Cannondale’s Peter Sagan through kisses at the Aspen crowd, then regaled them with a wheelie after winning the first stage of this year’s USA Pro Challenge. Sagan, replete in the new black Cannondale jersey, came around BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet with 100 meters to the line and easily put a bike length between himself and his Belgian rival.
“I think I did good work in two weeks in Aspen,” said the Slovak national champion.
Many of the riders came to Colorado early in an attempt to acclimate to the races high altitude. Most of the race will be spent at higher altitude than the highest climbs of this year’s Tour de France.
The day started with a three-man break. Matt Cook (Jamis-Hagen Berman), Craig Lewis (Champion Systems), and Ian Burnett (Jelly Belly) charged out to get some TV time for their sponsors at only six miles into the 64.8-mile circuit stage from Aspen to Snowmass and back. The pack did not show much interest in the break until the return to Aspen on the last lap. Sagan’s Cannondale team did the bulk of the work to real in the break, as no team wanted to help hand the charismatic sprinter his first win. As it turned, Cannondale and Sagan didn’t need anyone else.
One surprise came as the peloton began to wind up their chase. Tour de France champion Chris Froome was ejected out the back, along with several of his team mates. Froome only arrived on Wednesday from a series of exhibition races in Europe and was unprepared for the 6,000-plus feet of altitude on stage one.
At the end, Sagan crossed first, followed by Van Avermaet and American Kiel Rejmen of United Healthcare Systems. Of the General Classification contenders, Tejay Van Gardener of BMC placed fifth and Tom Danielson of Garmin-Sharp placed ninth, all on the same time of 2:26:00.
Sagan will begin Tuesday’s stage wearing the leader’s yellow jersey, but also leads in the Cliff Bar Points Classification (Green Jersey) and the Colorado State University Best Young Rider competition (Blue Jersey). Matt Cook (Jamis) took the King of the Mountains jersey (KOM) and break-away mate Craig Lewis was awarded the Most Aggressive Rider jersey (Orange Jersey).
Sagan will test his high-altitude fitness on Tuesday as the race hits the highest point of any pro race, the daunting Independence Pass. The race heads out of Aspen and immediately begins the race’s biggest climb, 15 miles, 4,000 vertical feet to the 12,096-foot summit. Then they bomb down to US Hwy 24 before looping around and past the highest range in Colorado, before heading over Hoosier Pass, 11,500 feet, and into Breckenridge. The course is 126 miles and could be won either by a break or by a climber. It is not likely that the big bodies, like Sagan, can hang on for this stage.
Back when the great Eddie Merckx won his legendary 525 races, cyclists often rode everything. They rode the Spring Classics, the Grand Tours, the World Championships and the “Tour of the Falling Leaves”. Starting in the late ’90s, this began to change. While Merckx won the Giro five times, the Tour five times, the Vuelta a Espana twice, he even won the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France in the same season more than once. This has not been done since 1998 and not attempted more than a handful of times in the last 15 years. This is not all bad, especially for American cycling fans.
While for nearly a century, pink has been the color of May on the international cycling calendar, yellow and grizzly bear graphics have made their way in. The three-week tour of Italy had been the natural lead-in for the Tour de France, in the era of specialization and growing prominence of France’s big tour, the Tour of California has become a big race for more than Americans. This was helped in no small part by the moving of the race from February to May in 2010 after two abysmal weather years. Since the move, the biggest teams and racers have made the move to the Golden State.
The Tour of California is “only” a one-week race, this year beginning near San Diego on Sunday, May 12, and heading north for the first time, finishing in Santa Rosa on May 19. The Giro d’Italia is a three-week Grand Tour. Three weeks on a bike takes a big physiological toll on a body. It not only trims any extra fat off a racer, it begins a catabolistic process. It breaks down muscle in an attempt to find more energy to move the body on the bike. This is a difficult from which a racer has only five weeks to recover. As the Giro d’Italia is the most important race for and in Italy, the Tour is the biggest prize in all of stage racing. As a result, a shorter stage race has tremendous advantages for teams and racers whose ultimate goals are Tour wins.
So the best sprinter in the world not from the Isle of Man, Peter Sagan, will be back in California this weekend. The Boulder-based Garmin-Sharp team has the honor of defending Giro champion, and some of the Americans are in Italy to help with that defense, Dave Zabriskie, Garmin’s time trial specialist, will lead a strong team in California. Even Belgian hero Tom Boonen had planned to hone his sprinting skills in California before his crash at the Tour of Flanders last month.
The rise in American cycling will feature prominently again this August here in Colorado. While most Spanish-speaking racers will head to the Vuelta a Espana, most racers with a shot at September’s World Road Championship will skip the Vuelta in favor of the shorter, though still challenging Pro Cycling Challenge. Bad for the Vuelta, already the Grand Tour’s redheaded step-child, good for American cycling fans.
Meanwhile at the Corsa Rosa, Katusha’s Italian rider, Luca Paolini, is ensconced in pink. Defending champ, Garmin’s Canadian rider, Ryder Hasjedal, is 34 seconds back, tied on time with Sky’s leader, Bradley Wiggins.
The Manx Missile, Mark Cavendish started the Giro with a sprint win in Naples.
Team Sky was the overwhelming winner in stage two’s team time trial on the island of Ischia. Surprisingly, it was Sky’s firt TTT win in a grand tour. The win put Sky’s Salvatore Puccio, who also happens to be Italy’s national time trial champion, in the pink leader’s jersey.
Hesjedal took off on an attack during stage three, only to be caught and passed by eventual stage winner Paolini.
Stage four saw former Giro champion Danilo DiLuca get swamped by the sprinters teams less than 400 yards short of the finish line of the 153-mile stage in Serra San Bruno. Sprinter Enrico Battaglin took the bunch sprint. Paolini kept the rain-soaked pink jersey.
Stage five, 126 mostly-flat miles from Cosenza to Matera, was marred by a crash inside the last 1000 meters. Sprinter John Degenkolb of Argo-Shimano avoided the crash and made up a huge gap in just about 100 meters to take his first career win in the Italian tour.
Look west this weekend. The Amgen Tour of California will be televised on NBCSports network beginning Sunday. To see the Giro d’Italia, visit Steephill.tv to find a live video feed.
We are now 14 weeks shy of Ride the Rockies. We should already be
training with that in mind. The earlier one starts, the easier it will
be to achieve the goal of spending a week climbing the beautiful
byways of Colorado. And while suffering is an inherent part of this,
at least you’re not being chased by Jens Voigt or other top pros. Such
a chase will be fun to watch, however.
The recent rumor floating around town is that we can expect nearly
100,000 visitors on the day the USA Pro Challenge rolls through Estes
Park on the second to last day of the race. That’s 100,000 people from
36 states and 16 countries. That’s 100,000 cycling enthusiasts who
average a household income of $113,918, itching to spend it. During
the first USAPCC, they brought about $67 million. The additional money
from traveling press from all over the world brought the total to
$83.5 million in 2011, $90 million in 2012. Imagine 100,000 hungry
stomachs, 100,000 visitors needing a gift from Estes Park, and more
than a few of them wanting to stay over night. Like the Tour de
France, or even Ride the Rockies, this event will expose a great many
people to our little town.
With international press exposure, many millions of potential visitors
will look at the images and think, I want to go there. This is a
chance to shine. This will have positive economic effects far beyond
just one day in late August. It will open us up to the nation and to
the world. Thy will come to see it themselves with eyes and wallets
To the curmudgeons who can only think of how this will inconvenience
them, yes, this 1/365th of your year will be bustling. That’s the way
it goes. Stay home. For the rest of us, we’ve seen the races on TV.
Your bike will be the best way to get to the best vantage points in
Now, back to riding. The fine folks at Ride the Rockies have provided
a handy table to help riders prepare for that wonderful week in June
when more than 2,000 riders spend a week astride their favorite bike.
The table can be found under the Rider Area tab at RideTheRockies.com.
Last Last Saturday, February 23, is when their calendar begins. We
should accumulate 40 miles for the week. This next week, beginning
March 2, adds 10 miles to the total. They separate it between weekend
and weekday riding miles. This weekend, they suggest fitting in about
20 miles. I will easily get that just in my extra job. I am, however,
open to fitting in more.
I will offer this each week, knowing that training with someone makes
training easier. I would be open to riding the area’s favorite road,
US 36 from Lyons to Boulder on Sunday morning. It is hilly without
being too nasty for this early in the season. It will also be warmer
down there. If you need to start your miles and want to ride with
someone else, reach me either by phone or e-mail, both found below. If
you are new to road riding, or riding in a group, this would be a
great opportunity to start. Learn rules of the road and, possibly,
roadside repairs. I’m also a big fan of interesting coffee shops. I
know of at least two that would fall within the 20 miles of the ride.
Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding.Cycling star Andy Schleck picks his way through the crowd in the cyclist village before the Colorado Springs prologue of the 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge. No other sport allows fans to get so close to the stars.
I’m watching the second stage of the USA Cycling Challenge on my laptop while I write this. Don’t tell my daughter, but I will know the results long before I turn on the big-screen tonight. Today, some of the very best cyclists in the world are riding a road I pedaled back in June, over Blue Mesa and past the reservoir before the first sprint point in Gunnison. I’m planning my weekend, as the race will cruise near Allenspark, through Lyons and into Boulder on Saturday. The race concludes in Denver on Sunday. Thanks to NBC, the whole world will see some of the amazing terrain we get to see all the time. Wouldn’t it be nice if the world got to see our little piece of Paradise?
Local cycling enthusiasts would love to lure the race through Estes Park for 2013, I among them. I realize that our little town probably doesn’t have the money to host a start or a finish, but wouldn’t it be nice just to have some of the fittest athletes on earth come cruising through, bringing fans and fan dollars with them?
There’s more. My mother-in-law will occasionally sit down and watch broadcasts of the Tour de France, not because she’s any kind of cycling fan, but because the cameras often pan to show a wider view of the area the riders a racing through. During these broadcasts, she and my daughter will say, “we really need to go there.” With NBC beaming images of Colorado to 200 countries, I’m pretty sure some family, somewhere, will express the same thing. That could lead to more visitors.
I have friends who have visited some of those areas of France that I watch every July. With climbs here like Trail Ridge Road, an enthusiast from France or Switzerland is bound to heed the call and bring a family, as well as a bike, with them.
I don’t know the economic statistics of cycling tourists from other nations. I know that in the case of cyclists who participate in Ride the Rockies, they average a yearly income in the six-digit range. While the immediate impact of the race coming through might be good, lots of folks grabbing lunch or drinks or gifts while awaiting the peloton, the long-term impact would be better than any of the advertising our local promotional groups can afford.
It’s more than the lycra-covered butts or shaved legs. Fans enjoy the views of the high peaks, the waterfalls, the historic mining districts, our state’s history. All of this would be shared with millions of cycling fans all over the world. We have plenty of scenery and history for visitors to enjoy.
Now then, day one of the USA Cycling Challenge saw Garmin-Sharp rider Tyler Farrar score his first win in over a year. On a day that was much faster and much harder than anyone anticipated, Farrar and the main peloton caught Garmin-Sharp teammates Tom Danielson and Peter Stetina just outside of the finishing town of Telluride. A break-away group powered off the front less than six miles into the 125.6-mile stage. The break went out so hard that the world got the rare vision of American time trial specialist Dave Zabriskie, how shall I say this, ejecting his lunch. The punishing pace, which included the climb of Lizard Head Pass, put the race into Telluride about an hour sooner than the fastest assumed pace, 4 hours, 42 minutes.
Garmin-Sharp took four of the five awarded jerseys. Farrar took the first yellow leader’s jersey, as well as the green sprinters’ jersey. The King of the Mountains jersey went to former Durango resident Tom Danielson. The red-striped Most Aggressive Rider jersey was awarded to Stetina for his efforts in keeping Danielson out front. The one jersey that did not go to a Garmin-Sharp rider, the best young rider, went to Bontrager-Livestrong under-23 racer Gavin Mannion.
So far, this is not much of an indication as to who might hold any of these jerseys by Sunday. Farrar could hold the green jersey when all is said and done, but he is not likely to win the GC battle. Tom Danielson may get the polka-dots, but his aim is higher. Tommy “D” will want to yellow jersey by Denver. He’ll need a good, wide lead going into that time trial as the defending champion, Levi Leipheiner, is an accomplished rider against the clock.
Regardless, this should be a great race, one we should try to coax through Estes Park in the future. Just saying’.
I will throw in just a quick comment on Friday’s biggest cycling news. Lance was screwed from the moment USADA announce they would pursue the charges. USADA is beyond the law, if you check out their power. There are no appeals once they’ve ruled and they have only lost on arbitration once. I don’t know if Lance did it. I have not seen the evidence. The real problem is that no one outside of USADA has seen the evidence. No one can legally compel USADA to show what they have.
Whether Lance doped or not, his move to stop fighting is pretty much the best he could do for himself. To be honest, I would be surprised if he didn’t, but the way USADA is able to wield limitless power over our sport is ridiculous. They would have ruled themselves correct, whether Lance cheated or not.
I hope they don’t test group rides for excess caffein.
Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding.