Weekly Rap - September 12,2008By Rick Scott
Welcome to a five-ringed, star-spangled championship edition of The Weekly Rap, your professional cycling highlight reel. This week, we’ve got the Olympic road race and time trial along with USPRO coverage from the criterium, time trial and road race.
29th Olympic Games
The 245-km road race of the Beijing Games was contested August 9th in hot and humid conditions on what was anticipated to be one of the toughest Olympic courses ever. The protagonists expected to top the marquee were the heavily armed and dangerous Italian and Spanish squads, the former of which contained defending gold medalist Paolo Bettini. After a long flattish ride past many of Beijing’s most famous landmarks, the real race began when the peloton hit the difficult hilly 23.5-km circuit, which they looped seven times. Spain manned the front while Italy sat close behind out of the wind. The strength of the Spanish armada was simply awesome as Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre set a blistering pace on the main climb followed by Giro d’Italia winner Alberto Contador, Samuel Sanchez and Alejandro Valverde, the latter of whom was highly favored to win the race’s uphill finish.
In the final lap, Andy Schleck (Luxembourg) instigated a move on the climb much like he did during the Tour de France and got away with Sanchez and Italian Davide Rebellin. The trio worked equitably and it looked like they would decide the medals amongst themselves. Behind, Australian Michael Rogers and Russia’s Alexandr Kolobnev fought on in no man’s land ahead of the shattered field. As the final kilometers passed, the one-man wrecking crew known as Spartacus, Fabian Cancellara, who was riding alone for Switzerland after his teammate, Michael Albasini crashed out, made one of his trademark late race moves. Audaciously he powered away from the field and chugged his way past Rogers and Kolobnev, who were lucky to somehow grab hold of the Amgen Tour of California stage winner’s coattails and held on. The new trio powered by the man possessed (Cancellara) motored up to and caught the front trio. Cancellara looked unstoppable, but Sanchez timed his acceleration to the line perfectly to take the gold back to Spain. Rebellin celebrated his 37th birthday with the silver medal around his neck while Cancellara stole bronze after another impressive display of his unworldly strength.
After his incredible performance in the road race, two-time World Time Trial Champion Cancellara was the clear favorite for the Olympic time trial, which consisted of two laps of the road race circuit for a total of 47 kilometers on August 13th. Contador flew out of the gates and attacked the first lap with abandon. Although he shredded it, he’d later pay for the effort and finished 4th. Two-time Amgen Tour of California winner Levi Leipheimer rode a strong and steady race en route to winning bronze for Team USA. The battle between two CSC-Saxo Bank teammates was fierce with Gustav Erik Larsson (Sweden) leading Cancellara at the final time check. But Cancellara, who had flown to Beijing directly after finishing the Tour de France to better acclimate himself to the weather and time difference, assassinated the last dozen kilometers to take the time back from Larsson with extra to spare. Cancellara crossed the line saluting the crowd after an inspired gold medal-winning performance. Larsson went home to Sweden with the silver medal.
USPRO National Criterium Championship
The 22nd USPRO National Criterium Championship attracted the speed demons to the figure-eight course in Downer’s Grove, Illinois. Hailing from not too far away, Garmin-Chipotle’s Christian Vande Velde, fresh off his stellar 5th place Tour de France finish, was a surprise entrant and he delighted the crowd with a mid-race solo flyer that he held for a few laps before the 75-rider peloton brought him back. Rock Racing and Colavita-Sutter Homes seemed to be the most attentive and aggressive teams in the race hoping to keep the field together until the final lap. Kelly Benefits Strategies sent Dan Bowman on the attack in the final laps, but Colavita-Sutter Homes, Jittery Joe’s and Toshiba-Santo drove the successful chase.
In the final lap on the back half of the course, a downhill section, Kelly Benefits Strategies riders commanded the front in support of Alex Candelario nearing the crucial moments in the approach to the penultimate corner. Jelly Belly’s Brad Huff, a former USPRO Crit Champ, jumped the men in green, but lost momentum when his foot came off the pedal. Candelario was slowed, but undeterred as he managed to get into Rock Racing’s Rahsaan Bahati’s draft followed by Mark Hekman (Toshiba-Santo). Bahati, who won on this course as a junior in 2000, hit the last corner first, which comes only 150 meters before the finish, and sailed to victory in the race he had promised to win this year. Candelario and Hekman completed the podium. With Bahati’s teammate Justin Williams winning the Under 23 National Criterium Championship earlier in the month, history was written by the two African-American speedsters.
USPRO National Time Trial Championship
The only rider ever to win the USPRO National Time Trial Championship since it took a new form a few years ago is David Zabriskie. The Garmin-Chipotle rider recovered from a broken vertebrae suffered in May’s Giro d’Italia to show promising form at the Olympic Games, but would he have enough to again collect the mantle as USPRO Time Trial Champion August 30th in Greenville, South Carolina on a new 20.7-mile course?
The riders completed three laps and weren’t quite sure how to race the tricky course. Zabriskie had the honor of starting last as defending champion. His teammate, Vande Velde, rode the first lap perhaps a bit too conservatively and found himself with a difficult deficit to overcome. He finished with the third fastest time of the day, down ten seconds. Bissell’s Tom Zirbel had targeted the race all season and the gifted time trialist did not disappoint. However, he was disappointed to come up five seconds short of the winning time. In only his third race back from the injury, Zabriskie was focused, motivated and had something to prove. Riding sans the 1970’s-style moustache that decorated his lip during the first half of the season, “DZ Nutz” rode like the man of old to win the red, white & blue jersey to wear while time trialing for another year.
USPRO National Road Race Championship
The stars & stripes jersey of USPRO National Road Race Champion was back up for grabs August 31st as last year’s champion, Leipheimer, was racing with his team at the Vuelta a Espana. Vande Velde was correct and present as were previous winners George Hincapie (Team Columbia) and Fred Rodriguez (Rock Racing). Garmin-Chipotle had an army of riders that controlled most of the 110-mile race along with a full retinue from Rock Racing, who were cloaked in a specially designed red, white and blue team kit.
As in the past two editions held in Greenville, the decimating Paris Mountain climb proved decisive during the final lap. The shattered peloton gave way to a group of 25 at the bottom of the descent. Garmin-Chipotle’s Danny Pate gave it the gas in a solo effort in the downtown finishing circuits. BMC’s Jeff Louder, Rock Racing’s Tyler Hamilton and a tandem from Garmin-Chipotle - Lucas Euser and Blake Caldwell – joined Pate with the advantage clearly tipped toward Jonathan Vaughter’s boys. Caldwell made the first move and only Hamilton responded. The two worked together to swiftly gain a ten-second advantage. Caldwell again accelerated with 250 meters to go, but the wily 36-year-old Hamilton wasn’t done. He managed to just barely eclipse the young Caldwell at the line that was determined after a photo finish. Triumphant in a race that he nearly retired after last year, Rock Racing’s Hamilton was crowned champion followed by a pair from Garmin-Chipotle, Blake and Pate. Perhaps Rock Racing truly is here to stay after all.
The Cool Down
The so-called “Silly Season” is again upon us when riders change teams for next season, teams announce they’ll be disappearing next season and the formation of new teams and new title sponsors are announced. There have been an unusually large number of bike changes within the peloton this year. For instance, Team Columbia will move from Giant to Scott bikes. Rabobank goes from Colnago to Giant. Team Milram pacts with boutique German bike maker Focus. CSC-Saxo Bank will ride Specialized while their long-time bike sponsor, Cervelo, launches their own team that will include marquee riders such as reigning Tour de France champion Sastre and former Tour de France sprint points winner Thor Hushovd. Tour de France King of the Mountains and 3rd place finisher Bernhard Kohl inked with Silence-Lotto where he’ll team with two-time Tour de France 2nd place finisher Cadel Evans. Winner of the first Amgen Tour of California, Floyd Landis will make his return with the team currently known as HealthNet, which will soon announce a new title sponsor. All this activity pales in comparison to the unexpected news that seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong will return to professional cycling with the goal of winning the next Tour de France to support cancer research, awareness and those fighting the disease. It appears as though Sir Armstrong selected only a handful of races to compete in next season, his first after retiring in 2005, the first of which is the Amgen Tour of California.
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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