Saturday, September 9, 2017

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2017 Vuelta a España Stage 20


If you don’t have the time or inclination to watch the Vuelta a España live, but are tired of typical recaps such as tongue-biting professionals write, perhaps you’ll welcome the opportunity to laugh at an account by an amateur whose cynicism about this supposedly clean sport sometimes creates a bias. Today I give a biased blow-by-blow of the all-important Stage 20 of this Vuelta, which is surely the hardest stage of all and will decide the overall winner ahead of tomorrow’s boring, flat sprinters’ stage.

2017 Vuelta a España Stage 20 – Corvera de Asturias to Alto de l’Angliru

I’m not going to waste your time … we join the action of the final climb of the Vuelta, the Angliru, a 12km monster, beyond category.  Sure, there has been plenty of action already today but it hasn’t amounted to anything.

What you may have missed over the last few days—as I had—are two important developments.  First, in a 40km time trial, race leader Christopher Froome (Team Sky) took a minute out of Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) who sits 2nd overall on GC.  This put Froomestrong, who dopes (yes, he does, anybody can see it) in the overall lead by a seemingly insurmountable 2 minutes. But then, in a subsequent mountain stage, Nibali and the Spanish champ Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) managed to drop Punky Froomester and take like a minute out of him. This almost never happens so I really wish I’d watched.

The result is that, going into today, Froome still has like a minute on Nibali, but now seems on the back foot. Maybe Nibali and Contador will tag-team this so Contador can get a stage win (about all he can hope for, being way back on GC) and Nibali can pull off the GC victory. I for one would love to see it. Not that Contador is clean or anything, but for some reason he’s my favorite doper of the modern era. I guess this is because Contador has style, doesn’t look bad on the bike, and loses a lot. I’m mainly sore at Froome because he’s a ghastly gaunt ungainly guy, and he and his team make the sport boring by being too dominant.

Hmm, it looks like Condator isn’t even in the lead group. So he’s not necessarily going to end his career with a grand tour stage win. Oh well.

Now here’s something interesting. Team Sunweb is working really hard on the front, which duty is normally left for Team Sky. What’s Sunweb’s purpose? The announcer says, “Blah blah blah Kelderman blah blah podium blah blah blah.” It’s hard to hear because I’m on the back patio of a coffee shop with a bunch of people who are having really interesting conversations. It’s also hard to see my screen because it’s a sunny morning. Also, my brother Max is like this incredible magnet who draws all his friends to the table, so I get introduced to each of them in turn. Then I feel I should apologize in advance for being a dick by tuning them out in favor of my laptop. Why do I do this? Why would I rather write this silly report than socialize with cool people? I don’t know. I just can’t help it.

Sunweb actually has several guys on the front. They look pretty badass. This team seemed to bob up out of nowhere this year—I first encountered them in the Giro d’Italia—and I guess I’ll have to read up on them at some point.

Looks like Contador is like 54 seconds behind somebody. Maybe 54 seconds behind the GC group? Or a breakaway? I’m starting to think he’s ahead of the GC group. So, 54 seconds isn’t a ton, with 10km to go, but I’m wondering why nobody is talking about (or showing) Nibali. I mean, he’s the guy who has a chance in the GC. Who cares about a stage win, in this GC-deciding stage?

I was really groggy before and now I’ve had a cup of strong, black coffee. I don’t brew it this strong at home. I’m starting to tremble, and I think I’m at risk of having to run to the loo. I might miss an all-important attack! Maybe I should seek sponsorship from the good folks over at Depends.

All they’re talking about is if Contador can catch up!  Who cares!? He can’t overtake Froome in the GC, so he’s dead to me!

I can see Froome (you could recognize his gawky, poor form from space) tucked in there behind Sunweb and Sky.

Contador is with an Orica-Scott rider, Yates (which of the Yates brothers I don’t know or care) and some guy named Mas. Mas used to have a longer name, but he cut it down to save weight.

You know how modern action and horror movies have that shaky-camera, cinema verité thing going? I’m hoping the lack of detail and precision in this coverage is creating the same effect. Is it working? Are you on the edge of your seat, creeped out by a general sense of bewilderment?

The big Sunweb guy is still forcing the pace. You can see that Froome is struggling because his neck is all bent. I wonder … does his head always dip to the right, or does it sometimes go left? His entire body is rigid. I guess it’s possible that he’s not a doper, but an actual automaton with a hyper-alloy combat chassis, like The Terminator.

I guess they’re just showing the Contador drama because the pace is too high in the lead group for Nibali (or anyone) to attack. The cameramen have probably stopped bothering to check very often because they know how this thing works.

Some Sky guy just took off his jacket and threw it on the road, but my brother, looking over my shoulder, couldn’t see very well and said, “Wait, did he just wipe his ass with a spectator’s flag?” I confirmed this, just to keep him entertained.

I missed a couple of kilometers just now because I got caught up in a conversation. Let me figure out what I missed. Looks like Sky is still on the front, no change. Surprise, surprise. I would just love to see Nibali launch some blistering attack and just obliterate this GC group. Maybe his victory salute would be flipping the bird with both hands, or maybe some cool Italian equivalent of that.

Looks like Contador’s in a small group of guys that is like 40 seconds behind. Actually, wait! I think they’re actually ahead! Probably they were behind some nobody, whom they’ve overhauled and left behind. Look, I’m really sorry for how screwed up this coverage is. I thought it would be fun, that you’d feel like you were watching from a sports bar, but of course that’s absurd.

Nibali’s team has taken up the lead of the GC group. It seems like pedaling hard on the front could never work against Sky, though. Maybe they should take Nibali off the back a bit, and then give him like a full lead-out sprint so that when they come past the front of the group they’re going like twice as fast. And then the domestiques could all crash in the road to create a physical barrier, to slow down the chase. I mean, how is going hard at the front going to soften up Sky? Sky was on the front breaking the wind, and now they’re getting a draft! How does this leading thing help?

Oh no! My feed has frozen! And it was working so well! Maybe Sky management is on to me! Or maybe I’m delusional about anybody, even you, noticing or caring what I have to say!

So Sunweb is chasing to protect Kelderman’s podium spot, apparently. And Contador wants a stage win. And Bahrain-Merida is training for next season by working really hard.

Woah, Contador seems to be dropped! Soler, I think, has dropped him! It’s only 5km to go and Bahrain-Merida is still grinding away on the front. Nibali is doing nothing. He’s just a passenger. He must have used up all his strength earlier in the week. This GC group is small, with Tiger Woods, Poels, Zakarin, Kruijswijk, and some other bike racers. Wait, not Tiger Woods. Just Woods, whoever that is. Mr. Woods.

So Contador has 55 seconds on the GC group , and might even be leading the race. This would be more exciting if I actually knew. I refuse to say he’s dancing on the pedals like the announcer just said. That is so hackneyed. Contador is prancing on the pedals. His feet are spinning beautiful pirouettes. He’s boinging on the bike. He’s pogo-ing. He’s pistoning. He’s pedaling.

Okay, a vaguely familiar tall guy on that one team is attacking the GC group. If this attack comes to anything I’ll figure out who he is.

Contador is just macking it on the front! Let’s just say he is in the lead, and not worry about what happened to Soler. For the ageing champ in his last grand tour to be solo off the front, in his homeland, makes a good narrative and might even be true. In fact, with the doping problem so totally unresolved in this sport, making shit up seems as reasonable as reporting only what is truly believed.

So, here’s what’s happening. Contador is in the lead! It’s not a fairy tale, like the announcer is saying; I mean, that would imply this is just too good to be true.  But is it? I mean, it’s not like Contador never wins. And it’s not like a GC hopeful who has a bad day early and is no longer a GC threat couldn’t just save up some energy and then count on the GC guys to let him go. Is that really too good to be true? No, actually, it’s not uncommon!

Hey, guess what? I just noticed the caption says “Cabeza!” No, that’s not Spanish for “caboose,” it means “head,” as in the beef brains you can get on your burrito at a really authentic taqueria. Mystery solved! This is the head of the race! Contador truly is off the front! It’s a fairy tale romance!

There’s that big guy again! It’s Steven Kruijswijk! Of Lotto NL – Jumbo! This is really exciting as evidenced by all my exclamation points! I almost never use exclamation points unless I’m really excited, or have had too much strong coffee! This is crazy! I’m sweating like a pig! I’m sweating more than these bikers! Man this grade is steep! And Contador is practically weaving!

He’s got 58 seconds and 3.5km to go. Maybe he’ll pull it off. Behind, Kruisjwijk is plowing on, with a somewhat decent lead on the guys behind him. Where is this guy on GC? I can’t remember. I guess he either stands to climb onto the podium for the GC, or fall off it. Maybe he’s trying to take time out of Kelderman? I’m sorry. It’s been a hard week. I probably should have just slept in this morning.

There’s this teammate of Nibali’s who is super strong and has been on the front for ages and ages upon ages. His expression never changes. I think he’s one of these guinea pigs for the new alternative to doping, which is to surgically destroy certain parts of the brain as a way to shut down inhibitory nerve centers. This allows the athlete to literally push past the normal limitations that the brain imposes by prioritizing its own oxygen supply. Note: I totally just made this up and there’s not a scrap of truth to it (that I know of).

It’s under 3km to go and Nibali still hasn’t attacked. His mother and I are really disappointed. If he is the father of a small child, perhaps later today that child will start crying and say, “Daddy, you never win!” That happened to me once. True story.

Wow, the security on this course is terrible. Nobody will get out of Contador’s way. Assuming most of these are Spanish fans, don’t they understand they could ruin the big fairy tale? Is that any tale to tell their grandkids? “Our national hero, Alberto Contador, was on his way to a glorious victory on the hardest mountain stage of his final grand tour, right here on home soil, but I got in his way and he crashed into me and lost. That’s how I got this big scar on my face. Not from the crash, mind you, but the hoodlum fans afterward. I guess I should have stayed out of the way. Tee-hee!”

Kruijswijk is riding really well. I’m still not sure what he’ll have to show for it other than knowing he’s a badass. That must feel really good, thinking, “Those Sky guys are lubed to the gills, but I’m still breaking their legs! Look how fast I’m going! How did I ever get this fast? This is amazing! Outta my way, motherfrockles!”

Krijswijkiny! (To coin a new exclamation.) Look at this crowd!

Uh oh, my brother Max is telling a really funny story and I’m getting distracted! He’s talking about something I actually care about! My concentration is shot!

And now my Internet feed has evaporated! Again! I’m really sorry!

Oh no! One of Froomie’s teammates seems to be dragging him away from the rest of the GC group! It’s curtains for Nibali! I guess he was tilting at windmills all along. How Spanish of him.

Zakarin has dropped Kelderman … I guess he has a shot at the podium now? Remind me not to tune out of the Vuelta for days at a time and then not do my homework before presuming to explain a bike race to you people.

Less than 1km to go, and here’s what the race looks like:

I take it back, it’s 1.2 km to go.

Here’s Froomie’s teammate practically dropping him.

Oh no, Froome is only 30 seconds behind Contador!

Contador is dying! But the road flattens out a bit. I think he’ll be able to hold off Froomestrong.

Froome is clearly not as strong as his teammate. I should really learn this teammate’s name. And forget Froome’s.

And here’s the final moment of drama!

My online correspondent keeps telling me to buy the CBS Sports channel. But that coverage is commentated by a couple of drunken Aussies, always rambling about throwing a couple more shrimp on the barbee. I really like Sean Kelly’s commentary, which consists mainly of saying, “Yes.”

My correspondent says, “No, they’re not drunk … they’ve only had seven beers!” (Full disclosure: I’ve never heard these Aussies and have no credible reason to assume they’re drunks. But they’re not Sean Kelly.)

Hey, look, my feed is back!

Looks like I missed the grand finale. Oh well. Let’s assume that Contador won, and that Nibali didn’t take a minute out of Froome in the last kilometer. Okay, here’s the instant replay.

I give Contador a lot of credit for not doing that stupid “pistolero” victory salute where he pantomimes shooting a handgun. I got really tired of that act back when Contador was winning a lot.

Froome comes in third. He had some help.

His teammate helped too, of course, but by “help” I was of course talking about whatever high-test PEDs seem to enable him to crush everybody despite having all the finesse and grace of a child’s crayon drawing. Of a zombie.

I’m not going to bother with the podiums or interviews or making fun of Juan Antonio Flecha. Let’s just assume he’s wearing a Pepto-Bismol colored shirt and saying, “Contador won because he rode faster, which seems to happen a lot in this sport.”

Note: I will be crowdsourcing the funds needed to buy the CBS channel, or Fubio, or whatever the hell that stupid new extortion network is that has smothered all the good free feeds. Yes, of course I’m joking! I would never ask for money. This blog will always be free, and I hope you appreciate that, even if you get what you pay for.

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