Archive | January, 2006

Pro Cycling News – Boonen Takes Two at Tour of Qatar, Lance Responds to Bode

31 Jan

You know what happens when you wake up at a reasonable hour? You miss reporting on Stage 1 of the Tour of Qatar, which is one of my favorite training races, as it visits such exotic locations as “Khalifa Stadium” and “Camel Race Track”. Interesting though it may be, the result was no surpise, as Tom Boonen took a field sprint. Blackout Boonen did the same thing again today (and, because I slept in, I can report on it), he claims it was more difficult this time, due to road conditions. This makes, what, five in a row for the World Champ, who has yet to lose since slipping on those rainbow stripes? I’m not really sure how, but it seems this Pez reporter was watching the action. If you really want to see it, you can probably catch the highlights later on Cycling.TV (where last year’s race is currently available for your viewing pleasure).

A couple of non-racing stories to keep you posted on, too. On his weekly Sirius Satellite Radio broadcast (which has apparently been in reruns for a while), Lance Armstrong responded to Bode Miller’s accusations of drug use by telling the ’05 World Cup Skiing Champ “kiss my white ass“, though the somewhat more diplomatic response of “Who the hell is Bode Miller?” was also offered. The long-awaited Unibet.com team presentation has gone down, and the suprise of the day was Frank Vandenbroucke on hand, in shape and sporting a stylishly understated mullet. Though Brochard’s legendary coif has been scaled back, the haircut has undergone something of a renaissance, employed currently by riders young and old alike. Oh, and the Saunier Duval news train keeps on a-rollin’. Must…buy…Scott Bikes…and…Prodir Pens.

Pro Cycling News – 'Cross Worlds, Team Presentations, Fat Jokes

30 Jan

Arrrg…So much news for me to re-report. And all because I was lazy and didn’t post yesterday. I shall begin with ‘Cross Worlds (which I choose to write without the apostrophe – I see “Worlds” as a plural, short form of “World Championships”, VeloNews apparently sees it as a possesive, I guess from “The World’s Championships”), where late-race mishaps felled favorites in both the women’s and men’s Elite races. Strangely, in each case, the country that lost a rider still went on win the overall title, with Marianne Vos of the Netherlands winning a two-up sprint after teammate Daphny van den Brand flatted, and Belgian Erwin Vervecken rolling home to the win after Sven Nys found himself sprawled across the frozen mud, and apparently pretty badly injured. (It’s hard to tell, probably because of the difference between Babelfish’s Dutch Dutch and Het Laatste Nieuws‘ Flemmish Dutch.) The Belgian was thus unable to continue his streak of winning World Titles after having his wife pose provocatively in a popular magazine.

Elsewhere in Europe, team presentations continued unabated. Saunier Duval, maintaining their recent media prominence, announced at its presentation that it was riding not only for its sponsors, but also to advance the cause of human rights. It’s a noble end, and unsuprising, considering the unkempt hippie hairstyle of star rider Gilberto Simoni (who also apparently has no clue how to bend the brim of a baseball cap correctly). Also unveiling themselves to the media today was Liquigas, apparently bent on turning the clock back to 1998 with this fully alumnium pro bike, with unsanded, seagull-dropping welds and everything. Though actual riders probably won’t care, Competitve Cyclist would not approve. Remaining in Italy, Continental Tour squads Miche and LPR pulled up the curtains on their ’06 seasons today, reinforcing Velochimp’s assertion that Black is the new Blue. And though I know fat jokes are passé, it is quite amusing to see how decidedly unexcited Ms. Guerciotti looks to be supporing Dario Pieri in this photo.

Speaking of fat jokes, Eddy Merckx commented recently (BTW – what’s wrong with that headline?) that he believes Jan Ullrich will win the ’06 Tour pretty easily. The five-time Tour winner and all-time great credits the German specifically for using the Giro to warm up for the Tour. I however, am not so certain Ulle’s little vacation to the Land of Flowers will turn out as planned; Italian continental squad Amore e Vita has landed new sponsor, one which could seriously set back the T-Mobile leader’s Tour prep. Then again, thin may no longer be in. According to RoadCycling.com, these riders apparently “radiate” confidence; most folks I talked to just seemed to think they looked fat. Underworld figures like Suge Knight and Tony Soprano have long used their physical size to intimidate their rivals – perhaps the trend is now carrying over into professional cycling?

Pro Cycling News – 'Cross Worlds, Team Camps, Comebacks

28 Jan

Man, I was so excited by yesterday’s racing. Such a letdown to have none today. There’s some ‘Cross Worlds results, but it’s just juniors and U23s. News of ‘Cross Worlds is the course is fast with a lot of stairs, which, if the U23 results are any indication, are something lacking from ‘cross courses in the USA and Zimbabwe. Beyond that, there is a report from CSC camp that makes things sound a lot rainier than they actually were. Heck, I’ve got space to fill, why not throw in these photos from FdJ’s training camp in Brittany. Sure, it’s over a month-and-a-half old, but check out that foliage; winter comes a lot later to Northern France than you might expect. It certainly seems much nicer than “the sun”, where Sean Kelly’s team plans to train this spring, apparently unaware that they’ll be burned alive. And, to finish off the team news on a domestic note, HealthNet is apparently going all out for the Tour of California.

Moving on to rider stories, Iban Mayo is planning a comeback. I was told by the Orbea rep for the shop I worked at this summer that his salary is pretty much paid for by the people of the Pays Vasco, so he instead might want to consider a tax refund. Scott, meanwhile, continues to use Chris Horner’s image to try and sell their bikes, despite the fact that he no longer rides for them, which is probably illegal in some way or other. Scott ought to focus on current Saunier riders, like Gibo Simoni, who uses this interview to draw the Saunier Duval media frenzy on for yet another day. Over at VeloNews, Mad Dog has made some cartoons about Tyler Hamilton’s current plight, which for some reason prompted him to write a foaming rant that is anything but (he also bungled the name of The Twilight Zone host Rod Sterling). And finally, I feel like if someone dresses up as nutty as this guy, you really gotta reward that effort and let him ride with the team.

Pro Cycling News – Boonen Wins Doha, Bode Accuses, Rujano out of Langkawi

27 Jan

Ah, nothing like the election of what the US government calls a a terrorist group to kick off the Middle Eastern racing season. World Champ Tom Boonen has picked up right where he left off, taking today’s GP Doha ahead of Robbie Hunter and Erik Zabel (though I’ve got no clue why the Flandrian did it wearing a Team España helmet). According the the CSC webpage, however, Stuart O’Grady totally should have won, but was denied only by a a broken chain. And if you think that’s a skeptical claim, check out Bode Miller’s latest, allegedly from a forthcoming issue of Rolling Stone:

“Right now, if you want to cheat, you can: Barry Bonds and those guys are just knowingly cheating, but there’s all sorts of loopholes. If you say it has to be ‘knowingly’, you do what Lance and all those guys do, where every morning their doctor gives them a box of pills and they don’t ask anything, they just take the pills.”

Despite syntax reminiscent of Ralph Wiggum, the quote is about doping, so, as I said yesterday (scroll to end of 2nd paragraph), sharks on a whale carcass. Never mind that The Bode presents no evidence to back up his claim, nor even exhibits so much as the most basic knowledge of how cyclists actually dope (he mentions a “box of pills”, when most effective cycling performance enhancers require you to poke yourself); if it bleeds, it leads, right guys?

And it’s a good thing the cycling media’s got this Bode story to kick around, too, because before it broke, everyone was running with nothing but dry-bread pieces. There’s this interview of Mick Rogers that anyone with passing knowledge of the Aussie’s carreer could guess his answers to, while in another shocker, Phonak, probably after hearing my derision (3rd paragraph) of their previous season objectives, said they now want to win the Tour de France. Meanwhile, pint-sized Columbian Jose Rujano is out of the Tour of Langkawi, ostensibly due to injury, but more likely out of fear of having to do naked squats. Ag2r, having picked up a new sponsor, wont have to worry about running out of “bread” anytime soon (yuk, yuk), and, finally, just when you thought it had run out of steam, the train of Saunier Duval stories rumbles on.

Pro Cycling News – I Bash the Media Some, News in 3rd Paragraph

26 Jan

Have I railed against the mainstream media recently? Well, allow me to do so. First – this headline. “Mentor young American riders”? Ol’ One-Nut is mentoring no one. It says right there he’s got a bloody contract, which would indicate he’s getting paid. Probably getting paid a whole lot. Mentors don’t get paid; consultants do. And “young American riders”? Where did the two-for-the-Euro hack that wrote this pull that out of? Again, the article specifically says he’ll be working with Team Discovery Channel, which has all of three Americans on it. And, at ages of 27, 32 and 32, none of them really qualify as “young” (for a cyclist), do they? Though I’m well aware of Armstrong’s history of philanthropy, I don’t think he needs to be given credit for “mentoring the young” when he’s simply doing his job. Honestly, I’d expect this sort of ignorace from the AP, but the French, who actually follow this sport, ought to know better.

Of course, the cycling-specific media isn’t so much better. At the Disco presentation, no one asked “Hey, Johan, how is your approach to the classics going to be ‘identical’ to previous years, when your primary classics weapon is now prepping for the tour?” This guy (scroll to “George Hincapie”) tried , but came away with the wonderfully paradoxical response that George is both “willing to go all the way” for the Tour and “not quite ready to give up” on the classics. Way to pin him down on an answer. It is good to see, though, that Velonews’ correspondent had time to interview Discovery Network President Bill Campbell, because, I, as a cycling fan, value deeply what some suit, who probably thinks Paolo Bettini is a type of jug wine, has to say. It’s like no one reporting on this sport is willing to risk breaking some balls, or even a sweat, asking tough questions. Unless, of course, it has something to do with doping; then it’s sharks on a whale carcass.

Eh, maybe I’m just angry. Team presentations (more Saunier Duval!) are laid back, joyous occasions, and such tough questions would probably be met with Alito-esq avoision. Why should these journalists go all aggro and alientate the riders and team management by asking tough questions? They’ll still get paid, right? Plus, they do provide some interesting training camp features, and even brief history lessons. And, if the teams themselves chronically aim low (defending second place in an unpaid competition, fabricated by the Monkey Tour?!), why should the media be any different? I mean, we can’t all have the grandiose goals of Tom Boonen, can we? And even then, a superhero like Blackout Boonen has to make some concessions; he’s left Roubaix out of his historic triple crown. Heck, even in the pursuit of dopers, probably the thing folks get worked up about most in this sport, cycling seems pretty chill.

Overcoming – Review

25 Jan

A stylistic look at CSC’s 2004 season. Directed by Tomas Gislason. Color, 105 minutes. (My apologies, but I simply cannot properly express my thoughts on this film in my typical criteria-driven format. I’ve just got way too much to say for informational bursts.)

I knew I was in for disappointment when I couldn’t change the aspect ratio; the film has been crammed from its original letterbox format into the 4:3 used by most TV sets, and pro riders simply do not need to look any skinner. I forgot that soon enough, though, when it became apparent that Overcoming really lacked a solid editorial or organizational structure. In the first 15 minutes, the viewer is bounced roughly from the Paris-Nice podium presentation, to the TdF prologue, to some sort of pain montage, to Bjarne Riis looking at catalogues, to the title sequence, to Jacob Piil losing a Tour stage, to a visual recap of Riis’ career, to Ivan Basso learning to swim, to more talking with Bjarne, to CSC training camp, and finally to Carlos Sastre talking about how many kids he’s going to have.

Now, all this jumping around and pace-changing might still have come off as bold, aggressive filmmaking had everything not been chained down with constant voiceover from Riis, camera work that wavers somewhere between impatient and claustrophobic, and tacky-looking narrative phrases that pop-up onto the screen. The viewer is taken to a great number of different and interesting locations but is never allowed to sample them outside the strangulating, overt control of director Gislason. We always have to look at everything too closely, or from obstructed angles, and though this could have been an intentional stylistic choice, I found it really irritating. Certainly, this difference in visual presentation alone makes any parallel to A Sunday in Hell (like the one WCP makes here) extremely tenuous; you might as well be comparing it to Breaking Away.

Aggravating these faults is a real lack of arc or story development. I’m aware that Overcoming is a documentary, but the aegis of reality film does not absolve a filmmaking team from creating a product that involves the viewer in its struggle. The film opens by talking about nine men working together as a team, but it never makes clear what exactly they are working for. Victory? Personal fulfillment? Survival? It’s up to the viewer to decipher, and Gislason has left us precious little in the way of clues. I’ll be charitable and assume he meant to imply that the team is a goal unto itself (though even that sounds ridiculous, as few of the movie’s scenes or sub-stories involve more than two riders at a time).

In terms of characters, I felt like I came out of Overcoming knowing less about the riders of Team CSC. Only Carlos Sastre and Ivan Basso get any real cinematic attention outside the epilogue, and despite attempts to make Basso the protagonist, battling heroically against the myriad of enemies (weather, mountains, media, Lance Armstrong) the Tour de France can provide, his director Riis simply dominates the film. Gislason cannot seem to go three minutes without cutting back to the bald Dane as he contemplates some quandary or other with the pessimistic reserve of a stereotypical norseman. It’s a shame, too, because in a more limited, string-pulling role, like say, Vito Corleone in The Godfather or Dr. Xavier in X2, Riis would excel. But his detachment and unflappability make him a dull center indeed.

Though the film is trying constantly for visceral poignance, its overproduction (overlapping pain-faces fading in and out over American Beauty knock-off piano riffs, constant digital zooms, washouts, and slow-motion that speeds up at irregular intervals) hamstrings it at every turn. Only in the epilogue, as legendary Italian Classics rider Michele Bartoli contemplates his immanent retirement, does the movie establish a natural enough rhythm to achieve a brief moment of emotional significance. Add to this maelstrom the worst English translation subtitles since “All Your Base Are Belong To Us” (some examples: “the yellow t-shirt” in reference to the Maillot Jaune, “already before” as a response to a question, and the recurring flubs: “to” for “too”, “biddance” for “bidons”,”mike” for “mic” etc.) and you’ve got a film that is as exhausting to watch as it is uncompelling to sit through.

The real disappointment strikes, though, when you realize how good this picture could have been. Watching the bonus disk drives home the fact that, before some seriously questionable editorial decisions turned it into 105 minutes of celluloid mediocrity, there was some seriously astounding footage here. Presented simply, without the frustrating alternation between introspection and bombast that plagues the feature film, the bonus featurettes (particularly “Carlife” and “Alpe d’Huez”) absolutely glow. The viewer is taken aback when the irrepressibly upbeat Jens Voigt shows flashes of real anger and sadness after German fans heckle him, and when Riis and Bobby Julich each reflexively blame the other for a freak crash that breaks Julich’s wrist. It’s the sort of spontaneous and subtle reaction that only documentary film can deliver, and its appearance is a stark contrast to the largely conjured emotionality of the theatrical feature.

I’m hoping that on a hard drive in a Danish basement somewhere, someone still has a complete collection of the hundreds of hours of raw digital video footage that this film was made from. Because, despite is glaring and infuriating flaws, Overcoming is only a level-headed production team away from becoming a film with real impact. Maybe in twenty years, another group of filmmakers will come along and take the visual presentation levels down a couple notches, cut back on the Bjarne content, wrap the scenes around a more developed narrative structure, give the viewer something to invest their emotions in, and then let the sport tell its own story. It’s the formula that turned a dusty April weekend into an undeniable classic; Lord only knows what it could do to the to the ’04 Tour de France and CSC’s run-up to it.

Final Thoughts: All that having been said, it’s not a bad movie, just not a great one. And what makes it annoying to watch on the couch makes it easier to sweat through on the trainer. Still, if I were given the choice, I’d borrow it from a friend instead of buying it.

Pro Cycling News – Simoni Still Talking, Team Presentations, Cancelled Races

25 Jan

The Saunier Duval media blitz (remember yesterday’s run on David Millar stories?) continues! First I thought it was just an American phenomenon (the team is somewhat notorious for giving token Americans one-year contracts), designed to sell pens, but now I see that it extends across the Atlantic. In this L’Equipe story we get a basic rundown of the team, including director Maxtin’s (I guess he’s a one name kinda guy) assesment that Gibo Simoni could be Lance’s successor. No, wait, don’t laugh yet; first, read this excerpt on Gibo from Spanish daily AS by way of Velo-Club:

“The champion of the future, according to Simoni, is Valverde, who has incredible class; more so than Cunego, who did not really impress him.”

I know that’s translated from Spanish to French to English, but come on; the only reason Simoni doesn’t appreciate the abilities of Cunego is because Gibo was too far back in the ’04 Giro to see them.

Then, of course, there’s the blitz of team presentations: I’m wondering if the lighting at the Discovery presentation was a conscious choice by Bruyneel to make the riders look potbellied and hungover, in order to fool the competition into complacency. And I don’t know what this Wiesenhof rider is thinking, saying “Hair length doesn’t play a major role in cycling performance” at his team presentation (scroll down). I’ve got two words for you, buddy: “eight seconds“. Last but not least is Ag2r’s presentation. As the latest entry into the seemingly doomed “Monkey Tour”, they would have normally taken precedence over Weisenhof, but the only thing of interest from their coming-out party was this cute new ride.

Finally today, a couple of Spanish races have been cancelled due primarily to funding concerns. Since they aren’t Monkey Tour events, and since each hopes to return in ’07, I don’t think too much fuss will be made, but Setmana Catalana was (according to Reuters, at least) a “classic”, and it’s sad to lose that kind of history. Sadder still, though, is this news (scroll way to the bottom) from (where else?) Texas. Seems an event promoter is using the fact that Tyler Hamilton will be competing as an incentive to draw racers. Now, as a person, I like Tyler (he tried give me a push in a hillclimb this spring), but as I’ve pondered before, why would you ever want to pay to get spanked by a convicted doper?

Bikes vs. The World: Round #6 – Dave Zabriskie vs. Zabriskie Point

24 Jan

It’s baaack! And you thought I had gotten sick of it. Today’s match-up: Utah’s own Dave Zabriskie vs. the 1970 counter-culture classic Zabriskie Point. Click here for a listing of the previous battles.

Category Bike Culture:
Dave Zabriskie
Pop Culture:
Zabriskie Point (1970)
Winner
Claim to Fame: Bicycle racer, ’04 US TT Champ, Fastest TT in TdF History, won stages in three straight Grand Tours “Daring” Hollywood cinema attempt to cash in on popularity of 20-something angst and European directors Dave; Point is hardly as memorable as its packaging declares
Directed By: Bjarne Riis, 1996 Tour Winner Michelangelo Antonioni, groundbreaking Italian neorealist, Oscar for lifetime acheievement, 1995 Point; you can tell who directed it just by wathcing. When I see DaveZ, sometimes I wonder…
Plagued By: Horrific crashes God-awful acting Dave; crashes will always happen, bad acting never should
Memorable Quote: “Rock and Roll, dude” (his only comment on winning a stage of the ’05 Giro) “Well, I’m willing to die, too…just not of boredom” (Mark, losing patience with student radicals meeting) Point; c’mon, that’s a sweet line, despite its shabby delivery
Endorses: First Endurance Innovative Racing Nutrients Somewhat simple-minded escapism from the conformity of “establishment” America Draw; I’m pretty disappointed (scroll to bottom) about both
Moment of Disbelief: When Dave somehow hung on to win Stage 11 of the ’04 Vuelta When Mark somehow manages to steal, and then successfully fly off in, a plane Dave; see, one of these things actually happened
Soundtrack By: Westside Connection (scroll to bottom), Guns ‘n Roses (search “Guns”) Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead Draw; and, Dave, the song is “Out Ta Get Me” and the line is “You won’t catch me/ I’m fµ¢&in’ innocent”
Dialogue Best Described As: Sparse Sparse Draw
Window of Cultural Relevance: Opening, though he’ll have a hard time keeping America interested without recovering from cancer Very small. If it had opened in 1965, it would have been huge, but being released in 1970, it closed almost before it began Dave; here’s to hoping for something awesome, man
Ends With: Only time will tell About 10 minutes of houses, TV sets and refrigerators exploding over and over again while Pink Floyd wails in the background Point; I have no idea what DZ’s demise will be like, but I imagine there’ll be fewer explosions

So it’s a 4-3 victory in favor of the CSC rider. Can’t say I’m surprised as I’ve never heard of anyone even mentioning Point outside a collegiate film class. Well, I guess CN did reference it (see link “Stage 11” above) once. But those guys seem to know everything. Dave Zabriskie, on the other hand, is mentioned all over the place, like, um, in bike magazines, and, uh, y’know, bike magazines. Ok, so they’re both pretty esoteric. But clearly, Dave Z is the better of the two.

Pro Cycling News – Millar Clean, Saunier Camp, Team Sean Kelly

24 Jan

Are you getting sick of reading AFP stories yet? It must be that someone is on vacation over there at VeloNews. Anyway, there’s plenty to expand on from the wire service story. For example, Millar states “There are a lot of idiots out there who think you can’t win anything without drugs, but we have to convince the young generation that this isn’t the case.” And it’s a very nice sentiment, but it ignores the factors that motivated Millar’s own drug use. The Scot admits here that he first began taking EPO simply because he “wasn’t going well” in 2001, years after he’d burst onto the scene, winning a TdF prologue and wearing the maillot jaune. The article goes on to describe how he cleaned up in 2002, but even after winning another Tour stage, when things got tough again, he went right back to drugs. Add to this some comments Millar made here, about his salary and wanting a “guaranteed” win at the ’03 Worlds, and it becomes clear that it wasn’t insecurity in his own abilities that drove Millar to cheat, but laziness and greed.

I respect deeply Millar’s decision to confess his drug use, but I think a spokesperson for “clean cycling” needs to be more up front about the reasons cyclists take drugs. Most pro riders who dope don’t do it because they feel they can’t compete without it; they, like Millar, want to make the wins come easier, and the hard times pass more quickly. There’s a famous anecdote that a journalist once convinced Jacques Anquetil and his Italian rival Felice Gimondi to do a relaitively unimportant spring race without using any drugs. After some convincing, the two agreed, and a few hours later they finished 1-2 in the race. So the journalist said “See? You guys can win, even withhout drugs. Are you going to race clean now?” To this, both riders responded “No, never again. It was awful. It took twice the effort to get our cadences up, and even then we were 4 or 5 kph slower than we normally go.”

But what do I know? I’ve never used performance-enhancing drugs and I’m not particularly good at riding, either, so I have precious little expertise in this area. Maybe a better reason for Millar not be a spokesman for clean cycling is his reportedly dirty mouth (search “sailor”). And, really, does “clean cycling” even need a sponsor? It’s already got Brad McGee (scroll to “McGee comes down”), and even then, some convicted dopers are still doing some positive things. Heck, even Sean Kelly, who recently lent his name to the premier Irish cycling squad, was busted twice at the dope control during his career. So why the rush be the example for drug-free riding, Dave? Why not try and take up Jalabert’s mantle, and become the example of professional cycling in general? Something tells me, it’s because you have trouble responding to setbacks and criticism.

Pro Cycling News – '07 Tour Departs London, T-Mobile's '06 Team

24 Jan

It’s a slow day. Everyone else is leading off with the T-Mobile Tour selections, but I will be different and slightly ironical (yeah, that is a word) by linking to the ’07 London Tour Departure on the T-Mobile website. Besides, what’s the big news about T-Mobile not selecting riders with a proven record of success at the TdF? Oh, I get it: the news isn’t that Giuseppe Guerini (two stage wins, inlcuding Alpe d’Huez) and Oscar Sevilla (3rd overall in ’01) haven’t been selected, it’s that they haven’t been dinged. In other team news, Caisee/Balears has finally been presented. But no mention is made of the two-jersey system I was so excited about earlier. I would have asked about it if I had been on hand, but, for some reason, I wasn’t invited.

What else have I got for you? Well, it seems some Dutch dudes (who else, really?) have up and decided that it would be a grand idea to have a bike race from Paris to Dakar. The surprisingly exhaustive article points out that this would be a bike race based on a car race based on a bike race, which is really more levels of reflexivity that I care to deal with without being paid. But if you’ve got 6,000 clams and 10 weeks to burn, why the heck not? Oh, and Cedric Vassuer, a former maillot jaune and implicated doper (never charged) seems to have surprised a French interviewer by pointing out that, no, being the only Frenchman on the Quick.Step squad will not guarantee him selection to the Tour de France. Better make sure not to tell that to Matt Wilson (scroll to “Wilson unlikely”).