Sunday, April 27, 2014

Biased Blow-By-Blow - Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2014


Sure, there are other real-time online feeds of great bike races, but they’re too mainstream, too shackled by the principles of fair, balanced, non-profane, and dead-serious reporting.  This report, being filed by an unpaid blogger with strong opinions, may be just the thing for you if you’re tired of commentators holding, or biting, their tongues.

Biased Blow-By-Blow - Liège-Bastogne-Liège

So, as I join the race they've got about 65km (40 miles) to go.  There's a breakaway with a little under five minutes on the peloton.  Europcar is on the front of the peloton chasing, probably working for Thomas Voeckler, who isn't a bad rider and, more importantly, looks just a little bit like a young Robin Williams.  Look closely at his face and you'll see what I mean.

The break, of course, is doomed, and not just because it's a bunch of nobodies.  I'll name them anyway because there isn't much else to report right now. You've got Pirmin Lang, riding for IAM Cycling, which I'm pretty sure is sponsored by a dog food company here in the US.  Speaking of pets, this is sad:  my cat is so old she's reluctant to try to jump up on my lap as I sit here at the computer.  Say, that reminds me ... is Jens Voigt in this race?  Nope ... though he'd have had a better shot than Andy Schleck who, true to form, has already dropped out.  (This happened earlier; I read it in another live feed.  If you think that's cheating, consider that from a journalistic perspective it's the most professional thing I do.)

While I'm on the subject of who isn't here, Chris Froome was supposed to ride Liège-Bastogne-Liège today, but announced yesterday that he would not be riding, due to a yeast infection.  I'm kind of relieved, actually.  I had no problem with Bradley Wiggins riding Paris-Roubaix a couple weeks back, because (other than being on Team Sky) he's a slightly credible rider, and anyway he wasn't a favorite and I knew he wouldn't win (though he did ride well).  But with Froome, nothing is impossible.  His greatest talent as an athlete is how beautifully he responds to drugs.  I mean, take a guy like Vaughters.  His hematocrit was naturally high, meaning there was only so much that EPO could do for him.  But Froome went from a nobody to dominating the Tour de France without seeming to break a sweat, so I wouldn't be surprised if he could win just about any race on the calendar as long as he gets enough of whatever he's getting.  He could probably win a marathon, or a pro wrestling match, or swim across the English Channel.  And I hate to see him win, not just because he's a cheating scumbag, but because he makes the race boring by accidentally dropping everybody.

Michael Koch, the grandson of the former NYC mayor, is in the break for Cannondale.  Jacobus Venter is there, riding for MTN- Qhubeka.  Does that team make you nervous?  Well, you had Gerald Ciolek on that team winning Milan-San Remo last year, but that's not what I'm talking about.  It's "Qhubeka."  Normally when we see a "Q" that is not followed immediately by a "u," we're looking at an extremist mideastern terrorist cell.  So I think that company, which makes gluten-free construction materials, should consider a spelling modification if it's to sell better in western markets.  By the way, I've guessed at some of the details of this paragraph.  If I get around to it I'll have my fact-checker go through it.

An online correspondent, hearing of this breakaway, writes in, "I'd totally be there if I was racing!"  This isn't as outlandish as it sounds, because this correspondent is a retired pro.  I replied, "In the break? I don't think so. They'd never let a rider of your caliber get a gap."  By the way, if you e-mail me, you too can participate in this report.  (Note:  if you're reading this after the race has ended, you are too late.)

The gap is down to 2:40 so I better finish profiling these poor doomed breakaway riders.  First, a final comment on Jacobus Venter:  his given name was Jacob, but that didn't sound Roman and badass enough for him, so he applied the "-us" himself.  This is not without precedent:  the writer Tobias Wolff was originally named Toby.

Matteo Bono (Lampre-Merida) is in the break, and no, I've never heard of him either, though his name sounds familiar for the wrong reason.  Rounding out the group is Pieter Jacobs, who could buy a vowel and follow Venter's lead, riding for Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise, a team so obscure I'm pretty sure it's made-up and this is just some fan who jumped in there.

My fact-checker has alerted me to a glaring error I made earlier.  Froomestrong is not out due to a yeast infection as I'd stated.  (I thought that sounded weird.)  Turns out it's just a chest infection.  This blog regrets the error.  Also, that thing about Jacobus Venter?  Yeah, I made it up.  It's true about Tobias Wolff though.

With 45 km to go, they've hit the most famous climb, La Redoute.  Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) is doing a lot of the work.  Here's an interesting bit of trivia from last year's race:  Tony Martin got a little bit of accidental publicity when, with less than 1 km to go, the Eurosport announcer was so excited describing Dan Martin's winning attack, he called him Tony Martin.  This wouldn't be any big deal if it were Phil Liggett or Paul Sherwin, who are famous for such glitches, but I was surprised to hear it from what's-his-name.  Check out the video if you don't believe me.

Wow!  A Giant-Shimano rider has totally attacked!  He looks really good.  I think it's Warren Barguil, a young Frenchman.  He's a tall guy though, so perhaps it's one of the Dutchmen on this team.  If he makes this stick, and the right riders bridge up, everybody will know his name.  Okay, he's been joined by an Omega Pharma guy, not sure who, and a Trek guy.

The break has completely disintegrated.  I mean, the guys still exist in the material world, but they're not working together anymore other than Venter and Bono.  Bono tells his director, over the race radio, "I'm not saying we're a better  breakaway than the Beatles, but we are more of a breakaway."  No, he didn't really say that.  That was the other, lamer Bono, and of course I paraphrased.

Barguil and the other two have been caught, which is a relief because I don't have to figure out all their names.

With 40K to go, the leading duo has 1:11.  A couple other breakaway-shrapnel guys, Lang and Jacobs I think, are floating halfway between the break and the peloton.  I can't imagine what motivates these guys to keep slogging away instead of letting the peloton catch them, and then curling up into a fetal position and sucking their thumbs like I would do in that situation.

Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma) takes a stab at attacking but is brought back pretty quickly, before I could even report on it.  He has one of the most badass names in the peloton.  Bakelants ... sounds like what you'd build some giant industrial machine out of in the 1950s in some Iron Curtain country.  (He's Belgian though.)

La Redoute is over, without all the excitement we'd been led to expect.  The Côte des Forges is next.  It's not that long and not that steep, but then these guys have got to be pretty tired after 230 km (142 miles) of racing.

A Garmin rider, with nerdy handlebars, has attacked.  He's also rocking nerdy Micky-Mouse sunglasses.  The peloton needs to catch him pronto to avoid the shame of being bested by such a clownish figure.  God, they're like the bars on my mom's Univega touring bike in the '80s.

Bakelants needs a new bike but where's his team car?  He looks as frustrated as a guy in line at the DMV.  What a shame.  Ah, he's on a new bike now, but will have to chase like a mofo.  (Quick aside:  I once used the word "mofo" at the dinner table, and my dad, a professorial type, said, with an air of delighted curiosity, "What's a mofo?")

The Garmin rider, Alex Howes, has a pretty good gap.  I am left to ruminate on his chances while my Eurosport Internet feed goes to commercials for products with silly slogans like "made from sport."  Here's an ad for Turkey ... the tourist destination, not the meat.  Odd, isn't it, that we see ads for beef, but never turkey?

So, 26 km to go and still not a major move.  Fairly big bunch with a small breakaway with a smallish gap.  Looks like ... Jerome Baugnies of Wanty-Groupe Gobert which is such a silly team name, I'm glad I'm not a radio or TV commentator because I'd burst out laughing.  And it looks like they're caught anyway.

There are two climbs to go.  The Côte de la Roche-aux-Facons is next, about 1.5 km at 8 or 9% if I heard the announcer right.  Andy Schleck attacked on this climb in 2010, the year he won this race, back when he was a bike racer instead of a great, sad human mystery.

Speaking of past winners who doped like crazy, this race has a lot of them.  I've always liked Alexandre Vinokourov--I can't help it--but he obviously doped, and won this in 2005 and 2010.  The perennial doper Alejandro Valverde won here in 2006 and 2008.  The blantantly cheating scumbag Danilo Di Luca doped his way to a victory here in 2007.  And of course we'll never forget how the enthusiastic doper Tyler Hamilton won in ths race in 2003, the only American in history to win this (or any of the monuments).  Frankly, I can’t remember the last time an American contested a major Ardennes classic.  At least in 2003 we had two Americans—Lance and Tyler—bring their A-game, and their A-pharma, to this race.  It seems these days that the American’s can’t be bothered.  (There are five Americans racing today, but all in support roles.)

A flurry of activity as the peloton hits the Côte de la Roche-aux-Facons.  Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma) is right in the mix, and of course Valverde.  Samuel Sanchez, looking weird in the red and black BMC kit (I can only ever picture him in the orange of the dearly departed Euksaltel-Euskadi team), has attacked but is kind of floating around off the front without a clear plan of action.

Only 17 km to go and no huge attacks.  The main group seems to have all the big contenders still.  Some Saxo-Tinkoff guy has attacked and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) has gone with him.  Ah, and here's a Katusha rider joining them, so Valverde and Philippe Gilbert (BMC) have bridged up, dragging the others with them.  Not sure who the Katusha guy is ... it's not race favorite Joaquim Rodriguez because he dropped out earlier.

The Tinkoff-Saxo rider was Roman Kreuziger and he's still stabbing the field occasionally.  I think I'm the first commentator to use "stab" directly, not as part of the phrase "take a stab," so if it catches on, remember you heard it (well, read it) here first.

Still an oddly large peloton with 13km to go.  With so many climbs, it's kind of remarkable more guys haven't been shed.

The Côte de Saint Nicolas is still to come, in about 5 km.  It's kind of a beast, climbing about 200 meters (656 feet), with pitches of almost 11%.  That should separate the men from the boys, or at least the lubed from the clean.  I hate to say it, but these Ardennes classics aren't as exciting for me because drugs would seem to help more here, with all the climbing.  So far as I know there isn't a syringe payload that will help you on cobblestones.  Maybe that's why the history books of this race is so sullied in comparison.

I wonder if Frank Schleck can do anything without his brother by his side?  Those two do seem awfully emo when deprived of each other's company.  Maybe they should be doing doubles tennis instead.

Mathias Frank (IAM Cycling) launches a pretty sweet attack on the climb.  He looks really solid, no sign of strain.  Oh, and here's a big attack from Daniel Moreno (Katusha).  Somebody else is with him, I can't tell who.  They've got a decent gap, considering they're near the end of this climb.

Valverde launches a move!  Gilbert chases him down instantly.  Dang it, I can't tell who it is with Moreno.  Back in the group some Europcar guy attacks. 

I don't think it's Moreno in the break.  I think it's Giampaolo Caruso.  And with him is Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La  Mondiale) and they've got about 12 seconds.

Nibali is hammering on the front!  Man, he's just dragging this really long peloton, all strung out in a line.  A Belkin rider has attacked and has a small gap.  It's only 2.2K to go so Caruso and Pozzovivo might just make it ... the last kilo is slightly uphill.

The gap is down to 9 seconds.  If it doesn't open back up, I think these guys may be doomed.  Speaking of doomed I have big fears that my video feed will go away in the final 300 meters.  That's happened too often to be accidental.  I tried to get a backup feed going, from Sporzo, but it wouldn't launch.

Oh, these leaders are really suffering.  There's a sluggishness about them that doesn't bode well for them.

Dan Martin is leading the chase.  Kreuzinger on his wheel.  Man, Martin must either be feeling really great, or riding really stupid, because he's doing a ton of work.

Valverde is drilling it!  Gilbert is fighting to get his wheel.  Dan Martin crashes with 300 meters to go!  Valverde is going for it, but here comes Simon Gerrans!  He's got the win!  I'd never heard of Orica Greenedge until last year but they seem to be one of the best sprinting teams now.  I'll have to see the replay of that sprint because my video was freezing a bunch at the end.  Man, that two-man break very nearly made it.  Here's the super-slo-mo:  Gerrans came right off Valverde's wheel and just blew him away.  Now I've got my cat's ass in my face as she rubs her ear on my PC monitor.  Misha, get out of here!

So Valverde was second, looks like Kwiatoski third.  They're on the podium already with other riders still out on the road, dribbling over the line in large and small clots.

The big favorite, Gilbert, just never really seemed to do anything but a) react, and b) not react.  He'll be pretty bummed with eighth place today.  Caruso hung on for fourth place, which goes to show how close that break was making it.

Gerrans is being interviewed in French, which is fairly impressive because he's Australian.  Says he was feeling lousy with 30km to go but his team helped him out.  (He doesn’t say how.  What, did they give him some big pushes?)  I didn't catch much of the interview because my wife showed up and interrupted, saying, "He's kind of cute!"  She wasn't trying to make me jealous or anything ... more like throwing a conciliatory bone because between the doping and the gaunt physiques of pro cyclists, she's not exactly a fan.

Man, gobs of ads here.  I was hoping to see a super-slo-mo of the podium celebration but I guess this coverage is over!  Yup, Eurosport is on to snooker now.  (Snooker?  Are you kidding me?)

So, pretty exciting race, though I prefer big throw-down attacks to field sprints.  I particularly enjoy watching attacks on climbs, so things are slowed down a bit and you can savor the spectacle of miserable suffering.  And as one of my online correspondents points out, Liège-Bastogne-Liège should end in groups of ones and twos.  What I'd really like to see is a video of Bernard Hinault's amazing win here back in 1980.  I should search YouTube for that....

Thanks for tuning in, if you did, and if you didn't, how on earth are you reading this?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Dana. I got up and watched it this morning, but it's fun to relive it (or something like it) in your biased blow-by-blow.