Saturday, May 28, 2011
Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Cervelo) won his sixth stars-and-stripes jersey at the USA Cycling Pro Time Trial Championships on Saturday in Greenville, South Carolina.
The California resident blazed through the three-lap, 33.3kms parcours in a time of 40:23, topping silver medalist Tom Zirbel (Jamis-Sutter Home) by 31 seconds while bronze medalist Matt Busche (RadioShack) finished 59 seconds off the pace.
"It boils down to giving it everything I have," Zabriskie said. "I love this event and wearing the stars-and-stripes, I take a lot of pride in it. I enjoy wearing the jersey and it gets better and better. It's not easy coming here with the pressure of winning it quite a few times.
"It was a nice course and I liked it," Zabriskie said. "The last time I did it, in 2009, I felt pretty good. Today, I just wanted to destroy myself. I knew Tom's time and that I would have to fight to beat that. I was fighting for the last 500 metres and I gave it full gas. Tom rode a good time today."
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Almost ten days after his accident on the slopes of Mount Etna, Ivan Basso is back training with his Liquigas-Cannondale team in preparation for the Tour de France. Still suffering from the 15 stitches he received to facial injuries after the fall, Basso is gradually increasing his hours on the bike since last Friday, and slowly coming back to the level of form he had prior to the crash.
"Ivan's fitness is getting better every day," said sports director and trainer Paolo Slongo from the team's training camp in Sicily, due to end this Saturday. "But we don't want to force things. Gradually, he has been back on the bike for short and not very intensive rides. There is no need to create too much stress at the moment: Ivan will soon come back to his initial programme."
Basso admitted that he is already putting a lot of pressure on himself without the squad having to push him. "I have great desire to get back into the rhythm, but I don't want to generate any complications," he said on the team's website. "It's all but easy to head out with the stitches in my face. I'm doing my utmost not to lose too much time. I hope my injuries will heal soon and that I can take up my training programme again in view of the Tour."
Other Liquigas riders at the training camp include Maciej Bodnar, Davide Cimolai, Mauro Finetto, Kristijan Koren, Dominik Nerz, Maciej Paterski and Simone Ponzi.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
As the federal investigation continues and more of his teammates speak out against him, the speculation is that Lance Armstrong’s golden name is getting smeared by the day and that his strong business empire is slowly crumbling.
Armstrong’s business portfolio is stronger than ever. Instead of small endorsement deals with the likes Coca-Cola and Subaru, which he had in his cycling days, the endorsements he has today are even more lucrative.
That’s because Armstrong has lent his name to smaller companies, like Honey Stinger and FRS, for an equity stake, instead of a one-time fee. And his Nike Livestrong line has grown from 80 million rubber bracelets sold to a significant business of apparel and shoes that is expected to hit $75 million this year.
“Our relationship with Lance remains as strong as ever,” said Nike spokesman Derek Kent. “We are proud to work with him and support his foundation. Nike does not condone the use of banned substances and Lance has been unwavering on that position as well.”
Meanwhile, donations to the Lance Armstrong Foundation continue to come in.
Since the foundation was created, donations have increased. In 2002, the LAF passed $6 million in donations, annual funding surpassed the $20 million mark, the $30 million mark in 2008, the $40 million mark in 2009 and is on target to blow by the $50 million mark this year. This occurred as donors to the American Cancer Society has plummeted in recent years along with the challenging economy.
Whether that will change now, short of the finding of that alleged positive test from 2001 or an indictment against Armstrong, is anyone’s guess. On Monday, former international cycling chief Hein Verbruggen told the AP that there was never any cover-up to save Armstrong. As of now, Armstrong’s business thus far has been as bulletproof as his adamant responses that he never took performance enhancing drugs.
On another tangent, it seems that because of what Armstrong has done for cancer, some people don’t care about whether he used performance-enhancing drugs and certainly aren’t happy about the government spending time on an investigation. In a Twitter poll I took on Sunday night, 85.2 percent of the 459 people who voted said that it was not important for the government to find out if Armstrong cheated, 7.8 percent said it was very important, while 7 percent said it was somewhat important.
What’s interesting about the government’s involvement is that it concerns them because Armstrong’s teams were funded by the U.S. Postal Service. The USPS paid $31.9 million to fund the team from 2001-2004. At issue, is whether the government was defrauded by paying for the sponsorship as the cyclists used performance enhancing drugs.
Fraud or not, what’s funny is the fact that the United States Postal Service hired two firms that showed that the sponsor received $103.6 million in domestic exposure from the sponsorship. That seems like pretty effective marketing to me. Plus, it seems a little bit misguided when you consider that the U.S. Postal Service is on track to lose $7 billion this year. That’s down from the $8.5 billion they lost last year.
Well the ATOC has come and gone. The lead-up to the race is anxious. The training methodical. The review of the course, the team selection and strategy are all a very deliberate process. And then, literally, in the blur of a week its over. Because a week like this is so intense it goes by much faster than when we’re not racing.
The start in Tahoe couldn’t have gone any worse for a bike race. Regardless of how it may have looked on TV, let me tell you it was a true winter snow storm. It would have been impossible to race in those conditions and I’m not shy in saying that I was happy that the stage was cancelled. There would have been carnage on the road, a crazy spectacle that would not have been the proper start to typically beautiful stage race.
But even the 2nd stage wouldn’t go unaffected. They had to shorten the 2nd stage because of the storm, but it was good that the race organizers made the decision early and everyone involved made it happen from Nevada City. It felt good to get the race going.We were all a bit pent up and ready to roll. I felt physically well and mentally prepared for the week. But when I lost some time on the circuits in Sacramento I’d have to say I wasn’t entirely pleased. I lost more time on the summit finish on Sierra road. My climbing legs just aren’t ‘on’ yet. But I don’t think anyone in the world was going to beat Chris Horner on that day, or for the overall in this year’s race. He was and is in amazing form.
Surprisingly, I didn’t feel like I had good legs for the time trial when I started my ride on the now familiar Solvang TT course. When I started I had my doubts right away. The legs were firing but I simply wasn’t convinced that I was truly at my strongest. But there are times when the body isn’t cooperating that you have to erase the doubt for yourself, shut out the negative thoughts and simply, purely, undoubtedly, motor on. I knew I wanted to fight for this win in Solvang, so that’s exactly what I did. And I would keep on fighting right through the finish line. But I have to tell, in a moment that even surprised me, as I took the final turn into the finishing straight, in a moment of total exaltation, I let out a huge roar. I can’t say I’ve done that before, but it felt good and strangely, it felt right.
And let me tell you it was a great feeling to get the win. But there were quite a few riders between my finish and Chris Horner, the last rider to leave the start ramp. I waited with anxious anticipation to see how some of the others would do, even strolling through the finish area to watch some of the riders on the jumbo screen that was set up there. It was fun to be among all the friendly fans. It was a treat for me to bring my boy up on the podium and as a treat to him, one that he’ll appreciate much more years from now, I had the podium girls kiss his cheeks rather than mine. On that day, at least at that moment, I think we both took the win.
Well what can I say about the big mountain stage? Mt. Baldy was simply everything I thought it would be, a very hard stage. The team did well there and put some pressure on the race but in the end Horner and Levi were too strong. But Tommy D. hung in there with the leaders and his ride up Baldy would help secure him a 3rd place spot on the podium. I was happy for him.
The team stayed downtown Saturday evening. I ended up relaxing at a Starbucks near the Staples Center for about 3 hours after the Baldy stage just soaking in all the ‘America’ I could. I’m away too often and those Americana moments maybe mean more to me than most others. I even splurged and drank something called a, mocha coconut frappuccino. Come on! Who comes up with this stuff? Well they’re welcome over at my house, because, damn, that was pretty tasty. Truth is, that’s not the type of indulgence that I typically allow myself, and it won’t be happening again anytime soon, but it was a real nice treat after the punishment of doing Baldy at race pace. Afterwards, I ran into the very likable Burke Swindlehurst, and we caught up for awhile, and quite excitedly made mountain bike plans for the off-season. I look forward to tearing up the dirt with that dude.
Riding Stage 8 into Thousand Oaks was super cool for me. I kept thinking to myself, I’m home. I know these roads and I’m happy to be racing here. The crowds were amazing. I guess I just wasn’t expecting there to be as many folks at the finish area as there were. And it was great to see so many of my friends, old and new, come out to the race. I wanted to take a few flyers off the front of the peloton for the home crowd but the course wasn’t very conducive for that, or, maybe I was just at my limit after a rather tough week. But it was all good nonetheless. And regardless of what some other riders may say, I could hear you and I can tell you that I appreciated all the shout-outs.
As we did last year, our guys won the team competition. It’s always nice to get back up on that podium to celebrate. And as they should, our celebrations always include a bit of champagne. Now I can’t say exactly what comes over me when I’m given the big bottle but much like the incredible Hulk goes through his transformation, well so do I. Except I’m not angry, quite the opposite. I’m celebrating and that means I’ve got to spray champagne all over the place, including a significant dousing of those innocent podium girls. Those girls in their high heels are slow on their feet and no match for an old pro like myself. They’re getting wet or I’m going for a second bottle. I even tried to sneak a squeeze bottle of ketchup up onto the podium just in case I ran out of champagne. But the team’s PR person is on to me and my crazy humor and frisked me before I went on stage and took the ketchup away. Now that would have been quite the scene.
We had our Sunday night team meal at one of my favorite local restaurants. It was fun to share a little local flavor with the guys and to reflect back on the week and to toast our collective team effort. Everyone was in a good mood and it was fun to wind down afterward with the guys.
Well, I know it’s sudden, but I really can’t wait for this race next year….but please, no snow.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong is now facing the systematic disemboweling of his legacy as an athletic icon. As revealed Sunday on "60 Minutes" - a show that usually doesn't do sports features unless there's a synergistic tie-in with CBS Sports - three of Armstrong's teammates have testified to a federal grand jury that they saw the great cyclist take performance enhancing drugs. Armstrong's top "lieutenant" Tyler Hamilton said, "He took what we all took. ... There was EPO, there was testosterone. And I did see a transfusion, a blood transfusion."
"60 Minutes" also broke the news that George Hincapie, Armstrong's closest friend and teammate, finally relented and testified to federal investigators. According to reporter Scott Pelley, Hincapie stated "that he and Armstrong supplied each other with the blood-booster EPO and discussed having used testosterone - another banned substance during their preparation for races."
Hincapie is apparently shocked that his confidential grand jury testimony was leaked. He released a statement through his attorney where he said, "I can confirm to you that I never spoke with '60 Minutes.' I have no idea where they got their information." (Hincapie will be releasing his LiveNaïve rubber bracelets later this month.)
For what it's worth, I find these federal grand juries aimed at "cleaning up sports" a vulgar use of government power. In cycling, it's particularly noxious. This is a sport that desperately needs organization and labor protections. Cyclists are pushed to extend their bodies beyond all possible human limits. Since 2000, 12 professional cyclists have died during races. Imagine the outcry if 12 NFL players had died on the field during the same time span.
Blood doping is a logical outcome of a sport where people push themselves to death for the enjoyment of fans and benefit of sponsors. Of the top 10 finishers in Armstrong's seven Tour De France victories, 41 out of 70 have tested positive for PEDS. That's what happens when there is no union, no commissioner, no controlling authority other than sponsors - and highly competitive athletes pushing themselves at all costs to make it through the Pyrenees in one piece.
As for Armstrong, he has come out swinging with his typically furious denials, saying, "CBS's reporting on this subject has been replete with broken promises, false assurances and selective reliance on witnesses upon whom no reputable journalist would rely." Armstrong has long insisted on his innocence and touted his reputation as "the most tested athlete on the planet." Clearly he and the media believe his reputation as an athletic icon - like that of baseball greats Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens - is hanging by the thread. But unlike other athletes, Armstrong's legacy is secure. That's because his support comes from a far less fickle place than fandom.
In Robert Lipsyte's recently released memoir "An Accidental Sportswriter," the great columnist reveals that the only modern athlete who sends his pulse racing is Armstrong. "He's the closest thing I have to a celebrity jock hero," says Lipsyte. This is a remarkable statement from a writer who is a great critic of that nexus of sports, media and hero worship which he brands "jock-sniffing."
But his affection for Armstrong transcends cycling. Bob Lipsyte is a cancer survivor. Like many cancer survivors, he sees Armstrong as more than an icon of athletics, but an icon of survival and recovery.
Lipsyte's love was cemented when he heard someone ask Armstrong how his belief in God helped him beat cancer and Armstrong responded, "Everyone should believe in something, and I believe in surgery, chemotherapy, and my doctors."
Armstrong also believes that everyone should have access to the kind of medicine that allowed him to beat death. He's helped raise, through his LiveStrong foundation with their ubiquitous yellow bracelets, more than $400 million dollars for medical research. This is why Armstrong doesn't just have defenders. He has, in the legions of cancer survivors across our toxic nation, an army.
The Associated Press quoted cancer survivor and amateur cyclist Raifie Bass, who said, "Lance is a true inspiration for so many people. He's just a person that really is a great motivator for me as a cyclist and as a cancer survivor. What Lance has done for the global message of cancer and awareness, it's unstoppable... it's not how many Tours he won or what he's done for cycling. It's what he's done for cancer."
What a country. We have a federal government spending untold amounts to "clean up" performance enhancing drugs in cycling, targeting someone whose celebrity and efforts are critical in the fight against cancer. How about we close down the grand jury and in return, cycling agrees to get a commissioner, a union and a method to handle their own drug testing? How about we take the money being spent to find out what someone might have taken to survive these torturous races, and donate it to cancer research?
I'm sure federal prosecutors have other people's garbage to sift through, and "60 Minutes" could then be free to finish its hard-hitting story about what makes NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell so dreamy. However this ends, I wouldn't bet against Lance Armstrong. The LiveStrong Army is bonded by something stronger than sports... and stronger than the Feds.
Monday, May 23, 2011
RadioShack's Chris Horner took home the most nostalgic overall victory of his career at the Amgen Tour of California that concluded with the eighth and final stage in Thousand Oaks on Sunday. The American will skip the USA Pro Cycling Championships next weekend and instead turn his attention to a podium performance, and perhaps an overall win, at the Tour de France in July.
"I was nostalgic all day," said Horner in the closing press conference. "I was having a grin from ear-to-ear. I've done so much training up here on these roads, maybe going back as far as 1991. I've really built my career training here. This Southern California area has been my stomping grounds. As soon as they added the summit finishes this race really became a goal for me. I want to say that the crowds throughout California and on the summit finishes were epic."
RadioShack announced that it would support two team leaders during the Amgen Tour of California; Horner and three-time overall winner Levi Leipheimer. However, Horner proved to be the stronger of the two riders on the first mountaintop finish on Sierra Road, stage four of the eight-day race. He maintained his overall race lead through the second and more decisive mountaintop finish on Mt. Baldy during stage seven, where Leipheimer took the stage win.
"I don't mean this to sound bad, but he's been more professional," said Leipheimer who showed unwavering support for Horner during this week. "And you're seeing the result of that. I've had some health issues this year, and the team wasn't that confident in me coming into this race, and they needed someone as a plan B, and it turned out to be Chris. I think it was smart of the team, I'm happy because I've shown that I could have won, but my teammate was better. And there's no denying that."
Horner finished the race with a 38 seconds ahead of Leipheimer in the overall classification. Tom Danielson of Garmin-Cervelo finished the race in third place followed by his teammate Christian Vande Velde in fourth, Tejay Van Garderen of HTC-Highroad in fifth and Laurens Ten Dam of Rabobank in sixth.
Garmin-Cervelo came to the race with a strong team of climbers that included Dave Zabriskie, who won the stage six time trial in Solvang, Ryder Hesjedal, Dan Martin and Andrew Talansky. The race included other strong overall contenders in Andy Schleck and Linus Gerdemann (Leopard Trek), Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare), Steve Morabito (BMC Racing) and Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale).
"It was an honour to stand on the podium with Chris and Levi," Danielson said. "I started my career with Chris on Saturn and with Levi on Discovery Channel and I learned a lot from both. I wouldn't be half the rider that I am today without having raced with these guys. I enjoyed racing for third place and being able to celebrate it with them. That being said, Garmin-Cervelo did a great job this week and we definitely gave RadioShack a run for their money."
Eyeing the Tour de France podium
Horner will turn his attention to preparing for the Tour de France in July where he hopes to secure a podium position. He went into last year's Tour working for his former teammate, and seven-time winner, Lance Armstrong in 2010. Adversity took Armstrong out of contention to place in the overall ranking and after days of working as a domestique, Horner managed to finish the race with a top 10.
"The Tour de France will be my next objective," Horner said. "I have definite plans of riding there in 100 per cent form. I will focus solely on working to bring my form back up to 100 per cent for the Tour de France. I plan on being top five, if not on the podium. I think I can climb with anyone in the world and I'll show that in July."
Leipheimer will also focus on a strong performance at the Tour de France. According to Horner, the pair will likely enter the race as co-leader in similar fashion to the Amgen Tour of California. Leipheimer is no stranger to the Grand Tour podium having placed third overall at both the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana.
"Levi and I will have to do everything exactly correctly to come into the Tour de France with good form," Horner said. "It's a very small window. Make no mistake with RadioShack, this team is 100 per cent dedicated to the rider who can win the Tour de France. I have no problem working for Levi; he has no problem working for me. We have fantastic Jani [Brajkovic], who could shine at the Tour de France, and certainly [Andreas Kloden] Klödi there. But I expect to be there with four guys who have a little bit of freedom. It will be become really clear after the first mountain stage, and this team, we get along really well, and we'll support the strongest rider."
Horner noted some strong contenders that he will have to face at the Tour de France including Saxo Bank SunGard's Alberto Contador, Liquigas-Cannondale's Ivan Basso, BMC's Cadel Evans and Leopard Trek's Andy Schleck, among others.
"We already know who the leaders are for the Tour de France," Horner said. "No one has the form that Alberto Contador has displayed. He is good at every race. It is spectacular to see how often he can ride that form. Andy Schleck's form of last year was as good as if not better than Alberto in the climbs, maybe vice-versa in the time trial. Andy will be the big favorite, his brother Fränk will be there to back him up."
"Those two teams have to carry the whole weight of the race on their shoulders," he added. "And RadioShack will have a little bit of freedom to rest and come into it with really good form. At this moment I have not seen anyone go faster than I have seen Andy and Alberto go in July. At this moment, that is our target, those two are the five-star favorites."
No USA Pro Cycling Championships for Horner or Leipheimer
Both Horner and Leipheimer will skip the USA Cycling National Championships held from May 29-31 in Greenville, South Carolina. The duo will attend a sponsor event and take time to recover and better prepare for the Tour de France.
"I would love to do go to the USPro Championships but with the Nissan thing I am going to have to avoid the USPro Championships," Horner said. "It was originally in my plans but the Nissan has been a great sponsor and they have asked myself and Levi to be at their events, which run just after the USPro Championships."
"There has to be some time for me to spend with my kids and family," he added. "It was too difficult to fly to USPro Championships and fly back to Oregon, back to Michigan for Nissan, back to Oregon and fly to the Tour of Suisse. I asked to avoid the USPro Championships so that I can spend more time with my kids."
Saturday, May 21, 2011
David Zabriskie made up for his disastrous day on Sierra Road by crushing the Solvang time trial in a new course record. The Garmin-Cervélo man who was second overall in last year's race boosted his team's fortunes with the stage 6 victory, topping Levi Leipeimer (RadioShack) by 26 seconds and best young rider Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) by 40.
It's the first time trial stage win for Zabriskie here in California. His only other stage victory in the Amgen Tour came last year in the stage from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, where he bested Michael Rogers and Leipheimer with a crafty attack in the final 500m.
"I knew the last stretch was a headwind and I had to go hard there. I didn't feel like I was super strong, but it was a good ride," Zabriskie said. "Today was obviously the best I've ever done here. I had no radio, just did my own thing and it worked."
The stage win was sweet revenge after his general classification hopes were dashed when he couldn't follow the RadioShack riders on the stage 4 finishing climb. "The time trial is my strong suit, and I wanted to have a good ride and have some salvation.
Zabriskie explained what was different today. "A time trial is a different position on the bike. I can cheat the elements a little - I'm good at that. On a climb you need constant pressure on the pedals and sometimes my body gives out on a climb like that, when everyone's going really really hard."
For the three previous visits to Solvang, it's been Leipheimer who has dominated the Danish-themed town's stage, but despite setting the fastest intermediate split, he couldn't hold his effort to the line to take his fourth stage here.
When he learned he had fallen shy of the stage win, Leipheimer angrily pounded on his bars and rode away, not speaking with the press. When he did return, the American offered no excuses for his ride and instead praised the performance of Zabriskie.
"Dave rode a super fast time trial," Leipheimer said.
Leipheimer also dismissed comparisons of today’s record breaking ride with his own previous rides in Solvang.
"[It’s different now that] we're in May, the roads have been repaved; I think the winds were a little more favourable. I think whoever won today was going to set the course record,” the American said.
RadioShack teammate Chris Horner held his own on the course, finishing sixth, only losing 36 seconds to Leipheimer – enough to keep him comfortably in the race lead going into tomorrow’s difficult Mt Baldy stage.
"I knew I was going to have to suffer as part of the job. So far the team has done all the work, and today was the most work I had to do in the whole Amgen Tour of California," Horner said.
"Today was about damage control. I knew I would lose a little bit of time, but I was confident to hold the jersey."
"It was all about keeping the bike upright, hitting the times out on course and then letting it all hang out in the final 2km."
The battle for the final overall podium heated up, with UnitedHealthcare's Rory Sutherland putting in a strong performance to steal back two seconds on Garmin-Cervélo's Christian Vande Velde to leapfrog the American. Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervélo), was also surpassed by Sutherland.
"I think that you can see from the times from the finish that the wind changed today and got harder later on," said Sutherland. "The guys who were in the top five positions, Tejay did a really good time at the end and Levi. The times of the last guys were higher than what would be expected.
"I thought it would be a little bit closer time-wise but the guys around me were the guys that were around me at the start. It wasn’t the most fun time trial that I have ever done. It was incredibly headwind-y."
The outcome of today's stage puts the Garmin-Cervélo even more on the defensive as they try to chase a podium position as well as unseat the RadioShack duo.
"Vande Velde was on good form to make a good result in the time trial today," said manager Jonathan Vaughters. "We're definitely the underdogs for the next few days. Tomorrow, there will be fireworks. we'll put on a show tomorrow, I mean, you know, it's going to be tough. Horner is really strong right now."
In the best young rider competition, Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) put in an impressive performance to take third on the stage, extending his lead in the classification over Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale).
"I'm definitely happy with how the race is going," said Van Garderen. "I made some tactical errors on Sierra Road. I tried too hard to stay with Horner and faded, I should have stayed within myself."
"[But] The team's proud of me. I would have hoped to be higher on GC than I am, but when Horner's on the form he's on, even [Alberto] Contador couldn't have beaten him on Sierra Road."
Thursday, May 19, 2011
'20+ year career. 500 drug controls worldwide, in and out of competition. Never a failed test. I rest my case.'
Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong has denied claims by former team-mate Tyler Hamilton that they took performance-enhancing drugs together.
Hamilton has accused seven-time Tour de France winner Armstrong of doping while insisting the majority of his fellow riders did likewise.
His accusations, aired on CBS programme '60 Minutes', come a year after Floyd Landis, another former Armstrong team-mate, made similar allegations of drug use by Armstrong and the team.
In response, Armstrong tweeted: '20+ year career. 500 drug controls worldwide, in and out of competition. Never a failed test. I rest my case.'
Hamilton won a gold medal at the 2004 Athens Games but later failed a drug test.
However, he was allowed to keep his medal because problems at a laboratory meant his 'B' sample could not be tested.
Months later, he was caught blood doping and served a two-year ban which ended in 2007.
Hamilton returned to racing and won the 2008 US road championship, but he retired last spring after admitting he took an antidepressant that contained the banned steroid DHEA. He was officially banned from cycling for eight years.
His accusations come after he testified before the Los Angeles grand jury investigating Armstrong.
Armstrong's spokesman Mark Fabiani released a statement that read: 'Hamilton is actively seeking to make money by writing a book, and now he has completely changed the story he has always told before so that he could get himself on '60 Minutes' and increase his chances with publishers.
'But greed and a hunger for publicity cannot change the facts: Lance Armstrong is the most tested athlete in the history of sports. He has passed nearly 500 tests over 20 years of competition.'
By: Chris Horner
At 136 miles long, stage 5 was going to be hard stage for sure, but when we let eleven strong riders slip away, it suddenly became one for the books. The stage started and road went uphill from mile zero, but this helped us out a bit as the attacks were a little easier to control on the climb. Somewhere, very early into the stage, four riders got away, and we were quite happy to let them go. The breakaway included Dan Martins, who was sitting in 12th in the overall standings. That meant two things – one, the fact that he was so close in the general classification would make us have to chase all the day, and two, he would be stuck working in a break all day. We were hoping that the extra effort he would be putting in would mean that he would be wrecked in the coming days, and would no longer be threat to us in the stages still to come. If so, it would eliminate one more Garmin rider, which has many threats in the overall standings, from the list. The only problem with that plan came about ten miles later, when we let seven others get away. Suddenly, we were chasing eleven riders, as all the breakaway riders came together to form one large unit.
However, luckily for us, Team Liquigas was still hunting for a stage win for their number one sprinter, Peter Sagen, so about 50 miles into the stage, they started to pull with us on the front. Most of the stage had a strong cross/tail wind that left no one on vacation! With speeds on the flats reaching 30 to 40 mph, the peloton was strung out for hours, and crashes continued to hit through out stage as riders fought to stay near the front and for any wind protection they could find.
Levi and I certainly had two of the few 1st class seats available, as the RadioShack train in front of us always left enough space on the side to keep us protected from the wind. I also saw that Peter Sagen’s team was giving him the same rock star treatment, but he was one of the few lucky ones. For most of the other riders, it was fight or sink in back of the peloton, with the unlucky ones finishing their day at the hospital under the x-ray machine - a hard day for sure.
When we had about 6 miles to go to the finish, the sprinter teams passed Levi and I, with HTC taking over at the front. The last of the breakaway riders were being swept up, and I began to think that the stage was about over – and with it any threat to my GC lead for the day – or so I thought! We had one more small climb to get over, but because of how tired every one was at that point, the extra effort put a big split into the peloton about 15 riders back from the front. Levi and I were at least twenty guys behind the split when it happened, and there was immediately a gap of at least 15 meters opening up between the two groups. But, Levi wasted no time. With me on his wheel and Bushe on mine, he closed the gap in seconds. That will be last time I let myself drift that far behind again, though, since I’d rather go down fighting with the sprinters, then to lose the overall because I let my guard down behind them.
The sprint was hard to predict, since none of the sprinters had their full team left to do a lead out for them. The speed of the group just before the finish line was up and down as the lead out men would die after just a little time on the front without anyone to take their place. This yo-yoing had us going from left to right and all over the road, with attacks coming from the non-sprinter teams trying a last ditch effort to slip away and win the stage. But, just before they could get any sizable gap, another lead out rider would come to the front for one last pull, just barely keeping it all together.
When the sprint finally started, I was on the limit, sitting on very tip of my saddle, searching for any extra speed I could find to make sure that no gaps opened up in front of me before the line. Luckily for me, there were one or two sprinters behind me that came around and closed the gap, which, even going full gas on the tip of saddle, I couldn't keep from opening in front of me. The day was done and so was the peloton – time for someone to flip us over!
Another day of the 2011 Amgen Tour of California is now in the books, so it is time to find some food and start recovering for the big time trial in Solvang tomorrow.
Thanks for reading. Until tomorrow…
Chris Horner (RadioShack) proved that he is here to win the Amgen Tour of California after he triumphed atop Sierra Road, winning stage four by over a minute ahead of his nearest rivals. The American is confident that he will be unbeatable on the ‘queen' stage seven that includes the second and more decisive mountaintop finish on Mt Baldy.
"In the last five weeks I was on a mission to come here in the best fitness of my life," Horner said. "I think I put together the best five weeks of training ever in my career, with diet, rest and training. It's been a hard five weeks and it was an easy five kilometres to the summit."
With four stages to go, Horner is confident that he can hold on to the overall lead but showed slight concern over the stage six 24km time trial in Solvang. However, some of the pressure was absolved by the fact that his teammate and three-time overall event winner Levi Leipheimer is close behind in the overall classification. Leipheimer came to the race as the odds-on favourite to win the time trial, after winning it on three previous occasions.
"The only exception, not fear, that I have is the time trial," Horner said. "It is a questionable section but I think I am on my top form and when I am top form I normally win time trials. I don't think I will lose sleep over the time trial but I certainly believe that if there is any vulnerable part in my fitness or ability it would be there. I think that is a small dent in the armour and whatever time that I should lose there, I don't think I will lose the jersey there, but if I do, I will gain it back on Mt Baldy."
Sharing the overall classification duties with Levi
RadioShack announced that Horner and Leipheimer would be attending the Amgen Tour of California as co-race leaders, both in top form to contest the overall victory. Horner's commanding performance on stage four's Sierra Road indicates that he is in prime form to win the title. He won the stage by 1:15 ahead of runner up in the Tour de France last year Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) in second and Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare) in third. Leipheimer finished in fourth place and an optimal second card to play in the overall classification.
"We came into this race as co-leaders," Horner said. "Of course, Levi had the majority of the team with him and I had Markel [Irizar] and Matt [Bushe] always with me. I was always protected and well looked after. In the mishap at the end of yesterday's stage, I had fantastic teammates devoted to me and also to Levi. I was never without a team and Levi was never without a team. We will go into the rest of the Tour of California with the same tactics."
It is no secret that Leipheimer is eying a fourth overall victory at the Amgen Tour of California. When asked if it mattered to the team which rider won the title, Horner replied, "It makes no difference. Though my whole career, and I have had a long one, the first priority is always the team. If the team wins that is the number one priority. I don't care if it's Levi, I don't care if it's me and I don't care if it's Matt Busche. The first objective, as a professional, is always that the team wins. The
second objective, of course, is that you wish it could be you."
Horner insulted by career under appreciation
Horner is undoubtedly a world-class racer whose decade-and-a-half career includes a victory at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, second overall at the Giro di Sardegna, seventh place at La Fleche Wallone, eighth place at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, tenth place at Amstel Gold Race, and fourth place overall at the Amgen Tour of California, all in 2010. His most memorable accomplishment last year was securing a tenth place overall at the Tour de France. This year, he placed second overall at the Vuelta Al Pais Vasco and fourth overall at the Volta a Catalunya. During the Amgen Tour of California stage four post-race press conference, he expressed his disappointment in the race organization and the media for, at times, being under recognized.
"I think in my career I have been under appreciated," Horner said. "When I arrived here at the Tour of California, I found it quite insulting to not be invited to the press conference. I think the press should have known, I have won the Basque Country and I was second at the Basque Country. I've been fourth here at the Tour of California before and I found it insulting that I wasn't invited to the press conference."
"Throughout 16 years of professional bike racing, I've been underrated many, many times," he added. "I've done a lot of domestique work and sometimes I see where the press can lose me in the lime light. When you have teammates like Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong, you can't have five RadioShack or Astana riders up here. At the same time it is easy to see that my form has been with the best of the best in the world and with the exception of Alberto Contador, I don't think there is anyone that can drop me."
By Chris Horner
Wow, what a day! I’m going to have stories to talk about for the rest of my life. And sorry, but I only have time to tell you guys one or two, before it’s off to bed to get ready for some big days of racing coming up. The plan of the day was to drill it when we hit the Mt. Hamilton climb – an HC category climb close to the finish, but as the day started, I could feel that my legs were fantastic. With Levi in great form as well, the best plan was to drill the team on the front, string out the field, and try to destroy as many people as we could before the final climb up Sierra Road, a category 1 climb to the summit finish of the fourth stage of this year’s Tour of California.
We had the team power to drill the race all day long. It started off with Markel and our young, super neo-pro and US pro champion, Ben King. We did have some big help from the boys at Sky as well. Ben and Markel were to drill it 100% up every climb until we got to Mt. Hamilton.
From there, JMac was to take over, and make it as ugly as possible for anyone who didn’t have their climbing legs on them today. He pulled halfway up Mt. Hamilton, where Haimar took over. At that point, the field had been whittled down to 35-40 riders. After Haimar pulled off, Dimi took it to the summit, and upped the pace every time we came out of the corners. That was stringing the field out even more, and Levi and I were loving it, as we knew Sierra was just on the horizon.
Over the top, we hit a crazy descent. We were flying through the corners left and right, barely making it through a couple and blowing it hard on one. We hit a left hand corner with the brakes locked up going straight instead of left. Dimi and I just barely pulled out the corner, with Levi just behind doing everything he could, and Matthew Busche was trying out his cyclocross skills as he rode up the side of the mountain, in the dirt and grass before coming right back down onto the road. It was another one of those moments that almost cost you the race, but at the same time is exactly what makes it all so much fun. I yelled for Dimi to just keep going hard, as we had Ryder Hjesdal and Paul Mertens just up the road and gaining time on us. Dimi drove the pace and never gave anyone behind time to do anything – not eat, drink or even worry about just how crazy fast we were going. Shortly after the mishap corner, Haimar came back onto the front, and a few moments later, Busche was back on the front as well. We still had five guys up front as we finished the final descent.
Dimi and Haimar rode until their legs had nothing left, pulling off one kilometer before the final climb began. From there Busche took over, and drove us into the start of the Sierra climb. The second year pro had the pace pegged at the limit. With the wind coming from the side, left to right, I yelled for Busche to pull all the way to the right, leaving only enough space for Levi and I to get a draft. His job at this moment was to only drill it for the first 500 meters or so of the climb. Then, I wanted him to give one last acceleration before he pulled off and I took over.
With such a long descent, followed by the hard pace being set by Busche at the beginning, my legs felt like stone for the first few hundred meters or so, but after that they opened up and started to feel fantastic again.
Busche had my SRM file going off the chart, and I’ll post it later for everyone to see. After he was done, I took over on the front. We were super lucky on the climb, since the wind continued to be either a crosswind or tailwind. I left enough room just for Levi, while everyone else had to fend for themselves. When I looked back, it was just Levi and I off the front together, still chasing Ryder who was putting on a stellar show. As we caught Ryder, I put in one more big acceleration to try to make sure that he couldn’t jump on the wheel, and from there I was solo and going to the finish, with just over two miles to go to the summit. I glued my eyes to the SRM, keeping the rhythm steady and being very careful to never take it into the red.
At that point, you’re always wondering when you’re going to get caught, since I was still only holding a 20 second lead. It wasn’t until I heard from the moto that the time had gone up to a minute, that I felt certain the win was coming, and praying that I didn’t have any flat tires between there and the line.
Just before I hit the finish the line, the five weeks before the Tour of Cali started to go through my head – all the time and energy I had put in to arrive here with the form to produce today’s ride, as well as all the help I had received from family and friends to get to this moment. A special thanks to all of my fantastic teammates – Ben, Markel, JMac, Haimar, Dimi, Matthew, and Levi, for making the stage win and the yellow jersey possible.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Cycling icon Lance Armstrong won't make an epic climb Wednesday on Sierra Road but he might make an appearance at the Amgen Tour of California.
The seven-time winner of the Tour de France arrived in San Jose on Tuesday night for sponsor meetings but his plans for Stage 4 from Livermore to San Jose weren't known, a cycling source familiar told the Bay Area News Group.
Armstrong, who retired in January, tweeted Tuesday morning: "Run, swim, shower. Taking off for NorCal and the ToC. Go @TeamRadioShack!!"
Stage 4 of the weeklong tour ends Wednesday on Sierra Road with RadioShack's Levi Leipheimer expected to make his first big move of the race that ends Sunday in Thousand Oaks.
Armstrong, 39, had been expected to use the weeklong tour as his farewell to cycling but abruptly retired in January after the Tour Down Under in Australia. He is the target of a federal investigation into use of illegal drugs that aid performance.
Armstrong was embroiled in controversy during last year's Tour of California when former teammate Floyd Landis made detailed accusations of the cyclist's drug use. Landis' statements led to an investigation led by the Bay Area-based agent Jeff Novitzky, who handled the Balco case. The case is being handled by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles.
Versus cycling announcer Phi Liggett was surprised by Armstrong's retirement before the Tour of California.
"It's a rather quiet exit for a man with such a big charisma," he said. "It was leaving the sport by the back door rather than in a blaze of glory for what he achieved in his career."
The entire field of 144 riders finished Stage 3 but the windy day included crashes leading to five injured cyclists.
Jens Voigt of Leopard Trek suffered a left shoulder bruise after falling near the finish in Modesto. Timothy Duggan of Liquigas-Cannondale and Jesus Del Nero Montes of Sunnyvale-based Netapp suffered mild head injuries. Michael Matthews of Rabobank and Andreas Schillinger of Netapp had leg cuts.
Nevada City is a gloriously picturesque Sierra Nevada foothills mining town. And it is here, outside the Garmin-Cervélo bus where the riders are inside having a pre-race meeting ahead of the day’s Tour of California stage, that we take time to chat with a trio of argyle fans.
Chris Blancett and Regina Molina are from nearby Santa Clara in the Silicon Valley, while their friend Tim Ackley had come down from Portland, Oregon to watch the racing.
The threesome are clutching both Garmin-Cervélo posters and a 2010 VeloNews with a photo of Thor Hushovd winning Worlds and the words “Thor Roars” on the cover.
Blancett, who wears a Dave Zabriskie Captain America t-shirt, says they need DZ’s signature along with that of Dan Martin and Andrew Talansky to make their posters complete and frame-worthy.
What is it about the Garmin-Cervélo team that attracts these fans?
Gesturing in toward the gleaming black bus, Blancett says “I like them because Dave Zabriskie brings a fun, young humor to cycling that I find really refreshing and really entertaining.”
“I enjoy DZ Nuts,” he adds, referring to Zabriskie’s line of chamois creams and embrocations. Blancett’s girlfriend Molina laughs self-consciously at that one. He continues: “Thor Hushovd, Dave Zabriskie, Ryder Hesjedal, Johan Van Summeren. They are all just really great guys.”
“The other day we were all just hanging out looking at the bus and Ryder opens up the window and starts handing us posters and signing them. They are a really cool group of guys. They are just young and fresh. And as a new cycling fan I can get into their team.”
Blancett also says he likes how they race. “I like how tough they ride.”
The team fills a void these fans say Lance Armstrong left when he retired. Blancett explains: “Since Lance is leaving, it makes you feel like, ‘Who am I going to love?’”
Blancett says he also follows baseball and he used to follow a lot of other sports. But now, “cycling took over.”
Cycling’s small graces appeal to him. “One of my favorite things to see in the peloton is a guy put his hand on the back of another guy because he’s rolling up on him. And when something happens they just slow down. There are a lot of moral things going on.”
We turn to Molina, who is wearing a fire-engine red shirt that reads “Tour of California” in giant white typeface across the front. Why is she a fan? “I got into cycling because of my boyfriend. About a year and a half ago.”
“I used to be afraid of riding on the road,” she admits. “But now I’m in a bike class and I totally feel comfortable riding on the road. I can ride without him. And we watch the Tour de France.”
Asked what she likes about the Garmin-Cervélo team, Regina confesses to a crack in her argyle-fandom: “I like George Hincapie because he’s so good looking. I know he’s not on Garmin, but I also like Zabriskie. I use Bliss for women.” (DZ Nuts’ chamois cream for females.)
Now Regina takes a surprising turn for someone who just got into cycling: “I like downhilling. Chris doesn’t like it, but I like the fast pace of it.”
Ackley, who has been busy taking photos of all of us with his Nikon, chimes in. He points out that he’s from Portland, “the cyclocross mecca of the Pacific Northwest.” He went to France in 2006 to watch Paris-Roubaix. “That was a good time.”
He says he enjoys the deep history grounding European races like the Hell of the North. “Everything is so put together. They meet at the same square where they’ve been meeting for the last 50 years to start out.”
“You know,” Ackley says, “cycling is one of those sports where you can go up to the riders and get autographs and get pictures, where a lot of American sports you can’t. They just blow you off. That’s another reason why I love cycling and following this team.”
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
I will make no apologies for this story being far too long. I have been writing and revising it off and on for several months now and actually cut nearly 1,700 words from the original version. It's a true story about Lance Armstrong and LiveStrong, so in my mind it's ok for it to be wordy.
This story is not for personal gain or notoriety. It's for those who could use a little hope and for those who are afraid of the word "try". I'm certain most of you will enjoy it and perhaps find it inspiring.
I like to ride bikes. A lot. I also have an intense hatred for cancer because it killed both my parents. It's not much of a stretch to arrive at the conclusion that I have been an ardent follower of Lance Armstrong's career. For years, I have had an ongoing dream (delusion?) that one day I might be able to ride next to the cancer survivor and 7-time Tour de France winner if only for a few meters. Never in my wildest imagination would I believe that riding next to him would take place in his jet - the result of a complete social networking-fueled fluke.
Since 2002, I had been making an annual pilgrimage from Denver to Austin, TX to participate in the 'LiveStrong Challenge' to honor my folks and those who have endured the effects of cancer in one way or another. The event capped a year of fundraising with one huge cathartic cycling celebration. Some remember their loved ones by visiting a cemetery or mausoleum. I chose a bike ride with several thousand fellow cyclists.
October 2010. The date for the LiveStrong Challenge drew near. I had loosely planned on making the Austin trip as usual, but part of me thought maybe I should stay home this year. This time, I had no boarding pass, no bags packed and I felt like I was abandoning my dedication to the memory of my parents and my devotion to LiveStrong.
Before I sat down to dinner with my family on Thursday, October 21st, I did something that was equal parts long-shot and joke. I pulled up my Twitter account and thought, "What if…"
I typed, "Hey Lance, can I hitch a ride with you from Colorado to Austin?" and hit 'send'. Instantly, I felt like a total moron. An idiot. A mooch.
I checked Twitter again several minutes later mostly out of habit, certainly not because I expected a reply. "10:30am tomorrow Aspen-Austin. Feel free to hop on board Mellow Johnnys Aviation".
I am pretty certain he wasn't necessarily counting on a total stranger actually taking him up on the offer. Like a complete dork I replied, "You weren't serious, were you? I could throw my bike in the car and head to Aspen pronto!" Before I knew it, I was direct messaging my phone number to him so his nanny, Katie, could call me to arrange details. Sure enough, minutes later, my phone rang and displayed the word 'restricted'. It was Katie. Whoa. "So…you want to go to Austin?" "Ummm…well, yeah but this is for real, right? I am not being punked, right?" I paced around the living room nervously. "No, you're not being punked" she laughed. She told me the flight might leave as early as 8:00 a.m. and I could tell she was a bit concerned I might not make it at that hour all the way from Denver. I assured her I would do whatever it took to be there early. "Don't be late!" I heard Lance shout in the background. One thing Lance for sure does not like is being late. This certainly seemed real. My wife, Dena, was nearly shouting, "You HAVE to do this!!"
Several frenzied emails, phone calls, and Tweets later, I was 98% convinced that this was no prank, so I began packing gear and loading my car. I sent Lance one more note and said "I promise I am not some weirdo stalker or anything". He replied reassuringly, "Dude, all good. Wait 'til you see this plane!" By 2:00 a.m. I was hurtling through the night on westbound I-70, pie-eyed, hoping not to hit any deer.
I arrived in Aspen around 6:30 a.m. as daybreak begrudgingly emerged revealing low-hanging clouds all around. After a brief nap in the car, 8:00 a.m. rolled around. Lance sent me a message: "Not looking good. We are delayed for sure". My heart sank a little and I started to think I would end up driving back home with a story about how cool it would have been.
Suddenly, in the midst of my self pity, my phone came alive with a call from Katie and a text from Lance. The skies were clearing, literally and figuratively, and the flight was on for a 10:30 departure! This trip was a go, and my intestines twisted with nervous glee.
I pulled into the terminal area at the Aspen airport and immediately saw Lance behind the wheel of an SUV. I followed him through the gate and before I knew it, I was there on the tarmac next to his jet marked with a distinctive yellow & black LiveStrong-themed pinstripe. He got out of his vehicle and I was briefly star-struck, but quickly snapped out of it as I shook his hand and got down to business taking my bike and bags out of the car. I made my way up the steps to board the plane and before my eyes was the highly glossed logo of Mellow Johnny's Aviation. Unbelievable.
Soon after we sat down, he asked "You don't get airsick do ya?" I confirmed that I was not inclined to puke, but I laughed at the thought of what a disaster that would be. One of his friends texted him and asked how things were going with his "passenger". "Easy" he replied. He told me that if I had been a nutjob, they were prepared to land in Pueblo to drop me off. Apparently I passed the nutjob test - so far, so good. We taxied down the runway and he Tweeted "taking off from Aspen w/@knollio and @brphillips. LiveStrong Challenge, here we come!". There I was, "Just Some Guy", sitting next to him for two solid hours all because of a blurb etched in the annals of social networking's ongoing dialog.
I am always asked what we talked about on the plane. The truth is we didn't really talk about much of the stuff that you would expect to be discussed while being locked with Lance Armstrong inside a tube thousands of feet in the air. We talked about everyday stuff: what I did for a living, Macs vs PCs, beer, coffee, the plane, Colorado weather, Texas weather, dad stuff, bike stuff, Tour riders, etc. For some reason - lack of sleep perhaps - I didn't talk much to him about the obvious things like cancer, or more gritty Tour stories. It was more like hanging out with someone I have known for years, just having random easygoing conversation about anything. The last thing I wanted was to make him feel like he was sitting in the longest captive interview ever.
I had no expectations that I would be given anything or receive any preferential treatment. In my mind, we were just two guys who rode bikes, had families, and possessed tremendous dislike for cancer. I certainly hoped I wasn't responsible for opening up a barrage of random requests for rides on the jet. I hoped for everything to just be, well, normal. Regard him as a normal human and maybe, just maybe, I would have occasion to meet up with him again sometime, have a beer and shoot the bull, introduce my wife & kids to him.
We landed in Austin under sunny skies, and Lance was eager for me to see the hangar. "You'll want to get a picture of this! There's a huge Mellow Johnny's Aviation logo painted in there" he told me. We got off the plane, sorted out bikes and gear, and his pilot was kind enough to take our photo in front of the giant logo.
This was too amazing to be true, and I was caught somewhere between dumbfounded and oddly unfazed. After confirming with me that I indeed had transportation and lodging, Lance then headed off to an endless string of appearances, dinners, and speeches tucked around time with family & friends while I ended up in a very nice borrowed condo in downtown Austin, mercifully arranged at the last minute by my Austinite friends Steph and Jeremy. After settling in, I laid down for a nap as the reality of everything that had happened to me in the past 16 hours began to sink in.
When I woke, I checked my phone to see if anyone had called. I was flooded with a barrage of texts, emails, and voicemails. Family and friends were dying to know the details, what the plane was like, if I would get to hang out with Lance all weekend, if I would get to ride with him, on and on. I certainly enjoyed the excitement, but I let everyone know that I was not about to overstep my bounds simply because I was able to fly with him. I squelched any wild notions that he suddenly adopted me as his instant best friend in the whole wide world. By most measures, I was still a stranger.
I passed the weekend wandering around downtown, absorbing the vibe of Austin, making multiple visits to Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop (the coolest bike shop on the planet), Juan Pelota cafe, and milling about at the convention center where the LiveStrong Village was set up. I enjoyed hearing people all around talking about Lance with admiration. "I'm not sure he's even coming this year since he and Anna just had a baby" one lady said. All the while, I just bit my tongue and smiled knowingly because I was not in this for personal glory and I certainly didn't want to brag or be "that guy".
Sunday as the sun rose over Texas, some 3,200 cyclists and I lined up in Dripping Springs ready to ride the 2010 edition of the LiveStrong Challenge.There were so many stories all around me - stories of sadness, of survival, hope, and inspiration. Two guys to my left had each lost a leg to cancer, but there they were ready to ride, defiant. Nearly everyone had a tag pinned to their jersey with messages of their own personal reasons for being there - "In Honor Of…" "Survivor" or "In Memory Of…" - and there were many who had affixed photos of loved ones who had endured cancer. While the trip on Lance's jet was beyond my wildest dreams, this was the reason I came. My sister from San Antonio met me at the finish line and we hugged knowing that our parents would have been proud.
Monday morning arrived entirely too early as I got out of bed with plenty of time to spare, again not wanting to risk being late. Steph took me to the hangar, helped me with my bike & gear, and we lingered a bit in hopes that she too would get to meet Lance. Soon, two vehicles pulled up to the plane and he greeted us. Steph was thrilled with that moment, but I think she nearly wet herself when Lance asked her if she wanted to see inside the plane. "You want a ride to Aspen?" he asked her as we climbed the steps into the cabin. I'm sure she pondered it seriously for a moment because declining an invitation from Mr. Armstrong is not a decision one takes lightly. I hugged Steph goodbye then settled into my seat, smiling to myself knowing that her brief experience in itself was pretty incredible.
As soon as the door was closed, word came that we would not be landing in Aspen due to a snow storm. We settled in for the ride, enjoyed a nice breakfast of coffee, yogurt, fruit, and granola, then relaxed after the weekend blur. Finally, news from the cockpit was that our destination would be Grand Junction, CO, about 2 hours from Aspen by car. This could only mean one thing: road trip.
After touching down safely, one of Lance's friends pulled up in her vehicle, complete with a bike rack of course. We loaded up the car, latched my bike to the rack, Lance got behind the wheel, and we were off.
It has been well documented that Lance is very competitive, and driving from Grand Junction to Aspen confirmed that. Every second does indeed count for him. He had been scheduled for a photo shoot for Oakley Eyewear that morning, so the drive was not only a time trial to meet that obligation, but also a race against the clock to beat his time from his last Grand Junction-Aspen trip. It struck me as surreal that others on the highway were completely oblivious to the fact that they had just been passed by Lance Armstrong. Unfortunately, the time trial was interrupted by my earlier intake of two bottles of water, coffee, and orange juice on the plane. He kindly and patiently pulled into a gas station, much to my relief.
Finally, we arrived at the the Aspen airport, cold and blowing snow swirling all around us and it hit me that this unimaginable journey had come to an end. I hopped out of the car and began pulling my bags out of the hatch while Lance took my bike off the rack. My only impulsive thought at that moment was that I had to snap a photo of him un-latching my bike. It didn't occur to me until too late that the cooler thing to do would have been to actually help him. We shook hands and I thanked him emphatically for the experience of a lifetime, one that I would never forget. True to form, he told me to let him know when I had made it safely back to Denver and to stay in touch.
It was 8:30 p.m. when I finally pulled into my driveway. Good ol' Highlands Ranch, Colorado. The jet-setting dance was over. After the hugs and kisses from my family, I sent Lance a message to let him know I survived the snowy drive. "Glad u made it safe. Thx for not being some weirdo. Good times. Stay in touch." he replied.
During the time I spent with him, he was very personable, accommodating, cordial, and he made me feel like part of the gang. This was a man I could be glad to have supported over the years. This was someone I would continue to support and defend - one of a small handful of people for whom I would take a bullet. He has his detractors and he is perpetually under attack from those who seek to harm his image and his legacy. It pains me to think that anyone would willingly want to tarnish someone who has done so much in the world and given so much hope & inspiration to so many through charitable work. Their twisted reasons do not matter to me. The man I saw was simply a father and a regular guy who happened to be successful in many facets of life. All the while, he has not forgotten those who helped him and those for whom he toils without respite.
Although it manifested itself in a much more grand fashion than I ever could have imagined, the dream I had did come true. Maybe it was because I never lost sight of it, or maybe Twitter just happened to be a technology available at precisely the right moment in time. Regardless, now I have this story and with it comes my hope that in some small way it will contribute to the mission of Lance Armstrong and the message of LiveStrong.
Thanks again, Lance.
(Thanks for reading. Here's a shameless plug. If you would like to contribute to the mission of LiveStrong and join the fight against cancer, please visit my page at http://austin2011.livestrong.org/brianphillips)
Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) suffered a crash while training on Mount Etna on Tuesday morning, but the Italian’s participation in the Tour de France is not in doubt.
Basso fell and hit his face and right shoulder against the road. Accompanied by directeur sportif Paolo Slongo, he was taken immediately for treatment in Liguaglossa, where he received 15 stitches to his right cheek and his right eyebrow, on the supeciliary arch.
The accident came after Basso caught his rear wheel in a drain cover while taking a corner.
“I got a real fright because the impact was violent and, above all, in a delicate place like the face,” Basso said. “Fortunately I was given attention very quickly and the x-ray ruled out the worst. I could have done without this incident but certainly it will not stop my preparation for the Tour. I will get back on course again gradually in the coming days.”
Basso is set to remain training on Etna until May 28, as he prepares for the Criterium du Dauphiné, his last major test before the Tour de France.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Brad Kearns & Lance Armstrong.
Superstar cyclist Lance Armstrong’s shadow continues to hang over the Amgen Tour of California even though he won’t be taking part in the race. But will he be missed?
Cycling superstar Lance Armstrong was a big draw last year as the Amgen Tour of California raced through Auburn.
From the saga of his stolen bike to his storied support for fellow cancer sufferers, Armstrong was the purveyor of some major buzz as Auburn spectators contented themselves with even just a glance of Lance.
Then there was the continuing question of whether he used performance-enhancing drugs to maintain his almost super-human dominance in the sport of cycling.
This year, though, Armstrong will be nowhere in sight when Auburn plays host to Tuesday’s Third Stage start.
And the predominant feeling is that life without Lance will still be good on race day.
“The bottom line is it’s one of the biggest events in the world and they have plenty of international stars coming,” said Mayor Bill Kirby. “It’ll be sad not to see him but we’ve got Levi Leipheimer and other stars. This is going to be a big showcase for the world to see Auburn.”
Armstrong, a seven-time Tour de France winner whose inspiring comeback from testicular cancer has spawned the Lance Armstrong Foundation, was in the peloton last year, scooting through Auburn on his way with his team from Nevada City to Sacramento.
Jim Northey, a member of the Auburn start’s organizing committee, said he doesn’t anticipate a big impact on the tour from Armstrong’s absence this year.
“There are so many better-quality riders coming to the forefront of cycling,” Northey said. Some of the leading riders taking part include David Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer, he noted.
“The tour is not built around Lance and I see 20,000 or more people coming to Auburn,” he said. “People are going to see what happens in Europe and they’re going to be happy here. The committee has done nothing but a great job.”
If bike-racing fans stay away, it will have more to do with $4.20-a-gallon gas than no Lance Armstrong, Northey said.
The possibility of Armstrong still showing up in Auburn has been a continuing rumor with some grounding in fact, Northey said.
“It’s just a rumor but he’s got to support his Team Radio Shack in some form,” he added.
Auburn’s Brad Kearns, a retired triathlete who competed against Armstrong in the 1980s, agreed that the Amgen race can stand on its own two wheels, without the high-wattage star power of the biking world’s most recognizable athlete.
“His presence did help raise awareness but it’s grown beyond Lance,” Kearns said. “He put the sport on the map and now it has taken on a life of its own.”
Kearns, active in sports programs in schools, said that it would be a shame if children aren’t given the opportunity Tuesday to see the Amgen tour in Auburn.
“The schools should shut down for an hour or so for students to see the spectacle,” he said. “These guys are the fittest athletes in the world.”
Elizabeth Oliver, who lives in the Downtown Auburn area, said she’s sure Armstrong would be a draw but the event is still going to be a lure. Last year, Oliver didn’t attend the event but was inspired when she viewed a friend’s photos.
Oliver anticipates she’ll make it to the Central Square area for the start time of around 10:15 a.m. Tuesday.
“Even without Lance,” she said. “I like this little town and all the events we seem to put on so well.”
Monday, May 9, 2011
Mark Cavendish posted a picture of the profile of this year's Giro d'Italia on his Twitter feed on Friday with a suitably pithy comment. He had good reason: of the 21 stages only five are without a major climb, where he will be able to use his sprinting skills to the full as he attempts to add to his career tally of five stage wins in the first major tour of the cycling year.
"It's one of the toughest Tours of Italy ever and I don't want to ride myself into a box before the Tour de France," Cavendish said this week. "I'll have to take every stage as it comes. For me, as in every grand tour, my goal is to take at least one stage win, because if you don't you've failed."
Today's time trial ending in Turin will suit Cavendish and his HTC team, but what follows is the hardest Giro in recent years, with eight mountain-top finishes. The route looks ideal for the triple Tour de France winner Alberto Contador, who intends to attempt a rare double of Giro and Tour wins this year, but, with a final decision over his positive test for clenbuterol expected at the court of arbitration for sport in June, this Giro could end up being decided by the lawyers.
It would be a surprise if Cavendish is still at the Giro for the mountainous final week. The last stage he can target is in Ravenna, 10 days from the finish and he is down to race the Tour of Switzerland, Tour de France and Tour of Spain later this season. The chances are he will call time on the Giro before the final showdown, but before then he will have to seize his chances.
The Manxman has won only two races so far this season – although one was the prestigious Scheldeprijs in Belgium – and he needs more. A decent Giro will propel him towards the Tour de France in confident mood. As he said this week: "If you're creeping here in May, you won't be flying in July."
The Giro and Tour are more important than ever for Cavendish this year, as he needs to push Great Britain up the world rankings before the end of July, to qualify a full team for the World Championships in Copenhagen in September.
Cavendish, 25, will have a rare chance to win that world title, as the circuit is unusually flat, but he will need as many Britons at his side as possible to help him do so. Additionally, he will sign a new contract at the end of this season, with the chase for his services currently led by Team Sky and the Americans BMC. As he acknowledged earlier this year, the deal he signs this season will probably be the biggest of his career.
Cavendish will, however, not be the only Briton targeting the sprint stages. Adam Blythe, the 21-year-old Yorkshireman tipped as "the next Cavendish" after landing four wins late last year, starts the Giro for the second time after coming close to winning a stage last year, and should be at Cavendish's shoulders in the final hectic metres after Sunday's flat marathon to Parma.
While the evergreen David Millar could figure in either the final time trial or the hillier stages, two Britons at different ends of the age spectrum make their major Tour debuts, both with Team Sky.
Cavendish's fellow Manxman Peter Kennaugh is only 21, and has been tipped as a potential stage race star, while the Yorkshireman Russell Downing, 11 years his senior, has been waiting for this opportunity since Kennaugh, Blythe and Cavendish were still at school.
Friday, May 6, 2011
When I was selected by the team for the Tour de Romandie my immediate thought was of the 2007 edition. That year was my first visit to the Swiss stage race and we wondered all week long where the heck the sun was. I don’t mind a little rain but a week of racing in it can get on your nerves. Well this year we would see some of the wet stuff but it would also prove to be a lot nicer than in my first go-round.
It’s important to me who I room with as those resting periods between stages are important for decompression. Being able to fully relax before the next race is essential to having a good day on the bike. This season I’ve had several excellent opportunities to get to know many of my new or newer teammates and that’s worked well. For Romandie I roomed with the Aussie Jack Bobridge all week.
Jack’s a good dude and it was fun to get to know him. He’s the world record holder for the 4K Individual Pursuit and obviously a real talent. Jacky jumped in a long bomb breakaway the first day (no one’s going to say the kid doesn’t have guts). The break made it to the line and Jack just missed the podium with a fourth place finish. He was pretty cooked after that, but still jumped in the break the last day to try and win the points jersey. Things did not go his way with that but the team rode really strong all week.
Garmin-Cervelo won the Team GC, best young rider for Andrew Talansky (with Peter Stetina in 2nd place), two riders in the top 10 (Talansky and Millar), and a stage win by yours truly.
The day before the Time Trial my legs finally opened up and I knew I would be able to go deep. The body can be a funny and finicky machine for professional cyclists. I for one am so sensitive to how I’m feeling that when the legs are off I know it before I ever pedal. And when the legs are right, really right, I can feel that as well, often before I even hit the saddle. Knowing that my legs were with me gave me the added confidence for the TT.
I had also just tweaked my position on the bike looking to fine tune my breathing, comfort and pedal stroke, all of which allowed me to feel a lot more power on the bike. Upon driving the course for a little recon I got pretty excited. The course suited me, it suited me well. I knew it and somehow, and don’t ask me how, so did my legs. When it was go time, I went out super fast. I was going to push it and the body accepted that and responded. I had a good carrot in front of me in the form of Vladimir Karpets. He’s a strong rider but I really wanted to catch him and while that would only happen in the last 500 meters of the 20 kilometer course it was just what I needed.
I crossed the line and felt that the effort had paid off. While there were still many riders to go my time was best of the day, so far. At the finish there were a few people from my high school in Utah with their families. That was a nice surprise and boosted my morale even further. I rode back to the start area and found the guys in the bus watching the race on TV. They looked quite happy for me and told me I should go back to the finish because no one was going to beat my time. I lingered a while until it really looked like that would be the case and then I headed back to the finish for the podium. Obviously it felt really good to get a win, especially at a big event, and it helped cement the great week the team had overall.
Now I’m back in California for you know what. The Amgen Tour is close to the heart for me. I like this race and I like to do well here. I appreciate the support I get out on the course in my new adopted home state. The overall fan support that the Amgen Tour gets is awesome, and it means a lot to the riders, and especially to yours truly.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
A stage-by-stage look at the climbs of the 2011 edition
The 2011 edition of the Amgen Tour of California has raised the level of difficulty from previous years. There are two selective mountain-top finishes this time around, and numerous climbs hidden throughout the course. Join us for a stage-by-stage look at the climbs of the 2011 Amgen Tour of California.
Stage 1: Race around the lake
The race begins the Sierra Nevada mountains with a counter-clockwise race around Lake Tahoe. The course includes four California Travel and Tourism Board KOM points. "On paper (or should I say on Strava's awesome stage profile), stage 1 isn't all that tough. There are four climbs, but nothing that gnarly," said Ted King of Liquigas-Cannondale, who rode the course this week with teammate Cameron Wurf. The gradients are relatively easy in the 3-4 percent range.
"The real kicker is going to be the altitude, namely how well people adapt," said King. "It's an entirely straightforward stage if we're at sea level, completely academic racing. But enter nearly 7,000 feet of altitude and it's anyone's race," the Liquigas-Cannondale rider said. King suggested that an early break could go on the first trip up the Emerald Bay climb, especially with so many mountains points on offer for the stage, but it is by no means certain. "So basically Cam and I were just talking about the stage all day long, and we can see virtually anything happening," said King.
The two final climbs add to the uncertainty. Brockway Summit arrives just inside 10 kilometers to go. With 4.8 kilometers of climbing at an average gradient of 5.2 percent, this climb is not all that difficult, but could offer a nice launch-pad for a late attack. "There will be some tired legs going into the climb and they'll call grupetto, but the climb itself isn't that hard," said King. He called the gradients "mellow." A fast descent follows, then it's a quick 2.4-kilometer dash to the line at the North Star Resort. King called this opening day "a total toss-up of a stage".
Stage 4: The Mount Hamilton-Sierra Road double
After two days of flat racing in the Central Valley, the climbers will look forward to stage 4 when the Amgen Tour of California attacks its first mountain-top finish. The stage will run from Livermore to San Jose, where the finish on Sierra Road will bring the bigs out to play. Roman Kilun of Kenda/5-hour Energy Pro Cycling rode this stage earlier this month and believes it will be decisive. Kilun said, "One of the guys who is in the top three on Sierra Road will win the overall."
The stage starts in the rolling terrain of Livermore's vineyard country. An uncategorized climb provides a prelude, then it's a steep three-kilometer uphill at 10 percent to the first California Travel and Tourism Commission KOM on Mines Road. No rest for the weary, a 20-kilometer uphill false flat follows the summit of Mines Road. Then, a descent delivers the riders to the main climb of the day.
Mount Hamilton is one of the two most difficult climbs of this year's Amgen Tour of California. "Maybe 15 guys will make it to the top of Hamilton together," said Kilun. To the Lick Observatory at the summit, it's a 7.6-kilometer climb with an average gradient of 8.4 percent. The road switchbacks up the mountain and the road steepens precipitously through each curve.
Anyone who loses the plot on the climb will find it difficult to ride back into the bike race on the descent. "The descent is narrow and twisty, and if you're off the back it's impossible to get back on," said Ben Jacques-Maynes of the Bissell Pro Cycling Team. Two short climbs interrupt the descent. "It's really three descents," Jacques-Maynes said.
After reaching the valley floor, a three-kilometer, flat run-in announces the final climb of the day. The Sierra Road climb is a recurring fixture of the Amgen Tour of California, but this year marks its first appearance as a stage finish. Jacques-Maynes called Sierra Road "the icing on the cake" of this climbing stage. "You aren't going to see a huge bunch hitting the base of Sierra Road," he said.
Kilun agreed, adding that the mountain-top finish provides an incentive to ride hard on the early climbs. "There's more motivation to attack," said the Kenda/5-hour Energy rider.
Sierra Road, with its vertiginous views of San Jose, climbs 550 meters in 5.8 kilometers. The average gradient is an uncomfy 9.5 percent. "There will be like two guys at the finish," Kilun said. The climb is not long enough to open up huge time gaps among the favorites, but anyone who did not pack his climbing legs will find Sierra Road unpleasant.
Stage 5: A hilly transition stage
A rainy winter ended the Amgen Tour of California's plans to run stage 5 down the coast. Instead, the race turns inland, climbing from Seaside over Carmel Valley Road and running south down the Salinas Valley. Prevailing winds funnel down the Salinas Valley from north to south and should make for a fast stage. Jacques-Maynes estimated that the riders would finish in under 4.5 hours.
The stage departs Seaside and begins climbing immediately. The first California Travel and Tourism Commission KOM arrives at kilometer 16 at the summit of Laureles Grade. After the a quick descent into Carmel Valley, the riders head for the hills and begin the long drag up Carmel Valley Road.
"This is quintessential Central Coast riding," said Jacques-Maynes, who rides these roads frequently in training. It's nearly 30 kilometers to the top of the Carmel Valley Road climb. Here the race passes the boundaries of the Ventana Wilderness area and it feels like "the middle of nowhere," said Jacques-Maynes. The road rises gradually enough to fool the senses. "You wonder why you're hurting. It just keeps going up and up and up and up," said the Bissell rider.
From the summit of Carmel Valley road, it's a long descent to the Salinas Valley. This is John Steinbeck's farm country, and the race passes through the flatlands of Greenfield and King City before heading back into the hills. A 15 kilometer uncategorized climb sends the race up 378 meters from King City, and a bumpy ride to the finish follows. "It's more of a straight shot than the original course, and it'll be easier to chase," said Jacques-Maynes.
The final climb of the day on Interlake Road is a short stinger that climbs four kilometers at 7.6 percent. From Interlake Road, it's a bumpy 22-kilometer ride to the finish, and it will take a determined escapist to withstand the inevitable chase to the line. Despite the climbing, Jacques-Maynes called this one "a transition stage" between the mountain-top finish on Sierra Road and the time trial in Solvang the following day.
Stage 7: Mount Baldy finale
With the time trial behind them, the climbers will look forward to the second mountain-top finish of this year's Amgen Tour of California. Beginning in the college town of Claremont, stage 7 climbs into the San Gabriel mountain range, which forms the southern border of the Mojave desert. The stage finishes at altitude on Mount Baldy, and should provide a grand finale for the general classification battle.
At 121.9 kilometers, the stage is short, and the climbing begins almost immediately from the start. The first KOM arrives at the summit of Glendora Ridge Road after 20 kilometers of climbing. It's a long grind that gains around 980 meters from the start in Claremont. "If the top guys decide to race there, the rest are going to be suffering," said Kilun and he expects the racing to be "really aggressive".
From the summit at Glendora Ridge Road, the course begins a fast, technical descent, which Kilun described as "pretty hairy". The stage hits its lowest point around kilometer 70 in the city of Glendora. From there, it's all climbing to the finish, and Kilun expects that the time gaps will already have opened up by this point in the stage.
From Glendora, the riders climb 9.6 kilometers on Glendora Mountain Road. With an average gradient of around 5.5 percent, Glendora Mountain Road is not especially steep. "It's just on the edge of being a big ring climb," said Kilun. Then, 24 kilometers take the riders across the jagged ridge line of the San Gabriels.
The last chance saloon for the climbers, Mount Baldy summits at 1954 meters above sea level. The road follows a 6.5-kilometer switchbacking course from Mount Baldy Village to the finish. "It's not the steepest climb in the world, but after a long day of racing it's steep enough," said Kilun.
The average gradient is around 8.9 percent. "Any of the guys who are a couple minutes behind, maybe they had a bad time trial, they're going to go hard from the first climb," Kilun said. He expects a hard day of racing from the start.
With only one short climb on the menu for the final stage between Santa Clarita and Thousand Oaks, the climb to Mount Baldy should decide the overall winner of this year's Amgen Tour of California.