Thursday Kazakh Buttock Blogging

I’m quite glad I didn’t see the TV pictures of the last hour or so of today’s stage in the Tour de France. The BBC reported that

1602: It’s race favourite Alexandre Vinokourov’s turn to hit the tarmac, apparently after colliding with a following vehicle. He shakes his fists in frustration and replays show a nasty graze to the right buttock, which looks like it will be exposed for the rest of the stage.

And the Guardian Over-By-Over commentator (or whatever it’s called when it’s cycling rather than cricket) had this:

4.23pm: With 10km to go, Vinokourov is pushing really, really hard to try and re-attach himself to the peloton, which is a minute ahead of him. He had six riders with him, but now he’s on his own and making a huge effort that’s bound to take it out of him as far as future stages are concerned. To make matters worse he has a patch of skin missing from his right buttock that looks about six inches square. He’ll be sitting gingerly at the dinner-table tonight.

Yuck. And Vino never made it back to the peloton, falling from twelfth to eighty-first in the CG. He must be very annoyed.

Two Wheels Good

I mocked Stephen Pollard below for his silly opinions about petitions on the 10 Downing St website, and now I find that perhaps, just perhaps, they can make a difference. I signed the petition against the proposed changes to the Highway Code that would make it an offence not to cycle in the cycle lane, if there was a cycle lane to cycle in, and now I read that the offending sentences have been removed from the new draft code that will come into force into September, all being well.

(In fact, while we’re on the subject of Stephen Pollard and bicycles, perhaps it’s a good time to catch up on his classic column from 2004 about why the Tour de France is boring, “because the team element is missing”.)

Dual-Use Stadia

The BBC TMS commentators are chatting away about how the Oval was once kitted out as a prisoner-of-war camp (though never actually used as one). The New Orleans Superdome and the Houston Astrodome have recently been used for disaster-relief. General Pinochet found alternative uses for the Santiago national stadium, the Taliban used to hold public executions at the Kabul football stadium, and the French police used the V�lodrome d’Hiver for the mass round-up of Jews for deportation in July 1942.

Please post other examples of historically interesting, important or disturbing uses of sports facilities in the comments.

Le Tour

Concentrating on being in France meant, among other things, paying even more attention than usual to the Tour de France.

Blognor Regis did a terrific job of covering the Tour, and so did the T de F blog. I’m confident all my readers were assiduous in keeping up to date with those sites, so there’s little for me to add here.

French cycling appears to be in an even worse way than usual: no Frenchman finished in the top ten in either the CG or the points competition; the only French riders to make big headlines were Christophe Moreau (above all for his pursuit of Rasmussen with Jens Voigt on the second day in the Vosges) and David Moncouti� (above all for his stage win — the only French stage win — in Dignes-les-Bains, suitably enough on Bastille Day). The Tour needs its local heroes, and it’d be good to have a few more of them, especially now Richard Virenque’s no longer around.

Tragedy is never too far away from cycling, and the saddest cycling news in July came not from the Tour itself, but from Germany, where the Australian women’s cycling team was hit by a car while training, and Amy Gillett was killed. Aussie Cadel Evans made a heroic effort to win the following stage to Pau by way of an inadequate memorial gesture, but was beaten in the final sprint by Oscar Pereiro (who rode a terrific tour, and deserved the prize for “combativit�”). This was around the time, too, that the Tour was marking the tenth anniversary of the death of poor Fabio Casartelli, who crashed on the descent from the Col de Portet d’Aspet in 1995.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s race. There’s been a bit of this kind of thing, but it doesn’t bother me. It’ll be good for the Tour to kick off without one overwhelming favourite. Potential winners include Jan Ullrich (who won the Tour in 1997), Alexandre Vinokourov (especially if he learns how to ride more consistently over three weeks), Ivan Basso (especially if he learns how to go on the attack), Alejandro Valverde (especially if he can find a way of getting to the end of the race) and Mickael Rasmussen (especially if he learns how to time-trial, if that’s a verb). Next year’s teams are beginning to take shape: Vino, for example, has just signed up with Liberty Seguros, and we’re all waiting to find out what the new line-up at Discovery is going to look like in the post-Armstrong era.

As the man said, Vive le Tour!

Summer Sports

Norm has a link to a splendid cricket joke, and then quotes a sceptic — “You can accuse me of having a short attention span, but I find the whole concept of playing a game for FIVE DAYS to be just the other side of lunacy” — and then comments:

“No, that is the entire secret, and the beauty, of Test match cricket; it is what makes it matchless in all sport. I could go on: speak of unfolding drama, epic quality, individual character on display.”

He might be right, and he may very well be right for Test Match cricket at its very best (which is quite rare). But “matchless” is too strong.Test Matches go on for five days. The Tour de France goes on for three weeks, with a venue even more magnificent than Lord’s — one of the greatest countries in the world, and the only one with both Alps and Pyrenees — and, in a good year (which isn’t uncommon) possesses these rightly celebrated elements of (i) unfolding drama, (ii) epic quality and (iii) individual character in whopping great truckloads. And — just like Test Match cricket — it goes on for hours and hours at a time, can’t be compressed at all adequately into a half-hour highlights show in the evening, and is utterly baffling to those who will never understand.

The World of Blogs is well-equipped for enjoying cycling these days. Blognor Regis has recently been covering the just-finished Giro d’Italia, Backword Dave is a fan, and the Tour de France blog is always useful. This year, the last mountain stage in the Tour is on 19 July; the First Test Match begins on 21 July. So cricket fans have no excuse this year for not paying attention.

Le Tour, 2005

With the baseball out of the way (and with me not having to say “Wait till next year!” to anyone, for once), we can turn our attention to next year’s Tour de France…

… You can study the route here

(Critics are saying it’s a route designed to stop Lance Armstrong winning again, but (i) I’m not quite sure how you’d design a route to do that: he’s that dominant; (ii) if you did want to mess Armstrong around, you’d want to abolish the team time trial again, which US Postal always manages to win, and they haven’t tried to do that; and (iii) there still seem to be quite a lot of mountains, even if there aren’t quite so many high-altitude finishes as usual. But that’s all very first-impression-ey.)

Summer Reading Update

Most of the time, I only pay attention to the world of cycling in July, and then only for the duration of the Tour de France. When the race has reached Paris, or, usually, after the final mountain stage, I stop paying attention until the next Tour comes around the following year, as it always does.

Something different is going on this year. Not only have I been keeping half an eye on the two Olympic road race events yesterday and today, but I’ve also begun reading books about professional cycling, which I’ve never done before. I mentioned Matt Rendell’s Significant Other a bit earlier; I’ve just finished William Fotheringham’s splendid book about the death of Tom Simpson in 1967 on the Ventoux, Put Me Back on My Bike; and I’ve got two more lined up on my recently-acquired-books shelf: Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s history of the Tour, and Rendell’s earlier book about the history and politics of Colombian cycling.

So I’ll be a much better-educated cycling fan by the time the 2005 Tour kicks off in the Vend�e.

(Other recommendations of quality cycling lit more than more than welcome.)