Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Chris Horner finishes second in Tirreno-Adriatico stage race

Vincenzo Nibali of Italy won the Tirreno-Adriatico cycling race Tuesday, overtaking 40-year-old Chris Horner, of Bend, in the closing individual time trial. This was Horner’s first race since his season-ending crash during last year’s Tour de France.

Nibali, the 2010 Spanish Vuelta champion, is the third Italian in four years to win this race. He was six seconds behind Horner and one second behind Roman Kreuziger of the Czech Republic at the start of the seventh stage.

Nibali was ninth fastest in 5.8-mile time trial. The Liquigas rider had an overall time of 29 hours, 38 minutes, 8 seconds to beat Horner by 14 seconds.

“It was a great performance,” Nibali said. “A great time trial, even if there was a strong opposing wind, which kept moving my front wheel. I was even forced to touch the brakes.”

Horner said he had “no mixed feelings” about the outcome and called it a “fantastic week.”

“The team did a great team time trial to set me up to take the jersey, and I defended it for a few days. Tactically, I think we did a brilliant race. This is not a course that is ideal for me, but to stay on the podium is good for me,” he said.

“After what happened in the Tour last year and to be out of racing for so long, for me there was always a little bit of doubt how I would feel to come back. I held the jersey for three days in my first race in eight months. I’m coming out of this very satisfied.”

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Difficult to ignore the presence of Kelly Slater in the 2012 ASP World Title series

One of the biggest attractions in the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) World Title series is Kelly Slater. The iconic American surfer has been dominating the waves for nearly two decades now, collecting 11 ASP World Title in the process along with a large number of victories. There is hardly any surfer who claims to be as good or as successful as the Florida-based surfer, putting him in a class of his own and a man to beat at every competition.

After winning the World Championship Title in 2011, Slater remained mum about his plans regarding the 2012 ASP World Tour. However, he did confirm his plans on competing at Snapper Rocks where the first stop of the elite tour, Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast, in Queensland, Australia. This was enough to get the surfing fans over-excited about the season opener.

Arriving at the renowned Australian surf break, Slater found himself pitted against America’s Kolohe Andino and Australia’s Garrett Parkes in the first round of the competition. Both his rivals were quite young and equally inexperienced, but to undermine their talent was something that just did not sound fair considering their achievements in the recent years. Andino in particular was being considered as one of the best surfer to emerge from California in nearly two decades.

Living up to his repute, Slater took less than six minutes to post a massive score on the score-board and therefore made Andino and Parkes succumb to him, sending the two young guns into the relegation round. The three-to-four foot waves on offer at the primary event site seemed to be responding to him rather than him adjust his style to adapt to them.

There was hardly anyone who expected anything less than an ideal start by Slater and the American surfer surely did justice to the expectations and hype that surrounded him.

Heading into the third round, the legendary surfer came face-to-face with the Hawaiian surfer Fredrick Patacchia. His latest opponent was without any doubt in a solid form, something that was made evident by his performance in the first round where he managed to get the better of Australia’s Taj Burrow, creating the very first upset of the competition.

However, the Hawaiian was unable to stand his ground as a raging Slater took him down in the man-on-man heat through a display of exceptional skills and genuine class. The Florida-based surfer may not be invincible, but there are very few surfers who manage to hold him off. Much to the dismay of Patacchia, he was unable to tame Slater during the heat and consequently ended up conceding an easy win to his rival.

Slater continued to dominate the waves during the fourth round of the competition, this time adding French Polynesia’s Michel Bourez and Brazil’s Heitor Alves to his list of victims before making his way into the Quarter-finals.

Squaring off with Slater in the Quarter-finals was Australia’s Josh Kerr. The American surfer had gotten the better of the Australian during their four encounters in the 2011 ASP World Tour. However, Kerr did allow the stats from last year intimidate him and instead decided to take the world’s best surfer head on. The positive attitude allowed him to defy all odds and overcome Slater to clinch top honours, bringing the domination of Slater in the 2012 ASP World Tour’s opening event to an end.

Slater was therefore forced to settle for an equal third-place finish after the conclusion of Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast.

The 40-year-old ASP World Champion seemed to be planning on deciding about competing in the full 2012 ASP World tour season after Snapper Rocks. Reaching the Quarters-finals was nothing short of an impressive run, though it was difficult to tell if it was enough to convince Slater to return for the second stop of the 2012 ASP World Tour, Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, which is scheduled to kick-off from April 3.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Mario Cipollini wants to ride Giro d'Italia as lead-out man

Mario Cipollini has claimed that he wishes to make a comeback to professional cycling at 45 years of age and ride the Giro d’Italia as lead-out man for young sprint talent Andrea Guardini.

The former world champion first retired in May 2005, before making a brief comeback in the colours of Rock Racing at the 2008 Tour of California. In spite of his advanced years, Cipollini told Gazzetta dello Sport that he wishes to return with the Farnese Vini-Selle Italia team, which rides his MCipollini frames.

“I want to return to racing to come to the Giro and lead out the sprints for Guardini,” said Cipollini, who will turn 45 on March 22. “I feel good, and what is a good sign is that I feel an extreme desire to work hard.”

Seven years on from his original retirement, Cipollini admitted that he is heavier now than in his heyday but insisted that he was still capable of performing at the highest level.

“I weigh 90kg, 8 more than when I was in top condition, but it’s not excess fat, just muscle, especially in my arms and trunk. My legs are perfect. I have some little pains in my knee and back, but my motor is good, and capable of standing up to this gamble.”

Cipollini also grandly explained that he would make himself available for scientific research, “to understand what changes there are in a high-level athlete with the passing of years.” The Tuscan maintains that improved standards of living mean that athletic careers can now extend longer than ever before: “I’m convinced that even someone of 45 years of age isn’t to be dismissed as an athlete.”

Cipollini is thus determined to ride the Giro in the service of Guardini, who was born eleven days after his first stage victory in the race in 1989. “Guardini has talent and races on my bikes. It would really be a beautiful challenge to be one of his domestiques at the Giro, and if I pulled the sprint for him against Cavendish, how many would he win?”

That desire to ride the Giro may well find an insurmountable obstacle in UCI anti-doping regulation, however. Any retired rider who wishes to return to competition must notify the UCI six months in advance and spend at least four months on the anti-doping register before he can compete at international level, as per article 84 of the UCI anti-doping code.

The rule was controversially waived in 2009 to allow Lance Armstrong ride the Tour Down Under on his comeback from retirement. That same year, Michele Bartoli spent six months complying with the whereabouts system before ultimately deciding not to make a comeback with the ISD squad, incidentally the same outfit with which Cipollini wishes to return.

“I want to be as transparent as water and I’m open to extra tests,” Cipollini said. “Ivan Basso laid himself bare and has become an example of credibility. I will ask advice from him about putting science and technology at my disposal.”

Cipollini bristled at the idea that any return to top-level cycling was motivated by financial gain rather than more Corinthian ideals. “[Michael] Schumacher has money, right? And a family? So who made him come back and risk his neck? Armstrong has come back into the fray in triathlons. There are conscious and unconscious factors. Above all, an athlete lives on emotions that are hard to leave behind.”