Jul 22 2010

marie had a little lamb

Soccer is so boring you wish there were sheep.  So you could count them to put yourself out of your misery, you see.  There’s nothing boring about the Tour de France and today’s stage on the Col du Tourmalet.  But there are sheep.
[UPDATE: Aw, man.  The original video has been pulled.  So here’s one of a donkey bothering some people at a café.]

Jul 25 2009

i would like for an attractive woman to hand me a stuffed lion

The Tour de France has one more stage tomorrow, but tradition dictates that the overall contenders don't compete on the way into Paris.  So Alberto Contador wrapped up his second Tour victory today on the brutal climb up Mont Ventoux.  My guy – Andy Schleck – took second, and Lance somebody-or-other came in third.

So now that all that bike racing is out of the way, we can focus on what really matters about the Tour de Fance: the Podium Girls.  Photos of this year's crew are surprisingly difficult to find (though there's a decent gallery here), but thankfully Versus – in their dedication to full coverage of this prestigious sporting event – takes us behind the scenes into the daily life of these hereos.

every sport should have podium girls

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Jul 23 2009

team radioshack

I may be over Lance Armstrong, but there's no denying the sport of cycling is better off when he's not on the sidelines.  Ratings for this year's Tour de France are up a whopping eighty-three percent over last year and there's only one reason why.  Better ratings for the Tour means the possibility of even more cycle racing for me to watch in the future.  So that's why today's announcement of Lance's new team – sponsored by RadioShack – is good news, despite at least another year of nonstop slurping from Bob Roll and company.

are howie long and teri hatcher going to ride too?

And yeah, I guess there's that whole "I'm riding my bike mainly to raise awareness for my charitable organization whose mission is to cure cancer" thing.  I guess there's that.  I can still want him to lose, right?  RIGHT?!!?

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Jul 13 2009

for make benefit glorious nation of kazakhstan

I bet yinz didn't know that Kazakhstan sponsors a professional cycling team.  It's true.  It's called Astana – after the capital city – and they're going to win the Tour de France.  They're stacked.  They're like the New York Yankees, back when the Yankees' high salary resulted in a bunch of World Series victories.  Astana has four guys who can win the Tour.  There's Levi Leipheimer, who's won the Tour of California three times and has four top ten finishes in the Tour de France.  Andreas Klöden placed second in the Tour in 2004 and 2006, and he has an umlaut in his name so you know he's super-cool.  Alberto Contador is generally regarded as the best young cyclist in the world.  He won the Tour de France in 2007, and is only the fifth cyclist to win the Tour, the Giro d'Italia, and the Vuelta a España.  And then there's this guy named Lance.

Astana absolutely crushed the team time trial last Tuesday.  Nobody else was even close.  And on this – the first rest day after nine stages – Astana has all four of their overall contenders in the top ten.  Contador, Armstrong, and Leipheimer are two, three, four respectively, and Klöden is sixth.  They're stacked, and I hate them.  If rooting against Lance Armstrong is wrong, I don't want to be right.  I'm hoping that Lance's arrogance and infighting between he and Contador splits the team – which is possible, but not likely.

I'm at a loss, at this point, about who to root for.  I like Egoi Martínez in the King of the Mountains competition because I'm a homer and he rides an Orbea, but he doesn't have a shot in the General Classification.  I was pulling for Garmin/Chipotle last year, but Chipotle dropped their sponsorship and the corporate guy I met was kind of an asshole when I asked why.  So I can't root for them.  Mark Cavendish rubs me the wrong way, so Columbia-HTC is out.  I guess Andy Shleck is the only guy left with a realistic shot of winning.  Come onnnnnn, Saxo Bank!

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Jul 5 2009

eyes wide shut

I had a pretty great holiday yesterday.  I went for a forty mile ride in the morning, and got home in time to watch the end of the first stage of the Tour.  I puttered around for the rest of the afternoon, blogged a little, and then Dabysan and Carrie Nation picked me up around four-thirty to head to B—–e's for the quintessential Fourth of July celebration.  We hung out in a backyard in the suburbs.  The adults consumed adult beverages while a few children scampered around our legs.  Daby and I organized a game of touch football during one of the few moments when no one was jumping on the trampoline.  There was a big bowl of tortilla chips and various dipping options while meats and fake meats and vegetables were grilling on the grill.  There were desserts and good conversation.  And, of course, the naked pool party at the house next door.

Carrie Nation mentioned as we pulled into suburban Maryland's Flower Valley subdivision that B—–e's neighbors were nudists.  But I didn't realize that meant that they would be nude at that very moment.  Nor did I realize that they would have invited other nudists over for their holiday celebration.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  The party – complete with festive red, white, and blue bunting – was in full swing (so to speak) by the time we arrived.  Speculation about the goings-on next door didn't dominate the conversation, per se, but it was an underlying theme.  And I wish I could say I took the high road when B—–e asked if we wanted to visit the windows of the house from which we could see over the fence, but I didn't.  There's nothing quite like suburban naked people to turn a bunch of thirty-somethings into children.  Except, of course, the children weren't allowed to peek.

But for me, the most fascinating aspect of the soiree was the band.  The band showed up after we had been there about an hour, and they immediately prompted so many questions.  Were they naked too?  Where, exactly, does one find a band willing to play the nudist circuit?  Were they naked too?  Daby and I were tossing a football around when they launched into their first song – which was obviously selected to get the crowd fired up.  After catching a particularly wobbly pass, I paused and asked: "Is that 'Norwegian Wood'?"  That's when I decided I had to keep track of the set list for posterity.  I don't have a moleskine notebook, so I just used my phone.
Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) / Margaritaville / Stand By Me / Lay Down Sally / It's Five O'Clock Somewhere / ??? (Bring Back My Something Something?) / Nowhere Man / Save Tonight / Brown Eyed Girl / Shaky Ground / –intermission– / Happy Birthday / Can't Buy Me Love / Cheeseburger In Paradise / Crazy / Me and Bobby McGee / Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard / The Game of Love / Mustang Sally / All Along the Watchtower / All For You / Rocky Raccoon / The Joker
The lesson, I guess, is that baby-boomer nudists like their Beatles.  Sadly, it was time for us to leave during the  Steve Miller Band cover, so I can only speculate how the rest of the evening went.  The reports from the upstairs window, though, were not encouraging.  As the evening grew cooler, more and more of the guests were putting their clothes back on, with only a few brave men holding (and hanging) out.  And besides, by then the "neighborhood watch" had gotten out their golf cart and had begun making their drunken circuit of the subdivision, asking the children if they had pooped yet.  As entertainment goes, it's tough even for a naked pool party to compete with that.

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Jul 4 2009

declaration of independence

I intended to run yesterday.  Really, I did.  But I hosted a happy hour fundraiser on Thursday, and my cycling friends who showed up conspired against me.  Even the runner.  They had been discussing the Lake Barcroft loop – a popular mid-week training ride, and decided on the spur of the moment to plan a ride for the next day because one (the runner) was a "Barcroft virgin."  I'd never done that ride either as it's virtually impossible to get to Arlington by six o'clock on a weekday.  And since it's a ride I can do literally from my door, it didn't take much convincing.  We weren't meeting until noon, and I briefly entertained the notion that I could get my run in early before the ride.  Then I stayed out until after midnight.  So that plan got all shot to hell.

Lake Barcroft Loop

Well, Barcroft lived up to its billing, with several nice rolling hills balancing out a somewhat convoluted cue sheet.  And I wasn't feeling especially guilty about skipping my run until I showed up this morning for the forty mile pie ride.  I had been planning on doing this ride for the last week, since we didn't have an official training run today.  But at least five people asked me "Aren't you supposed to be running?"
So on this day noted for bold proclamations of freedom and liberty, I hereby declare independence from my bike until October.  That's not to say I won't be riding at all.  (I've already been cleared by my running coaches to ride on Sundays for the next six weeks or so.)  What I mean is: yesterday was the last time that, when confronted with the choice to run or ride, I will opt to ride.  I will be free from my bike.  Sort of.  As I write this, the Tour de France is on in the background.  I still get to ride vicariously.

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Jul 9 2008

le burrito

The Tour de France kicked off over the weekend, and with Monday and Tuesday off of work I had plenty of time to relax to the soporific pleasures of televised professional cycling.  I'm pulling for Garmin/Chipotle this year – ostensibly because of their commitment to ride cleanly, but mostly because I like burritos.  After placing a rider – tour rookie Will Frischkorn – on the podium in an unusually thrilling Stage Three on Monday (in which the peloton spectacularly failed to get their shit together and allowed the breakaway to stay away), I hiked on down to my local franchise for some tacos.  The team had another very good day yesterday, with David Millar taking third in the individual time trial.  And now I think I want Chipotle for lunch again.  I might have to re-evaluate my rooting interests and select a team with less tasty sponsorship.

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Jul 26 2007

chicken nuggets

Courtesy of the roadbikerider.com newsletter, following is a brief timeline of the events leading up to yesterday's forfeiture of the coveted yellow jersey.  At least cycling is trying to clean up its image, unlike some so-called "National Pastimes" we know.  I might just have to get me a Rabobank jersey.

How "Chicken" became a goat on his way to being yanked out of the Tour .
. .

—It began when news broke last Thursday
that pencil-thin Michael Rasmussen, known as Chicken (for his resemblance
to a cartoon character), missed four random drug tests in the last two years.
Two of the tests were ordered by the Danish Cycling Union and two were by the
UCI. The rule says that if three tests are missed in 18 months it's the same as
doping and the penalty is a two-year suspension. So Rasmussen did miss too many
tests but they split 2/2 within different jurisdictions. Doping officials say
this loophole will be closed. Rasmussen brushed off his transgression, calling
it an "administrative error."

—Next came the
announcement that Rasmussen was being kicked off the Danish national and Olympic
teams. Officials cited the missed drug tests and his cavalier attitude about
them. Tour official cringed as the words "race leader" and "doping" were again
being used in the same sentence.

—The next day,
velonews.com broke the story of a former mountain bike racer, Whitney
Richards, who claims that five years ago Rasmussen tried to trick him into
delivering a blood substitute from the U.S. to Italy. The contraband was in a
box that Rasmussen said contained his shoes. When Richards opened it during
packing he found not Sidis but 14 IV bags and syringes. He says he poured the
stuff down a drain and later confronted Rasmussen in Italy. Chicken was irate,
Richards says, exclaiming, "Do you have any idea how much that s–t costs?"

—Why did it take Richards five years to go
public? Because Rasmussen's hypocrisy finally surfaced, he says. After donning
his first yellow jersey on July 15, the Dane looked into the cameras and
promised cycling fans, "You can trust me." Says Richards, "That's what set me

—UCI president Pat McQuaid declared
that the controversies surrounding Rasmussen are "bad for cycling," and he said
he would be interviewing Richards.

—Tour de
France chief Christian Prudhomme said Rasmussen might have been barred
from the race if he knew the rider had missed four doping tests. "What I regret
more than ever is that we didn't have this information . . . before the Tour
started," Prudhomme told the French press. "We would have made the Rabobank team
face up to their responsibilities."

—On Monday,
Patrice Clerc, president of ASO, the company that owns the Tour, told
reporters that Rasmussen "doesn't deserve to wear the yellow

—On Tuesday, velonews.com
reported: "Even Rasmussen's Rabobank team is half-hearted about his yellow
jersey run. The riders are doing their job to help Rasmussen on the road, but
there's no joy around the bus, no sense of celebration . . . With so much
negative publicity and growing antagonism, Rabobank can't celebrate what's
looking more and more like their first Tour victory since it started in 1996 . .
. One team official said, 'The dream of winning the Tour is turning into a

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Jul 26 2007

yellow journalism

I IM'ed Dabysan at about quarter after ten this morning.  "I've got some bad news," I typed.  "Today's stage is shaping up to be amazing.  I need to go home after work to watch it.  I'm not going to be able to make it to your birthday dinner."  I sort of felt bad about it, but not too much.  I mean – I'd already attended the Birthday Barbecue and have plans to attend the annual Birthday Amusement Park Outing.  That, along with the fact that Daby couldn't be bothered to attend the outing commemorating the date some (erroneously) choose to celebrate my own birth, earned me a pass.  Plus, it's the Tour; there's only, like, thirty stages.

So after dinner, I returned home to watch the final hour of today's stage.  And it was everything I'd hoped it to be.  It was easily the most exciting stage of this year's Tour, and one of the most exciting stages I've seen overall in the four years I've been paying attention.  Over the last ten kilometers of a two hundred eighteen and a half kilometer stage, four cyclists battled it out in a mesmerizing display of tactics and will.  Race leader Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank), number two overall Alberto Contador (Discovery), and number four overall Levi Leipheimer (Discovery) vied for position with a stunning display of attacks and chases as number three overall Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) struggled to close the small gap between he and their group.  It was a Tour-defining stage, and every bit as gripping as expected.

And I'd bet anything you didn't know that.  If you heard anything at all, in fact, I bet it was that pre-race favorite Alexandre Vinokourov (from Kazakhstan, ver' nice!) and the entirety of his Astana team were forced from competition yesterday after he – Vino – tested positive for a blood transfusion.  Or maybe it was that Italian Christian Moreni left the race today in police custody as his hotel room was searched.  (Oh, his Cofidis team was also disqualified.)  And I haven't even mentioned Patrik Sinkewitz because, jeez, that happened days ago.  So yeah – instead of a gripping day of competitive cycling, we are treated to a day of performance enhancing drugs and wide-spread cheating.

You can imagine, then, how thrilled I was to learn from the scroll at the bottom of the screen that the wearer of the Maillot Jaune – and winner of today's stage, Rasmussen – was pulled from the race and fired by his team at some point between when I left work and when I arrived home.  It's only the second time the overall race leader has been expelled, and the first time in nearly thirty years.  It seems Rasmussen (Full disclosure here: I've been pulling for he and Rabobank to some degree for the past three years.  Rasmussen is a pure climber – he's won King of the Mountains two years running – and I like the climbers for whatever reason.  Probably because I love/hate riding hills myself.) was kicked off his Danish national team due to some question as to his whereabouts during previously scheduled drug tests.  I applaud his Rabobank team for having the courage to fire him even after his – their – finest hour.

So I take it all back.  I do care about doping, because it's crystal clear now the doping is the bigger story than the race.  And that's a shame.  I realize professional cycling is a tough sell in this country, but it's at least as compelling as baseball and a thousand times better than soccer.  Like I said to Daby this afternoon: if there's one thing a fringe sport needs to really sell itself, it's rampant accusations of cheating.  I'm a fan, and my opinions are hardly out of the norm.  It's unfortunate; today's race was every bit as amazing as I expected.

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Jul 7 2007

london calling

I want to make this clear from the outset: I'm not sure I have a point here.  I don't normally like to do this.  I prefer to have at least a vague idea of where I'm going and how I plan to get there before I commit pixels to paper, as it were.  I just don't know if I will to be able to wrap this one up nicely at the end with a little bow.  But I'm going to channel my inner Captain and plow forth, regardless.  I just wanted to warn you in advance.

Just over an hour ago (as of the writing of this sentence), the 2007 Tour de France began in London.  This is the first Tour de France since last year's Tour de France, which I guess is a dumb statement, but it doesn't exactly seem dumb to me.  Last year's Tour was one of the most thrilling sporting events I've ever seen, but I still don't know who officially won.  That's kind of a problem.  It was revealed within days of the Tour's conclusion that Floyd Landis, the now unofficial champion, had tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone after one of the Tour's greatest comebacks.  A few days later, another test indicated the presence of synthetic testosterone.  And then the legal battles began.

I followed the story for a while, but eventually lost interest (publicly, at least) as it appeared it would drag on and on and on.  And on.  Which it has.  My opinion then was that Landis was probably guilty but he would be cleared because the French laboratory in charge of the testing made so many procedural errors.  In short, he'd get off on a technicality.  Then there was a brief flurry of activity a couple of months ago when one of Landis' buddies made harassing phone calls to former champion Greg LeMond the night before he was to testify in the hearing.  My opinion now is that Landis is probably guilty and he will be stripped of his title despite the French laboratory's many procedural errors.  But I'm not sure any of this matters.

It's generally assumed that in cycling everybody is doping.  Aside from the Landis saga, two more of professional cycling's biggest names retired since last summer under the specter of doping allegations and the fallout from Operación Puerto continues to haunt dozens of other riders.  But if everybody is doing it, doesn't that then create a level playing field?  I recently re-watched "The Incredibles" in anticipation of "Ratatouille," which I plan to see this afternoon.  The villain of "The Incredibles" is a technological genius who plans to sell performance enhancing gadgets to the general public that will make them super.  "And when everyone is super," Syndrome – the villain – opines, "no one will be."  Now, I will stipulate that my argument is somewhat contrary to the overall theme of the movie, but isn't that the goal in sports – to create as even a baseline as possible against which individual (or team) achievement can be measured?  My dilemma, then, is whether steroids are inherently bad if everybody uses them, and it troubles me to some degree that I can't find an easy answer.

I could just as easily – and just as relevantly – based this rambling prose around Barry Bonds eventual and inevitable surpassing of Hank Aaron as the home run king of Major League Baseball.  And what's more troubling is that even in baseball, where clearly not everyone is juicing, I don't know how much Bonds' alleged steroid use bothers me.  The thing is: steroids don't inherently help you hit home runs.  They may help you hit a ball farther, but they do nothing to help you hit the ball in the first place.  And as a former Little Leaguer, I can attest personally that the seemingly simple act of hitting a baseball can be crushingly difficult.  (Incidentally, I disagree whole-heartedly with Ted Williams self-aggrandizing claim that "hitting a round ball with a round bat" is the most difficult act in all of sports, but it ain't exactly easy.)  And Bonds will have connected the bat with the ball – before his career is over – for more long balls than anyone else.  Even if his head is now the size of a watermelon, that's still impressive.  And to bring this back to cycling, consider this: last Sunday, Dabysan and I went back out toward the Chesapeake Bay for another "beach and pie" tour.  (I had lemon meringue this time.)  We rode about fifty-five miles, and it felt like we were doing a good clip.  I'd estimate we averaged sixteen to eighteen miles per hour over relatively flat terrain while on the bikes.  I probably could have ridden a little faster if I had to, but I certainly didn't feel like we were slacking by any means.  On the day last year on which Floyd Landis famously "bonked" and lost the overall lead and eight minutes of time, he still maintained a twenty mile per hour pace through the French Alps.  Steroids or no, that's pretty impressive either way.  And that was a bad day.

As a sports fan, I guess I'm supposed to unequivocally agree that steroids are bad, but I rarely find that to be the case.  The reason I've focused primarily on cycling and baseball is in no small part because steroid stories in my very favorite sport (and number two isn't close), professional football, are so far off the radar that they almost go unnoticed.  Sure, I remember vaguely when Lyle Alzado died, but that's the only time that comes to mind that steroids were close to a major story line in the NFL.  My favorite team – the team I've followed and loved since 1977 or 1978 – were renowned as some of the worst offenders in the League during their heyday.  But you know – they won four Super Bowls during that time.  If I could, would I – as a fan – exchange those four championships for the knowledge that the team was clean?  Honestly?  Probably not.  And I can certainly sympathize with why an athlete would choose to take performance enhancing drugs.  Does that make me a bad person?  At the very least, does it make me a bad sports fan?

And now I've blathered on so long I've missed most of the Prologue.  The television has been on in the next room, but I've been paying attention only close enough to be able to tell that London sure seems a splendid backdrop against which to host a bicycle race.  I'll tune in tomorrow, though, as they ride to Canterbury, and I'll probably put my bike up in the indoor trainer and pedal along.  By the time the Tour ends, the NFL will be in training camp and the preseason will be only a couple short weeks away.  And I'll be able to stick my head back in the sand.

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