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.
So, I am over here in Europe in the Italian Alps and Dolomites helping a friend lead a bike tour. We are riding some great passes and having a wonderful time, but that's not what I am writing about. The third grand tour, La Vuelta a Espana, started on Saturday and the daily results have generated some interest among the clients of our tour group who, not surprisingly, are a bunch of bike racing junkies.
The problem is that it is very hard to find the Vuelta on TV here in Europe. OK, since the race is in Spain, maybe the Italian national TV won't be carrying it (they do carry the Tour de France, BTW), but what about Eurosport, the ESPN of European TV. They have a long history of carrying everything from table tennis to sailboat racing live, but this year, the Vuelta coverage comes on about two hours after the stage finish.
The lack of respect for the Vuelta is so great that yesterday, Eurosport showed the European Equestrian Championships and the Women's Euopean Soccer Championships live in the Vuelta time slot. C'mon. It's bike racing. The start list includes Ivan Basso, Andy Schleck, Fabian Cancellara, Tom Boonen and a whole host of other great racers. OK. Alexandre Vinokourov is making his comeback from a two year suspension for doping so there may be a bit of backlash, but showing the stage two ours after it finished, in Europe, is basically tantamount to saying "who really cares."
I am hoping that once the table tennis, curling, horse jumping and all the other minor sports conclude their world championships the Vuelta will get shown live on Europsort. Who knows? There was a proposal this year to shorten the Vuelta from the normal grand tour length of three weeks down to two weeks and move it back to it's original April time slot. That proposal was shelved. Man the race, just like Rodney Dangerfield, can't get no respect.
If you live in America, you can get same day coverage of the Vuelta on NBC/Universal Sports. Americans are used to seeing delayed coverage of sporting events so its not that big of a deal. I don't know what the Vuelta needs to do to get some respect. It looks to be an exciting race, if only we could watch it here in Europe, where cycling is considered a major sport, when it is actually happening.
Road rage is something that most of, as cyclists, have had to deal with at one time or another. Clearly, there are some drivers out there who intentionally pass cyclists way too closely in an attempt to either scare the cyclist(s) or to generate some sort of reaction. While this is pretty sad behavior on the part of the motorist, how we cyclists react is also very important.
Bob Mionske, former professional cyclist and now a lawyer specializing in bicycle law, has a very informative website(www.bicyclelaw.com) where he talks about the best ways for a cyclist to deal with road rage. I would strongly recommend that everyone read what he has to say as it is very sound advice.
In a nutshell, Bob gives some real world examples on how a road rage incident where a motorist has put a cyclist's life in danger ends up with the cyclist going to jail and the motorist getting off scott free. In a common scenario, a car driver intentionally "buzzes" (passes too closely) a cyclist looking for a reaction and when the cyclist flips off the car driver, the driver stops and a confrontation ensues.
During the confrontation the now-enraged cyclist damages the driver's car either by kicking in a tail light, scratching the paint or knocking off a side view mirror. Ultimately, the authorities are called and the police step in to figure out what happened and who is going to jail. Unfortunately, it is the cyclist and not the motorist who is charged with a crime.
The reason this happens is that most of the time, the motorist has what Bob calls "plausible deniability" for his/her actions. Even though the motorist intentionally passed the cyclist very closely, when questioned by law enforcement later, the motorist can claim that they did so unintentionally or by accident while trying to put a CD in their car's stereo or some such excuse.
However, the actions of the cyclist are not deniable. The broken tail light, scratched paint or broken mirror is undeniable damage to the car and is a violation of the law.
Bob recommends that in such confrontations, cyclists try to remain calm and do everything they can to avoid breaking the law by causing damage to the motorist's car. While this can leave a cyclist feeling less than satisfied with the outcome of the situation, this is very sound advice because, as Bob points out, the motorists usually has "plausible deniability" for his actions while any action a cyclist takes is not deniable.
In September US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will hold a summit to address the dangers of text-messaging and other distractions while behind the wheel of a car. The League of American Bicyclists (www.bikeleague.org) is working with the Department of Transportation to help provide information for this summit.
If you have been involved in an accident (bike-car or car-car) that was due in full or in part because of a distracted driver, the League of American Bicyclists wants to hear from you. The League set a deadline of August 21 for sending E-mails, but I would strongly urge anyone to send them an E-mail as soon as possible. They can be reached through their website.
There are a number of very good reasons to ban text-messaging and cell phones for that matter from moving vehicles. All statistics indicate that you are way more likely to be involved in an accident while operating your cell phone. People who say they are more focused on their driving while talking on their cell phone are just kidding themselves. All the statistics prove otherwise.
Yes, most of us now have cell phones and they have become an integral part of our lives, but the reality is that we are distracted while using them while driving. So, even if you haven't been the victim of an accident caused by a distracted driver, you should use your cell phone responsibly.
BTW, in California (and other states as well) it is against the law to use a non-hands free cell phone while driving. Unfortunately, this hasn't deterred a surprising number of drivers from feeling that their lives are too important to obey the law. California really needs to increase the fines to north of $100 per violation, but they should also be taking at least a point, if not two, from the driver's license of violators.
C'mon. If you really need to use your cell phone in California while driving, buy a "hands free" device. It is just that simple.
A few months back I wrote about the possibility of a Tour of Colorado along the same lines as the Tour of California and the old Coors Classic. Normally, I wouldn't have put much stock in such an announcement. For the past few years a group in the Vail Valley has been trying to put on a Tour of Colorado and nothing has every come of it.
But, a couple of things have conspired to make this project grow legs and now it seems more like a reality than a dream. The first thing is that Lance Armstrong is pushing for the race. You might remember that last August Lance bought a place in Aspen and now spends a lot of time there training at altitude and in the summer, escaping the heat of Austin, TX. Aspen used to be a key stop in the Coors Classic, America's premier stage race from 1980 to 1988.
The second thing that gives this project much hope is that Colorado's Governor, Bill Ritter, is an avid cyclist. He's such an avid cyclist that he's ridden, arguably, Colorado's most difficult organized ride, the Triple Bypass. The Triple Bypass is to Colorado what the Markleeville Death Ride is to California. It's tough.
To have a successful event you need the backing of the government and with Lance giving his blessing and running interference when things get sticky, there seems to be a very good possibility that we will see a top-flight stage race in Colorado in 2011. That would be pretty darn cool.
Many cyclists have a running background which means that when the World Track and Field Championships come around every two years our interest shifts from two wheels to two legs. Currently, the World Championships are being held in Berlin and run through Sunday. You can catch the action on Versus during the week and NBC on the weekend.
As usual, the Worlds are producing some great races and world records. Usain Bolt of Jamaica, the triple gold medalist (100m, 200m, 4x100m relay) from Beijing where he set world and Olympic records in his three events, provided the early excitement with a world record in the 100m running 9.58 which is really, really fast.
Americans have been winning a few races as well, witness Sanya Richards in the women's 400m and Kerron Clement in the men's 400m hurdles, but some of the best performances have occurred in races where the Americans didn't win.
In the 100m, Tyson Gay lost to Usain Bolt, but ran 9.71 which is also really, really fast and a new American record. Only one man has ever run faster than Gay and it shouldn't be too hard to figure out who that is. So, while Gay was unable to defend his 2007 World Championship, he still ran his fastest race ever. Not Bad.
In the distance events, Dathan Ritzenheim finished 5th in the 10000m behind a bunch of Ethiopians and an Eritrean, but his 27:22 is a personal best for the Coloradoan. Then there is Jenny Barringer who looked to be out of contention in the women's steeplechase, but when she crossed the line in fifth, she lowered her American record by a whopping ten seconds.
These performances, while not medal-worthy, are what the World Championships are all about. You come to the Worlds hoping to be able to give your best and while most athletes will not be standing on the podium, if you set a personal best, then you have given all you could.