More Landis test result rumors

Someone at the International Cycling Union who has seen the results of tests on Landis's A Sample says that some of the testosterone was synthetic, not produced by his body. If true, it's another tragic setback for cycling in trying to regain its reputation as a sport with a level playing field, though in a practical sense that may be years and years away.

[That's not to excuse this French lab, which always seems to leak results through the press. That lab's inability to release information according to official procedures contributes to cycling's tarnished reputation.]

Knowing some of what professional cyclists go through to reach the pinnacle of their sport, though, the sport seems a long way from natural to me, even without banned substances. Cyclists sleep in altitude tents, test the aerodynamic qualities of their bodies and bikes in wind tunnels, tap the latest advances in material science to increase the stiffness and shave the weight of their bike frames, monitor their power output and heart rates with computers, and consume all sorts of strange supplements whose chemistry requires a PhD to understand.

We're a long way from the days of Jacque Anquetil, pulling an all-nighter the night before a race to drink whiskey and play cards. Anquetil, though, was up front about the fact that he took drugs. He was also a fantastic talent, a courageous cyclist. Landis, whether he took illegal substances or not, is a talented, hard-working cyclist. But we want heroes and villains, cloaked entirely in white or black, rather than people exhibiting shades of gray.

Sidenote: The phrasing of the positive drug tests for Gatlin and Landis should be changed. Saying that a male athlete tested positive for testosterone sounds odd.

Cycling's rough year continues

Yesterday I mentioned that one rider in the Tour had tested positive after stage 17. Pat McQuaid, president of the International Cycling Union (UCI) would only say, “I will say that I am extremely angry and feel very let down by this. The credibility of the sport is at stake. The rider, his federation and his team have been informed of the situation.”

The rider for whom a positive test would most damage the credibility of the sport was, well, obvious. I didn't state his name yesterday because it felt like saying it would make it so.

Then the rider in question failed to show up for a criterium event in the Netherlands, raising suspicions that he was the suspect in question.

"We've never experienced a situation that a 'topper' hasn't shown up without officially cancelling," said John van den Akker, who put together the start list for the Acht van Chaam, to ANP. "We've also learned nothing more from [Phonak team director] Lelangue. It's unbelievable, because Landis is one of the friendliest riders in the peloton. In the morning before the race, various people had breakfast with him and there was nothing wrong."

And today, Phonak and Floyd Landis confirmed that he was the one who had failed the test. Now his B-sample will be tested for confirmation. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently dropped the maximum testosterone to epitestosterone level from 6:1 to 4:1. The test is not conclusive in that some people have naturally high levels and can demonstrate that through a battery of endocrinological tests, and it's likely Landis will protest an adverse test result.

But no matter what, this test result will always leave doubts in people's minds. Another ex-Lance Armstrong lieutenant, Tyler Hamilton, also a universally acknowledged nice guy on the Tour, tested positive for blood doping a few years ago. He's still fighting the results. However, by now, most people have come to believe he was guilty, and it doesn't appear he'll ever make an impact on the pro cycling tour again.

Floyd's own mom seems ready to pronounce him guilty.

Arlene Landis, his mother, said Thursday that she wouldn't blame her son if he was taking medication to treat the pain in his injured hip, but "if it's something worse than that, then he doesn't deserve to win."

"I didn't talk to him since that hit the fan, but I'm keeping things even keel until I know what the facts are," she said in a phone interview from her home in Farmersville, Pennsylvania. "I know that this is a temptation to every rider but I'm not going to jump to conclusions ... It disappoints me."

"He is prominent and temptation is strong," she said. "He is still my wonderful son. If it has happened I love him as much as if he had won... (his) temptations are different than mine."

The prodigal son returns

Levi Leipheimer confirmed that he'll return to ride for the Discovery Channel Team next year. Free subscription required at that site, so here's the relevant portion of the article:

Levi Leipheimer will join fellow North Americans George Hincapie, Tom Danielson, Michael Barry and Jason McCartney as he returns to the Discovery Channel Team. Leipheimer stated, “I’m very excited about returning to the Discovery Channel Team, its family of sponsors and working with Johan Bruyneel once again. This team has a long history of success and I plan to work hard to continue their winning ways in 2007.”

Team Discovery also added Sergio Paulinho and Thomas Vaitkus. Rumor has it that Discovery Channel is also courting Jan Ullrich. If he signs, it will be really interesting to see who acts as team leader in next year's Tour. Perhaps after this Tour the management didn't feel they had a clear team leader who would be ready to step up next year. Yaroslav Popovych is 26 or 27, and I'd think he'd be groomed as team leader in 2008 or 2009, but he had a tough time this year. Ullrich and Leipheimer both have maybe one more Tour in their legs, so they'd serve as a bridge team leader until one of the young guys was ready to step up.

I'm curious to see how Tom Danielson rides in the Vuelta Espana. He finished eighth their last year, and he's a great climber. He's also 28, so it's not as if the team can wait for him for a few more years. On the other hand, he's a former mountain biker, like Floyd Landis, and perhaps they have a longer shelf life than lifelong road racers?

In other, darker news, the sport is awaiting the revelation of which "high-profile" Tour rider tested positive for doping after stage 17, in which Floyd Landis won that miraculous solo breakaway. Will the dark clouds over professional cycling ever part?

Floyd Lazarus

“I don't expect to win this Tour anymore. It's never easy to get back eight minutes but I'll keep fighting till the end and try.”

That was Floyd Landis, after yesterday's stage 16.

OLN's ratings for the Tour de France are down a lot this year, which is not surprising with Lance Armstrong's retirement. Fans of cycling who stuck with the sport and followed today's stage, though, witnessed one of the most incredible efforts in Tour history. I didn't arrive home from LA until 3am last night, and my Pacific-time-zoned body stayed up until 6am watching yesterday's stage off of my DVR. Then, my alarm woke me at 8am, and despite feeling like Landis looked on that final climb yesterday, I dragged myself out of bed just to see if anything interesting had happened in the stage.

I flipped on the TV, and within seconds I knew I wouldn't be sleeping again this day. Floyd was away already, on a desperate, near suicidal attempt to rescue his yellow jersey dreams. This is one time I wished I was in France (well, actually, that's lots of times) because OLN's coverage started too late to capture Floyd's attack as it came so early in the stage.

A day earlier, Floyd bonked on the final climb and lost a staggering 8 minutes plus and fell from first all the way to eleventh. Just about everyone wrote him off, me included. Only two stages remained for Landis to regain time: today's final mountain stage in the Alps, and Saturday's final time trial. Friday and Sunday's stages are flat, too difficult for a podium contender to get away from his competition. So today Landis had no choice but to attack. Everyone knew he had to attack, and everyone knew his team was not strong enough to support him. He'd have to do it on his own, and to make up serious time, he'd have to attack early.

Every other team knew it, and despite all that, when Floyd attacked on the very first climb in pursuit of an 11-man breakaway, none of his contenders could follow. He left all of them panting in the wake of a devastating acceleration.

He caught the 11-man breakaway, then sliced them up like a Santoku knife through chicken breast. Up and down over five climbs, Landis never let up. Many had noted that even after Landis gained the yellow jersey, he hadn't put his mark on this Tour, hadn't attacked. Without a strong team, he'd ridden conservatively, simply marking his key opponents.

The French press will have to find something else to complain about now. Landis's ride today was the type of bold, courageous, solo effort that recalled the greatest cyclist ever, Eddy Merckx. I had goosebumps for nearly the entire broadcast.

Now, Landis has to be the favorite again, especially as the strongest time trialist among the contenders. He sits third, 30 seconds behind race leader Pereiro, with Sastre sandwiched in between in second. I expect Landis to ride himself inside-out in Saturday's time trial, just in time to don the yellow jersey for the final ride into Paris.

Just awesome. Catch the replay of today's stage on OLN tonight. Hopefully they'll have more footage from Landis's initial attack.

Don't call it a comeback!

Sizzle, snap, crack

For Floyd Landis, today his Tour victory journey comes to an end. Cue Daniel Powter's "Bad Day."

Today was one of the two monster stages of the Tour de France, including two climbs I've ridden in the past, the Col du Galibier and the Col de la Croix de Fer. Both are HC (hors categorie) climbs, so difficult they are beyond categorization. And those were just climbs to set the stage for the two finishing climbs, the Col du Mollard and La Toussuire. In the punishing furnace of the French summer, Tour cyclists had to ride through a couple of circles of Hell today.

Floyd Landis found his limits today on that final climb. In cycling parlance, he cracked. First Dennis Menchov attacked, and Landis could not follow. Though T-Mobile paced Klöden and Landis back, the blood was in the water. Carlos Sastre attacked, and down went Landis. By the end of the stage, won by that albino praying mantis Michael Rasmussen, Landis had dropped to 11th overall, 8:08 behind Oscar Pereiro. In just over 13km, or the final 8 miles and change, Landis's Tour hopes evaporated as quickly as water off the pavement.

He's still probably the strongest time trialist of the podium contenders, and from day to day, one's legs can feel remarkably different, so Landis can still reach the podium. But he can't sit back and mark his opponents anymore. He has to attack.

The day I climbed the Col du Galibier, I also climbed the Col du Telegraphe first. They are companion climbs. I was riding with another guy on the bike tour, and up and over the Telegraphe, I felt decent despite near 100 degree temperatures and a stifling humidity. I had enough energy to stand up to accelerate through the switchbacks. But on the short descent down the other side, I did not have much time to recover. Before I could catch my breath, the road leaned back into me again on the way up the towering Col du Galibier. About halfway up, my speed dropped down to about 14 km/hr, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not push past that ceiling. I had redlined. My buddy waited for a bit, and then I waved him on. The rest of the climb was a long, lonely delirium of suffering. I spent much of that ride trying to detach my mind from my body so that I could displace my pain, compartmentalize it. I tried to think of my body as merely a machine to which I issued commands.

But despite many hours spent toiling up the Alps and Pyrenees of France, I've missed it these past few summers. Whenever July rolls around, I long to be on my bike, fighting gravity to ride uphill. There have been few times in my life I've felt more alive.

RELATED: An article in the NYTimes about how to run marathons in high heat and humidity.

What he's been riding

Online before it hits physical print in the Sunday NYTimes Magazine this weekend: "What He's Been Pedaling," a profile of Floyd Landis and his effort to overcome a debilitating hip condition to win the Tour de France. Landis has avascular necrosis, the same condition that felled Bo Jackson, and a few weeks after the Tour de France he'll be having his hip replaced.

The article's written by Daniel Coyle, who wrote Lance Armstrong's War, which I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend. From the article:

The Tour de France’s status as the world’s most physiologically demanding event is largely unquestioned. The riders cover 2,272 miles at an average speed of 25 miles per hour, roughly the equivalent of running a marathon almost every day for almost three weeks. In the Pyrenees and the Alps, they climb a vertical distance equal to three Mount Everests. They take in up to 10,000 calories per day, the equivalent of 17 Big Macs, elevating their metabolic rates to a level that, according to a Dutch study, is exceeded by only four species on earth. All of which transforms Landis into the embodiment of an intriguing question: Is it possible for someone with a ruined hip to win the Tour de France?

It's interesting that Landis and his team have chosen to reveal this condition in the middle of the Tour. He doesn't seem to be the type to need a built-in excuse for failure, and no one in the Tour will take pity on him. Perhaps he just tried to break the news before it emerged in the NYTimes? But he was the one who revealed the info to the interviewer, so it's not as if this dropped out of the sky.

After Landis has hip replacement, he may be able to ride at the same level, but he may not. There's no precedent to refer to, and so I'm rooting for him to get on the podium this year. It might be his last chance, though I hope it's not.

Here, Floyd Landis demonstrates his time trial position, which he calls the Praying Mantis.

Having just returned from a week in Beijing, I'm also familiar with this position, which I like

to call "Sending a text message to a friend on a Blackberry while perched over a public squat

toilet in a narrow stall: 'Please bring toilet paper to stall number 3 right now! Godspeed.'"

Swimmin' with Dylan

Download the instrumental version of "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley, as well as "Nel Cimitero di Tucson," the spaghetti western track Danger Mouse sampled for Crazy. Something to tide us over while we wait for Paris Hilton's cover.

True height measures the effective height of a basketball player. Good news! Tyrus Thomas measures out as nearly a 7-footer in true height. I'm pumped up for the Bulls upcoming season, though it will still be ugly on offense.

Shina Tsukamoto's horror film novella Haze on Region 2 DVD. has a sneak preview of James Newton Howard's score for Lady in the Water. Oddly enough, the soundtrack includes a bunch of Bob Dylan covers.

Wired Magazine has a profile of banned Tour de France technology. Most are just bikes that fall under the UCI minimum weight limit, though, and for a recreational cyclist that's nothing to get excited about. A few ounces here or there isn't going to turn the average club cyclist into a champ, and trying to descend a long, steep mountain on a featherweight bike is terrifying.

A long-standing conspiracy theory holds that the moon landing was staged, perhaps by Stanley Kubrick. The moon hoax is so popular that NASA had to address it.

The deepest cut

I arrived at Beijing Airport this morning (yesterday morning? who knows anymore) to fight a chaotic mob of people in the international departures area. You have to fill out a departure form and pass through some outbound customs screen before you can even check in. I battled to the counter to grab a departure form, but as my hand reached the pile of forms, someone else grabbed a form and yanked it out, running its edge along my right thumb and opening a deep one-inch papercut.

The sudden and sharp pain startled me, and I shouted. Then proceeded to bleed like a geyser all over the counter, the forms, my clothes. The crowd around me pulled back, horrified, then just went to the next counter over to continue their quest for a departure form. I was left clutching my thumb like an idiot. I opened my suitcase with my left hand and pulled out my toiletries bag, but I had no bandages or first aid materials. I held my right thumb out to my side, dripping blood on the floor. I had three heavy bags and was surrounded by a sea of unsympathetic travelers, not a bathroom in sight. So I just wrapped my thumb in another departure form and waited until the bleeding stopped, and then went on my happy way looking like I'd just slaughtered fifteen chickens. Fortunately my questionable appearance didn't attract any unwanted attention from the authorities, and I managed to clean up after I'd cleared security.

But my papercut pales in comparison to the one Thor Hushovd suffered in Stage 1 of the Tour de France. In the final sprint for the finish line, a spectator swiped one of those giant cardboard hands from PMU across Hushovd's right upper arm, opening a huge gash that proceeded to bleed all over him (in a bunch sprint, riders are flying over 40mph, so running a piece of hard, sharp cardboard across your eyes are watering just thinking about it). In an odd coincidence, PMU is the sponsor of the green jersey that Hushovd won at last year's Tour.

This is close to what I looked like at Beijing airport this morning, except no one was helping me and my quads are not that huge.

Call to all aspiring professional cyclists

Someone from the Travel Channel contacted me. They are looking for someone who aspires to be a professional cyclist for an episode of a television show where they give people the chance to experience their dream job for a few days. If you think you can handle 3 days of pro cycling training and would like to show your stuff on TV, pull together a 2-minute audition video discussing what you do for a living now and why you're so passionate about being a pro cyclist (preferred formats for your audition video being DVD, VHS, or miniDV). Drop me a line (use the Contact Me link off of my homepage) and I'll let you know where to send your tape. The deadline for receipt of the tapes is Monday, Feb. 27th, so you'll have to sprint.


Finally, the Nike swift suit tech has trickled down to the cycling masses, though it will cost you dearly to don the aerodynamic suit worn by Lance Armstrong and his mates in Tours past. It's winter now, so what I really need is the swift suit parka, so I can shave time from my three block commute to the subway.
Now I know what Jack Bauer is on.
Stream the new album by The Editors, The Back Room

March of the lemmings

Wolfram Tones: Create music based on Stephen Wolfram's A New Kind of Science. Download them as ring tones if you like. Many of them do sound like ring tones, actually. It reminds me of GarageBand with a random music generator. Not stuff I'd listen to all the time, but it's interesting to click on the various music genre buttons to see how much it resembles what you think of as country or r&b or classical. Someday perhaps there will be a Computer Idol competition. On a somewhat related note, the ideas in A New Kind of Science (NKS) seem to have relevance to the current evolution vs. intelligent design debate. NKS is online, so you can read, for example, this chapter: "Intelligence in the Universe."

The UCI, cycling's governing body, exonerates Lance Armstrong of doping charges and criticizes the accusers. L'Equipe to respond saturday. One thing is certain; this whole bitter fight is no help to the sport, as doping has once again, as in 1998.

Derek and Ken were in town for Labor Day Weekend. I always learn something when I spend time with those guys. One of my learnings this past weekend was that lemmings do not commit mass suicide. It's a myth perpetuated by a Disney documentary in which the filmmakers ran lemmings off of the side of a cliff to create the myth of their suicidal tendencies. Looks like that Disney documentary is available from on VHS. I'm not sure how the lemming myth took hold of me, but I suspect it was Gary Larson and his Far Side comics. I remember one depicted a whole flock of lemmings headed for the edge of a cliff to jump into the ocean, but one is shown wearing an inner tube with a sly grin. Another showed a family of lemmings in a car, headed off on vacation. The mother and father lemming sit in the front seat while two lemming children are in back. The mother is shown shouting at the kids, "Hey! I told you kids to knock it off back there!... or so help me I'll just take this car and drive it off the first cliff I come to!" I miss The Far Side. Larson went out on top.

Meet the F**kers (Windows Media), a Daily Show video clip that provides some satiric catharsis for any anger you might feel towards the Bush administration for their slow reactions to Hurricane Katrina. I hadn't seen the footage of Mike Myers' reaction to Kanye West's outburst until watching this clip, or Michael Brown's disastrous interviews, or the Larry King interview with Celine Dion. Memorable.

Colin Powell regrets his statements to the United Nations in February of 2003. I was aboard a ferry from the north island of New Zealand to the south island when he gave his testimony, and I watched it on CNN. Little did I know it would be downhill from there for someone who seemingly everyone thought would make a perfect presidential candidate.

I'm going to join Bill Simmons on the Bears bandwagon. Really good young defense, and if Kyle Orton surprises (and sometimes new starting QBs do) then perhaps they can win a bunch of low-scoring rumbles. It all depends on what that offense looks like after they take off the bandages.

Vincent Cerf is the new "Chief Internet evangelist" at Google. I look forward to hearing about this Internet thing. It sounds cool. As an aside, based on my years of working in the Internet biz, anyone who has "evangelist" in their job title has a cushy job.

The Nokia 8800 is one gorgeous cell phone. Though China isn't listed as one of the countries where you can buy one, I saw them in several stores in Beijing and Shanghai. The slider resistance is firm but silky smooth. I held it, fondled it, drooled over it, but left my credit card sheathed. $800, which is roughly what they were charging, is a lot to pay for technological sex appeal.


New album by Sigur Ros releases September 13th. Love them. This one's sung in actual Icelandic, instead of the made-up Hopelandic.

Peeved by the attacks by L'Equipe, Lance hints that he might come back and kick some butt in the Tour again next year. If so, he needs to make up his mind soon.

I've watched Felix Hernandez pitch a few times now. Awesome. Wicked stuff, especially that movement on his mid-90's heater. In 51 innings he's struck out 50 batters and walked only 10, giving up only 31 hits. Lefties are batting .129 against him. I hope he stays healthy and drug-free for many years.

Okay, so most of the last season of Six Feet Under left me cold. But the last few episodes, after you-know-who dies, were quite good. The last montage of scenes in the last episode moved me.

What happened to summer?

James and Angela and I ate at Angelica's Kitchen, an organic vegan restaurant, on Monday night, and we sat next to Morgan Spurlock and his girlfriend (wife?), both of Super Size Me fame. I guess he hasn't relapsed since his McDonald's days. In a way, perhaps it's healthy that he just gorged himself for a month on that stuff. He'll probably never have a hankering to eat a burger at McDonald's again. The best dish was Angela's tofu sandwich.

I like Google News, but I thought they were going to weight their news sources with a bias to more reputable, big-name sources. The biggest problem with Google News and Google News Alerts is all the random stories from small town papers, many being repeats of the AP Wire story. That problem still exists.

Oh dear lord do I miss DirecTV. This season they added an optional NFL Ticket SuperFan add-on package that includes over 100 games in HD, a Red Zone channel that switches automatically to any game where a team enters the opponent's red zone, a Game Mix channel where 8 games are broadcast on one screen, and a Short Cuts feature showing commercial-free replays of games in 30 minutes or less. It's like crack for a fantasy football player, and it's not available to me b/c I can't get line of sight to the DirecTV satellite from my apartment in Manhattan. When I was a DirecTV subscriber in Seattle, I didn't mind that DirecTV had basically a monopoly on showing all the NFL games, but now I'm ready to break into the roof of the nearest skyscraper to set up a satellite with a mile long run of cable to run through my front window. Time Warner Cable stinks.

More than 400 million watched the finale of "Super Girl", an American Idol-esque Chinese reality tv show. That's about the same number of people as live in the United States and Britain combined. The winner was Li Yu Chun, a tomboyish Sichuan native (a video clip of her final performance can be found here). The show only allowed female singers, and the official show title was "Mongolian Cow Sour Yogurt Super Girl Contest." The show was touted among Chinese youth as a triumph of democratic voting, as anyone could pay 1RMB (about $0.12) to vote via text message.

$ > time

Hurricane Katrina rips hole in Superdome roof
It sounds like something out of The Day After Tomorrow.

Money is more valuable than time
This according to a paper presented at the 2005 World Congress of the Econometric Society. The researchers found that people were much more generous with their time than their money.

A transcript of Lance Armstrong's appearance on Larry King Live
I still haven't read an account of what happened that makes it clear exactly what was tested, how it was verified, etc. All this medical testing jargon is just confusing. It's shocking how eager Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc is to sully the image of his event's most famous and most recent champion. Can you imagine David Stern leaping at the opportunity to publicly lambaste one of the NBA's star players? The Tour was already going to need a lift next year with Lance gone, and this is hardly the best way for Leblanc or L'Equipe to promote next year's race.

More and more couples are streaming music from iPods instead of hiring DJs for their weddings
One couple is cited as saying that they didn't think the DJ would have music from their favorite bands, like the Postal Service and the Shins. They then note that neither they nor their wedding guests are big dancers, which explains a lot.

Marat Safin drops out of the U.S. Open with a knee injury
Thus removing one of the few players with enough game to beat Federer. Safin is replaced by Bjorn Phau of Germany, who is not among those aforementioned players. Actually, on hard courts, maybe Safin is the only guy who could have stopped Federer.

An interview with Cameron Crowe about Elizabethtown
I am intensely curious about the already famous telephone conversation from this movie. Crowe mentions that Kirsten Dunst's character makes Orlando Bloom's character a "mixmap" - a map with musical cues. Very cool, like amateur museum podcasts, in a way. I can see posting a musical mixmap as a podcast to someone in another city. More from Crowe on Dunst:

And she's a huge music fan. I play music during takes and she's the first person I've worked with who'll go, "Um, I don't like that song." The camera will be rollin' and I'll play "Trouble Man" by Marvin Gaye, and she'll go, "Turn that Marvin Gaye music off! Put on some Rilo Kiley."

She stays up all night and downloads music from LimeWire. She needs to be arrested.

During the summer TV lull, I set my PVR to tape Six Feet Under so I could finally see what the hubbub was about. From what I'd read, I'd be catching the show after it had jumped the shark, and that might explain my cool reaction. Watching the first half of this last season was like listening to one's parents arguing; really shrill and overwrought. The show also relies too heavily on confrontations with ghosts and spirits, something The Sopranos deals in occasionally as well. That's always felt like a dramatic crutch to me, a way to cover ideas that can't otherwise be conveyed by acting and dialogue between real people. I can understand how fans of the show would stick it out through every last episode, though. I was the same way with The X-Files, a show that lurched on for several seasons after it had careened off the tracks.

Former Washington Post pop music critic David Segal laments the the loss of spontaneity in modern rock concerts

James Surowiecki weighs in on tipping in light of Thomas Keller's decision to abolish tipping at Per Se, replacing it with a fixed service charge

Guest cynic

Lance Armstrong will appear on Larry King Live tonight (9-10pm EST) to answer the doping accusations from L'Equipe

Video of David Zabriskie's record-setting stage 1 time trial victory

TV didn't have much coverage of his ride (even though Phil Liggett predicted the win), but Cervelo gave one of Team CSC's coaches a video camera to use in the team car.

Google launches Google Talk, a chat client. It only runs on Windows, though, so I have nothing to say about it.

Oh the irony if I'd employed a Chinese hired-hand guest blogger to post here while I was on vacation in China. Apparently it's an actual business model. The description of the three blogging types they're targeting is amusing. Thanks to Marginal Revolution for the reference.

Malcolm Gladwell explicates the U.S. health care failure.

2002 Tour de France Journal Day 1: If you don’t know who the dummy is...

[More from my 2002 TDF camp journal. I meant to post these over the past week, but I was in Chicago and forgot to bring the journal along. I'll use more of these to fill in here as I'm off to China tomorrow morning for a few weeks...]

First day of camp, I meet all the other campers. One of my chief worries the whole way over was how I’d compare with the other campers. I didn’t feel any better after meeting everyone. Most everyone was either tall and lanky, with endurance sport builds, or tall and lean and muscular.

I felt worse after our first ride, right after we arrived in Joucas. As soon as we arrived at the hotel, about 5pm in the afternoon, we’re told to change for an hour “flat” ride in the countryside around the hotel, to open up our legs. Since my luggage and bike haven’t arrived (at the airport, I waited along with two other campers for almost an hour until the baggage claim belt came to a halt; no bike case, no luggage), official camp den mother Aimee provides me with CTS bike shorts and a jersey. I’m jet lagged and exhausted, and if I lie down on my bed I’ll pass out, so after a quick change into the bike outfit I head straight out.

I meet most of the other campers and some of the staff outside. The camp has set up a mini bike garage outside, and the camp mechanic Robin has already assembled all the bikes. They loan me a bike and a helmet, and before I have time to catch my bearings we’re off.

About five minutes into our ride we hit our first climb and the pack drops me instantly. Eventually I lose contact altogether and am following a long station wagon around through the farm fields of Provence on narrow country roads. If this is the flat ride, I’m in trouble. In Seattle, we’d consider this hilly terrain.

They say in poker that if you don’t know who the sucker is, you’re the sucker. It’s not even that difficult to figure out who the slow guy is in a group of riders. He’s the one in the back at the finish line. That would be me.

Some people don’t mind bringing up the rear, but not me. Being the slow guy on the first day is demoralizing and unpleasant business, but there’s not much to be done about it now. The type of fitness I’d need to gain to catch some of my compatriots isn’t gained over one week or even one year. It takes years of riding and training, just as it takes pro cyclists, including Lance Armstrong, years of competition to reach the level necessary just to complete the Tour de France, let alone compete for a podium spot. I think this to myself and try to just enjoy the rolling golden countryside of southern France.

We finish up and reach the hotel just in time to watch the conclusion of stage 12. Once again, it’s Lance flanked by his teammate Robert Heras and his chief competitor Joseba Beloki all alone in the last stretch. Lance turns on the gas with about 5 or 6 km to go on the devilish Plateau de Beille, and Beloki can’t follow. Lance finishes with a 1 minute 3 second gain on Beloki.

Back in my room, I find a bag full of strange nutritional supplements in bottles and canisters. Red liquids, fluorescent packaging, eye droppers. It looks like Dr. Frankenstein’s childhood chemistry kit. For a second I think that it’s the camp goody bag and shudder at the thought of having to ingest this stuff each night (are there needles?) but then I remember I have a roommate who has probably arrived.

After dinner, a tasty French meal, I pass out, visions of Mont Ventoux in my head. Since I haven’t seen it before, except on TV many years ago, I picture Mordor, the flaming volcano from Lord of the Rings. Little do I know…

2002 Tour de France journal: Introduction

I'll be off traveling quite a bit this next week and month, and so I'm going to drop in some old content. This week, in honor of the last days of the 2005 Tour de France, I'll toss up entries from a journal I kept from my first in-person visit to the Tour de France, in 2002, with Carmichael Training Systems, run by Chris Carmichael, Lance Armstrong's coach.

Introduction (July 2002)

I have this recurring nightmare. It’s the day of final exams in school. I wander down a hallway filled with students on their way to different classrooms. Lockers line the walls on both sides. This must be high school. I know the subject of my next final, but I can’t remember which classroom it’s in, because I haven’t attended a single class all semester. Even if I find the classroom, how can I pass the exam? I haven’t cracked open the textbook once. My heart is racing, and I try walking faster, glancing in every door to see if I’ll recognize the teacher or any of the students, but my legs move slower and slower, and the students in the halls grow sparse as everyone finds their rooms. The faces of the passing students regard me with pursed lips an grim stares as if they see my predicament written on my face. I’ve been exposed.

It’s July 20, in the late morning, and I’m having the cycling equivalent of my final exam nightmare, except I’m awake. More than that, I’m being cooked alive. For a brief second, I think my nose is running and I reach up to wipe it with my glove. No, it is just sweat, pouring off the top of my nose onto the top tube of my bike like a small waterfall. Up ahead, through the trees, a grey tower is visible, seemingly miles away, at the top of a grey, desolate mountaintop. It darts in and out of view as the road before me snakes back and forth.

Around every turn, I hope for relief from the steep uphill grade, but instead I’m greeted by another stretch of rising pavement leading to the next turn through the forest. The bike beneath me is in the smallest possible gear, 39-27, and still I can barely turn the pedals over. My bike computer displays my speed as 9. That would be wonderful, except I’m in Europe and the unit of measurement is kilometers/hour, not miles/hour. The sweat beading off my forehead has collected on my Oakley wraparound sunglasses, mixed with the dirt in the air. The view ahead of blurs.

Around another switchback, and suddenly the road rises to an 11% grade, my heart sinking by the same amount. I feel my bike decelerate as if I’ve ridden into a patch of tar, so I stand out of my saddle to try and muscle through this ridiculous stretch. My left quadricep immediately cramps, and I drop back onto my bike seat with a grimace. On the right side of the road an old Frenchman stands next to his RV vehicle and looks at my face as I crawl by. He’s seen this before and realizes what has happened. I haven’t studied enough this semester, and now, on my first exam, I’ve been exposed. Whatever happens, I have to maintain enough speed to stay upright. Please don't let me fall over.

It’s the second day of the Climbing Stages bike camp with Carmichael Training Systems, and I’m climbing Mont Ventoux. I’m 14 kilometers away from the top of the mountain.


George Hincapie triumphant on Pla d'Adet (Image from AFP)

Women love him because he's, well, George, and men admire and appreciate him for his loyalty to Lance. He's always been the Pippen to Armstrong's Jordan, the talented and trustworthy comrade, the selfless wingman, and today he got his first ever stage win at the Tour de France on the hardest stage of the Tour. Everyone loves George, always such an unassuming good guy. For such a big guy, he's made a miraculous transformation in the past several years, becoming a very respectable climber. He's married to a podium girl and living the dream.

George and Brunyeel decided that since T-Mobile had been attacking early to shed Armstrong's teammates, Hincapie should go with an early break so that if the leaders caught up, he'd be there to stay with Armstrong. T-Mobile parried, and Team Discovery Channel countered. Since he was in the lead group purely to wait for Lance, Hincapie didn't have to pull. His only goal was to stick with the group and wait to see if Armstrong would show up. Thus he didn't have to work as hard as the others in the lead group, and when they all fell away, he had the freshest legs for the finishing sprint.

Such a story-dense stage on the climb to Pla d'Adet. George was racing for the stage win in the lead group. Armstrong marked Ullrich and Basso, and then just Basso. Ullrich, again, couldn't keep the wheel of Basso and Armstrong when they accelerated, but he tried to keep them in sight, paced by his teammate Oscar Sevilla. Behind him, Rasmussen fought to preserve third place, and just behind his wheel was Mancebo, his face always a rictus of pain, trying not to lose too much time to Ullrich in the GC.

No more massive mountain finishes, though a few challenging stages remain (these things are all relative, as all the stages are killer to mere mortals like myself). But Basso couldn't shed Armstrong, and so it looks like a week-long coronation for Lance as long as he can avoid trouble. There will be some interesting battles among riders in places 2 through 11, especially in the stage 20 time trial, and a good battle for the green jersey between McEwen, O'Grady, and Hushovd, but for the yellow jersey this is sendoff week for its greatest champion.

Needles in haystacks

Back from Washington, DC, arriving to a snowstorm-sized pile of links in my newsreader...

The World Series of Poker's main event is down to just 12 players

Just one pro remains, Mike "The Mouth" Matusow, in 8th place (profile of Matusow in the NYTimes). Phil Ivey, one of the last big names, finished in 20th place, while last year's champ, Greg Raymer, finished 25th. Kate Hudson's brother Oliver earned the dubious honor of being the first player to be knocked out of the tourney, and on his very first hand. He had a pair of 10's, raised pre-flop, and Sam Farha called. The flop came A-A-10, and both guys found all their money in the center of the table. Farha had A-10 and left Hudson almost famous, befitting Kate's brother.

Esquire Magazine's Sexiest Woman Alive will be revealed in the November issue, but the clues give it away: Jessica Biel

Matthew Barney and Björk collaborate on a film which debuts at a museum in Japan

From the article, a summary of the movie titled Drawing Restraint 9: "Björk and Barney arrive as guests on board the ship. During a storm, they marry each other in a mysterious ceremony, morph into whales and then swim off towards the Antarctic. In this dream-like story, nothing is really narrated." Yep, that sounds like a Barney/Björk movie. Björk also revealed that "she and Barney plan to sell their New York home and live on a houseboat." That also sounds like something they'd do.

UCLA grad student plays Russian roulette as performance art, terrifying his classmates

Huge hubbub ensues, including possible legal action and the retirement of two professors known for controversial performance art of their own, but in the end all returned to normal and the student received an A-minus for the course.

Simpsons-Family Guy feud

This is sure to end with Homer gunned down in front of Kwik-E-Mart by Stewie Griffin.

Mansquito! Attack of the Sabretooth! Dog Soldiers!

At the Tour de France, Bobby Julich is riding elliptically-shaped chainrings

These chainrings change the effective gear ratio as you pedal. In this case, Julich's O.Symetric Harmonic chainrings maximize the gear ratio when pedals are horizontal, when you can theoretically apply the most effective perpendicular force to the pedals. Then the gear ratio decreases for the bringing the pedal across the top and bottom of the pedal stroke. Shimano once made a similar pedal but abandoned it because it's so tricky to integrate with the front derailleur (the chain is moving up and down through the derailleur cage).

Morgan Freeman buys a pop-a-shot machine

Since Freeman narrates every other movie out there these days, this is timely. And funny.

Countdown of features in the upcoming Movable Type 3.2

The bizarre and sometimes disturbing world of bioart

Everything, and I mean everything, you ever wanted to know about the male hug

Mine is a hug-happy family.

Trump tries on some bad idea jeans