Show Me the Love

March 17th, 2013

Osprey nest

First, I’d like to thank everyone who sent SportsSlant 5th Anniversary gifts. The Ellen underwear are a hit. They go great with Hendricks and macaroons.

Oscar Pistorius, who apparently got a little cocky after making the Top 10 SportsSlant Stories of 2012 over perhaps the fastest man ever, Usain Bolt, was fatally reckless with a gun and now awaits trial for the murder of his girlfriend of several months. Pistorius claims he believed she was an intruder.

This gives new meaning to post-Olympic depression. Pistorius was quoted as saying his success in London was beyond his wildest expectations and that following the Games, he was having the time of his life. Times have changed.

How curious that some of the very best days of people’s lives can be so immediately followed by some of the very worst. Another example that comes to mind is lottery winners.

SOCHI NEWS: Skier Lindsey Vonn crashed in the super-G event February 5 in Austria, worth an ACL and MCL tear plus a tibial fracture. Vonn is the most decorated American skier of all. She says she plans to compete in the 2014 Olympics, just a year away (perhaps even the World Cup in November).

Vonn, in fact, has yet to compete in a Winter Games without some sort of injury, including a badly cut thumb. Wait – she hasn’t competed healthy in any championship event since 2007. It’s her M.O.

I ask this: Is Vonn the most successful because she puts more on the line than anyone else, or could she be that much better (most decorated skier in the world) if she could reign it in just enough to be healthy for championship competitions?

“I’m not afraid of crashing. It’s just part of the sport,” says Vonn in the New York Times from the link above. “You don’t have success without sacrifice. You have to give something in order to receive something.” In Vonn’s case, that means body parts.

Fried chicken-n-waffles, yo!LOLO’S CHICKEN-N-WAFFLES: Lolo Jones, the sensitive, virginal hurdler who competed in the 2012 Summer Games, has joined the US bobsled team to compete in Sochi. So far, so good.

ARMSTRONG WRAP-UP: This quote might answer any questions you still have about Lance Armstrong’s predicament:

An athlete has such a narrow view of life he does not know reality – Bruce Jenner

In Armstrong’s confession interview with Oprah, he mentioned the day or two he lost all his sponsors as they phoned, one by one, to break ties. Said Armstrong, “That was a $75,000,000 day. Gone – and probably never coming back.”

That’s a hot $75 million, folks. But do we give a number two? Lucky for Lance, he still gets book royalties. (Bwahahahaha. LMAO! Anyone who’s published a book knows you don’t get anything remotely close to that, unless you wrote the Harry Potter series.)

By the way, Michael Jordan made $60 million from shoe sales in 2012.

OUCH: Remember that sort of geeky guy, Chris Carmichael, who sold books about cycling nutrition and was used as a nutrition commentator during Tour de France broadcasts, because he coached Armstrong?

What an ego/career boost to be Lance’s go-to nutritionist, explaining to fans that an important piece in Lance’s puzzle of success was genius nutritional practices. I’d like to know Carmichael’s comments on all that now. It’s not about the food, and those who know me know how that breaks my heart.

SCANDELOUS: Cycling isn’t the only sport suffering crippling blows. Soccer is having its own epic scandal in match-fixing. The New York Times article states:

The extent was staggering: some 150 international matches, mostly in Africa, Asia and Latin America; roughly 380 games in Europe, covering World Cup and European championship qualifiers as well as two Champions League games; and games that run the gamut from lower-division semiprofessional matches to contests in top domestic leagues.

WHERE’S MIKE NOW? You guys saw the movie, The Blind Side, right? It’s based on the true story of a football player named Michael Oher, who was a kid without a home until he was adopted into the Tuohy family. He also happens to play in the NFL for the Ravens, which means holy crap! He won the Super Bowl! Congratulations, Michael.

Michael Vick bought a dog (terrier) for his kids. Vick is the NFL player who did time for running a dog fighting ring. Luckily for Vick, the dog seems unaware of its owner’s past. Animal rights activists, on the other hand, never forget. Death threats were made to Vick and his family, forcing the cancellation of his autobiography book tour.

VONN & ME: Here’s more on Lindsey Vonn and how her experience differs from mine and yours.

The Today Show mentioned Vonn also suffers from depression (since 2002 – treatment in 2008 precluded great success). Freshly emerged from the pond that is post-surgery depression myself, I’m wondering if Vonn’s is exacerbated by always being injured. As my physical therapist put it, “Those two things don’t mix.”

bath timeElite athlete that she is, Vonn is already recovering from surgery performed February 10.

I had to wait three weeks minimum to see a surgeon and “pre-hab” an additional five weeks or so to get enough strength and flexibility for the surgeon to agree on a date. Of course, I can barely ski down a blue trail in good form.

My physical therapist tells me:

a) Elite athletes use orthopedic trauma surgeons who specialize in performing surgery while the knee (in this case) is still in a state of trauma, meaning there’s still a lot of swelling.

b) Athletes tend to use their own tendons for ligament grafts, rather than cadaver grafts. While using a cadaver would mean a less invasive procedure, it can also result in a slower, sometimes less-effective recovery. (I used my own patellar tendon, as did Vonn.)

c) The healing process immediately following surgery isn’t significantly accelerated for athletes compared to a healthy person. The difference lies in the rehab. Of course, the fitter you are going in, the better off you are coming out.

d) Elite athletes have access to all the latest, greatest, expensive rehab treatment methods including a personal P.T. for several hours a day, daily massage, acupuncture, E-stim, etc. Those things do help strengthen the body significantly faster, complimenting a huge dose of athlete motivation.

e) While Vonn tore both her ACL and MCL, it’s likely only her ACL was reconstructed.

As for me, I’m thrilled that at 17 weeks post-op, I could walk down stairs in good form and use the elliptical trainer for 10-minute bursts. I look great on a stationary bike. I can even do little hops on the balls of my feet. Talk about a mood booster.

Happy Kind & Peaceful 2013!

January 16th, 2013

Risky BusinessHere are the entirely subjective and yet supremely entertaining Top 10 SportsSlant Stories of 2012, and additional bits of information to stimulate thought and provoke conversation:

ONE: Now I’m ready to talk Lance. Unless you’ve been living in North Korea, by now you know the International Cycling Union (UCI) has stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles, also smacking him with a lifetime ban from the sport of cycling (obviously, merely symbolic). He’s barred from competing in triathlons, as well.

I said it after the two Tour de France winners (Floyd Landis and Alberto Contador) following Armstrong were caught doping, “If it seems super human, it is super human.”

Unless you’ve been reeling in the anger of being duped, it’s nothing but entertaining to look back at the ways Lance lied. Check out this Nike ad, where Armstrong states it’s his body, he can do whatever he wants with it. (The article, by Jason Cohen, is worth a read as well.)

Or perhaps you can find humor in this feline’s advice for Lance.

And if you want an opinion on one of what must be a massive list of entities that benefited from Lance’s profitability, and therefore turned a blind eye, see this piece on Nike.

Some folks respect Armstrong with the statement, “Of everyone who was doping, Lance was the strongest.” Indeed, he utilized each and every training angle meticulously to give him the competitive edge – doping included.

Let it Rain, LanceHe didn’t do it alone. Someone had to say, “Lance, everyone’s doping, but we have the financial plan to enlist the best minds of the business and a web of insiders and lawyers and doctors and publicity geniuses to pull off something impossibly grand.”

Was it Armstrong’s former team director, Johan Bruyneel, who had a list of connections and perhaps played a role in developing an elaborate system of test avoidance? Who was this partner in crime, who told Lance, “You survived cancer. People will give you the benefit of a doubt as a freak of nature, a hard worker, an underdog. Let’s do this.”

A self-declared “mastermind,” Bruyneel shared all sorts of wisdom in his book, You Might as Well Win: On the Road to Success with the Mastermind Behind Eight Tour de France Victories. Here’s the quote that preceeds chapter 16, on page 178:

I was still willing to risk losing to win. Something inside me would never settle for being in the middle.

Perhaps the book should be re-titled, You Might As Well Cheat. (He ought to at least add a chapter.) Seven of those victories were Lance’s; the eighth belonging to Contador.

I suppose we could just ask the man. The bottom of Bruyneel’s home page states, “Johan would love to help answer any questions you may have. Send him an email and he’ll get back to you shortly.” Let me know what he says.

And tune in to Oprah’s Next Chapter January 17 on OWN, when her interview with Armstrong airs. We already know he’s confessed, and many people are debating the pluses and minuses of his actions.

We do know this: Lance hasn’t been naïve or careless about anything he’s done since adolescence, when he once ate a donut and soda as his pre-race meal. Not a speck of doubt – the consequences of a confession have been precisely calculated.

Mainstream media is having fun with Armstrong. On the TV show The New Normal, bedroom curtains with bicycles for a little boy’s bedroom were declined because, you know – the Lance thing.

CharityOn Happy Endings, a character’s quote about a new dress label was, it could be “The hottest fashion item since Bicycle Joe Steroid little yellow bracelets.”

TWO: For those of you ready to knock out your own teeth over the 2012 National Hockey League lockout, there’s hope – sort of. The dispute is settled and a short season is on the horizon.

With this being the second lockout in a decade and global warming wreaking havoc on outdoor hockey ponds, the NHL might be one lockout short of oblivion. The popularity of the sport rests on mighty thin ice in the US as it is. Insulted fans have pledged to boycott the first several games of this short season. And if folks can’t play for free on outdoor ponds after school and work, they’re a lot less likely to develop athletic passions.

Nevertheless, it’s been entertaining to see how players and coaches filled their downtime. Penguins Captain Sydney Crosby showed up at a rec league ball hockey game and played goaltender. Former Rangers goaltender Mike Richter kept things going with a group of kids who played outdoor hockey in Manhattan in December with his Citi Mike Richter Hockey ProCamp. Here’s what a few coaches did.

Sergio RomoTHREE: The Giants, with closer Sergio Romo, swept the Tigers in the World Series in baseball. I like the Giants, but feel for the Tigers. It’s been so much longer since they’ve won – since 1984 – with only a season between titles for the Giants.

FOUR: South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius made history as the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics. He followed that superhuman accomplishment by earning gold in the Paralympics.

TV coverage of this past Summer Paralympics was respectable, giving viewers the chance to be grateful for what they take for granted, while pondering what it might be like to compete in swimming without sight, as did Lt. Brad Snyder, or like Summer Mortimer, who suffered a horrifying trampoline accident and broke all the bones in her feet.

FIVE: NFL replacement ref fiasco. The replacement refs hired to officiate the highest level of football in the country included high school- and college-level officials. Their term went on longer than folks expected, but there’s no rush to solve a labor dispute while fans continue to buy game tickets. After all, this is not the NHL.

The highest level of hockey I’ve officiated is Bantam, essentially the level below high school, and I assure you if someone asked me to work a college game, it’d be dangerous for all involved. Lower-level refs simply aren’t accustomed to the speed of such high-level games.

Replacement ref Lance Easley, a bank vice-president who made the infamous call between Seattle and Green Bay (touchdown Seattle), refs junior college games on weekends. On the Today Show he said he still stands by his call. He says he’s been a ref for “many, many years” and did receive some training by the NFL, and that the replacement refs did the best they could given the circumstances.

SIX: One of the most talented coaches of all time (since the Big Bang), Pat Summitt, retired after 38 years with the University of Tennessee women’s basketball program, diagnosed with early-onset dementia.

SEVEN: Bradley Wiggins became the first British winner of the Tour de France (soon after, winning gold in the Olympic Time Trial), while sprinter Peter Sagan deserves honorable mention as arguably the most entertaining cyclist in the Tour.

EIGHT: Michael Phelps made headlines – not just for winning his 22 total Olympic medals (we expected that), but for his golf putt. Whoda thunk Phelps, of all people, would hold the record for longest putt ever? Seriously, how many records should one person Bogart?

NINE: Augusta National has invited female members to its Golf Club for the first time. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and financier Darla Moore will be the first to represent.

TEN: If you’ve been wondering, “Now, why don’t she write?” a key SportsSlant staff member (yours truly) blew out her knee mountain biking in August, resulting in complete ACL reconstructive surgery using her patellar tendon, plus some meniscus and arthritic bone cleanup.

Arthritic bone isn’t just for old people, folks. If you play hard, you tear the body down. Play nice.

BONUS (‘Cause that’s how I roll): Bubba Watson won the Master’s the same week I saw his interview on Feherty, proving the potent phenomenon of “Feherty karma” (like Jungle karma) mixed with SportsSlant karma.

DOUBLE BONUS (Now it just feels cheap): On to someone with mad, mad skillz. This man obviously has the most core strength of 2012, in addition to impossible balance. Notice how he feather-kisses the landings – so light on his tires. I’m guessing that’s what makes them stick.

Here are the equally entertaining outtakes.

TIMBITS: Happy Birthday to us! As of the past October, SportsSlant is five years old. Please send gifts: Hendricks Gin, French macaroons, and Calvin Klein underwear (sm).

Summer – Was it just a dream?

September 17th, 2012

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Remember the USA Pro Cycling Challenge race in Colorado? It Tom Danielsonconcluded August 26 and included fan favorite Jens Voigt, third place winner of the 2012 Tour de France, Vincenzo Nibali, and Americans Tejay van Garderen, Tom Danielson, Levi Leipheimer and George Hincapie in his final professional race – among other recognizable names.

Like Barry Bonds for instance who, it turns out, is popping up at these high-profile, domestic races because his girlfriend is a cycling enthusiast and introduced Bonds to the sport. He’s not just watching; he’s riding. In fact, Bonds rode the 2011 El Tour de Tucson.

Been there, done that. It’s a great race. This year, it falls on November 17, if you want to try your luck at seeing and dropping Bonds on a hill – or not. (You tell me.)

IS NOTHING SACRED? These past several years, it’s become almost standard to see a cyclist in the Tour de France reach deep into his spandex, stretch his manhood into daylight and reduce his cadence for "au natural" break. Sometimes, he stops at the side of the road. Sometimes, he keeps right on rolling.

Five or so years ago, the camera respected the privacy of the cyclist, resulting in the inevitable “Ask Bobke” question each year: “Bob – How the heck do the guys pee?”

On a recent weekend ride, a friend commented how the Tour de France peloton must be one cootiefied pack of men. Why, yes they are, my friend. Day One of the USA Pro Challenge, we were treated to live, and tortured with replay footage of Dave Zabriskie simultaneously peddling and hurling his breakfast as commentator Phil Liggett explained DZ had literally turned himself “inside out” to get up a brutal mountain climb.

Is there nothing these men don’t do on their bikes? This also begs the Ask Bobke question whether, as DZ emptied into his front wheel, chunks came spinning back toward him? Ick.

Liggett also leaked what we’ve suspected all along: that cyclists shave their legs because it looks better. Sure it’s easier, if they crash, to be bandaged. Oh – and they get a lot of massages.

GOLDEN: Remember the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics? When this guy in skinny jeans sporting a healthy pair of chops for sideburns rung that big bell? That happened to be Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, who went on to win gold in the Olympic Time Trial and said in an interview afterward,

I don’t think my sporting career will ever top that. What a month it’s been. I won the Tour de France and the time trial at London in the Olympic Games. That’s it now. It’s never, ever going to get any better than that.

After winning gold in Athens, Wiggins admits in his autobiography, he went on a nine-month bender.

Genuine well-wishes to Wiggins, that he doesn’t experience a double-dose of withdrawal from this year’s victories.

If you fought to keep a dry eye during the Olympics, you’d have blown through an entire tissue box watching the 2011 Ironman on the NBC Sports Network. The folks struggling to make the time cut-off are heart-wrenching as they weave and stumble their way to the finish, falling and fighting to get back up, delirious. Several are in their 70s and 80s and you realize as much as exhaustion, they’re battling the fear of being too old to succeed in physical challenges.

That’s gonna be me. Except I’ll do a Sprint Tri. (Duh.)

The sleeper event of the London Olympics had to be marathon swimming. Cycling fans know of the Feed Zone: a predetermined location where cyclists ride by team staff during a stage and grab their meal-on-the-go bags of food and drink. In marathon swimming, team staff hold poles over the water with flags of countries attached beneath a cup holder with gels or electrolyte water or whatever. It’s no easy task ingesting mid-stroke. Twenty percent electrolyte water, 80 percent sea water. (Aren’t they the same?)

Did you catch the Independent Olympic Athletes dancing in the Parade of Nations? The team was composed of athletes with no country to represent, as has been the case in only two previous Games. The 2012 IOA were from the former Netherlands Antilles and the brand new South Sudan. They at least deserved gold for positive energy, but went home empty-handed.

During the closing ceremonies, the best pick-up line I managed to lip-read was, “You know the 150,000 condoms handed out to athletes? I saved two for you.”

Did you see any Paralympic competition? If not, you missed some of the most intriguing, thought-provoking, passionate sports entertainment there is. This article provides a taste of what I’m referring to. For starters, in the opening ceremonies, a Marine veteran with no legs or prosthetics from the knees down, suspended from a zip-line, lit the flame before he “stood” face-to-face with a person with legs. Eerie.

Peter SaganRISING STAR: Like summer naps, long-past now is the Tour de France. What still makes me smile are the celebrations of 22-year-old sprinter Peter Sagan as he crossed the finish line first, three times in the first week. By “celebrate,” we’re not talking the traditional arms raised or fist pump. Sagan evolved from the Funky Chicken to Forrest Gump and finally, seeing as he wore green, the Incredible Hulk. This <3-minute summary of Stage 6 includes footage of a high-speed crash that ultimately resulted in the abandonment of 13 riders, but concludes with The Hulk.

By the way, Sagan wore that green, points jersey all the way to Paris. His reward from Liquigas Cannondale Team President? A Porsche. Su-weet!

What say we talk more about crashes. This year’s Tour began with 198 riders on 22 teams. At the conclusion, only four teams were intact and 153 riders remained. That’s a lot of work for the race “mobile medic.” It’s just what you’d guess: when a rider crashes and gets back on his bike, a medic pulls alongside him to clean and dress the wounds as the cyclist hangs onto the side of the moving vehicle – at around 25 mph. Sure, there’ve been times when the medic car and medicated cyclist do each other more harm than good….

And while Sagan was this Tour’s most entertaining sprinter, Mark Cavendish might have the most interesting family.

TIMBITS: God, I hate to bring this up, but I’d seem out of touch if I didn’t and I suppose it’s that much more intriguing, with Armstrong giving up the fight. So in doping news, here’s an interesting statement taken from this [scroll down to Aug. 27] comprehensive article:

…between 1996 and 2006, the sport has not had a single champion untainted by doping. The timeline reads: Riis, Ullrich, Pantani, Armstrong, Landis, and here we sit, seven years later with a big asterisk next to the Tour!

Confessed doper and former teammate of Armstrong,  Tyler Hamilton,Tyler Hamilton finally came out with his book about the subject, The Secret Race. Here’s the article in SI, with an interview of Hamilton.

That has long since overshadowed that, after the second week of this year’s Tour, Frank Schleck tested positive for the diuretic Xipamide and his team, RadioShack, withdrew him from the Tour. While Xipamide isn’t an illegal substance, it’s used for its “masking” effect on banned substances. Frank requested his B sample be tested, stating that if it was positive, he’d been “poisoned.” It came back positive.

Fresh off his own doping suspension, Alberto Contador won the exciting Vuelta a Espana.

So many questions, so few answers.

Junebug

June 24th, 2012

Liquigas chillin' chillin'

Bills are paid, wine fridge stocked, Netflix account suspended and all systems go for the Tour de France, broadcast on NBC Sports Network beginning June 30 and followed less than a week later by the Olympics, starting July 27.

Call me a couch potato. It’ll be the only time it’s true.

JUICY: While most of my business is in order, I can’t say the same for team RadioShack and its manager, Johan Bruyneel. They’ve been publicly airing dirty laundry and wow – what fodder for gossip. Rather than summarize the list, I’ll defer to this article, which does an excellent job of it.

In the meantime, Andy Schleck was literally blown over by a gust of wind during a time trial (mix in a burrito, dude) in the Critérium du Dauphiné, injuring his back and solving an Andy vs. Chris Horner vs. Bruyneel conundrum. Andy’s out of the Tour and Chris is in. Team harmony restored.

Not.

But with the doping ruling against Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck is at least the official winner of the 2010 Tour de France. So… Andy’s always wanted to win the Tour and now he’s on record as having done so. Think he’s satisfied? (Of course not, silly.) And he can’t compete this year.

THE JUICE: Andy’s not the only one to miss the Tour. Bruyneel won’t be there, either. You see, the US Anti-Doping Agency blah blah Lance Armstrong blah latest charges blah blah EPO, “but I never failed a test” blah blah blah.

Don’t you sometimes wish it would just go away?

Bruyneel is implicated in the charges as well.

The thing for Armstrong is he’s still a professional athlete, competing as a triathlete. For now he’s banned from Ironman competition and if a conviction comes from these latest charges, would likely be banned from Olympic sports.

The super funny – and I do mean funny ha-ha – thing about what would happen if Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France titles is they’d would trickle down to the likes of Jan Ulrich and Evan Basso – both of whom were convicted of doping.

Ted King with Barry BondsSpeaking of the US Anti-Doping Agency, Barry Bonds was spotted at the Tour of California. Apparently, he’s a big cycling fan, chatted up by American Ted King at the start in Ontario.

 

Sports radio and TV personality Jim Rome says only three or four people in L.A. care about hockey. You might say the same about pro cycling. The Tour of California concluded in L.A. and the crowd was reported at 10,000 (including curious Kings fans on their way to the NHL Stanley Cup playoff game against Phoenix). Call me a cynic, but I’m dubious about the percentage who understood the significance of the race, which showcased many of the world’s best teams and international cyclists.LA Kings fans intrigued by cycling

While mention of the race put smiles on the faces of local folks, they typically followed up with, “Are you riding in the Tour?” That’s the equivalent of asking me if I play for the L.A. Kings.

Picture it. I’m 4’10” if I’ve taken my vitamins.

TOUR OF CALIFORNIA: Robert Gesink won overall. Dave Zabriskie came in second for the fourth year in a row, and Tom Danielson placed third.

The Tour of California may have taken its toll on a lot of riders. In fact, one of the poor boys from the Bontrager development team was spotted in a restaurant bathroom with a bloody nose shortly thereafter. Perhaps it was the pollution. A local said Ontario and L.A. had the worst pollution it’d had all year. Even I felt it in the lungs. Imagine sucking in that air, breathing as hard as you possibly can, while hammering up mountain after mountain.

Yuck.

Retired sprinter Robbie McEwenOn the start line in Ontario, 39-year-old Robbie McEwen was another cyclist not feeling spry, though in the mood for a friendly chat. Turns out the Tour of Cali was his final race before retirement. At the race finish, he was presented with the Most Courageous Rider jersey.

Indeed, it takes an overstuffed “suitcase of courage” for a sprinter to slog over several wicked-high climbs knowing retirement is just a day away.

McEwen was in seasoned company in the ToC, alongside 40-year-old Chris Horner, 40-year-old Jens Voigt, who’s completed 14 Tours de France and George Hincapie, 39 years old this month and 16 Tours de France completed.

His 17th this year will set a record, after which, he’s announced he’ll retire as well.

NHL KINGS CROWNED: The Tour of California concluded in front of the Staples Center, where the L.A. Kings played immediately thereafter. Several pro cyclists popped across the street to indulge in a VIP box and enjoy the game.

Make that six people in L.A. who care about hockey if there’s a pro cycling race in town.

By the way, the L.A. Kings did go on to win the Stanley Cup championship. You might be thinking, “Wow, another one of the newer NHL teams got it.” In fact, the L.A. Kings have been in L.A. 45 years.

This is their first championship.

Congratu-frickin’-lations!

A Kings player was asked if the championship will change how the city feels about hockey. His answer was, essentially, that even when Wayne Gretsky played in L.A., it didn’t. (That would be a “no.”)

ALL BUSINESS: If you’re a cycling fan, you know the name Bradley Wiggins. If not, write him down as a likely winner of the 2012 Tour de France. He’ll do nothing less than challenge Cadel Evans, who’ll be defending his title.

Peter SaganPeter Sagan, the 22-year-old phenom, won five stages of the ToC by beating out sprinter Tom Boonen, among others. This sets up quite the thrilling battle for sprint stages in the Tour de France against Mark Cavendish.

If you want anything left in the glass, be sure to put down your champagne for these stages. Sagan tends to add to the already-nail-biting madness that is the sprint finish with things like nearly wiping out the barriers, accidentally unclipping and having to touch down, flatting in the final 3k, etc. Through it all, he still wins.

TIMBITS: Epic congrats to Ryder Hesjedal of Canada for stumping the big dogs and winning the Giro d’Italia, Italy’s answer to the Tour de France. That makes Hesjedal the very first Canadian to do so (duh). In fact, he’s the only Canadian to have won a Grand Tour (Vuelta, Giro and Tour de France). At this publishing, he’s 8th in the UCI WorldTour rankings. All this good news means his team will work for him as he competes for the overall General Classification in the Tour de France.

Let the epic summer begin (I’m exhausted just thinking about it)!

It’s Spring. Surprise Yourself.

April 27th, 2012

May flowers

It’s killing me – I hardly know myself. Who is this person I’ve become?

This year, I watched the NFL playoffs for the first time in my life. Not just the Super Bowl – the playoffs. I don’t even like football. And golf? The best thing about golf is how quiet its fans are, so I can have it on TV while I nap and it won’t interrupt my sleep.

But I’ve become a huge fan of the show Feherty (hosted by former pro golfer David Feherty) on the Golf Channel Monday nights. It’s a wacky Irish guy interviewing the top personalities of golf or, occasionally, some other sport.

I’m addicted. I’m not talking about standard interviews, when the athlete opens a can of blather and out comes the same goop that comes from every athlete’s mouth just before or after a game:

We got to play ’em one day at a time. I’m just happy to be here. Hope I can help the ball club. I just wanna give it my best shot and the good Lord willing, things will work out.

(Bull Durham)

I’m talking about a candid interview, when an athlete is willing to share the good times and bad, the eccentricities, a little character.

I found myself having this thought: “It’ll be intriguing to watch the Masters and know a little about the personalities and lives of the athletes.”

Tiger’s drama notwithstanding, golf? Intriguing?

Sure as shootin’, Bubba Watson won the Master’s the same week I saw his interview on Feherty. I’m calling it “Feherty karma” (like Jungle karma).

And then there’s this – what Bubba (and a few golf buddies) does when he isn’t busy at the Masters:

Bubba in overalls.

Anyway, if you find the real me wandering the streets in plaid shorts and a visor, please stop and give me a good, hard shake. Remove the visor and point me in the right direction.

Ichiro at batSUNSHINE, MARTINIS & FLIP-FLOPS?: Speaking of the more mellow class of sport, I made my annual pilgrimage to Arizona for the last weekend of Spring Training baseball. more info

Friday night, Giambi hit a homer as I savored garlic knots and a PAMA martini at Salt River Fields. Saturday, Pujols hit a homer in a 10-inning game that ended in a tie. Saturday night Kinsler hit a homer at Goodyear Complex as I munched beer-battered fish-n-chips and talked baseball with a couple Canadian snowbirds, and Sunday I watched Ichiro with my belly full of Lo-Lo’s chicken-n-waffles.

Next year I bring running shoes.

ROCKS & FLATS: I mentioned in my last post that Belgian sprinter Tom Boonen might be making a comeback.

He is.

He amassed nine wins in the early months of the cycling season, perhaps most notably Paris-Roubaix – the famed, hellish ride over 23 miles of soul-jolting, testicle-tattering cobblestones. He made his move early and dominated to the very end for the fourth Paris-Roubaix victory of his career. For his effort, he took home a giant rock.

On the track, centenarian Robert Marchand set the record for best performance in an hour in the (newly-established) 100-and-over age category, completing 15.1 miles on a velodrome.

He advises us to “keep moving.”

CALORIE CHECK: In case you think I’m exaggerating about the “soul-jolting” bit of Paris-Roubaix, it was mentioned during the broadcast that data revealed Boonen burned 1,000 kcal per hour. It was a nearly 6-hour race.

Bet he was hungry enough to chew his leather saddle at the finish.

sSl BOOK CLUB: It saddens me to report one of the best coaches of all time, Pat Summitt, has retired after 38 years with the University of Tennessee women’s basketball program as head coach. It saddens me more that she’s been diagnosed with early-onset dementia. Summitt has a book deal for her memoir. I can’t wait. Surely it’ll be chock-full of incredible stories and authentic inspiration for realizing potential.

TIMBITS: The first round of the NHL playoffs is decided. Still, you have between now and June to catch a game. Canada is out, but SportsSlant is still tracking the NY Rangers. It took a Game 7 win, but they’ve survived.

The Summer Olympic countdown is so on. Less than 100 days. That means the Tour de France countdown is on as well. I’m gonna need to pre-pay all my July bills.

For those of you out of touch with Sports World gossip, one of the NBA’s more physical players (he was recently suspended for concussing another player with an elbow to the head), Ron Artest, has changed his name to Metta World Peace. Can’t believe he chose that over Metta Whirled Peas.

Peas Out.

Love (Kettle Corn) Is in the Air

February 29th, 2012

Spring Training smack?

Cold-hearted orb that rules the night

Removes the colors from our sight

Red is grey and yellow, white

But we decide which is right

And which is an illusion

Since marijuana is, for the most part, illegal, a beer to anyone who can guess which band the above lyrics are from.

Moody Blues! (Yeay! Beer for me!)

In addition to the Rolling Stones, it’s the band I remember my mom listening to most when I was a child. Explains a lot, ya?

Moody Blues is touring this March and April. I’m sure the show will be an experience entirely unlike any other modern-day concert other than, perhaps, Roger Waters and The Wall Live.

SPEAKING OF ILLEGAL: At long, long last, the ruling has come down for cyclist Alberto Contador: guilty of doping (clenbuterol); two-year ban from racing, including the upcoming Olympics; stripped of his 2010 Tour de France title; his Saxo-Bank team possibly demoted, not meeting the qualifications of a UCI World Tour team if you subtract points earned by Contador.

Floyd can relate...Ouch.

ROLL BOUNCE: It’s early to plug this, but in case you need the heads-up to perfect your most groovy moves, Albuquerque will host the USA Roller Sports National Championships in 2013 and 2015, scheduled for three weeks spanning July-August. It’s predicted 8,500 competitive athletes, families and coaches will swarm the Duke City. The event will include inline speed skating and roller figure skating competitions. Divisions range from youth through masters/senior levels.

In the meantime, psych yourself up with this chillin’ soundtrack, including priceless gems “Boogie Oogie Oogie” and “Le Freak.”

MORE CYCLING: If you’re not into professional cycling, you’re gonna think I’m crazy to say the season is in full-swing. I’ll take my chances.

The cycling season is in full-swing!

To get numberswiki.com

you in the mood, here’s a tasty nugget of one of cycling’s most colorful characters, Bob Roll, born in Oakland, CA by way of San Ildefonso pueblo?!

Bobke sayz: “You get what you deserve in life.”

If you missed Australia’s Tour Down Under, it was won by Australian Simon Gerrans of team GreenEdge (a new Australian, World Tour-caliber team).

Sprinter Tom Boonen may be back on track after a couple rough years that dealt him rare wins and common crashes. He’s wrapped up the Tour of Qatar as victor overall a fourth time – his first since 2009.

HELL HATH FROZEN: It’s been brought to my attention the Rangers are jockeying with Vancouver for first place in the National Hockey League. No offense, but for the past decade or so I’ve taken for granted the Rangers were a mediocre team without the mettle to make it past the earlier rounds of the playoffs; that since Mike Richter and Mark Messier retired, nothing super great has happened.

The playoffs are about a month away. It’ll be fun to track the Rangers, perhaps to the final round….

If so, and Toronto is the next team to have an especially great season, I’ll have to concede that indeed, hell is a little like Yellowknife.

TIMBITS: I’ve saved a nibble of the best for last. Here’s a rockin’ little gem that puts a smile on the face and inspires two thoughts:

Thank you technology gods for improvements that assist those of us less willing to risk damaged bits.

And…

Work with what you have – you may be pleasantly surprised and amused.

Spring Training baseball is in progress! I can smell it – that irresistible combination of salt and sugar.

All I Want for [Winter Holiday] Is…

December 19th, 2011

San Pedro Parks Wilderness, NM

But it isn’t all about me, so I’ve backed away from the eggnog and found these riveting stories to entertain you over the holiday:

Monique van der Vorst has endured several accidents in her life, but the most recent was the one that counts. Paralyzed as a teenager following botched foot surgery, the Beijing Paralympic medalist crashed in training last year, rendering her – wait for it – unparalyzed.

Yeah, I just used a word that isn’t in the dictionary, because it doesn’t happen.

Van der Vorst has since joined the Rabobank women’s cycling squad, with plans to compete in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympicsnot Paralympics. Talk about a fast recovery. (The Rabobank men’s team competes in the Tour de France. Perhaps its current, most-recognizable name is Luis Leon Sanchez – he won a stage in 2011.)

Big BenSpeaking of the Olympics, the 2012 London Games are less than 225 days away.

GRATITUDE: Not to make light whatsoever of the status, but you have to wonder how many paraplegics are tipping their chairs since hearing of van der Vorst.

Jim MacLaren wasn’t so fortunate.  If you don’t know his story, it’s a read well-worth it. You’re just sitting at your desk waiting for beer o’clock to roll around anyway – am I right?

I first read of MacLaren in a superbly written article by Elizabeth Gilbert for GQ in May, 2002. She explained how MacLaren was an athlete who’d lost his left leg after being hit by a bus.

GQ May 2002Following rehab, he resumed competing. It was during an Ironman race eight years later, when MacLaren was 30 years old, that he was hit by a van.

No freaking way. MacLaren broke his neck. Quadriplegic.

Here’s an informative blog post on MacLaren and the incredible work he did, written by the author of Sixty Seconds, Phil Bolsta.

An amazing, inspirational person, MacLaren died in August, 2010. In his honor, as MacLaren requested in his own, final blog post,

If you could just take 30 seconds close your eyes and take a huge breath all the way from your stomach and filling your lungs. And feel grateful.

Then again, if a wheelchair accident was a “cure” for paralysis, I suppose Mark Zupan and the folks from the movie Murderball, documenting paraplegics playing full-contact rugby, would have walked long ago. (Zupan’s book, Gimp, is another riveting read.)

On a much lighter note…

BABY, YOU’RE A FIREWORK: If you’re a fan of the Schleck brothers or cycling in general, this 18-minute interview with them by Ushi Hirosaki is a must-see – all the way to the conclusion. Consider it holiday therapy.

Don’t worry. The English (so-so) kicks in after the intro. If you like this sort of thing, more interviews can be found here.

After you watch the interview, google “Wendy van Dijk.”

TIMBITS: Thanks to Volkswagen and its Passat commercial, not another sleepless night will be spent pondering the lyrics to Rocket Man: “burning out his fuse up here alone.”

Until now, I’ve been singing, “burning up the streets of Avalon.” Oh come on – what did you think the lyrics were?

On your knees, boyIf you’re stressing over what to do with all those Winter Holiday vacation days, I have just the thing: Tebowing. And to all you crankies sick of hearing about Tebow, pull it together. You’re blessed. How else can you explain you’ve been chosen to witness a modern-day Miracle each time the Broncos pull off a fourth quarter – even overtime – rally?

If vino is more your thing, here’s a trio of movies to stream on New Year’s Day: Bottle Shock, Mondovino, and Blood Into Vine, in that order.

Bottle Shock is about a California wine beating out a French wine in a 1970s competition. That’s the equivalent of an American team beating a French team in the Tour de France.

Oh wait – that happens a lot.

It’s also about family dynamics and business, interracial sex, and sweet, sweet victory.

Mondovino is a two-hour documentary, but it has intriguing commentary on the global politics of which wines are deemed best, if you’re curious about that sort of thing. It’s hard core. Drink espresso while you watch.

Last, but not least, Blood Into Vine is about Maynard James Keenan of the band Tool producing wine in podunk Northern Arizona. Keenan is a rock star. Of course the movie is quirky and good fun.

Consider yourself entertained. Best New Year Ever to you all!

Happy New Year! (JK)

October 31st, 2011

Firenze

This time of year flies by, doesn’t it? Better hold on to your hat and take a moment to admire the sunset, each and every single day. Easier to do – I know – when you’re on vacation somewhere like, oh, say Italy!

SO MUCH TO EAT, SO LITTLE TIME: Now you know where I’ve been, but that I simply couldn’t bring myself to abandon you forever and live among the impossibly intricate and glorious architecture, hVino rosso e paneeavenly delicious wines, amazing shopping and soul-nurturing food…. Check this out:

You know me though – I gave it an honest try to find sports and related adventures to tell you all about. For that reason alone, I chose to stay in a junior suite at the Hotel Chiusarelli in Siena, which happened to include a balcony overlooking A.C. Siena’s premier league team soccer field. Check this out: A.C. Siena inside the wall

Didn’t get a chance to see the team play. My agenda near-missed the games there and in Milan. Visited the team stores, at least.

THE FRINGE: Does chess count as a sport if the pieces are nearly life-sized? It’s certainly a workout. Outdoor chess, using those giant pieces, is pretty popular in Switzerland. Check this out: Make the final move count...

Also rented a scooter in Siena and found this nice park with a little section of, we’ll call them fascinating, exercise machines. The labels on many of them say they encourage range-of-motion for the elderly, but that didn’t stop me from getting my pump on and I wasn’t the only one. The exercises were also perfect for people who’ve been sitting for periods of, say, 14 hours as they fly over the ocean, followed by walking, oh, about 6 miles-a-day several consecutive days….Frontal plane flexibility

This means you, ya tourist. Check this out:

Competitive cheerleading has a lot of supporters clambering for it to be considered a sport. If you can pull it off in the Piazza del Duomo in Milan, you have my vote. Check this out:

Ready! Oh-kay!When all else fails in a person’s hunt for live sports or a little resistance training on the road, there’s always the ol’ standby of bicep curls. (Request the larger wine glass.) 

TIMBITS: Congrats to Sue Falsone, just announced as the first female head athletic trainer and physical therapist for Major League Baseball, with the Dodgers. Here’s what she has to say about it.

Mz. Leslie Jackson of the NM Mustangs, you’re next!

SportSlant Athlete of the Month: Jimmy Graham of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints. Take the time to watch the video of his story on his ESPN NFL page. Talk about defying odds….

AND: Fauja Singh, the 100-year-old man who recently completed the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 8 hours, 25 minutes. That’s 26.2 miles, people. He typically walks/runs 10 miles a day. Started running marathons when he was 89. Most people are dead by then.

SportSlant Team of the Month: Fugees soccer team of Clarkston, Georgia. Read their inspiring story in the New York Times. If we each had an ounce of the vision and initiative of founder Luma Mufleh, this country would have no conundrums.

Pace (Peace) Out.

Fallshadowing

August 26th, 2011

Can’t help but kick off a new season with this rockin’ clip (literally), courtesy of Signore King. It features “the Lynn Hill of the dog world.” Biscuit, you rocked my world.

Bitches be crazy!

RED, WHITE & A MILE HIGH: So, what did you do this summer? Were you in Colorado catching the US Pro Cycling Challenge the last week of August? Good for you!

While you stood at the side of the road, amidst breathtaking Colorado scenery, Europeans jealously watched you cheer on Tour de France podium finishers – all three of them – racing at high elevation US-style, baby. Lots of kinesio tape being passed around.

Evans sizing up SchleckYou do know Cadel Evans won the Tour de France, right?

Who?

Evans has been the one of the greatest threats you never heard of – other than reading his name in previous blog postings – to top the podium in a couple years. He’s finished the Tour de France 2nd, twice. This time, at 34 years old, he’s the oldest guy to win post WWII.

But he used to refuse to speak with the media. He’s a little "nervous" more often than not. Still, it was a well-deserved victory and the first time an Australian has won that race.

Alberto Contador, on the other hand, only shot off bottle rockets. He tried a couple moves on a stage or two, but was clearly not in a winner’s frame of mind. He did manage 5th overall.

The top American competitor, finishing 9th, was Tommy Danielson, riding his first Tour de France at age 33. This is a guy who, about six years ago, was touted as the next Lance after winning the Tour of Georgia – a label no one in his right mind would want so early in his career. Some call it the "Curse of Lance."

ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: Bobke quote –

A rider’s power is equal to his ability to endure suffering.

Here I’ve been thinking Bob Roll was referring to endless hours in the saddle. I’ve concluded it refers to the whole enchilada, though. Take, for example, the rampant phenomenon of male fans stripping to their tighty-whities, Borat straps, or bday suits and leaping out of the masses just in time for the TV cameras – aka the world and my mama – and the victimized riders, of course.

Nice tan lines!Plenty of hooch passed around on those hilltops.

Hooch is crazy!

If you need someone genuinely entertaining to follow on Twitter, check out @MarkCavendish. Love him or not, the man is funny. He just happens to be a pro cyclist.

GET THIS: Mike Tyson isn’t just vegetarian. He’s vegan. The man who stopped at no meat, including the extremities of human opponents, has gone peaceful. I’ve caught a couple interviews with him and I’ve decided, against my better judgment, to give the man the benefit of the doubt. Check out his pro-vegan billboard. That’s one of his cherished, pet pigeons getting some Ty-love.

TIMBITS: Grazie mille to Laura Matzen for the Tour de France photos used above!!!

The Central Hockey League is kicking off its 20th season. Even bigger news for Albuquerque readers is former CHL referee, Mark Lemelin, has made it to the big show. If you’ve played a summer beer league game at Outpost, chances are good you’ve whined to the likes of a National Hockey League official. Kudos to Lemelin!

By the way, beer leagues are crazy!

Tour de Carnage (10 Days in the Tour de France)

July 14th, 2011

This year’s Tour de France has not been for the faint of heart – and I mean for the viewers.

THE BAD: We’ll get this out of the way first.

The crashes have been exceptionally consequential and gruesome. If you’re looking for visual, graphic proof, see this article and accompanying photos/footage. Be warned. One of the photos appears to be a cyclist mauled by a mountain lion that loved him some booty for lunch and lycra for dessert.

Lance Armstrong’s former team RadioShack is all but out of the Tour. Granted, they started with more than their fair share of top contenders, but they’re down from four to barely two. Rolling over the finish line a few stages ago, RadioShack’s Chris Horner had no idea what had happened to him and why he was being taken to the hospital – suffering a concussion and broken nose after a crash that left him unconscious in a ditch. His young teammate, Janez Brajkovic, was taken to the hospital two days earlier with a concussion and broken collar bone. Teammates Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloden are riding on, battling their own injuries.

THE UGLY: You gotta feel for the hockey team down 6-0 in the third period, having to play out the final minutes of the game ‘cause people paid to see it. RadioShack has nearly two weeks and 1,000 miles to ride before it’s over. Anything can happen, right?

Several other teams are down by a couple riders or have lost top contenders and sprinters like Tom Boonen and Alexandre Vinokourov, who crashed on a descent and broke his leg bone (femur). Vino says this was his final Tour, regardless.

Defending champion Alberto Contador crashed no less than four times the first week, losing over a minute Day One and more often than not, is included in the daily tally of disasters overshadowing the strong performances of the race thus far.

Winning the Tour de France takes uncompromised focus. One has to wonder if Contador is distracted by his upcoming doping hearing.

Certain riders have suffered epically, willing a month’s worth of recovery out of the single rest day this past Monday. Most notable is Johnny Hoogerland, the one who looked like he was attacked by a clawed animal. In fact, he catapulted into a barbed wire fence after a media car swerved and hit cyclist Juan Antonio Flecha in front of him. After cringing to the finish line, blood streaming down his legs, tears in his eyes on the podium while he received accolades for Best Climber, Hoogerland was whisked to the hospital for 33 stiches.

Hoogerland’s father was there to escort him at the finish of that stage, himself in tears. It was a scene that makes your heart clench every time it’s replayed. I can only imagine the distress of Hoogerland’s friends and family as they watched on television. Courageously, Hoogerland is back on the bike, as is Flecha, and said his resting heart rate the second morning after the crash was 50 bpm, up 10 beats from his usual 40 due to his heart “working working working” to heal the injuries.

THE GOOD! Sprinter turned climber, Norwegian Thor Hushovd, continues to earn his nickname “God of Thunder.” Spectacular in yellow for more days than anyone could have predicted (seven), he inspired the observation that only in the world of cycling can a 5’11” 170 lbs man be referred to as a “big guy.”

To get a little perspective on the stature of the typical cyclist, note that during podium ceremonies, the cyclist-of-the-day stands on a step while the podium girls do not, yet the three heads are even. Evans is a befitting example. Any stage now, he’s likely to get the yellow jersey and you can see for yourself.

Mark Cavendish has won three of the sprinters’ stages and came in a close second. Loosely quoting Cavendish in an interview:

If you aim for a target, you hit it. If you look at who to beat, you hit a lamppost.

That lamppost was Andre Greipel, as Cavendish shot a glance his way a fraction of a second before suffering that second place finish. Greipel is Cavendish’s former teammate and current rival.

American sprinter Tyler Farrar has finally won his first stage in a Tour de France!

Frank and Andy Schleck and Evans have been blessed with no incidents. If their good luck and heads-up riding lasts to July 24, they will surely occupy the winners’ stage.

TIMBITS: Wondering why the heck several cyclists have nose plugs during their time trial warm-ups on the stationary bikes? Carmichael Training Systems sayz:

nose plugs have an oil or blend of oils (like eucalyptus for instance) to help riders dilate their airways.

Despite consuming 5-7,000 kcal a day (about what they burn), cyclists in the Tour de France generally finish the three-week race about 5-10 pounds lighter than when they started. There’s a contest called Map My Ride for which you can compare your training rides to the routes of the Tour de France.

I’m thinking they should have a Count My Calories contest, for which you try to eat as many calories in a day as a Tour de France cyclist. Sounds like fun, right? I’m betting by the end of the first day, you’ll be in as much pain as you would had you ridden the miles. And, of course, about 1.5 pounds heavier.

Props to American Tommy Danielson for staying safe in his first Tour de France, earning him the top-spot among Americans in the first 10 days.

Over the past weekend, Tejay van Garderen became the first American to wear the polka dot Best Climber’s jersey. See?

Our buddy Brent Bookwalter is in his second consecutive Tour – the guy who was born in Albuquerque. This year’s minute of notoriety came when cycling commentator Phil Liggett shareded Brent had told him he’d dropped his toothpaste in the toilet that morning. Bookwalter rides for BMC with Evans, so perhaps he’ll get future press attention for that.

On to the mountains!