Sunday, February 17, 2008

ToC Prologue - Fabian Cancellifornia

Hello Race Fans, welcome to my coverage of the third edition of the Amgen Tour of California. Or as Phil Ligget calls it, “The Tour of Caulifoenia.”

Local Background Info:

Organizers have made some changes to the event this year and the prologue has been moved from the classic Coit Tower course in San Francisco to Palo Alto and the campus of Stanford University. As such, the brutal climb up Telegraph has been replaced by a flat but moderately technical route along Palm Drive, likely reducing the chance that defending champ Levi Leipheimer will be donning the yellow jersey for the third year in a row.

Now, I loved the history and spectacle of the old Coit Tower prologue course but I have a strong affinity for Stanford, largely because my Grandmother and one of my oldest friends both graduated from the school. Another reason is because it is the location of one of the most surreal experiences I have ever had in my life.

Rewind to 1995: I was visiting my friend Dr. M at Stanford and we ended up at pretty good sized party. (Believe it or not, kids at Stanford actually do have regular college-style parties.) So, I’m hanging out wondering how much better everyone there did on their SAT’s than me when a group of people comes through the door. At first I didn’t think anything of it and then Dr. M motions in their direction and starts laughing.

Much to our amusement, the party had just been joined by Fred Savage aka Kevin Arnold from the Wonder Years. He had kind of a weird posse of kids with him but I didn’t see Paul Pfeifer or Winnie Cooper anywhere. We made lots of Winnie Cooper jokes that night. Believe it or not, kids at Stanford can be pretty funny too.

So, just as we’re running out of Wonder Years and Princess Bride jokes, another group of people make their way in. Again, Dr. M gestures over just as Danny Pintauro (aka Jonathan Bower from Who’s The Boss?) comes in the door with another odd mix of hangers-on. This launched us into a rather fertile patch of Samantha Micelli references that carried much of the conversation for the rest of the night.

Anyway, to finish making a short story long, I like Stanford and Palo Alto. The cycling community is very strong and they deserve to have the prologue held here. Plus, the local businesses and politicians are probably a lot easier to deal with than the stooges in San Francisco, who have effectively pushed out both the Grand Prix/International and the ToC. Way to go SF. Way to go.

Television Coverage Info:

The folks at Versus have blessed the television audience with the ever-popular Phil Ligget, Paul Sherwen, Bob Roll trio. Normally, this is a good thing and means that the event will be entertaining to watch. What is also entertaining is listening to Phil Ligget try valiantly to pronounce “California” correctly.

Since we’re near a college, maybe a good TV drinking game would be to take a shot every time Phil calls the race “The Tour of Caledonia.” I think I have counted a few already. I really respect Ligget a lot but come on Big Guy, California is a pretty important place. I feel like mispronouncing “California” is akin to calling New York,“Yew Nork.” Come on Phil, you’re better than that.

The pre-race coverage had segments on Rock Racing, High Road, Astana and Slipstream which were interesting. Michael Ball actually seems like a pretty decent guy and apparently drives a Bentley. Phil, Paul and Bob also seemed to think that his participation is good for the sport which has to be somewhat validating. Ball and the entire team have taken a bit of a beating in the press but I think they may be able to shake off some of the bad vibes before the race is over.

It’s a bit of a shame that Hamilton, Botero and Sevilla got shelved again because of the Operacion Puerto shenanigans but the introduction of Mario Cipollini should spice things up a notch. Plus, there is always the ever-dynamic Doug Ollerenshaw, whose sheer charisma and star power are bound to stir things up.

Race Coverage Info:

- Judging from the mustache worn to the start line of the prologue, David Zabriskie is apparently going to be a police officer or a porn star when he retires. If he had been wearing short-shorts instead of his National Champ skinsuit, DZ would have been a dead ringer for Lt. Dangle from Reno 911. Or Jeff Kent from the Los Angeles Dodgers. I am extremely curious to see if the molestache makes it to the end of the week.

Question: Seriously, what’s the deal with police officers and mustaches? The other day I was watching a show on the History Channel about these Illinois cops who saw a UFO and they each had the exact same facial hair strategy - non-existent side-burns and a big bushy ‘stache. It’s almost like they were trying to look like the dude from The Village People. Maybe Dave Z saw the same show and got inspired. Or vice versa.

Regardless of the added wind resistance, D-Zab sets the early best time.

- Mario Cipollini puts in a remarkable performance to get a top-twenty (at least at the time he finished, he ended up 44th overall, 17 seconds back) result in the lime-green and black Rock Racing “Juice” kit. Not bad for a guy who was retired a couple weeks ago.

I always thought it was cool that Cipo was such a professional even though he cultivated this crazy playboy image. I appreciate those who are able to be successful and work hard without being uptight and boring. That can be a rare quality but the Lion King has it locked down.

- Tyler Farrar surprised some people by ending up on the podium and holding the best time for much of the day. Apparently the big kid from the Northwest was crushing people en route to winning two stages and the overall of the Tour of Bahamas. And we all know that if you can win in the Bahamas, you can win anywhere.

It’s all well and good that Farrar put in a good prologue but I am really interested in seeing how he fares in the sprints this week. With the likes of Boonen, Friere, Ciolek and many other top-level finishers, the ToC may be a perfect opportunity for Farrar to step into the role of the top American road sprinter. With the exception of Freddie Rodriguez, the U.S. has been sorely lacking in this department since the glory days of Davis Phinney and the Cofidis refugee seems to be pretty fast at the moment.

- Speaking of Cofidis refugees, the follically challenged Bradley Wiggins almost got the "W" for the new California-based High Road outfit. The new kits are a significant improvement over the pink past of T-Mobile but Wiggins is still apparently having problems finding a fully-sighted barber to complete the look upgrade. Good thing there is a helmet rule.

- Bobby J, Jens Voigt, George Hincapie, Chris Horner, David Millar, Ben Jacques-Maynes, Christian VandeVelde and Tom Boonen all put in respectable rides and finished within about 10-20 seconds back. Nothing spectacular from this group but a decent way to start the race.

- Fabian Cancellara devoured the prologue course to set the best time, a full 4 seconds ahead of B-Wiggs. The thick Swiss rider is becoming nearly unbeatable against the clock and just mashed the snot out of this flat course like he was mad at it. I would be very afraid of Fab-Can when Paris-Roubaix comes around in a few weeks. In the meantime, I would be very afraid of him this week as well. I doubt he’ll make it over Mt. Hamilton and Sierra Road with the leaders but he’ll probably wear the jersey until then.

- Impressively, the 5’7” 140lb Leviathan Leipheimer finished a remarkable 4th in the prologue, only 6 seconds behind Cancellara. If this result is any indication, the tiny bald man from Santa Rosa is feeling well and will likely be quite motivated to repeat his overall victory from last year.

So, the third annual Amgen Tour of California has its first leader (the first non-American ToC leader if I’m not mistaken) in the form of World Time Trial Champion Fabian Cancellara. Monday’s stage travels through my hometown of Mill Valley and finishes in Levi Leipheimer’s adopted hometown of Santa Rosa.

Let’s just hope the riders watch out for those Botts Dots on the road. We don’t want a replay of last year fellas.

1 comment:

Kk said...

And I thought I was the only one who noticed that Phil seemed to be wishing he was in the middle of the Coral Sea... fond memories perhaps...? Or longing for home in Old Caledonia?

Ahhhh-nold, the gift that keeps on giving.

Thanks once (twice) again for the yuks!