The 2010 Amgen Tour of California wrapped up on Sunday and as predicted, there was nothing ceremonial about the last stage. Michael Rogers was under constant attack on the final ascent of the Rock Store climb by Dave Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer who trailed the Australian by only nine and twenty five seconds respectively.
Adding to the drama, both Zabriskie and Leipheimer had teammates with them on that final ascent. Rogers, who found himself with no teammates, was definitely vulnerable, but the Aussie rallied to bring back every single attack. This was the type of action the race organizers were looking for when they selected this as their final stage and the three protagonists didn't disappoint.
What the spectators saw was undoubtedly some of the most exciting racing in the five year history of the AToC. Everything hung in the balance and Leipheimer and Zabriskie attacked at will hoping to gap Rogers. At one point, Leipheimer looked to have broken Rogers. Zabriskie quickly joined the Team Radio Shack rider in the move, but Rogers somehow found a way to claw his way back to the two.
Ahead of the fight for the overall championship, George Hincapie was leading the remnants of the day's major breakaway in hopes of salvaging his AToC with a stage win. Hincapie was clearly the crowd favorite and it would have been an emotional victory, but Ryder Hesjedal(Garmin-Transitions) spoiled the show with a late race move that put him in a sprint with Hincapie for the win.
The organizers couldn't have planned the finale any better, other than maybe having an American winner. The eight-day race was exciting from start to finish and should be back next year with even more competitive racing and unforgettable stages.
Michael "Mick" Rogers was the big winner today in the Amgen Tour of California's stage 7 time trial. While his HTC-Columbia teammate, Tony Martin, won the 20-mile test, it was Rogers who beat his two chief rivals Dave Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer by five and eleven seconds respectively.
Going into tomorrow's final stage, Rogers leads Zabriskie by nine seconds and Leipheimer by twenty five seconds. Normally, that would be enough to call it a wrap, but the AToC's final stage is deceptively difficult and could allow a late race challenge to succeed.
Sunday's stage is four laps of a 21-mile circuit in the Santa Monica mountains. The first 10 miles are flat and fast. The second half of each lap starts with the 2.5 mile Rock Store climb which is followed by another, less difficult, ascent and concludes with a very tricky downhill into the finish.
Because the first half of each lap is flat that will allow a concerted chase to peg back any significant moves. If Zabriskie or Leipheimer wants to gain time on Rogers, their best bet is to put everything into a last lap attack on the Rock Store climb and then hope they have the legs to drive it all the way to the line.
So, the race is far from over. Look for the Garmin-Transitions and Team Radio Shack to be putting pressure on HTC-Columbia from the gun in hopes of softening up Rogers and his mates for a late race attack.
As three-time winner of the Amgen Tour of California(AToC), Levi Leipheimer, predicted the race for the overall title will once again come down to the time trial. With the move of the race from February to May, it was hoped that the longer and more difficult courses would provide some separation, but that was not the case with the top four riders separated by only 14 seconds after 29 hours of racing.
To uplevel the discussion a bit, the race really does need a mountain top finish if it wants to provide a bigger challenge. Leipheimer has been vocal about the lack of such a finish, luckily for him, he is a very good time trialist. But, with the move to May, difficulty means not just adding more climbing, but making that climbing relevant. The fact that critical breakaways were chased down on both Stage 3 and Stage 6 demonstrates that it is not sufficient to put the final climb within 10-15 miles of the finish line.
So, without a mountain top finish, Saturday's time trial will be about as exciting as possible. The three strongest riders, Michael Rogers(HTC-Columbia), Dave Zabriskie(Garmin-Transitions) and Levi Leipheimer(Team Radio Shack) are all excellent time trialists. Michael Rogers is a three-time World Time Trial Champion. Dave Zabriskie has won time trials at the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia and is a medalist at the World Championships. Levi Leipheimer has won time trials at the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana and an Olympic bronze medal.
The one big unknown is the time trialing ability of Slovakian Peter Sagan. The 20 year old is the revelation of the 2010 season. He has shown he can sprint with two convincing stage wins at the AToC (as well as at Paris-Nice and Tour of Romandie) and that he can climb. But, can he go fast in the race against the clock?He is only fourteen seconds out of the lead and could take the jersey with an inspired ride.
One of the questions I would like answered in this whole Landis versus Armstrong affair is who leaked the E-mails from Landis? Reed Albergotti, the journalist at the Wall Street Journal who broke the story, indicated that he received the E-mails from a source other than Landis. If Landis didn't leak the E-mails then who did?
Allegations aside, I think the identity of the E-mail leaker is one of the most important aspects of this whole affair. Most people have assumed that Floyd just jumped up on the digital soap box and let fly. If Floyd is not responsible for leaking the E-mails then who was the culprit and why did they do it?
Some of the E-mails were posted today on the Team Radio Shack website and one thing that is missing from those E-mails is threats by Floyd to go public with his allegations. In fact, many of the E-mails clearly indicate that what is being said is to be kept private between the parties involved.
I am not saying that Floyd didn't threaten to go public. I am just saying that those who have accused Floyd of making such threats haven't given us any proof of that claim. Sound familiar?
I feel it is very important to identify the person who leaked the E-mails. While Floyd made some very strong allegations, if he did so in private then it changes the whole way we must view this situation. Many have decried Landis for the timing of this whole incident, but if Floyd didn't leak the E-mails then he is not responsible for the timing. That responsibility lies with the person who did the leaking.
Regardless of the content of the E-mails, if Floyd meant them to be private between the parties expressly names in the "To:" and "From:" fields then he cannot be held to blame for what has transpired. We have all had frank discussions which we wanted to keep private. Is that the case here with Landis or did he have a hand in leaking these supposed private E-mails? What is the truth?
There are always more stories surrounding a bike race than just the stuff making he headlines. Here are some stories and accompanying photos.
Usually, each rider has his name on his bike so the mecahnics can tel them apart. For the Amgen Tour of California (AToC) the riders on Team Radio Shack have the name of a cancer survivor on their bikes. Here is a photo of the bike of three-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer. He is riding for Nate Wagner, a 3-year old cancer survivor from Santa Rosa. Nate has a lot of energy, unfortunately he prefers golf to riding bikes.
Several of the members of Team Bissell are having a goatee growing contest during the race. While the judging of such a contest is highly subjective, the consensus is Ben Jacques-Maynes (pictured below) is the early leader.
Paul Mach is a PhD candidate in Mathematics at University of California-Davis. He is a former All American 800m runner who switched to the bike about five years ago. He is also participating in the Bissell goatee contest. He is pictured here wearing the King of the Mountains jersey which he won on Stage 1.
Even though it was raining fairly hard for Stage 2, that didn't dampen the spirit of the fans in Levi Leipheimer's home town of Santa Rosa.
Stage 3 took the riders from San Francisco to Santa Cruz also known as Surf City, USA.
The first two stages of the Amgen Tour of California are complete and while the winner of Stage 1, Mark Cavendish, was no surprise, Brett Lancaster's victory on Stage 2 was not as predictable. In the race for the overall championship, three-time and defending champion, Levi Leipheimer (Team Radio Shack) is still on track for win number four. But, his main challengers, save for Fabian Cancellara, have also finished at the front meaning the race is still far from over.
Stage 1 from Nevada City to Sacramento was held in warm, dry weather and until the race hit the three 2-mile laps of the finishing circuits in downtown Sacramento it was a pretty boring affair. That's not to say that the first day's four man breakaway wasn't deserving of their time off the front, it is just that with the powerful HTC-Columbia team driving the chase, a field sprint was inevitable.
Drenching rain greeted the peloton for stage 2 and it was another breakway which dominated the early and mid-race action, but as in the first stage, the escapees were caught. But, unlike the first stage it wasn't the whole field rather a select group of the overall contenders including Leipheimer, Dave Zabriskie(Garmin-Transitions), Mick Rogers(HTC-Columbia) and Andy Schleck(Team Saxo Bank).
Noticably absent was Fabian Cancellara who started the race sick and succumbed to his illness and ultimately losing fifteen minutes by the stage finish.
Twenty five riders contested the sprint into Santa Rosa with Brett Lancaster(Cervelo Test Team) taking the win over emerging spring sensation Peter Sagan(Liquigas). Lance Armstrong, whose fitness had been called into question before the race, was also part of the lead group. Radio Shack had five of its eight riders in the front at the finish, a strong showing by their team which bodes well for the difficulties ahead.
Because of his stage 2 win and the accompanying time bonus, Lancaster assumed the overall race lead from Stage 1 winner Mark Cavendish. Tomorrow's stage, a hilly test from San Francisco to Santa Cruz will most likely cause a change in overall race leadership as well.
With all the recent broken contracts in the sport of pro cycling you would have thought that they were printed on toilet paper using invisible ink. First there was half of Team Astana heading over to Team Radio Shack. Now, Bradley Wiggins has left Garmin-Transitions for Britain's new pro squad, Team Sky.
There are a couple of issues here. First off, are all contracts created equally? Should all contracts, regardless of the circumstances be honored? Are there any extenuating rules or laws that affect whether a contract is valid or not?
First off, it is not clear that all contracts are created equally. By this, I mean are some contracts easier to break than others. Some contracts include 'opt-out' clauses that allow a contract to become void if the team doesn't meet certain conditions. One 'opt-out' clause would be to allow a rider to leave if a team loses it's Pro Tour status. Clearly, if a contract has an 'opt out' clause it can be broken if the clause is met.
Secondly, are there any extenuating circumstances that might make breaking a contract OK. In the case of the contract breaking at Team Astana, it must be remembered that the riders on that team were not paid for three months during the middle of the season. And, though the situation was finally resolved, it took a lot of pressure and potential exclusion from the Tour de France to finally get the paychecks rolling again.
Since the riders on Astana are pros and they do this to put food on the table for their wives and kids, I fully support the riders' decision to switch teams. Team Radio Shack is run by a management group with a record of paying it's riders so that is a huge incentive to head for more security.
In the case of Bradley Wiggins leaving Garmin-Transitions, there are no concerns about being paid. This was just the case of a rider wanting to leave his contract early for a team where both the rider, Wiggins, and management, Team Sky, wanted him to be. I don't support this type of behavior. Wiggins is a pro and he should have honored his contract with Garmin, especially since that team was responsible for his breakthrough season.
In fact, it is kind of ironic when you think about it. Garmin were the ones responsible for Wiggins becoming a bona fide Tour de France contender. Team Sky has a stated goal of having the first ever British winner of the Tour de France within five years. So, Garmin created the problem that caused Wiggins departure. Before you start feeling sorry for Jonathan Vaughters, it must be remembered that there was a buyout clause for Wiggins to go to Team Sky. Vaughters might not have Wiggins in 2010, but his bank account is definitely larger.
The third point is that there are some other factors which affect the validity of contracts. Not only am I not a labor lawyer, but we are are also talking about European Union labor laws and that makes things even more complex. I believe there are some laws which state that you can't force someone to work for someone if they don't want to. That's a pretty nebulous statement and, to be honest, I don't know the full ramifications of such laws. Suffice it to say that there may be more to honoring contracts in Europe than meets the eye.
Here are some more photos from the Team Radio Shack pre-season camp.
The boys coming back from their 100km training ride. Lance is leading the team with Levi to his left and Haimar Zubeldia on his right.
Chris Horner had a very up-and-down season in 2009. He showed signs of brilliance in the mountains during the Giro, but it seemed like everytime he was just about to hit his stride he went down in a crash. Here's hoping that he has much better luck in 2010 including a ride in the Tour de France.
The Trek-Livestrong U23 team was also training in Tucson at the same time as their professional big brothers. Taylor Phinney is the team leader of the squad. He won the U23 Paris-Roubaix and the World Championship in the 4000m pursuit in 2009 while he was still a teenager!
Jani Brajkovic is undoubtedly Slovenia's most talented cyclist. He had a breakthrough year in 2009, his best racing came at the Giro where he was very strong in the second and third weeks.
South African Daryl Impey is probably best know for being taken down in a sprint finish in the Tour of Turkey by Theo Bos. He is recovered and motivated to ride well.
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.
Today, September 1, the gag order on discussing rider transfers inside the pro peloton was lifted so a number of riders and teams were able to announce their key signings for 2010. Here's what's up.
Levi Leipheimer has signed a two-year deal with Lance Armstrong's Team Radio Shack. Team BMC made a strong run this summer to try and lure Levi to their team, but in the end Team Radio Shack won out probably based on the fact the Levi has had the best results of his career under Johan Bruyneel.
The Garmin-Slipstream team made a number of signings. To bolster their leadout train for fastman Tyler Farrar, the argyle crew signed South African sprinter Robbie Hunter who has won a stage of the Tour de
To fortify their classics campaign, they signed Johan Vansummeren who was most recently with Silence Lotto. He has finished top ten in Paris-Roubaix twice.
Peter Stetina, son of former US standout Dale Stetina, moves up from the development squad to the Pro Tour team. He rode exceptionally well against the likes of Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer at the Tour of Gila.
Tom Zirbel, the former distannce runner and current US road pro with Bissell brings his considerable time trialing talents to the team.
Fredrik Kessiakoff is a four time Swedish National Mountain bike champion who is currently riding with Fuji Servetto and will be looked on for his uphill talents.
Team BMC has acquired four big European stars, will next year be the year they ride the Tour?
Undoubtedly the biggest name coming to BMC is George Hincapie who leaves Team Columbia-HTC.
Marcus Burghart, who won a stage at the 2008 Tour de France also leaves Columbia-HTC for BMC.
Reigning World Road Race Champion Allessandro Ballan will move from Lampre to BMC.
Karsten Kroon has also been named to the BMC squad.
Last year, I kind of half-joked about Post Tour Depression (PDT) and how it was going to be a long wait before the flag dropped on another edition of the Tour de France. It seemed like there was still a lot going on in the cycling world so that while the 2009 Tour was still about 330 days away I was still not "jonesing" for a fix.
This year, things are different. I don't know if it is my lack of interest about what is going on in Europe and the US, cycling-wise, or maybe it was just that it was such a great Tour that nothing can compare. Let's face it, it was a great Tour. There was so much drama and so much attacking it was a feast for the cycling world. So, maybe I am suffering from a full belly.
One thing that is definitely contributing to the banality is the new rule by the UCI that riders cannot discuss with whom they are going to ride in 2010 until September 1. Frankly, this rule sucks. Back in the good, old days (and they really were the good, old days) all rider transfer information was made public on the first rest day of the Tour de France.
I don't know why the UCI decided that riders and teams needed to keep their plans for the coming season a secret for a couple of extra months. These guys are professionals. Even if they are moving to a new team next year, the will still ride as hard as they can for their current sponsor. To do anything less would jeopardize their value to future teams.
What is interesting is that some riders are respecting the UCI rule and declining to discuss their 2010 plans, while others don't seem to be too concerned about the rule and are openly detailing who they will be riding for next season. Hmmm. Do some riders just not know about the new rule or are they just not concerned about any repercussions from the UCI?
One thing that is definitely happening is that the cycling rumour mill is running at full speed, 24/7, churning out all sorts of "information". We all know that Lance Armstrong will be on Team Radio Shack in 2010, but for just about everyone else, the sky is the limit when it comes to speculation. There are even rumours of transfer for riders who are contractually obligated to their existing team for 2010.
Things seem to be getting a bit out of hand. I think the only cure for all the rumour mongering is a good, three-week stage race. Unfortunately, ever since it moved from April to September, the Vuelta a Espana, hasn't been a good three-week race. To be sure, some non-Spanish riders have been in contention, but even so, this really is an overwhelmingly Spanish affair. Viva Le Tour! Can we have an autumn version of the race?