Monday, December 29, 2008

Farmer's Tan Almanac - 2008 Edition

As we steadily careen toward the end of 2008, I thought it might be interesting (and ultimately, somewhat depressing) to take a month-by-month look back at the year’s top stories both on and off the bike. After all, if we do not learn from history, we are certainly doomed to repeat it. Are you listening to me UCI and ASO? Somehow I doubt it, but let’s crack open the almanac and see what happened in ’08 anyway.

January 2: The price of petroleum hits $100 per barrel for the first time.

January 18: After much speculation, Rock Racing announces that Mario Cipollini will return to the peloton in the Amgen Tour of California.

January 21: Stock markets around the world plunge amid growing fears of a U.S. recession, fueled by the 2007 subprime mortgage crisis.

January 22-27: Tour Down Under
Andre Greipel and the short-lived black kits of High Road do damage down under and give notice to the cycling world that they will be a force in 2008.

February 4: Iran opens its first space center and launches a rocket to space.

February 17-24: Amgen Tour of California
After being informed that Astana would not be invited to the Tour de France, Levi Leipheimer defends his 2007 victory with a convincing win in the TT.

February 19: Fidel Castro announces his resignation as President of Cuba.

March 9-16: Paris-Nice
Davide Rebellin finally wins the Race to the Sun after a stunning downhill attack which leaves young Robert Gesink on the verge of soiling himself.

March 19: An exploding star halfway across the visible universe becomes the farthest known object ever visible to the naked eye.

March 22: Milano-Sanremo
Fabian Cancellara rips away from the final group and holds on to claim yet another Classic in remarkable fashion.

April 6: Ronde van Vlaanderen/Tour of Flanders
Stijn Devolder attacks with 25k to go and does the Belgian National Champs jersey proud with a stunning solo victory.

April 9: Gent-Wevelgem
Oscar Freire proves yet again that he is a force to be reckoned with and handily takes the mid-week semi-Classic in his usual un-Spanish style.

April 13: Paris-Roubaix
Tom Boonen finds the moves and easily outsprints Cancellara and Ballan to take his second Hell of the North victory before an unfortunate night on the town.

April 20: Amstel Gold Race
Damiano Cunego wins a small bunch sprint at the end of his very first Amstel Gold Race and claims his first Spring Classic victory.

April 22: Surgeons at London's Moorfields Eye Hospital perform the first operations using bionic eyes, implanting them into two blind patients.

April 27: The Taliban attempts to assassinate Afghan President Hamid Karzai in a military parade in Kabul.

April 27: Liège-Bastogne-Liège
Alejandro Valverde takes his second Liège after the Schleck Brothers and Rebellin fail to distance themselves from the Spaniard before the finish.

May 3: Over 133,000 in Burma/Myanmar are killed by Cyclone Nargis, the deadliest natural disaster since the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004.

May 10 - June 1: Giro d’Italia
Alberto Contador angrily comes off the beach to defeat a bunch of guys who would later be caught up in doping scandals and adds the maglia rosa to his growing collection of Grand Tour winners jerseys.

May 12: Over 69,000 are killed in central southwest China by the Chengdu quake, an earthquake measuring 8.0Mw. The epicenter is 90 kilometers west-northwest of the provincial capital Chengdu, Sichuan province.

June 8: Philadelphia International Championship / Philly Week
Matti Breschel wins in Philly after Metlushenko and Sevilla ride away with the early-week prizes. Teutenberg and the High Road Ladies dominate as usual.

June 8: In the Akihabara area of Tokyo, Japan, a 25-year old man stabs 7 to death and wounds 10, before being arrested.

June 8-15: Dauphine Libere
Alejandro Valverde surprisingly defeats Cadel Evans and Levi Leipheimer in the TT to win his first stage race outside of Spain.

June 10: Fire engulfs Sudan Airways Flight 109 after landing in Khartoum, killing 44.

July 7: A suicide-bomber drives an explosives-laden automobile into the front gates of the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, killing 58 and injuring over 150.

July 5 - 27: Tour de France
Carlos Sastre and CSC outmaneuver Cadel Evans, Christian Vande Velde and a bunch of dopers to win his first yellow jersey.

July 25: A series of seven bomb blasts rock Bangalore, India killing 2 and injuring 20 and on the next day, a series of bomb blasts in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, kills 45 and injures over 160 people.

July 27: At least 17 are killed and over 154 wounded in two blasts in Istanbul.

July 28: At least 48 are dead and over 287 injured after bombs explode in Baghdad and Kirkuk, Iraq.

August 7: The 2008 South Ossetia war begins as Georgia and Russia launch a major offensive inside the separatist region of South Ossetia after days of border skirmishes between the two sides.

August 8-24: Beijing Olympics
Sammy Sanchez and Nicole Cooke take the Road Race while Fabian Cancellara and Kristin Armstrong are the fastest in the Time Trial.

August 28 – September 7: Hurricane Hanna causes 7 deaths in the United States, and 529 in Haiti mostly due to floods and mudslides.

August 30 - September 21:
Vuelta a Espana
Alberto Contador takes revenge after being left out of the Tour and narrowly edges teammate Leipheimer to collect his third Grand Tour in as many tries.

August 31: USPRO Road Championships
Tyler Hamilton nips Blake Caldwell by centimeters to take home the Stars and Stripes jersey after a few dark years.

September 10: The proton beam is circulated for the first time in the Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest and the highest-energy particle accelerator, located at CERN, near Geneva, under the Franco-Swiss border.

September 8-14: Tour of Missouri
Christian Vande Velde and the Garmin-Chipotle squad finally gets the win and fends off a ferocious Columbia team which leads Mark Cavendish to multiple easy sprint victories.

September 12: A Metrolink train collides head-on into a freight train in Los Angeles, California, killing 25 and injuring 130.

September 28: World Road Championships
Allessandro Ballan and Nicole Cooke take home the rainbow jerseys in the Road Race.

September 30: A Jodhpur temple stampede in western India kills over 224 people, and injures 400.

October 3: U.S. President George W. Bush signs the revised Emergency Economic Stabilization Act into law, creating a 700 billion dollar Treasury fund to purchase failing bank assets.

October 12: Paris-Tours
Philippe Gilbert gets it right after some near misses and foils the sprinters with a daring attack.

October 18: Giro di Lombardia
Damiano Cunego wins another Race of the Falling Leaves as the peloton begins to show signs of fatigue after a busy year.

October 21: The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is officially inaugurated. It is a collaboration of over 10,000 scientists and engineers from over 100 countries as well as hundreds of universities and laboratories.

November 1-2: Boulder Cup
Todd Wells and Tim Johnson take the Saturday and Sunday events respectively, while Georgia Gould dominates both women’s races.

November 4: In the United States presidential election, Barack Obama is elected the 44th President of the United States and Joe Biden is elected the 47th Vice President. Obama becomes the first African-American President-elect.

December 14: Cyclocross Nationals
Ryan Trebon gets his second Stars and Stripes jersey and Katie Compton makes it five of the last five National titles.

December 27: Israel initiates a series of airstrikes against the Gaza Strip, killing at least 312 (including 56 civilians) and wounding over 1,500.

Well, so there you have 2008. Ugh. I hate to end things on a bad note but hey, this is the world we live in and hopefully this type of reflection helps confirm just how good most of us who follow the sport of cycling have it. We are certainly fortunate and let’s all hope for the best in 2009. The world can use all the help it can get.

Happy New Year Everyone.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Totally Memorable Moments of 2008

What better way to reflect on a few of the most memorable moments and developments of the 2008 cycling season than by drawing some comparisons to memorable quotes from a few 80’s movies? Wait…don’t answer that. There are probably a number of better ways. Regardless, I thought such an effort might be interesting. The result follows…

“I've been going to this high school for seven and a half years. I'm no dummy. I know high school girls.” - Charles, Better Off Dead

It is safe to say that Carlos Sastre was like the older guy who used years of experience to capitalize on the opportunity hook up with the head cheerleader/Alpe d’Huez before going on to take the Prom Queen/Yellow Jersey back to the hotel/Paris and the record books.

In the end, Big Papa Sastre was the only guy in the mix who actually seemed like he had a plan and was “tranquilo” for the whole race. He was the only one who handled it all like he knew exactly what he was doing. While Evans was losing his marbles, hitting cameras and spending too much time listening to Rockwell, Menchov was hindered by bad luck and descending skills, and Vande Velde couldn’t even believe he was there with the leaders, Carlos/Charlie was no dummy, and finally got the job done in the biggest way possible. Next up, K-12.

“Disturbing the peace? I got thrown out of a window! What's the f-ing charge for getting pushed out of a moving car, huh? Jaywalking?” – Axel Foley, Beverly Hills Cop

Levi Leipheimer was a mad guy at Tour of California. News had just come from ASO that LL’s Astana team would not be extended an invitation to the Tour de France and the defending champion of the ToC was all business…and some revenge too. Similar to Axel’s window experience outside Victor Maitland’s office, Levi was suddenly feeling the strong-arm of a European guy in a suit and was not about to just take it without a fight.

I was fortunate enough to be at the TT in Solvang and have never seen someone as hyped-up as LL-Cool-Heimer on the start ramp. It was kind of freaky actually. He was huffing and puffing and looked like his eyes were going to burn a hole through his Specialized sunglasses. It reminded me of how the guys from World’s Strongest Man Competition get all crazy before they pull a tractor with their teeth or something. If it weren’t for the skinsuit and 300lb weight differential, you would have thought it was Magnus Ver Magnusson up there holding off Cancellara. Millar and Vande Velde.

“I must break you.” – Ivan Drago, Rocky IV

Fabian Cancellara’s win in Milan-Sanremo was probably my favorite race of the year. I wrote about it a bit earlier, but it’s worth repeating that his move at the end of the race was as close to my vision of a perfect victory as I have ever seen in real life. You know, that sequence of events that you play in your head when you’re out on a ride and imagine yourself bursting out of the pack and holding them off over the last few desperate kilometers?

Well, F-Can just basically stepped up like Drago to the peloton’s hapless Apollo Creed in Milan-Sanremo. There was such a shocking difference in strength that normal tactics never even entered the picture and the race was over before anyone even knew what happened, with the sprinters lying unconscious, twitching on the canvas as Cancellara and Brigitte Nielsen walked away with the victory. “If he dies, he dies.”

“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” – Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

Similar to Levi in California, Alberto Contador raced the entire season with a huge chip on his shoulder courtesy of ASO. This was certainly the case at the Giro d’Italia. After getting the call from Johan while chilling on the beach doing the Macarena, Bert came into Italy ready to put a whupping on the entire sport.

Substitute “father” with “relaxing vacation on the beach” in the above quote and you basically have the Spanish Spider Monkey’s repeated declaration to the rest of the field at the Giro d’Italia. Substitute “father” with “chance to repeat my Tour victory” a little later in the year and you have his war cry at the Vuelta.

“Relax, would you? We have seventy dollars and a pair of girls underpants. We're safe as kittens.” – Farmer Ted, Sixteen Candles

“Les jeux sont faits. Translation: the game is up. Your ass is mine.” – Ed Rooney, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

This sequence of quotes seems to sum up the most depressing part of the entire year - the multiple high-profile CERA-related doping cases at the Tour de France. There had to be a similar process by which Ricco, Piepoli, Schumacher, Kohl and everyone else actually thought they were going to sneak through the controls, tried to relax and enjoy the party but were ultimately nailed by Ed Rooney, Dean of Students and Dope Testing.

The parallels of these quotes and the whole doping scene are endless. For example, would Farmer Ted have had the most amazing night of his life before waking up in the back seat of a Rolls Royce with the hottest girl in school if he had not mistakenly thought that he and his dopey friends were safe from harm before they entered the party at Jake Ryan’s house?

And come to think of it, is there a better symbol of the anti-doping system than Ed Rooney? I mean, at the heart of his job is a strong desire to make sure everyone follows the rules. Nothing wrong with that, right? Right.

But unfortunately, sometimes the whole process of enforcing the rules gets a little out of hand and you occasionally end up with a guy like Rooney who turns it into a personal vendetta against those he is trying to control. This never works out well for anyone, although I would probably prefer Ed’s dog attack and subsequent beatdown by Jennifer Grey to a courtroom battle against the Anti-Doping Establishment. At least he had a brief chance against the Dirty Dancer. But if you go up against an "-ADA" of any kind, it's pretty much "Pucker up Buttercup."

“You using the whole fist, Doc?” – Irwin M. Fletcher (as Arnold Babar), Fletch

Depending on how you view Tyler Hamilton’s victory at the USPRO Championship, you may find it easier to identify with either Dr. Dolan or Fletch in this uncomfortably funny examination scene. Even though neither position is desirable at all, I guess it’s better to be the guy with pants than the guy without pants. As Seinfeld says, “Pants always beats no-pants.”

So whether you think that Tyler stuck it to everyone that has stuck it to him or not, the fact remains that he is now the guy with the Stars & Stripes jersey (pending Rock Racing actually racing in 2009) and seems to have reclaimed a more pleasant position than the one he had been in for the last few years. “Whew, you ever serve time, Doc?”

“He went from totally geek to totally chic.” – One of the Brunette girls, Can’t Buy Me Love

Even though Slipstream had some decent results in the Spring (including Maaskant’s remarkable ride in Paris-Roubaix), it wasn’t until they won the Team Time Trial at the Giro d’Italia that they really forced the media to take note and prepare for the publicity onslaught that accompanied the lead-up to the Tour.

Little did we know that the formerly overlooked Christian Vande Velde was beginning to make a Ronald Miller-esque jump in reputation and results after briefly donning la maglia rosa and going on to sit at the cool clique’s table at the Tour a few months later. Apparently he kept mowing Cindy Mancini’s lawn because the former Boulder-ite then went on to fend off a ferocious Columbia team in Missouri while Courtney Gains, the creepy red-headed friend looked sadly at the podium from the back of the crowd.

“Who put this thing together? Me, that's who! Who do I trust? Me!” – Tony Montana, Scarface

We all know that Fabian Cancellara likes to fancy himself as both Spartacus and Tony Montana but I wonder if Kristin Armstrong doesn’t have a poster of Scarface somewhere in her house as well. Regardless of film taste, the reality is that by winning gold medals in Beijing after multiple previous world titles, both Armstrong and Cancellara have clearly displayed the single-minded self-confidence to go out and master the toughest test in bike racing. It could be argued that the road Time Trial is the ultimate display of personal strength and mental fortitude, although perhaps Tony might make a case that creating a drug empire is higher on the list. Maybe we can get Dr. Fuentes’ opinion?

“There is no Dana, there is only Zuul.” – Dana Barrett, Ghost Busters

The other thing that is interesting about Cancellara is that he seems so balanced and happy off the bike, but is clearly a cold-hearted monster while on it. The same can be said for Armstrong, whom I have had the pleasure to meet a few times and is extremely nice and pleasant. I am sure that they have focused and driven personalities off the bike but both riders seem absolutely possessed when they get on it. Much like Dana (Sigourney Weaver) in Ghost Busters, it’s like they turn into Zuul the Gatekeeper when they get on those Cervelos and go after the finish line like it’s a demonic refrigerator or something.

“There are three rules that I live by: never get less than twelve hours sleep; never play cards with a guy who has the same first name as a city; and never get involved with a woman with a tattoo of a dagger on her body. Now you stick to that, and everything else is cream cheese.” – Coach Finstock, Teen Wolf

If Teen Wolf had been made in 2008, the final thing on Coach Finstock’s list would have been “never get into a field sprint with Mark Cavendish.” Because much as Scott Howard was unstoppable on the basketball court when he was The Wolf, Cav was not to be beaten when he got a whiff of the finish line this past year.

Although Cavendish was remarkably fast, it should be noted that he had had the distinct benefit of a much stronger team than Michael J. Fox. I mean, besides being an average of about 35 years old, the Beavers were a pretty feeble group to begin with. The 37 year-old fat guy character was even eating a sandwich during some of the games. What’s that about, Chubs? Enjoy the show man, you’re playing hoops with a freaking werewolf! And killing everyone! And no one seems to care that you have a werewolf on your team! Appreciate this while it lasts! I don’t recall Hincapie or Ciolek snacking during a lead out. Although Melanie’s husband does kind of look a little like Mick, the 33 year old guy who played for the Dragons.

“Daniel LaRusso is gonna fight?” – Official at the All-Valley Karate Tournament, Karate Kid

This was basically what I said when I heard that Lance Armstrong was going to come back to professional road racing. It was pretty much the same thought process. You know, come on man, haven’t you proved yourself enough? It’s okay, we know you competed against some bad guys and all but let’s just stay safe and spend some more time with Elizabeth Shue or whoever McConaughey brings over okay?

But LA has a little Cobra Kai in him too and may have begun to miss leading chants of “Strike first, Strike hard, No Mercy, Sir!” I just hope that he learns from the trainwreck that was Karate Kid 3 and doesn’t show up looking like someone wearing a Ralph Macchio fat suit. Somehow I don’t foresee that being a concern but then again, it’s got to be tough to stay hungry when you've done it all before and have it all at your fingertips. Why do you think they had to get Hilary Swank for the 4th Karate Kid installment?

But if the 2009 season plays out anything like the final fight scene between Daniel and Johnny at the All-Valley Tournament, then you can bet I’ll be one of the people cheering like crazy from the side of the mat. Anybody but the “Put him in a body bag!” guy, that is. I always hated that guy.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Reading Between The Headlines...Again

We’ll go over some fairly recent thoughts on some fairly recent headlines shortly, but in the meantime…

I attended the Garmin-Slipstream Team Presentation a few weeks ago in what I hope will become an annual tradition here in town. It was certainly a fun event but after being at the Boulder Theatre for the first Slipstream-Chipotle (keep up with the name changes, please) shindig last year, it seemed a little tame in comparison. Instead of last year's “Hey, we’re all a little/severely faded and really excited to be racing in such an interesting environment” kind of vibe, the 2009 Team Presentation was far more serious in declaring the need for more W’s in the coming year. And I don’t mean Wiggins. Wiggins's's.

Speaking B-Wiggs...I am still trying to figure him out. First of all, the guy’s haircut is so unbelievably bad that it must have cost him hundreds of dollars. It sounds kind of counter-intuitive, but I figure that the worst looking haircuts actually tend to cost the most. Think about it. I mean, there is no way that someone would walk into a Cost Cutters, get butchered and walk out looking like Bradley Wiggins without demanding their money back and thinking that their barber was drunk. But...if you go into some fancy pants Salon in London and the “Stylist” tells you that the chainsaw look is super hot right now – you (or Bradley Wiggins) probably shell out the $200 and walk out the door thinking you’re the Shiz.

Anyway, B-Could Use Some-Wiggs also failed to endear himself to the crowd during the presentation by jokingly referring to Boulder as Kansas City. Twice (Don't think I didn't catch both times). Not the best choice there, mate. It was probably a better choice than Dallas but still – I think the humor was lost on most of us when he started trying to act like Boulder was not The English Speaking Bike Mecca. Besides, Gold medals are a dime a dozen in this town Son, you better recognize. But most importantly, this is where they print your checks.

Other highlights of the evening included Dave Towle rocking the mic, Julian Dean, Matty White and David Millar all walking up into the balcony to say hi to Tyler Hamilton before the show started, DZ extolling the virtues of “The Google” and Vaughters wearing a Lucy t-shirt instead of a turtleneck sweater. Good times.

Now I will regurgitate and ramble on some recent stories circulating the cycling scene:

Fraud Factory

In financial news, it seems that the U.S. may not control the market on massive corporate evilness after all. In a stunning, yet fascinatingly Hollywood-esque turn of events, it appears that the former CEO of IT Factory (the former co-sponsor of the former CSC cycling team, former winner of the Tour de France) may have embezzled anywhere from $85-$140M from the Danish company. After mysteriously vanishing during a trip to Dubai, Stein "T" Bagger eventually showed up in Los Angeles (of course) and turned himself in to Taggart and Rosewood from Beverly Hills Cop.

Detective Axel Foley has reportedly been called in from Detroit to handle the case but said that Bagger will probably just be shipped directly to Bjarne Riis’ house – where he will almost certainly be killed.

Wii Game Apparently More Challenging Than Pro Field Sprinting

In a story that should only involve Major League Baseball players, sprinting sensation Mark Cavendish apparently injured his calf while playing a snowboarding game on his Wii recently. Upon further investigation, it was acknowledged that Cavendish had been operating the video game on the extremely dangerous “Abdujaparov-Level” despite Bob Stapleton requesting that he keep it on the far safer “Bennati-Level” during the offseason. Reports that the team has placed a bounty on Shaun White are unconfirmed.

Although similar, this story is far less noteworthy than the tragic “I Thought We Were Playing Duck Hunt” incident involving Greg LeMond and his Brother-in-Law back in 1987. Video games sure have come a long way since then.

Frank Schleck Did Not Inhale

Apparently Frank Schleck has done nothing wrong. OK. Apparently he wired many thousands of Euros to Eufemanio Fuentes a few months before winning the Amstel Gold Race out of the kindness of his heart and the desire to unload a little excess cash for a few good training tips. OK. Apparently when you pay many thousands of Euros to a drug dealer in another country, there is no legal way to determine that the money was actually for...well, anything. OK. Apparently Frank Schleck wants us to believe that he never got anything other than some training advice in return for his many, many thousands of Euros. Eh… Apparently he also thinks that we are not paying attention. And are not very smrt. Not smrt at all.

I hear Marion Barry is going to run for office in Luxembourg.

Rock Racing Will Do Whatever It Wants To Do…For A Little While

Someone may want to take the stack of jeans off of that big binder with “UCI Regulations” written on it that has been collecting dust in the back of Rock Racing’s Escalade for the last couple of years. It seems that Michael Ball may have been a little too ambitious with the roster for 2009 and the team has been forced to cut a number of racers from its Continental squad in order to meet UCI age and rider limits. D’oh! I know there are lots of big words in the Rule Book and precious little information on denim stitching but…this does not reflect well.

“Sorry guys…we were told there would be no math. Bummer that we gave all the good spots to a bunch of sketchy foreigners but have fun doing the local crit series and cheering for us at all the big races that you can’t do now. Rock On!”

I guess it’s a good thing they don’t have to keep a spot open for The Tat anymore.

Plaxico Burress vs Tom Boonen

Question: What would happen if Tom Boonen carried an illegal, loaded handgun into a club and then proceeded to accidentally shoot himself through the thigh while sitting at a table with numerous other patrons?

Answer: The entire country of Belgium would go on strike for a week, Boonen would be immediately thrown in jail, banned from cycling for the foreseeable future and his parents house would probably be burned to the ground within hours.

Question: What would happen if Plaxico Burress was caught in an out-of-competiton test for having done some recreational party drugs while at a club and had some minor traffic violations in his Lamborghini?

Answer: No one would think twice and he would be given a five-year, $27M contract extension.

Perhaps I need to write NFL vs UCI Part Deux now. Hey, does anyone know where I can score some Star Caps?

Amore & Vita signs Chad Gerlach, Amy Winehouse and Gary Busey

I had the terrible misfortune of watching a portion of Gerlach’s Intervention show a while ago and am really confused by the fact that he will be racing professionally while so many other excellent racers and more importantly, excellent human beings are going without contracts in 2009. While I respect the desire to help people overcome past problems, as it seems R-Gag and AV/McDonalds are claiming, I cannot get over some concerns that the sport would be better served by giving that roster slot to a young rider or a veteran who has made better life choices. I’m all for redemption but not at the expense of those who have been consistently positive influences on others.

Then again, maybe they were smoking crack when they designed that horrendous, white and red kit and are looking for someone to sympathize with them.

Where’s The American Beef?

In slightly sad news, Fuji-Servetto has replaced Scott-American Beef as the sponsor-driven name of the artists formerly known as Saunier Duval. The cycling world certainly did not get enough time to enjoy listening to Phil Liggett say things like “American Beef is being dropped” or “The American Beef riders are gathering at the head of the field.”

After all, nothing says bike racing like a Mexican-based meat-packing conglomerate. Alas, farewell American Beef, we hardly knew ye.

Astana The World Turns

On a final note, I am still waiting to hear back from someone in Hollywood regarding my idea for a reality show about Astana. I am also working on a script for a daily soap opera called Astana The World Turns but haven’t sold the rights yet. Maybe I should be shopping this around in Spain? Anyone? I swear it will be better than Dancing With The Stars or Flavor of Love.