Wednesday, July 13, 2005

13 July 2005: Lance

Yesterday was a slow day. In between the news filtering in on the arrests made in Leeds and the continuing steady release of the names of the dead, there was little to grab the attention of a researcher doing the world's most boring results analysis.

The problem, simply put, is this: I've made a system that tells you that the author of paper A is (in the opinion of the system) also the author of papers B and C, but the author of paper D is different, despite having a similar name. No, I'm not going to tell you how I did it, but I am going to tell you that the most boring thing in the world is checking these results. You (or at least I) have to go through the average of 500 papers on our local Citeseer mirror, and check whether the ones the computer joined up should in fact be joined up ('precision', and it's pretty good at that), and also which ones it should have joined up and failed to do so ('recall', and it's less good at that, although still not bad). So I spent many many hours yesterday ploughing through page after page of paper details, trying to match this author to that author and discovering that one Dr Fred Harris of the University of Reno has a corpus of papers that seems almost immune to my little system and is single-handedly dragging one particular set of results into the ground.

Yes, that's right, it was that boring. So I went to OLN's website to get the Tour De France audio (as I have done for the last four years) only to find CBS (for some bizarre reason) have required them to take it down. So off to Eurosport, home of the monotone charms of David Duffield, and their audio stream, which is comfortably my second choice to the giants who are Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen (sample bingo card here). Anyway, to my delight, Duffield is back in the studio in London this year and one David Harmon is sharing commentary duties with Sean "It certainly is" Kelly and Christi "I'm married to former top cyclist Phil" Anderson. Still not the depth of interest or the sheer fun that P&P bring, but the Eurosport newbies do at least talk about the racing, which is more than Duffield ever did. Yesterday it was not always easy to determine exactly what was going on, but it was clear Mr Lance was up to something, and the main rivals were struggling to survive.

So rushing home at 7pm to catch the ITV2 highlights (with Phil and Paul, of course), it quickly became clear that Team Discovery are feeling pretty good about themselves and Lance himself is quite determined to stamp his authority on the race early on. The footage of Lance telling his team-mate Popovych to step up the pace, followed by the immediate fragmentation of the lead group, was quite astounding, as was the way Lance himself kept attacking and attacking in an attempt to rid himself of his final three companions. In the end, Valverde (a Tour rookie, no less) was the only one with him at the end, and he managed to out-sprint Lance. Dramatic it certainly was.

So that was only the first day in the really high mountains, there's another today and then a couple in the Pyranees over the weekend, and if Lance can keep it together he'll win a seventh straight. But the future seems to be emerging, and who wouldn't bet against one of Valverde, Rasmussen, Mancebo and Popovych taking Lance's crown next year. Or maybe, just maybe, this year. Either way, today's climbs of the Madeleine and the Galibier should keep me interested as my trawls through the grey wastes of experiment results continue.

Now can somebody get me a coffee?

Obscure observation #73: Eating a spearmint-flavoured extra-strong mint followed by a nice cup of PG Tips makes the tea taste like malted Shreddies.

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