Weekly Rap - July 29, 2008By Rick Scott
We have a sumptuous feast of hot June racing action to catch up on in this issue of The Weekly Rap, your professional cycling highlight reel. And have you heard the Amgen Tour of California has grown?
Tour of Luxembourg
In the city of Luxembourg, two-time World Time Trial Champion Fabian Cancellara (CSC) blazed the 2.4-km mostly cobblestoned prologue at the Tour of Luxembourg (June 4-8) that included a short climb up a 25% wall. Just like he did in February at the Amgen Tour of California, Cancellara lined up in stage 1 wearing the leader’s jersey, but this day the glory was had by his teammate, Juan Jose Haedo, winner of more Amgen Tour of California stages than anyone else, who took out the field sprint after CSC reeled in the long break of the day in the 177.2-km stage into Mondorf. The peloton fragmented into groups on stage 2 from Schifflang to Differdange (197 kms) and Credit Agricole’s Igantas Konovalovas out-sprinted the front group for the stage win while Cancellara retained the overall lead. But Rabobank’s Joost Posthuma took the jersey off the Swiss champion’s back when he escaped from an 18-man break with Michael Albasini (Liquigas) in stage 3. They duked it out to the line together with Albasini taking the stage and Posthuma the GC lead by a single second. In the final stage, the first major breakaway group was hauled back only to spawn a second group of fourteen that was successful in fighting for the stage win. Italian veteran Salvatore Commesso snatched the prize for his Luxembourg-based team, Preti Mangi. Posthuma held on for the overall win with Albasini and Luxembourger Frank Schleck (CSC) completing the podium.
Dutch Food Valley Classic
In the Netherlands on June 11, an eight-man break was swallowed up only 800 meters shy of the finish at the Dutch Food Valley Classic (210 kms). Shortly thereafter, Gerolsteiner’s Sven Krauss moved to launch his sprinter, Robert Forster, and the pair never looked back. They took the two top positions with Forster winning in just under five hours of racing.
Nature Valley Grand Prix
The domestic peloton had only a few days to recover from Philly Week before clashing in Minnesota at the Nature Valley Grand Prix (June 11-15). Heavy rains forced officials and the riders to vote midway through the St. Paul Lowertown Criterium that kicked off the stage race on whether they should continue racing. Unfortunately the superb effort made by HealthNet’s Kirk O’Bee to flee on a solo break ended up being for naught as the race was neutralized when the majority voted to pull the plug. However, O’Bee, the reigning USPRO Criterium champ, made lightning strike twice in the same place when he sprinted to victory at the “new” stage 1, the 106.5-km Cannon Falls Road Race. He wore the leader’s jersey during the next day’s 10-km individual time trial where Bissell’s Ben Jacques-Maynes snatched it from him. The difference proved to be the final uphill kilometer. O’Bee eked past defending race champion Ivan Stevic (Toyota-United) at the conclusion of the Minneapolis Downtown Classic to win his second stage while Jacques-Maynes kept yellow. Just as he did at the Mankato Road Race the previous year, HealthNet’s Rory Sutherland rode to an inspired stage victory after outgunning Colavita-Sutter Homes’ Anthony Colby. The two escaped a late four-man break during the four finishing circuits and used the 600-meter hill as their ramp. Sutherland, who earned the leader’s jersey with the win, learned the night before that his grandmother back home in Australia was about to pass away and his mother asked him to win the race in her honor. The Stillwater Criterium was the race’s concluding chapter. It included the cruel Chilkoot Hill, a 22% gradient, on each lap. The field was decimated leaving only 25 riders to fight out the finish, which was won by Kelly Benefit Strategies’ David Veilleux ahead of Sutherland, who held onto the general classification prize. Sutherland’s teammate, John Murphy, landed in 2nd place overall while Stevic was disappointed with his 3rd place position.
Criterium du Dauphine Libere
One of the big Tour de France tune-up races is the Criterium du Dauphine Libere, which is like a mini-Tour de France in that it traverses some of the same roads and mammoth mountains in one week that the three-week version includes. Opening June 8 with a 5.6-kilometer prologue in Avignon, two-time Amgen Tour of California champion Levi Leipheimer (Astana) unloaded the fine form he gained during the Giro d’Italia and stomped to victory one second ahead of the powerfully swift Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole). The thundering Norwegian was able to claim his first yellow leader’s jersey at the Dauphine the following day when he came in 2nd to Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) in the uphill sprint at the end of stage 1 after 194 kms into Privas. His team worked hard to reel in the break of the day and they were back at the front again in stage 2 from Bourg-Saint-Andeol to Vienne (184 kms). On what would be the last day for the sprinters, Amgen Tour of California stage winner George Hincapie (High Road) eclipsed them to swipe the win ahead of Sebastien Chavanel (Francaise des Jeux). Hushovd would remain in the leader’s jersey heading into the stage 3 31-km individual time trial in Saint-Paul-en-Jarez. The course was hard and technical made more difficult by rain. While everyone expected time trial ace Leipheimer to win, he came 2nd to Valverde, partially due to the opening 20 kms, which were primarily uphill. The Spaniard put on the yellow jersey with 23 seconds in the bank over the Santa Rosa, California resident.
Stage 4 finished in Annemasse after 193 kms. Frenchman Cyril Dessel (AG2R) attacked his breakaway companions on the final climb 20 kms from the finish after a long break to win solo with panache. None of the favorites attacked Valverde so he was safe in yellow. Young Russian Yuriy Trofimov (Bouygues Telecom) flew past his breakmates in stage 5 from Ville-La-Grande to Morzine (125 kms) on the climb of the Col de Joux-Plane to celebrate victory 18 seconds ahead of the dueling Valverde and Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto). The usually reticent-to-attack Evans rode aggressively while a jolt from Valverde cracked Leipheimer in the finale. Evans jumped over the America into 2nd place overall 37 seconds back of Valverde. 23-year-old Dane Chris Anker Sorensen (CSC) was the only survivor of a long break in stage 6, the queen stage at 233 kms, and climbed to victory into La Toussuire. The exciting battle for the GC continued with salvos exchanged between Valverde and Evans along with Leipheimer in the mix having a better day. Again Evans attacked Valverde, but the yellow jersey never panicked and not only was able to claw his way back to the Australian, but he was able to add a couple more seconds to his general classification advantage. Trofimov was on the march again on the final day from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to Grenoble that went over three major climbs in the 128-km stage. He escaped with six others, including Credit Agricole’s humble workhorse Dmitriy Fofonov, who ended up sprinting past the rookie and Quick Step-Innergetic’s Jurgen Van de Walle for his first win in six years. A couple minutes later, Valverde crossed the finish line safely in a group that contained Evans and Leipheimer, thus earning the most prestigious win of his distinguished career. Evans and Leipheimer retained their podium positions.
Save The Date
In case you somehow missed it on our site’s home page, the 2009 Amgen Tour of California route has been announced and we’ve got exciting changes in store for what has rapidly become one of the most important races on the international calendar. The Golden State is offering you a Valentine when the 800-mile race gets underway February 14th with an opening stage - not a prologue as in the past three editions - that starts and finishes in the state capital of Sacramento. The peloton will engage in battle over nine stages. Yes, we’ve added one day to the race. Some of the greatest cyclists in the world will be welcomed by eight new host cities - Davis, Santa Cruz, Merced, Clovis, Visalia, Paso Robles, Rancho Bernardo and Escondido - and old favorites Santa Rosa, Sausalito, San Jose, Modesto, Solvang, Santa Clarita and Pasadena. For the first time, the field will ride across the Golden Gate Bridge at the beginning of the third stage, which will be a thrilling sight to behold. The concluding stage will be a mountain top finish atop Mount Palomar in Escondido, a climb this writer is familiar with. You do not want to miss this epic corkscrew of a climb up switchbacks that peak over 5,000 feet above sea level. Put in for vacation time now…
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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.