After over 2 years of being a full time husband, father and holding a job, I will attempt to restart this blog. Don't worry, I am always up to date on the world of cycling even if I'm not writing about it. So stay tuned!
British cyclist Bradley Wiggins has been in the news a lot lately. Rumors started swirling shortly after this year's Tour de France that the new British cycling team, Team Sky, wanted to sign the surprising stand out. The problem was Wiggins, who rode to an impressive and unimaginable 4th place at the 2009 Tour, still had one more year on his contract with his current team, Garmin-Slipstream (soon to be named Garmin-Transitions). Wiggins was coy through most of the storm until recently. On December 10th, what was possibly the worse kept secret in professional cycling was revealed. Wiggins actually wanted to break his contract and sign with Team Sky. A transfer was finally negotiated between the two teams and now it's official. The British Tour contender will ride the 2010 season with the newly formed Team Sky, giving the team a legitimate contender for the July race. But is he really a contender? Will he be able to perform now that the world will be watching? He's not a dark horse anymore. We've seen riders surprise us one year at the Tour and then fall by the wayside the following years, caving to pressure or whatever else comes in the way.
29 year old Wiggins has always been known as a track star. He is proud owner of 4 medals from the 2004 Athens Olympics and 2 gold medals from the recent Beijing Olympics. Prior to his breakthrough at this year's Tour de France, his major wins have primarily been short time trials or prologues. Now that he's placed 4th, behind Contador, Andy Schleck and Armstrong, everyone expects Wiggins to continue to prove that he's transitioned into being a stage race contender and climber. But I'm not convinced.
Chris Horner just can't get a break! One of the best domestic racers, just after and before he went to race in Europe, has been having a horrible season thanks to a lot of bad luck. Poised to really make his mark in the pro European peloton this year, Chris has been plagued with injury after injury that seem to occur just when his form was at the top of the charts.
Originally from Bend, Oregon, Chris began his career way back in 1995. After a very successful domestic stint, Chris moved across the pond to join the French team, Française des Jeux. Not able to acclimate himself to being away from home or the European scene, Chris returned to American soil and began to dominate the US circuit. He won almost every major race there is to win in America, including duking it out with Lance Armstrong at the 2004 Tour de Georgia and a solid top ten finish at the UCI World Road Race Championships that year. The top Pro teams in Europe noticed again and he was offered a contract to join the Spanish team, Saunier Duval - Prodir. This was Chris' second chance at racing with the big boys, Chris was confident that this time would be a success.
So what's the facination with coffee for the millions of cyclists out there? You hear talk about it in the pro peloton, on Sunday group rides and at the bike shops. Why are coffee and cycling so intertwined? Well, I thought I'd find out.
Could it be the caffeine? Some of us drink coffee for the taste without regard to its caffeine content while others drink it especially for the high they may get from the stimulant. This could make sense if you drink coffee during the last part of your ride but it wouldn't make any sense if you drink it before your ride like most people do. So I'm ruling out coffee being used as a jolt of energy.
Coffee even sponsors a cycling team! Credit: Jittery Joe's Cycling
This year's Tour de France just ended with Alberto Contador (Astana) winning his 2nd yellow jersey by a comfortable margin. It was a drama filled 3 weeks, more for the psychological battles between Contador and teammate Armstrong than for the various exploits on the bike. As expected, Contador won by showing he is the world's best climber and, at least at the Tour, the best time trailist. He easily distanced himself from the competition and cemented his role as the world's best stage racer. But the path to Paris was filled with controversy, confrontational rhetoric and unknown team loyalties. Like it or not, Lance Armstrong is still (and probably will continue to be) the biggest name in cycling. A name that draws money as well as crowds. It's often a love hate relationship between Armstrong and the sport of cycling but a relationship that, for now, both need. Here's my impression of this year's Tour de France, one that promises to go down in history more for Lance Armstrong's third place than Alberto Contador's first place.
1. Team Astana
It's hard to argue that this is perhaps the greatest team ever assembled on paper for a stage race. Astana included 2 past Tour winner's and 2 past podium finishers. It included some of the best domestiques in the sport, one's that can lead a team themselves if they were not on Astana. But once you get past the list of members, what do you get? You immediately see a lot of conflicts of interest. You see 3 or 4 very competitive riders that are winners in their own right. You have a 7-time Tour winner that believes he can win every time he sets his wheels in France. And you have what people believe is the best stage racer of this generation who has been the hot favorite for this win all along. In a sport that relies heavily on team support, just who would the team look after? Would it be Lance, Alberto, Levi or Andreas? As we saw, the conflict was real, the tension was high and at end, the issue was settled on the bike and not in the press room. As Lance said himself, the strongest rider will be the team leader.
The 2009 Tour de France is about 2 weeks old and I have one word in my mind - action! It has been both fast action and then lack of action. The first week was full of action, second week, not-so-much. In fact, I can't remember the last Tour having such an exciting and unpredictable first week. But barely a week later, everyone's wondering where the action is. Sure, we had one decent day in the Pyrenees thanks to Alberto Contador (Astana) attacking and the subsequent tension in the team between him and Lance Armstrong. But that was it. Please say thanks to the Tour organizers for making the last climbs of the final 2 days in the Pyrenees so far away from the finish that Versus even had to have their "half hour commercial free" segment come almost an hour before the actual finish. Needless to say, those 30 minutes of commercial free coverage didn't produce a single worthy hint of action that I would have rather watched commercials selling male enhancements!
So now the Tour heads into the 3rd and final week and have the Alps looming. This is where the organizers wanted all of the action and this is where we are going to get it. At least I hope. One thing's for sure, there will at least be fireworks between Armstrong and Contador but I am not convinced the other challengers will even come out and have a worthy fight. Astana's tactics might change a little because of the crash and withdrawal of Levi Leipheimer, but I think this will affect Lance more than Alberto as he was one of the trusted riders in Armstrong's circle. Carlos Sastre (Cervelo Test Team) has pretty much already conceded that he will not defend this title thanks to Astana and Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) has remarked that his job is extremely difficult thanks to a poor team time trial. The only people that look ready to fight is Team Saxo Bank. Andy Schleck has already put in a few accelerations while in the Pyrenees to test the legs of his rivals and look poised to strike again. Andy and his older brother Frank are some talent. They are very exciting to watch.
Tomorrow is the 2nd uphill finish for the Tour at Verbier. Action is sure to return, if for no other reason but because it is an uphill finish. Will it just be a battle between the 2 Astana riders or will the Schlecks provide some drama? Evans will surely try something but will it be enough to gain back 3 minutes?
In the mean time, Lance or Alberto? Vote at the top right of the page.
Because of the current state of the economy, the Governor of Missouri is threatening to revoke the money already slotted for this year's Tour of Missouri. As a cycling fan, I think the $1.5 million committment to the sport is a great investment for the state. It not only gives the state national and, more importantly, international notoriety related to tourism but it helps promote a healthy lifestyle that should help the state spend less on health care costs.
Let's do our part as fans of the sport and lobby the Governor to spare this great race. Please click here to read a statement by the state's Lt. Governor (a supporter of the race) and here to directly email the Governor's office.
Update: Just found out the race is a go! Read an article here.
The 2009 Tour is only 7 days old but the speculation of leadership at Team Astana continues to grow. The war started with the very first Stage 1 time trial. Alberto Contador got the better of the other Astana 4 (Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Klöden) and seemed ready to assert his leadership. But the drama took a sharp turn during what was to a be a routine flat stage when a select few riders that included Lance Armstrong rode away from the rest of the peloton thanks to the echelons formed as a result of the cross winds. On stage 3, Armstrong gained 40 seconds over his rivals including Contador and started to stake his claim as leader of the team.
Armstrong's virtual leadership continued in the following day's Stage 4 team time trial. Team Astana dominated the race and as a result put 5 of its riders in the top 10 of the general classification. Armstrong seemed to have put the most effort by taking longer and stronger pulls compared to Contador and seemed to make another statement as to who's the strongest on the team. The drama then shifted to today's Stage 7 ride into the Pyrenees and the summit of the ski station of Andorre-Arcalis.
So it's been almost 4 months since my last post. Four months!? Well...There's good reason for it. No, I haven't lost my love for cycling. In fact, I have gained even more love. On May 14th, my wife and I welcomed a new baby girl into this world. Her name is Siena, loosely named after the beautiful Tuscan hill town that ends the one day race, Monte Paschi Eroica. My heart just had to make room for the extra love and as those who have had children will know, your whole life routine changes. But today is Father's Day and we are celebrating my first as a father to Siena!
Soon after the Tour of California ended, it was time to get ready for the baby and for helping my wife around the house as she was getting increasingly immobile. Then once Siena came, the world stopped (though I was catching Universal Sports' coverage of the Giro thanks to DVR). Now that we've started to come into more of a routine, I'll be back at it just in time for the Tour!
Can you feel the excitement already? This will be one of the most watched Tours thanks to you-know-who and all of the expected infighting between his Astana teammates will make for a Tour just as dramatic as LeMond's 1986 win over Hinault.
...On to July 4th when the Tour starts in Monaco.
The 4th Amgen Tour of California ended last Sunday with a very familiar result. Levi Leipheimer (Astana) took his 3rd title in a row and yet another record setting crowd turned out for an even bigger and better race. Over 2 million people lined the roads from Northern to Southern California to greet the peloton as it traversed through vineyards, mountain passes and 6 lane highways that are more native to Southern California than anywhere else in the world.
Despite the bad weather for 3 of the first 4 days, California once again showed the cycling world that it can indeed put on a great show! Sure, there was the "Lance factor" and while no one can deny that, the race has grown enough throughout the last 3 years that it has fans of its own regardless of who decides to race. But it is the cyclists that make the race what it is and this year's field was the best yet! We had an opportunity to see what a field may look like at both the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France. Whether for training or for winning, no one had a back seat ride in the peloton. If you wanted to finish the stage, you better be at your best.
We saw an aggressive Rock Racing made up of ex-Tour de France caliber riders animating the race from the very first stage. Regardless of what you thought of Francesco Mancebo before, you would have to give him credit for that gutsy solo break on Stage 1 to Santa Rosa. He courageously took the leader's yellow jersey from a sick Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), who had to pull out mid-stage after winning a stunning Prologue the day before.
Once the dust settled at the Tour Down Under in Australia and the Tour of Qatar and the sprinters had their fix of glory on those mostly flat races, it's time for the big boys to come out and play. This Saturday, February 14th, the 4th Amgen Tour of California gets under way in the state's capital of Sacramento. If you thought last year's field was top notch, that field has nothing on the 2009 list of starters. Not since the LeMond and Hinault days of the Coors Classic or the Tour de Trump/duPont races of the early 90s has a more distinguished field of cyclists touched down on North America. If you are a cycling fan and are anywhere close to California, this race is a must see in person. And if you do go, I am jealous! The last race I saw in person was the 2005 Tour de Georgia, Lance's last race on home soil, so it would have been nice to head out to Cali for this one. But like most of you, I will be glued to the web and Versus.
This year's race will wind its way down to the southern-most point ever traversed by the Tour. Between Sacramento and Escondido, there's plenty of climbing, sprinting and the obligatory time trial to help settle the score. But if 8 days of racing aren't enough, the last stage of the Tour, stage 8, will be anything but a parade lap. In order to facilitate more drama in deciding the overall winner, the organizers have added the biggest mountain ever crossed by the Tour of California peloton. Palomar mountain sits right smack in the middle of stage 8 and climbs to over 5,000 feet in elevation, easily the highest point ever reached by the race. If the leader hasn't been settled by the individual time trial, this will truly be an epic. And as of today, snow still sits at the top. Where's Andy Hampsten?
The new 2009 season is upon us and already we have massive amounts of action and speculation for what's to come for the rest of this season. Of course, the majority of the news comes from The Boss himself, Lance Armstrong (Astana) and his comeback but there are plenty of other news makers to talk about as well.
As VeloNews so well put it, this is the year of the comeback. Besides Armstrong, we have none other than the fine Mennonite himself, Floyd Landis (Team OUCH) as well as Mr. "I did it, but I didn't do it" ala "I smoked but didn't inhale", Ivan Basso (Liquigas). While Armstrong and Basso have already started their season, Landis will debut at the upcoming Amgen Tour of California. There, he will face defending champion Levi Leipheimer (Astana), his teammate Armstrong and a slew of other top contenders.
Landis returns after serving a 2 year ban for performance enhancing drugs during the 2006 Tour de France. While there can and will still be debates on whether he's really guilty, cycling must move forward. Floyd has paid his dues (if he was guilty) and is ready and motivated to launch a successful return. He will ride for Team OUCH, a team backed by his good friend and doctor, Brent Kay as well as the makers of Landis' artificial hip. Team OUCH essentially took over for the former HealthNet team and includes other top domestic performers such as Rory Sutherland, Tim Johnson, Patrick McCarthy and Karl Menzies. Unlike Armstrong and Basso, Landis will ride a non-European schedule clearly still showing signs of distrust towards the cycling governing bodies across the pond.
Boy! What a year this has been for the pro peloton! One thing is for sure, all of the excitement that was generated in 2008 will be carried through into 2009 and more so. Is anyone else excited about next year!!?? The 2009 season could not be packed with more drama and anticipation. We have the return of cycling superstar Lance Armstrong (Team Astana) as well as his former rival, Italian Ivan Basso (Team Liquigas) as well as the return of the entire Astana team into ASO races (knock on wood) including the Tour de France. Spain's Alberto Contador will finally get a chance to back up his 2007 yellow jersey, or will he? The return of Armstrong does complicate things which makes it all the better for us fans. I'm not complaining.
And what about the Giro? Will the centennial edition of this race be THE race of the year? Race director Angelo Zomegnan's quest to globalize the Giro and compete against the Tour de France's popularity will finally come to fruition thanks to an all-star cast of cyclists. All of the big names, save for Alberto Contador, will ride the Giro, making it the most greatly anticipated Grand Tour of the season.
Besides the two obvious races, Le Tour and the Giro, to keep tabs on, the other big event I can't wait for is the 2009 Paris Roubaix. Will big George Hincapie (Team Columbia) finally win his elusive cobblestone trophy? We in the states are always on pins and needles every year we watch this race and hope that all of the stars do align for the South Carolinian. He's definitely not getting any younger and his current crop of rivals are just as strong, if not stronger.
Like most cycling fans, your day is not complete until you have had your daily dose of what's what and who's who in the world of cycling. In my case, it deals mostly with the world of professional cycling. Therefore, I always make sure I am caught up with the latest news and rumors floating across the pond or Stateside as opposed to catching up on the latest writings about the sport in general (like other blog posts). Though, I do do that quite often as well. Since this is the off season, not too much news gets generated and I don't want to bore you with another Lance Armstrong post, I will give you the lowdown on how I receive my daily dose of cycling news.
This process is actually quite simplistic. I have a set of bookmarks in my web browser (Firefox) under the folder labeled "cycling". Within that folder lists my top websites in alphabetical order. My daily dose revolves around clicking on most of these sites multiple times throughout the day. The list is as follows:
Amgen Tour of California, Astana Cycling Team, Bike Radar, Cycle To, Cyclingnews.com, Cycling TV, Daily Peloton, Eurosport, Graham Watson, High Road Sports, LanceArmstrong.com, On Tour With Lance, PezCycling News, Podium Cafe, Team CSC, and Velonews.
Recently, one of my very close friends embarked on a crusade to help a very worthy cause. About 138,530 people in the United States will find out they have leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma this year and a child or adult is expected to lose their fight against these diseases every ten minutes. Lamar Hughes has chosen to be proactive in his endeavor to help the The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society fight for a cure for these diseases while bettering himself in a search for a healthier lifestyle.
Lamar has joined more than 380,000 former volunteers of Team in Training to help raise awareness and money for research in exchange for training and resources for competing in an endurance event. On May 25, 2009, Lamar will compete in his very first triathlon. But this is not just any triathlon, it is an Olympic distance event that includes a 0.9 mile swim, a 24 mile bike ride and a 6 mile run. To make matters even more daunting, Lamar is 6'3" and 245 lbs of limited aerobic ability. Of course, he's going to kill me for saying that but this fact makes his effort all the more challenging and would be a personal triumph once completed.
Lamar's fundraising goal is to reach $4500 in donations. The concept is pretty simple. His friends and family agree to donate towards a positive cause while he endures months of hard work that culminates into a few hours of pain and suffering. But when the pain ends and the suffering subsides, he will have accomplished two goals. He would be comforted to know that he took a hands-on approach in helping to find a cure for these blood cancers while obtaining a healthier lifestyle for himself and his family.
I have to say that as a friend I am very proud of Lamar. If anyone can set a goal and accomplish it, it would be him. To be able to have the discipline needed to help not only yourself, but hundreds of thousands of strangers who are counting on you is a lot of pressure. But with the help of you and I, Lamar has nothing to worry about.
Would you help Lamar and I raise cancer awareness and donate to a good cause? Please follow this link to learn more about Lamar Hughes and his goals, updates on his training as well as to contribute your tax-deductible donation to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society today.
Thanks for reading.
To help, please follow the link below:
Again, I apologize for the lack of posts as work has been super busy. But in the meantime, enjoy this clip I found today. It will give you an idea of how exciting it is to ride your bike in the biggest city in America. There's a brief intro and then the fun begins. Enjoy!
A lot has made the news since my last post. I apologize for the infrequency of these stories as I have been busy with other things. The latest news in the pro peloton is all not good news. Actually, that depends on your own outlook with the sport. There were further confirmations of EPO CERA use, which is a big negative, but if you consider the fight with doping, it's good news...the cheats are being caught and punished.
Now, unlike ever before, the testing and research capabilities involved with potential performance enhancing drugs have followed pace, or even surpassed, that of the dopers. We hope this creates a deterrent that will make some cyclists think twice before they consider using these substances.
It's unfortunate that Team Gerolsteiner has to suffer the bad press involving their 2 riders' positives. Already leaving the sport at the end of this year, the last thing Hans Michael Holzer needed was bad press related to this. German Stefan Schumacher's positive was no big surprise to anyone but nonetheless sad. We desperately wanted to believe Schumacher just stepped up his game and had the form of his life to win both Tour de France time trials. Sure, it was a huge shock to everyone when he easily beat Fabian Cancellara and other known time trial specialists but we all gave him the benefit of the doubt. We were mistaken. Our trust was abused.
Lance Armstrong formally announced his plans for returning to the pro peloton today. In a news conference given while he was attending the Clinton Global Initiative, Armstrong filled in some of the blanks that were left after he shocked the world in announcing his comeback on September 9th.
Lance confirmed that he will ride with the Astana team of his former director and friend Johan Bruyneel and that his 2009 campaign will begin in the southern hemisphere at the Tour Down Under. The only other confirmation of a race he will ride is the Tour de France. Lance mentioned nothing about the Tour of California nor the Tour de Georgia. Armstrong did mention that his number one goal is to help the cancer community and that mission will probably take him to many places he may not have raced in the past. Lance left open a question about riding the Giro, saying that it would be interesting to race there because it will be the 100th anniversary of the Giro, a race he's never ridden, and that it will give him an opportunity to speak with Prime Minister Berlusconi about cancer awareness in Italy.
Lance did address the issue about Alberto Contador. He acknowledged reading about Contador's recent remarks, saying it would be difficult having Armstrong on the same team, by answering he would like to see Contador stay but that if he decided to leave, it is his right. The Armstrong/Contador issue is the next big drama to come out of this and there is surely more gossip to be produced. Besides Contador, Levi Leipheimer is in a tough situation too. Before Armstrong's return, Leipheimer was second fiddle. Now he will be third fiddle. Will Levi look for a new team now too?
Armstrong did a good job answering some tough questions about the foundation, his comeback and the formation of an under-23 "Livestrong" team to be lead by Axel Merkx (of which the first big signing is young Taylor Phinney). If anyone does question his ability to return to the top of the sport while campaigning for cancer awareness, please listen to what he has to say. He gives a very compelling reason to follow the 2009 season.
Click here for the entire news conference. It's about 40 minutes long so grab a cold one.
No doubt you know by now that the 2008 Vuelta a España ended on Sunday with it's native son, Alberto Contador (Astana), becoming only the 5th rider to win all three grand Tours. Contador came into this race as the heavy favorite, carrying all of the baggage that comes with being the marked man. Having sat out this year's Tour de France, he was fresh, feisty and ready to stamp his authority on the rest of the peloton. His team came packed with their big guns, ready to help their young team captain make even more history. The team included 2 other previous Tour de France podium finishers in German Andreas Klöden and American Levi Leipheimer. By far, they were the strongest team.
But Contador's win did not come easy. He narrowly beat his own teammate, Leipheimer, by less than one minute. It was thanks to the time bonuses (and probably some team tactics) that shifted the balance of power towards the Spaniard. If the Vuelta followed the route of this year's Tour de France and not have given out the bonuses, Contador and Leipheimer would have been tied. (Since they time to the decimal, Contador had a slight edge and would have won anyways.)
Levi Leipheimer is currently the top American cyclist in the pro peloton. He's been that way ever since Lance Armstrong retired in 2005. Sure, there's been Floyd Landis for a quick moment, but that's another story. Throughout Levi's career, he's always shown the potential to do great things. His first real breakout party came at the Vuelta (where he is currently racing right now) in 2001 when he placed 3rd while riding for the United States Postal Service team of Armstrong. From then on, Levi switched teams, hoping to challenge for bigger and better races such as the Tour de France.
First he was with Rabobank, where he made the top 10 a few times and then to Gerolsteiner where he almost won a mountain stage in 2006. At the end of the 2006 season, Levi decided to return to Johan Bruyneel and race for the Discovery Channel team. This seemed to be the perfect fit. Discovery Channel just lost the retiring Armstrong and was looking for a new leader to replace him and it ended up being a bonus that it was another American. For Levi, this was a dream scenario. He now has the means and the support needed to win the Tour de France. All seemed good leading into the 2007 season.