June 23 - Weekly RapThe Tour de France starts in less than two weeks and the final two tune-up stage races leading up to the Big Dance are now in the books. The Dauphine Libere and the Tour de Suisse showcased many of the top contenders and revealed who is ready and who still has work to do before the July 1st prologue. The Dauphine is considered a mini-Tour de France as it includes some of the same roads and mountain climbs that the riders will face in Le Tour. Many of the top Amgen Tour of California stars were out in force at the Dauphine and they shined brightly. Gerolsteiner’s Levi Leipheimer, the compact powerhouse from Santa Rosa, California, got the overall win, which immediately makes him one of the favorites in the Tour de France. CSC's Dave Zabriskie, another California resident who finished 2nd in the Amgen Tour of California, again demonstrated his time trialing prowess by winning both time trial stages. The first winner of the Amgen Tour of California, Phonak captain Floyd Landis was strong in the time trials, but wasn’t able to hang in the high mountains. Landis hadn't raced since winning the Tour of Georgia in mid-April so perhaps he was just getting his racing legs back. Discovery Channel's George Hincapie made his return to racing after his horrific crash on the cobbles at Paris-Roubaix and it was a successful one. Big George was 2nd in the prologue, 4th in the time trial and was a force in the mountains, which enabled him to finish 10th overall and bodes well for his first Tour de France as a team captain.
In Switzerland, Tour de France favorite Jan Ullrich of T-Mobile proved that Der Kaiser is back on form at the perfect time after he won the Tour de Suisse on the final day. Ullrich is at his best racing against the clock and impressively he was able to more than make up a 50-second deficit in the final stage time trial in atrocious weather conditions to take out the overall win. CSC’s Christian Vande Velde and Fabian Cancellara, two who competed in the Amgen Tour of California, also put in fast times in the final time trial. American Vande Velde’s 6th place performance earned him a spot on CSC's Tour de France unit. Paris-Roubaix winner Cancellara enjoyed the rare opportunity to race in his native country as reigning national time trial champion. Amgen Tour of California 7th place finisher Cadel Evans of Davitamon-Lotto set the early time to beat in the decisive time trial stage, proving that he is ready for Le Tour where some are predicting a podium spot for the former Australian mountain bike pro.
The Pro Tour teams have begun unveiling their rosters for the Tour de France and many Amgen Tour of California racers are not just participating, but will be featured as leaders or in key support roles. Phonak is built around Landis and he’ll be flanked by quite a few of the teammates who guided him to victory in the Golden State, including Robert Hunter, Alexandre Moos, Nicolas Jalabert, and Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero. Discovery Channel is built around Hincapie with support coming from two-time Giro de Italia winner Paolo Savodelli and Olympic gold medalist Viatcheslov Ekimov. Gerolsteiner is built around Leipheimer with aid from Sebastian Lang, Fabian Wegmann and David Kopp. To bolster Ivan Basso’s attempt to win both the Giro de Italia and the Tour de France in the same season, CSC will be sending Amgen Tour of California podium finishers Zabriskie and Bobby Julich along with Vande Velde, Jens Voigt and Stuart O'Grady. Davitamon-Lotto will be riding for Evans while American Chris Horner will lend his support in the mountains and in the sprints for the always electric speedster Robbie McEwen.
On the domestic scene, HealthNet presented by Maxxis swept the Top 3 general classification podium at the Nature Valley Grand Prix stage race in Minnesota. Karl Menzies got the win with Greg Henderson and Amgen Tour of California 5th place finisher Nathan O’Neill taking 2nd and 3rd respectively. Last week, all eyes were focused on Pennsylvania's Triple Crown of Cycling. Often referred to as "Philly Week," this series was comprised of races in Lancaster, Reading and Philadelphia, the latter of which featured ten trips up the notorious Manayunk Wall in a 156-mile race through the City of Brotherly Love. Kodak Gallery.com-Sierra Nevada's Jackson Stewart surprised Amgen Tour of California’s sprint revelation J.J. Haedo of Toyota-United to take the Lancaster leg. It was HealthNet's Henderson, recently recovered from a broken hip that he sustained in a crash back in March, who proved to have the fastest wheels in Reading and on the streets of Philadelphia, which are lined every year with over 400,000 partying spectators. Up next on the National Racing Calendar is the Tour de Nez in Reno, Nevada.
Did you ever wonder how the best pros in the world train? Back in January, The Weekly Rap had the opportunity to lead George Hincapie on four training rides one month before the start of the Amgen Tour of California. Over those four days, we rode for 20 hours and seemed to climb endlessly throughout the Santa Monica Mountains. The scary thing is that despite all this training, Hincapie said he was only "taking it easy" or riding "moderately" whenever he dropped us on one of his uphill intervals. It was interesting to learn how much these guys eat on five-hour rides. For every hour we pedaled, Hincapie consumed one energy bar or pastry. When questioned about his food intake, which was more than double what we were eating, he answered that his philosophy is simple: he never wants to be hungry on the bike. He makes sacrifices and lives such a disciplined life on and off the bike, but when he’s "in the office," he makes sure that his body is fueled and ready for work.