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!

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