One of the unfortunate side affects of the economic downturn is that burglary is on the rise. Dave Zabriskie returned from his excellent second place from the Amgen Tour of California(AToC) to find his home in Salt Lake City cleaned out. A week before the start of the AToC, three-time Canadian Olympian and now Team Bissel director, Eric Wohlberg, returned from racing in Argentina to find his place had been broken into. This past Thursday, top Master's rider, Billy Innes, had his two team bikes and several wheelsets taken out of his garage.
Let's face it. Any burglary is bad. But, when it involves cyclists and their bikes it really hits home. I guess it is just a sad fact of these times that we need to be extra-diligent and supremely vigilant in protecting our own valuables, but also watch out for others valuables as well. When one of our friends gets ripped off, we need to keep our eyes peeled for any bikes or parts for sale, especially on the Internet, that seem suspicious.
There are a few silver linings here. The guys who burglarized Eric Wohlberg's place got caught breaking into another house the next night. Salt Lake City Police have arrested two suspects in the Zabriskie robbery and Dave and his wife Randi have gotten some of their stuff back.
Unfortunately, Billy's two 2009 team Specialized S-Works SL2's w/Sram Red components and several wheelsets(Zipp 404's, Zipp 900 and Zip 808) have still not been recovered.
Again, there are several things we can all do to keep burglaries to a minimum. Keep your houses, garages, cars, etc. locked at all times. Use your home burglary alarms. Keep your eye out for suspicious items for sale in-town and on the Internet. Also, keep your eye out for suspicious behavior such as a 6-foot man riding a 50cm bike.
It's tough out there and it is not clear when it will be getting better anytime soon. Be careful out there and keep your eyes peeled.
NBC Today Show anchor Matt Lauer joined the ranks of cycling's walking wounded when he crashed his bike last weekend while riding on Long Island. Unlike Lance Armstrong, who was taken down in a mass pile-up of racers, Lauer was forced to brake hard and slid out when a deer jumped into his path. Coincidentally, Lauer fell on his shoulder and now looks to be headed for surgery as well. And, like Lance, Matt is hoping to be back and doing his job within days of the operation.
So, what's up when a couple of America's most famous cyclists go down and end up in the hospital? These guys are cycling's ambassadors; they are the ones who represent biking to the general public. Do their recent accidents give the perception that cycling is dangerous? USA Today ran an op-ed piece commending both Armstrong and Lauer for wearing helmets strongly suggesting that all cyclists follow suit. Recommending that bicyclist wear helmets is a good thing; making it seem that cycling is a dangerous activity is not.
It's double edge sword. Riding a bicycle is a totally healthy activity, but sometimes, people do get hurt. Sometimes it is the rider's fault other times as in the case with Armstrong and Lauer there were circumstances beyond their control. When you are in a hospital bed or on the operating table, it probably doesn't much matter how you got there (unless you don't have medical insurance).
It seems that with motorcycle riders crashing isn't a question of "if", it is more of a question of "when". Hopefully, that doesn't become the perception for cycling. OK, I am rambling a bit, the point being that even though Lance and Matt have an arm in a sling people shouldn't give up on cycling as a healthy and enjoyable activity. Pretty soon, both will be back on their bike. How about you?
Lance Armstrong was caught up in a late stage crash on the first day of the Vuelta Castilla Y Leon and suffered a broken collarbone. Lance returned to his home in Austin, Texas on Tuesday and is scheduled for surgery on Wednesday morning. This is definitely a blow to Armstrong's comeback. With many questions yet to be answered, just how big a blow has yet to be seen.
It is not clear exactly what will be done during the surgery, the expectation is that a plate will be attached to the collarbone to span the break and help speed up the recovery time. What is also not clear is the extent of the break. A CT scan was performed on Tuesday evening to determine the exact details of the break. Once the surgery is performed, Lance is going to need some down time to allow the break to start to heal.
A broken collarbone is one of the most common injuries in cycling and is really the first major injury from a crash that he has suffered since he started racking up his seven Tour de France wins. Racers have returned to competition within three to four weeks after breaking their collarbone, but laws of average don't necessarily apply in medical cases.
The effect on Lance's comeback is not really known at this time and may not be known for several weeks. Clearly, since the Giro d'Italia starts in just five weeks, Lance's quest for an overall title there is probably in jeopardy. In fact, his participation in the event may also be in question. The Giro seems to be a much more crash-prone event due in part to the fact that many of it's stage finishes include multiple circuits around the finish town on roads that vary dramatically in width.
If Lance doesn't ride the Giro, he is going to need to find some other races to sharpen his skills if he wants to contend for another Tour de France title. Whatever happens, don't count out the Texan. While circumstances may completely scuttle his comeback, if he can recover quickly and get back his motivation, there is no reason to doubt that he will be ready to rage in July.
ps - Levi Leipheimer demonstrated how quickly he recovered from his hip fracture at the Amgen Tour of California to win the much-anticipated time trial at the Vuelta Castilla Y Leon besting Astana teammate Alberto Contador by 16 seconds over the 15-mile course. Garmin-Slipstream's Dave Zabriskie recovered from his home burglary to take take third just 22 seconds behind Leipheimer.
The two greatest stage racers of the modern era are set to race, head-to-head, at Spain's Vuelta a Castilla Y Leon which starts on Monday. Ordinarily this situation would make for some very interesting racing. What makes this even more interesting is that both racers are on the same team. Yup, you guessed it, Big Tex and the Pistolero from Pinto are set to race side-by-side, well at least on the flats, in Spain.
Can it get even better? Of course it can. Cycling has had its share of drama over the past few years because of doping problems, but recently, the Lance and Alberto show has taken center stage. As you might remember, Alberto was all set to win Paris-Nice a week ago, but pulled a total rookie move by not eating enough food and bonking on a tough climbing stage. Lance didn't let that faux pas go, commenting to the media that Contador still had a lot to learn.
Public sparring between two riders on the same team is pretty unusual. I would have to say that Lance probably should have relayed his comments to his teammate privately, but in this era of Twitter and Facebook is anything safe from the public eye? Clearly, if both Armstrong and Contador are in top form at the Tour it is going to be a rough ride, but why create a bumpy road before you have to?
Some have commented that the reason Astana lost both Paris-Nice and the other big stage race at that time, Tirreno-Adriatico, was because of poor teamwork. That will definitely not be the case at Vuelta Castilla y Leon. Lance and Alberto will have Levi Leipheimer, Haimar Zubeldia (both top-5 finishers in the Tour de France) along with stalwarts Chechu Rubiera, Benjamin Noval, Thomas Waitkus and Jesus "Baby Jesus" Hernandez. This team could contend for a Tour title, it is that strong.
The Vuelta Castilla y Leon looks to be a good test for both Lance and Alberto. There is a 28km TT, similar in length to the Solvang TT at the Amgen Tour of California, plus two mountain-top finishes. This is exactly the kind of riding Big Tex needs to be doing to keep his comeback on track, the only question being is how he will ride given that the race is in Spain and Contador is Spanish and he is also the defending champion.
The five-stage race is laid out perfectly for maximum drama. Stage 2 is the time trial with Stage 3 and 4 being mountain-top finishes. Contador is on super TT form as of late, but if Armstrong uncorks a ripping ride, he could put the pressure on the team to ride for both potential team leaders. My guess is that Lance is still a tick or two behind Contador against the watch and in the mountains so we should see more gun slinging than fist pumps at the finish line.
Besides Team Astana, there are a number of other riders and teams of interest. Rock Racing and Garmin-Slipstream up the American factor and Fuji-Servetto finally got invited to a big race. Throw in Alejandro Valverde and Denis Menchov and this could be a lot of fun to watch.
The biggest one-day race in Italy, Milan-San Remo, will take place on Saturday and a stellar field is expected to make the event unforgettable. Not only is Lance Armstrong going to ride the 190-miles from Italy's second largest city to the Italian Riviera, Mark Cavendish and Tom Boonen look to continue their sprinting duel on San Remo's Via Roma.
Of course, everyone was expecting a sprint finish last year when Swiss ace Fabian Cancellara gave everyone the slip after the descent of the Poggio, the race's final climb. It was the stuff of legends, unfortunately Spartacus is still recovering from a training crash and will not defend his win.
The big question is whether uber-sprinter Mark Cavendish of Columbia-High Road will get himself over the four major climbs which define the race. The biggest, the Turchino Pass, comes at mid-distance which will allow the Manx-man to get back on. It is more a question of the Cipressa (pronounced Chipressa), the penultimate ascent, and the Poggio (pronounced POcho) which comes within five miles of the finish line.
It is going to take a lot of teamwork for Cavendish to make it over the "capos" or "climbs", look for his faithful ally, Michael Barry, to be handling the babysitting duties up and over the Poggio with George Hincapie and Mark Renshaw as the key players in the Columbia-High Road leadout train.
On the other hand, Tom Boonen has proven that he can get to the Via Roma with the bunch, but he has been outfoxed in the finale and is definitely looking to the 2009 edition of MSR to set matters right.
Look for Lance Armstrong to use this race to gain some more "conditioning" working on being comfortable in a big pack at high speeds for seven hours plus. It would be a fairytale ending if Big Tex could pull off the win, but even Lance will tell you that unless the perfect opportunity arises, he is still in the training phase of his comeback. That's just the reality of the situation.
Unfortunately for us US cycling fans, the Versus TV network will not be carrying the race. It was great last year to see Garmin-Slipstream's Will Frischkorn off the front for almost the entire race in a three-rider break not to mention Cancellara's surprising upset win. Check for streaming video options on the internet. You won't be disappointed.
Amaury Sports Organization(ASO), the group which owns and runs the Tour de France announced 20 of the teams participating in the 2009 edition of the race. The biggest news is, as expected, Team Astana, the squad that includes four riders who have been on the podium at the Tour, is back after a much-publicized one-year absence. That means that Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloden will most likely be toeing the starting line when the race commences in Monaco (that's not France) in about four months.
The other big news, which was also kind of expected, is that the Fuji-Servetto team was not invited. Fuji-Servetto was the only Pro Tour team left off the start list, supposedly, the UCI had signed an agreement with ASO that all Pro Tour teams would get starting slots. However, you might remember that last year, Fuji-Servetto was named Saunier-Duval when they left their mark on the 2008 Tour. They won three stages with Ricardo Ricco(2) and Leonardo Piepoli only to have everything come crashing down when it was revealed that Ricco had tested positive for CERA, a new slow-release version of the blood-cell-boosting EPO. Piepoli later admitted that he used CERA as well.
After the revelation, Saunier-Duval supposedly left on its own accord, but all information point to ASO giving them the boot. Fuji-Servetto has been denied starting slots in a number of races so far this season. The UCI needs to send a very clear message, instead of the muddy one they are dishing out now. If there are big questions surrounding Fuji-Servetto then the UCI should not have issued them a Pro Tour license. Now that the UCI has issued them a license, they need to show some solidarity and stand behind all the Pro Tour teams. Not good.
The good news for Americans besides, Lance, Levi and Chris being back in the Tour is that both American Pro Tour team Garmin-Slipstream and Columbia-High Road are both in the big show. The other Pro Tour teams include Milram, Quick Step, Silence-Lotto, Saxo Bank, Caisse d'Epargne, Euskaltel-Euskadi, AG2R La Mondiale, Bbox Bouygues Telecom, Cofidis, Française des Jeux, Lampre-NGC, Liquigas, Rabobank and Katusha.
The three wild-card teams are Cervelo Test Team, the squad of defending Tour champion Carlos Sastre; Agritubel which rode very aggressively in last year's Tour and Skil-Shimano a mostly Benelux squad whose roster doesn't include any big names.
While the Omloop Het Nieswauld marks the beginning of the European professional classic season, the 8-day Paris-Nice(PN) event signals the beginning of the stage racing season. PN goes from, well, Paris to Nice and is the first big goal for all the Pro Tour teams. Not only are the stage race riders looking to show well, but because PN offers racing for all types of riders, just about everyone is hoping that they can prove something to their team directors and sponsors.
The format gives the first few days to the sprinters on flat roads, then gives the less vertically-challenged opportunists their day in the sun. The last several stages are downright hilly and usually feature the climbers. With all the chances to show, PN is extremely competitive and a stage win here is highly treasured. And if you think the weather has been bad for the past two editions of the Amgen Tour of California, try freezing temps and snow for mile after mile if the weather turns unfriendly.
As an interesting side note, Greg Lemond's old nemesis on the bike, Laurent Fignon, used to own the race. Unfortunately, he never incorporated the event into a company(limited liability corporation or LLC). When he got divorced a few years ago the judge deciding on the division of assets couldn't figure out how to split up the race. Should Laurent get Paris and his soon-to-be ex-wife get Nice? Luckily, ASO stepped in and bought the race.
But, I digress. In the 2009 edition of the event, the fireworks have been going off since the opening prologue where Alberto Contador, not known as a fastman in a flat 5.5mi (9km) prologue crushed everyone including Garmin-Slipstream's double 2008 gold medalist Bradley Wiggins. Two days later, a well-planned attack in severe crosswinds by Team Rabobank put Contador in trouble and opened the door for Quick Step's Sylvain Chavanel in the leader's jersey.
This might seem insignificant except that Sylvain is French, Paris-Nice is a French race (well, duh) and the French have been dying to find a new hero for over 20 years to replace the likes of Fignon and Bernard Hinault, the last two Frenchmen to win the Tour de France. Chavanel will be under attack by Alberto Contador and it will be a great race to Nice with a very difficult day in the mountains on Friday.
Not lost in all the Franco-drama, was the cracking ride by Garmin-Slipstream's Christian Vande Velde who continues to climb out from under the domestique shadow notching a huge solo stage win into the legendary bike city of St. Etienne. After crashing hard in the prologue, it shows the measure of the man to pick himself up and get a very tough stage victory. Chapeau Christian.
It is going to be a very exciting run into Nice. Can Chavanel carry the weight of the whole French nation on his shoulders up the Col de Eze or will the 'Pistolero of Pinto' (Alberto, you really need to work on a better moniker) gun him down?
Yesterday was the first anniversary of the tragic accident in the San Francisco Bay Area that claimed the lives of Matt Peterson and Kristy Gough. These two cyclists were struck and killed by an on-duty county sheriff who fell asleep at the wheel of his cruiser and struck a group of riders head-on.
You can read my original blog posting on the tragedy at:
I think it is important to all of us to revisit what happened on March 9, 2008. It is not going to bring back Kristy or Matt, but hopefully it will remind us all that tragedies like this can happen. Given the circumstances of this particular accident, it is clear that Kristy and Matt couldn't have done anything to avoid being hit. But, it does illustrate the more-than-likely-result of a car/bike collision and stresses that we, as riders, need to do everything we can, within reason, to avoid being hit by a car.
I have written in previous blogs about the importance of riding defensively and anticipating situations where the potential for an accident is significantly increased such as at busy intersections or riding in rush hour traffic. It just makes sense that even though a rider might be in the "right" in a legal sense, taking that right might result in dire consequences.
That doesn't mean that all cyclists should just roll over and allow cars total control. It just means that good judgment goes a long way in avoiding a car/bike accident. Just as we cyclists often remind cars that giving a cyclist their right-of-way only costs them a few seconds, the same applies to cyclists who, in the interest of avoiding an accident, can back off a bit and avoid a dangerous situation from occurring.
The inaugural Gran Fondo San Diego was held last Sunday and from all reports it was an unqualified success. Not only did over 1100 riders participate, but cycling legend Ernesto Colnago was there, all the way from his home in Italy, to fire the gun and send all the cyclists on their way. A fleet of Ferrari's (you can't get much more Italian than the prancing horse) were on hand to help pace the riders under the Little Italy Arch and out into the scenic San Diego landscape.
Once on course, cyclists had the option to do a 42-mile 'Medio Fondo' of the full-blown 100-mile 'Gran Fondo' which included 6700' of climbing. Brilliant sunshine, something which attracts many world-class athletes to the San Diego area, was out in full force adding to the enjoyment.
Early this coming Sunday morning Daylight Savings Time(DST) begins. As you may remember DST used to begin the first weekend in April, but now it begins a month earlier. Depending on whether you are a morning or night person, this change is either good or bad. Regardless of how you feel, remember the old saying "spring forward and fall back."
What this means is that there will be one more hour of daylight at the end of the day. Of course, since time, as we know it, is finite, that also means that there is one hour less of daylight in the morning. This is where the good/bad situation comes into play. If you like to train in the evenings, this is a good thing. If you are a morning rider, this is a bad thing.
Just like all of you, I try to ride as much as possible even during the work week. Before DST begins, there simply isn't enough time to get out after work so I brought a bike to work and went out around lunchtime. I was able to get in some miles, but the real beginning of my season seemed to occur when DST started and I could take longer rides after work. Moving DST forward a month is a good thing for me.
The flip side of the change is that those who ride before work now have to head out when it is still probably light, but the temperature is definitely colder. I really do feel sorry for those folks, but when I am churning up my favorite climb after work with still an hour or two of sunlight that feeling fades a bit.
No matter how the DST change affects you, spring is just around the corner. Get out and ride!
The 2009 Iditarod Trail Invitational is underway and things appear to be progressing as well as can be expected. For those of you unfamiliar with this event, it is actually two races. The first event is the 1100-mile Iditarod sled dog race which should be familiar to most of us. The second event is the 350-mile bike/ski/walk race formerly known as the Iditasport. Participants can choose either to bike, ski or walk the 350 miles from Anchorage(well, Knik) to McGrath. The length of this event used to be about 170 miles, but I guess you couldn't lose enough fingers and toes in that distance so it was doubled.
There are 24 bicyclists, all riding mountain bikes because they really aren't totally crazy, with about 40 pounds of survival gear. There are three skiers, I believe that are required to tow a sled or carry a backpack with survival gear as well and 17 walkers who are carrying a backpack with survival gear. Why the emphasis on survival gear? Did I mention that Anchorage (well, Knik) and McGrath are in Alaska? Did you forget that this is winter? With 40-50 miles between checkpoints there is a very real potential of getting stuck in a blizzard or benighted when the incredible cold causes your gear (pick a piece of gear, any gear) to fail.
Anyway, I am following the 350-mile event as two of my friends Lou Kobin and Eric Warkentin are participating and doing rather well at this point. Jeff Oatley is way out in front, I believe he is part caribou, but unlike sitting in the pack and getting a free ride during a bike race, there is no drafting and no free rides out in the frozen Alaskan wilderness. That means that all the competitors are busting their humps and repeating the mantra 'never again, never again.'
ps - in a year of winter competition firsts for the USA, Steven Holcomb piloted a Geoff Bodine designed sled to America's first ever gold medal in the 4-man bobsled at the World Championships. For those of you good old boys, yes, Geoff Bodine is the same guy who drives and owns a NASCAR team. A NASCAR link to bobsledding? Now that's cool runnings.
While we are all suffering from PAToCD(Post Amgen Tour of California Depression) there is some very good news to report on the Nordic front. No, I am not referring to Norwegian Thor Hushovd's great win at the Belgian Classic season opener Omloop Het Nieuwsblad(AKA The Race Formerly Known as Het Volk). While we were all watching a bunch of crazies try to knock over half the AToC peloton on Palomar Mountain, two Americans made sports history and in a big way at that.
Lindsey Van, not to be confused with 2009 double World Alpine Skiing Championships gold medalist Lindsey Vonn, won the first ever, some would call it inaugural, Women's World Ski Jumping Championships. She did it on the 'Normal Hill' which means absolutely nothing since going off a jump on a pair of skis is far from normal in any sense of the world.
Just when you though it couldn't get any better for the American Nordic athletes, not to be confused with their 'Alpine' brethren, Todd Lodwick won the first ever World Championship for Americans in the Nordic Combined. Before I explain what the Nordic Combined is, let me just say that they have been contesting the Worlds in this sport since the beginning of snow so to be the first American is a big, big thing.
Also, if you know Todd's story it gets even better. He competed in this event in four Olympic Games and six World Championships and had never won a medal of any color. He retired from the sport after being skunked in the Torino Games, but came back after a two year layoff in hopes of being able to win a medal in the 2010 Vancouver Games.
But, just like the late night TV pitch men, there's more. Not only did Todd win the first Nordic Combined gold medal for the USA, he also won the second Nordic Combined event making it two gold medals.
The Nordic Combined is a two sport competition which requires the athletes to be good at both ski jumping and cross country skiing. In the traditional format of the event, the athletes do two ski jumps on day one then do a cross country ski race on the second day. They start out on the ski race with time differentials based on their jumping distance, the first skier across the line wins it all.
This year the racing federation tried another format as well where the participants skied first, accumulating points based on their time, then on the second day the points from their ski jumping were added to their total; the highest points taking the gold.
It could be debated which format is the most fair, but since Todd Lodwick won both events, it is probably a moot point. Also, of note, Bill Demong took the bronze in the traditional format event. You might remember Bill as the cyclist Chris Horner rode on his saddle over the final climb at last year's Cascade Classic when Demong crashed and couldn't ride his bike.