Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Directeur Sportif Can Yell “Go! Go! Go!” in Seventeen Languages

“I can also shout ‘you’re worthless!’ and ‘you’re not getting paid this month!’” proudly proclaims Stein Van der Plorken, Directeur Sportif for the Danish continental squad, Hoonvurp KD.

“Our team is like the goddam UN,” explains Van der Plorken. “In team meetings, when I speak in my native tongue, I get blank stares from most of the room. And don’t even get me started on the friggin’ Kazakhs.

“I know they can understand me, but they still just sit there – making me look like an idiot.”

“He thinks we’re from Uzbekistan or someplace,” explains neo-pro Yurpi Devnichek through a translator. “He’s always shouting some crazy language at us. It sorta sounds like Russian, but Mirka (Tserdignyev) and I are Albanian. Stein thinks if he repeats himself louder and slower, we’ll somehow understand. We have no idea what the hell he’s talking about until Prevak, the soigneur, tells us.

“It’s tense for a moment or two, but it’s kinda fun seeing him get so worked up.”

The demands on his knowledge of languages frustrate Van der Plorken. “When we signed the new kid from Estonia, I about lost it. Great! There’s another 100 Euro I get to spend on RosettaStone just so I can talk to some guy for a couple of months before he quits or we sack him. I should own stock in that goddam software.”

Van der Plorken explains his approach to conversing with such a diverse squad. “It’s impossible to be fluent in all the riders’ languages. I learn the bare minimum just so I can communicate the essentials. Principally, it’s what needs to be said on the road to motivate them. Phrases like ‘go faster or you’re fired!’ tend to be the most effective.

“Another useful phrase is ‘your mommy isn’t here.’

Van der Plorken continues, “I don’t care what country you’re from, everyone understands ‘doping control!’ Man, it’s fun to yell that in the middle of the night and watch them scurry like roaches.

“Take that, you wise-ass Kazakhs.”

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tour de France Caravan Mishap Causes Massive Tchotchke Spill

The Tour de France was marred by an accident today among the parade of vehicles that prelude the racers.

The carnage began when a giant tea kettle failed to note the slowing weird balloon car it was following and plowed into the rear of the ‘vehicle.’

The accident triggered a chain reaction sending some sort of motorized hat and a platform of dancing teens singing about banking into the fray. A wheeled spinning top and a historic Citroen carrying models in kitchen aprons completed the pileup.

Though no serious injuries were reported, the accident sent a tchotchke volume “of cataclysmic proportions” spilling into the roadway.

French haz-mat teams (Response Hazard Français) were immediately dispatched to the scene to contain the spill and begin the laborious clean up of thousands of pointless novelties—crappy keychains, magnets, and other “bizarre twisty thingys.”

“We couldn’t figure out what those damn things were,” explains RHF captain Christophe L’Amont. “But needless to say, no-one wanted to touch them. I’m glad we had the tongs.”

Witnesses describe a scene of chaos and panic. “When the first dumb little novelty pen landed at my feet, I feared the worst and screamed ‘Omigod! No!’ when my daughter reached to pick it up,” recounts visiting American, Steve Burress.

“I quickly swept her up and climbed to higher ground to escape the toxic flood. She was sad at first for not getting the pen, but she’ll thank me later for sparing her the grief of realizing it’s worthless crap.”

The French emergency response teams made short order of the spill clean up to ensure that the race was not delayed. “We got to use some special equipment we’ve picked up in anticipation of just such a mishap,” explains L’Amont. “Looks like the snow shovels and Hefty trash bags were pretty good investments after all.”

“It was absolute merde that no-one in their right mind would assign any value to whatsoever. Some marketing geniuses dream those up—just so that it can all now choke our landfills.”

Due to the volume, however, “we couldn’t get it all,” continues L’Amont. “We just did what we could to keep the race schedule. We’ll have to go back to truly assess the environmental impact and the long-term effects of the disaster. It’s imperative to understand the ramifications of such an event and properly educate the public.

“In terms of importance, it’s probably a close second to global warming.”

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bob Roll Fractures Fingers, Wrist Explaining Sprint

In his trademark gesticulations, Bob Roll injured his hands recently as he described the sprint capping off the Tour of Flanders.

In his patently passionate mannerisms, as his hands flailed, they inadvertently collided, fracturing Roll’s little “pinkie” and ring finger of his left hand as well as his right wrist.

With both hands now immobilized in casts, it was originally feared that Roll would be rendered mute and therefore unable to fulfill his duties as a commentator on Versus.

Fellow commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen expressed concern.

“Like a torn ligament to a cyclist, this type of injury can be devastating to a commentator’s career – especially to someone of Bob’s…er,…'style',” explains Sherwen. “He’s like an Italian grandmother on speed. If you’re within an arm’s length of Bob when he starts explaining a race, if you’re not careful, you could lose an eye.”

Roll is confident in a full recovery. “I’ll be alright. I’ll just have to talk a little bit slower and softer for a while. It’ll be hard – especially with Paris-Roubaix coming up, but I think I can manage.”

Roll was then suddenly distracted by a video of the recent Ghent-Wevelgem finale and showered the room with splintering fiberglass – shattering both casts as he began to explain the race dynamics.

‘Popemobile’ Commissioned for Tour de France Commissaire

In an effort to view Tour de France proceedings better and more comfortably, chief race commissaire, Philippe Dufault, has ordered the delivery of a purpose-built vehicle from which to oversee the event. Early renderings of the design bear a striking resemblance to the so-called ‘Popemobile.’

“I’m tired of sticking my head through the sunroof of a Peugeot like a goddam gopher,” complains Dufault. “I’m the freaking Chief Commissaire, and I’m standing up in a sedan like a drunk teen on prom night, getting my hair messed up and bugs in my teeth.”

“It’s disgraceful. I’ve had enough,” continues Dufault. “I finally figured if the Pope can have a sweet ride, then certainly the Tour Commissaire deserves one too.”

La Toussuire Coachworks has been commissioned to build the special car. Gilbert Gramont of LTC explains, “It’s an unusual request, but we are more than happy to build this one-of-a-kind vehicle.”

Besides providing nearly 360-degrees of unobstructed viewing, Gramont describes some of the car’s other special features. “It’s mostly glass – basically a big fishbowl – so we were a little surprised by his request to include a toilet and bidet, but hey, who are we to judge? Whatever he wants, we’ll build it.”

Dufault defends the unusual accoutrements. “The stages are long, and as with the riders, nature calls. I’ll gladly forego a little privacy rather than stop and dash over a hedge, behind a rock wall, or be subjected to the indignity of a porta-potty. Ewww.”

“If I do this, I’m going big. I don’t plan on giving up my post anytime soon, so I want it to have as many creature comforts as possible,” continues Dufault. “I may even add a mini-bar.”

Asked if his car might be confused with the actual ‘Popemobile,’ Dufault is unapologetic. “It’s fine if people think I’m the Pope. If they want to get down on their knees and bow to me, throw roses and the like, that’s fine. Frankly, I deserve that sort of respect anyway.”

La Toussuire Coach plans to base the vehicle on the chassis of a BMW X5, “but that’s where the similarity ends,” Gramont continues. Besides the passenger dome, “Dufault wants some engine modifications as well. We’re not sure exactly what they are, though, as his direction to ‘build something that hauls ass’ was a little vague.

“I think if we just put some loud pipes and bitchin’ spinners on it, he’ll be happy.”

Friday, April 10, 2009

Cycling's Sages: Age and Guile beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut*

Armstrong. Hincapie. Leipheimer. Voigt. McEwen. Just a few of cycling’s elder statesmen that are still mixing it up and dishing it out in what is supposed to be the twilight of their careers.

Cycling, like any sport, is one in which a pro’s successes – and ability to remain competitive – are largely a function of how old (or young) they are. All of the aforementioned cyclists are 35 or older and still racing. And winning.

Armstrong, until his recent collarbone fracture, was an instrumental lieutenant in Leipheimer’s Tour of California victory. Oh, and let’s not forget about his plans to make a run at the Giro as well as the Tour this year (despite his accident, he still may). George Hincapie claims to be as strong as ever, and has his sights on the spring classics – notably the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Jens Voigt just cleaned up at the Criterium International, and Robbie McEwen is still one of the top sprinters. And until recently, you could include the likes of Zabel, Cipollini, and the ever-present Ekimov as contenders.

So what gives? What’s with these comparative codgers still enjoying the top ranks of the sport? Ah, these wise sages – the Yodas of pro cycling if you will – have done enough Tours of duty to know that the sport is as much about mental savvy as athletic prowess. What subtle indications betray a particular rider’s fitness (or lack thereof)? What moves to chase? Whose wheel to follow? When to time your attack?

At this level, and frankly, at their age, the ability to perform is as much about energy conservation as it is about energy reserves (strength). It is the knowledge of how to preserve what precious little there is in the tank and exactly when to floor it and cross the line on fumes. Also, having another ten years of training and racing at the sport’s top level over the ranks of young bucks hasn’t hurt. All the while under the careful direction of their battalion of directeurs, doctors, coaches, nutritionists, midwives, rhinoplasty surgeons, and astrological advisors.

Are these masters-level cyclists the only ones winning? Hardly. There is strong pressure from the undergrad ranks to make sure that any potential fish head is mercilessly jettisoned from the peloton before it even has the chance to stink. Any bearded, bespectacled, trudging post-doc, though admired for their accomplishments – some of which pre-date the birth dates of the rising class – come race day, are scrutinized for any weakness, and ground up and spit out like chaff at the first sign of cracking.

However, the names mentioned are giving off no indications of foul odor, nor would appear to anytime soon. Quite the contrary. But are they the exception to the norm? Perhaps. They didn’t get to where they are without being meticulous perfectionists, mastering both the nuances of live-fire races and rigorous training regimens. They have much to teach, and those their junior have much to learn regarding their approaches to success.

Much has already been written regarding Armstrong’s return to the sport and what it portends. Some liken the current Astana lineup as a tinderbox destined to spontaneously combust. Surely, so many superstars on one team can only spell disaster. Witness the late T-Mobile team of 2005 boasting a trifecta of Tour podium contenders in Ullrich, Vinokourov, and Klöden. The infighting destroyed the hopes for any of them. With so many individual agendas, the result was foretold and obvious to everyone – apparently save for the team management and sponsors.

With Astana, I am not so naïve to not realize that this year’s Tour is shaping up to be a dramatic soap opera. Will Armstrong make good on his overtures to work for Contador, or will the whole story unravel like the infamous Hinault-LeMond duel of 1986? Teammates in jersey only with faux smiles and stilted, uncomfortable congratulations?

If Contador has any sense, he’ll look at Armstrong’s presence not as a potential threat to his GC chances, but as an opportunity to learn from (arguably) the sport’s greatest. Even if Armstrong pulls an Hinault and goes for personal glory, my advice to Contador borders on Zen: Study. Learn. Practice. Master. Wear clean underwear. Respect your elders.

If you’re going to get schooled, get schooled by cycling’s sensei. There’s no shame in it, and the lesson will serve you for years to come…so you may ultimately pass your wisdom of the ruthless ranks of the pro peloton on to your own understudies someday.

Ultimately, the declining physical ability of those highlighted here (and this is by far from an exhaustive list) will more than offset any advantage provided by their mental acuity and they will fade from their present glory. But until then, they have a lot left to teach, the younger ranks have much to learn, and we have an incredible amount of awesome cycling to enjoy.

*With apologies to P.J. O’Rourke, whose book of the same name is pure genius and should be required reading of all who are literate.

Row over ‘Safety Bicycle’ Causes Buttocks Baring

The appearance of a newfangled “safety bicycle” in Wumbler Square last Saturday afternoon caused quite a stir. Several nearby penny-farthing riders took notable offense.

“I was atop my lov’ly penny when I observed some contemptuous rapscallions bandying about with a so-called ‘safety bike,’” quoteth Sir Langley Winchester III of Tuppence Row. “Abominations, I say!”

Winchester’s opine was roundly lauded with an uproarious “Hear, hear!” from none other than notable socialite E. Oliver Farnsworth (of his namesake’s goose quill fortune and fame).

Other members of The Pottsdam High-Wheel Flyers, the sporting club in which messrs Winchester and Farnsworth are members, are similarly bemused by these curiously contrived cousins to the velocipede.

Winford Goodfellow observes, “The velo was rendered obsolete by the arrival of the grand high wheel. That these bastard half-brother contraptions should appear at their wake is most troubling to those of us who would rather see society advance than…than…the opposite of advance. Humph.

This stern dismissal of the odd-looking “safety” elicited another hearty “Hear, hear!” from Farnsworth.

“Those street urchins and their wretched machine are an affront to cultured bicycle enthusiasts. Why, they aren’t even wearing proper derbies,” added Winchester. “Let them return it to the sewers from which it—and they—emerged.”

“Hear, hear!”

Timmy Doogan, apparent possessor of the peculiar “safety” was heard to comment, “Those high wheelers on their high horses, they think they're so keen. What a bunch of knebbish walfoonies. They wouldn’t know a great new invention if it nibbled on their hindquarters, the stoogie gompers!”

With that, Doogan appeared to be adjusting his trousers when he suddenly exposed his knickers in the direction of the high-wheel riders, one of whom was so distracted by the outrageous scene, he toppled—narrowly escaping grievous injury from the six-foot fall, his impact cushioned by horse manure.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Cat 4 Racer Snubs Cat 5 “Losers”

Jonathan Knopff has held a USCF racing license since the early-nineties, and since then, “He’s raced the bare minimum to maintain his Cat 4 status,” complains Toby Mercer. “He’ll enter just as many races as required to keep his Cat 4 rank – just so he can thumb his nose at us Cat 5 guys.”

Knoff justifies his stance. “Back in the day, Cat 4 was where you started. It was the bloody trenches where you made a name for yourself. Then they introduced this loser class a few years back for those weenies that can’t even make Cat 4,” explains Knopff. “Pathetic.”

“Jon rides with the club with an air about him like his sh*t doesn’t stink – all because he’s got a Cat 4 license,” continues Mercer. “The only reason he’s able to hang onto it is because he’s ‘grandfathered.’ How apropos. That guy could be my grandfather. Only my grampa would be a Cat 3 or 2 by now.”

“He won’t even talk to Cat 5 guys,” Mercer adds. “He treats us like we’re untouchables or something – like we’re carrying parasites or the plague.”

“Those guys are just jealous,” explains Knopff. “The truth is, I’ve worked my ass off and can ride them off my wheel any day. They’re proud of having a Cat 5 license? Congratulations, lame-oids. You can balance on two wheels and breathe at the same time. Whoopee! That’s worth noting when you’re five. Not so much when you’re 35.”

Knopff continues, “Now, you just send in your check to get your little wallet card and window decal. Not like when you had to include a pint of blood and a tooth with your license application like I did.”

What about next year – when he will share his Cat 4 class with a good portion of the Cat 5 racers he currently spurns? “We’ll see if they can hack the big leagues (of Cat 4 racing). I’ll bet a lot of these guys head back to the pillow-soft comfort of Cat 5. In that case, they might as well go back to their thumb and blankie.”
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