Let's go to the tapes for a look back at the Stage 7 coverage of the Tour of California brought to us by the helpful, yet confused Versus Channel. As I warm up the old VCR (still haven't made the leap to TiVo yet...dang), I am mentally preparing myself for the oncoming barrage of program announcements for the standard Versus lineup of fishing, hunting, bull riding, hockey, co-ed fighting presented by Chuck Norris and any number of other shows that focus on marginalized sports. Thankfully, my antiquated VCR is equipped with a remote control so I can fast forward through the frequent commercials, which should be a far more pleasant experience than the live broadcast. Sometimes it pays to be tardy.
But while we are on the subject...can you imagine the department meetings at Versus? Fishing, Hunting and Bull fighting would probably get along until one of them accidentally killed or maimed someone and I could see Cycling, Tennis and Surfing being cool with each other. Hockey is probably sulking in the corner, depressed about even being there and Co-Ed Fighting presented by Chuck Norris is just waiting for someone to make a wrong move. I'm not criticizing Versus (yet) because again, it is all we have here in the States, but the spectrum of sports presented on the channel is a near constant source of amusement for me. I miss the weird shows on OLN though, like the paranormal wilderness investigators. Remember that one? And what did they do with Kirstin Gum? Like I said, this channel fascinates me.
Alright...back to the race. Stage 7 in Long Beach (also known as the LBC), which is famous for producing famous people. Taking place over ten laps of a flat circuit and incorporating portions of the Grand Prix course, the final stage of the Tour of California was destined to come down to a sprint. But with all of the domestic teams and a number of Pro Tour teams having been shut out of stage wins, the race was sure to be hotly contested. Now...On to the coverage:
- Phil, Paul and Bob are sporting jackets for the overcast start, with Phil calling attention to "Bobby." They like to add the "y" to people's names. Bob mentions that this is a very "American" style of race which I think is a good comment. Can you imagine a circuit race or criterium in the Tour de France? I know they do laps of the Champs Elysees in Paris but not 78 miles. The bottom line for the spectators is that crits and circuit races make for a far better viewing than a road race or even a time trial. It's good that the organizers represent U.S. racing like this and actually give the domestic teams something of an advantage. Even though it didn't really work out that way last year.
- Olaf Pollack won this race on the same course last year in the inaugural event. I was talking with my dad about the race and he asked, "Didn't a rider from Poland win last year?" Not exactly but pretty close.
- Frischkorn makes the start gun flyer. Getting the argyle out in front of the camera again. Aggressive move but hey, it's only 78 miles.
- Phil's father took a trans-Atlantic trip on the Queen Mary. That's nice. My Great-Aunt apparently used to live right on this course. That's nice too.
- A group is off the front with a bunch of American domestic riders and a couple Aussies. The Pate is in there again, as well as Tim Johnson and Ben Jacques-Maynes. Karl Ten Menzies is also up front and at the current time check, Pate is the overall leader on the road. You do really have to hand it to Slipstream as they are seemingly getting in just about every move.
- Discovery on the front - where have we seen that before? I wonder if Basso knew what he was getting himself in for by coming out here. I don't know that I've ever seen a Grand Tour winner and arguably the best stage racer in the world just driving at the front of the peloton for another teammate like this. Good karma for later on in the season, I reckon.
- The guys are now discussing George Hincapie's performance in Stage 6. That may have been a career-defining ride for Hincapie. He will always be known as LA's right-hand man and a devoted teammate during the Tour de France, but his effort to ride so strongly after suffering a broken arm was a unique performance. Bob recalls his "stratospheric tempo" after catching back on to the group and being none too pleased that the bunch didn't hold up. It is terrible that GH will not be able to challenge Paris-Roubaix.
- Phil describes the peloton as a "snake that has taken down a big antelope." That's actually a very good description. And fitting for the Versus channel...but only if the comment was followed by a human either killing or wrestling the snake.
- BMC is helping. The red and black haven't been up front a whole lot so this is good publicity more than anything. It's good to see Andy Rhis sticking with cycling and helping the U.S. scene. I wonder what his reaction will be if Floyd ends up being exonerated - which is looking far more likely. He had a great team that was ruined by this whole process and he had to kick a lot of employees to the curb. Anyway, good to see BMC represented.
- Phil mentions Ben Jacques-Maynes and gives him the "Frankly, we've never heard of him" treatment. I always chuckle when he says that. Actually, I get the impression that Phil feels bad for BJM because he would have had the race lead after the Santa Rosa crash if the officials hadn't made their unprecedented ruling. Phil even went as far as to call it a "decision of passion" which I thought was rather poetic. He's forgotten more bike races than I have ever seen so I'll defer to his judgement on that one.
- Paul goes into the "As former professionals, Bob and I know that..." routine. I always wonder if Phil feels bad when they do that.
- "There's So Much Drama In The LBC, It's kinda hard being Snoop D-O Double G."
- Floyd Interview: He's rocking the suit and tie, which is good, but you can tell he's not exactly a suit and tie kind of guy. He seems to be in very good spirits and is happy that things are getting better, both physically and legally. Despite being criticized for the Wikipedia defense strategy, I think Floyd has opened a lot of eyes about the anti-doping process.
- U23 World Champion Danny Pate. Very few U.S. riders have won World Championships in road events. Can you name them?
- Credit Agricole is on the front working for Thor Hushovd. Is there a more stereotypically Norwegian guy than Thor Hushovd? He's like a composite drawing of what everyone imagines a Scandanavian guy looks like.
- Bob asks Paul what his favorite sprint was. Paul says Stage 6, won by JJ Haedo after the day-long chase by Discovery. JJ did kind of come out of the shadows for that one but the craziest part was Freddie Rodriquez and Robert Forster getting tangled up. It is still amazing to me that someone doesn't hit the deck in almost every group finish.
- Now for the Amgen-Love. Patrick Dempsey is here again but there is no sign of the red-headed friend that he was mean to in Can't Buy Me Love. Remember Courtney Gaines...the kid from Children of the Corn? So Dempsey or Ronald Miller if you choose, may be somewhat familiar with cycling but it's hard to tell. He's a good actor. He uses the term "on a lot of levels" quite a bit and mentions Levi's "magical" time trial and character, as he was "fighting off demons." Wow, was that just improv? I have to assume that Bob is a big fan of Can't Buy Me Love. Come to think of it...Ronald Miller actually rode his bike around quite a bit in that movie.
- Phil Liggett during the helicopter shot of the shoreline boulevard: "On the right is Long Beach...Beach." Please allow myself to introduce...myself.
- Gap is 2:18 and Pate is just out of the jersey. Rabobank is helping for Brown.
- The guys are reflecting on Stage 6 again. Like I said, that may go down as George's most memorable ride along with his Tour stage win.
- Cyclysm Sundays announcement. They've got a pretty solid lineup this year with the notable absence of Milan-San Remo and the Giro. I am curious if they will cover the Paris-Nice if the Pro Tour teams do not race. This UCI/ASO feud is despicable. Little children run this sport.
- A motorcycle almost takes out the field, knocking cones over and honking his horn. What was that? The BMC guys are waving at him. That could have been disastrous. Even if he missed the riders, the cones could have easily caused a crash. Was that Gary Busey driving that thing?
- Good work in the break but the field can see them. The gap is down to 1:45 with 3 to go.
- Phil likes the argyle for Slipstream. But then again...he's British.
- Focus on Slipstream - The team has adopted a new in-house testing system that checks for metabolic changes in the riders. A good philosophy and Jonathan Vaughters looks like he should be up at CU drinking coffee and discussing Descartes. JV sure brought some of that Euro-style with him back to Denver. The dagger-chop sideburns are still in full-effect.
- As they go to a commercial break, they show the dang eagle-helmet, American flag-guy on the side of the road again. This guy kills me. At least he was just standing there waving his flag and not running alongside the group. Although maybe it would have been entertaining to see him try to run with the race at 30mph. That would have been fun.
- Bob makes the comment that bicycle racing is about, "Cooperation one moment, absolute war the next." That is a good way to describe the odd dynamic of the breakaway effort and the chase by the peloton. It really is a unique kind of relationship that riders have with one another when everyone has different motives. I wish more of the general public understood the tactical side of bicycle racing because it is really is a fascinating combination of cunning and strength. Such a cool sport.
- Bobby J - The Invisible Man. I have seen Julich a few times but he has been pretty quiet. As quiet as you can be for 4th place I suppose. CSC just has so many cards to play that Bobby was kind of the odd-man out I think.
- We learn that JJ Haedo has more wins than any single team in ToC history. With four victories, he has actually won 25% of the Tour of California stages over the past two years. If you exclude the Prologue and Time Trial stages, he has won a third of the entire race. Not bad. Phil compares him to Robbie McEwen but I'm not sure about that. I'm not sure who I would compare him to because he's a big guy but has good acceleration. It will be interesting to see how he does in Europe.
- Phil mentions that Patrick Dempsey spent $7,000 on a bike for this event and then jokes, "He's got too much money." I wonder if that was more a crack about having to buy a bike right before the race than about the amount he paid. Once again...what's the deal with Ronald Miller? He's the biggest celebrity they could rustle up in Long Beach? You're telling me Snoop Dogg wouldn't be down? You've seen him rolling on the lowrider bikes. He'd be on board for sure.
- The break is starting to crack a bit and Menzies goes it alone for a while. This guy has been racing full-blast since the beginning of January but CSC is on the front so it's game over. Even though he is Ten Menzies, he cannot outride Bjarne Riis' red and black death squad.
- T-Mobile and Credit Agricole are up there with CSC now. Uh oh, Horner is jumping up the right side for Freddie while Jens Voigt is doing the rock and roll action and killing it on the front. I think Horner made him mad by coming up on them like that. Seriously, Jens Voigt presented by Chuck Norris rides like he's mad at his bike or something. Like it did something bad and needs to take a beating. I think he is such a cool guy because he just rides every last bit of anger and fury out his body and only has good vibes left over.
- The riders are on a really sketchy section of road with a dropped and separated shoulder that Bettini handles beautifully. That was really amazing. 8 of 10 recreational riders would have eaten it there for sure even if they weren't racing, but the Cricket (and everyone else behind him for that matter) just kept jumping his front wheel around until he got back on the right surface. This guy Bettini can ride a bike. Maybe that's why he gets to sport the rainbow kit. By the way...any guesses on the only U.S. World Champions in the road race or time trial? I know.
- They are winding it up for the sprint and Rabobank is coming really hard on the right. Haedo is boxed in. Graeme Brown is going early...Henderson and Dominguez coming around him...Dominguez!!!! Ivan Dominguez wins the stage for Toyota-United. Great finish there as Brown just went way too early and The Cuban Missile snuck through for the only domestic American victory of the Tour. Super happy that TUP was able to get the victory and represent the U.S. circuit on the top podium step.
- You really have to like Ivan Dominguez. What a story. Cuba is not exactly a powerhouse in the cycling world but somehow Dominguez has carved out a very impressive list of professional victories. He's fun to listen to as well but right in the middle of the interview they started pumping the Versus Music theme music. Oh well. He mentions that it was a straight sprint which was better because it was, "Safer...a little bit safe. Still bumping." A little bit safe. But not much.
- Bob then asked how he got to the finish and I thought Dominguez' answer was funny. He said that he was staying behind Graeme Brown but mentioned that he was surprised there was not more of a battle for his wheel. I think Tom Steels has a good idea why no one wanted to follow Brown's wheel. The guy has a serious reputation for taking people out in bunch finishes but all he did here was take Ivan Dominguez to the finish line.
- 78 miles in 2:39. Basically 29.5 mph avg.
- Bob interviews Overall Race Winner, Levi Leipheimer and mentions that the stakes for the Discovery Channel team were "stratospheric." Without a sponsor for the 2008 season, this is definitely a big win for the organization. Interestingly, Levi mentions that he would have to think about whether or not this Tour of California victory is his sweetest. I know the Tour of Germany and Dauphine Libere wins were against more stacked competition but I figured he would have just said this was the best for PR purposes. Unfortunately, half the people watching this race probably couldn't name one of his European results.
All in all, this was a great race. Good courses, crowds and the best field of professional bicycle racers this country has ever seen. The "Hometown" guy won and the Domestic squads did not go home empty handed, winning a stage and animating the race from the very start in San Francisco. Cycling in this country looks strong and hopefully this event will only grow in stature and popularity.
So that's it for the 2007 Tour of California presented by some company whose name I do not recall. I think it started with an "A" or something...