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 fool—he 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 quiet—the 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 faster—that 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 back—maybe 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 unintentional—or 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.