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.

Too Late Now

Now that we’re a full six stages deep into this year’s Giro d'Italia and gaining momentum fast, it occurred to me that there are a number of things set in motion that it's simply too late to change. Here are five of them.

Too Late to Please the Home Crowd: Quick Step

Since we last checked in, Patrick Lefevere’s boys in blue have managed to pinch off two stage wins, first with Wouter Weylandt’s sprint win in Stage 3 and again with Jerome Pineau’s long raid in yesterday’s Stage 5. Both were good wins. Weylandt proved canniest in a jittery sprint that saw an increasingly frustrated Andre Greipel (HTC-Columbia) go backwards so fast it was dangerous. I guess you can never count out a Belgian when the race has been in the gutter for five hours before the sprint.

For his part, Frenchman Pineau was clearly the strongest man in the long break – at least once mountains leader Paul Voss (Milram) got the points he was looking for and threw out the anchor. In another bizarre sprint – one in which both the chasing peloton and the break seemed to simultaneously give up for two crucial seconds just under the red kite, with the break coming to its senses first – Pineau easily ditched Julien Fouchard (Cofidis) and the visibly suffering Yukira Arishiro (Bbox). It seems that, with the spring classics pressure off and few grand tour expectations to live up to, Quick Step is finally getting its house in order and starting to find its legs again.

So will pocketing two Giro stages make up for not winning on the cobbles this spring? No. No it won’t.

Too Late to Retire Last Year: Lampre

Behind Pineau’s unlikely Stage 5 win, most of the work in the shockingly failed chase was being done by Lampre, with minimal late help from Garmin and HTC. To be honest, I was surprised Lampre got as far as they did in bringing the move back, because those chases take teamwork and Lampre’s Giro roster looks like they went recruiting on the Island of Misfit Toys.

First and most obviously, the team features Gilberto Simoni, the two-time Giro winner (2001, 2003) who signed with the team for this race only. Though he most recently rode professionally for Diquigiovanni, Simoni wanted to finish out his career at the Giro with Lampre because that’s where he won his first Giro. I sort of admire Lampre management for agreeing to do it, and I’m sure they’ll get their money’s worth in publicity, but at 38 and well past his prime, Simoni isn’t likely to add much to the race.

Blowing a single roster spot isn't the end of the world, but the fact is that Simoni’s considerable ego might not let him do donkey work for others, and something tells me he probably still expects a good helping of the royal treatment himself. If Simoni’s ego is still intact at his advanced age, he could drain resources from the squad’s other former Giro winner, Damiano Cunego. As most people remember, that particular situation won’t be the least bit unfamiliar to Cunego, who spent an awkward three weeks stomping out the aggressions of then-Saeco teammate Simoni to bag his 2004 Giro win.

All that said, there is a small chance that including Simoni might not turn out badly for Cunego. I don’t think anyone considers Cunego much of a GC threat anymore, even though he’s still just 28, but if Simoni has any PR savvy in him at all, he’ll bury himself for Cunego – happily, repeatedly, and visibly. With that done, Simoni would be able to sit back and reap the goodwill from all the glowing newspaper articles and TV recaps that will tout his good teamwork as burying the hatchet from the pair’s 2004 Giro battle. And with those good feelings still hanging weightless in the air, he’ll be able to retire as the magnanimous former champion, rather than as spiteful, mouthy little imp he was known as a few years back.

Not content to let Simoni be their only aging, oddball selection, Lampre also brought along 36-year-old sprinter Alessandro Petacchi, who has finally worked his way back into the big leagues after a doping-related exile. Though he’s won 20-something Giro stages, Petacchi’s relatively brief glory years are getting pretty hard to remember these days, even if he did manage a pair of stages last year. As if to emphasize his age and bygone era, he’s one of the last Cipolinni-style sprinters around – favoring a very long, dedicated, high-speed leadout, preferably down a four-lane highway. Unfortunately for him, since the team has already managed to acquire two theoretical GC leaders (see above), they can’t really spare the seven guys it takes to give Petacchi the leadout he needs.

So what did they do instead? Brought in another 36-year-old formerly suspended sprinter, German Danilo Hondo, to keep Petacchi company. Presumably they'll spend their long days in the saddle lamenting the current state of sprinting and reminiscing about the days when you couldn’t get close to the front of a bunch sprint unless you were six feet tall with frosted tips.

Simoni, Cunego, Petacchi, and Hondo all in the same grand tour team? Yeah, that can’t fail. Fortunately, the team is rounded out by a group of capable workers, who will have their work cut out for them, since the squad’s focus seems schizophrenic at best. Of course, that focus may be narrower after yesterday’s stage, when Petacchi noted that he’s come down with a touch of bronchitis. (Guess what, Lampre? Petacchi is always sick, and it’s always with bronchitis, which may be why he huffs enough asthma medicine to get himself suspended.) Surprisingly, Hondo seems to be picking up the slack nicely, though he’s still not winning races.

Too Late to Take It All Back: Andre Greipel

Even in the talk-laden world of professional road sprinting, Andre Greipel was generating a pretty impressive word count this spring. Some of his chatter was justified: while arguing that HTC should have left his arch-rival, teammate, and defending champion Mark Cavendish at home for Milan-San Remo would be tough, leaving the far more on-form Greipel on the bench for the one and only bunch sprint monument seems petty and short-sighted, and Greipel’s questioning of that decision was understandable (if poorly delivered). But then, perhaps finding a bit of support and encouragement on that point, Greipel kept talking, and talking, and talking, throwing around synonyms for the always dangerous phrase “I deserve,” and ramping up tension within the team.

Now, five stages into the Giro – his best opportunity to reverse his team’s decision to leave him home for the Tour – he’s produced nothing but more complaints. Yes, there have only been three road stages, and it isn’t that easy to just dial up a win on demand, but when you run your mouth that much about being the top dog, you’d better come out barking. So far, Greipel’s leadout man Matt Goss has been looking much better than his captain, which could get awkward if things continue along the same path. If Greipel is forced to cede leadership in the Giro sprints to Goss after playing second fiddle to Cavendish for two years, Greipel's head may well explode.

As for yesterday’s stage, it’s worth noting in Greipel’s defense that it’s hard for a field sprinter to win when the break doesn’t get caught. Problem is, HTC didn’t look particularly committed to that cause. Why that was is anyone’s guess, but Cavendish has opined in the past that the team is willing to work hard for him because they know he’ll finish it off for them. After the first few Giro sprints, you have to wonder if the team just isn’t feeling that motivated by Greipel.

Finally, Greipel has noted in some of this comments that, though they’re on the same team, he doesn’t have access to the same top-notch leadout train that Cavendish does. It’s a fair point. But you know what? Nobody’s going to have that train but Cavendish, regardless of what team Greipel finds himself on next year, so he’d better learn to work with what he can get.

Too Late to Switch Teams: Cadel Evans

During his years at Lotto, lack of team support was always cited as Cadel Evans’ grand tour Achilles heel. That team’s failings in three week tours were natural, everybody thought, because Lotto is a classics-focused team, not the purpose-built grand tour machine you seem to need to win these days, particularly if there’s a TTT. So, still seeking grand tour glory, Evans switched teams…to another squad that’s far better suited to the classics than the grand tours.

And so in Wednesday’s Stage 4, despite his and his young BMC team’s best efforts, Evans lost a substantial 1:21 to GC threats Nibali and Basso (Liquigas) in the TTT. Adding to the sting, BMC dropped 35 seconds to Evans’ former team, Omega Pharma-Lotto – which, of course, no longer even had the benefit of Evans’ considerable TT strength in its lineup. That squad with Evans in it and some purpose behind it might have lost under 30 seconds, but we’ll never know.

BMC director John Lelangue and Evans have noted that the brutal final week of this Giro will likely make team strength of little importance, and they might be right. Those mountainous final days, followed by the race-closing ITT, will likely see one or more contenders crack terribly, losing minutes by the fistful. But dropping minutes here and there in the first week to guys like Basso, Nibali, and Vinokourov because your team can’t keep you within shouting distance in the TTT (Stage 4) or, perhaps more alarmingly, can't help you chase back to the front group (Stage 3) is only making that final showdown that much harder. It’s one thing to ask Evans, whose principal GT strength lies in the time trial, to hang close to the more pure climbers in the mountains. It’s another to ask him to try to haul back the two minutes they’ve thrown away on the flats.

It’s also true that Evans has a stronger supporting cast waiting in the wings for the Tour de France. Unfortunately, I think reserving that strength for July was the wrong move, and after the first five days, we’re already seeing how wrong it was. As his riding since winning the World Championship has proved, one big thing Evans requires to succeed is confidence, and nothing would build his confidence more than actually winning a grand tour. With no Leipheimer (Radio Shack), no Schlecks (Saxo Bank), and no Contador (Astana) on the start line, this Giro was Evans’ best chance, and the team should have thrown everything it has at it to make it happen. Instead, they sent four riders to the Giro who have never ridden a grand tour so that their veterans will be fresh at the Tour to watch Alberto Contador ride away.

But even if BMC throwing the kitchen sink at the Giro didn’t result in an Evans win, he could have come out of it knowing that he could count on his team to be there when he needs it. I doubt he’s feeling that now, even if he knows deep down he’ll get better support at the Tour. And even if that left the A team a little more physically tired for the Tour, I suspect it would pay off in other ways.

Too Late to Pull the Ads: Radio Shack

I watch the Giro mostly on NBC-owned Universal Sports, where the coverage features Lance Armstrong-based Radio Shack ads in heavy rotation. It’s understandable, of course – they’ve sponsored a cycling team, so why not advertise during cycling events, since people who see cycling are presumably who they’re targeting? (That ignores the outside-cycling exposure Armstrong provides, but we don’t have time to get into it.) But seeing the ads is kind of funny on some juvenile level, given that Radio Shack is conspicuously absent from the race.

That absence is either because they weren’t invited, or because they turned down their invitation, depending on who you ask and when you ask them. The original story was that Radio Shack wasn’t invited, ostensibly because they’d be sending their big guns to the Tour of California and because Armstrong pissed off Giro director Zomegnan last year over the Milan course safety issue. Following the Giro teams announcement, of course, Bruyneel and Armstrong went on a media offensive, stating that the team was not, in fact, turned down for the Giro, but had already told organizer RCS they wouldn't attend.

What is this, professional cycling or a fat girl blathering about spending prom night at home? I don’t really care whether nobody asked you or whether you didn’t really want to go anyway. All I want is for you to shut up about it, because neither arugment makes you sound particularly appealing.

OK, that’s old news, but I just had to get it out there.

Anglophilic Giro

For an Italian national tour vacationing in the Netherlands, the first two stages of the Giro d’Italia had a decidedly Anglophone feel to them, no?

First, Bradley Wiggins, flying the Union Jack for defacto British national team Sky, edged out American Brent Bookwalter, riding for the Amero-Swiss BMC team, by two seconds. Just behind Bookwalter in third was his Australian teammate Cadel Evans. Three men, three differently accented takes on a single language.

But wait, there’s more. Al Vinokourov (Astana) screwed up the results, something he’s accused of doing pretty often these days, by finishing fourth and being from Kazakhstan. But after that, you have Greg Henderson (Sky), a Kiwi on a British team, Australian Richie Porte (Saxo Bank) in sixth, and David Miller (Garmin-Transitions), a Scot on an American team, in seventh. Sure, the next native English speaker, Garmin Canadian Svein Tuft, doesn’t appear until the 17th spot, but six of the top seven isn’t a bad showing for the crown and its former colonies.

That Stage 1 win also gave Wiggins the maglia rosa, an honor he steadfastly defended until he became one of the many, many riders to throw themselves to the Dutch tarmac the following day. That allowed the race’s second pink shirt to slide onto Evans's shoulders, who achieved that honor by managing to keep himself upright and in the front group after the crash that claimed Wiggins’s and Bookwalters’s hopes. Preceding Evans' arrival on the Stage 2 podium was stage winner Tyler Farrar of Garmin and the United States, meaning the English language contingent had locked up both the stage win and leader's jersey for two days.

I suspect that this shallow, early Anglo dominance of this Giro will come crashing down during today's third stage, if it hasn’t already as I write this. Evans will be unlikely to expend anything more than minimal energy to keep the maglia rosa this early in the race, and though today’s stage is suited for a bunch finish, yesterday’s crash lottery makes predicting a repeat by Farrar or damn near anything else is a risky endeavor. Add in the number of Dutch riders who will be looking to score while the race is on home turf and the number of Italians who would love to carry the leader’s jersey back onto home soil, and anything could happen. If it does come down to a reasonably intact sprint, though, Farrar and Kiwi leadout man Julian Dean, or Sky’s on-form Henderson and lead-out man Chris Sutton could well extend the English-speaking podium streak.

All of that is neither here nor there, of course. After all, we’re amalgamating the results of riders from four or five different countries, depending on how you count, based on creaky colonial relationships that haven’t been valid for hundreds of years. So I'd hardly start wagering based on which language riders reflexively swear in. Still, there seems to be a sort of shared worldview that comes from the common language and heritage, and though they’re not the isolated outsiders they used to be in professional cycling, the Anglos do still seem to stick together. They also attract English-speaking fans in a way that seems to transcend national boundries, and those fans have a lot to cheer for right now.

While many might cite Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France wins as a high-water mark for English-language cycling, those wins were obviously pretty well concentrated in the hands of one man. Today, the number and variety of English-speaking riders winning bike races makes it feel less like the monolithic Armstrong days and more like the arguably better and positively more diverse days of the late 1980s and early 1990s, which saw Greg Lemond and Stephen Roche winning the Tour de France, Davis Phinney and Steve Bauer taking stage wins on the flats, Robert Millar winning in the mountains, Sean Kelly terrorizing classics and stage races, and Phil Anderson and Sean Yates generally making everyone look sissies.


  • Had all the contractual eye-gouging over the off-season resulted in Wiggins staying at Garmin, the squad could potentially have been celebrating wins in both the first and second stages right now. Or, maybe a pissed-off Wiggins would have raced his entire season at ¾ speed, who knows. Anyway, Wiggins did eventually end up at Sky, and due to the very public rumblings and subsequent junior high girl-style chattering about his transfer, not to mention the substantial money involved, Wiggins really needed to show something big pretty early in the season. Though it’s already had a fleeting effect on the Giro and may not prove much of anything about his prospects as a GC leader this year, that TT win had to be a huge relief for Wiggo.

  • If we wanted to factor Vinokourov into our little Stage 1 results sheet game, I suppose we could note that nobody in those top seven spots of the Stage 1 TT hails from a “traditional cycling country.” In fact, you could extend it to the top 8 under those criteria, since Gustav Erik Larsson’s Swedish homeland isn’t exactly a traditional cycling powerhouse, either. Indeed, you have to get down to Dutchman Jos Van Emden’s ninth place before cycling’s traditional power elite countries kick in. Again, that doesn't really mean anything, except that the cycling world has broadened substantially in the last 20 years or so.

  • I’m not enthusiastic about the trend towards just-over-prologue distance opening time trials, those little 8 and 9 kilometer tests that seem designed to be long enough to keep sprinters out of leader’s jerseys but short enough prevent any early buzzkilling time gaps among GC contenders. Like the ProTour system, these prolonged-logues seem to be a lingering organizational overreaction to Mario Cipollini, who’s been mostly retired for some time. Grand tours love the sprinters when they have to maintain fan interest on flat ground, but they seem loathe to give them access to a leader’s jersey for fear they’ll leave the race as soon as it gets hilly. As much as I appreciate a good stereotype, with Cipo and the absolutely leaden Ivan Quaranta retired and Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) heading towards his dotage, the era of the completely one-dimensional sprinter seems to be passing. Many of today’s top sprinters – Mark Cavendish (HTC), Farrar, Thor Hushovd (Cervelo), Oscar Freire (Rabobank), and Danielle Benatti (Liquigas) to name a few, are capable of and willing to finish stage races, even if they have to drag themselves over the Alps, Dolomites, or Pyrenees to do it.

    So let’s stop living in fear of Cipollini and axe the prolonged-logues. They're guarding against the last decade's threat, and they just aren’t particularly satisfying from any perspective. In running, there is a reason that sprinters can be famous, marathoners can be kind of famous, but not many non-competitive runners can name a single middle-distance runner (except for Steve Prefontaine, and that’s mostly because he died young and spectacularly). Spectators like either short and fast, or a longer test of speed and endurance, but not the mushy middle ground.

  • Wait, what was that? How the hell is Mario Cipollini responsible for the ProTour? That one’s easy. Cipollini in his prime rode for Saeco, which was one of the richest and most successful teams in the peloton largely thanks to his ability to win a hell of a lot of bike races each year, and to delight photographers even when he wasn’t. Popular though he was, Tour de France organizer ASO got tired of Cipo grabbing a bunch of early stage wins and the occasional yellow jersey, only to bail out as soon as he detected the slightest elevation change. So ASO stopped inviting Saeco to the Tour, regardless of the fact that it was one of the top teams in the world, Cipo or no Cipo. That woke up all the top teams and their current and potential sponsors to the full extent to which personal or organizational whim and vendetta could control what was ostensibly a professionally run sport. So they demanded guarantees that, if they dumped enough money into the sport, they’d get invited to the biggest races, the ones that made having their name on the jersey worthwhile in the first place. Since the UCI is an end recipient of some of the sponsorship money that flows to riders, teams, and federations, the UCI has a stake in keeping the sponsors in the sport, and sponsors like knowing what they’re getting for their money. Hence, the UCI created the ProTour, which promised invitations to top events to teams that gave the UCI enough money. Unfortunately, those weren’t the UCI’s guest lists to manage, and we all know where things went from there… But anyway, that’s how Mario Cipollini created the ProTour, at least according to the Service Course.

  • While I’m complaining, I’m not too big on final day time trials’s either. Yes, yes, it was exciting in the 1989 Tour de France, 8 seconds, aerobars, ponytails, blah, blah, blah. And it was exciting at last year’s Giro too, but really only due to maglia rosa Denis Menchov’s willingness to toss himself repeatedly to the ground, ramping up the tension quotient considerably. But if the mountains have created any sort of real gaps, which is very likely during the vicious final week of this Giro, the TT can be a snoozer of a way to close out your grand tour. Nothing says "spectacular finish" like a nice, conservative time trial to cement your GC placing.

  • I feel like I should say something more about Farrar’s Stage 2 win, but I can’t quite come up with it. The guy’s a great sprinter, and he put in a great sprint and won. I guess I should say that the Garmin train seems to be a bit better at controlling things through chaos than they were last year, which bodes well for Farrar’s grand tour campaign. Though the team still has the competent Christian Vande Velde to support as its GC man, I have to wonder if Farrar will prove to be the chief beneficiary of Wiggins’ departure. Less GC hopes mean more sprinter resources.

  • As I said, Brad Wiggins needed that Stage 1 win to start to justify all the off-season blathering that was done on his behalf. You know who else needs a blathering-justifying win at the Giro? Andre Greipel (HTC-Columbia). In fact, I’d say nobody else in the peloton needs one worse. After spending the spring picking media fights with teammate and fellow sprinter Mark Cavendish over who should or shouldn’t start the Tour de France and other races, Greipel needs to come out of the Giro with at least one stage to his name, or start brushing up on his Spanish. Greipel could win every stage of the Tour of Turkey from here to eternity, but unless he can come up with goods now, Cavendish’s wishes will be HTC’s command come Tour time, and right now Cavendish wishes for no Greipel at the Tour. Like a lot of people, Greipel likes to call attention to Cavendish’s slow start, but even so, you can’t reasonably argue with Cavendish’s recent grand tour record and the associated right to be the lead sprinter come Tour time. More and more, I’m seeing Greipel in Omega Pharma-Lotto colors next year.

  • After the last few years of Giro d’Italia course safety woes, it’s tempting to shoot scolding glances at the course designers every time there’s a crash. But in yesterday’s finale, when all the unhappy crunchy sounds began, the course didn’t seem to have anything to do with it. In fact, it seemed like people were just riding off the sides of clear, straight two-lane highways and flopping over. Of course, unless the crash happens at the front, the TV punter doesn’t get a very good look at it, so maybe there was some of the Netherlands’ ubiquitous road furniture lurking just out of the shot, who knows. Various poles, curbs, and islands were certainly responsible for some of incidents earlier in the race, and those hazards reportedly could have probably been better marked. But that’s a staffing/course security issue, not a design issue – if you want to race in the Netherlands, there’s no avoiding those things altogether. As for those late-race crashes, though, they looked suspiciously like the jitters of the first road stage of the season’s first grand tour.

  • After his own little dive to the pavement, Katusha’s Pippo Pozzato still looked fabulous. That's a given, though -- it’s his defining characteristic as a rider. But despite appearances, I got the feeling he was pretty rattled. As he got moving again, he very slowly, very deliberately retrieved his sunglasses from his pocket, going so far as to rest his forearms on the handlebar and use both hands to unfold them before putting them on. It may not seem like much, but for Italians like Pippo, the motions required to retrieve and don sunglasses should be as smooth, viscous, and stylish as the product that graces their tresses, and these weren't. Pippo looked labored, and that's a tell as sure as darting eyes or nervous giggling at a poker game.

  • Speaking of Pozatto and looking fabulous, you’ll be happy to know that I’ve finally ridden in my white shoes. Suffice to say that I am now just as fast and stylish as Pippo, but, fortunately, not nearly so slippery.