Wednesday, February 27, 2008

ToC Stage 7 - I Don't Feel Tardy

"Better Late Than Never" was the theme of Stage 7 of the Amgen Tour of California as George Hincapie and Team High Road finally got the victory that had eluded them all week. The delinquency of this post is also emblematic of this theme. See the synergy there?

After a week full of near-misses, Bob Stapleton's guys were certainly motivated to win and the relegation of Mark Cavendish in Stage 6 provided all of the necessary locker-room billboard material. However, regardless of team unity, it was still a pretty tall task for the group to essentially win two stages in a row. But win they did, with Big George Hincapie proving to be the strongest of a nearly day-long break and easily taking the sprint over Rory Sutherland of HealthNet, Jason McCartney of CSC, Michael Creed of Rock Racing and last but not least, Tom Zirbel of Bissell who was the true animator of the finale.

In fact, it should be noted that compared to the young man nicknamed "Thor", Hincapie could have been accurately called "Medium George." Or "Georgie" as Paul Sherwen says. What's up with that? Anyway, Zirbel is one big kid and stands out like a School Bus when compared to the normal mid-sized to compact bike racers. Being a 6'4" and 194lb professional cyclist puts you in very select company. Not to mention the power of the mullet.

So, believe it or not, the final stage of the 2008 Amgen Tour of California took place under less-than-ideal weather conditions. I know, I know...crazy huh? The old adage that "It never rains in L.A." is certainly a bold-faced lie, but I don't think that many people expected it to be this nasty. I just hope the weather this past week doesn't discourage some of the Euro-guys from coming back. But then again, I can't exactly say that we natives didn't see this coming when they first announced plans for the event 4 years ago. February? Uh, okay that sounds fun...but can a bicycle helmet be used as a flotation device?

Actually, I think the weather probably played into Levi's hands. Even though everyone had to ride through the same conditions, the fact that he wasn't surprised by them must have helped. I can speak from experience that Northern California bike racers are generally quite accustomed to rain and winds like those doled out on the ToC peloton. Levi must have been sitting back thinking, "I told you."

Now that I mention it, I wonder what percentage of California jacket and umbrella sales are actually attributed to tourists? It's got to be significant chunk. I always laughed at the people buying cheesy jackets down on Fisherman's Wharf because they thought they were vacationing in "Sunny" California. No matter what, some people just don't get that Cali can be cold. Safe to say the foreign riders learned their lesson this year.

Okay, back to the racing and the theme of the day. One of the more enjoyable elements of Stage 7 was seeing Mike Creed riding well and animating the action again. Even though he's had a pretty topsy-turvy few years recently, Creed is generally a pretty easy guy to root for. One of my Father's favorite bike racing moments came a few years back in the SF Grand Prix (or was it T-Mobile Int'l?) when Creed stopped at the top of Taylor St. and held his bike over his head after having been on a solo break for the entire morning. It was his final run with Postal/Discovery after having health issues most of the year and was just a cool gesture all around.

Breaking out of the Lantern Rouge with a display of hyper-aggressive racing and finishing in the break on the final day of the ToC was a cool gesture as well. Good job Creed. Even though Roll and Sherwen were somewhat critical of his tactics, at least Phil acknowledged that it was probably a publicity move. And a good one at that. Michael Ball must have loved the camera time and hopefully rides like this will prevent Creed from getting overshadowed by the other riders in the Rock Racing fold.

The most threatening GC move of the day came when Zabriskie escaped out of the peloton and joined a group up the road that included teammate Tom Peterson (who finished a VERY admirable 11th Overall by the way) and Robert Gesink, the winner of the Best Young Rider Jersey. The move was quickly countered by a resounding "Not So Fast" from Team Astana but provided a bit of drama nonetheless. DZ seems to be finding his climbing legs more and more as the years go by but this move was not about to be let go. If he can hang on uphill and TT like he always has...(dare I say it?)...what is preventing him from winning any number of stage races in the next few years? The mustache?

So, people in Boulder have known for quite a while that Tom Zirbel is not really easy to catch when he has a head of steam. As in, "Hey, that guy is freakishly strong...don't let him go," but I guess his breakaway companions didn't have the inside information. After about four laps of chasing him around the finishing circuit in Pasadena without making much of a dent in his lead, I am guessing they figured it out. Here's a formula for you: Top 10 in the Time Trial + Final day solo effort + Young Guy who is 6'4", 194lbs = Pro Tour rider within a couple years.

Despite the fact that it would have been cool for Creed or Zirbel to win, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Hincapie would be raising his arms on Sunday. The guy just has so much experience and played the cat-and-mouse game to perfection, marking the others in the break while managing the gap up to Zirbel and back to the peloton. Medium George may not be in the Tactician's Hall of Fame just yet, but his control of Stage 7 was a thing of beauty. There were about a million things that could have derailed the victory but he seemed to play every card to "absolute and utter perfection" as Paul Sherwen would say.

In fact, the same could be said for Levi who didn’t make a single mistake all week long and ended up dominating one of the strongest fields ever assembled on U.S. soil. Now, about the rest of the season...?!? conclusion:

California bike racing in February is not for the weak. Neither is spectating.

Levi Leipheimer is rapidly becoming unbeatable in his home state event.

Cancellara, Haedo, Boonen, Gesink, Rollin, Leipheimer, Cavendish/Pagliarini and Hincapie make for a pretty solid list of stage winners.

The Antler Guy and The Big Haired Super Knob should be arrested. Or be tripped, beaten and mercilessly heckled by other spectators. One of these idiots is going to cause a crash soon. “Hey, look at me everyone…I’m on TV and endangering careers.”

With the mumbo-jumbo of the ASO and the Grand Tour debacle, the ToC should grow into a 3 week race, change dates and start creating a new direction for the sport. As Cipo said, "The future of cycling is in America."

Bicycle racing is about the riders, not the event. Even us arrogant Californians can recognize that. So, thanks to all the riders and teams that made the 2008 Amgen Tour of California such a great race.

I can't wait for next year. Rain or shine.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

ToC Stage 6 - Here Come Da Judge

Stage 6 from Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita was one of the most dynamic of the 2007 Amgen Tour of California. 2008 proved to be every bit as wild if not much more. Just ask Mark Cavendish. But only if you want to get sworn at and possibly punched.

The young British sprinter managed to cross the line first but was relegated to the back of the results sheet after race officials decided that he spent too much time hanging on to the team car after an earlier crash. The victory was ultimately awarded to Brazilian Luciano Pagliarini of Saunier-Duval/Scott. Reactions to the decision were mixed, but the general concensus was that the rules may have been enforced a bit too strictly. There were also grumblings that perhaps if Cavendish had been from another country (as in...the U.S.) the judgment may have been different.

The day started in lovely Santa Barbara, only the weather was not quite as lovely as it usually is in this idyllic city. High winds, cloudy skies and the constant threat of rain saw the riders off on their southeast trek to Santa Clarita.

A strong breakaway including Steven "The 'Stache" Cozza (Slipstream-Chipotle), David Canada "Eh" Gracia (Saunier Duval-Scott), Rory Sutherland (Health Net-Maxxis), Alexandre "Bronson" Pichot (Bouygues Telecom), Christophe Le "Car" Mevel (Credit Agricole) and Karsten "Looney" Kroon (Team CSC). I just can't think of a nickname for Sutherland right now. Sorry mate.

Anyway, this was a strong group but proved no match for the peloton and was caught before the finish. Coming into the circuits, there was a crash involving Cavendish, Mario Cipollini and the crashingest guy in pro cycling Fast Freddie Rodriguez. I swear, between Freddie and George Hincapie the U.S. has two of the most unlucky racers in the world. What's up with that?

Anyway, perhaps some of Hincapie's anti-mojo wore off on Cavendish, who has been up and down all week long. The trend continued as the Brit was only informed of his disqualification just before the awards presentation. Talk about going from high to low in a hurry. As a 22-year old professional athlete, Cavendish was likely as upset about missing out on some Rock Racing podium girl love as he was about the judge's decision. Okay, maybe not.

To his credit, Luciano Pagliarini (a Brazilian with an Italian name, who has a Star of David tatooed on his arm) was pretty gracious about the situation. He repeatedly stressed how sorry he was for Cavendish but hey, racing is racing.

The High Road team was maybe not quite as gracious and understanding about the situation. Cavendish displayed a nice combination of British profanity and sarcasm while team owner Bob Stapleton was solidly behind his rider and expressed his frustration with the ruling in a slightly more professional manner. Either way, High Road has had a pretty rough go in the Amgen Tour of California so far, flirting with great success only to have it slip from their grasp at the last minute. Hopefully they are getting their bad luck out of the way before they head back to Europe for the Spring Classics.

Regardless, the Tour of California continues to entertain and assert itself as one of the best events in the world. Despite the weather, crashes, Botts dots and Modesto. High Road may not agree right now but there is still one stage left and I would not bet against them to finish on a positive note in Stage 7. I have a feeling they will be firing on all cyclinders and have more motivation than anyone at this point. Cavendish wants those podiums kisses.

Again, I will post some of my photos from the start shortly and will elaborate more on the stage

Friday, February 22, 2008

ToC Stage 5 - Solving Solvang

The town of Solvang again played host to the Stage 5 time trial of the Amgen Tour of California and Levi Leipheimer again crushed all of the competition. And yet again, tasty Danish pastries were consumed by yours truly.

After the horrible conditions of the previous stage, partly sunny skies and dry roads were greatly appreciated by riders and fans alike. Some whining by local businesses and residents caused some changes to the course but the end result was the same, with Levi extending his lead in the GC and giving this little tourist town a heck of a show.

David Millar and Christian VandeVelde from Slipstream/Chipotle took second and third respectively but were really not close to the little bald man from Santa Rosa, whose winning margin was nearly thirty seconds. Fabian Cancellara and Dave Zabriskie both finished over a minute behind on the 15 mile course.

I will post some pictures and more commentary shortly but in the meantime, I'll give a little insight into some of the things that stood out from my attendance at the race. I will elaborate on all of this when I get the photos up.

- Quick-Step seemed to have some of the largest crowds around the staging area where the riders were warming up. And the most people asking, "Who is that?"

- Dave Zabriskie and Steven Cozza's mustaches are even better in person than on TV.

- Pat McQuaid and Jim Ochowicz are buddies. And kind of funny.

- There is a new Specialized angel. And Paolo Bettini was fully checking her out.

- Rock Racing has one giant entourage. And they all wear black jeans. jeans.

- Michael Ball's glasses are gigantic.

- Mario Cipollini like a real-life comic book character.

- Astana's kits aren't quite as heinous as I had originally thought. But they're close.

- Bouyges Telekom may as well have not even been there.

- Bob Stapleton is a good guy.

- Oscar Friere is shorter than I thought.

- The long conversation between Friere, a few other Rabobank guys, Santiago Botero and Michael Ball was fascinating.

- Christian VandeVelde is coming out his shell after leaving CSC and starting to look like a threat to get some good wins this year.

- Dominique Rollin is a horse.

- Levi is what some would describe as "polished."

- Older people love Leipheimer and say lots of things like "He seems like a nice young man."

- I saw a guy that was on "Friends" but I can figure out his name. I was standing next to him in the media pit but it took me a while to figure out how I recognized him. Courtney Cox was nowhere to be found.

- Sadly, Wherry, Baldwin and SoPro Jones were not in attendance so that I could introduce them to my father like last year.

Well, there are a lot of other things that I am anxious to write about but this list will have to suffice until I get the photos rolling. I'm pretty sure it will be worth the wait.

Next up, Santa Barbara. Good times will be had.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

ToC Stage 4 - Big Brrr

Hey Folks, it's going to be a short recap of Stage 4 today because I just flew into Santa Barbara from Colorado and boy, are my arms tired. Yes, that is the worst joke in the world and yes, I said the exact same thing last year. But then again, it's been a long day and I just finished riding the TT course in Solvang, so I don't feel too guilty about it. Or maybe "windsurfed" would be a more accurate verb because "riding" seems too mellow.

Anyway, I really shouldn't complain because at least I didn't have to ride for 7 hours in the rain, wind and cold of Stage 4 from Seaside to San Luis Obispo like the rest of the ToC peloton. Despite the fact that this stage takes place over potentially the most spectacularly beautiful course in all of professional cycling, the weather in late February can be problematic to say the least. Jackson Stewart, who has managed to make it into almost every post I've written this week and was forced to abandon the race with hypothermia after being in an early breakaway would probably concur.

The weather also probably factored in the breakaway actually making it to the finish on a course that has historically ended in a field sprint into downtown SLO. Canadian Dominique Rollin got away from his companions to snatch the stage win from Big George Hincapie and give Toyota-United yet another ToC scalp. Even though I always like to see the domestic teams step up, it would have been nice for the High Road captain to get a victory in the team's new hometown.

Also adding to this sentiment is the fact that Toyota-United chose to bring exactly ZERO U.S. riders to the biggest race in America this year, which is something I am not entirely comfortable with. Now, I understand that the Southern Hemisphere guys are all flying right now but come on Pettyjohn and Morning Hair, where's the homegrown love?

Granted, I am certainly biased toward my boys Wherry and Baldwin and would have liked to see them in the race but I guess it's tough to argue when the team racks up a win like this. Rollin is one strong dude though and is likely to stand atop many a podium this year. I just hope that the U.S. riders don't take a back seat to all the foreigners rocking the TUP stars and stripes kit. I'm talking to you Chris x 2. Represent.

Levi maintained the overall lead and seems poised to defend last year's TT victory in Solvang but there are a bunch of fast guys breathing down his neck who could snatch the yellow jersey with a good ride and a bit of luck. Anything can happen in this event and riders that make it through cleanly will consider themselves very fortunate.

There have been a couple of changes to the course including a pretty tough climb right after the start but the route remains similar to last year. Culminating with the decisive climb through Ballard Canyon, there are ample places in this time trial where time can be gained or lost in massive chunks. If the weather is even close to as nasty as it was when I was out, there is going to be carnage on the roads surrounding this little Danish village. Between the rain, wind, road conditions, climbs and numerous technical could to be a wild, wild scene.

Let's all keep our fingers crossed for good weather on Friday. I didn't come back to Cali for Colorado temperatures. Come on, Mother a brother out.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

ToC Stage 3 - Worst Host Cities Ever

Due to a slight error in judgment by the race organizers, Stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California traveled from Modesto to San Jose. Modesto and San Jose? Really? Anyway, as we struggle to overlook the numerous shortcomings of the host cities for a moment, it should be noted that this was a great course which succeded in reshuffling the GC without giving away the final winner. Oh, the drama.

I usually try to provide some interesting local information for the ToC host cities but I am kind of stumped by Modesto. And the promotional city commercial they aired during the Versus coverage was one of the most depressing things I have ever seen. Perhaps all you need to know are these four facts:

1) Modesto is commonly referred to as "a great place to live, a horrible place to visit."

2) Modesto's official slogan is "Water Wealth Contentment Health," which is emblazoned on a large arch downtown near the start line. A contest was run in 1911 to determine the slogan. The original winning slogan was: "Nobody's got Modesto's goat". The second place entry was the final winner.

3) The area is plagued by some of the worst air quality in the nation, on occasion surpassing even that of Los Angeles.

4) Modesto is also reported to have had the highest car theft per capita rate in the United States in 2005 and 2006, although it dropped to fifth in 2007. So they’ve got that going for them. Which is nice.

Okay, now that we know where not to visit when in California…let’s get to some race action.
BMC got Nydam in the early break and he secured enough mountain points to take the jersey from his teammate Jackson Stewart. I have always wondered if this kind of jersey swapping within teams ever causes any conflict. I am pretty sure it’s not an issue with these guys but it’s yet another one of the fascinating dynamics of bike racing.

The break ended up being joined by Steven Cozza of Slipstream/Chipotle, who seems to be dueling with Dave Zabriskie for the most suave mustache in the peloton. I'm just jealous because I couldn't grow a lip warmer like that even if I stopped shaving for the rest of my life.

The whole facial hair thing reminds me of the Cheers episode where the guys have a beard growing contest. Hilarity ensues as Cliff ends up winning due to a little artificial follicular enhancement. I miss that show.

Sadly, one Slipstream rider who will not be competing in the mustache contest this week is Tyler Farrar. The overnight leader of the race was forced to take a seat in the sag wagon as he was apparently suffering from a stomach bug that is making its way through the event. It’s amazing how quickly the tides can change in this sport and it was pretty rough seeing the dejected rider try not to boot in front of the cameras. Not good times.

Once the contenders got to the base of Mt. Hamilton, it became the Postal/Discovery flashback show as Chechu Rubiera got on the front and proceeded to shell all but a select few riders by the summit. Apparently Jose Luis Rubiera Vigil (no wonder they gave him a nickname) still has the goods and Levi stepped right into the Alpha Dog role by barking tempo instructions for the entire climb.

Team Astan-ostal-overy was certainly riding with a lot of motivation putting Horner, Gusev, Brajkovich, Rubiera and Leipheimer in the front group all the way to the base of the final climb up Sierra Road. Others in the lead selection included David Millar, Christian VandeVelde, Fabian Cancellara, Bobby Julich and George Hincapie.

Eventually Robert Gesink from Rabobank took the front and quickly dropped everyone except Leipheimer, Horner and Zabriskie. With C-Ho occupying the tail-gunner position, the foursome rode at the Dutchman’s pace until Zabriskie lost contact near the summit. Horner continued to mark the Slipstream rider and the duo reached the peak about a minute behind Leipheimer and Gesink.

After a quick descent the current and former Rabobank riders desperately tried to maintain their advantage over a chase group that had swelled to about fifteen riders. In full pursuit of the leading duo, a veritable All Star Time Trial Team including Millar, Julich, Cancellara, and Zabriskie were able to take back much of their deficit but not enough to catch Gesink and Leipheimer by the finish in Downtown San Jose.

Fittingly, Levi granted the stage win to the lanky Dutchman who was largely responsible for the final time gap. With no time bonuses awarded at the finish, the gap of 18 seconds to the chase group was enough to give Leipheimer the overall lead. Fabian Cancellara was impressive yet again, finishing in the front group and ending the day in second place overall at 13 seconds back.

The race seems to be leading toward a big showdown in Solvang on Friday as a host of excellent time trialists will do their best to overthrow the man in the Retro Shooting Star kit.

Stage 4 begins in Seaside and ends in San Luis Obispo. Much better than Modesto and San Jose.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

ToC Stage 2 - Arnold In The House

Stage 2 of the Amgen Tour of California traveled east from Santa Rosa to the state capital of Sacramento under mostly cloudy, often rainy skies and cool temperatures. It’s a beautiful route with some difficult climbs before and after crossing the Napa Valley leading to a long slightly downhill run to SacTown. I wish I was making a joke there, but people actually refer to the state capital as “SacTown.” Sometimes you can’t make this stuff up.

Anyway, I thought this would be a good opportunity to tap into the deep reservoir of humor that is the Governor of California. I am speaking of none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger, bodybuilder, actor, politician…comedian. Now let’s recap the action of Stage 2 with the help of a few select Governator soundbites.

“The worst I can be is the same as everybody else. I hate that.”

This quote goes out to Scott Nydam for his lengthy solo effort for much of the stage. Following teammate Jack-Stew’s lead from the day before, the BMC rider built up a lead of 15 minutes before being reeled in outside of Sacramento. Even though the BMC kits are about as plain as you can get, this team is showing a lot of style in the first couple of stages so far.

“I just use my muscles as a conversation piece, like someone walking a cheetah down 42nd Street.”

This is one of my all-time favorite Ahhnold quotes and seems fitting for the Rock Racing advertisement being aired during the Versus coverage. The commercial has some snazzy music and a lot of quick-cut editing showing six RR riders in their green and black kits (which are strangely reminiscent of the Cobra Kai skeleton costumes). Ironically, the cameras focus largely on ToC/UCI Blacklist victims Tyler Hamilton, Santiago Botero, Oscar Sevilla and Kayle Leogrande. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t be surprised if this whole fiasco has gotten RR and Michael Ball more publicity than they would have had with a full roster of riders.

This quote also reminds of the rumor that Mario Cipollini actually owns/owned a puma. If anyone can verify this for me, I would appreciate it. I’m not sure what the deal is with that at all but I can totally see Cipo cruising down the street with a puma.

“It was the most difficult decision in my life - except the one in 1978 when I decided to get a bikini wax.”

The man who once went by the name “Arnold Strong” was talking here about his decision to run for Governator, but this could easily have been what Jonny Sundt or Steven Cozza were saying to themselves after giving up on their respective efforts to chase down Nydam in the break. They could have gotten some good publicity if they had latched on.

One of the things that casual fans may not appreciate is the early race Break/Chase dynamic that often takes place before the TV coverage starts. The split-second decision to make and mark various early moves dictates the way the race will unfold and can turn an otherwise anonymous rider into a star. At least until he gets swallowed up by the peloton.

“Money doesn't make you happy. I now have $50 million but I was just as happy when I had $48 million.”

As the race courses through Napa Valley along the Silverado Trail, there is probably someone in one of the surrounding homes that is uttering this same statement right now. Or perhaps it is being repeated by one of the numerous millionaire team owners currently underwriting the sport in this country. Thanks guys, you could have spent that dough elsewhere and I for one, am thankful that cycling is the beneficiary.

“This guy owes me bacon now . . . you can't have egg without bacon.” - (after being pelted with an egg at a political rally)

I can’t really think of a good race reference for this quote but I also can’t think of a better reaction to getting pelted with an egg at a political rally. Are we sure that wasn’t scripted?

“Everything I have ever done in my life has always stayed. I've just added to it . . . but I will not change. Because when you are successful and you change, you are an idiot.”

I want to be clear that I am not calling anyone an idiot, but this quote goes out to Mark Cavendish who seems to be having an odd Tour so far. He was super-animated in the bonus sprints of Stage 1 and then somehow failed to make the final split at the finish. Then he led out the sprint for Ciolek in Stage 2 with such fury that he gapped the entire field (success) and then just sat up about 30 meters from the line, thinking that his leadout job was done (change).

“I know that if you leave dishes in the sink, they get sticky and hard to wash the next day.”

This quote is a subtle reminder from Arnold to all of the team mechanics to get busy with those bikes.

“I would rather be Governor of California than own Austria.”

All things considered, I would rather be Tom Boonen than Governor of California. The big Belgian made up for the misplaced efforts of his Quick-Step teammates in the Stage 1 finish and handily took the sprint victory in downtown Sacramento ahead of Haussler and the amazing Mario Cipollini. It’s always big news when Tomeke wins but I think Cipo’s podium finish was even more impressive.

“I saw a woman wearing a sweatshirt with Guess on it. I said, Thyroid problem?”

Speaking of clothing, Tyler Farrar of Slipstream/Chipotle p/b H30 took enough time bonuses to take the yellow jersey from Fabian Cancellara. Things continue to look good for the Argyle crew and Farrar may very well be stepping it up a level this year. It will be virtually impossible to hang on to the lead after the climbs of Stage 3, but Farrar and Slipstream have done an excellent job so far.

“Milk is for babies. When you grow up you have to drink beer.”

I can’t possibly expand on this one. See you tomorrow. Arnold Out.

Monday, February 18, 2008

ToC Stage 1 - Dyn-O-Mite

Alright, alright. Here we go again for Stage 1 of the Amgen Tour of California, with a familiar winner on a familiar course. As another famous J.J. (Evans from Good Times and Chicago, not Haedo from CSC and Argentina) once said, “Dyn-O-Mite!”

Let’s go to the tapes for a recap of the action:

Stage 1 of the ToC is nearly identical to the previous two editions of the race, taking the riders on a beautiful trip from Sausalito to Santa Rosa. Fabian Cancellara is in the yellow jersey and will probably stay there, but with 98 twisty miles and a bunch of sprint bonuses ahead, there’s no telling what could happen.

I always chuckle when I see this stage described as “fairly flat.” I’ve ridden it before and I can tell you that it is not flat. In fact, with the exception of the final run in to Santa Rosa and a few select waterfront stretches, the entire course is basically a twisting roller coaster with a few tougher climbs thrown in for good measure. Trust me, it’s not flat but it is one of the most beautiful routes in the world.

The stage starts in Sausalito, a quaint little waterfront tourist town just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. But the real fun begins quickly after the neutral roll out as the field enters my hometown of Mill Valley and begins to climb the lower slopes of Mt. Tam. After a quick dip through Muir Beach the course then heads down toward Stinson Beach and the site of my very first real bike ride along Bolinas Lagoon.

Fun Local Fact: Believe it or not, both Tupac Shakur and I went to Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley for a short time. We weren’t in the same grade or anything but still. Then he moved to Oakland and I moved to Boulder. The rest is history.

Shortly before passing the turn that leads up the world famous Bolinas Ridge Road, BMC rider and Bay Area native Jackson Stewart leaves a small breakaway group and gets a pretty good gap. Fresh off a win at the legendary Cherry Pie Criterium in Napa, Stewart is showing good form and is, at least from what I understand, kind of a big deal.

Well, the pie he won last week must have been pretty good because the gap is building. Fast. So this is probably a good opportunity to point out that a quick Googling of “Jackson Stewart” reveals the unfortunate reality that this is also the name of a character on the television show Hannah Montana. And if I’m not mistaken, this show somehow involves Billy Ray Cyrus. That sucks for Jackson Stewart.

What also sucks is how many times Phil Liggett is going to call him Stewart Jackson. Which ever name you put first, the BMC rider is now shooting through Bodega Bay while David Millar escorts Tyler Farrar to some sprint bonus points near the Salt Water Taffy hut.

Fun Local Fact: Bodega Bay is the location of Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary thriller “The Birds.” It is a cool little town and the birds are actually quite friendly.

So it seems that (Ms) Jackson (if you’re nasty) Stewart has a pretty massive gap as the field hits the base of the Coleman Valley Road climb. Danny the Pate is up at the front with all the other players, including Levi, Cancellara and even Big Tom Boonen. There are some surges over the top but everyone will certainly come back together quickly.

The final eastbound run to Santa Rosa proves to be too much for Jackson (5) Stewart and he is caught by a group of about 60 riders. I am not sure if the split in the field was a result of the climb but it certainly makes for a safer finish in the downtown circuits.

Fun Local Fact: Charles Schultz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, was a long-time resident of Santa Rosa. They even named the local airport after him. I think it’s called Peppermint Patty Municipal Airport.

Quick Step and CSC are regulating the front as we near the final stretch. Bettini goes too early with Boonen on his wheel. And it’s…J.J. Haedo by a couple of bike lengths!!

The finish is tough to see because it comes out of a tunnel on a little rise but you got the sense that it was in the bag when Cancellara sat up and put his hands in the air about 20 meters before J.J. even crossed the line. After a textbook set up by Bjarne’s boys, the big Argentinean jumped first and no one could match him for his 5th ToC stage win.

I guess you kind of have to step up when you have Jens Voigt, Bobby Julich, Stuart O’Grady and Fabian Cancellara (in yellow no less) selling out for you. Not to mention The Bald Eagle, Bjarne Riis waiting in the bus. This is not a group of guys you want to let down.

Unfortunately the finish in Santa Rosa was once again marred by a crash involving one of the race favorites. This time it was George Hincapie who hit the deck just before exiting the tunnel leading up to the line. Bad luck for George again in Cali but it looks like he’ll be okay.

I’ve been trying to think of other J.J.’s but the one that keeps topping the list is certainly J.J. Evans from Good Times. I don’t know how the comedic stylings of Jimmie Walker would go over in Argentina though, so I kind of doubt that Haedo is familiar with his namesake.

Regardless, it should be noted that the popular ‘70’s sitcom about an African-American family living in a Chicago housing project actually has a pretty strong tie to the cycling world. Stumped?
The legendary John Amos played James Evans Sr. on Good Times a few years before tackling the character of Dr. Conrad (Kevin Costner’s colleague at the Sports Institute and father of Randolph) in the classic cycling movie American Flyers.

So that’s it for Stage 1, as J.J. Haedo takes another one for CSC and Fabian Cancellara retains the overall lead. The links to guys named J.J. and bike racing are obvious but I still have one question.

How do you say “Dyn-O-Mite” in Spanish?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

ToC Prologue - Fabian Cancellifornia

Hello Race Fans, welcome to my coverage of the third edition of the Amgen Tour of California. Or as Phil Ligget calls it, “The Tour of Caulifoenia.”

Local Background Info:

Organizers have made some changes to the event this year and the prologue has been moved from the classic Coit Tower course in San Francisco to Palo Alto and the campus of Stanford University. As such, the brutal climb up Telegraph has been replaced by a flat but moderately technical route along Palm Drive, likely reducing the chance that defending champ Levi Leipheimer will be donning the yellow jersey for the third year in a row.

Now, I loved the history and spectacle of the old Coit Tower prologue course but I have a strong affinity for Stanford, largely because my Grandmother and one of my oldest friends both graduated from the school. Another reason is because it is the location of one of the most surreal experiences I have ever had in my life.

Rewind to 1995: I was visiting my friend Dr. M at Stanford and we ended up at pretty good sized party. (Believe it or not, kids at Stanford actually do have regular college-style parties.) So, I’m hanging out wondering how much better everyone there did on their SAT’s than me when a group of people comes through the door. At first I didn’t think anything of it and then Dr. M motions in their direction and starts laughing.

Much to our amusement, the party had just been joined by Fred Savage aka Kevin Arnold from the Wonder Years. He had kind of a weird posse of kids with him but I didn’t see Paul Pfeifer or Winnie Cooper anywhere. We made lots of Winnie Cooper jokes that night. Believe it or not, kids at Stanford can be pretty funny too.

So, just as we’re running out of Wonder Years and Princess Bride jokes, another group of people make their way in. Again, Dr. M gestures over just as Danny Pintauro (aka Jonathan Bower from Who’s The Boss?) comes in the door with another odd mix of hangers-on. This launched us into a rather fertile patch of Samantha Micelli references that carried much of the conversation for the rest of the night.

Anyway, to finish making a short story long, I like Stanford and Palo Alto. The cycling community is very strong and they deserve to have the prologue held here. Plus, the local businesses and politicians are probably a lot easier to deal with than the stooges in San Francisco, who have effectively pushed out both the Grand Prix/International and the ToC. Way to go SF. Way to go.

Television Coverage Info:

The folks at Versus have blessed the television audience with the ever-popular Phil Ligget, Paul Sherwen, Bob Roll trio. Normally, this is a good thing and means that the event will be entertaining to watch. What is also entertaining is listening to Phil Ligget try valiantly to pronounce “California” correctly.

Since we’re near a college, maybe a good TV drinking game would be to take a shot every time Phil calls the race “The Tour of Caledonia.” I think I have counted a few already. I really respect Ligget a lot but come on Big Guy, California is a pretty important place. I feel like mispronouncing “California” is akin to calling New York,“Yew Nork.” Come on Phil, you’re better than that.

The pre-race coverage had segments on Rock Racing, High Road, Astana and Slipstream which were interesting. Michael Ball actually seems like a pretty decent guy and apparently drives a Bentley. Phil, Paul and Bob also seemed to think that his participation is good for the sport which has to be somewhat validating. Ball and the entire team have taken a bit of a beating in the press but I think they may be able to shake off some of the bad vibes before the race is over.

It’s a bit of a shame that Hamilton, Botero and Sevilla got shelved again because of the Operacion Puerto shenanigans but the introduction of Mario Cipollini should spice things up a notch. Plus, there is always the ever-dynamic Doug Ollerenshaw, whose sheer charisma and star power are bound to stir things up.

Race Coverage Info:

- Judging from the mustache worn to the start line of the prologue, David Zabriskie is apparently going to be a police officer or a porn star when he retires. If he had been wearing short-shorts instead of his National Champ skinsuit, DZ would have been a dead ringer for Lt. Dangle from Reno 911. Or Jeff Kent from the Los Angeles Dodgers. I am extremely curious to see if the molestache makes it to the end of the week.

Question: Seriously, what’s the deal with police officers and mustaches? The other day I was watching a show on the History Channel about these Illinois cops who saw a UFO and they each had the exact same facial hair strategy - non-existent side-burns and a big bushy ‘stache. It’s almost like they were trying to look like the dude from The Village People. Maybe Dave Z saw the same show and got inspired. Or vice versa.

Regardless of the added wind resistance, D-Zab sets the early best time.

- Mario Cipollini puts in a remarkable performance to get a top-twenty (at least at the time he finished, he ended up 44th overall, 17 seconds back) result in the lime-green and black Rock Racing “Juice” kit. Not bad for a guy who was retired a couple weeks ago.

I always thought it was cool that Cipo was such a professional even though he cultivated this crazy playboy image. I appreciate those who are able to be successful and work hard without being uptight and boring. That can be a rare quality but the Lion King has it locked down.

- Tyler Farrar surprised some people by ending up on the podium and holding the best time for much of the day. Apparently the big kid from the Northwest was crushing people en route to winning two stages and the overall of the Tour of Bahamas. And we all know that if you can win in the Bahamas, you can win anywhere.

It’s all well and good that Farrar put in a good prologue but I am really interested in seeing how he fares in the sprints this week. With the likes of Boonen, Friere, Ciolek and many other top-level finishers, the ToC may be a perfect opportunity for Farrar to step into the role of the top American road sprinter. With the exception of Freddie Rodriguez, the U.S. has been sorely lacking in this department since the glory days of Davis Phinney and the Cofidis refugee seems to be pretty fast at the moment.

- Speaking of Cofidis refugees, the follically challenged Bradley Wiggins almost got the "W" for the new California-based High Road outfit. The new kits are a significant improvement over the pink past of T-Mobile but Wiggins is still apparently having problems finding a fully-sighted barber to complete the look upgrade. Good thing there is a helmet rule.

- Bobby J, Jens Voigt, George Hincapie, Chris Horner, David Millar, Ben Jacques-Maynes, Christian VandeVelde and Tom Boonen all put in respectable rides and finished within about 10-20 seconds back. Nothing spectacular from this group but a decent way to start the race.

- Fabian Cancellara devoured the prologue course to set the best time, a full 4 seconds ahead of B-Wiggs. The thick Swiss rider is becoming nearly unbeatable against the clock and just mashed the snot out of this flat course like he was mad at it. I would be very afraid of Fab-Can when Paris-Roubaix comes around in a few weeks. In the meantime, I would be very afraid of him this week as well. I doubt he’ll make it over Mt. Hamilton and Sierra Road with the leaders but he’ll probably wear the jersey until then.

- Impressively, the 5’7” 140lb Leviathan Leipheimer finished a remarkable 4th in the prologue, only 6 seconds behind Cancellara. If this result is any indication, the tiny bald man from Santa Rosa is feeling well and will likely be quite motivated to repeat his overall victory from last year.

So, the third annual Amgen Tour of California has its first leader (the first non-American ToC leader if I’m not mistaken) in the form of World Time Trial Champion Fabian Cancellara. Monday’s stage travels through my hometown of Mill Valley and finishes in Levi Leipheimer’s adopted hometown of Santa Rosa.

Let’s just hope the riders watch out for those Botts Dots on the road. We don’t want a replay of last year fellas.

Friday, February 8, 2008

ASO Leaning Toward Lewis, Hasselhoff

Paris, France

Sources close to the Amaury Sports Organization have leaked news that invitations to the 2008 Tour de France may be extended to entertainers Jerry Lewis and David Hasselhoff instead of high caliber Pro Tour cycling teams Astana and High Road.

While there has been no official announcement at this point, it has been widely reported that the ASO, which also runs Paris-Nice and a number of other prominent races, is intent on deciding who will compete in their events without the influence of the UCI and Pro Tour. The inclusion of Lewis and Hasselhoff would be a clear indication that the rift between the two organizations is as strong as ever.

Further enhancing rumors that the two American actor/comedians will be extended invitations to the 2008 Tour de France is the recent announcement that Giro d’Italia organizers RCS have requested that Sophia Loren and Francis Ford Coppola replace Astana and High Road at the start line of the second most prestigous stage race in the world.

"It has been well documented that Astana and High Road both have a history of doping violations. The fact that the current teams have cleaned house in almost every respect and have implemented some of the most advanced internal testing programs in the sport does not make up for the past indiscretions of people who aren't even affiliated with the team anymore," explained a source within the ASO who asked to remain anonymous.

"In fact, we feel an obligation to punish those individuals who attempt to salvage formerly tarnished teams and have the gall to employ reputedly clean riders who want to race at the highest level of the sport,” the source continued. “We really don't care about 'sponsors' or trivial things like that, so we will probably just invite Jerry Lewis and David Hasselhoff instead."

When questioned about Hasselhoff’s recent issues with alcohol, the source quickly responded, "Hey, we're French remember? If we took umbrage with every alcoholic out there…well, let me tell you, we just don't have that kind of time.

“Besides, Jerry Lewis is practically French royalty and the Germans love them some David Hasselhoff. We are really hoping that these two European icons will significantly increase our broadcasting revenue,” the source explained.

“The whole German TV withdrawal after the T-Mobile rider was kicked out last year was brutal. But if the man who played Michael Knight and Mitch Buchannon can’t get them watching again, then I don’t know who will. And since Jerry Lewis is liable to say any number of offensive things in public these days, he is perfect candidate for one of our Wild Card entries.”

Questions about overall competitiveness and race quality went unanswered as the source was called away by ASO officials to view a Nutty Professor/Baywatch Nights double feature.

Monday, February 4, 2008

A Walking Diary - Cycling Through The Super Bowl

As part of my training for the upcoming Tour of California, I decided to get the fingers warmed up with a Running Diary of the Super Bowl from a cyclist's perspective. Then I realized that the game is like 5 hours long and reduced my efforts to the 2nd Quarter and halftime show. At least I know my limits and broke it down to a walk. Here we go:

Okay, it’s the beginning of the second quarter and the Patriots have just taken a 7-3 lead over the Giants in the Super Bowl. C-Mac is on the treadmill, Cosmo is asleep on the couch next to me and the belly is full of some excellent sporting event foods. Now I’m ready for some good old American sporting violence and big budget commercialism.

I will try to add as much cycling stuff to this as I can since I would rather be watching Slipstream dominate the Tour of the Bahamas right now. But since it’s easier to find high school football on TV than cycling, I guess the biggest sporting event in the country will have to do instead.

As we begin our coverage of the 2nd Quarter, it should be noted that one of the most entertaining things about the Super Bowl is the random celebrity element. There are usually a few legitimate stars in the crowd but there is also the inevitable array of has-beens and weirdos who think they are part of the show.

A quick crowd shot by the Fox camera crew reveals the presence of Pam Anderson (not sure who she was with, but she looks annoyed and possibly drunk), Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy (a potentially uber-annoying couple who seem to be oddly mellow and normal) and good old Giselle Bundschen, the girlfriend of Pats Quaterback Tom Brady, who may or may not have realized that American Football is different than that of her native Brazil. I think it is written in every Brazilian model’s contract that she must date a football (soccer) player and GB just found a loophole.

I guess I should actually begin by saying that I am not a huge football fan anymore but I watch Sports Center religiously so I generally know more about the sport than my interest level would indicate. The reason I include “anymore” in the previous sentence is because I was born and raised a die-hard San Francisco Forty-Niner fan and since I have moved to Colorado - and since the Niners have continually sucked for the last decade - it has been harder to follow them with as much passion as I had during their 80’s-90’s Super Bowl runs.

And now what is this commerical? Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man? I never got really excited about Comic Book Heroes as a kid but I have an affinity for Iron Man because of Ghostface Killah from Wu Tang Clan. One of his alias’ is Tony Starks, the real name of the dying scientist in the iron suit. Anyway, the movie looks okay and Downey is usually pretty good but it takes a lot to get me to shell out $10 for a movie these days. But if Ghostface is in it, I’ll go for sure.

It should now be pointed out that the coaches for both teams are wearing the cheesiest white Reeboks I have ever seen. I say that with love because at one time (like, 5th grade) I had some Reeboks that were almost the same style. But again, that was 1986. They look especially lame for the guys rocking the tan slacks. Hey Coach Belichick, where are the headband and fuzzy leg warmers?

Remember the Plymouth-Reebok cycling team back in the day? From back when aerobics classes were booming and shiny white Reeboks were radically awesome? And both McCormack brothers were killing everyone in their British flag-splashed jerseys? I remember.

Anyway, now the Giants are punting. Being a punter must be a great job. It’s got to be kind of tough to get heckled by all the other players and generally get disrespected but I think I could live with it considering the median salary for an NFL punter in 2007 was right around $1 million dollars. How did I not recognize this career path long ago? Oh well.

Or think about it this way: The average NFL punter makes more money than some of the budgets of entire domestic cycling teams. Ouch.

Speaking of domestic cycling teams, Toyota just ran a funny Corolla ad with a sleeping Mama Badger. I have never seen a badger in real life, but I don’t think I would want to mess with one. Do they even have badgers in Colorado?

Anyway, Ahmad Bradshaw just fumbled for the Giants but recovered the ball. That’s an interception, sack and fumble on consecutive plays for the G-Men if you’re scoring at home. Or if you’re alone.

Bradshaw did well to get the ball back though. Maybe his HUGE bicep tattoos made the difference. He has a huge “A” on one arm and a “B” on the other. I would like to see some cyclists try to pull that tattoo style off. Can you imagine a big “A” and “C” on Contador’s chicken wings? I think that would be great.

Career Builder just grossed me out and made me feel bad about my professional choices all at once with their “Follow Your Heart” commercial. Thanks Career Builder/Nausea Inducer. Thanks a lot.

Now we have Naomi Campbell doing the Thriller dance with a bunch of SoBe lizards. Apparently SoBe is sponsoring the halftime show as well. Instead of mountain bike teams.

Completing this unpleasant commercial break is a pharmaceutical “Just Say No” type of ad with the worst drug dealer actor ever. Seriously. This guy was like a combination of every hokey dealer from the old After School specials all rolled up into one hilarious stereotype. But I think the ad was actually targeted toward parents so maybe it was right on point. Even though the parents are probably the ones abusing the pharmaceuticals to begin with.

Apparently Fox is pretty excited about their medi-drama “House.” Not sure what the deal is with that show but they got Mira Sorvino (who hasn’t worked much lately) which is nice. But she’s in Antartica. And a mechanic is going to have to drill into her skull while House watches. I guess. I’ve only seen the commercial 20 times in the last hour.

Brady just got sacked by Kawika Mitchell. I knew a kid named Kawika Chetron back in elementary school in Mill Valley who played goalie on our soccer team. From what I recall, the ONLY thing that these two have in common is their first name. Which is pronounced Kuh-Vee-Kuh by the way. Not too many Kawika’s out there though.

The makers of the GMC Yukon Hybrid are telling me to never say never. But I am going to ignore their wishes and say, unequivocally, that I will NEVER buy a GMC Yukon. Hybrid or not, I am never going to be that guy.

Okay, I have now just witnessed yet another horribly offensive Bud Light ad featuring the low-brow comedic stylings of Carlos Mencia. This commercial is supposed to play on the fact that ladies dig guys with accents. But despite this extremely intellectual premise, somehow the ad becomes a showcase of vaguely negative racial and social stereotypes. Good job Bud Light. You are doing wonders for the assimilation of many people into your glorious world of sports-related inebriation and sexism. Sweet. How did this get aired?

Now a shot of Randy Moss, not looking happy. But then again, when has he ever looked happy? He may have been smiling as he ran over the Minneapolis traffic cop with his car a few years ago but I am not sure. Even though he kind of screwed the Oakland Raiders – which is always good for some Brownie points in my book - this is not my kind of guy. And the fact that he did not pay tribute to Jerry Rice (the Eddy Merckx of receivers) after he broke the TD receptions record this year was ignorant, arrogant and unacceptable. Always give props to Jerry.

Bradshaw just made a nice run and Troy Aikman said that he “shot the gap.” This makes me think of the many uses of the term “gap” in cycling. “Get a gap” “Close the gap” “The gap is widening” “The area in between Bob Roll and Michael Strahan’s front teeth” and many more. For more information, see Chris Horner’s piece in the movie PRO for a great tutorial in the usage of the term “gap.”

Okay, what the hell is with the Dancing Fox football robot? I don’t get what that thing is all about.

Now a Planters ad with a mono-browed chick who distracts a bike messenger with her peanut perfume and makes him crash into a stopped car. This is funny because it’s true. Well, except for the mono-brow part. That is sad but true.

Up next is a T-Mobile (Did they ever have anything to do with cycling? I forget) ad with Charles Barkley and Dwyane Wade. This is the first time I have had the opportunity to write “Dwyane” and it makes me just as angry as I thought it would. Wade seems like a good guy but there is simply no excuse for that spelling. But Charles is the star of the commercial as always.

Random Side Story: A few years ago when I was playing a lot of golf, C-Mac and I managed to attend the John Elway Celebrity Golf Tournament at the Interlocken resort. It was a pretty fun day of wandering around the course and trying to pick out the people playing. It was especially pleasant watching a completely trashed Judd Nelson get booted off the par-3 12th hole after shanking no less than 10 balls in the creek. At about 11:00 in the morning.

But the most memorable part of the day came as we watched the Charles Barkley group play toward us. Despite one of the worst looking swings ever, Barkley had driven the ball right into the center of the fairway and proceeded to drill his approach shot to about 4 feet from the pin.

I guess he was really keeping his head down because he then jumped in his cart and drove straight over to where C-Mac and I were standing and asked where his ball had landed. I laughed at first and then realized he was serious, quickly informing him that it was right next to the hole. C-Mac congratulated him on the shot, then he thanked us and sped away again.

After sizing up his putt for about 2 seconds, Barkley missed the cup by a foot and snapped his putter in half like it was a chopstick.

The funniest part of this whole event was that Barkley was actually driving the cart. Usually in tournaments like this, the organizers have some local kids chauffer the players around. But Barkley wouldn’t let his kid drive, so this poor 13 year old was just sitting there in the passenger seat of the cart, terrified to say anything and just hoping that he wouldn’t upset Sir Charles. It was great.

Actually the funniest (and saddest) part of the tournament was all the haggard old groupies that were roaming the course. I think some of those ladies should have retired when the players did. No Hall of Fame for that particular crew.

Okay, Doritos just got my vote for best commercial of the night so far. This stuffy dude cuts a Dorito with an X-acto knife and sets it into a mouse trap in front of a hole in the wall. After a few seconds a guy in a Mouse costume jumps through the wall and just starts beating on the stuffy dude, taking his bag of Doritos. Oh man. I actually laughed out loud at that one. There is just something about people in animal costumes being violent that hits me right in the funny-bone. SEE: Every fight between high school/college/professional mascots that has ever taken place.

So, I guess Motorola is making the headsets for the coaches. One of my favorite things about the old Motorola cycling team was that they were some of the first to rock the sweet Sub-6 Specialized helmets. I still think those were rad. Not to mention that they saved my melon on a few occasions. Thank you Specialized.

Brady gets sacked, fumbles and the Giants recover. 10 seconds left. This is not looking like the type of game most people had anticipated. Brady is taking some serious shots today. The Giants are all up in his Bundschen right now and if the 2nd half doesn’t open up, we may have ourselves an upset here.

And now for the SoBe Life Water halftime show.

Some guy I don’t know, Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long and Jimmie Johnson are the studio crew for Fox. Ugh. Howie is the only guy that I even remotely care for and Bradshaw makes me cringe. Jimmie Johnson is wearing a pretty sharp tie though. And some sweet old man-style gold jewelry.

Honestly, part of my issue with Terry Bradshaw is not even his own fault. It’s actually because C-Mac occasionally makes me watch Sex and the City from time to time and Sarah Jessica Parker’s character is named Carrie Bradshaw. I find this name similarity absolutely MADDENING.

Are you kidding me? They really couldn’t come up with another name that didn’t sound exactly like one of the most polarizing players and broadcasters in NFL history? This drives me crazy for some reason. And makes me hate that show even more than the normal man. It is outrageous and disturbing that so many women love that show. Crazy.

Now for the halftime concert. I am guessing we are all comfortable that Mr. Petty will not be revealing his breasts tonight, but you never know about those Heartbreakers. I would like to go back to the old days of crazy choreographed numbers with costumes and stuff. Not just some “safe” band that goes through the motions of a few old songs while some random people dance on the field around them.

Anyway, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers put on a good show but I think it would have been more entertaining to watch a bunch of celebrities play Guitar Hero. Nothing against Tom though. I have always liked him a lot. From the old days thru the Traveling Wilbury’s and even some of the more recent stuff. But Guitar Hero is really fun and probably would have been more entertaining than listening to a middle-aged band play songs I originally heard decades ago.

C-Mac’s review of the halftime show: “There sure are lots of sluts in the crowd.” Excellent.

The concert is over and they just ran a truly horrible Sales Genie ad with culturally insensitive cartoon Pandas. I can’t believe that a company sells sales leads. I also can’t believe that I just wrote the term “culturally insensitive cartoon Pandas.” And I was serious.

But really, how poor is your market research and how generic is your product that you can just call some company and get better sales leads than you could generate on your own? And why the Pandas? I really just don’t get this.

The commercial break is saved by Shaq in a horse race, looking like he’s about 4 times the size of the other jockeys. I used to dislike Shaq-Fu but now I think he’s pretty cool. I am actually fascinated by his public persona because no one really knows who Shaq is. He’s like this big character that is always talking but never really saying anything. I think he’s a lot smarter than most people give him credit for.

At this point we switched over to the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet. Now this is great show. It was all fun and games until one of the little pooches committed a Personal Foul on the field while the terrier called a timeout and flopped over in the corner to take a nap. This is totally better than the Super Bowl.

Editor’s Note: We did end up getting back to the Super Bowl and it was pleasing to watch the underdog take out the overdog(?). For reference, this upset should not have come as a surprise to many cycling fans out there. After all, there may have been some truth to the rumor that the Giants had hired Greg LeMond and Floyd Landis as consultants while the Patriots retained the services of Laurent Fignon. I thought Belichick was smarter than that.

Up next: The Tour of California and a bunch of even worse commercials and celebrity appearances.