Saturday, May 6, 2017

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2017 Giro d'Italia Stage 2


Professional journalists can’t afford to burn any bridges by calling out a doper, an unstylish rider, or somebody who’s being a dick. They also have a responsibility to the public to provide fair, balanced reporting.  I have no bridges and no responsibility.  So read on for a totally biased blow-by-blow of Stage 2 of the Giro.

2017 Giro d’Italia Stage 2 – Olbia to Tortoli

As I join the action there are about 50 miles to go, with a breakaway of nobodies about three minutes ahead.  Today’s stage features three climbs and a bunch of other little lumps.  The last climb of the day, the Genna Silana, is a category 2, which gains about 2,900 feet and tops out at about 3,300 feet elevation.  But then there’s another 30 miles of descending,  so unless the breakaway blah, blah, blah, who cares.

The really interesting thing about this race is the return of Cadel Evans.  I guess retirement just didn’t sit well with him, so he’s back.  Now, he knows he’s long in the tooth and doesn’t want to tarnish his impressive reputation with poor riding, so he’s riding under the pseudonym Caleb Ewan.  Look, “Caleb,” you’re not fooling anybody.  But I do admire such pluck.  Far better to put in a mediocre ride in a great race than to be a greeter at Walmart.

Okay, readers, I’ll make you a deal:  if the breakaway’s gap goes back up during this climb, I’ll tell you who they are.  Other than that, it’s like temp workers at an office:  better not to learn their names, it just makes it sadder when they have to go.

So, to catch you up on the Giro so far, we’ve had two riders busted for doping already—actually, it was the night before the opening stage.  They were Stefano Pirazzi and Nicola Ruffoni of the Bardiani CSF team, popped for human growth hormone.  I’m naming theme here to help shame them.  Now, you may not have heard of this team.  They’re just a continental team racing here on a wildcard invitation, much like Danilo De Luca’s Vini Fantini team in 2013.  The difference with his doping that year (which earned him a lifetime ban) is that he should have known better, being a seasoned veteran.  With these continental teams, the riders are still learning the ropes and thus much more likely to screw up and test positive.  You get a guy like Team Sky’s Chris Froome, he’s a consummate professional.  He would never get caught.  So it’s kind of a Catch-22 for these up-and-coming riders on the little teams; they need to dope less, to stay out of trouble, and yet they need to beat these World Tour riders if they want to make the big time.  I imagine it’s kind of like being a new hire at Chucky Cheese: if you want to have the kind of energy you need to run birthday parties all day long, you’re going to need meth … and yet, if you haven’t gotten in good with the shift supervisor, he’s not going to look the other way.

It’s about 45 miles to go.  The breakaway is down to 1:26.  Here’s a fascinating historical tidbit, courtesy of Eurosport:  Jacques Anquetil won his first Giro stage in 1999, despite having died in 1987!  It’s certainly the case that ghosts have an amazing power-to-weight ratio.

So, who’s  riding this Giro?  We’ve got defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida); Domenico Pozzovivi (AG2R La Mondiale); Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing); current maglia rosa Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe); Thibaut Pinot (FDJ); Nairo Quintana (Movistar); the ghost of Jacques Anquetil (albertnet-Carmex); Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb); Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafrado); Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo); Pierre Roland (Cannondale Drapac); Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale Drapac); Alex Howes (Cannondale Drapac); and of course Cadel Evans, aka Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott).

Okay, I just saw some footage of Evans/Ewan, and either he’s had some cosmetic surgery or I’m actually mistaken about this comeback thing.  Cut me some slack, it’s hard to keep up with my spotty Internet connection and these hit-or-miss free video feeds.

So here’s a brief recap of yesterday’s opening stage.  Pöstlberger was supposed to lead out a teammate at the sprint finish, but accidentally gapped the peloton and decided to solo.  And he actually pulled it off!  How is this possible?  I think it’s the badass umlaut in his name!

The breakaway, comprising five very thin nobodies in ugly uniforms, is on the category 2 Genna Silana.  They have about 39 miles to go, about 10 of them uphill.

So this is weird.  Manuele Boaro (Bahrain-Merida) had a problem with his rear derailleur, which was making his chain sag and flop around, so he took a spare bike from the team car.  But instead of just climbing on and riding off, he took the front wheel off his first bike and put it on the spare.  Why on earth would he do that?  Sentimental attachment to his front wheel?  Some kind of electronic gizmo attached to the wheel?  You can tell the pace is low or he wouldn’t take the time for a wheel swap.

In a shocking upset this season, the upstart team CCC Sprandi Polkowice was awarded the UCI official Ugliest Uniform award, toppling Team Sky who had been expected to dominate this category for years to come.

The breakaway is about 2/3 of the way up the climb and the guys are starting to attack one another.  This is a bit silly, because although their lead has gone up to 1:36, they’re going to need to work together on the descent to fend off the peloton.  I’m guessing that they were attacking Lukasz Owsian, the CCC rider, because they’re sick of looking at his orange outfit.  And sure enough, he’s dropped.  It’s a shame:  if he were able to get the pink jersey, or the KOM jersey, there would be one fewer hideous orange jersey in the race.

They keep showing Boaro, chasing the peloton after his mechanical.  Why?  I mean, who cares?  Either he makes it back on or he doesn’t.  He is irrelevant.  So is Owsian, who has now been caught by the peloton.  Good.  He deserves it for pairing that hideous team kit with orange shoes.  Surely he could have begged off, said he lost the team-issue shoes and could only find these basic black ones, and doesn’t want to switch out his shoes during a 3-week stage race.

The breakaway, now just four riders, has crested the Genna Silana but their gap is down to 36 seconds.  I guess without Owsian there to kindle their ire, they’ve just lost their passion for breaking away.

The peloton is totally loafing, riding gutter-to-gutter on the only big climb of the day.  It’ll come down to a sprint finish, with Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) a real favorite if and only if he can get comfortable on his bike.  He did a bike swap earlier, then was fussing with his shoe, and I really wonder what his problem is.

It’s now just three guys off the front.  One of the guys, Daniel Teklehaimanot (Dimension Data), is from Eritrea.  And he’s going for the KOM sprint!  I guess they weren’t at the summit after all!  And finally I understand what they were up to with that obviously doomed effort.  I guess I’m pretty rusty at watching bike races and making sense of them.

As you can see, I’m also pretty rusty at getting decent photos.  In my defense, Teklehaimanot was going really fast so the video camera was probably having trouble focusing.  Also, I fall behind on my reporting every time I have to type “Teklehaimanot.”

Anyway, the point I was going to make about Teklehaimanot, before he suddenly made that sweet attack for the KOM points, is that he’s one of the only, if not the only, black rider in this Giro.  I have just learned that he is only the third black Giro rider in history.  I don’t know why there aren’t more black road racers.  I’m quite sure Teklehaimanot will be the first black rider to wear the KOM jersey in the Giro.  (He is, in fact, the only black rider to ever wear the Tour de France KOM jersey.)

Wow, Eurosport just showed a top-5 highlight reel of “friction in the sprints,” which was pretty exciting.  Mark Renshaw’s famous head-butting was only #4.  The top three involved pushing and shoving that caused big crashes, and of course my wife happened to walk by at that moment.  (I guess it’s actually no coincidence because I was saying things like “holy shit!”)  Anyway, I’m torn.  On the one hand, it’s very rare for her to show any interest in this sport (she doesn’t even know what brand of bike I ride), but on the other hand I don’t need her seeing any more reminders that cycling is dangerous.

That paragraph you just read?  I know it has nothing to do with this Giro stage, but I have to keep writing or I’ll fall asleep at my desk.  This stage is so boring because the riders are loafing so badly. predicted that they’d finish at 8:14 a.m., which is in three minutes.  They would have to average 440 mph for the rest of this stage to finish on time.  I resent the riders for this, because my wife wants to go on a hike today and I’m holding up the show.  I just did some calculations and at this rate the average speed for this stage will be under 21 mph.  That’s pretty far off the highest average speed for a Giro, which was 24 mph, way back in 1983, long before EPO.  So these guys really have no excuse.

I just mentioned this average speed statistic to my wife, who said, “Maybe they’re clean!”  I was waiting for that expertly timed comic beat before she started laughing, but she didn’t.  I think she might have been serious.  As I said, she really doesn’t follow this sport.  So I’ve been trying to figure out a more plausible theory, and I think it’s that these racers are so young.  That is, they’re Millennials, and thus soft.  Perhaps they all got trophies in kiddie soccer just for participating.  It’s disgusting.  I remember when my older daughter got her first trophy:  she was like five, in soccer.  She was the most undistinguished soccer player you could imagine, just strolling along twenty feet behind the action.  She didn’t kick the ball a single time, all season, and then at the end she got a trophy.  Instead of being slightly embarrassed, she was on cloud nine about it.  She asked me, “How old were you when you got your first trophy, Daddy?”  I told her, “I was 15, but I had to earn it.  I had to win the race to get that trophy.  Nobody else got a trophy.  That’s just how it worked.  So don’t get too excited about getting a trophy for just showing up.”  If you think it’s harsh for a parent to un-praise his child like that, consider the alternative:  a bunch of whiny little bitches in Lycra averaging under 21 mph in a grand tour stage.

Okay.  I take that all back.  The pros are bigger badasses than I ever was, they don't whine, and if anything riding slow in an early Giro stage is old-school, not Millennial.  And my kid has come a long way since that participation trophy.  Click here for details (scroll to the very bottom).

Meanwhile, the scenery in this race is beautiful.  The riders just snaked through a narrow little road in a tiny town.  It wasn’t very dangerous though, because the riders are going so slow and all the spectators gave up and headed home long ago.  It’s about nine miles to go and still downhill.  It’s downhill with a tailwind so they’re finally starting to go pretty fast.

You know, maybe race leader Pöstlberger, nervous about his Bora-Hansgrohe team’s ability to defend the jersey, got his soigneur to slip roofies into the water cooler at the hotel.  Do you think WADA tests for Rohypnol?  I just checked.  They don’t test for it.  So this sluggish pace is finally explained!

If I seem excessively bitter about this slow pace, it’s because I’m using a 4G LTE cellular Internet connection, and the later it gets in the morning, the more people in my community are awake, and the more bandwidth congestion there is, so my Internet feed is slowing down and my screen keeps freezing.  I really should spring for cable, but I refuse to support Comcast or whatever name they’re hiding behind now.

It’s 7 km to go and some Katusha rider has had a flat tire.  They’re showing him trying to chase back on which means he must be a GC rider, because otherwise who would care if he caught back on?  I mean, it’s not like you could with the stage after such a chase.  It’s Ilnur Zakarin, who is indeed a GC hopeful (or perhaps a GC hopeless if his team can’t pace him back up). 

Now it’s 5km to go and the peloton is still gutter-to-gutter, nobody wanting to go hard on the front.  And my feed has stopped completely.  Dammit!

Okay, 2.6km to go and the peloton has finally lined out.  Still, in the back half of the pack the riders aren’t even in the drops.  Zakarin looks like he’s going to be able to latch onto the back, amazingly enough.  I guess the tailwind helped. 

So, it’ll be hard for me to follow this sprint because every single rider in the peloton is on a different team than last year, and half the teams have different sponsors, and most of the costumes have changed.  Okay, a rider is out of the saddle, the first time that’s happened since that KOM sprint!

“Lots of different riders in here,” the Eurosport announcers says helpfully.  Now my screen has gone black.  Do I dare hit Refresh?  Okay, my feed is back but the race is over.  I literally missed the finish, after watching this damn race for more than 2½ hours.  Maybe they’ll show a replay and I can pretend I’m still watching live.  What a travesty. 

Okay here it is!  They’re sprinting!  Somebody gets a mechanical!  Terrible timing!  And here comes Greipel up the side!  He’s a great big burly man and I think he’ll get the win!

Was that convincing?  Did it seem like it was really unfolding before my eyes?  Naw, didn’t think so.  Oh well.  What a boring stage.  Their final, official average speed was just 22.5 mph, despite having a fricking tailwind.  (Obviously my earlier calculation was pretty far off … I hadn’t accounted for the last 30 miles being downhill.)

Anyway, Greipel will take over the race lead.  I don’t even get to see the podium ceremony because the race ran over its projected time for so long, and my Internet feed has switched to soccer.  And you know what?  I’m suddenly aware of how ungrateful I’ve been … no matter how slow these bike racers go, it’ll never be as boring to watch as soccer.

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