is tired in this Tour, including (apparently) Sean Kelly, who has finally spoken for the first time since I joined the coverage 45 minutes ago.  He’s forecasting Voigt’s downfall:  “When you’re a rider like Jensie, you need a lot more than three minutes, and he’s going to pay dearly for being out there alone.”  Voigt is getting close to the top of this penultimate climb ... maybe Igor will catch him, and at least they can extend their lead on the descent and the 20 km of roughly flat terrain before that final brutal climb to Semnoz.

Gilbert is back with Tejay, and the other BMC rider is Marcus Burghardt.  Three out of nine riders is pretty good, especially for these guys whose Tour has been pretty lousy.  The other riders in the break are Rolland, yesterday’s stage victor Christophe Riblon (AG2R La Mondiale), Pavel Brutt (Katusha), Cyril Gautier (Europcar), Simon Clarke (Orica Greenedge), and Alexis Vuillermoz (Sojasun).  You may accuse me of making that last name up, along with the name of the team.  I didn’t, actually ... I only wish I were that clever.

Geez, more commercials now.  The same Festina ad I’ve been seeing during Tour coverage for the last 10-15 years.  So, I guess I’ll rap a bit about this climb to Semnoz.  One of the reasons I decided to watch this stage at all is that I’ve actually done that climb up to Semnoz, ten years ago when I was in nearby Annecy training for La Marmotte.  Some local recommended it, and amazingly I was able to follow his directions and find the climb.  (Those who know me well are quite aware how navigationally challenged I am; it almost didn’t matter that these directions were in French.)  I don’t think I realized until I got to the top that I’d be staying at a big hotel there, the Hotel Rochers Blancs, the next night.  Man, it’s an awful, glorious climb. It’s an Hors Categorie beast of almost 11 km at 8.5%.  It’s also very scenic, and good scenery is almost the only reason to watch a mountain or time trial stage of this Tour, given the Postalesque dominance of Team Sky (motto:  “Ha ha, you’ll never figure out our scheme of total global doping domination!”).  Here’s a photo of the Rochers Blancs; key things to note are the big window shutters, which are not ornamental (that would be twee in the extreme) but actually keep out the chill; the fact that this environment is so Euro it made my all-American daughter look Euro; and the charmingly half-assed exposed electrical cord leading to this weird bucking donkey.

Dang, Voigt just overcooked a curve and almost stacked!  His rear tire definitely slid and he was right at the edge of the road.  He rode it out, though.  Balls like King Kong!  That’s probably good for an extra jolt of much-needed adrenaline.

Behind, Gilbert needs a bike change.  His bike shat itself somehow.  These modern bikes ... so temperamental.

Cripes, another round of commercials!  I hate to see the American influence spoil other countries’ industries.  I haven’t had to sit through this many commercials since “ABC Saturday Night At The Movies” back in the ‘80s.  Remember that?  How they’d drag a James Bond movie out to like three hours?  That’s the kind of horror story I tell my kids when they’re being ungrateful.  “It was brutal,” I’ll tell them.  “Maybe that’s why life spans were so much shorter then.”  (Full disclosure:  I based this quip on a Sunday comic strip.  I don’t know how or why I came to look at “Pickles,” but I was richly rewarded.)

There’s Froomestrong surrounded by three Sky lackeys.  The peloton is still sitting about three minutes behind the breakaway.

Wow, Eurosport is doing a little travelogue bit about the climb to Semnoz.  I guess it’s the video footage that all the networks buy, actually, because it’s in French.  Declan is doing a fine job translating, but the cheesy script isn’t worth translating and certainly not worth me typing up for you.  Instead, here’s a little blurb from a Los Angeles Times travel story from 2003:  
Les Rochers Blancs, a cozy inn, sits high atop a wooded mountain ridge known as Le Semnoz.  At its restaurant we dined on fondue and la petite friture (literally “small fry” from the lake).  And we slept like babies, awakened by the gentle tinkle of cowbells in the morning.  One day we followed a herd of goats to a lone farmhouse where cheese was made and sold.  On a clear day, they say, from the top of Le Semnoz you can spot the most recognized summit of the western Alps, Mont Blanc.
Can you believe it?  I actually did some homework for this blow-by-blow report.  I hope you’re happy.

Voigt has this really weird aerodynamic tuck where he hangs off one side of the bike, like a motorcycle racer going through a turn.  It really doesn’t look very safe or elegant.  I think the sport needs to regain its elegance.  The Coors Classic actually had a daily Most Elegant Rider award.  It was sponsored by Lola Ascore, which I think is a French clothier.  I think the president of the company just wanted to have his photo taken with the racer of his choice once a day.  The race promoters, of course, could use all the sponsorship they could get.  This is surely why they had a daily award for Best Handwriting, based on the racers’ sign-in.  This was sponsored, of course, by Bic.

Modern bike racers make too much money, and are too coddled in general, to participate in such things.  So to restore elegance to the sport the race promoters would need to invoke penalties.  Forget to zip up your jersey for a solo victory salute?  That’ll cost you 20 seconds.  Shorts come down too far, and/or socks come up too high, like Lance’s?  That’s 10 seconds per day.  Polka-dot shorts on the KOM leader?  Five KOM points per day.  Total lack of grace, like you don’t even belong on a bike, like if you were a marathon runner you’d run like a toddler with a full diaper (i.e., you ride like Froome)?  That’s two minutes a day penalty.  We’d see this sport shape up in a hurry!

It’s 20 km to go.  Wow, really crazy, narrow, twisty road with a rock embankment on one side and a concrete barrier on the other.  Glorious.

Anton has failed to catch Voigt, so the poor guy has to go it alone for this flat section.  And it’s not that flat even—there are some painful-looking rollers.

Burghardt heads back to the car to fetch some food for Tejay.  Whatever happened to Cadel Evans in this Tour?  Poor guy.  He hasn’t been good in the Tour since 2011.  But then, he’s been disappointing his fans on and off for many years, which is one of the things I like about him.  And just when you’re ready to write him off, he does something awesome like winning Worlds.  I was pleasantly surprised by his podium finish in this year’s Giro.

Cyril Gautier is doing a nice job setting tempo for Rolland.  He’s doing that silly thing with his tongue, though, like I do when I’m trying to play basketball.  I can’t fault him for it; if I were in this race I’d be slobbering all over myself and probably crying as well.

Voigt’s bike is a strange light blue, kind of similar to those Bianchis of yore but not as green.  If Bianchi were an American company they’d have trademarked that color, like how Harley Davidson trademarked the growl of their engines.  (Note:  there is no albertnet fact checker.  That trademark thing could be some BS my big brother told me twenty years ago.)

One nice thing about Froome is that he sucks so much wheel you seldom have to look at his elbows-out, inexplicably awkward, Bernie-Kosar-esque riding style.  Generally his rail-thin self is totally eclipsed by his Sky henchmen.  It’s like a lead-out train that lasts for the whole day.  (You didn’t actually expect me to say something genuinely nice about Froome, did you?)

Oh, Sky is drilling it at the front now as the hit the bottom of the final climb to Semnoz.  Up ahead, Tejay has attacked, and the chase group is in tatters!  Tejay has got just two guys with him:  Rolland and Vuillermoz.

Wow, now Movistar is lighting it up at the front.  They’ve been really amazing in this year’s Tour.  I hope they’re not learning little tricks from their Evil Uncle Allejandro (i.e., Valverde).  I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt I guess....

And just like that, it’s all together but for Voigt making his doomed way up the mountain.  He’s under the 10K banner but only 45 seconds ahead of the lead group now.  Funny, though, the peloton has shrunk so much it looks more like a breakaway now.

Since the Belkin uniforms came out, I’ve had a hard time telling the riders apart.  Maybe it’s not the jerseys so much as the fact that I have no idea what Bauke Mollema even looks like.  I’d never heard of him before this Tour but I’m sure he’ll be a household name from now on.

Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) looks to have cracked and is falling off the back.  His leader, Contador, is right in there, drilling it alongside Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas (Movistar) in the white jersey of Best Young Rider.  Quintana has an awfully long name for such a little man.  They’re a few guys back, with Movistar pounding the pace at the front of this small group.  And now they’ve caught Voigt.

Oh my goodness.  Froomestrong has just lanched an Armstrongian attack!  Absolutely blistering.  In the process he overhauled Quintana and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) who somehow had sneaked off ahead.  So they’re on his wheel now and I’m guessing the winner will be from this trio.  “And Contador takes a shower,” Declan says.  I’m not familiar with that expression, but suffice to say Contador is in great danger of losing his second place overall.

Rodriguez, because he’s also coked to the gills, is driving the pace ahead of Froome.  He looks extremely fresh and powerful, which I guess is the whole point of the oxygen drugs.  J-Rod started the day only 47 seconds behind Contador, so if he does well enough today he’ll take over third place, behind Quintana (who needs only 21 seconds to pass up Contador).  It looks like Kreuziger got a tongue-lashing through his radio or something because he’s found some strength to rally and move up to help out Contador.  Either that or Contador is hurting so bad he fell back.

Only 5 km to go for the three leaders, who now have about 40 seconds on Contador and 25 seconds on Valvarde.  It’s all J-Rod at the front; I guess he has the most to gain today.

Contador is either sniffing his armpit for inspiration, or talking into his race radio.  What could he be saying?  “I hate myself and want to die.”  Or perhaps, “Maybe it’s worth going back to the dope and risking that lifetime ban....”

Richie Porte is just sitting on Kreuziger, cruising along, perhaps deciding whether to launch a what-the-hell attack and blow by everybody but Froome, who will be solo before long.  Not much point in such a thing, given how far back Porte is on the GC, but then these two seem to enjoy rubbing our noses in it.

Quintana looks mighty comfortable, I must say.  You never know, he might go off-script and get the victory.  Of course if it comes to a sprint among these three J-Rod will get it, despite dragging these guys along the whole time.

Here’s some trivia.  Based on the Cyrillic spelling of Katusha, it should actually be pronounced “Kat-YOU-shka,” which sounds even more like a sneeze.  You just can’t find nuggets like this on cyclingnews.

Riblon is all by himself, dropped by the Contador group.  Riding solo is a lot less fun when you’re off the back instead of the front.

It’s kind of amazing how fast these guys are going.  Their jerseys are flapping around a lot even though it’s a 9-percent grade.

Wow, Froome just dealt a d’bag fan a vicious backhand blow!  I can’t blame him—the guy was too close—but it’s interesting to consider that Froome just committed felony assault, on camera, and yet will be in no way penalized by the law.  Kind of a nice allegory in there somewhere.

Declan is imagining what Froome was thinking when he socked that guy:  “Get out of the way, we’ve got a smurf involved.”  I cannot have heard that correctly.  But what else could he have said?

Kelly is talking about how much Froome’s shoulders rock.  “It makes it look like he’s in difficulty, but actually he never is.”

The leaders are past the 2 km to go mark so there are barriers up now.  I’m curiously unexcited by the finale here because I can’t bring myself to root for any of these three.  I guess I’ll root for Quintana, except that beating these other two super-juiced guys would cast serious doubts on his blood chemistry.

There goes Froome.  He instantly distanced the other two, but amazingly Quintana has chased him down.  It was a vicious attack and surely the only reason Quintana could neutralize it is that Froome’s form is so plug-ugly; Quintana couldn’t stand to be dropped by such a mutant.

Now Quintana attacks!  He’s doing a really good job ... Froome’s head is down ... Rodriguez is blown ... I reckon Quintana will get this!  Wow, he’s just a tiny thing.  No wonder he goes uphill so fast.

Quintana looks like he’s got it!  Cool as a cucumber.  He’s not even looking back with paranoia like every other racer I’ve watched solo.  He gives a basic blowing-kisses victory salute.  This performance brings him up to second overall in the race, and he may even end up with the KOM jersey.

J-Rod crosses next, and then the Froome slithers in.  Valverde is about a minute and a half behind, grinding his way to the finish.  As always, his mouth is set in the “white man’s overbite” style (which is how I once heard a black pal describe white men dancing). 

Porte comes in next, looking barely winded.

J-Rod has made it to the final podium.  I think that’s a first for him, and a testament to how far ahead the doping practices are over the enforcement of the rules.

Quintana is being interviewed.  There is not the slightest suggestion of happiness on his face.  He makes Nadia Comăneci look like Mary Lou Retton.  If it weren’t for Declan’s translation, I would think he’s saying, “I last saw my dog at the dog park.  I had gone over to throw out my paper coffee cup, and when I turned around I didn’t see him.  I figured he’d only run off a short distance, but it’s been two weeks now and my kids are beside themselves with grief.”  The actual translation, I’ve just realized, is far less compelling than this.  “I thought the attacks would never stop coming,” he says.  Etc.

Now my video feed has collapsed and I’m utterly failing in my attempt to get something else ginned up.  But this ad is probably more fun to look at than the final yellow jersey presentation:

Okay, my feed is back.  Now Sean Kelly is being interviewed.  His eyebrows, which are like big furry caterpillars, are the most expressive thing about his, or anybody’s, face.  “Cycling is unpredictable—we thought Wiggins could win another Tour—but Froome is different, and we should see him around for the next number of years.”  Ugh.  Maybe I’ll take up watching a different sport, like Synchronized Diving (or, as my brother calls it, Same Sex Diving).  I don’t think I can handle cycling anymore.

But wait!  Peter Sagan just did a big wheelie over the line, and then executed a glorious fishtail sliding stop, surely destroying a $100 tire in the process!  And now, on the podium, Quintana has managed something approaching a smile (though it could just be gas pains).  There may yet be some basic spectacle left in this sport.  Keep an eye on these pages, because I just might return for the Vuelta d’Espagna...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Biased Blow-by-Blow - Tour de France Stage 12


As I’ve blogged before, there’s a benefit to bike race coverage that doesn’t try to be unbiased or fair.  Sports fans have their favorites and so should commentators.

At the end of my last post I declared that I was done with watching the Tour de France.  But I actually got some protests from by biking pals, mainly to the effect of “Don’t stop writing—watch the Tour so we won’t have to!”  So in that spirit, I tuned in to today’s coverage of a flat sprinters’ stage.

Biased blow-by-blow – Tour de France Stage 12

As I join there’s 20K to go, with a breakaway of four 36 seconds ahead of the peloton.  In other words, I’ve missed nothing.  Juan Antonio Flecha is in this break, but do you really care?  The gap is now down to 28 seconds in the time I took typing that.  And I’m a pretty fast typist.

It’s nice how with cycling you can join late and still get the gist of the race.  In contrast, consider your average American ball game.  The sports fan tunes in an hour or more ahead of time, even more if it’s a big game.  He watches an endless pre-game show, during which he consumes probably most of the 2,000 calories that the federal government recommends for the whole day. Why didn’t I say his/her?  Because women don’t watch ball sports.  Not really.  Some of them fake it, to try to please their boyfriends, but it’s a charade.  Do women watch bike racing?  I have no idea.  They sure aren’t watching it just because the race leader is hunky or something.

Every time Sean Kelly fields a question from his Eurosport co-commentator, he starts his response with “Yes.”  Now, Declan is no foolhe would never ask a simple yes/no question because then the entire response would be that one word.  But he’ll say, “Belkin has become the kind of team we’re always seeing on the front, why would you say that is?”  Kelly replies, “Yes ... the pace is very high and they’re making sure they keep their riders out of trouble.”  As a racer, Kelly was famously quietthe only rider known to answer questions with a head nod during a radio interview.  I’m now picturing him, in his early days as a commentator, on the couch working with a therapist who helpfully suggests, “You can always say ‘yes.’  That should get things started.”

There’s not much to report about this race.  It’s a simple, straight, wide, flat course on a nice sunny day.  The breakaway is mostly over, with just one guy still up the road, getting free publicity, getting his five minutes on TV simply because the camera is obliged to cover any breakaways, no matter how doomed.  Have you ever seen a speed-walking race?  It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen.  I think they used to have it in the Olympics even.  There are strict rules preventing you from going fasterthat is, to make sure you’re still technically walking.  I always fantasized about getting really good at it, just to make the Olympic team, and then on the big day I’d let myself fall behind a bit and then break into a full run, easily blowing past everybody and making a mockery of the entire event.  And you know what that would remind all you cycling fans of?  Yes.  Chris Froome mocking the sport of cycling with his synchronized-doping team and his little training island and his double helping of secret sauce.

This is a great stage to watch because I’m pretty sure a born climber who dopes can only fake it in time trials.  So I don’t see Froome soloing today.  I don’t think I could handle that again.  (Yes, I skipped the time trial stage entirely.)

You know, Flecha is taking the gap back up again.  It’s at 22 seconds now. He’s got his wrists draped over the tops of the bars, hands wrapped backward around the brake levers.  I think he got this idea from watching somebody on the Stairmaster at the gym, instinctively adopting the most efficient position, which on the Stairmaster means paddling her legs uselessly over the steps while supporting her weight on her wrists.

It’s 7K to go and the peloton is hovering just behind Flecha, maybe 10 seconds, toying him like a cat with a snake.  I suppose something crazy could happen and he could ... never mind, he’s caught.

Saxo-Tinkoff is massing at the front “to keep Contador out of trouble.”  Well guess what, Alberto ... you’re already in trouble.  The detente has been disrupted, the power has shifted, and Sky has the bomb.

5K to go and Declan is talking about “pure, undiluted” sprinters.  Is “undiluted” a doping reference?  As a bike club pal pointed out recently, Paul Sherwen was commentating on the time trial the other day and said, “You have to dose your efforts....”

An Orica-Greenedge guy at the very front of the peloton just stacked in a fairly gentle curve.  It was crazy, his front tire just washed right out.  I’d like to find out what brand of tire he’s using and ban that company for life.

Sylvain Chavanel (Omega-Pharma) is on the front, easy to see with his orange bike.

“Argos-Shimano are going to inject the hyper-pace!” Declan says.  Where did Eurosport get this guy?

Whoah, another pileup.  Man, it’s just an amazing tangle of bikes and limbs.  That’s got to hurt.  What a mess.

Greipel has lost his lead-out men.  It’s Omega-Pharma and Argos-Shimano on the front.  Froome is only about ten spots backmaybe he feels just that good today, to go for another stage win?  And next year he’ll try kick-boxing?

It’s less than 1K to go!  Everybody looks really tired, bigger gaps than usual opening up in this field sprint, but they’re still flying.

Oh no!  My feed is blocked!

“That was amazing!” Declan yells.  I’ll have to take his word for it.

Okay, here’s the replay.  It looks like Kittel edged Cavendish at the line with his bike throw.  Kittel does a unique victory salute, an underhanded sweeping motion, that looks like a little kid flinging water in the tub to make a big mess for his parents.

I really wish I got to watch that sprint.  I mean, I bothered to show up half an hour in advance, all to see this final handful of seconds, and instead I just got a pop-up ad. 

Wow.  Just saw another replay of the sprint, from above.  There’s no doubt about it, Kittel overpowered Cavendish.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that before ... sure, Cav has failed to win, but usually because his lead-out got screwed up or something, not due to simply being less fast.  This time Cav had a straight shot for the line and was well ahead, but Kittel just came around him.  I’d never even heard of Kittel before this Tour and now he’s won three stages.

By the way, the racers came in about twenty minutes ahead of schedule today.  I can’t believe they were all too busy to text me and let me know.  I could have missed the finish!  Oh, wait ... I did miss the finish.

Kittel is being interviewed:  “I had to go on his wheel to went for my sprint and I started my sprint then.  It was close.”  It’s tempting to take shots at Kittel’s English, but actually I would make no more sense, even in my native tongue, after an exertion like that.  He continues, “I would like to dedicate the team to ... to decicate to my team this win.  I really love my team.”  Awwwwww.

Now the Lotto manager is being interviewed:  “Greipel was behind him and he stayed still, so it’s over.  I don’t talk to a time for anybody....  It’s difficult but we are have our own train, and it’s over for us.”  This time I am really, really tempted to take shots at his English, but then again, I couldn’t handle an interview in a foreign language, not even in French though I studied it for years.

My wife comes over just in time to see a replay of the big crash.  “They look so vulnerable, on the ground,” she says wistfully, no doubt thinking back to my big crash.  Perhaps this isn’t the greatest timing for her to take a peek at the race.  Why couldn’t she see Kittel’s victory salute, so replete with childlike glee?  Now it’s an interview with Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega-Pharma), I have no idea why, and Erin expresses her utter disgust at his thinness in such graphic terms she’s forbidden me to quote her.  “If you looked like that...” she continues, with the edge in her voice that keeps me in the ice cream.

Roland gets another polka-dot climber’s jersey.  He has matching shorts, white with red polka-dots, and looks absolutely idiotic.  He reminds me of that weird doglike thing in “Put Me In The Zoo!” (remember that book?).

So, I’ve heard it said that a real pocket-climber can be distinguished by the size of his wrists.  Try this:  touch the tip of your index finger to the tip of your thumb.  The circle that makes will easily wrap around the ankle of a pocket-climber.  Is Froome a true pocket-climber?  Well, looking at him on the podium just now I realized I could easily wrap my thumb and index finger around his calf.  Can pocket-climbers excel at time trials?  Sure, if they’re coked to the gills on the sweet PEDs!  Just look at Tyler Hamilton, Alberto Contador, and Levi Leipheimer....

Froome is being interviewed.  He is blinking continuously.  I wouldn’t think anything of this if he weren’t one of the great liars in sport right now, already giving performances that are Amstrongian in their boldness (though nowhere near as realistic).  I’m not going to quote anything Froome has said because it was utterly dull and without substance.

One of my blow-by-blow readers (my mom, to be precise) has sent in a comment:  “Kittel sure looks like an übermensch. I feel sorry for Cavendish.”  I replied, “Cav has 24 Tour de France stage wins, and over 100 career wins, and he’s still pretty young, so we shouldn’t feel too bad for him. Maybe this new competition (from Kittel and also Sagan) will be the shot in the arm he needs.”  Right after hitting Enter I became aware of my unintentionalor was it merely subconscious?pun.  Actually, I distrust sprinters less than GC riders.  It’s one of the reasons I bothered to watch today’s race at all.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Biased Blow-by-Blow - Tour de France Stage 8

NOTE:  This post is rated R for mild strong language, drug references, and excessive bitterness.


As I’ve blogged before, there’s a benefit to bike race coverage that doesn’t try to be unbiased or fair.  Sports fans have their favorites and so should commentators.  And it can be necessary to call a spade a spade on the basis of it looking, sounding, and smelling like a spade, even if the highest standards of journalistic integrity would require some kind of proof that it’s a spade.  So here is my  totally biased report.

Biased blow-by-blow – Tour de France Stage 8

What’s-his-face, Declan, just said, “Guess-ink, or Jess-ink, depending on how you pronounce his name.”  Uh, dude?  There’s usually a single right way.  As a journalist you’re supposed to simply find out what that is.

Anyway, Robert Gesink attacks from the peloton.  He’s going after the breakaway of three.  I don’t know who’s in it because my feed just froze.

David Millar is going off the back.  Not sure if you’d remember this, but there was a time he was touted as a future Tour GC contenda.  Oh well.  I think it’s enough that he can win the odd stage.

The riders are all climbing the Col de Pailhères, by the way.  It’s an HC climb.  I heard one of the announcers the other day describing the categorization system as being based on an old car a journalist had.  If he could make it over a climb in 4th gear, it was a category 4.  If he had to downshift to third, it was a cat 3, and so forth.  If his old car couldn’t make it over at all, it was HC.  Not sure if there’s any truth to this, and I’d like to know what that car was, but it’s kind of amusing.

Thomas Voeckler is heading off after Gesink.  “You might call him ‘the housewife’s favorite’ but he’s bored with that,” Declan declares.  I’m not sure I like the visual on that ... hair curlers meet single-digit body fat.  Blech.

Pierre Rolland, the Europcar leader, is dropped.  It didn’t take Voeckler very long to take advantage.  I guess he had a deal already cut with the management:  “If Rolland sucks in the mountains, I don’t have to wait.”

The countryside is absolutely gorgeous.  Perfect weather, green everywhere.  We armchair tourists can appreciate it in a way the racers probably can’t.  I remember a journalist asking a Coors Classic rider if he enjoyed the weird scenery on the “Tour of the Moon” stage; the guy replied, “What scenery?”

Sky is lined out on the front.  It’s only a matter of time before Froome, and then Porte, accidentally drop everybody due to the staggering amounts of lube coursing through their systems.  It’s kind of like how a drunk can wander out into a blizzard and never feel a thing.

Race leader Daryl Impey is getting dropped.  Where’s your Orica-Green Edge van now, Impey?  (Okay, maybe that was uncalled for.)

Nairo Quintana (Movistar) has effortlessly bridged up to Voeckler, like a piranha chasing down a goldfish.

Now Voeckler looks like a goldfish whose tail section has been bitten off.  He’s going backwards.  The way his mouth is gaping, he really does look fishlike.  Now he’s absorbed by the group.

Quintana is really moving.  He’s making it look easy.

Sylvain Chavanel is falling off the back of the peloton.

Christophe Riblon (AG2R) is the leader of the race, out front alone.  It looks like Quintana has dropped Gesink as he chases Riblon. 

Declan is describing the expensive road surface that doesn’t melt in the heat.  “Being expensive is perhaps why it’s so narrow.”  This guy would be fun to have at a dinner party, I think, but I can’t help but wish Sean Kelly would assert himself a bit more and talk about, say, bike racing.

Quintana has caught Riblon and now they’re working together.  They’ve got 39 seconds on the peloton.

Now Quintana has dropped Riblon.  Riblon’s shoulders are rocking and I’m sure he knows that the fun and games are over.

Can Quintana hang on for 32K more?

Pierre Rolland has not only made it back to the peloton, but has now attacked it.  I’ll bet he has some choice words for Voeckler at dinner.

Gesink is now dropped from the peloton.  Declan has just called him “Hay-sink,”  so he’s now used three different pronunciations, covering all the bases.

It’s a little sad that Sky still has at least four guys at the front.  There was a time when only one, maybe two domestiques could drop a perennial Tour favorite like Gesink.  Vasil Kiryienka is sitting on the front blasting away like it was nothing.  Kiry-who?  Exactly my point. has crapped out completely.  Curses!  I’m trying  Wish me luck.

No luck., can you help?  Well, I can see some footage, but it’s in French.

Quintana has just over a minute.  He’s looking really, really strong.

There’s some snow up here.  I think this stage reaches the highest point of this year’s Tour.

The French announcer is either talking about the course, or somebody’s heart.

Alberto Contador’s Saxo Bank team also has several domestiques in this increasing select lead group.

Tejay van Garderen has been dropped from the peloton!  Cadel Evans is still holding tough.  This group only has like 20 guys now.

I don’t like this French commentary at all.  Those guys have a different word for everything.  (Yes, I stole that joke from Steve Martin.) 

Okay, Hahabar has finally come through and I’m back to my native tongue.

Wow, Quintana is into the fenced-off section near the summit of the climb.  He’s still looking very good, though his lead is still only a minute.  He’ll have to descend like a maniac to hold off the group and still have an advantage at the base of the final climb.  It’s a category 1.

Rolland got second over the top for some KOM points.  It is interesting to note that his teammate, Voeckler, did not.  I’ve read that Voeckler isn’t very popular in the peloton, and his behavior today surely won’t help.

Quintana’s lead is down to 54 seconds as Sky continue pressing on behind at the head of the peloton.  There are 26 riders there and maybe a few will catch back on so they can get shelled again on the final climb.

Declan is talking about the road surface again.  The other day he was talking about tectonic plates.  I think he originally wanted to be a geologist but nobody was hiring.  Perhaps his career counselor said, “Well, you’re a masterful bullshitter; how about bike race commentator?”

Nicholas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff), who was dropped on the climb, just blew by Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) on the descent.

Pinot is losing more and more ground to the peloton; why is the cameraman documenting this?  Just to shame him later?

Pierre Rolland continues to hammer as he chases down Quintana.  He’s only 43 seconds behind him now.

Sean Kelly, seeming to read my mind, explains that the camera is following Pinot because he’s a top French GC favorite.  Isn’t that sweet, how the French still pretend one of their own could place high in the overall?  A guy named after a wine, no less?  Speaking of French riders, I don’t know why Rolland doesn’t get more respect (from his teammate and from the commentators).  He’s certainly riding like a favorite today.

Rolland is only 25 seconds back.  It’s the pack that’s 40 back. is laughing at me now.  Fortunately I left the French feed open in another window so I can still see something.  If y’all want to chip in and buy me some real coverage I wouldn’t complain...

I have three separate so-called English-language feeds now and they’re all in French.  And the audio feeds are syncopated, so it sounds like six Frenchman calmly arguing over one another.

OK, I’ve got English but it’s Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen.  If they mess up and use the word “Armstrong” to describe the action, I’m switching back to French.

You know, I’ve been watching for over an hour and I haven’t seen a single non-Sky rider in the top three places of the peloton.  They’re like a bunch of robots or something.

The riders have reached the final climb.  This is about six miles long so the 21-second gap really isn’t much.

Wow, Tejay has lost three minutes on the peloton.  Maybe he’s still recovering from racing up Mount Diablo in his Tour of California bid back in May.

Evans is getting dropped!  So is Rolland, and Talansky, and Dan Martin!  They’ve been dropped by the Big Pharma reps on Sky!  At this rate, Sky will end up with all three spots on the final podium in Paris.

Michael Rogers is dropped.  Not sure who else Contador has left to help him.

Richie Porte  has dropped the hammer and the lead group is down to five riders.  It’s Porte, Froome, Contador, Valverde (Movistar) and Kreuziger (Saxo Bank) as Quintana is caught.

Froome has attacked.  His mouth isn’t even open.  He just looked back, casually, like “Is everybody dead yet?”  It’s really boring to watch Froome attack because probably just about anybody you could grab off the street could do this if given as much lube as Froome is on.

Porte and Quintana are together.  Kreuziger is pacing Contador.  Evans is back with Andy Schleck.

Froome is so thin he looks like the victim of some wasting disease.  I can barely stand to look at him.  He’s ghoulish and he’s ruining our sport.

Schleck and Rolland have dropped Evans.  Wait, that’s not Schleck.  Dang it, Phil!

This isn’t even any fun to watch.  It’s like Lance all over again, except I’m not so naive now and cannot mistake an illusion for real sport.

All my feeds are frozen but it’s barely worth getting them going again.  You know what?  Froome can gargle my balls.

Contador looks pretty clean this year.  Perhaps he fears a lifetime ban.  I wonder if he’ll change his mind when he sees Froome getting his yellow jersey in a little bit here.  Hell, I’d gladly give him some of my blood.  At least Contador made it look realistic back when he was lubing-to-win.

Froome is in the final kilometer.  The crowd is cheering politely but I’m sure they’re not particularly excited.  You know what this reminds me of?  Bambi Meets Godzilla.

Froome heads for the line.  Oh, look, here comes Richie Porte soloing in for second!  Just like in the Criterium International!  What an amazing coincidence!

Here comes Valverde, so we’ve hit the doping trifecta.

Contador loses 1:45.  But of course the race was really won before the Tour even started, on the little island of Tenerife.

Talansky and Dan Martin come in about 2:35 back.

Schleck loses 3:34 today.  Evans loses 4:13. 

Holland’s Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin Procycling), is in 5th in the GC.  Very, very impressive.  Oddly, the leader board has him as a Belgian.  This guy doesn’t get nearly the respect he deserves, perhaps due to his facial hair.  Somehow, he hasn’t captured the hipster look with his beard.

They’re showing a replay of Froome’s victory salute.  Phil Liggett says of Froome, “He’s not the prettiest of bike riders, but he is the most effective.”  He must have bitten his tongue to keep from adding, “At doping.”

Perhaps you saw that Froome, in a pre-Tour interview, said, “My results aren’t going to be stripped.”  Thou doth protest too much!  You’re supposed to wait until you’re accused before you start lying!

Froome is being interviewed.  “This is the first real GC day, so to come out in first and second, this is a dream come true for us.... That’s such a good way to start the mountains for us.”  Such insight!  You know, it’s genius like this that enables a pair of riders, almost unheard of as recently as two years ago, to walk away from the best bike racers in the world in pretty much every stage race they do.

Looks like Tejay is going to lose about 12 minutes.  Of course, nothing matters now because the entire sport has been blown up again.  Or perhaps I was just being foolish when I thought it might be cleaning up.

Wow, as Chris Froome steps onto the podium, one of the podium girls sucker-punches him in the kidneys!  It’s a dream come true!  Okay, I confess that despair has driven me into fantasy.  Actually, you know what a real dream come true would be?  If the doping controls actually worked.  It’s a disgrace that Bernard Hinault has to pretend to be happy for Froome right now, and actually shake his hand, when this is all so obviously a sham.

Another group of really outstanding, and very likely clean, athletes crosses the line over 17 minutes down.

Chris Froome is on the podium for the third time today, this time for the KOM jersey.  His calves are smaller than mine.  You know what I’d like?  I’d like to take Froome on in a good old fashioned fistfight.  All his EPO, extra blood, and whatever the hell else he’s on wouldn’t do much for him there.

Quintana gets the white jersey of best young rider.  If I’m not mistaken, he takes it over from Peter Sagan, who is still out on the course.  By the way, the green and white bodysuits of these podium girls are ridiculous, but they’re by far the best-looking podium girls we’ve seen today.

Voeckler finally drools in, well over 20 minutes down.  The housewives will soon be reading “Fifty Shades of Off-The-Back,” just as soon as I’m done writing it.

They’re interviewing some white-haired Frenchman.  I think I can translate:  “It really didn’t matter what anybody tried to do in this race ... tactics were out the window ... the only thing to note about this race is that Sky is absolutely coked to the gills, a bunch of goddamned pin-cushions.  It’s just too bad that Froome looks like such a douchebag, because there’s no syringe for that.”  (Full disclosure:  it’s been over two decades since I studied French and I’m not sure I’ve translated this perfectly.)

Both my remaining video feeds have turned into odd displays of grey and black vertical bars, which is a big improvement over yet another replay of Froome’s victory salute.  It’s so absurd for somebody to look really excited about “winning” when he and his teammate go one-two yet again, just like all season and throughout last year’s Tour.  I’m pretty sure this will be my last Tour de France blow-by-blow ... I’m going to go find something else to watch, something more honorable, like cockfighting or pro wrestling.  Thanks for tuning in, and I’m sorry I haven’t had something better to report.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Biased Blow-by-Blow - Tour de France Stage 5


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 here you go.

Biased blow-by-blow – Tour de France Stage 5

As I join, this Eurosport bloke, Declan I think he’s called, is delivering his “fireside chat” style commentary.  “The chase is on but it’s ever so gentle.  We are teeing ourselves up for a sprint as we look at some lovely lavender.”

Markel Irizar (RadioShack, like you care) is apparently adjusting the mirror of a Tour de France logo-emblazoned convertible.  Now he’s fixing the window glass on the other side, and now giving some woman in the passenger seat a little hand massage.  It makes sense when riders hang on to their team cars for a free ride, but with this vehicle it makes no sense.  This guy has chutzpah!

I wonder if there’s actually anybody using this video feed who is stupid enough to believe that an upgrade to “Video HD” is necessary, especially when the words “Wait to close ad 20 seconds” appear.  On the other hand, maybe it’s only a matter of time before computer operating systems start actually showing ads.

The breakaway of four has only six minutes now, which suggests it’s doomed since they had only twelve minutes when the entire pack was somnambulating.  If you don’t know what “somnambulating” means, shoot me an e-mail because that would make me feel superior.

There’s a duo attempting to bridge to the group.  The on-screen text with the video feed calls them “poursuivants,” which is French for “the dudes who are chasing,” but when I first saw it on the screen I thought it said “poor suckers.”  Might as well.  What are they thinking?  “Hey, I heard the break is doomed!  Let’s go join it!”  I guess their belief that all the breakaway needs to succeed is them is what makes them champions.  I can’t decide whether I envy this attitude or not.

The pack just divided beautifully around one of those roundabouts.  I wish American drivers could handle them with such aplomb.  Get two or more of us at a roundabout and everybody kind of panics, except certain old dudes in Benzes who seem to think they have some special credential and can just ignore the other cars entirely.

Declan just delivered a two-minute treatise on what the road does in the last few kilometers of the race.  Are the British just smarter than us, in being able to actually follow such a complicated description, or is Declan out of touch with how (and whether) sports fans think?

It’s 37K to go.  That’s about 22 miles for you Americans.

One of the guys in the break (there’s no point learning their names) has a little moustache.  I saw that Sagan had one a week or so ago.  Please, guys, this sport is funny looking enough as it is.

There’s a Euskaltel guy motoring away from the pack on this climb, and his upper body is so still he looks like half-assed CGI.  Very impressive.

I read recently that Tony Martin was fined for his bike having rainbow stripes in the TTT, which he’s only allowed to have in an ITT (not having won a world’s TTT).  That’s ridiculous.  Specialized bikes have had rainbow stripes for ages, since the first mountain bike world championship was won on one.  Should a guy be disallowed from riding his Ciocc Mockba ‘80 in a race, simply because the guy himself didn’t win the Moscow Olympics in 1980?  Look, TdF officials, Martin wasn’t wearing rainbow stripes on his person.  His bike was wearing them, and I’m sure that’s appropriate.  (With so many Specialized bikes out there, surely a world’s TTT was won on them at some point.)  Besides, what will happen when the first openly gay Tour rider wants to show his pride?  Will he have to win a world championship in every discipline first?

Wow, this big Lotto guy is really drilling it at the front.  I love to watch these guys suffer.  It makes my old desk chair here feel so cozy (though actually this chair is kind of a pile).

GreenEdge is leading the chase now.  It’s the least they can do after screwing up the race with their bus on Saturday.

I haven’t seen Omega-Pharma at the front at all.  Wouldn’t they rather do their work while it’s flat, rather than risking shelling Cavendish on the category 4 climb toward the end?

Okay, Omega-Pharma must be clairvoyant, finally they’ve got a guy on the front.  Or maybe it’s just my talent for stating the obvious.

Orica GreenEdge is no longer in obvious danger of losing the yellow jersey, having limited the time gap to the break, so maybe they’ll make the other teams step up.  But so far the other teams are still being lazy.  I guess passing the buck has become a habit for them.

It’s 19K to go and Declan is talking about geology and techtonic plates.  Interesting choice.

Cannondale finally has a guy on the front.  Whoops, only for about five seconds, like a kid dabbing his toe in a swimming pool ... “Ooh, that’s cold!

Kevin Reza (Europcar), one of the guys in the break, is black.  That is rare among road cyclists.  The announcers haven’t said anything about this, probably terrified of committing some kind of gaff.  I hope I’m not...

The break is starting to turn on itself.  Yukiwa Arashiro (also Europcar) attacked the others but they quickly chased him down.

The leader of the chasing peloton flicks his elbow and the guy behind him shakes his head.  Now the peloton, which had been doing better, is spread all the way across the road.

Another inexplicable pileup in the middle of a dead straight section!  Obviously the handiwork of some inattentive rider, who should be strapped to a chair and beaten with garden tools.

Christian Vande Velde looks like he hit the ground pretty hard.  Dang, that sucks.  Even if he’s uninjured, that’s a hard chase with only 15K to go.

The Astana guy in the break is Alexey Lutsenko.  I don’t know his patronymic.  These Spanish riders get all three names on the roster; why don’t the Russians and other Slavs get their patronymics?

On this long road the peloton is in sight of the break.  Predictably, the announcer says “The peloton can see its prey.”  I’d like to remind him that the breakaway riders are the aggressors here, so the predator/prey metaphor would be lame even if it weren’t so hackneyed.

Lutsenko has attacked the break!  They’re hauling ass on this descent and Riza is diving after him.  But the pack is really flying.  Lots of curves on this descent but nothing too sharp.  Still, the pucker-factor is significant, at least for this spectator.  (Not familiar with that term?  Hint:  it’s not my lips that are puckering.)

Arashiro and De Gendt, the other two from the break, are now caught by the peloton.

Now Omega-Pharma are swarming the front.  Cannondale is still loafing.  They better start riding soon so they can get warmed up for the sprint ... they’ve been practically hibernating (or “hobbernating” as my younger daughter used to say).

My older daughter needs to leave for camp!  She’s asking me to make a sandwich!  I’m shucking her off!  I’m such a bad parent!

I wish I’d paid attention to Declan’s long description of the parcours.  But I just don’t have it in me.

My feed has frozen up!  It’s fake browser widget upgrade ads again!

So 4K to go, ten seconds for the leaders.  Frankly, the sprinters could close that up in the final 200 meters.  Wait, the two leaders have already been absorbed.  Must have happened when my screen was obscured.

Euskaltel is trying to do something.  How cute!  Wow, now their guy is going backward so fast it’s like he was clotheslined.

Sylvain Chavanel has a bright orange bike.  Perhaps he’ll be fined for this, as he never won the Dutch national championship.

Marcel Kittel has launched something.  I don’t know what you’d call it, really.  Not quite an attack, but it’s about 1.4K too early to be anything else.

Lotto leads it out with 1K to go.

Omega Pharma has the lead at 500 meters but the frenzy begins...

Mark Cavendish launches way the hell out and manages to stick it!

Whoah, massive pileup behind the winners!  It’s unbelievable how many guys are down.  I think the vast majority of the riders were caught behind it.

I’m going to go ahead and admire Cavendish for that win even though he’s wearing this totally awful helmet.  I don’t know what it is this year with the helmet manufacturers trying to outdo each other in ugliness.  I can’t even describe Cav’s lid.  It looks like a cheap knockoff of some ‘80s helmet, like the patent just ran out and you can buy this piece of crap at Target for like four bucks.  Little stripes like a 1982 Ford Fiesta.  (No, I don’t know anything about cars, but I hope you get the idea.)

Edvald Boasson Hagen was second, Peter Sagan third.  I have to confess, I’d have been ticked to see Sagan win this, because his team was such a bunch of deadbeats.  They should interview him.  “I have to not hand it to the team, I really owe this non-victory to them.  They were just un-amazing today, working together like a badly rusted machine, really just not stepping up and not getting the job done.”  I realize I’m giving Sagan far more credit for rhetorical ability than he deserves.  A more realistic made-up quote would be something simpler like “Me Tarzan you Jane.”

Okay, something exciting better happen in the podium presentations because I’m missing breakfast for this and it smells good!

Oh my god, Cav’s teammate has a helmet that is absolutely unconscionable.  It’s some quasi-aero S-Works thing that is probably more dangerous to the future of cycling than doping is.  What the hell is wrong with this UCI organization when they’re fining riders for rainbow stripes but allowing helmets that would make Carmen Miranda wince?

I think that more riders were merely stopped behind that crash than actually crashed.  I hope nobody’s Tour was ruined by this.  Maybe somebody needs to conduct a bike handling workshop for these folks.

Cavendish, in his interview, claimed to have launched his sprint 500 meters out.  It was a long sprint, but certainly not 500 meters.  In his defense, I’m sure it felt like 500 meters.

Well, the coverage is ending and I only got to see one podium presentation.  I guess that’s not as bad as the Tour of California coverage a few years ago when they ended the coverage with about 2K to go because it was time for the pre-show for some stupid American sport I never cared about.
Thanks for tuning in.  I hope to do this again soon.