Friday, September 25, 2020

From the Archives - The Bars: a Family Saga


This tale, from my archives, concerns an emotional tug-of-war between my father and me which ended up putting my innocent 15-year-old nephew John in harm’s way. Here are John and his father looking none too pleased about it.

If you love bike lore, there’s plenty here to dive into. If you don’t, but enjoy a good tale of intergenerational family turmoil and/or have a yen for Schadenfreude, read on. If you don’t care about bikes or families, click here.

The Bars – September 2008

The family saga begins with this email from my brother:

From: Bryan Albert

Sent: Friday, August 29, 2008 1:57 AM

To: Dana Albert, Geoff Albert, Peter S, Mom, Joanne J

Subject: RSVP


Guess what? I'm going to tell you about our big RSVP ride, the Ride from Seattle to Vancouver and Party. [Much detail about the route, etc. omitted here; they did “only” the first day, a 108-mile trek from Seattle to Bellingham.] The ride was great—the weather was awesome, even getting good and hot at some points. [More detail omitted here, including details of sprinting to all the city limit signs, which is SOP for all our family rides throughout time.]

The ride was not without incident, however. Sometime before noon, while climbing up a small hill, John announced that there was something wrong with his bike and that we ought to pull over. To my horror, he demonstrated that his handlebar had cracked and was about to break off altogether! All those sprints flashed before my eyes, and I was very grateful that it decided to break on a climb and not some high-speed sprint. Can you imagine? That would be a crash for sure! So what’s up with that—handlebars aren’t supposed to break, are they? These weren’t even the drilled bars [i.e., holes we drilled so the brake cables could run inside … very cool but widely considered a foolish practice for reasons of safety].

Anyway, it was clear that we wouldn’t get far before the whole right side of the bar would fall off and his buzz would be seriously shackled. He’d have to ride along holding the bar up so that it didn’t get stuck in his wheel or something. He’d probably end up throwing his back into a spasm, and he’d never ride again. So we arranged with Jean [Bryan’s wife] to stop at the next town and effect repairs. The whole way there I was contemplating what might work... Anyway we hit the thrift store first, then the hardware store. I eyed a used golf club at the thrift store that I might break into splints. John might have liked that, with the golfing theme and all—I could have even left the club end of it hanging off like a medallion or something. But I finally settled on a hickory hammer handle, which I lashed to the handlebar with a webbing strap. It wasn’t pretty, and John didn’t hammer any of the remaining sprints (though he did power to victory on one sprint from in the saddle, having gotten a good jump on me), but it did get him home without incident. So that was cool.

[The rest of the story is my response to his email, which I wrote with an eye to one day reaching a far more general audience, as I’m now doing.]

On Sep 12, 2008, at 5:46 PM, Dana Albert wrote:


What a great story! What a great time you guys had. The misadventures make the experience that much more memorable. Think of how the Donner party would have sunk into obscurity had everything gone smoothly. (Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit here.)

That’s crazy about John’s handlebar. I have to admit I feel some guilt about that handlebar cracking, since I put those bars on the bike for John. I was actually relieved to look at the photos and see that it was the starboard side of the bars that broke. Why, you ask? The fact is, those bars were bent when I put them on there (though on the port side), and I knew it. (You can see it in the photo in fact.)

That bike, when I bought it from my teammate, sported these Scott Drop In bars, which instead of stopping where dropped handlebars normally do, have longer ends that turn in 90 degrees and provide a second platform for the rider to put his hands on. When I started working at Square Wheel in 1990, those Drop In bars were getting a lot of attention as Greg LeMond had just won the Tour de France with them. The shop owner predicted I’d purchase a set within two weeks. I said, “Oh yeah? I’ll bet I won’t.” I didn’t, and within the year nobody else was using them anymore either. [In fact they’ve been called the #1 all-time worst piece of road tech by BikeRadar magazine.]

So when I got that bike I had to come up with some different bars for John. No nephew of mine is going to go around with those ridiculous Scott Drop Ins. Fortunately, I had two pairs of Cinelli bars, either of which would work with the bike’s stem. (They wouldn’t work with the more modern stems of my current fleet so they were just malingering in my old gear stash.) One pair of these bars was old and slightly bent. Another pair was newer and not bent. At this point you’re guessing, “Oh, so Dana simply gave John the old bent pair because children don’t deserve the best.”

Logical though this guess might be, it simply wasn’t the case. As a matter of fact, I’d been riding the old bent bars on my main road bike for years, and had been using the newer pair on my rain [i.e., backup] bike. The reason is, when I ordered the new bars, intending to put them on my main bike and exile the bent bars to the rain bike when I was first building it up, I had no idea Cinelli had lost its mind and ruined the design of their Model 66 Campione del Mundo handlebars. It is difficult to describe the folly of this move. The best I can do is to compare it to Coke’s decision, in the late eighties, to change its formula. 

If you ask any road cyclist worth his salt, he’ll tell you (albeit in his own words) that for at least twenty years, the Cinelli model 66 was the platonic ideal of handlebar, the thing that they really just got absolutely right. If ever there was a time to leave well enough alone, to not touch a thing, this was it. Studies have shown that a cyclist casting his eyes upon a bike that had the original 66 bars on it would experience a measurable feeling of good will, of soothing reassurance in our unstable world. By “measurable” I mean that you could monitor this guy’s blood pressure and his pulse as he gazed at the bars, and both would go down. Brain scans would show the same changes that you’d expect to see when somebody looks upon a sleeping cat.

But Cinelli couldn’t leave well enough alone, so in the late ‘80s they came out with the Perfections. The Perfections were really similar to the original 66s, except that they had slightly longer reach. And you know what? They really were slightly better! This was the equivalent of an absurd risk that managed to pay off, in a very minor way. (Kind of like Tiger Woods completely retooling his golf swing even though he was already the best golfer in the world—everybody thought he was crazy, but he came back very slightly better.) Now, I never got the opportunity to own a pair of Perfections, because they weren’t on the market very long for some reason that nobody has ever explained. But no problem, I thought. The regular 66s were good enough for Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault, after all. I’d just buy another pair of them. 

[Here are a couple of photos of the Cinelli 66 bars. The first might actually be the Perfections. The second are on Bryan’s Team Miyata ... he still has two of these bikes, both with 66 bars!]

I got the new model 66 bars mail-order, and when they arrived I was horrified to discover that Cinelli had changed the bars yet again, and this time they were a disaster. Perhaps in response to the more modern brake levers, which have longer hoods, Cinelli had shorted the reach on their bars, significantly. The result was a handlebar that looked like the ones that came on department store ten-speeds (back before mountain bikes, when there was such a thing as a department store ten-speed). What was Cinelli thinking? It would be like if for the next James Bond movie, the director decided instead of Daniel Craig it would star Vanilla Ice. So these new Cinellis were totally wrong for my flagship bike, and I continued to use the old bent ones.

 This brings us to the sad tale of how those older bars got bent. Now, I can’t exactly remember what year this was, but I’m thinking 2001 or 2002. Erin and I were living in Albany [CA]. Dad was out visiting, and I decided to take him on a bike ride. Nothing really hard or anything, of course, but just a little cruise through the Berkeley campus, maybe up Old Tunnel road. I’d let him ride my road bike since it’s lighter and more efficient and what he’s used to, and I’d take my slower, heavier mountain bike. It seemed like a fine plan.

Of course, I had to take certain precautions. The last time I’d ridden with Dad was in ‘87 or ‘88, in San Luis Obispo, when Geoff and I loaned Dad the Twelve. The Twelve was our spare bike. Having a spare bike was, for people in our tax bracket, the height of decadence. It was a Miyata 912, which was decent (but not pro quality) road bike. We bought it solely for the use of our guests, and even had a quick-release seat binder bolt for quick adjustments. It had these low-profile Ultegra pedals, with toe clips. They were a bit tricky to get your foot into, and—worrying about Dad’s dress sneakers not fitting well—we loaned him a pair of cycling shoes. What a mistake. I have this vivid memory of him flailing to get his foot in, the pedal spinning around and around, the bike lurching this way and that. I don’t think he crashed, but it was scary to watch, and I think he was embarrassed. So when loaning him my road bike this time, in Berkeley, I took my clipless pedals off and put on these big mountain bike pedals with spacious, roomy toe clips that would easily accommodate even the bulkiest shoe.

Well, it wasn’t enough. Riding along Martin Luther King Jr. Way toward a stoplight, Dad was suddenly unable to get his foot out of the pedal fast enough. I’m not sure how this happened, because he had used toe clips on his own bike for decades and should have been an expert with them. Maybe it’s just some kind of jinx. Anyway, he wasn’t going fast and thus wasn’t hurt, but he ripped my bar tape all up, scratched my brake lever, and, yes, bent my bars.

Now, at this point I wasn’t angry or irritated with him. Nonplussed, sure, but mostly concerned. But he was okay, and we rode home. Now, it did cross my mind that a person in his position might say, “Gosh, Dana, I’m sorry I crashed your three thousand dollar racing bike and messed it up.” Then I could graciously say, “Oh, don’t even worry about it, I’m just relieved you’re not hurt.” But this didn’t happen. Instead, the minute we got home he went out to his car and said, “Is there a Sears around here?” I asked why, and he said that he ripped his trousers in the crash and had to replace them. And indeed, they had a little rip. But his eagerness to drop everything and head over to Sears at that very moment to replace his pants seemed fishy to me. I mean, what’s the rush? Didn’t he pack any other pants? Or was this a little hint that, since it was my bike that crashed him, I should pay for his pants? And moreover, who buys pants at fricking Sears?

I wasn’t about to offer to buy him a new pair of damn pants. Was this my fault, for failing to recognize that a guy who has ridden a ten-speed bicycle with toe clips since before I was born should not be trusted to ride my bike? Or should I have warned him, as we approached the intersection, that he should start working on getting his foot out well in advance just in case he encountered difficulty? Besides, it’s bad enough when your dad buys his pants at Sears—I’ll be damned if my money is going to pay for them.

There was this awkward silence. He seemed really ticked. So I said, “You know, I have some pants I can give you that look exactly like those ones.” And it was true. Many months earlier I’d been at Ross Dress for Less and found some pants called Bugle Boy Basics that don’t have to be ironed. It was an impulse buy because they were like $8, but afterward I had some misgivings—I mean, what kind of grown man wears pants called “Bugle Boy Basics”?—so I wasn’t loathe to part with them now. The funny thing is, they really did look absolutely identical to Dad’s Sears pants. Probably made by the same six-year-old Bangladeshi for the same four cents, I was thinking. But then Dad pointed out, “I see that they’ve done some treatment to these, probably with formaldehyde, to prevent wrinkles. These would probably give me an allergic reaction.” (I am not making any of this up.) I’m not sure what my expression was at this point, or whether or not Dad noticed it, but upon a moment’s reflection he said, “However, the hair on my legs may be bushy enough to protect my skin.” With that he put the Bugle Boy Basics in his car and I never saw them again. (The next day I noticed that he’d mended his Sears pants.)

So, every single time I rode my bike after that, and noting the bent-in bars, I thought of Dad crashing my bike, not apologizing, subtly suggesting that I pay for his pants, taking my Bugle Boy Basics, and not needing new pants after all—and got just a bit irritated. This irritation became compounded, because the memory of how these bars got bent became intertwined with another father/son episode that happened during that visit. I was pulling up to the curb in front of our house in the Volvo, Dad riding shotgun, and I got a little too close to this concrete outcropping in the curb. It juts way out because of some gnarly tree roots, and it had given us trouble before, and also since. The outcropping just barely reached the car, catching the trim on the lower part of the doors, and it just pushed the trim straight back along the car’s body, maybe a couple of feet. It made a horrible noise, like a robot shrieking.

I finished parking and leapt out of the car to examine the damage. It was not extensive: the trim wasn’t even all the way off the car. When I saw how little the damage was, I kind of laughed. Not a this-is-funny laugh, but a relieved “whaddya know!” kind of laugh. But Dad looked kind of pissed. He glared at the side of the car as I zipped the trim right back on there. He gave me a withering look, and I withered. And at this point I slipped unintentionally into one of those split-second fantasies, like the one about him apologizing about my bike. In this fantasy, he registered my withered look, realized he was being a bit harsh, and said, “Aw, don’t worry about it. Happens to the best of us.”

But of course this was a fool’s dream. What Dad did say, rather angrily I might add, was, “You are real lucky you didn’t do more damage.” That “real lucky” gets me. Dad is so punctilious with his grammar that “real” as an adverb must have been used for effect. Indeed, within his precise vernacular this almost works like a swear word. It’s the Harrison Albert version of, “You are good and god-damned lucky....”

(It’s noteworthy that when Dad crashed my bike and bent the bars, I did not say anything like “you are real lucky you didn’t do more damage.” It wouldn’t have occurred to me. And even if he had crashed my bike after the car incident, I couldn’t have said this because these kinds of indictments don’t run both ways in our relationship. He never hesitates to criticize me, but whenever I’m presented with his failings—which are deeper and darker—I always, always bite my tongue.)

I stood there, reeling, wondering why he was so upset. After all, it wasn’t his car, and besides, it wasn’t even damaged. So what was the problem? After much reflection, I’ve decided the problem was twofold. One, his son is so lame, such a lousy driver, that he failed to account for the broken curb and went and hit it. And two, this lousy son, due to a bottomless well of freakish good luck, doesn’t even have to pay for his failures. It’s like Dad was disappointed that this accident didn’t prove to be my comeuppance.

This notion Dad has of other people’s unfair good luck has precedent. He’s fond of saying, when noting somebody’s wealth, “He really landed with his nose in the fat.” No pulling up by bootstraps for him; no, just unearned good fortune. This would be laudable if he applied it in a general way to people of privilege like us, acknowledging that our own hard work in life comes on top of a mountain of circumstantial luck, like being born in America to a middle-class family in a good community with decent schools and plenty of opportunity. But Dad doesn’t seem to recognize his own overall good fortune, preferring to focus on specific incidents—the “knuckle-dragging cretin” boss who wouldn’t give him a promotion, the university dean who wouldn’t give him tenure because he (Dad) wouldn’t socially promote the dean’s son, the Navy ROTC overlord who interfered with his application, etc.—that show how he never got a fair shake.

And then there’s the case of the drinking glasses. When Dad visited Erin and me in our San Francisco apartment a few years before, he purchased a dozen drinking glasses from the restaurant supply store down the street, for something like ten bucks. Then, his visit became awkward right at the end, because I got in an argument with him about his stubborn refusal to buy health insurance. (He was about 60 at this point, still too young for Medicare.) He was arguing, amazingly enough, that he didn’t need insurance, that it wasn’t worth the money. It was rare for me to disagree with him, much less argue about anything, and he didn’t know how to deal with it. So he ended his visit abruptly, and in his haste to pack up and drive off he forgot his box of drinking glasses.

I was a bit chapped at having to mail them to him, especially since I’d have to pack them really carefully, which would be a lot of hassle. But then I had this great idea: I’d kill two birds with one stone by mailing the glasses without any padding whatsoever: just sitting in the box, nothing but that single layer of cardboard protecting them. And, the masterstroke: I wouldn’t insure them. He’d get this box of totally smashed glasses, I mean just fricking powder, and he’d call me up and say, “How could you not pack them carefully, with some padding?” I would shrug it off and wait for him to ask about insurance, which I could casually mention I didn’t bother with. When he erupted afresh about this, I could say, “Wait, let me get this straight. You won’t pay to insure your own health, but I should insure these cheap drinking glasses? I’m a little lost here. You valued those glasses more than you own life?!”

Alas, my plan backfired. He called me up and said, “A miracle has occurred. The glasses arrived intact.” This incident would have naturally struck him as more proof that some people are simply blessed, and can stroll blithely through the minefield of life without even looking where they’re going and be just fine, whereas other people like him were constantly beset with unfair challenges and setbacks.

And that’s how I came to associate the concrete outcropping of the curb with Dad’s preexisting sense that nothing I’ve achieved in my life is my own doing—that I’m one of those guys who fall with their nose in the fat. When Dad crashed my bike, it was one more example of the bad luck that follows him around. When I screwed up with the car, and when I foolishly mailed something with neither padding nor insurance, I got away with it because I’m just lucky. It’s no exaggeration to say that every time I drove up to my house and saw that broken curb, I thought of Dad’s stern words.

Some time after Dad’s visit to our Albany home, my wife Erin drove up to the curb and did exactly the same thing I had, only this time the curb outcropping zipped the trim all the way off the car, and it got a bit bent and I couldn’t get it back on there. I tried as hard as I could to keep a straight face as I said to her, “You are real lucky you didn’t do more damage.” By this time it had already become a running joke.

Erin knows there’s nothing she can do to prevent this curb/scorn association, but when I mentioned at one point that every time I rode my bike I thought of the crash/pants episode, she said, “Dana, this is obviously bothering you, why don’t you just ditch those bars and get some that won’t bum you out every time you look at them?!” She had a point. So I finally swapped out the old bent bars for the new, inferior ones. Sure, the curve of the new bars wasn’t as elegant, but that’s just a bike industry problem … it doesn’t bring home bad blood, doesn’t cause me to hear “you are real lucky” or “a miracle has occurred.” And when it came time to get John’s bike ready, I naturally gave him the better bars, with the original design—the ones I’d have wanted if they didn’t make me think of Dad’s reproach. After all, John wouldn’t have any negative associations with these bars, and he deserved the proper, perfect Cinelli bend.

So, now I’ll be sending you the newer Cinelli bars to get John’s bike running again.  Of course the young lad will have to make do with the inferior curvature, like the bars on a damn Huffy, but shoot, these young whippersnappers don’t know a proper handlebar bend from Shinola. I wonder if John had even realized that the left side of those original bars was bent in. Anyway, I’m so glad he noticed that the right side had cracked, before catastrophic failure. You might say that he is real lucky....




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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2020 Tour de France Stage 17


Today  looks like it could be the hardest day in this year’s Tour de France. Even if the GC riders are lazy and shiftless, like they were yesterday, two giant climbs will force them to suffer mightily, and whoever isn’t up to the task will spark others into action. To quote the philosopher Mr. T, “My prediction … is pain!” Read on for my frank, unprofessional blow-by-blow of the action, brought to you almost-live.

Tour de France Stage 17 – Grenoble to Méribel

As I join the action, I gather the riders are already on the famous hors categorie Col de la Madeleine. Mikel Landa’s Bahrain-McLaren team is driving the pace at the front of the peloton. Landa has had a pretty good Tour which is to be expected … he is usually good, though never brilliant. He’s sitting seventh overall. I wonder what Jumbo-Visma makes of this move by Bahrain-McLaren. They’re probably thinking, “Wow, way to do our jobs for us! Thanks, guys!” Because I don’t see Landa suddenly attacking and taking back 2:16 on Jumbo Visma. You never know, though … it’s been a weird Tour. I think this is Sonny Colbrelli on the front.

That must be hard on a guy’s self-esteem to be named “Sonny.” I worked with a customer named Buster once, and he happened to be a total dick. I was constantly tempted to say, “Now you look here, Buster…”

There’s a breakaway, needless to say. This time it’s got Dan Martin (Israel – Start-up Nation), Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), and Jean, the woman who’s squinting into her laptop while some announcer talks about Geico. I’m really, really tired of this ad and not about to change insurance carriers. There’s someone else in the breakaway group but we’ll have to wait until after the commercial break to find out who.

The big news going into today’s stage is that Team Ineos’ leader, last year’s Tour winner Egan Bernal, has abandoned the race. For the first two weeks of the race he was consistently lacking in form, and the last straw came when he lost another four minutes yesterday … which was a rest day. “I’ve never heard of a rider losing time on a rest day,” laughed Sepp Kuss (Team Jumbo-Visma), “but Egan found a way to do it.” The rider was seen forlornly arriving at dinner well after all the platters, dishes, and cutlery had been bussed. His humiliation is now complete.

Fortunately for Ineos, they always have more than one possible leader. Oh, wait, that’s been in years past. This year they decided to leave two former Tour winners off the roster and put all their eggs into one very young basket. This puts me in the strange position of not fully enjoying their downfall even though I’ve hated this team for years. When I watched Bernal getting shelled, I couldn’t help but think, “He’s just a child!” That much pressure on a kid who may not yet need to shave … it’s just cruel.

These riders have about 70 kilometers to go, so they’re about halfway up this Col. Of course it’s too early for a major move, unless you get some crazy guy who thinks he can defy all the odds, as a rider can sometimes do. But the Madeleine will nicely destroy everybody ahead of the (also hors categorie) Col de la Méribel, on which Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) predicts that a rider having a bad day could lose 30 minutes.

So the breakaway is Martin, Alaphilippe, Gorka Izagirri (Astana Pro Team), and Richard Carapaz (Team Ineos).

The pace from Bahrain-McLaren is severe. The current KOM leader, Benoit Cosnefroy (AG2R La Mondiale), falls off the back. He and his team’s wardrobe staff probably thought this all-polka-dot look would be natty, but you know what it reminds me of? That weird dog/bear creature in Put Me In the Zoo.

With two kilometers left in this climb, Bahrain-McLaren is still on the front.

A Jumbo-Visma rider rides up to the front, and the announcer Phil Liggett says this is to remind everyone who’s in charge. But that’s silly … this guy is just taking a feed.

Toward the summit, several minutes ahead of the GC group, Alaphilippe takes a pull.

I guess the British have a different interpretation of the phrase “take a pull.” Don’t worry, I just meant he was pushing the pace at the front. With bib shorts, nobody will be … never mind.

As the GC group crests the summit, Pogacar puts on a burst of speed, confounding the announcers and, I’ll confess, me. But now they’re saying he’s become the virtual King of the Mountains. So if he has a great finish (which he will), he’ll take that jersey. I guess that makes sense … when you look like you’re only 12 years old, that white Young Rider’s jersey might seem embarrassing.

Wow, Martin has been totally dropped on the descent! I guess this is understandable … he had a pretty bad crash in the Critérium du Dauphiné last month.

One thing I love about this sport is how a rider is required to be proficient in so many disciplines. Pure sprinters have to climb well enough to make time cuts, climbers have to be able to hang on brutally fast flat stages, classics riders have to last for three weeks to support their teammates in the grand tours, and everybody has to be able to descend fast. Contrast that to baseball, where a player has to do exactly one thing well. Or think of a placekicker in football. Those stupid sports … why does anybody bother?

Getting back to Team Ineos, it’s been fun reading the various journalistic accounts of their downfall and hubris. This piece by Philippa York is delightfully excoriating.

“Grab your friends, and let’s make fitness fun!” says the Swift ad. I get that this is their big moment, with the pandemic and everything, but “grab your friends?” From six feet away? I’m really tired of this ad, with Geraint Thomas smiling totally unrealistically while riding out of the saddle. I couldn’t figure out what that reminded me of until the 400th time I saw the ad, and then it hit me—it’s that same unconvincing “Yeah, I’m enjoying this” illusion portrayed (also poorly) by porn stars. (Not that I’ve ever seen that kind of movie. Just from hearing people’s descriptions, you know.)

Izagirre manages to hang with Alaphilippe on the descent, but just barely. I love the narrow, scabby road.

Now the breakaway is back together. Note that Carapaz has a red number, indicating he won the Combativity award yesterday … the first time Team Ineos has put a rider on the podium in this year’s Tour.

“[Warren] Barguil [of Arkea – Samsic] is not in contention unless he finds a new pair of legs for the last climb,” the announcer Bob Roll chuckles, “and that’s not possible.” This showcases the difference between a professional like Roll and an amateur like me. I’d have said “grow another pair of balls,” and I wouldn’t have mentioned the part about it not being possible. I’m willing to take the risk that a reader isn’t able to differentiate between what is possible and what is not.

So … does this breakaway have a chance, with about 2:30 on the GC group heading into the final climb? I really don’t think so. Carapaz, if he finds the form he had when he won last year’s Giro d’Italia, might be able to use his small gap as a springboard, but that’s a long shot. Alaphilippe just doesn’t have the legs this year though he gamely throws his dice in seemingly every major stage. I don’t know about Izagirre … he’s 31 years old and 40 minutes down on GC, and predicting victory for him is about like hoping that off-brand computer mouse you ordered online will end up working just fine. Sure, it might work out. But for only four bucks? Maybe there’s a reason Victsing is an unfamiliar brand.

Cosnefroy manages to latch back on to the GC group, which must have chilled on the descent. Also getting back on is yesterday’s stage winner, Lennard Kamna (Bora – Hansgrohe).

GC hopeless Nairo Quintana (Arkea – Samsic) is having a terrible time this year, having crashed heavily some days ago. He’s currently ten minutes down on the road … I was hoping at least he could have a good day and go for a stage win. After yesterday’s stage he said, “I thought I could handle the pain, but a crash is a crash, however you look at it, and if I managed to get to the top of the Grand Colombier, it was thanks to my pride and my heart.” My teenage daughter responded, “Awwww that’s kinda sad.”

So, it looks like Pogacar will take over the KOM jersey. That means Enric Mas (Movistar Team) will get to wear the white Young Riders jersey. Maybe then he’ll get more support from his teammate Alejandro Valverde, who strikes me as the kind of prima donna who gets unfairly huge support from his team and basks in it, well past his sell-by date.

The GC group is finally nearing the  base of the Col de la Loz (which translates “Climb of the Loser), two hours after I dragged myself out of bed to watch this stage. Dan Martin, after his very, uh, safe descent, has been caught by the peloton and sits near the back. Here’s a bit of trivia: Martin’s Aunt Marianne was the winner of the first women’s Tour de France. True story.

Here are the leaders at the base of the climb, and some groovy stats about it.

Wow, 24%. To put that in perspective, driving a car on a grade like that can be nerve-racking. I’ve biked on a grade like that, in my modern (i.e., age-hobbled) era, but it was on my mountain bike, in its lowest gear, and I wasn’t trying to go fast.

Alaphilippe tries to ride away from his breakaway companions. Yeah, right.

Carapaz quickly neutralizes the attack, and Alaphilippe flicks his elbow as if to say, “I meant to do that.”

Here’s a more detailed profile of the course. This climb is literally over 20 kilometers.

As Bahrain-McLaren continues to drive the pace, one of their domestiques detonates and pulls off. He’ll probably lose like 10 minutes between here and the finish.

Richie Porte (Trek – Segafredo) seems cool and collected in the GC group.

Carapaz looks quite strong, but he’s wearing those silly bits of tape on his nose as though that could possibly help.

The gap to the GC group is gradually falling, down to 1:47 now. And that’s before Jumbo-Visma has done any pace making, and before the attacks start. Again, it’s possible that Carapaz could stay off, but this trio will not remain intact to the finish.

Wouter Poels has been driving on the front for Bahrain-McLaren for the longest time, just super strong. How long can he keep this up?

Woah, speak of the devil … he detonates! He makes his way swiftly to the back of the pack, almost like he was clotheslined.

Up in the break, Carapaz attacks!

Izagirre matches him, but the acceleration is too much for Alaphilippe who starts to fall off.

Okay, Alaphilippe is going backwards now. And soon enough, the GC group scoops him up. “But look guys,” he says, “I’ve done this whole climb no-handed!” Look how small this group has gotten as rider after rider has been sawed off.

There are only 20 left in this group. You can see Rigoberto Uran (EF Pro Cycling) on the left there. He’s having his best Tour in a good while and sits third on GC, 1:34 back.

With 10 kilometers to go, the breakaway duo has only half a minute. They’re doomed.

Liggett keeps saying that Pogacar will wait until the last possible moment to jump away and try to get a time bonus. Why would Pogacar wait? He’s got 40 seconds to make up and he won’t win this tour with bonuses. I think he’ll try something earlier, if he can.

Adam Yates is just sitting in on this GC group like he’s done for most of the Tour. Not super exciting … only when he chased down the breakaway in the first mountain stage did he show any fire.

Wow, Izagirre detonates! It was so sudden I almost didn’t get a snapshot before he disappeared from the screen! He didn’t even last as long as a Victsing mouse.

Izagirre is caught, right in front of his team van. How sad.

OMG! I just went upstairs to wake up my daughter since it’s only five miles to go, and my mom, down visiting, is asking for tech support with her new Victsing mouse! I’m not making this up! She’s complaining it doesn’t work at all! But I have no time for her! I just blew off my own mom! That’s how intense this race is getting!

Izagirre is discarded by the GC group like those gross little pads you get with Foster Farms chicken pieces.

Lamda looks pretty good, on the left there … he has a big job to do after his team has supported him so tirelessly.

Only 13 riders are left in the GC group.

Carapaz is actually taking his lead out again, but unfortunately he’s also dissolving.

Carapaz continues to grow his lead, and he’s stopped dissolving! He’s found his legs and body both!

Maybe Carapaz has been toying with the GC group! That would be awesome, even if he is on Ineos.

Pogacar has a teammate, David De La Cruz, who is just sitting on the back. He’s not strong enough to do more, I guess, but has to be there in case Pogacar punctures or something, since the road is too narrow at the top for support cars.

Carapaz might wonder if he’s hallucinating this pink bunny. Or is it a unicorn? What the hell is it, actually?

Da La Cruz must have heard my accusation of loafing, as he now comes to the front. Note the fan with the dangling mask. It’s not even hard to get those bozos in the photo frame. It’s like a Prius happening to appear in any photo snapped in Berkeley … they’re everywhere.

OMG! Landa blows chunks! How humiliating after all his team did for him! It’s like they broke him themselves! He went off the back so fast I didn’t have a chance to grab a snapshot. Bahrain-McLaren just look like a bunch of fools now. It would be hard to motivate for such a team “leader” in the future. My neck hurts from shaking my head this much.

Uh oh, bad news for Uran as he goes off the back.

Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana Pro Team), aka Superman, attacks!

Pogacar is right on him! Roglic is not far behind! Kuss is tucked in there but everyone else is off the back! The GC group is blown apart!

Only Kuss remains for Roglic, and he takes control. (My daughter is hooting with delight. “‘Mer’ca!” she shouts.) Kuss is a fricking rockstar! Look at the time split to Carapaz … his lead is dropping faster than my 401(k)!

Kuss hauls back Carapaz! Porte has latched back on but is just dying, hanging on to the back of this group by his claws.

Kuss has accidentally dropped his team leader! Or could this be strategic? If Kuss could solo and take the first time bonus, he’d deprive the punchy Pogacar from getting it. But perhaps that’s over-thinking things … this might just be chaos.

Superman bridges up to Kuss! Kuss will have to sit back now.

Carapaz has been jettisoned. Behind Lopez and Kuss, the others scramble to catch up, mano-a-mano!

Kuss looks like he’s not sure what to do.

Kuss lets Superman roll away. Time to wait for his leader. Look at this fricking grade!

Roglic sees his opportunity and attacks! If he can bridge to Kuss without taking Pogacar with him, then, well, we could see the Jumbo-Visma duo do massive damage.

Roglic makes it across to Kuss! But Pogacar is fighting to close the gap!

I can’t tell if it’s Kuss or Roglic leading, but they’re flying and the gap is opening up! It’s unbelievable! Roglic has opened a significant gap on Pogacar for the first time in this Tour!

It’s really hard to get these snapshots and not lose sight of what’s happening. In a mere 200 meters, Kuss has faltered and is now overhauled by Pogacar, as the gap to Roglic begins to shrink!

Roglic has Superman in his sights with 1.5 kilometers to go!

I love this! Every man for himself! No more tactics!

OMG! Kuss has lost his bicycle! He’s pacing Roglic on foot!

It’s amazing that Kuss bridged that gap! He must have had a bike problem and decided he’d be faster on foot. Perhaps he’s too young to remember when Chris Froome lost his bike and tried to run up Mount Ventoux during the 2016 Tour, only to be reminded of the rules at which point he had to turn back. But maybe Kuss doesn’t care! It’s all about supporting his GC leader!

Pogacar’s shoulders are slumping … not a good sign. And yet the gap isn’t growing. In fact, I think he’s making progress! It’s an impressive show of psychological mettle, especially for a Gen-Z kid!

Here comes Lopez! Would you look at that grade?! Just look at it!

Where is Uran? He’ll probably lose his podium spot today.

Pogacar looks terrible ... his head’s down, he’s rocking on the bike, but he’s getting the job done!

Superman has got the win, and he delivers a stylish underhanded victory salute, kind of like a symbolic uppercut to the jaw! I like it!

Roglic finishes and has taken time from his closest rival!

Pogacar heads for the line, clearly just dying but minimizing his losses as best he can.

Pogacar’s ordeal is finally over. He’s lost 15 seconds today.

About half a minute later Kuss rolls in to take fourth, having been reunited with his bicycle. Porte isn’t far behind. Hmm, it seems strange that Kuss would lose so little time after running back for his bike. I’m beginning to suspect that was just some spectator I saw earlier, running alongside Roglic. But the matter is shrouded in fog, we’ll probably never know the full truth of it.

Mas finishes a strong sixth, followed a bit later by the hapless Landa and the solid but utterly non-flashy Yates (remember how many times he insisted he didn’t care about GC and was looking for stage wins?).

But where is Uran? Ah, here he comes, finally. Poor dude … rough day.

Tom Dumoulin rolls in next, having done great work for his Jumbo-Visma team yet again. And now we have Carapaz, who’d looked so great in the breakaway, stumbling in for 11th. I’ll bet I know just what he’s thinking: “These stupid nose strips. They don’t work. I’m never using them again.”

Here are the stage results:

I would not want to be one of the Bahrain-McLaren riders at the dinner table tonight. All that work, just to tire out their leader and leave him gasping for seventh place while losing more time on GC.

And now here’s your new GC. Superman moves up to the podium, Porte rises from sixth to fourth, Quintana drops from the top ten, and Uran drops to sixth.

They’re interviewing Kuss.

INTERVIEWER: What happened today?
KUSS: The attacks came sooner than I expected on the last climb. I saw I had a gap, and then Lopez came up. I couldn’t stay with Lopez so I went back for Roglic.
INTERVIEWER: How do you feel about the day?
KUSS: Well, I felt pretty good going in, but this stage was so hard, it aged me. I feel about ten years older and I must look it, because people keep seeing me and gasping. I’m afraid my all-American apple-pie face is gone, it’s just gone. No more endorsement deals for me. Oh well, at least we extended Primoz’s lead. And if I do a lot more races like this, after I retire I can get work modeling as a gargoyle.
INTERVIEWER: It looks from the footage like you may have been separated from your bike at some point.
KUSS: The matter is shrouded in fog, we’ll probably never know the full truth of it.

Dan Martin rolls in. After being in the breakaway, he’s sunk way down and lost 20 minutes today. Rough.

Here’s Superman getting his podium time. The tasteful black clothing of the models will make this a better photo for his mantle than what certain other racers get.

For example, look at what Pogacar has to share his KOM podium with … like the ridiculous shirt this guy is wearing. Put him in the zoo!

Astonishingly, the Combativity award goes to Alaphilippe instead of Carapaz, which is clearly just shameful patriotism by the French race promoters. They should be punished by being made to wear a red suit like what this fool is gussied up in.

They’re interviewing Roglic.

INTERVIEWER: You had a good race and got a good result and your GC hopes look good. Would you say things are good?
ROGLIC: Anyway, again, yeah, I’m really happy with it, of course. I didn’t win, I got second, but I gained some time so, yeah. Like I said: yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Is 50 seconds enough?
ROGLIC: No, but I have 57 seconds, numbnuts. And when you have 57 seconds, you want more. You want five minutes, you want ten minutes, you want a gold watch. You want some Hickory Farms. You want a DJ now, with a thousand arms. You want the Jacksons from 1973, you want the Osmonds, and you—want you to love me.
INTERVIEWER: Noted. Classic Bob Schneider. So, moving on … your mask looks a bit like the faceguard on a knight’s armor. Is that designed to intimidate your rivals?
ROGLIC: This is supposed to be an N95 mask, because I don’t want to get sick. But I think I’ve been had. I looked at the box and these things aren’t NIOSH approved. I’m gonna visit our soigneur later and lay down the smack!

Now they’re interviewing Pogacar.

INTERVIEWER: You lost time but are still less than a minute behind.
POGACAR: Obviously.
INTERVIEWER: You changed jersey colors, and picked up the KOM. Was that an objective?
POGACAR: No, but I saw on the Madeleine it was like 10 points for free almost, so why not? If it’s in my grasp to take it I am happy to. And now I have two jerseys and Roglic only has one. If I end up winning the GC, I’ll have three different jerseys to wear to the nightclubs. How dashing I will be for all those lovely young bike race groupies.
INTERVIEWER: How are the honeys in Slovenia?
POGACAR: The best.
INTERVIEWER: You think any came here to watch the Tour? Think you might get some tonight?
POGACAR: Are you kidding me? After that grueling stage I can barely keep my eyes open.

Okay, Bennett is finally getting his green jersey. And that dude’s pants are just a travesty. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m a guy so I don’t really care about clothes, but Granny-Smith-apple green pants? Who even makes those, and why? Couldn’t the ASO have made do with a green necktie?

I showed that photo to my younger daughter who pointed out, “It looks like his pants are billowing out, like he’s standing over a heater vent.” She’s right, but there’s no vent ... maybe he’s passing gas!

Well, that’s about it for Stage 17 and plenty enough for me. Just watching today’s race has been oddly exhausting…


I did get that Victsing mouse working. Maybe there’s hope for Izagirre as well. Tomorrow is another day...


The day after this stage, Carapaz finally got a stage win (crossing the line with his teammate, Michal Kwiatkowski). And guess what? He’d ditched the stupid nose strip. See? What did I tell you?

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