Lorenzo & his humble friends

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool

Tag: tour de france

Peyragudes

The Tour arrives on the Pyrenees today and one year ago I was there to watch it together with Giallu en route from Marseilles.

IMG_1595

We did not know what to expect there. We found a colourful and enormous circus that cuts across national origin and social class. This was stage 12 of the Tour with the peloton arriving in Peyragudes at 1,590 m (5,217 ft) and below you will find my photos of the day.

That initial sense of freedom

Everybody has her/his own obsession. Some people are obsessed with power; others are obsessed with death; others are obsessed with money. i am obsessed with Lance Armstrong, because he represents all of the above. This is going to be my eighth post about him in less than four years, so much so that I am starting to think that I should create a Lance sub-category on this blog.

This time I am writing Lance because of a new movie, The Program, which is out in the cinemas now. Oddly, however, I am going to write about another, slightly older movie on the topic. If you read The Guardian‘s review, you will be told that Stephen Frears’s feature “pedals hard enough but comes second to Alex Gibney’s 2013 documentary on the subject“. I have watched the Gibney’s documentary a few months ago and after watching this new movie I watched it again – and again. I would include it among the best documentaries I ever stumbled upon, but this might have something to do with my own obsession for the subject.

Regardless of that, however, there are some bits of the movie I could highly reccommed. Not only to fellow cycling fans – my dad, Giallu, Niccolò, Alvise – but to everybody with a taste for sweet things in life, really. Even those for are not into cycling at all might appreciate the poetry that is occasionally provided in it, even that coming from an evil mind like Lance’s – the title of this post is a tribute to this part of the movie. More generally, however, I managed to find at least three reasons why The Armstrong Lie (the title is probably the only thing of the movie that comes short of creativity) is a great piece of cinema:

  1. the soundtrack – there are some bits of the movie that are among the sweetest and most exciting things I have seen in the last few years. For instance, the one-minute sequence with the peloton riding under pouring rain at the Tour of California as a melancholic Long Way Home adds the sense of misery the whole situation. Or the two-minute attack of Alberto Contador accompanied by Letra del Viento that gains pace as Contador’s domination of Armstrong becomes clearer and neater.
  2. the behind-the-scenes – it is almost unbelievable how big of an access to what we usually do not see Alex Gibney was provided with. Thanks to that, we can now see Lance Armstrong in some private moments – at home, taking anti-drugs tests; or just after a race, discussing the state of art of the completion he is taking part in – but we can also watch some other characters in their full exposure – the director of Armstrong’s team, Johan Bruyneel, swearing at Contador as he indirectly attacks teammate Armstrong.
  3. the self-critique of the narrator – Gibney explains how he, as I did, had a genuine despise for Armstrong’s approach to sports and was long convinced of his use of banned substances. But as the movie proceeds, he reckons a growing attachment to the old-pro, due to his immense charisma and dominating personality.

As I already wrote a few times before, the Armstrong story is not simply about a champion or a cheat. It is about good, evil, power, death, betrayal, and it is so fascinating that I will probably keep writing about it for quite some time.

Addendum: a charming character who appears in The Armstrong Lie is his former teammate (check out the funny picture at the beginning of this article) and current manager of the Cannondale-Garmin professional cycling team Jonathan Vaughters. The guy is one of the smartest riders around, has a witty sense of humour, and is a dandy. A few years ago he wrote a compelling article on the use of doping for The New York Times.

Su Froome

Un anonimo ciclista americano che mi piaceva quando ero poco più che un bambino ha vinto la Vuelta di Spagna a quasi 42 anni. Al riguardo consiglio di leggere un articolo pubblicato su La Stampa da Giorgio Viberti che traccia diverse sfumature senza la retorica – buona o cattiva – che nel passato ha danneggiato seriamente questo sport. Ma comunque. L’occasione mi perche propizia per proporre le riflessioni semi-private di un anonimo amico di Gianluca in merito a un’altra vittoria ciclista piuttosto sorprendente: quella di Chris Froome, che nel 2013 ha dominato il Tour de France dopo una velocissima ascesa nell’olimpo del ciclismo che conta.

Io non so che dirti, a me questo ragazzo piace. a inizio tour affermai: è il primo ciclista a cui tifo contro nella mia vita. ho cambiato idea come sempre, e pian piano ho iniziato a trovarlo simpatico. sempre disponibile con giornalisti e tifosi, costretto a rispondere ogni giorno a domande di doping quando (fino a prova contraria) ne è estraneo, dev’essere frustrante, eppure sorride sempre. a vederlo sembra incapace di essere leader di se stesso, scatta e poi si ferma, riscatta e poi si ripianta; figuratelo leader di un team, a me sembra impossibile, è telecomandato dalla radiolina, come fa a capitanare gli altri? fa tenerezza, un gigante incapace di incanalare la sua forza. e poi la sua meccanica, in bici, così inelegante e desueta, retta su equilibri invisibili a ogni comune mortale; pedala guardando cose che vede lui (sarà il suo misuratore di potenza sul manubrio?!), testa reclinata da una parte, ma questo ancora si può tollerare. sembra senza collo, con queste spalle alte, i gomiti larghi di chi porta un carrello della spesa (paragone quantomai azzeccato di cassani in diretta) e non una bici: ha le braccia lunghe – si dice di lui – e anche questa concediamogliela, altri prima di lui erano brutti da vedere. ma ciò che è incredibile è la dispersione di potenza nel gesto, le sue frullate in salita, i suoi piedi storti rispetto al pedale. ti insegnano a 10 anni che il piede dev’essere in linea col pedale, uno che pedala come lui dovrebbe perdere il 5% di potenza almeno, eppure… è un fenomeno da studiare questo ragazzo, la gente ormai scottata (e anche un po’ superficiale) lo vuole negare, e invece è da capire, cazzo. la gente legge la gazzetta, e in prima pagina il giorno in cui fermano powell e gay per doping nell’atletica si trova il titolone su froome che è andato troppo forte sul ventoux, meglio di armstrong addirittura (e a esser precisi, non è nemmeno vero perchè i tempi di scalata erano presi in punti leggermente diversi)!!! ma nessuno dice che si viene da una settimana di sola pianura, che il ventoux come dice il nome è rinomato per il vento e il giorno di froome per un giorno il vento era andato in vacanza, hanno mai provato questi giornalai a pedalare col vento? il vento esalta uno dei caratteri principali del ciclismo, ovvero l’importanza di sfruttare l’effetto scia, non solo come fattore di risparmio di fatica ma come mezzo tattico per impostare grandiose campagne d’attacco.
Il ciclismo potrebbe fare a meno degli arrivi in salita, ma non dell’azione selvaggia del vento.
io non capisco onestamente, non capisco cosa ci sia di bello e interessante in queste questioni. a me, detto onestamente, non interessano…
e quando qualcuno mi chiede “come ti poni di fronte al doping?” la mia risposta varia sempre, spesso non ho voglia di discuterne con persone a cui non interessa. ma ora come ora gli direi (senza essere capito) che io non seguo i ciclisti, ma il ciclismo, e il ciclismo trascende il risultato. Direi che il ciclismo è una guerra, e come in ogni guerra ci sono i cavalieri e gli assassini, i duelli all’alba (Boonen e Cancellara sul Muur), i tradimenti e le cospirazioni (Vinokourov che pagò Kolobnev per vincere la Liegi), le tattiche, le strategie e i sabotaggi. E le guerre fanno la storia, anche se sono brutte e sporche, e gli abbracci ipocriti tra Schleck e Contador dopo il salto di catena del lussemburghese verranno dimenticati presto, ma i ciclisti che nel primo tour prendevano il treno di nascosto sono entrati nella leggenda.

Stuff I’ve been reading before moving here

It took me a while to get over the notion that I wanted to go and live in Florence and I’d only just become resigned to my lot there when the local football team radically evolved to reach what supporters consider a surely to come first stage in the Italian championship that has yet to begin. All in all, it’s been an unsettling couple of months and my appetite for books has been grossly discontinuous.

Back in February in rainy London, when sitting my interview at King’s College, I bought a few books. Most of them were political essays and I never had the guts to read them. The only purchase that really appealed me at the end was a collection of stories that accurately recall the grey atmosphere of Victorian London. Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes looked life a safe harbour to protect me from the perils of deviated political minds writing about social capital and individualism. However, I did not manage to read it all. Good old Sherlock turned out to be a harder read than I expected, some fifteen years later the last time I discovered it as a child. (Furthermore, talking about Sherlock Holmes, I seem to remember that I used to like A Study in Scarlet and The Hound of the Baskervilles much better than this one book).

Arthur Conan Doyle once said that Edgar Allan Poe’s stories were “a model for all time“. As to honour this connection, and in a sense of guilt for not having finished the book, I started Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, the only complete novel by the famous American author. I finished the book in a few days but, well, to put it simply I would not recommend it.

I would, instead, recommend another book I read when in Brussels, between March and July. Stoner was a present from my father. It is difficult to find anything special about this plain psychological investigation of the university career of an imaginary character who engages a consuming struggle against the apathy that surrounds him. This is a hell of a sad book; yet, I it is also a powerful story that made me – more- willing not to compromise, to pursue my passions, and to be coherent.

Talking about coherence, I did not finish two other books I got as presents from Stefania and Iris. I intentionally left Charles Schulz’s Ce la possiamo fare, Charlie Brown! unfinished, as I enjoyed to progress little by little, reading a couple of strips every day. I still have to finish it. Dimitri Verhulst’s The Misfortunates was a bestseller in Belgium. Iris brought it to me as a present when she came to visit. Ironically, the book is about alcoholism and wild parties, something that was completely alien to our habits when Iris and I spent time together in Canada. The whole concept of the book is hilarious but – as for Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, there isn’t any story behind it, just a series of short novels which, at the end, all look alike. For this reason I never managed to finish the book. I did, however, adored the one chapter entitled The Tour de France, in which an extraordinary drinking competition is created by one of the characters. In line with the famous bike race. 19 stages with 5km equal to a standard glass of alcohol, meaning that “even a reasonably short stage of 180 kilometres would involve drinking 36 standard glasses of alcohol. Against the clock“. There are even three jerseys to earn: “the yellow jersey was for the leader and eventual winner…the greenn jersey for the explosive sprinter: the neck-it king. And the polka-dot jersey could be captured in the mountains, where you proceeded by guzzling strong drinks like whisky and vodka“. This brilliant idea will soon be translated into practice, as soon as I will find the athletes ready to accept the challenge (Alvise, TLA, Joe, Andrew, Fabio, Mindo, Stefano, James…?).

Perhaps because of a sense of childish curiosity, just before leaving Belgium I felt the urge to read Herge’s Les Aventures de TinTin: L’Ile Noire. I suppose I cannot really consider this comic novel as a book. I did, however, manage to finish it in only one day – quite surprisingly, as it was in French, a language I am still far from mastering.

Back in Italy I read Richard Ford’s short novel The Womanizer. This is a light, yet insightful, read about men and infidelity. During my relatively short trip to Slovakia I decided to dig deep into Czech culture. I read Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Other Stories and there isn’t much to say about it: I did not understand much of it, I did not like it, and I gave up. Diluded and in need of something to read during a 7-hour ride on the train, I found an English library in Bratislava and I bought Milan Kundera’s Slowness. I adored it and I read it all the night before taking the train in the hostel. So on the train I had nothing to do. To avoid the same mistake, on my way back I bought Kundera’s Immortality, which is much longer than the former. I finished it one week later, when travelling with Stefania. In this period I eagerly consumed four books in a row. It must be said that on our way we stopped in many libraries and bought an enormous amount of books. I managed to read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, a collection of Celtic Tales and a biography of John Fitzgerald Kennedy; and none of these is particularly worth a comment. I only started, and not finished, Henry Thoreau’s Walden: Life in the Woods and Niall Ferguson’s Civilization: the West and the Rest. Thus far I will limit myself to saying that these two books have one thing in common: they both come with an heavy subtitle.

Wiggo the Mod

I said to myself I was not going to talk about the Tour de France this year. After all, for the first time in ten years, I did not watch a single stage of the race. Now I realize the geeky political and cultural implications of Bradley Wiggins’ victory are just too interesting to be ignored.

It all came with an article of the Economist on Nationalism and the Tour de France – or why it matters that a Brit won the Tour:

It may go some way among British sports fans to dull the pain of Andy Murray losing Wimbledon despite making it to the final. The comparison is apt. The Tour for the French is beginning to resemble Wimbledon for the British—a home winner looks a long way off. Bernard Hinault last took the yellow jersey for France in 1985.

From there, I moved to all the articles on Wiggins’ personality – or why it matters that Wiggins is a Mod (this is the article to read if you do not know who Bradley Wiggins is, or what a Mod is). Eventually, I realize the very relative importance of this topic, but surely it is a lot of fun to read.

British Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins has been variously described as “mod-loving cyclist”, “king of the mods” and the “fastest mod on two wheels”. […] But it’s more than a look. It’s an attitude, Elms argues. A mod is cool and sharp and open to foreign influences – qualities that Bradley Wiggins encapsulates in his life and cycling. “He’s slightly sardonic and rock and roll. But it’s not about rock and roll excess. It’s slightly pared back.” […] If sport replicated life, Bradley Wiggins would have ridden up the Champs Elysees on a shiny Lambretta scooter.