The Unfortunate Unpredictability of the Undead

Despite all the considerable action in professional cycling over the past couple of weeks, there hasn’t been much posting here. In truth, that’s due mostly to a lack of time and a lack of anything particularly compelling to say. That said, the silence could have just as easily been paralysis from pure, heart-stopping terror.

This month’s main event, the Giro d’Italia, has had enough gory, beleaguered deaths and subsequent returns from the grave to make the average B-grade slasher flick look downright realistic by comparison. Once every few stages, or so it seems, one of the race’s dramatic leads meets some horrible fate and drops from the GC picture – presumably into an enduring hell and damnation, never to be seen again. Or at least into a permanent spot in the grupetto. At least that’s how it would go down if this were a normal grand tour, one of July's docu-dramas, perhaps, but it’s not. In this macabre Giro, the deceased routinely rise up a few stages later, maybe a little bloody, maybe a bit more vacant and hollow-eyed, but alive and breathing, sure as you or me. And without fail, they’re looking for revenge -- even if they aren't seeking a dinner of sweet, sweet brains, they are hell bent on sinking their teeth into a handful of seconds or a pink jersey.

But why anyone, alive or undead, would want that pink jersey is a mystery to me. That pastel getup has been the 2010 Giro’s equivalent of cinema's creaky tool-shed door. As each new victim approaches it, the crowd collectively fights the urge to yell out, “don’t go in there!” Brad Wiggins (Sky) was the first to be felled by the axe, daring to put on the initial maglia rosa and then getting thrown to the deck and ground up like hamburger for his hubris. Wiggins’ apparent demise dropped the cursed blouse on the shoulders of Cadel Evans (BMC), and like the hot chick in any good slasher flick, he was promptly isolated from his friends and quietly dismembered in Stage 3.

Things looked like they might have been coming to an early apocalyptic end after that, when Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) – who’s presently some people’s definition of evil incarnate – slipped the jersey onto his shoulders, a situation that many observers feared would create a consolidation of pure evil so powerful that it allow Vino to walk away with the race. But that would be too easy. Instead, Liquigas’s handsome heroes Nibali, Agnoli, and Basso stole the lead away in the TTT, seemingly throwing shovelfuls of dirt on the carcasses of Evans and Vinokourov in the process…and themselves fell victims to the curse just two days later, thrown to the tarmac en-masse on the descent of the Passo del Rospatolo. That blink-of-an-eye slaughter on the road to Montalcino allowed Evans and Vinokourov to rise muddy from the grave and re-enter the GC picture.

Learning nothing from their first gruesome deaths, on Stage 11 to L’Aquila, Evans, Vinokourov, Basso, and Nibali did the cycling equivalent of sitting around the campfire necking while a madman with a hatchet lurked in the woods beyond, letting a huge split of 50 riders walk away with 13 minutes by the end of the stage. That drunken lapse in judgment raised the corpses of both Wiggins and Carlos Sastre (Cervelo), reintroducing two characters who’d been initially killed off before the opening credits were even done. Beyond that point, the whole plot got a little convoluted, with people stabbing each other in the dark willy-nilly whenever time and circumstance allowed. But now, as the race lumbers into the remote settings of the high mountains, we’re set to witness the horror epic’s crescendo, which will be a wholesale slaughter leaving only one bloodied, battered hero standing.

Until the sequel, at least.

All of that is well and good, of course, and it’s made for a hell of an exciting race, the kind that the guys who do the daily race coverage dream of. Each day, they get a new story or an easy angle served on a silver platter, some exciting development that – with even the most minimal efforts at matching nouns with verbs – will make their readers say, “damn, what a story!”

But for us more fringe types – bloggers, commentators, analysts, and other cheap-seat snipers – these kinds of races can spike the anxiety levels a bit. That’s because analysis is about trying to find the meaning of it all, looking at the past to devine the future, and trying to find the current beneath the waves, some sort of commonality or thread that makes it all make sense. And this Giro hasn’t made much sense. It’s been an unpredictable and unsettling battle of a slew of not-quite-superfavorites riding through an unending series of potential game-changer stages. There’s no real frame of reference, nothing to hang our hats on, no constants to let us figure out the variables. It’s unnerving.

Even worse, fate has been more heavy-handed than usual, threatening to pound its iron fist and make us look like fools as soon as we commit our thoughts to paper. Note that one rider is going well and this may be his year, and the next day he’ll probably be balled up on the side of the road, crying like a little girl, or be run over by an errant combine harvester. Try to narrow the GC contenders based on the most recent stage results, and the leaders will decide to eat week-old fish for breakfast and throw a twenty minute cushion in the lap of some aging champion who’s spent the rest of the race just trying to bleed enough time to be given a long leash for a stage win. It’s enough to make a writer gun-shy, for gods’ sake.

But while the prospect of writing about this Giro has been downright daunting, I’ve been enjoying the hell out of watching every gory minute of it. And so has everyone else, it seems, because while high dramas with carefully constructed plots may win the awards at Cannes, a good slasher flick will always score at the box office.