While most cycling enthusiasts are familiar with road racing and mountain bike riding, one aspect of the sport, trials riding, is somewhat unfamiliar to American fans. Trials riders are the guys who can navigate their bikes up, over and around the most heinous obstacles. They are the technical masters of the sport, I am continuously amazed at what these guys can do with their bikes. You could almost call them the magicians of cycling.
One of the best magicians is 2006 World Champion Italian Vittorio Brumotti who hails from Varese just north of Milan. Vittorio and his posse traveled from their home country to Interbike in Las Vegas to perform in the infield during the National Crit Series Finals. Watching Brumotti warm up, it was clear that he truly enjoys not only performing some incredible feats, but he also gets a kick out of exciting the fans.
His show began with a set of amazing "ups", literally jumping himself and his bicycle straight up onto a wood box up to a height of five feet. Once up on the boxes, Vittorio demonstrated his ability to hop and stick, jumping up and across from box to box spanning gaps as much as three to four feet. You might think that this doesn't sound too difficult, I guess I forgot to mention that each box was barely the width of the the wheelbase of Vittorio's bike. What that means is that if, in gymnastics terms, he doesn't "stick" the landing, forget getting a bad mark from the Russian judge, Brumotti is looking at a very nasty 3-5 foot fall onto hard pavement.
If you were lucky enough to be at the show, you could have been part of the fun. Vittorio demonstrated his bunny-hopping skills by jumping over a number of closely-spaced spectators throwing in a nose wheelie or two to show just how much control he has over his bike. If you were weren't lucky enough to watch Vittorio's show, you can check out his website www.brumotti.com or search for him on You Tube. If you aren't impressed, check to see if you have a heartbeat.
I don't want to spend every single blog talking about Lance and his comeback, but the subject is a pretty target rich environment and it makes for very interesting commentary. The topic of this blog is to address some of the comments made by Greg Lemond at the Lance Armstrong press conference last Thursday at the Interbike trade show in Las Vegas.
One of the points Greg appeared to be making was that he felt it was insufficient to just test Lance's biological parameters. Lemond wanted Lance to also be tested for such things as Max V02 and power output. Lemond's comments bring up two interesting points. First, if the UCI, and WADA for that matter, are going to use biological passports as their primary weapon against doping, WADA needs to come up with an official list of the parameters which will be tested. Basically, there needs to be some agreed-to official list that makes everyone feel good about the comprehensiveness of the monitoring.
Secondly, I think it is unfair to Lance to require that his Max V02 and power output be made public. Remember, Lance has stated that the results of all his drug testing will be put on a website for all the world to see. I commend Lance for doing this, but he is taking a bit of a risk in that his public values might give his competitors an inside look into his conditioning. That is why things such as power output can't really be made public. Lance 2.0 has stated that he didn't feel ready for the Tour unless he was generating 6.7 watts/kg. If his power output is made public and it is below that level, his competitors may sense weakness and attack.
Of course, Lance could use the website to provide some disinformation to his competitors, but that would be against the purpose of the site so that is out of the question. If Greg Lemond really feels that the parameters specified by WADA for the biological passport are inadequate, he should take his case directly to WADA.
Lance Armstrong held two press conferences this week, the first in New York on Wednesday and the second on Thursday at Interbike in Las Vegas to announce the plans for his return to cycling. After the dust had settled we now know enough to create an interesting picture. Lance will be riding for Team Astana, re-united with his former Team Director Johan Bruyneel. He will receive no salary for his services, but will be asking the team to pay for certain things, one such item is the cost of his drug testing. His major reason for returning to competitive cycling is to improve the global awareness of cancer.
Lance has asked Don Catlin who ran the WADA-accredited drug testing lab at UCLA to spearhead the testing effort which will be longitudinal meaning that Catlin will monitor a number of physiological parameters over time, looking for abnormal fluctuations which might indicate use of performance enhancing drugs(PED's). This is very similar to the WADA proposal for biological passports. The results of the tests will be posted on a website for all to see.
When it comes to a racing schedule, Armstrong has committed to the Australian Tour Down Under in January 2009 and the Amgen Tour of California in February 2009, but his plans for the Tour de France are not clear at this time.
Armstrong is also creating a U23 development team built around 2008 Beijing Olympian and teen phenom Taylor Phinney. About nine riders are expected to join Phinney with Axel Merckx to be the team director.
There was a bit of drama at the Las Vegas press conference when Greg Lemond asked several questions about the type of longitudinal tests to which Lance will be subjected. While Greg may have had a valid point to make, his rambling style made his questions seem more like a whitch hunt than a direct request for information/clarification. If Greg is sincere in his concerns about Lance's return to cycling, he needs to be more coherent and concise in his questioning. To his credit, Lance handled the whole affair very diplomatically . Hopefully, Greg can effectively communicate his concerns so incidents such as this do not become commonplace.
Obviously, there are many more details forthcoming and we should learn more about them in the coming months. Suffice it to say that Armstrong is back and he has set up a scenario in which there should be no doubts as to whether he is racing clean. Welcome back Lance.
This week the UCI World Cycling Championships are being held in northern Italy. If you don't seem to care who wins, you are not alone. The Worlds used to be held in late August/early September but, about 10 years ago the UCI moved them into late September/early October. Ever since that move, the World Championships have lost their luster and though every year worthy riders win the rainbow jerseys it just doesn't seem the same.
A closer examination reveals a number of reasons for the decline in the Worlds. First off, it is a very long racing season. The first races begin in February and run all the way through October. It is very difficult for a rider to stay fresh and fit throughout the whole season. When the Worlds were in August most riders tried to hold their form. Now that the Worlds are a month later, and after the Vuelta a Espana, many riders chose to end their season, especially if they don't ride the Vuelta, early.
Also, because the Worlds come so late in the season, a rider has to make some hard decisions concerning their racing schedule. It is clearly possible to hold form from the Tour in July until the Worlds, but if a rider has ridden an ambitious spring program, the extra month until the championships may prove just too difficult to overcome.
All this adds up to less than complete fields for the pro men's races. Two-time defending world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara recently stated that he just doesn't have any spark left to defend his title. Maybe an Olympic gold medal is enough, but I am guessing that he is pretty darn tired and doesn't want to wait until late September to end his season.
How about USA's pro men's team for the worlds. About the only headliner is Levi Leipheimer; I was seriously expecting a call from the US team manager asking if I felt fit enough to go 270km. My guess is that Levi is at the Worlds because he is basically in his second season after having to sit out July when Team Astana wasn't invited to the Tour. Levi rode well in the Olympics to get a bronze medal in the TT and he won both the TT's at the Vuelta. With Cancellara on a beach in the Adriatic, Levi is the odds on favorite for the win and he is making the right call to sieze the opportunity.
Here's hoping that Levi wins the TT. But, I am also hoping that the UCI moves the Worlds back to late August/early September so that all the best riders are present at the starting line. The World Championships used to be a great event. Let's hope the UCI can make the right moves to restore the Worlds to it's former glory.
The Vuelta a Espana concluded yesterday in Madrid and Spain's Alberto Contador won his third grand tour claiming the trifecta of the Tour, Giro and Vuelta. Clearly, the 25-year old is the world's top stage racer he climbs like an angel and time trials well enough to limit his losses. Unfortunately for American Levi Leipheimer Contador is his teammate which means that unless Alberto totally melts down in the mountains, Levi is going to have a tough time standing on the top step of the podium.
That's both good and bad. Without a doubt, Levi was the best time trialist at the Vuelta, winning both the races against the clock, and he was clearly the second best rider in the race behind his teammate. Thank heavens team director Johan Bruyneel let Leipheimer and Contador ride without orders in the final TT, it would have totally bogus to ask Levi to throttle his engine. That would not have been right.
There is a bit of history here. Way back in 2001 when Levi was in his first tour of duty with Bruyneel and the then US Postal Service Team, Leipheimer and his teammate Roberto Heras were locked into a dual for third place going into the final TT. Bruyneel let them ride then and Levi bested Heras to claim the final spot on the podium and it was that race which really propelled Leipheimer into the upper ranks of the pro peloton.
If anyone has any doubts as to which is the strongest stage race team in the world, I think that question has been answered. With a win in the Giro and a 1-2 finish at the Vuelta, my guess is that Carlos Sastre is thanking his lucky stars that Team Astana did not get invited to the Tour. Hopefully, that situation will be rectified for 2009.
The Lance angle in all this is that on Wednesday, the 24th, the Texas Tornado will make a public announcement about his future in pro cycling. Recently, Armstrong has been logging some pretty serious training miles in both Aspen and Solvang, the big question is not if, it is with whom? Given his strong ties with Trek Bicycles, the most likely candidate is Team Astana, but where does that leave grand tour champion Contador and Leipheimer?
If Lance has any ambitions to win the Tour again, I think he has to sign with Astana. I think Contador is a strong enough challenger to Lance's ambitions that the only way Lance can neutralize that challenge is to make him a teammate. Lance has a history of doing just that, the most notable example was the signing of Roberto Heras in 2001 after he put Lance in a spot of bother at the 2000 Tour. I don't know what Lance's arrival at Astana will do to team dynamics, but from a purely competition side of things, Contador has to be neutralized.
Of course, all of this is just speculation. We will hopefully get a much clearer picture on Wednesday. One interesting piece of fallout from Lance 3.0 (Lance 1.0 was the Motorola years; Lance 2.0 was the post-cancer years) is that the Tour of Georgia just might be saved. Rumours are that the Tour of Georgia will not return for 2009, but the power of Lance may just be strong enough to keep the Georgia race alive.
While the cycling world is still reeling from the revelation that Lance Armstrong will make a comeback, several other high profile American riders are staging comebacks of their own. However, unlike Lance, who has never tested positive for performance enhancing drugs (PED's) both Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton did test positive. Hamilton served his two year suspension and returned to the pro peloton in 2007 with Rock Racing while Landis' suspension ends in January 2009; he has been linked to the Momentum Sports Group which has Health Net as it's title sponsor.
Tyler's comeback got off to a rocky start when he was initially excluded from the Tour of California then at the last minute given the green light to participate. He chose to support his other two excluded teammates Santiago Botero and Oscar Sevilla and not start as well. His form gradually increased throughout the season and peaked in mid-summer with a win at the Tour of Quinhai Lake a week-long UCI-rated stage race in China. However, his biggest win was undoubtedly the USPRO road championship in Greenville, South Carolina which will enable the 37-year old Boulder resident the privilege of wearing the so-called "Captain America" jersey next year.
Though there is no official verification, Floyd Landis has been linked to team Health Net-Maxxis' management company, Momentum Sports Group. Health Net is discontinuing its sponsorship at the end of 2008, the rumour is that Smith&Nephew, the company which makes Floyd's artificial hip will step in as title sponsor.
While just about everybody is hailing Lance's comeback, both Tyler's and Floyd's return to the pro peloton are being met with mixed reaction. Many are unhappy that two riders, who have never confessed to their doping positives, are back in the fold. Others feel that Floyd's and Tyler's positive results were fraught with enough doubt that they should never have had to be sanctioned in the first place.
Regardless of how one feels the facts are that both Tyler and Floyd will have served the entire length of their suspensions and by the regulations that govern professional cycling, they are now free and clear to return to racing. If the governing body of the sport is able to grant the riders a second chance shouldn't the fans be able to do the same? Even if you feel that they cheated, under the rules of the sport as they stand now, they are allowed to return. Can the fans forgive?
The whole cycling community is buzzing with the recent revelation that seven-time Tour de France champion and living cycling legend Lance Armstrong is reportedly coming out of retirement to re-join his buddies in the European pro peloton. Forget the freefall in the US and world economic markets, this is big news. The 37-year old Texan traded his cleats for running shoes after the end of the 2005 Tour, but after a three-year hiatus this comeback looks to be for real.
Rumours are that Lance's strong showing in the recent Leadville 100 MTB race re-kindled his competitive fire. Armstrong has been using Aspen as his training base and has just recently purchased a place there. Competing in several local and regional races, including the 12-Hour of Snowmass which he won with his three-man team, those who have seen him on the bike say he is as determined as ever to make his return to two wheels a successful one. Lance has been linked to Team Astana being run by the man who directed his seven Tour wins, Johan Bruyneel, though he has scheduled a September 24th press conference to make his plans public.
The big question is at age 37, can the Texas Tornado still be competitive in the European pro ranks? Another question is, after seven Tour de France victories, what does Lance have left to prove on the bike? The question on fitness is really only one that Lance can answer. We all age differently and while no one has ever won the Tour at age 37 (Firmin Lambot won the Tour at age 36 way back in 1922) Lance was the first rider to win the Tour six and seven times and you don't accomplish that without a lot of drive and ambition to complement one's fitness.
When the rumours of Lance's comeback first surfaced about a month ago from deep within the halls of Active.com, speculation was that Armstrong's return would focus on the aspects of cycling, other than the Tour, that the former Discovery Channel rider had not yet conquered. Could Lance become the first American to win the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix the two most revered one-day Classics? Armstrong has shown that he can be competitive in the big one-day races having won the Fleche Wallone and come second in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Amstel Gold, and the Championships of Zurich.
Lance says that one of his major motivations for returning is to spread the word, globally, about cancer. But, if he ends up on Team Astana he will have to contend with Alberto Contador who is on form to win the Vuelta which would give him the trifecta of the three grand tours after his 2007 Tour and 2008 Giro wins.
So, what do you all think about Lance's return to cycling? After having gone out on such a high note in 2005 is this a no-win situation or is there an upside which most cycling aficionados seem to be missing?
ps - whatever the reason, it will be great to have Lance back in cycling. He is a great ambassador for the sport. I, for one, would love to see him go back to his winning ways.