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Man in the Arena

February 24, 2008

In the movie Zoolander, Owen Wilson's character Hansel seems to be constantly followed around by House music and an entourage. His introduction in the film is preceded by a deep bass beat followed by an off-camera baritone saying "HAN-sel."


That's what I think of every time I see a rider or vehicle from Rock Racing. The newly-formed Continental team was created by fashion designer Michael Ball of Rock & Republic.



And when they roll up, you know it. They're generally one of the first teams to have a presence near the start and finish lines...mostly due to the tent set up to sell $9 water bottles and Rock Racing trucker hats.


But when the team bus rolls in, someone quickly hops out and puts down the lime green traffic cones. They're one of the few squads to put up a barrier (those rolling strap kinds that you heard people in line at a movie theater or H&M). And they draw hordes of onlookers.



The Rolls Royce they sport helps too.


Despite being a sponsor of the race, the Amgen organizers only allowed five of their men to participate. Issues with phantom doping investigations got in the way (more about that on Bruce's blog). But that still doesn't stop them from drawing attention. Italian Mario Cipollini aka Super Mario, aka The Lion Kingseems to have a camera crew with him wherever he goes.



Check out his ride. That's a limited edition (as in, made just for him) Cipollini bike. It also comes in white and regular road black.



But there are other riders on the team here in California worth mentioning, including Fast Freddie Rodriguez, who is back on a U.S team for the first time since 1991. Michael Creed is a young rider who's looking to prove he's not just filling a roster spot. He's currently hammering it on Stage 7, earning both sprint and KOM points.



But let's be honest, the team members the fans have really been going ga-ga for are the Rock Racing podium girls.



The team seems to be everywhere. Without a number for the race, the excluded Rock Racing riders Tyler Hamilton, Oscar Sevilla, and Santiago Boteroalong with a few riders from other squads who've bowed outtook to the highway to get some riding in ahead of the peloton.



Their website is a little bare, but check out the commercial they made for themselves. Hard core.


It'll be interesting to see how the team plays out over the course of this season and next. Will bike teams become the new yachts for rich guys with time on their hands? Is Ball the Mark Cuban of cycling? Can he take the black and neon green to France in a few years?


Will Rock Racing even be back next year?



Beats me. But honestly, they're fun to have around.

3,241 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: cycling, rock-racing, amgen-tour-of-california, mario_cipollini, michael_ball, fred_rodriguez, michael_creed

Being a cycling fan in America isn't easy. For one, there's no live TV or radio coverage of U.S. events. Therefore, if you're following the race as a spectator, you're in for a day's worth of guesswork. Even with my handy Tour of California Technical Guidewhich features route maps and course directions with estimated times of arrivalit's no easy task to nail down when the riders will pass by.


Today, due to a light rain and a late start in Santa Barbara (I was posting yesterday's Stage 5 blog), I decided to skip the start and get a glimpse of the peloton along the route. I loaded up on donuts and headed out, eventually stopping a few miles up route 150, a country road at the base of the first King of the Mountain climb of the day. Then I waited. And waited. And just when I started to wonder if I would have been better off retreating to the media center in Santa Clarita and watching the whole thing online, the breakaway sped past, followed shortly after by the technicolor swarm of the peloton.



And thus did I realize that cycling fans must constantly wage an internal war within: sacrifice experience for information (provided by the internet or TV), or submit to the desire to witness first-hand what can be so beautiful--a rolling peloton gobbling up an entire span of concrete.


I decided I needed to see this again, so I dashed off to Santa Paula (my third Santa of the day!), where I could watch the riders come through the Sprint bonus section.


Australian Rory Sutherland of Health Net Maxxis led the breakaway through the bonus (below in black, next to Alexandre Pichot of Bouygues Telecom).



Then, six minutes later the peloton came through. Fittingly, race leader Levi Leipheimer rode just in front of  second-place rider David Millar.



I made it to Towne Center Dr. (which really just seems to be a made-up center of condos and a mall created to appear "authentically" urban. Decent planning for a development, but it makes one pine for places like Solvang or Sausalito) in Santa Clarita just in time to park before the roads were closed down.


Now fortunately for fans near the finish line the race announcers (who, by the way, constantly speak in Ital-ish whenever referring to "Whorlda CHAMP-eeon Paolo Bettini" and Mario Cipollini...seriously, they sound like Steve Carrell's character from The Office) are constantly relaying information to the spectators. The six minute lead was gradually being cut down, but not without a fight from the breakaway (below, starting their first of three laps).



With each successive lap, the peloton grew closer and closer to the breakaway riders...



On the first of the circuits, however, it was announced that Mark Cavendish, Mario Cipollini and Freddie Rodriguez were involved in a bike-bending crash. They all made it back up, however, and were miraculously catching up with the peloton.


On the last lap, the breakaway was caught and it became a mass sprint to the line. In the final bunch, Cavendish rocketed to the front and took the stage:



Cipo would cross the line sporting a raspberry from the earlier incident:



But then things got tricky. The crowd waited. The judges were conferring, we were told. And when the stage winner was finally brought up to the didn't look like a Brit with High Road. Instead Luciano Pagliarini, a Brazilian with Saunier Duval-Scott took the winner's trophy:



Notice Bettini looking a little grim? It's because he let up at the last second after Cavendish as good as crossed the line. Cavendish was ruled by the judges to have held on to the team car for too long following his crash. Even though his replacement bike was being worked on by the mechanic, the judges decided to dock him 20 seconds (along with Cipollini). This meant the second person to cross the line, Pagliarini, got the stage win. Pagliarini was pretty excited, both for himself and for Brazil. He gets credit for riding hard through the finish, not just to it.


A crazy finish made even crazier with the big "Huh?" moment. (The funny thing is, as I'm watching the local news on KCAL 9, they show the clip of Cavendish crossing the line and then state him as winning the stage. Someone didn't get the memo.)


The only thing that could top that, would be this:



Levi's smile got bigger!!! (Seriously, compare that photo to pics in my Stage 3 post.) Maybe he knows ultimate victory is close at hand. Obviously something is up, judging by this smirk:



I can't wait to see him tomorrow.


But before signing off, I have to end with this story. After the race, an Italian man (I'm assuming, based on his accent and favorite rider choice) with a mustache that wrapped down his cheekbones then up to his sideburns and a little tuft of hair under his lower lip told his wife and young son, "We have to hurry. We have to see Paolo Bettini." His wife asked how he could pick him out from all the other riders.


The man answered his wife, "He has a long, pointy chin. Just like yours." Hahahaha! She heard me laughing and turned to roll her eyes at me. Ah, cycling fans.

1,099 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: cycling, levi_leipheimer, amgen-tour-of-california, leipheimer, mario_cipollini, paolo_bettini, mark-cavendish, luciano_pagliarini