Saturday, February 21, 2009

The ITT and ...

... Riiiight, Tom Peterson

The Tom part comes later (true to form) but first the time trial itself:

Well it wasn’t actually a barn burner, in fact, in some ways it was something of a yawn. Of course, like most NBA basketball games, the ESPN crowd only needs to tune in to the last 10 minutes to get their bicycle race fix.

To tell the truth, ten minutes of watching bike racing at a stretch is about the limit for most normal people. Why do you think the French love the Tour de France so? It's a tradition? Sure, here's the tradition: They find a nice spot in the country (or in the mountains), they spread out a blanket, and then loll about eating cheese and French bread and drinking French wine for four hours. Then there is a blur of bicyclists that blow by, certainly no more than 10 minutes. Whats not to love?

I could watch it for hours. Well, a couple hours for sure. Normal is really only valued by normal people, and even they always knock it. Until of course they are confronted with something else, say paranormal, or abnormal, or antisocial. But that’s not all bad, normal is how the species has survived, developed, and progressed through the eons, ... like ants. It’s also the coat upon who’s tails the abnormals have ridden throughout history. All I can say is thank God Hitler didn’t win.

Anyway, back to the bike race, the great ATOC: It went about according to script: the few notable exceptions include Ivan Basso’s non-start. You know there have been a bunch of abandons so far, a few taking the ambulance out, and quite a few more succumbing to the ‘brutal conditions”. But abandoning before the start of a time trial? Well, that’s certainly not normal. Something about 'he bumped his knee', but I think what really happened was that a dog ate his cue sheet. Can’t be expected to ride a fan lined route without a cue sheet. Damn paper eating dogs anyway; but for them I’d have gotten advanced degrees, just like the normal people.

My own little fantasy league scenario with Armstrong, Zabriskie, and Leipheimer bunched at the front didn’t play out. Actually it is good thing, I wouldn’t want that much drama to unfold this early in the racing season. Remember Hinault and Lemond in 86? Well there is still a lot of race season left to go for Astana to poop in the mashed potatoes. That’s not a prediction by the way. We’ve seen this scenario before: A Bruyneel led team, loaded with stars, who are relegated to water carriers in support of the undisputed team leader, so who knows. I liked the way Mick Rodgers inserted himself into the mix. To be honest I had actually forgotten about his TT prowess. And props to Chris Horner, there's a working class hero!

I have to admit that Leipheimer looks like the one guy who really had this as his A list event. Not saying everyone else is just in training mode. When you ride 24K at over 47Km/hr, well that’s some training is all I can say. All sports are different but really, as geeky and ‘abnormal’ as bike racing is picture Kobe Bryant, or Ben Roethlisberger on a TT bike. Of course, the picture of one (or even both!) of the Schleck boys guarding Shaq in the low post causes me a moment of stomach distress.

So the conventional wisdom is (or was) that a definitive leader coming out of Solvang would likely be the race winner in two days time. So say the normals. We’ll see. I think in the days of rampant use of performance enhancing drugs that was probably a safe bet. But I believe that one consequence of a cleaner peloton is that riders cannot sustain superhuman efforts for days and days on end. Look back at the races of the 30’s and 40’s and I think you see a few more instances of race leaders loosing huge chunks of time on a given day when the course demanded a price the body could not pay two or three days in a row. Shoot, I think Leipheimers Tour de France of 2007 is a good example of this in the modern era. The race was there for Contador, Evens, or Levi to ride away with, but they just didn’t have a monster break in their legs. Five years earlier one of the contenders might have cranked it into the big ring and dropped the pretenders.

I’m glad that the remaining two stages of the ATOC are as demanding as they are. It is a short race and it is early in the season so though it does not have the status of the grand tours or monuments, by making it a very challenging race to the end I think the organizers have done a fine job of giving the abnormals plenty of opportunity to stare into the dope scope for hours on end. I was a little disappointed yesterday though when Versus didn’t break away from the last five minutes of the race to show us some excellent bull riding or cage fighting, WTF?

So my home boys Tom Peterson and Svein Tuft were a little bit of a letdown. That is to say, they did what normal people could expect of them. Peterson came in 63rd on the TT, 2:56 back, while Tuft rode a respectable TT coming in 32nd, 1:25 back. That’s not bad, but it is not the performance we would want to see for a national TT champion, especially when we are rooting for a home boy. Sigh.

So, for the start of Stage 5 we have Peterson in 32nd place; a fall from his 23rd of just a day ago. He’s almost nine minutes behind the leaders, not likely to smash the field, but that is a big enough deficit that if he gets into a break, he could regain much of that time. Remember, he’s got mtn goat legs so his best hope is these last two stages. I’ll stick with my prediction of a top 10 finish, but I would not bet more than a milkshake on it, and no more than one at that.
Tuft as I said did ‘OK” in the TT, which actually amounts to a big disappointment for me. I know there are a ton of things that go into this that I can’t be aware of. Perhaps he wanted to ride his old $40 department store bike and they wouldn’t let him; maybe he was fried from making multiple trips back to the team car for bottles for Dave Z the day (or two) before. Who knows? I’d LOVE to see that back story on the front page of Velonews, or another (ANY) bike centric publication. Anyway, I’m confident that these two will finish this race and be better racers for it.

Speaking of news, how about that Lance Armstrong eh? Pretty dang normal wouldn’t you say? Now THAT performance deserves all kinds of ink, 12 point font, above the fold and extensive post race interview time: ‘It was a pretty tough day, it’s been a pretty tough race”. That’s the sort of insightful reporting I lust after, thank you Bobke, and thanks for giving all your secrets away Mr. Armstrong.

I have to ease up on Lance. The fact that he’s racing at the front of the pack really is amazing. No "age adjusted' needed for him. It’s just that he sort of takes up all the oxygen in the room and there are so many other intriguing stories that could be told. Part of the reason bike racing is ‘boring’ is because journalists take the easy way, the ‘normal’ way out in the reporting, and so we end up with 8 predictable stories about Lance Armstrong’s ride of the day and his typical John Wayne mastery of the English language for a quote. Yawn.

Today’s stage could be fascinating, the riders realize that the end is near, there is some topography to work with and, many of them need to get the sponsors burgee in front of the camera. Look for stagaires to animate the race.

It’s a Saturday so you’d think I would be anchoring the couch, but, just like last weekend, Mrs. C has put forward a very ‘suggestive’ suggestion, if you know what I mean: We’ll go for a ride today, and we are probably going to go up to Seattle and ride Chilly Hilly tomorrow. That’s a mad house, but she asked, and, well, how could I resist? We’ll see our old friend Joe from Spokane and tell lies about last year’s bike adventures while dodging the weekend cycling enthusiasts. It will all be so ... normal.

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