OK, back to more serious matters ... after a nail-biting quarterfinal round, the Final Four have moved on to Bergamo for this afternoon's showdown. Interestingly, all four top seeds made it through, but not without some nervous moments. Your bracket:
As always, click on the image for any hope of actually reading it. The salient points are that Fabian Cancellara, Lance's 7 Wins, Podium Cafe Invented! and Erik Zabel have all cut down nets in the regionals and disembarked for Bergamo and the glory that lies within. Let's look at the matchups, and get started with the voting.
Semifinal #1: Fabian Cancellara vs. Lance Wins 7 Tours
All of the Cycling World was riveted to the nailbiting quarterfinal matchup where Tom Boonen's 2005 Season gave top-seeded Fabian Cancellara the scare of a lifetime. To recap, Boonen's 2005 knotted the score at 50 with a devastating dash to the line in Madrid and the donning of the Rainbow Jersey, with just seconds left in the contest. But Boonen's 2005 couldn't quite close it out -- recall, Danilo DiLuca scored points a week later to hold off Boonen in the 2005 UCI Pro Tour rankings, and Boonen was a no-show at Paris-Tours -- leaving the door open to Cancellara, who scored a last second win on the strength of an Awesome! display in the 2009 Worlds, where he brutally crushed the crono and made a serious, serious play for the road race, finishing fifth.
Cancellara's opponent is Lance Wins 7 Tours, who methodically dispatched Paolo Bettini in Saint Etienne. Neither side looked overly dominant in the second half, but Lance's 7 wins struck early and hard, opening up a gap that Bettini couldn't close.
The semifinal matchup should be interesting to watch. Can Cancellara stay close enough in the early minutes of the contest, under the sustained assault of Tour wins 2-7, to allow his late-stage Awesomeness to finish things off? No doubt Lance's 7 Wins will come hard out of the gate, but can they extend their effort into the second half and nullify Cancellara's near-certain attacks? Should be a good one.
Semifinal #2: Podium Cafe Invented! vs. Erik Zabel
Two titans of the Brackets square off in the later matchup, probably the more intriguing of the two. Podium Cafe Invented! looked impressive in dispensing with Alberto Contador, one of the crowd favorites and a hot hand in recent times. Sometimes in these tournaments you get a glimpse of the future -- namely, the Best of the Teens Smackdown (ca. 2019) -- that can distract you from the present. Anyone watching Contador knows he's a heavy favorite to own the next decade before it even starts. But no late-stage display, however powerful, could conceal his lack of Awesomeness! prior to, oh, 2006, and his time with Once/Liberty/Saiz was simply too un-awesome to give Bert the push he needed in the early stages of the contest. Even his medical miracle couldn't help: there's nothing Awesome! about cerebral cavernoma, and being glad he's alive and well isn't the same as being Awed!. Bert came on strong in the second half -- real strong -- but it was too little, too late.
Erik Zabel, meanwhile, is looking more like the top seed than the actual #1 Cancellara. After Gilbert's Autumn Double smothered Savoldelli to the Mob in round one, this looked like a good matchup, but in the end it was nothing of the sort. All the Awesome! Gilbert's Double could muster seemed spent in the first round, and once Erik Zabel cranked up the Awesome machine, Double was left in the dust.
Zabel enters the contest with Podium Cafe Invented a heavy favorite -- 3:1 in favor in Vegas right now -- but both entrants have a lot of tricks up their sleeve. Zabel, for example, added to his layers of Awesome! in 2008-9 by coaching Mark Cavendish to the very top of the sport, suggesting that his words are no less awesome! than his legs were. The Cafe's Invention, meanwhile, extended its legacy of Awesome this year with zombie goats, crayon drawings, and a star-studded cast of Barbies, among other matters. Both sides seem dug in for the long haul, so don't turn off your computer before this one's done.
Voting closes at 9am Pacific tomorrow. Polls in the Fanposts, as usual. Awesome!