Monday, July 19, 2010

The debate. THE DEBATE. Stage 15

So the blogs, the Tweets, the postings are BLOWING UP over the whole "should Contador have waited?" controversy. I can't not blog about this.

So, to bring you up to speed, in case you have a busy day job and have other things to do than watch the Tour at work and discuss it and blog about it until you're blue in the face--here's a very quick synopsis. Another big day in the Pyrenees. Hors cat├ęgorie climb at the very end, followed by a stage-finish descent. Breakaway has almost a 10-minute lead on the field until Voeckler (one of my favorite riders, BTW: still picture him, jersey un-zipped, tongue hanging out, desperately holding onto the yellow jersey back in 2004) launches and manages to stay ahead of the field on the latter half of the climb. But not that his brilliant stage win is going to get much attention, when the GLADIATORS, who, just yesterday, were trackstanding during their dual (who DOES THAT on a hotly contested mt. finish, anyways? Actually, I confess I'm slightly jealous, because even on a proper fixed-gear I still can't trackstand, but anyways) decide they're going to race turning the pedals today, or so it seemed, until Schleck had that unfortunate incident called dropping-your-chain.

I'm assuming it was one of those occasions where the chain was so dropped he couldn't jam it into the big ring and get it back on--if he doesn't know how to do that, he fully deserves losing 39 seconds. But anyhow, he drops his chain, right after a big attack, that, seemingly, Contador wasn't responding to. Wait. Back up. So he attacks. Everyone watching is going "Finally! Here's the BIG ATTACK. If Frank were not convening from his collarbone being broken in three places, it would have been even BIGGER." And Contador? He's a bit behind! It's getting so damn exciting. And Vino! Holy shit! The dude is STILL up there responding, even after his stage win and basically daily breakaway attempts. But then, but then, something happens. Schleck is sliding backwards! Then he's off his bike! And everyone watching is screaming "Put it in the big ring! It will go back on! You don't have to dismount to fix this problem!" But he doesn't hear us. Contador, Sanchez, and Menchov don't scream "put it in the big ring!" They attack.

And that's it. Basically--Schleck's stage--and who knows? Tour? fate was sealed right then and there. Contador, Menchov, and Sanchez absolutely bury it and descend brilliantly. Schleck and Belgian's new hero (hint: his last name does not rhyme with "Moonen") chase in vain. Schleck is no longer the Bearer of the Maillot Jaune.

Back to the controversy. People are being so harsh about all of this. "It's un-sportsman like!" "Contatador should feel ashamed wearing that jersey!" and on and on. My two cents? IT'S BIKE RACING, PEOPLE. I can't tell you how many races I lost places and places in the standings because some chick didn't understand you can just put it in the big ring when you drop your chain, or when a girl went to grab a feed and in the process took out half the peloton. Did the girls in the front wait? NO. It's a RACE. Mechanicals happen. And I aplogize if I'm being a little excessive with my ALL-CAPS usage right now. I've had a bit of wine, and I'm feeling very impassioned about this whole debate.

Perhaps, too, my mt. biking as of late has had some influence. In a mt. bike race, you carry your own tubes, pump, tire levers, Cliff Bars, tampons, whatever ... If you flat out there, no team car is going to get your back. Mechanicals, as unfortunate as they are, are part of racing. Road racers, of course, are so pampered because if a team car doesn't have their ass, a Mavic neutral support vehicle does--yes, mechanicals happen, but you will never see a lycra-clad kid with arms skinnier than mine changing his own flat tire on the side of the road.

And need I remind us all of how Schleck got those 30 seconds to begin with? THE COBBLES. The cobbles were so damn entertaining because there were punctures and crashes and hedges and Belgian ditches and at the end of the day, you didn't hear riders say "BUT HE DIDN'T WAIT FOR ME!"

I'm sure all of this renewed "anger in the belly" that Schleck is claiming to have will transpire into some very entertaining trackstanding racing the next few days in the mountains.

To close, I just have to share with you my most favorite-ever quote ever, EVER by Phil and Paul. I believe Paul can take the credit for this one. As Schleck was furiously drilling it, trying to catch back up after his unfortunate mechanical incident, Paul says "and he just passed Armstrong as if Armstrong were standing still!"

Whoa. If that is not poetic justice. Well said, Paul. Well said.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tour, Gladiators, NINJAS

OKAY. So all of this awesome stuff is unfolding in the TOUR right now, and I really want to tell you all about it, but it's been one of those weeks where I've been watching the Tour in-between meetings, and sometimes during meetings, and I've been practicing my NINJA moves, and I had to bust out four loaves of bread for a dinner party, and I have to keep up my mt. biking skills, and somewhere in all of that, I also have to get in at least nine hours of sleep a night so I can function properly. BUT, I'm on vacation next week, so I will have time to do some serious Tour analyzing, which is important and good. Here's a quick preview: Contador and Schleck have been engaging in a very gladiator-type battle on each mountain, and Vino, somehow, seems to get in a breakaway, pretty much every day, and Lance? He's pretty much a totally pathetic loser. He's not even helping his teammates out. But we'll get into all of that detail later. For now, as I mentioned, I've had to do some Ninja stuff as of late, so here are some pics for you from the Little 500, which BTW, us Ninjas took 3rd place in. Although that's just what people think. What actually happened was we WON, but because we were invisible and stealth most of the time, people didn't realize how many laps we actually did.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The King Falls.

Angry Lance.

Defeated, not-as-angry Lance.

WOW. Sunday’s stage. Was. Amazing.

The typical antics played out through most of the beginning as the breakaway attempted to get out and stick—which they did, for a good portion, but the race took a surprising turn before the big climbs even hit. Armstrong took out most of his team in an unfortunate turn of luck, as he apparently rolled a tire on a turn. It took him and his teammates a while to catch back up to the GC group, even though the GC group restrained themselves from a full-out attack. Still, though, the effort taxed him, and he never quite recovered.

The story from this stage was not that Astana and Sky absolutely punished and drilled the last two climbs, splitting the field and swiping Pain and Anguish on every rider’s face (though Astana certainly did send a message that they aren’t a small team around a big rider, didn’t they?)—no, the real story was the Fall of the King.

Predicable jostling and testing played out by the GC guys, and those who managed to stay in the select group sent a very clear message. Wiggins (until the last part, that is), Evans, Basso, Schleck, Contador, Leipheimer, Sanchez, Kreuziger, and oh my god—did you see how Contador’s teammate, Navarro, absolutely wrung everyone out? Anyhow, these boys made a statement that they’re all on good climbing form right now. It was a bit of a surprise that Contador couldn’t respond to Schleck’s final attack, but that could be a sign of some wisdom finally settling into the brain folds of the springy Spaniard. Or he was just tired.

Anyhow. Back to the story. Livestrong Armstrong. If you compare his reaction from his crashe(es) yesterday to the ’03 Tour—remember that? When he got taken out by a fan’s musette, then pulled out of his pedal and smashed the family jewels jewel on the top tube—he was an absolute ball of anger, and it radiated from every pore on his body. He fought and contorted his body back up that mountain, taking back minutes to catch up and pass Ullrich and Hamilton. He was a warrior. And we loved him for it—despite his cockiness and brashness, America still loved him. But yesterday, it was as though the fire was quenched. You could see it in the resignation in his face—he was pissed—really pissed, but he didn’t have that desire to knock his body into submission and make it keep fighting. It was sad to see his bad, horrific luck, but even sadder to see him Give Up.

What is American cycling without Lance’s anger? His anger, his fight, have catapulted the sport and words like “peloton” into mainstream vocabulary. Riders like Leipheimer, Hincapie, Zabriskie--they’re strong boys, for sure, but they aren’t entertaining enough because they’re just not pissed off. We like them because they’re nice and they’re strong, yet they don’t conjure up “wow.” Anger has an upside, I guess.

But the Tour’s not over. Indeed, it’s just been week 1 of Le Thrilling Tour. Lance, graciously, has stepped up to the domestique plate for Leipheimer, so we’ll see how that plays out.

Perhaps Leipheimer will be pissed about a sunburned scalp—something! We need some anger to fuel that peloton these next few weeks.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Sprinters. Breakaways. Flat normal stages.

Not much to report for the last 3 days of racing. Typical ho-hum-dee-dum flat stages of breakaways getting caught somewhere in the 3k-6k range. Cav finally pulled out two wins--wept on the podium. That was ... well, I'm sure everyone cleared their throats a bit as they saw that one.

Tomorrow, MOUNTAINS. Oh yes, the first day in the mountains. In between doing a 4-hr mt. ride with my friends, and celebrating MY 30th BIRTHDAY, I'll be salivating on my laptop keyboard as I watch the very-cool Versus On-Demand feed to see Contador dish out some DOLOR.


I've included a token picture of Cancellara. You're welcome.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Crashes, Cobbles: A Tale of Luck

So in case you've missed the past three days of the TdF, it can best be summarized thus: CRASHES, CRASHES, COBBLES.

Really. I just completely gave it away--sorry, I should have prefaced the beginning of this post with "spoiler alert!"

Yesterday, Stage 2, some rain later in the stage turned the Cat 3 descents into an ice rink, and after a Stage 1 day, marred by jittery cyclists shoving their carbon into each other, dogs, and ditches, the riders were starting to get a little pissed about constantly hitting the pavement, so Cancellara, being ever the leader, enforced a gentleman's agreement to protest the unsafe roads, thus barring a sprint.

The first week of the Tour is always sprinkled with flying 130 pound men in the air being catapulted off by fellow riders who are jockeying for position--but this year has been almost comical in the number of crashes. Paul and Phil aren't even breaking their stories about such- and-such castle's history from the 13th century to comment on a crash. Overheard: And now panning down we see, whoops, well, there goes an Italian in the ditch, so as I was saying, Paul, the Lords of Belgium's second most wealthy family owned this castle back in the 1500s, oh mercy, whoops a daisy! There goes a Frenchman crossing wheels with a Spaniard--and look at all that blood! As I was saying, the family sold it...

Almost every rider today showed up at the line today with white bandages and netting decorating their elbows and knees. You can bet those without said bandages were the first to be pushed in a ditch once those Belgian roads narrowed. That's just how cycling goes in Belgium.

And then the cobbles on today's race, Paris Roubaix, Stage 3 and the carnage. Basically, once Frank Schleck hit the deck, which is such a shame, it was an absolute chaotic battlefield of dust, flats, more crashes, and riders turning themselves inside out to chase back. Mass confusion ensued as Armstrong and Contador switched leads in their respective chase 2 and 3 groups, which were hunting the "national champions" chase 1 that included Cancellara, Andy Schleck, Cadel, and Hushovd--to no avail. It was a pleasant surprise to see some significant time gaps open up between the leaders in week 1 of racing--a week that's typically a rather predictable mix of breakaways getting caught just in time so the sprinters can pump their fists in the air.

Armstrong, in a post-race interview today, flashed some welcome humility about the reality of cobbles. He admitted he wasn't prepared for how hard the peloton drilled it, and that it was a day where he got nailed.

And that's the beauty of the cobbles: They don't care if a rider has a body fat of 3%, whether a rider has a phenomenal sprint, or can beat every other man in a time trial. The cobbles are a great leveler in that regard. There's already fierce debate heating up about the "unfairness" of cobbles in TdF--it's not a Classics race, after all.

But the Tour, ultimately, is about racing and drama and strength and luck. The cobbles don't take favorites. To see featherweights like Contador and Andy Schelck succeed today proves that. The cobbles favor luck.
And Cancellara.

Friday, July 02, 2010


Hi Joanna, Thanks for signing up for the Versus Tour Tracker. The Tour de France begins July 3rd and now you won't miss a minute of the live action in HD. Log into the Tour Tracker beginning July 3rd: The Tour Tracker is as close to the Tour de France without a passport. 23 Days. 21 Stages. 3,600 kilometers. All at your fingertips. Thanks again, Versus

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It means that the eccentric cycling universe, most of whom are not into TV, and/or don't have cable, will now have a new way to watch the Tour! No more endless Internet surfing looking for ways to poach Europe's online coverage! No more sitting in bars and trying to fight for Versus coverage against people who want to watch baseball!
I have spent the last FIVE SUMMERS fruitlessly wandering around during the whole month of July trying to find a place to watch the Tour every night. Wait, take that back--I believe in '07 I went to my office every night and watched it there. Anyways, July is my favorite month, because of the Tour, but it's also my most frustrating because I have yet managed to find perfectly accessible Tour coverage ON DEMAND.

Thank god Versus finally got with the Internet TV program and is offering it online. That was the best $30 I ever spent.

July. Ahhhhh. This will be a good one, indeed.