August 30 - Weekly RapGermany, France, Ireland, China and the Good Old U.S. of A: we’re all over the map in this issue of The Weekly Rap. There must be a lot of tired legs out there because there’s a ton of bike racing action happening this month all over the world. Read on to catch up with the latest in the international and domestic pro pelotons.
The day after the Deutschland Tour ended, the ProTour moved to Hamburg, Germany for the 12th Vattenfall Cyclassics. While veteran and youthful German sprinters Erik Zabel (Milram) and Gerald Ciolek (T-Mobile) wanted to display their skills on home turf, the field included fastmen Daniele Bennati (Lampre), Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) and Oscar Freire (Rabobank), which guaranteed an exciting sprint finish. Crashes marred the day, including a pile-up in the final 2 km that took-out Hushovd. A threatening group of five made a move late in the race and when they were caught, Discovery Channel’s Vladamir Gusev and AG2R’s Simon Gerrans deployed a perfectly timed counter with 6.5 kms remaining. Working to save the day for their speedsters, T-Mobile, Rabobank and Lampre led the successful chase. The late crash disrupted the sprinters’ trains and Lampre’s Alessandro Ballan benefited from the confusion. While looking back for his teammate Bennati, Ballan saw he had a gap with 500 meters remaining and smartly gave it the gas. Late surges by Freire and Ciolek completed the podium as Ballan, who won the legendary Tour of Flanders last spring, cruised home for the win.
Tour de Limousin
Over to France, the four-stage Tour de Limousin opened with a win by Belgian Philippe Gilbert (Francais des Jeux). Gilbert was part of a twenty-man escape and then moved with five others in what proved to be the winning break. He out sprinted his companions, including Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d’Epargne) and Bouygues Telecom’s Pierrick Fedrigo, to take the stage. Cold temperatures, harsh wind and torrential rain made conditions unpleasant on the hilly 187-km route in stage 2. Twenty-year-old Pierre Roland (Credit Agricole) rode to victory solo with a 36-second gap over 2nd place. The GC battle saw the lead change hands to Fedrigo, who finished the stage 3rd with Pereiro by his side. With Gilbert having to withdrawal due to illness during stage 3, the GC seemed to be between Fedrigo and Pereiro, who were separated by a scant six seconds. A thirteen-man break went from the gun. With no one an overall threat, they were allowed to flee and build a four-minute advantage. With 25 kms remaining, Patrice Halgand (Credit Agricole) counterattacked on a hill with four others en tow. They shed one member of the entourage with 5 km to go. Halgand clearly had the best legs, but he crashed in the final kilometer, which allowed Lilian Jegou (Francais des Jeux) to win his first pro race at age 31. In the final stage, Bouygues Telecom let a break of seven riders build a maximum advantage of over six minutes. Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) and Nicolas Jalabert (Agritubel) jumped from the break and they were quickly joined by Yukiya Arashiro (Nippo-Meitan) and Joaquin Rojas (Caisse d'Epargne). With 15 km to go, Jalabert and Arashiro attacked. Caisse d’Epargne led the chase in support of Pereiro so when Jalabert dropped Arashiro with 4 km remaining, they reeled in the Frenchman to set-up a sprint finish. Caisse d’Epargne launched attackers to try to put Fedrigo into difficulty, but it was not to be. AG2R’s Alexandre Usov nailed the stage while Fedrigo won the overall for the second time. He lost last year by a heartbreaking single second in the final stage so this victory was especially sweet.
The Tour of Ireland
It was fitting that a man in green, 23-year-old Stijn Vandenbergh (Unibet.com), won the first stage of the Tour of Ireland after attacking out of a ten-man break that finished thirteen minutes ahead of the peloton. With such a huge margin, that meant one of the ten would win the GC in the premiere edition of the five-stage race. The second stage, with five-categorized climbs, including the category 1 Healy Pass, was anticipated as being the toughest. The challenging terrain and plenty of animated attacks trimmed the field down to 49 and eventually down to the final 40 that sprinted for the stage. CSC’s Matti Breschel benefited from terrific teamwork thus earning the win by a few bike lengths. Six men tested their luck when they took off early in the primarily flat third stage, but they were reabsorbed by the sprinter’s teams with 8 kms left. Borut Bozic (Team LPR) timed his dash to perfection to win the big pack gallop. The fourth stage was a long 232 kms and five men decided to give a break a go. Despite building a lead of over seven minutes, the pack wasn’t going to let it stick. Two of the breakers – Danny Pate (Slipstream-Chipotle) and Roger Beuchat (Team LPR) – attempted to fly as a duo, but they were chased by five others with six kilometers to go. The front group of 41 was back together by the time they entered the final kilo. Promising 20-year-old Norwegian sprinter Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Maxbo Bianchi), who recently inked a deal to wear T-Mobile’s magenta kit next season, collected the stage. The closing stage found a trio getting away shortly before the halfway point of the race and successfully holding it to the end. Marco Marcato (Team LPR), Thomas Berkhout (Rabobank) and Irish National road race champion David O’Loughlin (Navigators Insurance) stretched their lead out to over five minutes, but it was halved by the time they reached the 2.4 km finishing circuits. Incredibly they lapped the field, which meant the stage would go to one them. When Berhkout jetted in the final lap, a bit of national pride came into play. Marcato knew O’Loughlin had to give chase so he hitched a free ride and eclipsed them both to steal the deal. In the overall, Vandenbergh held the yellow jersey from coast to coast. Not only was his opening stage victory his first as a pro, but he also landed his first pro stage race victory. CSC’s Marcus Ljungkvist was 2nd and American Aaron Olson (T-Mobile) landed in a career best 3rd.
Chris Thater Memorial Criterium
In the U.S., specifically upstate New York, the fastest domestic wheelmen were flexing their muscles in Binghamton for the Chris Thater Memorial Criterium. It turned out to be a battle within the battle as a full Toyota-United complement fought for supremacy against a three-man HealthNet unit to score the maximum points available for the National Racing Calendar team competition. HealthNet entered the race with a slim lead over the Toyota-United bunch, which was looking for the race win to come from the legs of red-hot Amgen Tour of California stage winner Ivan Dominguez. The early break stood no chance of success as no one from Toyota-United or HealthNet was in the mix. Past the halfway mark of the race, Rite Aid’s Alejandro Borrajo made the move and he was quickly joined by Priority Health’s Ted King. Navigators Insurance Kyle Wamsley, Mark Walters (Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada) and Bill Eliston (Rite Aid) rode across and the five men held a 25-second advantage until three laps remained when Toyota-United and AEG-Toshiba closed the gap to set-up the final sprint. HealthNet’s Shawn Milne sacrificed himself by attacking with two laps left, forcing Toyota-United to give chase. Wamsley had protection from teammate Viktor Rapinski, who was marking Dominguez. When Wamsley jumped out of turn 3 in the final lap, he caught everyone by surprise. Dominguez had to settle for 2nd and HealthNet scored the valuable points they sought with their 3rd place (Karl Menzies) and 5th place (Rory Sutherland) finishes to add to their NRC team lead over Toyota-United with one event left on the calendar.
The Cool Down
Some of the best cyclists in the world headed to Beijing, China earlier this month to race on the road race and time trial courses for next year’s Olympic Games. Australia sent some of their finest to compete in Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) and Michael Rogers (T-Mobile), who finished 1st and 2nd respectively in the time trial. After competing in the road race, they reported that they expect the race to be very difficult next year because the major stairstep-like climb that they’ll ascend numerous times is deceivingly hard. There’s also been plenty of talk and concern about the air quality along with the safety of the food. It should be interesting…
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.