Saturday, July 7, 2018

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2018 Tour de France Stage 1 & GC Preview

NOTE: This post is rated R for mild strong language.


Traditional coverage of bicycle racing refrains from subjective judgments; legit journalists don’t use terms like “travesty,” “mockery,” and “filthy doping douchebag” like I do. They can’t; I can. And do. In that vein, read on for my coverage of the first stage of this year’s Tour de France, a sporting event that promises the same levels of spectacle, and credibility, as professional wrestling.

Tour de France 2018 Stage 1 – Noirmoutier-En-L’Ïle to Fontenay-Le-Comte

As I join the action, there are just 21 kilometers to go. What the hell happened? Last night said the finish would be at about 7:30 a.m. PDT. This morning it’s saying the finish will be at 6:50. I guess the racers are making better time than expected. This is surely due to the new policy of the UCI around doping, which is to not actually police it whatsoever.

A couple of guys are off the front. They have 30 seconds on the field. It’s Jerome Cousin (Direct Energie) and Yoann Offredo (Wanty-Group Gobert). Believe it or not, I didn’t make up the name of that second guy’s team. It’s really called that.

My coverage is in French. isn’t even bothering to pretend there are free English language feeds anymore. After a bunch of ads in French, the lead is down to 28 seconds with 16.6 km to go.

Favorites for this stage would obviously include Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and Peter Sagan (Bora Hansgrohe). Cavendish is chasing Eddy Merck’s record of Tour stage wins which is something like 134. Sagan is chasing the green jersey, and possibly some podium girls later. (It’s a good thing for him he got his butt-grabbing scandal out of the way years ago so his reputation has had a chance to heal.)

Now, if you haven’t been following all the pre-Tour hype, I can’t blame you. The Tour is traditionally the most boring of the grand tours because Team Sky always brings its best team, and its best doctors, to the race. This year, the only challenge to their dominance was the race organizer, ASO, trying to keep Chris Froome from racing. This is because he finally got caught doping, having tested positive (which in bike racing parlance is now “adverse analytical finding,” as though that’s anything but a positive drug test) after “winning” last year’s Vuelta. So the UCI decided to make things smoother for everybody and just let Froome off the hook, at WADA’s behest. “It’s okay, he had twice the legal limit but his team explained everything,” the UCI told the media. “They submitted 1,500 pages of documentation, which we’re not letting anybody see, but it’s all good.” Was it 1,500 pages of banknotes?

So, I may not watch the climbing stages of this Tour because more than ever I can’t bear to look at Froome. This flat stage should favor other riders, though of course anything can happen. Wow, as if to prove my point, there was just a big crash!

Well, maybe not so big. It doesn’t seem to have slowed down the peloton, other than the famous douchebag Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), who was not stripped of his 2017 Milan-San Remo victory despite obviously cheating.

The field is back together with 8 km to go. They’re heading toward the finish because, well, where else would they go? Back to their team vans because this sport is almost too lame to even bother with? I couldn’t blame them.

Pierre Latour is off the back, which is insult to injury since his own name is spelled wrong. Any junior high French student can tell you it’s Letour.

With 6 km to go, Quick-step Floors and Astana are massing on the front, setting up Phillippe Gilbert and … well, I guess Astana has a sprinter. How would I know? I barely watch this sport anymore!

Hmm, here’s a weird caption on the footage: “Christopher Froome Team Sky Chute.” Is this like a live doping tracker, and he’s shooting up at this very moment? Or does it mean he crashed? (Yes, “chute” means “fall.”)

I don’t see any of that footage, which would of course be glorious. Is it wrong to wish that on anybody? Of course not. I don’t want him dead or anything, but an injury would be splendid. It wouldn’t take much to sideline him. He dropped out of the 2014 Tour de France because one of his fingers got scuffed or something, while later in that Tour Alberto Contador kept racing despite having a broken fricking leg. Anyway, yeah, a Froome injury would balance things out a bit and possibly deprive a known doper from stealing another race.

Okay, here’s some Froome footage. It does look like he either crashed or just really doesn’t do a good job of keeping his jersey clean.

With 2 km to go, the peloton is still all together. The footage keeps switching to the riders who are off the back. I can’t really figure that out.

It’s 1 km to go! Quick-step drills it on the front with some guy in a national champ jersey, perhaps , in second.

And Marcel Kittel (Katusha Alpecin) is going for the line! But then again, who isn’t?! He fades, and now it’s between reigning world champion Sagan and some Quick-step guy. Wow, the Quick-step guy is just flat-out blowing Sagan away in the sprint!

It’s Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) and he’s got the win! 

Man, he’s kind of funny looking. He’s doing the I-just-woke-up-and-am-yawning victory salute, which is a new one.

Marcel Kittel has to settle for third place.

Wow, this peloton is in tatters. Lots of little groups rolling in one by one, perhaps sorted according to how lubed they are. The clean riders will be through in a few minutes.

Here are a couple of EF Education First – Drapac p/b Cannondale riders. That team, in addition to obviously having the least snappy name in the sport, has the ugliest uniforms. It’s like what the Energizer Bunny would look like if we dropped acid. I know that doesn’t make any sense, but neither do the costumes (I dare not call them “kits”).

So the big news today is that Froome finished in a little group like 50 seconds behind the winner. What matters, of course, is how he finished relative to the other GC favorites. I can tell you he was near Richie Porte (Team BMC).

Wow, the ads here are just endless. I’m waiting for the podium ceremony because I want to see how professional these podium girls are. Bike racers should not wear beards. Beards trap too much sweat and saliva. If these ladies can kiss Gaviria’s beard without wincing, I will be very impressed. Unfortunately we’re back to the coverage now and it’s just some dippy Frenchman giving a needless post-race analysis in his silly, impenetrable language.

Oh no, how did I miss grabbing a snapshot of this? Gaviria just got his podium celebration, and the podium girls didn’t kiss him! They just sort of gave him a little wave! Either that or I missed it. Okay, here’s his yellow jersey presentation:

I think she handled that pretty well. She’s a real pro.

OMG, is that Merckx standing there?

Let’s assume it is. That’s pretty cool, though it would be even cooler if he boycotted the race on principle like Bernard Hinault is. (No, I don’t know that he is, but I don’t see him here so I’ll assume that’s what is going on.) Now Gaviria gets his green jersey.

It’s hard to tell from this photo, but she’s not actually kissing him. She’s whispering in his ear, “You really need to shave. It’s more hygienic and also more aerodynamic.”

So here’s another photo of Froome, this time (obviously) at the finish.

Judging by his elbow, he certainly did crash. My god those are ugly jerseys. Is that some kind of sea creature depicted there? I saw this jersey earlier and couldn’t figure out what team it was. Bizarre.

Now Gaviria is having a little cuddle with his new stuffed lion. You know what? I think I like this guy.

This is Gaviria’s first Tour, and surely this evening some teammate, or perhaps several fellow riders, will say, “Uh, dude, you’re not supposed to hang on to the stuffed lion. It’s bad for your rep. You need to find some kid to give it to, pronto. People are saying—not me, mind you, I’m cool with it—but people are saying you’re kind of a mietje [wuss].”

And now, because my actual coverage was so brief and I’d meant to do this anyway (albeit as a separate blog post), here is my analysis of the upcoming general classification battle.

GC pre-race analysis – the top favorites

Christopher Froome, Team Sky - Froome, the best doper of the modern sport, looks unbeatable coming off his decidedly “not normal” performance in the Giro which was more graphically unrealistic than anything Lance Armstrong ever did. His most powerful secret weapon this year is his ability to test positive without being suspended. No other rider in history has managed this feat so blatantly. Still, Froome is still arguably, putatively human and might actually be tired after winning the Giro, so this could be his year to finally lose. He’s still the odds-on favorite and when the press tries to find reasons to doubt him, they have been settling for mentioning threats to his physical security because the French cycling fans are so angry. Froome has tried to placate them, saying, “I love France. The Tour is the most beautiful race in the world.” He should have left it there, but he added, “Nevertheless, being what I am, there is no other Troy for me to burn.” (Note: I added this last part because I think it was implied even if he’s incapable of being so eloquent.)

Rigoberto Uran, EF Education First - Drapac p/b Cannondale - Uran was 2nd in last year’s Tour by a very slim margin. He is a great time trialist. He has been 2nd twice in the Giro. For some reason everybody underestimates him. Maybe it’s because he’s not Froome.

Romain Bardet, Ag2R La Mondiale – Having finished 2nd and 3rd in past Tours, Bardet was 3rd in this year’s Criterium du Dauphiné, which is promising. But then, the French just don’t seem able to win the Tour anymore. Speaking to the press, Bardet was philosophical about his limited prospects in the GC battle. “Cycling is basically Froome’s bitch,” he said. “I hope he eventually gets bored with it and moves on to something else, like insider trading maybe.” (He may or may not have actually said this. I might have mistranslated him, or perhaps he didn’t actually even open his mouth.)

Richie Porte, Team BMC – Porte is a great doper, who really learned a lot at Sky. He won this year’s Tour de Suisse so it looks like his pharmaceutical program is going pretty well. Still, he seems to have problems holding it all together. His best Tour finish was 5th in 2016, and he dropped out last year. He dropped out of the Giro in 2015. In the 2014 Tour, he took over as leader after Froome crashed and bruised one of his nipples. Porte seemed to buckle under the pressure (of being the team leader, not of having a teammate with a bruised nipple). As team leader he finished a very disappointing 23rd place. Still, he is a strong rider, often eerily, not-normally strong, so he’s got a solid shot here.

Tom Dumoulin, Sunweb – Dumoulin is of course last year’s Giro d’Italia winner, and did great at this year’s Giro as well. He looked poised to win again, but in the end couldn’t handle Froome’s doping prowess. Assuming both riders are tired from the Giro, only Froome will be able to ride well; Dumoulin, who appears to be clean, is probably going to get crushed. Only his youth could save him: he was born in, I shit you not, November 1990. DAMN do I feel old.

Vincenzo Nibali, Bahrain-Merida - Nibali has a good team, has won all three grand tours, won this year’s Milan-San Remo, and maybe didn’t totally kill himself at the Giro (placing 5th).  He’s highly motivated to beat Froome after their very public spat in the 2015 Tour, when Froome whined post-race like a little bitch after Nibali won the stage. (Click here for details.)

Nairo Quintana, Movistar - Quintana has been on the Tour podium three times, and won a stage of this year’s Tour de Suisse. He has won both of the other Grand Tours. He also comes from a poor farming family so he has lots of character. Unfortunately, character is no match for doping products, and Quintana lost more than 15 minutes to Froome in last year’s Tour. I am really rooting for Quintana because he has had the decency to speak out (albeit mildly) against Froome. Asked about Tour fans booing the emaciated cheater, Quintana said, “Sometimes you reap what you sow.” (Since I am often unable to resist putting words in riders’ mouths, I must emphasize that he really said this.

Adam Yates, Mitchelston-Scott – Yates  is quite good, though he might cook in the black jersey he’s required to wear. He took 4th and best young rider at the 2016 Tour. Last year he kind of faded. This year he was 2nd in the Criterium du Dauphiné, which suggests good form. When baited about Froome being booed at the team presentation, he remained diplomatic. “The fans booed and it’s the media’s job to cover that. Hopefully Froome is tired after the Giro. I hope the Giro took its toll, and who knows, maybe during this Tour he’ll get a bad blood bag or something.” No, he didn’t really say anything about a bad blood bag. At least not out loud.

Mikel Landa, Movistar - Landa will have to compete with teammate Quintana. Fortunately, he has plenty of practice beating up his own team members as he did with Sky (which I thought was charming; click here for details).

Ilnur Zakarin, Katusha Alpecin – Zakarin is pretty much a badass. He was third in the Vuelta once, and 5th in the Giro. Also, he uses caffeinated shampoo. Which is legal.

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