Sunday, July 8, 2012

Passion, Persistence, & Profanity Tour de France Stage 8

Marc Madiot cheering from the FDJ Team car.
For all the negative press cycling seems to get when the Tour de France rolls around, a lot of us were reminded why we love this sport during Stage 8 today. It's sometimes cruel, breathtaking, and inspiring all at the same time. Even with all the ugliness and deceit, we can't look away. The images of Marc Madiot, the FDJ Director Sportif and two-time winner of Paris-Roubaix, screaming out the team car window at his 22 year-old rider Thibault Pinot as he tried mightily through the last 10 km to stay away from an elite group of chasers that included Wiggins, Evans, Menchov and Nibali, was passion defined.

Pinot, a Frenchman on a French team, had tried to win yesterday's Stage 7, knew today was possible when he saw the course revealed in October, but couldn't make it happen. Today was not as close to his home, but he won nonetheless. He remarked that he could not have done it without the French crowd's roars of encouragement and teammate Jeremy Roy's tremendous efforts in the early breakaway of the day. Pinot, the youngest rider in the race, actually had to persuade his team to let him participate in this year's Tour. That effort proved to be convincing, but no more convincing than his first Tour win. Persistence pays off.

In the last couple of days we've learned a lot about Bradely Wiggins and his first choice of choice words. It's not a nice one. Yesterday, using the third letter of the alphabet to begin the word to express his characterization of the inadvertent camera man following Sagan, then today when asked about PEDs in the Twittersphere. Make sure, if you get a chance Bradley, to not kiss the trophy with that mouth.

Tomorrow, should whittle down the podium contenders to 4 or 5. The list got a little shorter today with the abandon of Olympic Champion and GC contende, Samuel Sanchez, due to a crash mid stage that broke his collarbone and separated his shoulder. My money is on Evans.

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Bells, Baseball Fights, & Body Paint - Tour de France Stage 6

At the end of Stage 5, after being involved in yet another crash, instead of heading of to a corner and practicing his bike handling skills, Tyler Farrar decided to storm the Lotto bus. In the classic 6th grade playground move of "somebody better hold me back" pose that a non-fighter takes in an effort to save face, Tyler found that he couldn't even bust down the curtain on the Lotto bus' entrance. Just like a baseball fight, no one got hurt. If you want to fight, use implements, like Carlos Barredo in the 2010 tour. A wheel is good for more than holding up a bike.

For today's Stage 6, Peter Sagan, who no one in their right mind would question his bike handling skills (YouTube-Peter Sagan), put a bell on his bike to help announce his presence in the bunch. A smart move on his the Green Jersey holder, but everyone already knows who the man from Slovakia is at this point in the race. They probably just need to stay out his way, so they don't get run over. You wouldn't like him when he's angry
The freddish equipment is a humorous response the the real "freds" in this year's peloton, who think just because they want "that" spot, that it should be theirs and all they have to do is force their way in. Michael Barry was commenting that the respect factor seems to be waning more and more lately. Maybe because this year's Tour has no obvious Patron.

In another controversial move the ASO has decided to consider scrapping the traditional podium girls and go with girls in bikinis and body paint. They tested out the concept during today's stage, but will certainly be scrapped as the girls were said to have caused a big pile up with about 25 km to go.

The crash ultimately took recent Giro d'Italia Champion Ryder Hesjedal out of contention as he lost more than 13 minutes on the day. Velonews characterized the day as the "Metz Massacre" as the GC hopes of Valverde, Frank "I told you I wasn't a leader" Schleck, Robobank's Gesink, Scarponi (my dark horse favorite), and Brajkovic (Astana) all took huge hits to their respective campaigns. Valverde was heard screaming that someone doesn't know how to ride a bike! Indeed. (yes, Farrar was involved in the crash)
Waut Poels on his way to hospital (photo: AFP)

Sagan's bell must have worked as he won handily enough to try out his 'Hulk" imitation as he crossed the line. Probably the only Tour Stage winner with a bell on his handlebars, no? Biceps almost as big as Boonen's.
photo: Bettini

Tomorrow's Stage 7 travels to a steep finish at La Planche des Belles Fillies, with sections of 13% grades. We should see who's ready to battle for the yellow as Cancellara will probably have to give up his Yellow Jersey that he's held since the beginning. Look for a dark horse to make their presence known, maybe Scarponi or Mechov will show themselves in addition to those contenders at the top of everybody's list, like Wiggins and Evans. Also, Cannondale's Nibali, as he stayed out of trouble and has his Lieutenant Ivan Basso in good form and ready to storm up the finale.
Graphic: cyclingnews

There will be some jersey changes tomorrow. The yellow will end up on someone else's back, as well as the Polka Dot, and possibly the White jersey for the best young rider if American Teejay van Garderen gives Evans too much on the finish. Who knows who will be wearing the bikinis.


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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Roger Clemens, Voldemort, & Punctuation - Stage 5 Tour de France

Clearly Jonathan Vaughters watched Roger Clemens testify to congress during their investigation of the use of performance enhancing drugs (PED). Vaughters swift statement in response to the 'leaked' names of the riders that have allegedly testified in the USADA investigation of Lance Armstrong, sounded a lot like Clemens' "I'm not here to talk about the past." The Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported that several of Armstrong's former teammates have received a 'minor' suspension of 6 months in exchange for their confession for using PED and testimony to the USADA in their hunt for Armstrong. Vaughters said that at "this moment" his team and organization was focused on winning the Tour. Adding that the reports, that extremely light 6 month suspensions had been given to current Garmin riders, including Christian Vandevelde, David Zabriske, and himself, were false.

In a case of are you lying now, or were you lying then? USA cycling   recently announced that the same riders named in the Dutch story would not be participating in the London games in a few weeks. That announcement seemed curious then, but now fits in well with the timeline given in the story. In exchange for their admission and testimony, the riders would be allowed to continue to compete in the Tour and the big races in the spring and would serve the inconsequential suspensions, in what is essentially the off-season. Something's not right and it's not just the bows in the Carrefour podium girls hair. Those aren't right either. Atroce'.

Armstrong, who of course is not wasting anymore time defending himself, spent the entire day tweeting and defending himself both through Twitter and the punctuation of his substantial legal team. The Washington Post published the 18 page Armstrong camp's response to the USADA. The letter was not only astounding in its demands to drop the case, but its significant use of the semi-colon. These guys know how to construct a sentence. Not to be outdone by the experts, Lance (or Voldemort as he is often referred to online in effforts to avoid the threat of legal action) ruled that the USADA's actions were #unconstitutional. Prompting Romney to add that it was a penalty not a tax. And that this whole thing is Obama's fault

Oh yeah there was a race today. Andre Greipel won the bunch sprint in what he characterized as the hardest sprint he'd ever done to win his second of this year's Tour. We'll see if he can go for three tomorrow as the sprinters last big chance for glory before the battle for GC starts the following day. The gallop into Vosges will certainly be a sprint finish. Maybe Cav will heal enough by then to give it a go and maybe American Tyler Farrar can manage to stay upright for one day in a row.


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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fireworks, Barrel Rolls, and Bruises

photo: AFP

The lone American chance to have a French excuse to light fireworks on America's birthday hit the tarmac about 2.5km from the stage finish in Rouen. American Tyler Farrar got tangled up with other top sprinters and limped home about 4 minutes after the stage's winner Andre Greipel. Last year's Green Jersey winner and current World Champion, Mark Cavendish, went down as well in the crash started by his leadout man Bernard Eisel. Eisel accepted the blame with a qualifier "That's sprinters for you." However, most sprinters prefer to keep the shiny side up.

It appears that no one was really physically hurt in the crash, but that doesn't mean there was no damage done. Cavendish was the big loser on the day and took a significant hit to his green jersey point total and standing. He now holds the fourth place slot in the green jersey competition falling a spot from where he started the day.

My only advice would be to put your money on Cav teh next time he has a chance at the line, because a pissed off Cavendish is not often denied a win. That chance will be tomorrow's Stage 5 to Saint-Quetin. Book it.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Forrest Gump, Barry Sanders, & Cookies - Stage 3 Tour de France Recap

The #TDF Twitterverse lit up today as the debate about Stage 3's winner, the 22 year old Peter Sagan, that #ForrestGump was still trending as midnight came for the Tour riders who were undoubtedly were trying to rest from a hard day in the saddle. No, the tweeters weren't talking about the questionable quality of a 'beloved' american film, but the 'victory dance" of the man of the hour in this year's tour. Sagan said that his 'running man-like' salute came about from the suggestion of his teammate to imitate the fictional character "because they told him to run and that's what he did. And he said the team tells me to win and I win."

Traditional cycling fans are having a hard time understanding Sagan's youthful exuberance as he crosses line in victory in this years tour. They are probably the same fans who are having a hard time understanding the non-continental, former mountain biker, and Cyclocross champion's seemingly effortless wins. Stuart O'Grady intimated that the celebration was a type of taunt and disrespectful to the rest of the peloton. Well, get over yourselves. Salutes aren't anything new, see Flecha's Archer, Cav's crotch, and Satre's binky. And even though I'm not a big fan (Barry Sanders never spiked the ball you know), the celebration adds some color to an otherwise predictable tour so far, unlike the roller derby helmets the ASO is making the overall Team Classification wear every day. Now those are both nontraditional and taunts at good taste.

photo: Bettini

I remember my celebration dances when I was 22. They weren't appropriate either, but then again they weren't televised around the world. Settle down. Everyone will be fine. At least you're not this guy.

Actually Stage 3 was the first 'real' race of this year's Tour. Lots of mayhem, missed corners (I'm looking at you Valverde), and some go for broke moves that kept me on the edge of my seat (Chavanel). It was a 'real' stage with real racing. Hopefully an indicator that this race is what we thought it would be back in Liege', wide open.

Dan Martin thought it was real.

Jens Voight thought it was real.
Tomorrow's Stage 4 end in Rouen, the home of Jacques Anquetil. A little bump towards the end will not be enough to break up the sprinter's teams as they try to deliver their main men to the line. If anyone gets around Cavendish, if might be Matt Goss, Greipel, or 'The Cat' Oscar Freire. The Spainard has been making appearances at the front in the finishes the last few days and he might just be lurking for the right moment.


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Monday, July 2, 2012

Stage 2 Recap & a Cowardly Prediction for Stage 3

Despite the fact that he broke the first rule of nicknames, specifically that you don't get to choose your own nickname, Peter Sagan tried to make it two for two today as the tour rolled into Tournai, France for Stage 2. The Slovakian rider was a bit too early to be labeling his bike after his first tour win, but we'll chalk it up to youth. (he's 22) We'll chalk up his 6th place finish in today's stage to some poor positioning with 500m to go and inexperience in a full on Tour sprint.

It was a scrum to be sure, but there was no denying "The Manx Missile" (assigned, not chosen) his 21st stage win. Cavendish showed the poise and explosion that has earned him Tour glory and also the Rainbow stripes that he wears currently. Beating several of his former teammates that now race for themselves, Cavendish beat Andre Greipel by about half a wheel length.

The day started with German Tony Martin making the decision to ride 207.5km stage with a broken wrist. A hockey player in a former life, the tough guy is trying to make it to the first Time Trial on Stage 9 next Monday, where he seeks redemption after his flat tire that almost certainly cost him the Prologue win.

Tomorrow the peloton heads into the beautiful sounding Boulogne-Sur Mer for 197km with some interesting features toward the end that should disrupt the sprinting specialists. The bump at the end might be just what Phillipe Gilbert needs to distance himself from the peloton for the 7km to the finish. He knows how to stay away and drive a pace that a charging peloton cannot catch. Maybe will see Sagan. will all come together and we'll see a bunch sprint. This one's wide open

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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Roller Derby, Johnny Marr, Chickens and the Tour de France

The Societe' turned an effort to innovate into a hysterical belly laugh today with their move to make the leading team more visible during this year's Tour. Donning yellow helmets, as now mandated for the best overall team, Team Sky was transformed into the best funded roller derby team on the Continent. The freddish looking helmet combined with the Green Jersey that Bradley Wiggins was wearing, makes the haste to get today's stage over with quickly very understandable.
Of course the stage started with a break and of course it failed as the peloton scooped up the six riders who gave it a go for about 190km. The race then lit up as it navigated its way through some insanely narrow and streets with a couple of bunny hopping required roundabouts thrown in for good measure. All eyes were on Gilbert, Sagan, and Boasson Hagen when Sylvain Chavanel launched himself of the front and make it stick for a bit, but when Cancellara's yellow helmet appeared the move was doomed.

The ridiculously steep last mile turned out to be a drag race for only the strongest with the Yellow Jersey, the aspiring white Jersey and an extremely strong 22 year old Peter Sagan.

In what appears to be a miscalculation in starting his attack, just a bit too late, Phillipe Gilbert missed an opportunity to win in backyard. Instead, Gilbert will surely have to explain to the rabid Belgian cycling fans why is isn't repeating his 20+ win season of last year. Finishing fourth on the day will not be good enough for neither Gilbert, nor the Belgian press.

The three strongmen all wanted the stage, but may have had three different reasons for duking it out with just 500m to go. Cancellara was looking for a time cushion to allow him to keep his Yellow Jersey a little longer, Boasson Hagen with a chance to claim the white jersey, and Sagan a chance to do "Head shoulders, knees, and toes to an international audience. Ahh..youth
Photo: afp                           photo:Bettini
The twenty-two year old Sagan, is not done winning stages in this year's tour, but with only one Tour win, it is still a little too early to be calling yourself "Tourminator". Besides, you don't get to pick your own nickname! That's the first rule of nicknames. If he does his version of the Chicken Dance again, I'll ask disgraced Tour rider Rasmussen or the San Diego Chicken if I can transfer their nickname to Sagan.

Speaking of nicknames, I'm wondering what to assign to Bradley Wiggins' hair. Has anyone ever seen Bradley Wiggins, Johnny Marr, and Liam Gallagher in the same room together? I didn't think so.   

Stage 2 Preview
A pancake flat stage with an almost certain sprint finish. If you are betting against Mark Cavendish, you probably put your money on Sagan. Bandwagoners beware, Goss and Greipel are going to be there, but I doubt they will get around the 'Man from Manx' (Cavendish)

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