Sunday, April 8, 2018

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2018 Paris-Roubaix


Cycling commentators are professionals. That means they generally hold their tongues, and don’t bag on anybody, even the dopers and the clowns. I’m an amateur with nothing to lose, so I tell it how it is. Here is my blow-by-blow coverage of the 2018 Paris-Roubaix, one of cycling’s most famous races.

(Why is it famous? Here’s a hint.)

2018 Paris-Roubaix

As I join the action, the riders have exactly 100 kilometers to go. And there’s a crash! Looks like Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) and I think they said Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates).

“They”? Yeah, I am watching the Eurosport coverage and benefiting from their commentary. So I can act like I’m smart by claiming their observations as my own, while acting like a smartass by making fun of them. See how this works?

There’s a breakaway with 2:34 over the peloton, but they have no hope, really. They lost two minutes of their lead while I was in the bathroom. The only rider I care about in the break is Geoffrey Soupe (Cofidis, Solutions Credits) and that’s just because of his name. Who doesn’t like soup? And “Soupe” is even better because he’s French. But it’s really the “Geoffrey” that I like because that’s my brother’s name. When my brother did the “My Book About Me” project in first grade (i.e., Narcissism 101), for the prompt “One thing people don’t know about me is...” he wrote, “My name is Geoffrey, not Geoff, and I am not stuppid.”

Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) is on the front! He’s a major contender today, with his impressive results in so many races and his mountain biking background, but he has never had a very good Paris-Roubaix. He complained after the Tour of Flanders that the other teams wouldn’t help him work against Quick-Step Floors, which has dominated the 2018 season so far. Four-time Paris-Roubaix winner Tom Boonen bagged on Sagan for this, saying, “I don't think Sagan really should talk about a lack of cooperation. He is the one who always starts to drag. He looks to see what is going on, and then he comes forward once and starts waving his hand. If you do that you have to keep your mouth shut.”

That sounds pretty harsh, eh? Don’t worry, it’s all cool. Boonen told Sagan in advance that he’d be saying this. “Look, I’m trying to make it as a commentator now that my cycling career is over, and they’re telling me I’m boring, so I’m gonna have to light you up a bit. Nothing personal, eh?” Sagan just shrugged, because he doesn’t speak any Flemish and barely speaks English. (Note that I made this all up, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also true.)

Here is the main bunch. You can see Sagan in there with his world champion jersey.

To be fair to Sagan, he has a lot of trouble because his team isn’t very good. Probably their best guy is Marcus Burghardt. They also have Peter’s brother Juraj, who fielded accusations of nepotism by saying, “My name is Juraj, not George, and I am not stuppid.” Is this really nepotism? Of course. Juraj did win the GP Boka (whatever that is) in 2009, was 6th in the 2010 Giro Del Veneto (ditto), but other than winning the Slovakian National Championships a couple times has never done anything remarkable in the sport. I wish my own brothers were well-connected and could hook me up like that. At least they’re not stuppid.

Okay, this is interesting. There’s a small chase group now that looks important. It’s one of the main favorites, Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors), along with Nils Poliitt (Katusha Alpecin) and Mike Teunissen (Sunweb).

At the back end of the peloton, the blatant cheater and shameless liar Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) is struggling just off the back. Good. Serves him right. After his disgraceful behavior at the 2016 Milan-San Remo, I hope he never wins another race.

Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) has dropped out after a crash. I have nothing personally against Thomas other than him riding for Sky, a team so riddled with drugs they should all just go away. There, I said it. By the way, Boonen stuck up for Froome recently, so he (Boonen) is now dead to me. (Froome was of course dead to me all along.)

Tony Martin (Katusha Alpecin) is chasing now, all by himself. And this dude, whoever he is, is racing without gloves. WTF!?

Now Sdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors) is on the attack.

In the time it took me to check the spelling on “Sdenek” (and I still got it wrong, there’s some weird accent mark I can’t be bothered with), the Gilbert group was pulled back.

One of Sagan’s teammates, I think it’s Burghardt, is on the front, and Sagan moves up too. This is probably more about positioning for the next cobbled section than about the breakaway, which is down to 1:12 anyway with about 70km to go. Stybar is still going it alone and now he passes one of the breakaway riders who is going backwards.

There is one American in this race, Taylor Phinney (EF Education First – Drapac). He has had some great results in the past and could actually do something here.

Okay, Eurosport just killed their stream so I’m watching the Dutch coverage. So I’ll have to make sense of things for myself. For one thing, Stybar is still killing it.

Okay, I spoke too soon. Stybar is getting caught. And now his teammate Yves Lampaert attacks. I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard of this guy, but I suppose this does force the other teams to chase so Stybar can get a rest and maybe try again.

Sagan takes a pull! Be careful with this expression when you’re talking to Brits, by the way. It means something entirely to different to them, involving a monkey being punished. Man, it’s a strong pull ... I think Sagan has gapped the field without exactly meaning to.

Sagan is solo! The Dutch commentators are oddly blasé about it. If Sagan catches the lead trio and any of those guys turn out to have been loafing, that could be very good for him. But chances are they’re not loafing, they’re fried.

Sagan catches the lead group. It’s only 26 seconds ahead of the peloton, though. Just in case these three don’t turn out to be irrelevant, their names are Sven Erik Bystrom (UAE Team Emirates), Jelle Wallays (Lotto Soudal), and Silvan Dillier (AG2R La Mondiale).

Two riders are trying to bridge up: Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) and Wout Van Aert (Veranda’s Willems-Crelan). Wout, wout!

Yikes, a crash!

Looks like Kristoff was caught up in that. Could be the end of his race.

At the front, Sagan is drilling it and the lead is back out to 48 seconds!

In the time it took me to get that snapshot, the lead went up to 55 seconds! Sagan is really going for it!

Looks like Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) was caught up in the crash. He’s the only rider my wife cares about, based on his looks. “Care” is putting it a bit strongly, actually. He’s the only rider she doesn’t detest for being too skinny.

I think this is Taylor Phinney on the left, leading the chase.

The Sagan group has lost somebody. Their lead is coming down now as well: it’s only 39 seconds now. Wait, now it’s 42, now 43. Now 44. I guess it’s coming back up. But there are still 42 km to go ... probably this won’t last unless somebody bridges up or Sagan has an amazing day.

Indeed, it’s Phinney toward the front. A chase group with six riders is floating a bit ahead of the main bunch. It’s Gilbert, Phinney, Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First – Drapac), Jasper Stuyven (Trek – Segafredo), reigning Paris-Roubaix champion Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), and Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors), who recently won the Tour of Flanders.

Sagan’s group now has 1:06 over the main bunch, and 58 seconds on the chase group. There are 35 km left in the race. The other two in the break are actually doing some of the work. That’s gotta be pretty exciting. It was Bystrom who got dropped, by the way, so this is Wallays and Dillier with Sagan.

Wallays looks like he’s hanging on for dear life now.

Nike Terpstra is leading the chase group. The way he is holding his body, he looks a bit tired ... or am I projecting?

Here’s a nice close-up of Sagan and a young fan.

What the hell?! Sagan seems to be adjusting his stem while he rides. This can only indicate mental illness. I mean, okay, I suppose it’s possible that there’s actually something wrong with his stem, but what are the odds a rider would be carrying a wrench for that? This is not a rhetorical question: the odds are zero. No rider brings wrenches in his jersey pocket, except a crazy person. The last rider to do mid-race bike adjustments was Eddy Merckx, who wasn’t exactly crazy, but had some definitely odd idiosyncrasies after a horrific crash motorpacing that killed his coach. Afterward he could never get comfortable on the bike and would often make adjustments when possible, such as when the peloton was waiting for a train or stopped by protestors. But I don’t think even Merckx tried to make adjustments while riding! This is so bizarre! I don’t care what happens for the rest of this race ... it’s already the best Paris-Roubaix ever.

Okay, let’s think about this. Maybe Sagan’s stem was loose, and he didn’t want to wait for a new bike, so he went back to his team car while I wasn’t looking and borrowed a wrench? I guess that could be it, though I’d rather have this be a glimpse into serious psychological issues.

Now Wallays has been seriously gapped by the breakaway. I think he’s done. And Sagan is totally drilling it on the front, with just 25 km to go!

The chase group is still holding together but are about 1:10 back now. Not sure how far it is back to the main group. Sagan looks seemingly infinitely powerful.

Dillier is doing some of the work and actually looks pretty good too, his expression notwithstanding.

The gap is up to 1:26. Terpstra and Van Avermaet are working pretty well at the front except they’re just not going fast enough. Still, 21 km is a long way ... maybe they’re letting Sagan hang out to dry? Or maybe they’re hoping his handlebars fall off?

Sagan’s bike is really ugly. I like Specialized bikes—I really do—but the gold just looks cheesy. It’s like the cheap gold paint you put on cardboard blocks to simulate gold bricks when you’re in like third grade. It’s the color of the lame plastic sword you get with a cheap Halloween costume.

Maybe this really is Sagan’s day ... maybe Boonen really pissed him off so he’s out to prove something. His lead is up to 1:30 and he actually is getting some real help from Dillier!

It seems like the chase group is holding together pretty well. Alas, all the footage is of the breakaway so I can’t tell what’s happening behind.

Phinney works hard at the front for his teammate, Vanmarcke. Man, those Education First – Drapac costumes are ugly. Who came up with those colors? It’s like Pepto-Bismol pink with puke-y neon green, like a teenaged Easter bunny in the ‘80s.

Terpstra takes a pull and looks like he means it. As if in direct response, the gap drops to 1:12 very quickly ... so Sagan doesn’t have this in the bag by any means.

Sagan is totally hammering, whether in response to the dropping gap or because Dillier is starting to make him nervous. The gap is down to 1:08. They’re reaching the end of the last really serious section of cobblestones.

There are only 13.6 km left in the race but the gap is down to a minute. Sagan has got to be pretty much shitting himself now. Fortunately, Dillier takes a turn at the front. He’d probably be pretty happy with second place here, and who knows, I guess it’s possible he could beat Sagan in a sprint if Sagan did a ton of work and was just fried or paused to give that stem bolt another good turn.

The chase group is down to just four riders: Terpstra, Van Avermaet, Phinney, and Vanmarcke. The winner today will very likely be either Sagan or one of these guys.

Dillier takes another turn at the front as the gap drops to just 48 seconds. Man, we’ve got a real bike race here! My daughter shows up and I catch her up on what’s going on. Perfect timing, that.

The main bunch is way back at 1:25. Nobody in that group will be a factor at the finish. And Sagan and Dillier are under the 10km banner! Gap is now 47 seconds.

Dillier has really ugly sunglasses.

With  7.7 km to go, the gap is 45 seconds ... such a nail-biter for those who bite their nails. I wish we could get some help for those people, the nail-biters.

And it looks like Wilfred Peters has brought his own weather to this race.

Hmmm, he’s also not wearing a helmet. I think maybe that photo isn’t current. It’s from 2001! How did that sneak in here?

The gap, amazingly, is back up to 51 seconds! Unbelievable! I don’t know how Sagan does it. He’s been out there since like 54 km to go. I’m starting to think the only thing that could stop him now is that loose stem.  The gap is now up to 54 seconds, with only 6 km to go. What’s wrong with these chasers?

Terpstra is drilling it now, and gaps Phinney!

Probably it’s too little, too late. This really could be an amazing win for Sagan. It would be the first time in 37 years that a reigning world champion takes Paris-Roubaix (the last being Bernard Hinault in 1981).

With 3.6 km to go, the gap is back up to a minute! Wouldn’t it be amazing if Dillier actually won? He really is looking good and doing his share of the work. But Sagan has a legendary sprint. Hell, even I probably couldn’t beat him. Oh, wait, I just remembered I’m not a World Tour racer.

I think they’re done with the cobbles now and on some pretty nicely manicured city streets in Roubaix.

Maybe Sagan’s handlebars will come completely off during the final sprint! That might not cost him the win, though. He can do a no-handed wheelie, after all.

The racers now have the velodrome in sight!

Why on earth is Dillier leading it out? How did Sagan swing that?

Like clockwork, Sagan comes around Dillier as they approach the finish line!

And Sagan has got the win! The sprint was a formality due to Sagan’s earlier work with the allen wrench.

My daughter’s hands are trembling with the excitement! She’s a true fan! It’s a great day! Sagan gives Dillier a little handshake.

Sagan, needless to say, is thrilled. His handler, however, looks bored and a bit annoyed.

Terpstra takes third. Like you care. Like I care. Like he cares.

Since Sagan was never considered even an outside favorite for today’s race, one of the organizers has to scramble to get the plaque ready for his trophy.

Sagan is being interviewed. “I kept going until the end,” he declares. “I am very happy to came the first.” I love this guy. Strong like bull ... smart like tractor. Not that I would be any more eloquent if I had to say anything in Slovak, of course.

Okay, they just showed some highlights from the race and indeed, Sagan did drop by the team car to borrow a wrench. It appeared to be an allen key, which is pretty dangerous. With those carbon fiber steerer tubes on modern forks, you really need a torque wrench. It’s a good thing Sagan didn’t overtighten it, and that he didn’t linger too long at the team car holding out for a proper wrench. I’d say he played this one just perfectly, tactics-wise.

Look at this handler. He still looks bored and slightly annoyed. I guess he couldn’t care less about bike racing. What a shame ... I would love to have that job (for a day) though I’d have to gain a lot of weight before being qualified for the job. But one time during the 1985 Coors Classic I got to hold Bernard Hinault’s bike for him while he went up to the podium. That was a thrill.

Here’s your top 10:

They’re preparing for the podium. What’s with the ski goggles? Must be a sponsorship thing. Or maybe he is crazy after all.

Dillier looks reasonably happy, I suppose, after missing the win.

Notice how the podium girls are at the far edges of the stage this time around. They’re on their way to being gone altogether. Is this Bernard Hinault presenting the trophy to Sagan? I hope not ... he doesn’t look so good.

Here’s your final podium.

That does it, I’m going to go out and buy some neon green ski goggles.

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