Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The sad state of pro cycling...

When I first became interested in cycling, I was enthralled by the 1989 Tour de France. The race had everything-compelling characters, plots, sub-plots, errors in judgement, and redemption. It was like a soap opera, albiet much better written to reflect the vagaries of everyday life amplified by it's more profound moments. As I was watching some of this year's edition of the Tour, it seemed as if the life has been sucked out of it. Chris Froome and the Sky team, rode the race as they always do-like accountants, never giving the fans moments of doubt, drama, or exhibiting the slightest hint of anything except the soul-crushing corporate model of success in modern day racing-purchase the best domestiques, race every pre-tour race in preparation for the Tour and not for the sake of "having a go", always with one eye on the power output to make sure one doesn't go over one's "limits". 

A beaming Greg Lemond and a clearly dejected Laurent Fignon at the TdF podium, 1989-

Lemond descending at the 1990 Tour-

Chris Froome is as charismatic as spackling compound, and shares the same level of pigmentation. How someone who makes his living racing and training outdoors can maintain such a cadaverous countenance is beyond the laws of physiology. Forget about the motor he allegedly uses to help him in times of trouble in the mountains, or his alleged doping-the bigger question is how does he stay so damn white? Was he born in Transylvania? That to me is a bigger feat than him passing all his anti-doping tests while possibly juiced to the gills. A friend of mine was watching him and all he could say was, "man, what a honky". Another friend commented-"That guy isn't just white-he's Chernobyl white". I agree. 

And he's just as exciting as his skin color. Froome has managed to surpass Spanish ex-pro Fernando Escartin as the cyclist with the absolute worst cycling form of all time. And I thought Sean Kelly was bad. I wonder how many more races King Kelly could have won if he were properly fitted to his bike. It certainly didn't help his climbing, riding with his knees practically scraping the tarmac. But this guy beats them all. While pedaling, Froome resembles a squid being pulled out of a septic tank-gangly and shitty. And that obnoxious "Sky Train" is just as unbearable to watch as the US Postal team, who invented the concept. As we all know, the formation of such a tactic, where one team manages to have all nine of its riders setting tempo up every fucking mountain, would not be possible without a team-orchestrated doping program, but Sky seem too smart to be caught out there at the present time. They certainly have the operating budget to pull it off, and team director Dave Brailsford seems to be tactically a bit more nuanced than his predecessor, the loathsome meathead Johan Bruyneel. 

Froome's competitors must also be held accountable for the continuing lack of drama at this, the Superbowl equivalent of cycling and hands-down its biggest and most important event. Nairo Quintana has to be called out. I expected more from him. He wasn't injured and didn't suffer any debilitating illnesses during his run-up to the tour, yet he rode as if he had nothing in the tank and seemed content just to be somewhere near the front, riding a steady rhythm that exuded all the excitement of an EKG exam result from an exhumed corpse. The bullshit tactic of having two leaders for the same race needs to stop. Alejandro Valverde should not be given equal billing as Quintana at any grand tour. He's too old now and even during his doping heyday was never a serious contender for the Tour. So why have them ride as co-leaders?

1999 Vuelta a España, when being one of the heads of state meant riding like one-

Evgeni Berzin and Tony Rominger duking it out for real at the 1995 Giro D'Italia-

A REAL Mano a Mano fight, 1993 Tour de France-

Because of his lackluster Tour performance, Quintana's victory at the Vuelta a España rings that much more hollow, seeing as his two main rivals weren't there to win. Chris Froome was out of gas from his efforts in July, and apparently his cycling motor didn't make it through customs. Alberto Contador is showing pronounced signs of a typical has-been grand tour rider, spending months preparing for races that are over for him before they even begin with crashes and injuries in early stages of races that were once easily avoidable. The fact that he lost two minutes to Froome in the last time trial of the Vuelta says it all. He NEVER lost anywhere near that kind of time in that particular discipline to any of his main rivals when he was at his peak. Now he is just a shadow of his former self. Let's hope for the sake of self-respect he does a victory lap next year and bows out with some semblance of dignity, not being dragged out of some cavernous ravine as the tour peloton leaves him mercilessly behind, a la Alexander Vinokourov when he was forced to call it a career at his last tour.

And let us not forget the disgraceful act by Nairo Quintana of hanging on for dear life to a  Mavic neutral service motorbike on the Mont Ventoux, one of cycling's most iconic climbs. It's been a while since I've been so disgusted by such a spectacle. When I saw this and read his disingenuous excuse for doing so, I lost quite a bit of respect for him, which is another reason I wasn't impressed by his Vuelta win. Even if the television cameras are not in the vicinity, everyone has a cell phone with a camera. Why did he think he could possibly get away with this? The Tour organization made it worse by not fining him and not giving him a time penalty, which he richly deserved, but they did neither in hopes of him maybe making the race somewhat exiting by actually attacking, which he never did once the whole tour. He consoled himself by saying he's young and still has many years to contend the race. Sorry, but lack of effort in attacking your main rival and placidly exhibiting happiness with a podium spot makes me question his heart. I guess he'll wait until there is a weak field and put in a weak, uninspired attack a la Carlos Sastre in 2008.

Here's my point-I challenge any cycling fan to name the rider who won the road race at the Rio Olympics. I hate to say this because I'm no fan of doping, but the racing was much better back in the day when PED use was (more) rampant. Starting in 1990, when the Italians were the first to use EPO  to maximum effect, dominating the majority of the entire cycling calendar with the exception of the Tour de France, not only was the racing better, but the riders were characters, the type that modern-day cycling sorely lack. They had personality and character that made every race worth watching, from the humblest Belgian mid-week semi-classic in February to the end of year slew of one-day races that culminate in the Giro D' Lombardia, the traditional closeout race of the year. If Italy is renown for its fashion and style, why are we getting bozos like Vincenzo Nibali? Where's the next Mauritzio Fondriest for fuck's sake? France had cats like Richard Virenque, Laurent Jalabert, and for a fleeting moment Luc Leblanc. Name one French rider who garners any interest today. Those cats rode with panache and had a style on the bike that we amateurs tried to emulate, some with more success than others because, let's face it-you can buy the bike and all the kit and STILL look pathetic. It was the pros who paved the way. Now we must look away in disgust. We now have dorks on poorly sized bike frames (someone explain to me why a rider who is 5'8" uses a 140 mm stem) whose uniforms are, for the sake of aerodynamics (marginal fucking gains!!!) form-fitting to an egregiously unflattering degree. 

Raul Alcala. A more stylish rider you will not find-

It's not just the cyclists. The industry as a whole  has taken a turn for the worse. Not too long ago, Colnago's highest end frame, the carbon C-40, sold for $2400 or thereabouts. I remember purchasing the legendary Bianchi Ti-Megatube in the perennial celeste color for two grand, frame and fork. Try that now with a high end frame. You want a high end frame from any of the major players and you're looking at a cost north of 5 grand, with many competitively priced closer to 6 thousand balls, with a complete bke easily surpassing the 10 grand mark. The smaller, hand-crafted artisans are just as bad when it comes to pricing, and you have your choice of carbon, carbon, or carbon in three sizes-small, medium, and extra medium, with a sloping top tube as an added mandatory aesthetic monstrosity. Before we had Litsespeed for titanium, Cannondale for aluminum, and Cyfac of France for custom frames in ANY material. Companies like Colnago offered different frame materials at all price points, and the paint jobs were stylish. Thankfully, they are still going strong, but they have nowhere near the market share they once had. Because of all this, amateur/club cycling has become an exclusive yuppie club for middle-aged assholes with $12,000 complete bikes, $700 dollar GPS systems, SRM watt gauges, and complimentary testosterone patches from your friendly neighborhood anti-aging clinic. And don't forget the $300 bib shorts that last half a season before the material wears out and you're left with the excruciating visage of ass crack from the rider in front of you. 

There's still hope on the cycling gear front for us Sunday posers, it's just going to cost more. As for pro races, forget it. When you have a pack of 40 riders contesting the last hill in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, when 260 kilometers is not enough to weed out the field on such a demanding course, you know parity is here to stay. And I hate to say it, but the biological passport and the draconian two-year ban for first-time doping offenders are to blame. Scrap the passport and go back to a more reasonable ban system-6 months for the first offense, a year for a second, and two years for a third. The battle against doping has only lead to more sophisticated and clandestine forms of doping, and it has leveled the playing field to the point where nobodies whom no one cares about are out there winning races. And re-calibrate the racing calendar so that the World Championships are held in August instead of fucking late September. Maybe then we'll see a more competitive field, with winners coming from the cream of the crop. Make the damn race worth watching with a challenging course and a hilltop finish every single year. A sprinter should be able to climb to win the once-prestigious rainbow jersey. Can anyone tell me who last year's road racing champion was? How about the previous year? I didn't think so, and that's the problem. 

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