Saturday, May 27, 2023

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2023 Giro d’Italia Stage 20


This has been a super exciting Giro d’Italia, with most of the hard mountain stages crammed into the final week. With just today’s time trial remaining (and tomorrow’s silly flat course for the sprinters), the general classification is remarkably tight: Geraint Thomas (Ineos Granadiers) leads the race, with Primoz Roglic (Team Jumbo-Visma) just 26 seconds behind him, and Joao Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) rounding out the virtual podium, only 33 seconds behind Roglic. So why am I waiting for a boring-as-fuck time trial to finally post a blow-by-blow report? It’s complicated. (For some reason “complicated” seems to be the favorite word of the cycling announcers this year, especially cycling legend Sean Kelly, e.g., “I have a feeling this finish is going to get a bit complicated.”)

But don’t worry, I’m here now, and I’ll give you a recap of the last three weeks as we go along. In fact, I’ll give it right now: all you need to know is that the pre-race favorite, Remco Evanepoel, won the first time trial, took the pink jersey, and then promptly came down with COVID and abandoned. Since then, no particular rider or team has stood out, and the GC has been so close that no single stage had any particular importance. So it all comes down to this time trial.

But this isn’t just any time trial. Look at this crazy course profile:

It’s a good thing for that final climb (almost 3,000 feet of gain!), and for the GC being so close, because I’m going to start this report without coffee. We have houseguests and only one bathroom so I dare not get my, uh, system running just yet. These are the sacrifices I make to bring you unvarnished, no-tongue-bitten reports on these heroic riders and their dorky helmets.

Giro d’Italia Stage 20 - Tarvisio to Monte Lussari Tudor, 18.6 km (11.6 miles)

As I join the action, an amazing thing happens: three riders pull almost even! It’s not uncommon, this late in a Grand Tour, for a rider to overtake the one who started before him in a time trial, but two passes at once is almost unheard of.

Oh. Wait. That’s not what’s going on. I’m confused. It’s the lack of coffee, I guess. This appears to be some kind of previous footage, some replay of an earlier stage. Jose Azevedo is being interviewed about Almeida. “I guess he’s a dedicated rider, but he never did his dishes,” Azevedo says. “As for his chances today, how should I know? I’m just his old college roommate.” All right, I made that up. I haven’t sorted my audio out yet. Azevedo is probably Almeida’s directeur sportif. And come to think of it he’s a former pro racer too. So they brought him in to pass the time before the GC leaders are on the road. Man these time trials are boring.

Among the few hopefuls for a stage win, Rohan Dennis (Team Jumbo-Visma) is in action, getting a totally illegal push from a team staffer. I don’t know how he thinks he’ll get away with this. It’s probably all over YouTube already.

Dennis has been a great support for his team leader, Roglic, despite being added to the Giro roster at the last minute. He’s a bit of a nutter, having been released from Bahrain-Victorious a few years back for refusing to start a Tour de France time trial because they couldn’t get his bike just right. He’s like the kid who owns the marbles and takes them and goes home when he starts to lose. So it’s no wonder he thinks he’s allowed to get a push. If he’s not disqualified, I think he has an outside chance at winning this stage, because he’s an awesome time trialist and he won the Mount Diablo stage of the Tour of California one year so he’s no slouch at climbing.

Okay, I was just messing with you about the illegal push. As with the World Time Trial Championships a few years back when it featured a giant climb, the organizers are allowing riders to switch bikes at the base of the climb. They’re allowed to receive a push until they cross a strip of tape on the road.

Here’s Jay Vine (UAE Team Emirates) doing his bike change.

Vine has ridden heroically for Almeida, pacing him until the very final kilometers of a couple of the big mountain stages.

Michel Hessman (Jumbo-Visma) clearly couldn’t care less about this time trial. Not only is he moving his bike computer over to the climbing bike, but he’s stopping for a little chat with his team staffer. “This model [of computer] has an average power reading which I like, though I miss the lap timer,” he’s saying. “Um, dude, shouldn’t you get going?” his pal replies.

Okay, things are looking up: my houseguests, probably annoyed that I didn’t make them any coffee, have apparently left in a huff, so I can finally use the bathroom. They’re from Europe, so they don’t understand about my blog and really don’t care about the Giro. I know this is exactly the opposite of what we would expect, but in fact I’ve never met a single European who gives a rat’s ass about cycling. Sometimes they want me to explain American football to them.

The commentators are interviewing some random “expert” about who he thinks will win the stage. This is how they try to keep viewers awake, but it almost always backfires. “I think Primoz Roglic will win today,” the rando says, “and while I’ve got your attention, have you ever noticed how in the movies when a character has a gun, he always holds it in his left hand? Watch for that. It’s weird. My nephew is an artist and drew this picture you see over my shoulder. But it’s of a starting pistol. I’m not a gun nut like some crazy American.”

Wow! Amazing! Something is happening! Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain Victorious) has thrown his chain!

Poor guy. I feel bad for his mechanic, as well. If the mechanic doesn’t have the decency to commit seppuku, surely his boss will flog him mercilessly.

Okay, a fast rider is starting his ride: it’s Einer Rubio (Movistar Team), who won Stage 13 of this Giro in fine style. He was in a three-up breakaway with Thibault Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and … gosh, some other guy, I can’t remember. Pinot and the other guy kept yelling at each other and launching these pissy little attacks, like teenage girls slapping each other, and each time Rubio would just claw his way back on. I was watching with my brother and said, “Wouldn’t it be great if Rubio ended up sucker-punching these guys at the end and winning?” Which he did, launching exactly one attack, all-in, right at the end when it mattered. What a stud. Here’s a fun fact: Rubio doesn’t need cycling for an income, being the heir to an American fast-food taqueria chain. (Yes, of course I’m bullshitting.)

Here’s Vine higher on the climb. Wow, what a badass road. I freaking love it.

Vine is going well, but not as well as his teammate Brandon McNulty, who won a stage earlier in this Giro. ‘Mer’ca!

Lennard Kamna (Bora-Hansgrohe), last year’s Giro champion, hasn’t had the best form this year, as he sits eighth, almost six minutes down. What’s worse, I’ve deliberately grabbed a really unflattering screenshot of him. Poor guy just can’t get a break.

Vine flies across the line and has the new fastest time so far! That doesn’t change the fact that his helmet is ridiculous. On that basis, I don’t have his back. At all.

They just flashed up the current standings and there are three Americans in the top ten, with McNulty still out on the road. That’s pretty remarkable, though at least a couple will be pushed out as faster riders come through. Needless to say these top guys don’t make nearly as much money as a run-of-the-mill American football player, but at least concussions aren’t part of their job description.

This is weird: Allessandro De Marchi (Team Jayco Alula) has a runny nose and a fan has handed him the largest handkerchief I have ever seen. He better make sure it doesn’t go into his spokes.

Daaaamn, McNulty is finishing strong! He’ll take the lead by a huge margin!

As he reaches the finish line, he’s so cross-eyed he almost plows into some drunken spectator who has wandered into the road!

You’d think security would be a bit tighter here. Sheesh. Oh, wait, it’s not a spectator, it’s a staffer dressed like the kind of dork you meet at a suburban nightclub, or at traffic school. Anyway, McNulty now has the lead by a whopping 46 seconds over his teammate, Vine.

UAE now has four riders in the top ten. Interesting.

Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) is in the start house. He’s wearing one of those silly band-aids on his nose. His four-year-old daughter asked him to wear it. She’s superstitious. Yeah, I made that up. In reality he probably cut himself shaving. Anyway, he’s a good rider and sits fourth on GC.

OMG, they’re saying Sepp Kuss (Team Jumbo-Visma) has a faster split than McNulty! Kuss has been an absolute hero during this Giro, pacing Roglic on all the important climbs and totally saving his bacon when Thomas and Almeida attacked in stage 16 and opened a gap. Kuss expertly paced his leader and held the loss to under 30 seconds. He’s been amazingly strong all week.

Oh my god. Roglic’s helmet is the dumbest I’ve seen so far.

Just look at that stupid thing. Has Roglic learning nothing since he threw away the 2020 Tour de France during its last time trial, when he not only lost his overall lead of almost a minute but also all of his dignity, as his terrible time trial helmet crept up on his head like a half-ping-pong-ball straddling a potato? He looked so terrible that afterward some cruel journalist—quizzing him about the most spectacular Tour loss since Fignon in ’89—asked about the helmet and Roglic replied simply, “Let’s not talk about the helmet.”

Thomas is about to start. His helmet is pretty goofy too. What do these guys think they are … downhill ski racers? Puh-leeease.

Here’s one of those touching human interest stories. This rider is rocking a head scarf, even though it’s a warm day, because his mom warned him it’s windy today and he could get an earache.

Whoa, Kuss is flying! It would be so cool if he won today … he’s got stage wins in the Tour and the Vuelta, but none yet in the Giro. He’s just had to slave for Roglic day after day despite having amazing form. Look at him go!

As Kuss goes for the line he’s actually grinning! It’s not the standard death rictus, but an actual grin! He knows he’s killing it!

And Kuss has got the new provisional best time, with only fourteen riders still on the road.

Roglic gets his bike change, and—I’m not kidding—the announcer says, “Bike change goes without a hitch, and his helmet isn’t slipping off the back of his head.” Seriously! He said that! An announcer after my own heart!

The Balaclava Kid heads for the line. Note the symmetry between his dorky helmet and the picture on his sleeve of Napoleon’s hat.

Thomas gets a very slow bike change. I think he may be a bit of a moron. He rode up toward the new bike from the left side, and dismounted on the left of his bike, meaning the bike he was discarding was in between him and the bike he was switching to. Super, super awkward. He also wastes some time getting a fresh helmet, presumably because his pads were getting a little sweaty and he didn’t like it.

Thomas comes through the time check having lost two seconds to Roglic, whose helmet is still hanging on beautifully.

It’s kind of a shame larger gaps aren’t opening up between these two. This time trial looks like it might be as boring as they usually are. Wouldn’t it be cool if the organizers let a giant herd of sheep out onto the road? And then maybe send out after them some herding dogs that are high on cocaine? Just mix things up a bit?

Laurens de Plus (Ineos Granadiers) finishes strong. He has been an amazing domestique for Thomas in this Giro, slaying himself endlessly at the front, always with this same dippy expression, to the point that I’ve actually grown tired of looking at him.

Andreas Leknessund (Team DSM), who had worn the maglia rosa for a number of days, finishes pretty well but man, he looks like he’s seen a ghost!

What happened out there? What did he see out there on the course? Some kind of demon changeling child? Is he hallucinating?

Yikes, what’s this? Pinot is hauling ass, even while disrupting his aerodynamics by letting his tongue flap around in the wind!

And now he retracts his tongue, as if reading my mind, and is richly rewarded with the fastest finish yet, six seconds ahead of Kuss! This will seal his lead in the King of the Mountains category.

Meanwhile, on the lower slopes, Thomas has now lost 14 seconds to Roglic!

But, OMG! Roglic has a problem!

It’s a disaster! He’s dropped his chain!

WTF?! The announcer is saying Roglic hit a big pothole and that caused his chain to come off. My god, he must be so pissed. Unbelievable. His bike is sporting the one-by configuration popular among mountain bikers (i.e. just a single front chainring). I have long felt this isn’t the best setup because a front derailleur actually does a pretty good job of keeping the chain on. One of the high school mountain bikers I coached lost her first Varsity race due to a thrown chain in the last quarter-mile (yes, with a one-by). What a drag for Roglic! But hey, this time trial just suddenly got really exciting! Roglic gets his chain back on and resumes his frantic charge up the mountain.

Lower on the course, Thomas is just absolutely hemorrhaging time. It’s unbelievable—he’s waited until the last real stage to finally have a bad day. But it just doesn’t seem like he could possibly lose enough time, what with Roglic’s mechanical problem, to lose the Giro … could he?

Caruso is flying, and his suffering is written all over his face!

Caruso is one of those riders who I think is doped, but I can’t help liking him anyway. Such a blue-collar vibe, a real salt-of-the-earth working man. And it looks like he’s got the new provisional best time!

But Almeida goes through 13 seconds quicker than Caruso, also suffering like a (cocaine-fueled herder) dog!

And now Roglic approaches the line, putting out a blistering pace that will give him a stage win, at least! Best of all, he’s shed his big stupid visor … I hope it broke when it hit the asphalt.

And Roglic indeed has the best time! He doesn’t look exactly jubilant, of course, but I can’t blame him.

He has absolutely shattered the previous best time, but could he actually take the GC, even with at least ten seconds lost for his mechanical?

Oh my goodness, Thomas is just dying out there. It’s painful to watch … he’s clearly had the stuffing knocked out of him. His time is pretty poor and as he approaches the line—it’s just a total nail-biter.

They’re showing Roglic’s teammates … they’re on pins and needles.

Thomas crosses the line, and he looks to be over 26 seconds down!

The announcers are doing the math (or “the maths” as they put it) and, It’s unbelievable, but Thomas has actually lost the Giro on the final (real, non-parade) stage, despite Roglic having an incredible bit of bad luck!

It’s all jubilation in the Jumbo-Visma camp, needless to say…

Roglic looks truly moved. I hope that after tomorrow’s stage, a mere formality, he can reflect on this amazing achievement and, just as importantly, eat a big sandwich and a milkshake or something; I mean, look at those ribs.

Here’s the new GC … probably the closest margin of victory in history for a Grand Tour, except for LeMond’s 0:08 margin in the ’89 Tour.

Pinot moves up to fifth overall ... a nice consolation prize after he failed to win a stage.

They’re interviewing Kuss about his leader’s amazing victory. I’m going to do something new today: I’m going to try to transcribe what they’re actually saying instead of just making shit up. Here we go.

INTERVIEWER: Amazing, huh?

KUSS: It was really stressful, everyone asks about the last TT in the Tour in 2020, and then Primoz had a problem with the bike, but that’s Primoz, he deals with adversity, he comes back stronger, it’s beautiful for him to be here with all the Slovenian fans…

INTERVIEWER: Thomas seemed so confident, what gave you the confidence [to win]?

KUSS: Primoz was just waiting until the right moment, with such a hard TT like today you can really make the difference.

INTERVIEWER: Have you ever noticed how in the movies, guys always hold a gun in their left hand?

KUSS: Oh geez, are we really doing this interview albertnet style? Seriously?

INTERVIEWER: I’m sorry, some of these bloggers just can’t help it.

Sean Kelly says, “I don’t believe Kuss at all.” I don’t either. Surely nobody would leave it that late on purpose…

Now they’re interviewing Jumbo-Visma’s Michel Hessman.

INTERVIEWER: It’s your first grand tour, and you’re on the winning team, how does that feel?

HESSMAN: [untillegible] … really, yeah, and also … fuck.

INTERVIEWER: This will be the first time Roglic has ever worn the pink jersey.

[Interview is interrupted as Thomas comes over and says, “congrats, brother.”]

HESSMAN: But yeah, I mean, like, it’s, it’s kind of been our plan from the beginning to not be in the [pink] jersey too early, but doing it like this was cutting it close … to pull it off like this really showed strong nerves.

INTERVIEWER: Has anybody ever told you you look exactly like Waldo, as in Where’s Waldo?

HESSMAN: Yeah, I get that a lot.

Okay, so I caved at the end of that exchange. It was getting boring.

They’re interviewing Thomas. This time I promise  to get it right.

INTERVIEWER (in a heavy, possibly exaggerated, British accent]: Geraint, hell of a fight, mate, absolutely unbelievable, you’ve done us all proud. I can’t imagine what you’re going through, man, but tell us about that time trial.

THOMAS: First off, people like you need to stop buggin’ me, mate, because I’ll get emotional. But uh, naw, it’s just that I could feel my legs going okay enough at the top of that climb, yeah, I don’t wanna sound like I’m makin’ excuses, but you know, the bi-carbon stuff was a different feel, and I just didn’t feel like a had that real grunge, but I guess it’s nice to lose by that much rather then a second or two, at least he smashed me, Primoz deserves that, even with the mechanical, so chapeau to him. If you’d told me this back in Feb/March, I’d have bitten your hand off, but now I’m devastated, but now with the season I’ve had up to this point, I can be proud of that, and of the boys too, they worked so hard.

INTERVIEWER: Well, G, the season’s not done yet, mate. And there’s a big race in July…

THOMAS: It’s over for me now, I’m on the piss for the next two months.

INTERVIEWER: Right, I’ll join you.

THOMAS: In your dreams, ya cheeky bastard.

Dang it! I had that almost verbatim until the very last sentence! I just couldn’t resist! Now, about that bi-carbon and grunge bit, I really have no idea what the hell Thomas was even talking about. He was just babbling, as far as I could tell. I just typed what I heard. You’d probably be better off with my normal BS, honestly.

I’ve been waiting for them to show the stage result so I could grab a snapshot. Otherwise I’d have wrapped this up already. I guess I’ll go ahead and cover the post-race analysis from Hanna Walker and Alberto Contador.

HANNA: Alberto, here’s how this is going to work. Even though I’ve also been a professional cyclist, I’m just going to ask you leading questions, and then you can mansplain everything to me as though to an idiot. My boss seems to think that’s what the viewers want.

ALBERTO: Yes, you have different all the time with the radio.

HANNA: Roglic has been in this situation, in the 2020 Tour, when he was in the lead in the last time trial, up against Tadej Pogacar, and then he crashed out last year … he’s a real fighter.

ALBERTO: Yes, for sure, you know, and Primoz was also very happy, because also the tactic, and then in the last time time trial, and in this case, the other wheel, and I have one reflection, I’m sure it’s in the head now of Roglic, that he has won the Giro, and maybe he can change the time, to him, maybe, why not, he can change the time, the team, if he want try win the Tour de France.

HANNA: You’re saying he needs to change teams if he wants to win the Tour…

ALBERTO: Yes, that what is I am trying to say.

HANNA: Thank you for your insight, or at least your effort there, I could barely understand you, and maybe someday you will say something interesting. Until then, have you tried Duolingo?

Okay, yeah, I made most of that up, but I think my rendition is truer to the real spirit of their dialogue than anything they actually said. And now I have officially given up seeing the stage result. Here are some podium photos, anyway: Roglic for the stage and GC; Pinot for the KOM, and Almeida for the best young rider.

Now they’re showing an ad for some post-race show where—in defiance of the progressive attitude that led to the retirement of the podium girl tradition—they’ve got a woman in a very short skirt showing a lot of cleavage, to offset the numbing dullness of the male commentators.

What an amazing stage. More satisfying, even, than that final Tour time trial in 2020, because there wasn’t really any lesson to be drawn from that, other than to make sure your helmet fits properly. This time around, I think we can be truly inspired by Roglic’s incredible composure. I mean, to begin with Roglic only had an outside chance of taking the necessary 26 seconds out of Thomas today; after all, Thomas beat him by 16 seconds in the first time trial and seemed to be climbing just as well as Roglic yesterday. And even though Roglic’s TT was going well, in the flat section he’d only taken like two seconds—and then, just when his lead starts to go up, he throws his freakin’ chain! But he calmly put the chain back on (not waiting for the spare bike), climbed back on, clipped back in, and got right back to it, probably only losing ten seconds. Many a rider would have been completely undone psychologically by that. Myself, I probably would have pissed myself, maybe vomited, started bawling, who knows. Actually, it’s more likely none of the above because a) I’d never be in a Grand Tour, b) I’d never be in contention in any individual time trial, and c) I’d never have thrown my chain, as I don’t run a one-by

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