Monday, June 28, 2010

It's Tour Time!

Ok, folks - it is officially here - Tour season! The 97th Tour de France is beginning!

Cycling News: 2010 top Tour contenders

And what a race we have ready for you this year. It has been a hot, hot year for races, with Lance and Contador on their own individual teams, Basso and Vinokourov back after drug suspensions, and much more. Cancellara outrode Boonen early this year, in a Classics complete upset, the Giro was a tightly fought thrill-a-minute revelation from start to finish, the Tour of California had the strongest field ever, and a tightly fought finish (but not so many unexpected wins as the Giro). It has been an EXCITING year for racing.

And now, Contador and Lance are ready to do battle. And what a battle it will be! In the first 3 days, we have cobbles. In the early season, during the Spring "Classics", we often see accidents and upsets caused by the cobbles. They aren't usually included in the Tour. The cobble sections could see upsetting results that will change the whole face of this 97th Tour. I have no doubt that some teams are looking to put the hurt on, and maybe even score some underdog times that will put somebody in yellow for a long stretch - a la Voeckler in 2004. Back then Voeckler spent ten days in yellow, gained in an early breakaway that made it to the end with a 20 minute lead over the peloton. He had so much time it was considered possible that he might actually be able to hold a lead and win. This year we had a similar underdog adventure in the Giro - David Arroyo, a lieutenant, albeit a strong one, but still normally just a lieutenant, took the lead with an early stage breakaway, with a big time gap over the favorites. He managed to hold on to enough of that lead for a 2nd place finish, with Basso alone overcoming in the final days. The cobbles could be telling. We probably won't see the winner "made" there, but we might well see top ranked riders lose the race there. Lance will certainly be looking to take an advantage here over Contador.

The Alps come early this year, and probably won't be decisive. The Alps come too early, and the real action will be in the Pyrenees, late in the race. Several of the top contenders have said exactly this. If Contador makes it to the Alps without losing a big chunk of time, he will be the big favorite to win this year.

There will still be opportunity and excitement. Just like last year, when Lance gained so much time on one stage, weather can step in and change the face of the race. Lance has shown he is good at anticipating this stuff, and that his team has the best tactical wisdom around in Bruyneel and the team riders.

In the Pyrenees we will expect the race to be made. Here is where Alberto rules. This is where he is looking to win the race.

Then, in the penultimate stage, we have a big time trial. This will be a last opportunity, should the placings still be close. Contador has proven himself strong in the TT, and Lance is not the master here that he used to be. But, this is July, and the Tour de France. There are several other riders who will be in the mix, and perhaps some unexpected ones coming up. See my link, above, for some of the favorites.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ukraine: opinions on government evolution

A dim, acerbic opinion of the current government in the Ukraine, with side comments on the status of Russia. Validates my last post.
Is Ukrainian democracy really dead?

Ironically, though, this next link may hold notes of optimism - get to the last paragraphs, starting with "The Vienna probe's findings come amid signs that Moscow is itself keen to curb impunity for killers of human rights defenders and opposition activists in North Caucasus, said by the EU to be a major factor in growing instability in the region . . .". More at: Russian hardman ordered hit in heart of EU, probe alleges We need signs that a rule of law is going to become dominant in the sphere of Russian influence. Concern over the killings of dissenters is a step in that direction.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Russian trends - some articles of interest

It's been a long time since I've written again. I can't say I know why, other than I just didn't have the feeling to write. My apologies.

On the other hand, I've had a lot of thoughts to say. Some have been politically controversial, or at least, if I post them, you will see me blasting somebody politically. I don't like political conversations, as I've been the victim of them ever since I was first able to participate. I use the word "victim" intentionally, since it usually seems to me that those who enjoy participating in political "discussions" are quite a bit like the barroom thug who sits at the bar, ready to take advantage of anyone foolish enough to challenge them to an arm-wrestling contest. You have entered their domain, and picked their contest of choice. You have been suckered, and yet you come off as the instigator. I usually end up feeling like I've been suckered into endless circular arguments that I cannot win, and I only look like the foolish target.

Today, though, I'm going to point you to some articles I've recently run across about Russia. In my thinking, they illuminate the current political climate/course in Russia.

I'll start with the Muscovite's Code - if there is any humor to be found here, it is on this topic. A quick intro is at
with a tongue-in-cheek counterpoint here
So, we have a growing nationalist sentiment, combining with some "anti-" ethnic/racial sentiments. Nothing new here, just things we all have in some form. It's what happens as a result that matters, yes? What is important to me is the growth of this side of things.

Speaking of growth in political "areas":
It appears to be a strengthening of political crony-ism, and a move against representative government. My first thought is that some of my friends out there will believe I am speaking negatively about this. For you, please stick with me for a little longer.

Economics is much in the news lately. Here we have, in my opinion, a balanced view of the current situation for Russia
In the middle of this article, you will also find the reason why the pendulum will not swing too far back: "Russia is no longer isolated - its elites and upper middle class know the world outside of Russia through travel and the Internet". And, you will see, if you read this article, a willingness to speak openly about the current economic conditions.

Wrap it up with international politics

What I see here, quite clearly, is a swing of the pendulum. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the pendulum swung to the opposite side of the spectrum. As would be expected. Now it is swinging back. But, just like a pendulum, political situations rarely swing all the way back to the original spot. External energy must be applied to keep the pendulum swinging. What I see here is confirmation that nationalism, and racist, attitudes continue to grow (although it seems slowly) in Russia. I also see that government continues, slowly, to reform itself along more oligarchic, and less democratic lines. Next, I also see that, while the "Housing Depression" has also impacted Russia, there is still economic strength in that area.

In the middle of the economic article, you will also find the reason why the pendulum will not swing too far back: "Russia is no longer isolated - its elites and upper middle class know the world outside of Russia through travel and the Internet". And, you will see, if you read this article, a willingness to speak openly about the current economic conditions. The very fact that this article is possible, and that the author makes the assumptions, asides, and conclusions that he does, speaks for long-term optimism about Russia economic and political climate.

And, lastly, we have a frank examination of Russia vis-a-vis other area governments/countries. This is a very good examination of Russia's options in Kyrgyzstan. It is also applicable to relations with Georgia. Both have been under Russian power since well before the Soviet came to be. They are immediate neighbors, and have much weaker economies than their larger neighbor to the north.

I see some trends I don't like, and that I mistrust, but, overall, I think we have good reason for long run optimism in Russia. There is still an economic vigor, and a political freedom, that was not there in the Soviet era, and enough people like trend, that, with a little luck, and some work, these negative trends will just be the swinging of the pendulum hitting its reverse end.

The change in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet is not through. It may have only just begun.

I don't know how long the referenced articles will be posted. I've saved copies for my records if you should read this and can not get to the articles.