The 11th edition of the GP Miguel Indurain arrives this coming Saturday, April 4, and for those one day specialists adapted more to the climbs than the flats, the GP is an ideal preparation race for the upcoming Wallonnian classics. The course is a challenging one, with multiple short, steep climbs throughout the race, while the route often crosses back over itself, allowing crowds to view the race several times.
Monday, March 30, 2009
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Scott Nydam Interview Part 3: Rules of the Road, Favorite Things, and the Difference Between Euros and Americans
In part three (here are parts one and two) of our interview with BMC rider Scott Nydam, we explore the rules of the sport of cycling, a few of Scott's favorites in the world of cycling, crazy occurrences while racing, the difference between being an American rider versus a European, and his predictions for some if the biggest races of 2009. As a reminder, this interview took place back in early March of 2009.
EP: What is your opinion of race radios?
SN: I don't know anything different, so I think they are kind of, in this day and age, a necessary evil. You could be without race radios and then what are you gonna do, tell them they can't have a blackberry in their pocket, or not watch TV? You can't tell them that. There still lies a challenge even with race radios. Teams don't always communicate, some riders don't communicate as much as they should. Race radios allow for more of the team aspect, which is one of the coolest parks of cycling. This is a complicated team sport, and the most can be achieved when all eight guys are working together. So I think radios are great.
EP: And what is your opinion on the runners at the Tour of California?
SN: Oh, you mean the dudes on the climbs? I think it's a bit of a circus. I think it's typical though. Typical for Americans. You see something else in the world, and you replicate it in an adolescent way, in a way that doesn't quite understand. I remember an announcer at some point in the race said, yes, in Europe they do the same thing, but they're doing it out of reverence, to relate to the amount of pain the rider is going through. Some of the costumes . . . it's all about them (the fans-EP), not the riders. I think it's cool to see the enthusiasm, but I think the cycling industry needs to guide it a little bit. Plus if they push you, you can get penalized. But I'm a bit of an extrovert in a sense, so sometimes it helps me build energy, so I'm all about it. In fact, even when it makes me mad it is good, because it builds my energy, a little anger on the bike is good sometimes.
EP: How do you feel about the sanctioning system for cheating?
SN: I don't really think about it that much. I heard once about a possible life ban, and it resonated for me. The problem right now is that the consequences aren't high enough to deter people from doing it. Under a lifetime ban though, you could have someone say that they got a positive test and that the labs screwed it up or something . . . and I'm no scientist, but I don't see how that could happen. Either way though, it will always be a hassle. I am a purist though, I think the stakes should be high.
EP: What's your favorite race that you've ridden in the past
SN: One that I am sentimentally attached to was my first ever stage race, the Tour of the Gila. I'm also keen on the Nevada City Classic. It's in this old mining town, and it has this little climb that you do a bunch of times, it's pure attrition. But it has everything, a bomber descent, some good climbing, and the crowd is excellent. It's a glimpse of what cycling could be in America. So that one and that's about as far as I can go right now.
EP: Who are your favorite riders of all time?
SN: Someone I have always admired is Miguel Indurain. His demeanor, and the fact that he came from a farming family, won some Tours de France, and then went back to being on the farm. His intentions were pure, at least to me. His honesty and integrity added a lot to his game. i don't think I would try to emulate him, but again a pretty cool dude.
EP: What was your best moment in a race?
SN: I would have to say being off the front on stage 2 at the 2008 Tour of California. It was awesome being able to get away near my hometown in Sebastapol. Santa Rosa has a lot of my people there, and I recognized friends as I passed over the climb . . . everything came together that day.
EP: What's the craziest thing you have ever seen at a race?
SN: I remember once that I saw one of the Toyota United guys, I think it was Jose Manuel Garcia at one race, we were flying down a descent and he picked up a box turtle crossing the road at full speed, full speed man! And he eventually carried it for awhile and then set it down gently when the road flattened out. That was pretty cool!
EP: What is the one biggest difference between European pros compared to American domestic riders?
SN: The biggest difference is that European riders seem to be more steeped in cycling. There is definitely a sense that they are living a cyclists lifestyle at a much earlier age than some of us. American cyclists have less of a regimen than Euros. Americans are used to being at home with the girlfriends, while European cyclists aren't as softened up. In America we have it pretty good. If you have the time to race your bike, that probably means that you're probably doing OK overall in life.
EP: Now for some predictions. Who will win Milan-San Remo, the Giro d'Italia, the Tour de France, what are the chances that Astana can place three riders on the final podium . . . and can Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador exist on the same team?
SN: I'm not sure who will San Remo, but it will be out of a small three man group. For the Giro, I have to say Basso. And for the Tour, definitely Leipheimer. An all Astana podium? I'll say the chances are better than any other time in history. Two out of three? 75%. All three? I'll give that a 30% chance. As for Lance and Alberto being on the same team together, they will have no problems. They can definitely co-exist. They'll make it work.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
After a very slow start to the 2009 cycling season, Katusha's expensive off-season signing Filippo Pozzato finally broke through for his new team, taking the victory at the E3 Scheldeprijs race, the opening race of the Belgian cobbled-classics season. Pozzato was able to come around hometown favorite Tom Boonen to take his first win in over a year, and more importantly the Italian can now head into the Tour of Flanders with renewed confidence after his huge win.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Now is the time of the cycling season for the world's toughest riders to show the rest of us what it means to really race your bike. Beginning this Saturday at the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen - Harelbeke and ending on April 15 with the Scheldeprijs race, the next few weeks are only for the strongest of mind and body. The full line up of cobbled classics are, in the following order: E3 Prijs Vlaanderen - Harelbeke on March 28, De Brabantse Pijl on March 29, the Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde (or Three Days of De Panne) March 31-April 2, the Tour of Flander April 5, Ghent_wevelgem on April 8, Paris Roubaiz April 12, and finally the Scheldeprijs on April 15.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Damiano Cunego put the rest of the cycling world on notice today, taking a nice early season win at the 9th edition of the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali race. Cunego attacked on the day's final climb, and then beat break companion Jose Serpa to the line for the win. The victory signals Cunego's ability to win on tough one day courses, and bodes well for his 2009 classics campaign.
With the hilly classics only several weeks away, Cunego is right where he needs to be to reach optimal form for his early season targets. Already a winner at the Amstel Gold race, Cunego will be looking to grab his first win either at the Fleche Wallonne or Liege-Bastogne-Liege races. Each of the two are suited to the small Italian climber, with difficult climbs at the end of each of them. A repeat at the Amstel is still within reach as well.
In addition to the classics, Cunego has maintained that he will continue to try for the overall in the grand tours despite less than stellar results over the last few seasons. He has not been able to improve his time trialing significantly though, and he will continue to be a long shot for any grand tour he enters unless he can remedy this shortcoming. Still, it is his decision to continue to try for grand tour wins, and as long as he peppers his season with a few big one day victories, his Lampre team is likely to continue to support his ambitions.
It seems as though Cunego is approaching a cross roads in his career. If he continues to target the grand tours, he won't be able to garner as many victories throughout the season. And if he continues to come up empty in the Giro, Tour, and Vuelta, what is the point of trying year after year for the overall wins? If however he is able to accept that the grand tours are no longer within his capabilities, perhaps he can focus instead on winning as much as possible throughout each year.
With the ability to both contend out of small bunches with his sprint and drop most of the competition on mid-length climbs, Cunego could become the next great Italian one day star, worthy of being enshrined at the famous Madonna del Ghisallo chapel above Lake Como. At 27, Cunego is still approaching his prime. If he were to decide to try only for one day wins, he could presumably end his career on par with Paolo Bettini, the last great one day Italian star. Already a winner of two classics, Cunego could reasonably hope to win Milan-San Remo, the Fleche and Liege before his career is over. And by taking himself out of the GC equation in the grand tours, he could also probably collect several stage wins in each of the three week tours as well.
If Cunego continues on his current career path, he'll still go down as one of the best Italian riders in history. But if he were to finally forsake trying to win the grand tours, he would have the chance to become legendary, an icon of cycling. Time will tell if is decision to target the grand tours year after year was a good one, but by then it may be too late. Without at least one more grand tour win on his resume to go along with his 2004 Giro title and his several classics wins, Cunego will watch cycling immortality pass him by.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Over his 13 seasons as a professional cyclist, Jens Voigt has had many memorable moments. He has claimed two stage wins at the Tour de France, helped to deliver Ivan Basso to Milan as the winner of the 2006 Giro d'Italia, supported Carlos Sastre for his TdF victory last year, and even managed to take a win in America, at the Tour of California in 2007. Now 37, Jens is approaching the end of his career, but the German still has a lot left in the tank. He'll go for his 5th Criterium International title at the end of this month, and then he'll look forward to participating once again in the Tour de France.
Monday, March 23, 2009
In what has become old news by now despite the fact that the story is less than a day old, Lance Armstrong crashed out of the Vuelta Castilla y Leon today, breaking his collar bone in the process. The Texan is headed back to the USA and will undergo surgery in a couple of days time. Armstrong made no secret of the fact that the injury will dramatically affect his preparation for the Giro, and volunteered to the assembled press that he was "miserable."
Up to this point, the cycling world had been abuzz with the connotations of Armstrong's comeback in relation to his teammate and 2007 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador. Armstrong made it no secret that he was hoping to win his 8th Tour, which would have seemed to directly conflict with Contador's intention to win his second title. Now though, all of the conjecturing may be for naught as Armstrong is faced with one of the most significant injuries of his long and storied career.
Just that fact that Armstrong was injured as a result of a crash came as a shock to many in the cycling world. Before his comeback to the sport, Armstrong was exceedingly able to keep himself upright while racing. He rarely crashed, and never had to abandon a race as a result of a crash, at least not during his TdF winning years. Yet so far this year, he has crashed twice. Once at the Amgen Tour of California when he clipped Levi Leipheimer's back wheel, and now in Spain.
With the Giro d'Italia only about a month away, the timing could not have been worse for an Armstrong crash. Already facing an uphill battle after having been away from the sport for three years, now Armstrong will have to hope for a quick return to riding. Even under the most speedy circumstance though, the 7-time TdF winner is looking at a four week hiatus from racing. Due to this fact, his participation in the Giro seems doubtful at best.
Looking further ahead to July, Armstrong has his work cut out for him if he is to return to France as a legitimate threat for the overall classification. By the time he is able to race again it will be at earliest the third week in April. His best hope may be to ride the Giro for training, holding on as long as he can in the interest of regaining his racing legs. Although he would likely have to drop out of the Giro at some point, at least he would have put in some tough racing ahead of the June Dauphine Libere race, the major tune up race to the Tour.
Whether you're a fan of Armstrong or not, his crash must be looked at as a terrible circumstance. On a fundamental level we never want to see someone get hurt, but Armstrong's situation is even worse. At 37, now is the absolute worst time that Armstrong could have hoped for to get injured. More perhaps than any other rider today, Armstrong needs as much racing as he can get if he is to regain or get close to regaining his 2005 TdF form. Now a hard task is made that much harder for Armstrong as he looks ahead in his preparations. However, if there is anyone who can push through tough circumstances and come out on top, it is Armstrong. He'll need to move forward fast after his surgery, and make every second count if he is to be mentioned among the contenders for July's Tour.
For Alberto Contador meanwhile, Armstrong's injury gives the Spaniard a chance to regain some of the perceived leadership he may have lost with Armstrong around. He will now regain his Alpha status within the Astana team as its undisputed stage race leader. Sure, Levi Leipheimer will still be in line as strong number two, but at the end of the day Contador is now Astana's best hope for a Tour title. With his renewed leadership though comes a huge amount of pressure. Leipheimer is an excellent second option for the Tour, but it will be Contador who will be expected to carry the leadership mantle for Astana going forward.
Leipheimer meanwhile, as he has done all season thus far, will remain under the radar as he hones his July form. One slip up or bad circumstance for Contador would thrust Levi to the front of a previously long Astana leadership line. And no one would deserve it more. Leipheimer has been the model teammate thus far in 2009, playing down his own chances for the Tour. It should not be forgotten though that he is among the best stage racers in the world, bar none. Come July, the American veteran may have the last laugh, and a chance to pursue his career-long dream: to lead one of the world's strongest stage racing teams at the Tour de France.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Scott Nydam Interview Part Two: Competing Alongside Armstrong, BMC Growing Pains, the Nydam Ethos, and the Influence of His Fans
In part 1 of our three part interview, Scott Nydam spoke about bridging the gap to Europe, what it's like to train with Levi, and how he balances patience with ambition. In part two, Scott discusses competing against Lance Armstrong, the progression of the BMC cycling team, his approach to the sport of cycling, and some friendly advice to his fans across the world.
SN: It's historic, and you feel like you're a real part of history. It's impressive to see what an impact just one individual has had on the sport, ya know? And I have a lot of respect for Lance, for a specific reason, and that is that he is more than just a cyclist. He has another cause, and he's livin' it. He's doing everything he can to raise cancer awareness and fight it. And I think that's a pretty cool thing and obviously it has helped to raise his overall recognition. That's not to say that every cyclist needs to have a cause, like some propaganda or a freedom fighter sticker on their bike, I'm not saying everyone needs to do that. I'm just saying that he's providing a service to the community, the people beyond cycling through cycling, so it's a pretty cool thing to see.
EP: Last year your team was known as one of the most aggressive from race to race, the White Sharks. This year, will you still have that aggressive approach in each race, or will that tactical style change in 2009?
SN: From an outsiders perspective, the way the press sees it, you may see a lot more hit and misses. I think when we hit, we're gonna hit well, and when we miss, we're gonna miss badly. We're putting our cards in for some tough races, and sometimes it will be too much for us to handle. That happened a bit to us in California this year. We weren't looking to put guys in the break just to get TV time. We were trying to race for the finish of each day. And we missed out a few times where we didn't put anyone in the break, we missed out on putting a guy up front at the finish, and it may have looked like we weren't racing our bikes. But I think those experiences are necessary for the development of our team. We're going to have some growing pains this year. It's easy to get into a break away, we've got that figured out. What we need to figure out now is how to get a guy up front in the last 1000 meters of a race. So that will mean more pressure on us the riders to perform, and fewer riders allowed to search for a break away. Instead of six guys trying to make a break, now there are only three or four.
EP: You've been quoted using words like "Epic" and "Cycling Purist." Would you describe yourself as a romantic?
SN: I remember that I raced my bike for a good year or two before I ever heard the term "Pro Contract." And there were riders that I found myself around that were always saying, "Yeah, get a pro contract, get a pro contract." It seemed a bit absurd to me just to be racing for this pro contract. I've been called a romantic before in other scenarios . . . I think that other people may seem idealistic or constantly trying to put meaning into things that really don't have much significance. I guess the way I would describe my approach to cycling is that I want the whole of it. I want to ride my bike for all of the good things it can do for your health, and for how it can show you where your limits are, your capacity for pain, all those things.
EP: You are more and more recognizable now, what is it like having people approach you for an autograph or photo?
SN: It's tough because it's just a sort of schizophrenic lifestyle because I feel like half the time I'm trying to prove to people that cycling is a legitimate sport in America and the other half of the time is trying to get people to calm down and take a more relaxed approach. I mean I'm just another guy trying to do all I can with what I can. For me it's helpful (to know he has fans-EP). It's also surprising because I don't see myself as famous. I see myself as a guy trying to pay the bills and ride my bike every day. Sometimes over here in Santa Rosa, there will be days and weeks that go by where I'm not really checking up on the sport of cycling too much.
EP: Do you have advice for how fans should approach you for an autograph or picture?
SN: That brings up the point that as I'm rolling over to the prologue start I am very aware of the people around me. I would say riders are aware and we're taking things serious. Levi, Lance, myself, we are aware that our fans are out there. I don' know exactly what I'm trying to say. I guess appreciate them (cyclists-EP). Appreciate them from afar and know that in a sense they're doing this for you. In critical moments though, it's not good to approach us. If you want to say hi, then say hi. Remember though that this is our job. It's not exactly a complete thought, it's kind of a tough question . . .
Part three of our interview to follow, as Scott Nydam sounds off with EuroPeloton.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
EP: You rode strong at the Amgen Tour of California, what did that experience do for you and your team's confidence ahead of the rest of the season
CE: For myself, once I got through the first couple of bad days, things started to get better and better. Those first few days in those cold, rainy conditions were right up there with the toughest day's I've had on a bike. Consecutive days of bad weather like that really are hard. Once the weather cleared though it was decent. For our team, overall the race went well. We had some bad luck with Floyd having early mechanical problems with wheel and bike changes, but I think it was still a good race for us overall.
CE: Mexico was a good way to build some momentum as a team. We went down there and got close to winning initially and then got two stage wins later on. It felt like the beginning of good things for the rest of the season. Everything in Mexico is a bit different than in the States though. Of course it was a good race and we were well taken care of, but generally speaking in Mexico the operate a little bit differently. In California everything starts on time, there is a set schedule for everything, and you know when everything will happen. In Mexico start times got moved around a bit, there were long transfers before the starts, there were a few little chaotic happenings during the event. Overall though it was a good race. I'll say one thing, the crowds down there were pretty good! There were a lot of people who came out to the start of each stage, so that was great. Generally speaking, the road surfaces are not the best. There's a lot of speed bumps and stuff on the roads. You always have to be on edge as a rider, you never know when there will be a huge pot hole in the road.
EP: You'll be at San Dimas soon as the defending champion and the leader of OUCH. How will you approach this year's edition?
CE: For this race we'll have a few different cards to play. For myself I just want to try to limit my losses in the time trial if possible, and then look at any opportunities I may have in the road race or criterium. In terms of contending for the overall win, I think it will be tough for me to win. I'm sure I'll be watched by many other riders this year, and I think the winner of the hill climb TT could definitely end up winning the race right then and there. This year San Dimas is a chance for me to get myself prepared for Redlands.
EP: What are your biggest season goals for 2009?
CE: There really isn't any one race that I am looking to do especially well in. I haven't targeted any races during the year. I'm looking for consistency all season long.
EP: Most of the domestic riders I have talked to don't have specific season goals, yet the European pros seem to have a few races that they place above all others. Why is that the case?
CE: I think that in the US, you have fairly large gaps in the schedule, whereas in Europe they are racing so often that they just can't physically be at 95% for the whole season. There are times where they'll have to come in at 70% and build for specific races. In the US though there are enough breaks that you can take a bit of rest, get some big training in, and then bring it back up. Here you don't have to be racing when you're not feeling the best.
EP: You signed with OUCH after the Symmetrics team folded, what are your memories of being a part of that team?
CE: The best part about that team was that it was such a great group of guys, everyone got along well, essentially everyone was friends with each other. It was really fun to be on the road with those guys week to week. I'm still good friends with all those guys, and I miss riding on the same team as them.
EP: In 2005 you had a very bad injury that knocked you out of competition for the entire season. Tell us that story.
CE: Yeah, I was in Sydney, Australia training at the beginning of January to get ready for the season, and I ended up getting hit by a car. I shattered my knee cap and did a bunch of other damage. I did a ton of damage to my cartilage, broke a bone in the back of my leg, dislocated my knee. Initially when I got the surgery done the doctors said I would probably be able to return to riding my bike for recreation or whatever, but they weren't sure whether or not I would actually be able to race again. Basically it took about a full year before I could do any more than a half an hour on the bike. It was funny, because I had pretty much just given up, but after a little over a year it seemed to get really a lot better. I was able to increase my time on the bike, and from then on I knew I could probably get back to a decent level. It ended up being about a year and a half that I was away from competition. I did my rehab and made all my progress alone, I didn't really have much help from anyone. Of course my family was very supportive, but other than that I did it on my own.
EP: What did it mean to you to win the Canadian national championship in 2007 and wear your country's colors?
CE: That was definitely a big goal for me that year, and that race will always be one that I want to win. It was just awesome to get it, it had always been a big goal for the Symmetrics team to win it, so it was great to make it happen that year. I was proud to wear it for the year. That race will always be one that I want to do well at, but it gets harder to win it when you are going to be alone or with only one teammate in a field with teams that will have seven or more riders, a team like Planet Energy. When you're only two OUCH's, it makes it tougher to win.
EP: What type of race perfectly suits your characteristics?
CE: Man, that's a good question! I would describe myself as a jack of all trades but a master of none. An all-arounder's type of course is best for me. I see myself as an instigator, I like to attack rather than follow wheels . . .
EP: What can you tell us about being a teammate of Floyd Landis?
CE: Well, I roomed with him for the Tour of California and got along really well with him. Away from the public eye, Floyd is really funny actually. He's really down to earth. He's a lot of fun. He has his own sense of humor, that's for sure!
EP: What are your overall career plans as a pro cyclist?
I would definitely like to ride in the Pro Tour eventually down the road. That is something I would look at doing for sure. I'm just going to see how the next couple of years go. It's always a bit hard in the US because you only have a certain amount of races that are at a level that you can show yourself to the Pro Tour teams as a possible Pro Tour calibre rider. As good as the NRC racing is, I'm not sure that the Pro Tour teams are checking the results from those races. So in that sense it is a little bit tough.
EP: Ann Killian of the San Jose Mercury News rode along with the OUCH team in the team car this year at the Tour of California, and she wrote of cycling that it is a sport of misery, every day, every race. Is that how you would describe the sport?
CE: No, I wouldn't say that. She may have been in the car on one of the really rainy days, which may explain why she felt that way! But for every tough day there's always the ones where you feel good or the team does well. So it makes it worth it, in my mind anyway.
EP: What is it like being pursued by fans for autographs and being recognized while racing?
CE: It's kinda cool really. I mean it's a little bit weird, but . . . at the Tour of California it was amazing, but at many of the other races there aren't really that many people that come out. At Tour of California, you feel like you're a soccer star almost. Fans that are looking to get my autograph are great, I never mind doing it pretty much. The only bad time for me is right before the start of a race. I am usually running behind, so that's really the only time that I don't like to sign autographs. It doesn't bother me at all though for the most part.
CE: I would say Contador will win. I would say it is a 65% chance for a podium sweep and 80% for two of three Astana's on the podium.
EuroPeloton thanks Cam Evans very much for his time and we wish him the best of luck for the 2009 season.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Well, we made it! Classics season is in full swing and now the heat is really turned up as Milan-San Remo commences in a few hours time in Italy. There are a host of contenders vying for the win this year, and even though the defending champ Fabian Cancellara and world champion Alessandro Ballan won't be lining up to contest "La Primevera," the action should still be memorable. My last thoughts before the first monument of 2009 . . .
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Scott Nydam, although a professional cyclist for three short seasons, has fast become one of the top American domestic bike racers. A strong climber, Nydam has impressed in the mountains, and the Santa Rosa, California resident is looking to step up to the Pro Tour level in the next couple of years. The BMC cycling team has made no secret of the fact that they would like to receive an invite to the Tour de France in the next couple of years, and Nydam wants to be selected when it happens. In part one of our three part series, EP speaks with Scott Nydam about his progression as a rider, his relationship with Levi, and BMC's big plans across the pond in 2009.
SN: I guess it's really about me evolving as a rider as BMC evolves as a team. The expectations are higher, but the capacity is greater. I feel like I'm still not at my peak. I'm getting my head around the sport, I'm feeling confident enough and strong enough that I know I can do this, I know the BMC team can do this. To what extent and how high a level I or we can achieve, we'll see . . .
EP: The BMC team has been invited to some very high profile events for 2009. Which of those will you hope to take part in and are there any races on the European schedule that you feel you or others on the BMC team can have a positive influence on?
SN: Well, the buzz right now is about our getting the invite to Paris-Roubaix. That's a big one. That's the next biggest race in the world. We'll see what we can do. Roubaix will really be a test to see how we can evolve as a team. Not just participating in races, but having an effect on them. It's an honor to get into a race like Paris-Roubaix, but it's also, in some ways, painting ourselves into a corner because we'll have to prove that we deserve to be there.
In terms of races I think I can make my mark, Paris-Roubaix is not my cup of tea, I'm not doing anything like that. So the races I'll do are Tour of Romandy in April, and ultimately the Tour de Swiss in June. My personal goal with this team is WHEN [EP:not if?] SN: Yeah, WHEN we make it to the Tour de France, I want to be selected to the roster. So that means right now I gotta get healed up from my broken collar bone. Now, the pressure is on to get back racing . . . not just so that I have a good Redlands, but so I can have a good Redlands, and then have a good Tour of Romandy in April . . . and then be selected to race the Tour de Swiss in June. That's where I want my racing to go, that's where this team is headed, and being that I'm going to turn 32 this year, I mean I'm no spring chicken, but I feel good, I still feel very young mentally. I've only been a pro for three seasons.
EP: Are you saying that your 2009 experience in Europe will be one of proving that you can ride consistently and stay as a good support rider, or are you searching for wins as well?
SN: It's imperative that every race you go to you think winning. Levi says that a lot. If you don't believe you're going to win, you're already placing yourself at a disadvantage. You always want to be ready for that surprise situation when you get into a break away that goes to the line. Who cares if your at Romandy or at the Redlands Classic, you have to be prepared to win! For me, I don't necessarily have one stage or race in mind, but I know I do want to win.
EP: How big of an influence has Levi Leipheimer been on your career thus far, and do you ever see yourself being the type of rider that Levi is? If not a team leader, a steady protagonist week in, week out in Europe? Because Racing in Europe full-time is not for everybody . . .
SN: [long pause] No, it's not [long pause] Levi and I do a good job of understanding each other in our own context. In the context of our paths, our experiences, where we're coming from. We don't get on well or train well together because I am trying to become a clone of him. I'm out there looking to improve personally, and he's out there doing the same . . . so he understands that I'm not trying to become another Levi. I am trying to become the best rider I can be though, to the best of my ability.
EP: How do you balance the need to be patient with your progression as an athlete with your sense of urgency to continue progressing quickly, constantly?
SN:You can't push a river, ya know? I think you balance those feeling by staying calm, and doing everything that is within your capability to improve upon and prepare for. There are things within my control and things that are not. If I can have my head and my body as prepared as possible, then that helps me be calm in the face of going to a Pro Tour race like Romandy or Tour de Swiss. Knowing I have done everything I can and should, I'm there to race like everyone else. Euro pros are the same species, you just can't freak out about it. It is what it is and you gotta just make sure you have all your ducks in a row going in so you can be comfortable just racing, letting things happen naturally.
More on Scott Nydam in the coming days in parts 2 and 3.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Alessandro Ballan, like many world champions before him, has had a tough time starting races, much less winning them, thus far in 2009. After a solid run up to the Monte Paschi Eroica race in February, Ballan was suddenly struck down with illness, which has continued to this day. In fact, he has not been able to recover in time for the first monument of 2009, the Milan-San Remo race. So, in addition to having missed all of the semi classics and theItalian Tirreno-Adriatico stage race this year, Ballan will now also be sidelined for the most important one day race on Italian soil.
Ballan isn't the first world champion to have trouble winning in the rainbow jersey. "The Cricket" Paolo Bettini won the world championship in both 2007 and 2008, but besides his impressive wins at each event, he was unable to rack up any other prestigious wins. In fact, as his production declined over the last two years of his career, it could be argued that the rainbow jersey played a huge part in his retiring at the age of 32 after last year's world championship race.
As he has done in previous seasons, Ballan is targeting the cobbled-classics as his biggest objectives, and there is still enough time for the lanky Italian to prepare for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. But unless he can enter some races soon to get some actual racing in, he may be less than ideally prepared for the two huge one day races in April.
In addition to Paolo Bettini, the rider to have experienced the curse the most must be the Spaniard Igor Astarloa. After taking the title in 2003, Astarloa ran into problem after problem, until he was eventually found guilty for doping in 2006. He remains suspended. In a recent interview, Ballan expressed that he was "not at all" worried about a possible curse of the rainbow jersey. If asked again today, perhaps he would change his mind a bit.
Although having the rainbow jersey makes it more difficult to win and places more pressure on a rider, it still remains one of the, if not the most coveted prize in the sport of cycling. And if pressed on whether he would rather return the jersey in exchange for a win at a classic, Ballan and every other past world champion would undoubtedly answer no. The world champion's jersey, in addition to being one of a kind, is also usually a once in a lifetime experience for a given athlete, especially in road cycling. Ballan's win was especially sweet, as it come on home soil in Varese, Italy. Even if he can't manage even one win in 2009, his world championship win still will have been worth the trouble. A winless 2009 is unlikely though for Ballan, one of the brightest stars of professional cycling.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Another Jersey Lost: After Paris-Nice Collapse, Kloden Gapped, Astana Loses Lead at Tirreno-Adriatico
First it was Alberto Contador at Paris-Nice. Now, at Tirreno-Adriatico, Andreas Kloden has been stripped of his leader's jersey after being attacked during the stage 6 uphill finish into Camerino. The self-proclaimed "best stage racing team in the world" has been anything but recently, as they have been unable to defend against the unceasing attacks from their rivals at both early season stage races.
At Paris-Nice, Alberto Contador was in the driver's seat before exploding during stage 7 and losing his leader's jersey. Facing unrelenting attacks, Contador simply could not follow every wheel. Isolated and badly in need of team support, Contador got no help on stage 6, and eventually finished in fourth place on the GC in France.
Now, in Italy, it seems to be Andreas Kloden's turn. After an excellent time trial that netted him the leader's blue jersey at Tirreno-Adriatico, Kloden had no answer for the two-pronged attack of Vincenzo Nibali and Ivan Basso of the Liquigas team on today's stage. Like Contador, Kloden had no teammates to help close down the gaps, and instead watched helplessly as the two Italians and three others rode away from him. By the end of the stage, Michele Scarponi of the Diquigiovanni squad had taken top honors on the day, and with time gained on Kloden, the leader's jersey as well.
Astana, only recently thought of by many as untouchable in stage races, are looking very vulnerable to attacks and tactics. And while it is true that the Astana teams at Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico were not the "A" team that will appear at the grand tours, there is still no excuse for the lack of support their supposed "team leaders" at each event received. It would seem that it would make more sense to send along a strong support contingent to any race you are entering, especially when you have a legit chance of winning both events.
As the losses pile up for Astana, one must wonder what management is thinking with some of their decisions. Why was Contador even allowed to get hungry? How was he not reminded to eat by his director? Further, how did it happen that he was left to mark multiple attacks on his own? Is there an excuse for such tactical ineptitude from such a well-funded team?
By the time the Giro rolls around, much of this conversation may be moot. But if the mighty Astana team is unable bring home the win for the Giro, what will that do for their confidence heading into the Tour? Anything less than the top step of the podium at the Tour de France will be unacceptable to the Astana team, especially considering the make up of thier team. The early season is the best time to instill confidence into your team leaders, and with exception to the Amgen Tour of California, Astana has come up short in 2009.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
By now, most in the cycling world have witnessed at Paris-Nice what seemed impossible just a few days ago. Alberto Contador, after dominating performances in the opening Paris-Nice time trial and stage six summit finish, inexplicably exploded on during stage seven, losing over two minutes to fellow Spaniard and now overall winner Luis Loen Sanchez. Contador, ever classy, placed the blame on himself, saying that he forgot to eat during the stage, and was left empty down the stretch. But was there more to the picture than Contador's eating mishap?
Friday, March 13, 2009
In part 2 (part 1 here) of our interview with Neil Shirley, we ask the Kelly Benefits rider about some of his favorite things in cycling, his best and worst moments on the bike, and what he would do with dopers if he was in charge.
EP: What's your favorite bike race of all time?
NS: I'd have to say the best had to be the San Francisco Grand Prix. That is a pretty hard race to beat. And then Philly is next up. I mean it's not necessarily a course that suits me, but you can't go to Philly and not get super pumped. It's such an exciting event, loved by the locals. It's just a huge display of cycling at its best in America. It's just a fun race to be at. Finally, US Pro in Greenville is right up there at the top for me. It's a course I've done well on and I think I can do well there in the future, especially now that I am a teammate of Bajadali. He's done well there the last two years, so . . . .
EP: Who is your all-time favorite rider?
NS: I'd say my all-time favorite is Thomas Frischknect. He's a mountain biker and has been there since the inception of the sport. He's also a big time cyclo-cross guy as well. He's been a great mentor for me. Very outspoken about racing clean, just a great guy to look up to.
EP: Tell me about your most memorable win as a pro?
NS: It was at the Cascade Classic in 2006. I won the final day, the circuit race in a four man break. I had had a terrible season up to that point. I broke my collar bone earlier in the year and I had taken a long time to come back. At Cascade I still wasn't 100%, but was getting better and better throughout the week. So I got myself in the break with Aaron Olson, Glen Chadwick and Scott Nydam, and I rode way beyond what I though I could, just dug deep and ended up winning the day. It was huge for Jittery Joes, huge for me, and it turned around the rest of my season. Two weeks later I went to the Tour of Utah and got the KOM jersey there. That win just got my head back in the game and it was a shot in the arm that I really needed.
EP:If you could visit one place in the world where would it be?
NS: Ever since I was young I've wanted to visit Australia and I haven't been there yet.
EP: If you could meet one famous person?
NS: Maybe the Dalai Lama? That would be pretty sweet. I was listening to NPR this morning and they were talking about him, it got me thinking about his philosophy and everything.
EP: What are three things in life that you cannot do without and three things you absolutely need to survive?
NS: Well, three things I can't do without are my daughter who is 16 months and amazing. Man,this is a tough question . . . probably not gonna say my bike cause that's kinda cheesy, how about some sort of exercise. I couldn't do without that. Actually, take off exercise and replace it with competition. And then I better say my wife! As for three things I wish I didn't have to deal with, it would have to be financial stress, health problems, and cold, rainy races!
EP: What was your worst experience in a race ever, and what was your worst crash?
NS: It would be Tour de Beauce in 2006. It was the hardest day ever for me. It was a day with a 6 or 7 kilometer climb, and I was having a terrible stage race. Everything was getting worse and worse during that race, and I rode that day in the grupetto for over 70 kilometers. I had a lot of time to think, ya know? It was the type of day where you question what you're doing. But in the end, I still climbed back on my bike the next day. My worst crash was when I broke my collar bone a few years ago. I haven't had that many bad crashes which is good.
EP: What's the worst part about being a professional bike racer
NS: I think just how we have to live our lives is very selfish for others around us, our loved ones. My wife has said before that she is a professional as well but she just doesn't get to go to the races and travel. It's a very consuming career in sport.
EP: What's the craziest thing you've ever witnessed at a bike race?
NS: I would say at the Tour of Georgia when a dog ran out into the road and got hit by the peloton, that was pretty scarring. It took the wind out of everyone's sails, everyone was down from that. I just remember that the dog sprinted straight into the pack, fortunately no one crashed, but it was really sad.
EP: Finish this sentence: The one thing that makes me the most angry at a race is . . .
NS: That not everyone is on an even playing field in cycling.
EP: Do you feel that doping is as prevalent in America as it is in Europe?
NS: I'd really like to believe that it's not a huge problem in the US, and I believe that in Europe it is cleaning up. It's hard for me to talk about Europe because I have never raced over there. Just reading in the media though about what teams like Garmin and Columbia are doing, it seems like things are changing. So I don't think it's a huge problem here in the US, but I would be naive if I said it isn't a problem at all.
EP:What do you feel the penalty should be for cheating?
NS: I think how it is set up now is fair. I think two years is good. I would probably maybe do something a bit different with the zero tolerance rule. I think if someone tests positive for Albuterol without a TUE it shouldn't count the same as EPO.
EP: Do you have any predictions for any European races?
NS: For the spring classics I'll say Boonen all the way, including Milan-San Remo. For the Giro it will be one of the Schleck brothers. For the Tour, that's a tough one. It's gonna come from Astana, but which one I don't know. I guess I'd say Contador. I would also say the chances of a podium sweep are very low, but having two Astana riders on the podium is 80%.
EP: If you gave one piece of advice to young up and coming riders, what would it be?
NS: You have to have patience, and a lot of patience. It takes hard work and dedication, but patience is the number one key. Cycling is a process, and you need to take small steps. Patience with training, racing, everything across the board.
A big thank you to Neil, another of American cycling's nicest guys on and off the bike. Chapeau Neil!
Thursday, March 12, 2009
"Don" Alejandro Valverde must be feeling a bit like Tony Montana at the end of "Scar Face," as CONI (Italian anti-doping agency) continues to barrage him with allegations of doping. A decision on Valverde's fate is due next week, and the Spaniard could face a two year ban for his involvement in the Operacion Puerto scandal dating back to 2006.
For many cycling fans, this day has been a long time coming. Ever since Valverde was linked to blood bags from the Operacion Puerto fiasco, many in the cycling world have called for his suspension. The code name, "valv.piti," associated with his name, seemed damning on several fronts. For one, there isn't another professional cyclist whose last name begins with the letters valv. Even worse, Valverde has a dog named Piti. Case closed it would seem.
Sound familiar? It should. Ivan Basso was caught when it was discovered that his code name "birillo" corresponded with the name of his dog. Unless you are either a staunch Valverde fan or complete moron, the evidence provided thus far would surely lead you to believe that Valverde was indeed involved in Puerto scandal on some level.
So what is the next step for Valverde? How should he handle the current situation? Well, logically, he should come forward and admit his guilt . . . if he is in fact guilty. But the more likely answer is that he, like others, will deny until the bitter end. Alas though it probably won't matter, as it is looking like the Spaniard is headed for a two year ban, at least in Italy. Worse still for the 28 year old is that the UCI has expressed that they would look to enforce a world-wide ban if Valverde is deemed guilty by CONI.
With the hilly classics right around the corner, this is bad news for Valverde. It is looking like he will miss out on defending his 2008 Liege-Bastogne-Liege title, and a start at July's Tour de France seems remote at best. Unless he can come up with some damn compelling data against CONI's findings, Valverde will be gone until the spring of 2011.
If he is found guilty, Valverde will join the ranks of Stefan Schumacher, Bernhard Kohl, Riccardo Ricco and others that have denied their guilt even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Hopefully Valverde will try to salvage what little credibility he has left, and admit his transgression. If he does not, he may not be met with much acceptance upon his return to the sport after his suspension.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Interview with Neil Shirley Part 1: Switching Teams, Making New Friends, and KBS Riders to Watch in 2009
Neil Shirley, with 8 years of experience as a professional cyclist, has signed with the Kelly Benefit Strategies team for 2009. In part 1 of our 2 part interview, the veteran chatted with EP about switching teams, finding chemistry within the team, and which riders will light up the 2009 racing calendar for the KBS team.
EP: So first and foremost Neil, you've switched over to Kelly Benefit Strategies p/b Medifast this year after Jittery Joes downgraded to amateur status. How have your first few months been?
NS: Yeah, Jittery Joes went away from the pro ranks this year so I had to look for a new team. At the same time though, I had been there awhile, it had been a great program for me over the years, but I was ready to move on. I knew about mid-season 2008 that I was going to make a change and try to go elsewhere. It's too bad that Jittery Joe's went away, a lot of guys lost jobs. But I got in touch with Jonas Carney and just thought that Kelly would be a good fit. I have been impressed watching them race over the years. They may not have the biggest names, but they get good results. All of the guys have a lot of respect for each other, you can tell by how they race together. So having seen that, I pursued Jonas and so far it has been great. I just got back from a two week training camp and now I think my decision was a better decision than I ever could have imagined. The entire team is awesome, low key, no attitude . . . I felt like I fit in right way. It's a great feel already.
EP: Which riders have you gelled the best with thus far in the year?
NS: Well Jason Erker came over from Symmetrics, we raced together in 2004, my first year as a pro on Sea Silver. So he was amentor to me my first year so it's cool to be back riding with him again. I also enjoy Bajadali and Candalerio. I look up to these guys a lot since I came over to road riding. These guys are huge talents with big resumes. Not only that though, just the way they carry themselves at races . . . . just very professional.
EP: So you mentioned some of the horsepower on the team, why do you think Kelly was left off the invite list for the Tour of California?
NS: Being that it's my first year with the team, I don't have all the gritty details, but I think there are a few teams that get into the race that end up sponsoring stages, or sponsoring the race in some way . . . and I'm not going to go out and say that that's the only reason they're in the race . . . but it definitely helps to sponsor the race and that's something that Kelly wasn't going to do. And I think that with the roster that they (Kelly Benifit management) put together, we should have been included in the race, you know? But it wasn't our call. I mean listen, I'm a California guy, born and raised, but it was nothing that I could control, so you just move on and start your season a bit later than in previous years. I'm looking forward to other goals during the season.
EP: And what are some of your boggest targets for this season?
NS: Well, I start out at Redlands where generally I've had pressure on me to be going well, and I love Redlands, but being able to just race into it a little bit is great. After Redlands, I go to Thailand to do a little International racing, and then come back and it looks like I'll be doing Tour of the Gila which is a race I would really like to be fine tuning my form for. It's also a race where Andy Bajadali could do really well, among other guys, so I think we'll have a really solid stage racing team for that race. Then of course is Philly, where we'll try to get Candelario a win for Philly, and then Tour de Beauce. From Philly Week through Tour de Beauce is when I hope to be at my best.
EP: Have any of the younger riders on the team impressed you thus far,
NS: Well David Veilleux (injured March 10) who I guess I can't really say is gonna have a breakout season since he won like six or seven races last year. But he is 21 and he is phenomonal. I think he'll be the strongest guy on the team by the end of the season. He won the Tour of Pennsylvania last year, Elk Grove, and he's just a really really nice kid, so that's good. Jake Erker too is a really fast sprinter, and even though he isn't super young he has great speed for the last 150 meters. I think he's someone that, with the proper lead out, could really do well. There are a few young guys on the team that are gonna have a chance to flourish. We'll have a really busy racing schedule, and they'll be plenty of chances for everyone, so that should be great for our younger guys.
Stay tuned for part two in a few days as Shirley shares his favorite things in life, future goals, and most cherished memories during his professional cycling career.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
With the first monument of cycling set to commence in 11 days time, there is a small group of high-profile riders that are still without their first win of the season. These select few are no doubt feeling the pressure that comes with not living up to high pre-season expectations, and each of them will hope for a breakthrough win at either the Tirreno-Adriatico race or Milan-San Remo on March 21st. EuroPeloton looks at three riders that are in danger of losing their grip on the season unless they can turn things around . . . fast.
Filippo Pozzato, after having a terrible 2008 season, made a huge switch over to the new Russian super team Katusha. The Italian was tapped by the Russian squad as it's great Spring classics hope, and Pozzato was expected to contend in most of the early season races leading up to Milan-San Remo. But things haven't gone to plan as Pozzato has found himself without a 2009 win heading into this week's Tirreno-Adriatico stage race. Pozzato will need to at least net a podium finish at Tirreno if he is to enter Milan-San Remo with enough confidence to go for the win. It won't be easy though, as Pozzato will have to face some of the best sprinters in the business throughout the seven day event. Looking ahead, if Pozzato is unable to win at either Tirreno or MSR, his spring campaign will be viewed as a failure for the second year running.
Philippe Gilbert, unlike Filippo Pozzato, had an excellent 2008. He took wins at Het Volk and Paris-Tours, and despite a sub-par world championship ride, to all appearances his season was a resounding success. And with his 2008 success, the Belgian "came home" to the Lotto-Silence team, after having ridden for the french La Francaise des Jeux squad since 2003. Unfortunately though, 2009 has not gon as smoothyl thus far. The Belgian was nowhere to be found at his beloved Het Volk, and he like Pozatto has not managed a win yet in 2009. He was third at San Remo last year, and many have tipped him to be a major protagonist when MSR runs. But like Pozatto, Gilbert will feel both sponsor and fan pressure full-force if he is not able to at least make the podium at MSR.
After his amazing third place in Varese, Italy at the world road championships, Matti Breschel made no secret of the fact that he felt he was ready to be considered among cycling's one day elite riders. But with exception to a few second place finishes at the Tour de San Luis, Breschel has been far from the front at this year's spring classics. He'll get to ride Tirreno-Adriatico for MSR preparation, and hopefully he'll be able to manage a stage win or podium finish. Last year, his teammate Fabian Cancellara won MSR with an amazing solo attack, but sickness and injuries have laid the big Swiss low thus far in 2009, and it could be Breschel who is expected to pick up the mantle of team leader at MSR. In a case of "be careful what you wish for," Breschel has a fleeting chance to prove himself once again as a top-flight one day rider, or be forgotten as the season wears on.
Although these three riders should be alarmed at their relative lack of results thus far in 2009, all is not lost. With one solid performance at either Tirreno-Adriatico or MSR, they are right back on track, and all whispers surrounding their ability to win will wane. Then of course there still the Ronde and Paris-Roubaix as well as the hilly classics and three grand tours, plenty of chances for big wins. But make no mistake, for the above three riders, Tirreno and Milan-San Remo represent their best chance at victory for the first part of the cycling season. For them the time is now to get that elusive first season win, or suffer the consequences of harsh criticism from the cycling media and fans alike