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.

The Serpico of Cycling


“Nothing to see here…move along, please…it’s just Paul Kimmage”
Graham Watson photo

I don’t know if Paul Kimmage is laughing or crying these days. But he just took a huge, steaming dump on Sean Kelly’s legacy.

A couple of months ago I re-read Kimmage’s book Rough Ride, and it struck me as being even more depressingly bleak than I remember from my initial ingestion some 15 years ago. Talk about living the 12k dreamer’s life…Kimmage probably made about that much in salary each year, yet he was expected to ride a full calendar of Grand Tours and Classics. Kimmage only fessed up to taking amphetamines on 3 occasions in post-Tour criteriums, and I’m inclined to believe that was the extent of his doping. What he did expose to the world, however, was the spectre of drugs among his teammates and peers. The proliferation of personal “medicine” suitcases; the compact, modified syringes which came out mid-stage for a quick amphetamine shot in the ass on the peloton’s way to the Champs-Élysées; the “wink wink” about the ease of beating doping controls. Kimmage was simply trying to survive, and for most pros that was the impetus to juice. Random testing was virtually non-existent…you could dope up to your eyeballs in service of your team leader and then just make sure you didn’t win the stage or a jersey. Or die.

Kimmage walked away from the sport and his 4 year career as a professional cyclist when he quit the 12th stage of the 1989 Tour. As a pro is highlights were relatively few: Kimmage finished 2 Grand Tours (1986 Tour, 1989 Giro) and played a role in Stephen Roche’s 1987 world championship. As an amateur, Kimmage was an Olympian at the ‘84 Los Angeles Games and finished 6th in the road worlds. Since Kimmage hung up his wheels in disgust he embarked on a career as a journalist, an occupation he dabbled in as a pro (Kimmage supplied a weekly diary to the Dublin Sunday Times). These days he’s employed at the London Times, and if you plug “Kimmage” into the search box you’ll unearth Kimmage’s body of work over the past 5 years. There are approximately 65 interviews, all worth reading. It’s an enlightening view into a world of sports for the most part totally foreign to Americans. The bulk of his subjects are either either Brits or foreigners taking place in the world of British professional sports. Sports such as soccer, rugby, cricket, Formula 1 racing, snooker…Articles about cycling do appear, but always through the lens of doping. You can almost sense Kimmage’s gritted teeth permeating his cycling prose. To say he was a persona non grata among pro cyclists for publishing Rough Ride is quite an understatement, but who better to hurl a brick into cycling’s glass house than an angry Irishman wracked with Catholic guilt. And Ireland is ground zero for Catholic guilt…I lived in Ireland for approximately 6 months as a foreign exchange student, and there was a creepy placard on the dining room wall of my house which said, “Jesus Christ is the unseen guest at every meal, the silent listener of every conversation”. Kimmage cracked…and his very public confession was his means of coming to terms with the farce of professional cycling.

Cyril Praet: International Man of Mystery

Fact #1…1981: Jonathan Boyer finishes 32nd overall in his Tour de France debut, riding in support of Renault-Elf-Gitane teammate Bernard Hinault. Boyer cements his place in cycling history by becoming the first American to compete in the Grand Boucle.

Fact #2…1988: Joe Parkin and Andy Bishop share the honor of being the first Americans to compete in the Tour of Belgium, finishing 10th and 31st overall respectively.

But check this out…

Cyril Praet bio, published in 1932 Milwaukee Six-Day Bike Race program

Just in case the type is too small, here’s the text of Cyril Praet’s bio as published in Milwaukee’s Second International Six-Day Bike Race (Dec. 13-19, 1932) program:

22 White Number. CYRIL PRAET, American road rider, is probably the strongest rider in the race. Praet was born in Detroit, Michigan, September 12, 1904. After the war was over, at the age of 15, he went to Europe and entered the road races around Belgium, and in two years became one of the sensations of the year. He has ridden in the tour of Belgium and the Tour de France, which is a real test of strength and endurance. This race lasts for ten days over the mountains, up into the snow, and through the hottest of climates. Praet came to America two years ago, and has never been given a chance to show his worth in a six-day race.

Approximately 48 1/2 years after this program appeared, Jonathan Boyer rode his first Tour de France. And about 55 1/2 years later, Joe Parkin and Andy Bishop make America’s debut in the Tour of Belgium. So why has history forgotten Cyril Praet, an American who apparently preceeded Boyer, Parkin, and Bishop by about half a century? Good question…and my answer invariably vacillates from a cautious “I don’t really know” to “The dude’s a fraud.”

Here’s what little I do know about Cyril Praet’s career as a professional cyclist: Praet competed in four American six-day races (1931-Minneapolis; 1932-Milwaukee, 1933-Detroit, and 1934-Detroit). Newspaper accounts shed extremely sparse light on Cyril Praet, which seemed surprising considering the palmares he claimed. Even accounts of the races in his home town of Detroit were nearly devoid of any mention of Praet, usually just the bare bones daily box score info about points won and laps taken. Here’s how Praet was described:

  • 1931-Minneapolis: “Cyril Praet (USA)”
  • 1932-Milwaukee: “Bollaert and Praet, the famous Belgium road team and holders of many foreign records, form another powerful combination who are expected to be heard from plenty during the race.”
  • 1932-Milwaukee: “Praet, who rides with Archie Bollaert, is a famous Belgian road racer and is tough in the sprints.”
  • 1932-Milwaukee: “…Cyril Praet, Belgian road champion.”
  • 1933-Detroit: “…the Detroit team of Freddie Ottevaere and Cyril Praet…”

Praet was teamed with a different partner for each of his 4 six-day events: Pete Smessart (1931), Archie Bollaert (1932), Freddie Ottevaere (1933), and Reggie Fielding (1934). He and his partners usually ended up as pack filler, although Praet did put his speed to work on occasion to win primes. Praet and his partners finished 4th in 1931, 6th in 1932, 6th in 1933, and 6th in 1934. Chicago and New York were the big leagues of six-day racing, and it appears that Cyril never made an appearance at the sport’s premier venues. The only inkling of how Praet was perceived by fellow cyclists was offered by the legendary Canadian Torchy Peden who crapped on Praet while singing the praises of Praet’s partner Freddie Ottevaere during the 1933 Detroit race:

“We riders know something good when we see it, and we know how tough Ottevaere is”, Peden said. “He has been out of the headlines because his partners haven’t been so hot. But he has the ability. Keep an eye on him.” Peden picked the slender and unassuming Ottevaere to surpass the feats of Belgian bicycle star Gerald Debaets.

Ouch. Not exactly kind words from Peden.

I’ve spent quite some time weeding through the immense amount of data collected at the French site Memoire du cyclisme, and besides the previously mentioned six-day races I could find not one other instance of Praet competing either in the United States or Europe. Memoire du cyclisme has probably the definitive rundown of start lists and results from all major road and track events of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, and I could find no mention of Cyril Praet (or even a name close to that spelling) in road events such as the Tour de France, the Tour of Belgium, the world championships, various national championships, and various Euro road events between 1919-1930. That’s right, I can’t find any official record of Cyril Praet competing in the Tour de France or the Tour of Belgium. Likewise, Praet was AWOL from all other six-day races which took place between 1919-1930 anywhere on the planet. And it also appeared that Praet simply dropped off the face of the Earth after 1934. There’s no mention of Cyril Praet in any race, road or track, in the US or Europe through the onset of World War II. Did he remain in the United States? Return to Europe? I don’t know. Various genealogical resources have been coming up empty, so at this point I don’t know if he died in the US or overseas (in Belgium?).

At this point in time, I’m leaning towards Praet perhaps playing a bit fast and loose with his palmares to gain employment as a pro in the United States. After all, it’s probably no easy venture for a race promoter in the US in the 1930s to verify someone’s Euro credentials. If someone who’s lived in Belgium for about 10 years shows up in the Midwest with a bike, looking pretty fit, and with tales of Euro grandeur, then, hell, why not give the guy a shot on the six-day circuit? Perhaps I’ve uncovered the cycling version of Kid McCoy.

So for now Jonathan Boyer’s, Joe Parkin’s, and Andy Bishop’s places in American cycling history as Euro pioneers are still firm, but maybe at some point in the not so distant future I’ll have some corroborating evidence to definitively place Cyril Praet in the Tour as well as the Tour of Belgium.

Random six-day racing factoids uncovered in historic newspapers
1. Unlike any other six-day race I’ve ever read about, the 1933 Detroit six-day race put the riders on an outdoor velodrome at the mercy of mother Nature.
2. Detoit prosecutor Harry S. Toy tried to bring fraud charges against the promoters of the 1933 six-day race. Evidently, a spectator tried to watch the racing action at 3am and was denied entry. He told Toy that the velodrome was dark and as best he could tell, there was no racing taking place. Toy tried (unsuccessfully) to bring charges against the promoters since in Toy’s opinion a six-day race implies 6 non-stop days of racing. “It appears that the race was a race only when there were cash customers about and a sleeping match the remainder of the time.”
3. Diet of champions. Here’s Torchy Peden talking about what tasty food and beverages are ingested during the 1933 Detroit six-day event, “Most of our food consists of broth, vegetables, fruit and an occasional piece of meat, usually rare. We drink practically no water. But we do take gallons and gallons of unpasteurized milk and plenty of ginger ale. Water is considered heavy stuff.”

Haunted When the Minutes Drag

I stumbled across these images (and many more of a similar vein) here a few weeks ago. The subjects making up the left column seem to simply be faithful renditions of photographs, but within the right column, primarily of pros of the 1900s-1950s, the artists seem to focus on men whose cycling and post-cycling careers were awash in tragedy, and the black and white renditions of those dark moments are particularly evocative…and disturbing.

1. Francois Faber

Francois Faber

François Faber (1887-1915) was a Luxembourgian cyclist. He was born in France, but because his father was a Luxembourger, he got the Luxembourgian nationality. In 1906, he participated in the Tour de France for the first time. He didn’t reach the finish. The next year he was 7th in the Tour and in 1908 took second and won two stages. In 1909 he dominated the Tour. He won five consecutive stages, a record that is still unbroken. In his career he won 19 Tour de France stages, Paris-Brussels, Bordeaux-Paris, Sedan-Brussels, Paris-Tours (twice), Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Lombardy. When the First World War broke out Faber joined the French Foreign Legion. On May 9, 1915 at Carency near Arras he received a telegram saying his wife had given birth to a daughter. Cheering he jumped out of the trench and was killed by a German bullet. The GP François Faber, a small race in Luxembourg, is named after him.
(Faber information found here)

2. Roger Riviere

Roger Riviere

An excellent time trialist, to the same level as the great Jacques Anquetil, Riviere was ideally placed to win the 1960 Tour de France. Gastone Nencini was in the leader’s yellow jersey but was weak against the clock. On July 10th, during the 14th stage, Riviere crashed into a ravine while descending the Col de Perjuret, sustained major back injuries, and never regained full use of his limbs. The extent of his potential can be gauged be the fact that that Riviere defeated two World Hour Record holders, Jacques Anquetil and Ercole Baldini, in the time trials of the 1959 Tour de France.
(Riviere information found here)

3. Henri Pélissier

Henri Pelissier

Henri Pélissier (22 January 1889 – 1 May 1935) was a French cyclist and champion of the 1923 Tour de France. In addition to his 29 career victories, he was known for his long-standing feud with Tour founder Henri Desgrange and for protesting the miserable conditions endured by riders in the early years of the Tour. Pélissier was notorious for being argumentative and hot-tempered, often inciting teammates and others in the peloton. After his retirement in 1928 his combative personality led to a quick deterioration in his life. In 1933 his wife Léonie despaired of living with him and shot herself to death. Two years later his new companion, Camille Tharault, shot Pélissier to death with the same gun after he slashed her with a knife during an argument.
(Pelissier information found here)

4. Abdel-Kader Zaaf

Abdel-Kader Zaaf

Zaaf, an Algerian who participated in the Tour de France four times (finishing once, 1951), is best known for collapsing in the 1950 Tour while in the winning 2-man break with his Algerian teammate Marcel Molines. Upon regaining consciousness from heat exhaustion, Zaaf remounted his bike and proceeded riding the wrong way on the course before being picked up by an ambulance. Following his final Tour de France in 1952, Zaaf disappeared into the maelstrom of his war-torn homeland. Three decades passed before he was spotted in a Paris train station in 1982. He had a sad story to tell - a soldier came to his house in the middle of the night demanding he come downtown and show his papers. Zaaf resisted and the soldier shot him in the leg. He was thrown into prison, and his leg wound went untreated. He also began to lose his eyesight from uncontrolled diabetes. When Zaaf was finally released, he recovered a small stash of money he had secreted away and came to France for an operation for his eyes. When the story emerged he was deluged with cards, presents, and money from fans who remembered his brave rides on the roads of France.
(Zaaf information from “Cycling’s Golden Age, Heroes of the Postwar Era, 1946-1967″ by Owen Mulholland, VeloPress, Boulder, 2006: pg. 87)

Images source:
http://www.cubra.nl/wegwijzerwielrennentourdefrance.htm

ProTour Purgatory


Image source: http://laboiteaimages.hautetfort.com/archive/2005/01/16/nighthawks.html

Edward Hopper frittered away gratuitous amounts of time watching six-day races in Madison Square Garden in search of inspiration. Undoubtedly, the recently concluded Tour de France has attracted his attention whilst floating around the ether. I’ve been possessed by the caustic spirit of Edward Hopper today, and a 2006 version of Nighthawks has been channelled through me via Photoshop. Click on the image to start the sequence of panels…

Rage Against the Machine

July 20, 2006. Floyd goes for a ride.
Graham Watson photo

Because you just can’t make this stuff up…

“He’s in every aspect the toughest man, ever,” Amber says seriously. “Physically tough, mentally tough, he’s just one tough bitch.”Amber Landis

After Floyd Landis regained the lead of the Tour de France at the top of L’Alpe d’Huez he decided that he wanted a beer to celebrate the moment. On the road down to his hotel, his team car pulled over and the American traded a yellow jersey for a six-pack of beer with a spectator.OLN

“He told me he was going to go out in the morning and do something big,” Amber Landis told me as she watched her husband begin the final descent of the Col de Joux-Plane. “He doesn’t say that very often, but when he does, he always goes out and does it.” — Amber Landis talking to journalist Martin Dugard

As he told his trainer, Allen Lim, the morning after tumbling from first to eleventh place, “I’m going to go apeshit on them.” — Journalist Austin Murphy

Somehow, word got out in the peloton that the Phonaks were going to try something preposterous. By doing so, they would be inflicting suffering on the rest of a Tour-weary bunch. Which explains why a number of riders coasted up to Landis before the first mountain, imploring him not to attempt something so foolhardy. As Landis would later recall, “I just told ‘em, Go drink some Coke, ’cause we’re leaving on the first climb if you want to come along.’” — Journalist Austin Murphy

“Get me to the bottom of the first climb,” Floyd Landis told his pretofore listless Phonak teammates, “and then I’ll see you later.” — Journalist Martin Dugard

When the peloton reached the first foothills Floyd put the hammer down. He went way too fast for so early in the stage. Although his competition initially reacted, one by one they seemed to satisfy themselves that he’d gone mad. Landis shot them a few well-placed, wild-eyed glares over the shoulder to cement the impression. — Writer Dave Shields

If you had a chance to watch the stage on television, you might have seen Landis catch up with a small group that had launched an earlier breakaway. He lingered awhile, talking one-by-one with the riders. What you saw there was simple horse-trading. Landis was asking for volunteers, riders who might be interested in working with him to make the attack a success. He was willing to pay for that help, roughly $5,000 dollars from some reports. But nobody took him up on the offer, because the race is so wide open that Landis has few friends in the peloton. So he shot away as if suddenly bored, destined to ride alone all day, come what may. — Journalist Martin Dugard

“When Floyd went, I just thought ‘what the hell is he doing?’,” the Australian told Cyclingnews. It tactically didn’t seem like a sensible thing to do, but I didn’t know he had the legs like that… nobody did!”Cadel Evans

“At T-Mobile, we had no tactics today. We just tried to hang on as long as possible. We thought the last climb would be the decisive one. Klöden had problems from the start; me too. We both struggled today. We never expected Landis to do so well today.”Michael Rogers

“They didn’t let him go, but he was just so strong in the beginning,” said Schleck. “We didn’t think that he could make it too the end. But he made it to the end, so he’s a fucking strong rider. Chapeau for Landis!”Frank Schleck

“That has never happened in the Tour, and it’s never happened in any other race I’ve done before - and it never will,” Horner said. “It was an epic scenario, which I’ve never seen in my entire career.”Chris Horner

  • 5 hours 23 minutes and 36 seconds.
  • Covering 200.5 kilometers (130 km alone in the wind).
  • At a speed of 37.175 km/hr.
  • Averaging 281 watts when moving for the whole ride and 318 watts over the last two hours.
  • Averaging 324 watts while pedaling for the whole ride and 364 watts over the last 2 hours.
  • At an average cadence of 89 rpm.
  • Transferring 5,456 Kjoules of energy to his Cycleops PowerTap.
  • Taking, no joke, a total of 70 water bottles (480 ml each) from the car to keep himself cool and hydrated.
  • Attacking about a quarter of the way up the Col des Saisies for 30 seconds at 544 watts, which settled into a 5-minute peak of 451 watts, which continued for 10 minutes at an average of power of 431 watts, and left everyone in his dust after 30 minutes at an average power of 401 watts.
  • Spending 13.2% of his time or 43 minutes coasting like a rocket on the descents and another 60% between 4 to 7 watts per kilogram of body weight (aka, the pain cave).
  • Holding onto 373 watts over the Col de Joux-Plane.
  • Hitting a max speed of 83.7 km/hr (51.9 mph) and flying like a Phoenix on his way to the most incredible moment in sports I have ever witnessed.

Allen Lim

What Floyd Landis did today was the sporting equivalent of lifting a wrecked car off of a loved one. And he did for hours on end, in front of a worldwide audience of millions.

Everyone could see the anger coursing through Landis at the finish. He didn’t smile, he didn’t cry, he raged. He tossed his bike to a helper and barked some orders. If someone had thrust a bunny into his arms Landis probably would have devoured it alive.

The incredible thing is that Landis sustained that force of will through the better part of five hours of racing. We are used to seeing sprinters with their killer face on, in the last meters of a race. Or opportunists like Erik Dekker in 2000; winning three stages, each in a different manner, but always with that rage. It was a state of mind the old Norse called “berserkr” that gave Floyd Landis the edge. The rage that comes from battle frenzy, when you know you have to win.

— Writer Craig Cook

“It wouldn’t be any fun if I told you what was going to happen next.”Floyd Landis

FFFFLLLLOOOOYYYYDDDD!!!!

It would not be fair if I told you what happens next-Floyd Landis
AFP Photo as seen on cyclingnews.com

There’s a local band with the name Olympic Ass-Kicking Team, which for some reason never ceases to make me chuckle when I see it in print. I think the band needs to transfer the rights to their name to a certain Floyd Landis.

I was all set to witness Oscar Pereiro do his best Roger Walkowiak impression, and then Floyd Landis went berserk…And not just mildly, but a full fledged episode of “Circus Berserk-us”.

I’m sure every cycling publication on the planet - whether it’s print, online, video, blog, whatever - has weighed in on what went down July 20, 2006 in the Tour de France. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it in my lifetime. Sure, I remember hearing about Greg Lemond’s miracle 1989 TT while I was riding in a dizzying amount of circles during the final stage of Superweek (Fond du Lac? Manitowoc? I can’t recall), I remember seeing Claudio Chiappucci’s 1992 ride into Sestriere in the 1992 TdF, I remember watching Alexi Grewal inexplicably outsprint Steve Bauer in the 1984 L.A. Olympics, but I don’t think anything can compare to what Floyd Landis did today in the Tour de France. After Miguel Martin Perdiguero set him up with a killer leadout (and then quit the Tour) at the base of the day’s first climb, the Col des Saisies, Landis rode the 125 km TT of his life. His whole team was left for dead, all finishing 52+ minutes behind. Absolutely unbelievable.

So here’s what needs to happen…

1. I need to hop on a plane to Paris, buy about a gallon of Duvel, and douse Mr. Landis when he crosses the finish line on Sunday resplendent in yellow.

2. July 20th will forever be known as “Floyd Landis Ass-Kicking Day”.

3. The United States will annex the 200.5 km of road between Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne and Morzine and post plaques every kilometer with the play by play from cyclingnews.com in print for everyone to read.

4. Floyd needs to ride a wheelie from the flame rouge to the finish line.

5. Hopefully he can avoid this until after the finish line.

6. The bum hip of Floyd Landis could fetch 7 figures on eBay, should he be so inclined. Or maybe he could auction off rice granule-sized pieces like the parquet floor of the legendary Boston Garden.

Bizarro le Tour-o

I’m still alive. And dumbstruck by this year’s TdF soap opera shennanigans. And reading books about Basque history, re-reading Paul Kimmage’s Rough Ride (after last plowing through it about 16 years ago), and reading about 100 pages of Paul Kimmage journalism from the past decade. But more on that in the near future…

Well, there’s always Superweek. I still think Vinokourov and Kashechkin should have rolled up to the prologue start house in their TT gear, with a couple of burly Kazakh soigneurs/hired-goons in tow, and made the UCI officials/ASO staff blow a gasket. Why not let them ride? They’ve got a bus, some bikes, some fitness, and nothing else to do in July–the minimum riders on the roster rule was just a cop-out to keep Astana-Wurth out of the race. I think Tour teams have finished in Paris with 2 riders, why not let Astana-Wurth separate the wheat from the chaff from the get-go and start their Kazakh giant slayers.

Things you don’t see everyday. Take a look at this photo. Take a long look. The orange-clad speed demon front-and-center is none other than Basque Inaki Isasi. The only thing perhaps more bizarro than a Euskaltel-Euskadi rider mixing it up with Boonen and Freire would be watching Magnus Backstedt and Pavel Padrnos sprinting it out for first atop L’Alpe-d’Huez.

“Serguei Gonchar? There’s a Mr. Vinokourov on the phone…” Any bets on whether T-Mobile implodes when the roads head skyward? We’re going to see a team split in half, just like the 1987 Carrera squad in the Giro, or the 1986 La Vie Claire squad in the Tour. T-Mobile has 3 Germans, 2 Italians, 1 Ukrainian, and 1 Australian. The Germans will stick together, the Italians and honorary Italian Gonchar will stick together, and Rogers is just screwed and will be riding by himself. I’m sure Gonchar is all too aware of what happens when non-Germans on T-Mobile try to “assert their author-i-ta” in le Tour.

Redneck Kryptonite. Just in case you didn’t already think Floyd Landis is the hardest man on the planet, here’s a choice Landis factoid from a July 3rd ESPN: The Magazine feature article:

“When Landis–who spends much of the racing season in Spain–churns out 100-mile (or more) training rides through the mountains near his home in Murrieta, Calif., he’s accompanied by his wife’s 18-year old brother, Max Basile. Max follows in a small SUV, and next to him sit the tools of his trade: a can of Mace and a stun gun. These are meant to protect Landis in case someone on these back roads, maybe a redneck type with spandex issues, messes with him. But wouldn’t just one weapon of mass deterrence suffice? ‘No,’ Landis says, as if the idea borders on blasphemy. ‘We need ‘em both. That way we can blind ‘em before we shock ‘em’.

The Curse lives! I’ve discussed the Performance Cover Curse not too long ago, and it seems that Bobby Julich is still unable to shake loose from its insidious grasp. Of course, from the comfort of my living room, it’s all too easy to second guess what went down in the TT (in addition to Julich himself), but here goes:

(1) Bobby, do you remember 1989? When you were the junior national cyclocross champion? You should have conjured up your best Todd Wells skills and bunny-hopped that pesky roundabout curb ensuring a guaranteed place in TdF lore and legend.

or…

(2) You should have flipped over onto your back and put that 5-gallon Camelbak(barely visible) under your skinsuit to use as a curb cushion. This move would likely not garner as much street cred as option #1, but you wouldn’t be in the hospital and have to placate a crying daughter.

No more race radios. Except for a gutsy move by Sylvain Calzati (whose victory may have been more indicative of age-old peloton payola), all of the Tour stages have been too formulaic. Break goes. Break gets 7 minutes. Break gets caught at 5km to go. I think if riders had to do more thinking about who’s up the road, and be a bit more attentive to what’s going on of their own devices, there’d be more drama on the open road. And all that talk about “Well, it helps the riders’ safety so they’ll know about road hazards” is quite simply a crock. Just look at how many riders hit the deck in this edition of the Tour alone from coming face-to-face with potholes and shoddy paving (talk to Erik Dekker, Chris Horner, or Fred Rodriguez for starters).

Giovanni Lombardi. Unfortunately, with the latest revelations from the Landis camp, Lombardi’s “Hardest Man in Cycling” moniker may not be entirely his alone. But who cares. Lombardi is riding his 5th consecutive Grand Tour and doing the work of a small army on his own. Says Chris Horner, “Discovery had five guys protecting Armstrong, but Lombardi does it by himself for Basso” (ed.-and now Sastre). Just look at the stage finishes most days so far. Lombardi is usually only a couple of places in front of Sastre, usually rolling in just behind the sprinting frenzy in about 30th-40th. And Lombardi out TTed a hapless Levi Leipheimer:

92. Giovanni Lombardi (Ita) Team CSC @5.55.78

96. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner @6.05.46

Ouch. Beaten by a man who treated that stage as a rest day.

Chris Horner: Nickeled, Dimed, and Super-sized

$3900. That’s how much prize money Chris Horner generated during le Tour. He was the biggest bread winner for Saunier Duval, which racked up a grand total of $14,525 after 21 days and 3607 kilometers of the fastest Tour in history. After the team staff gets their cut, the 6 Saunier Duval finishers got about $2200 each. I don’t think there’s a sporting event on the planet with such a disparate effort to compensation ratio. At this year’s US Open golf championship in Pinehurst, NC, an event on par with the prestige of winning the Tour de France, Kiwi Michael Campbell played 4 days of golf and walked away with $1,170,000. Horner finished 33rd overall in the Tour, and that GC position earned him $660. If Horner brushed up his golf game and finished 33rd in the US Open he would have netted about $36,000. Horner likely made more money by finishing 3rd in the Philadelphia US PRO race than the entire Saunier Duval team earned in the Tour de France. The Tour is very top heavy prize-wise (it’s definitely a “to the victors go the spoils” mentality); if your team doesn’t win GC, one of the other jerseys, the team prize, or an individual stage, then there’s a precipitous drop to mere Euro crumbs for minor placings. There’s also a bonus if your team finishes with at least 7 riders, which unfortunately, Saunier Duval didn’t accomplish. Realistically, Horner was gunning for glory via a stage win. He made valiant efforts on Stage 13 and Stage 21, but came up short. Of course, stage wins are hard to come by in the Tour. Only 16 of the 189 starters claimed individual stage wins (which aren’t great odds) and these victories rank up there with Classics victories in prestige. No matter what a pro does with the rest of his life, he’ll go to his grave with “Tour de France stage winner” associated with his name. Horner didn’t jump ship from a domestic US pro gig to Saunier Duval solely for the money. After all, he purportedly took a 50% pay cut, he sold his house, he’s descibed his current European residence status as “homeless”, he lived in Trent Klasna’s yard while recovering from his broken leg earlier this year, and he hadn’t seen his kids for the 3 months prior to his Tour debut, all for a chance (not a guarantee) that he’d fulfill his dream of riding le Tour. But dammit, this guy deserves some cash. I hope he at least made some money during the Tour de Suisse.

Back in June, before we managed to woo Aerospace Engineering’s Hugh Moran and Eric Murphy with our mad converstional skills at the USPRO after-party, Chris Horner actually stopped and chatted with us while making his way through the bar scrum. He had no idea who we were, as one of the day’s podium finishers I’m sure he had a bevy of more closely connected well-wishers to entertain, yet he answered some questions and talked about the caliber of professional racing in the U.S. With that in mind, one of the few genuinely riveting moments of the 2005 Tour was the endgame to Stage 13. How I wished Horner would triumph, but at least he beaned Carlos de Cruz with a water bottle earlier in the day. Horner has a perma-grin plastered on his face, even when he’s really suffering, and his enthusiasm about just competing in the the Tour is infectious.

Iron constitution. On the second rest day in Pau, Horner inhaled a McDonald’s hamburger, Big Mac, large fries, large Coke, and McFlurry for lunch. According to Mcdonald’s, that’s 2280 calories and 80 grams of fat clogging up his system from a single sitting. I’m sure Morgan Spurlock would be impressed with his digestive prowess. Unfortunately for 99.999999% of McDonald’s customers, they don’t have the physiological demands of a Grand Tour to burn off those calories.

That looks familiar. Brad McGee’s stem bolts are just as rusty as mine. And just as rusty as his form.

They’re not all superhumans. What was arguably more outrageous than witnessing George Hincapie triumph in the most difficult stage of the 2005 Tour was watching how composed and non-plussed he appeared immediately afterwards. He just got off his bike, got a few hugs, and sauntered into the team bus like nothing happened. For other lesser mortals, the pain of the Tour is all too real. After spending virtually all of the stage in the winning break, neo-pro Aussie Simon Gerrans finished 3rd on Stage 18, just 8 seconds behind the victorious Savoldelli, and was rendered inert upon coasting to a halt. Gerrans just dropped to the street with his bike cast aside, all wonky against the crowd control barrier. What an effort.

Off-The-Back Grumpies

Wide-Eyed and Legless: Inside the Tour de France by Jeff Connor, 1988.

This book is long since out-of-print and has eluded me for years. Finally, through the magic of ebay, I purchased a copy from a bookseller in Australia.

Jeff Connor spent the 1987 Tour de France embedded with the British ANC-Halfords squad and pulled no punches chronicling their trial by fire in the team’s first and only Tour appearance. The book assumes the reader has virtually no knowledge of cycling since that’s what British sportswriter Jeff Connor possessed before his editors sent him to France, but the educational elements don’t seem too gratuitous. What the book deftly delivers is the internal power struggles of mixed nationality management and staff (British, Belgian, German, French), creative financing (none of the riders received payment due to the bankruptcy of the title sponsor during the Tour, echoing the future debacles of Le Groupement, Linda McCartney, Mercury/Viatel, Team Coast), and the wholly improbable cast of characters thrown to the wolves-Brits Malcolm Elliot, Graham Jones, Paul Watson, and Adrian Timmis, Aussie Shane Sutton, Czech defector Kvetoslav Palov, Frenchmen Bernard Chesneau and Guy Gallopin, and the scourge of Lance Armstrong, youthful Kiwi Steve Swart. Malcolm Elliot was the team’s star and came oh so close to winning stage 12, but the team’s fortunes were unflatteringly summed up by one of only 4 ANC riders to finish, Czech Kvetoslav Palov, “We have done nothing”.

I remember a phrase coined by some anonymous Cat 2 rider in New England regarding the feeling of getting dropped but still persevering to the finish: “off-the-back grumpies”. Every little thing would piss him off- a piece of litter, a smoking spectator polluting a small section of the course’s air, someone on the side of the road wearing a stupid hat, sharing a paceline with riders wearing ugly jerseys, in other words just about anything and everything was eligible fodder for venting the humiliation of being shelled. Off-the-back grumpies aptly sums up the collective mood of ANC-Halford’s riders, mechanics, soigneurs, and director sportif, but what a story they tell in the background of Delgado’s and Roche’s duel for Tour de France supremacy.