I attended the Team Radio Shack pre-season camp this week. It is being held in Tucson where the weather is usually warm and sunny, but the first few days were a bit, sub-par weather-wise. That didn't stop Lance and his 25 teammates from having some fun out on the roads and doing a bit of team building. Here are some photos from the camp, note that since this is a pre-season camp the riders are all contractually obligated to wear their current team's clothing until December 31st.
Here is a photo of the man himself. He is looking very fit for December. That probably means he is planning to throw down hard in his first race of the 2010 season, the Tour Down Under, in late January.
Andreas Kloden is sporting some very striking facial hair. Johan Bruyneel has tipped Andreas, Lance and Levi as triple threats to win the 2010 Tour de France.
Jason McCartney or JMac has moved back from Saxo Bank to his buds at Team Radio Shack. He won a stage of the Vuelta a Espana for Discovery Channel in 2006.
Chechu Rubiera said he was going to retire two years ago. But, he is back in the saddle and ready to ride for Lance once again. He told me that this was definitely his last season.
Johan should be looking happy. He was able to get eight of the nine riders from his 2009 yellow jersey-winning Team Astana onto Team Radio Shack. No points for guessing who didn't make the switch.
While bike racing and baseball are both sports, besides that they have very little in common. You rarely see a pro cyclist scratching himself in public and when the rain comes pouring down in a bike race, they don't pull a tarp over the roadway and let the competitors head to the clubhouse to get warm and dry. But, if the stars align and some interesting developments actually develop, bike racing may soon resemble baseball.
Well, to be honest, it is only a momentary resemblance, but if things work out it might just be one of the most interesting happenings in pro cycling since some washed up, has been from Texas announced his return to cycling last summer (hint: Bret Favre lives in Louisiana and his cycling prowess is questionable).
The lineup of dominoes starts with Team Astana. The beleaguered Kazakhastan squad is hoping to get its Pro Tour license renewed for 2010. With the best stage race rider in the world, Alberto Contador, on the team the renewal may seem like a slam dunk. However, Lance Armstrong and Astana Team Director Johan Bruyneel left the team in 2009 and the squad is now being run by Alexandre Vinokourov.
You might remember 'Vino' from his 'exit stage right' performance at the 2007 Tour de France when he tested positive for blood doping. He served a two year suspension and is now back in the sport. But, as we have seen with other cyclists who were caught up in the web of doping, the sport of cycling sometimes finds it hard to forgive certain cyclists. Vino appears to be one such rider.
There is a rumour that because of Vino Astana will not get a Pro Tour license in 2010 setting up a very interesting baseball-like chain of events.
The first event in the chain is that when Astana does not get a Pro Tour license, Alberto Contador will be able to break his contract and become a free agent. The second event is that the new British professional squad, Team Sky, has been salivating over Garmin-Slipstream rider Bradley Wiggins. Not only did Wiggins turn a bunch of heads in finishing fourth at the 2009 Tour de France, but he's British (nothing he can do about that) and that's a very advantageous combination for Team Sky.
The third part of this scenario is that Wiggins has a buy out clause in his contract reportedly valued at $7-8 million US dollars. The last part of this whole chain of events is that Jonathan Vaughters, the head honcho at Garmin-Slipstream, wants Alberto Contador on his team in a very bad way (well, who wouldn't).
So here's how things could work out. Astana doesn't get a Pro Tour license and Alberto Contador breaks his contract. Jonathan Vaughters sells Bradley Wiggins to Team Sky to raise the money necessary to hire Alberto Contador. The only thing missing from this scenario is the 'player to be named later.'
Will this whole secenario play out? Who knows? Both Contador and Wiggins are exceptional riders and wherever they end up, they will continue to excite us all with their exploits. But, it is fun to play a little 'what if?'
The third stage in the Alps produced a massive shakeup in the overall classification. While Alberto Contador solidified his grip on the yellow jersey, the Schleck brothers unleashed the attacks everyone expected from them. Astana and Garmin-Slipstream were the only team who were able to respond save for Liquigas' Vincenzo Nibali.
On the penultimate climb a four man group, the Schlecks, Contador and Kloden formed and put a minute on four chasers, Armstrong, Wiggins, Vande Velde and Nibali. On the final climb when it looked like Astana had the race under total control, Contador attacked which immediately dropped his teammate Kloden and then when he realized the error of his ways, he sat up and let the Schlecks catch up. Unfortunately, the eleastic had snapped with Kloden and he would ultimately lose over four unneccessary minutes (see the interviews below discussing Contador's attack).
While the Schlecks and Contador fought it out for the stage win, the nod going to brother Frank, Lance attacked Wiggins one kilometer from the summit of the final climb to take a precious 58 seconds from the Garmin-Slipstream rider. The top three on the overall classification going into tomorrow's 25-mile (40km) TT are Contador, Andy Schleck and Frank Schleck. Lance is in fourth; Kloden fifth and Wiggins sixth.
Kudos to Christain Vande Velde who, realizing after the stage to Verbier, that his teammate Bradley Wiggins was on better form, selflessly sacrificed his chances to ride Wiggins back into contention. He actually moved up from twelfth to eight overall. A nice prize for his efforts.
I tag-teamed an interview with Lance with the folks at Versus.
Q: After all the attacking on the Col du Romme thing settled down and you were in the second group. Are you happy with the way things shook out?
Lance: yes and no. I tried to be conservative on the Col du Romme and I didn't go with those initial attacks. Then I kind of got caught stuck behind. Once you are thirty seconds back there is nothing you can do... just sit on.
I was a little concerned with Bradley Wiggins in the TT so in the last KM of the Colombiere I decided to jump away, but it felt pretty good.
Q: You took a minute out of Bradley Wiggins in the final 16-17kms. You are a minute and thirty seconds behind Andy Schleck. Is that doable in the time trial tomorrow?
Lance: I don't know. We will see. I am going to do my best. It would be nice to get on the podium so I will go as hard as I can. I will go up the Ventoux as fast as I can.
Q: Interesting attack by Contador five KM from the top of the Colombiere. Do you have any idea what that was all about?
Lance: No. I don't know. I wasn't really paying attention. I was just staying with Wiggo and with Christian. I am going to bite my tongue on that one.
Q: how does it feel to be a 37-year old man in the Tour de France?
Lance: It feels good man. I am out here volunteering. Having fun.
I also tag-teamed an interview with Johan Bruyneel with the folks at Versus.
Q: Where you happy how things shook out on the final two climbs?
Johan: I was happy until four kilometers from the top of the Colombier. That was a really perfect situation for us because we knew that the Schlecks would go on the Col du Romme to try to get rid of Wiggins. That is also what we wanted to do because the time trial specialist he is, he was the real danger.
And so we were happy with that. At the moment the two Schlecks went, Contador and Kloden went with them so for us it was fine. We knew the two Schlecks would go to the finish because they wanted to get rid of Bradley Wiggins.
The attack from Contador three km from the top... I had advised him not to go because he didn't need to go. He didn't need to attack because it was clear that the two Schleck brothers would go full gas to the finish. I told him you don't need to have to attack to win the Tour de France today because of the difference(time gap) was there with Wiggins.
So it is a bit of a pity that Kloden couldn't hang on afterward because we could have been first, second and third today on GC and now we are first, fourth and fifth.
Q: was it the plan to have Lance attack with a kilometer or two to go before the finish to try and get time on Wiggins? Do you think if he had launched a little bit earlier he might have sealed it up?
Johan: No. A rider has to know when he has to attack and Lance really judged that attack. I know he had a hard time in the last few kilometers because it was a hard stage. It was an impressive attack. That was the plan. I said to Alberto and Andreas (Kloden) just stay on the wheels of the Schlecks and I told Lance in the final kilometers of the Colombiere try and go away from Wiggins. Then we are one, two, three.
In the end you cannot want it all. Our purpose is to win the Tour. I think we got a big step forward today and we have to be happy with that. If we want everything we can end up with nothing.
Q: At the end of the day, Lance is 1:30 behind Andy Schleck. Can he make that up tomorrow?
Johan: I think it is possible tomorrow. Yes. But, we also have the Ventoux still so I don't know what the final result is going to be. Our main objective is to win the Tour de France and I think we are on a good way to do that.
Q: Is Lance riding like you would like to see him ride?
Johan: Oh, definitely. If we look before the Tour de France I think he is above expectations. He is on a really good level. He doesn't really have that acceleration. I think that is the only thing he is missing from those three years retirement...that acceleration and the possibility to respond. It's a bit on purpose.
After Verbier we chose to not respond to the attacks; to let people attack and then ride your own pace.
But, today he was caught in the game of having to be the ideal teammate. This morning we said that the biggest danger for the Tour is Bradley Wiggins because if he stays where he is and with the good time trial he has he could be a big danger. So we diefinitely accomplished that objective. We got rid of Wiggins today.
Q: There was disharmony in the team early on in the Tour, but with Contador the undisputed team leader is there more harmony on the team now?
Johan: Yes, there is. Well at least there was. We will have to see how everybody feels about what happened on the Colombiere. That (team harmony) is something we don't have to think too much about or say too much about. The main objective is to win the Tour and things worked well today to make the race hard to try to distance our main danger which was Bradley Wiggins so we have to be happy with that.
Second and third was never a goal. That's fine, but we can't go after that because you have to make sacrifices and the main goal is to win the Tour and I thikn we are close to getting it.
I talked with Garmin-Slipstream team manager Matt White about his team's efforts on the stage.
Bruce: how did the team ride today?
Matt: the team was super today. Christian was there for Bradley until about four or five km of the last climb.
Bruce: how do you feel about Bradley's performance today?
Matt: Sensational. That was one of the hardest, if not the hardest days of the Tour and to only lose that amount of time was a very, very solid ride.
Bruce: for Christian to be the designated team leader before the Tour, but to work for Bradley Wiggins on the climbs, what does that say about Christian?
Matt: He is always thinking of others. He's 100% for the team. He is coming here with a very disruptive preparation, but I am super-proud of Christian. He proved what a super-teammate he is for sacrificing himself for Bradley.
Whoever wears the yellow jersey into Paris will definitely earn it as the drama expected in the high Alps didn't disappoint. As Jens Voigt predicted in my interview with him yesterday, Team Saxo Bank came out firing and launched a number of attacks to try and climb onto the podium at the Tour. Schleck's accelerations succeeded in dropping Cadel Evans, Christian Vande Velde, defending Tour Champion Carlos Sastre and Lance Arsmtrong.
But, in clearly one of the biggest highlights of this Tour, Armstrong erased a 30+ second deficit on himself to the Schleck/Contador/Wiggins group and put saved his current second place overall. It was a display of climber prowess that we were used to seeing from the Texan during his record-setting seven Tour wins, but frankly, many had felt that after his performance to Verbier, those accelerations were a thing of the past.
Garmin-Slipstream's Bradley Wiggins continues to look casual climbing with the leaders and kudos to teammates Christian Vande Velde and Dave Zabriskie for regaining the yellow jersey group on the climb of the Petit Saint Bernard. Zabriskie is finally regaining the climbing form we saw him display in the 2005 Giro when he rode exceptional tempo for his team leader Ivan Basso.
One negative moment was a horrific crash on the final descent by Saxo Bank rider Jens Voigt. It is unclear what caused the crash, it just looked like his front wheel slipped out on a white center line which can be slick if wet. In this case it was dry conditions so the mystery remains for the rider who is known as one of the best bike handlers in the pro peloton. Personally, I really like Jens. He always has time for my interview requests and give honest, heartfelt if not a bit humorous interviews. The Tour has lost some of its enjoyment for me as a result of his crash and abandon. Heal quickly Jens!
I talked with Astana director sportif, Johan Bruyneel, before the start of today's stage.
Bruce: what is the strategy for the team in this third week?
Johan: From now on we just want to bring the yellow jersey to Paris. We know it is going to be difficult today and tomorrow. We expect attacks. A lot of attacks. We will just wait and see what happens and keep our team together and defend the jersey.
Bruce: is everyone working for Contador now?
Johan: Well, we want to win the Tour. Anything else we can get we will try to get itm but not at the cost of the potential of losing the Tour de France.
I spoke with Garmin-Slipstream director sportif, Matt White, before the start of today's stage and asked him about Bradley Wiggins and the team strategy for the third week.
Bruce: Is Bradley Wiggins climbing better than you expected?
White: Not really. A little bit better, but the level we saw at the Giro he has improved and that was the plan. We had some goals at the Giro. One was to win the team time trial and the other was for him to win the final TT in Rome. We came second in both of those. After the second week of the Giro we deliberately eased him off so he would be able to perform here and it certainly worked.
Bruce: What is the strategy for the third week?
White: We are not here just to ride. That's for sure. We have Bradley in third place on GC and we are going to just take that day-by-day. It is the perfect place for us to be. Last year Christian did a great finish in Paris on his own. He had to play off of other teams. Now we have two cards to play.
Bruce: Wiggins is an exceptional time trialist. With the TT coming up in Annecy in two days, does this put extra pressure on his rivals?
White: It does put a lot of pressure on the other teams because Bradley is one of the world's best time trialers and will be in contention for the stage win in Annecy. So it does put a lot of pressure on them and give us a bit of a buffer zone on the mountain stages.
Bruce: How do you prepare Wiggins mentally for what is coming ahead?
White: One thing that is Bradley's forte is his mental strength. You don't win three Olympic gold medals and five world titles with luck. He has a very, very strong belief in himself and it is a new place for him to be in, but one of his big, big strengths is that he believes in himself. What result comes of that, time will tell. But, he has a big faith in himself and he has had that for a long, long, time. You don't acheive what he has achieved with luck. That is for sure.
Bruce: the team was riding for Tyler Farrar in the sprints and now will be riding for Bradley Wiggins on the climbs. Is this a cohesive team?
White: Tyler is definitely not on vacation in the mountains. He is on survival mode until we get to Paris. All the team is helping out as much as they can. Julian and Tyler are coming back for bottle. We have a very tight team and it has shown here at the Tour de France.
Bart Knaggs is one of Lance Armstrong's closest friends. He is currently working on helping to put together Lance's new professional team for 2010. Look for information on that development near the end of the Tour. I asked Bart about how he felt Lance's 2009 Tour was progressing. He is pictured here with his daughter Caroline.
Bruce: Lance looked a bit vulnerable on the Verbier stage. Was that just a one-day thing or was his form a bit off?
Bart: I think he is getting better week by week by week. I think if the Tour had been three of four weeks further away he would be better still. I think the shoulder hurt, the broken collarbone. You forget that you come back to 90% pretty quickly. To get back to that 99-100% take racing; it takes time for the edge to get sharp. I think that is what we are seeing. He is just not quite right on the edge when he wants to be. But, he will be better day in, day out from here to the finish, too.
Bruce: Lance has stated that he can't win the Tour and will be working for Alberto Contador. Is he really going to work for Contador?
Bart: I think you are going to see Lance recognizing team strategies and hierarchies and the way cycling works. First and foremost the objective of this team was always to win the yellow jersey. I think he very good about what he has done. I think he would like to be a little sharper sometimes. In one year to come from where he was to where he is and to be one guy, who is your teammate, out of first place is impressive.
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.
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 overall standings in the Giro d'Italia tightened significantly on the massive Blockhuas climb setting the stage for a dramatic finish when the race concludes with a 9-mile time trial around the streets of Rome. While Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) won the stage, Danilo Di Luca not only beat race leader Denis Menchov by five seconds and added an 8-second time bonus to move within 26 seconds of Menchov.
Pellizotti's winning attack moved him up to third place overall, but it was the man who led the initial chase to bring back the Liquigas rider who made the biggest news of the day. Lance Armstrong launched from the main field containing all the favorites when Pellizotti attacked with 15km to go. For a while the gap between the two hovered at 8-10 seconds, but then the elastic seemed to break and Lance ended up with the group containing Carlos Sastre, Levi Leipheimer and Michael Rogers who ultimately finished about two minutes back.
I had a chance to talk to Astana directors Jonah Bruyneel and Viatcheslav Ekimov after the finish and that in itself is its own story. As I did on Monte Petrano, I rode the climb of the Blockhaus. As I was preparing to descend on my bike I saw Johan go by driving a team car. Several minutes later, Ekimov came by as well. Sensing an opportunity which only presents itself getting off big mountains in the grand tours, I took off after the Astana cars. It took me several minutes to catch Eki. I rolled up, tapped on his window and asked him what he thought about Lance's performance. "He looked really good. Really hot," was his reply.
Next I spotted Bruyneel's car several switchbacks below so I took off chasing his car down. When I caught up to Johan I asked him the same question. "He's coming. He's coming" was his reply. Sometimes a journalist has to take some unusual measures to get a comment or two. Chasing those guys down through a sea of cars, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians was some of the most fun I have had on a bike in years. BTW, it's not for the faint hearted.
Here are some photos of the finish. As you can see from the marker in the first photo, I was positioned about 40 meters from the finish line, which was a great place to catch the final action of the stage.
Here is Pellizotti driving hard to the line for the win.
Here is a photo of the sprint for second between Stefano Garzelli and Danilo Di Luca.
This is a photo of Denis Menchov in the pink jersey, head down, trying to lose as few seconds as possible to Di Luca.
The last photo is of a guy named Lance pacing Levi to the line with Carlos Sastre in tow.
If you are living in Boulder, Colorado (is there any other Boulder?) then the future of cycling looks pretty bright. Sure, 18-year-old Taylor Phinney is from Boulder and he has been lighting the track on fire riding world class times in both the Kilometer and 4000m Pursuit. But, there are a number of other young riders in Boulder and the Colorado Front Range who have been distinguishing themselves as well.
At the recent Excel Sports Boulder North Boulder Park Criterium it was a veritable youth parade in the Senior events. Just to make my point even clearer, riders under the age of 18 have their own special classes in which to compete. This is to allow them to develop slowly and keep them from being beat up on by riders much more physically mature. But, at the North Boulder Park Criterium it was them youngens' who totally stole the show.
In the Senior Men's Category 4 event (novice riders 19-34 years old), Michael Dessau of Jonathan Vaughter's 5280 Team not only won most of the prime sprints, but also took the victory. Michael is only 13-years old. His teammate Zane Godby, all of 14-years-old, took third.
In the Men's Category 3 event (advanced riders 19-34 years old), Yannick Eckmann soled off the front halfway through the 60-minute race and won in convincing fashion. Yannick, who also rides for the 5280 Team is a mere 15-years-old. Yannick's older brother Robin placed 6th in the marquis event the Senior 1/2/Pro race beating Tour de France veterans in the process.
In the Women's Category 4 event, Maddie Godby (Zach's older sister) was victorious. She's 16-year's old.
Whoa! We call these riders "Senior Slayers" because they are winning against riders sometimes twice their age(and older). The future looks pretty bright for cycling if we can keep pumping out young riders who show such potential. Best of luck to Michael, Zach, Yannick, Robin, Maddie and all young riders working their way up to the senior ranks.
There has been some speculation on who the title sponsor will be for Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel's new team. One rumour has it that Livestrong will be prominent on the jersey. It must be rememebered that there are actually two Livestrongs out there.
The first is Livestrong.org which is Lance's very successful cancer charity. Lance and his people have raised millions to help fight the cruel disease. The second is Livestrong.com which was launched about a year ago and is a wellness web site that is dedicated to helping people get answers to basic health questions.
My guess is that if Livestrong is a sponsor of the team, Lance will not divert any of the cancer money, but will instead use the Livestrong.com site as the money source. Only time will tell, but that's my speculation.
Team Columbia-Highroad has been putting on a Bike Racing 101 clinic at the Giro.The squad has won four stages in the first nine days and they are doing it in classic racing fashion. The Giro is known for lots of crashes which sometimes produce lucky winners, but Columbia-Highroad's success has nothing to do with luck.
Columbia-Highroad's first win, on the opening day's team time trial, was the picture of perfection. There didn't appear to be any strategy other than to have each rider give his all. There were no sacrificial lambs, everybody just rode their hearts out.
Norwegian Edvald Boasen-Hagen has recorded a second-first-second in stages 6-8; his win into Chiavenna on stage 7 was won on rain-slickened roads, but he didn't appear to be taking unnecessary risks.
Constantin Siutsov's victory into Bergamo was probably the best demonstration of classic bike racing tactics. Columbia-Highroad sent their GC man Michael Rogers up the road on the stage's final climb forcing overal racer leader Danilo Diluca's LPR Brakes team to initiate a furious chase. As soon as Rogers and his breakaway companions, which included Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner, were reeled in, Siutsov counter-attacked.
It was clear that the LPR riders were tired from chasing Rogers and Leipheimer and Siutsov quickly built a sufficient lead to take him all the way to the finish line. That is how you win a bike race.
The final chapter in team Columbia Highroad's racing primer was written in Milan when a near perfect leadout train in the final kilometers delivered uber-sprinter Mark Cavendish first across the line. Thus endeth the lesson, but I am guessing that Columbia-Highroad has a few more chapters to write before the end of the race.
A few more speculations on what will happen with Team Astana and the rollout with Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel's new team. It must be remembered that one of the strategies that Bruyneel and Armstrong used to help engineer Lance's seven tour wins was to acquire the competition.
Along that line of thinking, it would be better for Bruyneel and Armstrong to try and keep Team Astana together through the Tour so that they would have Contador on their squad. That's not to say that Bruyneel and Armstrong would try to keep Contador from winning. It just means that they would have more control over the situation. Only time will tell what happens.
While Lance may not be making big headlines on the bike at the Giro, what he is doing off the bike is generating some exciting news. To be fair, Lance did not come into the Giro in peak form and he is showing that he is the master of the three week race by riding within himself in Italy so he can go the full distance and not burn out too early.
It was reported last week in several Colorado newspapers that Lance had called Governor Bill Ritter to sound out the Governor on the potential of putting on a Tour of Colorado much like the Amgen Tour of California. Last summer Lance bought a house in Aspen and has been using that dwelling for his altitude training. Lance and many of us remember the glory days of the Coors Classic and the possibility of re-capturing those magical times is a huge motivation to bring big-time bike racing back to Colorado.
At this time the idea is only in the 'trial balloon' stage. My guess is that Lance was just testing the waters to see how receptive the Governor's office was to the idea as the state is key to pulling off such an event. It would most likely be 2011 at the earliest before any race could happen.
In the past several years, Medalist Sports who run both the Tour of California and the Tour of Missouri has been working with a group in the Vail Valley to bring a 3-4 day professional stage race to Colorado, but that event has yet to be held. Hopefully, Lance will have more success.
My rumours and speculation on some of the details of the new professional team run by Johan Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong generated lots of comments. Remember, the details of the team are all just speculation at this point.
One alternate scenario that is emerging is that the team will continue as Team Astana until after the Tour which would mean that Lance, Alberto and Levi would all be racing together in France in July. One good reason to keep the current squad intact through July is that if a new team emerges after the Giro, but before the Tour, it is not clear if that team would be allowed to start the Tour de France.
Given that the French National Anti-Doping Agency(AFLD) backed off on the "Showergate" incident, it seems clear that the French want Lance to start to the Tour. So, if the new team did emerge before the Tour there is a good possibility that a number of rules would be bent to allow them to participate.
My guess is that since Lance and Johan are pretty smart guys they have already contacted the Tour organizers and asked them if their new team would be allowed to start. The answer to that question will probably determine when the new team emerges.
Word coming from the Giro d'Italia is that it is all but a done deal that Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel will have their own professional cycling team. Details are still a bit in the speculative stage, but it appears that an official announcement will be made on or about June 1st, the day after the conclusion of the Giro and also the day after the UCI's deadline for Team Astana to get it's financial situation in order has come and gone.
More than likely, the bulk of the team will come from the current roster of the Astana squad. Speculating on the exact roster, the new team should include Lance, Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner, Yaraslov Popovych, Chechu Runiera, Daniel Noval, Jani Brajkovic, and a most of the remaining supporting characters (Gregory Rast, Steve Morabito, etc.)
One rider who is rumoured to not be part of the new team is Alberto Contador. He has been linked to Caisse d'Epargne, the team of Alejandro Valverde whose own participation in the Tour de France has been put in doubt by a recent two-year ban in Italy for his participation in Opercion Puerto. It is not clear if Contador's good friend and training partner, Jesus Jernandez, will follow him to Caisse. Obviously, if Contador does not come to the squad, all questions about who will lead the team at the Tour de France become moot!
Another rider whose future is uncertain is Andreas Kloden who has recently been linked to blood doping during the 2006 Tour and will almost certainly face some sort of disciplinary action. Also, it is unclear if any of the Kazhak riders currently on the team will be retained.
Rumour has it that Bruyneel and Armstrong have already produced the team kit with their new sponsors and will be unveiling it at the public announcement in the days after the finish of the Giro. Look for Armstrong to be wearing his new team colors as he trains with Leipheimer and Horner at his home in Aspen between the Giro and the Tour.
We will have to wait and see how this all shakes out, but suffice it to say, the excitement in pro cycling won't go into hiatus between the Giro and the Tour.
On Monday, Lance Armstrong went public with his announcement that he hopes to run his own top-flite European professional team in 2010. This year, Armstrong launched an Under 23(U-23) team, Trek-Livestrong, captained by current World 4000m Pursuit Champion Taylor Phinney, but the plan for next year is to put together a squad that will compete at the highest level of the sport.
Also mentioned in the announcement is that long-time friend and team director Johan Bruyneel will also be part of the program. Bruyneel, who currently runs Team Astana will need to figure out how to sever his ties with the Khazak squad. Given the current rumours surrounding the health of Team Astana that might not prove to be too difficult. It appears that the Astana, which is funded by a conglomerate of Khazak companies, has been hit hard by the economic downturn and has not been able to meet its payroll commitments.
There is some speculation that Astana may not be able to stay afloat long enough to participate in the Tour de France. Also rumoured is that the UCI may step in an revoke the squad's Pro Tour license. Obviously, this is all rumour and speculation, but something appears to be happening. Before we jump to any conclusions let's hope that the team can iron out the difficulties and continue with its dominating season.
Also in the announcement, Armstrong indicated that he would like to be a team director and rider for the new outfit meaning that he would still be on the bike in 2010. It is too far off to get a feeling if he would ride the Tour or other big stage races with his new squad. Let's let him get his 2009 season under his belt before we all start guessing on his racing program for next year.
Just who the title sponsor will be for Armstrong's new squad is a mystery. Some have speculated that Nike will step up. Another possibility might be SRAM, the component manufacturer who has a big enough budget to step up in a major way. Whoever decides to write the checks, the Armstrong/Bruyneel combination combined to form a very potent force. We will have to wait and see if Alberto Contador is recruited for the team, but whoever joins the ranks will be part of an exciting new team.
Lance and the French authorities are sparring and the conflict, once again, centers around doping. Rather than try to summarize what happened, I am going to present (as I understand it) both sides of the story and then dissect the battle.
Lance claims that upon returning to his newly rented home near Nice, France after a long training ride, a man, claiming to be a sample collection person from the French National Drug Laboratory (AFLD) approached Armstrong outside his house and requested to take blood, urine and hair samples. Lance, who was with his team director Johan Bruyneel at the time, was not convinced that the person was legitimate so before he obliged the request, he wanted to check with the UCI.
Lance claims that while Johan called the UCI to check, he asked the collector if he could take a shower since he had just returned from a long, hard ride. The collector obliged. When Lance returned from his shower 20 minutes later, the collector's credentials had been verified and Lance willingly allowed the person to take blood, urine and hair samples.
The AFLD sample collector tells a different story. The collector claims that while his credentials were being verified, he told Lance several times that World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) dope collection protocol requires that once a collector has identified himself and has announced that he/she his there to collect samples, the athlete cannot leave the side of the collector.
The AFLD is concerned that since Lance left the side of the collector for 20 minutes he violated a part of the WADA doping code and because of this, he may be prohibited from racing in France which, of course, could put Armstrong's participation in the 2009 Tour in jeopardy.
Is this just a case of mis-communication or is one side in this dispute lying? I may be a bit naive, but I am not sure exactly what Lance could do to his blood, urine and hair in twenty minutes to taint his samples. Yes, he could use a catheter to insert clean urine, but you have to have that stuff lying around and also have a pretty sophisticated method for fooling all the doping controls at a moment's notice to make it work. That just seems too much for me.
Was the AFLD collector star-struck and allowed Lance to shower then changed his tune after either he/she or a colleague mentioned that this was a breach of WADA protocol?
Also, there is a third party involved here, Johan Bruyneel, so this isn't just a case of he said, she said. Bruyneel supports Lance Armstrong's side of the story. Also, Lance's Twitter account on the day of the collections doesn't indicate any dispute between Armstrong and the collector.
One could argue that Lance should have known that the WADA protocol requires that he not leave the side of a collector when sample collection is supposed to take place. On the flip side, if the credibility of the person was in doubt, maybe Lance did not feel his obligation to leave the collector's side only began if and when the person's credentials were verified.
Another point worth considering is that if there was any question as to the credentials of the collector, shouldn't Lance, knowing WADA protocol, just hunkered down and waited for verification. On the other hand, while it ended up taking only 20 minutes to verify the collector's credentials, what if it had taken two hours?
This is an interesting situation and because of that, I have been giving it a lot of thought. Clearly, none of us has all the information and most of what I am writing about is total speculation.
Is this just another case of the French hounding Lance or should Armstrong have behaved differently? Anyone?
In a somewhat stunning development, Team Astana, has laid to rest all speculation as to who would lead their squad at the 2009 Tour de France by announcing that they would hold a head-to-head time trial between Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador five days before the July event. "We were hoping that Lance's performance in the Giro d'Italia would answer the team leadership question. But, now with Lance's broken collarbone limiting his preparation it was clear that we needed another way to end the season-long drama and allow the team to concentrate on its racing schedule," said Team Director Johan Bruyneel.
Reached at home in Austin where he is recuperating from surgery to repair his broken collarbone Lance Armstrong applauded the decision. "The ongoing question of Tour leadership was causing a major distraction for the team. This will also help me relax a bit and should aid my recovery and return to top form."
Also quite surprising is the format of the race against the clock. "Since we know that both Lance and Alberto are excellent climbers and fast on the flats, the only unknown is their descending ability. So, we will use the 3000' descent of the Col de la Madone for the time trial," added Bruyneel.
Alberto Contador commented on the interesting format. "Normally, I ride hard up the climbs around my home and take it easy on the descents. Now I will have to change my training to take is easy going uphill so I can concentrate on the descents."
While he will not take part in the time trial, Levi Leipheimer also weighed in on the news. "This is a great idea. It was really hard for me to win the Vuelta Castilla y Leon as all anyone on the team was worried about was who would lead the team at the Tour."
While it is too early to tell if the decision by Bruyneel will have the desired affect one thing is certain. We can all get back to discussing who will win the upcoming Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, etc. and not be waiting for the next instalment of "As the Wheel Turns."
For the third year in a row, Levi Leipheimer owned the Solvang individual time trial cementing his lead on the overall title. A three-peat looks more and more likely even though the time gaps between Dave Zabriskie(Garmin-Slipstream) and Michael Rogers(Columbia-High Road) are only 36 and 46 seconds, respectively the next two stage, while difficult, will not be decisive. For Leipheimer it was, yet again, confirmation that he is the strongest rider in the race. But, for Dave Zabriskie, who finished just second seconds behind Leipheimer, it was the ride that we had all been hoping he would finally perform at the Solvang TT.
Zabriskie was on the podium at the first ever AToC, but in the last two editions, he has come into the event with high expectations, but no brass ring. In 2007, an ugly crash on the race's first stage put paid to his chances whereas in 2008, an intestinal bug robbed him of the power so necessary to do well in the race of truth. Temporarly setting the course record, the Z-Man finally delivered the goods and was clearly pleased with his efforts bringing his son with him on the podium.
The big question of whether Lance would get the green light to go full gas was answered in a chat with Astana Team Director Johan Bruyneel. "He will go as fast as he can. It is going to be a very good test for him. It is a long time trial and it is more than three years since he has done a long time trial so it is basically discovering a lit bit the feelings again. We don't know what to expect."
"Maybe he feels good in the beginning and blows up. We don't know. We are really going to play it by the feeling and see how far he can get. But, at the same time we know that there are a handful of riders here who are in really good shape and they are going for the win. I don't expect him to be in the very front. Somewhere between fifth and tenth would be a very good result." After yesterday's stage, Lance told reporters that he would most likely lose about a minute to Levi in the TT. Lance ended up 14th, 1'16" back of Leipheimer.
When asked about how he felt Levi would perform, Bruyneel replied, "Well, Levi has won the time trial the last two years and he wants to win again. The main goal is to defend the lead and if we can get that we will be happy."
Levi's better half, Odessa Gunn, was in Solvang to support her man. I asked Odessa how she felt Levi would perform. "This is one of his favorite days. Certainly in the race, but in general. He loves this stage. He loves this town. He loves time trialing."
And how does Odessa give her support? "Staying out of his way. Because I have this uncanny ability to always ask him the wrong question at the wrong time. So, I just keep my distance and say good luck."
When Levi crossed the line, he held up three fingers signifying a three-peat. It was unclear if he was
talking about his third straight victory in the Solvang TT or his third overall win.
Dave Z heading out of the starting gate. He is the picture of concentration.
It's Back!!!!!!!! Lance's stolen TT bike was found in an alley in Sacramento sans wheels. City of Sacramento officials brought the bike back to the team for the TT.
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