Saturday, May 28, 2016

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2016 Giro d'Italia Stage 20

Note:  this post is rated PG-13 for mild strong language.


Perhaps, like me, you forgot to watch the Giro this year.  Well, good news:  today’s penultimate stage is the hardest and most important one, and there’s still no clear favorite to win the general classification.  So you’ve come at just the right time.  You’ve come to the right place, too, because I’m not bound by any journalistic standards, so I’ll say what I really think instead of biting my tongue all the time.  Professional journalists covering this sport must have lots of scar tissue on their tongues.

2016 Giro d’Italia Stage 20 – Guillestre (France) to Sant’ Anna di Vinadio

As I join the action, the racers have gone over the Col de la Bonette, the highest climb of the day (and second highest of the Giro, by a slim margin).  Mikel Nieve (Team Sky) soloed on that climb and got enough points to take over the KOM jersey.  He’s almost a minute ahead of a chase group of like 7 guys.  The peloton is 10 minutes back.

They’re interviewing Steven Kruijswijk (Team Lotto NL-Jumbo).  Well, actually, they couldn’t be, because he’s racing, whereas in the interview he’s in a t-shirt and not on a bicycle.  I’m going to have to guess that the interview was filmed earlier.  Poor Kruijswijk.  First of all, he’s got these extra letter Js in his name, meaning the highway patrol is bound to give him a hard time when they read his driver license.  “How do you pronounce that?”  /  “KRYSE-wick.” / “Doesn’t look like it to me.  Have you been drinking?”  And then there’s the gym teachers who loved to yell, “Christ, Kruijswijk!”  Though the Dutch probably have a different word for “Christ.”  Well, anyway, the other thing is that Kruijswijk was leading the Giro until yesterday, when he totally stacked into a snowbank and his bike went cartwheeling off like a pinwheel.  (Do pinwheels cartwheel?  No, but his bike did.)  He had bike problems after that, and then leg problems, and lost like five minutes and now sits third on the GC, just over a minute back.  Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) is in pink, 44 seconds over yesterday’s stage winner, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). 

The racers have about 47 km (29 miles) left to go, and are on the long descent approaching the last major climb, the Category 1 Colle Della Lombarda.

There’s an ad at the bottom of my Internet feed that says, “Do you want to stop snoring?”  I’m expecting it to go on, “Then stop watching bike race coverage!”  Okay, that’s not fair.  Bike race coverage is only boring to typical American sports fans, who can only get interested if their countrymen are in contention or if a bike race organizer has guaranteed lots of crashes.  I gave up on expecting American bike race victories long ago.  “We” have a guy in 39th place in the GC, Joe Dombrowski; and Nathan Brown is in 48th, then Ian Boswell in 75th, Chad Haga in 81st, and Joseph Rosskopf in 106th.  I’ve never heard of any of these guys, except Ian Boswell, and maybe I’m confusing him with that guy on “Charlie’s Angels.”

After a fairly mellow descent the peloton threads its way through a pretty little town.  I don’t think they much care about the breakaway up ahead, which still has about 10 minutes.  Mostly they’re just dreading the inevitable drop of the hammer, for surely the GC will be decided on this climb.  These dudes have got to be pretty tired after almost three weeks of racing.  I wonder if they slept well, or if they’re too sore and/or stressed.  For no good reason, I slept like crap last night and could really use a blood bag myself.

So, I’ve just realized that Dombrowski (Cannondale Pro Cycling) is in the breakaway (which has absorbed Nieve, by the way).  So I guess I do have an American to root for today.  Does that get me extra-excited?  Not really.  I don’t pretend that just because he’s American he’s a good guy.  He could be a complete dick for all I know.  Think of your worst enemy, and now imagine he’s in the breakaway.  You’d be like, “Oh no, not that jerk!  I hate him!”  You wouldn’t care that he’s American, would you?  I mean, unless you’re the typical rabid sports fan.

There are endless ads during this coverage so I’ll continue my Theory of Bike Race Spectating.  The reason I enjoy watching this is that I can relate.  I mean, no, I’ve never been that fast, obviously, and I surely haven’t suffered as much as these guys, but I have suffered and have a taste of the specific suffering they do.  And sometimes I can relate very specifically.  Like Kruijswijk’s crash into the snowbank:  I’ve done that!  It was in junior high.  I was riding home from school on my 3-speed and saw a friend way off in the distance, walking.  So I started sprinting toward him, all-out, and when I got close I yelled his name.  He looked back.  Suddenly I felt foolish:  the only logical thing to do, having gotten his attention, would be to plow into him.  But that would hurt.  Feeling I had to do something, I steered toward this giant snowbank.  I thought maybe it would just stop me gracefully, spraying snow everywhere, or maybe its surface would be glazed and it would be like a big gnarly jump, which would be cool.  But instead it stopped my front wheel dead, and I flipped right over the bars, soared through the air, and hit the ground like a sack of rocks.  My friend was aghast at my stupidity.  And I lost the Giro that day.

They’re showing footage of the finish line, where nothing important is happening.  Is this coverage sexist?

The breakaway has reached the base of the Colle Della Lombarda.  The Estonian rider Rein Taaramäe (Team Katusha) is on the front, driving a nice tempo.  His name, Rein, is an anagram of “rien,” French for “nothing.”  My wife’s name is also an anagram of “rien,” and (as you just realized, beating me to the punch) my own name is an anagram of “nada,” Spanish for “nothing.”  See how much I have in common with these guys?

Giovanni Visconti (Movistar Team) is on the front now, with Dombrowski on his wheel.  Whoah, Dombrowski attacks! 

He’s already got a  huge gap!  A bold move, with 29 km (18 miles) to go.  But man, he’s solid.  Darwin Atapuma (BMC Racing Team) bridges up to him, and if you think I’m going to make some lame joke about “survival of the fittest,” you’ve got the wrong blog.

The peloton still hasn’t made it to the base of this climb.  It’s a huge peloton, meaning they’ve been loafing all day.  Nibali is practically coated with Astana riders.  They’re doing a super-slo-mo of his helmet strap—which is way too loose—flapping in the breeze.  I don’t get that.  I mean, if you have to wear a helmet, why not get some benefit from it by fitting it properly?  Is this a small act of rebellion?

Dombrowski is looking incredibly strong.  Atapuma, whom they call “the puma” in my daydreams, is just sitting on.  I often have daydreams of these racers on the school playground, and it’s always a playground in America, so I guess I am nationalistic after all.  Or just unimaginative.

There’s a guy in this race with the last name “Bongiorno.”  I can’t believe that.  Do you know anybody with the last name “Good Day”?  It’s as corny as “Suzy Chapstick.”

The peloton is on the big climb now.  The Eurosport announcer likes to say “danger men.”  I don’t think anybody in this race is really a danger man.  I hear “danger men” and I think of all those Texans who have gun racks in their pickup trucks, a gun rack in their living room, and a sidearm in every drawer.

Chaves is sitting behind the big clump of Astana riders, who are behind the Tinkoff guys.  Tinkoff is driving the pace for Rafal Majka, who sits 5th on GC, 2:14 down.  He’s a damn good climber and could win the whole thing today.  Look at his teammate with the spotty beard and thick Euro-mullet.

Up at the front of the race, Visconti has bridged up to Dombrowski and Atapuma.  Dombrowski is still leading.  He’s been in the lead the entire climb.  Why doesn’t he make these guys take any pulls?  Perhaps they have prodigious flatulence.  Okay, Atapuma’s ears must have started burning because he finally pulls through.

The chase group of four, with Nieve, is a right fur piece behind the leaders.  I can’t be any more precise than that.  Oh, finally, they show the split time:  40 seconds.  This climb ends about 10 km (6 miles) from the finish, so they’ve still got about 13 km (8 miles) to the summit.  Man, that’s a fricking long climb.  It’s almost as impressive as the Tinkoff guy’s mullet.  Tinkoff continues to lead the peloton.  I can’t wait until Nibali and Majka start attacking each other.

Dombrowski is back on the front.  You know, if this lead holds, he could move into like 34th place overall on GC, maybe even higher!

Atapuma has taken several pulls now, but Visconti is just sitting on the back of this trio, sucking wheel like a little bitch.  Race announcer Sean Kelly is talking about that now (employing euphemism, of course, being a professional).  Says Visconti is probably making the excuse that he’s working for his teammate Alejandro Valverde, the filthy doper ten minutes behind him on the road, who sits in 6th overall, tied on time with Majka and with Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale Pro Cycling).

The announcers were saying Nieve has the KOM jersey in the bag, but I’m not so sure.  He’s not even wearing it—he didn’t move into the virtual lead until this stage—and there must be lost of points available for this climb.  I don’t think he can afford to get dropped.  I also don’t think you even care.  I guess I can’t blame you.

If this Eurosport announcer says “at the minute” one more time, I’m going to reach through this Internet feed and strangle him.

Wow, the peloton has really thinned out.  It’s down to like 14 guys.

The leaders have 20 km to go.  Atapuma has just pulled off and is now yelling at Visconti, presumably in Spanish, which Visconti either doesn’t understand or is pretending not to.  Atapuma’s vague hand gestures are getting the point across, though not as well as a more specific gesture.  I guess he’s got his endorsement prospects to think about, and I get that.  Have you ever noticed that Eminem, though the best rapper alive, doesn’t get any celebrity endorsements?  Hmm, I guess I’m wrong about that … I just did a little Internet search and it turns out Eminem has a deal with Chrysler.  So I think Atapuma should flip Visconti off right now, and then get on his radio and tell his directeur sportif, “Get my agent in touch with Chrysler!”

Michele Scarponi is pouring on the pace for Astana.  And now he attacks!  Nibali immediately grabs his wheel, and Chaves is right on him.  Chaves has a pretty good poker face.

Valverde is sitting pretty comfortable in this group, which is down to 8 riders.  I don’t see any Orica-GreenEdge riders there to support Chaves, and Nibali is down to just Scarponi for help.  It’s refreshing to not see Sky massing at the front.

Wow, while the camera was focused on the GC battle, things changed in the breakaway.  Tanel Kangert (Astana Pro Team) and Taaramäe have bridged up, so it’s now a group of five.  I’m sure this is exactly what Dombrowski and Atapuma didn’t want.  The breakaway’s lead is down to 9:14 with just under 6 km (3.5 miles) until the summit.  Taaramäe takes a solid pull on the front.

So the chase group (i.e., what had been the peloton) is down to Scarponi, Majka, Kruijswijk, Valverde, Chaves, Nibali, Uran, and Bob Jungels (Etixx-Quick-Step).  Not surprisingly, Chaves is right on Nibali’s wheel.

Taaramäe has attacked the breakaway!  He looks really strong.  His bike, however, is butt-ugly.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such an ugly bike.  Look at the half-assed decal, dripping off the down tube.  And what the hell are those handlebars?  They look like a child made them out of a pipe cleaner.  And the brake levers are mounted so high up … the mechanic should be stoned to death.  Unless Taaramäe likes them like that, in which case he should be stoned to death, in front of his family.

And now Visconti attacks!  I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.  Just annoyed.  I’ll admit it, I kind of have it in for anybody on Movistar.  They just seem dopey.  Not in the sense of stupid or checked-out, but in the sense of syringes and so forth.

And now Dombrowski attacks!  Atapuma quickly responds but for now they’ve gapped Visconti.

Dammit.  The announcer just said “at the minute” again.  Will somebody tell him that he’s not allowed to make up his own expressions?  Does he think he can popularize this expression, then copyright it (like “Threepeat”), and make some money on the side?

Taaramäe has a huge gap now.  Visconti is back with Dombrowski and Atapuma.

Jungels looks like he’s having too much fun here.  Ah, youth!  (He leads the Young Rider classification and will almost certainly sew that up today.)

Nibali attacks!  Chaves is right on him, with Valverde stuck to Chaves.  They’ve got a bit of a gap.  And now Nibali attacks again, and he’s got a pretty good gap!  Chaves doesn’t appear to be panicking, but maybe he should.  Perhaps his directeur sportif hasn’t given the order to panic yet.  “Don’t panic … don’t panic … okay, panic!  You’re losing the Giro!”

Chaves is trying to hang on Valverde’s wheel and is just barely getting the job done.  It’s really looking like he’s going to end up second on GC by the end of the day.  Nibali is just pulling away, looking incredibly strong.  He’s got his necklace out.  I wonder if he did that to intimidate the others.  “You see that?  I’m religious.  I have faith.  Therefore I cannot crack psychologically.”

Ah, and now we see some intelligent teamwork.  Kangert has dropped back from the breakaway to pace Nibali.  I really like Kangert, and I just figured out why:  his name makes me think of Kanga, the marsupial mommy in “Winnie the Pooh.”  She was always my favorite character.  That’s right, I liked her even more than Tigger.

And just like that, Nibali takes off again.  Either he doesn’t think he needs much pacing from Kangert, or Kangert wasn’t going fast enough.  Needless to say it isn’t enough to drop Chaves on this climb; Nibali needs to take enough time to hold it over the last descent and still have 45 seconds on him by the finish.

I wish I knew the gap between Taaramäe and the chasing trio.  They could pull back some time on that descent if they work together well.

Chaves has detonated!  Poor guy.  Look, his handlebars have even slipped down.  Soon his tires will go flat.  His helmet will melt.  Pigeons will start shitting on him.

Atapuma dropped Visconti and Dombrowski somewhere along the line.

Finally, Visconti takes a pull.  Maybe just to get some KOM points, as he and Dombrowski cross over the summit.  It’s only 2 km to go for Taaramäe now, so I probably don’t even need to know the split … I think he’s got this in the bag.

Nibali is on the final descent now.  He’s a great descender and it’s a pretty basic descent … I suspect he won’t take any chances now, because he’s more than 45 seconds ahead of Chaves and will extend his lead over the final Cat 3 climb to the finish.

Taaramäe looks totally solid as he heads for a solo stage victory.

They’re showing Astana’s directeur sportif, Alexandre Vinokourov, and he’s really wincing.  Perhaps Nibali is descending a bit too fast for his taste.  Truly, only a crash now could rob him of Giro victory.

I do not know how far Atapuma is behind Taaramäe, but he is definitely running out of road.  This finishing section winds around all over the place, which may help Taaramäe … if Atapuma could see him ahead he might find some extra motivation.

I think I just missed Taaramäe’s finish because of an ad for cat treats.  God I hate advertising.  That does it, I’m never buying my cat a treat again.

Yep, the footage is back and I’m watching Dombrowski take third.

It’s a good thing I’m not a rabidly patriotic sports fan because I’d be really bummed right now.  I wonder if Dombrowski could have won this if he hadn’t led the breakaway for so long.

Chaves has been caught by everybody and her mom.  He may not even hold on to second.  Nibali has 1 km to go.  He still looks pretty solid, and has a gap of more than a minute.  Actually, though, his cadence is slowing.  And he’s really grimacing.  Clearly this dude is suffering mightily.

And now Nibali finishes, really straining over the last really steep bit to the line.

The announcer says “And Visconti finishes.”  What a dope.  Visconti finished minutes ago.  It’s Valverde who’s finishing at the minute, of course.

Okay, thanks to the instant replay, you get to see a photo of Taaramäe taking the stage.

It’s a great day for anagrams-of-“nothing”-name-bearers everywhere!  You know what?  I think I like this guy.  I’m even going to forgive him for his ugly-ass bike and its grotesque handlebars.

Here are the final stage results:

Whoah, how about that!  The announcer was right after all ... that was Visconti finishing well behind Nibali.  I got confused because as you’ll recall, Visconti was up in the breakaway until very late in the race, not doing a lick of work.  And he somehow lost 6½ minutes to Dombrowski in the last few kilometers!  Here’s where the journalists have to bite their tongues ... the Eurosport announcer must have felt like saying, “Wow, after freeloading the whole race, Visconti must have fricking detonated!  How do you like that.  Justice is served, at the minute.  That Visconti ... what a pussy!”

The GC has been calculated, and Nibali now leads by 52 seconds, meaning the Giro is essentially over, since tomorrow’s stage is actually very slightly downhill.  Here’s what the final GC will probably be, with Valverde passing up Kruijswijk to take the final podium spot.

 Nibali takes the podium, flanked by a couple of women who must be related to him or something.  Sisters, perhaps?  Because otherwise, what are they doing there?  Oh, right, they’re ambassadors of sport, selected for their diplomatic acumen.  Look at Nibali’s goofy shoes.  Man those things are goofy.  Isn’t Italy known for its shoes?  I see a lost opportunity here.  Bruno Magli is leaving money on the table.

Nibali looks wistful as he collects his kisses.  Perhaps he’s thinking, “Gosh, I should have washed my face.  I should have shaved.  This can’t be every enjoyable for the ambassadors.  Unless they really love me….”

You may have noticed that this report hasn’t been as snide, cynical, bitter, and seemingly biased as usual.  Have I softened up?  I doubt it.  Frankly, I just didn’t see anything particularly egregious today; no clear signs of a standout doper.  Who knows, maybe the sport is cleaning up!  

Done laughing yet?  Yeah, I know … winning a pro bike race makes any racer look pretty suspicious.  My online correspondent has just written, “How many bags of blood do you think it took for Nibali to win it? Despite his obvious doping, I still kind of like his style. You could even say that he’s one of my favorite dopers!”  I like Nibali, too, especially after his public spat with the legendary doper and whiny little bitch, Chris Froome.

Speaking of doping, watch these pages in July for my biased blow-by-blow report(s) on the Tour de France, where Team Sky will send their “good” riders, replete with a full arsenal of game-changing substances, taking “not normal” to new heights I’m sure!

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