Friday, July 25, 2008

TdF Pre TT Recap - Teen Wolf, Ditka and Fish

Now that we have had sufficient time to forget the illusions of Ricky Ricardo and Dilated Piepoli, this seems like a good opportunity to look back on the last week or so and see what aftertastes are lingering from our menu of TdF goodness. Let us all ignore (momentarily) the mess left by Saunier-Robert Duval-Byron Scott and the other misfits, while acknowledging (begrudgingly) the repercussions of stringent testing and appreciating (thoroughly) the outstanding performances of a largely clean Tour. Okay?


Mark Cavendish – Kind of fast

The young speedster whom I have now dubbed “Teen Wolf” made a shamockery of the bunch sprints of the 2008 Tour de France. I'm still not sure if he is more of a Michael J. Fox or Jason Bateman version but time will tell. It’s actually difficult to comment on Cav's wins because he generally makes it look absurdly easy to jump 5-10 spots and then open a 3 bike-length gap in the last 200 meters. Team Columbia was very strong and the field was Petacchi and Boonen-less but still…it’s just not that easy.

One of my favorite parts about the Cavendish Experience is the guaranteed post-race interview awkwardness. He is exceedingly grateful to his teammates and usually answers most questions with references to them - Good job so far PR guys. But then he always manages to sneak in a “If I’m anywhere near the front I will win for sure” kind of line which just totally ruins the façade of humility.

And his look of “Well…yeah. Duh” whenever the interviewer says that he proved he is the fastest, is absolutely great. Someone get this kid a self-esteem coach. He needs to work on the confidence. Sorry Meatball, but lookout Beijing.

Danny Pate – Close but no paté

It was another close call for the Garmin-Chipotle crew as Danny The Pate made the break and finished third in one of the hardest mountain stages in the Tour. Following up Frischkorn’s effort in Stage 3, it seems that the U.S. rookies are handling the biggest race in the world with remarkable courage and some darn good form.

Although it was especially heartbreaking to watch the final meters and post-race interview, The Pate should be proud of the effort and continues to prove that you can get to the top without compromising yourself. I just hope nobody called him Paté in the French press room.

Vande Velde – Better than Ditka

Staying with the Garmin-Chipotle theme, how about Christian Vande Velde? The kid from Illinois is making the Super Fans proud and again, setting a great example of a good guy, getting great results, the right way. Even Ditka could learn a thing or two from VDV.

The crash after getting detached on the Col de la Bonette will probably sneak into the “D’oh” column in his career retrospective but may actually be a good motivator for the TT on Saturday. I believe that he has a good ride left in him and certainly think that he can get on the podium if things go his way in the race of truth.

Regardless, the Chicago-land area is better known for Downers Grove and crit racing so it’s pretty cool to see VDV succeeding in France. Perhaps all his years in Boulder have a little something to do with that though. Actually, I wonder if he maybe he had a flashback of the annual carnage of Downers Grove after going so hard to bridge back up on the climb that caused him to crash on the descent. Just like home eh VDV?

Crashes and Descents – Winning and Losing the Hard Way

Speaking of crashing and descending, it seems like this Tour has been chock-full of both. Just about all of the favorites have hit the deck so far but there has also been an element of importance on descending in this year’s GC race that I don’t recall seeing much in the past. All crashes aside, I really enjoy the element of danger and risk that emerges when there is a tough descent near the finish of a stage. I’m guessing that Luis-Leon-Spinks Sanchez feels the same way after making his stage-winning move on the downslope.

Now, we all know that Pereiro has a flair for spectacular biffs but his aerial techniques apparently still need a little work. Matt Hoffman he is not. And as a result, his crash over the guardrail and onto the road below in Stage 15 was literally a nightmare. When the initial report came in that he had broken his femur (the biggest bone in the human body!) I felt like I was going to puke. Thankfully, he managed to escape with merely a fractured scapula so I ended up with just a little heartburn instead. I would imagine all the guys who had to ride past him as he lay screaming on the ground got a little verklempt as well.

Jon-Lee Hooker Augustyn’s Superman impression down the hillside was pretty scary at first but became somewhat comical once it was clear he was okay. Do we know if his bike ever stopped? Did he send a thank you note to the spectator that just happened to be standing there and helped him back up? These are the questions being overlooked in the Prime Time coverage.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see if the time that Menchov lost to Sastre, Evans and the Schlecks on the descent of the Bonette will come back to haunt him. I am always amazed that guys can work so hard and be so good on the climbs and then just lose it all back on the descent. It’s not a physiological issue – it’s all technique and mentality. To potentially lose the Tour de France because you can’t hold wheels on a descent is borderline inexcusable. Come on, you’re a Professional.

Bernhard Kohl – The Fish?

I have had the opportunity to see Bernhard Kohl up close and personal at the last few editions of the Tour of California and wasn’t really sure what to think of him. He’s a pretty tiny guy but his head is gigantic – so he kind of looks like a little kid on the bike.

But after watching him “swim” up the climbs of the 2008 Tour de France, as Bob Roll so eloquently described, I have become a huge fan of the young Austrian. I generally appreciate athletes with a lot of style and grace but often root for the guys that do it their own way – even if it looks weird. Kohl’s head-bobbing and swaying are almost like Jim Furyk’s golf swing or Rick Barry’s free throw shooting technique. Not exactly the prettiest to watch but certainly successful in getting the job done.

Now we just need to get Kohl a good nickname. I was thinking about “The Fish” but maybe we can do better than that. Perhaps “Porcupine Fish?” or “Puffer?” Hmm, I’m going to need to work on this one some more.

Sastre – It’s about time, literally and figuratively

There is not a single rider at the Tour de France that deserves to wear the yellow jersey more than Carlos Sastre. The diminutive Spaniard who Bjarne Riis and I call “Cahlos” has ridden a virtually spotless race so far and probably has the most accumulated credit in his Tour Luck Account. Plus, he’s just a really nice guy and has something like a dozen kids to take care of at home so he’s certainly going to be the sentimental favorite.

I also think that it would be fitting for CSC to win the Tour. They have been the best team so far and have really made the race exciting from a tactical standpoint. Say what you want about Bjarne Riis but the guy is like the Karl Rove of bike racing. Even though many people may not care for him – almost everyone respects his cunning and tactical sense. Plus, anyone that can put together a team like that needs to be recognized as a phenomenal leader. The whole team is a bunch of badasses but they all toe the company line because they know who they’ll have to answer to if they step out of it. I’d like to make a documentary called “CSC’s Brain.”

Anyway, Cahlos may not have gotten as much time on Evans as he would have hoped but I still believe that he can limit his losses and keep the jersey into Paris. The situation in last year’s final TT was very similar and Evans was not able to dislodge Contador. I see the same thing playing out this year except the gaps may be even smaller. Cattle has just been a little too rattled and tense, while Cahlos has been “muy tranquilo.” That will be the difference.

At the end of the day, or at the end of Saturday to be more specific, I see Sastre holding off Cattle Evans by a few seconds with Schleck holding on for 3rd, Menchov in 4th and Vande Velde slotting into 5th. It’s going to be tense for everyone and I just hope there are no mechanical issues that influence the GC.

Chavanel actually won a stage (I kid, but Sylvia has been working hard and deserved some success), so clearly anything can happen in this Tour de France. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Thoughts while not going as fast as I should...

Stay tuned for more Tour thoughts shortly. There may even be an interview or two in store from some of the Garmin-Chipotle crew in the next couple of days.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

COBRA vs The CaliRado Jinx

For the record, I am certain that I jinxed my beloved San Francisco Giants in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series by simply uttering the phrase "We're only six outs away." The fact that the Angels made a remarkable comeback and that I was in my livingroom in Colorado at the time is irrelevant. I was almost as much to blame as Felix Rodriguez. Almost.

My jinxing abilities were also on display during the 2007 Tour when I wrote a "creative" post on Alexandre Vinokourov and his fascination with funk legend Rick James. A day later, Vino was booted from the race for blood doping and my Cold Blooded Super Freak reference suddenly became much more than a joke. Sorry Vino, my bad. Again, this was totally my fault and had nothing to do with the boosted blood in his veins.

After recent news from France that Ricardo Ricco has tested positive for traces of EPO, it seems that The Cobra is the latest victim of my jinxing skills. I think the final straw was when I busted out the Photoshop and put the Cobra logo on his jersey in my post the other day. He was pretty much doomed after that. Again, I feel responsible for this somehow. Perhaps I should be more careful about where I aim my anti-mojo gun next time.

With the departure of Moreau as a potential target for the next CaliRado Jinx, it will be interesting to see who is next on the list. I kind of feel like Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone, only my visions are largely humorous and generally include various popular culture references. Thankfully I don't see the people die - just their careers. Farewell Cobra, it was [sort of] fun while it lasted.
"You should see what I see..."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

TdF Perspective - Respect The Leprechaun

The Cycling World, myself included, has a tendency to lose some perspective during the Tour de France. Which is understandable, considering the beauty, scale and drama of the event. But as we watch, almost hypnotized, as the riders fly along at truly breathtaking speeds, it is easy to forget just how many levels of the sport exist beneath the glamour and spectacle of Le Grande Boucle.

While the Tour may be the premier event in bicycle racing, it should be noted that the core of the sport and the heart of its future, lies squarely within the public. Within those of us who have been fortunate enough to find our passion on two wheels, whether our own or those of the professionals who push the limits of athletic performance for our entertainment. The racers at the Tour represent the pinnacle of performance on the bike but the foundation is built on the masses that move at a far slower speed.

Although I have grown somewhat skeptical of her judgment recently, perhaps Whitney Houston said it best when she famously claimed, "The children are our future." And judging from the size of the Junior fields at most local bike races, the future of cycling in the U.S. is going to be just fine, if not spectacular.

A quick look at the typically huge Masters fields is also an indication of where the interest is currently and will continue being generated. There are a lot of kids out there racing bikes but in yet another example of life's cyclical nature, we owe it all to the old guys.

SCENE: As nearly 60 kids lined up at the start of this past Sunday's local race, the winner of the recently completed Pro/1/2 Colorado State Criterium Championship readied himself for the podium. This alone is not worthy of mentioning, but the fact that the winner of perhaps the most competitive State Championship in the country was 51 years old is as symbolic of the beauty of the sport as anything I could have scripted out of my own imagination.
For those of you who may not know, Alan McCormack is a TRUE cyclist by every definition of the word and potentially the best possible role model for all of the kids that watched him beat out guys half his age last Sunday. Having started racing as a junior in Ireland (his Father was an accomplished racer) and competing in everything from the Olympics to the Giro d'Italia to the Coors Classic, The Leprechaun has been doing it longer and better than anyone I can think of. I cannot do justice to McCormack's career in this format but take my word on it, the guy is as legit as it gets. I hope to write more about him soon.

Okay, I'll start a little bit now: For Reference, McCormack is one of the coolest guys ever. Mad tattoos, dyed hair - the dude is a rock star. Watching him casually move through the P/1/2 fields in Colorado is similar to watching a concert pianist or any other Master. At this point, there is a grace and composure to his racing style that is almost artistic. But beating a field of REALLY good racers in a field sprint at 51 takes more than brains. Make no mistake, the man can still fly.

The connection between McCormack's victory and the sizable Junior field may not have been obvious to everyone in attendance but it was not lost on this cyclist. Factoring in the local races and the staggering amount of recreational riders on the road, I am confident that the sport remains healthy on the domestic front, despite the on-going issues surrounding the professional ranks in Europe.

It was truly a privilege to witness the full spectrum of age and ability in cycling this past weekend. Despite Triki Beltran's positive EPO test and the apparent dissolution of the Pro Tour, appreciation for the bicycle seems to be growing on our side of the pond and I can't help but be optimistic about the future of this beautiful sport.

With inspiring role models like The Leprechaun leading the way for all the youngsters (not to mention us semi-old guys) out there, how could we possibly fail?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

COBRA - Real Italian Anti-Hero

Ever since Ricardo Ricco burst on to the professional cycling scene, he has been known by the nickname “The Cobra.” While many journalists and fans have proposed theories about the origin of the moniker, little has been revealed by the rider himself until now. The true story may surprise you.

Most people assume that Ricco calls himself “The Cobra” because of his attacking style and reputation for venomous strikes aimed at opponents, both on and off the bike. But in fact, the reason behind the nickname has nothing to do with his tactics or personality, instead owing itself to his long term fascination with an American cartoon.

Ricardo Ricco never cared that G.I. Joe was a real American hero, as the theme song claims. When watching the cartoon as a young boy in Italy, he found himself identifying more with the terrorist Cobra Command Organization – especially their leader, Cobra Commander. It was not long before little Ricardo was running around with a blue hood on, screaming “Cobra!!!” at the top of lungs as he continually antagonized his fellow classmates.

When asked about his somewhat unhealthy obsession with such a villainous character, Ricco is quick to point out that Cobra Commander was simply misunderstood and pressured into global terrorism by the competitive culture of mid-80’s cartoons. The Italian climber responds similarly when asked about his fascination with Marco Pantani, although he adamantly stresses that he doesn’t believe Cobra Commander ever used EPO.

The sport of cycling has a number of individuals who have taken on nicknames associated with characters from children’s programs and cartoons such as David Rebellin (Tintin), Michael Rasmussen (The Chicken) and Manuel Beltran (Triki – a Spanish Cookie Monster) among others. While Ricco admits that his chosen moniker is not original in this sense, he firmly contends that “The Cobra” is better because “the bad guys are always way cooler than the good guys. I mean, why do you think I signed with Saunier-Duval?”

After acknowledging that the majority of the public mistakenly thinks he named himself after a snake, Ricco admits that he rarely corrects people anymore. “I originally started calling myself Cobra Commander, which pretty much kept things clear, but I thought that may have sounded a bit arrogant. And the last thing I want is to be seen as cocky. I mean, everyone already knows that I’m the best climber in the history of the world – so why should I need to include ‘Commander’ in there?”

“The Cobra is a good enough nickname for now. Maybe after a few more glorious victories in which I hypnotize the competition with my reptilian stare, the other riders and media will begin to refer to me as Cobra Commander anyway. In fact, I am certain they will. COBRA!!!”

While this last part remains to be seen, it seems clear that unless Garmin-Chipotle or Columbia signs Sgt. Slaughter or Snake Eyes in the offseason, The Cobra may be here to stay. Reports that Leonardo Piepoli is going to paint his head silver and start calling himself “Destro” have not been confirmed.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

TdF - Sprechen Zie Karma?

The notion of Karma has various interpretations but the most common understanding would probably be something along the lines of "What goes around, comes around." To put it in the context of bike racing and the Tour, it could be considered a "cycle" of cause and effect, so to speak.

Even though Stefan Schumacher is rocking a slightly Buddhist look with the bald head, it might take a while to appreciate the Karmic justice of being taken down within sight of the finish and losing the leader's jersey to the very guy he made contact with. The fact that the other rider was George Hincapie's teammate is a twist of comedic irony worthy of Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. You never want to see someone deck it and lose the jersey but Stage 6 was right out of Hollywood. Only WAY better.

Again, he may not see the humor of this situation right now but perhaps Stoolmacher will be able to laugh about it in the future. Big George probably never thought he would look back on the Benelux experience and smile - but I am quite certain he had a chuckle or two after the finish in Super-Besse.

Speaking of the Republic of Columbia, General Hincapie and President Stapleton must be incredibly happy with Captain Kirchen and the rest of the fleet so far. Garmin-Chipotle may be more of a sentimental favorite for the public but the former High Roaders are giving CSC a run for the title of Best Pro Team. In fact, the inclusion of the Women's program makes Columbia a clear leader in the world of professional cycling.

By the way, I wasn't kidding when I said President Stapleton - I would vote for him in a second. Let's start a write-in campaign. Who's with me?

Alright, back to the Stage 6 -

I am rapidly trying to hang on to the Riccardo Riccobra Bandwagon as it collects summit finish victories, spewing out a dense cloud of inflammatory statements on the rest of the peloton the entire way. Seriously though, the guy is fun to watch and listen to. What more do you want? Except better shorts, of course.

The crashes and first week aggression will catch up with Valvoodoo. Among other things. He would have beaten Ricco a few weeks ago. Oscar Periero is riding really well though and Caisse d'Epargne is stronger than I thought Cycling Spider Sense tingles whenever I see those yellow handlebars.

Cadel Evans was solid as usual but had some choice words for one of the Moto guys after having a mechanical and seems a bit tense. Like, borderline Jack Nicholson as Col. Jessup in A Few Good Men tense. I imagine a lot of silence on the Silence bus.

I have been listening to the Eurosport audio in the morning and Sean Kelly completely calls him Cattle Evans. It's not even close to Cuh-del. I've heard that Evans will correct people on the pronunciation from time to time but I wonder if he would have the stones to say anything to Kelly. Anyway, I recommend listening if you don't have video for the morning coverage. Or can't covertly watch it online at work.

Other Random Things That May Not Have Anything To Do With The Tour:

I crossed paths with Tom Danielson a couple of times this past week as he was in Boulder for a while prior to the Cascade Classic. He was doing some motorpacing and passed me going up Lefthand Canyon at what must have been at least 27mph. It was kind of humiliating. Okay - quite humiliating.

Then Tommy D showed up at the Niwot Criterium along with a solid group of domestic pros. When the local weekend crit has a start list that reads like an NRC event - you may want to consider sandbagging it in the lower Categories for a while. Being a Cat 2 in Colorado is kind of like being a Freshman at a Senior party - you may have some classes together from time to time but you always know where you stand in the pecking order.

For the record, Toyota United were the cool clique and swept the podium with Ben Day, Ivan Stevic and Jonny Clarke out of a break that consisted of Phil Zajicek, Colby Pierce and Jason Donald among others. Len Pettyjohn then mentioned that the TUP guys had done 5 hours before the race. Oh, okay...I guess that 6th hour is when you really start flying.

I wonder if Will Frischkorn and Danny Pate are sitting in their hotel rooms in France, thinking how far they are from Cascade right now.

Check out my podcast with Will from the Tour if you haven't already. I'm new at the whole podcast deal so forgive the slow start but I think there is some interesting stuff in there once we got rolling. Nice. Nice.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

TdF - Talkin' Tour and TT's

First of all, check out the podcast interview I was fortunate enough to do with Tour de France rider Will Frischkorn of the Garmin-Chipotle team after the Stage 4 Time Trial on It’s fairly entertaining if you’re interested in hearing some Tour talk from one guy who is not used to doing such things and another one who is. I am not Larry King yet but Will is a good guy and played along nicely. Even got a question about the kits in at the end.

Actually, I've only listened to it once but I'm concerned that my style is a little more like the ladies from the "Delicious Dish" sketch on SNL. Good times. I'm glad it was Will and not Alec Baldwin (aka Pete Schweddy) on the other end of the line.

Hopefully we’ll be able to get some additional updates from France as the race progresses.

Okay, so now for the TT and yet another close call for both Columbia and Garmin-Chipotle:

Say what you want about Stefan Schumacher (such as...reputed amphetamine user and doper, self-proclaimed blood-value altering diarrhea sufferer, confirmed drunk driver and George Hincapie crasher for example), the guy rode one fast time trial in Cholet. So fast that he got himself a somewhat shocking yellow jersey over Kim Kirchen of Columbia and David Millar of Garmin-Chipotle.

Without getting into any of the things one could say about Valverde and Schumacher wearing yellow (cough), I have to say that it would have been exceedingly good for professional cycling to have either Captain Kirchen or Miller Time to get the jersey. Nothing against Gerolsteiner or Caisse d'Epargne, but it would have been nice to see a leader from an American team with a cutting-edge internal testing system. I'm just saying.

With that said, it was great to see Danny The Pate on top of the leaderboard for a while, even though dang Sylvia Chavanel knocked him off. Thankfully Jens Voigt beat the crap out of his bike like he was Chuck Norris (oh yeah) and took the lead for a while until Menchov lowered the bar. Christian Vandevelde put in a really solid performance and slotted in at 8th, one spot ahead of George Hincapie.

Ultimately, Cadel Evans gained time on everyone he needed to (Liggett: "He pulled out a big one and struck a psychological blow to his rivals" - ok), Valverde lost time to everyone he didn't want to, Cancellara proved that he is mortal and Schumacher almost seemed not to be.

Anyway...we will see what happens later this week. The race is wide open and I have a feeling that Shoe Maker and the Water Boys will be under an incredible amount of pressure over the next few days. I can't wait.

Monday, July 7, 2008

TdF - 3 Up, 3 Down

Well, we're three days into the TdF and I am already beginning to lose my resistance to the impending dementia caused by that infuriating "Take Back the Tour" commercial on Versus. I can only hope (with every fiber of my being) that the VS producers get as sick of it as I have and end the madness before someone (like me) gets committed to a mental institution. I'll be on the stretcher mumbling "I'm gonna get myself straight" right before they put me into the straightjacket.

Specifically, the reverse-footage is exceedingly depressing, a little offensive and the song kind of makes me want to kill myself. Or start doing drugs to numb my ears and the resulting suicidal tendencies. Good job VS!! Only two and a half more weeks to go!! I hope we all make it. The riders might be clean but now the entire viewing public will be pill-popping alcoholics by the end of the month.

Okay, back to the race. Well, sort of…

Alejandro Valverde is obviously a great cyclist. After all, he's been winning races since he was a kid and has continued a fairly steady rise to now challenge for the Tour de France. However, among a few other concerns, there is just something inherently cheesy about Valvoodoo which prevents me from enjoying many of his victories. I feel kind of bad saying it, but I call 'em like I see 'em and something about the Spaniard's style bugs me. Okay, I actually don't feel that bad.

From the historically low-cut socks (a little triathlon-weird looking but still better than Moreau's white tube socks), to the prematurely balding, yet oddly Jheri-curlish hair (just shave it off dude, trust me), to the overly-coordinated yellow, black and red of his new Spanish National Champion's kit (the yellow on the bike and helmet make it seem like he's trying too hard), the man who may or may not be DIRECTLY linked to Operacion Puerto has track record of questionable style (and nickname) choices.

But considering he got his big break in those horrendous old green Kelme kits – maybe he was doomed from the start. Or maybe Fuentes should have been a fashion advisor too. He seemed pretty slick in all those Mafioso-style photographs.

Anyway, despite the relative ease with which he won Stage 1 and coasted to the finish of Stage 2, I am sticking to my prediction that bad things will surface for Valv.Piti and he will not be sporting those garish yellow-gold Oakleys in Paris. ASO cannot be happy that he is prowling the top of the GC right now. "Umm…can someone get that Spanish judge on the line? Patrice Clerc would like to speak with him."

Scandinavian By Design…

I have said it for quite some time now and I'll say it again – I like me some Scandinavians. Especially Norwegians. Or should I say "Noorveejins?"

This goes for just about everyone I've ever met but Thor Hushovd seems to reinforce this opinion. My guess is that the French like Thor quite a bit as well. Considering the publicity he has been able to generate for Credit Agricole over the last 5-6 years, he should be an honorary Frog at this point. I bet he's more popular than Moreau.

These things I know: The sun will rise again and Thor Hushovd will win a stage of the Tour de France.

So Frisch and So Clean, Clean…

The Outkast song may not have been playing on the race radio but the title seemed apt after what our local Boulder representative Will Frischkorn did in Stage 3. After over 200k's off the front, the Colorado Buffalo alum just missed grabbing what may have been the most surprising stage win for an American since Greg LeMond's TT in 1989 and cemented the fact that Slipstream/Garmin/Chipotle are going to be able to do some good things over the next few weeks.

I hope to have more details about Stage 3 from the source in the near future. But in the meantime…Way to go Man!

Between Missouri, Milan-Sanremo and now the Tour, Willdren of the Frischkorn is making getting into day-long, race-making breakaways look remarkably easy. Come on…it's only 200k's off the front. Let's go.

It's probably nothing compared to the Bus Stop Ride though and I think the start in St. Malo must have reminded him of the chapel with the same name on Peak to Peak Highway.

Next Stop for Garmin-Chipotle: A Yellow Jersey for David Millar after the TT tomorrow. Cancellara can't possibly win again, can he? We'll see.

Friday, July 4, 2008

TdF Preview - Caught Pickin'

Tis the night before the Tour and I'm finally ready to declare my picks for the Overall, Points and Mountains Classifications of the 2008 event. And of course, I will also pick the Lantern Rouge to complete the spectrum. This is setting up to be a pretty interesting Tour and none of these choices was easy.


1) Ricardo Ricco

The Cobra won't be looking at the GC so he will probably be given some extra leash. I anticipate a lot of great quotes and some post-Giro aggression from the fiery Italian. Not to mention a polka-dot jersey to go with those heinous "widows peak" shorts.


1) Erik Zabel

This is a bit of a sentimental pick but for some reason I think the Flat Top will finish in Green for the 7th time. Without Boonen in the mix I see the German veteran being able to make enough of the smaller group finishes to gather a 13th stage win and enough points to distance himself from the likes of McEwen, Hushovd and Cavendish. I see all of these guys getting stages though, in addition to Friere - who could win the Green if he wanted to, but who will focus on stages and then prepare for the Olympics.

Ciolek may make it interesting if he can manage to keep his head still when he sprints. Seriously, keep an eye on that. It's pretty crazy.

General Classification:

1) Denis Menchov

What can I say? I don't really WANT to pick the Russian but I think he has the best resume and will be the most consistent rider over the next three weeks. He knows what it takes to win a Grand Tour (even though he only knew about one of the two Vuelta wins at the time) and his performance in Spain last year was more impressive than anything I have seen Cadel Evans do. I always thought Menchov was the scariest rider in 2006 when Floyd won and I see 2008 shaping up similarly.

2) Cadel Evans

He's got all the tools and has been perhaps exceedingly vocal about his total dedication to improving on last year's 2nd place. But I just don't see it happening. I envision a very close race between Evans and Menchov but the Australian's lack of experience when truly fighting for the lead (he was out of it last year until the final time trial after Rasmussen got canned) will cause him to lose more time in the mountains than he can get back in the time trials.

I just don't see Cadel in yellow when they finish in Paris.

3) Carlos Sastre

The little Spanish climber knows that he is running out of time and will be uncontrollable in the final mountain stages. With the Schleck Brothers waiting to pounce, CSC will likely have some serious cards to play when the groups start to thin out. Somehow I don't see Bjarne letting his new Sexy Back sponsors down and expect to see the red and black off the front a lot over the next three weeks. Jens Voigt presented by Chuck Norris will be getting much camera time.

4) Kim Kirchen

He claimed that he wanted to win the Tour de Suisse but I think his failure to do so may indicate that he will be peaking for the Tour de France. I'm sure Bob Stapleton and the Columbia people hope this is the case. I am also certain the former High Roaders will take their fair share of stages and General Hincapie will be savvy enough to help get Kirchen to Paris among the leaders.

5) Stijn Devolder

This may sound silly but Lance said Devolder could do well - and I think Kate Hudson's current boyfriend may know a thing or two about the Tour de France. Additionally, the Belgian's performances in Flanders, Roubaix and Switzerland were enough to get me on the Stijn bandwagon. I think he will fly under the radar for much of the race and have good enough time trials to jump over the better climbers. I'm bummed that he won't be rocking the Belgian National Champ kit anymore though. That has to be one of the coolest jerseys ever.

- You may have noticed that there are some prominent names left off this list. Without getting too much like the little weird lady in Poltergeist...I see some problems for Valverde which prevent his arrival in Paris (he can't hang for three weeks and bad things will take place), Cunego will crack at least once (and really regret that stupid tattoo eventually), Zubeldia will finish Top 10 (and be invisible) and Christophe Moreau will continue to annoy me (although I could see him challenging for the Mountains Classification...and losing).

Lantern Rouge:

The last place finisher of the 2008 Tour de France will be a battle between Wim Vansevenant and Jimmy Casper, both of whom have been manning the caboose on two previous editions into Paris. I see Vansevenant winning/losing this battle, primarily because I don't like the name Casper and I can't really think of much else to guage them on.

Well, those are the picks. If I am right, I will take all the glory. If I am wrong, somebody else messed things up.

FYI - Stay tuned here and at for upcoming interviews and updates with Will Frischkorn of the Garmin-Chipotle squad from the finish of Stage 1 and various other points throughout the Tour de France. I hope I can think of some good questions. Should be interesting.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Managing Expectations - Poorly

There is a powerful concept in business (as well as cycling and life, for that matter) that can be loosely described as "managing expectations." Understanding that there are often sizable gaps between Expectations, Delivered Value and Perceived Value, the ability to avoid or at least minimize potential dissatisfaction can greatly influence the Outcome of virtually all business and personal interaction.

Patrice Clerc, President of Tour de France organizer ASO, does not seem to be familiar with this concept. In fact, many of the most influential people in Professional Cycling do not seem to fully grasp this principle. And the sport is setting itself up for failure as a result.

Often, a key element in effectively managing expectations is clearly acknowledging that uncontrollable events may occur which affect the desired Outcome. No matter the extent of due diligence, things happen from time to time which cannot be anticipated or avoided. Understanding this fact and being prepared to deal with the consequences of unforeseen events generally creates an environment in which the gaps between Expectations, Delivered Value and Perceived Value can be minimized, often resulting in a greater sense of satisfaction for the parties involved.

I think it is safe to say that no one wants to see another positive drug test at the Tour de France. Not the ASO, the UCI, the teams, the fans and especially not the riders. But the underlying sense that the Tour and the sport of cycling will be irreparably damaged should another rider test positive creates an environment where the unforeseen and uncontrollable actions of a single individual carry far more weight than they deserve.

Specifically, the Tour de France is setting itself up for failure by instilling an Expectation that it will be an "incident-free" event. Not to be too pessimistic, but a precedent has been set for this race which is not likely to disappear in 2008. And the reality is that, despite all anti-doping efforts, the riders and the testers are human and prone to errors in both judgment and action. As such, it is historically unwise to create an environment in which there is an Expectation that no riders will test positive at some point during the next three weeks, either as a result of cheating or lab error.

If we are to believe Clerc, German Television and the rest of the Doomsayers, even the very real possibility of a false positive could potentially ruin the reputation of a sport that really is trying to clean up. The entire field could be fed bread and water for months leading up to the Tour but if a highly sensitive spectrometer in France has an optic that is slightly degraded or out of alignment - a false positive could surface and “destroy the reputation of the Tour and the sport.”

But Clerc doesn’t really want to admit that last part, now does he? The Cloak of Invincibility which shrouds the drug testing labs prevents this from even being an acknowledged possibility. And yet again, Expectations are unmanaged and therefore unrealistic. And the sport suffers.

With this in mind, I can’t help but recall what happened to Phil Zajicek and Scott Moninger a few years ago as examples of what constitutes a “positive result” and how there are many shades of grey in the world of Doping. Does anyone really think those two were evil cheaters? Or, more likely, do you view them as unfortunate individuals who fell victim to unforeseen and somewhat uncontrollable events – but were branded with a scarlet D nonetheless?

Again, is it rational to fear that an unforeseen and uncontrollable event, isolated to one individual, will make all prior and existing efforts of everyone else involved in the sport less valid?

Additionally, does anyone really believe that an “incident-free” event or sport is truly 100% clean? I don’t remember many drug busts in Major League Baseball back in the Canseco days, do you? A legitimate positive result should be viewed as evidence that cyclists are human beings capable of deceit and that the sport has a testing system that is able to catch cheaters. The harder you look, the more you find.

We can and should hope for a “clean” Tour de France. But we should not expect it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Bizarro Justice

When I was younger, I used to think that I wanted to win the Tour de France. Now that I’m older, I am somewhat grateful I never did. After all, it seems lately that life is not all yellow jerseys and champagne for those who find success in the Tour.

Perhaps more troubling than any doping concern is the fact that the recent Landis and Rasmussen verdicts (conveniently delivered the week before the Tour starts) are just the latest in a growing list of bike-related litigation which further indicates the lowly status of the athletes within the hierarchy of the sport. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – This would NEVER happen to a baseball or football player who had the support of a legitimate workers union.

Whether F-Landis or The Chicken cheated is virtually irrelevant at this point as far as I’m concerned. What is exceedingly relevant however, is the solemn understanding that the “accused cyclist” is immediately presumed guilty and is no longer judged by a standard legal system. To make matters worse for the athlete, it is now apparently possible to be penalized financially for defending yourself too vigorously.

In fact, the whole doping adjudication process is almost like some weird Bizarro Justice System where the accused must assume the burden of proof and the accuser is virtually immune to any potential evidence of wrong-doing or error. Does this seem problematic to anyone else? Even a Bizarro World Lawyer would probably say “Me not understand this legal system because it are opposite of what me have been taught in Law School.”

Here is the comment from the CAS that sums this up nicely:

"The [facility] is a WADA-accredited laboratory that benefits from the presumption that it [is] in accordance with international standards."

Okay then, case closed. The lab is WADA accredited so they must have done everything exactly right and couldn’t have possibly made any errors. Now I get it.

One question though – What are the international standards regarding leaking private information to large French newspapers on a fairly regular basis? I guess the Lab Rats are only capable of compromising their ethics verbally.

As far as I can tell, the following statements are factual:

- The chain of custody of Floyd Landis’ samples was broken by the lab on at least one occasion and there were multiple errors in the documentation of the samples.

- Rabobank knew of Michael Rasmussen’s whereabouts prior to the 2007 Tour and team management was aware that he was not conforming to his stated UCI location.
I understand that Rasmussen having his racing license suspended does not directly relate to Rabobank - but it seems clear that they knew what was going on prior to the Tour and only canned The Chicken after things got public during the race. Ultimately, Rabobank has a certain culpability in this mess and their willingness to throw Rasmussen under the big orange and blue bus was kind of foul. Or fowl?
I don't agree with what Rasmussen did but his employer took advantage of him and I have issues with the terms of his termination.

Now, unlike Star Jones, I am not a lawyer. Jackie Chiles and Bob Loblaw are close personal friends of mine, but I do not have any formal legal training. Having said that, I find it hard to understand how Landis could be PROVEN guilty after his sample was mishandled and Rasmussen could be fired for LYING about his location when his employer knew where he was the whole time.

Perhaps Cirroc, the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer could explain it to me because I’m pretty sure F-Landis and The Chicken can’t.