Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Where the Ruta Meets the Road - even if it's underwater

Just back from Costa Rica where much to my surprise - and shock - I saw road cyclists. Yip there they were, all kitted up, clad in full team colors and logos. Mixed teams were out for a training ride as I passed through the capitol San Jose - or should I say, survived my way back to San Jose. After a week of catastrophic flooding, washed out towns, mudslides, death, and major highways that literally sunk/disappeared I could only smile in disbelief at young pros hitting the roads for a little spin.

Then that evening the tv blared in Spanish and flashed images of road cyclists struggling and in triumph - film of last year's Vuelta a Costa Rica. Yes, a UCI 2.2 rated event. The next day as I dug for a bit more info all I could dredge from the muddy waters of local Tico sports was the upcoming "La Ruta de los Conquistadores".

La Ruta makes the Vuelta almost seem sane - even in this flood drowned year. The Ruta is 18 years young and already it is infamously "hot, long, muddy and steep, and includes significant hike-a-bike sections and railroad bridges."
In a rare note of possible concession race officials have made a huge nod to the weather saying they may have to consider route alterations - well, considering 30+ Costa Ricans died last week just up the road from where I and my friends were trapped in a hotel because all the roads and bridges were damaged with five days of monsoonal rain that included a 24 hour stretch of 16.3 inches!! Maybe it's just me, but ya know a route concession or two might be wise.

As for the Vuelta, it races in December when life on the roads of Costa Rica should return to their normal chaotic self. Although this year it may look more like the La Ruta route with all the mud and disaster. I was told that the race is the best time to road ride Tico-land. Since the race features a rolling closure for the young pros - you just tuck in behind the peleton support vehicles and presto, you ride one of the loveliest landscapes in the tropics. One thing, just don't get dropped - the traffic will be waiting like hammerhead sharks with bated breath!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chef Prudhomme Tweaks the Recipe

Drum-roll please.

Today in Paris was the day. According to papa ASO's own website, "On Tuesday 19 October precisely, more than 4 000 persons and 500 medias from all over the world will descend on the Palais des Congrès in Paris to discover the detail of the stages of the 2011 Tour, which will take place from 2 to 24 July that year along the roads of France and …"

That was if those 4,000 persons could fight their way to their seats. In the streets outside the Palais it was getting worst than the chaos of a million rabid inebriated cyclo-fans blocking a TT up l'Alpe d'Huez. The French are engaged in that most French of all annual events - strikes! While the French streets were alive with honking horns and protesters across the country - heck, even the school kids were blocking schools (maybe part of their education to learn how to strike in the future--sort of a French rite of passage)--things are getting seriously out of control!

The one pocket of serenity? The Tour route announcement ceremony.

While socially the country is popping at the seams - petrol stations are running out of gas, students running amuck and President Sarkozy realizing de Gaulle was right, "Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux cent quarante-six variétés de fromage?" - how can you govern a country with 246 varieties of cheese? The 2011 Tour route that was revealed promises a taste of something old and new:

2011 Tour de France route announced

If the legendary Henri Desgrange was ever going to have a reincarnation could it be Christian Prudhomme? It appears he is dedicated, as was Desgrange, to tweak and tweak the recipe until his Tour finds its perfection.

Generally the recipe get's most of its tweaking in the route, this year Chef Prudhomme went right to the heart of the ingredients - the jerseys:

Green Jersey - PMU. It is worn by the leader of the points classification. New in 2011: the flat stages will only include one intermediary sprint with points awarded to the first 15 riders. The aim is to systematically involve the sprinters in the pack, even after the passage of a breakaway.

Polka Dot Jersey - Carrefour. It is worn by the leader of the best climber classification. New for 2011: the points system and number of riders awarded points on each climb has been revised in order to reduce the gaps between the competitors. For example, points will only be doubled for a finishing line at the summit of 2nd, 1st and highest level climbs.

Chef Prudhomme has more in connection with the Tour's originator than just being French. Both men rose from careers in the media, albeit a century apart. Selling to the public is at its core the same whether newspapers and bicycle ads or radio and television and global corporate sponsorship. Prudhomme and Desgrange are in that sense cut from exactly the same marketing cloth.

Their respective early paths guiding the Tour share some similarities as well. While Desgrange got his inaugural 1903 Grand Boucle off successfully, his 1904 Tour became a near disaster and ended with the first victor, the 1903 winner Maurice Garin, being stripped of the title for cheating, along with the next three riders, resulting in the still youngest ever winner 19 year old Henri Cornet being elevated from fifth to first. Afterwards Desgrange struggled with the idea of even continuing the race sighting "blind emotions" driving the cheating. (Hmmm... blind emotions and the doping of today - some things never change?)

In 2006 Prudhomme's Directorial debut was christened with a similar disaster as the first GC winner since that 1904 Tour, American Floyd Landis, was stripped for cheating. In each case the pundits spoke of the death or degradation of the Tour. In each case the chefs knew they had to wrest control of their race or risk losing it. Desgrange tightened the recipe over the next few years until its outcome was organizationally crystal clear.

Similarly Prudhomme spent 2008 - 2010 testing a pinch of this and dash of that until he felt he had control. Then, interestingly, like his mentor, about half a decade into their careers each attempts to change the recipe so dramatically that all the patrons have to sit up and take notice. For Desgrange it was the bold introduction of the high summits of the Pyrenees in 1910 followed in 1911* by the monsters of the Alps including the mammoth Galibier. The Tour soared! For Prudhomme the centennial anniversary of the crossing of the Pyrenees sparked drama in 2010 race and he has returned with a mountainous Tour route for 2011 that echos that original Alpian debut one hundred years ago as it takes the battle for the malliot jaune up the most summit finishes since 2002 and in so doing produces what he calls, "suspense to remain until the very end but also have the possibility of a big battle well before that.”

(summit finishes for 2011 include the Pyrenean finishes at Luz-Ardiden and Plateau de Beille as well as the Alpine giant Galibier and L'Alpe d'Huez.)

Chef Prudhomme said at the presentation, "We are going towards simplification,” continuing,“The goal is to give these competitions more strength, and more suspense." Those were the aspirations of his mentor Master Chef Henri Desgrange 108 years ago when he cooked up this recipe. For cycling fans it means next July - Bon Appetite!!

*just a note - in 1911 Desgrange introduced the Alps as well as an iconic term and role to the Tour - le domestique. Although it should be noted that it was out of frustration and contempt that he did so in an editorial in his newspaper L'Auto - deriding the rider Maurice Brocco for assisting another cyclist.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Let the Leaves Fall

This weekend 26 teams - yes, including Radioshack, the apparent bad boys of racing - take to the start in Milano before riding north, looping the gorgeous Lake Como and finishing in the lake town of Como after climbing up from the lake shore and summiting the climb to Madonna del Ghisallo. They will ride through the falling leaves, la Classica della Foglie Morte, the Classic of the Falling Leaves. If I were a pro this is the one race every year I would ride for the sheer joy of riding my bike - and then end my season and stay in Bellagio for a few weeks.

And when I think of riding my bike for joy's sake Chris Horner often comes to mind. Horner loves this little race as well, and fairing quite well in it over the past few seasons - four tries and always top 15 with a best 7th. His participation in this year's race of the falling leaves looked in doubt when organizers RCS once again played punitive politics and "woops" left Radioshack off their start list. Something about some Italian dog eating the invitation, or something. Off that is until the Shack threatened to sue in the CAS and the UCI jumped in (part in the paternalness to insure next year's Pro Tour gets off to a credible start.)

After investigating the news, VeloNews has learned that the team will indeed be on the start line of the Lombardy race October 17. “There was an oversight by the organizers,” an inside source told this VeloNews. “A letter confirming the invitation was lost apparently. And so they are working with the UCI to work things out so the team can start the race.”

And to prove there is a cycling god the finale of the Classics season will be broadcast in America. To also prove that god has a sense of humor and a bit of devil in them, it will be televised on Universal Sports. But for the wise, know that you can turn the two US blithering idiots off and get a live Eurosport feed for some insightful, culturally intelligent and civilized commentary.

More about the fall Classic can be found in the new book published by VeloNews The Spring Classics. An adaptation of The Spring Classics: Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races can be found here.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Lady Justice in case you need to feel the wind for freedom I have a tandem

They say she is blind, it might help judge the truth, but that makes it damn hard to ride a bike. Maybe that's why they invented tandems, so folks like Lady Justice can feel the wind in her hair and the joy of flying free down a country road. That's the same feeling little kids have when they peddle like little demons and race the wind. Freedom.

They say the truth will set you free - for Alberto Contador - and for cycling - I hope that IS the truth.

Contador also claimed that there have been moments in the past weeks when he has been tempted to leave cycling, especially in the immediate aftermath of being informed of his positive test. “I said to myself: I’m quitting it all,” he said. “I saw children around my house on their bikes imitating me, and I felt like telling them ‘Let it go, don’t try and be a champion and do it correctly. This world is unjust.’”
- from October 3rd, 2010

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Let the suffering begin and the doping end - it will still be hugely entertaining

Once again we are in the post-TdF fall classic tournament - "Disgrace the Doper." This year's doper target, Alberto Contador. Without judgment on guilt I wish we could all just fathom the reality of how difficult the Tour is and that winning it isn't or may never have been, possible without some magical elixir. This past weekend retired, after being banned and disgraced, pro cyclist Bernhard Kohl said in an interview posted on,

"People know in cycling that's it's not possible to win the Tour de France without it," Kohl told FanHouse at the conclusion of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's annual science symposium on Monday. "It's three weeks, 3,000 km and you climb (the equivalent of) Mount Everest four times. That's just not possible."

He knows a little of what he speaks - the year Kohl was caught using CERA he took third in the world's most difficult sporting event. After riding just a fraction of those Cols on my first trip to the Alps several years ago I declared to my fellow cycling mate, "they are all on drugs!" That declaration came only after firsthand experience in a few back-to-back days in my 39x27, and I wasn't averaging 40kph or half that.

Up until that trip I was pretty staunchly in the 'Those Guys Are In A Special Breed' camp. I held out hopes, with some conviction, that they were riding pretty clean. That foray into the "big" mountains taught me reality isn't candy coated in hope, it's spiked with dope.

My thoughts here are not about right or wrong when it comes to doping, but more the acknowledgement that young Mr. Kohl is more in touch with reality, partially out of firsthand experience, than most of us. He went on to say,

"Floyd Landis won the Tour de France and his average speed was 40 kph," Kohl said. "This year it was Cantador and it was also about 40. It was nearly the same average speed. Landis was doped. Maybe in 10 or 15 years, you can win (without drugs) if we work with the anti-doping movement."

Can the Tour be won without using dope or some magic filled musette? Absolutely. But will we be entertained? The speeds will surely drop - faster than a pro coming off the Tourmalet. The average speeds of 40kph will be left in the mythical past. Yes, they will still climb faster than you and me, and descend faster, and just plain ride faster, but will we be entertained? And that's really what this comes down to - if we can be patient enough to still be entertained, then ya, the Tour can be won. David Walsh, chief sports writer for the London Sunday Times and author of From Lance to Landis and LA Confidential offered his reaction to CyclingNews, regarding clean riders vs others,

"The one thing that really should bother right minding thinking people is that no one cares for honest men getting screwed. The journalists don't care, the race officials don't care, the sponsors don't care, and sadly you have to say that the public don't care. That's always been the issue for me."

On one of the World Cycling DVDs of the Tour a few years back commentator Gary Emlach -while standing on the precipitous slope of the high Alps said something to the effect - most sports are generally improved with speed, cycling improves with suffering, and nothing dishes out suffering like the Alp and Pyrenees. If that's the case, then let the suffering begin and the doping end - it will still be hugely entertaining.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Weight of Insanity

Now that I'm back from the Gulf I no longer wake to the hurricane updates on weather channel, instead have returned to a rhythm of checking CyclingNews and VeloNews - a nice diversion from reality.

This morning I learned two things - one, Fabulous Fabian's Fourth ITT World Championship places alone atop the podium of cycling's greatest time trial greats.

The second, insanity has a weight, exactly 50 "picograms" or 50/1,000,000,000 of a gram. Looking around for a representative of that weight - good luck. Start with a gram and work down. A gram? For all you off-season gram junkies a gram is equal to a medium size paperclip, or a Bic plastic pen cap (only), or one US dollar bill. Now imagine something one trillionth that size, add 49 more and you have it, INSANITY. Yes, that's insanity - the weight of its actions, or reactions, is much weightier, generally devastating in fact, often life changing. The victim of this weighty insanity? - recent Tour de France winner Alberto Contador(read more here on VeloNews).

[The UCI] however, added that only a “very small concentration” of the drug had been found and that the case warranted “further scientific investigation” because the Cologne laboratory that detected the substance is known to be able to detect the tiniest traces of drugs.

“The concentration found by the laboratory was estimated at 50 picograms (50 trillionths of a gram) which is 400 times less than what the antidoping laboratories accredited by WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) must be able to detect,” the UCI said, adding that testing of a second “B” sample taken at the same time confirmed the result.

I also booked my flights back to the Gulf to work on the post-BP spill mess, the hundreds of lives that have been destroyed or tossed on their heads, the environment disrupted for decades, that's an insanity I can measure and has real weight.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Talk all you want, good intercourse takes practice

My first blog back was going to be about last Tuesday's hilly little ride with the guys, but I got dropped so fast that there isn't much worth reporting other than I now have no doubt that eight weeks off the bike, on top of a general season without much riding, isn't the best strategy for surviving the hilliest Tuesday Night route of the season.

So let's move on...

I once heard the question, "Name a four letter word of intercourse?" naturally it's a question that provokes a smirk, maybe a grin, and perhaps a raised eyebrow. The answer, one option, is "talk."

Yes, talking is a form of intercourse - and apparently one the Manx Missile, Mark Cavendish, has confused with the other four letter option. This past weekend he was quoted by VeloNews online, in reference to holding on to a car in the Tour de France this past July,

"Are you f**king kidding me? If I go back, let alone if I'm dropped, I have two race officials, TV cameras, an ice-cream van and a marching band following me. How the f**k am I going to hold on to a car?” he asks.

Intercourse is apparently something Mark isn't very good at despite his constant practice. Colorful, or should that be colourful, definitely yes. Entertaining, well, all good intercourse should be. Sensitive, not so much. Kind to those with whom he is sharing the moment, rarely. All of which is odd considering his British upbringing. And there is the irony, he hails from the Isle of Man, yet hasn't become one. Unfortunately this little boy nor his language skills have matured.

Ah, the art of language. Now what is that saying? Ah yes, intercourse from another Mark, "It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."

All of which makes me miss the articulate "professor" - Laurent Fignon - even more.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Catching Up After the Bayou Bicycle Blues

Ya know, one of the most frustrating things about having to go back to work for a living (see my Gulf blogs) is that cycling - which had been front and center for the past year - got regulated, no back-burnered, well, actually, pretty much dropped. The Vuelta for instance - what Vuelta?? The only thing I have been watching come from the 'old world' was a peloton of rookie hurricanes named Igor, Earl and now Lisa.

So I'm back in Portland, getting ready for the first Tuesday night ride in a while, actually the first ride of any kind in weeks, and trying to catch up on the pro peloton. I'm reading through old emails and WHAMMO! This stunner. How did I miss this even when wading through a bayou?!

From the press conference:
"You have to understand—in the high-pressure world of competitive cycling, it's all about getting any advantage you can," Armstrong said. "And if we were being realistic, we'd have to admit that everyone in cycling was trying to get an advantage. So, in a way, if we were all trying to get the same advantage, then the playing field was still completely equal. So I was still the best. It makes sense when you look at it that way. And nothing I am about to tell you changes that. So, when I'm finished saying what I have to say, you all have to promise to still adore me."
Read More:

Lance Armstrong Wants To Tell Nation Something But Nation Has To Promise Not To Get Mad

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Eight Seconds of Fame

My heart sank this today with the news of Laurent Fignon's passing. Sank. Like it had unclipped and refused to turn the pedals a single revolution further.

Fignon died of cancer which had been chasing him down over the past couple years. He was one of the first riders I ever remember seeing race the Tour. And he raced it.

The old saying about 15 seconds of fame - well Laurent Fignon was twice as good as most of us, he only need 8 seconds to immortalize himself in our cycling memories. The Tour de France will forever be connected and pass through that 8 seconds on the Champs-Elysee in 1989.

In a CyclingNews article on Fignon's life it quoted, "Cycling is a big family and when a young former champion dies at just fifty years of age, it cannot but move us," former Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc said on the France Info radio station. "His death has come too quickly and too soon." He was only 50.

Greg Lemond was quoted today in the French media, "He was a great person, one of the few that I find was really true to himself. He didn’t have an ego. He really knew himself."

Over and over today in my mind's eye I kept replaying that moment in Paris in 1989 when Fignon crossed the finish-line and had collapsed, literally and figuratively in defeat to American Greg Lemond by 8 seconds - no other Tour before or since was reduced to such a fine line between victory and defeat. That image of him wilting in exhaustion and heartbreak also reflected Fignon's future - never again would he ride the Tour or any race with the same panache and schoolboy aggressiveness as before. When he finally retired in 1993 he conceded the fire was gone he said. Laurent Fignon was not someone who could ride without fire.

Part of what I enjoyed most about Fignon was that his fire on the bike was within him, it was honest intensity and he wore it off the bike as well. I'm sad that I don't know French well enough to have heard his TV commentary - it reportedly also had fire and honest intensity, took no prisoners in its criticism of riders and directors. Equally you did have to ride a bike to earn his criticism. A story goes that he said that the French never did like him when he was winning, but after losing to Lemond by that 8 seconds, he never had to buy a drink, the French love a loser.

Laurent you were definitely no loser - ever - and today even your countrymen know and recognize that.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Haven't pedaled off into the sunset

Yes, it's been very quiet here the past few weeks - but occasionally all grown ups have to take a break from the bike - like the owners of Cervelo almost did these past few days... luckily for a few soon-to-be-out-of-work-pros Garmin jumped in and reshuffled the deck. And wow! what an off season, as soon as I get a free moment I'm unlocking the archives and searching for a more tumultuous "off-season" - although there still is a Vuelta in Spain, the Worlds downunder and my personal favorite the 'Race of the Falling Leaves' around Lake Como, the race beloved by Il Campionissimo himself, Fausto Coppi - the Giro di Lombardia - what a gorgeous race.

Anyway, I have been back at my day job, down in on the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, trying to document how BP managed to create the world's greatest human-caused environmental disaster and what will be the downstream impact of all that oil they some how can't seem to stick a dipstick into?

If you are curious you can follow my work on a couple blogs - Gulf Oil Spill Project and one focused on the photojournalism specifically called Gulf Coast Photo Project.

I am back in the NW this weekend to do the RAPSody Ride around Puget Sound up in Washington with my awesome tandem partner Jenn - a write up and photos first of next week.

Great fall riding everyone - and be safe out there!

Monday, July 26, 2010

It's been great - now please go

We all have relatives and friends we love, are excited to see them when they visit, laugh, share great memories, eat, drink, but sooner or later, it's time for them to go. No disrespect, it's just time to move on.

Lance Armstrong - it's been great, really great - now please go.

ps - and take your friend Johan with you

I have, generally speaking, been a Lance Armstrong fan over the course of his career as a pro cyclist. Watching him light up the Tour de France has generated a great collection of memories over the past decade. Some of those memories have become iconic images of cycling and will enliven the pages of cycling history for the next century. And outside July Armstrong has amassed a pro palmares that by any pro career standard would be cherished - beginning with his 1993 World Championship in the cold and torrential rain in Oslo, Norway. I also have huge respect, far beyond the cycling, for what he has done for so many people who have been stricken by cancer; many of those lives have been energized by his remarkable story and rebirth from a situation so dire that it more often than not kills.

The 2010 Tour de France was your 13th Tour, unlucky 13 some would say, but you hung in there and showed some class - well until the last stage, 20, into Paris with that last minute change of kit fiasco. If you had only played with (the UCI), instead of against the other kids. Could you just not turn loose the lime light? Was magnanimity just too far a stretch? Was it Contador or just an ego that said this is my show and I'm going to take it with me regardless my position. Do you remember when your former teammate "Eki", Viatcheslav Ekimov, retired? During the final stage of the 2006 Tour de France, he announced that the 2006 Tour would be his last. Remember? He was honored by the peloton on the final stage, who allowed him to lead them over the line on the first of the traditional eight laps of the Champs-Élysées - the peloton acknowledged one of their own. That's how one graciously, with humility leaves a sport that has given him so much, more than he could ever give it, history tells that tale. In 98
Grand Boucles there has never been a rider, or director sportif, or team, or even a Tour director, that has risen above or outlasted the Tour itself - you won't, you can't, you shouldn't try.

America has several new and wonderful teams and cyclists on the horizon, your role in the sport has to some degree enabled that. Your career has built upon the triumphs of the likes of Greg LeMond, and Andy Hampsten, and their's on the unknown, unsung efforts of American cycling pioneers like Jonathan "Jacques" Boyer, Ron Kiefel, Mike Neel, George Mount and John Eustice that had to cross the Atlantic to earn places on European squads. We build, and move on, for others... for other dreams, for other memories.

So it's time for American pro cycling to blossom without Armstrong. It's time for kids breaking free from training wheels to discover new heroes. Look around your RadioShack team and toast a beer to all those under 35 years old who have had a chance to make a mark outside the Armstrong shadow - not many. If you want to further the Armstrong cycling legacy, then put your weight behind a true honest youth cycling movement in America - something you have never done - call it the Little League of Cycling - where kids of every socio-economic background can have the opportunity to ride, race, be coached, learn teamwork and maybe someday challenge for the top step of the podium after three weeks on the roads of Le Tour de France.

You said once "It's not about the bike." Now prove it.

One Last Look - TdF 2010

If today you woke to no Phil and Paul, stared blankly at the TV screen and wondered what next? The maybe these will help with the cold turkey come down. Here's one last look at the 2010 Tour de France courtesy of the Boston Globe online and the great photographers that also rode over 3,600 kms in rain, sun, wind, cobbles and mountain cols to remind us what a beautiful sport this is.

PS - be sure to check out Part 1 from the link on their page

above photo copyright: Bogdan Cristel/REUTERS via

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Rouge Report: Mano-a-Mano

And the winner is...
Italy's Adriano Malori, 170th, trailing in Le Tour de France by 4h 27m and 3 secs.

The TT, they call it the race-of-truth. Just you and your bike against the clock, and Saturday, for 52 km from Bordeaux to Pauillac, you shared it with the wind. After surviving three weeks, including one of the Tour's toughest final weeks in the Pyrenees it finally came down to this, the Individual Time Trial.

Mano-a-mano, the race was on the line, one man would walk away victorious, the other only his family and friends would remember the pain and suffering - after 3,642 kilometers the 2010 Lanterne Rouge had come down to this.

Unfortunately for Adriano, a respectable young time trialist with a young palmares full of U23 ITT victories, a bright future and despite trailing the human-rocket Fabian Cancellara by less than seven minutes as well as topping perennial TT strongmen like Andreas Klöden
, Christophe Moreau, Michael Rogers, Jens Voigt, and Cadel Evans, he was up against more than a mere mortal Lanterne Rouge contender, it was the three-time former German National and 2008 UCI ITT Champion Bert Grabsch - he was going to need a tailwind and "no chain", and maybe one of those mysterious motors to hold his 2 minute 1 second "lead" out of the Lanterne Rouge.

It was never to be.
Bert Grabsch, by virtue of the Lanterne Rouge position, was the first rider out of the gate at 10:15 Saturday morning in Bordeaux for the 19th stage. With light winds and his last shot at stage glory dangling like a bottle of fine Bordeaux Rouge 52 kms west along the Garonne River in Pauillac. Grabsch st0pped the clock in a blistering time that would hold up for several hours until HTC-Columbia teammate Tony Martin blew it away by a minute and a half, only to see that time fall to Cancellara.

In the end 11 riders finished within 30 minutes of the Lanterne Rouge. For much of the three weeks several of these guys were fighting, suffering, dangling near the back, and occasionally off the back, precariously close to time cut-offs and the sweeping sounds of the voiture balai as it low geared its way up hill and down dale. But this year many of the autobusers were pedaling broken, battered and bruised. For anyone who has seen a pro bike race in Europe you know that in the mini-convoy that trails the race an ambulance accompanies the broom wagon; for many riders dreaming of Paris in 2010 it must have been an ominously goolish sight many days.

How it all shook out - and names to watch next year:

159 Brett Lancaster (Aus) Cervelo Test Team 3:57:00
160 Dimitri Champion (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 3:59:45
161 Marcus Burghardt (Ger) BMC Racing Team 4:00:47
162 Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 4:01:02
163 Jeremy Hunt (GBr) Cervelo Test Team 4:02:21
164 Daniel Lloyd (GBr) Cervelo Test Team 4:02:59
165 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Team Katusha 4:08:28
166 Mirco Lorenzetto (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini 4:09:12
167 Anthony Roux (Fra) Française des Jeux 4:13:37
168 Andreas Klier (Ger) Cervelo Test Team 4:17:16
169 Bert Grabsch (Ger) Team HTC - Columbia 4:23:01
170 Adriano Malori (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini 4:27:03

Friday, July 23, 2010

Rouge Report: Grabsch looks for a good red in Bordeaux

Rumor has it Bert Grabsch quickly crossed the line today, hugged Mark Cavendish a quick congrats, then slipped past the team bus and jumped into a taxi. He was seen after Stage 18 visiting caves in Bordeaux and questioning shop owners for an appropriate 75 year old red to celebrate Germany's capture of the Tour's Lanterne Rouge.

I've been searching through this pile of books, old newspaper clipings and web-articles I got assemble for research trying to come up with odds for the current Lanterne Rouge leader Grabsch of HTC-Columbia losing his grip on the little lantern - it doesn't look good - although 2:01 could be lost a bad wheel change.

169 Adriano Malori (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini 4:24:55
170 Bert Grabsch (Ger) Team HTC - Columbia 4:26:56

despite Adriano Malori's mysterious move today to lose nearly a minute and a half, Bert was keeping an eye out and did his job in the Cavendish leadout train just long enough to slip off and go milling about for Malori.

So it really comes down to how bad Malori wants this thing for Italy? Could we see the possibility of a track-stand between Bert and Adriano akin to that of Andy vs Alberto a few stages back on the slopes of Ax-3 Domaines
? Or does Grabsch get lost in his search of red in the more than 8,500 producers or châteaux scattered about the Bordeaux?

Once again the Lanterne Rouge race is complicated by opportunity and tradition. Wasn't it a lot easier last year when we had Kenny van Hummel just happy to suffer all the way to Paris and dine on his handlebars?

PS - I have to note that while Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise were seen all over the finishing area photo opp'ing it with Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador, even stage winner Mark Cavendish, not one hint was provided that they sought out the Lanterne Rouge. Although given the current state of Cruise's career, he may have desperately avoid showing any interest in others finishing last.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

"it was a day to enjoy being on the bike"

I think someone once wrote - and entire book in fact - "It's not about the bike"
Actually, sometimes, that's exactly what it's about.
That's all its about.

"For some it was crazy, for others it was stupid, and others a day of courage and bravery. For me, it was a day to enjoy being on the bike."

The Journey is the Thing

The Journey is the Thing from Tony Blazejack on Vimeo.

Rouge Report: Surviving the Assassins

Legend has it - covered in mud and sweat, and laboring to push his bike up the steep goat-track, he spat, "Assassins"*, at Tour officials. That was eventual 1910 Tour winner Octave Lapize cresting the summit 15 minutes behind first summit winner Gustave Garrigou. Perhaps Lapize's exclamation was really into the thin air at 2115 meters and directed at the silent geant Col du Tourmalet piercing the sky above the surrounding Pyrenees.

Today the only thing piercing the summit's thin air was Andy Schleck's outstretched fist as he crossed the line a wheel length ahead Alberto Contador. The rest of the peloton are still pedaling squares up the foggy face of the mountain's west slope - coming across the line in dribble and drabs. It will be nearly an hour before we know on whom the red light shines in the race for the Lanterne Rouge. Rumor has it that HTC-Columbia has formed a Lanterne Rouge Leadout Train to insure Bert Grabsch get's home under the time cut-off.


Current Lanterne Rouge Bert Grabsch survived Tuesday's "Circle of Death" so took refuge in the company of a trio of his fellow HTC-Columbia riders to seek safety from any final Tourmalet assassins and finished 31:46 back on the day, enough to pry open his rest day margin in the race for rouge by an additional minute and a half over Adriano Malori. With little more than a few speed bumps worth of elevation on the flatish road Friday north to Bordeaux, it looks like we have a two man race for the little lantern with the German rider setting up a 75 year celebratory return to rouge. My only concern is Grabsch forms part of HTC's leadout train for the Manx missile and one twitch of wheels and it could be an Italian celebration in Paris. Here's where the race sits:
169Anthony Roux (Fra) Française des Jeux4:14:11
170Adriano Malori (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini4:23:14
171Bert Grabsch (Ger) Team HTC - Columbia4:26:56

(Some report the word was actually "Murderers".)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tour History and the Chain of Events

I'm not a big fan of Indy car racing, it's the noise, but I remember a race where the famous guy leading, like Mario Andretti or someone, only had a couple laps to go and was pushing the limits by not stopping for fuel - sure enough he ran out with a lap or so to go and lost.

Perhaps my favorite was the horse race where the jockey fell off because the saddle buckle failed, but the horse continued to run and won, but they didn't.

In every sport the clock keeps ticking, the race continues, the contest races on. I don't know who invented sports, any kind, but I'm certain the first contest had rules, well, maybe just one rule to start. I'm sure those earliest titanic battles, before the media hype and screaming fans and instant replay went something like - I can outrun you to that tree... ready...go! or maybe, I can throw my spear farther than you... see, did it.

The curious thing is we did invent rules. We got intrigued by them, then finally obsessed by them. Often, the more rules the better. They invested legitimacy in event via the person or group that could not only play the game, survive the ordeal, conquer the challenge, but could do so "within" the rules.

What's interesting is we really hate the rules - unless of course they help us, or our team, or our "guy." That's why we classify and subcatagorize the rules such as, "ethical rules", and "moral rules", and of course rules of "letter" and those of "spirit", because the actual rules don't always fit us, our team, our guy. Bicycle racing is a simple sport with lots of rules (only outnumbered by the number of banned substances a rider can't use), especially the Tour de France. And this edition, 2010, has been one for both the history books and the rule books.

Of course interpreting the rules is why we have officials, media, fans, and on rare occasion politicians - and maybe most importantly blogs, so we can rant and babble, over analyze, and debate, until the race is finally settled on the roads, the only place it will ever really matter.

What makes bicycle racing more interesting than most sports to me is the marriage of man and machine. Both can triumph and both can fail. Like man, machines aren't perfect and occasionally have mechanicals. Mechanicals are as much a part of cycling as tired legs and exhausted lungs. To quote Andy Schleck on the Tour's rest day, "the Tour is not going to be decided by a chain slipping.” I agree, but I think he meant to say "This Tour." If he had checked the history books, even as recent as his dad's time riding for Eddy Merckx, he would know mechanicals have decided Tours.

There have been dozens. The most famous of these mechanicals has been widely retold, with accuarcy and lore, about Eugene Christophe who had to walk and run for 14km down the Col du Tourmalet's east slope to the village of Ste. Marie-de-Campan (which was at the 55km point on Tuesday’s stage 16 westward route), where he found a blacksmith’s forge and took four hours to effect the repair before continuing. What most people don't know is he repeated this fork faux pas in 1919 while in yellow with one stage remaining - holding a mountainous lead of 28 minutes disaster struck on Stage 14 with over 160 km of cobbles (yes, this year's precarious pavés only totaled 13.2 km... hmmm, so much for history?) and Christophe lost nearly two and a half hours fixing his own forks. BTW... no one waited for the yellow jersey.

Ask past pros what their thoughts are when mechanicals befall your competitors...

"At my time, when others had mechanical problems, we would just attack," said Laurent Fignon, a Tour winner in 1983 and 1984.

"I would have given Contador a rollicking if he had waited for Schleck. That's the race," said Frenchman Jean-Francois Bernard, third in the 1987, a pundit for daily newspaper L'Equipe's website.
Stopping vs not stopping? The Tour is a bicycle race - game on. But it's also the Tour and the Tour has always been more than a race. It's human drama on the greater landscape of life, and in that drama you are judged ultimately not by what you win, or lose, but the class and character you show when life tosses you a mechanical.

Again from today's rest day interview Schleck said, “Yesterday Alberto spoke with me, and he apologized,... He said (attacking the race leader during a mechanical problem) was the wrong decision, but it’s hard to make a decision in these moments. I’m not angry anymore. That case is closed for me, and it should be for other people as well. I don’t like it when fans boo at Alberto, and yesterday I told every TV station that I spoke with that to get the message across. He’s a big champion, and for me, the case is closed. End of story.”

I think Andy Schleck's story is just being written, I think its hero will be one we admire for his character. It will be a class-ic.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rouge Report: "The Circle of Death"

Somewhere between a few hundred million and 6.3 billion of us populating our planet most humans lost our primordial priority - contesting for survival. Real survival, the kind where for example, your daily bread comes at the risky price of challenging large beasts which could turn the table and eat you. Survivors were immortalized on cave walls and in totems, they were heroes. Hardwired in us is the need to face deathly demons, survive the ordeal, so we invented sports and then imagined ridiculous challenges - Le Tour de France.

Exactly one hundred years ago now, director Henri Desgrange dispatched his trusted assistant Alphonse Steinès to determine the passabilty, better survivability, of sending single-sprocket riders over the spine of the Pyrenees. Steinès' liberally positive report (after nearly being lost in the snow) concocted an experiment that would be tested two months later on the Herculean Stage 10 of the 1910 Tour de France: four brutal climbs, peaking with the first ascent of the Col du Peyresourde (1569m), the Col d'Aspin (1489m), the Col du Tourmalet(2115m), and the Col d'Aubisque(1710m). A Tour legend was born. To the delight of Director Desgrange, the print press proved contributing accomplices to the legend by naming the new route that grueling day in the Pyrenees “The Circle of Death”, where hopes of a Tour de France victory go to die (Thursday that fate will be decided for Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador.)

A Circle of Death? Why?

In Desgrange's own words, "The ideal Tour would be a Tour in which only one rider survives the ordeal."

That ordeal, first for
Alphonse Steinès, included the now famous Col du Tourmalet, generally capped by cold and mist, crowning the Circle of Death. Ordeals of the Tourmalet pepper Tour lore. One story goes - arriving at the summit in 1947 Jean-Apo Lazaridès climbed off to wait for the others for fearing his 'ordeal' would include the challenge of Pyrenean bears. On the day I rode the Circle death had overtaken a local horse and vultures haunted the roadside scene - definitely inspiring this rider to pick up the pedal revs - cyclists are not the only ones challenged by the Circle of Death.

To be fair even generally uncompassionate Desgrange was apprehensive about the mountainous experiment; as a precaution, to protect perception of his race, he created a vehicle to rescue victims of the Circle and, in an extremely rare show of generosity, even allowed them to start the next stage, penalized of course. That vehicle was the voiture balai - Death's chariot was born - the broom wagon.

The Circle of Death wasn't quite as hungry today as in years past, but it did have an appetite, for two riders the journey was pockmarked by 'DNF'. For many in the peloton the Circle was more akin to the Bermuda Triangle; over 23 minutes adrift Sylvain Chavanel, Michael Rogers and Cadel Evans, all but vanished from camera view, leaving commentators to question if they had DNF'd.

One rider soared away from the mountains and apparently out of the Lanterne Rouge race, RadioShack's Dmitriy Muravyev, who once was considered a serious challenger for rouge. Going into the rest day in Pau things aren't sewn up:
159 David Millar (GBr) Garmin - Transitions 3:25:22
160 Nicki Sörensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank 3:26:42
161 Dimitri Champion (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 3:27:19
162 Brett Lancaster (Aus) Cervelo Test Team 3:27:22
163 Daniel Lloyd (GBr) Cervelo Test Team 3:27:48
164 Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 3:29:15
165 Jeremy Hunt (GBr) Cervelo Test Team 3:30:01
166 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Team Katusha 3:32:26
167 Mirco Lorenzetto (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini 3:33:16
168 Andreas Klier (Ger) Cervelo Test Team 3:38:41
169 Marcus Burghardt (Ger) BMC Racing Team 3:42:51
170 Anthony Roux (Fra) Française des Jeux 3:43:02
171 Adriano Malori (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini 3:53:09
172 Bert Grabsch (Ger) Team HTC - Columbia 3:55:10


Jens Voigt, crashed again today, He was on the descent of the Col de Peyresourde, when he suffered a front tire blowout, out the window went his control and down he crashed at high speed.

Fortunately he eluded the Circle of Death chariot, or worse, by avoiding a repeat of the horrific injuries he suffered during last year's race when he landed on his face and head at top speed.

After waving away the help of race assistants in the broom wagon, Jens battled on to finish the stage with the autobus - and beat the time cut-off. After wards he told reporters, "I'm doing 70 kilometers an hour on the first descent when my front tire explodes," continuing with characteristic good humor, "Before I hit the asphalt I actually manage to think that this is going to hurt. Both knees, elbows, hands, shoulders and the entire left side of my body were severely hurt." Adding, "My ribs are hurting but hey, broken ribs are overrated anyway. Fortunately, I didn't land on my face this time and I'm still alive."

Regarding a broom wagon ride Jens said, "I was offered a ride on the truck that picks up abandoned riders but I'm not going to quit another Tour de France. Now, there's a rest day and Paris is not that far away."