– The most stirring photo of the Tour so far.
– It’s apparent that Alberto Contador has never heard the phrase ‘If you hit the king, you have to kill him.’ His Stage 7 attack smacked of the same lack of discipline that lost him 40 seconds in the crosswinds of Stage 3. When I say discipline, don’t mistake that for ‘fealty.’ I don’t think he owes Lance a damn thing. But history proves that the Tour is rarely-if-ever won thanks to sprint-for-the-city-sign escapades like what we saw in Stage 7. Its effect, from a GC perspective, was next to nil. 21 seconds means little. But it was a gigantic ‘fuck you’ to Lance, and any illusion of team camaraderie got nuked.
Look back at the last 20 years of the Tour. Did the final GC winner ever get there by nickel-and-diming his rivals? Absolutely not. As a rule they get there by throttling them and taking minutes out per full-on exertion (be it in the climbs or in the TT’s.) I’m not sure what Contador’s attack was more lacking in, brains or balls. If he had brains he would’ve held back and showed make-believe respect for Lance’s position ahead of him in GC ’til the final week (or until Lance cracked on his own.) If he had balls he would’ve attacked with 6km to go in Stage 7, not 1,500m to go.
And now, 10 days before it was needed, Lance is surely going room-to-room, from teammate-to-teammate, asking the $64,000 question: Are you with me, or are you against me? And don’t think it’s just his Astana peeps he’s asking. His diplomatic mission likely includes every non-Spanish speaker in the peloton. Just look back to his salad days with Motorola back in ’93. Lance earned a $1 million bonus for winning the trifecta of the Thrift Drug Classic, the Kmart West Virginia Classic, then the Corestates in Philly. Dig around the apocrypha and you’ll find a not-uncommon tale that half the peloton got paid off in Philly beforehand. Alliance-making never goes out of fashion.
– We’re 9 days in and the Lance Haters seemingly fall into two categories. One is The Chronically Spurned: Lance’s every gesture (e.g. staying on-message about cancer awareness & prevention, mending fences with old enemies like Frankie Andreu, his refusal to overtly criticize Contador) drives them into a bitter tizzy about his ‘arrogance’ and his alleged past sins -- sins they claim stole their youthful, doe-eyed love of the sport. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Lance can do nothing to redeem himself to them because their innocence is forever lost. Lance’s sin doesn’t appear to be his alleged doping itself -- it’s in winning the Tour 7 times under the Herculean weight of innuendo & suspicion, but never having tested positive. Theirs is a hatred of the smartest guy in the room. It’s Junior High bullshit, and it’s clogged the internet airwaves for the last week. You’ll note that The Chronically Spurned flock to Team Garm*n and have a perma-crush on its part-owner, road captain, and doping royal David Millar. Their forgiveness of Millar and their fury at Lance is an unfathomable irony and mystery.
One other symptom of The Chronically Spurned is their recent embrace of Alberto Contador. (See: The enemy of my enemy is my friend). In the Chronically Spurned’s histrionics about Lance’s selfishness so far in the ’09 Tour, one fact is forgotten: Contador raced for the notorious Liberty Seguros squad from 2004-2006 when their doping was institutionalized & nothing short of high art. You can rest assured that if Contador was racing for Caisse d’Epargne instead of Astana in 2009, the Lance haters would hate him just as much as they do Lance, Alejandro ‘Valv. Piti’ Valverde, and the countless other stars of the last decade that tap-danced their way around scandal. Contador’s connection to Operation Puerto is 10x more hard-wired than any of the vague claims about Lance and dopage. Boo-hooing for Contador as a means of demonizing Lance is willful ignorance.
A less venomous sub-species of the Lance Hater is the Defender of Old Media. Lance is a champion of Twitter, of user-generated video (see livestrong.com), and of other means of self-produced messaging. Last I heard, people were heaping props onto Obama because these were the sorts of tactics he used to get elected US President. For some reason, though, old school media types are piling on Lance because he’s ‘producing his own message’ instead of entrusting the message-production to the squires of the Fifth Estate. To them, Lance is Twitter and Twitter is Lance. They detest him for his contributions in destroying their livelihood. With only little exception, being a journalist in 2009 is akin to being a travel agent in 1999. As is the case with most of the world’s ills, it’s all Lance’s fault.
– Did somebody say journalism? ‘Journalist,’ I imagine, is what it says on Lennard Zinn’s business card. ‘Tech Editor,’ to be exact. Did you read this schlock on velonews.com the other day? Could you imagine a writer in the Wall Street Journal beginning a review of anything with a sentence like ‘Knowing that the SL2 was already a home run…’ or closing a review with a paragraph like ‘Specialized has made enormous efforts to cover the field for 2010 with road bikes for every rider…the wide range of high-performance Specialized models at relatively modest prices bodes well for its success in the current economy.’ Zinn shows no intellectual curiosity or skepticism about any of Specialized’s claims. He regurgitates them. Again. And again. When he writes this stuff he’s not a tech editor. He’s a lackey. It’s not news, it’s a Zinnfomerical.
There’s a Jekyll & Hyde thing going on with Zinn. Sometimes he writes thoughtful stuff that entertains or authentically teaches. But then he writes pure PR palaver and we lose all respect. Who is the real Lennard Zinn? The tech-head or the ass-kisser?
– Sports Illustrated writes about the Tour de France, . Even better, CBS Sports writes about the Tour de France. Both articles make as much sense as People Magazine reviewing U2’s ‘The Unforgettable Fire.’ But it happened. It was 1984 and I was 13 and my mother’s subscription gave me the lifelong gift of distaste for mass media starting right there & then. Three songs minimum on that album can still bring tears to my eyes. People Magazine gave it 1.5 stars out of 5 because up against The Pointer Sisters and Van Halen and Laura Branigan and Prince -- U2 was a universe too far. Fawning on the NBA one day, critique of le Tour the next. It’s the identical phenomenon with SI & CBS Sports: Cultural ignorance + ineffectual argumentative skills = journalistic garbage.
– Journalism we can believe in: The Boulder Report Live Blog of the Tour de France. The Versus TV coverage makes us vomit. Somebody told me ”Vs.’ refers to programming versus commercials, and commercials win’ and Phil Liggett seems melodramatic and uninterested in naming riders correctly and the up-close-and-personal stuff irritates to no end….But Joe Lindsey’s Boulder Report Live Blog is like cyclingnews.com’s live text coverage meets Mystery Science Theatre 3000. You get the blow-by-blow of the race, and the commentary is sometimes humorous and sometimes provocative. The impromptuness of it all is what makes it so great. It’s like there should be a random drawing and whoever wins gets to watch the 2010 Paris-Roubaix live at Joe’s house. He’s the interlocutor you’d love to have on race day…
Oh, and a follow up on our offer for a $250 gift card for anyone who could teach us how to easily hide our IP address so we can watch geo-restricted on-line Tour coverage. We got lots of great tips, but all of them required more steps than what we budgeted for patience-wise (i.e. more than 1 mouseclick). The best advice we got was from ‘Danny in Tokyo.’ With a quick download of Veetle software we got a hacked free Versus feed. Granted, it has all the downsides of the Versus TV coverage, but it saves us the expense of a yearlong Direct TV subscription.
– Is there anybody else out there who thinks that the coolest thing in the Tour de France is Bert Grabsch’s cadence? He did a solo in the final stage of the Dauphine-Libere earlier this year, and his average speed was 30mph, while his average cadence was like 50rpm. He’s keeping up the stylish slogging in le Tour. Keep an eye out for it.
– Do you ride a mountain bike? If so, you’re probably familiar with the concept of ‘flow’ -- It’s a learned skill where, Jedi-like, rather than over-thinking the rocks and roots and whoopsie-do’s you find that your best friends are speed and momentum. You’re fastest and most focused and most at peace when you become almost like a force of nature, flowing over the obstacles.
The same holds true with technical road descents. Calculating the best line isn’t an analysis that, in that moment, you can put into words. It’s a math based on feel, experience, and confidence. And it’s no different when you’re hauling ass on race day in a big group. When you’re mid-pack and riding shoulder-to-shoulder through a twisty course you’re one small part of a far bigger beast. You don’t control how the beast moves. You’re just playing a tiny role in enacting a larger reflexive motion -- the motion of the peloton circumnavigating turn after turn after turn. It’s possibly the greatest act of faith I’ve ever felt, big-ringing it through a serpentine race course, knowing that if any of the 30 guys in front of me picks a stupid line, he’s taking us all out. You can’t stop (or do much to alter) anything about it. You just flow and focus on controlling the things you can control. This act of faith -- it’s as elemental to bike racing as pain itself. Which is why I don’t understand why people were bitching about the Tour TTT course, claiming it was too narrow and twisty and technical. It’s probably the stupidest thing said so far about the Tour. The whole point is flow and faith and pain -- it’s why the TTT was invented in the first place, and the alternative of holding it on a straight 4-lane highway would gut its very essence.
– It’s a well-known fact that the Cervélo Test Team rides the now-obsolete Shimano Dura Ace 7800 because their Rotor cranks don’t agree with the Dura Ace 7900 front derailleur. Less known, though, is that AG2R is the one Campagnolo team in the Tour peloton that doesn’t ride 11spd. Their 10spd levers stand out mightily. It’s a surprise that Campy can’t budget a few extra Euros to give them an upgrade. Now that Nocentini is sporting yellow (an Italian!), it’s surely something Campy regrets.
– It was the Atmos 6 or 7 years ago, then the Ionos 2 or 3 years ago -- both times Giro proved that it knew how to make helmets light, well-ventilated, and as close to sexy in appearance as you can get with something as dreadful to wear as a helmet. We can’t say we’re sure about the sexy part when it comes to the new Prolight helmet making its debut at the Tour. Word on the street is that it’s super-light (sub-180g), but at least on TV those vents look pretty tiny and from an aesthetics point of view it’s maybe on the vintage side, no?
We’ll wait to learn more in the upcoming months. Our guess is that reinforcing huge vents (like what you get on the Ionos) adds structure and therefore weight to the helmet. In order to lighten it up, perhaps they made the vents smaller? Now that I’ve said it, that sounds sort of counter-intuitive. But based on the name, Superlight, clearly weight savings was the goal here. I dunno. I can’t wait to try one on and see. First impressions here, though, are lukewarm.
– Sometime between the release of ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ and the widespread use of the internet I once called a 1-900 phone sex line for what I’ll claim here was idle curiosity but, in truth, was because I was a furiously horny 23-year old with no outlet for my affections. It was anything but enjoyable because it highlighted my central drawback as a member of the male species back then, my extreme discomfort in talking to women. And I hated it, too, because I couldn’t imagine how my partner-in-conversation couldn’t think of me as a pervert or, even worse, a mere harmless loser worthy of nothing more than ridicule. I reminiscence about it whenever I watch a Cialis or Enzyte ad during the Tour coverage. With every stiff-shafted golf club and fire station pole and spurting tub faucet shown there I sense that 1-900 spirit of contempt for the audience just the same, as if there’s any way the director isn’t chuckling as he pulls focus on phallus after phallus to tantalize a sad and overmedicated nation.
As an aside, I have grown quite fond of the voice in those Cadillac ads. And I’m much more comfortable now talking to women. Maybe my phone sex days aren’t completely behind me after all….
– It’s been a tough year for the Cervélo P4. Initial delivery was later than expected, and it finally hit our shelves just as the fear factor related to the global recession hit its peak. Then we learned a whole host of rear wheels aren’t compatible with its chainstays. And now, apparently, the UCI has expressed unhappiness about its integrated water bottle design. Can someone clear things up for us -- Is the P4 bottle UCI compliant or not? It’d go a long way to redeeming the P4’s year if Sastre could pull off a stage win at the Annecy TT.
– Our pal Nigel Dick is following this year’s Tour with the Garm*n team. His videos are cool. This photo from the team car on the descent of the Tourmalet rocks, and it amuses when you flip it upside down. Our favorite info so far comes from an email he sent:
‘In the bus on the way to the start the riders apply their numbers as they prepare for the day’s racing. The techniques as I have observed them are as follows:
Dean: Having cut off the edges he smooths out numbers slowly and purposefully and uses stickiness AND safety pins. He is the ultimate zen master of race number application.
Farrar: Takes a nap. Numbers appear on shirt by magic.
Hesjedal: Sticks numbers to floor first to get rid of some of the adhesive, then cuts off the corners.
Maskaant: Once they’re stuck on rolls up numbers from bottom. (Ryder does same but from the side!)
Millar: old school: only uses safety pins.
Pate: Danny doesn’t seem to change numbers at all. The bus is full of new ones.
Vande Velde: Must do them in his room with a ruler: always immaculate.
Wiggins: Stealthily…see above.
Zabriskie: Cuts off the bit that says Zabriskie.’