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Active Expert: Bruce Hildenbrand

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The Alps Baby!

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Jul 20, 2008

Ugly, rainy weather greeted the Tour for its first day in the Alps, where the overall champion will most likely be decided after three hard days of racing culminating with the legendary ascent of the 21 hairpins of l'Alpe d'Huez. The riders were understandably apprehensive given the pouring rain and thunderclaps. Team Garmin-Chipotle director Jonathan Vaughters agreed that this was a day that it was better to have been a pro than be a pro.

 

In between raindrops I wandered around the start village and team buses before the start of the stage from Embrun to Prato Nevoso talking to the team personnel and riders, trying to discover what lay ahead for the racers.

 

Jonathan Vaughters had a simple explanation of how the Alps would play out. "Everyone is so interested in the tactics on mountain stages. There are no tactics on mountain stages. On mountain stages your legs go or they don't. Tactics are for a week ago. Now we are into either you have horsepower or you don't." Regarding the final climb to Prato Nevoso, he commented, "It is not as selective as Huatacam; not as selective as Alpe d'Huez so I don't know. I think there will be a small group come to the line with the favorites in it."

 

Of course, everyone wanted to know how his star rider, Christian Vandevelde, is doing "Good. Yesterday he said that with 400 meters to go he was 'I almost attacked. I should have done it and tried to win the stage.. Anytime you have a guy like Christian who is not normally very explosive at all for a sprint finish thinking about sprinting just because why not, he's there, that means he's feeling good."

 

Power guru Dr. Allen Lim gave the scientific angle to the alpine stages. "They have only done about 30% of the real climbing kilometers. There is 70% of critical climbing kilometers still left in the race so it is hard to say how his numbers are looking. He has been riding with the GC contenders and that is great, about 5.5 to 5.9 watts/kg on climbs longer than 10 minutes. That's right where he needs to be if he can sustain that I think he has a good chance."

 

Remarking about the position the Garmin-Chipotle finds itself in with Vandevelde in a podium position, "Oh yeah, we are all nervous. But that's OK. He's(Vandevelde) got a handle on it."

 

The big news of the day was the abandon of Mark Cavendish. Team Columbia PR director Kristy Scrymgeour noted that Mark had already ridden and finished one grand tour this year, the Giro d'Italia, and at 23 he is still very young. Team management was responsible for making the decision who then convinced Mark that it was the right thing to do. There was a huge media scrum on the Team Columbia bus as Cavendish fielded questions, for the last time before heading to the Olympics where he is the odds on favorite to win the gold medal on the track in the Madison event where he will be partnered with his Team Columbia mate Bradley Wiggins.

 

After the scrum, I chatted briefly with Mark about his incredible performance at this year's Tour. "I rode my first Tour last year. I didn't get any results last year, but I was able to come back and know exactly how the Tour worked. I was able to use that to my advantage and with a strong team it worked out perfectly."

 

Mark's four stage wins were very convincing, sometimes winning by five or more bike lengths. I asked him if the ease of his wins was a surprise. "No I wasn't surprised by it. I have been doing it all year, more like the past 18 months, by that much. I am 2-3kph faster than anyone else. It is just a matter of getting there, getting your tactical things right and getting a strong team behind you to put you in that position and that is what happened."

 

On the Pyreneean stage to Huatacam, Fabian 'Spartacus' Cancellara of Team CSC Saxo Bank hauled himself over the Tourmalet in the lead group. It was an amazing performance by a rider who is gravitationally-challenged in the big mountains. "I had a good day and I followed the tactics of the team and everything was fine. We see today but, maybe it won't be the same as the Tourmalet," explains the Swiss rider. 

 

 

Cancellara was not impressed by the inclement weather. "Yesterday we had a lot of sun and today, ugh(pointing to the rain pouring down) we have to see if we have snow. Bad weather in the beginning; hopefully we will have good weather for the end."

 

The two time World Time Trial Champion outlined the race strategy for Team CSC Saxo Bank. "It depends on how the race develops. Maybe if some breakaways go, but otherwise we will stay quiet then see for Frank and Carlos on the last climb."

 

Fabian's teammate Jens Voigt echoed the strategy for the day's stage, "Maybe on the last climb we are going to try to do something. Of course we are going to try to get this one second back. On the last climb we will take our responsibility for this race and try to make it up."

 

 

Bruce

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race notes

 

What an exciting finale on both ends of the race. First, there was Danny Pate atempting to win Garmin-Chipotle's first stage of the Tour. Then there was the battle royale amongst all the favorites. I just love it when a rider gets dropped then claws his way back into contention. Andy Schleck seemed to have nine lives on the slopes of Prato Nevoso and was a big part of his brother, Frank, taking yellow.

 

Chapeau to Rabobank's Denis Menchov for getting right back up from a very unfortunate crash on greasy pavement right as he was launching a very promising attack. That's bike racing, but aggressive efforts should bring positive not negative rewards.

 

If you are wondering who the Gerlosteiner rider Bernard Kohl is, rewind back to the inaugural Tour of California in 2006 when he was riding for T-Mobile and ascended the fearsome Sierra Road climb in the lead group with eventual overall winner Levi Leipheimer.

 

In his post race interview Frank Schleck said the yellow jersey was the result of the work of a great team and his brother and Carlos Sastre on the final climb. After watching Team CSC Saxo Bank drill it on the flats to the base of Prato Nevoso it is hard to disagree. When asked who is the team leader, Frank replied that the team still has two leaders himself and Carlos Sastre.

 

Caisse d'Epargne rider Oscar Perriero suffered a horrific crash on the descent of the Col de Agnello.  He literally fell over the guard rail on one switchback and ended up on the road in the next switchback after a total fall of almost 20 feet.

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Biological Passports

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Jul 19, 2008

With the recent doping positives at the Tour, renewed attention has been given as to how to combat drugs in professional cycling. One solution which has shown a lot of promise is biological passports. In short, a biological passport is an ongoing record of an athlete's metabolic parameters such as heamatocrit and testosterone levels. At periodic intervals throughout the year, a rider is tested and his results are compared against those in his passport. Any abnormal fluctuations might indicate some form of doping.

 

While the idea is simple, the implementation is not. First off, there is the problem of collection. Giving urine is pretty easy and it is simple to store and transport. Blood is a different matter. Trained personnel are necessary for drawing blood and if it is not stored and transported correctly it may spoil and either give incorrect results or no results at all. Once the samples are taken, they must be analyzed by a laboratory which is accredited to do such testing. All this costs a lot of money. Teams like Garmin-Chipotle, who are currently carrying out their own personal biological testing, spend about $400,000/year to monitor about 25 riders.

 

This brings up an interesting point. Who should pay for the biological passports? Should individual teams pay for the testing. Garmin-Chipotle, Columbia and CSC Saxo Bank are doing just that. But, will the other teams follow suit. The big teams have a budget of around $8-10,000,000. Can they afford to spend upwards of $500,000 for testing?

 

Should the sanctioning organization, that would currently be the UCI, pay for the testing. Currently, the UCI makes the races pay for the cost of the testing at a race. They really don't have anyway to raise sufficient funds so they would just pass the responsibility onto the teams by increasing fees. Should the World Anti-Doping Agency(WADA) pay for the testing. Again, they really don't have much of a way to raise funds and would probably just pass the buck down to the sanctioning organization which would then hit up the teams.

 

So, it appears that the teams should pay for the testing. After all, it is their riders who are performing and they stand to benefit the most by having a clean squad. This is clearly a hardship for the smaller teams with smaller budgets, but the crisis in the sport is critical enough that a way must be found to make this testing affordable. Dr. Paul Strauss of the Agency for Cycling Ethics (ACE) which is responsible for doing the biological testing for Garmin-Chipotle and Columbia, acknowledges that economies of scale could bring down the prices.

 

Which brings us to the current squabble between the UCI and ASO and the recent death of the UCI's Pro Tour. The UCI has stated that without the ProTour it does not have the resources to pursue biological passports. This seems to me to be more spite than fact as the UCI was never going to foot the bill out of it's own coffers and would have passed the cost onto the teams.

 

Here is what I think should happen. The WADA should be responsible for determining what biological parameters should be included in the biological passport. The WADA should also produce a list of laboratories and testing organizations, like ACE, which are accredited to do the testing and/or subsequent analysis. Next, regardless if the sanctioning organization is the UCI or ASO, they should require a valid, current biological passport for every rider participating in an event they sanction. Lastly, the teams bear the cost of maintaining a valid, current biological passport for each of its riders.

 

Everybody from WADA, UCI, ASO and the teams need to work together to help solve the problem of doping in cycling.

 

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Race Notes

 

The day after Cadel Evans took the yellow jersey over Frank Schleck by a scant one second, l'Equipe ran a cartoon of Evans heading up to the podium with Schleck right behind him. Cadel was turning around saying to Schleck, "wait one second!"

 

It appears that the Saunier Duval saga is not over as the title sponsor, which makes airc onditioning units has announced that they will most likely leave the sport at the end of the season.

 

It has been a long hot drag across the southern France. On today's stage Will Frischkorn was suffering from cramps and had to stop to work out the kinks. He rejoined the peloton.

 

Yet another day of French riders going up the road. We have seen more attacking by the French in the 2008 Tour de France than in all of World War II.

 

Word has also reached us that the title sponsor for Team Barloworld will not be returning next year either.

 

Time for more positive images from the Tour. I shot this photo at the sign-in one day. It is nice to see the family aspect to the sport.

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A Pro's Pro

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Jul 18, 2008

 

One of my favorite riders in the peloton is Jens Voigt of Team CSC Saxo Bank. To me he exemplifies everything that it takes to be and act like a professional cyclist. He can be counted on to go and do whatever the team director asks whether it is to go to the front to reel in a late race breakaway, or set pace in the mountains to launch their team leader. He does these tasks with little hesitation and his pounding style on the bike when he is going hard is visible evidence that he is sacrificing himself for his team.

 

 

Just when you thought you had seen him do it all, there he is climbing with all the favorites on the Col du Tourmalet. Make no mistake, Jens is not built to be a climber. The man has some meat on his bones, you won't see him getting blown over in a strong wind. It is almost as if he simply wills himself up the road. On the Tourmalet, pre-race favorites Alejandro Valverde and Damiano Cunego had been dropped, but there was Jens still in the lead group doing his job. He had company in his uber-teammate Fabian Cancellara and when the lead group hit the flats to the base of the final climb, the two Team CSC Saxo Bank riders drilled it to bring back all the breakaways and set up the exciting finish which saw their teammate, Frank Schleck, miss the yellow jersey by the slimmest of margins.

 

 

It was mission accomplished for Jens and Fabian. Just another day as a domestique at the Tour. To be fair, Jens wins his share of races during the year. This past March he won the Criterium International for the umpteenth time with an audacious breakaway on the race's hilly second stage. Last year, he won the week-long Tour of Germany, his home tour for the second time.

 

 

 

 

I got the chance to hang out with Jens this past February at the Team CSC training camp. We chatted about a number of things. Jens' wife had just given birth to their fifth child, he remarked that he is 37, but he needed to get a five-year extension on his contract as he had a lot of mouths to feed. We talked about the immigration problems facing the US and Jens remarked that Germany had similar problems, having imported a lot of cheap labor from Turkey. He was surprised at his popularity in the USA, recounting the story of being out on a training ride in Southern California only to have a UPS driver pull over, stop, lean out of his cab and yell, "Go Jensy!"

 

 

Personally, I hope Jens gets that extension. The pro peloton wouldn't be the same without him.

 

 

Bruce

 

 

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You might be wondering why, with four stage wins, Mark Cavendish isn't wearing the green jersey of the race's best sprinter. The reason is simple, he doesn't contest every sprint and the ones he is absent from the front he is way back just hanging out. A rider like Thor Hushovd or Oscar Friere may not be winning as much, but the points they are scoring for their top-5 and top-10 finishes each stage are enough to offset the 35 points Cavendish gets for each win. If you really want the green jersey, you have to try and contest all the sprints.

 

 

Gerlosteiner's Sven Krauss was involved in a horrifying crash in the closing kilometers when he hit a metal traffic sign in the middle of the road at the entrance to a roundabout. Somebody in the Tour organization wasn't doing their job. There is usually a gendarme waving a flag and blowing a whistle at such dangerous signs. Luckily for Krauss, his bike, which was broken in two, appeared to suffer the majority of the damage.

 

 

Today, Scott-Saunier Duval Team management fired both Riccardo Ricco and Leonardo Piepoli. They accounted for all three of the teams stage wins at the Tour.

 

 

 

For those of you who were unable to see the photo of the Euskatel-Euskadi rider giving his bottle to a young fan at a stage finish, check the previous blog "Tour of Surprises Continues" it should be visible now. BTW, the kid's father gave me his E-mail address and I mailed him a copy of the photo.

 

 

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There is so much going on at the 2008 Tour de France, I just don't know where to begin. One huge development is the positive test by Riccardo Ricco for EPO.  Actually, he tested positive for a very new version of EPO which has only been commercially available since the beginning of the year. This new version of EPO known as CERA or Micera is so new that there is no accepted test for the drug.  Remember that this Tour, unlike years past, is not run under the sanction of the UCI.  The French Cycling Federation is the sanctioning body and it was their lab who returned the positive test.

 

Adding to the mystery is the fact that Ricco has a medically-documented high hematocrit level so unless he was over that limit, it is not clear, in the absence of a valid test that he could be found positive. Regardless, the entire Scott-Saunier Duval team has withdrawn from the Tour, shades of 2007 which saw the exits of both Astana and Cofidis when their riders tested positive.  However, this time, the decision to remove the team came from Scott-Saunier Duval management and not from the Tour organizers.

 

This is a very sticky mess that has left a lot of those in the sport shaking their heads. Ricco has been on the watch list since the start of the Tour.  When he shot out of the lead group on the Col du Aspin, I joked to one of my colleagues in the press room that it was not a very wise move and now Ricco would clearly be in the spotlight for a doping offense.

 

On a completely different matter, but slightly related, on the rest day in Pau, 17 of the 18 Pro Tour teams (Astana was not invited to the Tour) announced that they would not be renewing their UCI ProTour license in 2009 effectively killing the ProTour.  I don't know too many people who are losing sleep over the demise of the ProTour.  While the UCI has stated various reasons for its inception, it appears that the only real reason for starting it was for the UCI to be able to get its hands on the Tour De France's TV money.  The UCI should get back to its original charter of sanctioning races and teams.  That's what they seem to do best.

 

How do you all feel about Ricco's positive and/or the demise of the ProTour?

 

Bruce

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Race Notes

 

When you are on a roll you are on a roll.  Team Columbia looked to have the leadout train dialed to perfection as they gave Mark Cavendish an armchair ride to the finish for win number three.  In his post race interview on France 2 TV with Gerard Hotlz he remarked about the victory.  "Three wins in very different conditions.  It just shows how strong the team is. Even if we don't win another stage we can be very content."  Commenting on the exclusion of Riccardo Ricco he remarked, "It is bad for the organization, but it is good for me that the tests do work."

 

Cadel Evans retains the yellow jersey. He rode very smartly today always being in the front of the peloton in order to avoid any crashes.  He commented to Holtz,"it is hard to stay in the first 20, but on days like this it is critical."  Looking forward to the difficulties to come, he told Holtz, "Jausier and l'Alpe d' Heuz will be difficult as will the time trial.  Last year the final time trial played out like a Hollywood script."  And lastly, we learn of the philanthropy of the Australian, "all of my jerseys from the Tour are donated to charities or to people who have helped me in my career."  Pretty cool.

 

OK. On a day when the Tour seems to only be about bad things, I thought this photo would lighten things up a bit.  Everyday as the riders come across the finish line and head to the team buses the fans are there to cheer support. In this photo, a rider from the Basque team Euskaltel-Euskadi team gives his bottle to one of his Basque fans who will not soon forget this day.

 

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More Rest Day Musings

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Jul 15, 2008

 

I talked with Jonathan Vaughters about Christian Vandevelde's gritty ride up Huatacam. As those of you who have ridden the climb know it is a stair-stepped ascent rather than a constant grade and requires a punchy style of riding to race it to full potential. So, when Vandevelde went with Bernhard Kohl's attack which would have netted him the yellow jersey, Christian decided since he is more of a steady tempo rider to let Kohl go and not try to punch it up the climb to gain time.  That shows a lot of maturity from Vandevelde. The Tour is a three week race and there are times when you have to ride tour own style on the climbs rather than blow up and lose big minutes trying to do something you can't.

 

 

It turns out that while that statistically, Huatacam look very similar to l'Alpe d'Huez on paper.  Both climbs are 8 miles (13km) long and climb 3700'(1100m). Not surprisingly, the record up l'ALpe is 36 minutes and on Monday, Leonardo Piepoli's time up Huatacam was 37'11".

 

 

I chatted a bit with Garmin-Chipotle rider Canadian Ryder Hesjedal on the differnces between the Giro and the Tour.  He remarked that this year's Giro was very difficult because of all the logistical transfers which had riders getting to their hotels very late a night and then up early the next morning.  When asked about how the racing compares he replied that they speed of the racing is very similar noting that in the Giro it seemed like everyday some Italian riders went up the road and here at the Tour is seems like everyday some French riders are heading up the road.

 

 

All the members of the Garmin-Chipotle team I talked to agreed that now that Christian Vandevelde's excellent riding has put him in third overall the team has a pretty clear mission to take care of their team leader for the remainder of the race. The extra motivation that this new mission provides should help the riders raise their game a bit and help them focus on getting through what is the first ever Tour de France for six of the nine riders.

 

 

Without a doubt, the best food I have had in France was at the Team Garmin-Chipotle burrito rest day party. The squad had the chefs at the Hotel Parc Beaumont (great digs if you ever need a place to stay in Pau) prepare a real-life American grilled chicken burrito complete with guacamole. The best thing about the burrito is that, save for the tortilla, all the ingredients were grown in France. All he riders partook in the feast as did a whole scrum of always-hungry journalists who were also treated to margaritas before the feats.

 

 

 

 

Thanks to Garmin-Chipotle riders Will Frischkorn and Trent Lowe for providing the hands in the burrito photo.

 

 

The founder of Chipotle restaurants, Steve Ells, was present at the party and hinted that he is looking to expand his very successful line of eateries to Europe. Steve is also an avid cyclist who is looking forward to riding l'Alpe d'Huez later in the race.

 

 

 

Tour organises released a lis of all the prize money won by the teams by the first rest day. Team Scott-Saunier Duval with three stage wins leads the pack with 50,000 euro. Team Columbia with two stage wins and some days with high stage placings and jerseys is second also with 50,000 euro.  In last, with only 1,000 euro so far is the Italian Lampre team which has seen its hopes for the overall win, Damiano Cunego, struggle.

 

 

One of the hottest items at the Tour are T-Shirts emblazoned with the slogan "What would Jens do?" Clearly the German is a huge favorite with fans of all nationalitities who love his attacking style and happy-go-lucky off-the-bike personality.

 

 

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Rest Day Antics

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Jul 15, 2008

Today is the first rest day of the Tour so I caught up with one budding cycling legend, Mark Cavendish, and one bonafide cycling legend, Bernard Hinault, and sat down with each for a one-on-one interview to see what was shaking. Mark has been a huge hit in only his second Tour winning two stages and doing it in grand fashion. He struggled on yesterday's mountain stage coming in dead last, but in his defense he crashed early on in the stage and the race doctor, Gerard Porte, gave him something for the pain which upset his stomach. Bernard Hinault is not only a five-time winner of the Tour, but he is the last Frenchman, way back in 1985, to do so. He is now one of the organizers of the Tour, you can see him each day as he greats the riders after they leave the podium.

 

I asked Mark what it takes to win a stage of the Tour in the always chaotic field sprints. "First and foremost it takes a good team to get you to the finish. I've got an amazingly strong team that gets me there to the finish. You need the speed in the end, but you need to save all your power and punch so you can use it in the last few hundred meters of the finish. That's where you need a great team behind you."

 

 

Do you have to be slightly crazy to deal with all the dangers and be a great field sprinter. "I think the reason it looks so dangerous is that there is not that much going through your mind apart from being first across the finish line. You haven't got time to think about anything else. You haven't got time to think about the consequences or anything like that. You just have to be first. That's what matters."

 

 

"Sure it is dangerous, but if you start thinking about it you are not going to win. If you are driving a car and you come fast into a corner if there is something in your mind that says maybe I should slow down because my brakes don't work or my tires don't work. In cycling I don't have that. You can't really have that. You can't really think of consequences. You can't think of anything except being first across the line."

 

 

Bernard Hinault still looks as fit as he did when he climbed off his bike in 1986. The five-time tour winner commented on how the race has gone through the first rest day. "It has been a great Tour. After yesterday, you have only one second between Evans and Schleck for the yellow jersey. Even without a prologue there has been excitement from the beginning. It was a short first time trial but it produced some interesting results none the less. The stage finish to Super-Besse was very exciting and now we have had two spectacular days in the Pyrenees. I think it has been a great race so far for the riders and the fans."

 

 

 

 

When asked about who he fancies for the yellow jersey in Paris, he replied,"I don't know. The stages in the Alps are yet to come. The Agnello is long and hard and nobody knows about the finish in Italy. Then you have the Col de la Bonnette which is very long and hard. Then you finish on Alpe d'Huez. It could be Evans. It could be Menchov, Schleck or even Vandevelde the American."

 

 

Hinault is most remembered by Americans for his battle with teammate Greg Lemond for the yellow jersey in 1986, a race where in the end, Lemond finished first and Hinault second. Lemond has been at the Tour this year; how have the two former teammates and competitors been getting along? "We had our differences as competitors, but we are now friends. We have talked a lot at the Tour and have shared stories of our familes."

 

 

Bruce

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CSC Superb

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Jul 14, 2008

Team CSC-Saxo Bank gave everyone a primer in bike racing 101 and setup one of the most exciting finale's in recent Tour history. With only two climbs, albeit big ones, on the menu, Bjarne Riis' boys managed to coax their two biggest engines over the monstrous Col du Tourmalet in the lead group of 25 riders the result being that it was game on for all the contenders at the base of Huatacam, the 8-mile, 3700' climb to the finish. And when pre-race favorites Alejandro Valverde and Damiano Cunego were dropped on the Tourmalet, the spearhead by CSC not only reeled in the early breakaways, but put an insurmountable 3 minute gap on the Spaniard and Italian virtually eliminating from overall contention.

 

Team CSC had three contenders, Carlos Sastre, Frank Schleck and Andy Schleck, in the lead group and when the ascent of Huatacam was underway, they all took their chance with Frank's surge providing the winning move. Two Scott-Saunier Duval riders Leonardo Piepoli and Jose Cobo Acebo came along to duke it out for the stage win, but it was Schleck who stood to gain the most with the yellow jersey in the balance.

 

The chasers included Cadel Evans, Denis Menchov, Carlos Sastre, Riccardo Rico and Christian Vandevelde, a formidable group from which the Tour podium in Paris will undoubtedly be filled. Evans, who as the heavy pre-race favorite, had the most to lose did not respond. He can put minutes into Schleck in the final 50km time trial so there was no urgent reason to chase. In the end, that group stayed together and while Schleck finished about 1:49' ahead of Evans, he missed the yellow by a scant second.

 

Not to be a homer, but I was most inpressed with the ride of Gamin-Cbipotle rider Christian Vandevelde. He held onto his third place overall with a gutty ride that at times had him on the ropes only to see him claw back the Evans group. Before the start of the stage, his team director, Jonathan Vaughters, remarked,"this is the crux day of the Tour for Christian. He always rides stronger in the third week of a grand tour and you know he will do well in the final time trial."

 

Team Garmin-Chipotle power guru, Dr. Allen Lim was asked, after Christian came up short in the big mountains of the Giro, how would he fair in the big mountains of the Tour. "We used the Giro only for training. It was hard enough that just riding it for training was very hard."

 

What a great day for the Tour and all the contenders. Frank Schleck has finally begun to fulfill the potential he demonstrated when he won the l'Alpe d'Huez stage in 2006. Cadel Evans dons his first ever yellow jersey, and Christian Vandevelde emerges from his role as domestique to prove that he is a true team leader who can deliver in the time trials and also the mountains.

 

Bruce

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Race Notes

 

I talked with yellow jersey wearer and Team Columbia rider Kim Kirchen before the start. I asked him what was the difference between his climbing in the Tour of Switzerland when he struggled in the high mountains and his performance in the Tour, where he finished with the lead group on Stage 9 over the Peyersourde and Aspin and retained the jersey. "I had a bit if trouble on the climbs yesterday but, today(Stage 10) are the real big climbs. We will see how I do today," he replied candidly.

 

For those of you into power and performance numbers, I chatted with Dr. Allen Lim about the fantastic climbing performance by Riccardo Ricco on Stage 9. Dr. Lim noted that Ricco was climbing at around 6.5 watts/kg, very close to Lance Armstrong's legendary 6.7 watts/kg, while the rest of the leaders were at abot 6.0 watts/kg. That's almost a 10% difference. Ricco's Vertical Ascent in Meters per Hour(VAM) was about 1790M(5950') while the leaders chasing him were at 1650M(5500'). Wow!

 

In the post-stage press conference, Cadel was asked how his horrific crash on yesterday's stage affected his performance today. He basically said that he has some bruising and swelling, but the team doctor has worked with him for years and got him ready to ride after which his team did an good job of delivering him to the final climb.

 

Cadel acknowledged that he doesn't have the strongest team in the race and when it comes to deciding how to defend the yellow jersey, the team would have to do some strategizing on the first rest day to figure out what to do.

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Rider Nicknames

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Jul 13, 2008

We all know who the Texas Tornado is and his chief rival Der Kaiser. How about 'the Cannibal' or 'Pou-Pou'? It is a pretty common practice in the sporting world to give our favorite athletes nicknames. Some, like the aforementioned Cannibal, describe the way they ride a bike while others like 'Chechu' Rubiera are named for for their mother's favorite character in a Spanish radio soap opera.

 

Sometimes it is easy to figure out where the nickname came from. Eddy Merckx is pretty much considered the best professional rider to ever throw a leg over a bike. He won an amazing one-third of the races he entered and would simply destroy his competition when he saw fit. He was given that name by a journalist in the early 70's and it stuck. The cannibal is a totally appropriate name to describe Merckx's riding style.

 

There have been some other pretty good nicknames in the past. Bernard Hinault was the badger for his fierce competitive nature. The diminutive, two-time World Champion Paolo Bettini is known as the cricket. Rouler exceptionale Fabian Cancellara was given the moniker 'Spartacus' by a teammate from his days on the Italian Fassa Bortolo team. The winner of the 2006 Paris-Roubaix, which closely resembles a chariot race, could easily be mistaken for a Roman gladiator.

 

Scott-Saunier Duval rider Riccardo Ricco is known as the Cobra, a name given to him by a friend. It is not known what prompted that name, but his consistently aggressive riding style in the past two Giro d'Italias certainly seem to indicate that it's a pretty good call. And if you saw him launch his searing attack today on the Col du Aspin there is no doubt that he name is well-deserved. Ricco launched with such absolute fury that the lead group simply had no response.

 

Do you have any favorite rider nicknames to share or have you made up a nickname or two you would like to propose for a rider?

 

Bruce

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Race Notes

 

It was great to see Christian Vandevelde finish in the lead group which moved him up to 3rd overall. He looked relaxed and content as he crossed the finish line. Here's hoping that Christian continues to show his climbing form tomorrow on the Col du Tourmalet and Huatacam. He is clearly capable of being there.

Will Frischkorn stopped by after the finish and remarked that he was loving the grupetto days such as this when he could just ride tempo and not worry about going up the road. He called his move on Stage 3 'the suicide breakaway which never succeeds' and was pleased that all four riders in the group wanted to work hard enough to take it to the finish.

The big guns will be firing on the Col du Tourmalet and Huatacam tomorrow. Both these climbs have the capability to rip the race apart. Look for the majority of the action to come on the 8-mile 3700' climb of Huatacam to the finish.

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Rain, Rain Go Away

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Jul 12, 2008

Rain was the main course as the Tour snaked south towards its rendezvous in the Pyrenees tomorrow.  Unlike sports like baseball, rain very rarely cancels a bike race, let alone a stage of the world's greatest race. These guys are all about suffering and a day in the rain only adds to the evidence that professional riders are the hard men of the road. That doesn't mean they have to like it, but they totally accept the fact that they are going to get wet (and cold!).

 

Riding safely in the rain does require some additional attention and skills and while there does appear to be more crashes on a wet day, without the abilities of the top pros, it could easily be total carnage. There are some basic rules they like to obey. First off, they avoid rolling over any painted surfaces, the bigger the painted surface the more they avoid it. The reason is simple, paint does not absorb water and hence a film of water will build up. Since the contact patch of a road tire is about the size of a postage stamp, hydroplaning is a real concern.

 

It is bad enough that there are lots of traffic regulating paint on the road, but when the rabid Tour fans go completely nuts and paint a huge section of roadway with their country's flag, this creates a mini-skating rink that is exceptionally dangerous. In 2002, American Freddie Rodriguez crashed out on just such a flag on the second day of the Tour. So, avoid paint at all costs.

 

Metal grates and manhole covers are another land mine. These things become so slick when wet that one minute you are up, the next you are eating asphalt.  Unfortunately, metal surfaces seem to abound in the towns along the Tour route. Not a great welcome for the peloton.

 

As we have all seen in the classic of classics Paris-Roubaix, stone surfaces are also very slick and dangerous. For some reason, every town in France seems to want to reclaim their roots and have at least one section of stones right in the middle of town to remind us all of times past. Luckily, most of these sections are usually found on straight portions of the road and not in turns.

 

So, when it gets wet, take a tip from the pros at the Tour. Stay away from painted surfaces, metal covers and grates and brick and stones. Asphalt baby!

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Race Notes

 

It was a text book win for Mark Cavendish today. His team did an incredible job all day long riding at the front for Kim Kirchen in yellow and then swtiched to leadout mode for the win. In fact, with Ciolek (2nd) and Kirchen (4th) there were three Team Columbia riders in the top four. In his post race interview, Cavendish re-iterated that he is feeling strong and has no plans to drop out in the mountains.  He thinks his next chance for a stage win many come on stage 12, but also acknowledged that the traditional breakaway during such a transitional stage between the Pyrenees and the Alps may foil his chances.

 

Yesterday, news of the first doping positive of the Tour was announced. Liquigas rider, Manuel Beltran, tested positive for EPO. Beltran was one of ten riders who had abnormal blood values during the Tour's medical checks the week before the start and because of this was targeted for additional testing during the race.

The identities of the other nine riders have not been released nor have they, as yet, tested positive for any banned substances.

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Team Columbia Shines

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Jul 11, 2008

For the first time in Tour history there are two American teams participating and both are showing well.  While Jonathan Vaughters' Garmin-Chipotle squad has been sending riders up the road and getting a lot of TV time, Team Columbia has quietly been leaving it's mark, though as the days progress, that mark seems to be getting bigger and bigger.

 

Bob Stapleton's squad now holds the yellow (Kim Kirchen), green (Kirchen) and white (Thomas Lokvist) jerseys as well as a stage win by Mark Cavendish which all adds up to an exceptional showing in the first week of the Tour. And what makes the results even more impressive is that Team Columbia is doing it with a bunch of young riders.  Cavendish, Lokvist, Gerard Ciolek Marcus Burghardt and Kanstantin Siutsov are all 25 years old or younger and are in either their first or second year at the Tour.  Adam Hansen and Bernard Eisel are just 27 and it is the first Tour for Hansen.

 

This might seem like a coincidence, but it's not. You may remember that Team Columbia started the year as Team High Road Sports which before that was the old T-Mobile/Team Telekom squad. T-Mobile was rocked by doping allegations during the 2006 Tour which left Jan Ullrich out of the race and at the end of the season, the sponsors put Stapleton in charge, hoping that fresh blood at the top could turn things around. Unfortunately, the problems with the team were much deeper than just upper management and 2007 was another year of doping scandals for team.

 

At the team's training camp this past January, I talked with Bob about the 2007 season. He felt like he had let everyone down, having been brought in to make a difference only to see the same things happen. To be honest, it wasn't his fault.He inherited riders and team management which were still operating under the previous mindset. So, for 2008, Bob cleaned house with major personnel changes both on and off the bike. It was a total overhaul as only two riders from the team prior to 2006 were re-signed.

 

Also, Stapleton engaged the Agence for Ethics in Cycling(ACE) to do periodic drug testing and monitoring of biological parameters.  This is the same outfit which is working with the other American team Garmin-Chipotle. So, now it is Bob's team and the buck stops with the soft-spoken resident of San Luis Obispo in

California.

 

The team had been enjoying a hugely successful season with Kirchen's win at Fleche Wallone, Siutsov's victory at Tour de Georgia and three stage wins in the Giro d'Italia just to name a few of the teams 70+ wins. To be sure, some of those victories have come from the women's team which has also been having a stellar season.  All in all, it really does appear that Stapleton has turned things around and with the recent signing of Columbia Sportswear as the title sponsor, these guys are truly on a roll.

 

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Race Notes

 

-After a week of watching every French rider in the peloton go up the road (having not won their home race in 23 years must be creating some sort of inferiority complex), it was refreshing to see three Spaniards and an Italian in the the critical move today.  As we get closer to the Pyrenees, expect the Spaniards to be even more animated.

 

-Spartacus(Fabian Cancellara) is having some fun with the race officials.  He is wearing unlucky race number 13 which he wears upside down on his left side.

 

-It was great to see George Hincapie at the front today working for team leader Kim Kirchen. It brings back memories when Hincapie would sit on the front all day for Lance Armstrong.  If there was ever a better domestique, well, I can't think of one at the moment.

 

-Was anybody surprised to see Jens Voigt in the breakaway today going for a stage win? Like Mark Cavendish, that guy is excitement on wheels. He tried and tried in the Giro earlier this year before winning just a few dyas before the finish. I am hoping that he gets another stage win in France. If it happens it certainly won't be for lack of trying.

 

-Alejandro Valverde looks like an advertisement for the the Mummy Returns.  His entire right calf and right arm are wrapped in bandages from a crash on stage 5.The fact that he finished second to Ricardo Ricco on the next days mountain stage is incredible since he was only able to sleep for two hours because of the injury.  These guys truly are the hard men of the road.

 

-the Garmin-Chipotle team continued it's aggressive ways with David Millar jumping into the same breakway as Jens Voigt.  With Millar only a minute back from the yellow jersey he probably wasn't warmly welcomed into the move by his breakaway companions, but it was yet another indication that the team weren't just in France to eat some crepes and work on their tans.

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Christian Vandevelde

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Jul 10, 2008

With 3 miles to go in the first mountain stage of the Tour, once again, it was a Garmin-Chipotle rider providing the fireworks.  Christian Vandevelde rocketed out of the lead group and only Saunier Duval's Leonardo Piepoli could follow.  With one mile remaining it looked like these two had made the winning move and with Piepoli's sprint being almost non-existent, it appeared that Vandevelde was on his way to notching his first stage victory at the Tour and the first for Garmin-Chipotle.

 

Unfortunately, there was still just enough fight in the chasing group and everything came back together just under the red kite signifying one kilometer to go.  It seems a bit trite to say 'nothing ventured, nothing won' but that's exactly what happens everyday at the Tour. But, with Vandevelde moving up to fourth overall there is a silver lining to the cloud for the leader of the Garmin-Chipotle squad.

 

It might seem like decades ago, but Christian rode his first Tour in 1999 in support of Lance Armstrong's first yellow jersey.  A pursuiter on the track by training, Christian's move to the road was the natural progression for a rider wanting to turn pro.  He once told me that even though he rode the pursuit on the track, he logged 15,000 miles per year on the road in training.

 

Vandevelde comes from pretty good stock.  His father was also a bike racer who is probably most famous as one of the Italians on Team Cinzano in the movie 'Breaking Away'. His sister Marissa was also a national caliber rider on the track.

 

Once he proved himself helping Lance on US Postal in 1999, he was picked to ride the Tour the following year. Unfortunately he crashed in the team time trial and did not see Paris. All set for 2001, a spider bite at the last minute left him off of Lance's Tour team. In 2002, everything looked like it was on track for yet another reutrn to the Tour, but when Christian went home to rest after riding the classics, he was replaced by one of the new Spaniards on the team.

 

Don't get mad, get even which is exactly what Vandevelde did when he was picked by US Postal to ride in support of Roberto Heras at the Vuelta a Espana at the end of the year.  He rode superbly in the mountains and paced Heras up all the big hills.  But, 2003 was another disappointing year with fewer chances to show his talent so when Heras left for Liberty Seguros in 2004, he brought Christian with him.

 

Vandevelde spent his last several years at CSC, rebuilding his career under the direction of Bjarne Riis.  He won the Tour of Luxembourg and almost pulled off a Tour stage win into Gap in 2006. When Slipstream Sports signed him for 2008, it looked to be a great marriage of a talented American on a US team.  With his time trialing and climbing skills, he was targeted as team leader for stage races, something that seemed like a natural progression as he matured as a rider.

 

Christian delivered the goods, notching the first win for the team in Europe with a victory in the time trial stage at the Circuit de la Sarthe.  When the team bested everyone at the Giro d'Italia's first stage team time trial it seemed only fitting that Vandevelde should be first across the line and claim the maglia rosa, the pink leader's jersey. Just as in the Tour, he attacked in the mountains, but fell short. He redeemed himself with a fine top-5 finish in the final time trial into Milan.

 

Wearing number 191 at the Tour signifies that he is the team leader something that he appears to be taking very seriously.  His top-10 performance in the first time trial is exactly where a team leader needs to be and rather than follow wheels, his attack today to Super Besse showed that he is here in France to put the Garmin-Chipotle jersey at the front of the race.  Vandevelde has shown in the past that he can climb well in the big mountains, but he will need to be more consistent to contend for the Tour podium. Regardless of the result come Paris, we saw Christian's character today.  Bravo!

 

Bruce

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Who is your favorite rider in the pro peloton? I have not been bashful about naming Team Columbia's Mark Cavendish as one of my faves.  I love to climb and find the climbing stages of the Tour to be super exciting. The attacks Contador launched against Rasmussen at last year's Tour were exceptionally gripping.  It was mano y mano, no holds barred riding.  But, there is just something about Cavendish that transcends the mountains and puts a flatlander on my list.

 

I guess it was at the 2008 Tour of California when Mark came back from a horrendous crash on the stage into Santa Clarita to win the stage.  And, yes, he is still the winner in my book.  If you have been watching the Tour, there have been numerous instances of pacing back with a car; George Hincapie got paced back in the final 10km of the stage today. For some reason, the officials in the US have ignored the spirit of the rule and continue to penalize riders for behavoir that is accepted and commonplace in the European pro peloton.

 

Regardless of whether you think Cavendish won that stage, the performance he gave in those closing kilometers was nothing short of spectacular and it opened my eyes to a huge talent. To be a top-notch field sprinter you have to be lightening fast, but you also have to be a bit crazy as well. If you have 42cm handlebars you are always looking for 43cm openings to squeeze through and when you are going 40+mph everything looks like you are in hyperspace. Clearly, effective field sprinting is part physical, part mental and Cavendish has them both.

 

Then you have today's finish when the Frenchies were finally foiled and Cavendish brought home the bacon! In a post race interview with Gerard Porte on French TV, Mark thanked his team for all the hard work and called it a team victory.  OK so maybe that is the standard line, but how about in Giro when he looked back and when he realized there was no one behind them, he gave the stage win to his leadout man, Andre Greipel. That's class!

 

Cavendish was also asked if he would be leaving the Tour early to prepare for the Olympics where he is the odds on favorite to take home the gold in the Madison race on the track. Mark replied that it wouldn't be fair to his team or the race organizers if he left early and his goal is to make it to Paris.  To be fair he did mention that the mountains looked pretty daunting, but the climbs in the Giro were much harder and he survived them. Should we start rehearsing God Save the Queen for the Champs Elysees?

 

OK. So I have been spouting off about one of my favorite riders in the pro peloton, I am certain you all out there have a favorite or two as well.  Let's here who you all like and why.

 

Bruce

 

ps - somebody should tell Nicholas Vogondy that you are way more aero in the drops than on top of the hoods. Maybe he was totally cooked but when you are trying to win a stage, you gotta do just about everything right and trying to power to the finish sitting up with your hands on the hoods is not optimal.

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Today was the first big test of the 2008 Tour de France, an 18-mile (29.5 km) time trial in Cholet, and there were a few surprises both in the stage winner and the holder of the yellow jersey. Well, the same guy won both with an inspired ride which left heavy favorite Fabian Cancellara in fifth place. It all goes to show the up and down nature of cycling. Last year 'Spartacus' as he is known to his teammates, was winning against the clock and in the front of the whole peloton.

 

But, this is not about those who didn't deliver, this is about those who did. And, Gerlosteiner's Stefan Schumacher did just that making the post-race trip to the podium for both the stage win and to get the maillot jaune. My guess is his failed bid to win stage one is all but forgotten and it was a bittersweet victory for his team who is losing their title sponser at year's end. Maybe that is a valid reason for sipping champagne tonight at dinner instead of the sponsor's bottled water.

 

Schumacher wears his teams lowest number which means that he is the designated team leader, but few believe that even though he has won hilly classics like the Amstel Gold Race, he will not be up with leaders in the big mountains. Hey, but that doesn't mean he can't enjoy the yellow jersey while he has it. In fact, not having to worry about defending it in the mountains probably takes a lot of pressure off both Stefan and his team.

 

The next big test is the stage to Super Besse on Thursday. There are two moderately big climbs one right after the other for the first authentic mountain-top finish of this year's Tour. Schumacher might just be able to climb well enough to hold onto the jersey, though if he does succeed, the Pyrenees loom two days later. What's a rider to do?

 

In the chase for the overall title, Cadel Evans and Denis Menchov were right there, but all their challengers, Cunego, Valverde, Sastre, were closely grouped about a minute back. That's bad news for those three, but it's good news for us as there will clearly be some fireworks when we reach the mountains.

 

How about those Garmin-Chipotle boys? Millar and Vandevelde rode exceptionally well to put both of them top ten on the stage and top ten overall. In fact, Millar was a hair's breadth of taking the stage, a second top-three finish for the team in two days.

 

The other American squad, Team Columbia, put three of its boys in top ten as well with Kim Kirchen, George Hincapie and Thomas Loqvist. The Swede also claimed the white jersey as best young rider while Kirchen wears the green sprinter's jersey. Not a bad day for America if you are keeping score.

 

I am still rooting for Mark Cavendish to win a stage. Tomorrow is an excellent opportunity before then next sorting out on Thursday. Now that France has both a stage win and held the yellow jersey, maybe they will settle down and quick flying up the road at every opportunity. Not!

 

Bruce

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Will's Wild Ride

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Jul 7, 2008

The 2008 Tour continues to provide an E-ticket ride through France and today's stage was just another day of thrills and spills on the way to Paris. The thrills were provided by Garmin-Chipotle rider Will Frischkorn and his three breakaway companions who beat the odds and held off the peloton to win. They were undoubtedly aided by a horrific crash with about 20km remaining which split the peloton into three groups and put a huge dent into the overall hopes of several riders.

 

On the positive side of today's stage, what can you say about the ride of Will Frischkorn? His is his first ever ride in the Tour and many questioned the selection of the 27-year old for the team. If you remember this spring's Milan-San Remo, Will is no stranger to long breakaways in the biggest races in cycling, but to attack initiate an attack and go off the front on day three in your first ever Tour takes some pretty big stones. And the Tour officials agreed, awarding the Boulderite the 'most combatitve' rider award for the stage.

 

It has been a long road for Will to the Tour. I remember him in 2001 as a 19-year old pro on the short-lived Mercury-Viatel team and then his transfer onto the TIAA-Cref development squad a few years later. Will was still in his early 20's, but he had been a pro for so long, that he was considered one of the team's veterans. In 2005 he almost made the big jump to Europe when he was offered a contract on Team CSC. But, as frequently happens in the pro ranks, his place on the team was given to another rider and Will remained stateside.

 

Honing his skills, he took a more senior position on the TIAA-Cref team which made a few forays to France in 2005, 2006 and 2007 to contest some races such as Criterium International. The learning curve was incredibly steep, and there were many days when just finishing and not giving up was the most optimal outcome.

 

On the negative side of today's stage, there were more crashes, the most serious and important occurred just when the peloton was in full flight trying to bring back Will's breakaway. Ricardo Ricco and Denis Menchov both missed the split and lost a bit over a minute to the likes of Valverde and Evans. As we all know, crashes are a part of bike racing, but it still makes it hard to swallow when mishaps shape the outcome. Hopefully, Menchov and Ricco can rebound and maybe this will make the mountain stages a bit more exciting as the two try to take backtime.

 

But, the day belongs to Will Frischkorn and even though one of his breakaway companions won the stage and another one got the yellow jersey, Will's ride might just be the breakthrough his career needs to ratchet it up into high gear. I hope I don't sound too much like a homer but, for me he was the real winner today.

 

What do you think about Will's ride?

 

Bruce

 

ps - today France not only got the stage win, but also the yellow jersey.  The Frenchies have been all over the front for the past three days trying to restore some French pride to their home race.  Unfortunately, it will  have to be stages and short stints in yellow as they have absolutely no hope for the overall win.

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There are two Tours de France today.  While the pros are racing in Brittany, the joes are down in the Pyrenees.  Yes, Sunday is the Etape du Tour a day where any rider has the opportunity to ride a stage of the Tour.  This year's Etape stage is the day from Pau to Huatacam which included the infamous Col du Tourmalet.

 

8500 of your closest friends and you will be departing from the town where Bernaise sauce was invented at 7am and heading west for the Pyrenees.  The top finisher, usually a top tier French amateur rider, is expected to complete the 106-mile stage in about 5hours and 30 minutes. The pros have an expected completion time of about 4 and 30 minutes.

 

However, everyone seems to realize the difference between the two events.  The French amateur who was first across the line in 2005 remarked that he was very pleased to have won, but he was also expecting that the pros would better his time by at least an hour.  They did.

 

But, like many sporting events.  It is not the winning, but the taking part which defines the Etape du Tour.  Riders of all shapes, sizes and age participate and except for the top places, it is almost impossible to predict how a cyclist will fare based just by looking at them.  That observation applies most appropriately to the seeming hundred of older Frenchmen who come to the start line dressed in jerseys that come almost to their knees, bike shorts which are supposed to be form fitting lycra, but instead, look like baggy athletic shorts and bikes that were manufactured before there was even a Tour de France.

 

These guys could easily be called "urchins of the road" except for the fact that they pass just about everybody on the climbs and fly by you so fast on the downhills you think you just saw a ghost.

 

Though most riders seem to be struggling as they ride, it is a mountain stage of the Tour!, the pain, torture and agony(PTA) is soon forgotten and plans for riding next year's event are quickly hatched.  Alejandro Valverde may be the king for a day up in Brittany, but he has 8500 kings and queens down in the Pyrenees who feel just as great about their Tour de France as well.

 

Bruce

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