Go Dad Go!

A self-important blog about riding bikes, raising kids and the all-too-rare nexus of these two pursuits.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

All Goes as Planned: Final Recap

Hello friends,

It may be fair to say that drugs saved baseball. After a strike-shortened season, and as the national pastime’s popularity was waning, three hitters – McGwire, Sosa and Griffey – spent much of the summer of 1998 belting home runs like no one had ever seen. Soon the relatively svelte Griffey dropped off the pace, and the Popeye-forearmed McGwire and Sosa – whom we now know were using steroids – took the nation for a thrilling ride; heck, even I got caught up in it, and in July. The back-and-forth competition, and then McGwire’s breaking the record provided a summer-long distraction, and the frequency and power with which they hit their homers captivated many of us. On the massively muscled (even I’m not gauche enough to add “hairy”) backs of two PED users rode baseball’s esteem, and soon many of us were baseball fans again.

When the truth came out about McGwire, Sosa, Clemens and many others, some sort of emotional statute of limitations had elapsed, and we held it only against them, not the sport; I never heard someone suggest that baseball is “dirty.” But I’ve heard that term applied to cycling many times, and recently. Perhaps ironically, EPO use came into public view that same summer, with l’Affaire Festina, so it may be that, at least for Americans, Lance Armstrong’s subsequent victories saved cycling – though that is likely also ironic. So I’ll suggest that this Tour, which many are calling the cleanest in years, saved cycling.

Not just because we went for 23 days with just one positive drug test (damn you, Kolobnev!), but because if PEDs saved baseball by making it more exciting, their lack made this Tour a delight to watch. Whether for a dearth of drugs or a variety of other reasons, this year’s winners relied on guts and guile, savvy and strategy, and as a result this was – I’ll say it again – one of the best Tours I can remember watching. Nothing will ever beat LeMond’s final-stage, comeback-capping-a-comeback, 8-second win in 1989, and 2003 is a personal favorite for the oh-my-gosh-can-you-believe-that-just-happened moments involving melting pavement, a grassy field, a musette bag and a time trial in the pouring rain. But for stage-in, stage-out captivation, I’ll remember 2011 for a long time. Garmin Cervelo’s hair’s-breadth TTT win, first-week-last-minute uphill attacks by GC contenders, Johnny Hoogerland, the Norwegian Power Couple of Edvald Boasson Hagen and Thor Hushovd, Voeckler’s remarkable run in Yellow, his teammate’s unlikely win at Alpe d’Huez, Schleck’s attack…Would you like me to go on?

And that’s without even mentioning Cadel Evans. He’s the first winner from Down Under, and thus tomorrow no one in Australia will go to work. He’s a worthy winner, worthy for his determination to grab seconds wherever he could starting with the very first stage; for his assiduous, often lonely vigilance through the Pyrenees and especially the Alps; for the classy way in which he thanked his entire team (including the guys who drive the buses) for supporting him throughout the Tour; and of course for taking the Yellow Jersey in the penultimate stage with a masterful time trial, nearly winning not only the Tour, but the stage itself. A couple of years ago he was a guy who couldn’t control his emotions, keep his comments tactful or take the big win, but ever since he won the World Championships in 2009, he’s seemed at ease, and confident, and he’s ridden with – one more time -- panache; his Tour win caps it all off.

After the big GC shakeup the time trial triggered, today’s stage went as scripted: on a gloriously sunny Parisian day, Cadel rode unscathed into over the Seine and across the finish line in Yellow; HTC shepherded Cavendish to yet another stage win – and his first Green Jersey; the Schlecks’ demeanor betrayed neither bitterness nor even frustration; and a throng of Norwegians flew their flags proudly at the first turn on the Champs Elysees, as their homeland celebrated two heroes and a remarkable three weeks, taking brief refuge from news accounts of one of the most tragic days in that nation’s history.


Picking the Maillot Jaune winner doesn’t assure victory in our game, but it doesn’t hurt, and choosing Evans was one of Annetta’s keys to victory. She too is a worthy winner (not that any of you wouldn’t be); she’s been playing this game for at least four years, and holds a true love for cycling and its traditions. Assuming my math is right (see attached) and that we don’t have any game-changing doping convictions in the next two weeks, she’ll bring home 25% of our pot, or $216.25. Phil hangs in for second place and $86, losing his position just how Andy lost his: in the final time trial. Julie, with Andy, Cadel and Thor on her team, nabs third, with $43; she and fourth-place Everett form one of our two power couples; the Carters are the other, with Liz’ sixth place putting her very close to her husband.

In ninth place, my mom Angela is the best-placed Fee; when she sent in her picks she wrote, “Please don’t laugh.”

Remaining is $519 that you donated to the Make A Wish Foundation. If you have been following but not playing but wish to make a donation, please go to www.racing4research.kintera.org/MikeFee. (The photos are not of me!)

My enthusiasm for cycling and for the Tour de France has ebbed and mostly flowed since I first noticed the event in the mid 80’s. Offering this game over the last few years has definitely boosted my appreciation for the Grande Boucle, and right now it’s near an all-time high, despite my team’s very lackluster performance, sitting in the bottom third and being the worst-scoring player with the last name “Fee.” My only fear is that next year might be a letdown! But I look forward to it nonetheless, as the Schlecks will be back; the French are surging; new nations are sending strong riders; Evans will surely return to defend his title, and there will thus be much to cheer. And, of course, we’ll run this game again, and most of you, I hope, will play again.

On behalf of my family, who puts up with me writing late in the evening during the month of July, and of the Make A Wish Foundation, thanks very much for playing. You’ll hear from me again in about eleven months.

A l’année prochaine –


Knock knock? Who's there? Andy Schleck -- Stage 18 Recap

That’s right, friends: Andy Schleck answered today. He answered his critics and his rivals – and then he firmly shut the door to an Alberto Contador victory, and likely even a podium spot. (Thanks to Karen for the subject line idea.)

After my “better and better” message over the last couple of days, I’m not really sure how to avoid redundancy here; this is simply some of the best Tour racing I’ve ever followed. Andy’s attack on the second of the day’s three monstrous climbs was audacious, and it was old-school, heralding back to LeMond, and Hinault and even Merckx – who bore witness to Schleck’s feat today, standing through the sunroof of an official Tour car, following close behind.

Andy didn’t catch his rivals off-guard so much as he led them to question his sanity. Something motivated him to accelerate with nearly 10,000 feet of climbing still to come: either the doubters’ catcalls ringing in his ears, or a thoughtful consideration of the depleting efforts that the other GC contenders had put in over the past week – or both; but judging by the reactions of Evans, Contador, Basso and even Voeckler, they simply assumed he was nuts. It wasn’t until they were halfway up the Galibier that they realized they’d waited too long, and that Andy Schleck was back.

But if Andy’s audacity set the stage for this awesome stage, it was Voeckler’s tenacity that provided the captivating climax. Seven years ago I sat in a movie theater and watched a Tyler Hamilton Foundation-sponsored big-screen broadcast of a Tour stage, but it was Voeckler who stole the show that day, hanging on to the Maillot Jaune by 22 seconds over Lance Armstrong. But this year’s version, though watched on our little TV with (son) Declan’s incessant, irrelevant interjections interrupting Phil and Paul’s commentary, made 2004 seem like a crackly AM radio account by comparison; such was the spectacle of Voeckler finishing yet another stage in Yellow, well over a week after the first Pyrenean stage, when the script said he was supposed to lose it. His face contorting even more wildly than we’d seen in earlier stages, the Frenchman wrung every modicum of effort from his body; after that climax we saw the denouement: Voeckler draped over his handlebars, breath heaving and legs quivering. And yet, in an interview this evening, he vowed to fight another day: in a characteristic show of class, he described the successful effort that “we” (he and his teammates) had made, and pledged to “honor the jersey” by throwing himself at the stage once again tomorrow.

Tomorrow, which should give us still more exciting racing. For while Schleck’s 60 km breakaway was impressive, it was not decisive; Cadel Evans lurks close behind him in the overall standings, and with a time trial looming on Saturday – a discipline favoring the Aussie – Andy likely needs to put more time into this rival tomorrow. That should prove difficult, as Evans will follow his every move, as he followed Contador’s earlier in the Tour. Today Evans realized too late that Contador and Sanchez were having un jour sans* (Did I mention the BFF thing?), and that Voeckler and his teammate Pierre Rolland were in no position to ramp up the pace for 40 painful miles, so it all fell to Evans. Valiantly he slung himself over his handlebars, grimacing for the better part of 90 minutes, locked in that odd, hunched style of his. (Somehow Evans, a slight, professional bike racer manages to appear chubby when he climbs.) He towed many of his rivals up the Galibier, ultimately reeling Andy’s lead back to a manageable margin. Schleck had played it well, as teamwork, guts and a bit of luck all played to his favor, but over his last few kilometers he looked like he was pedaling through pudding – or maybe the snow that had covered the finishing road just days earlier. And Evans thus heads into the final days in as solid a position as anyone.

In fact, just as the Yellow Jersey competition is far from settled, so are the races for the other jerseys, as is the team competition. Cavendish should have sewn up Green by now, but he was docked points when he finished outside the time limit, and now is just 15 points ahead of Rojas. Yellow, White and Polka-Dot all also remain to be settled. Which makes this a lot of fun to watch.

And makes our game fun to follow! Today only seemed to solidify Phil’s spot atop the podium, as he added Schleck’s 11 points to his total – and six to his lead. But there’s real action below: Jon vaulted five spots, into third place, and he holds Voeckler and Andy – and Cancellara and Cavendish, with a time trial and a sprint to come. Jon’s so sure that he’ll finish in the money that he’s traveled from the East Coast to the Bay Area just to collect.

Audacity, tenacity…and loquacity. Sorry folks; I just find this stuff a lot of fun.

Alpe d’Huez tomorrow! It should be a national holiday.

A demain –


* Un jour sans: A day without. All cyclists experience it sooner or later, from the most hardened professional to the lowliest amateur pretender. It differs from the ‘knock’, when the body runs out of energy, and the remedy for the knock is simple: take on more sustenance. Un jour sans, or défaillance is something else, more insidious, its symptoms like a creeping dread. On a climb, one struggles to find one’s rhythm, or settle into the saddle and spin, to find a gear that feels comfortable, to follow wheels as they pull inexorably ahead. The remedy is also not immediately obvious. Overtraining? Undertraining? A myriad of other possibilities, physical or even mental. – from the blog “WV Cycling”

Different Day, Same Story - Mostly: Stage 17 Recap


It’s tempting just to copy and paste yesterday’s account because so many of the themes held true today: Norwegian domination, Contador aggression and near-devastation on the twisty descent before the finish. And I’d repeat the subject line too: this just keeps getting better.

Only things played out just a bit differently; like any good story, new plotlines are developing: Sammy Sanchez, Contador’s new BFF* showed remarkable strength and admirable loyalty once again, staying with his countryman on the day’s key climb and then pacing him to the finish; soon Sammy will be the loudest voice in the if-not-for-the-team-time-trial chorus, and he’ll surely have to weigh his regional commitments to the financial ones he might receive from a stronger team. Meanwhile, the chinks in hero Thomas Voeckler’s armor are little by little showing his vulnerability; today it almost appeared as if he was simply beginning to buckle under the weight of the Yellow Jersey, as we see him making mistakes (like riding off the road or letting gaps form) that three days ago I don’t believe he’d have made. And today Contador’s aggression carried through to the final descent; he rode riskily enough that this time he dropped Evans, who was forced to collude with the Schlecks so as not to have to give back the precious seconds he gained yesterday. These new twists made today’s stage well worth following – once again.

Most of my recaps focus on the General Classification contenders, but there’s drama behind them, as the races for the White, Polka-Dot and Green Jerseys remain tight. The sprinters’ competition isn’t as narrow as the others, but drama pervades nonetheless: a couple of days ago American Tyler Farrar complained that Mark Cavendish had drafted behind team cars in order to catch back on with the “grupetto” (the group of sprinters who stick together on the big climbs, the idea being that the Tour organizers wouldn’t kick all of them out for finishing too far behind the leaders); Cav shot back that Farrar and others had surged on climbs, looking to drop their superior-sprinting rival where he’s vulnerable – something that’s not illegal (unlike drafting behind cars) but that just isn’t done. Farrar later apologized – and then today Cavendish notched another point on his way to what’s looking like a Green Jersey in Paris.

With unowned Edvald Boasson Hagen and Bauke Mollema taking the first couple of spots today, we awarded few points, and our standings changed very little. Tomorrow should be quite different, though, likely one of the three most decisive stages in this Tour. The riders will climb three hors categorie beasts totaling 17,000’, finishing atop the feared Col du Galibier. I’ve had the opportunity to ride up the more famed Alpe d’Huez – they’ll ascend that on Friday – but a friend tells me that the day he climbed “the Galibier” was his toughest ever on a bike. These guys will ride it after two other monsters. By the end of the day we should have a much clearer picture of this Tour’s GC competition – and of our own as well!

Set your DVRs: tomorrow should be one for the ages, with some completely new storylines.



*Basque Friend Forever

It just gets better and better: Stage 16 recap

Chris Horner and Juergen Van Den Broeck may differ; even Johnny Hoogerland or Laurent Ten Dam may draw a different conclusion. But to this cycling fan, this Tour is thrilling.

Thrilling enough that my distaste for Contador is diminishing: Fighting to close a deficit that opened with a stage 1 crash and has widened, a few seconds at a time, over a couple of key climbs, el Pistolero is bringing his big guns to the small battles, not waiting for towering Alpine ascents to wage war but attacking on some of this Tour’s milder climbs. Today he did just that, accelerating twice over the stage’s “minor” final climb, the second time distancing himself from predicted rivals Andy and Frank Schleck and new-found rival Thomas Voeckler. Of the favorites, only Cadel Evans and Sammy Sanchez could stay with him, the former taking the opportunity to build a lead of his own down a wet, treacherous descent into Gap, while the latter loyally paced his countryman Contador, closing a margin that could have become ultimately decisive. Contador’s riding was gutsy and savvy, borne of frustration, determination and solid tactics, as he and his director Bjarne Riis had clearly planned to use the plunge to the finish to the Schlecks’ descending disadvantage, and the Spaniard executed well. Perhaps Andy saw his career flash before his eyes as he descended toward “the Beloki corner,” as Phil Liggett called it; whatever the reason, he couldn’t keep up, and he lost valuable time.

For all of Contador’s – I’ll say it – panache, Evans was the day’s big winner. His BMC team of super-domestiques, including George Hincapie, who knows a thing or two about shepherding a GC winner to the base of a climb unharmed, did yeoman’s work in keeping him at the front of the peloton, so that when the big move happened, he was in prime position. Contador takes off like a shot; Evans is more like the Space Shuttle: you can see his big engine firing as he marks time, and loses ground, and then he begins to budge; you can almost picture smoke billowing from his thighs. Soon he’s fully revved up, and then those boosters kick in and he’s riding alongside and even past Contador. And once he reached the summit of that final climb with Contador, Riis’ tactics backfired as Evans, former mountain bike world champ that he is, gapped* his rivals by taking a few more risks on those wet curves. With Sanchez’ help, Contador kept the damage to a minimum, but in this Tour, every second counts, and Evans added a few more today.

While BMC’s performance put Evans in the right spot, Garmin Cervelo’s launched a successful break that saw two of their riders finish on the podium today, with Hushovd once again on the top step. This continues to be the Tour of the Great White North, as two Norwegians and a Canadian led today’s stage. Surely Hushovd would have sacrificed his own chances to see teammate Ryder Hesjdal take his first-ever Tour stage win, but with a fast-finishing Edvald Boasson Hagen between them, the risk wasn’t worth taking, so Thor added another stage victory to his palmares.

With the Alps looming, then, the Schlecks find themselves in a tough spot; they still lead Contador, but they appear very fallible. And one wonders: if they can’t win it this year, with Contador seemingly still tired after the Giro, and riding on a team that’s been built for them, with some of the world’s best time trialists supporting them on a route with many big climbs, just one individual TT and a decisive team time trial, a Schleck-brother may simply not be in the cards.

Which could be the one chink in Phil’s armor that ultimately makes him vulnerable. He still leads our game by 13 points, but his best GC hope is Andy Schleck – who may not even finish on the podium. The others beneath him hold combinations of Contador, Evans, Sanchez, and even Voeckler, so this is still anyone’s Tour. I’m sure that someone – Phil – could work out scenarios, maybe run some Monte Carlo simulations that calculate the likelihood of various results playing out – but please don’t. Let’s just sit back and watch this thrilling storyline play out.

A demain –


*You’ll notice that I made no “Gap” puns today, nor did I once suggest that Hushovd’s victory in Lourdes was a “miracle.” I haven’t even called this the “Thor de France.” We must draw the cliché line somewhere.

Pleasant Surprises -- No, not the fact that I'm actually writing an update! (Stages 13, 14 and 15)

Hello friends,

My apologies for the lack of updates! Travel to Southern California, a typically enjoyable family reunion and my wanting to get out on my own bike all conspired to keep me away from my computer. I’m relying on others’ (professional writers’!) recaps, as well as some highlight reels. It just ain’t the same as listening to Phil and Paul’s banter and watching that stage’s story develop, so I won’t try to write a full update.

Instead, I’ll reiterate an earlier point: this is the Tour of pleasant surprises (crashes notwithstanding). When Lance retired – both times – I feared that we were headed for some dark years, Tours de France devoid of compelling winners and entertaining storylines – that we’d be doomed to dark years of wooden or unlikeable personalities like -- apologies to the Spanish – Pereiro/Landis, Carlos Sastre and Alberto Contador. (I hear some of you already: that Armstrong was both wooden and unlikeable. I get the point – but maintain that even if you don’t like the guy and felt his racing style was too managed, the story made it all worth following.) I imagined Indurain- or Ullrich-like automatons, never attacking and never sharing anything juicy with the press. And this lack of interesting characters would extend beyond the GC contenders, into the climbers and the sprinters – for once you’ve had Pantani and Cipollini, few others seem terribly colorful.

Consider, then, many of this year’s protagonistes: Gilbert, Cavendish, Hushovd, Voeckler. They attack, they deliver interviews that are at least pleasant and at best eyebrow-raising; they ride with panache. And they each present a highly pleasant surprise. That Gilbert, a classics rider known for single-day successes would be vying for the green jersey, amassing points day after day, is surprising, as is Cavendish’s holding strong in the same competition – though not nearly so much as Hushovd winning a mountain stage, or (most of all) Voeckler holding the Yellow Jersey through the Pyrenees. I follow this stuff pretty closely; while I may not be able to pick a team like Phil, I do know my riders. But I never, ever would have predicted that Hushovd would win a stage that went over the Col d’Aubisque, or that little Tommy Voeckler would hang with Contador, the Schlecks, Evans and Basso up some of this Tour’s toughest climbs.

With a rest day before us, I’ll leave it at that: that I’m pleasantly surprised by this Tour, and having a blast following it (and happy to be back, able to follow it!). As to our game: Phil is padding his lead, and soon his wife may slot in, right on his wheel. Don’s followed the Cavendish-Hushovd one-two into second place for now, as Marissa’s fallen a bit. But we do have another week, mostly in the Alps, including an Homeric day that finishes atop the Tour’s most feared cimb, the Galibier. Hopefully there are more pleasant surprises in store.

A Mardi -