Saturday, October 7, 2017

Biased Blow-By-Blow - Il Lombardia 2017


Il Lombardia is the last big classic on the World Tour calendar. I’ve never bothered to watch it before, despite its being one of the “Monuments”—a word the press came up with when they decided “classic” just wasn’t impressive enough. Remember when “the media” was called “the press”? Those were the days.

Il Lombardia used to be called Giro de Lombardia, which made sense. But then the organizers changed it to Il Lombardia, so they could laugh at the stupid American journalists who call it “The Il Lombardia,” which is as bad as “the L’Alpe D’Huez.” Which is as bad as “TCBY Yogurt” and “ATM machine.”

Anyway, this race is a big deal. And I’m going to report it as I see fit, which means pulling no punches when an obviously lubed rider (e.g., a Team Sky rider) does something “not natural.” That’s where the “biased” bit comes in. Because I’m biased against dopers. I can’t help it. It’s just how I was raised.

Il Lomardia – Bergamo to Como, Italy – October 6, 2017

As I join the action, Manchester United is doing a great job of moving the ball up and down the gridiron.

Wait, something’s wrong. That doesn’t look at all like cycling. And yet it’s somehow familiar. Oh, yeah! It’s that other sport, football! Something is wrong with my live Internet feed … as usual. But good news: I just found another one, which is blurry and grainy and in French, but it’ll do for now. I gather that as I join the action, there’s a breakaway of nobodies with a decent gap over the peloton. The climbing is just beginning in earnest.

It’s just so blurry, I can’t even tell how far from the finish they are. I think it’s 50 kilometers.

OMG! Laurens de Plus  (Quick-Step Floors), one of the breakaway riders, has gone over a guardrail! You see that shiny thing at the top of this photo? That’s his fricking bike!

They’re showing an instant replay and my screen just froze, so I’m poised on the Print Screen button so if it un-freezes I can get a better shot. Here you go:

Is it okay to be wowed by this kind of terrible accident? Should I be looking away? Perhaps, but in fairness, I was also captivated when watching an ER doctor put a foot-long drill bit right through my fricking tibia a few years back. My wife was there and she also found it fascinating. Obviously I’d feel terrible if the guy died or something, especially if by “the guy” I mean myself. Though usually nobody dies from having a hole drilled in his leg, nor from going over a guardrail on a bike.

Okay, I have a clearer feed now but it’s still in French. Not that French is bad or anything. It’s not you, French language—it’s me. I studied and studied that language and I still can’t understand shit.

So it looks like 38 km to go, and the lead rider is Mickael Cherel (AG2R La Mondiale). He’s got like a minute—but over whom, I can’t tell.

An ambulance is tending to de Plus. And now Cherel begins the next climb.

Back in the chase, we’ve got a very dangerous duo: Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) and Alessandro De Marchi (BMC Racing Team).

De Marchi is a pretty cool name—I mean, the guy just sounds fast—and of course Gilbert was a major favorite for this race going in. Look at these guys! They’re haulin’ ass!

Okay, I don’t know what the hell this ad is for. Actually, I don’t think it’s even an ad, but a hostile takeover of my video feed by … what? What in the hell am I looking it? Appears to be some kind of pressure cooker. Maybe it’s a special device for sterilizing old, clenbuterol-laden Spanish beef that spent too long in a cooler on its way across Europe?

And now, a tour of a sausage factory, as though anybody ever wanted to see that. It’s easy to see where Roger Waters came up with the conveyor-belt student march scene in “Pink Floyd The Wall”:

What the hell is this? Is Tiz-Cycling doing an infomercial? Or were they hijacked by some macabre factory food channel? This whole Internet coverage thing is such bullshit. You know who ruined it? Those Fubo bastards. Once they came out with their paid service, stopped providing links to free coverage. Fubo must have paid them off. You know what? I refuse to pay for Fubo. They’re banned for life. I’d rather start covering some stupid American “sport,” like video gaming or online poker.

So here’s what’s happening in the race. I lost over 10 kilometers during my side trip to the underworld of meat, and now that I’m back (well, okay, temporarily back—I got about five seconds of coverage before my screen froze again) I’ve learned that Cherel has been caught by Gilbert, De Marchi, and Pello Bilbao (Astana Pro Team), who kind of came out of nowhere. This break could really get somewhere.

Some good news I gleaned from one of these little sidebar chats (that for now are substituting for any actual footage): de Plus, the rider who went over the guardrail, is not badly injured and is alert and chatting with his Quick-Step staff. Whew!

Okay, ten minutes of Internet struggle later, the race is down to 17 kilometers, and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) is somehow now in the lead. And now Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), a former winner of this race, is catching him!

See that stupid yellow bar blocking the screen? I can’t get rid of it! I click the X and all it does is take me to a new page that attempts to install a virus on my PC. Curses!

Rigoberto Uran Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) is leading the chase. He’s been on the podium three times in this race and has had good form lately. Not sure what the gap is. Nibali and Pinot are bombing the descent. Nibali is a great descender; Pinot normally sucks. But Pinot seems to be doing a pretty decent job today. Wait, no, I take it back. In the span of a huge screen-blocking ad that took 25 seconds to go away, Nibali dropped Pinot.

Okay, I have a new, super-grainy feed now but at least it’s in English and there’s no ad at the moment. There are just under 10 km to go and Pinot is totally isolated. Uran looks like he’s dropped the chase group!

Nibali has 9 seconds on Pinot and 45 on the next chase, which is Uran and now some Sky guy. It’s now 7.5 km to go and there’s at least one more climb. Pinot doesn’t look so good … there’s just something lackluster about his chase. Or am I projecting?

Nibali looks rock solid. I wonder if this race feels scripted to him … this is just like his victory on the same course in 2015.

The Sky guy has dropped Uran Uran. And the commentators have dropped one of the Urans. Everybody used to call him Uran Uran, and now it’s just Uran. Maybe he lopped one Uran off himself, to save weight. Seems to be working out for him. Maybe next season his name will just be Ur.

Nibali is on the last climb. If he does a good job here he should be able to hold his lead on the final descent and the bit of flat run-in to the line.

Okay, Uran has definitely been dropped.

Looks like Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) is leading the chase—but what’s this? Fabio Aru (Astana Pro Team) drills it and Quintana is going backwards!

Pinot is way behind now, like 38 seconds. He’ll get scooped up by the peloton for sure. And sure enough, here comes Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors), blowing by him.

Nibali has only 3.7 km to go and he’s still looking good. But Alaphilippe is solo, and is bombing the descent!

I’m not sure if it’s Alaphillipe or Gilbert, actually. Those guys are dressing alike lately. Maybe both riders are solo. Maybe Alaphilippe is closest to Nibali and now Gilbert is coming up from behind. But I don’t think it matters because Nibali is under the 1 km banner!

I keep checking to see if they’ve fired up their live stream, but I guess somebody called in sick. For the first half hour I was checking, it was a countdown to their footage, but when it reached zero it just started counting up. So here’s what I get instead of live cycling action—a little ticker, just to rub it in how long they’ve been blowing it:

Nibali has got this race in the bag. Whoah, he’s flipping off the crowd! No he isn’t. He was just waving. This feed is so grainy. And now he’s doing something really weird, which makes this the strangest victory salute ever: he’s trying to suck his nipple! Oh, wait, he was just talking into his radio or something. Never mind. And here’s his victory salute.

Some guys are sprinting in for the minor places. They don’t actually care and neither do I. My inability to get good, clear, consistent footage was just way too distracting and I never really got into this race. Stupid fricking sport. You know what? I think I’m done with this blow-by-blow tradition, and with trying to watch bike races at all. If I followed something like American football, I wouldn’t be nine hours behind, and I could watch it live in a sports bar in the evening, on a big flat screen, in the company of fellow Americans who would yell at the screen and thump me on the back and gloat with me (provided we were rooting for the same team) and we’d be drinking good, watery American non-craft beer and it would just be so fun. Instead I’ve got like fifteen screens open and I’m just fighting to see something, like a little kid stuck behind a bunch of grownups at a parade.

Speaking of parades, here’s a true story. I was with my family at the Christmas tree lighting-up ceremony in Ashland, Oregon many years ago and Santa was standing on this balcony officiating, and he was completely drunk! Slurring his words, poor motor control—I actually thought (and half-hoped) he would fall off the balcony. So, needless to say it, was the best civic event ever in Ashland. Fast-forward a few years and I’m there at the ceremony again, this time with my brother and his family, and we’re all super-excited because hey, drunk Santa! But there’s no Santa this time, just a stupid parade, and it’s lamest parade in history. Each float looks like it was thrown together in about five minutes, and the music is coming from a single weak battery-powered boom box. Somebody is throwing candy, but such a paltry amount that it’s causing small children to fistfight in the gutters. As we leave, cold and dejected, and begin the long walk to the van, my four-year-old niece says, “Well, that parade pretty much sucked.” My brother glares at me, and I glare at my older daughter. There’s no question where my niece has picked up this new expression. My daughter looks back sheepishly and says, “Sorry Dad.”

So, yeah. That Lombardia pretty much sucked. Here’s the top ten. Like I care.

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