Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tour of California 2009 Stage 5: It's All About The Bobke

It was another lovely day at the Tour, great weather and no crashes to speak of this time! Although it's always fun to watch the riders having a chat and a laugh and going through great scenery, it was a bit of a sleeper. Fortunately, there was plenty of excitement surrounding Fatty's latest fundraising coup - getting Bob Roll to shave his head! I'm sure someone will come up with better video, but I had my camera handy and caught this footage, from both TourTracker on my computer and Versus on my TV. I'm signed up for the Philly LiveStrong Challenge, I have to get cracking on some good fundraising ideas!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tour of California 2009 Stage 4: You Had To Be There

That was going to be my entire post, you had to be there. (And by there, I mean on the other side of the country, watching online.) So much happened today, any commentary/analysis couldn't possibly begin to do it justice. First and foremost, of course, was the brilliant sunshine. Morale has been low in the peloton, and the boys were very happy to see the sun this morning. Oops, I'm using riders' Twitters as a source for my post, Frankie Andreu wouldn't approve. But I'm not a real journalist, so maybe he'll forgive me. You don't have to Twitter yourself Frankie, just sign up to follow others' tweets, much easier that way!

What a thrill it is to see these stages from the very beginning, I wish we had more opportunities to do that in the Grand Tours. In the neutral zone, I got to enjoy Dave Zabriskie chatting with Levi Leipheimer, and then DZ taking his customary surge right out of the pack. A few minutes later, my heart was in my throat as Zabriskie sidled up along Floyd Landis. There they were again, laughing constantly, one can only imagine at what ridiculousness. When Floyd won the Tour, that was the sight I was most anxious to see on the final cruise into Paris - Floyd and DZ side by side, cracking each other up. What a trip to see it again, after so much has changed.

Many a rider diary has provided eloquent descriptions of crazy stage starts, but there's nothing like seeing it for oneself. The riding was hardcore for nearly two hours straight, completely insane. One attack after another, providing great entertainment. There was Christian Vande Velde and George Hincapie in the same break, wouldn't that have been fun! No one's letting either one of them back in the race though, no dice. And classic Jens Voigt - enough of this messing around, just ride as hard as you can. Frankie was giving Tom Danielson a hard time for sitting on Jens, but I don't think Tom was trying to get in a break. With Jens so high up in the standings, I would guess Tom was pegging him just like Chris Horner was, either on his own behalf or Zabriskie's. I think it was Horner, there were so many combinations in that flurry, it was hard to keep track. And Floyd again, doing his best to get in the break any way he could. But like all the other big boys mentioned above, he's not going to be allowed back in either. The TT and Palomar will give all these guys another shot at showing their stuff, I'm looking forward to it.

Francisco Mancebo, dear, I know you want the KOM points, but if they're not letting guys five minutes back in the break, do you really think they're going to let you? He finally saw the light - well, let's be honest, was made to see the light, and the boys could finally breathe again. Seeing Lance set tempo for long stretches at the front of the entire peloton is quite a sight. He's worked piecemeal for teammates in the past, but never quite like this. Another thing I still can't get used to, that beefy upper body. I wonder if it will still be around in May and July.

With several horrible crashes yesterday, I was hoping for a safer time in the sun today. No such luck, with sickening crashes involving Kim Kirchen, Oscar Freire, and Scott Nydam; still waiting to hear on prognoses. [Yikes, both involved jackets and Scott was almost run over, broken bones all around.] Another scary moment came when Vande Velde went down, clearly hurting his knee. He was pretty well out of contention, but I'm sure he wants to do a solid TT, I hope the damage isn't too great. Kirchen and Freire were both in a lot of pain, it's such a horrible sight to see someone's season go south right off the bat. The upside is they have time to recover for big races down the line, but Freire clearly had his sights on winning the day, such a shame. His teammate took a flyer at the end to try and salvage the day for Rabobank, but it was another day for the sprinters.

The chalk art on the home stretch was really beautiful, quite impressive, but they really need to rethink that concept. We finally got a clear, dry day, and still couldn't see the sprinters amidst all the dust! Garmin's Tyler Farrar made a nice effort, but Mark Cavendish wouldn't be denied today.

Most courageous of the day went to Tyler Hamilton - I figured that one was coming, given how that jersey was shaking out. Snarks and irony aside, the present facts are these - his mother is battling cancer, he sacrificed training to be with her, and he's done a workman's job for his team all week. Including today, working for Mancebo before having the break to himself.

The Tour Tracker was in fine form today; things go a lot smoother with plenty of live video and all systems firing. And they had fun guests - Dave Towle and Frankie Andreu make a great pair in the booth. Lively, meaty discussions about what was happening on the road and cycling in general, much more engaging than the watered-down prattle on Versus. JoE Silva is a lovely man, but his pacing can be excruciating; the flow with Dave along was much better. I think JoE just needs to stop trying to do so many things at once. I know, easy for me to say, but just let Frankie talk for a minute if you need to figure something out. Bobby Julich also stopped in again, always great to hear from him. I did my part to get Frankie and JoE to mention the Team Fatty/Bob Roll Head Shave Challenge, but perhaps my e-mail got there too late. Maybe tomorrow!

Production assistant tip of the day: Actually, Phil and Paul, Levi doesn't know the route at all. He just said as much on your broadcast, not five minutes ago.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Tour of California 2009 Stage 2: The Young And The Restless

Still waiting to hear on Andy Jacques-Maynes, hoping it's nothing serious. [Thankfully not serious, according to this.]

The pictures weren't always pretty, but we had pictures! It kind of kills one's day, but it sure is fun to watch a race from absolute start to finish. To see all the fits and starts and then the break of the day get away. To go through all of the ups and downs, in terrain and weather and speed and excitement. Good stuff.

Steve Cozza said his legs were good on the Garmin-Slipstream website this morning, and he made good on his declaration by being one of the first to break away. Soon joined of course by Tom Peterson, he of the missed Prologue start due to a flat. All that was behind him today, though, as he held on to Levi Leipheimer when no one else could and got the stage win for his efforts.

Perfectly legitimate win, good for him and for Garmin. Peterson was in the original break, slogging away all day while Leipheimer was safely tucked in the peloton. Considering how everyone else fell away, it looked like Peterson would have won it even if Levi hadn't come along. Jonathan Vaughters called it himself hours before the finish, on a Twitter he's likely to print out and frame. And when Levi went, nothing else Peterson could do but sit on. Tom Danielson and Dave Zabriskie are right up there in the standings, Peterson couldn't pull Levi away from them. And on the line, two things - if you want the win, you have to go for it, and, Peterson took a few seconds in time bonuses away from Levi, again helping out Danielson and Zabriskie. Hey, it's not like this race hasn't come down to seconds before.

That's why I was surprised Levi seemed to let up well before the line, I would have thought he would crank it all the way in. In the end, he only gained 20 seconds on his remaining rivals. Worth the attack, that could be the margin of victory in the end, but still, he could have had a few more. We've seen Levi do so many of these mad man attacks, to very mixed results, I'm happy it worked out for him today. It's a source of humor to some, but if this is the slice of the cycling world he wants for himself, why not? Aside from that questionable ruling the first time around, he's earned his place here. He wants it more than anyone and is willing to go out and get it. So I smiled as he kissed his jersey so emotionally, and gave another fiery-eyed interview to Bobke after a well-fought stage. I believe him when he said he went for it to stay warm, I thought all those guys were crazy for stripping down so much, even if it was close to the end!

Lord only knows who'll get most courageous rider today. [Okay, finally one that makes sense - Ben Jacques-Maynes. I don't know if it was for helping design the course, but riding on after your twin brother passes you in an ambulance works for me.]

Production assistant tip of the day: he's taking a leak, Phil and Paul, not forming an echelon.

Tour of California 2009 Stage 1: Women and Children First

No, not in the disaster sense, although we had the water for it. With no live video for much of the men's race, we were treated to the women's crit and the adorable kids races at the finish. Good sports all, including the great crowds cheering them on.

I hereby volunteer to be a production assistant on Versus. Phil and Paul know cycling backwards and forwards, but they're in that little booth, and looking at so many different things, sometimes they just need someone outside the bubble to pass them a note. As in, hey, Johan says they took the GC standings on the first time across the line. Instead we get all kinds of unnecessary panic about how much time they're giving back to Mancebo. Maybe they'll have their Twitter on today.

The race decision was something of karmic payback to Levi Leipheimer I guess. After that extremely dodgy decision a couple of years ago that basically gifted him the jersey, this time it went against him. Astana surely would've caught Mancebo if they had all three laps. Thanks in most part to Chris Horner; it was great to see him getting mad props from Levi and Lance after the race. Silence-Lotto was crazy to let him go - he is such a great workhorse with such a great attitude. There's a job to do and he does it, in spades. And I love how he's not letting the Astana machine change him - still went out last night for In-N-Out burgers and fries and a shake. Rock on, Chris!

I never thought I'd follow Johan or Lance's twitters, but I'll give them this, best race information yesterday. Johan for what was happening on the road, and Lance for that tidbit about Horner's dinner last night. Fredcast also giving good road information, it should be noted.

Great to see Dave Zabriskie and Tom Danielson of Garmin-Slipstream made the break yesterday, they both look to be ready and hungry for solid comeback seasons. Sorry to see Christian Vande Velde miss it. I know, the new baby, and it's early in the season, but darling, if you want to be in the conversation, you have to be in the conversation. Maybe there was something specific to yesterday, I'll have to check in with the team website in the morning. Even Basso managed to get in there, even though he's just on a "training ride."

Speaking of Basso, most courageous rider? Ivan "most chicken-s*** non-confession confession" Basso? Curiouser and curiouser, that jersey. Another thing to check this morning, maybe they meant Nibali.

Here's what I love - people chatting on Tour Tracker, for hours on end, complaining about the commentators. Mind you, there was no race video, no GPS tracking, and the text play-by-play was more or less cribbing off cyclingnews - the only thing there was commentary!! Seriously, people, go to the tickers at cyclingnews or VeloNews, leave us in peace. I thought Frankie Andreu and JoE Silva did an admirable job with what they had. They were just as frustrated as we at home, but had to keep the patter going.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Tour of California 2009 Prologue: Be Still My Beating Heart

Am I really going to do this again? A relevant question on so many levels, but I find myself with excess energy after watching the boys start things off in California, so here I am.

Reading the end of the start list this morning, I couldn't help but get a lump in my throat. It wasn't entirely good or bad, just quite a sight to see all those names together. Whatever else, they can all ride the heck out of their bikes, and each year the pipe dream of a level playing field gets slightly more reasonable. Sort of. Maybe. Just a little.

I've always loved Fabian Cancellara, but a bad taste lingers from his odd behavior last year when the rumors were flying. So, not quite as much fun to watch his typical mad dash, but still impressive I suppose. Levi Leipheimer still wins for best face on the start ramp, his eyes were positively popping, good enough for second on the day. Dave Zabriskie of my beloved Garmin-Slipstream coming in a very nice third, great effort and hopefully a good start to a healthy season!

Svein Tuft of Garmin also looking good, he strikes me as someone who will not let the hype get in the way and will just get down to business. George Hincapie was none too happy with his result, but sixth in this field is nothing to sneeze at. Or else he was mad about those ugly-ass kits Columbia is sporting this year. I guess some people like them, but I just don't see it. Floyd Landis looked a bundle of anticipation on the start ramp, understandably so. No matter what, he paid a far bigger price than he ought to have, and I hope he settles into the race and has a good season. Yes, I'm the one who backed Paul Kimmage against Lance yesterday, but hey, we can't agree on everything.

As for the coverage, things got off to a rollicking good start with the unintentional comic stylings of Phil and Paul, unaware that the audio was live on the Tour Tracker site. Sniffing, slurping, swearing, name-calling, putting on American accents - it was quite the hoot. Rather more enjoyable than when they realized they were on air and went back into clich├ęd announcer mode.

Fortunately we soon had Frankie Andreu on the website, always my favorite commentator. They had ongoing audio difficulties, but when I could hear him Frankie was his usual insightful self. And the consummate professional, talking about Lance like he did any other rider. He and JoE Silva ran into their own open mic problems after the video ended, more fun stuff as we discovered they were not getting the best of information as they were commentating. Seriously, they have to do this open mic thing every day, it's highly entertaining!

Versus spent half their coverage on features, while actual racing was going on, but have to reintroduce the sport to the masses and all that, I suppose. Almost not worth bothering with them, but they had a couple of rider interviews, and once they got to the racing their feed was a bit ahead of online. I watch a few other sports, and I'm not saying no one else kisses ass, but it seems to me no other sport comes close to the charade of cycling commentary on Versus. It gets downright bizarre after awhile, really. I know he pays the bills, and he's why we get to see more live coverage this year, but can we not have a scintilla of objectivity, the least acknowledgment that he's not every fan's favorite? Eh, probably not.

Jersey confusion: smart move, Rabobank, you get an extra rider each day (provided the best young rider is not already on Rabobank). We'll see if it makes for confusing viewing. Lance getting courageous rider - okay, it's sponsored by the cancer thing, so I suppose it was inevitable, but I think they should've left it for tomorrow, like the KOM jersey.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

This Month in Lance: A Reenactment

VeloNewsTV had an interesting edit of the Lance press conference, leaving out the second exchange with Greg LeMond. So here's my edit, along with a few other choice scenes from the annals of HRH. (Scroll over the bottom to pause, etc.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

When Worlds Collide: Lance, Greg, and how 'bout that TT?

Let's get to the actual cycling first, because isn't that what it's all about? Garmin-Chipotle is continuing to get over that bridesmaid hurdle. We had Christian Vande Velde winning a hard-fought Tour of Missouri, and this week Tyler Farrar getting a sweet win in France. Big congrats to both and to the great teammates that got them there.

And huge congrats to Dave Zabriskie for taking third in the TT at Worlds. This one doesn't belong in bridesmaid status - it continues a great comeback from a tough injury. Watching him on the podium I flashed back to him on the side of the road in the Giro, and marveled at the work he's had to do in between. You can tell the back still gives him trouble, I don't think that was impatience that caused him to have his hand on his hip up there. So thank you, DZ, for a strong and gutsy performance. Speaking of the podium, kudos to Universal Sports for showing it to us! I've been nagging them about how we fans need our closure when the race is done, and they've finally listened. We like to see the honor, the joy, DZ swatting at bugs, priceless. And Universal had Frankie Andreu commentating, double bonus! Hugs to David Millar - Top Ten is nothing to sneeze at, but I know you were thirsting for more.

Great rides too, of course, by Bert Grabsch for the win and new Garmin rider Svein Tuft for second. Svein has to be happy with that, even if he'll have that tickling "what might have been" without the bike change at the end. Too bad for Levi Leipheimer, the dreaded fourth. With the table getting full there at Astana you know he wants to grab the choice bits when he can. Alberto Contador had some nerve making those comments about Levi the other day. With any luck, Levi won't have to work his butt off for the Kid anymore. Or the Kid might get a whole new perspective on Levi's shoes if he sticks around.

And so we come around to that other thing. Jonathan Vaughters talked me down a couple weeks ago - it's only for a year, bring it on, it's all the more incentive for us to do well. But now he's come for Taylor Phinney. Okay, don't speak out, I get it, to the general public you'll just be that guy with funny sideburns who made kids with cancer cry. But for heaven's sake, talk to Taylor! Alright, things I cannot change… I can't believe the team will be run in the way JV experienced as a youngster. One, because that would just be too damn sad. Two, because that wouldn't give Lance currency in today's world, and he's all about currency.

It's fitting that Lance was with Bill Clinton this week. They're both very smart, articulate, deep on whatever issue they're speaking about. They have great ideas and have done great things. And they both screw all that up with the crap they do along with it. Big Tobacco took my Mama, and anyone who wants to wale on them is typically my friend for life. But I can't separate the two that easily. I can admire and support the cancer initiative, but I can't jump up and down for Lance. Not that he cares, but I think it's kind of sad.

So yeah, he's smart and articulate, but he also has an annoying penchant for using the royal "we," and for shamelessly declaring others' good ideas as if he invented them. Never before could a rider prove himself clean - that's funny, I thought Garmin-Chipotle did a pretty fine job of that this year. Youth development is what this sport needs - uh, yes, and it's what this sport has in Garmin's development team. Hey, the more the merrier, but while you were snubbing your nose at the sport for a couple of years, others were actually taking care of it. JV talks me down once again, noting ever so wryly that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

About that new transparency. Lance said ask me anything, put any reporter on the line, a brand new day. But then he says yesterday and today - talk to the Don. After today, he won't talk about doping anymore, he'll just point to Catlin's tests. I guess that's one thing he's not cribbing from Garmin - they showed that transparency involves a lot more than numbers. If your concept is that this year proves something about the past, you have to talk about the past.

And talk to Greg LeMond, apparently. The cancer stuff is great, but all that gushing was getting a bit much, so I was happy Greg was front and center at today's Interbike press conference. Whatever faces they were making at each other, I think they both handled it well. Lance's blood must have been boiling, but he didn't fly off the handle. He moved things along, but allowed Greg to get more than a few words out. Greg asked some very reasonable and intelligent questions. He's so passionate about this stuff, it sometimes gets in the way of coherent sentences, but from what I could hear he did well. The news buzz is on the flashpoints, but the whole thing is worth a listen - check out The FredCast for full audio.

Dr. Catlin is well-respected, but I have to say he came off a bit befuddled in the whole exchange. He seems to know the old-fashioned kind of doping detection inside and out, but I was surprised he wasn't more up to speed on what LeMond was talking about. You can't be an expert in everything, but if anti-doping is your field, the LeMond stuff isn't exactly unheard of before today. To his credit, he appeared interested and if I heard correctly, suggested talking to LeMond later. Overall, though, Catlin didn't inspire a lot of confidence that this is going to be the harshest possible look at Lance for the next year.

Not that it matters. Like Lance said, it's just another box to be checked for him, and for the general public. Telling, that - a box I need to check, not a heartfelt passion to clean up the sport. Then again, according to Lance he's not from a particularly dirty generation, so I guess that's consistent. He loves the bike, he loves his sport, I believe that is absolutely genuine. I just wish the rest could be half as much.