I took a few photos that didn't fit into the earlier blogs(OK, how does something not fit into a blog, you ask!) so here they are with appropriate comments.
Will Frischkorn was the star of stage 3 of the Tour de France initiating a 200km+ breakaway with three other riders and almost winning the stage. For his actions he was rewarded the most aggressive rider for that day. Will was also off the front for over 200km in the season's first classic, Milan-San Remo. Hopefully in 2009, Will gets to stand on the podium.
Ryder Hesjedal has ridden at the highest levels in both professional road cycling and mountain biking. He is totally capable of winning one-day and stage races, but during the 2008 Tour de France he was a super-domestique for team leader Christian Vande Velde. Ryder was there on that critical day on the Col de la Bonnette to help Christian limit his losses when he was dropped halfway up the massive, 6000-foot climb. Unfortunately, Christian crashed on the descent and lost a further two minutes which ultimately cost him a podium place. Ryder's crucial role was all but forgotten, but he did his job well. As did Christian!
Christian Vande Velde's father, John, was also an elite bike racer. He was a member of the 1972 Olympic team as part of the team pursuit squad. BTW, Jim Ochowicz was also on that team pursuit squad. However, John is probably best remembered for his role as one of the four Italians on Team Cinzano in the Academy Award winning movie 'Breaking Away.' John wasn't the one who put the pump in Dave Stoller's spokes; that was Eddy Van Guyse. A devoted track racer, John had a portable board track constructed nicknamed the 'Vandedome' which was used for a few European-style six day races throughout the US in the 1980's. John sold the track for $5 to another passionate cyclist and word is that it might be re-assembled for some races in New York next year.
While the actual 2009 Garmin-Slipstream jersey has yet to be unveiled, here is a look at what might be very close to the final design. Note that long-time sponsor Chipotle is still part of the team, they are just not one of the primary sponsors so are not included in the official team name. Those of you worried about the departure of argyle need not be concerned. The power of the argyle is still strong!
As mentioned in my previous blog, the Garmin-Slipstream team held a week-long training camp in Boulder, Colorado from November 15th to the 23rd capped off by a gala team presentation on Saturday night. Over 800 people attended; it was a great time to mingle with team members, cycling VIPs, other pros and fans. I chatted a bit with several riders and team personnel, here's a report.
2008 was a breakthrough year for Christian Vande Velde who has toiled as a domestique for the first nine years of his professional career. Christian has had the opportunity to ride on some of pro cycling's best teams such as US Postal and Team CSC and has ridden in support of such outstanding team leaders as Lance Armstrong, Roberto Heras, Ivan Basso and Carlos Sastre.
I asked Christian what he has learned about being a team leader while riding for such stars of pro cycling. "I think a little bit from everyone. Everyone had their own personalities not necessarily what I would do 100%. I am not going to do 100% Lance or Ivan or Carlos, but all those guys are obviously great leaders and had a great team behind them and guys who would lay on the tracks for them."
Of course, Lance is the gold standard with his seven tour wins and such a cohesive team. "From day one I learned a lot from Lance. He is a reminder every day when I see him. He is always looking me in the face when I turn the computer on. He is just a reminder to work hard and not leave any stone unturned." added the Chicago native.
Jonathan Vaughters brought some new recruits onto the team for 2009 most notably Bradley Wiggins, Svein Tuft and Hans Dekker. What was he looking for in choosing new riders? "Guys that fit in. Guys who would die for the cause. Of course they are ambitious, but not selfishly ambitious," replied the former pro.
Former US Postal, Discovery Channel and Cofidis professional rider Matt White is a director for the Garmin-Slipstream team and is usually found in the team car taking care of his riders during races. In 2009, the team will be part of the Union Cycliste International's elite Pro Tour, elevating the squad to the top tier of professional racing. What changes will the team have to make to rise to the occasion? "Honestly, not so much. There are a few races on the calendar that we didn't do, not so many, actually, we did a lot of Pro Tour stuff being a UCI Continental Team."
With overall wins in the Tour of Missouri, Route du Sud and a 4th place in the Tour de France, Garmin-Slipstream is clearly prepared to do battle in the biggest stages races, but can the squad be competitive in the spring classics? "If you look on paper, obviously we have a lot of time trialists. On paper we are the best time trial team in the world. We should be able to match Team CSC or any other team that is thrown against us. Our weakness is the classics," explains White.
However, with 2004 Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Backstedt, 2008 Paris-Roubaix fourth place finisher Martijn concludes the director sportif.
How does Tyler feel about his classics chances? "That's my number one objective going into the season. Those are the races I love and that's what I will be aiming at all winter," reasons Farrar.
What about a win in the Queen of the Classics, Paris-Roubaix for Farrar? "I hope so. I have been developing well for the classics. It takes a lot of experience and they are a special kind of racing, but every year I feel like I am getting a little better at them," replies the leader during stage 3 of the 2008 Amgen Tour of California.
Martijn Maaskant had a breakthrough ride at the 2008 Paris-Roubaix. What will it take for the Dutchman to get on the podium at the cobbled classic? "I need to get more experience on how to read the race. You need to be able to tell how your opponents are doing. If they are good or they are not good. And when you get older, you get stronger."
Martijn learned a lot from his first trip into the He11 of the North. "The most important thing in that race is that you have to ride on the front because there are so many crashes and flat tyres you can't really ride in the back because if you get stuck behind a flat or a crash you lose so much time and so much power which you will need in the finale."
The most high profile of Jonathan Vaughters' new signings is Bradley Wiggins. Wiggins is a six-time World Champion on the track and a triple Olympic gold medalist, most recently winning gold in Beijing in the Individual Pursuit and the Team Pursuit. What would Bradley like to accomplish on the road in 2009? "I am still trying to branch out, really. I am still missing that Tour de France stage win. That's what I really want. Just to be part of this squad and win that team time trial in Montpelier at the Tour and put one of us in yellow, whomever it may be, Christian, Dave Z, David Millar. And then to go into Girona with the yellow jersey and defend from there that is something I really want to be part of."
"Besides of my own personal ambitions, being part of a team like that would be massive, yeah. I have never really been part of a team like that so it would be a massive experience and potentially, hopefully going onto the Champs de Elysees with Christian in yellow would top it all off" adds the Brit.
There is no doubt the the Garmin-Slipstream team has the tools and the talents to move up to the top of professional cycling. Matt White sums up the plan for 2009. "We were a big story last year, but now we need to capitalize on the big steps we made in the last four months."
The Garmin-Slipstream team presented their 2009 squad to a packed crowd at the Boulder Theater on Saturday night, November 22. The gala affair capped off a week of training rides, team building exercises, media interviews and general carousing for the Colorado-based outfit. In the next several days, I will be posting up comments from the short interviews I did with riders such as Christian Vande Velde, Jonathan Vaughters, Tyler Farrar, Martijn Maaskant, Bradley Wiggins, Matty White, etc.
This blog is dedicated to the team training ride I was invited to join on Saturday morning. The goal for the day was to do a two-hour spin with the team riders making short appearances to the head of the group so that team photographer, Casey Gibson, could take some on-the-bike action shots for media and promotional purposes. Below is a photo essay of the ride with captions including some of my on-the-bike shots of the ride. BTW, operating a small point and shoot camera with gloved hands while traveling 20+mph adds a whole new dimension to action photography.
Here is Dave Z getting ready to ride:
David Millar, Christian Vande Velde and Will Frischkorn signing a Tour of Missouri leader's jersey for charity:
In the past year the Union Cycliste International (UCI), the governing body of professional cycling, has been in the process of rolling out their biological passport program in hopes of catching drug cheats. The biological passport program represents a huge change in direction on the war against drugs. The UCI realized that artificially increasing the oxygen carrying capacity of blood is the single most effective way to cheat in endurance sports so they have developed a programs to monitor cyclist's blood carrying capacity.
Basically, the biological passport program uses a rider's blood, collected in out-of-competition and in-competition tests to develop a profile of their "normal" blood values. Cyclists will be tested randomly throughout the year and if their blood profile strays outside a statistically significant range they may be subject to sanction. What makes this revolutionary is that there does not need to be a positive test for a banned substance, such as EPO, or a banned method, such as homologous blood transfusion. If a rider's blood is 'bad', they are out.
I will discuss the biological passport program in more detail in a future blog. What struck me as interesting here is that until biological passports, it seemed that every time the drug police found and banned a new drug, the riders and teams had something else which was newer and more effective. The cops just never seemed to be able to catch up with the criminals.
Which brings us to the current financial crisis. Many financial experts believe that the meltdown was triggered by the mortgage crisis which was setup in large part by the use of the so-called 'credit default swap' investment vehicles. Some of us remember the Savings and Loan crisis which hit back in the late 1980's, also there was the junk bond scandal, etc., etc.
So, it seems like, as is the case in cycling, the financial police seem to be one step behind the criminals. Certainly, the new administration will outlaw or heavily regulate credit default swaps, but what will be the next investment vehicle created to game the financial system and create an unfair advantage? Can the financial police ever catch up or do they need something like an investment equivalent of biological passport which monitors the financial dealings of banks, brokerage firms, etc.
As the Dow heads lower and the government can't figure out how to properly bail out the sinking financial markets, it seems very apropos to point out that it is true that sometimes life does indeed imitate sports.
Race organizers announced that the Tour de Georgia will not be held in 2009. While this is the official announcement, I have been talking about the demise of Georgia's premier bike race since late last spring. Most recently, I speculated if Lance's return to cycling could save the event.
It is not fair to blame Lance for the demise of the race. Yes, it is true that the event really blossomed the two years (2004, 2005) when the Texan rode it, but the organizers were unable to build on the buzz. Maybe it is just too difficult to sell cycling in a region where NASCAR has such a stranglehold on the sports community.
I think the organizers have to bear the responsibility for the demise. Last year, the race visited such cycling hot beds as Tybee Island and Savannah where crowds were almost non-existent. However, if you saw the final stage in downtown Atlanta, the site of the 1996 Olympics, there were no crowds there as well. So, either Georgia is just too much about four, and not two, wheels going fast or the race organizers just didn't do enough to whip up enthusiasm.
It was just reported that the title sponsor for the Tour of California, Amgen, will be printing up 60,000 handbooks using cycling to teach core subjects which will be distributed to 4th-6th grade students in schools at the race's 16 host cities. That's a move that has grass roots written all over it.
OK. Maybe this is a case of the cart before the horse and the fact that the Tour de Georgia could never land a long-term title sponsor (this will be Amgen's fourth year at the Tour of California) was really at the core of the problem and not the lack of fan support. But, it could be argued that without the fan support, you can't land a long-term title sponsor. Do I sense a Catch-22?
Whatever the reason, the Tour de Georgia won't be held in 2009. With the recent postponement of the Tour of Colorado, let's hope that all the other major US stage races, Missouri, Utah, etc. are healthy and happy with a long-term title sponsor.
Lost in all the attention given to Lance Armstrong's comeback is the obvious dilemma facing the Texan's long-time bodyguard Serge Borlee. If you didn't know, Serge is a former Belgian policeman, hired by Armstrong to protect him most notably during the rolling chaos that is the Tour de France. Lance had very real death threats and with rather lax security at stage starts and finishes it seemed prudent to have someone watching Armstrong's back.
Now that Lance has been re-united with his long-time director and close friend, Johan Bruyneel, and his F1 speed team (Steve Hed, Scott Daubert, the boys from Giro, etc.) will Serge be returning to Armstrong's posse? Judging from all the recent attention from the media and fans, Lance is still as popular as ever so the need for some extra security is probably warranted.
The problem is that Serge was pretty darn good at his job. So darn good, that after Lance retired, Alexander Vinokourov hired Serge to watch his back. After Vino retired, prematurely, from the sport in 2007, Australian Cadel Evans hired Serge's services for his 2008 Tour de France bid. I was on the receiving end of a not-so-friendly push from Serge when I attempted to talk to Cadel before the start of the stage from Bourg d'Oisans to St. Etienne. I hope you can believe me when I tell you that I meant no harm to Cadel. I was just trying to ask him when on the ascent of l'Alpe d'Huez, did he realize that he had to chase Carlos Sastre.
So, what about Serge? Just when you thought it might be an easy decision, a seven-time Tour winner versus a Tour whiner, along comes the news that Vino is looking to return to professional cycling. What's a bodyguard to do? Please don't ask Kevin Costner. I am certain he is trying to forget that on-screen performance.
But, seriously, where is a bodyguard's loyalties? Can Tony Soprano help us out here? Or is it just a case of who is offering the most compensation. Not that I am contemplating a job in personal protection, I would just like to know how Serge is going to decide for whom is he prepared to take a bullet. Also, It would be good to know so I can tell my editor who I am not going to be interviewing at the 2009 Tour as I bruise easily.
It was announced yesterday that Rabobank, a Dutch-based bank, will become a major sponsor of the Amgen Tour of California(AToC). If you follow professional cycling you know that Rabobank also sponsors a highly successful European cycling team. Levi Leipheimer rode for the Rabobank squad for three season from 2002-2004. Luckily, for us Californians and Americans in general, the Dutch bank is looking to expand across the pond into the USA.
What makes Rabobank's sponsorship even more noteworthy is the fact that, even before the current economic crisis, money was flowing out of the sport. Sponsors like Credit Agricole and Gerlosteiner in Europe and Health Net, Toyota and Jittery Joes in the US all said 'adios' to cycling in 2008. That left a lot of riders looking for work. And without races for them to ride, the riders and their teams would be in even more serious trouble.
The AToC has a reported budget of roughly $8,000,000 which works out to about $1,000,000 per stage. In it's three-year history the race has yet to turn a profit, but if any major bicycle race in the US has a chance of running in black ink, it is the Amgen Tour of California. Last year, with the inclusion of Rock Racing both the number of spectators and the desired demographic were up sharply. Add to that the number one-ranked team, Team CSC, America's favorite team, Slipstream-Chipotle(now Garmin-Chipotle) and California son Levi Leipheimer and his Astana squad and you had all the right ingredients for a successful event.
In 2009, the race will keep its mid-February dates, but expand from eight to nine days with the final stage in the San Diego Area. Clearly, the race organizers are trying to find the correct formula to make the AToC profitable. Hopefully it is just a matter of time. With Rabobank on board, the organizers have done just that, given themselves more time to prove to all of us that the AToC is one of the best events going on the entire planet.
ps - As a bit of an education into the Dutch culture, Rabobank's up and coming star and the winner of last year's AToC stage three into San Jose is Robert Gesink. In Dutch, the "G" is pronounced like an "H", the phonetic pronunciation of Robert's last name is "Hesink". Also, for those of you who like Gouda cheese, named after a small town in western Holland, the correct pronunciation is "Houda".
I got back from riding this afternoon and looked at my rear tire only to find threads where there should have been tread. I guess the observation wasn't that surprising. My rear tire was definitely nearing its life expectancy. I guess you could say, it was only a matter of time(isn't that always the case).
So, when should you change to fresh rubber? Obviously, if you get a bad cut or the tire is defective, it is a no-brainer. But, given normal conditions and wear and tear, I usually wait until I see cords poking through before I toss the tire. Also, if the tire seems particularly flat-prone, that is also a sign that the amount of rubber left is at critical thickness. Clearly, your mileage may vary and I am only telling you all what my criteria is.
If I have decided to replace my rear tire, I usually move the front tire to the back and then put a fresh tire on the front. Because of the design of bicycles, rear tires wear out more quickly than the front tires. So, unless there are big cuts in the front tire, it goes on the rear.
This raises a very critical point. It is much easier to steer you bike if you have a rear flat than if you have a front flat. That's because you steer with the front wheel and if the tire is flat, steering is horribly compromised. So, if you ever do flat on the front, if you aren't 100% completely certain about the integrity of the tire, it might be a good idea to swap tires for the completion of your ride.
What's a Gran Fondo you might ask? Well, in the good old USA we might call them organized rides like your local century, but that's definitely selling the experience short. Gran Fondos are held all over Italy and yes, they are organized rides, but there is more, so much more that most of the really popular rides like the Novi Colli (nine passes), Maratona de Dolomiti, Campagnolo, etc. attract upwards of ten thousand (10,000) participants.
Many riders treat these events as unofficial races. To be sure, you don't need a racing license to enter, but the organizers recognize the top finishers in a host of age and gender-related categories. Also, everyone who enters and finishes gets an official time and gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded for completing the course withing specified time limits which are also set based on age and gender.
What this all adds up to is some pretty competitive riding by the athletes up front, and some of those not at the front, but there is definitely room for those who just want to finish. It is not uncommon to see a rider in his teens trading pedal strokes with someone in their 60's. Just like the Tour de France and the Giro d' Italia there is usually a start and finish village with exhibitors, food, and live music.
Which brings us to March 1, 2009 and the first annual Gran Fondo San Diego. Starting and finishing, appropriately, in Little Italy, cyclists will have the opportunity to sample a Gran Fondo ("big ride") for themselves without having to hop across the great pond. Routes of 100mi, 100km and 40km offer something for riders of all abilities. Check out www.granfondosandiego.com. See you there. This is going to be a whole lot of fun.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit with Lance 3.0. Who is Lance 3.0 you might ask? Lance 1.0 is Lance Armstrong's early years most notably when he was a professional for the Motorola Cycling team. Lance 1.0 was a pretty good version. He won a World Road Championship, a $1,000,000 three-race trifecta including a US Professional road championship, two stages of the Tour de France, the Belgian Classic Fleche Wallone and totally dominated a couple of Tour DuPonts. Lance 1.0 could ride a bike both here and in Europe.
Lance 2.0 is the post-cancer Lance. All he did the second time around was to win seven consecutive Tours de France. Lance 2.0 was probably an improvement over Lance 1.0, especially if you had a big screen TV and a lot of free time during the month of July.
Lance 3.0 is the current Lance Armstrong. The comeback Lance. Lance 3.0 seems a lot more relaxed and outwardly having fun. It's like this time around he is playing with the house's money. Lance 2.0 proved he could ride a bike. Lance 3.0 is proving that he can have fun riding a bike as well. That's not to say that Lance 1.0 and 2.0 wasn't having fun riding his bike, its just that Lance 3.0 seems to be having more fun.
Which brings us to the San Diego Air and Space Technology Low Speed Wind Tunnel and Lance 3.0's testing session there yesterday. I attended the session as one of a handful of journalists and got to see Big Tex, well, Lance 3.0, in his first time riding against artificial air in almost four years.
One thing that was abundantly clear, Lance 3.0 is pretty darn fit. Keep in mind that this is only November and the serious racing doesn't begin for at least 3.5 months, but Lance 3.0 is on a mission. And his long-time coach Chris Carmichael indicated that his prodigy is as motivated and dedicated as he has ever been.
But, the real question has to be is Lance 3.0 an improvement over Lance 2.0? I don't think that Lance 3.0 is going to win eight consecutive Tours, but if he is having more fun this time around and has found a new level of enjoyment riding the bike then it's no contest.
ps - you can read my report on Lance at the wind tunnel on cyclingnews.com at:
The buzz in the domestic racing scene is that the Tour de Georgia will not be held in 2009. More importantly, it appears that the Tour de Georgia may be done forever. It should be noted that the seeds of the current Tour de name-your-favorite-cycling-crazy-state stage races such as California, Missouri and Colorado were sown by the organization which first promoted the Georgia event. So maybe this is just a passing of the torch, but is it too soon to send the fire westward?
Just as the Peach State was saying bye-bye to cycling, Lance Armstrong announced his comeback into pro cycling. As a bit of a history lesson, Lance's participation in the 2004 Tour de Georgia boosted the event into the stratosphere. When Lance retired in 2005, while the racing fields remained strong, the race declined.
Now that Lance is back in the picture, is his presence enough to revive the seemingly doomed event? Maybe more importantly, should we expect Lance or just his aura to come to the rescue? Clearly, Lance has had an incredible effect on cycling in the United States. It could be easily argued that Armstrong put cycling on the map in America and that he resurrected the Tour de France to boot.
So, is it justifiable to ask Lance to come to the salvation of the sport? Have we been poor stewards since Armstrong retired in 2005 and allowed the sport, as a whole, to decline? This time around, I think we all need to stop trying to hitch ourselves to Big Tex's coattails and figure out a way promote cycling without burdening the 37-comeback king with the responsibility.