Thor Hushovd added a huge win to his palmares today when he took the semi-classic Het Niewsblad in a bunch sprint. Het Niewsbald is known for being a similar race to the Tour of Flanders, and with the win Hushovd vaults himself up the list of top contenders for both Flanders and the "Queen of the Classics," Paris-Roubaix. Behind some great teamwork from Heinrich Haussler, Hushovd was able to take his first win in a cobbled-classic. Already he has two big wins in 2009, having taken a bunch sprint a week ago at the Amgen Tour of California as well.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Thursday, February 26, 2009
If you're a true cycling fan, the next two months are among your favorite months of the entire year. Beginning this weekend, the cobbled classics begin again, first with Saturday's Het Niewsblad (hereafter to be called the name it should always be called, Het Volk), and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Each of these semi-classics are important, as they provide indicators about who is going the best at this point in the year. Het Volk and KBK, though not designated monuments, are nevertheless extremely prestigious, and a packed field will arrive at the start line for both races with victory in mind. Below follow just a few of the riders to watch at both races this weekend.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
The Cervelo TestTeam, though not officially a Pro Tour-registered team, has all the markings of one of the world's best teams. Coming over to California, they brought an excellent line up of riders, including last year's queen stage winner Dominique Rollin, former Tour de France green jersey winner Thor Hushovd, and 2008 Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre. Sastre had a bit of bad luck ahead of the Tour, and came down sick with a flu bug just before the race was to begin, but in the end it didn't matter, as Thor Hushovd claimed a stage victory and various other TestTeam riders featured in breakaways throughout the race. They'll be brimming with confidence as they head into the full European season and the spring classics, where Hushovd hopes to take top honors at Paris-Roubaix.
BMC Racing Team: C
The BMC team was the talk of the 2008 AToC, with Scott Nydam taking the KOM jersey and Alexander Moos the most aggressive rifer prize. For 2009, they had high expectations, but when each of their eight riders missed the decisive stage one break that eliminated all but a handful of the field from the GC frame, the "White Sharks" were forced to re-group. Things only got worse over the next few days, as Scott Nydam broke a collar bone in a tough crash on stage four. Yet despite the hard knocks they took, BMC still had a decent AToC. They were constantly in breaks, searching for their chance at the front of the field, and they never gave up. And of the seven American domestic teams entered in the race, BMC ranked third in the team standings at the end of the nine day event. They couldn't get everything to go their way in the 2009 edition, but the BMC team can still take heart in knowing that they played out the hand they were dealt to the best of their ability, never giving up.
OUCH p/b Maxxis: C
The OUCH squad came to the AToC with a favorite for the overall in Floyd Landis, and the defending NRC champion in Rory Sutherland. Many pundits felt they would have a dramatic effect on the race, but it was not meant to be. Landis crashed on his re-built hip the day before the prologue, and his tumble set the stage for what was a tough AToC experience. OUCH couldn't crack the top 20 in the overall, as Landis finished 23rd, and the closest they came to a stage victory was Sutherland;s fourth place on the final stage. Canadian Cam Evans was impressive during a break on stage 2 and again on stage 5, but the Tour was undoubtedly a disappointment for the California-based team.
Bissell Pro Cycling: B-
Bissell, like the BMC team, was out of the GC hunt after stage one after they missed the break for the stage. Under this new set of circumstances, they went on the offensive, putting many of the riders into various breakaways. Team leader Ben Jacques-Maynes took the most courageous rider jersey into his hometown of Santa Cruz, while Tom "Thor" Zirbel put in a good time trial in Solvang, finishing 7th, less than a minute behind stage winner Leipheimer. Like OUCH they were unable to crack the top 20, but all in all the Bissell team had a decent AToC. No doubt though, they wish it had gone better.
Team Type 1: C-
Team Type 1 got some flack ahead of the AToC for even being included in the Amgen Tour of California, so they were keen to show their stuff in the nine day event. Valeriy Kobzarenko did just that, as the Ukranian was was off the front various times throughout the race, showing the distinctive purple, green and white colors of the Type 1 kit. Alas though, the challenge of facing off against the world's best teams wore Type 1 out a bit. They finished the race with only three of nine riders, shedding light on the fact that they're still a few steps away from being able to compete with the world's best riders. As a domestic team though, they showed relatively well, and they'll be able to use the experience of the AToC for their approach to the remainder of 2009.
Colavita p/b Cooking Light: C-
Like Team Type 1, the Colavita team was a bit over matched at the AToC. More than half of their team finished the entire race, but their best placed rider on the overall was Luca Sebastien Haedo, in 60th place more than 40 minutes off of Leipheimer's winning time. Haedo performed well in the sprints though, taking a few top tens throughout the week. The Colavita team was not at the AToC to win stages, but rather to race with the best team's and gain experience. Like some of the other smaller domestic squads, they'll be able to draw on their AToC experience to try to win some of America's biggest races later on in the season.
Like in 2008, the Jelly Belly team was wholly overwhelmed at the AToC. They finished second to last in the teams classification, and their best placed rider was Will Routley in 50th place. But they did get into a few breaks, and they never quit, and for that they deserve some measure of respect. Whether they should have received an invite to the AToC is still up for debate, but at least they raced with grit and honor. They can't be blamed for having to go up against superior talent day in and day out.
Were it not for Curtis Gunn finding himself in the day's breakaway for most of stage 5, the Fly V team would be received an F for their AToC performance. Dead last in the teams competition and completely outclassed on the climbs and in the sprints, the Fly V team should have been replaced by the Kelly Benefit Strategies squad. As an Australian-registered team (Kelly Benefit Strategies is American-registered) they brought a more diverse flavor to the race, but with very little horsepower they were largely pack fill throughout the nine days of racing. Hopefully AToC organizers will use the Fly V performance as an example of what happens when you invite such a small team to such a big time event.
Rock Racing: A+
As they did throughout the 2008 edition of the race, the Rock Racing team raised eyebrows throughout the 2009 AToC. The difference in 2009 though was that they did so largely with their legs. Riding with a full contingent of motivated, if not controversial riders, Rock racing came out punching and didn't stop until the final bell. Francisco Mancebo, newly signed and still unrepentant for his ties to Operacion Puerto, blasted away from the field in stage 1 and managed to win despite being caught by two fresher riders. With Mancebo's win came the leader's jersey, and unprecedented positive publicity for the brash LA-based team. Mancebo eventually traded in the leader's yellow for the climber's red jersey, and he would have won the classification had he not crashed out in stage 7. Meanwhile, old battle ax Tyler Hamilton got himself into numerous breaks, as did the New Zealander Glenn Chadwick. Rock Racing surely did everything they set out to do in the 2009 edition of the Amgen Tour of California, and team owner Michael Ball should be nothing short of giddy with the team's performance. Speaking of Ball, he was responsible for the only tactical mistake of the Rock team, as he approved the "Anarchy" marketing on the team cars and apparel. On the hunt for a title sponsor, Ball likely sealed his team's fate with the ill advised marketing ploy. Which is too bad for most of the riders on his team that won't get offers elsewhere to race.
As with any selection process, the Amgen Tour of California organizers will face criticisms for some of their choices in which teams were invited to the 2009 edition of the race. But one thing is for certain: Each and every team that took part in this year's race gave every last ounce of their energy to do honor to the race. And in the end, that's really all any of us can ask of them.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Now that the Amgen Tour of California has come and gone, it's time to look back on the nine day event and dole out grades for each team. Taking overall race results and individual performances into account, EP offers it's thoughts on the contribution of each team. First up, the Pro Tour outfits, who comprised just under half of the entries to the race.
The Astana team came to the Tour of California with a huge target on their chests and a monkey on their backs. Two-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer was back to try for a third title, and was the prohibitive favorite for the much more difficult 2009 edition of the race, while cycling super star Lance Armstrong was continuing his much publiced comeback to the sport of cycling. Neither the small climber, lance, or the Astana team disappointed. Right from the prologue Leipheimer rode aggressively and decisively, and made the race his from wire to wire. Notably, Leipheimer, channeling his inner-Lance Armstrong during stage two, struck out on his own under horrible conditions to regain the time he lost to Francisco Mancebo during stage one. Leipheimer, often referenced as a boring rider with no panache, was an explosive force for the 2009 Amgen Tour. He left no doubt that he was the strongest rider in the race, and his third victory at the AToC was perhaps his most deserved yet.
But it wasn't just Levi who shone for Astana. His teammates came to California in excellent shape, and by the time all was said and done Astana had placed three of their riders in the top ten overall. Total domination from the best stage racing team in the world, despite intense pressure from the world media and throngs of rabid fans for Lance Armstrong. Speaking of the un-retired Texan, he was stellar playing the super-domestique role. Something tells me his hard work will be repaid across the pond in July. If I was Alberto Contador, I would adjust my season and focus on the Vuelta, because "Big Tex" will, no matter what he, management, and everyone else says, be the leader at the 2009 Tour de France.
As the only French outfit on the start line in California, the Ag2R team was hoping that they'd be able to represent their country with pride. Coming in under the radar, the Ag2R team was not talked about as a contender ahead of the start of the Tour of California. And for much of the Tour, they were absent both at the front and in breakaways. But for stage 7, everything changed. Ronaldo Nocentini, the cagey opportunist of the team, found the right breakaway during the stage, and when the race came to the line the Italian had enough gas in the tank to take top honors on the day. A huge win for Ag2R, Nocentini's win made the long trip from Europe completely worthwhile for the French team. Scoring a stage in the Tour of California is big, and Nocentini delivered for his team when it mattered most.
Saxo Bank: A+
Bjarne Riis' Saxo team had the favorite for the prologue in Fabian Cancellara, but the big Swiss machine was under the weather for the start of the Tour, and right up until he blasted out of the start house, there were questions surrounding his form. But a short 2.4 mile prologue course put all those doubts to rest, as the three-time world time trial champion rolled in with the best time in the prologue for the second year in a row. With his win, Cancellara also took the first leader's jersey, which he relinquished the next day after finally succumbing to his sickness.
While Saxo missed Cancellara, they still continued to capitalize throughout the rest of the race. Jason McCartney stayed close in the KOM fight, and when Francisco Mancebo crashed on stage 7, McCartney took over the red jersey and held it until the end of the race, in what was a big coup for the Danish-registered squad. Then on stage 8, Luxembourg national champion Frank Schleck pipped Liquigas' Vincenzo Nibali at the line for his first win of the year, while at the same time putting the icing on the cake for the Saxo team. Although they fell short in the team competition, Saxo was on par with Astana in terms of team strength. Makes you wonder: If Cancellara hadn't gotten sick would he have been able to take the overall?
Columbia Highroad: A+
Bob Stapleton, the owner of the Columbia Highroad team, stated a few months ago the the AToC was among the biggest season targets for his American-registered team. The yellow and white clad team came with a very strong line up for California, and it showed in their results. Mark Cavendish left no doubt as to who the fastest man in the world is (at least right now), as he blitzed the competition for back to back stage wins in stages 4 and 5. His exploits throughout the race netted him the green sprinter's jersey, a nice value add for the Columbia squad. Meanwhile in the GC hunt, Mick Rogers held things down, finishing a solid third overall behind a solid time trial and careful vigilance throughout the race. All said, the 2009 AToC was a resounding success for Columbia as they head back to Europe for the classics season.
Garmin Slipstream: A
There were a lot of question marks surrounding the Garmin team coming into the 2009 AToC. Who would be the team leader, Vande Velde or Zabriskie? Would they be able to battle for stage wins against some of the strongest riders in the world? Had the pressure surrounding their Pro Tour status gotten to them? After nine days of racing, the answers were emphatically clear: no, no, and no. David Zabriskie ended up being the protected leader, and rode an amazing overall race to finish second overall. He had a great time trial in Solvang, and was bested only by Leiheimer. Not bad. Young Thomas Peterson broke through with a huge win in stage 2, as he rode clear of the field with Leipheimer and then beat the Astana rider to the line in a two-up sprint. Even Tom Danielson showed he is on good early season form, finishing 9th overall. 2009 is looking very bright indeed for the Garmin team, as their confidence soars behind solid results.
Quick Step: C+
The Quick Step team brought one heavy hitter, Tom Boonen, and eight other lesser knows to California for 2009. Carlos Barredo, a solid climber, represented well in the mountains, but he was clearly over matched by the competition. Boonen, although good, was left behind by Cavendish's train in the sprints, and without a strong team to support him he was at a disadvantage throughout the race. Never one to make excuses, Boonen congratulated Cavendish and reminded all those listening that his bigger objectives come in a few weeks time. In what may be a sign of things to come, Boonen had two second places during the week forecasting his good form, despite the lack of a solid team around him. Plus, he got some valuable classics prep work in thanks to the awful weather during the first few days of the Tour. If Quick Step returns in 2010, they would be wise to bring some more firepower in the form of Stijn Devolder or Sylvain Chavanel.
Every pro cycling team has one primary objective: Get as much exposure as possible for their sponsors. Yet not every team can do so by winning. Rabobak put on a clinic in showing how to get exposure when the results just aren't coming. Dealt a huge blow early in the race when star sprinter Oscar Freire crashed out, Rabobank regrouped and put themselves in as many breakaways as possible. Young Bauke Mollema and Pieter Weening were front and center throughout the week, and Weening came oh-so-close in stage 6 into Pasadena, taking third on the day. On the GC, future grand tour hope Robert Gesink had another great AToC, and he took the best young rider jersey for a third consecutive time. Levi wasn't the only one looking for the trifecta, and Gesink has owned the best young category every year that he has participated in the event.
Of all the Pro Tour teams entered in the 2009 Amgen Tour of California, Liquigas took the most lumps. Of their original nine rider roster, only two of them managed to complete the nine day event. Kjell Carlstrom and Daniel Oss made it to the final stage, but difficult early stage tactics on the final day left them without enough energy to stay with the main field over the Palomar climb, so they were obliged to abandon. Their main sprinter Francesco Chicchi fought valiantly against the faster sprinters, but the best the barrel-chested Italian could manage was a fourth place on stage 5. Even Ivan Basso had to drop out of the race ahead of the Solvang time trial, after banging his knee against his handle bars while previewing the course. The lone bright spot for the acid green and blue clad team was 24 year old Vincenzo Nibali. The Basso understudy rode with class and courage throughout the event, and especially in stage eight, but was unable to beat Frank Schleck to the line for the final stage victory of the race. Nibali did manage a sixth place overall though, salvaging an otherwise forgettable Amgen Tour of California for the Italian squad.
Each of the Pro Tour teams, some more than others, had an effect on the outcome of the Amgen Tour of California. The horsepower and tactical prowess that they brought to the race elevated the field of competition each day, and each team was worthy of the invite they received. Some seemed to have better game plans heading into the Tour than others, but each of them will be able to look back on the AToC and take at least one positive memory from the nine day experience.
Monday, February 23, 2009
When the Amgen Tour of California began back in 2006, it was framed as a Euro-style race for an American audience. The organizers touted the event as a chance for American cycling fans to see the biggest European stars on American soil. And while every edition of the race brought a stellar field, this year's 2009 roster was by far the deepest in the four year history of the race.
And it wasn't just the rosters that were much improved for the 2009 edition. The race route grew by two stages, and featured much tougher course profiles than in previous editions. The sprinters had a few stages to shine in 2009, but climbers and one day specialists also were afforded a handful of chances in 2009, as several hilly stages allowed for breakaways to stay away until the finish instead of being swallowed by the pack. All this made for exciting, unpredictable racing, to the delight of the crowds assembled.
In what was a symbolic moment for how much the AToC has grown over the years, organizers managed to have the Golden Gate Bridge closed for an athletic event for the first time ever to allow the peloton to pass over on their way to Santa Cruz for stage 2. And while images of the field riding over the Bay Area fixture were not televised, the message was still clear: The Amgen Tour of California had come of age, as was now a major player on the American, and world athletic scene.
As the stages continued to go by and the weather improved, so did the crowds. By the final stage into Escondido, the fans were lined four and five deep around most of the race course, unheard of for a cycling event outside of Europe. Lance Armstrong's presence surely helped boost the visibility of the race, but it was more than that. Non-cycling fans were taking notice of the event as a social experience, as a chance to get out and celebrate in a festive atmosphere. On the largest climb of the Tour, Mount Palomar, there were about 20,000 fans who camped out ahead of the stage to wait for the peloton to pass by. It was, in so many words, breath-taking.
Even the winner of each stage spoke to the International flavor of the event. Throughout the nine days of racing, seven different countries claimed victories. And it wasn't lesser-knowns who were winning. Three-time world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara took the prologue, former Spanish national champion and Tour de France contender Francisco Mancebo stage 1, young up and comer Thomas Peterson stage 2, Tour de France green jersey winner Thor Hushovd stage 3, Manxman and "Fastest Man in the World" Mark Cavendish stages 4 and 5, defending champion Levi Leipheimer stage 6, second overall at Paris-Nice 2008 Ronaldo Nocentini stage 7, and Luxembourg national champ and Alpe d'Huez winner Frank Schleck stage 8.
The heavy hitters of international cycling came to win in California, and they'll leave a lasting legacy for future editions of the race. 2010 will no doubt prove great again, but 2009 will forever be remembered as the year the Amgen Tour of California broke through as one of the biggest races in the world. Along side the classics and grand tours, a win at the AToC is now among the most prestigious in the sport of cycling. And even though it comes at the beginning of the year, the AToC will nevertheless remain an important target for the world's best riders. For American cycling fans, the time has finally come where we have a race worthy of a top-flight International field. Let's hope it stays that way.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Kjell Tells: Supporting Your Leader, Bowing Out, and Hope for a Future Return to the Amgen Tour of California
You and your Liquigas teammates found yourselves in a very interesting situation from the opening gun today. What happened?
"Yeah, there was a group that attacked right away on the day's first climb which came immediately after the start of the race. At first it seemed like only two would go away, but soon they were joined and the group grew to eight or ten, I can't remember. Our tactic for today was to support Nibali, and if he was not able to be in a break we were told to control the race and bring break aways back. It was our priority to put Nibali in position to win, so as soon as a significant break went away, we knew we had to bring it back."
You were barely warmed up when that attack happened. Was that hard on you and the rest of your teammates?
"It was very hard! I am not good without warming up first, so it was really hard for me. Today when they went away we had no choice, we had to bring them back. We knew, our directors were telling us over the radio, so everyone was very aware."
You took some very long pulls at the front in the early going, and then you decided to abandon the race. How did you come to that decision, and what happens when a rider abandons a race?
"Just before the Palomar climb, myself and Daniel Oss realized that there was going to be no way that we were going to be able to stay with the front group. Therefore, we would not have been of any use to Nibali, so we preferred to turn around and go to the finish. Normally when you abandon, you have to ride in the broom wagon for the rest of the stage, but today the finish was close to the start line, so we were able to ride ourselves 15 kilometers back to the finish line and our team camper. So we told the race commisaires that we had stopped racing, and that was that. Unfortunately, we had no access to the race on the TV in our team camper when we got back, so we did not get to see the race unfold. We had no idea that Nibali finished where he did, which was a shame. Even now, I haven't spoke to Vincenzo yet. I will at dinner though."
There were multiple reports over the Internet today that Ivan Basso's knee is OK. Did you have a chance to speak to him about his injury and his progress?
"Yes I did, he is doing very well. He said that yesterday he had a lot of treatment and he said that he felt really much better. He was very happy last night before he went back to Italy."
You mentioned earlier in the week that as a team you usually don't celebrate unless one of your guys gets a win. Will it be a different case tonight?
"Tonight we will celebrate a bit for sure. Nibali did a great ride, out team did a great ride, and our directors are very heppy despite the fact that we didn't get the win. Tonight we'll go out to dinner, have a bit of wine and we'll open a bottle of champaigne to celebrate the week."
At 32 years old, you are now a veteran of the sport of cycling. How much longer do you think you would like to keep riding?
"I take it year by year because for me the most important thing is to have the motivation. When you start lacking the motivation, then it's time to stop. Right now, for the moment, I have a lot of motivation to keep going. I want to continue, so as long as I still feel this way I will continue. And of course the other important part is getting a contract! It's not a guarantee you know!"
Do you have any last comments to make before we bid you good luck on the rest of your season?
"Well, I think it is a great event even though we had bad luck with the weather this year. Plus, as I said previously, there are some things that can be improved. But I would for sure be happy to come back and ride again next year, but I don't have any idea what my program will be next year, so we will see."
Over the past week, Kjell Carlstrom has allowed EuroPeloton and it's readers a glimpse into the life of a professional cyclist. His candid answers and willingness to be available after each long day of racing was greatly appreciated. We wish Kjell the best of luck for the remainder of the 2009 season. Additionally, EP will continue to monitor Kjell's progress throughout the year, as he takes on future 2009 targets. He'll support Alessandro Bennati in the classics, and Ivan Basso at the Giro, and in between he'll surely find a few opportunities for himself for victories. Then, in the fall, providing everything goes well, he'll represent his country at the world championships in Switzerland. Meanwhile, all along the way EP will be watching, cheering on a true professional cyclist and great guy, Kjell Carlstrom.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
After a long, hard stage 7, Kjell Carlstrom spoke to EP tonight following another long transfer to San Diego for the final stage of the Amgen Tour of California.
How was today's stage?
"It was a hard day today, very fast and a lot of climbing. The stage was mostly uphill today, and for instance over the first one and a half hours of the day, we did 1600 meters vertical feet of climbing, and we averaged 40 kilometers per hour! Chicchi and Gaurnieri dropped out because they were unable to keep pace during the early part of the race. They were also tired from all the other days. It was tough on them. Almost too tough."
Jacopo Gaurnieri is only 21 and a promising rider for the future. Who would you compare him to?
"He is a powerful rider much like Mario Cipollini. He will need a strong lead out train to use his power to beat others in the sprints. But he is also like Boonen, capable of becoming a powerful one day classics-style rider. He has to develop as a professional, but one day he could be very strong. You can see that he is made of stone!"
What will your job be in the final stage tomorrow, and do you think you will be able to try to make it into a break?
"We'll have to see how the race unfolds in the beginning. I think it would be good for our remaining riders to try to get into a break if possible. If not though, we will stay close to Nibali and make sure he is OK. I also think that Nibali himself could do something in the final thirty kilometers tomorrow. He is still going very strong."
Have you recovered from your crash a few days ago, and will you have a chance to try to get into a break for yourself in tomorrow's final stage?
"I tried to get into a break today, but didn't have any luck. I can feel that I am a little bit out of balance. I am more on the left side instead of sitting equally on each side. My muscles aren't working 100%, but if I feel as good as today at least I will try to go with someone! Tomorrow is a tough day for sure, but I'm used to this kind of course. You take the climbs as they come. I will do my best again. I think that a break can stay away again tomorrow because the guys that are a bit off of the classification could get away. Of course though it depends on the other teams and how they ride the race."
There have been several very long transfers for this year's race? Do you have any suggestions for how the event could be improved for 2010?
"Yeah, the transfers are really long, but I think the reason for that is for the sponsors in the race. It is not easy for the organizers to fix everything. Getting everything together is difficult. But with the long transfers, it affects recovery. You have less time to get a massage. If you are two hours in the camper you don't have that time for massage. When we get to the hotel, the soigneurs have to do everyone quickly. Instead of a one hour massage, we only get 20 minutes, which is a huge difference. Plus, sitting with your legs down after a race is not good. You need to have your legs raised to help them recover. Another thing I would like to see improved would be the quality of the roads we rode on this year. There have been a lot of really bad roads, the asphalt has been really terrible. I believe that there are better roads in California. I'm not sure, but I think so! We need smoother roads to ride on. Again, it's not easy for the organizers, but I hope they'll try! I will say that the hotels they have us staying in are really nice, in fact they're perfect. The pasta though could be better too! I miss the pasta in Italy! Finally, I would prefer an easier stage for the last day of the Tour. When you get to the ninth stage at east the last stage should be for the sprinters."
Was this year's edition too hard for this time of the year? Should it be easier?
"I think the course this year was too hard. I think that there will be some riders who won't come back next year because this year was too hard. To be able to really compete in this race, you should have done a stage race before and really prepared physically ahead of this race. It isn't a race that you can use just for getting into shape. I also think nine days is really the limit of being too long. I would have preferred one stage less and then having the last stage be easier. The main reason though for this long a race was for the sponsors. I sympathize with the organizers as it is not easy to make everyone happy."
You fly home on Monday. What is the first thing you'll do when you get home?
"Almost immediately I will get onto my time trial bike and do a bit of testing because I haven't ridden my time trial bike yet. I will test my position, and then I'll go for a massage and do some relaxing. I'll have a nice pizza in the evening too!"
What is your racing calendar looking like for the season?
"I'll be doing the L'Eroica, then Tirreno-Adriatico where we'll ride for Nibali, and then maybe Milan-San Remo, where we will support Bennati. Then I'll ride for Ivan at the Giro and then at the end of the season the Vuelta and the world championships. That's more or less my program for the whole year. I am looking forward to it!"
Tom Boonen had a tough 2008 season. He was dogged throughout the summer regarding his positive out of competition test for cocaine, and had to wait until the beginning of February 2009 to hear that he had officially been cleared of criminal charges stemming from the incident. Yet despite these troubles, "Tommeke" still had 15 wins on the season, including his 2nd Paris-Roubaix Crown, as well as 2 stages at the Vuelta a Espana. All said, despite the stress, 2008 was a good season for Belgian icon. Yet the allegations still hung in the air for that 2008 season, and Boonen wasn't his normal, upbeat self throughout that time.
Over the first two months of 2009 though, Boonen has found his fun side again at the Tours of Qatar and California. He won the overall title and a stage in Qatar in early February as well as a stage, while at California he has managed two 2nd place results. And while he hasn't been able to win in California thus far, he has nevertheless been upbeat and positive throughout. He even managed to paint the bad weather from the early stages in a positive light, saying that the wet, cold, tough conditions would prepare him for his beloved spring classics in a few weeks time.
Now that he is finally free from the 2008 affair, Boonen seems to be improving by the day. More importantly though, Tom Boonen had found his love for he sport of cycling again. He is smiling more, and also finding perspective as an athlete. They say you can't win em' all, but for many athletes this is a tough theory to address, much less accept. Tom Boonen though, from years of experience, is beginning to mature not only as a rider, but as an adult. He is realizing what is truly important: Giving your best effort on a given day. And while he hasn't managed a win yet at the Amgen Tour of California, it is hard to imagine that a slew of wins are that far off. If not in California over the next two days, then in Belgium in March and April.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Ivan Basso said on his Twitter page that he was going to Solvang to preview tomorrow's time trial course in the morning. Is this true?
"Yes, it is true. Ivan and Vincenzo Nibali both went to Solvang tonight so that they can ride the course in the morning. It is better to stay there so that they don't have to ride in the van in the morning. They'll be able to ride the course and be ready for the time trial. I think they'll both do well."
How did today's stage 5 go for you and the team?
"It was not that difficult of a stage, but for me it was a bit hard because I was looking after Ivan all day. I had to keep him out of the wind today so that meant I had to do a bit more work than normal. I am OK with that though, because that is a part of my job! Meanwhile, Alessandro Vanotti watched over Nibali, doing the same thing, keeping him protected and out of the wind. They will both be fresh for tomorrow's stage, that's for sure!"
Chicchi had a good ride today finishing fourth. How did that happen?
"We have a couple of inexperienced guys riding, and with myself and Alessandro not able to help, it made it hard for Chicchi. He had to work mostly for himself. But he did a good ride considering that he didn't have any real help. I wonder what he could have done if he had a good lead out."
With about 7 or 8 kilometers to go, Basso got gapped and had to bring himself back. What happened there?
"Well, he lost contact with the main group for a moment, but by the time I had found out about it he had already re-gained contact. It wasn't too big a deal because with his power he was easily able to close the gap. He is going strong."
You're through the longest stage of the Tour, and the time trial is next. What is your job in terms of helping Nibali and Basso ahead of their ride?
"The only thing that I can help them with is telling them about the wind, and where it is the worst. Maybe I can also help them choose which kind of wheels to use. Besides that though, they know the course and they'll be ready. As far as time trials go, the Solvang course is above average in terms of difficulty, but not extremely hard. The course is one that demands that you have to pedal all the time, there is no resting."
As a Pro Tour rider, what kind of gear are you given by Liquigas and your other equipment sponsors?
"Because it is early season, we only got three complete kits so far. Plus we changed from Santini to Nalini, so the switch has made it take a bit longer to get all our gear. During the season though, we'll be given about 10 or 15 kits. For bikes, we are given one training bike for home, one racing bike, and one spare bike. At about the half way point of the year, our training and race bike will be replaced. So throughout the year we get about five bikes, not including the time trial bike. For sunglasses, we each have a different sponsor. I chose Rudy Project because they are good for my prescription requirement and also because they can be worn in any light condition. They are great!"
It seems as though most pros don't wear gloves unless they are racing. Why is that?
"I don't wear gloves while training, only racing. The reason is because if you crash without gloves and land on your hands, you can't do anything for weeks while your hands heal. So almost all pros use gloves while racing."
White or black shoes Kjell?
"It depends. That changes from year to year. I think it also depends on the manufacturer of the shoes and also on the rider's style and what he likes at the moment. Every now and then the bigger riders choose a special shoe. For instance, Filippo Pozzato for Milan-San Remo wore special shoes. I am friends with Pozzato, he is a good guy when you get to know him. I don't know how he is from the outside though . . ."
As a rider who has ridden all three grand tours, what are some of the best gifts you have received from races?
Wow, that is a hard question! Usually you get the gift at the beginning of the race, and then maybe at the end you'll get a medallion or something to remember the race. One of the coolest things I got was a Garmin GPS from the Tour of California 2007. This year, we got a bath robe, some wine, some olive oil from Pasa Robles. And we got some smaller stuff as well."
Unlike in Merced for stage 4, the start finish line at Visalia was a mob scene, with a throng of local media on hand clamoring to get a brief glimpse of Lance Armstrong. As such, it was extremely difficult to corner selected riders for interviews. Still, EP came away with a few tidbits that follow below.
Patrick McCarty, OUCH
"I don't know if today is so great for me, it's a bit flat. You never know what's going to happen, but I think we'll see a sprint. We'll try to help Karl Menzies get up there, he's our fastest guy. If a break goes away, we'll all be watching. It could be any of us, myself, Rory, Cam Evans. The thinking that may stop a lot of guys going for a break is that it will probably be a sprint finish, so maybe there won;t be as big a break as normal."
Tom Zirbel, Bissell
"I will be sitting in all day ahead of tomorrow's time trial. I'll try to stay completely out of the wind today, as tomorrow is my day hopefully! I know the Solvang course well, so I know it well and am ready to go."
Peter Weening, Rabobank
"This stage is sponsored by Rabobank so of course we'll try our best, but without Oscar it will be difficult for us to take the win today. If there is a group that goes away we'll try to put someone in the break, but as flat as it is a break will not stay away. When we get to the finish, we'll watch out for Pedro Horrillo. He is a good sprinter, but he is always working for Oscar. Today he'll have a chance to win for himself. For a breakaway, it would probably be me or Grischa Niermann, so we will see."
George Hincapie, Columbia
"We'll try to put someone in the break, but we'd prefer to have the race finish in a sprint. We also don't want to have to pull all day, so having someone in the break would be good. We'll watch all the moves, but our priority is to see the race finish in a sprint. Of the remaining stages, I think I could do well on either Saturday or Sunday, depending on the tactics."
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
EuroPeloton spoke once again with Kjell Carlstrom after stage 4 of the Amgen Tour of California, and the Finnish domestique explained what he typically eats and drinks on a ride, what he does after a race, and just what happened to Kim Kirchin on his stage 4 crash.
What do you eat and drink on a typical day of racing?
"My food really depends on what I'm doing. If it's a hard stage, or a long stage, or if I'm at home doing an easy ride. It really depends. For instance, for tomorrow's stage [216 kilometers, mostly flat], I'll have a big bowl of pasta, a little bit of scrambled eggs, and then a bit of bread, maybe even a bit of oat bran with soy milk. I don't eat fruit before a race because it takes up too much space. I need carbs, so I try to eat as many of those as possible! Then, when I am racing, I'll have four or five small soft pieces of bread with marmalade, two or three energy bars, and maybe one or two gels. For water, I will try to drink 7 or 8 bottles, but I haven't been drinking enough in this race because of the rain. It is hard to be thirsty when you're covered in water! Tomorrow though I will try to drink more. I usually have one plain water and one sport drink on my bike at a time. Every now and then I'll have a coke, especially if it's hot. A nice chilly coke in the feeding zone when it's sunny is always nice. And I never chew gum. In fact most riders don't chew gum."
How were the conditions for today's stage? Did the chalk dust coming up from the road bother you?
"Yeah, a little bit, but it wasn't just the chalk. On one of the descents, there was so much dried up mud on the road that it really hurt as we blasted through it. It hurt my skin as we went by! I understand why they allow chalk, I have seen the signs the organizers have put up saying not to paint the roads, but in Europe paint is allowed. So I understand that the fans want to be able to write the names of their favorite riders."
How are you feeling now. Have you had time to recover from your crash?
"I am not perfect yet because I think the crash has made me use my muscles in a different way than normal, which is keeping me from using my body as efficiently as possible. I am not able to get 100% out of my body. I think though that I will be OK for the final two stages. I think tomorrow will be a bit easier, so I can just relax a bit. Then, the day after, the time trial. I can't wait to get the time trial over with. I don't have my time trial bike, so for me it is just a day of getting it over with, a day of suffering."
After a stage finishes, what is your typical routine?
"Usually we ride right to the camper. Then we get to the hotel, take a shower, get a bit of something to eat. Maybe cereal or yogurt, some fluid, and then some stretching, a massage, and then we go and eat. Then, to bed of course."
There was a big crash today that took some big names out of the race, including Kim Kirchin and Oscar Freire. Did you happen to see it?
"I was on the left side of Kirchin when he crashed, right next to him. I saw the whole thing. He took off his wind breaker, and when he was taking it off he wasn't quite paying attention, and it went right into his front wheel, and he went down immediately, right over the handle bars. I was next to him, so I was able to keep riding without falling. Seeing something like that is hard. The first thing is that you hope that the rider is OK, but you know that it's probably bad. You think about how it would feel if it happened to you. It's not a nice thing to have to see. I have broken my collar bone before, it hurts bad! I broke it in two places. They thought it was OK, so I didn't go to surgery right away, but then I eventually had to go to the surgeon."
Your teammate Francesco Chicchi is in last place on the GC. Is he OK? And how about Basso and Nibali?
"Yeah, Francesco is OK, but he is a sprinter. He has a real big problem with the mountains, so that's why he is there. His form is OK. He won a stage at the Tour Down Under, so he's OK. Not in perfect condition, but he's OK. For Basso and Nibali for the time trial, they are both going good. Nibali is very motivated to have a good time trial. Ivan will test himself, but maybe not go all out. I think both riders will do well though in Solvang."
Looking ahead to the end of the year, the World Championships are in Switzerland this year. Will you ride for Finland?
"Yeah, I will ride the road championships only. Finland gets to have 3 riders, so it will probably be myself, Jussi, and one other depending on who is riding the best at that time of year."
Glen Chadwick, Rock Racing
"Today will be a bit of a rest day with the GC guys, plus there's about 40 miles after the final KOM, so we'll see what we can do. I'm sure Astana will let a small group go, so we'll see if we can't get someone up there. We'll also want to get some of the points to ensure that Mancebo stays in the lead. The weather will make a lot more guys active in the bunch, but now with the sun they'll be a lot more active. I'll try today, but sometimes it's a bit of a lottery. There are several guys close on the GC, so I think the Solvang TT will really affect the overall. Plus this Saturday's stage is important. Oscar is firing right now, so we'll support him on Saturday. Also, Rock Racing is great, I'm happy to be riding for this team!"
Rory Sutherland, OUCH
"We lost enough time this race for the whole year! I don;t think we need to lose any more time anywhere. The weather will change the tactics, and I think today will be a very tough day. It will be a full on race. Everyone is a lot more tired than in previous editions of this race due to the horrible weather. Winning the NRC overall is not a goal that I look at, winning races is our number one goal. If you ride well all year, the NRC takes care of itself. For the AToC, I think Sunday is the day I'd most want to win. It's my hometown after all!"
Scott Nydam, BMC
Today's has turned out to be my objective due to the GC picture. That first day into Santa ROsa forced us to re-gather and decide what we wanted to do. We've had some guys in the breaks, but today is looking like it will be my turn to try to make something happen. I tapered quite a bit for this, maybe too much, but I talked with my training partner and we feel that it's better to get stronger as the race goes on. I am finding my confidence more and more as this race goes on.
Tyler Hamilton, Rock Racing
"I'm tired from two days ago and I paid for it yesterday, especially on Sierra Road. Today I'll try to get into an early move and do what I can. Certainly there's going to be a group that goes up the road and will have a good chance to stay away or get caught close to the finish. Having the US Pro champion's jersey and winning the US Pro race means a lot to me, I wish my whole team could wear it with me!"
Jason McCartney, Saco Bank
"I'm just going to wait and see what Astana does. I think it will be a very aggressive stage. If you want to do something against Levi ahead of the time trial, than today is the day. Racing for Saxo bank is great. The team atmosphere is just awesome. It's good times."
Frank Schleck, Saxo bank
"There are still 40 kilometers to go until the finish, so I can;t do that on my own. You never know what's going to happen, so who knows? It is a flat finish, so I don't think I can make it happen today. It is always nice to race in the US, I love the fans here!"
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Davide Frattini, Colavita p/b Cooking Light
"We'll wait to see what Astana does with the tempo. If it's not too fast we'll try for a breakaway. We also have to save our legs a bit for leading out Haedo and the Borrajo borthers. We'll see how the first climb goes and then we'll see. I spent December in Italy where it was snowing. I am a bit under weight for this race, so I feel a bit weak, like you do after a long work out in the gym, so a bit stiff."
Teddy King, Cervelo TestTeam
"I love being on the team, my transition to big time European racing has been reat. The environment is great for me, team has a great philosophy, so it's fitting, couldn't be better! I feel as though i have pretty thick skin being from New England, so the weather won't bother me. Today suits me well, so I'll try to see if I can do something. Carlos is hanging in there, he's a but off form, but we're all hoping that the sun comes out so we can enjoy the real California!"
Curtis Gunn, Fly V Australia
"This is my first Tour of California. I would describe it as brutal, hard, cold, wet, and painful. As a team, we're out of contention on GC, so we're looking for breaks to see if we can't get a stage win. The weather has been just crazy for me, as I'm from Tucson where it's dry and sunny all the time. Some of the roads we have been on have been a bit bumpy, but we're surviving. This is a dream come true for me, it' the highlight of my career. I've been racing for a very long time, so to get a chance to ride in a race of this stature is a dream come true."
Kim Kirchin, Columbia-High Road
"For sure I will look at the others early on fo the first climb. I expect that a break will get away on the climb, and I'll hope to be one of those guys. I'll also try to get into a break to lesson the work we have to do to bring breaks back later on. We're all riding good as a team together. I've been keeping a close eye on Mick, making sure he's taken care of, and I'll continue to do that as long as I'm not in a break. Fo the rest of the year, my two most important targets besides the Tour d eFrance are Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the world championships in Switzerland."
Tom Boonen, Quick Step
"I hope it clears up soon, we've had enough rain! During the first two stages, I was feeling good but not great. It was good fo my mind to do a strong prologue, and now I am feeling OK. I'm not 100%, but the condition is there and the jet lag is finally starting to go away!"
Monday, February 16, 2009
Kjell Tells: Carlstrom On His Career, His Biggest Cycling Hopes, and Life After Professional Cycling
Kjell Carlstrom successfully completed the second stage of the Amgen Tour of California today, but not without a bit of drama along the way. The Liquigas pro was involved in the day's big crash that sent Andy Jacques Maynes to the hospital, and he explained briefly what happened. "I was taking a water bottle from my teammate Brian Vandborg, so I only had one hand on the handle bar. Then, I hit a huge pot hole and went down. I took about 15 or 20 other riders down with me!" [Editor's note: This was the crash that Andy-Jacques Maynes was in, and all reports state that it was a moto that brought the group down]. "I'm not sure if anyone was angry, but no one said anything. Maynes was the worst off, as he went to hospital with an injury. I am OK, but bruised and sore. I don't think it will affect my ability to keep riding though. I think I'll be OK." Luckly, Kjell is OK to continue for now, and he took some time this evening with EuroPeloton to answer a few questions about his career.
Amgen Tour of California Stage 2: Team Representatives Talk Tactics, Morale Ahead of Another Rainy Day
Sausalito California, as it has for every edition of the Amgen Tour of California, played host to the start of a stage, this time for stage 2. EuroPeloton tracked down several team representatives ahead of the day's racing, to hear about tactics for the day, staying healthy while riding in the cold, and overall team morale ahead of another rainy day of riding.
Vassili Davidenko, Director Sportif, Team Type 1
We're all in the same boat in conditions like this. I think we're ready. We have tough weather and we have to accept it. The GC is now down to about 20 riders, so I think we'll see a great day of racing. We'll try to put some guys in the break, I think we'll see a similar day to yesterday. There will be a break, that's what I believe. It's just the second stage, and since there are many riders out of the GC hunt, we should see a lot riders trying to get away, so we'll see who gets lucky. Health-wise we're OK. This is our first year in California. We have a big bus that keeps our guys warm before and after, so I think we'll be OK. Hopefully today will be better with race communications. Yesterday we had a lot of confusion where we didn't know what was going on. We finally got some information, but it wasn't really clear who was where. But in conditions like yesterday, it's not surprising that there were problems with communications. As a lead director, yes it's my first big race, but I've been in the sport for 26 years so everything is everything except there is more pressure now for me!
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Francisco Mancebo has spent the last few years toiling on lesser-known cycling teams. One of the suspected riders from the Operacion Puerto investigation, Mancebo originally "retired" after being kicked out of the 2006 Tour de France. But after the Puerto case was closed, Mancebo was happy to start riding again, which he did.
After two seasons riding for smaller Spanish teams, Mancebo signed on this past off season with the hard-charging, cutting-edge Rock Racing team. Joining a colorful group of controversial riders, Mancebo came to Michael Ball's team looking to get back into big time competition. But with the Rock team missing their opportunity to race overseas when they were not able to obtain a licence to ride the bigger Internation races, Mancebo ad his teammates were left with one big race by which to center their season around: The Amgen Tour of California.
So, about five miles into the very first stage of the year's Tour of California, Mancebo did the unthinkable. He attacked aggressively on his own, and rode off in search of a piece of the glory for himself and his Rock team. He was eventually joined by two other riders, but through an impressive acceleration, was able to escape alone again as he made his solo bid at victory.
Behind him, a drenched and weary peloton was shattering under the pressure of the terrible weather conditions. Rain was coming down in sheets, wind gusts were blowing up to 40 miles per hour, and the slick roadways were making life generally miserable for every rider in the field. As the kilometers continued to tick by, Mancebo continued to stay away. And by the time he hit he first of three laps around downtown Santa Rosa, he held a two minute lead.
The field chasing behind him were finally getting organized, and the Astana team led the charge with Chris Horner, Janez Brajkovic, Gregory Rast, and Lance Armtrong. And tucked conforably behind all of them was the de facto leader of the Astana team for the Tour of California, Levi Leipheimer. Taking turns at the front, the Astana squad continued to make progress in reeling in Mancebo, and with two laps to go his lead had shrunk to just over a minute.
Meanwhile, some of the riders sitting on the Astana train were getting a bit antsy, and it was Vincenzo Nibali of the Liquigas team that hit out first, immediately creating a gap to the Astana group. Quick Step's Jurgen Van De Walle was the next to go, and by the time Mancebo hit one lap to go, he had been joined by the two other riders. Astana and the chase group, perhaps a bit indecisive, had let off the pace, and the three leaders extended their lead.
The three worked well to increase their gap, while behind the Astana group worked to limit their losses. At the line, many pundits were calling out Nibali's name, but it was Mancebo who had the best legs. With one final effort, he kicked clear of his breakaway companions, and claimed the biggest victory of the Rock Racing team to date. That he was able to do it in such grand fashion made his win that much more impressive.
As the Astana-led chase group crossed the line, they had conceded nearly two minutes to Mancebo, Van De Walle, and Nibali. Now two minutes clear of favorite Leipheimer, Nibali and Mancebo may be able to dream of taking the overall win at the Amgen Tour of California. Each of them are good time trialists, and if they can make a good effort in the time trial and limit their losses, they could end up stealing the race that Levi has made his own over the past two years.
Rock Racing, ever the progressive brand champions, have released a viral video depicting hooligans bum rushing the UCI Headquarters and tagging it with the Rock Racing slogan for 2009. It's obviously not a "real" video. That is, no one actually tagged the UCI Headquarters, but nevertheless it should cause a bit of a stir among cycling fans across the world.
With their actions though, the Rock franchise may be hurting their brand image more than helping it. Many people have a very unfavorable view of the concept of anarchy. Rock Racing obviously doesn't believe in anarchy (one hopes), but in putting the anarchy insignia all over their uniforms and team cars, the Rock brand may find itself alienating many of the wealthy conservative cyclists the world over.
In 2008, Rock Racing marketed themselves as renegades who were bucking the system, thumbing their nose at the traditional cycling establishment. But in promoting the anarchy theory, they may have finally taken things too far. Most discerning fans will see this ploy for what it is: an attempt by the Rock marketing team to draw attention, positive or negative, to their team and the Rock brand. But when is enough enough?
Team owner Michael Ball is in search of a new title sponsor so that his team can continue for the remainder of 2009. Will his anarchy marketing make it easier for him to acquire a partner? The answer must be no. Hopefully the Rock team continues, as what they bring to cycling is truly unique and thought provoking. But as they use increasingly aggressive ways to draw attention to their brand, Rock Racing may be unwittingly pushing themselves out of the sport of cycling.