Friday, June 30, 2023

Ride Report - Gravel Riding in the Rockies


My friend Peter and I don’t race regularly anymore. This doesn’t mean we race oddly, or in a constipated way. I mean we might do a race but only once in a while, just to remind ourselves why we don’t race. And yet, we somehow like to suffer, or maybe do so out of duty. Thus, every year or so we get together for some brutal epic rides. This past week we did a five day stage-non-race we called Death Fest. It was no more deadly than it was a festival, but it was hard. This report details the best/hardest/worst day, representing 113 miles of the 269-mile total.

To make things extra hard this year, both physically and fiscally, we (mostly) eschewed asphalt and tackled dirt and gravel roads, with occasional single-track, on gravel bikes.

Executive summary

My $8,000 rented gravel bike (final use cost: a bit over $2/mile, ouch!) was brilliant other than its saddle, which was designed for a Big & Tall Man who has a keel descending from his bottom, and its handlebars, which were designed for a masochist with small hands. My rented helmet was designed, apparently, for Ernie, from “Sesame Street,” but my head is evidently shaped more like Bert’s, so the helmet slid forward on the bumpy descents, mashing my sunglasses into the bridge of my nose, unless I tightened the bonnet hard enough to threaten a gradual concussion and/or some sanded-off forehead flesh. The CamelBak that I borrowed, due to a dearth of bottle-filling opportunities, malfunctioned (due to user error) and became useless. The weather was hot enough that we’d have complained about it except that the terrain dwarfed its significance. We kept a stiff upper lip, which in my case meant a chapped, sunburnt, almost cracking upper lip since I’m not used to the dry air at this altitude (starting at about 8,500 and topping out at 10,400 feet). We ate like kings, or at least like kings who’d seen what happened to Henry VIII and decided to not eat very much.

Short version

This year, I did something novel: I decided to actually train for this. I knew that the back-to-back days of long rides, the increased rolling resistance of gravel roads, and my advanced age would make this an extra hard week, and I’m not stuppid. (I spelled it that way as a tribute to my brother Geoff, who in his first-grade “My Book About Me” assignment answered the prompt, “Something special about me is …” with “My name is Geoffrey, not Geoff, and I am not stuppid.”) So I went into the week confident, which proved a mistake. Our first ride, the day before this epic one, was only 45 miles, with only 4,340 feet of vertical gain, but it kicked my ass. There were loose dirt climbs with grades reaching 24%, where we’d lose traction and spin the rear wheel despite being in the saddle. By “we” I mean Pete. I had fatter tires, perhaps not as low a gear, and certainly less power, so my incremental progress on these grades was kind of like riding the clutch in an underpowered diesel Volkswagen Dasher. In other words, I wasn’t manly enough to peel out. After that brutal slogfest we dined on commercial (i.e., non-hand-cranked) pasta made with jarred sauce that was sexed up with hot Italian sausage. It hit the spot and would prove to be the only “homemade” meal we would have the energy to prepare during the week.

Breakfast on the big ride day was yogurt and Open Nature granola. This brand might be organic or something but it’s mainly just cloying. (I just fact-checked this and an Amazon reviewer wrote, “Bummer this is not organic. No taste, got mussy quickly.” I didn’t find it mussy, whatever that means, but it was way too sweet.) We ate breakfast merely to appease the ride gods, who might think fasting a cheeky move. During the ride I ate two or three energy bars (and probably expended most of their calories tonguing the bits of nut and flax and assorted shrapnel from my teeth) along with most of a big-ass Coke and my go-to Hostess Cupcakes, chocolate-flavored with polyunsatured sugar-flavored white filling. At the end of the ride I found myself with a leftover Hostess fruit pie, which has never happened before; during the ride, I just didn’t feel I had the mouth strength to eat it, and guessed (accurately) that I could make it home on nothing but fumes.

Hydration was achieved via one bottle of Gatorade, three bottles of water, plus whatever amount of water I was able to absorb through my skin after a freak CamelBak accident. For details you’ll have to read the long version of this report.

Dinner was at this little dive Mexican joint in or near Winter Park. It’s the first restaurant I’ve eaten at since COVID hit that’s not brutally expensive; I think my three-item combination plate was like $12. The menu even said, “First basket of chips is on us!” If I had a sharpie I’d have added, “Second basket is a really bad idea … think of your health, for god’s sake!” (If you’re a polytheist, feel free to move that last apostrophe.) The beef enchilada was generous, and the pork tamale had the right ratio of meat to cornmeal (sometimes a tamale is like 99% corn), and the chile relleno was made with won ton wrappers, which is fun. (I haven’t had such a Mexican/Chinese fusion relleno since The Original Mexican Café in Denver folded.) We ran out of salsa, and I didn’t have the energy or patience to summon the waiter, so for my handcrafted burritos (a side of tortillas was only fifty cents!) I just shook hundreds of drops of Tapatio hot sauce on there, which I almost couldn’t even taste. The food was all good, but the flavor was a bit metallic, which is surely on me. I might nevertheless post a one-star review: “My friend and I rode 113 miles and were parched and undergoing some kind of complicated fat-burning process involving ketones, so the food tasted odd, and the waiter didn’t have enough background in organic chemistry to understand, so I’m absolutely livid and will never eat here again. Oh, and you have to pay for your second, third, and fourth baskets of chips!”

Long version

We got a kind of late start, almost 10 a.m., but we’d wisely planned this ride for the longest day of the year so we wouldn’t be racing nightfall like last time. We started on some single-track which for me was kind of a (literally) rocky introduction to the gravel bike. Then we had asphalt for a mile or two through town until we reached a proper dirt road. Being off the main roads, away from cars, is of course the main joy of gravel riding (or “groading,” in MAMIL/hipster parlance). The scenery was particularly good all day, because Colorado (like northern California) had the wettest winter and spring on record (-ish). Very green hills and all the distant peaks were snow-covered. The first climb came almost right away but it wasn’t all that hard.

The scenery at the summit was brilliant. (This might have actually been the second summit … the ride was over a week ago, which already seems like the distant past.)

We turned at some point onto a paved highway and had to deal with cars and the rumble strip. We also had a pretty stiff headwind, and I sucked Pete’s wheel shamelessly. Serves him right for being a better cyclist (and frankly a better person).

There would be only one place to get water (etc.) the entire ride, so Pete had loaned me a CamelBak. I use a similar pack for mountain biking but without the bladder. The hose was whipping around all over unless I tucked it under some D-ring that seemed ill suited to the purpose, and on the first big descent it popped loose and started dribbling on me. (Looking back, I wonder if this was due to the increase in barometric pressure?) Pete had advised me that if this happens, you can blow a bit into the hose. This didn’t really work, so I tried something really stuppid. Have you ever seen a motorist losing traction in the snow when trying to get rolling, and he floors it and just spins the wheels uselessly, polishing the ice under the tires, making things worse? What I did was even stuppider: I blew really hard into the hose. This inflated the bladder so the water started to gush out. When I opened my mouth to cuss, the little valve blew off under the pressure and was lost, and I had a full-open hose on my hands. By the time I got the bike to a stop on the road shoulder, I was pretty wet and really pissed. It was a warm day but (as lamented here) that can change fast in the high mountains. Plus, I’d lost most of my water. I topped up my bottles from the bladder and drank the rest. (Note to self: quit cycling—Dad was right, I’m too stuppid for this.)

We passed a dam that was absolutely roaring with water.

We took a small detour to hit the only town of the entire route, the small and somewhat sparse burgh called Kremmling. On what I took to be the main drag we encountered a Dollar General, a Family Dollar, and a Down To Your Last Dollar. (Okay, I made up that last one.) We stopped at the Kum & Go (fondly known as the Jizz & Go among the locals, surely) where we got the requisite bottled tap water, cold Cokes, and cupcakes. Pete favors gummy bears for some reason; it’s probably just a flex, showing off how he has the jaw strength to chew the damn things even sixty miles into a gravel ride.

A short while later we were back on the dirt and making our way along a rolling bit towards our final climb. My hands hurt more than my back so the transition to sitting up—ouch!—was worth it.

There was a lake. I can’t be bothered to know the name. In fact, although I’d forwarded the route map to my wife via email before we set out (in case we went missing), I didn’t even look at it. I didn’t want to know any more than it would be a hella long ride with three big climbs. I mean, if vacation isn’t about giving up entirely on logistics, what is it for? I wanted to pedal dumbly for hours with no conception of navigation, expectation, execution, or anything else. I wanted to do this ride from the neck down.

We began to climb. I came to realize that my phone had made some noise at some point. The home screen indicated a work colleague had texted me. Wasn’t he paying attention? Didn’t I just say I didn’t want to think during this vacation? I tried to unlock my phone. The screen was too grubby for the fingerprint scanner to work. Over and over I tried to manually enter my passcode, until the phone indicated that it was getting ready to “brick” itself (i.e., wipe all data in case it had fallen into the hands of a thief or a moron). I took a little break from trying to unlock it, and a few miles later it dawned on me that I was so brain-dead, I’d been leaving out the first digit of the passcode. I finally unlocked the phone, answered the query, and resolved to stop thinking entirely for the rest of the day.

The road tilted up and clouds gathered, apparently conspiring to dump on us.

It was a long climb, something like 13 miles, and it was so scenic I felt it inappropriate to whine about how totally knackered I was, etc.

Damn, the climb just went on and on, and the pain in my body grew and radiated everywhere. Of course my legs hurt, and not just the standard lactic acid burn, but a strange combo of ache and poke, like they were injured. My hands were tired and painful and cross. All my toes felt broken. My neck and shoulders hurt. My ass hurt because the bike saddle, though overstuffed like an armchair, also felt like a two-by-four. The helmet was digging into my head and my sunglasses into my face. My eyes stung like they’d been scrubbed with powdered glass. My breathless panting, as we approached and passed the 10,000-foot mark, was completely out of touch with my relatively low heart rate (i.e., 120s), as though my legs and lungs were too overwhelmed to make the heart work hard. The climb was just a pure beat-down. At one point I felt overcome with despair, like I could not continue, but I ignored that little voice and recalled having felt this way before without it meaning anything, and within minutes I was back to pedaling away brainlessly, largely emotionlessly, like an automaton, which is to say riding (and suffering) properly. And eventually we crested the summit, at about 10,400 feet above sea level, with no fanfare. I don’t know what I’d been expecting—a ticker-tape parade? a sniper? a kiosk with some dumbass telling us to turn around?—but the big moment felt anticlimactic.

For some reason (in accordance with the willful ignorance mentioned above) I thought we had a short, maybe 8-mile descent, back to the condo, but that doesn’t make any sense as we were still in the middle of nowhere. In reality we had over 20 (albeit mostly downhill) miles to go. I love a good descent, but this is perhaps where gravel bikes shine the least: it’s not the smooth, swift rocketing around you get on a road bike, nor the joyous bashing along you get on a proper mountain bike with its plush suspension. You sort of get hammered, which can get old (particularly when your crappy helmet is trying its level best to collapse into your face). Eventually we made it back to the condo and—get this—we were so destroyed we didn’t even feel like drinking beer. The humanity!

Ride stats

  • 113.16 miles
  • 8:37:32 ride time (a full 15 seconds faster than last year’s slogfest!
  • 13.11 mph avg (actually not that bad for groading)
  • 8,051 feet vertical gain (from Pete’s more expensive and presumably more accurate bike computer)
  • 112 bpm average heart rate
  • 157 bpm max heart rate
  • 3,488 kilocalories burned (supposedly)
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Monday, June 19, 2023

Impromptu Commencement Address


I attended my daughter's college graduation the other day. It was an absolute mob scene ... thousands in the audience and, by my (very rough) count, at least a thousand students. One of the new grads gave a great commencement address. Imagine how nerve-racking it would be to face an audience that large. With that in mind, I daydreamed about the speech I would make if given only twenty minutes to prepare. Here’s that speech.

Impromptu commencement address

Greetings, Math, Life, & Physical Sciences class of 2023, and congratulations!

[Wait for raucous applause or the silent thud of this mundane opener having utterly failed.]

You are all outstanding students, or you wouldn’t be here today. Take a moment to look back on all you have accomplished here, as a student.

Now take a moment to stare, right in the face, a fact that has probably been nagging at you to a growing extent lately: your life role as a great student ends today. It ends here, on the Commencement Green. After today, you have to go do something completely different: try to become an adult. A functioning adult. A working adult.

(Quick aside to those of you going right into graduate school: sorry, but I have no advice for you. I gather grad school is much less fun than undergrad but maybe that’s just a rumor.)

Isn’t it perverse that when you totally had your act together as a student, to the point of actually completing a degree four years in the making, you have to now go tackle something else—i.e., getting a real job—that you don’t really know how to do?

I know, total buzz-kill, right? But with your degree in hand and all that learning under your belt, along with your youthful vitality, you are well poised for this opportunity whether you realize it or not. Consider me, up on this stage, called up just twenty minutes ago to give this speech, without so much as some hastily written notes on a torn-up piece of notebook paper. I could have turned this down, but then I’d lose an incredible opportunity to have an amazing story to tell later, about the time I got booed off the stage at a university commencement address, or, possibly, the time I managed not to get booed off the stage when giving an impromptu commencement address. I would never pass up such an opportunity. And when you are handed similarly outsized opportunities, for which you feel equally unsuited, you should also take them. You won’t do any worse than I’m doing, I’m sure.

It’s true that in your next phase of life, you will be hired by, and work with, a bunch of professionals with way more experience than you. But you have something they don’t: the boundless, perhaps panicked, energy of the fresh recruit. Many of the professionals are also faking it, in our ever-changing careers, because we’ve been intentionally job-hopping in hopes of greater opportunity, or have been buffeted around by the winds of fate, so just like you, we’re flopping around in jobs we’re not necessarily perfect for. And many of us are tiring out. My generation, for all its bluster, is more than ready to hand you the baton. If most of us are loathe to admit this, that’s just out of habit, and envy, and the inevitable rise of curmudgeonry. You’re going to do fine, and anyway most of us aren’t paying much attention anymore, and soon enough we’ll be gone.

My first thought as I mounted this stage today was, “Wow. Look at this crush of people. This is insane.” My own graduation ceremony, though at a larger university, seemed much smaller. I don’t remember parking problems, and none of the audience had to stand on the grass so far from the stage they couldn’t tell their kid from Adam. It’s tempting for me to believe what you’ve all been telling yourselves and your parents: that everything has gotten so much harder these days; that there’s so much more competition now; that back in your parents’ day they were practically giving away college degrees; jobs were much easier to find; and blah blah blah.

[Wait for applause or maybe mostly silence, or the generalized murmur of people who have tuned out completely and are chattering away amongst themselves, and/or one or more people yelling things like “Get off the stage!”]

Well, it’s all false. Unemployment in this country is at its lowest level since 1969. You will all get jobs, if you’re not lame. And don’t ever forget that the teeming masses going up against you include a lot of lame-os: the same kind of lame-os you beat out to gain admission to this great university. And also a lot of lame-os from even more prestigious universities. I have interviewed many dozens of lame-os over the years and been incredulous at how hard it is to find a good candidate to hire. Then when somebody like you comes along I’m like, Aaaaaaah, thank goodness, a great candidate. So just don’t be lame, and you can write your own ticket.

It’s been over thirty years since I was in your shoes, sweating in my weird, unbreathable polyester cap and gown, waiting for my big moment to walk the stage. The commencement address was given by a bestselling author who, since she was addressing English majors, gave us permission to be fired from our first corporate job. Of course I’d been told for years by all kinds of people that as a liberal arts grad I would never get a job, and now it was time to go prove the naysayers wrong, or prove them right. But I found that speech very liberating. [Pause for possible chuckle.] When I set out to get a job, I was entering the famous economic recession of the early 1990s. I should have been shitting bricks. I’d done nothing, outside of school, to prepare for the workforce: no internships, no rubbing elbows with anyone influential, no summer programs, and with a degree everyone assured me was worthless. But nobody told me about the recession, and I was in the habit of ignoring liberal arts deniers, so I immediately got hired. And so will you.

By the way, your job may not have much to do with your degree. I read a New York Times article recently saying that fewer than 20 percent of life sciences and physical sciences grads end up working in their field. But that’s fine. With your great education you’ll find a cool job in an exciting realm. The field that I have worked in for over 25 years now did not yet exist when I was a senior in college.

How about this statement I’ve been hearing lately and seeing in the news and on t-shirts: “The future is female”? Another myth? Actually, as far as I can tell, this one is true. Look around you at your fellow grads. A majority are young women, it appears … looks to me like about three quarters female. The official enrollment stat I heard was 60% female … did a bunch of your brethren drop out? Or did they skip this ceremony? Whatever the case, we hear it a lot: males in America are becoming an anachronism.

So to the young women among you, congratulations. Your generation is finally challenging a tradition of self-entitled deadwood, at least in this great country. And to the young men out there, don’t feel too bad. Men have had a good run, probably better than they deserve. Be glad you’re part of a society where women are no longer kept down. And to be clear, nobody is keeping men down in this country … we have simply squandered our early, historical lead. The surge of women in universities and high-flying careers is what fairness looks like. There’s still more work to be done, like eliminating the wage gap, but this is real progress.

To the parents in the audience: a solid majority of you are evidently here to celebrate your daughters. Congratulations to you and to them. I speak from proud personal experience when I say daughters rock. And if you have a son walking the stage today, well done … you managed to help him avoid a video gaming addiction, or soul-destroying cynicism, or whatever other problems are keeping so many dudes from getting college degrees. You can also be glad for exceptionally high odds that your son will marry well. Today’s potential brides are educated, empowered, and selective, and your degree-holding son will have the chops to compete. And who knows, maybe he’ll be lucky enough to sire daughters one day.

But to all in the audience: please don’t run out and get a t-shirt that says “The future is female.” First of all, it’s in poor taste to rub it in. Meanwhile, the statement is kind of absurd. Just because woman have been held back in the past doesn’t mean they weren’t relevant all along. The human race would have gone extinct immediately without women. Meanwhile, we’ll obviously always need men, too. For one thing, somebody needs to fetch stuff from high shelves and clean out the cat box.

But enough on that subject. I have a greater topic to address. To all the students assembled here, I want to take a moment to remind you of something huge: you are the future.

[Pause to let that sink in, and/or for loud whooping and applause, or whatever else you get.]

Thank you to all those who bit their tongues and didn’t boo me off the stage for that hackneyed and fundamentally untrue platitude. Actually, you are not the future. The future does not exist, yet, and you will not actually be defining it as you go along. There are seven billion people here and your individual effect on the planet will most likely be a rounding error at best. Meanwhile, the planet will continue on unperturbed long after our species has gone extinct. Don’t focus on changing the world; just be honest and kind and earnest, and work hard to do right by your family and friends. And don’t ever forget to be grateful. As a university graduate in America you’ve already been dealt one of the best hands imaginable in life, so don’t be greedy or petty. Enjoy your successes but don’t obsess over them. Be proud of your achievement but don’t forget that the random luck of your life circumstance, and/or the striving and sacrifice of your parents, brought you most of the way here.

I have one more topic to address: there seems to be a tremendous amount of generalized anxiety swirling around these days. This is despite the world having steadily improved over the decades, with countless people transcending poverty in a largely unabated upward trend. Some of this modern anxiety is existential; some biochemical; some geopolitical; I’m no expert on all the causes. But as you prepare to enter the workforce, many of you may be worried about GPT-3, its ChatGPT utility, and other forms of artificial intelligence that promise to replace humans in an ever-increasing range of jobs. Well, I’ve messed about with modern AI a fair bit and am absolutely convinced it’s overrated. Some day perhaps we’ll laugh at today’s state of the art in AI, much as we laugh at 1950s artist’s renditions of what the 1990s would look like, with flying cars and robots everywhere. To prove my point, I asked ChatGPT to write a commencement address for me right before coming up here. If you think my speech has been insufferable, let me read you a (mercifully brief) excerpt from ChatGPT’s half-assed, vapid output:

As you leave the hallowed halls of this institution, know that you carry with you the hopes and dreams of generations past, present, and future. You are the torchbearers of progress, the champions of discovery, and the guardians of knowledge. Your calling is noble, your potential boundless.

Okay, now you can boo me off the stage. In fact, I want you to. I beg you too.

[Bow dramatically and wait for enthusiastic booing and/or applause and/or a smattering of polite clapping and/or or the generalized murmur of people who have tuned out completely and are chattering away amongst themselves.]

Further reading

Middle School Graduation Speech - From a Dad

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Saturday, June 10, 2023

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2023 Critérium du Dauphiné Stage 7


I sometimes get up really early in the morning to give you live coverage of bicycle races in Europe. But it’s not really live coverage because you don’t read it until much later, if at all. But it’s as close as I can get. And unless you’re paying for Peacock Plus (slogan: “We have almost zero subscribers”), perhaps this is as close as you’ll get, too.

Critérium du Dauphiné Stage 7 –  Porte-De-Savoie to Col De La Croix De Fer

This stage race is like the dorky little brother of the Tour de France, and I should know, having three cool older brothers. We don’t have all the top Tour contenders here, but perhaps half of them, including the Dauphiné’s current GC race leader Jonas Vingegaard (Team Jumbo-Visma).

So, here’s a funny chat transcript from yesterday:

I dictated that message to my texting app and watched the voice recognition software in action. It initially rendered “Dauphiné” as “dolphin a,” but then after it caught the context (report, ride) it went back and “corrected” it to “doping a.” For once, the AI seems pretty smart!

(Is there still a lot of doping in the peloton? You may have noticed my last few blow-by-blow reports haven’t mentioned it much. The answer is, I can’t tell … and that’s a good thing. It means either the sport has actually cleaned up, or at doping isn’t completely dictating the outcomes as it did in the salad days of the obvious doper Chris Froome and his ultra-dopy Team Sky.)

As I join the action, the riders have about 35 kilometers to go, which means they’re on the penultimate climb, the Col du Mollard, which is a beast at 18.5 km (11.5 miles) long. So what does “Mollard” mean? Well, Google Translate says it’s the “populaire et vulgare” way of saying “crachat épais,” which means “thick spit.” I love that. Some rider of yesteryear must have been slogging his way up the climb, hacking up all kinds of gross sputum, and said something like, “Zut alors, c’est le col du mollard!”

This climb is considered “Hors Categorie,” aka “HC,” or “beyond category” in cycling’s odd parlance. This is exactly like saying an amp goes up to 11.  I mean, why not just make the hardest climbs Cat 1?

They keep showing footage of this kind of stout guy, and I can’t figure out why. Okay, I guess that’s not fair, no pro cyclist is stout, per se (as they all have single-digit body fat percentages). Let’s say he’s stocky, more like a sprinter or rouleur, not the sort who wins mountain stages, and yet he's solo, and mugging for the camera, so surely he's off the back.

So why keep showing him? Is he the cameraman’s nephew? Or is he some Internet influencer? Ah, as it turns out, this fellow, Victor Campenaerts (Lotto Dstny) is inexplicably off the front, solo. On a day like this? After they’ve already gone over the HC Col de la Madeleine? Maybe the breakaway had like 30 minutes at one point, who knows. Anyway, this guy has less than a two minute lead, so he’s doomed, unless he’s just an amazing doper.

Team Jumbo-Visma has things in the GC group well in hand, as you can imagine. Here’s one of Vingegaard’s henchman at the front, trying to pick some nut out of his teeth. Nuts should be disallowed in energy bars, and in ice cream as well. There. I said it.

They’re talking about Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroen Team), who sits second overall on GC, 1:10 behind Vingegaard. The commentator says he spoke with AG2R’s coach who says, “Ben is really a pleasure to coach. He’s a bit simple.” Ouch. I guess it’s possible he said “it’s a bit simple,” but nobody says that, right? And actually, with these race radios, a rider who unthinkingly does exactly what he’s told might be just the ticket.

Here’s a fun fact: while you’ll hear commentators call Vingegaard “Vingego,” which sounds like a nickname, that’s actually just the supposed pronunciation of his name. I looked this up on Reddit and someone wrote, “Dane here: I think the closest would be something like ‘Yo-nas Ving-eh-gore’ - where ‘yo’ is not like in rap but rather like in ion and ‘nas’ is like in the rapper name…” This guy, being familiar with rap, obviously knows his stuff, so it could be that the professional commentators (or “incompetators” as I like to call them) have this wrong.

I don’t know what direction they’re coming at the Col de la Croix de Fer from. I have actually raced up this climb (click here for details) and it’s an absolute beast, normally classed as an HC, but I think these guys are only doing the top half as it’s being called a Cat 1. You know what? Pro cyclists are so much stronger, they should have a different categorization scheme than what’s used with rank amateurs. For a guy like me to tackle an HC, it should be called an HHHC.

Okay, I get it, you’d like to know what’s going on in the actual race. Well, the rest of the breakaway has now been absorbed by the adult diaper of the GC group. (You won’t get metaphors like this in traditional broadcasts.) And Campenaerts, with about a kilometer left to the summit of this Col du Mollard, has less than a minute of his lead remaining. He’s doomed.

As Campenaerts crosses the summit he gives a little mini-victory-salute. I’ve never seen this before, but it makes sense … he sure won’t be crossing the finish line in first. But he now has the virtual lead in the KOM competition, which he might even keep if he doesn’t get totally shelled on the final summit. But then, how could he not? He’s built like a damn Sumo wrestler! (I mean, relatively speaking.)

“Jumbo-Visma, in those yellow-and-black jerseys,” the announcer points out, sincerely trying to be helpful. This announcer is really not very good. His voice is just a bit on the lugubrious side. Plus, he seems to free-associate about whatever he feels like, which—look, I know what you’re thinking, I do the same thing. But I’m just an unpaid blogger!

Jumbo-Visma is still totally in control of the GC group.

So anyway, getting back to the announcer, he keeps talking about Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) who—get this—isn’t even riding the Dauphiné! I mean, hell, I’m better at staying on track than that. And to even mention Démare without calling him a lying, cheating scumbag is just unprofessional (click here for details).

So now, with a dozen kilometers to go, the GC group catches Campenaerts. They don’t even give him so much as a nod as they swarm him. It’s like the motorcyclists who zoom around me in the Berkeley hills … they make it very clear that there’s no kinship between our two-wheeled cohorts. I’m just some douche who travels by his own power. Laaame!

Now Campenaerts is jettisoned off the back. I don’t know how I feel about that. I guess based on his totally goofy handlebar and brake lever position (see above), he probably deserves it. I mean, have some dignity, would you please?

As the racers descend toward the base of the final climb, the announcer starts talking about bike gearing, prompted by some nice work by the cameraman.

As somebody who likes to blather on about this topic myself, I ought to be stoked. But this announcer and others have been going on and on about it lately, due to the single front chainring setup that Vingegaard and others have been using. During this year’s Giro d’Italia Sean Kelly, my favorite announcer, erroneously described the benefit as being a tighter gear range, which is exactly the opposite of the truth. But this announcer is actually saying some interesting stuff. He (or somebody) asked Vingegaard why he used the one-by the other day, and got an interesting answer: the lighter setup means a rider can use his more aerodynamic bike (which normally would be heavier due to the extra carbon fiber that makes it aero) and still be right at the minimum weight limit. But for a day like today where tighter gear ratios are needed, riders like Vingegaard are back on their traditional double chainwheel setup.

HEY! WAKE UP! The race is still going, you know. Don’t be like my wife, who once said to me, “Don’t ever talk to me about bike gearing again.”

The riders have 8 km to go, all murderously uphill.

So here’s what’s happened so far in this stage race. Nobody really stood out in terms of GC until Mikkel Bjerg (UAE Team Emirates) won the Stage 4 31.1 km time trial 12 seconds ahead of Vingegaard. Bjerg was almost in tears afterward, for some reason. I mean, wouldn’t he be happy? Weird. Anyway, Bjerg crashed the next day at the base of a big climb and never caught back up, and meanwhile Vingegaard solo’d to victory. (Is that how you spell solo’d? Aw, who cares about spelling?)

Wow, David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) goes out the back! He had nominally been considered a contender here. And now Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorius) is dropped. Probably very few people remember this, but Landa used to be kind of fast.

Getting back to the GC recap, Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal Quick-Step) won a stage with great flair, and sits third on GC, only 13 seconds behind O’Connor. In fourth is the ever-present but never-attacking Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates), just three seconds behind Alaphilippe, with Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) rounding out the top five, another 11 seconds back. Pretty tight GC except for Vingegaard.

Some guy named Attila attacks the already reduced GC group and immediately gets a huge gap. Ah, it’s Attila Valter of Team Jumbo-Visma, in some randomly colored jersey, champion of Hungaria or something. And just as quickly, Vingegaard pulls him back. WTF?

Oh, right, it’s like an alley-oop, as Vingegaard attacks!

Only Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates) can respond, and only kind of! The group is shattered!

Alaphilippe goes out the back, along with former Tour de France winner Egan Bernal (Ineos Granadiers), who has so-so form after coming back from a horrific injury early last year.

Gosh, it’s a great attack, but when a rider is this dominant, the race can become kind of boring. It’s like a rom-com where you know exactly what’s going to happen so why bother watching? Especially when it’s a PG-13 rom-com. I guess bike racing is rated G, unless two riders get in a fistfight which is rare, or use foul language which is not as rare but not exactly exciting either.

Yates has lost almost 30 seconds. He’ll move into second overall but no higher than that, obviously.

O’Connor is next on the road, chasing after Yates. I mean, I guess technically he’s going after Vingegaard too, but I doubt he’s delusional. The Dane has simply outclassed everyone.

Further back, or should I say farther back, Hindley drops O’Connor. This could change the GC a bit, but we’re talking about lower podium places in a fairly minor race. Like, who cares?

You might have noticed how crappy my photos are. That’s because Peacock Plus won’t let me get screen grabs. Because, you know, every time somebody gets a screen grab, God kills a kitten. Anyway, since I’m snapping photos with my phone anyway, I’ll use some nifty features. Here’s a GIF of Vingegaard:

And by contrast, look how much slower Yates is going.

They’re not showing Vingegaard’s time gap because what difference does it make? Two solo stage wins? Nobody can touch him.

Vingegaard is in the final kilometer. And what’s this? Something exciting! A spectator, or perhaps just a hobo, has fallen backward and is sprawled on the ground! And he’s not wearing any pants!

Okay, looking more closely at that still photo (remember, I’m seeing this all in live motion so it’s harder to make everything out), I see that it’s just somebody lying on the ground to get a cool photo, and he’s wearing flesh-colored shorts, which is a poor sartorial choice but certainly not alarming. Sorry to get your hopes up that this stage would have an exciting finish.

Vingegaard takes the win, and look, this is arrogant: he affects a yawn as he crosses the line, as if to say, “Yeah, another day, another win.”

Speaking of yawning, it’s not even 6 a.m. yet!

Yates cruises over the line, 41 seconds back.

Hindley rolls through. Of course I tried to get a photo showing his face, but what can I do? The man is shattered. His head is down.

O’Connor finishes, and I have to say, he did a great job, digging deep to limit his loss to Hindley to just 11 seconds.

Here’s the stage result:

And here’s the new GC:

O’Connor managed to hold on to his podium spot, at least for now.

With most of the peloton still out on the road, they present Vingegaard with his medal for the stage win. The only notable thing to see here is that ASO, the race organizers, are very gradually trying to reintroduce podium girls to the awards ceremony tradition. Surely ratings have tumbled since the olden days, when they had beautiful women in tight dresses actually kissing the winners (albeit only on the cheek, generally). This practice has been abandoned, and for a brief, dark period only poorly dressed, dumpy, middle-aged men were allowed anywhere near the podium. Then they let a woman back on the stage, but kind of in the background, wearing an extremely conservative pantsuit. So this is a big step forward, or perhaps backward, allowing a woman in a skirt, with bare arms, to be here. (Microsoft Word is suggesting I change “bare” to “bear,” because this is America, home of guns.)

And now Vingegaard collects another yellow jersey. Look at him kissing his biceps … so totally arrogant.

And now the race leader is interviewed.

INTERVIEWER: You must be happy to win the stage and extend your GC lead.

VINGEGAARD: Well, duh.

INTERVIEWER: How and why and when did you attack … was that pure instinct?

VINGEGAARD: The last climb was getting steep and we decided to have Attila go full gas to make it really hard and then I would attack when they couldn’t go anymore and luckily I was able to go alone. But the race isn’t over, I could still get COVID or something. So yeah, tomorrow we’ll see how I feel, whether I have a fever or a dry, rattling cough, maybe a loss of sense of smell, that would indicate that I could be vulnerable, because I mean come on, we saw what happened to [Remco] Evenepoel in the Giro.

INTERVIEWER: Are you now at your peak?

VINGEGAARD: Yes, of course, every defending Tour [de France] champ stupidly peaks for the Dauphiné three weeks ahead of the Tour, so he’s totally flat there and rides disgracefully. What do you think?

INTERVIEWER: I had heard you were a nice guy, but in fact you’re hopelessly arrogant.

VINGEGAARD: No, I’m not actually arrogant. In fact I’m kind of faux-modest and boring, but certain bloggers obviously take liberties when transcribing these interviews. Though in this case your stupid question about whether I am peaking right now was rendered accurately, believe it or not.

Next they interviewing Max Poole (Team DSM), who now wears the white jersey of best young rider.

INTERVIEWER: Congratulations.

POOLE: Thank you.

INTERVIEWER (after an awkward silence): I like your hat.

POOLE: Thank you.

INTERVIEWER: What do you think of this relatively new tradition of bike racers wearing a ball cap, like a damn American, instead of a proper Euro-style cycling cap?

POOLE: I have no idea what you’re talking about.

INTERVIEWER: You know, a cycling cap. It’s, uh, smaller, doesn’t come as far down the head, and has a fairly small bill. So you could wear it under a helmet, if you needed to, like if you were bald and didn’t want really weird tan lines from your helmet vents?

POOLE: Are you saying I’m balding?

INTERVIEWER: No, no, you’re super young! That’s not what I meant at all!


INTERVIEWER: So if you hang on to this jersey through tomorrow’s final stage, are you goin’ to Disneyland?

POOLE: What the hell is Disneyland?

Campenaerts receives his polka-dot jersey. Look at that moustache. If he were American, he’d be into monster trucks, not cycling.

Now they’re interviewing Campenaerts.

INTERVIEWER: You must be satisfied.

CAMPENAERTS: I am very happy with my shape.

INTERVIEWER: Your shape is actually odd for a KOM leader. I mean your build. You’re not that spindly. Most climbers are weedy and gaunt. You’ve been called “stout.”

CAMPENAERTS: I prefer “husky” or “stocky.”

INTERVIEWER: Yes, of course, that’s better. In fact, I would go so far as to say “strapping.”

CAMPENAERTS: Are you hitting on me?

INTERVIEWER (winks): No, of course not, you’ve got a big day tomorrow.

CAMPENAERTS: Yes, I’m going to really suffer.

INTERVIEWER: You ride for the Team Lotto Dstny. Dstny, with no “e” or “i.” What’s with the weird spelling?

CAMPENAERTS: Well, as you know, vowels have to be purchased. Our sponsor faced some budget cuts.

Well, that’s about it. Tomorrow’s last stage is also mountainous, with six categorized climbs including an HC and two Cat 1s, but it finishes with a 17 kilometer descent and no rider seems capable of challenging Vingegaard right now. Don’t look for a report on this blog.

So … you think the Vingster will be rocking a COVID mask between now and then?

Email me here. For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

From the Archives - Bits & Bobs Volume VII


This is the seventh installment in the “From the Archives – Bits & Bobs” series. Volume I is here, Volume II is here, Volume III is here, Volume IV is here, Volume V is here and Volume VI is here. (The different volumes have nothing to do with one another.)

Every time I dip into my past essays and letters looking for little nuggets that could entertain or enlighten my albertnet audience, I think I’ll finally come up empty, my archives finally having been exhausted. But recently I found a folder from the mid-’90s with old emails in it, pasted into individual text files. Email was new then and I must have thought I could keep up with the quixotic task of archiving it. Ha! Later I decided I could just trust the email software archive (as this was before anyone realized these programs would go extinct and lock up past emails forever.)

The posts in this installment are from when I lived in San Francisco, post-college.

May 1, 1995

[Email to myself, testing my new address.]

Hey Dana:

Just a quick note to say that you’re really one of the most outstanding individuals I’ve ever come across. Keep up the fine work.


[I mean, if I don’t give myself this kind of encouragement, who else is gonna do it?]

August 2, 1995

[To a friend who was dabbling in the new frontier of online quasi-dating, which back then meant meeting people in chat rooms, without any easy way to transmit photos back and forth. My friend had done lots of text-based chatting with his romantic prospect, and they’d even had a couple of long phone calls, but they hadn’t yet FedExed photos to each other.]

The way I see it, you and Cyber-Susan have highly compatible personalities. Keep in mind, however, that “she has a nice personality” is a disparaging remark in most circles. Humans are superficial about things like looks. According to Stephen Dawkins, this is a biological program that cannot be thwarted. (Not that he doesn’t have plenty of fruit-loopy ideas himself.) In any case, I see perhaps three possible scenarios involving your first face-to-face meeting with Susan.

1. She is a miraculous composite of Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, and Nicole Kidman. If ever there was a beauty that you did desire, and got, ‘twas but a dream of Susan. Her beauty sinks you into a swoon. Meanwhile, her voice, now unadulterated by the coarse fiber optics of the phone line, is the sweet singing of sirens. Her personality is sharper and brighter than ever when not dulled by the impersonal nature of the personal computer.

2. She is a hideous composite of a mole rat, a gorgon, and a bat. Her voice, when she gets excited (and I know she will!) loses the careful modulation she managed, through extreme effort, to keep up for six hours on the phone. In moments of passion, her speech sounds like the horrible screeching of two raccoons fornicating. The apparent wit and charm displayed in her e-mail messages turn out to be the result of painstaking labor, and a lot of plagiarism. The phone calls, you learn, were carefully scripted. After your initial, tactful efforts to put the “relationship” to sleep, she pursues you with terrier tenacity.

3. He is the zit-faced, pudgy, bespectacled Far-Side-looking teenage boy we feared all along. His voice is only as pleasant as it is prepubescent. But he’s got a great personality, and at least you have an interesting new pen pal.

But all kidding aside, I hope everything turns out swell. Just remember to use virus protection!

August 16, 1995

[In response to a truncated email.]

Your entire message read, “I am not sensitive about tasteless jokes at all, so give”

There is just trails off. I envision that right after you finished typing “give,” somebody sunk a large bowie knife between your shoulder blades. Then, before you could collapse onto the keyboard and type “67yhnyhhhhhhhhhhhh” with your face, he threw you aside, and, not knowing what else to do, sent the message. Either that, or you indeed did fall forward, and typed “tvgfruuuuuuuuuuuu” with your face, and he deliberately erased that part of the message.

What could the motive have been? Perhaps the perp was somebody who is offended by tasteless jokes.

September 12, 1995

I’m traveling on business with my boss. He has very high standards about the quality of his food and lodgings. We checked into our hotel and he decided the rooms weren’t up to snuff and switched to a neighboring hotel, causing god knows how many complications for those back at the office who think they know how to reach us.

Tonight we went to a restaurant and there was a bit of a wait, so we ordered a beer. Bass on draft. Well, it didn’t taste that good. I didn’t really care, but my boss sent them back. The bartender, who was obviously in training, suggested something else. It proved to be even worse. This time I really found it disgusting. It had the flavor of a sweaty gym sock (many of which I’ve sucked on in my day). Well, again, I wasn’t going to say anything, but we sent them back and decided we couldn’t go wrong with something in a bottle. Well, we ordered two Red Hook ESB’s, and as soon as the bartender set them down, I noticed that on the part of the label that goes around the neck of the bottle were pictured three Washington trolley drivers. I happen to have noticed, over the last month or so, that Red Hook no longer features the trolley drivers. So I checked the freshness date on the bottle, and the beer had expired in July! Sure enough, it too was gross—very flat and just kind of off. By this time we had our table, so we sent the beers back with the waitress, who must’ve told the young bartender, for he came out and apologized in person. A few minutes later the owner came out and also apologized. Then, when we had finally consumed the fourth beers, which were fine, the waitress brought out two more, on the house. Needless to say this was more than I ordinarily drink.

October 26, 1995

Cycling has gotten so hard. I shouldn’t take the bait when these weekend warriors try to school me. In the past I’ve let countless guys drop me since my fitness was not a question, but now that I’m out of shape I feel this need to convince myself of some essential quality that I (hopefully) still have. So I think to myself, “I don’t really want to do this to you—nor to myself—and my ego certainly shouldn’t need this, but it does, so now you must die.” And then we both suffer horribly, needlessly.

I duked it out with some newbie the other day, and it was just brutal. The whole thing lasted like half an hour, and he was like a Weeble Wobble, the little toy dude that weebles and wobbles but won’t fall down. This rider was, in fact, also like that little green goblin-head “stress reliever” toy wherein you deform this goblin’s face with your thumbs, force his eyes up into his sockets, then squeeze its head from the back so its eyes bug out, and this is supposed to relieve stress—except that he always comes back for more. Such dolls represent the futility of life: your foes are never really dead, you never get to relax. At least, not until you finally get out the power tools and make that fucking goblin BLEED. Or you jam the Weeble Wobble beneath the tire of the neighbor’s camper and it’s crushed like a boiled egg by the next time you see it. Victory, yes, but at a price. I finally dropped the newb but my stress wasn’t relieved, since I had to make sure he never caught back up. When will it ever end?

November 16, 1995

I’m so disappointed that the band “Smashing Pumpkins” turns out to be called “The Smashing Pumpkins.” I thought “Smashing Pumpkins” was a verb phrase, along the lines of “Smashing the Pumpkins.” Kind of like the novel Fools Crow: its eponymous hero has the original, humiliating childhood name “White Man’s Dog” until, as a teenager, he fools a band of Crow Indians and gets the better of them (killing several, I believe) and in return for his valor and cunning, is given the new, cool name “Fools Crow.” This name is a verb phrase emphasizing the act of fooling (i.e., “fools the Crows”).

Of course, “Smashing Pumpkins” is problematic anyway because nobody actually smashes pumpkins. They only smash jack-o-lanterns. That act does capture the random, energetic lashing out of a young grunge type, but can you imagine the force required to smash an un-carved pumpkin? It’d be pretty spectacular actually, with the guts and seeds flying everywhere. I think the band should be called Smashes Pumpkins.

December 1, 1995

[To a friend of a friend who was considering buying my used laptop PC, with or without an external monitor.]

No, no, no, heavens no, the built-in monitor doesn’t suck. It’s as good as monochrome LCD displays get. I just tried it out again and it’s fine. You open up the lid, there’s no screen, you pitch it back a bit, it comes on, it’s golden, it’s backlit, white-on-black or black-on-white, brightness control, contrast, wonderful. Better than most. A real selling point, in fact.

It’s just this. You’re working, late into the night, hammering away on that keyboard, and this is after-hours, when you’re working on your magnum opus after having stared at a computer screen all day anyway. Your eyes are tired. You’re grumpy. In fact, you’re feeling pretty shitty. And suddenly you don’t see the cursor all that well. You lose sight of where you are. Computer problem? Hell no—it’s a full-blown midlife crisis! You’re just frustrated. So you take it out on the computer. You say, “Dana, that bastard. He sold me a piece of crap. Typical of the kind of guy who would be friends with D–.” In reality, you’re just coming face-to-face with an awful truth: when the going gets rough, a 14” Sony Trinitron Multiscan HG Super Fine Pitch color monitor is a nice thing to have. You see, people buy color laptops and/or desktop computers for a reason. The monochrome LCD did not make the Sony color monitor a thing of the past. So that’s why I’m offering you the monitor as an optional accessory. It’s a magnanimous gesture, a way to say “Hey buddy, life is harsh. Your computer screen shouldn’t be.”

Look, all this e-mailing back and forth reminds me of a blind date. I’d hate for you to get all amped up creating a mental image of this computer, fantasizing about a sleek, thin, 4-pound gleaming miracle of modern technology but also fearing it’s an old, clunky, barely usable white elephant. The difference between expectation and reality can be a harrowing thing. You need to try before you buy. I don’t want this to end badly, like when I sold a phone answering machine to our friend D—. It was practically brand new when I sold it to him, but it broke almost immediately. I can’t believe it. Its life expectancy was much higher than that. It’s like my Sony TV: I loaned it to a friend while I went on my bike tour, and while he had custody, the picture tube blew out. I couldn’t very well make him pay for it, since I can’t imagine it was his fault; to this day (over a year later) he still has it, and is avoiding me. He’s got my VCR too—not much point bothering to get that back, without a TV to play it on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not chapped or anything—I broke his CD player and tape deck while he was in Japan, years before, and he was cool about it. Yet we haven’t spoken since I got back from my tour. Meanwhile, over this lousy phone answering machine, D— won’t even e-mail me anymore. The last I heard from him was the message on my voice-mail telling me the answering machine I sold him broke. The failure of that simple appliance, I fear, has ruined our friendship. And what’s worse, I don’t think he even paid me for the damn thing. If he had, I could just refund his money and all would be forgiven.

June 25, 1996

Regarding your question about bottom brackets, and whether a fixed cup is threaded backwards (i.e., has a “left-hand thread”): well, here’s how it works. You have to find out what market the bicycle was intended for. No matter where it’s made, the thread orientation is determined by the location where the bike will be used. For example, Phil Anderson’s bottom bracket is a left-hand thread, because he lives in Australia. Just as the water spins the opposite way as it goes down the drain in the Southern Hemisphere, bottom bracket fixed cups are threaded backwards there. This is why most successful racers tend to be from northern countries: the southern ones have all kinds of bottom bracket trouble when they race up here.

I guess you’re probably not buying that. The rule actually goes like this: there are three different standards for threads on bicycle parts: English, Italian, and French. An English standard bottom bracket shell has a cup that is 1.37 inches in diameter, with 24 TPI (threads per inch), left-hand (backwards) threaded. (This is what you have.) An Italian standard BB shell has a cup 36 mm in diameter, with 24 TPI, right-hand threaded. (This is what I have.) If your BB shell were French standard, it would be stripped, frozen, cross-threaded, and utterly worthless.

October 28, 1996

[Email to a friend far better connected in cycling than I.]

Man, that sucks about Lance [Armstrong] having cancer. If it’s really spread to his brain, you’re right, that sure as hell doesn’t look good. I mean, you can’t exactly amputate a brain…

Email me here. For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.