November 19 - Weekly RapBy Rick Scott
In most parts of the world, the pro cycling peloton is on vacation enjoying the off-season break. Now is the time to rest, recharge the batteries and let the body heal after pedaling thousands and thousands of miles throughout the long season of training and racing. But we do have some racing action to cover along with news about the 2008 Amgen Tour of California to report before you gather with your family for Thanksgiving dinner.
Be Ready To Climb
Last week, the 2008 Amgen Tour of California stage routes were announced and the third go-round should prove to be a bit tougher as new climbs have been added. The 650-mile stage race opens February 17th with a prologue as per usual, but this one will be on flat terrain from Palo Alto to Stanford University instead of a hill climb as in the previous two editions. The first two stages will be the same as in past years, which includes a stage finish and a stage start in Santa Rosa, home of Amgen Tour of California defending champion Levi Leipheimer, who will be racing in his new team Astana colors. Stage 3 will have a new start in Modesto. The riders will encounter a difficult 26-mile section marked by ups and downs and technical twists and turns before they conquer the ascent to the 4360-foot summit of Mount Hamilton. After the descent, they’ll face the Sierra Road climb before an 18-mile run-in to the finish in San Jose. The picture postcard passage past Big Sur and Hearst Castle down the breathtaking California coast along Pacific Coast Highway leading into San Luis Obispo will unfold in the fourth stage, the longest of the race at 130 miles. Three King of the Mountains spots along the way will keep the climbers attentive. Stage 5 will be the pivotal 15-mile Solvang time trial. Stage 6 between Santa Barbara and Santa Clarita has four King of the Mountains climbs to contest, including the steep Balcom Canyon, a fan favorite that produces an electrifying European feel as thousands of boisterous spectators flock to the climb to cheer the riders. The race will conclude February 24th with a thrilling point-to-point route from Santa Clarita to Pasadena that will finish with laps around the legendary Rose Bowl, which will provide an exciting backdrop for fans. Before the peloton engages in battle over six circuits of a five-mile circuit around the bowl, they’ll have to pedal up to the highest point ever in the Amgen Tour of California when they reach the Millcreek Summit at 4,906 feet.
Stay tuned to this website for announcements about the teams and riders who’ll be coming to Cali. But we can tell you this now: aside from Leipheimer returning to defend his title, two-time World Champion Paulo Bettini (Quick-Step-Innergetic) has recently been quoted in interviews saying he’ll begin his 2008 season at the Amgen Tour of California where he won a stage in this year’s race.
Amstel Curacao Race
Some of the biggest ProTour stars embarked on a trip to Curacao at the beginning of November where they mixed a little business with their pleasure. Aside from enjoying the island’s sandy beaches and sparkling, opal-blue ocean, 160 riders lined up for 80 kilometers of criterium racing at the Amstel Curacao Race. Tour de France winner Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel) raced in his TdF yellow jersey, which is perhaps what powered him to victory over Rabobank’s Thomas Dekker and CSC’s Frank Schleck. 2005 winner Tom Boonen, who wore the green sprinter’s points jersey that he earned at the Tour de France, finished 5th and called it the hardest race of the season since the riders are training very little these days and aren’t exactly race-fit at the moment.
Frank Schleck and his 22-year-old brother Andy, who finished 2nd at this year’s Giro d’Italia, have another reason to celebrate: they just signed new contracts to keep them with CSC through 2010.
During the off-season, some pros continue racing their bikes, but on the track instead of the road. There are the traditional four- and six-day races in Germany and Belgium and track competitions in Italy, Belgium, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Amongst the ProTour stars speeding around the oval were Bradley Wiggins (Barloworld), Mark Cavendish (T-Mobile) and Erik Zabel (Milram), an aging veteran who incredibly doesn’t seem to need to rest after racing hard on the road from February through October.
Many of the world’s best track racers will be in Sydney, Australia from November 30-December 2 for the first World Cup race of the track season. Afterwards, they’ll jet to Beijing December 7-9 for test races at the velodrome hosting the 2008 Olympic Games.
PowerNet Tour of Southland
In New Zealand, one of their biggest spring (yes, it is spring there now) races is the PowerNet Tour of Southland. Back to defend his title was Hayden Roulston (Trek-Zookeeper’s Café). Bursting out of the gates in the opening 4-kilometer time trial was American Tom Zirbel riding for the Bissell Pro Cycling Team, the team that competed this year at the Amgen Tour of California as Priority Health. That afternoon, Reon Park (Colour Plus) won the second stage in harsh weather conditions consisting of strong winds and hail. Roulston was 2nd, which moved him up to 2nd in the GC. At 165 kilometers, stage 3 was the longest of the race and the GC contenders were content to let a seven-man break take the day’s prize, won by Glen Rewi (Creation Signs). The peloton arrived seven minutes later with no change at the top of the GC. In the fourth stage, Roulston managed to escape in a small group that finished the 101-kilometer stage over three minutes ahead of the main bunch. Although Marc Ryan (Colour Plus) won the stage, Roulston was back in the leader’s jersey. Later in the day, the riders raced an 88-kilometer stage that didn’t change the top of the leader’s board when Bissell’s Jeremy Vennell won the stage alone after having ridden away with seven others with 20 kilometers to go.
Having endured several days of atrocious weather conditions, the riders enjoyed basking in the sun on stage 6. After a long break was absorbed, Roulston attacked with Vennell and Ryan en tow. On the final climb to Crown Range, Ryan slipped off the pace. Roulston was content to gain time over his second place GC rival and allowed Vennell to notch his second stage win. American Scott Zwizanski was part of a long three-man break that became four-men with 20 kilometers remaining in stage 7. Zwizanski made it three consecutive stage wins for Bissell when he took flight to win solo by nearly a minute over his breakaway companions. The final day was another doubleheader. A break of ten spent almost the whole of stage 8’s 79 kilometers less than a minute up the road, but it all came back together in the end with Karl Murray (RaboPlus) acing the stage with a deft finishing sprint. In the final stage, Zirbel bagged his second stage win and fourth of the tour for Bissell. Roulston shined the brightest of the week while being the first rider to be a repeat winner at the Tour of Southland in 17 years.
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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.