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Go Aussie

Posted by MDugard on Jul 12, 2006 11:56:54 AM

I don't know if you watched the coverage yet, but Robbie McEwen was electrifying. He slashed halfway across the road in the final meters of the stage, taking advantage of a needle-thin gap in a bold quest for victory. The dazzling maneuver brought forth a collective roar of approval in the pressroom. Sprinters are known for being ballsy, but that was one for the highlight reel. Just the slightest mistake and the crash would have been horrendous. McEwen's move was dynamic and it was inspiring and it was exactly the chutzpah this race needs to launch it into the mountain stages, where being bold pays monster dividends. McEwen, alas, finished second. Spain's Oscar Freire won the stage by the length of a bike seat, giving him two stage wins for the Tour. The drive south from Bordeaux was supposed to be a sprint of our own, but Austin and I got lost. Don't ask me how. Somehow we drove off the autoroute, into an impound yard or some other sort of road construction facility that was clearly marked as off limits, then ended up in a residential neighborhood that befuddled us like the Hogwart's labyrinth before spitting us onto a country road. But we finally paid proper attention to the maps, and made it to quaint little Dax, with its sharp corners and cycling mad citizens.  The finish area here in Dax is actually a French Air Force base just outside town, with the route ending right next to the flight line. American tourists are making their way over here, but it's not like in the Lance Armstrong days, when all you needed was to see a guy in Oakley's and a baseball cap to know he was a Yank. Yet it may be too early to make a judgment. The all-glamorous mountain stages don't begin until tomorrow (although they start in the Pyrenees, while it's more common to see Americans in the Alps). One trend I like is that many fans will run with the bulls tomorrow morning in Pamplona, then make their way into France for the stage. The bulls run promptly at eight, while the stage starts just before noon. I asked Geraldine, the woman at the Tour's hebergement department who helps arrange hotel rooms for riders and journalists, where to find the press lunch today. Only I tried to say it in very literal French, so it came out as "where is the food?" Geraldine, who also speaks Spanish and English, immediately corrected me. "We French do not say `where is the food,'" she shot back incredulously, as if I had insulted France's culinary tradition. "Just say `ou est le buffet?'" So I did. I've mentioned before that the press tends to evaluate a city's worth based on the sort of pressroom buffet they serve. Big cities don't seem to care much, and either serve nothing at all or just a few snacks (Bordeaux fell into the former, and Pau will likely hold to tradition and serve cans of beer with plastic containers of pre-packaged cold chicken curry). But it's the small towns that usually go all out. Dax was no different. A man dressed in local garb, a sort-of Miles Standish thing with a big hat and vest, served glasses of the local wines while chicken breast wrapped in foie gras and steamed vegetables was being served at another. Good stuff. Loved the hat. Today was the Tour's ninth stage. Tomorrow's, the tenth, marks the halfway point of this year's race. I know, I know, I keep saying that things will change around here, and we'll see the real contenders make themselves known, but this time I mean it. The climb up the Col du Soudet is an hors category ascent, meaning that it's so long and steep (14 kilometers at a 7.9% grade) that you or I would be better off doing the thing in four-wheel drive vehicle. Unfortunately for the riders, that epic climb comes only halfway through the ride to Pau. If you're George Hincapie, tomorrow is a good day to ride conservatively, not lose contact with the lead group, and look for a way to move up in the rankings, even if it's just a few seconds. If he can gain time every day, he'll definitely be a factor in this bike race. Levi Leiphemer absolutely positively has to find some dynamic fiber in his being and ride with gusto. That doesn't mean attacking tomorrow, but the man is in 72nd place, some 6:43 behind the yellow jersey. His strength is climbing, and he's really only got five serious mountain stages to prove that he's better than that.Same with David Millar. I've had a few questions about the OLN coverage. Apparently, there's a lot of Bob Roll and somebody else on the air, but not so much Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. I can't tell you why that is (though I would guess money is at the top of the list). The TV guys and the journalists live and work in two different worlds. I walk by the OLN set from time to time. We're all friendly, and this morning Craig Hummer and I had a rather unique conversation about home exercise equipment while we waited for George Hincapie to come out of the Discovery Bus. So I'm not sure why OLN makes the personnel decisions it does. Personally, nothing against the way they do business or the talents of any of the on-air guys, but I think the Tour de France and NHL hockey deserve something easier to access than a three-digit cable network. And they certainly deserve bike race cover that doesn't gloss over the doping issue, which is talked about constantly around here. Of course, no matter which network does the broadcasting, Liggett and Sherwen have to be part of the coverage. The two things I miss when I'm at the Tour: Hanging out with my wife and sons; and, hearing Liggett and Sherwen call the Tour. Here, I either watch the race in person or check out the French-language feed. A couple years ago I was really jones-ing to hear Liggett and Sherwen report a stage. I was a little homesick and I figured it would make me feel like I was back with my family for awhile to hear them in person (a stretch, of course, but we all know how crazed things get during the depths of homesickness); and, I mean, really, they're that good. Who doesn't need a Liggett and Sherwen fix now and then? So I asked Phil if he would let me come sit in the booth for awhile. He was more than happy to oblige. I ended up hanging out for an hour in their cramped workspace (they sit side by side in a room six feet wide, each watching and reporting the race on a different TV monitor and checking stats on their laptops, then shifting to another screen when they call the action as a team; the way they do it is seamless). If you listen closely, you'll notice they take turns calling the action, not talking with one another very often. To see it in person is to witness that childhood concept of parallel play, where two children play a single game at the same time, but not together. Finally, I just reread this today. It's "Ulysses", by Alfred, Lord Tennyson: Though much is taken, much abides; and thoughWe are not now the strength which in old daysMoved earth and Heaven, that which we are. One more equal temper of heroic hearts,Made weak by time and fate, but strong in willTo strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.There's a power and grace in the final line that takes my breath away. It's after eight and I'm off to find my hotel. Talk to you tomorrow.

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