The first road stage of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California(AToC) is underway and it is pretty clear that Mother Nature is the #137 rider in the peloton. Leaden skies poured buckets of rain on the racers and spectators as they rolled out of Davis for a 107-mile test on their way to Santa Rosa. The conditions rivaled the now legendary stage to San Luis Obispo. Rain is almost acceptable; cold is tolerable, but cold, rain is just not all that much fun. All whining aside, these guys are pros and darn good ones so they all "manned up" and headed out. Here are some photos from the mornings festivities, so to speak.
Here is a shot of the boys rolling out. Race leader Fabian Cancellara is in the middle with the the orange Oakley Radar frames. On the far right is Saxobank's Stuart O'Grady. In the Liquigas green is Ivan Basso. Jens Voigt is leading the pack and on Jen's right(photo left) is Chris Horner and Tyler Hamilton. The gold helmet just over Horner's right shoulder belongs to Lance Armstrong. If they look like they are having fun to you, you must be wearing the racing equivilent of 'beer googles.'
Have you ever wondered how those great TV pictures come to you everyday on Versus TV? Here's the reason why. Greg Peterson has been doing live TV camera work since the Coors Classic, Tour DuPont and now Tour of California. On a rainy, cold day like today it's tough work for Greg. He lamented that, even if the pictures can't be beamed up to the airplane which transfers the signal to the TV trucks, he still has to shoot. So, some of his most difficult work never gets seen.
The money man behind the Garmnin-Slipstream team is Doug Ells. Not only has he been a major reason why Jonathan Vaughter's squad has quickly risen to the ProTour ranks. Doug is also a passionate cyclist and was planning to ride the entire Stage 1, but the weather forced a change in plans.
With the economic downturn the team sponsored by Rock and Republic jeans, Rock Racing, was rumoured to be disbanding. Here is a message from the side of the team bus for all the Rock Racing fans and doubters.
And just to put an exclamation point on the message team member Francisco Mancebo has been off the front since the beginning of the stage.
If you are a reader of European and US cycling magazines, you have undoubtedly seen photos by Cor Vos. He no longer rides on a photo-moto, but here he is enjoying some fine Norther European weather.
AtoC Race Director, Jim Birrell, appropriately retired, but wondering when the sun will finally start to poke through.
The 2009 Amgen Tour of California(AToC) starts on Saturday (it's my valentine this year) and looks to be an E-ticket ride for a whole host of reasons. First off, Lance is back in the saddle and unlike the recently concluded Tour Down Under in Australia, he will be riding to help his teammate Levi Leipheimer's quest for a three-peat. That means you won't be seeing Lance hanging out in the back of the pack working on his tan. He will have to be on the front or off the front to be an effective domestique.
But it is not all about Lance as a number of very accomplished professionals are in attendance. The aforementioned Leipheimer, of Team Astana, looks very good for a three-peat, but Garmin-Slipstream's Christian Vande Velde, who finished fourth overall in last year's Tour de France and was on the podium a the AToC last year is a definite contender. Floyd Landis and Italian Ivan Basso are making comebacks after serving doping suspensions. Basso won't be on top form, but Landis, who won the inaugural AToC in 2006, could surprise.
The race route is extremely challenging with lots of climbing. Unfortunately, from a strategy and tactics standpoint, most of the really difficult ascents come too far from the stage finish to have an affect on the overall standings. The lone exception is Stage 2 on Monday from Sausalito to Santa Cruz where the final climb, Bonny Doon Road is long enough, six miles, and steep enough, the first two miles are 10% after that is is 4-7% to cause a selection. At the top of the climb a technical 10-mile descent drops the racers right into the finish. Look for a group of 3-10 riders to come to the line.
While the Bonny Doon climb will select the semi-finalists for the overall win, the time trial will choose the leader. As in the past three years, this 15-mile race against the clock will decide who will wear the golden fleece into the finish Sunday after next in Escondido.
While the race for the overall title usually takes center stage, look for former World Champion Tom Boonen and Britain's wunderkind, Mark Cavendish, to duke it out for wins on the flatter stages. I like Tom and one of his sponsors is the American bike company Specialized, but Cavendish seems even more motivated as his team's title sponsor, Columbia is headquartered on the west coast. Look for Boonen to take a stage and Cav to win on at least two days.
The weather will also make the race exciting, unfortunately for the wrong reasons. A series of major winter storms are lined up to come into Northern California starting on Sunday with daytime highs around 50F and snow levels of around 1500-2000 feet. There are several climbs in the race which eclipse that altitude so things may be white for the racers. Hopefully, the weather will not play a deciding factor. The racers are as tough as they come, but there is no need to turn it into a daily sufferfest.
Look for daily updates from behind-the-scenes at the race. It's going to be another week of unforgettable racing in California.
Today the race organizers of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California announced the list of ProTour teams who will be participating in the race. A number of US-based teams such as Garmin-Slipstream and Team Columbia Highroad were on the list as well as the squad of two-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer, Team Astana who will most likely bring his new teammate Lance Armstrong along with him. Team Saxo Bank, the new sponsor of the old Team CSC as well as Tom Boonen's Quick-Step squad also made the cut.
Not surprisingly, Rabobank and their ace climber Robert Gesink (that's Hesink to you) will be there. They recently signed on a a major co-sponsor of the event.Look for Gesink to be lighting it up on Bonny Doon Road during stage 2. Surprisingly, the French team Ag2r-La Mondial will be making their first appearance in California.
Even more surprisingly, Liquigas is also invited and that means the potential participation of Ivan Basso who rode alongside Levi at the Tour of California in 2007. Basso is returning from a drug suspension. There used to be a rule that any rider who is serving a drug suspension cannot ride for a ProTour team for an additional two years after the end of his sentence. When the UCI was questioned about this apparent breach of the ProTour rules, they responded that the additional two year suspension was part of a "code of ethics" agreed to by all the ProTour teams and not part of the UCI's official rules. Huh? What? Would the UCI look the other way if Floyd Landis signed with a ProTour team?
It is interesting to note that there will only be eight ProTour teams in 2009 down from nine in 2008. By UCI rules, that means that there can only be eight non-ProTour teams invited so, there will be two fewer teams(16) than in 2008(18). I hope this isn't a cost-cutting measure by the organizers of the race. But, the three-year old event has never made money and in this economic downturn it is unlikely to do so in 2009.
So, which non-ProTour teams will get the remaining eight spots? It seems like Ouch Medical, BMC Racing, Rock Racing, Bissel, Jelly Belly and Kelly Benefits have the inside track which leaves just two other slots open one of which might just go to the recently announced merger of Successful Living and Australia's Virgin Blue squads with the remaining spot going to Team Type 1.
Stay tuned to see which domestic pro squads secure a coveted berth in America's premier stage race. Anybody else got any ideas?
ps - one of last year's AToC ProTour teams, Saunier Duval-Scott, has been reborn as Fuji-Servetto. As Fuji is an American-based bicycle manufacturer it is not clear if they applied or were considered for one of the ProTour slots in the 2009 race. More as details become available.
Obviously, there is no need to give any tips on watching the race at either the stage starts of stage finishes. Watching the race on the road is a bit more difficult and there are some points to consider. Above all, you don't want to endanger the safety of the race nor do you want to cause a delay which may effect the outcome. The key here is to be respectful of the event and the riders.
Yes, it is a free country and you have every right to be there on the side of the road cheering your favorite riders, but please bear in mind that these are professional cyclists doing their job. You wouldn't want somebody coming to your place of work and causing you to perform badly so please don't create a situation on the road which causes the riders to perform their job badly.
That means staying well back of the riders as they pass. The pros tell me that every so-called "pat on the back" feels like a kidney punch. Just give them their space and let them ride their hearts out. It's OK to yell encouragement, take photos and even paint names on the road, but touching and getting in their face is a no-no.
If you are going to paint the roadway, try to make the words or symbols as thin as possible. It can rain a lot in February and paint keeps the water from soaking into the pavement. If you cover the whole roadway with some artistic design it can cause a very slick surface for the riders. Just ask Freddie Rodriguez who crashed out of the 2002 Tour on a huge replica of the Luxembourg flag.
Cycling to watch the race is a great way to see the riders. If you are using a route that is not part of the race course then there should be few problems. However, if you are going to be on the race course, which is definitely the case on climbs, you may be asked to either dismount and walk your bike or you may be kept from moving at all. I wish I could give you an exact time to be at your desired viewing spot before the race passes by, but because of a number of factors it is virtually impossible to say when the road will be closed to cyclists.
The race passes through numerous police jurisdictions and they all seem to deal with the event in their own way. The best advice I can give is to leave early, bring lots of warm clothes and food and convince a few friends to come along so you can have a party of sorts while you wait. Be sure to check the weather conditions. Waiting in the rain is really a drag. Oh yeah, look both ways before you venture out onto the roadway. Even on supposedly closed road, race vehicles seem to magically appear out of nowhere.
The route of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California was announced today and not surprisingly, my predictions as to the actual course were not far off. I can't understand why the AToC isn't going to pay homage to James Dean when they pass the site of his tragic auto accident on Stage 5. Members of the organizing committee, you have been warned. Rather than re-hash all the stuff from my previous blog, I thought I would post a few pics of the route.
Here is the stunning redwood forest on Tunitas Creek Road the first big ascent of stage 2. This is a great climb, the meat is about 1200 feet in 3 miles with sections up to 10%. Overall, the total ascent is 2000 feet spread over about eight miles. Too bad Tunitas Creek comes way too far from the finish to have any effect on the race. BTW, there was a major repaving effort on Tunitas Creek this past summer specifically to get the climb ready for the ATOC. Unfortunately, the repavers left the lower two miles of the aforementioned three mile steep section untouched which means the peloton will be riding over a lot of bad, heavily potholed pavement. For some reason, they repaved a lot of the less-steep sections. What a pity.
Palomar Mountain is the last big climb of the AToC. However, the ascent comes way too early in the stage to have any effect on the overall standings. Race organizers have called this the equivalent of a mountain top finish. Huh? What? Not even close. It makes one wonder. Here is a photo of Floyd and the current sponsor of his 2009 team, Dr. Brent Kay of Ouch Medical Center, riding up the lower slopes of Palomar with the bulk of the mountain visible ahead of them.
It can get pretty cold up on Palomar Mountain during winter!
Coming up, how to view the race and get in a ride to boot!
The official route of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California is scheduled to be announced this week. We know the start and finish towns for each stage, those were announced this past summer. What we don't is the exact roads the race will take between those towns. Below is part fact, part speculation on the route. Read at your own risk.
Stage 1 - Sacramento. Well it was supposed to be stage 1, but instead of an out-and-back course up into the Sierra foothills east of Sacramento, it looks like the state's capitol will host a prologue time trial.
Stage 2(well, stage 1, but we're not going to go there again)- Davis to Santa Rosa. Exact route unknown. It is not that far as the crow flies between the two towns so there has to be some bobbing and weaving. Rumour has it that the major climbs will be Howell Mountain (2 miles of 9-10%) and Calistoga Road. Unfortunately, these climbs are not long enough to really affect the overall results especially with Howell Mountain coming mid-stage.
Stage 3 - Sausalito to Santa Cruz has the profile to shake up the general classification. No doubt the race will be neutralized over the Golden Gate Bridge and through San Francisco. When the race hits Hiway 1 it will make several detours on its way to Surf City. The first includes Tunitas Creek Road, a testing 2000-foot ascent, but its location at least 50-60 miles before the finish negates its impact. Once back on Hiway 1 at either San Gregorio or Pescadero, the final ascent, Bonny Doon/Pine Flat Road coming only 15 miles before the finish and the screaming descent down Empire Grade past UC Santa Cruz will definitely see a small 10-20 person group at the finish. Will Lance be one of them?
Stage 4 - San Jose to Modesto will most likely feature either Mount Hamilton or Sierra Road, but the over 50 miles of downhill and flats to the finish will neutralize any effect of either climb.
Stage 5 - Merced to Clovis should feature several trips up into the Sierra foothills. I am guessing that Tollhouse Grade just east of Fresno will be one of them, but again, there is enough flat or downhill into Clovis to take the sting out of any of the climbs.
Stage 6 - Visalia to Paso Robles. About the only thing notable about this predominately flat stage is that it passes right past the intersection where James Dean was killed in a traffic accident in 1955.
Stage 7 - Solvang to Solvang. As in every one of the three editions of the Amgen Tour of California, the race will be decided in the 15(or so) mile time trial.Be there or miss out on the decisive stage.
Stage 8 - Santa Clarita to Pasadena. This is a carbon copy of the final stage of the 2008 race. Again, the climbing comes too early to have an effect on the overall.
Stage 9 - Rancho Bernardo to Escondido. This is the final stage and is rumoured to include Palomar Mountain, a nice 4200' climb from Pauma Valley. Unfortunately, as in every other stage except stage 3, it is a long way from the top of Palomar to the finish and any advantage gained on the big climb will need a very, very motivated group of riders to keep it all the way to the finish.
So, there you have it. Fact and fiction. What's real and what's not?