Running In Circles
Saturday, October 3rd -- Open Cup Final RetrospectiveThis game was over a month ago, and I've been working on my write-up ever since. Since this rings in at over 3,000 words, maybe you can understand what took so long.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Jake and I were in Washington, D.C., to see the Seattle Sounders play in the final of the U.S. Open Cup. We started the day doing your basic tourist stuff, walking around the National Mall and checking out museums in the Smithsonian.
We were in front of the Library of Congress when a dude in a suit approached. He saw our Sounders shirts and asked us if we were going to RFD before the game. (RFD stood for Regional Food and Drink, the bar serving as our headquarters—a strange name in my opinion.) When we said yes, he told us he was from Murray's office, and a bunch of folks were planning to head over, too. That was the last we saw of him, though.
We were looking at dinosaur bones in the Museum of Natural History, when we realized it was just after three o'clock. Since we were meeting a bunch of people from the ECS in front of the White House at 3:15, we needed to boogie. I ducked into the restroom first, where I ran into a trio of supporters. They told me that they'd managed to get one of their scarves stuck on a Mammoth tusk. It struck me then that this was going to be one crazy affair; the antics had already begun.
We made it to the White House (National Monument side), where picking out the Emerald City Supporters was no hard task. The group was smaller than I expected, around thirty to forty people, and things were pretty subdued until after the pictures were taken (not the most scenic site, in my opinion, with all the police cars and fences and barriers and busy road in between).
We started the march to the bar. We began chanting. The Capitol Police officer parked in front of the spot where we'd photographed eyed us warily, and a guard further on commented that it reminded of being in Germany on the day of a soccer match. And we weren't even near full strength.
Jake and I repaired to our hotel room first. It was a quick trip, just enough time to grab a cup of coffee and some water and get our scarves and Jake's flags. We stopped at the Potbelly Sandwich Works near our hotel for a quick bite, because we figured getting food at the bar would be a clusterfuck at best.
We made it quickly to the bar, showed our IDs to a bemused bouncer, and entered a sea of green. The bar was completely taken over by the Sounders. If there was anyone in there not with us, they laid low. It was standing room only, and it was all Sounders.
Jake and I got beer. (My first choice had just blown the keg removed. Why does this always happen to me?) We didn't have much time, so I was drinking fast, rather than savoring items from the extensive and expensive beer list.
I was halfway through my second beer when the chanting started. It was deafening. I looked over at the bartenders to see their reactions. One guy looked like he was having as much fun as us. The other guy looked like he wanted hang himself—must have been a United fan.
It wasn't long after the chanting started that we moved toward the doors. We were ahead of schedule, but no one seemed to care. We mustered ranks on the sidewalk, and I found myself in the middle of a group that easily numbered over one hundred. We started marching, and we started chanting.
The reaction we got from other pedestrians ranged from amusement to confusion to fear. It was several blocks to the Metro station, and, excepted for a few lapses, we kept a good volume going all the way. On a couple of occasions we spotted a United fan, which began a chant of "Who are you? Who are you?" until the object of derision slunk away.
When we got to the station, we split ranks, filled both entrances, and took over both escalators going down. The tunnel resonated with the booms of our clapping and our chanting of "We want to win the US Open Cup!"
A Metro Security guard at the bottom of the escalator indicated that we should quiet down with hand signals and throat-slash gestures. "You can ride the train," he said angrily, "but you can't sing."
Flustered and annoyed, he escorted us over to the turnstiles. My day pass had gone wonky, and I needed special attention so I could go through the manual gate—my pass no longer opened the automated one. I, of course, had captain grumpy handling my pass. I was afraid he would turn me back out of spite, but he was distracted by the half-drunken antics of my compatriots and just waved me through.
Someone said or did something that got his attention, though, because just as I was passing through he said to someone near me, "Y'all have to settle down or I'll have the police come haul you out."
"For what?" asked the surprised supporter.
"For disturbing the peace!"
I moved on before I heard any more, suddenly fearful that we wouldn't get all the way to the stadium.
We made it to our platform, but it was obvious that we were too many to fit in one car, so it was decided to split the group into two cars.
Jake and I were sticking close together, and we pushed our way onto the same car. There were a few normals on there, and they didn't look happy. We'd only gone two stops when a heavy, middle-aged woman hauled herself out of her seat and struggled down the cram-packed aisle. Jake exhorted people to clear a path for her, even pulling one guy out of the way. For his reward, the woman stepped through door, looked Jake square in the face, and said, "You're all a bunch of idiots."
A few people wanted to chant on the train, but they were, with some effort, shushed down. Metro security already seemed agitated with our presence, and we didn't want to give them any reason to delay us getting to our game. Most people didn't like it, but we managed to get off the train without incident. I wasn't even off the platform when the chanting started up again. As soon as the first supporter hit the escalator, we were in full throat.
"Can you hear United sing? No-o. No-o. Can you hear United sing? No-o. No-o. Can you hear United sing? We can't hear a fucking thing! Whoa-o. Whoa-o. Whoa."
It seemed a little inappropriate to use such coarse language outside the stadium. It seems like a poor reflection on the ECS. Maybe it's something that shouldn't matter, but I think it adds a "thug factor" to the group which isn't really helpful or useful. But, at the time, I didn't fucking care.
We marched past the obvious route to the stadium, over much protest. We were a special case, though, and were supposed to use a special entrance off somewhere else. We crossed a street and marched down the other side. United fans were on the other side of the wide, divided boulevard. This inspired us to chant all the louder.
Suddenly, a woman in a polo shirt and an event security hat appeared and ran across the road to intercept us. A couple of other event security folks followed in her wake. Polo Shirt must have been the boss, because everyone else was in a T-shirt.
"Oh, my god," she said, "I could hear you coming all the way down the street."
Apparently, we were getting a security escort. We got a cursory inspection for prohibited items, then we marched forward again, taking up the chants where we left off. Polo Shirt looked completely frazzled after about twenty yards of marching.
We got marched past the security screening checkpoint and right up to the turnstiles. "Don't worry, you've already been searched," I was told when I slowed at the checkpoint.
The big rumor was that RFK stadium had two-dollar beers. The first concession stand I saw had one option for beer—24 ounces for ten dollars. I didn't like the looks of that.
Security escorted us up the ramp. And up. And up. When we got high enough, the concessions were all closed and locked. "Hey," someone behind me said, "where's our beer?"
That started a chant of, "Where's our be-er? Where's our be-er?"
We chanted all the way up the ramps and to our seats. When they lead us into our sections on the 400 level, I finally realized we'd been completely segregated from the rest of the stadium. Except for six security staff, there was literally no one else in the upper deck.
It also appeared that we were the first people up there in some time. Sticks, seed pods, and dried up bird droppings littered the entire area. Despite the mess, we quickly took the area over and started hanging banners.
Looking down into the lower part of the stadium, it looked there weren't any more people down there than there were up with us. Someone shouted, "Hey, United, where are your fans?" That started the first of several rounds of middle-finger waving.
Once we got settled in, Jake and I left to find the legendary two-dollar beer. There were no concessions open on the upper deck—at least they unlocked a bathroom—so we roamed the stadium. We found a tiki-themed beer garden, a beer garden we couldn't get to because it was behind a gate, and several concessions with ten-dollar beer, but the cheap beer remained elusive.
Finally, we discovered it. It was being sold from a tiny cart tucked away under a ramp on the very bottom floor. I realized we were in the right spot when I saw how long the line was. Alas, the reason the beer was so cheap is because it was Miller Lite.
Jake and I waited in the line and purchased two beers each. We were doubtful one beer would survive the trek back to the dizzy heights in which we were seated.
I still had an inch of beer left in my first cup when we made it back to our seats. I looked down into the stadium and saw it had really started to fill up. United supports had started chanting and carrying on. All I could hear, though, was the big drum they kept banging on.
I was halfway through my second beer when the players came onto the field. I stood up with the group to cheer lustily as our boys came out. When United came out, the group as a whole turned our backs on them and extended a middle finger over the shoulder.
Finally, everyone was on the field and the only thing left before kick-off was the National Anthem. When I saw the close-up of the guy they brought out to sing—long, curly ponytail, douche-bag beard, all-black wardrobe, and big silver necklace—I knew it was going to be a slow, R&B-style rendition. And I was right.
This wouldn't have been a problem except that the ECS was singing along. We kept getting way ahead, which garnered derision and jeering from the DC United fans below us. We did manage to get back in sync enough to shout, "...home of the SOUNDERS!" as he finished up.
The players lined up for the kick-off, and soon the game was underway. The ECS broke into a chant—yet another one I didn't know—and at one point the people who knew what was going on—that is, everyone but me—whipped off their scarves and started flailing them around over their heads while jumping up and down. I wasn't jumping, so I noticed instead that the stands were shaking.
I looked around and saw that I wasn't the only one who'd noticed. A guy standing behind had his eyes wide open and was giving me an "oh, shit" look. There were maybe 300 of us up there, but we had the stands rocking. It was a little unnerving because we were up so high, and our area of the stands looked so decrepit.
A little later, a call went out to do the pogo, which is just what it sounds like—we all link arms at the shoulders and jump up and down. I participated mostly because that was the only way to ignore the bouncing of the aged concrete below my feet. Jake barked his shin on the seat back in front of him, and I nearly did the same. It's not the most comfortable activity. I felt like I was going to get pulled off my feet the entire time. A lot of it had to do with how spread out we were, but hey, we had the whole upper deck, why not spread out a bit.
The first half went scoreless, and I didn't do much during the break except piss. I was out of cash for beer, and I doubted I could get down to buy some and get back to my seat before the second half started.
Once play resumed, the Sounders scored first goal. I was so busy jumping up and down and high-fiving people and waving Jake's Green Hell flag that I didn't notice what Wicks did to garner a red card. I was aware enough of what was going on, though, to razz him lustily as he left the field.
The Sounders scored again to go up 2-0. There wasn't much time left, and they were up a man, so it looked like a sure thing. I was nervous, however, as United was really pressing. Then, disaster. United scored late on a penalty kick to bring it within one goal. When the scoreboard put up five minutes of stoppage time you could practically hear people in our section chewing their nails.
But the Sounders did it. They held on to win! We went wild. I had moved over to wave Jake's flag without whacking anyone, and was glad I had, because the guy sitting in front of me lit off a smoke bomb, and it was billowing blue smoke directly into my former seat. One of the huge security guards watching over us came down to remove it. I was afraid there'd be some kerfuffle, but he seemed pretty placid about it and that was that.
Since the home team lost, the stadium started emptying out pretty quickly. Our group wanted to move down to field level for the awarding of the trophy, but security said we needed to stay where we were. A few people headed across to adjacent sections to skirt security. We had the whole upper deck; they couldn't really contain us. Most of us just stayed in our seats and cheered lustily.
We didn't go unnoticed. After the Sounders got the trophy, they headed over to our corner of RFK and gave us some acknowledgment. We cheered louder than ever.
We were still cheering as below us they conducted on-field interviews, had some front office glad handing, and took pictures in front of various banners. We cheered the whole time. Then, without warning, the stadium crew turned the lights off in our section. Security was still holding us, so I don't know exactly what prompted it.
Later, when the field was nearly clear, security marched us out. We chanted loudly down the ramp, like we had on the way up. Once we got outside, we waited as stragglers caught up, singing and chanting all the while. Finally, we started our march to the Metro, now unaccompanied by security.
We arrived at the Metro station. A small group in United kits were smoking at the top of the escalator. That prompted a round of "We just won the U.S. Open Cup!" chants. The United fans responded by holding up their middle fingers.
No one threatened to arrest us at the bottom of the escalator on our return trip, so the trip back was fairly rowdy. The plan was to meet up at RFD again and do a little celebrating.
I was with a group that decided to switch trains to walk from a stop that was two blocks away from the bar instead of four. This turned out to be something of a mistake. The train we wanted was delayed, and though the waiting time was listed as 7 minutes, after 5 minutes of waiting, the waiting time was listed as 6 minutes.
I started to feel a bit of let down as I came off my victory high, and I wasn't really up for more drinking. I told Jake I'd meet him back at the hotel. I walked down to the line our hotel was on, stepped through the doors of a train without waiting a single second, and roared back to the hotel on a car that wasn't crammed full of cranky people who'd been waiting for their train for half an hour.
Back at the hotel, I walked past a guy delivering Chinese food, hopped on the elevator, and rode it up to my floor. The elevator doors opened, revealing a man about 50 years old and about 50 pounds overweight, wearing nothing but swim trunks. He was right in my face, so I got an eyeful of tattoos and body hair. I don't think our hotel even had a pool.
Back in the hotel room, I turned on the local news just in time for the sports update. They showed some footage from the game, and I got to see what Wicks did to get his red card. He totally jumped in the air and stomped on Monterro's hand! It wasn't even remotely part of the play. Even the DC sports reporters were castigating him for it. They didn't show any of the Sounder's section in their coverage of the game, alas, so I didn't get to see myself in frothing fan mode.
All in all, this experience was a total kick in the pants. I'll do my best to be at the next appearance of the Sounders in a cup final, wherever they may go.
Monday, July 13th
As much as I enjoy writing up my little pieces about the Tour de France, I find myself short on time and energy most days—and I'm not even squeezing in a workout. I'm going to try to catch up during today's rest day.
Since I've been neglectful of posting my thoughts the last few days, I'm lumping them all together here.
Alberto Contador didn't win the stage like I predicted, but he did gain time on all his GC rivals—including one certain Lance Armstrong, his teammate. The stage really wasn't hard enough to make a selection and split up the main contenders, which is why Contador's attack, as explosive and sudden as it was, only gained him 20 seconds.
The breakaway stayed clear, so the stage win went to Brice Feillu, who I'd never even heard of before today. Rinaldo Nocentini was in the break, too, and he made up enough time to just squeak into the Yellow Jersey, fending off Contador by six seconds.
It's probably a good thing for Astana that the Yellow Jersey goes to a rider on the AG2R squad. It puts less pressure on them, as they don't have to defend, and it defers the question of who's the real captain of the team, Contador or Armstrong, as they're now separated by only two seconds.
It's good for Armstrong, too, as he didn't have to show whether he could respond to Contador in the mountains. As his teammate, he was required to follow wheels. We'll never know if he could have bridged or not. My question is whether Contador would have responded to an attack by Armstrong. Personally, I think he would have. And now, if Armstrong gets across a gap, he won't be attacking a teammate who is also in the Yellow Jersey. This is a big thing as far as cycling etiquette goes.
I racked my brains yesterday, trying to think of a likely rider to win this stage. I couldn't come up with anybody. I figured it would be won by someone in a small breakaway, but there were just too many candidates to choose from.
Then, watching the pre-race show on Versus, Bob Roll threw out the name of Luis Leon Sanchez. "Huh? That's a good pick!" I said aloud. Why hadn't I thought of it? He's a strong rider, and the course profile really suited his style. Turns out, Bob called it right, and Sanchez won the sprint from what was left of a small breakaway.
Thor Hushovd shook up things for the Sprinters, which was somewhat unexpected on a mountain stage. He jumped into an early break and managed to collect points from the intermediate sprints. Since he only trailed Mark Cavendish by a single point after his Stage 6 victory, this put him in the Green Jersey. George Hincapie tried to minimize the damage, but he couldn't get around the big Norwegian, who claimed maximum points twice.
Cadel Evans went on an early attack that reeked of desperation. Unfortunately for him, he was seen as too much of a GC threat to be let go, so not only did the peloton chase hard, the breakaway group did their damnedest to drop him. I think Evan's reputation for not attacking stings him a bit, but if he keeps going like this, he'll get a reputation for foolish attacks.
There was no change in the top-ten GC.
Today's stage featured the Col du Tourmalet, a storied and difficult climb. Disappointingly, the summit came so far from the finish that it had little effect on the overall race. It seems like a shame to waste a monument of the Pyrenees like that.
Pierrick Fedrigo looked like he'd lost the stage when Franco Pellizotti jumped around him to take the inside line on the final corner. Fedrigo dug deep, though, and clawed his way back into Pellizotti's slipstream, making the sling shot move around him to claim victory. I'd make a joke about him winning by "a nose," but it's been done to death. Yeah, the guy's got a big schnoz. Get on with it.
Behind Fedrigo and Pellizotti was a group of around 50 riders, charging in hard. Oscar Freire was the best of the rest, coming in third. This puts him right back in the Green Jersey race, as Hushovd and Cavendish finished way back in the gruppetto.
More surprisingly, Jose Joaquin Rojas placed sixth, which, after yesterday's fifth place, puts him in third place in Green Jersey race, ahead of Freire. Is there a new sprinter I need to keep my eye on? Perhaps. He hasn't fared as well on the flat stages, though, and we have several of those coming up.
Tomorrow — Stage 10: Limoges to Issoudun – 193km
Normally, a transitional stage following a rest day is almost certain to see a successful breakaway. I think, however, that tomorrow will be an exception. Small hills pepper the course, but they're nothing too severe, and the run-in to the finish is pancake flat. The stage cries out for a bunch sprint, and that leaves one choice for the winner: Mark Cavendish.
The race radio ban in effect for this stage could provide a wrinkle. I think it makes a breakaway less likely to succeed. In my estimation, any break will be closely marked and not given as much leash as usual. The peloton won't want to make a mistake and let someone get too far ahead, so they likely keep them too close instead.
There is some talk of riders boycotting the stage. I hope that doesn't happen, as frankly, I think it would only make the riders look like a bunch of whining prima donnas.
Personally, I think the radios should be allowed. It seems silly for them to be legal on some stages but not others. Banning them for the whole race could be interesting, but the field is so large and so competitive, I think rider safety would be compromised. If nothing else, the jockeying of team cars through riders as directors try to relay information would create a hazard.
Now I'm hearing that rain is in the forecast. That could wreak more havoc than any mere radio ban. This stage looks boring at first blush, but my hopes are high for something exciting.
Thursday, July 9th
I guess I should have stuck with conventional wisdom in predicting this stage, because Oscar Freire was right there. He got pipped at the line by strong man Thor Hushovd, though. I had considered picking Hushovd, since a long, slightly uphill sprint really suits him, but I thought the earlier hills would take it out of his legs. I also really thought a break would go clear.
A break almost did stick. David Millar attacked from a long way out, and he had 40 seconds in hand with 5k to go. I thought it would be enough, but when he hit the turn with 2k to go, he looked completely spent. The pack caught him soon after and the sprint was on.
The stage was unfortunately riddled with crashes. Michael Rogers went down especially hard. Given the way he gimped around, I was surprised to hear that not only did he finish the stage, he's starting tomorrow, too.
Tyler Farrar went down in the same crash, and is said to have hurt his side. He fell over a guard rail, so it could easily be broken ribs. I haven't heard an update on his condition yet. He's one of my favorites—and not just for his name—so I hope he's all right.
Tom Boonen crashed hard near the finish when his wheel slipped out the road striping. One report I saw said he's "still having trouble with white lines." Zing! (You know about the whole cocaine thing, right?)
All told, 21 riders sought medical attention due to crash-sustained injuries. Ouch.
Tomorrow — Stage 7: Barcelona to Arcalis – 224km
Tomorrow's stage is long, steep, has a mountain top finish, and is vital in shaking down the GC. I can't think of anyone more motivated and capable of winning this stage than Alberto Contador. Hence, he is my predicted winner.
Wednesday, July 8th
Hey, it's a consecutive number day: 07-08-09!
I wasn't expecting the break to stay clear today. The stage seemed perfect for a big bunch sprint. Apparently, no one wanted to help Team Columbia chase, and they were content to let the break go.
Columbia rider and Green Jersey wearer Mark Cavendish was still the best of the rest, coming in third to collect more points for the Green Jersey race. Farrar finished fourth, so he's still in the running, too.
The victory was quite the coup for Thomas Voeckler. He attacked at the perfect moment, launching himself around a corner just as the rider in front sat up. One of the riders behind tried to follow, but was blocked by the slower riders.
Voeckler sprang clear and stayed ahead. Except for a Katusha rider, Mikhail Ignatiev, who was caught on the line, the rest of the six-man break was swept up by the peloton.
Earlier in the race, Fabian Cancellara, the Yellow Jersey wearer, moved to the front and took a massive pull into the crosswind. He shredded the peloton into three or four echelons. There was almost 60k to go, though, so the group eventually came back together.
Robert Gesink crashed into a ditch just before big move. He came up bloodied, and he kept pulling his left hand off the handlebars to shake it out or rest it on his leg. I suspected a broken wrist.
He managed to finish the stage 10 minutes off the back, but he later withdrew. A trip to the doctor revealed he had, indeed, fractured his wrist. Denis Menchov will miss him the mountains, that's for sure.
Tomorrow — Stage Six: Girona to Barcelona – 181.5km
This stage is a little but lumpy towards the end, and there is a punchy little climb about 2k from the finish. A bunch sprint looks doubtful. Conventional logic says this stage should go to a "sprinter who can climb." Since Alejandro Valverde isn't racing this year, that leaves Oscar Freire as the favorite.
I'm going to break with conventional wisdom, however, and pick Tony Martin to win the stage. He's proved he can survive in the hills by winning the King of the Mountains at the Tour de Suisse, and he's a strong time trialist who can hold off the group as he charges down the last kilometer of a stage.
I don't think, however, that the stage is near tough enough for him to make up the 52 seconds he needs to take the Yellow Jersey. Cancellara's not a great climber, but he can power up the hills when he needs to.
Tuesday, July 7th
On the way home from work, I drove past the bike path where I often run. Right away I noticed a cop and a TV camera on the bridge. I looked down to the trail and saw a tow truck parked there. The trail is normally closed to vehicle traffic. Just around the corner were about five fire trucks.
I got around to looking it up and found out the scoop. A Backhoe slid down the bank and into the river.
Wow, what a stage! I honestly thought Armstrong was going to be wearing yellow again. To miss it by a tenth of a second must really sting. Team Astana really had the goods today.
Columbia disappointed me. Not that they did that poorly, I just really expected them to crush it. Liquigas surprised me with their fourth place finish. That leaves Roman Kreuziger in a good position, as Cadel Evans, Denis Menchov, and Carlos Sastre have all slipped back a ways on the GC.
Garmin didn't display their usual organization. The team start splintering apart early, and they were down to the minimum of five riders by halfway through the stage. With Wiggins, Millar, Vande Velde, and Zabriskie pulling hard, they still managed second. If they'd held onto a few more riders, maybe they would have taken the day.
Far and away, this was the most exciting Team Time Trial I've ever watched.
Tomorrow — Stage 5: Le Cap d'Adge to Perpignan – 196.5km
It's a flat stage near the coast. There could be wind again, but I don't think it will catch anyone by surprise this time. It should come down to a bunch sprint. My prediction: Cavendish. Big surprise, I know.
Monday, July 6th
It's always a bit of grind getting back to work after a holiday weekend. Good thing I had the Tour to look forward to!
Well, the crosswinds hit, and the peloton splintered, but since it was Columbia driving at the front, Cavendish sailed to victory again. This time he only had one other sprinter to contend with, as Thor Hushovd was the only other fast man to make the break.
Things should be interesting in the Astana bus now. Lance Armstrong made the break, but Alberto Contador missed it. Now, Armstrong sits in third on GC, 19 seconds ahead of Contador. That means that if Astana wins by a big enough margin tomorrow, Armstrong will pull on the Yellow Jersey and take home another stuffed lion.
Tomorrow — Stage 4: Montpellier to Montpellier (TTT) – 39km
This is a tough one to call. I really like Garmin's chances--they have a number of good time trialists, and they train hard to ride as a cohesive unit. Team unity wasn't enough to pull off the win at the Giro, however, and winning that TTT was a major goal.
Columbia may not take as much pride in the Team Time Trial discipline, but they have such a depth of strong riders, including the reigning World Time Trial Champion, that it's hard to count them out. Drilling it in today's stage might have left them a little tired, though.
Astana showed they are full of potential by placing four riders in the top ten of the opening time trial. You can't overlook that. I think they'll ride hard and ignore any internal strife for this stage at least, since the time gaps will remain the same between Armstrong and Contador whether they win or lose.
I think it will go Columbia, Astana, Garmin, with less than 30 seconds separating them. If Columbia beats Saxo Bank by enough, that would put Tony Martin into the Yellow Jersey as well, giving Columbia three of the major classifications (Martin already has the White Jersey for Best Young Rider, and Cavendish is in the Green Jersey).
If Astana does something special tomorrow, Armstrong will wear the Yellow Jersey for the 76th time. It's a definite possibility. Twitter would explode.
Sunday, July 5th
It was a hot day, and I was worn out from the weekend's festivities. So, I sat around and watched the Tour.
If Columbia gets the lead-out right, there's no one who can beat Mark Cavendish. They got it right today, and Cav sailed to an easy victory.
Garmin-Slipstream did everything right, too. Julian Dean parked Tyler Farrar right on Cav's wheel, but Farrar couldn't even hold the wheel over the last 50 meters, much less get ahead. Farrar looked good placing second. Maybe he can pick up a stage win if Cavendish has a bad day.
Koldo Fernandez crashed within the final kilometer and ruined the sprint of a few riders, most notably Tom Boonen, so not all the fast men were contesting at the end.
Besides the argy-bargy of the sprint, it was a fairly quiet day in the peloton. I never even saw a glimpse of Alberto Contador's Polka Dot Jersey, so he clearly stayed out of trouble.
I saw David Moncoutie make possibly the longest bottle hold ever. When the team car passed over the bottle, he must have hung on for 15 seconds. It was egregious. There used to be a website that listed the fines and penalties for each stage, and I wish it was still around so I could see if he incurred anything for that one. I'm sure commissaries watch the live feed, so if I saw it, they saw it.
Tomorrow — Stage 3: Marseille to La Grande Motte – 196.5km
The stage has a few lumps at the beginning, but is otherwise flat. It suits Cavendish even better than today's stage. The only way he won't win is if there are strong crosswinds that split the peloton and he doesn't make the front group. At that point, it's anyone's guess who'll win.
Saturday, July 4th
Last night I ran the Firecracker 5000. The race starts just before midnight and goes around Seattle Center. This year, there was a Green Day concert at Key Arena, which made finding parking an adventure.
I went to the race with my dad. We'd both driven out to Mason Lake earlier in the day for party with some family friends. The traffic getting to the lake was horrendous, and it took my almost three-and-half hours to drive there.
The drive back to my dad's house was only 90 minutes, but with the struggle to find parking, it took nearly hour to get downtown. If you do the math, that's six hours in a car. All of that time sitting does not engender a fast 5k. The three beers I had at the Lake didn't help, either.
For as late as it was, it was still quite warm at the race. I decided not to run in my red, white, and blue USA hat to stay a little cooler. Knowing I wasn't in the greatest shape, my goal was only to break 22:00. I just barely made it, clocking a 21:56. I ran a pretty evenly-paced race, but I still slowed a bit in the last mile.
Being a Friday night, there were a number of revelers out on the town. There was also quite a back-up from the concert traffic, which the race's road closures didn't help. This lead to a lot of heckling or cheering, depending on the mood of the crowd.
All in all, it was a satisfying experience.
Today's stage played out about how I expected. Fabian Cancellara's performance was spectacular. I figured he would win; my only question was by how much.
The only real surprise to me was how well Roman Kreuziger did. He's not known for his time trialling, but I guess this course suited him in the same fashion it did Alberto Contador, who slotted in for a solid second.
The World Time Trial Champion, Bert Grabsch, did his rainbow stripes no honor by soft pedaling to a slow finish. I know the course didn't suit him--it must be difficult to haul his elephantine thighs uphill--but it would have been nice if he at least looked like he was trying. He finished 98th at nearly two minutes back.
Tomorrow — Stage 2: Monaco to Brignoles – 187 km
This is an easy prediction: Mark Cavendish. The stage is a little bit lumpy, but the hills are nowhere steep enough to shake Cavs--not this early in the race. Unless he has a late puncture or some kind of mechanical failure, he should cruise to easy win. His team is way too experienced for him to get into trouble, and if his position isn't ideal, he has the speed to make up for it.
Look for Thomas Voeckler to go for King of the Mountain points on the stage's four categorized climbs. A number of riders will be looking to wear the Polka Dot jersey at the end of the day, and Voeckler is right kind of attacking rider to come out in the lead.
Friday, July 3rd -- Tour de France Predictions
Well, it's Tour de France time again. What July would be complete without my prognostications on cycling's finest event? I'll start with my predictions for the overall General Classification:
1. Alberto Contador
2. Carlos Sastre
3. Cadel Evans
Unless the his team implodes under the pressure of supporting three GC contenders, Alberto Contador should win easily. His time trialling his improved enough that he doesn't need to win big time in the mountains to stay ahead of the time trial specialists like Denis Menchov and Evans.
Sastre is strong on the mountains, and he always rides best in the last week of a three-week tour. With a monster climb on the penultimate day, he can't be counted out. There is really only one rider who can out climb him; unfortunately for him, it's Contador.
I waffled between Evans and Menchov, as they're similar riders. They're both strong time triallers who can follow wheels in the mountains and not get dropped except by the strongest climbers. I think Evans will be a little fresher. Menchov has to be a little tired from his efforts in winning the Giro d'Italia. I figure Menchov will still have enough left in him to finish in the top five, but I don't see him on the podium.
A number of other riders will be fighting it out for spots in the top ten.
Andy Schleck is captaining the Saxo Bank squad. They are a strong team, and he was one of the best riders in the mountains at last years tour. I think he's still a little too weak in the time trial to finish on the podium, although a top five finish is a possibility.
I'm going out on a limb to pick Vladimir Karpets to finish in the top ten, but he's a solid rider, and now that he's transferred to Katusha, he's the GC captain for the first time. Since he won't have to work for anyone, and since Steegmans and McEwen won't be at the tour using riders, I think he can do big things.
Roman Kreuziger is a young rider, but he rode well at last year's tour, and looked good winning this year's Tour of Romandie.
Levi Leipheimer will finish high, just based on his role as Contador's top lieutenant. Things could get interesting, though, if things play out like the 2008 Vuelta. Leipheimer was close enough on GC that he almost took the overall lead when he won the final time trial. Contador might do well to worry about his teammates more than his rivals.
Someone from Columbia should finish in the top ten. It could be Kim Kirchen, if he's recovered from his injuries, or it might be Michael Rogers, who has performed solidly in the past, if not spectacularly. Maybe Tony Martin can do something, too--he looked really good at the Tour de Suisse.
I don't think that Christian Vande Velde will have the same great ride that he did last year, alas. He fractured ribs and vertebrae in a big crash at the Giro. He claims to be recovered, but he didn't look very sharp at the Tour de Suisse.
Lance Armstrong will be near the front, but I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't make the top ten. He'll be a protected rider, but I figure his role will be to make pace in the early mountains. It would be nice if he could chase stage wins, but if he's too close on the GC, he'll get chased down every time. If he loses massive chunks of time early in the race, look for him to go in a breakaway at some point.
I think the only thing that will keep Cavs from winning the jersey is the time limit cut-off on the mountain stages. His Milan-San Remo victory proved that hills aren't the problem they used to be--but hills aren't mountains.
I'm excited to see Tyler Farrar sprint. He's one of very few riders that has beaten Cavendish straight up in bunch sprint. He went pretty well at the Giro, and I think he has a good shot at picking up a stage win. If Cavendish misses a time cut, I think Farrar could even take home the Green.
Of course, he would still have to contend with the defending Green Jersey champ, Oscar Freire. Freire might be the savviest sprinter in the peloton. If anyone can pick up points without dominating the win column, it's him.
Polka Dot Jersey
I'm throwing the dice with this pick. Moreau has no real shot at the General Classification, and I think he knows it. Instead of trying for a high placing, I think he will try to amass mountain points early in the race and early in the mountain stages. He doesn't need to win any mountain top finishes to take home the King of the Mountains jersey, he just has to be the first over the summits along the way.
This is a strategy Fabian Wegmann has employed in the past, and I wouldn't be surprised if he tried it again. Look for him to be in the running, too.
Barring someone explicitly chasing the polka dots, the prize could go to someone high on GC. In fact, when Alberto Contador wins on Mont Ventoux, it might give him enough points to take home the Polka Dot Jersey to go with his Yellow one.
I think the younger Schleck will place in the top five overall, so it only makes sense that he would win the Best Young Rider Jersey. Plus, he's the defending title holder. I expect Kreuziger will challenge him again this year, and I think Tony Martin won't be far behind.
Stage One: Monaco to Monaco (ITT) — 15.5 Kilometers
I don't think the course is hilly enough or technical enough to keep Fabian Cancellara from winning. That being said, the course is almost a perfect fit for Contador. I don't think Contador will beat Cancellara, but I do think he'll be the fastest of the GC contenders.
Saturday, January 24th -- Pt. Defiance OrienteeringI competed in an orienteering race this morning at Point Defiance. Angie and the Little Dude came with me, and we met up with my parents at the park. The start area moved to a new location, and it involved quite an uphill hike from the parking area to get there.
Some terrible navigating and a lot of hills led to a slow time. The worst leg for me was from Control 2 to Control 3.
In looking for the control, I ran the dogleg back past Control 1, headed down the road, swooped around the train tracks, and dashed into the woods. I expected to see the control easily, since the knoll was mapped as being in open forest. In all actuality, it was in waist-high undergrowth, just off a small game path .
I lost a LOT of time looking around because my safety stop -- something to let me know I'd gone too far -- was not there. (Okay, it was there; it just wasn't a fence like I thought it was. Same effect.)
The description sheet covered what may have been a viable route to the control. It looked like a big trail runs toward the road at the south end of the park, which is straight shot onto the big path that passes very near the control. That route choice, if nothing else, might have made me realize that the dark line through the forest was not a fence, but a small power line.
I spent a long time wandering around in the woods wondering where the hell I was. "If I'm going the right way, shouldn't I have run into a fence by now?" I asked myself several times. Even after I found the control, I was still severely disoriented.
I took some umbrage with the placement of control 5. The single tree it was on was part of the forest! That, and I couldn't make out the marking on the map -- you have to look pretty close to see that green X.
There were also two distinct single trees in the clearing that weren't mapped. I checked them first, of course. The marker was hung low and out of sight, so I didn't notice it until I saw another orienteer coming out of the control. Seriously, this should have been marked as a vegetation boundary, and the single tree designation should come off the map.
After the meet, we had lunch at a nearby greasy-spoon restaurant. We ordered milk for Little Dude, but they didn't have any. The waitress said the owner had left to buy some, but he wouldn't be back until about 5:00. It was 1:30. I kind of had to wonder where he went to get this milk.
Saturday, January 10th -- Shoreview Park Orienteering
It seems that whenever I go orienteering, I do pretty well until I make a huge blunder that costs me way too much time. Sometimes it's a couple minutes, sometimes it's a couple dozen. I've decided to outline went wrong at today's event by plotting my actual course in red on the map segment below and commenting on my blunders.
Things started going awry on the lead-up to Control 13. I plainly saw a control flag at Point A, but it seemed too close to the gravel road I was sprinting down. I glanced at my description sheet and saw the control number should be 119. I glanced at the at the number on flag and saw 110--it was wrong.
Sprinting into the trees, I scanned for an orange and white flag. I arrived at the trail junction at Point B and realized I'd gone way past my control. Checking my description sheet, I saw number 119 was for Control 14. Number 110 was for Control 13 after all. D'oh! I'd sprinted right by it without breaking stride.
The run back to the missed control was, of course, uphill. I lost an easy 30 seconds committing possibly the stupidest navigational error I've ever made.
On my way to Control 14, I should have just turned onto the trail at Point B, but the trail up to Point C looked shorter, if more indistinct. With all the storm damage in the woods, though, the trail I had already found would have been the safer bet.
I found an indistinct trail and started up it. I'm not sure if it was the one marked on the map or not. All I know is I stumbled upon a raggedy tent hidden in the trees. It looked like a hobo camp to me. I didn't feel like getting stabbed with a broken beer bottle, so I turned around and headed back to the main trail, progressing until I reached Point D.
At Point D, I knew for sure where I was--the distinct trail leading down to the stream bed was a dead giveaway. I decided it wouldn't take any longer to keeping going forward than to turn back, so I pressed on, heading to Point E. Point E is where disaster struck.
There was a huge pit right before the trail intersection, so I knew I was in the right spot. (I had a little bit of doubt because the trail I came up wasn't in the greatest of shape and I'd already gone astray once.) From here it was pretty obvious all I had to do was turn left and run until I saw the flag on the vegetation boundary just before the four-way trail intersection.
But I didn't turn left. For some inexplicable reason, I went straight. I reached the trail intersection at Point F and pulled up in confusion. The trail wasn't supposed to T, it should have been a four-way intersection.
Thinking maybe a trail was obscured, I made a right turn and started scanning for the control. I wasn't seeing any open forest, but I knew the map was old, so I paid it little mind. Finally, I stumbled upon a flag--but it was on a fallen tree and only about a foot off the trail. I checked the number. It was for Control 17. Oops.
I ran back up the trail and turned towards Control 16. It looked like the shortest route. Now that I knew where I was, I hoped to find Control 14 quickly.
Passing a marker, I checked the number to make sure it was Control 16. It was. I was finally back on track. I continued up the trail and made all the correct turns. Spotting a marker at the edge of clearing from a good distance out, I made a beeline for it.
I checked the number and gave a small sigh of relief when it was indeed Control 14. I turned and headed back the way I'd come to get Control 15.
Finding it quickly, I punched it and started to move off. From below, it had looked like there was a small trail through the blackberries that would dump me right on the path to Control 16. Trying to find it, I poked around the edge of the clearing. Nothing looked promising, so I retraced my route out and pounded to 16. I lost a few seconds, but it was nothing compared to what I'd already lost.
Since I already knew where 16 and 17 were, I collected them quickly. From there I had little trouble with the rest of the course, but it was damage done, so I didn't fare nearly as well as I would have liked.
Tuesday, January 6th
Wind blasted rain into my face and tore at my clothes as I set out on an easy four-mile jog along the Green River. Keeping the bill of my hat low to keep the rain from my eyes, I couldn't see much further the tips of my feet. Along the way, though, something caught at my peripheral vision, something white and glistening. I took a more focused glance and saw two large bones. Long and straight, they rested in the grass just a few feet from the asphalt. It looked for all the world like what was left of a person's leg.
I jogged on, hoping that I'd seen the remains of an animal. But the bones seemed too big to be a dog, or even a deer. I decided I would take a closer look when I passed them on my return. If I could determine they were animal bones, I wouldn't worry about it anymore. If I couldn't, I would call the police.
So, on the way back, I stopped and studied them carefully. They laid end to end, perfectly parallel to the road. Their tips touched, but I didn't see any tendons joining them. They were completely bare, no meat at all. One bone looked like a femur, and the knob at the end had a pinkish hue. The other bone was split, like one would expect from a tibia and fibula. At the "ankle" end of the bone was a weird notch that looked too regularly shaped to be natural. I didn't see anything that looked like a foot or a hoof.
The bones looked too thick to be human—but what did I know? My only experience with human bones was the anatomy skeleton tucked into the corner of my high school science lab. And it wouldn't have been the first time that human remains had been found along this stretch of road. (Yes, it was THAT Green River.)
When I got back to my car, I called 911. I decided that even if they weren't human bones, they should probably be removed. I gave the details to the dispatcher and did my best to describe where I'd found the bones. They didn't ask me to stick around, so I drove home.
Just as I pulled into my garage, the police called. The officer was having trouble finding the bones and wanted more details. I described some landmarks and hoped the bones were still there; I didn't want to be seen as some kind of crackpot. He called back again a few minutes later and asked me if I could come down and show him where to look, as he still couldn't find them. Saying I would, I headed back out, still dripping wet from running in the rain. I was about two minutes into my drive when he called for the third time to say he'd finally located the bones.
"Yeah, they're pretty big," he said. "I don't know if they're cattle bones, or what. I'm going to have to call my sergeant. He'll probably send out a medical examiner. You know, someone who can tell what he's looking at in about thirty seconds. I can let you know what they find out, if you want."
"I'd appreciate that," I said. "I'm kind of curious."
He took a few more details from me, including my birth date. He noted that I was "barely" older than him, which I found a little depressing. I don't feel mature enough to be older than a cop.
A few hours later he called back. "They're horse bones," he said.
"Horse bones," I said. "Weird."
"Yeah, it is weird. Well, it's out of my hands from this point. I don't think we need anything else from you, though, so I guess that's it."
I thanked him for letting me know. It's doubtful that I'll ever get any follow-up on this, which is a shame, because I'd really like to know how those bones got there. I think someone was perpetrating a hoax. The bones were big, easy to spot, resembled human leg bones, and seemed purposefully arranged—not mention their conspicuous proximity to an infamous river. But, I guess I'll never know.
Wednesday, August 20th
I think I may have jinxed five US athletes. When I went to the Prefontaine Classic in June, I managed to get several autographs on my event program. Well, so far, anyone who signed my program has suffered disappointment and defeat at the Olympics.
On the cover we have, from top left to bottom right: LaShawn Merritt, Adam Nelson, Tori Edwards, and Brad Walker. On page 10 of the program, Bernard Lagat.
So far, Lagat's Olympics has been the most disastrous. Favored to win the Gold Medal in the 1500-meter run, he didn't even advance out of the semi-finals. Adam Nelson, expected to medal in the shot put, if not win, made it through the qualifying rounds, but went on to fault three times in a row and miss making the final eight. Tori Edwards, the 2007 World Champion in the 100-meter dash, made it to the final of her event, but flinched in the starting blocks. The starter never called the racers up, and Edwards, caught flat-footed when the gun went off, finished dead last. Brad Walker, the American Record holder and 2007 World Champion in the Pole Vault, no-heighted in the qualifying rounds and is out of the Olympics.
There's still hope, though. LaShawn Merritt, expected to get Silver or better in the 400-meter dash, has looked excellent through the rounds, qualifying for the final easily. And Lagat has a chance to redeem himself in the 5000-meter run; he won his qualifying heat to make the final.
Saturday, July 26th
I don't have a lot of time to type this out because I want to get to bed. I haven't talked about the tour the last couple of days, mostly because I've been doped up on cold medicine, and, therefore too groggy to be coherent. In fact, on Thursday and Friday I found myself dozing through much of each stage. I was disappointed to miss the racing—although, the stages were a bit snooze-worthy. The only real action (that I saw) was Roman Kreuziger attacking at the end of Stage 18 to try to make up time in the race for the White Jersey. Andy Schleck was all over him, though. Kreuziger was the only rider with anything on the line to attack on either day. He'll be someone to look out for in the future.
The time trial played out like I expected as far as the GC contenders went. Sastre rode a little better than I thought he would, but I always figured he'd fend off Evans. Schumacher surprised me once again by winning the stage. I'd never really thought of him as a time trial specialist. I guess I'll have to revise my opinion. Bernard Kohl was the revelation of the day. His finishing time was far above what anyone expected from him, and he managed to cling onto a podium spot. I thought Menchov would pass him for sure, and I half-expected Vandevelde to springboard over him into fourth. He's cinched the Polka Dots, too. What a break out season for him.
Stage Twenty: Étampes to Paris/Champs Élysées — 143 Kilometers
I'm torn between choosing Thor Hushovd, Oscar Freire, or Robbie McEwen to win tomorrow's stage. Hushovd is a strong, heavy rider who does well on the cobbles, which will make up the majority of the finishing loops. He will have his whole team working for him, too, except his main lead-out man, Mark Renshaw, who is out of the race. Oscar Freire is a tricky rider who always finds the right line through a crowd. That could play to his advantage, as there are a few twists and turns in the final kilometer—it's not the type of finish that suits a lead-out train. Now that Mark Cavendish has left the race, Robbie McEwen has the quickest finishing punch. If he can find the right wheel, he can burst across the line for the victory. He doesn't have much help from his team, though, so he could have trouble getting to the front of the peloton to find a good wheel.
After weighing all my considerations, I've got to go green. I'm picking Oscar Freire, current holder of the Green Jersey for best sprinter, to take the win on the Champs Élysées.
Wednesday, July 23rd
Yesterday morning, I started to feel a little tickle in the back of my throat. By the afternoon, it was quite sore, and it pained me to swallow. I decided to skip my run and recuperate by watching five hours of Tour de France coverage. That night, I could barely sleep. I would wake up from the pain of swallowing. By my estimation, I got about two hours of sleep. I went to work this morning, but I was so miserable and it was so hard to concentrate that I went home early. At home, I looked around and found some cold medicine. I took it and finally felt well enough to sleep for about four hours.
Once I got up, I watched a few hours of the Alpe d'Huez stage before I decided I better put in some miles. Nothing clears out a stuffed up head better than a quick jog. Once I got going, I felt great—from the neck down, anyway. In fact, my legs felt so good, I ended up going six miles instead of four. I imagine that skipping both hard workouts this week is why I felt good. Although I'm nervous about how the missed training will affect my big race, it's nice to know that my legs feel thrashed because I've been working hard, not because I've grown weak.
Tuesday's stage did little to upset the GC, other than sending Christian Vande Velde down a few minutes. It looks like the podium has slipped from his grasp. George Hincapie just missed out on a good chance for a stage win when he tailed off the back of the day's winning breakaway.
Today's stage up the Alpe d'Huez was awesome. Although it moved the GC around a little bit, it's still a tight race. Carlos Sastre would have been my pick to win the stage if I hadn't gone to bed early because of a sore throat, but I guess it doesn't count since I didn't post it before I watched the stage. He did manage to get a little more time than I expected, but I don't know if it will be enough to hold of Cadel Evans. In 2006, however, Sastre rode a pretty good second time trial—he only lost 61 seconds to Evans and nine seconds to Menchov. He is just one of those guys who goes well in the third week. If Evans and Menchov are tired, Sastre could keep the Yellow Jersey all the way to Paris.
Vande Velde managed to stay with the group today, but sitting in the overall with 6th place at 4:41 back, I don't see him finishing any higher than fourth. Bernard Kohl and Frank Schleck are both over three minutes ahead of him, but they're the only riders really in reach. Unless Sastre, Menchov, or Evans blow up in the time trial or suffer some setback on the next two stages, I don't see Vande Velde standing on the podium.
Stage Eighteen: Bourg d'Oisans to Saint Étienne — 196.5 Kilometers
With a jagged profile that includes a Category 2 climb 33 kilometers from the finish and a steep Category 4 climb only 8 kilometers from the finish, tomorrow's stage screams breakaway. It's just about impossible to predict a winner on stage like this, as the riders allowed into a breakaway will by domestiques from teams with no highly-placed GC riders. Look for a lot of Bouygues Telecom, Agritubel, Credit Agricole, and Cofidis jerseys to go up the road. With no real clue, I'm going to pick Philippe Gilbert for the win. He's a real headbanger, and if he gets up the road with a small group, he should be able to ride away from them and cruise to victory.