Thursday, March 12, 2015

Biased Blow-By-Blow, Paris-Nice 2015, Stage Four


Not everybody in this country is willing to get up at 6 a.m. to watch a bike race live.  Other Americans are on the east coast so the race is happening during working hours, so they have to miss it.  Still others don’t really want to watch and just want a recap, which is easy enough to find, but most reports don’t include totally unfounded accusations and wild conjecture, along with snotty comments, which is where I come in.  If you want an account of Paris-Nice from a non-journalist who calls a spade an asshole, read on.

Paris-Nice Stage 4

As I join the action, the riders have 51 km to go.  There’s a breakaway of three 4:10 ahead of the peloton.  It’s the Dane Chris Anker Sørensen (Tinkoff-Saxo), the Canadian Antoine Duschesne (Team Europcar), and the Belgian Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal).

Great, Duschesne has been dropped.  I’m going back to bed.  It was bad enough that I had to settle for a North American to root for, but now it’s just pointless.  You know what we need?  A World Series of cycling, where only Americans participate and it’s always held in some U.S. state.

Just kidding.  Of course I love watching foreigners, or “damn foreigners” as we Amer’cans like to say, racing their bikes and then speaking their funny languages during the post-race interview.

The racers have cruised over the Category 2 Cote de la Gimond, which was a mere 1.8 km at 6.5%.  How that got to be rated a Cat 2 is beyond me.  I mean, a pro cyclist would probably barely feel such little bump in the road.  I have to say, I’m disappointed at the parcours this year.  Just not very much climbing considering this is the Rhône-Alpes region of France.

By the way, if you’re reading this out loud to somebody who doesn’t follow cycling, he might think you just said “parkour,” and thinks you’re watching that really weird sporting event where dudes run through some urban area negotiating various obstacles without slowing down.  This is a much more popular spectator sport (among Americans) than cycling.  Don’t correct your audience ... instead, see how long he plays along like he knows what you’re (or rather, I’m) talking about.

Not much has happened (can you tell?) since my first update.  It’s 38 km to go, and the gap has dropped to 2:35, if the on-screen stats are to be believed (which is a big “if” because they’ve been really screwed up in previous stages).

In case you haven’t been keeping up with the race this year, can I recommend a blood infusion or some PEDs?  (Okay, that was lame.)  If you haven’t been following this stage race so far, here’s what’s going on.  Aussie Michael Matthews (Orice-GreenEdge) is in the yellow jersey after winning yesterday’s stage. The prologue was short and the stages have been basically flat, so there aren’t big time gaps.  Reigning world champion Michal Kwiatowski (Etixx-QuickStep) is in second overall, 1 second down, and won the prologue less than 1 second ahead of Aussie Rohan Dennis (BMC), the current holder of the world hour record (at least until next week, when somebody else will probably grab it for awhile, and since you asked, yes, I myself am planning to have a go later in the year).

Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) has a mechanical and has to get a new bike. That’s a drag because the riders are on a false flat.  That is to say, they’re on a road that looks flat but is slightly uphill.  Actually, on the screen it looks completely flat, but just as the camera adds five pounds, it also subtracts a couple percent.  If a climb looks steep on-screen, rest assured it’s completely brutal.  I know this from watching footage of races up the Col du Galibier and Alpe d’Huez, which (I can tell you) look so much steeper in person.

The big finale of this stage is the Croix de Chaubouret, the only mountaintop finish of the whole race.  It’s a Category 1, 10 km at 6.5%.  That’s not such a terribly hard climb, frankly.  I’ve seen the Col du Telegraphe, 11.8 km at 7.3%, rated as a Cat 2.  Why this discrepancy?  Maybe the Chaubouret is higher.  Nope!  It’s only 1,201 meters above sea level; the Telegraphe tops out at 1,566.  Who knows.

Right now the racers are approached the “Cat 3” Cote de la Croix Blanche, which is 1.8 km at 4.9% and will appear on my screen as an actual descent.  The racers will probably roll over it at like 40 kph. 

I wish there were more to report in terms of action, but there just isn’t.  De Gendt and Sørensen are working pretty well together, but the peloton is huge and swarming and now only 1:25 down.

A Movistar rider has punctured and his teammate gives him his wheel.  They do a nice job of it, losing maybe 15 seconds tops for the guy who punctured, who must be a team leader.  The domestique of course will lose more time, but ought to be able to latch back on.

De Gendt and Sørensen are over the top of the Croix Blanche already.  They’re bombing the descent but even with the peloton still on the climb, the gap is down to 1:15.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on Rohan Dennis, because in addition to being a great time trialist, that boy can climb.  He won the Mount Diablo stage of the Tour of California, which is a proper HC climb with a brutal section at the very top, at least 15%.

It’s 21 km to go, gap at just 1 minute.  There’s just one climb to go, the “big” one.  This British announcer is calling it the “grand finale,” which made me think of that last burst of continuous fireworks on the 4th of July, and then seconds later the announcer said “There are going to be fireworks!”  Just add funnel cakes, and we could be at the fairgrounds in Topeka!

Andrew Talansky punctures!  Man, what terrible timing.  The peloton is hauling ass on this descent and Talansky will be lucky to latch on before the climb.  At least he didn’t stack.

De Gendt has a picture of a padlock on his butt.  I’m not sure I want to know what that’s about.

Talansky is still off the back.  A couple teammates have dropped back to help him out, but it’s not looking good.  It’s also not looking good for the breakaway duo, whose lead is down to 25 seconds.  They’re still going through the motions, which is probably more than I would do.  I’d be putting on the brakes, so the pack would scoop me up sooner and I could draft.  I once saw a racer actually turn around during a criterium so he’d be lapped sooner, and be fresher for the primes (of which he won several, oddly enough).

Talansky is back on the group!  Pretty impressive, and I’ll bet he’s nice and warmed-up now.

De Gendt has a beard.  I’m seeing a lot more of those in the peloton these days, such as on Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) and Peter Velits (BMC).  I had a beard until last night.  I hadn’t planned to shave it, but my wife was at Whole Foods (or the Food Hole as we like to call it) and the butcher had a giant beard with a hairnet  over it, which (inevitably) put my wife in mind of beard hair falling in food, even though the net actually prevents that, and she decided, “I’m done with this beard thing” and made me shave mine off.  At first I didn’t want to, and we bickered, and I finally decided to compromise, and shaved off half my beard.

So, a bit of background on this Croix de Chaubouret climb:  according to the race preview travelogue-ish thing, “Winter activities include ski and cross-country ski lessons for beginners as well as snow tubing (sledging on rubber rings)... The Monts du Pilat is a former industrial basin where the distant echo of weavers’ looms can still be heard.”  Is this for real?  Picture yourself there:  “Wait, ssshh, what’s that sound?  That whish-whishing sound?  I think ... yes!  That’s the distant echo of weavers’ looms!  But nobody uses a loom anymore!  It must be ... a GHOST!”

The climb is underway now and riders are being spat out the back.  And guess what?  I’m no oracle:  there goes Rohan Dennis, inexplicably off the back.  Heinrich Haussler is also dropped, which is weird, because I think he’s worn the polka-dot jersey in this race.  In fact, I’m sure of it.  He was wearing it when he contested a field sprint and ran into Mark Cavendish and they both stacked spectacularly.

It’s 12 km to go and this road just looks flat. 

Christian Knees (Team Sky) is also dropped.  That is really weird because normally Team Sky riders are never dropped at all, no matter what the course.  Even their sprinters are usually right on the front on a climb, helping to drive the pace.  I wonder if there’s a bad case of food poisoning or something among these riders?  I mean, this climb just isn’t that steep!

A crash!  Two guys on the ground and a third guy somersaults over him.  Man, looks painful.  Warren Barguil (Team Giant-Alpecin) looks to be in a world of hurt.  Poor guy.  I feel so bad I’m not even going to make a snarky comment along the lines of “how do you crash on a straightaway on a climb?”

Rafal Majka is off the back. That’s weird, too ... he was a GC hopeful.

The break is over and it’s just this giant swarming peloton.  AG2R is on the front drilling it.  Now an Astana guy, Paolo Tiralongo, attacks.  Meanwhile, off the back, another Astana guy, Lars Boom, yells angrily at Majka.  I wonder what he yelled?  “Don’t throw away your future!”  Or, “Your form is disgraceful, even for the early season!”

Ben Swift, a sprinter on Team Sky (see!?), is on the front leading the chase.  Tiralongo doesn’t seem to be making much ground.  He looks tired.  How can everybody be so lethargic, when the hills are alive with the sound of music?

Team Sky has four guys right on the front now, with Tiralongo absorbed. So, it’s back to the old status quo for Team Sky, who eerily dominate races like this one.  Today they’re working for Aussie Richie Porte, who handily won Paris-Nice in 2013.  Porte has done 50 pro stage races and has only finished 24 of them.  Hmmmmm.

It’s 4.8 km to go and nothing but Sky, Sky, Sky on the front.  They’re really flying, with the peloton stretched out pretty thin.  Tiralongo is now off the back.  Nicholas Roche is riding really well this season, because he’s on Team Sky now himself.  (No, I’m not suggesting that he’s on some special Sky doping program!  I just mean that he must be really good for them to have signed him!)

Wow, there’s still snow on the road.  France is pretty far north I guess.  Roche is forcing the pace on the front, chin wagging a bit. 

Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) attacks!  An Astana rider joins him.  And now it’s Tejay Van Garderen (BMC)!  Brutal attack, and now Richie Porte makes his move!  Whoah, and a rider is down!  This Movistar dude just drifted into the rider next to him!  Unbelievable!  And now it’s an ad for a NASA Doctor’s natural brain breakthrough, which is some kind of berry where you “eat this ... NEVER forget a single thing again!”  Okay, ad is over.

It’s Jacob Fuglsang, using a J as a vowel and a silent G, up there with Thomas.  The pack is blown to smithereens.  Kwiatkowski is still in the group.  The third rider off the front is Simon Spilak (Team Katusha).  They have a pretty small gup.  And there goes Richie Porte!  He attacked the moment the group came back together.  He’s completely flying, with Thomas on his wheel.  On Team Sky, you don’t need to use most riders as domestiques; everybody can be a leader because they’re winning the arms race.

Less than 500 meters to go and Porte is still flying along, looking pretty cool, no obvious suffering there, with Thomas sitting on him rather casually.  With 300 meters to go they’re only extending their lead.  Perhaps Swift will come in for third.  Okay, at leat the two are grimacing now, but that’s probably just for the fans.  They cross the line 1-2, making the rest of the peloton, and all the fans, look like chumps.

Tejay rolls in for 5th.  The Astana climbing sensation Fabio Aru comes over a few seconds later.  The rest of the peloton comes over in 1s and 2s.  The announcer is applauding the tactics of Team Sky.  And I have to agree:  being far stronger than everybody else is a brilliant strategy. 

Kwiatowski was third.  I think this puts him in the yellow jersey.  Yep, he’s got it!  Porte is in second now, 1 second back, with Thomas in third, 3 seconds back.  Tejay sits 4th, 27 seconds back, which isn’t  too terribly much time since the last time trial is all uphill.

Out the window I see my daughter biking off to school.  Did you know she has better position on the bike than Christopher Froome?  It’s true.

They’re showing, over and over, the super-slo-mo of the two Sky riders cruising in to the finish, and I think I’m going to be ill, so I’m going to call this a crap.  Er, wrap.  Thanks for tuning in, and I’m sorry everything unfolded so predictably.

1 comment:

  1. Why this is the best Paris-Nice commentary:

    1. Half-beard. 2. "Your form is disgraceful, even for the early season!" 3. Being far stronger than everybody else is a brilliant strategy.