Saturday, July 21, 2007

Brave Chicken - Mouth of the Mersey

Recent years have seen many Tours de France follow a predictable pattern: Big Mig hangs on in the mountains, then pulverises the opposition in the time trials; Lance wins the first mountain stage and the time trials but spends the rest of the race behind his Jim Jones style dedicated team; Ullrich finishes second; Virenque wins when it no longer matters. But after 2006's welcome return of perspective (too much perspective), 2007's race is continuing a welcome retreat from the formulaic.

This weekend was always going to shuffle the pack with Sunday's mountain top finish for the climbers and Saturday's contre-le-montre for the triallists. Albi's Gothic piles provided the inevitable picturesque backdrop as the riders covered 54km of Tarn's rolling rainy roads. There were a few casualties, but handling the road has always been part of a TdF contender's challenges. None of the GC men hit the road, although Alejandro Valverde could hardly have lost more time had he done so.

The big ride came from Alexander Vinokourov, who is talking up his chances, but his eyes are telling us that it's too late. Chapeau to Vino who showed a competitor's spirit. The other big winners were Cadel Evans (now 1.00 down in second), Alberto Contador (at 2.31) and Andreas Kloden (at 2.34).

But my ride of the day was the Maillot Jaune's. Rasmussen is a notoriously bad time-triallist, especially under pressure in poor conditions and he must have felt the weight of an orgy of drug stories these past few days as he stared at the tarmac from the start house. So it was a brave Chicken indeed who held on to the Jersey and it will take a big ride to wrest it from his shoulders tomorrow.

Bradley Wiggins showed himself to be a stage winner of the future with a very fine ride for fifth place on the day, backed-up with a superbly phlegmatic interview from the team van.

Aussie Evans is the new favourite at 11/4, Rasmussen you can have at 7/2, Vino a very skinny 4/1, Kloden and Contador a handy 5/1. With the race heading towards tens of thousands of Spaniards lining the roads of the Pyrenees, I like the look of the young, but very strong, Contador.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Great Dane, a lucky Labrador and a Kazakh hounded out - Mouth of the Mersey

Today's stage of the Tour de France took the riders through some picture-postcard Alpine scenes, as they pedalled from Val-d’Isère to Briançon. Twelve years ago, inspired by the deeds of Roche and Zulle, Hinault and Lemond, Herrera and Parra, I took myself off to ride that same road, tackling first the Col du Telegraphe and then the fearsome Col du Galibier. Even with 1100cc of Yamaha power to help, it was no easy matter and gave me an enduring respect not just for the riders' endurance, but for the bike-handling needed to get up and down these ancient routes. These roads are for the hardest of sport's hardest men.

Race organisers like to include a chance for all types of riders to have their day in the sun, so, with two mountain top finishes to come next week when the race hits the Pyrenees, today's stage was constructed for the opportunist who could build a lead over the mighty Galibier and hold off the peloton all the way down to Briançon. Overall contenders know that on stages like this the Yellow Jersey can be lost but never won, so will sit back to let others make the race.

However, the first noteworthy incident of the day is destined for "What happened next?" quizzes and youtube immortality - we can laugh now we know all parties were unhurt, but it shows the dangers of open road racing. Click here for the action and navigate with the arrowheads. Barking mad!

On the lower slopes of the Galibier, two questions were resolved: (i) the stage's opportunist would be wild card entry Barloworld's Columbian climber Juan Mauricio Soler Hernandez; and (ii) pre-race favourite Alexander Vinokourov was in trouble with his injuries.

Soler had two minutes over the Galibier which proved enough on the 38km descent into the finish. His stage win will send his cycling-mad countrymen into riotous joy and makes us aging fans recall the great Cafe de Columbia equipes of the mid-eighties - how I would have liked to have worn that jersey without the fear of people pointing and laughing. His win rewards his enterprise and the race organisation, whose punt on Barloworld is proving very wise. Soler will never buy a drink in his homeland for the rest of his life.

Chasing Soler were a a very select group that included GC men Valverde, Evans, Contador, Mayo, Leipheimer, Kloden, Sastre and a brave Moreau. It also included a very strong Race Leader, Denmark's Michael Rasmussen, who must be hoping that the jersey will inspire him to personal bests in the time-trials to come. He is clearly the strong man in the mountains. The most prominent name missing from that list is Vino's who finished in tears and now trails the Yellow Jersey by an unbreachable 8 minutes 5 seconds. Vino's dream is over, probably for good.

The race is wide open as it leaves the Alps. You can get 3/1 about Valverde and Kloden; 5/1 about Aussie Evans; and 13/2 about Rasmussen and Contador; with Mayo at 16/1. The Mouth advises a piece of those two climbers at 13/2.

Join me on Sunday for an update after Saturday's Contre-le-Montre and Sunday's ferocious stage to the Plateau-de-Beille, before Mimi's back for next week's denoument.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Books – the next stage

Like the b******s you are you have been nominating in droves.

Here are the initial results as to what gets in the book. Some articles were nominated by almost everyone, some by most people, some by just one or two. They have been categorised as such.

There is also a partial cast list to go at the front of the book (see below) and the top-20 most read articles as of a couple of weeks ago.

The reason you are all b******s is that you have written so much and nominated so much and this took me effing ages – especially as I kept getting distracted and reading the articles (this is also my excuse for the umpty-blime typos below).

Comment if there are things you feel strongly should move class (up or down) or have been missed... We should be able to get 80-odd articles into the book.

On the boat

No Time for Games - Nestaquin
Curse of Commentators - Godlovesatheists
Reverse Angle - OffsideinTahiti
One More River - Doctorshoot
Ernest and the Boxer - The Boxer
Realism Does Not Talk - Leeroycal
Footballers - HannibalBrooks
Milkmaids…? by Zephirine
Cricket Hooligans - Margin
Big Game Fishing - Doctorshoot
I Love Lycra – Mimitig
Chanelle in all her guises

The Vaughn Tapes

Bought tickets

Peter Swan: Fighting the Past - allwell

The Day the Music Died - Kokomo

A Great English Game - Greengrass

In good time - MouthoftheMersey

Tahiti Nui Va'a - OffsideinTahiti
Kusturica on Maradona - Marcela Mora y Araujo
Woodcutters Revolution - Nestaquin
Should 2 Shots Carry? - Postern
Possum skin - Levremance
Abide with me - duncan23
100 years of the TT - MouthoftheMersey
Istanbul or bust - Ebren
Not a Boxing Classic - File
World of the Velodrome - Mimitig
Blades and Imbeciles - Ebren
Through the Looking Glass - Ebren
The Home Advantage - Doctorshoot
Things Would Never Be - Zephirine
The Velodrome - Byebyebadman
Drive of My Life - Ebren
The Dark Arts of Filippo Inzaghi - byebyebadman
A Passionate Prawn Sandwich Fan by Iddy
Feedback on the Exam by MouthoftheMersey
Your history's no good to me - Kokomo

In the queue

Want to kick the old possum skin around? - levremance
Feedback on the Exam - MotM
At home with Duckworth and Lewis - Zephirine
The Game in Europe - BlueinBetis
An Owl cries as the Blades go down - allwell
More Fun than Avenida Revolución on College Night. Maybe. - honolulu
In Celebration of Radio commentary - mimitig
Zimbo or Zimno? by MouthoftheMersey
The Meaning of Sport - Greengrass
Brave new game - tonyellis
Alan Ball. A trailblazing modern footballer - Margin
Everyone gets a smile - paulita
"Don't bother, I'm never going to understand cricket" - Ebren
Good riddance Maradona: Argentinos Juniors '85 season - Pipita
Blogoholics Anonymous - Mimitig and MouthoftheMersey
Crouching Peter, Hidden Talent - allwell
Daniel Alberto Passarella: A River Plate legend - Pipita ... duelling tangoes with paulita
Part-time fan - tonyellis
The Branston Rabids File
and counting...

Somebody loves me

Prozac nation - JB71
The Boat Race - mimitig
Would you trust Maradona to mark his own golf score? - Postern
Sports and Authority (Escape from Alcatraz) - Guitougoal
Where Are We Now? - Greengrass
Uncharitable Football - Margin
"So, Freddie…" - Zephirine
The trouble with Spurs' identity - Margin
Black et Bleu - Reemgear
My Hero - Kevin Sheedy - MouthoftheMersey
Ten things I never want to see again - MouthoftheMersey
Plissken - Phoenix from the ice
6 degrees 12 goals - Ebren
Human manager vs machine - Miro
Lack of charisma (Crespo) - pipita
How sport reflects our lives - mimi
The cerebral cortex of Ray Kale - godlovesatheists
Dock Ellis - duncan23
It's not just a game - paulita
Four British Heroes - Mimitig
Absolute Beginners Allwell
It’s Evolution Baby! File
FA Cup Final File
least-likely-scudetto-ever - Ebren
Is football tart - file
A text from Shane - lev
Tribulations of Brazil's most flamboyant defender – pipita
How much do I care about cycling? mimitig
Of course he won - Ebren

Cast list - help needed badly

I love you all very much - but after writing the first batch of these I ran out of inspiration. Who is and who is not covered is not a statement on how/how much I think of you, but simply where you were put arbritarily on the list.

Mimitig: Despite a passion for music that has seen her described a "queen of the oboe", mimi ran from the national acclaim that LSO membership would bring and took up residence in deepest darkest Scotland. Unfortunately this did little to abate her love of cycling, Ian Bell, and Rob Smyth. Rumours that her trip up north was a result of a restraining order from one of the afore-mentioned are as yet unproven.

Zeph: Lyrical screen icon and regular at London's more fashionable nightspots - Pseuds' corner's connection to the world of celebrity. Yet to understand sports other than cricket unless they involve milking things.

andrewm - Scottish blogger of good repute, attractive to cats. In love with Marcela and other exotics including offside. Sadly they are not cats.

offside: Loin-cloth-clad, cocktail-sipping Frenchman. Exiled from France at first to Ireland, he eventually got an upgrade to Tahiti - where his characteristic dress attracted fewer comments.

Margin: Operating on the fringes of society, this sword of truth penetrates straight to the black heart of the matter, eschewing convention wisdom and cliché to expose the underlying issues. He likes Spurs as well.

Mouth: An Everton-supporting, motorbike-riding, cricket-mad sports nut. As insightful as he is prolific, amusing as he is knowledgeable, Mouth has carved out a reputation as the king of the oboe to sit on a throne alongside mimi.

greengrass: If you wanted to create the perfect foil for a cocktail-swilling, loincloth-clad Frenchman in Polynesia you might not initially think of a folk-singing, Man U fan exiled in Sweden. But you would be wrong, and Peter Crouch in gold-lame hot pants is Very Disappointed with you. No beer tonight.

Koko: Few Liverpool fans live in Leeds. Koko is one. Another of the corner's poets, koko spends his days trying to save the NHS and posting pictures of himself and his wife on the internet.

Ebren: As a footloose and fancy free denizen of London, Ebren wanders the capital looking for the latest sporting thrill and trying to decide what sport he likes best. In his spare time he is an iconoclastic new-media empire builder.

Hannibal: With more identities than Prince this northern DJ gives up his spare time to research jazz clips to share with his friends and other enemies. Having only missed four Liverpool home games in 30 years it's fair to say he is a passionate Man U supporter, just one with Fabien Barthez's sense of direction.

Marcela: as beautiful as her prose, as well-connected as a convicted murder in the southern states of the USA, this Argentine temptress is loved by all - but most especially by andrewm. Splitting her time between the football cities of London and Buenos Aires, Marcela has been known to make real actual Premiership footballers read poetry.

guitougoal: Thrown from his Gallic home to the existential and irony-free hell that is LA, guitou survives by printing T-shirts in cans, reading and writing about sports, and campaigning against The Man and for the many.

file: Rumours that Thai brides first drew our faithful file to the land of future Man City owners have been hastily investigated by Belgian centre half and part time private eye Hercules Profiterole. But one thing is certain - any man passing through an airport turnstile sideways is going to Bangkok.

Bluedaddy: Perhaps the only Chelsea-loving bookworm in the village.

jonnyboy71: Sworn enemy of andrewm (at least to andrewm), Glouster-supporting, pimp-mobile-driving, rugby fan. Dabbles in motorsport and does a mean Clarckson impression.












The boxer












the tapir:

small Scottish cat:

and anyone I've missed out.

Just for fun

Here's the top-20 most read articles. But this is dodgy as anyone reading from the front page won't show up and posting links to your stories/emailing them around can screw with the placements.

Still, interesting list. (The top 50 list counted as a vote for inclusion).

Top 20 most read as of 12/07/2007
1981 - Mario Kempes - Pipita
K on M by MMyA
Feedback on Exam - mouth
Chantelle and titi - Z
Blogaholics - mimi and mouth
Things will never be the same - zeph
Great players, one club, no medals - BD
Ever fallen in love - Mouth
Footballers - HB
Ernest and the boxer
Cricket should tackle - Margin
Dan Alb Pass - pipita
Falling ticket prices - Margin
100 years of TT - Mouth
Don't bother I'm never gonna understand - me
Tahiti nui vaa - offy
England's latest crisis - mimi and mouth
Zimbo or zimo - mouth
Where are we now - GG
Game in Europe - BiB

Things I think should be on but no one else agrees with me: (only one of mine)

Lycra, leather and rubber - by Mimitig

No, I'm not in the pay of Ebren and thinking up a title that could figure large on Google searches, just describing what this day has been about. I could have equally have entitled this: Pain, broken bones and dreams. Where to start? With rubber, I think as rubber was just so important today.

At the Sachsenring, young Stoner's win was foiled by Bridgestone rubber not lasting the distance - on a day when Rossi had a nightmare. Unwell before the start, Rossi was already swamped when he crashed out on lap 5. Later, after a visit to the medical centre, Rossi refused to excuse his performance because of running a high temperature. I made a mistake, he said. Earlier his team boss, tough Aussie Jerry Burgess also had no sympathy - "Nah - his condition made no difference".

They're a hard lot these Aussies. Which made it all the worse when this afternoon we moved from leather to lycra and saw top men Michael Rogers and Stuey O'Grady abandon from the Tour - worse, carried off in ambulances. What happened to Mick was truly heart-breaking. In the leading group on this incredibly hard day in the mountains, it really looked as though he had a chance of taking the Maillot Jaune and making an impression as a true contender for the win in Paris.

What happened next was not just the stuff of nightmares for Tour riders, but for all cyclists. Mechanical failure pitched him into the edge on a descent and he remounted only to clutch in agony at his wrist and shoulder. Damn, probably the collar-bone, I thought - I've been there and it is worse than a leg injury. Boardman reckoned that it's probably a sacking offence for the mechanic responsible - Mick's tyre came off the rim (there's more rubber for you). All I know is that one of my favourites has now abandoned and I so agreed with Phil Liggett when they showed the pictures of Mick in tears getting off his bike: "It's not a place for cameras". He should have ended today in yellow and I was in tears myself. O'Grady also abandoned - carried off on a stretcher after another crash.

Bloody awful day for the Australians, but at least Cadel Evans is still in the hunt. Mayo, Contador and Valverde all had a pretty decent day but were washed away by the Dane Michael Rasmussen - he of the ludicrously skinny arms and legs. He got the win, the cuddly lion, the polka dot jersey and the adoration of the crowd. He's just not a lovable hero, and me, I so so wanted Mick to get it today. However this is the charm, heart-ache or break and romance of Le Tour - we start a day, and maybe go 70 or so kilometres in, thinking of one end, and then it changes, dramatically. This was only the second day in the mountains and we have the Pyrenees to come before Paris so god only knows what will happen. The one thing you can be sure of this year - the Tour's wide open.

Over at the other place, the MotoGP is still wide open at half way stage. Vale may have binned it, but Casey suffered woes and could only get 5th. Tiny Dani Pedrosa got the win and was joined on the podium by lovely Loris Capirossi and dull Nicky Hayden. Loris is seriously under threat for his job next year so this won't have harmed his chances. Top Ducati and top Italian.

So we go into a day of rest for the men in lycra, a week of testing for the men in leather, and a swift return to the labs and testing grounds for the rubber men. For me, I try to reign in my passions for a while. So much excitement in one day - and so much heartbreak.

Sport, eh? Don't you just love it?

Two Wheels Good, Four Wheels Bad - Mimitig

I didn't think up that title lightly - as a long-time fan of Formula One, Touring Cars and Le Mans, it is a sorrow to me, and shaming that all the headlines and column inches these last few days about four-wheeled motorsport have been about the McLaren/Ferrari spy scandal. Now, this is with the courts at the moment so least said the better, but what I must say is that Ron Dennis is one of the most honourable men on the planet and it is, to me, unbelievable that he would be involved in anything dirty. The real sadness is that whatever the outcome of the case, this year's championship will most likely be remembered primarily for the skull-duggery and not for Lewis Hamilton's amazing debut as an F1 driver.

However, with MotoGP and Le Tour taking centre stage this weekend, I do celebrate the men on two wheels. It's not just that they are totally and utterly insane: in what other sports do men compete carrying serious injury? I mean, in athletics some French long-jumper received a gentle spearing by an errant javelin and went off injured! Huh, our men are made of sterner stuff. In bikes they ride with broken hands, feet and occasionally legs.

Today, Andreas Kloden climbed back in the saddle with a fractured coccyx and his team mate, Alexandre Vinokourov took the start with both knees and one elbow stitched up (not counting the really nasty wound on his right buttock). They stayed safe on the first mountain stage today, watching while unknown Gerdemann took the win, the Maillot Jaune (so he got the cuddly lion) and the white jersey. Australians Cadel Evans and Michael Rogers did themselves no disservice and remain on course for a high General Classification. Over at the Sachsenring, another Aussie claimed pole for the bike race. Young Casey Stoner is really looking like a champion this season.

But it's not just the competitors that throw wide the gulf between the two and four-wheeled sports. Readers of my previous articles will know that I have a keen ear for commentary - mostly preferring chaps on the wireless, but I don't always turn the sound off on the telly and I have been following a few pairs of commentators for many a year now. In F1 we have the pairing of Brundle and Allen. Now, Martin Brundle is an ex-racer who knows his stuff and still puts himself on the line getting into racing cars and risking making a fool of himself. James Allen is a complete idiot who thinks he knows it all, but knows less than the average fan and it's obvious in the commentary box that Brundle despises him. Doesn't make for good commentary.

Move over to the motor-cycles and we have the utterly charming combination of Steve Parrish and Charlie Cox. Now here's a thing - Charlie has never ridden a bike in anger and doesn't pretend to have that experience. An ex-tin-top driver who has discovered bikes through his BBC contract, he is the perfect foil for old racer Parrish - who still gets on the bikes to take us through a lap of the track. Charlie, an Australian, uses his immense depth of language - metaphor and simile being his speciality (he needs that like a third armpit, they're sliding around like dogs on lino, it's a nightmare in a bubble car, he's flat out like a lizard drinking being just a few examples) and Steve is so modest about his own past as a TT winner, that we sometimes forget how important his name is in British motor-cycling.

It's much the same in the road-cycling. Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett share the same warm camaradie as Charlie and Steve. They never mention their own achievements but work so well as a team. When they describe a stage on Le Tour, it could be filled with memories of what they'd done, but it never is. They are quite possibly the best commentating duo on television in this era. The Tour also benefits from the best presenter - Gary Imlach. Immaculate credentials within the sporting fraternity make Imlach an instantly recognisable name (and football fans will know exactly what I mean here), and his front-of-the-house partnership with British cycling legend Chris Boardman is one that over the last few years has become a benchmark for presenters and specialists. Of course it helps that Boardman still gets on his bike to ride the final K or so of a stage and explain the trickeries of the course for the viewers, and helps that Imlach is still in awe of Chris's achievements in the saddle.

But isn't that what we look for in commentary? Experts who are not afraid to get their hands dirty and presenters who are true fans, of the sport and of the heroes. Formula One is just so lacking.

Zounds, or possibly Zut alors. This was supposed to be a preamble to a piece tomorrow rounding up the first week's racing in France with maybe something on the motor-cycles, but it's already too long. Without GU's stringent 500 word limit, my passions run away. I'll return later.

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