Mural in progress

Posted in Picture du jour on July 31st, 2005 by bill

Bright sun through dark trees

Posted in Picture du jour on July 30th, 2005 by bill

Proof positive

Posted in Picture du jour on July 29th, 2005 by bill
Monomania just doesn't work. monomania.jpg

Corner of Gilbert & Pleasant Valley

Posted in Picture du jour on July 28th, 2005 by bill
How many kinds of irony can you find in this picture? flesh.jpg

A great time out

Posted in Picture du jour on July 27th, 2005 by bill
Here we see kids shooting hoops during a timeout at Kezar Pavilion, about 8:30 this evening. Somewhere way in the back, in one of the blue uniforms, is Cal forward Leon Powe. Kids.jpg

Your joke here

Posted in Picture du jour on July 26th, 2005 by bill
I stole this picture off the Chronicle's Web site, SF Gate. It just screams out for a funny caption of some kind, but I haven't been able to decide on one yet. What would Dave Chappelle do? bu_intel_invests_in.jpg


Posted in Picture du jour on July 25th, 2005 by bill
I'm totally burned out from the Tour de France deathmarch, but I want to keep my blogging momentum going. There's only one answer: pictures. Here's one from this year's 4th of July parade in Alameda. Power.jpg

Tour de France 2005, Stage 21, a.k.a. The End of the Tour

Posted in Tour de France on July 24th, 2005 by bill
Lance_Armstrong_og__153499aimages-1images-2 Stage 21 wasn’t the first time Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich have held hands in public. It was supposed to be a day for relaxation and celebration at the Tour de France. Since 1990 the last stage has been considered an "epilogue," not a competitive part of the Tour per se, though the stage win is contested among the sprinters. To be honest with you, I'm a little fuzzy on how this part of the Tour works. As far as I can tell, there's nothing actually preventing the riders in second, third, and fourth overall from trying to gain time on the leader in the final stage; it is simply not done. There's something very European about that. It seems strange to us here in the U.S., where we love a winner, hate a loser, and don't give a damn about anything else; but in the culture of the Tour it's very important to honor the code, follow the etiquette, and remain gracious whether you win or lose. For a long stretch of Stage 21, which started at a mellow pace under sunny skies, Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich rode side by side. Now, Lance has humbled a lot of people in his seven years of dominance, but no one has suffered more than Ullrich. Ullrich won the Tour in 1997 and looked like he might be a candidate to run off four, five, maybe even six in a row. In a 1998 Tour marred by a drug scandal, Ullrich came in second. He missed the race in 1999 with a knee injury and since then Lance has won every year while Ullrich has finished second, second, second, third, fourth, and this year third again. He has also been the victim of several of Lance's most cold-blooded moments, including one known simply as "the Look," where he came up from behind Ullrich on a climb, passed him, glanced back at him with withering equanimity, and took off like a rocket, leaving the German far behind. Despite all that, the two looked quite friendly today, engaging in what appeared to be a very pleasant conversation and even holding hands at one point. After that Lance made the rounds, exchanging greetings with a number of different riders, and team manager Johann Bruyneel showed up with the champagne. Things got more serious as the peloton approached Paris and the first real rain of this year's Tour came down. There were a bunch of crashes, including one that could have been a major disaster. George Hincapie, Lance's right-hand man, skidded on a curve and went down, taking out two other members of the Discovery Channel team. Lance himself was slightly behind the others and only had to put his foot down and change direction; but had things gone a little differently, he could have been injured. This served as a vivid reminder of the fact that in winning seven Tours, Lance has been incredibly lucky as well as incredibly good. It was still raining as the race moved onto the treacherous cobblestones of the Champs-Elysées for the first of the eight laps that conclude the Tour. Race officials had decided in advance that if it was raining, the Tour clock would be stopped after the first of the eight and the rest would count only for the stage win. So most of the riders played it safe for the last seven laps, but not Alexandre Vinokourov and Bradley McGee, who fought it out at the finish. Vinokourov turned out be just a little bit stronger and got the win. And just like that, it was finally over. Lance was immediately taken off to be drug-tested for the 18th time this week, and my assistants and I took advantage of the break in the action to do a couple victory laps around the living room to "The End of the Tour" by They Might Be Giants. I didn't quite understand what I was getting myself into when I undertook this journey. There have been lots of ups and downs along the way, but now that it's over, I feel as if I have completed my own personal Tour de France. In the famous words of the infamous J.R. Rider, I said I was going to do it and I did it; I have to love myself for that. The ceremonial champagne awaits, and then perhaps a nap. There are just a couple orders of business to clear up first. THE THANKS I'd like to thank Mom and Dad for making me possible. I'd like to thank the whole Vortex clan for their invaluable support. I'd like to thank Crispy Bacon, who generously provides server space and tech support for this monkey-brained writer, as well as several others I could mention. I'd like to thank Over Medium and Raw Meat Patrol, who watched the last stage with me while listening patiently to my ranting. I'd like to thank my several faithful readers, without whom I would be unread. I'd like to thank the kittens for being so goddamn cute. And finally, I'd like to thank the Outdoor Life Network's entire team of commentators—Al Trautwig, Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen, and last but not least genial nutjob Bob Roll—for their knowledge, sense of humor, and unflagging enthusiasm. Even though it can be a little annoying when they insist that every single stage is among the most thrilling they've ever seen, they kept me going when things got rough. After spending an ungodly number of hours listening to them call the race, I feel like they are close personal friends. I may be in need of professional help. THE PREDICTIONS In the interest of full disclosure, I feel that I must take responsibility for the predictions I made at the beginning of the week. They didn't go so great. I correctly picked the first, second, and third place finishers, but a woodpecker could have done that. I grossly overestimated Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich's ability to gain time on Lance; instead of making things closer through the week, they finished 4'40" and 6'21" behind, respectively. I picked Mickael Rasmussen in fourth place, but he ended up finishing seventh. I'm going to give myself a pass on this one, because there's no way I could have known he would completely fall apart in Stage 20, crashing twice, including one where he literally flew over the handlebars, and changing bikes four times. At one point it looked like Rasmussen was going to just throw up his hands and quit, but he did eventually finish, losing almost eight minutes on the day. Fourth place ended up going to Francisco Mancebo. I had Levi Leipheimer in fifth place, and he was in fact in fifth place right up until the last minute of the Tour. But then there were some shenanigans. At first, we were told that there would be no time bonuses in the final stage; then somebody decided to award Alexandre Vinokourov a 20-second bonus for winning the stage, which was just enough to lift him over Leipheimer into fifth place. So I'm going to call that one a push. I picked the white jersey and polka dot jersey winners correctly, but those were gimmes. The only tough call was the green jersey, which I am pleased to note went to mighty Norwegian Thor Hushovd rather than my pick, jerkface Robbie McEwen. On the whole, I can't claim to have made any prediction that was worth a damn. But this was only my third Tour, and my first as a self-proclaimed expert. I hope to do better next year. Which reminds me.... THE PLEA Finally, I'd like to ask anyone who's been reading this epistle to leave me feedback in the form of a comment. Writing about the Tour has been a form of practice—I'm not sure for what exactly, but we'll find out. So let me know what you liked and what could have been better. Peace, I'm out.

Tour de France 2005, Stage 20

Posted in Tour de France on July 23rd, 2005 by bill

Well, that mean ole devil want to catch Lance Want to stick that pitchfork in his ass Yes, that mean ole devil want to catch Lance But Lance, he just too fast –Blind Lemon Peloton "Lance and the Devil Blues" Let us now worship Lance Armstrong. Lance—I feel comfortable calling him Lance now—came in first in the time trial today, beating a very motivated Jan Ullrich by 23 seconds. In doing so, he won his first stage of the 2005 Tour and guaranteed that he will complete his seventh overall victory tomorrow. Just about the whole world is united in its admiration for his achievement, and while I am constitutionally averse to holding popular opinions, I just can't find any reason to feel otherwise. Sure, there are some haters out there who will tell you that we should turn against Lance because a) he's on the juice, b) he dumped his wife for Sheryl Crow, or c) he's only pretending to be such a nice guy and underneath is a cold-blooded, manipulative egomaniac. Well, a) he's had more drug tests than Robert Downey Jr. has had drugs, b) that's really his own personal business, and c) if he's pretending, he's every bit as good an actor as he is a cyclist. Try as I might to avoid becoming a Lance partisan—mostly because I detest the screaming, flag-waving yahoos you see cheering for him at the Tour—I am continually disarmed by his demeanor. He is supremely self-confident without crossing the line into arrogance. He believes in himself more than anyone I've ever seen with the possible exception of Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan (for those of you keeping score at home, that's the third Jordan reference in my Tour coverage). But he never talks trash about his opponents, never disparages them, just crushes their will by outperforming them. So I surrender. I, too, am a big Lance fan and will be toasting him as he rides into Paris tomorrow. Meanwhile, it's Saturday night here in Oaktown, and I have neither the time nor the inclination to assess Lance's legacy in detail, as every sportswriter in creation is doing today. Chuck Squatriglia did a very nice job in today's San Francisco Chronicle, so I am providing a link to his article here. But before I go, I just want to say this one thing: We have precious few heroes and precious few reasons to celebrate these days. All you haters, take tomorrow off.

Tour de France 2005, Stage 19

Posted in Tour de France on July 22nd, 2005 by bill
slips.jpg "Everyone knows which comes first when it's a question of cricket or sex—all discerning people recognise that. Anyway, don't forget one doesn't have to do two things at the same time. You can either have sex before cricket or after cricket—the fundamental fact is that cricket must be there at the center of things." –Harold Pinter Little of import happened in Stage 19 unless you're a big fan of Giuseppe Guerini, the stage winner, or Oscar Pereiro, who moved into the Top 10 as a result of his time gain. At this point watching the Tour has become kind of like watching cricket—or rather what I've always imagined watching cricket would be like, since I've never actually seen a cricket match. You find yourself a comfortable seat next to a tall, attractive adult beverage. You have your snacks and if possible your pets close at hand. You drink a toast to Montgomery Scott and after a while you begin to enter a pleasant sort of fugue state. The competition recedes into the background and your mind wanders to other places, other times. You think of friends not present, a favorite child, romances that may or may not have actually happened. You contemplate what could have been or better yet, what might still be. You may even drift off into a light slumber from time to time. Then the race approaches the finish line, there's a perceptible but not jarring uptick in the excitement level, and you bring yourself to a state of alertness for as long as it takes the day's proceedings to come to a conclusion. As the competitors fight it out for the victory your heart rate quickens slightly but only slightly; you know that the stakes are not too high, that there will be more to see tomorrow and the day after. Tomorrow will be Stage 20, the last time trial and the last "real" stage. The day after is the ceremonial ride into Paris, where it is considered bad form to make a spectacle of yourself by trying too hard. So everyone's final standing will depend on how they perform in the penultimate stage, a 55.5-kilometer (34.5-mile) loop from Saint-Etienne, across some medium-sized climbs and descents, and back to Saint-Etienne. Most people think that Lance Armstrong, who's still looking for his first stage win this year, will take Stage 20. Armstrong himself has been coy, saying that he thinks Jan Ullrich is the man to beat. And Ullrich will certainly be pushing himself to max and making lots of ugly faces, because he has to make up two minutes and twelve seconds on Mickael Rasmussen to move into third place and onto the podium. Levi Leipheimer, meanwhile, has to beat Francisco Mancebo by a minute and five seconds to achieve his stated goal of moving into fifth place, thus vindicating my prediction that he would do so. The forgotten man in second place is Ivan Basso, who would have to beat Armstrong by 2'47" to shock the world and take the yellow jersey. This is virtually impossible, but let's imagine for a moment what would happen if it weren't. Certainly Armstrong wouldn't concede; he and Basso would have to fight it out in the final stage, etiquette or no etiquette. Now that would be a race worth staying awake for.