Saturday, September 7, 2013

Biased Blow-By-Blow - Vuelta a España Stage 14


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 today's key mountain stage in the Vuelta a España, where the American Chris Horner will try to regain the leader’s jersey that he’s worn twice during this stage race already.

Biased Blow-By-Blow - Vuelta a España Stage 14

6:11 a.m.  I join the live online Vuelta coverage just in time for a bunch of ads.

One of my real-time correspondents (okay, the only one) says, “Well, Horner sure sucks at TTing, huh?” Fo shizzle ma nizzle!  Horner lost the leader’s jersey a few days ago when Nibali took like 90 seconds out of him in the only time trial stage of this Vuelta.

Unfortunately, I’m not seeing any coverage ... just an endless highlights reel of various sports with really cheesy music ... some kind of ad for the WATTS television network.

Okay, I’ve been at it for 20 minutes and still no actual footage.  A banner on the screen says “Due to the weather conditions live signal is delayed.”  So instead they’re showing people milling about at the finish line far ahead of the racers.  It’s just too rainy for the satellite feed.

The announcers are saying that Ivan Basso has been dropped.  Remember Basso’s second place finishes in the Tour behind the King?  It’s just not the same since he’s clean.  That’s the problem with riding clean ... it doesn’t look like much.  It’s like when you pay all that extra money for organic food and you expect it to taste so much better, but you have to settle for feeling like you’re doing the right thing.

It’s just ad after ad to kill time until they can get the video feed going.  I haven’t seen this many ads since the final hour of a James Bond movie on ABC Saturday Night At The Movies.

This is one reason why cycling is such a hard sport to popularize in the U.S.  It’s really difficult to film, with the helicopters and satellite trucks and everything, so the footage is expensive to license, and with so few Americans interested in watching, there are precious few advertising dollars to go around.

So, it appears that until they get the technical problems resolved, they’re going to show tennis instead.  It’s Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals of the US Open against some player called Mikhail Youzhny.  I have no idea who Youzhny is but I just read a great article about Djokovic so I’m somewhat interested.  At this point, it’s a dead heat in the Weird Name competition.  Djokovic gets points for Incongrous Adjacent Consonants, but Youzhny does well in the Adjacent Consonants That Seem Like They Should Make Sense But Really Don’t category.  Unfortunately I don’t grasp the scoring system in tennis so I can’t really tell who’s ahead.  

It’s noteworthy that neither player is wearing a helmet.  It turns out that tennis is the only sport in the world that involves a ball but has not been linked to concussions.  Unless you count lawn bowling.  (Note:  I don’t have a fact checker, but my hunches are usually pretty good.)

Either Djokovic has a spare tennis ball in his pocket, or he’s highly aroused right now!

The tennis players have physiques that wouldn’t be bad for cycling.  Youzhny’s legs even look shaved.  Why don’t these guys overheat, without wind resistance to cool them?  I wonder if they’ll ever get full-zip jersies like cyclists (a major innovation after around a century of four-inch zippers).

There’s not a whole lot to report with tennis.  “Djokovic has hit the ball!  It’s going really fast!  Youzhny hits it back!  It clears the net!  It’s gone to a part of the court that Djokovic is not at, but he’s run over there and has managed to return it!  It’s a full-blown volley!  Each player is trying to hit the ball to a place that the other can’t reach!  They’re both searching for the anti-G-spot!  And now Youzhny has hit the ball into the net!”

Wow.  There was just this huge rally, and it now appears (to this uneducated observer) that Djokovic can actually return the ball no matter where it goes and no matter how fast it travels. Youzhny’s last shot, one of those amazing overhead slams, was heading straight for Djokovic’s navel at 400 mph.  I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure any other player would have been killed.  Djokovic shape-shifted to a spot four feet over so he could actually reach the ball with his racquet and drill it back. The crowd made this noise like a thousand kittens sighing in unison so I know they were impressed.

Youzhny is now on suicide watch after losing that game, set, match, or whatever you call it when the players get to go sit down afterward.

Okay, the technical problems seem to have been resolved so we’re finally back to cycling.  And they’re actually showing cycling footage!  Man, it’s really raining.  Not the giant drops, but that sheet where tiny drops are so close together they’re almost forming a solid mass of water.

Sammy Sanchez is hammering the front of one of the groups, wearing that odd Orbea helmet that looks like it’s on backward.  The leader is some Cannondale guy.  He’s wearing a blank black jacket that he must have gotten from a fan or purchased at a roadside shop.  His sponsors will not be pleased.

This stage finishes on the first-category Collada de la Gallina.  Right now this Cannondale bloke is on the Alto de Comella, a category 2.  At the summmit of this he’ll have about 20K to go.  Okay, I’ve learned from my friendly sportscasters that this is Daniele Ratto, an Italian rider.  He is a very aggressive rider, which stems from the lifelong affliction of having a girlish name.  If his parents had named him Antonio, he’d probably be selling office supplies for a living.  Actually, “Antonio Ratto” could only be a crime boss.

His jacket does say Cannondale on the side.  But it looks like something you’d buy at Performance.

Whoah!  Ratto, on the descent now, is dragging his foot through a curve like an off-road motorcycle racer! What a complete and total idiot!  I’ve never seen such ridiculous behavior.  I’d say even if he wins the stage, he’ll probably be fired from his team.  Either that or everybody else will start doing that.  I can’t believe it.

“We’re just having a look at a few more dodgy moments,” Declan announces, as a highlights reel of Ratto’s idiocy disgraces the screen.  Oh my god.  This guy just locked up the rear wheel in a gentle curve.  It’s a disgrace.

“Cabeza di Peloton” reads the ticker.  It’s hard for me to see the word “cabeza” without thinking of a really authentic taqueria, so now I’m distracted by hunger.  Just in time for another round of commercials!

It’s about 13K to the finish, but all uphill.  I hope to finally see some really great racing ... so far it’s just been Ratto pretending to know how to ride a bike, and some guy in a red jacket wearing a terrible helmet that looks like the top half of a melon, polished smooth.  No action from the leaders at all.  The peloton has been trimmed down pretty far.  I assume that all the GC players are in there, or we’d have footage of them sucking wind off the back.

Okay, based on the (silly) baby blue shorts I have divined that all the black-jacketed guys on the front are race leader Vincenzo Nibali’s Astana teammates.  

“Ratto, in very ratty conditions, it’s fitting actually...”  Declan, just give it up.  Criminy.  Somebody should give Sean Kelly an extra cup of tea, or dissolve a NoDoz in it, to get him to talk more.

Wow, the GC group is way behind Ratto!  Ratto is about to start the final climb but these guys are still making their way up the Alto de Comella.

It’s hard to tell for sure, but it appears Valverde has gone off the back!  Maybe he left his syringes in the other duffel bag and didn’t get his pre-race prep.  I’m going to use this as a cautionary tale for my older daughter, who left a homework assignment at her friend’s house the other day and will have to turn it in late.

The final climb is 7K with pitches of 15%.  Kelly is rattling off a list of percentages too fast for me to follow ... could somebody have acted on my caffeine tip?

Ivan Basso, who started the day in 7th on the GC, has quit.  I’m picturing his father sighing and saying, “You always were a quitter, son.”  Or I guess he’s saying, “Sei sempre stato uno che molla, figliuolo.”

Ratto looks very calm.  Almost too calm.  He looks kind of torpid, slack.  He looks relaxed in a I-just-took-a-bunch-of-muscle-relaxants kind of way.

Phillipe Gilbert is reportedly not too far behind Ratto, but I have yet to see any footage of him.  Isn’t it interesting that when you read “Gilbert” you think “Zhil-BARE” and thus “cool Euro guy”?  But if it was pronounced with the G of “Gary” and to rhyme with “filbert” (that is, the “GILL-bert” of “Gilbert Grape”) you’d just laugh at him?  That’s the problem with being American.

I’m torn.  I like to see an underdog win, but not an underdog who drags his foot through corners on a bicycle like he’s some kind of BMX star.

They’re saying Basso retired due to hypothermia.  My question is, why did he get hypothermia but nobody else?  It’s not like a single one of them has any body fat.

So, it’s only 4K to go for Ratto, but he’s almost 9 minutes ahead of the GC group.  So the real action will start to heat up soon.  I wish the camera would forget about Ratto and show us what’s going on with Nibali and Horner.  I’ve only seen a glimpse of Nibali, in the leader’s jersey, and nothing of Horner.

For those of you just catching up, the 41-year-old American Chris Horner has won two stages of this Vuelta and worn the leader’s jersey on two occasions.  He had a lousy time trial and slipped to 4th overall, but he’s only 46 seconds behind Nibali.

Valverde is catching some of the pack shrapnel.  That would be a good name for a rock band.  Coming to the Palladium:  Pack Shrapnel with special guest Duck Husband!”

Raindrops on the camera lens.  Either that or I’m crying.

Nibali is right toward the front, and now I see Horner in the blue polka-dot jersey as he’s the KOM leader.  I came to this Vuelta pretty late and am just sorting out who’s who and wearing what.  

Robert Kiserlovski is pacing Horner, his RadioShack teammate.  Nibali is behind them everybody else is dropped!  Now Horner has taken up the lead and only Nibali can follow.  Finally, some real bike racing!  

Oh my God this is steep.  Horner’s cadence isn’t too high but he’s staying on top of his gear.  

Now Ratto is really dying.  But he’s only got 1K to go.

Horner looks comfortable.  His bars, incidentally, are a mile wide.  At least 46cm like I ride, except the modern Horner is a very narrow person.  His arms seem way out to the sides to reach the brake lever hoods.  I’ll bet that opens up his rib cage so his lungs can expand to their full Hindenburg size.

Ratto looks so miserable.  Hes’ on a 13% section and looks like he’ll keel over and die.

Horner and Nibali have caught and dropped Gilbert.

Ratto has 800 meters to go.  It seems like several minutes ago he had 1K to go.  For those of you with poor math skills, it’s seemingly taken him minutes to go 200 meters. This last bit will seem like an eternity to him.

A spectator is running alongside Ratto, having no trouble keeping up.  This despite the barriers, meaning the spectator will be publicly disemboweled later.  The last thing Ratto needs is a rowdy fan in a red anorak.”  Thus spake Declan.  Would some other color be better?  And do we need to be that precise about the type of jacket?

Horner still leads Nibali.  He looks good but the fact that he hasn’t attacked yet means he’s probably hurting real bad.  Horner never shows it, though.  He always wears the grin of a baby who’s just been given a lollipop.

Ratto is barely moving.  It’s a testament to his balance that he doesn’t tip over.  He’s gazing around like a tourist.  Now a little fist-pump.  He tries to wave to the crowd but his arm only comes up to waist-level.  He’s looking all around him, probably absorbing the moment for delectation later.  I don’t get to see him come over the line because of a sudden pop-up ad, per usual.

The ad has finally gone away but I missed the whole finish.  Now the Spanish-centric video crew is back to showing Valverde.  Stop that!  Forget Valverde.  He’s dead to me, the career doper.

Horner his still dragging Nibali up the hill.  Maybe he’s just hoping to stay with him today to move into second overall, and will attack him in a later stage.  But I think there are time bonuses in this race so at least there’ll be a nice sprint for second.

Nibali has taken the lead!  That’s a first.  Probably the first time he’s faced the wind all day.

Valverde is only like 40 seconds behind.  He’s clawing his way back, which is sad for anybody who appreciates fair play.

Nibali has dropped Horner!  They cross the line in second and third.  Horner gave up two seconds plus the time bonus, but he’s gained time on Roche and Valverde.  Speaking of Roche, where is he?  He hasn’t been shown or mentioned all day, despite starting the day in second overall, just 31 seconds behind Nibali.

It appears that Roche hasn’t crossed the line yet, though it’s been almost six minutes since Ratto finished.  I don’t know what the final gap was to Nibali and Horner, but Roche has surely lost serious time today.  Poor guy.  He seems to always fade toward the end of these stage races.

They’re showing a replay of Ratto’s victory.  He tried to pop a wheelie at the end, but the front tire only came like six inches off the ground, like when a dumb kid tries to do it.  Dang, you can’t even tell from my snapshot that the tire left the road.  I have no doubt Ratto could do a sweet wheelie when he’s not completely knackered.

They’re interviewing Ratto.  Declan impressively translates.  Yesterday we worked for Basso but today he sucks so it was a great situation.  It was raining.”  Here Declan apologizes because he can’t hear the translation through his earphone.  I guess he’s never been the wunderkind translator after all.  I felt very good.  I’ve been waiting for this for three years.  It was very important.  But I’m upset for Ivan Basso.”

Valverde lost 1:10 today.  He’s now in third, 1:42 behind Nibali and 52 seconds behind Horner.

Ratto gets his podium time.  The podium girls of this Vuelta are way hotter than the Tour de France ones, though the Tour of Alberta girls could give them a run for their money.  Note that I’m calling them “girls” not because I’m sexist, but because that’s what they’re called.  Nobody says “podium ladies” and I’m not going to get all Berkeley on you and call them “podium persons.”  And you can hate me for commenting on their good looks, but what else could I say?  That they look bad?  Or should I focus on their other qualities? “She has an intelligent look in her eye.”  Look, maybe she does, but it’s a pretty grainy video feed and I’m an honest kind of commentator.

Well, it looks like I may have to try to see more of this Veulta, with the final GC far from resolved.  See how much more exciting this race is than the Tour de France?  Depending on my conference call schedule this week, you may see another bulletin so keep your eyes peeled.  I have to go now ... I’m holding up breakfast!

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