Friday, July 31, 2009
The thought that always crosses my mind as I see a Smart Car ultra mile-ing, typically holding up a long line of traffic and irritating a guy in a semi or a huge Waste Management, Inc. trashtruck - my thought is a question about what a Smart Car would look like if it got hit by one of those pissed off trucks.
So just in case you're wondering too... this is what a SmartCar looks like after it crashes into a truck.
I suspect that none of the occupants were harmed because, based on the bumper stickers I've seen on local Smarts, a thick cloud of smug moral superiority deployed years before protects the occupants from having any impact.
FWIW, I think calling a car "The Smart" is about as unctuous as it gets. Might as well put out company literature calling other cars The Dumbs. Maybe it's a selling point for people who feel they aren't quite arrogant enough as it is... kinda makes me laugh. But isn't that 60 MPG VW turbodiesel that hammers more deserving of the Smart Car moniker than the crushed breadbox in the picture above?
Don't get me wrong. If there's no parking in your neighborhood and you have a 4 mile driveable commute, it makes sense. But I live in the distant burbs, where long haul, comfortable commuters make sense, not tiny parking maven go karts. And I'm all for saving the Earth and everything, but ramping up the Smug and Self Congratulatory Quotient by 176% while you're doing so is kind of like expecting to get a Presidential Freedom Medal for coming out against premeditated murder. It isn't exactly a Brave Social Stance to do something pretty much everybody is already in favor of to one extent or another, and I'm not sure you get Chris Rock's cookie just 'cuz you drive a car that gets modestly better mileage than a fairly luxurious 4 cylinder Camry.
Although that picture makes me wonder if people who drive Smart Cars don't deserve some kind of medal for bravery. Or some other mental / psychological characteristic.
Update: alert reader Anonymous (probably a marketing intern at Smart) points me to a link indicating the car in question may actually be the tiny faux sport ute VW Crossfox, which looks equally flimsy but which sports, um, sport ute styling and a mini back seat, Tonka Truck style. I think you're nuts to drive one of them, too. Though you probably don't have as many irritating bumper stickers.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Sweet, eh? I feel that way about Glen Miller Orchestra. And when I'm walkin' down the street and see another Glen Miller fan... you just know...
Got an easy solo ride in the AM coming up, then the fearful critical power test on Saturday morning. I used to bitch about that but after spending so much of this year laid up I appreciate that I'll be able to go out Saturday and ride my ass into the ground for a half hour. It's going to hurt, and I'm going to appreciate the hell out of getting the chance to go ride and do that, and to ride at all.
That's my story, anyhow, and I'm sticking to it. Meanwhile, have some tunes.
Contrary to my usual snobbery, I actually believe music doesn't always have to be awesome. It's better if it is, but sometimes music is just a filler in the quiet spaces in our lives. If it's okay, and you listened to it during good times, it will forever be bundled with a lot of good memories in your mind. As long as it's okay musically, passable, to you that song will be a multi-platinum single and the greatest thing ever, even if your grandchildren don't listen to it. And that's okay. It doesn't need to make Dylan question why he writes songs. It's more like Bud. It's swill but if you like it, good for you. I may not like it, but that's my problem, not yours. Here's one by the Hoodoo Gurus that has a lot of meaning for me. It's probably terrible music, but I wouldn't know. The thing's got a lot of baggage on it, mostly good, some bad. I still like it, 24 years later. God I'm getting old...
Some songs in my life's soundtrack are really good though and deserve to be played after I'm gone.
A lot of bands have covered that song, with Metallica making what is perhaps the best cover, coupled to maybe the most uncomfortable to watch music video I've ever seen.
The Eagles and their members sort of fill a background music role with me. Good enough music, some of it great, and they made tons of it together. Most importantly, I had a lot of good times listening to their music, so in my mind it may be better than it was. The individual members (Glen Frey, Don Henley, Joe Walsh) all had fairly impressive solo careers, but I like Walsh the most of the group, perhaps because he combines a roots rock sort of guitar with a Joe Cocker-ish voice. Here's a Walsh song that I've always liked, and it's pretty much begging for a Metallica cover...
And you can't have that bit of Walsh-iana without this one, really:
That music is kind of special to me, it brings back a lot of good memories - and recollections of some epic hangovers from multi-day drinking binges. But I think maybe it's better than I'm giving it credit for. Any opinions on that from the peanut gallery?
Now here's a progression for you. You may have heard this oddball Nick Cave song.
Some of you will definitely recognize it as having once been a George Thorogood staple.
Great song, huh? Really rocks, traditional rock & roll sort of lyrics. Quite a masterpiece, eh? Here's an earlier version:
Yeah, that's Johnny Cash singing it.
You know who did it first? Bob Dylan. He wrote the song one afternoon in Nashville with Johnny Cash. Dylan wrote it for him especially and Cash performed it a week later. I was looking around to try to find a video of Dylan singing it but I don't know that he ever has. And I'd kill to hear Merle Haggard sing it but I don't think he has either. But oh well.
For what it's worth, I've been thinking about what I said above about how music doesn't have to be great, it's cool so long as you like it. I need to qualify that, slightly. Some music, no matter how much you like it, is still objectively worthless. And we will mock you if we find you listening to it. Case in point:
That song is so bad it's worth listening to all the way to the end. Not as music, but as exercise. Your head shaking will certainly loosen your neck muscles. Have a nice weekend all.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
The cost of providing your FIOS TV package has changed. Your monthly rate of $42.99 will increase to $52.99, effective on October 1, 2009. No action on your part is required to maintain your current package at the new rate after October 1st -- you'll continue to enjoy all the benefits that your current FIOS package has to offer.Wow. My first thought - right after "**** me right in the ear," was that this was a masterpiece of marketing. They made it sound like I did something wrong, or that the skyrocketing cost of entertainment in these here boom times, was causing them, unfortunately, to raise rates by 25%. Yeah, the cost of everything in the world is cratering due to the economic implosion, but FIOS? Gold, Jerry. Gold. You mean I'll really be able to keep the same services, in a time of economic deflation, for only 25% more money? Well, praise be, and pass the blog ammunition...
My second thought was, what if they were bound to say what they were really thinking? If they were, it would read like this:
The cost of providing your FIOS TV package has not changed, but we've figured out some clever new ways to charge you a whole lot more for the 10 channels you watch, and 973 channels you wouldn't watch if we paid you and strapped you in a chair and held your eyes open like Alex in "A Clockwork Orange," including the 179 channels you've permanently locked so that your juvenile son doesn't order them up, or so that you can't when you get a buzz on. Your monthly rate of $42.99 will increase to $52.99, a passive-voice phrasing we use to make it seem like we had no involvement in this rate hike. Of course we are responsible for it, but we want you to feel like some nameless "they" did it, so your rage won't be directed at us but at the system, and you'll feel powerless and just sit there and stew and get ulcers. Please don't beat up the cable guys; they are all independent contractors, and if you feel bad about how we screw you, you should ask one of them about their benefits packet. Trust us, you won't feel as bad about your situation, and that applies even if you're homeless and living on a grate in McPherson Square. Anyhoo... the hike is effective on October 1, 2009. No action on your part is required to maintain your current package at the new rate after October 1st -- that's right, we'll continue to take your money, 25% more of it in fact, for the same overwhelmingly crapulent programming, and you'll continue to pay for it, gladly. In return, you'll continue to enjoy all the benefits that your current FIOS package has to offer - namely, mostly garbage time programming, and the high likelihood of future rate hikes, coupled with what we like to think of as state-of-the-art in horrible customer service.Seriously. You know what I get from FIOS? Endless reruns of MTV Cribs, local network broadcast TV (which they charge for), sports channels consisting entirely of poker, 39 evangelical channels, 200 spanish language channels to help recent Hispanic immigrants avoid having to learn English, 5 British soccer and news channels provided for similar purposes but for British immigrants, the Soap Opera network, Lifetime, the gay equivalent of Lifetime (e.g. HGTV), several knockoffs of Lifetime (e.g. O, CBS in primetime), several gay equivalents of lifetime knockoffs (e.g. E, The Fashion Channel), The Military Channel (TV for Guys Who Like to Watch Other Guys Kill People and Blow Things Up), and the recently cleverly renamed 'sy fy' channel because fat 20-something guys locked in their parent's basement and eating Doritos in their underwear won't feel as isolated from society as when they called it Sci-Fi. It's like having to buy a haystack so you can get a needle to sew a button back onto your shorts.
Although the quality of the picture is generally high, the quality of the signals and the boxes comes and goes a bit but it's still way better than Comcast in my neighborhood (don't ask about our experience in that gulag consumerpeligo), and the customer service is cartoonishly bad. On top of that, their letter betrays a "screw you and the goat you rode in on" mentality, like we're dumb and will be mollified by euphemisms and tricky phrasing. We won't be! We'll be pissed, and we'll pay it, because damnitall, we just can't do without Ice Road Truckers and Deadliest Catch, particularly DC: Season Four Highlights. But we'll still be pissed. Really, really pissed! See? Look at my impotent fist shaking! I'm pissed!
Setting the fundamental impotence of protesting cable bills aside, the letter is insultingly written at best and deserving of a screedy response. And what if you don't like the price hike? What if you want a particular channel, like Versus HD? Oh, that's easy. You can order it a la carte for $10 a month, or as part of a $12 sports channel upgrade deal that includes Seattle Kingdome Sports Network, Tiger Stadium Broadcast Network, and ESPN 86, The Ocho Cinco!, which features full time coverage of Chad Johnson. Er, I mean, Ocho Cinco.
If I sound bitter, it's because I've had a lot of absurd experiences with V for Vendetta as a phone and cable / internet vendor. I wound up having to contact their legal department over a monthly phone bill we paid at least twice, possibly three times, which the billing department kept trying to collect from my wife. We had paid it at least twice when she took notice of the problem in the billing. Solving that took some threats and shouting, probably hysterical shouting on my part, which was dumb because I could have gotten at treble damages and fees had I been smart enough to just take them to court. We also recently had an utterly insane run-in with V for Vindictive customer service on the domestic front, but I won't get into that.
I hesitate to raise this... but it's funny. The collections department at V for Vconfused contacts me via autodial about once a month to collect on the outstanding balance on my Blackberry. I've called to get the balance and apparently the outstanding balance really is outstanding, rivalling the GDP of a small (and fiscally incontintent) Latin American nation. Which is ironic because I work for a Government agency that gets phones off this enormous multi-agency contract providing hundreds of thousands of phone and Blackberry accounts to the government at large. Apparently somebody at V for Vincoherent thinks that I'm responsible for the whole goldurned government phone bill. Which is funny, except it isn't, particularly when you think about what it must cost for the Ambassador to Kazakhstan to call out for Dominos. Hey, hegemony ain't cheap, nor is democracy, and if you don't believe me, you just wait until somebody asks you to pay their phone bill.
Every so often, I call up the number the autodialer leaves for me to call. As soon as I get a human, I start getting some low level abuse from said alleged human. Y'know, because the auto dialer leaves the number for the Collection Department for The World's Worst Phone Bill Stiffs, and that's how I deserve to be treated. So then I give my official protest, hey, it's a government phone, got nothing to do with me, talk to the General Services Agency or maybe the POTUS or Secretary of the Treasury or something, then the call center person does some typing, and I suddenly hear her hang up the phone. Happens every time. Oooooh, teh embarussamints!
It's getting so that I look forward to the autodial reminders to pay the V for Vridiculous bill just so I can be mean to some call center clerk who is giving me the snotty routine. For a while I had a problem with this one bank that gave me a really bad time - their error - on my credit card account with them. What if I gave that card number to V Almighty? I'm thinking the $163 million debit would probably cause a rip in space-time... and maybe V for Vhassle would keep calling them trying to collect... but I'm not quite mean enough to do that. And besides, Uncle Sam is likely to determine that I actually paid the bill as a gift to the Nation, Anti-Deficiency Act be damned. So for now I'll just keep calling and giving the clerks a tough time. You have to laugh about this kind of stuff; it would be outrageous if it wasn't Pythonesque.
Anyhow, if anybody from V for Vprice Hikes is reading this, my stated and considered legal position is that I pay my taxes on time, so I've paid my fair share of the Leader of the Free World's bill.
And mark my words, there will be hell to pay if a $163 million dollar late fee shows up on my credit report. Mmmkay?
Oh man, this is so going to earn me a Cease and Desist letter...
At the end of the ride, the Son of- said it was "the best camping trip ever," and since he has four or five of them to compare it against, I'll take his word as authoritative.
The takeaways are that maybe Hollofield (and it's companion slightly to the North, McKeldin) are areas that we MTB'ers ought to take a closer look at, particularly when weather has closed off Avalon and Rockburn and maybe Hilton; it's possible they are dry when the Southern areas are wet. Also, if you are looking for a close getaway with conveniences, Hollofield is a pretty good option, with tent pads, okay bathhouse, and a lot of attractions (Catonsville! Arbutus! Ellicott City!) nearby, not to mention mountain bikin', fishin', and all the usual stuff.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
To tide you over, here's a little Shatner.
I never thought of Palin as a poet, but that's my bad. I was comparing her to the redoubtable descriptive poet, Robert Service, the Bard of the Yukon.
Instead, I should have been comparing her to Walt Whitman, the candy magnate who also wrote mildly (to quite) homoerotic poetry about the nation and our civil war soldiers.*
I will be forever grateful to William Shatner for his creative re-interpretation of her non-farewell farewell speech. Shatner... I... thankyou... forthat.
* Ps. Yes, I know the comparison to Whitman is fatuous and that Whitman probably didn't invent Whitman's Samplers. But I do think Palin's speech was Whitmanesque, though you are free to argue, as Homer Simpson would in response to this post, "Damn you, Walt Whitman! Leaves of grass my ass!" If you want something really funny, try to imagine Homer Simpson reading that speech.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Really. Could it be anything else?
My friend Beth Mason is thinking about coming down to the D.C. area for another round of Retul bike fits, to coincide with the cyclocross clinic that Chris Mayhew is coordinating with Jeremy Powers. I can't vouch for the system but I have heard good things about it from those who have been fit using it. Beth is also a highly experienced elite cyclist, who is working on her PhD in Sports Medicine. She has a lot of value added, in other words. If you've never had a bike fit, you really should consider getting a fit, it will change how you ride and likely eliminate some uncomfortable things and some aspects of your position that may be causing you injury; and if you're considering a bike fit, you might want to drop her a line and see if she'd be a good choice for you.
It's worth checking out Ryan's Service Course for his Tour wrap. He says about twice what I said, in 50% less space with about a million times more authoritative flava. Of course if you like uninformed ramblings, well, then you should bookmark this page, and I'll hook you up on a regular basis.
I've said it before, I'll say it again: summer bike clothing wash is a pleasure. Seven bibs, seven jerseys, seven pairs of gloves, seven pairs of socks, and... well, that's it. Yeah, I'm skippin' our date tonight to stay home and do my bike washing. Sounds lame, unless you just spent a very long winter doing tights, light base layers, heavy base layers, knee warmers, leg warmers, wind vests, glove liners, skull caps, and scarves every week.
So we're in the cycling Dead Zone. The TdF is passed, the racer's grand tour, the Giro is in the books, the Northern Classics are but a windy memory in our mind's eye, and even the most recent La Primavera has grown brown and dusty.
What lies ahead is the Vuelta, which, near as I can tell, is a series of bunch sprints punctuated by occasional climbs, the fall classic, The Tour of Lombardy, and Worlds. There must be some other stuff in there, but I just don't see it. The road season is essentially marching along like a zombie at the end of a Romero flick, knowing there must be some BRAINS! MMMPHH... somewhere up the road, but there's no way of knowing if any of the living survived.
When the road season turns undead, there's only one thing for the living to do...
Grab a shotgun and a cowbell, and go 'crossin!
Despite the relative lack of drama through the middle stages, we discovered some new things about racing and about the current cast of characters. This race is more interesting in retrospect than it was while any given 60 Km flat run-in to a bunch sprint was unfolding in a ‘climbing’ stage.
First and foremost, we found out that Lance is still a world class athlete, and maybe so too are a lot of near-40 year-old endurance athletes. I’m going to leave out the elephant in the room for a second. Used to be, you were done at 32 or 33, helped along by Marlboro Reds and copious beer in the off-season. (I believe this is the model that Boonen-Ulrich Training Systems still uses). Year-round training and career-long nutritional efforts have changed this. As Lance paced Andreas Kloden up the hills, as George Hincapie and Jens Voigt (before his terrible spill) moved mountains for their teams, it was clear: old doesn’t mean dead any longer. This isn't great news for younger riders; it will be tougher for them to break into the sport with older guys holding on to the top spots for a longer period of time. But it's good for racing because the experienced guys often do smarter and more surprising things in racing. As a lot of old racers will tell you, racing isn't about being the fastest guy, it's about being the best racer...
Second, the elephant. I’m starting to suspect that the doping problem is comprised of a few dummies taking CERA, and the remainder of dopers pounding synthetic material brewed up in some black project lab by a bunch of enterprising, ethics-free biochemistry grad students. A few of the riders had amazing performances, they looked absolutely tireless, not even having a single bad day… and we know that is one of the symptoms of doping. And nobody was caught. Yet. This put me in mind of the BALCO investigation, which only got rolling when a disgruntled track athlete forwarded some of his used syringes to USADA. USADA in turn was mortified when it analyzed ‘the stuff,’ determining that there was no way to detect it short of finding dirty syringes, and even then it wasn’t clear anybody would recognize the high grade synthetic performance enhancers for what they are. You look back in retrospect at the BALCO athletes in a lot of sports and they were doing insane things, just head and shoulders above their peers, as if all those other world class athletes with their amazing genetic gifts were just Freds… But it was all a lie. I cannot get over this seed of doubt that every superhuman performance now nourishes in my mind. And I feel this way without even giving serious credence to the notion of gene therapy...
Third, we found out a few of the young stars in the sport need to grow up a bit. Cav has had an up and down Tour, alternately hugging his team then using them to gank other sprinters a bit excessively in the bunch sprints; switching between bitter indictments of Thor Hushovd, and praising him and admitting humiliation when the big fella got angry and showed the rest of us how to ride mountains. A bit of consistency in character is going to be needed if Cav wants to go from great sprinting irritating guy, to cocky but beloved sprinter/marketing powerhouse, as McEwen did. (He's HUGE in Belgium. . . .)
Fourth, for his part, Contador showed he will be a good fit on a team where he is the unquestioned leader. He's ready to be a team leader because he proved he won't be a good fit on any team where anybody might challenge him. Elephant question aside, assuming the truth of what Bruyneel and Armstrong said, Contador doesn’t believe there’s an “I” in team, but he has discovered that there is a “f*** you!” in it, at least if you can climb really well. Lance may be a dick, but Contador doesn't appear to be lagging in that competition. This would make him a good fit for one of the Spanish teams, where lesser Spanish climbers will defer to him in his role of prima ballerina on the pedals, and nobody is going to really care about whether the team ought to be able to compete in sprints as long as it gets mountaintop stage wins and can thus be somewhat competitive in the overall. The rumors that Garmin are talking with him are disappointing. I don’t think he will fit with the ‘team first’ mentality they have, and I don’t think he would like sharing domestiques with a top sprinter like Farrar, or dealing with the two or three truly surly flatland leadout men - who will probably be useless in the hills - that Farrar needs. Wiggins and VandeVelde might be willing to swallow their pride Levi-style, but I suspect they’d rather leave than deal with a guy who has demonstrated that he’ll accept loyalty but won’t necessarily give it. Either could be a number one rider on a lesser team. Contador's acquisition would also necessarily turn Garmin into a G.C. oriented team rather than an all-around team like Columbia that can do a lot of things well, and I’m not sure what that would do to strong domestiques / TT'ers like Zabriskie or Millar, or a young talent like Maaskant, who seems to have unlimited potential but who has not yet discovered his niche in the pro cycling world.
Fifth, and speaking of Garmin, The Little Team That Could is now the Little Team That Did. Proving that last year’s experience was no fluke, they nearly put a guy on the podium, and returned VandeVelde) to the Top 10. Farrar didn’t win a stage but he was either the only guy, or one of only three guys, who could stay within striking distance of Cav. Assuming they are as elephant-free as they claim, their performance is both remarkable, and good for cycling. Not only have they been given a place at the table, they’ve earned a position up near the head of it, pushing a bunch of more well-established teams (I’m looking at you, Silence-Lotto) down toward the end where one finds only half-empty food bowls, and the wine glasses never get re-filled.
Sixth, ahhh, Silence-Lotto. It’s an apt name because Cadel Evans was silent for the most part, and on the occasions he wasn’t… well, he probably should have been. Shoot, I can remember when they used to talk about him as one of this year's top contenders. I think he may get one more chance to get his act back together, but for the most part he looked like one of those castoff 40 year-old quarterbacks that an NFL team will pick up just before the season. They can play a few downs or maybe a half and do alright, but if the starter doesn't return, the day-to-day grind shows them up as the physically broken down, mentally tired athletes they frequently are. Evans claimed he had two or three really bad days during the Tour. This may be true. But you can’t have a few bad days if you want to be the supported rider and a G.C. contender. You can maybe have *a* bad day – and by “bad day” I mean you lose 30 seconds or a minute, not three minutes and change. Even then, you need to show resiliency and bounce back from that by picking up some time at an intermediate point that offers a time bonus or by nipping another GC contender at the line. If Cadel doesn't get it together soon, the only question anybody will be asking is whether he can win the domestique’s contest to see who can carry the most water bottles in a single load.
Seventh, the French teams generally had a pretty good Race. At least B-Box Bouygues Telecom had a very good race, considering that the best example of a BBox prior to stage wins by Thomas Voeckler and Pierrick Fedrigo was Scientologist/rapper Doug E. Fresh. Up through stage nine, BBox was leading the race for the purses. Ag2r had a nice race too, with former just okay/pretty good racer Rinaldo Nocentini wearing the Maillot Jaune for stages 7 through 14. The team standings after
So those are the takeaways. The cool thing about the TdF is that even if you don’t get what you expected or what you were looking for, you often get something quite nice instead. That is how this year’s Tour unfolded for me – disappointment in a lot of the daily stages, rendered boring by the format, but an interesting race in retrospect with an amazingly dramatic climax on Ventoux.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Anyhow, that was my day.
I've been thinking about some of the music I like lately, and dug out a couple vids for your viewing pleasure.
You may not be aware of Band of Skulls. You should be - they have a Bowie / Hendrix / Bootsy Collins meet White Stripes kid of thing going on. It's really rocking music, but kind of funky too.
If you like that... well, how 'bout some Raconteurs? It's a collabo between a bunch of really good musicians, most notably Jack White.
Speaking of Jack White... the White Stripes made some pretty excellent music. Check out one of their more familiar ones:
The problem with a lot of these bands I highlight, especially these newer alt.rock bands, is they don't seem to have a natural home on the radio so if you're not 14 years old or a college student with a lot of time to burn, you would never discover them. I guess there's the secondary MTV channels, but the radio landscape is pretty dire. Urban contemporary / hip-hop (and not very good UC or hip-hop at that) have taken over most of the major market airwaves because that's what 13 year-old girls download, and 13 year-old girls are the music industry's center mass customer, so the rest of us don't really matter. Then there's oldies / softies stations - and this stuff is way too hard for any station that plays Elton John or Billy Joel. Seriously, in the D.C. market there's a station that bills itself as knowing more about ______ than anybody. They fill in the blank with Barry Manilow, Elton John, Michael 'no talent assclown' Bolton, you name it. Knowing those guys better than any body is considered a credential? Seriously? By whom?
So if you're going to hear new stuff, this leaves dinosaur album rock stations as they only place you'd hear it, but innovative new music usually gets exiled to odd hours, drive time seemingly taken up with oldies or second rate neo-grunge and a lot of the rest of the time with Factory Core or whatever you call the latest Metallica offering or Bon Jovi re-tread/mix. Which is cool, I suppose, if you want to listen to shit music. But really, isn't there more to life than Limp Bizkit?
Friday, July 24, 2009
Thursday, July 23, 2009
While I'm at it, I should pay tribute to Mark Cavendish, who is maybe the greatest sprinter of all time. If you doubt me, just ask him. I agree with him - if you don't like getting curbed by some guy who then mocks you out publicly about having done so, then you shouldn't be a sprinter. Besides, Hushovd doesn't stop right after the line and hug everybody on Team Saxo Bank when he takes a sprint, so he's no-class. Plus that stupid breakaway the other day... Cav could totally have crushed Hushovd in the hills, but only a loser takes sprint points by doing a 150 kilometer solo breakaway during the Queen Stage of the race. A real man, a true sprinter, rides off the back during such stages, gasping up mountains in the hills stages like a fish in a tanning bed, and waits for the end of flat transitional stages to show his mettle as a sprinter. So here's some music to express the undying admiration I have for Mark Chavendish:
I admire Bernard Hinault too. He can't help but stick it to people... When he raced, there were rumors of him being involved in numerous incidents of domestic... er, domestique violence. The way he turned on loyal teammate LeMond... c'est magnifique! It's le racing, beatch! Promises schmomises. And recently, for the second year in a row, he kicked the crap out of some fool who undeservedly stepped on the podium. This year, it wasn't some smelly hippy, it was some wannabe in a Francaise de Jeaux kit... or perhaps it was Yauheni Hutarovich, same thing, really. Anyheaux, viva El Bernard, who is more Texas than any other Frenchman ever, and more Texas than a lot of people who claim to be from Texas for that matter. This Bud's for you, Badger! Try not to inadvertantly hurt anybody, okay?
Then there's Cadel Evans. He's a guy who used to race bikes for a living. This year, he sort of rides a bike for fun, and waves to the bike racers as they go past. Have a 40 of Schlitz Malt Liquor on us, Cadel! And don't forget to hit the twenties on my Hummer with some Armor All.
We can't leave out Jonathan Vaughters. Not only is his team drug free, but they launch, um, whatever it is they do, with wine tastings and at swanky restaurants. They posed for GQ-like pictures. They train, race, sleep, eat, and go to the bathroom with power - I hear that Zabriskie is able to poo at 145% of threshold for nearly 15 minutes as a result, providing there is ample reading material in the outhouse. They wear funny facial hair. They ride time trials with frozen ice fins tucked down the back of their jerseys, in a spectacular homage to a famous French musician who sported noteworthy dorsal anomalies. Plus Vaughters can pull off a houndstooth jacket / checked shirt / tweed ascot combination, thanks to an intermittent soul patch which ties it all together, which he pets like a large orange cat during interviews. Or maybe that's just his chin, I don't know. Just look at this!
Sheeeit, that caucasian is crazy! This is for you, Jonathan:
And as long as I'm at it, he's not riding the Tour, but it's just not fair to leave out our friend Danilo DiLuca, who rode so well in the Giro that WADA attacked him with needles and made him bleed all over the place. Then they accused him of using EPO which is stupid - nobody would use EPO then race at the top of of the G.C. in a grand tour knowing that EPO is now detectable and people at the top of the G.C. will be getting asked to give blood or pee constantly. Nobody is that dumb. Right? Right? Hey, why are those crickets chirping?
NSFW - don't click play unless your workplace is cool w/t PG 13+ vids... Anyhow, thanks for all you've done for us, Danilo! See you at CAS!
Top of the list was Mark Chavendish's petulant trash talking, a series of immature comments that ultimately undercut him in the Green Jersey competition. Race officials had relegated him for half wheeling and allegedly shoving Hushovd into the barriers on angry Stage 14 during the bunch sprint into Besancon. Chav's maneuvers forced Hushovd to grab a handful of brake, ending his sprint. Post-race, the officials ruled that it was caused by Chav's failure to maintain a straight line in the sprint. That is the rules-oriented way of telling Chav it was a dick move, going just a little too far. The relegation that gave Hushovd the Green Jersey. It is true that Hushovd had whined about it, but it's also true that Chav was guilty as charged. So Chav told the press that the jersey was now permanently stained, and that he wondered how Hushovd could sleep at night. Hushovd, a rider with a list of palmares similar to but a lot longer than Chav's, responded by attacking out of the gate on Stage 16, and riding a solo breakaway for the first three quarters of the race over two Cat 1 climbs and some lesser (but still stiff) categorized climbs to take all sprint stages on the day. It would have been a good ride from a small, high quality climbing domestique; from a very large sprinter, it was a performance for the ages. Thor's Wild Ride gave Hushovd a 30 point lead over Chavendish in the Green Jersey competition and hopefully shut up the whiny Manxman for a while, as Hushovd demonstrated that the only stains on the jersey are those left over from when the mouth-breathing Chav was wearing it. Maybe living well really is the best revenge.
Speaking of classy moves... Johan Bruyneel, who is trying to keep his corporation together and get it the best possible sponsor deal for next year, apparently asked Contador to simply mark the Schleck brothers during stage 17, and not try to shed anybody, since the Schlecks would probably get rid of Wiggins and VandeVelde and the other pretenders to the throne. Contador responded by attacking, taking the Schlecks with him and shedding teammates Kloden and Armstrong from the lead group. Kloden probably couldn't have gone with the Schleck accellerations, but Armstrong probably could have and maintained second for himself and for Astana. Armstrong stuck to Bruyneel's script, wasn't expecting an attack, and once it went had to hold back and mark Wiggins. Bruyneel, who is trying to stay cool about Contador's move, is obviously upset that Contador has probably destroyed Astana's (formerly very good) chances for an all-Astana podium in Paris. Because Contador is almost certainly going to win anyhow, and because going away and dragging the Schlecks with him didn't help Contador in the G.C. standings, his move was either stupid or malicious. Either way it shows he isn't a team player, and could not care less about how the team fares.
Losing a few spots in the G.C. isn't a huge deal for Armstrong, who has apparently lined up sponsorship for next year, but there are 25 riders on Astana who would benefit from an all-Astana podium. Bruyneel wants this for business purposes, and Contador fails to understand that a large part of Bruyneel's plan isn't about the bike, it's about sports marketing. I'm sure Contador will enjoy riding for Euskatel or whomever next year, but to my way of thinking he's marked himself the same way Hinault is marked for crapping on LeMond - it's a flaw that we'll always have to take into account when discussing him, like Cobb's racism or Ruth's drunkeness. I'm guessing Bert's soon-to-be ex-teammates will go out of their way in future races to stick it to him.
Don't get me wrong; I'd prefer to see a podium with some Garmin and Columbia representation. I'm ambiguous about Astana and their success, and note mass marketed pharmaceuticals are not the only way to get a leg up in sports. See, e.g. Balco. Yep, I have my suspicions. But I also appreciate Astana's racers and Bruyneel's race management, and Contador's selfish riding rubs me the wrong way. It's the equivalent of a showboating NFL wide receiver. Scoring points is great but there are 53 guys on an NFL roster doing a lot of hard work, and the "me me me" routine is hoisting a middle finger at all the guys who make the showboating possible. Contador, like Terrell Owens or Chad Ocho Cinco is going to prove his point, but each time he does it his way to the detriment of the team, we're going to come to despise him a little bit more. It's not a healthy dislike of a strong rider, it's looking down your nose at him. I'd like to like Contador, but it's becoming less feasible because of the way he rides against his team.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
No spoilers from today's stage, except to note that Jens Voigt had a frickin' hard crash on a descent. According to the team he has a fractured cheekbone, and he's in the hospital overnight for observation. He's moving and speaking fine, they claim, and they anticipate he will make a full recovery.
According to witnesses, Jens crashed out after riding into his own shadow, a dark and depressing place where most of the pro peloton is forced to ride most of the time. (You can see part of his shadow, scarily lying on the ground next to him, motionless). The team has not indicated how badly Jens' shadow was injured in the crash, and whether it will make a full recovery and return to racing. In the wake of the accidents, UCI officials are considering placing European-Union approved warning labels on Jens' shadow... providing they can find warning labels constructed of heat-resistant ceramic tiles.
No other riders went down when Jens was hurt, though dogs all throughout Switzerland began barking, a Ukranian virgin was found to have conceived a child, and Tongan astronomers reported a partial eclipse of the Sun.
Get well, Jens!
Monday, July 20, 2009
Some years ago, I played for a good rugby club that had a hated crosstown rival, the arch-enemy. The old boys with 25 or 30 years history with the club would tell us the same thing every year:
We want you to win every game and take the championship. Bring it home to us. and do us proud. But if that doesn't happen, remember this: beat ______. In fact it doesn't matter if you lose every other game as long as you beat stinking ______.I'm not going to name the other team because, well, they were archrivals and I still don't like those f***ers and I'm not going to do them the honor of naming them in print.
The point being that it was more important that we beat our archrivals, than we make the playoffs, win the championship, or do anything else. Ever. And that's how we played it. The games were desperate and often bloody, hard fought down to the last second, and rough; and unlike other games against other rivals, there was never really a traditional party afterwards. We were such jerks to each other that we forgot the code and boycotted each others' parties. Well, at least they boycotted ours, and they boycotted theirs if we showed up so we'd make a point of going, and drinking the keg they paid for as fast as possible. It'd take us about 30 minutes of very hard drinking to kill their keg, then we'd get the hell out of there. We hated those f***ers, and they hated us, and there's still bad blood that carries over between the guys who played then. I have a bit of grudging respect for a few of them who showed a flash of decency here or there, but most of them showed me enough of their awful character that I'd go out of my way to screw with them if I encountered them in 'real life' away from the playing field.
That's how it should be, if you care enough to send the very best. If you haven't played a sport to the level of hating somebody's guts, you just haven't lived.
And I know rivalry. I went to UNC Chapel Hill. You know how bad they and Duke hate each other? Somebody had the bright idea to have joint UNC/Duke Med outings to the basketball games. Y'know, because doctors and future doctors are the best and the brightest we have to offer. One of these culminated in a UNC Med student kicking the shit out of a Duke Med student at midnight on Franklin Street in front of Top of the Hill over the results of the just-finished basketball game. Yes, I actually saw that.
It doesn't get any better than that.
Now that's rivalry. It's an ugly side of the human character but if you can't find a rival and fight like that... well, don't worry about it. You're probably not Alpha Dog material, and it's irrelevant. There are plenty of spaces in the pack for you. If you're Alpha Dog material though, that's a signature moment.
I raise this because everybody seems baffled by Garmin's rundown of George Hincapie in Stage 14 over the weekend. Oh, how could they do it to such a lovely fellow? We're all friends here, two American teams, we're in this together, wouldn't unity be good for cycling in America, can't we all just get along?
Hah. As if.
Even Gorgeous George himself whined about it a lot, but it what happened in the race made perfect sense. If you actually watched the stage, the gap was approaching 10 minutes, which would have put Hincapie in the jersey by 5 minutes. Lance and Contador didn't mind him maybe taking the jersey, but they weren't going to let him take it by 5 minutes. Could Hincapie win the TdF with a 5 minute gap going into the Alps? Probably not, but it'd be a damn close thing and you don't want to give him the chance. They wanted him to get it, but narrowly, to force Columbia to work their butts off to try to defend on Sunday and maybe Tuesday too, keep the pace stiff, wear out the weaker teams. Astana tried to get the gap to about 7 minutes and leave it there. Had the gap remained static when Astana quit working, George would have owned the jersey by two minutes - perfect for Astana.
Subsequently, when the race got closer to the finish, Ag2r realized George was going to finish only two minutes up on Nocentini, and they had a chance to keep the jersey. They started fighting for it and drove the pace, and Astana's riders gave each other a funny look, slowed down and slipped back. This is no surprise either. For a small team, an extra day defending the Maillot Jaune is cash money and happy sponsors. They didn't have enough horsepower to fully close that big break of rouleurs, but they could work to keep it close. And that's what they did.
So that explains Astana's and Ag2r's actions. But why did Garmin come and help run down George? Why were they so mean?
It's because of the rivalry, stoopid.
Garmin is starting to get a real case of the ass with Columbia. Garmin is a nice little team with some modest successes... that Columbia clips at every opportunity. Team time trials, sprints, GC (in some of the other races, anyhow)... you name it, Columbia is lording it over the other American registered team.
The best example is Tyler Farrar, who is having what would be a breakout TdF were it not for Columbia, is getting punked constantly by Mark Cavendish and his leadouts. Cav has managed to nip Tyler Farrar *every* single time at the line. Sometimes it's real close, sometimes it's three bike lengths and Hushovd noses in there for second... but every single damn time Columbia is beating up on Garmin. Farrar finished second in a bunch sprint (or second on the stage) to Cav in stages 2, 5, 11 and two slots back on Stage 10. Earlier in the season, Cav badmouthed Farrar after press coverage hyped Farrar's one victory over Cav. Cav has beaten Farrar every other time.
In short, Columbia is drinking up Garmin's milkshake. They drink it all up, day, after day, after day, after day. They aren't being nice about it either. Mark Renshaw has physically beaten the crap out of Julian Dean and Tyler Farrar during bunch sprints, preventing an effective leadout and finishing sprint, and I saw with my own eyes that Cav intentionally half wheeled Farrar and tried to take him down or force him to almost stop in a sprint last week, which is permissible but it's still a dick move and we all know it.
So everybody is asking why Garmin would beat themselves up to help Ag2r chase down Hincapie, as if it was some huge mystery.
It's really not. If somebody kicked your ass day after day after day, if you had any self-respect you'd try to take the bastard out any way you could. You'd become a rival.
This isn't surprising. Sometimes, the worm simply turns. Even if Garmin can't take a stage, they'll settle for picking on Columbia's squad daddy and road captain, Hincapie.
The only thing that's chickenshit about the whole deal is that Jonathan Vaughters is there scratching his soul patch and pondering how weird and coincidental it just happened to be that Garmin found itself on the front hammering while Hincapie tried for the Maillot Jaune. Yeah, funny how that just happened, eh J.V.? I guess that's part of the game too.
Garmin is coming along nicely as a team and building a good list of palmares, but they won't be ready to be the Alpha Dog until Vaughters is comfortable giving a "screw you" answer along the lines of, "Well, George is a great guy, but that's racing and I am surprised that a classy guy like George would complain about getting a perfectly wonderful result, third on a stage of the TdF." Spoiling George's day was a pro move, albeit a sort of bitchy, petulant one; admitting it would be a declaration of war, which is something real pro teams sometimes do when they have a legit ax to grind.
Right now, Lance knows what happened, and so does Vaughters and I'm sure Bob Stapleton does too, and even George probably figured it out by dinner time, based on his calm and quiet reaction to discussions of The Rundown in the past couple days. That many of the rest of us haven't really gotten it yet is surprising. We shouldn't pretend Garmin's move was innocent. It wasn't. It was pure, nasty, evil sporting vindictiveness, a big bitter cup of denial that they handed Hincapie when all he wanted was a 16 ounce bottle of Accellerade. Mmmmm... tasty milkshake. At least for the fans.
What you saw there, friends, if all goes to plan, is the birth of a new rivalry. A new, nasty, vindictive, eye-for-an-eye relationship between the two American teams. It's exactly the kind of thing that can drive a team to the top. You don't have greatness without a great challenge to overcome, and frankly, Columbia is a great team right now and Garmin, beyond being "the clean team" hasn't really had a clear target to shoot for. Now they do, and George's potential yellow jersey day was the first shot Garmin put into the 10 ring.
We shouldn't worry about trying for some imaginary unity between the two American teams, which, after all, are commercial competitors for the same sponsor dollars. We should instead see the situation for what it is and celebrate it. Rivalry is very often an ugly thing, but a good side benefit is that a lot of other teams get beaten badly as a good rivalry develops. For them it's like stepping into a shootout between rival street gangs. You definitely don't want to get caught in the crossfire; but the shootout does ultimately serve a rather Darwinian purpose, of making both competitors stronger, and weeding out the weak. Bring it on, Garmin. Bring it on.
Who knew that being so bad, could be so good?
Sunday, July 19, 2009
I am still tired. I don't know why. I didn't race... But it was fun.
Not that it was without tragedy. While we were sweeping the course on Friday, a line of traffic approached up the hill we were on. A large sportbike, a 900 or 1000 from the sound of it, passed the line of cars and trucks and was heading up the hill at full wail. A cat ran out of a yard about 20 meters away. You know what comes next, right? The bike hit the cat and launched up into the air. The rider did a tank slapper, straightened out the crossed up wheel and kept riding. The cat started doing the dance of death. At that point the owner walks up to one of the Coppis doing the course sweeping, stands next to the car and in full Sling Blade Voice, says, "You the bicyclist, mmmmm hmmmm? You killed mah cat." It seems his theory was that the sound of sweeping scared the cat into the road. That makes sense to me - if a vacuum cleaner scares the cats, why wouldn't a whisk broom, or other cleaning implements like a dishcloth, a bottle of shampoo, or a picture of a Zamboni scare a cat just as much? I'm sitting in the car at this point listening to the guy chew out Jon and Son of Rouleur is in the back asking what's wrong with the cat, while my other teammate Scott is trying to slip into the truck without catching Billy Bob's attention, and the Wife of Slingblade is scooping the cat off the road, dropping him on the side and simply walking away. I had to chuckle not because it was funny, it really wasn't, because it was totally surreal and was going all pear shaped. It was a pained chuckle, and I wound up explaining to Son of Rouleur, who is five, that the cat was gone for good, and that's why mommy and I are always reminding him to be careful around roads. So we drove away, grateful that Billy Bob's wife hadn't had time yet to get out of the house with a shotgun, and grateful that Son of Rouleur didn't have any more difficult questions on his mind. The cat was upside down and kicking the last of his life away as we rolled off to go sweep the next corner, amazed at that little bit of weirdness. Needless to say, I fully anticipate seeing a letter to the editor in the Post on Tuesday discussing the satan-worshipping bike racers who appeared in northern Montgomery County over the weekend, wearing all black kit and pushing an altar comprised of a slab of black marble suspended between two flame-belching demonbikes, on which they conducted human and animal sacrifices. The pile of hamburger on the road at the bottom of the finishing hill, left by some over-eager Cat IV racers, will not do anything to dispel the rumors...
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Funk-tabulous. Consistent with this blog's policy of providing 70% more funk than other similar blogs, the following Bootsy Collins performance is provided for your pleasure.
Tannhauser Festmarch. Lovely music by a schizophrenic guy, Wagner. Not my favorite Wagner opera, but maybe my favorite single piece by him... it does an awful lot of different things in 7 minutes.
It ain't over until...
What, you're still here? Then check this out. It's Kirsten Flagstad, probably the greatest singer of all time. Don't think of her voice as something comprehensible; think of it as a musical instrument and check out how she hits every note square on. Most people can't do that with a properly tuned piano, much less their own voice. Google her or YouTube her and check her out singing a lot of more accessible (and sensible) pieces of music. She's flat out amazing. And check out Your Host here.
Okay, she's sung. You can go now.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
- Liberace, Jerry Lee Lewis and Beethoven together didn't have as much piano between them as this year's TdF.
- When racers are likely to try to win, it makes sense to set up stages with finishes 50km past the big mountains, to reward the likes of a Salvodelli, who will pull off insane descents and fight like hell to win the race. This works in the Giro, where the Italians can't help themselves and attack like madmen. When the racers are likely to ride defensively for three weeks, the default mode of the TdF, it's like putting the whole race in that crystal thing where Superman put Lex Luthor in suspended animation. Except Lex Luthor was never as mean to the fans as ASO is being this year with this horrendous layout.
- I thought I'd like this year's layout. I was wrong! So wrong! How can I ever make it up to you?
- Fine, fine. Let's go back to a week of sprints, a week in the Alps, and a week in the Pyrenees. I'll never criticize the layout again. Promise.
- I notice that Tom Boonen has gone down a few times on the goofily-marked French roads. But who can blame him? Seeing a bunch of white lines in front of your nose would be disorienting to anybody.
- I'd like to get hammered with Bob Roll. I would not want to experience a hangover with him, however.
- I read somewhere yesterday that somebody misses Al Trautwig. Watching the Olympics last year and idly flipping to the gymnastics, I was surprised to hear Trautwig's dulcet and disoriented tones doing color commentary for the female gymnastics. Staring at underage girls seems like a good career move for Al.
- Tony Kornheiser, who hates all bicyclists and has suggested that drivers should run us down, would make an excellent color commentator for the TdF. Sure, we'd all hate him, but I bet you all would tune in.
- Stock Frankie Andreu Interview Question: "Hey, you rode great today. What do you think about that?"
- Stock Frankie Andreu Interview Follow-up Question: "Yeah, you really did ride great. I was impressed. Are you going to ride great again tomorrow? I think you are. What do you think?"
- Stock Frankie Andreu Hard Hitting Interview Question: "Yesterday you said there are some disputes on the team. Would you say there are some disputes on the team? How much is 'some'?"
- Bob Roll's internal dialogue during the flat stages: "Man... can you believe I gave up house painting and pot smoking to sit next to Hummer? Shit. I can't believe it either. What was I thinking..."
- Breast, Prostate, Lung and Colon Cancer's thought upon seeing Lance using the race as a fund-raising and activist venue: "Cripes, testicle... I told you that you'd be nuts to screw with that guy. Now look what you've done!"
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
The cool thing about this is base training is "just riding around." Sure, it's a little faster than that, maybe; you keep steady pressure on the pedals on downhills and try to keep the Powertap needle in the center of the "just hard enough to start feeling it after a bit" zone. But it's just riding around and enjoying yourself, spending time on the bike.
This is cool because normally at this time of the year, my week would look like: 90 minutes recovery / 30 warmup + 5x 2 minutes all out on 5 minutes rest + 30 warmdown / 90 min recovery / 3x 20 tempo / 90 minutes recovery / 3 hours zone 1 for an hour, 2 for an hour, 3 for an hour / 2 hours zone 2.
Yeah, that's right. My summer is normally painfully fast alternating with painfully slow. Not this year though. I'm enjoying the best riding weather of the year by just riding around in it. So maybe sometimes getting an injury or a surgery, if it's the right one and you time it right, can be a blessing. I'm just enjoying riding right now and grateful I can do it.
That doesn't mean it's all cookies and cream though. The same ugly stuff still happens. I'm trying to avoid saddle sores right now, work has weighed heavily on me, and on the road...
I got buzzed twice today on narrow roads as a result of riding around the rush hour out in the bedroom community where I live.
The first guy who buzzed me managed a double. I always tell newer riders that their little mirror is cool but situational awareness is what they really need. I heard this engine really revving up a ways behind me, and the hair on my neck went up a little. I saw this tradesman pickup - white, with tool boxes down each side - coming up really fast behind me. The road was empty but his angle of approach was a little goofy. Sure enough, he buzzed me, with his right wheel six inches onto the 18 inch shoulder. I freaked just a little as I saw him approaching out of peripheral vision and bunny hopped a small ditch onto a lawn. The cyclocross skills came in handy; I just kept on pedaling and when the guy was past, bunny hopped back onto the shoulder. A bit later I came onto a long line of traffic stuck at a light - it was one of those Three-Light-Stops that takes three cycles of red and green to get through. My buddy was there, and as I whizzed up the right shoulder I wondered which of the motorists I was pissing off, perhaps fatally. The light turned, I got through with the first of the cars and settled quickly into my 95 rpm cadence, and spun up the road. A couple minutes later, just before I turned, my buddy in the tradesman pickup truck again buzzed me, this time just as I moved hard to the right into a turn lane sheltered with a curb and stakes. What a wanker!
Later on in the ride I was coming down a minimal shouldered two-lane road, and needed to turn left onto a mostly empty country road that has broad shoulders. I moved into the turn lane when there was a break in traffic, and tried to time my left hand turn so that I arrived at the turning point at a break in the oncoming traffic. A pickup truck was approaching really fast, but I had 50 or 75 yards clearance when I turned. I hit the turn doing maybe 25, zipped around it and got far over on the right hand shoulder. A moment later I heard the pickup turn - a big turbodiesel from the sound of it - and heard the driver absolutely stomp that puppy. I got as far to the right as I could, and old Joe Bob - actually a mid-20's looking bubba - gassed it by me on the shoulder, leaving me about a foot of the 8 foot wide shoulder and burying me in a cloud of diesel smoke. As a side benefit, Joe Bob rode through a bunch of broken glass that some other thoughtful person had sprayed on the side of the road. Joe Bob threw a bunch of it up in the air, and probably got some in his tires, which will play hell with them within a couple days. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
So I could have been upset about these morons, but such is my mood right now, loving life in Base 1, that I was able to laugh about it quite a bit over the last 5 miles of the ride. What kind of a loser has to use a car to act out against cyclists? I'm a pretty big dude but I'm still really tiny compared to an F-350 or a welding truck. People who drive a truck and feel like they have to lash out at cyclists, particularly cyclists who are going out of their way to stay out of the way, must suffer from some type of serious character defect. Yeah, they're dangerous, but you have to sort of laugh at them and wonder what kind of a life they must have that seeing a dude pedaling a bike makes them that angry. There are things in life that are worth getting angry about; you have to be an enormous Big L Loser to get pissed at a dude riding along on the shoulder knocking out base miles. I'm sure I have some character defects too; I'm just glad they aren't as glaring or silly as that.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Well, I was sort of into it until I realized that the dramatic mountain top finishes... are actually bunch sprints, mostly, occurring 30 to 75 kilometers after the actual climbs. Cribbing a page from the Giro, the TdF organizers tried to craft a race where flatland racers would stand a chance against the pure climbers. The problem with this approach is two-fold.
First, there are no 23% grades in the Tour. That means that not only do the weak climbing flatlanders hang on and clutter up the finish line with their laughable crashes, but the pack can't even shed the top half of the domestique ranks. Shoot, even the guys in the Laughing Group could probably catch back on in time for a finale 70km from the finish, if they tried to do so and if it wouldn't be so shameful. This has led to a series of bunch sprints by second tier classics riders / top tier domestiques, a buttload of bunch sprint crashes by people who don't bike handle well in the crit school of riding (high speed, tight corners prior to the finish) and it's given a sheaf of wins to okay classics riders, most of whom probably thought their real season was done in March and this would make great base training for Worlds. So it's cool... but not captivating.
Second, the Giro is famously combative. Unlike the Tour, where there is much to be gained and much to be lost, the financial stakes in Italy just aren't that high. This fact is reflected in the Tour's defensive trench warfare race tactics, aka Don't Lose - At All Costs! Compare that to racers in the Giro, who take fliers, launch mad attacks, and do stupid brave things to try to gain an advantage. A guy who couldn't climb but could descend like crazy won it a few years ago by being willing to slide both corners through turns! Magnifico! Heck, we even saw race leader DiLuca cover an Armstrong attack at one point, even though he had six perfectly good teammates handy! The penalty for failure in the Tour is you lose money, endorsements, huge prize money, and fame. The penalty for failure in the Giro... well, you lose a bit of money, but a really good quality sort of failure, that a real racer wouldn't be embarassed about, won't cost you anything, really. You attack hard, blow up spectacularly, crash famously descending like a lunatic (see, e.g. Il Falco), and you may lose out on prize money but you will be beloved and may not ever have to pay for your own lunch anywhere in Italy ever again. There's something to be said for that. On the other hand, if you win the Tour... you get a sweet shoe deal and bike companies approach you about doing a spinoff name marketed with your actual name on the downtub. Cool, but not AWESOME.
The bottom line is what makes the Giro unique is the racing, what the racers do, while what makes the Tour unique is the final score and the slow chess game - a contest between Directors Sportivo really - that unfolds while they get their. You rarely get an unpredicted and unpredictable winner in the TdF...
So what was starting to look like an interesting Tour, is actually devolving into something that may never quite get to be interesting to real race fans. Will it all be settled on Mt. Ventoux? Yeah, probably. The organizers set it up that way. What that means, is that everything up to that point is prologue. The bunch sprints actually provide the only bits of relevance each day. Weird.
So that's why I'm not all that interested in the Tour. Sure, I'm watching it, I just don't find it as compelling as it usually is, with the normal first week sprints, second week hills, third week hills arrangement. It's a nice re-shaping of the course, just one that maybe doesn't fit the race's personality all that well. Yep, it's a course that encourages Eddy Merckx-style attacks, but it's hosting a race culture that adores Cadel Evans-style racing-not-to-lose.
I want to love it. I really do. But I just can't this year.
If it matters any, I am finding some amusement. I am coming to really hate Alberto Contador, to think Levi is the exception that proves the rule about bald men being sexy, to firmly believe we don't get enough interviews with Dave Zabriskie, and to realize that nothing is funnier than Lance's "I can't believe I'm not winning hands down" face.
Friday, July 10, 2009
I think it's supposed to remind you of this, just in case you were wondering. I'm reasonably certain the glances are innocent, and that the Reuters photographers are playing up a sliiiightly racial angle here. What am I saying, that our European betters might harbor some racially impure thoughts?
Um, yeah. That's what I'm sayin'. Somebody bought all those betamax old copies of Mandingo, and it sure wasn't me.
John Ashcroft got screwed by the press photogs in a similar manner. Remember the boob controversy involving the statue at the Department of Justice? I do. A buddy of mine was an AP photographer at the time. He told me how they'd wriggle around on the floor scrambling to get a photo with a boob on the statue "stuck" in Ashcroft's ear, or just over his forehead.
So it's possible the C-in-C wasn't doing anything wrong there, he was just made an ass of by the photographers. Now if you want to see a guy who likes to get his Becky on, check out Sylvio Berlusconi's cabinet ministers:
One of the ministers is Giorgia Meloni. Giorgia Meloni? Is that a stage name?
Honestly, I appreciate the aesthetic Sylvio has got going on here, but I've got a sneaking suspicion that he makes them dress in cute little cabinet minister uniforms and prance around with Sig-Steyr subcaliber submachine guns at cabinet meetings. I like Berlusconi, but I'm not sure if he's trying to be a prime minister, a Bond villain, or this guy:
If you had to ask me what works better, I'd say the not-unattractive, highly professional and mostly staid looking cabinet members that we have in this country - last Administration or the current one - inspire a bit more confidence. I don't view a few gray hairs as ugly in a leader, but as evidence that they've been around a bit, and perhaps can list a few mistakes made that they intend to avoid in the future. Younger people, while prettier... well, most of their best mistakes are in front of them.
On the other hand, if I was going to be strapped to a table and cut in half by lasers while a bevy of attractive villainesses pranced around in bib short / tank top / fully auto weapon uniforms, warming up a Doomsday Device, I think we all know which way to go.
Have a nice weekend.