Sunday, July 31, 2016

Keep Calm & Read These Quotations


In a souvenir shop in London some years back, my wife bought a cool mug bearing a likeness of the British “KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON” poster.

This poster was originally created during World War II and was one of “a number of morale boosting posters that would be displayed across the British Isles during the testing times that lay ahead” (Wikipedia).  While two other posters were widely circulated, “the plan in place for this poster was to issue it only upon the invasion of Britain by Germany. As this never happened, the poster was never officially seen by the public.”

For the last few years I’ve noticed this iconic poster popping up all over the place, along with endless variations on it (my favorite being “FREAK OUT AND RUN AMOK”).  Last Christmas, I received a KEEP CALM desk calendar, with a new motivational quotation for each day.

In this post I review the good, the bad, and the ugly among these, so as to alternately uplift, demoralize, and challenge you.  I close with some ruminations on whether words alone can really lift sunken spirits.

Keep calm and mull these over

“It will never rain roses:  when we want to have more roses, we must plant more trees.” —George Eliot

I liked this so much I read it to my wife and older daughter.  They looked at me quizzically and asked, “Since when do roses grow on trees?”  Only then did I think about it.  Of course they don’t.  They grow on bushes.  We even have a word for that:  rosebush.  Didn’t George Eliot have an editor?  What a distraction that “trees” bit is, especially for people better versed in botany than I.


“Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by traffic from both sides.” –Margaret Thatcher

This one is pretty silly.  Getting knocked down by traffic from one side is bad enough and should be avoided.  Moreover, the main problem here is standing in the road. Roads are for moving. Nobody should be standing in the road.  The whole metaphor buckles under its own weight.


“Do.  Or do not.  There is no try.”  —Yoda

This one is great and probably the best line of dialogue from all those Star Wars movies.  I often recite this one for my kids, but this backfires because they beg me to say it in the Yoda voice.  So I do, and then they beg me to say more things in the Yoda voice, and before I know it I’m doing my “Yoda sommelier” routine and my throat gets all sore.


“In most things success depends on knowing how long it takes to succeed.” —Montesquieu (French political philosopher)

This is a great point and I have firsthand experience with it.  I almost quit bike racing at the end of 1984, but for some reason stuck with it and the next season finally had my first (albeit small-scale) success.  On the flip side, it’s important to be able to recognize when you’ve tried hard enough and it’s time to quit.  Just look at gambling addicts or rabid Bernie acolytes who stage protests even after the candidate himself has moved on.  Depressing.


“Some people see things that are and ask, Why?  Some people dream of things that never were and ask, Why not?  Some people have to go to work and don’t have time for all that shit.” —George Carlin

This strikes me as very true.  If everybody sat around dreaming and asking “what if” all the time, nothing would get done. On the other hand, if everybody is too busy with repetitive tasks to sit back and wonder, innovation will never happen. Surely this double message was Carlin’s intention; once the initial belly-laugh is over we say, “Wait a second….”


“No matter how tall the mountain, it cannot block out the sun.” —Chinese proverb 

The problem with this notion is that it’s demonstrably false. Even a low ridge of mountains can block out the sun well ahead of when you’d expect the sunset to  occur.  Last spring I was doing an evening mountain bike ride with my daughter, and I’d looked up the sunset and civil twilight times in advance.  But sure enough, the Berkeley hills, though reaching a peak elevation of less than 2,000 feet, blocked out the sun and we had to descend in the near-dark.  For me the metaphorical idea here has been forever sullied.


“Think nothing done while aught remains to do.” —Samuel Rogers, English poet.

This is probably the most demoralizing thing I’ve ever read, because of course something always remains to do.  I have a hard enough time reflecting on my life without this bit of advice.  Imagine thinking of this when you’re on your death bed.  “I guess since I never finished that Master’s degree, it doesn’t matter that I was a good family man.  Damn it fuck it all.”  Thanks a lot, Samuel.


“There are times when words seem empty and only actions seem great.” —Woodrow Wilson

This is not very inspiring to anybody who aspires to be a writer, or makes his living writing. Those poor journalists ... haven’t they suffered enough, without “advice” like this?  Frankly, I think Wilson was speaking mainly for himself.  He was never very good with words, like when he justified America’s refusal to join the war effort by saying, “There’s a such thing as being too proud to fight.”  What the hell does that mean?  You know what?  Just shove it, Wilson.


“Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it.” —Chief Seattle, Duwamish chief

I like this quote, as it can help us to realign our perspective and not overestimate our importance in the cosmos.  My only problem with this quote is that, every time I glimpsed it on my desk calendar, I misread it as “Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely stranded in it.”  That misreading has eclipsed the real quote in memory.  Lately, the idea of being stranded in the web of life has been flashing across my mind a lot.  I can just picture the spider approaching….


 “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” —Rumi, 13th-century Persian poet 

I think this is really good advice.  Frankly, I get annoyed when this or that movement gets all excited and says “We’re gonna change the world!”  Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to fix the world, but isn’t it more realistic to do what you can, with limited fanfare, and hope your albeit modest efforts make a noticeable difference?  (It’s not cheating to point out your results, by the way.  I like to tell my kids, “Watch, I’m going to singlehandedly save the planet by composting this teabag.”  They stare back blankly, perhaps thinking something like, “No dad is so dorky that he can block out the sun.”) 

My only issue with this quote is that it brings to mind the Michael Jackson song “Man in the Mirror,” which, though a great song, is just too catchy and gets stuck in my head so before long I’m tweaking the lyrics out of sheer boredom and singing, “If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then bag your face!” and my kids are giving me that look again.


“Know how sublime a thing it is/ To suffer and be strong.” —Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 19th-century American poet

I absolutely love this quote.  It reminds us that suffering can improve us.  (No, I’m not going to trot out that famous Nietzsche quote because I think it’s too often completely untrue.  I prefer my inversion of it, “That which does not make you stronger may eventually kill you.”)

Longfellow’s quote here is one of the rare ones that I kind of wish could have come from an athlete, such as the (alas, departed) Mohammed Ali.  As sublime images go, picturing Ali in the ring does a better job than picturing a poet at his desk.   But that isn’t to say poets don’t suffer.  Writing certainly involves suffering (and remember that next time you’re halfway through one of my blog posts and feeling sorry for yourself).

What does Longfellow in particular know of suffering?  Actually, quite a lot.  He was severely burned trying to save Fanny, his second wife, from burning to death, using his own body to smother the flames. Does this action inform the quote above?  Well, not exactly.  He wrote these lines years before trying to rescue Fanny, when he’d just begun his 7-year courtship of her.  The suffering he mentions here may just have been blue balls. ]


“Let us be thankful for the fools. But for them, the rest of us could not succeed.” —Mark Twain

I like this quote.  It’s less stuffy than “in the kingdom of the blind…” and gives us the smug satisfaction of looking down on fools.  But it’s not very inspirational, is it?  It reminds us that our success is really just a matter of failing less than the next guy, and though we should be reminded of this, I don’t find the thought very comforting.


“Man grows used to everything, the scoundrel!” —Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Another albeit great quote that doesn’t, alas, buck me up very much.  Yes, humans are resilient and adaptable, but I can’t celebrate this idea without thinking of even more adaptable creatures like pigeons and roaches … not the most inspiring role models.


“Where there is doubt, faith;/ Where there is despair, hope;/ Where there is darkness, light;/ Where there is sadness, joy.” —St. Francis of Assisi.

Look, I’ll be the first to grant that St. Francis of Assisi was a great guy.  But this utterance isn’t inspirational or profound. It’s a simple set of contrasts that together mean nothing.  What’s next?  “Where there is less filling; tastes great; / Where there is Dark Side, Force;/ Where there is gremlin, smurf’”?


“Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.” —Colin Powell

Holy shit, this is a frightening notion coming from any military leader.  I won’t comment on Powell’s track record—politics bores me and I have no insight or opinion here—but remember the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, from history class?  This was a textbook case of Groupthink—the tendency of well-meaning team players to appear optimistic despite inner qualms, so that a group will tend to behave far more boldly than it ought to.

I’m reminded of a Kung Fu episode when the old sage hands Grasshopper a pencil and says, “Break this in half,” which he does.  Then he hands him a cluster of 50 pencils and says, “Try now,” and of course Grasshopper can’t do it.  Nice idea, but you ever try to write with 50 pencils at once?  Some forces shouldn’t be multiplied and personally I find nothing inspirational about an idea that scares the shit out of me.


“You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.” —Jonathan Safran Foer

This is very wise, I think.  When I first read this, I thought about my wife and how she loves pancakes enough to risk getting undercooked ones.  During our cross-country bike tour, whenever we breakfasted at a diner she’d order pancakes, and 90% of the time they were undercooked and gluey.  Fortunately, I always ordered eggs so I could trade with her.  Ever since that tour, eating undercooked pancakes makes me feel oddly happy.

Of course this is a nice idea when you’re just talking about fricking pancakes, but it’s a lot harder when you’re actually sad.  Foer’s quote doesn’t boost my morale, exactly … I’m reminded to confront my sadness, though I know this won’t necessarily lead to happiness.  To assume that it will is to commit the logical fallacy of converse error, which bright people like you and Foer know better than to do.  So we embrace sadness, but with no guarantee of relief.


“Hope against hope, and ask till ye receive.” —James Montgomery, British educator and poet

I don’t like this one.  Logically, “hope against hope” is a quagmire.  Hope is a feeling, and if we don’t feel it, we can’t simulate it through intellectual gymnastics.  And “ask till ye receive” is so weak and supplicating.  It’s also annoying to the person (and perhaps even the deity) fielding the entreaties.  I rue the day I told my kids “It never hurts to ask.”  I was imagining them asking for a job, or some kind of retail discount.  I wasn’t thinking of them haranguing me for lemonade or something when I’m already shelling out for burgers.  Now I find myself repeating a far more useful saying of my own:  “Volume and repetition are not sound rhetorical techniques.”


“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.” —Booker T. Washington, American writer and educator

This is good, but sounds kind of stuffy.  “One” is so formal, and there just seem to be too many words here.  I read this to my teenaged daughter and I’m pretty sure she fell asleep halfway through.  Sensing a teachable moment I discussed the quote with her, and we came up with what I think is a much improved version:  “Success isn’t just where you got in life, but how much gnar you shredded along the way.”

That’s better, I think, but is it inspirational?  The problem is, success doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness.  So many of the most (conventionally) successful people are successful because they’re unhappy.   Their insatiable thirst for success is perhaps rooted in the mistaken belief that happiness will follow success.  To them, this quote might be depressing; they might lash out at Fate for not giving them better obstacles to overcome.  And those of us who acknowledge the disconnect between success and happiness won’t be inspired at all.  Say, for example, we’re feeling sad about death.  How could the idea of success even figure in?

The problem with aphorisms

Where morale is concerned, the problem with quotations is that mere words, delivered on a page (or a screen) to a solitary reader, tend to fall flat.  They’re just advice, given in a disembodied voice and usually lent some cred by an authority figure you’ve never met.  My desk calendar is fine food for thought, but doesn’t achieve the goal of the poster on which it is based.

The idea of the poster campaign, on the other hand, is excellent.  The Brits are a famously stoic people, and stoicism—to a point (cf. Foer)—can be useful, especially when it’s shared.  In that sense, the collective stoicism engendered by the poster campaign is a “force multiplier.”  (There’s no pitfall of Groupthink here because feeling, not strategy, is influenced.)

Just to be clear:  sharing mere words is not the point.  Social media is not a functional conduit for a morale-building campaign because it does not involve actual human contact—it’s just another disembodied delivery mechanism for words.  The British poster campaign works more like this:  you’re a Londoner, and your city is being bombed, and you’re hunkering in a fallout shelter with scores of your countrymen.  It’s terrifying, but you have the solidarity of your mates and the stoicism is infectious.  Before you know it, you’re all singing—yes, actually singing!—and then you catch a glimpse of one of these morale-building posters.  No, the words are not ingenious (indeed, “keep calm and carry on” is less profound than most of the above quotations), but the shared experience imbues the poster with more meaning than it had before—so that the next day, when you’re walking through rubble in your war-torn city, you see one of those posters and are reminded of the camaraderie of the bomb shelter, and maybe this helps just a bit.

Of course you and I are not overcoming this particular obstacle, and most of us aren’t British.  But suppose you’re grieving … I still think there’s special value in, say, sitting with an identically aggrieved friend, sipping good beer, talking a bit but not incessantly, gazing passively across the room at the faintly luminous dial on his 1970s-era stereo tuner, not knowing anything profound but at least knowing you’re not alone.


My KEEP CALM desk calendar obviously lasted another five months after this post was written. Here is the sequel: Keep Calm II - The Spawning.

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Mourning and the Digital Age


This will necessarily be the soberest thing I’ve ever posted.

A good friend of mine died last Saturday, trying to rescue his six-year-old daughter after she’d been swept off the beach by a rogue wave.  Both father and daughter drowned.  This indescribably sad accident is not an appropriate topic for this blog, and yet I cannot fathom writing about anything else.  Nothing else seems to matter right now, and to write on a lighter topic would be to ignore my sadness.  It’s the elephant in the room I feel I should confront, so that maybe, eventually, I can go back to more quotidian topics.

So, I’ve decided to come at this thing sideways and examine the more general notion of how the digital age affects the grieving process.  I find I have a lot to say about that.

Getting the news

There’s no good way to receive such horrible news, but some ways are more awful than others.  I learned over the phone from a friend on my bike club, who’d been contacted by a journalist looking for background on our late friend.  At least when a friend breaks it to you, there’s a moment to brace yourself as he gasps or sobs, and he’s bound to treat the news with the delicacy it demands.  Contrast that to finding out via the Internet.  I ended up googling the story because I simply could not understand what I was hearing.  The words were probably strung together adequately, but what they communicated didn’t seem possible.

It’s really jarring, and tacky, to see clickbait alongside such a tragic news story.  “Suri Cruise Looks So Grown Up on Set of Katie Holmes’ TV Show,” and “[Shocking] Remove Your Eye Bags & Wrinkles In 1 Minute!” accompanied the online news of this drowning.  As a friend of the bereaved family, I’m struggling to hang on to my belief that life is still good and meaningful, and yet there’s all this added evidence to the contrary.  These news websites are complete strangers to tact and decorum.

Then there are the typical Internet trolls, like the self-righteous shit-for-brains who commented (inaccurately), “there had been warnings of adverse surf conditions ... these were no ‘rogue’ waves.”  There was no advisory that day, and this jerk wasn’t there, and why does he do this?  What kind of sad sack makes sport of casting judgment on victims of a terrible accident?  And right below this, another comment:  “my neighbor’s step-sister makes $75 an hour on the computer.  Visit the website [...].”

Social media

I went to a website designed to collect tributes to the victims, which is fine, but everywhere I looked were rows or columns of buttons to share these tributes (and photos, etc.) via Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest, etc.  As somebody who avoids social media, I don’t like the idea that if I died, I might suddenly have representations of myself scattered across all of these platforms and I wouldn’t be around to protest.  This site also featured a “Donate” button to give money (presumably to the family).  Not all sorrow can be assuaged by money and I doubt this family did anything to set that up.  In the absence of a closely managed strategy—which I doubt any grieving family has the time or energy for—I could see a platform like this taking on a life of its own.

I did get some comfort from the tributes and shows of support on the website, but then I came to a post from someone who, by her own admission, didn’t even know the family but was nevertheless offering emotional support to my friend’s widow.  I found this jarring and a little chilling.  Perhaps I’m not the only one who did.  For whatever reason, the page has now been reconfigured to block anonymous readers, by requiring users to create a login.  I’m not quite ready to do that; after all, sites like this tend to overwhelm me pretty quickly.  The last thing I need is perpetual spam stemming from a glancing engagement with a web portal.

My point is, digital technology like clickbait, social media, likes, and links can creep up on us—or seem to fall suddenly out of the sky—without waiting for us to decide whether it’s good for us.  How many parents had the luxury of contemplating the influence of Facebook and Instagram on their teenagers, before those teens immersed themselves in this virtual world?  Who foretold this worldwide phenomenon?  (Answer:  nobody.  It wasn’t a phenomenon at first; it was just a technology.)  When it comes to grieving, how does the digital world fit in?  Would the healthiest thing be to close the laptop, power off the phone, and mourn in peace?

Who knows.  I do consider whether my personal inclination to opt out of social media is appropriate in this case.  After all, there are instances when it becomes antisocial to extend one’s neo-Luddite principles too far.  For example, for an adult in the corporate world not to have a cell phone is no longer tenable; we’re expected to be reachable.  And to not have e-mail in any industrialized society is nowadays absurd.  And so, when my bike club decided a tribute to our late teammate would be appropriate for our club’s Facebook page, and asked me to write it, I immediately stepped up.  It would be callous not to acknowledge the tragic death of our friend/teammate and his daughter, and I welcomed the chance to give this statement the thoughtfulness and delicacy it deserves.

Digital storage

Where the conveniences of digital life can become really wrenching is in the realm of digital caches and other storage.   On my smartphone right now, when I open Contacts, my dead friend’s name is right at the top on the “Frequently contacted” tab.  He’s also on the first page of my chat history (not deep correspondence, but just the most perfunctory logistical stuff like “Yo, I’m at Fieldwork”).  In the main phone app, there he is on the Recents tab.  In the Voicemail app, I still have a years-old message from him, when he called to see if I’d really been hauled away from Grizzly Peak Boulevard in an ambulance.  I originally kept the message as a handy way to remember exactly when that happened, but now I don’t want to delete the voicemail because it’s the only one from him that I have.  He’s all over my phone, like a ghost.

Of course most of these relics will be gradually pushed down the stack until they slip out of Recents altogether ... but that’s actually kind of disturbing too, like a bad omen.  Will my friend will be similarly pushed out of my memory by all the new stuff coming in?  (Of course not, but grieving isn’t a rational process.)  And what of my friend’s programmed entries in my contact list and phone book?  What about his presence in my archived message history, and that saved voice-mail?  I cannot bring myself to delete these.  How could I?   Sometimes humanity trumps efficiency—and perhaps it ought to.

My e-mail archive is another quandary.  I’ve got almost 700 messages from him I could sift through, looking for ways to jog my memory ... but is that healthy?  And that’s not even the entire trove; it’s only what’s stored in my current e-mail software.  I have some other virtual file cabinet I could probably delve into if I bothered to try.  At what point does this kind of sentimental, digitally assisted reminiscing shade toward the obsessive?  Obviously it would be weird and nutty to build a shrine for a departed friend, but that’s kind of what a digital archive is.  The difference is, the artifacts are enshrined automatically so we have access to them whether we’re pack rats or not.  Is it healthy to take advantage of this, or is it the emotional equivalent of picking a scab?

Browsing through old photos is even more captivating.  I hunted through my archive as part of the bike club tribute project, and was plunged ever deeper into memory, which naturally intensified the sense of loss.  How young we both look in that early photo!  (Subtext:  we go back so far, and now—nothing!)  Perhaps most bittersweet of all, for reasons I can’t quite grasp, is the last photo I have of my late friend, which is on my phone as well as my PC.  I distinctly remember him chiding me for my recklessness in riding past this bull to get the shot.

Maybe this photo makes me sad because it’s so recent, I didn’t even get the chance to e-mail it to him.

One of the hallmarks of our digital age is how we keep hopscotching from one brief thought to the next, based on this or that alert, picture, or other stimulus.  Such digital saturation is notorious for precluding careful contemplation.  Perhaps this is why I keep catching myself being self-indulgent—too wrapped up in my own grief to look at the bigger picture.  This family lost a father, a husband, a daughter, a sister, a brother, and a son.  I only lost a friend.  My grief is entwined with a more complicated feeling, something like guilt.

This feeling hit me like a hammer when, sitting at my desk and staring into space, I noticed my slide-show screen-saver start up.  It picks photos at random from my hard drive and displays them for 5 seconds apiece. At first the photos of my wife and kids, going back so many years, started to cheer me up—oh, remember when the girls were small, and wore dresses, and held hands?—and then I had this horrifying thought:  what if I had lost a daughter and a spouse?  Suddenly this slide show would be a torment.  Instead of showcasing family—the best part of life—it would highlight what has been taken away.  The entire photo archive, along with the e-mail archive and all those artifacts littering the smartphone, and so many posts and photos scattered across all those social media platforms ... all of these would intensify the grief.  What a torment.

I suppose I should try to coalesce these thoughts into some kind of pithy conclusion, but nothing is coming to me but the sense that it’s time to save this file and power down. 

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2016 Tour de France Stage 9


If you’ve fallen behind on the Tour de France, or can’t be bothered to watch it, you’ve come to the right place.  Not only is my report almost live (not meaning close to dead, but almost real-time), it’s biased—that is, I don’t pull any punches when it comes to calling out a doper, an inelegant rider, or a jerk (or in the case of the obvious favorite, Chris Froome, all three at once).  That’s the benefit of being an unpaid blogger.

2016 Tour de France Stage 9 – Vielha Val d’Aran to Andorre Arcalis

As I join the race, there are about 50 km to go.  Today is a brutal stage, with five categorized climbs, including three category 1 and a huis-categorie (HC) climb at the end.  What is “huis-categorie?”  Imagine a rock climber saying, “Dude, that first climb was like a five-twelve, but then there was this other one that was like, so totally sick you just couldn’t even put a number on it.”  Or imagine a little kid saying, “My dad could beat up infintity-times-infinity of your dads,” and the other kid saying, “My dad could beat up so many of your dads, you couldn’t even count it, not even with infinities.”  Huis-Categorie is the French way of saying, “Don’t even try to describe how hard this climb is.”

Not much happening now, particularly as regards my Internet feed.  This has been the worst race ever for live Internet video.  I’ve got the British feed on one computer, with a picture so bad it looks like it’s finger-painted by a small child, and it freezes up constantly.  Then I’ve got a French-language feed, muted, on another PC with a separate Internet feed, and it’s a nice big, clear picture but it halts so often my coverage is more like a slide show.  On the plus side, I enjoy the French ads, particularly the ones for food or beverages, which all carry a public service announcement at the bottom (this one translates, “For your health, eat at least five fruits and vegetables per day”).

So the big news so far today:  one-time race favorite Alberto Contadar (Tinkoff Team) has dropped out due to injuries suffered in back-to-back crashes in two early stages. 

With 43 km to go (that’s right, I missed 7 km futzing with my feeds), two riders are off the front of a huge breakaway:  Jerome Coppel (IAM Cycling) and Tsgabu Grmay (Lampre-Merida).  Grmay is an interesting rider:  he’s Ethopian (the first from his country ever to ride the Tour), and he has a most interesting name.  In Ethopia, your last name is always your father’s first name.  And how did his father get his name?  His father invented it in a bid to use up all has Scrabble tiles.  They have strange house rules over there.  (Okay, the Scrabble thing is speculation.  But it’s true about the first/last name thing.)

So anyhow, this duo has a bit of a gap on this giant breakaway numbering almost 20 guys.  The only GC hopeful in that group is Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), though actually Pinot became a Tour hopeless with some very poor riding in the early stages.  So poor, in fact, that he has declared his season “over.”  I didn’t make that up.  I think the guy is a bit of a head case, honestly.

Interestingly, the term “Tour hopeful” has become synonymous with the term “Tour dopeful.”  I’m referring, of course, to Team Sky, which has put on their typical display of dominance, with an absurd number of riders taking the front on all the steepest climbs.  They did it yesterday, and they’re doing it again today.

To the credit of Team Sky’s leader, Chris Froome, I’ll say that he’s in yellow today because of his descending, not his doping.  (I don’t think they have a syringe for descending yet, unless it’s something old-school like amphetamine.  My teenage daughter, cynical beyond her years, has pointed out that Froome does have the physique of a meth-head.)  He took off just after the summit of the final climb yesterday and descended like a maniac, holding off the (albeit lackluster) chase to win by 13 seconds and pick up a 10-second time bonus.  Why did he bother?  First, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Team) had been dropped on the climb and I suspect Froome wanted to make sure the GC group didn’t play it too safe on the final descent and give Contador a chance to cut his losses.  And why was the chase lackluster?  I’d guess that other favorites like Nairo Quintana (Movistar team) and Tejay van Gardaren (BMC Racing Team) are fine giving up a couple dozen seconds when this forces Team Sky to defend the yellow jersey for two whole weeks.

Returning to today’s stage, the leading two riders have been absorbed by the disposable diaper of the breakaway.  Do you like my metaphor?  It’s better than some of the hackneyed ones you’d have to hear from the TV coverage.  The one I’m getting sick of is “so-and-so makes his way to the front and begins injecting pace.”  Can we not use “inject,” please?  I’m trying to pretend the sport has cleaned up.

Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) has dropped the others and is making his lone, useless way up the climb.  With 35 km to go, the leaders are on the Category 1 Col de Beixalis.  This is a short climb but has some seriously steep pitches, like 17-18%.  If you’re not a cycling aficionado and don’t grasp what 17-18% means, imagine you’re driving up one of those crazy steep hills in San Francisco and your friend’s girlfriend gasps and asks to take a different route, fearing the car will begin sliding down the hill backwards.  That’s the kind of grade we’re talking about here.

My video feed has stabilized but I’m still hunting for some audio.  The freezing has stopped but it’s some dirtbag announcer I’ve never heard before, a second-string would-be game show host who is somehow sucking all the excitement out of this race.  I’ve got to look for a better feed.

De Gendt is now overtaken by the breakaway and he’s going backwards.  He looks at the cameraman with a look that says, “Stop filming me you bastard.”  I get that look from my teenager a lot.

Froome is riding oval chainrings.  Is there anything I like about this guy?  Look, I’ll go ahead and admit that I thought his move yesterday was pretty cool, particularly if I decide to believe that it was his idea and not just a clever instruction over his radio.  Certainly his aerodynamic tuck was one of the ugliest in cycling’s history, particularly when he pedaled while sitting on the top tube, but it was inarguably effective.  It would still be a stretch to say I was developing a grudging respect for Froome, but perhaps the earliest stages of this respect-building process were starting to be laid down.  Think “terraforming on Mars” and you’ll get an idea for the massive scale of such a project.

But anyway, that was before I read an interview with him about a 200 Swiss franc fine he was slapped with for decking a spectator.  I saw the video replay of it and don’t have a problem with his action, because the spectator was way too far out in the road.  Bernard Hinault, one of my heroes, would have done the same thing.  But in justifying his action, Froome said, “Nothing against the Colombian fans, I think they’re fantastic and bring a great atmosphere to the race.  But this guy in particular was running right next to my handlebars that had a flag that was flying behind him.”  Why bring up the guy’s nationality at all?  Why pretend to have nothing against Colombian fans while bothering to inform the world that this dirtbag fan was Colombian?  Like I’ve said before:  Froome, man, get some class.

The huge number of nobodies in this breakaway is making the race pretty boring right now.  Somebody is going for KOM points.  I think it’s George Bennett (Team LottoNL-Jumbo), whom I’ve never heard of.  He’s duking it out with Pinot.  That’s nice, but I don’t care about the KOM and I can’t get excited about either of their stage win prospects this far from the finish.

Pinot is first to the summit with Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana Pro Team) not far behind.  The breakaway has pretty much detonated now and most—probably all—of these guys will be vacuumed up by the GC group despite the 8-minute lead they have with 27 km to go. 

I’ll take the opportunity, during this boring descent, to fill you in on some other Tour highlights.  Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) is back on great form, after (oddly enough) focusing on track races this year, and has won three stages.  He even earned his first-ever yellow jersey, which set up a touching moment of dramatic irony.  Being interviewed after winning the first stage, before the podium ceremony, he was bored and tired and had nothing much to say other than running a few macros (e.g., “My team is putting 50,000 Africans on bicycles”), and then his little daughter crawled into his lap and he turned his attention entirely to her, saying, “Daddy won today, and you know what you get when Daddy wins?”  His darling daughter replied, “Flowers.”  He said, “That’s right,” but didn’t seem to grasp that this time she would also receive a stuffed lion.  So neither of these two were even aware of how totally stoked they were about to be—but we, the viewers, were well aware of it.  That’s what dramatic irony is, and recovering English majors like me just love that shit. 

In other news, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff Team) has the ugliest helmet in the race and won a stage.  

Sky is still swarming the front as the GC group clears this summit.

Another early stage incident to recap:  you know the giant flame rouge, which would be a banner across the road indicating 1 km to go, except this is a grand tour where everything is fancy so it’s a giant inflated tube, leveraging bouncy-house technology?  Well, apparently somebody tripped on the cord and the damn thing collapsed just as the peloton was approaching it, which caused chaos and a pretty bad crash, with the current best young rider, Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange), getting a nasty scrape on his chin.

Returning to today’s action, the remaining guys from the breakaway are sprinting across the flat section, attacking each other like it’s a fricking criterium, before the final climb as though that could possibly make sense.  Positioning is nothing when it’s an HC climb.  I once stopped for like two minutes at the base of Alpe d’Huez to get some food and Coke, letting a group of like ten guys ride off into the sunset, because I figured they were all going to shell me anyway.  Is it any different for this human shrapnel that was once a breakaway?  I think not.  They’re mostly as doomed as I was (despite their lead over the GC group holding at 8 minutes) and should just stick together to the climb instead of pretending this is a tactical “chess game on wheels.”  (Another stupid cliché.  I’m glad cycling is never quite boring enough to be legitimately compared to a chess game.)

On the front now we have Rafal Majka (Tinkoff Team), who is a great rider but somehow isn’t in the top 20 on the GC this year, joined by Sanchez.  They’ve got 15 km to go but 10 km of those are uphill at an average gradient of 7.2%.

Wilco Kelderman (Team LottoNL-Jumbo), one of the breakaway guys (I think), has a flat tire.  I wonder if he’s riding Hutchinson tires.  My daughter’s Hutchinson came apart yesterday, the bead separating from the casing, and I had to call my wife and have her drive out and pick her up.  Don’t ride those … seriously.

Tom Dumoulin (Team Giant-Alpecin) is leading the race, which is a bit odd because he’s a time trialist (and, to an increasing extent, an all-rounder), not a climber.  By bike racer standards he’s a great big burly man, and I credit his exceptional riding to his size.  Just like a big guy can hold his alcohol better, big guys can absorb more pain on the bike.  The sport would be well served by having more guys like Dumoulin in it.  He’s also got a full head of hair, unlike Froome, who is not only bald but has those weird wrinkles on the back of his neck like one of those ugly pug dogs (or naked mole rats) some people seem to love.  Speaking of hair, as recently as a couple decades ago Dumoulin would have need a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for his Alpecin shampoo, which is caffeinated.  But caffeine is no longer regulated.  I wonder how much caffeine you can actually absorb through your scalp—which leads me to another thought I’ve been having.  Often, you’ll see spectators handing up water bottles to the racers.  No racer with any brains would drink anything a spectator gave him, but they do pour these bottles over their heads if it’s a hot stage.  So why not spike a bottle of water with some banned substance, and add some DMSO for good measure?  (DMSO is the solvent American football players use to chase crushed aspirin into their ruined knees so they can keep playing.)  An evil fan could make a rider test positive!  Why am I entertaining such dark thoughts?  I guess I’m still sore after getting a serious tongue-lashing from a UCSF official after spraying a racer with water during a criterium on a hot day back in 1986.

Amazingly, the gap to the GC group has gone up to 9:14, with Dumoulin still off the front solo.  And now a rider hits a spectator!  It’s Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18), who tried to avoid the guy (who was way too far out into the road) but slammed him with his shoulder and came this close to going down.  It was an impressive display of bike-handling skills.  The spectator was knocked flat—look closely and you’ll see him on the ground in this photo, on the left end of the zebra crossing.  (No, I’m not going to tell you the nationality of the spectator.  You can tweet Froome later and find out.)

Dumoulin is still hammering away solo on the front, with just 7 km to go.  The remaining guys from the breakaway will surely stay away now, with 9:30 in the bag, but will Dumoulin be able to hold off Majka, Pinot, and now Rui Alberto Faria Da Costa (Lampre-Merida) who is attacking?  Perhaps.

Wow, Pinot detonates!  He’s rocking on the bars and his head is down and he’s cooked.  What is Dumoulin’s time gap?  This is getting exciting!  And now the road is wet and there’s a proper storm brewing!  Daniel Navarro Garcia (Cofidis) materializes out of nowhere—who is this guy?—and I think he’s a contender now, working well with Majka to try to reel in Dumoulin. 

Now hail is coming down!  They’re showing the finish line and the weather is just awful up there.  Just 6 km to go now.

So some Movistar guy and an FDJ are driving along together but I think they’re off the back.  Forget them, they’re dead to us.

Back in the peloton, Sky are still well represented with at least four guys.

I think Dumoulin has like 30 seconds on Majka and Da Costa.  He’s got just 4km to go.

The grade has eased to 4-5% so he may yet hang onto this, being a time trialist and all.  I’d love to see it.

Back in the peloton, a Sky dude attacks!  I think it’s Sergio Luis Henao.  But he’s dragged back.  And now Froome attacks, and Quintana is right on him!  Porte is trying to bridge up!  This is so gloriously awfully brutal!  It looks like Porte has got them, and now he counterattacks!  Man, he’s really looking good.  And now Dan Martin comes from behind and attacks!  It’s like when everybody attacked Lance on Alpe d’Huez in the 2003 Tour!

Dumoulin is really suffering, his cadence grinding down, but he’s still got 42 seconds on Majka and Da Costa!  I’m using an exclamation point because I’m excited!  And my daughter, watching alongside, questions my use of the exclamation point!  She says I’m abusing the power of it!  But I don’t care!  And now Porte attacks again!  And amazingly, Froome has lost all his henchmen!

Tom Dumoulin is under the Flamme Rouge, and it’s staying inflated for now!  I’m going to use an exclamation point on every sentence now, because all these guys are such heroes, drilling it in such foul weather, and also to spleen my daughter!  Yay!

Look at Porte, man!  He’s on the high-test shit today!  He’s really putting the wood to Froomestrong!  And now, who’s this attacking, some guy in a white jersey, I have no idea who, and he’s taking his turn at battling Froome!  It’s Yates, of the scraped chin!  How does he even shave?!

Dumoulin has got this!  He approaches the line!   He drops his sunglasses on the road—his mom will be furious!  That’s the third pair this year!

Dumoulin gets the win!

Does he look like he’s about to cry?  Yes.  Would I be crying in that circumstance?  Hells yeah!  I’d be crying if I were a spectator at this race!

Da Costa dukes it out with Majka for second.  Majka is content with third, I suppose.  More than that he’ll be content to climb into a warm team van and drink about a gallon of cocoa.

Da Costa approaches the line, looking suitably miserable.  So, you know baseball, the great American pastime?  Those guys have big paunches, and when it so much as rains, the game is canceled.  Bedwetters, all.

I haven’t seen Tejay Van Garderen at all.  He didn’t fare too well in the rain in the Tour de Suisse recently … I guess I can’t blame him.

Dan Martin is just macking it on the front, Froome et al tucked in behind.  Sure enough, TVG is not in this group.  This gives the team leadership to Porte, even though he lost almost two minutes to an untimely puncture in an early stage.  BMC is officially adrift in this Tour.

The GC group is now down to Porte, Quintana, Yates, and Martin (who is now struggling to keep up).  Yates attacks!  Unbelievable!  He’s a real upstart, wearing the white jersey of the best young rider.  Yates holds it all the way to the line!  What a badass! 

Here comes Tejay, who has lost at least a minute or so.  A pity…

Here’s the top 10 for the stage:

So, the number of real GC contenders has shrunk again today, with Quintna and Martin the only real challengers left after this stage (though AG2R La Mondiale’s Romain Bardet still has an outside chance, I suppose).  Contador has abandoned, Fabian Aru (Astana Pro Team) was dropped today, and Tejay, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Pro Team) was nowhere to be seen, and Porte was pretty far behind going into the stage.  Pinot takes the KOM jersey, but is over 15 minutes off the back in the GC.  Yates hangs on to the white jersey and his chin is healing nicely.

I am very happy to see Froome failing to increase his lead on this brutal stage, and I’m particularly pleased with how the Sky domestiques folded up a bit at the end, as their Postal-esque dominance is a blight on the sport.  Maybe they’ll continue to fade and we might have a real race here.  But then, whom am I kidding?  Tomorrow’s a rest day, and that means blood bags.

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