Monday, February 23, 2009

Tour of California Stage 8

Fränk Schleck (Saxo Bank) might have won the stage, but the day belonged to overall winner, Levi Leipheimer, who has now won this race 3 years in a row. Levi finished 40 seconds back, in the group that contained his main challengers, Dave Zabriskie (2nd on GC) and Micheal Rodgers (3rd on GC), as well as all the big names in this year's race.
Lance Armstrong finished 7th overall, but appeared happy with his form. Floyd Landis, the only other man to have won this race before, finished back in 23rd place overall, but had recovered well after his pre-race training accident.
The Tour of California is now 4 years old, and continues to grow from strength to strength. This year's race had the best start list to date, and also enjoyed the best support from the public. I'm already looking forward to the next edition.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tour of California Stage 7

Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R) put one over a very elite break, including the likes of Fränk Schleck and George Hincapie, to take the win at the end of Stage 7 in Pasadena. It was the first showing from AG2R in this year's ToC, but he and his teammate, Martin Elmiger, were very animated in the final circuits leading up to the finish.

Overall, Levi Leipheimer holds onto his 0:36 lead over Dave Zabriskie, with only one stage to go, albeit possibly the toughest stage of the race.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tour of California Stage 6

Levi Leipheimer (Astana) was awesome in Solvang, beating the US time trial champion (David Zabriskie of Garmin-Slipstream) by 0:08, and securing his overall lead in the race.

Levi's teammate, Lance Armstrong, only managed 14th best time, and drops to 6th overall. However, I believe this is an indication of how hard Lance has been working at the front of the peleton for the last 5 days, helping secure Levi's yellow jersey. A super domestique if ever there was one.
Another interesting result was big George Hincapie (Team Columbia-Highroad), who had the 6th fastest time. Although he's down in 21st place overall, his form is coming on nicely ahead of his Spring Classic campaign. I'll certainly be routing for George on 12 April at Paris-Roubaix. He come so close so many times - wouldn't it be great for George to finally win it?
Going into the final 2 climber's stages this weekend, I am confident Levi has the legs to hang on to his lead all the way to the finish in Escondido on Sunday.

General classification after stage 6
 1 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana                             24.12.00
2 David Zabriskie (USA) Garmin - Slipstream                   0.36
3 Michael Rogers (Aus) Team Columbia - Highroad           0.46
4 Jens Voigt (Ger) Team Saxo Bank                              1.10
5 Thomas Lövkvist (Swe) Team Columbia - Highroad        1.29
6 Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana                                 1.46
7 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank                                   1.54
8 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana                                     1.59
9 Christopher Horner (USA) Astana                                2.13
10 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Rock Racing                       2.15
Thanks for reading.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Tour of California Stage 5

It might have been the longest stage of this year's ToC, but it still came down to a bunch sprint, with Marc Cavendish (Team Columbia-Highroad) taking his 2nd win in as many days, again narrowly pipping big Tom Boonen to the line.

Once again, no changes to the leaderboard, and all thoughts now go to Friday's Individual Time Trial. The route is fast and reasonably flat, but at only 24.1km it is unlikely to cause any huge time differences amongst the front runners. However, with the 2nd to 16th riders within a minute of Levi Leipheimer's lead, expect some position changes.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tour of California Stage 4

Sunshine and spectacular scenery in the Sierra Mountains marked the hilly 4th stage of the ToC. Mark Cavendish (Columbia-Highroad) did well to stay in the main bunch over all the big climbs and gave himself a chance to take the sprint finish ahead of Quick Step's fast finishing Tom Boonen.

All the main protaganists finished in the bunch, so again no changes to the GC, but what was of interest to me was the performance of Rock Racing's Tyler Hamilton. I wasn't too complimentary of Tyler a couple of days ago, but the US Road Champion was in the break for most of the day, and managed to take maximum points in 3 of the 5 climbs.
Stage 5 is pretty flat, so expect another sprint finish. Stage 6 is the ITT, which may see some changes at the top of the leaderboard, but the main action will be the final 2 stages over the weekend, where some serious climbing might see a major shuffle.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tour of California Stage 3

Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam) took the win on a cold and wet day in California. The big climb of the day up Sierra Road came within the first 10km, followed by some twisty up and down sections until Patterson Pass. The second half of the race was fast and flat, and was always going to come down to a sprint finish. Big Thor's Cervélo teammates gave him the perfect leadout, with fast man Mark Cavendish (Columbia-High Road) battling to get to the front of the race and only finishing 4th.
The main contenders all finished safely in the bunch, so no changes to the GC, although race leader, Levi Leipheimer (Astana) had a moment after crashing into a teammate. However a quick bike change, and a tow from his teammates saw him safely back in the peleton.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tour of California Stage 2

As I predicted yesterday, Levi Leipheimer of the Astana Team attacked the peleton on the final big climb of the day, and although he finished second to Tom Peterson of Garmin-Sliptream, it was enough for him to take the overall lead by 0:24 from Michael Rodgers of  Team Columbia-Highroad.
For me, the stand-out performance of the day came from Dave Zabriskie, teammate of the day's winner, Tom Peterson. Dave is known as a time-trial specialist, and did well to finish in the main bunch alongside the likes of Lance Armstrong and Ivan Basso.

As an aside, it is still incredible to me to see the names of Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis, Ivan Basso and Tyler Hamilton appearing on the same start list again. I never thought I would see the day.

General classification after stage 2           

1 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana                                   09:23:02

2 Michael Rogers (Aus) Team Columbia - Highroad     00:24

3 David Zabriskie (USA) Garmin - Slipstream                  00:28

4 Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana                                00:30

5 Christopher Horner (USA) Astana                              00:34

6 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana                                    00:38

7 Thomas Lövkvist (Swe) Team Columbia - Highroad      

8 José Luis Rubiera (Spa) Astana   

9 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas      

10 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank                                00:39

11 Oscar Sevilla (Spa) Rock Racing

12 Jens Voigt (Ger) Team Saxo Bank                            00:40

13 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas                                       00:42

14 Thomas Danielson (USA) Garmin - Slipstream  

Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Discovering New Music

I'm loathe to admit it, but there are some benefits of using iTunes. Because so many people use it, there are some really cool apps written around iTunes. I stumbled across one of these the other day, and would like to share it with all of you, 'cos, well, it's cool.

The site is called 'I like b-sides', and doesn't require any registration or sign-in. Off to a good start. What you do is upload the “iTunes Music Library” text file (normally in My Music/iTunes), and the site offers up a number of songs not on your playlist that you might also like. It'll even let you sample them from Amazon, with the obvious choice to buy (I guess they get a cut). Don't like the choice; there's a shuffle button. Want even more? There's a list of songs off your upload that you might be ignoring. I'm not sure what criteria they use for this; maybe an average rating from all the uploads.

My only disappointment was that the results didn't offer any new artists, but I'm not sure if that would be true for everyone.
To discover new artists, I use 2 sources: or - simply search for an album you like, and then look at the "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" section. With Amazon's turnover, you're bound to find something you like. - if you enter a songs name, they'll offer up a playlist of similar music. Even better, if you're prepared to create an account, and 'scrobble' your music for a while, they'll offer up quite meaningful alternative bands and albums. has a lot of another useful and interesting features, like adding friends, and seeing how compatible your taste in music is to others, because it has a strong social side to it. If you want to give it a try, look me up. My username is Brat7.

Thanks for reading.

Tour of California Preview

Not for the first time in its short history, the Tour of California will be the focus of everyone with an interest in Pro-Cycling, and not just the fans in the US. Held over 8 stages, the ToC, now in its 4th year, will be the first real test of whether Lance Armstrong's comeback efforts are to be taken seriously. Sure, he rode the Tour Down Under, the opening round of the ProTour, but his 29th position on GC supported his claims of using the race as training.

In my opinion, however, the ToC will be different. Lance is a racer, and winning on home soil is important to him, and to his cancer awareness cause. Levi Leipheimer, winner in '07 and '08, and Lance's Astana teammate, might be his biggest obstacle in achieving this objective. Levi came 2nd to Fabian Cancellara in the opening prologue on Saturday, but Cancellara withdrew early in Stage 1, leaving the door open for Levi to take control of the race. Stage 1 surprise winner, Francisco Mancebo of Rock Racing, holds the yellow jersey for now, but that might have changed by the time the peloton arrives at the end of Stage 2. Lance sits in 5th overall at 1:05, and he might fall into the supportive role, but if Levi should stumble, he’ll jump at the chance to take leadership of arguably the most important race on the US race calendar. Either way, it’ll be a test of his form, and an early indication of what we can expect come the Giro in May. 

Another big name rider making his comeback after his 2 year doping ban is ’06 winner Floyd Landis, riding with the OUCH Team. He’s sitting in 29th overall, at 5:08, an improvement on his 90th position in the Prologue, but his performance was undoubtedly affected by a training crash on Friday; I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on him in the coming days. 

And what of Tyler Hamilton, the other big US star that got caught up in the doping accusations and served a 2 year ban? Well, sadly, Tyler is languishing in 91st place, hardly fitting for the rider we all cheered for in the ’03 Tour de France, when he showed such grit and determination riding with a broken collarbone. 

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

iTunes vs MediaMonkey (or Why I Hate iTunes)

I don't like iTunes. Let me make that clear from the start, just in case the header didn't give it away. I personally switched to a progam called MediaMonkey a couple of years ago, and haven't looked back, until now. I recently downloaded iTunes 8; curious as to whether Apple had improved anything. They haven't:
  1. First up is the program download, and Apple's attempt to con you into downloading Safari and QuickTime along with iTunes, as if, at 65Mb, the download wasn't big enough already. Then, if there's an upgrade, you have to download the whole program again. And Aplle issue lots of upgrades. For bandwidth limited South Africans, this can be an expensive 'free' program.
  2. iTunes doesn't automatically import your music; there is no way to 'watch' a folder. If you don't use iTunes to rip your music, then you have to manually point iTunes to the new folder. MediaMonkey allows you to set up folders that it 'watches', and then automatically loads the files.
  3. Cover Flow is an awesome bit of eye-candy, but iTunes management of Album Art really sucks. If you don't have access to the iTunes Store (like us in SA) then it is a completely manual operation. Sure, there are plug-ins, but why isn't it built in. MediaMonkey searches Amazon and shows the options based on Artist, Album, etc, then auto tags your matching files, using the recognised ID3 tagging format, and saves a copy of the Album Art to the folder. iTunes saves all the Album Art to a folder it sets up in My Music, and not to the ID3 tag.
  4. The main purpose for a lot of people using iTunes is syncing with their iPods. Sure, iTunes works seamlessly in this task; it couldn't be easier. Or could it? I have an 8Gb iPod Nano, and about 16Gb of music. This confuses iTunes, and the only way to ensure that the music you want on your iPod actually loads, is to manually uncheck the little boxes next to all the songs you don't want to reduce to your iPod capacity (in my case 8Gb). Then, everytime you rip/download a new album, you have to uncheck more songs. MediaMonkey (yes, it even works with iPods) has a much better solution. In the options for each device you connect to your computer you can select which playlists you want to sync, and then there is a checkbox which directs MediaMonkey to fill your device to it's capacity. Then, everytime you sync, it replaces the songs you have listened to, and replaces them with new ones. Your iPod remains fresh.
It's not all bad. As I said before, Cover Flow is brilliant, the app works well and is very stable, and it does offer features that 3rd party apps like MediaMonkey cannot offer, like calendar and photo album support. However, if you have a large music collection, MediaMonkey is absolutely unmatched (in my experience) in sorting it out, deleting dead links and finding missing tags and Album Art. The program works with all iPods and iPhones, as well as other mp3 players. Give it a try.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Yay! Winner!

OK, not quite, but I'm still pretty chuffed. SACM magazine have been holding a photographic competition, with projects assigned every month, and my entry was adjudged runner-up in the B&W catagory. Here's my entry:

Click here for an enlarged version.

And here's the winning entry. I would love to say that I deserved to win, but this photo is superb. I love the contrast and lighting - very professional.

I am a little bummed though, because I already have a printer (2nd prize) and would love a good, compact P&S like the Canon SX100 IS PowerShot (1st prize). Guess I'll have to do something special for this month's entry: panorama. Anyone go any great ideas for the Durban area; a seascape seems too obvious?

Thanks for reading.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Something different

It's not well known, but I'm a big Google fan. I use Gmail, Reader, Docs, Calendar, Picasa and Blogger regularly. I love the idea of working in the cloud; having your data available wherever you have access to the internet. And I love that the apps are constantly developing and improving, and I believe this will be the future of computing.

Google development does seem sporadic sometimes, but in the last few days they've been releasing revisions and new tools daily. It's been incredible.

On Gmail, they've added offline functionality, a revision to tags to make them more like folders, and today they added multi-inboxes. On my gmail page I've also got a Twitter gadget and recently added Google Tasks. If you compare that to the UI of, the awesomeness of Google is put into perspective.

On other applications, Latitude allows you to see where your friends are on Google Maps, and Google Earth 5 allows you to visit the ocean depths from the comfort of your desk.

However, not all Google apps seem to be getting the same attention. Blogger, for example, has been stagnant for ages. There have been no improvements or additions for ages. Gadgets on their layout page that are more than 6 months old are still marked as 'new'. It's no wonder people are moving their accounts to Wordpress and the like.

One of Google's acquisitions, GrandCentral, has been dormant months. This app allows a user to have a single phone number, and when that number is dialed all or any of the phone linked to the account will ring. This can be set up based on time of day, groups, etc. I think the potential for this is enormous, but Google either doesn't see it's potential, or hasn't figured out how to montise it yet. Google bought the company in July '07, but invitations were only available from existing users (like Gmail in the early days). However, no new invites have been issued since early 2008. 

I remain a Google fan, but please Google, give all the apps a freshen-up and spread the awesomeness around.