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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