The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. - Wm. Blake

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Last Big Day of the Tour - Maybe

So after two days of exciting racing, in which the General Classification was never in doubt - today, Saturday, is the second Time Trial. The last one was won by "Two Bloods Are Better Than One" Vinokourov, with Cadel Evans a strong second. Well, Evans is sitting in second overall, 1:50 behind Contador. Unless Contador has a terrible day, or Evans has an amazing one, Evans shouldn't be able to make up that much time. But - and this is the exciting possibility - he could get to within 30 seconds or so, in which case tomorrow's parade into Paris will not be one: it will be a race. This hasn't happened in almost 2 decades, since Greg LeMond won the Tour by 8 seconds on a Time Trial into Paris. Since then, Paris has always been a mellow route, with some sprinters jumping up on the final laps of the Champs Elysees for points, but otherwise not much happening. But with time bonuses for intermediate sprints and the overall stage win, Evans could make up 30 seconds or less. Probably won't be able to, but it would be a chance enough to make things exciting. Let's root for exciting.

One other note: David Millar, a Scotsman, was booted from racing for 2 years for doping. He returned a year ago with the zeal of the converted, and is now a very vocal member of the peoloton on doping issues. He writes a Tour Diary for Bicycling Magazine, and had a powerful piece in response to Vino's positive test. Give it a read.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

But Should Green go Unseen?

Witold Rybczynski, the insightful architect/writer/professor, has another of his slide shows up at Slate, this one called Green Unseen, and subtitled "Environmentally friendly buildings don't need to look like cheese wedges." Well thank goodness for that, I suppose.

There isn't much meat here, which surprised me at first. But I'm pretty sure what we're seeing is yet another manifestation of the Dirty Fucking Hippie syndrome. When Rybczynski was young and idealistic in the early 70s, he designed and built some overly-earnest eco-sensitive buildings that he's now ashamed of. He hasn't abandoned these ideals - he repeatedly lauds them - but he is embarrassed by their obviousness. And certainly, much of the first generation of eco-architecture was flawed, in a variety of ways (Same thing can be said for Modernism, incidentally).

But his conclusion - his takeaway from his own experience - is that buildings shouldn't give any evidence of greenness. Robert AM Stern's yet-again Georgian dorm is praised for energy efficiency without detracting from its up-to-the-minute 18th Century style, and Witold's glad that the banal 7 WTC tower (think "glass box," and you've pretty much got it) betrays no hint of its Gold LEED rating.

I have some sympathy for this viewpoint - I would rather every building be LEED rated and look traditional than only wacky buildings be green, and almost no one builds them. BUT. A lot of green things aren't particularly easily done in traditional forms. If you start a project with a commitment to an aesthetic, and then shoehorn green into it, that's where you get extra costs for going green, because it's not actually organic to the design.

I'm a strong believer that buildings should express their intent. This can be interpreted broadly, but what it really comes down to is that I'm pretty disdainful of generic architecture, whether "green unseen" or neotraditionalist when it needn't be. Maybe only the best architects (Wright, Foster) are really effective at really expressing their function through their form, and so maybe we're better off if the rest of us stick with tried-and-true. But I can't help but think that we're actually better off with all of us designers and builders trying to do more, not less. It's what got us out of the caves, after all.

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Oddly Better

I was saying to my wife at dinner tonight that the worst thing was that Rasmussen was on track to win, despite being the first yellow jersey (at least in the last couple of decades) to be presumed guilty without actually failing a test. But now he's gone, and it seems at least possible that the ride tomorrow will be clean.

I suppose I'm just setting myself up for more disappointment, but at least some of these guys must be clean, right? And if the last 3 days haven't put the fear of God/UCI into them, perhaps nothing will.

FWIW, Contador, the Team Disco rider now leading, is having a magnificent Tour. I'd put him at 50/50 clean. Maybe better.

That said, I won't be shocked, or much shaken, if dawn tomorrow sees three more teams out. Just because that's how it's tending.



I've always trusted Lance. I had some underlying doubts, but was able to convince myself that he was clean.

No more.

His denials sound to me like everyone else's denials, and his amazing performances are too much like everyone else's. If he really was clean, and no one around him was (as now seems apparent), then he should have been sounding a clarion call against doping. Instead, all he did was proclaim his own innocence.


I've got the Tour up on my screen right now (Dutch feed), but I haven't even checked to see what's going on. What difference does it make?


Alright, now I'm down.

Vino, how could you do this to us?


Sunday, July 22, 2007

More Shakeup

First day in the Pyrenees - which are generally harder climbs than the Alps, although today wasn't too challenging - and while most of the race leaders (with one big exception) were in the chase to the end, it was a tense and exciting finish. Early in the race, Saunier Duval wasted a lot of effort trying to position team leader Iban Mayo for a stage victory - his GC chances vanished in yesterday's poor Time Trial - and then he blew up before the summit of the first of two big climbs. Rabobank, middling quality team of yellow jersey Rasmussen, did the remainder of the early work, but then Discovery picked up the pace on the second big climb, somewhat reminiscent of the Lance Years. For the last 15 km or so the lead group (aside from the remnant of an early breakaway) included contenders Rasmussen, Evans, Sastre, Klöden, Leipheimer, and Contador - the last two being Discovery, along with strong rider but non-contender Popovych. No one else had any teammates, meaning that the situation was perfect for Discovery.

And, indeed, Popo lead the group up the beyond-category climb with its summit finish, dropping off pretenders like Valverde. But Leipheimer, with the kind of tactical position that Lance probably still dreams of, couldn't pull off the stage. He had one attack that looked like it would take, but then faded. You can't win the Tour if you can't make a mountain attack stick. So, at the end, it was Rasmussen and Contador, with Contador having the legs to win easily at the line. He's now in second overall, 2:23 back, :41 ahead of Evans, and 2:06 ahead of nominal team leader Leipheimer. As I said, Levi had a fine ride, coming in fourth on the day, but he utterly failed to do what a yellow jersey wearer must do. Cadel Evans did somewhat worse, up front for awhile, but then blowing up in the last 5 km and finishing almost 2:00 behind. Klöden - riding on a fractured coccyx, mind you - struggled most of the day to stay within sight of the leaders' group, yet managed to finish with Evans, which to my mind makes his day the better one.

But the worst day belonged to my beloved Vino, who was simply tapped out by his magnificent TT performance on Saturday. Vino slipped back and back all day, visibly struggling, even with three teammates up the road. He came in 28:50 behind Contador (81st on the day!), and slipped to 30th place, over 34 minutes back. Alas, poor Vino, we knew you well.

[Much later update: Well, aside from the fact that we now know that Vino was doping, we also know that he was 28 minutes back because some jagoff fan waved his flag at the Astana rider in front of Vino, got the flag caught in the spokes, and sent down both Vino and his teammate. In retrospect, I'm kind of glad that Vino landed on his sutured knees. Fucking cheater.]


Time Trial Shakeup

Well, with one week left to Paris, we know much more about the Tour than we did Friday, before the Time Trial (TT). Vino rode himself back into contention, jumping from something like 22nd up to 9th with a monster effort that took 1:15 out of Cadel Evans, who was second on the day, and 2:00 or more off of everyone else. A couple of nominal GC (General Category) contenders, like Cristophe Moreau and Iban Mayo, were wiped out, and have nothing to work for other than stage wins. Levi Leipheimer didn't do poorly, but he didn't show much either - his teammate, young Alberto Contador, is showing himself to be a better overall contender at this point. Yellow Jersey Michael Rasmussen - currently dogged by doping rumors - is a famously poor time trialer, but actually held on to his race lead with an 11th place finish.

And Cadel Evans - of whom I said last year, I don't know why he's a GC contrender, but everyone says he is - looks right now to be the best positioned rider. He has looked strong every day so far, he obviously will not get hurt in the final TT, and he's up in the standings. Klöden remains ahead of Vino in the overalls, so if Vino falters again (as he is currently doing on Stage 14, but it's early yet), Andreas can take over as team leader and be in a position to go for yellow.

Exciting stuff with 3 Pyrennean days to go.


Friday, July 13, 2007

...And he's back up.

Well, despite that nasty-looking road rash pictured here (courtesy of Bicycling), Vino rode today - gingerly, at the back of the back, but with the peloton all day nonetheless. Same for Klöden, whose coccyx is apparently "fissured," not broken. But I think he has to be treated as a presumptive DNS (Did Not Start) every day until Paris.

A fair amount of commentary was made today that Astana - believed coming in to be one of the stronger teams - looked terrible trying, and failing, to run Vino back up to the peloton. There's no denying that - as I think I said, Vino ended up alone, having blown apart his own team. But I think that people may have inflated expectations from Postal/Discovery's years of domination. The first few years of Lance's wins, USPostal was not the race-ruling express train they later became. Plenty of talent, but a lot of what Lance achieved in those years was from his own strength - chasing down climbers on impossible mountains and leaving them in his wake. It was after his success that Postal, then Discovery, had so much talent, so much experience, and, frankly, such an aura that they could exert their will on the other 180 riders without breaking a sweat. Astana shouldn't be measured against that, especially not on a day when both of their leaders have nasty falls.

All that said, if Klöden's done, then Team Astana is mortally wounded, and only a heroic performance by Vino can win it.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Vino Down!

Well this is alarming news. Alexandre Vinokourov, who was cheated out of competing in last year's Tour but is now the last giant left in the field, had a nasty fall close to the end of today's stage. 2/3 of his Astana team stayed back to pace him forward, but they could never catch the peloton, and he ended up 1:20 back, with all of his likely rivals near the top of the standings. 1:20 is far from insurmountable, but it's a hell of a handicap to give up before the first mountain stage.

As for those rivals?

Well, this is a week late, but nothing much has happened in this Tour yet, so it's still preview-quality in terms of likely accuracy.

As even the most casual observer knows, doping has been the story of this year's Tour, even moreso than last year's, when the top 4 contenders were knocked out before the first day of riding. Reigning champion Floyd Landis is unavailable to defend, as he is defending his reputation - as well as last year's win - in the courts. Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso are both gone for good, hounded by drug allegations and admissions. As I said above, Vino's the only one left who really has the stature of a Tour champion, because, for all his unproven leadership abilities, he has simply shown in prior Tours that, physically, he can dominate a race the way that few could during the Lance Era (not to mention his overall win in the Vuelta a España last year).

But, once again, Vino is teamed with Klöden of Germany. Everything I've heard is that Vino's the definitive leader of his team, but a small slip - like today's - could well change that calculus in the accomplished Klöden's mind. For even more intrigue, Andreas also crashed today. He reconnected and finished with the peloton, but apparently broke his coccyx, which doesn't bode well for the next 15 stages. Vino may not want a rival on his squad, but he could surely use an able lieutenant.

Lieutenant describes most of the remaining contenders. Great American Hope Levi Leipheimer has returned to Discovery, also with assurances that he will be the acknowledged leader. But Levi has still not proven that he can take it to the next level as a team leader and champion.

Spaniard Carlos Sastre of CSC has pretty strong credentials - podium finish at the Vuelta and 4th place last year when he was suddenly thrust into Basso's no-doubt stylish shoes - and, more importantly, a strong team: probably the strongest team on the Tour, with accomplished specialists for each portion of the race. Strong climber who has learned to time trial. The only question is whether CSC will actually focus its efforts on Sastre - they've already spent 4 days defending Fabian Cancellara's yellow jersey.

Alejandro Valverde of Caisse D'Epargne has been mentioned in relation to the Puerto doping scandal, but he's here, and he's shown some Grand Tour abilities. At last year's Vuelta he finished second to Vino, and in the last two Tours he was riding well before injuries took him out. Not a great team, but a strong lieutenant in Oscar Pereiro (who could become the 2006 Tour winner by default if Landis loses his case).

OK, now that I've got this post out, maybe I'll be a bit better about keeping things up to date around here. Come on back.