Results tagged “CSC” from spare cycles

Thanks Bobby

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Bobby Julich - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

It's sad to see a generation of cyclists retiring, especially one that helped bring American cycling to greater prominence on the international stage. The US PRO championships highlighted the huge pool of young talent in American cycling and certainly many owe a bit of thanks to Bobby J.

VeloNews: Bobby Julich Retires

Cancellara: Golden World Champion

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Thumbnail image for BeijingOlympics.jpgCancellara vs. Contador, CSC vs. Astana, CSC vs. CSC, Astana vs. Astana. It was an up and down time trial that constantly redrew the lines of battle. The riders went off in three groups, with Canadian Svein Tuft the best of the first two groups, but it was the third group that really brought the fireworks.

Early on it was Contador scaling the Great Wall uphill, Cancellara tearing down that wall on the descents. Contador set the fastest time at the first time check on the uphill climb; Cancellara took back the lead at the second time check after the descent. Woe to any rider caught anywhere near the two as the passing of 90-second riders was fast and furious. Cancellara even got post-Tour-de-France revenge on Schumacher, who got to watch Cancellara power past at the start of the second lap.

Cancellara and Contador may have been eating up the time checks, but the man who was setting top times before them wasn't fading. Cancellara's CSC teammate Gustav Larsson had set the best times at the first and second checks before Cancellara and Contador rolled through. At first it looked like a battle between Larsson and Leipheimer, but Leipheimer slowly drifted further and further behind. CSC 1, Astana 0.

Big hopes were on Contador as he started his second lap. The uphill climb, which favored him so heavily the first lap, instead seemed to weigh heavily on his legs the second time around. Larsson, on the other hand, only improved on his position: this time when he set the fastest time at the third check, it stuck. CSC 2, Astana 0. Even Cancellara had to bow to Larsson's time.

With Leipheimer and Contador defeated, teammate was now turned against teammate. Contador now as battling Leipheimer for podium and It was up to Cancellara to prove his World Champion stripes by hunting Larsson down for gold.

It wasn't a fair battle. The time trial course was identical to the road race course. That final stretch into the finish is the same stretch that Cancellara screamed across to bridge two gaps and take bronze. They should rename that stretch in his honor because he tore it up again, taking the gold medal by almost half a minute. Larsson took silver and in the battle for bronze, Leipheimer held off both Contador and a late charge from Cadel Evans. On top of Kristin Armstrong's gold medal, USA cycling can be very proud.

As expected, the uphill course didn't suit Zabriskie's style and he wasn't able to best Svein Tuft's early best time. It seemed the course didn't really suit anyone, in fact. Plenty of riders in both the men's and women's time trial immediately dismounted and laid out on the ground just pass the finish. Even Cancellara had to take a seat and pour water of his head repeatedly.

Stage 17: All on Sastre, Was it Enough?

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letour.jpgWas it enough? That's the big question today as CSC played a great hand today, successfully transferred the yellow jersey to their anointed leader, Carlos Sastre. Another stage win on Alpe d'Huez and another yellow jersey are cause for celebration, but Evans knew he could sacrifice both today as long as he kept the gap close. 1'34" seems like a pretty small number when you think of Evans on his prototype Ridley TT bike. It seems strange to say, but CSC, sitting in first and second in the GC, must be worried.

Alpe d'Huez, it's switchbacks adorned with drunken and partially dressed fans, delivered the promised drama as all the GC contenders had to duke it out on the last decisive mountain stage for this Tour. As it has been in the mountains of this Tour, it was Riis' CSC team that controlled the tactics on the day, delivering his three climbers to the base of the Alpe d'Huez primed and ready. The Sastre/Schlecks trio worked to perfection as Sastre attacked at immediately, once, then twice, to solo his way to victory and yellow. As all eyes watched Frank Schleck in the yellow jersey among them, no one seemed intent on chasing the future yellow jersey ahead.

Move after move attempted to go up the road, but Andy Schleck was on amazing form and played the role of sheep herder to perfection. Anyone who attacked quickly found Andy stuck to their back wheel, dragging them back. It all seemed effortless as he moved back and forth up the chase group, keeping his wheeled sheep in a tight bunch. The chase group was unable to maintain any sort of pace: Menchov had been dropped after unwisely attempting to go with Sastre's first dig, but was able to claw his way back in as the pace stuttered.

As Sastre's lead hit the two minute mark, the grand moment that everyone seemed to be waiting for happened: Evans went to the front to chase. He proved his reserve was simply patience, not weakness, as he single-handedly kept Sastre's lead contained even under the brunt of CSC's three-pronged attack.

Christian Vande Velde fought valiantly to try and claw back the time he lost yesterday, but ultimately his efforts were spoiled by both Andy Schleck's policing and Bernhard Kohl, who seemed eager to chase down every move early on the climb. Vande Velde was able to put in a final jump with less than 2k to go, but he couldn't stay free of the chase and was caught at the line.

AG2R had a good ride today with Valjavec and Efimkin both putting in good attacks today to round out the top ten in GC.

letour.jpgLots of riders were sent up the road today -- some for individual glory, some as GC pawns. Cyril Dessel took the glory and didn't even seem to see the finish line as he sprinted across ahead of Casar, Arroyo, and Popovych. Columbia seemed well positioned with Hincapie and Siutsou in the break, but they weren't able to make the selection over the top of the final Cime de la Bonette. Schumacher spent much of the day off the front by himself but full apart on the Cime de la Bonette-Restafond.

CSC continues to dominate the peloton in the mountains. O'Grady, Cancellara, and Gustov all went to the front to crack some legs on the Cime de la Bonette-Restafond. They also won the send-a-teammate-up-the-road sweepstakes as both Kurt-Asle Arvesen and Jens Voigt were able to come back and provide assistance and tempo. When it wasn't one of those riders in front, it was grimacing face of Andy Schleck dosing out the pain pills. Bjarne Riis wanted more climbs to force selections, but even with the full armada firing salvos, CSC didn't push the group hard enough -- perhaps they were saving energy for tomorrow.

Vande Velde was the big casualty, losing time on final climb and then even more time on the descent as he crashed. Luckily he was able to have Ryder Hesjedal drop back from the break to help out. Menchov was a smaller casualty as he became unhitched on the windy descent to the finish -- Kirchen joined him on the chase to the finish. Valverde lost ground on the steep ramps at the top of the Bonette, but his descending skills got him back into the yellow-jersey group.

Evans seemed unthreated by the pressure of CSC, even prefering to weather it all himself san teammates. He had Popovych up the road, but Popovych got the green light to go for the stage win instead of dropping back to provide help Evans. CSC has to hope that they hurt his legs enough before tomorrow's Galibier-Telegraphe-Croix de Fer-Alpe d'Huez smackdown.

The Tour's youngest rider John-Lee Augustyn of Barloworld probably had the best and worst day of his career: he took the final climb up the Bonette-Restafond, then proceeded to shoot straight off the side of the mountain on the descent. The helicopters were there to catch his head-first belly-slide down the slopes in all its glory, but most importantly he was not seriously injured.

Stage 15: Deadly Andy, Triumphant Frank

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letour.jpgThere were two races today. Egoi Martinez, Danny Pate, Simon Gerrans, and José Luis Arrieta formed the early break and probably weren't expecting to stay away, but nasty conditions on the road changed the storyline. Oscar Pereiro was the victim of a terrible broken-bones crash, going over a guard rail and falling five meters to the switchback below. There was also a double pileup on both sides of roundabout as the slick conditions knocked the peloton over like dominoes. Even Menchov had a big dig undone by a slippery switchback.

In the race of the breakaway, Egoi Martinez looked to be the strongest as he broke the group apart on the slopes of Prato Nevoso. But Pate bridged back and, more slowly but surely, Gerrans bridged back as well. Gerrans then somehow found the legs to attack on the steep slopes of the finish to take the win ahead of Martinez and Pate. I've photographed Danny Pate winning on the flat turf of Missouri, but little did I expect the "TT specialist" to hang with a Spanish climber in the Pyrenees. I think Vaughters owes him a giant bottle of wine as well.

In the race of the GC, CSC again brought the pain. Nearly the entire team was in force to ratchet up the tempo, but it was Deadly Andy Schleck who deserves the big kudos on the day as he slew the yellow dragon Cadel Evans. So much was expected of Andy Schleck, even a yellow jersey, but he had a bad time in the Pyrenees. Today he showed why so much potential is seen in the young rider. He hammered the leaders repeatedly and each time he seemed used up, Sastre would then launch a big attack. Then it would come back together, Deadly Andy would fight back up, and then kill them again. Brother Frank sat comfortably on Cadel Evans' wheel, letting him try and dig the sharp attacks back, weakening with each attempt. It was cruel, almost, to watch the CSC trio dismantle Evans.

Sastre, Kohl, and Menchov finally sprung free and Valverde bridged up. It was open bar on Evans as everyone in the top ten sensed the opportunity to gain time. Kohl, sitting in fourth place in the GC, was suddenly in position to take the yellow jersey from Evans. Only Sastre could hold onto his wheel as Kohl sprinted for fifth place on the day. Kohl is a familiar sight in the mountains, but who would have predicted that the Gerolsteiner rider would be laying it all on the line on in the Alps to take yellow?

It was then up to Frank Schleck to determine who would win the battle for yellow. With Evans reeling, the advantage was Frank Schleck's: he only needed one second and he got nine. It was a bit cruel for poor Kohl, who needed 46 seconds to take yellow and got 47, but he did take the KOM jersey for his efforts.

Christian Vande Velde gained time on Evans as well but lost spots in the GC as Kohl and Menchov were able to leapfrog with their efforts. Menchov suddenly seems a lot more dangerous and will be watched more carefully as he's quietly fought back the time lost due to inattentiveness on the flat, windy stages.

CSC can't celebrate just yet. They'll need a lot more time than 8 seconds on Evans to take yellow in Paris, so expect more fireworks after the rest day.

letour.jpgWith the peloton looking to extend their rest day one more day as they leave the Pyrenees, and with news of another EPO case (this one caught with the goods), it was an ideal day for a breakaway to strike. 12 riders made the move and it was Kurt-Asle Arvesen who emerged victorious in the breakaway cat-and-mouse. Taking the lead in the sprint, he held off Ballan and Elmiger to just take it at the line. It started with the catch of Cofidis' Moinard at 4k to go. Moinard had made the best of a solo effort off the front, but the rest of the 12-man breakaway group was too much in the end, especially with the likes of Arvesen, Wegmann, and Pozzatto in the mix.

With Moinard caught, Arvesen and Elmiger jumped and Arvesen did his best to egg Elmiger into taking pulls. Ballan and Moerenhout then caught on, and the jockeying began. Ballan took a flyer with less than 1km to go, but Arvesen chased him down and went to the front. Arvesen went through sharp-right hander with 300m to go first and was able to use the slight rise on the finishing straight to his advantage.

We were treated to a rare sight today: Silence-Lotto leading the peloton. It remained a rare sight as Caisse d'Epargne's Oscar Pereiro decided to make a repeat of his Tour-de-France-winning breakaway tactic from 2006. He jumped off the front with nary a reaction at first. CSC seemed to decide that Silence-Lotto has as much leg-power as Phonak in those days and went to the front to keep that contained. Once Pereiro was caught and CSC got the win with Arvesen, Silence-Lotto was free to patrol the front the peloton once more.

The message is clear: Evans' team isn't in control of this race, CSC is. Evans may win this race in the ITT, but he's going to have a hard time on the road until then.

Barloworld may not have withdrawn from the race, but they are pretty well decimated after the news of Moises Duenas EPO positive and the subsequent catching of him with the doping goods. Felix Cardenas abandoned today with an injury and Paolo Longo crashed out with a broken collarbone. With Soler already gone, that leaves the team at half strength.

With so many teams seeking new title sponsors at the beginning of this season, I was a bit worried about the health of pro cycling. You could sense a bit of anguish on Bob Stapleton's part as High Road struggled for a high profile victory in the Tour of California, finally delivered by Hincapie on the last day -- of course they've had too many since then to count. Then there was the storied CSC team, continuing to cleanup in top classics like Paris-Roubaix, but perhaps too wounded by Riis' past. And then there was young Slipstream, which has gone from the little TIAA-CREF development team all the way to living on the international stages getting invites that Astana was denied.

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Garmin's sponsorship makes the most sense to me -- the Garmin triangle even fits well with the Argyle. The hints have perhaps been there for awhile as the Edge 705 has already been featured in past blog posts. They may also be the team most in need of the Nuvi products, getting lost not once, not twice, but three times during the Giro. It was even a Garmin Nuvi that saved them the first time around as David Millar realized that the Nuvi was among their prizes for the opening TTT stage.

Motionbased continues to improve as a Web-based stats platform as has the Edge product line, which most recently has added compatibility with Saris PowerTap hubs. That will certainly put some hurt into Training Peaks.

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CSC was the first of the recent announcements, with Saxo Bank taking a secondary title but assuming the title role next year. I'm sad to see CSC go -- they're sponsorship of the ToC and TdG Tour Trackers made for some new ways to follow cycling. As a Virginian, I'll also miss the Virginia-based company's sponsorship of the CSC Invitational. Saxo Bank brings the sponsorship back to Riis' Danish roots.

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Perhaps the national roots led me to my initial confusion over the Columbia announcement -- my eyes misread the new High Road sponsor as Colombia. Without the aid of my morning coffee, my brain was left to puzzle over how a country's adoration for George Hincapie could lead to a team sponsorship. A little more reading solved my confusion. The US-sportswear company is looking to raise their profile Internationally and perhaps they'll also add some more cycling apparel to their lines.

Stage 2: A Close Victory for Haedo

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JJ Haedo Sprints to Victory - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Statesboro Start - (c) Ken Conley Millen Sprint - (c) Ken Conley

Tour de Georgia Stage 2 Photo Gallery

JJ Haedo sprinted right through the middle of the pack to take a close, close victory of High Road's Greg Henderson. A bandaged hand from a recent break seemed to be no impediment to Haedo, who is a familiar rider atop the podium at the Tour de Georgia. Ivan Dominguez put in a good effort to take third and protect his leader's jersey. Despite talking about how heavy the yellow jersey is, his Toyota United team has done a good job of holding onto it. Justin England spent a lot of time off the front in a breakaway that kept the other teams working and Toyota United rested. In a bit of a surprise, England didn't get the Most Aggressive Award, and instead it went to Marco Polo rider Pollock, who bridged up to England.

Slipstream put in a lot of work for young rider Tyler Farrar. Farrar took the first intermediate sprint to make up for his stage 1 deficit (due to a flat), but Haedo, Henderson, and Dominguez controlled the sprint today.

The best move of the day probably goes to Health Net's Frank Pipp. With no KOMs tomorrow, or Stage 4's TTT, Health Net gets to fly the KOM jersey for three straight stages -- all for a puny Cat 4 on the South Carolina side of the river.

Tour de Georgia Stage 2 Photo Gallery

Stage 1: JJ Haedo wins easily

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JJ Haedo - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Stage 1 Photo Gallery

Fabian Cancellara had his arms raised up in the air long before his teammate JJ Haedo crossed the finish line to take his fifth Tour of California stage win. The peloton found itself split in two as it entered Santa Rosa with big sprinters Ivan Dominguez and Luciano Pagliarini already eliminated from the sprint competition. Hincapie hit the deck in the final kilometer and came across a bit battered.

A long day for Jackson Stewart off the front earned him the KOM jersey and Most Aggressive award on the day.

JJ Haedo - (c) Ken Conley

George Hincapie - (c) Ken Conley JJ Haedo - (c) Ken Conley

Stage 1 Photo Gallery

Prologue: Fabian Cancellara Dominates

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Fabian Cancellara
Photo by Ken Conley

Palo Alto Prologue Photos

Cancellara showed he is a man of the prologue by dominating his way to victory and becoming the first non-US recipient of the Tour of California leader's jersey. On a day in which tenths of seconds mattered, Cancellara dominated the field by nearly six seconds on the short 2.1 mile course.

I'll have many photos to come, including Zabriskie's retro-ugly mustache as well as non-racing news makers Hamilton, Sevilla, and Landis.

Palo Alto Prologue Photos

2008 Tour of California Teams

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Tour of CaliforniaThe teams were announced today and the list should provide many storylines: polar opposites Slipstream and Rock Racing, Hincapie leading Team High Road against Leipheimer/Astana, Gerolsteiner in its final year, Health Net defending their NRC crown, Scott Moninger directing Toyota-United against his former team BMC, etc...

  • Astana (LUX)
  • Bissell Pro Cycling Team (USA)
  • BMC Racing Team (USA)
  • Bouygues Telecom (FRA)
  • Crédit Agricole (FRA)
  • Gerolsteiner (GER)
  • Health Net Presented by Maxxis (USA)
  • High Road Sports (GER)
  • Jelly Belly Cycling Team (USA)
  • Kelly Benefit Strategies/Medifast (USA)
  • Quick Step (BEL)
  • Rabobank Cycling Team (Netherlands)
  • Rock Racing (USA)
  • Saunier Duval-Scott (ESP)
  • Team CSC (DEN)
  • Team Slipstream Powered by Chipotle (USA)
  • Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team (USA)

Last year the Tour of California overall was been dominated by Discovery vs. CSC, but with the spread of Discovery's American talent to High Road and Slipstream, as well as the CSC's loss of Zabriskie and Vande Velde to Slipstream, this should be a more balanced competition. This could even be the year of Slipstream's ascension in American tours.

Press Release

Zabriskie eliminated

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There will be no more Zabriskie Diaries to entertain us (perhaps except for Stage 11) as DZ was eliminated for finishing half an hour behind. DZ had be trailing at the back of the peloton during the stage, which was a bad position for Astana's tactics today. He had been complaining of knee pain due to a change in shoes as well as pain just about everywhere else, so he'll probably welcome the relief of not having to race the Pyrenees. We'll be sad not to see him do his stuff in the Albi TT, though. It also means that he won't get the honor of being Lanterne Rouge, which certainly would have gone to him if he had been able to stay within the limit.

Other abandons include Igor Anton and Sylvain Calzati, who abandoned before the split occurred.

update: The finalpenultimate edition of the Zabriskie Diaries, TdF 07 and the final edition.

Pozzato wins - FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

Filippo Pozzato called his own shot today and won the stage in a mass uphill sprint finish. Freire, Zabel, Bennati, and Hincapie were in the mix, but Pozzato had the best line to the finish line. Zabel lost the stage but he must still be very happy: he took the green jersey from Tom Boonen, who was dropped from the front group.

It's not exactly the finish that I expected as the breaks were relatively contained. Sylvain Chavanel used an early 4-man break to catapult into the KOM lead by taking all but the last climb. Various riders attempted to get a gap on the final ascent and descent, but things remained tight. Popovych had his chances ruined as he overshot a turn into the grass, quickly followed by Cancellara who was putting in another impressive defense of his yellow jersey.

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JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images
The biggest news on the day is that Vinokourov lost over a minute on the day after crashing and now sports a big welt on his right butt cheek. The peloton was busy chasing down the break, so Vino quickly found himself far behind. All of his teammates except for Kloden came back to help him chase and he ended up burning them all to try and catch back on, eventually using the Astana team car as his final teammate. Still, Vino could only catch onto one of the rear groups near the top of the final climb and didn't get much help in the finale.

I thought Cancellara would lose the yellow jersey today as CSC started the day claiming that they wouldn't defend. This tactic seemed to work -- the other teams contributed most of the pace-making early in the day. But CSC was nearly in full force in the final pullback of the breakaway and then it was Cancellara himself who was driving to bring back Popovych's break.

It was an odd day for team leaders: Sastre, Valverde, Zabel, Hushovd, Mayo and Vino all found themselves off the back for mechanical, crash, and other reasons. Also, second-in-command's Kloden and Pereiro were off the back. Perhaps it was a nervous day with the first day of climbing and Stage 7 mountains looming in the distance.

Cancellara Wins - DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images

DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images

One of the most boring stages became one of the most exciting as Fabian Cancellara blazed to victory in his yellow jersey. It nearly appeared that the breakaway would stay away as it still had a 0:20 advantage with 1.4k to go. As the peloton massed behind a breakaway on the final cobbled stretch, it was Cancellara in his bright yellow jersey jumped across the gap, past the breakaway, and solo'd to victory as the sprinter's nipped at his heels. That's a yellow jersey. Cancellara becomes the first rider to hit the two-win mark of this Tour.

The longest stage allowed for a really long break: Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel) and Mathieu Ladagnous (FD Jeux) went at 5k and were joined by Stephane Auge (Cofidis) and Frederik Willems (Liquigas), who jumped with 58k to go. The peloton seemed to be riding in 'recovery' mode, doing little to reel in the break other than keep it at a containable distance: when the break slowed down, the peloton slowed down, and vice versa. It became a real stage with around 30k to go as the sprint teams started putting in an earnest effort to bring things back. The break last for about 231k as Cancellara caught them with half a kilometer to go.

Auge can celebrate his breakaway effort: he was able to take the KOM polka dots from David Millar. Boonen gained some points in the green jersey competition over McEwen.

Tour de France '07 Prologue: London

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cancellara.jpg

Cancellara did his world champion stripes proud. After Kloden set a shockingly fast time on the day that no one could beat, Cancellara came in a full 13 seconds faster -- the only rider to crack the nine-minute barrier. The is Cancellara's second Prologue win and turn in yellow -- TdF fans may remember Cancellara's tearful victory in the 2004 Tour Prologue when he raced for Fassa Bortolo.

The Great British Hopes Wiggins and Millar couldn't crack the podium. In post-race interviews, Millar seemed to be promising a stage win later on. Not all was good for CSC, either. American favorite Dave Zabriskie was all the way down in tenth place at 9:22 and O'Grady crashed on one of the final turns (redubbed "O'Grady Corner" by Liggett).

Discovery Channel will be happy as Gusev placed well enough to move into the young rider's jersey and Hincapie did America proud by finishing in third. Leipheimer had a respectable 9:30.

Astana should be even happier as Vino is the highest placed overall favorite in 7th (9:20) and Kloden showed amazing form that only Cancellara could trump.

  1. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team CSC 8.50 (53.7 km/h)
  2. Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana 9.03
  3. George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel 9.13
  4. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Cofidis 9.13
  5. Vladimir Gusev (Rus) Discovery Channel 9.15

Links:

Live stage log after the jump.

CSC testing results

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CSC has just posted their mid-year doping test results online. This really does seem like the type of program that can regain confidence in cycling: open, frequent, and longitudinal. Of course, the desire to present a clean image is in conflict with the results being posted on riis-cycling.com, but it does make me think that Riis has turned a corner in his career and there will be no more Hamiltons or Bassos.

It makes me want to guess which line is who -- like the blue line that climbs up.

Friday dope

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Bjarne Riis"My yellow jersey is in box at home, you can come and collect it." Bjarne Riis is the latest former T-Mobile rider to own up to doping, which is the most significant confession so far because he admits to using EPO to win the Tour de France. Riis' use was long rumored by deduction: the Festina riders he beat to win his Tour were using EPO and the Festina riders gave him the nickname "Mr. 60%", as an allusion to his rumored hematocrit level. This now makes Jan Ullrich the only T-Mobile rider in history to have not doped (kidding).

As owner of CSC, I am wondering if this will start freeing up even more cyclists to start confessing (looks at Jonathan Vaughters, head of Slipstream). Of course, like all of the other confessions, they point to the past and cut the ties to the present: "I'm doing this to keep the focus on the work we are doing today that keeps cycling in the right perspective. The massive steps we have taken to fight doping and the ways in which we have secured that the team rests on the right and proper foundations."

In saying that he "bought it and took it [himself]," Riis may be attempting to further protect CSC from guilt-by-doctor association. Looking at the Wikipedia entry on Riis, it appears that Riis' coach in 1996 was Luigi Cecchini, who was later involved with Basso and CSC. In addition to being Rii's coach during his now infamous '96 Tour win, Cecchini was also involved with Francesco Conconi, who is believed to have given athletes EPO. The last little connection in there is Michel Ferrari, who worked with Conconi and also coached Lance Armstrong.

Riis and Basso

A 21-man break went early, cooperated, and managed to take the stage as CSC's Kurt-Asle Arvesen outsprinted Paolo Bettini. The break finished 4:19 ahead of the rest of the field, but that was not enough to change in the overall lead. Pinotti's own breakaway still leaves him with 0:28 on the rest of the field.

George Hincapie was in the break and now sits 0:42 ahead of Danilo Di Luca in the standings. His teammate CheChu Rubiera was in the break as well and is almost three minutes ahead of Di Luca and 1:36 behind in the overall. Either could possibly use the next two stages to move into the overall, as could many of the other riders in today's break (Arroyo, Bruseghin) -- though not Bettini, who is still clawing back major deficits in the overall and sits 6:08 back.

photo by blacknell

In a sight familiar to US Tour watchers, JJ Haedo took the sprint just ahead of Fast Freddie, exactly revenge for yesterday's near-win. Second place overall and a stage win will probably make CSC happier, or perhaps they are still warm and fuzzy from O'Grady's Paris-Roubaix win. Regardless, they probably don't want to keep playing second-fiddle to the Discovery train when it comes to Tours.

There was much celebration in the Discovery camp that managed to walk away with Best Overall/Young Rider, Best Team, and two stage wins. Janez Brajkovic dumped champagne on a podium girl, Hincapie and Leipheimer dumped champagne on Brajkovic, but Frank Steele was surely hiding his camera from the bubbly carnage.

Jittery Joe's can also celebrate as Cesar Grajales took Most Aggressive rider on the day.

Tour of California Stage-by-Stage Recap

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Prologue

LeviSpectators were stunned as Slipstream's Jason Donald (seventh rider out) held the best time on the day over every rider that followed, including Fabian Cancellara, Dave Zabriskie, George Hincapie, and Bobby Julich. That is, until Levi Leipheimer successfully fought the change in winds to beat Donald by a second and a half. It was still a fantastic result for Team Slipstream as they ended the day in the sprinter's jersey and best young rider's jersey.

Stage 1

Levi on the groundAfter Discovery spent all day controlling the peloton and chasing down breakaways, controversy struck at the start of the penultimate circuit in Santa Rosa. Thousands of hometown fans watched as Levi Leipheimer and about 80 other riders were taken out as T-Mobile's Ciolek crashed on a Bott's Dot. Hincapie and Basso made their best efforts to bridge Leipheimer back but to no avail. Rabobank's Graeme Brown was able to nudge out T-Mobile's Greg Henderson at the throw on the line. Commissaires invoked "The Levi Rule" to award the main peloton the same time, thus preventing another local rider -- Priority Health's Ben Jacques-Maynes -- from wearing the overall jersey. More importantly, Jens Voigt, Bobby Julich, and Michael Rogers didn't gain a minute either.

The breakaways served Team Slipstream well: Tom Peterson took the KOM jersey and Taylor Tolleson retained his lead in the young rider classification.

Another big result of Stage 1 was that overall hopeful Dave Zabriskie was taken out in an earlier crash and did not finish. It's unclear what form Zabriskie brought to the ToC, but the Solvang TT was the decisive stage.

Stage 2

The peloton let a breakaway stay off the front until the approach into Santa Rosa, which set the ideal conditions for a sprint finish. CSC's Stuart O'Grady rocketed JJ Haedo to the front of the sprint and Haedo took his third Tour of California win easily.

Stage 2 moved Credit Agricole's Christophe Laurent into second place in the KOM standings and setup his eventual victory. It also earned him the Most Aggressive jersey for a day.

Stage 3

Jens at the top of Sierra RoadJens Voigt beat out Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner for the stage win, which was remarkable for Voigt given that he had been in a breakaway that was chased down by Discovery. It also setup Voigt as CSC's overall favorite. Stage 3 was a costly day for Discovery. They made the costly mistake of letting a breakaway get too far ahead and ended up losing Allan Davis and the green jersey due to the time cut.

Leipheimer did an amazing job jumping across the gap on Sierra Road to reach the breakaway, where teammate Jason McCartney was waiting to help lead the charge up Sierra Road. All their work was almost for naught: Paolo Bettini's group finished only four seconds behind. The entire stage result may have come down to a tire puncture: Michael Rogers was in Bettini's group but punctured, which left Bettini without the help of the T-Mobile riders in bringing back the lead group.

Stage 4

Paolo Bettini outkicked T-Mobile's Ciolek and CSC's JJ Haedo to improve upon the previous day's near victory chase-down. It was a fairly easy day for Discovery as perhaps the rain made for a much more sedate version of the course this year. Attacks went early on Pacific Coast Highway, but the peloton was soon drenched in rain going down the coast. Sun eventually came as they made their way into Southern California, but Discovery kept the breakaway under control and let the sprint teams doing the catch.

Stage 5

Levi LeipheimerLevi dominated the time trial and beat Jens Voigt by 18 seconds as they were the only two riders to break the 30-minute barrier. Looking at the standings you would think that Discovery and CSC were the only two teams racing. In addition to first, Discovery also took third place with Jason McCartney, as well as fifth and ninth. CSC took second, fourth, sixth, seventh, and eigth. Priority Health's Ben Jacques-Maynes was the only non-Discovery/CSC rider to make the top ten.

Stage 5 pretty much guaranteed Leipheimer the victory. Discovery would still have some tough riding ahead, but the remaining stages didn't allow for easy time gaps.

Rabobank's Robert Gesink was able to use the time trial to leapfrog Predictor's Matthew Lloyd to take the young rider classification for good.

Stage 6

JJ Haedo beats out Paolo Bettini and Greg HendersonCSC did their best to upset Leipheimer's place at the top of the standings but had a hard course to do it on. Although stage 6 had four climbs, they were all positioned early in the course and the road to the finish was a long, open and relatively flat highway. CSC was relentless with the attacks starting as early as mile 3 -- an attack that incidentally took down Tony Cruz and George Hincapie. Cruz and Hincapie were forced to chase back -- Hincapie with a broken arm -- which left Discovery undermanned for the continued assault. Voigt's breakaway attempts were personally marked by Leipheimer, but O'Grady was able to eventually get into a breakaway and present a threat to Discovery. Discovery got some help from Health Net for the final chasedown, but the catch didn't occur until the circuits in Santa Clarita. Exhausted, Basso, Hincapie, Vandborg, and Cruz all finished off the back of the peloton.

With O'Grady's breakaway caught, CSC shifted gears and setup JJ Haedo for the final sprint. Haedo outkicked Bettini and Henderson and took his record fourth Tour of California victory -- that's more victories than any team has had at the Tour.

Stage 7

The smaller teams had their day today sending riders off the front. Slipstream seemed to get the most TV coverage by sending Bill Frishkorn at the gun and later having Steven Cozza and Danny Pate in the longest break of the day.

CSC tried to up Haedo's record but didn't have enough riders to keep their train going. Instead, it was Haedo's old team Toyota-United that was able to snag the sprint with Ivan Dominguez.

Tour of California Stage 6: Haedo x 4

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JJ Haedo beats out Paolo Bettini and Greg Henderson

above: JJ Haedo beat Paolo Bettini and Greg Henderson to the line. [Ed: As you can see, I haven't quite mastered the art of the aesthetic finish line shot, but I can't complain: I got to chose my spot for shooting it.]

Photo Gallery

JJ Haedo was the first rider to get three Tour of California stage wins. Now he is the first rider to achieve four. He easily beat out Paolo Bettini and Greg Henderson for the win. It was a sprint full of flub-ups: Gerolsteiner's Robert Förster got into a lot of push and shove with Freddie Rodriguez and ended up pulling his left foot out of the pedal. T-Mobile's Greg Henderson was supposed to be leading out Ciolek, but Ciolek lost his wheel.

Although the finish was your typical sprint, the true battle on the day was Discovery vs. CSC. CSC put it to Discovery hard, though the first casualty was inflicted by one of their own. CSC attacked three miles into the course and Discovery's Tony Cruz went to cover it. Cruz's wheel hit Basso's, taking Cruz and George Hincapie down. Hincapie and Cruz weren't able to rejoin until the approach to the final climb of Balcom Canyon.

With Discovery down two riders (in addition to Davis, who they lost as a result of Stage 3), CSC continued with the assault. Leipheimer was able to personally cover attacks by Jens Voigt, but Stuart O'Grady was able to make it into the breakaway and present a threat to Leipheimer's overall lead.

O'Grady's breakaway also contained overall threat Michael Rogers. Despite the long, wide, and relatively flat road to the finish, that breakaway was able to stay away until the finishing circuit in Santa Clarita. It took the full efforts of Discovery's Basso, Vandborg, and Danielson to finally reel it in, along with some help from HealthNet. Vandborg and Basso both were shot off the back of the peloton after their final efforts.

But the most ridiculous effort award should go to Hincapie: he chased back to the peloton for two hours, with a broken arm. Hincapie rode the entire stage, with its four KOMs, minus a small three mile start segment, injured.

Although Levi built his lead on the strength of his solo performances in the prologue and time trial, it was the efforts of the Discovery team that protected Levi's small lead throughout. Levi clearly owes his teammates, and most significantly, he owes Basso.

It's been an amazing sight throughout the Tour to see the likes of Ivan Basso drilling it at the front of the peloton to bring back a breakaway. How would you like your lead protected by a Tour de France favorite? Prior to the Tour of California, Levi was giving controversial quotes about being disappointed by Basso's signing. Now he's giving quotes like, ""When someone sacrifices as much as he has for me, that goes a long ways to solidifying a friendship, a bond." A Tour of California win isn't a fair trade for a Tour of California win, but Basso has earned some favor and friendship.

IMG_1831 Levi, post-race

above left: Brian Vandborg drive the peloton to bring back the breakaway on the final circuits of Santa Clarita. above right: Levi wipes off the sweat after a hard day on the bike. below: Ivan Basso is back among the team cars after giving everything he had to bring back the breakaway

Basso, exhausted

below: John from Mavic offers some neutral support to a young rider

Mavic Neutral Support

kwc Stage 6 Photo Gallery

Tour of California Stage 5: Solvang TT

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Jen Voigt vs. Levi Leipheimer warming up

*left: Jens Voigt on the finishing straight of the Coit Tower Prologue. right: Levi Leipheimer warms up. *

Photo Gallery

Even with 91 riders within 1 minute of Levi's overall time, this was a race between two riders: Levi and Jens (CSC vs. Discovery, as it often is). Jens was the stronger sprinter on stage 3 and beat Levi across the line to move within three seconds of Levi's overall lead. Jens is also an amazing time trialist -- it was going to be close.

Jens and Levi started last, but that doesn't mean that the "pre-battle" wasn't entertaining as well. Priority Health put in an amazing showing early on. Tom Zirbel set the best time on the day. Priority Health had another good showing with Ben Jacques-Mayes, who was able to finish 4th overall and best Zirbel's time. It wasn't until World TT champion Fabian Cancellara came rolling through at 30:17 that the battle started to tilt towards the ProTour riders.

The Discovery Armada put huge dents in the standings with Basso, Hincapie, and Danielson, but none were able to best Cancellara's time. The big (but pleasant) surprise came from Discovery's Jason McCartney, who was the first to be Cancellara's time. McCartney has been Leipheimer's lieutenant for this Tour of California and always seems to show up well in the North American series.

Horner, Julich, and Rogers came in with respectable times, but their split times made it clear that the real battle was Jens vs. Levi.

At the first time split they broadcast, Jens was three seconds up on Levi. It was a virtual tie on the road. The second time split we heard: Levi was 4 seconds faster than Jens at the halfway point.

Jens Voigt crossed the line at 29:58, the fastest time on the day and the first sub-30-minute time. It was an amazing time that best world TT champ Fabian Cancellara as well as Jason McCartney's amazing effort. It seemed that Jens may have pulled it off.

Jens Voigt

above: Jens Voigt crosses the finish line, the first rider to break the 30-minute barrier

That is, until they announced Levi only had 1k to go. The clock was just ticking up to 29 minutes -- that gave Levi more than enough time to do the final kilometer. Levi didn't know though because Johan Bruyneel was yelling in his ear that he needed to give it full gas because it was going to be close. Levi charged to the finish a full 18 seconds faster than Jens Voigt, sealing the stage victory and most likely putting keeping him in the overall jersey for good.

below: Levi sprints and crosses the finish line to take the stage

Levi Leipheimer Levi Leipheimer Levi

Keeping the overall lead from start to finish is an amazing achievement for Leipheimer. Last year his attempt was undone by a poor showing in the stage 3 time trial. Whether or not it is his new time trial position, new team, or better conditioning, who knows, but Leipheimer has undoubtedly been the strongest rider to show up to this Tour of California.

CSC could attempt something amazing tomorrow, but the KOMs are so far from the finish it would have to be epic. Discovery has been hit hard this Tour: Sierra Road cost Discovery Davis and the green jersey. Discovery was lucky that this year's Pacific Coast Highway stage was relatively tame.

Fabian Cancellara had set the best time on the day until Jason McCartney amazingly beat it

Jason McCartney IMG_1225

IMG_0955 IMG_0909 IMG_0996 Leipheimer and McCartney IMG_1137 Fabian Cancellara starting Tom Danielson starting IMG_1539

IMG_1603 George and Lance IMG_1556

kwc Stage 5 Photo Gallery

VeloNews Stage 5 Summary

Basso to Discovery

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San Franscisco Grand Prix-77

"It's done" -- Lance Armstrong

After much speculation over whether or not Discovery Channel would sign a prominent rider under a cloud of suspicion, Basso will now be trading red and white for blue and grey. I'm a little surprised: Basso was cleared, but he steadfastly refused to submit to DNA sampling that would have definitively cleared him. I'm not saying that Basso is guilty for not submitting DNA; I'm just surprised that Discovery -- one of the few teams not impacted by Operation Puerto -- would sign him without such a test.

Basso to Discovery Channel

Vuelta Stage 1: Malaga

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It was nice watching a European stage where I had some more familiarity with the route. With the exception of the Tour de France finish in Paris, most of the racing occurs on remote countryside roads that I have little chance of ever rolling through. Not so for Malaga -- although I couldn't exactly place the coverage, I have fond memories of strolling along its flat seaside roads with the Castle of Alcazaba above. It's a great place for this unusual start to a grand tour -- a prologue-ish team time trial.

I love the team time trial and after watching this prologue, I think the idea of a prologue team time trial is growing on me. With such a short distance, it is all the more important that your team is well-drilled. Make a couple mistakes -- like Discovery did -- and you can easily lose the seconds you need to finish in first. Very unforgiving, very fast, very fun to watch. CSC was nearly perfect in their run and quite deservingly wears the golden jersey -- for a night at least, as it should quickly be handed over to a sprint team with the stages ahead.

The Vuelta coverage was a bit funky to watch -- the footage focused mainly on the first half of the course for each team, the Vuelta graphics kept obscuring the coverage, and the cameramen were a bit rusty. Here's my observations, as best as I could tell:

  • CSC was clearly the best of the lot. There was a tricky turn/roundabout combination that splintered most of the pacelines going through and caused a crash for Gerolsteiner, but CSC kept everything tight and in control. They dropped Fabian Cancellara in the final kilometer, but Cancellara had put in a great effort at the front and burned everything he had to put his teammate Sastre in the golden jersey.
  • Caisse D'Epargne looked like a well-drilled team. I'm placing big bets on Valverde -- they should be in a good position to pick up their second Grand Tour this year.
  • Discovery didn't look great at the start. They seemed to have a bit of trouble falling into line at the beginning and they confused the rotations a bit. Still, they managed a very respectable fourth place at nine seconds back
  • Gerolsteiner looked horrible. They couldn't keep the line together, they didn't have their rotations down, and it cost them: heading into a roundabout they really split apart and team captain Davide Rebellin went down when he ran into the rear wheel of his teammate. They didn't wait for Rebellin, so he lost over two minutes on this very short stage, and the team only finished with 6 riders at the finish. In fact, Gerolsteiner looked as bad as Euskatel, but at least Euskatel didn't crash and finished with 7 riders.

Links:

ToG Stage 6: Voigt on Fire!

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Wow, I love watching Voigt race but I never knew he could pull out performances like this -- he beat out Levi for an impressive stage 6 victory, holding onto his lead in the overall. I don't know what kind of legs Voigt will show for the time trial tomorrow, but this has already been an amazing showing by Voigt: two stage wins and two days in the overall lead.

Levi led an attack on the final climb that whittled the pack down to Voigt, Kaseschkin, and Petrov. With a little with a little over 2k to go, Levi lited the pace again on a steep part of the climb and Voigt started to fall off the pace. Kaseschkin jumped around Voigt and grapped Levi's wheel, and the two increased their gap on Voigt and Petrov. The race entered a tunnel (some great video) and Kaseschkin attacked Levi, but Voigt caming charging from behind with Petrov on his wheel. Voigt managed to catch back on about half way through the tunnel, and in the final 1k charge to the finish line, Voigt showed too much power in the tank to be challenged. Levi was the only one to hold close, but he had to be impressed by Voigt's effort: bridging back and then taking the stage win.

The overall standings are still fairly close given the pending time trial. Levi hasn't put in a good time trial since the Dauphine, so Voigt has a descent chance of winning the overall.

  1. Jens Voigt, CSC 27.39.29
  2. Levi Leipheimer, Gerolsteiner 0.24
  3. Evgeni Petrov, Lampre-Fondital 0.56
  4. Vladimir Gusev, Discovery Channel 1.00
  5. Andrey Kashechkin, Astana 1.03

CyclingNews Stage 6 Summary

ToG Stage 5: Levi

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It was a dark and stormy stage that the riders refused to race until it was shortened -- the snowy, icy HC K�htal Pass climb was removed. The riders made up for the shortened route by riding the 100 miles very fast: 3:40:20. There was still a mountain top finish, and with a couple of kilometers to go, Levi attacked Kashechkin and Piepoli. Kashechkin and Piepoli couldn't give much chase until Jens Voigt joined their wheels, and it was Voigt, racing for the overall lead, that helped lift up the pace in order to put more distance between him and Discovery's Gusev. Levi still took the stage, but Voigt's determination got him into the overall lead, well earned after his stage 2 victory. I'm impressed to see that Gusev was even hanging in there, given that he's more of a time trialist and has had to hold his placing in the overall largely on his own efforts, as Discovery hasn't been able to protect him (correction: Gusev did have Devolder with him on the final climb today, though he was by himself on stage 2). I'm impressed with Voigt's high finish as well, though he admits he was helped by the elimination of the HC climb.

Levi has now moved within 18 seconds of the overall, so he seems to be making up for his poor prologue performance. He definitely has a shot at repeating his Tour of Germany victory from last year. At least he won't have to worry about Vino, who lost 4:39 on the stage. It's now up to Kashechkin for Astana.

This is yet-another great day for CSC: in addition to Voigt's yellow jersey, Cancellara won the Tour of Denmark. This comes just three days after CSC's impressive three wins on Thursday: Voigt's stage 2 ToG victory, Cancellara's stage 2 ToD victory, and Ljungqvist's Paris-Correze win.

ToG Stage 2: Voigt

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Voigt, Kashechkin and Rebellin rolled into the finishing city, barely holding off a charging peloton. Voigt attacked going into the final corner, Kashechkin seemed to be out of gas, and Rebellin had a shot, but his rear wheel slid out going through the turn, which gave Voigt plenty of room for the victory. It was a well-earned victory for Voigt, who had to bridge up to Kashechkin and Rebellin, who had attacked on the Cat 2 Bockswiese climb.

The breakaway managed to hold off a chase group of 30 riders by five seconds, perhaps helped by the fact that Discovery had no riders to help out Gusev, who was riding all alone in the yellow jersey. Luckily for Gusev, T-Mobile seemed interested in giving chase, so he was able to ride in their train.

CyclingNews Stage 2 Summary

Stage 15: Gap - L'Alpe-d'Huez

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Frank Schleck won the day and Landis probably won the Tour. Scheck's victory was earned by the hard work of his CSC team. CSC put three riders into a 24-man break and Zabriskie and Voigt pushed that break through rain and shine until it was whittled down to a select group at the base of Alpe d'Huez. Lampre also did a bit of work in that break and both Schleck and Cunego were launched on the final climb. Schleck and Cunego rode up together most of the way, but with 3k to go, Schleck attacked and put in the gap he needed to win, having enough time to zip up his jersey at the end. It's Schleck's first Tour de France and first Tour victory.

Landis finished in fourth and it looks like in all certainty he'll be wearing this yellow jersey in Paris. He took his yellow jersey back from Pereiro, who fought hard but lost out by 10 seconds. Landis never showed a second's weakness while all of his GC competitors did. Menchov couldn't hold Landis' wheel, not even with Rasmussen somehow bridging up to Menchov to help out. Evans couldn't hold on either and Sastre made a good effort, but was dropped further up the climb. Kloden was the only GC contender that stayed with Landis the whole way, but even when his T-Mobile teammate Mazzolini dropped back from the break, Kloden could never get a gap.

The breakway was a big factor in the finish as riders in the break dropped back on the Alpe d'Huez to help out their GC hopefuls. Voigt was first, putting in a big effort for Sastre not long after helping to launch Schleck -- Voigt may have done the biggest effort on the day. Merckx was next, as Landis jumped onto his wheel and shouted for him to go. Merckx was a caught a bit by surprise, but quickly jumped to the front and handed over a bottle. Mazzolini was last, coming back to pace Kloden.

The big abandon on the day was Tom Boonen, who leaves with some yellow jerseys but no stage win or green jerseys. Most would be happy with that sort of haul, but the Belgian press is probably letting him have it today.

Prediction check: * My prediction: Azevedo * Actual: Azevedo, where did you finish? Somewhere way back (7+ minutes)

Stage 13: Beziers - Montelimar

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FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

Voigt! Whenever there's a break, you're likely to see Voigt, and today Voigt finally found the one that worked for him. He and Oscar Pereiro whittled the break down until it was just them. Voigt then went with 800m to go; Pereiro pulled it back. They sat and talked a bit, and then Voigt went again and was able to hold off Pereiro.

It was an ideal situation for a break, as Phonak was completely uninterested in chasing as were the sprint teams. It seems that everyone in the peloton is still too tired and will do some pessimal pacing with Alpe d'Huez and the rest of the Alps on their minds. The weather has been hot, the stages have been long, and the rest day isn't until Monday.

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty ImagesThe big news is a transfer of yellow jersey to Oscar Pereiro. I don't know what the Vegas line was on Pereiro moving into the yellow jersey from 28 minutes back -- heck, the odds of a break getting a half an hour on the field was probably pretty slim. The appears to have been Landis' tactic, as he's been hinting at his desire to hand over the yellow jersey temporarily in order to take some pressure off of his team. Landis didn't want to use up his team before the Alps, especially since they were barely there for the Pyrenees. But Oscar Pereiro moving into yellow on a Stage 13 break? I don't think I saw that in anyone's predictions. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

The mountains return tomorrow. Oscar Pereiro will be handing over that yellow jersey again soon -- we're getting close to breaking the record for most yellow jersey changes. Pereiro can climb, but I can't see him defending well after riding in a break like that. Other riders that are way down should take note -- the peloton and leaders are going to allow long breaks (Hincapie, you there?).

Prediction check: * My prediction: A breakaway. Hincapie from the dartboard. McEwen wins the bunch sprint. * Actual: A breakaway (not Hincapie), McEwen wins the bunch sprint.

Zabriskie takes the Dauphine prologue

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Dave Zabriskie won the 4.1km prologue and George Hincapie took second, making for a great American showing. It was fun watching Zabriskie finally beat Floyd's "Praying Landis" time trail position after being bested by Floyd in the early season racing. Levi Leipheimer was probably glad for the short course, as he crossed the finish line with one of his handlebars twisted to the side. The Dauphin� Lib�r� is a tune-up for the Tour, so hopefully Levi and his mechanic will get all those bugs out before the big event.

Graham Watson Prologue Photo Gallery VeloNews Prologue Summary

Tour de Georgia Stage 1

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Lars Michaelsen gets the stage victory for CSC with Davitamon's Fast Freddie in second. The win is a great reward for Michaelsen, who just last week helped launch Fabian Cancellara to his Paris-Roubaix victory. After getting blanked in the Tour of California, the Tour de Georgia is already looking a lot better for CSC. Dave Zabriskie has stated that he wants to take over control of the race at the time trial, so perhaps we'll see a lot of CSC in the leader's jersey this time around.

The main break of the day was a group of four riders, including Kodakgallery/Sierrra Nevada rider Jackson Stewart. I've seen a lot of Stewart racing this past couple of months from his Most aggresive distinction at the Tour of California Stage 1 to his fourth place finish at Sea Otter. With second place finishes at the Grant Lemire GP and McLane Crit, maybe the cards are in it for Stewart to take a stage at the TdG, though definitely not stage 1 as the break was caught at the start of the 3-lap, 2.1-mile finishing circuit. Aaron Olson tried to escape the other three riders and stay ahead of the catch, but he too was gobbled up. CSC then put in two attacks on the finishing circuits, were caught, and still managed to pull of the stage win. Toyota United's Ivan Dominguez crashed in the final sprint, but hopefully he will be okay as I'm sure that Toyota wants a repeat of their stellar ToC performance.

The start of the Tour de Georgia almost flew under my radar this year. They don't have quite the roster of last year or of the Tour of Cali: Armstrong's retired, Horner and Julich are in Europe, Levi's in California but he's dropping by local races like Copperopolis, and Hincapie's in South Carolina but he's on the mend. You do, however, get to see Danielson, Popovych, Zabriskie, Landis, Fast Freddie, and more. You also get to see Jittery Joe's team, which is a squad I can always cheer on -- oh how I missed their presence at the Tour of California.

I watched the live text coverage on VeloNews. It's quite an upgrade from their previous live coverage. They have a Google Map widget that tracks the current position and it's easier to see at a glance what the current situation is.

Basso looking strong

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The results of this year's CSC Criterium International (three straight CSC victories) will certainly have more people putting Basso into their Tour de France pools:

Criterium International Photos by Graham Watson

Basso showed his ability to jump with all the breaks and his great early season time trialing. In Tyler Hamilton's second Daily Peloton interview, he hinted at Bjarne Riis' unwillingness to bet it all on the Tour. With Basso yet again competing for a Giro title, there certainly isn't Armstrong-like mentality at CSC, but Bobby Julich is adjusting his training from last year to put in a stronger effort for Basso so it seems that there will be less of the "look, we're on TV" strategy that CSC has employed in the past.

One Tour favorite who will not be competing against Basso in the Giro is Floyd Landis, who has announced he'll be skipping the Italian tour. Was Floyd worried about peaking too early with all his early season success? Is he going to spend those three weeks training on Tour stages? Beats me, but Ullrich will be riding the Giro, so we'll get to see two podium finishers riding side-by-side.

San Franscisco Grand Prix-84

Basso is popular with the ladies and will be even more popular with Tour/Giro pundits

Bobby Julich Warming UpBobby Julich looked on fire again when he won the Paris-Nice prologue wearing the #1 for his victory last year (OLN video clips from the prologue). From his interviews, it seems though that he didn't want to come out of the blocks as hot as he did last year (Paris-Nice, Criterium International and Tour of the Benelux wins) and instead is focusing on hitting the sweet spot of his form come Giro time in order to pull Basso over the mountains.

Julich quickly lost his lead to Boonen, who is on fire this year with his World Champion stripes on and has taken a hat-trick of victories at Paris-Nice so far. Boonen lost his lead to Landis, who is having the season that Julich did last year. Landis pulled Patxi Xabier all the way to the finish line of stage 3 and was poached for the victory, but he got the overall lead that he was looking for. After winning the Tour of California, Landis is now in position to win Paris-Nice, assuming he can hold off any final charges in the mountains. Much like the Tour of California, there are no mountiantop finishes, but Landis' Phonak team is also still having trouble staying close to Landis and protect him. I'm looking forward to OLN's coverage on the 12th and 13th to see how this all turns out.

Julich doesn't seem too disappointed to be out of contention at Paris-Nice, but his CSC teammates aren't doing so well. Four CSC riders have crashed out of races this week: Vande Velde (shoulder), Breschel (two broken vertebrae), O'Grady (broken collarbone and five ribs), and Bak. It looks like we may have to wait until a little later in the season to see CSC blowing up the scoreboard.

Update: neglected to include Lars Bak's crash at Tirreno-Adriatico that also took out Bettini.

Update 2: Bobby Julich crashed in stage 6 of Paris-Nice and didn't start the final day. Zabriskie also abandoned after complaining of pain in his achilles tendon. Sounds like the CSC infirmary is full this week. At least Cancellara pulled off a time trial victory at Tirreno-Adriatico.

Barclays SF Grand Prix 2005

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Al, Jill, d and I went to the Barclays San Francisco Grand Prix on Sunday. There was no Armstrong this year due to retirement, but there were plenty of big names to go and watch: Basso, Hincapie, Leipheimer, Horner, and Zabriskie. Zabriskie only did a couple of laps due to prior injury to his right hand and Basso dropped out as well, but the rest raced strong.

The race was dominated by Team Discovery, which sent Michael Creed on an early breakaway as a carrot for the other riders to chase. Creed stayed away for nearly 50 miles before being caught by a breakaway that included his teammates Jason McCartney and Ryder Hesjedal, along with HealthNet's John Lieswyn. Hesjedal and Creed couldn't hold on and it was McCartney and Lieswyn that looked in control of the race. They were caught on the final lap by Gerolsteiner's Fabian Wegmann, who had tag-teammed with his teammate Andrea Molette to catch the lead pair. Wegmann had better sprinting legs and became the first non-North American to win the race.

Finishing Sprint

If you want more of a summary, I suggest reading the VeloNews article.

For all intents and purposes I had an all-access pass to this year's race. The security guards seemed not to notice me sneaking past them, though I had help from Al and Jill who had tickets into the VIP section. They fed me food from the VIP tents and we shook hands with OLN commentator Bob Roll. d and I both managed to sneak into the grandstands to watch the finishing sprint (Al scouted out the position of the guards) and then we jumped into the photographers-only area in front of the podium for the prize presentation. We then went over to the CSC tent and managed to get autographs from Dave Zabriskie, Ivan Basso, and Bjarne Riis. Al had found a wristband on the ground and decided that sending in Jill was the best strategy, which turned out beautfully. Their CSC hat has got a bunch of great signatures on it and my backpack has a left-handed Dave Zabriskie signature (his right hand is injured), which is charming in its own way.

autograph autograph hat

(note: I didn't have any photos of Basso to get autographed so I printed this one taken by Flickr user wuertele)

Partial photo listing (full photoset). d should also have photos of the event, which will hopefully be posted as well:

Stage 9: Gerardmer-Mulhouse

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Armstrong gave up the yellow jersey today, but it was actually a great day for Team Discovery. Armstrong said he wanted to get rid of the jersey to take off some of the pressure and he found an able recipient in CSC's Jens Voigt. While Voigt attacked up the road with Moreau, trying to catch up to Rasmussen, Team Discovery controlled the peloton with a high tempo up the final big climb, Le Ballon d'Alsace. Armstrong had five of his teammates this time up the final climb, no one was able to attack, and Rubiera was earned teammate-of-the-day awards by setting a pace up the whole climb that caused riders to fall off the back left and right.

The big rider on the day was Rasmussen of Rabobank. He won every climb and solidified his lead in the King of the Mountains competition. Not content with that, he soloed his way to victory, with none of the chasing groups behind able to bring him back. I think he'll be needing tomorrow's rest day.

The bad news on the day is that Zabriskie has dropped out. After finishing dead last yesterday, the mountains were too much for his multiple injuries. Maybe we'll see him again in the Vuelta adding another stage victory there.

Maps and live notes in the extended.

ZABRISKIE!

stage1.z.jpg stage1.z.jpg stage1.z.jpg

keyhole.stage1.c.jpgThe opening stage may not matter too much in the long run in terms of time, but in terms of gamesmanship, it's all about showing who's on form and who's not. Riders often hold back on their performances in the races leading up to the Tour, relying on them for training instead. Armstrong, for example, rode the 2005 Tour de Georgia in support of Tom Danielson and he made no serious attempt at the win in the Dauphine. Ivan Basso hasn't been seen in a race since the Giro, so his condition was an even bigger unknown. A strong performance by one of the contenders, namely Armstrong, can easily demoralize the rest of the field and cause them to shift their goals. This year's Tour, in particular, offered a bigger chance than usual to make a big statement. While most Tours start with a short 5-10km prologue, where the end-of-day time gaps are small, this year starts with a mini time trial of 19km, which even allows for the chance the a rider could wear the yellow jersey from start to finish.

So what were today's statements?


photoThe opening time trial was a great win for American cycling: Dave Zabriskie, who started too early in the day to even be featured on TV, set a fast mark that most of the field couldn't even get within a minute of. One exception was Lance Armstrong, who finished two seconds back and at this point already looks set to win his seventh Tour de France. Zabriskie, while not contending for the overall, earned the special distinction of having won a stage in all three grand tours (Tour, Giro, Vuelta) -- all in the past year.

Ullrich started a minute ahead of Armstrong, but things stated to look bad for Armstrong's rival when the referee started pulling away Ullrich's support car to make room for Armstrong's advance. Armstrong caught sight of Ullrich around the first time check and then easily caught and passed him. Despite having the fastest time at the second time check, Armstrong wasn't able to win the stage, so he loses his chance at making history by wearing yellow from start to finish. However, Armstrong will go into Stage 2 with a 1'06" lead on Ullrich and a 1'24" on Basso. Although Ullrich ceded less time than Basso, it had to be the most demoralizing to him as he watched Armstrong easily zoom past him.

Of Armstrong's big rivals, Vino looks the best at only 0'51" back. Given this performance, future stages may have Ullrich working for Vino.

Another American with a big day was George Hincapie. He stayed on form from his Dauphine time trial win and came in 4th, 0'57" back of Zabriskie. Discovery Channel overall did very well, with four riders finishing in the top 20 (even their 'climber' CheChu Rubiera). CSC also did well with four riders in the top 20, but their top man Basso was #20.

  1. Zabriskie David, CSC, USA
  2. Armstrong Lance, Discovery, USA 0'02"
  3. Vinokourov Alexandre, T-Mobile, KAZ 0'53"
  4. Hincapie George, Discovery, USA 0'57"
  5. Bodrogi Laszlo, Credit Agricole, HUN 0'59"

Stage profile and my live stage log from the stage are in the extended.

Morgan Hill Grand Prix 2005

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The Morgan Hill Grand Prix was two great races -- both the Men's and Women's pros turned in great efforts. In the women's group, Christine Thornburg barely held onto a breakaway to take the race -- she was nearly caught on the final climb, and on the final straightaway the entire pack was breathing down her neck.

In the men's group, it was an example of one rider completely outclassing the rest -- Dave Zabriskie, the winner, races for CSC, an international team, whereas many of the other riders were locals racing for local teams. Despite the complete domination, it was entertaining to watch as he executed his tactics without fail. Zabriskie was racing without support from his team, so he first brokeaway from the pack to get some of the better riders to chase him and form a virtual breakaway team for him. He then attacked that breakaway group to break off some of the Webcor riders (there were 3 in the breakaway), and with one final attack he was able to solo multiple laps to victory.

As usual, I took quite a few photos of the races, though it was a lot easier than usual to filter the photos, as a large percentage of them were out of focus or contained shots of bare road. I thought my fancy new telephoto lens would solve all my difficulties shooting photos at bike races -- I would have beautiful, crisp, close-up shots of bike racers battling for victory. It turns out that you actually need talent to shoot photos of people moving 40 miles/hour, but I'm happy to get the practice. I have a far greater appreciation for Graham Watson now. I uploaded a small set of the photos that you can checkout:

Morgan Hill Grand Prix Photoset

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Ascendency: Five in a Row

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The first was "The Comeback," the second was "The Confirmation." No one seems to have a good term for the third or fourth (Armstrong called the fourth "The Year of the Team;" I have a cool t-shirt that says "4-titude"). I prefer to call this year "The Ascendency" b/c he's finally climbed the ranks to join Indurain, Merckx, Hinault, and Anquetil as the elite set of tour riders that have one five tours. Also, he and Indurain are the only riders to have the dominant ability to win five years in a row.

This year has also set the stage for the future of Tyler Hamilton and Alexandre Vinokourov. Both will certainly figure in future TdF battles. Euskatel, with Mayo and Zubeldia, should also be a fun team to watch in the coming tours. Finally, let's hope that this year's performance that Ullrich will continue to come to play in TdF's and have less written about him in the offseason.

In other tour news: * Hamilton's efforts helped secure CSC's team win over Ibanesto.com. * Cooke beat out McEwen on the line to take the green jersey * Virenque kept his king of the mountains with his dominant lead of 137pts.
* Menchov also had a dominant lead in the youth jersey competition with a gap of 42'29". * In the jersey no one cares about, O'Grady gets to don the "Centenaire" jersey for this year's 100th Tour de France

Tour de France Stage 16: Pau-Bayonne

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stage profile

Hamilton Finish PhotoToday was Super Hamilton's day. After the peloton split and Hamilton fell into the back group, five of his teammates came back and bridged him back to the peloton.

With about 140 kilometers to go in the race Hamilton launched went off the front of the peloton to chase down the lead group. His teammate Sorenson, who up in the lead group fell back to bridge Hamilton into the lead group.

Hamilton joined the lead group on the first big climb (Col du Soudet) and never looked back. With Sorenson helping him along he was able to drop the other riders on the second big climb. He broke out a 5 minute lead on the peloton with about 30 kilometers to go, at which point he pretty much had the win sealed up. Despite possibly needing the seconds for the GC, he took the time to point at his team manager, Bjarne Riis, shake hands, and then cross the finish line. Armstrong even came up and gave him a hug as headed into the trailer to change for the podium.