Vuelta Stages Nine and Ten

Noted mountain goat Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval) won the ninth stage of the Vuelta at the top of Estación de esquí Cerler. Rabobank’s Denis Menchov finished 15 seconds behind Piepoli, but that was enough to vault Menchov into the Gold leader’s jersey.

A combination of the climbs, the fatigue of the sprinters, and the impetus to train for the coming world championships all transformed the 9th and 10th mountain stages into a DNF (“Did Not Finish”) Fest. Among those who had abandoned were Arkaitz Durán (Saunier Duval), Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas), Bradley McGee (Française Des Jeux) and Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d’Epargne), all of whom abandoned during the 9th stage. Three stage winner Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Jussi Veikkanen (Française Des Jeux), Janez Brajkovic (Discovery Channel) and Paolo Tiralongo (Lampre) abandoned early during the tenth stage.

Near the foot of the last climb Jurgen Van Goolen (Discovery Channel) attacked the lead group of 12 to 15 riders who had about a 1’30” lead on the Peloton, and Ludovic Turpin (Ag2r) quickly jumped to take his wheel. With about 10 km to go the bulk of the chasing group sat up to wait for the Peloton. José Gomez Marchante (Saunier Duval) chose that moment to attack to close the gap to the two leaders.

The leaders hit the steep part of the climb about 1 km later. Sastre and Menchov remained in what was left of the chasing group, working hard with help from Christian Vande Velde (CSC) setting tempo. Cadel Evans, Piepoli and Vladimir Efimkin were near the front of this group too.

At 7 km Tricky Beltran (Liquigas) attacked and opened a good gap. Unlike Gomez Merchant, Beltran did catch the leaders. Beltran dropped Van Goolen. Turpin soon fell back too, leaving Beltran alone at the front.

When Piepoli decided it was time to catch Beltran, some of the group could not follow him. Menchov stayed on Pieopli’s wheel and Sastre stayed on Menchov’s. There were various attacks from within the group as they caught Beltran, who stayed with the main group after they caught him.

At 1km to go the lead was cut to Piepoli, Sartre, Menchov, Beltran, Evans, Sanchez and another Euskaltel-Euskadi rider. Piepoli lead the group toward the finish. With about 200 km left Menchov sprinted out of the group to win the stage. He was followed closely by Evans, Sanchez third and Beltran fourth, all with the same time.

Tour de France Prologue in London

If you haven’t yet seen the stage profile for the London prologue of this year’s Tour de France, it’s worth taking a peek:

From the Tour’s website, we have this verbal description of the route:

On Saturday 7th July 2007, starting on Whitehall, in front of Trafalgar Square, the riders will race past Downing Street towards Parliament Square on an 8 km course.

Turning at the Houses of Parliament, the route goes along Victoria Street, past Westminster Abbey and in front of Buckingham Palace.

After the Palace the riders will pass through the middle of Wellington Arch, before looping through London’s most famous park, Hyde Park.

Finally the riders will pass back around Hyde Park Corner and along Constitution Hill, before ending on The Mall with Buckingham Palace as a backdrop.

The route designers have cleverly structured the prologue to pass by several of London’s big tourist attractions, which are listed above. Will the Queen be watching from a Buckingham Palace window or balcony? One can only hope. But even though London is likely to be crowded beyond belief on July 7th, I think it’d be a great time to be in the city. Spend a few days there, take in the sights, and then watch some of the world’s best cyclists race around one of the world’s great cities.

If you’ll be in London for the Tour start – or for anything else, really – be sure to check out the London Travel Guide.

Want to ride with Bettini?

Want to ride alongside the guy in the rainbow jersey? Well, if you get yourself to Italy next month, you might be able to:

Ever dreamed of training with a UCI Road Race World Champion? For those around Bibbona, Italy this June, that dream could well become a reality with the announcement of Paolo Bettini’s ‘Bettini Day’.

“It will give you the unique opportunity to ride alongside Paolo Bettini with your family whilst taking in the delights of the Tuscan countryside and trying some of the Tuscan specialities that only Bibbona and this area offer,” declares the event’s promotional material.

The June 9-10 event will start with a training session on Saturday, which will be a proper training session around the roads of La California. Bettini Day will be on the Sunday with a noncompetitive bike ride, music and taste testing in Bibbona in the company of the reigning world champion.

Don’t delay, get your airline ticket today.

The Day The Music Died or The Death of Disco

Team Discovery Channel, that is. I never was a fan of disco music and was glad to see it go. But I will sorely miss this cycling team.

Team Discovery Channel (or “Disco” in the shorthand vernacular of many cycling fans) makes its swan song tomorrow when they appear in the Tour of Missouri. Disco will field an internationally renowned, talent laden team. Its principle riders will be reigning Tour de France winner Alberto Contador, reigning U.S. and Tour of California champion Levi Leipheimer (who finished third in this year’s Tour de France), former U.S. Champion and American racing icon George Hincapie, and the ever popular Ukrainian rider Yaroslav Popovych.

Those are but a few of the Discovery Team stars who were left without a home when their sponsor decided to withdraw from professional cycling and their owners abandoned the effort to find a replacement. What a sad commentary it is that Lance Armstrong and others will be DNF (”Did Not Finish”) when the world of pro tour cycling probably needed them most.

The fledgling cycling sport in America seemed just about to reach critical mass last year when the ravages of the performance enhancing drugs and vociferous doping scandals began to be leaked out at what almost had to be a controlled pace. U.S. race organizers were just beginning to spend substantial sums to sponsor and promote major events; and the public fan base was not far behind. Then the powers who want to protect the governing status quo decided to take aim at what truly might be the greatest athletic competition this world ever has known.

If Disco is dead, then I suppose I am one of its youngest orphan children. As an American who deems himself too old, fat and creaky to ride, my only exposure to the pro tour for years had been the Versus Channel’s (formerly the Outdoor Life Network) annual coverage of le Tour de France. Every day I would record the television broadcast while doing my best to follow the live tickers from my office at work. Neither my family nor my friends understood my fascination with the intricacies and the raw physical and mental demands of this sport. To this day few of them have learned to appreciate cycling. But I seem to grow more fascinated with each passing year.

Not too long ago I was told that races like the Tour are run almost year round and that they can be followed via the Internet. That was just about the end for me, and I jumped into fandom with both feet like a teenage boy.

My knowledge of and affection for the sport have only grown in the intervening months. I have become an avid fan of several riders and teams. But Team Discovery Channel and its predecessors (U.S. Postal and Seven-Eleven), together with riders Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong, are primarily responsible for my ever having learned that professional cycling existed. As such they always maintained a special place in the heart of this fan.

Only after having expanded my knowledge base through my recent experiences have I begun to appreciate the accomplishments of Team Discovery Channel, both as a competing unit and as the de facto ambassadors and promoters of cycling in my native U.S. Its demise is shameful.

Leipheimer and Contador still had not signed with new teams as of the date this was typed. Levi certainly will land with a good team, though he likely will have to suffer a cut in pay after having enjoyed his best year ever on the pro tour. Alberto on the other hand is being treated as damaged goods because of his alleged linkage to last year’s Operation Puerto. How can a man go from the depths of the despair associated with his aneurism, to the thrill of achieving the greatest accomplishment his chosen field offers, back down to the repose of rejection in such a short time? I do not know, but I promise to buy and read Contador’s book whenever he chooses to write it.

So tomorrow we will watch Team Discovery Channel, the organization that proved that it was bigger than Lance Armstrong, take the field for its final race. I had hoped to be there but family obligations detained me. If anyone who reads this does attend the Missouri tour, please shout to the Discovery riders that “Ashton from Alabama” is rooting for them. I wish I could find some other way to show them my support.

Adios, Team Discovery. Or as Pete Townshend once wrote , “Goodbye, sister disco!” Unlike that awful excuse of a music genre, I shall truly miss the cycling team.

“So bye, bye, Miss American Pie.”

It’s time for the World Championships!

The up-to-the minute start list is here.
The Elite Men’s Road Race profile is here. The Elite Men will race Sunday, covering the 19.1 kilometre circuit 14 times for a total of 267.4km.
The Elite Men’s Time Trial profile is here. The course length is 44.9km.

First held in 1927, the World Championship Road Race is the most prestigious one-day race on the calendar. The World Championships are held in a different location every year. The race is, on average, 165 miles (265 km) in length. Some courses are brutally steep and are designed to provide for a showcase for climbers while flatter courses become an all-out speed contest for sprinters.
Riders contest the race in national jerseys, not their regular team-sponsored jerseys. This is the only race of the year where this occurs. Because the teams are organized by country solely for this race, strange alliances can arise during the race.
One such example might be a trade-team that has riders from three or four different countries. Although these riders may appear to be riding for their fellow countrymen, the chance for one of the trade-team team-mates to win may provide incentive for the others to work for him even though they are not from the same country.

Winning the World Championship Road Race provides a highlight to many careers and those who have won multiple times are considered especially talented. The winner of the race each year wears the “rainbow jersey” for a entire year until the next World Championships.

The “rainbow jersey” is a white jersey with five horizontal colored (blue, red, black, yellow, green) bands around the chest and arms signifying the colors of the rainbow. It is the second most prestigious jersey in cycling, behind the yellow jersey of the Tour de France.

Word of the day: micro-fracture

Wouldn’t it be considered a cracked bone? There is too much English in today’s world!

Bennati’s season finished
Italian Daniele Bennati put a premature end to his 2007 season due to a micro-fracture in his right wrist, his Lampre-Fondital team has announced.

Doctors said the injury was probably caused in a crash early in the Vuelta a España and said he should immobilize his fingers for at least 20 days to give the bones time to heal.

Bennati, 27, was one of the top favorites for Sunday’s Paris-Tours, where he finished second in 2005. The Tuscan is coming off his most successful season, winning two stages at the Tour de France and three stages at the Vuelta a España, including the final stage in both grand tours.

Latest events in the world of Pro Cycling…

It’s sad to see this season come to a close, but The Tour of Lombardy, the last ProTour race of the year, will be held this Saturday. Paolo Bettini will go for his 3rd straight win in this event, where last year he won in the Rainbow Jersey.

The course map is here.
The profile is here.

First held in 1905, The Tour of Lombardy is the last major classic of the year and is hence dubbed “The Race of the Falling Leaves”. The course is, on average, 160 miles (260 km) in length. The race runs through the Lombardy region in northern Italy and includes spectacular scenery through locations such as Lake Como. The course is fairly selective since it includes some significant hills that usually reduce the race field to a small group.

Also, Alexandr Kolobnev of Team CSC conquered the first-ever running of the Monte Paschi Eroica last Tuesday, a 180-kilometre race composed of 7 sectors of hilly white gravel roads around Siena, Italy. The 26 year-old Russian, silver medallist at the World Championships nine days prior, completed the last forty kilometres solo. Second was taken by his Swedish CSC team-mate, Marcus Ljungqvist, and third by Ukrainian Mikhaylo Khalilov (Ceramica Flaminia). The first running of the Monte Paschi Eroica revealed that Italy has a race to match some of the great pavé Classics of the north. Andrea Tafi, the only Italian to win both Northern Classics Paris-Roubaix and Ronde van Vlaanderen, was in Siena to watch the race unfold, and was happy with what the organizers had created.

“Starting today Italy has its own Roubaix,” said the retired cyclist to La Gazzetta dello Sport. “It was a spectacular show. The Eroica has become a Classic. Let’s mark a date, put it at the beginning of March, like our Het Volk, leading to the [Northern] Classics.” Perhaps if RCS Sport moved the race to an early March date it would draw more attention as preparation for the Northern Classics, and provide an option for those riders who don’t want to travel to Belgium so early in the spring. Filippo Pozzato, this year’s winner of Het Volk, missed out on the winning move in Eroica, but he was impressed with what he saw. In total, 113 riders started the epical journey (Fränk and Andy Schleck did not take part as planned due to a missed flight from Luxembourg), and 42 made it to the historic Piazza del Campo.

Welcome Back Pro Tour Cycling With The Tour Down Under

The Down Under’s first stage will kick off on Tuesday, January 22nd, and the Tour Down Under Classic on Sunday, January 20th. A full field will be competing, including local favorites CSC’s Stuart O’Grady and Robby McEwen of the Lotto team. CheChu (Jose Luis Rubiera) will make his Team Astana debut. This also will be my first chance to see Team High Road.

After a full winter of almost nothing but stories about doping and with Bama Basketball looking like it’s heading toward the tank, I can hardly wait to watch some live road racing again. So break out your bike if the weather is right in your area, peddal those cobwebs off the rusty muscles and joints, grab a mug of hot cider or a cup of coffee, and let’s get ready to enjoy The Tour Down Under together.

I can hardly wait!

PezCycling Does Portland

I’m not about to get on a bike anytime soon, as anyone who knows me is well aware… And yet PezCycling writer Dave Aldersebaes’ recent article on riding in Portland made me at least think I live in a pretty cool part of the world. It’s certainly one of the reasons my cyclist husband loves it here, and after driving into the Middle of Nowhere, Oregon yesterday to rescue him after a mechanical failure left him stranded (thank goodness for cell phones), I’m fully willing to admit that I get why he loves to ride. All I wanted to do en route to get him was stop and enjoy the scenery with my camera. It’s beautiful country, winding through fields of vines, trees, grains and berries, and I feel very lucky to live here. Even if I don’t see it from the saddle of a bike.

Thanks for the reminder, Dave!