August 20 - Weekly RapBy Rick Scott
While it’s common for cycling fans to suffer withdrawal and depression after the Tour de France concludes, there’s still plenty of racing action remaining this season. Some people say August is the hottest month of the year and in professional cycling, it might very well be the hottest time of the year as the single-day ProTour races return, stage races continue and a national criterium champion is crowned in the U.S. Read on to catch up on the latest international and domestic cycling news.
Pipp’s got da skillz to pay da billz
Let’s begin in Charlotte, North Carolina when the month opened at the Presbyterian Hospital Invitational Criterium, the richest one-day crit in the U.S. With $100,000 in prize money up for grabs, it became a crashfest held under oppressive summer humidity. Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada’s Jesse Anthony initiated a decisive late break with HealthNet’s Frank Pipp. The pair worked hard together to build a thirty-second advantage, which gave them the time and space to settle the score amongst themselves in the end. Pipp sat in halfway through the final lap, forcing Anthony to the fore. Cagey veteran Pipp made it look easy when he dashed around young Anthony in the final 200 meters to take home the $25,000 winner’s check.
The next day, many of the same riders were in Winston-Salem for the Hanes Park Classic. Again the humidity made weather conditions like racing in an oven. Attack after attack did nothing to break up the field. Amgen Tour of California final stage winner Ivan Dominguez returned from injury to find his winning legs by launching himself out of the final corner to win the prize for Toyota-United.
See Elk Grove via crit
The three-stage, two-day Tour of Elk Grove near Chicago opened with a short 6.75 km prologue held on a primarily flat course with two 180-degree turns. Australian national time trial champion Nathan O’Neill (HealthNet) flew the fastest to win by a few seconds over Team Slipstream’s Mike Friedman and Timmy Duggan.
The next two stages were crits with plenty of time bonuses up for grabs. Predictor-Lotto’s sprinter “Fast” Freddie Rodriguez lit it up to win stage 1 after 80 kms of racing on another flat course with two 180-degree turns. O’Neill managed to hang onto the leader’s jersey.
The next day, the riders lined up for a 110-km crit looking for time bonuses to take the overall win away from O’Neill. It was not to be. Dominguez confirmed his return to form by acing the sprint and O’Neill unexpectedly took home the overall along with a healthy paycheck.
Vuelta a Burgos
To Spain we go for the five-day Vuelta a Burgos. The first shot was fired by Tinkoff Credit System’s Mikhail Ignatiev, an aggressive rider who got away solo to ride home for the win 34 seconds ahead of the peloton. Stage 2 was a day for the climbers so it’s no surprise that recently anointed Tour de France King of the Mountains winner Mauricio Soler (Barloworld) won after attacking the lead group of 18 men in the final 1.5 kilometers to swipe the stage and the GC lead. A seven-man break dominated stage 3 and battled amongst themselves for the stage with Aqua & Sapone’s Aurelien Passeron coming out on top. Stage 4 was a 15-km time trial won by Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne), but he wasn’t able to unseat Soler. The Colombian climber held on in the final day, a 158-km stage won by Tinkoff Credit System’s Vasil Kiryenka, to win his first big stage race as a pro. While his riding style certain isn’t pretty, lots of people are watching 24-year-old Soler these days.
The season began with Discovery Channel’s Levi Leipheimer and CSC’s Jens Voigt in a fierce battle for the overall win at the Amgen Tour of California. Leipheimer, a California resident, won the war on his home soil, but would he again emerge as victor over the big German, the defending champion racing on his home turf?
German Robert Forster racing for German team Gerolsteiner won the opening stage in the rain in a field sprint filled with lots of fast guns. The rare team time trial made up the second stage, a 42-km trek through a technical and hilly course. CSC, led in by World Time Trial Champion Fabian Cancellara, won by 25 seconds over Leipheimer’s Disco boys. Voigt, who earned a small time bonus the previous day, snagged the leader’s jersey.
The teams of the sprinter’s had to work hard in stage 3 after Voigt, with an attentive Leipheimer in the mix, forced a split late in the race. Veteran German star Erik Zabel (Milram) claimed his 13th career stage win in his national race. Lampre’s Damiano Cunego won stage 4 over Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and David Lopez Garcia (Caisse d’Epargne). The trio finished a handful of seconds ahead of an elite pack that included Voigt and Leipheimer. A six-man group, including the American, conquered the summit of the category 2 Riedbergpass climb, with Voigt missing the move. On the descent, Leipheimer separated from the three leaders and Voigt saved his leader’s jersey by clawing back to Leipheimer.
The Queen’s Stage saw only 20 men hit the base of the above category Rettenbachferner climb, comprised of eight switchbacks, and that group was quickly reduced to ten when Lopez Garcia attacked, riding in solo for the win. Most expected Leipheimer to dethrone Voigt by the end of the stage, but it was the American who cracked. An inspired Voigt pounded the pedals to finish 2nd on the stage and put almost a minute on Leipheimer while padding his GC lead.
German speedster Gerald Ciolek, a 20-year-old racing for T-Mobile whom we saw on the podium at the Amgen Tour of California, won stages 6, 7 and 9. Stage 8 was the moment of truth: a 33-km time trial. Voigt not only held onto his leader’s jersey, he did it with panache by winning the stage. Leipheimer’s effort was good enough to leap up to 2nd place GC. The German won this battle, but look for Leipheimer to settle the score in California in February.
Stars & Stripes Part One
The USPRO National Criterium Championship is held on the same course every year in Downer’s Grove, Illinois. The riders fearlessly race to the last corner hoping not to crash, whip through it with white knuckles and a blaze of speed, and gas it to the line. The first American across the line wins the coveted national title along with the snazzy red, white & blue stars & stripes jersey to wear in crits for the next year. With so much on the line and wet roads, courtesy of Mother Nature, it was a race of attrition in a crash marred affair. Kelly Benefits/Medifast’s Martin Gilbert, a Canadian, sagely jumped on HealthNet’s powerhouse Karl Menzies’ wheel when he saw an opening. The Tasmanian was riding in support of Kirk O’Bee, but the American couldn’t quite hang onto his teammate’s wheel. Gilbert shot around Menzies to win the stage with O’Bee fighting back to take 2nd. Since O’Bee was the first American finisher, he’s the new USPRO national crit champ.
Stars & Stripes Parts Two & Three will take place Labor Day Weekend in Greenville, South Carolina when the USPRO Road Race and Time Trial National Championships will be held. George Hincapie (road) and Dave Zabriskie (time trial) will be back to defend their titles.
The Cool Down
We’ve known since February that Discovery Channel would not be continuing their sponsorship of the best U.S. cycling team in the world after this season, but like you, we were shocked and awed at the news announced recently that team management has abandoned its search for a new title sponsor and that they would disband at the end of the year. The organization formed with the U.S. Postal Service as title sponsor in the late 1990s. They delivered team co-owner Lance Armstrong in Paris seven times the winner of the Tour de France. This year, they had their best ever performance when the team got the overall Tour win with Alberto Contador, who also won the Best Young Rider award, 3rd place GC for Leipheimer, and the Best Team victory while collecting two stage wins. Team director Johan Bruyneel, all of 43-years-old, is supposedly retiring (believe that and I’ll sell you some swamp land in Jersey). This organization has won 7 of the last 8 Tours de France in addition to one Giro d’Italia and one Vuelta a Espana. This is the equivalent to the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Detroit Redwings or the New England Patriots hanging it up and going home. It’s going to be strange not having this classy organization at the Amgen Tour of California. It’s going to be even stranger seeing Hincapie racing in another team’s kit next season. Thanks for the memories.
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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.