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.
The Col du Tourmalet is one of the hallmark climbs of the Tour de France. It was first climbed in the Tour almost 100 years ago when the road was little more than a goat track. Since then, it has produced it's fair share of Tour champions and in the unfortunate case of Eugene Christophe in 1913, one of the greatest legends of the greatest of races(more on that later).
For all these reasons it is really a shame that the race reached the top of the iconic pass with over 35 miles of downhill and flat riding to the finish. Last year the Tour climbed to Hautacam just down the valley, the Tourmalet playing a key role in the split in the peloton which produced the stage winner and a reshuffling of he overall contenders.
Not this year. While stage winner Pierrick Fedrigo and his breakaway companion, Franco Pellizotti, stayed away to the finish, the Tourmalet was basically a non-factor. What a pity.
I did a short interview with Lance just before the start of the stage.
Bruce: Are you surprised at just how good your form is at the Tour?
It hasn't been tested that much to be honest. We've had The prologue, TTT, Arcalis. I think the race is tighter than people expected. We'll know in the final week. That's where the form check will come.
Bruce: How did your pre-Tour preparations go?
The Giro was good for leaning out and I felt I got stronger as the race went on there. I was tired at the end so I had to recover from that. June was not a nromal month. Recovering from the Giro, having Max, building for the Tour, traveling back and forth. I think we are finding our legs. Again, the last six days are sinister.
Bruce: Do you have any indication on how you will feel in the final week? Are you still building form?
That's my plan. We'll see.
Bruce: What about the reports in the press about disharmony on the Astana team?
Rabobank rider Laurens Ten Dam crashed hard on the descent of the Tourmalet. Here he is at the stage finish inspecting the extensive damage to his bib shorts.
In May, Franco Pellizotti won a big mountain stage to the Blockhaus in the Giro d'Italia. He was off the front most of the day today, but lost the sprint for the stage win to Pierrick Fedrigo. This is the look of the second place rider.
The Garmin-Slipstream team announced its 9-man roster for the Tour de France. Not surprisingly, Christian Vande Velde will lead the squad. He finished fourth last year and looked very good doing it. The only question will be can he regain the fitness necessary to be competitive after a serious crash in the opening stages of the Giro? Recently, at the Tour de Suisse (Tour of Switzerland) he looked like he is on the way back, but there is some more fitness needed to contend for the overall. Luckily, Christian knows how to make it happen.
The team will also include Bradley Wiggins who came within one second of winning the final TT at the Giro. Besides being counted on to place highly in the time trials he has lost a reported 9 pounds(4 kilos) and will be a key support role for Vande Velde in the mountains. The multi-Olympic gold medalist will also be part of the leadout train for Tyler Farrar. Bradley will be earning his money at the Tour.
David Millar and Dave Zabriskie are included on the team for their time trialing abilities. The team time trial on stage 4 is a goal for the squad and they have the horsepower to win it. Also, look for Millar to go for stage wins in a small breakaway on the flatter stages.
Ryder Hesjedal and Dan Martin are included for their climbing abilities and to support Christian in the mountains. Ryder played a key role in the Alps at the 2008 Tour and Dan Martin is one of the up and coming stars in the pro peloton with some outstanding performances in hilly stage races last year and this spring.
Tyler Farrar was one of the revelations of the Giro. He sprinted to several second place finishes behind Mark Cavendish. While he didn't get a stage win, he showed that he was ready to mix it up in the finale and had no fear in doing it. He could definitely win a stage of the Tour.
Julian Dean is the final cog, after Bradley Wiggins, of the Farrar leadout train. Look for Wiggins to go from 1km to about 600m with Julian taking it from there to about 200m. This train, which was new for the Giro, had lots of practice in Italy and is ready to launch.
Danny Pate also has immense time trialing skills, but as he proved on the stage to Prato Nevoso in last year's Tour he can sense an opportunity for a stage win and go for it. He was oh so close last year.
The Garmin-Slipstream team is a well-balanced squad that includes riders for all the tasks necessary to be competitive in the mountains, flats and time trials. Good luck boys!
Lance Armstrong won his first pro race since his comeback with a solo win at Sunday's Nevada City Bicycle Classic. Lance, Levi and Chris came to Northern California from their training camp in Aspen, looking to test their fitness and also ramp up the intensity a bit after multiple five to six hour rides in the Colorado high country. Long rides build and preserve endurance; the 90-minute effort at Nevada City was designed to add some snap.
The 1.3 mile criterium course is considered one of the most difficult in America with over 100 feet of climbing per lap. There is no place to hide and the pretenders are quickly separated from the contenders. Lance and Levi attacked early on in the 90 minute/35 lap event and went clear with only Ben Jacques-Maynes(Bissell Pro Cycling) able to catch the train.
Lance and Levi did all the work on the front. Jacques-Maynes realizing that he was over matched by these two Tour de France veterans. With about 10 laps remaining Armstrong and Leipheimer started trading attacks, Ben finally had to let Lance go and suddenly, Armstrong was solo and looking very good for the win. The crowd erupted in applause for the seven-time Tour winner. Clearly, it was a very, very popular victory.
After the race I talked with Lance and Levi. Lance is looking extremely fit with nary an ounce of body fat on his frame. He will be starting the Tour two kilos lighter than any of his seven victories in France crediting the hot weather and long, tough stages at the Giro, rather than Jenny Craig, for his trimmer self. A couple of weeks ago, I would have questioned his fitness to contend for the overall at the Tour. Now, I have to say that he looks ready to be very, very competitive.
Levi took some well-deserved time off after the Giro, but is now ramping up his training and feeling good though he did comment that it is hard to really gage ones fitness when you are training at 8000'.
If the Nevada City Bicycle Classic was any indication of what we will see in France, things are going to be looking very good for Team Astana and the three amigos.
Tyler Hamilton received an eight year ban from the United States Anti-Doping Agency today effectively ending the 38 year-old's professional cycling career. Hamilton admitted in April that he had taken an over-the-counter anti-depressant that contained the banned substance DHEA. DHEA is a precursor for testosterone. At that time, he also announced that he has been fighting depression for a number of years which was the reason for taking the over-the-counter medication.
Hamilton's career has been marked by some very high highs and some very low lows. In 2002 he became only the second American to stand on the podium of the Giro d'Italia and the first American to win a classic, the Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2003. His Tour de France stage win in the same year, riding with a broken collarbone, was the stuff of legends.
Tyler's Olympic Gold Medal in the Time Trial at the 2004 Athens Games was, undoubtedly, the highlight of his career, but the low point occurred only a month later when he tested positive for non-homologous blood transfusion at the Vuelta a Espana. What followed was two years of trials and hearings which ultimately resulted in Hamilton receiving a two-year ban.
Tyler returned to racing in 2007 with the Italian Tinkov racing squad, but found a better place in 2008 with Michael Ball's Rock Racing team Last year he won the USPRO Road Championships meaning that in 2009, he would be sporting the coveted Stars and Stripes Captain America jersey when he competed. Unfortunately, he only got to wear that jersey in one race, the Amgen Tour of California, before being informed of his positive test at the end of February.
Tyler is one of the nicest persons you will ever meet. The best word to describe this premature end to his career is tragic. I hope that he will be able to rely on the support of his friends and family to fight his depression and move on to the next chapter in his life.
One of the iconic figures in the sport of professional bike racing, Frenchman Laurent Fignon, announced today that he is suffering from intestinal cancer. Those new to the sport might not know the name, but in the 1980's he was one of the best stage racers in the peloton winning the 1983 and 1984 Tours de France and the 1989 Giro d'Italia. The Professor, as he was known to his French fans, was best remembered for his eight second loss to Greg LeMond in the final stage TT of the 1989 Tour.
Once again, cancer has proven that it plays no favorites and while Fignon has acknowledged that the disease is at a very advance stage, he will fight with all his will to beat it. He has already undergone two rounds of chemotherapy, but admits that the road to recovery will be difficult.
Fignon was a virtual unknown when he won the 1983 Tour de France. When he faced four-time Tour champ, Bernard Hinault, and Tour first-timer, Greg LeMond, in the 1984 edition of the race, nobody believed that he could repeat his victory. But, that he did and in convincing fashion. His victory in the 1989 Giro d'Italia made him the overwhelming favorite for the Tour that year, but Greg LeMond hung tough with the Frenchman in the mountains and then uncorked that amazing final day TT in Paris to wrestle the jersey from Fignon.
In the 1990's Fignon bought the Paris-Nice bike race and ran that event until his divorce forced him to sell the race to ASO, who also owns the Tour. Recently, Fignon opened the Laurent Fignon Center outside Bagneres de Bigorre at the foot of the Col du Tourmalet. The center is a state-of-the-art facility offering coaching, training, and just about everything associated with riding a bike.
The Cervelo Test Team was launched in 2009 by the original founders of the Cervelo bike company Phil White and Gerard Vroomen. While they do not currently hold a Pro Tour license, they are the number one ranked professional team in the world based on their results in the biggest races including four stage win a the recent Giro d'Italia. The team includes 2008 Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre and Tour green jersey wearer Thor Hushovd, but recruits such as Heinrich Haussler, Serge Pauwels and Simon Gerrans have also performed well.
I caught up with Phil White and rider Simon Gerrans at the team bus after the Blockhaus stage.
Bruce: tell me about Carlos Sastre's win on Monte Petrano
Phil White: It was not scripted, but that was something we wanted to do. We figured that was a stage he could really excel on. It was similar to what he did last year on l'Alpe d'Huez. When everyone else is worn down he's just got more energy and can go longer than anyone else. He's like the Energizer Bunny of cycling.
Bruce: what about Simon Gerrans' win at Bologna?
Phil White: It was a long day. That break worked super well together. There was no scrapping, everyone pulled their weight and it just came down to who the strongest rider was. Gerrans is a strong rider. We saw him win the Tour stage win and that is one reason we got him.
Bruce: how hard was it to build a team from scratch and get some credibility?
Phil White: I think the reputation of the team was initially that Carlos put his name to it then Thor. Those guys brought credibility to the effort, but pretty soon those guys in the classics put their stamp on it and now it is not a team that is relying on two name riders. It is a team that has built its own reputation. Those guys came right out of the blocks and stamped their name on it a the Tour of Qatar. It got the monkey off our back early so we could focus on moving ahead rather than feeling the pressure to win.
Bruce: was it hard to get the respect of the other teams in the Pro Peloton?
Phil White: I don't think anyone gives you respect just by showing up. You have to earn it. Luckily our guys earned it pretty hard and pretty solidly right from the start. In pro cycling there is no such thing as an easy ride. You have to earn your stripes and there is no way around that. We have good guys and they proved early on that they deserved the respect.
Bruce: how are things looking for the Tour?
Phil White: I think we will be right in there for the Tour. The Giro is our grand tour debut. I have a book where I have been making notes, and the sport directors have as well and it is pretty much full of little things we have to fix and improve. That's how we are going to get better by focusing on the things we
can do better.
Bruce: Take us through the finale of your win at Bologna.
Simon Gerrans: I think it was just basically survival of the breakaway; whoever could get to the top first. There was nothing too tactical about it. It was just who could get up the hill the fastest.
Bruce: it looked like the false flat halfway up took you by surprise.
Simon Gerrans: I didn't know the climb so that second ramp up to the finish was a bit of a surprise. Luckily I had a bit of gas in the tank for that.
With all the drama surrounding Lance Armstrong's comeback and his chances for another Tour win, lost a bit in the hysteria is the fact that his Team Astana might not be at the Tour. I want to say up front that I want them at the Tour because they are one heck of a good team witness their win of the team prize at the recent Giro d'Italia. But, just this past week, Team Astana boss Johan Bruyneel indicated that the sponsors have still not paid up all the money owed to the riders and the team as of June 1.
You might be thinking that it is less than a month before the Tour and that Lance, Johan or some additional sponsor could step in to make good on the money owed, but you have to remember that the governing body of the sport, the UCI, is the one who makes the decision to suspend a team for financial non-payment. The UCI usually does this to protect the riders. If a team is not paying its riders then the UCI has the power to suspend the team until all salaries are paid up-to-date.
So, while Johan and Lance are doing everything they can to keep the team afloat through the Tour, the UCI may step in and spoil the party. The UCI could suspend the team or it could revoke the team's Pro Tour license if no long-term solution is possible. If the team is suspended then Lance, Alberto, Levi, Chris, etc, will be sitting on the sidelines watching the Tour. If the UCI revokes Team Astana's Pro Tour license, then the team is basically disbanded.
If the team disbands, that means that all the riders' contracts are null and void which free the racers to seek employment with other teams. Rumours abounded at the Giro about the teams who were talking to Alberto Contador if the Astana did disband. Also a hot topic in Italy was the very real possibility that Johan Bruyneel would get Astana's Pro Tour license and he and Lance will have their own top-tier pro team in the very near future.
Personally, I don't think the UCI will revoke Astana's Pro Tour license or suspend the team. Johan Bruyneel is clearly frustrated at the Astana sponsors inability to satisfy their financial commitment, but I think everything will probably hang together long enough to get the team through the Tour. But, it is clear that the money is slow in coming and the UCI might just step in to set an example. Team Astana should have been at last year's Tour. Hopefully their exclusion won't happen again.
Team Columbia Highroad had an exceptional Giro winning six stages including the team time trial. I stopped by the team bus at the TT in Rome to chat with some of the guys.
Michael Barry is quickly becoming a super-gregario or super-domestique, a support rider who toils in anonymity to setup the win by a teammate in this case, Mark Cavendish.
Bruce: What is your role in setting up Mark's sprint wins?
Michael: First of all we ride on the front from the start to make sure a breakaway of five or more riders doesn't get away because a bigger group is really hard to control. Five to ten riders is manageable. Groups bigger than that we chase down. Once a breakaway has gone we set a tempo behind keeping it within reach. That means we can be riding at the front for a couple of hundred kilometers. As close to the finish as possible we chase the breakaway down, bring them back and lead Mark out.
During that time he stays on the wheels and stays as fresh as possible. If it is like San Remo (stage) where we had a rider in the breakaway I just kept him out of the wind and made sure he was getting enough food and water. If he stops to take a pee then I stop with him and ride him back to the peloton. He is really conserving as much energy as possible.
On the longer stages it makes a huge difference if he can ride at 165 watts average as opposed to 180 watts for the first couple of hours that can make the difference between winning by a meter or losing by a foot.
Bruce: you are what the Italians call a "gregario" or "helper". How do you feel about that role?
Michael: I love it. For me, on many levels, cycling is all about the sacrifice and its weird that the public only sees one rider across the line with his arms in the air because on so many levels it is a team sport as much as football or soccer or hockey is a team sport. I really enjoy it especially if you have guys who are respectful of your work.
Mark Cavendish is the best field sprinter in the business, bar none. He won three stages of the Giro and looked relaxed doing it.
Bruce: what happened in the first sprint stage when you couldn't come around Pettachi and he won the stage?
Mark: I get complacent because it is easy to win sometimes and I got complacent that day and I was lazy. I learned from that. I wasn't lazy after that and was back to normal.
Bruce: you keep praising your team for your victories. Is that just being nice or are they really that important?
Mark: If you saw in the Milano stage you got the guy in the white jersey and our overall GC contender riding on the front when every other GC guys was south on the last lap it show how special it is. To have guys wasting their energy to help me succeed that's something pretty special.
Bruce: at the 2008 Tour you won four stages. Is there pressure on you to do better this year?
Mark: Even with the stage that finishes on Ventoux, I will give it my best. If it is a sprint day, if I give it my best, hopefully I can come out on top.
I stopped by the Team Astana bus during the Rome TT and spoke to Chechu Rubiera, Jani Brajkovic and Johan Bruyneel. Here is what they had to say on a variety of topics.
Bruce: it appears that, for the TT, the race organizers found every bad section of cobbles in central Rome.
Chechu: Not just in Rome, the whole Giro. We should start a business in Italy with asphalt. It is a good thing. You could make money here. The whole Giro had cobblestones and it has been really tough. It is the Centenario(100th anniversary) and the route was very nice with places like Rome, Venice, Vesuvio, but it was pretty damned dangerous. We were lucky it didn't rain because if it did rain this race could have been a big mess.
Bruce: You keep threatening to retire. Is this your last Giro?
Chechu: Maybe my last one. I didn't feel very good. I trained hard and I did my best, but I was pretty far from the best guys. It was a little bit of a disappointment.
Bruce: Will we see you at the Tour?
Chechu: No. I will be doing the Vuelta and not the Tour.
Bruce: how do you assess your performance in the Giro?
Jani: It was a pretty good Giro. I am pretty satisfied. We did a good job as a team also. I am not feeling super tired so I am happy. I was there to help Levi and Lance so I did that and I am happy about it.
Bruce: You seemed to excel as a climber in the Giro. Did you do anything special to become a better climber?
Jani: I think so far I have been quite a decent climber so I had no problems with that. I was not here to be a leader so there was no reason for me to go 100%. I tried to save as much energy as possible and use it on another day.
Bruce: what was it like riding for Lance and Levi?
Jani: Lance is incredible and Levi is also really strong. I am really happy to be racing with them. It is just incredible.
Bruce: for today's TT will you ride a road bike or a time trial bike?
Jani: Actually, I haven't decided yet. Maybe I will go on a road bike because I don't want to do it for the results. I just want to ride it because it is super-dangerous.
Bruce: what positives for Team Astana do you take away from the Giro?
Johan: For us it has been a race where we didn't start with the obsession to win it or anything like that. We thought 'OK we want to have some good results', but we were not obsessed with winning it or having to have stage wins. Ultimately we are going to win the team classification. It is always a good indication of what the team performance is like.
Bruce: how do you feel about the performances of Levi and Lance?
Johan: I think Levi's sixth place is good. It's not great. We hoped for a little better, but his crash right before the time trial and the fact that he is on high form already since February makes it really difficult to maintain in the last week of the race. The last week of a big tour is always hard. We are happy with his performance at the end of three weeks.
Lance has improved considerably and is able to ride comfortably in the mountains.That is also a good thing we take away from it(the Giro). It has been a good three weeks.
Bruce: what does Lance need to do to be at top form for the Tour de France?
Johan: He needs some time. He needs another month now to have some good training in June. He'll be in good shape for the Tour. I don't know how good that can be to be with the best, but he will be in good shape.
The 100th anniversary Giro d'Italia finished today with a 15km(9-mile) individual time trail around the streets of central Rome. The course passed a number of Rome's most famous landmarks including the Colosseum, Saint Peter's Basilica and Circus Circus. In the end, Denis Menchov's overall victory appeared to be a relatively easy affair, but that was far from the case.
It was a drama-filled final stage as the organizers seemed to try to heap additional difficulties on the riders by running the race on just about every poorly-cobbled street in central Rome. In fact, almost 7 miles of the 9-mile course was on cobbles and bad ones at that. It was a bumpy ride for all the contenders and with rain falling on and off, the outcome was far from certain.
Many riders not in contention for a high placing chose to ride a regular road bikes so as to have more control on the twisty, turny route which also included significant ups and downs. Also, riders looking to the Tour de France like Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer decided not to take any chances on the slick cobblestones and definitely rode within themselves.
The drama was provided by the rain which caused race leader Denis Menchov to crash in the final turn, but he was up quickly and lost little time. In the end Menchov was a deserving winner. He gained the bulk of his time in the race's 61km Cinque Terra time trial, but he rode consistently in the mountains, avoiding a single bad day, to keep his margin all the way to Rome.
Here are some photos. Race leader Denis Menchov(Rabobank) with 1.5 miles to go.
Danilo Di Luca(LPR Brakes), who finished second overall, negotiates a turn in the first kilometer.
Carlos Sastre(Cervelo Test Team) win two hard mountain stages and finished fourth overall. Look for him to be a factor in the Tour de France.
Lance Armstrong took it easy in the final TT. He will head to a high altitude training camp in the USA in the next few days.
The Roman Colosseum was the backdrop for both the start and finish of the stage.
ps - I shot a lot of photos and did a bunch of interviews. Look for them to be popping up once I get back to the states.
Even though there are two more stages to go in the 2009 Giro d'Italia the race is all but over as Danilo Di Luca was unable to drop overall leader, Denis Menchov, and gain any significant time before Sunday's concluding stage, a 9-mile individual time trial. Barring any sort of mechanical mishap or a crash, Menchov will undoubtedly best Di Luca in the race against the watch and wear the final pink jersey in Rome.
The last major climb of the Giro, Monte Vesuvio, showed once again that Carlos Sastre was the best climber in the race as he notched his second stage win in three mountain top finishes. The defending Tour de France champion on the newly formed Cervelo Test Team had been unable to produce the goods on the Blockhaus stage, but on the 6-mile, 2500 foot climb of the volcano he was unbeatable.
Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer were in the lead group chasing Sastre with five kilometers remaining. Lance, who suffered a scary-looking crash early in the stage faded a bit at the end, but his condition is definitely improving.
Here are a few photos from the day. The first photo shows Carlos Sastre dropping Ivan Basso halfway up the climb.
I have posted a number of photos of Armstrong and Leipheimer, here is a shot of Michael Rogers of the Columbia-Highroad squad. He was the team's leader, but has faded over the last week. Jani Brajkovic is over his right shoulder.
Dave Zabriskie(Garmin-Slipstream), who won a stage of the Giro in 2005, has had a pretty quiet race. Here is a photo of him in the grupetto. As he came by I asked him how he was doing. "Eh, OK," was the reply.
Franco Pellizotti won the big Blockhaus stage. I snapped this photo him at the team busses after the race.
Tom Danielson(Garmin-Slipstream) has also had a quiet Giro. On Vesuvio, he climbed well and was close to the leaders at the finish. It is good to see Tommy D up at the front.
Today's stage 18 of the Giro d'Italia was a bit of a low-key affair after the epic struggle yesterday on the Blockhaus. It was great to see American's Danny Pate(Garmin-Slipstream) and Jason McCartney(Saxo Bank) in the breakaway going for the win. However, the focus of the Giro is on Friday's stage 19 and the ascent of the extinct volcano, Monte Vesuvio, which buried Pompei long before there was anything even remotely resembling American Idol.
Monte Vesuvio is most likely Danilo Di Luca's last chance to gain time on his chief(and probably only) rival Denis Menchov who holds a scant 26 second lead over the rider nicknamed 'The Killer'. Menchov is the better time trialist as he proved besting Di Luca in the 61km test in the Cinque Terra by almost two minutes.
If Di Luca cannot shake Menchov then the race will most like be decided before the final time trial. This scenario is reminiscent of one of the most famous moments in Tour de France history when Raymond Poulidor tried to take the yellow jersey off the shoulders of Jacques Anquetil on another extinct volcanic summit, Le Puy de Dome. Di Luca will need at least a minute over Menchov if he is to have a chance of taking the pink jersey off the Russian's shoulders.
There has been a lot of speculation on why Levi Leipheimer hasn't been more of a factor in the race. I spoke with his coach, Max Testa, who pointed out that at the beginning of the season, it was to be Lance Armstrong who was to be the team leader at the Giro. Levi was supposed to be taking it easy in May, resting up after a difficult spring campaign which began way back in February at the Tour of California. When Lance broke his collarbone, Levi was pressed into service and may just be feeling the effects of a very long period at top condition.
I also spoke with Astana Team Director Allain Gallopin about the situation and he also said that Levi was not really focused on this event at the beginning of the season. Gallopin added that to expect better results, Levi needs to make the Giro a priority in his racing program.
Thomas Voeckler (BBox) was in the early breakaway on the stage to the Blockhaus.His group of about nine riders reached a maximum lead of close to three minutes before they reached the base of the climb. Unfortunately, the gap was not big enough and all the escapees were caught and passed in the first 3 miles of the ascent. I asked Voeckler why the break failed. "No one was really motivated to do the work necessary to get a big enough gap to make the break work," said Voeckler. I asked him if it seemed like his companions were only looking for some TV time, "yeah it sure seemed that way," he said.
Below are a number of photos I thought you might find interesting. The first photo is of the electornic scoreboard we use in the press room to keep exact details of how the race is progressing. The time, distance and rider names and number. Pretty cool.
Lance has his own personal photographer, Elizabeth Kreutz who travels with him much of the time. This is a photo of Liz after she spent over seven hours on the back of a motorbike in 100 degree heat(did I mention how hot it was) on Monte Petrano taking photos of the race. Tough job.
Speaking of Lance, the race on the Blockhaus was close to L'Aquila where the devastating 6.8 earthquake leveled much of the town several months ago. The region,Abruzzzo, is recovering and put out the red carpet for Big Tex.
What would a bike race be without podium girls.
Just when you think you have seen everything at a bike race, along come a women riding up a 10% grade in 100 degree heat chatting on her cell phone.
I thought this photo was interesting. Some people use paint, others use chalk, but here is a fan using the local rock (limestone) to write a slogan on the race course.
Danilo Di Luca is from the Abruzzo. He has his own cool Fiat fan car. They would't give me a ride up the hill so I had to keep pedaling my bike.
Undoubtedly the most decisive stage,so far, of the 100th anniversary Giro d'Italia was fought out on the slopes of Monte Petrano as 2008 Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre proved that he is the real deal crossing the line first, 30 second ahead of an elite trio of Ivan Basso, Denis Menchov and Danilo Di Luca. Sadly for Americans, Levi Leipheimer was unable to keep pace on the brutal day that saw temperatures reach almost 100 degrees. He is now in sixth place overall, 3:20 behind Menchov.
The 140-mile stage from Pergola to the mountain-top finish at Monte Petrano was clearly the most difficult day in the Giro with three big climbs in the final 55-miles. Oh yeah, did I mention that it was hot? The silver lining for the Americans was that Lance Armstrong continues to improve his form and played a crucial role in pacing Leipheimer in the closing kilometers.
Given his superior time trialing skills, if Levi can avoid losing anymore time on the Blockhaus and Vesuvio stages he still has a shot at the podium. Leipheimer, always a class act, replied at the finish that his rivals were just stronger than him. BTW,he has a nasty looking bit of road rash on his left bicep from a crash on the stage into Genoa.
I talked with Saxo Bank rider Jen Voigt, who was in the early stage breakaway that featured Damiano Cunego and Yaroslov Popovych. I asked Jens to give a short description of the stage and he simply said, "too long. Too hard." That seemed to be the feeling in all the rider's minds. Did I mention that it was really hot?
I rode the final climb, Monte Petrano, before the pros(more on that below) and it struck me that if anyone wanted to do some serious damage that they would have to attack in the first two or three km's of the 10km, 800m ascent. So, I came back down the mountain and positioned myself at a seemingly key spot. Sure enough, Sastre attacked about 500m before where I was standing so I shot some photos of the winning breakaway developing.
Here is a photo of Sastre(black), Menchov(pink), Basso(green), and Di Luca(purple) just after the attack. Sastre and Basso are looking back to assess the damage they have done and to see who has tagged along.
Lance Armstrong came by about 30 seconds later.
Levi was about 20 seconds behind Lance. Lance would ultimately wait for Levi and then pace Leipheimer to the finish.
I had the unique opportunity of riding the final climb with Franceso Moser who is one of Italy's all-time great cyclists. He won the Giro in 1984. He also won Paris-Roubaix three times, the World Road Race championships, the World Pursuit Championships and set the World Hour record. It was a honor to ride with a living legend. We chatted a bit in Italian though he was reluctant to pick a winner of either the day's stage or the overall.
Here is an on-the-bike-photo.
Moser, at the top of the climb, looking like the classy rider he was, and still is.
Mark Cavendish won his third stage of the Giro today in Florence (Firenze if you are Italian). Last year he won two stages in Italy so this has to be viewed as at least a 50% improvement for the just-turned 24-year-old pro on Columbia Highroad. Mark and his fiance live about 20 miles away from Florence so this was a homecoming of sorts. It is doubly nice to win in front of friends and loved ones.
The big news after the stage was that Cavendish will be departing the race and will not start Saturday's stage. While you might think that the Manx man should sack up and finish the race, this is pretty common these days among the top riders. You might remember that Cavendish won four stages of the Tour de France in 2008, before exiting that race in the final week to rest up and prepare for the Beijing Olympics.
In 2008, he finished the Giro mainly because there were a few flat stages in the final week where he had the chance to win. In the 2009 edition, the final week features uphill finishes and time trials and offers little opportunities for the sprinters. At only 24-years-old Cavendish has many more grand tours in his legs and will be exiting stage left so he can drive the 30 minutes home to rest.
Cavendish has a new book hitting the shelves, 'Boy Racer', co-written with Procycling magazine's Features Editor Daniel Friebe. It should be a good read.
One of the rumours surrounding Cavendish is that when his contract is up at the end of the 2009 season, he will switch teams to ride for the new British professional cycling squad Team Sky. If I was the director of Team Sky and I wanted to get one British rider who would bring instant success to my team, that rider would be Mark Cavendish. It might cost you 25% (or more) of your total team budget, but the guy can win races and big races at that. Just make sure to hire a couple of his leadout men as well.
It would be sad to see Cavendish leave Columbia Highroad. Three years ago, Team Owner Bob Stapleton took a chance on the just-then-20-year-old rider and as Mark has blossomed, Stapleton has done what it takes to build a team around the sprinter. There is a lot of great chemistry on Columbia Highroad. I am hoping that Stapleton finds a way to keep Mark on the team.
There is another big race going on besides the Giro. Over in Spain the Tour of Catalonia is hotting up and Garmin-Slipstream rider Dan Martin is showing some incredible form. Last year, he won the Route Du Sud just before the Tour in the same region. On the hardest stage of Catalonia, he finished second, beating Alejandro Valverde and moving up to second place overall. Nice riding!