Monday, July 28, 2008

Tour de France 2008 Wrap-up: All For Carlos

There's always that odd sensation when the Tour ends, like coming out of a tunnel. All of those tasks and thoughts and issues that got pushed aside for three weeks come back into bright focus, to mixed effect. Ah well, all good things as they say.

Carlos Sastre may just have given "tranquilo" back its good name. In recent years, that word has been uttered by many an accused doper, only to be followed by confession or definitive proof. But this tranquilo was about Sastre riding his race, not getting caught in the trap of outside pressure or team politics or trying something different at the last minute. He celebrated as he wanted on L'Alpe d'Huez, and he didn't blow himself up trying for too much on the TT. He had the luxury in the TT of knowing things were going his way, but in both cases he went with the attitude of doing his own thing and letting the chips fall where they may. I'm no expert, but I imagine relaxation opens the blood vessels - he may be onto something.

It seems that the way to win is either being a cold killer or a cool customer. That in-between where your heart and head get too stirred up seems to get you in trouble. I don't think it's the emotion itself, that emotion kept Cadel Evans going after he crashed, and got him his first yellow jersey. I was glad to see how much he wanted it and how much it meant to him. But it's the energy it takes, energy you need in the final race to the line. Perhaps unfair for a number of reasons, but I already find myself seeing Evans as the next Jan Ullrich. It won't be the same guy he loses to each time, but it could be a succession of little Spaniards if Alberto Contador is back next year. I haven't caught up on all the analyses, so I don't know if it's been discussed somewhere, but Evans' position in the TT seemed awfully f***ed to me. His arms were so low, it looked like he could topple forward at any moment. It may be aerodynamic, but can you get power? Surely they check that in the wind tunnel too.

George Hincapie put in a heroic ride, 10th in the TT, a shredded left side not stopping his usual solid performance. He talked so matter-of-factly about his injuries afterwards, it's moments like that that always make me pause and think about what these riders go through. Unbelievable pain, all in a day's work.

It was Jens Voigt who talked about this year being "all for Carlos," and I couldn't be happier for Voigt and the whole team. All that second-guessing about doing too much work and not taking enough time at the right spots, I'm really glad it worked out for them and they got to take home yellow for Carlos and for the team classification. It was an awful bit of luck, yet somehow fitting that Jens managed to actually work his butt off and lose his saddle in the final laps on the Champs.

Frank Schleck reaching for Andy as they crossed the line was a poignant moment in more ways than one. The brothers were celebrating their dream of just being there together, let alone their joint success. But the other telling thing was that at the moment Frank was reaching out, Andy had his eyes on Carlos. He held hands with Frank briefly, but then moved up to Carlos for an arm around the shoulder. Now, the brothers will be sharing memories of this Tour in their living rooms together for the rest of their lives, but I think Andy was looking at where he's headed in years to come. He will surpass his brother, as Frank himself acknowledges, and I hope it stays the same between them as that happens.

The Champs-Elysees is a grand finish any way you slice it, and is another one of those reminders that the event is bigger than any one rider. The peloton, the big wide monster that ate up the narrow country roads, suddenly looks tiny as they rattle over the cobbles towards the Arc de Triomphe. Likewise, the riders on the final podium always look like little kids, in wide-eyed awe of where they find themselves.

Speaking of where they find themselves, Garmin-Chipotle was such a great source of joy, inspiration, and just plain fun for the whole three weeks - thanks boys! Christian Vande Velde has wisely and thankfully gone the cool cucumber route with his newfound status. He too rode his own race in the TT, and finished ahead of all the GC contenders. If he hadn't have fallen in that descent, Vande Velde would have been on the podium for sure. Which is fine, he fell and the others didn’t, no complaints there. The point is what that means for the future - his talent and durability are right up there with the top contenders.

Christian is already looking forward to next year, aren't we all! Heck, even Kimmage is on board. My wish list: a TTT with real time gaps, a healthy Dave Zabriskie, and a fit Tom Danielson. It may still be tough to end up with yellow in Paris, but if we had all that next year, he'd be in yellow at some point! You know what would be really fun - if there was a TTT and an opportunity to pass the jersey around - let Danny Pate have it for a day, see if that finally makes him feel good! I love Danny, he is a hoot in his interviews, what a sweetheart. It has been great to see the Tour through his eyes, and those of Will Frischkorn, who wrote such wonderful diary entries for VeloNews. They were a great insight into a first Tour experience.

David Millar provided great insight into a man's soul with his diary - no ghost writer needed when he writes his book! His heart was on his sleeve, on and off the bike, and as I commented on the team site, his heart fuels this team. Millar was at once humbled and elevated by his team and what they accomplished their first time out. One of the great quiet moments after the TT was Millar waiting patiently, standing off to the side with his head down, as Vande Velde was interviewed by Neal Rogers for VeloNewsTV. When VdV was finished, he walked away from the camera, noticed Millar, and the two exchanged a warm grasp. Another glimpse into what makes Garmin-Chipotle special - these guys aren't just teammates, they get each other, they give "believe in each other" a whole new meaning.

And it's for that reason that I gain such pleasure from a silly little thing like having the Garmin team car on my GPS. Every time the drive home was getting boring and endless, a quick glance over to the little dots of argyle driving along with me gave me a smile and sent me reminiscing about the glorious past three weeks. And now it's on to the next… Wishing a safe and healthy Olympics for all our boys!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Tour de France 2008 Stage 19: A Word For Our Sponsors

Well, first a word for Sylvain Chavanel. Too bad for the sprinters, but what a thrilling victory for Chavanel. He dissolved in tears after the finish, for a number of reasons. The one that immediately came to my mind was this time last year. He had made it through the mountains, and was best-placed Frenchman, when he had to abruptly leave the Tour because of a teammate's doping. The injustice was hard for me to swallow, I can't imagine what it was like for him. Congratulations to him for a happier ending this year.

Having a decidedly unhappy ending were Romain Feillu, Fabian Wegmann, and fan favorite Juan Antonio Flecha, who all finished outside the time limit. Like Damiano Cunego, unable to start today, so close to Paris and yet so far.

About those sponsors - a great big thank you to Jonathan Vaughters or Doug Ellis or whoever got such cool sponsors for our boys in argyle. I would love the team whatever the name on the jersey, but it's a lot more fun to support Garmin and Chipotle than, say, a snoring product for which I have no need.

The nearest Chipotle restaurant in my neck of the woods is four hours away, in a different state. As luck would have it, I had to go right by it today on a trip. Very lucky, because now we don't ever have to find out if I would've driven four hours just to go there in July for a Le Burrito. Could happen, I'm weird that way.

I've been wanting a GPS for a while, and it became clear recently just which one I should get.

So, here's my new Garmin GPS, delivering me to my nearest Chipotle restaurant.

It worked beautifully, even had all the little roads in my area that just got named a couple of years ago for 911 service. I messed with its head a little, taking the known shortcuts out of town, but she eventually caught up with me. As for Le Burrito - fantastic, I sure hope Chipotle expands to Maine some day! Delicious combo, served up by friendly staff, well worth the stop. And I'm not just kissing Garmin-Chipotle booty. If either of these products had disappointed me, I would tell. I'm weird that way too.

So this is what I do stuck in a hotel without Versus on the eve of the TT of all TTs, my little way of rooting for my boys:And let me tell you, it was tricky, I had to find a state that didn't have a city named Paris! Did I mention I was weird?

Oh my goodness, I just realized I can make my vehicle icon on the GPS be the Team Garmin chase car! Too. Cool. Stay tuned, I may take an updated pic tomorrow...

All giddiness aside, I hope it doesn't rain and I hope everyone does their best and nothing, ahem, weird happens and may the best man win! If Christian Vande Velde makes the podium, I just may have to take that Le Burrito detour on the way home too.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tour de France 2008 Stage 18: Back In The Saddle

Happy days are here again for Team Columbia! Marcus Burghardt gave Columbia their fifth stage win and no doubt lifted morale after yesterday's crashfest. George Hincapie's crash was quite serious, as he described it on VeloNewsTV, he thought at first he might not even be able to continue. It was very sad to see him all bandaged and seeping this morning. He's very high on the list of Tours completed, he'll make it through this one if at all possible.

An even sadder sight was Damiano Cunego, in a horrible crash early on. He struggled through the entire stage, arriving some twenty minutes after the winner. He hoped to be able to continue, and wanted to ensure his loyal teammates, by his side, made the time cut. His injuries proved too serious, though, and he will apparently not be able to take the start tomorrow. Each individual case is unique, and we can't know just what was going on with each person, but there have been a few GC contenders who dropped out at the first sign of their Tour not going as planned. Cunego, who planned his whole year on the Tour, has had many days of disappointment as it became clear his Tour was not going to be a success. But to his credit he never gave up, even today with deep cuts and a chest injury. It will be interesting to see if he goes back to the Giro next year, or redoubles his efforts and takes another crack at the Tour. In any case, best wishes for a speedy recovery. On a day we went by an Andre Kivilev memorial, I'm thankful Cunego's injuries were not more serious.

Frankie Andreu back in the Versus booth, woohoo! I'm glad they finally came to their senses, on that front at least. Frankie was talking a mile a minute, making up for lost time, but his comments were spot-on and had me laughing with delight. Great to have him back, hope it continues.

Andy Schleck protecting his white jersey towards the finish was a lot of fun. Frank described him as a puppy dog the other day, and that's exactly what he is. You could practically see his tail wagging on d'Huez yesterday, as he jumped around the GC group with the greatest of ease, just about riding circles around them. Johan was seriously crushin' on Andy, giggling at the talent he was seeing before his eyes. Hands off, buddy, you can't have this one! Frank says Andy needs to get away from the apron strings and toughen up, but it was Andy who had the wise perspective yesterday, describing on VeloNewsTV how he was urging Frank to enjoy the moment, right there in the middle of the climb. I haven't had this much fun watching brothers work together since Dean and Scott Winters were tearing it up on HBO's Oz.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tour de France 2008 Stage 17: Random

I'm pressed for time, so just a few random thoughts on L'Alpe d'Huez.

Oddly, I think yesterday was more fun. Maybe I'll feel differently after I watch again this evening, without the scattered stress of not knowing what will happen. Fantastic weather again, couldn't ask for a better day. Insane fans - as many crazy days as there's been on d'Huez, I swear I don't remember quite so much risky intermingling with the cyclists as there was today. Maybe it was because it wasn't entirely packed, with some opting for Croix de Fer, gave more room for people to be silly.

I would love Carlos Sastre to win the Tour de France. He's such an unsung hero, it would be fun. And CSC-Saxo Bank buried themselves completely this Tour, the top prize would be a just reward. Unfortunately, it's not likely to happen. Looking at last year's final TT, Cadel Evans took loads of time from Sastre, so it should be no problem to pass him on Saturday. But, never say never, tomorrow's a tough day and anything can happen in a time trial, be it equipment or weather or nerves or yellow wings. I'm also fine with Evans taking it - presuming things go as they have been, he'll have earned it.

I'm not second-guessing, I'm genuinely curious - if by going up the road you're gaining time on Denis Menchov and limiting Sastre's gains, what does it matter if you have a Schleck on your wheel? I mean, if you think you're going to blow up and can't hold a faster pace, fine. But if the only reason you slow down is because the group caught up, I'm not getting it. Who cares who is doing the work or who is going to come around who at the finish, if you're helping your placement? Sastre was clearly going to win the stage, so there's no issue on that. You don't put time into everyone, but if the choice is putting time into two guys or no guys, why not take two?

I don't know, I guess they didn't have much left in the tank anyway. Evans and Christian Vande Velde both finally went for it at different points, not caring who got on their wheel, and still couldn't make big gains. But by then Menchov had caught back on, seems like a big opportunity to crack him was missed, as Vande Velde acknowledged after the finish. You know me, never been a fan of that cat and mouse stuff.

In any case, fabulous stage for CSC, good on Sastre for zooming to the top, good on the Schlecks for sacrificing to cover the moves. Can't wait until it's Andy's turn, he's going to be a fun one to watch as a leader down the road. One thing, Carlos, dear, you had to do the whole salute thing before the line? Those are precious seconds, baby, you'll rue the day if you need them on Saturday!

Fabulous too for Christian Vande Velde, bouncing right back from yesterday to have a strong stage and even put in some attacks. He clearly left it all out there, wobbling after the line, and is rightfully delighted with his ride. Tom Danielson, hope you're watching VeloNewsTV and take VdV's words to heart - keep working from now until next June, so you can be beside him next time!

Team Columbia - love and hugs boys, the road was not kind to you today. Three guys taking nasty spills, including George Hincapie, who had holes in his jersey and shorts, not a happy sight. And Kim Kirchen couldn't hold the lead group as he did yesterday, falling further back. Best wishes to bounce back in the coming days - tomorrow could be a day for Hincapie again, and Kirchen should have a good TT.

And the most random of all - Michael Douglas???

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tour de France 2008 Stage 16: Yes, Bobby, It Is

Bobby Julich has been dropping in on Cyclingnews' live race reports for the Tour, and today he asked if it was always this stressful to watch the race on TV. Yes, Bobby, now you know what you guys put us through! Today didn't bring all the results I hoped for, but it was undeniably a brilliant Tour stage. Fantastic weather, making for gorgeous vistas and dry roads, and very enjoyable viewing. Epic, moonscape mountainsides with summits that seem to float in the sky. Tomorrow is the queen stage, but today was certainly an excellent warm-up.

Johan wasn't impressed by what CSC-Saxo Bank got for their efforts, but whatever the case, those efforts were fun to watch again today. One can't help but marvel at the dedication, the strategic placing, and the cool professionalism. Whether they led early or came back from the breaks ahead, each guy gave their supreme effort. Amidst all that, it was a delight to see Tough Man Stuart O'Grady smiling and blowing kisses in the feed zone. And of course Jens Voigt, dropping back to water the GC group, then hopping on front to drive the pace some more. He hasn't been allowed to go on his escapades this Tour, but my guess is that he's enjoying this stuff just as much, if not more. He still gets to be the mad warrior, and it's all for the good of the team. Andy Schleck gave tireless support to brother Frank again, and happily took the white jersey as an added bonus. What fun it will be tomorrow, to see them scaling L'Alpe in yellow and white, I hope they make it up together just as they did today.

As for what they got, it wasn't nothin'. They gained time on Denis Menchov, who also reportedly had cramps at the finish, so maybe they took something out of him for tomorrow as well. And they took significant time on Christian Vande Velde. Going on TT skills, a likely podium has been Cadel Evans, Menchov, and Vande Velde. So, hurting two of those guys, Carlos Sastre may get his real-time podium yet.

Ah, yes, the stressful part of the day. That agonizing game of Where's Christian? With only so many cameras on the road, once Vande Velde was dropped from the GC group, we didn't see him again until the finish. So we didn't know - was he hovering just off the back, or had he dropped like a stone and lost huge chunks? I was betting on just off the back, but it was the day after the rest day, and he is in uncharted territory, and you just never know! He was indeed hanging tough, and if not for the crash on the descent, it wouldn't have even been considered a bad day. Great job by teammate Ryder Hesjedal, dropping back from the break to pace Vande Velde up the rest of the climb and be with him on the descent. Tomorrow will tell the story, but Vande Velde still has a shot at the podium, and anything top ten will still be a great achievement for him and Garmin-Chipotle.

Stress redux - that crazy-ass descent. John Lee Augustyn and his baby face went flying over the edge, thank goodness he was alright. Kudos to him for great reflexes, managing to stop himself from sliding all the way down. And good luck with clipping right out of the bike, so it didn't drag him down. It was rather a risky move for Versus to show all that video from crashes past on such a stage, it's a good thing for them too that Augustyn provided drama but not injury. I'm really glad Evans didn't deck it when he came around the bend and almost ran into the doctor's moto. After (according to P&P) going to the trouble to ride the descent in training so he'd be sure to have a feel for it, that would've been a real shame.

Not so much stress, but sympathy after the stage for George Hincapie. It was a rare and very real opportunity for him to take the stage, but with that wild descent he just couldn't catch back on. He was heartbroken afterwards, he could hardly talk. Hincapie has done so much for Team Columbia this year, I want him to have a few spoils for himself! I'm glad for Cyril Dessel, though. He did a major amount of work on the climb, dragging those guys up. And since teammate Tadej Valjavec fell off towards the end, it's great that Dessel could more than salvage the effort with the stage win.

No Frankie Andreu commentary again tonight on Versus. Grrrrr. Johan's not there the whole time, what's the problem??

Monday, July 21, 2008

Tour de France 2008 Stage 15: Mix of Sun and Clouds

Sun: Garmin-Chipotle boys Christian Vande Velde and Danny Pate - both showed great form, hanging tough and doing the Argyle proud in both exciting finishes - that for the stage and that for the GC contenders. After all of Jonathan Vaughter's dreams and plans for these two, to get them where they rightfully belong in the sport, and to promote the environment in which they can rightfully succeed, he must have been thrilled to see Pate contesting for the stage and Vande Velde still contesting for the jersey. Why do I get so emotional about Christian's success? This excellent article on VdV by Paul Kimmage pretty much says it all. If that one doesn't have you reaching for a hanky, well, you probably enjoyed Versus' coverage tonight.

Simon Gerrans - I really don't know much about him, but P&P certify him as one of the nicest guys in the peloton, and his salute was adorable, as was his big smile on the podium. He started with a closed mouth, probably a reflex with his braces, but forget that, this is the Tour de France podium! He let loose, and it was a beautiful grin. If Danny had to lose to somebody, I'll take Gerrans.

The Brothers Schleck - the cute brother story pays big dividends as Andy gave everything but a kidney to get Frank in yellow. Andy attacked, fell back, clawed his way to the front again, and rinse and repeat for several cycles. This not only helped Frank, but also Carlos Sastre, who gained back some much-needed time. Cadel Evans looked vulnerable a couple of times, we'll have to see if that was just him getting his Alps legs, or if he's in real trouble. Seeing the brothers work together, and Frank's sparkling eyes as he received the yellow jersey, I couldn't help but think back to that heart-stopping crash last month at the Tour de Suisse, and how all of this might not have been. The whole CSC-Saxo Bank team buried themselves again today, and will have a nice rest day to enjoy being in yellow - jersey and numbers.

Clouds: Oscar Pereiro's crash. I didn't like the looks of this descent, from the moment Danny Pate was trying to zip his jacket right before the first hairpin bend. The pictures of Pereiro looked awful, the riders who had seen it looked horribly shaken, and those were very tense moments before we learned that he was moving and that the injuries were not critical. Whatever other issues there are with Pereiro, I was impressed with how loyal he was this Tour to Alejandro Valverde's interests. Phil always liked to joke about that time Oscar fell off while eating his lunch a few years ago, probably time to retire that one.

Round-about Rink: Mass carnage on both sides of the circle, including most of the Garmin-Chipotle squad, not the usual pretty site for that particular traffic furniture. Glad to hear everyone apparently made it through alright, and will hopefully get things all patched up on the rest day.

I'll be here all week: Yes, it's Johan week on Versus. His comments themselves this evening were fine for the most part, so that was something of a relief. Of course they stayed safe, nothing in the doping arena, and were generally focused on and respectful of the race at hand. As for his friendly American book signing crowds, they must have those Bush-Cheney screeners out front gathering loyalty oaths. Not that I would pull a Jane Fonda on him, but there are hard questions to be asked.

The most disappointing part of the evening was the absence of Frankie Andreu in the booth. Obviously they aren't going to be there at the same time, but I was happy when I saw Bruyneel would be doing just part of the broadcast, and held out hope that would mean we would still get our Frankie fix. Not tonight, I sure hope he comes back on Tuesday, because if he doesn't, that would be seriously wrong. The whole Take Back campaign already had its farcical elements, but if they give Frankie the boot in favor of Johan, it's all over.

Even if Johan was an angel, it's still kind of annoying. Here we have a great new clean American team, and a really nice, clean American guy holding his own in the Top Five on GC. Let's focus on that, let's celebrate that. We don't need the Pavlovian "Lance" bell to garner interest from the home viewer. It just pulls us back, instead of moving us forward. And forward is definitely where this sport needs to go.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tour de France 2008 Stage 12: It Happens

There's always some sadness when guys get caught, just because you know how it's going to play in the MSM. But today's departure of Riccardo Ricco was mostly relief for me. Last year, when Rasmussen was yanked, there had been so much turmoil that there was oddly little relief. But we got this done before the Alps, before Ricco took his coveted Alpe d'Huez stage and climbed into the top five and secured the mountains and young rider jerseys. Now, we'll see who else does supernatural things on the day, but at least we've eliminated a few of the major suspects.

I was surprised to read around the web that people were big fans of Ricco, believing and excited about the young new star. I envy their ability to still believe whole-heartedly. Not that I automatically condemn anyone who rides away from the peloton, but I can't help but at least ask the question of anyone who does. It just seems so clear now how unnatural it is to easily ride away on multiple occasions.

Which brings me directly to my next point. These Lance retrospectives on Versus are bizarre to watch, especially at this time in the sport. If they were put into full, open perspective, they might still work. But to just run them straight, as if nothing fishy was going on, and then go right back to ripping Ricco a new one and praising Garmin and Columbia and the new era - it all gets a little Twilight Zone. And we haven't even had the week of Johan Bruyneel yet, I shudder to think. I'll give this to Bob Roll - he is always very careful to add some variation of "now" to his rants against current dopers.

I guess the shock and outrage seen in force today comes from being a fan, and loving the sport. But David Millar is right, it's never going to end. We shouldn't be any more surprised by it than we are by drunk drivers or embezzlers or identity thefts. People break the rules in every profession, in every sector of society. Cycling can't expect to be any different.

And as such should also not be seen as a farce or not worth contesting. Yeah, I'm talking to you Michael Wilbon. I love you most days, but make very rude gestures at my TV screen whenever you open your mouth about cycling on PTI. Is baseball a joke? Football? Should we not bother with the World Series or the NFL Playoffs? What do you think we would find if we tested several players each day? This is what ticks me off about days like today. That this makes the headlines and not Christian Vande Velde. That people think this means it's the dirtiest sport around, instead of becoming the cleanest. David Millar, eloquent and moving as ever, writes about how unfair this is to Vande Velde in today's diary entry.

Millar also has kind words for Mark Cavendish, and kudos to him for win number three today. Columbia did another impressive job in the final Ks, but Cav himself was left to his own devices right towards the end and came through admirably.

I wondered how Cadel Evans could ever work his way into my heart, but he seems to be getting there. Doesn't mean I have to love him head to toe, but his podium emotions and his love affair with his stuffed lion have quite endeared him to me. I'm a sucker for a stuffed animal, and I just love how he kisses it like the podium girls and snuggled with it on the rest day. As for those contretemps with the reporters - shoot, can you blame him? I mean really, touching his shoulder? We saw how he favored it and how it was bleeding through his jersey, what was the reporter thinking? I do have to disagree on the kit choice. I'm with Kim Kirchen, I prefer just going yellow on the jersey and not the shorts for a workaday ride, but Evans earned the thing, I guess he can dress however he likes.

This is what I really need to know - did Garmin-Chipotle owner Doug Ellis, Garmin-Chipotle manager Jonathan Vaughters, and Chipotle CEO Steve Ells all go glasses shopping together? Or is that what drew them to each other? They saw those snappy little black frames across a crowded room and the sparks flew and they knew they all had to go into business together.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Tour de France 2008 Stage 10: I Will Possess Your Heart

The symbol of this year's Tour is a heart, and I found mine overflowing today. I love this sport. I love the riders who leave it all on the road, for nothing else than to help a teammate. I love the fans who come out in enormous numbers and cheer every last rider. I love the directors in the cars who look after their boys all along the route. I love the leaders who use years of sacrifice and training and hard knocks to keep going when all others fall away. I love how we all love it, how we throw all rationality out the window and go on pure heart - to compete in it, to stand on the side of the road, or to squint at computer screens for hours on end across the world.

"How I wish you could see the potential…" No, I'm not stalking Christian Vande Velde, but Death Cab For Cutie's brilliantly creepy song aptly describes the relationship both rider and fan have with the Tour. The Tour calls to us, sucks us in, and won't let us go. The tiny voice in the back of Vande Velde's head all these years has grown large and in charge as he is finally reaching his full potential, holding his third place in the high mountains. To get to that familiar mountain scene, the tiny select group out of which the final winner is likely to come, and to see Vande Velde comfortably in that group, is a very beautiful thing. There's a long way to go, but this was a very big test, and Christian passed with flying colors.

The whole Garmin-Chipotle team worked their hearts out today, first the guys chasing down that big ole break at the start, then the rest of the guys hanging as long as they could on the climbs. How sweet was David Millar, suffering up the Tourmalet, calling out an apology to director Matt White. Whitey handled it beautifully, reassuring Millar and telling him to take care.

Boing! Jens Voigt finally got to uncoil his spring today (Where Is Jens? clip), and he and his teammates left a trail of bodies in their wake. I just had to laugh and laugh as we saw one of the greatest displays of The Beast ever. The Bear did his share as well, Fabian Cancellara turning himself inside out in the break. In what other sport do you have such a scenario - a world class superstar one day, just another cog in the team wheel the next. It was a brilliant strategy by Bjarne Riis, putting Cancellara out front, setting Jens and friends loose, and having them meet up in the valley to close the door on Alejandro Valverde and Damiano Cunego. It's too bad they missed yellow by just a tick, but I'm sure they'll take satisfaction in moving Frank Schleck and Carlos Sastre up in the standings, and seemingly eliminating some of the competition.

Versus has been playing a great commercial the past few days, with Jonathan Vaughters' voiceover about jumping out of your car in your underwear to appreciate crashing in a professional bike race. Cadel Evans brings to mind the part they leave out - do that, then scrub the wounds raw, then get up the next day and ride your bike for four-plus hours up some of the most difficult climbs in the world. All due respect to Evans for hanging tough today and taking yellow. And for being overcome with emotion on the podium. I can't help taking him to heart after that.

I'll enjoy the rest day as much as anyone, sleep is always nice, but I'm with Christian Vande Velde. It's a shame there isn't another stage tomorrow, after such an inspiring day as today.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Special Edition: Chris Horner Rocks

I was missing Chris Horner at the Tour, with his lively and frank interviews. Lo and behold, he still manages to give us all a huge smile in July. Here's the story of how Horner carried another rider, and his bike, up the final 2K of Saturday's stage at the Cascade Cycling Classic. Here's video (at the end, after the logo).

Tour de France 2008 Stage 9: TLC

Today was a day to take care. For the GC guys, take care of their current standing and their bodies and save as much as they can for tomorrow. Most of them accomplished this well, although Cadel Evans had a great fright on the body front. We didn't see the crash, but it must have been a heart-stopper, considering the spots where he lost clothing and/or skin - the top of his back, the top front of his thigh, and an elbow. There was also some injury to his shoulder, we'll have to wait for the post-race reports to see if it was anything too worrisome.

Cadel's team took immediate care, hovering as he got a bike change, and then all around him as they worked their way back to the peloton. After he caught his breath, and at a convenient point in the road, Evans made his way back to race doctor Gerard Porte. We don't get to really hear what is said in those visits to the doctor's car, but I always get a clear sense of Dr. Porte giving tender loving care to his riders. Not that he's too gentle, have to give those wounds a good scrub, but he checks them out head to toe, does everything he possibly can for them, and sends them on their way with a kind pat on the shoulder. His ability to do this at high speeds on changing roads with all serenity never ceases to amaze. Equally amazing, of course, is the ability of tough-as-nails riders to receive such treatment balanced on their bikes, never wavering as raw flesh is assaulted with antiseptic wipes. Evans will get further nursing from the team tonight, with hopes that any stiffness from his injuries will hold off until the rest day.

We saw all the teams taking care of their leaders on this first test in the mountains. Caisse d'Epargne were all over the place, sending riders up the road if that suited, then dropping them back if they were needed there, setting pace when they had to, generally showing their strength in numbers and climbing ability.

Gerolsteiner were also hard at work, to mixed results. Sebastian Lang led the day for quite a while, before his head shook in resignation as Riccardo Ricco zoomed past. Stefan Schumacher made a brief bid to gain some time back, but not only could he not hold it, he ended up gapped at the finish. Bernhard Kohl made a gutsy push at the summit of the final climb to try and secure the mountains jersey for teammate Lang. He took third away from David De La Fuente, but unfortunately fourth was enough for him to hold on to the polka dots. I also felt for the lone Gerolsteiner soigneur at that summit, trying so hard to care for his guys as they came by. He was a little surprised I think to see Ricco come over first, and then neither Lang nor Kohl were interested in a musette. He was finally able to give one away, to Markus Fothen, so at least it was worth the trip! And Lang will have the red number tomorrow for his efforts.

Team Columbia were a bit scarce in the final selection, but they had worked so hard all week caring for both Kim Kirchen and Mark Cavendish, you can hardly blame them. And though Kirchen struggled a bit, he held his own and finished with the first group. Meanwhile, Papa George Hincapie had a virtual arm around young rider Thomas Lovkvist, seeing him home safely. Lovkvist lost the white jersey, but Hincapie made sure he didn't lose his way and paced him steadily down to the finish.

Garmin-Chipotle were of course looking after Christian Vande Velde. Danny Pate and Ryder Hesjedal gave solid efforts before falling off the pace, first Danny and later Ryder. David Millar lasted even longer, just slipping back towards the end to finish in the third group. Trent Lowe stuck with Vande Velde on the final climb, and finished in the second group. As Christian mentioned a couple of days ago, he took very good care of himself and finished with the leading group, and now sits in third place. (I'm sure the TLC from his wife last night helped as well.) Christian Vande Velde, in third place overall, after the first mountain stage, in the Tour de France. Go ahead, read that one a few times, it never gets old.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tour de France Stages 7 & 8: You Can Count On Me

Instead of focusing on the guy who let down his team, let's celebrate the ones who didn't. Team Columbia put on another fantastic display today. At this rate, we're going to run out of ways to describe their strength and success! Columbia did their job leading the peleton for much of the day, in utterly miserable conditions. Through flat tires and slippery spills, they hustled back up to the front and got right back to work. We saw George Hincapie patrolling his troops, presumably giving out directions and encouragement. It's so enjoyable to see him in this role. He's good at it and looks to be having a lot of fun doing it.

After letting some of the other teams hammer away towards the finish, Columbia got back on front again in the closing kilometers and gave everything they had left to lead it out for Mark Cavendish. Some of the other riders got back in front in the last K, and I was worried Cavendish might have gotten lost. But he still had Gerald Ciolek with him, and the two of them poured it on and came out with a brilliant one-two. Cavendish is so young and powerful, he hardly needs any extra push. But as he's said, with a team like that, you just can't let them down, and they're all there with him in spirit as he crosses the line.

Credit Agricole worked like dogs towards the end, you have to feel for them and Thor Hushovd for not having that same reward awaiting them. Also working hard were Liquigas, desperately trying to have something else to talk about after the stage than Manuel Beltran. I feel for them in more ways than one. I know tossing the whole team out is meant to be a powerful disincentive, but it apparently doesn't work as such, and is so unfair to the other teammates. Indications are that they will not have to leave, and I’m fine with that.

I was out of town yesterday, so didn't get to see Stage 7 until late, after the Beltran news broke. As I was just starting to read about it online, the start of the show was playing on my DVR, and there was an adorable little boy in a yellow jersey, riding the finish in some pre-stage event. That gave my heart a tug. Come on guys, let's give that kid a sport to grow into, and a day to be proud of.

On Stage 7, CSC-Saxo Bank looked great amassed at the front in the split, even if there was disagreement on their tactics. Each one so strong, so talented, so impassioned, it was a stirring sight. Congratulations to them for taking over the yellow numbers. Hearing that the rivalry between the Schleck brothers and Kim Kirchen may have had something to do with it does sour the feeling a bit. But at this stage of the game, I think CSC were making a statement beyond that, and racing for their own gains rather than out of spite. [Frank Schleck agrees, disputing the rivalry at VeloNewsTV (also worth watching for an adorable bit where Jens collects his autograph for a kid!)] And you know Jens Voigt could care less about such silliness, he just wants to race hard!

Garmin-Chipotle did some animating of their own yesterday, and though it didn't work out quite as planned, it's great to see them mixing it up and riding their hearts out for each other. David Millar looked all heart, slathered up in sunscreen, busting his butt in the break as his tire went flat. Despite the dashing of his grand plans, he hung in again for a decent finish. As usual, he gives a fascinating full description of the drama in his diary. Sounds like he had drama again today with a mechanical right at the end, and again his team came through, pacing him back to finish with the pack. The quiet heart of Christian Vande Velde is shining through, as he continues to delight in his new role. He stuck to the front on a very hard and changeable day, finishing with the final select group to hold his fourth place. Tomorrow will be a big test for his GC hopes, and his team and the fans of Argyle everywhere can count on him to give it his best effort. Garmin-Chipotle is the very embodiment of the audacity of hope, and I will keep my eyes on them rather than those whose skulls are too impossibly thick to get the message.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Tour de France 2008 Stage 6: Confidence Game

Youthful exuberance takes the day again, this time with Riccardo Ricco getting his first Tour win. He could use some charm lessons from Mark Cavendish, but I think his bluster comes from a similar place, so maybe he'll learn.

Just as I was warming up to Cadel Evans, he goes and shoves a Gendarme! Cadel, Cadel, you'll need those guys later! As all the commentators said, nervous moments for him, but he's got to watch that. He was all cool customer by the end though, marking Alejandro Valverde as easy as you please. It's very early, but Evans is certainly living up to his designation as man to beat.

It's too bad for Stefan Schumacher, to lose yellow like that, but I'm happy for Kim Kirchen and Team Columbia. It's great to see them hold three jerseys, and to see Garmin-Chipotle have two in the top five with Christian Vande Velde and David Millar. It sounds like Millar may not be there for long, but they're still hanging onto the team classification, so don't go too soon David!

Christian's name begs for all kinds of cheesy wordplay, but out of respect for his awesome ride today, I vow to refrain from going down that road. It was thrilling to see Vande Velde off the front, looking strong, with even the chance of going for yellow. He was up there playing the same role as companion Leonardo Piepoli, softening the field for their guys Millar and Ricco, but his own high place in the standings gave it that extra excitement. He was sweet afterwards - yeah, I guess I do need to start looking out for myself. Yes, Christian, you can be a Top Ten rider, get used to it!

Seeing all the GC guys in a select group, going uphill, perfect appetizer for the days to come. I'll miss Mauricio Soler and his Triplets of Belleville face, but the rest of the boys should make for some good, ahem, clean fun!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Tour de France 2008 Stage 5: Take One For The Team

There's no I in Garmin-Chipotle or Columbia. Oh, okay, there is, but that's just a technicality! Awesome teamwork by Columbia today, working with the other teams to keep the gap manageable, and then sending every rider to the front for a good old-fashioned dominating train towards the finish. I really don't need any more reasons to love George Hincapie, but he keeps coming up with them. He hammered back up to the racing peloton after a presumed mechanical, caught on, worked his way up, and then hammered smack on the front in the final Ks. Columbia is supremely lucky to have him, and they know it.

Mark Cavendish made it all worth it, getting that first Tour win in fine fashion. He walks the talk, and gives all due credit to his team. I do believe he has matured over the past year, learning all the time from guys like Hincapie no doubt. Credit Agricole's work didn't go for naught either, as Thor Hushovd did well enough to take over the green jersey.

From the young stuff to the old hands - a nice routine day like today in the brilliant sunshine is always good for some fun camera shots. My favorite from today was Erik Zabel and Jens Voigt chatting and laughing. Zabel doesn't win many these days, but he's always just off the mark. He may be battling for green yet.

Garmin-Chipotle's team spirit is evident in everything they do, but especially poignant in this tale from David Millar about very nearly getting caught out in the split on Monday. His diaries are a must-read, he tells great stories with great passion. He often talks about what a new and wonderful experience this team is for him, to have others depend on him, and to depend on and trust others. More good stuff on the team, and their significance, can be found in this Bicycling article by Joe Lindsey.

It seems like media saturation on Garmin-Chipotle, but people are still missing the message, so I hope it continues. I hope more people start to realize what it was like before, and the significance of what the clean teams are doing. Columbia is lucky to have George, and cycling is lucky to have Doug Ellis, Jonathan Vaughters and Bob Stapleton. Just as we hear about the great environment on the Garmin-Chipotle squad, Michael Barry tells us Team Columbia is also a very happy place to be. And they're winning races left, right and center, so it turns out you can do both!

Both teams will be on full display tomorrow up to Super-Besse, I can't wait!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tour de France 2008 Stage 4: I Love A Parade

This is what we missed with the absence of the Prologue. After a few days of bunching up against the weather, we got to see each of our guys one by one. No surprise after their strong showings in the Giro TTs, Danny Pate and Jens Voigt set best times early. Understated as ever, Pate did his job for Garmin-Chipotle, scouting the course and keeping the team on top. Voigt provided his typical high level of viewer entertainment, battling all the way with his raw animal instincts on display.

Carlos Sastre was consistent as ever with his second-tier performance, and there is something decidedly comforting in that. I don't know why Phil and Paul were so hard on Alejandro Valverde, he was amongst many of the other contenders who aren't great at TTs. I guess it was his strong Dauphine TT in June, but a little up and down suits me fine. I have to say I was actually relieved - sad, but true.

Christian Vande Velde put in an awesome ride, keeping the Garmin-Chipotle momentum going. There was a freaky camera shot of him from behind, his head didn't look particularly attached to his body. But dude, where's your yellow number? Ah well, you'll get to wear them again tomorrow thanks to your hard work. Vande Velde finished ahead of a number of GC contenders, that will serve him well as he tries to stay in the Top Ten in the mountains.

Also besting most of his rivals was Cadel Evans, sitting pretty with fourth best time. He gave a great smile as he was warming up. That goes a long way to getting some new fans, Cadel, keep it up!

Team Columbia rolls on, with Kim Kirchen, George Hincapie, and Thomas Lovkvist in the Top Eleven. All eyes will be on Kirchen as we go to the mountains, to see if he can keep this up. Hincapie's fluid style is always a pleasure to watch, I was glad to see him with a top finish. And Lovkvist matches Kirchen's green jersey with white, taking over the young rider classification.

Didn't Jonathan Vaughters ask someone to shoot him if he was ever driving the car behind? I guess TTs are a special exception. Robbie Ventura behaved himself quite well, zipping it every time JV went to talk to Millar. Still, heck of a nervy move to have him in the front seat on a day like that! Watching JV realize the win was going to be a long shot was moving. He wanted it so bad for the team, but you could see he also wanted it for David Millar. Garmin-Chipotle has come so far so fast, it seems odd to be even a little disappointed with a showing as impressive as today. But they're setting the bar high, challenging themselves to go for the big wins out of the box. And rightly so, you'll never get there if you don't. But I hope they can also revel in such a spectacular day for Garmin-Chipotle, with Millar back on his game, and Vande Velde and Pate living up to their potential. I can't wait to watch them battle it out with Kirchen in the days to come!

And then there were those surprises. Fabian Cancellara is indeed not a robot, as he pointed out, and aren't we all glad of that. When he's on, he shows so much heart, he's thrilling to watch. But, you can't win them all. Too bad it was today of all days that he was a touch off, but he'll be back. Eyebrows were animated everywhere at Stefan Schumacher's crushing performance. It doesn't come entirely out of left field, though. Cancellara himself pegged Schumacher for a chance at challenging him on this day. And there were several independent accounts of the dead calm Stefan lucked into during his ride.

Fingers crossed for those poor sprinters tomorrow, they ought to get at least one good one in before the climbing starts!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Tour de France 2008 Stage 3: When Argyle Attacks!

They came to animate, and animate they did - Garmin-Chipotle's Will Frischkorn jumped at the start today and managed the tricky feat of staying away all day long. And very nearly won the stage; his good-natured disappointment in second place was wholly endearing. Argyle fans have a special spirit and loyalty, and they were jumping up and down all morning long around the world it seems. I worry sometimes about how hard we all want so much for this team, so it's great on a day like today when things go right.

Will got aggressive rider on the day, and his exploits helped move the team into first place overall. Tomorrow is the day Garmin-Chipotle has been looking forward to, but they got a great head start today! So the team should all have yellow numbers in the TT, but I wonder, does Frischkorn get an orange one? Just kidding, I suppose he'll get the red. I was so proud of him, working well in the break and guiding them through that tricky furniture with 44K to go. Of course these guys have plenty of race experience, but something about it being their first Tour, makes me feel all maternal. And he hung right in there in the final Ks, following the attacks. Will wished he did a couple of things differently, but it was a great effort and with his penchant for breakaways he just might get another chance of a lifetime down the road.

Heads-up riding by David Millar and Christian Vande Velde held their places when the split came. Romain Feillu's lead might make it tricky to get yellow, but they'll still want to go for the big win in the TT. Ryder Hesjedal was not so lucky and got caught out, but he'll come back in the mountains. Martijn Maaskant was a cool customer when his jacket got caught in his wheel in the early going. No panic, he tried carefully to fix it himself, then stood by patiently as the mechanic got the job done. I'm obviously quite partial to the Burrito Boys, but they make it easy, don't they? Jonathan Vaughters was on Sputnik today, talking about how one of the great dividends of their clean-team concept is that the riders are just so darn happy. They're not stressed about whether to dope or not, not stressed about whether their teammates are getting an unfair advantage or not - or putting the team at risk; they can fully enjoy their successes and be one big happy family.

I do have to question one team decision, though. Robbie Ventura in the car w/JV following David Millar in the TT? Are they going to keep duct tape at hand? I kid because I love, Robbie, but really, can you keep quiet in the back for such an exciting ride? I know I couldn't!

With Feillu in yellow, and the stage win by Samuel Dumoulin, the French continue to have plenty to cheer about. A touch of sadness that Christophe Moreau was one of the big losers in that third group, perhaps he'll be able to go for a stage now. He dropped away at the end, but you have to feel for Paolo Longo Borghini. He was the only one of the four who got nothing for his troubles. Although, sitting second on GC for a day isn't bad.

As if the day wasn't exciting enough, we had not one protest interruption but two! First on the road, where thankfully there were just the leading four to squeeze through while Christian Prudhomme negotiated the peace. They managed to clear the road for the full pack, still several minutes behind. And then we had the jarring sight of a protester jumping up in front of Dumoulin on the podium - bad form indeed! You're not going to win anyone to your cause that way, interrupting the Frenchman's glory. But I have to say it was worth it to see the immediate and massive assault on the guy by Bernard Hinault himself, classic! Not caring for a second if the protester broke his neck or the like, Hinault blasted him from behind and sent him flying off the podium. The Badger didn't stop there, he then helped the gendarmes wrestle the interloper into custody. Message sent - don't mess with my podium.

There were some sunny patches on the route, but conditions were miserable at times, faces squished against the rain and wind. This surely hampered efforts to bring back the break, even before the big crash split the pack. Denis Menchov got a double whammy with that split. He would have been looking to the TT to gain time on some of the pure climber contenders, and now has a hole to dig out of from the start. And, he spent precious energy trying to catch back on, so will perhaps not be at full strength tomorrow. I would mention Riccardo Ricco also needing help going into the TT, but he huffed after the finish that he wasn't there for GC, so never mind.

The straw castle with the "river" full of boaters and the "road" full of stationary cyclists gets first prize so far for fan display, fantastic! It reminded me of my childhood when I would get my dozen or more Fisher-Price toys out all at once and set up the castle surrounded by the peasant towns and farms.

Unfinished business from last night: Greg LeMond was indeed a guest. I have to identify with his jumbled expression of thoughts, I run into that myself. It's all clear in our heads, but we can't all be smooth talkers. Seeing him there, and especially his interview with Frankie Andreu on the Versus site, it was like some pleasant alternate universe. A former winner coming 'round, commenting on the race. Of course the subject matter included doping, but the idea of his visit, as a natural thing, when it wasn't for so many years. There were a number of things that went into that not happening for a while, including Greg's own issues, but hopefully he is healing, the sport is healing, and we can see him pop up regularly in years to come.

Here's a good David Millar article by Paul Kimmage, thanks to CFA for the heads up. The passage about him in jail is very interesting, how the "legal advice" mindset kicks in, and how he was determined to stay defiant until a kind gesture from one of the officers made him break down and face a new reality. It makes you wonder about others who have gone down that road, what might have been.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Tour de France 2008 Stage 2: Frenchies Day Out

Before we get to today's action, a few thoughts on Versus' primetime show. Givin' the love to Greg LeMond, nice to see. And today Phil and Paul mentioned he's on the race; wouldn't it be lovely to have him drop by the desk in primetime. As I did last year, I very much enjoyed Frankie Andreu and Robbie Ventura when they joined in the call. I don't know if it's the removed location of the booth, or just Bob Roll's influence, but the primetime coverage has that tendency to ramble and get alarmingly away from the race at hand. Frankie and Robbie both do an excellent job of bringing it back on point, and offering sharp insights and sound perspective on the action.

I wouldn't mind seeing how Frankie and Robbie do in the booth for a whole race, just the two of them. Note to Versus - give them a try sometime, at a smaller race if you like, let's see if it's got potential. Purists would howl, but why not have an American duo calling the race for an American audience. And I dare say they have more potential than Steve Schlanger and John Eustice. God bless them, but it was painful to watch them call the Tour of Pennsylvania. Just goes to show that great cycling knowledge (Eustice) does not always translate into great commentating skill.

I have already sent my thoughts to Saab directly, and I encourage all of you to do the same - a Tour commercial that repeats itself three times within the ad is cruel and unusual punishment for the faithful viewer. I explained to them that we watch this thing for six hours a day or so, each day for three weeks, and thus an ad like that will not make us see the brand favorably and indeed will make us actually come to hate it. But hey, thanks for sponsoring the coverage.

Thomas Voeckler was redundant today, but for good reason. He wanted to secure that mountains jersey for the next few days, so off he went with Sylvain Chavanel for the long break of the day. Joined later by Christophe Moreau and teammate David Le Lay, it was all France on front, making for easy chatting amongst the bunch. Phil and Paul were questioning Moreau for a bit, but come on, a chance for a Frenchman to be in yellow, it would be unpatriotic not to try! They made a good go of it, but the difficult finish saw them swept up as expected.

At least a French team took the day, as Thor Hushovd kept his clear blue eyes on the prize and brought it home for Credit Agricole. Alejandro Valverde came dangerously close to taking another one, easy boy. Kim Kirchen made a nice surge to secure the green jersey for Team Columbia. Probably only for a day, as tomorrow is finally a true sprinter's stage, and Thor should at least be in the thick of it.

Mauricio Soler struggled badly today with his injuries, a very sad sight to see. If he can go on, the next few days would give him a chance to recover if he wants to make a run in the mountains. Garmin-Chipotle were more visible in the peloton today - I think their kits are easy enough to pick out, although I do miss the bold argyle. And I think they were sporting black arm warmers, which would be a crying shame. I loved those argyle warmers and have been dying to get some for my own arms and legs! Danny Pate was simply adorable in his VeloNewsTV interview, as was Will Frischkorn in his VeloNews diary. I hope it's a great first Tour for them, and I look forward to more from their perspective.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Tour de France 2008 Stage 1: Isn't It A Piti

So this is our Brand New Start, eh? Oh, I hope so. It would have been so much, er, cleaner if Columbia and Kim Kirchen had held on. Meaning, at the least, it would have fit in with Versus' theme, and the pushing of the American teams. I'll give him this, Alejandro Valverde is a colorful winner, what with his new national champion's accents on his kit and bike.

Lovely opening to the show from Versus. Those dramatic voice-over pieces can be goofy sometimes, but this one hit just the right notes. And Take Back The Tour indeed - we've taken it back from Al Trautwig - oh happy day! Craig Hummer was a little nervous, but he worked it out, as Randy would say. A little clunky to go from the stirring opening to a review of random dopers in other sports, but I guess they have to make the "come on in, the water's fine" pitch.

And I see they reworked their big commercial - Alexandre Vinokourov going backwards into the start house instead of David Millar. If nothing else, I'm sure Saunier Duval got on Versus to fix that one.

Happy to have Frankie Andreu still on board, hope he's back at the desk for primetime as last year. Robbie Ventura is still a little green behind the mic, but if Frankie is any indication, Robbie has the potential to grow into it nicely. And he's got that infectious enthusiasm. The green screen behind Phil and Paul is a nice idea, it makes you think they're not so packed into a tiny booth.

After watching the Giro on RAI, and so many spring races online, all the commercials on Versus are a shock to the system. Thank goodness for online streaming to fill the gaps. It seemed like all the good fans-in-costumes shots came during commercials, can't miss those! The ads can be amusing though. Lance's voice on the Trek commercial caught my attention, and then I had to chuckle when his face came on at the end. A perfectly normal roundness to it for a mere mortal, but to see Lance's face with flesh on his bones in July takes some getting used to.

As for the racing at hand, it was fun to see the smiles and chats in the early going. And just heartbreaking to see the crashes, months of dreams and planning coming to a screeching halt on the very first day. The break kept things lively, with the hotly contested sprints and mountain points. Thomas Voeckler has such a proper little riding style, makes me smile every time. French TV loves to show him of course, so at least he's entertaining to watch. Good for him for getting ahead at the finish to secure the polka dot jersey. I give him credit for trying something every year to justify the endless attention, not just resting on the laurels of his memorable run in yellow some years ago.

Handshake, catch, exciting run into the finish, we're back in business. Thankfully the bridge drama did not live up to its hype, but in fairness there was random crash drama moments earlier that split up the field before they hit the hard right. I haven't seen the full rundown yet, but it seems our favorites kept their heads about them and made the front split, losing only a second to Valverde. Save of course Mauricio Soler, injured in that random crash. I dearly hope it's not serious and he can battle on. George Hincapie and Christian Vande Velde were looking fully adrenalized after the finish, in their fresh buzz cuts, glad to make it through day one safely and ready for more action!

When the Versus coverage was over, I switched over to Wimbledon. The men's doubles final came on and there was some Serbian dude serving who looked vaguely like Salvatore Commesso, and I thought, where's his helmet? Oops, switch gears. I'll have to catch a replay of the women's match sometime, sounds like the sisters finally had a good one, good on Venus for getting back on top.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Tour de France 2008: Building A Rainbow

Dedicated to the late, great Tim Russert, who somehow managed to give his family and friends a brilliant double rainbow that spanned our nation's capital directly after his memorial service, while they were playing Over The Rainbow no less.

I was putting away some old Tour memorabilia the other day, and rather ironically uncovered a groovy poster I have from the '70s, Building a Rainbow (not a great representation, but you get the idea). It's a depiction of a construction site, where thousands of little workers are, naturally, building a rainbow. It's full of social commentary - workers dying, fighting, unionizing, being kept separate from Management. As we approach this year's Tour de France, I think the statement of that poster matches the spectacle that takes place each July. The Tour is a grand, beautiful thing, but underneath/behind/all around there is strife and pain and the struggle for fairness and justice.

I'm going to try very hard to concentrate on the beauty these next three weeks. Not to ignore or bury the difficulties, but to not wallow and despair. Another big scandal seems unimaginable, but it did last year, too, and look how that turned out. Whatever happens, things are moving in the right direction so with any luck it won't be something big enough to put the whole sport at risk.

I can't get myself excited about the big favorites, but maybe they'll show me something as the race goes along to endear themselves. The fact that Alejandro Valverde skated clean from Puerto still rankles, but I have some vague hope that his subsequent fall from form indicated some kind of cold turkey and now he's the real deal. (Remember, trying to stay positive!) Cadel Evans - well, Joe Lindsey hit that one on the head, Tubbs needs a personality transplant to find his way into my heart. Oops, positive, hmmm, well he's attacked a couple of times this season, good on 'im.

The guys I'm really looking forward to will be stage hunters and road captains. George Hincapie, guiding his Team Columbia as he has so well all season long, and hopefully getting himself a stage along the way. Christian Vande Velde and David Millar, also leading their young team Garmin-Chipotle, in great form, in great spirits, and looking to leave a serious mark on the race. Jens Voigt and Fabian Cancellara, with their boundless enthusiasm and thrilling killer instinct. Stuart O'Grady, tough as nails. Andy and Frank Schleck - I'm a sucker for a cute brother story, bonus - they can ride the heck out of their bikes, and either one could be a contender. Thor Hushovd, the gentle giant.

And Danny Pate. I get misty-eyed just thinking about him in the Tour, what a story. I'd give a link to one of the recent mentions of his journey, but the Garmin-Chipotle boys have given approximately 5,000 interviews in the past week, so I wouldn't know where to begin. The short of it is he is a great talent, but made his career in the States because of the rampant doping overseas. Jonathan Vaughters talks with great emotion about finally getting Pate where he always belonged - racing with the best in the Big Show.

Garmin-Chipotle unveiled the new kit. I don't know that the argyle needs to be that subtle, but it's still there, so that's good. Biting my tongue about the white shorts. Must. Stay. Positive. Pray for sun, boys, that's all I'm sayin'. I loved the packing list they gave on the team site, I'm so glad they're sponsored by Clif Bar. I literally do not know what I would do without Clif products - I have a Luna Bar for lunch every day, Clif Bars and Shots and Bloks are my staples on rides and hikes, I would be lost without them!

VeloNewsTV has already got me staying up late to keep up - next week will be impossible! Delight once again in the smooth (and endearingly convoluted) stylings of Neal Rogers. How sad it is that he has no Dave Zabriskie nor Chris Horner this year, but I'm sure he'll still have plenty of fun content for us. That was good stuff in Girona, riding with the big boys (and Christian's wife, love that).

As the doping cases go on in the courts, as the alphabet soups snipe at each other, I still can't wait for Saturday. The past couple of days, whenever that "The Tour starts on Saturday!" flash crosses my mind, I smile and tear up. If I can dare to dip into the soup and quote Patrice Clerc, "A chapter can never be more important than its book." He was talking about Lance, but could just as well have been talking about the current difficulties. For whatever the chatter is, whatever comes up, there will be racing. There will be teamwork and sporting gestures and heartfelt wins and near misses and newspapers up the jumpers and idiot fans getting in the way and laughter and shenanigans and tears and pain and annoying commentary and water-bottle humpbacks and colors and sun and flowers and speed and grace and suffering and effort, supreme effort. Nowhere else I want to be.

I was giving my bikes a thorough wash and lube today, imagining all those team mechanics across the sea doing the same on a much grander scale - more bikes, greater love and devotion, and bigger butterflies in their stomachs. I'm ready to ride and ready to watch. Go get 'em JV.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Bicycling Magazine: Bruyneel as Bambi

Dear Bicycling and Marc Peruzzi,

So is the head-in-the-sand article on Astana and Johan Bruyneel part of the book deal or what? Some of the stuff in "Blackballed" would be funny if it weren't so, well, sad. Mentioning Manolo Saiz being caught red-handed in one paragraph, then Bruyneel's Tour exploits, under the direction of Saiz, in the (cough) mid-90s, in another. And then we have Alberto Contador, a rider under both Saiz and Bruyneel, and his wacky no-preparation win at the Giro, comparing him to Marco Pantani no less. Granted, he didn't run away with it, so one can hope, but still, you have to recognize the gross irony in how the article lays it out.

Will we never lay to rest this canard about "The French"? It's not that Johan and Lance won, it's how they won. We hear from Jonathan Vaughters (in the infamous IM) that there was a big difference in the medical programs of Postal and the French teams. To put Bruyneel's sneering spin out there without that obvious rebuttal is annoying.

Comparing knee bashing and dog fighting to the entrenched, deadly, pervasive doping that many riders suffered under is ridiculous at best.

Equally offensive is saying Astana is among the "vanguard" of the anti-doping movement. For years, Bruyneel and his various teams' silence on doping was deafening. Well, actually, I guess that's not quite right - they did make themselves heard in the peloton, bullying anyone who tried to speak out against doping. Even now the most you usually hear is a defensive mentioning of their program, not discussion of how bad things were in the past and relief at a new direction. Bruyneel's signing of Ivan Basso made it clear where his priorities lay. And he didn't "fire him a few weeks later" - it was five months later, when Basso's hand was forced by CONI, that he resigned from the team.

It wasn't one "old sample," of Lance's urine, there were several. And it wasn't that the tests were inconclusive, it was that they were for research purposes and thus unusable to bring sanctions.

I'm all for understanding that some guys were a product of their time, but there were those who followed and those who led, misled, and wielded their power and money to protect their lifestyle.

I'm not even saying Astana should've been excluded. I like Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner, even if I wonder why they would go back (in Levi's case) to the Bruyneel machine. Heck, maybe even Johan is on the up and up, taking the new way as just the next challenge for him to solve. My objection is to a sloppy article that paints a picture of Bruyneel as a horrendously wronged innocent in a travesty of justice. Even before I did my homework I wouldn't have thought that.

I know the deal is if you dig too deep you lose access, but here's a thought - if everyone else started speaking the whole truth, the all-powerful become some guys behind a curtain, and then who cares if you have access?