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Thursday, March 31, 2005

Lance's Big Secret

Cycling world is abuzz over Lance's mention to Le Figaro that they'd better show up at his Tour de Georgia press conference -- which everyone took to mean he would announce some sort of retirement.

Today, though, comes the story over at that Lance traveled to Italy for a meeting with the magistrate who wanted to question him in the Simeoni affair. This legal action was whispered as the main impediment to Lance ever racing in Italy, and now it's been significantly improved, if not resolved.

So... is Lance planning to ride the Giro???

Bringing Home the Bread

Stijn Devolder just won the overall at Dreidaags Van de Panne, a.k.a. Three Days of the Bread. Eki took the penultimate stage win in today's TT. Read CyclingNews' writeup here.

Great start for the Post... uh, Discovery boys. Is Johan Bruyneel turning into the Belichick of DS's? OK, a good case can be made for Riis and his smaller budget, but Bruyneel and Dirk Demol are way ahead of schedule, it seems, in remaking the team for the post-Lance world.

As for their prospects in the Ronde, well, Hincapie is their stated guy, but you can't ignore the form of Devolder, Eki, and Leif Hoste, 6th in today's TT, FWIW. A podium spot for Discovery would look pretty solid right about now.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

It... Starts... Now

Despite the year-round activity, the cycling season has a true moment when it all begins. The Tour of Langkawi? Het Volk? The first Kirsten Gum sighting on OLN? Nope, it's the Ronde van Vlaanderen, the Tour of Flanders. This Sunday, Live on ABC!

OK, I made up that last part. It's clear that it will take time for this country to recognize that the coolest sporting event of the weekend has nothing to do with baseball or college hoops. John Tesh's music alone set cycling's popularity back in this nation a good ten years. Anyway, we All Love baseball and college hoops, but there is something monumental about the Tour of Flanders that is almost unrivalled in sports. It is the centerpiece of the spring cycling calendar, the premier race in one of cycling's most storied nations, and it all happens in a single day. No long-drawn out drama, just a year's worth of preparation and dedication put on the line, hanging in the balance of each decision about whether to chase down that acceleration by Bettini.

OK, I am being dramatic, but the Ronde is a true Classic, and every April I find myself wondering if the five-week run of races isn't more exciting than the Tour.

Anyway, the Ronde has an English website which looks like a press center more than anything fan-friendly. But don't miss the course profile, which I think is a good demonstration of why these races are so interesting. The first 140km are board-flat, but from 140-240 the profile looks like a 19th century logger's sawblade. In other words, there will be plenty of selection going on.

Another aspect of the Ronde is that it's time for the MSR sprinters gaggle to take a back seat. Actually, the sprinter set does include guys who can make it to the line in Meerbeke -- witness the recent podium finishes by Stuey O'Grady, Erik Dekker and Romans Vainsteins. This isn't Liege. But more often than not the winners come from that special Classics blend of versatile riders, combining sprinting prowess with a little Ardennes hard-man: Museeuw, Van Petegem, Criquelion, as well as headliners like Gianni Bugno, Moreno Argentin, Michele Bartoli, Jan Raas, Eric Vanderaerden. Merckx won twice here, one more than the immortal Tom Simpson.

So... who now? Van Petegem has clearly been aiming for this and must be watched. Boonen had a nasty crash this week, making his marginal favorite status even more so. The CSC boys are everywhere, but who is their designee, Jens Voigt? Julich? Discovery says they're featuring Hincapie and Devolder... see ya. I love Hincapie, and I'd never rule him out, but he's had a slow spring. Strange they don't mention Leif Hoste, second last year. Maybe they don't want to talk about how last year he and fellow Belgian Bruylandts marked each other out in the last km, leaving the road open to a German, Steffen Wesemann. Or maybe they are just keeping their own counsel.

Update: Ronde defending champ Steffen Wesemann bailed from Dreidaags this morning with a stomach problem.

So boys... who are you tipping in Meerbeke?

Monday, March 28, 2005

Peter Van P: Someone Else!

In the wake of Julich's run of success, Pete has this to offer:

Levi Leipheimer looked good too. It would be nice to see an American
other than Lance make the podium of a grand tour. My guess is that
Basso will be resting for the Tour. Armstrong might be vulnerable this
year. Since A) he's 33 now, B) he has broadened his scope a bit and
won't necessarily put all his eggs in the Tour and C) he hasn't found
any form yet and seems to be hampered by a lot of nagging illnesses.
Yes I know, A) 33 isn't old since Riis was 36 when he won his only
Tour. B) He has broadened his scope, but he knows exactly where he has to be
in July. And C) it's only March. At some point though it's over.
Indurain lost it after 5 in a row. Admittingly, Big Mig looked
vulnerable on number 5. He almost lost a TT to Riis. Not that big a
deal since he did win, but he used to win by 2-3 minutes over guys like
Rominger. When he rolled in about 15 seconds faster than Riis, the
entire Peleton knew he was ripe. Lance looked stronger last year than
any of his previous wins, but you never know...

Monday, March 21, 2005

The New Pats

Not sure I could possibly have any insight on Milan-San Remo, given all we get to see are highlights that air at 2:30 on Sunday afternoon here, not exactly TV time for this family of two exhausted adults and one hopelessly energetic toddler. But in the aftermath of a glorious, confirming victory by Alessandro Petacchi, I will state that he is the New England Patriots of present-day cycling. Seriously, he's been a huge winner for two seasons now, but the international (re. outside of Italy) reaction to him was always "sure, but...". He can't win a long race. He can't win in challenging conditions. He can't win a classic. All he can do is hope his teammates drag him to the line, and then put the hammer down in a mass sprint.

Well, after taking Milan-San Remo in a sprint that has jaws scraping the pavement all over the cycling world, we must now admit: his success is not a fluke; he can win difficult races, against the cream of the pro tour peloton; and if there are no serious climbs that cause a mass selection, he has to be considered a favorite in any race where his team can hang with the others.

The only other observation from MSR, something that also rings of Patriot-ism, is that teamwork has come to the fore. I dunno, maybe this is nothing new, but it seems like there is a lot more discussion of teams hammering together, nullifying any individual advantages that might arise. In the tour it's been the Postal train. In MSR it was the Fassa train that dampened so many hopes. Nice job Azzurebiancos.

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