October 8 - Weekly RapBy Rick Scott
The leaves are changing hues and scattering while the mercury has begun to fall. Autumn's arrival hasn't slowed the international and domestic pro pelotons down one bit. In fact, it's time to crown world champions in the time trial, road race and criterium. Join us for this world championship edition of The Weekly Rap.
World Time Trial Championship
Stuttgart, Germany was the site of this year's World Championship time trial and road race with both Fabian Cancellara (time trial) and Paolo Bettini (road race) back to defend their titles. Rain dampened the time trial course, which caused some consternation for Cancellara: he crashed on rain-slicked roads during the first Tour de France time trial. Thankfully none of the contenders went down. Riders traversed two laps for a total of 45 kilometers with Cancellara earning the right to start last. U.S. national time trial champ Dave Zabriskie looked in contention for a medal until he reached the hillier final section where he faded fast. He settled for 12th after being caught and passed by Cancellara, who started two minutes ahead of the demoralized American. Initially it was Stef Clement (Netherlands) who put up the best times at the intermediate check points until Hungary's Lazlo Bodrogi eclipsed him for 2nd place with Clement satisfied with 3rd. But Cancellara, riding in the Swiss champion's jersey, rode like the World Champion he is by putting up the best times at all the time checks. When he blazed past his CSC teammate Zabriskie, who is regarded as one of the world's best time trailers, Cancellara knew he had it in the bag. He was the only rider to finish with a time under 56 minutes with an average speed of over 48 kph. His 55:41 was 52 seconds faster than Bodrogi and almost 58 seconds ahead of Clement. It was another great season for the 26-year-old, who won the Tour de France prologue and held the yellow leader's jersey for the first week of the Tour during which a perfectly timed move helped him win a road stage.
World Road Race Championship
The hilly road race course in Stuttgart forced many of the teams to leave their best sprinters at home. The stacked Italian and Spanish teams were the heavy favorites going into the 267-kilometer race comprised of 14 laps of a 19-kilometer course held on a dry, sunny day, but anything can happen in a one-day championship race. That's why strong teams to support their captains are so crucial. Breaks of 2s and 3s tested their luck early in the race gaining advantages of up to a few minutes before they were reeled back in. With the Italians pushing the pace in support of Bettini, the peloton split in half with about 50-60 men chasing down a break ahead of the rest of the field. When the break was absorbed, the two groups got a bit mixed up and another 24 men were able to sneak away in the confusion. Once again, the Italian squad marshaled the front and sent men to chase down anything that looked threatening.
In a race this long and hard, it usually becomes a race of attrition. What was left of the field, about 60 riders, were together as they started the final two loops. On the decisive Birkenkopf climb 10 kilometers into lap 13, Italian Davide Rebellin attacked with Russian Alexandr Kolobnev en tow. The duo worked well to hold onto their advantage for nearly a complete circuit. The lead was down to twenty seconds when the soon-to-retire Michael Boogerd (Netherlands) attacked up the steep Hedwig with 15 kilometers remaining. His move caught the break and caused the formation of 14 of the marquee heads of state who were favored to ultimately battle for the crown. When they hit the Birkenkopf for the last time, Bettini took charge of his own destiny and leapt from the elite group. Frank Schleck (Luxembourg) and Stephan Schumacher, who hails from just 20 kilometers from Stuttgart, made the move and the three worked together to build their advantage. Kolobnev and Australian Cadel Evans found their legs in time to join the trio. Not fancying his chances in a sprint, Evans tried unsuccessfully to move first with just over a kilometer remaining, but Schumacher led the chase back. As the quartet hit the final ascent to the finish, the Spanish-driven peloton led by Samuel Sanchez was closing in fast. After the leaders navigated the last right turn with 200 meters remaining, Kolobnev assumed the front position in the final 50 meters. An inspired Bettini rocketed around him to win the gold. The Amgen Tour of California stage winner was the first to repeat as World Champion since fellow Italian Gianni Bungo accomplished the feat in 1991 and 1992. The Russian managed to hold on for 2nd while Schumacher delivered a 3rd place bronze medal to the host nation.
World Criterium Championship
With the cycling industry in Las Vegas for the annual Interbike trade show, organizers thought it was finally time to display their gear in action for a change, hence the first World Criterium Championship was born in the parking lot of the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino. The Weekly Rap was were there and when we walked up, we caught sight of none other than Mario Cippolini looking fit and trim racing towards the front of the peloton in the industry race. Unfortunately he was taken out in the last lap in the first corner (thankfully he was okay). Little did we know we'd be seeing plenty of crashes. With a race held under the lights at 9:30 PM on a makeshift, technical six-corner, one-kilometer course in a parking lot, bikes and bodies were skidding across the pavement all night long. In fact, we're not sure if it was the rapid pace of the race or the gnarly carnage that thinned the large herd because there seemed to be a crash every few laps. Those guys were flying around the course, too. Small breaks went throughout the race with the most promising consisting of a couple of guys who are also track stars: Team Slipstream's Mike Friedman and Colby Pearce (Cody Racing). A crash canceled their victory party. Late in the race, Kelly Benefits Strategies/Medifast put five men on the front and controlled the race in impressive fashion. Meanwhile, race sponsor Rock-N-Republic was flossin' by whipping out wads of cash to put up as race primes, including a $5000 prime with a lap to go. Rock Racing's team did look good throughout the race by keeping their colorfully tattooed and pierced presence up front. Kelly Benefit's Martin Gilbert gambled his chances in the final sprint by putting everything on the line to go after the big dough, which he successfully pocketed. Ka-ching! His gap on the field was large that he put his head down and hoped to hold it to the line. Amgen Tour of California final stage winner Ivan Dominguez (Toyota-United) mounted a solo chase in pursuit of the victory. He caught Gilbert with half-a-lap remaining before igniting his turbo jets to surge past the spent rider to take the win without even getting out of the saddle to sprint.
The Cool Down
Personnel changes are the norm at the end of the pro cycling season when riders sign contracts with new teams for next season while some retire. The same happens with team directors. Toyota-United's director Harm Jansen, a former top pro cyclist, is moving on after being the first hire when the team formed two years ago. Jansen directed the squad through two wonderfully successful seasons, firmly establishing Toyota-United as one of the best in the domestic peloton. In fact, they are the only domestic team to win stages in all three of America's major stage races: Amgen Tour of California, Tour of Georgia and Tour of Missouri. Jansen is a gifted strategist, technician, coach and motivator who always fought for his riders and knew how to coax the best performances out of them. His positive energy and enthusiasm will surely be missed, although the team will be left in the highly capable hands of incoming directors Len Pettyjohn and recently retired racer Scott Moninger. While Jansen has a few opportunities within and outside of cycling that he is presently entertaining, another top team should scoop him up fast.
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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.