Archive | May, 2006

The '06 Giro – Not Exactly One for the Ages

31 May

So the ’06 Giro is finally over. And thank fµ¢&ing God. Sure, the seven years of bad Tour luck in the form of Lance Armstrong (brought on, I’m told, by Pantani breaking his Coke mirror) delivered more than their fair share of dull Grand Tours. But now, with the Texan retired, to have the light at the end of the tunnel turn out to be an oncoming Ivan Basso? Not what I wanted to see. Say what you will about the Armstrong Tours, but at least they had subplots – some nice duels for the Green Jersey, Cipo’ racking up more stage wins and fines in a week than most riders see in a career, Team T-Meltdown, and that whole Simeoni thing. It may have been boring, but it was never dull.

This year’s Giro, on the other hand, was kind of like reading a novelized version of Fantasia: pretty to watch, mind-numbing to think about. What was the big story? Basso flattening the field? Jan Ullirch winning a TT? Yawn. There was that ongoing Spanish drug bust, an interesting story in it’s own right, but it’s impact on the Giro appears to be limited to one very predictable source (what is it with cyclists and txt messaging, anyway?). There was that whole money scandal, too, I suppose, but when you get right down to it, it’s just dumb. I mean think about it – assuming Basso did offer 10,000 Euros for a stage win, if Simoni had accepted the offer, how exactly would the CSC rider collect the charge? I’m pretty sure missing payments on this sort of thing doesn’t show up a on a credit report.

In recent years, the Giro and Vuelta have kind of shouldered the load for the Tour de France, reminding us exactly how compelling Grand Tour stage races can be. So a drab Giro could be a good sign for July, an indicator that the Tour is finally coming to the front to take its pull against the headwind of monotony. But I doubt it. Bjarne Riis doubts it. Bob Roll disagrees with us (it’s under “Blogke”), but he also thinks his site looks good. I can’t say I have any empirical evidence for my sensation of forboding, as Floyd Landis (Cali, Paris-Nice, Georgia) and Valverde (Fleche, Liege) have proven themselves worthy adversaries to il Terrible, while Leipheimer and Vinokourov will no doubt pen Letters of Intent for the Champs-Elysees this weekend at the Dauphine. Here’s to a bona fide GC battle later this year.

The Race to Disgrace Part II: Tailwind Strikes Back

26 May

This isn’t a post so much as an update to some previous criticisms I made about Discovery Channel’s harebrained Race to Replace contest.

Much has happened since I first posted on the topic in April, including Joe Lindsey and TDFBlog expanding on (“ripping off”) my original sentiments, but today, word finally arrived in my inbox as to how exactly this disaster of promotion will go down (all quotes following are from this link at the offical Race to Replace page).

Let’s begin with the basics:

1. OVERVIEW: The Race2Replace Contest provides an opportunity for cyclists to compete in a 10 lap/25 mile race for a chance to earn a slot on the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team to race in the Time Trial Event at the US Pro Championships on September 1, 2006, in Greenville, SC.

So this negates the “Fred taking out the field” or “parade lap” scenarios. Any chump can compete in a TT, though the honor is usually reserved for more deserving (second image) candidates. So it’s only appropriate to make this qualifier a Time Trial, then. Should be cheap to run, right?

3. ENTRY FEE: An entry fee of $150.00 must be paid by major credit card at time of registration. Entry fees are non-refundable and non-transferable. Net proceeds will benefit the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the Indiana University Cancer Center

…and the major credit card companies. Seriously, though, I’m psyched that the race entry fee is prohibitively high; all charity events should be so giving.

4. REGISTRATION: Registration begins at 12:01 AM Eastern Time (“ET”) on May 16, 2006 and ends at 11:59 PM ET on July 31, 2006, or when 4,000 contestants have registered, whichever occurs first.

And with 4,000 entries, this is a charity everyone can contribute to! Let’s see, 4,000 riders, divided by 8 fields = 500 racers per field. Sounds safe; safer still when you apply a bell curve based on US population demographics and realize that the biggest fields may be nearly twice that size. Of course, that won’t be an issue since this is a time trial, right?

5. MASS START FORMAT: Cyclists race against the clock for time in a mass start format. Groups of racers will go off at intervals throughout the six-hour event; other riders will be on the track at the same time.

“[A]gainst the clock for time in a mass start format.” WTF? I mean, seriously – this “Lance replacer” is only going to race a TT, but the organizers set things up to all but guarantee a sprint finish, along with massive amounts of bloody, debilitating crashes. I sure hope someone gets this sh!tshow on film.

6. RACE TIMINGS: Contestants will be given electronic timing devices that will post their actual time at the completion of the ten laps.

Timing chips? In a freakin’ mass start race? As I’ve noted before, this is a great way to make it so the first guy across the line doesn’t actually win the event. I refuse the believe the race organizers aren’t aware of this.

7. WINNER DETERMINATION AND PRIZES: There will be eight Category Winners (one for each category: Men 18-24, Men 25-34, Men 35-49, Men 50 and older, Women 18-24, Women 25-34, Women 35-49, and Women 50 and older) based solely on best time for the 10 laps. The cyclist who achieves the fastest time overall will be named the Grand Prize winner.

So there you have it. Aside from the fact that this downright nifty format should make for some interested field-overtaking-field scenarios (but on a course as long as Indy, I’m sure that’ll never happen…), it means that if you aren’t aged 25-34 and the proud owner of a twig and berries, you might as well not show up. Wonder why Discovery bothered to put a self-selecting “Category” field on the registration page? Hopefully, they’ll use it to pare down field sizes a bit.

Contestants must not wear any clothing, carry any branding, or adopt any team name, that is considered by the Race Organizers or IMS to be indecent, abusive, defamatory or critical of any person or organization, which contains any political statement or indicates any political affiliation, or which promotes the name, products or services of any person or organization which competes with the Race Organizers or IMS in any part of the world.

So I’d read that to mean “anyone not wearing single color (other than red, which is a Socialist political statement), logo-free jersey, or a Discovery Channel Team kit is immediately disqualified”.

And that’s it. So, unless there’s something in the “Cycling Rules & Safety Guidelines and Track Etiquette” guide that each entrant recieves, looks like bike design is completely unresricted. My advice would be to call up Graham Obree and see if he has any of these kicking around the garage. It’ll be tough to handle in a pack of 500, but you’ll get used to it, I’m sure.

In all honesty, this announcement from the sponsors and organizers of the Race to Replace confirms my worst and most deep-seated fears about the event. At best, it’ll be a feel-good farce, crowning some preselected pro rider (the rules make no prohibitionary statements against professionals) and at worst, it will be a complete and utter circus of mangled bikes, scortched flesh and shattered dreams that will spawn countless cautionary anecdotes for worrywart mothers to pass amongst themselves like drunk coeds at a frat house, thus ensuring that an entire generation of Americans is raised without ever throwing their leg over a road bike.

Nobody Rages Anymore

25 May

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

When this year’s Giro course was announced, I was pretty freakin’ psyched. I mean, an opening week on the on the cobbles and bergs of Belgium, some seriously rugged mountain-top finishes, and, mirable visu, a final day split-stage that looked potentially race-changing (uphill TT) without being unduly demanding (120k total) for the riders. What an excellent backdrop upon which to cast what has been the most exciting grand tour in recent years.

Sadly, though, there was resistance from day one, as Petacchi whined about a lack of “sprinters’ stages”, and even the irrepressible Jens Voight (whose epic conditions mantra is “Excellent! Others less motivated!”) bristled at the idea of race organizers foisting a split-stage upon the peloton in a modern Grand Tour. As the race date grew closer, Giro organizers RCS caved to pressure from the riders’ union and the UCI, and cut the Ghisallo time trial, and then yesterday, despite massive efforts to properly bowdlerize the final climb to Kronplatz, organizers chopped the brutal last muddy pitches from the race route, further proving that in cycling, nobody rages anymore.

Now, I’m not saying that the shortening of yesterday’s stage had no justification- unquestionably, it saved the riders tons of pain and everyone else tons of hassle – but think back to the stage before last, when everyone took a moment to remember Charly Gaul’s epic ride up that same hill half-a-century earlier. When they climb the Plan de Corones 50 years from now, think they’re gonna look back and say “remember Piepoli’s win here in aught-six? When the organizers shortened the course due to bad road conditions? Man, that was awesome.” Hard races in abominable conditions are what makes cycling great. And lest you claim such epic rides are relics of a bygone age, consider Andy Hampsten’s peformance on Passo Gavia in 1988, a date I consider well within the bounds of cycling’s “modern era”.

It should be noted it’s not a no-holds-barred return to the sepia-toned days of split-stages, with riders going hell for leather ’til they dropped lifeless at the side of the road, that I’m advocating here. I’d just like to see the race organizers take some risks and shake things up every now and then. It’s a great thing if done correctly. Tour of Flanders’ Koppenberg climb was axed from the race course for over a decade, having been deemed “a lottery from the past”. But who wasn’t glued the screen this past April, as a pack of race favorites scrambled up it cleat-on-cobble to chase Tom Boonen down? And Armstrong’s heart-stopping cross-country dive on Stage 9 of the ’03 Tour would have never happened had organizers cut the stage off early due to the melting tarmac.

Wha gives me additional pause is that frequently-occuring entropic events, such as chance mechanicals and idiot tifosi, tend to strike one rider unfairly, yet are shrugged off as just “part of the sport”. At the same time, universally chaotic occurances, which spoon out roughly equal disadvantage to all parties (things like, oh, I dunno, ugly weather, or two races in a day) are avoided like the plague. Its curiousity is only furthered by the fact that, historically speaking, a rider’s ability to conquer this vilified broad-spectrum adversity is what seperates (Merckx v. Ocana in the ’71 Tour, Armstrong v. Ullrich in ’03) the truly great from the merely good.

Personally, as both a spectator and an amateur racer, I love the fact that the potential for immesurable chaos comes part and parcel with a race dossard, be it something as mundane as a wind shift or surreal as a snowstorm. In many ways, the whole sport of cycling is a testament to humanity’s futile and ever-running battle against the Second Law of Thermodynamics; why must race organizers belittle that conflict by robbing our doomed heroes of a sufficiently epic adversary?

Dumb it Down to Spice it Up

22 May

Y’know what? This Giro would be a damned interesting race if it weren’t for a certain CSC rider all Lance-ing up the GC race. I mean, think about it – you’d have Jose Gutierrez about two minutes up on Savoldelli, who would in turn be 2-3 minutes up on like 5 different guys. Gutierrez has never been anywhere near the level he’s at now; would he crack like Nozal at the ’03 Vuelta, or go on to triumph like Cunego at the ’04 Giro? And Paolo’s allergy problems would sound less like an excuse (though I don’t think il Falco is the type to make excuses) and more like the promise of some exciting racing to come. I know few remaining stages are tough, but with two of the most prolific climbers gone, this race is starting to feel as finished as the ’02 Tour.

What’s that? You don’t believe me when I say that removing the lead contenders will make for a more exciting event? Just look at the Giro points competition, or the results from today’s stage – each “sprinters’ stage” is anyone’s race to win, and if Savoldelli does come around in the final week, he could end up taking home the “sprinters’ jersey”! Of course, the thrill is deadened somewhat by the knowledge that it’s just a bunch of b-listers out there desperately trying to make hay while the sun shines, but c’mon, you all enjoy watching “American Idol”, right? For Anglophonic audiences, Giro-watching even carries over the constant blather of highfalutin Brits.

One last, unrelated item today (lunch blogging limits my research capabilities) – Scott Sunderland attempted to score some points with Cervelo by hocking their bikes in his diary entry. I could point out how ludicrous it is to simply add “lead weights” to the fame instead of puting those 200 free grams to good use, or I could criticize him for paraphrasing Tour magazine’s article without listing any data. But what really hit me was his comment about “smooth Italian roads”. Mr. Sunderland better hope Stuart O’Grady doesn’t read his online diary, or, for that matter, Bjarne Riis; if this mess were two days off, and my assistant DS called Italian roads “smooth”, I’d fire him. Granted, things have improved a bit since that photo was taken, but lest we forget Angliru ’02 and Oslo ’93, steep grades, fresh pavement and frequent rains do little to improve cycling conditions.

In a Chat Room Somewhere in Tuscany…

18 May

ILuvBratwurst: (this works best with an Arnold voice) Ha! I destroyed those puny little weaklings and won the stage. That will teach people to call me fat.
BassoNova77: Uh, yeah, Jan. Nice work. Keep it up.
ILuvBratwurst: I know, I know. I am incredible…wait a minute, are you being sarcastic?
BassoNova77: Maaaaaaybe
ILuvBratwurst: Are you not scared of my powerful muscles, puny Ivan? I destroyed you today. Just wait for the Tour, then I will really make killings on you.
BassoNova77: Let’s ignore the wind for now, and assume that the Tour TT is as pathtic as today’s stage (which is difficult to imagine, given that it had all of four corners and ran donwhill); you still only put 28 seconds on me.
ILuvBratwurst: So? Every Second Counts…did you not read the book?
BassoNova77: Actually, no. I got through about 30 pages before I had to start skipping from bike racing section to bike racing section.
ILuvBratwurst: Ja, it was terrible…
BassoNova77: Anyway Jan – where did today’s win put you on GC? Top 10?
ILuvBratwurst: No…
BassoNova77: Top 20?
ILuvBratwurst: Ja, something like that…
BassoNova77: Oh wait, I have the results sheet right here, and you are now…44th. At only 18 minutes back. So all you need is a TdF with 36 time trials and you’re all set.
ILuvBratwurst: But I am still training
BassoNova77: Like you’ve been training the past two years?
ILuvBratwurst: …and I mutilated those other puny weaklings.
BassoNova77: Oooh, wow…yeah, you beat Rujano…Look, despite what Cyclingnews says, he’s not really a chrono guy – neither is Cunego. Remember back when Simoni said there were no climbers at the Tour? Well, what made him think that was the fact that there are no TT riders at the Giro.
ILuvBratwurst: What about my teammate Mick Rogers?
BassoNova77: Only good at Worlds.
ILuvBratwurst: Zabriskie won a Giro TT then beat Lance once during the TdF last year…
BassoNova77: Zabriskie ain’t here, is he?
ILuvBratwurst: Oh, it’s true. My big German heart is breaking.
BassoNova77: Please, this shouldn’t come as a shock to you. Lance said the last time he saw someone popping bubbly with a double-chin this big, it was Paul Giamatti at the 2004 Oscars afterparty.
ILuvBratwurst: At least my delicious, delicious food still loves me.
BassoNova77: And you love it right back, Jan.
ILuvBratwurst signed off
BassoNova77 signed off

Another Giro Rest Day

17 May

Many important things transpired over the past few days of racing, and I would have gone on witty little tangents about all of them. But, because I cannot open tabs in Internet Explorer, and because have I fried another logic board on my iBook just days after exhausting the warranty period, blogging has been all but impossible. Sadly, in the war of reality vs. biking, the former is a very frequent victor.

It’s sad, too, because I really wanted to make a gag about how fat Jan Ullrich only managed to keep up with the rest of the T-Mobile guys in the TTT because the stage ran downhill. (I ‘d have segued into questioning whether Rabobank’s Graeme Brown had luck problems or weight problems.) After Stage 7, I was ready to harass Jeff Jones for citing 2001 Fleche Wallonne winner Rik Verbrugghe as the “worst climber” in the break, as well as pounce on Velonews for calling Savoldelli the day’s “big winner”, for netting netted a mere 6 seconds at the line. But Rik, along with the runner-up of that 2001 Fleche Wallonne, Ivan Basso, made sure I didn’t have to, by putting it to the rest of the bunch on that day and the next, respectively.

But as my employment takes me into every more serious cube time (read: enough isolation to watch some live Giro coverage without getting fired), things are beginning to look up. Though a few headlines might suggest that this year’s Giro is a fait accompli, let’s not forget that Ivan Basso’s last stint in rosa ended in a rather spectacular fashion. Besides with The Kid and yet another Phonak surprise (yes, the implication is intended) less than two minutes back, I’ll venture out onto the greatest sporting cliche of our time and say that it ain’t over. And, believe me, if ever any race was ever not over this year’s Giro is it. And, should both Yogi and 7k of this prove wrong, thanks to the marvelously under-thought and over-stuffed ProTour schedule, there’s always other racing to be had.

A Lazy, Lazy Rest Day

11 May

Giro rest day? Already? Man, the world’s gone lazy. Not the riders, mind you – the journalists. Look at this: scattered clumps of reports, stories on yesterday’s “Oprah” – come on, guys, this is why some people hate blogs. Not that the “real” press has gone after it any harder; a trip to a bike factory? Oh yeah, guys, real tough. What’s next? Gonna profile a local brewery? Or visit a strip club?

Now this is how you do it. Long, hump-busting days, with food when you’ve got it, and sleep when you can fit it in. Though, still, it couldn’t be that tough if the riders are doing it, too. Heck, Tom Danielson’s posted more blog entries on this year’s Giro than I have. Marco Pinotti is getting in on the act as well, along with CSC’s directeur sportif Scott Sunderland. Even the mechanics, arguably the poorest, most stressed out, overworked souls on the circuit, can manage an interview now and then.

Yeah, I’ll be much happier when this show gets back on the road with tomorrow’s TTT. Consensus seems to be it’s a three way race between Disco, CSC and the T-Mob, though CN, among their other Giro bikes, has a feature on Michael Rasmussen’s (unfortunate owner of one of the worst time trials in history) chrono rig. John Wilcockson runs down the week beyond that, while Pez recons the first climbing action. Here’s looking forward to ten uninterrupted days of racing after the second rest day wraps up.

First Giro Update! And It's Only Stage 4!

10 May

Ok! I’m settled in, I have a bed, at least one of my computers works, I found a passable burrito stand within walking distance of my office, and I’m pretty sure I can blog during lunch without getting fired. Unfortunately that means I’ll have to browse with IE, which is something (at least the way I surf) like trying to explain the nuances of bridge to an eight-year-old who hasn’t had his juice; I can’t open new tabs, there is no RSS feeds support, athe search window is a god-awful pop-up, new windows open don’t open at the home page, there’s no built-in search in the toolbar, and as an added slap in the balls, mistyped URLs trigger an MSN search. Awesome.

Anyway, the Giro. Already it’s delivered on its promises of action and adventure. Savoldelli recovered from a bad case of the runs at Romandie to take his second consecutive prologue win, though technically, it was a “Stage One”. On the next day, Robbie McEwen took the unusual step of using the Giro to snag his team’s first Belgian win since the first day of the classics season began (and to add a nice follow-up to teammate Steegmans’ win at Dunkirk). Robbie’s win so impressed Milram’s Alessandro Petacchi that the very next day, he decided to crash and break a kneecap, so that McEwen – essentially the only sprinter in the race – now has a legit shot to break Ale-Jet’s modern record of nine wins in a single Giro. Robbie Mac has wasted no time capitalizing on the Italian’s absense, though whether McEwen intends to (or even can, given this year’s parcours) make it to Milan remains to be seen.

While Petacchi was limping home yesterday, his countryman, Paolo Bettini, was denied a win he had previously set his sights upon forthe second time in a month (the previous instance can be seen on video here). Once again, Bettini’s come-uppance came at the fresh-faced hands (fresh-faced hands?) of a member of the U27 project. Of course, Il Grillo‘s recent lack of wins hasn’t stopped the low-watts over at T-Mobile from tossing him a fat 2 million Euros (scroll down) to suit up in fuscia next year (and then denying it). Gotta love a team with lots of money, but not so much sense. Sure, Bettini’s still a threat at neatry any one-day, but let’s keep in mind he’s well past 30. Not exactly over the hill, but with Sinkewitz, Klier and Wesemann all racing so well this past spring, I’ve gotta say that’d be dough better invested in a GC threat who can get his leg over a top tube before April. Then again, why expect rationality from team that seems to think cutting your hair counts as training?

Why the Milk's Not Getting Through

4 May

I think we all should have smelled it last May, when Petacchi and his supporting cast offered themselves out as a a three million Euro package deal (search “Meanwhile”) just three days before committing a blunder on par with what I used to dodge in Collegiate C fields. Certainly, the harebrained dual-sprinter schemes (second paragraph) that kept changing as the off-season went on should have tipped us off, and by the much publicized ousting (scroll to “Sprenger”) of two former hard-liners from the squad, we all should have should have sensed that something was perhaps amiss back in the Milram team car.

But now that the season is on in good standing, things have most definately started to curdle over at Milram. Milan-San Remo? They blew it by going to the front and burning off too many riders too soon. Tour of Flanders? What were they thinking even putting Petacchi in the race? Zabel was at best a longshot, but with a couple of Top 10s on his palmares, he at least deserved a full squad behind him. Gent-Wevelgem? Refer to “Milan-San Remo” earlier in this paragraph. In fact, the squad’s biggest result of the season to date might be their jersey, which has proven much more distinctive than was first expected.

Sure, Ale-Jet beat up on Boonen a couple times at the Ruta del Sol, but squeakers in a February tune-up aren’t exactly the train-on-greased-rails wins at Grand Tours that Milram shelled out sponsorship dough for. Now, I’ll admit that Petacchi didn’t have many rivals back in the ’04 Giro, but still, the inability of the Milram supporting cast – and not it’s not the riders I’m talking about, here – to figure out a way to get a sprinter to the line at speed and in position has been prominent this season.

Let’s observe last weekend’s Henninger Turm. I get the basic plan of attack, here: German race, slightly uphill finish, Zabel’s got a good track record, so let’s make him the leader. But having Ale-Jet lead him out? If the finish is fast enough for Petacchi to lead out, why isn’t it fast enough for him to take the win? Petacchi has spent the last four years focusing like a lazer on being the fastest man in the world for 200 meters, so why expect anyone to be able to follow his burst? Putting Ale-Jet in that race only disrupted what should be one of the best lead-out trains in the world, all for the chance of a heartwarming “teammates” news story.

This brings me to the point (if there is one – and there very well might not be – I currently have no bed, no desk, no functional computer, I haven’t posted in a week, etc.) of my complaint, which is that Milram should stop doing this crap Zabel/Petacchi thing. Lots of teams have multiple sprinters, but very few try to make them lead each other out. Last year, Panaria had Graeme Brown, Brett Lancaster, Paride Grillo and Ruben Bongiornio, and rather than slam these squares into circle-shaped lead out roles, they’d just kinda huck them all at the line at once. Davitamon-Lotto occasionally makes Tom Steels or Fred Rodriguez lead out Robbie Mac, but Robbie’s not exactly a “lead out” kind of sprinter, and Fred…well, generally, Fred doesn’t contend on his own.

So why try to shoehorn a guy like Zabel, who’s always been a finishing rider, into a role for proven lead out men like Velo, Lombardi or Zanotti? No rider gets called a “true professional” more often than Erik Zabel, but as a supporting teammate, he’s far better with a hand sling than a lead-out. That’s why I think your odds of seeing a finish like this again are far better than your odds of seeing one like this. Fortunately, the Grand Tours are upon us and hopefully, Petacchi will have a strong, Zabel-less Giro. Then perhaps Milram management will see the light, and Peta’ and the Zab’ will be allowed to race their seperate ways.