Archive for August 2009
Waiting For Greipel. Not the bleak and hilarious existential play by Samuel Becket. That was Godot, a bum without a bike to his name who never showed up.
When lead-out man Greg Henderson (Columbia-HTC) hit the last 150 meters, he waited he hear from his sprinter Greipel behind him but the call never came. Then Henderson saw a gap, took it and found himself the surprise winner. He owes the Vacansoleil team a debt of thanks for ambushing Quickstep and Garmin in the tight final corner, effecting cutting off the chances of Boonen and Farrar.
Henderson ripped across the line followed by Borut Bozic (Vacansoleil) and Oscar Freire (Rabobank). Greipel? Down in 4th wondering what happened. The win also vaulted him into 2nd place in the overall, 6 seconds behind Fabian Cancellera (Saxo Bank).
The popular Kiwi has had a big August: a birth of his daughter Charlie and now a grand tour stage win in the Vuelta. The Columbia train man shined in the 190k race from Zutphen to Venlo. Although the Netherlands and Germany make for an odd Spanish tour — canal barges instead of raging black bulls and parched Spanish hillside. Hard to order a glass of Rioja when everybody wants a Grolsch beer.
It was a hard-luck day for team Garmin as Tyler Farrar had mechanical problems and so did Julian Dean. They both made it back to the peloton but finished outside the top ten. Tom Boonen, still appears to be carrying the extra baggage of his cocaine busts: he might be wired but he just ain’t fast.
In Waiting for Godot, the two main characters, tramps, wait for a man named Godot who never comes. But tomorrow is stage 4. Perhaps Mr. Greipel will be the first to arrive.
Chechu’s in the Shack!
Johan Bruyneel, director of Team Radio Shack, announced that Lance’s old buddy and mountain domestique Jose Luis Rubiera will ride for the team in 2010. Guess Lance wanted another old guy (Rubiera is 37) on the road. The team is already taking on the feel of Geriatric Shack.
Anyone who ever watched the mountain stages of the Tour de France in Lance’s glory days knows that Rubiera was the man setting the murderous tempo. Not the more famous Roberto Heras, not the excellent Yaroslav Popovych or the hard-working Manuel Beltran. Those guys were huge but the sight of Ruberia, jersey zipped all the way open, drenched in sweat, his head rocking back and forth in catatonic exhaustion as he drove the pedals was an astonishing sight.
An engineering student and class guy, Rubiera always rose to the occasion for Armstrong, riding past limits, pain thresholds and rivals. He broke many a tour contender to pieces before Lance even bothered to hit the gas. Numerous riders in Postal and Discovery sacrificed themselves for the Texan but no one gave more blood than Rubeira. He probably shorted his own life span by 5 years with those inhuman efforts. Five tours of duty, all with Lance finishing in Yellow. Only George Hincapie was there for all seven but he never paced Armstrong up an hors categorie climb.
At the end of the 2007 season, Rubiera looked set for a comfortable retirement, trade the Trek for the Lazyboy. He tried but Bruyneel hooked him for another year at Astana. He tried again but no go: Armstrong wanted him back and that’s an invitation Chechu couldn’t refuse. That engineering thing will have to wait another year. Although it’s a nice fit with Radio Shack — perhaps he can work on some of their gadgets in his spare time.
There will be a moment in the 2010 Tour de France, somewhere high up in the mountains, the gradient in double digits, when Lance needs help. We’re guessing that man will be Chechu Rubeira.
From: Mark Cavendish
To: Andre Greipel
Subject: My Grand Tour lead-out train
Andre, hey, it’s Mark. Writing from Saint Louis… that lame Tour of Missouri thing I got roped into by the sponsors. Wish I was doing the Vuelta and giving everybody an inferiority complex–especially those Garmin arseholes. I love messing with that Farrar guy.
Should be a piece of cake here. Gonna win the first sprint on Sept 7. Trying to work out a victory gimmick. Maybe an SL Arch thing … I’m also thinking of doing this “Budweiser chug” gesture right at the finish line. That would be cool, right?
Anyway, wanted to reinterate a few things down that we talked about. Rules and regulations, right?
1 You are only borrowing my Columbia lead-out train. It’s not yours and you will return it at the end of the Vuelta. We have that in writing, don’t forget.
2 I expect that my train will be in PERFECT WORKING CONDITION when I get it back. It’s like me handing you the keys to a effing Ferrari, right? Don’t do anything stupid.
3 Leave the train alone. It works just the way I want it. NO modifications whatsoever. If even one of those guys tells me you were messing with this or that, I’ll make sure Stapleton boots your arse out of the team.
4 Don’t go ripping me off. When you win, no fancy stunts or outlandish gestures. That’s my territory.My train, my show. You win 21 races in a year and have an autobiography out like me and maybe we’ll talk. Remember, you’re borrowing. This is strictly a rental situation.
5 You can diss those Garmin guys all you want. If you need some ideas, e-mail me… I got loads. Ask the boys in the train — they’ve got a few they like to toss out in the last K or two. You know, “Garmin Slipped-off-the-back” kind of thing.
6 DO NOT HUG the guys at the finish if you win. Only I do that and really, the train guys don’t actually like the sweaty hugs that much except for Hincapie. I just do that for the camera but it’s a signature style thing.
7 This is the FASTEST TRAIN IN THE WORLD. Use it wisely. I don’t want to get some tweet about you sticking them on the front nailing back a break for 150k just ’cause you’re feeling frisky. Again, review point 2. It’s my train and you should appreciate just how effing generous I am.
8 Should my lead-out train hand you a few wins — DO NOT GO GIVING YOURSELF A NICKNAME. I don’t want to read Eurosport and find out you’re calling yourself the German Jet, the Greipel Rifle or the Rostock Rocket.
Okay, points made. Have fun sticking it to those slow-pokes. I’ll be here cleaning up in Missouri for the week. They finish in Kansas City. Think I’ll try their famous bbq. Hey, what if I pretend I’m throwing a rib bone to the crowd when I cross the line? That’s effing fantastic. I might just do that.
P.S. It’s my train– have I made that clear enough?
Milram, one of the most invisible and under-performing Pro-tour squads, finally got a grand tour win in the Vuelta’s stage two. Sprinter Gerald Ciolek edged Italian Fabio Sabatini (Liquigas) and Brit Roger Hammond (Cervélo) in a bunch sprint into Emmen after 202 kilometers in the saddle.
Last year Ciolek was part of Mark Cavendish’s Columbia high speed train, helping him win four stages in the Tour de France. No doubt the Milram rider is happy to be Cav-free in the Spanish Grand tour.
Perhaps benefiting from first hand experience inside the Columbia train, he was able to make use of them today. When Columbia and Garmin Slipstream ramped things up for their sprinters Greipel and Farrar, the Milram rider stunned them all with a strong jump to the line. “It was a surprise. It was so close and I was not sure who the winner was,” said Ciolek.
Every sprinter in the peloton is tap dancing in their cleats that Mark Cavendish is not riding the Vuelta. At last, a grand tour where they have a shot at something higher than 2nd place. Columbia sprinter Andre Greipel must feel the pressure — “Here son, here’s the keys to Mark Cavendish’s train while he’s away. See if you can win anything.” Same goes for Tyler Farrar. That elusive grand tour stage win is still just out of reach.
Milram, which might be German for “poorly spent sponsorship dollars,” had to be thrilled with the victory. The team hasn’t had much success to crow about this year. But with another flat stage tomorrow, perhaps Gerald Ciolek will deliver again. For Milram, wo stage wins would certainly cure invisibility.
Who’s your favorite Spartacus?
The one with the sword and loincloth, the gladiator slave played by Kirk Douglas in the 1960’s blockbuster directed by Stanley Kubrick? Or the Spartacus in the Saxo Bank jersey who is the world’s best time trialer and also goes by the name Fabian Cancellera.
If you’re watching the opening prologue of the Veulta, it’s most likely Fabian. Nicknamed Spartacus because of his imposing strength, Cancellera blistered the 4.8 kilometer course in Assen, Netherlands in 5 minutes, 20 seconds.
Which by the way is over 155 minutes faster than Spartacus the movie — but they were covering a chunk of Roman history and it’s hard to get that many slaves to move fast. They didn’t have bikes and even if they did, no cleats for the sandals. A disaster really. But we’re guessing Cancellera would be pretty fast on a chariot.
The Swiss time machine was 9 seconds faster than Tom Boonen (Quickstep) and 12 seconds ahead of the bicycling buddhist, Tyler Farrar (Garmin). While all the original Spartacus got for his efforts was a crucifixion, Cancellera earned himself the first golden jersey of race leader. Unquestionably a better deal if you had to chose between the two.
The Doping V’s (Vinokourov and Valverde) came in 7th and 9th, respectively. Why Alejandro is allowed to race the Vuelta (or any race, for that matter) is the biggest mystery and scandel in porfessional cycling. P.S. Can anyone identify the strange object Cancellera is holding on the podium? It looks like a carved wooden Dutch Paint Boy. Think I’d rather have a stuffed lion from the Tour.
Lies, denials and attempts to discredit labs and testing methodologies are one thing. But far too often accused riders who’ve failed drug tests stretch the limits of credibility by blaming their positive tests on a conspiracy.
Names are never named, theories are never explained, facts uncovered or witnesses produced. There is never any legal or logical plausibility to these conspiracies. They just exist in an ether that is almost supernatural or science fiction.
Today, Danilo di Luca, he of the failed A and B sample taken on two Giro stages, turned desperate with the “conspiracy” theory. Said Di Luca, “I just can’t explain the two positive tests at the Giro. I’m not ruling out a conspiracy but before I can confirm it I have to be sure.” Good luck with that.
There is a long line of such laughable behavior. Alexandre Vinokourov blamed a vague conspiracy to “tarnish our image” and derail his tour de France preparations.
Floyd Landis insisted there was a “conspiracy” at the Chatenay-Malabry lab to discredit him and strip him of his fairly earned Tour de France victory. He spent two million dollars on his defense but very few people believe that yarn.
Following his suspension for doping, Iban Mayo, the Basque super climber, ranted that there was a conspiracy at the UCI. The Saunier Duval rider believed they were out to discredit him for reasons he never made clear, supported or proved.
Marco Pantani, a man filled with delusions of grandeur and the habit of referring to himself in the third person, felt he too was persecuted. The rider once referred to as Mr. 60% for his sky high hematocrit level, alleged he was, you guessed it, “a victim of a conspiracy.”
Lithuania rider Raimondas Rumsas, third in the 2003 Tour de France, reacted to his doping suspension with an extra twist: the conspiracy was perpetrated by his own team. He followed that outlandish claim with this gem: “It could be that (Lampre) wants to get rid of me…” He had no explanation for the large quantity of doping products the French police found in his wife’s car.
Richard Virenque, the rider at the center of the infamous Festina doping scandal, denied his guilt for years even when three of his team-mates admitted to a whole host of illegal drugs. Before eventually confessing, the winner of seven Polka Dot jerseys went on tv in tears to proclaim his innocence and that yes, he was a victim of a conspiracy.
One thing seems clear: the bigger the ego, the more likely the conspiracy excuse. This far-fetched explanation requires the kind of out-of-control ego that’s lost all concept of truth. The kind of person who believes they operate in a separate universe where all rules and regulations are theirs to twist with no regard for meaning.
Conspiracy theories work well for presidential assassinations, Wall Street financial scandals and Hollywood back stabbing. But it strains credibility in the world of professional cycling. Danilo di Luca is like the kid who claims Nazi frogmen stole his homework.
Next up, Alejandro Valverde. After being banned for two years in Italy, the Spanish rider will most likely have that extended to the rest of the cycling world. Expect a conspiracy explanation from Alejandro very soon. But don’t expect any facts to go with it.
It was a forgone conclusion: Lance without Johan? Ren without Stimpy? Siegfried without Roy? Unthinkable. Astana is now a sinking ship, gutted of riders, rudderless and shamed by the return of the unrepentant son, Alexandre Vinokourov.
There’s no love lost between Bruyneel and the oil barons of Kazakhstan who had constant problems writing the pay checks. Bruyneel will steal a few more riders heading out the door. The next few months will determine how foolish Alberto Contador is: riding for Astana with Vino and without Bruyneel spells disaster in any language you choose.
The real excitement is the hinted return of the second best American tour rider: the disgraced Floyd Landis. When questioned about the possibility, Armstrong said “I wouldn’t rule anything out,” Floyd is a great rider, a tremendous story.” Twisted Spoke is thrilled by the possibility of the mad Mennonite returning to the european peleton and perhaps even attacking the tour once more.
Put Landis at the front heading up Alpe d’Huez or the Tourmalet with Lance in tow and Contador will beg the Schleck brothers for help. It’s an intriguing scenario filled with redemption and revenge. A motivated Landis will rip the legs off anyone Lance points a finger at. The man has a new hip and a huge ax to grind. His natural, non-synthetic testosterone will be off the charts.
The only question will be the Tour itself. Landis has served his time, he’s street legal, but the French have no fondness for the only Tour champion stripped of the yellow jersey. They didn’t appreciate Vinokourov’s blood doping and Landis is in the same boat. He didn’t do himself any favors with a long, bitter and costly defense either. The old Fairness For Floyd slogan doesn’t play well in Paris. Still, with Lance pulling some strings, perhaps, just maybe.
We firmly expect to hear Landis cranking the ZZ Top in the Radio Shack bus in 10 months. Hey, the Tour of Utah was fun but it’s just not the Champs Elysees — even with the silly dunk contest.