Sunday, March 23, 2008

Milan-San Remo: So Smooth

Can you call something so powerful smooth? Somehow they both work. Maybe it's the lyrics in my head, "Gimme your heart make it real, Or else forget about it." I have a feeling I have used that line before, but how better to describe Fabian Cancellara's decisive move? That aerial shot was fantastic, showing his glance back and then making the acceleration, such power and effort, what a great move. That's the kind of power that can only come from instinct. No time to overthink, just go with your gut.

A guy with such a mellifluous name as Fabian Cancellara shouldn't need so many nicknames, but I guess one is always looking for more words to describe his Fab-ness, so we get The Bear, Tony Montana, and Spartacus. Whatever you call him, the dude can ride a bike. He comes off a little arrogant in interviews, but why the heck not, when you can deliver like that. And there's always a sense of fun along with it, so a lot can be forgiven. As long as he doesn't have a corresponding portrait like this (click on number 4, if you dare) over his mantel, we're okay (thank you, Joe Lindsey - or not, given that such a thing is now forever seared into my brain).

Nice last week, San Remo yesterday, I'm loving these races by the water in nice weather, so gorgeous. And such exciting racing. One powerful attack after the other, each with heavy hitters so had to be taken seriously. I never, ever want to ride a bike on those twisty, steep, narrow roads, but I'll never tire of watching the pros do it. With the sun coming through the buildings, and the bent legs as the riders lean in unison, what a sight. I'm glad there wasn't the bloodbath of last year, though we did get a couple of hair-raising crashes this time around.

In the kudos department, to Will Frischkorn, for spending most of the race out in front, flying those Slipstream Chipotle colors as we've come to expect this year. I hope potential title sponsors are taking note, if you go with the burrito boys, guaranteed major air time. And to with High Road, Thomas Lovkvist making another great showing, with George Hincapie at hand as usual. And of course CSC, showing their power and class once again. Not just in the win, but in the way they displayed teamwork at its best in the fantastic chase. I don't think Liquigas are looking for a sponsor at the moment, but they were a major part of that great chase as well, I trust they took pride in their second place.

With such a fine race, I guess I can't blame Versus for having it take up most of the show, but Tirreno-Adriatico got short shrift in the process. They didn't even show Ricco's bike toss, and gave a bit of a misimpression on the steep climb - it wasn't just the motorbikes making guys walk! Ah well, at least they showed it, so we can see who's going well, and appreciate Fabian's double win. And if you didn't have enough fun with all that, you could watch both American Flyers and Breaking Away on cable tonight, how much more cheesy goodness could you want? (Not to mention helpful research for the Dave Zabriskie - Kevin Costner survey.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Go Argyle!

Paris-Nice was shaky, Dugard's turd took place at a Chipotle restaurant, would they make it??

Well of course they're in the Tour, how can you leave this guy out??

Woohoo Slipstream/Chipotle H3O, can't wait to see argyle animating the Big Show!

(Photo of Dave Zabriskie by Graham Watson)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

This Ride's For You

I rode my bike today. Endless snow and illness have made these past few months the longest I've gone without riding outside in four years. Today was it. The sky was blue, the wind was light, the temp was in the 40s, the sun was still above the trees when I got home from work, the frost heaves have settled just a bit. And more snow, ice and rain predicted for tomorrow and beyond. I threw on a random assortment of synthetic clothing, pumped up the tires on the mountain bike (key words being "just a bit" on those frost heaves), and off I went.

Joy. The steering a little wobbly at first (especially on my mushy driveway), but the cadence fell right back in. Cool air searing my lungs, wind-induced tears drying on my face, numb fingertips fumbling with the gear shifts. Laughter and thoughts of not being able to walk tomorrow as I went right for the big hill down the street (hey, I've been doing my weights). Past my sister's house, by the truck gathering sap from the maple trees, over the crest that delivers a stunning view of the river coming in from the sea, past the aromatic freshly-cut trees hauled out from the forest, down the road with the two bad bumps, by the open field that always looks like it would be good for x-country skiing, look right to see the sand bar at low tide, scoot by a new scary big dog (was he on a chain?), past the town dock, over those divots where the road sometimes disappears, by an enormous dog (on a leash, but I don't like the way the girl on the other end pushes him way aside and averts his eyes), around the slippery corner with a winter's worth of gravel still splayed across it, look longingly at the ribbon of road stretched out ahead, glide down to the driveway, maneuver through the muck. Home. (I ain't talkin' about the house.)

Yes, now I think I can take the snow tomorrow. If not for that little excursion, I just might have lost it. I hear the birds chirping. I … okay, it's Maine, that's about it for signs of Spring, still a couple of months off. But the point is I know it's coming.

In addition to my run-on ruminations above, I found myself dedicating my ride to a few folks in my thoughts today. Because I knew they knew this joy, this appreciation of just being able to get a ride in on a nice day.

So, this ride's for you:

Linus Gerdemann, heal well and study those Tour routes.

Fatty and Susan, buon giorno! (Sorry, that's all I can write without crying. :-)

George Hincapie, who took a hard spill today trying to lead out the punk.

Bobby Julich, for doing what you can to prove the sport clean.

Kevin van Impe. And Jayden.

Kristy Gough and Matt Peterson.

David Millar, hope you're feeling better.

Christian Vande Velde. (Heads up, VeloNews, I believe he's an American in Paris-Nice.)

Fabian Cancellara, Happy Birthday to the boy in blue.

Thor Hushovd, for enjoying the view in Nice.

Chris Horner, who has been shut out of any Olympic-qualifying races because he took the deal he deserved at the last minute.

Levi Leipheimer, let him ride.

Dave Zabriskie, for Yield to Life and rockin' the 'stache for 2nd place behind Fab in the TT.

Do The Test, may it be shown to every man, woman and child in the world.

Floyd Landis, no matter what.

UCI and ASO - take a ride yourself, remember what it's all about.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Linus Gerdemann

No cute title for this one, holy crap, unbelievable.

Our boy Linus crashed in the TT at Tirreno-Adriatico yesterday. I saw the pictures last night of him afterwards, and was horrified then, he looked awful. But considering he had finished the stage, eighth no less, I hoped he would be okay.

Not so much. He broke his femur. He broke his femur, got back on his bike, finished the stage, and came in eighth. Okay, riding with a broken collarbone, or even a broken wrist, is one thing, but a broken leg?? Good heavens.

Out for six weeks, what a heartbreaker. Wishing you all the best Linus, come back to us soon!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Paris-Nice Stage 7: LL Cool

Thank heavens for Sputnik. Eleven-inch, crystal clear, live video. What a concept. Fantastic pictures on a sparkling day by the water, and another thrilling race on the road. Once again it was an attack on the descent that was the big move - kids, don't try this at home! Luis Leon Sanchez defied the laws of physics in his unbelievably fast and skillful descent, I believe my mouth was actually hanging open. Crazy, crazy stuff, but it got him to the lead pack, and then shot him out from them for the stage win, just barely hanging on as a couple of riders were bridging back up to him. I don't know how he held on to those corners, he was about sideways in some of them.

I'm so glad he pulled it out, because I love that kind of initiative in the closing kilometers. The lead group was something like seven seconds ahead of the peloton, and they're all looking at each other and getting resigned to being caught. Good on Sanchez for not having any of that and continuing his pursuit for the win and moving into top 5 on GC. Didn't quite get enough to take the white jersey from Robert Gesink, but Sanchez looked plenty happy at the finish.

Bravo to Davide Rebellin for holding on to his slim lead and finally getting the top spot on the podium, after coming so close before. Nice win for the old guys! Yaroslav Popovych holds on to third, glad to see him in a podium spot. He poured on the gas just at the end, presumably to keep Gesink from sneaking by him, well done. Trent Lowe flew the Slipstream colors there in the break and on the final climb, nice to see after the tough week he's had. Bobby Julich again in the break, showing nice form in his home away from home.

Just watched again on Versus, and got to see that crash by Gesink and Nocentini, Gesink almost going over the wall into who knows what, yikes! I think young Gesink is going to be in a world of hurt tomorrow, but his good showing here will be a nice reward. Looking forward to Milan-San Remo next weekend, and the chance to see more Tirreno-Adriatico. (Hooray for Fabian Cancellara and Dave Zabriskie today!) My brief, international nightmare with is soon to be over; they don't seem able to handle Macs very well, so I'm canceling already. It would be nice if they could get it together over there, it's such a great idea and thus far such horrible execution.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Paris-Nice Stage 6: Fade to White

The title could well refer to the weather outside my window. Another Saturday, another snowstorm. Silly me thought I'd be riding my bike this weekend. So it's back to watching the pros, in balmy France and Italy. No, the title refers to young Robert Gesink, who lost yellow today but retains the white jersey as best young rider.

It was a long, arduous stage with many mountains to cross. was its usual special self, so I only saw towards the end, and a horrible picture at that. Looking forward to perhaps a better stream later today in video on demand. I will say, though, that even pixelated racing can keep you on the edge of your seat!

Bobby Julich was in the break with teammate Chris Sorensen, CSC determined to fly the colors as much as possible while looking for a new sponsor. Julich and Sorensen tag-teamed the attacks, Bobby getting away on the one that stuck, with Mathieu Sprick. It was a crazy descent, with many close calls and a couple of gasp-worthy crashes. One of those involved Sprick - he and Julich were careening down together, and then suddenly Sprick was not there. It went by fast, but he appeared to be in the bushes on some kind of turn-off. Frank Schleck was the other gasp, taking a turn too wide and just slamming sideways into a rock face, beyond ouch.

I was cheering Bobby on, hoping against hope that he would pull it out. But his small group of immediate pursuers had bigger fish to fry, they were going for yellow and Gesink was in big trouble, so they chased Bobby down. At least Bobby stayed with them to the end, not having to do any more work after his long haul. And I thought yellow with one last escort was sad - how about yellow with no one - not even anyone catching up on the descent and flat into the finish. Poor Gesink, fading fast, had a horrible descent and was left to lead a whole line of riders towards the finish, as none of them were obligated to help. None save polka-dot wearer Clement Lhotellerie, who was trying to salvage his top 10 spot, but it seemed like mostly yellow on front.

In the end it was plucky Sylvain Chavanel, soothing his Ventoux disappointment with a solo attack and win in the closing kilometer. He was fist-pumping and shouting all the way across the line, one very happy French dude. Julich slipped in for third on the day, and Davide Rebellin came in fifth to take yellow. Thor Hushovd powered his way over the mountains and came in the second finishing group, along with Yaroslav Popovych, who moves up to third on GC. Gesink was in the third group, just 1:29 back, but all the difference in the world. Sprick and Schleck finished in the next small group at 2:01 back, bless their souls, I hope that means they weren't too badly hurt. Should be another thriller tomorrow, and we actually get to see it on real TV!

Tirreno-Adriatico Stages 1-3: Stop The Insanity!

Great field, wacky finishes, fun race they've got down here in Italy! Too bad we only get brief highlights, but I'm happy to have them. Star-studded bunch sprint in Stage 1, taken by Oscar Freire over Alessandro Petacchi.

We just got the final kilometer of Stage 2, but worth it if only to see Riccardo Ricco throw his bike across the finish line for fifth place. Now when you hear that, normally you think of that sprinter's thrust, arms out and head down as they zoom across. No, I mean he was walking on the road, picked up his bike and threw it over the line, trotting across after it. He had been in the winning break, with a teammate, when right towards the end he and Linus Gerdemann touched wheels and Ricco broke some spokes. CyclingNews gets into who might be to blame, noting well Ricco's colorful personality. Ricco's hopes of exacting revenge on the race today in Stage 3 were dashed when he was involved in an early crash. He finished the stage, tattered and torn, but nearly last to cross the line.

Let's talk about that Stage 3 - Holy Guacamole, I've never seen anything like it! The climb up to the eventual finish included an insane 20% gradient, and they had to do it twice! Lots of guys, top pro riders, were having to walk up it. Some because their legs blew out, some because they got caught behind others who blew, and there was no way to keep pedaling up that thing unless you could keep all momentum going. Several motorbikes couldn't even make it up, causing a horrible mess. The motorbikes were sideways, or stuck in the middle of the road, so riders couldn't get past them at all, and there goes another batch who have to walk up.

You occasionally see a fan push a rider up any random climb in a race, and it's always nerve-wracking and annoying. But here, there were some riders who were completely cross-eyed, and the pushes from the fans were the only thing keeping them upright. So for these riders, there was a whole line of fans pushing them up, one would hand off to the next, and so on, until the rider could get under his own power again. Riders were zigzagging completely across the road and back, coming perilously close to tipping right into the barriers on many occasions. It was mayhem, I tell you, mayhem!

Hats off to Joaquim Rodriguez for gutting out the win. Among the boys suffering like dogs were many of our favorites, such as George Hincapie, setting up teammates Gerdemann and Thomas Lovkvist for high finishes. Fabian Cancellara, coming in a very impressive tenth on the day - as pointed out, he's not a light fella, and to drag himself up ahead of most of the pack was quite a feat. Dave Zabriskie, farther back in the pack - oh, to be a fly on the wall of his brain at that moment.

It's kind of confusing, following both of these races at once, but the more the merrier!

Paris-Nice Stages 4 and 5: To The Moon And Beyond

Well, apparently I can wait for Ventoux. Grrr. I caught glimpses live on Thursday, so it wasn't a total loss, but I've been battling with for two days to see the complete broadcast. I finally got it all to work tonight, so am playing catching up.

Okay, Mont Ventoux: The blue skies were indeed here to stay, it was so reassuring to see the guys' bare arms and legs again, and brilliant sunshine all around. Jens Voigt. Sigh. You couldn't create a better character if you tried. There he was with his trademark grimace, pulling away from the break and going it alone on a valiant effort that looked for a bit like it just might succeed. The VeloNews live coverage today mentioned the complications there were with his newborn baby, and how as a result he hadn't been riding much leading up to this. I trust she's doing better, as he is racing again, and send best wishes to the whole brood. CSC have had such a rough time of it in this race, typical Jens to come back fighting. And on the day we learned no more CSC after this year. That's going to be at least as weird as no Postal was back in the day. More, even, because CSC is such a team's team.

Jens couldn't quite make it, but even in defeat he showed his greatness. He was cracking, no doubt about it, but when the pursuing break caught him, he didn't just let them pass him by. He saw teammate Frank Schleck in the small group, and so he hopped right on front of the foursome and did his level best to set tempo for Frank! Jens couldn't last long, but that he even tried shows the measure of the man.

Always a sad sight, the yellow jersey going backwards with just one loyal teammate alongside. And so it was with Sylvain Chavanel. Lots of guys popped on the slopes of Ventoux, but he had great hopes of not being one of them this day.

Yaroslav Popovych found out that it doesn't always quite work out to have your Tour GC man working for you in the smaller races. Cadel Evans was trying to pull Popo to the yellow jersey, but set the tempo too high, and all it did was give Robert Gesink incentive to launch an attack. Only Evans could follow, so it was just the two of them to the end. I'm not sure I like Cadel zipping around for the win, he could've at least gone side-by-side to Gesink in the final stretch. But that's racing, and Gesink did get yellow for his efforts.

On to Stage 5, which saw a big ole' breakaway for much of the day. Caught a glimpse of Christian Vande Velde, towards the back of the pack, brighter days ahead Christian! And get well soon to David Millar, I'm glad he's taking care of himself. Gutsy attack by Carlos Barredo towards the end, well done for the stage win and a move up on GC. From the sun to the sea, on to Tirreno-Adriatico…

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Paris-Nice Stage 3: Blue Skies

I hope it's nothin' but blue skies from now on! We finally got to see some at the end of today's stage, a very welcome sight.

So happy for Sylvain Chavanel, a sentimental favorite of mine for sure. After the great highs and then crushing disappointment in last year's Tour, it's a delight to see him in yellow. I'd love to see him take the whole thing, or Yaroslav Popovych, who we did indeed get to see more of today, either works for me!

Remembering Andrei Kivilev today, and sending hugs out to our CSC and Slipstream boys who are having such a rough go of it. And Michael Rogers, get well soon! And Tom Danielson, fix your back! Oy, what's a mother hen to do?

Can't wait for Ventoux tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Paris-Nice Stage 2: Gorillas In The Mist

You know, when they're bunched up, out of the saddle, trying to catch up or get to the finish, rocking back and forth - there's a little gorilla in there, don't you think? And today at Paris-Nice it was once more through the mist and fog, and rain and wind. It wasn't quite as bad as the post-apocalyptic nightmare of yesterday, but not by too much. Once again we had dirty butts and rain capes and more games of name that rider through the watery lens.

Yesterday, when those two Silence-Lotto riders bridged up to the leading group with Frank Schleck, I thought one of them must be Yaroslav Popovych, but it was hard to see in the rain. I've been looking forward to seeing him this year, if they ever get to the sun this week, hopefully we'll see more of him! We're seeing plenty of Gert Steegmans, and amen to that, he's so loveable with that cherubic face on top of that massive power. It's always great to see lead-out men get their own chance to shine.

Today Gert and Thor Hushovd survived another brutal stage to give us a good show. From the intermediate sprint to the duel at the finish, they showed incredible power and fight. I love both these guys, and I love how they didn't let the elements get in the way of some awesome racing. I'm sorry so many other guys got banged up, I hope they can hang in there and have their day in the mountains.

Thor was part of another awesome moment today, one that nearly brought me to tears just by it's sheer beauty. It was caught by an aerial shot, the perfect perspective from which to see the magic of cycling teamwork. Thor was off the back, of course in yellow, and had one green teammate in front of him, pacing him back to the group. When they caught up they kept right on going, zooming up the side of the pack. As they went along, they picked up more greenies one by one. Each guy would be rolling along, then his head would jerk up, then he would jump right on the front of the green train with the yellow caboose and get instantly in sync. Before you knew it they were at the front of the pack in perfect formation. I use the word beauty a lot in these pages, perhaps too much, but how else to describe it? It was a simple thing, but breathtaking in it's precision and professionalism. Did I mention I love this sport?

Two others that loved this sport were lost on Sunday in a heartbreaking crash on a training ride. CyclingNews and VeloNews both have moving tributes. What can you say, losing such beautiful people much too early never makes a damn bit of sense. If you haven't checked out Dave Zabriskie's Yield To Life organization yet, now would be a fitting time for a donation.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Paris-Nice Prologue: The Thunder Rolls

A brief, soggy day at Paris-Nice, so just a few thoughts on the weekend.

I hope the Monte Paschi Eroica gets some video coverage next year, it sounds like a fun race and seems to be catching on well. Congrats to Fabian Cancellara on his victory, it seems he was turning his pedals in more than a little anger. CafePress will surely have his "big piece of…" line on T-shirts within the week.

As VeloNews recognized, Paris-Nice was remarkably business as usual in the prologue. Whatever was going on inside buses and hotels and press rooms, the guys got on their bikes and rode. On the one hand, it points to the simplicity of it all - in the end, it's just about guys riding their bikes. But on the other hand, getting each one of those riders safely through a slippery and curvy course, and certifying times and winners and proper bikes, and presenting flowers and lions and the rest - that all doesn't happen by itself. So as much as we'd like to push the UCI and ASO aside and just let them race, there isn't a race without organization. So they have to work it out one way or another.

It's poetic that gentle giant Thor Hushovd won the prologue. How can you punish a sweetheart like him, one of the good guys of the peloton? Not that I have any basis for such hope, but I hope cooler heads prevail in the purported post-race meeting between all concerned parties. It wasn't a great day of racing, with the short distance and so many riders being cautious. But it was racing - the top guys gave their all, and the post-race talk was of who was banged up and who wants to do well in which stage - just as it should be. Ride on.

Riding off into the sunset this evening was one of the greatest television series of all time, The Wire (HBO). Nowhere else (except preceding projects by these folks) will you find such a textured and varied cast, and such a searing yet loving look at our nation's urban struggles. For the past fifteen years, from Homicide: LOTS to The Corner to The Wire, David Simon has made me know and care more about Baltimore than any place I've actually lived. As he so unflinchingly portrays, the problems go on, and so to I hope will he. On a lighter note, a few sly references along the way and the fleeting appearance of the ubiquitous Det. John Munch in a recent episode ensure that The Wire takes up residence, along with 90% of all television, inside Tommy Westphall's head. God bless Tom Fontana.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Love of the Game

If I thought the honchos at the UCI and ASO were intimately familiar with American football, I would make them all watch Brett Favre's retirement press conference. There is so much they could learn from the man - complete lack of guile, unadorned honesty, a rich and full heart, thoughtfulness, appreciation, disinterest in the sound of his own voice, honor, duty, and, above all, love of the game.

Favre's emotions overflowed many times. He cried, he talked about how tough it is to do his job, he said he can't give anymore. Not because he is melodramatic or self-important or has no life outside of football. On the contrary, his perspective is healthier than most. We have watched him go through so much - playing with injuries, losing so many close loved ones, his wife's battle with cancer, his own battle with addiction. No, his deep emotion comes from a very real and humble love of his sport. The greats in any sport have it - it's far beyond a job or a meal ticket, it's what they were put on this earth to do. And they appreciate that privilege every day. They give everything, they set high goals and work relentlessly to achieve them, sacrificing much along the way. They relish in the details and moments that make their sport special. It's simple yet deeply rich, and one of the more beautiful things in sport. Favre is not perfect, that's what makes him so genuine, but he is football at its best.

We all know the peloton is not perfect either, but those honchos I speak of would do well to think of cycling at its best. Riders enduring unimaginable conditions, dropping out only if they can no longer grip the bars. George Hincapie riding hard for a hundred miles with a broken wrist, because he didn't want to let his team down. Thomas Voeckler rounding that turn on a mountain finish in 2004, holding on to yellow for one more day. Brent Lancaster not letting his first chance in Le Tour slip away - riding on a stomach empty from throwing up all night, and later in the same stage, twisting in the air so he wouldn't land on his bad collarbone. Stage 16 of last year's Giro: riding through a snowstorm, Pavel Brutt's fingers were frozen to the handlebar. Another rider from a different team, whom Brutt apparently didn't even know personally, not only noticed Brutt wasn't eating, but when Brutt explained why, the other rider took Brutt's sandwich from his back pocket and fed it to him. Soon after, the whole peloton stopped in a tunnel to put on some more clothes. As I've said before, this is what loving cycling looks like.

They just want to ride their bikes. This is what they love, what they train for, what they dreamt of as children. They are tough as nails and welcome any challenge. Pain, risk, cold, heat, hail or high water - these things don't scare cyclists. What scares them is not being able to ride. So shame on you, honchos, for putting fear into the fearless. For letting your stubborn power plays threaten what is so near and dear to cyclists' hearts. For toying with their World and Olympic dreams, let alone their Spring Classic dreams. They will bear any burden to stay on the bike and in the race. You need to do the same, whatever it takes to coordinate, compromise, and get over yourselves - and let the riders ride.

I get emotional about these things (pssst…I love cycling a bit myself). I realize we're not talking the Middle East peace crisis. (And really, shouldn't that fact make it a little easier to solve?) But sport is one of those grand distractions that makes the rest bearable. It is thrilling, and beautiful, and inspirational. Back in January, I spent my birthday sick as a dog on the couch. But there was Brett Favre, in a blizzard, scrambling and tossing and leading his team to an exquisite victory. I couldn't have been happier, and I will remember that birthday always with great joy. So thanks, Brett, for loving the game with all your heart. Would that others could be so inclined.