Tour de France: 39 Seconds

Unremarked by the Versus boys–Phil and Paul–in their wrap-up of today’s Tour de France time trial is the significance of the margin between first-place Alberto Contador and second-place Andy Schleck. The gap is 39 seconds, and that happens to be the precise amount of time that Contador gained on Schleck on the final climb and descent on the Tour’s 15th stage. Yes, that’s the one where Schleck attacked, dropped his chain, and Contador attacked as Schleck first slowed then was forced to dismount to fix his mechanical issue. At the time of that small mishap, Schleck was 31 seconds ahead of Contador in the overall standings; at the finish of the stage, he was 8 seconds down. Controversy attended Contador’s move, since many feel it was unsporting to attack a race leader suffering a problem with his bike. That a fair number of cycling fans appear to subscribe to this unwritten rule of Tour sportsmanship and disapproved of Contador’s tactic became obvious when Contador was awarded the yellow jersey at the end of the stage: many in the crowd booed, a reaction I don’t remember hearing before, even with some of the rats who have worn yellow.

In the end, that slipped chain and the 39 seconds that Contador gained determined the winner in this year’s Tour. Pending the results of all the Tour doping tests, of course.

Journal of Self-Promotion

Contributing to my lack of rest this week was a small radio story I did on locals watching the Tour de France. Through Yelp!, someone at KQED steered me to a little place in Richmond called Catahoula Coffee Company. Originally part of the draw was the news that the cafe opened at 1 a.m. so that people could come watch the Tour. The truth was that it actually opens at 7 — with the Tour playing in mid-stage. Earlier this week I went up there and the owner gave me the run of the place for one morning and part of another. Three minutes of thrilling (and I hope entertaining) audio ensued and aired on KQED’s California Report Magazine this afternoon. Here’s the link to the story page (where the audio will eventually be posted, I think):

And for anyone who’s impatient, who doesn’t want to go to the beautiful California Report site and comment, you can play the story right here:

Tweeting the Tour

Yes, the Tour de France started today, which is the annual early-July signal to take even more leave of my senses than usual. As the late, mostly unlamented Church Lady said, “Isn’t that special?”

My Tour Twitter feed:

My cycling blog, which goes sadly neglected most of the time: re: Cycling

Regularly unscheduled programming will continue here at Infospigot, with occasional break-ins with cycling news of cosmic significance.

Bad Fish and Pedaling Machines

[Reposting from my other blog]

A must-see for the TdF fanatic, or even the mildly curious onlooker: “Vive le Tour,” an 18-minute documentary gem by the late French filmmaker Louis Malle. The film (available from Netflix and Amazon, among other purveyors), is a real time capsule, especially for viewers (like re:Cycling) whose Tour exposure dates back only to the 1980s.


The film depicts moments from the 1962 Tour (won, eventually, by Jacques Anquetil). There’s not much of a narrative thread–it’s an impressionistic look at the race, the racers, and the spectators. The riders’ appearance is striking: they seem old, haggard, and rather beat-up looking compared to the riders we’re used to seeing. In fact, one is reminded of pictures of baseball players in the major leagues’ alleged golden ages: these guys look like working stiffs who are riding as much to make a living as for the competition or some higher “sporting” values.

The shots of the route, the fans, the preceding caravan, the motorcycle corps that accompanies the peloton, the mountain roads–it’s all familiar stuff, but also quite foreign. You see an older, unpolished France here. The alpine routes look primitive. As wild as the crowds get today, there was even less of an imaginary barrier between them and the competitors: fans are depicted giving racers long, long pushes up the climbs. On the flatlands, the riders are shown stopping for impromptu water breaks and “cafe raids”–the latter involving physically running into cafes and carrying away bottles of water, soft drinks or even beer and champagne. We see a velodrome finish, and a slow, tortuous mountain descent.

The physical difficulty of the race and the toll on the participants is also highlighted. One rider–from his number, it appears to be Italy’s Giuseppe Zorzi–is depicted getting back on his bike after passing out and resuming his race. But not for long: he soon slows and topples to the pavement, hors de combat. (Tour references say he quit in stage six.)

But there’s one brief segment that offers a striking parallel to the age of Landis, Rasmussen and Vinokourov. There’s a scene of a very shaky looking rider–Hans Junkermann of Germany, though he’s not named in the film–climbing off his bike and settling disconsolately in a roadside ditch. The voiceover–not sure whose voice–says:

Now let’s talk about doping. In cycling slang, doping is called “the charge,” and “the charge is killing this profession. Now every time someone quits, he’s under suspicion. This racer told us he must have eaten some bad fish. That same day, ten racers quit, and each said he’d eaten bad fish. Contrary to popular belief, doping doesn’t give you extra strength. It simply suppresses the pain. The doped-up athlete no longer knows his limits. He’s nothing more than a pedaling machine.”

Bad fish. That’s one excuse we haven’t heard recently. (But here’s a little more on the “bad fish” affair of 1962.)

Technorati Tags: , ,

Two Takes on the Climb


A sort of cheesy Versus screen grab from Tour de France Stage 9, the first Pyrenees day, on July 13. In the foreground: Maxime Monfort of Cofidis. He never showed any expression as he attacked on a tough climb. Behind him: David de la Fuente of Saunier-Duval, who briefly held the polka-dot jersey of the Tour’s leading climber. De la Fuente wore the same dramatic grimace all the way up the hill.

(De la Fuente eventually lost the jersey to teammate Riccardo Ricco, who in turn was ejected from the race after a reported positive test for a form of EPO; which ejection, in turn, caused Saunier, with de la Fuente, to quit the race.)

Technorati Tags:

The New Blog

As I said to an important advisor earlier today: Just what I need as a further diversion from the serious business of life–a new blog. It’s called re: Cycling, and I’ve been noodling around with it for awhile. Not that you can tell, necessarily: to the untrained eye, it resembles a blog just like the one devoted to your aunt’s pet cat’s colon surgery. What prompts the “announcement”–sure to propel waves of consternation across the far-flung Infospigot empire–is the onset of the 2008 Tour de France. For the most part, I’m going to make my Tour posts at re: Cycling. The extra special Tour posts with the added, deep existential dimension: those will appear here, too–if there are any.

The new thing is a work in progress. I have it in mind to ask a couple of riding and writing friends to become co-editors, contributors, and maybe do a couple little spin-off projects based on what we put together there. That’s a longer term project, though.

Any thoughts, suggestions, encouragement or condemnation: please send it my way.

Technorati Tags: ,

Phil’s Liggett’s Quote of the Day

From the Versus Stage 1 telecast of the Tour de France:

“The beautiful scenery of Britanny now, remember we’re in Britanny now for three days, that’s what they’ve paid for and that’s what we’re gonna get and enjoy here on the Tour de France because these narrow roads constantly twist and turn, the undulations are very, very special here for all of the riders and 43 of them in their first Tour de France.”

Technorati Tags: , ,

Floyd Again

It’s not a surprise that Floyd Landis has filed an appeal of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s verdict against him. I’m prompted to remember what his mother said when that case went against him: something to the effect that she didn’t think it was worth appealing, but Floyd being Floyd — and seeing that he still insisted on his innocence — how could he not appeal?

Now the case goes to the oddly named Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland, and the word is that its ruling — which will be the final, final, final legal verdict in the matter — will come down early next year.

In the meantime, Tour de France officials will appear in Madrid on Monday to bestow their event’s much besmirched champion’s jersey on Oscar Pereiro, who finished second to Landis in 2006. I just love picturing what happens if the Swiss court rules in Landis’s favor. Will there be a ceremony to retrieve the jersey from Pereiro and give it back to Floyd? (Of course not. In the unlikely event he wins his Swiss appeal, Landis will probably have to sue the Amaury Sports Organization, the Tour company, to get the championship back. Which reminds me of hearing Pete Dexter, the former newspaper columnist and fine novelist, asked about why he hadn’t sued David Milch, the creator of HBO’s “Deadwood,” for what Dexter felt was theft from his much earlier novel of the same name. “You know, if you do that, that’s what you do. That becomes your job. You’re someone who sues.” Not that I’m without sympathy for Floyd, but he looks like he’s got a new job.)


Floyd Landis lost the 2006 Tour de France on stage 16 with a spectacular and humiliating collapse on the final climb in a long alpine stage. He came back the next day and did what no one imagined possible, riding a solo attack across the Alps that shocked those who left him for dead the day before. He won the Tour in the race’s final time trial and got his victory lap on the Champs Elysees. And then… . Well, you know all that. A urine sample taken after the thrilling stage win showed an unusually high level of testosterone. Something like a trial was held, and the verdict is in: 14 months after his apparent triumph, Landis’s tests have been ruled reliable and he appears to have lost the ’06 Tour once and for all. Unless he files and wins and appeal or contemplates a comeback in his late mid-30s, his career as a professional cyclist is over, too.

It’s a bad business. I’m not well versed in the case evidence. But I don’t want to believe Landis doped, and circumstantially the case against him — the very idea that he would cheat at that juncture of the race — never made sense to me and still doesn’t. The system in place to prosecute Landis and others is flawed simply by its presumption of guilt; essentially, it presents riders with test results and challenges them to prove they’re not right. So, in the absence of a “Shoeless Joe” moment — me: “Say it ain’t so, Floyd”; him: “I’m afraid it is, kid” — I think I’ll always see Landis the way he was on that one amazing day, bursting from the pack and overtaking and dropping one rider after another until, finally, he rode alone over the last mountain. He crossed the line at 5:10 p.m., or 1710 in the 24-hour time scheme the French use.

There’s a little movement afoot, promoted mostly by Trust But Verify, I guess — for fans and supporters to hoist their libation of choice in Floyd’s honor at 5:10 p.m. today, wherever you happen to be. I’ll be doing that.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Tour Arborists

[Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett on Sunday morning as they narrated an aerial view of a French chateau southwest of Paris:]

Paul (informatively): You might not know this but in a very secluded part of the garden there’s a very old tree, a sequoia which was planted around about 1860.

Phil (surprised): The sequoia is not , not a tree of, indigenous to France, it’s Africa, isn’t it, the sequoia tree?

Paul (reassuringly): I believe it is.

Me: Sequoia. Sequoiadendron. Metasequoia.

Technorati Tags: , ,