Sports history was made on Sunday as Kelly Kulick became the first woman to win a men's Professional Bowler's Association event, the 45th Tournament of Champions. I know a few years ago ultra-distance runner Ann Trason beat some men in an ultra run competition, but this is a much more significant event given the depth of competition in bowling, and more specifically, professional bowling.
What is also significant is that unlike other professional sports like golfing, the women compete on exactly the same setup as the men. There are no "women's tees" like there are in golf. The bowling pins aren't closer together or lighter for the women. It is exactly the same equipment as the men. So, chalk one up for the ladies.
Of course, there is the bigger picture discussion as to whether bowling really is a sport. I was disappointed to learn that the normal bowling balls have an especially-designed center to give the ball the curving motion so necessary to roll a strike. That's why bowling aficionados have a special ball which rolls straight for picking up spares. Is that fair?
But, in the end there are enough factors in the plus column that we can probably call bowling a sport. Just try telling someone from Wisconsin that kegglers aren't true athletes.
BTW, the reason I am talking about bowling rather than cycling is that the Tour Down Under going on in Australia this week was a bit of a snoozer. Except for Cadel Evans' big attack on Old Willunga Hill (and it is a hill and not a mountain), the HTC-Columbia team took over where they left off last year and totally dominated the race with Andre Greipel winning three of the six stages en-route to victory.
You can't really blame an early season race for being a bit boring. Most riders are using an event such as this to hone their racing form for the bigger events coming up later in the year. But, the organizers could throw some challenges into a couple more of the stages to break things up a bit.
Any doubts that Lance wasn't serious about his comeback were dispelled on Tuesday(well, Wednesday Australian time) when the 130+ riders contested the Tour Down Under's second hardest stage. On paper, the race as a whole looks pretty tame, but the speeds have been high and the temperatures even higher creating a real baptism by fire for Lance 3.0.
Lance didn't win the stage. Lance didn't even contest the sprint. However, with about 15 miles to go, Lance, being Lance, took a dig and broke away. It was a moment when the race was on the verge of completely disintegrating demonstrating that the Texan can still read a race (and probably listen to Bruyneel on the radio) and time an attack to have maximum benefit.
If the stage had been a tad bit harder, my guess is that Lance would have had a better chance of staying away. As it was, the sprinter's teams were just able to smell the finish line so it all came together and a bunch gallop to the line ensued. Yeah, yeah, yeah, but we got to see Armstrong once again off the front in a pro race. That was definitely worth it, even if a former Discovery Channel rider not named Lance ended up winning the stage. Kudos to Allan Davis.
Also worth mentioning is that the back half of the field did lose contact before the finish. Lance made the split to the front group, once again showing that he is pretty darn fit as well as being motivated.
OK, the Tour Down Under is not all about Lance. Besides Team Astana there are 17 other ProTour teams and the like of Team Columbia, Rabobank, Quick Step, Garmin-Slipstream, Lotto, Saxo Bank, Euskatel/Euskadi and Katusha have all shown themselves at the front. Good on ya, all!
In only three days, Lance Armstrong (AKA Lance 3.0) will enter his first professional competition since he announced his comeback. Armstrong will take part in Australia's Tour Down Under(TDU) which starts Tuesday, January 20th. As Oz is a day ahead of the USA, Lance's re-debut will actually be occurring here in the US on Monday. There is a possibility that he will ride the 30-mile Cancer Classic race on Sunday (Saturday in the USA), but the real race begins on Tuesday.
How Lance 3.0 will perform is, of course, the hot question. Word from inside the Armstrong camp is that Lance's most recent performance test had the Texan measured at 440 peak watts at threshold. As a comparison, Lance's best number during his Tour de France winning streak was about 450 watts. Not surprisingly, being at 440 watts this early in the season and also this early into his comeback put him way ahead of his schedule and prompted coach Chris Carmichael to suggest that Lance 3.0 take a few days off the bike.
But, is Lance really taking this race seriously when he has basically only been talking about the Giro, in May, and the Tour, in July? He has clearly taken some serious steps in his preparation to insure that he will be as acclimated as possible for the TDU. He spent the last several week on the big island of Hawaii acclimating not only to the Australian heat which can reach 100+F, but also the time zone change. Also, a photo of him taking a training break with his GF Anna Hansen revealed a totally ripped body; he looked even better than some of the years he triumphed in France.
So, it seems like Lance has brought his A game to the TDU. He is being paid a reported $1 million (probably US dollars) to start the race, but that money is not going into Lance's pocket rather it is earmarked for cancer research. Unfortunately, the six-day race offers little challenges in the way of climbs or time trials. The longest significant hill is only about 2.5 miles long.
Lance needs to find his racing legs meaning that he needs to feel comfortable on the bike going 30mph and riding in a pack of 100 riders doing the same. It seems like the safe bet for Lance 3.0 is to hang out in the pack and let the sprinters fight it out for the stages and overall glory. But, something inside me says that Lance won't be content to be just 'pack fodder' and that during at least one of the stages he will bust a move if only to be out in front, face in the wind, for a few miles before the sprinter's teams close it down for the finishes.
It's a new year and that means that the start to the pro cycling season is just around the corner. There is a greater buzz in 2009 than in the past few years because Lance Armstrong will be back in the saddle again. No, that's not a bad country western (is it country western or country and western) lyric? The Lanceman is hitting the road and we are all coming along for the ride. But, before you get all huffy about the apparent Lance overload in the press, this blog isn't about Lance.
Back in the day, the pros started the season in very early February. A number of races have held the honor of ushering in the new year. The Tour of the Etruscan Coast held just down the street from Paolo Bettini's place in Tuscany was a great way to kick off the season. The Etoille de Besseges in France and the Ruta del Sol (AKA Tour of Andalucia) were also in the mix.
But, recently a number of events in other continents have forced the pros to log some major miles before Christmas. The Tour Down Under in Australia and the Tour of Qatar, in Asia(well the Middle East), run by ASO, the company which owns the Tour de France are becoming very popular with the pro teams.
If you are a top flight professional team like the boys at Garmin-Slipstream, just when you want to have your whole squad together for a pre-season camp, everybody seems to be heading more than a handful of time zones east and west. This year the Garmin-Slipstream boys have obtained(how about 'earned') a ProTour license which means they will have to be at the Tour Down Under in Oz as that is the first event of the ProTour calendar.
Because the Tour of Qatar is owned by our friends at ASO, even though the Garmin-Slipstream team is guaranteed a start in the Tour de France because of an agreement signed by the UCI, which owns the ProTour, and the three grand tour organizers(Giro, Tour, Vuelta) there are a lot of other ASO-owned races like Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Criterium International that the Garmin squad would like to be present at the start line.
So, when the Garmin-Slipstream team heads to Silver City, New Mexico later this month, only 12-14 of the team's 25+ riders will be there for the pre-season camp.That's just the way things work these days. The world has gotten a lot smaller when it comes to professional cycling.