We used to have a compost heap in the back yard. It was about fifty feet by fifty feet, and it mostly consisted of leaves and grass clippings. The heap was about ten years old when we moved in, and that thing was worm heaven. All you had to do as a kid was stick your hand down into the cool, loosely packed, shade-covered compost and up would come a fistful of big ol’ honkin’ earthworms.
They were so smooth, and cool to the touch, and fun to play with. You could put them in a tin can and have “worm wars” where the worms would battle each other to the death, except being the peaceful creatures they were, they would just wriggle around a bit. Occasionally you could pack a bunch into a styrofoam cup and murder them on the end of a fishhook. Worms have blood, by the way. All in all, though, the earthworms were just good ol’ playmates, and after you got done with them you’d toss ‘em back onto the heap and away they’d go. Back home they’d probably be saying shit like, “Then the two-eyed monster grabbed me in his paws but I slithered free! I was awesome!”
We had a kid in our neighborhood called Bad Billy. Whatever he did turned out bad. He’s probably dead now, or in prison, or running a team in the Pro Tour. Bad Billy came over one day while we were having a worm war, and went home, and came back with a bucket. For two hours he hunted worms until that bucket was about a quarter of the way full of wrigglers.
“Watch this!” he said.
We ran after him, because whenever Bad Billy said “Watch this!” you were almost always guaranteed, in a short amount of time, to see squad cars with flashing lights, and maybe even a drawn revolver.
He dashed over to the giant fan that powered our outdoor a.c. unit, and as we watched in horror, he dumped the worms into the fan blades. Him being Bad Billy the Really Dumb, and us being the Equally Dumb, no one thought to step away from the fan. In seconds we were all covered with bits of shredded worm. I loved those worms, and will never forget being covered in them, chopped to bits. A little bit of me died that day, though of course a whole lot of worms died than I did.
Edict of Worms
There was a time when it was hard to get information about the Tour de France. It came in various edicts published by Winning, or, if you were really lucky, an old copy of Miroir du Cyclisme. You dug around a bit, and if you knew where to look you could always come up with a handful or two of Tour news and updates.
Then along came Al Gore’s Internet, followed by George W. Bush’s Internets, and we were awash in Tour news. In the beginning it was fun. Wow! Pooky van Festersore won the sprunt into Bordeaux, and we found out the same day! After a while, though, it got to be a bit much. We felt obligated to buy the complete Tour collection on DVD. By the eleventeenth disc, when we had to hear Phil say, “I believe it’s Vino,” followed by Paul saying “No, Phil, it’s Basso,” it started to get tiresome.
Then the Live Update Guy compelled us to follow it every few minutes even when we were at work. “Snuppums has been dropped. Reader from Punxsutawney wants to know why they’re called ‘primes.’”
Finally, along came the Twitter, where all the people you’re following are other cycle geeks, so you’d get several dozen Tour tweets per second during the stage. @mmmaiko even invented a whole language, Fabianese, that now takes six months of intense study just to understand, let alone mine the riches of hashtags like #uncunstitutional and #trollfacts.
Just when I thought I couldn’t get any more spattered by Tour worms, that there was nothing about the Tour left to write about, whether Wiggles’s profanity or why this was the cleanest Tour ever since the last cleanest Tour ever, I made the awful mistake of checking cyclingnews.com, where I learned that of all the riders in the Tour, Alejandro Valverde gets the most fan mail. Wow. My understanding of this complex sport just got deeper than Atlantis.
Down in the gut-ter, Gut-ter so low…
From there it was descent into pure Tour filth. Peraud gets airlifted 200km to see his new baby. Pictures of wife’s epesiotomy to follow? Greipel’s team manager, Herman Frison, promises to visit a nude beach if Greipel wins. He’s fifty. Google Herman Frison’s picture and imagine him strutting the goods at Biarritz. Yeccccch. Vacansoleil gripes because their hotels were dirty. In France. Someone will next complain because the French don’t seem to bathe as often as Americans.
For all that, the more news spatter we have, the less real news we actually have. Answer me the following questions about the next stage:
1. What will the team tactics be among the GC contenders?
2. What will the team tactics be among the teams seeking other classifications?
3. How does this stage stack up against other “queen stages” in past Tours?
4. How does this stage stack up considering the stages that come after it?
5. What’s Wiggins’s best strategy? Evans’s? Froome’s? Nibali’s?
6. What’s the weather going to be like, and how are the road surfaces?
7. How much of a factor will the descents be?
8. Will Wiggins’s infamously bad descending skills put him into serious difficulty?
9. Could a stage-long breakaway work?
10. How could you use this stage to compensate for Wiggins’s strength against the clock…or could you?
11. What does a chart showing the various contenders’ blood profiles look like?
There are dozens of other questions that the laziest, most casual fanboy could pose, answers to which would enliven the stage if you bothered to watch it. Unfortunately, you’ll find few if any analyses deeper than these: “It won’t be an easy day for whoever is defending the yellow jersey,” [Really? Like all those other easy days defending it?] and “In 2010, we went over the Tourmalet and that was the most difficult stage I’ve ever done.”
Maybe this is the reason that the local races in SoCal are so much more fun to watch and talk about and photograph and write about. We actually get to learn the tactics, the plans, the grand attempts, the epic failures, the real people, and the real racing…without all the worm spatter.