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...

1 comment:

  1. I almost pissed myself with your Quintana translation.. thanks