Archive | May, 2009

How Do You Solve A Problem Like DiLuca?

29 May

I think Cyclingnews had it right with their photo caption snafu (preserved at left) on today’s Stage 19 write-up. Carlos Sastre once again put time into everyone on a mountaintop finish, but it was essentially a sideshow. The Spaniard needed to plan on being a little less far down for a late-race surge to work, and even then, he might have found himself more closely marked.

The efforts of Pellizotti (who will henceforth be referred to as “Zaza” on this blog—as much for Joey as Gabor) have also benefited from the close battle between Menchov and DiLuca. Perhaps if his team car hadn’t been hijacked by an offer-caffeinated bonobo around Stage 3, and an alliance with Basso had been better forged, he might have a shot, but right now, this race belongs to one of two men.

And for Dennis Menchov, that’s a problem. I cannot imagine a rider I’d want to be 18 seconds ahead of less in the final stages of a Grand Tour than Danilo DiLuca. With the TT into Milan still looming, I think the Rabobank man would almost be more comfortable it were the Italian in the maglia rosa right now. DiLuca would be forced to rest up, his LPR team would have the burden of controlling the race, and all the Russian would need to do is put back 1.2 seconds/kilometer in a discipline at which he excels.

But with Menchov in the lead, its Rabobank that must control the pace, and DiLuca, 18 seconds down from the lead, but over a minute ahead of third, has incentive and insurance for whatever crazy maneuvers he can think of in tomorrow’s stage. Rabo might look into forming an allegiance with the sprinters teams to keep things together—except that DiLuca’s LPR team also represents the best sprinter still in the Giro.

Let’s recap DiLuca’s exploits. In Stage 10‘s unconventional finish, the Killer flashed the brilliant panache of a one-day racer to put ten seconds and a stage winner’s bonus on the field. In Stage 3, he was mixing it up with the bunch sprinters in the final K, and in Stage 4, he showed as long as the stage is steep at the end, he’s still the best around. Tomorrow’s stage is an unconventional finish, that could be for bunch sprinters but is steep at the end. It makes me want to overnight a bottle of Xanax to the Rabobank team’s hotel.

You might think, given his crushing victory in Stage 12 that the final ITT into Rome would be an insurance policy for Menchov. But 14.4 twisting, narrow, cobblestoned kilometers are hardly what a TT specialist wants to see. A single blown corner, a flat tire, heck, even grabbing too much brake could cost the Russian seconds, and possibly an entire Grand Tour. Let’s not forget, the last Grand Tour decided by a few ticks of the clock concluded with a “too-short-to-matter” time trial as well.

Whatever happens, I’m pumped for it. Grand Tours that are close in the final days are a rare thing—and the opportunity to watch them live is even rarer.

How The Race Was Won – 2009 Giro d’Italia Stages 3-6

26 May

Ah, only two weeks and 10 stages behind schedule, we have the exciting second installment of the How the Race Was Won Giro coverage. An exciting sprint, some hill stages, crashes, Lance getting dropped (repeatedly) some nonsense tactics, and a long breakaway. Makes a good rest day retrospective, I suppose.
[right-click for iTunes compatible download]

Don’t worry, I have not forgotten about the YouTube folks. Podcast will update when it freakin’ feels like it, because getting the video enclosure to appear in the Podcast Feed is some computer JuJu that I simply cannot figure out.

Sastre's Win Still Doesn't Take Cervelo Off the Hook

25 May

I bet that out there, somewhere, are people who think today’s Giro win by Carlos Sastre somehow justifies the ridiculousness of the Cervelo Test Team’s tactical blunder yesterday. From the moment the team car pulled alongside Serge Pauwels, the squad has been trying to explain away what was nothing but team mismanagement, pure and simple.

Things can get confusing in bike races, yes—but in an era of race radios, helicopter coverage, GPS tracking, and TVs built directly into the consoles of team cars, I find it completely inconceivable that the events of Stage 15 were simply caused by bad timing, as the Cervelo Test Team report describes below:

“At that time, Basso had escaped and Carlos asked Serge to wait…In fact, a little earlier Basso had his teammate Stangelj drop back from Serge’s breakaway to help him. Maybe Serge didn’t understand, but we let him know a couple of times that he really had to wait… at the time Serge actually slowed down, the situation had already changed and it was no longer necessary.”

The reason Stangelj dropped back was because Basso was attacking alone. Yes, he did acquire Garzelli almost immediately, but the duo was working against the entire gruppo maglia rosa, which, so long as it stayed together, was like an army of riders—around 17 strong—all working for Sastre, but stronger and better positioned than any of his actual teammates.

It wasn’t like the reigning Tour champ was struggling to hold on, either—at 16:45 CEST, Sastre was the man dropping bodies as he drove the leaders’ group forward after Basso’s move. The only time I can imagine Sastre would have considered asking for help was when DiLuca attacked toward the top of the climb at 16:55 CEST—a move that the Spaniard covered easily less than a minute later.

It’s worth noting that at this point, Pauwels had a full 3:15 on the maglia rosa and was already over the top of the climb, which puts a fairly serious dent in the “we asked him back at the top of the climb when Sastre needed the help” excuse. By the time Pauwels (who may come off OK from this snafu) received his tongue lashing at 17:08 CEST, the gap between Basso and Sastre was 19 seconds. Short of climbing off his bike and slipping off into the woods to take a dump, there was no way Pauwels could have caught Sastre before Sastre caught Basso.

Clearly, this was a case where, if Sastre really had demanded help, a DS has to make a managerial decision and say “no”—and I’m not the only one who feels this way. Johan Bruyneel, in The Road To Paris and countless other features has displayed tremendous talent for calming crazy riders, and is seldom seen screaming out the window of his car. I’m willing to bet he considered ordering Popo back to help Levi at some point today, but in the end, realized the Ukrainian would be better used chasing the stage win.

The case may also have been that Jean-Paul van Poppel, who is as steeped in the world and traditions of cycling as much as anyone, simply lost his temper and decided to punish the perceived insolence of a young rider refusing a command to help the team leader.

Whatever the reason, I’m getting tired of Cervelo leaning on the “small team” crutch in their public statements and media materials. You’ve got the reigning Tour de France champion on the roster and you should have taken three Giro stages in a row. The only way you could possibly be construed as small is by leaning on such ridiculous excuses.

Exciting Racing, But Who's Calling The Plays?

20 May

Tactics take a holiday in tomorrow’s long, hilly time trial, and if the first half of the race has been any indication, a lot of the team cars could use a break. While the riders might focus on the gnarly courses, and other fans on the Stage 9 drama, I think the most glaring problem of this year’s Tour has been the nonsense tactics.

It’s difficult to even know who to hand the booby prize to. On the whole, I think Liquigas has done the most damage to itself through its own riding. While I’ve seen the tennis ball train on the front in a variety of stages where they simply had no interest in keeping things together, driving the field over the last categorized climb in Tuesday’s Stage 10 was utterly moronic.

Not only did it take pressure off of a battered LPR Team, which has been burning its candle at both ends, defending DiLuca’s maglia rosa and setting up Petacchi in the sprints, but at the end of the day, it ended up extending DiLuca’s advantage over Ivan Basso. What was the goal of turning up the heat on that climb when all the GC leaders were present. A Pellizotti stage win? Hardly worth the risk of handing a few seconds to a very fit looking Killer.

Astana has shown itself to be as strong as any other team in the race, but to what end? Horner and Levi’s little flier toward the end of Stage 8 could have had potential—if the finish line were about 20k closer to the bottom of the climb. And Lance drove the descent so well today that he ended up briefly gapping Leipheimer while getting clear with Di Luca. Not exactly an ideal outcome for the shakily-sponsored team.

And then there’s Slipstream. Tyler Farrar has had a lock on second place in this Giro, and it’s especially impressive, considering he’s been completely on his own for the last 2k of every sprint stage. Millar and Wiggins might be a bit skinnier than EBH and Renshaw, but they’ve still got the watts to fight them for the front of the field in the closing meters. The current state of affairs, with the two Brits gassing things up from 4-3k, hasn’t yielded dividends for anyone but Petacchi and Cav.

That having been said, I take the bad tactics over an excessively reserved race any day. If a handful of dumb moves are a necessary byproduct the panache that Di Luca showed winning Stage 10, or that Garzelli’s shown bagging mountain points, or that ISD has shown attacking everywhere at every time, so be it. I just hope that tomorrow’s TT intensifies the CG battle, rather than delivering one rider a minutes-long lead, and bringing us a week and a half of boring, negative, break-and-sprint racing.

It's Not Right, But It's OK

17 May

old man reads paper during rider protest by Flickr user AmbrosianaPictures cc-by-sa-3.0That’s how I’d describe the rider reaction to today’s stage in Milan. Granted, the the 25 corners over 15k weren’t exactly easy, but it’s nothing pro riders can’t handle. I’ll agree the parked cars are a problem, but there are parked cars all over the Spring Classics, too. Would you rather see them on a lap race, or popping up at random between cobbles and bergs?

“Too dangerous” is riding the ECCC Men’s D field on the Beanpot Criterium in the rain. Riders at the pro level come up racing in far crazier courses without the aid of race radios. As the actual racing of the final two laps demonstrated, the Milan course was just fine, even with essentially fresh sprinters shoving, bumping, and taking all the usual risks.

Even if the course weren’t ok, I fail to see how the Heads of State couldn’t have tamed it a bit pre-race, as was done on the ’05 World Championships course in Madrid. Maybe in permit- and lawsuit-crazed America, a day-of-race course change would be out of the question. But if my limited interactions with local Mediterranean governments are any indication, the course could have been “officially” changed as quickly as marshals moved the barriers.

There’s no question in my mind that the primary logic for this protest was the terrifying descents of the past few days. And that’s a legitimate thing to protest, don’t get me wrong—especially after Pedro Horillo’s 60-meter plunge. And coming on the heels of Astana’s little caper yesterday, in which both Horner and Leipheimer went up the road over the final climb, I can imagine there were some tired legs.

After all, LPR had to drive the the chase over the climb, and other than Columbia-Highroad, every other team was cranking unsucessfully to bring Siutsou back. Combine that a few hundred meters of particularly gnarly cobblestones on my tired-ass legs, and yeah, I can see not wanting to cling onto the tail end of a 60kph crit for 3 hours, either.

So I’m not especially peeved at the riders—if the leaders of the three strongest teams in the race are on-board with a protest, you’d be insane to ride against it. I don’t really blame the organizers, either—their job is to put together an interesting race, and part of that is pushing, and sometimes exceeding, what the riders can handle. At any rate, protests are nothing new for the sport, especially at the Giro.

So for those who think we’ll need to cart out a life support machine to keep cycling alive in Italy, I say this: Milan sees a great finish every stinkin’ year, and can handle the occasional protest. I think Steven DeJongh approaches today’s stage with the right attitude—you simply can’t separate the Giro d’Italia from the soap opera that invariably surrounds it.

EBH Unleashing the Dragon

15 May

Edvald Boasson Hagen is rapidly turning into one of the best riders of his generation, and I’ve gotta say, I love watching him win. Today’s Giro stage was a quality addition to his palmares, especially given the conditions and the presence of Robbie Hunter, one of the better sprinters in the pro peloton, in the final selection.

EBH played it cool, dropping the tempo to a crawl as he ended up on the front of the paceline, and then letting his breakaway companions chase down the inevitable attack. His jump at 120 meters to go was authoritative, giving him several bike lengths practically before the others could react.

Hunter might have given the Norweigan a run for his money, but he set up on what was obviously the wrong wheel. Not that I could have done any better in Hunter’s place, but it would have taken a lightning bolt to keep me off Boss Hogg’s wheel in the finale of this stage.

First-Week Equilibirum at the 2009 Giro

14 May

Menchov in last years Giro by Flickr user Tiziano Sartori under cc-by-nc-nd-2.0Six stages in, and I think the GC has reached something approaching stable. Yes, there are still hills coming, and yes, disaster could strike any moment CVV-style, but for the most part, I think the party won’t get going again until after Sunday’s SuperCrit in Milan.

Running back through the results, I see ample fodder for fans of CyclingFansAnonymous (who, by the way, blocked me on twitter because I made fun of her). Dennis Menchov (at left), the first rider to win a Grand Tour via a doping disqualification, is also the only rider to win an individual stage in this year’s Giro without previously serving a drug suspension.

At the other end of the race, first week casualties include Damiano Cunego; given his post-2004 cycling career, this should come as a surprise to no one. I sometimes think he swapped talents for a season or two with Danilo Diluca, when the Killer was bagging classics left and right—it’s like a cosmic mistake in some idiotically plotted Rom-Com.

Also drifting his way back into the cheap seats is Lance Armstrong, which might actually be bad news for the other contenders. Having both Lance and Levi at the top of the GC might mean a divided Astana—or whatever the heck they’ll be called by then—when the third week finally decides this crazy race. But with Lance a few minutes back, and Horner likely to lose time (though that depends on who you ask), the team can focus on making one guy win.

And, in case you’d forgotten, Bruyneel loves having a GC rider outside the Top 20. In ’03, the year Lance almost lost the TdF, and two days after Ullrich took 1:36 out of the Texan in a TT, Postal put Manuel Beltran 15 minutes up the road in a break, giving him the virtual race lead. USPS sat up and said “hey, you wanna let Triki win the TdF, fine by us.”

Ulle’s Binachi squad was forced to chase, Postal got the day off, and the next day, Lance Armstrong took the stage at Luz Ardiden, and secured the Tour. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some similar tactics if things stay close this time around as well.


13 May

Tom Boonen: “Cocaine is everwhere

BBC News: “World cocaine market in retreat

The Cancellara Philosophy

12 May

(video after the jump)

Today’s mountaintop finish featured 16 riders on the same time as the winner, and 27 within 10 seconds. Either the course wasn’t hard enough—which I doubt, since Lance called it a “big climb”—or people were riding with all the panache of a frightened eight-year-old.

More riders need to be like Cance. Of his failed attack in the final K of Stage 2, he said “The end, it was for nothing, but it’s always good to try something”. And if it doesn’t work out, he says he’s glad to be on the bike, getting stronger. It would be nice to see someone cranking more than 6 watts per kilo take that attitude into a climb someday.

That's Bike Racing For Ya!

12 May

phoo by Flickr user ChuckThePhotographerThe Giro saw its first major contender—depending on who you ask, I suppose—crash out yesterday: Christian VandeVelde. It’s a bummer to see a a nice guy like that go, but he’s staying upbeat—as Bob Roll says with alarming frequency, that’s bike racing for ya!

Garmin-Slipstream’s day wasn’t a total loss, though. Tyler Farrar managed a second place finish to an on-form and motivated Petacchi, despite a few technical difficulties. Guess he really likes 53/14.

Asa nice consolation prize, Farrar will get to start today’s stage in the Purple jersey—not mauve, not cyclamen, not ciclamino (unless you say “maglia ciclamino“, with italics), it’s friggin’ purple—how hard is that? Alessandro Petacchi leads both the GC and Points competition, meaning he’ll be in pink going into today’s stage, and leaving the points leadership jersey to Farrar. Safe to say that situation will change by the end of the day.

I think for today I like Gibo Simoni. Veteran Italian riders have been treating me well this Giro, the more viable GC contenders will be marking each other, the last time the Giro had a first week mountain stage, Simoni won it, and frankly, the old man doesn’t have a whole heck of a lot else to train for. For Gibo, this Giro is Festivus, New Year’s, the 4th of July and Boxing Day all rolled into one.