Sunday, February 24, 2008

ToC Stage 6 - Here Come Da Judge

Stage 6 from Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita was one of the most dynamic of the 2007 Amgen Tour of California. 2008 proved to be every bit as wild if not much more. Just ask Mark Cavendish. But only if you want to get sworn at and possibly punched.

The young British sprinter managed to cross the line first but was relegated to the back of the results sheet after race officials decided that he spent too much time hanging on to the team car after an earlier crash. The victory was ultimately awarded to Brazilian Luciano Pagliarini of Saunier-Duval/Scott. Reactions to the decision were mixed, but the general concensus was that the rules may have been enforced a bit too strictly. There were also grumblings that perhaps if Cavendish had been from another country (as in...the U.S.) the judgment may have been different.

The day started in lovely Santa Barbara, only the weather was not quite as lovely as it usually is in this idyllic city. High winds, cloudy skies and the constant threat of rain saw the riders off on their southeast trek to Santa Clarita.

A strong breakaway including Steven "The 'Stache" Cozza (Slipstream-Chipotle), David Canada "Eh" Gracia (Saunier Duval-Scott), Rory Sutherland (Health Net-Maxxis), Alexandre "Bronson" Pichot (Bouygues Telecom), Christophe Le "Car" Mevel (Credit Agricole) and Karsten "Looney" Kroon (Team CSC). I just can't think of a nickname for Sutherland right now. Sorry mate.

Anyway, this was a strong group but proved no match for the peloton and was caught before the finish. Coming into the circuits, there was a crash involving Cavendish, Mario Cipollini and the crashingest guy in pro cycling Fast Freddie Rodriguez. I swear, between Freddie and George Hincapie the U.S. has two of the most unlucky racers in the world. What's up with that?

Anyway, perhaps some of Hincapie's anti-mojo wore off on Cavendish, who has been up and down all week long. The trend continued as the Brit was only informed of his disqualification just before the awards presentation. Talk about going from high to low in a hurry. As a 22-year old professional athlete, Cavendish was likely as upset about missing out on some Rock Racing podium girl love as he was about the judge's decision. Okay, maybe not.

To his credit, Luciano Pagliarini (a Brazilian with an Italian name, who has a Star of David tatooed on his arm) was pretty gracious about the situation. He repeatedly stressed how sorry he was for Cavendish but hey, racing is racing.

The High Road team was maybe not quite as gracious and understanding about the situation. Cavendish displayed a nice combination of British profanity and sarcasm while team owner Bob Stapleton was solidly behind his rider and expressed his frustration with the ruling in a slightly more professional manner. Either way, High Road has had a pretty rough go in the Amgen Tour of California so far, flirting with great success only to have it slip from their grasp at the last minute. Hopefully they are getting their bad luck out of the way before they head back to Europe for the Spring Classics.

Regardless, the Tour of California continues to entertain and assert itself as one of the best events in the world. Despite the weather, crashes, Botts dots and Modesto. High Road may not agree right now but there is still one stage left and I would not bet against them to finish on a positive note in Stage 7. I have a feeling they will be firing on all cyclinders and have more motivation than anyone at this point. Cavendish wants those podiums kisses.

Again, I will post some of my photos from the start shortly and will elaborate more on the stage

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