Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Biased Blow-By-Blow, Tour de France 2014, Stage 17


Perhaps you don’t feel like getting up early enough to watch the Tour de France live.  And maybe the TV schedule is too complicated for you, or you’re just not quite interested enough to spend an hour or two watching, and yet want more complete coverage than a final-ten-km video.  Above all, maybe you’re tired of commentators biting their tongues when a known doper does something “not normal” but they have to report it at face value, praising the doper for his strength as though it were legit.  If you’re any of these people, or in fact anyone at all, read on for my journalistically unchained, often biased blow-by-blow report of stage 17, the penultimate mountain stage in this year’s Tour.

Biased Blow-By-Blow Report – 2014 Tour de France Stage 17

I join the coverage just in time to hear “we’re going to take a break.”  So now I’m looking at an ad for LeMond.  Not the cookie, but the three-time Tour de France champ and his new show.  So in the interest of fairness here is an ad for the Le-mond cookie.

Today I’m back to my postcard-sized live Internet feed after seeing most of this Tour on an actual TV set while on vacation.  (I didn’t have an actual PC on me, which is why I didn’t file other reports, other than the second stage which you can read about here.)

The riders are on the second of four climbs on this short but brutal stage.  This climb is the category 1 Col de Peyresourde, 13 km at 7%.  The rider in bib number 3, Vasil Kiryienka (Team Sky), is off the front solo.  His nickname, Vaseline, isn’t really his nickname.  At least, not that I know of.  Actually, his nickname is the White Russian because he’s from Belorussia.  All right, I’m going to come right out and say it:  I don’t know this rider’s nickname.  In fact, though I’ve heard his name many times, I know almost nothing about him.

So Kiryienka has about 45 seconds on a chase group of about twenty.  In that group are Bauke Mollema (Belkin Pro Cycling) who sits in 10th overall ; Pierre Rolland (Europcar) who is in 12th overall; Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) who’s in 13th; Frank Schleck (Trek Factory Racing) who’s in 14th; and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) who is way down in 68th but always a contender for a stage win and who will want to pick up KOM points today, being only one point behind polka-dot-rocking Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), who is also in this group.

Speaking of J-Rod’s team, I would like to point out that every English speaker in this sport misspells, and mispronounces, “Katusha.”  You can read it in the Russian on their jerseys, or at least I can, and the second vowel is a ю, which sounds like “you.”  So it should be “Katyushka.”  There, I’m glad to finally get that off my chest.

Other than the guys I already mentioned, the chase group doesn’t have any GC contenders.  It does, however, have race leader Vincenzo Nibali’s Astana teammate, Jakob Fuglsang, who’s all the way down in 72nd place after a harrowing high speed crash earlier in the Tour.  The poor guy came in way after the leaders that day, probably just happy to make the time cut, and when asked how he felt he replied (rather casually, I thought), “Well, I’ve had better days, but nothing’s broken.  I just hurt everywhere.”

Kiryienka is really motoring along and now has about 2½ minutes over the chase group, which has about 5 minutes on the peloton.

Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing Team) needs to be worried about this breakaway because a few riders in it aren’t that far behind him in the GC.  Mollema trails him by only a couple of minutes; Rolland by a couple more; and Van Den Broeck by a minute more than that.

J-Rod outsprints Majka to the summit of the Peyresourde and takes 2 points out of him in the KOM competition. 

This Eurosport announcer just said something about “taking your crêpes suzettes out of the fridge and putting them on your head.”  What on earth?

Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Jesus Herrada (Movistar) have broken free from the chase group and are narrowing in a bit on Kiryienka.

Now they’re on a commercial break.  The Euro ads are far less depressing than the American ones I’ve been seeing for the last two weeks.  I’ve been watching on NBC-SN, which seems to be one of those second-tier networks with cheap ad space catering to a similarly second-tier audience.  The ads, taken together, create a composite profile of a vain, balding man whose home is in foreclosure, and who is trying to lose weight via light beer and vitamin products, and has some kind of sports injury requiring a high-tech knee brace with rejuvenating copper thread (and real simulated snake oil) in it, and whose PC is infested with viruses.  Other than the Tour, this NBC-SN network covers car racing, poker, and a bunch of hour-long infomercials for music CD collections like “Pop Goes the 70s.”  I was getting pretty depressed by all these commercials so now it’s good to see the same ads for cycling shoes, bikes, bike trainers, and watches that Eurosport has been dishing up for years.

Now the coverage is back on and they’re showing helicopter footage of the third climb, the first category Col de Val Louron-Azet, 7.4 km at 8.3%.  It looks suitably monstrous from above:  barren stone faces with sharp edges.

“Cointreau and Nutella in a pancake, not good for the head,” the announcer says.  Man, it’s hard enough to watch the racers while also typing this report when the commentators are actually making sense. 

Roche and Herrada are back in the main chase, which has shed a few riders and now numbers 17 souls, 1:20 behind Kiryienka.

Kiryienka is 5km from the summit of this penultimate climb.  His lead having been cut in half, I’m pretty sure he’ll get caught on the final descent or at least on the final climb, the famous Huis Categorie (beyond-category) Pla d’Adet, 10.2 km at 8.3%.

I really hope the yellow jersey group can catch all these guys.  Not surprisingly I’ve been rooting for Tejay throughout this Tour, and despite a crash early on he was doing great, sitting 5th in the GC with just a few minutes between himself and 2nd overall.  But then yesterday, the first stage I didn’t get to watch, he finally had that dreaded bad day and slipped to sixth, 9:25 behind the apparently unbeatable Nibali and 4:37 behind the filthy doping Valverde who’s still in second.

One thing I love about watching cycling is that I can relate somewhat to the experience of these guys.  No, I’ve never been in any way close to them in ability, but when I have a bad day, I get a taste of the misery that produces.  I’m turning the pedals of a similar bicycle, at a similar cadence, using similar muscle groups, over (in some cases) the same climbs.  That’s a lot different from the home viewers of Indy car racing, who have only ever driven consumer-oriented sedans and station wagons and who are bound by the national speed limit.

So when somebody completely detonates on a mountain stage, my heart goes out to him because eleven years ago, after flying (in my penguin-like way) over the Col de la Croix de Fer and the Col du Telegraphe, I cracked at the base of the Col du Galibier and had to deal not only with the horror of being passed by dozens of guys, but with the profound wretchedness of having to make it over two more horrific climbs, while limiting my losses, before I could call it a day.  In the third week of the Tour this kind of bodily breakdown is bound to afflict somebody and it’ll be something to see.

Kiryienka is really suffering now and his gap is down to 41 seconds as he nears the summit.

Now the chasers have got him in their sights.  Wow, he’s really grimacing.  I wonder what’s going through his head.  Is it “What was I thinking?”  Or is he so fried his mind is a complete blank?  Well, they’ve got him, 300 meters from the summit.  This KOM sprint will be fun to watch.

There goes Rodriguez!  Majka is right on his wheel!  Majka goes for the pass, but he is denied!  Unless there’s a major shakeup on the final climb, J-Rod will have the polka-dot jersey at the end of the day.  (Did you notice just now how I used the phrase “at the end of the day” to actually mean “at the end of the day” instead of as a clichéd throwaway expression conveying practically nothing?  You’re welcome.)

The yellow jersey group is over the summit now.  AG2R La Mondiale attacks!  This is probably designed to give their leader, Romain Bardet, an opportunity to take time out of Thibaud Pinot (  Pinot sits in 3rd overall, two places ahead of Bardet, and has the white Best Young Rider jersey that Bardet wants to get back.  Surely Bardet is counting on Pinot’s notoriously poor descending skills, which were sad and sometimes bewildering to witness during last year’s Tour.  But Pinot has gotten a lot better and I doubt this attack will mean much with that giant climb still to come.  I’d hate to be Pinot right now, though ... I’ll bet he’s completely stressed out at the pace this group is having to pour on.  Serious pucker-factor there.

What’s really interesting to note is how small this yellow jersey group is.  It’s down to about ten riders.  I’m not sure how far back the rest of the peloton is, or if there even is one anymore.  This group is now only 2:15 down on the breakaway.  I wonder where Tejay is.  That’s one disadvantage to this Eurosport coverage:  being enemies of freedom, the British commentators don’t pay any special attention to American riders.

I’m pretty sure Tejay is in this group.  There’s definitely a BMC guy and he’d be the most likely guy to still be in this group.  (His teammates Peter Velits and Amaël Moinard are in the front group.)  I don’t see any Lampre-Merida riders here, so the other American hopeful, Chris Horner, must have been dropped.

Speaking of Horner, my daughter made a good point the other morning as we were enjoying the Tour together and I was explaining the white jersey competition.  “They should have a best old rider competition,” Alexa rightly pointed out.  Wouldn’t that be great?  He’d get a grey jersey, of course.

The front group is on the final climb now, and Roche has attacked.  He’s immediately matched by Giovanni Visconti (Movistar Team).  Now he’s attacked again and has a pretty good gap.  This group has broken up a lot.  For now we have Roche and Visconti, and a bit behind them Moinard and Rolland, distanced from the rest.

The yellow jersey group is at 1:55 and I think they’ll catch most if not all of the original breakaway riders.

Roche really looks miserable now as he falls off Visconti’s pace.  Roche’s face is the nonverbal equivalent of whining.

Back in what’s left of the original breakaway, Majka attacks!  He’s looking to distance Rodriguez (and of course anybody else he can).  He looks pretty good but now the camera is following Visconti again so I’m not sure if ... okay, Majka’s attack was fruitless and now Schleck is taking up the pace.

Bardet is by himself ... I guess he was dropped at some point by the yellow jersey group and is fighting to stay in contact. 

And now, in the breakaway group, Majka has attacked again and has a good gap!  There are double KOM points at the top of this climb, and by now he’s learned he can’t outsprint Rodriguez.  He grabs the antenna of a motorbike!  I don’t know why!  I think he’s trying to steal it!  Maybe this guy grew up on the wrong side of the tracks.  Other than that I can’t imagine his motivation for this bizarre act.  I mean, yeah, when I’m struggling on a climb I’m tempted to grab anything I can, like the saddle of a little girl on a BMX bike who has just passed me, but this is the Tour and it’s not like Majka could get away with hanging on like that.  What will he say later?  That he was trying to make a point to the motorbike driver, like “You shouldn’t be here” when clearly the guy should?  Totally bizarre.

Visconti is looking very solid as he continues in the lead.  He’s only got 7 km to go, but they’re a tough 7 km.  He has half a minute on Roche, who has now been joined by Moinard and Rolland.

Back in the yellow jersey group, Jan-Christophe Peraud (AG2R La Mondiale) has attacked!  He’s sitting in 4th overall, a minute out of third, so it’s not hard to guess his motivation.  Nibali easily matches him, but this group could explode if there are enough of these attacks.

Majka is really going well, having a sizable gap on the Rodriguez group.

Tejay is still hanging in what is now a group of five:  Nibali, Peraud, an evidently resurgent Bardet, and—whoah, there goes Nibali again!  This is really making things tough.  Peraud is able to match Nibali but that’s it, Tejay looks like he’s dropped along with with Pinot and Bardet.  Notably missing here is Valverde, who has not responded well to all these accelerations and is dropped.  I’m sure Valverde will have strong words for his pharmacist tonight if he can’t catch back up.

Majka must have passed Roche, Moinard, and Rolland at some point because he now catches Visconti.  It’s amazing how quickly he made his way to the front of the race.  He might just be able to get a stage win today.

Tejay’s trio has passed Van Den Broeck.  That original breakaway has been totally scattered, needless to say.  Rodriguez is struggling and will very likely lose the KOM jersey, as Majka is at only 3 km to go.

Nibali attacks yet again!  He’s insatiable!

And now Majka attacks Visconti!  And it’s an amazing attack!  He’s totally spanked him!  Man, Majka has got the power.  Really, really blistering pace he just put up.

And my Internet feed has frozen.  Damn it!

Majka looks at the camera and gives a wink.  That’s how awesome he feels.  Now he’s under the 1 km thingy.  It’s tempting to call it a banner but it’s these four tubes arching over the road.  Well, more like two tubes that intersect each other, like giant crêpes suzettes.  (Have I lost my mind?)

Now Nibali has 1 km to go.  He’s kind of promiscuous, Nibali ... every time I see him he’s with a different rider.  Now it’s some Cannondale guy, must be Alessandro De Marchi who I swear has come out of nowhere.

Majka has this in the bag!  He’s pumping his fist.  And now he crosses the line with the very popular pointing-at-myself victory salute

Oh, good, he amends it with a more traditional victory salute.  More on this topic in a minute.

Nibali crosses the line with Peraud right on his wheel.  Rolland crosses, and now Schleck with Mollema right on him.  Roche is not far behind. 

Valverde is over the line, 1:34 down, with Tejay and the two youngsters right behind him.

One name that has not come up at all today is Leopold Konig.  This Team Netapp-Endura rider was in 7th in the GC going into this stage, a handful of seconds behind Tejay.  He’s been dropped today so that’s good for Tejay.

Now, back to this victory salute thing.  I’m really getting tired of the pointing-at-myself business.  The sheer me-me-me aspect of it is just not very gracious.  And last week, we saw Nibali doing this bizarre thumb-sucking salute when he won his second stage.  I guess it was a shout-out to his infant offspring, but you think the baby was watching?  I doubt it.  Babies care even less about bike racing than American adults.

LeMond is being interviewed by some EuroDouche wearing awful, simply awful orange pants.  They’re the color of orange sherbet.  If I were LeMond I would refuse to let the camera roll until the guy changed into some normal pants.

So, where was I?  Oh yeah, victory salutes.  When Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) won yesterday, his victory salute was a big bow.  I thought that was corny, but it sort of fits.  Rogers, being a major doper, was giving a performance, the mere semblance of having actually bested everybody.  It’s kind of like Kevin Spacey giving a bow after playing Richard III onstage:  no, Spacey himself didn’t die during the performance, but he did a good rendition of Richard III dying, just as Rogers really did look like the best man yesterday.

I guess I should be happy to be seeing LeMond’s commentary instead of just watching the barbaric, retrograde spectacle of podium girls presenting awards, but I guess I just can’t get past the orange pants of LeMond’s co-commentator.  Plus they keep bringing strangers over to talk.  I guess this is the Tinkoff-Saxo director they’re talking to now.  Do I care what he has to say?  Well, I don’t know.  He’s not a master orator or anything.  “Majka is a fun kid,” he says.  Yeah, I gathered that based on the wink.  You know what?  I think I better cut this off here.  I have my day job to get to.

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