Giro d’Italia 2016 – Stage 13

Finally! After two weeks of messing about with sprint stages and time trials, the Giro organisers jacked the road up and sent the riders up some proper mountains. Not the Dolomites. Not yet. The roads definitely went uphill today in quite a serious manner though.

The peloton was BLOWN TO PIECES (Millar!) early on and we were treated to extended footage of spectators in ill-advised costumes chasing cyclists up steep climbs. Joe Dombrowski was given carte blanche by Cannondale to go up the road and fight for the stage win. For a little while we watched his beanpole frame tower over the comparatively diminutive Mikel Nieve. The height disparities between cyclists never fails to childishly amuse me. Nieve is one of Sky’s ‘Embarrassment of riches’ riders. In any other team he’d be given more chances but he’s such a brilliant little mountain goat that he’s become the ultimate domestique (Side note: if I ever become a superstar DJ my name will be Superdomestique. All one word.)

Vincenzo Nibali continues to be there or there abouts, circling like a….you get the idea. I simply cannot take him seriously any more thanks to Daniel Friebe’s nightly readings from Nibali’s autobiography on The Cycling Podcast. The snippets have been chosen to emphasise the worst, most lavicious bits of course, but he comes across as a man who uses his (ahem) libido as a spiritual guide. Nibali that is. Not Friebe. I have no idea about his libido.

I’m really please to see Team Sky giving it a proper go and chasing stage wins. I tend to get a bit frustrated with Sky when their Plan A doesn’t work out, the computer says no, the numbers can’t be crunched and they don’t appear to have an alternative strategy. I have noticed a certain loosening up of their self-imposed constraints this year, which is pleasing. Of course, losing Landa has rather forced their hand but it does Sky no harm to loosen the shackles of their worker bees from time to time. Nieve’s stage win today is evidence of that.

Andrey Amador (Movistar) moved into the Maglia Rosa, the first rider (ever?) from Costa Rica to do so. I hope Valverde is grumbling like Muttley (vasher-smashed-vas her) in a hotel room at the foot of the Dolomites this evening as a result.

Tomorrow the race moves to the Dolomites properly and I finally get to write DOL-O-MI-TEE-HEE. Hurrah!

Wtw has been a gif-free zone for a couple of days (it’s hard to top crying Dawson) but as I’m about to watch the Tour of California, appropos of nothing, here’s Seth Cohen from The OC!

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Giro d’Italia 2016 – Stage 7

Marcel Kittel did not win on International Top Gun Day. Instead, Andre Greipel won his second stage in three days and Lotto Jumbo’s third consecutive stage this week. Last night The Cycling Podcast mentioned yesterday that last year they had written Greipel off as a fading force. In my Friday afternoon haze, after Greipel crossed the line, I casually tweeted CP to remind them, only I said ‘Spent force’, not ‘Fading force’. It’s semantics really as both phrases mean essentially the same thing, but anyway…

I’m really quite relaxed about getting things wrong. Even really really small things.

Anyway. Lovely Tom Dumoulin is still leading the GC and he wants to keep hold of the pink jersey as much as I want to crack 4:30 for a marathon i.e. he’d actually kill to be wearing it this time next week, despite what he says about just being there for the time trials.

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Tom Dumoulin is breezy like Monica about the whole GC thing. 

Tomorrow’s stage is politely described as ‘a bit hilly’. A bit…uppy downy with an uppy at the end.

I can’t finish this post, on today of all days, without a Top Gun gif so here’s Slider playing volleyball topless for no apparent reason at all.

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Giro d’Italia 2016 – Stage 5

Today I want to talk about accents and language. I’m embarrassed that I can only speak a small amount of French – enough to get me by as a tourist in Paris but no more – and learning Italian and Spanish is very much on my bucket list. The main barrier I have is my embarrassment about sounding ridiculously English at all times.

I once went on a school trip to Boulogne and, piling all my courage up inside my ears like Roobarb from ‘and Custard’ fame, ordered a couple of soft drinks in my very bestest, politest French. The man behind the counter replied in *perfect* English and I wanted to die on the spot. In fact, every time I’ve tried a bit of a foreign language in a different country I have failed spectacularly. In Rome I taught myself a few key phrases and didn’t get the chance to deploy them as whenever we were in a restaurant  the waiting staff addressed us in English. Perhaps the pale skin and bad teeth gave us away.

As a result I am always super-impressed by people that can speak not just one foreign language, but several. It’s not just their mastery of the languages, but the effort they put into getting the pronunciation and inflections right. Daniel Friebe is a master of this, as is Matt Rendell. The joy with which they hurl themselves into Italian and Spanish without a hint of embarrassment is infectious and admirable. Friebe speaking Italian into my ears each morning on The Cycling Podcast is really quite something.

90tswjvcyuzfyIt’s like I’ve just discovered Gifs. 

Even more embarrassing to me is the ease with which riders from a variety of countries in which English is not their first language speak ours. There are always certain phrases that jar slightly – ‘for sure’ instead of yes or definitely is one – but then I’m not trying to think of the right words to say in a different language at the end of a stage when I’m knackered. So many of the riders speak brilliant English that I find myself being irrationally grumpy with those that tend to speak their own language. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Vincenzo Nibali utter a word of English in an interview and that’s entirely his prerogative. I’m just grateful that Rob Hatch and Carlton Kirby are on-hand to provide on the spot translations, although they could probably say anything that vaguely sounded like some suitable platitudes and I’d believe them. It’s probably for this reason that I’m under the impression that Nibali speaks solely in meaningless soundbites. I’m sure he goes down a storm in Sicily.

Today Andre Greipel won a stage designed for the more hardy variety of sprinter. He conducted his post-podium interview with Eurosport in English. So did Tom Dumoulin. Yesterday Ashley House and Juan Antonio Flecha interviewed Diego Ulissi in Italian, switching back and forth between to English to translate to the viewer. I remain simultaneously impressed and embarrassed.

I didn’t get much of a look at birthday boy Adam Hansen today *sadface* but here’s a classic Hansen moment:

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Tomorrow we go to the mountains for our first summit finish of the 2016 Giro. Dumoulin wants to keep the Maglia Rosa more than I want to beat my current plank PB (4 minutes, in case you were wondering) but I suspect we’ll see some first shots fired by the GC contenders. Expect to see Marcel Kittel hangin’ in the grupetto like a boss.

 

Giro d’Italia 2016 – Stage 2

I have seen the last few hundred metres of today’s stage. On a replay. At 9:55pm. That’s it. I haven’t even had a chance to listen to the Cycling Podcast’s daily updates (although I did see a photo of Daniel Friebe’s knees on Twitter) so I can’t even bluff my way through a review of the stage by stealing their thoughts.

In my defence it was a sprint stage that Marcel Kittel was *obviously* going to win very easily. He swerved round the remaining FDJ riders, accelerated, kept accelerating and it was game over for everyone else. Kittel and his magnificent barnet crossed the line and about five years later (relatively), so did everyone else.

Dumoulin remains in pink (suits him rather) although with 1 second on Kittel, I’d put money on the latter being the wearer of the  Maglia Rosa tomorrow evening. Usual caveats about jinxes and crashes apply of course.

Tomorrow I’ll be able to watch at least some of stage 3 at home AND I’ll be listening to the CP on my run tomorrow morning so hopefully I’ll be able to sound 99% more informed and intelligent than I do right now. Usual caveats about…,etc.

World Track Championships 2016

The World Track Championships happened last weekend, six miles (ish, as the crow flies) from my house and I went to one session. One. What an idiot I am.

When the tickets went on sale I looked at the dates and times of the sessions, looked at when my husband was working (we have children, I’m not needy enough to require his presence at all times) and (grumpily) concluded that I couldn’t go to any of it. It was fine. I could watch it on the telly. It didn’t matter.

However, once the WTC started I knew I had to go along to *something*. Of course, most sessions had already sold out but I managed to bag a single ticket, right at the back in the corner of the Lee Valley Velodrome and went along. I attempted to (non-threateningly) stalk The Cycling Podcast but I think they were hiding. Perhaps they spotted my binoculars. I’m like the woman that Frasier Crane thinks is stalking him but actually turns out to be a little eccentric but essentially harmless.

I’ve been to a lot of Revolution sessions in London and I went to the Velodrome to watch the Paralympics in 2012 but nothing had quite prepared me for how different a World Championships would be. [Side note: I fail to understand why the LVP hasn’t hosted the World Para-Cycling Championships yet. It’s the perfect venue, the racing would be incredible and it would be the perfect access point for school kids to go and watch some cracking competition.] The session I attended featured the women’s team pursuit and Mark Cavendish in the Omnium.

Laura Trott is box office. She’s the Kylie Minogue of cycling – tiny, brilliant at what she does and everyone adores her. Jo Rowsell Shand is quietly authoritative and seems extremely calm. I’d be amazed if she didn’t become a TV presenter/pundit once she retires from cycling.  I hadn’t seen the team pursuit ‘live’ before but it’s such a beautiful discipline to observe when it’s done right (no, I wasn’t there on the Thursday).

I hadn’t seen Mark Cavendish in the flesh before but he reminded me of a boxer. He’s got the same swagger as my boxing trainer (clarification: I don’t fight, I just train like a boxer). Its the inner fire that makes them brilliant. The paramedics at the track looked bored for most of the session (no accidents for them to attend to, luckily) but a couple of them leapt to their feet when Cav took to the track and roared him on with the rest of the crowd. If Cav ever thinks that the British cycling public don’t love or understand him, he only has to think back to this weekend and remember the collective power, energy and noise provided by thousands of people willing him to do well.

I managed to watch the rest of the TWC on TV. I worked out that I could have gone to more sessions and would have seen John Dibben win the points race (jumping up and down in front of the TV in my pyjamas was really not the same) on Friday, and Jason Kenny win the sprint the following evening (hiding behind a cushion muttering ‘He won’t win this. He won’t…OH YES HE HAS!’). As for Sunday (which, for complicated reasons that are not worth explaining, I was finally able to catch up with on Monday evening) when Kylie…sorry, Laura won the Omnium and Wiggins and Cavendish won the Madison… I’m fine about it though. FINE. It’s not like the WTC won’t happen in the UK (or, specifically, six miles from my house) in the next 10-20 years or more. Did I mention I was fine? Good.

The WTC forcibly reminded me how much I love track cycling. I love it for the same reasons that I love buying clothes from Oasis, hot chocolate from Starbucks and go on holiday to Center Parcs. It’s safe, aesthetically pleasing, controlled, familiar, reliable, clean and never lets me down. Am I a boring person governed by routine and predictability?  Oh yes. Proud of it, too. At least the racing isn’t adversely affected by the weather – see today’s Paris-Nice stage for evidence of that. I have promised the girls that we will take them to Revolution and the London 6-Day later in the year.

Of course I’m watching Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice now, but there’s a little piece of my cycling-loving heart that belongs to the velodrome in Stratford.

 

Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne! Disco Inferno!

Eurosport are running an advert for Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, which takes place next weekend and every time I see it I sing along to The Traamps disco classic because THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE.

I’m not sure if it’s deliberate, but it’s better than one of those voice overs in which the speaker sounds like their voicebox is stuck on shop demonstration model (via Eddie Izzard crossed with the Polucemon from Allo Allo) “The siycolong is bek thus weekund freoum Speihn as the teup roeders pruphare for the Sprong Clissix”.

I absolutely love Eurosport. They showed  the European Figure Skating Championships a few weeks ago (I enjoy a quadruple toe loop) and I discovered the frankly bizarre sport of Tower Running thanks to their coverage on a slow Friday night last winter. They also show Diamond League athletics, where you can play the ‘Spot the drug cheat’ game (I KNOW), the Revolution Series AND aquatics events (I refuse to call them ‘meets’, yuck.)

However, I don’t *quite* understand why Eurosport show so much siycolong…sorry, cycling when Sky sponsor a whole ruddy World Tour team and could probably pay for the rights for all the Grand Tours, one day races AND the Tour of Langkawi with the change found down the back of Rupert Murdoch’s recliner. Conflict of interest? They show the Tour Down Under on Sky. Anyway, I’m not knocking the current state of affairs in cycling television rights. Apart from anything, in their guise as ‘The Home of Cycling’, Eurosport part-sponsor The Cycling Podcast and my love of CP has been well-documented elsewhere.

In any case, if Sky got the rights to all the cycling they’d have to set up a dedicated channel (Sky Sports Cycling) and everything would be presented by  four identikit presenter-men wearing co-ordinated grey and pale-blue shirts and chinos, unless they got Orla Chennaoui to anchor the whole shebang. The pre-race build up (several hours’ worth) would include the following features:

  1. Taylor Phinney in a paint-off with Banksy (both wearing cycling helmets and balaclavas)
  2. Chris Froome and Richie Porte on a Wallace and Gromit-style motorbike and sidecar trip around Monaco (Porte angrily shouting ‘Look! You’ve replaced me with Ian Boswell. I’ve seen the photos of you training together! I thought I was your special training friend!’ while Froome  maintains an enigmatic silence )
  3. Peter Sagan in conversation with Hugh Jackman (both dressed as Wolverine)
  4. Alex Dowsett showcasing his vehicle and loafer museum (wearing a Movistar onesie and slippers with a big M on them.)
  5. The whole of the Cannondale team on penny farthings playing bicycle polo, with Jonathan Vaughters refereeing in a tweed weskit and plus-fours.

A few times a year ITV4 stop showing re-runs of Midsomer Murders and Columbo and give us excellent coverage of key races: the Dauphine, the Tour of (not de. No.) Yorkshire (or, as Mr W insists on referring to it, ‘T’Tour’T’Yorkshire’), the Tour, the Vuelta and the Tour of Britain. The cycling season isn’t right without a shot of Ned Boulting being buffeted around by a stiff breeze while David Millar towers over him, wafting like a beanpole in a ludicrous hat. I love that they don’t take themselves too seriously: playing On A Ragga Tip by SL2 to mark a stage victory by Romain Bardet (Bardet! Bardet!) last year, and Gary Imlach cocking a snook at more shouty sporting coverage on a regular basis. They’ll miss Matt Rendell this year, as he’s gone to Movistar to be the most entertaining press officer in the peloton now that Chris Baldwin has left Astana. They need a replacement that can speak 54 languages and actually has a good relationship with Mark Cavendish. Daniel Friebe, perhaps?

Its a piecemeal affair, being an armchair cycling fan. It feels like a tiny victory to find live coverage of a race on telly on a random Sunday afternoon. TiVo is a blessing as well – I infuriate my husband by recording random stages of obscure races and watching them at odd times of night. Of course, we’re lucky to have access to the paid-for channels so we can watch as much as we do. I appreciate that other fans aren’t as lucky and end up playing Russian Roulette with dodgy online feeds, or relying on social media for updates.

If the K-B-K/Disco Inferno mashup was intended by Eurosport, I hope it continues thoughout the season. So far I’ve only come up with You Should be Dauphine, but I’m sure there are more Saturday Night Fever OST cycling puns out there. Night on Teide Mountain, anyone? Maybe not.

(I’m really sorry if you were actually looking for a preview of K-B-K (burn that mother down y’all) next weekend. I actually wrote an entirely different post on a completely different subject last week that’s sitting in my drafts folder but it’s depressed me so much that I wanted to write about TV coverage and silly things instead.)

***Update****

I watched Het Niewsblad on a channel called Bike yesterday, which I had no idea existed until Team Sky helpfully tweeted about it. The picture quality was dreadful (my Friends VHS videos from 1998 looked HD in comparison) but the commentator was Rob Hatch who always sounds considerably less northern on telly than he does when he pops up on the Cycling Podcast. There wasn’t a co-commentator, which frankly I thought was a blessing (I’m sure Hatch wouldn’t agree) but they showed nothing of the women’s race, which Lizzie Armitstead won in the rainbow stripes. Wish we could have seen at least the finish, but maybe that would have been so tokenist as to render the exercise meaningless. The TV coverage of women’s cycling is unbelievably crap. I thought Peter Sagan would win the men’s race but I completely forgot that he always comes second unless he gets it wrong, wins and becomes world champion in the process. Therefore Greg Van Avermaert won. Today it’s actually K-B-K (Disco Inferno!). Heart says Boonen, head says Kristoff, probably completely wrong on both counts as I know nothing about anything.

The Cycling Podcast and me

As a relative newcomer to the sport, The Cycling Podcast has been my lifeline. Richard, Lionel and Daniel (or, as I like to think of them, my two wise older brothers and slightly aloof hipster cousin) have taught me almost everything I know about cycling. Their voices have accompanied countless commutes and training runs. They have provided much needed background conversation when I’ve been working at home researching and writing about unimaginably awful topics as part of my day job.

Crucially, their content is extremely accessible (findable, listenable and free for the standard podcast) and lacks the exclusivity of other podcasts. I don’t need to be wearing an Eddy Merckx replica jersey with a pair of Rapha yakskin loafers to be part of their gang. I don’t have to possess an encyclopaedic knowledge of Sean Kelly’s cycling career (although I sense that Lionel might secretly prefer that their listeners did) to keep up with the topics under discussion. They have found the middle ground between being too basic and too intimidating and in-jokey. Thankfully they steer well clear of interviews that proceed along the following lines: “So! Brad! What’s your favourite cheese? Let’s do a wheelie! Wheeeee!” Conversely, I love my Rouleur Magazine subscription but I’m waiting for someone to knock on the door any day now and confiscate my collection because I don’t embody the lifestyle expected of their disciples.

When the Friends of the Podcast scheme was established at the beginning of 2015 I signed up immediately. A fiver for several hours of extra material was (and still is) an absolute bargain. The Friends scheme has risen in price to £10 this year but it is still an absolute steal. Every time a Friends podcast is released it reminds me of the time I was given a subscription to the Hotel Chocolat tasting club (I miss it) and received a box of chocolates through the door each month. Their PIRC podcast for subscribers was a highlight last year, along with the (Im)Perfect Tour de France and both stand up to repeated listening. I cannot recommend a subscription to the Cycling Podcast highly enough. I got a bit overexcited when I saw them from (very) afar at Bradley Wiggins’ Hour Record in London last June and it was interesting to hear their take on the event afterwards.

Their podcasts from the Tour – both the stage reviews and Kilometre 0 –  last year were excellent although I must confess (Ciro-style) that on a particularly bad commute one morning I Tweeted the Podcast to tell them to stop telling me what was going to be in the upcoming interview before they played it. I felt a bit bad afterwards because I should have followed it up with ‘Loving your work, guys!’ but I didn’t because that’s just silly.

While I’m doing a ‘Feedback sandwich’ (and I’m fully aware that my feedback is neither sought nor required), I’m going to mention one small thing that mars my enjoyment of the Podcast. It’s a largely male affair (and that’s not necessarily an issue for me), but the (too) occasional presence of Orla Chennaoui does redress the balance a little. Just a tiny whinge though: if a female cyclist such as Hannah Barnes has achieved something she shouldn’t be referred via her status as Tao Geoghegan Hart’s girlfriend. Just saying. Can we hear a bit more about the women in their own right please?

Above all, what comes across is their genuine affection for cycling. Of course, their day jobs involve writing and talking about the sport so they’re paid to make it interesting but they all convey intelligence, passion and integrity. In short, they have greatly enhanced my understanding and enjoyment of cycling, their podcasts brighten my working week considerably and I sincerely hope we are never told why Lionel’s nickname is ‘Napalm’. I am very pleased that they will be covering the Giro (my favourite grand tour) in more depth this year and can’t wait to find out what the 2016 Friends specials will be.

This is all getting a bit gushy now so I’ll stop but without the CP I would be one of those idiots that still didn’t understand anything about cycling. Now I can at least sound a little bit knowledgeable. If they ever expand their t-shirt range to include one that references the Willunga Hill ain’t Alpe d’Huez meme I’ll be first in the queue. Ladies’ slim fit, obviously. I’ll wear it while I read the next issue of Rouleur.