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Two weeks in: Some thoughts about the Giro

- It was two hours mentally dressed up in the war paint then, finally, the day’s final threshold interval was done. Legs and lungs were unwinding. The brain rage required for quality speedwork was fleeing my body. A car passed by. The driver cradled her cell phone as she sat behind the wheel. I got a quick glance of her as I soft pedaled, convinced for an instant she’s the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever seen. Nothing makes beauty more beautiful than knowing the pain, for today, is done for good.

- Professor Cavendish teaches class.

- Let the record show that Dave Zabriskie has been US Pro Time Trial Champion for 3 years running now and we’re awed by his dominance in the discipline. In ’06 he edged out Chris Baldwin, who missed a turn in the finale, overcorrected, then crashed into a ditch. Baldwin complained about how technical the course was. Baldwin’s DS complained about how technical the course was. Dave Z responded memorably: ‘Wah, wah…That’s bike racing. That’s just the way it is. There are turns on the roads, and you have to be able to navigate them.’

Fast forward, then, to the Giro’s Stage 12 Cinque Terre TT. Fabian Cancellara’s remarks made us uncomfortable because we have such awe and respect for him. At first his words stunned us -- ‘…This is more like a cyclo-tourist event.’ Then we re-read it a few more times and hoped his words were rooted in resignation, not complaint. But on the morning of the TT he dropped out of the race. DNS. We don’t know what’s going on with Fabian Cancellara in 2009, but it bums us out to see.

- I started to actively Twitter tweet in the last two weeks, and it’s corrupting my ability to think paragraph-length thoughts. I like to write, but Twitter doesn’t support the act. If what you want to communicate can be condensed to <140 characters, does the world really need to hear it? I was fairly drunk and immovable a few nights back and I watched a show on MTV about Steve-O of Jackass fame and his love of filming himself as he huffed nitrous. I think about Steve-O's toxin-necrotic brain and think Twitter is doing the same to me.

- In Twitter’s defense, it did deliver this bon tweet to the world. Fast-forward exactly 3 weeks later to the Cinque Terre TT and you’ll see that the world’s best TTer’s finished in this sequence: 7th, 31st, 76th, 118th, 140th, 157th, 174th, and 184th. If you’re a daily follower of the team standings, you already know that put the world’s best TTer’s at 11th place for the stage. By Garm*n standards, 50th percentile is a banner day compared to where they stand for the Giro overall -- 20th out of 22 teams, only 1hr and 7 minutes behind 19th-place Team Xacobeo Galicia. I’d love to see a comparison of their annual team budgets.

- This is hubris. This is reality.

- I’ve noticed a correlation that the people who bellyache the loudest about the ills of doping in the pro peloton are the same people who got most worked up at Mark Cavendish’s pre-planned early exit from the Giro. Not finishing the race is morally wrong, they claim. It’s disrespectful to the race, etc. These critics neglect to consider that the kid is only 23. He’s raced 55 days so far in 2009. For better or worse he’s paid to race 9 months a year. The management of Team Columbia wants to nurture him, not destroy him beyond the point where his body can naturally recover. Franck Vandenbroucke. Todd Marinovich. These guys have tales to tell about being pushed too hard, too young.

- Two rest days in this Giro. Days of rest? We don’t know what to do with ourselves on those two sad days.

Steep climb into Bologna. Focus on the Barloworld rider (in red) in the background behind Gerrans.

- I am fully aware that the pro peloton lives in the penumbra of doping scandal. As fans we live in perma-uncertainty about who the good guys are & who the bad guys are. The shaky moral ground of pro bike racing is just like life, and maybe it’s that allegorical aspect that makes me love the sport so.

What’s bothersome, though, are the unambiguously dirty pros. Emmanuelle Sella, Stefan Schumacher, and Riccardo Ricco: They were ID’d as dirtbag prima donnas long before the UCI busted them for dope in ’08. Who wasn’t waiting all along for them to die of a stroke in their sleep, or of a well-placed gunshot courtesy of a jilted Russo-Spanish blood bank tycoon? The public spectacle of either option would’ve been a more fitting end than their tediously bureaucratic suspensions and the pseudo-due process thereof.

So, in the department of unsavory drama queens, wither Danilo Di Luca? A quick study of the ‘Oil for drugs’ scandal spells out just what a bad boy Di Luca has been, and the extent of the blind eye cast on him by Italian authorities. In a sport mostly defined by moral ambiguities, Di Luca is 2009′s spokesmodel for the opposite. We joke around here that LPR stands for ‘Likely Positive Result’ and whether or not Di Luca ever gets the scrutiny he deserves, our foremost joy in the ’09 Giro hasn’t been derived by the fight for the Maglia Rosa, but rather in the stories of the struggles of people we can connect with: Read Michael Barry’s portrait of the stoic suffering of the young Russian pros; read Ted King’s note (see #5) about Michael Barry’s job as baddest-ass plow-horse in the peloton; read Chris Horner’s story of nearly re-breaking his shoulder early on the stage to Pinerolo. My moral calculus of what it means to be a hero is different now. It’s more grounded and it rarely relates to overall performance. Strong silent types turn me on.

- Speaking of Danilo Di Luca, somebody please tell him about the ’89 Tour. No aerobars at the Cinque Terre TT? Danilo, don’t lose the Giro by 10 seconds this year. Don’t make Laurent Fignon’s ’89 Tour loss be in vain…

- Finalist for most idiotic spectator of the year.

- Two dramatic moments in the Giro I didn’t understand: (1) Why did Levi attack on the Colle del Gallo in the stage to Bergamo? It’s only a 430m climb, and the summit was 27km from the finish. He put nearly a minute into his rivals by the top, then didn’t work to maintain the gap. Putting a minute into the world’s best climbers couldn’t have come without a physical price -- why did he clobber himself to get the gap, then decide to sit in? If the #1 rule of stage racing is conserve, conserve, conserve, it seemed like a huge-yet-useless exertion.

(2) Kudos to Liquigas’ Franco Pellizotti for soloing off the front near the end of the monster stage to Pinerolo. But once Di Luca bridged up to him, having gapped Liquigas team leader Ivan Basso, why did Pellizotti work with Di Luca? It seemed that he could’ve just sat on, then clobbered Di Luca in the sprint if they stayed off. Instead he swapped pulls with Di Luca before Di Luca did one last dig to drop him. Pellozotti’s aggression suggests a quarterback controversy at Liquigas.

- All year we’ve seen Cannondale’s intriguing web banner ads about Liquigas and ‘The Good Fight.’ Can someone tell me what that fight is, exactly? I have no beef with Ivan Basso -- like David Millar, he did the crime and did the time. But, not unlike Garm*n’s hilariously ironic self-styled branding as ‘the clean team’, it seems a bit of a stretch for Liquigas to use a phrase with morally righteous overtones, no? Can someone provide insight?

- Our favorite coverage of the Giro? The RAI feed via cyclingfans.com has been flawless, and the Italian language play-by-play is like a musical score. (FYI: You need to download the Microsoft Silverlight player. It’s totally worth the small hassle.) But we’ve been equally impressed by the daily features on Pezcyclingnews.com. On an everyday basis they’ve had people pre-riding the race courses, which allows them to provide insight on the roads, the local culture, and some mind-blowing photography. Check out their features on the Bergamo stage and on the Cinque Terre TT. Kudos to Richard and the rest of the Pez crew. As cyclingnews and velonews fight for relevance when it comes to ‘news’, you’re killing them in the ‘Features’ department.

- I’ll be in Breckenridge, CO this summer. Map My Ride has too much site clutter for my taste. Can anyone give me riding tips -- maybe one solid 90-minute loop, and one notable point-to-point ride? Can’t wait to check it out.

- The circuit race stage around Milan is, by now, well-documented as a PR disaster for this year’s Giro. As I recall, the Giro normally ends every year with a stage like this -- a Mickey Mouse do-nothing ceremonial circuit race that inevitably comes down to a field sprint. Compared to the awesome spectacle of the Champs Elysses stage of the Tour de France, it seems like the crowds are always thin in Milan, and a victory there lacks in much prestige. No doubt the Giro organizers feel a need to try to emulate le Tour where’s it’s at its most spectacular, but the magic in this instance -- it ain’t there. Our suggestion? Take a chapter out of the final stage of Paris-Nice instead. Make it an ass-kicking stage that starts in Milan, does something savage outside city limits, then finishes back in Milan. You’d get the benefit of huge attendance seen at all villages depart, and if the stage is authentically difficult and thereby impactful to the GC, roadside tifosi will come out in droves to watch the race fly by.

- Take these factors into account: (1) He lost only 29 seconds on the Pinerolo stage, (2) He was in the top-15 in the TT, (3) He’s shown huge deference to ‘team leader’ Levi Leipheimer throughout the race -- fealty that must be repaid, (4) Alberto Contador won’t be his teammate come July, (5) Except for Steven Roche, Marco Pantani,and a few other once-in-a-generation exceptions, riders who shine in May suck in July, and vice-versa. Notice has been served. Lance Armstrong is merely simmering in Italy. Based on evidence, on history, and on logic he will win the 2009 Tour de France.

- My first-ever bike industry job was at a chain of shops in the Bay Area called Pacific Bicycle. Their HQ was in a 2nd story loft of their retail store on Sutter Street that bordered the notorious Tenderloin district. Maybe I’m not sufficiently well-traveled, but never have I witnessed such a density of hookers, pushers, and others varieties of urban downtrodden. Like cologne sprayed from the heavens, the stench of urine never lifted. It was a yearlong excretory mist during my time there.

I was 10 minutes early for my job interview, so to kill time I wandered around the neighboring streets with all the worldliness of Goldilocks. I took a left onto Polk Street towards the Civic Center and being a bit of a bookworm, I was pleased to see a store advertising ‘Magazines, Movies, Books.’ 3 steps in, around a corner, I was confronted by an act on the big screen TV most unusual to a practicing heterosexual male. I am rather liberal in most of my political leanings and find the notion of civil unions just fine since in my mind love is love is love. But what I saw on that TV was like an assault. I did a 360 and fled back to Pacific Bicycle. I entered the store and rather than introduce myself as the 11am interviewee instead I locked eyes with a wall poster of Craig Willett in full Team Z kit advertising Power Bar or Giro or something else anything else. Moving images were still burnt into my eyes like I’d stared down the sun. Willett straddled a Calfee with little Z cloud logos on it and the bike in its rareness radiated to me. Thank God for that bike shop and thank God for that poster. It was one instance -- one of probably 1,000 in my life -- where the only antidote to living in this world is bikes and bike racing.