Do the Olympics get any better than what we saw on Wednesday night? There was drama. There was dominance. There was good old hard work paying off. It was not just about America's three gold medals, how about Julia Mancuso's return to the form that won her a gold medal in the Giant Slalom at the 2006 Torino Games?
Since Torino, Julia has been less than spectacular on the alpine skiing circuit. To see her back on the podium (flash update: she took sliver in the Super Combined on Thursday) was great. We all have to learn to never give up. Take a lesson from Julia.
Let's start the Wednesday with Lindsay Vonn's dramatic win in the Downhill. That course had more bumps than the stock market. Add in the immense pressure Lindsey put on herself with the Sports Illustrated cover and the bathing suit photos and I am guessing that her shin injury was as much psychological as physical. In her defense, we all know the Olympics are a pressure cooker and it was clear after Lindsey's run that she was definitely over the boiling point emotionally.
With one gold medal around her neck hopefully she can relax a bit and take some of that pressure off her shoulders. (flash Update: Lindsay fell in the slalom of the Super Combined, but that's OK. Her next big race is the Super G).
How about Shani Davis in the men's 1000m speed skating? The ice in Vancouver looks to be pretty slow, but Shani put all doubts aside and skated his race to win gold. Just like ski racing, speed skating, especially the shorter events, are won by hundredths of a second so any little mistake can cost an athlete dearly. That is why there are so few repeat winners in the Olympics in the skiing events and the shorter distances (500m, 1000m) in speed skating.
Last but not least, how about Shaun White? Snowboard Halfpipe is a judged event which means there can be controversy at any moment. But, the Fying Tomato was so much superior to his competitors that there was absolutely no question who was the best boarder on that pipe. Shaun is only 23 which means you probably won't get more than even odds for the winner of this event in Sochi in 2014.
One last thing. More props to NBC for showing almost all of the men's and women's cross country sprint races on their afternoon show. The afternoon show is turning out to be a great place to watch some of the non-mainsream sports like cross country skiing and biathlon. Keep it up NBC!
Is anybody out there watching the Olympics? I have to give kudos to NBC. They seem to be showing a lot more actual sporting action during their coverage. And it is not just events where America is expected to do well. On President's Day NBC had pretty good coverage of the Men's 15k and Women's 10K cross country ski races where the best Americans were way outside of the medals.
How about the Nordic Combined? The Americans came with high hopes and they produced the goods. Johnny Spillane, Todd Lodwick and Bill Demong were right there in the thick of things all they way to the finish. It is so fulfilling when a group of hard working athletes on the same team make things happen. It was nothing short of great. The US Nordic Combined team is one of the favorites for the team gold medal. Here's hoping that they make that happen as well.
I was glad to see Bodie Miller get a medal in the downhill. When an athlete doesn't fit the mold the public and press are trying to force them into, lots of bad energy can come their way. I don't think people really get where Miller is coming from. He suffers from being totally misunderstood. I don't think his medal haul is over. I am hoping for the elusive gold medal for him in the combined.
Special mention goes to Seth Westcott who won his second gold medal in snowboard cross. My Olympic moment at the 2006 Torino Games was when, after he won gold there, he was asked why he switched from the half-pipe to snowboard cross. Westcott simple said, "no judges."
Which of course brings me to one of my other rants. It is still early in the Games, but does anyone want to place a wager on the sport where the first judging fiasco will occur? You won't get very long odds if you pick figure skating so put on your thinking caps and try to be creative.
You might have noticed that I haven't been blogging as much as I used to. The good (and they really are good) folks at Active.com wanted me to turn my efforts to producing some more substantial content for their cycling clientele so I have been writing more stuff for their cycling newsletter and blogging a little less. When the articles come up on the site, I will put up a blog posting with a link to the article.
My latest article is about my trip, a couple of weeks ago, to the BMC Racing Team camp in southern California. A great bunch of riders and staff. It was a lot of fun. You can view the article and photos at:
Trying to share the road with car drivers is a subject I have written about in the past. It always seems that in any confrontation there is nothing positive to be gained. Tensions are usually on high and a busy street isn't the most conducive to having a constructive conversation.
Yesterday, while I was riding on Skyline Boulevard(AKA Highway 35) in the Santa Cruz mountains above Silicon Valley I was passed very closely by a tow truck, so closely in fact, that it was all I could do to keep from being run off the road. It was a familiar scenario. A wide truck on a narrow mountain road and just as the truck came upon me, a car was coming in the opposite direction.
The truck driver could have braked and waited to pass until after the car had passed, but he chose to crowd our lane of the road almost forcing me off into the dirt. I got most of the license plate number, looked at my cyclocomputer and gave very serious thought to calling the country sheriffs and reporting the incident when I got home.
About a mile up the road, I came upon the tow truck pulled to the side of the road; the driver was checking to make sure his load, a recently crashed single engine airplane, was secure. As I rode past I made sure to verify the license plate number (7V17572) and the name of the towing service. Armed with that information I was all but certain that I would report the incident to the county sheriffs.
But, as I passed the truck, I thought that enough time had passed since the incident and the road was quiet enough that maybe I could talk to the driver and let him know my concerns. So, I did a U-turn and went back to the truck. I approached the driver calmly and said, "I just wanted you to know that you passed me very closely back there on the road."
His response was, "Yes. I know. I came upon you on a curve and there was another car coming so I had to move over. But, I know where you are coming from. My brother rides a bike."
I wasn't completely satisfied with his response, but it was a calm exchange and hopefully he had a bit better understanding of where I was coming from. When he passed me a few minutes later, he gave me a safe buffer zone.
So, what's the moral of this story? Heck, I don't know. Maybe it is just that if the conditions are right, maybe you can make an attempt to let a car driver know how you feel about their driving.
More detiails of the route of the 2010 Amgen Tour of California are becoming available. The official route announcement is scheduled to begin on February 9th wit the information on several stages to be made public each day over the following four days.
It appears that the route for Stage 3, San Francisco to Santa Cruz, will take in four significant climbs. The first will be Tunitas Creek which will be followed by a sharp descent down King's Mountain Road into Silicon Valley. After only about a mile in the valley, it will head back up Highway 84, a 3-mile, 1000 ascent to the town of Skylonda which is at the junction of Highway 84 and Highway 35(Skyline Boulevard). The route will continue down Highway 84, but unlike last year, it will turn onto Pescadereo Road just past the town of La Honda and ascend Haskins HIll a 2-mile 600-foot climb.
The stage will continue on Pescadero Road out to Highway 1. From there the route will be the same as last year including the final climb of Bonny Doon Road.
The all important stage 7 time trial will be held in downtown Los Angeles, starting and ending at AEG's(the owner of the AToC) Staples Center, home of the Los Angeles Lakers and Kings. The course is 21 miles in length and shaped like a barbell, two loop on either end of a straight section connnecting them. Beside visiting the Los Angeles Civic Center, it will also visit the USC campus and the LA Ciliseum. The course has a lot of ups and down including the notoriously steep Figuero Road.
Stage 8 will be held in the Santa Monica Mountains in and around the Thousand Oaks area which is the headquarters for the race's sponsor Amgen. The meat of the stage will be four laps of a 21-mile loop which includes the popular local climb called Rock Store a 2-mile ascent averaging 7%. The loop also contains a long section on Mullholand Highway and a screaming, technical descent down Westlake Boulevard back to Thousand Oaks. Agoura Road will take the riders back to the start of the climbing on the loop. There will be 7000 feet of total climbing on this stage which could be decisive given the sharp climbs, the narow roads and the technical dscending (down grades up to 15%).
One interesting note is the that on-course TV work will be performed by the same French crew which brings you those stunning pictures during the Tour de France. The race organizers have a partnership with the Tour de France organiers, ASO, which undoubtedly is one reason the entire French TV motorcycle crew will be coming to California to help broadcast the race.
Sports history was made on Sunday as Kelly Kulick became the first woman to win a men's Professional Bowler's Association event, the 45th Tournament of Champions. I know a few years ago ultra-distance runner Ann Trason beat some men in an ultra run competition, but this is a much more significant event given the depth of competition in bowling, and more specifically, professional bowling.
What is also significant is that unlike other professional sports like golfing, the women compete on exactly the same setup as the men. There are no "women's tees" like there are in golf. The bowling pins aren't closer together or lighter for the women. It is exactly the same equipment as the men. So, chalk one up for the ladies.
Of course, there is the bigger picture discussion as to whether bowling really is a sport. I was disappointed to learn that the normal bowling balls have an especially-designed center to give the ball the curving motion so necessary to roll a strike. That's why bowling aficionados have a special ball which rolls straight for picking up spares. Is that fair?
But, in the end there are enough factors in the plus column that we can probably call bowling a sport. Just try telling someone from Wisconsin that kegglers aren't true athletes.
BTW, the reason I am talking about bowling rather than cycling is that the Tour Down Under going on in Australia this week was a bit of a snoozer. Except for Cadel Evans' big attack on Old Willunga Hill (and it is a hill and not a mountain), the HTC-Columbia team took over where they left off last year and totally dominated the race with Andre Greipel winning three of the six stages en-route to victory.
You can't really blame an early season race for being a bit boring. Most riders are using an event such as this to hone their racing form for the bigger events coming up later in the year. But, the organizers could throw some challenges into a couple more of the stages to break things up a bit.
It has been really crummy weather here in the San Francisco Bay Area as of late as winter storm after winter storm keep rolling in and drenching us. I am getting pretty tired of hearing that we need the rain. That is clearly being spoken by people who are candidates for the next edition of NBC's Biggest Loser. If you are an active, outdoorsperson you clearly don't want to be participating in your favorite hobby in the midst of a hurricane.a
OK. Some of you might say, but all this rain brings snows to the Sierra Nevada and if you are an outdoorsperson(is that a word?) then you welcome the weather so you can ski. But, let's get real. Have you ever tried driving up to the Lake Tahoe area when a major winter storm is lashing California. There are some really snow-challenged people out there. I have even seen people putting snow chains on the rear tires of a front-wheel drive car.
Then there are the knuckleheads who think the term SUV means "I can drive my vehicle anywhere at any speed in any weather." Even when they end up in a ditch, they still think it was just fate and that their SUV is still the safest car out there.
But, I digress. The reason why I am writing is that I tried to get out on a ride today when the weather seemed to be clearing only to get hammered by the next round of thunderstorms as they rolled through. I am not blaming the weathermen. The had predicted showers for the whole week. I just thought there was a bit of a lull in the storms and I could sneak in a ride. My bad. Hmmm. Maybe if I had been driving an SUV....
Anyway, as I was cruising along on Alpine Road going through the shopping center at Ladera Oaks (for you locals) I saw a road sign on a metal pole which had been bent down into the roadway. Clearly, a car driver (SUV perhaps?) had hit the sign and it was now out into the shoulder where bikes ride. I stopped and tried to bend it back into place, but the pole was bent too severely and the concrete footing was well embedded in the ground.
This was clearly a very big hazard to cyclists and in the pouring rain I just couldn't figure out what to do. As I rode away disconcertingly I noticed a construction zone a few hundred yards ahead. I borrowed one of the many, neon traffic cones, rode back and placed it in front of the downed sign.
Hopefully, I made the world a bit safer for my fellow cyclists which is the real reason why I am writing. If you are out there either during or after a major storm, take a 'bigger picture' view and help out your fellow cyclists by removing any hazardous debris from the roadway or bike lane. As Earl Hickey says, it's all about karma.
Details of stage 3 of the 2010 Amgen Tour of California are starting to become available. Last year's stage from Sausalito to Santa Cruz looked to be shortened for 2010 as the stage will start on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. In order to make up some of the reduced distance and give the stage a bit more punch, it appears that the 2010 edition of the route will include as least one more major climb, Page Mill Road, and potentially a smaller ascent, Haskins Hill, as well.
The first climb of the stage will be the same as in 2009. Tunitas Creek Road is an 8-mile, 2000-foot ascent with a 1.8 mile stretch mid-climb which averages in the 9% range.
In 2009, the race turned right on Highway 35 and after four miles turned right onto Highway 84 for the fifteen mile, mostly downhill, run back to the coast and Highway 1.
In 2010, it appears that the race will not turn right on Highway 35, but will instead head down into Silicon Valley on Kings Mountain Road, a 4.5-mile, 1500 foot technical descent through California redwoods. At the bottom of the climb, the race will head south for five to seven miles of rolling terrain, the exact route yet to be determined, to the base of Page Mill Road.
Page Mill Road is an 8-mile, 1800-foot climb that is popular with Bay Area cyclists. It is stair stepped in nature with many steep, 10-15%, pitches and even a few flat and downhill sections. Mid-climb is a 3/4-mile stretch which sports consistent grades of 12-15%.
At the top of Page Mill Road, the race will most like continue down Alpine Road, a twisty, technical, seven-mile 1800-foot descent with several very tight turns right at the bottom. From there, the race has two options. It can continue out to the coast on Highway 84 as it did last year, it is about seven flat miles to the coast.
The other option is to climb the two-mile, 600-foot Haskins Hill and follow Pescadero Road out to Highway 1. The descent of Haskins Hill is another high-speed, technical affair. It can be slick at the bottom.
Once in the town of Pescadero, the race can continue out to Highway 1 or it can turn left onto Cloverdale Road and follow that for seven, mostly flat miles out to the coast and Highway 1. Regardless of the route taken, from the top of Page Mill Road, it is about 40 miles to the bottom to the finishing climb of Bonny Doon Road.
The exact route details will be available soon, but it appears that the 2010 version of this stage will contain about 2500-3000' feet of additional climbing over the 2009 edition.
2010 looks to be the year of the Gran Fondo(GF). There are over 20 GF's already announced and more are popping up every day. If there isn't a GF in your area, just wait 15 minutes. Things are likely to change.
I am a bit worried about the proliferation of Gran Fondos. These are not supposed to be just century rides where they keep track of a rider's elapsed time and publish a list of results. A GF is more than just a 'timed century'. These events are supposed to be an altogether different experience.
If we take the Gran Fondo Colnago San Diego as an example, we see that the ride begins with a mass start. Also, two-time World Road Champion, Paolo Bettini, will be there to ride and also help start the event. There is Prosecco wine to accompany the gourmet food at the finish. All these things and a few other factors create a very unique experience.
Just don't take my word for it, talk to anybody who rode the two Gran Fondos held in the US last year, Gran Fondo Colnago San Diego and the Levi Leipheimer King's Ridge Gran Fondo and they will tell you that it is something different. No, this isn't just the show up and start whenever you want, ride with a bunch of nobodies and then get your chili and beer at the finish. This is a mass-start, ride with pros and dine on gourmet food and wine experience.
The Colnago and Leipheimer events set the bar pretty high which is why I am worried about what will happen when Gran Fondo mania hits the US in 2010. I am hoping that event organizers aren't just attaching the Gran Fondo tag to their offerings in hopes of attracting more attention. Organizers need to seriously upgrade their food, sign on some big names and get co-operation from local authorities to allow a safe mass start for an organized ride to even begin to be a Gran Fondo.
Let's hope that new events will follow the lead of the San Diego and Leipheimer events and bring a new cycling experience to US riders. It should be a lot of fun.
It is a new year and that means it is time for a few resolutions. I am not going to bore you with the 'lose weight', 'ride more', 'train harder', 'win the Tour de France' and all those other cliche and mundane resolutions. These are big, earth shattering, life changing, global planet resolutions/wishes.
-buy a clue for the UCI. Every year I do this, but every year the UCI seems to lose it. I just don't understand how the governing body of our sport can continue to make such bonehead moves as dumping the individual pursuit from the Olympics.
-get a peace pipe for Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador. Enough already. The Tour was finished five months ago and you haven't ridden together, or against, each other since. Here's an idea. Let your legs do the talking.
-find Floyd Landis a team. OK. The big rumour is that Floyd is going to Rock Racing and that is probably true, but let's give him one more chance to put the events of 2006 behind him and get back to rocking it on the bike.
-get the World Road Championships moved back to late August/early September. The titles shouldn't go to riders who don't have anything better to do in October.
-push for the USA to have a national tour like the Tour de France. This may seem to be a bit provincial, but let's lose the Tour of Georgia, Tour of Missouri and Tour of Utah and just let the awesome Tour of California become, like the Dallas Cowboys, America's Tour.
-get women's cycling some more credibility. While the men's ranks are loaded with depth, women's racing really suffers from depth of field. We need to attract more quality female riders to the sport which will make those victories both much more deserving and also exciting.
-get more cycling on TV. It is great that NBC Universal Sports has stepped in to pick up the slack as Versus seems to want to focus more on getting more high profile sports, but both of these channels are now owned by cable giant Comcast. We need to get cycling on the four major networks so we can all watch and not have to become tools of the Comcast empire.
Just when you thought you had heard it all when it comes to drug and cycling, somebody throws in a new twist. And when the person is Missy "the Missle" Giove you have to expect that the new twist is not just a somersault; it is probably something on the order of a triple flip. You might remember that Missy was a huge force on the women's MTB downhill circuit in the 1990's winning the World Championships in 1994.
She's not in the news because of a comeback. She's not in the news because she tested positive for performance enhancing drugs(PED's). She is in the news because she was busted after hauling about 400 pounds of marijuana from the west coast to the east coast. It was not clear if the marijuana was for medical reasons or personal use.
Giove was reportedly to be paid $30,000 for transporting the marijuana cross country, but ran afoul of the law in New York and was arrested. If convicted she could face up to 40 years in jail which is significantly more serious than a two year suspension from competition.
Giove was a huge draw at MTB races, one of the first female superstars of the sport. During her halcyon days as a professional downhill racer, Giove was reportedly making upwards of $300,000/year. She still holds the record for most NORBA downhill wins by a female.
First Tiger Woods. Now Missy Giove. Parents, please be the role models for your kids. Don't make them rely on athletes for that purpose.
-the UCI will stop treating women as unequal to men in the track events. The men race the 1km time trial, the women 500m. The men do a 4000m pursuit, the women do 3000m pursuit. The men's Olympic sprint is 3 riders and 3 laps. The Women's Olympic Sprint is 2 riders and 2 laps. In Track and Field, the women run the same distance as men all the way up to the 26-mile marathon. The UCI should realize that these unequal distance are silly and make the sport of cycling look backwards.
-pass the law that Idaho has that allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and stop lights as stop signs. It makes a lot of sense.
-have the airlines charge equitable oversize baggage fees for bicycles. Skis and golf clubs fly for free, why should cyclists pay extra?
-have Campy, SRAM and Shimano come up with a standard cog size and cog spacing so all shift levers and cog sets are compatible and hence, interchangeable.
-have the mountain bike world design the one true rear suspension. OK, I am being a bit cynical, but it seems like mountain bike manufacturers seem to be coming up with new rear suspension designs each year just to sell bikes.
-have Comcast, which now owns both Versus and NBC Universal Sports, come to an agreement with DirecTV (and Dish Network when their contract expires) to keep the only two networks showing significant bike racing coverage on all three major cable/satellite companies.
-somebody invent a chain lube that lubricates, but doesn't leave a greasy residue on the chain. White Lightening is about as good as it gets in the clean category, but it isn't a great lubricant. We put a man on the moon (or in a Hollywood sound stage for you skeptics). Somebody should be able to invent a clean chain lubricant.
I did a quick assessment and it looks like Santa knows that I have been "nice", as opposed to "naughty" so there is a real possibility that I might get a present or two under my tree come this Friday. Here are some of the items on my list.
-car drivers and cyclists find a way to get along. Things seem to be going downhill in the relationship between four wheel and two wheel drivers. I am hoping for some understanding on both sides of this issue. Car drivers need to show more tolerance for the slower, law-abiding cyclists and cyclists need to obey traffic laws. It is a two-way street.
-UCI adopts a rule that takes the time of a stage during a multi-day race with 1 kilometer to go. This will allow the GC contenders to be able to relax and not have to mix it up with field sprinters. This should lead to fewer crashes.
-if the UCI won't adopt my 1km rule, then at least stop taking time gaps at the finish of stages where the whole peloton crosses the 1km to go barrier intact. Again, the GC contenders shouldn't have to mix it up with the field sprinters in those hectic finishes as they do now.
-keep Lance healthy and fast for at least two more years. Yes, he gets a lot of press and attention, but that's exactly why we need to keep him in the sport and riding well. No single cyclists in the history of the sport in America has even come close to raising public awareness of our sport. Lance may not be your favorite rider, but a rising tide floats all boats and Lance is just about as strong as the moon when it comes to our seas in cycling.
-more mountain-top finishes in the Tour of California. Please don't let this race come down to the time trial as it has for the past four years. Let's force the strong teams to work and work hard to win this race. The fans deserve it.
-bike manufacturers need to find a way to make carbon fiber frames which will accept a full-size frame pump. Using CO2 cartridges is about as "un-green" as you can get and those silly little mini-pumps are really silly.
-have the folks who make the Bike Friday include a clown suit, free of charge, with every bike purchase. You might as well dress for the part. BTW, there are several good Real(TM) bike options (S&S and Ritchey BreakAway). No one should be forced to endure 20" wheels and more extensions than Brittany's hair just to ride a bike.
-have all the people who wear MP3 players when they ride turn down the volume enough so that they can actually communicate with their fellow cyclists when a greeting occurs on the road.
-a real playoff in college football. Think all cyclists have tunnel vision? Think again.
With all the recent broken contracts in the sport of pro cycling you would have thought that they were printed on toilet paper using invisible ink. First there was half of Team Astana heading over to Team Radio Shack. Now, Bradley Wiggins has left Garmin-Transitions for Britain's new pro squad, Team Sky.
There are a couple of issues here. First off, are all contracts created equally? Should all contracts, regardless of the circumstances be honored? Are there any extenuating rules or laws that affect whether a contract is valid or not?
First off, it is not clear that all contracts are created equally. By this, I mean are some contracts easier to break than others. Some contracts include 'opt-out' clauses that allow a contract to become void if the team doesn't meet certain conditions. One 'opt-out' clause would be to allow a rider to leave if a team loses it's Pro Tour status. Clearly, if a contract has an 'opt out' clause it can be broken if the clause is met.
Secondly, are there any extenuating circumstances that might make breaking a contract OK. In the case of the contract breaking at Team Astana, it must be remembered that the riders on that team were not paid for three months during the middle of the season. And, though the situation was finally resolved, it took a lot of pressure and potential exclusion from the Tour de France to finally get the paychecks rolling again.
Since the riders on Astana are pros and they do this to put food on the table for their wives and kids, I fully support the riders' decision to switch teams. Team Radio Shack is run by a management group with a record of paying it's riders so that is a huge incentive to head for more security.
In the case of Bradley Wiggins leaving Garmin-Transitions, there are no concerns about being paid. This was just the case of a rider wanting to leave his contract early for a team where both the rider, Wiggins, and management, Team Sky, wanted him to be. I don't support this type of behavior. Wiggins is a pro and he should have honored his contract with Garmin, especially since that team was responsible for his breakthrough season.
In fact, it is kind of ironic when you think about it. Garmin were the ones responsible for Wiggins becoming a bona fide Tour de France contender. Team Sky has a stated goal of having the first ever British winner of the Tour de France within five years. So, Garmin created the problem that caused Wiggins departure. Before you start feeling sorry for Jonathan Vaughters, it must be remembered that there was a buyout clause for Wiggins to go to Team Sky. Vaughters might not have Wiggins in 2010, but his bank account is definitely larger.
The third point is that there are some other factors which affect the validity of contracts. Not only am I not a labor lawyer, but we are are also talking about European Union labor laws and that makes things even more complex. I believe there are some laws which state that you can't force someone to work for someone if they don't want to. That's a pretty nebulous statement and, to be honest, I don't know the full ramifications of such laws. Suffice it to say that there may be more to honoring contracts in Europe than meets the eye.