Weekly Rap - March 26, 2008The Rap is back! After months of special assignments in preparation for the 3rd Amgen Tour of California and bringing you the race live via the play-by-play tour tracker, it’s great to be back in the saddle with The Weekly Rap, your pro cycling update. March Madness cycling style is in full gear so catch up on the racing action from earlier this month.
Omloop Het VolkUm...honestly, I don’t know what Omloop Het Volk translates to in English, but since the race has happened in Belgium for 63 years, one can surmise that it means “Only those who eat nails for breakfast should apply.” Many of the ProTour riders we saw in action in California flew back overseas for this race, the first chance of the young season to traverse cobblestones. Amongst those signing in on the windy day covering 199 kms was the Quick Step-Innergetic dynamic duo of Paolo Bettini & Tom Boonen, the latter of whom was fresh off his Stage 2 win at the Amgen Tour of California. Slipstream-Chipotle’s Tyler Farrar & Steven Cozza were in the house along with CSC’s Fabian Cancellara, Robbie McEwen & Leif Hoste (Silence!-Lotto), Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole), Nick Nuyens (Cofidis), Andre Greipel (High Road) and Belgian Philippe Gilbert (Francais des Jeux).
A five-man break jetted after 15 kms, including American Michael Friedman flying the Slipstream argyle. Although they managed to stay away most of the day, Gilbert delivered an extraordinary ride with panache to win the race for the second time in the 25-year-old’s career. With 50 kms remaining, Gilbert audaciously attacked the favorites and embarked on a one-man mission that saw him catch the break after closing a nearly four-minute gap before flying home 20 kms solo. Nuyens and Hushovd picked up the pieces to complete the podium.
Kuurne-Brussel-KuurneAfter the heavily-favored Quick Step-Innergetic squad disappointed the previous day at Omloop, they wanted revenge at the 193-km Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne with many of the same faces in the field. World Champion Bettini crashed early in the race and had to abandon, but thankfully he was battered & bruised and not seriously injured.
At the halfway point with seven hills yet to conquer, a nine-man break formed, including Slipstream’s Cozza (streakin’ in his 1970’s ‘stache). Quick Step eventually mounted chase and snared their prey with 69 kms remaining. The lead group of 30 men was Ginsued in half by the wind. Hoste and Quick Step’s Gert Steegmans unleashed attacks in the finals kilometers before the relentless pressure from Quick Step put a stranglehold on the race. Quick Step’s Steven De Jongh, the 2004 winner of this race, and Rabobank’s Sebastian Langveld ended up engaging in a two-up duel for the win. The cagey 34-year-old veteran forced the hand of the young 23-year-old who had no choice but to ride all out or be caught by the blue & white force known as Quick Step, led by Tom “The Tornado” Boonen. De Jongh was easily the faster man and he enjoyed victory. CSC’s Matt Goss had to settle for 3rd after being a member of the original break.
Vuelta a MurciaThe Vuelta a Murcia is an early season stage race in Spain that gives the climbers a chance to test their form, including defending champion Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne). Rabobank sprinter Graem Brown struck first by winning the windy 197-km opening stage. The race was settled in a pack gallop after a long two-man break was nullified. Stage 2 started off ugly when rain, sleet and 80 mph winds made the 152-km Queen stage a dangerous and unappealing proposition for the peloton, which held a brief protest after 40 kms in favor of canceling the stage. But they were persuaded to soldier on and they finished the climb of the category one Alto de Collado Bermejo with 30 kms remaining while snow fell. Five race favorites opened a gap on the climb, but swelled to a dozen men by the time they finished the descent. With 3 km to go, Astana mountain goat Jose Luis “Chechu” Rubiera attacked the uphill finish to win the stage, while Aitor Perez (Extremadura-Grupo Gallardo) donned the leader’s jersey by finishing 2nd.
Five-time Amgen Tour of California stage winner Juan Jose Haedo (CSC) won the field sprint at the end of Stage 3 (146 kms). The hilly 23-km Stage 4 time trial was won by Valverde, who bested Stefano Garzelli (Acqua Sapone) and Tour de France champion Alberto Contador (Astana) by two and six seconds respectively. The trio held those positions on the GC heading into the final stage of 135 kms. Again the sprinters had their day with Koldo Fernandez (Euskeltel-Euskadi) partaking in victory over Brown and Haedo. The GC positions remained in tact with Valverde successfully defending his title.
The Cool DownLegendary Italian sprinter Mario “The Lion King” Cipollini, who treated cycling fans by coming back from a three-year retirement in fine form to not only compete last month at the Amgen Tour of California, but scored a 3rd place finish in Stage 2, has re-retired after a brief stint with Rock Racing. Guess that was one Ball Cipo, the notorious nightclub crawler, had no interest continuing to Rock...
CSC recently announced that they will step down as long-time title sponsor of arguably the best pro cycling team in the world. Riis Cycling, under the masterful direction of Bjarne Riis, is confident they will land a new title sponsor to keep the dynasty together. Give them a call if you’ve got $15-$20 million lying around...
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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.