On a very rainy day in the Vosges Mountains, Heinrich Haussler was off the front for over 100 miles, dropping his breakaway companion Sylvan Chavanel on the descent of the penultimate climb and soloing for almost 30 miles to victory. The Cervelo Test Team rider is better known for his sprinting prowess, winning stage 2 of Paris-Nice and almost beating Mark Cavendish at Milan-San Remo. But, today, he proved that once again in this year's Tour, anything can happen.
Undoubtedly the biggest news of the days was the non-start of Team Astana's Levi Leipheimer. He crashed on a left hand bend with 2.5 kilometers remaining yesterday, but appeared to be fine at the stage finish. However, the pain in his wrist worsened over night and a trip to the hospital in the morning revealed that it was broken.
I saw the crash and it just didn't look that serious. The tumble by Ryder Hesjedal the day before looked way more serious, but Hesjedal was basically unscathed. Leipheimer was enjoying one of his finest Tours sitting in fourth place overall and looking very comfortable and relaxed on the bike. It is a pity that Levi will not get to show his form in the Alps. In both 2006 and 2007, he was one of the few riders who seemed to get stronger in the third week.
The race leaders took it easy in the day's trying conditions, there were no changes to the overall standings other than Leipheimer's untimely withdrawal. Thor Hushovd managed to stay with the GC leaders over all the climbs and took second in the field sprint for sixth place which allowed him to take the green jersey off of Mark Cavendish's shoulders.
The Armstrong/Contador affair is interesting to watch. I asked Rolf Aldag, DS of team Columbia-HTC, about the perspective from the other teams.
Bruce: do you think Astana will destroy themselves with all the conflict?
Rolf: I think in the end, they are so strong as a team, that even if they ride against each other they will succeed whoever that will be. If you see how much resources they have. Until now they didn't need Leipheimer. They didn't need Kloden to ride. They still have so much resources that up until now they can easily control it with out making any decisions (about team leadership) so I think it stays wide open.
It is interesting to watch (the Armstrong/Contador battle) from the outside. If you don't have a hand in the game there it is really interesting to follow and wonder what are they going to do next.
When Lance was in the front in the crosswind there was definitely a big 'chapeau' from our team wondering how he managed that. Three years off he is definitely physiologically older, he is definitely focused on the race. So it was kind of 'Wow! He made it into that group'.
When Contador attacked up to Arcalis it was the same thing to say 'Wow. There is no way for us to go with him.' So we watched it and we were also like 'Phew'. It was a good attack. It was strong how he went to the finish.
Right now it is six and eight seconds so it is totally open. It is so exciting we are kind of like spectators in the first row. It is kind of funny.
Bruce: Does Contador need to be strong psychologically to do what he did?
Rolf: I think so, but I also think it is kind of a relief for him. He is as good as he is and he has to show it. If there is any doubt that he is good enough then he will be in bigger and bigger trouble. If he shows that he is good enough, that he is there because when he was not there in the break in the crosswinds, it was a big advantage for Lance. 'See. That is not my mistake that you haven't learned. That might happen to you everyday.'
Psychologically he (Lance) had a big, big advantage over Contador, but Contador now responded and said 'See. Even if I miss it I am strong enough to correct it.'
It is really exciting to follow that as long as we are not paying the bill which we are not going to do. Cavendish is no threat to Astana.
I finally had time to look through all the photos I shot in the past two weeks. Here are a bunch from the team time trial that I think you will find interesting.
There are some fit riders in the Tour.
Check out the Cervelo Test Team's motto on their shorts. It seems to be working as they have won two stages.
Flatting in a team time trial can cost a GC rider precious seconds and potentially minutes. The mechanics always wipe off the tires just before the start in case a piece of glass has found it's way into the rubber.
Tom Boonen packs a gel just in case he needs it during the 45+ minute effort.
Because of the logistics between the start and finish of the team time trial, Team Astana decided it needed another bus to park at the finish. Mechanic Geoff Brown got the call the day before and drove the second bus 700 miles (1100km) from Astana's European headquarters in Brakel, Belgium to Montpellier. The speed limit for busses is 60 mph(100kmh) so the trip took over 11 hours. He arrived only two hours before the stage start. He drove the bus 700 miles back to Belgium the next day.
The 107th edition of Paris-Roubaix was held on Sunday and it totally lived up to all the pre-race hype. The weather was both warm and dry which should have made those darn cobblestones a bit more friendly, but they seemed to dish out bad luck just at the wrong time. While there was strong riding at the front, the stones, or pave as they are called in France, played a huge role in the outcome.
At the finish heavy pre-race favorite Tom Boonen entered the velodrome by himself, calling his third victory the hardest yet. For the second weekend in a row, Tom was heavily marked, especially by former teammate, Filippo Pozzato, but the two-time World Champion showed his class by being in front when it counted and initiating the most decisive move of the race.
It could be argued that Boonen benefited from two untimely crashes which caused his five breakaway companions to lose contact, but Tom was active at the front throughout the last half of the cobbled sections. It was more a situation of creating opportunities than benefiting from bad luck. Boonen shed his final breakaway companion, Thor Hushovd, then the Norwegian was unable to follow him through a sharp, cobbled turn and went down.
Once again, American favorite George Hincapie had bad luck at just the wrong time. You have to hand it to George for trying to play a decisive role. He and his Columbia-High Road team worked very hard to be a factor in the race. When Hincapie missed the Boonen-led winning breakaway, George took it upon himself to drive the chasing peloton in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to bring the move back. One of these days an American is going to win this race and I hope George hangs around long enough to be that guy.
Besides Team Columbia-Highroad's disappointing race, the Saxo Bank squad also came up goose eggs in the finale. Bjarne's boys looked poised for another win with so many of their top riders at the front alongside Tom Boonen with about 40 miles remaining. Somehow, Boonen gave them slip and the team which won in 2006(Cancellara) and 2007(O'Grady) came up unexpectedly empty-handed.
Hats off to Garmin-Slipstream's Steven Cozza who made it into the early ten-man breakaway which lasted far longer than anyone expected. Making it through the cobbles of the Arenberg Forest upright and in the lead group was quite an accomplishment for the 24-year old Californian in his first attempt at the Queen of the Classics. Chapeau.
The biggest one-day race in Italy, Milan-San Remo, will take place on Saturday and a stellar field is expected to make the event unforgettable. Not only is Lance Armstrong going to ride the 190-miles from Italy's second largest city to the Italian Riviera, Mark Cavendish and Tom Boonen look to continue their sprinting duel on San Remo's Via Roma.
Of course, everyone was expecting a sprint finish last year when Swiss ace Fabian Cancellara gave everyone the slip after the descent of the Poggio, the race's final climb. It was the stuff of legends, unfortunately Spartacus is still recovering from a training crash and will not defend his win.
The big question is whether uber-sprinter Mark Cavendish of Columbia-High Road will get himself over the four major climbs which define the race. The biggest, the Turchino Pass, comes at mid-distance which will allow the Manx-man to get back on. It is more a question of the Cipressa (pronounced Chipressa), the penultimate ascent, and the Poggio (pronounced POcho) which comes within five miles of the finish line.
It is going to take a lot of teamwork for Cavendish to make it over the "capos" or "climbs", look for his faithful ally, Michael Barry, to be handling the babysitting duties up and over the Poggio with George Hincapie and Mark Renshaw as the key players in the Columbia-High Road leadout train.
On the other hand, Tom Boonen has proven that he can get to the Via Roma with the bunch, but he has been outfoxed in the finale and is definitely looking to the 2009 edition of MSR to set matters right.
Look for Lance Armstrong to use this race to gain some more "conditioning" working on being comfortable in a big pack at high speeds for seven hours plus. It would be a fairytale ending if Big Tex could pull off the win, but even Lance will tell you that unless the perfect opportunity arises, he is still in the training phase of his comeback. That's just the reality of the situation.
Unfortunately for us US cycling fans, the Versus TV network will not be carrying the race. It was great last year to see Garmin-Slipstream's Will Frischkorn off the front for almost the entire race in a three-rider break not to mention Cancellara's surprising upset win. Check for streaming video options on the internet. You won't be disappointed.
Mark Cavendish won his second stage of the Amgen Tour of California (AToC) in as many days once again besting Tom Boonen. The Columbia-High Road sprinter won the race's longest stage at 134 miles, but all eyes were looking southward toward Solvang where the most decisive stage of the race, a 15-mile individual time trial, will most like decide the winner of the 4th edition of America's biggest and best race.
While two-time overall champion Levi Leipheimer goes for the three-peat, the big question is whether Team Astana boss Johan Bruyneel will let Lance Armstrong go all out in the time trial. There may seem to be an obvious answer to the question, but with two difficult days in the mountains looming, Lance may need to save his strength to be able to defend Levi's jersey.
That, of course, is assuming that Levi keeps the jersey. He has owned the Solvang TT since its inception and his fitness and drive seem to indicate that he will continue his domination. With Lance as the closest placed teammate in fourth, just 30 seconds back, it might make sense to play it safe and let Armstrong go full gas. If Levi flats, crashes or just has a bad day, having someone who can step in and take over the race leadership is a big plus. That's exactly the role Levi played for Alberto Contador in last year's Vuelta a Espana. Levi finished second overall, but if Contador had come to grief, Team Astana would still have won the race. After all, it is all about the team.
However, if Levi does ride to the level we can expect, Lance may be needed to help defend the jersey in the final two days. If you remember the 2007 Tour of California, Jen Voigt was in second place behind Levi going into the time trial. The German went all out and almost won the race. But, in 2008, Jens held back inthe time trial because his teammate, Fabian Cancellara, was in second place to Levi and if Cancellara beat Levi and took the jersey, Jens' strength would be needed to defend the jersey.
All this discussion may be moot because Team Astana is the strongest squad in the race and even if Lance does go full gas, rider like Yaroslav Popvych, Jani Brajkovic, Chechu Rubiera and Chris Horner are clearly capable of working at the front to keep the jersey on Levi's shoulders.
Personally, I would like to see Lance unleashed just to see what he can do and where his fitness is at this time of year. I think Levi is a tad bit stronger than Lance so I still see Leipheimer winning, but a one-two finish is not out of the question.
Also, I like both Mic Rogers and Dave Zabriskie, the riders in second and third place overall and hope that they both ride well. It might be a bit too early for Rogers to ride the type of time trial we expect from a three-time World Champion in this discipline, but you never know. Dave Z is supremely motivated to do well, I hope he can pull out a good ride and keep his spot on the podium.
Sort of race notes:
Here are photos of some of the spectators along the course:
I hope I am not jinxing the race by welcoming the sun back to the great(well, kind of great, these days) state of California especially when I tell you that temperatures in the 70's might greet the riders in Solvang for the decisive time trial(TT). Just to be sure there was lots of snow lining the roads today in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, but the roads were dry and the temps were moderate.
All this adds up to a bluebird day for the AToC and the racers did not disappoint. Current US Pro Road champion, Tyler Hamilton(Rock Racing), Jason McCartney(SaxoBank) and Serge Pauwels(Cervelo Test Team) formed the break of the day and almost held it into Clovis. But, the sprinters and their teams timed the chase to perfection setting up for only the second bunch finish of the race. Unlike yesterday when the smart money was on sprint phenom Mark Cavendish (Columbia-High Road) and Thor Hushovd(Cervelo Test Team) stole the show, the Cav won by about two inches over another sprinter extraordinaire, Tom Boonen(Quick Step). The margin would most likely have been bigger if Cav hadn't started celebrating before he crossed the line, but that doesn't really matter. A win is a win.
So why did Cavendish seal the deal today, but come up empty-handed yesterday? The answer is in two parts. First off, the sprinter has to feel good enough to want to contest the sprint. In my interview with Tom Boonen yesterday, Tom was pretty adamant that he wasn't going to be going for it on wet roads and risk a crash that might end to his 2009 spring Classics season. That ruled out Tom yesterday, but Cavendish doesn't ride the spring classics to win. He is more a a pure sprinter and while he might try for a win in the flatter races such as Milan-San Remo, he won't be targeting monuments to cycling such as Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. So, that means that Cavendish will be going for sprint wins, even on wetter stages, as long as he feels good.
The second major part is the team's leadout train. These days, to win a big bunch sprint in a big race you either need to be significantly faster than everyone else or have a good group of guys who can set you up for the sprint. A leadout train basically revs up the pace to keep the speed high enough to prevent anyone from breaking away. Then, each rider pulls off at a pre-determined point orchestrated in such a way that their top sprinter hits the front with 150-200 meters to the finish line. The sprinter sits in the draft of his teammates until the very last minute then boom, off go the champagne corks.
Yesterday, in the sprint in Modesto, it appeared that Mark Cavendish was willing to give it a go, but in the final mile of the race, his leadout train got severely derailed. The final three riders in the train were George Hincapie, Mark Renshaw and Mark Cavendish ordered that way because Renshaw is faster than Hincapie and Cavendish is faster than Renshaw. The problem was that Renshaw couldn't hold Hincapie's wheel. It was probably not due to speed, more than likely there was too much 'barging'(pushing and shoving) and Renshaw just got pushed off of George's wheel.
Today, in Clovis, the sun clearly improved the spirits of all the riders, including the sprinters so Cav and Boonen were ready to contest the finish. And, unlike yesterday, the Columbia-High Road leadout train did not get derailed. On the flip side, Boonen's Quick-Step leadout train look disorganized. Advantage Cavendish.
Jason McCartney spent a long time off the front in both Stage 2 and today's stage, but has yet to grab the brass ring. I talked with him briefly after his long escape on the way to Santa Cruz. He was initially dropped by Quick Step's Carlos Barredo on the final climb, but he clawed his way back into the lead halfway up the climb. I asked him if he had a stage win in his sights, "Yeah, for certain, but I just kind of locked up at the end. It was cold out there and I just needed a little more freshness." Here is a photo of a very tired and cold McCartney embracing his family at the finish line.
I thought I would throw in this photo from yesterday of the riders heading out on the course from San Jose. Hopefully, this will be one of my last rain photos.
Tyler Hamilton won Amgen's Breakaway from Cancer Most Courageous Rider Jersey for his efforts in the breakaway today.
Not So Race Notes
Tomorrow, the race route will take the racers right past the location where legendary actor James Dean died in a tragic car accident in 1955. At about mile 98 they will pass the intersection of State Highway 46 and State Highway 41 where the accident occurred. Coincidentally, Dean was headed to Paso Robles, the site of the stage finish when he died. There is a memorial to Dean at the small diner at the intersection.
More powerful rain storms dogged the riders on stage 3 from San Jose to Modesto. The riders are pros and they don't complain, but they are clearly hoping for sunny skies and the pleasantries are wearing a bit thin. At the line it was Norwegian Thor Hushovd who won the stage for Gerard Vroomen's and Phil White's Cervelo Test Team. I spent a lot of time at the starting line talking with the riders and trying to find out how they are holding up.
With Jonathan Vaughters in Europe attending to his new duties as president of the professional rider's union, directorship of the Garmin-Slipstream team is being shared by former Discovery Channel pros Matt White and Chann McRae. I talked with Chann about the outstanding win by team member Thomas Peterson on yesterday's stage to Santa Cruz.
"The game plan was to get him (Tom Peterson) and Steven Cozza or Trent Lowe into the breakaway and they did that. Once they established the break the plan was to have Steven Cozza do most of the work with the other guys in the breakaway and have Peterson ride the last climb fairly fresh. We know that he (Peterson) is climbing well, he tested really well in the testing we did before we came out here and he backed it up. I told him there were two races, one was to be the first to the top of the climb, the second was for the finish line and he did both of those."
Stage winner Thomas Peterson gave his account of the win. "It (the plan) was perfect. I had already pre-ridden the course so I knew what to expect. I also knew that I could probably hold his wheel. It was a perfect situation." When asked about not sharing the pacemaking with Levi, Peterson explained, " He tried to wave me through a couple of times, but he knew I couldn't pull because Zabriskie and Danielson were back there."
Lance Armstrong is in fourth place overall, but he is riding this race in support of his teammate Levi. I asked him if he felt the team could defend the jersey. "We've got a good team. You are never totally sure, there are other strong guys in the race. The boys are strong. He's(Levi) motivated and he's obviously riding really well." When I asked him about how his comeback was progressing, he replied, "Not bad for an old man."
Floyd Landis has had his comeback derailed a bit by some bad luck, flatting out of the lead chase group on stage 1 into Santa Rosa, but he has been soldering on. I asked him how the weather was affecting his comeback and how he was holding up with all the rain. "The weather could be better, but the bike race is the same for everybody. Bike races are determined by training, strategy and sometimes luck. I think everyone would be much more pleasant if it was sunny but, we'll get through it."
Tyler Hamilton's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer a few months ago. His pre-season training has suffered as he returned to Boston to help her through her cancer treatments. Tyler reflected on his role with the team at the AToC. "I have no problem being in the support role. For me it is all about the team whether it is me up in front or Oscar Sevilla or Paco Mancebo it is all the same. Yesterday, I rode in the front all the way to the base of the last climb. For me that was a lot of fun. It is something different, but to be honest, I stayed warm, probably a lot warmer than the rest of the guys."
With all the highly publicized troubles the team has endured in the pre-season, a lot of people have written off Michael Ball's squad. Tyler summarized how the AToC has been going for Rock Racing. "We won a stage. We did a lot of work yesterday in defense of Paco's jersey. Unfortunately, he was still pretty beat up from the day before. But, we did our best and obviously Paco did his best so we will take it day by day now. Sevilla is looking very strong. He is our GC guy."
After an off day yesterday, Rock Racing's Francisco Mancebo looked in better spirits sporting the AToC Sprint Leader's jersey and several other accessories. I asked him how he was feeling. "Last night I tried to get as much rest as possible. We will see today if my strength has returned."
Tom Boonen, who won a stage in the AToC last year, has been absent from the front, even on the flatter stages. I asked him why he was hanging back and it was clear that the best Classics rider over the past four years has the legendary spring races on his mind and is holding back on contesting the sprints. "Yeah, but I don't like to do it(sprinting) in the rain. I was hoping that today was going to be a little bit better. I am trying to avoid the risks of crashing."
When reminded that the California weather was much like that found in Belgium, he jokingly replied "In Belgium it is 50F and good weather right now. The next time somebody says 'I hate to come to Belgium' They're going to mean California"
The weather report looks good for at least the next four days with rain nowhere in sight. It is also warming up.
The riders on the Ouch Medical Team are a true class act. Yesterday, as the racers came across the line I first asked Tim Johnson, then Rory Sutherland, for a quick interview. Both begged off citing the cold weather and the need to get to the team bus to warm up after five hours in the rain. This morning at the stage start both came up to me and apologized for not being able to give me an interview. True class.
The race organizers are concerned that, at 5200', the top of the Palomar Mountain climb might be in snow if the rain returns. They have an alternate route which eliminates the final seven miles of the Palomar climb by heading straight (south) on Highway 76 and doing a loop around Mesa Grande before returning to the original race route at the bottom of East Grade Road on Palomar Mountain. Mesa Grande is still a bit high at 3200', but should be snow-free.
Rob Jensen, owner of the Testarossa Winery in Los Gatos, hosted the Versus team, Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen, Craig Hummer, producers John Carter and Mike Long and me for a special wine tasting and dinner after the stage into Santa Cruz. It was a great time for everyone to sample some tasty wines and relax after some hard days in the saddle(so to speak). Thanks Rob (and his wife Diana).
The 2009 Amgen Tour of California(AToC) starts on Saturday (it's my valentine this year) and looks to be an E-ticket ride for a whole host of reasons. First off, Lance is back in the saddle and unlike the recently concluded Tour Down Under in Australia, he will be riding to help his teammate Levi Leipheimer's quest for a three-peat. That means you won't be seeing Lance hanging out in the back of the pack working on his tan. He will have to be on the front or off the front to be an effective domestique.
But it is not all about Lance as a number of very accomplished professionals are in attendance. The aforementioned Leipheimer, of Team Astana, looks very good for a three-peat, but Garmin-Slipstream's Christian Vande Velde, who finished fourth overall in last year's Tour de France and was on the podium a the AToC last year is a definite contender. Floyd Landis and Italian Ivan Basso are making comebacks after serving doping suspensions. Basso won't be on top form, but Landis, who won the inaugural AToC in 2006, could surprise.
The race route is extremely challenging with lots of climbing. Unfortunately, from a strategy and tactics standpoint, most of the really difficult ascents come too far from the stage finish to have an affect on the overall standings. The lone exception is Stage 2 on Monday from Sausalito to Santa Cruz where the final climb, Bonny Doon Road is long enough, six miles, and steep enough, the first two miles are 10% after that is is 4-7% to cause a selection. At the top of the climb a technical 10-mile descent drops the racers right into the finish. Look for a group of 3-10 riders to come to the line.
While the Bonny Doon climb will select the semi-finalists for the overall win, the time trial will choose the leader. As in the past three years, this 15-mile race against the clock will decide who will wear the golden fleece into the finish Sunday after next in Escondido.
While the race for the overall title usually takes center stage, look for former World Champion Tom Boonen and Britain's wunderkind, Mark Cavendish, to duke it out for wins on the flatter stages. I like Tom and one of his sponsors is the American bike company Specialized, but Cavendish seems even more motivated as his team's title sponsor, Columbia is headquartered on the west coast. Look for Boonen to take a stage and Cav to win on at least two days.
The weather will also make the race exciting, unfortunately for the wrong reasons. A series of major winter storms are lined up to come into Northern California starting on Sunday with daytime highs around 50F and snow levels of around 1500-2000 feet. There are several climbs in the race which eclipse that altitude so things may be white for the racers. Hopefully, the weather will not play a deciding factor. The racers are as tough as they come, but there is no need to turn it into a daily sufferfest.
Look for daily updates from behind-the-scenes at the race. It's going to be another week of unforgettable racing in California.
First it was Jan Ullrich getting popped for ecstasy. Then Gilberto Simoni was nailed for cocaine. Next, Tom Boonen tests positive for cocaine, as well. Now uber-swimming phenomenon, Michael Phelps, is taking bong hits. Of course, who could forget Ross Regabliati, the Canadian snowboarder who lost his gold medal he won in the 1998 Nagano Olympic Games after testing positive for marijuana.
Jan, Gilberto and Tom paid a pretty heavy price for their recreational drug use. Jan was suspended for six months, Gilberto was booted from a Giro he could have won and Boonen lost his ride at the Tour where he was a heavy favorite to take his second consecutive green(sprinter's) jersey. Their suspensions definitely affected their careers. I could be argued, that in the counter-culture, non-conformist world of snowboarding, Ross's dalliance may have been more of a positive for his aspirations. After all he did get his medal back. Maybe.
But, what is going to happen to Michael Phelps? He will probably lose a few endorsements, but will swimming's governing body feel a need to take action?
Yes, there are rules governing the use of recreational drugs in most sports, but is this a good thing? It can easily be argued that since most, if not all, recreational drug use is illegal there should be some sort of penalty. The penalty can take several forms. A national anti-doping agency can impose a suspension or ban. A jurisdictional body can hand down a fine or prison sentence.
What is not clear is if recreational drugs can have a positive affect on an athlete's performance. Yes, as mentioned above, an athlete is probably breaking the law by using them, but did they gain an advantage over their competition? Over fifty years ago, the drug of choice for cyclists were amphetamines. Clearly, this recreational drug could increase performance.
Much like the TV show Lost I am asking a lot more questions than providing answers. In Michael Phelps' case regardless of what the law and USA Swimming decide to do, he will lose some $$$. That seems fair to me. I can't tell him how to behave, but if he behaves in a manner which doesn't please his sponsors then he will have to answer to those sponsors.
In cycling, there appears to be a policy of zero tolerance to drug use of any kind. Not surprisingly, cycling is in the fight of it's life to try to keep and attract sponsors. Boyz will be boyz, but they better understand that everyone is watching.
It is almost July and that can mean only one thing. It's Tour time. In just over a week, some of the best riders in the world (condolences to Team Astana and Tom Boonen) will be toeing the line in Brest for the biggest show in cycling. It is both a blessing and a curse that Contador, Leipheimer and Boonen will not be there. With the both the favorites for the yellow and green jerseys not participating the race is wide open and it looks like this could be one of the most up and down editions of the Grand Boucle in years.
Personally, I would have like to seen Alberto, Levi and Tom at the start, they deserve to be there. Some may decide to show their support by boycotting the race and I respect that, but I will be there France trying to bring you all the behind-the-scenes insights that I provided last year. Look for my daily blogs and join in the fun by posting your thoughts as well!
One thing that I think is kind of funny in all of this is the position Cadel Evans finds himself. I think he is in a no-win situation. Remember he bookended teammates Contador and Leipheimer on the podium in the closest 1-2-3 finish ever at the Tour. If Evans does win many will say it is because Contador and also Leipheimer were not there. If Evans fails to win, he will be seen as inconsistent and someone who might just not be able to win the big one. Certainly, there will be champagne in Paris if he is victorious, but it will most likely be served warm.
Having said all that, I expect this to be a very exciting Tour. Much like the Giro this year which also suffered from the lack of a patron of the peloton, the Tour will be wide open, not only in terms of the competition, but also because there is no one to ride herd on the pack. Looks for lots of daily attacks and early moves by the favorites in the mountains. The yellow jersey could easily change hands between five or six of the major contenders.
So, clean out your TiVo, say goodbye to your loved ones, hang your bike on the rack in the garage, tell your boss that you will be late for work for the next three weeks and get ready for the total body experience which is the Tour de France. There is only one you know(TIOOYK).
Belgian uber-cyclist Tom Boonen recently tested positive for cocaine. The result came from an out-of-competition test and since cocaine is only considered to be performance enhancing during competition the Belgian Cycling Federation(BCF) won't be pursuing any sanctions against the 2008 Paris-Roubaix winner. More than likely this was a case of recreational drug use, but possession and use of cocaine is illegal in Belgium.
While the BCF will not be imposing any ban on Boonen, there is already some fallout in the cycling community. The Tour of Switzerland, which starts on June 14th, has indicated that it might not invite Boonen, who is targeting the event as preparation for the Tour de France. Speaking of the Tour, race officials decided that the winner of the green, sprinters, jersey last year will not be invited to their race, either. Citing a need to protect the integrity of the Tour, race organizers have decided to exclude the Belgian from their event.
In a sport that has been rocked by a seemingly endless string of doping scandals the finding of recreation drug use among the pro cyclists isn't all the shocking. In 2002, two-time Giro winner Gilberto Simoni also tested positive for cocaine and was tossed out of the Giro. He came back to win the event the following year. Jan Ullrich, the 1997 Tour de France winner, tested positive for the designer drug ecstasy while sidelined with a knee injury in 2002. He was suspended for six months by the German Cycling Federation.
Probably the most famous recreational drug use case took place in the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics when Canadian snowboarder Ross Regabliati was stripped of his gold medal after testing positive for marijuana. His gold medal was reinstated.
Should testing positive for recreational drugs be taken as seriously as performance enhancing drugs(PED)? Is this just a case of 'boys will be boys' or is breaking the law just as serious as taking PEDs. What are your thoughts?
Two of the greatest sporting events took place this past weekend, one favorite prevailed, another came up short. While most of us are participants in the sports we follow very few of us ever reach the highest levels. That's OK, I am not going to get into a religious/scientific debate about genetics and evolution, but my guess is that is the way it is supposed to be. To be sure, we set goals for ourselves and strive to reach them, however we usually aren't performing in front of a live crowd and a television audience in the millions.
While it depends on the specific sport, professional athletes in the most popular athletic endeavours do feel pressure from sponsors and fans to do well. One of the characteristics of the best athletes is how they respond to that pressure.The word 'choke' describes how some athletes deal with the pressure. On the other end of the spectrum is the word 'clutch'. Hey, but I am not telling you something you don't already know and if asked you could probably come up with a list of 'clutch' players and 'chokers' for your favorite sport.
It is hard to use the words 'Tiger' and 'choke' in the same sentence since, on the golf course, Mr. Woods is the most consistent golfer in the world. He's been ranked number one for so many years he makes Roger Federer's accomplishments look human. Using the words 'Boonen' and "clutch' is almost passe, he's won so many big races that he is almost expected to win. The fact that he triumphs when he is expected to win is what makes his victories so special and amazing.
Does Tiger's second place at the Masters and failure to mount a charge when the eventual winner fired a 3-over par 75 on the final, albeit windy, day make him a choker? Did he succumb to the pressure or was he just a bit off his game? You have to feel sorry for Tiger. If he doesn't win a major he is considered a loser.The guy beats ever other golfer save one and he has to answer questions about what happened. If money can buy happiness then he shouldn't feel bad for long, but you and I both know that what drives Tiger Woods isn't the size of his bank account.
Tom Boonen not only won the Queen of the Classics, Paris-Roubaix, but he did it in masterful fashion, going off the front and proving without a doubt that he was one of the strongest, if not the strongest rider in the race. With two of the other heavy favorites, Fabian Cancellara and Juan Antonio Flecha for company in the three-up break, it was an epic duel in the making. In a recent interview I did with Cancellara, he mentioned that the pressure on Boonen to win in Belgium(Paris-Roubaix is on the Franco-Belgian border) and in the classics is huge, something he(Cancellara) would have difficulty handling.
In the end, both Tiger and Tom gave us memorable performances though only one was declared the winner. Dealing with pressure at any level reveals our character.Let's hope we can learn from watching both of these elite athletes perform on the world's stage.
Even though we have had three days of very exciting racing at the Amgen Tour of California (AToC), the real race for the overall title begins tomorrow with a potentially epic stage over the 4,200-foot Mount Hamilton and the 2,000-foot Sierra Road, which boast grades of up to 15 percent as it climbs 1,800 feet in 3.8 miles. Expect to see riders like Levi Leipheimer, Jens Voigt, Jason McCartney, Tom Danielson, Robert Gesink, Chris Horner and Janez Brajkovic in the mix in the final miles of the stage.
The big guns will be firing and with cloudy skies and the potential for a few showers, the stage could take on epic proportions. This is clearly the hardest road stage ever held in the AToC's young history and will undoubtedly see a small group of riders who are not considered contenders for the overall title go up the road even before the Mount Hamilton climb. These "no-hopers" may even stay clear to the top of Mount Hamilton and all the way to the base of the brutal Sierra Road, but look for their shot at stage glory to be erased on the slopes of the AToC's signature climb.
As legendary cycling photographer Graham Watson put it, "Levi doesn't need to win in San Jose, he just needs to shed himself of some of his competitors." Yeah, baby! The race is on!
In other notes, Slipstream/Chipotle rider Tyler Farrar who took over the AToC leader's jersey has a bit if difficult to pronounce last name. It's 'Farra' to you, just like that Charlie's Angel who used to be married to Ryan ONeal.
Scott Nydam who, like his BMC Racing teammate Jackson Stewart the day before, went on a long solo break on Stage 2 from Santa Rosa to Sacramento. Scott lives in Sebastapol which is close to the stage start. He told me he had several reasons to go off on a raining day in search of glory. First off, his father was recently diagnosed with leukemia and though the cancer is in remission, he wanted to do something for his dad. Secondly, Scott is a climbing specialist and was disappointed with how he rode on the Coleman Valley ascent yesterday especially since he trains a lot on that climb and knows it well. Good on ya, Scott.
And it appears that Super Mario is back. While he lost the final sprint to his heir apparent, Tom Boonen, Super Mario definitely seems to be enjoying what he calls his second career on the bike. A podium finish in Sacramento was a huge result for the upstart Rock Racing team. Michael Ball's squad appears to be settling into a rhythm and has put the first few turbulent days behind them. Rumor has it that Rock Racing may get the 25th and final team spot for the first classic of the season, Milan-San Remo, a race Il Leone has won and his teammate Freddie Rodriguez has finished second.