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Active Expert: Bruce Hildenbrand

56 Posts tagged with the levi_leipheimer tag

The flat profile of stage 10 provided another spring board for Mark Cavendish and his leadout train to prove they are the best in the business. Thor Hushovd and Tyler Farrar rounded out the top three emphasizing that this was a stage for the sprinters. The rumoured strike over the ban on race radios was averted when ASO agreed to remove the ban for stage 13.

 

All in all it was a pretty uneventful day. But why, then, did Bradley Wiggins drop from fifth to seventh overall? Because he got caught in one of the most unfair situations in professional racing which continues to plague stage race riders. While the peloton was virtually intact approaching the line, a rider, 10 places ahead of Bradley, let a small, usually only about five-feet, gap open up so the race officials counted that group as the second group over the line.  Since Cavendish had crossed the line 15 seconds before that group, Bradley was given the time of the second group.

 

I can assure you that if you watch the finish on TV, while the gap will be visible, it is not like the riders in Bradley's "group" (for lack of a better word)  got dropped, more than likely someone just sat up and stop pedaling. It is just that a small gap opened up in front of the rider who sat up and the officials do, as officials like to do, called it another group. It is kind of like if you give a referee a whistle, he/she feels obligated to blow it. And in this case, the UCI race officials blew it.

 

Levi Leipheimer was also caught in the "second" group and dropped from fourth to fifth overall.  Ironically, if either Wiggins or Leipheimer had been caught in a crash within three kilometers of the finish, they would have been given the same time as the winner. I am not advocating the riders start taking lessons from soccer players on how to take dives, but there is some food for thought here.

 

The problem is that Wiggins finished 64th and Leipheimer was 77th indicating that they were both in the first half of the main group. I really don't think you should force the overall contenders to mix it up with the sprinters just so they don't get "gapped" so to speak. It is really dangerous up front and that is a risk Lance, Alberto, Christian, et. al. should not have to take on the bunch sprint finishes. Certainly, some of the GC contenders were up near the front and did not lose any time, but if they had gotten caught in a crash becasue of it we would be signing a different tune.

 

The UCI needs to come up with a way to take the time of the riders more fairly. I have been asking them to consider this for the past few years. I have been proposing several solutions.  One solution is to make the gap much larger, like 30 feet (10 meters) before a split is made. Obviously, this would only apply to bunch finishes. Another solution is to take the time of the  riders as they cross the red kite with 1km to go. Nobody is siting up, creating gaps at that point.

 

When I talk to the UCI officials, they just don't seem to understand what the problem is. Maybe they are just too busy trying to blow their whistle.

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Team Columbia-HTC rider Tony Martin is one of the revelations of this year's Tour. We saw him ride well earlier this year in both the Criterium International and the Tour of Switzerland, but nobody expected the 23 year-old German to be wearing the white jersey of best young rider. I talked with Tony's Director Sportif (DS) Rolf Aldag about the plans for Martin as the race progresses.

 

Tony Martin

 

 

Bruce: Rolf, where did you find Tony Martin? It seems like every year Team Columbia finds another new star?

 

Rolf: we can't take the credit for Tony.  Honestly, the world of professional cycling realized him in 2004/2005 when we had a mountain time trial and this guy won by a minute. I myself was sixth. He was 18 years-old and I knew he was going to be good. We battled in the Reggio Tour in Germany and I think he finished fifth and I finished sixth.

 

I think it was a big battle who gets him. I know that Gerlosteiner was interested and finally we managed to get him.  We are happy to have him, but I think the good thing is he decided on which team based on who will help best in his career. We have a good program and we promote that to the riders and I think that is what makes the difference so we can get them.

 

Bruce: How will you ride for Tony in the Tour?  Will you ride for him to defend the white jersey or will you have him play off the other teams.

 

Rolf: For the moment he just has to follow.  Today (Col du Tourmalet stage) I don't expect the GC guys to make a big race. They will follow each other.  So we will bring him through that. After the rest day, we will be concentrating on the sprint stages for Cavendish.

 

When we get to the Alps it will be time to decide what we are going to do with him. He does have a free role that's for sure. He does have support. He is protected on the team. But, he is not the only team captain (for the overall) at the moment because I think that would put a lot of pressure on him.  If we expect him to do the result instead of Kim (Kirchen) I don't think it would be fair to Kim and it would not be fair to Tony to say 'you are the man now and you better be in front.'

 

So, if he really, really struggles one day and loses a lot of time there's nothing to lose for him anymore.  He won so much. He defended his white jersey so long. It is his first Tour de France. We just come back and do better next year. That's a good situation for him. He doesn't have any pressure. He has a free role and support and we will just see how it goes.

 

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Here is what the scrum for interviews with Lance looks like at the Astana team bus after a stage. Luckily, when I talked to Lance two days ago it was just the two of us as I am by no means a rugby player.

 

 

 

If this guys comes up to you after a stage finish it means that you have been selected for doping control. His job is to escort the racer directly to the medical trailer to protect the integrity of any biological samples the rider may have to give. Lance has been seeing this guy a lot during the Tour and has passed all his tests.

 

 

If you wonder how the race organizers and officials can tell the position of the riders during the race, it is because the racers have these nifty little transponders which must be mounted on the chainstay a specific distance in front of the rear hub axle. The number "22" on this transponder corresponds to rider number 22 which means this is a shot of Lance's bike.

 

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Stage 8: More Musings

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand Jul 11, 2009

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.

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If Lance doesn't win his eighth Tour de France this July, the cycling pundits will certainly be dissecting his race and his pre-race preparations ad infinitum. But, regardless of what happens over the next three weeks it is interesting to note that Lance had clearly deviated from the formula which brought him seven consecutive Tour victories.

 

During his record setting string of wins, one of the critical components of his preparation was to ride, sometimes two or three times, the key stages of that year's race. That usually meant long days in the mountains and previewing all the time trials. Obviously, the strategy and tactics of a given stage dictated how a stage played out on race day, but for Lance and his teammates, there were no surprises when it came to what a particular course might dish out.

 

This year, mostly due to his broken collarbone, his committment to ride the Giro and the birth of his son, Max, Lance has not had the opportunity to preview all the key stages. Lance did ride the opening time trial course in Monaco several times in the days preceding the race. He reckoned, correctly, that the tricky descents were just as important as having maximum power on the climb to the summit of the Col du Beausoleil.

 

But, instead of being in Europe in June doing recon rides, Lance and his Astana teammates Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner trained out of Aspen, Colorado.The three amigos rode four and a half to six and a half hours a day in training. One of their most popular rides was to go from Aspen up over Independence Pass at 12,000' then down to Twin Lakes at 9000' then back up and over Independence Pass to Aspen.  This 80-mile ride with about 8000' of climbing took the boys about 4 and a half hours at moderate training pace.

 

At the recent Nevada City Classic, both Levi and Lance remarked that it was good to come down from altitude to race as training at such a high height really does not give a good indication of overall fitness. However, it has been proven that altitude training does work so these guys were not wasting their time. They just weren't in Europe as was the case from 1999-2005.

 

We will have to wait and see if the deviation from the formula was a good idea or not. Sometimes circumstances force you to change your game plan. The jury might still be out, but judging from how Lance and Levi rode in the Monaco TT, things are looking good.

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Race Notes

 

Some guy named Mark won stage two from an intact peloton. It was great to see Tyler Farrar in second and the fact that Hushovd slipped in there for fourth meant that nobody is giving away any victories just yet. Yes, Cavendish may seem unbeatable, but Farrar did just that this past March in the Tour of Mediterranean. Don't count Garmin-Slipstream out. They can definitely give Cavendish a run for his money and if the Manxman gets a bit cocky and leaves it late, like he did at the Giro when he lost a couple of stages to Allesandro Petacchi, Farrar could pounce.

 

Bruce

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The Tour de France has officially begun and while the winner on the day, Fabian Cancellara, was not a huge surprise, the race for Astana team leadership got very interesting. All four of Astana's Tour podium finishers, Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloden finished inside the top 10 with only 22 seconds separating those riders after the 9-mile(15 km) time trial. While Alberto, 3rd overall, did best Lance, 10th overall, by 22 seconds the question of team leadership is still unanswered.

 

On a warm, muggy day in the principality of Monaco the relatively short course resulted in interesting, but not necessarily significant, time gaps. None of the favorites faltered; Cadel Evans was right in the mix, five seconds behind Contador and 17 seconds ahead of Armstrong while Andy Schleck and Carlos Sastre were within a minute of their rivals.

 

The Garmin-Slipstream team also demonstrated their time trialing prowess, putting four riders in the top 17, led by Bradley Wiggins' third place finish, 19 seconds behind Cancellara. David Zabriskie, 13th, David Millar, 14th and Christian Vande Velde, 17th, had solid rides. Vande Velde's comeback after a race-ending crash in the Giro seems to be on track to finding his top form as the race progresses.

 

This year, because there are no time bonuses at the finish, it is likely that Cancellara will keep his yellow jersey at least until Stage 4 on Tuesday and the 25-mile team time trial. Based on the results of the opening time trial, it should be a battle between Astana and Garmin-Slipstream for the stage win.

 

It has been an up and down season for Cancellara who won the opening prologue of the Tour of California, but was forced to withdraw the next day due to sickness.  A training crash at home in Switzerland severely hampered his preparation for the Classics, but he recently won his home tour, the Tour de Suisse, and appears to be finally finding his form.

 

The next few days should be the domain of the sprinters.  Look for Team Columbia-HTC with Mark Cavendish to be challenged by Cervelo Test team and Thor Hushovd, but Garmin-Slipstream and their up-and-coming sprinter, Tyler Farrar, might surprise.

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The power of Lance is pretty awesome. It is felt not only in the cycling world where media and fans simply can't get enough of him. But, it transcends the sport of cycling and the cycling community to America and most of the rest of the developed world. One only needs to know that Armstrong has over one million followers on Twitter to see the power of Lance.

 

This past Sunday, I got to see the power of Lance. The Texan was scheduled to ride the Nevada City Bicycle Classic. His appearance caused quite a stir in the tiny Northern California town and a local TV station stepped in to broadcast the race live. Team BMC professional rider Scott Nydam was supposed to be the color commentator for the broadcast, but he got the call to fly to Aspen to train with Levi, Lance and Chris and was unable to provide his insights.

 

I was at the event covering it for cyclingnews.com and was asked to step in and take Scott's place.  I have done enough live radio and TV to know the drill so I agreed to get behind the camera. What was supposed to be just a local TV broadcast grew to epic proportions when Lance tweeted the web address for the broadcast. In an instant, our TV production was now a worldwide affair.  It was a lot of fun and I continue to get comments from people across America who listened and viewed the broadcast.

 

Switching gears a bit, I love putting photos in my blog, when interesting and appropriate, so in keeping with the Lance and Nevada City Bicycle Classic, here are several photos of Lance and Levi warming up before the race. Those with a keen eye will notice that they are riding all-black Madones and not their usual steeds painted in Team Astana colors. These are clearly prototype bikes.

 

 

 

It seems that Trek is about to announce an updated version of the Madone; the new models will be unveiled to the press and public just before the start of the Tour de France in Monaco. Of course, it is a bit of speculation, but it appears that Trek is going to address one of the concerns of the current design of the Madone by modifying the integral seat mast and clamping mechanism to allow some side-to-side play.

 

This new design will make it easier to insure that you can dial in the direction of the nose of the saddle to meet your desires. The Madone re-design may include other changes. Keep your eyes peeled at the end of next week for more details.

 

Bruce

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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.

 

Bruce

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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.

 

               Chechu Rubiera

 

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.

 

               Jani Brajkovic

 

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.

 

               Johan Bruyneel

 

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.

 

Bruce

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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.

 

Bruce

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Giro Musings

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand May 28, 2009

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.

 

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Race Notes

 

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.

 

 

 

Bruce

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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.

 

Bruce

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Today's stage up the Blockhaus will undoubtedly provide some huge fireworks and may prove to finally solidify the true contenders for the maglia rosa. Unlike most mountain top finishes, the riders will hit the slopes of the Blockhaus after only 36 mostly flat miles. Add in the fact that this stage follows the Giro's second rest day and you will have the scenario of a lot of racers who think they can win the stage.

 

This scenario is pretty uncommon in the grand tours. Back in 1991, the Tour de France rolled up to Alpe d'Huez with only flat miles in their legs instead of a couple of category 1 ascents such as the Galibier, Glandon or the Croix de Fer. What transpired at the bottom of the Alpe was an explosion as both the stage hunters and overall riders were swept up in a wave of aspirations. Two groups of riders with different goals, but riding side-by-side up one of the world's most storied climbs.

 

The GC riders don't like this type of situation. They have  to ride harder and punchier(not steady) than they would like in the third week of a grand tour. The guys going for the stage win will launch attack after attack and they GC riders usually respond. This has changed a bit with power meters and riders knowing what they can and cannot do on the bike, but still there is a group mentality which pervades and unless the GC riders call a truce, they can get sucked up into the fray.

 

Guys like Levi Leipheimer aren't punchy riders and a stage like today could cause him more difficulty. Personally, I hope not, but Levi may have a tough decision to make whether to ride within himself or go with the moves. The podium is on the line for the Team Astana rider which makes the decision even more difficult.

 

The final ascent is a 17km(11-mile) 1200m(4000') climb that averages about 7%. This should take the top riders about 45-minutes. Look for racers like Menchov, Sastre and Basso to be forcing the pace with Di Luca hanging on near the front. BTW, Ivan Basso won here in 2006 on his way to his first, and only, overall Giro win.

 

In the late 1960's Eddy Merckx won his first ever mountain-top finish in a grand tour.  A few years  later, the Giro hosted a similar stage as today in the morning and then ran a 200+km flatter stage in the afternoon. These "split stages" were common in grand tours up until the 1990's. Nowadays the UCI has outlawed them.

 

Bruce

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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.

 

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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.

 

Bruce

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Giro TT Dissected

Posted by Bruce Hildenbrand May 21, 2009

The much anticipated 61km time trial(TT) at the Giro d'Italia produced a few surprises, some good, some bad proving, once again, that Italy's grand tour is never predictable. At the end of the day, Rabobank's Denis Menchov proved that his two overall wins at the Vuelta a Espana were no fluke as he time-trialed himself past Danilo Di Luca and into the maglia rosa, the pink leader's jersey.

 

For Americans, all eyes were on Levi Leipheimer who had the potential to not only win the stage, but take the maglia rosa. While the quiet Californian came up short in both the stage and the overall leads his second place, only 20 seconds back of Menchov, must be considered a success. Leipheimer also moved up to third overall and is clearly within striking distance of the race lead.

 

What I take from Levi's performance is that the Giro is not the same race as the Tour. Leiphemier has repeatedly remarked that he feels nervous when racing on the tight roads and tricky descents of the Giro which has already cost him time in the race for the overall. Not every race is for every rider. Hopefully, Levi will feel more comfortable as the race progresses.

 

Of course, a lot of attention was given to Levi's teammate, Lance Armstrong, who finished 13th about 2:30 back of Menchov. While some might be close to writing Lance off, I think this is another indication that Lance is finding the form he will need to be a factor at the Tour. It must be remembered that in 2004, Lance lost 2 minutes to Iban Mayo at the Mont Ventoux time trial in the Dauphine Libere. He came back to win the Tour, dominating the TT's, and winning by over six minutes.

 

So what's going to happen in the final week? Clearly, if Di Luca is going to have a chance to win his second Giro, he is going to have to go on the attack on Monte Petrano, the Blockhaus or Monte Vesuvio. Leipheimer is going to have to make Di Luca pay for all his aggression in the first week by putting pressure on the front of the climbs. Menchov is going to have to keep doing what he has been doing; ride "steady eddy" and avoid one bad day in the mountains that seems to plague him in some grand tours.

 

Remember that the final stage is a 15km TT around Rome's famous landmarks. Go watch "Angels and Daemons" and you will get a pretty good idea of what the rider's will see. I think Levi is a better flat time trialist than either Menchov or Di Luca so if the gaps remain about the same, Levi could ended winning it all. I haven't mentioned either Ivan Basso or Michael Rogers. These two guys are going to need an exceptional day to put themselves back into contention.

 

Bruce

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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.

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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.

 

Bruce

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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.

 

Bruce

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