It's a new year and that means that the start to the pro cycling season is just around the corner. There is a greater buzz in 2009 than in the past few years because Lance Armstrong will be back in the saddle again. No, that's not a bad country western (is it country western or country and western) lyric? The Lanceman is hitting the road and we are all coming along for the ride. But, before you get all huffy about the apparent Lance overload in the press, this blog isn't about Lance.
Back in the day, the pros started the season in very early February. A number of races have held the honor of ushering in the new year. The Tour of the Etruscan Coast held just down the street from Paolo Bettini's place in Tuscany was a great way to kick off the season. The Etoille de Besseges in France and the Ruta del Sol (AKA Tour of Andalucia) were also in the mix.
But, recently a number of events in other continents have forced the pros to log some major miles before Christmas. The Tour Down Under in Australia and the Tour of Qatar, in Asia(well the Middle East), run by ASO, the company which owns the Tour de France are becoming very popular with the pro teams.
If you are a top flight professional team like the boys at Garmin-Slipstream, just when you want to have your whole squad together for a pre-season camp, everybody seems to be heading more than a handful of time zones east and west. This year the Garmin-Slipstream boys have obtained(how about 'earned') a ProTour license which means they will have to be at the Tour Down Under in Oz as that is the first event of the ProTour calendar.
Because the Tour of Qatar is owned by our friends at ASO, even though the Garmin-Slipstream team is guaranteed a start in the Tour de France because of an agreement signed by the UCI, which owns the ProTour, and the three grand tour organizers(Giro, Tour, Vuelta) there are a lot of other ASO-owned races like Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Criterium International that the Garmin squad would like to be present at the start line.
So, when the Garmin-Slipstream team heads to Silver City, New Mexico later this month, only 12-14 of the team's 25+ riders will be there for the pre-season camp.That's just the way things work these days. The world has gotten a lot smaller when it comes to professional cycling.