November 7 - Weekly RapBy Rick Scott
Let’s wrap this season in this week’s edition of The Weekly Rap in which we’ll cover the final ProTour fall classics in France and Italy before heading to Australia for a stage race where spring has sprung. Put away the Halloween candy and enjoy the tricks and treats from the world of pro cycling.
When you discuss sports traditions, it’s amazing to think about how long bicycle racing has been in existence. This year’s Paris-Tours was the 101st edition. It’s a race often referred to as “The Sprinters’ Classic” because of the long, almost completely flat course with a three-kilometer straight run-in to the finish. While on occasion a break has been known to succeed in stealing the race from the fast men, the sprinter’s teams work hard to try to prevent that from happening. Some of the sprint stars who hoped to end the season with a big ProTour win were Robbie McEwen (Predictor-Lotto), Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) and the Milram dynamic duo: Alessandro Petacchi and Erik Zabel.
The sun was shining on the peloton, which would be in the saddle on this day for almost 5-and-a-half hours. The first break of 22 hopefuls took flight only seven kilometers into the race. Although they never built much of a lead, they held off the chasers until kilometer 93. Another large threatening group attempted a break, but their fate was the same after holding out an advantage of less than a minute for 30 kilometers. A non-threatening trio - David Boucher (Landbouwkrediet), Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) and Serge Pauwels (Chocolade Jacques) – was allowed to flee, building an advantage of almost eight minutes. With 80 kilometers remaining, the teams of the sprinters decided it was time to get to work shutting down the break. One by one, the breakers retreated back to the rapidly approaching peloton. Quinziato was the last survivor, who made it to the final seven kilometers before he was reabsorbed. A three-man counterattack was deployed on the last hilly section by Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux), Karsten Kroon (CSC) and Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas). Three more men – World Time Trial Champion Fabian Cancellara (CSC), Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) and Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d'Epargne) – leapt from the peloton in an unsuccessful effort to join the break. But their mere presence caused Kroon to sit up and refuse to work towards the success of the break in the hope that his teammate Cancellara would join them. With Pozzato being a feared sprinter, Gilbert let him do the lion’s share of the work. After they flew under the one-kilometer to go kite, the pack snared their prey setting the stage for the sprinters to close the show. McEwen pulled out of his pedal and swerved, nearly taking out Freire. Both managed to keep the rubber side down, but the maneuver effectively ended their chances of victory. The Milram train was cooking with Zabel, who had won this race three times previously, selflessly burying himself for Petacchi. The Italian collected his first win of this fall classic.
Giro di Lombardia
Another race marking its 101st year was the Giro di Lombardia, the ProTour finale known as “The Race of the Falling Leaves.” It’s one of the most prestigious one-day races in cycling. With its undulating route, the climbers typically shine at this Italian classic that starts in Varese, the site of next year’s World Championships. Seven men generated plenty of publicity for their sponsors by escaping early and building a lead that maxed out at nearly eleven minutes. At the halfway point in the race, the peloton lifted the tempo to shrink the gap to three minutes, which also caused a few riders to get dropped from the break. The four surviving riders ahead were chased by a group of 18, including pre-race favorites Frank Schleck (CSC), ProTour season winner Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto), Amgen Tour of California stage winner Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step-Innergetic), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Thomas Dekker (Rabobank), Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Riccardo Ricco (Saunier Duval-Prodir).
Quick.Step-Innergetic’s Matteo Tosatto dashed off from his three companions on a solo mission. Led by Karsten Kroon, CSC drove the chase, which recollected Tosatto with 15 kilometers remaining as the pack reached the Civiglio climb. Cunego, Ricco, Evans and Schleck looked the strongest as they lead the pack up and over the ascent. Unfortunately Schleck went down hard after tangling with Discovery Channel’s Vladimir Gusev and his chances of victory were gone. On the final climb of the day with six kilometers left, Cunego and Ricco launched moves in unison on both sides of the road on the San Fermo climb. The pair of Italians attacked and counterattacked with vim and vigor. By the time they reached the summit, they were alone. They worked together on the descent and on the flatter roads leading into Como for the finish with Ricco holding a slight advantage over Cunego, who won this race in 2004. Knowing the finish worked to Cunego’s advantage as he sprinted past Ricco with less than 100 meters remaining to capture the biggest win of his season.
Jayco Herald Sun Tour
The weeklong Jayco Herald Sun Tour opened in Australia with a prologue held on a fast, technical 1.7-kilometer circuit with a hill that the riders battled on for 60 minutes plus three laps. The day marked the welcome return of Stuart O’Grady, who hadn’t raced since his horrifying crash in the Tour de France. Thankfully his numerous injuries have healed completely and the CSC star was back in action racing for the Jayco Australian National Team. A nine-man break got away early and held it to the line with Astana’s Aaron Kemps emerging with the victory. Stage 1 was fast from the start and strong winds and high temperatures made the 142 kilometers even harder. A break of 11 riders shattered the field, finishing twelve minutes ahead of the peloton. Unibet.com’s Matt Wilson won the stage and the Australian’s ProTour squad would have to defend the GC lead. Perhaps his most feared rider was Trent Lowe of the Jayco Australian National Team, a terrific climber who normally rides for Discovery Channel.
The crosswinds continued making life difficult for the peloton in stage 2, which began with another fast start on the 145-kilometer route. A group of eight escaped 72 kilometers into the stage and since none of them were GC threats, they were given clearance. In the closing moments, Wes and Bernie Sulzberger, brothers who race for different teams, pulled away with Jorg Ludewig (Wiesenhof-Felt), who didn’t know they were brothers. When Wes (SouthAustralia.com) launched for the win, Bernie (DFL-Cyclingnews) didn’t react. That brief hesitation gave Wes the gap he needed to take the win over Ludewig. Unibet.com’s Baden Cooke helped his teammate (Wilson) by setting a blistering pace in the final kilometers causing Lowe to lose precious time.
Kemps won his second stage by acing the mass sprint at the end of stage 3. The riders had been anticipating the punishing climb to Falls Creek at the end of stage 4 to be decisive and the stage did produce a change in the GC lead. Astana’s Steve Morabito won the day ahead of Joost Van Leijen (Netherlands National Team), but Van Leijen earned the leader’s jersey to wear in stage 5. Wilson fought valiantly to finish the stage 34 seconds in arrears and was only eight seconds behind the Dutchman in the GC. An aggressive break late in the race helped Cameron Jennings (DFL-Cyclingnews) win the three-up stage 5 sprint. The real headlines were made when Van Leijen was hit with a 20-second penalty for drafting his team car after an untimely flat. Wilson resumed the GC lead with four others, including Van Leijen, within 30 seconds.
In a thrilling 8.6-kilometer time trial on a technical course containing a hill, Morabito clocked his second stage win by a mere two seconds over Lowe. Wilson turned himself inside-out to retain his GC lead over Morabito by three seconds and held a slim margin of 14 seconds over Lowe. Suddenly it appeared that Morabito being docked 20 seconds for drafting a car in stage 2 could wind up costing him the overall. But there were plenty of time bonuses up for grabs in the final stage, which kept the Unibet.com, Astana and Jayco National Team squads vigilant on the 2.5-kilometer circuit that the riders sped around for 80 minutes plus three laps. Kemps completed his hat trick by winning the sprint ahead of his two breakaway mates. With a break up the road, the time bonuses were gobbled up, which maintained the status quo on the GC. Wilson, who is usually a worker bee, scored the well-deserved stage race win with excellent support from his Unibet.com teammates.
The Cool Down
After vowing never to run another marathon a year ago after running his first, seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong was back in action last weekend at the New York City Marathon. It took him about four months for his shin splints to heal after last year’s race, but this time he arrived better prepared and knew what to expect. Armstrong, who ran in a yellow "LIVESTRONG” jersey while leading a marathon team effort to raise over $500,000 for cancer research and programs, sliced more than 10 minutes off last year’s time to finish in 2:46:43.
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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.