August 28 - Weekly RapThere is a lot of late season racing action happening in both Europe and the U.S. No one could have anticipated the controversy that ensued at the closing stage of the Eneco Tour last week. It was the queen stage, the longest at 201 kilometers that traversed cobblestones, technical twists and turns, and ascended some of the Belgium climbs that riders tackled earlier this season in the spring classics. Discovery Channel's George Hincapie, who won two stages of the Amgen Tour of California, held a three-second advantage over Gerolsteiner's Stefan Schumacher heading into the final stage. The selection was made on the climbs and both men were in the lead group heading to the sprint finish. In the dash for the line, Schumacher swerved to avoid an overanxious fan and clipped Hincapie's wheel, sending the American skidding across the pavement. Helpless, Hincapie laid prone on the ground while watching Schumacher take third place in the stage, thus earning a four-second time bonus and the stage race win by one-second. Disco officials promptly filed a protest, but the referees rejected the appeal. Hincapie and Discovery were livid and wanted nothing to do with the second place trophy, which is now adorning a bar near the race finish.
The third and final Grand Tour of this season got underway last Saturday in Malaga and will finish in Madrid, Spain on September 17th. The Vuelta a Espana is comprised of twenty-one stages: a prologue, two time trials, seven mountain stages, and eleven flat to moderate stages. One of the Spanish hopefuls for stage wins, former World Champion Oscar Freire, withdrew from the race before it started due to a neck injury that has caused him dizziness ever since he dropped out of the Tour de France last month. Now Rabobank can devote all their energy into supporting defending Vuelta champion Denis Menchov. The Vuelta began with a rare evening start with the always thrilling team time trial. CSC blasted through the short 7.3 km event to score the win, deliberately letting their captain Carlos Sastre cross the line first to capture his first golden race leader's jersey. But CSC didn't plan to defend the jersey this early in the race. Stage 2 ended in a mass gallop in Cordoba. Sprint stars Robbie McEwen, Erik Zabel, and Thor Hushovd were surprised at the line by Olympic gold medalist Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), who came to the Vuelta to train for next month's World Championship. Hushovd captured a mid-race time bonus and another time bonus for his second place stage finish, giving him the golden fleece. Stage 3 was the race's longest at 219 kms that took place in oppressively high temperatures. The Saunier Duval-Prodir squad dominated the stage. David de la Fuente went on a long three-man break. The Tour de France's most aggressive cyclist gobbled up a bunch of mountain points along the route, but his little grupetto was caught by the peloton in the final five kms. In the final kilo, the team's David Millar launched a fierce attack, but got caught after braking in a corner to avoid a television crew. His teammate Francisco Ventoso countered the attack and scored the win for the team. Hushovd still holds the leader's jersey.
On Sunday in the Brittany region of France, the 217-km GP Ouest-France ProTour race took place with eleven laps on a nearly 20-kilometer course. Race organizers added a 1.6 km hill to encourage attacks and prevent a photo finish like last year, which was won by Hincapie. Unfortunately, there was a huge pile-up with 10 km to go that severely disrupted the race, with many of the pre-race favorites getting derailed. Discovery Channel's Yaroslav Popovych attacked and got away with three others. Young Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) got the win after Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) started his sprint too early, running out of gas before the line in a two-up finish.
On Tuesday (August 29th), the Tour of Britain starts in Glasgow, Scotland and finishes six days later in London, England with an 81 km criterium. Race favorites include World Champion Tom Boonen, T-Mobile stars Andreas Kloden and Michael Rogers, Milan-San Remo winner Filippo Pozzato, Australian Baden Cooke, American Christian Vande Velde, and Brit Roger Hammond.
On U.S. shores, a very wet Binghamton, New York was the site Sunday for the Chris Thater Memorial Criterium. It rained throughout the entire 50-mile race. Early on, Navigators Insurance's Hilton Clarke took off on what ended up being the winning six-man break. The Australian is the hottest man on the domestic pro cycling scene at the moment so no one was going to let him get far on his own. Clarke had teammate Ciaran Power in the break with him, thus it became a formality from there. Somewhat easily Clarke notched his third consecutive NRC win in three weeks, his fourth win in less than a month. KodakGallery.com/Sierra Nevada's Scott Zwizanski held on for second and Colavita-Sutter Homes' Davide Frattini completed the podium.
Many of the best American pros are flocking to Greenville, South Carolina this Labor Day weekend and it's not for a barbecue at local resident George Hincapie's house. The USPRO Time Trial and Road Race Championships will be held September 1st & 3rd. Hincapie has got to be a favorite racing in front of his friends and family on the roads he trains on. Defending champs Chris Baldwin (time trial) and Chris Wherry (road) will be fighting to keep the stars and stripes jerseys in the Toyota-United camp. Amgen Tour of California King of the Mountains winner Levi Leipheimer is also a strong contender along with Amgen Tour of California second place finisher Dave Zabriskie, who is one of the best time-trialists in the world. Keep your eyes out for TIAA CREF's Craig Lewis, who also lives in Greenville, where he often trains with Hincapie.
Another Labor Day affair is the 100K Classic in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Cool Down
The "silly" season continues with a few big names involved in team transfers over the past week. Two-time Tour de France podium finisher Andreas Kloden will be leaving T-Mobile along with TDF stage winner Matthias Kessler. They're reuniting with former teammate Alexandre Vinokourov at Team Astana. Joining T-Mobile will be Servais Knaven, who will be a leader in the spring classics. He comes from the Quick Step squad where he rode in support of Tom Boonen. Giro de Italia star Stefano Garzelli will leave Liquigas for Acqua e Sapone. Discovery Channel's Jose Azevedo leaves the team to head back home to Portugal where he'll race domestically to be able to spend more time with his family after three years as a key member of the American team.
The #1 movie in the U.S. this past weekend was Invincible, a real-life story about Vince Papale, a 30-year-old substitute teacher and bartender who tried out and made the Philadelphia Eagles after never playing college football. That's got to bode well for the inspirational film about the life of Lance Armstrong. The movie has been in development for several years now, initially with Matt Damon attached to play Armstrong. This summer, Lance has been seen hanging out with fellow Texan Matthew McConaughey and was spotted at the Tour de France with Jake Gyllenhaal. Apparently both actors were in the running to star as the seven-time Tour winner and cancer survivor. Brokeback Mountain star Gyllenhaal landed the starring role. Wonder who Hollywood will find to play key roles such as Jan Ullrich, George Hincapie and Johan Bruyneel…