Today, Rock Racing confirmed that Mario Cipollini is no longer with the team. Many speculated that il Leone was leaving at the last minute to open the doors for a ride in this Saturday's Milan San Remo classic with Tinkov Credit Systems, but Cipollini denied any such 12th hour move. It looks like Cipo is headed towards his second retirement from the sport.
Hey, but what a ride Mario gave us all at the Amgen Tour of California(AToC). There is no denying that he is a rock star and his involvement with the high-profile Rock Racing Team looked to be a perfect match. When Michael Ball's squad rolled up to a stage start and Super Mario popped out into the crowd the electricity was in the air and the race came alive. He was clearly a fan favorite and he obliged all who sought autographs and interviews. He told me that this second career was just going to be fun. In Vegas terms, this time he was playing with the house's money.
Even with a relaxed attitude, Cipo still delivered, coming third in Sacramento to his heir apparent Tom Boonen and looking and acting like he had just won the stage. It was definitely the highpoint for Rock Racing and was ample justification for the team being invited to the AToC. Somehow, Mario willed his 40-year old body over both Mount Hamilton and Sierra Road the next day. Just to make sure his resolve was still at a professional level, mother nature unleashed her fury on the Hiway 1 down to San Luis Obispo resulting in a seven hour day in the saddle in cold rain.
Cipo's perpetual tan took a beating on that epic day, but he finished with the group and eventually the whole race to Pasadena proving that he still had what it takes to be a pro. During the AToC, Mario confided that his major goal was to take Rock Racing to Europe and participate in some of the great races across the pond. Rumour had it that the organizers of Milan-San Remo were keeping the 25th and final team slot open for Rock Racing with Cipo looking to repeat his 2002 victory on Via Roma where he beat his now-teammate Freddie Rodriguez to the line.
Unfortunately, Cipo and Micheal Ball could not come to agreement on the details the result being that flamboyant Italian has hung up his cleats and the show that is Super Mario has closed once again. Personally, I prefer substance over flash, but with Cipo you got both. I miss him already.
A week ago Sunday, two cyclists Kristy Gough and Matt Peterson, were killed in the San Francisco Bay Area when an on-duty Santa Clara County Sheriff failed to negotiate a right hand bend on a twisty road and came across a double yellow line and struck the riders. Cyclists dying in car crashes is, unfortunately, an all-to-common occurrence these days, but dying because a law enforcement vehicle crossed a double yellow line for no apparent reason elevated the tragedy. Add to that the fact that both cyclists had, the weekend before, won their categories at the Merco Cycling Classic and you had an event that rocked the entire Bay Area cycling community.
The accident made front page news across Northern California and was covered by the local TV crews as well with daily updates from both the print and broadcast media. A tragedy of this magnitude brings out the whole spectrum of emotions and while cyclists grieved the loss of their compatriots, it also opened the door for the renewal of the timeless banter between cars and bicyclist as to proper road etiquette.
Frankly, I am saddened and tired of all the anti-cyclist tirades from car drivers who feel that bicycles have no place being on the roadway. But, I am also disappointed by the cyclists who feel that guerrilla tactics and confrontation are the only way to resolve the conflicts. Why can't we all just get along? At the very least, cyclists can go a long way in helping the cause by acting like a vehicle while on the road and obeying all traffic laws that doing such entails. Car drivers can learn to be more tolerant and share the road even if it means you have to slow down to pass.
A memorial ride was held on Saturday to remember two special people who will never again turn a pedal. I was blown away when over 1000 cyclists, many of whom had ridden down from San Francisco and Oakland and parts even further north came to pay their respects. I met a guy who hadn't ridden his bike in 30 years, but was so touched by the accident that on that very morning he had gotten his old Nishiki down from the attic in his garage, taken it to his local bike shop to put on some new tires just so he could take part. It was a procession of unfathomable significance and showed just how deeply we cyclists feel when the road(maybe that's a nice way to say 'a car') claims more victims.
Clearly, there needs to be a lot of healing in the Bay Area cycling community and remembering those who left us is the first step. I don't know what comes next, but clearly tensions are hot and hopefully everyone can take a deep breath, relax and try to get along. While this was a truly tragic event, hopefully positive things can come from it. Judging by the support from the majority of the car drivers who witnessed the procession, I hope so.
Computer Sciences Corporation(CSC) announced yesterday that it will end the sponsorship of Bjarne Riis' professional cycling team at the end of 2008. Whether CSC would continue has been hotly debated ever since Riis admitted to doping to win the 1996 Tour de France and the sport, in general, continued to be plagued by doping scandals and at the highest profile events.
It is not clear if it was Riis' admission, the state of doping in the pro peloton or that CSC felt their marketing dollars could be better spent elsewhere. In reality it was probably a combination of all three. Also, the continual bickering between ASO and the UCI didn't help matters, either. The sport has been plunged into the depths of darkness by doping and all the UCI can think to do is to pick an unwinnable fight with the organizers of the sports most popular race.
So, what will happen to Bjarne Riis' team? The riders have contracts with Riis Cycling and not CSC so the survival of the squad depends on Riis and his financial people finding a suitable replacement. Given the inability of such high-profile teams as Slipstream and High Road Sports to come up with a big bucks title sponsor, my guess is that the pickings are pretty slim. Not to disrespect either Slipstream or High Road, but CSC has been the number one rated team for the past two years. If Riis can't find some green for his boys, that sets a very bad
precedent for others looking for sponsorship.
Slipstream and High Road are two examples of a new model for sponsorship where a multi-million dollar owner holds the primary responsibility for providing the cash to keep the team solvent. My guess is that Doug Ellis of Slipstream and Bob Stapleton of High Road would much rather have a corporation as the title sponsor and so would I. While there are a number of rich fans of the sport, having a major corporation as a team's title sponsor is a much more sustainable scenario.
Hopefully, Bjarne will be able to find a corporation who can see past the drug issue(biological passports are a good first step, but we need more out-of-competition testing) and the squabbling between ASO and the UCI(the UCI needs to realize the Pro Tour is dead and go back to promoting cycling and not races). And, hopefully, Riis can get at least a three-year commitment out of a company. If the cycling world is forced to renewable one-year sponsorship deals, it will be a dark day.
The Paris-Nice race has a date with the "Giant of Provence" on Thursday and it looks to be epic. The weather so far in the 'Race to the Sun' has made the conditions at the recent Amgen Tour of California look downright tropical. Bucketing rain and cold temps have caused shortened stages and a general lethargy in the pack. Who could blame them!
All that will change on Thursday as Mont Ventoux looms on the horizon. It's still winter, especially in France, which means that the riders won't be going all the way to the lofty, 6400 foot summit. A friend of mine rode to the top a month or so ago and ended up pushing through some pretty major drifts. Instead the race will finish at about the 4400-foot level at the ski station of Mont Serein. For those of you familiar with Lance Armstrong's epic battles on Ventoux in the Tour de France and the Dauphine Libere, Mont Serein is on the other side of the mountain, the north slopes.
The climb is a bit easier from the north, but by no means is it a gimmee. In fact, from the Maulecene, at the base, the average gradient is much more constant
and overall greater (7.2% vs 7.1%) than the more well-known south side start in Bedoin. Heck, whatever side you ride up this legend of cycling will leave you gasping, but with lots of great memories.
For the pro riding Paris-Nice this will be a 3300-foot climb and will be a rude awakening, especially for those racers who aren't really peaking for this race. My guess is that this will be a battle between Luis Leon Sanchez(Caisse d'Epargne) and Frank Schleck(CSC) with Robert Gesink(Rabobank) and Sylvain Chavanel(Cofidis) as spoilers. Hopefully, Slipstream Chipotle's David Millar can hang in there, though the climb may be a bit longer than his liking.
One dark horse is High Road's Craig Lewis. With a 6.4 watts/kg power output, he has the potential to be up there with the best, but in his first full-season on the European pro circuit, he may be on a steep learning curve.
Regardless of what happens, the European stage racing season officially opens on Thursday. Get there early for the best seats!
The first stage of the 2008 Paris-Nice is in the books and oh! the carnage. With gale force winds and driving rain, race organizers shortened the 115-mile stage to just 58 miles, but Mother Nature still proved that she rules the roads. The 20-30mph crosswinds shattered the field and as every good Belgian knows, if you can't ride in an echelon, it's over, baby.
Echelon riding is probably the most difficult road riding technique to master and there is a whole host of reason why. Unlike riding in a straight, single paceline where you simply follow the wheel in front of you, echeloning takes both concentration and patience. Obviously, the major reason to draft is to shelter yourself from the wind. However, when there is a crosswind, the best place to be relative to the rider in front of you is off to the side. And that sometimes means overlapping the wheel of the rider in front of you, a definite no-no in a single-file pace line.
The key here is to find the best draft. If you are a group of riders intent on putting time into the cyclists behind you such as being in a breakaway, it is the duty of the rider at the front of the echelon to move as far to the right or left side of the road, depending on the direction of the crosswind, so as to allow all the riders in the group to get a draft. One huge mistake that novice riders in an echelon make is to move up behind the leader of the echelon and try using the whole echelon in an attempt to draft. Remember, just like in a single paceline, riders rotate the responsibility at the front and moving up directly behind the leader disrupts the flow.
A perfectly formed echelon looks like a diagonal line across the road, each rider slightly off to one side and slightly back of the rider in front of them. The problem with echelon riding comes when the road isn't wide enough to allow all the riders in the group to fan out and draft. When this happens you have two choices. First off, the riders at the end of the echelon who can't fit can chose to line up, single file, on the last rider in the echelon. This is appropriately called 'riding the gutter' as those last riders are continually jockeying for position on the side of the road sometimes off the pavement.
Unfortunately, this can cause a lot of disruption in the rotation of the echelon the end result being that the cyclists riding in the gutter waste a lot of energy and the smooth flow of the echelon is compromised. If you do find yourself riding in the gutter, one alternative is to convince your fellow gutter-mates to form a second echelon. This is easier said than done and even accomplished pro cyclists have a hard time giving up their hard-won position in the first group to start a second one especially if the majority of the horsepower is driving the first echelon.
That's exactly what happened on Monday in Paris-Nice as a number of the contenders for the overall including Australian Cadel Evans, who finished 2nd to Alberto Contador at last year's Tour de France, found themselves in the wrong echelon and ultimately lost over two minutes in a race where seconds matter. For pros like Evans, missing the front echelon has more to do with positioning in the pack than skill in riding an echelon. For novices, just learning to ride an echelon remember to concentrate and communicate. If you don't know exactly what to do, then ask.
It was a long week of riding, especially after coming off a really bad cold, but somehow I found the strength to get out on a beautiful Sunday here in the Silicon Valley. Not much to say about the ride except that it is great to see everybody else out there enjoying the bike as much as I do.
However, all that changed as I rode through Palo Alto and noticed a huge cloud of ugly, dark smoke billowing out of a home just down the street. Yikes, something was on fire and it was burning quickly. I rode up and dumped my bike on the front yard and proceeded to assess the situation. Things had gone critical so quickly that nobody had called the Palo Alto Fire Department. I didn't have a phone so one of the neighbors made the call.
In the meantime, I went over to help the wife and her husband get a hose on the source of the fire. It turns out that a huge row of tall bushes between two houses was burning and burning fast. In their hurry to get water on the blaze the couple had hastily pulled and hopelessly kinked their front yard garden hose. We got the hose un-kinked and straightened out and the husband started spraying water on the fire. I ran next door, found a smaller hose and got somebody to turn on the water as I charged into the blaze. Unfortunately, the hose was pretty small in diameter so I couldn't add much water to the effort.
Of course, that didn't stop the burning embers from landing on me, resulting in a small second-degree burn on my right bicep and then the hose snapped in two! So, I abandoned that hose and ran around into the backyard of the neighbors house where another person and I hooked up a second hose. Since I was nursing my wound and finally realizing that nylon and lycra aren't very fire-resistant, I let my new-found friend fight the blaze this time.
About five minutes after it started, we had the fire put out and when the four Palo Alto Fire Department trucks rolled up, the party was over. Luckily, the roof of the two houses were composite and concrete shingles as the embers had ended up over 100 feet from the burning bushes. My cycling clothes and bike were covered in ashes, but that's a bad of courage from where I am sitting.
Word came from Spain yesterday that Jose Luis Rubiera had won stage 2 of the Tour of Muricia. It was the queen stage with big climbs and when it started snowing it turned into a mini-epic. You have to be happy for Chechu, Rubiera's nickname. In his final year of a storied career, the affable rider from Gijon in Northern Spain is a true class act and winning in difficult conditions just adds to the legend.
Less than two weeks ago, he was Levi Leipheimer's right-hand man on the big climbs and rainy, windy flats at the Amgen Tour of California. It was the Chechu of old, pacing his team leader to yet another major stage race win. For me, it was one of the feel-good stories of the race and it was great to see Rubiera riding again at such a high level.
Chechu has amassed an impressive record throughout his professional career. He rode nineteen grand tours and finished top ten in four of those tours. He won several stages of the Tour de France as a member of the US Postal Service/Discovery Channel team time trial squad and also won two individual stages of the Giro d'Italia. Of course, he was by Lance Armstrong's side from 2001-2005 for the Texan's last five Tour victories.
He rode strongly in all, but the 2002 event. I once asked him what happened in 2002 and he replied that he had tried to do Lance's pre-Tour training program and it had burned him out. "Lance is like a motor bike of 1000cc and I am a 250cc or even less. We can't do the same training, we can't," noted the modest Spaniard.
But, Chechu will retire at the end of this year and join his wife, who is a lawyer, in Gijon. He has a degree in industrial engineering which he received while racing as a professional many times cracking his books in his hotel room after an exhausting six hours in the saddle.
I will miss his infectious smile; his positive attitude and his professionalism. The guy is truly one of the gentlemen of the sport and a class act. To be winning mountain stages and paving the way for your team leader to win a big stage race is truly the best way to exit stage left. We will all miss you. Buena suerte, amigo.
The feud between the UCI and ASO is reaching a critical level putting the racers and teams in a Catch-22 situation. If the teams do not participate in this weekend's ASO event, Paris-Nice, they feel they are risking not getting invited to the Tour de France. However, if they do participate, the UCI is threatening heavy fines, six months suspension from any UCI-sanctioned event and exclusion from competing at the upcoming Olympics. I would hate to be a rider or team boss right now. This is definitely a no-win situation.
As I have said in previous blogs, I think the UCI are the bad guys here. Frankly, I haven't seen them do anything but give lip service over the past few years. One thing that is clear to me. The UCI is more concerned about self-preservation than it is about promoting cycling. Let's look at their track record.
After the debacle at last year's Tour de France the UCI vowed to step up the fight against doping by conducting 500 out-of-competition tests. They only conducted twenty(20) out-of-competition tests making it pretty evident to me that they are not that concerned about fighting doping in the sport. When Operacion Puerto first came out in 2006, the UCI had the opportunity to nip the scandal in the bud by providing DNA samples of all riders to the Spanish prosecutors. The UCI chose not to cooperate and Operacion Puerto has hung over the sport like a black cloud ever since. Thanks.
The UCI has warned the teams and riders that if they ride Paris-Nice and under the sanction of the French Cycling Federation that their rights as riders will be severely limited and they could be tossed out of a race at anytime for suspected bad behavior. I find this argument from the UCI very ironic. The UCI has had a history of disregarding riders rights some notable examples are releasing a number of doping positives, including Floyd Landis, to the public before due process had been carried out.
As far as tossing riders from races, the UCI stripped Danilo DiLuca of his 2007 Pro Tour points which cost him the overall Pro Tour title because of a sanction for a situation that occurred in 2004. How is it fair to strip somebody of a title they are winning in 2007 for something which happened in 2004? Also, the UCI sat idly by and let the race organizers of the Amgen Tour of California prohibit three riders from Rock Racing from starting based on supposed open doping investigations for which we have seen no documentation to support. How is that fair?
So, basically, I don't have much faith in the UCI to do anything right. That doesn't mean that ASO is a knight in shining armor, but compared to the track record laid down by the UCI, I will take ASO over the UCI any day. Clearly, the UCI has lost the plot and they don't seem to be close to finding it anytime soon. The result of all of this posturing is that professional cycling, which is teetering on the brink after all the recent doping scandals is on even more unstable footing. The UCI needs to go back to promoting the sport and stop trying to fatten their wallets.
ps - now for some good news. I had a great ride in the hills above Silicon Valley today. Just a jersey and shorts and I was going fast enough up the climbs to actually feel some wind on my face. Being sick sucks and being really sick really sucks!
The Amgen Tour of California(AToC) organizers had the capacity to invite 18 teams to its recent race; it only invited 17. One team noticeably absent was the Canadian Symetrics squad which, in 2007, won the UCI Continental Championship for North and South America an honor which means it was the best team, based on UCI points, on two continents. Add to that, their rider Svein Tuft, not only won the individual UCI Continental Championships as well, but he also pulled off a remarkable win at the US Open, a race televised nationally on NBC TV, last April.
Unfortunately, Symetrics got no love from AToC organizers and was left out of the race. The Vancouver-based squad was on the sidelines as teams they beat in 2007 were racing in the Tour of California. I ran into one of their top riders, Eric Wohlberg, a three-time Canadian Olympian the day before the start of the AToC. His frustration was evident; there really was no good reason the Symetrics team was left out of the race.
Hey but, Eric is a champion and champions don't get mad, they get even. This past weekend was the first big race on the US domestic calendar after the AToC, The Merco Cycling Classic, and all of the US domestic squads who had competed in the AToC were set to participate. All Eric did was solo off the front for the final 25 miles of the 120-mile road race to win alone. That's an in-your-face move if ever there was one!
You have to know Eric to realize that it wasn't so much as kicking mud in your eye. It was just a case of kicking your butt. As former US Postal/Discovery Channel rider and fellow Canadian Michael Barry once told me, "Eric has two speeds, hard and harder." Here's hoping that Eric and his Symetrics team can get some love from the other top races in the US. They deserve to be at all of them, including that Tour of California gig. Hey, was all that rain some sort of karma payback?
Mark Cavendish was robbed of his win on stage 6 of the Tour of California, plain and simple. Yes, he received some help from his team car when he crashed in the final 10km's, but anyone who has ridden in the pro peloton knows how hard it is to move up, not only through the peloton, but also through all the team cars in the final few km's of a race, especially when everybody is going 35+mph.
This isn't a case of a rider hanging onto a car door and getting towed right back up to the front of the field. Far from that. Look at the photo. Cavendish is lying on the ground after crashing, lucky that the whole field didn't run him over and put him in a hospital bed.
After the crash, Cavendish was probably 15-30 seconds behind the field and yes, he probably got significant help getting back to the tail end of the race caravan from his team car. But, that sort of practice is totally OK in Europe in pro racing because just regaining the back of the caravan after a crash is viewed as"righting a wrong". A crash is viewed as an unfortunate circumstance and pacing back on is just the way to reverse the circumstance.
Once Cavendish regained the caravan, he had to work his way back to the peloton past 30 or so team cars. When he got to the back of the peloton after risking his life amongst the cars, he just had to work his way past 100+ racers all going wheel to wheel at 35+mph to end up at the front. Simply done, you say. Not!
So, this wasn't a case of Cavendish getting a free ride to the line from his team car. Far from it. He had to pick himself up, sort himself out, work his way through 30+ cars and 100+ riders going flat out. That's what sprinters do and that's what Cavendish did. Taking the win away from the plucky Brit is like taking Muhamed Ali's heavyweight crown away from him for fighting. It was a great win under the most difficult of circumstances. The sprinters are the showmen of our sport. Let them demonstrate why it takes a bit of madness, a bit of luck and a bit of savvy to win the bunch kick. We love it!
Mergers seem to be all the rage in corporate America. Sometimes it's a good thing, sometimes not. In case you missed it, one of the most interesting mergers in the sports world is the recently announced union between the Indy Racing League(IRL) and Champ Car. Hey, that's open wheel car racing for those of you who aren't concerned about anything with more than two wheels.
It's been twelve years since Tony George took his Indy 500 and his ego and started the Indy Racing League. We already had a successful open wheel series, Champ Car, with all the top drivers including the Unsers, Andrettis and Rahals. But, Tony George wanted a bigger slice of the pie and since he owned the rights to the most popular open wheel race on the planet, the Indy 500 (sorry Monaco GP), he figured he had the juice to make it happen.
Of course, what did happen was that everybody lost. Champ Car has become a non-factor and the Indy Racing League turned into the 'oval racing league'. If Danica Patrick hadn't arrived a couple of years ago, the IRL would have put everyone to sleep and would have all but disappeared as well. Hopefully, the merger will take US open wheel racing off life support and we won't have resort to watching the good ol' boys swapping paint every weekend from some town where everybody knows the words to "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again."
What does this have to do with cycling? Well, our good friends at the UCI and their nemesis ASO are at it again. Maybe it is just a huge case of Euro-cabin fever, but just like same time last year, these two organizations are sparring over control of European professional bike racing. ASO owns the Tour de France, Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and just about every other big race on the pro calendar. The UCI owns, well, uh, um, only the the World Championships and since they moved those from August to October nobody seems to care all that much.
So, what's at stake? It's all about the Benjamins. ASO, with it's rich TV contracts has them. The UCI, which can't seem to market the World Championships to save their life, doesn't have many Benjamin's at all. Let's forget all the polemics(that's a big word meaning politics), it really is about the green. ASO has it and the UCI wants it.
How is this similar to the IRL/Champ Car merger? I side with ASO on this one, but still I hope that both sides can work something out before the situation becomes critical and the teams and riders have to decide between the two. I suffered for 12 years while open wheel racing in the US became about as exciting as watching paint dry. If that happens to pro cycling, I may actually have to stop watching TV and go out and ride my bike.
Most aggro dude: GQ George Hincapie. He spent more time off the front and in more stages than anybody else. He went long on the climbs; he went long on the flats and even had enough gas left in the tank to go long on the final day as well.
Little Engine that Could Team: BMC Racing is one of the young up and coming teams looking for some love in the peloton. First with Jackson Stewart on Stage 1, then Scott Nydam on Stage 2, then with Taylor Tolleson on Stage 7, these boys showed that they came to play.
Hard Luck Kid: Health Net Maxxis' Roman Kilun was in that huge breakaway on the abysmal Highway 1 day and must have had jello for legs for the next day's time trial. Unfortunately, he flatted at the most inopportune moment on the course and could not get a new wheel for almost 2 miles. He missed the day's
time cut by only a minute and was out of the race. Sometimes lady luck just doesn't have a heart.
Not so Lantern Rouge: Michael Creed is the consummate journeyman pro, having spent time on all the major U.S. pro squads. Now on Rock Racing, he was having difficulty finding his form all week long which found him languishing at the bottom of the standings (the venerable lantern rouge). But Creed found some legs on the last day, initiated the major breakaway and even tried to launch himself over the massive Mill Creak Summit first.
Mr. Belgian: yes, there are real Belgians like Tom Boonen at the race. However, Australian, Henk Vogels, on the Toyota United team looks and acts (that's supposed to be a compliment) like the prototypical Belgian Hardman. Always ready for battle and seemingly with an endless ear-to-ear grin, I don't think the rain affected Henk one bit.
Classiest Rider: hey, all the guys who rode the AToC are classy, but one guy seemed to stand out. Paolo Bettini just knows how to look good on and off the bike and his engaging smile just seems to say, "bike racing is cool." I hope Il Grillo can win the final stage.
Bogus Move: the officials for DQing Mark Cavendish's stage win in Santa Clarita. Cavendish's move to use the team cars to pace him back into the pack after a late-race crash is something commonly done in Europe, but for some reason, not appreciated here in the U.S. Cavendish was just doing what any good sprinter would have done and he should have been given the win.
Best Ride of the race: Levi was expected to do well in the TT, as was David Millar, but Christian Vandevelde's third place was a very pleasant surprise. This will be Christian's third straight top-10 finish overall in this race
and his first time on the podium. Honorable mention to Levi for thoroughly schooling the field and holding onto the jersey.
Best Finish: Dominique Rollin in San Luis Obispo. It was sooooo bad out there for so long that everyone wanted the riders to bring it home and get warm. Nice to see one of the U.S. pro teams win one from the Pro Tour boys.
Crowd Favorite: Super Mario Cipollini. He's told me several times that this is his second career on the bike so it's like playing with the house's money, but that hasn't kept him from dicing it up at the finish. This man has rock star persona written all over him and the crowds mob him to prove it.
Peloton Heartthrob: Tom Boonen is one of the most recognizable faces in the pro peloton and for good reason. The heir apparent to Super Mario, Tom also has that rock star aura that whips his fans into a frenzy.
Hardest Working Man on Two Wheels: Che Chu Rubiera was on the front for Team Astana virtually the entire race. And he was on the front when it mattered most: over Mount Hamilton and Sierra Road. This guy does his job like no other and always has a smile and kind word while doing it.
Well, that's it for now. If you have some of your own awards to hand out, feel free to post up.
Time for the 2008 Amgen Tour of California(AToC) Peloton Awards. These prestigious awards honor riders, team personnel, race organizers and anyone else I feel like for their contributions to making the race what it is. Since the Academy Awards will be held tomorrow very close to the finish of the race, we are going to start with some more fashion-related observations.
Flashiest Team Jersey: Rock Racing! This new kit rocks and you can buy it!
Preppiest Team Jersey: Slipstream. Rumor has it that after the race they are all pledging with the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity
Rugby Jersey: With their all-black kit, look for the boys from Health Net-Maxxis to be lining up with our favorite Kiwi rugby team.
Most Retro Jersey: Team High Road Sports with that lettering straight out of the late '70s.
Sentimental Favorite Jersey: Team Astana. I liked them at the Tour, I still like them and some guy named Levi is kicking major butt in it as well.
Most Patriotic Jersey: Toyota United. It's OK that a Canadian rode it across the line to victory in San Luis Obispo.
Most Edible Jersey: Jelly Belly. These guys are up against some pretty big boys, but they continue to exude positive energy.
Jersey Most in Need of a Makeover: BMC. I have already acknowledged that I have no fashion sense, but these guys need to spice it up a bit. Boring.
Lint Free Jersey: Bissell Pro Cycling. These guys have a great sponsor in Mark Bissell and with two riders in the top 10 at the Solvang TT, they are definitely cleaning up.
Sunglasses Jersey: Saunier Duval-Scott has the brightest jersey out there and they wear it well. Next year bring some English-speaking riders so I can interview to them.
Steal this Jersey: Rabobank. The Dutch bank has opened some offices in California so they are almost the home town team.
Most Classic Jersey: Team CSC. With just the right mix of lettering and colors, this jersey looks great at the head of the peloton which is where the No. 1-rated team usually is!
Almost as Classic Jersey: Tom Boonen and his Quick Step boys are almost as classic. If they could just get that diminutive Italian to give up his rainbow stripes then they would be there! I am not even going to say anything about the gold shoes.
Honorable mentions: Kelly Benefit Strategies/Medifast, Bouygues Telecom and Credit Agricole for adding their own color to the peloton.
Well, that's the jersey portion of the awards. More to follow at the conclusion of the race.
Levi Leipheimer delivered a good old-fashioned drubbing in today's 15-mile individual time trial at the Amgen Tour of California (AToC). With only 20 or so seconds separating all the big names this was definitely the most exciting day so far in the race. And it was the defending champion Leipheimer who rode one of the best time trials of his career to put an authoritative stamp on the race. His winning margin of 29 seconds over Slipstream's David Millar was even more impressive than last year, when he bested an in-form Jens Voigt.
The much-anticipated duel between Leipheimer and Team CSC's Fabian Cancellara failed to materialize as the two-time defending World Champion finished fifth, 1:05 back and just behind his teammate, Gustav Larsson. After the finish, Cancellara indicated that his performance in staying with the lead group on Tuesday's mountainous stage over Mount Hamilton and Sierra Road had left him a bit flat.
There were a lot of other bright moments in Solvang. In addition to Millar's brilliant second place, Christian Vandevelde uncorked a super ride as well to put two Slipstream/Chipotle riders on the finish podium. Dave Zabriskie's sixth-place finish was another great result for Jonathan Vaughter's boys as well. The team's power guru, Dr. Allen Lim, indicated that the most important thing in the time trial for his riders was to go out a bit easier than normal then build towards the finish.
With two days of racing remaining, and lots of climbing to boot, it is probably too early to call the overall winner. Levi is clearly motivated and his team has been killing themselves to keep him in the leader's jersey. However, there are number of teams still looking to make Team Astana earn the victory. Look for Team CSC, High Road Sports and Slipstream/Chipotle to be very aggressive on Saturday's stage which includes a number of short, steep climbs.
There as has been a lot of sickness following the AToC. Teams like Slipstream/Chipotle and Gerolsteiner seem to have been hit the hardest, but Chris Horner is also fighting a bug that has left him down on his strength.
After the deluge on Thursday, Friday and Saturday are looking dry with Sunday potentially seeing more rain. With the race reaching its highest point at just under 5,000 feet on Sunday, hopefully, it will be a warm rain.
UCI President Pat McQuaid is attending the race. I asked him if there was a limit to the number of days to which the AtoC could expand and he replied that there is no limit. Before we start thinking that the Tour of California may become a three-week race like the Tour de France, hopefully, the race organizers will add a day and run Saturday to Sunday so that the event can head down south towards San Diego.