April 9 - Weekly RapBy Rick Scott
We’re back in the saddle with lots of racing action at home and abroad to catch up on. It’s hard to believe that we’re already more than two months into the season already! Strap on your helmet and let’s get started.
Paris is Nice
While there were a few races featuring some of the sport’s bigger stars earlier, the first official ProTour race of the year was Paris-Nice (March 11-18). Last year witnessed Floyd Landis, fresh off his Amgen Tour of California win, collect the overall win at “The Race to the Sun.” With that in mind, everyone wondered if Discovery Channel’s Levi Leipheimer would duplicate that feat. While Leipheimer continued to show great form, it was his young Spanish teammate, Alberto Contador, who climbed to victory in a thrilling race to the finish on the final stage.
In the opening prologue, David Millar (Saunier Duval-Prodir) demonstrated that he’s back on form and he can still ace time trials and prologues cleanly. The Brit took the opener by one second over Liquigas’ Roman Kreuziger. Frenchman Jean-Patrick Nazon (AG2R) sprinted to win stage 1. Although Liquigas rode to get Luca Paolini the stage 2 victory, teammate Franco Pellizotti took the honors after pulling away from the peloton in the final 500 meters in impressive fashion, which also gave him the overall lead. Russian Alexander Kolobnev pick-pocketed stage 3 from the sprinters by swiping the win for CSC after a long 213 km breakaway. 24-year-old Contador won the mountain top finish atop montee Laurent Jalabert (seriously, that’s what the mountain was renamed after their French cycling hero) to take victory is stage 4, but Gerolsteiner’s Davide Rebellin put on the race leader’s jersey. Discovery Channel had to make the race hard for Gerolsteiner so they sent Yaroslav Popovych ahead in an early break. After 170 kms, Popo ended up winning stage 5 after dropping his breakaway companions. Caisse d’Epargne’s Luis Leon Sanchez survived a long, hard breakaway to win stage 6 with an aggressive Contador close behind. Although dropped and clearly in danger of losing his yellow jersey after Contador attacked on the steep final climb, Rebellin was able to hang onto his lead despite not having any teammates around. He got some help from other teams who were out to protect this own final GC positions. But the classy Rebellin wasn’t going to get lucky twice. Contador was too much for him and the rest of the peloton as he attacked on the final climb up Col d’Eze and held off the chasers to steal the GC win, only the second Paris-Nice win for Spain. Legend Miguel Indurain was the other winner.
The Race Between Two Seas
In Italy, the 42nd Tirreno-Adriatico tested the legs of the Giro d’Italia contenders from March 14-20. Rabobank’s Thomas Dekker returned to defend his 2006 title, but lots of eyes were focused on Discovery Channel’s Ivan Basso, who unfortunately didn’t finish after injuring his wrist in a crash. Predictor-Lotto’s Robbie “The Pocket Rocket” McEwen sprinted to the top step of the stage 1 podium, acing many of the fastest men in the ProTour. Aqua & Sapone’s Alexander Arekeev took stage 2 and the GC lead after a long break that saw him drop his breakaway companions after an attack in a climb with 13 km to go. Young Italian star Riccardo Ricco (Saunier Duval-Prodir) won the crash-marred stage 3 by two seconds over Astana’s Alexandre Vinokourov. Amgen Tour of California stage winner Paolo Bettini hit the deck in that stage as did Basso. Bettini went down again in stage 4 while Basso pulled out halfway through the stage to let his wrist heal. Ricco collected his second stage and the overall lead by winning ahead of Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) and Vinokourov. The GC reshuffled after the key stage 5 time trial won by Schumacher, who also earned the overall lead. Vino moved to 3rd, just behind Astana teammate Andreas Kloden. Ricco’s weakness was revealed as he lost over two minutes to the other top contenders. Another young Italian, Lampre’s Matteo Bono, won stage 6 after a long break in which he dropped his fellow escapees with 4 km to the finish. Further back, Schumacher was cracked by Astana’s evil twins – Vino and Kloden. Kloden took over the GC lead, which he defended successfully in stage 7 to become the first German to win the race. The stage went to Spaniard Koldo Fernandez (Eukaltel-Euskadi) after a pack gallop.
Go long, but watch out for the crashes
Milano-Sanremo is the longest classic of the season at 294 kms. It typically favors the sprinters although a break has spoiled the party on occasion. Filippo Pozatto (Liquigas) won last year while racing for Quick Step. McEwen, Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) and Quick Step’s Tom Boonen were gunning for the win this year, which saw a few big names not even take the start due to flu, including Pozatto’s teammate Danilo Di Luca and Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole). It was the centenary race…um…it was really the 98th edition, but you know how the Italians love a good party. Oscar Freire (Rabobank) won the pack sprint with a perfectly timed acceleration off Petacchi’s wheel to win with a clear gap on Discovery Channel’s Allan Davis and Boonen. It was Freier’s second win in Sanremo, but this one left little doubt as to who was the fastest man of the day. In 2004, he suck across the line while Erik Zabel celebrated prematurely, losing the victory by a few centimeters over Freire. Disco’s Popovych rode an aggressive race getting away twice in the final kilometers, but it wasn’t enough. Ricco promised to attack on the final climb of the day, the famed Poggio, and he made good on his word when he countered a move by FdJ’s Philippe Gilbert. It was an audacious move that ended up getting reeled back in with 2 km to go.
You want to talk about courage? World Champion Bettini took the start in support of Boonen despite his three crashes the previous week. In addition to the usual bumps, bruises and road rash, Bettini also raced with a cracked rib, but refused to let that stop him. As per usual, the nervous peloton caused many crashes during the race, one of which Bettini was caught behind. But he soldiered on, chasing alone to catch the back and then rose back up to the front. He was right upfront when it counted in the final kilometers working hard for his teammate. That’s the kind of courage and tenacity it takes to be a champion like “The Cricket.”
You don’t just have to be in Europe to catch the action. Back here in California (can I get a “Whup, whup?”), the 23rd edition of the Redlands Bicycle Classic marked the start of the National Racing Calendar campaign. The festivities began with a challenging prologue that finishes on a climb. Symmetrics’ Svein Tuft got the win over Priority Health’s Ben Jacques-Maynes. Stage 1 finished with a grueling uphill battle atop Oak Glen. Early on, Amgen Tour of California stage winner Ivan Dominguez (Toyota-United) set out with three amigos to gobble up all the sprint points available on the road, which he did, giving him the sprinter’s jersey at the end of the day. After they were caught, Colavita/Sutter Home’s Davide Frattini leapt with Toyota-United’s Sean Sullivan in tow. The peloton sucked them back in with 5 km to go on the Oak Glen climb. A group of strongmen – BMC’s Scott Moninger, Toyota-United’s Justin England, Jelly Belly’s Andrew Bajadali, Navigator’s Phil Zajicek and Colavita/Sutter Home’s Anthony Colby – moved ahead with 4 km to go. They threw everything at each other in the final kilometer, with Moninger and England motoring away to battle to the line. Moninger outfoxed England for the victory and GC lead.
Before the stage 2 criterium, officials ruled that Dominguez had missed the time-cut the day prior and wasn’t allowed to start the stage that the sprint star had a great chance of winning. Such is bike racing. In the race, a six-man break got away and stayed away 40 minutes into the 90-minute race. BMC didn’t spend the energy to bring the break back as none of the riders in the break were any threat to the overall. In the end, HealthNet’s Rory Sutherland got the sprint right. The challenging Sunset loop was the battleground for the final stage, which was again won by Sutherland in a sprint after a long break. Bajadali upset BMC’s applecart to take the GC win away from Moninger, earning the mountains title in tandem. Toyota-United were the day’s animators in support of England, putting Chris Wherry and Chris Baldwin into the break. The break opened up a lead of more than 2-minutes on the chasers. An aggressive Zajicek tried repeatedly to crack Bajadali, but couldn’t. Only the 12-man break finished the circuits and Sutherland, who has been living in Redlands since January when he arrived to train for the Amgen Tour of California, had the lightning in his legs again to take out the stage. Zajicek and Jacques-Maynes joined Bajadali on the final podium.
NBA all-star LeBron James bought an ownership stake in Cannondale. Apparently James rides as part of his cross-training regimen and leads bikeathons in Cleveland. Cannondale built the 6’8” basketballer a custom bike in Cleveland Cavaliers’ colors, which he typically rides for 1-3 hours. No word on whether or not he is a climber or a sprinter.
# # #
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.