Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Well, il Giro is over. What was billed to be the most dramatic Giro d’Italia in years failed to dazzle as much as could be expected, but don’t blame Ivan Basso: the man simply dominated the field. ‘Nuff said. There were a lot of expectations coming into the race, and a number of surprises at the end. Anyone who CORRECTLY predicted the podium could have won a lot of money, mostly on account of Jose Guiterrez Cataluna of Phonak, but also the absence of Di Luca, Cunego, and Savoldelli from the top 3. Thinking about hype versus results, who impressed, and who let us down?

Exceeded Expectations:

1 ) CSC : Crushing Victory

Heavy favorites going into the Giro, they were the only team that could be said to have “performed as expected” if they WON the whole thing. But Basso took the thing out by almost TEN MINUTES. Riis’s boys simply crushed all opposition; despite gifting away stage wins, and never looked like the race was out of their hands. They won the Team Time Trial, showcasing their performance as a squad, and Basso had to try pretty hard not to pull an Eddy and take out ALL of the classifications. Ivan Basso had to be a tired, tired man on the podium in the last week, pulling on not only the Maglia Rosa, but the points jersey and the mountains jersey as well, in addition to leading the non-jerseyed combativity and Azzurri d’Italia categories.

2 ) Saunier Duval : Little Budget, Big Results

This team is the Little Fire Engine That Could. With a tiny budget for a protour team, they pulled a major coup in signing Gilberto Simoni. Second place, plus two stage wins by a still-fiery Piepoli, is pretty impressive. I don’t recall reading his name once in all of the pre-race hype, but watching him being the only man to hold Basso’s wheel on a miserably wet Stage 13 was impressive. I think I can!

3 ) Gerolsteiner: German Upstarts Come Good

With their baby-blue kits against the other German team’s pink (magenta, whatever,) it looks like a nation of cyclists spent a little too much time at “Babys R Us.” Though they didn’t contest the major mountain stages, the water boys came good with three stage wins: two by an impressive Stefan Schumacher, and Forster shaking it up on the streets of Milano. Held the Maglia Rosa for a few days, too. They should’ve given Ullrich a blue jersey those days, just for balance.

4 ) Phonak : Taste the Rainbow

Seriously, these guys are a Skittles commercial. Have you seen them at time trials? They’ve got green, white, and yellow kits, red aero booties, and black and red bikes. Well, at least it’s not blue or pink.

José Gutierrez Cataluna, though, was pretty impressive. It was a little bit of a Francisco Mancebo move, but nonetheless, watching this unsung hero hang tough with the best was exciting. Mancebo move? Well, he didn’t win a stage, and didn’t start any of the action, he just stayed in the fight with very solid time trial performances and clinging like a limpet to Basso and the rest in the mountains. Still, it’s quite a feather in the rainbow-coloured caps of the Phonak squad.

This is a good thing, because with Phonak’s sponsorship ending this season, the team that would be ishares.com needs to prove themselves.

And maybe they’ll earn some better colours.

5 ) Quick*Step : Breakfast of Champions

In the classics, listening to Phil Ligget describe the Quick Step train went something like this: “There’s the world champion on the wheel of the Olympic champion, being lead by the Belgian champion.” Better known as a classics force, the Belgian team didn’t come into the Giro with a lot of pressure as a team. Paolo Bettini, on the other hand, had a bone to pick. Though he’s a bit of a, shall we say, “personality,” raising his arms in pretend victory once, disgust on other occasions, after much trying, he came good with a stage win. Their “other champion,” Spain’s Juan Manuel Garate, had an impressive performance, mixing it up day after day in the breakaways, coming good with a stage win memorable for Jen’s Voigt’s gesture as much as anything. Bettini walked away with the Maglia Ciclamino points jersey, Garate with the green mountains jersey.

Fell Short :

1 ) Lampre-Fondital : Nothing to Show for it

The biggest positive thing that came out of Lampre’s Giro was Damiano Cunego’s final week, which showed that last year’s general sucking really was the result of mononucleosis, and the guy’s still got a lot of years ahead of him. But for a tiny super-climber, Cunego was p0sitively pWned by bA$ … I mean, by Basso, and without even a podium in Milano or a stage win, they top the losers list, along with the other team that’s made the Giro the focus of their season:

2 ) Liquigas: Di Luca Doesn’t Deliver

“The Killer” wasn’t scaring anyone with his shark-faced saddle this year, ending up 23rd, almost an hour in arrears. No good. The only thing that saved them from topping the losers list was Franco Pellizotti, whose stage win and top-10 spot were as unexpected as they were impressive. Maybe they should’ve worked for him? For Di Luca, winner of last year’s (what does this do?) UCI ProTour, it leaves the feeling of “what next?” He cut down his classics campaign to focus on the Giro, and ended up with nothing.

3 ) T-Mobile : No Cigar for You

Since I’m from Portland, Oregon, I have a special place in my heart for T-mobile. Wait, what does this have to do with anything? Portland houses Paul Allen’s infamous Trail Blazers basketball team, which has consistently had the highest budget in the league, but failed to deliver. Sure, they have an impressive performance now and then, and they ought to with the kind of cash they’re putting down.

Yes, Jan Ullrich took on all comers in winning the individual time trial.

Apart from that, though, t-mobile’s Giro was a collection of “almosts.” They ALMOST one the Team Time Trial, losing by a single second when one Mattias Kessler couldn’t hold the wheel coming to the line. Olaf Pollack ALMOST won every flat stage, but came up with a goose egg of wins and a lot of pounded handlebars. Ullrich ALMOST made it all the way to Milano.

Come to think of it, they’ve ALMOST won the Tour de France about a zillion times, too.

4 ) Milram : The Headless Centipede

You know, the old arcade game? Instead of racking up stage wins, Alessandro Petacchi was the victim of an unfortunate early crash that left him racking up hospital time. Without their raison d’etre, the rest of the Milram team couldn’t figure out what they ought to do, so settled on becoming the leadout train for Paolo Bettini. Helpful, since he hadn’t brought one of his own.

5 ) Selle Italia : I don’t Have to Take This Anymore.

I’m going home.

With Rujano pulling a Steve Urkel by suddenly abandoning, the wildcard couldn’t do anything with the big boys. They were generally upstaged by Ceramica Panaria-Navigare, the other non-Protour team in the race, and didn’t manage to bring home anything from three weeks around their home country. Maybe next year they’ll have a team leader who’s not off the team at the end of the month.


Other notes : People may say Discovery Channel disappointed, but I don’t really think so. A top-5 finish, a stage win, two days in the Maglia Rosa, and the admittedly confusing Blue Jersey for Paolo Savoldelli is a decent result for the Falcon. Though he got a lot of attention by winning last year’s edition, this year’s parcours didn’t really suit his talents, and terrible weather prevented Savoldelli from taking advantage of some of the technical descents. I’m not even going to touch the Tom Danielson issue.

Euskaltel-Euskadi : WHY is this team in the Protour again? They’re forced to come out to every race in the thing, and clearly don’t have the depth necessary to do it. Would’ve been better off home.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Cyclist in the House: A bike rider’s perspective.

Courtesy of DivX and Peer-to-Peer software, I just watched “Spin,” (Season 2, Episode 6) from Fox’s House, M.D. In this episode, fictitious professional cyclist “Jeff Forster” comes under the title character’s brilliantly sarcastic medical care.

Since the show throws around heavy medical jargon with relative ease, yet appears to do its research, I was curious to see how accurate their portrayal of the case might be. The focus of the episode is on Forster’s declining health, and whether or not it’s related to the doping which he readily admits to, citing doctor-patient confidentiality as a reason for his glibness. Some observations on the doping issue in particular:

· House correctly cites Erythropoietin as the most commonly-used drug for Cyclists to enhance their performance. Later on in the episode, he rejects testing Forster for EPO use, saying, “Gee, I hope EPO isn’t one of those drugs that becomes undetectable after six hours.” While he may be overstating, it’s true that there’s a short window to correctly test for EPO use. They probably have at least four days, however.

· Forster claims that, instead of EPO – because of its dangers -- he’s been using a variety of other doping means, including amphetamines, diuretics, and sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber, and his main method, “straight blood doping,” i.e., regular transfusions.

· The purpose of most of these doping methods is to increase a cyclists’ red blood cell count, boosting endurance. However, Forster’s red blood cell percentage isn’t elevated because of an underlying condition – a tumor called a thymoma, which causes “MG” and “PRCA.” This isn’t really plausible. As a professional cyclist, before the start of every major competition, his blood would’ve been tested for doping. While homologous blood doping (transfusing one’s own stored blood) is undetectable, the percentage of red blood cells in a rider (hematocrit level) is carefully monitored by the anti-doping authorities. The doctors giving Forster his transfusions would’ve had to monitor it, too, to make sure he floated just under the legal limit for red blood cell count, and they would have therefore noticed his abnormally low hematocrit levels.

· Hyperbaria is incorrectly mentioned as a doping method. Cyclists actually use hypobaric chambers to boost their red blood cell counts. Simulating living at a high-altitude, low-oxygen environment, hypobaric chambers cause the body to believe it’s not getting enough oxygen, and thus boost red blood cell counts. Altitude training, either by actually going to the mountains or by hypoxic tents, is permitted by the UCI, as long as the rider doesn’t increase his hematocrit above a particular threshold.

· Amphetamines can increase certain athletic performances, but due to dehydration and elevated blood pressure, they can be extremely dangerous. Furthermore, they are easily detected by doping controls. Because of this, the use of amphetamine-type stimulants fell out of favor among cyclists long ago.

Other items of note:
· Forster’s cycling jersey, presumably intended to be his official team kit, since a young fan in the beginning of the episode is also shown wearing it, is in fact an off-the-shelf Castelli Italia jersey in blue.

· Forster’s helmet is also a cheap, stock model, and he rides an old Raleigh of some kind. Other riders are shown with appropriate, modern bicycles; presumably these are extras from a casting call told to bring their own equipment.

· The bike race at the start of the show is confusing. While some elements of real bike races have been included, such as the distinctive yellow-and-black Mavic logo on a tent, and the announcer describing a “chase pack” forming, the type of race depicted is unclear. Riders are doing laps around a small park, and though some bikes are depicted with knobby tires, most are road bikes. It’s clearly not a cyclocross race, or a mountain bike race, but it’s not a road race.

· Forster is made out to be a well-known professional cyclist. Cameron claims he’s paid “Millions of dollars,” and he has a bitchy manager making life difficult for the cast. In reality, unlike baseball, football, basketball, or other major-league athletes, cyclists are usually paid little in comparison. Only a tiny handful of cyclists are paid seven-figure salaries, and only one American comes to mind.

· An amusing dig at Lance Armstrong’s famous post-cancer comeback is made when the cast briefly believes Forster has cancer. His manager declares, “think of your image! If you come back from cancer, the sponsors would [pay the big bucks]!”

· Kristoffer Polaha, who plays the cyclist, doesn’t cut a convincing picture of a bike rider. While his legs appear to be shaved, he’s got typical beefy-American-male physique: an overdeveloped upper body, chubby face, and skinny legs. More tellingly, he hasn’t got any kind of tan.

· No mention one way or the other is made of what team Forster rides on, or that teams are involved in cycling. Furthermore, when they joke about reporting his doping to the “cycling police,” neither the UCI, USA cycling are mentioned. Ditto for the World Anti-Doping Agency or its United States division. Actual cycling races aren’t mentioned, though Forster says he needs to be “in Spain” in four days, and talks about having previously ridden “The Tour” (Presumably the Tour de France)

So, in conclusion, it seems that the writers of House did a reasonably cursory job of research before making the episode. All in all, it doesn’t change the plot of the show, and the accuracy of cycling as a sport is totally irrelevant to the episode.

That’s the beautiful thing about House: the plot is utterly irrelevant. Only the characters, and their interactions with the ethical issue du jour, matter. The requisite outside-the-hospital scene preceding the credits only serves to add a little background to the show. House appropriately, then, dismisses the purported celebrity of the matter when he first meets Forster. Declining to be introduced by name, he simply states “I’m a doctor; you’re a sick person.”

And there you have it.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Woah. Phisers and Spoofers are getting pretty clever.

I'm generally a pretty nice guy, but if I could find the people responsible for things like phishing schemes and deceitful e-mail spam, I'd take them out, bang, dead, no questions asked, no appeals.

I use paypal for my eBay payments; who doesn't? So today I get an e-mail from "service@paypal.com" which was a "receipt for your payment to Soandso's Jewelry." It read Th is email confirms that you have paid Liz Collectible Jewelry (lizbryman@lizjewel.com) $256.00 USD using PayPal."

I'll admit: it scared me for a moment. It looked pretty slick; it had Paypal's real cut-and-pasted logo, etc. It took close inspection to notice that it didn't use paypal's EXACT language to describe the transaction.

The phish? At the bottom, in fine print, it has this notice: "With PayPal, you.re protected against unauthorized payments sent from your account. This payment will not appear in your PayPal account untill we verify this transaction.If this is transaction is not authorized, click on the link below to fill a claim and cancel the payment."

So, you simply log in...

And there they have you. You log into their pretend-paypal site, and they have your login and password, and can promptly steal all of your money.

Of course, real paypal confirmation e-mails don't have that little notice.

As an aside, my smirking revenge against phishers doesn't include plain-old junk e-mailers. If your e-mail from "herbalmedicines.com" says "Try our penis enlargement crap," I don't care. I'll delete it, but that's just an advertisement, like those stupid coupons that fill up your mailbox. Only the first order of evil, as opposed to the eighth.

The other sweet thing is that my e-mail provier's junk mail folder can't sort out that this isn't from the IP address it's supposed to be, and flag it?

Really, can't someone invent a better interweb? Like Al Gore?