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I shot a bunch of photos from the ToC that didn't make it into my blog. Here are a few of the more interesting ones, well that's my opinion.

 

Bob Roll doing his best Gene Simmons impression.

 

Stage 8 winner Frank Schleck.

 

Freddie Rodriguez warming up for the prologue with his son Hayden.

 

Chris Horner getting ready to launch out the gate at the prologue.

 

Some guy named Lance.

 

Enjoy,

 

Bruce

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Returning to his Salt Lake City house on Tuesday after taking second place in the recently concluded Amgen Tour of California, Dave Zabriskie and his wife discovered that their house had been burglarized and over $150,000 worth of electronic gear, cycling equipment and memorabilia had been taken. Here is a chance for you all to help out and find the scumbags.  Below is a list of sum of the items taken.  Please keep your eyes and ears open for any leads:

 

     

  • Black 2008 Subaru Outback, Utah license plate A189NC

     

  • Black 2006 Toyota Scion, Utah license plate 094VWM

     

  • Giro d'Italia race medal (approx. 6" circumference)

     

  • Olympic Seiko watch

     

  • Beijing Olympic ring (silver) with initials "DZ" engraved ($4,000)

     

  • Felt Olympic Time Trial bike, plus 12 other bikes (combined value of $100,000)

     

  • Cervelo (black/red) bike frameset - team issued ($5000)

     

  • Tag Heuer watch ($6,000)

     

  • Bose speaker/receiver system ($15,000)

     

  • Sony 52" flat screen TV ($4,000)

     

  • Two Apple MacBooks and one Apple Mac desktop, plus hard drive ($8,000)

     

  • A pair of Space legs, a recovery compression system for legs ($5,000)

     

  • 7 Marvel sideshow statues ($11,000)

 

Check out the link at: http://www.bikeradar.com/news/article/dave-zabriskies-utah-home-burglarised-20546

 

Man, that's cold.

 

Bruce

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The 2009 Amgen Tour of California ended today and Levi Leipheimer locked up his three-peat.  Leipheimer was clearly the strongest rider in the race, he proved it on the climbs and in the TT's which is where stage races are won. It was a great event, race organizer AEG estimated that two million people watched the spectacle live, obviously countless more viewed it on TV as the feed went out to 60 countries across the globe. It is safe to say that in just four year, this race has grown exponentially in size and stature and is truly one of the best events on the pro cycling calendar. Yes, there are some issues such as whether the race should move to a more weather-friendly date and if it should become a Pro Tour event, but there is no doubt the 2009 edition was an unqualified success.

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Race notes:

 

In my report from yesterday, I noted that the final stage would be difficult, but not decisive. That was indeed the case, but there was one incident high on the slopes of Palomar Mountain that deserves some discussion.  About three miles from the top of the massive 4200' climb, Jens Voigt, who was placed fourth overall about one minute behind Levi, broke away from the peloton and took a group of riders with him. Because Jens had a teammate in the group and the group was about five riders, there was a real chance that if they could work together, they might threaten to stay away to the finish and change the overall outcome of the race.

 

What happened next is the interesting part.  The rider who initiated the chase of Voigt and who ultimately drove the chase group to catch Jens and his crew was Michael Rogers of team Columbia High Road who was in third place overall.  Also in the chase group was Dave Zabriskie of Garmin-Slipstream who was in second place overall. With those two guys in the chase group, Levi jumped up there as well. Unfortunately, Levi didn't have any teammates in the chase group while both Rogers and Zabriskie had one each.

 

This may seem like a huge tactical error by Levi and his Team Astana because they allowed Levi to be isolated in a group with his closest rivals. However, it was really a very big tactical error by Michael Rogers. Because the time gaps between the first five riders were so small, if Jens Voigt and his group succeeded in staying away, Voigt, who was in fourth place, threatened not only Michael Rogers' third place and Dave Zabriskie's second place, but he also threatened Levi's race lead. That means that it was really the responsibility of Leipheimer's Team Astana to chase down Voigt and not Michael Rogers.

 

Looking at the bigger picture, Roger's should have seen Voigt's escape not as a need to defend his third place position, but as an opportunity to attack the race lead of Leipheimer. Instead of initiating the chase and driving the group up to Voigt, he should have sat at the front of the peloton and forced Team Astana to chase Voigt. Then, once that chase and catch has been performed and Team Astana was tired from the effort, he then could launch a counter-attack and try to get away.

 

The fact that Rogers decided to defend his third place and not attempt to go for the win might indicate that he felt Levi was too strong to be beaten, but in any case, he should have left the chasing up to Team Astana.

 

Dave Zabriskie rode tactically correct when he was in the chase group. He sat on Levi's wheel looking for any weakness and if Leipheimer had faultered, it would have been a perfect scenario for Dave to attack him and go for the overall win. Dave Z did it right, Michael Rogers didn't. Well, that's the way I saw it.

 

Bruce

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Today was a day for the lesser-placed riders as a group of ten broke away from an Astana-controlled peloton to take the glory at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. This is a great segue into the theme of this posting which is, a stage may be difficult, but it is not necessarily decisive.  I think that observation applies to Stage 4 from Merced to Clovis, today's stage from Santa Clarita to Pasadena and the final stage tomorrow from Rancho Bernardo to Escondido.

 

All three of these stages contain a lot of climbing. On paper, none of these climbs is exceptionally steep, but at the speed the pros are capable of riding up these ascents all of them can be very, very difficult. So, I don't think anyone isn't saying that these stages are an easy day for a lady. Quite the contrary. The real question from a racing standpoint is, are these stages decisive?

 

By decisive I mean will they have an affect on the race's overall standings? Unfortunately, in the case of these three stages, the climbs come too early in the day's ride. As we have seen many times before, a well-driven peloton can chase down a breakaway as long as the gap isn't too large.  So, all the peloton needs to do is give the riders off the front some rope and they can reel them in.

 

In the case of today's stage, the ten-rider breakaway did not contain any riders who could threaten Levi's overall lead so Team Astana smartly allowed them some rope and the stage win. No harm done and Levi will be in yellow tomorrow. Also, it is a good idea to let other teams have their day in the sun. Greed doesn't make too many friends.

 

So, while a stage may be difficult, the position of the climbs has a huge affect on whether the stage will also be decisive. Stage 2 into Santa Cruz was decisive because the climb of Bonny Doon Road occurred so close to the finish. Stage 1 into Santa Rosa should not have been a decisive stage, but two factors, the fact that the breakaway containing Mancebo was allowed to get way too much time and the sanfu with the radio communications made it a decisive stage. Which goes to prove that even a difficult, non-decisive stage can become decisive if unforeseen factors intervene. That's what we call bike racing.

 

Bruce

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Race Notes:

 

You finally say Christian Vande Velde(Garmin-Slipstream) at the head of affairs.Christian was on the podium last year, but has been pretty invisible this year. I asked his team director, Jonathan Vaughters, why Christian seemed to be auditioning for a remake of Casper the Friendly Ghost. Jonathan said that last year, the team was bidding for a wild card entry into the Tour de France so they needed to shine in the early season to impress the selection committee. This year, as a Pro Tour team, they are guaranteed an entry into the Tour so they are bringing Christian along a bit more slowly so he will be ready to fly come July.

 

I caught up with Michael Barry of Columbia-High Road at the TT. Michael and I have known each other for years so I can say this publicly, he looked like death warmed over.  I asked him why and he said that he and teammate Adam Hansen have the job of looking after Mark Cavendish. What this means is that on the stages with climbs, when Mark gets dropped, Michael and Adam have to drop back and then pace Mark back up to the peloton after the climb is over. Then in the last two hours of the stage, they have to go to the front and ride tempo to bring back any breakaways. That's a tough way to make a living! Luckily, Michael and Adam are pretty good at it. Just look at the results.

 

It was great to see Chris Baldwin (Rock Racing) off the front in the breakaway today. Chris is a multi-national champion in the time trial so yesterday in Solvang, it should have been his day to shine. But, because his teammate, Oscar Sevilla, was in a position to take a high overall place, Chris had to hold back in case he needed to ride at the front to defend Sevilla's position. After his ride, Chris said it was very difficult to hold back in his specialty.

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For the third year in a row, Levi Leipheimer owned the Solvang individual time trial cementing his lead on the overall title.  A three-peat looks more and more likely even though the time gaps between Dave Zabriskie(Garmin-Slipstream) and Michael Rogers(Columbia-High Road) are only 36 and 46 seconds, respectively the next two stage, while difficult, will not be decisive. For Leipheimer it was, yet again, confirmation that he is the strongest rider in the race. But, for Dave Zabriskie, who finished just second seconds behind Leipheimer, it was the ride that we had all been hoping he would finally perform at the Solvang TT.

 

Zabriskie was on the podium at the first ever AToC, but in the last two editions, he has come into the event with high expectations, but no brass ring. In 2007, an ugly crash on the race's first stage put paid to his chances whereas in 2008, an intestinal bug robbed him of the power so necessary to do well in the race of truth. Temporarly setting the course record, the Z-Man finally delivered the goods and was clearly pleased with his efforts bringing his son with him on the podium.

 

The big question of whether Lance would get the green light to go full gas was answered in a chat with Astana Team Director Johan Bruyneel. "He will go as fast as he can.  It is going to be a very good test for him.  It is a long time trial and it is more than three years since he has done a long time trial so it is basically discovering a lit bit the feelings again. We don't know what to expect."

 

"Maybe he feels good in the beginning and blows up.  We don't know.  We are really going to play it by the feeling and see how far he can get.  But, at the same time we know that there are a handful of riders here who are in really good shape and they are going for the win.  I don't expect him to be in the very front.  Somewhere between fifth and tenth would be a very good result." After yesterday's stage, Lance told reporters that he would most likely lose about a minute to Levi in the TT. Lance ended up 14th, 1'16" back of Leipheimer.

 

When asked about how he felt Levi would perform, Bruyneel replied, "Well, Levi has won the time trial the last two years and he wants to win again. The main goal is to defend the lead and if we can get that we will be happy."

 

Levi's better half, Odessa Gunn, was in Solvang to support her man.  I asked Odessa how she felt Levi would perform. "This is one of his favorite days. Certainly in the race, but in general. He loves this stage. He loves this town. He loves time trialing."

 

And how does Odessa give her support? "Staying out of his way. Because I have this uncanny ability to always ask him the wrong question at the wrong time.  So, I just keep my distance and say good luck."

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Race Notes

 

When Levi crossed the line, he held up three fingers signifying a three-peat. It was unclear if he was

talking about his third straight victory in the Solvang TT or his third overall win.

 

Dave Z heading out of the starting gate. He is the picture of concentration.

 

It's Back!!!!!!!!  Lance's stolen TT bike was found in an alley in Sacramento sans wheels. City of Sacramento officials brought the bike back to the team for the TT.

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Mark Cavendish won his second stage of the Amgen Tour of California (AToC) in as many days once again besting Tom Boonen. The Columbia-High Road sprinter won the race's longest stage at 134 miles, but all eyes were looking southward toward Solvang where the most decisive stage of the race, a 15-mile individual time trial, will most like decide the winner of the 4th edition of America's biggest and best race.

 

While two-time overall champion Levi Leipheimer goes for the three-peat, the big question is whether Team Astana boss Johan Bruyneel will let Lance Armstrong go all out in the time trial. There may seem to be an obvious answer to the question, but with two difficult days in the mountains looming, Lance may need to save his strength to be able to defend Levi's jersey.

 

That, of course, is assuming that Levi keeps the jersey.  He has owned the Solvang TT since its inception and his fitness and drive seem to indicate that he will continue his domination. With Lance as the closest placed teammate in fourth, just 30 seconds back, it might make sense to play it safe and let Armstrong go full gas. If Levi flats, crashes or just has a bad day, having someone who can step in and take over the race leadership is a big plus.  That's exactly the role Levi played for Alberto Contador in last year's Vuelta a Espana. Levi finished second overall, but if Contador had come to grief, Team Astana would still have won the race.  After all, it is all about the team.

 

However, if Levi does ride to the level we can expect, Lance may be needed to help defend the jersey in the final two days.  If you remember the 2007 Tour of California, Jen Voigt was in second place behind Levi going into the time trial. The German went all out and almost won the race. But, in 2008, Jens held back inthe time trial because his teammate, Fabian Cancellara, was in second place to Levi and if Cancellara beat Levi and took the jersey, Jens' strength would be needed to defend the jersey.

 

All this discussion may be moot because Team Astana is the strongest squad in the race and even if Lance does go full gas, rider like Yaroslav Popvych, Jani Brajkovic, Chechu Rubiera and Chris Horner are clearly capable of working at the front to keep the jersey on Levi's shoulders.

 

Personally, I would like to see Lance unleashed just to see what he can do and where his fitness is at this time of year. I think Levi is a tad bit stronger than Lance so I still see Leipheimer winning, but a one-two finish is not out of the question.

 

Also, I like both Mic Rogers and Dave Zabriskie, the riders in second and third place overall and hope that they both ride well. It might be a bit too early for Rogers to ride the type of time trial we expect from a three-time World Champion in this discipline, but you never know. Dave Z is supremely motivated to do well, I hope he can pull out a good ride and keep his spot on the podium.

 

Bruce

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Sort of race notes:

 

Here are photos of some of the spectators along the course:

 

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I hope I am not jinxing the race by welcoming the sun back to the great(well, kind of great, these days) state of California especially when I tell you that temperatures in the 70's might greet the riders in Solvang for the decisive time trial(TT). Just to be sure there was lots of snow lining the roads today in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, but the roads were dry and the temps were moderate.

 

All this adds up to a bluebird day for the AToC and the racers did not disappoint.  Current US Pro Road champion, Tyler Hamilton(Rock Racing), Jason McCartney(SaxoBank) and Serge Pauwels(Cervelo Test Team) formed the break of the day and almost held it into Clovis. But, the sprinters and their teams timed the chase to perfection setting up for only the second bunch finish of the race.  Unlike yesterday when the smart money was on sprint phenom Mark Cavendish (Columbia-High Road) and Thor Hushovd(Cervelo Test Team) stole the show, the Cav won by about two inches over another sprinter extraordinaire, Tom Boonen(Quick Step). The margin would most likely have been bigger if Cav hadn't started celebrating before he crossed the line, but that doesn't really matter.  A win is a win.

 

So why did Cavendish seal the deal today, but come up empty-handed yesterday? The answer is in two parts.  First off, the sprinter has to feel good enough to want to contest the sprint. In my interview with Tom Boonen yesterday, Tom was pretty adamant that he wasn't going to be going for it on wet roads and risk a crash that might end to his 2009 spring Classics season. That ruled out Tom yesterday, but Cavendish doesn't ride the spring classics to win.  He is more a a pure sprinter and while he might try for a win in the flatter races such as Milan-San Remo, he won't be targeting monuments to cycling such as Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. So, that means that Cavendish will be going for sprint wins, even on wetter stages, as long as he feels good.

 

The second major part is the team's leadout train. These days, to win a big bunch sprint in a big race you either need to be significantly faster than everyone else or have a good group of guys who can set you up for the sprint.  A leadout train basically revs up the pace to keep the speed high enough to prevent anyone from breaking away. Then, each rider pulls off at a pre-determined point orchestrated in such a way that their top sprinter hits the front with 150-200 meters to the finish line. The sprinter sits in the draft of his teammates until the very last minute then boom, off go the champagne corks.

 

Yesterday, in the sprint in Modesto, it appeared that Mark Cavendish was willing to give it a go, but in the final mile of the race, his leadout train got severely derailed.  The final three riders in the train were George Hincapie, Mark Renshaw and Mark Cavendish ordered that way because Renshaw is faster than Hincapie and Cavendish is faster than Renshaw. The problem was that Renshaw couldn't hold Hincapie's wheel. It was probably not due to speed, more than likely there was too much 'barging'(pushing and shoving) and Renshaw just got pushed off of George's wheel.

 

Today, in Clovis, the sun clearly improved the spirits of all the riders, including the sprinters so Cav and Boonen were ready to contest the finish. And, unlike yesterday, the Columbia-High Road leadout train did not get derailed. On the flip side, Boonen's Quick-Step leadout train look disorganized.  Advantage Cavendish.

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Race Notes

 

Jason McCartney spent a long time off the front in both Stage 2 and today's stage, but has yet to grab the brass ring.  I talked with him briefly after his long escape on the way to Santa Cruz. He was initially dropped by Quick Step's Carlos Barredo on the final climb, but he clawed his way back into the lead halfway up the climb.  I asked him if he had a stage win in his sights, "Yeah, for certain, but I just kind of locked up at the end.  It was cold out there and I just needed a little more freshness."  Here is a photo of a very tired and cold McCartney embracing his family at the finish line.

 

I thought I would throw in this photo from yesterday of the riders heading out on the course from San Jose. Hopefully, this will be one of my last rain photos.

 

Tyler Hamilton won Amgen's Breakaway from Cancer Most Courageous Rider Jersey for his efforts in the breakaway today.

 

Not So Race Notes

 

Tomorrow, the race route will take the racers right past the location where legendary actor James Dean died in a tragic car accident in 1955.  At about mile 98 they will pass the intersection of State Highway 46 and State Highway 41 where the accident occurred. Coincidentally, Dean was headed to Paso Robles, the site of the stage finish when he died. There is a memorial to Dean at the small diner at the intersection.

 

Bruce

 

 

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More powerful rain storms dogged the riders on stage 3 from San Jose to Modesto. The riders are pros and they don't complain, but they are clearly hoping for sunny skies and the pleasantries are wearing a bit thin.  At the line it was Norwegian Thor Hushovd who won the stage for Gerard Vroomen's and Phil White's Cervelo Test Team. I spent a lot of time at the starting line talking with the riders and trying to find out how they are holding up.

 

With Jonathan Vaughters in Europe attending to his new duties as president of the professional rider's union, directorship of the Garmin-Slipstream team is being shared by former Discovery Channel pros Matt White and Chann McRae.  I talked with Chann about the outstanding win by team member Thomas Peterson on yesterday's stage to Santa Cruz.

 

"The game plan was to get him (Tom Peterson) and Steven Cozza or Trent Lowe into the breakaway and they did that.  Once they established the break the plan was to have Steven Cozza do most of the work with the other guys in the breakaway and have Peterson ride the last climb fairly fresh.  We know that he (Peterson) is climbing well, he tested really well in the testing we did before we came out here and he backed it up.  I told him there were two races, one was to be the first to the top of the climb, the second was for the finish line and he did both of those."

 

Stage winner Thomas Peterson gave his account of the win. "It (the plan) was perfect. I had already pre-ridden the course so I knew what to expect. I also knew that I could probably hold his wheel. It was a perfect situation."  When asked about  not sharing the pacemaking with Levi, Peterson explained, " He tried to wave me through a couple of times, but he knew I couldn't pull because Zabriskie and Danielson were back there."

 

Lance Armstrong is in fourth place overall, but he is riding this race in support of his teammate Levi.  I asked him if he felt the team could defend the jersey. "We've got a good team. You are never totally sure, there are other strong guys in the race.  The boys are strong. He's(Levi) motivated and he's obviously riding really well."  When I asked him about how his comeback was progressing, he replied, "Not bad for an old man."

 

Floyd Landis has had his comeback derailed a bit by some bad luck, flatting out of the lead chase group on stage 1 into Santa Rosa, but he has been soldering on.  I asked him how the weather was affecting his comeback and how he was holding up with all the rain. "The weather could be better, but the bike race is the same for everybody. Bike races are determined by training, strategy and sometimes luck.  I think everyone would be much more pleasant if it was sunny but, we'll get through it."

 

Tyler Hamilton's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer a few months ago. His pre-season training has suffered as he returned to Boston to help her through her cancer treatments.  Tyler reflected on his role with the team at the AToC. "I have no problem being in the support role. For me it is all about the team whether it is me up in front or Oscar Sevilla or Paco Mancebo it is all the same. Yesterday, I rode in the front all the way to the base of the last climb. For me that was a lot of fun.  It is something different, but to be honest, I stayed warm, probably a lot warmer than the rest of the guys."

 

With all the highly publicized troubles the team has endured in the pre-season, a lot of people have written off Michael Ball's squad.  Tyler summarized how the AToC has been going for Rock Racing. "We won a stage. We did a lot of work yesterday in defense of Paco's jersey. Unfortunately, he was still pretty beat up from the day before.  But, we did our best and obviously Paco did his best so we will take it day by day now.  Sevilla is looking very strong.  He is our GC guy."

 

After an off day yesterday, Rock Racing's Francisco Mancebo looked in better spirits sporting the AToC Sprint Leader's jersey and several other accessories.  I asked him how he was feeling.  "Last night I tried to get as much rest as possible.  We will see today if my strength has returned."

 

Tom Boonen, who won a stage in the AToC last year, has been absent from the front, even on the flatter stages. I asked him why he was hanging back and it was clear that the best Classics rider over the past four years has the legendary spring races on his mind and is holding back on contesting the sprints.  "Yeah, but I don't like to do it(sprinting) in the rain.  I was hoping that today was going to be a little bit better.  I am trying to avoid the risks of crashing."

 

When reminded that the California weather was much like that found in Belgium, he jokingly replied "In Belgium it is 50F and good weather right now.  The next time somebody says 'I hate to come to Belgium' They're going to mean California"

 

Bruce

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Race Notes:

 

The weather report looks good for at least the next four days with rain nowhere in sight.  It is also warming up.

 

The riders on the Ouch Medical Team are a true class act. Yesterday, as the racers came across the line I first asked Tim Johnson, then Rory Sutherland, for a quick interview.  Both begged off citing the cold weather and the need to get to the team bus to warm up after five hours in the rain.  This morning at the stage start both came up to me and apologized for not being able to give me an interview.  True class.

 

The race organizers are concerned that, at 5200', the top of the Palomar Mountain climb might be in snow if the rain returns.  They have an alternate route which eliminates the final seven miles of the Palomar climb by heading straight (south) on Highway 76 and doing a loop around Mesa Grande before returning to the original race route at the bottom of East Grade Road on Palomar Mountain.  Mesa Grande is still a bit high at 3200', but should be snow-free.

 

Non-Race Notes

 

Rob Jensen, owner of the Testarossa Winery in Los Gatos, hosted the Versus team, Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen, Craig Hummer, producers John Carter and Mike Long and me for a special wine tasting and dinner after the stage into Santa Cruz. It was a great time for everyone to sample some tasty wines and relax after some hard days in the saddle(so to speak).  Thanks Rob (and his wife Diana).

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The rain continued to fall on the second road stage of the Amgen Tour of California(AToC), but that didn't deter the 135 riders from taking to some of the prettiest roads in Northern California. Bicycles crossed the main road of the Golden Gate Bridge for only the second time in history (the first time was in the first Tour of California in 1971) then headed south along Highway 1 toward Santa Cruz.  By the first of the day's two major climbs a group of ten riders had broken away from the pack and established a three-minute lead. At the head of affairs was Bissell Pro Cycling rider Ben Jacques-Maynes who went to college near the finish at UC Santa Cruz and knows the roads of the race route like the back of his hand.

 

Yesterday, I asked Ben if he thought the big boys would be firing on the last climb of the day, Bonny Doon Road.  "I am not going to wait around to try to get to the line with them . So we will see what happens." True to his word, he seemed to be the leader of the breakaway, bringing his group to the base of Bonny Doon Road with their three-minute lead intact. But, Team Astana, who is clearly the strongest squad in the race took charge launching Levi Leipheimer in pursuit of the escapees. The two-time overall race winner rocketed passed all the early leaders like he was on a motorbike and only Garmin-Slipstream rider Thomas Peterson could gain his wheel.

 

Leipheimer and Peterson kept their advantage all the way to the finish line where Peterson took the win and Levi gained 31 seconds over his rivals throwing a Tiger Woods fist pump in the air as he crossed the finish line.  I asked Levi if his attack was motivated by the time he lost on yesterday's stage into Santa Rosa. "It was payback for what Mancebo did to us yesterday," replied Leipheimer

 

Michael Rogers of Team Columbia-High Road finished third on the day. The three-time World Time Trial champion led the chase to catch Levi.  "We had to.  We were just trying to limit our losses to Levi." The team's hard work paid off as Rogers moved into second place overall, only 21 seconds behind Leipheimer.

 

The day's big loser was overnight race leader Fancisco Mancebo who finished 1'52" behind Leipheimer and dropped to 16th overall. I asked him what happened to him on the stage.  "I am dead, dead, dead.  I went very hard yesterday. Today I was tired and not able to go hard."

 

Even though Ben Jacques-Maynes didn't win the stage, he was awarded the Amgen Breakaway from Cancer Most Courageous Rider's Jersey for his day's efforts.  He recounted how it all unfolded. "We wanted to animate the race and my move was the one that went.  Andy was in a move and Frank was in a move before that.  I had the luck of the draw. I was cramping a bit by that point.  It was just so cold and wet.  The cold just takes it out of your legs so when it is time to push hard it is very difficult."

 

Race Notes

 

Lance Armstrong got knocked down on Highway 1 by a photo motorcycle driven by his personal photographer. He was unhurt and got back into the peloton without incident.

 

Ben Jacques-Maynes brother Andy crashed and was taken to hospital.  Ben knew his brother had crashed and was in the ambulance when it passed his breakaway heading to the hospital, but there was nothing he could do about it at that time.

 

With all the rain at both this year's and last year's race, there is some serious discussion about moving the race to the April dates vacated by the recently defunct Tour de Georgia.  Clearly, certain top-name pro riders would not be able to attend as it is the height of the one-day-classic season, but the weather should be better, in theory.

 

Lance Armstrong continues to impress.  He finished in the chase group behind Levi and is now in fourth place, only 30 seconds behind Leipheimer.

 

The weather for Tuesday still show rain, but Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday look dry.  Sunday might be a little wet, but the accuracy of the forecast models that far out is pretty poor.

 

Bruce

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The 2009 Amgen Tour of California sloshed into Santa Rosa and it was Rock Racing's Francisco Mancebo, of Spain, who was off the front for 102 of the 107 miles in this stage, taking the victory. On a day when the elevation profile looked to allow the field to re-group after each of the three moderate climbs, mother nature, some dodging radio communications, and some last minute modifications to the race rules conspired to give Mancebo the opportunity to take the stage and potentially the overall Tour of California title.

 

Because of the cold, rainy conditions the peloton allowed Mancebo, Tim Johnson (Ouch Medical) and David Kemp(Flying V Australia Successful Living Foundation) to breakaway only five miles into the stage.  Poor communication from race radio, which keeps the teams up to date on the time gaps for breakaways, allowed the gap to grow to epic proportions. When Mancebo attacked his two companions and went free over Howell Mountain, that information was slow in reaching all the other teams. When word did get back to the pack, Team Astana went ballistic and shattered the field over Howell Mountain putting five of its riders in the 20-man chase group.  Armstrong, Leipheimer, Horner, Rubiera and Jani Brajkovic spent the better part of an hour and a half trying to bring back Mancebo.

 

When the race entered the streets of Santa Rosa, a territory quickly becoming known as the Bermuda Triangle of UCI race regulations, the officials decided to take the finishing times at the start of the first of the three finishing circuits. This decision, which was made sometime during the course of the stage basically robbed the chasing teams of about 7 miles of extra distance in which to try bring back Mancebo.

 

OK. We can all debate the advantages and disadvantages of race radios(personally, I don't like them), but the current rules allow them, maybe this time around it was a case of those who live by the radio, die by the radio. In any event, the overall standings of the AToC have been turned completely upside down. Mancebo is a good time trialist, but Levi Leipheimer has owned the Solvang TT the past two years and if Levi doesn't lose anymore time to Mancebo between now and then, the 1'02" he is down to Mancebo could easily be won back with a standard Leipheimer TT effort. For that matter, any of the 19 riders in the chase group who are now within about 1'30" of Mancebo are still in the hunt and could win the overall with a superb TT effort.

 

Here are some photos of the race.  I was playing around with soft focus a bit, please bear with. Graham Watson and I are good friends because 1) he can drink me under the table with one hand tied behind his back, 2) I am not going to be taking any food out his mouth with the cycling publications.

 

Here is a shot of Mancebo on the finishing circuits out in front solo.

 

Lance, with Horner on his wheel, are chasing hard.

 

After he crossed the finish line, Mancebo headed down my way.  Ben Delaney, Editor of VeloNews, and I were the first to approach him, but he wanted to do the interview in Spanish so we decided to leave it to the interpreters this time.

 

-


Race Notes:

 

On Saturday night, thieves broke into the Team Astana's bike trailer at the Residence Inn Sacramento and stole the first four bikes in the line-up.  Taken were Popovych's, Brajkovic's and Morabito's road bikes as well a Lance's one-of-a-kind TT bike on which he had just finished 10th that day in the prologue. Luckily, all the riders had spare bikes, but the team had to borrow three road bikes from Trek Travel for additional spares for Popo, Jani and Steve to have on top of the car for the day's stage.

 

I talked with Ben Coates who is the liaison with Trek for the team and who was upset that the incident occurred.  He was upbeat that this situation would demonstrate the advantages of US-made Trek bicycles in that replacement frames were in the process of being painted and sent out in the next few days to the team.

 

Bruce

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The first road stage of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California(AToC)  is underway and it is pretty clear that Mother Nature is the #137 rider in the peloton.  Leaden skies poured buckets of rain on the racers and spectators as they rolled out of Davis for a 107-mile test on their way to Santa Rosa.  The conditions rivaled the now legendary stage to San Luis Obispo.  Rain is almost acceptable; cold is tolerable, but cold, rain is just not all that much fun. All whining aside, these guys are pros and darn good ones so they all "manned up" and headed out. Here are some photos from the mornings festivities, so to speak.

 

Here is a shot of the boys rolling out.  Race leader Fabian Cancellara is in the middle with the the orange Oakley Radar frames.  On the far right is Saxobank's Stuart O'Grady.  In the Liquigas green is Ivan Basso. Jens Voigt is leading the pack and on Jen's right(photo left) is Chris Horner and Tyler Hamilton.  The gold helmet just over Horner's right shoulder belongs to Lance Armstrong. If they look like they are having fun to you, you must be wearing the racing equivilent of 'beer googles.'

 

Have you ever wondered how those great TV pictures come to you everyday on Versus TV?  Here's the reason why.  Greg Peterson has been doing live TV camera work since the Coors Classic, Tour DuPont and now Tour of California. On a rainy, cold day like today it's tough work for Greg.  He lamented that, even if the pictures can't be beamed up to the airplane which transfers the signal to the TV trucks, he still has to shoot.  So, some of his most difficult work never gets seen.

 

The money man behind the Garmnin-Slipstream team is Doug Ells. Not only has he been a major reason why Jonathan Vaughter's squad has quickly risen to the ProTour ranks.  Doug is also a passionate cyclist and was planning to ride the entire Stage 1, but the weather forced a change in plans.

 

With the economic downturn the team sponsored by Rock and Republic jeans, Rock Racing, was rumoured to be disbanding.  Here is a message from the side of the team bus for all the Rock Racing fans and doubters.

And just to put an exclamation point on the message team member Francisco Mancebo has been off the front since the beginning of the stage.

 

If you are a reader of European and US cycling magazines, you have undoubtedly seen photos by Cor Vos.  He no longer rides on a photo-moto, but here he is enjoying some fine Norther European weather.

 

AtoC Race Director, Jim Birrell, appropriately retired, but wondering when the sun will finally start to poke through.

 

Bruce

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The fourth annual Amgen Tour of California (AToC) began on Saturday with best field of riders for a US race in the past 20 years. Yes, Lance was here, but so was Olympic and World Champion Fabian Cancellara, sprint phenom Mark Cavendish, double Paris-Roubaix winner Tom Boonen, Giro d'Italia champion Ivan Basso, Levi Leipheimer, Floyd Landis, three-time World champion Michael Rogers, US National Champions Tyler Hamilton and Dave Zabriskie, etc, etc, etc.

 

Not surprisingly, Fabian Cancellara duplicated his win from last year in the prologue with Levi Leipheimer and Dave Zabriskie rounding out the top three. Lance Armstrong met his pre-prologue goal of finishing in the top ten, but with time gaps in the tenths of second, this 2.4 mile test just wetted everyone's appetite and did little to determine who will be the overall victor come next Sunday.

 

Threat of poor weather may dampen the next few days racing, but a crowd estimated at 50-100,000 was all cheers as the race wove its course around the Sacramento state capitol building.  Below is a photo essay, of sorts, of the happenings during the prologue.

 

Phil Zajicek of the Flying V Australia presented by Successful Living Foundation team was the second of 136 riders to start.  Here he concentrates on his pre-ride preparation.

 

Team Saxobank rider Fabian Cancellara gets ready to fire out of the start house on his  race-winning ride.

 

After a three year absence from racing, Lance Armstrong turns his first pedal in anger on US soil.

 

Floyd Landis had lots of support from fans in Sacramento.

 

Yes, there were a few celebrity sightings as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dr. McDreamy helped hand out the awards.

 

In case you needed proof that Lance Armstrong is one of the most tested cyclists, here is the list of riders, by race number, for anti-doping control.  This is Lance's 19th test since he announced his comeback. He wears bib #2.

 

Bruce

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The 2009 Amgen Tour of California(AToC) starts on Saturday (it's my valentine this year) and looks to be an E-ticket ride for a whole host of reasons. First off, Lance is back in the saddle and unlike the recently concluded Tour Down Under in Australia, he will be riding to help his teammate Levi Leipheimer's quest for a three-peat. That means you won't be seeing Lance hanging out in the back of the pack working on his tan. He will have to be on the front or off the front to be an effective domestique.

 

But it is not all about Lance as a number of very accomplished professionals are in attendance. The aforementioned Leipheimer, of Team Astana, looks very good for a three-peat, but Garmin-Slipstream's Christian Vande Velde, who finished fourth overall in last year's Tour de France and was on the podium a the AToC last year is a definite contender. Floyd Landis and Italian Ivan Basso are making comebacks after serving doping suspensions.  Basso won't be on top form, but Landis, who won the inaugural AToC in 2006, could surprise.

 

The race route is extremely challenging with lots of climbing. Unfortunately, from a strategy and tactics standpoint, most of the really difficult ascents come too far from the stage finish to have an affect on the overall standings.  The lone exception is Stage 2 on Monday from Sausalito to Santa Cruz where the final climb, Bonny Doon Road is long enough, six miles, and steep enough, the first two miles are 10% after that is is 4-7% to cause a selection. At the top of the climb a technical 10-mile descent drops the racers right into the finish. Look for a group of 3-10 riders to come to the line.

 

While the Bonny Doon climb will select the semi-finalists for the overall win, the time trial will choose the leader.  As in the past three years, this 15-mile race against the clock will decide who will wear the golden fleece into the finish Sunday after next in Escondido.

 

While the race for the overall title usually takes center stage, look for former World Champion Tom Boonen and Britain's wunderkind, Mark Cavendish, to duke it out for wins on the flatter stages. I like Tom and one of his sponsors is the American bike company Specialized, but Cavendish seems even more motivated as his team's title sponsor, Columbia is headquartered on the west coast. Look for Boonen to take a stage and Cav to win on at least two days.

 

The weather will also make the race exciting, unfortunately for the wrong reasons. A series of major winter storms are lined up to come into Northern California starting on Sunday with daytime highs around 50F and snow levels of around 1500-2000 feet.  There are several climbs in the race which eclipse that altitude so things may be white for the racers. Hopefully, the weather will not play a deciding factor.  The racers are as tough as they come, but there is no need to turn it into a daily sufferfest.

 

Look for daily updates from behind-the-scenes at the race. It's going to be another week of unforgettable racing in California.

 

Bruce

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True Confessions?

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Feb 10, 2009

What to do? What to do? Does an athlete need to confess to a doping positive to be accepted back into favor with his fellow competitors and fans? In the past few days we have seen Alex Rodriguez(A-Rod) admit that he used steroids during the height of his career in 2001-2003 when he was voted the league MVP. The problem is that in 2007, A-Rod told Katie Couric that he had never taken performance enhancing drugs(PED's).

 

Why the flip-flop? Because several journalists at SI.com were able to obtain the identity of some of the 102 baseball players who tested positive for steroids when Major League Baseball did anonymous testing in 2003. So, faced with pretty hard evidence that he did use steroids, A-Rod came clean. In cycling, a similar situation occurred several years ago when Ivan Basso denied drug use until bags of his blood were identified in a refrigerator in Spain.  David Millar also denied drug use then came clean when syringes containing EPO were found with his fingerprints at his home.

 

Why am I bringing this up? Am I jealous that A-Rod hooked up with Madonna and I didn't? No, it is because the 4th annual Amgen Tour of California starts on Saturday and Basso will be there. Millar rode the race last year. But, more importantly, Americans Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis will also be there. Basso, Millar, Hamilton and Landis all served suspensions for doping infractions, but while Basso and Millar admitted their transgressions, Hamilton and Landis did not.

 

There is a good reason that Tyler and Floyd have not admitted to doping. Both contend that they didn't do performance enhancing drugs. The question here is, do Tyler and Floyd need to admit that they took PED's to be accepted back into the pro peloton and be embraced by the fans much like what has happened to both Millar and Basso?  Is it good enough that Tyler and Floyd served their suspensions, paid their debt, so to speak?

 

Personally, I think that Tyler and Floyd should be allowed to compete and their fans should be allowed to cheer and cheer and cheer for their success. If you are not a Tyler of Floyd fan, then fine, don't cheer for them. Don't put them on your Christmas card list. What I have a problem with is people calling Tyler and Floyd dopers. Yes, they were dopers, but by the same token so were Basso and Millar. So, if the shoe fits, then everybody should wear it.

 

Bruce

 

ps - unless some huge story breaks in the next week, this is the last blog I intend to write about doping. The Tour of California is America's premier bike race so let's focus on the positives!

 

pps - if you are saving an asterisk for any of Barry Bond's records, don't forget to save a few for A-Rod.

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Young Guns

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Feb 9, 2009

There was another team training in Santa Rosa besides Astana. Team Trek-Livestrong, Lance's Under-23(U-23) development squad was also in Northern California putting in some quality early season miles. The team is captained by 'Mini-Phinney', Taylor Phinney, the 18-year-old son of cycling greats Connie Carpenter and Davis Phinney.

 

I hung out with the boys and tagged along for a short part of their ride, here are a few photos of the squad preparing for their 107-mile training spin and on the road northwest of Santa Rosa.

 

Axel Merckx, son of the greatest cyclist ever, Eddy Merckx is the Director Sportif. Axel was a fine professional in his own right and rode with Lance on Team Motorola in 1995 and 1996. When not directing the young bucks, he lives with his wife Jody in Canada.

 

Long-time Armstrong friend and  head honcho at Capital Sports and Entertainment,Bart Knaggs, is helping to oversee the team. A former top amateur racer, Knaggs also rode with the team and looked pretty fit.

 

Axel and the team during their pre-ride chat.

 

Mini-Phinney with Bjorn Selander who recently represented the USA at the World Cyclocross championships.

 

Bruce

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Lance, Levi and Alberto all in the same place at the same time! No, it's not the Tour de France in February, its the Team Astana training camp. I traveled up to Santa Rosa, CA this past Wednesday for the media day and had quite a bit of fun re-uniting with the riders, mechanics and support staff as another year of professional cycling begins for, arguably, the best team in sport.

 

The camp is being held in Levi's backyard. I asked him if he was using his local knowledge to school his teammates on the training rides.  He replied, "no, not really though my teammates think I am." However, after the days' 100+ mile ride through the incredible Sonoma countryside and along Highway 1 he did admit that he rode up the final climb, Coleman Valley Road, faster than he ever has before and only Alberto Contador was able to match his effort.

 

Lance was looking fit and relaxed and was clearly enjoying the area where he used to train when he rode for Team Motorola back in the mid 1990's. Armstrong has indicated that his first big race will be the Giro, but his fitness is ahead of schedule and it appears that he may be gunning for two spring classics, Amstel Gold race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. He has finished second in both races.

 

Levi lit it up on the final climb, Spring Mountain Road, the day before and only Alberto Contador responded as well. The Spaniard seemed pleased with his efforts, but acknowledged that he is a bit jet-lagged after just flying in from Spain.

 

Newcomer and climbing phenomenon Jesus Hernandez was grateful to have a team to ride on for 2009 after his team folded up shop in 2008. Hernandez has made the news recently after dropping his teammates on the big climbs on the Canary Island of Tenerife at the December training camp and on Old Willunga Hill during the team's preparation for the recently-concluded Tour Down Under in Australia.

 

Bruce

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I just got a Power Tap power meter and things will never be the same when I ride my bike. In case you were worried, I am talking a positive change in my cycling. After only three rides, the Power Tap has opened my eyes to a lot of things and has answered a lot of questions as well. As I said, things will never be the same.

 

Back in my heavy racing days I did intervals, religiously, and based on my results, they paid off. Clearly a power meter can tell you a lot and help your training in a major way. I don't do structured workouts anymore, but the power meter has definitely helped my riding nonetheless.

 

For example, it gives me a good indication of my overall fitness. While my performance numbers match Lance Armstrong's on the right side of the decimal point, I am not looking to go toe-to-toe with the Texas Tornado on the left side. What I am looking for is my average sustained power output when I am climbing or riding hard on the flats. I have a pretty reasonable idea what a good number should be for me. Anything over 300 watts is good; Anything over 350 watts indicates that I am riding well.

 

Another benefit is to keep me honest during my rides. If I really want to ride a climb hard, if the ascent starts to flatten out near the top, I need to either shift up or pick up the cadence to keep the same power output. I was surprised at how just a 1-2% change in the grade of a hill can affect the power readings

so dramatically.

 

One thing I really like is the data that indicates how many total calories you have burned during your ride. Actually, the Power Tap displays the amount of energy produced in Joules, but by multiplying that number by 1.1 (thanks, Allen Lim)you can determine how many Big Macs you can eat post-ride.

 

For those of you into numbers, you can store the data from all your rides for future reference. After my first ride, when I hooked up the power meter to my PC, the first thing that flashed on the screen was "Seek a Pro Contract Immediately". And you think I am kidding.

 

I am still playing around with the Power Tap and learning more new and interesting things. Stay tuned for the details.

 

Bruce

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First it was Jan Ullrich getting popped for ecstasy. Then Gilberto Simoni was nailed for cocaine. Next, Tom Boonen tests positive for cocaine, as well. Now uber-swimming phenomenon, Michael Phelps, is taking bong hits. Of course, who could forget Ross Regabliati, the Canadian snowboarder who lost his gold medal he won in the 1998 Nagano Olympic Games after testing positive for marijuana.

 

Jan, Gilberto and Tom paid a pretty heavy price for their recreational drug use. Jan was suspended for six months, Gilberto was booted from a Giro he could have won and Boonen lost his ride at the Tour where he was a heavy favorite to take his second consecutive green(sprinter's) jersey. Their suspensions definitely affected their careers. I could be argued, that in the counter-culture, non-conformist world of snowboarding, Ross's dalliance may have been more of a positive for his aspirations. After all he did get his medal back. Maybe.

 

But, what is going to happen to Michael Phelps? He will probably lose a few endorsements, but will swimming's governing body feel a need to take action?

 

Yes, there are rules governing the use of recreational drugs in most sports, but is this a good thing? It can easily be argued that since most, if not all, recreational drug use is illegal there should be some sort of penalty. The penalty can take several forms. A national anti-doping agency can impose a suspension or ban. A jurisdictional body can hand down a fine or prison sentence.

 

What is not clear is if recreational drugs can have a positive affect on an athlete's performance. Yes, as mentioned above, an athlete is probably breaking the law by using them, but did they gain an advantage over their competition? Over fifty years ago, the drug of choice for cyclists were amphetamines. Clearly, this recreational drug could increase performance.

 

Much like the TV show Lost  I am asking a lot more questions than providing answers. In Michael Phelps' case regardless of what the law and USA Swimming decide to do, he will lose some $$$. That seems fair to me. I can't tell him how to behave, but if he behaves in a manner which doesn't please his sponsors then he will have to answer to those sponsors.

 

In cycling, there appears to be a policy of zero tolerance to drug use of any kind. Not surprisingly, cycling is in the fight of it's life to try to keep and attract sponsors. Boyz will be boyz, but they better understand that everyone is watching.

 

Bruce

1,293 Views 2 Comments Permalink Tags: bruce_hildenbrand, tom_boonen, jan_ullrich, ross_regabliati, michael_phelps, gilberto_simoni