Archive | February, 2006

It was Zorzoli All Along, Results, Bettini v. Boonen

28 Feb

After an exciting week of racing, the cycling media now turns, as it must, to doping, in the interest of holding the public’s attention. Remember back in August, when l’Equipe came out with the “Armstrong was doping in 1999” story? Then there was a big fuss between the UCI and WADA, and a lot of finger-pointing about who leaked what info to whom, then, as these things tend to do, it got boring and no one cared anymore. Then yesterday, the UCI announced that after a typically slow inquiry, it had determined that Dr. Mario Zorzolli, a UCI health official handed over 15 confidential samples, knowing full well they’d be used in an anti-Armstrong article. This is interesting, because some months after the story broke, Zorzoli participated in a tete a tete with WADA head Dick Pound over the state of anti-doping in cycling; in the article, the Italian makes no mention of leaking confidential information to members of the media with the intent of discrediting an athlete as being among the UCI’s many control strategies.

Because I have a thing for thematic continuity, I’ll use dopage to bring up some of the results I passed over from yesterday. At the Clasica de Almeria in Spain, Francisco Perez was right back at the top of the results. The Spaniard signed with Illes Balears last summer upon completion of his 18-month EPO suspension, related to two positive tests at the ’03 Tour of Romandie. As conincedence would have it, the winner of that event, who had his own doping troubles during the 2004 season, has an interesting interview over at Daily Peloton. Meanwhile, Paris-Roubaix’s Forest of Arenburg section, last seen during Johan Museeuw’s (another doper caught out in ’04) final run of the event, has been restored, just in time for Paolo Bettini (who won his second race of the season at GP Lugano this weekend) and Tom Boonen (who is a much more obvious candidate for victory) to start fighting over who’ll be the protected rider going over it. Yeah, it sounds nuts, but since the 127lb Italian already has his sights set on Flanders, why not also infer he’s going for the Double?

Het Volk, KBK, Tour of California Wrap-Ups

27 Feb

So I spent all weekend up in Burlington, after a brief-but-disorienting brewery tour of Vermont. Unfortunately, the display on my iBook broke (again) leaving me unable to post, or to feast on live internet coverage of the weekend’s much-anticipated Belgian smorgasbord. This is a shame, as it seems the racing was pretty good. At Het Volk, Philippe Gilbert of FdJ erased the memory of losing the last classic of 2005 by taking the first classic of 2006. He attacked ferociously and broke clear with 7k to go, never to be seen again – apparently Eurosport considers this “going the distance”. Largely absent from the final shake-outs at The People’s Race was the Quick.Step superteam, but, as so often happens, the next morning’s race from Kuurne to Brussels and back proved an ideal do-over. In 2004, Stephen DeJongh used KBK to make up for Het Volk being snowed out; in 2005, George Hincapie won KBK, absolving Disco for failing to capitolize on haivng three riders in a break of eight with 20k to go; and on Sunday, Nick Nuyens, with a little help from his friends, atoned for Saturday’s mistakes. The biggest loser of the weekend in Flanders? Eh, let’s go with CSC, who still have yet to take a win this season, and who were really looking for something positive. It never came together (scroll to “CSC miss out”).

Over in Cali, though, with solid performances and two riders in the top 3, things went much better for the Danish marketing juggernaut. After the buying gluts CSC spawned in compact cranksets, Cervelos, Dura-Ace-styled SRMs and Zipp wheelsets, could chopper bikes be next? Hey, if Jens Voight rides it, who am I to pass it up? As far as racing went, Olaf Pollack restored some honor to the visiting Europeans, snatching up the final two stages, along with a surfboard. However, another European, Gilberto Simoni, found himself wilting in the California sunshine. The two-time Giro winner decried the race as “too hard”, calling it “an American world championship”, comments that are completely at odds with Cyclingnews’ assertion that race race (see the link under “stages” above) received a constant “thumbs up…from riders to directors to fans”. Gibo’s complaint that the Americans were really whipping things up also doesn’t jive with Bobby Julich’s statement that many American riders and teams didn’t “bring their A-Game”. So who are gonna believe? Well, the race owner, like certain anonymous commenters won’t consider the race a success until it’s as big as the Tour de France (again, the link under “stages”), so I’m willing to bet he doesn’t put much credence into Simoni’s assessment the the ToC is currently “too hard”.

Weird Belgium, Haedo Doubles at ToC, Petacchi at Valencia

24 Feb

Sometimes, Belgium makes me wonder. I’ve never been, I’ve never really known anyone from there, but the place is just odd. Like (overlooking the all-white kit before Memorial Day) Tom Boonen’s celebrity – they decided to make him into a meat product and spread salesman after the whole “eat Boonen on first date” deal from last season? I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just kinda strange, you know? And their determination to hold not especially pleasant bike races in anything short of the worst weather. The tenacity there is admirable, but I wonder if Belgian folks have ever considered that maybe this sort of weirdness and persistence, practiced by a few million cycling fans at once, is what drove the reigning World Champ to live in Monaco? (Search “Monaco”.) Of course, Belgium has its advantages, too. One would certainly never find a headline claiming a rider “sprints” to victory in a TT. Speaking of the Tour of California, JJ Haedo won his second dash to the line in today’s stage, this time clowning on none other than Fast Freddy himself. Strong, strong start for the Toyota-United squad, though it’s doubtful the guys in stars and stripes will be giving Phonak and Floyd Landis any challenge for the GC lead.

Over at the Tour of Valencia, meanwhile, things have been a bit more interesting. Rabobank’s Alexandr Kolobnev got after a few bonus sprints and extended his lead over Milram’s Alessandro Petacchi to 17 seconds. Ale-Jet had to content himself with (*yawn*) yet another stage win, though to hear Lampre’s Danilo Napolitano tell it, it was a real squeaker this time around. I’m not entirely convinced, but since footage of that even is not forthcoming, I guess we’ll never know. Let’s drown our sorrows, then, in a fancy new product with a familiar-sounding name. And for those of you out there wondering why I am posting some five hours before the conclusion of domestic ToC coverage today, it’s because I got up at 6am EST (after heading to bed at 2:20am) to watch a friend of mine compete in the Women’s 4x6km Olympic Biathlon relay this morning. It was totally worth it, too, as she was the only American to snag any noticeable camera time. Now I’m exhausted, and I have eight hours of driving & brewery touring scheduled for tomorrow. I’ll have to put my faith in the VCR to catch ESPN 2’s Stage 4 action.

Heavy, Light Bikes; Tour of Cali TT; Het Volk Looks Hot

23 Feb

Ah, that’s better – see this bike? Full carbon, with the weave showing, nice expensive SRM cranks – now that’s a pro ride. Never mind that it weighs 18lbs – you can’t weigh a bike using your eyes, and besides, this same model has to support Dario Pieri’s meaty carriage. Only slightly-built loudmouths like Gilberto Simoni are harried by the stench of weight-weeniedom. Gimme a break – weights glued to the downtube? How about a heavier, longer lasting chain? Or some high-end cable housing? And the fuss with your TT bike (scroll to “race notes”) today – come on man, that’s the most transparent marketing stunt since Terrell Owens’ Sharpie. And VN got Scott USA’s marketing director to explain it? Real solid journalism, guys – was that the most reliable source you could find? How about talking to the fµ¢&ing team mechanic, who’s bloody job it is to put the rig together? And why was it only superstar Simoni’s bike that came up light? This BS won’t fly with anyone other than the knobs producing the show for ESPN 2.

I’m sure I would have been forced to watch some dumb@$$ segment on it, had Stephen A. Smith not decided to run 15 minutes long. My condolences to those of you whose lives do not permit a 2am bedtime. Your VCRs and TiVo’s have no doubt be robbed you of another exciting…oh, wait, no. It’s the second time trial in four days. So no real thrill to be had from the coverage (but if you gotta see it, check this out). Landis won by half-a-minute and took the lead; he looked like a freakin’ turbo tank in his “It” position, and nailed the tricky descent. Back in Europe at the Tour of Valencia, Alessandro Petacchi, who I’m guessing is a big reader of this page, responded to my flippant comment yesterday that he lost a sprint for second, by taking yet another win. Ale-Jet is looking good so far for his goal to win stages at all 3 grand tours, a goal shared by former rival (y’know, back when he was good) Baden Cooke. The Benalla Bullet and now Comeback Kid would like to focus on the classics as well, and that, with Robbie McEwen and Tom Boonen throwing their hats in the ring, should make for a very interesting Het Volk. I’ll be watching live. Will you?

Tours of Cali, Valencia; Interviews of Riis, Julich

22 Feb

So, what’d I miss by waiting until 2am to post? Interviews, with Bjarne Riis and one of his star pupils, Bobby Julich. Julich’s interview is much more interesting, as the Coloradan reveals his three remaining goals – National Title, maillot jaune and a TdF stage win. Julich was close to a vic in a couple TTs back in 1998, but that was when bikes like this were still cool. Where’s the friggin carbon? My bike’s got as much carbon as this (minus the wheels), and it cost $1300! And this guy’s been on the podium at Worlds. It’s almost as if having a carbon bike doesn’t make you a better rider after all. No, no, that’s just nonsense. Spending more money is obviously the most sure-fire way to improve performance, though my faith in that bit of marketing dogma was shaken twice today, with the revelation that the cheaper PowerTap hubs are initially more accurate than the more expensive SRM cranks. But the world of power meters has always been weird; were you really to need one, someone else would have bought it for you.

In results, all I missed was the opening stage of Valencia, where three riders were “not healthy enough” to start (I think this is a stupid rule, though this is much more suspicious than the recent Olympic cases, as Valencia is not at altitude). Anyway, Alexandr Kolobnev slipped away from the other “healthy” riders, while Petacchi seems to have lost a sprint(!) for 2nd, 27 ticks later. Here in the USA, Levi Leipheimer was psyched after retaining the lead in the Tour of California, but will be less psyched after today. Gorgeous George won a “sprint” from a group composed entirely of climbers, having been set up perfectly by his team. Landis, Leipheimer and some T-Mobile dude named Kohl left the field for dead over the top of the day’s big climb, but the flattish descent and strong riding behind ate up their gap. I know this because I watched the 1am-2am coverage, which was almost devoid of time gap announcements, and cut to commercial, inexcusably, right as Leipheimer made his move on the climb. I feel like, with the ESPN logo over on the left at VeloNews‘ home page, someone from that mag would be directing coverage on “The Deuce”; heck, maybe there is and VN is even worse than I thought.

United's Cervelos, Tour of Cali Stage 1 Report

21 Feb

Well, I don’t have internet today, thanks to the clowns over at Adelphia, who are currently charging me money so I can be taunted by that one orange light on the bottom of the cable modem that tells me it’s not working. Thankfully, I’ve got dial-up internet via cell phone thanks to the clowns over at Verizon. Unfortunately, it sucks down my phone plan minutes, so I’ll probably publish a better post tonight at 2am, after the ToC stage, when cell calls are free. As it stands now, all I’ve got to write about is yesterday’s Tour of Cali stage. Actually, no, I can report to you all that I’ve been talking with the Toyota-United Team, and the Cervelo TT bikes under Cruz and Baldwin are a result of United simply not making TT rigs at the moment. Team Owner Sean Tucker wanted “the very best” for his squad, and bought some Cervelos. That’s a pretty rousing endorsement for the red and black rigs, almost as rousing as Haedo’s win was for the team’s regular ride.

Anyway, last night’s viewing was a bit disappointing. First off, Gonzaga-Pepperdine ran long, so the show didn’t get underway until 2:10am EST (hope all your VCRs and TiVo’s caught the ending) and the racing didn’t get underway until 2:17 or so, because some suit decided five minutes of talking and a commercial break was the right way to get things going. Beyond that, the camerawork was downright clownish – I guess the Europeans have better roads, or better steady-cams, or better cameramen, or maybe all three, because any time there was a hard corner, or bumps or shadows, everything got really hard to see. The fact that there were any images at all betrays SOME sort of aerial coverage (how else are you gonna bounce the signal from the bikes back to the finish line?), but they had not a single chopper shot the whole evening, and they were sorely missed.

The normally rocksteady commentary team were, perhaps affected by the lower-level of play around them, well off their games. Paul called California the “sunshine state” (forgivable mistake for a foreigner), but Bob Roll, in explaining that these long breaks seldom succeed, elaborated that you seldom see big names like Jens Voight, who rode nearly 500k off the front in the ’04 TdF, took the maillot jaune via breakaway in ’05, and nearly won LBL in the same fashion, going of the front. Most annoying of all were the balding, hipster-glasses-wearing commentator and Clif Bar rep who robbed me of a minute of my life explaining that Clif Bar was buying clean energy to replace all the gas used in the ToC. Rather than just say this outright, they introduced some sort of (presumably medicinal) hemp jersey, tried to hide it from Paul Sherwen, and yelled at each other a lot. Maybe my lack of awe towards this race is subconsciously rooted in my seething dislike toward this sort of “only in California” crap.

Finally, the break got reeled and and we were onto the circuits. It was very criterium-esq, nothing like the bald-faced attempts of Giro organizers to get some blood on the pavement. For some reason, though, even with the easier parcours, the camera team was unable to get that beautiful footage of the final laps that puts the hair on the backs of every cyclists necks on end as the field comes into l’ultimo kilometro. Lotto, Gerolsteiner and T-Mobile took turns battling for a lead-out train, but in the end, the finish line camera was hopelessly distracted by a group of lapped riders and stymied by shadow, and by the time the sprint action became clear, JJ Haedo was clear by a country mile. He had time to ease up, look back, start cranking again, look back again, and then sit up and celebrate; he began with the traditional “Universal Man” pose, with the arms out at 10 and 2, but then began punching with his right arm while keeping his left extended, as if slapping a massive stand-up bass. Behind him, former Giro Leader Olaf Pollack and former TdF leader Stuard O’Grady looked foolish.

And that was Stage 1. The post-race interview lady seemed to yell, constantly, for no reason. The 2-man break (one USA, one Euro) got the “HealthNet Move of the Day” prize, probably because the camera had missed Haedo’s jump in the final. The activity of the riders continued to indicate the tune-up status of the event, with attack after pointless attack coming on the one big climb of the day. Just riders out gunning up the engines, trying to recreate that sear of lactic in the thighs, to gauge where their training is and prepare for future events. Bob and Paul tried to play it up, but with the field kinda sitting up behind all like “whatever, it’s gonna come back together”, there was a palpable lack of urgency surrounding it all. Still, there’s a race to be won, and prizes to be had, and no doubt some serious gauntlet throwing to come over the next few days.

Cali Clarification, Haedo Takes Stage 1, Cabreira Steals Algarve

20 Feb

I never realized I had so many ventriloquists in my readership, but I must, for they are so adept at putting words into my mouth. “Insignificant”? Pshaw, I never called the Tour of Cali that; it’s just not a huge deal. I still found it important enough to stay up until 2am to watch. What I meant to say was conveyed pretty clearly in the rides of Mick Rogers, Mark McCormack, and so many other riders, who seemed more to be out for a good spin than a victory; certainly a contrast to the TdF prologue, where not a brow goes by unfurrowed by lactic acid. The race is not certainly not “rinky-dink” (I did use this phrase) in and of itself, as according to Levi Leipheimer, some riders have been scouting stages (search “recon”), but it will never be a Grand Tour, not while located as it is at the beginning of the season, and with riders and managers alike already yelping about the excess of competition days. It’s a great race for popularizing the sport in America, and for showing that the American peloton can compete on the world stage. But you want the Tour of California taken as seriously as an event that the best riders on the best teams in the world are gunning for, just because it’s on American soil? Who’s being snobby now?

Anyway, the race continued today, progresing a little slower than expected before whipping itself into a frenzy around the final circuits. in the end, J.J. Haedo and his dashing Argentinian sdieburns blew past the Euros to give the recently inaugurated United Cycling squad it’s first win ever. A good start for a new team and an exciting first finish for the new race. Those not winning today’s event were forced to content themselves with the free iPods (search “i-Pod”, though that’s not the correct name) handed out to the peloton. Such vanity was most likely not bestowed on the pack at the Volta ao Algarve, where Joao Cabreira of Maia-Milaneza stunned a host of ProTour teams and riders to slip away on the final climb and steal both the stage win and the overall in his native Portugal. Reads like another exciting finish I won’t be catching on ESPN2 anytime soon. Of course, if they covered more than one bike race, how could they bring me the “news” that Ricky Williams failed another drug test.

Tour of Cali Prologue, Cycling TV Schedule, 1st Ever Olympic Doping Raid

20 Feb

Wow, Tour of California prologue – a week of hype for a mere 5 minutes of racing. And the American (I can’t imagine any foreign riders willing to go all out for a February tune-up race) who came out on top? Levi Leipheimer. He bested that lying dog Bobby Julich, who claimed just a week ago not to have good legs. Former Tour de France (you know, a race that actually matters?) prologue winner Fab Cancellara was the first foreigner in 6th. I know it seems like I’m speaking harshly of the ToC, but it’s not an attempt to belittle it so much as an attempt to keep it at the correct size. Taking a global view of the sport, the only February races that matter are Het Volk and KBK.

Speaking of those two Belgian season openers (pursued with ferocity by the current World and Olympic Champions if you doubt their gravity), they’ll be available live and free of charge on Cycling.TV, along with a whole host of other Spring races, including Amstel Gold. Plus there should be highlights of the ToC and the recently concluded Classic Haribo, in which a certain cocksure Norweigan was made to look the fool by a little-known Frenchman. In Portugal, the Volta ao Algarve continued today, no one really paid attention because, as I mentioned before, it’s a February stage race, and none of the big names are going all out yet.

And finally, in Olympic action today, the infamous Italian paramilitary police made what I believe to be their first non-cycling raid last night (it’s their first Olympic raid – maybe they’ve hit a soccer team or something), awakening the Austrian XC Ski Team in the wee hours. The article tells of the usual disturbances, plus bags of “medicines and needles” being tossed out the windows and a daring escape via minivan. No accusations have yet been made, though two Austrian biathletes were kicked off the Olympic team just after the raids were completed. The Austrian nordic skiers, meanwhile, rallied bravely to finish dead last in today’s Men’s 4x10k relay, while the Italian team, functioning on a full night’s rest, walked away with the gold.

Lazy Day, Tour of California Begins Tomorrow

18 Feb

What’d I miss? Actually, it turns out not that much. There was a Liberty Seguros team presentation, in which Vino celebrated joining his new team by wearing an entirely different uniform. I know he’s the Kazakh road champ and all, but personally, I feel it’d be better for team unity if he’d tone his kit down just a touch. But anyway, there’s more on Liberty Seguros over at Cycling Revealed; seems Manolo paid a visit to the East Coast this past fall. In terms of racing, I only missed a little stage race and the mini-classic Tour du Haut Var. I’d be super-pumped to gab about the Classic Haribo (it goes off tomorrow), sponsored by the famous maker of gummi candies, but no one seems to be talking much about it. I wonder why that could be?

Oh, yeah, the Tour of California. How could I forget, what with all these stories? And those are just the headlines from VeloNewshere’s three more. And then there’s gotta be like a billion links from other pages – I’ll just point you to the interview where Floyd Landis explains his unusual-looking TT position. Anyway, it all seems like a whole lot of fuss over a rinky-dink little tuning-up race, if you ask me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see excitment over ProTour-level racing in America, but I just wish it didn’t feel so freakin’ conjured. I was excited for this race when it was announced, but now I’m just kinda sick of hearing about it. And it hasn’t even begun yet. Alls I can say is, there had better be some good racing to back up all this hype.

CSC Gets Press, Unibet Wins, General Self-Promotion

16 Feb

Oh, Team CSC, what won’t you sell? Ivan’s pedals, Dave’s nutritional supplement, an autographed jersey to check out a tour site, a feature film; heck, over at Competitive Cyclist, you’ve got your name attached to a a crankset, a wheelset and not one, not two, but three frames. Maybe that’s the trick to getting all this press. It sure hasn’t got anything to do with race results, because, unless I’ve missed my mark, you’ve got nothing but excuses from the finish line this season. No, results are definitely not the way to go for attention. Team Unibet has been tearing it up this season, and the only stories they get are updates from the Frank Vandenbroucke soap opera. Still, that didn’t stop the boys in soothing lime green added yet another “W” today, with Carlos Garcia Quesada wrapping up the Ruta del Sol GC. After two losses, Tom Boonen finally snagged the final stage win over Petacchi; though initial reports are sketchy, it may have been a bonified pipping.

In other news, Adam Bergman has now openly admitted to the world that, yes, he did use EPO. And the world replied by saying “What? Who are you? Why should I care?” Though I applaud his honesty, I had, previous to his letter, no clue who Adam Bergman was. And I can’t help but feel this announcement is less a redeeming burst self-admission than a shameless bit of “remember me?” self-promotion, coming as it does at the very beginning of the competitve season in which his suspension expires, at a time when many US domestic squads are looking to shore up their rosters. But who says there’s anything wrong with a little self-promotion, right? Maybe the UCI should try a little PR campaign, so they’ll look less like a bunch of ridiculous tyrants angry that another bunch of ridiculous tyrants is undermining their authority. They could start by attempting to say how the Grand Tour Trophy is financially “counter-productive” and “demonstrates…a lack of responsibility” toward cycling as a whole?