Monday, May 12, 2008

Giro d'Italia 2008 Stage 3: Feeling Their Pain

Suffering is the hallmark of cycling, but therein lies a dichotomy that has been front and center in the early days of this Giro. We love to watch the riders suffer - up a mountain, in a time trial, in a valiant attempt to hold off the chasing peloton, in a fierce sprint. They push their bodies to the limit and we stand in awe and respect of their hard work and determination.

But when they crash, especially as horribly as they did today, it is a suffering we almost can't watch. We hate it, we wish it never happened, we want it to stop. Versus may build their marketing campaign around the "excitement" of spectacular bicycle crashes, but I have to think most true fans of the sport take no pleasure in them. We marvel at them, and at the survivors who manage to shake it off and continue on, but our hearts sink and our breath catches each time as we assess the damage.

Having noted how hard they are to watch, I will say that RAI offers excellent coverage of them. I don't recall ever seeing so much follow up of the immediate aftermath. We saw all the tangled bikes, and guys wandering about, looking for bikes, teammates, wheels, even shoes. Side note to David Millar - to be able to write a lovely little piece like that after a day like today, brilliant, and such a gift to the fans. I don't know if the bus is the most comfortable place for Dave Zabriskie, but I like the idea of him being with the guys until he gets to go home.

Just as it was so heartbreaking to watch Zabriskie yesterday, today it was the same watching Brad McGee. First the long time lying on the road, then hunched over, then in that angelic kneel. There was just something about it, his uniform was still clean, his two feet perfectly together, his body so still while the doctors attended to his broken collarbone. And then that horrible jolt of pain as he tried to lie back on the stretcher. As if that wasn't bad enough, I was crushed to find out later that teammate Stuart O'Grady suffered the very same fate. It was so good to see him back this year after last year's horrific crash in the Tour, how frustrated he must be.

Crashes aside, RAI is delightful to watch. I added it to my satellite programming, so I get to watch it on regular TV instead of squinting at the computer. They had a fun opening montage, and a previous day recap which included a smiling Christian Vande Velde in the pink jersey, toasting to the camera with his water bottle. With the bubbling Italian commentary, I feel just like Bill Cosby's Cliff Huxtable when his wife spoke Spanish, "I just listen for my name."

In this case, it's the riders' names, and it's funny how much you can pick up in context. Today's vocabulary word was mano (hand), which I picked up as they discussed first Soler's injury from yesterday, and then Ricco's today. I even got that they were saying a hand injury is bad, given how crucial hands are to cycling. It works both ways, though, once I knew what they were talking about, I was interested in what they had to say about it and wished I could understand more. For example, I easily picked out "salbutamol," "asthma," and "Petacchi," but then couldn't tell what their commentary on the situation was. I gathered, though, that they didn't enjoy the double standard enjoyed by Piepoli. And then there was something later about Armstrong's legendary ride into Gap, I was dying to know what connection they were making there!

RAI is not subtle about their T&A shots, but they show plenty of kids and old folks, too, so you just have to smile. And where else do you get to see Robbie McEwen do an interview in Italian, including congratulating Petacchi on his new bambino.

Other fun shots of the day included Alberto Contador outstripping teammate Antonio Colom to get back to the peloton. Watching he and Levi Leipheimer, it's like an old dog being thrown back in the hunt. They weren't training for it, but their instincts are there and they fall right back into the race.

Astana provided a number of dicey moments on the day - Colom getting a repaired shoe from the team car and proceeding to let go of the car and put the shoe on while rolling along. He immediately fell back off the team car's pace, just as what appeared to be a race official's care came right up behind him. I guess it all worked out though, as he took a flier off the front in the closing kilometers. In a more humorous incident, an unknown Astana rider went astray around some traffic furniture and had to come back into the race through the crowds lining the road.

There were a lot of multiple pacelines on the front, Barloworld in particular out in force. I hope Soler's hand is feeling better!

I love Erik Zabel, and was happy to see him take a strong second in the rough and tumble final sprint. As for Liquigas, look how much fun you're having, still in pink and Daniele Bennati winning the stage, what do you need with Ivan Basso? (I'm not a Basso hater, I just get squirmy at the shadier aspects of the whole thing.)

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