Monday, July 31, 2023

From the Archives - Bits & Bobs Volume VIII


This is the eighth 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, Volume VI is here, and Volume VII is here. (The different volumes have nothing to do with one another.)

As with the last installment, these are taken from emails, back when I archived them as simple text files so that one day, when I was a celebrity blogger, I could mine them for tasty nuggets that would thrill my readers without requiring me to write anything new. How prescient, since the Internet was just getting started and blogs were not yet a thing…

March 14, 1995

The [HP] Vectra [computer] is still down at work. I found the setup disks and ran setup to check the CMOS settings. They were all okay; I don’t know what the problem is. I called tech support and when they heard what year the computer was, they said, “Oh, you’ll have to get in touch with our HP Classics department. The only problem is, the old geezers we’ve got down there can’t always hear the phone ringing.” Actually, I made that last part up. But there really is an HP Classics department, and they really don’t answer their phone.

May 10, 1995

I was in the company president’s office the other day having a big important one-on-one meeting, and the phone rang. The big boss got embroiled in a conversation, and you know, I’ve always really hated that. Am I just supposed to sit there in his office, contentedly watching him as he talks and as he twirls his hair around his finger in little curlicues that eventually match the phone cord, which is all twisted from his endless pacing? No way could I do that. But could I just leave? No—any motion towards the door and the boss is frantically gesturing for me to stay. What do I do? So I idly picked up three company-logo-embossed golf balls off of his desk and began juggling. And, sure enough, I dropped one, and it began rolling across the floor, and just when I was on my hands and knees retrieving it (in my $500 suit, of course) the boss got off the phone. I casually put the golf balls back on his desk and we continued our conversation. He didn’t seem fazed, so I guess he’s used to my behavior—and that can’t be a good sign. Will I ever grow up? It reminds me of how you got in trouble for your rubber-band fights at your first job out of college. You’ve really been an inspiration to me, you know.

January 6, 1996

I got a voicemail from my old boss, from [the job I’d quit about a month before]. He said the Vectra, which is the shared hallway computer, had crashed, and he had no idea what to do. They’re in a panic because it’s the only computer with CompuServe access. I had to laugh. I’d been warning people for months that the computer was showing signs of a bad CMOS battery and that its days were numbered. I even put a sign on it saying “Don’t turn me off or I’ll die.” Well, they should have listened. Asking for help now is like saying, “Well, the house burned to the ground. The fire department just finishing hosing things down. Did you say something a while back about smoke detectors?”

January 28, 1996

[To my brother Geoff] … I’ve been thinking lately about our Murray Street Station [San Luis Obispo] days. I still have that original microwave oven, and even one of those big plastic lidded pitchers we used to keep the refried beans in. Remember that awful Thanksgiving dinner at Sizzler? Man, those were the days. Remember all the Canadian-bacon-and-pineapple pizzas K— [the bike shop owner] used to buy us? And how great it was to get free pizza, but how sick we were of that variety? Like, it would be petty and annoying to complain, and yet we’d like pepperoni and mushroom so much better? I actually oddly miss those factory days, too. Sure, the work wasn’t so fun but I became fond of our routine, like how we’d stop at that grocery store (what was it called? Willie Bros, yeah, that’s it) and get Snickers bars to console ourselves because of the brutal cold wind facing us all the way home, every night? And how we used to rent videos at that one place 24/7 because the clerk was so fly? And the Lady Lee Deluxe Chocolate Fudge Brownie Supreme ice cream we’d split, just sawing the half-gallon carton down the middle? And all that cake? And our pushup and sit-up regimen, that made you so buff but never did anything for me? Man, I kinda miss those days.

February 9, 1996

Please retransmit your last email, with the attached article, in some other form than MIME (whatever that is), if possible. Or maybe you could use OCR to convert the article to plain ASCII text? Hmmm . . . I’m not sure Apple computers do ASCII. Or, you could fax the article to my computer, except I have no idea how to set it up to receive faxes, nor do I want to leave it turned on all the time. Then there’s the problem of screwing something up so that the fax answers the regular phone and deafens the hapless caller with its shrieking session-handshake protocol. (My modem came with voice-mail software, too, but I don’t think I want to mess with that, either.) Basically, I’ve got more computing power than a third world country, and no desire to use most of it.

April 24, 1996

We were in L.A. last weekend for a book festival, and Ray Bradbury and Geoffrey Wolff were both speaking. The lines for both were quite long and we worried we wouldn’t get in to either one. Wolff’s seminar, called “Memoirs,” seemed like the slightly less popular one and I thought I might have a better chance of getting into that, but it would mean giving up my spot in the Bradbury line. When I complained about my dilemma, one of the other people waiting in the line said, “Yeah, that’s a tough decision: you’ve gotta choose between the past and the future!”

I was doing my Marin Headlands loop today and I caught up to a pretty fit looking mountain biker. I passed him, and he immediately passed me back, and started hammering. I sat, bored, on his wheel for a while (it was pretty steep so I wasn’t getting too much benefit from drafting) and eventually I decided he was going too slow, and I passed him again. Well, this incited him further, and he took the lead again and started really jamming. Well, woe be to me, he simply rode me off his wheel. On a damn mountain bike! Knobby tires and everything! Man, that was humbling. I just couldn’t keep up. He took some time out of me, too, and finished the climb well ahead. Well, I was encumbered further by a couple of cars on the descent that followed, but on the next climb I blew by him. I was going so hard he couldn’t even get my wheel. I continued to hammer and basically never saw him again. I know they say he who laughs last laughs best, but still . . . he who is laughed at is still laughed at. Man.

June 18, 1996

With regard to your inquiry about bike frame geometry, I doubt there’s anything shallow about your Guerciotti’s head tube angle. My Guerciotti is the same model and only like a year older, and its head angle is like 74 degrees! Yours might be a bit more shallow than mine because it’s a smaller frame, and because you have a smaller penis than I do, but still, I’d expect it to be at least 73 degrees. In any case, this should have almost nothing to do with the way the bike climbs. What do you mean, the front wheel is “slow to move”? As far as I know, the only motion you want is for it to roll. And if it’s rolling too slowly, I would think that’s a fitness problem on your part. (The only other time I’ve heard somebody complain of something like this was when I sold my wife’s would-be-ex-stepmother-in-law a Bianchi and she said it handled “like a cow” when she got out of the saddle. We isolated the problem: low pressure in the front tire.) Anyhow, my Team Miyatas, all three of them, had shallow (73 degree) head angles and they seemed to climb just fine. Actually, they climbed like shit because they were heavy, but I had no problem per se with getting the front wheel to rotate.

June 30, 1996


HERTOGENBOSCH, THE NETHERLANDS: American television audiences received a long-overdue treat today: Geoff Albert, one of the finest looking young individuals the free world has ever produced, graced the airwaves with several seconds of his normally elusive presence.

The footage occurred during routine coverage of the Tour de France bicycle race on ESPN, an American sports network. No sooner had Stage One coverage of the race begun than the camera panned over Albert—not just his face, but his entire body as well. The camera, held by a motorcycle-mounted cameraman, was giving a racer’s-eye view of the course, and thousands of screaming, hand-waving fans struggled to get into the picture. However, when the motorcycle approached Albert, it found him strangely aloof from the rest of the crowd—somehow closer to the road, and totally unobstructed. In the nonchalant style of someone accustomed to the spotlight, Albert made no move to draw the cameraman’s attention. He simply stood there, hands thrust in his back pockets, Pentax camera hanging around his neck … the very image of nonchalance. As the motorcycle passed him, his eyes tracked the camera. As an estimated 1 billion people watch Tour de France coverage worldwide, and the footage is the same across TV networks, so it is expected that millions of female viewers were instantly, and irrevocably, smitten. Also likely is that many millions of men grumbled enviously. One thing is certain: for those fleeting moments, nobody was thinking about the bicycle race.

Why Albert was so calm and unimpressed by his moment of glory is simple to understand: he is no stranger to celebrity, and would consider this episode more of a gift to viewers than to himself. Less easy to understand is why Albert commanded such a large spectating area in the otherwise totally packed sidelines. His twin brother Bryan, an expert on such matters, speculates that “Geoff probably forgot to wear his deodorant today.” Such an oversight is not hard to imagine; after all, both of the Albert twins have earned quite a reputation over the years for their casual approach to hygiene.

Network spokesmen predict that those precious few moments of footage will boost ESPN’s ratings and help secure many more years of cycling coverage on the network. Meanwhile, journalists everywhere are speculating that this year’s coverage is well on the way to winning numerous awards for its shrewd camera work.

Albert was unavailable for comment. And, with the Tour moving to Belgium tomorrow, it is unlikely that viewers will be given an encore. With three more weeks of racing ahead, it’s entirely possible that the racers, not this sole spectator, will begin to command the attention of sports aficionados. But for today, Geoff’s televised moment is the hottest news in cycling.

August 24, 1996

Wow, I just figured out how to hook the CD-ROM in my computer into my normal stereo. It works great—so it looks like I bought those new computer speakers for nothing. Oh well. Now I can play CDs, which I never could before. Only problem is, I only own two CDs and they were both freebies E— got from her work. I guess I can check out CDs from the library and tape them. (Of course I could buy some, but E— and I are trying to save up for a house, which is no easy thing to buy around here.)

December 17, 1996

At our company holiday party we had a “white elephant” gift exchange whereby you wrap up something that you don’t want, that somebody gave you as a gift, or that you can’t believe you ever bought, and you bring it in and put it on a table. Then everybody draws a number and the person with #1 chooses first. Now, #2 gets to either choose a gift or take #1’s gift instead (meaning that #1 gets to choose again). I brought this large cheese holder, ceramic, that’s basically a plate with a 4-inch tall cylindrical cover that goes over it, so you can store cheese at room temperature. It said “CHEESE” on it. E—’s mom gave it to us and E— never did like it. The person who got it, our receptionist, was totally stoked, I could tell. (She said later she was in total suspense the whole evening, hoping that nobody would take it away from her.) I stole our other receptionist’s Martinelli’s sparkling cider. The look on her face was one of absolute shock and unbridled grief. She was devastated. (It was one of the first gift takeovers of the day.) I felt so bad, I decided I’d offer to trade her later. She ended up with a pair of Christmas mugs, one shaped like a reindeer head and the other like a Frosty the Snowman head. They were just too hideous and she looked crestfallen all over again. I told her, “Look, I’m not willing to trade gifts, but I would like to just give you my Martinelli’s. The look on your face ... it was like I ran over your dog.” She insisted that I keep the cider; then, minutes later, the director of the entire western region (who got a Mag-lite, the lucky guy) reappeared after a brief absence: he’d gone out and bought the receptionist a replacement bottle of cider. Disaster narrowly averted. I hope my hostile takeover wasn’t career-limiting.

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Saturday, July 22, 2023

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2023 Tour de France Stage 20


Maybe you don’t have time to watch the Tour de France, or maybe you don’t want to pony up all that money for Peacock Plus or GCN+, or maybe you just like the race “story” pre-masticated for you. Who knows, maybe you just enjoy the work of a quasi-journalist who isn’t afraid to fabricate escapades from whole cloth when a bike race starts to get boring. Whatever the case, you’re here, so read on for my no-punches-pulled blow-by-blow of the last mountain stage of the 2023 Tour de France.

(Oh, and if you somehow missed the last two weeks of the race, I’ll distill that here for you along the way.)

2023 Tour de France Stage 20 – Belfort to Le Markstein Fellering

As I join the action, with about 90 kilometers to go, there’s been a big crash which apparently caused a split, and the rider sitting second on GC, previous Tour winner Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates), isn’t even in the lead group with current race leader Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma). The riders are just about to start the second climb of the day, the Category 2 Col de la Croix de Moinats.

Caught in the crash were Carlos Rodriguez (Ineos Granadiers), and Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma). Rodriguez’s face is bleeding near his eye. Poor dude.

What a long, strange Tour it’s been. How can Pogacar not even be in the lead group, when for so long he and Vingegaard were neck-and-neck? Things change fast and after two bad days in a row, Pogacar is no longer much of a threat to the Dane. But to not even be in the GC group on the last mountain stage? That’s just kind of sad. It’s also more intrigue than I’d expected so early in the morning. I haven’t even had my coffee—it’s still brewing. In fact it’s probably ready.

As I return to the action, F— has usurped  my laptop.

The GC group has come back together, in the sense that Vingegaard is back in it. Evidently he was approached by Warren Barguil (Team Arkea-Samsic) who said something like, “Dude, you’re shackling the buzz of this break, your being here will force UAE to catch us, don’t be a dick.” So Vingegaard dropped back to the Pogacar group. No point making enemies in the peloton and he doesn’t need to take more time anyway.

Poor Kuss is really banged up and is getting dropped. You know it’s bad when a rider’s face is bandaged.

The breakaway has just 20 seconds … do I bother giving you their names? Wait, before I do that, there’s news: Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) has attacked the GC group and is hauling ass up to the breakaway!

And he’s caught the group, just at the summit of the Col de Grosse Pierre, where current King of the Mountains Giulio Ciccone (Lidl – Trek) takes maximum points.

Given the name of this climb, Col de Grosse Pierre, should we worry about fat-shaming? Is this the Pierre from that children’s book who didn’t care about anything? Not so fast. Pierre is also the French word for “rock” so the translation is simply “big rock pass.” No insult to anyone, we’re good here, move along, move along.

They’re doing a little side show, a profile of Rodriguez, who sits fourth on GC, 1:16 off the podium. Comically, they are including interviews with his directeur sportif and some Spanish journalist, who are both speaking Spanish, and nobody is bothering to translate. I guess it’s the network’s way of saying, “We know you never pay attention to these side shows anyway.”

Others in the lead group are Mattias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek), Barguil, Rigoberto Uran (EF Education-Easypost), Thomas Pidcock (Ineos Granadiers), and Maxime van Gils (Lotto Dstny). I can’t believe I bothered to get all their names when they only have a minute on the GC group with 65 kilometers to go. If you don’t feel my pain, consider how hard it is to even spell names like Giulio and Skjelmose.

Theres’ a chasing trio, just 17 seconds back, of Kevin Vermaerke (Team DSM), Chris Harper (Team Jayco Alula), and Valentin Madouas (Groupama/FDJ), who’s rocking the French national champion jersey. In the time it took me to spell-check all that, they’ve caught the leaders and the GC group is still like a minute down.

Pinot has had a disappointing Tour, and it’s his last ever because he’s somehow gotten so damn old (tell me about it), and he sits all the way back in 12th on GC, over 27 minutes down.

In the GC group, Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates) finishes off one of those tiny little cans of soda that the Europeans drink. This is why they’re so much more svelte than the average American. That and riding like 400 miles a week.

At the summit of the Category 3 Col de la Schlucht, Ciccone takes maximum points and—wow, this is novel—does a victory salute.

He’s celebrating because he now has enough KOM points that all he has to do is finish this Tour and he’ll wear the polka-dot jersey on the final podium. I hate his polka-dot shorts, by the way. White cycling shorts are always a no-no, and with so much polka-dot going on, he looks like that weird animal from Put Me In the Zoo.

So, let’s back up and talk about the GC battle. Since Stage 9 (see my report here), during which Pogacar took nine seconds out of Vingegaard, the GC continued to tighten up in Stage 13, with Pogacar taking another eight seconds (a four-second gap at the finish with a four-second time bonus), so that only nine seconds separated the riders on GC. The next day was totally nuts: the two riders, having dropped all the others, marked each other near a mountain summit like track riders, neither wanting to lead out the sprint for the time bonus on offer. Vingegaard finally launched a sprint and took the bonus, but Pogacar beat him in the stage to also get a time bonus, and the net result was Vingegaard’s GC lead going up by just 1 second, to 10 total. It was shaping up to be the best Tour since 1989.

As the riders hit the base of the penultimate climb, the Category 1 Petit Ballon, Pinot attacks the breakaway!

And now, what’s this? They’ve let a woman out on the course!

Look how happy she looks! And how blurry that background is … she’s going so much faster than the men! It must be true: the future is female.

Wait a second. Look at that background. It’s the fenced-off area indicating the final kilometer of a race. You know what? They’re showing some kind of past footage of a women’s race. Oh, I see now. It’s some kind of promo for the Tour de France Femmes. I think I need more coffee.

Skjelmose has been dropped.

Back in the GC group, UAE Team Emirates are setting tempo with Soler on the front.

Getting back to my recap, the GC battle lost a lot of its luster in Stage 16, the time trial, where Vingegaard took a massive 1:38 out of Pogacar. Even more remarkable was Stage 17, where Pogacar totally cracked and lost over five minutes. So now the most interesting GC battle is for the final podium spot, with Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates) defending third by the 1:18 I already told you about (Rodriguez).

Pinot attacks again, and only his teammate Madouas can respond. Madouas is tucked so neatly in behind Pinot, I can’t even see him. I can just feel his presence because the Force is strong in him.

Oh, maybe not so much. Now Pinot drops him, too.

This stage is on Pinot’s home turf, and naturally he’d planned something for the last mountain stage in his last Tour, so they interviewed him before the stage. Here’s what he had to say.

INTERVIEWER: What are your thoughts heading into this final Grand Tour mountain stage?

PINOT: I’m feeling a bit wistful, as you can imagine.

INTERVIEWER: Because your career is coming to an end?

PINOT: Well yeah, of course, but also because the sport seems to be changing. It’s not so beautiful anymore.

INTERVIEWER: In what sense?

PINOT: Well, they banned that style of riding where you put your forearms on the tops of the bars to create an aero position, as though you were using an aero bar, and so now lots of bikes have these goofy handlebars that are really narrow at the top, and then the drops are canted out to the side, almost like on a gravel bike, and it’s disgusting.

INTERVIEWER: But the Tour is so much bigger than just the bikes, isn’t it?

PINOT: Yeah, but other things have deteriorated. You have all these male fans running around in underwear, not even proper boxers but tighty-whiteys, and as they run alongside the riders they let their asses hang out. I cannot understand their motivation.

INTERVIEWER: Um … okay. Good luck today.

Full disclosure: nobody translated the interview from the French, and I had to guess at a lot of it. And actually, I must confess I made some of it up. Okay, all of it. I don’t even know if the French have a term for “tighty-whiteys.”

A chasing trio has formed behind, with Pidcock, Barguil, and Harper. They’re about 30 seconds behind Pinot.

Now Pidcock and Barguil drop Harper and the gap rather quickly comes down to 20 seconds.

The crush of fans is pretty incredible.

Now the lead starts to go out again. Perhaps Pinot is being buoyed along by the fans.

Back in the GC group, UAE still sets tempo, just in case Pogacar finds some life in his legs.

Ah, I spoke too soon. Now Jumbo-Visma moves to the front with Wilco Kelderman setting a nice pace for Vingegaard.

Pinot crests the Petit Ballon summit with a 33-second gap. He goes for a gel. I wonder how he’ll fare on this 10-kilometer descent … he’s not known for descending well, whereas Pidcock is arguably the best in the business.

Oh, no! What’s this? David Gaudu (team leader of Groupama-FDJ, sitting 10th overall) has dismounted rather suddenly!

I have a feeling this wasn’t just a pee stop. Ah, they’re showing a replay … he crashed in the sharp curve. He looks to be in pain but he’s getting a new bike and will go on.

Okay, this is really weird. Pidcock is being distanced on this descent by the other two. I would never have predicted this. It’d be like Taylor Swift being upstaged at a concert by the opening band. It just isn’t supposed to happen.

I will confess that I know almost nothing about Taylor Swift so my metaphor could be weak. That said, it’s never a bad idea to include the name of a pop star, such as Taylor Swift, in a blog post to increase pageviews. Taylor Swift Taylor Swift Taylor Swift.

Pinot is managing to maintain most of his lead on this descent, which must be very satisfying for him. And now he’s on the final climb.

Gosh, his lead is suddenly coming down a bit. I have to admit, I’d like to see him win this stage, to go out with a bang. I mean, the crowd favorite, the longtime underdog, winning big on his last try … it would make a kind of corny story, like an ABC After School Special, but I like Pinot. (The rider, not the wine. I have no use for wine.)

The gap is down to 13 seconds, and of course the chasers aren’t all Pinot has to worry about. The GC group is now less than a minute behind, and if Pogacar has one more big attack in him, that could close up pretty quickly.

Pidcock is hauling ass and now they’ve dropped Harper again.

In the GC group, Rafal Majka (UAE Team Emirates) hammers the front for Pogacar.

And now Pogacar attacks!

Only Vingegaard can respond!

But Pogacar seems to fizzle a bit! And now he’s looking around, as if to say hey, is anybody else coming?

And now Felix Gall (AG2R Citroen Team) blows by them and they grab his wheel.

Behind, the Yates brothers attack together.

And Pinot is caught! He looks back and can probably just see the GC group approaching.

And now the entire original breakaway is dropped as the GC trio continues to drill it. The Gall!

Gall sits eighth on GC going into today, but he’s over two minutes out of seventh.

Simon Yates is flying, starting to close on the leading trio and blowing by Pidcock! And now his brother Adam passes Pidcock! It’s a free-for-all!

Simon has caught Pinot and Barguil, and Adam isn’t far behind.

Now the four are together, less than 20 seconds from the leaders.

Ah, I just realized, Pidcock didn’t crack … he’s surely dropping back for his teammate, Rodriguez, to help him defend his fourth place on GC, now that Simon Yates is up the road and needs just 18 seconds.

Yep, there it is … Pidcock has dropped back and now paces Rodriguez. With them is Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe), who won a stage of this Tour, wore yellow for a day, and sits seventh on GC.

Pinot is totally dropped. Oh well. He gave it a good try.

With only 550 meters left in the climb, Pogacar isn’t going to be able to do anything. A stage win is probably all he could achieve at this point, though his chances of that are certainly good.

And that’s it, they’re over the final summit.

Now the question is, can the Yates brothers catch this trio, so Simon can fight it out for the stage win and Adam can help Pogacar? Their gap is just 15 seconds.

Oddly, the official summit isn’t really the top. There’s another ~500 meters at 8%, which isn’t exactly a bump in the road.

There’s a lot of dialogue going on between Vingegaard and Gall. I wonder what they’re saying? Vingegaard might be saying, “Look, pal, this stage win is a bigger deal for you … you need to pull,” and Gall might be replying, “Are you kidding? You know I can’t beat Tadej in a sprint. Help me out here … don’t be greedy.” Or maybe they’re arguing about who’s better, Billie Eilish or Taylor Swift. Or Nicki Minaj.

Now Pidcock blows up completely  … he did what he could for Rodriguez.

And the Yates brothers have caught the break. This may well move Simon up in the GC.

Oh, man, Rodriguez, despite a badly scraped-up face, is really heroing up, chasing back with all he’s got. He’s only 15 seconds behind and if he manages to catch, he’ll hang on to fourth overall. Oh, wait, he’s 15 seconds behind the Pinot/Barguil/Bilbao group. So he’s racing to keep Bilbao from knocking him out of fifth, essentially.

They’re into the last kilometer, and Adam Yates winds it up for Pogacar! He’s drilling it on the front, Pogacar tucked right in, should be a textbook leadout. But Vingegaard has thrown away the script and goes early! And he looks really good!

But Pogacar isn’t fazed! He comes around Yates and launches his own sprint, not even bothering to dive onto Vengegaard’s wheel!

Pogacar has got the win!

Here is the stage result. Check it out, Gall sneaked in for second.

Vingegaard chats with his wife. Note how responsible she is, masking up so she doesn’t give her husband COVID and cost him the race. Their child doesn’t need a mask because everybody knows small children cannot get, or spread, COVID. Now, I might be imagining this, but I could swear I heard Vingegaard’s wife say to him, “You look handsome.”

Here is the new GC, which—needless to say—isn’t likely to change tomorrow. Despite his crash, Gaudu climbs up a place, because Kuss lost so much time today.

Now they’re interviewing Pogacar.

INTERVIEWER: It must be satisfying to finally have a good moment after this horrible final week.

POGACAR: Yes, I finally feel like myself again.

INTERVIEWER: You keep touching your nose. And now you’ve just rubbed your nose on your shoulder. What’s going on there? Rogue boogers?

POGACAR: No, just a little non-allergic rhinitis. You have one more chance to ask a legitimate question or this interview is over.

INTERVIEWER: What was your best moment of this Tour?

POGACAR: The atmosphere on the team bus, that was just really great.

INTERVIEWER: And your worst moment?

POGACAR: When [I was dropped and] Marc Soler looked behind at me with his scary eyes ... that was the most terrifying moment.

It’s worth pointing out that most of the above interview is actually pretty faithful to what was said, for once. I only made up the nose bit because somebody had to explore the very real phenomenon of Pogacar constantly messing with his nose on camera.

Pogacar mounts the podium for his stage win.

And now Vingegaard gets another yellow jersey.

You know what’s crazy? It’s how much these two look like other celebrities. Check out the pop singer Aurora, who could be Pogacar’s sister:

And how do Vingegaard and Macaulay Culkin look so much alike?

I feel like the sport needs to capitalize on this somehow.

Pinot mounts the podium having won the Combitivity award for today.

The crowd chants, “PINOT! PINOT! PINOT!”

Oh dear, they’re showing Kuss and the poor guy is really banged up. He was so amazing in this Tour supporting Vingegaard (after having been so amazing supporting Roglic during the Giro) and he came into today in ninth overall … such a bummer of a day for him. He slips to 12th.

They’re interviewing Vingegaard.

INTERVIEWER: How was that today? Are you feeling happy to have this Tour all but won, or do you suffer from complicated emotional problems such that you somehow feel super bad about everything?

VINGEGAARD: I really appreciate the battle, it was [presumably] very nice to watch, it was very close. Today I felt good on the bike, it was another nice fight.

INTERVIEWER: Is this a team victory? And a family victory?

VINGEGAARD: Yes, my family was there every day for  me, they’ve done so well over the last three weeks.

INTERVIEWER: What, really, is the role of the family during the Tour? What does it mean for them to “do well”? It’s not like they were pacing you or giving you advice through your radio or something.

VINGEGAARD: Well, it consists mainly of not distracting me. Lots of riders get these late-night phone calls because the printer isn’t working, or the drip irrigation system has sprung a leak, or their kid won’t go to bed. Or their wives pick fights, they’ll be all like, “You just disappear for three weeks at a time, how do you think I feel?” So I didn’t have to put up with that, which I appreciate.

INTERVIEWER: What is your best memory of this Tour?

VINGEGAARD: The whole team, way we rode as a team, executed our plan every day, thanks to the team once again.

INTERVIEWER: That’s not exactly a single, specific memory. I was hoping for some kind of clear-cut snapshot, a perfect little set piece that would distill your overall experience into a single moment we can all easily picture.

VINGEGAARD: Okay, in that case, my favorite memory is about to be formed—it will be the moment you get that mic out of my face.

Well, that’s about it for this year. Watch these pages next month because I’ll probably cover the Vuelta a España…

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

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2023 Tour de France Stage 9


It’s getting really hard, in this country, to find free coverage of pro bike races, with pay walls and subscriptions and somehow Outside magazine sticking its nose in, and even though I’m paying for a Peacock Premium subscription to watch the Tour de France, they’re showing me ads right now. The gall! Meanwhile, the announcers are too professional to call a rider a doper or a clown. That’s why you’re here, right? As a bonus, I’ll fill you in today on what’s happened so far in this actually totally awesome Tour.

Biased Blow-By-Blow: Tour de France Stage 9 – Saint Léonard-de-Noblat to Puy de Dôme

As I join the action, the riders have 73 kilometers left even though the riders are waaaaay ahead of schedule on the road. Phil Liggett says, “I hope the organizers have erected the finish banner at the top of the Puy de Dôme!” His co-announcer Bob Roll titters, “Huh huh … you said ‘erect’!” Naw, I’m just messing with you. Roll is actually talking about “the fragile ecosystem” at the top of the climb, so he’s obviously working off of some corny script.

Now they’re interviewing some random commentator they found somewhere, Steve I think his name is, who stands around on the course here and there and says lots of obvious and/or irrelevant things. He’s interviewing a couple of American parents, I think they said it’s the parents of Neilson Powless (EF Education – Easypost/USA). The mom is saying, “We flew all the way here yesterday, and then today it was kind of hard trying to find the race start, because my son wouldn’t answer his phone! All this trouble we took adding international calling to our plans, and he just ignored us! It was like when we took his sister to the ‘accepted students’ college tour and she pretended she wasn’t with us, like we were complete strangers. These darn kids!”

“That was some fascinating commentary, so thank you for that,” Phil says. “Also, could somebody tell this blogger to stop making shit up?”

In a couple of kilometers they’ll start the penultimate climb, the Cat 3 Côte de Pontamur. There’s a breakaway of fourteen riders with a surprisingly huge twelve minute lead over the GC group. In the breakaway is Powless, who has a pretty good lead in the King of the Mountains competition and is adding to that today.

So here’s what’s happened in this Tour so far. Oddly, it started with a mountain stage, and toward the end the Yates brothers broke away and duked it out, with Adam (UAE Team Emirates) prevailing over Simon (Team Jayco Alula) and taking the stage and the first yellow jersey. I’m sure their mom would have preferred they crossed the line together, hand in hand, but for that matter she probably wishes they worked for Goldman Sachs instead of doing this dangerous sport.

At the summit of the Pontamur, Powless takes the KOM points pretty handily over Victor Campenaerts (Lotto Dstny).

Campenaerts is an oddly good climber considering his build, which is not twiggy. In fact, I got in a bit of trouble for body-shaming him in my recent Critérium du Dauphiné report. It’s kind of remarkable to imagine that a pro cyclist with like 8% body fat could be offended by being called “stout,” but there it is. Anyway, a group of five now busts off the front of this break and it’s largely Campenaerts’ chasing efforts that bring it back together.

Getting back to my recap, Stage 2 was a lumpy course and Victor LaFay (Cofidis) won it in a bunch sprint ahead of Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and GC favorite Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates). In fourth was Thomas Pidcock (Ineos Granadiers), who’s definitely more of a climber than a sprinter. I texted my pal, “Wow, Pidcock is a fast finisher!” to which my pal replied, “That’s what my wife says about me!”

The riders now have 45 kilometers to go, and their lead is out to thirteen minutes. If this keeps up I may have to figure out their names, which would be a hassle, so for that reason alone I hope they get caught.

A rider attacks the break, waaaaay over on the other side of the road, and it’s Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar Team), an American. Could he actually solo for over 40K? I can answer in one word: ‘Mer’ca!

As if to prove my point, he already has 21 seconds on the group. He’s hauling ass!

Commentator Brent Brookwalter analyzes Jorgenson’s chances: “When there’s a tailwind from behind, that makes a big difference.” He’s absolutely right. It’s a lot different when you have a tailwind from ahead, also known as a headwind, which actually makes solo efforts more difficult. The “tailwind from behind” is certainly the best kind.

Getting back to my recap, stages 3 and 4 were for the sprinters and Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) won both. Stage 5 was in the mountains and pretty epic. There was a giant breakaway with a huge lead, but on the last climb it exploded, as did the peloton behind. Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe), a past Giro d’Italia winner, soloed impressively, and race favorite Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) totally attacked and, threading his way through the breakaway riders like in a car racing video game, took about a minute out of Pogacar. Pogacar certainly didn’t look like his previously dominant self and just couldn’t narrow the gap any more than that. Hindley took the yellow jersey.

Now four riders have dropped the rest of the  breakaway to chase down Jorgenson. It’s Powless, Matej Mohoric (Bahrain Victorious), Mathieu Burgaudeau (TotalEnergies), and David de la Cruz (Astana Qazaqstan). They quickly narrow the gap to Jorgenson and open up about 45 seconds on the rest of the break.

They’re on the final descent now before the fearsome Puy de Dôme and Jorgenson is extending his lead. Pretty bold descending considering that last year he was leading a similar mountain stage and totally stacked on a descent. It occurs to me that it’s just barely possible you don’t know what “stacked” means in this context. I coach high school mountain bike racers and none of them so far has heard of “stacked.” Does that make me old? Don’t answer that. Anyway, it means “crashed,” obviously.

So, to cap my recap, stage 6 was another day in the mountains (the last in the Pyrenees) and while Jumbo-Visma (particularly Van Aert and the American Sepp Kuss) did a great job pacing Vingegaard, who looked totally solid, Pogacar launched a vicious attack and totally dusted him. It was a great attack, none of this testing-the-waters BS, but an all-in effort that was pretty spectacular. Pogacar took 24 seconds out of Vingegaard, plus another four bonus seconds. Vingegaard took the yellow jersey off Hindley who slipped to third on GC, 1:34 behind Vingegaard and 1:09 behind Pogacar. Nothing changed in the next two sprinters’ stages so that’s how the GC looks heading into today. Pretty awesome for just one week of racing!

The breakaway has reached the base of the final climb now. It’s 12.5 kilometers (7.6 miles) to the summit finish. The peloton is 16 minutes back and thus officially doomed. Jorgenson has just over a minute on the chase group, which is down to three dudes after de la Cruz had a mechanical problem. The rest of the break is about half a minute down.

Cool, here’s a schematic of this climb. The final 4.5 kilometers are absolutely brutal:

I’m going to get this right this time: “HC” stands for Hors Categorie, meaning “beyond category,” as in “this climb is so difficult, we can’t even assign a number to it.” I often write “Huis Categorie” which doesn’t really mean anything. I guess it’s because I once read Huis Clos (Sartre’s No Exit in the original French). Of course these riders have an exit—the finish line—but it might not feel like that until they get there.

Campanaerts is totally drilling it in the second chase group. It’s kind of amazing for him to be so strong on this climb because … how shall I say this … for a bike racer he looks like he’d do pretty well in a bar fight.

“Jorgenson is writing his name into the annals of the Tour de France,” Phil says, “but he’d better write it in pencil because he might have to erase his name if the chasers catch him. No, I did not actually say that, even though it would be a good point. Who is this blogger?”

Powless is chasing hard and you can tell he’s suffering.

At long last, the GC group hits the base of the climb and they’re hammering now, jostling like they’re heading into a bunch sprint.

Jumbo-Visma is working really hard to make the pace too high for Pogacar to attack. That’s Dylan van Baarle on the front. This group won’t stay this large for long.

“Burgaudeau has done the least work in this group today. He looks like he’s suffering but maybe that’s a … poker face,” Roll says. I think he was looking for “rope-a-dope” or perhaps “deception.” I kind of wonder if Roll knows what a poker face actually is.

“Jorgenson is coming up along the train now, which was built in twenty-twenty-twelve,” the hapless Phil says. When was 202012, exactly? By my rough calculations that would be in the future…

Here’s a look at that summit. Dang.

Mohoric starts to pull away from his trio. He quickly opens a big gap but he’s clearly on the rivet.

Michael Woods (Israel-Premier Tech), from the second chase group, has been clawing his way toward the leaders for some time and now overhauls Burgaudeau and Powless.

Woods is now gaining on Mohoric and has him in his sights.

Back in the GC group, UAE moves to the front, perhaps setting up Pogacar.

Jumbo-Visma are having none of it and move up Wilco Kelderman and Kuss.

Kelderman doesn’t last long and now it’s up to Kuss.

Up ahead, Woods goes straight past Mohoric.

Come on, Jorgenson! He’s still looking good but the gap is coming down.

For some reason there’s no red kite showing one kilometer to go, but there’s some paint on the road. Something about how remote this finish is, and maybe the delicate ecosystem Roll was talking about. Maybe I should have paid more attention.

Oh man! Woods is bearing down!

Woods has got Jorgenson! And now Woods launches an attack and totally dusts the American!

Woods is soloing in! He’s totally stoked!

He’s got the win, but not enough speed for a proper victory salute!

Somehow, Pierre Latour (TotalEnergies) comes out of nowhere to overhaul Mohoric and Jorgenson to take second.

Back in the now seriously diminished GC group, Kuss still paces Vingegaard.

Hindley is dropped, along with all Pogacar’s teammates including Adam Yates.

Simon Yates attacks! This almost never happens! Like his brother, he historically just follows wheels but who knows, maybe their success on the first stage taught them something.

It’s a nothing BS attack. But now Pogacar goes!

Vingegaard cannot respond!

Pogacar pulls away but very, very gradually.

Pogacar needs 25 seconds to take the GC lead but he won’t get it. He reaches the summit with Vingegaard just out of the frame.

Vingegaard crosses the line, looking pretty shattered, but by my count he has lost only nine seconds which is not a disaster.

This is supposed to be a biased blow-by-blow … so how does your humble blogger feel about the outcome? Where is my professed bias? Well, I’m enough of a patriot to be disappointed about Jorgenson not managing to hold on for the win, but other than that I’m ambivalent. I’m pleased with this stage’s outcome because it tightened the overall battle nicely. We’ll see the new GC pretty soon but in the meantime here’s the stage result:

Between Vingegaard and Pogacar, I don’t overmuch care who wins this Tour. I guess I’m slightly favoring Pogacar because a) he rode a pretty full classics season, putting it all on the line like our heroes from the olden days instead of focusing everything on the Tour, and b) Vingegaard is kind of odd looking. I was watching stage 6 with my daughter and she asked, “Has he been Botox’d?” That would be an interesting tactic, to keep your competitors from knowing when you’re suffering. Talk about a poker face! Here’s as much expression as you’ll ever see on the Dane. Look, my phone camera’s A.I. actually added stripes, just to humanize him a bit.

By comparison, Pogacar has that kind of apple pie face that might make the sport more watchable to new viewers.

They’re interviewing Woods now.

INTERVIEWER: It was an amazing late attack. You found yourself on your own, then there was no crowd for the last few kilometers. Must have been a lot quieter then?

WOODS: Yes, but my ears were still ringing.

INTERVIEWER: What does this win mean to you?

WOODS: I’m almost 37 years old, not getting any younger, and I’ve always talked about winning a stage, and finally achieved it, so I’m feeling so fortunate to have so many people behind me, my team, my parents, my wife and kids.

INTERVIEWER: Riders always credit their families, including their kids, but really, how much help could your kids have been?

WOODS: Oh, you’d be surprised. My eight-year-old daughter Facetimed me this morning and said, “Daddy, if you don’t win today, I won’t love you anymore.” I found that incredibly motivational.

INTERVIEWER: What do you make of this practice of bloggers—that is, rank amateurs with no journalistic integrity—totally making shit up, particularly these rider interviews?

WOODS: I think it’s brilliant. In fact, albertnet is the best blog ever. Seriously. All us pro racers read it, practically every post, even the ones about spelling and grammar.

INTERVIEWER: Thanks Woodsy. Very enlightening.

WOODS: Don’t call me Woodsy.

Vingegaard gets his yellow jersey. I’ve never seen a podium girl in a t-shirt before. I’m not sure what that means, if anything. I wonder who that is represented in the graphic. Some French philosopher, perhaps?

It’s kind of a strange shirt because anybody could be excused for looking very closely at it to figure out who that guy is, but it would seem like the dude was staring at the t-shirt wearer’s breasts, so he’d have to be like, “I’m not checking out your boobs, I’m just trying to figure out whose picture that is.” Fortunately since I’m just staring at a screen, it’s okay. And if I’m not mistaken the picture is of Raymond Poulidor, a French racer from the ‘60s and ‘70s who was beloved by fans for being “the eternal second.”

Now they’re interviewing Vingegaard.

INTERVIEWER: It’s a very close race, was the climb hard?

VINGEGAARD: It was very nice, a very nice climb to do, yes it was hard.

INTERVIEWER: Can you be better than you are right now?

VINGEGAARD: Well, according to my wife, I could have better table manners.

INTERVIEWER: I mean better at cycling.

VINGEGAARD: Why are you guys so obsessed with cycling? There’s more to life than cycling.

INTERVIEWER: Well, I am a sports journalist, covering a bike race.

VINGEGAARD: Well, yeah, fair point.

Here’s the new GC. Only 17 seconds now between Vingegaard and Pogacar. And look, only five seconds between the Yates brothers … how cute!

Despite always sacrificing himself for Vingegaard, Kuss climbs a spot into ninth overall today. ‘Mer’ca!

Next they interview Pogacar.

INTERVIEWER: It was not a victory for you today, but are you happy?

POGACAR: It was not a victory, but it was a small victory.

INTERVIEWER: Wait. Was it a victory, or not?

POGACAR: We should leave that up to the philosophers I think.

INTERVIEWER: True enough. So let’s talk about your facial hair, or rather lack thereof.

POGACAR: Yes, I am still quite young. I can’t even get into bars unless I bring ID.

INTERVIEWER: It looks like there is the beginning of a moustache just starting to form on your face, for the first time ever.

POGACAR: Yes, I am very happy about that. My cousin has this sweet ‘stache and I’ve always envied him.

INTERVIEWER: You have won two Tours de France and look pretty promising for a third. Does your cousin envy you now?

POGACAR: Well, maybe, but then he’s got a cooler car, and he gets more chicks. I really have no idea how he feels, you’d have to ask him.

Maybe because there’s so little room at this summit for team vehicles, etc. they’re not doing the usual thing of showing riders hugging each other or warming down on trainers, so it’s just one interview after another. Powless is next.

INTERVIEWER: You didn’t win the stage but did manage to hang on to your polka dot jersey. Are you happy?

POWLESS: Well, do I look happy? Look at this grin! I can’t wipe it off my face!

INTERVIEWER: Was it hard?

POWLESS: Well, yeah, especially when all the breakaway riders started attacking each other. With forks.

INTERVIEWER: With forks?

POWLESS. No. No forks. Just regular attacks. I don’t know why I said that.

INTERVIEWER: They interviewed your mother a bit ago and she was a little upset you wouldn’t answer your phone this morning.

POWLESS: Yeah. Things get a little hectic before the start of a stage and I always tell my mom that’s not a good time. So she keeps telling me to bring my phone with me out on the course and I tell her I can’t, it’s too heavy, and she’s like “What’s a phone weigh, four ounces?” I’m like no, it’s more like six ounces, that’s a lot, that’s like a [billiard] ball, and she’s like no it’s not, and then we just go around and around. So maybe you can see why I don’t always pick up.

INTERVIEWER: I’m with you. Don’t worry about it. You’re good kid.

POWLESS (sighs): Yeah, you should tell my mom that.

Well, that’s about it for today. Tomorrow is a much needed rest day, before another hilly stage on Tuesday. Next weekend they have a rest day and a time trial, so I doubt I’ll report, but check back on Saturday, July 22 for a report on the final (non-parade) stage!

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