Archive | May, 2005

Curing the Giro Hangover – News

31 May

So now that all that nonsense down in the boot is done with, time to recap what went on in the rest the continent. Hometown (or I guess homecountry) hero Tom Boonen rocked the Tour of Belgium, taking two stages and most remarkably of all, coming in second in a 15k ITT to maintain the race lead. No telling what other tricks the 24-year-old classics rider/group sprinter/chrono-man has up his sleeves. Speaking of former winners of the Champs Elysees sprint, creaky old Jan Svorada and Ag2r’s JP Nazon each took a stage at the Bayern Rundfarht, which is perhaps the European road race most in need of a name change. Jens Voigt snared a TT win, and Andreas Kloden finally showed up this season, taking the final stage in a breakaway. But when the smoke cleared, it was Gerolsteiner’s chrono specialist Michael Rich who took the overall, with T-Mobile’s Kazakh menace Alexandre Vinokourov in second.

Despite training somewhere so exotic that he couldn’t mention where it was, Lance Armstrong did manage to get lured out into an interview with Eurosport during the Giro, in which he stated that Jan Ullrich was still the rival he feared most. “He’s the one that wakes me up in the morning,” commented Armstrong. I have no doubt this is true, given the Texan’s relatively poor showing so far this season. I mean, we all know Big Jan’s training habits, and if you’re going to sleep in until he wakes you up, it’s a pretty safe bet you won’t be seeing the south side of midday anytime soon.

Le Tour '05 – The Game

30 May

FULL LISTING OF PICKS LOCATED HERE.

The Giro is over. So what are you going to do for the next month while you wait for the Tour to start? Work your mind-numbing, spirit-crushing job? Log hours of hard training time in hopes of maybe snaring a 20 dollar prime at some Cat 4 stage race? Clearly not. So this is what I propose: play Pick the Tour. It’s very simple. Spend countless hours researching the European cycling scene, then, based on your study, select winners for each of the categories we select (listed below).

But wait, there’s more! Since certain riders have a way of not being in such good sape each July, this Tour picking pool utilizes a revolutionary play-in format; for the first few picks, players will be allowed to submit their selections right up until race start. This allows you to see who’s looking hot and who isn’t before making any big CG calls, especially useful in this year’s edition of the race, which replaces the traditional prologue with a much longer 19k TT.

The deadline for picks on Stages 1-3 is the start of the stage, with your full selections being due before the start of Stage 4. Picks, requests for rules clarification or general comments should be sent to cyclocosm{at}gmail.com. I wouldn’t recommend sending anything before June 20th or so.

Also, this year there will be actual *prizes* for the winners. I can tell you’re all very excited.

Category (points) – subject to change

GC Categories
GC Overall (10) – The whole enchilada. The rider who has the fastest time after 21 Stages of racing. He gets a yellow jersey, and lots of doping allegations. Though every winner since 1999 is present at this years event, he hasn’t looked to sharp thus far this season. Could this be the upset?

Points Classification (7) – As of publication, every winner of this award since 1996 will be toeing the line in Fromentine come July 2. It’s given to the most consistent sprinter, based on points awarded for finishing position in each stage. Guy with the most points at the end wins.

Mountains Classification (7) – There are points available atop each categorized climb in the Tour. The bigger the climb, the more points. First guy over the top gets max points, hilltop finishes count double. The only former winner in this year’s race is Santiago Botero, so your guess is as good as mine.

Young Rider Classification (7) – It’s like the Yellow Jersey but for riders under the age of 25. Before this year’s Giro, a certain Damiano Cunego looked like a shoe-in. But as anyone who saw this year’s Giro can tell you, he’s far from a safe bet.

Combativité Classification (5) – You mean all these prizes aren’t objective? Basically, a bunch of French dudes sits in a room and votes on who was the most aggressive each day. At the end, someone wins. Sound crooked? It probably is.

Team GC Overall (5) – With all the emphasis on teamwork in this sport, this prize generally goes to the team with the fewest selfless, “team-player” riders on it. Ironic, no?

Stages
Stage 1: Fromentine – Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile ITT (4) – A real live ITT on the first day? Golly! It’s kinda flat, so GC impact will be limited, but, with most of the sprinters out of contention for yellow, it should take some of the nervousness out of the first week.

Stage 3: La Châtaigneraie – Tours (4) – Tours is generally considered one of the classic sprint finishes. It’s also your last chance to use a play-in pick before submitting your selections for the whole race. All the big name sprinters should still be in the race, so choose wisely.

Stage 4: Tours – Blois TTT (4) – The Team Time Trial. Postal’s won the past two, but Phonak took second last year, despite finishing with the minimum of 5 riders. Did I mention CSC hasn’t lost a Grand Tour time trial this season?

Stage 7: Luneville – Karlsruhe (4) – What? The Tour de France goes into Germany? Preposterous but true. At 225k, and with two major GC shakeups in the first week, maybe a breakaway takes this one?

Stage 10:Grenoble – Courchevel (4) – The first mountain-top finish and it’s right after a rest day! Man, that’s gotta feel good on the legs. Traditionally, Lance likes to “stamp his authority all over the race” on the first seriously uphill finish, but he hasn’t been looking so good lately.

Stage 12: Briancon – Digne-les-Bains (4) – Bastille Day! What better way to celebrate freeing 7 non-political convicts from a crumbling prison than to call this a mountain stage. Traditionally, you’d pick someone French to win this, but I really don’t know any Frenchman who could.

Stage 15: Lezat-sur-Leze – Saint-Lary-Soulan (4) – 6 climbs. All peaking above 1000m. Also, it’s a hilltop finish. Something tells me they will be generous with the time cut.

Stage 19: Issoire – Le Puy-en-Velay (4) – 154k? Are you kidding me? I’m sorry, I thought this was Le Tour. Did I wander into Le Cirque de Sarthe by mistake? That’s shorter than the run into Paris, fer cryin’ out loud. I’m telling you, this one really could be Jimmy Casper’s moment!

Stage 20: Saint Etienne ITT (4) – What ever happened to time trials? This 55k is the only full-sized chrono in the whole race. Good thing it comes right at the end, so it should be exciting, unless someone has a way huge lead. Then it will just be stupid.

Stage 21: Corbeil-Essonnes – Paris (Champs Elysees) (4) – This stage is pretty dull. Generally, some dudes pretend to drink champagne, count on their fingers and pose for photos. Then someone wins a sprint. Did you know 6-time Green Jersey winner Erik Zabel never has?

Others
Number of Leaders (3) – Predict how many different riders will wear the maillot jaune in this year’s race.

Number of Finishers (3) – Guess how many riders will make it to Paris. Despite Tyler Hamilton and David Millar, it’s been a while since a big dope scandal has hit at the Tour. It’s Armstrong’s last time around, so you know WADA will be sniffing pee extra hard.

Fewest Finishers (3) – Which team will bring them fewest riders down the Champs Elysees? Traditionally, you’ve had your pick of sh!tty French teams, but with the ProTour, there’s only one Wild Card this time.

Most Wins/Rider (3) – Who will win this most stages in this year’s race? Keep in mind, they don’t have to finish it.

Fastest Frenchman (3) – This is a French race, right? Just because French riders kinda suck at the moment doesn’t mean we should ignore them. Pick the French rider who will finish the highest in the Overall. I will only award half-credit for Stephen Roche’s son, who is basically Irish.

Slowest American (2) – Ok, I’ll admit it; I rip on France way too much. Just because an American has won the past 6 years running doesn’t mean that other Americans don’t routinely get throttled. Pick the Yankee Doodle Dandy closest to the slow end of the results.

Lanterne Rouge (2) – Better known as DFL, the caboose, shat off the back, maglia nera, etc. Select which rider will spend the longest amount of time suffering out on the roads of France this July. Remember, you can’t all pick Jimmy Casper.

Laziest Stage (2) – Don’t you love sitting around listening to the OLN commentary team as they try to fill in the dead air between when the breakaway finishes and when the peloton slowly limps home? Pick the stage with the largest gap between winner’s time and main field (only stages with a “main field” finish group count for this).

Souvenir moi? Award (2) – Do the names Patrice Hagland, Rubens Bertogliati and Françios Simon sound familiar to you? Of course not. But they did each manage a day or two in yellow. Guess how many riders who’ve donned the golden fleece in previous years will slide it on again this time around.

Cookie’s Revenge (2) – Paolo Bettini had a great Giro this year, taking a stage and the points jersey. But he also sent Baden Cooke cartwheeling into the barriers, and made enemies with pretty much every Australian in the race. For the Tour, guess how many Australians will finish ahead of Il Grillo in the final Points Classification.

Lance's Legacy – Rant

30 May

Consensus seems to be that Lance Armstrong’s success has been good for American cycling. And yeah, Lance has gotten a lot of otherwise oblivious people onto bikes (usually flimsy little Treks), and has opened up a few more eyes to the fact that there is a world of professional cycling out there. But Americans, being Americans, have latched onto a series of half-truths about pro cycling, it’s hurting American cycling, and it’s all Lance’s goddang fault.

Lance-related Vice #1: Hillclimbs & Time Trials. I remember one day, back before I knew anything about cycling, when I was thumbing through an issue of Sports Illustrated while waiting at the Barber Shop. It was just before or after Tour #3 for Lance, and the subject was whether or not he was he new patron. In the paragraph dedicated to summing up Lance’s tactics, the reporter wrote, “Armstrong wisely bides his time during the flat stages, saving his efforts instead for the mountains and time trials.” Definately implicit, if not stated outright, was that this was a new an brilliant tactic (of course, anyone with the latest copy of the World Almanac can tell you that Miguel Indurain did the same damn thing from 1991-1995.)

Now, I believe this leads many Americans to believe that there’s nothing to bike racing other than climbing and time trialing. Hillclimb races are everywhere, as are time trials. And just try to find a USCF road race without a hilltop finish. Those of you with more favorable power/mass ratios than I are no doubt muttering under your breath that if I could climb better, I wouldn’t be ranting about this; well, you’re wrong. I’m upset about this because it robs racing of one of it’s most challenging aspects: detente.

I like to divide bike racing into two basic states, which I describe with Euro loan words for the sake of appearing sophisticated. The first is baggare or the heat of battle, when attacks are going, people are battling hard for position, a climb kicks up, etc., and detente, or the seemingly inactive times when a break is away, or the field staying together pretty well. These states are not mutually exclusive, and some people’s detente may be others’ baggare, but I think anyone with even moderate racing experience will know what I mean.

My complaint is this: in a hill climb, TT, or shorter road race with a massive climb at the end, there’s little or no detente; no coyly leaving stronger riders in the wind to take some sting out or their legs, or watching your competition closely to see how they react to changes in tempo. Its just gun and go, with maybe (if you’re lucky) some slow riding before the real action happens. No thinking, just cranking. Dull, dull, dull. If I wanted to race Tri, I would. But I don’t. I like having about half a second to decide whether or not to hop on the wheel of a rider I feel coming up behind me. And anyone who claims to be a bike racer should, too. The tactical aspects introduced by the drafting advantage set biking apart as a sport, and the fact that half the races in America minimize or eliminate these aspects altogether really ticks me off. And like I said before, I blame Lance.

Shocker in Milano! – News

29 May

PSYCH! Everything went exactly according to plan in the final stage of the ’05 Giro. The field piddled along at 27 kph for a while (oh yeah, it was downhill, too), before Discovery fired up the first of the 12 finishing circuits. Some Australians tried solo moves before Petacchi and Fassa kicked the GI tract out of everyone else for stage win #4.

So Savodelli won, and showed himself to be as much a cool-headed tactician and smooth-handed politician as a breakneck descender. After all, he managed to fend off one of the most hard-nosed climbers in the game (Simoni) on climb after climb, without a single teammate to so much as pass him a water bottle. Props should also probably go to Discovery DS Sean Yates, who has scored a win in his first Grand Tour with the team.

So who were the big losers this year? Certainly Simoni must be a little down, after his bold predictions and with arguably the strongest team behind him. Paolo Bettini won the points competition and took a great Stage 1 vic, but made lots of enemies. Baden Cooke, Stuey O’Grady and even Henk Vogels took umbrage with the skinny Italian’s riding. Even in the relaxed atmosphere of the final stage, Vogels stated his game plan as:

“I really plan to do my best to get on the podium today, get on that train somewhere, get right in the mix. Somewhere near Bettini and with a bit of luck, I’ll be able to pay him back for the other day…”

Vogels finished 10th, which is solid, considering the squeeze the Fassa boys put on the peleton in the final few k. No word on whether or not he settled his account with The Cricket; if Bettini knows what’s good for him, he won’t plan on racing next year’s Tour Down Under.

Savodelli Seals the Deal – News

29 May

Now that was exciting. Simoni, DiLuca and Rujano take off on the old-school gravel road, putting 2 and a half minutes on Savodelli. What does Il Falco do? Stays cool as the other side of the pillow, that’s what. He lets Wim Van Huffel (what a great name, eh?) and Lotto set tempo, then rakes back nearly a minute of the lead. Definate lack of props to Simoni for not convincing Rujano to let DiLuca back on; the Man in White tore sh!t up on the gravel Col de Finestre, a little cramp on the downhill shook him off, but he definately still had gas. Mad props go to the very diminuative Rujano for showing Simoni how it’s done the second time up Sestriere.

Tomorrow’s stage into Milano is meaningless, save for a last bit of elbow-banging from what few sprinters are left. Quick-Step looks to take home two jerseys (azzura and ciclomino), while Discovery Channel must no doubt be contemplating a Grand Tour hat trick (Paolo in the Giro, Lance in Le Tour, and perhaps Tommy D in the Vuelta?). The big losers so far? EUSKATEL. The only reason the chicos in naranja even got mentioned this Giro is because one of their riders managed to crash land onto his face. My advice? Put up some freakin’ ProTour points already, or risk being Boygues Telecom’s bitch.

Basso Still Better – News

27 May

Was Basso denied this year’s Giro by less than 10 micrometers (10µm of stomach virus, that is)? After his second stage win in a row (his rivals can’t play the GC card in a TT), it sure looks that way. While race leader Savoldelli held tough for 4th on the day, his closes rivals, the quiet Jose Rujano and blather-prone Gilberto Simoni each lost over two minutes. I guess Gibo didn’t find “dinner” quite to his liking. Still, the Lampre rider has one last shot at getting his just dessert (how’s that for beating a dead metaphor?). Tomorrow’s stage, with three categorized climbs and a hilltop finish, however, plays well to these two climbers, and with the Giro on the line, the action should be *hot*.

It wasn’t all business as usual on the stage today, as Russell Van Hout can attest. The Aussie, who rides for Selle Italia, crossed the line holding onto his clip-on aerobar, which had become dislodged somehow during the race. Van Hout credited his mechanic with the mishap, describing him as both a “wanker,” and another term which the Cyclingnews crew referred to only as “an obscene gerund.” In other funny news, Sheryl Crow made some very confused dedications at a recent concert. As this report states:

Onstage, Crow dedicated two songs to Crow – a survivor of testicular cancer – and his three children.

Call me ignorant, but I was unaware Sheryl has children. Or was a cancer survivor. Or a he.

Gibo Enjoys Antipasto – News

26 May

After announcing that he saw today’s today’s stage as “an appetizer” (that’s “anitpasto” en italiano), Gilberto Simoni rode it as just that; not a filling meal, but certainly enough to whet his appetite for later. While Ivan Basso came back from the dead to claim the stage (a much easier thing to do when you’re 42 minutes down on GC…), Gibo, along with Wim Van Huffel and Jose Rujano (remember when he was just a KOM contender?) left maglia rosa Savoldelli behind with 6k to go. Il Falco kept his fast-becoming-trademark cool, and lost just over 40 seconds, leaving him a slim 58 up on Il Ragno (“The Spider;” ie, Simoni). Not so lucky was the reborn DiLuca, who lost nearly 3 minutes, dropping him to 4th overall, all but out of contention.

Tomorrow’s TT would seem to favor Savoldelli, but the parcours is hilly enough that any of the remaining contenders could make it interesting. GOSH! I am excited! The Giro is like these every few years; you’re lucky if the Tour gets this interesting once a decade.

Only one bit of random other news today. The only American ProTour squad, Discovery Channel, announced its roster for the USPRO Championships today. The selection of 10 riders contains all of three Americans; Epstein-Barr stricken Mike Creed, career domestique Tony Cruz and former Tour de Georgia stage winner Pat McCarthy. With proven European professionals Max VanHeeswijk and Leif Hoste on board, it seems unlike the D-men will be pursuing the Stars and Stripes Jersey. This is in stark contrast to France, where last year, Brioches la Boulangere (nowadays known as Bouyges Telecom) threw 14 guys into the French National Championships, in hopes that one of them would win the maillot tricolor and give their team some relevance. The end result: ever heard of Thomas Voeckler? Yeah, that Thomas Voeckler. National Champs Jerseys tend to bring out the best in riders; maybe DC should take Wachovia a little more seriously.

Snowmass Village Circuit Race – Report

26 May

So after Sunday’s debacle, I was ready for a little revenge on the various bike shop teams of Aspen [BTW, the “Telco” guys are really “Jelco” guys; they’re from Ajax Bikes, I believe]. Today’s course was a short circuit that basically went up moderately, and then down less moderately. I think the loop was 3-5 miles long; I have no idea since I was racing on Bubba’s *sweet* Orbea Orca, to get the bike noticed, and perhaps the only part about it was the utterly incomprehensible Shimano Flight Deck computer. I got the thing stuck on kilometers and then it just kept rotating through its various functions. Anyway, we did 5 laps, which meant that the selection would be based entirely on cranking watts.

In my two previous races, I missed three good breaks. I was determined not to let this happen again. I marked every damn thing that moved for the first lap, which was pretty hard because a lot of people made little testing attacks, and because I climbed McClure pass yesterday (in 39×23) and the legs were a little gooey to react. After about a lap, the tactical circle jerk began, and with the pace mind-nimbingly low with only 12-20 miles to go, I decided it’d be good time to take off. The Ajax dudes were all over the front when I went, and just sat there, which was cool by me. I cranked it up over the top and down the hill, and I think my lead peaked out at about a minute.

I’m not a real breakaway kind of rider. I can ride pretty aero and put out a few watts, but I think I really lack the lungs. I stayed away for over 2 full laps, and got the bike plenty of airtime. But when the big guns wanted me back with two laps to go, they brought me back fast, hewing the field down to 15 or so guys in their surge. When they made the catch, I cranked it up perfectly, letting two guys by and then hopping in third wheel. The Ajax guys and some real big, powerful dude in green forced the pace down the hill, and back up. At some point, green dude broke and took an Ajax guy and Charlie from the Hub. I was surrounded by Ajax guys, and pretty sure this was the winning move, but was a bit knackered (as the Aussies say) from the solo. Besides, pack welding is no way to ride in a practice race.

As the bell lap came, my group (about 10 strong) made a few little attacks, but no concerted effort to chase. Up the road, something must have gone down, because Charlie got shelled and drifted back to us. I led on the downhill because I’m a good descender and we had to work our way through the women’s field). I pulled intentionally wide as we swung back the final climb, and hopped in behind two Ajax guys. The leader turned screws and whittled us down to 4 or 5; I know we had at least 2 Ajax guys, Charlie, me and a Boulder Couriers guy named Patrick. Ajax tried a lead out, some little weaving action, but Charlie (who is both tough and coy) and I maneuvered perfectly. I was perfectly position when Charlie jumped, but right as I moved to go by him, I froze. Maybe I lost the finish line in the sun, maybe I had my head down too long, maybe I was just zoning out, but for whatever reason, I pulled the trigger, and then eased back. Bad mistake. It would have been the perfect move. Instead it became the perfect lead out for Boulder Couriers man. He roared by on the right, while I languished boxed in behind Charlie. There was still a bit of space on the inside that maybe could have accommodated me, but it’s a practice race, and I think the last thing Charlie needs is another coma.

So it ended up being a very embarrassing 5th for me. Despite the sluggishness in the legs (and the 172.5mm cranks; I am die-hard 170 man), I felt damn strong, and after climbing Independence and McClure passes with a limited 39×23 minimal gearing, I guess I am starting to turn out some good watts. And my positioning instincts and bike handling are right where I want them to be. Maybe one of these days I’ll be able to nail down judging the distance to the line and end up winning a sprint or two.

Simply 'Mevel-ous' – News

25 May

You’d think that coming off a rest day, with only one other flat stage left in the race, the handful of remaining sprinters would be raring to go today. But you’d be wrong. As the Discovery Channel-lead peloton languished 20 minutes behind, young Frenchman Christophe Le Mevel sprung away from his breakaway companions with 2k to go, taking his most impressive victory to date. Notably less psyched was second-place finisher Christophe Brandt, who crossed the line 9 seconds later, punching his handlebars in frustration because, clearly, they had been the reason for his defeat.

The rest of the Giro should be molto interesante. With 3 stages left, including two hill-top finishes and a nasty little TT, 7 men sit within 5 minutes of the lead. Behind Savoldelli, it’s DiLuca, Simoni, Garate (who?), KOM leader Rujano, Cauchioli and Gonchar. They are capable climbers to a man, though last year’s runner-up Gonchar has a definate edge in the TT.For his part, Gibo sees the remaining stages as a fait accompli, referring to tomorrow’s uphill finish as “a rich appetizer” for his eventual victory, in a Gazetto Della Sport interview. Big words from a petty, little man.

Also talking loudly after yesterday’s stage was American Christian Vande Velde. The likeable CSC rider and former Postie (who can be heard on the 2001 documentary “The Road to Paris,” sassing back “Not Me!” after Postal DS Johan Bruyneel states that any of the USPS riders could win Le Circ de Sarthe) took umbrage with Roy Sentiens Stage 15 solo move in the rain. Though impressed with the Dutchman’s strength, Vande Velde in the end stated “I still think he’s a dumb ass.” I think CVV should keep in mind that lots people shell out dough to watch this bike race, and seeing a solo move, even a dumbass one, is a hell of a lot more interesting than watching 140 drowned rats soft-pedal downhill.

Giro Rest Day World Update – News

25 May

So it’s a Giro rest day; that means no news, right? No way, man. The world of competitve cycling never stops turning. Let’s begin on the home front where American U23 phenom Tyler Farrar (gotta love the victory salute) was recently reported to have signed with Cofidis. Well, turns out he didn’t. Or at least he hasn’t. Yet. Farrar, who currently races for the domestic HealthNet squad, is the first American to ever win a major Eurpoean U23 race and seems all but destined to land on a ProTour team within the next few years.

Across the pond, Jan Ullrich, fresh of the Volta a Catalunya says he’s satisfied with his pre-Tour form, but adds “there’s room for improvement.”

Oh, wait, that’s not news. Ah well.

Anyway, Ullrich teammate and 2004 TdF runner-up Andreas Kloeden says pretty much the same thing. Kloeden, who has yet to participate in a major race this season, was suffering from a mysterious lack of power a few months back, but appears to have overcome the problem.

Giro ’05 begins its final kick tomorrow, with what appears to be another sprinter’s stage. Next comes 17, with a 30k climb and mountain-top finish, before Stage 18’s hilly 34k TT. 19 offers no respite, with two climbs of the famous Sestriere, and will no doubt decide the winner of this year’s event. It’s all downhill from there, as the 20th stage gives Petacchi and the boys one more shot at glory on the streets of Milan.