Friday, December 31, 2010

The beauty and harshness of snow.

I came across this yesterday and I agree that it is pretty amazing. Although I'm not qualified to comment on its Oscar eligibility, however, I can say that I thought it pretty terrific.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Favorite Albums of 2010

Note that this is my favorite albums of 2010, not a best album list. I only speak album, so if you are looking for a singles breakdown so you can steal music, read Rolling Stone. The list means only something to me, but maybe you'll find something you will like as well. No particular order.

Let's start with the ones that I was late to the Ball with: 2009 releases

Bob Mould - "Life and Times" Somehow I missed this album's release in 2009 and bought it in early part of this year. It's a deeply personal album for Bob and he holds nothing back about the pain and joy of life. Lyrics presented with nuanced chorused, chiming guitars, and with the well known roar of his guitar, albeit somewhat in the background at times.

Florence and the Machine - "Lungs " Even-though this was on many people's list for 2009, it didn't hit my ears until January of this year. And hit me it did. Wonderful and rousing. I rolled over the play count column on my ipod with 'Boy Who Builds Coffins." Later in the year she hijacked the VMA's and pushed herself into the consciousness of the non-music world with her music in commercials and one of her songs was ineptly covered on Glee. Can't wait to see her open up for U2 in June at Spartan Stadium.

The XX - "XX" Everybody heard their song that Apolo skated to in the Visa commercial during the Olympics, but the rest of the album is terrific as well. I wish that I would have picked this album up earlier. A joy.

2010 Releases
John Butler Trio - "April Uprising" A return to form for this Australian distorted amplified acoustic 12 string musician. The album has many focus points, but the overarching theme is concern for the common man, social injustice, and love. "I'd Do Anything" (Soldiers Lament) is a wonderful song about a soldier in Afghanistan missing home is extremely touching and the guitar work is terrific.

New Pornographers - "Together" A record that's a little beefier than their previous album "Challengers" and a little disjointed. Many of the tracks are up to NP standards, and the Neko and Dan Bejar penned songs don't quite fit into the flow of the album. Bejar's contributions are especially grating. AC Newman seems to have made the choice to satisfy the individual contributors on the album instead of making a solid front to back album that we have grown to take for granted from this band. Maybe the title was meant to be ironic. One of the shows I caught this year and it was terrific.

She and Him - "Volume 2" Not as natural sounding as Volume 1, but still a very nice effort by Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward. Some of the songs feel as though they are trying too hard and come across forced. A good album nonetheless. p.s. I'm not sure why Deschanel is such a love her or hate her artist. I think she's very good and very honest and humbled in her work.

Drive by Truckers - "The Big To Do" A home run for the now three guitar band. The band seems to be working together much better than the past couple of efforts, where the individuals seemed to be competing against one another in the songs. No one sings better or more earnestly about the hard times of working class people like Patterson Hood. From an abandoned boy wondering when his father is coming back, or an alcoholic trying to recall his latest binge, to a heartbreaking story about the Wallendas, and describing the feelings of working a job you hate, because there is no other choice, this album doesn't have a throwaway track. The biggest surprise on this album was the Mike Cooley songs, as his primary writing efforts and the cranked up high treble brittleness of his AC30 added an additional layer of 'wowness' for DBT's latest.

John Legend and The Roots - "Wake Up" The R&B singer teamed up with the "Best Band on the Planet" with mixed results. Definitely worth picking up, but on balance, kind of falls down. Some of the song selections just didn't fit the pairing. However the high points are worth the price of admission and they remind you of why we miss music of consequence so much.

The Roots - "How I got over" A much more positive album than their last ('Rising Down') Strong female vocal contributions and a great vibe throughout. Missing is Capt'n Kirk's guitar, which is very hard to discern, but Black Thought is in full flight with his lyrics and style on some songs and absolutely blows off the doors when paired with some of the usual suspect collaborators.

The National - "High Violet" After being held hostage to Dad's dejaying on a short road trip, my 12 year old requested that I put this album on his ipod, saying "This guy is good". Well, they are good and this album is wonderful. The album was in the running for my "soundtrack of the summer" moniker and still in heavy rotation. It forced me to revisit a previous effort that I was initially disappointed with ('Alligator') and admit that I was wrong. Now a confirmed fan.

Janelle Monae - "Archandroid" I bought it on a whim, as sometimes the most pleasant surprises are self-inflicted. An album with really bad cover art, a weird concept, eccentric, overly ambitious, a hard to figure out debut effort that you must absolutely buy. I don't know if I'll ever 'get' what she's trying to say with this album, but it is certainly fun trying to get to the bottom of it.

Chris Isaak - "Live at the Fillmore" Despite providing the soundtrack to the first of my two summer bike crashes, the album captures the feel of the Chris Isaak show I saw in late 2009. Lots of fun.

Against Me! - "White Crosses" Tom Gabel is a genius. A genius. This album is my best cycling soundtrack of the year. Great riffs, great lyrics, great rhythm section. The vocals never pull back, especially on "Because of the Shame" a gripping story of attendance of a past lovers unexpected funeral and on "Spanish Moss", wonderful.

Arcade Fire - "Suburbs" We all get old and this album could be the accompanying soundtrack to Jim Harrison's book of the same themes in his novel 'Farmer'. The band takes on contentment, modern fear and boredom with an album with which you can't stop hitting repeat. Buy it.

Pete Yorn - 'Pete Yorn' What a difference a producer can make! Black Francis (better behind the board than in front of it) seems to have told Pete to put down the acoustic and crank up his electric and never look back. What came out in early in September was my biggest surprise of the year. Not one bad song on the entire album. I'm in Pete's choir, but had low expectations after the last record and the 'whatever that was' collaboration with Scarlet Johanson. Because I was hesitant to put budget money towards a sub-par effort, the first listen came courtesy of the local library copy. I quickly headed to the store to secure my own copy and placed it it the front spot in his row in my catalog racks. He fondly remembers a childhood highlight of getting new shoes in "Velcro Shoes" and tries to figure out what he's scared of as he gets older in 'Future Life". Sounding ragged and vulnerable on 'Wheels" the album hit its highlight on "Always". I especially like the guitar tone he has employed on this album, fairly clean that muddies up when he pushes the strings. If ipod playcount was the sole determinant of my "Album of the Year", this record wins hands down.

KT Tunstall - 'Tiger Suit' A late year release that certainly is turning into on of my favorites of the year. Richly produced, KT stretches herself a little bit, but maybe hasn't figured out what she wants to be. A little more consistent that her last, "Drastic Fantastic", but maybe to a fault. Still, spending time with it is worth it.

The Black Keys - 'Brothers' I didn't buy my first Black Keys album until listening to Dan Auerbach's solo effort early in the year. 'Brothers' turned out to be a perfect initiation to the band.  A solid album throughout, with the highlight being Dan Carney's drumming.

Brandon Flowers - "Flamingo" I like Flowers' voice, but what is missing on this solo effort is his band's (Killers) strength to support him.  A good album nonetheless. He clearly loves Vegas, but the message doesn't quite connect with this Midwestern boy on some of the tracks.

Biggest surprises of the year.
Jakob Dylan - "Woman + Country" It seems that everything that T-Bone Burnett touches is gold. Dylan wisely turned away from Rubin and teamed up with his family friend and the result was terrific and unexpected. A slow but never bogged down, sauntering album that begs for repeated listens. Listen carefully with some over the ear headphones to discern the interesting layers and subtleties.

Robert Plant - "Band of Joy" The album title is a nod to the band he was in when Jimmy Page pulled him out of a bar to be his new singer in the New Yardbirds, but other than that look backwards Plant produces great new music. His new band is very eager to show that they belong with the legend. The best guitarist Plant has had with him on his solo efforts since Robbie Blunt, Buddy Miller fits perfectly with this record. Easily accessible the albums warrants repeated listening, because every pass through reveals something new. Jimmy may be knocking now, but with Plant's last two efforts, I don't see him opening the door. They probably should not have ever let the genie out of the bottle for the O2 show, because Robert is holding the cork.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals - s/t Looking past the obvious hit single, the band and its singer provide some pretty good stuff. They have the feel of a well seasoned band, who just likes to play good music. There are some pretty good guitar fills, even-though some of the solos are cliche and the drumming is solid and sometimes inspired. On some of the tracks it comes across that they are trying to hard and Grace's vocals fall down below some of the albums high-points, but a worthwhile purchase.

Biggest Disappointments of the Year.
Interpol - The best tracks are where the departing founding bassist Carlos B seems to saying, "follow this" They can't. The band can't seem to get back to the greatness that I think they are capable of and have demonstrated in the past.

The Black Crowes - "Croweology" After the band's last two stellar albums, this release held promise greater than what it delivered. A 'for fans' only double album release of rather unimaginative reworkings of their greatest hits. Not so much.

The Hold Steady - I might be proven wrong in the future when I'm in a different mood, but I am just not connecting with this band after a few tries. Probably the last one I buy from them.

Vampire Weekend - 'Contra' At the top of many year-end lists. Not mine. The album faded too quickly and didn't sustain my interests past a few listens. Unnecessarily complicated in too many places as if to say, "see what we can do" and the result is less than memorable songs. Unique to be sure, but falls down fast with time.

Kings of Leon - "Come Around Sundown"- Eh.

Albums that are still on my list. Bands that interests me, but might be on next year's list.

Dead Weather- 'Sea of Cowards'
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
The Joy Formidable
Kanye West - Yes, I might give him another shot.
Jamey Johnson
High on Fire - Snakes for the Divine

Tell me what you think or maybe what I've missed.

Thanks, Eric

Saturday, September 4, 2010

I Forgot That...

The Cyclocross season opener is next weekend and I have forgot a few things about my third or fourth love of my life. 

I forget:
  1. That 'cross is really really hard. I didn't really forget, I'm just not very good at remembering pain and my incompetence. Approaching a barrier as fast as you can go, not crashing, and getting back onto your machine smoothly is not natural. It takes a lot of practice and I don't feel really confident until about November. 
  2. How differently my 'cross bike feels after a long separation. Sure we've gotten together a few times since the end of last season, but we're not quite intimate in August. As with any relationship, there are a few awkward moments and uneasiness in the beginning, but in time we become one. I know what my bike can do and it provides me stability, predictability, and forgives my mistakes.
  3. That embrocation doesn't completely wash off the hands and when you rub your eye with your ungloved hand shortly into a training ride to extract a recently deposited bug, your ride is going to be uncomfortable for a while.
I have plenty of time to build new memories over the next few months, but I'm sure that by March I'll forget most of what I was supposed to remember just in time for next season.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Signs of Fall

The time from the end of Cyclocross season to the first race of the new always seems like forever. The European season keeps you going for a while, with the world cup and Super Prestige studs battling through true cross weather in the early part of the year. The vicariousness ends in February however, with the Worlds taking place in a locale that more than likely you'll never visit.

A recent addition to the calendar, Barry-Roubaix has given a midwest 'crosser a early goal to shoot for. March is over soon and then it's just lonely cold, wet training rides to see a rider through. Sure, there's mountain biking, but I reached a level where I just can't be competitive without a lifestyle change.

So I wait, and I wait. Then, when the rides seem hotter than tolerable and the calendar says that I should start the hard stuff, intervals, longer 100% efforts, carrying your bike and such, unexpectedly, the first signs of fall appear. I'm riding along and I see it. The first wooly catepillar crossing the road. I don't usually have to dodge them as they are past my tire line, but unmistakable. The dark brown body, the black stripes, and the long bushy hair undulating their way across the road. Initially I just see one, but my heart knows what their presence mean. It isn't long before I have to maneuver around the creepy crawly. 

The next positive sign of an approaching 'cross season is one that requires a change in line of my bicycle. I'm still a little gun-shy with my mid summer crash due to loose-stone/chip & seal road maintenance that resulted in right side bruises, road rash tears, a shredded kit & broken helmet.The sign is something to be avoided, as it is hard, round, and when there are a lot of them, dangerous to try and ride through. This year, the sign hit me. When something falls out of the sky while your head is down and hits you in the helmet, it can be a little disconcerting. The knock required a slow down and a visual check to identify the "what the heck was that?' A blackened walnut was the culprit. Not nearly as thrilling as the owl I dodged in early spring, nor the low flying wild turkey that scared the bejubus out of me in June. Nonetheless, it was a solid indicator that my favorite season of the year is almost here, Cyclocross, or as the rest of you may know it, Fall. Hup, hup.

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Let's talk

photo courtesy: Richie Wireman

I attended your conversation last night at Coveleski Stadium. I heard about office politics, investment opportunities, old girl/boyfriends, and why your car broke down. I tried desperately to focus on the reason I was there, but the volume of your words rose quickly to overcome the sound originating from behind your turned back. Laughter was exaggerated to convince your mates that either their comments were "hilarious' or that your punchline was worthy of a physical expression of joy. You were not alone. Every lull, every nuanced moment in the music was overshadowed by a crowd that overwhelmingly seemed more interested in saying they were there or that they went to the show, than actually trying to listen to the music. For many, the efforts of two great bands still in their creative prime were lost in translation between their instruments and your ears. I don't know how you can go to a concert and not even turn around and give a cursory clap of approval. It was annoying, disrespectful and I don't know why you were there. I hope the next time, you stay home. Live music deserves more than you can contribute to its audience.

After Yo la Tengo finished their intriguing  hour-long set of pop, art noise and drone'y grooves, I used my years of concert training and moved close to the stage where the volume of your voice could not be heard above the amps and PAs. I spent the next 2 1/2 hours interacting with the headliners letting the drums fill my chest, the guitars spike my skin, and the musicianship inspire my soul. When I went home you didn't matter anymore.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Stage 18 Recap, Saturday's Time Trial Preview

Photo: © Roberto Bettini
Well, Mark got to kiss the pretty girls again after his stage win. His best sprint of this Tour. He had it won with 200 meters to go. An amazing display. Too bad he didn't get to kiss this pretty girl, who was attending the race in Bordeaux today.
Photo: © Roberto Bettini
Eight seconds ain't alot, but that's all that Andy Schleck needs to gain to regain the Yellow jersey in tomorrow's Time Trial. Conventional wisdom holds that Contador who starts last just behind Schleck, just needs to match the man in front of him. That might be harder to say than do with the pressure of the Yellow Jersey on his back and a very hungry Schleck trying to pull away. It should be a tremendous showdown. Don't miss it. Tom won't
Photo: © Roberto Bettini
Another battle to watch will be between 3rd and 4th place for the final podium spot between Sanchez and Menchov. Menchov should move into 3rd, but it will be another great reason to tune in.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Stage 17 Recap - Stage 18 Preview

Photo credit © Roberto Bettini
Celebrating 100 years in the Pyrenees stage 17 started with rain and cold with a peloton lined up with arm warmers and embrocation to ease the elements.The crappy weather made for terrific viewing and made it feel epic.

Early on, as he was trying to get through the team cars, 3rd place Samuel Sanchez, crashed hard and looked to be out of the Tour. Fortunately, he got back up and paced by his team, rejoined the race. Wearing the yellow jersey, Alberto Contador slowed the field's pace to ensure that Sanchez could catch up.

Carlos Sastre was having none of it though and was determined to use the last day in the mountains to improve his overall placing. It didn't do him any good though, not very smart racing, and he just stuck in no man's land on the climb of the Marie-Blanque. Because of the field slowing, the breakaway's advantage quickly shot up to over 9 minutes.

As usual, some protesters interfered with the stage with about 58km to go and slowed progress up the climb of the Col du Soulor. Apparently farmers just let them run free, these particular ones were marked with blue dye on top. Crazy sheep.

Everybody was all together as they entered the town of Gaubie, then Schleck went for it just before the 10 km at 10km to go flag. Initially dropped, Samuel Sanchez caught back on to a small select group containing 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th place, with Chris Horner (team Radioshack) in the mix. Contador, content to follow the diesel train of Schleck danced out of the saddle as Schleck continued to push the pace.  Kolobnev who broke away from his breakaway partners, could ride no harder and was quickly dispatched by the Yellow and White train.

5km on the attack and the also rans in the race were about 1:06 behind the two riders who had kept their eyes on each other for almost three weeks. Contador tested Andy with about 4k to go, but was answered quite handily.

Riding past streakers, crazy Basques', a bearded black santa, a masked whatever that was' in a yellow spandex body suit, and a dancing water bottle they continued to stamp out a vicious pace.  As the roads narrowed the tension continued and the battle set up for who was going to win a stage. Andy won it as he rounded the corner. Alberto and him shared a handshake and then later a hug and a smile. What a day. The tour might not be done until Saturday night however, as the time trial might be another battle royale.

American Chris Horner had a career day and Canadian Ryder Hesjedal emerged from the thick mist atop the Tourmalet to cross the line fourth. Pretty amazing.
Tomorrow's stage 18 is a dead flat, made for a field sprint. Look for Mark Cavendish to prove he can win without Mark Renshaw, since he got kicked out of the Tour for the headbutting affair.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tour de France Stage Preview - Stage 17, July 22

"You never say "I'm going to fight you, Steve"! You just smile, act casual and then you sucker punch him."  - Steve Zissou, The Life Aquatic.

Apparently Andy Schleck, currently in second place in the Tour, has never seen "The Life Aquatic", because he stated during today's rest day news conference that "I know what I  have to do tomorrow, and I'm ready" I'm pretty sure I'll have a good day tomorrow". No matter, we all know what's is coming and so does Alberto Contador and he better have a good day as well. It should be tense and stressful and then, boom, very very exciting. The final climb of this Tour, the Col du Tourmalet, is a historic climb that first made it's 1st appearance in the 1910 Tour and has visited it's peak 78 times since.

For those that love good drama and great racing, tune in. For those that would rather watch 'winning at all cost', please watch something else.

Addressing "chaingate" Velonews reported further on Andy Schleck's news conference: “Yesterday Alberto spoke with me, and he apologized,” Schleck said. “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.”

Don't forget Denis Menchov, currently lying in 4th. Third place, Olympic Champion - Samuel Sanchez, will blow up tomorrow, losing minutes and his podium place. Mechov however, is the dark horse of this Tour and looks very good. He might be able capitalize on all the watching between the guys in first and second and steal away with the whole thing by the end of Saturday night.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tour de France Recap - Stage 16, July 20th

Okay, If Andy Schleck can forgive Contador for his questionable, to some, attack during his mechanical yesterday, the least I can do is forget. I'll bet we see a heck of a battle on Thursday's stage 17 though. Most commentators believe that Andy Schleck will need 1 to 1.5 minutes to fend off what Contador can gain in the  in the long Time Trial on Saturday.

Lance said that he had this stage 'dogearred' in his race booklet and he gave it his all in an effort to take a stage win in his last Tour, but it was not to be. He was determined to be sure, even going for a 'warm up' spin with a couple of his teammates before tacking the 200 km full-on mountain stage. He went it alone until he got some partners willing to work hard. Radio Shack teammate Chris Horner rode himself into the ground to reel back Carlos Barredo (you remember him from stage 7 as the wheel wielding combatant) who broke away with 40km to go for a courageous solo effort. It was very exciting nonetheless as I found myself standing up the last 3km in anticipation. Finishing sixth in a group of eight, Lance noted that he wasn't the oldest in the break, that moniker was attached to French great Christophe Moreau. Frenchman Fridrigo, won the fifth stage of this Tour for the home country.

A big day this Thursday, but first a much needed rest day. Good thing. I'm tired.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Tour de France - Stage 16, July 20th

 Photo credit © Roberto Bettini
There are unwritten rules in cycling that you don't attack the leader of a stage race when he's taking a 'nature break', crashed, or having a mechanical (trouble with your equipment). Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) clearly had a mechanical in front of charging Alberto Contador who was trying to join his Astana teammate Vinolourov who was trying to counter Schleck's attack. El Pistolero threw away the code and gave it all he had as he passed Schleck, who was coming to a stop, eventually waiting for a new bike and being push started by fans to try and retain his overall lead. Third and fourth (Sanchez/Mechov) overall took off after Contador and by virtue of their superior descending skills helped Contador to an eight-second net result advantage over Schleck.

Andy coming to a stop when his chain came off, and Alberto about to take advantage of the mechanical, the second rider back from the yellow jersey. Photo credit © AFP

The fans knew what had happened, other cyclists knew what had happened, Andy Schleck knew what had happened, saying "I'm really disappointed. My stomach is full of anger, and I want to take my revenge ... I will take my revenge in the coming days."  Someone Cervélo team owner Gerard Vroomen tweeted shortly after the stage was over that "Contador just gained a great chance to win, but he lost the chance to win greatly."  Well said.

Lost in all this 'chaingate' was a gritty, splendiferous, characteristically Voecklerized ride by French Champion Thomas Voeckler. Mike Ward, the guitarist for Ben Harper, and author of 'Mike and the Bike' said that "Thomas Voeckler will never pay for another drink in France as long as he lives" True statement. Making the day even more special was the presence of the last two French Tour Champions, Laurent Fignon & Benard Hinault (Probably the only man who can make a short sleeved dress shirt look good) at the conclusion of the stage. Fignon, who is battling life threatening cancer, was presented a special combativity award on this French Holiday, Celebration Day. It was a touching moment.
Photo credit © Sirotti

Some other good news today was Team Radio Shack furthering their recently re-acquired first place standing in the Team Classification competition, leading by 4:27 minutes. The team contest is scored like the individual classification with the accumulation of each day’s result. For the yellow jersey, it’s just the one rider’s time every stage. For the team race, it’s decided by adding the times of a team’s top three riders on each stage — which can be a different trio each day. Also, Ryder Hesjedal (Canadian riding for Garmin/Transistions) proved once again that he is having the ride of his life and moved into the top ten overall. Wow!

Tomorrow's Stage 16 contains some legendary, mythical, threatening, mountain passes, including the  Peyresourde (from the start very beginning), Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque and the Western approach of the Fabled Tourmalet. Bob roll has pointed to this stage as one that is perfect for Armstrong to go out in a blaze of stage winning glory, but with anger in the stomach of the guy who feels wronged, he might not get the chance. Wednesday is a rest day, so whatever happens, they might as well let it all hang out tomorrow.


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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tour de France Preview - Stage 15, July 19th

 Photo credit © Roberto Bettini
My post yesterday stated that I thought Carlos Sastre would give it a go on the climb up to Ax 3 Domaines and he surely tried. He just didn't have the staying power, eventhough 1&2 Schleck/Contador were playing a risky game, while simultaneously sending a message to the guys further down on GC. More on that in a minute. The day belonged to a Frenchman for the fourth time this tour, Christophe Riblon (AG2R-La Mondiale), with a gutsy solo effort, made more incredible by the post-stage revelation that he had almost abandoned the Tour the previous day. Riblon rode away from his breakaway mates to take the day and the glory.A terrific ride by someone who wanted to win.

Team Radioshack won't be wearing yellow numbers on their jerseys tomorrow, to signify the best in the team classification, as Caisse d'Epargne placed three riders in the top 15 on today's stage. 'The Shack" will try and get the top spot back in the coming days and are only down 8 seconds in the competition.
 Photo credit © Roberto Bettini

Schleck was perfectly willing to watch Contador all day and Alberto seemed frustrated that he couldn't pull away from his nearest rival, almost coming to a standstill on the mountain waiting for each other to lead. Denis Menchov saw this ridiculous cat and mouse game and took off with Olympic Gold Medalist Samuel Sanchez to finish 14 seconds ahead of Tom and Jerry. So the message was to the remaining GC contenders was, it's between Schleck and Contador. However, Mechov and Sanchez will attack if games like these continue to play out, unlike Leipheimer, and could gain some serious time on the podium in advance of the time trial on the penultimate day of this years tour. It would be nice if the guy wearing Yellow and the guy that's the defending champion would act like champions and ride to win.

Tomorrow's stage 15 include the Hor de catogorie climb of the Port de Bales, a 20km climb, with some nasty steep pitches that will put you on your back. It's got some bumps beforehand that might allow a breakaway to scoot from the peloton. Kiryienk, Auge seemed to be determined to win a stage in the Tour, so they will almost certainly try again tomorrow, but look for another strong ride from Hesjedal (Garmin/Transitions). Hea said  that eventhough he's only 7 minutes from the Yellow, he came to race. The Canadian "Weight of a Nation" rider is hardcore and riding really well.

(correction from yesterday)
Of special note, will be the time that many riders will most certainly take at the white marble memorial to Fabio Casartelli, who died during the tour on the Porte d’Aspet descent in 1995. He rode on the American Motorola team at the time.

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Tour de France Preview - Stage 14, July 18th

 Photo credit © Roberto Bettini
When Alessandro Ballan jumped a surging field that was hoping to set up a field sprint, I got goosebumps. The former world champion has the strength and the wits to win with tactics like this, he looked very strong. However, I forgot to account for the rage that was about to fuel Vinokourov's surge to the stage win. Instead of banging his handlebars in frustration like he did at the end of yesterday's stage, he zipped up the jersey bearing his home country's capital, Astana, and raised his hands in victory. Lance Armstrong tweeted later "Say what you want about Vino but the guy has some serious guts. When he puts his numbers on he races. Period." To ride away from the best bike racers in the world, was very impressive.

Tomorrow's first stage into the Pyrenees will see a battle royale on the Two climbs that occupy the final 50km of the 184km stage. All eyes will be on Andy Schleck or Alberto Contador, and they will be watching each other to see if there are any weaknesses to exploit. The Port de Pailheres is a particularly brutal climb. Just over 15km (9mi) with 4km of that at pitches of over 9% grades. Steep. There will be no place to hide, but you just might see someone like Sastre or Evans try to attack and get back in the overall game.

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Tour de France Preview - Stage 13, July 17th

 Photo credit © Sirotti
Well I thought a breakaway would form, but what a powerful breakaway it was including, Ryder Hesjedal, Garmin – Transitions, down 5:42 on GC, Alexandre Vinokourov, Astana, at 06:31, Andréas Kloden, Team RadioShack, at 09:05. It is clear that Vino wants to prove something to someone at this years Tour, it's also clear that Contador will not be invited to Thanksgiving at Vino's house. Banging on his bars as he crossed the line was an outward sign that Vinokourov was frustrated that el Pistolero chased him down on the steep climb named after Tour great Laurent Jalabert. Andy Schleck didn't panic and only lost about 10 seconds to the head scratching move by Contador. Joaquin Rodriguez (Team Katusha) won the stage, and maybe Contador sent a minor shot across the bow of Schleck in advance of the Pyrenees. Ryder Hesjedal proved once again he is an exciting, gutsy rider, a great ride today. Team Radioshack was also a big winner today as they moved ahead of Caisse d'Espargne in the team classification.

Saturday's Stage 13 finish in Revel might bring back bad memories for Lance, where in '95 he finished second to Sergei Uchakov in a two-up sprint. Tomorrow's hilly stage will be another shot for a breakaway to get a chance for a victory, as the peloton is tired and it is forecast to be very hot once again.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tour de France Preview Stage 12, July 16th

Well it did come down to a sprint and no Freire didn't have what it takes to get a win, even-though he was right there, just no team support. Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) did have team support, probably more than he needed. He started his sprint way further out than normal at about 350 meters, but no matter, as no one could follow him. His teamate Mark Renshaw made sure the road was clear, by first headbutting Julian Dean (Garmin/Transitions) , then swinging left to prevent Farrar (Garmin/Transistions) from challenging. That kind of teamwork is welcome, if you're the teammate, but not by the commissaires. Renshaw was immediately re-classified, then subsequently thrown out of the race. It was certainly out of line, against normal sprinting behavior, but Renshaw has a point when he says that he can't possibly be out of the race when the fighting duo of Stage 7 only got a fine. Well one thing is for sure, when Cavendish gets another shot at the line, he will not be denied.

Stage 12 features a couple of relative (to the recent Alps) short climbs with a real tough (10% grade) 3km climb at the end of the day. If you can work well with your breakaway partners, you might have a shot at glory.The peloton seems willing to wait, playing it safe.  or as John Wilcockson (Velonews) sees it: John Wilcockson's call to arms


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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tour de France Preview - Stage 11, July 15th

Photo credit © Roberto Bettini

Well a Frenchman didn't win today, cest la vie'. Good going for Radio Shack though, as we can see what they can do when the reins are off. Congrats to Paulinho.

Stage 11 should be a bunch sprint. We'll see who has rested up after the last couple of days in the mountains. I'm still pulling for Freire, but Cav and Farrar will obviously be in the mix. Pettachi looked very strong in the intermediate sprints in today's stage. Maybe foreshadowing of tomorrow? Adieu.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tour de France Preview - Stage 10, July 14th (recap stage 9)

Man! Today's stage 9 that finished with a sprint after climbing four big mountains including the Col de la Madeleine was memorable. It had everything you could ask for in a sporting event, including courage, collapse, brotherhood, and daring. Andy Schleck tried to figure out if Contador could follow another attack on a big climb and got his answer, a shadow. Contador matched him move for move and was seemingly bossing Schleck around to take his turn at the front, as if to say, do the work cause I'm not going anywhere. The duo was joined by Sanchez and caught the breakaway of four that set up an exciting finish where Sandy Casar's inside knowledge of the final turn got him the win.

The Tour is unforgiving and can be cruel. Today it brought Cadel Evans to tears as his time in yellow was all too brief. The rider who has learned to win by attacking, couldn't fight like he wanted today, as the bandaged rider discovered that he had broke his elbow after x-rays on the rest day. Losing eight minutes on the day, Cadel felt the weight of failing in his own expectations and tearfully collapsed into the arms of a teammate. He just couldn't give anymore. Crushed.

Stage 10 - Bastille Day! A frenchman always wants to win , on Bastille day! Some of the greats have won on this French National Holiday including, Jalabert, Virenque, with Jacques Anquetil winning on the day twice! Last year George Hicapie lit the fuse to ignite Mark Cavendish's third win of the 2009 tour.

Include in tomorrow's stage is the Cote' de Laffrey, one of the Tour’s oldest climbs, first featured way back in 1905. The Rochette descent that the riders follow to tomorrow's finish is where in 2003 (my favorite Tour in the Lance era) Joseba Beloki's tires melted and in crashing shattered his pelvis and his career. The crash forced Lance Armstrong to put on a moutain bike clinic as he had to navigate a mountain mountain meadow on skinny tires to escape harm as Beloki skidded to a stop.

Velonews offers some deeper history.
"While the profile looks somewhat benign for a stage in the Alps, history suggests otherwise. On a nearly identical course in 1971, Eddy Merckx experienced one of the most trying days of his Tour career. Unable to follow the accelerations of other top contenders on the Cote de Laffrey, he was forced to chase for 100km behind Spain’s Luis Ocaña. Merckx finished third, almost 9 minutes behind Ocaña. Only 38 riders finished within half an hour of the winner."

It will be a day for a breakaway. The overall  contenders will be content to save their energy and let a group get away to fight it out for glory. Bet on a Frenchman. Adieu

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Tour de France Preview - Stage 9

If you are a Tour rider and look at the profile of Stage 9 and you are not a climber, you will quickly realize it is going to be a long, long day. If you are a climber or a contender for the overall classification, you realize that it is going to be a long and stressful day. 204 kilometers (127 miles), three category climbs, one Hors Categorie (beyond categorization) climb (de la Madeleine), combined with the heat will make it a tough day for all.

The climbs are steep and long, the Col de la Colombiere at 20 km (12 miles long). The Col de la Madeleine goes up for about 30 km to close out the day has several pitches over 9% grades, that is a vertical rise of nine feet for every 100 feet of horizontal feet traveled. In other words you would be nine feet higher to the clouds after traveling about 30 yards, 2 to 3 times steeper than your average U.S. overpass.

The first three climbs come in the first 2/3 of the course with about 50km of descent and flats for recovery before the final climb starts. That positioning almost certainly means that a breakaway (a group of 15-20 probably) will almost certainly ride away top tackle the climbs on their own. If the breakaway wants to succeed, they'll need about 12-18 minutes at the base of the Madeleine to keep the climbing specialists from crossing the finish line first. Look for someone that can go downhill better than his companions to steal away on the long fast descent to Saint-Jean de Maurienne. 

Only someone who is not a threat to the overall will be allowed in the breakaway, that leaves out a number of choices, such as Sanchez (2:05 down), Hesjedal, (1:11 down), Van den Broeck or Vinokourov (3:05) because they would still be considered a threat to the yellow jersey. How about I put my money on Hincapie (42:20) , or Gerdemann (25:45), or maybe I'll whisper (Armstrong) who may want to show what he can do when he doesn't hit the deck.

Whomever wins the one, will deserve it. Adieu

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graphic by Velonews

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Stage 8 Recap, Rest day July 12th

Whew!, what a day. Everybody knew that the real Tour would start today, but the events didn't happen the way we all thought it would. They happened, in part by accident, but mostly with hard work.

I'll start with the accidents. Phil Liggett declared during the Versus broadcast today that "Lady luck slapped Lance Armstrong in the face today." Three times in fact. Having to ride off the road to avoid one wreck, clipping a traffic island and rolling and scraping to a stop on another. Then a bizarre crash when Armstrong was caught up when Egoi Martinez (Euskatel) and Matti Breschel (Saxo Bank) fell in front of him at the TOP of the climb when Egoi couldn't handle his musette. For those counting at home this was the second time Lance has been taken down due to a mishandled food bag. The first time ended much differently in 2003 on the climb to Luz Ardiden when Armstrong hooked a souvenir musette, crashed, got up, and went on to win the stage. When he went down today, Lance stood up, put his hands on his hips as if to say I can't believe this, then untangled his bike. His challenge for the Tour overall was over. He would lose almost 12 minutes on the day and  now stands over 13 minutes behind new yellow jersey wearer Cadel Evans. I never thought Lance would win his last Tour, but it was heartbreaking to see it end this way. He'll fight on, but it's his love of the Tour, not the desire to win it that will keep him going.
Lances back after today's stage (Photo credit © Roberto Bettini)

Onto the hard work. Walter Payton would not have been as great as he was if it weren't for Matt Suey's blocking. Indurain had his faithful Lieutenant, Gerard Rue. Today Alberto Contador had Daniel Navarro. His performance was unbelievable. He lead his team captain and the rest of the world's best climbers up the Morzine at a pace so high that they couldn't go on the attack. Maybe Contador couldn't go faster today, we'll see in the next two weeks. Two time Tour winner Laurent Fignon, who is battling cancer, mustered a "Come on, attack for crying out loud! He's only a domestique!"even up until two kilometres from the end of today's stage. The GC riders seemed to content to watch and follow. Andy Schleck finally attacked to win out in an exciting sprint finish to the mountain stage.

Tomorrow is this Tour's first of two rest days. If the blood control lets them, the riders will sleep in, go for an easy 2-3 hour ride and just try and recover as much as possible. The next day promises to hold more mountain fireworks. At least I hope...somebody go out and win the thing.

The Tour's Lantern' Rouge designation is currently being held by Dmitriy Muravyev for  Team Radioshack. The 'award' goes to the rider who is last in the overall standings. An unenviable position to be sure, but that never seemed to bother former pro rider Jimmy Casper who 'won' the award on two occasions.

Check back tomorrow for my stage 9 preview. Adieu.

graphic by Velonews

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Tour de France Preview Stage 8, July 11th

Photo credit © Roberto Bettini

What a great ride by Sylvain Chavanel today. It was great to see him get to wear the jersey for the second time in this tour, especially considering how he lost it with his bad luck on stage 3.

Chris Horner (Team Radio Shack) said before today's stage 7 that there "was zero percent" that any of the overall favorites would show anything in the stage. He was right, as all the big hitters held their cards close to the chest. The profile of stage 8 requires that things will shake out a few of the pretenders.
The first mountaintop finish of this years tour will likely bring an attack by Contador 4km to 5km from the finish, if there is a group of 15-20 at the start of the final climb. If however, Team Radio Shack launches Kloden or Horner on the Col de la Ramaz or Les Gets it will force another team to chase with a chance to isolate Contador. It might be a good chance to see how strong Astana is.

I don't expect Wiggins, or Evans to attack as it is not their normal style, maybe Schleck. To that point, Evans is not necessarily afraid of Contador, given the gap he put on him in the Dauphine in June where Evans put 12 seconds into Alberto in the final 500 meters of another uphill finish. Lance in generally regarded to be in pretty good form, we'll see if he puts it into play tomorrow to try and get the 50 seconds he's down to el Pistolero. One thing is for sure, you'll see an all out effort before the first of two Tour rest days on Monday.


Friday, July 9, 2010

Tour de France Preview - Stage 7, July 10th

 Photo credit © Roberto Bettini
Not sure who to blame on the Garmin/Transitions team for the botched sprint attempt today. Director Matt White either didn't lay down clear enough direction on who was supposed to go for the sprint or Farrar for hesitating (maybe a missed shift) too long when he had the chance. In sprinting fearlessness gets the win. It probably didn't help that Team Sky acted like the little brother who wanted to be included in his big brother's party and disrupted Lampre and Garmin ambitions. Probably no matter though, as Cavendish was not going to be denied today. Good thing he got the win today, cause he won't see the front of the race until the Tour gets out of the Alps in a few days.

Stage 7 will probably not decide too much tomorrow, the final climb is not much steeper than your average American overpass. However, the stage might give an indication of who is ready to fight on Sunday. Speaking of fights, before reading on take a look at this. The only difference between this scrape between Rui Acosta and Carlos Barredo and a baseball fight (where no on ever gets hurt either) is that one of these combatants throws a wheel and not a haymaker.

Good stuff.

Look for the GC contenders to be looking tomorrow. Looking at each other for any weaknesses, because they will be looking to exploit those chinks the following day to Morzine. Check back tomorrow for my thoughts on what is going to go down, when the Tour heads upwards for the first time 2010.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Tour de France Preview - Stage 6, July 9th

Cavendish showed today why you either love him or hate him. Sprinters in general bug me, there are exceptions of course, Zabel, Hushovd, Cippo, Boonen. Mark has been especially dangerous lately, blind ambition can drive that in a bad direction. Today he won the right way. The final two category 4 climbs in Stage 6 are too far away from the finish to cause a disruption and  141 miles is too long for a breakaway to be successful. Tomorrow he'll get to kiss the pretty girls again.

photo by Bettini

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tour de France Preview Stage 5, July 8th

Today's stage 4 did not surprise with a bunch finish, the surprise was Pettacchi and Julian Dean with their 1, 2 finish along with Dean's Garmin Teamate Robbie Hunter (3rd). I can guarantee that Garmin will let the boys go for it again tomorrow. It'll be interesting to see who gets the leadout in absence of a healing Farrarr.

Stage 5 should be another field sprint, but look for a breakaway to try and stay away from the gun. It is unlikely to work, the peloton is cruel in it's calculated precision to reel the rogues back in, but tell that to Jackie Durand. He never listened to those who said that a breakaway in the Tour won't work on stages like tomorrow.

Click on Stage 5. (this is awesome by the way)
Bing Map Tour App

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tour de France Preview Stage 4, July 7th

"Sometimes you're the hammer, sometimes you're the nail." - Lance Armstrong after the Arenberg Stage 3.

Well I predicted some dreams would end on the cobbles today, and for a while it looked like all of the anticipation was going to be much about nothing. The first sections of cobblestones went almost without incident, then all hell broke loose. The action was happening so fast and so furious, I couldn't keep up with the two computers and live TV I had running concurrently. Big winners on the day Andy Schleck (previously the big whiner about today's stage), Cadel Evans, and Bradley Wiggins, Mechov and Pistelero, all of whom gained time back and vaulted up the overall standings. Lance had an unfortunate flat 10k from the finish when everyone was full on gas through the most decisive cobbles of the day. Chavanel lost his Yellow jersey just one day after so gallantly earning the right to wear it. Whew!! We're only heading into day 5!

Stage 4, July 7th Cambrai to Reims is pretty straight up and should see this tour's first real sprint finish. Cavendish has been unimpressive, Farrar is busted up. Look for Freire or "The God of Thunder", Thor Hushovd to take the stage win and the peloton to take a breath.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Tour de France Preview Stage 3, July 6th

"Carnage!" is how Levi Leipheimer the American Radio Shack rider (and one of the overall favorites) described today's stage 2. Everyone who is anyone went down at least once. Any hope that tomorrows stage 3 traverse over the pave of l'enfer du Nord or the "hell of the north" won't have much of an impact went right out the window. In stage 3, the Tour will race over 13k of unfinished uneven and if it rains, glacially slippy, cobblestone roads that date back to Napoleon. Teams (Sky/Astana) will be out to protect their riders (Wiggins/Contador) that aren't built for this type of racing. Teams like Saxo Bank, Cervelo, and Radio Shack have targeted this day as a chance to exploit their opponent's weaknesses. They will hope for a repeat of the '99 Tour when Alex Zulle went down on the only exposed at low tide Passage du Gois and lost 4 minutes to eventual winner Lance Armstrong, when his team hit full on gas when a crash happened. One thing is for certain, there will be crashes, there will be carnage. Someone will lose their dream tomorrow.

Tour de France Preview - Stage 2, July 5th

Crashes marred stage one and that may give a hint of the canage that may come over the next couple of days. My picks for stage 1, Freire, Farrarr, and Cav, all went down in the three crashes that occurred in the last 2km of today's race. So....since the profile of stage 2 is similar see the picks I made for stage one. The only major difference that there are a few more roluers than today's stage. Which means it could end in a bunch sprint again, as the peloton didn't seem eager to let anyone get away today. Or...anything could happen and a small group could get away, although not likely, as the sprinters were denied a win today. Freire looks strong, so does Cav, if he can manage to not crash anyone. The American Farrarr may have just had his best chance at a stage win pissed away by the guy who ran into him 500m from the line. He'll be in the mix, but won't win stage 2.

Tour De France Preview - Stage 1, July 4th

Most likely a group sprint with my vote for the stage going for Mark Cavendish. However, the course travels some of the same roads as the Spring Ardennes classics. The hilly 'bumps' could be significant enough to let a breakaway slip away, watch for Ryder Hesjdal, or somebody not contending for the overall to get away. HTC is not likely to let that happen, but they could misjudge. Look for Oscar Freire to 'steal' one as this stage is certainly up his alley, and if he's there in the final 50m it's his. Look for American Tyler Farrar to give it a good go to win his first stage and potentially the Yellow Jersey, as he had a very good time trial today.

Tour de France Stage Preview - Prologue

Prologue (not a stage due to it's distance), 9km (5.5mi) Mostly flat with some tricky middle sections that cold prove difficult if it rains as expected. Expect the Overall favorites to take it easy if it's wet. You can't win the Tour in the Prologue, but you can lose it. If conditions are drastically different for the first half of the 189 rider field, expect lower tiered favorites to take yellow on the first day. Bet on Tony Martin - HTC Columbia.