Sunday, May 24, 2015

Biased Blow-By-Blow - Giro d’Italia Stage 15


Today I continue my ongoing tradition of giving the blow-by-blow race report that real journalists aren’t allowed to.  I’ll put words to the vague feelings of antipathy you may have toward certain riders, other personalities, or the sport in general, and I’ll deliver fascinating back-story that might as well be true.  Read on for my biased, fearless coverage of today’s Giro stage.

Biased Blow-By-Blow – 2015 Giro d’Italia Stage 15

As I join the action, the racers have 60 km to go. I think they’re way ahead of schedule. Of course this leads to suspicion that it’s “game on,” à la the early aughts and the pharma-fueled peloton.  How early does a guy have to wake up to see two full hours of race coverage?

The situation is this:  there’s a breakaway of ten that has about three minutes on the main bunch. It includes Beñat Intxausti Elorriaga (Movistar), who won stage 8 (a summit finish like they’ll have today), and Brent Bookwalter (BMC).  Intxausti must either be really tired, or he was loafing during yesterday’s time trial, because he lost over 8 minutes.

Do professional cyclists actually loaf during time trials?  Yep.  I remember watching a time trial stage of the Coors Classic in 1985, and Giuseppe Sarroni came by.  I recognized him immediately—he’d won the world championships three years before—so of course I cheered like a maniac.  He wasn’t going hard at all, though; he was riding on the hoods and looked bored.  When he heard me cheering, he seemed suprised, and gave me a look that said, “Stop carrying on like that, boy—you look like a damn fool.”  And yet, this guy wasn’t totally washed up; he won two Giro d’Italia stages that year.

Sean Kelly is one of the commentators today, which I’m glad of.  I don’t know where he was for stage 8, but I’m imagining somebody trying to wake him up, pre-race, and him saying, “Bike races are boring, I’m not doing it.”  Either that, or he was there for stage 8 but said so little, I didn’t hear him.  I was watching a replay of stage 13 the other day, and actually heard Kelly get kind of animated.  I was so surprised, I watched that part over and over again. His voice actually goes up a little, with just a hint of a chuckle. He’s describing a crash and says, “It was just very calm,  no real big nervousness in the peloton, somebody touched a wheel there and then they just fall down like skittles.” (I was sure I heard this wrong, being an American quite familiar with the colorful candy, but unaware of the chiefly British game that sounds a lot like bowling.  The game is called skittles, as are the pins that get knocked down.)

Okay, they’re back from a commercial intermission, and the other announcer is talking about handbags.  I think you have to be very uninhibited to be a race announcer. I’ve heard these guys go on about asphalt composition, techtonic plates, and gifts of hand-knit scarves sent by grateful sports fans.

Since Eurosport has evidently adopted the “all ads, all the time” format favored by American broadcasters, I’ll take a moment to describe today’s course.  The racers have already gone over the La Fricca climb, which interestingly enough is the climb that gave the world the word “fricking,” meaning “really hard” or just “really.”  Pretty soon they’ll hit the Passo Daone, which is 8.5 km at an average grade of 9.2%.  Probably the Italians call pronounce this “day-OWN-ee,” but clearly it should be pronounced “da 1.”

Bookwalter is dropped from the breakaway, confirming the total dearth of Americans in this race.

We’ve gone split-screen, and they’re showing podium girls strutting along the road in the start/finish section! This must be a specific request from Kelly, just to keep him entertained. That’s a great idea and I’m sure it’ll be written into his contract for next year. I, for one, am pleased.

Gilbert, who finally won a stage of this Giro a few days ago, is dropped.

Wow, Richie Porte is getting dropped!  This poor guy.  He was in third but after a series of mishaps, and a really lousy time trial, is down in 17th. Either he’s really sore from his recent crash, or he’s just collapsed psychologically, or maybe the team doctor said, “You suck right now Richie, I’m not wasting any drugs on you.”  Okay, maybe that last bit was a low blow.  Perhaps it’s slightly more plausible that the team doctor actually said, “Richie, you suck right now, so let’s save this blood bag for the Tour.”  I guess it's also possible that he's just tired from having raced so fast all spring.  As my online correspondent says, You burn that candle that bright for that long, you’re gonna run outta wax!

So, Edoardo Zardini (Bardiani CSF), who won a mountain stage of the Giro del Trentino last year, has attacked the peloton and is trying to make his way up to the breakaway.  He’s making pretty good progress.

Wow, Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-Quick-Step) is really struggling, off the back.  He’s another favorite who really never found his legs this year.  He lost over 2½ minutes in the TT yesterday and was in 4th on the GC going into today’s stage.  He’ll tumble down the GC for sure now.

The announcer who isn’t Sean Kelly is very fond of saying “at the minute.” He says it constantly.  I’ve heard “at the moment” once in two stages of coverage, with countless “at the minute”s.  I did a little research on this and figured out what’s going on.  This guy’s brother has hated, since childhood, how he says “at the minute” instead of “at the moment,” and the announcer has discovered this and is using this knowledge to maximum advantage, just to spleen his brother, who he knows is watching this coverage.  The brother retaliates by having a hotter wife.  Sibling rivalry never really dies, does it?

The grade is at 14%, they’re saying. It never looks as steep on TV, but you can see how badly the racers are suffering.  Shoulders rocking, etc.

Team Astana is doing a great job forcing the pace at the front.  They’ve still got five or six guys.  I only see one Tinkoff guy supporting Contador.  Astana’s leader, Fabio Aru, is tucked right in there, at least for now.  Poor Aru hasn’t had the Giro of his dreams, other than wearing the maglia rosa for a day. He lost 3 minutes yesterday, whereas race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) only lost 14 seconds and appears to have this Giro locked up.  Aru’s still in second on GC, but to a fricking cripple!  I’m referring to Contador’s separated shoulder, which ought to have him totally out of the action but instead doesn’t seem to bother him a bit.  Anyway, Astana is driving the pace, led by Paolo Tiralongo, just to make sure Uran loses enough time to cease being a threat to Aru in the GC.

Poor Bookwalter.  He’s all alone out there, just waiting for the peloton to swallow him up, digest him, and perhaps excrete him as so often happens when a breakaway goes bad.

Bookwalter is hanging off the back of the peloton now.

The breakaway is down to just three guys, and I’m tempted to give you their names, but that’s just so sad when they’re probably doomed.  They had 3 minutes before this climb, and it’s down to half that.  Giovanni Visconti (Team Movistar) took the KOM points.  Now they’re getting handed some newspapers.  They don’t look like pink newspapers to me, which is a lost opportunity.  In the U.S., everything is monetized, and these would be pink newspapers that would be sold off as “collectibles” after the racers are done with them.  The smeared ink would be proof that these were used by an actual bike racer in a famous race.

So it’s 30 km to go with the next big thing being the ... oh my god, there’s an ad here for a caffeinated shampoo.  That’s just absurd.  I just googled this to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating.  I wasn’t.  (I haven’t had that much caffeine myself.)  I guess the idea is that it’s absorbed through the scalp.  Neat idea, except that of course it’s solving a non-problem.  You wanna absorb caffeine?  Drink a fricking cup of coffee!

So, the next big climb, as I was starting to say, is the Madonna di Campiglio, 15.5 km at an average grade of 5.9%.  Its a mountain-top finish, which almost always makes for pretty good excitement.

Man, five Astana guys on the front, with Aru just sitting in, practically carried on their shoulders.  It’s too bad a team this good doesn’t have a better leader.  I mean, I had to bag on Aru, it’s not like he’s a slouch or anything, but I just don’t see him mounting any kind of threat to Contador, or even matching him.  My online correspondent agrees:  “If Contador goes hard on the last climb, Aru’s gonna get sawed off.”

The break is down to 55 seconds.  They’re all on a flat section, having finished the short descent after the Daone.

Since there’s a lull in the action here, I’ll take this opportunity to weigh in on the controversy around Richie Porte getting docked two minutes for taking a wheel from a friend near the end of one of the early stages, when Porte was still in the top three on GC.  A lot of guys complained, not just Internet whiners but some racers and even Robert Millar, the former champ.  I think it’s all complete BS, and I’m not just saying that because I don’t like Porte (though I don’t).  Yeah, I get it that Porte already had some bad luck and now gets dinged a massive two minutes on top of that. But you know what’s supposed to mitigate bad luck scenarios?  Your fricking team!  Where the hell were Porte’s teammates when he punctured?  I mean, he’s the team leader!  The team’s entire job is to support him, but not a single-dingle one of them was anywhere to be found.  Why should their stupidity be softened by race officials willing to leave basic rules unenforced?

Besides, when you let non-teammates help out, you’re turning the sport into a popularity contest. That’s not what the sport is supposed to be.  I was talking with a friend about this a few days ago, and he said, “Remember when Cadel Evans flatted in the Vuelta and lost gobs of time waiting for the team car?  He’s standing just off the road watching everybody pass him by.  Nobody gave him a wheel, probably because he has that high-pitched voice and the lap-dog, but is that fair?”

I’m also fine with the Porte penalty because it makes a nice cautionary tale.  The officials didn’t actually see the illegal wheel change, but discovered it because minutes after the race a photo of it circulated over the Internet, being endlessly tweeted and retweeted and retwitted, even by Porte himself. I’m going to tell my kids, “Whenever you see a pal with a camera, DUCK!”

The breakaway is as good as caught.  Just a handful of seconds as the racers make their way at blistering speed across this flat section. 

Contador is going for a time bonus!  An Astana guy is fighting him for it!  But Contador’s totally got it!  Man, he’s leaving nothing to chance.  Contador is already 2:28 up on Aru in the GC; is way stronger; and doesn’t really have any legitimate challenger beyond that.  Currently third on GC is Andrey Amador (Movistar Team), whom I’ve never heard of in my life.  Uran won’t be fourth at the end of today.  The GC battle is getting pretty dull.

You know how the race officials should handle all the complaints about their penalty for Porte?  They should completely turn it around and say, “Hey, when it comes to draconian decision, we’re just getting going!  To make this race more exciting, we’re going to make Contador do the rest of the race while holding a tennis ball in his mouth.  And Astana has to give over one of its riders to Saxo-Tinkoff!”

They’re showing Ryder Hesjedal now.  He’s wearing some seriously micky-mouse sunglasses, a sartorial decision so distracting I can’t tell whether he’s off the front or off the back. 

It’s got to be hard for team managers.  Astana’s got six riders in the lead group, and yet my money is on Contador today, to beat them all, and possibly even win the stage.  Which means Astana’s looking at their doping budget and saying, “The worse these guys do, the more dope they’re getting.  It’s like we’re rewarding mediocrity!  Maybe we should make them earn their drugs.  But of course, they can’t win clean.  It’s a real conundrum.”

Hesjedal is definitely off the back, over a minute behind the lead group.

Man, this grade is insane!  Astana continues drilling it.  The lead group has shrunk considerably. I do see Kruijswijk in there, who rode well in stage 8, but he’s like 11 minutes down on the GC.  Maybe he’ll climb into the top ten today if he stays in contact.

Aru is right on Contador’s wheel. He’s wearing one of those silly nose strips that’s supposed to help his breathing.  You know what?  If those things really worked, you’d see American masters racers using them. These are the guys who read studies about everything.  There’s just something so Euro about being unscientific.  Fricking snake oil.

Man, the lead group is down to eight guys!  Amador is in there. Kruijswijk is still there too, sitting on the back, looking pretty miserable.  I think it’s pretty silly to see a group of eight, with three out of the front four guys all on Astana.  It’s like US Postal all over again.  There hasn’t been a non-Astana guy on the front since Contador’s time-bonus sprint. 

The others in this group are Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto Soudal), currently fifth on GC; Carlos Betancur (AG2R La Mondiale), way down in 27th; Kruijswijk; and Leopold Konig (Team Sky), down in 10th; and Yury Trofimov (Team Katusha), all the way down in 54th on GC.  It’ll be a great day for a few of these guys, anyway.  I could try to figure out who the Astana guys are, but do you care?  I don’t.  Okay, I’ll tell you one of them is Mikel Landa, sitting 7th on GC.  Presumably Dario Cataldo (sitting 6th) is there.

Landa attacks!  Contador is right on there.  But Aru is dropped!  Astana’s teamwork, lauded all morning by the announcers, is overrated, I think.  Landa has set up Contador perfectly—and here it is, Contador attacks!  The group is shattered!  With 2.5 km to go, there doesn’t seem to be any group left.  It’s all Contador now, they’re just pulling away!  It’s getting really steep.  Okay, now Aru makes it back, along with ... wow, Aru attacks!  Maybe he was rope-a-doping!  But it’s not too much of an attack, Contador is right on him.

Landa attacks!  Contador jumps right on him.  I cannot imagine what Astana’s strategy is.  It’s like one after another of them are helping Contador spank Aru. It’s not like Contador even needs to respond to these attacks; he’s got almost 5 minutes on Landa.   So to see him react to every attack must just be psychologically devastating to Aru.

Contador is saying something to Aru. We can only guess what.  “That all you got, beyotch?”

Trofimov is trying to solo, and the commentators have nothing to say about this.  Either they didn’t catch his name, or consider his effort hopeless.

Landa attacks!  Just in time for my feed to freeze!  

Contador is finally just hanging back!  Landa is hauling ass!  He’s overtaking Trofimov!  He’s all alone!  He’s got the win!

Trofimov hangs in for second, and Contador slips in for third, picking up a time bonus and thus padding his lead over Aru—and, more importantly, further demoralizing him.

Man, the peloton was just blown to bits today.  Riders are coming over the line one by one.

Landa is being interviewed.  Nothing he’s saying is very interesting.  What I really want to know is whether or not he, Landa, used to be a soap opera star.  He really looks like a soap opera star, doesn’t he?  This is a major compliment for a bike racer, by the way.  So many of them look like they were in sci-fi movies before turning to cycling.

Oh, geez, they’re going to interview Juan Antonio Flecha endlessly now.  “Do you think these riders get chapped lips?” / “Yes, in all likelihood they do.  When I was racing as a pro, I myself did often have chapped lips.”  / “Are they allowed to use Chapstick?”  /  “Yes, but not Carmex.” /  “I see that a rider won the race today. Is that typical, for somebody to win?” / “Yes, you see that a lot in this sport.”  / “Do you think Landa went faster than the others?” / “Yes, that seems to have been his tactic.” / “Do you think it’s okay for you to wear a pink button-down shirt for every one of these interviews?”  / “Yes, I am very secure in my masculinity.”

Leopold Konig moves up to 5th in the GC today and will be the new team leader.  Porte, meanwhile, will be made to fetch his slippers and fluff his pillow.

Landa is getting his podium kisses but doesn’t look very happy about it.  Perhaps he’s thinking, “My wife is going to be pissed.”

Well, I could hang around and watch Aru get his white jersey for best young rider, and listen to Flecha say insightful things like, “Yes, Aru is young, and he is fast, and that is why he gets to wear a white jersey,” but I really have to micturate.  Thanks for tuning in!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2015 Giro d'Italia Stage 8


If you didn’t get a chance to watch today’s Giro d’Italia stage, but don’t think you’ll actually bother with a video recap, read on for a blow-by-blow report that doesn’t get mired in political correctness.

2015 Giro d’Italia – Stage 8

As I join the action, some guy is angrily gesticulating.  I can guess what he’s saying:  “Come on, help with the chase, you freeloader!”  Such interactions exist in bike racing at every level, even the citizen ranks. 

GC leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) has somehow put on a rain jacket, despite having a separated shoulder (suffered in an earlier stage in a massive pileup).  He looks pretty  miserable though and he’s talking to his teammates a lot.  Whining?  Could be. I wouldn’t blame him.

We all know that in addition to being a past (and thus probably current) doper, Contador is tough as nails.  He raced (for awhile, anyway) with a broken tibia during last year’s Tour de France. (Team Sky’s Chris Froome, by contrast, dropped out of that same Tour due to a bruised thumb and a bad hangnail, leaving his teammate, Richie Porte, to take up Sky’s GC hopes, which in Porte’s case meant completely collapsing psychologically.)

So how bad is a separated shoulder?  Well, in my experience, on the pain scale it’s very significant, about a 6 out of 10, while a broken tibia is about a 4.  The cold pressor test, specifically designed to measure pain, is about a 2, right along with having a cavity filled without novacaine.  Now, if I hadn’t broken my femur, separated shoulder would be a 10, but I keep having to rejigger my 1-thru-10 scale.  So depending on how bad the separation is, Contador must be really suffering.

From what I’ve read about athletes and pain, ballet is actually the most painful.  Cycling has to be pretty high up there, though, and likely takes top honors in the whining category.  Ballet dancers aren’t allowed to whine.  Sport is usually the same way.  There aren’t really that many sports where competitors can whine as they go, but I’ve heard endless whining in races and during training rides.  Can you imagine if all sports had this?  Like, if boxers complained to each other?  “Hey, man, you stepped on my damn foot!  That’s below the belt!”

One of the leaders has a really ugly tuck.  Looks like he’s trying to lick his tire.  Maybe he’s deranged.

So, the situation is this:  53 km to go, and a breakaway has a bit under 9 minutes on the peloton, but only 24 seconds over a chase group.  The roads are a bit wet and though it’s not raining at the moment, the skies look tenebrous.  I wonder how many of the English speakers in the peloton have used the word “tenebrous” today, or ever.  Probably more than NFL players, those poor brain-injured guys.

So, the biggest name in the breakaway is Franco Pellizotti (Androni Giocattoli).  He was 3rd overall in the 2009 Giro, and has won three Giro stages in his career.  Today’s stage finishes on the category 1 Campitello Matese.  It’s a 12.5 km climb (a bit under 8 miles) but I don’t know much else about it, though you might be interested to know that Amanda Dufner is living it up after divorce from Jason....  (Whoops, sorry—I mistook clickbait for cycling coverage for a second there.)  Anyhow, Pellizotti is a climber, so he’ll fancy his chances today.  I get to use words like “fancy” because if you weren’t reading this, you’d probably be watching the race on Eurosport and hearing all kinds of chiefly British vernacular.

Wow, it’s down to just 35K to go.  Time flies when you’re descending, or watching racers descend.

The peloton is blowing through a little town, with Tinkoff-Saxo massed at the front.  Contador has managed to remove his jacket, somehow. If you don’t think that’s a feat, you’ve never had a separated shoulder. My first physical therapy exercise for mine was to hold a can of soup, with my elbow at 90 degrees, and move my hand back and forth over an arc of maybe 45 degrees, which was agony. How does this guy ride a bike with this injury?

The racers are allowed to take a normal dose of Advil, by the way. My wife had asked about that.  (Did she get up early to watch this?  Hell no.  Did I exhaust her interest in the Giro in 30 seconds flat last night?  Yep.)

There’s actually a trio some distance ahead of the main break, maybe 30 seconds.  It’s got Carlos Alberto Betancur Gomez (AG2R La Mondiale) in it, who would be a great climber if not weighed down by so many names.

The gap to the main field is a bit over 7 minutes, which is quite a bit, actually, because it’s just not that long a climb.  The break is nine guys, including Tom Danielson (Cannondale-Garmin), who is no slouch at climbing. I’m pretty sure he was top-10 in a Tour de France at some point. He holds the record for the Mount Evans Hill Climb in Colorado; it’s the highest paved road in North America at over 14,000 feet.  (The Campitello isn’t even 5,000 feet.)  Of course, he was very likely totally lubed even back then.

Contador doesn’t seem to have any kind of bandage, wrap, or even a tortilla on his shoulder.  He looks pretty good on the bike, considering, but I can’t imagine he could ride out of the saddle.  I’m reminded, of course, of Tyler Hamilton in the 2003 Tour de France, who got—what, 4th?—with a broken collarbone (and a lot of help from his friends).

So, the favorites for the Giro GC are Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-Quick-Step) who was second overall here before; Contador; Porte; and perhaps Fabio Aru (Astana Pro Team).  Uran is down 1:22 on the GC, after losing 1:04 in stage 4, so we have to wonder about his form.  Aru is only 2 seconds behind Contador in the GC, but somehow I don’t think he’s quite ready to win a Grand Tour.  He’s still just a pup.

It’s about 20 km to go.  Somehow the leading trio has extended their lead to 1:20 over the main breakaway.  Along with Betancur are Kristof Vandewalle (Trek Factory Racing), whom I’ve never heard of in my life, and Steven Kruijswijk, who really needs to buy a vowel.  Kruijswijk rides for Team LottoNL-Jumbo (the last bit pronounced “Yumbo” to match all the weird Js in Kruijswijk).

Two different commentators have pointed out Aru tightening the knobs on his shoes, saying he must be getting ready to attack.  I beg to differ.  In my experience, tighting the knobs on your shoes indicates the shoe needing to be a bit tighter, nothing more. Not that Aru won’t attack, but geez, they’re still 5-10 minutes from the climb.

The gap to the breakaway is falling ... it’s 5½ minutes now, so the leading trio has about 7 minutes.

Betancur was 5th in the 2013 Giro and won last year’s Paris-Nice.  So he’s no slouch.  Kruijswijk, whose name I’m really tired of typing, was 8th in the 2011 Giro.  Vandewalle is a world team time trial champ, so I doubt he can climb well enough to win today.  It’s just how he was raised.  Er, how high up he was raised.  How he was born.  Whatever.

Man, the peloton is still pretty giant.  Wow, Contador is riding out of the saddle!  I’m going to guess he doesn’t have a third-degree separation of his shoulder because then he’d be blinded by the pain.

Betancur attacks the break!  And Kruijswijk counters, and has a gap!  Man, he looks really, really strong. 

Back in the peloton, Astana is swarming the front.  Maybe they saw Aru tighten his shoe.  “He tightened his shoe, man, that’s the signal!  Get him in position!” Or is it a shoe-tightening bluff?

Kruijswijk has a really big gap!  The commentators are oddly quiet about this.  Perhaps they dislike trying to pronounce “Kruijswijk” as much as I dislike typing it. He’s got less than 10K to go, but of course that’s a very long way on a climb. He’s got a yellow and black jersey but is too thin to look like a bumblebee.

Wow, six Astana riders together at the front, Contador right on them. They’ve gotten the gap to the main break down under 4 minutes.  Kruijswijk is 1:18 ahead of his two chasers.  He’s in the saddle, looking really solid, bobbing just a bit. In other news, a 72-year-old grandma looks 20.  Better than a facelift, according to “Dr.” Oz.  Fricking ads.  I hate them.

Vandewalle is going backwards.  I told you he was too big to climb.

Former Giro winner Ivan Basso, one of Contadors Tinkoff-Saxo teammates, is dropped.  I think he’s too old for this.

The chase group has shattered.  Kruijswijk has a minute on the chasers and about 3 minutes on the peloton.

Betancur detonates!  He’s way over on the left of the road.  What, is there more air over there?

Astana is really drilling it on the front.  The peloton is all strung out in a line.  Contador only has two teammates left, but he still looks okay.

Sebastien Reichenbach (IAM Cycling) and Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Movistar Team) are the chasers now, having overhauled Betancur. 

Porte has two men left to help.  The peloton is down to like 18 guys.  Uran is still in there.  Contador’s teammate Mick Rogers is now dropped, so Contador is down to just one teammate and one good shoulder.

Kruijswijk’s lead is down to 2:26 over the peloton, and just 31 seconds over the chasers. It’s looking increasingly like all that difficult pedaling (to say nothing of my difficult typing) will have been for naught. It’s 4.7 km to go.

Man it looks cold out there.

Wow, some Astana guy is attacking!  It’s Fabio Aru!  I didn’t recognize him because a) I didn’t know he was in the white jersey of best young rider, and b) this video feed is so blurry. Contador is on him, but doesn’t look happy at all.  Uran is right there. Dang, another Astana guy attacks!  Who is it?  Man, he’s flying!  It’s Mikel Landa and he looks seemingly infinitely powerful.  He sits 8th on the GC, about a minute behind Contador.  Man, it was a really good move. He must have tightened his shoe on the sly because I for one didn’t see it.

Sky’s Leopold Konig is on the front now, trying to haul back Landa.  But man, Landa is really looking strong.

Intxausti attacks!  I think those two passed Kruijswijk at some point.  Intxausti is the leader, then, but only 46 seconds ahead of the peloton.  Landa is bearing down on Kruijswijk and I swear that’s the last time I’m typing that name.

Konig has Astana’s Dario Cataldo right on his wheel as they lead the chase.  Porte is next in the line, with Contador on his wheel.  It’s 2km to go and Intxausti is still looking solid, his lead at 1:05.  (Was that 46-second split an error, or is he actually increasing his lead?)

It’s still Konig, Cataldo, Porte, and Contador, just locked together like that. Uran still in this small group but never going anywhere near the front.  Intxausti has 1.3 KM to go, and in fact is actually increasing his lead.  Dang, he’s got 1:11.

Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini), who is really fricking old, attacks!  And now Aru goes again!  Porte is on him quickly, and Contador glued to his wheel.  So, not too much of an attack though it might be really frying these guys.  Uran is right in the mix.

Cunego is caught.

Porte is on the front of this little group now, Contador right on him, grimacing awfully.

Up the road, Intxausti is heading for the stage win.  He’s got it!  It’s the I-can’t-believe-it helmet-grabbing victory salute. And here comes Landa, getting the second-place time bonus.  The GC leaders cross the line, still together.  I think that Contador will hang on to the pink jersey, though Landa will move up significantly in the GC and become a threat.

They’re showing a super-slo-mo of the victory salute, and it was really a combination platter. Waving to the group, looking back, pointing at the sky, clapping his hands, etc.

Aru won the sprint among the GC leaders, but Reichenbach had already sneaked in for third, getting the last of the bonus seconds—otherwise, Aru would have taken pink today.  The big GC news today is Landa moving into 5th overall; Uran moving up to 8th; and (of course) Contador managing to hang on to his jersey.  Man, what a badass.  Don’t underestimate how much harder that extra pain makes things.  Remember, Fignon lost the Tour de France due to a saddle sore.

Contador is warming down on a trainer now. You can tell he’s fried because he’s forgotten to take his helmet off.  Or is he just playing it safe?

Intxausti is on the podium.  Why did these racers switch from cycling caps to baseball caps?  They look so, I don’t know, so ... American.  I guess it’s because ball caps provide more space for advertising.

Instead of showing the podium celebrations, Eurosport is just interviewing various cyclists, along with some has-been, Juan Antonio Flecha I think. I wouldn’t mind, except that I kind of like the podium stuff.  Maybe they should have the podium girls interview these guys.  That would be a win-win.

Man, it’s going to be painful for Contador to heft that giant bottle of champagne. I mean, cyclists struggle with that thing anyway. I remember one guy who tried to lift it to his lips but just couldn’t manage it. They should provide the racers with super-long straws.

They’re interviewing Aru.  “I had a fantastic team, you can see the work they’ve done, blah blah blah, I don’t even know what I’m saying, I’m having my comments dictated to me through my radio, blah blah blah ginger blah blah blah.” Booooooo-ring.

Flecha is pointing at some parked bicycles and talking some damn nonsense about cadence.  For this I might be missing the spectacle of a little bike racer struggling with that champagne magnum. I mean, it’s nice that they’ve found something for these ex-pros to do, but still....

Contador is on the podium.  He’s putting on the pink jersey without apparent difficulty.  I’m starting to wonder how badly his shoulder is really hurt. The podium girls have flowers in their hair but look bored.  To Contador’s credit, he eschewed his lame “pistolero” salute.  So, a great day for him all around.

They’re back to Flecha in his light-pink shirt, interviewing Contador.  Flecha asks, “Do you think Aru showed his hand a bit too much today?  Played too many cards?  Did other things that lend themselves well to poker analogies?” Contador replies, “No, no, we all knew he was going to attack.  We saw him futzing with the dials on his shoes.  That’s his ‘tell.’  But looking at the hand I was given today, I handled the attacks well.  Of course, many more attacks are in the cards.  We’ll have to let the chips fall where they may.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

From the Archives - Irksome Little Pony


Recently I was struggling (audibly, possibly profanely) with a teapot; I cannot pour from it without spilling.  My wife said, “Hey, I like that teapot—don’t go ‘Diaper Genie’ on it.”  She was referring to when, as a new parent,  I lost my temper over our diaper pail and hurled it down the stairs.  (To this day I feel my action was justified.  A “friend” had given us a lightly used Diaper Genie, which—despite having its original box, so it could be passed off as new—wasn’t compatible with the modern bag/liner cartridge it came with, so in trying to install the cartridge I was unknowingly attempting the impossible.)

As maddening as baby-related accessories can be, parenting itself can be even tougher.  Read on for the tale of how I came this close to executing improper parenting techniques.  This was at Target, where I came into contact with the retail equivalent of an Improvised Explosive Device.

November 8, 2003 - Irksome Little Pony

Today I took Alexa [age 2 at this point] to Target to get a new Diaper Genie.  (The manufacturer stopped making cartridges for our old one.)  I had my wife make a list of other stuff to buy.  “DVD entertainment” was not on the list, but I headed over to the Audio/Video section first thing anyway.  I’m getting tired of Alexa’s meager video library and I must confess, I’ve been so tired lately I’ve been letting her watch non-child oriented fare, like Bond movies.

Of course, the vast majority of Target’s inventory of child-oriented videos are crap, like Barney, the cloying purple dinosaur, and the Teletubbies, those really uncanny, creepy little . . . heck, I don’t know what to call them.  Gnomes, I guess, with TVs built into their bellies.  They give me the willies.  Alexa watches them occasionally at day care, alas, and seems to love them just like the rest of the kids do.  That’s probably the creepiest part.  I mean, I can see why she likes Wallace and Gromit; they’re neat-looking, and there’s lots of action.  But Teletubbies?  These creatures seem barely smarter than cows.  They can’t even talk; they’re just like little pawns.

And don’t get me started on “Baby Mozart,” “Baby Shakespeare,” and “Baby Einstein,” which masquerade as educational fare but actually feature totally dippy, non-name-brand music with the camera panning lovingly over still-lifes of bright new toys, like a damn product catalog.  Over my dead body.  I’d rather put “Dr. No” in again and explain to Alexa, “See?  The woman is sleeping,” and hope that my innocent daughter doesn’t yet understand what gunfire is.

In the video aisle somebody had abandoned a little toy.  Alexa, sitting in the shopping cart seat, legs swinging, immediately became enchanted with it.  I grabbed it, out of idle curiosity, and discovered it was a Poky Little Pony.  I only have a vague awareness of Poky Little Pony.  I’m guessing this toy is an offshoot of a kid’s book.  This one had a fancy mane, made to seem like human hair, and came with a little choking-hazard toy brush and some other stuff.  The accessories were lashed firmly to the packaging, so I figured Alexa couldn’t do much damage to Poky or herself, and I let her play with it while I looked for the video.  (I decided to indulge her partly because she was running a bit ragged; last night was rough, and she was a bit late for her afternoon nap.) 

Alexa struggled in vain to remove Poky from the package.  “Help, Daddy,” she said.  I tried to ignore this, but when she dug deep and came out with, “Help, Daddy, please,” I was so won over by the lessons she’d learned—don’t just scream; ask for help; say please—that I relented and freed Poky.  (After all, some other kid had already ripped open the package and abandoned it in the DVD section.  This was a problem already in motion.)

Man, what a lame toy.  The head didn’t even turn.  No small child could be interested in this toy for more than five minutes.  Or am I underestimating children?  I guess a bright kid could figure out a new, illicit way to have fun with Poky (e.g., taunt a less privileged child with it; try to eat its head; tear out its hair; use it as a spoon; slather it with model airplane cement and torch it).  But of course Alexa loved Poky, and instantly memorized his/her name, turning this name into a mantra as we continued our shopping.

[I guess I should point out that, as I discovered years later, the pony isn’t actually named “Poky.”  It’s called “My Little Pony” and actually there are lots of different ones, with names like Blue Bell, Snuzzle, and Skydancer.  My bad.  I’d seen a New Yorker cartoon showing hip-hop revisions of children’s books, one of which featured Jay-Z fronting The Poky Little Posse.  I thought “Posse” was replacing “Pony” but it’s actually making fun of Poky Little Puppy, apparently some classic children’s book.  So my daughter—oblivious, at this age, of the need to second-guess me—blithely accepted that the horse’s name was Poky.]

After getting the modern Diaper Genie and other items, there was just one more thing to do before checking out:  return Poky.  I vainly hoped Alexa would be excited enough by the new synthetic fireproof blanket I’d put in our cart that she’d forget about the stupid toy, but instead she—adorably—put it to bed on the blanket.  Man.  I can’t think of a more volatile situation than bringing a toddler to the Toys section of Target.  I was tempted to abandon my daughter in some boring aisle, like linens, and then return Poky on my own.  You know, surgical—get in, make the drop, get out.  But this is America, which means if I left Alexa alone for even a second, she would either be abducted, or—worse—somebody would find her, turn her in to the authorities, and I’d end up doing time for abandoning her.

I cursed myself silently for allowing things to escalate like this.  My wife would have never snatched up Poky in the first place.  Heck, she probably wouldn’t have been in the video aisle to begin with—she’d be getting the things on the actual list.  But I’m a softie.  Besides, I’d deluded myself that Alexa would quickly exhaust her joy over Poky, and we as a family would enjoy all the benefits of having actually bought it, with none of the expense, clutter, or model-airplane-cement infernos.  On some subconscious level, I must have convinced myself that if Alexa and I made enough of these shrewd moves, over time, we’d eventually rule the galaxy as father and daughter—Alexa drawing from all the novel stimulation she’d had as a kid, and me drawing from the vast financial empire I’d built up from all the money I didn’t waste.  But instead, I found myself rolling Alexa toward what I feared would be my Waterloo.

I was tempted to employ trickery to save the situation.   But I hate to manipulate a child.  After all, it’s not really fair, given my vast advantage of life experience, to take advantage of young naivety.  Besides, there are so many ways such trickery can fail. 

For one, what if your manipulation doesn’t come off?  That can be humbling.  I’ve tried many times to outsmart the cat—to trick her into coming over by pretending I have food, for example—and she’s looked at me with a feline expression that says, “Exactly how stupid do you think I am?”  Or there was the time I tried to outsmart my niece Lonneke, when she was Alexa’s age.  Lonneke had discovered the TV remote control and was annoying me with it, changing the volume and the channel, etc., so I took the batteries out.  She came after the batteries and I freely gave them to her, figuring that she’d never figure out how to reinstall them in the remote anyway.  I figured wrong.

Another problem with manipulation is that it can give the manipulator, if he’s successful, a touch of contempt for the manipulated.  For example, many times I’ve pretended to throw a stick for a dog, who stupidly runs out to catch it, and then looks all over the sky for it, then starts sniffing all over the ground for it, while I’m standing there still holding the stick, shaking my head.  After the tenth fake throw in a row, as the dog is still gamely running for a phantom stick, I’m completely disgusted with the entire canine kingdom.  I’d hate to draw subconscious conclusions about my own child based on my ability to easily deceive her. 

Third, there’s a guilt problem:  taking advantage of the trust of your own child, and abusing that trust for short-term gain, could easily gnaw on a guy, at least a softie like myself. 

Finally, perhaps most importantly, if you underestimate your kid, a lame attempt at subterfuge could insult her intelligence.  Sure, I might trick the kid when she’s too young to know any better, but that doesn’t mean she won’t remember what happened and put it all together later.  Then she’ll realize what a dick I was, and be suspicious of the more sophisticated deceptions I might be employing later on.

So I stopped the stroller at the end of the Toys aisle (though I pointed it away from the goods).  I asked Alexa to hold the video, and then asked her to hold the fireproof blanket.  Little kids are always so eager to help out, especially when it means holding things.  (I guess the novelty of effectively employing one’s newly prehensile hands takes awhile to wear off.)  Then, Alexa’s hands being full, I took Poky. 

This was the key moment where I forever defined who and what I would be as a parent.  To take Poky without Alexa noticing would be manipulation.  But by distracting her somewhat, I theorized, I could mitigate her sense of loss, and do so without trickery by announcing what I was doing.  “Here, I’ll take Poky,” I said, loud and clear.  And of course she immediately began yelling in protest.  While Alexa yelled, I spun around, located Poky’s clones, reunited “our” Poky with them, and took a moment to satisfy my curiosity about the price ($4.99) before returning to the cart.  Within a minute or so Alexa had basically calmed down.  Sure, the loss wasn’t forgotten; for several hours she kept asking where Poky went, but never did throw the tantrum I’d so dreaded.

I have concluded that Alexa is not (yet) a spoiled rotten brat, but she’s not (yet) a beaten-down, joyless automaton either.  Heck, maybe I actually played the whole thing perfectly.  She derived 90% of the joy and mental stimulation the toy is capable of providing (the other 10% being the use of the hairbrush, which I’d flat refused to remove from the packaging).  I’d survived a battlefield test of my parenting tactics and ideals.  Alexa, for her part, had a not-so-painful lesson in the sad fact that you can’t always get what you want.  And if Target runs out of non-tampered-with Pokies, I’m sure some harried parent will shell out $4.99 for the one with the slightly damaged box.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Ride Report - Grizzly Peak Century with Teenager


Members of my bike club traditionally send out race reports, with a special focus on what was eaten before, during, and after the event.  I barely ever race, but decided to produce a report of the Grizzly Peak Century ride, a 73-mile effort I took on with my 13-year-old daughter Alexa.  This would be her longest and hardest ride ever, and also her best-fueled.  Read on if you’re interested in cycling, parenting, junk food, and/or a good laugh.

Short version

It was cold. The food was bountiful and tasty. Alexa rode like a boss. 73 miles; 5,770 feet of vertical gain; two pairs commemorative socks.  Post-ride BBQ was tasty, even the lentils. 

Long version

For breakfast, I served Alexa leftover homemade mac ‘n’ cheese.  I sneaked a few bites and man, it was good. But I didn’t dare take any for myself, for hell hath no fury like an Albert deprived of leftovers. The members of my household are like jackals.

We drove to the start, in Moraga, parked, unloaded, built up the bikes, and headed to Registration. As we approached the table the woman said, “You must be the Alberts.”  How did she know?  Well, Alexa’s name was flagged with “minor” and they don’t get many of those.  Huh.  Kids these days ... they have no time for exercise—they’re too busy playing “Grand Theft Auto XIII – Running Over Baby Pandas and Homeless People Edition.”

We met up with my teammate Craig and his wife Susanne and started the ride.  The plan was to ride together so long as we all enjoyed the same pace and I didn’t talk too much.  (I’ve ridden with Craig for years, and I actually had a Latin class with Susanne in like 1990.  She remembers it as being a really easy class and I found it really hard.  Story of my life.)

I don’t need to tell you it was brutally cold.  This Indian Winter is really getting old.  I’m tempted to complain about Global Warming but somebody out there would probably respond with a lame joke about “You call this warming?” so instead I’ll say this:  I’m really getting worried about Global Climate Fuckery.  Upper-80s on Thursday and every other day of spring is like living in an air-flavored Slurpee. I was glad to climb Pinehurst just to warm up a bit. I see one of you painted Alexa’s name on the road, but you spelled it “Alexis.” Thanks for the thought ... please try harder next time.

We cut the course a bit, taking Shasta down to Wildcat to the first rest stop rather than staying on Grizzly Peak the whole way. This is because so many residents on that road like to back out of their driveways without looking, and/or cut off cyclists and break their femurs.  I guess this isn’t exactly an epidemic but one time is enough for me.

I’d talked up the GPC food to Alexa, and she wasn’t disappointed.  Pound cake, banana bread, chocolate-chip/cranberry cookies, oatmeal cookies, crunchy ginger snaps, soft ginger snaps ... we tried it all.  I’m sure I’m forgetting some items.  I even had a cup of coffee, just so I could pee a gallon at every rest stop like I did at the first.

Did I mention it was cold?  I didn’t even have a jacket because I was leaving room for Alexa’s arm- and leg-warmers in the pocket of my Lycra bike racing shirt.  (I was about to type “jersey” and then I remember that there are pockets of hermitic sheepherders in Australasia who think “jersey” means “woolen sweater.”)

We descended Wildcat, hooked a left on San Pablo Dam Road, and went around the “Planet of the Apes” loop, a great little road threading along that piece of land sticking out (I can never remember what that’s called ... isthmus?) and giving a nice view of the Carquinez Strait and its dueling bridges.

There was a lot of ground to cover between the first rest stop and the second one.  As a veteran of century rides, I know to take extra cookies when I can get them.  Of course my daughter benefited from my savvy.

We descended to the second rest stop.  This stop didn’t have any baked goods unless you count bagels.  Craig asked for a sesame bagel; the volunteer picked up a bagel half, turned it over, silently registered that it had poppy seeds instead of sesame, and gave it to Craig anyway. I had a “nothing” bagel with Skippy peanut butter on it—a guilty pleasure if there ever was one.  The alternative was this health-food peanut butter product that looked like diarrhea mixed with gravel.  I think it might have been almond butter, which makes about as much sense as a strawberry newton (i.e., none at all).  I kind of wished there were a New Yorker around to launch into a diatribe about there being no actual bagels on the west coast.

I got some Gu version of Shot Bloks, which were like Jujubes for grown-ups, and Alexa coveted them, so I told her to get her own.  Turns out I’d gotten the last bag, so I gave her mine.  Note to other parents:  this is how to get your kid to do century rides—just relax your normally stingy treat policies during long rides.  (Of course, this only works if you deprive your kids the rest of the time.)

Next on the docket was the fierce McEwen Road climb.  Craig and Susanne came up with a word game to make the riding go more quickly, and this was so effective they dropped Alexa and me.  Once we’d conquered that climb, I told Alexa the next climb would be Mama Bear.  Of course this was false.  The next climb was actually Pig Farm, which is by no means insignificant.  As it dragged on and on, Alexa remarked on how I hadn’t warned her about this one.  (I wouldn’t say she complained, per se, but her displeasure was evident.)  Poor kid.  It can’t be easy having an idiot savant for a father.  (For those of you questioning the “savant” part, I’ll remind you I have great facility with iambic pentameter, which has saved my ass ... well, okay, zero times.)

At the base of Mama Bear, we stopped so Alexa could take off her leg warmers.  She’s normally impervious to the cold, being the odd sort of person who would be perfectly happy pulling an Iditarod sled while wearing gym shorts.  That she waited this long should tell you how frigid the conditions were (even though the sun was doing its best).  While we were stopped, a worried-looking woman rolled up, stopped, and asked, in a quavering voice, “How long is this climb?”  Nobody said anything for a bit, not knowing how to answer.  I mean, it takes as long as it takes, which depends entirely on one’s fitness.  She rephrased her question:  “How far up does this road go?”  All I could think of was, “It goes on a right fur piece,” so that’s what I said.  Got a chuckle out of her, anyway.

Alexa had really suffered on Pig Farm, and when Craig offered her a sleeve of Clif Shot Bloks she happily accepted.  By the top of Mama Bear she’d consumed the whole lot of them.  I found this impressive because those Bloks have stymied me in the past.  Consider this passage from my Everest Challenge 2012 report
Hunting in my jersey pocket I came upon a sleeve of Clif Shot Bloks that Craig had given me.  My hand groped it, trying to figure out what it was.  Once I’d identified it, my brain tried to comprehend what Shot Bloks were and what they did.  You eat them, right?  But what are they?  And how do you get into the package?  Is it like Pez?  I gave up trying to fathom this great Shot Blok mystery and managed to find a gel.

I guess all that piano playing has really enhanced Alexa’s fine motor skills.

After Mama Bear, Craig uttered the word “kit” in reference to our bike costumes.  I glowered at him and said, “I can’t ride with you anymore.” So we parted ways.  Okay, that’s not actually how it happened.  He never said “kit.”  It’s just that Alexa descends more slowly than those guys, probably because she knows her mom would kill me if she crashed.  Moreover, Alexa and I wanted to stop at the last rest stop (I mean, free food—hello?!) and Craig and Susanne didn’t need anything.  So they rode off into the sunset.

The last rest stop had more baked goods, and we had one more of everything, except the chocolate-chip/cranberry cookies—we had two of those.  They also had Crystal Geezer juice drinks and we took two apiece.  “So, we just have Papa Bear and Baby Bear, and we’re done with the climbing?” Alexa asked hopefully.  I replied, “Right, though we also still have to climb Mama Bear.”  This was not me teasing my daughter—this was me being an idiot.  Again.  Poor kid.  “Wait, I thought we already did Mama Bear!” she said, distraught.  I assured her she was right.  From now on, I’ll give her the map and have her tell me what’s going on.

On Papa Bear, we passed this angry middle-aged woman wearing mostly black.  It was this weird long-sleeve costume, and under her helmet she had a thin head-scarf, tied in the back, like what a Ninja wears.  In a brittle voice she asked, “Are you two doing both loops?”  Had I known the kind of person I was dealing with, I’d have been tempted to reply, “Hells yeah, beyotch!” but instead I said, “Oh no, just the first one.”  To which she replied, “Oh, well I don’t feel so bad then.”  Like it’s some kind of disgrace being passed by us.  Sheesh.

Baby Bear was a cakewalk (cake-ride?) and then we hooked a left on Camino Pablo.  Rolling toward Orinda, the woman in black caught up to us—probably she pulled a lot of time back during the post-Papa-Bear descent—and she blew right by us by running a stop sign.  On her way past, she muttered, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.”  What a fascinating utterance!  Was she quoting Tolstoy’s epigraph, that opens Anna Karenina?  Or was she quoting Romans 12:19 as Tolstoy had?  Or am I paraphrasing her body language?

On that long, shallow climb just past Orinda, after Camino Pablo becomes Moraga Way, we passed the Ninja woman again.  As we rolled slowly by, she glared at Alexa and said, “You possess, in the highest degree, a quality that makes one forget all shortcomings; this quality is blood, that blood which tells, as the English say.”  So it was definitely Anna Karenina she’d quoted the first time, since this second utterance matched Tolstoy’s description of Vronsky’s horse, though I’ll confess it’s also possible that this strange woman said nothing at all.

About this time I became aware that we were being tailed.  This dude with a red jersey, white arm warmers, and a yellow helmet had been behind us, maybe 30 feet behind, for an awfully long time.  It’s not credible that his pace just so happened to be identical to ours.  No matter how many stop signs and stoplights we stopped at, he never got any closer.  I’m pretty sure he was with the Bureau.  Many a father/biker would have been spooked, but I’m pretty good with my fists.

We took a left on Moraga Road:  the home stretch!  There was a slight tailwind and we had a good head of steam, but that didn’t stop the Ninja woman in black from making her final move.  She came flying by, in her best approximation of an aerodynamic position.  Somebody should explain to this woman how to ride on the drops.  I guess she didn’t grasp what that part of the handlebar is for, because she had her hands on the hoods but her elbows bent way past 90 degrees, sticking down low.  It didn’t look very comfortable, nor very safe, but she could not have cared less.  Her face was stony with determination, her mouth a rictus of uncaged ferocity.  This time she didn’t say anything, but to my astonishment Alexa cried out, “She sucks nitro... with Phase 4 heads! 600 horsepower through the wheel!  She’s meanness set to music and the bitch is born to run!”  Okay, okay, Alexa didn’t really say that.  She hasn’t even seen “Mad Max” (yet).  What she really did say was something wistful, along these lines:  “Normally women that age are just waiting for the end, but she’s breaking new ground.  I think this was a big day for her.”  I should pay more attention to that child ... I think I could learn something. 

In case you’re wondering, the angry biker woman easily bested us in the end; she didn’t really even need to run that last stoplight in cold blood.  I wonder if she’s told her own glorious tale on the Internet somewhere, or at her book club, or on the wall of a public restroom.

Dinner was great.  I graciously accepted the  volunteers’ offers of roasted red potatoes, jeweled rice, and even lentil pottage, though I drew the line at the couscous salad.  To my surprise, Alexa also allowed all these things on her plate, though she then whispered to me, “I took the lentils to be polite, but you’re eatin’ ‘em.”  Then it was on to the barbecue station, for chicken and vegetables.  They had eggplant, peppers, onions, all kinds of groovy stuff.  Then, on principle, I covered my plate with corn chips and those glisteningly greasy no-name potato chips that come in the 5-pound bag. 

I was not going to be one of those guys hitting his forehead and saying, “I coulda had a V-8!” so I had one. 

I went back for more chicken.  The volunteers don’t give you that much, so I tried a new tactic:  instead of withdrawing my plate after the chicken was deposited, I just kept it there.  There was a brief stalemate before the volunteer divined my wishes and put more on the plate.  It was like a game of chicken.  (Get it?  Chicken?)

I’d have stuck around and eaten more, but Alexa wanted to get home before the library closed.  Can you believe this kid?!