The 2010 Amgen Tour of California wrapped up on Sunday and as predicted, there was nothing ceremonial about the last stage. Michael Rogers was under constant attack on the final ascent of the Rock Store climb by Dave Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer who trailed the Australian by only nine and twenty five seconds respectively.
Adding to the drama, both Zabriskie and Leipheimer had teammates with them on that final ascent. Rogers, who found himself with no teammates, was definitely vulnerable, but the Aussie rallied to bring back every single attack. This was the type of action the race organizers were looking for when they selected this as their final stage and the three protagonists didn't disappoint.
What the spectators saw was undoubtedly some of the most exciting racing in the five year history of the AToC. Everything hung in the balance and Leipheimer and Zabriskie attacked at will hoping to gap Rogers. At one point, Leipheimer looked to have broken Rogers. Zabriskie quickly joined the Team Radio Shack rider in the move, but Rogers somehow found a way to claw his way back to the two.
Ahead of the fight for the overall championship, George Hincapie was leading the remnants of the day's major breakaway in hopes of salvaging his AToC with a stage win. Hincapie was clearly the crowd favorite and it would have been an emotional victory, but Ryder Hesjedal(Garmin-Transitions) spoiled the show with a late race move that put him in a sprint with Hincapie for the win.
The organizers couldn't have planned the finale any better, other than maybe having an American winner. The eight-day race was exciting from start to finish and should be back next year with even more competitive racing and unforgettable stages.
Michael "Mick" Rogers was the big winner today in the Amgen Tour of California's stage 7 time trial. While his HTC-Columbia teammate, Tony Martin, won the 20-mile test, it was Rogers who beat his two chief rivals Dave Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer by five and eleven seconds respectively.
Going into tomorrow's final stage, Rogers leads Zabriskie by nine seconds and Leipheimer by twenty five seconds. Normally, that would be enough to call it a wrap, but the AToC's final stage is deceptively difficult and could allow a late race challenge to succeed.
Sunday's stage is four laps of a 21-mile circuit in the Santa Monica mountains. The first 10 miles are flat and fast. The second half of each lap starts with the 2.5 mile Rock Store climb which is followed by another, less difficult, ascent and concludes with a very tricky downhill into the finish.
Because the first half of each lap is flat that will allow a concerted chase to peg back any significant moves. If Zabriskie or Leipheimer wants to gain time on Rogers, their best bet is to put everything into a last lap attack on the Rock Store climb and then hope they have the legs to drive it all the way to the line.
So, the race is far from over. Look for the Garmin-Transitions and Team Radio Shack to be putting pressure on HTC-Columbia from the gun in hopes of softening up Rogers and his mates for a late race attack.
As three-time winner of the Amgen Tour of California(AToC), Levi Leipheimer, predicted the race for the overall title will once again come down to the time trial. With the move of the race from February to May, it was hoped that the longer and more difficult courses would provide some separation, but that was not the case with the top four riders separated by only 14 seconds after 29 hours of racing.
To uplevel the discussion a bit, the race really does need a mountain top finish if it wants to provide a bigger challenge. Leipheimer has been vocal about the lack of such a finish, luckily for him, he is a very good time trialist. But, with the move to May, difficulty means not just adding more climbing, but making that climbing relevant. The fact that critical breakaways were chased down on both Stage 3 and Stage 6 demonstrates that it is not sufficient to put the final climb within 10-15 miles of the finish line.
So, without a mountain top finish, Saturday's time trial will be about as exciting as possible. The three strongest riders, Michael Rogers(HTC-Columbia), Dave Zabriskie(Garmin-Transitions) and Levi Leipheimer(Team Radio Shack) are all excellent time trialists. Michael Rogers is a three-time World Time Trial Champion. Dave Zabriskie has won time trials at the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia and is a medalist at the World Championships. Levi Leipheimer has won time trials at the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana and an Olympic bronze medal.
The one big unknown is the time trialing ability of Slovakian Peter Sagan. The 20 year old is the revelation of the 2010 season. He has shown he can sprint with two convincing stage wins at the AToC (as well as at Paris-Nice and Tour of Romandie) and that he can climb. But, can he go fast in the race against the clock?He is only fourteen seconds out of the lead and could take the jersey with an inspired ride.
One of the questions I would like answered in this whole Landis versus Armstrong affair is who leaked the E-mails from Landis? Reed Albergotti, the journalist at the Wall Street Journal who broke the story, indicated that he received the E-mails from a source other than Landis. If Landis didn't leak the E-mails then who did?
Allegations aside, I think the identity of the E-mail leaker is one of the most important aspects of this whole affair. Most people have assumed that Floyd just jumped up on the digital soap box and let fly. If Floyd is not responsible for leaking the E-mails then who was the culprit and why did they do it?
Some of the E-mails were posted today on the Team Radio Shack website and one thing that is missing from those E-mails is threats by Floyd to go public with his allegations. In fact, many of the E-mails clearly indicate that what is being said is to be kept private between the parties involved.
I am not saying that Floyd didn't threaten to go public. I am just saying that those who have accused Floyd of making such threats haven't given us any proof of that claim. Sound familiar?
I feel it is very important to identify the person who leaked the E-mails. While Floyd made some very strong allegations, if he did so in private then it changes the whole way we must view this situation. Many have decried Landis for the timing of this whole incident, but if Floyd didn't leak the E-mails then he is not responsible for the timing. That responsibility lies with the person who did the leaking.
Regardless of the content of the E-mails, if Floyd meant them to be private between the parties expressly names in the "To:" and "From:" fields then he cannot be held to blame for what has transpired. We have all had frank discussions which we wanted to keep private. Is that the case here with Landis or did he have a hand in leaking these supposed private E-mails? What is the truth?
Day number five dawned on the Angen Tour of California and the only thing anyone was talking about was the overnight revelations by Floyd Landis that he had used performance enhancing drugs(PED's) and had witnessed a number of racers, including Lance Armstrong, doing the same. Landis supplied names, dates and details of the drug use; the particulars were specific enough to make some believe that what he claimed was true.
At the heart of the whole affair is the credibility of Floyd Landis. For four years he has maintained that he was innocent of the doping offense which stripped him of his 2006 Tour de France title. He even wrote a book proclaiming his innocense. Now, he has done a 180-degree turn and is admitting that he used a wide spectrum of PED's. Are we to believe the 2006-2009 Floyd Landis or the 2010 Floyd Landis?
Added to all the confusion is the claim that Floyd was trying to use this information to blackmail the organizers of the Amgen Tour of California into letting his team pariticipate in this year's race.
If you believe Floyd, from 2002-2006 there was widespread doping in the pro peloton and a number of high-profile American riders besides Lance were involved. If you believe Lance and the other riders, Floyd is down to his last gasp and is just trying to take a number of people down with him as he sinks further into the abyss.
What is really missing here is proof of Floyd's claims. At this point what we have is a "he said, he said" scenario which then brings everyone's credibility into question. Floyd's credibility is not that great. Lance's credibility seems to be pretty high. It really comes down to who do you believe.
Almost all of the time the story at a bike race is about the riders. But, every once and a while something comes along which seems to be a bit more interesting. With apologies to Levi Leipheimer, Mick Rogers and Dave Zabriskie, here's an insight into my last 24 hours.
Stage 3 in the Amgen Tour of California started in San Francisco right down the street from comedian Robin Williams' house. Robin was on hand sporting a gray mustache apparently necessary for an upcoming movie role. Besides Lance Armstrong, Robin is friends with Jim Ochowicz, the president of the BMC Racing Team. Robin came onto the BMC team bus and spent a few minutes putting the riders and staff in stitches.
After the start, I drove directly to the finish in Santa Cruz to watch the race in the press room and work on my articles for the day. I am covering the race for active.com, Cycle Sport Magazine and Cycling Weekly Magazine. That means at least two articles a day.
Once the stage had concluded, I headed to the post-stage press conference. The Amgen Press Officer entered and asked if anyone spoke Italian. I replied in the affirmative and the next thing I knew I was up on the stage seated next to Peter Sagan of Liquigas who was wearing the Best Young Rider Jersey. Peter and I exchanged greetings and I told him to please talk slowly so I could understand what he was saying.
Peter Sagan is one of the huge names in the 2010 racing season. Only 21 years old he has already won two stages of Paris-Nice and a stage at the Tour off Romandie. This guy is going to be a big star. That's a good thing unless you are the interpreter since it seemed like just about everyone had a question for the Italian. Needless to say, everything went well.
After the press conference, I filed my stories and headed over to the Versus TV trailer to pick up Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. I was emceeing a charity fundraiser with Phil and Paul at the Testarossa Winery in Los Gatos. We had a great time. Phil and Paul told stories that had us all laughing our heads off. They are truly the best.
I got home around 10:30pm and had just enough time to proof my articles for the UK magazines and websites before hitting the sack at midnight.
Unfortunately, I was up at 5am to head down to the start in San Jose to do several TV interviews for KNTV-11 and KRON-4 for their morning shows. It is tough to be awake that early in the morning. Trying to be awake and upbeat is even more difficult.
The sun was coming up as we finished the last interview. I actually had time to drive home and get a couple more hours of sleep before heading back to the start line to catch up with the riders and record a few more interviews including a very nice chat with Johan Bruyneel about Lance's fitness level.
Well, that's how those 24 hours were spent. I didn't stop any terrorists or expose any dishonest members of the Presidential staff. That stuff I leave to Jack Bauer.
There are always more stories surrounding a bike race than just the stuff making he headlines. Here are some stories and accompanying photos.
Usually, each rider has his name on his bike so the mecahnics can tel them apart. For the Amgen Tour of California (AToC) the riders on Team Radio Shack have the name of a cancer survivor on their bikes. Here is a photo of the bike of three-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer. He is riding for Nate Wagner, a 3-year old cancer survivor from Santa Rosa. Nate has a lot of energy, unfortunately he prefers golf to riding bikes.
Several of the members of Team Bissell are having a goatee growing contest during the race. While the judging of such a contest is highly subjective, the consensus is Ben Jacques-Maynes (pictured below) is the early leader.
Paul Mach is a PhD candidate in Mathematics at University of California-Davis. He is a former All American 800m runner who switched to the bike about five years ago. He is also participating in the Bissell goatee contest. He is pictured here wearing the King of the Mountains jersey which he won on Stage 1.
Even though it was raining fairly hard for Stage 2, that didn't dampen the spirit of the fans in Levi Leipheimer's home town of Santa Rosa.
Stage 3 took the riders from San Francisco to Santa Cruz also known as Surf City, USA.
The first two stages of the Amgen Tour of California are complete and while the winner of Stage 1, Mark Cavendish, was no surprise, Brett Lancaster's victory on Stage 2 was not as predictable. In the race for the overall championship, three-time and defending champion, Levi Leipheimer (Team Radio Shack) is still on track for win number four. But, his main challengers, save for Fabian Cancellara, have also finished at the front meaning the race is still far from over.
Stage 1 from Nevada City to Sacramento was held in warm, dry weather and until the race hit the three 2-mile laps of the finishing circuits in downtown Sacramento it was a pretty boring affair. That's not to say that the first day's four man breakaway wasn't deserving of their time off the front, it is just that with the powerful HTC-Columbia team driving the chase, a field sprint was inevitable.
Drenching rain greeted the peloton for stage 2 and it was another breakway which dominated the early and mid-race action, but as in the first stage, the escapees were caught. But, unlike the first stage it wasn't the whole field rather a select group of the overall contenders including Leipheimer, Dave Zabriskie(Garmin-Transitions), Mick Rogers(HTC-Columbia) and Andy Schleck(Team Saxo Bank).
Noticably absent was Fabian Cancellara who started the race sick and succumbed to his illness and ultimately losing fifteen minutes by the stage finish.
Twenty five riders contested the sprint into Santa Rosa with Brett Lancaster(Cervelo Test Team) taking the win over emerging spring sensation Peter Sagan(Liquigas). Lance Armstrong, whose fitness had been called into question before the race, was also part of the lead group. Radio Shack had five of its eight riders in the front at the finish, a strong showing by their team which bodes well for the difficulties ahead.
Because of his stage 2 win and the accompanying time bonus, Lancaster assumed the overall race lead from Stage 1 winner Mark Cavendish. Tomorrow's stage, a hilly test from San Francisco to Santa Cruz will most likely cause a change in overall race leadership as well.
The Vancouver Winter Olympics are over and I have to say that the big winner is not the Americans who broke the record for total medals or the Canadians who won fourteen golds including a couple in that chase-the-puck sport. No, the big winner was NBC which decided to show a bunch of sports where Americans were not expected, nor did they win, any medals.
NBC's flagship station showed almost all the cross country ski events and most of the biathlon events as well. The competition was excellent regardless of the country of origin of the protagonists. I hope this is a sign of things to come from NBC in future Olympics.
Undoubtedly, the most dominating performance at the Games was Shaun White in Half Pipe Snowboard. Even though this is a judged sport, there was absolutely no question who was the best athlete out there. White is at another level. There is a real possibility that he will be able to break the bond of earth's gravity by the time he competes at Sochi in 2014.
The breakthrough performance of the Games goes to the Men's Nordic Combined team which won four medals, one gold and three silvers, in three events. The USA's men's team typified what the Olympics are all about. Hopefully, the success of the team will inspire young competitors to enter the sport.
When it comes to judging, Apollo Anton Ono was robbed of a medal in the men's 500m. Ono got disqualified for putting a hand on the skater in front of him. The Canadian referee somehow "missed" the hand the Canadian skater put on the South Korean which won him the gold. If you have rules, they should apply to all the athletes not just the ones that aren't from the same country as the referee.
I was pleased to see Steve Holcomb and his four-man bobsled team take gold in that event. After a disappointing showing in the two-man competition he rebounded to dominate and win the gold going away. Redemption is always sweet. Doing it at the Olympics is even sweeter.
I am not going to comment on the opening or closing ceremonies. The pageantry that is the Olympics is better left for the viewer to watch and judge. I am just glad that the organizing committee choose Neil Young to sing instead of Celine Dion or Anne Murray. Good call.
I have to get one dig in at NBC. Jerry Seinfeld's new show, The Marriage Ref, stinks. It is not funny and the couples who are judged on the show have nothing compelling about them to generate any interest about their lives. Shame on NBC for using the Olympics to plug such a flawed concept.