America's second most prestigious stage race starts today as the Tour de Georgia(TdG) sends 15 teams of 8 riders out on the roads of the peach state. As a bit of history, the TdG was first run in 2003 and it quickly became the number one stage race in the US. The organizers, Medalist Sports, had a long history in cycling, it's personnel were responsible for organizing the Tour de Trump and Tour Dupont in the 1990's. Chris Horner, now of Team Astana, was the first winner, Lance Armstrong launched the event into the stratosphere with his victory in 2004.
The Discovery Channel rider Tom Danielson's stock rose sharply in 2005 when he upstaged his Texas teammate and stole the race from Floyd Landis. The tables were turned in 2006 when, after an epic mano y mano battle on the fearsome slopes of Brasstown Bald, Landis bested Danielson. The Landis-Danielson duel on the 20+% ramps of Brasstown Bald was probably the most thrilling bicycle racing action ever seen by a TV audience on US soil. And the fact that top European teams were sending squads to the race made the performances by US riders memorable as well as credible.
However, 2006 also marked the beginning of another stage race organized by Medalist Sports. On the other side of the country, the Tour of California(ToC) began with much fanfare and anticipation. For the European pro teams, the ToC, with its February position on the racing calendar was a better fit. Throw in the fact that the weather in California usually trumps the climate found across the pond and it was clear that the ToC was going to be a hit with the Euros. Realizing that most European teams have tight budgets and don't like to cross too many time zones to race, would the Euros really head west for more than one stage race?
Two years ago I opined that the Tour de Georgia would suffer if the Tour of California became successful and, unfortunately, that appears to be true. This year there are only four European teams in the race, compared to eight for the ToC. That doesn't mean that the racing won't be difficult and entertaining. On the contrary. US domestic racing has increased in both speed and ability over the past few years; clearly the home boys can hold their own against their Euro counterparts. It is just that it would be nice to have a few more of the top pro teams in Georgia so that they can showcase their talents on US soil.
One hugely positive side to this whole situation is that it offers an opportunity for US-based pros to strut their stuff in front of some of the best professional teams and earn some respect for their efforts. Look for the homies to be very aggressive all race long with early breakaways and go-and-blow moves on every stage.
As for race predictions, there is no individual time trial in this year's TdG so Levi won't be able to crush everyone in the race of truth. However, look for the Astana rider and recent ToC winner to lay down some serious hurt on Brasstown Bald on the way to his second major victory in 2008.
Yeah, there is De Ronde and Roubaix, spring classics on the Euro side of the pond, but over here in 'merica we have our own classic and it's named after a furry little creature that swims and loves abalone. The Sea Otter Classic is in its 17th or 18th year and going strong. The event schedule, which includes road racing, mountain bike racing and BMX racing covers so many aspects of the two-wheeled community that it has become a destination for racers and industry types from across the country. In Thursday's junior women's road race, the riders from Alaska and Idaho outnumbered the Californians, the home of the Sea Otter Classics, by a ratio of six to one!
I love going to Sea Otter and have been at the event as spectator, journalist and race announcer. It really doesn't matter why you are there, you are going to have fun. OK. The weather can be a bit funky. My fellow announcer Larry Longo said it best. "During the four days of Sea Otter we usually have one sunny day, one windy day, one rainy day and one day when we have know idea on what is going to happen." That shouldn't stop anyone from attending. Weather or not, you are still going to have fun.
Today, Thursday, was a whetting of our Sea Otter appetites as only a few events were contested. Come Friday, the professional riders in both the mountain bike and road events take to the venue; the MTB boys on the short track course, the roadies tackle the grueling Fort Ord road race. Saturday continues the parade of stars as the professional men and women compete on the 2.2 mile Laguna Seca road race circuit, the exact same course used by the Indy cars and GP motorbikes. Expect to see some of the top male and female pros in the US on the starting line.
Sunday is all dirt as both the MTB downhill and cross country races will attract the top professional talent. Sunday is also the launch day for the amateur cross country races with literally thousands of weekend warriors, in numerous age and ability categories tackling one or two laps of the legendary 18-mile off-road circuit.
For those who have not been bitten by the racing bug, there is an off-road fun ride on Saturday and a road century loop on Sunday. In between all the pedaling there is the 350 vendor expo where one can find just about anything biking-related and a few things that aren't. All in all, if you can't find something fun to do at Sea Otter, you are either strapped down in a straight jacket or you just don't want to experience one of the great early season events in America.
You gotta love it, Rock Racing will be at the starting line next Monday for the Tour de Georgia. The Pro Tour team Saunier Duval pulled out due to "numerous injuries to key riders" opening a slot for Rock Racing. After their reception and performance in the Amgen Tour of California it seemed like a lock that we would see the boys in black and neon green at all the biggest races on the US professional racing calendar. However, Medalist Sports announced last month that Rock Racing would not be invited to Georgia; managing partner Jim Birrell, told Velonews.com I like all the riders he has on his team its just that renegade approach and his desire to steal the limelight away from the platform that has been created for everybody else is what troubles me."
It appears that Medalist and Michael Ball were able to reach an agreement, hats off to both parties for sitting down and making this happen. This is a good thing on so many levels. First off, Rock Racing is the most popular new team on the US domestic racing circuit. Secondly, at the recent Redlands Cycling Classic, with all the best domestic pro riders in attendance, Rock Racing rode superbly and took the overall win with Santiago Botero. And probably most importantly, Rock Racing is bringing new eyeballs to the sport and those peepers belong to the young fans in the always critical 18-35 year old demographic.
On a personal level, the news is bittersweet for me. I am heading off to be one of the event announcers at the upcoming Sea Otter Classic and was looking forward to having Botero, Sevilla, Hamilton, Pena, etc. in the field for the National Racing Calendar(NRC) circuit race on Saturday. I am still hoping the Rock Racing sends a team to Sea Otter, team member Doug Ollerenshaw won there several years back. However, if it takes my disappointment to get Rock Racing into the Tour de Georgia I guess I will just have to live with it.
The next item on the agenda is to figure out a way to get Astana into the Tour de France. Short of the Kazakhstani government cutting off natural gas supplies to France, I think this might be an impossible task. Anybody out there have a solution?
Two of the greatest sporting events took place this past weekend, one favorite prevailed, another came up short. While most of us are participants in the sports we follow very few of us ever reach the highest levels. That's OK, I am not going to get into a religious/scientific debate about genetics and evolution, but my guess is that is the way it is supposed to be. To be sure, we set goals for ourselves and strive to reach them, however we usually aren't performing in front of a live crowd and a television audience in the millions.
While it depends on the specific sport, professional athletes in the most popular athletic endeavours do feel pressure from sponsors and fans to do well. One of the characteristics of the best athletes is how they respond to that pressure.The word 'choke' describes how some athletes deal with the pressure. On the other end of the spectrum is the word 'clutch'. Hey, but I am not telling you something you don't already know and if asked you could probably come up with a list of 'clutch' players and 'chokers' for your favorite sport.
It is hard to use the words 'Tiger' and 'choke' in the same sentence since, on the golf course, Mr. Woods is the most consistent golfer in the world. He's been ranked number one for so many years he makes Roger Federer's accomplishments look human. Using the words 'Boonen' and "clutch' is almost passe, he's won so many big races that he is almost expected to win. The fact that he triumphs when he is expected to win is what makes his victories so special and amazing.
Does Tiger's second place at the Masters and failure to mount a charge when the eventual winner fired a 3-over par 75 on the final, albeit windy, day make him a choker? Did he succumb to the pressure or was he just a bit off his game? You have to feel sorry for Tiger. If he doesn't win a major he is considered a loser.The guy beats ever other golfer save one and he has to answer questions about what happened. If money can buy happiness then he shouldn't feel bad for long, but you and I both know that what drives Tiger Woods isn't the size of his bank account.
Tom Boonen not only won the Queen of the Classics, Paris-Roubaix, but he did it in masterful fashion, going off the front and proving without a doubt that he was one of the strongest, if not the strongest rider in the race. With two of the other heavy favorites, Fabian Cancellara and Juan Antonio Flecha for company in the three-up break, it was an epic duel in the making. In a recent interview I did with Cancellara, he mentioned that the pressure on Boonen to win in Belgium(Paris-Roubaix is on the Franco-Belgian border) and in the classics is huge, something he(Cancellara) would have difficulty handling.
In the end, both Tiger and Tom gave us memorable performances though only one was declared the winner. Dealing with pressure at any level reveals our character.Let's hope we can learn from watching both of these elite athletes perform on the world's stage.
If you are a rabid pro bike racing fan there is only one time of the year other than July when your mouth starts salivating, your hands start shaking and you can't sit still for more than about 2 seconds. OK. If you are Belgian, the maybe it is three times a year (De Ronde!), but for those of us who don't eat our frites with mayonnaise it is the Tour and Roubaix. Paris-Roubaix to be exact. The H3ll of the North. The Cobbled Classic. The hardest one-day race on a bike on the planet. Pick a moniker and as long as it describes a total melee on the most difficult surface to race a road bike thrown in with potentially bad weather and the odds on chance that you might get run over by a support vehicle and you have the Queen of the Classics.
If you happen to have the right combination of skill, strength, and luck, and somehow emerge from the fields of northern France in one piece and are first across the line in the velodrome in Roubaix, you get a huge cobblestone as a trophy of your win. The thing weighs a ton and probably still has a bit of cow poo on it, but there isn't a single rider in the pro peloton who wouldn't trade their left nut for that stone.
And if owning a piece of French real estate wasn't enough, they even name a shower stall in the Roubaix Velodrome after you. Of course, the race organizers fail to mention that you need a Class 7 biohazard suit to venture into the shower room at Roubaix, however, take my word for it, you get a stall with your name on it.
What makes Paris-Roubaix such a prestigious and tough race is those darn cobbles. As with the stones in De Ronde, these babies were laid down back in the late 1800's and early 1900's and while I am sure they looked flat over 100 years ago, that's definitely not the case now. There are twenty six cobbled sections along the 160-mile route ranging in length from 400 yards to several miles and you would swear that just when your strength is ebbing that those darn stones come alive, raise their little heads and send you and your bike flying sideways just for grins.
Yes, it takes a bit of luck to win Paris-Roubaix, but the cobbles always seem to produce a worthy victor, a rider who will, from that day on, be known as a hardman of the road a title that is well deserved. Who will be the next inductee into the hardman hall of fame come this Sunday. My mouth is watering, my hands are shaking and I can't sit still for more than 2 seconds. Bring it on!
In a stunning move today, John Burke, president of Trek Bicycles announced that the company has severed ties with Greg Lemond. Trek has sold bicycles under the Lemond brand since 1995; the current contract between Trek and the three-time Tour de France winner was set to expire in 2010. Trek has similar contracts with bicycling icons Gary Fisher and Keith Bontrager which are not affected by this announcement.
The action by Trek appears to be precipitated by a recent lawsuit filed by Lemond against Trek on March 20. In the suit Lemond contends that Trek has not been fulfilling its obligations to grow the Lemond brand. Of particular concern to Lemond was the lack of any penetration for Lemond bicycles in the international market something which he contends was specifically called out in the existing contract.
Trek contends that Lemond's actions, Greg has given many public statements to the press in recent years about the drug problem in pro cycling, have seriously impaired Trek's ability to successfully market the Lemond brand. Burke also confirmed that Trek had met with Lemond this past fall and at that time indicated that Trek would not be renewing their contract when it ended in 2010.
We can spend a lot of bits and bytes prying into what is really happening behind closed doors. I am sad to see the relationship end because the partnership between Trek and Lemond produced some really cool bicycles. In fact, it could be argued that the Tete de Course, the flagship ride of the Lemond line was just as good or better than Trek's vaunted Madone.
Obviously, Lemond and Trek, within legal boundaries, are free to do whatever they choose. Hopefully, after the dust has settled from their split, both will flourish and we as consumers will be even better off.
If your only memories of Belgium are fries with mayonnaise and high alcohol content beer then you are definitely missing something. Yesterday was the Ronde van Vlaanderen or Tour of Flanders to us English-speaking types. It is more than a 165-mile bike race full of steep cobbled climbs. It is the premier sporting even in all of Belgium. Forget soccer(futbol to you non-English speaking types), Formula 1 at Spa-Francorchamps or a tennis match between Kim Clijsters and Justin Henin, De Ronde is it. Not only are the crowds huge, but they exude passion, way more passion than the Black Hole in the Oakland Raiders' stadium.
Yeah, it's a bike race, but it is also a desert topping, floor wax and much, much more. Yes, it is one of cycling's one-day 'classics', but when the weather turns to ugly like it did yesterday, it becomes legendary. If your only exposure to bike racing is standing around in an industrial park watching your significant other go round and round for an hour or so, it is hard to describe how popular this event is with your average Belgian. They are probably still partying in Ninove, to be sure a Belgian won, however, it wouldn't matter if an alien from team Roswell had been first across the line.
You see, it is all about having a great race. Given how much a win in this event means to a pro rider's career and the difficulty of the parcours (that's 'race course' for you English-speaking types) it is almost impossible not to have a great race. If you are not a 'hardman of the road' your chances of winning De Ronde hover somewhere between slim and none. The climbs, though short, are extremely steep and most are cobbled. And if you think the craftsmen on "This Old House" laid the stones with their laser levels you would be sorely mistaken. In most cases you are convinced that nobody laid the stones. There must have been a truck bed spill which nobody bothered to clean up.
Dr. Phil types love to say 'its the journey, not the destination.. After 165-miles of incessant winds, rain and hail and all the cobbles, the riders in De Ronde would probably have a few choice words for Oprah's folksy friend. But, the pros will come back to Flanders next year and the year after that and the year after that. After all, it's De Ronde.
ps- if you can't be in Belgium, you should be watching all this on Versus!
With the American economy teetering on the brink of a recession the ripples across the USA haven't been limited to housing foreclosures. This past week several long-standing bicycle races and one well, never-to-be race announced that they were modifying their plans for 2008. This might just be the tip of the iceberg for the sport which has been struggling for sponsorship dollars in light of widespread doping fears and the squabbling between the sport's governing bodies and race organizers.
Of course, most of the negative side of cycling seems to be taking place on the other side of the pond, but some of these high profile issues have an impact on domestic racing. Just recently there was a regime change in USA Cycling. Outgoing president Jim Ochowicz has served a maximum three two-year terms. His place will be taken by Mark Abramson, who in his mid-30's is in a perfect position to attract the generation X crowd, wooed by the likes of Michael Ball's Rock Racing Team, into the sport of cycling. It is clear that capturing the hearts and minds of the 20-34 age crowd is critical to the success and continued longevity of the sport. Best of luck.
Back to the present, the Tour of Virginia will not be held in 2008 citing sponsorship woes, but it is hoping to return in 2009. One of the lynch pins in the late summer racing calendar, Pennsylvania's Tour de Toona is downsizing it's seven day schedule to a single day criterium. When one of the hallmark events drops 86% of it's bodyweight it is time to stand up and take notice.
On a slightly different note, the Tour of America, which many feel will never be held, announced that it will move its inaugural start date from 2008 to 2009.This cross-continent event seems more flash than substance with stage lengths and locations that appear to be difficult to attract sponsors. Hey, the organizers get points for trying, but a big dose of reality might be best path to success.
Before everyone starts hopping a plane for wet, cold and dreary Belgium and its packed calendar of races take a deep breath and let's see how extensive the damage may really be. The Redlands Bicycle Classic started today; the Sea Otter Classic and all the other big domestic races appear to be healthy. Let's hope our domestic pros have enough opportunities to strut their stuff in 2008! They deserve it.
I am often asked that question and the answer is not simple. Obviously, everyone rides a bike for different reasons and therein lies the rub. If you are a budding racer or someone who wants to learn to properly ride in a group then my answer would be a resounding 'yes' for my sake as much as yours. If you are looking to improve your basic performance on the bike, then you have a lot of options. I guess what I am saying is that when it comes to learning the basic bike riding skills, you should definitely seek out a coach or instructor. If you want to go faster on the bike, you don't necessarily need a coach.
Bike riding skills are not learned from a book. Period. There is just too much going on in a group and too many potential scenarios that written text just isn't going to be able to address them all. My advice is to find a local racing club or skill training session in your area and learn from those who have the experience and knowledge. A good skills course should teach you proper position on the bike so that you will ride a straight line (bend those elbows). Also, learning how to ride a wheel in all situations, single paceline, double paceline, double rotating paceline and echelon is a good thing for everyone.
I am still amazed at the number of people I see out riding who have their hands resting on top of the bars and not using their thumbs or fingers to provide some grasp. This is 'safe riding skill #1' and if this isn't covered in your course, find someone else to teach you the necessary skills.
When it comes to performance coaching there are several possibilities. You can coach yourself which is like a doctor treating himself/herself. To be sure, some of my friends who have been riding forever and racing at a high level do know what their body needs and a coach is probably not going to provide significant improvement. But, the overwhelming majority of riders out there will benefit from some structured form of riding. However, it is much like the old psychiatrist's adage, a patient will only change if they want to change. So, if you really want to improve and get some form of direction, you have to want to follow that direction.
Many riders, especially the more internally disciplined ones, will benefit from a written training program much like those offered by Active.com when you sign up for an event. Much like putting together a model airplane, if you can follow instructions, then this may be the ticket for you. Other riders need more interaction and for them a personal coach is a better match. Being able to discuss how you feel, how your workouts are progressing and what your goals should be on a periodic basis are some of the benefits of having a coach. I think you get the best out of a coaching relationship if you are entirely truthful about your riding and fitness. Holding anything back keeps the coach from properly doing their job and wastes your time and money.
Whatever you choose, the ultimate goal is to have fun on the bike. Please don't lose sight of that because then you are cheating yourself out of some great experiences. Cycling should be a lifelong passion.
In a surprise move the Union Cycliste International (UCI) announced today that it is disbanding. "We have no clue what we are doing," admitted president Pat McQuaid. "I can't even tie my shoes," added the Irishman. In recent years, the UCI has come under increasing pressure to fold mostly because it has lost complete control over the sport of cycling. The list of issues not being effectively addressed by McQuaid in company is staggering. The UCI has been unable to mount any significant effort to fight doping in the sport and seems more interested in fighting petty, unimportant squabbles than dealing with the issues crippling the sport.
Addressing the status of the soon-to-be-defunct Pro Tour McQuaid remarked, "OK. It really was a poorly veiled attempt to get a chunk of ASO's TV money. But, if you saw all the money those guys(ASO) were making, you'd go after it, too." Concerning the fact the winner of the Pro Tour got only a jersey and no cash for winning the season-long series McQuaid remarked, "well, if ASO had given us some of their TV money, we would have given at least 0.01% to the winner of the Pro Tour."
The much publicized battle between the UCI and ASO for control of cycling was also addressed by McQuaid. "We were so successful promoting the World Championships that we searched to find races that needed our proven skills to take them to the next level. Events such as the Tour de France and Paris-Roubiax may seem to be popular because they attract fans from across the globe and are shown on TV worldwide, but we at the UCI knew it was just smoke and mirrors. Besides they're (ASO) French."
Rider reaction was immediate. "UCI who?" remarked Juan Guitierrez. "The sponsors sign my checks so I race where they tell me," added the AG2R rider. "The one thing I liked about the UCI is that they did so little out-of-competition testing that I could enjoy my privacy with my family and never had to worry about being interrupted while playing with my kids," noted Ben Braun of team Festina.
Who will replace the UCI? Who cares? All the riders want to do is race and all the sponsors want is to see their riders racing. Whether it is the IUD, IPO or any other three letter acronym running pro cycling it will, by default, be better.It is so easy, a caveman can do it.
The World Track Championships just finished up in Manchester, England and the host country totally dominated the meeting with ten gold medals. After getting robbed of a stage win in the Amgen Tour of California it was great to see Mark Cavendish (and his partner Bradley Wiggins) on the top spot of the podium in the Madison event. Even America hauled in a bit of hardware with Jennie Reed winning a thoroughly exciting Kierin final and Sarah Hammer taking silver in the women's pursuit. Teenage phenom Taylor Phinney set a world record in the 3000m pursuit, he has an outside chance to medal at the upcoming Beijing(hack, hack) Olympics.
But, that's not the subject of my blog. It seems like the UCI just can't do anything right these days and it also includes picking the events for the Women on the track. The men ride a 1 kilometer time trial which takes the best about a minute for the 0.62 of a mile distance. The UCI, for some reason unknown to just about everyone, have the women ride a 500 meter time trial. Does the UCI think that women can't ride 1 kilometer? If so, then why do they have a 3000m pursuit for the women. To make matters even worse, the men ride a 4000m pursuit. In Anglo-speak that's 2.5 miles. Does the UCI think that women can't ride 2.5 miles on a bike? Why then do they have a Women's Scratch Race that is 10 kilometers (6 miles) long?
But, the biggest joke is the team sprint an event where, in the men's division, three riders compete. This first rider leads the first lap then drops out. The second rider completes the second lap on the front then drops out leaving the third rider to ride the final lap. The whole event takes about 50 seconds total for the three laps. Someone please tell me why the women do the same event but with only two riders? Is there some genetic difference that keeps women from competing for 15-20 seconds more by doing a third lap with a third rider?
In track and field(that's 'Athletics' for those of you from Europe) then men and women run the exact same distances as the men from the 100 meter sprint to the 42km (26.2 mile) marathon. If women can run for over two hours, why can't they race for 15-20 seconds more on the track in a bicycle race? It boggles the mind. Personally, I think the women bike racers should petition the UCI for equality. If they want to be respected and get the same honor and glory, they should be riding the same distances. I just can't wait to see what the UCI screws up next.
With the recent exclusions of Astana from the Tour and Rock Racing from the Tour of Georgia the very real question needs to be asked. Why is the sport of cycling so determined to eat it's young? As you might remember, when Liberty Seguros pulled the plug on it's team in 2006, Astana, which is a conglomeration of a number of Kazakhstani business ventures stepped in to save the team. After the debacle at the 2007 Tour, the sponsor still stayed. In 2007 several long-standing domestic teams either ended entirely or underwent radical downsizing. Rock Racing stepped in to fill the void and gave jobs to a number of domestic and euro pros.
There are lots of very, very good reasons to keep Team Astana in the sport, but in this blog I am focusing on Rock Racing. Besides giving jobs to riders, at the recent Amgen Tour of California, Michael Ball, the head honcho at Rock and Republic which owns the team, gave $500,000 to race organizers AEG to be a sponsor. Also, Ball loaned the race his helicopter to the get those great overhead shots you all saw on Versus. In Sacramento, Michael Ball donated $10,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Sacramento and in Solvang, Michael Ball donated $10,000 to the Sheriff's Activity League to benefit youth sports programs. Add in the tab for the daily TV commercials and Ball estimates that his financial outlay at the Tour of California came to about $1.2 million dollars.
That's a lot of money, but its not all about the Benjamins. A recently Bicycling.com poll asked 'What pro cycling team will you be rooting for this year?' Over 16,000 votes were cast with Rock Racing receiving a whopping 60% of the total vote. That means that Rock Racing was more popular than all other teams combined. Whoa. That's huge. Obviously Ball and his boys are doing something right if over half those polled are rooting for one team. I can totally believe these numbers after seeing the daily scrum at the Rock Racing booth at the AToC. The place was a mob scene.
Something else worth mentioning is the appeal of Rock Racing to the younger generation. Whether you like it or not the only guarantees are death and taxes and if you want this sport to survive you need to attract new, younger eyeballs. There is no doubt that Rock Racing is doing just that, bridging the gap between pro bike racing and the X-Games crowd. How can somebody argue with that?
Well, the folks at Medalist Sports weren't buying any of the Rock Racing hoopla. Medalist managing partner, Jim Birrell, told Velonews.com, I like all the riders he has on his team its just that renegade approach and his desire to steal the limelight away from the platform that has been created for everybody else is what troubles me." I don't know what went on behind the scenes at the AToC and I think Jim Birrell is a good guy, but if Rock Racing brings in the fans then what is the problem with having the team at the Tour of Georgia? I have covered European racing and US domestic racing for years and I can tell you that during the Lance Armstrong years the Texan totally stole the show and was, even at the Tour de France, bigger than the events in which he participated.
To be balanced, Michael Ball does do things his way. He is definitely not old school and yes he could be described as a renegade. When he rolls, we all know it. Whether you think that is style or arrogance, people are interested and they are coming to the races and with the state of cycling worldwide new fans and a genuine interest is critical for long-term survival.
Maybe Rodney King said it best, "can't we all just get along?". Would a little tolerance and understanding help smooth the waters and allow those who march to a different drummer find a place in our sport? I think so. I must admit that my first impression of Michael Ball was less than positive. But, after I met the man, had a dialog, saw his passion and why he is in the sport of cycling I think I understood him. Here's hoping that the new sponsors don't get chased out of the sport and that governing bodies and race organizers listen to the fans and figure out a way for everybody to be happy.
If you haven't already guessed it, I love bike racing. And I love professional bike racing most. It features the best riders in the best races (apologies to Astana and Rock Racing) and it is cool. These pros are the cream of the crop, top of the heap, A-No. 1. They are the strongest, fastest and best bike handlers on the planet. It is incredibly inspiring and interesting to see the pros on the job.
Last Saturday in Italy, the skills, dedication and drive of the pros was abundantly evident at this season's first classic: the umpteenth running of Milan-San Remo, or La Primavera as it is known to the tifosi (Italian for 'rabid fan'). I am still trying to understand why the first big race of the year is also the longest. At 185 miles, that's seven-plus hours in the saddle for the best of the best -- which is a long time even at 25-plus mph average.
It was nice to see one of my 'hoodmates from Boulder, Will Frischkorn of the Slipstream/Chipotle team, off the front for almost 150 miles. Luckily, he had several other riders to share the pace and though their breakaway was reeled in on the penultimate climb, the Cipressa, they got a lot of TV time for their respective sponsors and that is what is about.
We got to see two-time world champion Paolo Bettini, who was just recently racing in the Amgen Tour of California, make a strong move on the Cipressa that seemed to contain enough horsepower to make it the final 10 miles to the finish. But the peloton still thought they had a chance as well and Bettini and company were caught just before the final climb, the Poggio.
If you want to impress somebody with your knowledge of European cycling, the Poggio is pronounced "pocho." It is not that long (1.5 miles) and not that steep (4-5 percent), but when you have ridden 180 miles and you are smoking up the Poggio in your big chainring, nobody is going to say it's easy. More often than not, everybody who matters seems to make it over the climb and down the kamikaze descent so that it is a bunch sprint at the finish. Not this year. Everybody's favorite Swiss rider, Fabian Cancellara, ignited his jets and left the field in his wake to win his second classic (the first being Paris-Roubaix in 2006) of his career.
I love it when a superhuman individual effort foils the sprinters. Not to knock the fast finishers, those guy have an interesting mix of speed, cunning and fearless abandon like nobody else, but there is something about one guy holding off the bunch. Maybe it goes back to the old western movies where one settler holds off a whole pack of charging Indians. What it all adds up to is that the pro racing season is full on. No more training camps, no more lollygagging. It's time to eat lunch or be lunch. Bravo Fabian!
With the advent of both spring and an early onset of Daylight Saving's Time it is time to dust off your trusty steed and get out and ride. Of course, those of you in warmer climes have probably already been on the road on weekends, but with darkness coming past 7pm and with some creative scheduling a quality, after-work ride is also a possibility.
For those of you in the colder regions, again, scheduling is the key. Yes, we all have responsibilities which transcend the bike, but with some simple time management, you can plan to head out during the warmest time of the day, hopefully allowing one to leave their full-fingered gloves, booties and insulated jackets at home.
For me, the key is to enjoy my time on the bike and that means making it seem less of a workout or an obligation and more of a personal choice. My ultimate goal is to have longevity in the sport and if I feel obligated to ride my bike, that is less likely to happen. Hey, but your mileage may vary(YMMV) and whatever gets you some saddle time is probably OK.
It seems silly to talk about burnout as the season just starts, but if you do feel your desire waning one place to look for a solution is your motivation for riding. No, I didn't see this on an episode of Dr. Phil, but it still is just pop psychology. Of course, having some goals for the season help to stimulate some motivation. I usually try to set a few easily attainable goals to get me started, then follow that with a mix of both difficult-to-attain and almost-impossible-to-attain goals as the season progresses. Somewhere between riding around the block and riding the Tour de France is the sweet spot.
What about you all out there. What are you doing to get motivated and out on your bikes as the season starts. What are your goals for 2008 and do you think you will be able to make them happen?
ASO announced the twenty teams for the 2008 Tour de France today and not surprisingly, Astana was not on the list. Coincidentally, the Tour of Georgia unveiled their start list for the late-April event and Rock Racing did not receive and invite. While I support the right of race organizers to invite whichever teams they choose, that doesn't mean I have to agree with them about their decisions. In both the aforementioned cases, I think the race organizers have erred in not inviting Astana to the Tour and Rock Racing to Georgia.
The Astana team with 2007 Tour winner Alberto Contador and third-place finisher Levi Leipheimer is clearly one of the strongest squads in the pro peloton and on the basis of strength alone deserve a slot. Keeping them out of the Tour means that all the best riders will not be on the starting line. It definitely devalues the 2008 yellow jersey. To be the best, you have to beat the best. Unfortunately, it appears that Astana's problems are probably linked to Johan Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong's seven Tour wins. It seems that ASO still feels that these two somehow pulled of all those victories in a less than honest matter.
Rock Racing was one of the most popular teams at the 2008 Amgen Tour of California. They had huge crowds at their team bus before and after each stage and their riders responded to the attention with Mario Cipollini taking third on Stage 2, Victor Hugo Pena climbing extremely well and Michael Creed aggressively going off the front on several occasions in an attempt to take a stage. However, Michael Ball tangled with race organizers over the exclusion of three riders, something which appeared to the public to be totally arbitrary. Clearly, Michael Ball marches to a different drummer, but judging by the number of fans and the demographic of those fans, his team is generating a lot of buzz about the sport of cycling.
I think to be fair and un-biased if you believe that Astana got a raw deal you also have to feel that Rock Racing was unjustly spurned. Levi and the boys should be racing in France just as Fast Freddie and his crew should be on the start line in Georgia. I still support a free market when it comes to races. Organizers should be able to invite whomever they want though they should have some published criteria so teams have some indication on what they need to do to be considered. I just hope that they can be more fair and just when it comes to team selection.