The Giro heads into an extremely exciting final weekend in which the top three riders are separated by only 21 seconds. Saturday the race climbs the grueling Passo Gavia and the fearsome Passo Mortirolo and the final day features a 17-mile individual time trial. You have to go back 20 years to find a Giro which included both the Gavia Pass and a final stage time trial and guess what, an American won the whole enchilada!
Andy Hampsten's historic victory is most remembered for the stage which has become know as "The Day Strong Men Cried". It was on the slopes of the Gavia Pass, in the midst of a horrific blizzard, that Hampsten showed us the character of a true champion. While almost every other rider in the race was thinking only of survival, Andy rode away from his competitors and into the teeth of a snowstorm that turned the 8600' pass into a chaotic mess.
Conditions were so bad that most riders stopped on top and hopped into their team cars to warm up. But not Hampsten. He knew that the real race was going to be on the descent where the loss of the body heat he was generating going up the 4500' climb was going to end and the shivering would begin. There were no follow vehicles, no race radios, Andy headed down into the 5500' descent all by himself. There would be no help of any kind for him on the way down, he was literally on his own.
This blog isn't long enough to describe the tortuous ordeal in the detail it so rightly deserves, suffice it to say that Andy persevered and took the maglia rosa, the pink jersey signifying the race leader, at the finish. And just to prove that he deserved to be in pink, he and his Team 7-Eleven defended the jersey in the final week which included three mountain stages, a mountain time trial and a final stage time trial near Venice.
If the current media coverage, Versus TV, cycling.tv, the Internet, etc. had been around 20 years ago Andy would be a huge hero in the States. It was an epic win in epic conditions. But, the mild-mannered Hampsten would probably not have wanted all that public attention. He just likes living in Boulder, riding his bike and hanging with his daughter, Emma, girlfriend, Elaine, and his buds.
A few weeks ago I reported about what I felt was an unusually high number of serious crashes in the both the European and domestic pro pelotons. I have been in touch with a number of the crashees and just wanted to pass along some info on what some of the riders are up to.
Jelly Belly's Bernard Van Ulden, who broke his collarbone on stage 6 of the Tour of California(ToC) is back on the bike and recently placed third overall at the prestigious Joe Martin stage race in Arkansas.
Vladimir Gusev of Team Astana who also crashed on stage 6 of the ToC is currently racing the Giro d'Italia where he is riding in support of race leader Alberto Contador and is in 51st place overall.
Bissel Professional Cycling Team rider Tom Zirbel who went down on the final stage of the Tour of Gila while wearing the race leader's jersey is back on the bike and is scheduled to return to the fight at the Nature Valley Grand Prix in mid-June.
Tim Duggan of Slipstream/Chipotle crashed hard in stage 3 of the Tour of Georgia and suffered a serious head injury. Unfortunately, while Tim is on the road to recovery he will most likely miss the rest of the season to allow his head injuries to fully heal.
Dave Zabriskie who, after helping his Slipstream/Chipotle teammate Christian Vandevelde take the pink jersey by providing horsepower in the opening team time trial, crashed out on stage 2 and broke his L1 vertebrae. Dave is back in the states recuperating, but his participation in both the Tour de France and Beijing Olympics is in uncertain. On the bright side his wife, Randi, is about to give birth to the couple's first child so if Dave is sidelined he will be able to be present at a very important time in his family's life.
Brad McGee of Team CSC is back home in Monaco after crashing out of the Giro on stage 3 and breaking his collarbone. Brad had an operation to fix the break and is back training on the bike. The multiple Olympic medalist is still on track, so to speak, to represent Australia in the pursuit and team pursuit in Beijing.
Unfortunately, Fausto Munoz, the Mexican Team Tecos rider who was paralyzed from the waist down after crashing in the final stage of the Tour of Gila will most likely not recover. Props to the Toyota United Team for donating their prize money to help pay Munoz's hospital bills. Also, props to Beverly Harper of the Webcor Builder's womens team for donating her prize money and all the other riders who did the same.
Here's a get well soon to all those who have gone down.
The first three mountain stages of the 2008 Giro d'Italia are in the record books and, not surprisingly, the overall results have been dramatically shuffled. At the top of the heap is 2007 Tour de France champion Alberto Contador who had ridden consistently, but not brilliantly, in the Dolomites to eek out a slim lead over Riccardo The Cobra Ricco, two-time Giro winner Gilberto Simoni and last year's champion Danilo The Killer Di Luca.
Before Contador supporters start filling my mail box, let me explain that I think Alberto rode very intelligently in the Dolomites. Climbing form is about as elusive as finding a normal person on the Maury Povich Show and it must be remembered that Astana was invited to the Giro at the last minute. In Contador's case, he was on a beach in Spain taking a well-deserved break from racing. I was probably riding more hills than Alberto and if the 2007 Tour champion realized that, it is even more reason for him to be cautious when the roads went uphill.
As we all know, you can't fake your climbing form. On the flats, you can sit in and still look strong. If you have a sprint, you might even be able to win a few races. But, when it comes to going uphill, the laws of gravity are always strictly enforced. There is no place to hide. Astana teammate Chris Horner, who was riding the Tour of Catalonia and not at the Giro, has always said that in a three week race you have to race smart and that is exactly what Contador has done so far.
Would we like to have seen the punishing attacks Alberto unleashed in the Pyrenees last July. Absolutely! Those accelerations were the high point of the race and showed the mettle of the a true champion. But, until Contador feels completely confident in his climbing form, look for a more tactical, and close(!), battle to take place in the Italian Alps. There are several more hard stages including the 20th anniversary of American Andy Hampsten's ascent of the Passo Gavia (hopefully there will be no blizzard) and the fearsome Mortirolo. The Giro is far from over. With three Italians breathing down his neck, Contador better get some confidence or start working on his poker face.
ps - Levi Leipheimer is struggling a bit at the Giro. Unlike Contador he has not found his climbing legs most likely a result of the last minute invitation to the Giro. Levi is in the perfect position to shoot for a stage win, but because the battle for the overall with Contador is so close, Leipheimer will be riding in support of Alberto and not get that chance. Hang in there!
pps - Alberto Contador was riding 30x34 gearing on the Plan de Corones climb; the last 3 miles are dirt with sections up to 24%.
Bike/Car accidents are no fun, especially for the cyclist! Clearly, when 3000lbs of metal meet 20lbs of bike the outcome is not in doubt. It is not a question of 'if', it is a matter of 'how much'. I hope that you never have to experience a bike/car collision, but a lot of us have and it sucks.
There are a lot of schools of thought as to how to ride in traffic. There are some who believe that the best defense is a good offense. They make sure that cars have to deal with them on the road and they exercise all their rights, sometime in a very strident manner. Others believe that the best defense is defense and they attempt to avoid vehicular confrontations at all costs, riding as far to the right as possible, yielding the right-of-way even when they are legally entitled to it. They ride in bike lanes whenever possible and basically try to blend in.
I don't subscribe to either of these schools. I try to adopt a middle-of-the-road (no pun intended) attitude. I attempt to stay out of drivers' ways as much as possible, but in the few situations where I feel like I need to be out in traffic to be safe, I get out with the cars and let them know I am there.
But, most importantly, I try to anticipate dangerous situations. My buddy Lindsay, a former 747 pilot, calls it 'situational awareness.' It basically means that you, as a cyclist, should take the responsibility to stay concentrated when you are riding in traffic and be able to anticipate when a potentially dangerous situation might arise.
As an example, a local racer recently T-boned a car turning right. To be sure, the car should have checked to see if a rider was coming along on the right, but this racer was going 35-mph into the intersection in the middle of rush hour traffic. Riding during rush hour and approaching a confusing intersection demands the use of situational awareness. Yes, it is a downhill run and you can crank it up to a pretty high speed, but what's the downside if one of those ten cars in front of you suddenly decides to turn right. And with ten cars in the right hand lane, there is a good probability that one of them might be turning.
We as cyclists have legal rights to the use of our roads. The way we choose to exercise those rights has a direct effect on our personal health. Ride safe, ride smart and be careful out there. And try to use 'situational awareness.' It might literally save your life.
It seems to me that this year, in both the domestic and the European pro pelotons there have been more serious crashes than in years past. It just might be that the crashes are happening to high profile riders or guys and gals I know, but you name an important race on the pro calendar and this year, there was probably a serious crash.
By serious, I mean broken bones. To be sure, when you have 150+ riders on small roads somebody or a few somebody's will go down. However, they usually get up and finish the race albeit with some nasty road rash. What I am talking about is a big tumble where racer separates from machine and the only way the rider is going anywhere is in an ambulance.
For me, it all started in the Tour of California when Astana's Vladamir Gusev and one of my buddies, Jelly Belly's Bernard Van Ulden both went down on stage six. Gusev and Van Ulden broke their collarbones. Then there was Saunier Duval's Angel Gomez's altercation with a traffic island in the Tour of Flanders(AKA De Ronde). At the Tour de Georgia, three riders went down with Slipstream/Chipotle rider Tim Duggan carted off to the hospital with major head trauma.
At this year's Tour of Gila, the hero of the Tour of California's stage 7, Bissel rider Tom Zirbel went down hard on the final stage while wearing the leader's jersey and he, too, finished the race in the an ambulance. But, the worst crash at Gila involved Mexican rider Fausto Munoz who is now paralyzed from the waist down. In a great show of sportsmanship, Team Toyota United donated all the prize money they won at Gila to Munoz to aid his rehabilitation. Bravo!
That brings us to the Giro d'Italia where crashes to Dave Zabriskie (broken vertebrae), Stuart O'Grady(collarbone) and Brad McGee(collarbone) marred the initial stages. A couple of days ago, 2007 Tour de France winner hit the pavement for about the 5th time during the race, this time he fractured his elbow. On the women's professional side of things, Katheryn Mattis has broken her collarbone twice this season, once in Australia and just recently in Belgium. Ouch!
Obviously, crashing is a downer. However, the silver lining is that these pros are passionate about their craft and dedicated to the sport and they usually come back better than ever after a crash. It is sad to see Fausto Munoz as a paraplegic, but the cycling community showed its character by rallying behind the rider. Here's hoping that things settle down some. Knock on wood.
Just when you didn't think it was going to happen, the elastic broke today at the Giro d'Italia. For the previous four days, when it looked like a breakaway might actually win the stage, the peloton came storming in to snatch the glory and cast the escapees back into obscurity. While everyone likes a field sprint and watching the likes of Cavendish and Bennati duking it out at 40+mph is thrilling, it is nice to see the boys who did the hard work all day long reap some rewards.
However, on Thursday's 140-mile stage the 'no-hopers' finally got their day in the sun(literally). Not only did 11 riders escape the pack, but in the end, their margin of over eleven minutes is a clear sign that the fight was not in the peloton. In some ways this is a bit surprising since this was supposed to be a 160-mile stage, but the riders mounted a protest and the organizers shortened the stage by 18 miles. It has been a tough Giro for the teams. The riders have been subject to over 300 miles of stage transfers, this occurs when the start for the following day's stage is in a different location from the previous days' stage finish.
In one very unfortunate incident, the day the teams transferred, by ferry, from the island of Sicily to mainland Italy, there was a four hour wait to catch the ferry. Usually, in these types of circumstances, the race organizers rent their own ferry so the transfer can be accomplished quickly. Inexplicably, this year,the teams had to wait their turn to take the public ferry and by the time most of the them reached their hotels it was almost midnight. Such a late hour of arrival makes it very difficult to get a meal and the critical post-stage massage and still get enough sleep for the next day.
So, the riders protested and fortunately, the organizers listened and agrees to make things a bit easier for the teams. After all, this is a three-week race and any extra effort now will have to be accounted for later on in the event. Personally, I want to see great racing and sometimes that means that the breakaway succeeds. However, the competition and the course should provide the difficulties, not the logistics of getting to and from the stage starts and finishes.
The contents of a cyclists seat bag can, literally, mean the difference between a great ride and one that you would soon forget. Sure, we all would like to have every ride be trouble free, but let's face facts. Stuff happens when you are on the bike and if Murphy is along for the ride, it seems like things head south at the worst possible time.
Well, first things first. You need to have a good pump. Not CO2 cartridges, a good pump. CO2 is fast and easy, but if you somehow screw it up or your spare tube has a leak or you get multiple flats you may be walking. So get a good pump and know how to use it. OK. If you really want to use CO2, fine. But, bring a pump along just in case the CO2 fails. It will, trust me.
Inside your seat pack you should have at least the following essentials. Two, or even better, three tire levers for prying off the tube. Tire levers seems to break when least expected so make sure you have at least two. A spare tube is critical. Wrap it in plastic or keep it in the cardboard box to protect it from getting punctured in your seat bag. If you ride in areas that are known to be flat-prone either carry a second tube or better yet, a patch kit. If your patch kit uses glue, make sure the glue has not dried out. I carry both glue and glueless patches just in case.
One last essential is some form of tire boot. If your tire gets a cut that would allow the tube to poke through, you need to put something inside the tire to prevent that. I use Tyvek, the strong, paper-like fabric which is used by Fed Ex and the USPS for their mail envelopes. In an emergency, a dollar bill or energy bar wrapper will suffice.
Some non-essential, but very handy items include a spoke wrench which can come in very handy if a spoke lets go. Of course, that means you have to know how to use it. It's pretty simple. Loosen the two spokes on the opposite side of the rim which are on either side of the broken one. Use small turns until the wheel clears the brakes. A small screw driver is handy for making on-the-road derailuer adjustments.
A set of allen wrenches, 3mm-6mm, are handy for adjusting seat height, stem, and other allen key fittings on your bike. Also, a chain tool is useful if you are the type who seems to break things. I carry a $20 bill and a credit card in my seat pack. Money can't buy everything, but in a really tough jam it just might help.
Obviously, your mileage may vary(YMMV), but there's a good start. Enjoy the bike, but if Murphy shows up for the ride. Watch out!
Things could not have started any better for the Slipstream/Chipotle team at the Giro d'Italia when they won the opening 23km team time trial to put Christian Vandevelde into the maglia rosa, the pink leader's jersey. It was a stunning effort made all the more exceptional by the fact that they bested every Pro Tour team, most with budgets two to three times that of the upstart American squad.
To be sure, Slipstream targeted this stage from the outset and well they should. With ace time trialists in Dave Zabriskie, David Millar and Christian Vandevelde you play to your strengths. Ryder Hesjedal and Magnus Backstedt can also turn the cranks pretty well which is critical since it is a team time trial. Acknowledging that Vandevelde was the strongest rider on the squad that day, the team elected to have him cross the finish line first. When their time edged the powerful CSC formation by six seconds and High Road Sports finished a further one second back, the celebrations began.
It has been 20 years since an American wore the pink jersey in the Giro. In 1988, Andy Hampsten became the first, and still only, US rider to win Italy's national race. Christian was quick to point out that he isn't aiming to follow in Hapmsten's footsteps, but Slipstream has a number of cards to play with sprinters Julian Dean and Chris Sutton and opportunists like Backstedt, Vandevelde and Millar all going for stage wins.
Unfortunately, a crash on some railroad tracks on stage 2 took out the teams' best time trialist, Dave Zabriskie. With a fractured L1 vertebrae, he is headed home, but he was instrumental in winning the team time trial so it is a bittersweet moment. Can the "Argyle Armada" bring home some more glory? They are off to a great start and a positive attitude is a huge factor in a three-week race. Bravo!
The season's first grand tour, the Giro d'Italia, kicks off on Saturday and though it looks to be a decidedly Italian affair, the last minute inclusion of Team Astana has turned the race inside out. Well, sort of. While Astana's roster includes, arguably, the three best grand tour riders, Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloden, only Kloden appears to be in shape to contest a major stage race.
OK. Can Levi and Alberto come off the couch and ride circles around yours truly? Do you even need to ask? But, dropping Bruce like a bad smell is different than keeping it all together in a three week race. One look at the race map should strike fear into anyone with a heartbeat and knowledge of the route.
The Passo Manghen on Stage 14 is pretty darn hard and the finish of that stage on the Alpe di Pampeago is humongous. The next day is brutal with the Passo Giau at 6mi of 10% and then the finish on the Marmolada(Passo Fedia) which is probably the hardest climb in the Dolomites, the last 3km averaging 15% or so. But, wait, there's more. The next day is an individual time trial which finishes at the Plan de Corones with sections up to 25% in the last 4 miles. Ouch!
Hey, but the hardest stage on paper may be Stage 20 five days later which includes the Passo Gavia and its ramps up to 16% and then the fearsome Passo del Mortirolo which is probably the second or third hardest pass in any grand tour. The 8-mile climb averages 11% and it is just a never ending climb of pain and suffering. Anyone who is hoping to do well in the race and has questionable fitness is going to have nowhere to hide.
With Astana's snub from the Tour I am hoping that the boys in blue lay down some serious smack and show why they deserve to be in France come July. Given their current lack of race conditioning it might be a tall order, but don't count out Alberto and Levi.
ps - rumour has it that there will be a stage start or finish in the central valley town of Visalia in the 2009 (insert you favorite sponsor here) Tour of California. That may mean a mountain stage up into Sequoia National Park where 6-7000' climbs exist. Hmmm.
Some of us started out as cyclists, but many of us came from other sports. For me, it was running, the two-legged variety (is there any other kind?). While I don't run much anymore I still enjoy a good track meet. Luckily, for me, there is a great track meet, the Payton Jordan Invitational, just down the road in Palo Alto every spring. What elevates this meet from great to almost legendary is that it specializes in producing really fast distance races. Hey, nothing against sprinters and the field event types, but it seems like the distance runners never get any of the glamour, maybe it is tough to get excited about somebody after you have seen them for 24 straight laps. Where's the newness?
But, that's exactly what happens every spring at Stanford. The best distance runners in the collegiate and open ranks converge on Palo Alto and light it up. Just about every race from the 1500m to the 10000m generates some sort of "best" from American records to collegiate records to world, American, collegiate and even high school season bests. And in an Olympic year, when many athletes are trying to meet the Olympic qualifying standards the races are that much more exciting.
The 2008 performances were nothing short of spectacular. Season best times in the Women's 3000m steeplechase started it all off. We saw sub 4-minute mile equivalents in both the top sections of the men's 1500m(3:39/3:40). Then there was the season's leading collegiate time in the Women's 1500m(4:07) and finishing in 10th place was high school junior Jordan Hasay(!) whose 4:17 was the best time in the US for a high schooler. 2007 dual World Champion Bernard Legat won the 5000m in a very fast 13:18, but right behind was University of Colorado's Brett Vaughn with a breakthrough effort that set the season's leading collegiate time and heralded the arrival of another US distance star.
The event of the evening was the Women's 10000m where current US record holder in the 5000m (14:44) Shalane Flanagan had announced before the race that she would attempt to break Deanna Kastor's mark of 30:52. With the help of a pace setter through the first 5000m Shalane and New Zealander Kim Smith set the stage for a second half duel that had the crowd on its feet. With nearly identical splits (15:17/15:17) Flanagan broke the record by more than 18 seconds and with Kim Smith just a second back, New Zealand had a new national record as well. In fact, Smith lowered her PR by almost 45 seconds. Yeah, the Payton Jordan Invitational is great, almost legendary.
In my last blog I talked about what it takes to do a 24 Hour mountain bike race.I received several great comments with lots of useful advice. Thanks! What makes a 24 Hour race so special are the stories of the experiences you have out there pushing your bike and body to limits you never thought you were possible. Here is a story from my first 24 Hour race.
I had never ridden my mountain bike at night so my first 'night lap' was going to be a completely new experience. When I rolled out of the start/finish area I knew nothing about battery conservation so I had both my 12W and 20W halogen bulbs burning. I looked like a super nova blazing down the trail. I am almost certain I could be seen from the space shuttle in earth orbit. It never occurred to me that my battery would not last the entire 55-minute lap. Hey these things are supposed to be high-tec. Right?
Well, half way through the lap, the laws of physics caught up with me and my lights died just as I exited the last technical section and started up the long fire road climb back to the start/finish. There was just enough ambient light for me to see the road and I limped into the exchange area feeling pretty stupid. That's not much of a story, but wait, there's more.
When I headed out on my second night lap, I was in full conservation mode and rode with only my 12W bulb. The problem was that my light seemed to keep moving up off the trail. I kept pounding on the mounting bracket trying to get the light to point down on the trail when I realized it was my handlebars that were rotating and not the light mounting bracket. Well, who wouldn't immediately realize that at 3am in the morning?
To make matters worse, even with only the 12W bulb, my battery ran out again, this time in the middle of the most technical section and not just after it. In the dark I struggled with the single track, got back on the fire road and thought I had it made when, just before the finish, a huge metal pole jumped right out in front of me. I narrowly avoided it and brought in another lap for the team. I was one happy camper when the sun came up.
Do you all have a favorite 24 Hour race story or two? Let's here them.