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Blame the Teachers

July 31, 2011 1 comment

Five months ago, Daily Kos published I Don’t Want to be a Teacher Any More, a diary entry by “thalli1” that received a lot of attention at the time. I managed to miss it, but was led to it it a few weeks ago thanks to a Facebook friend’s reference. If you missed it too, I recommend it as a primer on the consequences of choosing not to invest in public education. No “money quotes.” thalli1’s piece, though not long, is too densely detailed. You need to read it in full to get the proper effect.

Well, okay, I’ll quote a paragraph early on and two near the end, not because they are typical but because they focus on the issue of government cutbacks.

Things started to change in education in Oregon about ten or fifteen years ago with a number of tax measures that created huge budget cuts. I noticed programs such a band, art, and drug-abuse prevention being cut for lack of funds along with enrichment programs, swimming class, and all kinds of little things that we used to offer that could no longer be afforded. Class sizes began to grow, and my class size averages went from the low to high twenties and then eventually into the thirties.

[snip]

Maybe it’s the fact that I lost a third of my retirement when they reformed our Public Employee Retirement System a few years back and now I keep reading about how they want to slash it even more because of the greedy teacher unions and how this is the main reason for the budget problems in our state.

Maybe it’s that I haven’t gotten a real raise in a really really long time, or that we had to cut eight days again this year to solve our state’s budget problems. So I’m taking a big hit again, and nobody seems to notice or care.

As I read the piece, I felt a strangely detached sense of relief, knowing that my kids are long out of school and that my university teaching career is far closer to its end than its beginning. I comforted myself with the realization that my exposure to the effects of our underfunded K-12 educational system will be limited. An outrageously narrow response, but it was my initial one.

Once I got past my focus on myself, my thoughts led me back to our president (this was weeks ago, before the debt ceiling crisis had reached its current climax) and my complete bafflement at his eagerness to cut spending in the name of compromise.

States have cut spending drastically, thanks to declining revenue, the unthinkability of increasing taxes, and the requirement of balanced budgets. (At least that’s the story here in Washington State.) State budget cuts have contributed significantly to continuing high unemployment, the resulting shortfall in demand, and an approaching second-dip recession. The race to cut the federal budget notwithstanding, federal support to states is the only way to soften the blow, as happened in the 2009 stimulus. I can’t help but believe that some federal support along this line is a must in order to deal with this country’s economic crisis. The debt is not the most urgent issue. Unemployment and lack of demand are. A return to a healthier economy and the resulting increase in tax revenues will be the biggest contribution to reducing the deficit.

I know. I’m not an economist. But many economists have said as much. I’m feeling on safe ground here. Yet, there’s Obama, smarter than the rest of us, busily appeasing the far right, who are perfectly happy to let the economy’s stall continue, or to allow the economy to collapse altogether, so they can blame him.

As for public education, it offers the one talking point on which everyone agrees: a healthy educational system is essential for the country’s future economic vitality. I suppose there’s a second point of agreement too, that first-rate public education is a prerequisite to the great American myth of equal opportunity for all. But government isn’t willing to put its money where its mouth is on this.

It’s all the fault of those darn teachers. They lack the necessary skills, they get paid too much, they don’t work hard enough, their benefits are unthinkably generous. If we freeze salaries, cut benefits, increase class size, and judge job performance thoughtlessly on student scores in standardized tests, we’ll attract better ones. And decrease government spending.

Makes sense to me.

Categories: Education, Politics

This is What We Do

July 30, 2011 Leave a comment

The video above is the Chrysler ad from the Super Bowl half a year ago. I used it in a post at the time. The blog title is from the ad’s final line, in which Eminem points at the camera and says, “This is Motor City [pause] and this is what we do.”

Why the rerun? Because it’s such an astonishingly good ad, and because I was just reading about it in James B. Stewart’s Saturday business column in today’s NYT. Stewart’s theme is Chrysler’s turnaround under Fiat ownership since the federal bailout.

In what surely ranks as one of the most remarkable turnarounds in the annals of American business history, this week Chrysler reported adjusted net income of $181 million and a 30 percent rise in revenue, to $13.7 billion, even in a still-soft global car market. Its June sales jumped 30 percent from the previous year, its 15th consecutive month of increases. Its market share has grown to 10.6 percent, from under 6 percent. Chrysler repaid its outstanding government loans in May, six years ahead of schedule, and last week Fiat paid $500 million for the Treasury’s remaining 6 percent stake in the company. The American government has recouped $11.2 billion of its $12.5 billion investment in Chrysler, and would probably have made a profit had it held the debt to maturity. Meanwhile, Chrysler employs 56,000 people and has added 9,000 jobs since the bailout.

Not bad.

Stewart focuses in his column on the experiences of a Chrysler dealer in suburban Philadelphia, David Kelleher. This leads to a moving scene, the context being the decision to revamp the awful Chrysler Sebring, and to rename it the Chrysler 200.

[Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio] Marchionne made the bold but controversial decision, criticized by some Republicans in Congress, to spend $2 million for a commercial in January’s Super Bowl.

The day of the game, Mr. Kelleher was attending a dealer convention in St. Louis, where dealers were clamoring for a glimpse of the ad. Chrysler leadership finally agreed on condition of confidentiality. A few hours before kickoff, the dealers watched as a camera panned through the industrial ruins of Detroit to the ominous pulse of “Lose Yourself” by the rapper and native son, Eminem.

“What does this city know about luxury?” a narrator asked. “What does a town that’s been to hell and back know about the finer things in life? Well, I’ll tell you: More than most.” The images shifted to a statue of the boxer, Joe Louis, Diego Rivera’s lush Detroit Industry mural, mansions from Detroit’s heyday. “It’s the hottest fires that make the hardest steel,” the narrator continued. “Add hard work and conviction and the know-how that runs generations deep in every last one of us. That’s who we are. That’s our story.” Images flashed by celebrating Detroit and its people, with barely a glimpse of the new 200. Finally Eminem emerged from behind the wheel and walked into the beautifully renovated Fox Theater to the uplifting strains of a gospel choir onstage. At the end, letters appeared over the dark screen: “The Chrysler 200 has arrived. Imported from Detroit.”

“I was stunned,” Mr. Kelleher recalled. “I looked around. The room was silent. Some people were crying. Then the applause started and just rolled through the auditorium and kept on going. We felt a rebirth.” Mr. Kelleher immediately e-mailed his chief salesman. “Get on the computer right now and order 40 200s.”

Watch the ad yourself. See if you don’t cry too.

Categories: Automobiles, Video

Friend of Muslim Americans

July 30, 2011 Leave a comment

On Wednesday, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain apologized for comments he made two weeks earlier in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in which he described the construction of a mosque there “an infringement and abuse of our freedom of religion. … This is another way to sneak Shariah law into our laws, and I absolutely object to that.”

Cain explained in his apology that

While I stand by my opposition to the interference of Shariah law into the American legal system, I remain humble and contrite for any statements I have made that might have caused offense to Muslim Americans and their friends. I am truly sorry for comments that may have betrayed my commitment to the U.S. Constitution and the freedom of religion guaranteed by it. Muslims, like all Americans, have the right to practice their faith freely and peacefully.

When I read this, I thought it one of the more stunning examples I’ve seen of a non-apology apology. I described it to Joel, noting the part that particularly bugged me. He confirmed my suspicion that there may be little point dwelling on the doings of nut jobs. But the apology is still on my mind, so I’ll dwell nonetheless.

Here’s the thing. I’ve become accustomed to the standard celebrity apology addressed to “those I may have offended,” the kind that hints that if you’re offended, maybe it’s your problem. You know — nothing was done wrong here, at least not by me. Maybe you shouldn’t be so sensitive. But here’s your apology anyway.

Cain’s apology is in that family. There he is speaking of statements that “might have caused offense to Muslim Americans.” It’s his next phrase, though, that stunned me: “and their friends.”

Cain is apologizing to friends of Muslim Americans? This is so maddeningly bizarre. What qualifies one to be a friend of Muslim Americans? What must one do? Or look like? What if I’m offended simply because what Cain said is, by any objective measure, offensive? Cain even suggests why this might be the case in his next sentence, in which he admits to betraying his “commitment to the U.S. Constitution and the freedom of religion guaranteed by it.” That’s what offends me. That’s why I would welcome an apology.

Can only declared Muslim Americans and their friends receive this apology? Can’t I just be a US citizen, one who believes in the constitution and the rights it guarantees?

Well, so be it. I will join the Friends of Muslim Americans. How do I sign up?

Categories: Politics, Religion

Porterhouse for Me

July 27, 2011 1 comment

Prime porterhouse steak with creamed spinach and hash browns at Palm

[Evan Sung for The New York Times]

Sam Sifton’s restaurant review in today’s NYT features classic New York steakhouses Palm and Palm Too. I never ate at them, or at their brethren that have sprung up across the country (not Seattle). Since childhood, my model for the New York steakhouse has been Peter Luger. But I have to say, when I reached the photo above from the review’s accompanying slide show, I was ready to head straight to Palm, leaving let Peter Luger for another day.

Sifton suggests that this would yield a happy outcome:

It is better to do as was always customary at Palm in the past, and ignore the menu entirely. Most want steak — the prime porterhouse if it’s available is generally the most crusty without and tender within … . So do not read about anything. Just ask for the steak after some Gigis and a crab. You may certainly ask for mashed potatoes or broccoli or fries. These will come with a shrug and perhaps some sucked teeth. The waiter knows you want creamed spinach and hash browns.

And then have a drink while you wait for the food to arrive, and catch up with your tablemates about work or family gossip or the affairs of the day. Do not order wine — the selection is not very good. Cut into your buttery meat, your buttery potatoes, your creamy greens. These are prepared with real skill and care, and taste it. Meanwhile, look at that sawdust on the floor and the twinkle in everyone’s eyes.

Categories: Food, Restaurants

Change We Can Believe In, XX

July 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: Moving to the Right

I’ve been struggling all summer with how to write about Obama. I started a post in this series with the subheading “I’m Smarter than You Are.” This was one weekend when Obama slapped down his critics “on the left” in his weekly radio address. Of course, moronic accusations of his socialist tendencies aside, his continuing move rightward expands the ranks of the left daily. Then, a week ago, I tried to pick up the thread, changing the subheading to “Dismantling the New Deal.” I had written a paragraph or two when I tried to pause, save, and switch from laptop to desktop. Along the way, I lost what I wrote, except for some links.

So, here goes again. Just so I get something posted on this subject, I’ll content myself with references to the work of others. Also, let me explain that as fed up as I am with Obama, my disgust with the antics of the Republican leadership is far deeper. But what is there to say about idiots, liars, and charlatans? They are a scary bunch. They have no interest in fiscal prudence, except as a political talking point to promote their interests in the 2012 election. And what are their interests anyway? Some, the genuine crazies, in the name of freedom, mostly want to make sure most people are anything but. The others are just hypocrites.

Anyway, on to Obama, our enigma-in-chief. What is he fighting for? I don’t have a clue. What vision does he have for life in the US? I once thought I knew, but now I know I don’t. He’s ready to reduce Medicare and Social Security to show his own fiscal prudence, but with interest rates and inflation low, unemployment high, states slashing budgets, is this really the time to win the deficit battle? We all know how the deficit got so big, even if the Republicans pretend they don’t. We cut taxes and started two wars. Now Obama has added a few more wars, renewed the national security state, instructed the NSA to have a computer at Fort Meade recording my keystrokes as I produce them (okay, maybe not; but then again, maybe), and wants to take additional steps that will make the lives of ordinary Americans worse. All with a touch of paternalism and arrogance, the underlying sense I get being that he really does think he’s smarter than the rest of us and knows what’s good for us.

Thanks for nothing. Or worse. Next time you run for office, maybe you can explain that the hope and change you’re after are what Nixon gave us.

Perhaps I’m expressing emotions without analysis. Sorry.

As long as I’m taking this route, let me quote from a post four days ago of the blogger digby. With regard to negotiations at the time between Obama and the Congressional “gang of six,” she commented that the proposed compromise

has become the new “middle ground” and it includes devastating cuts to Social Security, the worst of which will fall upon women in their most geriatric years and disabled people who depend upon SSI, more cuts to Medicare and a likely devastating body blow to Medicaid, which also will hit the elderly far worse than anyone realizes. (Learn how to change adult diapers, kids, because that’s what you’re going to spend your 40s and 50s doing.)

Further down in her post, she adds:

Until the last few months I have always argued that a Democratic president was always going to be preferable to a Republican because of the Supreme Court — and the partisan necessity to protect the “entitlements” from the GOP’s ongoing assaults. I would have assumed that any Democrat would issue a veto threat on this Gang of Six monstrosity rather than praise it. I would have also assumed that all Democratic voters and liberal commentators would be aghast that the Democratic Party would even contemplate such a plan when so many people are suffering and there’s no end in sight. Times have certainly changed.

[snip]

It’s true that the GOP is batshit nuts. Nobody is going to argue that the prospect of Michele Bachman[n] and her freakshow followers with more power than they already have is terrifying. But the Democratic party isn’t exactly behaving like solid, serious leaders either, no matter how many times they use the words “balanced approach.” They are fiddling while Rome burns and the Tea Party is just dancing around the fire throwing gas on the flames.

I close with recent cartoons of Ted Rall

and Tom Tomorrow:

Categories: Economics, Politics

The Gang Arrives in Paris

July 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Cavendish in green (at last), Evans in yellow (at last)

[From the Guardian]

The Tour came to Paris today, marking the end of summer for some of us. A bit of a downer. But before the mourning, there was a race to watch.

It figured to be a day for the sprinters, and so it was. The peloton arrived in Paris with Team BMC and their man in yellow, Cadel Evans, in the lead. Then as they began their eight laps around the Champs Elysées, Place de la Concorde, and the Louvre, ceremony ended and the day’s racing began. Early in the third lap, near the Arc de Triomphe, there would be the day’s intermediate sprint. Mark Cavendish was in green as overall points leader, but Jose Rojas had a chance to pass him if Rojas could earn enough points at this intermediate point and the finish. It was clear that Cavendish and Team HTC meant business when they ushered him toward the front of the peloton as the intermediate line neared. He sprinted through in first, with Rojas two positions back.

It was now time for the inevitable breakaway. Six men went, opening up a gap of 30 or 35 seconds. They still had a gap near 30 seconds when the peloton crossed the finish line (about 200 meters west of the Place de la Concorde on the Champs Elysées heading toward the Arc de Triomphe) with two laps or just over 12k to go. A lap later, a gap remained, maybe on the order of 15 seconds. It was difficult to imagine the teams of the star sprinters not closing that gap down, but would they do so in time to set up leadouts for their men?

Down they went toward the Arc. Back they came toward the Place de la Concorde. Finally, as the breakaway fragmented, the peloton picked some of them up. Into Place de la Concorde, past the Obélisque, east along the Seine with the turn under the Louvre approaching. One breakaway rider remained, a member of HTC. Would HTC hold up the leadout for Cavendish to let him go for the stage win?

No. Just before the turn north and ride down through the tunnel, he slowed up to let the peloton by. At that point, with 1.3k left, HTC was in control. Up out of the tunnel they came, left they went, westward on the Rue de Rivoli. Tony Martin, having switched hats from yesterday’s time trial star to humble support rider, led the way, with Matt Goss, Mark Renshaw, and Cavendish behind. No other team seemed to be as well organized or mounting a serious challenge. Under the 1k banner they went, off dropped Martin, into Place de la Concorde they rode one last time, off went Goss, and then as they turned onto the Champs Elysées for the final straightaway, still no one seemed to be challenging as leadout expert Renshaw led Cavendish.

Suddenly, Cavendish made his famous move. Edvald Boasson Hagen tried to chase him down. No way. Cavendish won his fifth stage of the tour. Boasson Hagen, winner of two stages this year, was in second. Close behind came Cavendish’s two other principal sprint challengers, each the winner of one stage this year, André Greipel in third and Tyler Farrar in fourth. Everyone else zipped by, Team BMC surrounded Cadel Evans and congratulated him, Cavendish hugged Renshaw, and the Tour was done, except for the award ceremony.

Cavendish’s stage win wrapped up his campaign for the green jersey. It also represented his third consecutive stage win in Paris and twentieth stage win over the last four Tours. And he’s only 26. How many more years can he stay at this level? There’s such a fine line between domination and racking up lots of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place finishes. Just ask Tyler Farrar. How many stage wins would he have if Cavendish weren’t on the scene? Will he improve to the point where the two trade stage wins? Keep in mind that Farrar edged Cavendish last September on the final stage of the Vuelta, the ride into Madrid (although Cavendish rode the last 3k with mechanical problems). And Greipel outsprinted Cavendish once in this Tour, due perhaps to Renshaw’s absence at the finish as leadout, as a result of which Cavendish had to make his move too early.

In any case, if Cavendish can stay at this level, he has the possibility of moving into historic territory. He is tied for 6th in most career Tour stage wins at 20, with Lance Armstrong and André Darrigade in 4th at 22, André Leducq in 3rd at 25, then Bernard Hinault at 28 and Eddy Merckx at 34. Two more years at this level and Cavendish will move ahead of Hinault into 2nd. But each of these wins is bitterly battled for, and it’s as easy to imagine Cavendish having reached his peak now as it is to imagine him blasting past Merckx.

Richard Williams, the Guardian’s chief sports writer, has a short note on Cavendish in which he observes that

Cavendish is a fountain of emotions, keen to express his joy in his success but always giving equal weight to his gratitude towards the HTC‑Highroad team-mates who negotiate the position from which he produces the final burst of deadly acceleration.

The first word he spoke into a microphone after the victory – “Finally!” – reflected the frustrations of the previous two years, when he came close to capturing the maillot vert. “We’ve worked so hard for it,” he said. “Today we put the whole team on the front for the last five kilometres. It was a block headwind finish, so you’ve got to be tough.”

In fact at one point during the three-week race he had to be tougher than anyone knew. The later Alpine stages had been demanding, but worse were the Pyrénées in the second week. “The Alps are not so steep and the roads are better. I’m usually OK there. But the Pyrénées are hard. And I got sick in the first week. You can’t say anything at the time because your competitors will take advantage of it, but I had a really bad stomach, an intestinal problem. I was really, really low during the stages in the Massif Central and the Pyrénées, but as usual the team was incredible.”

Williams also had the most marvelous line about Cadel Evans. For years, the post-race interviews of him on Versus have felt tortured. He’s had such bad luck, near misses. He always sounds in mental pain as well as physical. Williams concisely reviews Evans’ path to victory, then notes that Evans “sometimes gives the misleading impression of being inarticulate in three languages.” Just so.

I should finish the quote from Williams, who goes on to write:

but on Saturday night in Grenoble, when he knew he had won, he paid tribute not only to his team but to his former coach, Aldo Sassi, who died of brain cancer last December, aged 51.

“He believed in me, often more than I did myself,” Evans said. “He said to me last year: ‘I’m sure you can win a grand tour and I hope it’s the Tour de France. And then you’ll be the most complete rider of your generation.'”

The most complete rider? I don’t know. But today is not the day to argue. He was surely the most complete rider of this Tour, and a most worthy champion.

Categories: Cycling

East River Esplanade

July 23, 2011 Leave a comment

[Maria Lokke, The New Yorker]

The New Yorker’s architecture critic Paul Goldberger posted a note yesterday on the East River Waterfront Esplanade in lower Manhattan. Accompanying it are five enticing photos by Maria Lokke. You should take a look, for the photos if nothing more.

The esplanade is still under construction, but a two-block section was just completed, prompting Goldberger’s post. Contrasting it with the waterfront promenade at Battery Park City, along the Hudson, Goldberger explains:

The Battery Park City esplanade was about making you zone out as you look at the water, and forget you are in the city.

The East River Waterfront Esplanade is the opposite: it’s all about New York. It faces the intensely active East River, and it is tucked under and beside the elevated structure of the F.D.R. Drive. It couldn’t be bucolic if it tried. The architects were smart enough not to try, and to realize that they had to work with the reality of what was there, since the highway wasn’t going to go away. And the vista was always going to be of ferries and bridges and Brooklyn, not of a wide expanse of water leading to the Statue of Liberty.

As for what you see in the photo, the “seating is arranged in every which kind of way: pairs of benches facing each other, benches and individual seats facing the water, benches facing the city. There are chaises, like at the High Line, and several pairs of high seats, like bar stools, set at a height that allows you to see the river without having your gaze interrupted by any railings.”

I love the high seating. Perhaps we can try it out for ourselves in just a few weeks, when we attend the wedding of my cousin’s daughter just a block away.

Categories: Architecture

Hangin’ Out

July 23, 2011 Leave a comment

[Adithya Sambamurthy/The Bay Citizen]

Tomorrow’s NYT has a short piece about the problems Western gulls are causing at AT&T Park, the home field of the San Francisco Giants baseball team. The piece is provided by the Bay Citizen, described as a “nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization providing local coverage of the San Francisco Bay Area for The New York Times.” It seems the gulls used to wait for games to end before grabbing a bite to eat, but lately, “the avian avalanche has begun during the seventh-inning stretch.”

I just love the photo, above, that accompanies the article. You’ll know the glove if you’ve gone to any games at the park or watched the Giants on TV there. Otherwise, see the photo below for context. The view is toward the stands in left center.

AT&T Park Coke Bottle and Giant 1927 Old-Time Four-Fingered Baseball Glove

[Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images]

Grenoble: Time Trial

July 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Cadel Evans starting his time trial in Grenoble

[Joel Saget/Agence France-Presse – Getty Images]

We had our days of truth on the climbs of the Alps. Today it was our last day of truth, the one and only individual time trial of this year’s Tour and the last chance for anyone to gain time on his fellow riders before tomorrow’s ceremonial closing ride into Paris. Important as this day was, there really wasn’t much to keep track of. With Andy Schleck in yellow, brother Frank 53 seconds back, Cadel Evans 57 seconds back, and everyone else out of the picture, the only question was whether Evans, the best time trialist of the trio, would be able to catch Andy Schleck and win the Tour. Catching Frank was a given, with only a 4 second difference.

Evans, the Tour runner up in 2007 and 2008, is far the better time trialist of the two. But Andy Schleck, Tour runner up in 2009 and 2010, has improved over the years. Maybe he could hold on. After all, last year he lost only 31 seconds to Contador in the time trial on the final Saturday. He had started 8 seconds behind, but Contador is a fine time trialist and it was anticipated that he would widen that lead significantly over Schleck. If Schleck could lose only 31 seconds today to Evans, he would win the Tour.

Tony Martin set the pace early with a 55’33” time on the 42.5k course that no one else was getting anywhere close to. My goal was to be awake in time to watch the final six riders as they started in reverse order to their standings: Contador, Cunego, Voeckler, Evans, Schleck, and Schleck. I should perhaps explain that each rider goes off alone, with 3-minute gaps in the start times for the leaders. Thus, 15 minutes would pass between Contador’s start and Andy Schleck’s. With no direct competition, one gauges how they are doing along the way by times taken at checkpoints.

I managed to wake up before my alarm was set to go off, reached over, and shut it. But I got lucky, awakening again at 7:00 AM and racing down to turn on the TV. I changed the channel just in time to see Contador roll down the start ramp. Well, this wasn’t luck entirely, since I had estimated last night that 7:00 was exactly when I had to be up for Contador’s start, give or take a few minutes.

Watching time trials is not ideal, since there’s so little information available. One ends up listening to Phil reporting on the drama in his head, if not on the road. Contador rode well, hitting the checkpoints just a little behind Tony Martin’s times, and soon Phil was suggesting that he might climb past not just Cunego into 5th but also Voeckler into 4th. Evans was magnificent, hitting the checkpoints just seconds behind Martin, way ahead of everyone else. It soon emerged that the Schlecks weren’t doing well at all. No surprise for Frank, but Andy’s times were Frank’s equal, putting both well behind Martin, Evans, and Contador. Indeed, soon Phil got a little over-excited and suggested that Contador might even jump over Frank Schleck and into 3rd overall, good enough for a spot on the podium. This would turn out to be madness, both because Frank wasn’t riding that badly and because the gap to Contador at the start of the day was way too large at 3’02”.

In any case, as Evans continued to race well enough to suggest that he might even win the stage, his ride into yellow became a certainty and there wasn’t much else to pay attention to, other than wild speculations about changes in the standings. There was a mini-race lower down among the two top young riders for the white jersey. Pierre Rolland seemed to have it in control after his dramatic win on the climb of Alpe d’Huez yesterday, moving him into 10th overall, but Rein Taaramae, in 12th overall 1’33” behind, had a good time trial going and perhaps he could pull that time back. Well, no. Taaramae finished 2’03” behind Martin’s time on the day, good enough for what would turn out to be 10th in the time trial. A few minutes later, Rolland came across 2’50” behind Martin, in what would be 21st on the day. He had lost time to Taaramae, but not enough to lose the white jersey. However, fellow Frenchman Jean Christophe Peraud had a time over a minute better than Rolland, 6th on the day and enough to displace Rolland for 10th in the overall standings. The upshot: Taaramae is in 12th overall, Rolland in 11th but in the white jersey, Peraud in 10th and taking over from Rolland for top Frenchman in the Tour.

Next, as we awaited further developments on the leaders, top American rider Tom Danielson finished in a time good enough to hold onto 9th overall, and Ivan Basso was able to hold onto 8th overall. But when Sanchez finished in what at that point was the 5th best time of the day (awaiting Contador and Evans) and Contador finished in what at that point was 2nd best time of the day (awaiting Evans and pushing Sanchez down a notch), they thereby set themselves up to move ahead of Cunego overall, as he came in a few minutes after that in 31st on the day. So Cunego slid from 5th to 7th overall, with Sanchez moving into 6th and Contador moving into 5th.

Next in was the valiant Voeckler, never giving up, riding a fine time trial good enough for 14th on the day and preserving his 4th position overall, 37 seconds ahead of Contador. Evans would be next in.

And there he was, entering Grenoble, pedaling away, looking powerful, unlabored, the yellow jersey a certainty. And still within reach of Martin’s time and the stage win, as best anyone knew. It was close, but no, he didn’t get the win, finishing 7 seconds behind Martin’s time. He appeared just a bit disappointed as he crossed the line. He surely would have loved the double victory. But he would have to content himself with 2nd on the day and the yellow jersey, and content he undoubtedly was. It was a great ride. A historic ride. And the closest rider on the day besides Martin was Contador, a full 59 seconds behind Evans. Only Martin had a ride in the same league today.

The two Schlecks came in soon thereafter. First Frank, 2’41” behind Martin’s winning time, then Andy, 2’38” behind. This put them 17th and 20th in the stage, among the better riders but not at the level the day demanded. Frank held onto 3rd overall, Andy dropping from 1st to 2nd.

An amazing day, really, but not one of visible amazingness. Just conceptual. What must Andy Schleck do to win one of these? He must be wondering, but maybe the answer is obvious. He can improve his time trial skills, though it’s not as if he hasn’t been working on them. Or maybe he has to find a way to build bigger leads in the mountains. In retrospect, Evans wouldn’t let him. He does have an age advantage over Evans of over 8 years. Other riders will rise, of course, but after three straight second place finishes, Andy seems sure to win one, or maybe several, soon.

I had my eye out for familiar sights in Grenoble, but in the street views, as the riders rolled through, there was nothing obviously recognizable. The views from the air were better. Near the end of the coverage, there were repeated shots of the Bastille, the little rocky hill or mini-mountain that rises up on the opposite side of the Isère from downtown. During our visit two Octobers ago, we took the télépherique up to it just in time to watch the sun set behind the Alps to the southwest. The views weren’t the sharpest, due to some haze, but it was still a commanding outlook, and a great way to finish the day, having looked down from Alpe d’Huez just a few hours earlier. (Below, a shot of the city and the Isère moments just after rising out of the downtown télépherique station on the way up to the Bastille.)

The top places in the Tour are now decided (with the obligatory comment — as long as no one falls off his bike tomorrow and can’t continue). But ceremonial though the ride may be, there’s still the closing sprint and one more chance for Mark Cavendish to shine. Tyler Farrar may have something to say about that. Or André Greipel. In a scene just after today’s racing finished, Cavendish was shown, arm around teammate Tony Martin, congratulating him. Very sweet. I love the guy. We’re not done with the drama yet.

Categories: Cycling

Alpe d’Huez

July 22, 2011 Leave a comment

[Taken by me, October 29, 2009]

I’ve been eagerly awaiting today’s stage since the route was announced last October. For that matter, I’ve been eagerly awaiting it since we made our own climb of Alpe d’Huez two Octobers ago. The Tour bypassed Alpe d’Huez last year, so today was the Tour’s first visit since our own. And the visit could not have been more strategically timed, this being the Tour’s final day in the Alps. Tomorrow is the lone individual time trial of the Tour and Sunday is the ceremonial ride into Paris. Thus, today was the last opportunity for major attacks on the climbs. And climbs there were. Not just Alpe d’Huez at the end, but Col du Télégraphe early on and Col du Galibier in the middle.

Yes, they already climbed Col du Galibier. Yesterday, to end the stage. Today they got to climb up from the other side and then make a descent of over 45K to the village of Le Bourg d’Oisans, from which the climb to Alpe d’Huez begins.

In winding up my post last night, I suggested that we were down to a three-man race, the very three-man race one might have guessed days ago that we were down to: Andy Schleck, Frank Schleck, and Cadel Evans. Thomas Voeckler remained in first, by 15 seconds over Andy, but surely he couldn’t survive yet another day in the mountains. With the Schlecks and Evans separated from each other by less than a minute, it seemed likely that, with perhaps some changes in the gaps or ordering, they would end today in the top three spots. What I didn’t say, but almost did, was that Contador, who lost time yesterday and as well any hope of a podium spot on Sunday, falling all the way down to 8th, might just have something left in him today. Maybe he would go for it — a stage win, or a remote shot at the podium. I can’t claim credit. I didn’t say it. But I really did think it, and I really did almost say it.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I turned on the coverage this morning and discovered that Contador had the same idea I did. He went for it, early and often. He led the way up Galibier, with a small group of riders, building a gap on the big three. And there was Thomas Voeckler, yet again, determined to fight every challenge and keep the yellow jersey. Rather than stay with the trio and conserve energy, he was making a crazed, valiant effort on his own to bridge the gap. He was about 30 seconds back and making no progress, with the leaders about 2 minutes back, when finally he cracked and let them come to him, falling farther behind Contador. But they were closing in, and on the long descent they eventually caught him. By the time they approached Le Bourg d’Oisans, they were all together.

Then, off went the Canadian Ryder Hesjedal and the Frenchman Pierre Rolland, and Contador followed. In the lower part of Alpe d’Huez, he caught them and kept going. Maybe he wouldn’t be able to create a large enough gap to get back into the fight for the podium, but a stage win on Alpe d’Huez would be the perfect consolation prize. Up and up he went.

Lower down, Evans and the Schlecks were inseparable. No one made a significant attack. Perhaps they were content to maintain their positions, put Voeckler behind them, and await tomorrow’s time trial to fight it out. And Voeckler was behind. Perhaps he could have stayed with them if he hadn’t tried to catch Contador all by himself on Galibier, but he was finally not able to keep up. He would slip to fourth overall, if not worse, and the trio appeared likely to occupy the top three positions at last.

Up above, Contador’s multi-mountain effort was finally taking its toll. He had begun to slow down, allowing Sammy Sanchez (the other big loser yesterday among the elite climbers, along with Contador) and Rolland, who had been riding together, to catch him. At that point, Rolland pulled off a surprise move and kept going. With 2k to go, it suddenly became clear that he was going to win the stage, not Contador, and not Sanchez. And inevitably, the elite group behind was closing the gap themselves.

Rolland crossed first, giving France its first stage win of this year’s Tour. 14 seconds back was Sanchez, 23 seconds back Contador. He had fought valiantly all day, he had finished ahead of the trio, but could do no more. In they came 34 seconds later — the Schlecks, Evans, Velits, Cunego, and De Gendt. Another 18 seconds passed before the Garmin teammates and Hesjedal and Tom Danielson crossed, a finish good enough to keep Danielson, the top American, in 9th place overall. Voeckler would cross in 20th, 3’22” behind Rolland.

The top eight stayed the top eight. But Andy Schleck, Frank Schleck, and Evans moved to 1-2-3 while Voeckler slipped to 4th. Cunego held 5th place and Basso fell from 6th to 8th, with Contador and Sanchez moving up. More specifically, Voeckler is 2’10” behind Andy Schleck, Cunego 3’31”, the others still further back, so none of them can make up enough time in the time trial tomorrow to break into the top three. It will indeed be the Schlecks and Evans.

Since they finished together today, the gaps remain unchanged: Frank is 53 seconds behind Andy, and Evans is 4 seconds behind Frank. It would not be the least bit surprising if Evans gains those 4 seconds and more on Frank tomorrow. Figure Frank for 3rd overall at the end of the day. What the Tour comes down to, or so I’m guessing, is whether Evans can make up those 57 seconds on Andy. One of the two will win, the other will be runner-up, each having been runner-up twice already. Evans has the better time trial record, but as Andy said after the race, the yellow jersey makes you fly gives you wings. He’s hoping for some of that magic tomorrow.

It’s been a tremendously exciting Tour. And now it comes down to 42.5k from Grenoble out into the country and back.

We’ll be watching, both to see tomorrow’s drama and to look for familiar sights from our Grenoble visit two falls ago. The first town the route goes through after leaving Grenoble is Vizille, which we went through too on our drive to Alpe d’Huez. We tried to stop on our way back, but parking was impossible, so after circling around and pulling into the most wildly disorganized parking field, on the edge of town, filled with cars parked at every imaginable angle, we abandoned the effort. It’s a lovely town, one we would very much have enjoyed walking around in. Tomorrow we can watch the riders zip through.

By the way, isn’t it great that Cavendish has survived the Alps and is still in green? And what of Rolland, whose stage victory moved him up to 10th and put him in white as best young rider? Might he be challenging for yellow in the years to come, bringing a Tour win to France again?

Two more days. When the Tour ends, a little bit of summer does too. I’m not ready.

Categories: Cycling