Sunday, February 18, 2007

Tour of California Prologue - A Running Diary vs Versus

Hello Race Fans and welcome to the Tour of California coverage from my living room in Boulder, Colorado. I am going to attempt to log a running diary of the OLN - er Versus coverage of the ToC prologue in San Francisco but I have no idea how hard this may be. If it is feeble, please blame the original coverage and not my subjective interpretation of it. How's that for a creative disclaimer? I kid because I care and Versus is my only hope for cycling coverage so any criticisms I may have can be viewed as merely suggestions. Angry, scathing suggestions. Now...On to the Tour of California!

- The programming opens with spectacular shots of the Bay Area, followed by the trinity of English-speaking bicycle commentating looking smooth in their matching OLN - oops, I mean Versus - fleece vests. It's nice that they all have different LL Bean long sleeve button ups though.

- A look at the contenders, including Rasmussen as the first close-up. Interesting choice there to lead off with, but I guess if there is any rider capable of capturing the attention of all the Ultimate Fighting and Pro Bull Riding fans of the Versus channel's standard programming, The Chicken is that rider. It's not only the farm connection with his nickname but apparently the Dane is a lethal kickboxer and student of many Brazilian fighting styles.

- Speaking of sanctioned, televised beatings, the first of what are sure to be many commercials for World Combat League, Presented by Chuck Norris on Versus. Need I say more? Men and women...all kicking and punching the heck out of each other. And presented to us by none other than Jens Voigt's long lost twin, Chuck Norris. The whole "presented by" thing made me laugh out loud. Aren't sporting events usually presented by a product or company? Not a single person? But then again...Chuck is an organization unto himself. These commercials will not grow old at all.

- Additional rider coverage, yeah, yeah. We've been over this - Best field ever in the US...heard that before. Now on to the stages - should be a beautiful course (minus Stockton) overall but it still may not be hard enough to break everyone up and the TT will still be the decisive stage.

- Now a spotlight on Bobby J beginning with him talking about his crash in the Tour TT and how good he was feeling at the time. Bobby is good at talking about the internal quest for getting performances "out" of himself. Having faith that you have untapped potential within. Good stuff. Looks like this is his final year, hope some good results come out of him along the way.

- Weird intro to footage of the official team presentation. Some hoochie shots with Bob Roll and the ladies which Phil and Paul give him a hard time about. These guys really do seem like they are pretty good friends. It's hard to fake that during a cycling broadcast.

- Spotlight on Chris Horner - it's about freaking time. Such an interesting character. Starts off talking about the frustration of Europe and the subsequent thrashing of the US scene for the next few years. Then shots of the stage wins in Switzerland and Romandie - both great finishes. Debuted in the Tour at 33 years old. That's inspiring. Not for me personally...but probably for some people.

- More spectacular shots of the Bay Area. It really is the most beautiful place on Earth. Makes me miss it...but then again, they are not showing footage of traffic on 101 or the average median home price. If I could just fly around in a helicopter all the time and not have to deal with all the crap I'd still be there. Oh well.

- Now a recap of last year's Prologue and the rest of the 2006 race. You can check out my ToC recap from last year here. Something I recalled while watching this was how people first reacted with horror to Floyd's Praying Mantis time trial position. Then he murdered them all and I could just imagine everyone moving their bars around on their next ride. Don't knock the Mantis until you've tried it. And crashed.

- Remarkably, Versus is seemingly acknowledging Floyd Landis' existence. After so much negative media attention, it is great that they at least let him talk. And hey, Floyd doesn't pull any punches for the UCI and WADA, calling their leaders incompetent and the system flawed. Paul then makes a bit of a comment regarding the legitimacy of the 11:1 T/E number which is mildly surprising. I think that they handled that pretty fairly. Good job Versus, I may stop calling you OLN now.

- Some intro shots of Chinatown and Phil Liggett's uncomfortable use of the word "Chinese." China Town is a trip. Honestly, it's one of the more puzzling tourist areas in San Francisco. Anyone who has been there and seen dudes shouldering whole pigs and walking down the street can attest to the uniqueness of the experience.

- Now it's George Hincapie's turn for the spotlight. Or maybe it's Melanie Hincapie's turn. For some reason I had trouble following this piece but I get the distinct impression that Melanie Hincapie is very good for the future of cycling in this country. Hopefully, thousands of boys across the US watched this segment and now have a new found respect for cyclists.

- Phil Liggett announces that it's about 63 degrees. Thanks Phil. C-Mac and I were ecstatic that it was in the mid-forties today in Boulder. Levi Leipheimer gets the treatment now and we see him training in Santa Rosa. Levi loves him some Santa Rosa. Seriously, the guy should look into a tourism gig with the city when he retires. I think Levi likes Santa Rosa so much because he is always in Europe during the summer and doesn't have to deal with the heat. Some good words from Odessa Gunn, Levi's wife and maybe a female super hero. Wasn't Odessa Gunn part of the Justice League?

- A nice HealthNet commercial featuring a bunch of riders that no longer race for them. For some reason that struck me as being very, very funny.

- Prediction Time: Bob Roll - Levi Leipheimer (with jean joke included) Paul Sherwen - George Hincapie (not Georgie) and Phil Liggett - Fabian Cancellara (after saying that he really wanted O'Grady to win but the producer wouldn't let him pick him, that was odd)

- The camera cuts back to Phil talking and Bob yawning. For real...a full on, open-mouthed yawn. Awesome. These guys are great. Bob never really seems comfortable when he's on camera and not talking. Seriously, between the grin and the head nods it's really quite entertaining. It's great though, don't ever change. The only thing that I would add is Fred Willard from Best In Show. That would be exceptional.

- Okay...Finally some action. Basso is first on with a mediocre 5:03 followed by Jens Voigt at just under 5 minutes as well as O'Grady in about the same time.

- Now this is crazy...Jason Donald basically crushed Levi Leipheimer's winning time from last year. Knocked 3 seconds off. I'm still not sure about the Slipstream kits though. C-Mac loves them. Donald is WAY ahead at 4:50. That is crazy fast. Whoa.

- Tom Danielson on course now. He could do well. I predicted him to finish third behind DZ and Levi because of the severity of the climb up Telegraph to Coit Tower. We'll see.

- Now to Zabriskie in the start house. Pretty boring National Champion skinsuit for DZ. I would have thought Descente could come up with something more creative. This guy has a crazy profile though. You can hardly even see him on the bike - super sleek. C-Mac said he kind of looked like a shark from the side and I showed her the picture of Randi Zabriskie from the most recent VeloNews. That article is also good for the future of cycling in this country.

- Back to DZ the shark. Tommy D is finishing and is in at just under 5 minutes. Here comes DZ...the last stretch is a long left hand turn uphill that just never seems to end...he's way outside Donald...4:59. Jeez, Donald was 9 seconds faster over 2 miles than Dave Zabriskie? This is shaping up to be a phenomenal upset if he can hold on.

- They just showed the leaderboard and Ben Jacques-Maynes is second at about 3 seconds. Go Domestic US riders!! BJM is kind of a local guy so this is a great result for him. This is wild though...I don't think ANYONE would have predicted these two guys at the top of the leaderboard this far through the field. Not even their moms.

- Cable car and GG Bridge shots. Here is the first longer clip of Donald's ride. He was flying up the last part of the hill. Now George Hincapie is up to bat. And he's not rocking the Racing Shields. I almost didn't recognize him. Paul makes the comment that these guys are hitting 35mph on the flat stretch of Embarcadero. In case you were wondering..that's pretty fast.

- Cancellara is on the ramp now sporting the Rainbow TT jersey. This guy is a tank. A really, really fast Swiss tank. I rule at metaphors.

- Horner is in the start house. Not sure what to expect from him here. Hincapie is getting up to the finish...ughh. My knees hurt just watching. He's already outside Donald...4:57 for Big George. Not a bad time at all but once again, nowhere near Donald. Where the hell did this kid come from? Well...besides Colorado of course.

- Okay...a word on the commercials. They are ALL over the place. Versus clearly has problems trying to describe their audience to prospective advertisers. I mean, this is channel that broadcasts the NHL, cycling, Bull riding, surfing, hunting, snowboarding and UFC style fighting presented by Chuck Norris. How many companies are down with all those groups? I'll tell you one...Denny's apparently. And they have a new all-kinds-of-meat special that may have taken a year off my life just watching the commercial. Anyway...lots of random commercials and WAY too many of them.

- Here comes Cancellara to the finish. For some reason they are not posting the clock...come on Versus. Okay, they finally show the clock and he's already outside Donald's time. Way to keep the suspense up there VS. Now Horner is starting to climb. HUGE gear he seems to be pushing. Even C-Mac comments that he looks like he's grinding. He's in at 5:03 - near Basso and good for 17th at this point.

- Julich is on the ramp now. Phil asks what Bobby will need to do to beat Donald's time followed by Paul and Bob basically saying that he needs to ride harder and faster. Once again, these guys are awesome. Cycling is not an easy sport to comment on sometimes. Julich is still rocking the oval chainrings...oh, sorry...elliptical. I know the theory is that they minimize deadspots but why don't you ever see anyone else with them. Still recovering from BioPace discrimination? I'll use 'em if I can ride as smoothly as Bobby J.

- Michael Rogers getting ready now. He kind of looks like Peyton Manning a little bit. Maybe not. Julich is nearing the finish...oh, 20th place at 5:03-ish. Ouch. Donald may just win this thing. Would that be the biggest possible result of the year already for Slipstream? Seriously, the stage win and the leader's jersey? The argyle might just be the key. You have to damn fast to ride around in argyle.

- Levi is the last starter and is getting ready. He looks really focused. Like angry focused. Mick Rogers coming up Telegraph. The producers seem to have realized that the clock is a useful graphic. Thanks guys...we have two riders left on the course.

- Cut back to Levi who is making good time. He is killing it up the hill but is riding like a rock. Just super-good form there from Levi. He's close...really close. Donald might still get it. Out of the saddle to the line...HE GOT IT, LEIPHEIMER WINS!!! Wow that was close. Just about a 1.5 second differential.

Whew. A very close finish to the prologue and actually a really interesting start to this race. I am trying to figure out what the results from today indicate and how the time differences will affect the racing. Probably shouldn't read too much into the performances at this point but...still. The CSC guys were a touch slower than expected but what about Jason Donald and Ben Jacques-Maynes? Just huge results for Slipstream and Priority Health already.

Hopefully the domestic teams will keep up the great momentum coming out of the prologue and start lighting it up on the open road as well. In what seemed like a possible Pro Tour-dominated event, the Tour of California has already proven the depth and strength of the domestic US field. Now THAT is good for the future of cycling in this country.

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