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?

No comments:

Post a Comment