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January and early February mean its pro team camp time.  Every year I attend

five to seven of the pro team camps, it's a great time to catch up with the

riders and lay some foundation for the season ahead.  This year, I stopped in

to see a number of teams such as the BMC, Health Net-Maxxis, High Road Sports

with trips to several others like CSC still upcoming.

 

The Health Net-Maxxis Professional Cycling Team camp is always fun.  These guys

can ride bikes evidenced by their fourth straight NRC team crown in 2007 as

well as the individual NRC crown with Australian rider Rory Sutherland.  The

team is a mix of cagey veterans like recently crowned National Cyclocross

Champion, Tim Johnson, and Kirk Obee, hard-as-nails Australians such as

Sutherland and Karl Menzies (he'll tell you he's actually Tasmanian), up-and-

comers like Frank Pipp and Phil Zaijeck and young guns like Matt Crane and John

Murphy.

 

The program for the media/sponsor day was to ride with the team from our

hotel in downtown Solvang and preview the 15-mile course for the upcoming

Stage 5 time trial in the Tour of California.  We rolled out at a talking

pace, the idea of the ride was to get to know everybody and not to break too

big of a sweat.  That's fine with me.  Bonding on the bike is always a great

experience.  There are times when it is best to hold back the endorphins and

just enjoy the ride.

 

 

When we finished our loop it was clear that the team was up for some more miles

and at a little bit more uptempo pace.  So, I tagged along with the boys for a

rendezvous with Figueroa Mountain.  Along the way we passed Michael Jackson's

Neverland Ranch and as we hit the base of the 3200' climb, I remembered what

Clint Eastwood said at the end of Magnum Force, "a man's got to know his

limitations."  I said farewell to the team and headed back home. Later, I

found that I had chosen wisely as noted climbing specialist Matt Cooke lit the

afterburners on the ascent, turning a fun group ride into an all-out sufferfest.

 

At this time of the year, my idea of suffering is watching Simon on American

Idol.  But, if the Health Net-Maxxis squad is going to win their fifth

consecutive NRC title, they need to lay down some serious smack this early in

the season.  Judging by their fitness and attitude, this is going to be a good

year.

 

Bruce

1,140 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand, health-net-presented-by-maxxis-professional-cycling-team, tim-johnson, kirk-obee, rory-sutherland, karl-menzies, frank-pipp, phil-zaijeck, matt-crane, john-murphy

I recently wrote about the split between the UCI and the grand tour organizers

enabling the bosses of the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana

free to invite any team they wanted to their races.  Well, the Giro d'Italia

announced its invited teams and judging by the prominent names left off the

list, the free market in cycling has arrived.

 

To be sure, before the inception of the UCI's Pro Tour, there was a free market

in professional cycling, but things were so bad during the Pro Tour, it seems

like a re-birth of the free market.  By free market, I mean the ability of the

individual races to determine which teams get to ride their events.  If the Tour

de France want to invite only amateur teams from the state of Rhode Island it is

now their choice to do so.  However, if the perceived quality of the race

suffers and fans go elsewhere then the Tour bosses only have themselves to

blame.

 

That may not seem so far-fetched.  Back in the early 80's, in some people's eyes

the Tour de France was getting boring.  So, in an attempt to add some excitement

to the race, the organizers extended invitations to several amateur teams

including those from the US, Russia and Colombia.  Only the Colombians came, but

it ushered in the era of the Colombian climber and the likes of Lucho Herrera

and Fabio Parra won stages and stood on the podium at the Tour.

 

That's how a free market works.  You develop a product. You market it. If people

like it.  They buy it.  That may seem to be a pretty simple formula, but it

isn't.  Yes, the race organizers can be totally arbitrary in which teams they

include, but for credibility sake, they need to be objective with the criteria

they will use for determining who will ride.  In this year's Giro, the

organizers excluded several teams including Astana and the former T-Mobile

Team, now called Team High Road Sports, because of concerns over doping.

 

Hey, that is their prerogative, but what about Michael Rasmussen's Rabobank

team and Team LPR which included Danillo DiLuca who is serving a three-month

suspension for a non-analytical doping offense?  That just doesn't make sense

to me.  Oh well, hopefully, saner heads will prevail at the organization

which runs the Tour de France and there will be no seemingly arbitrary decisions

about who will toe the starting line in July.

 

Bruce

1,413 Views 5 Comments Permalink Tags: tour-de-france, bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand, giro-d'italia, uci, vuleta-a-espana, high-road-sports, astana

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

Posted by Bruce E Hildenbrand Jan 31, 2008

Enough is enough.  It's California for heaven's sake.  Hey, I did my time in

the midwest, riding indoors while staring at the TV playing old Tour de France

videos.  Bicycling is supposed to be fun, not work. Those trainer sessions just

seemed to be endless studies in boredom.  I want to be out on my bike and not

freezing my butt off and getting drenched by rain.

 

OK. If you don't live in California or some other warm winter climate, you

don't need to get out the violin.  In fact, I am not looking for any sympathy

from you all locked in a white winter.  I understand that we have it better,

weather-wise in Arnold-country, but I am just tired of dreary skies and gloomy

weather forecasts.

 

The weather-liars told me last night that the rain wouldn't hit my area until

late in the afternoon.  Then why, pray tell, was I topping out on the first

climb of the day before noon in pouring rain and 40F temps?  The only thing

worse then riding uphill in the rain is going downhill and when you are wet

and freezing and a long way from home, there is not much you can do.  Self

pity doesn't turn the pedals and even though I was headed downhill, you can

only coast so far.  Sticking out a thumb is a total admission of wimpiness.

Being a guy, that is definitely the absolutely last resort!

 

So, I soldiered on, not really hating life, more wondering why it always seemed

to be raining on me.  Obviously, our maker isn't singling me out for any extra

grief, but sometimes it seems like I am being punished for the sins of others.

Philosophizing does take my mind off of the wet and cold and as long as the car

drivers behave, it always seems like I get home somehow and will all my body

parts intact.

 

Don't cry for me Argentina.  My memory is pretty poor.  I am sure this latest

episode in unpleasantness will not have any noticeable affect on my behavior

and sooner, rather than later, I will find myself once again, soaked to the

skin, shivering like mad and wondering why I decided to head out for a ride

on a day like this.  Your mileage may vary.

 

Bruce

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Get a Grip

Posted by Bruce E Hildenbrand Jan 29, 2008

I have the opportunity to ride with a lot of US and European pros.  As a bit

of self preservation and so they will invite me back to ride with them, a

question I often ask is 'what upsets you the most about people's riding styles?'

One thing they mention is cyclists not keeping a good grasp of their handlebars.

You have to remember that the pros ride their bikes for a living and if they

are not riding due to a crash, they are not fulfilling their contract.  Which

means they try to avoid crashing as much as possible.

 

Well, duh?  It sucks going down.  But, there are a few things you can do to

minimize the occurrence and one the pros look for is how a rider grasps his/her

handlebars.  They tell me that you should never just rest the palms on the tops,

your thumb or your fingers should always be hooked under the bars.  This may

seem like a no-brainer.  Keeping a good grip on the bars means that if you hit

an unforeseen bump, your hands won't go flying off and you won't go falling

down.

 

However, when I am out riding I see a lot of recreational cyclists just resting

their hands on top of the bars.  Don't get me wrong, you don't have to hold onto

the handlebars with a death grip.  In fact, over-gripping the bars may be one

reason some riders rest their palms on the tops; they are giving their fingers

a much-needed break.  Just keep either your thumb or several of your fingers

under the bars and apply enough grip to keep them there.

 

This issue is actually at the center of a court case in Scotland where a cyclist

on a group ride was seriously injured when the rider at the front of the

paceline crashed.  The injured cyclist is maintaining that the lead rider in a

group has a responsibility to ride safely. Since the leader's hands flew off

the bars, causing the crash, he was clearly not riding safely.

 

I don't know if I would go as far as to take the matter to court, but I do

believe that, especially during group rides, everyone has the responsibility to

ride as safely as possible and that means keeping a good grip on your

handlebars.

 

Bruce

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Perfection

Posted by Bruce E Hildenbrand Jan 28, 2008

I was watching the US National Figure Skating Championships the other night on

TV.  I once dated an Olympic hopeful, which meant I spent a lot of time video

taping her practices and studying the film afterward.  I guess it is no big

revelation, but the secret to doing well in figure skating is to be perfect,

or as nearly perfect as you can be and hope that your competition is less

perfect than you.

 

So, I got to thinking, we know that perfect in figure skating is nailing all

your jumps and making it looks both graceful and easy.  But, what is "perfect"

in cycling terms.  Sure you could lead the Tour de France from start to finish,

winning every stage, taking every jersey and finishing in another time zone

from all your competitors, but history has shown that  is far from likely.

 

On further thought, and trying very hard not to sound like Dr.Phil, perfect is

different for every cyclist, except for those who want to lead the Tour de

France from start to finish, win every stage and take every jersey.......

There is no one thing that all cyclists will agree is the definition of perfect

on a bike.

 

Am I trying to show my sensitive side?  I hope not.  Most people I know think

that only comes out on Groundhog Day and only then if Pauxatauny Phil sees his

shadow.  I guess what I am trying to get at is what puts a smile on your face

when you are out riding your bike?  For me, it is a multitude of things.  Doing

a long, tough ride with my buds and still feeling like a human being afterward

gives me a warm glow.  Likewise, stashing a $20 bill in my jersey and heading

out into unknown territory for an all-day ride of discovery also floats my

boat.

 

Maybe it is easier to describe a non-perfect ride.  Anything involving multiple

flat tires, bonking and/or running out of water when it is 90+ degrees

definitely qualifies in my book.  Crashing is another no-brainer but, picking

oneself up and getting back on the bike, whether it is the same day or weeks

later can lead to perfection.

 

Hey, maybe I am rambling a bit and you all don't really care if a ride is

perfect or not.  Maybe it is like the old adage, a bad day of fishing beats a

good day at work.  I don't know, maybe it is time to go for a ride.

 

Bruce

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The Way Things Work

Posted by Bruce E Hildenbrand Jan 27, 2008

Congratulations to the Slipstream/Chipotle team for its second place finish in

the first stage of the Tour of Quatar.  Jonathan Vaughter's boys were a scant

two seconds back of Tom Boonen's Quick Step squad in the opening stage, a

6km Team Time Trial(TTT). You might all be wondering, what's the big deal about

second place in an early season race in a country most of us couldn't even

point out on a globe!

 

Well, unlike the NFL which owns all the events it sanctions, in cycling,

individual race organizers and corporations such as ASO own and promote the

races while the NFL-equivalent, the UCI, just exists as the sanctioning body.

OK, the UCI, with its Pro Tour, tried to become more than just the sanctioning

body, but we have all seen how that has worked out.  It is best to leave race

promotion to the professionals.

 

So, if you are a team, and you want to get into a race, you have to catch the

eye of the race promoter.  Winning big races is one way to catch the eye, but

if you can't get into the big races unless you prove yourself, then you have

a Catch-22.  Enter races such as the Tour of Quatar.  These early season,

predominately low-key, events are the perfect platform for up and coming teams

to show race organizers that they can play with the big boys.

 

And, it doesn't hurt that the Tour of Quatar is owned by ASO, the same company

which organizes the Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix and a whole host of the top

professional races.  So, if you are a team like Slipstream/Chipotle presented

by H30(say that fast three times) then the pressure is on in Quatar and they

delivered.

 

Also participating in Quatar is the BMC Professional Cycling Team which, while

not hoping for a slot in the Tour in 2008, is hoping for a wild-card invite to

some of the one day races, such as Paris-Roubaix, owned by ASO.  The boys in

black finished 12th just 12 seconds behind the winners and 10 clicks behind

their American counterparts.

 

Hopefully, ASO and other race promoters are taking notice and we will see more

American teams and US riders in the biggest and best races on the professional

cycling calendar.  Yeah, Paolo Bettini and Tom Boonen are exceptional racers,

but I want to be cheering for a homie when the season gets into full swing.

 

Bruce

1,242 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: tour-de-france, bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand, paris-roubaix, aso, tour-of-quatar, slipstream-chipotle-presented-by-h3o, bmc-professional-cycling-team, tom-boonen, paolo-bettini

 

Rumours circulating in the media indicate that Amaury Sports Organization(ASO),

the company which owns the Tour de France, may not invite Team Astana to the

2008 edition of the race.  That leaves defending Tour champion Alberto Contador

and America's best stage race rider, Levi Leipheimer, on the bench for

professional cycling's biggest show.

 

One of low points in last year's Tour was Team Astana's Alexandre Vinokourov

testing positive for non-homologous blood doping which resulted in the whole

team being sent home.  The fallout from the affair saw a complete overhaul of

the squad, which is sponsored by a group of Kazakstani government-owned

businesses.  Johan Bruyneel, who directed Lance Armstrong and his USPS/

Discovery Channel team to seven tour wins plus the win last year by Contador,

was brought in to rescue and rebuild the squad.  Gone are almost all of the

team personnel and any rider who had doping problems, including Vinokourov.

 

Unfortunately, Contador still has a shadow hanging over him with regards to

Operacion Puerto; the initials AC appear on a questionable document.  Contador

has declared his innocence, but in the world of denials by confessed dopers,

such as Marion Jones, the Tour champion's words seem to have had little affect

on the head honchos at ASO.

 

As I reported in an earlier blog, with the Tour de France dropping out of the

Pro Tour, the organizers at ASO now have complete control over which teams will

ride their race.  At the 2007 Tour, ASO chief Christian Prudhomme told me that

in 2008 the Tour would be run under ASO's rules and not the UCI's and now that

has happened.  Hey, ASO owns the Tour, they can decide to do whatever they

please.  Way back in 1930, Tour boss and founder, Henri Desgrange, didn't

invite the 1929 winner, Belgian Maurice De Waele, to the race supposedly

because he didn't like how he won the previous year.  I guess some people grow

on you as Desgrange invited De Waele back to the Tour the next year.

 

I think this sends a pretty clear message to Team Astana that the ball is in

their court and they need to take some pro-active steps to assure Contador's

innocence.  The question is, if Contador's words are not sufficient, what does

he and his team need to do to prove their innocence?  Hopefully, the Tour

bosses and Johan Bruyneel can come up with reasonable criteria so that everyone

feels like this issue has been dealt with fairly.  It would be a shame not to

have the defending champion and also our native son, Levi, excluded from the

Tour on scurrilous grounds.

 

 

Bruce

 

 

2,195 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: tour-de-france, bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand, team-astana, johan-bruyneel, alberto-contador, levi-leipheimer, aso

The Doping Problem

Posted by Bruce E Hildenbrand Jan 23, 2008

Good news on the doping front (when have we heard that, lately?). It appears

that the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), organizers of the Amgen Tour of

California(AToC) have teamed with USA Cycling and the United States Anti-Doping

Agency(USADA) to bring tight doping controls to the 2008 AToC. The controls

appear to be a manifestation of the "biological passport" adopted by the World

Anti-Doping Agency(WADA) at its recent summit in Madrid.

 

Briefly, the biological passport is a history of an athlete's drug testing and

biological parameters (haematocrit, testosterone levels, etc.) which will be

used to set a baseline physiology and also record of when he/she has been

tested to determine if an athlete is within those parameters or taking performance

enhancing drugs(ped's). Interestingly enough, during an interview I conducted

with then-USADA chief, Frank Shorter, way back in 2001, this exact subject came

up and Frank, the 1972 Olympic Gold Medalist in the marathon, was a huge

proponent of a testing passport.

 

One of the things I vowed to do with this blog was to keep the frequency of my

postings on doping to a minimum. To be sure, we need to have a dialog about

this subject because it seems, right now, to be plaguing our sport.  But there

are so many other interesting things to talk about. But, this recent development

is pretty darn big.

 

AToC race director, Jim Birrell, told me that in 2006 the total cost of dope

testing at the race was $2300. This year, according to the agreement, over

$100,000 will be spent in an attempt to insure a clean race. That's some

major coin and it represents, IMHO, a very serious and aggressive attempt to

re-instill the confidence in the fans of the sport that the riders are, indeed,

exceptionally gifted athlete's with a burning desire to be first across the

line.

 

Will money, which means increased frequency of testing and more tests, solve

the problem? After last year's Tour de France, I sent a proposal to the race

organizers to help restore credibility to their event. I proposed that they

include a new procedure during the time trials that as each rider crosses the

finish line, they are escorted to doping control to give blood and urine.

Unlike the road stages, where bunch finishes are common, in the time trials,

each rider crosses the line at about 1-2 minute intervals. With four or five

teams of sample takers each rider could be serviced in a prompt manner and

then sent on to their team bus.

 

However, proposals such as mine take major benjamins. But, if the sport is

going to survive, maybe that is the only solution. Some of the major

professional teams such as Slipstream/Chipotle, High Road Sports and CSC have

invested beacoup bucks to test their riders, out-of-competition.  Maybe it is

time for the other pro teams and also the UCI to follow suit and increase their

out-of-competition testing.

 

Whadda you all think?

 

Bruce(BEH)

1,127 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: tour-de-france, bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand, tour-of-california, slipstream-chipotle, team-csc, team-high-road-sports, aeg

In 2005, the UCI, the governing body of cycling, created the Pro Tour in an

attempt to form a season-long competition involving the premier European pro

races. Unfortunately, the organizers of the premier European races such as

the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana, known as the grand tour

organizers, were skeptical of the real reasons behind the UCI forming the

Pro Tour.

 

Over the past three years of its existence the Pro Tour has been a rocky road.

At the end of 2007, the UCI and the grand tour organizers agreed to remove the

grand tours and the other races put on by the grand tour organizers such as

Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Milan San Remo from the Pro Tour.  So,

instead of the original 30 races, the 2008 edition of the Pro Tour will have 16

races. Is this divorce and new version of the Pro Tour a good thing for

professional cycling?  I think it is and for a lot of good reasons.

 

First off, the UCI needs to prove that it can manage and promote a premier

race series on its own. Trying to latch onto races like the Tour de France,

Giro d'Italia and Paris-Roubaix, which are already wildly popular, is like

coming in to close a game with two outs, two strikes in the ninth inning with a

ten run lead. It doesn't prove the UCI's capabilities to deliver what they

promised with the Pro Tour, notably to grow cycling by increasing it's

popularity and sponsorship.

 

Secondly, the Pro Tour was an huge burden to the already established events

because its 20 team format severely limited the wild card invitations a race

organizer could offer non-Pro Tour teams. This caused a real have and have-not

situation. If you weren't a Pro Tour team, your squad was unlikely to get the

opportunity to prove yourself on the world's stage. A few teams, like

Barloworld at last year's Tour, got the chance and they stepped up their game

several notches and were one of the real bright moments in France last July.

 

This is great news for the two US teams, Slipstream-Chipotle and BMC Racing,

who are trying to gain a ticket into Europe's big races. Slipstream just

received an invite to the Giro. Would that have happened under the Pro Tour

system last year? BMC and Slipstream are also looking for a slot in the Queen

of the Classics, Paris-Roubaix.  With 2004 winner, Maggy Backstedt on his

roster, Jonathan Vaughter's Slipstream squad should get an invite. It would

be great to see the BMC boys alongside them at the start as well.

 

And for those of you used to seeing a US-based team at the Tour, the removal

of the Pro Tour restrictions means that Slipstream could be lining up at the

start come this July.

 

Don't get me wrong. I am not a Pro Tour hater. One of the things I really

liked about the Pro Tour is that if a team held a multi-year Pro Tour license,

it was guaranteed entry into the biggest races. With such a guarantee, a team

could approach a potential sponsor in, say 2007, with the promise that they

would be at the Tour in 2008. Unfortunately, there were just too many Pro Tour

teams and they basically sucked up all the spots at those same big races.

Again, this was the case of the haves versus the have-nots.

 

It's extremely early in the season, the first Pro Tour race, the Tour Down

Under in Australia has just started, but I have a good feeling that this new

arrangement is going to force both the UCI and the grand tour organizers

to bring their A games which will ultimately be the best for professional

cycling. What do you all think?

 

Bruce

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Cipo????

Posted by Bruce E Hildenbrand Jan 19, 2008

It appears the news that Italian super sprinter Mario Cipollini has signed with Rock Racing were a bit premature. That doesn't mean that Cipo is heading back to the land of fine wine and pasta for good.  It just means that the negotiations aren't over. Where's Donald Trump when you need him?  Personally, I hope Mario signs and has a presence in the US. I am sure The Donald would allow him to be a judge at his Miss America pageant.

 

In light of being in limbo over Super Mario's future, I thought I would recount my most favorite story about the flamboyant Italian. In 2002, I was covering the spring classic in Northern France and Belgium for Cycle Sport Magazine. It was a blast.  If you have never been to the classics, you should go and don't forget to bring your bike and some warm and waterproof clothing.

 

Anyway, the Tour of Flanders ranks just behind Paris-Roubaix in prestige and some consider it even more difficult. This is the event to win if you are Belgian. The great Belgian cyclist Peter Van Petegem once told me that after he won the Tour of Flanders he never had to worry about getting a speeding ticket (and boy did he love to drive his Volvo 760 fast). When he would get pulled over the cops would recognize him and just let him go. Unfortunately, Belgium is implementing a lot of photo radar and Van Petegem mused that his lead-footed days were soon to be over.

 

Hey, but this is about Mario and here's the story. The Tour of Flanders is around 165-miles long and has about 20 named short climbs most of which are cobbled and reach grades of up to 23%. In 2002, Cipollini, who is nota noted climber and seems to disappear on all but the flattest of courses, was leading the UCI World Cup, the precursor to the current Pro Tour. As such he felt a need to defend his leader's jersey and rode exceptionally strongly to win the field sprint and finish 9th overall.

 

As Cipo crossed the line, a female TV reporter approached him and asked, "Do you want a massage?" Now you have to remember that Mario had just ridden 165 of the hardest miles there are in pro cycling, something that would have left lesser men near collapse. But not Cipo. He looked straight at the reporter and asked, "Are we talking a therapeutic massage or a sexual massage?" The reporter answered, "a therapeutic massage."  Mario responded, "a therapeutic massage? No, not a therapeutic massage."

 

Man, we need this dude back in cycling!

 

Bruce

 

ps - anyone got a favorite Cipo story? Let's hear them.

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Cipo!!!!!

Posted by Bruce E Hildenbrand Jan 18, 2008

 

After months of rumours and speculation, it appears that Italian sprinter

Mario Cipollini has signed onto the Rock Racing team as rider/manager for

2008.  Whoa!  What "Super Mario's" role will be with the team is yet

undetermined, but one thing is for sure, the US domestic professional racing

scene just got a whole lot more interesting.

 

The 2002 World Champion can certainly pedal a bike and even at the age of 40,

he will shortly turn 41, he will undoubtedly be capable of winning races in

America.  But, more importantly, he is a showman.  A rider of "rock star"

quality who brings charisma and presence just by showing up.  From his

outrageous cycling attire to the time he left the Tour of Spain prematurely so

he could be a judge at the Miss Italy competition this guys makes headlines

both on and off the bike.

 

Does the US domestic scene need "il Leone" as Cipo is known to his Italian

tifosi?  With all the doping scandals running rampant through the cycling

community Mario just could be the breath of fresh air to get people's minds

thinking the glass is half full and not half empty.  We need to be reminded

of why cycling is such a great sport, not only in which to participate, but

also to watch.

 

Mario's wins in both the Giro, where he holds the all-time record for stage

victories, and the Tour de France are things of beauty, executed with style

and perfection.  One question that still lingers is if the Rock Racing team

can assemble an effective leadout train with which to deliver the flamboyant

Italian to the line.  My guess is with a marquee name like Cipollini on your

squad, you go get support for the kick to the finish.

 

Cipo's signing fills a couple of roles for Rock Racing.  The team is in dire

need of a director sportif after the recent departure of Frankie Andreu.  Also,

with the parity among the US domestic pro teams having a bunch sprinter is

almost mandatory if you want to win races.  Unfortunately, Cipo's lack of

knowledge of the US race courses, the only race he has ridden in America is the

Tour of Georgia, may provide a steep learning curve if he is called on to lead

the squad from the team car.  At 40, his best days are probably behind him

which means that he will most likely not be a candidate to ride the more

difficult stage races or hilly one-day events.

 

My guess is that we will see Cipo at the upcoming Tour of California behind the

wheel of a Rock Racing vehicle and not in the saddle.  Given the rumours of how

he drives around Italy, even that scenario is sure to give race fans, and race

officials, something to talk about.   Benvenuto in America Mario!

 

 

 

Bruce

 

 

ps - what do you all out there think about Mario coming to America?

 

 

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You would think that a year which saw Alberto Salazar'a 25-year old

US men's marathon record was broken would be considered a positive one

for marathoning, but Mother Nature showed us who is boss and big time.

 

It all started at the granddaddy of them all, Boston, where weathermen

were predicting torrential rains, heavy winds and temperatures in the

30's which almost called organizers to cancel the event something never

before done in the 111-years runners have run, jogged and trudged from

Hopkington to Bean Town.  Thankfully, the weather on race day mellowed

enough to hold a successful, if not a bit chilly, event.

 

Lest we all forget that you can't fool Mother Nature, the Chicago Marathon

saw weather at the other end of the spectrum as sweltering heat plagued the

event resulting in the death of one runner and forcing organizers to cancel

the race after three-and-a-half hours.  Of the 45,000 runners registered,

10,000 failed to start and an additional 10,000 were prevented from finishing

due to the premature course closure.

 

Technology shared the stage with the weather in December's Honolulu Marathon

as the event scoring system left 3500 runners wondering just how they did.

Heavy rains played havoc with the electrical generators used to power the

timing systems.  Also, the scoring chip used to track each runner failed in

numerous cases some because of damage while attaching the chip to the

athlete's shoes others when runners failed to realize that the chip had to

be removed from the their race bib and attached to their running shoes.

 

Add to that the tragic death of up-and-coming star Ryan Shay at the US

Olympic Marathon trials in November and you can see why 2007 was a year

that many endurance runners and race organizers would rather forget.  The

silver lining in this tumultuous year has to be Ryan Hall's US record

2:08:24 set in London.  That's 4:54 per mile for 26.2 miles and means that

the US might just be closing the gap to the Kenyans and Ethiopians.

 

What's in store for 2008?  Hopefully, Ma Nature will give us a bit of a

break.  As we all look to Bejing and the 2008 Olympics, it's the man-made

smog blanketing China's capital city that has runners worried.  For those

of us who will be going for personal bests on US soil, have no fear; Lance

Armstrong recently announced he will be running the Boston Marathon.  That's

good enough for me to be positive about what's ahead!

 

Bruce

1,786 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: marathon, lance-armstrong, ryan-hall, boston-marathon, chicago-marathon, honolulu-marathon

This is the time of year when the professional cycling teams hold their pre-season training camps and one of the first teams out of the blocks is the BMC Professional Cycling Team.  This is former Team Phonak owner Andy Rhis' squad and with the addition this year of John Lelangue, who directed Floyd Landis to victory in the 2006 Tour de France, and who will share the team director responsibilities with current DS Gavin Chilcott they are looking to take it up a notch in 2008.

 

Founded in 2006 as a US regional team, they upgraded to a full-blown US pro squad in 2007 and with the addition of riders such as Scott Moninger, Scott Nydam, Jackson Stewart, Jonathan Garcia  and ex-Phonak rider Alexander Moos they were ready to play with the best teams in America and beyond.  Moninger nearly pulled off a huge win at Redlands and Nydam finished a respectable sixth place in the Tour of Georgia while battling a number of European Pro Tour teams.  The capper came with a win in the team time trial at the Giro del Friuli Venezia Giuli in Italy becoming the first all-American team to do so.  Colorado-native Jonathan Garcia held the leader's jersey for a few stages as well.

 

 

 

For 2008, the team has upgraded to a UCI Professional Continental team, the same classification as Jonathan Vaughters' Slipstream/Chipotle squad.  The move paved the way for the team to compete in some of Europe's best professional races.   I caught up with John Lelangue on a cold, misty day in Palo Alto after the team had returned from riding stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California up and over the daunting Mount Hamilton and the brutal Sierra Road climbs.  Lelangue was excited with the races on the US calendar, noting that the Amgen Tour of California, Tour of Georgia, Tour of Missouri and the Tour of Utah were all on their program.  But, he was most excited about taking the team to Europe and testing the waters there.  Already on the program are the Criterium International, Three Day of DePanne, Tour of Picardie and GP Pino Cerami.  The squad is eyeing several more wildcard invitations to two high-profile stage races in Switzerland and a bumpy, one-day race in northern France.

 

 

 

It must be remembered that Andy Rhis shut down the Phonak team at the end of 2006 because of sponsorship difficulties.  The BMC team has slowly evolved into a potential replacement, but to be sure, even if the European campaign is a raging success, team management will still be taking things slowly.  This year they are knocking on the door.  Next year they will be looking to break it down.  Keep an eye on these boys in 2008!

 

 

 

Ever upward,

 

 

 

Bruce

1,708 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: bruce-hildenbrand, bruce_hildenbrand

Tour Wrap-up

Posted by Bruce E Hildenbrand Jul 30, 2007

Frankly, I don't know what to think about the 2007 Tour. We saw some great racing in both the Alps and the Pyrenees. Aggressive riding and attacks by all the favorites marked the march across the mountains and the rain-soaked first time trial produced more drama as well. But, in the end, I just don't feel like there was a real winner of this year's Tour. Don't get me wrong, Contador, Evans and Leipheimer rode really well and deserve plaudits for their efforts. They were clearly the strongest riders who finished the Tour. But kicking Rasmussen out when he was clearly the dominant rider just makes the final outcome in Paris unsatisfying.

 

Maybe we can give an honorable mention yellow jersey and all three podium finishers could wear one. As I said in an earlier blog when referring to Levi and his riding in the Pyrenees and time trial, he earned his podium position. I feel the same for the gritty riding by Evans and the incredible accelerations of Contador. All three of these riders deserve to be on the podium. But, does one of them deserve to stand on the top step?

 

BTW, a lot of journalists are saying that Contador is an unlikely winner. If you read my pre-Tour prediction article  on this site, you will notice that I predicted that Contador was a lock for the white jersey, and that even though he might have to work for Levi, he was also a contender for the overall. Hey, that's why they pay me the big bucks.

 

So what is going to happen with the Tour? As I said in my blog yesterday, things will get worse before they get better because the first item on the agenda is for the Tour organization (ASO) to define its relationship with the UCI. In all probability this will result in WWIII and the Tour will probably make serious moves to distance itself from the UCI. ASO has a huge sports property and clearly feels a need to protect its viability. To save the Tour, ASO feels that it needs to divorce itself from the UCI.

 

As far as the doping problem goes, I see this as two separate problems. First, there are the systematic doping programs that some professional teams employ. These systematic programs need to be dismantled much like what Bob Stapleton is attempting to do at T-Mobile. Secondly, there are the individual riders who operate outside the purview of their team. This is a much more difficult problem and the only current solution is more out-of-competition testing. I think it will be easier for the teams, if they really want to, to clean up their own internal doping programs, I am hoping that more out-of-competition controls will catch the lone wolves.

 

Hey, don't give up hope. The Tour has been around for 100-plus years. It has survived two world wars and a 20-plus-year drought of no French victory so it will survive. I haven't given up hope and neither should you!

 

Thanks for reading,

Bruce

1,367 Views 6 Comments Permalink Tags: 2007-tour-de-france, bruce-hildenbrand, 2007_tour_de_france, bruce_hildenbrand

With all the excitement surrounding Vino and the Chicken, a few of my blogs got sidetracked. Hey, there was some good stuff in there, if I do say so myself. Read on.

 

I talked with Quick Step director Patrick Lefevre about Tom Boonen and his quest for the green, sprinter's jersey, something Tom has tried hard to win for the past four years, but has come up empty each time.  Lefevre noted that in the past Tom was down to 174 pounds for the Tour trying to be lighter to be able to get through the mountains. Patrick felt, looking back, that was too light for Boonen; after 10 days he was finished. This year Boonen was up to 181 pounds which is the optimal weight for him.

 

Lefevre also remarked that in the last several years Tom has had a lot of pressure on him to win. He raced too many races. This year, after the classics, Lefevre told Boonen to take some time off to rest but also to take off the pressure. And apparently, as Belgium's most popular cyclist rides down the Champs Elysees in green, the plan worked!

 

How about Levi in the final TT? Leipheimer told us at the Discovery Channel pre-Tour press conference that he was planning on peaking in the third week of the Tour and he did just that. And he almost snagged the yellow jersey. As Hannibal Smith used to say, "I love it when a plan comes together." More importantly, because Rasmussen's departure opened a slot on the podium for Levi, it was critical that Leipheimer ride well to prove that he earned, rather than inherited, his podium spot. Levi's ride on the last Pyrenean stage coupled with his TT win clearly proved he earned third place.

 

There's going to be a major war between the ASO, the company which owns the Tour, and the UCI. This feud nearly crippled pro racing early this past spring. After the doping scandals at the Tour, you can rest assured that Mssrs. Prudhomme and Clerc are not going to let the UCI control their race. Frankly, the UCI has been extremely two-faced when dealing with the doping problem and they have no leg to stand on to defend themselves. However, the UCI being the UCI, they will attempt to defend their actions and the rift will cause even more damage to the sport of cycling. Stay tuned; it will get worse before it gets better and I am not talking about the doping problem.

 

Thanks for coming along for the ride,

Bruce

1,224 Views 3 Comments Permalink Tags: 2007-tour-de-france, bruce-hildenbrand, 2007_tour_de_france, bruce_hildenbrand
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