Tour of California PostMortem

A Note from Fatty: This is one of those weird “What is this entry doing in this blog” entries, where instead of fake news or fart jokes, I actually talk about what I’m thinking.

I apologize in advance, and thank you for your indulgence, also in advance.

The Tour of California wasn’t just a comeback event for a bunch of well-known pro cyclists; it was a comeback race for me. I haven’t watched a professional bike with anything but mild curiosity since Floyd Landis got suspended.

Well, I guess a couple years off was enough; I really got invested in this race. And now that it’s over, I have a few comments. A few are about the race and racers, some are about myself, and some are about the media.

And all of it is hereby presented in the order it occurs to me.

The Non-Clash of the Titans

If a year ago you would have asked me what my greatest regret for the universe of pro cycling was, it would have been that there would never be a matchup between Armstrong, Basso, Landis, Hamilton, and Ulrich.

But last week, there they all were. Except Ulrich, of course.

So I started developing this fantasy where all of them, on the last big climb of the last day, would drop the rest of the field and battle it up for supremacy at the big summit.

Oh, also, in my fantasy, Ulrich surprises everyone at the base of the climb by jumping out from behind the boulder and contesting the climb along with the rest of them.

Hey, it’s my fantasy.

In reality, though, none of that happened. Armstrong rode for Leipheimer, Landis attacked but without conviction, Hamilton was out of shape, and Basso dropped out of the race, complaining of a sore goiter. Or something like that.

I’m hoping for something a lot more chaotic and intense in Italy in a couple months.

Lots of People Are Very Cool

At 3:53pm during the race prologue, I made an offhanded remark that would snowball in an awesome way. Specifically, I liveblogged:

Hey, there’s Bob Roll. Hi, Bob! Your voice is cracking. Also, it’s time for you to get rid of that little fin of hair on the top of your head.

That evening, I talked with Scot Nicol (AKA Chuck Ibis), founder of Ibis Cycles. Scot was working with Bob Roll, doing secret man-on-the-inside stuff.

Together we hatched a plan. I’d set up a LiveStrong challenge page for Bob, and then Scot would ask Bob whether he would shave his head if we raised $5000 to fight cancer.

Bob said yes immediately.

Lots of people and publications spread the word, and Bob raised over $8500 as part of Team Fatty: Fighting for Susan. And Bob got his head shaved, by Bruyneel, on camera.

We’ll be sending out prizes to a few lucky contributors — signed jerseys, bags o’ schwag — but a few of you got an even cooler prize: Bob Roll recorded you an outgoing voicemail message you can use on your phone.

Oh, and he recorded one for me too.

The Amgen Tour Tracker Was Awesome

I don’t think I have ever seen a cooler, more useful web app than the Amgen Tour Tracker. Video! Real-time course and elevation chart mapping! Text updates! Everything a fan could want.

To Amgen, the ATOC organizers, the developers, and the people who maintained that site: congratulations on an incredible and useful site.

I really, really, really hope that the Giro and Tour organizers do something similar. Really really.

Versus Needs to Understand Its Audience Better

I’m really glad that the Tour of California was broadcast on television. And I think Versus did a pretty good job of handling the broadcast duties.

And based on the frequency and duration of the ads during each stage, I’d say Versus got what it wanted out of this race, too. In which case, they probably don’t care about my gripes. Which I am going to enumerate anyway.

First, let’s talk about Craig Hummer. Giving someone like Craig Hummer — someone who doesn’t really know much about cycling — a microphone isn’t by itself a bad idea. That person’s job, however, should be to ask the experts — Phil and Paul — the questions that other people new to the sport might ask.

That person’s job should not be to act as if he knew what was going on. By making wrongheaded, rookie-level assertions, he just confuses the audience, embarrasses himself, and forces Phil and Paul to constantly decide whether it’s worth it to correct Hummer on-air.

Until he can at least sorta-kinda pronounce “palmares,” Hummer needs to take the role of attentive apprentice during the broadcast, and leave the pronouncements of what’s going on in Lance’s head to Phil and Paul.

Second, let’s talk about Rasika Mathur. While the choice of Hummer as co-anchor is defensible, the choice of improvisational actor Rasika Mathur to do comedy spots on cycling is not.

I think I get what Versus was after here, at least on paper: a young woman brings some moments of humor to an event otherwise dominated by serious, uptight men. Hopefully.

The thing is, though, in order to lampoon something, you have to understand it. Then, if you make fun of it well, it’s funny at a couple of levels. People on the outside recognize the quirks they see in cyclists they know and see on the street and laugh at the common experience.

Meanwhile, people who are on the inside get it and laugh at themselves.

In this case, though, the whole joke seemed to be that Rasika knew nothing at all about cycling. And so she marveled that it was easier to turn the cranks when you shift into a lower gear (something every child with a 3-speed, and every adult who has been in an automobile already knows), asked sexist questions designed to make people uncomfortable, and did an impression of Lance Armstrong that seemed much more like she was doing an impression of Mick Jagger.

There are people who can poke fun at cycling perfectly well. Versus should hire The Metal Cowboy. Or Bike Snob NYC. Or Captain Dondo, for crying out loud.

Or, here’s a wacky idea: how about Bob Roll, who you’ve got on staff anyway?

The bottom line is: If you’re going to hire someone to be topically funny, you need to ensure that the funny person knows enough to be topical.

Rasika was neither topical, nor funny.

I Am Unnecessary

I kind of stumbled into the whole “liveblog” thing. I was sick (yes really) almost the entire week, staying home from work. So I got in a lot of TV. And I thought, “might as well try liveblogging it.”

The thing is, I had a lot of fun doing that, but — let’s face it — I certainly don’t know enough about pro cycling to predict who is going to win a given stage. In fact, I seem to not even know enough to predict what kind of rider is going to win.

Still, though. I think I might try it again. Not the whole stage race, but certain stages.

And now I need a couple of days off.

PS: I’m very interested in your impressions and reactions to the Tour of California, even if you disagree. Though I may edit your comments so that it seems like you actually do agree with me.

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