Tour de France: Exit Chicken!

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BREAKING NEWS!
The maillot jaune is out of the Tour de France! As mentioned in the blog entry below, Rasmussen seems to have lied about his whereabouts in June, and his employer Rabobank has kicked him out! Read the whole story on velonews.com!

As I also wrote somewhere below: “Good Lord, when you think there can be no more surprises, there’s always another one around the corner…

Vive le Tour! I still think Rasmussen was the right winner!

Tour de France: ‘Cycling is War’

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Just moments after finishing my last post on le Tour, Alexandre Vinokourov was tested positive for blood doping. Though Vinokourov claims he and his teammates are the innocent victims of a conspiracy, Team Astana has left the Tour (Vinokourov also stated that he has no intentions of wasting time proving he’s innocent…!).

Now, some 24 hours later, Christian Moreni of Team Cofidis was tested positive for using artificial testosterone. Moreni confessed immediately after, and has been arrested by French police. Team Cofidis has now followed the trail of Team Astana, out of the Tour.

The allegations against Rasmussen continue: a former Italian rider claims he met Rasmussen in Italy in June, when he is supposed to have been training in Mexico. We also understand that the French really don’t like Rasmussen, though his riding style has proven spectacular and deeply entertaining. Too bad for Tour-boss Prudhomme and ASO chief Patrice Clerc that the doping sinner of the day is, unfortunately, from a French team. Our condolences go to the Goody Two Shoes of French cycling organizers…

The Spanish Cartoon Crisis

el_jueves.jpgIt never seems quiet on the cartoon front these years. Today cartoonist Guillermo and writer Manel FontdeVila are to appear in court for having depicted Spanish royals, the Prince and Princess of Asturias, fornicating on the cover of last week’s edition of prime satirical magazine El Jueves. Not content to have forced its retraction by the publishers and closed down most of their website, the state prosecutor (apparently, the royals themselves haven’t addressed the cartoon at all) is going all the way. Guillermo and FontdeVila risk up to two years in jail.

That an otherwise enlightened country like Spain – in many ways an exemplar to an increasingly reactionary Europe – still has a law against insulting the crown, and actually takes it seriously, is discouraging to say the least. I’m in no way in favour of insulting people who by default are in the spotlight 24-7, but to actually prosecute those who do it is wrong on the face of it, unless we are talking about outright slander. This is not slander, merely a humorous depiction of a couple doing what most couples the age of the royal couple frequently do, accompanied by a cheeky text referring to a recent law compensating couples for having babies. Perhaps a little humiliating, but totally harmless. Instead of merely shrugging, the state prosecutor has turned it into a freedom of speech-clampdown.

Tour de France: We Few, We Happy Few

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At least in the Danish coverage of le Tour, everyone’s reporting that viewing figures are dropping massively throughout Europe, due to – yes, you guessed it! – cycling’s doping-infested image. Danish paper Berlingske Tidende also ran an article claiming that the drop in popularity is exacerbated by the fact that a certain Dane is very close to winning the race. Audiences wants a winner from Germany, France, Spain, USA, heck, even Borat-land Kazakhstan! In the Metabunker, things are different. Firstly, we don’t care about the nationality of the winner, though it’s somehow funny and surprising that the leader of the pack, Mr. Rasmussen, is from around here. Secondly, we like the fact that this year’s Tour is dominated by tiny climbers (such as Rasmussen and Boy Wonder Alberto Contador), rather than heavy muscle guys such as Lance Armstrong or Jan Ullrich (though those guys certainly haven’t been replaced properly yet, riders such as Klöden, Vinokourov, Leipheimer, and Evans do their best). And thirdly, we enjoy being humble spectators with no obligations or responsibilities. Tour director Christian Prudhomme and UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) chief Pat McQuaid are surely not allowed that luxury, as they are probably deeply concerned with the future of cycling.

The Gilding’s Titian

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Despite my initial scepticism, I am now quite convinced that the possible Titian sold for a song at Gilding’s, Leics. last week (pictured, above left), is the genuine article (as convinced as is possible without having actually seen the painting firsthand, that is). I’ve now had the opportunity to examine the enlargable lot image at the Gilding’s website, which is far from perfect but still way better than the muddled reproduction that’s been floating around the web, and which you see here. The picture is obviously of high quality and fits well into the group of portraits of unidentified gentlemen, clad mainly in black and white, that Titian painted in the second half of the 1510s and the early 1520s, before hitting the major league as a portraitist a few years later. A good number of these portraits are still extant – the most famous being the so-called Man with the Glove at the Louvre, but it stands to reason that he did many more. It is not thus not surprising that another one should turn up this way.

The Child and the Giant – On Alex Toth and David Mazzucchelli

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Amongst the handful of significant cartoonists that worked for Warren Publishing during the 70s, Alex Toth stands out. He created some of his best comics for the publisher, despite often working from mediocre scripts. As a rule, the best of them are the ones he did in collaboration with Archie Goodwin, but there are other notable gems in the oeuvre. One of them is the story “Daddy and The Pie” from Eerie #64 (1975), drawn on the basis of a well-written if somewhat banal script by Bill DuBay.

The 8-page comic tells the story of a farmer’s family that one night recovers a gigantic alien, who has crash-landed his spaceship in one of their fields, and helps his recovery. A friendship develops between them and their Earth-struck guest, whom they name ‘Pie.’ The neighbours, however, are not happy about the stranger’s presence, which creates rising tension in the community and culminates with Pie sacrificing himself to save the life of his host, the farmer. The narrator of the story is the farmer’s son, a little boy who finds inspiration in the examples of his father and the stranger.

Tour de France: Rasmussen’s Reign

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As the first mountain stage in Tour de France turned out slightly disappointing, this one was, well, as promised, an ab-so-lu-te blast. Great Dane Michael Rasmussen (of Dutch Team Rabobank) tore the peloton apart, won the stage riding halfway the route virtually without help (as his only ally, T-Mobile captain Michael Rogers unfortunately hit a roadside barrier and pulled out of the race shortly after). Good Lord, what a stunning ride, a phenomenal achievement! Rasmussen not only won the stage, but the maillot jaune and the polka-dot mountain jersey as well.

Tour de France: The Thin Air is Coming

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Enter the Alps! It has been a crazy week for the riders in the world’s greatest cycling race. Although the maillot jaune has been in Fabian Cancellara’s possession since the Prolouge, the Tour has been surprisingly eventful so far, which is both good and bad. Good, obviously, due to the entertainment value of the race – bad, because some of these events included the brutal crashes of Team Astana-chiefs Alexandre Vinokourov and Andreas Klöden, which just might put an end to the podium dreams for these two riders, who otherwise happened to be among the top favourites for the GC (general classification). Sure, it’s somehow exciting in a strange, sadistic manner to watch a rider giving it all that he’s got, with deep contusions on both knees, a bleeding elbow and abrasions on hip and buttocks. But then again: if that sight means the exit of Vinokourov, well… not good at all.

Tour de France: Fausto Coppi and ‘La Bomba’ – Updated

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If you haven’t got any real plans for the summer, here’s your deal: Le Tour is the thing! Even though the first two stages were more exciting than expected, Tour de France is of course at its best when it reaches the Alps (14th to the 17th of July, Sunday being a resting day) and the Pyrenees (23th to 25th of July). So, should you be reluctant to spending endless hours watching the Tour on TV, do check for the mountain stages where legends are born…

I hope to follow the Tour, and hopefully to blog about it now and then. In my first Metabunker post on cycling, I discussed Bjarne Riis’ doping confession. At the moment, Bjarne Riis’ Team CSC holds the maillot jaune, but Riis himself is not with his team, due to the pressure from the media caused by his doping confession, as well as former CSC-rider Jörg Jaksche’s allegations (see here and here). But it’s also worth noting that Tour de France boss Christian Prudhomme has condemned Bjarne Riis harshly, and made it clear that he would prefer Riis to stay away, because the presence of the former Tour de France winner would soil the grandeur of the race. In fact, Monsieur Prudhomme wants to reclaim Bjarne Riis’ maillot jaune, and erase him as winner of the 1996 Tour de France.