Friday, April 13, 2007

Arbitrary Cogitation - Friday the 13th Week In Review

It was another busy week in the cycling world. Between the inaugural U.S. Open, the Tour of Flanders and Ghent-Wevelgem, there is plenty of action to reflect upon, so I'll address some lingering thoughts.

We'll start with the U.S. Open in Virginia. By the way, did you know that Virginia Is For Lovers? State slogans are always kind of curious but VA's statement still leaves me with a weird feeling. Of all the possible ways to entice tourists or provide some insight into the state, that was the best they could come up with? Okay's like they were watching too many of those SNL skits with Will Ferrell and Rachel Dratch as the creepy couple that hangs out in the hot tub.

As far as the racers were concerned, the slogan should have been "Virginia Is For Crappy Weather" as the event endured freezing temperatures and snow flurries throughout the day. I figured it would be an opportunity for the Colorado contingent to show their toughness but it ended being a showdown between Texan Pat McCarty and Canadian Svein Tuft. Ivan Dominguez made a very impressive bid for the win by bridging up to the first chase group but effectively ended the race by doing so. Even though the group would have had a difficult time catching the two leaders anyway, The Cuban Missile's presence squashed whatever incentive they had to dig even deeper and close it down for good. I have to think they could have done it if the group had been cohesive and all thought they had a chance for the win.

P-Mac surely gets a nod for starting the winning move and sticking around until the final climb but Tuft proved to be strongest guy in the race. The recent Tour of Cuba winner was just tougher at the end of the day. I still have mixed feelings about a Canuck winning the U.S. Open but...he seems like a good guy and anyone who rides a bike with a trailer from Vancouver to Alaska and back is okay with me. Honestly, I almost think the fact that he did that is cooler than the race win. Almost.

And now for some thoughts on the highly anticipated "Live Coverage" from NBC: Eh.

Al Trautwig (this guy is going to kill me) was once again behind the microphone accompanied by Bob Roll and John Eustice. Al tried to act like he knew something about the sport but with comments like "It doesn't make aerodynamic sense, but if your nickname is the Cuban Missile and you want to win this race, you leave these guys behind and catch up to the leaders yourself," he continues to prove that he knows not of what he speaks. Bob Roll (consistently consistent) kind of laughed at him when he said that. Dominguez had recently bridged up to the front chase group by himself and Trout says that he should now attack the group and make up 30+ seconds on the leaders without sacrificing his finish? Good call Albert. You're right...Ivan really didn't try hard enough there.

He also continued his subtle jabs at Floyd Landis. Super condescending. I still really don't know what he brings to the table other than timing the intros and commercial breaks. Is he going to be the main guy when Paul and Phil finally pack it in? I am seriously concerned by this prospect. Forget Social Security...I want to know who will take over for Phil and Paul.

I can generally handle Eustice because he knows what he's talking about and has a vested interest in the future of the sport. He can get a bit dramatic and I could have done without so much "Virginia Tourism" propaganda but he did a fairly good job of trying to explain the race to the network audience. I also like that he rarely, if ever, directly addressed Trautwig. He always directed his commentary to Bob. That was fun. For real though, I think Eustice was getting a kick-back for every time he used a Virginia-specific name or pointed out a historical landmark or something. The guy should run for Governor. Virginia Is For John Eustice.

A final word on the coverage as a whole. John Eustice was the (albeit recently appointed) Race Director for this event and NBC had a full two-and-a-half hour broadcast but there was not a single mention of the women's race that took place the same day in Richmond. It is one thing to grant 1/3 of the prize money for the ladies but to add insult to injury and completely neglect their existence on the air was inexcusable. This was a great opportunity to highlight the universal appeal and challenge of bicycle racing for men and women but the commentators and NBC completely dropped the ball. They should be ashamed for not finding the time for a minute of coverage in a 2.5 hour broadcast. Congratulations to Tina Pic for the win, yet another notch on the belt of a great racer. was a pretty interesting race but the weather made it too much of a crap shoot.
Weather did not factor in to the Tour of Flanders, where Leif Hoste continued to infuriate Belgian fans, losing to a superior Alessandro Ballan. It was the third 2nd place for Hoste who was reduced to tears after the finish. Many Belgians will never forgive him for towing Kessler to the win a few years back and many Americans (my brother in particular) will never forgive him for towing Tom Boonen to victory without Hincapie's consent last year. One would assume the Belgians are none too happy with him after he bricked the finish again last Sunday. I don't know what it is about Hoste but he doesn't exactly inspire confidence. He's obviously immensely strong right now but still...he's like Boogerd. You just can't trust him to finish the job.

Ballan however, started and finished the job with a boat load of class in Flanders. The Italian was fresh off victory in the Three Days of De Panne and basically pimp-slapped Tom Boonen and the rest of the field on the Muur. Tomeke made a pretty good charge that softened everyone up but when Ballan came shooting by and Boonen's head dropped and shoulders started rocking, it was all she wrote for a Three-peat.

Hoste managed to make it up to the Italian and did some work to keep the gap but it seemed that Ballan was doing most of the pace making to the finish. Sweet Leif then sat on at the end which I though was going to doom their chances. He ended up timing it almost right but jumped a fraction too soon, allowing Ballan to get back on his wheel and come around him in the final meters for the most crushing of his three second-place finishes.

Perhaps the best performance of the day was put in by Lucca Paolini, who managed to finish third despite crashing twice. That's a pretty tough day at the office.
If the Flanders-Ghent-Roubaix trio of races were the group Wilson Phillips, Ghent-Wevelgem would be Carnie Wilson before the gastric bypass surgery. Deep down, there is some good quality but they just always get overshadowed by the more glamorous sisters on either side. The only way to get some attention is to find some drama like elective surgery, reality television or in the case of Ghent-Wevelgem, heinous crashes.

Tyler Farrar broke his kneecap and Jimmy Caspar got a cobble stone tattoo on his face among the dozens of others that bit it on the descent of the Kemmelberg. There was also some good finishing drama as the T-Mobile duo of Marcus Berghardt and Roger Hammond pulled off a nearly perfect one-two punch on Oscar Freire. The young German got his first big win and Hammond showed good form in the leadup to Roubaix. Apparently Freire was not a happy camper after showing some serious gusto and then getting worked over by the guys in pink. He may have been the strongest guy in the race but apparently cycling is a team sport.

I think I remember Eustice and Trautwig telling me that in between messages from the Virginia Board of Tourism. I'm pretty sure that Roubaix Is Not For Lovers but I could be wrong. We'll have to see on Sunday.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Fuentes Admits Poor Code Name Creativity

Madrid, Spain

In the wake of recent news linking Jan Ullrich to specific bags of blood in the Operacion Puerto case, Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes has issued a public statement admitting a severe lack of code name creativity.

"Si, I am really not that creative when it comes to code names. I never have been. If that is a crime then I am certainly guilty," said the beleaguered Spanish physician to a group of journalists in Madrid.

Recent "code names" released for the bags of blood linked to Jan Ullrich, arguably the most popular cyclist in Europe at the time, were "Jan", "Number 1" and "Hijo Rudicio." The latter code name can be translated as "Son of Rudy", a possible reference to Ullrich's longtime coach and confidante Rudy Pevenage.

"When I first started doing this whole blood collecting thing, I just put the rider's names right on the bags. But then someone pointed out that it probably wasn't a good idea to do that so I started trying to think of other ways to identify the bags and the riders. As it turns out, that was WAY harder than I thought it would be. Muy dificil," admitted Fuentes when questioned about the origin of the names.

"I even spaced out and wrote 'Jan' on one of the bags, but I thought I could play it off that it was for former 'Airwolf' star Jan Michael Vincent. That one didn't go over so well in Spain. I guess some of the Spanish Guardia Civil don't have the DVD's yet," continued the facilitator of perhaps the largest doping scandal in the history of cycling and apparent TV helicopter action-drama fan. Rumors of bags labeled "Ernest Borgnine" are unsubstantiated.

Additionally, the names of certain riders' dogs are allegedly printed on a number of the bags confiscated from Fuentes' apartment in Madrid. For example, the name "Birillo" is supposedly written on a bag that insiders have linked to Ivan Basso because it corresponds to his dog's name. Basso has denied these rumors and has stated that many Italians have named animals after the beloved Birillo Robot. Basso has also denied rumors that he is a robot after he destroyed the competition in the 2006 Giro.

"When I was younger I named my dog "Dog" so that should tell you something about my naming creativity. But I was impressed at the names that some of the riders had come up with for their dogs so I decided that might be a good code system. Well, once again...not so much. Nada mucho. Who knew so many many people were aware of these guys' pet names? Yeesh, I mean...get a life tifosi," continued Dr. Fuentes.

Yet another example of poor code naming is the stash of blood labeled "Buffalo" which allegedly corresponds to Jose Enrique Guitierrez. The rider widely known by the nickname "Buffalo" both for his large physique and labored riding style, finished a truly remarkable 2nd in the mountainous 2006 Giro d'Italia and is reputed to be a client of Fuentes.

"Once again, totally my bad on that code name. Just a really poor choice on my part," concluded Dr. Fuentes as he prepared to leave the press conference. "I sincerely apologize to all the riders who were so easily linked to this investigation by my lack of creative code naming skills. If I had known that these code names were so easy to track, I would have just labeled them with the athlete's names right on them. In retrospect, I mean really..."Son of Rudy", "Buffalo"...I'm really embarrassed that I was so deficient in my attempts to cover all of this up. I'm a doctor for crying out loud. I should have been better than that. Oh well."

"But one has been charged yet so it's all okay for the time being at least. I'll talk to you guys again after the Swiss and the Germans finish with Number I mean Hijo Rudicio...d'oh...ahh forget it. Call me when something actually happens in this case."

* Late Breaking News: Insiders have reported that Ivan Basso has recently changed his dog's name to "Bjarne."