Monday, February 16, 2009

AToC, Stage 1 Recap - What Just Happened?

So…as many of us familiar with February in NorCal had feared since the race was first announced five years ago, the rain and weather have been less than pleasant. I know bike racers are tough but there must have been a lot of complaining going on between Davis and Santa Rosa.

Apparently, Chris Horner was the only rider to renew his MENSA membership and realized that Paco Mancebo was in danger of riding away with the entire race on the first road stage. Summoning the troops with sketchy time splits. Astana began to pull back the deficit with the confused help of a small but strong group, coming into the circuits of downtown Santa Rosa a little over a minute behind the solo Rocker.

Here’s where it gets really strange. Apparently the brain trust at the AToC decided to neutralize all of the finishing circuits and count final times upon the first finish line crossing. It’s difficult to say who actually knew of this decision out on the road but it is certain that this info was not provided to the media during coverage of the finale. So instead of a ferocious chase, we ended up watching the group almost soft-pedal around while Mancebo slaughtered himself off the front. Seeing the chase group go from a long line to a slightly bunched up training ride was confusing at best for those watching.

Here is a sampling of my confusion:

“Why the hell aren’t they chasing?” “Come on, you pulled for 50 miles to get him back, why give up now?” “Do they really want to let Mancebo have over a minute?” “Why isn’t anyone else working to pull him back?”

Well, it turns out that there was really no need to do any more work once they got onto the circuits since the course was neutralized. What was even crazier though, was that Vincenzo Nibali and Jurgen Van de Walle then took off and easily bridged up to Mancebo, seemingly putting themselves in excellent position for both the stage and the overall.

Here is another sample of choice comments:

“What the hell are they doing?” “If it was that easy for two solo guys to bridge, you’re telling me they couldn’t have pulled hard for another lap and caught everyone?” “You’re just going to sit there and give a minute plus to Mancebo and Nibali?” “Does anyone from the US want to win this race?”

Ultimately, both Van de Walle and Nibali got jobbed because not only did Mancebo end up taking the sprint for the stage, the officials ended up giving them the same time as the first chase group that finished over a minute down because of the neutral circuit judgment. Wait…what? Yeah…I know, try explaining that one to them after 4+ hours in the cold rain.

Anyway, it remains to be seen just how strong Mancebo and Rock Racing are so the race is surely not over. It will be a wild one now for sure. Hopefully Stage 2 from Sausalito to Santa Cruz will be a little clearer – both in weather and official race functions. And hopefully BJM or one of the other NorCal kids can represent and then go get some cotton candy at the Boardwalk.


Sebastian said...

I followed this stage with great interest, since the Howell Mtn. KOM is literally a mile from my house. I was hoping that one of the great men of the sport would put on a show on what is literally my afternoon ride . . . And while Mancebo wouldn't have been my first choice, or even my tenth choice, I've got to give him props for what he pulled off. And besides, Puerto Schmuerto, we all know the real villain here is Paul Kimmage.

Insider said...

Terrific insight into what was another botched decision by the race organization. This is precisely why racing in the United States will get to the big time - the officials make up the rules as they go along.

If anyone from a European ProTour team comes back here next year, I'll be shocked. Shoddy organization, bad weather and abysmal TV coverage. Shame, Shame, Shame on you AEG!!!

CaliRado Cyclist said...

Hmm...some pretty loaded comments here. Nice.

I don't know about Mancebo or Kimmage (although I do know that most of the Puerto stuff will come out eventually and that professional writers should always be careful about their use of language - especially terms like "cancer" - even in press conferences), but it's always amazing to see the pros race on "your" climbs. Even if you're a solid Cat2 and can fly, these cats just make it look different.

And...I don't know, I still think the Euros will come back. It's a crap-shoot on the weather but I would still rather be here than Europe in February. I know some of the teams with American sponsors are probably ticked about the rulings (read - Specialized and Cannondale) but do you think it will really discourage future participation?

As for the coverage - I'm down with Phil, Paul and Bob and Hummer is actually hanging in there - but it's 2009, can't we get some technology that can operate in clouds and rain? The online coverage is pretty solid when the pictures actually come through and Frankie is money.

They may need to watch the transfer length in the future. If they start to get greedy with the riders' time and push those limits in addition to sketchy weather, it could be a concern for the teams.

Anyway, it's funny how much I complain about this race even though I am so immensely grateful to have access to it. I think AEG could get a little more traditional in their rulings but it's probably easier to deal with a premature neutralization than a massive pile-up (and subsequent freestyle officiating) like last year.

Unfortunately for AEG, Better Safe Than Sorry is not exactly a motto we are accustomed to in bike racing.

Sebastian said...

Re: the sketching rulings -- least it's not as bad as some of the things that went down in the Coors Classic: Bruno Cornillet being led off course by official cars, Mike Shapiro (I think) arriving solo at a stage finish only to find that they hadn't cleared the course yet and having to dismount and pick his way through the crowd . . .

(I found the whole Kimmage/Armstrong thing frustrating. On the one hand, I generally admire Kimmage and wish he'd been more tasteful in his choice of similes. On the other hand, I wish Armstrong would start directing his considerable wrath toward guys more deserving than, say, Linus Gerdemann. Watching Armstrong/Kimmage I just felt like, come on! neither of you is the bad guy here! settle down!)

Sebastian said...

Oops, DOUG Shapiro. Shows what I know.