Friday, August 29, 2014

Oh Yeah, We've Hit the Mountains, Baby!; and, It's Yer Peloton Perp-Walk Roundup! #LaVuelta

First, an important health update from the Vuelta a Espana peloton: Peter Sagan and Carlos Betancur are still fat and out of shape, which means, in cycling-speak, that (1) they're still wraiths, but you can't quite see their actual skeletons without an X-ray, and (2) they can still literally eat mountains for breakfast while you're gacking up your local col like it's Alpe d'Huez, which explains all those jagged gaps that've suddenly appeared in the Pyrenees. I'm sure some Hollywood starlet could update you on the latest disgusting and laxative kale-juice cleanse, boys, if just cutting back to 8,000 calories a day while you're riding doesn't cut it!

Holy Crap It's Finally the Mountains, Baby!: and, after days of flattish sprinty finishes, 2 really impressive breakaways from some Pim guy who's clearly on the hunt for a big salary increase (or just contract renewal) outta Lotto-Belisol, and a total whiny beeyotch sissy-fit from Nacer Bouhanni over John Degenkolb kicking his !@# completely fairly in a sprint, we've finally hit the whole point o' the Vuelta a Espana, the fabulous climbs! Lessons learned: (1) Chris Froome's being able to climb so much better'n everyone else when wasted nuke-plants of energy flailing around like a just-tased stork has gotta mean he's some kind of physiological freak; (2) either Alberto Contador is the toughest son of a b on the planet, or Oleg's just sworn to soak 'im in ice water and leave him butt-naked in the snow on some desolate Siberian tundra to be eaten by wolves if doesn't overcome his broken tibia and grab a queen-stage win or the whole show; (3) Alejandro Valverde, who let's be honest creeps the lot of us out already, really *is* happy to superdomestique for his young team leader Quintana as long as he beats 'im; (4) watching half of Euskaltel completely stomp the field for everyone else without actually being ensconced in orange and black is a daily damn kick in the nuts, and (5) we love Purito Rodriguez is, though stretching his legs with a gentle attack, clearly just faking the rest of the podium contenders out by holding back until he whacks 'em like a goon with a two-by-four at the end of week three. Keep going, Purito--we *know* you can do it, don't we!

Fry 'Em!: yes, there's a wonderful Grand Tour on, but lest you foolishly think the sport of cycling is all about, well, y'know, actually cycling, there's also some key legal developments to cover: (1) Orica-Greenedge's Daryl Impey has actually been cleared to ride on the grounds he really did ingest the handy diuretic Probenecid accidentally, so welcome back and sorry 'bout that lost season so hope he sues someone's pants off to him; and (2) extremely useful sidelined Alberto Contador wingman Roman Kreuziger's hearing on his bio-passport bust appeal is currently scheduled for September, just in time to screw the rest of his season after falsely getting his hopes up. Shoulda fixed those blood values *before* they set your passport baselines, kid! But wait, there's more: we love that canny bastard Alexander Vinokourov has categorically denied cheating his way into a Liege-Bastogne-Liege win, declaring, "I bought that !@#$er from Kolobnev fair and square!" Wait, did I translate that right? Anyway, I've got a serious question here: if a bunch of asshat amateurs 'n' newbies keep getting popped for EPO this week, is it either (1) the pro peloton, which is a hell of a lot faster'n these guys, is really clean now and there's nothing to nail 'em on or (2) the pro peloton's still dirty as Al--uh, dirty, but they're (a) not using EPO anymore at all or (b) just generally using a lot higher-quality !@#$ with a lot higher-quality advice on how not to get nailed for it? Inquiring aspiring sleazebags need to know!

Well, I'm mostly off-gridish for a coupla days, so to give a quick preview, today: a lumpy little breakaway/puncheur playground; Saturday, a (nearly) last-gasp playground for the sprinters; Sunday, a cat-one thrilla finish to Aramon Valdelinares; and Monday, a 36.7k screw-Purito-Rodriguez-outta-GC-*again* individual time trial. Oh for heck's same, *someone* take some time back outta Froome--but doesn't it seems a little impressive (and no, I imply nothing here) how well Quintana's been doing at this discipline lately? Anyhoo, in case you missed it, Universal Sports sums up the action from yesterday, and holy crap, is that a tornado? With these lightweight little pipsqueaks, they were lucky not to all get sucked up into the vortex like matchsticks!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

It's Yer Vuelta a Espana Two Days in Review! #LaVuelta

Okay, let's keep it short:

1. Was I the only one watching Movistar winning the time trial with all nine guys there and thinking, "I call bull!@#$?" Except, of course, for ex-Euskie Castroviejo.

2. Yeah, and I *know* I'm not the only one who finds it slightly disturbing to see Valverde in the red jersey. Watch out Nairo, Grampa ain't gonna give it up to you easy!

3. So Pippo Pozzato's not only being smacked around by the national team boss for being lazy, his own Lampre leader is telling him to quit acting like a prom queen and get a grip. Of course, (1) one of the criticisms was Pippo wearing his own color, not team, shoes (but then, style *is* key) and (2) what does Pippo do in response? Immediately post a selfie of him getting his massage! Hey, at least it means he rode the race today...

4. Bouhanni, man. Sagan, just the points jersey isn't gonna be enough for Oleg!

5. Shut up! Purito's only 38 seconds down, shut up! Katusha, can you *please* work on your team time trial over the winter?

6. How the hell aren't the poor guys at Sky burning into bacon thru those see-through skinsuits? You can see the pasty glare from outer space!

7. I am frankly of two minds as to Alberto Contador here. Yes, he'll animate the race just being there, but doesn't something about pounding the pedals with a healing broken tibia for 6 hours a day seem both long- and short-term potentially disastrous? Oh well, I'm an armchair team director, not a doctor--stay and get well Alberto!

8. Oh Euskaltel! I'm tellin' yas, crowdfunding people...

Tomorrow: a rather lumpy little beastie, with a mostly-uphill-then-barely-downhill final kilometer. Saganator, you've got some thinking to do!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Aiiiigggghh! It's Real, It's Jens Voigt's Last Race! Aiiiiggghh!: His Career in Review #thankyoujens

Holy crap, it is *just* starting to sink in after yesterday's glorious, fruitless attack at the USA ProChallenge: it's really, truly Jens Voigt's last bike race, and let's face it, much as we'll all still love it, cycling is gonna absolutely blow for all eternity. Sob! Anyway, we can't let such greatness go unrecognized, so let's pay tribute the career, and palmares, of the King of the Breakaways:

9/17/71: Jens is born in East Germany. Doctors and nurses immediately have to give chase as baby Jensie grabs tricycle from visiting kid and takes off at full speed down hallway.

1984: Jens joins national sports school for track and field. Switches to cycling after friction from incredible velocity on foot accidentally vaporizes school's tracks and fields.

1997: Pro cycling career begins with Aussie squad ZVVZ-Giant, wins overall in Niedersachsen-Rundfahrt. In 1998, joins predecessor to Credit Agricole, where he spends the next five years giving the French yet another reason to cry about the state of their own cyclists.

1998: Holy crap Jens is the King of the Mountains on stage 9 of the Tour de France!

1997-2001: Jens attacks. All. The. Time. Like a Labrador retriever after a ball tossed 200k ahead of 'im to the finish line. Hell, he does that 'til 2014--goooooooooo Je--hey, where the hell *did* he go?

1999: Jens wins first Criterium International. Not bad for a whippersnapper!

2001: It's Jens' first Tour de France maillot jaune! Also bags 229-km flat stage 16 to Sarran. King of the Mountains, Lord of the Flats--what the heck *can't* he do?

2004: Jens joins Team CSC, where he will assist in blitzing Ivan Basso to his 2006 Giro d'Italia triumph. When Basso is implicated in massive Operacion Puerto doping scandal shortly thereafter, he pleads, "how the !@#$ else was I supposed to keep up with that guy?" Jens doesn't dope, dope Jenses!

2005: Jens gets second yellow jersey of his career. Also wins first of 3 career stages at the Tour of the Basque Country. Euskaltel unsuccessfully tries to recruit, but deal goes sour when they can't find a team bike big enough for him. Aw, and he'd've looked so chic in orange!

2006: Jens gets his second stage win of the Tour de France on its longest day (natch) from a breakaway (natch) with over 29 minutes over the rest of the field (natch). Woot woot Jensie!

2007: It's the Tour of California, baby! Jens grabs thrilla of a stage three and finishes on the final podium. What else would you expect?

2008: Did I mention Criterium International? Jens takes his 4th--count 'em, 4th!--as soigneurs rush to comfort disappointed competitors with binkies and pacifiers. Also takes stage in the we love the Giro d'Italia and helps herd CSC teammate wee Carlos Sastre to Tour de France overall victory. And that was *before* his morning caffeine kicked in!

2009: Jens sustains horrific crash on descent of Col-du-Petit-St. Bernard and is forced to abandon the Tour. Mountain immediately apologizes and crumbles into dust in penance. Jens, meanwhile, is put back together with 836 bottles of Krazy Glue, and attacks traffic on way home from hospital, beating it by 45 kilometers in a solo breakaway into a headwind. Get well soon Jens!

2010: Jens takes fifth Criterium International, which is now officially renamed the Criterium Screw This We All Know Who's Gonna Win Anyway So Why Don't We All Just Go Out And Grab A Beer Instead of Riding It. And damn, what is it with the Tour de France? Jens hits the deck hard on descent of the Peyresourde, smashes his bike, grabs some kid's, and fires away for 15 kilometers before catching up to a new bike left with a cop for him by his team. Just another day at the office!

2010-2014: Jens exclusively mans the team-bus coffee machine for teammates Fabian Cancellara and the Schleck brothers. Cancellara time-trials around globe in 24 hours propelled by single espresso shot.

2011: Jens joins Leopard-Trek, and damn lucky for *that* disaster of a squad, too! Finishes Tour of California stage with busted scaphoid. At press conference, Voigt shrugs he just kept saying "Shut up scaphoid!"

2012: Jens attacks (of course) the breakaway (of course) on Independence Pass (of course) for a 100km solo breakaway win at USA Pro Challenge (of course). Everyone on planet who uses word "epic" to describe any other bike feat but this one from now on summarily thwapped.

2013: Jens attacks (natch) from an 18-man breakaway (natch) with 5k to go to take stage 5 at the Tour of California (natch). Meantime, locates 963 geocaches in 18 minutes before sign-in on stage 3. Oh, and he's not retiring just yet. Woot woot!

2014: Jens rides his final--aiiiiiggggghhhhh! aiiigggghhhhh! I can't even say it! Aiiiiiigggghhhh! Anyway, *you* know what he rode. No no no no no no no!

And in case you think that's all--or that we're talking the total career palmares of like 50 guys here, rather than just one man--he also grabbed a total of 52-something career wins, wore out two massive steel shipping containers of Sharpies signing autographs, and hammered approximately 2.6 million kilometers of solo breakaway. And since most all his victories can be found on-line, but there's no way in hell to fit 'em all here, now, in a tribute to the master, a Day in the Life of Jens!

Well, I'm still in a state of total disbelief, gratitude, and preemptive mourning. Come back *soon* Jens--but I guess *after* you walk the dog!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Whoa Moly, Last Year's Champ Is Outta the Vuelta: the GC Already Shakes Up! #LaVuelta

So, we haven't even hit the start line and already defending #1 Chris Horner is out of the Vuelta a Espana: after being sick for some time with bronchitis, our elder boy has turned up with cortisol levels below the strict some-teams-are-in-some-teams-are-probably-wisely-out MPCC standards, and though UCI-qualified to be in with his Therapetic Use Exemption, he's honor-bound to quit the race. And no, he probably couldn't've stood up to serious assaults by Nairo, Alejandro, Froome, Purito, even a recovering Alberto, but wouldn't it've been fun to watch him do some damage? Suck news for a guy who probably won't be able to take another Grand Tour, but at least he took a doozy--and Pippo Pozzato, with no real replacement for Chris on Lampre, now's the time to step up and dazzle us all on the road as much as you've been doing with all those pretty, pretty pictures! And in insult-to-injury news, here, Alberto Contador time trial trains away:

Thursday, August 21, 2014

It's Yer Vuelta a Espana in Preview Part Tres: the Sprinters, and Everyone Else We're Psyched About! #LaVuelta

Woot Woot! It's V-1!: oh yeah, it's finally just about time for the fabulous Vuelta, and having covered the course, the GC boys, and the climbers, it's time for the Sprinters, and Everyone Else We're Stoked About! And no, Cav, Marcel, and Andre aren't here, but a pretty bangin' field of fast men still is, so let's check 'em out:

Tom Boonen: yep, prepping for Worlds, I presume. A tough Classics season, but a perpetual class act--and power-threat. Aupa Tommeke!

Peter Sagan: no, he's not a pure sprinter--but neither are Vuelta sprints always perfectly flat, and after his crap stage-winless Tour, and with Oleg Tinkov's eye (and big fat wallet) on 'im, Sagan's hungry for redemption and podium glory. Just let Elia have a chance once in a while!

Nacer Bouhanni: yes, it's the new wave of French Riders That Don't Suck, and boy, did this guy have a smashing Giro d'Italia, taking stage after stage and giving hope to a despondent cycling nation once again. He's rested, he's bad-!@#, and he's ready!

John Degenkolb: who's Giant-Shimano's sprint hope, when Kittel's not around to dazzle the crowd with his speed (and hair-do)? Right, big John Degenkolb, a formidable competitor on his own. 5 bunch sprint wins in 2012 in the Vuelta alone--eat his dust boys, if you can get that close!

Roberto Ferrari: bored with all those guys staying upright in the last 50 meters? Find a little carnage exciting because you're a completely sadistic soulless tool? Well Roberto Ferrari's your man--just ask Mark Cavendish, who's got the good sense to be riding elsewhere. Hold your line you jerk--and let the best man, not the wankiest one, win!

And 'Nother Guys!: finally, there's a truly bitchin' assortment of roleurs, puncheurs, and guys we just plain like at this year's Vuelta, including Fabian Cancellara, Philippe Gilbert, Ryder Hesjedal, Tony Martin, and--perhaps in a bid to get a heretofore-unconvinced squadra azzurra boss to let 'im on the 2014 Worlds team--incomparable beach babe/bon vivant (and even rider) Pippo Pozzato. Come on Pippo, show us some fireworks--*something's* gotta upstage all those lurid selfies!

Well, that's your Vuelta preview--here's the official route video, and now time to get this party *started*!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

It's Yer Vuelta a Espana in Preview, Part Dos: the Climbers! And, Yer Doping Excuse o' the Year

It's V-3, Beeyotches! yep, it's only a few short days to the fabulous Vuelta, and besides the GC boys we covered already in yer Preview Part Uno, there's some smashing climbers on tap who, once their work for their captains is done, are sure to be let go to grab some high-stakes high-altitude glory. And, of course, like half of 'em are former Euskaltel (oh Euskaltel!) Yer guys:

Fabio Aru: like you thought he was gonna be 3rd at the Giro this year! He nailed a stage win, too, and he's had time to rest up and train for this Vuelta. Expecting big things from this guy!

Rigoberto Uran: Yes, he does other stuff too. But one can fairly say he's not too shabby, and OPQS's all-in with him as captain. Plus, his personal-brand t-shirts are *wicked.* Go Rigo Go!

Gorka Izagirre (Movistar): yep, ex-Euskie, and he's certainly got a big enough job supporting Nairo Quintana 'n' Alejandro Valverde for Movistar. Let him off the leash though and he's a smashing climber in his own right. Aupa Euskalteeeeeeeee--aw, crap, I mean Movistar!

Carlos Betancur (AG2R): oh, sure, he's got a rep for being a little, well, difficult, and Velonews just basically called him a doughboy--but he's still more than capable, and if AG2R can thwap him out of his complacency, we may see something very special. And damn, lay off the junk food, the team needs you at fighting weight--hey, if Horner can do it, you can too!

Thibaut Pinot (FDJ): yeah, I had no idea he could podium at a Grand Tour either--but apparently *he* did. Tour de France white jersey; 7th at last year's Vuelta. Clearly a boy to watch for the future--and the next few weeks!

Mikel Landa: uh-huh, another ex-Carrot! I'm just gonna stop repeating it. But he is openly looking for a stage win--let's just hope he gets it.

Well, along with Amets Txurruka, and Dani Moreno and Dani Novarro, and I can't say Samu because I already put him in with GC (can so either!), them's my big picks. May the best climber(s) win--or at least not be so totally beholden to a GC captain that they get at least a day's worth of a shot! Next up: the sprinters, and everyone else we're just plain happy to see in the phenomenal Vuelta!

P.S. And the Golden Syringe Goes To...Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, for saying the reason his bio-passport readings made him look like a drug-stuffed thoroughbred-Armstrong hybrid mutant freak was because he was just completely blotto and dehydrated after a major drinking binge the night before. Not quite as good as Bjorn Leukemans' ol' "I Just Finished Doing My Girlfriend" defense (who just won a race today btw!), but we'll take it--meantime, have some Tylenol for that hangover, and we'll see you in 2 years pending appeals, champ!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Five Days to Go: It's Your Vuelta a Espana in Preview, Part Uno: The Course, and the GC Contenders!

Let's face it: the guys in GC contention for the Vuelta are either guys who really wanted to do the Tour, but weren't allowed to; who crashed out of the Tour, and are trying to make up for it; and Purito Rodriguez. And oh, right, last year's vaunted "OH MY GOD HE'S THE MOST ANCIENT FOSSIL TO WIN A GRAND TOUR EVER" winner probably wants it pretty bad too. That said, it is one bangin' field, so let's take a quick preview of the course and get straight to our main contenders:

The Course: Pain. Sun-sweltering, near-vertical, leg-cramping steeps o' pain. Thirteen--that's right, thirteen!--hilly and outright freakin' mountain stages with a total of 40 mountains, 5 flat stages to satisfy the two sprinters and whatever halfway-decent sprint-friendly carcasses are left after the mountains kick in, two individual time trials to screw Purito, and an opening 12.6k team time trial to put someone in the red jersey and find out which already-jacked GC team captain's gonna be beating his teammates over the head with a wrench that night. Don't !@#$ this up, Katusha!

The General Classification Contenders: injury-plagued or not, this is a pretty deep field, kids. Who's who:

Purito Rodriguez (Katusha): he crashed out of the Giro, rode the Tour to make up some miles, and now has his eye on his other big goal, his home Grand Tour. Strengths: he can stick in the climbs, even when he can't attack. Weaknesses: he ain't getting any younger, and one bad crosswind and he's chum at a shark festival. Root for Purito or bite it for all eternity, you faithless unbeliever!

Nairo Quintana (Movistar): Movistar was probably right to hold him back from the Tour one more year to gain experience, and he rewarded 'em, despite his disappointment, with a winning Giro d'Italia. Strengths: at a drenched-wet weight of approximately 13 ounces, he is an incredible attacker, and--if you believe he wasn't being an opportunistic punk-!@# during his controversy-plagued downhill surge at the Giro--a damn good descender as well. A bit disconcertingly, he also can pull off a decent time trial. Weaknesses: he's still got a lot to learn--though for a newbie he's done all right I guess!

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar): oh, yeah, he's still pissed about missing the podium at the Tour, so he's got something to prove--but has promised to be a good little helper to Nairo. Strengths: the man may creep us all out by this, but he's had an amazing season, and he is one canny s.o.b. Weaknesses: if there's ever been a Grand-Tour-screwing catastrophe in the vicinity, Valverde will manage to find it. And don't start getting any ideas about the top of the podium unless and until Nairo's blown it!

Chris Froome (Sky): his Tour was a cold, rainy, crash-marred disaster, but he didn't destroy anything that kept him from training again for too long, and he'd love to prove he was right about how he'd've pounded Nibali if he'd stayed upright. Strengths: for someone who flaps around on the bike like a drunk-!@# pelican, he is one hell of a climber. Weaknesses: Sky this season is a miserable, disjointed trainwreck. Hey, at least Wiggo's not pretending he wants to be there to help you!

Alberto Contador (Tinkov): oh, please. Even he's got his physical limits, and it did take him a couple seasons there to get back into his post-ban groove. But quiet as he is, he is one of the most competitive riders that's ever been. Strengths: this ain't his first ride on this pony--he knows what it takes to win his Vuelta. Plus, he's got a strong team to back him, and even better, Oleg'll kick his butt to the back of the line behind Sagan if he doesn't at least salvage something in the race's final week. Weaknesses: well, he *did* just break his leg. Even for Contador, that's gotta take *some* kinda toll!

Cadel Evans (BMC): ah, the Old Man of the Mountains. He had a pretty dispiriting Giro, and wasn't allowed to ride his dear Tour. Plus, he's riding with BMC, which this year has been the Graveyard of Champions. Weaknesses: you read 'em. Strengths: one day of crappy weather, and he'll gain multiple minutes on his cringing rivals. Go get 'em Cadel you hardman!

Samuel Sanchez (BMC): Shut up! Can so either! Especially since we still haven't heard if he's signed a contract for next year. Woo-hoo, Samu--a stage win at least should be yours!

Chris Horner (Lampre): quit laughing--he may be older'n Moses, but he did win this race last year, and no matter what the field or vagaries of luck he was up against, that just don't happen if you suck. Strengths: he is just so *dogged*, man. Weaknesses: I love 'em, but Lampre? Up against these other squads? I don't know pal...

Well, I'm sure I'm missing someone you're pulling for, and of course, everyone from Euskaltel (oh Euskaltel!) is on *fire* this season. Next up: the climbers. Yes, there are other ones besides the GC guys! 'Til then, it's the Vuelta's Official Promo to get you into the groove: