The hardest climb in cycling?

A profile, complete with ominous photos, of The Koppenberg, a contender for the title of "toughest climb in cycling."

The Koppenberg's stats are, objectively speaking, nothing to go home crying about. I know, sacrilege, you howl. Hear me out. There are climbs that are steeper, longer, even harder. It's only 600 meters long, it averages just under 12%, and its steepest section is 22%. I'm not saying these are paltry figures, but climbs like the Zoncolan and Angliru manage figures like that for ten thousand meters. They're debilitatingly hard, but so is the Koppenberg. There are a few things that are very, very different about the Koppenberg that set it well apart from the horror climbs of the Zoncolan and the Angliru, namely: cobbles, cobbles, cobbles, and the Ronde van Vlaanderen.

I haven't done a lot of riding over cobblestones. It's not pleasant, though it gives one a sense of joining some gladiatorial fraternity. But watching professionals suffer over them is good fun.

The cobbles

It is July, and with it comes a morning ritual for me, watching the Tour de France on Versus. This year, for the first time, I can watch in HD, which makes up for having to get up at 5 to 6am here on the West Coast to catch the action.

Today the Tour covered several sections of the famed Paris-Roubaix course. Its famously brutal pavé, or cobblestone paths, throw a thousand jackhammer jabs at cyclists flying past, beating road bikes used to smooth surfaces into submission.

Among the GC contenders, Lance Armstrong was the most notable big loser today, suffering a front tire pinch flat soon after being stranded behind Frank Schleck's race-ending crash. The combined misfortune cost Armstrong not insignificant time to his two top contenders, Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador, and the truth is that we could've seen Lance's chances at winning come to an end already, here in just stage 3.

I love the gritty aesthetic of Paris-Roubaix, and I can't deny the somewhat sadistic appeal of sending professional athletes through the gladiatorial test of the cobbles on such a grand stage. It adds a twist to the already cruel Tour gauntlet. I'm reminded of U.S. Open golf officials letting the rough grow wild and trimming the greens down to glass-like consistency.

At the same time, it doesn't interest me if alterations to playing conditions merely increase randomness of results. A flat tire determining the winner of the Tour de France doesn't interest me as a narrative. I may be exaggerating the impact of Lance's flat, but if the course or challenge is no longer an accurate arbiter of who the best actually are, then we might as well throw darts. If the U.S. Open course, for example, was groomed in a way that it consistently scattered golfers randomly all over the leaderboard rather than filtering the cream of the crop like Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods to contention, I wouldn't judge it to be a good test of golf.

Saxo Bank came out with a great strategy today so I'm not arguing Andy Schleck didn't earn a lot of his advantage today. But if the Tour was decided today, I'd probably find myself agreeing with Jens Voigt who said after the stage that Tour organizers should issue an apology to the riders.

Racing Father Time

It had to look familiar. After all, it came out of the playbook he had used with Johan Brunyeel for all 7 of his Tour de France victories. Either his team or a chasing team would set a high pace at the base of the concluding climb to winnow out the pretenders. Then, at the right moment, his teammates would form a train to lead out, and one by one, they'd redline and fall away like various pieces of a rocket ship, until he'd be alone with his contenders. Then he'd climb out of the saddle and accelerate, and his foes would only be able to watch him float away.

Only this time, it was Lance Armstrong's teammate Alberto Contador who launched off the front, and only after casting some Lance-like backwards glances to read the faces of his opponents, a la Lance's look back at Jan Ullrich in 2001 on L'Alpe d'Huez. For once, Armstrong experienced what his foes experienced time and again the seven years he reigned atop the Tour: redline. Looking at Contador shooting away ahead must have been like seeing a ghost of his younger self.

It wasn't unexpected, that Contador would drop the other shoe today on the climb up Verbier. Still, until this decisive break happened, so many held out hope that Armstrong would pull a rabbit from his hat. But after the race, he couldn't deny what all could see on that last climb, that the strongest man in the race was indeed his teammate Contador. Lance conceded he was now riding for Alberto and that things would be less tense around the team table at dinner that night.

“Today I was definitely missing that required high-end. It would be hard for me to win at this point,

Fireworks at the Tour de France, a day early

I expected tomorrow to be the next potentially decisive day at the Tour de France, with another mountaintop finish, this time ending with the Cat 1 climb up Verbier.

But unexpected drama came today when George Hincapie joined an early breakaway and became the virtual yellow jersey leader after they opened up enough of a gap to the peloton. Late in the race, after Hincapie finished, his virtual yellow jersey would only become an actual one if the peloton finished far enough behind. It was going to be close.

Hincapie is the only rider to be Armstrong's teammate for all 7 of Lance's TDF wins, and by all accounts they've remained friends even after Lance retired and Hincapie moved on to Team Columbia HTC. The only team that appeared to have any incentive to chase down Hincapie's lead was Ag2r since they currently held the yellow jersey, and they didn't appear to have the legs to lead the peloton out at the end.

That's when Team Garmin-Slipstream came to the front to pull hard, and because of their push, Hincapie ended up just 5 tantalizing seconds short of wearing yellow.

In a post-race interview, Hincapie blamed not just Garmin but Armstrong's Team Astana, questioning why those teams, with many of his former teammates, would deny him the opportunity to wear yellow.

Armstrong responded via Twitter over the confusion over what had happened late in the race:

St14 done. Sounds like there's quite a bit of confusion over this one... Noone, and I mean noone, wanted George in yellow more than me.

Our team rode a moderate tempo to put him in the jersey by at least 2 mins. Ag2r said they would not defend then they started to ride.

Until 10km to go he was solidly in yellow until GARMIN put on the gas and made sure it didn't happen.

And I reiterate. @ghincapie deserves to be yellow tonight. He deserves more than that. Look to who pulled the last 50k to see who to blame.

@bfogelstrom And george should be pissed. Very pissed. He can talk to his teammates who were n the bunch w/ us then perhaps it will be clear

@bbelshaw told astana 2 chase? Not true @ all. My vision was george would have YJ by 2 mins. Was reality til ag2r and garmin started 2 pull.

Last thing. There were 13 guys in the breakaway. We had 2 guys riding "tempo". That is not chasing by any stretch of the imagination.

@matkearns why we pulled so hard? When we started it was 6:00. When we stopped it was 8:40. Those are the facts...

As of now, Hincapie had not responded via his Twitter account.

Armstrong's one competitive guy, but it doesn't make any sense for him to keep George out of yellow. Hincapie isn't a podium contender, they go way back together. As for Garmin, there is a history of rivalry between them and Team Columbia, but their move seems short-sighted given that they have a rider still up in the top 10 in Christian Vande Velde. With the tough mountain stages to come in this next week, they made few friends today.

For those who aren't huge cycling race fans, it may seem odd that teams would grant favors, or why every team wouldn't just race as hard as possible at all times. This is still a competition, after all. The in-race tactics are more fascinating if regarded as a series of moves in a series of races within the race, and cycling is a much richer specimen for game theory study than many people realize.

A 5 second margin is so slim that it's not clear that any one team's tactics really caused George to miss out. It's almost impossible to tell what happened from watching on TV, and it may be that it will never be sorted out. In any sport in which you draw a finish line, there will be winners and losers.

Here's hoping George and Lance sort things out face to face. I'm a fan of the increased access to riders via Twitter and blogs, but I hate when athletes and coaches sort things out in public rather than in person. Too much can be lost in translation through the written word, especially when truncated to 140 characters. It's difficult enough to convey tone in e-mail.

If you've been passing on keeping up with the Tour, tomorrow morning's the next stage to get up early for. All the Tour contenders will be trying to make their move, and Lance may have an early showdown with his teammate Contador to establish who's strongest. Most cycling analysts, if pressed, would still put their money on the younger man and his brutal climbing attack capability, but it wouldn't be any fun if Lance waltzed through his comeback without a formidable competitor.

Moving day at the TDF

Tomorrow morning is moving day at the Tour de France. It's not just a mountain stage, where the contenders and pretenders are clarified, but an uphill finish, one of only 3 in this year's Tour de France. The teams of Sastre, Menchov, and Schleck(s) may attack, but one of the likely scenarios may have Armstrong and Contador at the end, alone, going head to head. Even if you throw in one of the other contenders, if Lance and Alberto are in the lead group on the final mountain competing to win the stage, it will be one of the most intriguing stage finishes in Tour history.

Those in the know in cycling mostly favor Contador, a great climber in his prime, but all are cautious about counting out Armstrong despite his being 37. If one of them wins decisively tomorrow, it may be the winning blow as Team Astana may rally around that winner as team leader, effectively ending any intra-team competition.

So if you're going to wake up and watch one stage of the Tour de France this year, tomorrow is it*. TV coverage starts bright and early at 5am PT.

*The other stage to watch would be Stage 20 on July 25, the penultimate stage of this year's Tour, as it ends with a mountaintop finish at Mont Ventoux, widely considered the toughest mountain ever ridden in the Tour. I rode Mont Ventoux my first year watching the Tour in person, and that mountain nearly killed me. Climbing that mountain remains one of the top 3 most punishing physical feats I've ever completed.

Follow the leader, who is...who?

An annual tradition for me is to wake up at the crack of dawn to watch the opening time trial of the Tour de France. That came on July 4 this year, a Saturday, not usually a day I want to get up at 6am to watch TV, but lingering jetlag from my trip to Asia left me wide awake to watch things like Wimbledon finals and, yes, the Tour de France.

The leading storyline from the Tour this year, is, of course, the return of Lance Armstrong. Like Michael Jordan, Lance is returning to his sport for the second time, the first after a long fight with testicular cancer.

But perhaps a more compelling storyline, one that will continue to build and develop during the three weeks of the race, is who is the leader of Team Astana, for whom Lance rides?

There are four possible team leaders, all capable of placing in the race, and the opening time trial didn't exactly clarify matters as all four of them placed in the top 10.

Armstrong led off and came in fourth on his team, tenth overall. Each successive rider from this group of four finished progressively faster. Finishing four places ahead of Lance was Levi Leipheimer. Two places ahead of Levi was Andreas Kloden, fourth overall. And two spots of ahead of Kloden and 2nd overall in the time trial was Alberto Contador.

Kloden hasn't ever been team leader in the past, though he's been one of the best of the rest in past Tours, so I think we can rule him out unless something drastic happens to the other potential leaders. Levi is somewhat similar, among the top riders but perhaps just out of that elite group. He also raced hard as team leader for Astana in the Giro, and in this day and age it seems that winning both grand tours when they are so closely spaced is nearly impossible. So rule out Levi.

That still leaves Lance, the all-time TDF wins leader, making a comeback at the old age, at least in the cycling world, of 37, and Alberto Contador, the last person on the Astana team to win the Tour de France, in 2007. Contador has to be considered the race favorite given recent history and his age, 26, when most riders enter their prime. He has improved his time trialing to the point where it's a strength, as the opening stage proved, and he's widely considered the world's top climber. Though he couldn't ride the Tour de France in 2008 because Team Astana was banned over previous doping allegations, that year he won the other two grand tours, the Giro D'Italia and the Vuelta Espana.

Can someone like Lance Armstrong play second fiddle, though? Contador, Armstrong, and team director Johan Brunyeel have all been diplomatic so far, claiming strong morale inside the team despite press suspicions to the contrary.

Past history reveals tensions, though. Before Armstrong joined Team Astana officially, Contador said, "I think I've earned the right to be the leader of a team without having to fight for my place. And with Armstrong some difficult situations could arise in which the team would put him first and that would hurt me."

In the 2008 Vuelta, Contador was team leader of Astana and led the race going into the final time trial. In that last stage, teammate Leipheimer rode all out in the time trial and won the stage by a huge margin, pulling into second place behind Contador in the final standings, only 46 seconds behind. Contador sounded unhappy that a teammate would ride for the win even though Contador was the team leader.

"It's not normal that someone working for you finishes less than a minute off in the general standings," Contador said. "If [the next-to-last stage time trial] had been 20 kilometers more, who knows what would have happened."

After that first time trial this year, it seemed Contador would be defacto team leader, but no one on the team would commit to that. After today's stage 3, things are even murkier.

In a rarity on a flat stage, a fairly large pack of 29 riders broke off the head of the peloton late in the stage. Massive crosswinds are no fun to ride in, and it was those conditions, along with a peloton that seemed reluctant to chase down the a breakaway group, to create that opening. Team Columbia was annoyed that the peloton wouldn't help flag down the breakaway because they wanted to deliver the stage for their man Mark Cavendish*, currently the fastest sprinter in the world. So they grouped at the front, and after a big 90 degree right turn into fierce crosswinds, they turned on the turbo for a few kilometers, and just like that they tore off the front the peloton. For those who still don't think of cycling as a team sport, this is just one example of where coordinated team action makes all the difference.

Lance showed his experience. Near the front, he jumped in with the Columbia group along with two of his teammates, Yaroslav Popovych and Haimar Zubeldia. Contador was caught back too far and never latched on.

"Whenever you see a team lined up at the front like that, you have to pay attention," Armstrong said referring to Columbia. "You know what the wind's doing, and you see that a turn's coming up, so it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that you have to go to the front." (source)

One might read in that statement a hint that Contador, while a great rider, lacked the experience to read that situation, and Contador's inexperience is something Armstrong has hinted at in the past. Asked about the team leader situation, Armstrong played coy but hinted he won't be content being relegated to domestique this early in the race.

"I have tried to stay out a little bit of the debate about who is the leader?" Armstrong said. "I have won the Tour seven times, so I think I deserve a bit of credit."

Contador would only say, "I'm not going to evaluate the team strategy because everyone will draw their own conclusions anyway. In any case, the Tour won't be decided by what happened today."

He's probably right, Lance and Alberto are still closely bunched, and the race is far from decided. Still, it was an odd day. It can't be easy to be Johan Brunyeel and try to keep the team cohesive this year, though that is all speculation. On his Twitter account, Lance posted after today's stage**:

At dinner with the team. Despite what some might think, morale is sky high. We're psyched for tomorrow.

Tomorrow morning is the team time trial, always a beautiful event to watch. For one day, Astana will ride as one group. Friday, though, is the first mountain stage in the Pyrenees. If you want a front row seat for the next huge chapter in this unfolding drama, that's a day to get out of bed early and tune in. Who will lead out for whom for Team Astana that day? If Armstrong is in yellow but Contador feels strong, will Contador attack? What if they end up as the only two contenders going into the final mountain stage and end up out front together. Will they just agree to race each other to the top? Rock scissors paper? Flip a coin? This year's Tour is going to be a doozy***. If you've tuned out the past few years because Lance was gone, it's time to reengage.

If I had to predict, I wouldn't bet on Armstrong and Contador being on the same team next season. It just doesn't seem optimal to allocate team leaders this way if seen in terms of game theory--a potential team leader should prefer an unambiguous leadership position with a team dedicated to helping him win.

There is one clear winner in all of this, and that's all of us, the Tour de France fans. I'm excited Lance is back, and I am kicking myself now that I didn't just head over and suffer up a few mountains despite not being in enough shape to ride over a severe speed bump right now.

2010, though...



* Cavendish is himself a source of entertainment in this year's Tour, his fantastic results paired with a true sprinter's bravado. After today's stage, he had no sympathy for teams damaged by Columbia's late move. "The riders with the teams who wanted to ride like juniors got results like juniors."

** This is an interesting example of something I've been meaning to write about recently, and that is the disintermediation of the press by celebrities posting to Twitter. When the Shaq to Cleveland rumors began, and when they became true, the place I looked first for comment from Shaq was his Twitter account, not the mainstream press. And how many stories in the news now quote from celebrity tweets, the same tweets anyone can read in real-time?

*** Hollywood smells story here, too. Sony Pictures has a crew including director Alex Gibney at this year's Tour shooting a $3.5 million documentary of Lance's comeback.

Lance's return

In this Vanity Fair profile, Lance Armstrong elaborates on his plan to return to cycling with Team Astana to ride a few major races in 2009, including the Tour de France, where he'd be shooting for his eighth win.

Why did he decide to come back?

The impetus to come back, he says, sprang upon him quite unexpectedly over the summer, in Colorado. Armstrong had an epiphany on August 9 after placing second at the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain-Bike Race—a 100-mile “Race Across the Sky,

It really does go to 11

On this, day 1 of the 2008 Tour de France, I was going through my inbox and found an e-mail from Campagnolo pimping their new groupsets with 11 speeds, up from 10.

I had a bit of the Tour on in the background while cleaning the apartment this morning (picture me hopping around on one leg, sweating in the afternoon sun, trying to work a broom and dustpan with my arms; yes, it's not exactly Melanie Griffith vacuuming in the nude in Working Girl). I'll always associate cycling with my comeback from my ACL tear and a low point in my life, the year of 1998. I have not ridden much in LA. The aggressive drivers in LA are not just annoying but a real danger, and I haven't found many paths I enjoy riding near where I live.

But today, struggling to do household chores with my cast on, I caught a brief montage of highlights from the stage--riders jumping out of their saddle to sprint for intermediate stage points, quick attacks among the early breakaway group on mild climbs, the peloton ripping through the French countryside--and I was filled with a harsh longing to be on my bike, legs in motion. These days I dream of being able to walk, like a bald man dreaming of hair.

I've always ridden Campy on my road bike (speaking of Nikon and Canon, the same binary choice of gear religion exists in road cycling between Campagnolo and Shimano), and just seeing the carbon fibre components of their new gruppos is like a visual cue turning on some Pavlovian instinct inside me. If I could fit my left foot, cast and all, into my road cycling shoes, I'd go out right now, in the night, and ride.

Team Discovery Channel to disband

Fresh off a victory in the Tour de France, Team Discovery Channel will disband at season's end (their previous sponsor was the USPS). Even with cycling's troubles, I would have thought someone would want to step in and sponsor such a successful team. I wonder what the operating budget of a cycling team is for a year--$25 to $30 million? You probably can't turn a profit, and with the taint of drugs hanging over the sport, even the soft profits from brand association are gone. Still, if I were extremely wealthy, I'd sink money into it just to be close to the sport, to travel around to races in Europe. The announcement makes it seem as if they could have found sponsorship but have chosen to disband anyhow. If so, it's a blow to a sport already staggering.

Though I'll always think of Lance Armstrong first when I think of the team, the team had survived his departure and continued its success. The next image that leaps to mind is Sports Director Johan Brunyeel barking in several languages into his radio to encourage his riders, and the third would be George Hincapie and his Oakley racing jackets, out front at the bottom of the final climb, trying to launch his team captain for the stage win.

I met a few members of the team staff the last year I went to the Tour. In a sport notable for its turnover, the team seemed to be a tight-knit group. It's a sad day for this cycling fan, capping what has been a dark year for the sport.

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Con(ta)dor versus Chicken

ANOTHER UPDATE: Tour leader Rasmussen fired from team and the Tour de France for lying about his whereabouts in June. I don't know what to say anymore.

: Vinokourov tests positive for blood doping, and Astana withdraws from the Tour. Just when you think the worst of it is over, it isn't. I'm really surprised that riders still try blood doping considering how easy it is to be caught with modern testing. Especially if you're Vino and know you have a good chance of winning a stage which triggers an automatic test. It makes no sense to me. None. Obviously this takes Kloden out of the race and will lengthen the period in which detox is the lead story in cycling.

I know Tour de France viewership is down because of all the doping scandals and allegations (not to mention the lack of one famous Texan). I wondered if I'd have any interest in watching the Tour this year in light of everything. Was I just a Lance Armstrong fan or did I enjoy the sport?

Observing my own behavior this past week it's the latter. The mountain stages, in particular, glue me to the TV for hours at a time (time trials are called the "race of truth" because each man rides alone, but I prefer the character-revealing powers of gravity and the confrontational nature of riders slowed to a mortal pace).

In the most recent two stages, rising star Alberto Contador, just 24 years old, has announced himself to the cycling world in a big way by coming at yellow jersey holder Michael Rasmussen with a relentless wave of vicious accelerations. After almost having died in 2005 from surgery for a blood clot in his brain, Contador has proven himself to be Discovery Channel's best GC contender this year, able to explode away from a group on the climbs the way putative team leader Levi Leipheimer cannot (but in a way that is reminiscent of a retired Discovery Channel rider by the name of Lance Armstrong). In the overall classification, Rasmussen sits in first place, Contador in 2nd.

Those who would like to latch on to the Tour are just in time to see Wednesday morning's stage, one that will likely prove decisive. That morning the riders will face their last day in the mountains, concluding with a leg-wilting climb up the Col D'Aubisque. Though Contador seemed fresher in attacking Rasmussen the past two days, he probably can't make up a 2' 23" deficit to Rasmussen in the time trial on Saturday, so Wednesday morning is his final opportunity to close that gap down to a manageable size. Contador has already announced that he's riding for the top floor of the podium and is willing to die on the side of the Aubisque to get there. Said Contador:

On Wednesday, I am going to play for it all. Second place doesn't matter. I am going to risk all to win. If I end up in sixth, it doesn't matter.

Cadel Evans, in third place, is down 4' 00" in the overall and likely has to shrink that gap so he has a shot to overtake the lead in Saturday's time trial, a discipline in which he is far superior to Rasmussen. Leipheimer in fourth at 5' 25" back and Kloden in fifth at 5' 34" are the two others with any chance of catching Rasmussen, but like Evans they both need to close the gap down Wednesday morning so their superior time trialing can reel in the rider they call "The Chicken" (I think Rasmussen looks more like an albino praying mantis).

Realistically, though, Contador is the only man with a fighting chance to overtake the top spot. Rasmussen knows it's coming, and the only question for him is whether he will yield.

All this is to say Wednesday morning is likely to be the most exciting stage left in the Tour. Set your DVR's as the stage will start at 4:30am PST on Versus (formerly OLN, or the Outdoor Life Network).

For unique insight into each day's stage, visit former Lance coach Chris Carmichael's Tour de France coverage page at his endurance sport coaching company's website. You can sign up to receive the report as a daily e-mail if you're willing to sign up to create an account.

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Live from the Emerald City

This post broadcast from the Emerald City, where yours truly attended Audrey and Matt's lovely wedding this weekend (some pics here). Seattle's gorgeous summer weather arrived early (for the Pacific Northwest) this year; it's actually warmer here than in Los Angeles. The only problem is that I have one of the worst summer colds I've ever experienced and have been hacking myself awake every night for a few hours. I'm popping decongestants like they're SweeTarts. If this is my last post ever, know that I probably choked to death on my own phlegm in the middle of the night.


Telekinesis is an iPhone Remote application that allows you to access files on your computer via your iPhone.

Red is a popular brand name for high end products. Besides the camera, we now have SRAM working on a sub 2000g component group called Red (for those of you who are non-cyclists, a component group is all the stuff that goes on your bike frame (outside of your wheels and pedals and handlebars; components include your cranks and derailleurs and brake levers, stuff like that). Always good to have a bit of competition for the two market leaders, Shimano and Campagnolo.

The rumors are confirmed: Dan Patrick is leaving ESPN. The peak of ESPN's quality was when Patrick and Keith Olbermann hosted The Big Show. He faded from view for me in recent years as he moved over to the radio. I didn't even own a radio in NYC.

Dress like Roger Federer at Wimbledon. You're sure to impress in your all-white blazer and warm-up trousers when you show up for local club match, at least until you pull your hamstring in the third game. That was some final between Federer and Nadal, by the way. Those two epitomize the peak of the modern tennis game now; compare that to, say, footage of an Edberg-Becker final from back in the day and it's a totally different game.

You think you're always waiting a long time for the woman in your life to get ready? Lián Amaris Sifuentes took it to another level. She went through the usual preparations for a date but slowed them down to fill 72 hours, and she performed it in Union Square this weekend (so close to my old apartment!). NYU professor R. Luke Dubois shot the performance on three high-def camcorders and will compress it into a 72 minute video. Dubois has used this technique before, compressing previous Academy Award Best Picture winners into one minute. Some examples are posted here (Amadeus or Titanic, e.g.). That's what it must be like to have one's life flash before one's eyes. Trippy.

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Very little evidence supporting theory that poverty breeds terrorism. I find that reassuring.

In a Q&A about some device called the iPhone, Walt Mossberg says Apple will add Flash support to the iPhone browser through an early software update.

Alessandro Petacchi out of the Tour de France after doping charge. His urine sample after the third of his five stage wins at this year's Giro d'Italia showed an unusually high level of albutamol, an asthma treatment. He holds a therapeutic use exemption for its use, but he exceeded the permitted level of 1,000 nanograms/millileter. Well, there goes the top sprinter in the Tour. I'll still watch, though. I just got back on my bike the other day for the first time in ages, and on the 4th I went with Tory for a climb up Malibu Canyon Road. That climb kicked my butt all over the road but I survived to summit.

Crazy battle at Kruger National Park in Africa, caught on video. Some unlikely twists and turns. I think I caught Jeff Van Gundy in there, hanging onto the leg of a Cape Buffalo. I've seen enough specials to know that Cape Buffalo never leave a man behind (thx to Mark for the referral).

Verizon COO Jack Plating sends internal memo titled iWhatever, throws out some brave talk in the face of the iPhone. He is true in that the network is Verizon's first and most powerful advantage. But Verizon handsets are not impressive at all.

I had lunch with Robert today, and the cafe was broadcasting highlights from Wimbledon. We were talking about Federer's loss in the French Open final to Nadal, and Robert thought that a big problem is that Federer was not extending on his first serve. He was keeping his first serve motion in too close, resulting in his ghastly first serve percentage. You wouldn't be able to tell from the final score, but based on the % of points Federer won on his first serve, he would have won that much had his first serve gone in more. One of these years, Federer will break through against Nadal at the French. He's played well enough to do so in the past, but it just hasn't happened there at Philippe Chatrier.

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GIF (Good it's Friday)

Ivan Basso confessed to "attempted doping," and now Bjarne Riis admits that he used EPO during years that include his 1996 Tour de France win. Eric Zabel and Rolf Aldag, who rode for Telekom during the Riis and Ullrich Tour de France wins in the 90's, also fessed up to EPO use. So did Telekom rider Bert Dietz. And Udo Bölts, and Christian Henn. Cycling is detoxing, and it's necessary, though not pretty.

On this the weekend of the Star Wars convention here in LA, psychiatrists have diagnosed Anakin Skywalker, later Darth Vader, of having a personality disorder. It sounds so obvious as to be an Onion headline, but apparently it's not. If you read me this line, I'd swear it was satire:

The diagnosis came to [psychiatrist Eric] Bui, a Star Wars fan, as he watched the series. "I thought to myself, 'That guy is crazy.' But he's not crazy. He's borderline."

Speaking of Star Wars, there's a rumor going around that George Lucas will announce a new Star Wars movie tomorrow at the convention (Saturday).

New ride at the Kennedy Space Center simulates 17,500 mph liftoff of a Space Shuttle. Now that sounds cool.

90% of handset owners believe iPhone is better than their current phone. That's when you know your marketing and brand are strong, when your product hasn't even reached consumers and yet they're crowning it the champ.

Michel Gondry directs Natalie Portman in the video for Paul McCartney's "Dance Tonight." Maybe not as conceptually brilliant as his other videos, but he still is able to pull off his effects in camera. Here's another Michel Gondry video, for Cibo Matto's "Sugar Water," which is built around a supremely clever conceit.

Someday our kids will laugh at us for ever having been impressed with regular old HD resolution. By then they'll be watching Ultra HD, with a resolution of 7680 x 4320 (16X sharper than HDTV), shot on cameras that can capture 4000 fps.

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Economist Bryan Caplan wonders whether or not he should get LASIK. As an economist, he weighs the pros and cons.

Okay, hybrid vehicles' fuel economy ratings have been downgraded to account for more typical driving conditions. I think most people, all things being equal, would swing for a hybrid because who doesn't want to help the environment. But all things are not equal yet, and people aren't willing to make the needed sacrifices. Once auto manufacturers star producing a wider selection of hybrids, in more shapes and sizes, then the hybrid movement will regain momentum. The article mentions the price premium for paying for a hybrid, but the government could neutralize that by increasing the hybrid car tax breaks to match that price premium.

About this time of year, famous people start delivering commencement speeches. It seems like the only ones people remember are the ones by funny guys (Jon Stewart, Will Ferrell, and Conan O'Brien), the fake one by Kurt Vonnegut, and the inspiring one by Steve Jobs (all linked to here in an older post). I haven't caught wind of any additions to the commencement canon this year, but here are links to two other graduation speeches, both by, yes, funny men: Conan O'Brien at Stuyvesant, and Stephen Colbert at Knox College.

Cyclists agree to more stringent testing in order to save the sport from plunging viewership and sponsorships:

Under cycling’s new testing rules, the blood of the top 600 riders will be profiled to provide a baseline to aid in evaluating future test results. A major increase in random, out-of-competition testing has begun, and riders have signed agreements to provide DNA samples in the event of doping disputes. Testing is also done daily during competition, with blood and urine samples drawn from the stage winner, overall race leader and at least one random riders.

Declining revenue is probably what it would take for players and owners in other leagues, like the NBA, MLB, or the NBA, to meet halfway on drug testing also. For all the hubaloo about fans upset with steroids and HGH and the such in baseball, owners listen to the clickety-clack of turnstiles, and they keep turning over in record numbers.

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One of the things about LA bike culture is that cruisers predominate. Going down the beach boardwalk on your tricked out road bike doesn't impress anyone. Perhaps "The Ride" by Ellsworth is a suitable compromise: a high-tech cruiser. What a beauty, at least until someone knocks you off of it and steals it.

A whole lotta free MP3s over at, home of the Wu-Tang Clan & Killa Beez.

Weng Weng, the 2' 9" Philippine dynamo, Agent Double 0, lives on thanks to YouTube. I think I'm impressed that someone actually took the time to write that rap.

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At Broad Nightlight is a small collection of nighttime photos of Berlin, Tokyo, and Hong Kong. What's peculiar about these is how few people are visible.

The upcoming issue of Wholphin will contain Alexander Payne's film school thesis, The Passion of Martin.

10 innovative ad campaigns in Tokyo train stations.

The Amazon plog for the book How Lance Does It contains some interesting points. In one post, author Brad Kearns quotes Dr. Glen Gaesser on how to identify the most talented athletes. Said Glaesser, "Go to a race and stand at the finish line. Then...see who crosses the line first. There is the most talented athlete." Kearns also writes a passionate post defending Lance Armstrong: Why Lance is Clean. But my favorite quote is about Lance's successful approach, and it's on the back cover. "Lance hates losing, but is not afraid of it." That sums up a lot of all-time greats in many sports (remember the Jordan Nike ad "Failure").

A man sold everything he owned, took the cash, and bet it all on one spin of roulette in Las Vegas. This is what happened.

It doesn't appear that this chair is available for purchase yet, but already I want one.

An interview with Eiko Tanaka of Studio4°C, the company in charge of adapting Taiyo Matsumoto's classic manga Tekkon Kinkreet into an animated feature.

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Places, spaces, races

Wal-Mart pulls out of Germany (thx to Derek for the pointer). Though Wal-Mart international is still the fastest growing segment of the behemoth of a retailer, it has learned that it's formula needs to be customized for specific markets.

In Germany, Wal-Mart stopped requiring sales clerks to smile at customers — a practice that some male shoppers interpreted as flirting — and scrapped the morning Wal-Mart chant by staff members.

Wal-Mart’s German experience also taught it to use local management. The company initially installed American executives, who had little feel for what German consumers wanted.

“They tried to sell packaged meat when Germans like to buy meat from the butcher,” Mr. Poschmann said.

Some of Wal-Mart’s missteps — selling golf clubs in Brazil, where the game is unfamiliar, or ice skates in Mexico — are so frequently mentioned, they have become the stuff of urban legend. But even more subtle differences in shopping habits have tripped up the company.

In Korea, Wal-Mart’s stores originally had taller racks than those of local rivals, forcing shoppers to use ladders or stretch for items on high shelves. Wal-Mart’s utilitarian design — ceilings with exposed pipes — put off shoppers used to the decorated ceilings in E-Mart stores.

Beyond the ambience, Wal-Mart’s shoes-to-sausage product line does not suit the shopping habits of many non-American shoppers. They prefer daily outings to a variety of local stores that specialize in groceries, drugs or household goods, rather than shopping once a week at Wal-Mart.

“They have stacks of goods in boxes,” said Lee Jin Sook, 46, a housewife sitting on a subway in Seoul. “That may be good for some American housewives who drive out in their own cars.” But Koreans, she said, prefer smaller packages: “Why would you buy a box of shampoo bottles?”

Wal-Mart is also not the low-price leader in many international markets.


A preview of Mac OS X Leopard. Spaces will be useful for my multi-tasking work style, though I'm not sure I need anything to encourage my hyperlink-fueled attention-deficit disorder. And also from WWDC, the Mac Pro, which sounds like a worthy successor to the Powermac G5.


Magnum in Motion features multimedia essays from Magnum photographers. Here is one example, on the Tour de France, with some gorgeous black and white photos of France.


Forgot to post this last last week, when Ken pointed it out to me, but the FDA finally approved Mexoryl for use in the US. Mexoryl is the magic ingredient owned by L'Oréal that has made L'Oréal's international sunscreens more effective than US sunscreens at blocking short UVA waves. US residents went to great lengths to get their hands on L'Oréal sunscreens, from purchasing it from online Canadian pharmacies to paying three to four times the retail price to obtain it from certain Upper East Side drugstores in Manhattan.

The first L'Oréal product containing Mexoryl to be sold in the US will be Anthelios SX, a daily moisturizing cream. Look for it this fall. As noted previously here, you can also go with Neutrogena's new Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock or Age Shield Sunblock.

Product feature: does the body good

A gallon of milk on inspires hundreds of customer reviews. Ships from Gristedes in New York. I priced out what it would cost to ship to me here in NYC, and it came out to $30.24, with expedited shipping, which I highly recommend for milk.

Toyota about to pass GM to become the world's largest automaker, though they've been fighting some quality issues recently. I remember when our family first purchased a Toyota Cressida, it might as well have been a Bentley to us. We later participated in the Camry tsunami.

Domaines Ott and French rosé wines are the new hot summer drink. What I find most surprising from this article, though, is that Alex Kapranos, lead singer of Franz Ferdinand, is a food columnist for The Guardian, and Jay McInerney is wine columnist for House & Garden.

"My other vehicle is a Gulfstream." I just enjoy that article's title. Private air travel is tough on the environment because of the outrageous fuel consumption, so I always try to airpool when I take my jet to Aspen or Jackson Hole, cuz that's how I roll. Okay, that's not true. I've only flown in a private jet once, and that trip confirmed that private jets is heaven compared to the human cattle call that is commercial air travel.

Floyd Landis's B-sample came back positive, so his team Phonak fired him. Now USA Cycling and the US Anti-Doping Agency will prepare a case against him while Landis and his team prepare his defense. It will be months before we hear a verdict, though the court of public and media opinion works has already issued theirs. On the "Top Ten Landis Excuses" piece on David Letterman, number nine was "Who can resist Balco's delicious 'spicy chipotle' flavor." Landis posted a statement on his weblog yesterday and a response to the B-sample positive test today.

The pilot for Aaron Sorkin's new TV show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip leaked onto YouTube this week, then was promptly pulled. So I can just link to this 6 minute promo (begins with a riff on Network, beats up on NBC's own SNL, and makes a joke about Sorkin's coke habit) and 30 second trailer. Anyhow, this is all an excuse to tell a short story about my apartment hunt in L.A. At the first apartment I went to visit in Santa Monica, a bald guy named Evan answered the door. He looked really familiar, like someone I'd seen on TV or in a movie, but I just couldn't place him. So I didn't say anything. He showed me his apartment and was really generous with his time, explaining the neighborhood and its nearby attractions. He mentioned that he'd done the New York to LA move also, and that I should keep an open mind to LA (I'm in depression over leaving NY for LA right now). He never mentioned his work, but after I left his apartment, and as I was filling out an application, I realized who he was. Evan played Charlotte's flame Harry Goldenblatt on Sex and the City, the role for which he's most known, and he'll be in the pilot of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. I didn't end up taking his apartment because I got a roommate and needed more space, but it seemed appropriate that he be one of the first people I met in LA.

Google announces "All Our N-gram are Belong to You," which I think is pretty generous of them.