Now that the Olympics are over it is time to get back to talking about the best sport there is (even if the USA only won two medals) and that is cycling. It is too bad that NBC didn't figure that out, but we all know it and that is what counts. BTW, Craig Hummer, who shared the mike with Paul Sherwen at the cycling events is a pretty mean cyclist himself. Originally a swimmer and top Southern California lifeguard, Craig can definitely ride a bike.
The pro bike racing scene is still in full swing, but events like the Tour of Germany and Vuelta a Espana don't seem to evoke the same level of excitement of those early and mid-season races. Hey, Levi will be riding the Vuelta, but his teammate and Giro winner, Alberto Contador, will also be riding. Given that Contador is Spanish and the race is in Spain, look for Levi to be riding super-domestique duties unless Alberto is having a bad race. Hopefully Levi can get the OK to give it some gas in the time trials and potentially also in the high mountains.He can clearly win a stage, but will probably need team approval.
Also, the US Professional Championships (USPRO) is coming up. Just who will wear the Stars and Stripes jersey next year is anybody's guess because at this time of year form is fleeting. Maybe Christian Vandevelde will back up his fine finish in the Tour and get that Captain America jersey. Can anybody beat Dave Zabriskie in the time trial? Chris Baldwin has come very close and he needs to find a new team for 2009 so the motivation is there.
Hey, I am off to Europe to help Andy Hampsten lead a bike tour in the Italian Dolomites to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his Giro d'Italia win. Look for some sporadic blogs from the land of pasta and red wine.
The Olympics are over, long live the Olympics. Now that the Beijing (Peking for those who get confused easily) Games are over I have to say that I have two Olympic moments. The first was the USA's come-from-behind win in the men's 4x100 freestyle relay. Forget that it kept Michael Phelps drive for eight golds alive, the win typified what relays are all about, a team putting it all together and being greater than the sum of its parts. My second Olympic moment was Usain Bolt's WR in the 200m. Yeah, the boy also won the 100m in WR time, but in the 200, we got to see him run all the way to the line and actually lean at the tape. If I was a male sprinter, I would get myself a very good agent and start picking my races well. Bolt is going to be the Federer/Woods/Lance of the next generation of sprinters with everybody else racing for second place.
I thought Sanya Richard's catching the Russians to win the women's 4x400 was also exciting and coupled with the men's victory in the same event restored a bit of US pride after the debacles in the 4x100. Did you catch Jeremy Wariner's relay split at 43.2? That is how you silence the critics. Too bad he came up short in the open 400.
What happened to Bernard Legat? The double 2007 World Champion (that's just last year) got skunked and looked bad doing it. If the USA can't even draft a ringer to do well in the distance events what are we to do? USA Track and Field won only one medal from the 800m on up and that was a bronze by Shalane Flanagan in the women's 10000m. Yikes, it's tough being a USA distance runner these days regardless of your country of origin.
I still think they should toss out race walking. Either that or add a new event, the 400m run while carrying a piano on your back. Time for this sport to go, let's face it, they are all running and just hoping not to get caught before the finish line.
Oh yeah, for the ladies, I think the men in the beach volleyball event should play with their shirts off. If the women have to play in bikinis it seems only fair.
Judged sports have to go as well. Yeah, I know gymnastics and diving are graceful and all that so let's have an exhibition for those sports and forget about the medals. It's not supposed to be about the medals anyway.
And, along those lines, I think they should stop playing the national anthem of the country who wins. It is about sport, let's try to keep the nationalistic aspect out of it. Distance runner Kenny Moore once opined that everyone should compete in white t-shirts and black shorts.
One of the lowest and highest moments in the 2008 Olympics, for me, happened in the Women's 100m hurdles final. Lolo Jones was out in front and on her way to a gold medal when she struck the ninth of ten hurdles and finished out of the medals. That was the lowest point of the night, the highest point is what came next. Lolo, who admitted to NBC TV that when she took the lead she saw the gold medal around her neck, offered no excuses. She didn't use that awful line "I guess it wasn't meant to be" that we hear so often from athletes coming up short you start to wonder if they can handle defeat. No, Lolo accepted defeat with honor an class, something we can all aspire to. Hopefully Lolo will be back in 2012 and I will be rooting extra hard for her to take the gold.
I am not going to say 'I told you so', but I predicted that Usain Bolt would break Michael Johnson's 200m world record and he did just that. It was great to see him run hard all the way to the tape. Frankly, I don't understand all the hoopla over Bolt's apparent grandstanding in the 100m. He was the class, no, the super-class, of the field. All the criticism sounded like sour grapes from a bunch of people who realize that the 100m is going to be a pretty boring race for the next 8 years or so. Why don't people embrace Bolt's dominance like the do Tiger Woods? What's the difference between Tiger's fist pump and Bolt's chest thump? Give the kid a break. He is the biggest thing on the track and field scene in years and hopefully he can propel the sport out of the spectre of doping where it currently resides.
My apologies to the tiny nation of Togo. I inadvertenly reported that the nation of Tonga won the bronze in the whitewater kayaking. Sorry about that.
OK. One last question. Are you a Merritt or Wariner fan? Who's gonna win the men's 400?
As much as Michael Phelps 8 gold medals puts him in the running for the greatest Olympian ever, all the hype probably hurt him when it comes to the overall Olympic moment. On my meter, Usain Bolt jogging to a new world record in the 100m was simply indescribable. Some really big names were saying that if Bolt hadn't started celebrating in the final 20m he would have run 9.5x and I believe them. I can't even get out of bed in 9.69 and this guy is waving his arms and thumping his chest. Oh baby! Frankly, I think Michael Johnson's 19.32 200m record is in jeopardy unless Bolt, who will be about 30m in front of his nearest challenger as he nears the finish line in the 200m final starts playing the air guitar and humming Bob Marley tunes.
OK. We had to give citizenship to a Kenyan to get an Olympic contender in the men's 1500m. But, not just some Kenyan, a guy who won silver in 2004 and is the reigning World Champion. C'mon man, the USA was drafting a ringer! Then the ringer fails to make the finals in the 1500m. What happened? Is citizenship revokable? Hopefully, Lagat will redeem himself in the 5000m, but frankly he looked flat and that graceful stride and potent kick were nowhere to be seen.
I said this once an I will say it again. They should just toss out judged sports from the Olympics. We know Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt are the best because they were first across the line. Forget the doping, the judging is the biggest blight on the Olympics. It just sucks big time to see all the bad calls.
In case you were wondering, I made it back from France in one piece, but as the Olympics are full-on and I am a self-confessed Olympic junkie, look for me to be blogging on the 2008 Beijing Olympics site of Active.com and not in my usual location as an active expert. That doesn't mean I can't send out kudos to Kristin Armstrong for her gold medal ride in the Women's time trial and also to Levi Leipheimer who road a gutsy race to bring home the bronze in the men's TT. Honorable mention to Christine Thorburn who was only four seconds out of the bronze medal in the women's TT, but she had to settle for 5th. Chapeau.
Anyway, check out my Olympic blogs and chime in on your Olympic and non-Olympic moments.
You can say what you want about the hype of Lance returning to competitive cycling with his participation in the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race, but when the gun went off and rubber hit the dirt, the Texas Tornado delivered. Let's be frank and honest. He didn't just deliver, he arrived, he stomped, he kicked butt. Pick your favorite metaphor for an incredible performance and that will probably still come up short when trying to describe Lance's phenomenal ride.
What makes Lance's performance even more incredible is not that he beat long-time friend Chris Carmichael to the finish line, it is that he hasn't raced a mountain bike since three or four forays in Colorado and the East Coast way back in 1999 after he won his first Tour de France. You can have a huge engine, but there are definite technical skills needed to master to go fast on a mountain bike lest you crash or break something and either limp home or have to drop out.
Lance's engine was an unknown factor. He hasn't raced a bike at this level since the Tour de France three years ago in 2005 and his hectic schedule clearly is prohibitive of long enduro rides. He told me last year that he loves doing the six-mile loop in New York's Central Park when he is living in Gotham City, but that is a far cry from 100 technical off-road miles.
Before the event, Lance seemed to have it all in proper perspective, noting in a pre-race press conference that his goal was to finish within an hour of David Wiens. Well, not only did Lance finish within an hour of Wiens, he finished within three minutes of Wiens. It doesn't take a mathmetician to figure out that if Wiens broke the course record by over 10 minutes, Lance was also under the old course mark. Whoa!
OK. If Lance can keep it in persective, we can do the same. This was an incredible ride by an incredible athlete, but it was really just a competitive guy finding a new way to race a bike and have fun. I think that was a smile on his face at the finish line.
Lance Armstrong is, once again, racing a bike. No it's not in France it is in another garden spot, Leadville, Colorado, where the annual Leadville 100 MTB endurance race takes place this Saturday. While anytime Lance throws a leg over a bike it is interesting, what is most interesting to me is the reaction by local bike racers and fans.
Some people I have talked to about Lance and Leadville can only say negative things about the Texas Tornado citing rumours that he has hired a lot of riders to pace him on the course and also wondering why he is doing the race in the first place. OMG. I just don't understand why many people in this sport don't get the big picture and seem h3ll bent on keeping this sport in the backwater. One only has to look at the bike industry and the general popularity of the sport to realize that the post-Lance years have not been great for cycling.
Lance transcended bicycling and put our passion on the front page of every major newspaper and magazine in the US. Then there were the TV news and sports shows and that translates to a huge win for our sport. The guy was gold and we all benefited from his presence on a bike. In recent years, his absence from our ranks is noticeable and I, for one, welcome him back, Kate Hudson or no Kate Hudson.
Welcome back Lance and as I would say to anyone who is about to embark on a race, I hope you meet your goals and have fun doing it.
Pollution, heat, humidity and a difficult course all conspire to make both the men's and women's Olympic road races potential death marches of the highest order. Add to that the fact that every country is sending their best athletes to Beijing(well, duh, it is the Olympics!) and 'epic' is the only word that comes to mind to describe the events which will unfold this weekend.
On paper, the Olympic Road Race course looks pretty darn tough. The men will climb over 11,000 feet and the women will climb over 4000 feet meaning that it is highly unlikely that a sprinter will be wearing the gold medal in either event. And the teams seem to agree with only a few of the them bringing anyone with fast twitch muscle fibers.
Actually, the course is split up into two distinct parts. The first section, which both the men and women will ride, is about 55 miles of mostly flat riding, designed by the Chinese to showcase some of their national treasures such as the Great Wall. The second part of the course is a 15-mile loop which contains about 1500' of climbing most if it coming in a 6-mile, 1250-foot climb. Following the ascent is quick down and up and then a long, gradual 8-mile descent back to the finish line. The men will complete seven laps for a total of 150 miles; the women will do two laps on the circuit for a total of 75 miles.
The US Men's team is headed by now 5-time Olympian George Hincapie who is joined by Levi Leipheimer, Christian Vande Velde, Dave Zabriskie and Jason McCartney. George, Levi and Christian will be the designated leaders with Zabriskie and McCartney riding in a supporting role. The US Women's team includes two-time Olympians Kristin Armstrong and Dr. Christine Thorburn who will be joined by first-timer Amber Neben.
Both squads are definitely medal-capable especially if they ride as a team. It is difficult to put personal ambitions aside especially since the difficulty of the course will clearly make this a race of attrition. But, teamwork will be key especially if the heat and humidity are oppressive and the designated leaders need a lot of water to stay fresh.
In the men's race, Spain looks to be the biggest threat. They are sending a hugely-talented squad which includes Alejandro Valverde who just won the Classic San Sebastian, Tour winner Carlos Sastre, Giro winner Alberto Contador, Tour green jersey winner Oscar Friere and Sammy Sanchez. Italy always seems to ride well in big races and they can't be counted out especially with defending Olympic Champion Paolo Bettini and one-day specialist extraordinaire Davide Rebellin. The tiny country of Luxembourg looks very good with the Schleck brothers and Kim Kirchen all who rode well in the mountains of the recent Tour.
In the women's race, Germany is always powerful with defending Olympic Champion Judith Arndt and Ina Teutenberg. Holland with Marianne Vos brings a strong team as well as the Swiss and Great Britian.
The men's race is Saturday, August 9th the women's race is the next day on the 10th. Look for both competitions to be action-packed once the races hit the finishing circuits. The pollution coupled with the heat and humidity will make it prohibitive to attack before that.
The Tour de France is history, but one potential cure for PTD is the upcoming Beijng Olympics. Well, that is debatable if you have to watch the games on American network TV. My guess is that for every hour of TV time there is about 15 minutes of actual competition the rest being taken up by "Up Close and Personal" segments on the athletes, personal commentary segments by TV presonalities who have never been an athlete and have no real connection to the competition side of the Olympics (where did they find Jimmy Roberts?) and inane drivel by talking head anchors who feel the need to explain everything to the viewers in agonizing detail. Yeah, let's face it, watching the Olympics on US TV sucks!
Lucky for us American's we have veteran cycling commentators Paul Sherwen and Craig Hummer to call the road and time trial events. Let's just hope the big wigs at NBC decide we Americans want to watch cycling if Lance isn't in the picture. Also, good news is that the US Men's and Women's teams are very "medal capable" with riders like Kristin Armstrong and Christine Thorburn good chances for hardware in the Women's time trial and Dave Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer ditto in the men's TT. With only three women and five men for each nation on the road race team it is really hard for a team to control a race which means that the races are usually wide open and it usually results in strategies and tactics being thrown out the window and whomever is the strongest in the closing laps has the best chance to win.
Amber Neben will join Armstrong and Thorburn for the Women's Road Race while George Hincapie, Christian Vandevelde and Jason McCartney round out the men's road team. All in all, both squads are oozing talent and defintely have the chance to suprass the three medal tally (gold,silver and bronze) of the American team in Athens.
So, either follow the Games on the Internet or get a lobotomy so you can tolerate NBC's coverage, but however you do it, do watch the Olympics. They only come once every four years and the competition will be intense.