Here are some more photos from the Team Radio Shack pre-season camp.
The boys coming back from their 100km training ride. Lance is leading the team with Levi to his left and Haimar Zubeldia on his right.
Chris Horner had a very up-and-down season in 2009. He showed signs of brilliance in the mountains during the Giro, but it seemed like everytime he was just about to hit his stride he went down in a crash. Here's hoping that he has much better luck in 2010 including a ride in the Tour de France.
The Trek-Livestrong U23 team was also training in Tucson at the same time as their professional big brothers. Taylor Phinney is the team leader of the squad. He won the U23 Paris-Roubaix and the World Championship in the 4000m pursuit in 2009 while he was still a teenager!
Jani Brajkovic is undoubtedly Slovenia's most talented cyclist. He had a breakthrough year in 2009, his best racing came at the Giro where he was very strong in the second and third weeks.
South African Daryl Impey is probably best know for being taken down in a sprint finish in the Tour of Turkey by Theo Bos. He is recovered and motivated to ride well.
Chris Horner's run of bad luck this season continued at the Vuelta as a crash on stage four into Liege resulted in a fractured wrist and his premature departure from the race. It was a huge crash caused by a rider touching the wheel in front of him as the peloton went through a roundabout with about 2 kilometers remaining. The crash occurred right at the front of the peloton which caused over a third of the riders to go down with the remainder caught behind the carnage. Only six riders at the front were still upright and able to contest the finishing sprint.
Chris's misfortune is yet another setback in a season beset with bad luck. Chris injured his knee in a crash in the Tour of California. He returned to racing at the Tour of Basque Country only to break his collarbone in a fall when the teammmate he was following broke his chain. Through all of this, Horner persevered and came back in super form for the Giro. He was the only rider on Team Astana who was able to keep pace with Levi Leipheimer on the climbs and was clearly a critical player for the team's overall hopes. However, on stage 10, he crashed on the descent of the Monte Cenis and broke his leg.
His Giro crash put him off the bike for twelve days, but again, his determination saw him accompany Lance and Levi to Aspen for a pre-Tour training camp. Long miles at altitude saw Horner regain his Giro form, but politics kept him off the team and he was denied the Tour de France for a second year in a row. Most likely in response to his Tour snub, he was given the team leadership role at the Vuelta. He was clearly headed for a top ten finish at the Giro; single digits at the Vuelta was clearly in the realm of possibility.
Horner is one of the nicest guys in the pro peloton. He is always available for interviews and gives frank and insightful comments. It is an unfortunate side of professional cycling that there seems to be a lot more bad luck than good. Obviously, you can't win all the time, but if you have paid your dues like Horner, you should get your chance to shine in the sun. Hopefully, Chris will be back in form for the Giro di Lombardia in early October, a race where he has been top 10 several times.
Team Columbia-Highroad has been putting on a Bike Racing 101 clinic at the Giro.The squad has won four stages in the first nine days and they are doing it in classic racing fashion. The Giro is known for lots of crashes which sometimes produce lucky winners, but Columbia-Highroad's success has nothing to do with luck.
Columbia-Highroad's first win, on the opening day's team time trial, was the picture of perfection. There didn't appear to be any strategy other than to have each rider give his all. There were no sacrificial lambs, everybody just rode their hearts out.
Norwegian Edvald Boasen-Hagen has recorded a second-first-second in stages 6-8; his win into Chiavenna on stage 7 was won on rain-slickened roads, but he didn't appear to be taking unnecessary risks.
Constantin Siutsov's victory into Bergamo was probably the best demonstration of classic bike racing tactics. Columbia-Highroad sent their GC man Michael Rogers up the road on the stage's final climb forcing overal racer leader Danilo Diluca's LPR Brakes team to initiate a furious chase. As soon as Rogers and his breakaway companions, which included Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner, were reeled in, Siutsov counter-attacked.
It was clear that the LPR riders were tired from chasing Rogers and Leipheimer and Siutsov quickly built a sufficient lead to take him all the way to the finish line. That is how you win a bike race.
The final chapter in team Columbia Highroad's racing primer was written in Milan when a near perfect leadout train in the final kilometers delivered uber-sprinter Mark Cavendish first across the line. Thus endeth the lesson, but I am guessing that Columbia-Highroad has a few more chapters to write before the end of the race.
A few more speculations on what will happen with Team Astana and the rollout with Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel's new team. It must be remembered that one of the strategies that Bruyneel and Armstrong used to help engineer Lance's seven tour wins was to acquire the competition.
Along that line of thinking, it would be better for Bruyneel and Armstrong to try and keep Team Astana together through the Tour so that they would have Contador on their squad. That's not to say that Bruyneel and Armstrong would try to keep Contador from winning. It just means that they would have more control over the situation. Only time will tell what happens.
Race organizers of the Tour of Gila have certainly had an up and down ride this winter and spring. The popular New Mexico stage race was in danger of folding up shop when sponsorship woes raised their ugly head. At the last minute component manufacturer SRAM stepped in and saved the day. Then only a few weeks before yesterday's first stage, rumours started circulating that Lance Armstrong and his Team Astana might be on the start list.
There are a lot of interesting tidbits surrounding Team Astana's participation at Gila. First off, the team rides SRAM components on their Trek bikes. Having your marquis riders show up at an event you are sponsoring is always a good thing. Secondly, both Armstrong and Horner are recovering from broken collarbones, Lance at the Vuelta Castilla y Leon and Horner from the Vuelta Pays Basque a few weeks later. These two guys definitely need some racing miles if they want to be competitive at the upcoming Giro d'Italia which starts on May 9th.
Teammate Levi Leipheimer on the other hand has been racing and winning for the past several months starting with the Tour of California then the Vuelta Castilla y Leon and most recently at the Sea Otter Classic. As Levi will most likely be the Astana team leader at the Giro he needs to do what is necessary to arrive at the start in Venice ready for major action.
One interesting point about Gila is that the race takes place out of Silver City, New Mexico which is 6000'. As anyone knows who has tried to perform at altitude, you need to acclimate if you want to be competitive. Lance has been training in Aspen at 8000' and Levi has been in Park City at 7000' so both should be ready to roll at Gila.
On Wednesday, Levi proved that he was ready to race winning the first stage, which included a 5-mile climb to the finish, by almost one minute over his nearest rival. Lance and Chris Horner, who were there to support Levi's bid for overall victory, were active during the critical parts of the race.
There was a bit of drama before the start with the UCI almost preventing both Astana and Team BMC from starting citing a almost-never-enforced rule that restricts the top professional teams, those with Pro Tour and Professional Continental status, from participating from non-UCI events as either a team or individuals. A last minute truce allowed the three Astana riders to compete as Team Mellow Johnny, Lance's bike shop in Austin. Team BMC, which is competing as Team B, had to send five of its eight riders home to comply with the three rider limit.
While Levi looks on form to take another victory, most eyes will be on Lance to see how his fitness is progressing after his broken collarbone. But, keep an eye on Leipheimer as he will most likely be leading Team Astana at the Giro.
The 2009 Amgen Tour of California sloshed into Santa Rosa and it was Rock Racing's Francisco Mancebo, of Spain, who was off the front for 102 of the 107 miles in this stage, taking the victory. On a day when the elevation profile looked to allow the field to re-group after each of the three moderate climbs, mother nature, some dodging radio communications, and some last minute modifications to the race rules conspired to give Mancebo the opportunity to take the stage and potentially the overall Tour of California title.
Because of the cold, rainy conditions the peloton allowed Mancebo, Tim Johnson (Ouch Medical) and David Kemp(Flying V Australia Successful Living Foundation) to breakaway only five miles into the stage. Poor communication from race radio, which keeps the teams up to date on the time gaps for breakaways, allowed the gap to grow to epic proportions. When Mancebo attacked his two companions and went free over Howell Mountain, that information was slow in reaching all the other teams. When word did get back to the pack, Team Astana went ballistic and shattered the field over Howell Mountain putting five of its riders in the 20-man chase group. Armstrong, Leipheimer, Horner, Rubiera and Jani Brajkovic spent the better part of an hour and a half trying to bring back Mancebo.
When the race entered the streets of Santa Rosa, a territory quickly becoming known as the Bermuda Triangle of UCI race regulations, the officials decided to take the finishing times at the start of the first of the three finishing circuits. This decision, which was made sometime during the course of the stage basically robbed the chasing teams of about 7 miles of extra distance in which to try bring back Mancebo.
OK. We can all debate the advantages and disadvantages of race radios(personally, I don't like them), but the current rules allow them, maybe this time around it was a case of those who live by the radio, die by the radio. In any event, the overall standings of the AToC have been turned completely upside down. Mancebo is a good time trialist, but Levi Leipheimer has owned the Solvang TT the past two years and if Levi doesn't lose anymore time to Mancebo between now and then, the 1'02" he is down to Mancebo could easily be won back with a standard Leipheimer TT effort. For that matter, any of the 19 riders in the chase group who are now within about 1'30" of Mancebo are still in the hunt and could win the overall with a superb TT effort.
Here are some photos of the race. I was playing around with soft focus a bit, please bear with. Graham Watson and I are good friends because 1) he can drink me under the table with one hand tied behind his back, 2) I am not going to be taking any food out his mouth with the cycling publications.
Here is a shot of Mancebo on the finishing circuits out in front solo.
Lance, with Horner on his wheel, are chasing hard.
After he crossed the finish line, Mancebo headed down my way. Ben Delaney, Editor of VeloNews, and I were the first to approach him, but he wanted to do the interview in Spanish so we decided to leave it to the interpreters this time.
On Saturday night, thieves broke into the Team Astana's bike trailer at the Residence Inn Sacramento and stole the first four bikes in the line-up. Taken were Popovych's, Brajkovic's and Morabito's road bikes as well a Lance's one-of-a-kind TT bike on which he had just finished 10th that day in the prologue. Luckily, all the riders had spare bikes, but the team had to borrow three road bikes from Trek Travel for additional spares for Popo, Jani and Steve to have on top of the car for the day's stage.
I talked with Ben Coates who is the liaison with Trek for the team and who was upset that the incident occurred. He was upbeat that this situation would demonstrate the advantages of US-made Trek bicycles in that replacement frames were in the process of being painted and sent out in the next few days to the team.