Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tour of California Comes to An End: and Landis, the Spoiler

Pic: Mike Rogers, HTC Columbia Team photo

Eight days through the hills and flats of California and what a race it was.

With seven riders away from the peleton by 2:55 minutes at 25 miles to go, and a final climb still coming before the end of the race, the final stage was looking like a ho-hummer. 

The last stage from the Thousand Oaks Shopping Center to Westlake Village/ Agoura Hills was a four-lap circuit race of 21 miles each, which gave the peleton and key riders a certain advantage beyond radio instructions: they could ride the circuit three times and know how long the last few miles will require to overcome the 7-man breakaway nearing the end of the third circuit.

But in the end the final circuit provided the kind of excitement that riders and fans were looking for with a sprint between five champions that was worthy of a Tour de France replay. 

First a second breakaway from the main peleton (after the 7 man break was caught at the beginning of the final lap,) by George Hincapie now of Team BMC, Carlos Barredo of Quick Step, and Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin Transitions left the peleton behind, including race leader Mike Rogers. 

Pic: George Hincapie BMC team photo

Then a break by Dave Zabriskie from the main peleton to catch the leaders at 6.8 miles followed by a jump by Levi Leipheimer at 6.1 miles to go, who passed Zabriskie. Zabriskie followed a few seconds later and they created a second break with Mike Rogers, who followed a few seconds later with a 25 second gap to the lead group.

Finally Rogers, Zabriskie and Leipheimer found themselves in the same middle breakaway, showing Rogers to be a tough rider who would have to really prove himself to take the win. Chris Horner who was also in the second break was in position to take the win from teammate Leipheimer, all with a 45-second gap from the first to the second breakaway at about 2 miles to go.

Good thing Rogers went with the second break: in the end he defended his Stage 7 GC win, and took the overall win for the Amgen Tour of California, with American David Zabriskie of Garmin-Transitions  second overall, and Leipheimer third. For Horner who came in fourth it was is a feather in his cap, and a good indicator for his chances should he make it to the Tour de France this year. 

Ryder Hesjedal took the stage win, followed by Hincapie, Barredo and Horner.  Does this mean that Hesjedal and Rogers, two names we didn't hear much of in last year's TDF will be in attendance in the biggest European race this year? Yes they will.

Most of you know the ToC took place at the same time this year as the Giro being held in Italy. So why a European team would choose the ToC over the Giro is anyone's guess. Less travel time? Easier stages? More likely its the timing--much warmer this year than last year's later ToC which took place in the rainy month of February. Then there's the coordination with the Amaury Sports Organization (ASO) which also runs the Tour de France, who have brought their entire production team over to cover the ToC shown on Versus television this year.

Pic: Canadian Ryder Hesjadel, team photo

My guess is despite his crash in stage 5 (following the public announcement by Landis,) Lance Armstrong of Team RadioShack was not interested in winning the ToC. More likely this was practice for him and his team, to work on their team strategy, their form and to suss out their competition.

Unless someting strange happens (like more drug findings) many of the teams that came to ToC will very likely be at the TDF: Garmin Transitions, HTC-Columbia, Liquigas-Doimo, Quick Step, Rabobank, Saxo Bank, BMC Racing, and Cervelo TestTeam. So what better place to practice than the ToC?

With those teams came their best riders: Armstrong, Hincapie, Mark Cavendish, Andy Schleck, Fabian Cancellara, Tom Boonen, David Zabriskie and three-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer.  This has been a terrific opportunity for domestic teams such as  Jelly Belly, Bissell, Kelly Benefit Stategies, Spidertech Powered by Planet Energy, Team Type 1 and United Healthcare-Maaxis (7 of whose riders are from last year's OUCH-Maaxis) to compete on a European level on American soil.

Pic: Still from Versus (c) televsion, of Lance Armstrong leaving race after crashing in Stage 5

What is perhaps annoying to some viewers of the ToC is the Armstrong-dominance that pervades almost every aspect of the coverage on Versus. Why a one-hour special at the end of the Tour tonight "Lance Armstrong a Look Back," when Armstrong left the race after his crash in Stage 5? Because LA is the biggest draw for any race, be it in the U.S. or overseas. Even at the TDF last year, ASO officials acknowledged off the record that attendance at the TDF was 20 to 30% higher on years that LA was participating.

And now, Floyd Landis, the Spoiler
Pic: Floyd Landis at 2006 Tour de France, before his title was stripped. From the Floyd Landis site. 

As the Tour of California wound up its final day of racing, Floyd Landis has proven to be the spoiler in more than one way. 

Its pure speculation to say that Landis chose the middle of the Amgen Tour of California to make public his emails and pronouncements that he and several highly-ranked riders, among them Lance Armstrong and George Hincapie, indulged in illegal performance enhancers. After all, he started writing those emails some time ago. But the news came out on May 20th in the middle of one of the biggest stage races held in the United States.

What a bummer.

But to make matters worse, he didn't even limit his revelations to himself. He had to drag in other riders who, by the way, have never tested positive or been deprived of a race win for drug use--as Landis was.

What makes the whole scenario so bulls--t is that Landis still has his site up claiming his innocence and sporting all of his Tour de France photos (shown here).  It's called, "Floyd Landis, An American Hero," and on the page, "Athlete's Rights", he goes into extreme detail about how he is innocent of the  Tour de France allegations that he tested positive twice for the barred drug, testosterone.  So what is it Floyd? Guilty or not guilty? Who is this man's PR team? They should be fired immediately.

And Landis isn't just hurting his teammates: he's hurting the whole sport. Okay, okay, wouldn't it be nice if we knew for sure that all the cyclists are clean? Oh sure, that would be nice. Half of you don't believe they are clean. And you won't believe it after they come clean either. 

If you've been following this upset, you'll probably know that Landis' team, the OUCH-Bahati Foundation, was not invited to compete in the ToC.  It all sounds like sour grapes to me.

To top it all off, the seeming pariah shows up at the race yesterday, to the VIP tent of his team--which he alleged paid $40,000. (It was actually $20,000, according to an article on, and no the team could not get their money back when they were not invited to participate.)

Landis showed up and refused to talk to reporters. Wonder why? Maybe because his claims that ex-fellow cyclemates were druggies cannot be substantiated by any official measure, meaning Landis has now engaged in public slander: you can slander someone else publicly only if what you say is true, and right now, any claim he makes about his fellow riders is not substantiated by any official laboratory test. What's more, proving that they did indulge at that time could prove difficult. Yes, many anti-doping controls keep old bags of blood or specimens, but we haven't even come to the possibility that going back to specimens from 2006, 2005 and 2004--the years of Landis' allegations, would actually be legal or yield good results. 

And who is a worse spoiler than Landis? We say the NY Times coverage of cycling. During the entire ToC the Times has provided bare-bones coverage on its umpteenth sports page, on the very bottom or side of the page. Come Landis' big revelations, the Times put the story on the first page of the sports section (whoopee doo). 

Compare that to the Wall St. Journal who broke the Landis story on the Internet (while Times' reporters were presumably asleep) and then dedicated an entire second page of their main news section to the brouhaha the following morning.

Boo NY Times! Now we know all this NYT bike blogging which doesn't even appear in print and lukewarm cycling sports coverage is just pretense to gain a leg up in the New York cyclist market.  (Not to mention that their reporter last year at the TDF rarely went to the front line of the race preferring instead to report from the reporters room, often miles away from the race.)

Never mind that New York and New Jersey are home to one of the most traveled cycling corridors in the United States, from the West Side Greenway, across the George Washington Bridge, and up Route 9W in New Jersey and New York. Cyclists fall under the radar around these parts. 

Just a reminder of who is competing in the Tour de France this July 2010: Germany : Team Milram
Belgium: Quick Step
Omega Pharma  – Lotto
Denmark: Team Saxo Bank
Spain: Caisse d’Epargne, Euskaltel – Euskadi
Footon – Servetto
USA: Team HTC-Columbia
France: AG2R La Mondiale, BBox  Bouygues Telecom
Cofidis, le Crédit en ligne
Française des Jeux
Italy: Lampre – Farnese
Liquigas - Doimo
Kazakhstan: Astana
The Netherlands: Rabobank
6 other teams have been invited by the organisers in order to compete on the 97th Tour de France:
USA: Garmin - Transitions
Team RadioShack
BMC Racing Team
Great Britain: Team Sky
Russia: Katusha Team
Switzerland: Cervélo Test Team

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