Friday, July 27, 2007

You Asked For It

So...I guess this has been a crazy Tour. And considering that I have a number of unanswered emails in my Inbox from friends and family asking me "WTF?", I figured this may be a good opportunity to maintain my well-earned reputation of spotty correspondence and get some thoughts out there in a completely public and impersonal forum. Sorry kids but it's all about efficiency right now.

While it’s impossible to cover everything, here are a few of my thoughts on the proceedings:

First of all, doping is something that I have unfortunately grown accustomed to. I obviously don’t like it, but I realize that cheating is a function of human nature and there will likely never be a truly “pure” sport when there is this much coin involved. It goes on in every walk of life…cycling is just under the microscope more often.

Some newer issues for me involve the way this whole “cleansing process” is being handled. By the UCI and ASO, WADA, the teams, the media and even the riders themselves.

For example, when you kick out the leader of the biggest race in the world based on the Italian TV testimony of a former racer who says he saw him in the Dolomites when he should have been in Mexico…you pretty much tell everyone that they are fair game to be taken down by speculation. That is SCARY. With the money at stake for these Pros, the prospect of shady leaks and hearsay being a determining factor in who is and who is not allowed to race (to earn a living) is very real. That’s horrifying.

Imagine if Baseball or Football wouldn’t let people play if ANYONE within shouting distance of a journalist said that so-and-so was on the juice or cheating? Regardless of hard proof. There wouldn’t be a game played in either league. FOR THE LAST FIFTY YEARS!!!! And the cost associated with leveling the Hall of Fame buildings for each sport would be astronomical.

I guess proof is kind of unnecessary at this point. Who needs a positive test or a completed B-Sample analysis? Especially when the Labs are in cahoots with the Race Organizers and whoever else willing to pay them more than their piddly annual salary for a juicy leak? You think these frogs in the Labs don’t have a stake in this? No leak money if there isn’t a positive, right? And the bigger the name…the bigger the stack of small, unmarked Euros right?

Now, I’m not being pessimistic here…I’m being rational. This is human nature we’re talking about. There has been a pretty clear precedent for this type of activity in all those dusty old history books. Throw in the multi-million dollar pissing match being waged by the UCI and the ASO and the riders all of the sudden become chess pieces in the INFINITELY more corrupt world of big business. Do you think these organizations care if a rider is falsely accused and loses everything? I can’t say for certain, but considering the UCI’s history of doping prosecution and the ASO’s shareholder interests…I’ll say no, they don’t. Especially if it makes the “other” organization look bad and strengthens their own side in the battle for dollars.

Honestly, I have to wonder if Rasmussen (who, I admit, does have a suspect history within the whispery rider-world) was something of a pawn in all of this. He may have been a “Man In Black” or a downright cheater, I don’t know, but with regard to the Hard Data he played by the rules of the game. He pushed them to their limits but he stayed within them nonetheless. Does that make him a deserving winner of the Tour?

Well…I can’t say…but the clock said so. But apparently, the clock is not the only judge in the Tour de France. Even though just a few days ago the ASO, the UCI and Rabobank all spoke in support of him. Not so fast Chicken.

One of the things that I find most disconcerting is the willingness of the organizations, the media, the teams and even a fair amount of the riders themselves to immediately presume that someone is guilty. Prior to a B-sample test, prior to the rider being formally notified and even prior to a positive result. I understand that more often than not, where there is smoke there is fire, but I also seem to recall of a number of historical circumstances where smoke-based prosecution didn’t turn out very well. For anyone.

Having entire teams pulled from the race because one guy may or may not have cheated is just plain stupid. And really pretty childish. Once again, I understand the notion that one must be accountable and realize that their actions will affect others, but…when has this type of behavior EVER mattered or determined whether or not someone was going to break the rules? Yeah…probably not since 5th grade. In the ADULT world, all it does is unfairly punish those that have followed the rules and make them more bitter about the whole process. The bottom line is that those that feel they need to cheat…will cheat. Whether their classmates get mad at them or not.

The team-wide expulsion also completely ignores the fact that most of these guys “compete” with their teammates more than they do with anyone else. How much more money do you get from Cofidis or Astana if you make the Tour team? I don’t know…but I bet it’s a bigger chunk than you get riding the Tour of Austria, wearing the exact same jersey. The teammates are going to likely be the last guys to know if one of their own is cheating. They’d probably be better off telling someone on another team that they won’t be fighting for a roster spot with. How can those within the SPORT not understand this? Punishing the team as a whole is the definition of cutting of your head to spite your nose.

Once again, imagine if this were another sport. “Umm, yeah, sorry New York Yankees. How about you guys leave the World Series because we think that Jason Giambi may have taken some performance-enhancing drugs at some point? You okay with that? Sorry Jeter. Sorry Rivera. Giambi may or may not have done something, but just to be safe, we’d like it if you left for an indeterminate amount of time.”

Or better yet…can you imagine Steinbrenner pulling the team because he thought someone had been on the juice? But then again…I don’t think Steinbrenner is a French name. Can you imagine The Boss running a French cycling team? He’d fire everyone in about 4 days. Joe Torre and Johann Bruyneel could be brothers from different mothers though. Super cool cats, the both of them. Lots of similarities there.

But that’s where the similarities between American Sports and European pro cycling seem to end. And even though it’s frustrating to watch juiced-up freaks go undetected or unnoticed in Baseball and Football while Professional Cycling is actually making efforts to clean itself up, at least we have the hope of a more legitimate product in the end. The harder you look, the more you find. The cleansing process could certainly be handled in a more professional and intelligent fashion but at least it’s happening.

Needless to say, cycling’s hands are pretty dirty right now but at least it has acknowledged the funk. I just hope that the “cleansing process” (and I use that term with all of the historical weight it deserves) does not claim too many innocent victims.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


“And at the Tour de Festivus dinner, you gather your family around, and tell them all the ways they have disappointed you over the past year!”

“I got a lot of problems with you people! And now, you're gonna hear about it. You, Professional Cycling, the newspapers tell me your sport STINKS!

“Sinkewitz, Vinokourov, Moreni and Rasmussen. You guys may have really blown it for everyone. Or maybe not. Maybe it was the terrifying possibility that increased tests performed under increased external stress would likely increase the likelihood of errors generated by an under-paid, over-worked group of poorly-trained lab technicians. I don’t know and it doesn’t matter because you were done-for the moment those results were leaked. Or whatever the standard process is. Go get lawyers because that ‘contract’ is likely not worth the paper it was written on.”

“ASO and UCI. You guys are like two spoiled kids, so quick to blame and overreact. You both cry about the scourge of doping in cycling and yet you fail to understand that a unified front, without ulterior motives and rash judgment, is the best way to affect change. Or maybe you just care about the sponsors and the cash to run your empires…er…businesses…um…organizations?”

-- If Frank Costanza was a cycling fan.

I could never get as riled up as Frank Costanza but I have to tell you…this has been a pretty frustrating few days as a bike racing enthusiast.

Oh, you think so Doctor?

There are a lot of thoughts and theories that I simply don't have the time to articulate right now however, I think most people are just kind of shaking their heads at this point. But those with a more intimate knowledge of or connection to professional cycling could use a healthy dose of Serenity Now in the wake of this 3-week French Soap Opera.

But instead of seeking refuge elsewhere (Seinfeld DVD's), I’m sitting here watching a replay of the most important stage of the Tour de France which was won by the overall leader and yellow jersey wearer. Who was subsequently fired from his team and removed from the race later that evening.

Because he was in Italy when his “papers” said he should have been in Mexico.

I can’t say what he did or didn’t do except that he didn’t test positive for anything. But…I guess that is not really important when the governing bodies decide they don’t want you to win a particular race. Sorry Chicken…I guess it wasn’t meant to be. If you got kicked out of the Tour because of an “administrative error” only, it will be one of the greatest shames in the history of this sport.

And I am watching this stage the day after watching replays of a race won by the most dynamic personality in the Tour. Who was then kicked out of the race for alleged blood doping.

It’s become a pretty depressing evening and then…

I see the clip of the naked guy running alongside Levi after his attack on the Col d’Aubique and start laughing hysterically. That guy was hauling ass. Bare white ass. And he's like the fifth or sixth naked guy I've seen running alongside riders this year. Not to mention the Borat slingshot sightings. The Devil is going to have to start wearing butt-less tights just to keep up. Or maybe not.

And then it hit me like a dog into a carbon fiber rim. The Tour is RIDICULOUS.

How can anything surprise us when naked people are allowed to run along the playing field and stray dogs can be a legitimate hazard?

I mean seriously, what other event has the WORLD’S BEST ATHLETES in the most important part of the most important race actually have a completely naked spectator run alongside them for like 100 meters? Within inches…ridiculous.

This is why I love the Tour and hate the Tour.

I hate how crazy and dangerous and scandalous it is. I hate that it has become bigger than all of the other fantastic races combined in the eyes of the public and the sponsors. I hate that it dominates the understanding (or lack thereof) of all the stale LA-leftover psuedofans and the U.S. news sources, who all consistently portray my favorite sport like a joke.

But I love bike racing. And I love getting completely absorbed by the Tour every summer. I love the competition and the suffering. The scenery and the spectacle. It is truly the greatest sporting event in the world.

But again, that’s part of why I hate it. It’s a vicious cycle…and we still have a few days left.

Dr. J's Puzzler o' the Day -- Below is a little word game I just came up with. See if you can fill in the blanks for these general definitions and locate any similarities to the current situation in professional cycling. Maybe, maybe not. Just wanted to do a little research…

As a result of ___________, suspicions were often given credence despite inconclusive or questionable evidence, and the level of threat posed by a person's real or supposed associations or beliefs was often greatly exaggerated. Many people suffered loss of employment, destruction of their careers, and even imprisonment. Many of these punishments came about through trial verdicts later overturned, laws that would be declared unconstitutional, dismissals for reasons later declared illegal or actionable, or extra-legal procedures that would come into general disrepute.

In modern terminology _____ ____ also has a metaphorical usage, referring to the act of seeking and persecuting any perceived enemy, particularly when the search is conducted using extreme measures and with little regard to actual guilt or innocence.

The practice of involuntary commitment has been described as a _____ ____, with systematic bias in the standards for involuntary commitment, the search for people to involuntarily commit, and the judicial procedures that may result in their commitment.

The term _________ describes a situation, idea, or condition that is identified as being inimical to the welfare of a free-society. An attitude and a policy of control by propaganda, misinformation, denial of truth, and manipulation of the past (including the "unperson"--a person whose past existence is expunged) practiced by modern repressive governments…or governing bodies.

And finally…________ is an annual holiday invented in 1966 by Reader's Digest writer and editor Dan O'Keefe and introduced to popular culture by O’Keefe’s son Daniel, a scriptwriter for Seinfeld.

Okay that last one was just for fun. I'm not saying...I'm just saying.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Cold Blooded Super Freak

July 23, 2007 - Loudenvielle, France

After destroying the peloton en route to victory in Stage 15 of the Tour de France, Alexandre Vinokourov made a surprising admission during his post-race press conference on Monday. When asked how he was able to bounce back from disastrous days to earn wins in Saturday's time trial and Monday's mountain stage, Vino stated in simple, yet slightly accented English, "I am a Cold Blooded Super Freak."

At first, the largely European crowd of journalists were unsure of what the Kazakh rider meant. A moment of awkward silence was then broken by an American journalist who exclaimed, "You mean, like...Rick James?"

"Of course like Rick James. Who else could I possibly be referring to?" responded Vinokourov incredulously. "I owe everything to legendary Motown funk artist Rick James. Without him I would be nothing."

At this point, the normally stoic rider from the southern steppes of Kazakhstan launched into a remarkable account of clashing cultures that resulted in the creation of one of the world's best bicycle racers.

"I first met Rick when he came to my hometown of Petropavlovsk in Kazakhstan back in 1995, three years before I turned pro and right after he had been let out of jail. You remember, for the whole crack pipe deal?" began the 33 year-old leader of the Astana team.

"Anyway, I remembered hearing 'Can't Touch This' by MC Hammer back in the day and recalled that the sample was actually from some guy named Rick James. Someone told me that the original song was called 'Super Freak' and I immediately thought that was the best nickname in the world. I tried to get people to call me 'Super Freak' but it never really stuck. I'll always just be 'Vino' I guess."

The former T-Mobile rider continued, "So he comes to town and I'm as excited as if I had just beaten Levi Leipheimer for 5th place in the Tour. And then I end up scoring back stage passes to Rick's show. I really can't tell you what I saw back there but...yeah, I thought about some of that stuff during the time trial on Saturday."

"I mean...just the excitement of it all, you know?" clarified the winner of the 2005 Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic. "RJ, that's what he wanted me to call him, was actually a pretty big bike racing fan and was always like 'Yeah, motha#!%#in' Vino! You my main man Vino!' He used to always say that right before he asked me to smoke with him or burn someone with his pipe. Yeah...Rick was the best."

It was then that the man known for his attacking nature got slightly choked up as he recalled his final days with the popular funk musician and songwriter. "You know...I have had some people that we're very close to me lose their lives too early. The first was my dear friend and fellow Kazakh professional cyclist Andre Kivilev and the second was my main man Rick James. It was difficult to lose two people that I had so much in common with in such a short period of time. But it made me strong for the 2005 season and I silently dedicated my victories at L-B-L and the Champs to him."

The room had grown quiet in solemn respect as the Astana team captain slowly unzipped the collar of his sweater to reveal a string of gold chains with various crosses and medallions hanging from them. "Some of you may have noticed that I and my teammate Andreas Kloden have been rocking some pretty hefty bling during this Tour. In fact, the reason I crashed was because my necklaces moved and caused me to lose my balance. But that's cool, these are Rick James' chains man. I'm talking 'bout Rick James b&%$!, you know what I'm sayin?"

"He gave them to me when we hooked up after the San Francisco Grand Prix in 2003. I think that weekend took a few years off my career but I have to say that Rick's spirit has been with us this Tour. Doing sweet early on...eating it and losing almost all hope...then a mild resurgence and now who knows? Hopefully we won't be found dead of cardiac arrest with a bunch of pharmaceuticals and other drugs in our systems. But there's a lot of racing left never know man."

The reporters had begun to murmer amongst themselves at this point and a French journalist asked what we should expect from Vinokourov and his Astana team in the final week of the Tour. The blonde Kazakh pulled the microphone from the stand and began to seranade the crowd with the following lyrics from Cold Blooded and Super Freak by Rick James.

"If we try
To get to know each other
You might find
You couldn’t trade me for another

She's a very kinky girl
The kind you don't take home to mother
She will never let your spirits down
Once you get her off the street, ow girl"

Then Vinokourov dropped the microphone on the stage, pointed to the crowd, then to the left and walked off the stage as we all looked on in silence.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The TdF Halfway House of Pain

Now that we're a little over halfway through the Tour de France, I thought it would be a good time to put the first 11 stages in perspective and share some thoughts on the action so far. Forgive me if it gets a little freestyle in here but let's go back to Wee Britain for the start:

Prologue – While Fabian Cancellara put the Tony Montana on the rest of the field as expected, it was the performance of Andreas Kloden that really impressed me. You could fit two Klodens in that Rainbow striped skin-suit that the big Swiss-made CSC tank wears, but he basically gave a body blow to the rest of the contenders on Day 1.

Unfortunately, DZ was not firing (I mean, he only did the Giro and the Dauphine right before the last-minute Tour nod. Knuckle up.) and I had a feeling something was wrong when he lost a handful of seconds to the Magic Karpets' ride immediately. At least Cancellara seemed more comfortable speaking English in front of the camera than Zab did a few years ago.

Stage 1 – He may only be 5'7" but I'm pretty sure you don't want to get into it with Robbie McEwen. My Father always says that he and the Pocket Rocket are the exact same size and I don't think you want to start anything with Mr. Arnold either.

The crash was terribly unfortunate for R-Mac but his domination of the other sprinters in the first stage will make the Tour a success for him regardless. Did he have an extra gear on his bike or something? It didn't even seem fair. It would have been fun to see him go at it for the rest of the Tour but if he kept the form from Stage 1, he would have been untouchable anyway.

Stage 2 – It's taken a little while to sink in but I think I'm okay with a guy named Gert winning a stage of the Tour. He seems like a pretty good guy and I always like it when the Donkey gets the glory over the Thoroughbred. Not that Steegmans is a Donkey but…you know what I mean. Donkey Kong maybe.

One of the things that impressed me the most in this stage was the form that Gertrude displayed in the final kick. It was slightly uphill and the Really Big Belgian domestique was rock solid while the Other Really Big Belgian superstar and the rest of the sprinters were flailing all over the place, hopping wheels and generally being spastic. But Gert's line was the cleanest and his form was far superior. Boonen couldn't come around even if he had wanted to at that point. But I think that Tomeke was genuinely happy for his leadout man.

Stage 3 - I watched the finish of this stage maybe 10 times and saw something different with every viewing. The race basically exploded all over the road from the little cobble section and Cancellara's attack was the dynamite. Guys were looking around like "Did someone on a motorcycle jump throught there?"

By the time they realized what had happened Scarface had snorted the whole bag and was unloading everything he had on the field. Once again, if you watch the finish closely you see how solid Cancellara was even at that point. Just rock solid while the other guys were wiggling all over the road. I think that was one of the best finishes I have ever seen.

Stage 4 - Big Thor Hushovd. Owes Julian Dean big time. Great leadout by the Kiwi.

I think that Al Trautwig may have a man-crush on Thor Hushovd like George Costanza with Tony, the Mimbo. What ever happened to Dan Cortese and MTV Sports anyway...?

Stage 5 - This was actually a great stage. It reminded me of Milan-Sanremo and had the feeling of a one-day race for some reason. Pippo Pozzato continued the proud tradition of the Velo Fro and did his best Cipollini impersonation to take the win from Oscar Freire. I kind of worried that Pozzato would get a little too cool after he won MSR last year but Pippo takes care of business. That mane is out of hand though.

The BIG news of the day was the Kazakh voodoo Curse of Borat that came out in full force on the Astana team. I almost expected to see Greg Brady's Tiki head from Hawaii on one of Vino's many gold chains. Put it back in the cave Vino, didn't the Bunch teach you anything? Maybe they only had the first episode in Kazakhstan and never saw Greg's wipeout or the tarantula in Part 2.

A-Klod was the first to deck it off the side of the road and fractured his coccyx. I've never done it myself, but that sounds heinous. The crash looked so weak though. Like a 2 on the Nascar fanbase-o-meter.

Then Vino got a little air after his chain slipped and absolutely shredded himself at a scary speed. The footage of the following motorcycle having layed it down to avoid hitting him after the crash speaks to how quickly it must have happened. It was a valiant ride in to the finish but I didn't think either Kloden or Vino would start the next day. Super tough.

Stage 6 - At this point it was almost a matter of checking Boonen off the stage win list. It was a dicey sprint though and T-Boo had to make about 4 significant moves before he kicked through in front of Freire again. The overhead shot of the sprints are always fascinating. It's ridiculous how chaotic that last k is.

Bradley Wiggins actually put in a decent ride although he didn't seem too enthused about a solo day. It was fitting that a Brit got the most airtime that day and it did bring attention to the anniversary of Tom Simpson's death. It actually seemed somewhat callous that the Tour did not recognize it in some way after the British rider's request. Don't even get me started on the ASO right now though.

Stage 7 - Linus Gerdemann gave German cycling a brief rest from all of its recent grief by shelling his breakaway companions and enduring one vicious case of cotton-mouth on the final ride over the Colombiere and into Le Grand Bornand. He took the yellow, polka-dot and white jerseys along with the stage. Safe to say, it was a pretty solid result for the young Hilary Swank look-alike.

Big thumbs up for Bob Stapleton and the possibility of a truly clean team...oh, what? Huh...

Stage 8 - The first real mountain stage ended with a Chicken in Yellow and a Goat in the French National Champion's jersey. Rasmussen continues to basically just call his shot, pick a stage and leave everyone behind in the mountains. It's crazy. Never asks for help and guys just drop off his pace. He doesn't accelerate super hard, he just goes. People are underestimating him and he knows it. Don't sleep on Chicken.

Moreau attacked. Guys covered him. He attacked again. Got covered. Repeat. Repeat. French get all lathered up about his chances despite apparent mental handicap. Repeat. Repeat.

That group could have put BIG time into Levi, Sastre and the other guys that played it cool. But Moreau ruined it.

A-Klod impressed me again by nursing Vino through this stage while an easy-looking Kashechkin followed Moreau's antics. Kloden played the Number Two role again, but I think he may have kind of given up the Tour at that point after his crash. I don't know, it's such an odd dynamic with those two.

- By the way: I saw an interview with Horner the other day and he flat out called Kashechkin (usually but not necessarily accurately pronounced 'Kash-Ay-Kin') a name that I had never heard before. I'm pretty sure he called him "Cassius King" but I could be wrong. It could have been "Cassius Keen" as well. It certainly wasn't Kashechkin though. Does C-Ho know something that Paul, Phil, Bob and I don't? Horner makes me question my reality sometimes.

The "Not So Fast Young Man" Award went to Michael Rogers after crashing out of the most dangerous break of the Tour so far. Yes! NO!!!!!!!!!!!

Stage 9 - It was unfortunate that the results sheet couldn't decide whether Juan or Mauricio Soler won the stage but one of them did. And he did it in a pure "These Are Not Mountains To Me" display of Colombian climbing bravado. How do you say "Altitude Schmaltitude" in Spanish?

Contador was riding like a crazed spider-monkey that had gotten on a bike at the circus and was roaming around the course and Popovich reminded me of a Russian mobster. I bet he's broken thumbs before. Disco is kind of a hard team.

Vino really cracked which was sad to see. It was interesting to see Horner and Vandevelde in the Vino and Cassius Keen group though. Even though they lost a chunk of time, that was a pretty select bunch.

Stage 10 - The record books say that Cedric Vasseur won the 10th stage sprint into Marseille but I'm still not entirely sure. In my world Jens Voigt goes in the break, Jens Voigt win the race. I know there are other possible realities but we'll see. I think JV presented by Chuck Norris will still have something more to say about it.

It did remind me of Henri from Cheers, yelling "France Wins! France Wins!" followed by Norm saying "Wow. You don't hear that very often" though. Which was nice. Is it wrong that Henri is my favorite French guy ever? The "telephone number contest" episode with Sam is pure gold.

Stage 11 - So much for another mellowish flat stage. Astana caught Christophe Moreau and AGR2-D2 sleeping after Le Chien and Gerrans touched up and all of the more French podium contender. One couldn't help but think that Vino woke up mad and would have shelled anyone if they missed the split, but it must have been a little more encouraging to know that it was The Dog getting dropped. Moreau was the one attacking when Vino struggled up the Colombiere.

Oh and Robbie Hunter won the sprint and Freddie Rodriguez got taken down in the final stretch. Freddie continues to bear the curse of Emeryville. Maybe living that close to IKEA messes with your mojo.

Well, that's the first 11 stages. A lot has happened but I still have no idea who will win the Tour. I do think people are understimating Rasmussen but I could see Valverde, Evans or Levi winning the thing in the final TT. Levi has the praying-Landis aero position and technique now. And I know it's hotter in Santa Rosa than France so he should be in good shape for the final week.

We really won't know anything about the podium until that final TT though. But it should be a fun week.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Chicken and The Fat Man

Not many people know this, but new Tour de France leader Michael Rasmussen and I go way back. Most people think that he got the nickname “Chicken” because he is so skinny but in fact, I am actually the primary reason he was given the name when we were mountain bike racing back in Denmark. It’s kind of a crazy story and became something of an issue between us for a while but things are more friendly now. It did get a little chilly when he and I met up at the Tour of California recently though, so I don’t know if he’s totally forgiven me.

You see, it all began back in Denmark in the mid 90’s. Even though mountain bike racing was still a growing sport in Europe at the time, it was often difficult to make ends meet as an American so I was forced to pick up odd jobs from time to time in between races. As I was wandering around the town of Tollose on the day before the next event, I happened to run into Rasmussen and a few of his Danish teammates outside a coffee shop. They invited me to sit with them for a little bit while they practiced their English and asked me questions about Missy Giove and John Tomac.

After a little while a random guy came over and asked us if we were familiar with the Danish children’s program Bamses Billedbog. I had no idea what he was talking about but the Danes went crazy and started talking about how they always watched it when they were growing up. Apparently, it is a Sesame Street-esque kind of program where people dress in animal costumes and the primary characters are a Bear named Bamse and a Chicken named Kylling. As it turned out, the guy that was talking to us was actually the actor that played Bamse the Bear and he was trying to get someone to fill in for his partner, Kylling the Chicken, at a promotional event that was tied to the bike race.

At first, nobody was too excited to get into a Chicken costume but the Danish guys knew I was a little short on cash so they translated the situation for me and talked the actor who played the Bear into letting an American handle the role. The guy’s car was parked right out in front of the coffee shop so he opened up the trunk and sure enough, pulled out an elaborate Chicken outfit. By this point I was actually pretty excited about playing Kylling for a bunch of Danish kids but I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up.

Sadly, the reason that the Bear actor needed help was because the Chicken actor had apparently gotten a little too Hollywood (or whatever the Danish equivalent is) and had developed a fairly hefty cocaine addiction as a result of the show’s success. Not only was this problematic from a reliability standpoint (as evidenced by my newfound job) but it had also been difficult on the wardrobe department as they had to constantly alter the Chicken costume to account for the actor’s dramatically falling weight.

To make a long story short, I had barely gotten the stockings of the Chicken suit up to my calves when the material became dangerously compromised. I didn’t think it would be cool to ruin the costume so I gave it back to the Bear actor and tried to apologize for having the legs of a normal bike racer. At this point, the Bear actor was starting to panic because he was going to be in serious trouble if he didn’t find someone about 5’10” who weighed less than 140lbs. Immediately, we all looked at the only man for the job.

Rasmussen was actually really cool about it. At first. We all basically guilted him into putting the Chicken outfit on and a few minutes later he piled in to the Bear’s car and took off. It was the next day that things got tense between me and the New Chicken. As it turned out, the children’s event that they had gone to went really late and the Bear didn’t end up bringing Rasmussen back to the team hotel until nearly midnight. Furthermore, all the little grubby kids were sneezing and slobbering all over the costume and by the time he got to the start line the next day, he had begun to sniffle. I rode over to him as we were warming up to ask how it went and he just looked over at me and said, “Not well Fatty, not well.”

Maybe it was a mental thing as a result of the “Fatty” comment but I ended up flatting twice and pulled out about halfway through the race. I can’t remember how Rasmussen ended up finishing but I distinctly recall hearing “GO CHICKEN” and “KYLLING RASMUSSEN” at various points throughout the event and for the remainder of the time I raced with him. Little did I know that he would be called “Chicken” for the rest of his career

When I asked him how he felt about people misinterpreting the origin of his nickname at the Tour of California he laughed and said, “Hey, I’d rather be known for being skinny than for dressing up in a Chicken costume.” Then he called me “Fatty” again.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

What The Fabian Is Going On Around Here?

In an effort to deal with the fact that one of the toughest guys in Professional cycling is named Fabian, I thought it would be interesting to research the origin of the man in the yellow jersey’s moniker. As it turns out, the name Fabian actually has a pretty interesting history. Now, I wouldn’t encourage naming any of your kids Fabian (or even pets for that matter) but hey, it worked out pretty well for Mr. and Mrs. Cancellara. I would also like to point out that Fabian Wegmann, the current German National Champion, is certainly deserving of attention as well, but for some reason I’m more comfortable with a Fabian as the last winner of the San Francisco Grand Prix than with a Fabian in the yellow jersey.

Anyway, Fabian is the English form of the late Roman name Fabianus. This was the name given to freed slaves which originally belonged to a Roman family with the family name Fabius, that derived from the Latin faba for the broad bean, an important food crop in the Roman Empire.

-- The most important part of this is that the name comes from the Latin term for the broad bean. I don’t really know why this is important but I feel that it is.

Additionally, the Fabian Society is a British socialist intellectual movement, whose purpose is to advance the socialist cause by gradualist and reformist, rather than revolutionary means. It is best known for its initial ground-breaking work beginning in the late 19th century and then up to World War I. The society laid many of the foundations of the Labour Party during this period; subsequently, it affected the policies of newly independent British colonies, especially India, and is still in existence today.

-- Fitting that Cancellara gradually reformed the leader board of the Tour in Britain with his prologue victory. It would have been revolutionary but we kind of expected him to do well. His victory in Stage 3 laid the foundation for the work that his team CSC (aka the Labour Party) would have to do over the course of the first week.

There was also Pope Saint Fabian, the bishop of Rome from January 236 to January 20, 250, who succeeded Pope Anterus. Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. Vi. 29) relates how the Christians, having assembled in Rome to elect a new bishop, saw a dove alight upon the head of Fabian, a layman and stranger to the city, who was thus marked out for this dignity, and was at once proclaimed bishop by acclamation, although there were several famous men among the candidates for the vacant position.

-- Now this is kind of a wild little story. If only we still chose the most influential people in our society as a result of birds landing on their heads. Ahhh, the good old days. Now we just go by name recognition.

Next, we get a little more current with Fabiano Anthony Forte, who performed as Fabian, (born February 6, 1943 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) and was an American teen idol of the late 1950s and early 1960s. He rose to national prominence after performing several times on American Bandstand.

His career in music basically ended with the payola scandal of the 1960s, when it was revealed that his records were doctored significantly to improve his voice.

-- Okay, you don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to realize the similarities between the singer Fabian and a number of professional cyclists who rose to fame early in their careers only to be exposed as having benefited from some scientific manipulation. Instead of doctoring blood values, Fabian Forte doctored the sound of his voice. Performance enhancing in the music industry? It’s a good thing no musicians use drugs though.

Then there is the Fabian strategy, which is a military strategy in which pitched battles are avoided in favor of wearing down an opponent through a war of attrition. While avoiding decisive battles, the side employing this strategy harasses its enemy to cause attrition and loss of morale. Employment of this strategy implies that the weaker side believes time is on its side, but it may also be adopted when no feasible alternative strategy can be devised.

This strategy derives its name from Quintus Fabius Maximus, the dictator of the Roman Republic given the thankless task of defeating the great general of Carthage, Hannibal, in southern Italy during the Second Punic War (218-202 BC).

Though it proved a political disaster for Fabius, eventually the Fabian strategy proved itself. The most noted use of Fabian strategy in American history was by George Washington, sometimes called the "American Fabius" for his use of the strategy.

Later in history Fabian tactics would be employed all over the world. Used against both Napoleon’s Grande Armée and Hitler’s Third reich, the Fabian tactics proved to be a decisive strategy in the defense of Russia.

-- Now, I don’t know if Bjarne Riis is a scholar of military strategies but it wouldn’t surprise me. From the intense boot camps the team goes through every year to the methodical soldier-like mentality of guys like Jens Voigt, I have to assume that Cancellara and Riis have their own Fabian Strategy for bike races. Specifically, they certainly used the element of attrition during Stage 3 to wear down the field and allow Cancellara to jump away from the group after the sprinters teams began to tire in the final stretch. The other guys were on bikes too but they may as well have been on elephants the way he took off.

There was also Hurricane Fabian, a powerful Cape Verde-type hurricane that hit Bermuda in early September during the 2003 Atlantic hurricane season. Fabian was the strongest hurricane to hit Bermuda since Hurricane Arlene in 1963. It was both the most damaging and the first hurricane to cause a death on the island since 1926.

In all, Fabian caused around $300 million in damage and eight deaths.

-- So far, Cancellara is only responsible for around $100 million in psychological damage to the peloton but can be blamed for the deaths of 188 cyclists during the prologue of the Tour.
Then there is Marcus Alexander "Mark" Bagwell (born January 10, 1970), an American professional wrestler, better known by his ring name, Buff Bagwell. He is best known for his nine year career with World Championship Wrestling between 1992 and 2001.

He trained under Steve Lawler and debuted in 1990, working for North Georgia Wrestling as The Fabulous Fabian.
-- I don’t really have anything to say here other than being saddened by the fact that cycling has recently been compared to professional wrestling by a number of ignorant American journalists. I think that all of the writers who have printed that should be forced to ride just one stage of the Tour. And then get thrown in a room with a few Australian and Belgian riders for a little education in peloton etiquette. Old school style. I’m talking to you Mike Lupica.

Also…good grief, there are regional wrestling organizations in Georgia? Do the North and South Georgia wrestling people have a Civil War kind of thing going on? I hate the American sporting landscape sometimes.
Finally (and I do mean finally, as in…bottom of the barrel) we have Fabian Basabe, Jr. (b. March 30, 1978) a U.S. socialite and all-around unpleasant human being.

The son of Fabian Basabe, Sr., a restauranteur in Bal Harbour, Florida, he gained publicity when he was photographed dancing with President Bush's daughter Barbara at a New York party.

He has also appeared on the E! network's reality series Filthy Rich: Cattle Drive.

-- Okay, any goodwill generated by Fabian Cancellara and Wegmann is potentially offset by the asinine behavior of this knob. Anyone who watched even a second of the Cattle Drive show (or has a fiancée that watches E! like I watch ESPN) can attest that this guy is maybe one of the least redeeming characters in the country. Having lived the majority of my life in Marin and Boulder Counties, I can speak with a fair degree of expertise to the subject of “grotesquely arrogant and entitled rich kids who think they are the center of the universe” and this guy is worse than anyone I have ever come across. He is the worst Fabian ever, by a long shot.

Come on, dancing with Barbara Bush? Oh dear. And that’s probably the least offensive thing he has ever done. Just a deeply questionable person. But I blame his parents so I guess I should put Fabian Basabe Sr. on the list as well. There's something funky about much of the restaurant business.

So anyway, now you know a little more about the past and present history of the name Fabian. It’s still not my favorite moniker but I guess I’ll have to get used to it. It looks like Cancellara and Wegmann are going to be here for a while. I'm cool with that.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Say What? Oh No He Didn't

Instead of breaking down the Tour de France like everyone else, I thought now would be a good time to revisit some quotes that may or may not have been uttered during the many pre-race press conferences. In this exercise, you will have to choose who the listed statements are attributed to. For reference, all of these quotes are real. Once again, I wish I could make this stuff up.

Here We Go:

"I make love to pressure."
-- Golden State Warriors Guard Stephen Jackson OR Alexandre Vinokourov discussing the pressure of being the favorite to win the Tour de France.

"You only get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so many times."
-- Steelers CB Ike Taylor OR Levi Leipheimer talking about leading an American team in the Tour?

"All you're doing right now is just flabbergasting your mouths because there are no solid answers right now."
-- Emmitt Smith to reporters at Cardinals camp OR Oscar Periero on the media’s dismissal of his chances?

"I may have smoked too much weed, but I wasn't taking drugs or anything."
-- Mike Tyson on his loss to Lennox Lewis OR Miguel Indurain on why he lost the ’96 Tour to Bjarne Riis?

"I didn't quit because I failed a drug test. I failed a drug test because I was ready to quit."
-- Ricky Williams OR Jan Ullrich?

"I wasn't 100 percent into it and if I'm not 100 percent into something, I can't do it. That's just how real I am."
-- Mase on why he retired from rap OR Bjarne Riis on why he will not attend the 2007 Tour de France?

"Everybody who knows me knows how I get down."
-- Michael Vick denying rumors that he's gay OR Alejandro Valverde responding to Puerto accusations?

"I drink to excess, I gamble to excess, but everyone knows it, so it's not a big deal."
-- Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman to MLB officials OR Floyd Landis’ Manager on his next job application?

"It's one of those things when you are in a role you have to do what they ask you to do. If they want me to come in and stick it in, I have to come in and stick it in."
-- Jerome Bettis on his changing role with the Steelers OR the former T-Mobile doctors on their doping complicity?

"The knee feels fine, I've been training Confuciously."
--Mike Tyson telling ESPN's Pedro Gomez about his latest comeback OR Christian Vandevelde speaking of his recent crashes?

"It's bad for me because I've never been in jail that long."
-- Rafael Furcal on his 21-day jail sentence OR Dr. Fuentes discussing the possibility of a criminal conviction?

"I may not be a class act, but I'm an American."
-- Ron Artest on wanting to play for the Olympic team OR George W. Bush explaining why he is rooting for Levi Leipheimer in the 2007 Tour de France?

"If someone saw me in the shower, they'd never think I was on the juice."
-- Jason Schmidt OR Lance Armstrong?

"What comes out of the microwave hot doesn't always stay hot. I know, because I eat bagels in the morning."
-- Shaquille O'Neal, following the Heat's comeback win over the Celtics OR Dave Zabriskie commenting on mountain stages that start in the warmth of lower elevations?

"A completely magical bend of enchanting scents and flavors, with a hint of cupcakes."
-- Britney Spears on her new fragrance OR Freddy Rodriguez's description of the new Clif Bar flavor?

"Don't say I don't get along with my teammates. I just don't get along with some of the guys on the team."
-- Terrell Owens OR Gilberto Simoni?

"Every decade has had some taint."
-- Baseball commish Bud Selig downplaying the long-term effects of the current steroids problem OR WADA Chairman Dick Pound vowing to convict everyone that has ever doped in the history of organized sports?

"The sun has been there for 500, 600 years ... "
-- Mets outfielder Mike Cameron, after teammate Carlos Beltran lost a ball in the sun against the Dodgers OR Tour de France honchos Christian Prudhomme and Patrice Clerc explaining their understanding of science, facts and history?

"On a scale of one to 10, I would say 60 to 65 percent."
-- NBA union rep Billy Hunter, talking about how far apart the union and the owners are on the issues in the current NBA collective bargaining agreement negotiations OR UCI President Pat McQuaid describing the legitimacy of the new UCI anti-doping statement?

"He had to cut the wind with his balls, which is something we had to see."
-- 49ers coach Mike Nolan, commenting on the team's private workout with Alex Smith before the 2005 draft OR Johan Bruyneel on why he left Tom Danielson off the Discovery Channel Tour squad.

"It moisturizes my situation and maintains my sexy."
-- P. Diddy in an infomercial for Proactiv skin care OR the slogan for my new chamois cream.

"Don't get me wrong, everything the media writes is not wrong. But I'd say 99 percent of it is wrong, in my opinion, but I don't read the newspaper, so I don't know. I hear things, though."
-- Bears defensive back R.W. McQuarters OR WADA Chairman Dick Pound on his portrayal in the cycling media?

"Once again I have a problem, it's with my ass. I'm very worried. We'll see what will happen. I don't have a lot of time for recovery."
-- NBA player Eddie Curry on his off-season weight gain OR Oscar Freire discussing his recurring saddle-sore issues.

Now it’s just a matter of time before many memorable comments start flowing out of the booth with Phil, Paul, Bob and Trautwig. I predict that the first three will make me laugh and enjoy watching the Tour while Trautwig the Outsider makes blood come out of my ears as he mocks and diminishes the sport I love. Looking forward to it.

Big Thanks to the SG for much of this quote list.

Monday, July 2, 2007

I Am So Smart...S-M-R-T

They say that the United States is the land of the Free and the home of the Brave. Fitting with this reputation, it seems that a number of American cyclists view helmet use as somewhat akin to religion or politics or any number of personal choices we are fortunate enough to be able to make for ourselves in this country. You are free to wear one or not and you surely must be brave to ride without one but head, my life, my choice. In theory, this is a wondeful thing. And it is usually a good thing in practice as well, but unfortunately many Americans are idiots.

With that said, it is a free country and I learned long ago that it is pointless to argue such choices with most people. I also learned that personally incomprehensible decisions are not usually a direct reflection of overall intelligence. People make choices for personal reasons and as long as it doesn't affect me, why should I care right? And who am I to judge anyway?

Well, instead of telling you why I am willing be so critical by myself, I figured I would collect a little data and let the numbers do most of the talking. The truth is that not wearing a helmet is actually a pretty public choice and a fairly costly one at that. IN FACT:
Direct costs of cyclists' injuries due to not using helmets are estimated at $81 MILLION each year.

Indirect costs of cyclists' injuries due to not using helmets are estimated at $2.3 BILLION each year.

Your head, your life, your money? I know it's not a 1-1 cost to me personally but the numbers are staggering. Sadly, many safety laws are finally driven into effect not purely as a result of potential lives saved but also the potential "cost to society" savings. As a greater economic trickle down effect of people generally living slightly longer, slightly healthier, slightly more PRODUCTIVE lives, society as a whole benefits. Even if it means getting a ticket for not buckling your seatbelt or jaywalking. Makes sense to me but I guess we can afford 2.3 Billion because it will be a long time before there are far-reaching bicycle helmet laws.
Every dollar spent on a bike helmet saves society $30 in direct medical and additional costs.
While it is helpful to see information in this statistical context, sadly, a quantifiable financial burden is meaningless when considering the emotional and psychological toll on society. As myopic as we humans are, we don't live in a vacuum and we certainly don't ride in one. Only a fool believes that our actions are independent. Almost everything we do affects others and the reality is that we as cyclists are in a near constant dance with traffic, potholes, prairie dogs, other riders and any number of other road hazards that threaten to take us down at any time. WE KNOW THIS.

And yet...

Death rates for male bicyclists age 20-54 have substantially increased in recent years.

...despite the fact that...
619 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles in 2003. This is 7 percent fewer than in 2002 and down 38 percent since 1975.

...but then again...

Eighty-five percent of bicyclists killed in 2003 reportedly weren't wearing helmets.

Even though more people are wearing helmets these days and death rates are going down overall, it is sadly my demographic that is experiencing an increase in the rate of fatality. Using the statistics above, it can therefore be inferred that the majority of these deaths could have been avoided by using a helmet.

This is the demographic of sons, brothers and fathers. The guys who are essentially in their prime, young enough to stay active in a dangerous sport and hopefully aware enough to set a good example for their kids, friends, relatives, co-workers and basically anyone with a brain worth protecting. But our death rates are INCREASING. Are there that many fools out there? YES.

EXAMPLE: I always laugh when I see the Highway Patrol commercials warning about getting a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt. Last time I checked it was 2007! Seatbelts are still an issue? Seriously? Do people still drive without them on? In 2007? They should have their licenses revoked permanently because this has to be one of the most ridiculous examples of recklessness and a general disregard for safety. I'm serious, they should lose their driving privileges for being this foolish and dangerous. Because they won't take a half a second to put a seatbelt on.

But apparently seatbelt use still is a concern. To the point that they needed to make commercials about it. But they don't go for the tired old "This Incredibly Simple Act Can Save Your Life" routine, they go straight to the wallet and the sirens with Five-O. Driving in a car is unquestionably the most dangerous thing most of us ever do and in a true testament to human arrogance, I am certain that the majority of people are more afraid of a ticket than the possible result of not wearing a seatbelt. It terrifies me that these people are on the roads I ride and drive on. Terrifies me.

All the more reason to wear a helmet. I don't trust anyone behind the wheel of a car.

Please DO NOT ENJOY these Basic Numbers from many sources:

784 bicyclists died on US roads in 2005. 92% of them died in crashes with motor vehicles (720).
About 540,000 bicyclists visit emergency rooms with injuries every year. Of those, about
67,000 have head injuries, and 27,000 have injuries serious enough to be hospitalized.
1 in 8 of the cyclists with reported injuries has a brain injury.

Two-thirds of the deaths are from traumatic brain injury.
A very high percentage of cyclists' brain injuries can be prevented by a helmet, estimated at anywhere from 45 to 88 per cent.
Many years of potential life are lost because about half of the deaths are children under 15 years old.

Health Care Costs and Savings

The total annual cost of traffic-related bicyclist death and injury among children ages 14 and under is more than $2.2 billion.

Every dollar spent on a bike helmet saves society $30 in direct medical costs and other costs to society.

If 85 percent of all child cyclists wore bicycle helmets in one year, the lifetime medical cost savings could total between $109 million and $142 million.

CONCLUSION: Without getting into issues of personal freedom, the reality of the helmet use debate is that there is really only one intelligent decision. It's not really even a debate. There is a smart, responsible side and there is a foolish, irresponsible side. And the helmet-less side will always come out as the loser. Whether in a discussion or on the road.
Which side are you on?