Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Biased Commentary - Did Démare Cheat in the 2016 Milan-San Remo?

NOTE:  This post is rated R for mild strong language and pervasive crude humor.


If you care about the sport of cycling, then you must have seen my recent blog post covering the 2016 Milan-San Remo, a race which is one of the “monuments” of cycling.  If you don’t care about the sport of cycling, you’ll certainly want to skip this post, in which I assess the scandal following the outcome of the race.

I was alerted to this scandal by one of my readers, who posted a comment below my Milan-San Remo post.  The comment was from jianbino311 and read, “nike air max michael kors outlet air max 2016 rolex watches camisetas futbol baratas giuseppe zanotti outlet wallet sale kobi 9 tods outlet.” 

Just kidding.  I don’t know why I get so many comments like that, but the one I’m actually referring to was from Darwinian and read, “We’ll need a follow-up post of course, given the allegations of Démare having taken a tow from a team car, and the whole question of whether his Strava data helps or hurts his insistence that he did nothing wrong.”  Darwinian, ask and ye shall receive!

The basic facts of the case

Milan-San Remo is quite long and features just two climbs, both very close to the finish, which sometimes keep the race from being decided in the last 500 meters.  The climbs are rather short but never fail to eliminate several top sprinters.  This year there was a crash less than 30 kilometers from the finish, before the first climb, the Cipressa.  This crash eliminated some of the favorites, who either couldn’t catch up or wore themselves out doing so.  After several breakaway attempts, the peloton came back together and the sprint was won by “some random FDJ guy” (as I put it in my coverage), who turned out to be a young upstart named Arnaud Démare.

Shortly after the race, two riders—Matteo Tosatto (Tinkoff) and Eros Capecchi (Astana)—came forward and said that they saw Démare taking a tow from his team car on the way up the Cipressa.  The race judges decided not to sanction Démare because there was no video evidence of his being towed.  Under questioning, Démare’s FDJ directeur sportif, Frederic Guesdon, who was driving the car that allegedly provided the tow, surprised everybody by saying, “How should I know if Démare took a tow?  I was watching the road!  But he probably did cheat because he’s actually kind of a dick.”

No, of course Guesdon didn’t really say that.  He apparently saw the whole thing—that is, saw the tow not happen—and said so to the press.  Then Démare himself denied the accusations, and it might have ended there, but people kept asking to see Démare’s power stats, which would presumably show any anomalies (i.e., setting a world-record pace up the Cipressa while putting out less than 100 watts).  Guesdon said, “If there’s really a polemic about this, we’ll ask Arnaud to release his power files.”  The files were never released, so everybody flocked to Démare’s Strava page, only to find that the file for this race had been removed.

But wait, there’s more!  A Dutch journalist captured a snapshot of the Strava file before it was taken down, and discovered that Démare had achieved the Strava KOM for the Cipressa—that is, he went up it faster than any Strava member in history.  Subsequently, Démare put the Strava file back up.  Alas, the file does not include any power or heart rate data.  It’s been over a week and nothing official has happened, so it appears Démare will keep the win, but with a huge asterisk in the eyes of many fans (which sounds painful, doesn’t it?)

Evidence in Démare’s favor

Is Démare an unfairly accused champion, or an asshole?  I’ll attempt to get to the bottom of that question, starting with the evidence in Démare’s favor.

First of all, one of his accusers, Mateo Tossato, didn’t actually see Démare holding on to the car; he explained, “I didn’t see if he was on the car window or with a [sticky] bottle.” The implication is that it was one or the other, but in a sport where riders have blamed failed drug tests on a lost chimera or smuggled beef, it’s not that hard to slip between the horns of the dilemma and say Démare held neither a sticky bottle nor a car window.  Tossato simply didn’t see him holding either one—he just saw how fast Démare was going, in close proximity to his team car.

Second, the other accuser, Eros Capecchi, has the first name “Eros,” which means “erotic love.”  What kind of parents would name their child Eros?  Who knows what twisted upbringing this guy had, or what emotional scars he’s accumulated from bullies teasing him over the years?  Being named Eros undercuts his credibility even more than if he showed up to a courtroom wearing a bowtie.

The final problem with the case against Démare is that only two riders have come forward.  If Démare’s tow was as blatant as they say, how come nobody else seems to have seen it?  And how come no fans have come forward with smartphone video footage, when pretty much everything that ever happens anymore is filmed?  If, in a moment of weakness, I were to pick my nose and eat it right now, it’s a fair bet you’d see that video on the Internet within minutes.

Evidence against Démare

One big problem I have with Démare’s professed innocence is that he hasn’t produced his power data.  Guesdon did say, “If there’s really a polemic about this, we’ll ask Arnaud to release his power files,” and “If this continues, that’s something we could do.”  Well, there have been four articles about this on cyclingnews alone, generating close to 200 comments so far … is that not a polemic?  So where are the files?

There’s also the matter of Démare’s response.  His language has been a bit wobbly; he’s said nothing so clear as “I did not hang on to my team car at any time” or “I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”  He has said, “I have done nothing wrong” and, worse, “There are judges in cycling. If I had done something forbidden, I would have been disqualified.” His implicit premise here is that the enforcement of rules is perfect. This is a lot like the Lance Armstrong defense: “I’m the most tested athlete on the planet.”  Démare is conveniently dismissing the possibility that he could have gotten away with cheating, as if not getting caught is proof of innocence.  He’d sound a whole lot better saying, “I didn’t hold on to the car.”

He went on to say, “I sense a little jealousy from some of our rivals after our [i.e., FDJ’s] third place in the team time trial at Tirreno [Adriatico].”  Huh?  This is both a red herring (or “red lobster” as my daughter calls it) and an ad hominem fallacy.  You’d have to be a really, really sore loser to fabricate a story about a rider cheating just because his team got third in a TTT.  Capecchi’s Astana team was all the way down in 6th place, so by Démare’s logic Capecchi would have a vendetta against all 40 riders who beat his team in that race.  Tossato, meanwhile, didn’t even race Tirreno-Adriatico!  This is a pretty weak foundation for Démare to be building a revenge theory on.  I wish I spoke Chinese because I’m told they have a very concise, pithy expression that literally translates “You talk dog farts.”

Then there’s the matter of the Strava KOM.  I saw how fast the peloton went over the Cipressa, and how fast Giovanni Visconti (Movistar Team) was going when he attacked.  I pointed out how quickly Visconti and Ian Stannard (Team Sky) opened up a gap on the peloton.  So how is it that Démare not only went over the Cipressa faster than Visconti, but set a new Strava record in the process, after more than 250 kilometers of racing?  The whole point of the Cipressa is to shed some of the sprinters, who are notoriously challenged by such climbs … and here a pure sprinter sets a new all-time record?

Even more damning, of course, is the mysterious disappearance, and reappearance, of Démare’s Strava file for this race.  Let me guess … somebody hacked Démare’s Strava account because the password was something weak like “password123” or “TTTbronze”?  Or maybe Démare tripped, fell, and landed on the delete key?  Or did he remove the file because he didn’t want to rub people’s noses in the fact that he’d not only won Milan-San Remo but also got the Strava KOM on the Cipressa?

But to me, the most important bit of evidence is that, as acknowledged by his directeur sportif, Démare did take a bottle while climbing the Cipressa.  Why on earth would he do this, if not to take a tow?  Think about it.  You’ve just crashed at the base of a critical climb toward the end of a huge race, you’ve lost over 30 seconds, you know the peloton is already lighting it up ahead of you, and your only chance in the race is to climb like a bat out of hell and try to latch on.  Wouldn’t you be ditching your bottle, to save weight?  You wouldn’t be thinking, “My, I’m in a bit of a pickle, but that shouldn’t mean having to go without some refreshment later on.”

The only reason to take a bottle is to get dragged along a bit.  As far as I’m concerned, a tow is a tow, whether you’re holding onto the car window, a bottle, or your coach’s dick.  (Well, actually, that sounds really dangerous for the coach … but I digress.)

I’ve about had it with all this nonsense I’ve been reading about “sticky bottle” and how it’s just a wink-wink nudge-nudge part of the sport.  I’d never even seen the phrase “sticky bottle” before and now I see there’s even a website by that name, and all these fans saying that getting a tow via a bottle handoff is a widely tolerated part of the sport, to help out those poor unfortunate riders who took a spill and need to get back on.  I don’t care who tolerates it—it’s bullshit, particularly for somebody with designs on winning a major classic.  Asking for a bottle at that point in the race was premeditated cheating, and whether or not Démare deserves to be stripped of the victory, my verdict is that he’s douchebag.

My other verdict

My other verdict in the case is, who the hell cares?  It’s not like this is the first time a pro bike racer has done something douche-y.  It’s ridiculous how many fans have taken to the comments section on cyclingnews to debate Démare’s case back and forth, often attacking each other in the process.

Oh, and now you’re calling me a hypocrite!  Look, I’ve investigated this scandal for one purpose only:  to entertain.  I really couldn’t care less who likes Démare and who doesn’t, and whether or not anybody was swayed by my argument.  I wrote this to make you laugh, to make fun of Eros’s name, to put words in Guesdon’s mouth, and to speculate about how Démare’s Strava file got deleted. If I’ve failed to make you laugh, you can judge me on that basis, but please don’t assume I really care whether or not yet another bike racer cheated.  There are far more pressing debates to have about this sport … and watch these pages, because my next post will tackle a topic truly worth pondering and debating!

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2016 Milan-San Remo

NOTE:  This post is rated R for mild strong language and extremely coarse humor.


Any cycling aficionado will tell you that Milan-San Remo is the most boring one-day race on the entire World Tour calendar.  And you know what?  That’s an unfair thing to say, because actually some cycling aficionados will say it’s quite exciting.  This minority of fans is actually wrong, of course.  The fact is, MSR is a boring-ass race.  The course is too long, and too flat, and the only action that matters is on this tiny little climb toward the end that wouldn’t figure at all except that certain really fast sprinters almost couldn’t make it over a speed bump after almost 300 kilometers of racing.

Being boring, this is a perfect race to follow through my biased blow-by-blow report.  If I think a rider is doping, or ugly, or both, or too dependent on his race radio, I’ll say so.  And if I don’t even know for sure that they’re even using race radios, I’ll just guess.  And if the action gets too boring, I’ll share other tidbits such as riders’ beauty tips to make sure you’re entertained.

Biased Blow-By-Blow - Milan-San Remo 2016

The big news this year is the defending champion John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) will not be lining up in Milan to defend his title.  Evidently he’d promised his wife he’d stain the deck this weekend, having totally forgotten about the race, and his wife put her foot down and wouldn’t let him weasel out of it.  She’s having her family out to visit next week and by god this has to be done, etc.  So the race is really up for grabs now.

As I join the action, there are 78 kilometers left to race.  There’s a breakaway of nobodies 3:39 up the road, and some of them are pretty funny-looking.  One of them has the goofy superhero sunglasses and the Euro-trash mullet.  You can see him at the far left in this photo.  Also note the leader’s ridiculous handlebars.  These nobodies always look a little off to me.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how things pan out,” declares the anonymous Eurosport commentator uselessly.  Has this ever not been true for any bike race, or any sporting event?  I’m going to have to play the devil’s advocate here and tell you:  it’s going to be really boring seeing how things pan out.  Or, conversely, it will be really interesting to walk away from my PC at the end and not see how it pans out.

The peloton is in the feed zone, grabbing musette bags while riding by at like 30 mph.  Pretty impressive.  Little known fact:  almost 40% of English-speaking World Tour riders still call musette bags “horsey bags.”  Apparently that’s what Lance Armstrong called them, and riders either mimicked him out of respect, or because they were scared not to.  Following Lance’s doping scandal, it’s believed that at least half of the riders still saying “horsey bag” are doing it ironically.

The commentator just used the phrase “uphill sections of the climb.”  Where do they find these guys?

It’s 61.3 kilometers to go.  To catch you up on what’s happened since the starting gun went off:  everybody started pedaling, at a “ferocious tempo” according to the Eurosport guy.  Eleven riders broke away.  Their lead has fluctuated between zero and five minutes.  Everybody has been pedaling most of the time.  There is very little coasting.  No rider has gotten lost.  The weather is fair.

With 56.8 kilometers to go, some riders crash!

Nobody slid under barbed wire fence or anything dramatic.  One guy looks like he may have scuffed his shoe.  I’ve definitely seen more interesting crashes, such as this one.

Look at how that wheel collapsed!  Pretty sad that I have to go back to the 2010 Tour de Suisse for an example of a fascinating crash.  On the plus side, look at the damage to this wheel from the crash that just happened:

“It does suit a rider who can ride well,” the announcer says of the finishing stretch of this race.  Is that what passes for insight these days?  I sure hope this is just the B-team, and that we’ll get the good announcers for the last few dozen kilometers.

How come kilograms got to be shortened to kilos?  Who decided that mass is more important than linear measure?  I’d love to type “kilos” instead of “kilometers” but I’d confuse my readers.  It’s so damned unfair.

With 48.5 kilometers to go, the lead is down to 1:38, so it’s like this breakaway never happened.  Maybe one or two of these guys will tell his grandkids, “I was in a breakaway in Milan-San Remo once.  We got caught.”  To which the sniveling little grandkid will reply, “Dammit Grandpa, stop living in the past!”

I interviewed race favorite Peter Sagan (Tinkoff Team) earlier this morning.  He said he didn’t care about the win—he just wants to make the podium so he can show the world how well-behaved he can be this time.  He was referring, of course, to his infamous misstep when he squeezed a podium girl’s tush after the 2013 Tour of Flanders.  I’d always wondered how he expected people to react.  Did he figure the commentators would say something favorable?  “Ah, and there’s Sagan, the perfect gentleman, giving the podium girl a little affection.  A less refined racer would be grabbing handfuls of ass right now.”  I asked Sagan what he was thinking, if anything, when he did that.  “Well, actually, I meant the gesture as a social commentary,” he replied coolly.  “I’ve always been bothered by the barbaric practice of having young models kiss sweaty racers after the race, and I thought by tweaking this retrograde tradition just slightly, I could highlight the absurdity of it and put the sexism issue into starker relief.  And actually, I arranged the whole thing with the podium woman beforehand, so she wouldn’t be surprised.  She’d totally agreed to it and then changed her mind later and acted hurt.  I don’t know what her deal was … probably she was on the rag.  Oh no … did I just say that out loud?”

Sagan is an interesting racer.  On the one hand, he can do a no-handed wheelie while climbing a Huis-Categorie grade, and can ride right up onto the roof of his car.  On the other hand, he looks like the guy on the cover of a romance novel, and has the intellect of a baitfish.

There’s another crash! 

I thought that by employing the exclamation point I could get you excited about the crash.  But it wasn’t that exciting, actually.  If these guys were required to ride with nitroglycerin or some other highly unstable substance in their jersey pockets, such that they actually exploded upon impact, I think you’d see a lot fewer crashes, but they’d be really exciting ones.  The only significant news from this crash is that Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) was involved.  That might cost him the race, if he’s hurt.

In looks like Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) was also caught up in the crash, as he’s furiously chasing the peloton now.  Matthews won two stages at Paris-Nice recently, so he must fancy his chances here today.  Of course, he probably wouldn’t say “fancy” like I just did.  That’s not a very common word, even though it can be used as an adjective (e.g., fancy pants), a verb (e.g., fancy his chances), or a noun (e.g., Cat Fancy magazine).

There are 26 kilometers left and the breakaway has just 15 seconds.  I wonder which chaser will be the first to say, “Okay, guys, the fun and games are over!”  Man, I’d like to be that rider.

I had a brief chat this morning with outside favorite Fernando Gaviria (Etixx-Quick-Step).  Though only 21 years old, and riding in his first MSR, he’s being supported by teammate Tom Boonen, who has decided he no longer enjoys training and will use his huge talent to be an out-of-shape domestique from now on.  Gaviria was nervous before the start.  “My mom’s gonna kill me,” he said.  “I put my retainer under my napkin at dinner last night and must have forgotten about it.  That’s the third one I’ve lost!”  Gaviria is the only rider in this race who is undergoing orthodontia, but a lot of these riders still live with their parents.

With 23 km to go, the peloton is all back together—but somebody attacks!  It’s Giovanni Visconti (Movistar Team) and Ian Stannard (Team Sky) and they quickly open up a nice gap. 

Pretty good move, actually, because there’s a pretty twisty descent and they’ve quickly increased their lead from 12 seconds to 23.  Man, they’re just flying!

Stannard has accidentally dropped Visconti but I’m sure they’ll be back together soon.  Could they hold off the field for 18 kilometers?  Of course not, but they’re surely hoping other great riders will bridge up.  Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) would be just the rider to do that, because he’s plenty strong but of course couldn’t win a field sprint because he’s older than George Burns.

Three more riders have joined the lead duo.  They’re about 7 km from the Poggio, which passes for a climb after so many hours in the saddle.  The lead is down to 15 seconds with Katusha and BMC leading the chase, and Etixx-Quick-Step starting to get their guys in position.  I have to predict an Etixx-Quick-Step victory because two of the widely touted favorites are on this team (Gaviria along with Zdeněk Štybar), and it can’t hurt having Boonen helping.

With 2 km until the Poggio, the group is suddenly caught.  I never even got those other three guys’ names.

It’s under 10 km to go and Greg Avermaet (Team BMC) is on the front drilling it, as he is wont to do.  Michael Matthews has reconnected to the peloton but is dying on the back.

“It’s all about going as hard as you can,” says the practically brain-dead commentator.

Alexander Kristoff (Team Katusha) is well placed.  Obviously he’s a favorite.  His boys are collected at the front along with a bunch of BMC guys.  The pace doesn’t actually look that high … the group is pretty much gutter-to-gutter whereas if the hammer had gone down, it’d be a narrow line.

Some dude is attacking!  It’s Filippo Pozzato (Southeast-Venezuela) according to the graphics, but the announcer says, “No, it’s not, it’s number 180.”  There is no number 180 in this race, according to the cyclingnews start list.  So I have no idea who this guy is.  Fortunately, he’s caught and dropped.

Kristoff attacks, followed by Michal Kwiatkoski (Team Sky)!  This could be a really good move!  He’s first over the Poggio!  And now Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Team) is going after him!  What, are you kidding?!  We got us a bike race here!

With 5 km to go, Kwiatkoski has a handful of seconds, but Nibali and Cancellara are closing fast!  But as the road goes up with about 4 km to go, the gap is going back up!  Nibali goes for it up the left of the road, just flying!  With 3.2 km, Kwiatkoski has 4 seconds and still looks great! 

Right on schedule, my feed freezes!  My wife is running the microwave and it’s jamming the WiFi!  I’m doomed!

Whew, I got my wife to delay her breakfast and now my picture is back.  With 1.8 km to go, Etixx-Quick-Step is drilling it on the front and 5 seconds isn’t much anymore.  Cancellara is on the warpath now, and Edvald Boassan Hagen (Dimension Data) flies off up the right side, joined by Van Avermaet with 1 km to go!  Boassan Hagen is killing it on the front with 500 meters to go!  Cancellara isn’t far back!  Now they’re looking at each other, and a dude stacks!  But somehow, not a single rider is taken down with him!  DAAAAAMN!

The road is slightly uphill and the sprint is well underway!  Wow, it’s some random FDJ guy on the front!

And the race goes to Arnaud Démare, a Frenchman! 

A Frenchman hasn’t won this in like twenty years!  The dude is totally stoked and as he is mobbed by his teammates, he’s whooping like an American, like a cracker from the deep South no less!  What a win!  What a race!

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Saturday, March 12, 2016

Biased Blow-By-Blow: 2016 Paris-Nice Stage 6


You don’t have time to watch Paris-Nice.  Or, you can’t remember how to TiVo it.  (Or maybe TiVo no longer exists, maybe you kids have moved on to something else—I don’t know.)  It could be you don’t care enough about this middling race to get up early.  Whatever the case, you’ve come to the right place for a somewhat brief, admittedly snarky blow-by-blow report of the queen stage.

2016 Paris-Nice Stage 6 – Nice-La Madone d’Uteile

As I join the action, Andrew Talansky has abandoned the race!  This is really weird because a few minutes ago, when I hadn’t logged in yet but was following the cyclingnews coverage on my phone, he was in the breakaway.  WTF??  Evidently he crashed on a descent and hurt his wrist while I was making tea.  If I’d had my old teakettle, the good one, I wouldn’t have missed seeing that.

The video feeds are scarce today.  The best I can do for commentary is some Aussie or Kiwi guy.  He seems to be flying solo … nobody to chat with so I’m missing the repartee I normally enjoy.  It’s usually some British guy matched with Sean Kelly, the Irish champ.  So I’m disappointed. 

There’s about 35 km to go and they’re on the Category 2 Côte de Levens.  After this is the Côte Duranuus (literally “coast of your anus”), also Cat 2, even though it’s only a mile long.  How can a mile-long climb be a Cat 2?  Rating inflation, I tell you.  Pretty sad.  Then they hit the Cat 1 Madone d’Uteile (“useful Madaonna”), which is 9.5 miles long and averages 5.7% … so it’s about like Mount Diablo in the Bay Area.

“Mother Nature was at her moody worst on Stage 3 when snow canceled the stage,” the random announcer guy says.  I guess I never realized how much I appreciate the banter of two commentators.  Heck, at this point I’d take Howard Stern helping out.  What would he say?  “Yeah, Mother Nature is moody.  I’d like to see her naked.  I’ll bet she’s got a hot little body.”  Maybe that wouldn’t be so good, actually.

So, to catch you up on what’s transpired in the first five stages of this race:  Michael Matthews (Orice-GreenEdge) won the prologue and has been in yellow ever since; stage one was won by Arnaud Démare (FDJ) in a bunch sprint; stage two was awarded to Matthews when Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) practically rode him into the fencing in the final sprint and was relegated to third (and it’s amazing they stayed upright); stage 3 was canceled because of snow; on Stage 4 Bouhanni managed not to get penalized and took the win; and yesterday Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) soloed to victory and now sits 2nd on the GC, just 6 seconds behind Matthews.

The announcer is talking about taxes.  Whoah, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) attacks!  His team has been on the front hammering the whole time, and now with 28 km to go, he bolts ahead on the flat section between these two climbs.  Ah, going for the time bonus.  So he’s got it, and is now waiting for the peloton to come back and shelter him again.  I wouldn’t call this an ingenious move, exactly, but the question is, why did Matthews’ team not see it coming?  Or are they just too tired to react, having needlessly ridden at the front all week?

My original feed has died, possibly because my cat keeps walking on the keyboard.  The French feed has ads too, and they are pretty corny.  Now the sound is gone altogether.  Cat again.  She’s a kitten and is super bored by bike racing, even more so than my wife.  At least Erin doesn’t jump up and bat at the screen.  Now sound is back but I’m not following the commentator very well.  I think he’s talking some pro-Socialist propaganda.  “Blah blah blah c’est normal.”  Now it’s something about somebody going to the hospital tomorrow.

The breakaway—whose members I never did report, sorry—is breaking up anyway.  It’s a breakupaway.  Antoine Duchesne (Direct Energie) is leading solo but with only 41 seconds on the field.  Now it’s an ad for the Quesalupa, which is like a French hot-pocket.  I guess that marks the end of Western Civilization.  Oh, wait, that’s an American ad (the lack of sound threw me).  It’s okay for the U.S. to have Mexican-themed hot pockets since we’re already ruined.  But when France gets the hot pocket, the terrorists win.

Woah, Matthews is really struggling!  Bobbing in the saddle and slipping off the back!  And now Team Sky is on the front for the first time, banging away like a bunch of animals!  And Matthews is dropped!  Good.  I’ve got nothing against the guy, but picking up some seconds in the prologue, a few more due to a contested finish, and then hanging on for the GC win would just be too boring.

Duchesne is climbing on the drops now.  Now he’s out of the saddle like it’s the final sprint.  Maybe he’s delusional and thinks he’s 200 meters from the line.  Now his head goes down … he’s cooked.  Poor guy.  At least he got some screen time.  Maybe his four-year-old daughter is watching on TV and when her dad gets home tomorrow she’ll burst out crying and say, “Daddy, you always lose!”

The peloton, all back together now except those who’ve been shed—including Matthews, who’s already lost over 40 seconds—is on the final descent before the Madone.  It’s a mountaintop finish today, which is why I’m bothering to watch.

Sky still has five guys on the front, despite the six categorized climbs the stage has already gone over.  That’s just how they roll.  They’ll be working for Geraint Thomas, who sits in 6th place, starting the day only 23 seconds behind Matthews.  Thomas is six feet tall and a team pursuit specialist, but the hilly terrain of this “queen stage” will suit him well, because all terrain suits Sky.  They’d probably excel at the hammer throw and discus as well.

Speaking of Sky and favorites, Richie Porte has switched over to BMC Racing Team this season, and sits tenth, 31 seconds back.  If he wins this race, I’m going to put my head in the oven.  I won’t turn on the gas or anything; it’s just a bike race, after all … but I’ll hang out there for a while, maybe scrub the thing out while I’m at it.

Another favorite, if you ask me, has to be Rafal Majka (Tinkoff).  He’s awfully good, and sits 9th, 31 seconds back.  If Contador doesn’t go well, Majka will be the backup plan.

Whoah!  I guess the Aussie announcer just bailed, maybe to go throw a coupla more shrimp on the barbee, because now it’s a British guy whose voice sounds familiar, and Sean Kelly!  My heart rate just broke 50 for the first time all morning!

Sky’s Nicolas Roche, who is a giant guy, finally detonates.  That’s good to see.  Fate shouldn’t jam.  When fate jams, I start to doubt what I’m seeing.

It’s 11 km to go, and the field is shrinking.  I think Lutsenko has been dropped.  After his effort yesterday I’ll bet he’s pretty fried.

Porte must be missing his old Sky team now … BMC has totally bailed off the back and he’s all alone.  Serves him right, the prick.

Whoah, it’s still five Sky riders, even with Roche dropped.  Either somebody else came flying up from the back of the peloton, or I miscounted earlier.

Contador and Majka are drilling it on the front!  Majka is leading Contador and the field has pretty much evaporated, straight up vacated, surely deflated and enervated.

I guess I spoke too soon.  Sky has dragged about ten guys back up.  But the pace is still high and more guys are gonna get sawed off the back in the remaining 8.5 km.  Man, Majka looks “seemingly infinitely powerful,” to quote an old cycling sage.  Poker-faced and just sitting on the front setting a high tempo.  Contador looks totally collected and comfortable.  He never looks too strained, of course, but if you look carefully (for example, when he’s riding with a broken tibia) you can see his pre-orthodontia overbite returning a little.  It’s not a good look.  And when he’s really dying, his upper lip creeps up and he starts to look a bit like a donkey.  None of that now.

Alexa Albert (Albany High School Cougars) chooses an odd time to take a feed, but she executes well, just like we practiced.

Porte is just sitting in this lead group, also looking as casual and unfazed as that chick at the gym on the Stairmaster who’s reading “Us” magazine, supporting all her weight on her hands, so her feet are just paddling along pointlessly.

It’s 7 km to go and Majka just stays on it.  Contador will have to do something soon because he has 5 seconds to make up on Porte and is 14 seconds behind Thomas.

With 6 km to go they hit a really steep section, about a kilometer at 10%. 

Majka takes advantage of the grade, out of the saddle attacking in earnest!  Contador is right on him, with a couple Sky guys sitting on him.  Contador counterattacks and the field is shattered!  Majka detonates and is done for the day.  Contador is macking a huge gear, and has a gap on the two Sky dopers!  He’s going pretty well but it’s two against one and when the grade flattens out they’ll have a real edge.  Ah, it’s already coming back together.

The Sky duo has caught Contador, and so has Porte.  The rest of the field has dropped 13 seconds behind.  A Katusha rider, Ilnur Zakarin (who sits 25th overall) has also joined this group.  He’s a big Russian guy and looks oddly comfortable.  The Sky riders are Thomas and Sergio Henao.

Contador attacks again!  He’s going pretty well but keeps looking over his shoulder—“Are they dead yet?”—which somehow always strikes me as a bad sign.  Now Zakarin is on the front, still looking really good.  It’s 3 km to go.  With the time bonuses, the GC could be tighter than ever by the end.  Wow, Kelly just said the same thing!  I feel honored.

Now Henao is on the front, knocking out a high tempo to set up Thomas.  It’s 2 km to go.  God, that Russian guy, Zakarin, he’s giant!  Like a giraffe running with zebras.

And now Porte attacks!  He’s instantly neutralized.  He probably misses the really good dope they have over at Sky.  Thomas is taunting him:  “Where’s your ‘winter training’ now, Porte!  Ha ha ha!”

Porte flicks his elbow, as if to say, “Your turn.”  I guess he forgot Thomas isn’t his teammate anymore.

My feed has gone away!  Dang it!  With less than 1km to go I have to switch over and watch the French feed.  Thomas totally launches himself!  Only Zakarin can follow! 

But Contador is putting up a good fight.  It’s not enough!  He’s well and truly gapped!  Thomas looks solid but Zakarin comes by as they approach the line!

Zakarin takes the win!  Whoah, I did not see that coming!  Never even heard of the guy before.

That’ll shake up the GC quite a bit.  Remember, Zakarin was 47 seconds back, so he won’t take the GC lead.  I reckon it’ll go to Thomas, because he only needed 5 seconds on Tom Dumoulin (Team Giant-Alpecin), who is the only GC contender left who was anywhere near him, and, actually, he wasn’t.  Here’s the final stage results:

Unfortunately, the coverage seems to have ended.  Or is this just a commercial break?  I’m having to watch a trailer for “Plus Belle la Vie,” some French TV show.  It looks really boring:  just some good looking French women and ugly French men waving guns around.  Something about a French person waving a gun around just doesn’t seem convincing.  Give a handgun to any American of any age, from toddler up to bluehair, and that’s some scary shit.  You better believe the American will shoot.  But you could wave off a gun-wielding Frenchman:  “Don’t make me laugh.”

The top three on GC are Thomas in the lead, with Contador 15 seconds back, and Zakarin another 5 seconds behind.  Tomorrow’s stage is a bit lumpy with a couple of so-called Category 1 climbs, but there’s a 15 km descent to the finish which so often rules out a significant breakaway.  I think another Paris-Nice goes to Sky, thanks to the eerily strong performance, on this mountainous stage, of their ringer, a giant former track racer.  Go Goliath!

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Fiction - The Howard Johnson’s Motel


What follows is a work of fiction.  Any characters, places, or sentiments are purely the product of the blogger’s imagination and any resemblance to any actual character, place, or sentiment is purely coincidental.  The sole exception is the staircase, which is based on an actual staircase of the Penthouse Apartments on Abrego Road in Isla Vista, California, which is used fictitiously.


Congratulations!  You have booked a double-queen-bed double-occupancy doubleplusgood guest room at the spacious and elegant Howard Johnson’s motor hotel in the charming, semi-sunny mini-tropolis of Seaside, California!  While lodging at the Howard Johnson’s (hint:  call it “HoJo” and you’ll sound like a local!), you’ll enjoy fabulous amenities including Rise & Dine™, our copyrighted, patented, totally free heart-healthy GMO-optional organic-ish continental breakfast, just like what is served on The Continent to expatriates who want to feel like repatriates!  Gluten and gluten-free choices available.  Vegan, vegetarian, ovo-lacto, and meat-lovers’ selections also offered (where available). Child-friendly pastries?  Check!  Fair-, non-fair, and unfair trade coffee and tea products on tap?  Yours to discover.  Fresh milk, that pours out of an old-school pitcher?  Got that.  Weird simulation milk/creamer/kreamer based on corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, dipotassium phosphate, mono- and diglycerides?  Got that too, in an array of stunning flavors!  Plastic coffee stirring sticks that might mess up your hormones?  Check, please!  (But there’s no check—like we said, it’s totally free!)

In-room, you’ll also enjoy free wireless Internet access using the very latest 802.11ac standards, brought to you by Howard Johnson’s and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE (hint:  say it “eye triple-E” and you’ll sound like a local!).  This totally free connection will support data rates far in excess of what you ever believed possible, so you can surf like a modern-day Kahanamoku on your favorite websites, from Facebook to Gracebook to Disgracebook!  All without dipping into your precious 4G LTE data plan! 

And did somebody ask about carpet?  This guest room has it—from wall to wall, in breathtaking reddish colors and with the kind of luxurious and yet versatile foot-feel you can only get from real simulated-wool nylon!  Comfortable chair in-room?  You betcha (where available).  Hot running water?  Got that too—with HoJo’s special MildChildSafeSelect™  water temperature regulator so your little ones—who stay free at HoJo, by the way—won’t blanch the flesh off their hands like at that last place!  In-room coffee?  Yes, in a snap, with that big funky teabag-cartridge type thing that James Bond would use if he weren’t an Englishman who drinks tea instead (and yes, you also can choose from in-room fresh brewed tea selections!). 

As would-be valued members of Wyndham Rewards (would-be members, not would-be valued, since you’re already valued!), you could be earning up to 1,390 points, valid toward toilet and toilet paper upgrades, Real™ in-room dairy creamer upgrades, welcome mat monogram upgrades (allow six weeks for delivery), and priority ice machine access.  But since you’re not Wyndham Rewards members, at least not that you know of since you may have lost track (hey, we understand, we’ve been there), you’ll instead be receiving daily e-mail updates providing detailed information about how to join the élite cadre of travelling professionals (and retirees!) who enjoy the full benefits, and prestige, of Rewards membership.

Terms, conditions, caveats, and qualifications

Wyndham Rewards void where prohibited (e.g., competing motels).  Check-in is at 2p.m. sharp, but guests are invited to use the parking lot—complete with free wireless Internet access—from 1 p.m. onward except during holiday Blacktop Blackout™ periods, which are reserved for Family Fun Time™.  Hopscotch and Four-Square encouraged.  Blacktop-based ball games are BYOB (Bring Your Own Ball) and BYOC (Bring Your Own Chalk).  Pets are allowed near all guest rooms (no pets in-room, please). 

Howard Johnson’s is not responsible for Internet backbone congestion, WiFi radio interference, mobile device battery life, websites you wish you’d never visited featuring images you wish you could un-see, or poor quality television programming. 

Howard Johnson’s makes every effort to provide a clean, comfortable room, but our housekeeping associates are only human.  We cannot guarantee you won’t find a pair of a previous guest’s underwear briefs hanging from the inside doorknob of the bathroom, or an old earplug under the bed.

HoJo offers in-room ClimateControlSelect™ heating/cooling/ventilation systems (hint:  call it “HVAC” and you’ll sound like a local!) which should assure your comfort regardless of weather conditions.  In certain situations you may discover that the ClimateControlSelect™ unit cycles loudly on and off all night no matter what you do with the controls, and we recommend turning up the in-room refrigerator to mitigate HVAC-based sound pollution.  HoJo is not responsible for lost sleep.  Be careful driving or operating heavy machinery after any night disrupted by ClimateControlSelect™. 

Urban myth has it that a HoJo guest once found mushrooms growing in the bathtub.  That simply never happened, at least at a HoJo property.  However, HoJo cannot guarantee that this will never happen at a HoJo Motel (hint:  call it “HoJoMo” and you’ll sound like a local!).  In the event you discover mushrooms in a HoJoMo bathtub, please note that they are almost certainly not mushrooms but toadstools, and consuming them could lead to illness or even death.

The HoJo Company (hint:  call it “HoJoCo” and you’ll sound like a local!) acknowledges that, despite what we said earlier about James Bond drinking tea, he actually does not drink tea, and once said to his secretary, “I don’t drink tea.  I hate it.  It’s mud ... be a good girl and make me some coffee.”  This does not mean you may address a HoJo guest services associate as “good girl” (hint:  call her “HoJoHo” and you’ll sound like an asshole, so don’t do that either).

There may be a full-size posterboard picture of our strange bearded mascot in the lobby, which may scare small children, nearsighted seniors, or tripping teenagers.  HoJoCo is not responsible for cardiac events, swooning, or freaking out associated with this corporate branding. 

HoJoCo is also not responsible for explaining what has happened to society such that weird bearded dudes who scare children and seniors have replaced what by any measure would be reckoned a much more pleasant image.

HoJo has made significant progress in property design since the early days when an orange roof was considered clever and avant-garde.  Our HoJoMos feature award-winning architectural features combining the best of scalable, repeatable designs that look great while keeping our properties affordable.  Note that the following photo may or may not accurately depict a HoJoMo interior:

It is possible that the HoJoMo property you visit will have a lobby more closely resembling a structure your kids made out of Lego back when Lego was just simple bricks, before they got all fancy.  HoJoCo reserves the right to substitute, for the backlit, indoor staircase shown above, an outdoor staircase with no risers, only treads, made of extruded concrete and studded with little smooth pebbles (like so many staircases in the ‘70s) that become incredibly slick when wet, so you might slip while descending and find your foot slipping beneath the railing, which may peel the skin off your shin like the curls of wood off a carpenter’s rasp, leaving a permanent scar.  By reserving this room you agree to release HoJoCo from all liability stemming from this or any injury, real or imagined.

Maximum occupancy of each room is limited to four persons.  In the event that you exceed this by packing 8 or 10 bicycle racers in the room, along with 8 or 10 bicycles, HoJoCo is not responsible for your brother’s girlfriend claiming you were hitting on her during the night when all you were doing was trying to pull more of the blankets over to your side.


Loved this place!
««««« Reviewed 2 days ago

I’m crazy about HoJoMo’s!  Call me HoJoLoCo and you’ll sound like a local, LOL!  The manager opened up the Rise & Dine™ continental breakfast half an hour early so my daughter could fuel up for her bike race and still get on the road on time.  As a famous cyborg once said, I’ll be back!

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