April 5 - Weekly RapBy Rick Scott
Another Amgen Tour of California is in the record books. Spring has sprung while the ProTour and NRC are in full gear. Before we get back to covering the racing action, we’d like to do things a little differently this week in the name of love.
Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore
While we don’t spill ink on some of the “other” news making headlines in the world of professional cycling, we don’t live in Oz or Disneyland either. We know what’s going on out there and it breaks our hearts. Allegations, disagreements and other disharmonies have cast a damaging shadow on cycling in the past year, which impacts not just the pros, but anyone who throws their leg over a bike. Cycling is in need of an injection of positivity, which is everywhere if you look past the headlines and into the heart of our beloved sport. We’d like to take a moment to shine the spotlight upon some of the heroes who make our sport the best in the world.
In the pivotal Amgen Tour of California stage 6, Discovery Channel star George Hincapie went down hard just three miles into the race after touching wheels with teammates Ivan Basso and Tony Cruz. Hincapie got right up and rode back into the peloton. CSC sent Stuart O’Grady into the break and as their lead grew, he threatened to take the overall win away from Hincapie’s teammate, Levi Leipheimer. Hincapie rode to the front of the chasing peloton and dropped the hammer. He rode like an impassioned warrior on the front of the race, putting the pain in his wrist out of his mind. Along with his teammates, Hincapie eventually closed the gap, saving the GC win for Leipheimer. After the race, he found out that he rode 102 miles with a broken wrist. Hincapie had surgery the following morning when plates and screws were inserted to put his wrist back together. We ran into him hours later in Long Beach at the final stage and asked how he was able to ride so strongly, pulling the pack back to the break to save the win for his team despite what must have been incredible pain. Humbly Hincapie responded with a smile, “I had no other choice.”
Last April, Credit Agricole’s Saul Raisin nearly died from the brain injuries he sustained in a crash in France’s Circuit de la Sarthe. We’ve covered his extraordinary recovery in previous columns. The young man from Dalton, Georgia continues to defy the odds and amaze the medical community. Initially he wasn’t expected to survive. When he did that, they said he’d never walk again. When he did that, they said he would never ride again. When he did that, they said he’d never ride professionally again. Raisin is working hard to achieve that goal, too.
While the second Amgen Tour of California rolled from Northern to Southern California in February, Raisin rode his own Tour de California powered by Gu. He pedaled every stage on his own just ahead of the peloton to raise awareness for those who have suffered brain damage and spinal cord injuries. Raisin lead the Raisin Hope benefit ride in his hometown on March 31st to raise funds for four charities closest to his heart: the Shepherd Center (a catastrophic care hospital), Camp Twin Lakes (a special needs rehabilitation camp), the Brain Injury Association of Georgia and the USA Cycling Development Foundation. The pro cycling community stepped up to donate items for a silent auction including signed jerseys from Credit Agricole, Discovery Channel, CSC, Cofidis, Levi Leipheimer, George Hincapie, Thor Hushovd, and Axel Merckx and a custom Raisin Hope bike from Look.
We had the good fortune of meeting Raisin at the race in Long Beach and spoke to him on the phone a couple weeks later. His enthusiasm for life is infectious. He knows he was given a second chance in life and he plans to make the most of it by making a difference in the lives of others. Raisin will race again professionally, but more important, his daily mission is to give hope to others.
Go to www.saulraisin.com to find out how you can help.
While there isn’t an Amgen Tour of California race for women yet, the women’s pro cycling world is as fiercely competitive and exciting to follow as the men’s. Their season opened in Australia in February at the Geelong World Cup stage race. American Dotsie Bausch surprised even herself by winning the opening prologue at this prestigious event, her best result ever in a high-profile race that featured a field comprised of the best women cyclists in the world, including reigning World Champ Nicole Cooke. Bausch had slipped down to 3rd place overall heading into the final stage, but was only eight seconds away from the GC win. Her Colavita teammates valiantly helped Bausch earn valuable time bonuses during the stage. With her deficit down to only four seconds, Bausch rode upfront with teammate Alex Wrubleski in the final lap when Wrubleski hit the pavement hard. Instinct told Bausch to stop for her fallen comrade, selflessly forfeiting any chance at overall victory. It even cost her a final podium spot in a World Cup race as well. But Bausch knew that there are some things more important than a bike race.
Amgen Tour of California winner Levi Leipheimer has teamed with his wife, Odessa Gunn, as animal welfare advocates. For years, they’ve supported A Leg Up and Sonoma County’s Forgotten Felines. They are now focusing their energy on Freedom Hill, a fund created to have a greater impact on the protection of animals by creating awareness, raising money and sparking volunteerism. Freedom Hill's vision is a world where all animals can live free, safe and loved and where they are no longer food, clothing or entertainment. The Leipheimer’s practice what they preach as they look after a large flock of cats, dogs and other animals that they’ve rescued.
A peloton of heroes
The peloton is full of heroes. Last December, David Zabriskie (CSC) set the American hour record Eddy Merckx-style (regular road bike) at the San Diego Velodrome to benefit the families of firefighters who had recently lost their lives battling a local blaze. Fast Fred Rodriguez (Predictor-Lotto) provides two $1000 scholarships annually to deserving high school students who go on to universities while continuing to race their bikes. The criteria for selection are scholastic achievement, race resume, commitment to community service and an essay. Tom Danielson (Discovery Channel) is committed to the same cause. Kodak Gallery’s Jesse Anthony had his head shaved on St. Patrick’s Day to raise money for pediatric cancer treatment as part of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation event held in 10 countries and 42 U.S. states, which raised $20 million and shaved more than 26,000 heads. Amgen Tour of California final stage winner Ivan Dominguez rode the Solvang Century last month with teammate Sean Sullivan to benefit Specialized Coronary Outpatient Rehabilitation (SCOR), a recreational bike club that promotes cycling as a method of rehabilitative therapy for heart-related conditions. SCOR will use money raised from the ride to sponsor two summer camps for children with heart problems.
Teams are doing their part as well. Discovery Channel is raising money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Fans can sponsor a team member and donate money for every race mile the rider pedals this season. Saunier Duval-Prodir is planting trees in Africa based upon the number of miles their team pedals along with bonuses given for race wins, which they are earning their share of this season. Their goal is to plant one million trees this year. The Kodak Gallery Pro Cycling Team is also benefiting the environment by being the first carbon neutral pro sports team. Colavita’s women’s team is donating $1000 to the City of Hope for every win and one dollar for every race mile, which goes to help women battling breast cancer. There are many other teams and riders making a difference as well.
We’re doing our part here at the Amgen Tour of California as well. Breakaway from Cancer is a complementary component to the Amgen race sponsorship. Breakaway from Cancer continues to raise awareness and funds to support valuable service and programs, provided free of charge, to help people living with cancer. Last year, through this initiative, Amgen raised more than $1 million to support The Wellness Community, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing free support, education and hope for all people affected by cancer. This year, the initiative supported the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, the oldest survivor-led cancer advocacy organization in the country, and The Wellness Community.
Cycling is a sport that is fought on courage, passion, determination and above all, pure heart. These are just some of the stories that need to be told. Remember this next time you read some of the sensational headlines. Be proud of our sport, our athletes, our teams, our sponsors and of our many heroes.
# # #
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.