August 14 - Weekly RapIt's been a busy couple weeks of racing in Europe highlighted by the "D-Tours." The Deutschland-Tour (Tour of Germany) took place August 1-9 with Santa Rosa, California's Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) returning as the defending champion. The Amgen Tour of California King of the Mountains winner took a stage win in the mountains, but was unable to derail the German freight train known as Jens Voigt, who collected three stage wins en route to his overall victory in his native country's race. The CSC star is a fan favorite, including in the Golden State during the Amgen Tour of California, as he's known for his always aggressive attacking style and "never-say-die" positive attitude. Discovery Channel's Vladamir Gusev won the opening stage prologue and held the leader's jersey until the race hit the decisive mountain stages. Voigt isn't known as a climber, but he seemed to sprout wings in the mountains last week and tenaciously climbed to victory.
CSC also took out the other D-Tour win at the Tour of Denmark, which held a special significance as the team is based in that country. Paris-Roubaix winner Fabian Cancellara won two stages while piloting him to the overall win. Unfortunately the victory came at the expense of teammate Stuart O'Grady, who ended up second place GC and the winner of the points jersey as the most consistent sprinter. Amgen Tour of California points jersey winner Olaf Pollack of T-Mobile added another win to his fine season when he sprinted to victory in stage 4.
This past weekend, Spain was the place to be for the Clasica San Sebastian, a massive 225 km race over five climbs. It's Spain's most important one-day event, which is unique in that it attracts the sport's top one-day classic's riders as well as stage race specialists. The stellar line-up included Paolo Bettini, George Hincapie, Iban Mayo (fresh from winning the five-day Vuelta a Burgos stage race earlier in the week), Denis Menchov, Frank Schleck, Carlos Sastre, Cadel Evans and Alejandro Valverde in his first race since breaking his collarbone in stage 3 of the Tour de France. A menacing break threatened to take the day when Mayo, Menchov and Sastre escaped with 35 km remaining, but they were caught with 5 km to go and the race came down to a big pack gallop. The stars were eclipsed by Spaniard Xavier Florencio of the Bouygues Telecom team, who sprinted to the biggest win of his career.
Up next for the European peloton is the Eneco Tour that runs August 16th-23rd.
There's also been plenty of action on this side of the Atlantic. It was a large payday for Navigators Insurance Sean Milne at the Bank of America Invitational Criterium held August 5th in Charlotte, North Carolina. It's the richest one-day race in the U.S. and the three-man break – Milne, Jackson Stewart (Kodakgallery.com/Sierra Nevada) and Rahsaan Bahati (TIAA CREF) – stole the day from the race favorites, including defending champion J.J. Haedo of Toyota-United. Bahati is a gifted sprinter, but some mid-race rain caused him to crash out of the break on the slick roads. Milne earned his check by attacking Stewart in the final approach, while the fast-charging peloton lead by Haedo nearly caught Stewart at the line. $100,000 in prize money was up for grabs and Milne bagged $25,000. Not a bad day's work for a 50-mile crit, huh?
The Tour of Utah fancies itself as the hardest stage race in the U.S. as the mountainous terrain closely resembles the European Alpine passes. Thus, it was the climbers who came out to play last week for the six-stage race. Reigning USPRO National Champion Chris Wherry (Toyota-United) won back-to-back stages (stage 2 and stage 3) before the climbing began in earnest. Stage 4 featured a 20+-mile climb and the queen's stage, the stage 6 finale, boasted 12,000 feet of climbing over three climbs. HealthNet's Jeff Louder was the hometown favorite and he held the GC lead up until the last climb on the final stage. When TIAA CREF's Blake Caldwell flew away solo for the stage victory and fifth place overall, Louder cracked and lost precious time. Luckily his teammate Scott Moninger was close at hand and was able to preserve the overall win for HealthNet. Glen Chadwick of Navigators Insurance finished second with Louder holding on for third GC.
In Illinois, Australian Hilton Clarke of Navigators Insurance won the 100 km circuit race on day one of the two-day Tour of Elk Grove. CSC's Christian Vande Velde was second with HealthNet's Gord Fraser claiming the third step of the podium.
In a final tune-up for the USPRO National Criterium Championship, speed demon Haedo delivered the win for Toyota-United in Toyota's own backyard at the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix in sunny Southern California this past weekend. A powerhouse HealthNet squad vied for the win at the 45th annual race, but Haedo's teammates chased down the break and delivered him into the final 180-degree turn in perfect position for the sprinter to rocket himself to the line. Although Haedo is from Argentina, he is permitted to compete at the USPRO National Criterium Championship this coming weekend. It will be an electrifying battle in Downer's Grove, Illinois between the fastest men in the domestic pro peloton.
The Cool Down
Amgen Tour of California finisher Saul Raisin (Credit Agricole) crashed during the opening stage of the Circuit de la Sarthe in France on April 4th. The 23-year-old American nearly died after sustaining a head injury that rendered him in a coma for six days after a brain hemorrhage. His left side was left weakened and he suffered neurological damage from the brain injury. Doctors gave him a slim chance of ever racing his bike again. But they just don't know the irrepressible spirit and determination of Saul Raisin. He recently said in an interview, "My goal is to return and show people that if you have a brain injury, you can fight it. You can not only come back, but return stronger than before."
Upon returning to the U.S., Raisin was treated at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. His recovery has been nothing short of miraculous. After swimming, riding the trainer indoors, and doing various exercises to regain his strength, balance and normal brain functioning, last week Raisin rode outside for the first time since his near fatal accident. He rode for ninety-minutes with his father and calls it the best day he ever had on his bike. Follow his amazing and inspiring recovery on www.saulraisin.com. We look forward to seeing Raisin back in the pack at the Amgen Tour of California.