Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009 Road Season Recap - Good Riddance

As far as I am concerned, 2009 was a truly lame year on almost every level. It may seem myopic to cast such judgment on the last 365 or so days of history but for me and almost everyone I ever speak with or listen to, this is a fairly common sentiment. For nearly everyone except Mark Cavendish and people who like vampires, the past year pretty much sucked and there seems to be a general sense of relief that the first decade of the 21st century (don't get started on the semantics of this statement, you know what I mean) is coming to a close. Besides, according to the Mayans, Nostradamus and the History Channel, we only have a few more years before it’s all over anyway so hopefully 2010 will make up for the last year of lameness. After all, it would be nice to enjoy the final years of human existence.

On that positive note, let’s look back on 2009 in a semi-chronological, semi-freestyle manner, since excessive research is certain to be excessively depressing. Here we go:

January: The most historic event of the year (sorry Lance) takes place as Barack Obama is inaugurated President of the United States of America. Unfortunately, he inherits a rat’s nest of domestic and international problems that even exceeds Pat McQuaid taking over the UCI from Hein Verbruggen. Perhaps Barack and Pat should have a pint sometime and discuss how impossible their respective jobs are. Who would want those positions? I almost feel sorry for them. Almost.

February: The fourth edition of the Tour of California takes place, marking the return of Lance Armstrong to the U.S. peloton after a few years of running around with Wooderson from Dazed and Confused. Alright, alright, alright. Despite having his bike stolen and hitting the deck a few times, LA proves that he is serious (duh) and helps Levi Leipheimer take his third consecutive victory in the Amgen ToC. Perhaps the most intriguing result is captured by Tom Peterson, the young American hopeful who hangs with LL and takes the stage win into Santa Cruz ahead of some big names.

March: The European season begins in earnest with Paris-Nice and the beginning of the Armstrong-Contador rivalry on Twitter. Contador bonks and loses to Luis Leon-Spinks Sanchez which prompts LA to publicly heckle his own teammate and show the first sign of his true resentment toward the Spaniard. Go Team!

Tirreno-Adriatico provides some early season sprints, climbs and TT’s as well as a podium of sketchiness in Scarponi, Garzelli and Kloden. Tyler Farrar manages to surprise a distracted Mark Cavendish and beats the Manxman to the line, thereby allowing the American media to fool itself into thinking he might do it again. Understandably, Cavendish holds a grudge and goes on to frustrate the American for the rest of the year.

Milan-Sanremo is perhaps my favorite race, and the 2009 edition of the event confirms its reputation as a Classic. The biggest question is always who can get over the final climbs in good position for the finish although it seems that the sprinters have little difficulty handling them these days. This is again evidenced by Mark Cavendish having enough energy to burst from the pack in the closing meters to nip a courageous Heinrich Haussler in a photo finish after nearly 300 kilometers. If you listen closely, you can hear all of the other sprinters emitting a collective groan as they realize MC is only 23 years old.

April: The Tour of Flanders is an amazingly complex and difficult race, which makes it somewhat odd that the 2009 edition plays out almost exactly the same as the prior year. Similar to 2008, everyone follows Tom Boonen and ends up watching Stijn Devolder ride away with the race. Good for Belgium, not so good for Filippo Pozzato, who confirms his status as Boonen’s Spring shadow.

Norwegians are cool and Ghent-Wevelgem gives a glimpse at the future of Nordic bike racing goodness. Despite the truly bothersome phonetics of his name, Edvald Boasson Hagen is going to be a good one for the Classics and the sprints in years to come. He’s like a younger, Scandinavian Tom Boonen. The only thing that is unfortunate is his apparent ignorance of cycling history. And his haircut.

Later, in Paris-Roubaix Pozzato again plays the role of greasy-haired follower as Boonen rides steadily away from a bunch of people who can’t manage to stay on their bikes. Thor Hushovd is in a great position to get into the Roubaix velodrome with Boonen but decks it into the crowd as the Belgian rides away for his third win.

In the hilly classics, a Russian guy with the most Russian name ever (Sergei Ivanov) wins Amstel Gold for a Russian team, an apparent cheater nicknamed after a cartoon character (Tin-Tin) wins Fleche-Wallone, and Andy Schleck rights the wrongs of the 2008 Liege-Bastogne-Liege with an impressive win in La Doyenne.

May: The Giro d’Italia becomes a farce as Danilo DiLuca defies all rational thought and actually contends for the overall victory. Despite the semi-obvious ridiculousness of DiLuca and his drug-ridden performance, Denis Menchov proves too strong and too robotic to beat, securing his third Grand Tour victory ahead of names like Basso, Armstrong and Sastre. As usual, Menchov crashes in the final time trial, perhaps just to remind us that he is not a cyborg. One would think that robots would be better bike handlers.

June: The Dauphine-Libere again proves to be a strange event as Alejandro Valverde wins for the second year in a row. Perhaps Valv.Piti is more motivated than his competitors since he is not allowed to race in Italy and is prohibited from competing in the upcoming Tour de France. Interestingly, Alberto Contador seems more than willing to let his compatriot take the victory, perhaps hinting that he will rely on Spanish support during the Tour.

In Switzerland, Fabian Cancellara wins a Tour de Suisse that could not be more suited to his capabilities. Nevertheless, after a mediocre Spring campaign Fab-Can shows that he will be a force to be reckoned with for the remainder of the season.

July: For anyone really paying attention, the Tour de France is a formality as Alberto Contador proves, yet again, that he is on another level. Despite media efforts to create competitive tension, the race is essentially over the moment Contador finishes the prologue in Monaco. Nobody is going to beat Cancellara for the first yellow jersey but the Spaniard is faster than Bradley Wiggins, Cadel Evans and a full 22 seconds in front of Armstrong after only 15 kilometers. No one can drop him (or even stay with him) in the mountains, and Contador goes on to win the final time trial as well, raising eyebrows and crushing dreams along the route around Lake Annecy.

Understanding that Contador is going to win unless Lance is willing to stick a pump in his spokes, the remainder of the Tour is an open audition for the future 2nd and 3rd place finishers over the next few years of Spanish spider monkey-style dominance. Andy Schleck seems to be a contender in the mountains but will have to get a lot better in the TT’s while Wiggins holds his own on the climbs but will have to prove that he is truly deserving of recognition as a future contender to Contador’s throne. If anything, the 2009 Tour de France proves that AC is not quick to back down and may have as much inner fury as his pseudo-teammate from Texas. This is scary.

Also scary is the fact that Mark Cavendish is virtually unbeatable in bunch sprints. Never before in my experience has someone dominated finishes the way that Columbia and Cavendish did in 2009. As such, the final stage on the Champs Elysees is the most impressive victory of the entire Tour, as George Hincapie crushes the run-in on a broken collarbone (almost single-handedly destroying the Garmin train) and sets up Mark Renshaw and Cavendish for the easiest and most convincing sprint finish I have ever seen. On the biggest stage possible.

August: Despite many near-misses throughout the year, Tyler Farrar finally catches a bit of momentum with an impressive win at Vattenfalls and a near-sweep of the Eneco Tour. Unfortunately, very few people have ever heard of these races.

Back in the States, Big George Hincapie uses his post-Tour, post-broken collarbone fitness to ride away with a third USPRO Championship in his hometown. After getting jobbed by Garmin-Slipstream during the Tour, Melanie’s husband gets a popular win in the Road Race as Dave Zabriskie saves face for the Argyle Armada and takes home yet another Captain America skinsuit in the Time Trial.

September: Despite Pat McQuaid’s prayers and ongoing battles regarding Operacion Puerto, Alejandro Valverde actually rides an intelligent race and wins the Vuelta Espana. Cadel Evans suffers extremely bad luck and Tom Danielson continues to subject the world to flashes of brilliance followed by painful disappointment. As screwed up as it seems, very few people are surprised by any of this. On the positive side, Tyler Farrar, Ryder Hesjedal and David Millar all win stages for Garmin-Slipstream, continuing a solid late-season rush that they all wish would have happened a couple months earlier.

In the Show Me State, Dave Zabriskie time trials his way to victory in the Tour of Missouri. Interestingly, the win is the first for DZ in a stage race and he is put under intense pressure for the final days of the event, despite the generally false assumption that Missouri is flat.

The World Championships are held in Switzerland and Fabian Cancellara comes very close to pulling off a truly amazing TT/RR double-gold performance. After destroying everyone in the TT, Fab-Can seems to be the strongest in the Road Race but falls victim to a late attack by Cadel Evans who goes on to a solo victory. No one argues that Evans is not worthy of the win but I have to wonder if we will ever witness someone come that close to wearing both professional rainbow jerseys.

October: Philippe Gilbert corners the market on late-season form and goes on a tear, winning four post-Worlds races in a row. The biggest win comes in the Giro di Lombardia as the Belgian shows his all-around skill by hanging with Sammy Sanchez on the final climb and descent before handling the Olympic champion in the final sprint. It remains to be seen whether Gilbert can keep his momentum through the offseason and challenge for some of the Spring Classics but if the final weeks of the 2009 season are any indication, he will be a confident challenger in 2010, despite his weird shoe design.

All in all, 2009 was a pretty entertaining year in the cycling world. Sure, there were many things that I did not recall in this process and there are many reasons that the aforementioned events stuck out to me, good and bad. But at the end of the day (or year), bike racing continued to provide a welcome diversion from the mundanity of my existence and yet again confirmed my optimism for the upcoming season. I can only hope that 2010 turns out better than 2009 on every level. Especially for Chris Horner.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day Discourse - The Price of Courage

Veterans Day means many things to many people. Personally, it is a time to reflect on the horror of war and honor those who have died in battle. But mostly, it is an opportunity to be exceedingly grateful that I have never had a compelling reason to join the military. I am also quick to recognize how lucky I am to have even had a choice in the matter. Thankfully, the thought of being forced to war (a frightening reality in the U.S. until 1973) is utterly inconceivable and I am thoroughly appreciative of the ability to consciously, legally avoid situations where I am forced to kill or be killed.

Since my generation has never had to worry about a draft, there has always been an assumption that one joins the military to either a) locate some financial assistance or a future career, or b) satisfy some kind of psychological urge for structure or violence. This is a generalization, of course, but also neatly sums up the core themes of Armed Forces advertising campaigns, so these opportunities must be appealing to someone. Without question, the decision is certainly a combination of various critical factors and there are obviously very complex reasons for signing your life away to Uncle Sam for a minimum of two years. Yet somehow I imagine that the best soldiers (at a time when enlistment is not mandatory) possess a healthy appreciation of (or at least a tolerance for) the latter elements.

For the record, I say all of this with a strong military presence in my family and deep respect for the security we enjoy courtesy of our Armed Forces. But beyond this appreciation of personal fortune and the sacrifice of others, I generally accomplish my patriotic duty for Veterans Day by watching football all week long and drinking domestic beer. I do this most Fall weeks anyway but recent military-themed NCAA and NFL programming over the past few days has forced me to come to a seemingly unpatriotic and unsettling conclusion: America killed Pat Tillman.

For those familiar with Tillman’s story (and more importantly, with the extent to which he has been glorified by the media; especially NFL-related sports outlets), this statement may fall somewhere between mildly shocking to grossly offensive. In truth, even I am disturbed by the potentially inflammatory nature of a claim that, if misinterpreted, may seem to minimize the inherent value of a life taken in the line of duty. It should be clear that this is certianly not my intent. It just seems as if his legacy should be examined within a semi-objective cultural context that serves as more than a vehicle for Chris Berman's labored superlatives, a heavily-orchestrated soundtrack and Arizona Cardinal football highlights.

Theoretically, Pat Tillman left a successful NFL career and sacrificed his life defending the United States of America. This is his lasting public legacy. But in reality he has (in the media-driven wake of his horrifyingly un-glorious death) become a depressingly simplified representation of a highly dangerous, uniquely American mix of arrogance, aggression, and tragedy. In reality, Pat Tillman, and most importantly his death as a result of being shot in the head three times by “alleged” friendly fire in Afghanistan, represents little more than a grim casualty of this country’s fundamental political, industrial, military and sporting ideology. Kill or be killed.

In public, Pat Tillman’s legacy is recounted with words like “hero” and “warrior.” In private, by those who truly loved him and miss him, there are likely unheard cries of “victim” and “waste.” These are not angry, mean-spirited words. They are deeply, painfully sad words. To his family and his country, Tillman was a tragically willing manifestation of a culture that outwardly encourages personal sacrifice while comfortably judging the world through television sets in the safety of warm living rooms. His legacy is carved in stone among the largely irrelevant flag-waving, jersey-wearing masses but Marie Tillman is now a widow and his family has been forever devastated by his choice to fight in a war that he may have ultimately come to question.

Pat Tillman was different than most people, and probably did not have much in common with many of those who now claim to idolize him. He was a man of extreme action and outward strength, whose life was brutally extinguished in an effort to embody values few possess, and which rarely exist in the real world. By representing an almost Hollywood-esque vision of patriotism (and perhaps, from a psychological perspective, subconsciously motivated by a personal desire for revenge as much as an active civic responsibility) Tillman consciously put his sworn obligation to care for his wife and family behind by volunteering for a starting position on the front lines of a lopsided war taking place halfway across the globe.

In 2002, Pat Tillman turned down a contract offer from the Arizona Cardinals of $3.6 million over three years to enlist in the U.S. Army. This money would have secured the financial future of his wife and family, while still allowing significant room for charitable contributions to any number of military causes. A fraction of Tillman’s annual salary would have been able to enrich the lives of hundreds of families already affected by the war(s) in Afghanistan and Iraq. But instead of maximizing this potential good will, he chose to quit the NFL, leave his family and risk becoming yet another number in the growing death toll.

Again, it should be clearly reiterated that I have immense respect for Pat Tillman on many levels, both personal and professional. It is virtually impossible for me to take issue with someone who has, at least in principle, sacrificed his life for my country. While I may disagree with his perceived logic and decision-making in this particular instance, such differences of opinion are common among thoughtful human beings and certainly not indicative of a personal desire to damage his reputation in any way. For the record, my concern is with the cultural context of his death and how it has been portrayed and manipulated by the media. In fact, Tillman’s reputation (and what it says about America) is what I am most concerned with.

Judging from standard media portrayals, Pat Tillman was the epitome of a contemporary hero, exemplifying the best “warrior” qualities of a football player, soldier and the All-American Man. However, I fear this description is misleading and potentially dangerous. One would hope that such a Man would place higher value on his potential contribution to family and society. Such a Man would ideally put these obligations above his own short-term personal motivations, no matter how noble they may have seemed to him at the time. Sadly, it is difficult to locate this mentality in the final act of Tillman’s life and subsequently, he has been reduced to a caricature of himself within much of the mainstream media. His legacy has now moved from that of a curiously tragic figure to a one-dimensional ultra-man who made the courageous, yet largely inexplicable choice to turn his back on millions of dollars in order to fight a war that ultimately, did not require his presence.

The mysterious nature of Tillman's death and subsequent controversy regarding its details have only served to further distance his public story from whatever the original truth may have been. It seems that no one (including the U.S. Army and his family) knows exactly what led to Pat Tillman being shot three times in the head by a fellow American soldier and at this point, it is difficult to separate the gruesome reality from the glamorized "warrior" images that now serve as the only visual reminder of his life for the general public. Strikingly similar to football, the true violence and danger of war is often masked by a shining, heroic facade of valor and honor. Tillman may have honestly embodied these traits as he performed his duty on the football field and battle field but in reality, both endeavors likely favor those who are willing to sacrifice any such notions. Valor and honor cannot guarantee a safe return home.

By all accounts, Pat Tillman was a good man, a good football player, and a good soldier who actually had very intelligent, critical thoughts on the war effort. By nature, one would assume that he would probably be uncomfortable with the title of “Hero.” Instead, he would likely prefer to be remembered as a “Patriot” and seemed to exemplify this description in both thought and action, perhaps more than almost anyone I can recall in my lifetime. That was probably enough for him and it should be enough for us. Heroes only exist in myths and sadly, Pat Tillman’s life and death are very real.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Conversation With The Devil In A Silver Subaru

The stretch of 4th Street leading south past the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine rises sharply but is fairly easy to ride up quickly without too much effort. Unfortunately, there is a stop sign at the intersection with Mapleton Avenue at the top of the hill that kills whatever momentum you have carried up the incline, and there are usually enough cars going up or down Sunshine Canyon to force an awkward “No, please, you go” scenario when you get there. That is, if you bother to stop at all.

The silver Subaru revved unnervingly behind me as I began to accelerate through the intersection, grinding my previously perfect but now painful gear back up to speed. I knew from the sound of the engine that this car had just performed a “California Roll” through the stop sign and was quickly bearing down on me as I crossed over Mapleton Hill. Normally this is not a concern but the street was beginning to narrow and there were cars parked all along the right curb, cutting my lane by a full four feet almost immediately. This did not matter to the silver Subaru, who raced along side me going well over the speed limit, pushing me further to the right and forcing me to brake in order to avoid doing a Davis Phinney impersonation into the back of a Lexus SUV.

I pulled back into the street and watched as the silver Subaru accelerated toward a large truck that was heading up to one of the many remodeling and construction projects on Mapleton Hill. For a moment I was certain that there would be a head-on collision, likely resulting in various unpleasant injuries and an even more unpleasant 911 call by yours truly. But honestly, a darker part of me kind of wanted to see the Subaru taste a little instant karma (as well as the bumper of a fully-loaded Toyota Tacoma).

The trucker laid heavily on the horn and finally managed to curb-check it enough to allow the silver Subaru to squeeze through without damage, but it was incredibly close. The truck stopped and a bearded man began leaning his head out of the window as I passed, both of us shaking our heads in mutual disgust. I could not make out the details of the driver’s comments but I am confident that they were not suitable for children.

The silver Subaru took a right turn at the bottom of the hill and I casually followed its path into the condominium parking lot at the end of the street. Usually I do not follow aggressive drivers (and certainly do not recommend it) but for some reason I felt a need to let this person know that he or she was probably not meeting the standard mental health requirements for Colorado driving privileges. Or at the very least, I wanted to ask why he or she chose to drive in such a manner when they only lived a few blocks away. I didn’t expect a positive reaction but I was wearing a helmet and had easy access to a bike pump if things got really out of hand.

When the forty-fifty-ish woman with a man’s haircut and sandals got out of the silver Subaru, she acted like nothing had happened. When she noticed me pulling up to the car she shockingly exclaimed, “Can you believe that truck honked at me? He almost hit me!”

I almost fell down in amazement but managed to circle back around and compose myself before responding, “Well, usually people honk when they are about to get hit, not when they are doing the hitting. I think that was actually your fault back there.”

She finished pulling her yoga mat out of the car and began to say something stupid when I interrupted her and stated in a firm yet unemotional tone, “You nearly hit me after blowing through the stop sign on Mapleton and then drove into oncoming traffic and nearly hit that truck. Just so you could get home from yoga class three seconds sooner? YOU are the problem and you are a menace.”

After those words came (semi-involuntarily) out of my mouth, I realized that last part may have been a bit excessive and it seemed to trigger a weird reaction in the manly-coiffed silver Subaru driver. She stuttered for a moment, shaking angrily in her stupid yoga clothes that would be inappropriate for a woman half her age and then blurted out, “I don’t have time for this right now.”

The mannish yoga wench stormed across the parking lot like a spoiled eight year-old brat and then suddenly (and rather humorously) realized that she had not locked her car. I watched for a moment as she turned back toward me, looked at her keys, then turned back around and walked away. She was apparently willing to leave whatever stupid valuables she may have had in the silver Subaru unprotected in order to avoid speaking to me again. But I didn’t really have anything else to say anyway, so it was probably better for both of us that she ran home like a little girl with Tom Brokaw’s haircut. Besides, her yoga mat was a better weapon than my bike pump.

If I were a meaner person (like her) I would have done something unpleasant to the exterior of her car after she ran away like a flexible, elitist coward. If I were really messed up I probably would have ripped out her stereo. But I’m the kind of guy who feels bad about yelling at stupid drivers, so I just rode away silently and lit her condo on fire later that night.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Interbike Images: Pro Style

One of the cooler things about Interbike is the prominent display of many sweet Professional bikes that have been ridden in the biggest events in the world. As soon as you walk into the lobby of the event you are greeted by a couple of Grand Tour rigs right off the bat.

Now, Denis Menchov is a great rider, and it's easy to forget that he has three Grand Tour victories to his name. But for some reason, it's easier to remember that he hits the deck more than any other big name rider I can think of. He crashes going uphill, in time trials, on descents...it's really quite remarkable. I looked for scratches and blood (or chicken feathers) but couldn't find any evidence.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I was somewhat fascinated by Thor's green Zipp wheelset. Here is a photo of why. For some reason, I think they are the coolest wheels but the bike itself is really sweet across the board. Black and green Cervelo with Speedplays and Zipps? Yeah, sign me up. Green is for the money.
Here is a lineup of rigs from Shimano's Pro Tour teams. The emergence of SRAM into the road market has been amazing but Shimano still brings some phenomenal product to the table. However, the coolest thing in this photo is the Cav-Custom green cockpit on the Scott in the foreground. The least cool thing is the pair of orange knickers that the dude on the right is wearing.
Here is another shot of the green cockpit from PRO. Notice how bulky and gigantic the stem is, as well as the slightly odd tape job on the bars. Not sure if that was to show more of the graphics or what, but that tape seems a little wide to my eye and would bother my hands on the tops. I think this setup was designed by Bishop Don Magic Juan.
As you can already tell, many companies make significant efforts to display their Pro affiliations. In a sport where equiment really does count, this is important to both customers and marketing managers alike. Vittoria couldn't really show a bunch of worn-out tires so they displayed signed jerseys from the teams that they sponsor. However, they may have been the signatures of the employees at their factory for all I know...I doubt anyone really checked the authenticity.

Here is another wall of jerseys from Vittoria. I think I would probably have put the Garmin and Lampre jerseys above the Rock Racing one. But that's just me. And someone should have thought some more about having the Cervelo guys sign the jersey in black ink. Oh well.

The SRAM booth had a nice display of bikes from the Tour which was understandable, considering they swept the podium with Astana and Saxo Bank. Here is Andy Schleck's rig, which looks almost exactly like his brother Frank's...just a little better.

This is actually the TT bike that Lance used in the Tour of California. I'm not sure if it was the one that was stolen in Sacramento but at least it didn't have hundreds of dead butterflies pasted all over it. I have a significant appreciation for and understanding of artwork of many kinds but I am still having a hard time reconciling Lance's use of "pickled shark artist" Damien Hirst's grotesque butterfly paint job on his Champs Elysees bike at the Tour. There are plenty of great artists out there who do not have to resort to a sickening misappropriation of Nature's beauty in order to make a name for themselves. Regardless of whether he used his own "bred" butterflies, if one animal was killed to serve this pathetically arrogant purpose, it was not worth it. Terrible decision all around.

Contador's bike however, was a very nice example of class and complex graphic work. I like this bike a lot and thought it was neat that they incorporated the three Grand Tour hash-marks on the seat-tube, which have been pink, gold and yellow on his other bikes. Similar to Thor's Cervelo, this is just a really fast-looking, classy machine that pays homage to the event while still looking like it means business. Awesome wheel graphics too.

The fastest bike in the world? Probably. Cancellara's TT bike looks like a nasty tempered, two-wheeled version of Knight Rider. This bike hates it's life...getting mauled by some gigantic Swiss freak of nature who makes 400 watts seems like a rest period. Carbon and alloy can only take so much stress and strain. I predict this bike will commit suicide to end the misery.

I am still waiting for the lab tests to come back but my prediction is that the name tag on Franco Pellizotti's bike was worn off as a result of the toxic effect of Jheri-Curl juice. As we all know from experience, there is a lot of sweat that drips onto the top tube during a race. So it makes sense that a high dose of extremely concentrated hair products would destroy the stickers and paint job just behind the headtube of Franco "Soul Glow" Pellizotti.

As much as I will continue to heckle Soul Glow Pellizotti (BTW - what ever happened with the whole racism deal at the Tour?) for his blonde soul patch and Side Show Bob hairdo, I cannot argue with the fact that he has had a great season. Although, with the advent of colored shorts in bike racing, I am no longer certain that winning the polka-dot jersey is an honor or just an opportunity to look like a freaking clown. I guess it's both really. But Jalabert never looked like a clown, Herrera never looked like a clown. So why have Michael Rasmussen, Soul Glow and almost everyone else recently looked like idiots when they lead the mountains classification? Colored shorts...that's why. And stupid hairdos.

Anyway, in an effort to support the industry I will admit that the polka-dot bike is rad. Polka-dot shorts are criminal, but this Cannondale is pretty sweet. You see a ton of Donkeys out there who try to rock the King of the Mountains kit but nobody has the real-deal polka-dot bike to go with it. That is legit. Not like the 275lb cat I see at the Tour of California every year in full Rabobank polka gear on a mountain bike.

Besides the personalized bikes, another really cool Pro feature are custom shoes. I think these are Bradley Wiggins' track shoes but since the Brits basically own every Velodrome event these days, they could belong to someone else. But I'm pretty sure they were made for Wiggie Smalls. The Bont shoe display was like a rainbow of shiny leather and carbon but these lace-up kicks were the most eye-catching. I hate laces though. I wish I could wear velcro shoes all the time. Does Roos make a wingtip model?

Now THIS bike is really what it's all about. Personally, I have always been drawn to Scott's paint schemes from a graphic perspective but this custom job for Mark Cavendish is just about as sweet as it can get. Taking the theme from the old Spitfire fighter planes, this thing just literally oozed Fastness through the display case. The sharp silver, black, white and yellow highlights have a slightly matted look that enhances the tough appearance.

But the coolest details of all are the painted lady on the headtube and markings on the toptube to represent each of Cav's six stage wins. This photo shows the graphics of rivets and sheet metal panels as well, which enhance the sensation that this bike is truly unique. There are a lot of cool paint jobs out there but this rig actually looks like it was made differently and is a great modern take on a classic theme. I am usually not fond of War references in sports but this bike won my prize for Best Pro Bike at the show. There was a Colnago and a Serotta that get my DREAM bike award but Cav's Scott Spitfire was super fly.

As we move from Road to Cross Season, I though this would be a nice way to end the 2009 Pro Bike section. This may be a really sweet bike but since it's Cross...who can tell? Colorado mud does not make my bike look like this...

Where else is mud revered and respected like this? Only Interbike...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Real Interbike - Part Three: Attack Of The Bike Clones

Regardless of any formal training or specialized credentials, I consider myself something of a Scientist. Not traditional, lab coat and Bunsen Burner science mind you, but more of the psycho-social, holier-than-thou kind of science that usually involves a healthy dose of self-indulgent over-analysis, qualified speculation and inactionable conclusions. Perhaps it is for this reason that my degree from the University of Colorado has the initials B.A. and not B.S. on it. Although one could argue that a Bachelor of Arts degree merely reflects the ability to make B.S. an art form. And I am determined to put that diploma to good use.

So it makes sense that Interbike, for me, rapidly devolved from a Bicycle Industry trade show into a Bicycle Industry freak show of sorts, a global bike-culture circus of one-upmanship and false posturing for me to document, recount and ultimately ridicule. Just like a good scientist should.

Perhaps viewing Interbike attendees as a Species is more accurate, if not, at the very least a little more sympathetic. This perspective then makes it easy to break down various sub-species according to the kind of bikes they ride or if they even ride at all. Further analysis of physical features such as hairstyle (both head and leg, male and female), visible tattoos/piercings and wardrobe can then be cross-referenced with a linguistic database of words like "sick" "chamois" and "resistance" to create a complete taxonomic map of Interbike attendees. With some additional funding from the National Science Foundation and Trek Bikes, it is my assertion that this data can then be used to create a formula to accurately predict behavior patterns in this population during at least 85% of normal daily activities. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

The point is that the Bicycle Industry, as much as any other I can think of, contains people that really look like they are in the Bicycle Industry. For better or worse. There are a number of individuals (usually with titles like Vice President of Something or Whatnot Director) who looked like they could have been in another industry (and probably have been at some point) but with the exception of many similarly logoed shirts, the crowd at Interbike tends to look like the crowd at the Solvang Time Trial in the Tour of California. Only slightly younger and less well-dressed.

Don't get me wrong, I think this is a good thing. I was never able to wear shorts and running shoes when I worked Laser Industry trade shows and am admittedly bitter that I was grilled on technical specs by physicists and engineers, not bearded bike shop managers from Vermont named Grizz. Again, the fact that wearing a suit and tie at Interbike would be the equivalent of wearing cut-off jeans to Photonics West is not a bad thing at all. Although I am certainly not advocating cut-offs, but that is kind of missing the point. It's the freedom to wear them that makes the bike industry cooler than most...albeit, more prone to otherwise-inexcusable wardrobe choices and guys with strange nicknames.

One of the things that I have noticed about Interbike and cycling culture in general, is that there is often very little visible difference between the best athletes in the world and some random, relatively fit person with shaved legs, colorful athletic shoes and a Lance Armstrong wristband. To the untrained eye, it must seem like there are at least 20,000 professional cyclists in Boulder alone. But the interesting thing is that most of the professional cyclists at Interbike (at least the Road and Mountain riders - BMX is a whole different beast) actually seem to dress the most normally, often in a manner that shows no signs of aforementioned casual bike-wear conformity seen on so many non-pros. But ironically, by dressing so normally they almost stand out more. It is an interesting phenomenon.

As I mentioned earlier, the BMX scene is a very unique sub-species in the Biker Kingdom. Possessing the most youth appeal and highest ratio of ink and metal-to-skin at Interbike, the BMX Zone was pretty cool to walk through at a brisk pace. Even though I started riding similar bikes at a young age, the haunting memory of having my Predator stolen from out in front of Der Weinerschnitzel in 1986 was just too much for me to handle. Especially with so much caffeine, guarana and B-Vitamins coursing through my veins, causing horrible flashbacks of corn dogs, root beer and that sickeningly empty bike rack at the corner of Camino Alto and East Blithedale Avenue in Mill Valley.

BMX has changed a lot since back then though. I thought I was badass when I would ride on my pegs and get more than 6 inches of air on any jump. Now guys are doing flippity-flips, tumbly-twists and other stuff that could be considered far more athletically challenging than riding up or down a hill quickly. It's too bad they all look like felonious thugs wearing shirts that are too small, pants that are too big and hats that look like they will blow off when the air conditioning kicks on. I actually thought a lot of the bikes and equipment were pretty cool but sadly, the collar on my shirt and plaid on my slacks made me feel uncomfortable in the BMX Zone and I had to hastily retreat to the safety of the Media Room for a cup of coffee and some stale pretzels.

The Media Pavillion at Interbike is basically a big room in the middle of the show floor with glass walls, a bunch of lunch tables and so many chairs that it's impossible to walk through without banging your shins repeatedly. There is another stage room where televised interviews take place but the main draw for most of the writers is the snacks. Every so often someone re-stocks the coffee and if you are incredibly lucky you can actually get a bagel or a cookie to nibble on. There were rumors of brownies and fruit but I never saw them and think the whole story may have been exaggerated for the sake of a few gullible and hungry journalists. With no brownies or cookies, I was left to sit alone at a table in the middle of the room, staring out through the clear walls at the Interbike population - taking notes, laughing to myself and furiously adding data to my taxonomic ranking of the Biker Species as I finished off the remaining coffee and pretzels.

Check Back for The Real Interbike - Part Four: It's A Small Interbike World

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Real Interbike - Part Two: The Best Little Bike House In Vegas

As I entered the exhibition hall, momentarily paralyzed by the neon lights and smell of new Lycra, I experienced my first flashback of the trip. In my professional life so far, I have somehow managed to find myself at no fewer than eight trade shows, each passing quickly through my mind as I sternly pretended to look at the exhibitor list. These past experiences have varied greatly, depending on vital factors associated with the particular industry, organizational affiliation and, perhaps most importantly, the location of the event. However, none of the aforementioned conditions holds a candle to the importance of whether you experience the show as an Exhibitor or Attendee. It's almost like the difference between being a Prostitute or a Pimp. Or so I've heard...

Considering that this is Las Vegas, it is understandable that one would be so desensitized by the billboard-scale public nudity and fleets of Hooker Trading Card Distributors on every street corner that he or she is either unwilling or unable to identify the similarities between what is going on out in the streets and what is taking place in the air-conditioned rat maze of Interbike. Sadly, this psychological avoidance is understandable, since the majority of people in the bike industry are exploited even more heinously than those within the other, slightly less-dysfunctional profession. But the health and benefits packages are strikingly similar.

Seriously though, this is a town where you can never really be sure if that late-twenties to mid-thirties woman in the mini skirt being paraded around on the arm of the strutting 50-70 year-old schlub in the Tommy Bahama shirt is really his wife or girlfriend or simply a short-term business associate, and there is an unavoidable synergy to the whole Trade Show/Flesh Trade relationship. The fact that Las Vegas proudly boasts a devotion to both excess and the almighty dollar bill acts like lighter fluid sprayed on a stagnant barbecue, exciting the flames of greed and moral sacrifice beneath the Big Burger of Capitalism. Because of this, there really is no better backdrop for an Industry trade show than Las Vegas, although it is unlikely that these observations will ever make the pages of your favorite bicycle-related media outlet or marketing campaign. "Come to Interbike in Las Vegas! Where obscene greed and unsolicited exhibitionism are not only accepted, they're encouraged!"

At this point, it should be acknowledged that I am using this inflammatory analogy in specific reference to the relationship between the Exhibitors (Manufacturers and Suppliers of Goods and Services) and Retailers (Resellers of Goods and Services), since these groups comprise the majority of Interbike participants. Operating somewhere on the fringe are the Media and a handful of Pros and Personalities, doing everything from on-site product reviews and interviews to networking with sponsors and signing autographs. Or just kind of walking around, taking pictures of cool things and occasionally talking to people, like I did for hours on end each day.

Strangely, I have had a full media credential for two years running and have still yet to perform any of the aforementioned activities in a formal capacity while I was there. It seems that anything truly important should be followed up on after the show, so the extent of my on-site analysis was a reckless pillaging of various weakly-monitored booths containing a plethora of substances promising to elevate energy levels. Unfortunately, the lack of a predetermined scientific hypothesis and properly qualified control group will probably render my experiment/overdose unfit for academic publishing but there may be some use within the fields of Chemical Toxicology or Clinical Psychology, depending on the severity of my current laundry-list of post-Interbike, free sample-induced health concerns.

Regardless, it should be recognized that there are two primary goals for most of the people and companies attending Interbike, depending on which side of the so-called Pimp and Ho/Retailer and Supplier Fence you happen to fall on. Understandably, these are often complicated relationships, fraught with potential conflicts of interest and guarded communication. Especially in the bicycle industry. Being dangerously juiced up on Sport Beans and GoFast only exacerbates the tension.

On one side, the Exhibitors go out of their way to make themselves look as superficially attractive as possible, slathering a thick layer of makeup on blemishes in recent product offerings and hoping no one notices the nasty scars and burn marks they have likely accumulated over a lifetime in the business. It's not exactly the Red Light District in Amsterdam but there is certainly a come-hither vibe emanating from many of the booths. After a while I would just refuse to make eye contact with anyone, for fear that they would ask me if I wanted to hear about their latest product line or whether I was looking for a good time.

You see, the Exhibitor's best hope is to align themselves with competent and proactive Retailers, aggressive and reliable business people who will pursue new business while providing a certain level of protection and support when things get a little freaky. The best ones will even step in when some customer needs to get slapped around a little bit, but this is not as common as it once was. It is also important for the Retailers to determine the suitability of a certain Exibitor's Product for his or her market. For example, the big names like Specialized and Oakley know that they appeal to a large audience and can command a premium. But there are always those weirdos and fetishists who are into freaky stuff and like certain features, proportions, colors or recumbents. The Retailer must know the desires of the customer and have the necessary inventory in stock.

While the Exhibitor controls the Product, it is the Retailer who assumes the position of power in the Interbike relationship. As a result, there is a noticeable stench of desperation permeating the Sands Expo, the byproduct of hundreds of businesses realizing that their success or failure is largely dictated by Retailers who may or may not ever consider using their product and may or may not have multiple facial piercings and a neck tattoo. Apparently these features guarantee that you are fit to represent the industry to the general public and are the Interbike equivalent of leather and denim at a Hells Angels rally.

Just as it is difficult to determine if the blonde in the high heels is a wife or an escort, it is nearly impossible to tell if the guy in the ripped jeans and greasy t-shirt is the store owner or some guy who snuck in the service entrance. It has been said that Las Vegas is not all that it seems on the surface, so it makes perfect sense that the same can also be said for Interbike. But after some more thought, all these flashing lights and tight clothing really do remind me of the Red Light District, only with carbon fiber and chrome as the bait. Perhaps there is more truth on the surface than we were told.

Check back for The Real Interbike - Part Three: Attack Of The Bike Clones

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Real Interbike - Part One: Where It's At

On the surface, Interbike is the biggest bicycle industry trade show in North America. But beneath this glamorous exterior, it is a bubbling cauldron of gratuitous bike porn, blatant posing and institutionalized class discrimination...among other significantly less-distasteful things. I understand that this may sound a bit heavy to the casual observer (considering that it really is a very pleasant and well-run affair) but after reading numerous safe/bland descriptions of the event recently, this seems like an opportune time to provide an in-depth look at what The Show is really like. However, it should probably be noted from the outset of this personal account that the consumption of a near-fatal mixture of energy drinks, gels, bars, chews and beans over the course of my 48-hour Interbike experience has left me in a hyper-paranoid, borderline-psychotic state from which I may never fully recover. As in all tales, both fact and fiction, there is usually some truth to all sides of the story.

Let me explain...

I arrived in Las Vegas at approximately 9am on Thursday, after a whopping three hours of restless sleep. Since the Divine Airline Math Network (D.A.M.N.) determined that it was somehow cheaper for me to fly through Phoenix first, this meant a 2:45am wake up call in order to get to Denver for my flight. There is something unnerving about drinking coffee at three o'clock in the morning but I knew it was better to start warming up the system early since it was sure to be a marathon/death march of epic proportions in Vegas. I couldn't check in to my suite at the Bellagio (or was it a Standard room at Bally's?) until much later in the day so the plan was to catch a shuttle to the Venetian and head over to Interbike at the Sands Expo immediately upon my arrival. Certainly not ideal, but that was the plan.

The sensations of arriving and departing any big city are unique but McCarran Airport in Las Vegas probably has a wider spectrum of energy and hygiene between "coming" and "going" than any place I can think of. The people coming in look like they are getting ready for the best time of their lives and the ones going out either look like the worst rejects from the Real World or undercover junkies and coke-dealers from a lost Miami Vice episode. There is a tangible excitement among the recent arrivals - usually an inexplicable assortment of people from all over the world who curiously decided that spending their money and time in Sin City was a good idea - which inevitably rubs off on you somehow, even if, like me, you are already anxiously awaiting a return to the sanity of home before you even get off the plane. As for the people leaving...honestly, I'd rather spend the night in a graveyard on Halloween than a departing gate at McCarran Airport on any Sunday of the year. Grim is not a strong enough term.

Strangely, even though I have voluntarily traveled to Las Vegas on multiple occasions, I still can't help but wonder what possesses most human beings to actually want to fly there. At least I had work* as an excuse this time, and therefore avoided most of the unpleasant internal arguments over situational morals, ethics and economics which have tended to plague my voluntary visits. Sadly though, possessing a conscience is clearly a detriment to fully enjoying any Vegas experience, regardless of circumstance. *Definitions of "work" may vary.

So after dodging multiple limping Del Boca Vista Retirement Community refugees in matching sweat suits and trying desperately to rationalize the fact that I had recently overheard TWO separate conversations about fake tanning products (including an impressively detailed comparison of application procedures and unwanted side effects) I finally made it through the terminal and into the brisk 90-degree heat of mid-morning in the desert. Apparently there was some kind of contest going on in town where being tan was a huge concern but unfortunately, I was unable to identify a particular skill or talent among those discussing it. Other than being really, really tan of course. Keep in mind that I came in on a flight from Phoenix.

After identifying the proper shuttle, it was a pretty quick jump to the Venetian. The best part of the ride from the airport to the Strip is that it passes numerous super-cheesy billboards for an array of humorously outdated acts, providing ample opportunity for jokes about Donny and Marie Osmond or seemingly anyone who may have been on TV between 1978 and 1984. Donny and Marie are the easiest though. Apparently, what happened in Vegas (30 years ago), stayed in Vegas (and plays 5 shows a week at the Flamingo).

It was almost 10:30 when I finally got to the Sands Expo, seemingly located within the bowels of the still-impressive Venetian Hotel. Entering the main doors of the Venetian, it takes about 15 minutes of snaking through the noise and lights of the casino floor to get to the show area. Thankfully, there are signs hanging from the ceiling with arrows pointing to various places of interest within the maze. Not so thankfully, they are placed in such a manner that you almost inevitably end up running into a cocktail waitress, drunk guy in a tank top or elderly person holding the equivalent of their next Social Security check in a giant plastic cup of quarters as you are trying to read which way to go. If you are very lucky, you can make it through the labyrinth without being cursed at or assaulted (much) and will hopefully manage to avoid being run over by someone recklessly driving one of the 150cc Rascal Power Chairs that the hotels seem to give out to anyone who asks - regardless of any apparent handicap other than inebriation. You could easily lose an Achilles Tendon or blow an ACL from one of those things.

For the record, later in this very trip I witnessed an old man knock another less-old man all the way to the ground with his Power Chair as he sped down one of the faux-cobbled streets at the Paris Hotel. He hit this poor pedestrian so hard his rear wheels nearly came off the ground and then he just took off like he had merely grazed a curb or something. But even as the victim was cursing and picking himself up off the ground after being struck in a blatant hit-and-run Rascal violation, everyone just kept going about their business like it was totally normal. I wanted to help the guy out but I was eating a $10 crepe and didn't feel like picking up all of the coins that he spilled out of his giant plastic cup after getting drilled. Vegas is freaking crazy.

Anyway, I knew I was in the right place when I saw Tyler Hamilton standing in the hallway outside the main entrance, smiling and pleasant as always. Various other "industry" acquaintances began to appear and suddenly the sloppy, glitzy buzz from the casino dropped down to the slightly less-sloppy, slightly less-glitzy vibe of Interbike. A quick trip to bag-check and the media room for my pass and I was ready to go. Or so I thought.

Immediately outside the showroom doors was a display of Pro bikes from Thor Hushovd and Denis Menchov which halted my progress even before I entered. I'm always curious about how people set up their bikes and Interbike is a cool opportunity to see some race-ridden rigs up close, so I stood there for a few minutes checking out the little details that set these machines apart from most. Then, after admiring Thor's green-highlighted Zipp wheelset for one last time, I showed my media pass to the clearly unimpressed security guard, pulled open the door, and anxiously stepped into the two-wheeled madness of Interbike 2009.

Check back for The Real Interbike - Part Two: The Best Little Bike House In Vegas

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Reading Between The Headlines - August Edition

Since the Vuelta a Espana and September have apparently snuck up on us while we weren’t looking, now is probably a good time to clear up a few headline stories that surfaced after the Tour ended last week. Er, I mean last month. Did anyone see where August went? Donde esta August? Anyway…let's look at some events that transpired over the last month.

Tour of Utah – Bikes, Bibles and Ball

“What awful things are written all over that man’s shorts? I can’t bear to look at his ‘area’ long enough to read it. Is that team sponsored by Satan?” – Overheard every single day at the Tour of Utah during Mancebo’s jersey presentation.

So…Paco Mancebo of the Rocky Road Racing biking club won the Tour of Utah and I’m sure the Mormon population could not have been happier to watch him accept the leader’s jersey everyday in his horrible faux-graffiti kit. I guess Rock has enough coin to make 10 different colored kits but can’t manage to get everyone the same kind of helmet or bike. So NOT Pro.

Speaking of which…Michael Ball went to Brigham Young Fashion School, right? You can always tell a good member of the Church of Latter Day Saints by the way they handle interviews like this. This guy is totally solid, I swear.

On the flip side, it was cool to see Alex Howes continue to prove that he has the goods to excel at the next level; even though the old “take a spectator’s hot dog and attack” move is just about the oldest trick in the book. I mean, how many times did we see Anquetil, Merckx or LeMond take the old “hot dog hand up” and go on to destroy the competition? I thought everyone knew that trick by now and was amazed the field fell for it yet again during the Tour of Utah. Suckers.

Alejandro Valverde vs. Tom Danielson vs. Logic and Reason at the Tour de Burgos

In yet another case of horrible, never-ending frustration courtesy of Operacion Puerto and the UCI, some cheesy Spanish guy who has been banned from racing in Italy (but is somehow still able to compete everywhere else?) managed to dislodge Tom Danielson of Garmin-Slipstream from the lead of the Tour de Burgos on the final stage. And critical fans of the sport took yet another carbon fiber-toed kick to our collective chamois.

Sadly, professional cycling is never going to get rid of its soiled reputation as long as there are regional bans and shady guys like Valverde and DiLuca who keep managing to slip through the net time and time again, only to be proven guilty in the long run. One can only assume that Valv.Piti will be banned by the UCI eventually and the fact that he can still influence races and even challenge for a Grand Tour is absolutely maddening. I rarely wish bad things for people, but I wouldn’t mind it too much if Valverde had some bad filet-o-pescado somewhere over the next few weeks in the Vuelta.

Garmin-Slipstream Wins! Gramin-Slipstream Wins!

In less depressing argyle-related news Tyler Farrar is rapidly laying claim to the title of Best Road Sprinter Not Named Mark Cavendish. Having recently won the Vattenfalls Cyclassics and a three-pack of stages in the Eneco Tour, Farrar will hopefully win his first Grand Tour stage somewhere in Spain and solidify his position as the best American sprinter since Davis Phinney.

On a side note, if all goes well Farrar will have completed all three Grand Tours in 2009; which is pretty impressive even if you ignore his handful of podiums and near-misses so far. Adding a stage win would be the icing on the cake of a great year. Great enough that we’ll give him a Mulligan for that weird spider-looking earring.

Texas Invades Colorado, Takes Jersey

Some guy named Lance Something or Other apparently moved to Aspen a few minutes ago and is now winning State Mountain Bike Championships and defiling the record books of historic local events. However, anger over this invasion among the cycling community has been diminished by the presence of a sign on the Texan’s bike that reads: Now Accepting Applications For Employment.

Understanding this, most people can probably look the other way on the Leadville 100 record simply because that event is pretty ridiculous anyway. But to have a guy who is outspokenly Texan come in here and take home the Colorado State Champion jersey is just depressing for everyone outside of your neighborhood Radio Shack. Reports that the Texan has stitched a Lone Star patch on the jersey and coated it in barbecue sauce have not been confirmed.

The only solace we locals can take is in the fact that people recognize the Colorado State Championship as an impressive accomplishment and it would probably be tough to brag to Matthew McConaughey and Ben Stiller about a Texas State Cross Country Championship. I mean, we all know that the only trails down there are on George W. Bush’s ranch and the denim sleeveless jersey they give out to the winner just doesn’t go with yellow at all.

USPRO Championships – Déjà Vu All Over Again, and Again, and Again

USPRO Time Trial Podium: David Zabriskie, Tom Zirbel, Scott Zwizanski, Billy Zabka, Daphne Zuniga, Don Zimmer, Zig Ziglar, ZZ Top, Zsa Zsa Gabor

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is the first time in history that three guys with “Z” names have ever been on a national championship time trial podium together. That is craZy. Seriously, the odds are astronomical. “X” would probably be the only letter with less chance of sweeping the podium.

But the real question is whether or not Zabriskie was able to say, “DZ Nuts” when responding to every question during the post-race press conference. For example:

Journalist: “What propelled you to victory today?”

Zabriskie: “DZ Nuts.”

Journalist: “Who did you think were your biggest competitors before the start?”

Zabriskie: “DZ Nuts.”

Journalist: “What can we expect to see on your National Championship skinsuit?

You get the picture. Hours of fun with that one.

USPRO Road Race Podium: George Hincapie, Andy Bajadali, Jeff Louder

After recovering from a broken collarbone at the Tour, George Hincapie reclaimed the Stars and Stripes jersey for the third time as a professional. After the whole fiasco with Garmin and Astana in France, it is cool to see Melanie’s husband get a little redemption by scoring the USPRO Champs jersey. It would be even cooler to see the Stars and Stripes crossing the line first at the Roubaix velodrome in 2010.

Crazier things have happened. Like having three guys with “Z” names on the TT podium, for instance. You never know.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bikes, Bloodsport and Black Shoes - You Can't Handle the Truth

Sadly, it’s been nearly a month since the Tour de France ended and I still find myself habitually channel surfing over to Versus (aka The Mensa Channel). Most of the time I find enlightening programs that showcase noble endeavors such as a) Kicking and punching human beings inside of a cage, b) Shooting and killing unsuspecting wildlife, or c) Hooking, torturing and possibly killing marine creatures while wearing a trucker hat and speaking with a Southern accent. Good wholesome fun for the entire family.

But on the flip side (I am going to try to start using that phrase more) Versus did just show the Tour of Ireland which was cool and they have been kind enough to broadcast the Track & Field World Championships as well as daily re-runs of Bloodsport. Opportunities to view any of these spectacles are always appreciated. Especially Bloodsport.

We will get to the Tour de France and some other topics shortly but in the meantime, I must confess that Bloodsport remains one of my favorite films. It may not be a cinematic masterpiece but it is highly re-watchable and actually gets funnier every time I see it. The fact that Forest Whitaker was a supporting actor to Jean-Claude Van Damme in Bloodsport and went on to win an Oscar for playing Idi Amin always blows me away. Do you think JCVD called him when he won Best Actor? Did Chong-Li need to wear a Bro or a Manssiere? Why did JCVD have a perm in the beginning of the movie? Were we really supposed to believe that Jean-Claude Van Damme was in the U.S. Army? Was it a Belgian Army exchange program or something? And whatever happened to the blonde reporter that JCVD hooked up with? So many questions…

During one of my last viewings I also couldn’t help but notice how much the musical score of the training scene in Bloodsport sounds like the beginning of “Money For Nothing” by Dire Straits. It’s crazy. I kept waiting for Mark Knopfler to bust in on the guitar as Jean-Claude Van Damme was having his legs ripped off on Shidoshi’s torture rope machine. Since when does being able to do the splits confirm that you are ready to fight in the Kumite? It’s like the producers just asked JCVD what kind of weird things he could do and wrote “can do the splits on chairs and stuff” into the script. Perhaps they overestimated his “can fight as if temporarily blinded” skills though. That final fight scene has not aged well.

For the record, I know it’s strange that I cannot stand watching real-life fighting, hunting or fishing on television yet three of my favorite movies are Bloodsport, Predator and Jaws. Go figure. I guess I just prefer my death and violence in fictional form – and apparently starring heavily accented European men. Or Richard Dreyfuss.

Anyway, it seems like enough time has passed that we can now look back on the Tour de France and determine what really went down in the Grand Boucle. For instance…

Code Red aka Garmin-gate aka You Can’t Handle The Truth

Sticking with the movie theme for a moment, I am happy to say that I am re-writing the screenplay to A Few Good Men but will be changing the venue from the Marine Corps to the Tour de France. Please keep in mind that this is a work in progress as there is still some confusion about the actual events. As it stands now, the popular character choices are as follows:

Pfc. William Santiago (the guy who had the Code Red ordered on him) will be played by George Hincapie.

Lance Cpl. Harold Dawson (the guy who was ordered to execute the Code Red order) will be played by David Zabriskie.

Pfc. Louden Downey (the other guy who followed the Code Red order) will be played by Danny Pate.

Lt. Jonathan Kendrick (the guy who passed Dawson the Code Red order) will be played by Matt White.

Lt. Col. Matthew Markinson (the guy who wanted Santiago transferred) will be played Jonathan Vaughters.

Col. Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson, the guy who ordered the Code Red) will be played by Matt Johnson.

It remains to be seen what actually happened on the road during Stage 14 so the actors could change but this seems about right from the evidence out there now. I still can’t figure out how Tom Cruise and Demi Moore fit in there though. And I should definitely try to get Melanie Hincapie involved somehow…

Cruel Shoes aka Black Shoe Sheep aka Weekend Warriors

Okay, can we all just come to an agreement that black cycling shoes have no place in the Tour de France anymore? Unless I am mistaken, there were only three riders in the 2009 Tour who regularly wear black shoes: Yaroslav Popovych, David Millar and Lance Armstrong. I see tons of black cycling shoes (often accompanied by neon jerseys and helmet mirrors) on the roads of Boulder every weekend but they just seem awkward in the European pro peloton these days.

Armstrong wears black socks all the time, which makes it seem like he’s wearing thermal booties but at least it looks consistent. Millar seems to go back and forth with his socks but the black shoes certainly make him look British (if that makes any sense). And Popo almost always goes with the white sock/black shoe combo, perhaps as an homage to the old Russian national teams…or Cosmo Kramer.

Regardless, after watching roughly 500 hours of Tour coverage during July I realized that, with the exception of the aforementioned cases, there were only white, silver/grey, red and yellow shoes in the event this year. Understanding that Mavic is responsible for all of the yellow ones, this truly makes Popovych, Millar and Armstrong black sheep. Come on guys, it’s 2009…let’s get with the program.

It’s funny that 99% of Europeans always wear black casual shoes but white cycling shoes are pretty much the ultimate Euro statement. I’m also curious how black cycling and soccer shoes gradually gave way to the rainbow of colors we see on the road and pitch today. They must have had the technology to make different colors for a while so there had to have been some influential athletes who made them acceptable to wear for the rest of the public. Kind of like Michael Jordan rocking baggy shorts or making it cool for balding guys to shave their heads.

Looking back, I recall white shoes becoming popular in the late 1980’s when Andy Hampsten won the Giro in his white Lakes and then Delgado led the way for Time to outfit entire teams with their sweet looking white, grey and red kicks. I still think the second-generation Time model was probably the coolest looking cycling shoe ever. Or should I say…of all Time.

Sorry…I will recount more of the 2009 Tour someTime. I need to go to Time out.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

TdF 2009 - Green is for the Money. Gold is for the Honeys.

After winning his fourth stage of the 2009 Tour de France and reclaiming the Green Jersey in the Points Classification, Columbia-HTC rider Mark Cavendish has announced that he would like to be known as “Bishop Magic Mark” from this point on.

During the press conference following Stage 11, the sprinter from the Isle of Man asked the media to address him by the new title and name at all times. He then paused and conceded that it would also be acceptable to simply call him “Bishop” if you are “really in a hurry.”

Most in attendance seemed unsure of what to make of the statement at first but after a few minutes, a curious journalist slowly began to ask some questions regarding the origin of his newfound personality.

“My new name and title are all because of the one and only Archbishop Don Magic Juan, a man without whom I could not have pimped all these stages and raised my game to level of a true player,” Cavendish stated matter-of-factly to the confused crowd.

Following a few seconds of awkward silence while he adjusted his green glasses, green hat, green kit and green shoes, he continued to explain.

“After my disappointment at the Olympics last year and missing out on the Green Jersey because of it, I was searching for guidance. I needed a life coach and a spiritual advisor. But most importantly, I wanted someone who could understand just how much I like the color green. Obviously, it didn’t take a genius to realize that Archbishop Don Magic Juan was the best person to educate me on the true nature of the game.”

The brave journalist then asked who Archbishop Don Magic Juan was and quickly received an angry glare from the Columbia-THC rider. Taking a step back from the podium, Cavendish took a long drink of Cristal’s new recovery drink from his jewel-encrusted water bottle and composed himself before responding.

“Look…we all know that pimpin’ ain’t easy, and neither is sprinting in the Tour de France. But ever since Rolf Aldag and Bob Stapleton started making us listen to their hip-hop mixes with lots of Big Daddy Kane and Ice-T songs on the bus, I figured that pimpin’ was probably harder. So naturally, I went to see the Archbishop Don Magic Juan at the Player’s Ball and the rest is history.”

“You see, most people don’t know that Archbishop Don Magic Juan is actually a huge cycling fan and a really good rider. He’s got a super-fly custom-made Eddy Merckx that is actually covered in emeralds and gold. He and Eddy have been friends since the 60’s. And we all know how that worked out for the Cannibal…and he didn’t even take the full nickname,” explained the rider formerly known as the Manx Missile and Cav.

“So basically, since he’s the Archbishop that means that I have to stick with just Bishop for now. Even though a lot of people mistakenly call him Bishop and not the more accurate Archbishop, I recognize that I still have a lot to learn about how to keep my pimp hand strong and make sure the player haters don’t salt my game. I am not worthy of the Archbishop status and my name is not Don, so I couldn't use that either. But both of us are still Magic though, for the record.”

The room of journalists still seemed somewhat confused as another reporter stood up and asked about the most valuable lesson Cavendish had learned from Archbishop Don Magic Juan.

“That’s easy,” exclaimed the leader of the Tour de France Points Classification with a laugh, clearly showing his newly acquired grill of gold teeth and pointing to his completely green outfit.

“Green is for the money! Gold is for the honeys!”

He then put his hands in the air, dropped the podium microphone to the ground with a thud that echoed through the silent press room and proceeded to walk off the stage without another word.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tour Def Rants - Week 1

Is it just me…or is Astana kind of like Def Jam Records? Think about it, they’ve got Johan Bruyneel as the mastermind of the organization, just like a Belgian Russell Simmons. Then there’s Ekimov dropping the science like Rick Rubin, only in the team car instead of an NYU dorm room.

Obviously, Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador are like Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys; two contrasting styles battling for the top step while operating on the same team/label and vying for the favor of Johan Simmons/Russell Bruyneel.

Like the Beasties in their younger days, Alberto is a bit rebellious and prone to bursts of immaturity at this point in his career but you can tell that there is some deep talent that will likely age gracefully and successfully. I’m not sure if Contador will end up organizing Tibetan relief bike races or marrying Diane Court from Say Anything…but again, like the Beasties, this guy can pretty much do whatever he wants so you never know.

“You gotta fight, for your right to the Yellow Jersey.”

Then there is Lance as Run-DMC, a lock for the Hall of Fame but still tries maybe a bit too hard to play the tough guy. But despite the hardcore image, they also both effectively catapulted their genre/sport into the mainstream U.S. consciousness. Interestingly, Run-DMC had the help of Adidas and Aerosmith, whereas LA got his name out there by associations with Nike and Sheryl Crow. Coincidence?

“Now me and my Nikes do the illest things, we like to stomp out pimps with diamond rings.”

Next up you’ve got Levi Leipheimer, who is clearly LL Cool J, right? I mean, the physical similarities are obvious enough but replace the “J” with “Heimer” and they may as well be twins. I don’t know if Levi will carve out an acting career that includes WB sitcoms and movies like Rollerball…but I can see him listening to “I Need Love” as he reads all of the predictions about LA and Contador.

“When I’m alone in my room sometimes I stare at the wall, and in the back of my mind I hear my conscience call.”

I can’t decide if Kloden is more like EPMD or Slick Rick. Both were pretty solid but a little inconsistent and plagued by some external drama. I guess it all depends on the final verdict in his doping case. If he ends up getting caught out, he’ll definitely be more like Slick Rick. Or the Public Enemy of Germany.

“Flava Kloden got problems of his own.”

Okay, I think we’ve worn that one out enough so let’s look at some fun Tour de France nicknames that riders would have if they were rappers or a band:

Bradley Wiggins – Wiggie Smalls

Fabian Cancellara – Swissy Elliot

Mark Cavendish and Columbia-THC – Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch Sprint Train

Cadel Evans – No Faith Evans

Luis Leon Sanchez – Kings of Leon Sanchez

Frank and Andy Schleck – Schlecks-n-Effect

Thor Hushovd – Bjork ?

Sorry Thor, I couldn’t think of anything good there. We’ll see if we can come up with something better by Paris.

As a final note on the Tour so far (you know…because the repetition of media coverage and the fact that the race has really only just begun) it should be noted that Alberto Contador is kind of beginning to remind me of Norman Bates from Psycho. There is a little bit of a physical resemblance but it’s mainly just the sense that there is some serious stuff bubbling under the schoolboy façade.

In fact, I have likened his climbing style to that of a “crazed spider monkey” in the past, but perhaps he is a little more like Norman at the Bates Motel. Ideally, his seething internal aggression and psychotic desire to slaughter people will make for some good racing...and no unfortunate accidents in the shower.

He’s not rooming with his Mother, is he?

“Psycho Killer. Qu'est-ce que c'est?" ("What is it?") – Talking Heads

I don't know what it is yet...but it should be an interesting road to Paris.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

For the Record

Pre-Tour de France Predictions:

Stage 1 - A. Contador or Jens Voigt

G.C. - (1) A. Contador, (2) C. Sastre, (3) L. Leipheimer

Mountains - A. Schleck

Points - M. Cavendish

TV Watching - Me

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Soul Stiffness

Soul: the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life. It is an abstract immaterial property of being.

Stiffness: the resistance of an elastic body to deformation by an applied force. It is an extensive material property of being.

Please Go Here For The New-Look Mumbo Jumbo on Bikes, Life, Culture and General Whatnot:


There will be more. Yes, there will be more.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Tale of Two Clavicles - Part One

Doctor Van Nostrand (I have absolutely no idea what his name really was) said it probably wasn’t the truck that broke my collarbones. No, they were actually snapped by the force of getting slammed into the pavement from atop my bicycle after getting hit. My left knee and calf took the brunt of the initial impact so the Chevy Suburban was really only responsible for the first part. The ground took care of the rest.

By making an on-coming left turn directly into my path, the Mother (who had two children in the backseat) left me with two unpleasant choices:

1) Brake and slam into the right side of the vehicle at about 27mph.

2) Accelerate in front of her and hopefully just get clipped from the left.

Clearly, neither of the above decisions lend themselves to positive outcomes but the latter also entertains the very real possibility of getting run over. Which is pretty much the last thing you want. Especially by a Chevy Suburban.

Regardless, I chose the higher Risk/Reward option. It sounds cliché but time nearly came to a standstill before the impact. It was literally like a movie or one of those car commercials where everything slows down right before the BANG!!

The scene took place in late afternoon on the day before Thanksgiving in 1989 as I was heading back down E. Blithedale from a great ride up on Mt. Tam. Anxious to get home and have dinner, I was making good time and very nearly keeping pace with traffic on the slight descent toward Boyle Park. Then, just up the road from the tennis courts, everything shifted into super-slow motion as I instantly realized that some very, very bad things were about to take place and there was nothing I could do about it. Dinner was probably going to have to wait.

At first I thought I could accelerate enough to get by cleanly but the Mother got across pretty quick and hit me nearly dead center with her license plate. The bumper connected about mid-shin and the outside of my left knee actually broke a hole in the grill. Then physics took over and the entire right side of my body became one with the intersection of East Blithedale and Walnut, distributing hundreds of pounds of force into the unforgiving pavement. I guess my jersey and shorts provided some cushioning but basically just disintegrated into my skin along with the gravel and grime from Walnut Avenue.

Needless to say, my spindly little 14 year-old clavicles could not possibly withstand this sequence of events and instantly snapped in half on both sides. Amazingly, I got right back on my feet and began hopping up and down in the street as if I had stubbed my toe, trying desperately to comprehend what had just happened. It did not take long to realize that there had been some pretty hefty damage but at first I thought my right wrist and left knee were the worst off. As the adrenaline began to fade, it seemed like every part of my body hurt.

Finally sitting down in the grass in front of the hair salon on the corner, it became clear that there was more wrong with me than I could accurately diagnose. The big lump in my right collarbone was disconcerting, as was the blood gushing from my left leg and right arm.

At least a half dozen people either witnessed or heard the accident and soon there were ladies from the hair salon and other random gawkers milling around asking me if I was okay. I do not recall my exact response but I’m pretty sure it involved an expletive and the word “Ambulance.”

To Be Continued…

Thursday, February 26, 2009

AToC Stage 8 - Running Diary vs VS

Hey Race Fans. Since most of you are probably going through a similar bit of post-AToC depression, please enjoy the following running diary from the VS coverage of Stage 8 from Rancho Bernardo to Escondido. This may be a bit free form and not exactly tense-specific in any way, so bear with me if I jump around a bit. I was traveling on Sunday and have read race reports but haven’t actually seen the coverage of this stage. Here we go:

- The shirts that Columbia made for the crew at VS are pretty lame. I know they make some good gear but don’t really understand why they put the TV guys in fishing shirts. Are those denim? Yeesh.

- What is the Over/Under on how many throat lozenges have been consumed by Liggett, Sherwen and Hummer this past week? With the way the veins were popping out of their necks during the pre-race chit-chat, you’d think these guys would be mute by now. I guess that’s what separates the Pros.

- Okay, Cozza and J-Mac go off immediately. Between Frischkorn and Cozza, I think I’ve seen Garmin do this 50 times in the last couple of years. The flag drop attack is not exactly the best way to win but it sure gets things moving. Not sure how many friends it wins you though.

- Good break with J-Mac, BJM, A-Schleck, Barredo and a few others. My favorite thing so far – Phil calling Barredo “Burrito.” Awesome. I still think about Barredo’s histrionics after getting dominated by Burghardt in the Tour last year. And I laugh and laugh.

- Bob Roll interviews VDV: Christian is actually a pretty funny guy and it’s good to see him being more relaxed and casual with the media. Although I guess it is probably easier to be mellow when you’re being interviewed by Bobke. Bad news about Svein dropping out, hopefully he will recover well and handle the Euro spring without any nagging injuries. Meatball is totally getting some face time behind VDV. Good job Mike. Hope you can parlay that into some action with the ladies.

- Commercials: Ugh, I really dislike the repetitive and feeble commercials during this coverage. What I do think is funny though, is this whole Uriah Faber WEC deal. The only reason I know this dudes name is because I have seen him fight a few times right before VS covers a bike race. He’s from NorCal, pretty much kills everyone in like 15 seconds and is actually the first cage fighter that I had seen with a TV commercial for some energy drink. But then the very next commercial is for the WEC coverage on VS and shows multiple angles of him getting absolutely cold-cocked and losing his title. Oops. Bad timing on that one Uriah. I still get a little sick every time I see that knockout. He looked like Mancebo in Stage 6.

- Bob Roll interviews Levi: I’m not sure but…I think LL may have hit the bong in the bus during the pre-race meeting/clam-bake. I have NEVER seen such a mellow, happy and glazed look on this guy before. Perhaps he really is NorCal to the core. Does he live in Santa Rosa or Humboldt? Jokes about crashing, Band of Brothers comments, glasses askew, perma-smile on the face, maybe growing a soul-patch…what flavor was that energy bar/brownie? Afternoon Delight?

- Mt. Palomar: This is a pretty wicked climb and it is not being made any easier by the presence of hundreds of idiots running alongside the riders. A dork with no peripheral vision in a beer bottle outfit, knobs in Speedo’s and helmets and just plain morons who want to get on TV were all out if full force on Palomar. I am embarrassed that these Donkey’s are out on the road and absolutely dread the time when one of them causes an accident. David Zabriskie was the only rider who I have heard mention how stupid some of the “runners” were and how sketchy they seemed as they fell down and tripped over each other up the mountain.

Here’s the thing – I’m a lover not a fighter. But…I swear, it should be totally fine for respectful spectators to “interfere” with all of these Jerks who interfere with the race. You can take that how you want it but a real fan, a real connoisseur of the sport, would not disrespect the racers by trespassing on their field of play. It sickens me that these fools are glorified by the television and photo coverage of the race. They should be arrested. And run over by the race caravan. There, I said it.

After personally watching Overcompensating Antler Boy nearly lobotomize dozens of people as he rode around downtown Solvang and seeing Big Hair and Ass Fan run right across the road in front of the riders on the Ballard Canyon climb – I officially call these fools out. They are giving American fans a bad name and are obviously more concerned with their own “CLOWN CELEBRITY” status than the race itself. For these CLOWNS to actually get suits made up (Antler guy is even so blatantly self-interested that he put a VS logo on his heinous skinsuit…how cheap and cheesy is that?) means that they actually consider themselves part of the race. Hey Dip Stick, YOU’RE NOT PART OF THE RACE!!!! THE RACERS ARE THE RACE!!!! YOU ARE A SELFISH CLOWN…GET OFF THE ROAD!!!!

- Back to the race: It looks like Enrique Gutierrez is back. I know his nickname was “The Buffalo” but being a Colorado alum, that always seemed like a negative association for my beloved mascot. Therefore, I think I will call him “Giro-doper I hardly knew #6.” Tim Johnson marks the move for OUCH and seems to be feeling the form after ending his cyclocross season a bit early to train for the road. The field is stringing out now but still staying together. It seems like they are wary of this climb and probably anticipating some fireworks in the last two or three miles of the grade.

- Still not really sure about the yellow Mavic kicks yet. Cool for cross, maybe not so much on the road. Sorry guys, they make white ones right?

- Has anyone commented on the “DEAD” written across the junk of the Rock Racing kits yet? I know it actually says “ROCKS NOT DEAD” but as Paco Mancebo displayed on Stage 1, it just looks like they have DEAD written on the chamois. That’s kind of harsh.

- Bob Roll interviews Lance: LA is cracking jokes, he really does seem pretty mellow. There is still a very deliberate and focused tone but I have been impressed with how much he seems to be enjoying the experience. Regardless of what you think of the man and his legacy, it’s always pleasant to see people that just like riding and racing their bikes. And Lance certainly seems to fall into that category. Cycling is fun and at the very least, LA is making it seem like an enjoyable and worthwhile endeavor. Nothing wrong with that. Especially if you work for Trek.

- VDV is taking it up a notch on the front of the rapidly dwindling peloton. These cats are not messing around anymore, as VDV seems to be laboring more than he was in the Alps and Pyrenees in July.

- Off goes Oscar Sevilla on what appears to be a ninja-bike. Maybe he’s trying to shed his baby-face image by rocking what appears to be Rick James’ hairdo underneath his helmet but unfortunately, it kind of just makes him look like one of the Mary Jane Girls. Sorry buddy, I’m just trying to help.

- Here comes Floyd with Voigt, Gesink, etc. Arrgh, some idiot just pushed Floyd and it seemed like he just gave up after that. Landis does not seem like the kind of guy that would appreciate that. That is really unfortunate. It would have been rad if Jens got off and went Chuck Norris on that guy. He kind of veered off so I got a little excited that there would be a roundhouse kick involved somehow. No such luck. This time.

- Andy Schleck is working hard in the break but kind of dancing around a little. Now Frank Schleck is going off the front of the peloton with JV, Gesink and Tom Danielson. It could get a little crazy if Saxo-Bank ends up with four guys ahead of the field with Levi isolated. You have to think that Astana is playing it cool since it’s still so early but…Bjarne seems to be applying his patented late-race Hail Mary tactics again.

- In other news: Dave Zabriskie is on LL like it’s nothing. I’ve always thought DZ should be able to climb with the best of them but just hasn’t been able to show it for some reason. Michael Rogers just took a MASSIVE pull to bring the GC guys back to the first chase group. Mick and DZ are looking super strong this year.

- Oh My Goodness. Some guy was just running along holding his infant child out like a musette bag. I really hope he gets arrested for child abuse. That was way worse than Michael Jackson a few years back. I swear, this is the reason I really fear for the future of our planet.

- Good to see Tommy D. in the front group. He’s been pretty visible in Boulder recently and seems to be finding a good comfort zone after a few frustrating years. Hopefully it comes together again for both him and Garmin-Slipstream.

- Jens Voigt presented by Chuck Norris looks like he’s in a prize fight with his new Specialized bicycle. I feel sorry for the carbon fiber when Jens starts rocking and throwing uppercuts with the quadriceps. Now there is some mental defective in green speedos running in front of Voigt. Oh how I wish there could be an official Time Out called for fighting like in hockey. The riders could even take off their gloves and then scrap. Actually, I’ve seen some funny YouTube clips with Bobby J and some other pugilists that may make me reconsider that.

- The main group goes over the summit of Mt. Palomar about a minute or so back. All the necessary names are present.

- Uh Oh, Michael Ball in the House: Humble? Not about being arrogant? A different time now? About business? He still has the Bentley though. I just hope the success in California gets guys like Baldwin and Creed paid for the rest of their contracts.

- The little Rock feature seemed to focus on Tyler more than M. Ball. Hamilton is still very popular and as polite and gracious as ever, signing autographs and posing for photos with fans. He actually seemed to be among the more visible of the “Big” name riders in the event.

- Commercials: Okay, how did I miss the investment potential for pharmaceutical male enhancement products? I could have retired by now if the frequency of advertising is any indication of cash flow. I feel like I need to take a shower after some of those innuendos.

- Apparently Bob Roll is doing product placement pieces now. I’m not sure how the manufacturers got VS to go along with that but okay. I wonder how much those little pieces were worth?

- Glenn Chadwick is off the front again and has really stepped up for this race. He was in the break all day on Stage 5 as well. It seemed like he just kind of fell away from the other guys down Palomar. I know he’s a Kiwi but he must know this descent.

- Paul Sherwen is now explaining how a stage race works. Duh…you mean it’s overall time? Der…what’s the green shirt for? Do they do stuff like that on the European coverage? Or do they just expect that if you’re watching, you pretty much know what is going on? I really hope that little production piece on the basics of a stage race helped some people out. Because I think it made a little bit of my brain explode and it better have been worth it.

- Here is the final climb up Cole Grade. Nibali is drilling it in his Liquigas/Kermit the Frog costume. Oh no, idiot Sumo wrestlers running next to the riders. This is out of hand. And another fool carrying his kid while running alongside the peloton. Since when did that become an option?

- Schleck is really digging now but Nibali is hanging in there as they begin to hit the rollers. Astana is all over the front of the field as Armstrong seems to be regulating the tempo. Chadwick is caught and has a bite to eat as he falls through the group.

- Oh dear. It seems that VS has found some of the old graphics from the Coors Classic in order to demonstrate how drafting works. Nice. I could be wrong, but that looked like a cartoon or something. Did one of the viewers win a contest to get that on TV? Or one of the producers kids? That was amazing. Oh, so that’s why they ride in a line like that?

- Schleck seems to be the stronger of the two and is now gesturing for Nibali to pull through. The Italian takes a sucker pull but at least fakes it on the front for a few seconds. It seems like someone other than Astana would have had to start working to bring Schleck and Nibali back because the Kazakh crew had no reason to reel them both all the way in.

- Hummer just gave a strange shout out Bill Walton. Okay. I remember an old picture of Walton when he was with the Blazers and he had a bike with a foot-long head tube. Seriously, the guy is like 7 feet tall. I think Hummer wants Lakers tickets from Luke.

- The final descent before a finish is always hectic but this one could be fun to watch. Nibali almost nibbled the tailpipe of the moto there for a second. I wonder if Schleck ever thinks about his Superman impression at the Tour de Suisse last year? These guys are flying.

- There is an interesting mix of riders and teams in the front chase group of about 25. In a display of small guy power, Oscar Sevilla and Trent Lowe take pulls ahead of Gutierrez. There just aren’t enough guys from a motivated team in this final group.

- Now it seems like Schleck is sitting on Nibali for the final kilometers. The Luxembourger makes a jump in the final straight and that’s it. Hincapie edges Sutherland for third at 39 seconds back.

- Phew. It’s over. Levi wins again over DZ and Michael Rogers. Done, done and done.

- Apparently there were over 2 million spectators at the Amgen Tour of California. I am happy to say that I was one of them for a few days but must admit that it is certainly much more comfortable from the couch. As always, the VS coverage makes me scratch my head every once in a while but still proves to be the best that we have in the U.S. so I am grateful for its presence.

- Now if we could just do something about those shirts…