The Superweek Solution

It’s Sunday evening, Versus has put the 2007 TdF to bed, the Champs-Élysées is once again overrun with automobiles, emaciated Euro-pros are fast approaching drinking their body weight in liquor at swank Parisian bars, gawkers confirm that Alberto Contador is indeed more skeletal than the models draped under each of his arms, and I’m thinking about Eliot Ness.

Specifically, the moment in “The Untouchables” when Kevin Costner’s Ness character realizes his plan to bring Al Capone to justice in court may be about to go up in smoke due to incriminating documents taken from a Capone henchman: the fix is in, Capone owns the jury. And Ness’s solution? He convinces the judge to swap juries with another trial across the hallway to ensure an untainted citizen pool.

Which brings me to the 2008 Tour de France. If one really cares about the future of the Tour, if one really cares about instilling a sense of integrity and truth to the most beautiful spectacle in sport, if one really wants to send a message to the Euro squads that we’re fed up with their doping fiascos, then send them all to Superweek. Here’s how it plays out:

At medical check-in prior to the TdF all the squads are told to simply pack a single suitcase of leisure clothes along with their cycling shoes/pedals. Surprise! You’re all flying to Wisconsin! No Tour for you. 12 months.

At the same time back in the U.S., everyone who’s pre-registered for the Pro/1 Superweek event will receive a plane ticket to France and similarly be instructed to pack a single suitcase of leisure clothes plus their cycling shoes/pedals. This is your new Tour de France peloton.

The kicker is…all the team infrastructure stays on their respective continents and will be divvied up by lottery. All the U.S. D3 squads and bike shop teams once headed to Superweek now get to draw straws for who gets to be Quick-Step, Liquigas, Euskaltel, etc. The arriving Americans will inherit the entire kit and kaboodle…all the bikes, team kits, team buses, team cars, soigneurs, chefs, team staff, mechanics, hotels, etc. They’ll just slot in to whatever team they pick via the lottery just as if they were on the team’s Tour roster. Similarly, all those Euro pros get to draw straws for the equipment awaiting them in Wisconsin. They may luck out and get a D3 squad like Rock & Republic with its array of Escalades, Scott carbon bikes, and actual hotels…or you may now have 9 Rabobank pros crammed into a 20 year old Chevy conversion van, sleeping in youth hostels or somebody’s basement, patching their own tubes, hand-washing kits in sinks each night, depending on prize money for gas, and feasting on my own tried-and-true econo Superweek diet of beer, bratwurst, burritos, and bananas.

The schedule of Superweek can be tweaked to give the Euros some semblance of the Tour. Just cluster all the road races in the middle of the schedule (Tour of Holy Hill is now your queen stage in the Pyrenees) and end it at Downer Avenue (now the Milwaukee substitute for the Champs-Élysées). If I was exceptionally cruel, the Euros’ trip back across the Atlantic would be financed by prize money alone…but maybe that’s going a wee bit too far. They wouldn’t be back until the Tour of Lombardy after hitch-hiking to the East Coast and then bumming a ride on a cargo freighter across the pond. There’s only about $60,000 (plus primes) to go around. Super squads like Discovery and CSC will definitely take a mega-financial hit, but the Agritubels of the world may actually make out about the same money-wise. Superweek will now be their Tour de France and post-Tour criterium-fest all rolled into one grandiose extravaganza. Maybe they’ll learn how to go around corners faster than old ladies.

On the Euro side of the Atlantic now being raced by America’s finest D3/Cat 1 contingent, maybe Henri Desgrange’s vision of the perfect Tour would finally come true. Said Desgrange, “The perfect Tour would have a perfect winner only if one man survived.” You want human suffering, the cream of America’s criterium racers will give you human suffering. Making the jump from several weeks of high-octane, 100km criteriums to seemingly endless consecutive 200km road races is quite an escalation in pain and mileage…let’s see how much truth there is to arriving at the Tour slightly under peak form and “riding oneself into shape”.

And could the hordes of viewing public know the difference? At Superweek…hell no. Maybe there would be some puzzlement about the relative lack of English speakers taking part and the preponderance of faux-hawk coiffures, but that’s about as far as it would go. In Europe…do all those people on the side of the road really know who’s racing? Well…probably. But certainly they’d warm up to their new “convicts of the road”. I think the doping would likely disappear in France, unless there’s a test for THC. Just call it “medical marijuana” to ease the suffering…of the entire peloton’s “cataracts”. Make sure those medical waivers are in order.

And unless the Euro peloton can demonstrably clean up their act during the rest of the season…well…back to Superweek for you in 2009, 2010…ad infinitum, and let someone else reap the benefit of being center stage in France during the month of July.

Just the facts, ma’am

Check out the Stage 8 medical report released by the Tour de France:

Stuart O’Grady…Wow, that’s some serious damage.
Patrick Sinkewitz…nailed a spectator after the stage while descending the Montee de Tignes on his way to the hotel. Just a bad day all around for T-Mobile.
David MillarWTF? Is Millar a vampire? That certainly sheds a different light (no pun intended) on his prior blood-doping escapades. Maybe that’s why Zabriskie has been known to eat so much garlic.

What Game Play

2007 Tour de France musings…

1. Time to bust out the good stuff. You’ve won Milan-San Remo in grand style, you’ve schooled Boonen in Belgium at Het Volk, you’re Italian, and you’ve a magnificent head of hair. It’s time to lay down the law and write your own ticket, equipment-wise. Filippo Pozzato has a clause in his contract which allows him to rock the Lightweights any time he damn well feels, and Pozzato exercised his option to full effect at this year’s Tour de France stage 5.

Curiously, Linus Gerdemann’s ascent to yellow also seems to be fueled by Lightweights. But I guess T-Mobile doesn’t have carte-blanche to let everyone know who built those wheels, hence the “T-Mobile Team” stickers.

2. Ca-’stache-trophe. So Enrico Degano had a pretty spectacular yard sale during a stage 6 feed zone. He’s obviously dazed, confused, and just sitting in the street wondering what the hell happened. Toss in some curious spectators, the Barloworld team car, and a TdF television crew and it’s all business as usual. And then this freak rolls up on the back of a moto to snap some photos. If I happened to be Enrico Degano and looked up to see the world’s scariest moustache, I’d wonder just how hard I hit my head on the tarmac…

Neurologist: So let me get this straight…you saw Yosemite Sam taking pictures of you when you crashed in the feed zone today?
Enrico Degano: Damn straight, doc. He hopped off a motorcycle and snapped away.
Neurologist: (To team director) Yeah, he’s gonna stay here tonight for observation. Highly incredulous behavior indicative of significant cranial trauma.

3. John Gadret

Or should I say, “Me ‘n’ T.G.”, because Ag2r’s John Gadret will surely win this year’s TdF Tail Gunner extraordinaire award hands down. Every time the production crew opts for its arrière de la course view, there’d inevitably be some Agritubel guys milling about on the verge of getting popped and #66, John Gadret, just riding the wave. At first I thought he was either heading back to the cars for water or on the verge of moving up through the peloton to give team leader Christophe Moreau some needed sustinence. But no…no extra bottles here. Just Gadret firmly afixed at the tail end always expending just enough energy to roll in with the GC contenders group. Perhaps he’s still skittish from memories of his previous Grand Tour experience, the 2006 Giro, where he broke his collarbone. It may be a classic case of survival during the TdF’s first week roller derby, much like my local Saturday morning world championship group ride. If I’m not steadfastly determined to expend the energy necessary for staying in the first 5, then it’s DFL for me out of harm’s way.

Fast forward to stage 7’s Col de la Colombière climb, and Gadret’s tail-gunning exploits faced a rather rude interruption. He almost rolled over the summit with all the GC contenders in the elite group of about 40, but the wee one got popped about 1km from the top and there’s just no way that somebody weighing about 128 lbs. is going to make up the difference on a blazing 12km descent to the finish. And adding insult to injury, on Bastille Day no less, Phil Liggett mistakenly called John Gadret Belgian as he limped across the finish line in Le Grand-Bornand. No worries, though. John Gadret is merely getting a jump on his ‘cross season by subjecting himself to the world’s most excruciating training block known to man. Be very afraid come October.

4. The cryptic title of this post. Just take a look at this installment of Neal Rogers’ daily dose of Dave Zabriskie. Things get decidedly surreal about half-way through when Zabriskie starts waxing eloquent about Russian mullets. I can’t tell if Zabriskie drew the short straw and is obligated to talk with Rogers each day per CSC orders or if he’s there of his own volition. What I do know is that nobody…nobody…in the TdF utilizes his time with the media quite like Dave Zabriskie. He has long since become the ProTour Crispin Glover, and I’m waiting for him to unleash the kung-fu on Rogers’ skull.

Matt Eaton-Low Budget Superstar

Issue 4789 of Cycling: June 11, 1983Close-up of Eaton's fork
June 18, 1983 issue of Cycling

It’s not every day that a bike festooned with Bike Nashbar graphics wins a national tour. In fact, there’s only one day: June 4, 1983 in Blackpool, England…the day that Matt Eaton donned the final leader’s jersey of the Milk Race having protected his slender 16 second lead over Swede Stefan Brykt. I remember Nashbar selling to the public an identical version of the very bike Matt Eaton rode to victory in the Milk Race about a month later. It was a straight-up, no nonsense rig with Columbus tubing, Campy Super Record components, and Cinelli bars/stem. And it was exceptionally affordable if you were thick-skinned enough to take the heat from your snob peers at the Saturday morning world championships averse to all things Nashbar. Several other bikes of the 1980s peloton were similarly decked out in bargain basement brand stickers (7-Eleven on “Murray” and “Huffy”, La Vie Claire on “Huffy”). And just as Davis Phinney’s Murray was in reality a Serotta and Greg LeMond’s Huffy emerged from the hands of Roland Della Santa, Eaton’s Nashbar special likely had a similar boutiqe pedigree. But from whose shop this Milk Race winning bike was spawned, I just don’t know.

1983 Milk Race fun facts
1) 22 year old Matt Eaton was born in England and moved to the U.S. when he was 12. Still a British citizen, he returned to his native England when he was 17 in order to qualify for the junior world championships but was denied a position. Frustrated, he returned to the U.S. and became an American citizen. Then he made the British cycling establishment look decidedly stupid 5 years later.
2) Eaton’s American teammates: Chris Carmichael, Alexi Grewal, Andy Hampsten, Steve Speaks, Steve Tilford. All finished, and all certainly made names for themselves in the years to come.
3) British speed demon Malcolm Elliott won a record-breaking 6 stages and finished 3rd overall.
4) Amazingly, 24 years later, Malcolm Elliott and Steve Tilford are still rocking it at the upper echelons of competition.
5) Poor Paul Kimmage. He thought he had victory wrapped up for the Ireland national amateur squad when bad luck (an untimely flat, then a crash) during the penultimate stage saw him concede 12 minutes and the lead to Eaton.
6) Matt Eaton won the GC without winning a stage.
7) Current UCI baffoon-in-chief Pat McQuaid was the Irish team’s manager.
8) The West German amateur squad was managed by the legendary Klaus-Peter Thaler. Thaler had just retired from professional cycling and spent 1983 and 1984 working with the West German national team. With 5 weeks of training in his legs prior to the 1985 world cyclocross championships, Thaler came out of retirement and won a world ‘cross title.