December 10 - Weekly Rapby Rick Scott
The holiday season is in full swing and the New Year is weeks away. It’s a time to give thanks for our many blessings. It’s a time to give something back. It’s a time for change and to start anew. This week, we’ll show you how the world of professional cycling does all three.
Giving ThanksThis column has covered the extraordinary recovery of cyclist Saul Raisin, the young Georgia native who was on the brink of death after sustaining severe injuries to his brain after crashing at the 2006 Circuit de la Sarthe in France. Raisin defied the odds and raced for the first time last September at the U.S. Pro Time Trial Championships on an emotional day that capped an unexpected recovery. It was supposed to be the first race of his comeback, but it turned out also to be his last. Raisin recently endured a battery of tests to determine if he would be able to resume his professional cycling career. Unfortunately the doctors from his team, Credit Agricole, which has stood by Raisin loyally, believe the risk to be too great if he were to hit his head again in a crash thus he was forced to retire. One might think this is sad news, but the young man was quick to remind us that he wasn’t supposed to live, yet he did. He wasn’t supposed to be able to talk or walk, yet he did. He wasn’t supposed to be able to ride his bike again, yet he did. All he and his family prayed for was for him to be able to live a normal life again. And he is.
Making this story even sweeter, when Raisin was in Long Beach last February to watch the final stage of the Amgen Tour of California, he met Aleeza Zabriskie, sister of fellow rider Dave. It was love at first sight and the two were married on the beach in Maui on December 1st. We wish the beautiful couple a happy, long and healthy normal life together.
Giving BackSpeaking of Dave Z., the U.S. time trial champ, in October he hosted a benefit event for Bikes for Kids Utah in his home state. The organization’s mission is to provide a positive education and cycling experience for disadvantaged children. Children between the ages of 7-9 are given free bicycles as an inexpensive and fun way to get to school and as a hobby that helps them get exercise while learning responsibility and safety. There was a time trial challenge in which participants got to test their skills against the clock to see how they measure up against Zabriskie, one of the best at the discipline in the world. There were also 5 km, 50 km and 100 km rides along with a fundraising dinner and auction. If you’d like to make a donation, please visit http://bikesforkidsutah.com.
Amgen Tour of California stage winner Paolo Bettini hosted the “Bettiniadi” this past weekend near his home in La California in Italy. The reigning Olympic champ and two-time World Champion organized this fun mini-Olympics to benefit a host of charities. The event pitted two teams competing in sack races, 4 x 100 relays, an obstacle chase, combat, flag stealing, and finally, a cell phone throwing competition. One team consisted of Bettini’s Italian teammates from the World’s including Damiano Cunego, Alessandro Ballan, Pippo Pozato and Giovanni Visconti, and the other team was comprised of cycling journalists.
Saunier Duval-Prodir planted trees all season in Africa based upon the number of kilometers their riders have raced, earning extra trees for victories and breakaways. Team Discovery Channel, which has always supported fundraising efforts by team co-owner Lance Armstrong and his cancer foundation, adopted a green initiative at the Tour de France. They successfully neutralized the carbon emissions from race vehicles, uniform production and website hosting by purchasing carbon offsets and planting trees, including in Northern California’s Mendocino Forest near where Amgen Tour of California winner Levi Leipheimer lives and trains. Thirty trees were planted for every Tour de France stage win and for each day one of their riders wore a special classification leader’s jersey. The team planted 780 trees in honor of their historic performance.
Cyclists from all walks of life helped commemorate World AIDS Day on December 1st by riding 27 miles to mark 27 years of the pandemic. Rides were held in major U.S. cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Portland and in cities abroad such as London, Sydney and Montreal.
Ch-ch-changesCyclists often refer to the time of year when riders swap teams and rumors abound about who will be riding for whom next season as “Silly Season.” This fall/winter has witnessed a seemingly unprecedented amount of action as some long-time organizations and sponsors have withdrawn from the sport causing an unusual amount of personnel changes. We’re not even going to try to cover all the changes, but we do want to bring you the highlights because the peloton will look markedly different when you see it blazing the streets of California come February.
Let’s begin with the teams. The biggest news to rock the peloton came in August when the organization behind one of the most successful franchise in all of sports, racing the last few seasons as Discovery Channel, decided to exit the game. Last week, the cycling world was again abuzz when word came that long-time sponsor T-Mobile was withdrawing their sponsorship. The team will carry on as Team High Road. Saunier Duval drops the pens and adds long-time bike sponsor Scott as co-title sponsor. Predictor-Lotto replaces the pregnancy test in favor of an anti-snoring aid, thus becoming Silence-Lotto. Unibet.com was driven out.
On the domestic front, two long-time sponsors and organizations - Navigator’s Insurance and Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada - have exited. Priority Health-Bissell becomes Bissell for next season. The Rock Racing and Successful Living teams have been rewarded for their fine performances this past season with budget increases from their title sponsors. But perhaps the most talked about American team that hopes to pick-up the mantle from where the Discovery Channel/U.S. Postal Service/Motorola dynasty left off is Team Slipstream. Under the brilliant and ambitious direction of Jonathan Vaughters, Team Slipstream has morphed from its inception as a U23 (under age 23) developmental squad for Americans into what they hope will become a ProTour team in 2009. While Vaughters has signed some non-American powerhouses for 2008, including Brit David Millar, Swede Magnus Backstedt, Australians Trent Lowe and Julian Dean, and Canadian Ryder Hesjedal, the team consists primarily of Americans with a deep commitment to racing with honesty and integrity, something desperately needed in sports at this time. Other high-profile signings to Team Slipstream were Americans Zabriskie, Christian Vande Velde, Tom Danielson and Tyler Farrar.
Eight-time Tour de France winning director Johan Bruyneel leads a renewed Astana that signed Leipheimer, Tour de France winner Alberto Contador, Jani Brajkovic, Vladimir Gusev, and a host of other former Discovery Channel talent and management. Astana also inked American Chris Horner, formerly of Predictor-Lotto, who will be a real asset in the mountains. Liquigas gains Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana stage winner Daniele Bennati, but loses Giro d’Italia and Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner Danilo DiLuca. DiLuca moves to Italian squad LPR along with two-time Giro d’Italia winner Paolo Savoldelli, who departs Astana. American icon George Hincapie goes to Team High Road along with British Olympic hopeful Bradley Wiggins. CSC picks up Amgen Tour of California 3rd place finisher Jason McCartney and Brad McGee, the latter of whom is hoping to be rejuvenated as others who have come to CSC have experienced. Discovery Channel’s Yaraslov Popovych found a new home at Silence-Lotto.
Domestically Fred Rodriquez and Victor Hugo Pena are two ProTour names added to the Rock Racing roster, which also adds Cesar Grajales and Mike Creed. BMC welcomes Tony Cruz, Jeff Louder and Taylor Tolleson. Colavita-Sutter Homes gains speed from Alejandro Borrajo, Sebastian Haedo (yes, brother of J.J. Haedo), and Kyle Wamsley. Although HealthNet has trimmed their roster, they are certain to score wins from the legs of Phil Zajicek. Kelly Benefits Strategies gets a fast pair of wheels from Alex Candelario. Toyota-United brings three more Aussies into the fold by adding Hilton and John Clarke and Ben Day. Bissell will be even stronger with Aaron Olsen, Sergei Lagutin and Burke Swindlehurst in their line-up.
Did we mention there will be changes in the peloton next season?
# # #
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.