Been There, Done That

commentary on many different thoughts

Month: July, 2013

Horse Historical

Couple of days ago, I was chuckling about 1974, when Rodney Jenkins alarmed the international teams in London by sweeping a couple of the big-money, big-prestige classes – with his second and third string. They were, shall we say, a little concerned about Idle Dice. And well they should have been.

Idle Dice was bought off the track by someone with a marvellous eye (but who made one major mistake here) for a paltry sum. He was to be a hunter. Yeah right, said Idle Dice. He was, therefore, sold to someone with an eye for talent, and presented to Rodney Jenkins as a mount, and the rest is history.

After a few days of rest from the trans-Atlantic trip, Rodney brought Idle Dice out for the final class, the one everyone and his great-aunt Louise wanted to win. I watched them warm up. They flatted for a while, doing very, very respectable third-level dressage. Then trotted a couple of crossrails. Then cantered a couple of low (and I mean the kind I could have jumped) verticals. Then the groundsman set up a vertical at 5 feet (top of the standards). No filler. Just a ground rail and the white pole. Rodney looped the reins, put Idle Dice into a nice working TROT, and hopped over this one and went into the ring, to win the class. I lost my heart to that horse right then and there.

The Ugly – TdF Stage 16

I have said before that I admire teamwork in action. I admire fair play. I admire people who help other people and who do their fair share. Which is why Alberto Contador gets my vote for The Ugly of this year’s Tour de France.

First, he’s a past winner. He was stripped of the title and banned – for a year – when he tested positive for a prohibited substance. He was banned for a year. (This rankles for an Armstrong fan). Before that, he had been on a team as a supporter for Armstrong, and promptly forgot that they were on the same team. (Another story, another time). Not a team player.

This year, he’s been a parasite. He’s constantly on the wheel (hanging behind) someone else, be it teammate or rival. He does not do his share of the work. Case in point – watch Chris Froome (the current holder of the yellow jersey) when he’s riding without team support with just other rivals. He will still go to the front and do the heavy lifting when it’s his turn (granted he’ll blow them out of the water as soon as he gets a chance, but when they’re riding together, he helps).

This particular stage was particularly revealing of Contador’s true nature. He, Froome and Post were out by themselves. It was obvious that they were going to stay fairly close together for the lion’s share of the trip, and that Contador wasn’t going to be able to shake them. He tried, several times, to get away from them. So what did he do? He dropped back and hung onto Froome’s wheel, letting someone else do the work. When Froome waved at him to take his turn up front (this is standard practice in bike racing – even with rivals, if you’re too far out to really start to burn it, you do some of the work, drop back and someone else takes a turn. They drop, and the leader rotates.) it was clear that Contador was not going to play nice.

Going to be interesting what happens later this week. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

The Bad TdF – Stage 16

Kind of interesting, in a sad sort of way, watching some of the biggest names in cycling dropping like flies this year. Makes you wonder just how many of them narrowly escaped Lance Armstrong’s fate. I can count at least 10 names who should have been near the top of the leaderboard who – aren’t. Guess what they’re not doing this year!

On that subject: permit my humble opinion. Lance Armstrong was railroaded. Yes, he did drugs. Yes he was a bad boy. But why strip him of all of his hard-won (you can’t tell me that he didn’t put blood, sweat, toil and tears into the string of wins, whatever was trotting through his veins) titles when you’re not doing the same to everyone else? Consider whatshisname who won a couple of years ago, tested positive and was stripped of THAT title – and banned for a year, not for life. And considering the carnage on this year’s Tour, I think this wasn’t the only case.

I think the committee wanted a scapegoat and I think Armstrong was elected. He still has my vote for an amazing athlete.

The Good … TdF Stage 16

Part one of a 3-parter

The Good:

Teamwork again. I enjoy watching teamwork done well – especially people who can put their team above their own personal glory. Two individuals stand out: Dr. Reinier Klimke and Ritchie Post. Dr Klimke rode for the German dressage team for many, many years (five Olympic team golds among them). Dr Klimke was a team player (sure he set out to give the best performance he and his horses could manage, but his eye was on team glory). If you’ll check the Olympic records, it’s clear that Dr. K used his top-string horses for the team competition and used his second-best (usually still good enough for an individual medal!) for the individuals. It was clear in 1984 that he was given the go-ahead to “go for it”. And he did.

(Slight diversion on subject of second-string horses: in 1974 the woman I worked for took me to Olympia in London for the Queen Elizabeth Cup. The USA had sent a young red-headed professional (Rodney Jenkins!) along with the team (first time a professed professional rode on the squad). His star performer Idle Dice (oooooh that horse … more on him another time) was resting, and Rodney was showing his second and third string. He mopped the floor with Number 1 Spy, a youngster not really confirmed at the level. I remember the British muttering worriedly about the strength of that American team – this was, after all, their second string …. )

Back to teamwork: On a really nasty stretch of mountain roads in Provence, Ritchie Post, a Tasmanian working for Chris Froome (yellow jersey) has shown the most incredible guts and selflessness in helping his team leader stay out of trouble. He has battled obnoxious rivals (check out “The Bad” and “The Ugly” coming soon), climbed mountains, worked himself to the point of exhaustion, and most assuredly earned his paycheck. Even the television commentators were moved to say that “if there was an MVP award, it would have to go to Ritchie”. This is what it means to work for a team. Well done, sir!

Groaner Alert

Long ago there was a man who had a truck farm. He grew all sorts of produce but his pride and joy was his specialty cantaloupe. He’d developed this very delicious strain, which he sold primarily to fancy restaurants.

Trouble was, the local youths loved his cantaloupes too, and would climb the fences late at night and steal them. After consulation with the local constabulary, the farmer went into town. He visited a security agency, and came home with the perfect solution, a very large dog. When his wife asked him “is that your cantaloupe watchdog?”, he replied (wait for it)

No, that’s my melon collie, baby.

You may now groan.

My Hero

Mark Cavendish has just earned himself a 25th stage win in the Tour de France. This is not a trivial accomplishment. This is blood and sweat and toil and tears. It’s the agony of defeat (as well as the agony of de feet and de butt and de back, as any professional cyclist will tell you) and it’s riding in rain and snow and sleet and hail and gloom of night.

It does, however, have its compensations, as you could see on the face of the Man from Man when he crossed the finish line first. The thrill of victory is a nice warm fuzzy to take away a lot of the stress and strain. Well done Mr. Cavendish.

Musings Historical

Just finished Doris Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals”, upon which the blockbuster film “Lincoln” is based. I’ve got to say that for an historian, Ms. Goodwin makes a great novelist. Although the book is well- and thoroughly researched, it is also peppered with “it is rumored” and “many rumors abound” and other forms of hearsay. A true historian is supposed to rely on fact.

The film is very, very true to the book, to the detriment of both. The film is 3 hours in length and could have benefited from some serious cutting. The book is well over 700 pages, ditto. Actually, the book could have been three quite literate individual books: one on Lincoln and his rise to the presidency (which is fascinating in and of itself); one on Lincoln and his cabinet (which was, indeed, a team of rivals – and I must admit that Ms. Goodwin does an admirable job of painting these characters); one of the travails involved in the passage of the 13th Amendment (and this part truly deserved to be independent of the rest of the book). As a side issue, both in the film and in the book, the “sidebars” of Mary Todd Lincoln and the little boys could have been completely eliminated, and would have made a tighter story.

As with the film, there’s too much going on. On the other hand – and to be completely fair – well worth the investment in time and paper (to keep track of “who’s who and where they come in”) to get a vivid picture of the man, his time, and his troubles.

Oh Wow! – TdF Stage 11

Put Mont-St-Michel high on my list of places to see. Seriously spectacular, or at least the helicopter shots of the individual time trials were eye-popping.

The time trials themselves were equally eye-popping, especially the last three finishers. In the individuals, you are out there on your own for 25 kilometers; just you, the clock, the magnificent scenery (which you are unfortunately too busy to appreciate) your bike and the road. Tony Martin, the world and Olympic time trials champion, went early in the standings with a blistering time, commensurate with being the world champion. Nobody came close for a long time, so Tony was sitting near the victory podium – for about 4 hours – waiting for the rest of the racers to finish.

Alberto Contador (material for another time) didn’t make it. Caddel Evans (another past winner) didn’t come close. The young man who blew the doors off everyone in the Pyrenees lost his white jersey (best young rider under 25) to another kid. Then came Chris Froome (the current wearer of the mailliot jaune).

Froome proceeded to scorch Martin’s time by one second at the first checkpoint, and almost two seconds at the second checkpoint. Flash to Martin, who’s in agony. Flash to Froome, pedalling away. Flash to Martin, fingers crossed, toes crossed, eyes crossed. If he could have crossed his ears, he would have. Flash to Froome. Flash to Martin (the commentators certainly knew how to play this one!). At the finish, oooooh so close, but Froome dropped by what I believe was half a second behind Martin to finish second in the stage and retain a good, solid hold on the yellow jersey.

I am very impressed with the folks who run this program – they know when to shut up and let the clock tell its own story, and they know when to offer explanations. And I am seriously impressed with the competitors: this is true guts. See you guys in Paris!

A Bas Les Aristos

Happy Bastille Day! Sneer at a Lexus for me.

Storming the Bastille

Oooops! TdF Stage 9

Assumptions can be dangerous! Pierre Rolande, a Frenchman who is a mountain specialist, is currently wearing the polka-dot jersey which denotes King of the Mountains. He was far, far ahead of the peloton going into the climb challenge, and made a mistake no pro should make. He coasted. The small problem? A young ‘un with visions of glory blasted right past him in the last 50 metres. Embarrassing for a reigning pro.

Granted, Rollande has a solid grip on his jersey for the time being, but the young ‘un picked up some points, a fairly substantial cash prize, and a smug sensation to take home.

Moral of the story: don’t count your chickens before they hatch.