Sunday, July 25, 2010
It's been a few days since I wrote anything here, and I think it's because I've been feeling so many things watching the Tour, too many to convey in words. This year's Tour has been stunning. It's over, and I have a lump in my throat.
Apparently Contador and Andy Schleck really are friends, so the drama, the anger, the quest for revenge was that much more powerful. Such a rivalry. So enthralling, and now it's in the books. Next year, Andy Schleck may just win the whole thing. After that terrible gearing problem, which had Andy dropping back, there was the climactic Col du Tourmalet where he kept trying to shake Contador off his wheel, but couldn't quite do it, and Contador gave him the stage win. Who of us bike riders hasn't slipped a chain due to poor gearing going uphill? Then, in the time trial, Schleck almost got the better of Contador--both of them so tired, but Schleck had the edge--a chip on his shoulder, something to prove. Still, Contador was the superior time trialist, and he fought the exhaustion and gained time during the stage, and beat Schleck. But not by so very much. If Schleck had had better weather on the road in the prologue, he might have won the Tour.
Watching Radioshack on the podium for the team championship, we see that Lance has a bit of a tear in his eye. This is his last Tour, and he knows it.
It's all so wonderful. No sport is more majestic, asks more from its competitors. The great length of the Grand Tour means that many stories unspool from the wheels, as the gorgeous panoramas wind away into history. The commentators, some of whom have been doing it for 30-plus years, are the most poetic of any sport, because poetry is simply the nature of the race. I would like to rhapsodize further about it, to convince those who think I'm crazy to care so much about this sport, this race. But maybe you'll watch one stage of the race this year, or this final stage again, which airs on the West Coast at 5pm, and the fever will catch you. Once it does, you've got it for life. Or maybe you'll start riding your own bike and remember that feeling of freedom, and it will get under your skin, change who you are, how you think of yourself. It happened to me.
I can't convince you. But if your mind is open, check out the highlights reel on Versus.
Long live the Tour! Long live cycling!
Now I'm off to find ways to deal with my post-partum depression.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
These helicopter shots in the Pyrenees are worth the price of admission! My kingdom for a large flatscreen HD TV! I'm watching the mountaintop fans, dubbed "the shmengies" (sic) by Bob Roll, and thinking how fast one gets drunk in this kind of altitude. Are they drinking kirsch, brandy, white Bordeaux (mostly Sauvignon Blanc grapes, in case you were wondering)? What kind of BBQ food do they eat there? It can't all be fondue!
What vertiginous descents into Pau! It's views like this that made Graham Watson's career! (Official photographer of the Tour, that's who he is.)
The casual question, "What will we do for our 20th wedding anniversary next year?" has yielded a slam-dunk of an answer--"We'll go see the Tour!" We could bike through Paris on those Velib rentals. Apparently Paris is now just chockablock with bike lanes! We did it in Rome (no helmets, to our shame--we had assimilated the local attitude, and now I will surely get some ribbing from my friends here who may think of me as a bit of a helmet-fascist). And then we could head down into the Pyrenees.
I love the way none of the commentators can agree about what Contador did yesterday when Schleck popped his chain. Should he have waited for Schleck and then take his win fair and square? You can tell from my question what I think. As my husband Stoney said, Contador never fails to do something a bit douchey. He's becoming the rider we love to hate. And then he made an apology claiming he didn't know what was happening. Liars are without honor, Pistolero. Go, Schleck!
Today Lance got into the breakaway and actually sprinted at the finish! A game effort, but to no avail. It was great to watch--another chance to shout at the TV. I'm guessing our neighbors might be starting to wonder what we are up to in the mornings in July. I'm watching his group stampede to catch that lone leader, poor Carlos Barredo. This is great stuff!
It must be the last week of the Tour because yet again a coworker asked me, "Isn't that over?" and I tried not to bark, "It's 3 weeks long, just as it's been for 100 years or so." Sorry I am such a bike geek. But July is about the Tour, and I'm never getting over my Tour Fever.
Tomorrow is the last rest day, though, and so I'll be jonesing for some Tour action and wonder what the heck I am supposed to do with myself once it's over. I know I'll have plenty to do--training at Zuma, boogie boarding, trying new cocktails, going to Cabo, trying new Tequila cocktails, buying silver earrings, raising money for Children's Hospital Los Angeles, tackling the unbelievable volume of work chez The Mouse. But the Tour is like summer camp. You love it, you make new friends, and it's sad when it's ending, and after it's done, you miss it for a while.
My fingernails and toenails are yellow now. What color will I paint them after the Tour?
And if we go to France in the summer for the Tour, does that mean we can't go to Italy in March? That would not be so good. Hmmmmm....
Thursday is the last Pyrenees stage--big steep mountaintop finish--expect fireworks. Then the final flat sprinting stage into Bordeaux. Cavendish versus Thor Hushovd, Petacchi and the other fast-twitch muscle boys. Then the long time trial through the fanciest Bordeaux vineyards--Chateaux Margaux, anyone? And finally the long victory lap stage into Paris--probably it will be Contador sipping champagne from the team car with his manager and teammates--and onto the circuit from the Louvre, along the Champs Elysee, and Place de la Concorde. Even if you don't care at all about cycling, watch that last set of circuits. It's gorgeous, the culmination of 3 weeks of drama and pageantry rivaling the most lavish Medieval courts. And I bet you'll see Mark Cavendish win it, always good for a last shot of adrenaline.
Just 4 precious days left.
Vive le Tour! Vive la France!
A demain, o, peut-etre, plus tard!
Monday, July 19, 2010
OMG-Andy Schleck just popped his chain off when he was about to attack Contador and potentially drop him, and now he's behind during the descent. Bad luck!
But yesterday I raced a sprint triathlon in Oxnard, CA. The swim was short, but through the surf line, with waves breaking only just beyond us, and I was in a sardine-pack of neoprene-clad women. Breast-stroked and backstroked and caught 2 waves one after the other, and found myself standing up on sand. Ran up the beach a quarter mile to the transition area and after a very slow transition, aka jamming on socks, sunglasses, bike shoes, gloves and helmet (next time, no gloves!) I rode a 12-mile flat course through strawberry fields--the wonderful aroma! I love how racing just makes you faster than you thought you could be--17.4 mph on the bike, which is really fast for me! And a run through some pretty little beachside homes, getting sprayed with water by nice homeowners--not at my fastest running pace, but I haven't been running enough lately. On the bike, I enjoyed cornering, inner knee pointing at the corner, just like I've been seeing almost every day watching the Tour.
We did all that by around 10:00am. And then I ate Eggs Benedict, which I had earned, sort of.
Can't wait to see if Schleck can beat Contador tomorrow. Revenge! As Contador puts on the yellow jersey, the fans are booing him for attacking when his rival had a mechanical, which is not the gentlemanly thing to do, and this is a gentleman's sport! Contador loves to do the wrong thing in order to win. Other teams will be attacking him and Astana tomorrow, maybe just for this breach of etiquette. Will be fun to watch.
Vive le Tour!
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Watching Stage 13 for the second time and building up to packing for the triathlon tomorrow. I took a look at tomorrow's route, which is a big Pyrenees stage and ends almost in Spain.
It has me thinking about a trip I'd like to take someday when I have the cash. A trip that would include some biking, some watersports along the Costa Brava in Spain, and a dinner at El Bulli, purported to be one of the best restaurants in the world. The dishes in the photo above were made there. I think it was an episode of Bourdain that planted the seeds of this dream. Molecular gastronomy, that kind of cuisine that seems to be alchemy meets modern art. I must try it. And I understand the Costa Brava is a great place to windsurf. That would be great to try again, now that I'm kind of an athlete.
It looks like it's going to be a clash of the titans between Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador, and a fight for third place, which I hope Levi Leipheimer will win. Just one more week and loads of drama to come. And maybe Lance will treat us all to watching him win a stage. What a great way to go out. Menchov, the dark horse who won the Giro in 2009, could try something special.
Meanwhile, I will continue entering my daily code words in the Cadillac Lead the Pack Sweepstakes and spin that wheel and land on "Sorry Try Again". By now I should have at least won a Cadillac water bottle, or a sweatband or cheesy tire gauge, or something like that. But, of course, what I really want is the trip to the 2011 Tour. My grand prize will probably be spam.
Apparently Gerard Depardieu owns a vineyard in this area, and in its first year, the grapes were harvested by journalists. This part of France was actually Spain until 1659, and it is part of Catalonia. The culture becomes a bit Spanish here. Makes me crave paella.
Can Contador drop Schleck in the mountains? We may find out tomorrow. I'll be lying down after my tri.
Go Team Disney!
Vive le Tour! A demain!
Friday, July 16, 2010
Tyler Farrar is out of the Tour! That means 2 of my fantasy cycling team are not there. I had Mark Renshaw, too! Renshaw was thrown out for cutting off Farrar in yesterday's sprint. He also head-banged Julian Dean. Never seen that before!
All those crashes at the beginning, and loads of bad luck. Too bad, boys—it just won't be as interesting without you. Of course, looking at the upcoming killer mountain stages in the Pyrenees, maybe you are lucky.
Today's stage is the steepest of all of them just at the end--14 percent grade climbs in spots up into Mende.
This is a rural area, part of the Massif Central--a mountainous area in the center of France, and it is part of the Lanquedoc, an area where the local people still speak Occitaine, or Provencal, a romance language that is not French. It's the language that Eleanor of Acquitane spoke. In the Massif Central there are tiny villages and lovely spas, and you can kayak and rock climb. The forests here are deep and lush.
Looking ahead, there are some truly gnarly stages in the Pyrenees, but today, just at the end, it's so steep, that they are just dropping off the back. What a rough tour!
Vive le Tour! Vive la France!
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Today we leave the Alps and return to a more conventional stage--one big hill, easing down into the flats, which should yield a sprint. We move from Sisteron in Provence, to Bourg les Valence in the Rhone Valley.
The heat looks intolerable, and when I started watching this morning, I saw several riders running ice packs along their arms and necks, and then stuffing them down the backs of their jerseys. Apparently some of them go into ice baths at the end of each stage, but the hotels are not, as a rule, air conditioned, and with the humidity, the nights are muggy, and it's hard to sleep. You'd think the finest cyclists in the world would get at least 3-star accommodations, but I've seen the hotel room photos they are posting, and they seem to be staying in youth hostels. Robbie Hunter the sprinter cracked an elbow and is out of the Tour, so there goes one of our greatest sprinters. His team, Garmin, has been very hard-hit this year. Christian Vandevelde is now home in Chicago with some cracked ribs and a shiner. He was meant to be their captain. Now they are all about the sprint stages and Tyler Farrar. I hope he wins today, but Cav has his groove on, and so he's favored to win his third stage in this year's tour.
The vistas in this stage look like paintings by Cezanne--the gently-angled terra cotta roofs, stone villages along rivers, and if you squint, the whole effect takes on an ancient Greek and Roman look. Indeed, this part of France was settled first by Greeks, then conquered by Romans, and you can see the profiles of ancient Roman towns in the stunning overhead shots--a curved amphiteater now covered with houses here and there, and the relentless Roman grid. Nice itself was founded by the Greeks and was called Nikopolis. This is the land of wonderful rosé, aioli, salade nicoise, and seafood. The riders pass through fields of sunflowers like those painted by Van Gogh. You really have to visit this part of the world.
When I first visited the South of France with my Mom, our guide, a lady from Menton said that when the Romans conquered here, they promised all kinds of improvement--a great deal of this conquering was less about fighting and more about a show of force, negotiation, offers of benefits of Roman citizenship. Anyway, the Romans didn't exactly come through, and instead tooks lots of taxes and tribute, and she said, the French are still mad about it. Gotta love the French.
Dude, what is the deal with Jonathan Vaughters outfit? (He is the director sportif of team Garmin and is visiting the commentators in the booth.) he's got razor-cut sideburns like early Captain Kirk, and is wearing a flowered blue and white shirt. The overall effect is like Elvis wearing a couch. Whack.
Well, back to rhapsodizing about the South of France. It really is everything it's cracked up to be. Those Impressionists knew a good thing when they saw it. Rose from the region of Tavel is almost always good, sometimes great. The picture above shows how to serve it. Not on ice, chilled but when you open it, just put it out on the table outside, and pour away. Looks beautiful with sunshine in the glass. Ahhhhh.
Congrats to Sergio Paulinho of Team Radioshack for an exciting stage win yesterday. Another one that had us shouting at the TV. The peloton is about to catch the 3 riders in the breakaway now, so the sprinters will start to cue up. Here we go!
Vive le Tour! Vive la France!
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Happy Bastille Day, everyone!
If you ever want to learn about Bastille Day, Christopher Hibbert, my favorite historical writer, wrote a gripping blow by blow account, sparing no bloody detail, called The Days of the French Revolution. My Mom and I read it to each other on my first trip to Paris, and I'll never forget how it made those events come to life. Nowadays, I love to be reading a great history book about wherever I'm traveling, or even a piece of historical fiction. Hibbert has some amazing ones. The guy was incredibly prolific. My next of his to read will be about the Borgias--before the Showtime series starts in 2011. Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia, aka Pope Alexander VI--can't wait!!!
Today as I watch the Tour, it looks like everyone is just baking. You can't underestimate the effect of temperature and climate on cycling. I remember biking around Bermuda in July and the heat and humidity made rough work of hills and distances that in L.A. were a breeze.
Gorgeous descent at the moment now on the TV, about 50 miles out--gradual climb with snow-dusted peaks in the distance. Today's stage commemorates the addition of the Savoy region to France in 1860, and the route runs along Napoleon's road back from exile in Elba to rule again as Emperor in Paris.
If you ever get a chance to visit Elba, do it! Very pretty island with lovely old harbors, great hills for cyclists who like to climb, and nice beaches. But if you do visit Elba and go to Napoleon's villa--a must--you'll see how ridiculous it was to "exile" this guy here. He built a house festooned everywhere with his imperial 'N's. From his back veranda he could see every ship coming into Porto Ferraio. I believe the island was still a working iron mine when he was living there. I don't know where he got his money, but that house is massive and had its own sunken bath. So you send this guy who clearly has major ambitions and leadership skills to a place with great harbors, a ship-building industry, and a working iron mine. What do you think is going to happen? Of course, he ended up running the place, and it wasn't long before he was planning his comeback.
At any rate, today for food, it would be good to try a Fondue Savoyarde, made with cheese from the local Savoy folk, and apparently this pairs quite well with Rosé de Loire, a rosé that comes from the Loire valley. Normally I like rosé from the Cote d'Azur, especially in summer, because it's fun to taste the way the flavors change from chilled to a bit warmer with the bottle out on a table in the back yard. Rosé should not be sweet, unless that's what you like. I think the best rosé is pretty dry, and has notes of watermelon, strawberry, apple cider--yum! Please, if you value your taste buds, don't drink white Zinfandel--it is almost always gnarly--like cough medicine. Try some French rosé from Provence or the Cote d'Azur. Delicious with fruit, salad nicoise, cheese, whatever is light and summery. Enjoy this lovely season!
Vive le Tour!
A demain o après demain!
Sunday, July 11, 2010
If you haven't heard, read, or watched yet today, Lance Armstrong cracked in the Alps, and his hopes to win the Tour this year, or indeed, ever again were dashed.
Yes, it was bad luck because he crashed 3 times today, the worst of the 3 sending him skidding on the tarmac at 60 odd kilometers per hour. He bloodied his knee, his elbow, shredded the back of his jersey, and tore his shorts. The team worked hard to get him back up in the group, but at a certain point, after one more little crash, he began slipping backward. By the base of the last climb, he was too far back to recover.
Yes, Armstrong did have a shot at the prize this year. But through a series of bad breaks, we never got to see what he could do. It all came down to a couple of flat tires. Makes you realize what good luck he had in order to win the Tour 7 times.
Time to contemplate mortality, fate, and the passing away of things. We all age and we must adjust our goals as we travel inevitably forward through time. The old gives way to the new, and things are lost and gained at every moment. For Lance, it's over. An era in American cycling ended today.
Now we have to watch all those less-than-great Radioshack spots over and over as the Tour goes on, and feel the loss each time.
Lance has already said he'll stay on to support his teammate Levi Leipheimer, who now sits in 8th place on the GC, and looks ready to rumble. Contador didn't have that old pop in his legs today when Andy Schleck, the best young rider, zipped off the front to win the stage. And Australian Cadel Evans (known as "The Hobbit" in our house) also crashed early today, so as he put on the yellow jersey, he looked visibly pained, if mollified.
We're only in the Alps. We still have the flats to go, and then the Pyrenees, Bordeaux, the penultimate time trial stage, and finally, the victory stage into Paris, and the big sprint finish on the Champs Elysee. It's going to be a great race. And yes, I'm now watching the pre-show of the World Cup final, which should be very exciting, too.
But just for now, take some time to acknowledge what you have in this very moment. Enjoy it, appreciate it, because nothing lasts forever. And yes, what goes away leaves room for other great stuff. But it won't be quite the same stuff. So love it all while you've got it.
Go Lance. Ride'em, Cowboy, into the sunset.
Vive le Tour! A mardi!
Friday, July 9, 2010
After handily winning the sprint, Cavendish stood atop the podium in happy tears. One of the things I love about this sport is that it so fires the passions of the riders that from time to time a winner will stand in triumph weeping like a beauty pageant contestant. Cav has that fierce little boy face. Such a sparkplug of a character.
Yesterday's stage started in Epernay, and the team cars rode out over the Boulevard de Champagne, which is over a massive cave housing more than 20k bottles of the stuff. Today they finish in Gueugnon, in Burgundy, a place which is famous for its beef. This is the longest stage of them all this year.
With that nice Charolais beef, made into a Boeuf Bourguignon, I would love to try a bottle of Domaine Armand Rousseau Clos St. Jacques--a nice big Burgundy red. Burgundy, is the part of France the race traverses today. Burgundy was an area that could very easily be its own nation today. It retained its independence from the French crown until the time of Louis XIV. The famous snail dish made with garlic, butter and parsley comes from Burgundy, and here you can find the richest selection of cheeses in France. Lots of overhead shots of rolling pastures and medieval villages. Wine country is always great bike-riding country.
Looks like Team HTC are angling to get Cav another victory as they climb through the rolling hills and forests about 20 miles from the finish line. Go Cav!!!
Vive le Tour! Vive la France!
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Pop the bubbly today, because the boys finish in Reims, the capital of the Champagne region. And here's the place to tell you, if you don't already know, that champagne is not a style of wine, it is a place, so there is no such thing as American, Italian, or German champagne. Champagne is only champagne if it comes from this part of France. Prosecco, which I prefer to champagne, is also only Prosecco if it's from a certain region of Northern Italy. If it's from America and it's fizzy wine, call it sparkling, or spumante. But don't call it champagne or Prosecco. And if you must have champagne, have Veuve Clicquot.
The thing about French wine in general is that it's labeled by the place it's from, not for what is in it. Chateu Neuf de Pape, for example, is from the Pope's new Chateau, in that part of Avignon where the French popes lived in the 1300s. That is when it was "new"—before the Black Plague showed up in Europe. And the French Popes, no dummies, took over a lot of Avignon's booming wine business then. Funny times, the middle ages. You could get rich from salt, from wool, from wine. Anyway, you already have to know what's in certain types of French wine to know what you are getting. Chateau Neuf de Pape is a Rhone-style wine, which means it will have the grape varietals Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah, and possibly other local grapes.
Champagne will typically have Chardonnay grapes, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes. The process of making Champagne is expensive and time-consuming. The French government regulates their wine industry by establishing formulas and procedures. If a wine maker doesn't use these formulas and procedures, they could be sanctioned. Champagne is usually made from grapes of various years, unlike most other French wine. In this region they have wonderful sausage, called "andouillettes," (see above) Ardennes ham and trout. Yummy.
Well, back to cycling. Yesterday I was not happy to see Lance slip backward due to a flat, but I jumped up and down and cheered when he pulled his way back over the cobbles through the dust to finish only 50 seconds behind Contador. This isn't good for him, but the war isn't lost. Contador showed himself to be ready for the cobblestones, over which he had never raced before. Very sorry to see Frank Schleck crash out with a broken collarbone.
Today's stage is much more typical of week one on the tour—lovely rolling hills, fields, grapes, flats. Reading about this region makes me really want to do a bike tour here. Hopefully it will end in a good old sprint and we can finally see what Tyler Farrar, our American sprinter, can do against Mark Cavendish these days. Enough with changes due to bad luck. Let's see skill emerge.
Reims is where French kings have been crowned since the 11th century. Joan of Arc saw her Dauphin crowned here. The Cathedral (above) is called Notre Dame, and it is a particular fine example of the Gothic. The champagne region is also known for its Romanesque timber churches. (See above.) Lovely place.
Still a few miles to go. Stay strong, boys. The Alps are only a few days away!
Vive le Tour!
Monday, July 5, 2010
So yesterday, we biked from Silver Lake to Playa del Rey, taking a spin through Venice. So much to see. Beautiful tanned bodies, bikinis, dogs, bright colors, summer straw fedoras and hipster shades. A feast for the eyes. Great fun with friends at their wonderland in Playa del Rey, and then back up along the bike lane on Venice Blvd., flying up the incline to come briefly to rest for a view of the Hollywood Bowl fireworks show at Arden and Beverly. Fantastic show, free, and better with a touch of biking adrenalin courtesy of some Independence Day drunkards behind the wheel.
And today, we walked from our house down to Chinatown for some classic Chinese-American cuisine at Hop Louie, then on to check out the Grand Central Market, then a drink on the rooftop bar of the Standard poolside--the views better than the bartending, but whatever, and finally, an L.A. Metro ride up to Sunset and Vermont and hoofing it along Hollywood and Sunset through Sunset Junction to the Thirsty Crow for some fantastic cocktails. What a place! Their Aviation has Maraschino cherry liqueur and creme de violette!
And now for the Tour. Too many crashes again today on a classics course, which riled up the riders enough to make them soft-pedal through the arrivee, aka, the finish line. Levi Leipheimer wondering aloud if the intention today on the part of the race organizers was to see the riders bleed. These guys are tough. If they are saying stuff like that, it's because today's course was beyond carnage. Not nice. Bummer of a day again, but dramatic. Cobbles tomorrow. Should be even more brutal. Today, most of Garmin, one of my favorite teams, crashed and Vandevelde's hopes might be completely dashed, again, this year. Poor Christian. Such a neat guy. Wondering if both Schleck brothers are really OK. Wonderful to watch them both pull themselves back up into the race. Such a gentleman's sport, again. Race organizers should be kinder to the riders. The Tour is tough enough. I mean, it's 3 weeks of riding at top speed. Come on!
And yes, someday I'd love to bike through the Ardennes in Belgium and finish a long ride in Spa, where an old Roman baths has been made into a modern resort. A hot soak, cool pool, and then a massage. Lovely place with great food, I understand. And that hearty delicious Belgian beer. And chocolate. Belgian chocolate. Mmmmmm.
Vive le Tour!
Sunday, July 4, 2010
What a lot of fuster cluck in this race at the end of today's stage. But you gotta love Alessandro Petacchi running like a greyhound to the line, although I was so hoping Tyler Farrar would be flying the Stars and Stripes from the top of the podium. No Cav, neither. Such an unpredictable race, and clearly the peloton is super-twitchy with the big rivalries and lots of new blood firing up the nerves.
Anyway, welcome to Brussels, where you can eat like a king--moules-frites, which is mussels and french fries rolled together in newpaper so you can walk around with it. Fries with mayonnaise, to help your arteries. Belgian waffles are also walking around food. And, of course, there is the beer. And if you are the King of Belgium, you also get to hang out with cycling legend Eddy Merckx. It's good to be the king.
Tomorrow some cobbles and hopefully not so much craziness.
Vive le Tour!
Saturday, July 3, 2010
So, Fabian Cancellara won handily, as expected, and looked fantastic! Go, Fabulous Fabian!!!
And, check this, Pistolero--Lance beat yo ass!
Go, Lance! Go, Levi!
And hey, Tyler Farrar could end up in yellow if he does well in the sprint finish tomorrow!
This stage surpassed everything we hoped for!
Vive le Tour!!!
The Versus broadcast will start in 20 minutes, and there is so much to anticipate. But what to say? Can Lance Armstrong win the Tour for the 8th time on his last try? We won't know until the final time trial, I suspect.
But today's stage, an 8.9 time trial around Rotterdam on wide boulevards and over the Erasmus bridge, will most likely go to Fabian Cancellara, the time trialist from Switzerland with the huge diesel engine. Love that guy. The Italians, by the way, gladly claim him as their own, as both his parents grew up along the Adriatic.
Tomorrow is the first of 2 cobbled stages, which should be chaotic and thoroughly dramatic. Contador, the favorite to win the tour, has never raced on cobbles. I hope it rains. I want to see the faces of the peloton wet and a bit muddy. Sorry, guys, but you all look so good and old school TDF like that!
This Tour, I'd love to see George Hincapie win a stage again. He is the heart and soul of the peloton, and is at this moment the American road racing champion, so on this 4th of July weekend, as he will all Tour long, he sports the stars and stripes on his jersey. Go, Captain America! He's the guy who goes out in the wind speeding up the whole peloton in order to put the hurt on his team's competitors. The wind batters him, but he grinds away, having trained for this, and he's thrilled to do it. He's the lead out man at the beginning of the train who, in the past, helped Manx sprinter Mark Cavendish to so many Tour stage victories.
Oh my, I am just tingling, and a little bit weepy. What is it about this grand old sport? This magnificent race? It's heroism, pure and searing. That's what lives every year at the Tour. Quite a thing to see.
Got up, walked up to the 7-11 (team 7-11!) to buy orange juice and cheap American bubbly, then to LAMill for a super-pricey latte and 2 croissants. They didn't have pain au chocolat, so I'm improvising with Nutella. Ever the Italophile, me!
All right, boys, fire it up! I'm ready to cheer you on!
8 minutes to go.
Vive la France! Vive le Tour!
Friday, July 2, 2010
- Chalk inspiring message in Lance Yellow on sidewalk in front of house.
- Get toenails and fingernails painted “maillot jaune” yellow.
- Set up both daily Versus shows on DVR, adding 5 minutes to beginning and 30 minutes to end.
- Clear DVR of extraneous broadcasts that may accidentally cause Tour not to tape properly.
- Buy Dutch and Belgian Beer, and French wine to pair with each stage.
- Visit Silver Lake Cheese for some cheese and baguette to go with it.
- Research factoids to put in daily blogs; pull out DK Eyewitness Guide to France, and Wines of the World book.
- Ride your bike and dance on the pedals like Contador, sprint like Cav, and look fierce like Levi.
- Pull out yellow articles of clothing and plan outfits so loud that hapless others are forced to ask you, “What the heck is the deal with all the yellow, anyway?”
- Practice your Bobke Roll hand gestures, and get ready to scream like a little girl!
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
It's June today, and the Giro is finished. Ivan Basso fought like a tiger through the snow in the Alps, and flew across the finish line into the Roman amphitheater in Verona, and into the arms of his adorable children. After two years' suspension and admitting the intention to dope in connection with Operacion Puerto, Basso is back, he's vindicated, and let's face it, he looks handsome. All hail the conquering Italian hero!
Last year's Giro is still my favorite, because of Armstrong's presence, and the route, which favored the most spectacular tourist destinations Italy can offer—from Vesuvius, to the Amalfi Coast, to my beloved Roma. But it was amazing this year to see the Gavia, where Andy Hampsten won with Bobke Roll's support in 1988. And Basso was the first guy I ever saw win this race after falling in love with cycling in 2006. Complimenti, Ivan!
Now begins the long fallow period between this race and the Tour de France. I think Versus is showing the Tour of Philadelphia next weekend. Between now and then I can do some more research on the Low Countries, because like the Giro this year, the Tour starts there. I can pull out my food and wine books on France. I can start to fantasize about biking around the castles and Medieval villages of the Loire Valley. I'll miss the cinematography of the Italians. The French somehow manage to be drier about their coverage—not so many shots of pretty girls or long lingering shots of fancy bikes, shoes, gear. But we'll have the beauty of the helicopter shots—castles, vineyards, beaches. France is gorgeous. And we'll have Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen, and Bobke Roll at their best, for this is the big kahuna, the fancy dress ball of cycling, and they love it! Aaah, the wondrous cycling grand tour!
And I get a month off! To train for my triathlon, and try to lose weight for Cabo. Saturdays at Zuma beach swimming a half-mile and biking, then boogie boarding and eating with my friends. Working on my running pace, biking up over trash hill in Griffith Park, lap after lap at the San Fernando Valley pool.
Wish me luck! And until the Tour, "Au revoir!"
Friday, May 28, 2010
Today is the first of two outrageously difficult mountain stages, which are both famous in Giro history. As I turned on the TV this morning, I saw narrow mountain roads, barely paved, with thick green forest all around, and cyclists in their bright kit rapidly descending. Another beautiful stage, but so different from yesterday! Today and tomorrow are like a one-two punch, and many riders will be knocked out, and the real winner will emerge. Today's stage finishes in a minor ski resort town, hence the picture above.
Watching it in Italian today, because even though I can barely understand what they are saying, they really know what they are talking about, and they are so excited! Sorry, Universal Sports, but your commentators are looking a bit tired and burned out. But the Italian commentators know they are watching the moments of truth, finally, and they are ready for fireworks!
Wow, looks like it could be Ivan Basso, aka The Smiling Assassin, as the Italian press have dubbed him. He looks good. So does Stefano Garzelli, he whose eyebrows are more nicely waxed and sculpted than mine will ever be. And a father of 3. Only the Italians would put the leader of the hardest race in the world in an entirely pink outfit. They have nothing to prove, having minted their own brand of machismo. Maybe they invented it with Romulus and Remus. Or maybe it was those guys in the 300 movie.
At any rate, while I was looking around the internet this morning to find interesting food and drink from this stage's area, I found this cute site for an agriturismo near Lake Como. Humble little farmhouse where they cook for you and serve organic wine. The menu looks amazing, the rooms humble but comfortable. And they have a sweet-looking dog. This is the kind of travel I am coming to love in Italy. Yes, it's easier for me to do it, because I have some halting Italian and understand it well enough to get by, but even if you only speak English, you must have the experience of the real Italian hospitality. The kindness, the generosity of spirit is just exquisite. And the home-cooked food is better than in any restaurant. The pride in Mamma's cooking is unbelievable, and well-deserved.
In Poggio Bustone we got to try a home-made digestivo or after-dinner drink made with gentian root and some other herbs. It came after a 3-course meal that included pasta, meat and an antipasto, all served with home-made unfiltered white wine. The tomato sauce had such delicate flavor, and the hand-made pasta was springy and just chewy enough. This meal was prepared in the fly by someone's Mom. It was delicious. The place had the red and white checkered table cloth that used to be the cliche of New York Italian restaurants. The chairs were plastic garden furniture. The chef also made jams, jellies and jarred pickles. She came out and spoke to us and introduced us to her son and daughter and grand-daughter. Such genuinely welcoming folks!
So as the lions of Italian cycling, Basso, Scarponi, Garzelli and Nibali, turn themselves inside-out climbing mountains, I'm thinking of reason #1 to love Italy—the people.
Check out the site: Agriturismo Al-Marnich
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Too bad it's raining today, because the terrain of this stage is just ridiculously beautiful, in full sun it would be like a dream you had once. 18th century castles, monasteries with campanile topped by the curly gothic cake frosting-like turrets of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Medieval basilicas. Cyprus trees, piers leading out into the lake. Today you just watch the race for the helicopter shots. It's so pretty, it almost hurts. A lot of it looks like Naboo. And if you don't know what that is, you aren't as big a Star Wars geek as I am. Which is good, because if you were, someone might need to plan an intervention.
This area is midway between Venice and Milan. A lot of the towns around here began as Roman resort towns, and a famous Roman poet, Catullus, had his villa here. This area also had strategic value because it's close to the Brenner pass, which leads up into Austria.
In Lombardia they make a fizzy wine called Franciacorta--see above, and the pastries are supposed to be particularly good--see the columba pasquale above--an Eastertime sweet.
Wow--okay, I just want to be done with this blog post, because this stage is gorgeous! Watch it! They are re-running it on Universal Sports again later. I bet if you visit Lago di Garda you won't find your typical busloads of American tourists in the white sneakers and fanny packs. I bet the shopping is unbelievable.
I know what this landscape looks like to me--the Greek myth part of the movie FANTASIA! It looks like some animator's fantasy of Arcadia. Cue Beethoven's La Symphonie Pastorale!
Oh, my. Just watch it!
Viva il Giro! Viva Italia!
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Today it's another mountainous stage in the Alto Adige—this time, a road race rather than a mountain time trial like yesterday. It was nice to see Stefano Garzelli take the stage at Kronplatz. He did so well in the Giro last year, and he hasn't been so dominant this year. But then, he is a mountain goat. Evans and Basso seem to be clawing their way to the top. Most of the sprinters have dropped out of the race by now. It's climbers and peaks from now on, all the way to the final day in Verona.
When Mussolini's Italy took over this area from the crumbling Austro-Hungarian Empire, some 90% of the people spoke German, and he tried to force them to learn Italian and encouraged Italian speakers to move in. But about 30% still speak German as their native language, and you can eat Germanic desserts like "kaiserschmarren" above, and drink wine, like the above Alois Lageder Pino Bianco. The grape is familiar, but the style of winemaking will feel more German.
I think in America we tend to think of Italian and German culture as very different from one another, but one thing we know less about is this Alpine culture that crosses the mountains and embraces the multilingual Swiss, the Germans, the Italians and the Austrians of the highlands. Borders have changed so often in this area, that folks must be more likely to identify themselves by their home villages rather than by their country. This is true in most of Italy. The views of this area shows high mountain meadows striped with vineyards and fields of hops. Roofs of the houses here have deep eaves. Wow, this is a pretty stage!
For those just starting to read this blog, yes, the Giro takes 3 weeks! So does the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espagna. This is the definition of a Grand Tour in cycling—It is 21 days with 2 rest days per week, usually, and it includes time trials, possibly a team time trial, flat days for the sprinters, mountain stages, "cronoscalate" or combination mountain and time trials stages like yesterday's, and circuits. Just imagine how tired the riders are! No sporting event lasts longer, and, in my opinion, requires more endurance! It is brutal, and that makes it exciting.
Someday I'll go snowboarding up there! Can't wait to go someplace in Europe to see what it's like. I'd love to ski Mount Etna, but there are no trees. I bet around Bolzano it's just gorgeous, and the cheese is amazing. Yes, peanut butter is the ultimate mountain super food, and I'm pretty sure they don't have it there, but I'll live.
Viva il Giro! Viva Italia!
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
VizzTruck is rich French-inflected Med-Asian fusion, all on a bed of truffle popcorn. Weight Watchers would not approve. But Yummy.
Check Out the Menu
What's with all the gourmet/gourmand food trucks L.A.? Don't you know I'm trying to look good in a bikini in Cabo in August? Not fair.
Today's time trial is so high up the mountain that they can't wear the TT helmet, use the aerobars or the solid back wheel. Part of the stage uses an access road for a ski resort--gravel and dirt. Nuts, but wonderful. We are among the highest peaks of the Dolomites, in the region of Italy called Trentino-Alto Adige. Trentino is the southern part. We are in the Alto Adige--the upper part of the Adige river.
Here they still speak Ladino, a German-influenced Latin. Even though we are in high altitude, there is an ancient tradition of winemaking here. It was first introduced by the Greeks, and then the Romans. In the Alto Adige the wines are made by small family producers and are drunk locally or exported over the border to Austria and Germany. As such they are Germanic in style. A typical bite would be Canaderli and Speghetti--speghetti and meatballs with local herbs and spices. One thing we discovered in Umbria is that in the different parts of Italy there are also unique herbs that are used in cooking, and they really do have their own flavors so you would have trouble trying to fake them at home.
No, you can't just buy the same stuff at home. Just like you can't find rainforest orchids growing wild in Griffith Park. It's called terroir, ladies and gents--local unique diversity in product due to unique local earth composition, microclimate, history and culture. And it's one of the most satisfying reasons to travel the world. To try new stuff, meet new folks, get a fresh perspective on life. You never come back quite the same as when you left, and that's a good thing.
To get the sense of the wine style in this region, you can sample some from Bevmo--see below.
Tramin Pinot Grigot at Bevmo
Viva Italia! Viva il Giro!
Sunday, May 23, 2010
So I was wrong-yesterday's stage was Stage 14, and today's, a brutal uphill dramatic stage, is 15. There is the face of the Smiling Assassin, Ivan Basso. Always liked that guy, but it's a bummer to watch our Hobbit Cadel Evans is cracking on Monte Zoncolan, which has an average grade of Ouch! Go, Hobbit, Go! What an awesome stage! Basso looks good, and Liquigas is on fire!
So here we leave the Veneto and enter the fascinating region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, where they are strongly influenced by Austrian and Yugoslavian culture. Here you can eat wurst and strudel, as well as polenta--the poor family's savior. Up here they are famous for pig butchery. They slaughter the pig with a ritual, and use every part of it. And let me tell you, every part is yummy! They eat a soup called Yota, made with beans and pork and saurkraut. Sounds good to me right now.
Look at the crowd! The mountain is blanketed with people! Look at the alpini hats! The crowd is just nuts! The Alpini troops are protecting the route!
Oh, and drink the Ribolla Gialla vino—a white single varietal they have been growing up here since the 12th century.
What a finish!
Tomorrow a rest day, and then on Tuesday, a mountain time trial!
Viva il Giro! Viva Italia!