Archive | June, 2010

Pre-Race Jitters

30 Jun

Bill StricklandOh, Bill Strickland—you sir, are a troublemaker. Tweeting about RadioShack TdF exclusion rumors three days before the start of the race and giving everyone Puerto flashbacks.

While I was very glad to see your attention-grabbing release of the eff-bomb quote from the epilogue of your book—it does take the tired pre-Tour mantra of choice up a notch—I can’t say I support Twitter-mongering like that. Good luck getting that genie back in the bottle.

If the rumors aren’t true, and no one breaks a collarbone during warm-up, then this start list should be final, though everyone seems to expect Stage 4’s cobbles—which were mighty popular today—will trim things down a bit. Mighty bold of Basso to charge those stones in little more than a cap after his dismal performance on this year’s off-road Giro stage.

Honestly, though, I’m just ready to get the actual racing underway. I’m sick of the sad-music-for-Lance, evil-music-for-Contador recaps of last year, the LA vs. AC previews, and “38 BFD” storylines. For the vast majority of the viewing public, this is as deep as things will get—and frankly, I’m ok with that. What I’m not OK is having my only access to and analysis of the racing lobotomized in such a fashion.

Here’s to a first week fueled by hotly-contested sprints, aggressive riding, a nervous pack, underhanded alliances, and anything else that elbows Lance vs. Contador off the of headlines—at least until Morzine.

2010 Tour de France Versus Media Call

29 Jun

Versus hosted its media call for the 2010 Tour de France today, with Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen, Tyler Farrar, Christian VandeVelde and Levi Leipheimer all on the line at one point or another.

Highlights for me were Tyler saying the exposure to Dutch roads at the Giro will probably make things worse for the Tour, Phil saying the Schlecks “don’t have the brains” of Greg LeMond or Stephen Roche, and VandeVelde telling Phil not to drink too much while watching the race.

[Flash 9 is required to listen to audio.]
The whole call runs 41:15. Here’s an mp3 version; notes on where to find what are below.

Introduction
0:00 Katie Bradshaw
1:40 Phil’s Thoughts
2:57 Paul’s Thoughts

Q/A w/ Phil and Paul
04:00 Is the 2010 Tour more about riders or more about the course?
07:08 Which three Americans can make the podium?
08:00 Green Jersey competition designed for intrigue?
09:55 What’s it going to take for someone to beat Contador?
12:17 Thoughts on Vino’ and Basso coming back to the Tour?
14:10 What’s a day-in-the-life at the Tour like for you?
17:10 Podium picks?
20:15 Will SaxoBank be able to hold together as a team?
22:30 Can the Schleck Brothers ride alone?

Q/A with Farrar, CVV, and Levi
23:00 Farrar and VandeVelde arrival/introduction
24:05 Farrar and CVV Explain location, lead-up to Tour
24:37 To Tyler: What are your chances without Boonen and Haussler?
25:36 To CVV: How’s the form after your fall?
26:45 Levi arrival/introduction
27:10 To Tyler: Why are there so many Americans this time around?
28:27 To Tyler: Targeting stage wins or green jersey?
29:40 To Anyone: Will nerves be reduced due to Dutch roads in Giro?
30:40 To CVV: Compare form this year to last year?
32:00 To Levi: What is it like this year w/RadioShack vs. Last Year with Astana?
33:55 To Levi, CVV: You seem to do well in the Pyrenees. Do they favor you?
34:54 To Levi: Is there pressure because RadioShack is running out of Tours to win?
37:55 To Tyler: How to you mentally and physically get over big crashes in sprints?
39:27 To Tyler: How are the changes in the lead-out train coming along?
40:30 Thanks/Conclusion
41:00 CVV tells Phil not to drink too much

Please Don't Read Beyond the Byline

28 Jun

Serhiy Honchar Winning The Stage  Bah. You know, back in the day, this sort of thing required at least a modicum of skill. You’d look at the calendar, notice the week-and-a-half that had passed without any real news, see the Tour was about to start and you’d write something like “I sense a dope story is near”. People were once very impressed by that.

But no. Now you’ve got your rumors and your blogs and people just up and posting it and suggestive no-details Tweets that blossom out into a variety of @-replies and “what’s-that-supposed-to-means” until absolutely everyone already knows and the NYT has to print a story early.

Which, viewed big-picture, isn’t all that bad a thing. The Times‘ intention was clearly to siphon eyeballs during the #tdf’s swing as trending topic on Twitter, and thanks to the premature release, short-memoried Americans will have a few days to forget that, in the mainstream media’s tired composition on cycling, the saccharine obligato of curing cancer is constantly underscored by the dull throb of drug abuse.

If the story had any real juice to it—and since the Times has nothing, I’m content in my assumption that tomorrow’s sister piece in the WSJ (and possible circus-mirroring at Deadspin and the New York Ledger) will be similarly devoid of new developments—I might feel less cynical about its timing. Back when, the pre-Tour dope story used to come with a kill, and people were pleased with the sacrifice, however obvious it may have been.

While I agree with Jon Vaughters’ sentiment that “[w]hen there’s a scandal, that’s actually when things are being solved”, I think attempting to manufacture one for the sake of readership on the eve of cycling’s biggest stage goes a long way toward undermining that connection.

The Luckiest Man in the Peloton

25 Jun

I’ve been doing a little video work on some sprinting footage ahead of the Tour de France. I’ve looked through the Cavendish crash more times than I care to remember, but I still cannot get over the break Juan Antonio Flecha catches as the race just dissolves in front of him.

Here’s a quick video analysis to brighten up your Friday:

(right-click for iTunes download, tap for iPod/iPhone/iPad)

Conflict of Interest

24 Jun

I realize I burn off a lot of text trying to drive the point home. This screenshot probably does a better job:
Velonews screenshot with Lance Armstrong/RadioShack ad

The Cyclocosm Audio Mailbox System

23 Jun

cyclocosm-voice-yellow

Ever since I began the making How The Race Was Won videos, my propensity for mispronunciation has become more and more embarrassing.

In many ways, it’s not my fault—well over 90% of the information I consume on the sport comes from web text, which doesn’t do a great job of conveying linguistic nuance. In the rare instances when I do get access to an Anglophone talking about cycling in English, it’s usually Phil Liggett, who’s been known to maul a surname or two.

But while it’s clear that I’m not the only one screwing things up, I’d like to be the first to make a serious effort to fix the problem. I’ve set up a Google Voice account which will record and make downloadable copies of voice messages.

The next time I bungle a cyclist’s name, a foreign phrase, or a finishing town—or if you’d like to correct a past mistake/make a pre-emptive strike against a future flub—you can call and record your own properly-pronounced version. The number is (646) 801-2010; I’m in the US, so add the +1 for International calls. While the service is free, any normal charges from your carrier will still apply.

Of course, there’s no technical reason to limit this service to pronunciation, so if you’d like to leave a message on another topic, feel free. Keep in mind that the system will record whatever number you call from (though I will do my best to keep that information private), and unless you specify otherwise, I reserve the right to re-use your messages.

It Must Be Tour Time

22 Jun

Bicycle swag (not mine)It must be getting close to Tour time because emails from PR firms are starting to roll in again. It’s a strange distribution model, really—especially for books.

Come up with an idea, send out a bunch of letters to convince some company to pay you to write it, and have that company in turn hire another company to tell people about it. If only technology existed for writers to write something and deliver it to everyone themselves.

But far be it for me to dismiss the ability to Google “cycling blog” and send an email as market interference—especially if it results in free stuff for me and clean-as-they come reviews for you. I’m not sure I can really revive the old reviews format—that was more for equipment, back when I was buried in shop promotional gear and had employee purchase—but I assure you, there are still no conflicts of interest that would prevent me from giving a even-handed review.

Speaking of conflicts of interest—and another sure sign that the Tour is right around the corner—the UCI has attempted to settle its dispute with the French anti-doping agency by announcing that independent WADA observers will be allowed monitor drug testing at the 2010 TdF. It’s a face-saving compromise and should prevent any more controversial coffee breaks—though it will have the side effect of another spectator unwelcome spectator as riders attempt to submit samples.

Still, no solution is going to fit everyone. Take Pieter Weening: he fired the snot rocket heard round the world when he nipped Andreas Kloden on the line at the 8th stage of the ’05 Tour, but won’t be making an appearance this time around. Same with SaxoBank’s Gustav Larsson, who, barring a teammate’s misfortune over some camera cables, has missed the cut for this year’s SaxoBank squad.

Or is it possible to please all parties? Lance Armstrong certainly seems to think so—speaking of his newly-accounced TdF squad, the seven-time-winner refused to name any rider as the favorite. We’ll see how long that holds up. As I recall, it only took a few days for the Texan’s party line to change from “here to help” to “here to win” in 2009.

No Shortage of post-Suisse Storylines

21 Jun

RadioShack TT rider at Tour de Suisse 2010 The Tour de Suisse was interesting this year. Not so much because of the battle for general classification, which all but defaulted into Frank Schleck’s hands, but because of the storylines it sprang for the upcoming Tour de France.

Most obvious would have to be that dazzling crash among the sprinters on Stage 4. We rely on the action of the fastmen to carry the Tour through its first week, and of the would-be TdF stage contenders at the race, only Oscar Freire and winner Alessandro Petacchi emerged unscathed.

Haussler was forced to abandon, and seems to be harboring a touch of ill-will over the cause. Tom Boonen, still recuperating from a crash at the Tour of California also suffered a bit as a result.

But Cav—oh Cav. When was your last win again? When was the last time you made it over a reasonably-categorized climb? Let’s take a look at your stage racing this season—Tour of Catalunya: DNF. Tour of Romandie: DNF. Tour of California: DNF. Tour de Suisse: DNF. This does not bode well for your chances at a Green Jersey, my friend. That was win you needed, and likely a win you would have received if you’d only managed to ride in a straight line

And then there’s Lance Armstrong. Opposite end of the spectrum, really. Speculation was rampant that between the crashes and allegations, Armstrong was rapidly running out of time to get ready for this July’s main event. Certainly a lukewarm prologue performance didn’t do much to dispel that impression.

But the Texan then went on to hang with the heads of state on the TdS’s toughest day. True, it wasn’t the all-revealing, gap-forming, trial-by-fire of a summit finish, but still—hanging in on an HC climb is a step up from Armstrong’s previous finishes this season. And his performance in the TT—previously thought to be something of a weak point—was enough to put him on the podium.

Could it be that Jeremy Schaap is secretly the world’s best cycling analyst? Two more weeks until we find out for real.

How The Race Was Won – Criterium du Dauphine 2010

16 Jun

Finally! The race formerly known as Dauphine Libere gets a rundown, focused almost entirely on the L’Alpe du Huez stage. It’s too bad, really—there were some great finishes on the other days, but stage races are tricky to video summarize like this.

[right-click for iTunes-compatible download, tap for iPad/iPhone]

Much of the delay was due to some major changes to production, including a better microphone and higher-quality source material. Ostensibly, the video is from Eurosport, but I think we all know there’s at least one intermediary involved. Still images, freely-licensed when available, are attributed in this list of sources.

Re-Examining the One-Week Race

14 Jun

Jani Brajkovic on his TT bikeRight—so it’s taking longer to get squared away than I thought. Curtain rods need to be hung, boxes need to be returned, broken iPhones need to be repurposed, etc., etc. I have video from the L’Alpe stage at Dauphine, but realized halfway into production, that still have no mic; fortunately, I also have no job, so I’m thinking the HTRWW on that will be out tomorrow.

But returning to the Dauphine—I’ve been pretty ambivalent about one-week stage races in the past. They always seemed like the Euro-Pro equivalent of Tuesday night training crits, where the real leg-smashers work to hone form while only a handful of widely-derided second-tier riders take them seriously.

Maybe it was the rare treat of getting to watch (almost) every stage, but this year’s Dauphine went a long way toward changing my mind on that. For starters, it was a course without mercy; the Cat 3 climb in the finish circuit, the day after L’Alpe du Huez, was some pretty serious agony—and thanks to Christophe LeMevel and Edvald Boasson-Hagen, viewers were rewarded with some pretty serious racing as well. Try getting that on the final day of a Grand Tour.

One-week stage races might also go a good way toward appeasing fans who can’t get over the “boring” first week of Grand Tours. There wasn’t a whole lot of fodder for the flatlanders at the Dauphine, and with the field cracking over the final climbs at theSuisse stages both yesterday and today, it may be that the other popular Tour tune-up will be similarly tough sledding for the sprinters.

I suppose the one-weekers also provide a fair amount of off-bike drama as well. For example, would you seriously consider leaving a guy who reeled in Alberto Contador on L’Alpe more times than I can count off your Tour team? Especially if your team had be left out of the Vuelta? It sure looks political when your TdF favorite finishes well off the pace in different event on the same day.

Despite Armstrong’s sensational wet weather performances in the past (Luz Ardiden and the final TT at the ’03 Tour, the Olso worlds a decade earlier, etc.), I’m still inclined to believe the wet weather hesitation story. First, because the time splits apparently backed it up, and second, because if the Texan’s Tour prep takes another hit, he’s can almost certainly kiss contending for the overall good-bye—no point in training risk as well as fitness. But I can almost guarantee that his tendency to “pucker up” in the rain will disappear come the Tour de France.