Saturday, May 31, 2014

Biased Blow-By-Blow, Giro d’Italia 2014, Stage 20


If you tried to come up with a good reason to watch the final mountain stage of this year’s Giro d’Italia and came up empty (since the final top five on the GC is all but set in stone), but are vaguely curious about what went down, you’ve come to the right place.  Especially if you’re tired of mainstream journalism with its standards of decency—that is, the tact that overrides the natural human instinct to say really cynical things and hurl damaging accusations that of course are generally true.  What follows is a heavily biased blow-by-blow of the epic Monte Zoncolan stage, which separates the men from the boys and the doped from the clean.

Biased Blow-By-Blow – Giro d’Italia Stage 20

As I join the coverage, Sean Kelly and his fellow Eurosport commentator are talking about gearing.  Kelly says, “Yes.  I think compact is, uh, the thing for this final climb.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see riders making bike changes before the Zoncolan.”  Why wouldn’t they just do the whole race with a compact crank?  Because of the shame, of course.  Even riders who are almost five hours behind in the GC still have some pride.

The non-Kelly Eurosport announcer just compared the Monte Zoncolan to the “Angrilu” in the Vuelta a Espana.  I’m impressed that he’s so knowledgeable about other grand tours, but he pronounced it wrong.  It’s “Angliru,” which is of course much harder to say.  Kelly gets it right, though as usual he sounds like his mouth is full of marbles (but in that charming Irish way).

There’s a huge breakaway over five minutes ahead of the pink jersey group.  Actually, it almost looks like the GC group is smaller than the break.  They’re heading up the Sella Razzo, which is Italian for “saddle of the weasel-y mafia guy.”  As a group of riders crests this one (an intermediate chase group, I think) a guy is handing up pink newspapers to shove under their jerseys for warmth.  That’s kind of cool.  This is as close to the pink jersey as most of these guys are going to get in their careers.

Pierre Rolland (Team Europcar) has attacked, and only Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Domenica Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) are able to follow.  I think I see Fabio Aru (Astana Pro Team) in there.  Hard to tell how far back the other GC guys are, because my so-called streaming video is more like a slide show today ... a slide show being given by a blowhard who yaks on for five minutes about each photo, kind of like I’m doing now.

I got up extra early today to watch the final descent before the Zoncolan.  That’s because it’s probably the only kind of terrain that could give race leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) any trouble.  Not that he’s a bad descender or anything, but the laws of physics wouldn’t be in his favor.  (Look at Taylor Phinney’s stage win in that recent Tour of California stage.)

So, Nairo is a pretty cool name for a bike racer.  It makes me think of a Roman emperor or something.  I’m less stoked about the name Fabio (i.e., the first name of Aru).  Fabio of course sounds like the male hero of a thick romance novel.

Speaking of names, whenever my friends and I chat about Rigoberto Uran, we add another Uran to the end.  It’s up to like four Urans now; sort of a last-name-inflation.  This is because his full name is Rigoberto Uran Uran.  The second Uran is his mother’s family name, so kind of a coincidence there.  Perhaps over in Colombia “Uran” is as common as “Smith” or “Jones” here (though in reality, I only know one Smith family and no Jones).

The leader right now, at this moment, is the American Brent Bookwalter.  He’s a pretty big guy, perfect for this descent but not so perfect for a climb like the Zoncolan.  Case in point:  he lost almost nine minutes in the uphill time trial yesterday.

It’s been awhile since my first 2014 Giro d’Italia blow-by-blow report.  That was a good day in the Giro, because my favorite rider, Cadel Evans, took the pink jersey.  Well, a lot has changed since then, and yet nothing ever changes.  Evans’ bad days are as predictable as, say, Alejandro Valverde’s doping.  (No, Valverde isn’t in this Giro ... he’s never ridden the Giro, and probably never will because the Italian authorities were the first to sanction him for his doping by not letting him race within their borders, which ruled out the Tour de France one year due to a side trip it made into Italy.  So he’s probably pretty bitter about that.)

So anyway, Evans is only in 7th, because on several key days he looked all too human, as opposed to “not normal” which is the more common profile of a grand tour winner.  Evans hasn’t had a spectacularly bad day, like Pantani used to have, but more like a general slowdown, which—being the normal human response to racing day after day for three weeks—was kind of refreshing, and yet disappointing, to watch.

“Tired?  Depressed?  Missing your usual vim?  Ask your doctor if Zoncolan is right for you.” 

The GC group is obviously taking this descent pretty carefully.  Their gap to the leaders has gone from five minutes to about 6½.  Seems like a good opportunity for a rider like Aru who isn’t so tiny as the Colombian climbers.  I wonder if Aru can descend?  Height isn’t everything when you’re as bone-thin as he is.  I just typed his name into Google and the first search it suggested was “fabio aru height weight.”  Looks like he’s 5’11” but only 135 pounds ... so, like five pounds heavier than Quintana.  So I guess I can see why he’s not attacking on the downhill.  But Pierre Rolland, sitting in fourth?  By cyclist standards he’s a Goliath at 6 feet tall, 157 pounds.  He’s just one step from the podium and he can climb pretty well.  Shouldn’t he attack on the downhill?  I don’t know.  The Zoncolan is pretty long, and the top three steps of the podium are all especially thin guys.  And Rolland is surely pretty tired.  Still, the lead is up to 7:22, so the GC group is totally loafing.  Must be frustrating for a guy like Wilco Kelderman (Belkin Pro Cycling), 6 feet tall (though only 141 pounds), who needs only four seconds to move from 8th to 7th overall.  (Trivia question:  what is Wilco Kelderman’s brother’s name?  Answer:  Roger.  No it’s not.)

Time gap is up to 7:32.  I guess the leaders are pretty confident that the Zoncolan will sort everything out.  The highest GC rider in the break is Franco Pellizotti (Androni Giocattoli), who’s sitting in 14th but over half an hour down!  This Giro has had so many monster climbs, the gaps between riders are pretty huge.

Okay, the leaders are on the base of the Zoncolan now.  They have less than 9km to go, but at an average grade of like 10% and pitches over 20%.  So it’s going to take awhile.

Some spectator is holding out a sheet of paper, the Euro equivalent of 8½x11, with something written on it in ball-point.  I’d be really impressed if a racer could make anything out.

So before things heat up on the big climb, I guess I should get our uncomfortable discussion out of the way.  Is Quintana doping?  Well, it’s too early in his career to start casting aspersions, and it must be said that this Giro totally suits a pocket climber like him.  So I’m going to be really nice and not hurl an accusation at him despite his amazing feats in these mountains.

Wow, two of Quintana’s Movistar teammates have attacked at the base of the Zoncolan!  That’s really, really odd.  I mean, what could they have to gain from this?  It’s bizarre.  Quintana has wisely let them go.  What an astonishingly silly thing to do.  The only thing that could keep Quintana from winning the GC is totally blowing up today, which probably won’t happen if the pace is steady.  So what were his guys doing?  Okay, they’ve slowed up and now everything is back together.  I haven’t seen such a display since the base of Alpe d’Huez in the 2003 Tour de France, when two of Lance’s US Postal domestiques did the same thing.  But in that case it made sense because Jan Ullrich was in difficulty and Lance had precious little time on him.  Yes, Lance’s boys went too hard and almost dropped him, like we (well, I) just saw here, but that’s just because they were so lubed they didn’t feel a thing.

Maybe that’s what happened just now with Movistar.  I think of them as one of the dopiest teams in the sport.  Remember, this was the team that started out as Reynolds (which produced Delgado, a proven doper) and Indurain (never popped for dope, but clearly Not Normal), whose dominance lasted through the Banesto years.  When the team had morphed into Caisse d’Epargne it featured the very suspicious Oscar Pereiro, who tested positive during the 2006 Tour, but for asthma medication he somehow later proved was okay, and also for an improbably banned acne medication that just made everybody giggle.  And then Landis later said that Pereiro had casually mentioned his own doping to Landis, under the omertà of the day, and I believe that, whether or not anybody else does.  But of course it’s been in its current Movistar incarnation that we’ve seen this team’s most obvious doper, that being Valverde.  Does a crooked team mean all the riders are crooked?  Not really.  So I can’t accuse Quintana of doping, but at the same time I cannot help having a visceral response to the lime green M on his chest.

Oh man.  Speaking of dopers, Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) is riding really well at the front of the breakaway (despite being a large time trialist, not a small climber) while his apparently clean countryman, Cadel Evans, is already on the ropes in the back of the GC group.  

Quintana looks totally unflappable near the front of this GC group, even as it begins to disintegrate.  Quintana has looked unflappable throughout this Giro, despite starting poorly and losing a lot of time in the first time trial.  Speaking of time trials, it’s curious to note that Quintana won the time trial yesterday quite handily despite mostly breathing through his nose.  (He’s doing the same thing today:  at any given time his mouth is closed, often forming a Mona Lisa smile.)  But the second place finisher in yesterday’s time trial, Fabio Aru, must have detached his jaw like a snake or something because when he came over the line (with an amazingly fast time) you could have stuffed several tennis balls in that mouth, it was gaping open so far.

So, setting aside the questionable doping tradition of his Movistar team, do I have any issue with Quintana?  Well, I cannot write about this race without excoriating Quintana for the very tall bright-pink latex-shiny booties he wore in the TT yesterday.  Who does he think he is, Elton John?  Those booties were disgraceful and Quintana should have been sanctioned by the race organizers.  I’d already been slightly annoyed by the amount of pink he’s been wearing—pink helmet, sunglasses, gloves, shorts, I even heard a rumor (or did I start it?) that he’s wearing a pink condom under there.

Speaking of garish colors, last remaining guy in the breakaway with Rogers, wearing lime green, is Francesco Bongiorno (Bardiani-CSF).  You don’t need to speak Italian to know his name means “Good day,” which is kind of odd.  If my last name were “Good day” I’d expect to raise a lot of eyebrows, but I guess the Italians can pull that off.

Another look at the GC group, and Simon Geschke (Giant-Shimano) is on the front again.  I can’t figure out why he’s doing so much work ... it’s not for a teammate because this team’s highest-placed rider, Georg Preidler, is in 29th, over an hour down on the GC.  Anyway, Geschke is rocking a full beard.  Not a goatee like Pantani had, but a full, thick, Grizzly Adams beard.  This seems to be a trend in the peloton.  I think Laurens Ten Dam started it, and Ryder Hesjedal now wears a beard, as do Bradley Wiggins and Thomas De Gendt.  The first time I saw a full beard on a “cyclist” it was that fat Russian guy in “American Flyers.”  (They had to give him a beard because the director obviously didn’t think a red jersey with a hammer and sickle insignia would be enough to signal to the American audience that this was an evil Russian.)

Wow, Bongiorno has attacked Rogers!  Go, man, go!  Rogers doesn’t even look troubled—he instantly neutralizes the move with no difficulty.  I really wonder what drugs are coursing through his veins.  I mean, this guy is 6’1” and 163 pounds, and he’s just cruising up this 15% grade like it’s nothing.  This during the third week of a very mountainous Giro, no less.  I guess when Rogers left Team Sky he took a couple cards from their Rolodex, or at least a few duffel bags of their secret sauce.

It’s only 3 km to go for the leaders, with almost 5½ minutes to the exceedingly elite GC “group.”  It’s not really a group, though ... it has shattered.  It’s just a handful of guys now, Quintana flanked by a teammate.  Pozzovivo is gapped behind with Rolland, Aru, and Majka.

Oh no, Bongiorno is not having any luck.  It looks like he threw his chain!  That happened to Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) yesterday in the TT, and to some other guy toward the end of a flat stage of this Giro.  What’s up with these team mechanics?  Surely such problems can be avoided.  A spectator tries to give Bongiorno a push, but knocks him sideways and he has to unclip from one of his pedals.  I’m not sure exactly how all that played out just now—it happened so fast—but the upshot is that Rogers now has a gap.

I’m really bummed because now Rogers may be headed for a solo victory.  What a mockery of fair play.  He’s defying the laws of physics.  In addition to his size, he’s also 34 years old, which is a bit old for these brute-force non-wily moves.  And yet here he is, motoring along like he’s Christopher Froome or something.  He’s got 2.2 km to go.  If anything he’s extending his lead over Bongiorno, who is visibly struggling despite being 23 years old, 5’7”, and 130 pounds.

“Not to take anything away from Mick Rogers,” says the Eurosport commentator, “but he’s so lubed it’s not even funny.”  No, that’s not how he ended that sentence, though I had my hopes up.  He actually said, “... but to have Bongiorno disrupted by a fan is a great shame.”

Speaking of great shame, Rogers has only 1 km to go.  Remember when he was a time trial specialist?  He was supposed to be the next big thing, except he never really got the results, until he joined Team Sky and suddenly became this great climber who could sit on the front of the group pace-setting on a big mountain while normal small climbers got spat out the back.  It was a career renaissance of sorts, the likes of which I haven’t seen since Steve Austin (as in, the Six Million Dollar Man, not the “wrestler,” though cycling is starting to have a lot in common with professional wrestling).

Franco Pellizotti has passed Bongiorno.

Here comes Rogers.  He’s got the win.  His victory salute is pretty awkward.  He’s not really used to this; it’s only his second grand tour stage win (the earlier one being a week or so ago).  Back when he was a credible time trialist, he didn’t get to do victory salutes when he won.  Perhaps he should have practiced them.  He has had plenty of time, being so old and all.  How often do you see a rider hitting his best-ever form at age 34?  That’s almost like a gymnast getting his or her first Olympic gold at age 20, or a mathematician making his or her greatest discovery at age 95.

The remains of the breakaway are trailing in one by one.  They really look spent.  You can tell how steep it is by how slow they’re going, which wasn’t the case with Rogers, who I can only hope will test positive like Danilo Di Luca did last year after his series of unrealistic feats of strength.

Uran is putting the hurt on Quintana, not for any obvious reason other than to show that he, Uran, is still a strong cyclist who can be taken seriously.  I think that’s pretty cool.  Perhaps Uran is taking the lead so he can use his mullet to mock Quintana.  (I shouldn’t talk, my mullet was even worse, but I was only 18!)  Now Quintana has taken the lead and is sprinting for the line, again for no obvious reason than simple instinct.  They’re over the line and barely rolling anymore.

Aru comes over the line now, his tongue hanging out like a dog’s.  I hope it doesn’t get in his wheel.

We get a high helicopter shot and man, there’s so much snow up there.  The climb really is a monster.

Here comes Evans in the final kilometer.  He’s out of the saddle as usual, slightly overgeared because shifting down would crush out any morale he has left.  The camera switches to the finish line where Kelderman comes across, and it looks like he’ll get the handful of seconds he needs to move into seventh over Evans.

Evans crosses the line.  He looks like he’s about to cry—but then, he almost always looks like that, even when he’s on the podium. 

Rogers is being interviewed.  “It’s really worth it, it’s amazing,” he says.  Is he talking about Bjarne Riis’s “coaching,” or is he talking about “training in the winter,” the revolutionary practice pioneered by Froome that he’s obviously adopted?  Or is he warming up for a second career hawking pharmaceuticals?

There’s the official GC, and Evans has sunk to eighth.  Probably he won’t care that much ... to have made the podium last year, and to have won the fricking Tour de Fricking France a few years back, I doubt he can get that excited about just being top-ten.

Well, that’s it for this Giro.  I’m feeling pretty gutted by the stage result today, I have to admit.  I think the highlight was pondering the number of beards in the peloton.  I think I’m going to skip the Tour de France altogether unless I can further develop my appreciation for side-shows.  Perhaps a survey of the growing variety of wacky spectators running alongside the racers?

Friday, May 23, 2014

37 Velominati Rules You Can Ignore


This is my second of two posts on The Rules, a set of cycling-related standards put forth by  I bother to write about The Rules in part because I feel that bicycle road racing has a recruitment problem.  In the mid-‘80s when I was a junior in Colorado, turnout was great—routinely we’d get like sixty kids in a race.  Now, in many cases, there are scarcely enough juniors to have a race, even at major events like the Nevada City Bicycle Classic.  Also, the three teams I rode for during my college years had trouble recruiting women even back then.  So when popular websites like Velominati’s suggest that the roadie realm is a bunch of (adult, male) elitists, I feel like somebody ought to step up and assure the newcomer that a lot of us are actually pretty laid back.

Several Velominati fans have commented, below my first post on this topic, that I’m missing the point and that I have no sense of humor.  Well, I doubt that the point of Velominati’s site is that these Rules are entirely facetious and the entire thing is a great big spoof.  If that were the case, a seasoned cyclist like me would disagree with all of The Rules, not just 37 of them.  Moreover, if humor were the only goal of The Rules, we wouldn’t have such straightforward, clearly non-tongue-in-cheek items as Rule #18, “No baggy shorts and jerseys while riding the road bike.”

I suspect that the point of The Rules is twofold:  to inform and to entertain.  It’s evidently meant to be fun to read, while imparting a body of knowledge about the culture of road cycling.  The fact that I don’t find much of it funny doesn’t mean I have no sense of humor.  After all, I laughed out loud at the Ronnie Johns “Harden the Fuck Up” video that Rule #5 links to.  I also chuckled at Rule #34, “Mountain bike shoes and pedals have their place:  on a mountain bike.”  Beyond, I can even enjoy a comic declaration I totally disagree with, provided it’s sufficiently funny, as in the case of George Carlan’s diatribe against guys named Todd.

The Rules list strongly resembles a similar list from many years ago, “The Official Euro Cyclist Code of Conduct,” by Dom Guiver and Mike Flavell, except that those guys seemed to be making fun of themselves, and their directives were, in many cases, obviously facetious (e.g.,  “[long] hair shall be neatly slicked back in maximum euro-styling, and helmet SHALL NOT be worn” and “a gold pendant on a very long, thin chain bearing some sort of religious icon is STRONGLY recommended for mountain races”).  In contrast, the overall effect of the Velominati rules is that of actual advice from unapologetically elitist self-declared authorities.

When I asserted this in my previous post, a few Velominati fans told me to lighten up.  Their suggestion seems to be that because The Rules are all in good fun, nobody should object to anything.  The problem is, it’s really hard to tell when a rule is meant as a joke vs. an actual directive.  If something is not obviously funny, it’s not obviously a joke, and we are entitled to think it’s meant seriously.  (It’s a bit like one of my kids insulting the other, and then, when I chastise her for it, saying, “C’mon, I was just joking.”)

This post (like my other one) is for cyclists who have read The Rules and don’t like them, and/or are feeling intimidated by a sport that, as Velominati portrays it, holds its participants to exacting standards.  This post is for cyclists who disagree with some of The Rules and might like being let off the hook.  And finally, it’s for my friend Mark, who originally sent around the link with the comment, “We need to annotate this list … Dana?”

37 Velominati Rules you can ignore

Here is the list of Velominati rules I knowingly break—not due to a rebellious streak, but because I simply think they’re wrong.  Please don’t construe my list as an endorsement of the idea that cyclists need to meet a uniform standard … as far as I’m concerned, other cyclists can do as they please (outside of obvious misbehavior like running over pedestrians as they pursue downhill Strava  records).

Rule #1, Obey the Rules.  This is needless; the idea of obedience is built-in to the notion of rule.  I think it would be an improvement to change this one to, “Take the following Rules with a grain of salt.”

Rule #3, Guide the uninitiated.  Per my previous post, other riders’ behavior is their own business and I don’t want the job of telling strangers they’re doing it all wrong.

Rule #5, Harden The Fuck Up.  This was funny in Ronnie Johns’ video.  It’s less funny when aimed at a reader whom the Velominati folks have never met, and who a) may already be plenty hard, or b) may not care to make the sport a personal pissing contest.  I went further into this in my previous post.

Rule #6, Free your mind and your legs will follow.  This is just blather.  Any good cyclist knows that this sport requires brains.  And “Do all your thinking before you start riding”?  The idea of Velominati acolytes thoughtlessly drifting along, lost in reverie (“wrapped in the sensations of the ride”), is somewhat  frightening.  Yes, much of cycling becomes instinctive and automatic, but decisions still need to be made.

Rule #7, Tan lines should be cultivated and kept razor sharp.  In my book, any behavior associated with suntans—with the notable exception of protecting your skin—is narcissistic.  And yes, narcissism is a bad thing.

Rule #9, Riding in bad weather means you’re a badass, period.  Not everybody who rides in bad weather is a badass (some do it just to show off), and conversely, not all badass cyclists are eager or even willing to ride in bad weather.

Rule #11, Family does not come first, the bike does.  I suspect this is facetious, but it’s not very funny, and certainly isn’t right.  If an amateur cyclist, such as one in the Masters, wishes to bail on his family every weekend to go race, that’s his or her business, but to mandate it is ridiculous.

Rule #12, The correct number of bikes to own is n+1.  No, that’s not always the case.  For me, five is plenty since I don’t ride track or cyclocross.  Also, what about people who can only afford one or two bikes?  Are they not allowed into this sport?

Rule #13, If you draw race number 13, turn it upside down.  As Daniel Coyle describes in his excellent book Lance Armstrong’s War, superstitions can vary from rider to rider.  I have no problem with the number 13 and would want to wear it right-side-up, to make sure the officials can read it (as opposed to giving me a DNF).  Declaring that something should be done a certain way, just because some cool athlete does it, is getting into slippery territory.  Should the Velominati guys, in accordance with Rules #2 and #3, go tell Rohan Dennis—winner of the Mount Diablo stage of the Tour of California—that he pinned his numbers on wrong?

Rule #14, Shorts should be black.  This is silly because the majority of pro teams have non-black shorts today.  Meanwhile, my club’s jerseys are orange, which I love, but which wouldn’t look good with black shorts (i.e., would be too much like Halloween).  We wear navy blue shorts.

Rule #17, Team kit is for members of the team.  In general, I don’t try to impersonate someone on another team.  But I received a sweet long-sleeve Rabobank jersey for Christmas years ago and reserve the right to wear it, with my non-Rabobank shorts. 

Rule #18, Know what to wear, don’t suffer kit confusion – No baggy shorts and jerseys while riding the road bike, no lycra when riding the  mountain bike.  Pure malarkey.  I’m not going to put on my cycling clothes just to return a video.  And mountain bikers have been wearing Lycra for at least a couple decades.

Rule #19, Introduce yourself … it is customary and courteous to announce your presence.  I have never required this of any random Joe joining our club ride, and have never been so formal in joining a random rider or group on the road.  I’ve also never witnessed such formalities, in over thirty years of club rides.  Sure, I’ve had a paceline disrupted by an unskilled interloper, but the best way to deal with that is just to ramp up the pace until he falls off.  And if he doesn’t?  Well, good on him!

Rule #23, Tuck only after reaching Escape Velocity.  Since I reserve the right to recover during descents (see my comment on Rule #93), I’ll tuck when I please.  And by the way, the photo of the “LeMond tuck”?  That’s not even a tuck.  Look at Taylor Phinney soloing in that Tour of California stage … that’s a tuck.  There are plenty of great photos of LeMond tucking; why didn’t the Velominati guys find one?

Rule #24, Speeds and distances shall be referred to and measured in kilometers.  Look, the Americans I ride with mostly use miles, and so do I.  That doesn’t make us “Neanderthalic,” as the Velominati suggest.  (Meanwhile, “Neanderthalic” isn’t even a word.)

Rule #25, The bikes on top of your car should be worth more than the car.  This is only true for juniors in really crappy cars.  And the Velomati guys’ “relatively more expensive” caveat is slippery:  where do you draw the line?  How many bikes are we talking about?  Is a $40,000 car okay with a $3,000 bike?  Their “put your Huffy on a Rolls” example is neither funny nor helpful.  I could agree with a more definitive guideline:  “If you drive a 2010 Nissan Elantra with upgraded rims, but your bike is a 1995 Novara Trionfo, perhaps you should reassess your priorities.”

Rule #30, No frame-mounted pumps.  This is just plain stupid.  I don’t like seeing pumps poking out of pockets because I’m afraid they’ll fall out, and I don’t use CO2 canisters because they’re not eco-friendly.  Prohibiting Zéfal pumps and insisting on Silca is like requiring VHS over Betamax.  And the Velominati-sanctioned method of mounting a pump in the rear frame triangle is wrong.  You don’t prop it on the quick-release skewer, because that’s not secure enough.  You take a big file and put a notch in the pump handle that slots right over the dropout.  But of course you can’t do this on most modern frames anyway (or are we all supposed to be riding ‘80s-era steel frames too?).  One more thing:  the authors spelled “canister” wrong.

Rule #33, Shave your guns.  As a mandate, this doesn’t have much backing among the cyclists I know.  I did a blog post awhile back on leg shaving by cyclists, for which I did a survey of around 50 of my male cycling pals.  Of these, 93% either used to race or still do, and ten are (or were) Category 1 and/or professional riders.  Only 14% of these surveyed riders shave their legs year-round, and 45% never do.  (Meanwhile, 52% indicated they couldn’t care less if other cyclists shaved their own legs.)  My other issue with this rule:  calling your legs “guns” is like kissing your flexed biceps non-ironically.  Pretty sad.

Rule #39, Never ride without your eyewear.  I sometimes do a short ride at dawn.  I don’t need the UV protection, and I don’t suppose the few riders I see at that hour are scandalized from a sartorial perspective.  So who exactly is affected when I break this rule?

Rule #41, Quick-release levers are to be carefully positioned.  As I said in my previous post, I point my levers straight back because I think it looks cool.  As for how others orient theirs, I couldn’t care less and neither should you.

Rule #45, Slam your stem.  Maybe if I did yoga I could change my position to meet the maximum stack height prescribed by this rule.  A marginally cooler-looking bike isn’t worth back pain, at least for those of us who ride our bikes instead of parking them at cafés in the mistaken belief that passersby will admire them.  Meanwhile, a low-rise stem with more than 2 cm of stack height looks way cooler than a high-rise stem positioned directly on the top race of the headset, though this latter configuration would be technically permissible according to The Rules.

Rule #49, Keep the rubber side down.  Are you going to tell me a junior cyclist who can’t afford a bike stand or wheel truing stand isn’t allowed to flip his bike over to true the wheels?  Should this sport be restricted to those who can afford their own truing stands (or can afford to pay a shop to maintain their bikes for them)?

Rule #50, Facial hair is to be carefully regulated.  This rule should explicitly exclude women and juniors; because it doesn’t, I’m led to believe the Velominati folks forgot all about them.  Meanwhile, not shaving on the morning of a race doesn’t have anything to do with virility, as suggested by the Velominati writers.  As a junior I was plenty virile despite being too young to shave.  The reason you don’t shave the morning of the race, as everybody knows, is that you want to avoid the sting of sweat in razor burn (a pointless addition to the suffering you’re already doing).  As far as the prohibition of beards and moustaches, I really don’t think this has anything to do with cycling.  If I desire to grow some facial hair, even for the express purpose of looking like an idiot, that’s my business (see my previous post about the compatibility of iconoclasm with cycling).  In this photo I’m also visibly breaking Rule #14, Rule #33, Rule #45, and Rule #74.

Rule #56, Espresso or macchiato only.  This kind of epicurean fussiness has nothing to do with cycling, as I detailed in my previous post.  Prior to reading The Rules I’d never even heard of a macchiato.  I prefer NoDoz to coffee anyway.

Rule #58, Support your local bike shop—never buy bikes, parts, or accessories online.  Never?  Really?  I do support my local bike shop, by sending them business and by buying basic stuff there, but it’s ridiculous to expect a serious cyclist to do none of his or her shopping online.  Look, if you know exactly what you want, you know how to install and adjust it yourself and have the tools you need, and you don’t have a trust fund, you’d be crazy to buy all your stuff at a bike shop.  Excepting the ten years during which I worked in bike shops, I’ve bought major bike parts mail-order since about 1982 and I sleep well at night.

Rule #63, Point in the direction you’re turning.  What a pointless bit of advice.  If a car is well behind me, yeah, I’ll signal by extending my right arm.  But if a driver is creeping right up on me, he or she won’t see a right-arm turn signal (because my body will eclipse it).  So then I use the left arm bent-elbow signal.  Do these Velominati guys actually think about any of these directives before issuing them, or do they just write down whatever random idea pops into their heads?

Rule #68, Rides are to be measured by quality, not quantity … declaring “We rode 4km” would assert that 4000m were climbed during the ride with the distance being irrelevant.  I’ve never heard a ride described this way.  Why would the Velominati guys require a behavior that absolutely nobody, outside of their own weird little clique, actually does?

Rule #70, The purpose of competing is to win.  I think this was true in the case of Eddy Merckx, but most other racers use some races for training, and know they aren’t always in contention.  I think it’s perfectly fine—admirable, even—to enter a race that you know you can’t win.  How else are you going to improve?  Is the Velominati strategy to carefully select only the smallest of ponds?  This rule is just macho posturing.

Rule #73, Gear and brake cables should be cut to optimum length.  Well, isn’t this a pointless tautology?  Shouldn’t all things be done in the optimum way, by definition?  But actually my main issue is with the text of the rule, which includes “Right shifter cable should go to the left cable stop and vice versa” and the associated directive that cables should “cross under the downtube.”  Yeah, I’ve come across this before.  You occasionally see a complete moron setting up a bike that way.  It’s pointless.  As a bike shop mechanic I never encountered a colleague who did that.

Rule #74, V Meters or small computers only.  Not having heard of a V Meter, I took the bait and clicked the hyperlink.  A V Meter is a bike computer with a Velominati sticker obscuring the display.  This violates Rule #57, No stickers, and Rule #78, Remove unnecessary gear.  It’s also so precious I think I’m going to hurl.  Meanwhile, large computers (e.g., Garmins and power meters) are very common on pro racers’ bikes.

Rule #78, Remove unnecessary gear – When racing in a criterium of 60 minutes or less the second (unused) water bottle cage must be removed.  Once again, no actual cyclist would ever do this, not even a pro cyclist with a full-time mechanic.  On the other hand, at least this rule used the term “water bottle cage” instead of calling the bottle a “bidon” as the Velomati Rules website does in a dozen other places.  “Bidon” is shameless affectation of Euro-cool.  I believe it is a very small minority of English-speaking cyclists who ever say “bidon.”  (I thought this might be a British thing, but the British announcers, on Eurosport and also in the recent Tour of California coverage, all say “bottle,” as does the Brit on my bike club.)

Rule #85, Descend like a pro – all descents shall be undertaken at speeds commonly regarded as “ludicrous” or “insane” by those less talented.  This advice is irresponsible.  Descending at speed isn’t a talent—it’s a skill and should be developed gradually with no pressure from bloviating bloggers.  And the bit about “the inner leg canted” for balance and aesthetics?  I think they wanted the word “bent,” and anyway hanging your inside knee is the mark of a novice.  Once you know what you’re doing, you keep that knee in for better aerodynamics.  (I learned this from Dale Stetina, not some website.)

Rule #89, Pronounce it correctly.  Pronouncing “Tour de France” correctly is no problem.  But I think it’s best if my fellow Americans and I say “Tour of Flanders” instead of “Ronde van Vlaanderen.”  Why?  First, I dislike such showiness, and second, there’s nobody around to correct our mispronunciation.

Rule #90, Never get out of the big ring.  Okay, clearly this one is meant as a joke.  I guess I can’t fault the Velominati fans for getting a big laugh out of this, any more than I could fault a young child for laughing at “Garfield.”

Rule #91, No food on training rides under four hours.  I’m so glad I don’t have to ride with these guys and help them get home after their blood sugar crashes.  This advice is empirically bad, no matter what Johan Museeuw said.  (Besides, he was talking to an individual … perhaps that person had more fat to burn than a typical cyclist.)  It’s also curious that an exception is made for hard rides over two hours.  Well, if you’re not riding hard, aren’t you in violation of Rule #3?

Rule #92, No sprinting from the hoods.  Watch any mountaintop finish in a pro race and you’ve got a pretty good chance of seeing a guy sprinting while on the hoods.  The Rules authors could have so easily made an exception for uphill finishes, but they didn’t.  Why not?  Sheer laziness?  I think it’s also odd how they make a special exception for Saronni in the ’82 world championships.  How come when one rider, like Fabian Cancellara with Rule #13, does something that the Velominati guys like, that behavior becomes a rule, whereas when another rider does something forbidden by The Rules, like Saronni here or Pantani in Rule #50, he’s merely an exception?

Rule #93, Descents are not for recovery.  If you don’t need to recover on a descent, perhaps you didn’t go hard enough on the climb.  Moreover, this seems like irresponsible advice for these Velominati guys to give to readers of varying skill level.  A rider in my area died trying to set a downhill KOM on Strava.  “But we’re just joking, get a sense of humor!” the Rules fans might say.  I reiterate:  this excuse might work better if the rule were actually funny….
For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Biased Blow-By-Blow - Giro d’Italia 2014, Stage 8


The 2014 Giro d’Italia might be the most exciting grand tour of the year.  Clearly the Tour de France is going to be boring again, and you never know about the Vuelta a España.  Last year’s Giro winner, Vicenzo Nibali, is skipping this year’s Giro, kidding himself that he can top the über-doper, Christopher Froome, in the Tour.  Meanwhile, the BMC Racing Team kicked its most celebrated rider, Cadel Evans, down to the Giro, having become fed up with his tendency to lose the Tour de France.  So we’ve got Evans—a rider who very well may be clean—going up against last year’s second-place finisher, the uncannily strong Rigoberto Uran (then riding for the uncannily, suspiciously invincible Team Sky, now on Omega-Pharma-Quick Step), and Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas, winner of the Young Rider classification in last year’s Tour de France, riding for the perennially lubed Movistar Team.

As you’ve gathered from that previous paragraph, I do not adhere to any standard of journalistic integrity in my race reports.  I figure if the racers can play fast and loose with Truth, why can’t I?  Besides, you’re probably tired of race commentators biting their tongues.  So in this report I’ll be calling a spade a spade, or sometimes “a filthy doping spade.”

Biased Blow-By-Blow – Giro d’Italia Stage 8

As I tune in to the coverage (via postcard-size Internet feed), I can’t tell what’s happening and am hanging on the announcer’s every word.  “The way he’s waving, it almost looks like a bird!” the announcer says delightedly.  I have no idea what he’s talking about until they show the super-slo-mo of a guy in the breakaway waving away the camera bike.  I can’t decide who’s sillier:  the racer with his flowery, effete waving, or the announcer with his bizarre simile.

So at the front of the race are three guys I’ve never heard of, attacking each other about 3K from the summit of a brutal climb, the Category 1 Cipo di Carpegna.  Going for KOM points.  It’s 38K to go with a gap of a few minutes, so they probably won’t stay away to the finish.

Okay, after a brief interlude I’m back.  You know, watching racers on climbs like this really moves me.  Not in any sentimental way, but it affects my bodily functions.  So strong is my empathy with these guys, watching them on a brutal climb makes me have to go to the bathroom.  As in, #2.  That’s when it’s great when there’s a breakaway, because their split time back to the peloton tells me how much time I have to take care of my business before the GC riders hit the climb.  I don’t want to miss any of the really important action but I also don’t want to soil myself.

One of the Eurosport announcers (I can’t keep track of their names because they always seem to change around, except Sean Kelly), just said, “I’m sorry to repeat the cliché, but it has to be said:  you can’t win the Giro on this stage, but you can lose it.”  This is somewhat remarkable because it’s the same thing said by another commentator, Christian Vande Velde, announcing the Tour of California.  Not just the “can’t win but can lose” bit, but also the apology for repeating a cliché.  I think this is an important step forward.  At least some of these clichés have now been recognized (though there are many others).  Surely there’s another way to put it that’s a bit fresher.  For example, “The final winner won’t be decided today, but the number of hopefuls will be whittled down.”

The leaders are over the climb.  It’s about 30K to go.  The peloton is about two minutes back.  One guy, Julian Arredondo of Trek Factory Racing, has distanced the rest of the break, with Perrig Quemeneur (Team Europcar) and Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani-CSF) struggling behind him.  I know what you’re thinking:  I just made those names up.  Well, “Perrig” does sound like something I made out of an unhelpful tray of Scrabble tiles, and “Pirazzi” is absurdly generic, but those are real rider names.

Pierre Rolland (Team Europcar) has attacked the peloton.  I remember him riding so well for his teammate Thomas Voeckler in a recent Tour de France stage that he ended up beating him.  I thought that was pretty great because for various reasons, I think Voeckler is a tool.

The peloton has passed over the summit of the Carpegna, and now Cadel Evans has attacked!  He’s been really good in this Giro so far, picking up handfuls of seconds wherever he can.  Being a good descender may be a help here because this is a pretty technical descent.

The non-Kelly announcer (or are there more than one of them?) just called this “the Tour d’Italia.”  That’s a new one.  Dude, pick a language and go with it.

So that looked like the hardest climb, on paper, of the day—but of course the final climb will be harder because it’s a mountaintop finish so nobody will be holding anything back.  The final climb, coming up soon, is the Eremo Madonna del Faggio, the name of which would make any NASCAR fan giggle if he were watching this, which I guarantee he isn’t, unless the batteries in his remote control have died and he has no choice.

So how hard is a Category 1 climb?  They can be pretty brutal.  For the Faggio to be a Cat 1 means it must be insanely steep, because it’s pretty short.  It comes right after the Category 2 Villaggio del Lago.  If Category 2 doesn’t sound bad, consider that the Col du Télégraphe in the Tour de France is only a Cat 2, and it’s plenty brutal enough.

While I have some time, before the GC contenders start climbing again, I’m going to fill you in on a strong bias that I will have throughout this Giro:  I’m really gunning for Cadel Evans.

Wait, what’s “gunning for” mean?  I thought everybody knew it meant “rooting for,” but I was embarrassed to discover this isn’t universally understood.  My embarrassment came at a Coors Classic reunion party in 2011, shortly after Evans won that year’s Tour, and I was chatting with BMC Team manager Jim Ochowicz.  I told Ochowicz I’d been gunning for Evans in the Tour, and he got really riled up.  “Why!?” he snapped.  I explained what I meant by “gunning for,” but this didn’t compeletely dispel the awkwardness.  Maybe Ochowicz thought I was just backpedaling.

So anyway, yeah, I hope Evans wins.  Why?  Well, in my book he’s the only credible Tour de France winner since, well, since Greg LeMond, actually.  Everybody else since then looked totally lubed.  Can I back this up with any facts, in the short time I have until the GC boys hit this next climb?

Suffice to say, if you look at the Tour winners’ rate of vertical gain on big climbs—that is, the data showing how fast these guys have been going—Evans had the worst numbers since, like, LeMond.  Evans was a fair bit slower than Contador had been, and Andy Schleck, and Lance, and all the rest.  The logic goes like this:  if we know Contador was doping, and Contador was setting a Lance-like pace on these climbs, and Schleck could keep up with him, than Schleck was doping.  Meanwhile, if Contador’s times were similar to Lance’s, which were similar to Pantani’s, than Contador’s positive test wasn’t tainted beef from Spain.

Evans won a Tour in which Contador was fried from riding the Giro (which he rode because he wasn’t sure he’d be riding the Tour due to his pending doping case), and Andy Schleck had already started his descent into psychological incompetence, perhaps spooked by his brother’s positive test.  (Maybe he’d been scared straight.)  Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins, meanwhile, had crashed out. The 2011 Tour was a rare opportunity for a clean rider to win, and Evans did it (after falling short several times before and since).  Plus, Evans so often looks like he’s suffering, unlike, say, all of Team Sky’s riders, who never do.

No, of course I’m not sure Evans is clean.  But he loses so often—despite his form being fairly consistent, his tactical acumen being great, his bike handling superb, and his psyche very tough—that he really does seem possibly human (vs. the dope-fueled superhuman mutants he’s usually up against).  Either I take this leap of faith in him, or lose interest in grand tours altogether.

Several of my pals don’t like Evans because he seems to whine a lot.  Some of that is just his high-pitched voice.  Look, guys, with so many dopers in the peloton, we can’t afford to be too choosy about a rider’s freaking voice.  What, they gotta be D.J.-caliber now?  Should the guy who does movie preview voice-overs be recruited to the pro peloton?  And yes, it’s true that Evans has complained a lot after bike races, but so do my biking pals, after and during (hell, even before) training rides, and about a lot more trivial matters than you see in a three-week tour.

But then there’s the matter of Liongate.  This is the incident in which some journalist or spectator tried to take away Evans’ lion—the stuffed lion a Tour de France leader is awarded.  Evans angrily slapped the guy's hand away.  Given Evans’ reputation for whining, I guess this struck many as a comical instance of childishness, like he really loved the stuffed lion.

(Rolland has overhauled Pirazzi, by the way.  They’re over the Villaggio.  Rolland is 1:15 behind Arredondo, with the peloton at 2:40.)

Getting back to Evans, I respect his defense of the lion.  He probably promised a niece or nephew or godson that he’d win a lion for him.  His wife probably said, “Don’t you come back here without one of those lions!”  I know I’ve bent over backwards to get swag for my kids—swag nowhere nearly as rare and cool as a Tour de France stuffed lion.

Pirazzi is going backward.  Poor guy.  Oh well, at least we’ve heard his name now.  He’s only 27; I’m sure we’ll see more from him as his career goes on.

Remarkably, Julian Arredondo, finishing the penultimate climb, is only 8K from the finish and still has two minutes.  He’s got the KOM jersey in the bag, and might just hold on for the stage win.

The peloton is strung out in a line even though they’re not on a very steep section.  They must be hammering.

Pierre Rolland is about 1:10 back from Arredondo.  His form is a bit jerky—not nearly as smooth as that of Wiggins, whom I’ve been watching in the Tour of California, and who I’m pretty sure is actually a robot.

Speaking of “not normal” performers, Michele Scarponi (Astana Pro Team) must have screwed up his pharma, because he’s way off the back today.  So we don’t have to worry about seeing him succeed here at the expense of riders who possibly deserve a fair, fighting chance.

Now Pirazzi crosses the summit, looking pretty fried and bobbing quite a bit.

Now Rolland is only 52 seconds behind Arredondo.  That’s what happens when the guy you’ve been chasing is descending while you’re still climbing.  This gap will shrink even more once Arredondo hits the Faggio (i.e., when Rolland is still descending), but that too will be an illusion.

I know nothing about Arredondo except that he’s Colombian and his name is kind of hard to type.  If he ends up replacing Andy Schleck as the Trek GC guy, maybe I’ll set up a macro or give him a nickname, to spare my hands.

Rolland is now only 37 seconds behind Arredondo and they’re both on the final climb.  This could be a real nail-biter, for those who bite their nails, which is a really disgusting habit and they should quit.  Find another nervous-energy tic, like drumming your fingers on the table, or drumming them on a keyboard like I am.

It’s 5K to go and Arredondo looks pretty beat.  He’s really straining.  Behind him, Rolland also looks pretty bad, his shoulders still rocking and his legs not quite turning over his gear.  To downshift might do more damage psychologically than struggling in too big a gear.  Man, how refreshing to see actual, visible suffering after seeing Wiggo spinning the pedals like his drivetrain was a desk fan plugged into a wall socket.  Someone needs to inflate that dude’s tires with water or something.

Arredondo is really grimacing.  He just spat, and it wasn’t blood, but I wouldn’t have been surprised.  Rolland is now 30 seconds back with 3.9K to go. 

Arredondo is now making a grimace that looks a lot like “the white man’s overbite”—the expression white men make while dancing.  That can’t be good.  He’s really, really suffering and he just shot a look over his shoulder.  I wish he could see how bad Rolland looks—that would buck him up a bit.

Back in the peloton, some BMC rider is hammering on the front.  Too big to be Evans, though I think I see Evans on the big dude’s wheel.

Oh man, 3.4K and Rolland is only 17 seconds behind Arredondo.  But Rolland looks so, so awful!  His butt is bouncing a bit on his saddle.  His legs look so jerky, like the longer, higher-compression pistons of a high-torque engine used for hauling big loads.  (Note to fellow race announcers:  you see how elegantly I avoided the cliché of calling him a “big diesel”?)

An ad for Bet 365 is obscuring my view but it looks like BMC is well placed at the front of the peloton.

Rolland has caught Arredondo!  Rolland still looks awful, his bike visibly wobbling even though he’s in the saddle.  Arredondo is sitting on his wheel.  Arredondo’s expression is that of a boarding school kid being paddled.  I’d say the peloton is within a minute of this leading duo.

Ivan Basso (Cannondale) is near the front of the peloton, right on Evans’ wheel.  Either he’s been training in the winter like Christopher Froome, or he’s back on the lube after a number of very lean years.

Oh my, the peloton is only 24 seconds back.  Who says “oh my” anymore?  I think these British announcers are influencing me.  Whoah, Arredondo just blew sky-high!

This peloton is too large.  They need to step it up to better entertain me.  Don’t they know I’m trying to write a really exciting report?  What’s wrong with these people?

Rolland is hanging on very impressively.  With 1.2K to go he’s holding the gap at 19 seconds.

Some Astana guy just attacked.  He was quickly caught so I don’t have to bother learning his name.  Looks like Evans himself is right on the front.  He’ll be in pink today because the current race leader, Michael Matthews (Orica-GreedEdge), is off the back.

It looks like Rolland is going to hang on!  He’s 450 meters from the finish.  The peloton is in sight!  But man, it’s a very steep finish stretch.  Danny Moreno (Katusha) is going after him—and he’s got him!  But the pack is right there, too.  It’s amazing!  The deck of cards has been scattered, like at the end of “Alice in Wonderland”!  I can’t tell who’s coming up on Moreno, it’s some Lampre guy, Fellici or something. 

Man, it’s all over and I never got that guy’s name!  The Lampre dude passed Moreno just before the line.  But it wasn’t even Moreno, it was some other guy who was shot from the front of the exploding peloton like a bit of shrapnel!  Total chaos and I’m just not quick enough to have made any sense of it.

Okay, the winner is Diego Ulissi, snatching the victory away from Trek’s Roberto Kiserlovski who came out of nowhere in that finale.

Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) materialized out of thin air for third.

Cadel Evans has got the pink jersey because Matthews was dropped today, as had been predicted.  Evans was just interviewed but it wasn’t that interesting.  He didn’t whine or anything, and there was no stuffed animal to clutch.  He did have a towel around his shoulders ... I wonder if the haters will mock him for that.

I love these super-slo-mos.  Here’s Ulissi giving Kiserlovski “the look” in the final meters of the race, as if to say, “Too late, bub, I got this!”

The announcer is saying this is Evans’ first pink jersey since 2002.  That’s simply not true.  He wore it briefly in 2010.  The bar is set pretty low for accuracy in covering this sport; just look at how many guys said Lance Armstrong was the first cyclist to appear on the Wheaties box, when that honor actually went to Doug Smith many years before.

Man, it looks like the coverage is over.  For some reason, Eurosport doesn’t allot any time for the podium celebrations anymore.  It’s a shame, because while I don’t want to go on record as saying I approve of the barbaric practice of having pretty women kissing the winners, I will admit that, due to irrepressible characteristics of my brain stem, I do enjoy watching the ceremony.  It can be pretty funny, like if the winner is some tiny Colombian and the podium girls have to stoop way down, or if the winner is a tall and gangly Dutchman and has to work very hard not to accidentally elbow one of the podium girls in the face. 

After an endless series of ads, after which I hoped maybe they’d return to Giro coverage, Eurosport has gone into a top-10 “Obstacles on the Road” countdown, showing massive crashes caused by—wow, here’s one with a cow!  I’m not joking!  Now there’s that T-Mobile guy piling into a spectator during his final run for a Tour stage—I remember that.  And now some spectator getting nailed on a descent at like 40 or more.  Man, this is grisly!  I know I should be posting my Giro report to my blog, but I can’t help watching!  Another guy just hit something furry—a badger?  Oh, man, a low road sign on a median and this dude flips over it at like 30.  And there’s Hoogerland getting run into a barbed wire fence by a pace car.  We’re down to number one.  Ah, yes, a final sprint in a Tour stage and a sprinter has his head down and piles into a referee.  Geez, after all that my pulse is racing.  These Eurosport broadcasters—they’re crazy!  Maybe somebody complained about podium girls and this was their idea of a joke.  (“Is this civilized enough for you?!”)  Anyway, it’s 8:26 a.m. and I am TOTALLY WIRED.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this Giro stage coverage.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Ride Report - 2014 Tour of California Mount Diablo Stage


This tale, written for my bike club pals but also for you and your closest confidants, concerns a very special journey up Mount Diablo to watch real professional cyclists tackle the “queen stage” of the Tour of California.

Due to the soporific effect of hackneyed phrases like “chess game on wheels,” “burned too many of their/my matches,” “a picture of pain,” “riding like a man possessed,” and “turning himself/myself inside out,” I will not describe the riding (mine or the racers’) in much detail, but—in keeping with my club’s fine literary tradition—will focus mainly on the food.

Short version 
  • Breakfast #1:  Rigatoni alla Bolognese with zested Parmesan
  • Breakfast #2:  Blueberry pancakes, real maple syrup, sausage, and bacon (chez Ian)
  • Lunch:  Three bottles Cytomax, fruit punch flavor/color; two Powerbar gels, 1X caffeine
  • Glycogen-window Treats:  organic strawberries, berry yogurt, vanilla Greek yogurt, dried apricots, chocolate chips, fruit popsicle, half a Dos Equis Special Lager, one Heineken
  • Dinner:  Homemade spinach-and-meat lasagne, Brassica oleracea var. gemmifera, bottomless glass of water
  • Ride report:  Epic pass
  • Race report (witnessed):  Professional racers are really fast, and sometimes funny
Long version

Two words into the short version of this tale, I may have already ruffled some feathers:  Ian, who hosted a glorious breakfast for our group, must be wondering why anybody, even a glutton like me, would have a pre-breakfast.  After all, in an e-mail to the group he’d written, “I will of course be making a separate batch just for Dana.”  So it’s not like I had to worry about the food running out.  Besides, as I mentioned in my 2012 Tour of California Mount Diablo report, I don’t normally eat breakfast at all.  So:  why two breakfasts?  Well, it’s complicated.

First, there was the matter of the Bolognese left over from Mother’s Day, when I spent four hours making a triple-batch as a peace offering after a) having neglected to make any restaurant reservations, and b) having suggested to my wife a restaurant that wouldn’t be packed on Mother’s Day (i.e., Hooters).  Now, if you’ve ever had a proper Bolognese (i.e., one that is a solid once refrigerated), you know that this sauce is almost impossible to resist under any circumstances, even with the knowledge of an imminent pancake breakfast.  Even when bacon is involved.

Second, there was the personal challenge of seeing if I could heat up some leftovers for my daughter’s thermos, to make her the most stoked kid at her entire school, without eating any of it myself.  You know those well-trained dogs that can balance a dog biscuit on their snout without eating it until given the go-ahead from their owner?  I aspired to match that level of pointless discipline.  Alas, I ended up nuking more than would fit in the thermos, so I had no choice but to eat the rest, which—though being only perhaps a cup of food—was the equivalent of a good-sized meal, because my non-heart-healthy Bolognese is the second most caloric food on Earth.  (First place is eggnog.)

What is “zested Parmesan,” you might ask?  It’s Parmesan grated with a zester (see above photo) so it melts like snowflakes on your pasta.

The plan was for me to meet Sean and Ryan at the coffee shop, and then we’d ride to Lafayette to meet Craig, who knew the way to Ian’s.  Well, I was so late getting to the coffee shop, I got angry voice-mails on both my mobile and home phones.  I didn’t want to add insult to injury so I didn’t even explain myself at the time.  So I will now.

Dana’s Top Ten Reasons for Quasi-Flakage on Tuesday 
  1. Spent too much time photographing rigatoni alla Bolognese
  2. Could only find Water Babies sunscreen from 2002 and didn’t want to end up with Moroccan-leather-red skin
  3. Having eventually found Sport Performance SPF 50 sunscreen, took too long applying it to hairy legs
  4. Took forever finding SPF 50 lip balm but refused to endure burnt lips yet again
  5. Decided at last minute to find darker sunglasses
  6. Shut up, bowels!
  7. Being frazzled by already running late, struggled with recently-replaced Boa dials on my cycling shoes, because both shoes now (oddly) have right-hand dials so left-shoe dials are backwards
  8. Had to charge camera battery and phone to hold my own against any Millennials I might encounter en route
  9. Took too long indulging my daughter in a long goodbye (her cuteness = entrapment)
  10. Didn’t allow for so much traffic, especially when riding past junior high school right when all the able-bodied students were being dropped off by their overprotective parent/chauffeurs
I was actually only six minutes late to the coffee shop, but Sean and Ryan seemed pretty stressed.  I guess that’s because I alone knew how to get to the trefpunt, and I alone knew what “trefpunt” meant.  (In English it’s “rendezvous.”  Wait.  French.  Whatever.)  So after I assured them we had plenty of time, we moseyed socially along until we actually were running late, so then we got to do some real hammering.  Man, I love real hammering, especially on the flats, because I never do anything but climb and seldom have anybody to draft.  We ended up reaching the trefpunt six minutes late, which was fine because Craig was running late himself.  We rolled in to Ian’s unfashionably early.  It was already getting hot.

Ian had the blueberry pancakes already made and keeping warm in the oven while he cooked the bacon and sausages.  Ian is from England, and—knowing what I know about the superior bacon over there—I was very impressed that, while he did comment on the high fat content of American bacon, he did so non-pejoratively.  Perhaps he knew I’d be blogging about this and was worried about the NSA questioning his loyalty.  I think this NSA flap has frightened all of us.  (Note to NSA readers:  when I say “flap” I’m not saying it’s your fault.  Thank you for keeping us safe!)

Due to Ian’s brilliant pancake breakfast concept I changed my fueling strategy radically.  That is, I didn’t bother bringing any food on the ride, foregoing the sandwiches etc. I’d schlepped in a backpack last year.  You might think this is foolish since pancakes have a pretty high glycemic index (i.e., they burn rapidly), so my blood sugar could crash after just a couple of hours.  But bacon and sausage, being high in the right kind of fat (i.e., the chewy kind) have a very low glycemic index.  In fact, gristle probably has a G.I. of about 1.  And low-G.I. foods slow down your burning of high-G.I. foods.  This is why a big carnitas burrito obviates the need to eat for at least twelve hours.  Dang it, I’m making myself hungry here!  Anyway, I tried to keep track of the number of sausages I ate, but could not (though it was at least ten).  Ditto the bacon and hotcakes.

I tried to spam that last photo out to all my followers on Twitter, Facebook, etc. and it probably would have worked fine except I decided to get fancy.  I figured, hey, Ian’s great food will probably get me a whole bunch of Likes, but couldn’t I get even more Likes with a really nice stock Getty image of a visually perfect stack of pancakes?  Alas, between my fingers being greasy from the bacon, my smartphone touch-screen being fogged up, and my skills being rather poor to begin with, all I managed to do was send the photo to my Paypal account, which they’ve now frozen.

That whole last paragraph?  Yep—pure fiction.  I’m not on social media, beyond this blog.

So, yeah, no lunch needed after that bodacious spread.  Of course, not bringing a backpack meant I couldn’t bring a hat or sandals for our long wait, on the mountain, for the racers.  But Ian, who is apparently going for Man Of The Year, chucked some extras in his pack for me.  (If I hadn’t taken my boys out of the game, I’d try for a son and name him Ian.)

The ride was very hot—temperatures in the 90s by the time we left Ian’s—but not all that hard due to our conversational pace.  Full disclosure:  I was technically blood-doping for this ride.  Last week I donated blood, which normally is okay from a sporting perspective, but in this case it was platelets and plasma, so I got my red cells back.  Since having blood return to my body is technically a transfusion, I guess I was technically in breach of the rules and I really wonder what my blood passport would look like if the UCI did one for me.  But I’m not going to be one of those riders who, when finally admitting guilt, takes down a lot of other guys with me.  So from this point forward all the names of my fellow biker/spectators will be redacted in my report, following the example of the USADA rider affidavits.  Otherwise you might think them complicit in my transgression.

We headed up North Gate road, which is the harder approach of Mount Diablo, just so we could lord that over the racers later.  On the lower slopes my bike computer registered 103 degrees Fahrenheit.  It’s a good thing nobody asked me to spell “Fahrenheit” because my brain was being cooked.  We chatted the whole way up, of course.  [Spectator 3] extolled the virtues of base layers, because they hide his massive pelt of chest hair (which frightens other men and lures in women, creating marital friction) and when I tried to respond my poor brain got stuck.  I started out, “Your chest hair makes Austin Powers look like—” but here I couldn’t come up with the name of Austin Powers’ hairless cat.  Fortunately, some random cyclist within earshot called out, “Mr. Bigglesworth,” thus saving me from acute embarrassment.  (Actually, [Spectator 2] and [Spectator 3] had probably stopped listening to me anyway.)

That wasn’t the only time a complete stranger joined our conversation.  Another time, we were trying to remember at what elevation the officials closed the road to VUPs (Very Unimportant People), and someone helpfully said, “It’s at 3,848 feet.”  Wait, did I just say “helpfully”?  Well, I lied.  This comment wasn’t that helpful because that’s the elevation of the summit, as we already knew, not the info we actually needed.  But it was very nice of the fellow to try to help and I wish him well.

We finally found a great viewing spot a little past the 3-KM-To-Go banner.  There were a few trees, and though people were already massed below them, the gradual setting of the sun would thrust that shadow in our direction (as [Spectator 2] cleverly realized).  We’d refilled our bottles at around the halfway point but were still running pretty low.  I asked if I’d get lice from the loaner hat, and its owner said, “That hat hasn’t been worn since the Tour of California Mount Diablo stage last year.” 

Here we are maxin’ out while the racers made their advance toward the mountain.

Look at the big “E” on my jersey.  See that insect?  It’s an earwig.  There were flying earwigs all over the place up there, and they bit!  Not just “bit” as in “man, that totally bites!” but as in, they kept actually biting us.  So we had to keep brushing them off each other, sometimes a bit violently.  At one point [Spectator 5] told me, “There’s one on your groin but you’re on your own.”

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, two more pals, [Spectator 4] and [Spectator 5] arrived, separately, one having dropped the other en route.  [Spectator 5] rode all the way from San Jose, even though he has a newborn at home.  The fathers among us chastised him at length.  “I did a whole load of dishes before I left!” he protested.  [Spectator 4] said, “Look , did you have an episiotomy?  No?  Well then shut the hell up.”  I tried to explain to [Spectator 5] that housework and other methods of helping out are not fungible, but my sun-baked brain couldn’t come up with “fungible” so it took a lot more words to convey that you can’t just bank goodwill by doing housework in advance.  You have to hang around the house in case your wife says, “Please take your shrieking demon-infant away from me before I do something I regret.”

Nobody was giving out popsicles or drinks this year, but a guy did hand up some official Tour of California gas-station-grade sunglasses, and a woman gave us miniature Champion Systems jerseys.  You may not know this, but it’s against the law for a blogger to praise a consumer product if he received any perk from its manufacturer.  So it would be illegal for me to say anything nice about Champion Systems products.  That’s okay, though, because I already had my say on the topic of their dangerously undersized clothing.  Anyway, it was nice of them to give handouts, and it was in a good-natured spirit that  [Spectator 3] quipped (once the CrampSys rep was out of earshot), “Is that their size medium?”

At least half a dozen big vans drove by, toward the summit, with absolutely nobody in them.  I’m sure there was a point to this but I’ll be damned if I know what it was.  And damned if I don’t.

After a very long wait in the open-air sauna, we finally saw the official vehicles, then some motos, and  the leader of the race.  We had no idea who he was but it didn’t matter.  Half a dozen seconds later came the lead group, with Sir Bradley Wiggins right on the front.  Despite setting a blistering pace, Wiggo looked not only more comfortable than we had pedaling our casual way up the mountain, but more comfortable than we felt just watching the race.  I think he was breathing only through his nose.  Note to self:  abandon tentative plan to turn pro.

The peloton was in pieces.  Lone riders came by here and there, and small and large groups.  Tom Danielson rode by, well off the back, and [Spectator 4] yelled, “Hang in there, Tom!  I know it’s not easy when you’re clean!”  Indeed, he did look a lot, uh, cleaner than in past years.  Then [Spectator 4] set up an empty water bottle with a $5 bill sticking out the top, as an ad hoc crowd prime.  If the cyclingnews start list is correct, it was the Dutch rider Danny Van Poppel who wheel-thwacked the bottle off the road, to our great delight.

The final racers trickled by, then the broom wagon, and then the show was over and we made our way down the mountain.  It wasn’t nearly as clogged with biker-spectators as last year, perhaps due to the heat.  I rode hard all the way home, part of the time with [Spectator 2] and [Spectator 3], and though I didn’t tackle my beloved Lomas Cantadas (the heat was still in the upper 90s and it had been a long day) I did feel a moment of pride when I made it over the so-called “I hate pain” hill (on Wildcat Canyon Road, by the Brazil Building) in the big chainring.  It was only a moment of pride, though, because then I remembered that my so-called “big ring” is actually only a 50-tooth because, uh, well, I’m riding a compact these days.

When I got home I presented the sunglasses and micro-jersey to my daughters, and instantly achieved hero status.  Lindsay knew right away what to do with the jersey.

The jersey could use some tailoring but I think Ken looks great in it.  All those Barbies are going to be fighting over him!  Note how closely he’s shaved his legs.

I’ve already listed off my assortment of post-ride sugary snacks.  After those I did some cheese grating duty as my wife put the finishing touches on the aforementioned spinach-and-meat lasagne.  The Brassica oleracea var. gemmifera weren’t quite done yet so they came out as a second course.

What?  You haven’t heard of Brassica oleracea var. gemmifera?  Yeah, I’m using a code name there.  It’s a vegetable that is so unpopular among Alberts that its name must not be uttered.  My dad made an exception once, when he composed a bit of verse on the topic:  “It takes more than a muscled lout/ To make me eat a [Vegetable 1].”

Anyway, even that course was pretty tasty.  It was a great dinner after a great day, and my lips, for once, hadn’t even gotten sunburned.  Life is good!