Weekly Rap - May 16, 2008By Rick Scott
We’ve got more Spring Classics for you this week, but instead of leg-breaking cobblestones, these races took place on the precipitous hills of the Ardennes. Thank you for joining us at The Weekly Rap, your professional cycling highlight reel. After a trek through Europe where spring has finally pinned winter, we’ll head back to California for the famed Sea Otter.
Scheldeprijs VlaanderenSometimes even the superhuman riders in the world prove themselves as human. Take the 96th Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen for example. The April 16th event was the last sprinter’s race after the cobblestone classics before the Ardennes Classics commenced. Fresh from victory at Paris-Roubaix, Amgen Tour of California stage winner Tom Boonen’s Quick Step-Innergetic train delivered him to the final few hundred meters with a sure victory in hand. Boonen wanted it. The partisan Belgian crowd wanted it. Just before crossing the finish line, Boonen sat up, excitedly thrust his arms in the air in a victory salute to the delight of the ecstatic spectators…and was promptly eclipsed on the left by feisty Mark Cavendish (High Road). Shazam! The 22-year-old Brit snatched the certain victory from the overconfident Belgian hero whose countenance went from celebration to chagrin. The fans were silenced and as stunned as Boonen. It was Cavendish’s second consecutive win at Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen, the scene of his first victory as a professional last year. The still winless this season Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto) was 3rd.
Amstel Gold RaceThe one day Spring Classics aren’t just for the stout power riders who devour bricks. The Ardennes Classics favor the lithe climbers and rejuvenate stage racers providing us a glimpse into which Grand Tour riders are coming into form ahead of the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana. The Amstel Gold Race (April 20) is the biggest the Netherlands has to offer and the incessant climbs make it a race of attrition.
With 17 kilometers remaining on the 254-kilometer route, Astana’s Sergeui Ivanov and Barloworld’s Christian Pfannberger set sail on the third to last climb, but they couldn’t gain much of an advantage. Seven contenders for victory – Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Frank Schleck and Karsten Kroon of CSC, Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez of Caisse d’Epargne and Rabobank’s Thomas Dekker – joined the two men and the unit stayed together until the final climb of the Cauberg.
With Kroon and Rodriguez selflessly riding for their respective captains – Schleck and Valverde – Cunego, who was making his debut at Amstel Gold, sagely rode conservatively and attentively allowing the others to do the heavy lifting. In the final kilometer, Rodriguez led Valverde and Cunego before the Spanish National Road Race Champion was cracked by a Schleck attack. Rebellin, Cunego, Valverde and Dekker were able to respond and held onto the Luxemburger’s wheel. Schleck and Cunego appeared to be the strongest and by the time only 100 meters were left to the line, the others were gone. Cunego effortlessly came around Schleck to win his first Spring Classic, a race Schleck won in 2006. Schleck claimed 2nd while Valverde settled for 3rd.
Fleche WallonneAt just shy of 200 kilometers, the midweek classic Fleche Wallonne was held for the 72nd time April 23rd. With a circuit on Belgian roads and climbs that culminate with repeated trips up the menacing 1.3-kilometer Mur de Huy, last year’s winner Rebellin was back to defend along with many of the protagonists from Amstel Gold. Joining the party was Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) who was out to gage his pre-Tour de France form.
Although the race started under clear, dry conditions, the skies opened up after 120 kilometers making the roads slick and precarious. In the final 13 kilometers, CSC’s Gustav Larsson ignited a move that attracted Gerolsteiner’s Fabian Wegmann and Quick Step’s Alexander Efimkin. Larsson crashed out on a wet hairpin corner so the duo marched towards the final ascent of the Mur de Huy en tandem. Wegmann gained seven seconds on the fading Efimkin with three kilometers remaining. The German held a twenty-second gap on the elite chasers with one kilometer left. Evans rocketed past the “water boy” with 400 meters to go on the steep hill engaged in a fierce battle with High Road’s Kim Kirchen, Cunego, Rebellin and Rodriguez. Kirchen, another Luxemburger, propelled past Evans to claim the elusive win after having previously finished 2nd there. Evans and Cunego filled out the podium.
Liege-Bastogne-LiegeThe curtain call of the thrilling Spring Classic season was Liege-Bastogne-Liege held April 27th on a warm spring day on Belgium soil. Race organizers added a new climb - Côte de la Roche aux Faucons - late in the 261-kilometer race, which proved decisive. After a long three-man break was neutralized, CSC’s Andy Schleck was the first of the favorites to flee. The younger Schleck, 22, was joined by Gerolsteiner’s Stefan Schumacher. They caught up to Schumacher’s teammate, Markus Fothen, and the trio motored along before Fothen blew up.
On the Cote de la Roche aux Faucons, Schumacher faltered leaving Andy Schleck alone. With 18 kilometers left, Rodriguez lit it up taking teammate Valverde while drawing out 28-year-old Frank Schleck and Rebellin. The second group on the road contained Evans, Cunego and Pfannberger, which would eventually be absorbed by the field while the five leaders drove towards the finish. When Rodriguez cracked, the Schleck brothers did a number on Rebellin and Valverde deploying near perfect team tactics. Near perfect because their efforts would end up falling just short.
Andy Schleck hit the gas with ten kilometers left forcing Rebellin and Valverde to chase while Frank Schleck was glued to the Spaniard’s wheel. On the final climb of Cote de Saint-Nicolas with five kilometers to go, Rebellin’s efforts to nail back Andy Schleck were successful and the younger brother was swiftly dropped. The trio played cat and mouse the rest of the way before Valverde, a climber who can sprint, made the winning move on the uphill sprint with two hundred meters to go. It was the 28-year-old’s second victory at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, one of the five monuments of the cycling. 36-year-old Rebellin, who won this race in 2004, and Frank Schleck finished 2nd and 3rd.
Rund um den Henninger TurmMay blossomed in Frankfurt, Germany on the first day of the month at the 48th Rund um den Henninger Turm with nice spring weather aside from an occasional shower that the peloton passed through. A 21-man group containing quite a few Gerolsteiner riders broke away after 100 kilometers. With 25 kilometers until the finish, the break had withered to nine men, including two Gerolsteiners – Rebellin and Wegmann – and two from CSC – Kroon and Andy Schleck. The leaders arrived for three laps around a 4.5-kilometer finishing circuit with a 90-second advantage.
As the kilometers clicked by and it became apparent the break would make it to the finish intact, Rebellin and Schleck were actively making moves as was Milram’s Christian Knees. When no one was able to gain an advantage, they settled in until the final kilometer with Schleck doing much of the work in support of Kroon, who had toasted victory here in 2004. In the dash for the line, Kroon got it right again with Rebellin placing and Rabobank’s Mauricio Ardila in the show position.
Sea Otter Circuit RaceMonterey, California’s annual Sea Otter is a two-wheeled Woodstock-type festival for cyclists of all levels, ages and types (road, mountain and BMX). On April 19th, pro road cyclists clashed on the 2.1-mile Laguna-Seca International Raceway for 31 laps for a National Racing Calendar event attended by domestic teams including HealthNet, Rock Racing and Colavita-Sutter Home. Successful Living presented by Parkpre put on an impressive display by sending three men into what became the winning break. They were joined by Rock Racing’s David Clinger. The quartet worked equitably to lap the field despite efforts by HealthNet strongmen Rory Sutherland and John Murphy and Colavita-Sutter Home’s Alejandro Borrajo to mount chase. In the finale, Successful Living’s numbers proved no match for Clinger, who had to settle for 3rd while Successful Living’s Michael Granbinger and Brian Jensen finished 1st and 2nd.
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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.