Weekly Rap - May 27, 2008We've got Georgia on our mind here at The Weekly Rap, your professional cycling highlight reel. Also on the menu is a Swiss treat. With sweet peaches and chocolate to feed your passion for bike racing, enjoy a healthy indulgence of the Tour de Georgia and the Tour de Romandie.
Tour de Georgia
America's second "Grand Tour," the Sixth Tour de Georgia, began in the Peach State April 21 with an out and back 70.4-mile fast and flat Stage 1 from Tybee Island to Savannah. Three sprint zones en route with bonus seconds up for grabs at the finish made for a tight competition between High Road's Greg Henderson and Slipstream-Chipotle's Tyler Farrar. After a six-man break was neutralized primarily due to the efforts of High Road, Slipstream-Chipotle, Gerolsteiner and Astana in support of their sprinters, the full field roared into the technical final kilometer, which made things a bit sketchy. The well-drilled Toyota-United train, featuring a pair of Amgen Tour of California stage winners - Dominique Rollin (2008) and Ivan Dominguez (2007) - launched the “Cuban Missile" (Dominquez) to victory.
Starting in Statesboro, Stage 2 covered 117 miles. Farrar suffered an untimely puncture in the opening stage and was back to duke it out for the intermediate sprint points and time bonuses with Stage 1's 2nd place finisher, Nichols Sanderson (Jelly Belly). As in the first stage, the day's main three-man break, initiated by Toyota-United's Justin England, was nailed back by the High Road, Slipstream-Chipotle, Gerolsteiner, Astana and Rock Racing squads with the hope that one of their sprinters would capture the win in Augusta. Although he played it cool on day one due to a broken wrist, CSC's Juan Jose Haedo, the rider with the most Amgen Tour of California stage wins, decided to give it a go. Smartly riding towards the front out of harm's way when a massive crash happened in the last corner, Haedo snatched the prize one-handed ahead of Henderson and Dominguez, the latter of whom was able to hold onto the yellow leader's jersey.
Unfortunately an ugly crash on a downhill in Stage 3, 108.2 miles from Washington to Gainesville, sent Slipstream-Chipotle's Timmy Duggan to the hospital in an ambulance with a broken collarbone and scapula. The flat roads gave way to rolling terrain and finished with two laps on a technical four-kilometer circuit with fast turns, steep hills, off-camber descents and a downhill sprint finish. After the day's six-man break disintegrated due to pressure from High Road and CSC, HealthNet's Rory Sutherland escaped in the circuit and was later caught and passed by Rock Racing's Oscar Sevilla. A well-organized High Road squad negated the move and the team's George Hincapie, the final stage winner at this year's Amgen Tour of California, drove the High Road train in the final kilometer. His teammate, Andre Greipel, took over with 500 meters left and kept the speed high. Henderson closed the deal for the team with Greipel making it a 1-2 for High Road. For good measure, Henderson, a Kiwi, donned the race leader's tunic.
Fans were treated to a rare spectacle at the Road Atlanta motor racing track for Stage 4, a 10-mile team time trial that consisted of four laps around the challenging course. Two teams were on the road at the same time and the finishing time was taken after the fourth rider crossed the line. The riders were not permitted to use time trial gear, thus it all came down to how smoothly the units rode together. Riders were constantly being shed, usually on the short, punchy climb, and found no place on the course to recover as the squads drilled it at every opportunity to keep the speed up. The inspired seven-man Slipstream-Chipotle dropped three riders yet still managed to deliver the fastest time of the day (19:36.86). With their 2nd place finish, Astana ensured that their captain, two-time Amgen Tour of California winner Levi Leipheimer, was well-positioned heading into the two mountain stages. 3rd place went to High Road, which kept Henderson clad in yellow.
Domestic team Bissell had a banner Stage 5, 133.4-mile jaunt from Suwanee to Dahlonega featuring three category 3 King of the Mountains climbs. The pace was high from the outset, which kept the field together. Around the 40-mile mark, a four-man break slipped away, including Bissell's Teddy King, who would earn enough points on the first two KOMs to lead that competition at day's end. The break grew to a maximum advantage of seven minutes before Astana mounted chase with assistance from Slipstream-Chipotle and High Road. When the break reached the final KOM just over a mile from the finish, the break was in sight. HealthNet's Tim Johnson, who was in the break, decided to throw everything he had into one final attempt at victory. With pitches reaching a painful 15%, he was doomed to be captured. The descent was tricky and treacherous and the teams of the sprinters drove the race towards the finish. Coming into the final turn with 150 meters left, Bissell's Richard England pulled ahead of fellow Australian Sutherland and America's favorite, Hincapie. That's the way they crossed the line. Henderson, a natural sprinter, rode well over the first KOM, but bonked a bit on the second, which cost him the leader's jersey. Heading into the Stage 6 battle of Brasstown Bald, Slipstream-Chipotle's Trent Lowe would be cloaked in yellow.
The highest point in the Tour de Georgia, Brasstown Bald is a precipitously steep 5-kilometer climb that has witnessed many great battles between angelic climbers and robust GC contenders, including Leipheimer, who won the race's trademark stage last year. With all eyes fixed upon the Santa Rosa, California resident, especially Lowe's, Astana put Slipstream-Chipotle on defense all day by placing a rider in every break during the 88.4-mile stage that included a category 1 and a category 2 climb before concluding with the monument of Georgia. CSC's Jason McCartney helped fuel the main seven-rider break and collected the KOM points on the first climb. Only three men were able to hang onto the American's wheel as the four-man break continued up and over the second KOM with McCartney not only taking maximum points, but ensuring his win of the KOM title for the Tour. With the field reeling in the break, a member of the original break, Jittery Joe's Neil Shirley, took his final shot before arriving at Brasstown Bald. He opened a gap, but Astana's Jose Luis Rubiera and CSC Bradley McGee shut it down before the final climb began. Rubiera and teammate Chris Horner set a devilish tempo to help soften the bunch for Leipheimer while Lowe remained attentively focused on Leipheimer's wheel. Riders puffed and popped like corn until only Leipheimer, Lowe and 25-year-old Kanstantin Sivtsov (High Road) were left. At a steep section with less than a kilometer left, Leipheimer attempted to shed his passengers, but it was futile. When he retreated, Sivtsov rocketed around the two riders on the steepest section of switchbacks with 500 meters to go. The man from Belarus pedaled to victory while Leipheimer waited for Lowe to answer the threat to the Australian's GC lead. The response came too late as Sivtsov earned yellow along with his stage win. Lowe finished the stage ten seconds down and Leipheimer crossed sixteen seconds in arrears. They would start the final stage down in the GC four and fourteen seconds back respectively.
With just over 100 kilometers separating him from the overall win, Sivtsov rode Stage 7 well-protected by his High Road teammates. The technical circuit race in downtown Atlanta started and finished at Centennial Olympic Park. Rain dampened the course for the first half of the race and sections of rough road claimed many victims. Mechanicals and flats trimmed the main break of fourteen riders to nine. Once everyone was back together, CSC's Bobby Julich and Astana's Antonio Colom attacked out of desperation with four kilometers to go, but the sprinters were not to be denied their day. McGee launched the uphill finale to guide Haedo to the line, but Henderson fired past to snatch his second stage win in style as he also won the points jersey. With the leaders coming home safely, Sivtsov celebrated overall victory. While High Road took the biggest bite out of the Georgia Peach, Astana won the team title. Most Aggressive for the week went to Sutherland, who impressed not only with his constant aggression, but also with the climbing prowess he displayed on Brasstown Bald, on which he finished 4th.
Tour de Romandie
The final ProTour stage race before the start of the first Grand Tour, the Giro d'Italia, the 62nd Tour de Romandie unfolded in Switzerland April 29-May 4. Last year's winner, Thomas Dekker of Rabobank, was back to defend. The jets were launched from the start of the race, which opened with a 1.9-kilometer prologue. The out and back course along Lake Geneva included hills and turns, but was basically an all-out sprint, thus it was no surprise that the two best times of the day came from two of the fastest men in the race. High Road's Mark Cavendish and Liquigas' Daniele Bennati were the only two men to cover the course in less than 2:08 with Cav getting to the line ever so slightly faster than the Italian.
The weather was atrocious for Stage 1, a trek of 182.4 kilometers from Morges to Saignelegier that included three categorized climbs, the last of which was a category 1, which proved fatal for the long three-man (Matti Breschel of CSC, Morris Possoni of High Road and Lampre's Patxi Vila) break of the day. Rabobank assumed the chase earlier in the stage with Astana taking over later on. On the final climb, Breschel cracked and the duo soldiered on. The hungry chase devoured their prey with two kilometers remaining. Astana's Vladimir Gusev and teammate Maxim Iglinsky flew under the one kilometer flag with Dekker chomping at the bit. Dekker opened his sprint on the uphill finish a bit too early and Iglinsky, the Kazakh National Road Race Champion, was quick to pounce on the stage win. A pair of Swiss riders – Michael Albasini (Liquigas) and Markus Zberg (Gerolsteiner) - completed the podium with Albasini vaulting into the race lead.
The sun came out to play and so did Remi Di Gregorio (Francaise des Jeux), Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R) and Ian McKissick (BMC). Just four kilometers into Stage 2's 170 kilometers from Moutier to Fribourg, the trio rode away from the field and gained a lead of nine minutes with 100 kilometers left. When it was time to get down to business, High Road, Liquigas and Silence-Lotto tightened the screws. The gap shrank and then the break itself shrank due to the pressure. Di Gregorio was the last holdout and was lassoed with eight kilometers to go to set the stage for a field sprint. Quenching a season-long thirst for victory, Silence-Lotto's Robbie McEwen popped the cork on the winner's podium for the first time this year after besting Bennati and Breschel. Albasini held onto the leader's jersey.
With the big GC men and a host of other contenders all within a minute of each other, the Stage 3 18.8-kilometer time trial in Sion was crucial. It was a warm day and the primarily flat course was technical, including a climb that peaked at a cruel 17%. The early mark set by Bouygues Telecom's Stef Clement (25.52) looked to be the winner, but Astana's captain, Andreas Kloden, ripped through the course twenty seconds faster to take the stage. The German nearly net his maker when he overshot a corner in the final kilometer, but managed to keep the rubber side down after leaning into the boards lining the course. Dekker had a shot at overtaking the Astana rider, but missed the mark by six seconds. Kloden added a yellow jersey to his wardrobe and held a slim five-second advantage over Dekker before the mountain stages.
A landslide forced Stage 4 to be shortened to a 112.4-kilometer run from Sion to Zinal. The Queen stage featured three category 1 climbs and an uphill finish (uncategorized). The attacks started early and a break escaped after 20 kilometers. But Astana was attentive and didn't allow them much more than a minute lead. Eleven riders conquered the first summit together, including Gerolsteiner's Francesco De Bonis, who pocketed the KOM points. By the second climb, the gap was approaching two minutes. De Bonis leapt to take the second KOM points as the break was beginning to fall apart. Meanwhile, Albasini, who was in the break, gobbled up the two sprints along with the valuable time bonuses. With Astana driving the chase and less than 25 kilometers left, Dekker cracked when Iglinsky set a menacing tempo. The break disintegrated rapidly and De Bonis spun along solo with an advantage over Liquigas' Manuel Beltran while Kloden took over the front of remnants of the peloton. With less than 10 kilometers to go, Juan Manuel Garate (Quick Step-Innergetic) and John Gadret (AG2R) bridged from Kloden's group ahead to Beltran. They chased Di Bonis, but the young Italian held them off to take the points he needed to earn the KOM jersey although he only held a twenty-second lead on the chase, which had caught the Beltran trio. With seven kilometers left, Beltran took off again and as they hit the final uphill kilometers, he got even with Di Bonis. Gadret came from behind in an attempt to steal the stage in the final few hundred kilometers, but Di Bonis was not to be vanquished on this day. He recovered and launched the winning move with one hundred meters to go. Gadret finished three seconds later followed by Beltran at five seconds down. Kloden's group crossed only seven seconds back. His GC lead over Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas) was 35 seconds and 43 seconds over High Road's Marco Pinotti.
The race concluded with a 159.4-kilometer stage from Le Bouveret to Lausanne. A five-man break got away early and stayed away until the final fifteen kilometers when they yielded to the chase by Astana, High Road and Liquigas in support of their sprinters. High Road hijacked the front from the Gerolsteiner train with two kilometers left hoping to set up their feisty fastman, Cavendish. Most of the last kilometer was uphill and the Brit doesn't like hills. Italian Bennati scored his first win of the season coming right before his national tour. Zberg was 2nd and Iglinsky took 3rd. There weren't any changes in the GC thus Kloden became the first German to win the Tour of Romandie. The timing was perfect because as the Astana captain celebrated the victory, he was notified that his team received a last minute invitation to race the Giro d'Italia after all. Kloden was coming into form at the perfect time and boded to be a GC threat in Italy.
Up the Road
Coming up, we'll have race coverage of the Giro d'Italia, the only Grand Tour this year that includes last year's winners from all three Grand Tours – the Giro, Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana (Danilo DiLuca, Alberto Contador and Denis Menchov). On the domestic scene, the three races that comprise “Philly Week" are upon us. Stay tuned to Amgen Tour of California website for The Weekly Rap.
# # #
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.