Thursday, July 07, 2005

Tour, Stage 6

I, like most working people, cannot simply take off three weeks so as to stay at home and watch the Tour. Though I would enjoy the time off, even I have to admit that my vacation time is worth more than sitting around and watching OLN all the time. Instead, I rely on nifty 30-second updates of the progress of the stage in progress available through Yahoo! Sports.

Stages in the Tour tend to run anywhere from 3 hours to more than 5 hours, so do the math -- 30-second updates for anywhere from 3 to 5 hours is, well, a lot of updates. And cycling being what it is, the updates tend not to be too exciting. Here's a made-up, yet relatively accurate rundown of what the updates looked like during yesterday's Stage 5:

10:31: The four riders leading the breakaway have 1'35'' on the peloton.
10:32: It's drizzling.
10:33: It stopped drizzling.
10:34: The four riders leading the breakaway have 1'32'' on the peloton, and they seem to be wet.

The most exciting part of these flat stages happens in the last 100 meters or so, when the sprinters engage in a mad dash for the finish line and the glory of winning one stage in the Tour de France. Of course, this is when these 30-second updates are wholly useless, since the most exciting sprints tend to happen in that 30-second window when that poor sap manning the computers in France is madly trying to update readers like myself on the race's progress:

11:04: 100 m left to go to the line. The sprinters have moved their way up in the pack. McEwen and Boonen are jostling for position.
11:05: What an exciting sprint that was. McEwen wins!

It really just isn't the same to read the Tour in progress, especially since the most exciting parts of long stages happen in the closing seconds. I did, though, find this nifty graphic representation of the Tour updates, pictured above, though. It's not much more helpful or descriptive than reading a three-hour stage, play by play, but it's kinda cute -- the little riders actually pedal their little digital bikes, and as the real gap closes on the breakaway, the digital riders approach the leading pack. My my, how far technology has come. Come to think of it, this really reminds me of this one game I used to play in seventh grade to test my typin aptitude (you know, how many words you could type a minute). Sentences would appear on screen, and you would have to type them as quickly as possible and with as few mistakes as possible. Your typing abilities were represented by a little runner racing an obstacle course against the computer -- the more mistakes you made, the more your runner would fall flat on his face and fall behind the computer's runner. Ahhh, memories.

I did watch Stage 5 last night when I got home. I have to admit this much: As much as I love competitive cycling, watching it for three hours is boring. Most of the flat stages involve the best riders blending in anonymously with the peloton, in hopes of not using up too much energy or running the risk of crashing this early in the race. The most action happens with the last-minute sprints, which, all told, can be very exciting. I'm looking forward to the mountain stages, where the best riders really break out of the group and attack each other aggressively. This is where Ullrich, Armstrong, Landis, Basso, and others will really have a chance to shine, or, conversely, fail trying.

There was no Sheryl Cam in evidence yesterday, thankfully.


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