June 18 - Weekly RapBy Rick Scott
We’re back with a full slate of international and domestic racing from Philly Week and Criterium du Dauphine Libere. The pace has picked up as the riders gear up for next month’s Le Tour de France. Click in and test your form in this week’s issue of The Weekly Rap.
One for the money
The Commerce Bank Triple Crown a.k.a. “Philly Week” commenced in warm, but rainy Lancaster, Pennsylvania June 3rd with an 85-mile road race. With four laps remaining of the technical 11.5-kilometer course, T-Mobile’s Bernhard Eisel used the main climb to propel himself to solo victory ahead of a hard-charging Sergey Lagutin (Navigators Insurance). The break started after the first lap, but it was collected with about 40 km remaining. After a failed attempt, Eisel instigated the lasting significant break. Along with Lagutin, the break consisted of UCI America Tour leader Svein Tuft (Symmetrics), Jonathan Garcia (BMC), Trent Wilson (Jittery Joe’s), Frank Pipp (HealthNet) and Frank Travieso (AEG-Toshiba). While the gap opened, it wasn’t hard for Danny Pate (Team Slipstream) and Alejandro Borrajo (Rite Aid) to ride across to join the leaders. Although initially no one could respond to Eisel’s decisive flyer, Lagutin gave chase solo as the rain pelted the peloton. With 700 meters to go, Eisel sat up and worked with Lagutin before opening his sprint in the final 300 meters. Eisel dialed up the win for T-Mobile.
Two for the show
The series moved to Reading June 7th for a 75-mile race that challenged the riders with the much bigger climb up Mt. Penn, which they’d face on each lap. The mercury and humidity were soaring under sunny skies. A “short” race usually means a fast one and the riders went from the gun trying unsuccessfully to break. After battling for the second “prime” lap, a trio consisting of Christian Meier (Symmetrics) and Caico’s Javier de Jesus Zapata and Wendy Cruz kept on rolling ahead of the pack. Cruz sat up, but was quickly replaced by CSC’s Kasper Klostergaard. The reformed trio steadily opened the gap to a minute. As usual, the peloton timed the catch of their prey to perfection, devouring all but Zapata on Mt. Penn with just over two laps remaining. They finished the job by the time they reached the start/finish line. Others tried their hands on Mt. Penn again, but they were reabsorbed by the final lap. Pipp lit it up on the climb to take the KOM points while the lead group coming over the summit was about 15-men strong. In the final kilometers, Navigators Insurance had the numbers, but they had no answer for Eisel, who deployed a deftly timed move in the final 400 meters to insure him of the win as he soloed in 25 meters ahead of the pack.
J.J. the spoiler
All the money was on Eisel to win the third stage of the Triple Crown at the 156-mile Philadelphia International Championship June 10th. Some 500,000 spectators have been lining the streets every year for this race since 1985. The Weekly Rap was at that very first race and we make the trip home almost every year to witness it live, including this year. The sky was gray and overcast for the first four hours of the race, which helped keep the temperature comfortable for the riders. The race treks ten times over a 14.4-mile route, including ten trips up the famed 17% grade of the Manayunk Wall, and finishes with three smaller circuits that include the shorter KOM climb on Lemon Hill. Usually an early break goes and builds an advantage of up to seven or eight minutes before the teams of the sprinters mount chase in the last two or three big laps. This year was different as the early break was reabsorbed after a lap or so. Other breaks went on nearly every lap, but none were able to build a lead of more than 60-90 seconds before they, too, were reeled back in. The domestic pros aren’t used to racing this long, which certainly favored the T-Mobile and CSC ProTour squads. Late in the race, those remaining in the peloton split in almost equal halves separated by less then a minute. As per usual in Philly, the race was going to be settled in a mass pack gallop. T-Mobile set up their train for Eisel. Bikes and bodies started flying in an ugly crash in the final kilometer. Four-time Amgen Tour of California stage winner Juan Jose Haedo (CSC), wasn’t feeling well all week, but found himself and teammate Matt Goss at the back of the magenta train when it counted. Instinct took over from there and CSC spoiled Eisel’s Philly Week sweep by finishing 1-2 with Haedo claiming the win with his young lead-out man finishing 2nd. Eisel’s 3rd place gave him the overall Philly Week title. The cooler weather made a faster race as this one was completed in just over 5:41, a record pace by far.
A Frenchman wins in France
The Criterium du Dauphine Libere is a mini-Tour de France that includes a prologue, a long individual time trial, a stage or two for the sprinters, and many long, hard climbing stages, including several of the same climbs the riders will face next month in Le Tour. Riders use the race to test their form & fitness to see if they’re on track for “The Big Dance.” Last year’s winner, Levi “Yes, I won the Amgen Tour of California this year” Leipheimer was back to defend, this year riding in a Discovery Channel kit.
The first riders to start the prologue did so in the rain. The road dried out as the day went on and by the time the big stars started, the flat out-and-back 4.2-kilometer course was dry. Britain’s Bradley Wiggins won the day for Cofidis with Leipheimer finishing less than two seconds in arrears. Stage 1 was billed as being for the sprinters and the stage lived up to the billing. The marquee boasted a dual between Tom Boonen and Thor “The God of Thunder” Hushovd. Um…yeah…someone forgot to tell that to Gerolsteiner’s 23-year-old Heinrich Haussler, who snagged the sprint victory at the end of the 219-km stage after eclipsing Boonen and Rabobank’s Graeme Brown. Stage 2 could have been for the sprinters…IF they could get over a few hills en route. It turns out they couldn’t. Plus there were a few men up the road in Christophe Moreau (AG2R), Jose Redondo (Astana) and Kevin Seeldraeyers (Quick Step). Moreau, one of the favorites for the overall, was allowed to escape for some reason while Redondo was simply marshalling for his team captain, Alexandre Vinokourov, thus he wasn’t working in the break. Seeldraeyers looked strong and seemed certain for the win. But this is bike racing, remember? Snap! His chain broke with 7 km remaining. Redondo did the respectful thing and didn’t contest a victory he didn’t work for, allowing the Moreau to take the prize.
Vino has focused his entire season on Le Tour and he set out to test himself on a couple stages in the Dauphine, including the stage 3 40-km time trial. Test successful as the Flying Kazakhs…yes, plural…went 1-2. Vino bagged the prize while teammate Andrey Kashechkin nailed 2nd, which also moved them into 1-2 on the GC. Stage 4 concluded after 197 kms on top of the legendary Mont Ventoux. After missing out on the win on Ventoux last year by 40 centimeters to Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Moreau got it right this year, rebounding impressively to win the monster stage solo after losing nearly three minutes to the leaders in the time trial the day before. Vino rode the final 11 kms of the climb easy, allowing his teammate Kashechkin to take over the GC with Moreau down only 14 seconds.
Then it got weird, didn’t it? Stage 5 was 195 kms that proved once again that Astana is a team to be feared. About 22 escapees went early, including Vino and teammate Antonio Colom. Boonen was there, too, and he later attacked on a climb (!), which forced a split in the break. Colom was the first to stay away, while his captain joined him later. After 188 breakaway kms, they finished the stage 1-2, with Vino giving the stage to his young charge. Kashechkin kept the leader’s jersey for Astana for another day. It was to be the last though.
The Queen stage was 198 kms and when it was done, another Astana racer – 23-year-old Kazakh Maxim Iglinskiy - got the solo win while the leader’s jersey was passed onto the shoulders of Moreau. Kashechkin didn’t respond when Moreau attacked on the final climb of the Telegraphe as it appeared that neither he nor Vino was racing for the overall win. Yet Moreau clearly wanted it. Only Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) and Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval-Prodir) could “parlez vous” when Moreau attacked. Evans finished the day 14 seconds back of the Frenchman in the fight for the overall. Astana won their fourth stage with Vino himself taking the honors on the final 129-km stage 7 while Moreau held on to win the Dauphine for the second time in his career. Saunier Duval set up Piepoli for an escape late in the race when only a select group of big guns remained in contention. After Piepoli was caught and Evans’ counter was snuffed by Moreau and CSC’s Dave Zabriskie, Leipheimer rode away solo with less than 9 kms to go. As (bad) luck would have it, he hit the deck hard with 4 km remaining, a victim of rain-slicked roads. Vino had been chasing Leipheimer solo and ended up taking out the win alone, while Leipheimer would remount to finish with a pack of elite riders 37 seconds after the Kazakh, who clearly demonstrated that he indeed could be the man to win the 2007 Tour de France. We can hardly wait for the big dance to begin…
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Rick Scott is president of Great Scott P.R.oductions, an entertainment and sports public relations, marketing and management boutique. He can be contacted through www.greatscottpr.com.