Could someone with more sway than this website tell Versus that, while we very much appreciate their coverage of cycling, and will continue to voice our undying support of mixed martial arts fighting just to get it, using that generous 2-hour Sunday slot to air 120 minutes of Dauphiné-Libéré prologue (ahem, “opening time trial”) is just wasteful? Just like the start house pictures that heavy set gentleman was taking, prologue coverage doesn’t really tell us much other than, “hey, look who showed up!” And after 120 minutes of guys riding alone for 16 minutes, the rest of the key points of the 8-stage race, some of which may actually be interesting, will then be shoved into a subsequent 2-hour show next Sunday.
While well intentioned, in showing such a copious amount of prologues and time trials, I believe Versus isn’t giving itself enough credit. With the help of the Armstrong bounce, the station has, over the past decade or so, built up an audience for their cycling wares. Even better, that audience has finally reached a point in their cycling education where their appreciation extends beyond, “Guys on bikes! On television! I can see them!”
Look, when you’re a kid, you just like ice cream, and you’ll eat as much of it as you can get your hands on. But once you’re older and know a little bit more, you start to appreciate quality and taste over volume. Similarly, with more than a couple years of cycling now under their belts, even those much-maligned Armstrong-era fans have developed tastes that are a little more nuanced, and they’re looking for coverage of the more substantive, tactical, and interesting parts of the race. That usually doesn't include time trials, and it never includes prologues. Sure, their results can occassionally have dramatic effects on the overall, but usually it's just guys riding bikes, one at a time.
I’m not one to lob criticism out there without offering constructive solutions, of course. That’s what message boards are for. In the spirit of cooperation and improved coverage, which will no doubt net Versus tens of dollars more in advertising revenue, we humbly offer the following suggested rearrangements of the 240 minutes of Dauphiné-Libéré coverage that Versus will provide via its June 7 and June 14 Sunday broadcasts:
- A judiciously edited 30 minute recap show each day of the Dauphiné’s eight stages. Air it any time you want, we all TiVo it anyway, but again, in the spirit of cooperation, we promise not to tell your advertisers that.
- Two 60 minute shows covering key stages, and a 2-hour block next Sunday. Everybody loves that “whole stage” coverage Versus does during the Tour de France, and it is a gluttonous summer pleasure for many. But from a practical standpoint, professional racing is all about the last hour, so you really don’t need much more than 60 minutes. So take this past Sunday's alotted 120 minutes, cut them in half, and use them to show two of this week’s key stages. (Just so we don’t get confused, this does not mean one show should be dedicated to the Stage 4 ITT.) Do one hour of coverage of Stage 5 to Mont Ventoux, and one hour of Stage 6 to Briancon. Then use the 2-hour BikeGasm broadcast on June 14 to cover Stages 7 and 8. (In the first ten minutes of each show, Phil and Paul can do a quick oral summary of what’s gone on in the intervening stages, preferably using the correct names and team affiliations along the way to minimize confusion.)
- Five, 22 minute daily recaps Monday through Friday of this week, with a quick recap of Saturday and last stage coverage on next Sunday’s 2-hour BikeGasm broadcast. The 22 minute length does seem unwieldy, I’ll admit, but it will give longtime viewers a sense of nostalgia for the early OLN days, when broadcasts started and ended at all sorts of random times.
- Just blow all 4 hours on the Mont Ventoux stage. Listen, being British, Phil Liggett will be obliged to spend at least an hour of the Ventoux coverage talking about Tom Simpson and his tragic and untimely death due to drug-taking. It being Versus, Phil and/or Paul will also be required to narrate a 45 minute video retrospective of the Armstrong-Pantani Ventoux finish, and, in the interest of national security, reassure American viewers that Armstrong absolutely, definitely, positively did give Pantani the stage win, and that if he really wanted to, he’d have wiped the floor with him. Add in another 20 minutes of prattling on about Eros Poli winning a stage over the Ventoux despite being an enormous beast of a man, and a few minutes of miscellaneous poetics about the Ventoux stage of this year’s Tour de France, and we’re left with a little over an hour and a half for actual coverage. That sounds about right.
In closing, while extended prologue coverage may be the Ho-Hos of professional cycling – fattening, kind of artificial tasting, and lacking almost any sort of nutritional content – they do give you a chance to have a closeup look at the riders and equipment, largely because there is no action to distract you. Here’s what we saw before we nodded off:
- Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) looks skinny. I couldn’t quite make out ribs through the back of his skinsuit, but I did see a few vertebrae, which should mean he’s right on track in his Tour de France preparation. The other way to gauge Evans’ form is to examine how erratic his outbursts in the press are. According to that metric, he still has some fine-tuning to do.
- Evans was showing off his usual crazy-low TT position, but what struck me were his wrists, which were significantly below his elbows. The position seemed to form a giant scoop into his chest, leading me to wonder how aerodynamically efficient it is, or what other fit, comfort, or power factors may have led to that position. That said, I’ve sniped at people for judging aerodynamics from photos in the past, so I best shut my trap now.
- Like Evans, Ivan Basso (Liquigas) looked to have a distinct downward slope from elbow to wrist, so for a second I was just wondering if "wrists-down" was just the "new level." Then I saw Basso yanking violently up on his extensions to pull them back into position, so I guess not. But I do hear that "torque wrenches" are the new “I go by feel.”
- Alberto Contador (Astana) had a new prototype time trial bike with some crazy white-on-black design on it. Trek’s big names having custom painted (usually horrifically so) bikes is nothing new, with Contador, Leipheimer, and Armstrong all getting the star treatment in recent past. But I don’t think this latest example was just a show of respect and shrewd marketing on their part. The design could be seen as decorative, but it’s also very similar to the intentionally eye-confusing designs car companies use when they put new cars on the test track – it makes it really hard to tell what the bike really looks like in any detail.
- So does Contador’s debut of the new TT bike show us that he’s achieved primacy from Trek and/or the team for testing new products? In other words, is it now Contador, rather than Armstrong, who gets “the shit that will kill them” of Coyle-book fame? It seems correct that he does, of course, given his record and his chances in July. But since Armstrong has returned to the scene, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see him return to his spot as the primary recipient of new material.
- David Miller (Garmin) was riding a regular road bike with clip-on aero bars and deep section rims instead of a disk. It was good enough to net him 10th place, but I still have to wonder what the reasoning behind the decision was. The way I see it, either Miller has had his nerves so frazzled by dropped chains, exploding disc wheels, and other time trial shenanigans that he’s sworn off TT bikes forever, or it was just a photoshoot for one of Felt’s aero road bikes. Look out for an ad shot of Miller’s ride yesterday with some variation of “Slick Enough for a ProTour Time Trial” in the Felt marketing copy.
- Speaking of Millar and Armstrong, what is it with English speakers and handlebars so wide you could drive a bus with them? I remember one shot of Tyler Hamilton with his hands on the hoods back when he was riding for CSC – it looked like he was reaching out to hug fat Aunt Patrice at the family reunion. I don’t know – Miller, Armstrong, Hamilton – maybe it’s a generational thing rather than language-based?
- Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) didn’t look high, but it’s hard to tell sometimes.
- The white world championship skinsuit is not doing Bert Grabsch (Columbia) any favors. He looks like he ate last season’s Bert Grabsch, resulting in a skinsuit that is now double stuffed with Bert Grabsch-ey goodness. That’s unfair, of course – white is not slimming, and he is a big, powerful rider – but the guy still looked huge. I think that to rake in a little extra cash, for the biological passport program or whatever new quagmire they see fit, the UCI should sign on separate sponsors just for the WC jerseys. And it should be Jet Puffed Marshmallows.