Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tour de France Wrap-up

Another Tour de France is behind us, which leaves me with a bit of a TdF hangover.  I get up the first few mornings after the race feeling listless and undirected.  No reason to turn on the TV, no reason to start reviewing Twitter feed, no reason to scan cycling websites - and if I do those things, it is unsatisfying as apparently the cyclists and journalists all think they deserve a couple of days off.

Well here at the Steve's on Cannon blog, we believe in taking most days off, but not today.  Here are some thoughts on the 2012 Tour de France.

Course - Overall, it appears that Christian Prudhomme spend most of his time at Brad Wiggins kitchen table kicking around course ideas for this Tour.  It was almost perfectly suited to Wiggo, but I was unhappy with the lack of mountain top finishes.  I realize there are difficult logistics to finishing outside of a city, but damnit, it's worth it to me, not to mention a bit of race integrity.

Excitement - That said, I don't think it was fair to say that this was a "boring" race.  I hate Thomas Voeckler, so that gave me reason to yell at the screen most days.  I loved David Millar's win.  I thought Sky was great.  I thought Tejay Van Garderen was fun to watch.  How can you not like Peter Sagan?  How about Cavendish and Greipel  both picking up wins in style.  And then you add Tyler Farrar storming another team's bus and then the Tack incident and Schleck getting booted and it adds up to an interesting and animated Tour even if Evans/Hesjedal/Nibili, etc. didn't put up big challenges.

Tack-gate - More surprising than the tacks on the road is that this kind of thing doesn't happen more often.  And more surprising than that is that the TdF and French police said a few hours aftewards that they didn't expect to every know who did it.  How can it be that the cameras catch every idiot in a Borat swimsuit for 100 miles, but no camera and no bystander saw anything, filmed or photographed anything at all?  It's inconceivable, isn't it?  It's like they found out it was the son of a French Billionaire and Tour sponsor and just decided to hush it up.

Bradley Wiggins - Nice job.  A top level athlete who went from winning Gold medals on the track to the TdF in 10,782 easy steps.  Although most of them not that easy.  A worthy winner and team who threw down the gauntlet and delivered.

Chris Froome - Clearly a climbing talent, but it will be interesting to see how Froome-dog flys when left purely on his own.  Expect it soon in the Vuelta or Giro next year.  I think he is a bit more fragile than he thinks, but hopefully not.

Cadel Evans - Mr. Cuddles was just not the same rider this year as last.  Illness, age or just too many demands after winning last year?  Or maybe a tad less motivation after achieving his overarching goal of the last 20+ years?  Don't know, but he didn't look quite on his game at any race in 2012, but I hope he comes back strong for 2013.

George Hincapie - George is a strong rider and regarded by the entire peloton as a great guy.  Sorry to see him go and sorry that his retirement seems likely to be tarnished by the Armstrong/USADA arbitration (if it ever happens).

Ryder Hesjadal - Damn, I was looking forward to Ryder this year.  Sorry he didn't get his shot, but wait for 2013.

And lastly, some comments about the coverage.

Phil & Paul - I hate to say this, but neither of these guys was really on his game this year.  The multiple pronunciations of every name, along with confusion about what was plainly on the screen was much worse this year.  These guys are gods in our tiny part of the world, so let's hope it's just an aberration and they are back on their stuff.

Bob Roll - I understand why Phil and Paul don't mesh well with Bob, but how can you not like this guy?  NBC, increase his drinking budget and turn him loose.

Liam McHugh - Creditable effort and likeable guy.  The first good addition in a number of years.

Scott Moniger - I don't want to say anything bad about this guy because he was a first class US cyclist, but the truth is, I have nothing good to say about him.  When your two modes are boring or off-base, it turns out that TV commentating may not be your thing.

Craig Hummer - In tiny doses, I don't hate him half as much.  Just a thought - how hot is the sun if it is half as hot?

Steve Porino - Great add to this team. Funny, paid attention and never said "talk about . . ." to any cyclist or team director.  Give us more of Steve.

Robbie Ventura - How can they call this guy a Tech Reporter?  He was reading press releases and hawking a product in every single segment he did.  If you lined up his entire contribution, it would turn out that 10 different bikes were the absolutely best.  Robbie was fun as the earnest boy scout coach for Floyd, but then that didn't turn out too well, did it?

Closing Thoughts - I was amazed at how good a source Twitter was for all kinds of insight, drama and silliness.  95% of my "Follows" are Euro cycling related now.  Also, I miss the Tour, but at least we have the Olympics to which to turn our attention.  After that, the Schlick treatment of the Vuelta will be around the corner and we can ease out of cycling for a few months until the Spring Classics will be around the corner again.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

TdF - Science of Sport

Bikes are fun.  Riding them is fun.  Racing them is fun.  Buying them is fun.  Talking about riding them is fun.  Talking about racing them is fun.  Talking about buying them is fun.  But you know what isn't fun about bikes?  Having pro riders doping and then having endless discussions and speculation about who doped, when they doped, who didn't dope, who is involved in legal proceedings, etc., etc., etc.

While it would be more fun to just be watching bike racing during the Tour de France, we are also obliged to contemplate a couple of other related topics.  For instance, Brad Wiggins ad hominem attack after being asked about doping.  An "ad hominem" argument is one in which you the person, rather than addressing the issue.  Such as this, "Mr. Wiggo, what do you think about comparisons of the dominance of your team versus prior teams that are accused of doping?" and then the reponse, "Anyone asking that question is a wanker." 

Not sure that really gets at the core of the question.  Or actually anywhere near any part of the question. 

Frankly I was surprised 1) by this response from someone I would have thought was smart enough to say something like, " . . . we are and will always be a strong proponent of clean sport and we got to this point by working hard . . ."; 2) that when he didn't give that response or something like it, that he or the team didn't take the time to "clarify" or expand upon the response; and 3) that a bunch of pro riders/managers/etc. all thought that it was perfectly appropriate response. 

Um, no.  It wasn't.  It was a black-eye on the purported efforts of Team Sky to support clean cycling and that has nothing to do with Wiggo's salty language.

Next up, Lance Armstrong and USADA.  First of all, bad timing from USADA.  On the other hand, process is process and they would have opened themselves up to other accusations if they sat on it to wait until after the TdF.  Second, LA's federal court strategy wasn't unexpected, but the mighty slam-down by Judge Sparks was.  Find of the articles about it if you haven't read the judge's response.  Third, skipping over everything else, I will go on record as saying that I think LA will ultimately accept the penalty or some negotiated penalty rather than go to arbitration unless his ego gets the better of him.  By doing so, he gets to keep arguing that USADA was unfair, it was an unfair process and that the "never tested positive" argument should prove his point.  If they hold a hearing, the testimony from a fleet of riders will be damaging beyond repair.  Corporate think will prevail that it is better to have grey than let it get too black and white.  Haters gonna hate; believers gonna believe.  Not much going to change that with the bickering.  On the other hand, 5 or more riders on a witness stand will have a big negative impact.

Lastly, while believers are gonna believe, I think it's worth looking at some thoughtful analysis of the situation.  For that, a good place to check is the Science of Sport website.  They talk a lot about track/running stuff, but occasionally turn their attention to cycling, to wit, this discussion of power outputs during Stage 7 -  Great read.  Also, check out this chart, referenced in the post.  Click on it to make it bigger, but the point is that the performance in some years is above that expected by scientists familiar with the limits of non-PED athletes, while this year's performances are in line with those expectations.

Interesting, yes.  Fun, not as much.

Enjoy your own riding and Tour watching.  Also, look for a transition during July from this blog, to the River City Red blog, where we will expand from bike talk only, to beer and bikes and a whole lot more.