Thursday, July 17, 2003

Well, a Catalan won a stage of the Tour de France for the first time I can remember. Joan Antoni Flecha broke from a group of eight riders with ten kilometers to go and held on all the way to Toulouse. Bike racers dream of winning a Tour stage, and this is Flecha's first year of competition. That's like hitting a home run on your first day in the major leagues. Congratulations to Flecha.

Check out this surreal piece of bike-racing analysis--socioeconomic theorizing--film criticism from today's Vangua. It's by one Rafael Vallbona.

"The Snail Strategy" was an excellent movie that denounced the abusive tactics of some real estate speculators to kick out the tenants from a building and so, once remodeled, rent the apartments at an exaggerated markup. The tenants come up with a defensive strategy that, finally, leaves the businessmen looking foolish. Well, more or less this is what the first ten stages of the centennial of the Tour have given us, leaving out Beloki's crash. Seeing that it would not be at all easy for him to break the humble tenants of the peloton, realizing that he could not humiliate his adversaries on the Alpe d'Huez and impose the law of the powerful just as he had planned; Armstrong decided, on the way to Gap, to ask the Quick Step team for help (in exchange for the mountain-leader's jersey for Virenque) to overcome Jaksche's break from the pack, to dedicate himself to the speculative economy, in the style of his friend Bush, and to leave aside for a better occasion the industrial economy, which would give chances to Mayo, Zubeldia, or Vinokurov and work to their own. At that instant the American and his team were weak. The Tour was wide open. Then what happened to Joseba happened and the centennial Tour came to an end, if Mayo can't break the race open on Luz Ardiden. The Pyrenees will be a sea of ikurrinas (Basque flags). Despite the controversy over the deal with Batasuna, only the Basques can save the race. They will have to be the snails from the movie.

Just a few comments: a) Armstrong hasn't been seriously challenged yet b) why would he be afraid of Jaksche, who's in 18th place 7:05 back c) why would he ask Virenque for help, since Virenque is a bigger threat to him than the German d) it's too bad Beloki crashed, but he showed few signs of being able to do any better than second or third again in the stages before his accident e) note the scorn for Lance's team, which includes the "weak" turncoat Spaniards Heras (in 8th place), Beltran (in 13th), and Rubiera (in 28th, out of 171 riders) f) I am guessing that Postal's strategy was to win the team time trial, give Lance the lead going into the Alps and hold it, pick up a couple or three more minutes in the two upcoming individual time trials, and hold on in the Pyrenees--if he can't break it open there himself g) There are still five competitive stages ahead, three in the mountains and the two time trials, and not being optimistic for Mayo's chances (he's only 1:02 back) and Mancebo's (he's just 1:37 behind) is chicken-heartedly throwing in the towel already. Of course, I think Armstrong is going to win, but these guys are less than two minutes back! Don't give up yet! Root for your guys, that's terrific, I like Mayo a lot and I hope he comes in second, and it would be a great story if he won--"Underdog Dethrones Armstrong"--but don't start whining that it's time to go out and eat some mud when the majority of the race hasn't even been ridden yet.

For the benefit of the unenlightened, here's the deal with bike-racing teams. They're sponsored by companies or organizations, and each team is considered to be from the country where its sponsor is from. For example, Credit Agricole is considered a French team. The teams have no connection with any government, and they may contain riders from any country. US Postal, I believe, has three Americans, three Spaniards, one Colombian, and one Russian. For some reason the US Postal Service decided it would be good advertising to sponsor a bike-racing team; they say it costs them four million bucks a year and gets them $18 million of publicity. The French and Italian national lotteries also sponsor teams, as does the Spanish organization for the blind, the ONCE, which runs a lottery of its own.

Oh, yeah, as for capitalism and neoliberalism, Cofidis, a French team, is a consumer-loan company. Now, we all know that these companies perform a legitimate service--they lend small amounts to borrowers with lousy credit at high rates of interest. This used to be called usury. Now it is one of the less attractive hard facts of the free-market system; that is, the higher the risk the lender takes, the more interest he charges the borrower. But if we're going to attack neoliberal capitalists, maybe Lance Armstrong wouldn't be as good a target as a consumer-loan company that CHARGES POOR PEOPLE HIGHER INTEREST THAN BANKS DO.

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