October 22 - Weekly RapBy Rick Scott
It's unbelievable to think that the 2008 Amgen Tour of California is less than four months away! In the meantime, there's still plenty of fast pedaling action going on in what's left of this racing season. Ride with us in this edition of The Weekly Rap in which we'll cover the pro cycling action in the final Grand Tour of the year, hang with the sprinters in Belgium, and visit the velodrome right here in California for the U.S. National Track Championships.
Vuelta a Espana
The ProTour peloton took a trip around Spain last month at the 62nd Vuelta a Espana. Riders faced 21 stages consisting of 8 flat courses for the sprinters, 5 mountain stages for the climbers, 6 intermediate stages usually favored by the breakaway specialists, and a pair of individual time trials to separate the true GC contenders from the pretenders. With the race being held late in the season, the stages are usually shorter and faster than the stages in the other two Grand Tours (Italy and France). Often riders who had a disappointing Tour de France use the Vuelta to redeem themselves and salvage their season. Forgoing the usual prologue start in favor of a flat stage, Lampre sprinter Daniele Bennati's opening salvo scored the first golden leader's jersey. The Italian went down in a heap when a big crash marred the finish of the second stage leaving only a small group to contest the sprint. While appropriately wearing the sprint leader's jersey, Oscar Freire (Rabobank) won the stage and assumed the GC lead.
Amgen Tour of California stage winner Paolo Bettini (Quick Step-Innergetic) mastered the technical, twisty stage 3 to win in a sprint. The mountains arrived early in this year's Vuelta as stage 4 concluded with a 12.6-kilometer climb. Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne) emerged from the leading break to conquer the stage solo and take command of the overall lead. Freire completed the hat trick by jetting to back-to-back sprint victories in stages 5 and 6. Stage 7 finished with another massive pile up, but a few sprinters managed to get around the melee including Erik Zabel (Milram), who was able to fend off Discovery Channel's Alan Davis.
T-Mobile's Bert Grabsch won the 32-mile time trial in stage 8, but this was a key stage for the real GC contenders to make their presence felt. Rabobank's Denis Menchov, a previous Vuelta winner, caught and passed CSC's Carlos Sastre for two minutes en route to putting down the 4th best time. Efimkin lost the leader's jersey to Discovery Channel's Stijn Devolder, who was 3rd in the “race of truth.” The next day, a ten-man break got caught before the long finishing climb. Devolder cracked and lost time while Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and Menchov rode away from the bunch. They seemed to have forged an alliance to take the stage win and the GC lead respectively. An elite group of seven ascended the summit finish together in stage 10 with Sastre attacking in an unsuccessful attempt to gain back some of the time he lost in the time trial. Menchov got the better of the bunch to win the stage.
The sprinters got their turn again in stages 11 and 12. Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) timed his sprint perfectly on both days. A rain-slowed stage 13 produced a two-man break culminating in a two-up sprint won by T-Mobile's Andreas Klier over Gerolsteiner's Roy Stamsnijder. This year's Amgen Tour of California 3rd place finisher Jason McCartney rode away from the break in stage 14 and the American soloed home for the biggest win of his career in stage 14. With his Discovery Channel team folding at the end of the season, McCartney's glory was exquisitely timed and helped him land a two-year contract with CSC.
Two Spaniards dueled to the line in stage 15 with Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) getting the better of Manuel Beltran (Liquigas). After the second rest day, a long escape managed to stick in stage 16. Three-men leapt from the group to battle for the stage win with Leonardo DuQue (Cofidis) eclipsing Alexandr Kolobnev (CSC) and Joan Horrach (Caisse d'Epargne). Bennati and World Champion Bettini clashed again in a peloton sprint finish in stage 17 with Bennati notching his second stage win. Afterwards, Bettini, who had earned the sprinter's points jersey lead, left the race to prepare for the World Championships (which he defended successfully).
Back to the high mountains for stage 18 and it proved decisive when Efimkin missed the break, losing his 2nd place GC position. Luis Perez, who will retire at the end of the season, can depart with his head held high as he bagged the solo win by 41 seconds over Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto). Rain damped stage 19, which had a mountaintop finish. Sanchez rode to victory in a tough stage that saw Menchov closely marking Sastre, who had moved up to 2nd overall. Evans rose to 3rd and Sanchez advanced to 4th GC. But Evans looked exhausted after the stage after having ridden his heart out in the Tour de France to finish 2nd in Paris. He didn't have much time to recover between tours and surely all the miles had to be taking their toll.
Stage 20 was a 20-kilometer time trial, a race that usually suits Evans. However, he struggled with fatigue and Sanchez capitalized to take the stage while leapfrogging the Australian to land in 3rd place overall. Incredibly Menchov's 2nd place on the stage ensured his overall race win and enabled him to assume the lead in the mountains, sprint and combine competitions as well. Total dominance! The race concluded with the largely ceremonial stage 21 that finished in Madrid. Bennati collected his third stage win after a mass peloton sprint, which garnered him the sprinter's points jersey. Interestingly, Bennati also won the final stage at the Tour de France. Menchov, who held the lead for 13 consecutive days, won his second Vuelta with Sastre and Sanchez completing the final podium.
The 67th Circuit Franco-Belge attracted plenty of sprinters to this four-day stage race in Belgium. Bouygues Telecom's Aurelien Clerc opened the festivities with a stage win after a bunch gallop. A two-man escape stayed away for 100 kilometers in the 177-kilometer stage, but T-Mobile mounted chase in support of their young gun, Mark Cavendish. Unfortunately a flat tire in the final two kilometers ended the Brit's hope of victory. Again T-Mobile was aggressive in working for Cavendish in stage 2 with Bernard Eisel launching the first break in a stage marked by an abundance of attacks and a brisk pace over the nearly 205 kilometers. It was Eisel who led-out Cavendish in the concluding sprint, but Quick.Step-Innergetic's Gert Steegmans proved faster, while Cavendish settled for 2nd. Cavendish finally got it right in stage 3 when he registered his eleventh win of the season, which was a personal goal. Steegmans' 2nd place moved him into the GC lead with Cavendish down only one second. On the final climb in the final 8 kilometers in the final stage, CSC lit off an attack by Matthew Goss, but he and four other riders were reeled in. Two-time World Time Trial Champion Fabian Cancellara (CSC) tried his hand with an escape with five kilometers left and he almost made it. Almost. With 400 meters to go, the sprinters made sure they had the final say. Steegmans snatched the stage and the GC win after sprinting past Cavendish and Robbie McEwen (Predictor-Lotto) on the slightly uphill cobblestone finish.
U.S. National Track Championships
Not only is California home to the biggest stage race in the U.S., but the Golden Stage also has the best velodrome. The ADT Event Center near Los Angeles hosted the U.S. National Track Championships earlier this month and The Weekly Rap was there to witness the thrills and spills. Track cycling is an entirely different world than the road racing we normally see, but it's just as fast and furious. Instead of seeing so many ultra thin riders, track cyclists are often bulky, muscular types who explode powerfully on their bikes over short distance sprints and time trials. Riders from some of the teams we watch on the road – Team Slipstream, HealthNet, Toyota-United, Priority Health, Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada, Rock Racing and Successful Living – had riders battling for stars & stripes jerseys. The fastest men and women earned not only national titles, but many qualified for the talent pool to represent the United States at World Cup events during the 2007-2008 track season.
Individual and team events were held over four days of racing. On opening day, Southern California's own Michael Blatchford (Cody Racing) won the 250-meter time trial over Ben Barczewski (T-Town Express). Liz Reap (T-Town Express) launched herself to victory in the 500-meter women's time trial over Anna Lang (SDBC-Karl Strauss). In the men's one-kilometer time trial, Stephen Hill (East Point Track Club) bettered David Espinoza (Herbalife). The Slipstream squad consisting of Michel Friedman, Brad Huff, Mike Creed and Colby Pearce got the win in the men's four-kilometer team pursuit.
On the second day, 17-year-old Taylor Phinney, whose parents are American cycling legends Connie Carpenter-Phinney and Davis Phinney, confirmed that he inherited the ability to suffer on the bike. The TIAA-Cref rider, who recently won the World Junior Time Trial Championship, is new to track cycling yet he surprised season pros, including Huff, who he faced in the finals, to win the men's pursuit championship. Another roadie who recently started riding track, Dotsie Bausch (Colavita/Sutter Home) earned the women's pursuit title in only her third track race. Bausch crushed the field in the qualifying round yet crashed at the start of the final. Officials restarted the race and despite falling behind after an overly cautious start, Bausch rebounded to take the win over Christen King (Young's Training). With barely any time to recover between races, King came right back in the women's scratch race and pedaled away from the field with five laps remaining to win alone. Dave McCook (Priority Health) defended his title in the men's scratch race with a victory over Cody O'Reilly (Kodak Gallery). Sprinter Jennie Reed (Momentum) added another prize to her collection of national titles when she synched the keirin over Reap.
Blatchford lassoed national titles in the elite and U23 (under age 23) men's sprint on day three. Barczewski again had to settle for 2nd. Reed won the women's sprint championship over Reap. In the men's points race, Friedman put on a show by lapping the field to bag the win over Rock Racing's Austin Carroll, who earned himself the U23 title to go along with his silver medal. In the women's points race, Becky Quinn (South Bay Wheelmen) eked out a win by a single point ahead of Heather Albert (America's Dairyland).
Racing concluded on the last day with a new event for women: the three-kilometer team pursuit, which will debut at World Cup events this season. Bausch, Reed and two-time World Pursuit Champion Sarah Hammer, who is easing back into racing form after spending much of the summer recovering from a nagging lower back injury, joined forces to set a new World Record time of 3:34.783. In the men's team sprint, T-Town Express, comprised of Barczewski, Giddeon Massie, Ryan Nelman, vanquished all others. Reap and Cari Higgins (Cody Racing) won the women's team sprint. In the men's keirin, Massie sprinted past Barczewski for national honors. In one of the wildest type of bike races to watch, the men's madison pairing of Bobby Lea (Toyota-United) and Colby Pearce (Cody Racing) outscored Rock Racing's tandem of Carroll and Rahsaan Bahati. There will be a World Cup track event at the ADT Event Center in January. Check it out if you can!
# # #
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.