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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