Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Tour of California Stage 7 - A Running Diary vs Versus

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...

Monday, February 26, 2007

Tour of California Stage 6 - Part 2: Keep It Classy

Hey there race fans. Instead of recapping all of the race action from Stage 6 of the Tour of California from Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita (which you should all know by now anyway), I will attempt to analyze some of the some interesting elements of what turned out to be a fascinating race. Whereas last year’s similar stage, held on a slightly different course, was something of a standoff, the penultimate stage of the 2007 edition was anything but controlled. With crashes, attacks, chases and a wild finish, the calm start down by the beach in Santa Barbara gave nary a hint of the action that would soon take place on the road to Santa Clarita.

Unfortunately, the biggest news of the day was that George Hincapie had broken his arm above the wrist during an early race fall with teammate Tony Cruz. Attacks were beginning to form at the same time and despite Levi Leipheimer’s request for a “Time Out” the field began to split apart. Levi was somewhat critical of these moves during the post-race interview but it is difficult to imagine the entire field just lollygagging around until both Cruz and Hincapie were back in the fold. The unwritten rules of cycling are unwritten because too many people disagree with them and break them under the guise of “That’s bike racing.”

Speaking of which, I heard the ever-popular phrase “That’s bike racing” a lot this week, usually accompanied by a shrug or a general “whatever” kind of tone. I heard it first in reference to the wind changes during the prologue that kept many of the top contenders from the podium. Then I heard it when people were questioning the official’s neutral finish ruling after the crash in Stage 1. In Solvang people discussed the possibility of the gusting winds throwing riders off course prior to the Time Trial and almost inevitably used the phrase. And most recently, Levi said it after declaring that he had wished the riders were “more polite” when his teammates hit the deck on Stage 6. There is a palpable attitude of acceptance that things will not always go as planned for most bike racers which I believe is a function of the inherent danger of the sport as well as a personality component that allows them to accept and fight through adversity and pain on such a regular basis. Hincapie’s remarkable ride after suffering his injury is a testament to these traits. It was terribly unfortunate but hey, “That’s bike racing.”

Anyway…bike racing is at its best when the action is animated and Stage 6 provided arguably the most drama and tension in the history of the Tour of California. After chasing down Mauricio Alberto Ardila Cano (that’s one guy with 4 names, not 2 guys with 2, by the way) of Rabobank, a group containing Stuart O’Grady and Michael Rogers got off the front and was soon joined by another chase, bringing the number of riders in the break to nine. With seven Pro Tour riders and two of the stronger domestic riders in Victor Rapinsky of Navigators and Danny Pate of Slipstream, the break quickly built sizeable gap on the scattered peloton.

Just in case anyone wasn’t aware, Stuart O’Grady is pretty much a total badass and as I chatted with some of the American riders before the start in Santa Barbara, he rolled by and ended up standing next to me for a while. Now, I’m not exactly a skinny guy for a bike racer but O’Grady made me feel like a little twig. The dude is seriously thick and it is quite evident standing next to him that you do not want to throw down with this guy. I don’t know what it is about those Australian’s but jeez, O’Grady and Menzies could be the new WWE Tag Team and make some extra coin in the off-season. Monsters.

So it was fitting that when O’Grady started barking at his breakaway companions to get to business, they pretty much all fell in line and worked well together. Would you just sit on a group when Sergeant O’Grady is yelling at you? Better to work hard and risk popping than feel the wrath of an angry Australian hard man, I always say. As such, the gap grew to over three minutes for the effort, as O’Grady became the virtual race leader on the road, having started the day only 1:20 behind Leipheimer.

It was about this point when Discovery finally got things back together, with Basso, Danielson, McCartney and the remarkable Hincapie all taking massive pulls and stringing out the field. The peloton began to spread apart as echelons formed with Disco effectively trying to put CSC in the gutter as Jens Voigt and Bobby Julich stuck to Levi’s wheel at the back of the train. There was a period of time shortly after Hincapie got back to the main field where he got on the front and ended up gapping everyone but Danielson by pulling so hard. It almost seemed like he was trying to bridge up to the break by himself but I have to think he just caught everyone off guard with his tempo. Honestly, Big George’s ride on Saturday was among the most impressive I can recall. Maybe the Stars and Stripes jersey is working a little Captain America magic because that was one heroic performance. I’d say he and Levi are square now after Levi’s help in the ’06 USPRO championships and GH’s efforts in this race. It’s all cyclical…doing the bull dance…feeling the flow.

The break stayed strong over the short but steep Balcom Canyon climb where all kinds of yahoos threatened to become a full-blown hazard to the safety of the racers. The Pope was running around on one side of the road while the Grim Reaper ran across from him. Two idiots, one in a USC shirt and another with the Norwegian flag painted on his chest, ran into each other and proceeded to bump Hincapie, forcing his hands off the bars momentarily. Honestly, I’m scared that some fool is going to take out a prominent rider and seriously tarnish the reputation of this event. I think that the organizers are going to have to put more security or something up there because it was frightening how close they were to a potentially race-altering accident there.

Speaking of idiots – what about the Eagle-helmet, football jersey, huge American flag-waving guy that seems to be at every race and runs alongside the road causing massive annoyance and problems? I know he’s from Texas(take that however you want), but other than that I just know that this guy is a serious hazard. I saw a great photo of him in handcuffs, being escorted by a police officer after the Sierra Road climb on Stage 3. Awesome, but they should have locked his ass up for the rest of the race. Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for exuberant cheering and support but these fools that run alongside the road are not benefiting the riders at all. They are a dangerous nuisance and are doing it out of pure selfishness, so that they can either get on TV or have another story to bore people with. A true fan of the sport or anyone with even the slightest understanding of bicycle racing should have more respect for the riders. It’s a bike race, not a circus. Just ask Lance Armstrong, Giuseppe Guerini and Thor Hushovd if they think it’s a good thing to have the spectators interfere with the race. Now you can add George Hincapie to the list. RESPECT. I honestly can’t wait for a rider to pull a Wellens and just freaking sock one of these fools as they’re riding past. Once again, I vote for either Menzies or O’Grady to just hop off and start duking one of these chumps. That might make ‘em think twice. And I would LOVE it.

Anyway…despite the efforts of the breakaway, Discovery and Health Net ended up closing the gap and caught them just outside the finish in Santa Clarita. A hectic and scattered sprint resulted in Robert Forster doing a little tango with Fast Freddie Rodriguez and riding with one leg for a while. Some seriously good body control and gymnastics by the German but not exactly an ideal sprinting strategy. The big Argentinean JJ Haedo managed to find a clear line and took his fourth Tour of California stage win ahead of Greg Henderson, Bettini and Hushovd. University of Colorado alum Alex Candelario provided the best domestic result with an 8th place finish despite being blocked by the Freddie/Forster acrobatics.

Considering that JJ Haedo won again, I have to address a comment that T-Mobile owner/director Bob Stapleton made after Stage 4 into San Luis Obispo. He ended up saying, rather matter-of-factly, that Gerald Ciolek was faster than JJ. Now…I have mad respect for Mr. Stapleton and see him as a truly positive figure in the world of professional cycling but…let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. I know Ciolek is fast and all but Haedo is a freaking rocket when things go right and it would be really hard to validate a claim that anyone was faster than the Argentinean during the Tour of California. Give the German U23 World Champion a little time and he may deserve the title but for now, JJ Haedo is the best sprinter this race has ever seen. He seems like a genuinely good guy too, which is always cool.

At the end of the day, nothing really changed much but Stage 6 of the Tour of California was the most exciting day of the event so far and gave a hint of the growing CSC/Discovery rivalry and the potential of this race to become a true battle in future editions. Great weather (so far at least) and great racing like this will only solidify the reputation of this event as truly world-class. Now if we could only do something about these idiots on the side of the road…anyone want to join me with a Taser next year? I got my eye on that dude from Texas with the eagle helmet. If the cops don’t get him, I hope someone pulls a little vigilante justice next time. The responsible and respectful fans need to stand up to these clowns. In the words of the Weatherman, “Keep it classy California.” We have to be better than that – the racers and the event deserve it.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Tour of California Stage 6 - Santa Barbara Part 1

The beautiful city of Santa Barbara played host to the Tour of California on Saturday as Stage 6 began within a stone's throw of the Pacific Ocean. Well...maybe not a stone's throw exactly, unless you have a REALLY good arm, but pretty close nonetheless. The beachfront park along Shoreline Drive gave spectators plenty of room to mill around and check out the commotion before the riders headed off southeast to Santa Clarita.

One of the coolest things about professional bike racing is the level of interaction between the riders and the fans in the pre-race setting. As we walked to the start line, Kim Kirchen and another T-Mobile rider cruised up in front of us, parked their bikes on the newspaper stand and proceeded to stand in line at a local coffee shop with the rest of the patrons. The Luxembourg national champion - just standing there in line an hour or so before the race. The locals may not have known exactly who he was but they politely greeted him and he politely responded. Can you imagine Alex Rodriguez or Allen Iverson just walking around the stadium and standing in line at the hot-dog counter talking to spectators before a game? Probably not.

There was more of a commotion around the start line as the riders signed in, getting shouts from the crowd and stopping to sign autographs. The more well-known riders were held up quite a bit by this process and a commissaire actually had to tell Tom Danielson to stop signing autographs or else he would miss the deadline to sign the racebook.

Curious side note - a well-rounded, platinum blonde that was standing next to me inside the fences near the sign-in area was calling out to all of the Quick-Step riders and planting big kisses on them as they sheepishly rode past. The riders seemed obligated to address her for some reason and I have to assume that she may have been hosting them at her house or something. It made for a funny scene though because of the faces on the people in the crowd watching her displays of affection. Lots of smiles and sideways glances. And no, I did not get a kiss...from her or the riders.

The race began quickly and the riders shot out of town without any parade laps. This was unfortunate in my opinion. It would have been fairly easy to give the spectators a chance to see more of the neutral start by winding them up and down Shoreline. The reason I say this was disappointing was because of the number of people I overheard saying how quickly the event departed. In particular, a couple of young boys asked their father, "Was that it?" to which he responded, "Yeah, wasn't that exciting?" Their response in unison, "Not really."

Not knowing all of the logistics of the event, it is difficult for me to criticize the organizers for the rapid exit but Santa Barbara is a strong enough cycling community to deserve a bit more action - even if it is only an extended neutral start. The Tour of California has been a great success for the most part but the key to the longterm growth of the sport will be dictated by the sentiments of many children like the two dissatisfied boys I overheard.

Due to the action of Saturday's Stage 6 and the fact that the 1890 House does not get Versus, I will recount the events of the day with another running diary when I return to Boulder Sunday afternoon. Please stay tuned.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Tour of California Stage 5 - Sideways In Solvang

Solvang– Danish for “sunny field”– was founded in 1911 on 9,000 acres of former Spanish land grant. The current English translation means “tourist trap where lots of cyclists and winos go.” For reference, both definitions are perfectly accurate.
Made recently famous by the movie “Sideways”, Solvang may now be better known in cycling circles as the place where Levi Leipheimer confirmed his victory in the 2007 Tour of California and the Pro Tour riders showed their superiority in the time trial discipline, taking virtually all of the top 20 placings.

The skies stayed blue on Friday but a constant, gusting wind made the conditions less than ideal for the riders as they made their way around the 14 mile loop north of town. Thousands of spectators lined the start and finish areas which were separated by only a few blocks of expo tents, coffee shops and faux Danish architecture. At least a quarter of the fans rode their bikes to the event, which tends to create a unique viewing dynamic. Love the guys in the full pro team kits as always. Saw a decidedly non-chicken-like fellow in the complete polka dot Rabobank gear (white shorts…oh my) and even saw a complete circa ’90’s Gan outfit with the blue and yellow patchwork shorts and aero TT helmet. Priceless.

Speaking of Michael Rasmussen…I had a chance to quickly chat with the Dane as he drank his coffee and tried to decide what kind of gearing he needed. Cool guy, kinda skinny, speaks perfect English. I told him that he would need his Mountain Biking skills for the rough patches of Ballard Canyon and then wondered if I had inadvertantly made him think about his disastrous TT in the Tour de France a few years back. I hope not. Anyway, I completely forgot to ask him what he thought about Solvang and if it was anything like Denmark. I have to think the Danes find this town rather odd. Dave Towle mentioned that it is likely similar to an American going to a burger joint in another country and having conflicting feelings of familiarity and dissatisfaction. I thought that was probably pretty accurate. Thanks for the analogy DT.

Okay, back to the race. A late time trial in a stage race is a unique event due to the widely varying motives of the riders. Domestiques, sprinters and those looking to build form generally have goals of merely making the time cut and staying upright. This was evident during Friday’s stage where riders went out on everything from road bikes with deep section rims to full TT bikes with a rear disc wheel. The wind played a significant factor in equipment choice but some of the decisions were likely based on motivation as well.

The early best time was set by young Tom Zirbel of Priority Health, bested shortly thereafter by CSC’s Fabian Cancellara. The reigning World TT Champ was visibly faster than anyone prior as he had an early start time and was likely far more interested in performing well than many of those before him. But once again, the guy is a tank. A very, very fast Swiss tank. Who’s favorite movie is Scarface. Uh…okay. I know he speaks English very well but I wonder if he saw it first with subtitles or not. Can’t imagine Tony Montana in anything other than Pacino-ese.

The surprise performance of the day was put in by Jason McCartney who bested Cancellara, Rogers and all of the other riders before him. Wings has been very impressive in this event so far and must be impressing Johann and the rest of the Discovery intelligencia. We all knew he was on good form after his day-long performance in Stage 3 but I can’t imagine that he was on many lists of potential podium finishers for Friday’s Time Trial. Wings is flying right now.

Jens Voigt presented by Chuck Norris came through as the first rider to break the 30 minute mark and received a huge round of applause for his efforts. I have been to a number of events featuring Voigt and he always gets an amazing reception from the crowd. Perhaps it is his friendly demeanor, entertaining accent and aggressive racing style…or maybe it is the fear of deadly roundhouse kick retribution for not clapping. I think the answer is D - All of the above.

With only a three second lead over Voigt in the overall, it was now up to Levi as the last rider on the course. The time checks put him at a slight advantage midway through the race but it was pretty suspenseful as he approached the finish. Apparently Johann was being a little less than honest in his communication and led Levi to believe that it was actually closer than it really was. The crowd was going crazy as Odessa Gunn’s husband came through in an amazingly fast 39:40 to win by 18 seconds.

Speaking of OG-Leipheimer…she and some other family members were milling around the press area after the event and had at least two dogs with them. The family members were wearing some rad GO LEVI shirts and I think the dogs were dressed up as well. It’s actually really cool that the Leipheimer’s are such public animal lovers and I appreciate the work that they do for the critters of the North Bay Area.

So…at the end of a wild and windy day in pseudo-Denmark, the locals were treated to some good old fashioned race of truth action and witnessed a score of the world’s best riders tearing through their streets. I must have overheard three or four people talking about their “personal bests” for the course and could hear the admiration of the professionals in their voices. It doesn’t necessarily take a personal history of cycling to appreciate the speed and skill of these racers but it certainly helps to have a frame of reference. Hopefully this event has raised the interest of an already cycling-friendly region even more.

Despite Levi’s victory and increased lead, the Tour of California is not over yet and I am curious to hear some of the strategies for Saturday’s stage from Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita. It should be a good one.

Tour of California Stage 4 - Cricket and TT Preview

Stage 4: Reigning World Champion Paolo Bettini edges Ciolek and Haedo in San Luis Obispo. Overall GC remains unchanged.

How’s that for a concise recap? Unfortunately it is going to have to do because I just flew into Santa Barbara and boy are my arms tired. Sorry. Beautiful sunset flight west though and Santa Barbara is very pretty from the air at night.

Considering Stage 4 ended in a group finish and the overall was unchanged, I would like to take this time to announce that Friday’s Time Trial in Solvang is going to be very, very interesting. I have just returned from driving the course and I can tell you it will be even more decisive than originally anticipated.

The route begins with a quick run out of Solvang and onto a long, fairly straight false flat section heading north to Los Olivos. The road surface is very good here but there could be some unpredictable crosswinds to contend with.

A sharp right hand turn then takes the riders onto a series of steep rollers. It will be interesting to see who can power through this section in a seated, aero position as these are pretty severe bumps and momentum over the tops is going to be key to a fast time here.

With a sharp left the course continues north and the it starts to get pretty sketchy. In between this point and Los Olivos there are no less than three flooded sections of road with a lot of water and gravel. I’m sure the gravel will be cleaned up a bit but the road surface leaves something to be desired here.

A quick little run by Fess Parker’s place and then the riders face Ballard Canyon which I predict will be the deciding factor in not only this Time Trial but the entire Tour of California. There are so many variables on this strecth of road that it is bound to wreak havoc on individual times.

Thankfully the lower portion of Ballard Canyon has been repaved as the road rises steeply up the most severe climb on the course but the rest of the route back toward Solvang is pretty rough. The climb winds up a bit past the halfway point and marks the primary turn around back south to the finish.

But here’s where it will get interesting. Most of the remaining course is twisty and undulating with some short, steep rises and a number of very high speed technical sections. A slight miscalculation here could be disastrous, resulting in a huge loss of momentum at best or a pretty nasty crash at worst. The many haybales strategically placed in front of trees along this stretch are an ominous indicator of the possibilities.

A final steep climb and descent through a residential area with better road quality brings the riders back into Solvang for the finish. I am certain the little Danish enclave will be brimming with spectators and loads of tasty Scandanavian pastries although the locals are probably pretty accustomed to having bike racers in their town at this point.

It rained a bit on Thursday but the forecast is fairly clear for Friday. It is going to be madness if this course is wet but regardless, the winner of this Time Trial (and likely the race) will have to ride a very aggressive, gutsy race. There will have to be a few risks taken on Ballard Canyon and I just hope everyone makes it through without incident. A flat tire or any kind of miscue on this route could end someone’s chances for good.

Should be fun. Lets just hope it stays dry.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tour of California Stage 3 - A Running Diary vs The Live Feed

Okay…the Amgen Tour of California site is actually up and running on my computer so we’ll give this a shot. I have made every effort to clear my work schedule and can only hope I don’t get a call in this afternoon. Fat chance…but we’ll see what we can get away with here.

As the brutally pixilated images come through I will try to identify people and figure out what the heck is going down on the roads between Stockton and San Jose. As I tune in there is a break of approximately 15 or so riders out front. I can see Jens Voigt presented by Chuck Norris and Jason McCartney having a little chit-chat at the front of the break.

Now it looks like Frischkorn is going off the front. This guy must be on some serious early-race-break-coverage detail because he seems to be in every move so far. Either that or our Boulder Boy is on some wicked good form right now and just feeling it. One way or the other he is doing some really good work for Slipstream. His effort yesterday to snag the last KOM points was impressive and Peterson should have been thanking him big time.

Here comes Van de Walle up to Frischkorn for the KOM…and Big Willy style gaps the Pro Tour rider for max points. Dang…much friskyness from Frischkorn and some super good team riding by Slipstream. They are definitely the best showing for the domestic teams so far.

Even though it’s a dangerous break and no one seems to be helping, Levi has to be pretty confident with Big George, Ivan Basso, Alan Davis and Tommy D. pulling him through. In case you weren’t aware…Discovery Channel has a pretty good team this year. I don’t care how many people are in the break – if Disco wants to bring it back, they will. At least before the Sierra Road climb.

Hmmm…it seems that “Wings” McCartney is trying to hurt the break a little bit and has gone off the front. Now that’s a curious move. Other than just trying to weaken the break so that Discovery can bring them back…I’m not sure what the goal is here. Cycling tactics can be hard to understand from the sidelines so I’ll go out on a limb and guess that Johann Bruyneel probably has a better grip on this race than I do sitting here behind a computer screen.

Hey…it looks like our NorCal boy Mike “Havoc” Sayers is in the break as well. I didn’t see the footage but apparently Havoc got intimate with a parking meter or post or something yesterday and ended up stacking as the field entered Sac-Town. Not a great way to enter the hometown circuit for Mike but…that’s bike racing I guess. Sayers is a big player in the NorCal cycling scene and is doing some great stuff with younger riders. I almost started working with my old High School (Tam High in the MV) for the league he has created but the old jobby job prevented my participation. Anyway…good to see Havoc up front and riding well.

CSC is basically just sitting in behind Disco right now. Bjarne’s boys are sitting pretty with JV presented by Chuck Norris in the break and no real incentive to help with the chase. Such is the burden of leadership for Discovery and Leipheimer.

Need a time gap…come on…hmmm, the gap is up to five minutes now. This could be interesting. Discovery is going to have to get out the leash pretty quick here and no one seems to be in any mood to help.

Okay, now Rabobank is working on the front and Liquigas seems to be interested now but I can’t think of why they would make the effort here. Between McCartney’s move and now these teams helping I am starting to wonder if I really know anything about this sport. If not…I’ve been doing a pretty good job at fooling people for the last 20 years.

HealthNet presented by Chuck Norris (oh wait…sorry) presented by Maxxis has three guys in the break and are putting in a good effort. They must have gotten word that Rob-A-Bank is helping the Discovery chase. But with Milne, O’Bee and Gritters (all decent to good sprinters) up there, I can’t imagine they’ll burn too many matches. This is a weird break.

The gap is now 3:50 and one of the HealthNet guys I just mentioned is going up the road from the break. It looks like O’Bee but I can’t seem to get an update. While I’m waiting for confirmation I’d like to take this time to inquire just how many times you think Kirk O’Bee has heard that annoying old O.B. tampon commercial song? My guess is WAY too many times and I apologize if that just made you actually sing the jingle in your head because it will not go away for a while. “O.B…it’s the way it should be…keep it simple…and set yourself free.” My bad. Sometimes my memory is annoying.

Okay, my bad again. It’s actually Milne off the front and not O’Bee. I guess he’s trying to get a little gap before the climb but…Sierra Road is wicked and I have to think he would have been better off saving a little bit and hoping to stay with most of the break over the top. Once again…I’m questioning whether or not I know what the hell I’m talking about because these guys are doing things that I do not fully understand. But then again I am sitting here with no volume or race reports and doing my best George Costanza impersonation so I’m not sure I have all the details. Bear with me here.

I just read the VeloNews update in an effort to determine if I should just stop this project and apparently they agree with me about McCartney’s move. What was that? Rabobank is still confusing me with their effort at the front of the peloton though. They’ve got two guys in the break but seem to be determined to help bring it back. Slipstream has someone up there now as well. At least that makes sense to protect Donald in second overall and maybe the climber’s and young rider’s jerseys for Peterson and Tolleson. I’m confused otherwise.

Okay…I am officially getting dizzy trying to watch this on-line coverage. Between the pixilation, choppy camera work and the stop/start feed, this is getting rough. I don’t want to heckle the AToC website too much because hey…a live feed is a live feed but I have had a difficult time with the coverage so far. Under-promise and over-deliver I always say. I’m still annoyed that I couldn’t even open the webpage yesterday and had to revert to the written updates. Couldn’t load the page once between noon and 4 o’clock. Anyone else have that problem?

Milne is still off the front but it looks as though Slipstream is starting to put the hammer down in the main field. Leipheimer is nestled in behind Hincapie who I have to think will be trying to return Levi’s favor from the USPRO Championships this past summer. Levi basically took one for the team (or future team at least) so that Big G could get the win in his hometown. Cycling is super cool and maddeningly frustrating that way. Levi took a lot of shots for the work he did in that race and I think most of them were fired out of sheer jealousy. Don’t talk smack about a guy that has clear motivations to work for someone else when you couldn’t stay on his wheel…please. It has been said that Levi was the strongest guy in the race but hey, if he wants to sacrifice himself for someone else, who the heck are you to question his motives? You don’t think GH is a good enough guy to repay the favor down the road somewhere? Please. The only person with a little beef could have been Bajadali but even then…the two strongest riders went 1 and 2. Nuff said.

It looks as though the break is starting the climb to Sierra Road. Voigt (p/b Norris), McCartney and a few others are on the front. Heather Mills-McCartney (sorry Jason…couldn’t help it) is starting to dig but the other guys are having none of it. Uh Oh. J-Mac may have made Voigt mad because he is getting into Beastie Boy mode as Paul Sherwen is fond of saying.

Basso is pulling for Levi in the main group as McCartney keeps trying to live up to the Wings moniker. This guy is super strong. He’s actually kind of like an American Jens in many ways. Always attacking and occasionally making it stick. You gotta like that.

Levi is going now on Sierra and Horner is trying to follow. Oooh…it’s on now. Leipheimer, Horner and a Rabobank guy (Rasmussen?) are off the front of the main field now but Levi is all alone up there. Where is Danielson? Come on Tommy D, what’s up?

Voigt and McCartney are alone in the break now and just flogging each other. These guys would be good boxers I think. Just slugging it out with each other. Maybe they’ll get honorary spot in Chuck Norris’ fight club thingie on Versus.

Whoa! Levi, Horner and the unnamed Rabobank rider have bridged up to Voigt and McCartney. Levi is putting some serious smack down now. Not sure what the gap is to the peloton but they need to get moving if they’re going to catch these guys. I think LL is trying to get some breathing room before the TT on Friday. Horner is looking really good but where are the other CSC guys? Voigt’s been in the break for a while but I would have expected Bobby J to follow the Leipheimer/Horner move. They had to know it was coming. Levi is regulating on the front now as Bettini and some T-Mobile guys push the main field up the road.

The leaders are getting to the top and there is a group of…5 now. LL, Chuck Norris, Wings, Smiley Face and the unknown Rabobank guy. Gotta get the Rabobank name.

Okay it’s not the Chicken but rather Geslin in the break as they begin the rolling descent into San Jose. Not sure how tall Geslin is but he looks like Tree Farm next to Levi. But then again…so do I. Big dude though and in some pretty good company here.

Whoa…we may have a bridge here as Peterson from Slipstream and Kirchen from CSC try to close the gap to the break. Only 20k to the finish and Horner is now driving the front. Actually the break is working really well together and may be hard to catch. Lots of horse-power in there although I’m not sure what the motivation will be for Jens Norris and Geslin to contribute. I have to think they are looking out for the stage win now while LL and Smiley will be going for GC and Wings will be working to keep LL in front. And cool.

Speaking of which…McCartney is gapping the break on the descent now. How does a guy from Iowa become a great descender? I can understand the climbing because it’s windy in the mid-west but when did he practice going downhill?

Bettini and another small group are now 35 seconds back. If the Cricket makes it up to the break he will win for sure. No one up there now will be able to match the Italian’s kick if it comes down to a small group sprint. He is virtually unbeatable in a scenario like that. Just ask Erik Zabel and Alejandro Valverde.

The gap is back to 1:00 now as Levi drives the break downhill despite being a little guy. Whoa…a sketchy high-speed turn almost forces a few of the guys off course but they have come back together. LL looked like the only one who knew that was coming.

Geslin and Voigt are totally sitting on now – as I predicted – and are letting Wings, Smiley and LL do the lion’s share of the work. This is going to be tough to call but I have to think Voigt has the advantage although I must admit I know nothing of Geslin’s finishing kick. It’s pretty safe to say that Levi will not contest it though as he is putting the hammer down now. They are on the flat finishing stretch to the line now and going really hard. Horner is putting in some good turns as well but Levi and McCartney are the big engines at this point.

15k to go and Bruyneel pulls up to the break with none other than LA himself riding shotgun. How’s that for motivation? It is a testament to Levi’s coolness that he wasn’t thrown in the dumpster by Lance after he left the team a few years ago. It’s tough to dislike a good guy even when Lance is notorious for blowing up most bridges to former teammates.

By the way…Horner has been rocking the cycling cap under the helmet with the bill turned up and I’m not sure how I feel about it. My initial reaction is an unfavorable one but it goes against my nature to criticize Smiley. One of my all time favorite riders.

The gap is holding at 1:00 and I think this group is going to stay away. Too much horse-power and too many big names. Who’s going to chase? T-Mobile? The domestic teams? This may just work out.

Ughhh…McCartney is out of the saddle and burning. Whoa…Levi put it down and a gap has opened. Voigt closes quickly followed by Horner but I think Wings and Geslin are done for. I can’t believe how quickly Jens Norris closed that down. Wow. Like a roundhouse kick to the chin.

Okay…Levi is basically a motorcycle right now. Just killing it. I think it’s going to come down to Horner and Voigt for the finish. Gotta root for the American but I couldn’t think of a better top 3 for today than these guys.

They are rolling through and working well together but here comes a big group behind…into the last turn…and it’s…Jens Voigt!!!

Levi and Horner come through in second and third just ahead of a hard charging group of about twenty or so riders. The main field comes in a minute or so later, led by the Slipstream boys.

Wow. Great stage. Levi cemented his place as the man to beat but Voigt got some extra time bonus seconds to close the gap and Horner looks very strong. Depending on the weather conditions for the TT in Solvang…this could get really interesting. I’ll put up another post later after I check the TV coverage. Now I need to go take a Dramamine or something after watching that live feed coverage. I feel queasy.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Tour of California Stage 2 - A Crystal Time Bomb

Before we tackle Stage 2 of the Tour of California, let's take one final moment to reflect on Monday's beautiful but deadly stage into Santa Rosa with a Top 5 list of observations and...other things.

1) Dave Zabriskie needs to start keeping a rabbit's foot or 4-leaf clover in his jersey pocket or something. The woefully unlucky CSC rider took another digger on the Coleman Valley Road descent, bumping his noggin and ending his race. I told you someone could lose the race yesterday. Actually, I don't know where he got off but having ridden that stretch a lot I can only imagine that he is lucky to have escaped with just a concussion. Heck, he's fast enough to carry a horseshoe. Something. Very unfortunate but Levi's job just got a little easier.

2) They didn't even bother having Phil attempt say "Mt. Tamalpais" and just went with "Tam." Now, I'm totally cool with that - because that's what the locals call it so it wasn't a big deal to use the nickname. Even though it is the birthplace of the mountain bike and should be well-known in cycling circles. But that's another topic. What irked me was that later on he called it "Mt. Tom" and consistently mispronounced Marin. It's "Muh-Rin" not "Mare-In." Sorry, local pet peeve.

3) What was up with Patrick Dempsey as the "random celebrity Versus signed up at the last minute for PR purposes who doesn't really know much about cycling" selection as the Breakaway From Cancer guy? He basically goes, "Yeah, I've been riding for a few months now and really enjoy it." That's nice and all but okay, Dr McWhatever (Life is too short for hour-long medical dramas), glad you could help. What would the cycling equivalent of Patrick Dempsey's acting career be? Seriously, to go from the early highs of "Can't Buy Me Love" to the lows of...well, I really don't know what he's been up to for the last twenty years, and then to the current success of Grey's Anatomy? Maybe if Millar, Hamilton, Ullrich or Landis could get a World Championship or Grand Tour?

4) It's nice that the Tour of California went with a yellow leader's jersey instead of the gold/beige/brown deal they had last year. The old leader's jersey wasn't that bad but it was heinous when stacked up against Floyd's green and yellow Phonak shorts. While I'm here...I'd like to give a big retroactive shout out to Phonak for instituting the black and white leader's shorts last year. Super good call on that one. I always wondered if that was Floyd's idea or someone else. His wife or daughter? Andy Rhis? If anyone has any info on this...please give a shout.

5) Botts Dots = The Worst. Dr. Elbert Dysart Botts is forever in the Cycling Hall of Shame. They really are very good for overall road safety but yeah...not so good for over a hundred rampaging bike racers jumping all over the place. Cobbles my ---. Taste a Botts Dot at the wrong angle going 35mph and you could end up like Gerald Ciolek. Not a great introduction to Santa Rosa for the recently crowned U23 World Champ or for him to the peloton. "Oops. My bad guys. I'm kind of new here." I think Dr. Botts may have been one of the race officials yesterday and was trying to ease his conscience. The ruling may continue to be an issue.

Okay...now to Stage 2, 115 miles from Santa Rosa to Sacramento.

Santa Rosa is an interesting town. Levi obviously loves it and I can see why. Very good place for a pro bike racer. On the surface it seems like it would be pretty cool - and it kind of is. I guess. College town (kind of), wine country (kind of), close to the San Francisco (kind of). C-Mac and I came dangerously close to living there a few years back. It is a REALLY long 60 or so miles from Santa Rosa to San Francisco. Really long. If 101 was better it would help.

Anyway, by tackling Trinity Road just 13 or so miles in to the stage, the riders are in for a pretty grim start. It is a beautiful road but it does not mess around as seen by the Category 2 rating. With Mt. Tam so early in Stage 1 and Trinity so early in Stage 2 the organizers are kind of...how do you say...uh...getting the good part over too quickly. This could be a pretty decisive climb if it were more strategically placed in the stage but coming so early is generally not well appreciated by the other parties involved. I mean the fans.

So this guy Laurent from Credit Agricole gets the KOM at Trinity while narrowly avoiding being knocked over by some tool running along the road with a huge California flag. I really hate the flag wavers. Nothing good can come from flag waving close to a machine with spoked wheels and a fast moving chain and gear system. Apparently a Priority Health rider tagged an overzealous fan trying to take a photograph in an earlier part of the stage. Generally the fans around California are somewhat educated about the sport but there are a lot of people who just watch the Tour and try to turn into those yahoos for a day. I think a sort of Marshall law kind of thing where other fans could just clothesline any idiots running along the course with no fear of litigation would help. Too many good lawyers in NorCal for that now though.

While we're here, Priority Health is getting its money's worth with Omer Kem. I have heard that name a ton so far. Okay, the first time was for crashing with Christian Vandevelde but he's back in the break and trying to hang on to Laurent alongside McCann. This team is having horrendous luck otherwise though. Between multiple crashes and the Ben Jacques-Maynes near-race lead issues...it's been tough. They're getting after it though and Kem is working hard.

So, apparently Dave Zabriskie's nickname is the "Green Hornet." Who decided that was going to be the relevant personal data for his stats profile graphic? I'm looking forward to learning what Stuart O'Grady's favorite color is later on in the week. Maybe we'll see who Hincapie's favorite cartoon character is. Solid information that I did not know. So then Versus got the cameras out and took some sad and awkward footage of DZ wandering around the entrance of the hotel after coming back from the hospital. Quality paparazzi style television right there. Concussions are not good at all. Even small ones.

In the "Hey, these kids are pretty good" Department, we are seeing a lot of orange and blue argyle of the Slipstream powered by Chipotle team in the Tour of California so far. It's been a good few days with Donald in the Prologue, Tolleson in the Young Rider's jersey, Peterson in the Climbers jersey and Frischkorn seemingly in every early move and getting some serious airtime for JV's squad. And then there's Pate.

After bridging up to Laurent and McCann (automatically a C-Mac favorite as Irish National Champ) like it was nothing, Pate took off on his own until just outside Sacramento. Good effort, lots of quality airtime and a chance to show the world that you can match world-champ rainbow stripes and orange and blue argyle. He'll win something big soon.

The sprinter's teams were having none of it though and so began the mad dash around the Capitol Building in downtown Sac. Seriously...that's what a lot of people actually call it, not a joke. Bobby J and Jens Voigt (presented by Chuck Norris) kept the whole field strung out for what seemed like a very long time. I think these two should star in a "buddy" type cop show when they retire. Can we make this happen? Get Chuck on the phone.

It was kind of hard to tell from the footage but it seemed as though a Toyota United rider (I assume Dominguez) got stuck on the front and kind of hesitated a little on the left just as O'Grady was giving JJ Haedo the leadout of a lifetime to the right. The result was everybody getting pinned on the left and well over a bike length victory for the Argentinian dragster.

JJ Haedo has made a lot of money off of this event and this is not likely the last we will see of him. He will challenge other stages here in the Tour of California but I have a feeling that he could do some work in Europe too. Maybe not much this year but he'll get some wins.

A big part of that prediction is Team CSC. If it were another team I would be leery but not with Bjarne Riis' squad. He'll be taken care of well there and it seems like a good environment for a guy like him. And when you can have the last 8k of the race controlled in ruthless fashion by the likes of Bobby Julich, Jens Voigt and Stuart O'Grady well...I'd say you've got some incentive to bring it home. I wouldn't want to let those guys down and I'm sure JJ doesn't either.

This is an excerpt of Levi's post race interview with a conspicuously quiet Bob Roll: "It [the race] was like a ticking time bomb made out of crystal and they [the team] didn't drop it." Levi is deep, man. Awesome. I think Bob's imagery is being transferred through Levi now that he's doing the interviews. Like a Vulcan mind meld kind of deal. Who would you envision using the term "ticking time bomb made out of crystal"? Levi Leipheimer or Bob Roll? See what I mean?

And we end with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger making the podium presentations in the shadow of the Capitol Building. Only in California.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Tour of California Stage 1 - Dazed and Confused

"Alright, alright, alright." As a tribute to the world-renowned growing regions of Northern California (I mean grapes and Redwood trees of course) featured during today's stage of the Tour of California, I will begin today's post with a little help from one of my all-time favorite movie characters, David Wooderson (Lancelebrity Matthew McConaughey's first and best role) from Dazed and Confused. I could write a whole book on the philosophy of Wooderson but since this is supposed to be about cycling (and not drug related High School movies set in the '70's), I will try to recap some of today's Tour of California action by applying various relevant quotes from the movie. You may have to work to stay with me here...it's been a long day.

"The older you get, the more rules they are going to try and get you to follow. You just gotta keep on livin', man. L-I-V-I-N." - Wooderson would agree that every cyclist forced to work today should have been paid double. It's a national holiday AND the first road stage of the Tour of California? Come on, what does this country stand for anyway? I don't know the answer to that question but I think the Presidents would have wanted us all to have the day off. We'll get into more about Washington's interests and some other Presidential fun later...

"I'd like to quit thinking of the present, like right now, as some minor, insignificant preamble to somethin' else." – Cynthia is one of the more underrated characters from the Dazed and Confused cast but has one of the coolest red She-Fros of all time. Not sure how that particular fact is relevant but this quote speaks to the nature of the first road stage of virtually any long stage race. Even though there is still a week of racing left, this is not an easy stage and the climb out of Mill Valley to Mt. Tam should have woken everyone up rather abruptly. Even though this stage is unlikely to really break the race apart, anything can happen on these roads which I can tell you are pretty sketchy in sections. No one will win the ToC today but someone could lose it easily.

"Listen, You ought to ditch the two geeks you're in the car with now and get in with us. But that's alright, we'll worry about that later. I will see you there." - A classic Wooderson pick-up line for Cynthia that is probably something similar to what Bettini thought about saying to a few of the guys in the early break with him along Highway 1. He actually put in a pretty good effort in that group. It seemed like the other guys were just praying he wouldn't really hit out because gaps were coming off his wheel every time he pulled. This quote also has such a great sense of confidence -and I get that vibe from the Cricket as well. Do whatever you want because he will see you at the finish. Most likely from the top podium step. Looks like he's enjoying California. Hard not to around here though.

"George Washington was in a cult, and the cult was into aliens, man." - Slater gives a little history lesson about GW and interestingly enough provides a nice segway into a curious fact about Sonoma County and an area the ToC passes on today's stage. Specifically, there is a large section of forest here that contains the legendary Bohemian Grove, the ultra-secret, ultra-elite compound of San Francisco's super-private Bohemian Club. There are some really crazy stories about this place but the gist of it is that every summer the Grove hosts a private, two-week encampment of cultish fraternization for some of the most powerful men in the world. Presidents (Nixon, Reagan, Bush etc), CEO's and a virtual who's who of power mongering all get together under a 40ft Owl statue and do some pretty weird, wild stuff while at the same time excercising in some good old fashioned socio-political networking of the highest order. You should read about it. I'm going to stop talking about it now because they may be reading...but seriously, it's in those forested hills somewhere. I personally think they just go mountain biking and cruise around on the spectacular rolling roads around Occidental. Slater would think otherwise.

"Behind every good man there is a woman, and that woman was Martha Washington, man, and everyday George would come home, she would have a big fat bowl waiting for him, man, when he came in the door, man. She was a hip, hip, hip lady,man." - Since Discovery basically rode the front for a large portion of this race and I can't really think of a cycling application for this great Slater quote, I'll take it as an opportunity to take another look and the wives of our U.S. professional cyclists. Well, not a look per se (that would be wrong...and possibly illegal) but more of just a general reflection. C-Mac says chicks dig bikers but it must be hard to be the wife of a pro cyclist. I think that's probably why the guys are always quick to praise the ladies. Seems like they always have to play second fiddle to the bike and the travel can really suck. Wait, what am I doing...forget I said that. I mean...it must be wonderful to be married to a professional cyclist. Sorry guys, my bad.

"Y'all ready to bust some ass?" - The scene when O'Bannion pulls up is the first time I recall ever seeing Ben Affleck on screen and provides a great quote for the work done at the front of the peloton to bring the break back before the circuits in Santa Rosa. They were busting some serious ass there. O'Bannion would have been proud. Hold on...I can't believe that I just said that was the first time I had seen Ben Affleck. In fact, that couldn't be further from the truth. The first time I saw the former Mr. J-Lo was actually in 6th grade. Yeah...you heard me. Voyage of the Mimi - Science class, Mill Valley Middle School. How could I forget Voyage of the Mimi?

Okay, sorry...where were we? OH NO!!! Huge pileup and it looks to have gotten a good portion of the field. Dang. That was rough. Reminiscent of the Tour de France in 2003. Someone blew it there I think. Too anxious.

"Fifty of you are leaving on a mission. Twenty-five of you ain't coming back." - Mr. Payne, the junior high school teacher must have been a bike racing fan because he pretty much called that crash with this quote. It seemed like that yard sale actually took out more than half the field. At least put them back a ways. Levi is off the back and seems to be giving his Santa Rosa neighbors a little moonshine action through his shorts. That is unfortunate. Not nearly as bad as Ollerenshaw's two-seater down under but pretty rough nontheless. There are going to be some really upset bike racers in Santa Rosa tonight because I can't see everyone getting the medical OK to start tomorrow. Bummer.

"I don't know coach, I've been doin' so well in English I thought I might work on bein' a writer. What do ya think about that?"
- Benny O'Donnell (played by the startlingly post D&C successful Cole Hauser) was just giving the coach with the poor short length-to-sock height ratio a hard time but I think this quote sums up at least part of the reason I am happy to be sitting here writing in my comfortable, warm living room and no longer giving myself the wire brush treatment on a regular basis. Anyone who pins on a number is bound to go down a few times but when the pros eat, they REALLY eat it. The fields are so big and the riders are all so fast that the chain reaction effect at the end of a stage can be gruesome to watch.

I hope there were some twisted NASCAR-type fans in Santa Rosa who enjoyed that because I sure didn't. The area where they went down was absolutely packed with people last year so I can only assume that this year's crowd got quite a show.

Speaking of which...T-Mobile's Jakob Piil and a couple Quick-Step guys made darn sure that the 40 or so riders left after the crash were staying away. It sucks that for them to do their jobs, they could be eliminating Levi, the hometown hero and current race leader, from overall contention. Jakob Piil is just doing his job - and a very good one at that - for Greg Henderson who is also a good guy. Cycling is a tough sport.

"I'm just trying to be honest about being a misanthrope." - Before getting beaten up, Mike (played by Adam Goldberg aka The Hebrew Hammer - the actor, not my friend from High School) was pretty upfront about hating people. He probably branched out to hating humanity after the unfortunate pummelling at the Moon Tower. Now...I don't hate Graeme Brown but I do like Greg Henderson (being that he used to call Boulder home) and I was admittedly frustrated that Brown took out the win by a tire width. I couldn't tell if Henderson was kind of razzing Brown after they finished because in the replay it does seem like there was maybe a little argy bargy there. Hard to tell because he totally could have been congratulating him as well. To quote Paul Sherwen: "What a gesture."

"Okay guys, one more thing. This summer, when you're being inundated with all this American Bicentennial 4th of July brouhaha, don't forget what you're celebrating. And that's the fact that a bunch of slave-owning, Aristocratic white males didn't want to pay their taxes." -
I wish that I had a teacher like Ms. Ginny Stroud when I was in High School but alas, I was stuck with Mrs. Pilgrim. Anyway...this quote pretty much gets to the foundation of the official decision to neutralize the entire circuit portion of the stage and just declare the same time for everyone. Sweet. I think. Well...I don't know. It seems "fair" in the grand scheme of things and sure leaves everyone in Santa Rosa feeling happy - er. But was it the right thing to do by the rulebook? ...thinking, thinking... I'll go with... hey, they are the officials and it's their call. I think everyone is probably pretty okay with it but there are going to be some questions. I mean...the first group was a long way out.

I truly hope that the crash and subsequent ruling do not affect the ultimate outcome of this race. And since I am writing this after the stage I will try not to feel guilty about jinxing the race by going with the Dazed and Confused idea. There were a lot of riders in that state after the race today. I know I am.

Can't wait for tomorrow...

- Cut to shot of Wooderson's car "Melba Toast" as "Low Rider" plays in the background -

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Tour of California Prologue - A Running Diary vs Versus

Hello Race Fans and welcome to the Tour of California coverage from my living room in Boulder, Colorado. I am going to attempt to log a running diary of the OLN - er Versus coverage of the ToC prologue in San Francisco but I have no idea how hard this may be. If it is feeble, please blame the original coverage and not my subjective interpretation of it. How's that for a creative disclaimer? I kid because I care and Versus is my only hope for cycling coverage so any criticisms I may have can be viewed as merely suggestions. Angry, scathing suggestions. Now...On to the Tour of California!

- The programming opens with spectacular shots of the Bay Area, followed by the trinity of English-speaking bicycle commentating looking smooth in their matching OLN - oops, I mean Versus - fleece vests. It's nice that they all have different LL Bean long sleeve button ups though.

- A look at the contenders, including Rasmussen as the first close-up. Interesting choice there to lead off with, but I guess if there is any rider capable of capturing the attention of all the Ultimate Fighting and Pro Bull Riding fans of the Versus channel's standard programming, The Chicken is that rider. It's not only the farm connection with his nickname but apparently the Dane is a lethal kickboxer and student of many Brazilian fighting styles.

- Speaking of sanctioned, televised beatings, the first of what are sure to be many commercials for World Combat League, Presented by Chuck Norris on Versus. Need I say more? Men and women...all kicking and punching the heck out of each other. And presented to us by none other than Jens Voigt's long lost twin, Chuck Norris. The whole "presented by" thing made me laugh out loud. Aren't sporting events usually presented by a product or company? Not a single person? But then again...Chuck is an organization unto himself. These commercials will not grow old at all.

- Additional rider coverage, yeah, yeah. We've been over this - Best field ever in the US...heard that before. Now on to the stages - should be a beautiful course (minus Stockton) overall but it still may not be hard enough to break everyone up and the TT will still be the decisive stage.

- Now a spotlight on Bobby J beginning with him talking about his crash in the Tour TT and how good he was feeling at the time. Bobby is good at talking about the internal quest for getting performances "out" of himself. Having faith that you have untapped potential within. Good stuff. Looks like this is his final year, hope some good results come out of him along the way.

- Weird intro to footage of the official team presentation. Some hoochie shots with Bob Roll and the ladies which Phil and Paul give him a hard time about. These guys really do seem like they are pretty good friends. It's hard to fake that during a cycling broadcast.

- Spotlight on Chris Horner - it's about freaking time. Such an interesting character. Starts off talking about the frustration of Europe and the subsequent thrashing of the US scene for the next few years. Then shots of the stage wins in Switzerland and Romandie - both great finishes. Debuted in the Tour at 33 years old. That's inspiring. Not for me personally...but probably for some people.

- More spectacular shots of the Bay Area. It really is the most beautiful place on Earth. Makes me miss it...but then again, they are not showing footage of traffic on 101 or the average median home price. If I could just fly around in a helicopter all the time and not have to deal with all the crap I'd still be there. Oh well.

- Now a recap of last year's Prologue and the rest of the 2006 race. You can check out my ToC recap from last year here. Something I recalled while watching this was how people first reacted with horror to Floyd's Praying Mantis time trial position. Then he murdered them all and I could just imagine everyone moving their bars around on their next ride. Don't knock the Mantis until you've tried it. And crashed.

- Remarkably, Versus is seemingly acknowledging Floyd Landis' existence. After so much negative media attention, it is great that they at least let him talk. And hey, Floyd doesn't pull any punches for the UCI and WADA, calling their leaders incompetent and the system flawed. Paul then makes a bit of a comment regarding the legitimacy of the 11:1 T/E number which is mildly surprising. I think that they handled that pretty fairly. Good job Versus, I may stop calling you OLN now.

- Some intro shots of Chinatown and Phil Liggett's uncomfortable use of the word "Chinese." China Town is a trip. Honestly, it's one of the more puzzling tourist areas in San Francisco. Anyone who has been there and seen dudes shouldering whole pigs and walking down the street can attest to the uniqueness of the experience.

- Now it's George Hincapie's turn for the spotlight. Or maybe it's Melanie Hincapie's turn. For some reason I had trouble following this piece but I get the distinct impression that Melanie Hincapie is very good for the future of cycling in this country. Hopefully, thousands of boys across the US watched this segment and now have a new found respect for cyclists.

- Phil Liggett announces that it's about 63 degrees. Thanks Phil. C-Mac and I were ecstatic that it was in the mid-forties today in Boulder. Levi Leipheimer gets the treatment now and we see him training in Santa Rosa. Levi loves him some Santa Rosa. Seriously, the guy should look into a tourism gig with the city when he retires. I think Levi likes Santa Rosa so much because he is always in Europe during the summer and doesn't have to deal with the heat. Some good words from Odessa Gunn, Levi's wife and maybe a female super hero. Wasn't Odessa Gunn part of the Justice League?

- A nice HealthNet commercial featuring a bunch of riders that no longer race for them. For some reason that struck me as being very, very funny.

- Prediction Time: Bob Roll - Levi Leipheimer (with jean joke included) Paul Sherwen - George Hincapie (not Georgie) and Phil Liggett - Fabian Cancellara (after saying that he really wanted O'Grady to win but the producer wouldn't let him pick him, that was odd)

- The camera cuts back to Phil talking and Bob yawning. For real...a full on, open-mouthed yawn. Awesome. These guys are great. Bob never really seems comfortable when he's on camera and not talking. Seriously, between the grin and the head nods it's really quite entertaining. It's great though, don't ever change. The only thing that I would add is Fred Willard from Best In Show. That would be exceptional.

- Okay...Finally some action. Basso is first on with a mediocre 5:03 followed by Jens Voigt at just under 5 minutes as well as O'Grady in about the same time.

- Now this is crazy...Jason Donald basically crushed Levi Leipheimer's winning time from last year. Knocked 3 seconds off. I'm still not sure about the Slipstream kits though. C-Mac loves them. Donald is WAY ahead at 4:50. That is crazy fast. Whoa.

- Tom Danielson on course now. He could do well. I predicted him to finish third behind DZ and Levi because of the severity of the climb up Telegraph to Coit Tower. We'll see.

- Now to Zabriskie in the start house. Pretty boring National Champion skinsuit for DZ. I would have thought Descente could come up with something more creative. This guy has a crazy profile though. You can hardly even see him on the bike - super sleek. C-Mac said he kind of looked like a shark from the side and I showed her the picture of Randi Zabriskie from the most recent VeloNews. That article is also good for the future of cycling in this country.

- Back to DZ the shark. Tommy D is finishing and is in at just under 5 minutes. Here comes DZ...the last stretch is a long left hand turn uphill that just never seems to end...he's way outside Donald...4:59. Jeez, Donald was 9 seconds faster over 2 miles than Dave Zabriskie? This is shaping up to be a phenomenal upset if he can hold on.

- They just showed the leaderboard and Ben Jacques-Maynes is second at about 3 seconds. Go Domestic US riders!! BJM is kind of a local guy so this is a great result for him. This is wild though...I don't think ANYONE would have predicted these two guys at the top of the leaderboard this far through the field. Not even their moms.

- Cable car and GG Bridge shots. Here is the first longer clip of Donald's ride. He was flying up the last part of the hill. Now George Hincapie is up to bat. And he's not rocking the Racing Shields. I almost didn't recognize him. Paul makes the comment that these guys are hitting 35mph on the flat stretch of Embarcadero. In case you were wondering..that's pretty fast.

- Cancellara is on the ramp now sporting the Rainbow TT jersey. This guy is a tank. A really, really fast Swiss tank. I rule at metaphors.

- Horner is in the start house. Not sure what to expect from him here. Hincapie is getting up to the finish...ughh. My knees hurt just watching. He's already outside Donald...4:57 for Big George. Not a bad time at all but once again, nowhere near Donald. Where the hell did this kid come from? Well...besides Colorado of course.

- Okay...a word on the commercials. They are ALL over the place. Versus clearly has problems trying to describe their audience to prospective advertisers. I mean, this is channel that broadcasts the NHL, cycling, Bull riding, surfing, hunting, snowboarding and UFC style fighting presented by Chuck Norris. How many companies are down with all those groups? I'll tell you one...Denny's apparently. And they have a new all-kinds-of-meat special that may have taken a year off my life just watching the commercial. Anyway...lots of random commercials and WAY too many of them.

- Here comes Cancellara to the finish. For some reason they are not posting the clock...come on Versus. Okay, they finally show the clock and he's already outside Donald's time. Way to keep the suspense up there VS. Now Horner is starting to climb. HUGE gear he seems to be pushing. Even C-Mac comments that he looks like he's grinding. He's in at 5:03 - near Basso and good for 17th at this point.

- Julich is on the ramp now. Phil asks what Bobby will need to do to beat Donald's time followed by Paul and Bob basically saying that he needs to ride harder and faster. Once again, these guys are awesome. Cycling is not an easy sport to comment on sometimes. Julich is still rocking the oval chainrings...oh, sorry...elliptical. I know the theory is that they minimize deadspots but why don't you ever see anyone else with them. Still recovering from BioPace discrimination? I'll use 'em if I can ride as smoothly as Bobby J.

- Michael Rogers getting ready now. He kind of looks like Peyton Manning a little bit. Maybe not. Julich is nearing the finish...oh, 20th place at 5:03-ish. Ouch. Donald may just win this thing. Would that be the biggest possible result of the year already for Slipstream? Seriously, the stage win and the leader's jersey? The argyle might just be the key. You have to damn fast to ride around in argyle.

- Levi is the last starter and is getting ready. He looks really focused. Like angry focused. Mick Rogers coming up Telegraph. The producers seem to have realized that the clock is a useful graphic. Thanks guys...we have two riders left on the course.

- Cut back to Levi who is making good time. He is killing it up the hill but is riding like a rock. Just super-good form there from Levi. He's close...really close. Donald might still get it. Out of the saddle to the line...HE GOT IT, LEIPHEIMER WINS!!! Wow that was close. Just about a 1.5 second differential.

Whew. A very close finish to the prologue and actually a really interesting start to this race. I am trying to figure out what the results from today indicate and how the time differences will affect the racing. Probably shouldn't read too much into the performances at this point but...still. The CSC guys were a touch slower than expected but what about Jason Donald and Ben Jacques-Maynes? Just huge results for Slipstream and Priority Health already.

Hopefully the domestic teams will keep up the great momentum coming out of the prologue and start lighting it up on the open road as well. In what seemed like a possible Pro Tour-dominated event, the Tour of California has already proven the depth and strength of the domestic US field. Now THAT is good for the future of cycling in this country.