Category: "Pro Peloton"

Brad Wiggins: One Hit Wonder or Legit Contender?

by Jack  

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.

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Chris Horner Just Can't Get a Break!

by Jack  

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.

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Why do cycling and coffee go together?

by Jack  

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

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2009 Tour de France - Final Thoughts

by Jack  

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.

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2009 Tour de France - Latest Thoughts II

by Jack  

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.

A full moon at the tour just before the Alps. Credit: JOEL SAGET/AFP

Help Save The Tour of Missouri!

by Jack  

Link: http://www.tourofmissouri.com/save-the-tour-of-missouri.html

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.

2009 Tour de France - Latest Thoughts

by Jack  

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.

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T of C Review and More!

by Jack  

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.

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Amgen Tour of California '09 Preview

by Jack  

Link: http://www.amgentourofcalifornia.com

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?

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2009 - Off to a Rocket Start!

by Jack  

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.

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63rd Vuelta: Wrap Up

by Jack  

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.)

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Poor Levi Leipheimer

by Jack  

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.

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63rd Vuelta: Week 2

by Jack  

Week 2 of the Vuelta ended the very same way as the first week. Italian Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) won the stage before the rest day while the GC favorites held out for a huge showdown on Saturday. Too bad none of this week's stages or results were the biggest news. Lance Armstrong's recent announcement that he will come out of retirement easily overshadowed anything the Vuelta could have produced. But as this week ends, the attention will return to the mountain goats as they tackle the final stretch of the last 3 week race of the 2008 season.

Stage 7 was the first big mountain stage of the the Tour. I wish I could comment on it but the entire broadcast was rained out. CyclingTV's coverage (and others as well since it was a problem with the feed) consisted of a recap of the early part of the stage and the final 1km run into the finish line. From what I've read, the stage was dominated by a day long break of which the winner, Alessandro Ballan (Lampre), broke away from to win the stage. The classics rider showed he can climb the big mountains as well. Behind him, the GC contenders revved it up in the final kilometer. Big favorite, Alberto Contador (Astana) attacked his challengers but was only able to gain 5 seconds for his hard work. Ballan ended up taking over the gold jersey as the new leader of the Tour.

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Yes! Armstrong Returns!

by Jack  

Just as everyone has speculated in the last few days, Lance Armstrong confirmed today that he WILL return to professional cycling for the 2009 season. In the much talked about Vanity Fair article, Armstrong sites cancer awareness as one of his main reasons for returning. Of course, there's also that "itch" that is factored into the decision as well.

This is decidedly good news for the world of cycling. A world that has been reeling from a series of doping scandals and a general drop in attention since his retirement. It is extremely important for American cycling as well. He has done more for this sport than any other cyclist and his name will no doubt bring even more attention in 2009. This means more fans, a rise in sponsorship money and hopefully a resurgence for the Tour de Georgia. Once the biggest race in the States, it has now been threatened by the lack of funds and may not return next year. With Armstrong's verbal commitment to participate in 2009, the race organizers have found the fuel needed to find a major sponsor for at least one more year.

It remains to be seen what ASO thinks since it's still no guarantee his team (assuming it's Astana) will be able to ride the Tour. If not, Armstrong has a plan. In published statements, Armstrong has stated that he has already talked to French President Nicolas Sarkozy about this, clearly bringing the same fire that he exhibited while winning 7 straight Tours.

Click here for the Vanity Fair article.

And click here for a personal message from Lance himself.

Lance Armstrong Returns?

by Jack  

Could Lance Armstrong be coming out of retirement? The answer is "yes", if you ask Velonews. Their report states that Armstrong has already taken steps needed to return to the pro peloton. Nothing has been confirmed yet but stay tuned. This is surely to be a huge story for cycling (even if a lot of die hard cycling fans roll their eyes). Stay tuned for more. In the meantime, read the Velonews article here or the cyclingnews article here.

63rd Vuelta: Week 1

by Jack  

Week 1 of the 2008 Vuelta closed with a lot of action, many changes in leadership and a fine butt whipping by Astana. Mirroring the Giro, this year's Tour of Spain started out with a short team time trial. These exist purely for show as minimal time can be gained between the GC contenders. Nevertheless, it did produce a lot of suffering as most teams finished with well less than the 9 riders each team started with. Surprise winner, Liquigas finished 8 seconds ahead of Euskaltel - Euskadi and put leader Filippo Pozzato in the first gold leader's jersey.

The second stage was very similar to this year's stage 1 of the Tour de France and consisted of a sharp uphill just before the finish. And just like the Tour, Spanish champ Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), triumphed and ended the day with the leader's jersey. Proving to everyone that his form is good, Valverde still insisted he is here to win stages and not for a high placing on GC.

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63rd Vuelta Update: Levi Golden!

by Jack  

American Levi Leipheimer (Astana) won today's 42.5km time trial stage at the Vuelta! He becomes only the 5th American to win a stage in the Spanish tour and only the 2nd American ever to wear the leader's golden jersey (Floyd Landis was the other).

Leipheimer gained a good chunk of time off of his other GC rivals, including teammate Alberto Contador. He sits at least 30 seconds ahead of any other favorite. Tonight's team meeting should be interesting in determining the next course of action for Team Astana. Astana comes into this race with their full support for Contador but this amazing ride changes the dynamic a bit. I think Astana will likely hedge their bets by supporting both riders and may the best cyclist win!

See the results of this stage here.

2008 US Cycling Championships

by Jack  

Tyler Hamilton (Rock Racing) seems to be enjoying a renaissance of sorts this year. He won the Tour of Qinghai Lake, has shown good form at other races such as the Tour de Georgia and now has capped his comeback by winning the US Road Race Championships. Clearly the biggest win since returning to racing from a 2 year suspension, Hamilton beat out the entire Garmin-Chipotle team as well as Team Columbia's George Hincapie to claim the US National jersey from Levi Leipheimer who is racing the Vuelta.

How much did he win by? A hair, literally. Take a peak at the photos from the link below.

Click here for the full results.

63rd Vuelta a España

by Jack  

Link: http://www.lavuelta.com

Note: This post was written on Friday but because of server problems, this didn't get posted until Sunday.

It's almost September, a full month after an exciting Tour de France and big time cycling is back! Yes, the 63rd running of the Vuelta a España, or the Tour of Spain, will commence this Saturday, August 30th and finish 3 weeks later on September 21st. The final grand tour of this season will see some big guns battling it out in a war that wasn't allowed to take place in July.

Spain's Alberto Contador and his Astana team are back with a vengeance to prove once again that they are both the best stage racing team in the world and that Contador is the best stage racer in the world. Joining Contador at the top of the favorites list are this year's Tour champ Carlos Sastre (Team CSC-Saxo Bank), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Igor Antón (Euskaltel Euskadi) and Contador's teammates Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Klöden.

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Pro Tour to Continue?

by Jack  

The last week or two have been extremely important for cycling. For one, the Olympics presented us with some epic races for both the men and the women. We are all excited to have Levi Leipheimer has a bronze medalist and Kristen Armstrong as Olympic Champion. The other major development was the ongoing dialogue related to the future of the Pro Tour and the battle between the governing body of cycling, the UCI and the owners of the Tour de France, ASO.

It was announced this past Monday that we could possibly be close to a concrete agreement between the UCI and ASO in how the international cycling calendar should be organized. But first, a quick background.

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