So Cadel Evans is now the World Road Champion. Cadel and the Australian team rode a great tactical race with Evans only putting his nose into the wind in the final few miles. Previously, I wrote that I hoped that Cadel's most important win would take the pressure off and allow him to be more positive with journalists and fans. Well, one thing I forgot to mention is a little thing my friend Lindsay reminded me about which is the curse of the rainbow jersey.
Winning the World Road Championships carries with it the privilege of wearing a rainbow jersey for the next year. The jersey calls you out as the reigning World Champion. For every rider incapable of winning the Tour de France, winning the World Road Championships is the greatest achievement of their career (OK, maybe Paris-Roubaix is up there,too). Unfortunately, there seems to be a bit of history to support the fact that for many winners of the World Road Championships, their winning ways stop when they pull on the rainbow jersey.
That's why they call it the curse of the rainbow jersey. You win the biggest race of your career then spend the next twelve months trying to explain to journalists and the public that you are still a deserving champion even though you haven't won anything since the year before.
Which brings us to the Cadel dilemma. While I was hoping that this win would turn Cadel's whining ways into winning ways, given the curse, it appears that next year may prove to be a, well, um, uh, bit of a down year. Clearly, the curse may not affect Cadel, but if it does, how will it affect Cadel? We can all get frustrated when things don't go our way. Hopefully, Cadel can defeat the curse and all will be smiles in 2010.
Cadel Evans salvaged an up-and-down season with an historic win at the 2009 World Championships road race and he did it was a cheeky solo attack on the race's final climb with only 3 miles(5km) remaining. In August, Evans admitted that he expected to be fired by his Silence-Lotto team after finishing a massively disappointing 30th place in the Tour de France. After two successive second place finishes only the top step of the podium would have satisfied the rider, his team and fans, but it was not to be.
Then came the Vuelta a Espana where Evans was clearly one of the strongest, if not the strongest, rider in the race. However, an untimely wheel change on the stage to the mountain top finish at Sierra Nevada put paid to his chances for an overall victory. He publicly stated that his final finish in third place overall was satisfying, but when you have twice stood on the second step of the podium at the Tour those words seemed a bit hollow.
The men's 160-mile road race looked to be an Italy vs. Spain affair as these two countries have won the event eight times in the past ten years. With in-form riders like Damiano Cunego and Alejandro Valverde it looked like history would repeat itself before the race began. However, with the championships being held in Mendrisio, Switzerland and Fabian Cancellara being a home boy with a bit of form himself anything was possible.
It was Cancellara who provided most of the horsepower in the closing laps to bring the field altogether with one circuit remaining setting the stage for a flurry of attacks and it was Cadel's move which ruled the day. It was a great win for a rider who seems to have a love-hate relationship with journalists and the public. Will this career-defining win relieve some of the pressure on Cadel and allow him to be more relaxed when dealing with people? Hopefully so.
ps - the UCI took the first steps towards banning race radios from the pro peloton. It appears that the plan for phasing out the radios calls for several years before total elimination. However, this plan is strongly opposed by many of the pro teams managers and directors so this issue is a long way from being decided.
Kristin Armstrong is in her last week of competitive bike racing at an international level. She's at the World Championships in Mendrisio, Switzerland finishing up a career that has had its share of successes. As we have seen with athletes like Brett Favre, sometimes it is hard to retire, but Kristin is calling it quits at the international level and looking to spend as much time as possible back home in Idaho.
Kristin came to cycling from triathlons at the turn of the millenium. It was clear she was strong on the bike, but like most riders crossing over from tri, she needed to learn some bike handling skills to be able to translate her talent to the top level of women's racing. Luckily, Kristin was a quick study. So quick in fact that she earned a spot on the 2004 Athens Olympic Team by winning the US Olympic Trials Road Race, beating Christine Thorburn in a two-up sprint.
In Athens, Kristin had an OK ride in the road race. She was America's top finisher in 8th, but she was a long way from the medal podium. It was in 2005, that Kristin started showing her dominance in the event that would eventually lead to an Olympic gold medal in Beijing. To be sure, Kristin was an excellent stage racers notching wins in top US races as Nature Valley Grand Prix, Tour de Toona and Tour of the Gila.
But, was in the time trials, that Kristin started winning World Championship medals. A bronze in 2005 was followed by gold in 2006 and a silver in 2007. Clearly, Kristin was one of the favorites for the gold in Beijing. Kristin spent a year in serious preparation for the event and it paid off as she dominated the Olympic Time Trial and won the race.
After an Olympic gold medal and a World Championship gold medal Kristin had very little left to prove, which probably factored into her decision to hang up her cleats. But, what makes her a true champion is that in her last time trial at the international level, she took the gold medal at the World Championships by absolutely crushing her competition, winning by almost a minute. That's the way a true champion ends a career, going out on top and leaving no doubts as to who was the best on that day.
You know when they show those crazy stunts on TV and put up the disclaimer that the following stunts are performed by trained professionals and should not be tried at home? Well, that sort of applies to the following, but I sort of encourage you to maybe give this a shot if you find yourself in similar circumstances.
So what's the big deal? I am sure you have all been there, but to refresh your memory, have you ever been on a ride and started to bonk? You know, that feeling of lack of both physical and mental acuity which can happen if you are out of fuel and still trying to go hard. The body, more specifically the brain, needs glucose to function properly. If you have depleted all your glycogen stores and have not been eating enough during a ride, if you go into glucose depletion, you can certainly bonk. And the more depleted of glucose you are, the harder you bonk.
Well, this past weekend, I found myself bonking coming up the final climb of my ride. This was due in part to the recent closing of my friend's grocery store in La Honda, the Pioneer Market. After twenty years in business, John and his wife were forced out and one of my key food stops is no longer. So, I missed a key feed and I was paying the price.
To be totally honest, I had a Clif Bar in my jersey, but I had been going hard all day and now, into the fifth hour of my ride in the Santa Cruz mountains, with a bonk coming on hard, I had a decision to make. The route I was riding is a popular one with me. I ride it at least once a month, sometimes every week. So, I know the route intimately and I know what is necessary to get me back home safely.
Because of this, I felt comfortable experimenting to see how I would respond as the bonk got more serious. I wasn't going to let myself pass out and crash into oncoming traffic, but I wanted to see what the more serious stages of a bonk might bring in case I am ever in the position where I was out of food and had to deal with it. I ride a lot of remote dirt roads where re-supply of both food and water is sketchy at best so I took the opportunity to see what might happen if I stretched myself a bit.
The most important thing I noticed was that if I concentrated really hard on just riding my bike, I could keep my speed up. To stay safe I had to be careful not to ignore traffic and other road hazards, but it was interesting that how really focusing on the task at hand allowed me to stave off the early stages of the bonk.
I don't really know how deep I really went, but when I topped out on the climb, it was all I could do to stagger into the store in Skylonda and buy a soda(non-diet) and a candy bar. After 10 minutes or so, I was back to normal and the ensuing descent was not a problem.
Again, If you do decide to take it to the limit, please do so responsibly. Knowing where the limit is can open up possibilities and allow you to accomplish rides that you wouldn't have been able to do otherwise. But, please be careful.
One cool thing about riding bikes is that the experience seems to transcend language and cultural barriers. Yeah, yeah, there are riders from all over the world participating in the Tour de France so maybe this isn't such an earth shattering observation. But, clearly, outside the racing milieu it is not necessarily a gimmee that we two-wheeled aficionados will all get along.
That doesn't mean that, like rabid soccer fans, rival cycling clubs are going to get in a few dust-ups at the local criterium. I might favor one rider or a team, you might favor another rider or team (but, you would be sadly mistaken with your affection). Cycling fans, especially those who ride a bike, seem to be fervent but respectful and that's a good thing.
So, there I was at the end of a cycling tour in Slovenia, Austria and Italy when I found myself on top of the Passo Tanamea. It was 5pm and it had been a long day. I just wanted to find a nice hotel in the next big town (Tarcento) and relax. Before the Tanamea, I had come over the Sella Carnizza, a pass that all serious cyclists should experience at least once in their lifetime. Here is a profile of this little leg breaker:
This all goes a long way in explaining why I needed to get out of my chamois ASAP. As I crested the Tanamea, which is on a very small, isolated road that leads from Italy to Slovenia, I was surprised to see another cyclist. A couple of moments later, a second rider appeared. I broke out my Italian and it was quickly determined that Dario and Danielle lived in a town very near my destination for the evening.
I think we all three just decided at once that we would ride together down into Tarcento so off we went on the 2000' descent. We rode as if we had been cycling together for years, rocketing through the twisty descents and unlit tunnels completely comfortable with each others riding.
This was the last big day of my trip and the descent with Dario and Danielle was a great way to celebrate a truly outstanding climbing fest in the Alps. To be sure, it would have been OK to roll into Tarcento by myself, but hooking up with my new Italian friends and hanging it out a bit on the descent was the perfect ending.
ps - Of course, this is another reason why you have to go to Europe.
Regardless of the fact that things are a bit slow at the Vuelta, there are some incidents that transcend cycling and sports in general. One such incident happened this past Sunday night at the MTV Video Music Awards(VMAs). While many of our sports and entertainment stars decry that they do not want to be role models for our young children and teens, the fact is that their behavior does have an impact. Being center stage at the VMAs puts an entertainer's actions in about as big a spotlight as you can get with an estimated 27 million viewers worldwide.
The incident in question didn't happen when Taylor Swift was awarded the VMA for "Best Female Video". It was her first ever VMA and during her acceptance speech Kanye West came onto the stage, took the microphone out of her hand and pronounced that Beyonce should have won the award. It was, to say the least, a very poor move on West's part.
The incident I wanted to comment on, happened later in the show when Beyonce was accepting the award for "Best Video". Instead of giving her acceptance speech she told the audience about her first ever VMA win when she was a 17-year old member of Destiny's Child and how much that award meant to her. Beyonce than asked Taylor to come up on the stage and gave Swift the microphone so she could give her acceptance speech.
You don't have to be a Beyonce fan to recognize class and a class act. In the athletic world we would call it a great sign of sportsmanship. Clearly, there are some very good examples in the sporting world as well. Hopefully, this type of behavior is contagious.
The 2009 Vuelta a Espana(Tour of Spain to us 'Mericans) is finally getting interesting. Not that the race hasn't had a few surprises and some great moments for Americans and American teams, but the race for the overall has been, well, uh, er, a bit boring. There have been a number of marquee names vying for the top step of the podium such as Alejandro Valverde, Ivan Basso, and Cadel Evans. But, until Sunday's summit finish at La Pandera, all the GC riders seemed to be spending more time watching each other than actually trying to win.
The result of all this cat and mouse is that a number of lesser riders have been stealing the show from the stars. Hey, it is great to see more riders get a chance to shine, but it makes the racing a bit jaded if we have to wait five minutes after the stage winner to see the overall contenders cross the line. That might be OK on the flatter stages, but in the mountains, the big boys should be at the head of affairs and not trying to share TV time with racers who arrived at the bottom of the last climb with a ten minute lead.
Having said all that, it was great to see Tyler Farrar win his first ever stage of a grand tour. He was oh, so close in both the Giro and the Tour on numerous occasions and while his main rival Mark Cavendish was not in Spain, last time I checked they aren't just giving stage victories away for showing up. This is a great result for the Garmin-Slipstream rider in his first full season as a pro. I think it bodes well for his future in the sport. Also, having an American who can win a bunch sprint will definitely make watching the flatter stages of the grand tours much more interesting for American fans.
Garmin-Slipstream also won a mountain stage with Ryder Hesjedal taking the stage to Velefique. While he was one of those lesser riders off the front stealing the stage from the GC contenders, Ryder rode smartly and made his opportunity count. I really like Ryder and hope that this is a portent of big things to come.
Which leads us to Sunday's stage and the finish at La Pandera. The final 5-mile climb is really tough and provided a cornucopia of drama when overall race leader Alejandro Valverde was dropped by Ivan Basso and Robert Gesink with about three miles to go on the climb's steepest section. It looked like Valverde was going to have his usual one bad day in a grand tour and drop out of contention until he got a second wind and started chasing down his competitors.
Valverde not only succeeded in catch Basso, but he also bridged up to Gesink who was on his way to taking the overall race lead from the Spaniard. It was a display of determination worthy of a champion and it might just be the winning moment of the race. Finally, the Vuelta is getting interesting.
The combined power of Lance Armstrong and Twitter was once again on display this past Thursday in LA (that's Los Angeles and not Lance Armstrong) as the seven-time Tour champion invited anyone within 'tweetshot' to come to famed Griffith Park and ride with him.
"Hey LA - get out of your cars and get on your bikes. Time to ride. 7:30 tomorrow am. Griffith Park, LA Zoo parking lot. See you there.." was a Tweet Lance sent out to his nearly two million followers on Wednesday. Over five hundred cyclists showed up the next day to accompany Lance on three laps of the popular Griffith Park loop the following morning. It was only a one-hour ride, but that's not the point.
The transparency provided by Twitter created an opportunity for bike racing fans to meet their hero and enjoy an early-morning spin. Lance recently invited cyclists to join him on rides in Dublin, Ireland and Plano, Texas as well. After the LA ride, Lance tweeted "Great ride in Griffith Park. Thanks, LA!. . . Off to Montreal . . ."
If you are a fan of Twitter, stay tuned, Lance may be coming to ride in a city near you.
We are fast approaching the time of the year when motivaiton to ride your bike can reach a dangerously low level. I have written about this in the past and offered some suggestions. One very nice way to battle "Low Mo" is to take a trip. And there is no better place to go on a trip than to Europe.
There are a number of touring companies which offer trips of all shapes and sizes. You can taste wines and ride. You can ride and taste wines. You can ride big hills. You can ride small hills. You can ride the climbs that Lance rides. You can try to ride the climbs that Lance rides. Basically, with a little searching on the internet you can find a whole host ot touring companies.
I am currently over in Europe riding my bike (please don't break into my house and steal anything) so I can speak firsthand on the wonders of "getting away". New roads, new friends and new culture all work to stimulate your interest for the bike.
Of course, there are those who look to this time of year to transition to winter type sports. That's OK. But, I have to tell you that you really are missing out if you don't, just once, hop a plane and cross a pond with your bike and ride. It's totally worth it.
Chris Horner's run of bad luck this season continued at the Vuelta as a crash on stage four into Liege resulted in a fractured wrist and his premature departure from the race. It was a huge crash caused by a rider touching the wheel in front of him as the peloton went through a roundabout with about 2 kilometers remaining. The crash occurred right at the front of the peloton which caused over a third of the riders to go down with the remainder caught behind the carnage. Only six riders at the front were still upright and able to contest the finishing sprint.
Chris's misfortune is yet another setback in a season beset with bad luck. Chris injured his knee in a crash in the Tour of California. He returned to racing at the Tour of Basque Country only to break his collarbone in a fall when the teammmate he was following broke his chain. Through all of this, Horner persevered and came back in super form for the Giro. He was the only rider on Team Astana who was able to keep pace with Levi Leipheimer on the climbs and was clearly a critical player for the team's overall hopes. However, on stage 10, he crashed on the descent of the Monte Cenis and broke his leg.
His Giro crash put him off the bike for twelve days, but again, his determination saw him accompany Lance and Levi to Aspen for a pre-Tour training camp. Long miles at altitude saw Horner regain his Giro form, but politics kept him off the team and he was denied the Tour de France for a second year in a row. Most likely in response to his Tour snub, he was given the team leadership role at the Vuelta. He was clearly headed for a top ten finish at the Giro; single digits at the Vuelta was clearly in the realm of possibility.
Horner is one of the nicest guys in the pro peloton. He is always available for interviews and gives frank and insightful comments. It is an unfortunate side of professional cycling that there seems to be a lot more bad luck than good. Obviously, you can't win all the time, but if you have paid your dues like Horner, you should get your chance to shine in the sun. Hopefully, Chris will be back in form for the Giro di Lombardia in early October, a race where he has been top 10 several times.
Today, September 1, the gag order on discussing rider transfers inside the pro peloton was lifted so a number of riders and teams were able to announce their key signings for 2010. Here's what's up.
Levi Leipheimer has signed a two-year deal with Lance Armstrong's Team Radio Shack. Team BMC made a strong run this summer to try and lure Levi to their team, but in the end Team Radio Shack won out probably based on the fact the Levi has had the best results of his career under Johan Bruyneel.
The Garmin-Slipstream team made a number of signings. To bolster their leadout train for fastman Tyler Farrar, the argyle crew signed South African sprinter Robbie Hunter who has won a stage of the Tour de
To fortify their classics campaign, they signed Johan Vansummeren who was most recently with Silence Lotto. He has finished top ten in Paris-Roubaix twice.
Peter Stetina, son of former US standout Dale Stetina, moves up from the development squad to the Pro Tour team. He rode exceptionally well against the likes of Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer at the Tour of Gila.
Tom Zirbel, the former distannce runner and current US road pro with Bissell brings his considerable time trialing talents to the team.
Fredrik Kessiakoff is a four time Swedish National Mountain bike champion who is currently riding with Fuji Servetto and will be looked on for his uphill talents.
Team BMC has acquired four big European stars, will next year be the year they ride the Tour?
Undoubtedly the biggest name coming to BMC is George Hincapie who leaves Team Columbia-HTC.
Marcus Burghart, who won a stage at the 2008 Tour de France also leaves Columbia-HTC for BMC.
Reigning World Road Race Champion Allessandro Ballan will move from Lampre to BMC.
Karsten Kroon has also been named to the BMC squad.
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