July 6 - The Weekly RapUsually the first week of the Tour de France is for the sprinters, hence chaotic stage finishes and crashes often make headlines. This year is no exception. Tour favorite Alejandro Valverde crashed out with a broken collarbone. Also crashing out with injuries was Californian “Fast” Fred Rodriguez, who played at key role as green jersey sprint leader Robbie McEwen's lead-out man. His Davitamon-Lotto teammate Chris Horner dislocated a finger in a crash and CSC's Stuart O'Grady fractured a vertebra in his lower back. Both are continuing.
Discovery Channel's George Hincapie is off to a strong start, taking 2nd place in the opening prologue, less than one second behind winner Thor Hushovd. Big George claimed the yellow leader's jersey the next day by attentively snagging a two-second time bonus. But his team has long-range goals, hence they didn't fight to keep Hincapie in yellow. That will come later. After a shaky start at the prologue when he missed his start by eight seconds, Amgen Tour of California winner Floyd Landis is biding his time until Saturday's key time trial when the real overall victory contenders shall emerge. Gerolsteiner's Levi Leipheimer will also use the time trial to move up the GC as will Davitamon-Lotto's Cadel Evans. With CSC and T-Mobile losing their leaders the day before the prologue, both will have to appoint new team leaders. At CSC, look for Amgen Tour of California 3rd place finisher Bobby Julich to rise to the occasion. Julich finished 3rd at Le Tour in 1998. World Time Trial Champion Michael Rogers might assume the leadership role for T-Mobile after the time trial.
Saunier Duval-Prodir's David Millar is back after serving a two-year ban from competition for admitted performance enhancing drug use and is quietly sitting in the Top 20. Look for him to make some noise this weekend as time-trialing is his specialty. Millar will look to prove that he can be one of the best in the world naturally.
There's another major national tour taking place in Europe right now. The week-long Tour of Austria is underway with Discovery Channel's Tom Danielson currently holding 2nd. This race also has a pivotal time trial scheduled for Saturday that will likely decide the overall winner. Don't bet against Tommy D, who has worked hard to improve his time-trialing skills.
On this side of the pond, Navigators Insurance showed their strength and depth by claiming two of the three podium steps at the challenging Fitchburg-Longsjo Classic last weekend in Massachusetts. Shawn Milne won two stages en route to taking the overall win while teammate Phil Zajicek came in 3rd. Heath Blackgrove of Toyota-United was 2nd.
There's lots of activity on the National Racing Calendar over the next week. The USA Cycling National Championships are currently taking place in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. In Oregon, the Cascade Cycling Classic stage race gets underway on July 12th. The International Cycling Classic, better known as “Superweek,” will get started in Wisconsin on July 13th.
As expected, the domestic racing scene is an exciting battle between the dominating HealthNet and Toyota-United squads. HealthNet currently has four of the Top 6 NRC racers – Greg Henderson, Nathan O'Neill, Gord Fraser and Karl Menzies - along with the NRC team lead. Toyota-United is ranked 2nd with Amgen Tour of California sprint sensation J.J. Haedo ranked 4th. Navigators Insurance is ranked 3rd followed by Discovery Channel and Jelly Belly. By winning both the Amgen Tour of California and the Tour de Georgia, Landis holds the NRC lead.
The Cool Down
One of the things we frequently overheard at the Amgen Tour of California was spectators commenting about how approachable the cyclists are. That is one of the things that makes pro cycling unique as a spectator sport: it's wide open and there are very few barriers separating the athletes from the spectators. The racers, who often spend endless hours in the middle of nowhere alone on training rides, appreciate friendly and enthusiastic greetings from fans. Most racers exchange smiles, chat briefly and are even willing to sign autographs before the start of races. That unique camaraderie and courtesy extends to amateur cyclists pros encounter on the road while training. Last weekend, The Weekly Rap spotted three members of the Toyota-United team on the California coast in Malibu and they all waved to our crew. While riding with George Hincapie, The Weekly Rap noticed that he makes it a point to smile, nod, wave and shout friendly greetings to any cyclist he sees. The funny thing is observing the look of surprise on their faces when they realize the guy in the Discovery Channel kit is the real deal…