Thursday, June 28, 2018

It's Yer 2018 Tour de France in Preview, Part Deux: The General Classification Contenders!

First, stop making those infernal barfing noises. I mean it people! I'm not happy about that !@#$wit and his robot army participating either. But, as with the course, we got the field we got, and to be fair (for once in 12 years of this lowly rag) we *also* got some actual possible contenders here with a chance to win that doesn't 100% depend on a shameful sport-destroying doping scandal and an ignominious 2019 race presentation with a pic of shattering glass over the last year's winner's face and a giant asterisk next to their name for the remainder of human history. So who's in, who's out, and who's just plain ridiculous! These guys!

1. Marianne Vos: Oh wait--despite the incredible depth and talent in the women's field, they *still* don't have a Tour de France, unless you count a one-day quickie that's immediately swept away without a trace in favor of hand-scrubbing the men's course for them so the *real* race can come through. Screw you, Tour de France!

2. Vincenzo Nibali: Not only is he not tired out from riding the Giro, since he didn't (which I found horrifying, but whatever), he's actually got a bangin' squad backing him--one of the best here. New Spanish national champ Gorka. Ion. Pozzo, probably still exhausted from the Giro but who, with the exception of a day's crack, really rode masterfully there. And with Nibs' spectacular descending skills to help him off the Aubisque even if he's not in great shape up top and his all-weather/all-terrain toughness, there's actually some hope here. Of course, if he doesn't let our little carrots off the leash for at least one stage win, I'll hate his guts forever--but not as much as Froome's. Shark attaaaaaaaaccckkkkk!

3. Richie Porte: Oh, BMC. One the one hand, with your impending doom, you've got a great squad filled with talent desperately looking to lock in a half-decent contract with gobsmacking performances here; on the other hand, the hell with teamwork, it is now every man for himself out there. Anyway, they seem to think Porte can do it. I'm thinking more top 5. *Why* isn't it enough for a great rider to just be a great rider without the pressure of all this yellow-in-Paris-or-nothing on 'im?

4. Movistar: a. Mikel Landa: remember how badly Landa chafed at having to waste his own GC legs serving team captain Froome, then inexplicably jumped ship to Team "WHAT THE !@#$ LANDA IT IS GOING TO BE THE EXACT SAME THING!"? Yeah, well, Nairo's made it perfectly clear he won't take this !@#$ any more'n Froome did. Saving grace: he's no worse at time trialing than Nairo. Unsaving grace: with Piti riding 'em like Cancellara the last couple years, he's gonna have to really fight Valverde on the climbs. Don't take yer eyes off 'im for a minute Mikel, no matter what the little opportunist says!

b. Nairo Quintana: To his credit, he's *earned* a Giro d'Italia--it's certainly possible he can take the Tour. But with the more sweeping climbs of France not necessarily his best, and an enormous waste of energy the first week fighting his bull!@#$ happy "co-leaders" for captaincy all but certain, he's hobbled, like the rest of Movistar's leadership, for at least 10 stages after Froomey's already spray-painted some garish neon yellow paint job on his bike. Just try not to get obliterated in a cross-wind for the first 7 sprint stages, and maybe you've got a shot against your own best pals!

c. Alejandro Valverde: How do you rate a guy, since being popped for replacing his entire bodily blood supply with Red Bull in Operacion Puerto in 2006, has only exponentially improved each of the 12 years since then? Hey, !@#$ if I know, but, despite his impressive history of one-day meltdowns wrecking his 21-day races, whatever it is you can't count this genial 834-year-old out. And of *course* he'll generously ride for you Nairo--right up to the second he smells weakness and goes all "Call of the Wild" darwinistic nightmare on your !@#!

5. Rigoberto Uran: Well, we'll get some flashes of brilliance before he fades. We still love you, grande Rigo!

6. Chris Froome: oh, all *right*! I feel dipped in swamp-filth just talkin' about 'im. So y'know that creepy internet video of that backwards-jointed quasi-dog headless bug-robot that's been circulating and causing total end-of-humanity "War of the Worlds" hysteria like "The Terminator" was some sort of staid National Geographic documentary instead of an alien dystopian hellhole future? Yeah, like *seven* of those things, *plus* the veiny twig-sculpture himself. Ugh. I *just* *can't* *stand* it. Tell me, tell me you aren't all just itching now for the relatively benign Lance Armstrong era, I *dare* you! Anyway, it ain't *my* TV ratings in the tank over this !@@$dhow. You suck, Tour de France:

7. Tom Dumoulin: Finally, although everyone's counting him out, there's not no merit here. Weak point: team--the higher he gets, the more he'll have to leech off other teams' tactics, and wheels. Strong point: this sprinty, roll-y, time trial-ly course is waaaaay better for Dumo, even with his improbable climbing ability, than the death-by-a-thousand-hairpins peaks of the Giro. Plus, *he* can time trial (of course, so can Froome now, but what dedicated donkey can't?). Cripes Mikel, if it can't be you, and I just feel too dirty cheering for Valverde, I swear I'm gonna have to root for this guy!

All righty--there's your GC, and I remind you, *none* of this is my fault. Next up, the roleurs, climbeurs, and stage hunteurs--you know you'd rather hear about them than contemplate this year's final podium anyway!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

It's Yer 2018 Tour de France In Preview, Part Un: The Course!

Look, with even our beloved Giro the source of couch peloton ambivalence due to the presence--I can barely bring myself to say victory--of that gangly gasping stick figure Froome, it's no wonder that many of my fellow cycling fans are, with his impending attendance and likely triumph, viewing the upcoming Tour de France with all the same appreciation and excitement one views, say, a strangely spreading rash. But here it is, and you're gonna watch probably at least one stage anyway even if you hate it, so if you're gonna, then you might as well know what you're getting into, and on what stage that weasel is most likely to either crack, or pull a 280 kilometer breakaway into a hurricane-force headwind and still !@#$in' win the sprint stage because we all know he's got a motor bigger than a space rocke--uh, he's better than everyone else. So what've we got? This!

The Sprinty Stages: screw deciding the race with some idiot time trial on Day One--barring catastrophe, which can surely occur--this year, we're starting right off with a treat for the fast men! 201 potentially windy K to Fontenay-le-Comte. Gorillaaaaaaaaaa--go to hell, Andre can so either! Stage two takes us more inland; Stage 4'll show us how Sagan is really doing; stage 7 gives the scrappy, on-form Caleb Ewan the chance to--oh wait, he's been completely jacked outta this race! As for stage 8--yep, flat and boring again! @#dammit, are there *any* mountains in this freakin' race? Well, maybe a few, so whoever's wussed out on the green jersey competition might as well bail well before the next sprint day on Stage 13, yer second-to-last-chance for glory on Stage 18, and, of course, yer crowning final triumph on stage 21 the Champs-Elysees. Gorillaaaaaaaaaa--go to hell, Andre can so either!

Aw, Crap, the Time Trials: okay Movistar--it's the 35k stage 3 team time trial, not tooooo long, but still yer first real chance to jack all three of yer captains outta any hope of victory. We know you're no BMC here, but can you *please* not hose dear Mikel outta GC just yet? And if you're within only a few seconds of yer nearest competitor on the podium, you're either preemptively celebrating victory in Paris or projectile vomiting in fear or despair the entire night before Stage 20, a lumpy individual 31k time trial. Aw, who says these things aren't any fun?

The Rollers: get ready, you annoyingly named Quickstep "wolfpack"--the hills-but-not-mountains get rollin' on Stage 5! Next, the 181k Stage 6 welcomes two trips up the Mur de Bretagne. Enjoy--if you don't bonk! Stage 9's yer Classics playground--15 different cobbled sectors damn near all the way to Roubaix. Pleeeeeaaaaaase don't break anything on this, Movistar? Stage 14 is a cat 4, cat 2, cat 3, cat 2 nipper to Mende; Stage 15 jams in a Cat 1 to Pic de Nore before a flat run-in to Carcassone;

The Mountains: Jaysus, are you *seriously* making us wait halfway through the race before we hit even *one* of these? After a rest day, the Tour finally begins on Stage 10, which wakes the GC up with a nice wee stroll up the Colombiere after a brief, if potentially dangerous, mountaintop flirtation with a gravel section. Tired already? Well save yer breath and quit yer whinin'--you got two hors categorie climbs in the first 57k of Stage 11, and that's before the Cat 1 stinger to La Rosiere! As for Stage 12, it's Col de la Madeleine, *and* the Croix de Fer, *and* Alpe d'Huez--so Mikel, if you wanna both completely psych out Nairo Quintana *and* claim a legendary climb, don't !@#$ this up, you hear me! Anyway, you can chill after this to Stage 16, which welcomes you back from the 2nd rest day to a Cat 1 meander up Col de Mente before a *downhill* finish off Col du Portillon. If any of you need to improve your descending skills, well, too late now, suckers! Stage 17, though mountains, is curiously a mere 65k long, but still manages to stuff in Peyresourde *and* a steep finale up Col du Portet. At least the pain won't last too long, kids! As for Stage 19--this is it, Nairo, you either solidify yer win or utterly lose it here, as you grind up the 12k Col d'Aspin before begging for mercy up the Tourmalet before conquering the Aubisque, which includes not accidentally flying off the thing as you head to the valley below. Okay now you can relax grande Mikeeeeeeeeeeeeeeel!

Well, there's yer course--next up, the GC contenders to either thrill or horrify you. I'll see you all tweeting frantically on the Alpe d'Huez--you know I will, you lying lying liars!

Saturday, June 09, 2018

My Fantasy Chris Froome Press Conference

Good morning. I'm here today to tell you all to feck of--(Dave Brailsford leans in, whispers in ear)--I mean, to discuss my totally believable performances in the Vuelta, the Giro, and coming up, the Tour de France, over the past year.

First, I'd like to point out that as we all know, it takes a truly catastrophically sickly athlete to win as many Grand Tours as I have. Dang, if I hadn't had my guts actually clinically liquified by bilharzia, ingested an 80 foot tapeworm, both vomited and suffered explosive diarrhea for six months straight, had a head cold, toe fungus, gout, St. Vitus' dance, cholera, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, carbuncles, tinnitus, ovarian cysts, *and* asthma, I admit, I'd pretty well suck. Thank goodness for multiple ailments, amirite?

Second, I'd like to address this "donkey to racehorse" bull!@#$ that I've been getting from all you miserable so-called cycling fans for the last three years. As to why I didn't show any particular athletic promise as a young rider, !@#$ you! I was still good enough to be in the ProTour while you were still at home bitching about Lance Armstrong's interview with Oprah swilling !@#$ beer and stale chips like a fat-!@#. * Further, to paraphrase Kaiser Soze, I was *fat.* I mean, like, *Orca* fat. So you can see how Brailsford's positive-reinforcement regimen of smacking me in the mouth every time I approached the refrigerator has really helped improve my power-to-weight ratio. That, and that weird injection I got in that alleyway behind the Sky headquarters a couple years back that's slowly been turning me into a genetic human/praying mantis hybrid. (Blinks, shakes head) !@#$, I swear I can't see right since I started growing these compound bug eyes!

Third, I'd like to discuss this marginal gains horse hocke--(winces as Brailsford kicks him under the table)--uh, the many subtle changes to my diet, sleep, training, and exercise regimes. Luckily, none of the other World Tour teams, managers, trainers, doctors, soigneurs or riders ever thought of stuff like that to help *their* GC contenders, those dummies!

Fourth, I want to go head-on against these disgusting and utterly false allegations of bike doping. I *personally* watched my bike built up, and as Dave here reassured me, all those little wires, flashing lights, whirring parts, batteries, and computer chips are just water bottle cages. To think they're mounted *inside* the frames these days, who'd'a thunk it?

Next, and perhaps most importantly for you prurient doubting wankers, I want to talk about my completely benign Salbutamol overdose poz. Sure, Alessandro Petacchi could fit like 4 of me in his breast pocket and I *still* had way higher levels of that !@#$ in a single dose than he ever did in his entire career, but how else is a severe asthmatic like myself whose symptoms only kick in whenever I desperately need to up my tempo on a critical climb in a Grand Tour stage to treat such a consistent and terrible ailment?

Now, it's time to move on to my phenomenal 80k breakaway triumph on the Finestre, particularly this stupidity how of all the climbs in Italy I totally coincidentally managed to recon that one. Not only does everyone know rumors about the race course months before it's actually announced,** but I gotta tell ya, having the ability to dictate to the race organizers *exactly* what I wanna ride and when and where for the 1.5 million euro favor of my showing up sure doesn't hurt, honey! As to my spectacular attack, of *course* I gained all my time on the descent, you idiots--how much more aero than every one of the 206 bones in the adult human body and every joint to boot flailing in completely opposite directions at all times in all wind conditions can a person get, you silly things? Hell, if *Michael Freakin' Rasmussen* doesn't think I was doping more'n anybody el--uh, was doping on the Finestre, where the hell do *you* get off, you armchair weekend-warrior ignoramuses? And while we're at it, why aren't you guys investigating that bizarro aerodynamic microgel !@#$ Lotto-Soudal was using at the Dauphine? I mean, asthma meds at least help you breathe, what kind of Cold War spy-novel stealth-technology cheating crap is this?

Lastly, I'd like to say none of this would be possible without the support of my family, friends, and teammates, the enabling cowardice of UCI and the race organizers, the kind of impenetrable legal team that can only be assembled and wielded by a team with more money than God, and truly mind-bogglingly extensive medical interven--uh, the really neato wind-tunnel testing I did in January. You know what they say, it takes a village to raise up a donkey!

Well, that about wraps things up. In conclusion, I'd just like to say YOU'RE ALL BLOCKED FROM MY TWITTER ACCOUNT YOU SLANDERING MOTHER!@#$ERS--uh, I'm *really* looking forward to watching Dumoulin try to keep up with me again at the Tour. You think Carapaz and Lopez wouldn't help you reel me in, just wait'll you see Landa Quintana and Valverde going full nuclear option internally trying to kick each other's !@#--see you at the Tour, suckers!

*Hey, I gotta be fair here!
**Hey, I gotta be fair here!

Sunday, June 03, 2018

It's Yer Incredibly Prestigious 2018 Giro d'Italia Racejunkie Awards!

All right, half o' you didn't watch because of the start location, half o' you didn't watch because of that idiot, and the third half of you only watched it begrudgingly--but it remains an irrefutable truth that the beautiful Giro d'Italia is greater than any one (or even a multiple pack o') fuckwits, so now that the Prosecco hangover's warn off and the pre-Tour hype has barely begun, it's time to reward the beautiful, the ugly, and the just plain ludicrous with this year's Incredibly Prestigious 2018 Giro d'Italia racejunkie Awards! Prizes--I swear, for anyone bold, desperate, or self-Googling enough to claim them--a dashing custom-embroidered racejunkie cycling cap, a passel o' handsome racejunkie stickers to ruin yer bike, yer car, or yer face, and--last but *so* not least, an actual physical trophy dredged up from the best, worst, or most ignominious my local second-hand tchotchke shop has to offer. So celebrants, let's get to it!

Total Embarrassment o' the Giro: *why* did my beloved Giro pay that horrid windmill/daddy-longlegs hybrid 1.5 million euro to besmirch this race? Right, it must've brought in more attention than it cost. Except for the tifosi, who were pissed, and collectively (though theoretically possibly for a host of other reasons, even though we all of course know better) dragged the TV ratings down to the lowest in many years. Don't you ever, *ever* pull this crap again, race organizers!

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superdomestique! Prize: Yap, yap, in a creepily familiar US Postal feedback loop, a pack of humanoid robots damn near killed themselves and every other rider in the peloton for 21 consecutive stages setting the pace for that freak Froome on climbs, the flats, and the handful of meters back to the team bus after the line. But who this *really* belongs to is Thibaut Pinot's loyal teammates on his spectacular crack on the stage to Jafferau, who collectively nursed a dehydrated, feverish, vomiting, and ultimately hospitalized Pinot across the line miraculously within the time cut to boot before he was obliged to drop out on the penultimate day. Fortunately, our boy is reportedly recovering nicely, despite an apparent diagnosis of pneumonia and a doc-ordered three weeks' rest from the bike. Forza Pinot, and bravi ragazzi!

Aw, Suck! Podium Moment o' the Giro: C'mon Pozzo. C'mon Pozzo. C'mon Pozzo--aw, *dammit*! Next year, Domenico, I know you can do it next year!

Crash o' the Race (Aw, Rats!): surprisingly, and for once fortunately, it was a three week Tour o' Relatively Minimum Carnage out there. But still and all, it just plain sucked for hardworking Bahrain do-it-all Konstantin Svitsov, who crashed out with a crappy fractured vertabrae no less on the recon of the opening time trial course before the race even began. Heal up soon, Konstantin--hopefully you'll at least be back for the Tour!

Crash o' the Race (Totally Insignificant): speaking of which, who else wiped out on the recon, to immediate social-media humungo-ruckus and worldwide respectable-media hoo-ha, but to no practical effect on the man, or the race, whatsoever? That's right, this one's for Froome. Glad he wasn't hurt--if he was gonna lose the race, I wanted it to be fair and square, on top form!

Crash o' the Race (Totally Bizarre): and speaking of whom, how the *hell* do you even crash inching your way uphill? Yep, Froome again, Stage 8. Damn, it's like his fifth award already, someone get this guy a shopping cart!

Punk-Ass Move o' the Race: For !@#$'s sake, Froome--we know you won. By a lot. Was it *really* necessary to attack Dumoulin for a few meter's advantage when you were coming in together on like Stage 56 and already had the entire damn race wrapped up? Show some class whydontcha!

Associated Manufactured Controversy Award: speaking of our lovebirds, was it a deliberate snub that 2017 Giro champ Tom Dumoulin, who famously stated flat out that he thought Froome oughtn't to be riding the Giro, didn't immediately respond to Froomey's warm offer of congratulations-and-glad-I-beat-you? Or merely the distraction of the crush of fan and media attention surrounding Dumoulin the minute he took a breath across the line? Needless to say (and I include myself in this dim assessment) tifosi speculation took the low road. STOP THE PRESSES THE BROMANCE IS DEAD!

Total Eclipse of the Heart Prize: look, on his most benign day, Astana boss/future Emperor of All Earth Alexander Vinokourov would probably shank you for politely complimenting his shirt. But it was really quite touching after the climb to Jafferau to watch close up how he waited for, enthusiastically welcomed, and assiduously looked after each of his boys to straggle in over the line. Please don't hurt me for saying something nice about you Vino!

Nail-Biter Competition of the Giro: yeah, the maglia rosa. But no, this was the absolutely tit-for-that will-he-or-won't-he fight for the young rider's jersey between Carapaz and Lopez. Sure, they tanked Dumoulin's last hope of reeling back Chris Froome while the two whippersnappers were busy marking each other for white, but hell, Dumo's maglia rosa wasn't their problem!

Running Fan Incident Award (Sissy Slap-Fight Version): to be fair (for once), almost anybody, not least a rider fighting for the overall win in Rome, would want to punch the crap outta a stupid six-foot inflatable Tyrannosaurus Rex plunging and lumbering alongside as one tries to find one's line on a critical climb. But to his credit, Froome refused to slag--though he did shove aside--said dinosaur, diplomatically averring that he was merely moving the innocently stumbling Rex out of his way. Hey, I gotta call it like I see it--that was class!

Running Fan Incident Award (Wisenheimer Version): okay, normally I view the sort of publicity-slut camera-grabbing fans who run alongside the riders in neon banana hammocks or completely incongruous horned Viking helmets with the sort of nauseous semi-complicit horror an American feels at seeing a McDonald's tucked amidst the actual-human-food cafes two streets away from the Vatican. But I couldn't help but feel a sort of grudging, if completely inexcusable, admiration for the guy who managed to perfectly replicate an all-body Ventolin inhaler and still sprint uphill in the thing. An artist, you are, Anonymous!

I See a Red Maglia and I Want It Painted Black Award: no, they don't award it anymore, but gosh darn it, they sure ought to, because the dead-last rider crossing the line dead-last or near so in every stage for three weeks running is *still*, full-stop, one of the greatest athletes on the planet. Two-year's-running last place finisher/maglia nera winner/full o' stick-to-it-iveness Wilier Triestina Guiseppe Fonzi, this one's for you. Bonus award to the Giro organizers for playing the theme from Happy Days at your every sign-in!

Break o' the Race (Ex-Carrot Edition): He did it in 2011, he did it in 2016, and he did it again in 2018. Mikeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeel (Nieve, that is)--happy birthday to you is right!

Break o' the Race (No I Am !@#damn Not Awarding It To Froome Edition): Slag him all you want for collapsing in the final week, and slag him even more justifiably for his sketchy UCI run-in that was justifiably howled about every single meter of the race, but damn, Simon Yates' 18k stage 15 run into (well, straight up) Sappada was a *move*. What happens in the future, I can't control!

All Right !@#dammit Even I Can't Be Sarcastic All The Time Cut The Kid A Little Slack Award!: Aru, man. I don't know if it's physical, I don't know if it's the psychological pressure of all the hype, I don't whether it's a team mis-fit, or what. But leave poor little Fabio Aru alone!

Crack o' the Race: no, I'm not giving it to Pinot--the poor kid was sick. But who *did* crack spectacularly was maglia rosa and seemingly-inevitable-top-o'-the-podium vincitore Simon Yates, who, as many resignedly predicted, would and did blow up, as is his youngster wont, the third week in heartbreaking and epic fashion with 85k to go on the Finestre. His stated reason? Fair enough--the boy was just damn *exhausted*. Still, he honored the pink jersey by digging deep and finishing the stage, and the whole race as well. Just maybe work on that long-term endurance thing on the off-season, kid!

Because I'm Happy Prize: sure, he had a bitchin' stage win on the Giro's first heights as a tip o' the hat by respectful team captain Yates after an exhausting most-o'-the-day break. But what completely blew me away was how, with absolutely nothing in the tank by the penultimate day's climb to Cervinia, wee Esteban Chaves still kept smiling even as he ground his way back to his team car after the finish line. Is it even legal to be that cheerful all the time?

Paint Job o' the Race (Jaysus H. Gaudy Freakin' Christ It's Not Even the Right Color Edition): Yes, Chris, you won the Giro, you get a big pink freakin' bike. But !@#DAMMIT THE MAGLIA ROSA IS NOT FLUORESCENT NEON PINK YOU TACKY SNOTTY MISPLACED SHOWOFF! Honor the maglia in yer paint job right, or stay the hell home. FFS, are you gonna light up the Tour de France finale in hi-viz yellow too? *Don't* do that again!

Paint Job o' the Race (Class Edition): a clean black Specialized frame. a subtle streak of magenta. a flash of matching bar tape. And the maglia ciclamino left to stand out on its glorious own. Elia Viviani, and whoever the hell paints yer bike, this one's for you. Nicely done!

The Sound of Inevitability Award: yes, I am going to hold an unreasonable grudge for all time against UCI for rescheduling the Amgen EPO Tour of California right up against the beautiful Giro, thereby depriving the latter race of the likes of Petacchi's beautiful blue train and most of the rest of the world's best sprinters for all time as, for some sick tiwsted rationale, they decide the payoff of one sprint in Milano after 2 million meters of climbing over 14 mountain ranges isn't quite enough and bail for the relatively modest coupla days o' pain in the US. So--with the exception of Sam Bennett's smashing second stage grab on the prestigious final day in Roma--Elia Viviani (fine and deserving as he truly was) had no possible outcome but to take the majority of the flat stages and of course the sprinter's jersey. Well done, but dammit UCI, fix this!

And Last But Not Least, the Road Graffiti o' the Giro: y'know, it still warms the cockles of my miserable cynic hypocrite heart to see the lovely tributes to Marco Pantani painted all over the road. And can anyone begrudge anyone writing encouragement to Aru, Dumoulin, or Pozzovivo? But for me, the immortal words (and accompanying tent set-up) at the foot of Monte Zoncolan handily pointing Chris Froome to a "VENTOLIN PUSHER" and, for some mysterious reason, also "P*SSY", will forever capture the very spirit of this year's Giro. And if you actually *had* that inhaler on hand (yes, just the inhaler you pervs!), that's a *double* trophy for you!

Well, them's your Giro Awards for this year. So swallow yer pride, waste yer time, and pick up yer prizes--just hope you don't earn another one next year!