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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Tom Danielson

So he won the TdG, with an escort and at least in my mind a suggestion that the team didn't want Lance winning or extending himself. So it's a nice win, but...

Still, he's on form heading into the Giro, and he's showing potential in the two disciplines that matter: climbing at time trialling. So when do we start talking "succession" (forget Leipheimer!!)? And what's his role in the Giro? The Falcon is a former winner, and is Italian -- making him the putative Discovery team leader for the Giro GC -- but is he ready to do anything, or will Danielson take over the team by the time they get to Veneto?

Racing at home

When we have lulls in the calendar (and I consider the Tour de Romandie a lull in the calendar) we should use this to talk about our own races.

Yesterday I did the PIR cat 3-4 race, PIR being the Portland International Raceway, a 1.9 mile Formula-1 car race track that works great for bike races in the opinion of anyone who hates hills and likes to move around in the pack. Wide lanes, safe turns, and nothing but strong winds slowing us down. Avg speed about 25 for an hour of racing. Even though it was a fast 3-4 pack, the flat course and strong winds meant that it took very little energy to stay in. So I made a few attacks that went nowhere (being in Portland, I had no teammates with me), including one on the second-to-last lap where three of us got a small gap we held for half a lap. The winds were hard on small groups, and I don't have the strength-endurance yet to hold off my own category, let alone cat-3s. So I sat up in time to watch a strage crash at the back -- intense battle for 45th place, in a weekly crit... the guy wound up on the road about 50 feet behind where his bike ended up. Didn't look like he hit that hard though.

Anyway, starting next week PIR starts a masters series on Mondays to go with the open series on Tuesdays. I intend to finish the year with a few points, at least on primes.

Monday, April 25, 2005


Super short here, I'm traveling all week. Is it my imagination or did Vino get a nice little escort to the line in Ans yesterday? Sheesh, I know he's a hard man and all, but did he do even 10% of the work? Voigt was amazing, poor fool. So do we care about Romandie this year? I know, it's a lovely little race, but is it on the Pro Tour calendar? Or were we only watching for Tyler?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

L-B-L: Will He or Won't He?

Truth, I'm tired of writing classics previews by perusing a list of the starters and trying to be logical about who has a solid chance. Not that anyone has Sunday's start list anyway, but no doubt the usual suspects will all be there: Bettini, Boogerd, Vinokourov, Kessler and Klodi, Kirchen, Rebellin, etc. No doubt they all have a chance, and if a gruppetto of these climbers gets to the front coming back into Liege, it will come down to who can sprint in addition to hammering over the 217 short, steep climbs they managed to locate in the Ardennes area of Belgium. Someone will win.

The only real question, though, is will it be Danilo DiLuca? Trying to become the second Italian, I mean human, ever to win Amstel, Fleche and L-B-L in 8 days, DiLuca is every bit on form, and is suited to outkicking guys like Kirchen and Boogerd in the final meters. Again, I don't know what will happen, aside from Michael Boogerd sulking after blowing up in the last 200 meters, but I know what I'm watching to find out.

The Classics season is long, and guys like Vino are already starting to reel it in for the Tour. Yet another reason why Flanders-Gent-Roubaix week is superior to this last one. L-B-L may be the coolest race of all, but it's a wonder anyone has anything left for it.

Boffo Basso!

Ivan Basso told that he intends to go for the Giro-Tour double this year. Brilliant strategy, says I. Let's face it, with people becoming specialized in one race, the Double has become something of a White Whale to GC cyclists, to the point that few will even attempt it. This is a huge dilemma for Italian cyclists, who are under tremendous pressure to ride the Giro first, and see what's left in the tank for the Tour, and who understand that the Giro is far inferior in prestige and whatnot, as far as cycling goals go. What to do? Pick one and go all out... or ride both and take your chances.

Whether a cyclist is capable of riding both is something that can only be answered by trying it out. Basso and CSC are smart to do so now, while Lance is still riding and the Tour is therefore practically off-limits to anyone else. He can go all-out for the Giro if the legs are there -- and he can plan his season to peak or at least get close in May -- and then turn to the Tour and see what happens. Next year, when he is a legitimate Tour contender, the temptation to skip the Giro will be a lot higher.

Question: back in the day, did riders in the Giro back off a bit and save it for the Tour? Did Merckx have to go all out in both May and July? Did everyone do the same, or did they prioritize like they do now, albeit a bit more subtly?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

La Fleche

Treat this like an open thread... All I know is what you also read. Danilo DiLuca is this year's Rebellin. How soon before this week gets referred to as the Triple Crown? OK, never, because these races are as old and at least as precious as the Kentucky Derby (well, L-B-L anyway). Supposedly DiLuca was gonna reel it in to save it for Liege, but I guess not.

Nice to see Cadel Evans in the top 10.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

State of the States

Last question: with Lance and Tyler gone, who is our standard-bearer? The choices: Julich, Leipheimer, Hincapie make up the old guard. Only Leipheimer still has something to prove. But what about the next wave? Can Tom Danielson keep climbing the ladder? Was Floyd Landis's emergence last year a hint of future greatness? Cna we start looking at some other names as well? Unfortunately, the competition is catching up to the Lance generation, with guys like Basso and Boonen and whomever else ready to take over the continent, so the next great American hope will have his work cut out.

On Discovery

Does the Discovery Channel air in Europe? If so, their appearance on the cycling scene at the End of the Lance Era makes a lot more sense. If their hope was that Lance would make them a household name in the US by virtue of his star power, then Tailwind Sports hornswoggled them. But the team's profile looks awfully good in the post-Lance era, in a way that will make the sponsor look good in Belgium, France, Spain and Italy.

Discovery and more specifically Johan Bruyneel have been prepping for this day a long time. Bruyneel reminds me of Belichick: tireless, thorough, thinking ahead. He obviously knew Lance wasn't going to be around forever, and rather than waiting for him to leave and absorbing the vacuum created by a departing star, Bruyneel has been using the Lance brand to rebuild the team, with a really deep bench for the Classics and the Tours.

Look down the roster -- admittedly expanded for the Pro Tour, but still: Azevedo, Beltran, Danielson, Ekimov, Hincapie, Noval, Padrnos, Rubiera, Popyvich, Salvodelli for the tours or anything with a long climb. Devolder, Eki, Hammond, Hincapie, Hoste and Van Heeswijk for the Classics. The latter group maybe lacks star power after Hincapie, but there are still plenty of solid resumes in there. And the Tour teams are a powerhouse, even without Lance. It's just a matter of determining who they ride for.

Thanks to Lance, this is an organization with the money to compete at the top end of the Pro Tour... indeed, as an American team, the shakeup of the Pro Tour probably helps them as much as anyone. And with Johan at the helm, with a growing army of lieutenants like Demol playing the Crennel and Weis roles to Johan's Belichick, the organization is primed to succeed in the vastly changed Pro Tour era.

And I'm pleased. If we can only send one team to Europe, let's make it a good one.

On Lance

So the rabid American cycling fan, like some of us, would love to see Lance win the Giro or L-B-L or the Olympic road race. But American cycling greats aren't like Europeans, and the thinking goes that a Tour in hand is worth several other races in the bush, so to speak. For reasons we've visited here before. Now, I would say that it'd be cool for Lance to do the Giro-Tour double, and it's easy for me because I can just say "Oh, sure, he can do it." I don't have to do the work or fight the exhaustion. Lance blew people away in the Tour because he didn't leave anything to chance... except in 2003, when he almost lost. So maybe he wasn't capable of the double. At his peak he's the best but maybe he can't peak all season.

Lance made a calculated choice to focus on the Tour and it's hard to argue with. Right?

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Darkest Day

Their careers were so often linked, from the days when Tyler was Lance's lieutenant to the more recent happy times when Tyler became Lance's chief competitor (or one of them anyway). They were neighbors in Girona, friends if not bud's, and paid each other a lot of compliments to the race media even after going their separate ways. Lance seemed to revel a bit in Tyler's post-Postal success, maybe because Tyler had reveled in Lance's wins earlier. And today it seems fitting that their careers would effectively expire with simultaneous announcements we all expected... and yet those moments were somehow were oh so different, conflicting, almost hard to accept.

With mixed emotions we're now asked to bid Lance goodbye, after one more grand boucle. I hate to see him go, given how much there is left undone and how every type of win seemed possible for this incredible rider. Yeah, he might have won the Giro or some classics, if he ever wanted to. But it's his life, and we're not his sponsors, who early on decided his maximum value could only be realized in July. And so we should settle for six or seven Tours and a rainbow jersey. We'll walk down Lance Memory Lane during the Tour. For now I'll just say he will retire as the greatest cyclist at what he did, hands down, even if we're left to wonder if he could've been the new Merckx.

With Tyler Hamilton we can't so much bid goodbye as turn and walk away after an awkward silence. I no longer believe he was innocent, which is pretty hard to stomach given the good-guy image he cultivated and his heroic emergence over the last five years, as both a challenger and a testament to the human spirit, racing the circumference of France with shoulder cracked and teeth gritted. He, Tyler, of all people, a doper. It's disappointing, but so is the fact that his career is suddenly, unceremoniously over.

It will be interesting to hear what he has to say once he gives up the ghost. Does he still maintain his innocence, explaining away the results with the twin-fetus theory to explain the anomalies in his blood? Or does he do the David Millar soul-cleansing? I guess it depends in part on whether he is actually guilty. In a sense it's not surprising. Allow me a cynical little soliloquy here: a guy making domestique money knows that if he dopes, he can win, and winning translates into salaries ten times higher. As a business proposition, don't you think Tyler made out great? The one year of salary he got out of Phonak should be in the $2-3 mil range; the endorsements over the last four years, including his time at CSC... Just because the authorities caught up to him doesn't mean he wasn't way ahead of where he would have been on the day Phonak revoked his deal. It's sleazy, but given the prevalence of performance enhancers, it must be awfully hard to sit by and watch them sock away money for their kids or retirement. So Tyler went for it, and there's no way he didn't profit.

Oy. Yep, this is definitely the sport's worst day. Even worse than when his brother in law mistook Greg LeMond for a ruffed sage grouse.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Amstel is Gold!

Yesterday Danilo DiLuca road a brilliant, punishing race at the front of a large contingent of the world's great classics riders, allowing only a select few to keep his company over climb after climb, and eventually grabbing the glory with a...

Oh, never mind. It's nobody's fault, unless the bush administration has screwed up the weather in northern Europe now too. But as far as most cycling fans are concerned, yesterday's Amstel Gold may as well not have even happened. Cycling is a beautiful sport when you can get inside the action, or when you can catch a brief glimpse up close and in person. But a brief glimpse on tv... leaves something to be desired. I raced a short crit yesterday which was more exciting to be around than OLN's non-coverage. Oh well, on to la Fleche!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Amstel Preview

If Liege is la doyenne of the classics, Amstel is il ragazzo. And it's named after some pretty nasty beer, by BeNeLux standards. If I were running a spring Classic, I'd name it after a good trappist ale before tarring it with the Amstel name any day. Oh, and this is the annual moment where we're supposed to take Michael Boogerd seriously. By law they should have Robbie McEwen doing the commentary on Rabobank's tactics.

Anyway, it's on the calendar, and is one of three races to be run this week that gives the climbers a shot at a Classics win. Still, the 31 climbs are pretty short, so it's more likely that the climbers who do make it for the final run to the line will be separated by those who can sprint versus the ones who can't. In that sense it's a classic: you gotta bring a full skill set to have a chance of winning. Advantage, Rebellin.

The usual suspects are putting out their favorites list: Boogerd, Rebellin, Vinokourov, Bettini, etc. But I'd like to look at the favorites through the team pictures. Not that Amstel requires more than the usual teamwork, but the start list shows that some teams have loaded up, while others appear to be saving themselves for another day.

Quickstep will try to launch Bettini with Pippo Pozzato and Rik Verbgrugghe, while CSC will throw Gusev out there with Peron, Piil, Sorensen and Jens Voigt out to pick up the slack. My favorite team may be Iles Baleares, bringing Francisco Mancebo, Aitor Osa and Alejandro Valverde. The best on paper is probably Rabo, with Boogerd, the Dekker brothers, Oscar Freire, Karsten Kroone.

Then there are the thin benches at Postal/Discovery, where Hinapie is the only chance of winning, and at Gerolsteiner, where Danilo Hondo just got sacked. But Rebellin is on peak form Sunday for the win.

Who do you have?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Conditional Happy Thought of the Day

So OLN's coverage of the Giro d'Italia is limited to one show a week, or six shows short of what would be minimally adequate. But for subscribers to the Dish Network (not sure about Comcast), you can order RAI, the Italian broadcasting network, for some nominal monthly fee, and can add or drop the channel on a monthly basis. RAI carries the Giro live every day. So this May, I am planning on taping each stage of any consequence, cueing it up at night, and working on my Italian.

Monday, April 11, 2005

The Queen of the Classics

A few quick thoughts while home with a sick child...

* Paris-Roubaix has an awful lot of nicknames. I had thought maybe the Ronde or LBL was the true "Queen" of the spring calendar, not being the oddity that P-R is, but given that P-R has a sevenfold advantage in nicknames, maybe I'm wrong...

* Tom Boonen has thoroughly arrived! Twice in one week he has been the obvious pre-race favorite, and twice he has delivered in rather commanding fashion. True, he is a great field sprinter who has the ability to make it to the last KM of the first few classics in a small group, with no other great field sprinters to take him on. That's the formula, and he sticks with it. But the way he has powered the peloton, decimating the field on the way, is utterly amazing. He's strong as an ox right now.

* Congrats also to Juan Flecha. He too rode the legs off the main contenders, as his and Boonen's pulls in the last 60km whittled the leading gruppetto from 11 to 6 to 3. I suspect he was doing so out of self-interest, since he had to somehow wear out Boonen and Hincapie to have any chance for the win, not being in any position to outsprint these guys. Still, it's always something to see someone lay the smackdown on the pro peloton.

* And finally, congrats to Hincapie, who got his best P-R placement with a canny race. He didn't miss those breaks today, and he did everything in his power to put himself in a position to win. Alas, there isn't much he can do to stop Boonen in a 2- or 3-up sprint... Boonen, after all, has in his palmares a Champs-Elysees sprint win, about the most coveted field sprint outside of San Remo or the Worlds. So you know he can bring it, better than Georgie. But Hincapie did everything right, and if Boonen were stoppable, Hincapie would've stopped him.

* So I was slightly off in my predictions that two of the favorites would crash out. PVP was the unlucky victim of the cobbles, but Boonen and Backstedt hung around til the end, even if the latter lost touch in the home stretch. All in all, things were certainly cleaner than one could've expected on a rainy day in northern France (whose residents must get a little tired of their home region being referred to as hell). Nice move by the winners to recognize that the rain was about to start, and that moves needed to be made before hand.

Next, after some parenting, is a look forward for yesterday's combatants. Can you win both a P-R or Ronde, and Amstel or L-B-L? Or are these sets of races mutually exclusive? Is the Brussels airport busy today with sprinters departing and climbers arriving?

Friday, April 08, 2005

L'Enfer du Nord

OK, we've got Drew's picks: PVP, Boonen and Backstedt. All safe picks, given both their history and their current form. Although I like these guys, I would bet that the winner comes from the rank and file. The weather is supposed to be awful, making the run to Roubaix even more of a crapshoot than ever. No matter how good their form, the odds that a single favorite -- say, Boonen -- will be the guy who's lucky enough to have the fewest crashes, flats, and other holdups are pretty high. I'll allow that one of these three (Backstadt?) will stay upright, but two of them will be shaking their heads at the end of the race, like so many others.

Still, P-R is the middle of the season, with great races like Amstel Gold and L-B-L left, so this Sunday's trip to hell will be a chance to consider some other important questions. Like, is Boonen's lame showing at Wevelgem a sign that he's saving himself for Paris-Roubaix, or a sign that his run of brilliance is leveling off? Can Julich keep his amazing comeback spring going, and maybe nab a palmare or a podium spot in a classic? Will Discovery ever get their tactics right this spring and launch one of their five legitimate contenders? Can Lance take an elusive classic win before it's too late?

I'll spare the midseason grades... all we have determined in the last couple weeks is who owns Belgium. And I don't mean Nico Mattan.

Monday, April 04, 2005

All Boonen, All the Time?

What is there to stop Tom Terrific from continuing his rampage through his native country's biggest single-day races, once he turns his attention to Ghent-Wevelgem? Well, plenty of sprinters, any of who would have a shot if they can get to the line with similar support. Also rain, which should make the cobbles nasty and peel off half the field through crashes... though don't expect Boonen to be anywhere near the back of the pack for so much as a second. He will be well-protected... or it will be time for some mass firings at Quick Step.

Anyway, Boonen won it last year when he was less of a rider with less of a hot streak. So again, what's to stop him tomorrow?

Friday, April 01, 2005

Update: Favorites for the Ronde

From boils to stomach aches to exposed tendons, a lot of the easily identifiable favorites (Freire, Van Petegem, Wesemann, Boonen) are seeming not so certain, or even fatally compromised, for Sunday's Classic. Another raft of favorites aren't around, like Bettini, Boogerd, and most of the CSC first string. So who does that leave in the front?

Well, there are individuals like Nico Eckhout whose names keep coming up in the few chats I've had. But if one were to look at the teams and their start list, it's a three way struggle between Discovery, Quick-Step and Davitamon. Discovery boys are bringing the lumber, in the form of Armstrong, Devolder, Hincapie, Ekimov, Leif Hoste, and Roger Hammond. OK, so they have a deep bench. Davitamon still has VanP and whatever he can muster, plus Fast Freddie, some other recognizables, and a lot of incentive to win. Quick-Steppers have Boonen (it's only a hand injury), Pippo Pozzato, Servais Knaven and Het Volk winner Nick Nuyens. Don't rule out the neighbors to the North at Rabobank, who send Dekker, Marc Wauters, Oscar Freire, and his butt boil.

And then there's the sentimental favorite... Lambouwkrediet's Mathieu Criquelion, a chip off the old block?

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