Get Your Grand Tour On (redux)

As the 2011 Tour de France starts in earnest today, I thought it would be a good time to revisit my homage to the clip-art genius of David Rees, creator of Get Your War On, with my own version, Get Your Grand Tour On, which first aired on Bobke Strut just prior to the 2008 Tour.

With the unfortunate passing of Laurent Fignon in August of 2010, this will be the first Tour without “The Professor”, but maybe not the last…

And a hat tip to Brad Evans, who beat me to the punch with the re-airing of GYGTO.

Men At Work

Cadel Evans is sporting a Free Tibet base layer in the 2008 Tour de France
Cadel Evans sports a Free Tibet base layer | Tour de France | Photo ©: Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images

I think some Chinese Olympic officials’ heads just exploded.

I wasn’t aware of Cadel Evans’ Free Tibet campaign until this past Sunday’s Tour stage where it was visible as he crossed the finish line, but evidently he’s enlisted Sock Guy to create some Free Tibet base layers and socks with 20% of the proceeds going to the grass roots activist organization Students For A Free Tibet. It seems that Evans has been wearing the base layer since this year’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege where it was first spied when Evans unzipped his jersey while climbing.

Evans is definitely heading to Beijing to represent Australia in the individual time trial, and I wonder if he’s feeling rambunctious enough to heed the call of this ad campaign. From the few articles I’ve read where Evans is discussing the issue, it appears that he’ll adhere to the nicey-nice code enacted by Australia’s and most (if not all) national Olympic committees and not make any waves. But it’s not like you’d want to telegraph such motives in public. I really wonder how far Chinese officials will go to prevent such a display from occurring…will they check luggage? search athletes as they assemble to begin a competition? Who knows.

And now for the quote of the day regarding Simon Gerrans’ stage 15 victory in Prato Nevoso, Italy:

If there is ever a nuclear war and all of mankind is wiped out the first living thing that will crawl out of the cracks will probably be the cockroaches, but they will be followed closely by Simon Gerrans.—Dave Sanders, Australian cycling coach, talking about Simon Gerrans being virtually indestructible.

Exactly three years ago from the date of Gerrans’ first TdF stage victory, Simon finished in 3rd just 8 seconds behind stage winner Paolo Salvodelli on the 18th stage of the 2005 TdF (Gerrans’ first Tour). I still remember this photo showing a completely spent Gerrans rendered inert not too far past the finish line. He just dropped to the street with his bike cast aside, all wonky against the crowd control barrier. What an effort. Maybe in three years time Danny Pate will experience a similar turn of fate.

Phil Liggett Hates Planet Earth

Juan Jose Oroz gets some camera time during Stage 12 of the 2008 Tour de France
Juan Jose Oroz mere seconds from bridging to the 2-man break | Tour de France | Photo ©: screen capture

That’s the first time in my life that name has ever left my mouth.—Phil Liggett upon stating that Juan Jose Oroz has just begun bridging up to the break

There’s just no love for Juan Jose Oroz, the man responsible for prolonging the agony of breakaway riders Arnaud Gerard and Samuel Dumoulin in today’s stage. Not satisfied with completing all 5 Monuments consecutively (plus all of Flanders week and the Ardennes week) since last fall’s Tour of Lombardy, Oroz is now working on tackling the first Grand Tour of his Euskaltel-Euskadi tenure.

Undoubtedly reeling from the Ricco kerfluffle, and momentarily flummoxed by having absolutely nothing to say about The Hardest Working Man in Eusktaltel, Liggett missed his chance to champion the cause of perhaps the only pro cyclist who puts empty aluminum foil food wrappers back in his jersey pocket. Yes, in the furor of exercising his right as someone about 1.3 hours in arrears of Cadel Evans to break away with impunity and make the Team Columbia leadout train break about 1 more bead of sweat, the man appears to be dancing to the beat of Soul Coughing frontman M. Doughty’s ethos: “I can be condemned to Hell for every sin but littering”. I guess that small gesture makes up for the hundreds of bottles Oroz will likely pitch onto French countryside this Tour. Or not. Maybe Oroz is working on a “My First Tour de France” scrapbook complete with a chapter on “Stuff I Ate While Racing”.

And of course, not content to simply bypass Oroz’s minor Green predilections and lacking anything constructive to say about the man breathing new life into a doomed break, Liggett then blasts the sight of a French windmill farm as a blight on the landscape. Nice.

Get Your Grand Tour On

The undisputed King of Clip Art Comedy is David Rees, whose work resides at My New Fighting Technique is Unstoppable. Of particular note is his series entitled Get Your War On comprised of clip art office workers reacting to the insanity of a post-9/11 America. Brace yourselves for a torrent of obscenity-laced humor likely to make you laugh so hard you’ll cry if only to just simply keep yourself from crying in despair.

Of course, being intimately connected to the pulse of the pro cycling universe, I happened to discover that none other than Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon were cube-mates to the stars of GYWO. Click here to enter their world.

Vive le Tour.

Russell Mockridge

Russell Mockridge in the 1955 Tour de France. Photo source: My World on Wheels: The Posthumous Autobiography of Russell Mockridge by Russell Mockridge. 1960, Stanly Paul, London.

I’ve been somewhat fascinated by several pro cyclists through the ages whose appearance does nothing to instill fear into their peloton rivals. In fact, quite the opposite. Just take a quick glance at them—Jean Robic, Mariano Martinez, Jan Raas, Gerrie Knetemann, Martin Earley— a cast of characters more likely to sit across a desk from you granting approval to mortgage loans than ripping people’s legs off in the Euro pro ranks. Add to these ranks Australian phenom Russell Mockridge (pictured to the left), seen here rolling to the start line of a stage in the 1955 Tour de France.

Mockridge’s story is rather extraordinary, and it’s one that’s likely not too well known outside of his native Australia. I’ve very recently read his autobiography, My World on Wheels: The Posthumous Autobiography of Russell Mockridge, and it’s an exceedingly well-done piece of cycling-related writing. Tragically, Mockridge was struck by a bus and killed during a road race in Melbourne, Australia on September 13, 1958 at the age of 30. He was primed to return to Europe for the 1959 road season and perhaps make his mark in the Tour de France, but one will never know if he could have done what only Patrick Sercu did later in the 1974 Tour de France: make the complete transformation from Olympic gold medalist as a track sprinter to Tour de France stage winner and green jersey winner.

There are several resources online which summarize Mockridge’s career: an Australian newspaper article about a cyclist who crashed in the same accident that killed Mockridge, an earlier piece on, and the very recent Les Woodland penned article***. Here’s a brief timeline:

1948: Competed in the Olympic Summer Games held in London without success
1950: Two gold medals (match sprint, kilometer TT), one silver medal (4000 pursuit) at the Empire Games
1952: Paris Grand Prix match sprint…only person to win the amateur event and then beat all the pros in the open event
1952: Two gold medals (match sprint, tandem sprint) at the Olympic Summer Games in Helsinki
1953: Turned pro in August, moved to Europe to pursue career as a pro track cyclist
1954: February—DNF at 6 Days of Gent
1954: Rest of season—turned to the road competing (with some success) in Belgian kermesse events
1955: Track—Victory at 6 Days of Paris (teamed with Sydney Patterson and Reginald Arnold), steady number of regional madison and omnium events throughout France
1955: Road—Mockridge’s sole full-on Euro season highlighted by Paris-Roubaix (41st place), Tour du Vaucluse (1st place in a 160 mile event which included an ascent and descent of Mont Ventoux), Tour of the Midi Libri, Dauphine-Libere, Tour de France, World Championships (Frascati, Italy…DNF), Paris-Tours.
1956-1958: Track and road racing in Australia

Russell Mockridge anecdotes:
1. Why was his autobiography so well-written? Mockridge apprenticed as a journalist and nearly left cycling to pursue a journalism career after his 1948 Olympic participation. And while it’s not too unusual for cyclists to transform into journalists, Mockridge is likely the only world-class talent to give up cycling to pursue a career as an Anglican minister. Following his performance at the 1950 Empire Games, Mockridge enrolled in the University of Melbourne to become a minister and did not pedal a bike for 14 months. He then abandoned his aims at the ministry and returned to cycling for the rest of his life.

2. Mockridge had a well publicized showdown with the Australian Olympic Federation when he refused to sign their fidelity bond. This contract made it illegal for an Australian Olympic athlete to turn professional until 2 year after the Olympics. Mockridge was ready to give up his Olympic team slot in protest, but a last minute deal was brokered in which Mockridge would only have to remain an amateur for one year instead. Mockridge won 2 gold medals at the Games, remained an amateur for exactly one year per his contract, and immediately turned pro the following day.

3. Here’s an amusing anecdote which occurred January 1, 1954 while Mockridge was living miserably in Gent trying to earn money exclusively as a pro track cyclist:

[Oscar] Daemers [manager at the indoor track at Gent] lived in a flat in the velodrome building, and I went over to see him on New Year’s Day to discuss contracts. It was bitterly cold with some snow flying around. I strolled into his office, wearing shorts, which to me was perfectly usual. Daemers was horrified. ‘Your legs—they will freeze’, he gasped. Several other cyclists in his office at the time shared his view. They made it plain that I was either crazy or the original dead-end kid. It had always been my habit to wear shorts no matter what the weather conditions. I looked at it from the point of view that if you have to race in bitterly cold weather wearing shorts why not train in them, too? Surely one would toughen you for the other. But this is not the custom of cyclist in Europe who believe in keeping their legs thickly wrapped up no matter the conditions. I complied with this idea when I was in Europe but since I have returned to Australia I have reverted to wearing shorts in the winter-time…I have never found it detrimental to my muscles or condition.” My World on Wheels. pgs. 89-90

4. Mockridge devoted a chapter of his book to doping and here are some select comments:

Dope is the ‘bomb’ that will send a rider romping home miles ahead of everyone else in the race and have such a bad after-effect that he will never ride well again. Stimulants, according to Louison Bobet, are the milder types of drugs in more common use, which, if used wisely have definite advantages without being harmful.” My World on Wheels. pg. 130

I believe that I have, unwittingly, taken stimulants or drugs sometimes—particularly during the Ghent and Paris six-day races. During the course of these races bottles of various liquids are constantly being handed to you by your soigneurs and there is just not the time to insist on a written analysis of their contents. I had sufficient confidence in my soigneurs in these races to take what they gave me as I did not believe that they would knowingly give me something that would be harmful.” My World on Wheels. pg. 132

Mockridge’s description of racing his first 6-day event (the 6 Days of Gent) was undoubtedly the most vivid chronicle of pain and suffering I’ve ever encountered involving track racing. Mockridge almost finished the event in 2nd place with his much more experienced teammate, but just two hours from the finish Mockridge blacked out on his bike from complete and utter exhaustion, crashing heavily. He could not recover and DNF’d.

5. Russell Mockridge rode the 1955 Tour de France for a composite Luxembourg national team in the national team era of the Tour (1930-1961). Since Luxembourg did not have enough riders to complete a full squad (only four) several riders of other nationalities, such as Mockridge, were recruited to compete. There were Germans and Austrians as well on the 1955 Luxembourg squad. And what of the “Vampire” on Mockridge’s jersey? Russell Mockridge rode for the French trade team Vampire-D’Allesandro in 1955 and Tour riders were allowed to wear a trade team panel on their national team jerseys. I believe Vampire was the bicycle sponsor for his squad. Mockridge’s most notable teammate in the Tour was Charly Gaul who ultimately finished 3rd overall. Mockridge defied the odds and the critics to become the first track sprinter to ever finish the Tour (plus the first Australian post WWII) and he wrote of his premier naysayer, French journalist Andre Leducq:

After the stage [Stage 8: Thonon les Bains-Briancon], Andre Leducq, winner of the Tour in 1930 and 1932 and now a journalist, was quoted in the Press as saying, ‘I did not have much time for sprinters until this Tour, but if Mockridge finishes I will shake his hand as warmly as I shake that of the winner.’ He added that if I did finish I would have accomplished the impossible, meaning that pure sprinters, as I had previously been classified, just do not finish the Tour de France.” My World on Wheels. pg. 162

And at the Tour’s conclusion…

Sitting on the grass verge waiting my turn for a bouquet-laden lap of honor—each finisher is applauded as if he had won the race—I noticed [Louison] Bobet speaking with M. Mercier (they were probably discussing bonuses) the cycle manufacturer whose machine he rides, and journalist and twice winner of the Tour, Andre Leducq. Leducq was the man who had stated that if I finished the Tour he would shake my hand as warmly as the winner’s hand. He was a man of his word, and was lavish in his praise of what seemed to be a lowly position in the overall race.” My World on Wheels. pg. 174

6. Mockridge finished the 1955 Tour in 64th place. Only 69 of the original 150 riders finished. Mockridge was overshadowed by British rider Brian Robinson who finished 29th overall (one of only two British national team riders to finish, the other being Tony Hoar in DFL) and stole the spotlight as highest-finishing English speaking oddity. While Mockridge finished the Tour de France that year, he was so physically destroyed from the effort that he never fully recovered his strength for the remainder of the 1955 Euro road season. He did, however, finish Paris-Tours (his last Euro race) with the lead pack which turned out to be the fastest road race over 200km in history…an average speed of 27.5mph for 153 miles. However, that record would stand for only 1 year…

7. The longest race in Australia is the Warrnambool to Melbourne at 163 miles. In Mockridge’s day it was run as a handicap and in 1956 Mockridge set out with 11 other riders as the scratch group. Mockridge beat his fellow scratch companions in a sprint, and set a new fastest road race for events over 200km. Those 12 riders covered 163 miles at over 28mph average speed. Even more extraordinary was 1957’s event in which Mockridge and one other competitor were the only two scratch riders. Primarily powered by Mockridge, those two riders did a two-man TTT for 163 miles (with Mockridge winning the sprint) and averaged a scorching 27.5mph. Wow.

8. While in Australia from 1956-1958, Mockridge was the reigning national road champion as well as match sprint champion on the track. While building his strength on the road year after year, he still had the jet engine turn of speed in his legs to win 5 mile velodrome scratch races in about 9 minutes. European track stars would head to Australia for competition and get their clocks cleaned by Mockridge and others. He was nearly wooed back to Europe for the 1958 Giro d’Italia, but the invitation came too late for his liking. Mockridge didn’t feel he had a big enough window to arrive in Europe well in advance of the Grand Tour, rid himself of all travel related adjustments, and lay down a massive final block of training in the mountains. It seemed he had every intention to return to Europe in 1959 to take part in the Tour de France. Since his humbling experience in 1955, Mockridge set out to truly become an exceptionally powerful endurance cyclist and he felt he had the strength and the experience to return in 1959 and actually compete and not merely survive. Unfortunately his life was cut short in September, 1958.

***If you really have plenty of time to kill, this is what initially popped into my head upon reading the latest Les Woodland feature, John Turturro’s signature line from the forgettable film Secret Window. I mean, what are the odds of two Russell Mockridge stories coming out in such rapid succession?…Just kidding, of course, Mr. Woodland!

Fever Panacea

Tour Fever by J.P. Partland.

I’ve been known to attend professional baseball games from time to time. As a wee youngster, living within sight of the New York City skyline, my parents took me to Shea Stadium so I could watch Tom Seaver pitch and Dave Kingman belt towering home runs. Fast forward several decades, and a couple of times each summer I’ll attend a local AAA ball club’s immaculate downtown stadium if only to put away a few beers, admire the precision mowing patterns in the outfield grass, and watch the sun set. One of the games I attended this past summer was like no other I’d ever experienced, however, due to the Israeli couple who joined us at my wife’s invitation. These people hadn’t a clue about baseball. They knew of its existence, they knew a ball was involved, but that’s about the extent of their knowledge. So how does one go about explaining a sport to an absolute neophyte? At first thought the rules seem straightforward, but then all the oddities and quirks come up. This seemingly simple exercise becomes a protracted discussion of why your first two foul balls count as strikes, but you can’t strike out by fouling additional balls into the stands so you can hit an additional 25 foul balls out of the park and still keep swinging, or how sometimes a baserunner can be called out by stepping on the base vs. needing to be tagged. Oh, and the rudimenatary concept of “bat” and “base” needed explanations, too. And absolutely out of my mind, I dared bring up ground rule doubles, spitballs, Abner Doubleday, why the Baseball Hall of Fame is located in Cooperstown, etc. The things one takes for granted when the sport is around you for a lifetime.

So this brings me to J.P. Partland’s Tour Fever, which deftly explains the Tour de France to befuddled Americans much better than I can impart baseball elucidation to befuddled Israelis. If your average American was asked to name one bike race the Tour de France would be the likely answer. And if pressed to name a professional cyclist, Lance Armstrong would also be the typical response. But put that same person in front of a television of an in-progress Tour de France stage and they’d almost certainly be absolutely perplexed about the machinations taking place before their eyes. And at this point, if I ran the universe, J.P. Partland would magically appear on the scene and sell a copy of Tour Fever to this spectator whose level of professional cycling knowledge is equal to the “What’s a bat?” line of questioning I fielded from my Israeli acquaintances.

If you’re enough of a fan of professonal cycling (particularly the Tour de France) that my blog makes sense to you then you’ll likely be well-versed in every aspect of Partland’s book which explains the Tour from the ground up. It sets the stage by discussing a familiar sporting icon (Lance Armstrong) and his pivotal crash and recovery on Luz-Ardiden during his 2003 TdF triumph. From there Partland explains the history of the Tour, how exactly one goes about winning the Tour, the purpose of other competitions besides the yellow jersey, what actually makes professional cycling a team sport, the physical and mental qualities of an elite professional cyclist, the Tour route itself, race tactics, the technology of cycling, and handy tips about becoming a Tour de France spectator (through print resources, television, the Internet, or the ever ambitious in-person option). The 224 pages of Tour Fever, chock full of text, a glossary, and indices, are essentially a primer into Professional Cycling 101, and provide the building blocks to dissecting and analyzing a sport alien to our cultural sporting norms. If you grew up in a cycling-mad environment such as Belgium this knowledge would likely be absorbed just as an American soaks up baseball. Absent of such an upbringing, Tour Fever is a handy reference for making sense of an initially perplexing sporting dynamic. And while this book concentrates on the Tour de France, the principles learned here can be applied to other cycling events throughout the season. Many Americans are oblivious to the cycling calendar in months other than July, and hopefully piqued curiosity will lead spectators to embrace other races throughout the long road season.

While the aforementioned nuts and bolts of the Tour de France experience are laid out lucidly, what struck me as particularly engaging are Partland’s snippets of information regarding his introduction to the sport as well as his discussion of how exactly an American so inclined to race progresses from his first road bike to toeing the line as a Tour de France pro. I’ve begun to notice some familiar last names appearing in the Junior and Senior ranks…names like Phinney, Stetina, O’Reilly, Simes, Barczewski, Chauner…all promising cyclists whose parents were at their prime while I was learning about the sport. The remaining 99.99% of us, however, don’t have parents who’ve raced professionally (if at all) to set an example and provide tutelage from the time the training wheels come off, so we find our way to the sport via random, serendipitous paths. Partland’s fascination with Euro cycling as a teenager struck a chord with me since our gravitation to the sport followed strikingly familiar paths. While becoming bored with BMX in the 1970s, I cobbled together a barely functioning rendition of a track bike (thankfully with a coaster brake, a la Little 500 rigs) from bikes recovered from the dump, donned a TI Raleigh cap, and began to roar around my neighborhood in pursuit of speed. One day a guy on a shiny road bike, fully kitted out like a pro, happened to roll through my stomping grounds and I jumped on his wheel on my jalopy. Much to his consternation, he could not drop me as he began to turn the screws. And much to my surprise he stopped and began quizzing me about my heap. His advice…”Dude, get your parents to buy you a racing license and a real bike”.

Additionally, I think it’s particularly rare to read about how one becomes a professional cyclist, much less how one gets to compete in the Tour. Partland goes into the state of competitive cycling in this country, its challenges, and the process of progressing from amateur to pro. Based on how many times I’ve had to field questions at work, from relatives, or from random people who see me in cycling garb why I’m not racing the Tour de France it’s an aspect of our sport which deserves attention and outreach. It’s common knowledge how professional baseball/basketball/football players progress to the pinnacle of their sports, but to the lay person in the US the sport of professional cycling is truly enigmatic to the point where it’s surprising to find out that people actually make a living from competing. No matter what one thinks of Tyler Hamilton, several years ago he gave a funny interview in which he had to explain to his in-laws just how exactly he was going to support his wife. They didn’t believe riding around on a bike was a vocation, but they’d probably never ask Michael Jordan what he did to support his family while playing for the Chicago Bulls.

And once one has completed the prose portion of Tour Fever, there are the lists of professional cyclists who’ve made Tour de France history. Every North American cyclist who’s ever started the Tour (through 2005) plus every person/team gracing the final Tour podium from 1903 through 2005 are chronicled year by year. For those curious about professional cycling’s history, the names gracing the latter portion of Tour Fever are the jumping off point for attaining one’s TdF Ph.D. Begin poring through web sites, books, magazines, films, and videos to discover the many hallowed expoits of these individuals and teams who’ve made TdF history for over 100 years. Embrace your inner TdF geek. After all, one never knows if winning a fortune on Jeopardy hinges on who donned the final green jersey in the 1963 Tour. Of course that would entail lucking into a Cliff Clavin-esque category selection.

If there was one thing lacking from the prose, it’s visuals. The only photograph within the entire book is the cover shot of Lance Armstrong resplendent in yellow. Professional cycling is such a visually stunning sport and anecdotes throughout the book could have benefited from a few strategically placed images to complement the text. I’m guessing that the cost of copyright clearance for iconic TdF images may be prohibitively expensive.

And on the subject of visuals…and serendipity…and the truly small world of people who race somewhere in the vicinity of the 12K dreamer realm is this post I made back in March of this year. Yes, that’s me front and center in purple looking a bit worse for wear. And to the right, in the solid red jersey, is none other than J.P. Partland. For the sake of disclosure, I’ll admit that I knew his name and could recognize him from my days of racing in the Northeast primarily through his proliferation of hair kept in a ponytail, but I can honestly say that I’ve never spoken a word to him prior to somewhat recent email communications regarding a possible review of Tour Fever. Who would have thought that our paths would intersect once more nearly 15 years later courtesy of “the internets”. What is apparent is that J.P. Partland is a kindred spirit afflicted with a fever, fervor, and fascination of the Tour de France…and Tour Fever is an able steward for those just embarking on understanding the Tour or for the more grizzled aficionados who’ve felt the Fever wain in recent years.

Captain Caveman

Just this evening I watched what’s likely my first and last episode of the new ABC program The Cavemen. I can’t even recall what transpired due to a prolonged episode of shock from the opening credits. Reminiscent of Zelig or Forrest Gump, random scenes throughout history had a Caveman inserted into the images to show (according to the narrarator) how they’ve “always been where the action’s at”. So, as one can imagine, you see a Caveman in an Egyptian frieze…crossing the Delaware with George Washington…as a Union soldier conversing with Abe Lincoln…bustin’ a move in a 1950s sockhop…part of a Space Shuttle astronaut crew…a member of a metal band, likely Twisted Sister…on stage with Al Gore and Bill Clinton…and finally–at the finish line of the 2004 Verona world championships (?!?!?). That’s right, the final image in the opening montage is a heavily doctored image of Oscar Freire winning his 3rd world title, flanked by Erik Zabel (who now has a Caveman head spliced to his body) and Allan Davis.

Exhibit A: Oscar Freire winning his 3rd world title
Oscar Freire victorious in 2004 world championships...Verona, Italy
Image courtesy of | Photographer: Mitch Friedman

Exhibit B: Oscar Freire vanquishes Caveman in The Cavemen opening credits
Screen capture of ABC's The Cavemen opening credits

There are plenty of photos which are much closer to the action at the finish line, but the one I used from is the only image I’ve found which has Freire’s arms exactly right. Here’s a photo with a closer view a microsecond after. Whoever took the photo ABC used must have been zoomed in about that much. It’s kind of bizarre what the creative team at ABC have done in their version of Verona. Firstly, of course, is Caveman Zabel. I’m not sure if there’s a cyclist on staff trying to put in a surreptitious dig at Zabel, or if this is just some totally random selection. And who knows why the finish of the Verona worlds. Probably if Lance was involved there’d be some high powered lawyers and right of publicity at stake. Lance and Nike could probably extract enough money to double the show’s budget. Hence, some random Euros on bikes instead. I wonder if Freire, Zabel, and Davis even know they’re on American television. And it’s also odd to me how the photo was edited…Zabel is now on the opposite side of Freire, and the rest of the peloton has been put further arear. It even looks like Davis appears again in the background. And what’s up with Davis’s hand and the missing handlebar. The advertising on Freire’s chest has been Photoshopped out. Questions, questions.


For some unknown, random reason I have a video clip of the final kilometer of the 2005 Ghent-Wevelgem saved on my hard drive. Every now and then I’ll stumble across it, watch it, and probably 97% of the time I’ll wonder how Nico Mattan can look himself in the mirror regarding the manner he won (arguably) the biggest race of his career…playing motorpace Frogger with various cars and motorcycles shadowing Juan Antonio Flecha. I wonder if Flecha got one of these for his New Year’s party. It’s the least Mattan could do. But really…what do you expect when a pro wins a marquee event almost within sight of his home. Just ask Levi Leipheimer about creative interpretations of the rulebook favoring a native son.

Lately, however, my lukewarm (at best) regard for Nico Mattan may warrant a radical revamping based on an amazing anecdote in the September 2007 Cycle Sport. Mattan, in cahoots with his cycling-mad Flemish entourage, planned the all-time great Tour de France meet-and-greet during stage 2 of the 2001 Tour from Calais to Antwerp. The route wasn’t going through his home town, but it did pass fairly close by within West Flanders. Mattan arranged for a flatbed trailer to be situated on the Tour route resplendent with his family, friends, fans, a Belgian TV crew, and ramps(!!!) at either end for a seamless entry/exit via his bike. Then, Mattan worked his ass off to get in and then motor the early break so it would survive until the trailer. Let’s just let Nico tell in his own words exactly what happened as the break approached the rendezvous point…

“As we neared the Belgian border the [Cofidis] director said over the radio, ‘Now, you are not going to stop are you Nico?’ I didn’t answer and he started to panic and said, ‘Nico, this is the Tour de France and you are in the break, you can’t stop.’ But I still didn’t answer.

“We got nearer and nearer to the trailer and the director got even more impatient. ‘Nico, Nico, don’t stop.’ But I did, and as I rode up the ramp I could still hear him shouting, ‘No Nico, don’t do it!’ I gave my interview, I spoke to my family and then I got on my bike and rode back into the race.”


Every now and then I hear of bizarre goings on during races, such as a certain pro that stopped at a roadside yard sale during a stage of a New England stage race and bought a waffle iron. And then transported it across the finish line. If I recall correctly, he was OTB and just trying to make the time cut when he took his detour. Stuff like that just cracks me up. But during le Tour??? Mattan didn’t finish too badly rolling in 28th and best Cofidis finisher (both stage and GC). But that takes some serious balls to motor a Tour de France break and then consciously remove yourself from said-break just to stop on the side of the road for your friends, family, and the media. Mattan told his director that the break was doomed once the course turned east towards Antwerp due to the wind so it didn’t matter that he bailed when he did. And yes, the break got caught just as Mattan predicted. But still…I don’t think I’d want to deal with my DS post-race following such a preposterously cheeky move on a world stage.

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.