Weekly Rap - June 22, 2008By Rick Scott
France, Spain, Germany and the U.S.A…we’ve got lots of miles to cover this week in The Weekly Rap, your professional cycling highlight reel. We also have a few team name changes to update you on. Don’t be shy…dive right in.
Four Days of Dunkirk
Yes, the French do things their own way. The 54th Four Days of Dunkirk was held May 6-11…yes, over six days. Two men got festivities started with a successful break in the opening 179.4-kilometer stage when Stephane Auge (Cofidis) out-sprinted Skil-Shimano’s Clement Lahotellerie more than two-and-a-half minutes ahead of the field. Quick Step-Innergetic’s Gert Steegmans had the fastest pair of legs in the field sprint that concluded Stage 2 after 192.2 kilometers, but did nothing to change the overall leader. No change again in the overall after another bunch sprint settled Stage 3 with Belgian’s Kenny De Haes (Topsport Vlaanderen) pedaling the 193 kilometers the swiftest. Auge held onto the GC lead in Stage 4 after another 193-kilometer jaunt won by Pierrick Fredrigo (Bouygues Telecom) enabling the latter to move up into 3rd place overall. Frenchman Cyril Dessel (AG2R) toasted victory after Stage 5 (179 kilometers) in which Auge increased his GC advantage over Lhotellerie to 1:22. Concluding the race with a field gallop, Credit Agricole’s fastman Thor Hushovd thundered to victory in Dunkirk after 128.4 kilometers. Auge won the General Classification after having taken the lead on the first day. Lhotellerie ended up 2nd (1:34) and Fredrigo completed the podium (1:54).
Volta a Catalunya
Over to Spain we roll for the ProTour’s Volta a Catalunya, the 88th running of the stage race held May 19-25. Last year’s winner, Vladimir Karpets (Caisse d’Eparnge) was not present to defend. With a course geared towards the climbers, riders sharpening their legs for the Tour de France were in attendance as well as many of the stars of the one-day spring classics were returning from rest periods. Starting with a short 3.7 kilometer prologue, Hushovd powered his way into the first yellow jersey by eclipsing High Road’s George Hincapie by six seconds. While the big Norwegian sprinter didn’t expect to hang onto the jersey after stage 1, a mountainous 167.8 kilometers with three peaks to conquer, he did when he hauled his bulky body over the final category 1 climb with the bunch and won the mass sprint with authority.
With the difficult Queen Stage next, the top of the GC was bound to change after the 192-kilometers covered on stage 2. A seven-man break dominated the day, but by the time they reached the final climbs, only Christophe Riblon (AG2R) and Alexandre Botcharov (Caisse d’Epargne) survived. As they were being chased, the break hit the deck on a technical gravely descent effectively ending their chances. Their teammates – AG2R’s Vladimir Efimkin and Caisse d’Epargne’s Rigoberto Uran – attempted to take up the mantle with attacks, but neither was able to hang onto the tail of the audacious Dessel, who runaway-trained his way down the descent to earn victory for AG2R and take the overall lead.
At 217.2 kilometers, stage 3 was the longest of the week over a primarily downhill course that traversed the category 2 Alto de Paumeres late in the stage. While it wasn’t expected to prove decisive, it did when Dessel paid for his efforts the previous day. He cracked, allowing Credit Agricole’s Remi Pauriol to take over the GC lead. Five men broke away and rumbled all the way to the finish, which was snagged by Frenchman Fredrigo. Stage 4 (163 kilometers) was won by Sylvain Chavanel, the third in a row for the French, after a brazen solo flight launched on the first categorized climb of the day and built a maximum advantage of over eight minutes. The winning margin shrunk to 2:32 when Hushovd aced the group gallop. Pauriol lost precious seconds of his GC lead when he was gapped, which was reduced to a scant two seconds over Saunier Duval-Scott’s Josep Jufre.
Another 163-kilometer stage was on tap for stage 5 that included a bevy of category 3 climbs. After the field absorbed the five-man break du jour, they came to the line together with Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas) being all that he could be on this day. Heading into the final day’s 124 kilometers, Pauriol’s narrow GC lead was anything but assured. On a primarily flat route, the fastmen would rule the day in wet and foggy conditions. A fifteen-man group took off shortly before the second sprint zone and marched on to the finish. Jose Luis Carrasco (Andalucia –Cajasur) synched the top prize when he nipped Gustavo Cesar (Karpin Galicia) at the line, but Cesar became the overall winner. Uran was 2nd, 16 seconds in arrears, and Pauriol had to settle for 3rd, 21 seconds down.
International Bayern Randfahrt
Moving on to Germany, the 29th International Bayern Randfahrt was held May 28-June 1. Young German sprinter Gerald Ciolek (High Road) opened his 2008 account by scoring a surprising win after besting the climbers in an uphill finish on the 175.4-kilometer opening mountain stage. Ciolek held onto the leader’s jersey after placing 2nd in stage 2 (219.9 kilometers) behind two-time Amgen Tour of California stage winner Olaf Pollack (Team Volksbank), which was the German sprinter’s first win of the year as well. 21-year-old Ciolek bagged his second stage win in stage 3 after 189.5 kilometers in a bunch sprint. The 25.9-kilometer time trial reshuffled the GC, which saw the win go to defending champion Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) and the leader’s jersey change hands to Milram’s Christian Knees. With Team Volksbank’s Andreas Dietziker down only three seconds in the overall, he went for gold in the finishing sprint of the final stage in pursuit of the time bonuses available for the top three places. Knees couldn’t keep pace and could only watch as Dietziker dashed for the line in the last 300 meters only to come up a hair short in 4th place in a stage won by Heinrich Haussler (Gerolsteiner). Knees held on to the GC victory while Dietziker (2nd) and Milram’s Niki Terpstra (3rd) filled out the podium.
On the first day of June, the peloton flocked to Arlington, Virginia to sharpen their legs ahead of “Philly Week” at the CSC Invitational. Last year’s winner, Rahsaan Bahati, brought his rumbling Rock Racing stars to assist in his defense, but no one could have anticipated an attack on the first lap in a 100-kilometer event by Big Magnus Backstedt (Slipstream-Chipotle). Colavita-Sutter Home’s Luca Damiani joined him and the two clicked off a few laps alone before being joined by 11 other riders representing most of the teams in attendance. A few that missed the move, like Team CSC, Kelly Benefits and Rock Racing, attempted to give chase later in the race when it looked like the break would stick, but were unsuccessful in bridging. The break lapped the field and riders in the break were able to seek aid from their teammates in the field heading into the final laps. A duel ensued between the two most dominant teams: Colavita-Sutter Home and HealthNet. Rory Sutherland led the field by firing up the furnace for HealthNet in the final three laps, but the red-hot Colavita-Sutter Home locomotive rocketed the rails on the final lap with Sebastian Haedo hitting the last corner first. Damiani jumped off his teammate’s wheel to win over the one-man wrecking crew known as Dominique Rollin, the Amgen Tour of California stage winner who was the lone Toyota-United rider at the event, while HealthNet’s Karl Menzies assumed the show position.
Commerce Bank Triple Crown of Cycling
The three races that comprise the Commerce Bank Triple Crown of Cycling (a.k.a. “Philly Week”) got underway June 3rd on a new course at the Leigh Valley Classic (136.8 kilometers). Warm and windy weather played a role as the riders pedaled over rolling terrain, short power hills and technical sections on each lap. A four-man break – Luis Amaran (Colavita-Sutter Home), Jeff Louder (BMC), Frank Pipp (HealthNet) and Svein Tuft (Symmetrics) – gained over a minute advantage, but Slipstream-Chipotle, High Road and CSC reeled them back in until only Tuft and Pipp were left. Slipstream’s Martijn Maaskant and High Road’s Bernhard Eisel, winner of last year’s Triple Crown, joined the effort. After they were absorbed, in the final lap eight men escaped in a move initiated by Rock Racing’s Fred Rodriguez. In the closing kilometers, only Fast Freddie remained along with Rollin and HealthNet’s Kirk O’Bee, the latter of whom seemed to be a passenger. They hit the last 500-meter hill with two kilometers left when Sutherland cranked it up while his HealthNet buddies swarmed the left side in the 1.5-kilometer drag race to the line. Out of nowhere came a lightning strike by Yuri Metlushhenko (Amore & Vita-McDonald’s) on the right. The Ukrainian began his celebration a little early and nearly lost the race to Menzies, but the photo finish confirmed the victory for the little known rider. Jelly Belly’s Brad Huff came in 3rd.
Two days later, the Third Reading Classic included trips up Mt. Penn over the 10.8-kilometer circuit and a total of 119.1 kilometers. The riders were aggressive, constantly launching breaks and counterattacks, but never allowing the gap to stretch much more than a minute. First time up the King of the Mountain climb of Mt. Penn, Rock Racing’s Oscar Sevilla soared to the summit first. The break was caught after crossing the finish line with two laps remaining. Bernardo Colex (Tecos-Trek) attacked the second time up Mt. Penn. Sevilla joined him on the descent along with Team Type 1’s Moises Aldape and Valery Kobzarenko. When they hit Mt. Penn on the final circuit, Sevilla jetted and dropped his companions although Aldape hung on for a bit by his fingernails. Sevilla was not to be caught although High Road’s 20-year-old Edvald Boasson Hagen tried. He found himself in no man’s land finishing six seconds behind Sevilla and three seconds ahead of the fast-charging field. His teammate, Eisel, won the field sprint for 3rd.
The series closed at the 251-kilometer Philadelphia International Championship under extremely oppressive weather conditions that included 98 degrees, high humidity and road temperatures over 120 degrees. The route included ten trips up the menacing Manayunk Wall with its devilish 17% grade in front of hundred’s of thousands of enthusiastic revelers who drank, ate and partied throughout the day. Realizing the day would be long in stifling heat, the riders took their time in what ended up being one of the slowest finishing times in the race’s 24-year history at almost six-and-a-quarter hours. Although attacks started in earnest after the first time over the wall, a break didn’t take flight until the fourth of ten full laps. Davide Frattini (Colavita-Sutter Home), Brad White (Successful Living presented by Parkpre), Daniel Ramsey (Time), Edward King (Bissell), Benjamin Kneller (Jittery Joe’s), Tyler Hamilton (Rock Racing) and Richard Geng (Rite Aid) built up a lead of around 8:30. Kneller and Geng fell off the pace as High Road and Slipstream took up the chase, which halved the gap.
A serious group drove an inspired chase before Backstedt leapt across solo and was the first to join the leaders. Frattini was the last hold out as he set out to add to his KOM points lead on the wall (he did end up winning the day’s KOM title). When the Italian was caught at the summit, Tuft and Tecos-Trek rider Francisco Matamoros jumped and were joined by Team Type 1’s Glen Chadwick. The trio held out until the three smaller laps that included vaults over Lemon Hill, which was where Tuft, the last refugee, was corralled.
The attacks came thick and fast the rest of the way with Sevilla shooting first on Lemon Hill. Next, Sutherland and Team Type 1’s Chris Jones pried open a ten-second gap. The final time up Lemon Hill, Maaskant lit it up. High Road commandeered the front with two kilometers left before deploying Vincente Reynes Mimo on a solo flyer. The field collected him as they roared past the red kite with one kilometer left. HealthNet’s John Murphy looked to set-up O’Bee, but they were on opposite sides of the frenetic field. They hitched up after coming around the fountain before the long 600-meter finishing sprint into a headwind. Murphy drilled it, but it proved too far to drive without any reinforcements. When he started to fade, CSC’s Matti Breschel ignited his jets to earn the biggest win in the young Dane’s 23 years. O’Bee held on for 2nd while Rodriguez, who had won in Philly in the past, rocked his way home for 3rd.
The Cool Down
Usually news about title sponsors makes headlines during the off-season, but it’s an exciting shot in the arm for the sport of cycling that sponsors want a piece of the action now. Team CSC, which announced earlier this year that CSC would no longer be the team’s title sponsor after this season, signed Saxo Bank as co-title sponsor for the rest of this year starting at the Tour de France before Saxo takes over the helm as sole title sponsor through 2010. Also debuting at the start of the Tour de France, Team High Road will become Team Columbia as the Columbia Sportswear Company becomes title sponsor of the dominant men’s and women’s teams. Lastly, another American-based team will debut a new look and name at the Tour de France, thanks to their new title sponsor: Slipstream-Chipotle shall become Garmin-Chipotle.
Bravo to Saunier Duval-Scott for renewing their commitment to ReCycling the World, the team’s program to address the desertification of Mali by planting trees. Last year, the team planted over one million trees in the African nation. The team’s bicycle sponsor, Scott, is celebrating their 50th anniversary this year by planting 5000 trees in Mali after stage 6 of the Tour de Suisse. They offered to double the total if the stage was won by a Saunier Duval-Scott rider (it wasn’t). You can help the noble cause as well. Find out how by visiting www.saunierduval-scott.com.
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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.