Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2018 Tour de France Stage 16


Of course there are many ways for you to enjoy the Tour de France, or at least try. My blog has the distinction of whimsy: if I feel like casting aspersions on this or that rider, I will. Professional announcers and sportswriters obviously aren’t allowed to do that. I’m sure they bite their tongues a lot because of a certain team that likes to dope. So read on for my biased blow-by-blow of Stage 16, Carcasonne to Bagnères-de-Luchon, which includes two Category 4 climbs, a Cat 2, and two Cat 1s toward the end. It’s not a summit finish, but the last descent is steep and only 10 kilometers. An important stage!

Tour de France 2018 Stage 16, Carcasonne to Bagnères-de-Luchon

As I join the action, Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) has just stacked! I missed the actual footage because I am making pour-over coffee. What a bitch that is. Anyway, Gilbert looks like he’s okay—while getting back on his bike he actually gave the camera a thumbs-up. Oh, cool, an instant replay. Check it out!

Now, for you bike racing newbs, it’s not “GIL-bert.” It’s “zhil-BEAR.” So just stop it with the Gilbert Grape jokes. He gets some attention from his team car. Looks like some pretty painful road rash.

So there was some strange action earlier: a bunch of farmers went on strike and blocked the race. I’m not making this up. The police were nailing the protestors with pepper spray, and several riders were accidently sprayed, including the yellow jersey (Geraint Thomas, Team Sky) and current second place overall rider Chris Froome (also Sky). Tom Brailsford, ever vigilant, has cried foul and accused the farmers of conspiring to hamper his Sky team. Yes, I made that up, though Brailsford is just the kind of tool who would do such a thing. Hey Brailsford, you and me, let’s go! I’ll meet you at the flagpole!

The leaders have 53 kilometers to go and are climbing the Cat 1 Col de Menté (which translates Cool Mint). (No it doesn’t.) We’ve got three leaders, including George Hincapie. LOL! Just kidding! I’m not that old … I can still keep the names straight, though my footage is all in French. So the three leaders are Warren Barguil (Team Fortuneo-Samsic), Robert Gesink (Lotto NL-Jumbo), and Damiano Caruso (BMC Racing). They’ve got 17 seconds over current King of the Mountains Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) and some other dudes. There is a breakaway of more than 40 guys a bit behind them. At what point do you call that the peloton, and declare that the GC leaders are off the back?

I think the leaders are pretty tired from the Giro d’Italia. They keep letting these giant breakaways get waaaaay up the road.

Here’s Gesink. I’ve always liked him. He doesn’t win much, but he once broke his femur. That means if we ever met I could say, “Hey, I broke my femur too!” and we’d have something to talk about. We could compare physical therapy stories, etc.

Now, before we get too far into the action, I do want to pause here for a moment and apologize to Team Sky. I  have dealt with them unfairly. In my report of the last stage, I wrote that …

Okay, Barguil is dropped. Gesink and Caruso are just too strong for him.

Anyway, I wrote in my last report, “Team Sky has the weirdest, ugliest costumes ever for this Tour.” Actually, I didn’t write that, I just realized, looking back. I only thought it. But I’ll apologize now for even thinking it. The jerseys are ugly, but it turns out it’s for a good reason: there’s some sea creature depicted on their jerseys as part of some nature conservation species protection thing. I am totally in support of such philanthropy, even if it’s just a way for the filthiest, most dishonest team in the sport (perhaps in all of sports) to try to placate the public and burnish their image.

Gesink and Caruso are 1 kilometer from the submit of this minty penultimate climb. They’ve got only 25 seconds over the chasing group, though, so they’re probably doomed. It’s a long way (over 47 kilometers) from the finish.

Out of nowhere, Alaphillipe catches Caruso and Gesink and takes the KOM points at the summit, and then totally dusts everybody on the descent. Balls like King Kong, that guy! NOOICE!

So, in case you’ve been ignoring this Tour, maybe nursing a World Cup hangover, let me fill you in on the race thus far. Froome enters the rice totally fried from his extraterrestrial performance in the Giro d’Italia, where he rode poorly for the first couple weeks of the race and then did like a 50-kilometer solo breakaway and destroyed everybody. So yeah, he’s super tired now.

Did you catch that, just now? That sophisticated literary technique I employed, that you’ll never get from mainstream sportswriters? Yes, it was irony. I stated that Froome was totally fried, which is of course absurd. He’s never fried, really. He’s far, far too lubed for that. Only bad luck can keep him from winning his fifth Tour.

He’s actually had some bad luck in this year’s race, crashing a couple times and losing time on the flatter stages. He sits 1:39 back from his teammate Thomas, a track pursuit rider who reinvented himself as a stage racer (with a little help from the Sky doctor) and then reinvented himself again as a climber, winning the brutal stage over the Hors-Categorie Col de la Croix de Fer and Alpe d’Huez climbs. The media is pretending there is a rivalry between Thomas and Froome, a tug-of-war over team leadership, but that’s all nonsense. Froome is slated to win this Tour. It’s practically written into his contract.

Third on GC is Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), eleven seconds behind Froomestrong. On paper it looks like Dumoulin could be a strong contender, because there’s still a time trial coming up and he’s the reigning world champ in that discipline. That being said, Froome—a reedy, willowy, ghastly, gaunt, ungainly climber—has the uncanny ability to beat time trial specialists at their own game when required. Also, Dumoulin—whom I suppose is clean—is probably going to crack at some point. Fate does not jam. Sky and Froome do not lose.

The rest of the GC is in tatters. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) crashed out with a broken vertebra, having stacked four kilometers from the summit of Alpe d’Huez and then having valiantly chased back to limit his losses. Man, that guy has a high pain threshold. Riche Porte (BMC Racing) also crashed out, on Stage 9 (the same stage he crashed out last year). Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First – Drapac), last year’s Tour runner-up, also crashed out. Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) has lost a bunch of time, maybe due to crashes or maybe just being at the wrong end of a split or two. So despite not having the yellow jersey yet, Froome has caught a lot of lucky breaks in this Tour.

The GC group is on the descent. There are still five Sky riders in this group, notwithstanding the four categorized climbs the race has gone over and this being the third week of the Tour. This is simply because Sky management is really good at recruiting, according to one of my online correspondents. It really has nothing to do with doping. This is not US Postal all over again. Don’t worry, we’re all good!

Everybody is doing a really long descent so there’s not that much to report, other than my dismay at some of the French TV ads I’m watching. It appears that, notwithstanding the success of the self-help book French Women Don’t Get Fat, there does now seem to be a market in France for weight-loss products such as ready-made frozen lite dinners and, bizarrely, this vibrating fat-melter:

There are also lots of ads for over-the-counter pharmaceuticals whose purpose I cannot grasp, my French being too poor. And there appear to be purpose-specific shaving creams. One is apparently for shaving your chest. Another ad shows this guy with the Don Johnson stubble admiring his reflection, then squirting the shaving gel into his hand, and then—incongruously—admiring his reflection again with the stubble still intact. So … what did he shave? His palms? Hmmmmm.

So the two leaders have extended their gap to over a minute on the chase group. Very impressive! The GC group is hovering at a little under 12 minutes back, Sky lined out on the front tirelessly. A bunch of dudes who fell off the breakaway are now absorbed like the disgusting fluids that collect in that spongy little pad in a Styrofoam pack of Tyson chicken parts.

Movistar comes to the front, perhaps looking to set up Mikel Landa or Quintana for an attack.

The scenery footage has gotten a lot better in recent years. I think they have multiple helicopters now. Or maybe as I age I’m just more receptive to the sublimity of nature and so forth.

The leaders have 20 kilometers to go. They’re at the base of the Cul du Portillon, a fairly beastly Category 1 climb. The gap to the GC group has dropped to about 10 minutes. At some point Caruso and Gesink were caught by the chasers, probably during one of the commercials. Man, there are a lot of them. Here’s the profile of the climb:

Barguil detonates! He’s going backward now. So is Mathias Frank (AG2R La Mondiale), who has surely done a lot of work today for team leader Romain Bardet, who sits 5th on GC, 3:21 back. When a domestique works hard for a teammate and then blows up and gets dropped, that looks clean to me. Just sayin’.

Man, Gesink is really drilling it on the front!

He’s got a gap now with Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida). Back in the field, Astana and Movistar are moving their guys up into position. Maybe we’ll get some good attacks here.

OMG, my brother, who is visiting, just clocked his head on this jutting-out ceiling bit above the stairs down into the home office! My dad once said, “If this were my house I would put foam rubber there.” I replied, “It’s my house and I just watch where I’m going.” No, I didn’t say that. I wanted to. Anyway, my brother’s head is fine apparently. Still, I’m going to outfit him with a helmet for the rest of his visit. I’m taking the time to explain all this because my Internet race feed has gone away so there’s really nothing else I can report on at the moment. Dang, it’s not coming back! I’m starting to get worried.

There’s some ad that requires the Flash player, which I don’t have, which stops my feed cold. When I re-launch the page I have to watch American commercials, which are even worse than French ones.

My feed is back, and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) is off the front solo!

Behind him, Alaphilippe dukes it out with Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo). The giant earlier breakaway has mostly exploded, with maybe six guys left in it.  

Yates is rocking black socks with white shoes. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Actually, I am: I don’t like it. It’s completely backwards. But he’s really haulin’ ass, and I like that!

Now it’s another American commercial, this time for a Star Wars themed Disney Cruise Line cruise. The end of civilization is officially here. The center cannot hold.

So, Yates has only 22 seconds over Alaphilippe as he crosses the summit, but it’s downhill all the way to the finish. It’s gonna be a nail-biter because Alaphilippe is a great descender. If Alaphilippe catches Yates, who’s the better sprinter?

Imagine the pressure on these guys. Alaphilippe cuts a perfect line through a sharp curve, meaning he comes this close to grazing a rock guardrail.

OMG! Yates stacks!

Alaphilippe is in the lead now, tucking in a way that presents maximum risk to his giant testicles.

Yates isn’t that far behind Alaphilippe, considering. I’m amazed he (apparently) wasn’t hurt, crashing at that speed. Presumably he has a massive amount of adrenaline to work with now, anyway. He’s 10 seconds behind, and 16 seconds ahead of the chasers. These guys are flying down this thing, 80 kph (almost 50 mph).

Jon Izagirre Insausti (Bahrain-Merida) has caught Yates. Alaphilippe is only 1.7 kilometers from the finish and is hammering along the flats now.

He flashes the camera a grin. He’s under the 1K banner now and looks to have this in the bag! He hammers toward the line and starts waving to the crowd. Big old grin. Keeps looking over his shoulder like they always do—“Is this for real, do I really have this?” He does! He’s got the win!

A few others come across, and then a bit behind them is Yates. He must be sooooo bummed. I wonder if this is mixed with relief that he wasn’t hurt. Probably not … that’s just me being a parent. I don’t enjoy watching the descents like I used to. I used to watch and think, “I could do that. I could hang with those guys on that downhill.” Now I think, “Oh, be careful you guys!”

A fellow rider congratulates Alaphilippe. I wonder if they mind the armpit stench.

It looks like the GC group is over the summit without any fireworks. There’s a guy whose job it is to decide what footage is worth showing. (I know this because I once had that job, for ESPN covering the Coors Classic.) Evidently nobody in the GC group was doing any attacking, so this person decided to use the footage of the stage leaders on the descent. Good call, since that really was riveting.

So, a cycling fan who hasn’t raced, or a commentator who is going senile, might fault riders like Dumoulin and Bardet for not attacking Team Sky on the final climb. “They’re not taking enough initiative and they’re just letting Sky win,” this untutored rube or age-addled pundit might say. This is completely false. It’s one thing to know what you have to do, but quite another to actually do it. How can you attack Sky when they’re setting such a high pace you’re almost going out the back?

The GC group comes through. It’s down to 14 guys, and four of them are Sky riders. That’s not suspicious or anything, though. I’m sure Team Sky just tries harder, eh? They just have more heart. They care more. They’re not as lazy as the other teams. Uh-huh. Anyhow, needless to say there is no change in the GC from today’s stage.

They’re interviewing Alaphilippe. “I almost didn’t start today,” he explains. “My wife called from home, and it seems our cat was lost this morning. She’s having her folks stay with her while I’m gone, and the cat got a little spooked. She was a stray, you see, and very skittish. So my wife was biking all over the neighborhood yelling ‘Freya, Freya! Neighbors would ask, ‘Did you lose a pet? And she’d reply, ‘No, I’m just talking to myself. Anyway, I was all set to fly home to help in the search, but then the cat turned up. She was hiding under the stairs. I’m so glad I stayed and raced because this is a beautiful victory.”

To be honest, I’m not at all sure I translated that correctly. In fact, I guessed quite a bit. Okay, full disclosure: I couldn’t understand a word he said. As I said before, my French is poor, and Alaphilippe was mumbling a bit and I have the volume turned low because the family is sleeping. That thing with the cat? That actually happened to me. It’s as close as I’ll ever get to riding the Tour.

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1 comment:

  1. Well done Dana! You really had me with Alaphilippe's cat story.