Saturday, June 11, 2016

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2016 Criterium du Dauphiné Stage 6

NOTE:  This post is rated PG-13 for mild strong language and a lot of things I say that are really not nice.


You know that in boxing there are specific rules, such as no hitting below the belt and no biting.  So it is with mainstream journalism, where announcers have to hold a lot back, such as snarky opinions and off-the-cuff judgments.  Well, my race reporting is the equivalent of a barroom brawl where pool sticks and broken bottles are fair game.  I can say anything I want because who would fire me?  And from what?  Read on for my biased blow-by-blow coverage of the queen stage of this year’s Criterium du Dauphiné, a slightly prestigious warm-up for the Tour de France.

2016 Criterium du Dauphiné Stage 6 – La Rochette to Méribel

As I join the action, which is only available in French so far today, the riders have 34 km to go.  They’re on the penultimate climb, which fact I did not glean from the announcer.  I do not know the French word for “penultimate,” and neither does he.

I’ve joined the action late, thus missing the famous Col de la Madeleine, because the Dauphiné is one of those hind teat races that don’t get covered very thoroughly.  I only get to see the last hour, though probably that’s for the best because I don’t want to wear you down with too much text.

This is the Category 1 Montée des Frasses and they have about 5 km (3.1 miles) until the summit.  “Chris Froome est une merde-tête absolue,” the announcer says, and I have to agree.  And I like how he tells it like it is due to that classic French disdain for authority.  Now, if you don’t speak French, you surely know “tête,” from “tête de la course,” meaning head of the race.  And please don’t tell me you’ve never heard the word “merde.”  If you really haven’t, go look it up.  (Did the announcer really call Froome “une merde-tête”?  I’m pretty sure he did, but then those guys talk kind of fast.  He might have actually said “connard.”)

“C’est difficile pour Aru” (“It’s difficult for [Fabio] Aru [of Astana]”) who appears to be in a breakaway with a teammate and one other guy.  They’re chasing after the lead breakaway, which includes danger men Romain Bardet (AG2R Mondiale) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ).  (No, by “danger men” I don’t mean they’re bad bike handlers.  I’ve adopted the parlance of modern bike race announcers, albeit ironically.)  This breakaway has the French announcers pretty excited because Pinot and Bardet are French.  That’s actually probably why their names are being shown onscreen but no others.  The announcers are talking mainly about Pinot, because hey, he’s their boy!  Not their son, it’s not a married couple announcing the race, though that would be kind of cool.  I just mean Pinot is a favorite of the French because apparently he’s a pretty nice guy, if not a pretty nice wine. 

The teammate with Aru is Luis Leon Sanchez Gil, who is struggling under the weight of all those names.  So many ancestors to honor!  The third rider in their group is … looks like Jens Keukeleire (Orica GreenEdge).  No, I don’t really know Keukeleire on sight.  I went by his number.  Actually, it would be a huge help to me if everybody on the planet wore numbers, because I’m pretty sure I’m face-blind.  That’s actually a thing.  I am unable to remember a face.  The features are just erased—nothing is shunted into long-term memory.  That’s why I’m always having people bob up in front of me saying, “Hi Dana!” and I’m staring blankly thinking “I have never laid eyes on you in my life.”  And then it turns out to be somebody I have talked to on the school playground twice a week for the last several years.  Once a woman with a German accent confronted me about this.  “You have no idea who I am, do you?” she snapped, and went on to say, “You know, I’ve been in your house!”  At first I wondered if she were some kind of criminal mastermind type burglar, because I hadn’t yet realized (actually, I think it’s my wife’s theory) that I’m face-blind.

So, at the front of the chase group Bart de Clerq (Lotto Soudal) has attacked.  He looks pretty strong, but whom am I kidding?  The aforementioned merde-tête, who is all too recognizable without even a look at his face, is going to attack again, destroy everybody, and win the GC.  Yes, I’m talking about Froomestrong, who has four Sky teammates doing tempo for him while he pretends to toil away.  His heart rate is probably like 80 bpm right now.  You know how Ecstasy is reputed to damage your spine?  In the words of the venerable Eminem, “Let the X destroy your spinal cord/ So it’s not a straight line no more/ ‘Til we walk around looking like some wind-up dolls/ Shit’s sticking out of our backs like a dinosaur.”  Well, maybe all the dope Froome is doing is having a similar effect.  Em’s lyrics actually work really well for describing Froome.  He really does ride like a wind-up doll and you can see his vertebrae fanned out because he’s got no body fat and his back is so bent. 

If you’re wondering why I seem so bitter, it’s because I watched the recap of yesterday’s stage where Froome obliterated no less a doper than Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Team).  The Froome-bot just danced away, and only his former teammate Richie Porte (BMC Racing Team) was able to join him.  Just like so many times before, those two made the other racers, and all the fans, look like chumps. 

And then Froome, who is supposedly a nice guy, told the press, “I didn’t expect to gain time on Alberto Contador on such a short climb.”  The nerve of this guy, rubbing it in like that!  He did not go on to say, “I thought he was lubed better than that,” because like all professional dopers, Froome knows to keep his mouth shut about his substances (except when he’s preemptively saying, “I don’t dope, you know,” even when nobody is formally accusing him).  Anyhow, did you catch how he said, “Alberto Contador,” not just “Alberto” or “Contador”?  As though he’s making sure we’ve heard of this guy, since he’s lately been so totally blotted out by Froome’s shadow.  (No, it’s not that Froome is showing respect because in that case he would say “Alberto Contador Velasco.”)

I now have my choice of video feeds:  this French one, or what sounds like a Dutch woman.  I mean, I’m sure she’s a woman, I’m just not sure about the Dutch bit because she could be speaking Flemish or possibly even German.  I really ought to be better at identifying such things, but it’s confusing because a) I have two feeds going at once so there’s cross-talk, and b) I’m still reeling at the sound of a female voice announcing a bike race.  I haven’t heard that since Connie Carpenter in the early ‘80s.  Okay, yeah, this announcer is definitely Dutch.  Not much use to me, or you.

So the leaders are over the summit and have about 20 km (12 miles) to go.  The French guy is saying, “C’est difficile, c’est une montagne” (“It’s difficult, it’s a mountain”), and I can tell from his voice that he’s shrugging, like “C’est normal.”  Whoah, I’ve suddenly found an English-language video feed!  Woohoo!  Hang on, it’s on the wrong computer.  You should see my setup here—it’s like NORAD or something.  No it’s not.  Just two computers.  Both obsolete … if you’re that neighborhood woman with the German accent—the criminal mastermind—please remember how crummy my gear is, from when you saw it.  When you were in my house.

So the Eurosport announcer has shared a tasty tidbit.  Get this:  many of these riders are using this race purely as preparation for the Tour de France.  Damn, who knew?  It seems that the Dauphiné isn’t the top priority of all the riders here.  God, such blazing intelligence and insight.  You know what?  I kind of miss that French feed.  And now we’re on to an ad for that stupid stove with the fancy vent to suck away the awful odor of your cooking.

So anyhow, the current GC going into this stage was Froome at the top, with Porte seven seconds back, and Contador another 20 seconds behind that. Daniel Martin (Etixx-Quick-Step), Julian Alaphillippe (Etixx-Quick-Step), and Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) rounded out 4th,5th, and 6th respectively, and you don’t care about the time gaps because we both know they have no prayer.

Aru did something with his hair this year.  I can’t put my finger on it.  He now looks older and less like his romance novel namesake.  And perhaps there’s a Samson & Delilah thing going on, because he’s just not that strong anymore.  He fell out of his breakaway and some point and now he’s being masticated and regurgitated by the main group.

Contador is sitting toward the back of this group.  Earlier, before the live coverage started, I was following the action on cyclingnews and they claimed he had put in a couple of attacks.  They probably made that up.  I mean, who’s gonna check?  And how?

Walter Poels, one of Froomie’s henchman, detonates and slips off the back.  Even going backwards, presumably completely blown, he has better form than Froome.  Froome isn’t a bobblehead, but his neck seems to be a big hinge.  His head will suddenly tip forward and he stares at the road for a bit, and then he snaps it back up again.  He never actually turns his head to either side.  In fact, he seems oddly incurious about anything going on around him.  He’s just following directions from his radio, I suppose:  “Look Froomie, I know you could solo right now without even getting out of the saddle or opening your mouth, but we need to make it look plausible, so just hang out a bit longer and let your lackies drive it.”  I suspect if you pulled up Froome’s jersey you’d find a giant keyhole in his back when they stick in the big wind-up knob at the beginning of each stage.

Up at the front of the race, Bardet attacks!  Man, it’s a savage attack too, none of this testing-the-waters stuff.  Very, very impressive. 

But Pinot is a scrapper and he’s working his way back toward Bardet’s wheel.  It’s only 8 km (6.5 miles) to the summit finish so these guys have a pretty good shot at staying away.  Their gap is just over two minutes over the GC group (never mind the flotsam and jetsam of the early breakaway).

My cat has a tendency to be jealous of my computer so she comes and blocks my view, just like all those damn pop-up ads I keep having to figure out how to close down.

Very little action in the GC group.  It’s probably hard for Contador to find the resolve to attack because a) there are so many Sky riders swarming at the front, and b) they’re probably all stronger than he is because they’re so jacked up on whatever miracle drug Team Sky has developed.  These dudes don’t even look like they’re suffering.  They look about as stricken as if it were bowling night.  Now this group is swallowing the stragglers from the break.

At the front, Pinot and Bardet are working pretty well together, sharing the work.  These riders are so fast, drafting even matters on a Category 1 climb at the end of a brutal mountain stage.

I guess I’m rooting for Bardet because Pinot has white cycling shorts.  I mean, I’m sure that’s not his fault, but I have to care about something.  Maybe in his contract negotiations he should have said, “I always get the best hotel room, with a bidet in it, and I get to wear regular black shorts.  Hell, I’ll even take navy blue, so long as I get that bidet.”

As for the GC, I’m not the biggest fan of Porte because he still carries with him the stench of having ridden for Sky for several years.  But at least he looks pretty good on the bike, and he’s not on Sky anymore, and (most importantly of all) he’s not Froome.  But over both of those guys I’d gladly take Contador as the winner, even though he’s a proven doper.  Contador impressed me when he broke his tibia in a stage of the 2014 Tour de France and continued racing for a good while.  Contrast that to Froome, who dropped out of that race himself due to a sprained nipple or something, I can’t remember other than it wasn’t a major injury, and then Porte took over the Sky leadership only to fold up psychologically like a small child.  (Not that I have anything against small children; I just think they shouldn’t be given blood bags and made to race bikes.)

Pierre Roland (Cannondale Pro Team) is starting to fall off the back but he digs deep and starts to catch back on.

The break has 3 km (1.8 miles) to go and the gap is 1:40.  Still no movement in the GC group.

Bardet attacks!  It’s a great move, but Pinot is strong like bull and stitches it right up!  Bardet attacks again!  Nice!

Back in the GC group, Porte loses his last BMC teammate out the back.  And look at this, Mikel Landa (Team Sky) is actually human, and finally blows after being part of that all-Sky-all-the-time pacesetting effort!

Contador is bouncing along out of the saddle as usual, keeping Froome in his sights.  This group has been gradually whittled down so it’s only like 8 or 9 guys.  Contador still has a teammate here but hasn’t needed him yet, with three Sky guys still taking up the front positions.

At the front Bardet and Pinot are really hauling ass.  Both out of the saddle, now both seated, bobbing a bit, wobbling around on the road because they’re going so hard.  They keep switching from sitting to standing, surely in the hope that one set of muscles or another will seem to have more zip left.

God, who is this Sky guy who is drilling it so hard at the front?  Whoever he is, he now pops, and flies off the back like a strip of toilet paper thrown out of a car window at highway speed.  (Did you also do that as a kid, during long, boring road trips?  And did your parents yell at you, too?  “I’ll turn this car around right now!”)

It’s 200 meters to go!  Bardet leads it out!

But Pinot starts to come around!  It’s a very close sprint!

Pinot pulls ahead for the win!

And back in the GC group, some guy in the blue of Etixx-Quick-Step takes off, Dan Martin I’m pretty sure, and takes Froome with him!  Contador can’t respond!  Yeah, it’s Martin, I’d know those giant teeth anywhere.  (I’m not tooth-blind, apparently.) 

Martin finishes just ahead of Froome, and will probably move up to third on the GC since he distanced Contador by like 8 seconds and (I think) picked up a time bonus.  Anyhow, a fine result for Froome, as if that were ever in doubt.  Hey Froome, could you tuck in your elbows for once?  Where’d you learn to ride a bike … Barnum & Bailey?

Here are the final stage results:

In the GC, Froome took 14 seconds out of Porte, thus tripling his advantage over him.

“Bardet is looking pretty cheesed off,” the announcer says.  God, I love the British.  I doubt the French have an equivalent of “cheesed off,” and I know we Americans don’t.  I’ll have to start using that one.

So, Pinot was 3:29 down on GC going into this—he must have had a really bad day at some point—but Bardet started the day only 1:34 down.  So that kind of explains the dynamic in the  GC group today:  Sky wasn’t just setting tempo to keep Contador at bay; they were drilling it extra hard to bring down that gap to Bardet.  I’m sure they timed it just right to keep things reasonably close, for appearances.  If Bardet and Pinot had had four minutes, Sky would have just dialed it up a bit higher, probably with no more discomfort than adjusting the thermostat on your fridge (though to be honest, that particular dial has always confused me).  So the pace was so high, Contador just couldn’t try anything … he was probably on his limit. 

Career-wise, Contador rose to power at the wrong time, with Froome so dominant.  If Froome weren’t such a prima donna, maybe Contador could ride for Sky too and get on some of that high-test shit they’re using.  It is rumored that Contador is looking for a new team right now.  He’s probably told Tinkoff, “Your drugs are all so old-school and Eastern Bloc!  I need some damn technology here!”

So that’s pretty much it for the Dauphiné this year.  Tomorrow’s stage has a couple Cat 1 climbs, and finishes at the summit of a Cat 3, but the way Sky is riding, let’s not kid ourselves that anybody can take 21 seconds out of Punky Froomester.  He’s got this one in the (blood) bag.

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