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We Can Work it Out

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Feb 28, 2008

Mergers seem to be all the rage in corporate America. Sometimes it's a good thing, sometimes not. In case you missed it, one of the most interesting mergers in the sports world is the recently announced union between the Indy Racing League(IRL) and Champ Car. Hey, that's open wheel car racing for those of you who aren't concerned about anything with more than two wheels.


It's been twelve years since Tony George took his Indy 500 and his ego and started the Indy Racing League. We already had a successful open wheel series, Champ Car, with all the top drivers including the Unsers, Andrettis and Rahals.  But, Tony George wanted a bigger slice of the pie and since he owned the rights to the most popular open wheel race on the planet, the Indy 500 (sorry Monaco GP), he figured he had the juice to make it happen.


Of course, what did happen was that everybody lost.  Champ Car has become a non-factor and the Indy Racing League turned into the 'oval racing league'. If Danica Patrick hadn't arrived a couple of years ago, the IRL would have put everyone to sleep and would have all but disappeared as well.  Hopefully, the merger will take US open wheel racing off life support and we won't have resort to watching the good ol' boys swapping paint every weekend from some town where everybody knows the words to "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again."


What does this have to do with cycling?  Well, our good friends at the UCI and their nemesis ASO are at it again.  Maybe it is just a huge case of Euro-cabin fever, but just like same time last year, these two organizations are sparring over control of European professional bike racing.  ASO owns the Tour de France, Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and just about every other big race on the pro calendar.  The UCI owns, well, uh, um, only the the World Championships and since they moved those from August to October nobody seems to care all that much.


So, what's at stake?  It's all about the Benjamins.  ASO, with it's rich TV contracts has them.  The UCI, which can't seem to market the World Championships to save their life, doesn't have many Benjamin's at all.  Let's forget all the polemics(that's a big word meaning politics), it really is about the green.  ASO has it and the UCI wants it.


How is this similar to the IRL/Champ Car merger?  I side with ASO on this one, but still I hope that both sides can work something out before the situation becomes critical and the teams and riders have to decide between the two.  I suffered for 12 years while open wheel racing in the US became about as exciting as watching paint dry.  If that happens to pro cycling, I may actually have to stop watching TV and go out and ride my bike.



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The 3rd annual Amgen Tour of California is in the books.  The people from

Amgen were conspicuously absent from the race, but reports are that they are

happy and looking to continue sponsorship.  Let's hope so.  Here are some

random thoughts about the race.


Things I liked:


All the aggressive riding.  It was full-on from day one first with the BMC Team

sending guys up the road on stages 1 and 2 and then with attacks by the likes

of George Hincapie, Robert Gesink, Dominique Rollin, that Hincapie guy again,

Michael Creed, Tom Zirbel, that Hincapie guy again, etc, etc.


The non-Pro Tour teams showing themselves in front of their bigger brothers.

These lesser weights (in UCI classification only?) didn't just hide out at the

back of the pack waiting for another beating, they raced side-by-side to the



Podium girls.  Hats off to Michael Ball and Rock Racing for bringing some

much-needed feminine touches to the main stage.


Mount Hamilton.  This bump helped create one of the most selective finishes

in the history of the AToC.  When combined with Sierra Road this made for a

very exciting stage.


Mario Cipollini.  Cipo is in his second career as a bike racer and has admitted

that he is playing with house money.  But, ride he did and he was in there when

he needed to be.  Bravo!


Levi's time trial ride.  Guys like David Millar, Christian Vandevelde, Tom

Zirbel and Ben Jacques-Maynes rode extremely well in Solvang, but Leipheimer

delivered the knock-out punch to anyone else's hopes to win the AToC.  Yeah,

he was expected to do well, but not that well.  It was a drubbing.


Things I didn't like:


The AToC organizers bumping three riders from Rock Racing from starting.  I

have still not seen the supposed letter from the UCI stating that there are

active doping investigations on Santiago, Oscar and Tyler.  Anybody else seen

any news on the alleged open doping investigations?


Mother Nature.  Maybe it was payback for kicking out the three Rock Racing

riders, but why penalize all the other racers and spectators with so much

rain?  I was starting to gather a few animals, two-by-two.


Media parking.  Hey, I am a journalist.  I am doing a job at the AToC.  Please

give me a place to park my car and don't trap me in some parking garage with

one attendant to take cash so I have to spend an hour waiting in line to leave

after the race.


Technical manual.  Is it so hard to put a graphic showing the press room on

the map of the finish area?



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Most aggro dude: GQ George Hincapie. He spent more time off the front and in more stages than anybody else. He went long on the climbs; he went long on the flats and even had enough gas left in the tank to go long on the final day as well.


Little Engine that Could Team: BMC Racing is one of the young up and coming teams looking for some love in the peloton. First with Jackson Stewart on Stage 1, then Scott Nydam on Stage 2, then with Taylor Tolleson on Stage 7, these boys showed that they came to play.


Hard Luck Kid: Health Net Maxxis' Roman Kilun was in that huge breakaway on the abysmal Highway 1 day and must have had jello for legs for the next day's time trial. Unfortunately, he flatted at the most inopportune moment on the course and could not get a new wheel for almost 2 miles. He missed the day's

time cut by only a minute and was out of the race. Sometimes lady luck just doesn't have a heart.


Not so Lantern Rouge: Michael Creed is the consummate journeyman pro, having spent time on all the major U.S. pro squads. Now on Rock Racing, he was having difficulty finding his form all week long which found him languishing at the bottom of the standings (the venerable lantern rouge). But Creed found some legs on the last day, initiated the major breakaway and even tried to launch himself over the massive Mill Creak Summit first.


Mr. Belgian: yes, there are real Belgians like Tom Boonen at the race. However, Australian, Henk Vogels, on the Toyota United team looks and acts (that's supposed to be a compliment) like the prototypical Belgian Hardman. Always ready for battle and seemingly with an endless ear-to-ear grin, I don't think the rain affected Henk one bit.


Classiest Rider: hey, all the guys who rode the AToC are classy, but one guy seemed to stand out. Paolo Bettini just knows how to look good on and off the bike and his engaging smile just seems to say, "bike racing is cool." I hope Il Grillo can win the final stage.


Bogus Move: the officials for DQing Mark Cavendish's stage win in Santa Clarita. Cavendish's move to use the team cars to pace him back into the pack after a late-race crash is something commonly done in Europe, but for some reason, not appreciated here in the U.S. Cavendish was just doing what any good sprinter would have done and he should have been given the win.


Best Ride of the race: Levi was expected to do well in the TT, as was David Millar, but Christian Vandevelde's third place was a very pleasant surprise. This will be Christian's third straight top-10 finish overall in this race

and his first time on the podium. Honorable mention to Levi for thoroughly schooling the field and holding onto the jersey.


Best Finish: Dominique Rollin in San Luis Obispo. It was sooooo bad out there for so long that everyone wanted the riders to bring it home and get warm. Nice to see one of the U.S. pro teams win one from the Pro Tour boys.


Crowd Favorite: Super Mario Cipollini. He's told me several times that this is his second career on the bike so it's like playing with the house's money, but that hasn't kept him from dicing it up at the finish. This man has rock star persona written all over him and the crowds mob him to prove it.


Peloton Heartthrob: Tom Boonen is one of the most recognizable faces in the pro peloton and for good reason. The heir apparent to Super Mario, Tom also has that rock star aura that whips his fans into a frenzy.


Hardest Working Man on Two Wheels: Che Chu Rubiera was on the front for Team Astana virtually the entire race. And he was on the front when it mattered most: over Mount Hamilton and Sierra Road. This guy does his job like no other and always has a smile and kind word while doing it.


Well, that's it for now. If you have some of your own awards to hand out, feel free to post up.



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Time for the 2008 Amgen Tour of California(AToC) Peloton Awards. These prestigious awards honor riders, team personnel, race organizers and anyone else I feel like for their contributions to making the race what it is. Since the Academy Awards will be held tomorrow very close to the finish of the race, we are going to start with some more fashion-related observations.


Flashiest Team Jersey: Rock Racing! This new kit rocks and you can buy it!


Preppiest Team Jersey: Slipstream. Rumor has it that after the race they are all pledging with the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity


Rugby Jersey: With their all-black kit, look for the boys from Health Net-Maxxis to be lining up with our favorite Kiwi rugby team.


Most Retro Jersey: Team High Road Sports with that lettering straight out of the late '70s.


Sentimental Favorite Jersey: Team Astana. I liked them at the Tour, I still like them and some guy named Levi is kicking major butt in it as well.


Most Patriotic Jersey: Toyota United. It's OK that a Canadian rode it across the line to victory in San Luis Obispo.


Most Edible Jersey: Jelly Belly. These guys are up against some pretty big boys, but they continue to exude positive energy.


Jersey Most in Need of a Makeover: BMC. I have already acknowledged that I have no fashion sense, but these guys need to spice it up a bit. Boring.


Lint Free Jersey: Bissell Pro Cycling. These guys have a great sponsor in Mark Bissell and with two riders in the top 10 at the Solvang TT, they are definitely cleaning up.


Sunglasses Jersey: Saunier Duval-Scott has the brightest jersey out there and they wear it well. Next year bring some English-speaking riders so I can interview to them.


Steal this Jersey: Rabobank. The Dutch bank has opened some offices in California so they are almost the home town team.


Most Classic Jersey: Team CSC. With just the right mix of lettering and colors, this jersey looks great at the head of the peloton which is where the No. 1-rated team usually is!


Almost as Classic Jersey: Tom Boonen and his Quick Step boys are almost as classic. If they could just get that diminutive Italian to give up his rainbow stripes then they would be there! I am not even going to say anything about the gold shoes.


Honorable mentions: Kelly Benefit Strategies/Medifast, Bouygues Telecom and Credit Agricole for adding their own color to the peloton.


Well, that's the jersey portion of the awards. More to follow at the conclusion of the race.



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Levi Simply Phenomenal

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Feb 22, 2008

Levi Leipheimer delivered a good old-fashioned drubbing in today's 15-mile individual time trial at the Amgen Tour of California (AToC). With only 20 or so seconds separating all the big names this was definitely the most exciting day so far in the race. And it was the defending champion Leipheimer who rode one of the best time trials of his career to put an authoritative stamp on the race. His winning margin of 29 seconds over Slipstream's David Millar was even more impressive than last year, when he bested an in-form Jens Voigt.


The much-anticipated duel between Leipheimer and Team CSC's Fabian Cancellara failed to materialize as the two-time defending World Champion finished fifth, 1:05 back and just behind his teammate, Gustav Larsson.  After the finish, Cancellara indicated that his performance in staying with the lead group on Tuesday's mountainous stage over Mount Hamilton and Sierra Road had left him a bit flat.


There were a lot of other bright moments in Solvang. In addition to Millar's brilliant second place, Christian Vandevelde uncorked a super ride as well to put two Slipstream/Chipotle riders on the finish podium. Dave Zabriskie's sixth-place finish was another great result for Jonathan Vaughter's boys as well. The team's power guru, Dr. Allen Lim, indicated that the most important thing in the time trial for his riders was to go out a bit easier than normal then build towards the finish.


With two days of racing remaining, and lots of climbing to boot, it is probably too early to call the overall winner. Levi is clearly motivated and his team has been killing themselves to keep him in the leader's jersey. However, there are number of teams still looking to make Team Astana earn the victory. Look for Team CSC, High Road Sports and Slipstream/Chipotle to be very aggressive on Saturday's stage which includes a number of short, steep climbs.


There as has been a lot of sickness following the AToC. Teams like Slipstream/Chipotle and Gerolsteiner seem to have been hit the hardest, but Chris Horner is also fighting a bug that has left him down on his strength.


After the deluge on Thursday, Friday and Saturday are looking dry with Sunday potentially seeing more rain. With the race reaching its highest point at just under 5,000 feet on Sunday, hopefully, it will be a warm rain.


UCI President Pat McQuaid is attending the race. I asked him if there was a limit to the number of days to which the AtoC could expand and he replied that there is no limit. Before we start thinking that the Tour of California may become a three-week race like the Tour de France, hopefully, the race organizers will add a day and run Saturday to Sunday so that the event can head down south towards San Diego.



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Bad Day at the Office

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Feb 21, 2008

I wrote in my blog a couple of weeks ago how much I hated riding in the rain. Well, the skies have opened up on the Amgen Tour of California (AToC) today and things have gotten messy. This is the showcase stage, 135 miles down ultra-scenic Highway 1. Unfortunately, the seasonal 20-30 mph north tailwind which usually propels the peloton on the race's longest stage to an average speed close to 30 mph, has done a 180 degree turnabout. Not only are the racers riding into a bitingly cold 20-30mph wind, but lashing rain has made it just that much more unpleasant.


OK. These guys are pros and they have to be prepared for a few days of rain here and there, but this is almost a perfect storm scenario coming on the day after the hardest stage in AToC history. Not surprisingly, there have been a number of notable abandons including Tom Danielson, Ivan Dominguez and almost half of the German-based Team Gerlosteiner.


In the press room, watching the race on TV, it definitely looks like a case of "anywhere but here" for the 110 or so riders remaining in the race. These guys are going to need some hot showers, a nice long massage and some good food as tomorrow is the all-important individual time trial (ITT) -- which will almost surely determine who will wear the gold race leader's jersey to the finish in Pasadena come Sunday. Look for a two-way battle between Leipheimer and Cancellara with Millar and Zabriskie as potential spoilers. Don't miss it!


A couple of quick notes: I talked with Tyler Hamilton of Rock Racing yesterday. He told me that, as I reported a few days ago, Rock Racing had a letter from the UCI, dated February 14th, that said there were no open doping investigations on any member of the team. Michael Ball made that letter public at his press conference last Saturday. Tyler indicated that the race organizers claimed to have a letter from the UCI, dated February 16th, that said there was an open doping investigation. However, nobody has seen this new letter. This whole affair seems reminiscent of the movie Animal House with Rock Racing being on "double secret probation."


Word is circulating that the AToC may visit the San Diego area next year. It is not clear at this writing if the race will increase the number of days it will run or if some of this year's stages will be scrapped to make room for the trek south. Stay tuned for details.



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Tough day at the Tour

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Feb 20, 2008

Today was the queen stage in the 2008 Amgen Tour of California (AToC) with the grueling climbs of Mount Hamilton and Sierra Road looking to separate the pretenders from the contenders. And that it did, providing some of the most memorable moments in the three-year history of the event.


Before the stage, I asked Levi if he thought the race would be made on the first (Mount Hamilton) or second (Sierra Road) climb. His response was simply "Sierra Road." His Team Astana teammate Chris Horner echoed his leader's reply noting that the game plan was to get as many Astana riders as possible over Mount Hamilton and then let it play out on the punishing 13-15 percent slopes of Sierra Road.


And that's what Astana did, bringing back everybody including a bold move by High Road Sports rider George Hincapie. When the 15-rider strong lead group hit the final climb it was definitely game on. Astana's Che Chu Rubiera laid down some heavy tempo for the first third of the climb and then the race exploded. It was great to see Che Chu at the front of the race in the mountains giving his all for his team leader, even more so as he set tempo up a major portion of Mount Hamilton as well. It was clearly a reminder of how hard he worked for Lance in his multiple Tour de France wins.


Back to the final climb where it was down to just four riders, Leipheimer, Horner, Dave Zabriskie and Robert Gesink of Rabobank at the halfway mark when Gesink, who rode well on Sierra last year as well, put in a vicious attack and then there were only two. Clearly gunning for the stage win, Gesink set a hard tempo as he and Leipheimer pulled away, cresting the summit 45 seconds ahead of Zabriskie and Horner, who were to be caught by the remains of the original 15-man lead group on the descent.


What ensued was cat-and-mouse with Gesink and Leipheimer doing all they could to hold off the charging bunch. At the finish, Gesink took the stage with Leipheimer taking the leader's jersey. But wait, there's more...Fabian Cancellara was able to infiltrate the chase group which means Levi's lead is a mere 13 or so seconds over the two-time World Time Trial Champion. At the finish, I asked Levi if he had won the AToC today, he astutely said, "no, it is a long ways from over."


It looks like the race will come down to Friday's individual time trial. Don't count out Slipstream/Chipotle's two Daves, Zabriskie and Millar. They are both capable of putting together a ride to take the jersey from Levi.  And with only 15-30 seconds separating a whole host of riders while Levi is in the driver's seat, the race is far from over. Back in 2006, Leipheimer wore the race leader's jersey into the San Jose TT only to have Floyd Landis take it off his back. However, as true champions do, Levi made amends last year and simply

smoked the entire field in Solvang in 2007. Not to put any pressure on the Leipheimer, but it is now his race to lose.


Hey, how about the Gesink kid. Last Friday, I went riding with the Rabobank team in the hills above Silicon Valley. I remembered Robert from his cracking ride last year and remarked that with his skinny physique, he looked like a climber. His response was, "yeah, but I am too long[tall]." I wish I was that tall! He even sat on my wheel and let me set the pace on the climbs. What a nice guy.



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Crunch Time

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Feb 19, 2008

Even though we have had three days of very exciting racing at the Amgen Tour of California (AToC), the real race for the overall title begins tomorrow with a potentially epic stage over the 4,200-foot Mount Hamilton and the 2,000-foot Sierra Road, which boast grades of up to 15 percent as it climbs 1,800 feet in 3.8 miles.  Expect to see riders like Levi Leipheimer, Jens Voigt, Jason McCartney, Tom Danielson, Robert Gesink, Chris Horner and Janez Brajkovic in the mix in the final miles of the stage.


The big guns will be firing and with cloudy skies and the potential for a few showers, the stage could take on epic proportions. This is clearly the hardest road stage ever held in the AToC's young history and will undoubtedly see a small group of riders who are not considered contenders for the overall title go up the road even before the Mount Hamilton climb. These "no-hopers" may even stay clear to the top of Mount Hamilton and all the way to the base of the brutal Sierra Road, but look for their shot at stage glory to be erased on the slopes of the AToC's signature climb.


As legendary cycling photographer Graham Watson put it, "Levi doesn't need to win in San Jose, he just needs to shed himself of some of his competitors." Yeah, baby! The race is on!


In other notes, Slipstream/Chipotle rider Tyler Farrar who took over the AToC leader's jersey has a bit if difficult to pronounce last name. It's 'Farra' to you, just like that Charlie's Angel who used to be married to Ryan ONeal.


Scott Nydam who, like his BMC Racing teammate Jackson Stewart the day before, went on a long solo break on Stage 2 from Santa Rosa to Sacramento. Scott lives in Sebastapol which is close to the stage start. He told me he had several reasons to go off on a raining day in search of glory. First off, his father was recently diagnosed with leukemia and though the cancer is in remission, he wanted to do something for his dad. Secondly, Scott is a climbing specialist and was disappointed with how he rode on the Coleman Valley ascent yesterday especially since he trains a lot on that climb and knows it well. Good on ya, Scott.


And it appears that Super Mario is back. While he lost the final sprint to his heir apparent, Tom Boonen, Super Mario definitely seems to be enjoying what he calls his second career on the bike.  A podium finish in Sacramento was a huge result for the upstart Rock Racing team. Michael Ball's squad appears to be settling into a rhythm and has put the first few turbulent days behind them. Rumor has it that Rock Racing may get the 25th and final team spot for the first classic of the season, Milan-San Remo, a race Il Leone has won and his teammate Freddie Rodriguez has finished second.


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Safety First

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Feb 18, 2008

Hats off to the Amgen Tour of California (AToC) race organizers.  Last year's dangerous finish line in

Santa Rosa which saw 50+ riders go down was modified to close the four lane road down to two

lanes so as to make the finish safer.  By modifying the finish straight the AToC organizers reduced

the number of lanes of hazardous road dots from three to one.  Bravo.  These riders are pros and

they race for a living.  If they go down, the cupboards may run bare.


Unfortunately, this year another incident took out Team High Road's George Hincapie and foiled the

sprint of fast-finisher Tom Boonen who narrowly avoided the crash.  It appears that this time the

culprit was the highway underpass where riders go from light to dark to light at 30+MPH.  Do the

organizers need to remove the underpass from the course?  Probably not.  Sometimes things just

happen.  BTW, George is banged up, but should start tomorrow.  He is one tough dude!


I have been advocating safe finishes for the riders for years.  The racers are literally sprinting

for paychecks, you have to allow them as safe as an environment as possible.  If there was a

riders union, maybe things like the safety of the finish line areas could be guaranteed.


Hey, it looks like rain is in the forecast for the AToC which could make the race even more interesting.

I know these guys don't mind getting wet, but if it snows on top of the 4200' Mount Hamilton it could

make for some epic racing.  My guess is that everybody will get wet and probably cold, but the race

will go on.  After all, it is bike racing.



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As reported earlier, Rock Racing started only five riders in today's first stage, the 2.1-mile prologue, in the 2008 Amgen Tour of California(AToC). AToC organizers excluded three of Rock Racing's riders supposedly because they had open doping investigations. Rock Racing has maintained that there are no open investigations, but race organizers held firm. Frankly, it is not clear to me that there are any open doping investigations. I haven't seen any public mention that there are any open investigations and none of the Rock Racing riders have been privately notified that they are under investigation.


What is interesting to me is the parallel between what happened earlier this week to Team Astana. In the Astana affair, Amaury Sports Organization (ASO) issued a statement that Team Astana will not be invited to any ASO events, which includes the Tour de France. ASO cited the past history of doping on the team as their reason for the exclusion. However, Team Astana is a completely different team in 2008. Gone are all the riders implicated in any 2007 doping infractions as well as the whole team management.


So, if all the problem riders and team personnel are gone the team should be clean. The only rider on the team with a potential problem is Alberto Contador who has been linked to the same Operacion Puerto affair that AToC organizers used as a reason to exclude the three Rock Racing riders.


I think the decisions to exclude three riders from the AToC and Team Astana from the Tour are unfair. If you are upset that Levi may not get to ride in France, I think to be consistent, you have to also be upset that Tyler, Oscar and Santiago aren't riding the AToC. Would it be fair to allow Team Astana to ride the Tour de France if they don't bring Alberto Contador? How do you all feel about this? Do you all agree that both decisions are unfair?


On to the racing news, which I hope will shortly eclipse all this talk of doping. My pre-race prediction (and I made that prediction on Thursday), Fabian Cancellara, obliterated the competition winning by a substantial four-second margin in the short, 2.1-mile prologue time trial. Levi Leipheimer, who won the first two prologue time trials in 2006 and 2007, finished fourth, six seconds back.


No big surprises in the race for the overall. All the overall contenders finished within 20 seconds of each other. With several big climbing stages and a 15-mile time trial yet to come, the race is still a dead heat. Cancellara could hold the jersey for the next two days which offers only moderate climbing and flat finishes.  However, come stage 3 on Wednesday, when both Mount Hamilton and Sierra Road are on the agenda, look for the 2006 Paris-Roubaix Champion and two-time World Time Trial Champion to hopefully transfer the jersey to one of his teammates such as Jens Voigt, Stuart O'Grady or Bobby Julich.



1,289 Views 2 Comments Permalink Tags: tour-de-france, bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand, tour-of-california, rock-racing, team-astana, amgen-tour-of-california

The storm surrounding the Rock Racing Team's roster for the Amgen Tour of

California(AToC) has subsided a bit with the announcement from team owner

Michael Ball that the squad will start only five riders on Sunday, leaving

Oscar Sevilla, Santiago Botero and Tyler Hamilton on the sidelines.  The

team will be composed of Michael Creed, Doug Ollerenshaw, Victor Hugo Pena,

Freddie Rodriguez and Super Mario Cipollini.  The entire team voted to start

with the shortened roster.


At issue here is whether the three Rock Racing riders are part of any active

doping investigations.  At a press conference on Saturday, Michael Ball

provided documentation, a letter from the Federacion Ciclismo de Colombia

indicating that Botero is not under investigation, a letter from Real

Federacion Espanolo de Ciclismo indicating that Sevilla is not under

investigation and also a letter from UCI president Pat McQuaid indicating

that Oscar Sevilla is not currently under investigation.  Ball maintains

that Tyler has never been informed that there is a pending anti-doping case.

Furthermore Ball contends that Hamilton cannot be sanctioned for anything

stemming from Operacion Puerto because according to the rules it would

'pre-date the case for which he has already served a suspension'.


Race organizers maintain that there is an open investigation involving the

named riders citing that the Operacion Puerto case was been re-opened on

February 14th.  However, Sevilla, Botero and Hamilton have not been explicitly

named in the new investigation.  Given that they were all named in the 2006

Operacion Puerto it can be assumed that they will be named and investigated,

but at this time it is only speculation what the prosecutors in Spain are

doing.  Is that enough evidence to assert that the three riders are currently

under investigation?


Obviously, this is a very touchy situation for both sides.  There is enough

gray area here to feel that both sides have made a case, however, since it

appears that the race organization's ousting is based on the re-opening of

the Operacion Puerto case, it would be prudent to verify that the case has

indeed been re-opened.


One thing that is interesting in this whole sordid affair is that the USADA

recently told AToC race organizers that it cannot comment if there are any

active investigations on riders.  This is to protect a rider from being tainted

undeservedly or any unwarranted actions if the investigation finds no illegal

activity.  So, how does the race organization know of any active investigations

if the national doping agencies will not comment?  We are treading very closely

to stripping all rights riders have to fair and impartial treatment.



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A Storm is Brewing

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Feb 16, 2008

Less than a day before the start of the 3rd annual Amgen Tour of California (AToC) and there is a huge storm on the horizon. At the center of the controversy is Michael Ball and his Rock Racing Team; the issue being whether certain riders on his team roster will be allowed to start the race. Earlier this week, Ball submitted ten riders names as potential members of his team for the AToC. When race organizers published the team rosters, only five of those original ten were listed as potential starters. Somewhere along the way, race organizers left five of Michael's riders off the list.


On Saturday morning, Michael Ball, just back from a training ride with his team, met with the press in downtown Palo Alto, the scene of Sunday's prologue start, to address this issue. The owner of Rock and Republic clothing was adamant that none of the members of his AToC team are involved in any active doping investigation and he provided written documentation to back it up. Also provided to the media was a written letter to race organizers informing them of the same thing, that no rider on his AToC team is involved in an active doping investigation.

The passionate Ball was firm in stating that the riders named to his team, Santiago Botero, Oscar Sevilla, Tyler Hamilton and Kayle Legrande who have been linked to potential doping practices will start the race.  Micheal strongly denied that he would accept a reduced number of riders if the race organizers refuse to let the aforementioned teammates participate.


At the heart of Ball's insistence is his belief that under the current conditions in professional cycling, riders need to be given the benefit of the doubt, especially if there is no open doping investigation. Ultimately, he would like to form a rider's union, something which is commonplace in most high-profile professional sports.


At the time of this blog, AToC organizers had not issued any statements as to their plans with regards to this situation. Personally, I think we have to allow riders an "innocent until proven guilty" attitude.  This is their job and how they put food on the table. Keeping someone from making a living based on rumor, innuendo or unproven charges is simply not fair.


I am hoping that a solution that is fair to the teams as well as the race can be reached. The AToC has so much to offer to the fans, sponsors and teams that it would be sad to see something like this bring any dark clouds to the race. Hey, it is February in California, we have enough other dark clouds to worry about.



1,355 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand, rock-racing, amgen-tour-of-california, michael-ball

The official team presentation for the 3rd annual Amgen Tour of California

(AToC) took place Friday night in Sausalito.  The super-swank, black-tie,

$250/person affair saw Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen and Bob Roll doing the

call-up and Q&A for each of the 17 teams while yours truly hosted the always

entertaining fashion show.  What a way to kick off America's best bike race.


There were two surprise guests, both of whom created a buzz of excitement as

they came up on stage.  To close out the fashion show, cycling aficionado,

Oscar winner and all around funny guy Robin Williams took the stage doing a

very risque cat-walk to the sounds of James Brown's tune "Sex Machine".

Selecting a James Brown song was appropriate for the entertainer many feel has

inherited the legendary blues singer's moniker as the hardest working man in

show business.


Robin's schtick brought the house down.  Look for some clips on the Versus

telecast of the Amgen Tour of California on Sunday.


Just as the evening was wrapping up, Michael Ball and his Rock Racing team

took the stage for their team presentation and when a legendary tall, blond Italian

walked up on the platform, it was an exciting confirmation that 'il Leone',

Super Mario Cipollini was indeed going to be a part of the AToC.  While his

exact role on the team has not yet been determined, look for Mario to be at

the start line, ready to go for Sunday's prologue.  Tyler Hamilton and Oscar

Sevilla will be there as well.

Did you all know that Tom Boonen used to play basketball before he became one

of the most successful and most recognizable stars in cycling?  During the

silent auction, I turned Tom onto a great photo of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird

guarding each other which looked more like a wrestling match.  Tom bought it

on the spot, doubling the current bid!


Actually, there are two many great moments to put in this blog.  Suffice it to

say that the AToC got started in grand style and looks to be creating some

unforgettable memories for all who will attend America's premier bike race.

The fuse is lit!



1,409 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand, mario-cipollini, amgen-tour-of-california, robin-williams

With only two days to go before the start of the third Amgen Tour of California, the streets around Palo Alto are awash with pro racers getting in those last, critical pre-race miles. So much is going on surrounding the race, you almost need 25 hours in a day. Here are the latest happenings:


At a Trek Bicycle-sponsored meet-and-greet with Levi Leipheimer on Thursday night,the Tour podium finisher in 2007 announced that his Team Astana would be mounting a grass-roots campaign to lobby ASO to give his team a much-deserved slot in the Tour de France. Look for some announcements and a website launch

in the next few days to allow fans to send their thoughts to ASO. This is your chance to be heard, don't pass it up!


The team rosters are being finalized as we speak. Some of the big names are Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner from Astana; Fabian Cancellara, Bobby Julich, Jens Voigt and Stuart O'Grady from Team CSC; Tom Boonen and Paolo Bettini from Quick Step...heck, there are too many big names and great riders to list, so my apologies to everyone I didn't mention.


Which brings me to my next observation. This is undoubtedly the best field of riders for a Tour of California.  And the teams have come here to lay down some serious smack. Jens Voigt told me that they have been riding hills, hills and more hills at their team training camp down in Thousand Oaks. Team High Road Sports have been doing 5- to 6-hour rides everyday; some riders had 34-plus hours on the bike last week! Whoa!  That is some serious saddle time for this early in the season.


I hope you all out there get chance to see at least one, and hopefully two or more, stages of the race. If you can't be here in person, Phil and Paul will be making the race call, daily, on Versus.


OK. One last thing. I am going to go out on a limb and make a prediction for the prologue. This might not seem like much of a guess, given his propensity for winning these type of races, but I think Fabian Cancellara will

win the prologue. I just did a lengthy interview with the two-time World Champion and he is not only very fast, but a nice guy to boot! Go Fabian.


Heck, go everybody! Let's make this a great race.


1,153 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand, tour-of-california

Never a Dull Moment

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Feb 13, 2008

On the eve of the America's premier stage race, the Amgen Tour of California

(AToC), the attention shifted across the great pond where Amaury Sports

Organization (ASO) who own the Tour de France announced that Team Astana,

which has defending Tour champion Alberto Contador on it's roster, would not

be invited to any ASO-organized events in 2008.  ASO's decision is in response

to the doping incident at the 2007 Tour which saw Alexandre Vinokourov testing

positive for blood boosting.


Hey, it's my blog and I say that decision sucks big time.  After a very rocky

2007 which saw other doping violations, the Team Astana sponsors basically

kicked out all team personnel and questionable riders.  On paper, the name may

be the same, but the squad and it's management are completely different.  If

the sport of cycling is going to move forward from its current state, the

sport's governing body, the UCI, and the race organizers have to be willing to

give riders and their teams second chances.


Look, we are dealing with people's jobs and careers here. Decisions like this

have to be made fairly and consistently.  Team Rabobank arguably brought the

most disgrace to the 2007 Tour.  When was the last time the yellow jersey was

bounced from the Grand Boucle?  Rabobank hasn't been excluded from all ASO

events.  It just doesn't make sense to me.  Clearly, this is going to be a hot

topic of discussion for a while.  What are your thoughts?


So what does this mean for the upcoming AToC?  Thankfully, the event

organizers, AEG, don't appear to have any hidden agendas so we are going to

have nine of the top European professional teams, including Astana, and eight

US Domestic squads (well, Slipstream and BMC have European racing schedules)

putting on one heck of a show.


Defending 2007 AToC champion and Tour podium finisher, Levi Leipheimer is on

Team Astana.  If he and his mates are shut out of the biggest races in Europe,

that leaves the AToC to make a statement.  Personally, I hope that ASO see the

flaw in their logic (it's so big it is hard not to notice) and invites, Levi

and Alberto to the big show.  But, part of me likes the fact that Leipheimer

will undoubtedly be racing with a rather large chip on his shoulder at the

Tour of California because the guy has the legs and lungs to lay down a very

powerful statement.



1,295 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: tour-de-france, bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand, team-astana, aso, amgen-tour-of-california

Welcome to My World

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Feb 10, 2008

Being a freelance journalist covering mostly cycling-related people and events

has its ups and downs. This past week, I logged 350+ miles on the bike, doing

um, uh, um, research. This coming week I will be logging over 1000+ miles,

unfortunately, they won't be on two-wheeled vehicle.


On Monday, I have an interview with Michael Ball. His people are calling my

people. As soon as that interview is completed, I will be driving six hours

from my winter home in the San Francisco Bay Area down to LA to visit the CSC

Professional Cycling Team camp where I will be doing interviews for two

articles for Pro Cycling Magazine during the day on Tuesday.


Late Tuesday night, I will be making the six hour drive back up north arriving

in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. As soon as I am functional, I will

begin transcribing the interviews for Pro Cycling as my deadline for the

articles is Thursday. Hopefully things go quickly as I have to pick Phil

Liggett up at the SFO airport on Wednesday afternoon as Phil flies in from

London. Phil and I are hosting a charity fundraiser on Wednesday night, it is

not entirely clear which one of us will be suffering from a worse case of jet

lag (well, in my case 'road lag').


Thursday during the day sees me finishing the pieces for Pro Cycling then

heading off to cover a charity fundraiser in Palo Alto with Levi Leipheimer,

Chris Horner and a few other pros in the early evening. Later that evening, I

am off to the Oakland Airport to pick up my production assistant. Oh, yeah, I

forgot to tell you that I will be working with Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen on

the official Amgen Tour of California DVD. Phil and Paul will be doing the

race call and I will be doing the pre-stage and post-stage interview with the

riders and team personnel.


Friday during the day, I will be transcribing and writing the Michael Ball

interview I did on Monday then it is off to Sausalito to help host the official

Amgen Tour of California Team Presentation on Friday night. Phil, Paul (those

guys again!) and Bob Roll will be introducing the teams. I will be on the

microphone for the fashion show and the live fundraising auction. Last year, I

raised almost $3000 for an all expense paid weekend for two to Las Vegas to see

the Celine Dion "It's a Brand New Day" show. Just try selling that to a crowd

full of cyclists!


Saturday during the day will be consumed by picking up my press credentials and

car pass and dealing with a few production items then Saturday evening is the

Davis Phinney Foundation Fundraiser. You know, when the race finally begins on

Sunday, things may actually get a bit less hectic. Not! Look for my blogs on during the Amgen Tour of California as I bring you all the most

interesting peoples, places and things from behind-the-scenes. Welcome to my




1,326 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand

Black is Blue

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Feb 8, 2008

I don't think anybody will ever consider me a walking fashion statement on

either side of the spectrum(maybe that's the silver lining!).  In fact, my

fashion sense is somewhere between sweat pants and blue jeans, but hey, I

don't care.  However, for those of you who religiously watch shows like "What

Not to Wear," "Project Runway" and "Tim Gunn's Guide to Style", here is a blog

just for you.


The third annual Amgen Tour of California kicks off in about a week and based

on my recent visits to some of the pro team camps, we just might have an

honest-to-god fashion emergency.  I remember a few years back when powder blue

was the 'in' color so much so that a number of pro teams changed their jerseys

to include the azur shade.  Well, it looks like black is the new blue.  No less

than three pro teams, BMC, Rock Racing and High Road Sports are wearing

predominately black racing kit.


Call me a colorcist, but I am having a hard time distinguishing between the

three different squads.  Add to the fact that the riders will be going upwards

of 30 mph as they rocket down the beautiful California coastline and any subtle

differences such as sponsors logos might just become a blur.


Rumour has it that High Road Sports may be rolling out a new team kit with

a predominately white theme.  But, wait, it looks like the BMC boys are riding

white jerseys as well.  Oh man, what is a cycling fan to do?  Obviously, there

are subtleties between the jersey designs, but I am not a subtle guy.


OK.  Maybe I am making a mountain out of a molehill, but I am always on the

verge of getting arrested by the Fashion Police so maybe this is my pitiful

attempt at obtaining a get-out-of-jail-free card.  Regardless of what any of

the jerseys look like for the 17 teams participating in the AToC, I am certain

that the riders filling said jerseys are some of the best racers in the world. And,

c'mon that's what it is all about anyway, isn't it?



1,421 Views 3 Comments Permalink Tags: bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand, tour-of-california, rock-racing, bmc-professional-cycling-team, high-road-sports, amgen-tour-of-california

January and early February mean its pro team camp time.  Every year I attend

five to seven of the pro team camps, it's a great time to catch up with the

riders and lay some foundation for the season ahead.  This year, I stopped in

to see a number of teams such as the BMC, Health Net-Maxxis, High Road Sports

with trips to several others like CSC still upcoming.


The Health Net-Maxxis Professional Cycling Team camp is always fun.  These guys

can ride bikes evidenced by their fourth straight NRC team crown in 2007 as

well as the individual NRC crown with Australian rider Rory Sutherland.  The

team is a mix of cagey veterans like recently crowned National Cyclocross

Champion, Tim Johnson, and Kirk Obee, hard-as-nails Australians such as

Sutherland and Karl Menzies (he'll tell you he's actually Tasmanian), up-and-

comers like Frank Pipp and Phil Zaijeck and young guns like Matt Crane and John



The program for the media/sponsor day was to ride with the team from our

hotel in downtown Solvang and preview the 15-mile course for the upcoming

Stage 5 time trial in the Tour of California.  We rolled out at a talking

pace, the idea of the ride was to get to know everybody and not to break too

big of a sweat.  That's fine with me.  Bonding on the bike is always a great

experience.  There are times when it is best to hold back the endorphins and

just enjoy the ride.



When we finished our loop it was clear that the team was up for some more miles

and at a little bit more uptempo pace.  So, I tagged along with the boys for a

rendezvous with Figueroa Mountain.  Along the way we passed Michael Jackson's

Neverland Ranch and as we hit the base of the 3200' climb, I remembered what

Clint Eastwood said at the end of Magnum Force, "a man's got to know his

limitations."  I said farewell to the team and headed back home. Later, I

found that I had chosen wisely as noted climbing specialist Matt Cooke lit the

afterburners on the ascent, turning a fun group ride into an all-out sufferfest.


At this time of the year, my idea of suffering is watching Simon on American

Idol.  But, if the Health Net-Maxxis squad is going to win their fifth

consecutive NRC title, they need to lay down some serious smack this early in

the season.  Judging by their fitness and attitude, this is going to be a good




1,370 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand, health-net-presented-by-maxxis-professional-cycling-team, tim-johnson, kirk-obee, rory-sutherland, karl-menzies, frank-pipp, phil-zaijeck, matt-crane, john-murphy

I recently wrote about the split between the UCI and the grand tour organizers

enabling the bosses of the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana

free to invite any team they wanted to their races.  Well, the Giro d'Italia

announced its invited teams and judging by the prominent names left off the

list, the free market in cycling has arrived.


To be sure, before the inception of the UCI's Pro Tour, there was a free market

in professional cycling, but things were so bad during the Pro Tour, it seems

like a re-birth of the free market.  By free market, I mean the ability of the

individual races to determine which teams get to ride their events.  If the Tour

de France want to invite only amateur teams from the state of Rhode Island it is

now their choice to do so.  However, if the perceived quality of the race

suffers and fans go elsewhere then the Tour bosses only have themselves to



That may not seem so far-fetched.  Back in the early 80's, in some people's eyes

the Tour de France was getting boring.  So, in an attempt to add some excitement

to the race, the organizers extended invitations to several amateur teams

including those from the US, Russia and Colombia.  Only the Colombians came, but

it ushered in the era of the Colombian climber and the likes of Lucho Herrera

and Fabio Parra won stages and stood on the podium at the Tour.


That's how a free market works.  You develop a product. You market it. If people

like it.  They buy it.  That may seem to be a pretty simple formula, but it

isn't.  Yes, the race organizers can be totally arbitrary in which teams they

include, but for credibility sake, they need to be objective with the criteria

they will use for determining who will ride.  In this year's Giro, the

organizers excluded several teams including Astana and the former T-Mobile

Team, now called Team High Road Sports, because of concerns over doping.


Hey, that is their prerogative, but what about Michael Rasmussen's Rabobank

team and Team LPR which included Danillo DiLuca who is serving a three-month

suspension for a non-analytical doping offense?  That just doesn't make sense

to me.  Oh well, hopefully, saner heads will prevail at the organization

which runs the Tour de France and there will be no seemingly arbitrary decisions

about who will toe the starting line in July.



1,571 Views 5 Comments Permalink Tags: tour-de-france, bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand, giro-d'italia, uci, vuleta-a-espana, high-road-sports, astana