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Fabulous Fabian

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Mar 26, 2008

If you haven't already guessed it, I love bike racing. And I love professional bike racing most. It features the best riders in the best races (apologies to Astana and Rock Racing) and it is cool. These pros are the cream of the crop, top of the heap, A-No. 1. They are the strongest, fastest and best bike handlers on the planet. It is incredibly inspiring and interesting to see the pros on the job.

 

Last Saturday in Italy, the skills, dedication and drive of the pros was abundantly evident at this season's first classic: the umpteenth running of Milan-San Remo, or La Primavera as it is known to the tifosi (Italian for 'rabid fan'). I am still trying to understand why the first big race of the year is also the longest. At 185 miles, that's seven-plus hours in the saddle for the best of the best -- which is a long time even at 25-plus mph average.

 

It was nice to see one of my 'hoodmates from Boulder, Will Frischkorn of the Slipstream/Chipotle team, off the front for almost 150 miles. Luckily, he had several other riders to share the pace and though their breakaway was reeled in on the penultimate climb, the Cipressa, they got a lot of TV time for their respective sponsors and that is what is about.

We got to see two-time world champion Paolo Bettini, who was just recently racing in the Amgen Tour of California, make a strong move on the Cipressa that seemed to contain enough horsepower to make it the final 10 miles to the finish. But the peloton still thought they had a chance as well and Bettini and company were caught just before the final climb, the Poggio.

 

If you want to impress somebody with your knowledge of European cycling, the Poggio is pronounced "pocho." It is not that long (1.5 miles) and not that steep (4-5 percent), but when you have ridden 180 miles and you are smoking up the Poggio in your big chainring, nobody is going to say it's easy. More often than not, everybody who matters seems to make it over the climb and down the kamikaze descent so that it is a bunch sprint at the finish. Not this year. Everybody's favorite Swiss rider, Fabian Cancellara, ignited his jets and left the field in his wake to win his second classic (the first being Paris-Roubaix in 2006) of his career.

 

I love it when a superhuman individual effort foils the sprinters. Not to knock the fast finishers, those guy have an interesting mix of speed, cunning and fearless abandon like nobody else, but there is something about one guy holding off the bunch. Maybe it goes back to the old western movies where one settler holds off a whole pack of charging Indians. What it all adds up to is that the pro racing season is full on. No more training camps, no more lollygagging. It's time to eat lunch or be lunch. Bravo Fabian!

 

Bruce

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Spring has Sprung

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Mar 24, 2008

With the advent of both spring and an early onset of Daylight Saving's Time it is time to dust off your trusty steed and get out and ride. Of course, those of you in warmer climes have probably already been on the road on weekends, but with darkness coming past 7pm and with some creative scheduling a quality, after-work ride is also a possibility.

 

For those of you in the colder regions, again, scheduling is the key. Yes, we all have responsibilities which transcend the bike, but with some simple time management, you can plan to head out during the warmest time of the day, hopefully allowing one to leave their full-fingered gloves, booties and insulated jackets at home.

 

For me, the key is to enjoy my time on the bike and that means making it seem less of a workout or an obligation and more of a personal choice. My ultimate goal is to have longevity in the sport and if I feel obligated to ride my bike, that is less likely to happen. Hey, but your mileage may vary(YMMV) and whatever gets you some saddle time is probably OK.

 

It seems silly to talk about burnout as the season just starts, but if you do feel your desire waning one place to look for a solution is your motivation for riding. No, I didn't see this on an episode of Dr. Phil, but it still is just pop psychology. Of course, having some goals for the season help to stimulate some motivation. I usually try to set a few easily attainable goals to get me started, then follow that with a mix of both difficult-to-attain and almost-impossible-to-attain goals as the season progresses. Somewhere between riding around the block and riding the Tour de France is the sweet spot.

 

What about you all out there. What are you doing to get motivated and out on your bikes as the season starts. What are your goals for 2008 and do you think you will be able to make them happen?

 

Enjoy the bike. It's just too much fun not to.

 

Bruce

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ASO announced the twenty teams for the 2008 Tour de France today and not surprisingly, Astana was not on the list. Coincidentally, the Tour of Georgia unveiled their start list for the late-April event and Rock Racing did not receive and invite. While I support the right of race organizers to invite whichever teams they choose, that doesn't mean I have to agree with them about their decisions. In both the aforementioned cases, I think the race organizers have erred in not inviting Astana to the Tour and Rock Racing to Georgia.

 

The Astana team with 2007 Tour winner Alberto Contador and third-place finisher Levi Leipheimer is clearly one of the strongest squads in the pro peloton and on the basis of strength alone deserve a slot. Keeping them out of the Tour means that all the best riders will not be on the starting line. It definitely devalues the 2008 yellow jersey. To be the best, you have to beat the best. Unfortunately, it appears that Astana's problems are probably linked to Johan Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong's seven Tour wins. It seems that ASO still feels that these two somehow pulled of all those victories in a less than honest matter.

 

Rock Racing was one of the most popular teams at the 2008 Amgen Tour of California. They had huge crowds at their team bus before and after each stage and their riders responded to the attention with Mario Cipollini taking third on Stage 2, Victor Hugo Pena climbing extremely well and Michael Creed aggressively going off the front on several occasions in an attempt to take a stage. However, Michael Ball tangled with race organizers over the exclusion of three riders, something which appeared to the public to be totally arbitrary. Clearly, Michael Ball marches to a different drummer, but judging by the number of fans and the demographic of those fans, his team is generating a lot of buzz about the sport of cycling.

 

I think to be fair and un-biased if you believe that Astana got a raw deal you also have to feel that Rock Racing was unjustly spurned.  Levi and the boys should be racing in France just as Fast Freddie and his crew should be on the start line in Georgia.  I still support a free market when it comes to races.  Organizers should be able to invite whomever they want though they should have some published criteria so teams have some indication on what they need to do to be considered. I just hope that they can be more fair and just when it comes to team selection.

 

What do you all think?

 

Bruce

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Ciao Mario

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Mar 19, 2008

Today, Rock Racing confirmed that Mario Cipollini is no longer with the team. Many speculated that il Leone was leaving at the last minute to open the doors for a ride in this Saturday's Milan San Remo classic with Tinkov Credit Systems, but Cipollini denied any such 12th hour move.  It looks like Cipo is headed towards his second retirement from the sport.

 

Hey, but what a ride Mario gave us all at the Amgen Tour of California(AToC). There is no denying that he is a rock star and his involvement with the high-profile Rock Racing Team looked to be a perfect match. When Michael Ball's squad rolled up to a stage start and Super Mario popped out into the crowd the electricity was in the air and the race came alive. He was clearly a fan favorite and he obliged all who sought autographs and interviews. He told me that this second career was just going to be fun. In Vegas terms, this time he was playing with the house's money.

 

Even with a relaxed attitude, Cipo still delivered, coming third in Sacramento to his heir apparent Tom Boonen and looking and acting like he had just won the stage. It was definitely the highpoint for Rock Racing and was ample justification for the team being invited to the AToC. Somehow, Mario willed his 40-year old body over both Mount Hamilton and Sierra Road the next day. Just to make sure his resolve was still at a professional level, mother nature unleashed her fury on the Hiway 1 down to San Luis Obispo resulting in a seven hour day in the saddle in cold rain.

 

Cipo's perpetual tan took a beating on that epic day, but he finished with the group and eventually the whole race to Pasadena proving that he still had what it takes to be a pro. During the AToC, Mario confided that his major goal was to take Rock Racing to Europe and participate in some of the great races across the pond. Rumour had it that the organizers of Milan-San Remo were keeping the 25th and final team slot open for Rock Racing with Cipo looking to repeat his 2002 victory on Via Roma where he beat his now-teammate Freddie Rodriguez to the line.

 

Unfortunately, Cipo and Micheal Ball could not come to agreement on the details the result being that flamboyant Italian has hung up his cleats and the show that is Super Mario has closed once again. Personally, I prefer substance over flash, but with Cipo you got both. I miss him already.

 

Bruce

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Tragedy and Healing

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Mar 17, 2008

A week ago Sunday, two cyclists Kristy Gough and Matt Peterson, were killed in the San Francisco Bay Area when an on-duty Santa Clara County Sheriff failed to negotiate a right hand bend on a twisty road and came across a double yellow line and struck the riders. Cyclists dying in car crashes is, unfortunately, an all-to-common occurrence these days, but dying because a law enforcement vehicle crossed a double yellow line for no apparent reason elevated the tragedy. Add to that the fact that both cyclists had, the weekend before, won their categories at the Merco Cycling Classic and you had an event that rocked the entire Bay Area cycling community.

 

The accident made front page news across Northern California and was covered by the local TV crews as well with daily updates from both the print and broadcast media. A tragedy of this magnitude brings out the whole spectrum of emotions and while cyclists grieved the loss of their compatriots, it also opened the door for the renewal of the timeless banter between cars and bicyclist as to proper road etiquette.

 

Frankly, I am saddened and tired of all the anti-cyclist tirades from car drivers who feel that bicycles have no place being on the roadway. But, I am also disappointed by the cyclists who feel that guerrilla tactics and confrontation are the only way to resolve the conflicts. Why can't we all just get along? At the very least, cyclists can go a long way in helping the cause by acting like a vehicle while on the road and obeying all traffic laws that doing such entails. Car drivers can learn to be more tolerant and share the road even if it means you have to slow down to pass.

 

A memorial ride was held on Saturday to remember two special people who will never again turn a pedal. I was blown away when over 1000 cyclists, many of whom had ridden down from San Francisco and Oakland and parts even further north came to pay their respects. I met a guy who hadn't ridden his bike in 30 years, but was so touched by the accident that on that very morning he had gotten his old Nishiki down from the attic in his garage, taken it to his local bike shop to put on some new tires just so he could take part. It was a procession of unfathomable significance and showed just how deeply we cyclists feel when the road(maybe that's a nice way to say 'a car') claims more victims.

 

Clearly, there needs to be a lot of healing in the Bay Area cycling community and remembering those who left us is the first step. I don't know what comes next, but clearly tensions are hot and hopefully everyone can take a deep breath, relax and try to get along. While this was a truly tragic event, hopefully positive things can come from it. Judging by the support from the majority of the car drivers who witnessed the procession, I hope so.

 

Bruce

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CSC Ends Sponsorship

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Mar 14, 2008

Computer Sciences Corporation(CSC) announced yesterday that it will end the sponsorship of Bjarne Riis' professional cycling team at the end of 2008.  Whether CSC would continue has been hotly debated ever since Riis admitted to doping to win the 1996 Tour de France and the sport, in general, continued to be plagued by doping scandals and at the highest profile events.

 

It is not clear if it was Riis' admission, the state of doping in the pro peloton or that CSC felt their marketing dollars could be better spent elsewhere.  In reality it was probably a combination of all three.  Also, the continual bickering between ASO and the UCI didn't help matters, either.  The sport has been plunged into the depths of darkness by doping and all the UCI can think to do is to pick an unwinnable fight with the organizers of the sports most popular race.

 

So, what will happen to Bjarne Riis' team?  The riders have contracts with Riis Cycling and not CSC so the survival of the squad depends on Riis and his financial people finding a suitable replacement.  Given the inability of such high-profile teams as Slipstream and High Road Sports to come up with a big bucks title sponsor, my guess is that the pickings are pretty slim.  Not to disrespect either Slipstream or High Road, but CSC has been the number one rated team for the past two years.  If Riis can't find some green for his boys, that sets a very bad

precedent for others looking for sponsorship.

 

Slipstream and High Road are two examples of a new model for sponsorship where a multi-million dollar owner holds the primary responsibility for providing the cash to keep the team solvent.  My guess is that Doug Ellis of Slipstream and Bob Stapleton of High Road would much rather have a corporation as the title sponsor and so would I.  While there are a number of rich fans of the sport, having a major corporation as a team's title sponsor is a much more sustainable scenario.

 

Hopefully, Bjarne will be able to find a corporation who can see past the drug issue(biological passports are a good first step, but we need more out-of-competition testing) and the squabbling between ASO and the UCI(the UCI needs to realize the Pro Tour is dead and go back to promoting cycling and not races).  And, hopefully, Riis can get at least a three-year commitment out of a company.  If the cycling world is forced to renewable one-year sponsorship deals, it will be a dark day.

 

Bruce

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Mont Ventoux Looms

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Mar 12, 2008

The Paris-Nice race has a date with the "Giant of Provence" on Thursday and it looks to be epic. The weather so far in the 'Race to the Sun' has made the conditions at the recent Amgen Tour of California look downright tropical. Bucketing rain and cold temps have caused shortened stages and a general lethargy in the pack. Who could blame them!

 

All that will change on Thursday as Mont Ventoux looms on the horizon. It's still winter, especially in France, which means that the riders won't be going all the way to the lofty, 6400 foot summit. A friend of mine rode to the top a month or so ago and ended up pushing through some pretty major drifts. Instead the race will finish at about the 4400-foot level at the ski station of Mont Serein. For those of you familiar with Lance Armstrong's epic battles on Ventoux in the Tour de France and the Dauphine Libere, Mont Serein is on the other side of the mountain, the north slopes.

 

The climb is a bit easier from the north, but by no means is it a gimmee. In fact, from the Maulecene, at the base, the average gradient is much more constant

and overall greater (7.2% vs 7.1%) than the more well-known south side start in Bedoin. Heck, whatever side you ride up this legend of cycling will leave you gasping, but with lots of great memories.

 

For the pro riding Paris-Nice this will be a 3300-foot climb and will be a rude awakening, especially for those racers who aren't really peaking for this race. My guess is that this will be a battle between Luis Leon Sanchez(Caisse d'Epargne) and Frank Schleck(CSC) with Robert Gesink(Rabobank) and Sylvain Chavanel(Cofidis) as spoilers. Hopefully, Slipstream Chipotle's David Millar can hang in there, though the climb may be a bit longer than his liking.

 

One dark horse is High Road's Craig Lewis. With a 6.4 watts/kg power output, he has the potential to be up there with the best, but in his first full-season on the European pro circuit, he may be on a steep learning curve.

 

Regardless of what happens, the European stage racing season officially opens on Thursday. Get there early for the best seats!

 

Bruce

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Echelon Riding 101

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Mar 10, 2008

The first stage of the 2008 Paris-Nice is in the books and oh! the carnage.  With gale force winds and driving rain, race organizers shortened the 115-mile stage to just 58 miles, but Mother Nature still proved that she rules the roads. The 20-30mph crosswinds shattered the field and as every good Belgian knows, if you can't ride in an echelon, it's over, baby.

 

Echelon riding is probably the most difficult road riding technique to master and there is a whole host of reason why.  Unlike riding in a straight, single paceline where you simply follow the wheel in front of you, echeloning takes both concentration and patience. Obviously, the major reason to draft is to shelter yourself from the wind. However, when there is a crosswind, the best place to be relative to the rider in front of you is off to the side.  And that sometimes means overlapping the wheel of the rider in front of you, a definite no-no in a single-file pace line.

 

The key here is to find the best draft.  If you are a group of riders intent on putting time into the cyclists behind you such as being in a breakaway, it is the duty of the rider at the front of the echelon to move as far to the right or left side of the road, depending on the direction of the crosswind, so as to allow all the riders in the group to get a draft.  One huge mistake that novice riders in an echelon make is to move up behind the leader of the echelon and try using the whole echelon in an attempt to draft. Remember, just like in a single paceline, riders rotate the responsibility at the front and moving up directly behind the leader disrupts the flow.

 

A perfectly formed echelon looks like a diagonal line across the road, each rider slightly off to one side and slightly back of the rider in front of them.  The problem with echelon riding comes when the road isn't wide enough to allow all the riders in the group to fan out and draft.  When this happens you have two choices.  First off, the riders at the end of the echelon who can't fit can chose to line up, single file, on the last rider in the echelon.  This is appropriately called 'riding the gutter' as those last riders are continually jockeying for position on the side of the road sometimes off the pavement.

 

Unfortunately, this can cause a lot of disruption in the rotation of the echelon the end result being that the cyclists riding in the gutter waste a lot of energy and the smooth flow of the echelon is compromised.  If you do find yourself riding in the gutter, one alternative is to convince your fellow gutter-mates to form a second echelon.  This is easier said than done and even accomplished pro cyclists have a hard time giving up their hard-won position in the first group to start a second one especially if the majority of the horsepower is driving the first echelon.

 

That's exactly what happened on Monday in Paris-Nice as a number of the contenders for the overall including Australian Cadel Evans, who finished 2nd to Alberto Contador at last year's Tour de France, found themselves in the wrong echelon and ultimately lost over two minutes in a race where seconds matter.  For pros like Evans, missing the front echelon has more to do with positioning in the pack than skill in riding an echelon.  For novices, just learning to ride an echelon remember to concentrate and communicate. If you don't know exactly what to do, then ask.

 

Bruce

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It was a long week of riding, especially after coming off a really bad cold, but somehow I found the strength to get out on a beautiful Sunday here in the Silicon Valley. Not much to say about the ride except that it is great to see everybody else out there enjoying the bike as much as I do.

 

However, all that changed as I rode through Palo Alto and noticed a huge cloud of ugly, dark smoke billowing out of a home just down the street. Yikes, something was on fire and it was burning quickly. I rode up and dumped my bike on the front yard and proceeded to assess the situation. Things had gone critical so quickly that nobody had called the Palo Alto Fire Department. I didn't have a phone so one of the neighbors made the call.

 

In the meantime, I went over to help the wife and her husband get a hose on the source of the fire. It turns out that a huge row of tall bushes between two houses was burning and burning fast. In their hurry to get water on the blaze the couple had hastily pulled and hopelessly kinked their front yard garden hose. We got the hose un-kinked and straightened out and the husband started spraying water on the fire. I ran next door, found a smaller hose and got somebody to turn on the water as I charged into the blaze. Unfortunately, the hose was pretty small in diameter so I couldn't add much water to the effort.

 

Of course, that didn't stop the burning embers from landing on me, resulting in a small second-degree burn on my right bicep and then the hose snapped in two! So, I abandoned that hose and ran around into the backyard of the neighbors house where another person and I hooked up a second hose. Since I was nursing my wound and finally realizing that nylon and lycra aren't very fire-resistant, I let my new-found friend fight the blaze this time.

 

About five minutes after it started, we had the fire put out and when the four Palo Alto Fire Department trucks rolled up, the party was over. Luckily, the roof of the two houses were composite and concrete shingles as the embers had ended up over 100 feet from the burning bushes. My cycling clothes and bike were covered in ashes, but that's a bad of courage from where I am sitting.

 

Bruce

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Chechu

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Mar 6, 2008

Word came from Spain yesterday that Jose Luis Rubiera had won stage 2 of the Tour of Muricia. It was the queen stage with big climbs and when it started snowing it turned into a mini-epic. You have to be happy for Chechu, Rubiera's nickname. In his final year of a storied career, the affable rider from Gijon in Northern Spain is a true class act and winning in difficult conditions just adds to the legend.

Less than two weeks ago, he was Levi Leipheimer's right-hand man on the big climbs and rainy, windy flats at the Amgen Tour of California. It was the Chechu of old, pacing his team leader to yet another major stage race win.  For me, it was one of the feel-good stories of the race and it was great to see Rubiera riding again at such a high level.

 

Chechu has amassed an impressive record throughout his professional career. He rode nineteen grand tours and finished top ten in four of those tours. He won several stages of the Tour de France as a member of the US Postal Service/Discovery Channel team time trial squad and also won two individual stages of the Giro d'Italia. Of course, he was by Lance Armstrong's side from 2001-2005 for the Texan's last five Tour victories.

 

He rode strongly in all, but the 2002 event. I once asked him what happened in 2002 and he replied that he had tried to do Lance's pre-Tour training program and it had burned him out. "Lance is like a motor bike of 1000cc and I am a 250cc or even less. We can't do the same training, we can't," noted the modest Spaniard.

 

But, Chechu will retire at the end of this year and join his wife, who is a lawyer, in Gijon. He has a degree in industrial engineering which he received while racing as a professional many times cracking his books in his hotel room after an exhausting six hours in the saddle.

 

I will miss his infectious smile; his positive attitude and his professionalism. The guy is truly one of the gentlemen of the sport and a class act. To be winning mountain stages and paving the way for your team leader to win a big stage race is truly the best way to exit stage left. We will all miss you. Buena suerte, amigo.

 

Bruce

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The feud between the UCI and ASO is reaching a critical level putting the racers and teams in a Catch-22 situation. If the teams do not participate in this weekend's ASO event, Paris-Nice, they feel they are risking not getting invited to the Tour de France. However, if they do participate, the UCI is threatening heavy fines, six months suspension from any UCI-sanctioned event and exclusion from competing at the upcoming Olympics. I would hate to be a rider or team boss right now. This is definitely a no-win situation.

 

As I have said in previous blogs, I think the UCI are the bad guys here. Frankly, I haven't seen them do anything but give lip service over the past few years. One thing that is clear to me. The UCI is more concerned about self-preservation than it is about promoting cycling. Let's look at their track record.

 

After the debacle at last year's Tour de France the UCI vowed to step up the fight against doping by conducting 500 out-of-competition tests. They only conducted twenty(20) out-of-competition tests making it pretty evident to me that they are not that concerned about fighting doping in the sport. When Operacion Puerto first came out in 2006, the UCI had the opportunity to nip the scandal in the bud by providing DNA samples of all riders to the Spanish prosecutors. The UCI chose not to cooperate and Operacion Puerto has hung over the sport like a black cloud ever since. Thanks.

 

The UCI has warned the teams and riders that if they ride Paris-Nice and under the sanction of the French Cycling Federation that their rights as riders will be severely limited and they could be tossed out of a race at anytime for suspected bad behavior.  I find this argument from the UCI very ironic. The UCI has had a history of disregarding riders rights some notable examples are releasing a number of doping positives, including Floyd Landis, to the public before due process had been carried out.

 

As far as tossing riders from races, the UCI stripped Danilo DiLuca of his 2007 Pro Tour points which cost him the overall Pro Tour title because of a sanction for a situation that occurred in 2004. How is it fair to strip somebody of a title they are winning in 2007 for something which happened in 2004? Also, the UCI sat idly by and let the race organizers of the Amgen Tour of California prohibit three riders from Rock Racing from starting based on supposed open doping investigations for which we have seen no documentation to support. How is that fair?

 

So, basically, I don't have much faith in the UCI to do anything right.  That doesn't mean that ASO is a knight in shining armor, but compared to the track record laid down by the UCI, I will take ASO over the UCI any day.  Clearly, the UCI has lost the plot and they don't seem to be close to finding it anytime soon. The result of all of this posturing is that professional cycling, which is teetering on the brink after all the recent doping scandals is on even more unstable footing. The UCI needs to go back to promoting the sport and stop trying to fatten their wallets.

 

Bruce

 

ps - now for some good news. I had a great ride in the hills above Silicon Valley today. Just a jersey and shorts and I was going fast enough up the climbs to actually feel some wind on my face. Being sick sucks and being really sick really sucks!

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Hard and Harder

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Mar 3, 2008

The Amgen Tour of California(AToC) organizers had the capacity to invite 18 teams to its recent race; it only invited 17. One team noticeably absent was the Canadian Symetrics squad which, in 2007, won the UCI Continental Championship for North and South America an honor which means it was the best team, based on UCI points, on two continents. Add to that, their rider Svein Tuft, not only won the individual UCI Continental Championships as well, but he also pulled off a remarkable win at the US Open, a race televised nationally on NBC TV, last April.

 

Unfortunately, Symetrics got no love from AToC organizers and was left out of the race. The Vancouver-based squad was on the sidelines as teams they beat in 2007 were racing in the Tour of California. I ran into one of their top riders, Eric Wohlberg, a three-time Canadian Olympian the day before the start of the AToC.  His frustration was evident; there really was no good reason the Symetrics team was left out of the race.

 

Hey but, Eric is a champion and champions don't get mad, they get even. This past weekend was the first big race on the US domestic calendar after the AToC, The Merco Cycling Classic, and all of the US domestic squads who had competed in the AToC were set to participate. All Eric did was solo off the front for the final 25 miles of the 120-mile road race to win alone. That's an in-your-face move if ever there was one!

You have to know Eric to realize that it wasn't so much as kicking mud in your eye. It was just a case of kicking your butt.  As former US Postal/Discovery Channel rider and fellow Canadian Michael Barry once told me, "Eric has two speeds, hard and harder." Here's hoping that Eric and his Symetrics team can get some love from the other top races in the US.  They deserve to be at all of them, including that Tour of California gig.  Hey, was all that rain some sort of karma payback?

 

Bruce

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We Was Robbed

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Mar 2, 2008

Mark Cavendish was robbed of his win on stage 6 of the Tour of California, plain and simple. Yes, he received some help from his team car when he crashed in the final 10km's, but anyone who has ridden in the pro peloton knows how hard it is to move up, not only through the peloton, but also through all the team cars in the final few km's of a race, especially when everybody is going 35+mph.

This isn't a case of a rider hanging onto a car door and getting towed right back up to the front of the field. Far from that. Look at the photo. Cavendish is lying on the ground after crashing, lucky that the whole field didn't run him over and put him in a hospital bed.

 

After the crash, Cavendish was probably 15-30 seconds behind the field and yes, he probably got significant help getting back to the tail end of the race caravan from his team car. But, that sort of practice is totally OK in Europe in pro racing because just regaining the back of the caravan after a crash is viewed as"righting a wrong". A crash is viewed as an unfortunate circumstance and pacing back on is just the way to reverse the circumstance.

 

Once Cavendish regained the caravan, he had to work his way back to the peloton past 30 or so team cars. When he got to the back of the peloton after risking his life amongst the cars, he just had to work his way past 100+ racers all going wheel to wheel at 35+mph to end up at the front. Simply done, you say. Not!

 

So, this wasn't a case of Cavendish getting a free ride to the line from his team car.  Far from it. He had to pick himself up, sort himself out, work his way through 30+ cars and 100+ riders going flat out. That's what sprinters do and that's what Cavendish did. Taking the win away from the plucky Brit is like taking Muhamed Ali's heavyweight crown away from him for fighting.  It was a great win under the most difficult of circumstances. The sprinters are the showmen of our sport. Let them demonstrate why it takes a bit of madness, a bit of luck and a bit of savvy to win the bunch kick. We love it!

 

Bruce

1,030 Views 2 Comments Permalink Tags: bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand, high-road-sports, amgen-tour-of-california, mark_cavendish

We Can Work it Out

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Feb 28, 2008

Mergers seem to be all the rage in corporate America. Sometimes it's a good thing, sometimes not. In case you missed it, one of the most interesting mergers in the sports world is the recently announced union between the Indy Racing League(IRL) and Champ Car. Hey, that's open wheel car racing for those of you who aren't concerned about anything with more than two wheels.

 

It's been twelve years since Tony George took his Indy 500 and his ego and started the Indy Racing League. We already had a successful open wheel series, Champ Car, with all the top drivers including the Unsers, Andrettis and Rahals.  But, Tony George wanted a bigger slice of the pie and since he owned the rights to the most popular open wheel race on the planet, the Indy 500 (sorry Monaco GP), he figured he had the juice to make it happen.

 

Of course, what did happen was that everybody lost.  Champ Car has become a non-factor and the Indy Racing League turned into the 'oval racing league'. If Danica Patrick hadn't arrived a couple of years ago, the IRL would have put everyone to sleep and would have all but disappeared as well.  Hopefully, the merger will take US open wheel racing off life support and we won't have resort to watching the good ol' boys swapping paint every weekend from some town where everybody knows the words to "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again."

 

What does this have to do with cycling?  Well, our good friends at the UCI and their nemesis ASO are at it again.  Maybe it is just a huge case of Euro-cabin fever, but just like same time last year, these two organizations are sparring over control of European professional bike racing.  ASO owns the Tour de France, Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and just about every other big race on the pro calendar.  The UCI owns, well, uh, um, only the the World Championships and since they moved those from August to October nobody seems to care all that much.

 

So, what's at stake?  It's all about the Benjamins.  ASO, with it's rich TV contracts has them.  The UCI, which can't seem to market the World Championships to save their life, doesn't have many Benjamin's at all.  Let's forget all the polemics(that's a big word meaning politics), it really is about the green.  ASO has it and the UCI wants it.

 

How is this similar to the IRL/Champ Car merger?  I side with ASO on this one, but still I hope that both sides can work something out before the situation becomes critical and the teams and riders have to decide between the two.  I suffered for 12 years while open wheel racing in the US became about as exciting as watching paint dry.  If that happens to pro cycling, I may actually have to stop watching TV and go out and ride my bike.

 

Bruce

1,220 Views 4 Comments Permalink Tags: tour-de-france, bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand, uci, aso, indy_racing_league, champ_car, danica_patrick

The 3rd annual Amgen Tour of California is in the books.  The people from

Amgen were conspicuously absent from the race, but reports are that they are

happy and looking to continue sponsorship.  Let's hope so.  Here are some

random thoughts about the race.

 

Things I liked:

 

All the aggressive riding.  It was full-on from day one first with the BMC Team

sending guys up the road on stages 1 and 2 and then with attacks by the likes

of George Hincapie, Robert Gesink, Dominique Rollin, that Hincapie guy again,

Michael Creed, Tom Zirbel, that Hincapie guy again, etc, etc.

 

The non-Pro Tour teams showing themselves in front of their bigger brothers.

These lesser weights (in UCI classification only?) didn't just hide out at the

back of the pack waiting for another beating, they raced side-by-side to the

finish.

 

Podium girls.  Hats off to Michael Ball and Rock Racing for bringing some

much-needed feminine touches to the main stage.

 

Mount Hamilton.  This bump helped create one of the most selective finishes

in the history of the AToC.  When combined with Sierra Road this made for a

very exciting stage.

 

Mario Cipollini.  Cipo is in his second career as a bike racer and has admitted

that he is playing with house money.  But, ride he did and he was in there when

he needed to be.  Bravo!

 

Levi's time trial ride.  Guys like David Millar, Christian Vandevelde, Tom

Zirbel and Ben Jacques-Maynes rode extremely well in Solvang, but Leipheimer

delivered the knock-out punch to anyone else's hopes to win the AToC.  Yeah,

he was expected to do well, but not that well.  It was a drubbing.

 

Things I didn't like:

 

The AToC organizers bumping three riders from Rock Racing from starting.  I

have still not seen the supposed letter from the UCI stating that there are

active doping investigations on Santiago, Oscar and Tyler.  Anybody else seen

any news on the alleged open doping investigations?

 

Mother Nature.  Maybe it was payback for kicking out the three Rock Racing

riders, but why penalize all the other racers and spectators with so much

rain?  I was starting to gather a few animals, two-by-two.

 

Media parking.  Hey, I am a journalist.  I am doing a job at the AToC.  Please

give me a place to park my car and don't trap me in some parking garage with

one attendant to take cash so I have to spend an hour waiting in line to leave

after the race.

 

Technical manual.  Is it so hard to put a graphic showing the press room on

the map of the finish area?

 

Bruce

1,175 Views 4 Comments Permalink Tags: bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand, mario-cipollini, rock-racing, amgen-tour-of-california
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