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.
While the Omloop Het Nieswauld marks the beginning of the European professional classic season, the 8-day Paris-Nice(PN) event signals the beginning of the stage racing season. PN goes from, well, Paris to Nice and is the first big goal for all the Pro Tour teams. Not only are the stage race riders looking to show well, but because PN offers racing for all types of riders, just about everyone is hoping that they can prove something to their team directors and sponsors.
The format gives the first few days to the sprinters on flat roads, then gives the less vertically-challenged opportunists their day in the sun. The last several stages are downright hilly and usually feature the climbers. With all the chances to show, PN is extremely competitive and a stage win here is highly treasured. And if you think the weather has been bad for the past two editions of the Amgen Tour of California, try freezing temps and snow for mile after mile if the weather turns unfriendly.
As an interesting side note, Greg Lemond's old nemesis on the bike, Laurent Fignon, used to own the race. Unfortunately, he never incorporated the event into a company(limited liability corporation or LLC). When he got divorced a few years ago the judge deciding on the division of assets couldn't figure out how to split up the race. Should Laurent get Paris and his soon-to-be ex-wife get Nice? Luckily, ASO stepped in and bought the race.
But, I digress. In the 2009 edition of the event, the fireworks have been going off since the opening prologue where Alberto Contador, not known as a fastman in a flat 5.5mi (9km) prologue crushed everyone including Garmin-Slipstream's double 2008 gold medalist Bradley Wiggins. Two days later, a well-planned attack in severe crosswinds by Team Rabobank put Contador in trouble and opened the door for Quick Step's Sylvain Chavanel in the leader's jersey.
This might seem insignificant except that Sylvain is French, Paris-Nice is a French race (well, duh) and the French have been dying to find a new hero for over 20 years to replace the likes of Fignon and Bernard Hinault, the last two Frenchmen to win the Tour de France. Chavanel will be under attack by Alberto Contador and it will be a great race to Nice with a very difficult day in the mountains on Friday.
Not lost in all the Franco-drama, was the cracking ride by Garmin-Slipstream's Christian Vande Velde who continues to climb out from under the domestique shadow notching a huge solo stage win into the legendary bike city of St. Etienne. After crashing hard in the prologue, it shows the measure of the man to pick himself up and get a very tough stage victory. Chapeau Christian.
It is going to be a very exciting run into Nice. Can Chavanel carry the weight of the whole French nation on his shoulders up the Col de Eze or will the 'Pistolero of Pinto' (Alberto, you really need to work on a better moniker) gun him down?
It's a new year and that means that the start to the pro cycling season is just around the corner. There is a greater buzz in 2009 than in the past few years because Lance Armstrong will be back in the saddle again. No, that's not a bad country western (is it country western or country and western) lyric? The Lanceman is hitting the road and we are all coming along for the ride. But, before you get all huffy about the apparent Lance overload in the press, this blog isn't about Lance.
Back in the day, the pros started the season in very early February. A number of races have held the honor of ushering in the new year. The Tour of the Etruscan Coast held just down the street from Paolo Bettini's place in Tuscany was a great way to kick off the season. The Etoille de Besseges in France and the Ruta del Sol (AKA Tour of Andalucia) were also in the mix.
But, recently a number of events in other continents have forced the pros to log some major miles before Christmas. The Tour Down Under in Australia and the Tour of Qatar, in Asia(well the Middle East), run by ASO, the company which owns the Tour de France are becoming very popular with the pro teams.
If you are a top flight professional team like the boys at Garmin-Slipstream, just when you want to have your whole squad together for a pre-season camp, everybody seems to be heading more than a handful of time zones east and west. This year the Garmin-Slipstream boys have obtained(how about 'earned') a ProTour license which means they will have to be at the Tour Down Under in Oz as that is the first event of the ProTour calendar.
Because the Tour of Qatar is owned by our friends at ASO, even though the Garmin-Slipstream team is guaranteed a start in the Tour de France because of an agreement signed by the UCI, which owns the ProTour, and the three grand tour organizers(Giro, Tour, Vuelta) there are a lot of other ASO-owned races like Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Criterium International that the Garmin squad would like to be present at the start line.
So, when the Garmin-Slipstream team heads to Silver City, New Mexico later this month, only 12-14 of the team's 25+ riders will be there for the pre-season camp.That's just the way things work these days. The world has gotten a lot smaller when it comes to professional cycling.
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.
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!
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.