Weekly Rap - July 6, 2008By Rick Scott
Gratzie for joining us. This issue of The Weekly Rap, your professional cycling highlight reel, is devoted to the season’s first Grand Tour: the Girao d’Italia (May 10-June 1). Grab some pasta and read on.
Of the three Grand Tours of cycling, only one of the three-week stage races in 2008 can boast a starting line-up that included all three winners of last year’s Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana: the 91st Giro. Cycling fans throughout the world owe a “Gratzie” to the Italian race organizers for extending a last-minute invitation to the mighty Astana squad. With only eight-days notice, Johan Bruyneel’s boys, including three possible team leaders - 2007 Tour de France champion Alberto Contador, two-time Amgen Tour of California winner Levi Leipheimer and Tour of Romandy winner Andreas Kloden - trekked to Italy without advance preparation and no pressure to perform. Surely none of them could be expected to win the Grand Tour that their competitors – defending champion Danilo Di Luca and teammate, two-time Giro winner Paolo Savoldelli, 2007 Vuelta a Espana champion Denis Menchov, multi-Giro winner Gilberto Simoni, and rising Italian stars Franco Pellizotti and Riccardo Ricco – had been targeting and training specifically for all winter and spring. Experts surveyed the Giro’s route and predicted that it would be the toughest of any Grand Tour this year as it was overstuffed with 13 hilly or mountain stages. Under-trained and without the benefit of scouting the many climbs they’d face, the baby blue and yellow-kitted clan showed up to give it a shot in earnest.
The Giro got underway with a rare team time trial, which saw America’s media darlings, Team Slipstream-Chipotle, make their Grand Tour debut in style: by completing the 28.5-kilometer flat course in Palermo the swiftest. Team captain Christian Vande Velde crossed the line first, hence he was given the honor of donning the first maglia rosa (pink jersey) leader’s jersey. Tragedy struck the team the next day during the 207-kilometer jaunt from Cefalu to Agrigento when two-time USPRO time trial champion David Zabriskie couldn’t avoid hitting downed riders. Dave Z’s Giro was done when he flipped over and crashed hard on his back resulting in a fractured vertebra. While an injury is never a good thing, the silver lining was that he went home to heal and be with his wife while awaiting the birth of their first child.
During stage 2, pocket-sized Italian Emanuele Sella (CSF-Navigare) attacked the King of the Mountains climbs in pursuit of the green climber’s jersey. The stage ended atop a hill and Ricco (Saunier Duval-Scott) aggressively snatched the top prize along with a valuable 20-second time bonus.
Since this edition of the Giro was tailored to the climbers, the sprinters didn’t have too many stages to engage in battle. The fastmen commanded the spotlight in stage 3 (208 kms) with 27-year-old Italian sprint heir apparent Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) striking first after mastering the technical finish in Milazzo. The next day, High Road’s manic Manxman Mark Cavendish exploded like a fullback up the middle into the end zone to notch his first Grand Tour stage win after 187 kilometers in Cantanzaro-Lungomare. The 23-year-old who will represent Great Britain at the Beijing Olympic Games on the track is perhaps the most explosive 100-meter sprinter in the peloton. He would rumble his way to another stage victory later on. Although other headline grabbing sprinters including Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto), Erik Zabel (Milram) and Cavendish’s teammate Andre Greipel (one stage victory) ignited the sprints, it was Bennati who would celebrate two more victories and earn the sprint points competition win at the conclusion of the Giro in Milano.
A hungry Sella was back gobbling up KOM points on stage 7, but a flat tire cruelly ended his chance at stage victory. Ricco defiantly pounded his chest at the summit of the 200-kilometer stage 8 in Tivoli with his second stage win and another hefty 20-second time bonus. Contador hit the deck during the stage fracturing his elbow. Up until that point, the Spaniard managed to hang on and keep his rivals close on the climbs much to his own surprise. But would he be able to continue? He did.
Stage 10 was a crucial 36-kilometer individual time trial that included flat and hilly sections. They say football players play with pain, but Contador had to rest the bulk of his weight on his elbows on his time trial bars and endure the pain of his fracture. Maybe that’s why he rode so fast. Extensive off-season work to improve his time trial skills paid off handsomely with a 2nd place stage finish only eight seconds behind Lampre’s Marzio Bruseghin. Ricco went down on the rain-slicked roads after catching a piece of equipment in his bars causing him to yield 1:56 to Contador, who held about a minute advantage over his other rivals. The Astana rider was poised to win his second consecutive Grand Tour…unless the Italians could unit to alienate and attack during the three brutal mountain stages in the Dolomites that loomed ahead.
A baker’s dozen escaped in stage 14 from Verona to Alpe di Pampeago (195 kms) including Sella, who attacked with a vengeance on the Passo Manghen 55 kilometers from the finish. The 5’5” rider soloed to victory. Meanwhile, the contenders waited until the final few kilometers to attack Contador. Menchov (Rabobank) led the move that enabled Ricco to pickpocket 36 seconds from Contador, who ended the day a handful of seconds back of new GC leader Gabriele Bosisio (LPR).
The peloton faced six climbs over the 153-kilometer stage 15 that finished at the summit of the massive Marmolada mountain. Contador struggled on the category 1 Passo Giau from the difficult pace set by Liquigas, but his rivals could not or would not collaborate to assure his demise, which enabled him the chance to recover and rebound on the Marmolada. Sella virtually ensured his KOM title when he attacked the five-man break, including a pair of his own teammates, on the Passo Fedaia to win. When Contador arrived on the final climb, he noticed he had broken a spoke. In such a crucial moment in the race, he had no choice but to brazenly soldier on and hope his wheel would get him up the 24% grades that were ahead. Sensing his chances at overall victory were at stake, Ricco attacked strongmen Contador, Menchov, Di Luca (LPR) and Simoni (Diquigiovanni-Androni) with 4 kilometers left and soared to a 3rd place stage finish along with an eight-second time bonus. While Contador lost 16 seconds, he became the new maglia rosa holding a 33-second lead over Ricco.
Day three in the Dolomites was an epic 13.8-kilometer time trial up the Plan de Corones, a fiendishly steep climb on long stretches of treacherous gravel with an elevation gain of 3500 feet. Ouch! The course produced the slowest winning time ever recorded for a time trial in a Grand Tour credited to Pellizotti’s (40:26). Sella completed his climbing clinic with a 2nd place finish. Contador powered his way up in 4th place gaining eight seconds over Ricco, who finished the day 5th. The stage proved too much for Di Luca, who lost 1:45 and saw his chances at the overall win plummet precipitously.
The climbing was far from finished as two more mountain stages were ahead after a couple of flatter stages and last year’s Giro champion was not willing to surrender his crown without a fight. Stage 19 (228 kms) was full of attacks deployed by the LPR tandem of Di Luca and Savoldelli, the latter of whom engineered a runaway freight train on wet roads in foggy conditions on the descent of the category 1 Passo del Vivione with 50 kilometers to go. Di Luca chugged his way up the final two climbs alone to win the stage and collect a 12-second time bonus that moved him into 3rd place GC only 21 seconds in arrears. As he promised to do, Ricco attacked on the last climb of the day on the Monte Pora and he had Contador on the ropes. But with help from teammate Kloden along with rivals Sella and Pellizotti, Contador was able to hang onto the maglia rosa by a measly four seconds over Ricco.
Di Luca paid dearly for his effort the day before on the 224-kilometer stage 20 when the Gavia and Mortirolo mountains inflicted their damage and his chances to repeat as Giro winner were lost. With Sella, Simoni and Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d’Epargne) ahead of the bunch snatching up the time bonuses on offer, Contador and Ricco would be left to settle things “mano y mano” at the final stage time trial in Milano. The 23.5-kilometer course was fast and flat, thus the advantage tipped to Contador who is far better in the race against the clock than 23-year old Ricco. Contador put paid to the brash Italians chances at a miraculous come-from-behind victory by besting Ricco in the stage by 1:53, thus winning the Giro with a margin of 1:57. Bruseghin completed the final podium, down 2:54 from Contador, who became only the second Spanish rider ever to win the Giro and the first non-Italian to celebrate victory since 1996.
With the French authorities nixing Contador’s opportunity to defend his title this year at the Tour de France, his sights are set upon conquering his national race, September’s Vuelta a Espana. If he can do that, Contador would have won all three Grand Tours in just over a year, which would be an astounding accomplishment in the modern era of cycling. That’s the kind of feat legends are made of…
The Cool Down
USA Cycling announced the five members of the men’s road cycling team for next month’s Beijing Summer Olympic Games. Leipheimer will compete in both the time trial and the road race. Also on double-duty will be Zabriskie, who will be fresh and fully recovered from the injury he sustained at the Giro. The other three men representing the stars & stripes in the road race will be Vande Velde, Amgen Tour of California stage winner George Hincapie, (the first American five-time Olympian in cycling) and Jason McCartney. On the women’s side, only one of the three spots has been named thus far: Kristin Armstrong will ride the road race and the time trial.
Inherent in the sport of cycling are the dangers and the risks of injury, including the possibility of serious injuries and permanent disability. Riders have raced with very little or nothing to help support them and their families in the event of catastrophic injury…until now. Kudos to Rock Racing’s Michael Ball for recognizing the need and for taking the initiative to launch the Professional Cycling Catastrophic Injury Fund. Rock Racing will make an initial contribution to the charitable entity that will raise money for professional and elite amateur cyclists who suffer a catastrophic injury. The goal is to raise $20 million in two years. Ten percent of online sales of the team’s popular kits will be donated to the fund and they hope other teams will contribute to this greatly needed effort.
Continuing a program that began last February at the Amgen Tour of California, Saunier Duval-Scott is partnering with bottle supplier Camelbak for a Tour de France promotion as part of the team’s ReCycling the World campaign. Fans in France are encouraged to retrieve the bottles tossed by the team. When they do, they will find a sticker on the bottle with a code they can email for a chance to win prizes from Saunier Duval-Scott’s sponsors.
If you’re like me, your inbox gets flooded with requests from “friends” wanting you to connect on one of the many online social networks. Have you ever wondered what it would be like if cyclists had their own social network? Wonder no longer. Cyclist Village (www.cyclistvillage.com) is a free social-networking platform that connects all things cycling on a global scale. It is a multidimensional site that appeals to an array of cyclists, including road, track, mountain, fixed gear and BMX riders. The video vault consists of user-generated content and the best video clips gleaned from the web along with original packages produced under the Cyclist Village TV banner with segments hosted by Amgen Tour of California online broadcasters Frankie Andreu and Mari Holden.
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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.