Just when you thought the pro rider transfer season couldn't get any weirder, it appears that Cadel Evans has left his Belgian Silence-Lotto team to head over to the USA/Swiss Team BMC. Evans had one year left on his contract with Silence-Lotto, but he was somehow able to get released from the service of his now-former team.
Given Evans' forgettable performance at the Tour de France, this might not seem to be all that newsworthy, but you might remember that just under two months ago, he won the World Road Championships in Mendrisio Switzerland. So, BMC is not only getting the plucky Australian, they are also getting the rainbow jersey. It is most likely a bit of coincidence that the rider who wore the rainbow jersey before Cadel, Allesandro Ballan, will be riding alongside Evans at Team BMC.
Of course, we will never know why Evans changed teams. Rumour has it that Team BMC, which is owned my multi-millionaire Andy Riis, basically had no budget when it came to signing riders for 2010 so there was a lot of money being offered to the top pros to come to BMC. This might seem a bit sleazy, but that's how it is done in the pro ranks, especially if you are a team like BMC and are looking to move up to the next level in the pro ranks.
Probably the biggest affect of bringing Cadel to Team BMC is that the Tour de France is now a real possibility. Team BMC is a Pro Continental, rather than Pro Tour, team which means they are eligible for a wild card birth to participate in the Tour. Last year, they showed well at the Dauphine Libere. With the likes of Evans, who has twice finished second at the Tour, Team BMC should be a strong candidate for a wild card spot.
If Team BMC does get into the Tour does the squad have enough talent to be able to support Evans, especially in the high mountains? All of their best climbers have never ridden the Tour which probably means that BMC team management might need to get out the checkbook and go shopping for a few more uphill specialists with some Tour experience. George Hincapie, who comes to Team BMC from Columbia-HTC can clearly be the road captain, but the mountains are another story.
Of course, at this point it is only speculation, but until the pros turn a pedal in anger in 2010, that's about all we can do.
Today, September 1, the gag order on discussing rider transfers inside the pro peloton was lifted so a number of riders and teams were able to announce their key signings for 2010. Here's what's up.
Levi Leipheimer has signed a two-year deal with Lance Armstrong's Team Radio Shack. Team BMC made a strong run this summer to try and lure Levi to their team, but in the end Team Radio Shack won out probably based on the fact the Levi has had the best results of his career under Johan Bruyneel.
The Garmin-Slipstream team made a number of signings. To bolster their leadout train for fastman Tyler Farrar, the argyle crew signed South African sprinter Robbie Hunter who has won a stage of the Tour de
To fortify their classics campaign, they signed Johan Vansummeren who was most recently with Silence Lotto. He has finished top ten in Paris-Roubaix twice.
Peter Stetina, son of former US standout Dale Stetina, moves up from the development squad to the Pro Tour team. He rode exceptionally well against the likes of Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer at the Tour of Gila.
Tom Zirbel, the former distannce runner and current US road pro with Bissell brings his considerable time trialing talents to the team.
Fredrik Kessiakoff is a four time Swedish National Mountain bike champion who is currently riding with Fuji Servetto and will be looked on for his uphill talents.
Team BMC has acquired four big European stars, will next year be the year they ride the Tour?
Undoubtedly the biggest name coming to BMC is George Hincapie who leaves Team Columbia-HTC.
Marcus Burghart, who won a stage at the 2008 Tour de France also leaves Columbia-HTC for BMC.
Reigning World Road Race Champion Allessandro Ballan will move from Lampre to BMC.
Karsten Kroon has also been named to the BMC squad.
I have written several times about George Hincapie's narrow miss at the Tour's yellow jersey and the efforts made my Team Garmin-Slipstream to chase him down. One of the interesting side-stories of this whole affair is the fact that in Team Columbia's attempt to slow things down in the peloton so that George would be able to get the yellow jersey, they accidentally created a situation which ended up costing them the green jersey.
Obviously, Columbia didn't set out to lose the green jersey just to get the yellow one. In fact, I would bet that if it would have been know beforehand that trying to get George the yellow would have cost Mark Cavendish the green Team Columbia would have behaved differently. It is just one of those ironies that happens at the Tour. A few years ago, in Miguel Indurain's attempt to win the final TT at the Tour, he went so fast that he eliminated his brother who ultimately missed the time cut. That's irony.
What happened with Team Columbia is that, because they were trying to slow the peloton down, they didn't crank their leadout train into it's normal high gear with Mark Renshaw winding it up inside the final kilometer. Instead Team Columbia tried to run their leadout train in slow motion, so to speak, which allowed a number of riders, including Thor Hushovd to be in contention to sprint with Mark Canvedish as the line approached.
It was clear, watching the TV coverage, that Cavendish was trying to figure out where Hushovd, his only rival for the green jersey, was during that slow-mo sprint. Unfortunately, when Cavendish looked over his right shoulder to see Hushovd, he moved slightly to his right. This is a normal occurrence when riding a bike.When you look over your right shoulder, especially if you have stiff arms, then you move to the right. The same thing happens if you look left except that you drift left.
So, what happened to Cavendish was a pretty normal reaction. Unfortunately, it looked to the judges that Mark intentionally moved right, in what is called "hooking", to impede Hushovd's forward progress. I have seen enough "hooks" in my day to know when a rider is "hooking" another rider. What I saw Cavendish do to Hushovd just didn't look like a hook. But, that's not the way the judges saw it and they relegated Cavendish to last place in that sprint, costing him enough sprint points to ultimately cost him the green jersey.
If Team Columbia had ridden a normal, full-speed, sprint then this problem would never have occurred. Cavendish would most likely have beaten Hushovd that day and also for the green jersey. One of the things I admire about Team Columbia is that they never publicly regretted their decision to try to help George get the yellow jersey even if it did end up costing them the green jersey. They realize that the Tour is full of ironic(as opposed to iconic) moments and this was one of them.
Interactive Learning Moment - on stage 3 Team Columbia and Lance Armstrong put the hammer down in the crosswind and took 41 seconds out of all of Lance's contenders for the yellow jersey. These precious seconds were the difference for Lance between the podium and fifth place.
Follow the Leader Moment - the stage 4 team time trial course in and around Montpelier was a twisty, turny, technical affair. Several teams such as Skil-Shimano and BBox Bouygues Telecom saw their TTT trains derailed by one, very fast, decreasing radius right turn. I should know, I almost when off the road on that turn while riding the course with the Garmin boys in the morning before the stage.
Never Give Up Moment - in the era of race radios it is a rarity that a breakaway will succeed when the peleton is smelling a field sprint. On stage 5 of the Tour, Frenchman Thomas Voeckler proved that not only can you fool the peloton, but you can do it solo. Chapeau Tom!
What Was He Thinking Moment - Cadel Evans' crumble in the third week of the Tour was well documented, but what about his attack near the summit of the climb out of Andorra when the peloton had almost 100 miles and two major climbs left to ride. There's strategy and then there's desperation. Wait, there is also bewilderment.
What Were They Thinking Moment - well, this moment actually occurred long before the Tour started when the race organizers decided to put the iconic Col du Tourmalet so far from the stage finish that even I had a chance of getting back on before the line.
NRA is Alive and Living In Europe Moment - I have been covering the Tour for over twenty years and I have never, ever heard of a rider being shot during the race. In what is clearly a very sad moment, guns have made their presence felt in the world's greatest bike race.
Why Can't We All Get Along Moment - it appeared to be purely out of spite that Garmin-Slipstream chased down the breakaway containing George Hincapie, keeping him out of the yellow jersey. I like the guys on the Garmin-Slipstream team and am still wondering why it was so important to keep an American on an American team out of yellow. A rising tide floats all boats.
Life Just Isn't Fair Moment - Jens Voigt is one of the most likeable guys in the pro peloton. His crash descending the Petit Saint Bernard was pretty horrific and put one of the most exciting riders out of the race. Check out Jens addressing his fans from his hospital room (thanks Andrew!): http://www.saxobanktakingthelead.com/?p=1217
The Mind is a Terrible Thing Moment - we will probably never know what Alberto Contador was thinking when he attacked, against his director's orders, on the final slopes of the Colombiere. However, given his pithy post-race comments about Lance Armstrong, the fact that his attack knocked Andreas Kloden off the podium making a place for Lance probably has even Alberto wondering what he was thinking.
The Winds of Change Moment - too bad the riders were subjected to very strong headwinds on the upper slopes of Mont Ventoux. The winds most likely muted the effects of the Giant of Provence and blunted Frank Schleck's chance to jump over Lance onto the podium.
It has been a pretty uneventful rest day at the Tour and after two and a half weeks, that is a good thing. Lance Armstrong has come out publicly and stated that his aspirations for the Tour's yellow jersey are over and that Contador is the best rider on the team. I am sure that was not what the Texan wanted to be saying, but it was a classy thing to do. He still sits in second place, but unless he can find a bit more climbing fitness, the podium might be a stretch. There is a 25-mile(40km) time trial in Annecy on Thursday, but that might not be enough to erase any deficits if he continues to struggle on the climbs.
I spent the rest day visiting several teams, Columbia-HTC and Saxo Bank and sittting down with some riders for interviews. Here are a few. Look for more to dribble in over the next few days.
George Hincapie is the most popular rider in the US save that guy from Texas. He hold the American record for most Tour starts (14) and finishes (13).
Bruce: fourteen Tours de France. That is an incredible legacy. Did you finish every one?
George: I finished every one except my first one(1996). I was just a young kid and I was trying to get ready for the Olympics. I rode two weeks of it then had a bad crash and pulled out.
Bruce: what's in your future on the bike?
George: I am definitely going to keep racing. I don't know if I will do a couple more Tours. I will probably do another couple of years. I don't know if I will be able to come back to the Tour or not. It is still undecided there.
Bruce: How are you feeling?
George: I feel good. I definitely had a very big disappointment the other day. I had a big chance to be in yellow. That seems to be standing out more than anything right now. But as far as my riding, I am going quite well. Hopefully, I can pull something out in the last week.
Bruce: Let's talk about that moment. It appeared to be a bit of a misunderstanding between you and the Astana guys. It didn't look like they were the ones who were really doing the work. It looks like you got some bad information at the finish line.
George: I don't know about that. I have my opinion and I know the facts. I don't really care to comment on what happened and who did what wrong. I have a strong opinion on that and I will keep that to myself.
Bruce: You had the yellow jersey for a day in 2006?
George: I know it would have been hard to keep it(yellow jersey) yesterday, but it would have been very special to get it.
Bruce: What is your role on the team?
George: I can pretty much do everything for the guys. I can help them in the mountains. I can represent them in the breakaways. And I can help Cavendish in the sprints. So, I think I have done a great job for the team. This team is amazing. It is the best team I have ever been on by far as far as the depth of the riders and the comaraderie. For sure.
Bruce: It almost looks automatic for you guys to win a bunch sprint. Take us through the final 2kms of a field sprint
George: That's the thing. That is why I say this team is so good. People watching just think it is automatic. They see us all lined up, all together, but they don't see how hard it is to stay together and how much fighting that is going on and all the bumping. There are people trying to cut inside you on the corners. It is just real chaos. But, this team is so good at staying together. We never get complacent. We are always 100% focused and 100% motivated to get Cav to the final 200 meters.
Bruce: what's the lineup for the leadout train and how does it function?
George: Bernie (Eisel) and (Bert) Grabsch are doing most of the work the whole day. With 5-10km to go Kim (Kirchen) and Maxime (Monfort) take over. Michael Rogers has been taking over with 2km to go. Tony Martin takes over with 1500m to go then I take over with about 1km to go and then Renshaw takes over with 500m to go.
Bruce: Obviously, your stage win in 2005 at Pla d'Adet was a huge moment in your career. But, are there any other Tour moments which stand out in your career?
George: Winning team time trials. Anytime you get to the Champs Elysees no matter what you have done is a huge accomplishment just to get there. Those are definitely moments which stand out.
Mark Cavendish is the best field sprinter in the business, bar none. Even with all his successes he has been criticized for not getting over the mountains and finishing the Tour.
Bruce: You are finally going to try and make it to Paris. How do you feel about your climbing?
Mark: I am not suffering in the grupetto. I am just sitting in there. I don't ned to try and climb with the front riders. What I need to do is save as much energy when I am not climbing with the front riders. I was never going to get dropped from the grupetto, anyway. At least now I can recover and save energy rather than having to go full gas to try and stay in the grupetto.
Bruce: are there any opportunities to try and get back the green jersey?
Mark: It's not happening. The green jersey is gone now. Eighteen points on Thor is too much.
Bruce: let's talk about the rest of your Tour. You won four stages.
Mark: I said "if I don't win a stage I have failed." So, you have to be content with one stage at the Tour. It is the Tour de France. I set two goals, one to win a stage, the other goal was to reach Paris. I won a stage. I am close to reaching Paris. That is successful. Getting to wear green for the first time in my career. Tony to wear white. We still have all nine guys in the race. It has gone perfect for us, actually.
Bruce: let's talk about your new book 'Boy Racer'. What is the part of your personality that you haven't shown publicly that is in the book.
Mark: If you buy the book it explains why I am emotional after a stage. If I wina race I am elated. If I lose a race I am destroyed, angry, aggressive. It is easy to sum up a person fifteen seconds straight after a race when all that emotion that is pent up has spilled out. That's fifteen seconds where you can make the right or wrong decision about a person. If you read the book it shows that there is much more to me than just this Jekyl and Hyde a$$hole, really.
Jens Voigt is on the powerful Saxo Bank team which has two riders in contention for high placings in the overall classification.
Bruce: What will the plan be for Saxo Bank be for the Alps with Andy Schleck riding so well.
Jens: Andy sits in fifth place overall so there is room to improve on that. He got the white jersey which was his first objective achieved, but of course we aim high and we would like to have one of the Schleck brothers on the podiium. It looks like things are pretty simple from the way I see it. We gotta move. We got to try and make the race hard and give Frank and Andy a chance to shine in the mountains. We gotta get past Wiggins. We have to drop and gain more time on people like Tony Martin, on Kloden, on Armstrong, the good time trialists.
In the ideal scenario we would, two days from now, start the time trial with Andy being comfortably ahead of the good time trialists, especially Wiggins who is an awesome time trialer. We have to look into getting him(Wiggins) into trouble
. Our strength is that we have two really good, strong climbers and we have to work with that.
Bruce: what will your role be in the Alps?
Jens: to just make life hard for the others. It is probably the best for me to create chaos. That's good. That's what I am best at. Just make people suffer and have tactics such that they never know if you go now or go later. To put constant pressure on the others (rivals).
Bruce: pleast fill us in on what happened when you flatted out of that breakaway on stage 14 to Besancon. That was a Jens Voigt-type breakaway.
Jens: I am sure that the poor fellow tried (to change his wheel) as quick as he could. It is just complicated to change the back wheel. Then there were the whole circumstances. They had to come running to me to see, first of all, do we have a front wheel or back wheel. By the time we got the bike changed it was too late.
Then you have this rule that you are actually allowed to go behind the group with the yellow car to get back to the group where you had the puncture because you didn't puncture because it was funny. You have been punished enough by that (getting a wheel change). I tried to talk to them, but the commissaire quickly said "No, no. This isn't going to happen here. There is no helping."
So, I was out there all by myself and quickly calculated my chances. Twelve strong riders swapping off in the front and me alone and I figured out that is next to zero that I am going to see them again.
Italian Vincenzo Nibali finished third behind Alberto Contador in Verbier. His is a young rider with a lot of potential. Italian is my fourth language after English, Spanish and French, but I managed to get several questions out to the Liquigas rider at the team bus yesterday at the finish.
Bruce: It was a good day for you?
Vincenzo: Yes, it was a good day, but Contador was much better. He was so much faster than the rest of us. But, yes, it was a good day for me and my team.
Bruce: is it possible to finish top 5 in the Tour?
Vincenzo: yes, I hope it is possible for me to finish high in the general classification. I feel good and I feel very strong.
If there was any doubt who was the team leader on Astana that is pretty much a foregone conclusion as Alberto Contador siezed the initiative once again by attacking Lance Armstrong and the lead group with 5.5km remaining to the ski station at Verbier. The Spaniard was first across the line with Armstrong 1'35" back in ninth place. In the race for the overall, Contador is now 1'37" ahead of second-place Armstrong with Garmin-Slipstream's Bradley Wiggins in third just nine seconds arrears of the Texan.
In fact, while everyone expected Contador to climb well, the biggest surprise was Wiggins who looked comfortable both following and initiating attacks in the final three miles (5km). His teammate Vande Velde was about 1'30" seconds back of Wiggins and is now in twelfth overall 3'59" back of Contador.
Tomorrow is a rest day before two tough days in the Alps, a 25-mile individual time trial and the ascent of Mont Ventoux remaining on the program. While Contador looks very good, the Tour is far from over.
The biggest buzz after yesterday's stage concerned the negative remarks George Hincapie made about his former US Postal/Discovery Channel teammates, now on Team Astana, working at the front of the peloton to rob Hincapie of the yellow jersey. By dissecting what actually happened both on the road and in the media we can see that it was all a big misunderstanding.
The problem began when the Versus TV commentators made the remark that Team Astana's work at the front of the main peloton had cost George Hincapie the jersey. Using this information, the Versus post-stage reporter asked George, on TV, what he thought about his former teammates working to keep him out of yellow. George, obviously frustrated at losing out on the yellow jersey after being off the front of the race for 100+ miles, just reacted to the question without knowing what really happened.
In reality, we know that it was not Team Astana that caused Hincapie to lose the jersey. Some have pointed the finger at Garmin-Slipstream and their growing rivalry with George's team, Columbia-HTC. But Jonathan Vaughters, the head honcho at Garmin stated that his team was only riding on the front in the final 10km to keep their GC riders out of trouble. He didn't want Bradley Wiggins or Christian Vande Velde getting caught out, as happened to Bradley a few days ago, and lose
So, it looks like a bit of misinformation posed as a post-stage question to a frustrated George Hincapie created a situation that wasn't a situation at all. BTW, when Lance heard about George's comments about Astana, went into overdrive to make sure George got the real story about what happened.
Cadel Evans finished seventh on the stage and dropped to 14th overall. I caught up with him at the Silence-Lotto team bus.
Cadel: I think this is the worse day I ever had in the Tour de France when I didn't have a crash. I haven't recovered since yesterday. I don't know why. At kilometer zero I was terrible. It was one of the most important days of the Tour. If you have a day like this your Tour is over and pretty much your whole season.
Q: Was it the cold of the past few days?
Cadel: No. I just had various reasons.
Q: What are your chances on the general classification?
Cadel: it is pretty terrible. I am riding a terrible Tour and I am dissapointed, but not much I can do about it right now.
Carlos Sastre usually comes alive in the third week of a grand tour which is how he won this race last year. On the final climb today, he got dropped early on from the lead group, but clawed his way back up to the leaders. He finished sixth, 1'06" back of Contador in same group as Bradley Wiggins and now sits in 11th overall at 3'52". I talked with Carlos at the Cervelo Test Team bus after the stage.
Q: How did you feel the first day in the mountains?
Carlos: it was a hard day. It was really fast. It was OK. It was more or less what I expected. It has been a difficult Tour de France, but I closed super (in the final KMs) and I was there and I am happy because I did my best. The team was fantastic. Today all my teammates were close to me. It is an important moment and we are happy. It has been a very successful Tour de France for all of us.
Q: You lost the wheel at the bottom, but you came back. Was that part of the plan to go your own pace and catch those guys back?
Carlos: It wasn't part of the plan. I would like to have the same explosivity as them, but I didn't have the explosivity so I needed to ride more at my rythmn which I did. I came back. I was there. I think for me it was OK. A difficult stage after almost one week on the flats, you know. This kind of fitness I like, but I recognize that there are a few riders who are stronger than me.
Q: Are the tough stages coming up in the Alps more Sastre "country?"
Carlos: It has been a really strange Tour de France. Everybody is talking about Armstrong/Contador like they are the only (ones) doing this race. I am happy with my condition. I am happy with the team. I am happy with the results. I don't think too much about anything. I go day-by-day, just do my race and doing everything which is good for me.
Danny Pate is a support rider on the Garmin-Slipstream team. I caught up with him as he was looking for his team bus.
Q: What was it like out there today. Were you trying to set it up for Bradley (Wiggins) and Christian (Vande Velde)?
Pate: Yeah. All day we just tried to protect them. We wanted one guy in the break and Ryder (Hesjedal) was perfect to have in the break becasue he can climb out of the break and if they (Wiggins and Vande Velde) needed help they could catch him (Ryder) at the right time and he (Ryder) could help them (Wiggins and Vande Velde) later.
Other than that it was the normal thing; protect those guys, help them get to the bottom. Everyone did a little bit to help them get there. Dave and I were the last guys to help them by the bottom and set them up real well to
do their thing.
Q: Wiggins had a great ride today.
Pate: he was riding great at the Giro and he had really good prep between the Giro and the Tour. The team didn't expect him to do any races or get results inbetween there so he had time to chill out and prepare for this.
Q: How will the team chemistry be now with Bradley moving ahead of Christian with a more substantial margin?
Pate: I don't think there will be any problems. I am amazed at the ride Christian has had here. After what happened to him at the Giro. He has blown me away at how prepared he was. Wiggo as well. They are riding unbelievably.
Q: So, they will continue to work together as a team?
Pate: oh, for sure!
Q: After you have put all your efforts into launching Wiggins and Vande Velde up the climb, what do you do to make it to the finish and conserve energy?
Pate: today's climb wasn't so bad. It was not a huge climb and it wasn't really steep which makes really good sense why Wiggo did so well today. He's quite a bit lighter than he has been before. But still it wasn't that steep of a climb or really that hard of a climb so it wasn't so bad for me.
Q: What is your body feeling like going into the third week?
Pate: it depends on who you are. By now you kind of feel the same. You feel the same in the third week. If you are going to be bad, you already feel bad.
Bunch finishes are usually explosive affairs, but not today into Besancon as Columbia-HTC found itself in one of those weird situations that has marked the 2009 Tour. With teammate George Hincapie off the front in a race-long breakaway the time gap back to the peloton was just about enough to put the American in the yellow jersey. But, if Columbia-HTC geared up their leadout train to try and reclaim the green points jersey for Mark Cavendish, their acceleration might just close that time gap and deny Hincapie the yellow jersey.
So, the bunch sprint appeared to happen in slow motion with Columbia-HTC riders all over the front, but trying to delay their leadout until the last possible moment. In the end, Cavendish won the sprint, but he beat Hushovd by only one place and one point so the green jersey stays on the Cervelo Test Team rider's shoulder. And Hincapie's gap proved to be a handful of seconds short so Rinaldo Nocentini will wear yellow tomorrow in to the Alps in Verbier.
In one of the strangest incidents I have seen in my 20+ years of covering the Tour, two riders were shot during stage 13. Spanish rider and triple World Champion, Oscar Friere, and Garmin-Slipstream rider, Julian Dean, were struck by lead pellets apparently fired from an air rifle while the descended the stage's penultimate climb. Friere had to have the pellet removed from his thigh by his team doctor. Julian Dean was struck in the finger with the pellet glancing off. There are no suspects and nobody saw anything as the peloton was in a dense forest.
This is a scary situation as Lance Armstrong has pointed out many times that the peloton races on open roads with crowds able to interact with the riders, hopefully not in any negative ways. But who can forget the fan who punched Eddy Merckx in the stomach in 1975 while he was climbing Le Puy de Dome. I don't know what can be done to tighten security on the open roads. It is a pity that the riders have to endure additional stress when they are trying to relax and save as much energy as possible to be able to perform in a three-week race.
I guess Jens Voigt was listening a couple of days ago as he slipped into the star-studded break at the beginning of stage 14. Unfortunately, he flatted and received a very slow wheel change from the Mavic neutral support car. The new rear wheel appeared to be rubbing on his brakes so he had to stop again to adjust it. Then, to make matters worse, the support car refused to help him get back up to the breakaway by providing a bit of draft. Jens had some choice comments for the occupants of the car and then pulled over to answer the call of nature and wait for the peloton which was already over five minutes behind. Talk about your missed opportunity.
And just when you thought things couldn't get any stranger, an imposter, clad in a La Francaise de Juex racing kit tried to jump onto the Tour podium. The badger himself, Bernard Hinault, forcibly removed him from the stage.
Jean Paul Van Poppel is a former green jersey winner at the Tour, beating Davis Phinney among others in 1988, and is one of the director sportifs of the Cervelo Test Team. Interestingly, when the Tour finished here in Besancon in 1988, Van Poppel won the stage. I spoke to him about Carlos Sastre's chances in the overall classification.
Bruce: Carlos Sastre has a reputation as a third week rider. Is the plan to get through the first two weeks and then go hard in the Alps?
JVVP: The third week is very hard and it is in his (Carlos) system to get better during a stage race. I think his strength is the third week and if it works out. Yeah. He could give them (peloton) some surprises. We hope.
Bruce: Ventoux is a tough enough climb that taking back two to three minutes is not out of the question.
JVVP: Taking two to three minutes on the best riders? I don't think that is going to happen, but you can take time in the last week over more stages (than just Ventoux).
Bruce: Team Astana is looking very strong. Is there something you can do to take them on?
JVVP: We have to see what is going to happen. They work a lot(at the front) so maybe in the last week the team is a bit used up, but I don't think so. Not really. You have to look at what is happening at the moment and if it happens there comes a situation that you can benefit with other riders to go full gas then I think we should do that.
Bruce: who on the team will be there to help Carlos in the mountains.
JVVP: Jose Marchante is a super climber. He had some bad luck starting the season when he broke his arm. He came back in good shape and in the Tour of Catalonia he was in good form, actually a litle too good so we slowed him down a bit for Tour of Switzerland. For now he is at a good level and also he can get better like Carlos does.
Australian Brett Lancaster is a teammate of Sastre's on the Cervelo Test Team. I chatted with him briefly about is team leader.
Bruce: Is Carlos getting ready to unleash himself against Astana in the third week when we get to the Alps?
Brett: They are a really strong team (Astana). Carlos is pretty reserved and keeps to himself. I don't know what he is thinking or what he is going to do. He just keeps that to himself. In the last week it will be typical Carlos standard.
For those who know of the Tour de France only from the Lance era it might be difficult to imagine that as far back as 1980, no American had ever ridden the Tour de France. In 1981, Jonathan Boyer, became the first US rider to particpate in the Tour. He went on to represent America well, finishing as high as 12th place though he rode for a French team. It wasn't until 1986 that the first American team, the 7-Eleven, squad rode the Tour.
A little known fact in Tour history is that in 1981, a squad of Americans was poised to become not only the first Americans, but also the first American team to ride the Tour. They received and invitation in late 1980 from the Tour organizers; Mike Fraysee was to be the team manager and he quickly set about trying to find riders.
It must be remembered that back in 1980/81 there were only three riders in the European pro peloton, Greg Lemond, Jonathan Boyer and George Mount. Unfortunately, all three were under contract to other teams and therefore unavailable. So, Mike Fraysee had to look to the strongest US amateur riders to stock his team. The riders would turn pro and be paid $5000 to start the race and $5000 if they made it to Paris.
Lindsay Crawford, who was a pilot for United Airlines, held several US cycling records and was one of those srong US amateurs who was capable of riding 100-150 miles a day with the European pros for three weeks. It was a dream come true for the Northern California-based rider and he adjusted his legendary 400-500 mile/week training program accordingly.
Unfortunately, for circumstances that are, to this day, still unknown, the Tour organization withdrew the team's invitation several months before the start. There is a bit of a silver lining in this whole mysterious affair. Lindsay Crawford went on to ride a stage of the Tour as part of the Etape du Tour cyclosportif. The Etape du Tour selects one stage each year, usually one of the most mountainous, and 8500 riders take to the course. Winners in each age division receive a yellow jersey and Credit Lyonnaise lion just like a Tour stage winner.
In 2003, Lindsay, then 62, won his age group and finished an amazing 200th overall out of the 8500 starters. He continues to ride the Etape each year and has recorded another podium finish in his 60-69 age group. These days, at age 68, he still routinely logs 400+ mile weeks in the Santa Cruz mountains. He recently won the 65+ year age group at the Spanish cyclosportif Quebrantahuesos, very similar to Etape du Tour, by over 30 minutes.
This year's etape du Tour is this Monday (7/20) and does the stage which finishes at the top of Mont Ventoux. You can read Lindsay's accounts of his pre-Etape training and post event-commentary at www.bikeradar.com
There is way too much going on at the Tour at the moment for one posting a day so I am going to add an additional posting to catch some of the other story lines.
First off, for those of you following the Lance and Alberto saga, the headline this morning in France's leading sports newspaper l'Equipe was "Contador is the Boss." Clearly, l'Equipe felt that Alberto seized control by attacking in the final kilometers of stage 7 to Arcalis-Andorra. Lance remarked to the press after the stage that Contador's attack had not been part of the plan for that stage which further emphasizes l'Equipe's point that Contador took the initiative.
This is a very interesting situation made even more so by the fact that both Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloden are also riding very strongly. While people are focusing on Lance and Alberto, if either one or both of them have a bad day, Levi or Andreas could assume the leadership role. It is a bit of a long shot, but the possibility is there. I am hoping that the Lance/Alberto affair doesn't end up causing the whole team to crumble. They are clearly the strongest team. Does Johan need to step in and lay down some ground rules?
Adding to the suspense, both Alberto and Lance were randomly picked for doping control at the end of stage 8. Because of this, they had to sit around together in the medical trailer for about and hour after the stage giving biological samples, usually just urine, sometimes blood. I wonder what they talked about?
Each day a team has a plan for the stage. They look at the stage profile and the capabilities of their riders and try to strategize for an optimum output. On stage 8, the game plan for Team Columbia-HTC was to get George Hincapie up the road in the latter half of the stage and then have Kim Kirchen come up on the ascent of the final climb. Hopefully those two would be part of a small breakaway where either Kim could solo off the front in the closing kilometers or if he was brought back, George could win in a sprint. Unfortunately, George covered the Evans attack on the first climb(Port d'Envalira) so that strategy did not play out.
You might be wondering what is happening to Michael Rogers. He is becoming the 'Hard Luck Kid'. Two years ago Rogers crashed on the descent of the Cormet de Roselend and had to withdraw with a broken elbow. This year, he crashed on the run in to Barcelona in the rain and while the medical staff at Columbia-HTC were initially concerned with his elbow, it appears that he severely bruised his hip. I was at the team bus when he rolled up at the end of today's stage and it was painful for me to watch him try and climb off his bike. He is one tough Aussie and the medical staff hope that in about two days he will be back at close to full strength. Being hurt in the mountains rather on the flats is back luck.
If you are wondering why the cycling pundits are talking more about Andy Schleck rather than his older brother Frank, it can be explained that Frank crashed this spring and hurt his knee. The knee has not really healed and the wisdom in the press room is that Frank might not make it to Paris.
On a day which didn't change the overall classification one second, it might seem like the race was a bit on the boring side. That was far from the case as a number of the favorites for the overall launched their bids to unseat Team Astana at the top of the heap.
The stage started off with a 14-mile(23.5km), 4200' climb right out of Andorra. Because of the aggressive nature of the Tour this far, a number of riders were seen warming up before the stage, something that rarely happens, especially since the first three miles were neutralized. But, when the flag dropped, the attacks started as the AG2R-La Mondiale team of race leader Rinaldo Nocentini was unable to control the peloton.
There were at least three major groups on the climb at one point and with 5km remaining to the summit of the massive Port d'Envalira, Cadel Evans went clear. Dave Zabriskie covered the move for Garmin-Slipstream. That move was partially brought back, though a group containing Thor Hushovd and George Hincapie did escape on the descent into France(see race notes below).
Things seemed to cool down until the final climb, the Col de Agnes, where Andy Schleck put in a strong attack. All of Astana's heavy hitters were there, but Cadel Evans and Carlos Sastre missed the move so even Lance Armstrong took some pulls at the front trying to widen the gap back to Evans.
In the end the fire went out at the front and all the overall contenders were together at the finish. Again, another exciting day at the Tour even if the results at the end of the day didn't reflect it.
The stage victory went to Casse d'Epargne rider Luis-Leon Sanchez. Here is a photo of him celebrating his victory.
For some reason, I seem to be a magnet for stage winners. Sanchez rode right up to me and stopped. I snapped this photo just as the scrum for the first interview began.
I talked briefly with yesterday's stage winner, Brice Feillu. He picked up the polka-dot climber's jersey for his efforts yesterday. He told me he was very happy to have won a stage and have taken the polka dot jersey. He also said that even though he lost the jersey today to Christophe Kern he would fight to get it back.
Because this was a very hilly stage, the organizers had a difficult time deciding where to place the intermediate sprints. These sprints award points for the first three finishers and count toward the green, sprinter's jersey. In the end, the two of the three sprints were only 11 miles(19km) apart. Thor Hushovd, who trailed Mark Cavendish in the race for the green jersey by only one point, broke away before the first sprint. Cavendish's Columbia-HTC teammate, George Hincapie, covered the move, but Hushovd took the first sprint and is the provisional leader in the green jersey competition on the road.
Hushovd beat Hincapie in the next sprint to increase his provisional lead by another six points over Cavendish. The third sprint is after the final two big climbs so most likely neither Hushovd or Cavendish will be contesting that sprint or the stage finish sprint as well. Because of this making the most of these kinds of opportunities is how you maximize your output, but conserve energy. It was a very good tactical move for the Cervelo Test Team. Thor will be in the green jersey tonight.
Garmin-Slipstream rider Bradley Wiggins was a major revelation on the climb to Arcalis in Andorra. Not only was he in the lead group, but even managed an attack with about a kilometer to go. Wiggins, or Wiggo as his teammates call him, has quite the engine as witnessed by his Olympic gold medal in the 4000m pursuit from the Beijing Olympics. He was hired by the Garmin-Slipstream team to help Christian Vande Velde in the mountains and because of this he lost nine pounds in the off season to improve his climbing form.
That Wiggins is nine pounds lighter than last year makes the fact that he was generating a mind-blowing 550 watts during his turns at the front in the team time trial even more impressive. Its one thing to lose weight, but to not sacrifice any power is the best scenario possible. I think we have only seen a brief glimpse on what may be possible for Wiggins.
Yesterday's 135-mile stage from Barcelona to Arcalis-Andorra was medium-tough by Tour standards. It was six hours in the saddle for the riders and two major climbs. Christian Vande Velde burned over 5000 calories during the stage.
If you watch the Tour de France everyday hoping for drama then the last few stages have been extraordinary. On a very difficult 25-mile time trial course around Montpellier, Lance Armstrong came within an eyelash of putting on the yellow jersey for the first time in almost four years. It would have been an incredible step in his comeback, but the Fabian Cancellara-led Team Saxo Bank did just what it needed to retain the maillot jaune.
By just, I mean literally less than one second. It was oh-so-close for a storybook ending to a day which saw the American Garmin-Slipstream team put in a valiant effort which almost won the day. They finished only 18 seconds back of stage victors Team Astana after 47 minutes on course. It is not a coveted stage win, but the boys in argyle should be proud of almost toppling arguably the best team in the sport. Garmin-Slipstream have clearly proven that they deserve to be a Pro Tour team in only their first year at that elitest of levels.
The TT course was far from the usual flat and fast affair. Small roads, sharp climbs and a punishing wind made this one of the sternest tests for a team the Tour has seen in years. I was fortunate to ride with Garmin-Slipstream team during their warm-up lap this morning (hint: it wasn't a warm-up for me) and I was impressed by how difficult and technical the course was. Look for a report including on-the-bike photos, in an upcoming blog. I am still recovering. It may take years.
Garmin's power guru Dr. Allen Lim described the team's game plan. "Stay careful. I think it is a dangerous, dangerous course. I think the guys have to be conscious of one another and not take any risks. Normally it is full throttle. Now it is full throttle plus a high sense of awareness of one and other and careful through the corners. Some places we are going to have to be conservative and then try to make it up elsewhere. Through the very fast techinical sections there will be very few changes at the front."
After the race, Lance spoke with Gerard Holtz on Antenne 2. When asked to describe the TTT course his only response was 'tricky'. He admitted that he was a bit disappointed not to get the yellow jersey. Hollywood actor Ben Stiller appeared on stage and took full responsibility for losing the jersey by less than one second. He was certain that Lance had looked back just before the finish to see if he was watching. Ben went on to present the yellow jersey to Fabian Cancellara.
Just before Astana took the start ramp, Lance shook Conador's hand. Alberto responded as we see in this photo as the two teammates realized that they would need to work together to beat the other squads.
Team Garmin-Slipstream heads down the start ramp.
Just before Team Columbia-HCT started down the ramp, Mark Cavendish and George Hincapie shared a fist bump.
The 107th edition of Paris-Roubaix was held on Sunday and it totally lived up to all the pre-race hype. The weather was both warm and dry which should have made those darn cobblestones a bit more friendly, but they seemed to dish out bad luck just at the wrong time. While there was strong riding at the front, the stones, or pave as they are called in France, played a huge role in the outcome.
At the finish heavy pre-race favorite Tom Boonen entered the velodrome by himself, calling his third victory the hardest yet. For the second weekend in a row, Tom was heavily marked, especially by former teammate, Filippo Pozzato, but the two-time World Champion showed his class by being in front when it counted and initiating the most decisive move of the race.
It could be argued that Boonen benefited from two untimely crashes which caused his five breakaway companions to lose contact, but Tom was active at the front throughout the last half of the cobbled sections. It was more a situation of creating opportunities than benefiting from bad luck. Boonen shed his final breakaway companion, Thor Hushovd, then the Norwegian was unable to follow him through a sharp, cobbled turn and went down.
Once again, American favorite George Hincapie had bad luck at just the wrong time. You have to hand it to George for trying to play a decisive role. He and his Columbia-High Road team worked very hard to be a factor in the race. When Hincapie missed the Boonen-led winning breakaway, George took it upon himself to drive the chasing peloton in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to bring the move back. One of these days an American is going to win this race and I hope George hangs around long enough to be that guy.
Besides Team Columbia-Highroad's disappointing race, the Saxo Bank squad also came up goose eggs in the finale. Bjarne's boys looked poised for another win with so many of their top riders at the front alongside Tom Boonen with about 40 miles remaining. Somehow, Boonen gave them slip and the team which won in 2006(Cancellara) and 2007(O'Grady) came up unexpectedly empty-handed.
Hats off to Garmin-Slipstream's Steven Cozza who made it into the early ten-man breakaway which lasted far longer than anyone expected. Making it through the cobbles of the Arenberg Forest upright and in the lead group was quite an accomplishment for the 24-year old Californian in his first attempt at the Queen of the Classics. Chapeau.
This weekend is the annual Belgium World Championships (well, if you are Flemish) also known as De Ronde Van Vlaanderen or by it's English name, the Tour of Flanders. It's a professional race so you have to be a pro to get invited. In a couple of weeks, the Sea Otter Classic will take place in Northern California. Unlike De Ronde, anyone can enter the Sea Otter. That seems to be the major difference between the two.
Okay. You can enter the cyclo-tourist version of De Ronde which is held the day before. Lucky (or unlucky depending on how you look at it) individuals can ride exactly the same route as the professionals ride, all 165 miles of it. But, the tourists can't ride alongside the pros. Seeing how fast the pros ride, maybe that is a good thing.
At the Sea Otter Classic, the joes can ride with the pros. Well, sort of. While there are different categories for each racing class the classes go off at five minute intervals so all classes are on the course at the same time. The "sort of" part is because the pros go off after all the amateurs have finished, but for that one day, you can race on the same course at almost the same time and compare your finish time with the lap times of the pros. In my book, that comes pretty close.
Is it really necessary to compare De Ronde with Sea Otter, probably not, but I only have one blog and I thought it would be fun to double up. You mileage may vary.
You might be wondering why De Ronde is such a prestigious race to win. It has to do with the murs or walls or climbs which punctuate the final 50 miles of the route. They are short, steep and most are cobbled. Every once and a while someone like Jacky Durand sneaks off and wins the thing when he wasn't the strongest rider in the field, but to paraphrase the legendary Phil Liggett, "the race always produces a worthy winner."
That's a bit of a backhand way of saying if you aren't one of the strongest riders in the field you don't have a chance. The climbs would be very, very tough if they were just smooth pavement. Throw in bone wrenching cobbles and it becomes epic. This Sunday we will find out who is strong. Trust me.
You also have to be strong to win at Sea Otter. There are road, mountain and BMX events and there are so many categories that last year over 9000 riders participated. Some were strong and stood on the podium. Others were less strong, but still had a great time and some were just there to participate and still had a great time. The key phrase here is that everybody had a great time.
The Sea Otter Classic runs from April 16-19th. Visit their website at www.seaotterclassic.com to find an event that suits your riding. And don't forget to check out De Ronde. I am pulling for George Hincapie. He hasn't had a great spring, but he's been so close for so many years and he is strong.
The biggest one-day race in Italy, Milan-San Remo, will take place on Saturday and a stellar field is expected to make the event unforgettable. Not only is Lance Armstrong going to ride the 190-miles from Italy's second largest city to the Italian Riviera, Mark Cavendish and Tom Boonen look to continue their sprinting duel on San Remo's Via Roma.
Of course, everyone was expecting a sprint finish last year when Swiss ace Fabian Cancellara gave everyone the slip after the descent of the Poggio, the race's final climb. It was the stuff of legends, unfortunately Spartacus is still recovering from a training crash and will not defend his win.
The big question is whether uber-sprinter Mark Cavendish of Columbia-High Road will get himself over the four major climbs which define the race. The biggest, the Turchino Pass, comes at mid-distance which will allow the Manx-man to get back on. It is more a question of the Cipressa (pronounced Chipressa), the penultimate ascent, and the Poggio (pronounced POcho) which comes within five miles of the finish line.
It is going to take a lot of teamwork for Cavendish to make it over the "capos" or "climbs", look for his faithful ally, Michael Barry, to be handling the babysitting duties up and over the Poggio with George Hincapie and Mark Renshaw as the key players in the Columbia-High Road leadout train.
On the other hand, Tom Boonen has proven that he can get to the Via Roma with the bunch, but he has been outfoxed in the finale and is definitely looking to the 2009 edition of MSR to set matters right.
Look for Lance Armstrong to use this race to gain some more "conditioning" working on being comfortable in a big pack at high speeds for seven hours plus. It would be a fairytale ending if Big Tex could pull off the win, but even Lance will tell you that unless the perfect opportunity arises, he is still in the training phase of his comeback. That's just the reality of the situation.
Unfortunately for us US cycling fans, the Versus TV network will not be carrying the race. It was great last year to see Garmin-Slipstream's Will Frischkorn off the front for almost the entire race in a three-rider break not to mention Cancellara's surprising upset win. Check for streaming video options on the internet. You won't be disappointed.
Pollution, heat, humidity and a difficult course all conspire to make both the men's and women's Olympic road races potential death marches of the highest order. Add to that the fact that every country is sending their best athletes to Beijing(well, duh, it is the Olympics!) and 'epic' is the only word that comes to mind to describe the events which will unfold this weekend.
On paper, the Olympic Road Race course looks pretty darn tough. The men will climb over 11,000 feet and the women will climb over 4000 feet meaning that it is highly unlikely that a sprinter will be wearing the gold medal in either event. And the teams seem to agree with only a few of the them bringing anyone with fast twitch muscle fibers.
Actually, the course is split up into two distinct parts. The first section, which both the men and women will ride, is about 55 miles of mostly flat riding, designed by the Chinese to showcase some of their national treasures such as the Great Wall. The second part of the course is a 15-mile loop which contains about 1500' of climbing most if it coming in a 6-mile, 1250-foot climb. Following the ascent is quick down and up and then a long, gradual 8-mile descent back to the finish line. The men will complete seven laps for a total of 150 miles; the women will do two laps on the circuit for a total of 75 miles.
The US Men's team is headed by now 5-time Olympian George Hincapie who is joined by Levi Leipheimer, Christian Vande Velde, Dave Zabriskie and Jason McCartney. George, Levi and Christian will be the designated leaders with Zabriskie and McCartney riding in a supporting role. The US Women's team includes two-time Olympians Kristin Armstrong and Dr. Christine Thorburn who will be joined by first-timer Amber Neben.
Both squads are definitely medal-capable especially if they ride as a team. It is difficult to put personal ambitions aside especially since the difficulty of the course will clearly make this a race of attrition. But, teamwork will be key especially if the heat and humidity are oppressive and the designated leaders need a lot of water to stay fresh.
In the men's race, Spain looks to be the biggest threat. They are sending a hugely-talented squad which includes Alejandro Valverde who just won the Classic San Sebastian, Tour winner Carlos Sastre, Giro winner Alberto Contador, Tour green jersey winner Oscar Friere and Sammy Sanchez. Italy always seems to ride well in big races and they can't be counted out especially with defending Olympic Champion Paolo Bettini and one-day specialist extraordinaire Davide Rebellin. The tiny country of Luxembourg looks very good with the Schleck brothers and Kim Kirchen all who rode well in the mountains of the recent Tour.
In the women's race, Germany is always powerful with defending Olympic Champion Judith Arndt and Ina Teutenberg. Holland with Marianne Vos brings a strong team as well as the Swiss and Great Britian.
The men's race is Saturday, August 9th the women's race is the next day on the 10th. Look for both competitions to be action-packed once the races hit the finishing circuits. The pollution coupled with the heat and humidity will make it prohibitive to attack before that.