Monday, May 23, 2011

Moving and new blog

Dear Reader,

There won't be any more entries for a while. As I mentioned before I need to refocus this blog as my interests have shifted and I have decided to take some time off to do this. I know I said it before and then continued anyways but now I will stop posting for real. At least for a while.

I may also move the blog to a new address to better reflect my new focus. I will keep you posted.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tu quoque, George, fili mi?

Rumor has it that big George Hincapie has joined the crowd accusing Lance of doping use. At least that is what the media are reporting. George for his part started tweeting like, well a twittering bird, to deny or at least contain these rumors.

George's first tweet, now 16 hours ago, read, "I can confirm to you I never spoke with "60 Minutes." I have no idea where they got their information." It is so nicely written with quotes and all, one might suspect that his PR guy did the tweeting.

The first tweet was soon followed by a second one, "As I've said in the past, I continue to be disappointed that people are talking about the past in cycling instead of the future."

And then, "As for the substance of anything in the "60 Minutes" story, I cannot comment on anything relating to the ongoing investigation." Now that one was written by his lawyer for sure.

Happier days in the past
Alberto Contador meanwhile continued to solidify his lead in the Giro. He was second in another mountain stage today. He rode to the top with Nibali, who is seen as his main competitor, although he dropped the Italian in the last 100 meters. Igor Anton (Euskatel) won de stage up the Zoncolan. He arrived solo at the top.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Compliments and accusations

Sporza called Chris Horner an oldster grabbing power, while Cipollini said Cavendish didn't care about the sport and was fat. The sprinters left the Giro yesterday leaving the race to climbers like Contador, who may well win only to see his victory taken away by TAS in June.

The silliness of the whole doping hoopla becomes more apparent when you hear what Ventoso had to say about Mark Cavendish. The Spaniard accused Cavendish of hanging on the team car to get over the hills, thereby beating the time-cutoff for a hilly stage so he could win the next one. If true it would be a most clear example of cheating and one that had a direct and tangible benefit. So is Cavendish going to be investigated and if found guilty suspended for two years? Don't hold your breath!

The truth is that riders hang off team cars all the time. They have all sorts of tricks up their sleeves and cheating is an integral part of the sport. I am not condoning it or saying that it is OK, but face it, the whole doping is cheating argument holds little water. If you think it is cheating then treat it like cheating.

The reality is that outright cheating is barely looked at, let alone punished so why be so punitive about doping? Clearly something else is going on here.

But the doping game is far from ending. Not only will TAS most likely clear the way for the soon-to-be-oldest winner of the Tour, but former Armstrong team-mate Tyler Hamilton is going on Sixty Minutes this weekend saying he saw Lance inject EPO.


And that brings up another point of how silly this whole matter has become.

St.Lance battling the dope monster

It is now clear that every Armstrong team-mate and competitor was using what everyone considers effective doping. Entire teams were doping, including all of Lance's team. Most have admitted as much in public. Most were suspended or had their careers destroyed because of it. Yet we are to believe that Lance is somehow innocent? Statistically speaking that seems extremely unlikely. Either the stuff does not work, so why bother, or Lance is an alien and a saint too?

Now you may say that there are lies, damn lies and statistics and maybe there is some truth to that. And you could say that Lance was never found positive so you cannot accuse him. But statistics has become acceptable to prove doping. The biological passport is nothing more than statistics and it has indeed been used to suspend and punish riders. So yes, it is acceptable to use statistics, at least to WADA and UCI. We are getting awfully close to 1984 here. Maybe someone should put an end to all this?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Not in our genes

If anyone ever wonders why bike racing will never get big in the US, look no further than the Amgen Tour of California. Granted we got a hill-top finish but it was a hill-top in the middle of nowhere. Not only that, I tried to get there by going up the road in the other direction (Sierra Road, Felter and Calaveras form a loop) but no cigar.  Here was a diligent highway patrol officer blocking the road 6.5 MILES from the finish! Wouldn't want to have any problems with congestion now would we? Only a handful of local residents, who couldn't care less about riding, were let through. None of them were friendly enough to give me a ride.

Felter to Sierra, 6.5 miles of emptiness

Sierra, Felter and Calaveras are insignificant roads. Not much traffic there, only a few locals who go in and out. But the road at the Calaveras-Felter end is wide and it would have been easy to park on the shoulder in many locations without blocking the non-existing traffic. Yet someone thought it would be better to close the entire road for several hours? This was no doubt an effort to make sure not too many spectators would show up???

Lots of empty space. The finish is over the hill somewhere

When we went to see Flèche Wallonne in Huy in April, we were able to drive to within a km from the finish. And that just half an hour before the race was due to arrive in the middle of the city.

And the headlines? "An oldster of 39 grips the power in California" is what Sporza calls it. You could think it is unfair to Chris Horner, who put in a valiant effort and then boasted only Contador could beat him, but it is what it is: Geriatric cycling.

Andy Schleck, who only lamented the fact that he would have loved to win it for Wouter, said he "was surprised his form was so good already." Clearly Andy must think he was on a training ride among the geriatric public.

But that did not deter the folks from TrainingPeaks from discovering another first-in-class, superhuman performance. Here is what Hunter Allen sent the coaches group this morning: "STAGE 4  -RORY'S FILE!!!    6.3w/kg !!!!  HOLY MOLEY!!!!!!" Read it and weep people.  This is what it takes to be one of the world's best.

One of the world's best, in a performance that by the numbers at least outdid the infamous Schleck-Contador 2010 Tourmalet day (their power was rated at 5.9W/kg) is none other than Rory Sutherland. Rory, a compatriot of the soon-to-be-the oldest Tour winner, may be a great rider -I don't know him- but he has a rather modest prize list so far. He did win the Australian U23 National Road Championships and a few races stateside, but so far all the major events have eluded him. He is now however, the official king of the gadgets.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Funeral Wouter Weylandt

Today Wouter Weylandt was buried in Gent. Many riders, dignitaries and fans attended the funeral. Wouter's friends Tyler Farrar and Iljo Keisse spoke at the service. In the audience we saw many Leopard Trek team mates including Fränck Schleck and Fabian Cancellara. Also present were Tom Boonen, Quickstep manager Patrick Lefevere and many others. 

Iljo Keisse

Tyler Farrar

Here are some more shots:

Outside on the St.Pietersplein, a 2,000 person crowd gathered watching the proceedings on a big screen TV.

St. Pieterskerk Gent

St. Pietersplein Gent

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Nets and mattresses

There is a new sight along the Giro route this year: nets and mattresses line dangerous turns along the descents. Many riders, from Contador to Armstrong have pointed out how scary these descents can be. Pedro Horillo went over the edge and dropped 80 m on Stage 8 in 2008. He survived the crash and visited the site seven months later.

The new additions are supposed to not only add a sense of security, but also capture those unfortunate souls who would otherwise plunge to their death (or serious injury).

In California the mountains look more like winter now. Below is a shot from Tahoe where the temperatures were in the high seventies until Sunday. The bad weather continued and Monday's second stage was shortened and moved downhill to Nevada City. It was won by Ben Swift

Mark missile-man Cavendish won today's flat stage in the Giro.

Tahoe on Sunday
Bad weather is a tradition for the ATOC. It has been haunting the race practically since its inception and was one of the reasons organizers moved the event from February to May. In the past several years, the weather leading up to the race has been spectacular only to change dramatically for the worse as soon as the race takes off. Maybe the weather gods have it in for California and Amgen's tour?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Llora giraldilla mora

Ninety one years ago Spain mourned the death of a young matador in Talavera de la Reina. Jose Gomez Ortega, aka Gallito or Joselito, was twenty-five years old when he died in the afternoon of May 16, 1920. His death deeply affected the whole nation.

Giralda, Sevilla

This week Belgium lost a very popular 26 year old racer named Wouter Weylandt due to an accident in the Giro d'Italia. The impact on the cycling community was equally enormous.

While it may surprise many of you, there are a lot of parallels between bullfighting in Spain and bike racing in Belgium. I pointed this out before when I discussed the kermis and the role of the bike race in the kermis rituals.

While many like to see a bike race as a competitive event where young men try to outdo one another, its origins are quite different. The bike race as originally conceived was a battle of man against the unforgiving forces of nature with survival and domination as its ultimate goal. Henri Desgrange, founder of the Tour de France, thought the ideal race was one with one finisher, one survivor. His Tour de France sent riders over long distances, bad roads, and unforgiving mountain passes to find the hero who would prevail in the end.

The bike race in Flanders, as exemplified by the Ronde is a struggle to survive. A struggle against the dark forces of nature that, in this part of the world are represented by fog, rain, sleet, snow and impassable cobblestone roads. This is punishment on a grand scale.

The battle of man against nature

It is also the daily battle the denizens of Northern Europe fought for centuries in order to survive. The opening scenes of the Ronde video in the Ronde van Vlaanderen Centrum show it very clearly. When the pale sun rises over foggy meadows exposing the wet, icy cobbles you can see that the stage is set for an epic (to the death) battle of man against nature.

The motto of the exhibits stresses blood, guts and glory. This is not so different from the bullfight where the matador confronts death in order to tame the wild forces of nature, in that part of the world represented by the toro bravo, the wild bull.

Both festivities carry an enormous cultural significance in their respective communities. Unfortunately these days many people choose to focus on extraneous details and good looks while ignoring the deep symbolism these events carry. Bike racing in Flanders is first and foremost about survival, honor, character and grit. It is like one Sports Illustrated article said, like boxing in America.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Smoking volcanoes

Added at 2PM: Stage 1 of the ATOC was canceled due to adverse weather conditions.

Alberto Contador showed everyone who's the king of the mountains today. He left all but one rider behind to win the stage up the Etna and conquer the maglia rosa. Only Jose Rujano could stay with the Spaniard in the last five kilometers but even he ended up 3 seconds behind.

Denis Menchov lost 2'16, while Carlos Sastre lost 2'21. Stefano Garzelli was the first Italan at 50''; Jan Bakelants the first Belgian at 2'16.  Tomorrow is a rest day and on Tuesday there is a flat stage.

Romain Felliu meanwhile won Picardie. He was third in the last stage. Gert Steegmans was forced to leave the race due to a crash.

Lake Tahoe weather

The Tour of California starts today at Lake Tahoe. In line with what we have come to expect from that race, the weather turned ugly last night. The situation in the Sierra is dismal with snow, wind and freezing rain. It was below freezing at 9 AM this morning.

The start of Stage one has been delayed due to harsh and unsafe weather.

I am waiting to fill the last slot for the Ster. I have three good candidates who showed interest and so now it is a matter of seeing who will come through first.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Witch hunt

The big news today was not that Alberto Contador gained time on a flat stage in the Giro. The Spaniard was unable to win the stage in any case. That honor went to Italian Oscar Gatto. It wasn't Romain Felliu's win in Picardie either. Or Julien Absalon's even more stunning win in Stoumont, where he beat Sven Nys by five minutes. The big news of the day were the further revelation of UCI's hot list of "suspected dopers." The publication of the list in L'équipe provoked outrage and a lawsuit in Switzerland. Paul De Geyter from Cello Sport & Image, who represents many riders announced these steps in a live broadcast on Friday.

The hot list assigned a score to suspected dopers in order to subject them to more rigorous scrutiny. One of its victims was Jurgen Van den Broeck. Even though Jurgen never tested positive the news has damaged his image. His score was 7.  Ironically enough, Alberto Contador who tested positive for Clenbuterol had a low score of "5," while many other high scoring riders never tested positive. These include fellow Spaniard Carlos Barredo and Yaroslav Popovych who topped the list with a score of 10.

Index of suspicion list

De Geyter says the publication of the list damages the image of the riders.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Index Ster van Zuid Limburg (the April trip)

Here is some more info for those of you who want to learn more about our April Ster van Zuid Limburg trip. I left for Belgium on April 13 and arrived on the 14th with John Piasta, Alex Howard and Addison Fuller. The first blog entry for the trip was on April 14.

The four of us stayed at the Chainstay in Oudenaarde and the guys rode their first race in Belgium on April 17 in Geluveld (Zonnebeke). They rode another kermesse race in Beernem the next day. On April 18 we moved to Tongeren to the Begeinhof youth hostel where we met up with Alistair and Erik who arrived that morning in Brussels and were picked up by our former au-pair Ann Kathrin. That night the boys went out with Ann Kathrin. I went back to Oudenaarde to pick up gear and to visit my mom the next day. I joined them in Tongeren two days later.

On Wednesday we went to see La Flèche Wallonne in Huy. On Thursday Hunter Grove joined us and on Friday we started the Ster race in Borlo. The first road stage was a wild adventure. In the end Hunter was the only American (both on our team and the National team) who would survive the three day ordeal and be ranked. All the others were lost due to crashes, flat tires, and other mayhem. The officials were exceptionally strict this year and only about a third of the field survived in the end. On the last day we lost Alistair due to illness, and Erik due to a crash. We returned on April 27. Alistair was quite sick by then and I suffered the same fate shortly after returning home. All that is detailed in the daily entries. Enjoy!

Stay tuned!

Blogger was down all day yesterday so I could not post. Today I am pretty busy but I will post something later. In the meantime here is some more info on the Ster.

Stage 1 loop, map, elevation and fly-over.
Stage 2 morning TTT, map, elevation and fly-over.
Stage 3 afternoon race, map, elevation and fly-over.
Stage 4 small and large loop, map, elevation and fly-over.

Neo-pro Bart De Clercq won the first mountain stage in the Giro today. He finished ahead of the favorites despite struggling earlier on. Contador finished in 9th position. Menchov was 17th.

Yes it is active!

Also, for more fire works (quite literally that is), the Giro will climb Etna, an active volcano, this Sunday. As if we haven't had enough excitement there (crashes, unpaved roads, etc.).  So much so that Petacchi's legs froze a few centimeters from the finish line yesterday and Ventoso passed him for the win.

Jurgen Van den Broeck meanwhile is now on the UCI doping core list. Stay tuned for another high profile case.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sempre con noi

Italian Federation Coach, and former Weylandts team-mate Paolo Bettini signed the start list for number 108 for the fifth stage of the Giro with the words, "sempre con noi," always with us.  108 was Wouter Weylandt's number. Tom Boonen meanwhile canceled his upcoming radio-show at StuBru.

The Leopard-Treks and Tyler Farrar did not start today, but apparently not everyone was happy with this decision. Young French rider Brice Felliu wanted to continue. He said he wanted "to give the best of myself to honor Wouter." Last year Brice, a promising young rider was denied entry in the Tour de France when his VacanSoleil team did not make the cut. Now pushed out of the Giro, he must feel things are not going his way. Brice did say however, that he is "in solidarity with his team-mates and that is the way it should be."

A bit too much?

Today's stage covered the infamous Strade Bianche, the unpaved roads of Tuscany. Pieter Weening gave the Dutch another victory, twelve years after Jeroen Blijlevens. He also took the maglia rosa. Pieter was so enthusiastic when he crossed the finish line that many spectators were upset and complained it was inappropriate. He then went on to dedicate his win to Wouter Weylandts. Another Dutch rider Tom-Jeite Siegter from the same Rabobank squad was taken to the hospital after a serious crash. He broke his clavicle and had a head wound, but according to the Rabobank doctor who stayed with him the whole time, he never lost consciousness.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tyler-Leopard-Trek leave Giro after tribute

It is somewhat ironic that Wouter Weylandt won Stage 3 of the Giro last year. This year, Stage 3  ended his life. Today's stage was neutralized and became  a tribute to the rider who many remember as a friend and confidant. Tyler Farrar, Wouter's training partner rode over the finish line alongside the Leopard Trek team in a final tribute to the Belgian sprinter. Tomorrow neither Tyler nor the Leopard-Treks will start Stage 5. They are heading home.

Tyler and the Leopard-Treks in a final tribute to Wouter

2010 Stage 3 win

Monday, May 9, 2011

Wouter Weylandt R.I.P.

Today we heard the tragic news that Wouter Weylandt of the Leopard-Trek team died while descending in the Giro d'Italia. The rider hit a low wall and fell breaking his skull in the process. Wouter Weylandt was 26 years old.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Controversy and rapture

Alessandro Petacchi won the sprint in the second stage of the Giro today. Man-missile Cavendish was upset and filed a complaint, but the overhead clearly shows that nothing fishy happened and Cav just made the wrong decision.

In Duinkerken, Kittel won another stage making it four, while French rider Thomas Voeckler grabbed the overall classification. Zdenek Stybar brought luster to his road debut by showing himself repeatedly and taking third overall.

Meanwhile, our next stage race, the Ster der Vlaamse Ardennen is filling up and I hope to finalize the team by the weekend. Everyone should get their deposit in by May 21 at 6 PM, because I heard the world will be ending then and we will experience rapture and big earthquake here in California. This will be followed by other earthquakes around the country. But perhaps more importantly, the organizer needs a filled out registration sheet by May 22, and rapture notwithstanding, I do not want to miss that date.

Please get your deposits in before the world ends

I am also looking into opportunities for 16-18 yr olds to go race in Belgium over the summer. No stage races or interclubs, but kermesse races galore.

I will be absent from the blog for the next two days, but hope to see you all again on Wednesday.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Look what I found

More pictures from the Ster van Zuid Limburg on the internet.
Prologue TT:
Addison went first

Erik was second


Alex wearing the AC skin suit

Hunter had the best time of the day for AC

Alistair was the last one to start

Second RR from Bilzen

Second RR

Alistair on the replacement bike after the mega-crash on Day 2

Hunter on Day 3

Alistair on Monday, early on

Alistair was sick and had to abandon the race on Monday

Hunter on the last day

Friday, May 6, 2011

Above the law

Saying "UCI ignores all court rulings anyways," the Belgian Appellate Court withdrew its order to rescind Iljo Keisse's suspension. The immediate effect is that the embattled rider can no longer race in Belgium either and now has to wait until August 6 before he can race anywhere again.

The fact that Keisse's suspension is about to end did play a major role in the Court's decision, but the admission by a High Court that its rulings "would be ignored" and would thus be "senseless" did shock some people. In essence the justices did not want to intervene any longer but the way they put it seemed to imply that UCI was effectively above the law and could do as it saw fit. The news was largely ignored outside cycling circles and was no doubt welcomed in Switzerland, but it should give all citizens of the free world pause. If any organization can put itself above the law, then what exactly does the "rule of law mean?"

In the US meanwhile we have seen many similar "adjustments" albeit outside the world of sports. Here too, government lawyers and government officials feel emboldened to legalize any behavior they wish to engage in, be it revoking "habeas corpus," spying on citizens, illegal detainment and kidnapping, torture, pre-emptive strikes, or ignoring the sovereignty of nations.

It now appears neo-pro Marcel Kittel is going to win every single stage of the vierdaagse van Duinkerken. The cyclo-crossers who are using this race as their road debut are barely visible. Stybar did manage to get into a break-away yesterday but Sven Nys could do no more than avoid a major crash.

Marcel Kittel (R) here with Taylor Phinney at the U23 worlds

Tomorrow is the start of the Giro d'Italia. For you endurance racing fans, tomorrow is also the second running of Ironman St. George, considered by many the toughest race in the lower 48. And while we have seen pictures of snow-covered peaks for the former, the latter is going to be a scorcher with temperatures above 30C/ 88F.

And finally, a great shot of Hunter in the final stage of the Ster van Zuid-Limburg.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Deejay Tom Boonen

In this waiting period on the pro cycling calendar, headlines consist of new doping discoveries such as Pasquale Muto's positive CERA test; notable returns from doping suspension, such as Davide Rebellin who will fill in for Pasquale at Miche; lawsuits being dropped, such as Lance's suit against Landis (but not UCI's suit); investigations being abandoned, such as the ongoing inquest against Vino, Iban Mayo and Christian Moreni by French authorities -supposedly dropped because UCI won't cooperate and hand over samples; imminent break-ups such as Lotto and Omega Pharma, leaving Gilbert in the middle; cyclocrossers attempting road racing, such as Stybar's first exploits in the vierdaagse van Duinkerken, and classics riders turning into DJ's for the night, such as Boonen and StuBru.

How is that for a run-on sentence?

We also learned that Lars Boom will stay with Rabobank for another three years and that Contador will attempt to win three grand tours in one year -unless UCI stops him that is. UCI meanwhile is also outlawing needles starting on Saturday in what is known as the "No Needle Policy." Needles are already illegal in the US but their use in the European pro-pack is widespread.

Here is a picture of Alistair modeling the new Rocktape jerseys that were kindly provided to us for the Ster van Zuid-Limburg (thanks Greg), but that unfortunately did not reach us in time to be used for the race.

Rocktape jersey
There are three more slots left for the Ster der Vlaamse Ardennen.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

More info on the Ster der Vlaamse Ardennen

The Ster der Vlaamse Ardennen is a stage race, Interclub for Juniores, cat 2.14.IC Nat. It takes place June 11-13, 2011 in the communities of Michelbeke, Erwetegem and Opbrakel. All three are on the course of the Ronde van Vlaanderen and relatively close to the city of Oudenaarde.

There are three road races and a team time trial.

The first stage takes place in Michelbeke on June 11. It is a 105 km road race, consisting of 10 loops of 10.5 km each. There is a team presentation at 1:30 PM and the stage starts at 2:30 PM. There is one short but steep climb where KOM points are awarded. The profile looks like this:

The second stage consists of a morning team time trial and an afternoon road race. The TTT goes off at 10 AM in Erwetegem, and it is followed by a road race at 3PM that starts at the same location. The TTT is 10K and the road race is 93.6K (8 loops of 11.7 Km). The road race has KOM points.

Team time trial

Afternoon road race

The last stage is in Opbrakel on June 13 at 2:30PM. It consists of 4 short loops of 10Km (kleine rondes), and five longer loops (grote rondes) of 15Km, for a total of 115Km.

Short loop

Long loop

The ster has five classifications and jerseys: individual (yellow), points (green), KOM (polka dot), youth (white) and team. The time limit is 15% and the 3 Km rule is in effect.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A safer place

Now that the world has become a safer place -except for team managers driving follow cars that is, as this photo from the Tour of Asturias clearly illustrates, we can all relax and enjoy the view.

Team Andalucia in the ditch. 

The view from the back of the caravan

Lots of exciting things are happening in the cycling world. But first I want to state for the record that I was able to run a 10K yesterday -despite the cold and coughing. It isn't exactly an endurance event but it felt like it. I have now been sick for more than a week and our house has turned into a mini-hospital with two more sick children. 

But back to cycling: on the eve of the Giro d'Italia, BMC put Alessandro Ballan on non-active and Contador is trying to sneak in another win before he will most certainly go non-active in summer. All that to prepare for the soon-to-be-oldest winner of the Tour day France.

The Australian invasion continues unabated. Rabobank is replacing its top rider Theo Bos, who is suffering from a respiratory infection, with Aussie Graeme Brown who ended third in Nokere Koerse earlier this year. And in Sint-Truiden I noticed other evidence of down-under, right before the start of the final stage in the Ster van Zuid-Limburg.

Home-made Australian Ice Cream in Sint-Truiden

Ironically enough, one of the Australian home-made flavors was speculoos.

Finally, for your continued enjoyment, more shots of Belgium and things Belgian.

Smurf display at BRU
Moots ready for the Koppenberg

Mementos from the Ster

Ster: Team Leader and Soigneur badges

View outside Bilzen

Erik in the laudromat Tongeren