Thursday, March 29, 2007


Thoughts on Milan-Sanremo:

I know that many people in the English-speaking (ie arrogant and slightly mis-informed) World think it is actually spelled San Remo but sorry folks…the real name is Sanremo. The problem stems from a mistake made by an Italian official on some documents a few years ago that inadvertently created a new (read-fake) Saint – St. Remo. In case you were wondering…there is no such Saint. Unless he is a patron saint of typos. But in Italy…there is only Sanremo, which should be enough in its own right. From what I can tell, it’s a pretty nice place…even without a fictitious Catholic figurehead.

On a related topic — perhaps in the era of performance enhancing drugs there will be a coronation of St. Romo, in honor of admitted ‘roider Bill Romanowski of 49er, Bronco and Raider fame. Or infamy. The guy literally had a fishing tackle box full of pills, balms and syringes that he would take with him wherever he went. They even did a feature on ESPN about it. Oh…but just like Rumsas – it was all his “dieting” wife’s stuff. At least that’s what he said when the Feds came knocking on his door in Cherry Hills a few years back. That excuse didn’t work so well after he punched a teammate in the eye and ruined his career at a Raiders preseason camp. Not sure if dietary supplements cause ‘roid rage there Billy. This is an interesting legal take on the story if you’re curious.

Anyway…or should I say…Entonces…Oscar Freire confirmed his reputation as the most confusing and devastating bike racer on the planet with another easy looking victory at MSR last Saturday. It’s tough to overlook the 3 World Championship jerseys on his wall but I swear Freire is one of the best “forgotten” riders in the world. Even though he was a former winner of the event it seemed like all the focus was on Boonen, Petacchi, Bettini and the other core of Italians like Bennati and Pozzatto.

Question: Is there a bike racer that wants any piece of Oscar Freire when he’s healthy?

Answer: I don’t think there is. If there is…name one.

Guys like Boonen don’t want him in longer races like the Worlds and MSR that usually come down to sprints and guys like Bettini don’t want him either because he’ll hang with them in late surges and just doesn’t get dropped. He may be one of the most quietly respected riders in the world. Rarely does anyone act like they should have won when Freire beats them. Instead, there is just kind of a sobering acceptance that they were beaten by a better guy. Even the relative “cheapness” of his first MSR victory over the prematurely celebratory Erik Zabel is often seen as testament to his tactical savvy as much as a product of Ete’s mistake. Such a curious career.

If Freire were Italian or Belgian he would be the biggest star in the entire sport. But because he is a Spaniard on a Dutch team that performs in decidedly un-Spanish events…he is often overlooked by the mainstream media. I know he gets hurt a lot and has health issues but find me another rider that peaks at better times and pulls a higher percentage of big wins. I don’t think you can. When he is really on form, I don’t think that there is a tougher matchup than Freire at the end of a race. He is faster than Boonen, Bettini and Valverde and stronger than Petacchi, McEwen or Bennati.

The only thing that can slow down the Spaniard is yet another injury or some more ugly politics like those seen in last year’s Tour de France when he basically let Popovych off the hook during Stage 12 as a result of the Rabo/Disco relationship. If everything was equal (which it is NOT) I have to think he would have hung on to Popo and probably won his third stage of the race. But that’s a whole different story…

Anyway…Freire was not going to lose Milan-Sanremo this year. He was never more than a few places off the front (even though he appeared to be totally alone…maybe Flecha was with him for a minute) and was never in trouble at all. He just sat in, let Quick-Step and the others work and then made Boonen and Petacchi look like little kids on the Via Roma. Textbook. If Freire is healthy I don’t see how anyone can ever pick against him in events like this. 3 Rainbow jerseys and 2 MSR’s aren’t enough for you?

It would also be easy to overlook the performance of Paolo Bettini in this race because he didn’t really garner a top result. But anyone who watched the race will attest to the Cricket’s stunning performance. It should be noted that Bettini wrapped himself around a street sign during Tirreno-Adriatico and suffered a broken rib in addition to a number of other injuries. Last weekend, he was held behind a crash in MSR and made one of the more amazing returns to the group that I can remember. He was well behind the field at the bottom of the Cipressa and the helicopter shot showed him just flying past all the dropped riders in an effort to bridge back up.
Seriously, from the bottom of the climb Bettini must have passed at least 50 riders as he worked his way from group to group and ended up at the front of the peloton by the beginning of the Poggio. Then he took over on the descent and was actually driving the group to catch Ricco and Gilbert. In case you were wondering…these guys Freire and Bettini…they are pretty good bike racers.

What can you say about the rest of the race? Well…Ricardo Ricco and Philippe Gilbert made good moves near the top of the Poggio but were not nearly as impressive as Popo and Bettini. Somehow Popovych managed to get off the front on no fewer than two occasions within the last 15km. And not just little “Voeckler-esque” efforts but real-live “I’m trying to break this race” style action. After he bridged up to Moletta and Pellizotti I was impressed, but after he got caught and then leapt off the front again on the bottom of the Poggio I was amazed. How do you do that? It’s not like they were taking it easy when they caught him the first time. I had to echo Bob Roll’s commentary of the event with a hearty “GO POPO!!” Very impressive stuff.

Not nearly as impressive (or maybe even more so in a sick and twisted way) was the descending skill demonstrated by the Gerolsteiner team. I have had nightmares about Andrea Moletta’s digger/impaling on the descent of the Cipressa and am still having flashbacks of David Kopp’s lifeless body and bloody face from the video coverage. I don’t know what kind of wheels the Water Boys were riding or if there was some kind of new tire used but I will not be anxious to test their gear from Milan-Sanremo considering their results. No fewer than five riders went down and Moletta’s crash was maybe the sickest thing I have seen since Joe Theisman’s leg injury on Monday Night Football.

Bob Roll had the Understatement of the Year when he claimed that Moletta had “Come to grief” after wedging himself between the cement wall and a steel lamp post at 40+ mph, breaking his femur (aka The biggest bone in the human body) and simultaneously causing C-Mac and I to scream at the television as if we had just seen a live homicide. Yeah…I’ll go out on a limb and say there might be some grief associated with that crash.

An interesting and disturbing side note observation was Fabian Wegmann’s reaction to Kopp’s seemingly dead body on the road after three Gerolsteiner riders all went down on one of the Capi descents. At first he was curled up and trying to get himself checked out after eating it but then he went over to Kopp to see if he was okay. Clearly he was not. With blood streaming out of his face as a result of a broken nose and clearly unconscious…it would not have been out of place to think that he was dead. Wegmann stood over his prone teammate and put his hands on his helmet in a show of shock and concern. But then the mechanic came by with a new bike and it was back to the race. So much for your concern Fabian – You have to race. So he got on his new bike, took one more glance at his potentially dead teammate and started flying down the hill in pursuit of the peloton.

Find me another sport that would have the contestants witness a possibly catastrophic injury to an athlete and then just have them jump right back into the fray like nothing had happened. I know Football and Hockey are tough sports but I’ll take a puck to the chin or a shot from a linebacker over a 40+mph digger on asphalt any day. And we don’t even have pads – straight lycra baby. Pads are for wusses and downhill racers.

In the ultimate show of toughness, Moletta made a promise to be back by the Vuelta and Kopp is actually contesting wins already after their brutal crashes. Okay, maybe it was the painkillers talking in Moletta's case but does anyone out there want to argue about the toughness of professional cyclists? I didn’t think so.

Final Verdict – Milan-Sanremo is a tough, long race with lots of crashes and almost always a very deserving winner. Oscar Freire wins just about everything he wants to when healthy…I smell a four-time World Champion in the not-to-distant future. Or maybe that’s just the scent of burnt flesh from all the guys that bit it on the roads of Italy last weekend. Keep the rubber side down fellas…rubber side down. I know it’s a year away but I think Stuart O’Grady will win next year. Just a hunch.

Now for a quick Redlands Recap –

First of all…can a brother get any footage of domestic racing coverage? Please let me know if I am missing a media outlet because it would have been GREAT to see this race. I know most of the courses but it’s tough to do recounted play-by-play with mental images of Oak Glen and Sunset instead of real life images. Is it really easier to just buy the European feed of races like Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-Sanremo? Really Versus?

Secondly…Holy Bajadali. Awesome. I really like Iceman Moninger but he’s won a lot of races (as in like…hundreds and hundreds) and I was happy to see another Boulderite take the cake in Southern California this past weekend. With all due respect to the BMC team and their support of Morning Hair, it is great for American racing to have guys like Baj and teams like Jelly Belly winning events like this.

With some solid team support from Colorado Buffalo Alex Candelario, Bajadali finally got the big result he’s been scratching at for the past few years. I still remember when the guy was rocking the Orange-Green-and-Purple of the Vitamin Cottage team as an amateur and now he has upgraded to the Lime green-and-rainbow of Jelly Belly in the pros.

Good for you Andy…may your next team kit be conservative in its color selection.

It would have also been nice to see Zajicek bridge the gap on Sunday because the math on his podium-crashing move was rather impressive. Five minutes to close a 1:20 gap on the likes of Wherry, Baldwin, Swindlehurst, Wohlberg and Jacques-Maynes is no joke at all. For real…but it resulted in a podium so it was worth it.

Too bad we couldn’t watch it happen.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Pro Tours And Cons Of The Week - 5 on 5

Life is full of good things and not-so-good things. How's that for some philosophizing? It's true though...and the cycling world is no different. The good things generally outnumber the bad but for the sake of argument (and symmetry) I will compartmentalize the past week of racing into 5 things I liked and 5 things I did not like.

Things I Liked:

1) Alberto Contador – What else can you say about the performance this guy put on during Paris-Nice? It helped that he had the power of a great team behind him to set the table but the Spaniard's effort over the final stages of this event was what bike racing is all about. In order to win the race (and make up for a sloppy 17 second deficit he took early on when the group split and Disco dropped the ball), Contador had to be willing to sacrifice himself for breakaway opportunities and risk everything. While other riders were content to look after their Top Ten Overall placing (I'm talking to you Cadel Evans and Predictor-Lotto) by following wheels, Contador made no effort to conserve himself at all and just went crazy.

After breaking away and driving the lead group on the penultimate stage – only to be unceremoniously dropped by Luis Leon Sanchez and caught by the group within sight of the finish – it would have been fairly easy for Contador to get discouraged. Instead, he went out the next day, had his entire team (including the likes of Leipheimer and Danielson) set him up for the final climb up the Col d'Eze and subsequently rode the entire peloton into the ground with yet another ferocious attack. At 5'9" and 138 lbs, the Spaniard is rather adept at uphill accelerations but it was his aggressive descent and drive to the finish in Nice that was almost even more impressive.

Compounding my appreciation of Contador's performance was the replay of his near-death experience on the same descent a couple of years ago when he was off the front and pulled his foot out while accelerating out of a corner. I recall the sequence very vividly and even mentioned it in my Pro Tour Preview piece earlier this year. I can't find it on YouTube or anything yet but during the replay on Sunday it made me holler, even though I have watched it probably 10 times. I mean…the guy pulled his rear wheel entirely off the ground and made a 45 degree turn toward a rock wall and a cement telephone pole at probably 40+ mph but somehow managed to keep it together, using his released foot to settle himself, touch the ground and keep from slamming into the curb. It all happened SO fast but the replay puts it into perspective. Then he just clips back in and starts hammering away again…didn't even look down at his pedals. "Oops…Okay almost just killed myself…now back to work." Awesome.

I had forgotten that Contador had a serious brain injury as a result of a crash a few years back which jeopardized his career. Sixty stitches in his head and a brain hemorrhage can dampen one's enthusiasm for the sport sometimes. But Alberto kept riding and seems to appreciate what he has accomplished. Hopefully Contador's story can serve as inspiration for Saul Raisin as he returns from his head injury.

There are lots of ways to win bike races but this past Paris-Nice was an example of a rider simply breaking both the will and legs of his rivals. You could argue that there may have been a little politicking in the peloton but the bottom line is that Contador was the strongest rider both mentally and physically. And he knew it too. Maybe Bruyneel and Demol have some liquid courage or something that they give to their riders that makes them just feel superior to everyone else. That level of confidence is rare in bike racing but the Disco boys seem to have it in spades.

2) Discovery Channel – Speaking of which…is there really any question about who the strongest Pro Tour team is? With all due respect to CSC, Discovery is just an absolute stage racing machine. Between Leipheimer, Contador, Basso and Danielson they can challenge virtually any multi-day event and they seem to have more guts and confidence than just about anyone else. What other team would be able to ride the front for the entire Tour of California to protect the lead and then turn around and ride the front to set up winning attacks during Paris-Nice? Once again, it is rare for a team or a rider to just simply enforce their will on an entire Pro Tour peloton, but the Disco boys have done that now in both of the biggest events on the calendar so far.

It is a shame that Hincapie will not be challenging the cobbled Classics this year because if he were able to notch a win at Flanders or Roubaix, we could be looking at one of the most dominant team performances of all time. Barring a re-opening of Operacion Puerto it is virtually a given that Basso will repeat at the Giro, Levi will be positioned well to repeat at the Dauphine and it is conceivable that Disco could have three riders in the Top 10 at the Tour. Not to mention the Vuelta – where I expect Contador and Danielson to contend.

At this point, the only question about this team revolves around its sponsor for the coming years. As an American, I can only hope that the team remains registered in the US and does not turn entirely into a European squad. They should have no trouble securing a new title sponsor but for the good of the sport it should remain a US team.

3) Davide Rebellin - "Tin Tin" may not have won Paris-Nice but he put up one heck of a fight. I have always thought of Rebellin as a one-day racer but it turns out that he has had a number of good results in Paris-Nice and has finished on the podium a number of times. He will always be primarily known for his historic Fleche-Amstel-Liege sweep a couple of years ago but those wins overshadow a very consistent and intelligent career.

Rebellin and Gerolsteiner were basically bullied out of the win this past weekend by Contador and Discovery, but the barrel-chested Italian hung in there for longer than I expected. He admitted after the race that he knew it would be tough to keep the lead into Nice and seemed to handle the disappointment with a lot of class. I think a lesser gentleman could have easily pointed to the lack of team support as a likely reason for his loss. It could be argued that one teammate to help him drive the descent into Nice could have made the difference. I was pleased that he didn't go there although it would have been justified. Gerolsteiner had some close calls this past weekend between Schumacher in Tirreno-Adriatico and Rebellin in P-N but I'm pretty sure these two will get some W's here soon enough.

The other cool thing about Rebellin is that the guys from pronounce his name like it's the modified version of "rebelling." Like, Hey gellin'? Good times.

4) Chris Horner - Smiley was very visible in the Rebellin group on Sunday up the Col d' Eze and proved to be the first American on the road for a while. He was working for a laboring Cadel Evans and actually helped steady the gap to Contador for a good portion of the final climb. The final group with him was Rebellin, Luis Sanchez, Pelizzotti, Schleck, Sammy Sanchez, Valjavec and Evans - all of whom had GC aspirations. Not only is that a select group in its own right but when you consider the motivation for the other guys compared to Horner who was looking out for Evans, it's even more impressive.

He made a big surge before the summit and then dropped off the pace but once again, it's always fun to watch Horner race a bike. I just hope that his service for Evans doesn't compromise too many opportunities. He's smart and talented enough to be of service to Cadel, look out for stage wins and go for a good overall placing all at the same time. You can't say that about too many riders. Jens Voigt, Hincapie...not many others.

5) American Domestiques - Speaking of helping out, how about the work of Tom Danielson and Levi Leipheimer in service of Contador? Pretty good stuff. Honestly I think Danielson is probably more suited to work like that than to go out completely for himself. He's obviously one of the best climbers in the world but I just think he fits better in a team role than as an outright leader. He did good work for Levi in California in that role as well.

As for Levi - one would assume that he held something back during Paris-Nice in deference to Contador and it bodes well for Discovery that so many quality guys are willing to work so hard for the team. Basso and Hincapie were selfless in the ToC, Levi and Danielson sacrificed in Paris-Nice and the Disco crew is 2 for 2. They're like the Yankees - only not Evil.

Things I Did Not Like:

1) Crashes - Bettini crashed twice and got a little banged up so he may not be 100% for Milan-San Remo. Matt White bailed hard on a descent and had to abandon Paris Nice while Iban Mayo hit a traffic island on the last stage. This week wasn't especially bad in the grand scheme of things but it reinforced the reality that nothing is given in this sport. Anything can happen at anytime and form is nothing if you don't keep the rubber side down.

2) Belgium Doping Investigation - I don't know much about it yet so I will reserve judgment until more comes out. Not good for Marichal though. Not good at all.

3) No Unibet in Paris-Nice - The race was so good that it was almost easy to overlook the fact that one of the best teams in the world was not in attendance. But I will not overlook it. Despite the quality of the race, the fact that the UCI caved to the ASO and basically turned their back on Unibet was at best a disservice to the product of bike racing and at worst a politically motivated challenge to the competitive landscape of the sport. You're telling me that Agritubel was better for that race than Unibet would have been? I know that's not really the argument (although the gambling thing is SO weak) but the point I am making is that the overall product was diminished by not inviting Unibet. This whole thing is such a shame. More later of the saga continues...

4) Cycle Sport - I know it sounds silly to criticize a publication that I have subscribed to for years...but Cycle Sport will not let go of this Tyler Hamilton bashing. The latest tactic is to publish sugary letters from readers defending Tyler and then put a picture of him at the bottom of the page with the caption "Hamilton: Are you happy he's back?"

I just find it odd that they are being so plainly anti-Hamilton. I understand that there is little middle ground in the cycling community when it comes to Tyler - you either like him or you don't - but their readers are calling them out and then getting mocked. It just seems like a strange choice for a fairly reputable publication.

If Hamilton is able to come back and win again it will very interesting to see how they handle it. I am also curious to see how he is received at the Tour de Georgia. I personally believe that he will get a lot of support...just not from Cycle Sport. I really do like the rest of the magazine most of the time though.

5) Not actually being in Nice - Anyone who caught any of the footage of the final stage of Paris-Nice or has been to the area knows...Nice is very, very nice. I highly recommend it. Cannes and Monaco are pretty sweet too. Good place for a bike race, well...unless you're Unibet.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

March Madness - GO CU?

The NCAA Tournament Selection Commitee apparently didn't think that the University of Colorado Men's basketball team was worthy of an invitation to the Big Dance. I guess a 7-20 record doesn't get you a ton of respect in the basketball world. So instead of being oddly envious of schools like Texas Tech or Oral Roberts University (no offense to any Red Raiders or...what is ORU's mascot...the Televangelists?) I thought this would be a good time to look at a true source of pride for fellow Buffaloes on the Hard Road, not the Hard Wood...well, except for maybe a wooden velodrome somewhere...and the dirt too...whatever:

UCLA is historically the most successful college basketball program, Notre Dame for football, North Carolina for soccer, UNLV for get my drift. Well, the University of Colorado is to cycling what those other schools are to whatever I just mentioned. Only better. Not that anyone really needs more reasons to come to Boulder, but if you happen to be a college-bound bike racer (preferably in-state) you have to have CU at the top of your list of schools. Consider the history of the program and the company you would be joining:

Since the first official Collegiate National Championships were held in 1987, the University of Colorado team has won 7 Overall Road, 4 Overall Mountain and 2 Overall Track Titles. There have been dozens of individual championships from the likes of John Stenner, Tim Peddie, Julie Furtado, Tyler Hamilton, Alex Candelario, JHK and many other former, current and future professionals. During the 1998-2000 seasons, the Buffs pulled off an unprecedented three-peat in the Division 1 Overall Road Team Championships, confirming the typical depth of talent to be found on campus in Boulder for the better part of 20 years. It is rare to have a class at CU that does not include the click-clack of students in cycling shoes or the wonders of helmet-head and sweat from the ride up The Hill. I miss college.

Unfortunately there is no NCAA Tournament bracket for collegiate cycling but if there was...Colorado would surely be a number one seed. And I just about guarantee we could make it to the Final Four at least. Take that Ohio State and Kansas.

By the way...Ohio State graduated 10% of all male basketball players from 1996-99. Oregon, Florida A&M and Eastern Kentucky graduated zero players in this time. Check out this article for some more disconcerting statistics. Now that is some March Madness right there. GO CU!!!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Floyd Fairness Fund Event - The Right Vibe

After attending the Floyd Fairness Fund event in Westminster, Colorado this past Sunday, I have been forcing myself to relive a couple of emotional weeks from this summer. Honestly, the process has been more difficult than I had imagined, but it was worth the effort. Because after some careful reflection, I believe that the 2006 Tour de France - and the saga of Floyd Landis' victory - was perhaps the most fitting example of why I am not only a cycling fan, but a follower of sport in general. Offense, defense - victory, defeat - agony, ecstasy - I feel sorry for those that cannot see the value of these elements in athletic competition. Especially through the beauty and drama of bicycle racing for three weeks through France. I'm glad I do. And I'm glad I did this past July.

Anyone who closely watched the 2006 Tour de France is sure to have an accompanying tale of excitement, depression and elation during the race. These feelings were followed quickly by the crushing news of a possible doping violation which, unfortunately, has seemed to overshadow the value of the earlier experience for many fans. But it doesn't have to be that way and I can attest to the benefit of reflecting on the race as we experienced it, cleanly - not through the dope-colored glasses many of us have chosen to wear of late. We all navigated the crazy road of Floyd’s Tour victory in our own personal fashion but the curious element of my experience during the 2006 Tour de France was the fact that it coincided with a cross-country move as well.

The infamous Stage 17 of the Tour de France, just happened to take place on the very day that Colleen and I made our California exit and honestly, it could not have happened at a better time. We had spent the prior day in a gloomy haze as we packed up the U-Haul and tried to come to grips with Floyd’s devastating collapse during Stage 16. We were staying with my Father and Grandparents and had been watching the Tour coverage intently for the better part of two and a half weeks, only to suffer the crushing blow of Stage 16 on the same day that we had to make final preparations to leave the state and people we loved.

It was not a pretty scene. After staring blankly at the television screen and witnessing Landis’ shocking collapse in virtual silence, we managed to complete the task of packing with very few words and only an occasional, “I can’t believe that just happened” remark. I literally felt sick for a couple of hours after the stage as I imagined the reaction of Floyd’s family and teammates. On one hand, it was remarkable that he had been able to fight through his hip injury and prove to be the strongest rider in the race up to that point. On the other hand, the understanding that what he had sacrificed and worked so hard for was all but lost because of one bad day…was tragic. Once again, I honestly felt sick as I tried to rationalize Periero or Kloden possibly winning the Tour.

Not that I disliked Periero or Kloden, but Floyd was the strongest rider in the race and I simply could not come to grips with a lesser rider winning the Tour. Perhaps the dominance of Indurain and Armstrong had blinded many fans to the reality of a “bad day” over the course of three weeks but we were all reminded just how fickle the human body can be when pushed to such extreme levels. The anxiety of watching Landis drift back in the group during Stage 16 and trying to convince myself that he was just bluffing was difficult to work through but when Sastre made his attack and Floyd dropped off the pace immediately, I knew something was very wrong.

There was a moment right after Landis had been left behind that I will always remember. As Jose Azevedo rode up beside him, Floyd looked quickly over at the camera to the right and put his head down. It was a small movement and could have been easily overlooked but I recall saying out loud, “That’s it. He’s done. Cracked.” It was painfully obvious that he had reached a point of total confusion and desperation, illustrated by his quick glance at the camera-bike as if to say, “What the hell is going on? I've been killing it for the entire season - what is happening?"

The next half-hour seemed like an eternity as my family and I sat slumped in our chairs, waiting for the stage to finish and the broadcast to end. We then set to work packing the truck and gathering our things for our final departure to Colorado. My Grandmother said I looked sick and I couldn’t argue with her. As a fan, I was crushed. But even more so, as a cyclist and racer, I felt terrible for Floyd mainly because I had a remote understanding of how devastating it would be to work so hard for something and come so close…only to have your goal snatched away from you so dramatically and in such a humiliatingly public forum.

I was impressed that evening as I witnessed a clearly shell-shocked Landis make no excuses for his performance and also confirm his desire to keep fighting. Whether in person or on TV, one of the most appealing things about Floyd is that you rarely get the impression that he is being anything other than brutally honest. Perhaps it is a function of his upbringing, but I have always gotten the sense that he is far more likely to speak the truth – whether it’s what you want to hear or not – than perpetuate a false image. No one ever really knew who Lance was and he was an expert at keeping it that way. But with Floyd – what you see is what you get. He sometimes comes off as slightly less polished and slick, but I think that is an endearing quality in today’s world of sports and image construction. It is difficult, if not impossible, to say all the right things and have them all be honest at the same time.

I usually sleep like a rock but I had trouble settling down the night after Stage 16. There was a pit in my stomach that had been filled only a day before by happy Tour thoughts and the comfort of my family, both of which were quickly removed by Floyd’s collapse and our eminent relocation away from the Arnold clan. Our goal was to be on the road by 8:00 the next morning so that we could make it to Utah by nightfall. I am usually pretty easy about long travel days but I couldn’t help dreading the next day’s journey and having to think about the Tour for 12 hours while behind the wheel of our 14' U-Haul.

I woke up groggy from restless sleep and rolled downstairs to get some coffee. I was met in the kitchen by my Father who excitedly said that Floyd was already off the front of Stage 17 and had a pretty good gap. We both ran into the den and began to catch up on the action. The coverage began after Floyd had attacked so it took a little while to figure out just how he got a 5+ minute gap on the field. I kept waiting for the field to start cutting the time down and figured he might stay away by a minute or two but when he crossed the line a full 6:30 ahead of Sastre in second place, I actually realized that he had basically won the Tour.

The triumphant victory punch and the image of Floyd telling Frankie that he was going to win the the race were bouncing around in my head as we scrambled to get on the road, a full hour later than we had planned. My Father and I, both devastated the day before, couldn't stop smiling at each other as we said our goodbyes. My Grandparents weren't quite as happy as Dad and I but Floyd's performance had put everyone in a good mood for what was really a sad day. It's always difficult to say goodbye to loved ones and begin a cross-country move but the emotion was positive that morning as a result of the Tour de France. And we made good time to Utah, with a big smile on my face the whole time.

Thanks Floyd - The Arnold's appreciate that your effort made a tough time a lot easier to handle.

With regard to the event, I was very impressed with the presentation by Dr. Baker and the support that Floyd is receiving from both fans and his Management/PR team of Will G. and Michael H. I have read all of the information on the case and was not surprised by many of the details presented however, the biggest impression was made by the apparent character of Floyd and his team. These guys know that they have their work cut out for them but their tenacity, professionalism and willingness to stand up to the questions and criticism did not go unnoticed. It is difficult to quantify a "vibe" but I believe that character is often displayed subtly and I got a good feeling from the whole Floyd Fairness Fund team of Floyd, Arnie, Will and Michael.

Any belief of innocence or guilt aside, this case is incredibly important for basic athete's rights with regard to the anti-doping movement. The issue of “fairness” is a tricky one, but if there is any of it included in Floyd’s trial…I am certain that he will be exonerated. All preconceived biases toward guilt or innocence must be overshadowed by the scientific details of the case which reside overwhelmingly in Landis’ favor. If the scientific evidence and proof of laboratory infractions is disregarded - I do not see how any athlete can feel safe that he or she will not be a future victim.

The case begins March 14th. Hopefully justice is served.

Friday, March 9, 2007

UCI and ASO Agree...To Be Hypocritical

The UCI and ASO, the organizations primarily responsible for much of the recent conflict in the sport of professional cycling, held a joint press conference on Friday to announce their unanimous decision to remain consistently hypocritical in all matters from this point forward. The press conference also allowed the UCI to announce its “100% Against Doping” campaign which is the present incarnation of the former “About 50% Or So Against Doping…Give Or Take A Few…But Really Only If They Get Caught” project that has been in effect for the last fifty years or more.

Recently, as the two groups argued over “rights” and “rules” and all sorts of other noble sounding topics, there has been a growing sentiment among both the Pro Tour teams and the general public that neither organization is acting out of good faith toward the sport of cycling. Rather than continue the charade of altruism that has been preached by both sides, the two groups officially ended the standoff by admitting that they are really just concerned about money and power.
“We have been trying for quite some time now to create a sense that the UCI really is looking out for the best interest of the sport and the riders,” said UCI President Pat McQuaid on Friday. “But after awhile, it becomes pretty obvious that we’re just trying to protect our own financial interests and really hoping to get a piece of the broadcasting and media distribution rights for all professional cycling events in the future. That’s really our number one goal…but you didn’t hear that from me, okay?”

McQuaid’s statement was immediately followed by a reporter reminding him that the press conference had been called to effectively admit the UCI and ASO’s concern with the flow of money and operational control over everything else. “Oh yeah…sorry. I’m just so accustomed to doing everything in my power to cover this up and act like my concern is for the riders and not the UCI budget, that I forgot we are admitting this publicly,” said McQuaid as he gently caressed the keys to his Mercedes Benz and newly purchased villa in Switzerland.

“Regardless…we are not the bad guys here. The bad guys are the Grand Tour organizers like ASO who have built up their product over many years and strategically capitalized on the generated revenue and media interest more successfully than the UCI. These other groups that actually run themselves like a business and are concerned with maintaining some level of control over the events that they own and operate…now those are the real enemies of the UCI and cycling as a whole.”

The UCI President then left the podium to ASO President Patrice Clerc, but not before the two engaged in a short bout of chest-bumping and frenzied air-slapping, followed by a quick “Time Out” to clean up the money that had fallen out of their pockets and wipe the streaming flow of tears from their eyes.

Clerc then took the microphone and announced simply, “The ASO and other Grand Tour organizers have a right to use the most sacred events in all of cycling for our own selfish reasons and squeeze every last cent out of them that we can. Whether the best ‘UCI’ teams are in the race or not is irrelevant. We could run the Tour de France with amateur teams and we would still make tons of cash. What do we care who actually competes in the event? Well…as long as they don’t have a gambling sponsor like Because that’s illegal in France…well, whenever we want it to be at least. Which means...when we have other sponsors, like lotteries and horse racing associations breathing down our necks about it.”

Clerc then realized that he had not adequately explained the hypocrisy in his statement with regard to allowing the Francais des Jeux (French National Lottery) and Predictor-Lotto (Belgian National Lottery) teams to compete in ASO races and quickly followed up his earlier comment by saying, “You know…some people may find that our desire for FdJ and Lotto to compete in our events is somewhat hypocritical but…when you really look at it, you should quickly realize that this is nothing new and that we have been doing stuff like this for a long time. I mean…PMU controls horse racing in France and we have had them as the primary sponsor for the points competition in most of our bigger races for quite some time. So, you see…the precedent for hypocrisy was set a long time ago. This should come as a surprise to no one. It’s time we got beyond this petty concept of race equality and cooperation and just let us race organizers do whatever we want to with the sport.”

Clerc continued his plea for the public to overlook the contradictions of the ASO stance by recalling, “Not many people know this, but it was only a couple years ago that PMU threatened to pull their sponsorship of our races and we directly solicited Mr. Bookmaker (another gambling entity and a predecessor to Unibet) to help us get some badly needed cash. Thankfully, they were too busy supporting and growing their cycling team, getting results and paying their riders to kick down some dough for the race, because if they had chosen to help us out, we probably would be having a much harder time keeping them out of our races at this time. But hey…it all worked out and we’ve got our money and sponsors now so…Unibet gets nothing. A smaller, weaker French team will certainly add more to the quality of the races than a successful, motivated Pro Tour Team.”

McQuaid then rejoined Clerc on the stage for a joint question and answer session. However, shortly after the first question was posed by a French journalist, both men began to fight over the microphone and eventually came to blows. Other reports claim that there were actually no punches thrown and that the fight consisted mostly of hair pulling, scratching and biting.
Fittingly, not one person in attendance made any effort to break up the squabble and instead everyone just got up and exited the building, leaving McQuaid and Clerc alone to battle each other.

“Let ‘em fight to the death for all I care,” said one Belgian journalist as he departed the press conference. “Maybe if they kill each other by brawling like this, they won’t kill the sport of cycling with their constant haggling. Or maybe at the very least they’ll knock each other out and forget why they were arguing.”

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

All About The Benjamins - Cycling vs Baseball

I have been holding off on this post for a while now but, as the ASO and UCI bicker over their respective wallet sizes, it seems like this may be a good time to break out the old calculator and determine just how awful the salaries of professional cyclists are compared to other athletes.

Well, I really shouldn't say "awful" because a lot of pros make pretty decent-to-very good money in the grand scheme of things. But the reality is that, in the sports world, cyclists have to be among the most poorly compensated athletes on the planet. When you begin to consider the lifestyle and sacrifices these pro bike riders must suffer to be successful, it becomes almost criminal that these guys make so little compared to their "professional" counterparts in other sports.

For reference, I will list the top 5 highest-paid professional cyclists and compare them (and their salaries) to a few professional baseball players. I have chosen to limit my baseball comparisons to the Giants and the A's (because even though I live in Colorado now...I'm still a homer for the Bay Area teams) with the exception of Bartolo Colon from the Anaheim Angels. This is primarily because I have no love for any LA teams and Colon is maybe the highest-paid fat, unathletic guy I can think of. You think Jan Ullrich was big? Check out the picture of Colon below. Now that's fat. Jan looks like one of the Olsen twins compared to Bartolo.

So...on to the list of athletes and annual salaries. Just for fun (as well as additional anger and frustration) I have chosen to include the Fantasy Ranking for the baseball players on this list. Whenever I feel like a dork for fanatically following bike racing, I just take a quick look at some Fantasy Leagues in baseball and suddenly I feel much better about myself. Fantasy Baseball geeks have even less of a life than I do. Don't get mad...I'm only being real. Anyway, the "FR" stat is a function of fantasy rankings and is actually a very good indicator of the player's worth. On to the list:

1) Alejandro Valverde - $3.8M

Baseball equivalent:

Pedro Feliz - $4.0M; Third Baseman, SF Giants; 6’1” – 180lbs; 7 years pro - .252 BA; 89 HR; 575 H; 430 SO; .288 OBP; Fantasy Ranking: 20th for 3rd Basemen.

Now...I actually like Feliz a lot but I still cannot comprehend how he should earn more money that the Green Bullet. GreenBack Bullet - not so much. Maybe in Spain but not here in the old US of A, where lots of people earn way too much for their performance.

2) Paolo Bettini - $3.3M

Baseball equivalent:
Mike Matheny - $3.35M; Catcher, SF Giants; 6’2” – 205lbs; 13 years pro - .239 BA; 67 HR; 925 H; 795 SO; .293 OBP.

Matheny retired after severe post-concussion syndrome but is still getting paid. My beloved Giants then went out and replaced him with Bengie Molina for $4.5M per year. By the way, Molina is the highest ranked fantasy player in this post at a grotesque 14th place among catchers. That means he is just barely in the top half of MLB starting catchers. Ughhh. The 14th ranked cyclist (overall) in the ProTour for 2006 was none other than our very own George Hincapie, followed closely by Boogerd, Leipheimer, Sastre, Jaksche, Pozzato, Cancellara, Cunego and Friere. Yeah...Molina deserves $4.5M compared to these guys.

3) Tom Boonen - $2.6M

Baseball Equivalent:
Steve Kline – $3.0M; LH Pitcher, SF Giants; 6’2” – 200lbs; 10 years pro – 33W-37L (.471); 3.42 ERA; 0 SHO; 0 CG; Fantasy Ranking: 69th for Relievers.

So...basically what I am saying is that arguably the best bicycle racer on the planet, with huge results and even bigger potential, is worth as much as a journeyman pitcher with a losing record who ranks barely in the top 70 relievers. The moral of the story: Teach your kid to throw left-handed. Seriously.

4) Alessandro Petacchi - $2.2M

Baseball Equivalent:
Dave Roberts – $2.25M; Outfielder, SF Giants; 5’10” – 180lbs; 8 years pro - .270 BA; 21 HR; 594 H; 278 SO; .344 OBP; Fantasy Ranking: 16th for Left Fielders.

Okay, this makes sense. The best road sprinter in the world over the past few years is worth the same as a left fielder who has hit a total of 21 homeruns in 8 years? What the? Petacchi wins more bike races in one year than Roberts has hit homeruns in his entire career. And he's an outfielder - a position that is supposed to have power. My brain hurts right now.

5) Ivan Basso - $2.0M

Baseball Equivalent:
Mark Ellis – $2.25M; Second Baseman, OAK Athletics; 5’11” – 190lbs; 4 years pro - .270 BA; 39 HR; 478 H; 275 SO; .341 OBP; Fantasy Ranking: 20th for 2nd Basemen.

It's totally logical that a Grand Tour winner and arguably the best stage racer in the world is worth less than a mediocre 2nd Baseman on one of the cheapest teams in all of baseball right? The A's are notorious for under-paying their players so take Ellis' salary for what it's worth. Amazingly, most other teams would probably be paying him more than just $2.25M.

6-15) Damiano Cunego - $1.8M; Alexandre Vinokourov - $1.7M; Robbie McEwen - $1.6M; Erik Zabel - $1.6M; Thor Hushovd - $1.3M; Yaroslav Popovych - $1.3M; Andreas Kloden - $1.3M; Cadel Evans - $1.3M; Paolo Savoldelli - $1.0M; Oscar Friere - $1.0M


Baseball Equivalent:

Bartolo Colon - $14M; RH Pitcher, Anaheim Angels; 5’11” – 240lbs; 10 years pro – 140W-87L (.617); 3.98 ERA; Currently ranked # 204 on starting pitcher Fantasy Rankings.

That's right folks, a 5'11", 240 lb pitcher makes more money annually than Cunego, Vinokourov, McEwen, Hushovd, Zabel, Popovych, Kloden, Evans, Savoldelli and Friere combined. For those of you scoring at home...that's 4 Grand Tour wins, 3 World Championships, 9 Green Jerseys and a handful of Grand Tour podium appearances - for less than one fat guy with a strong right arm who works a maximum of 1 game for every 5 that his team plays.

Let's marinate in this information for a while and then address the meaning of it later. This is far too big a topic to handle in one post. However, my first impression is, once again, professional bicycle racers really need the power of a unified organization that looks out for both their financial and legal interests. I need to collect a bit more data before I tackle this issue but I'll leave you with a final nugget of curiosity with regard to athlete income:

The 49th highest paid athlete in the world in '06/'07 is Anfernee Hardaway - formerly known as "Penny" when he was still actually playing. The following statistics should put Penny in finals of the "Oh Man, What Is The World Coming To?" competition.

Now for the really good part: Having played a whopping 18 minutes in 4 games this season, Hardaway will earn $15.1 Million dollars for his effort - or lack thereof.

Why, oh why, was I not born to be 6' 7" or have a cannon for a left arm? I had to have big calves instead. Just between you and me...I would have taken small calves and $15M per year. But that's just me. I will now go do intervals on my ride home from work and earn exactly $0 for my effort. NICE.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Week In Review - Arbitrary Cogitation

It was a long, strange week in the Cycling World but I am going to do my best to fight through a wicked case of the Mondays and collect my thoughts on a few topics. Between the Tour of California reflections, Ullrich's retirement, the re-named Merced event, the beginning of the Belgian spring campaign, the ASO-UCI rift and the uniquely infuriating Versus coverage, there is a lot to cover…so let's get going.

First of all, the post-Tour of California doldrums set in pretty quick after returning to Boulder from the west coast, and were cruelly hastened by yet another snowstorm. Not nice. In any stage race of a week or more, there is a certain daily drama and interest that is unique in the sports world. With each day, there is something new and unknown to look forward to. Who will win the stage? Who are the overall leaders? Are there going to be crashes? What is the course like? The on-going and constantly changing list of players, venues and inter-race variables can create a certain obsessive addiction to the race information, not only as it is happening but long after each stage is finished as well. I know that I am not the only one to suffer from serious Post-Tour de France depression. You can't watch 4 hours of coverage and read 10-20 articles per day for three weeks and just stop immediately without some kind of withdrawal. Anyway…I miss the Tour of California.

The mood early in the week remained gloomy as Jan Ullrich announced his retirement as a professional bike racer. Sadly, the circumstances under which he went out will leave a bad taste in many mouths, mine included. Without making any kind of judgment as to his guilt with regard to the Operacion Puerto scandal, I think it speaks volumes about the problems within the sport that the career of one of the biggest stars of the past decade can be effectively terminated based on accusations and rumors. In case anyone forgot…Jan Ullrich hasn't been found guilty of anything. At least recently…but we'll give the Big German a pass on that one and the benefit of the doubt. I'll take a closer look at his career soon.

For reference, I always thought it was wildly humorous and immensely frustrating that a guy who was about 6' tall and weighed around 160 lbs was always being called "big" or "fat" by sloppy journalists. I fully understand that cycling has a slightly different frame of reference for size, but that always got to me. He may not have been a dietary maniac but still…you hardly ever heard how big he actually was. Or wasn't.

I have been trying to come up with another sports example of someone like Ullrich being so thoroughly destroyed professionally without being formally convicted and I can't think of anything comparable. It would really never happen in another sport except maybe track and field. Oh yeah, wait…maybe I actually can think of another similar example. Floyd Landis. Darn.

The sad understanding is that professional cycling, whether we want to admit it or not, does one of the worst jobs of any sport at protecting and fighting for the rights of the athletes. Now, there are obviously differing views on Unions and one could argue that, for example, it was the power of the Major League Baseball Players Union that paved the way for untested steroid use as a result of their collective bargaining agreement. But, on the other hand, the same argument could be made with regard to increased salaries and personal freedoms of non-disclosure as well. The bottom line is that there is not a strong unified body that will consistently defend the rights of the racers against attacks from outside organizations – whether it's the UCI, WADA, ASO or anyone that is not a current or former professional. And until such an organization is formed (the ICPT does not count as a rider's union), riders like Jan Ullrich, whether guilty or not, will be spit out of the sport and we will all be left wondering what could have been. More on this issue in a later rant as well.

On a happier note – bike racing returned to Merced, California in the shadows of Yosemite National Park for the newly named Merco Credit Union Cycling Classic presented by McLane Pacific. I was nervous that this event was going to get scratched from the calendar but it is good to see the people at Merco stepping up after McLane Pacific had been running the show for so long. This race has long signified the true beginning of the year for most domestic teams and the Northern California cycling community and it is good to see it sticking around. Merced is an interesting town but there is usually a good turnout for the downtown criterium and the road race is always challenging. Despite the new title sponsor, the race seemed to play out in usual fashion with a few crashes in the crit as everyone tried to notch the early-season victory and lots of wind and tough conditions out on the rolling road course. With a clearly speedy Ivan Dominguez taking out the sprint for Toyota-United in the crit on Saturday and Karl Menzies pulling off the tough-man win for HealthNet in Sunday's road race, the event once again showcased some of the best American racing for this sleepy little town.

A very long way away from California, the Belgian racing campaign began in earnest on Saturday with the running of the Omloop Het Volksemi-classic. Typically horrible conditions made for a great event that saw the admirable duo of Juan-Antonio Flecha and Stuart O'Grady off the front and animating the race near the end. As former teammates Tom Boonen and Nick Nuyens attempted to reel the leaders in, Filippo Pozzatto put in a huge move to close down all the gaps and coast to an impressive victory over the two Belgians. With Philippe Gilbert winning here last year and Pipo Pozzatto taking the victory on Saturday, this event is proving to be a showcase for some pretty classy young riders. Both riders are just in their mid-twenties, have firm leadership roles on their teams, do not seem to be intimidated by the more established names in the peloton and most importantly, seem to be able to win in a few different fashions. Anyway, after Pozzatto's surprise Milan San-Remo victory last year, it is encouraging to see him continue to improve and assume the leadershiprole at Liquigas. They should really do something about those horrendous green and blue striped kits though. Sorry Pipo.

Having finished 3rd in Het Volk, Tom Boonen was not about to go without a "W" for the homeland fans in Belgium and rather calmly won Sunday's edition of Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne. The 2005 World Champion got some good team support from Gert Steegmans and Peter Van Petegem and was easily the fastest finisher in the race. Sometimes when Boonen wins, you kind of get the sense that it is almost pre-determined and the other riders really don't even think they can win. There just seem to be some races where, if he's on form and stays out of trouble, there is almost nothing anyone can do to beat him. He's virtually impossible to drop and he will beat you in the sprint 99 out of 100 times so…yeah, good luck with that everybody. Whether his team is firing for him or he's out there slugging breakaway companions on his own, the guy is just so much more imposing than most other bike racers. For some reason he kind of reminds me of Tom Brady. Maybe it's just the initials but there's that underlying confidence that is rare and comes from having been clutch your entire life. I'll go out on a limb and say that Boonen wins a couple more races this year. Don't say I didn't tell you.

Reluctantly, I feel that I must address the ASO-UCI conflict. Honestly, I can see both points of view but it is obvious that there needs to be a spirit of compromise for the best interest of both parties. While neither is willing to budge much from their stance, it seems that there would have to be recognition of the fact that pursuing a divergent path will not serve either entity and may contribute to a further decline in the overall popularity of both the events and the sport as a whole. Sadly, I don't get the sense that either the UCI or the ASO really understand or respect the long-term damage this could do to cycling.

For example…what would you be thinking right now as a budding junior racer who wanted to join the Pro Tour someday? The drug issues are one thing…but that's a personal choice and something that can be worked through cleanly. The biggest issue for me (putting myself back in that position) would be the lack of security and support provided by the sport's governing bodies. I doubt that any Juniors are thinking about that right now but if I were raising a son or daughter that wanted to be a professional bike racer, I would have some serious questions about the legitimacy and foundation of the sport due to conflicts like this that do not even seem to recognize the interests of the riders themselves.

You know what though? At the end of the day this is about money and nothing else. People are coming up with a lot of other reasons for this on-going issue but it really just boils down to the flow of money. And the worst part about it is that the riders, who have the most to gain or lose professionally, seem to have the weakest voice and most limited means in this whole fiasco. How is the best interest of the sport going to ever be served by those that do not directly represent the riders themselves? It would be like Major League Baseball having a meeting with the Stadium Owners about whether or not to have a season and not inviting anyone from the Players Association to contribute to the conversation.

And speaking of not contributing to the conversation…did anyone else happen to catch the Al Trautwig Cycling Show on Versus Sunday evening? If you did, I am sorry. I hope that you have had a chance to recover and did not break anything valuable. If you did not see this display, let me take a moment to fill you in on what you missed. Not much, other than Trautwig repeatedly calling the UCI the "ICU" among other offenses. Sweet, way to do your research there big guy. I mean, it's only the largest organization in one of the most popular sports in the world. THAT YOU'RE BEING PAID TO TALK ABOUT!!!!!!!!! Pick up a freaking magazine or talk with your co-workers on the show before taping next time huh? That might be a good idea.

I am going to rant here because I find this really difficult to take. First of all, shouldn't the host of a show about cycling actually know something about the sport? And even more importantly, shouldn't said host actually like the sport and not demean it at every turn? How they decided that Al "I don't give a crap about cycling but I'll talk about any sport as long as the check clears" Trautwig was the best resource to intelligently and respectfully moderate a discussion about the current condition of the sport is beyond me. Note to Versus – This guy is LOSING fans for you. He is exactly what most cycling aficionados HATE about mainstream media coverage of the sport. And it doesn't get any more mainstream that Al Trautwig.

To be blunt…the guy is an expert on nothing and has repeatedly diminished the quality of OLN/Versus cycling programming for the last few years. Most of his career has been made on broadcasting marginalized sports – and hopefully deferring to his color guys for insightful and interesting commentary. As a source of information he is, for lack of a better term, worthless. He has never added anything of value to the broadcast and has consistently minimized the expertise of Phil, Paul, Bob and Robbie - all of whom have forgotten more about cycling in the last week than Trautwig has ever known - by interrupting them and being generally arrogant and rude.

Anyway, it's one thing when he hosts race coverage because he's not on the air that much and it is easier to overlook his condescending remarks and insulting jokes about Phil, Paul and Bob. But when they are in the studio and Mr. Trautwig pulls out a performance like the one witnessed on Sunday, it can make the limited coverage of cycling seem like too much, even for a die-hard fan.

Honestly, I was angry after watching the so-called "Season Preview" on Sunday. The "ICU" comments when referring to the UCI were humorous at first, but after the fourth time he used the wrong acronym, I started to lose it. To make matters worse, the rest of the crew didn't even bother to correct him. Throughout the entire hour-long program, there was not one accurate reference made toward the UCI other than when McQuaid gave his little speech about how the ASO is greedy and they put the little UCI graphic under his name. I was hoping Paul or Bob would sack up and call him on it but that never happened. I know that there is a protocol for stepping on people's toes in front of the camera but…they all lost a lot of respect among cycling fans yesterday by not defending the accuracy of the report. This sport has been the victim of misinformation on a regular basis recently and Trautwig's blunders and rudeness only further cloud the accuracy of Versus' coverage and status as a resource for quality reporting.

Seriously, can you imagine a program about football or baseball where the host could actually get away with calling the leading sports organization by the wrong name? Yeah, I sure am tired of all this mumbo jumbo with the FLN and LMB. I know that the Union Cycliste International is a little confusing because it translates differently in English, but to call it the ICU on no fewer than four occasions was inexcusable. Where were the producers? Where were Paul, Bob and Robbie Ventura to correct him? Did they think the viewers wouldn't notice? HOW WAS THAT EVEN REMOTELY ACCEPTABLE?!?! I'm getting angry just thinking about it.

Now, I'm really not a negative guy and I would much rather commend someone for a good performance than bash someone for a bad one but…I have to give the entire Versus crew a big thumbs down for the broadcast on Sunday. Paul seemed to show the most pride and stood up for himself and the sport on a few occasions but for the most part, it was a pretty sad display of cycling commentary.

Even though I am a big Bob Roll fan and think he has one of the more interesting takes on the sport, unfortunately, I have to question his summary of Floyd Landis' defense by claiming that cyclists should not be required to speak eloquently about the sport. It has been my longtime contention that cyclists are among the most intelligent and well-spoken athletes in the world but maybe I'm wrong about that. A legal team making comments for Floyd at this point would be worthless. It's his fight and his name…who would you rather hear from?

As a public personality and author, Bob's assertion that cyclists are not good public speakers was unfortunate and undermines the intelligent voices such as Voigt, Rubiera and many others. If the cyclists that are being the most severely affected cannot make coherent, factual statements, then why would I be inclined to want to hear from anyone else? Ask Mark McGwire how the whole deferment of answers strategy works in the court of public opinion. My guess is "not well."

All in all, the biggest lemon should be tossed at Al Trautwig though. In particular, he made a number of comments directly to Robbie Ventura that would have made a more volatile person stand up and walk off the set. It is a testament to Robbie's class that he didn't rip into Trautwig on a number of occasions. Initially, after the segment on Floyd and his defense, Al asked Robbie, "So how come, all of the sudden, his defense is that his testosterone levels were okay. Why is this just coming out now?" Robbie was polite and started talking about the testing procedure but I started screaming at the television, "He has been saying this for months now!! This is nothing new!! If you read about the case or knew what the hell you were talking about, you would know that this was one of the first things to come out. The T/Eis a ratio…not an absolute value. That's what the T over the E stands for, Merlin. As in T divided by E…in other words…a

Paul then chimed in that he has a degree in Chemistry (I did not know that) and tried to clarify that the numbers were difficult to interpret but…Al was really snotty about the whole Floyd thing. He even introduced the segment by saying something to the effect of, "This is what [Floyd] thinks his defense is." For reference Al, he doesn't THINK it's his defense, it IS his defense…and it's actually a pretty good one if you took the time to educate yourself on it.

The most offensive thing Trautwig said came after a piece on the doping scandals that included a number of rider comments. He started the conversation by stating, "Robbie, part of what you do as far as doping goes is be involved with Floyd Landis" and then went into a question of what "temptations" riders have to cheat. I think Ventura was caught completely offguard. It was just a horrible insinuation and I have to hope that RV had some words with Al after the show. I literally got up off the couch when he said that. That's a lot of nerve right there. And if he was trying be "hard hitting" he needs to recognize that he's likely angering much of his audience and that there is a difference between setting the table for a difficult discussion and making snide comments that lead into a negative question. He's been around long enough to know that.

My primary question to Versus is, "What is gained by using this guy?" I cannot imagine that his presence brings any casual fans to the network and I have yet to meet a single follower of the sport that has anything good to say about him. It was tolerable when he was learning about bike racing and asking some "novice" questions but at this point, he has an attitude and air of knowledge that is terribly misplaced and has begun to openly antagonize the sport and his fellow on-air co-workers. How is this helping? As always, I appreciate the effort by Versus to bring this programming to cycling fans but I cannot fathom how Al Trautwig is helping to bring people to the sport - or retain the viewers that have picked up on it recently.

One of my biggest goals is to increase the amount of people that appreciate the sport of bicycle racing and the many positive attributes of the noblest invention. Therefore I cannot sit idly by while an individual who seemingly has little respect for cycling, repeatedly disrespects it in one of the most visible platforms for the sport in this country. Cycling is in a tough enough Public Relations position right now anyway, the last thing we need is some negative and condescending talking head perpetuating the belief that the sport is a laughing stock.

On second thought, the sentiments that Trautwig has been spouting may be more representative of the Versus viewership than I care to believe. Maybe he's just toeing the company line and catering to all the hunters and bull riders out there who watch the network when they're not trying to run cyclists off the road in their pick 'em up trucks.

Cycling needs intelligent, strong voices that demand respect. Otherwise the hunters and bull riders will win every time and there will be even less cycling coverage on TV. That would be a shame.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Tour of California - Biker Hall Pass Part 1

The folks at were kind enough to put my name on a list which afforded me a little extra access at the recent Tour of California this past week. When I went to the Press Room in Solvang Friday morning, the lady who gave me my pass had jammed the "official" label maker so she just scrawled my name and the site right on the pass with a ball-point pen and handed it back to me. Solid. All the best journalists have hand-written credentials. Keeping it real. The Press Room was pretty funny though because it looked like a good portion of the journalists had not seen a bike in quite awhile. I think there were a number of local and semi-local newspaper writers who were just covering the race as a novelty. If you ever happen to catch small-town newpaper coverage of bike racing, it is often pretty evident that they are not experts. But there was plenty of coffee, some nice Danish pastries and I even got a cool goodie bag with a local Pinot and some other trinkets. Nice.

Anyway, no one gave me a hard time about the ghetto press pass and it still got me inside the fences. My camera was low on batteries the whole time but I think I managed to portion out some interesting shots. Forgive me for the somewhat random order of the photos...this isn't a chronological account.

The crowd was thick during the awards presentation so I was happy to not have to fight for space. The whole ceremony was pretty long and included Danish dancers, lots of political sponsor-ish things and even a shout out from the Firestone guy. Not the kid that was on the Bachelor, but his Father. After a challenging race and a ceremony that lasted almost as long as their time on the course, these three guys really deserved the podium that day. Tough course and super-windy at about 29mph. Not bad.

Here's a shot of the crowd at the finish for the presentation. It was like this around the whole area but the road was still fenced off except this portion shown above. I like the kids and the cop in particular. After the presentation, Jens Voigt got his bike and just walked right into the crowd toward the Finish. Just took right off, parting people like it was nothing. I think it kind of stunned everyone and they didn't really have time to react. More on Jens later.

The course started with a slight descent into a high-speed left hand turn. The road rose up a bit after the corner, straight into a brutal headwind, so the faster guys were really nailing it through the turn and staying in the aero bars at 30+mph. Fabian Cancellara had an early start time and was visibly faster than anyone prior. He shot up the hill, into the headwind at a good 25mph and never even budged from the position above. Once again...the guy is a tank.

This is Tom Danielson in the same corner as Cancellara and being much more conservative at this point. My favorite part of this picture is the guy in the yellow shirt, giving Tommy D the full "Rock On" fist pump. Such a great reaction. There was a marshall at the corner with a start list who was calling out the names of the riders as they came down. She had a lot of information and really helped the spectators. They cheered for everyone though. It was interesting to note who stayed in the aero position and who went to the handlebars. Tommy D chose the latter. They hit the headwind about halfway through the turn and I think it sketched a lot of the guys out.

This is a magnified picture I took of Levi coming down the final stretch. Voigt was the first to break 30 minutes with a 29:58 and Leipheimer is at 29:37 here as you can see on the clock. Amazingly, he came through at 29:40, only 3 seconds after I took this shot, which I managed to get by doing the old "reach out and hit the button" technique. It looks like I'm just standing in the middle of the road but I'm not quite that silly. There were photographers sprawled out all over the place and I was nervous that Levi was going to tag one of them as he came through, so I just stood on the side, reached out and got lucky enough to center this photo. The atmosphere was pretty amazing at the finish as the crowd cheered and watched the clock. Dave Towle had them all up to speed on the race situation so it was pretty tense. You can see all the people along the fences lining the road, going crazy.

Need I say anything more about this photo? The weapon of the one and only Jens Voigt presented by Chuck Norris. The big German rolled up to the awards stage and left his bike with one of the marshalls standing next to me so I couldn't help the close up photo of the name on the top tube. Pro Tour bikes are pretty cool but this particular P3 has the misfortune of being regularly thrashed upon by one of the hammering-est guys out there. I almost felt sorry it due to the beatings it must take.

I couldn't tell who these people were rooting for but if you look carefully, you can see that the lady in the black shirt is actually holding a little dog. You may also notice that the store in the background has more than just olives. During the awards presentation it was interesting to note how rarely American racers get to experience something like this on home soil. Fittingly, Levi had a pretty big group of family, friends and animals there at the finish and everyone was super excited. So big and excited in fact, that apparently there were shirts made up for the occasion. The dogs were dressed more formally.

And speaking of dogs...this is a surprising photo of Paolo Bettini stealing a small child's stuffed animal. You can see how he is taunting the young boy as a crowd of people rush over to help. It seems those World Championship stripes have kind of gone to the Cricket's head. Shortly after this photo was taken, Bettini jumped behind the wheel of the bus and proceeded to back over three bicycles before pulling away and throwing the stuffed animal out the window.

* More Photos to come - Stay Tuned