Speculation about the route for the 2009 Tour of California (ToC) has been happening even while the 2008 race was underway. Of course, nothing has been publicly announced, expect to hear something official in July or August, but this is a blog so that means that I can make some guesses and then deny everything when I am proven totally wrong.
Hey, the best thing is that there appears to be several cities strongly interested in hosting the prologue. What was once the sole domain of San Francisco moved 30 miles south last year to Palo Alto/Stanford and was a smashing success. However, rumour has it that Sacramento is keen on hosting the race-beginning event and with the Governator critical for pulling a lot of strings along the entire race route, Sac-Town may have the inside track.
As far as the overall race route, Levi's hometown may be saying bye-bye to its stage finish. In fact, after three editions of the ToC, the Sausalito to Santa Rosa stage is the only route to be included in every edition of the race. But, that may be a footnote in ToC history as the rumour mill forecasts that Santa Rosa will be axed in favor of adding a race day (or possibly two) down in the San Diego area.
Palomar Mountain in northern San Diego county is a favorite testpiece for southern Californian cyclists and may be on the program in 2009. The 11-mile 4000-foot climb would be a welcome addition for riders like Levi Leipheimer especially if it became the first mountain-top finish in ToC history.
The title sponsor for the 2009 ToC is still a mystery. Amgen's three-year deal ended in 2008 and though race organizers indicated that Amgen was satisfied with their sponsorship no official word has been given on who will be the title sponsor next year. More rumours and a few facts when they become available.
On Stage 6 of the Tour of California Mark Cavendish crashed in the final few laps, fought back to regain the group and went on to win the race. Unfortunately, the race officials relegated Cavendish for drafting team cars to regain the bunch. As I pointed out then it is very common for riders involved in a crash or mechanical to draft the team cars to get back to the peloton. This isn't the case of a rider who was tired getting a tow to the line; it was the case of a rider who suffered an unfortunate circumstance and was just trying to make it right. Race officials in Europe clearly understand this and allow drafting team cars to regain the field after a mechanical or a crash.
Yesterday at the Tour de Georgia, a bunch of riders were taken down when their wheels were swallowed up by large cracks in the concrete roadway. I had this happen to me one at 40+mph while motorpacing in preparation for the National Championships and it is not pleasant. If a crack in the concrete runs the direction of travel and is wider than the width of a wheel the crack can swallow a wheel and a rider can go down. That's exactly what happened and three riders in the Tour of Georgia went down hard. While two got up quickly, one did not. Tim Duggan of Slipstream Sports suffered major head trauma and was taken to a hospital in Atlanta. I have ridden with Tim and he is a great guy. Here's wishing Tim a full and speedy recovery.
The two riders who were able to continue were still about a minute behind the main field. George Hincapie and Levi Leipheimer went to the front of the field and slowed things down to allow everyone to sort themselves out and in a few minutes the two riders were able to regain the peloton. But, wait. At the finish, race officials penalized the two riders for drafting their team cars to regain the pack. Nonsense. Do those officials have no heart? Do they not understand how the game is played on the biggest stage in the world(Europe)? Have they missed the spirit of the competition?
Bike racing is hard enough, even harder if you do it as a pro. Heartless race officials just make it that more difficult for riders to do their jobs. I just don't understand why the officials don't understand the spirit of the rule and apply it as such. The rule was put in place to stop riders who get dropped because they aren't fast enough to keep up. The rule is not there to punish riders who flat or get caught in a crash. Show some heart and don't penalize riders for circumstances outside their control. The riders race their guts out. They need to be shown a bit of compassion that comes with the respect for what they do.
It has happened to me twice in the past week and I don't like it. Bike riding is supposed to be fun, especially on small, low-traffic roads where you can enjoy the scenery and not have to worry about sharing the road with 3,000 pounds of metal. (BTW, I just saw a piece on Nova which reported that the weight of an average car has increased from 2,000 to 3,000 pounds over the past 25 years. Ouch. That's not very good odds when you are riding a sub 20-pound bike.)
But I digress. When I say that "Coasting Can Be Dangerous" I am not referring to the new line of bikes being produced by Shimano and others. What I am talking about is the totally illegal practice of turning off the engine in your car and coasting down the hill. As gas prices break through the $4.00/gallon barrier with no end in sight, it seems that some drivers are using what can only be called "guerrilla conservation practices" to save on gas. Did it ever occur to drivers to get a more fuel-efficient car or to use their automobile more efficiently by planning their trips out? Hey, what about using a bicycle to accomplish some simple errands?
To survive as cyclists, we have to have our antennae out. We need to be attentive to the sounds of approaching vehicles, especially on roads where cyclists must share the same space on the roadways as cars because there are no bike lanes or wide shoulders. When car drivers turn off their engines and coast down the hills here in the Santa Cruz Mountains, not only are they breaking the law but they are also putting me in danger. A lot of the best climbs here in the Silicon Valley like Old La Honda Road and Tunitas Creek are narrow enough that there is no center line and cars and cyclists must share the road.
And what about hybrids? It turns out that this is also a problem for pedestrians who have been hit stepping off of curbs because they didn't hear a car and so didn't feel the need to look first. Yikes. Who would have thought that going green would have such an adverse side effect. Be careful. It's a jungle out there.
America's second most prestigious stage race starts today as the Tour de Georgia(TdG) sends 15 teams of 8 riders out on the roads of the peach state. As a bit of history, the TdG was first run in 2003 and it quickly became the number one stage race in the US. The organizers, Medalist Sports, had a long history in cycling, it's personnel were responsible for organizing the Tour de Trump and Tour Dupont in the 1990's. Chris Horner, now of Team Astana, was the first winner, Lance Armstrong launched the event into the stratosphere with his victory in 2004.
The Discovery Channel rider Tom Danielson's stock rose sharply in 2005 when he upstaged his Texas teammate and stole the race from Floyd Landis. The tables were turned in 2006 when, after an epic mano y mano battle on the fearsome slopes of Brasstown Bald, Landis bested Danielson. The Landis-Danielson duel on the 20+% ramps of Brasstown Bald was probably the most thrilling bicycle racing action ever seen by a TV audience on US soil. And the fact that top European teams were sending squads to the race made the performances by US riders memorable as well as credible.
However, 2006 also marked the beginning of another stage race organized by Medalist Sports. On the other side of the country, the Tour of California(ToC) began with much fanfare and anticipation. For the European pro teams, the ToC, with its February position on the racing calendar was a better fit. Throw in the fact that the weather in California usually trumps the climate found across the pond and it was clear that the ToC was going to be a hit with the Euros. Realizing that most European teams have tight budgets and don't like to cross too many time zones to race, would the Euros really head west for more than one stage race?
Two years ago I opined that the Tour de Georgia would suffer if the Tour of California became successful and, unfortunately, that appears to be true. This year there are only four European teams in the race, compared to eight for the ToC. That doesn't mean that the racing won't be difficult and entertaining. On the contrary. US domestic racing has increased in both speed and ability over the past few years; clearly the home boys can hold their own against their Euro counterparts. It is just that it would be nice to have a few more of the top pro teams in Georgia so that they can showcase their talents on US soil.
One hugely positive side to this whole situation is that it offers an opportunity for US-based pros to strut their stuff in front of some of the best professional teams and earn some respect for their efforts. Look for the homies to be very aggressive all race long with early breakaways and go-and-blow moves on every stage.
As for race predictions, there is no individual time trial in this year's TdG so Levi won't be able to crush everyone in the race of truth. However, look for the Astana rider and recent ToC winner to lay down some serious hurt on Brasstown Bald on the way to his second major victory in 2008.
Yeah, there is De Ronde and Roubaix, spring classics on the Euro side of the pond, but over here in 'merica we have our own classic and it's named after a furry little creature that swims and loves abalone. The Sea Otter Classic is in its 17th or 18th year and going strong. The event schedule, which includes road racing, mountain bike racing and BMX racing covers so many aspects of the two-wheeled community that it has become a destination for racers and industry types from across the country. In Thursday's junior women's road race, the riders from Alaska and Idaho outnumbered the Californians, the home of the Sea Otter Classics, by a ratio of six to one!
I love going to Sea Otter and have been at the event as spectator, journalist and race announcer. It really doesn't matter why you are there, you are going to have fun. OK. The weather can be a bit funky. My fellow announcer Larry Longo said it best. "During the four days of Sea Otter we usually have one sunny day, one windy day, one rainy day and one day when we have know idea on what is going to happen." That shouldn't stop anyone from attending. Weather or not, you are still going to have fun.
Today, Thursday, was a whetting of our Sea Otter appetites as only a few events were contested. Come Friday, the professional riders in both the mountain bike and road events take to the venue; the MTB boys on the short track course, the roadies tackle the grueling Fort Ord road race. Saturday continues the parade of stars as the professional men and women compete on the 2.2 mile Laguna Seca road race circuit, the exact same course used by the Indy cars and GP motorbikes. Expect to see some of the top male and female pros in the US on the starting line.
Sunday is all dirt as both the MTB downhill and cross country races will attract the top professional talent. Sunday is also the launch day for the amateur cross country races with literally thousands of weekend warriors, in numerous age and ability categories tackling one or two laps of the legendary 18-mile off-road circuit.
For those who have not been bitten by the racing bug, there is an off-road fun ride on Saturday and a road century loop on Sunday. In between all the pedaling there is the 350 vendor expo where one can find just about anything biking-related and a few things that aren't. All in all, if you can't find something fun to do at Sea Otter, you are either strapped down in a straight jacket or you just don't want to experience one of the great early season events in America.
You gotta love it, Rock Racing will be at the starting line next Monday for the Tour de Georgia. The Pro Tour team Saunier Duval pulled out due to "numerous injuries to key riders" opening a slot for Rock Racing. After their reception and performance in the Amgen Tour of California it seemed like a lock that we would see the boys in black and neon green at all the biggest races on the US professional racing calendar. However, Medalist Sports announced last month that Rock Racing would not be invited to Georgia; managing partner Jim Birrell, told Velonews.com I like all the riders he has on his team its just that renegade approach and his desire to steal the limelight away from the platform that has been created for everybody else is what troubles me."
It appears that Medalist and Michael Ball were able to reach an agreement, hats off to both parties for sitting down and making this happen. This is a good thing on so many levels. First off, Rock Racing is the most popular new team on the US domestic racing circuit. Secondly, at the recent Redlands Cycling Classic, with all the best domestic pro riders in attendance, Rock Racing rode superbly and took the overall win with Santiago Botero. And probably most importantly, Rock Racing is bringing new eyeballs to the sport and those peepers belong to the young fans in the always critical 18-35 year old demographic.
On a personal level, the news is bittersweet for me. I am heading off to be one of the event announcers at the upcoming Sea Otter Classic and was looking forward to having Botero, Sevilla, Hamilton, Pena, etc. in the field for the National Racing Calendar(NRC) circuit race on Saturday. I am still hoping the Rock Racing sends a team to Sea Otter, team member Doug Ollerenshaw won there several years back. However, if it takes my disappointment to get Rock Racing into the Tour de Georgia I guess I will just have to live with it.
The next item on the agenda is to figure out a way to get Astana into the Tour de France. Short of the Kazakhstani government cutting off natural gas supplies to France, I think this might be an impossible task. Anybody out there have a solution?
Two of the greatest sporting events took place this past weekend, one favorite prevailed, another came up short. While most of us are participants in the sports we follow very few of us ever reach the highest levels. That's OK, I am not going to get into a religious/scientific debate about genetics and evolution, but my guess is that is the way it is supposed to be. To be sure, we set goals for ourselves and strive to reach them, however we usually aren't performing in front of a live crowd and a television audience in the millions.
While it depends on the specific sport, professional athletes in the most popular athletic endeavours do feel pressure from sponsors and fans to do well. One of the characteristics of the best athletes is how they respond to that pressure.The word 'choke' describes how some athletes deal with the pressure. On the other end of the spectrum is the word 'clutch'. Hey, but I am not telling you something you don't already know and if asked you could probably come up with a list of 'clutch' players and 'chokers' for your favorite sport.
It is hard to use the words 'Tiger' and 'choke' in the same sentence since, on the golf course, Mr. Woods is the most consistent golfer in the world. He's been ranked number one for so many years he makes Roger Federer's accomplishments look human. Using the words 'Boonen' and "clutch' is almost passe, he's won so many big races that he is almost expected to win. The fact that he triumphs when he is expected to win is what makes his victories so special and amazing.
Does Tiger's second place at the Masters and failure to mount a charge when the eventual winner fired a 3-over par 75 on the final, albeit windy, day make him a choker? Did he succumb to the pressure or was he just a bit off his game? You have to feel sorry for Tiger. If he doesn't win a major he is considered a loser.The guy beats ever other golfer save one and he has to answer questions about what happened. If money can buy happiness then he shouldn't feel bad for long, but you and I both know that what drives Tiger Woods isn't the size of his bank account.
Tom Boonen not only won the Queen of the Classics, Paris-Roubaix, but he did it in masterful fashion, going off the front and proving without a doubt that he was one of the strongest, if not the strongest rider in the race. With two of the other heavy favorites, Fabian Cancellara and Juan Antonio Flecha for company in the three-up break, it was an epic duel in the making. In a recent interview I did with Cancellara, he mentioned that the pressure on Boonen to win in Belgium(Paris-Roubaix is on the Franco-Belgian border) and in the classics is huge, something he(Cancellara) would have difficulty handling.
In the end, both Tiger and Tom gave us memorable performances though only one was declared the winner. Dealing with pressure at any level reveals our character.Let's hope we can learn from watching both of these elite athletes perform on the world's stage.
If you are a rabid pro bike racing fan there is only one time of the year other than July when your mouth starts salivating, your hands start shaking and you can't sit still for more than about 2 seconds. OK. If you are Belgian, the maybe it is three times a year (De Ronde!), but for those of us who don't eat our frites with mayonnaise it is the Tour and Roubaix. Paris-Roubaix to be exact. The H3ll of the North. The Cobbled Classic. The hardest one-day race on a bike on the planet. Pick a moniker and as long as it describes a total melee on the most difficult surface to race a road bike thrown in with potentially bad weather and the odds on chance that you might get run over by a support vehicle and you have the Queen of the Classics.
If you happen to have the right combination of skill, strength, and luck, and somehow emerge from the fields of northern France in one piece and are first across the line in the velodrome in Roubaix, you get a huge cobblestone as a trophy of your win. The thing weighs a ton and probably still has a bit of cow poo on it, but there isn't a single rider in the pro peloton who wouldn't trade their left nut for that stone.
And if owning a piece of French real estate wasn't enough, they even name a shower stall in the Roubaix Velodrome after you. Of course, the race organizers fail to mention that you need a Class 7 biohazard suit to venture into the shower room at Roubaix, however, take my word for it, you get a stall with your name on it.
What makes Paris-Roubaix such a prestigious and tough race is those darn cobbles. As with the stones in De Ronde, these babies were laid down back in the late 1800's and early 1900's and while I am sure they looked flat over 100 years ago, that's definitely not the case now. There are twenty six cobbled sections along the 160-mile route ranging in length from 400 yards to several miles and you would swear that just when your strength is ebbing that those darn stones come alive, raise their little heads and send you and your bike flying sideways just for grins.
Yes, it takes a bit of luck to win Paris-Roubaix, but the cobbles always seem to produce a worthy victor, a rider who will, from that day on, be known as a hardman of the road a title that is well deserved. Who will be the next inductee into the hardman hall of fame come this Sunday. My mouth is watering, my hands are shaking and I can't sit still for more than 2 seconds. Bring it on!
In a stunning move today, John Burke, president of Trek Bicycles announced that the company has severed ties with Greg Lemond. Trek has sold bicycles under the Lemond brand since 1995; the current contract between Trek and the three-time Tour de France winner was set to expire in 2010. Trek has similar contracts with bicycling icons Gary Fisher and Keith Bontrager which are not affected by this announcement.
The action by Trek appears to be precipitated by a recent lawsuit filed by Lemond against Trek on March 20. In the suit Lemond contends that Trek has not been fulfilling its obligations to grow the Lemond brand. Of particular concern to Lemond was the lack of any penetration for Lemond bicycles in the international market something which he contends was specifically called out in the existing contract.
Trek contends that Lemond's actions, Greg has given many public statements to the press in recent years about the drug problem in pro cycling, have seriously impaired Trek's ability to successfully market the Lemond brand. Burke also confirmed that Trek had met with Lemond this past fall and at that time indicated that Trek would not be renewing their contract when it ended in 2010.
We can spend a lot of bits and bytes prying into what is really happening behind closed doors. I am sad to see the relationship end because the partnership between Trek and Lemond produced some really cool bicycles. In fact, it could be argued that the Tete de Course, the flagship ride of the Lemond line was just as good or better than Trek's vaunted Madone.
Obviously, Lemond and Trek, within legal boundaries, are free to do whatever they choose. Hopefully, after the dust has settled from their split, both will flourish and we as consumers will be even better off.
If your only memories of Belgium are fries with mayonnaise and high alcohol content beer then you are definitely missing something. Yesterday was the Ronde van Vlaanderen or Tour of Flanders to us English-speaking types. It is more than a 165-mile bike race full of steep cobbled climbs. It is the premier sporting even in all of Belgium. Forget soccer(futbol to you non-English speaking types), Formula 1 at Spa-Francorchamps or a tennis match between Kim Clijsters and Justin Henin, De Ronde is it. Not only are the crowds huge, but they exude passion, way more passion than the Black Hole in the Oakland Raiders' stadium.
Yeah, it's a bike race, but it is also a desert topping, floor wax and much, much more. Yes, it is one of cycling's one-day 'classics', but when the weather turns to ugly like it did yesterday, it becomes legendary. If your only exposure to bike racing is standing around in an industrial park watching your significant other go round and round for an hour or so, it is hard to describe how popular this event is with your average Belgian. They are probably still partying in Ninove, to be sure a Belgian won, however, it wouldn't matter if an alien from team Roswell had been first across the line.
You see, it is all about having a great race. Given how much a win in this event means to a pro rider's career and the difficulty of the parcours (that's 'race course' for you English-speaking types) it is almost impossible not to have a great race. If you are not a 'hardman of the road' your chances of winning De Ronde hover somewhere between slim and none. The climbs, though short, are extremely steep and most are cobbled. And if you think the craftsmen on "This Old House" laid the stones with their laser levels you would be sorely mistaken. In most cases you are convinced that nobody laid the stones. There must have been a truck bed spill which nobody bothered to clean up.
Dr. Phil types love to say 'its the journey, not the destination.. After 165-miles of incessant winds, rain and hail and all the cobbles, the riders in De Ronde would probably have a few choice words for Oprah's folksy friend. But, the pros will come back to Flanders next year and the year after that and the year after that. After all, it's De Ronde.
ps- if you can't be in Belgium, you should be watching all this on Versus!
With the American economy teetering on the brink of a recession the ripples across the USA haven't been limited to housing foreclosures. This past week several long-standing bicycle races and one well, never-to-be race announced that they were modifying their plans for 2008. This might just be the tip of the iceberg for the sport which has been struggling for sponsorship dollars in light of widespread doping fears and the squabbling between the sport's governing bodies and race organizers.
Of course, most of the negative side of cycling seems to be taking place on the other side of the pond, but some of these high profile issues have an impact on domestic racing. Just recently there was a regime change in USA Cycling. Outgoing president Jim Ochowicz has served a maximum three two-year terms. His place will be taken by Mark Abramson, who in his mid-30's is in a perfect position to attract the generation X crowd, wooed by the likes of Michael Ball's Rock Racing Team, into the sport of cycling. It is clear that capturing the hearts and minds of the 20-34 age crowd is critical to the success and continued longevity of the sport. Best of luck.
Back to the present, the Tour of Virginia will not be held in 2008 citing sponsorship woes, but it is hoping to return in 2009. One of the lynch pins in the late summer racing calendar, Pennsylvania's Tour de Toona is downsizing it's seven day schedule to a single day criterium. When one of the hallmark events drops 86% of it's bodyweight it is time to stand up and take notice.
On a slightly different note, the Tour of America, which many feel will never be held, announced that it will move its inaugural start date from 2008 to 2009.This cross-continent event seems more flash than substance with stage lengths and locations that appear to be difficult to attract sponsors. Hey, the organizers get points for trying, but a big dose of reality might be best path to success.
Before everyone starts hopping a plane for wet, cold and dreary Belgium and its packed calendar of races take a deep breath and let's see how extensive the damage may really be. The Redlands Bicycle Classic started today; the Sea Otter Classic and all the other big domestic races appear to be healthy. Let's hope our domestic pros have enough opportunities to strut their stuff in 2008! They deserve it.
I am often asked that question and the answer is not simple. Obviously, everyone rides a bike for different reasons and therein lies the rub. If you are a budding racer or someone who wants to learn to properly ride in a group then my answer would be a resounding 'yes' for my sake as much as yours. If you are looking to improve your basic performance on the bike, then you have a lot of options. I guess what I am saying is that when it comes to learning the basic bike riding skills, you should definitely seek out a coach or instructor. If you want to go faster on the bike, you don't necessarily need a coach.
Bike riding skills are not learned from a book. Period. There is just too much going on in a group and too many potential scenarios that written text just isn't going to be able to address them all. My advice is to find a local racing club or skill training session in your area and learn from those who have the experience and knowledge. A good skills course should teach you proper position on the bike so that you will ride a straight line (bend those elbows). Also, learning how to ride a wheel in all situations, single paceline, double paceline, double rotating paceline and echelon is a good thing for everyone.
I am still amazed at the number of people I see out riding who have their hands resting on top of the bars and not using their thumbs or fingers to provide some grasp. This is 'safe riding skill #1' and if this isn't covered in your course, find someone else to teach you the necessary skills.
When it comes to performance coaching there are several possibilities. You can coach yourself which is like a doctor treating himself/herself. To be sure, some of my friends who have been riding forever and racing at a high level do know what their body needs and a coach is probably not going to provide significant improvement. But, the overwhelming majority of riders out there will benefit from some structured form of riding. However, it is much like the old psychiatrist's adage, a patient will only change if they want to change. So, if you really want to improve and get some form of direction, you have to want to follow that direction.
Many riders, especially the more internally disciplined ones, will benefit from a written training program much like those offered by Active.com when you sign up for an event. Much like putting together a model airplane, if you can follow instructions, then this may be the ticket for you. Other riders need more interaction and for them a personal coach is a better match. Being able to discuss how you feel, how your workouts are progressing and what your goals should be on a periodic basis are some of the benefits of having a coach. I think you get the best out of a coaching relationship if you are entirely truthful about your riding and fitness. Holding anything back keeps the coach from properly doing their job and wastes your time and money.
Whatever you choose, the ultimate goal is to have fun on the bike. Please don't lose sight of that because then you are cheating yourself out of some great experiences. Cycling should be a lifelong passion.
In a surprise move the Union Cycliste International (UCI) announced today that it is disbanding. "We have no clue what we are doing," admitted president Pat McQuaid. "I can't even tie my shoes," added the Irishman. In recent years, the UCI has come under increasing pressure to fold mostly because it has lost complete control over the sport of cycling. The list of issues not being effectively addressed by McQuaid in company is staggering. The UCI has been unable to mount any significant effort to fight doping in the sport and seems more interested in fighting petty, unimportant squabbles than dealing with the issues crippling the sport.
Addressing the status of the soon-to-be-defunct Pro Tour McQuaid remarked, "OK. It really was a poorly veiled attempt to get a chunk of ASO's TV money. But, if you saw all the money those guys(ASO) were making, you'd go after it, too." Concerning the fact the winner of the Pro Tour got only a jersey and no cash for winning the season-long series McQuaid remarked, "well, if ASO had given us some of their TV money, we would have given at least 0.01% to the winner of the Pro Tour."
The much publicized battle between the UCI and ASO for control of cycling was also addressed by McQuaid. "We were so successful promoting the World Championships that we searched to find races that needed our proven skills to take them to the next level. Events such as the Tour de France and Paris-Roubiax may seem to be popular because they attract fans from across the globe and are shown on TV worldwide, but we at the UCI knew it was just smoke and mirrors. Besides they're (ASO) French."
Rider reaction was immediate. "UCI who?" remarked Juan Guitierrez. "The sponsors sign my checks so I race where they tell me," added the AG2R rider. "The one thing I liked about the UCI is that they did so little out-of-competition testing that I could enjoy my privacy with my family and never had to worry about being interrupted while playing with my kids," noted Ben Braun of team Festina.
Who will replace the UCI? Who cares? All the riders want to do is race and all the sponsors want is to see their riders racing. Whether it is the IUD, IPO or any other three letter acronym running pro cycling it will, by default, be better.It is so easy, a caveman can do it.