Friday, October 30, 2009

Alberto Contador - "What's a guy to do?"

Yesterday it was announced by a representative from the Kazak Cycling Federation that Alberto Contador will indeed be honoring the final year of his contract and riding for Team Astana in 2010.

I'm sorry, Mr. Proskurin, but I’m not buying it.

Can you blame me?

It’s not as if we’ve been receiving accurate information regarding the situation at Astana. Since spring we’ve been inundated with nothing but conflicting reports, inaccurate sound bites, and contradictory quotes from individuals supposed to be working for the same team (Red Kite Prayer’s discourse on the matter shines more light on this). Riders are transferring, then they’re not. Riders are returning from suspension, then they’re not—until they do. Directors are leaving, then they’re staying, then they’re leaving. Paperwork’s being filed on time, then it isn’t, but then it was.

Confused? You should be.

It all contributes to a current state of affairs in which we absolutely cannot believe anything we hear until we hear it again…from the same person…on separate days. (Sure enough, hours after I began this piece, Contador announced that he was still making his decision.)

But for now, let’s give Astana the benefit of the doubt and assume the official was correct. If so, we have to ask: why would Contador stay with such an incredibly mis-managed organization? He's received plenty of offers from several Pro Tour teams, right?

Well, yes, he has—sorta. At least that’s what we’ve been led to believe. Garmin’s been a rumored destination since before the Tour--Caisse d'Epargne as well. Quick Step's Patrick Lefevere has done everything short of taking-up residency in Spain to get Contador to make the move North. That said, when you at these teams closely, reasons exist why no accord has been reached; one or both parties might be a bit apprehensive to seal the deal.

Let’s begin with the obvious choice: Caisse d’Epargne. While Contador would love to ride for a Spanish team—especially one with Grand Tour pedigree—he might be a bit hesitant about riding for a team already containing Alejandro Valverde. While he's not a threat to Contador's Tour-status, Valverde is certainly a contender in several of the races Contador uses during his Tour build-up. It will take some pretty sophisticated scheduling to keep Valverde and Contador in races where their talents and objectives will not overlap. Maybe Contador realizes this; or maybe management isn’t quite ready to put their money behind another horse--a horse that did win them the Vuelta. Overall, if Caisse and Contador were truly a match made in heaven, it would certainly have happened by now.

Garmin entered the sweepstakes in June when it looked like Astana didn’t even have the tenge to make it through July. Had it happened, Contador would have given them an instant contender--maybe a victory--and Jonathan Vaughters claimed to have had the capital necessary to bring the Spaniard into the fold. But then Astana secured some last-minute funds, entered the race, and well, the rest was history. But as fall began rumors began to re-circulate that Contador was once again being courted by JV.

But a funny thing might have happened on the way to a Contador-Garmin deal—well actually, several things did. First of all, Contador won the Tour outright, which has certainly driven the price for his services higher than they were pre-Tour. Team Radio Shack was also finalized, giving Garmin an instant US-registered rival in the races that garner the bulk of its exposure with home fans. Contador and his savvy team of advisors surely know this, adding even more value to his services should he provide them to the boys in argyle. Then there’s Bradley Wiggins, Garmin’s latest rouleur-turned-Tour-contender. While the result was the same, Wiggo’s performance this year was far better than Christian Vande Velde’s in 2008—better enough that maybe Vaughters thinks he has all the manpower he needs (even if Wiggo wants out). And last but certainly not least, let’s not forget that Garmin’s supposed to be the cleanest team in cycling and has Dr. Prentice Steffen, a well-known watchdog for suspected dopers, at the head of it’s medical staff. Steffen allegedly tried to the blow the whistle when approached by riders about doping during his term at US Postal. Maybe he smells a rat, and is encouraging Vaughters to re-think the acquisition of a suspected cheat. I could be completely off-base, but no deal has gone down--maybe for one or more of these reasons.

Finally we have Quick Step, a team looking to add a rider capable of winning races in France that don't involve cobblestones. Patrick Lefevere has tried this before, but unfortunately he’s chosen poorly. Remember the Juan Manuel Garate experiment? How about Stefan Shumacher? Even though Lefevere’s luck finding GC talent hasn’t worked the way he hoped, it hasn't stopped him from pursuing Contador (and his 4 trusted domestiques). Whether or not his bank account is up to the challenge is another story though, especially since Contador’s counsel likely realizes that the pressure is on Quick Step to live-up to the victories earned by Silence-Lotto at the end of this season--their salary demands are likely to have reflected that.

That said, I think Contador’s apprehensive for another reason. Allow me to explain with a trivia question: name the last rider—from any country—to win a Grand Tour for a Belgian team. Go ahead and take your time, I’ll wait.

[Jeopardy Theme Song]

The answer is Greg Lemond, who won the 1989 Tour de France for José De Cauwer’s Team ADR. For whatever reason, Belgian teams are not well-built to be GC powerhouses anymore—especially in the Tour de France, the race Contador cares about the most. Maybe it’s because the Classics are a bigger part of Belgium's national cycling culture or maybe it’s the single-day kermis mentality. But whatever the cause, Belgian teams just don’t seem able to get themselves over the hump in 3-week races. Silence-Lotto’s made a valiant effort recently, but there’s a big difference between the top step of the podium and the other two.

I suspect Contador thinks he won’t get the support at Quick Step he requires to win the Tour for a 3rd time. Even if he brings 4 teammates, will the team have what it takes to overcome The Shack and Saxo Bank? It’s possible, but not likely. The team's just not built for it. No wonder he hasn't signed yet.

In the end, it's becoming more and more likely Contador will stay at Astana. And maybe it's indeed the best move for him right now. His contract is rumored to be filled with provisions designed to protect him should things go sour (such as freeing him to sign somewhere else should Astana remain uninvited to the Tour). And if he does overcome Astana's shaky management and suspicious funding to find success, he'll be able to demand the richest contract in the sport's history.

Thanks for reading! Share your comments below.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

New Embrocation Column - "Franco-Belge" (Part 3)

Part 3 of "Franco-Belge" just went live over at Embrocation Cycling Journal. Go give it a read, and feel free to come back and leave comments.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wednesday Cross Report and Power Rankings

Here's the latest column and power rankings from Pavé's own cross-correspondent, Erik Mitchell. Be sure to check-out Erik's new site, The Run-Up, for all things 'cross!

Last week I made a bold statement saying that Niels Albert will dominate any race he enters. As many suspected, I was wrong. However, I did predict that Sven Nys would get out of his early season funk and remind us all why he's the greatest cross racer of all time. His victory at the Nacht van Woerden was predictable against a smaller, lackluster, field. However, the way he won Koppenberg Cross was remarkable. Albert put in a great performance considering his poor start and other issues, but eventually cracked and was saved only by the fact that no one else took advantage of it. The other usual suspects were at the front, the only surprise coming from Zdenk Stybar, who launched an attack that eventually failed. It was very interesting to see these younger guys start to go for the win rather than just ride in the shadows of Nys and Albert.

I terms of the rankings, Sven Nys is clearly back, which means the fun can now begin. The Albert/Nys show should continue to be the big story as the season progresses with an imminent head-to-head battle at the World Championships. I'm officially back on the Nys bandwagon and was happy to give him the Number One spot this week. The sub-plot comes from the riders battling for podium spots.

While neither Nys nor Albert is a shoe-in, they clearly are the most dominant riders right now. However, as we saw this past weekend, the other guys in the lead group are no longer afraid and will continue to attack and try to shake the two superstars. Stybar gave it his shot, and Klaas Vantornout and Kevin Pauwels weren't far behind. One of these guys will pick up a big win this year and it's nice to see that they haven't given up yet. It was good nice to see Francis Mourey pick-up a top-10. He's been sticking to the World Cups thus far and has proven he's a very strong rider; if he continues to ride well he'll be an outside candidate for a podium at future World Cup races. It should be noted that Jonathan Page dropped from the rankings this week. While Page is riding consistently, he's not one of the the top 10 riders in Europe. A good result here or there will change that, but a top-10 in a small mid-week race was not enough to keep him in the rankings.

Speaking of American riders, action at the USGP heated-up with Ryan Trebon and Tim Johnson picking up victories. It would appear that Ryan Trebon may be the best rider in the US right now, but two nasty crashes on Sunday eliminated him from a second duel with Johnson. The big news of the weekend was Jamey Driscoll picking up the USGP leaders jersey after another weekend of consistent riding with two second places. Like Stybar in Europe, Driscoll has gone largely unnoticed as he continues to place on the podium every weekend. Davide Frattini put in a solid performance again as did Chris Jones and Geoff Kabush. Barry Wicks fell off the podium, but managed to stay inside the top-10 both days. Jesse Anthony continued his streakyness with a 4th and 8th place in Kentucky, proving that when he shows up he can hang with the best.

In Maine, Dan Timmerman picked up two more UCI victories. The "Bearded Wonder" stayed close to home and took a commanding lead of the NECCS series. While the field wasn't as stacked as in Kentucky, Timmerman's performances show that he's one of the best in the US right now. Katie Compton was noticeably absent this past weekend, but will return to action in Colorado this week before heading back to Europe.

Much like last week, the top-5 in both rankings remain largely intact, just in a different order. At this point in the season the surprises are coming from within the lead group and I don't expect many major changes to occur for the rest of the season. Behind the top-5 is where the real action is though. Most of these riders will continue to jump on and off the list due to their lack of consistency. Obviously, in the US there are more changes in the lower spots due to the fact that virtually every weekend, the main contenders are spread across the country. The only exception is Katie Compton, who decided to take these past two weekends off before embarking on a National and World Championship campaign.

Time to see where everybody is this week, here are the rankings:

North American Rankings:

1. Tim Johnson (1) - Johnson continues to be one of the strongest riders in the US. It's tough when his two other teammates are also super strong, but Johnson appears to be a bit better. The only rider that seems capable of preventing Johnson from picking up another National Championship—at least right now—is Ryan Trebon.
2. Jamey Driscoll (5) - Honestly, Driscoll was very close to becoming my #1. His lack of victories isn't surprising in the grand scheme of things, but his consistency is remarkable. Eventually he'll push through to the top, but it's nice to see him rewarded for his efforts with the USGP leader's jersey this weekend.
3. Ryan Trebon (2) - Trebon and Jonathan Page seem to be the only riders capable of surviving the three-pronged attack. If Trebon had not crashed twice on Sunday, he probably would have won and would be #1. He'll get his chance this weekend in Colorado.
4. Dan Timmerman (6) - Timmerman is here to stay. He's proved that he can win and ride with the other heads of state. His come-from-behind effort on Sunday was remarkable and he appears to be all set for the NECCS title, but his real surprising result could come at Nationals.
5. Jeremy Powers (5) - Reportedly suffering from some sort of illness, Powers stumbled a bit this weekend. He was able to pick-up 3rd on Sunday and if he's able to recover, he should be back on the podium this weekend in Colorado.
6. Geoff Kabush (na) - Two top-5 finishes proved that the Canadian Champion has found his form. He took last weekend off, which may pay-off in the long run, but he still lacks a big US win this year.
7. Chris Jones (na) - It's time to stop referring to Jones as 'that roadie who decided to race cross'. He has shown remarkable consistency this year, but I don't expect him to pick-up a big win anytime soon. However, I expect him to consistently make the lead group as the season goes on.
8. Jesse Anthony (na) – 'Down, but not out' is the best way to describe Anthony's season. He hasn't shown consistency and appears to be one step behind the leaders, but a rider with Anthony's palmares can never be counted out.
9. Barry Wicks (4) - Wicks' streak of podium appearances came to an end this week. Everyone is going to have an off-week though and this may have been his. If it was, 9th and 6th aren't bad ways to finish.
10. Davide Frattini (7) - Frattini finally had some success outside of the Mid-Atlantic. I'm a bit surprised that he's heading out to Colorado this weekend rather than racing in New Jersey. Perhaps he's going to prove that he belongs with the big boys.

Dropped this week: Valentin Scherz (8), Derrick St. John (9) and Tristan Schouten (10).

International Rankings:

1. Sven Nys (3) - It's a long season in Europe and Nys' no panic attitude appears to be paying off. He's still leading the Superprestige Series, is tied for the lead in the GVA Trophy, and is a few wins shy of the UCI overall and the lead in the World Cup. Nys is back.
2. Niels Albert (1) - Despite cracking this weekend, Albert is still in the driver's seat. His results are solid and one weekend of not dominating the competition is expected. There's still a big question mark surrounding the World Champ when it comes to a full season of racing though, something he missed out on last year.
3. Klaas Vantornout (5) - Vantornout picked-up a well-deserved 3rd place at Koppenberg cross. He's one of the riders who are a part of the lead group, but are lacking that knockout punch. It will be interesting to see if he can find it.
4. Kevin Pauwels (4) - Pauwels continues to show that he's the breakout star of this season. He's learning that it's a different world in the lead group, but has proved that he belongs there. I'm hopeful he'll pull-out a big victory this year, but even if he doesn't he's having a superb season.
5. Zdenk Stybar (2) - Stybar showed that he's not willing to settle for podium places behind Albert and Nys. While his attack was unsuccessful, he held on for 5th place. The scariest part? This is his worst result of the season.
6. Francis Mourey (6) - The 5th place World Cup race master finally showed his face and legs at a non-World Cup race. He ended up 6th (his worst result this season), but managed to stick with the lead group. It will be interesting to see how much racing he does before the next World Cup race in November.
7. Gerben de Knegt (na) - de Knegt gets this spot due to a solid 9th place at Koppenberg Cross and a 2nd place, behind Nys, at the midweek race in Woerden. He's one of the riders who will pop-off and on this list for the rest of the season.
8. Bart Aernouts (na) - Aernouts was the last man dropped from the lead group on Sunday, but held on for 7th. He has shown he's a solid rider with some good results this year, but needs to show more consistency to stay in the rankings.
9. Erwin Vervecken (8) - Vervecken will get very few gifts from me this season despite the fact that it's his last. This week was no exception. An 8th in Woerden and a 10th at Koppenberg proved the elder statesmen still has what it takes. And don't worry, he'll pick up a big win this year as well.
10. Katie Compton (10) - Compton didn't race for the second week in a row. However, she still remains the most dominant woman in cross this year. Thus, she retains her 10th place spot this week. She'll be back in action in Colorado, and I expect fireworks.

Dropped this week: Christian Heule (7) and Jonathan Page (9).

Racing this week begins Wednesday with another round of the TOI TOI cup. I wouldn't be surprised if one of the big Czechs like Stybar shows-up and wins. Stateside, the action is split (what else is new?) between Colorado and New Jersey. It would appear everyone who was in Kentucky is heading-out to Colorado for two rounds of the NACT. Those interested in picking up some UCI points and stayer closer to home will be in New Jersey for two rounds of the MAC. The biggest story in the US could be Katie Compton's return to racing in Colorado. The biggest international race of the weekend will be in Hoogstraten, Belgium on Sunday where Sven Nys will try to take another Superprestige victory against a star-studded field. The added bonus is that the Hoogstraten race is also the European Championship which means there's even more prestige (no pun intended) in winning. All in all, it's going to be another exciting weekend!

What about you? Questions, comments, wisecracks? Share them all below.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday Musette

Hope you had an enjoyable weekend! Here's what's on our minds:

1. I'm not sure how we let this one slip through the cracks, but what are your thoughts on Ghent-Wevelgem being moved to the Sunday before the Tour of Flanders? I plan to share my thoughts in a future post, but for now I'm curious what you have to say.

2. The 2010 Giro route was announced by RCS on Friday and it looks to be quite exciting. The Gavia, Zoncolan, Plan de Corones and Mortirolo are just a few of the legendary climbs the race will visit. Interestingly, the Giro's organizers seem to have made a nod to the ASO by including about 15km of strade bianche in Stage 7 to Montalcino. Alessandro Ballan has already listed the day as one of his targets, should BMC be invited.

3. And speaking of BMC, I'm impressed at the approach they appear to be taking to their first season as one of the World's elite teams. While they won't spurn an invitation for the Tour, they don't seem to be banking on it either, instead choosing to make a name for themselves in the Classics, the Tour of California, and the Giro. Ochowicz and Lelangue know how fickle the ASO can be; the risks of selling your sponsors tickets on the "Tour-Or-Bust" bandwagon are much too great. If they are indeed invited to the Tour, look for them to shine. But look for them to have already scored some impressive results by mid-May, making Tour participation the icing on the cake.

4. About a year ago, I purchased a copy of Joe Parkin's A Dog in a Hat, his story of "mud, drugs, blood, betrayal, and beauty" during his days racing in Belgium. Over the weeked, it finally made its way to the top of my stack. Right now I'm about 50 pages in and have had a hard time putting it down. Maybe it's because he writes about things I saw and experienced myself; maybe it's because the stories he shares are so honest and entertaining. Regardless, it's worth grabbing a copy for yourself. (Or at least downloading Chapter 1 and Bob Roll's Foreward.) Joe also runs a terrific blog called 6 Years in a Rain Cape where he answers reader questions. He's also expressed his willingness to do an interview for Pavé--look for that in a future feature. If we're lucky, maybe we'll get a first look at the sequel, Come and Gone.

5. And finally, if you haven't had a chance to take a look, here's our new kit. We're also planning long sleeve items, cycling caps, and winter hats as well (images of those will be published soon along with pricing and ordering information). Thanks to all who have inquired so far; your interest is flattering and appreciated!

Have a great Monday--what's on your mind?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Ride Report - Univest Grand Prix Cyclosportif

Good thing I left my Mussolini jersey at home.

As we enter the first weekend of the “off-season”, I’d like to make a recommendation: ride your bike! Granted, I’m sure many of you were already planning too—in fact, you probably never stopped. But if you’re like me, lately you might have been spending more time watching people riding their bikes than you have spent riding your own.

For fans of the sport at the professional level, riding bridges the gap between observation and participation. Sure, we can’t all go out this weekend and ride the Muur de Geraardsbergen, but we might have a hill in our area that’s just as daunting—at least relatively. For me, the realization that I needed to spend more time on my bike came weeks ago during a rainy Saturday spent with hundreds of other amateur enthusiasts at the Univest Grand Prix Cyclosportif.

In August, the Sportif’s organizer, Brian Ignatin, offered me a guest entry in the event (i.e. I didn’t pay to ride, Mr. FTC). Grateful for the invitation to an event I had good things about, I offered to share my experiences with all of you (albeit belatedly).

So waking early on Saturday, September 12th, I packed my bag with gear and loaded my bike in the car. It was rainy, but relatively warm—a knee and arm warmers kind of day. My friend and fellow Pavé rider, Greg, had agreed to join me, and together we were to embark on the longer, 100km loop—the loop the pro race follows before returning to the town of Souderton for several smaller, local laps.

Despite the warnings, we were on lightly traveled roads.

We parked, aired our tires, embrocated our legs (you didn’t think I wouldn’t, did you?), and rode-off to find the registration area for our numbers and timing chips.

Numbers and timing chips? You see, this is indeed a cyclosportif event, and—as I would soon learn the hard way—something for which time is taken, results are produced, and some people even (gasp!) train for it. It was not the leisurely Saturday metric century I had been expecting. But I digress.

We attached our numbers, pinned our chips to our shoes (they can’t touch metal, interestingly enough), and made our way to the throng of people waiting in the staging area by the Start/Finish line.

I was pleased to see hundreds of riders eager to begin, cheery and jovial despite the glum weather. It’s a true testament to the efforts of Brian and the mastermind behind the entire Univest event, John Eustice. John and his team have done everything necessary to give their race the look and feel of a real European classic—down to the last detail. I might as well have been at the Tour of Flanders Sportive or L’Etape du Tour. Everything was handled efficiently, professionally, and ran as smooth as a well-lubed drive train.

Bobby Julich is on the left in the gray jacket. This is the last time I would see him.

But back to the ride itself: after a quick “celebrity” call-up, Bobby Julich and I were off. Yes, you read correctly, Bobby Julich was there, and he was one of my companions on the front row. (Yes, I was a little embarrassed.) I didn’t talk to him, though, for at the gun there was an immediate scrum of riders eager to ride beside or behind him.

(Thus begins the part about me learning things the hard way.)

Clipping-into my pedal, I was shocked at how fast the ride started. I felt as if I were back in Belgium (it was raining, remember), desperately trying to follow the “right” wheels to get myself within shouting distance of the lead group. (The only difference being the several thousand kilometers of training missing from my legs.)

East Flanders or Eastern Pennsylvania?

By mile 5 I was already cramping, over-heated, and halfway through my first bottle. Oh boy, I remember thinking, this can’t be good. Greg was nowhere to be seen—he didn’t get the call-up and started in the back—and I had no luck finding anyone who seemed willing to ride the pace I was hoping would get me to the finish in one piece. At that moment though, Greg drifted-up beside me, effortlessly spinning his legs in that tortuous way he always does. He asked me how I felt. Not good, I replied, grabbing his wheel. However, a few miles later, and Greg was gone, whisked away by a faster group while I slowed to remove my jacket.

I chased for a few miles, hoping to latch-on to a pack of about 10 men who seemed to have a chance to make it back to the leaders—

(Wait a minute! This was supposed to a ride report, not a race report, right?)

At this point in the ride, for no particular reason, I gave-up. Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t give up on the ride, I just gave-up on riding it fast. I had plenty of food (in addition to the prospect of two well-stocked and staffed rest stops), I was appropriately dressed for the weather conditions, and my camera was safely tucked inside my jersey pocket. So I decided—as the Bike Snob might say—to stop trying to shotgun the ride when I could be enjoying it sip by sip—slowly.

So I cruised, stopping for everything: funny signs, families of fans, quaint shops and homes, to name a few. I even saw a suspension bridge wide enough for just one person and a mailbox in the form of largemouth bass. In short, I took my time to enjoy the ride, mile by mile. I had no need for my cue sheet; the route was clearly marked for the pro race still to come through. And the rain held-off just enough, and the temperature stayed just high enough, that I was never uncomfortable. It was a terrific experience--all because I decided to take my time.

Friendly folks were a constant sight throughout the day.

Arriving back in Souderton several hours later, I crossed the line and was greeted by friendly volunteers who took my timing chip and gave me a wristband for a hot lunch pasta and garlic bread. Greg was waiting by my car, and after a quick change we ate and cruised through the expo area. After lunch there were raffles, results, and low and behold, a bike race to enjoy!

In the end, it was a wonderful day that offered opportunities for both riders and fans, one made all the more enjoyable by the fact that I rode slow enough to enjoy it.

Next’s year Univest Grand Prix Cyclosportif will take place on Saturday, September 11. Mark you calendars now, and go to the event’s website for registration information. As for me, I’ll certainly make an effort to be there again—with more miles in my legs. But despite my hopefully increased level of fitness, I still might take it slow. Just because.

Enjoy your weekend! Here's hoping you find the time for a nice, slow ride of your own--fast ones are okay too!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wednesday Cross Report and Power Rankings

Here's the latest installment of Erik's Wednesday Cross Column—complete with his own North American and International Power Rankings. If you like what you read, head over to Erik's blog for more insight and analysis. And please feel free to share your comments below—he reads them!

After six weeks of cross racing, two things are certain. First, Niels Albert will dominate any race he enters and is on the verge of becoming the next Sven Nys. Secondly, if you ride for, individually you will win a race this year and your team will win at least one every weekend.

Since my last post, Albert continued his winning ways with a mid-week win at Kermiscross and went 2-for-2 at the World Cup race in Plzen. Stateside, Tim Johnson and Jeremy Powers went head-to-head one week after they won a combined five races. Jamey Driscoll continued his stellar season with a pair of podium places behind his two teammates. The Kona boys continued to show their good form picking, up the top two spots in a pair of muddy and cold races in the Mid-Atlantic. Meanwhile, several riders used this weekend to rest their legs, including recently crowned Canadian Champion Geoff Kabush who opted for a mountain bike trip rather than race in Toronto. Katie Compton also took the weekend off as she prepares for another European excursion.

Obviously, the story in Europe continues to be the growing rivalry between Sven Nys and Niels Albert. Albert continues to ride very well, while Nys still seems one step behind. Zdenk Stybar continues to remain the most untalked about podium finisher. It's amazing how little is said about the man who finished on the podium in his "hometown" World Cup race and has yet to finish worse than third. Jonathan Page continued his "lucky" streak with a pair of 13th places. His good starting position is a big bonus, but Page is still not on par with the leaders, something that I expect to change soon. Erwin Vervecken seems to be maintaining his good form, but as with Page, is still a bit behind the lead group. The Vanthourenhout cousins had very poor showings at the last World Cup race and seem incapable of producing under pressure right now. Francis Mourey had another strong showing, holding-on for 5th in Plzen. Perhaps only showing up for World Cups will continue to pay off for him? On the flipside, Martin Bina grabbed the hole shot in Plzen but failed to finish; hopefully his luck will turn around.

The North American side of things saw even fewer surprises than in Europe. The trio dominated the field north of the border. The only hitch in their plan was Powers' bad crash on Saturday that left him fighting for 8th place. Tim Johnson still appears the strongest of the trio, but it was hard to tell with all the crashing. Speaking of crashes, Andy Jacques-Maynes' season is in jeopardy as he went down hard on Sunday and failed to finish. I tipped him as one of the bigger surprises this year, so hopefully he can recover quickly. Rounds 3 and 4 of the MAC series were dominated by the two tall boys in orange. I had Barry Wicks as the favorite, but Ryan Trebon clearly found his form this weekend as he decimated both fields. Behind Trebon and Wicks, several riders showed that they belong at the front of the field. Dan Timmerman continued his stand-out season and looks poised to take the NECCS overall and perhaps a podium spot at Nationals. The Swiss Sensation (still working on that one), Valentin Scherz, continued his American campaign with a pair of top-5 finishes. Davide Frattini also showed signs of the form that saw him win the first 2 rounds of the MAC series, albeit in contrasting conditions, in September.

In the biggest shakeup of both rankings to date, a total of 9 riders were dropped this week. The top-5 in both North America and Europe remain pretty much the same, just in a different order. Obviously, Trebon's wins rocketed him up the list, but I'm still leary of his ability to stay near the top. Most of the North American riders dropped were riders who didn't race this weekend, but they'll have their chance for redemption soon. In Europe, the top-10 at the World Cup featured a lot of one-hit-wonders, so consistency in both the Kermiscross and World Cup races were given precedent. Without further delay, here's this weeks rankings:

North American Power Rankings

1. Tim Johnson (2) - It was a clear head-to-head battle between Johnson and Jeremey Powers this week. By virtue of a 1st and 2nd in Toronto, Johnson gets the edge. It appears his shoulder has healed nicely, but with his long-term goal of heading back to Worlds in February it will be interesting to see if he backs-off a bit before December.
2. Ryan Trebon (na) - Trebon appears to have found the form that lead him to a National Championship last year, but I'm nervous about placing him this high. He hasn't been able to beat the guys this year, but will have another crack this weekend, with the #1 spot on the line.
3. Jeremey Powers (1) – Clearly, Powers was set back by crashes both days in Toronto, but he managed to rebound and pick-up the win on Sunday. I hate to say it, but I'm not sure if he truly won on Sunday as it sounds like Johnson may have backed off too soon. Then again, a win is a win.
4. Barry Wicks (3) - It has to be tough to continue to finish 2nd. Wicks wasn't able to hold the wheel of his teammate this weekend, but continues to ride very consistently. A breakthrough win is in his future, hopefully sooner rather then later.
5. Jamey Driscoll (4) - While Driscoll continues to prove he's no fluke, he also continues to finish right behind the leaders. He's still young, so it's tough to say if he'll have a breakthrough win this year. If not, next year may be his chance to bust through to the top.
6. Dan Timmerman (9) - The Bearded Wonder continues to impress with his consistent rides. He's proven he can finish in the top-5 or 10 no matter what the conditions, but still appears unable to beat the heads of state right now.
7. Davide Frattini (na) - A pair of 4th places puts Frattini back in the rankings. He seems to shine in the Mid-Atlantic but has been unable to to carry his success to other regions of the country. This weekend will provide him another opportunity to prove he can do well elsewhere.
8. Valentin Scherz (na) - Scherz will be in the US for the next few months and will likely remain on the domestic list this year. He's been a top-20 rider in Europe as a junior and clearly has the ability to ride with the big boys over here. I'm sure we will continue to hear about him for years to come.
9. Derrick St. John (na) - St. John has had marginal success over the past few years, but always seems to do well when in his native Canada. At this point, he's still a one-hit-wonder candidate. However, two 4th-place finishes is a great way to get your season going again.
10. Tristan Schouten (na) - Schouten is a tough call. He rode well in Madison, Wisconsin earlier this year but earned no recognition because of the firepower in the field. That said, a pair of 5th places proves that he doesn't plan on fading anytime soon.

Dropped this week: Joachim Parbo (5), Chris Jones (6), Mark LaLonde (7), Geoff Kabush (8) and Troy Wells (10).

International Power Rankings

1. Niels Albert (1) - The only thing to say this week is that Albert had a bad start in Plzen. However, he still won in dominating fashion. It will be interesting to see if he can hold this form all year (just ask Nys how hard that can be).
2. Zden Stybar (2) - Stybar continues to ride extremely well. He's Albert's age, which means he'll be here for a long time. Unfortunately, that also means he'll have to figure out how to beat him if he really wants his career to take off.
3. Sven Nys (3) - Nys appears to be getting back to the consistency we've come to expect for him. He continues to ride in the underdog role though, something which he's definitely not used to. It should be noted that he's moving up the starting grid—a huge help.
4. Kevin Pauwels (7) - Pauwels is back where he belongs: with the leaders. As I've said before, this is his year to move from the top-10 to a consistent podium finisher. He'll pick-up a big win at some point this year, and like Albert and Stybar he has time on his side.
5. Klaas Vantornout (4) - Vantornout continues to be a podium contender at races both big and small. His consistency continues to pay off, but that big win still seems out of reach.
6. Francis Mourey (na) - Mourey will continue to move on and off the list unless he decides to race a bit more. While no one can argue with two 5th place finishes in two World Cups, it would be nice to see him do some other races as well.
7. Christian Heule (na) - A strong 8th place in Plzen moves Heule back into the rankings. His form seemed to dip a little since he returned to Europe, but I think he'll be a consistent top-10 rider for the rest of this season.
8. Erwin Vervecken (na) - Vervecken remains a top-15 rider at the bigger races, but his ability to ride consistently puts him into 8th this week. While he finished just outside the top-10 in Plzen (12th) he picked up a nice 8th place at Kermiscross and looks like he's back on form.
9. Jonathan Page (na) - I think Page deserves to be back on this list with his consistent top-15 riding. His form is coming around and I expect some top-10's this week. This time, I think Page is here to stay.
10. Katie Compton (5) - I can't kick Compton off this list for not racing. While lesser riders will lose spots due to some time off, someone as dominant as Katie deserves better.

Dropped this week: Bart Aernouts (6), Dieter Vanthourenhout (8), Sven Vanthourenhout (9) and Martin Bina (10).

Once again this weekend riders in North America will have two options for racing. The bulk of the action will be in Kentucky as the USGP continues with two days of racing at The Derby City Cup. The trio will be there as will the Kona boys. Clearly they're the favorites to win and the showdown should be spectacular. New Gloucester, Maine provides the other opportunity for valuable UCI points with two days of the Downeast Cyclocross. The New England fields are always strong and exciting even if somme of the bigger names elsewhere.

By the time you read this it is also likely that Sven Nys has picked-up a victory at a nighttime cross race in the Netherlands. However, Koppenbergcross will provide the biggest fireworks of the weekend come Sunday. The Koppenburg climb is the prominent feature of the tough, technical course. It's is one of Nys' favorite courses and a race he loves to win. It is also part of the GVA Trophy, which Albert currently leads. All in all, it promises to be an exciting weekend with some great racing on both sides of the Atlantic.

Thanks for reading—share your comments below!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Breaking News - We Have Kit!

I'm very pleased to unveil our first run of Pavé kit! Please contact us if you're interested in ordering!

Scott from Slide Sideways handled the design work for us. He's super friendly and easy to work with if you happen to have a need for graphic designer. Tell him we sent you!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday Musette - Lombardy, VDB, Le Tour 2010

1. Remember back in April how desperate Silence-Lotto seemed? Those days are long gone, following the team's impressive run from the Vuelta through Lombardy. Saturday’s race seem nothing more than a formality, once Cadel decided to ride for his Belgian colleague; the efforts of all challengers were effectively rendered moot. As I said earlier, Gilbert now has to be considered the early favorite for success in several of next year’s Spring Classics. The question now: which ones?

If I were Marc Sergeant, I’d look for Gilbert to be at 75-80% for Het Volk, then spend the next month or so honing his form with rides in Tirreno and the usual build-up races. Flanders should--and most likely will--be the goal; his team’s eager to break the Quick Step stronghold in the Flemish classics (but Milan-San Remo can’t be ruled-out should he find himself with an opportunity to take it). A trip to Roubaix seems unlikely—look for Leif Hoste to get one more chance here (especially if he rides well for Gilbert the week before). Instead of Roubaix, Gilbert gets a mini-rest in anticipation of a return for Amstel and the Ardennes, races equally suited to his talents. If he's reunited with an in-form Cadel Evans fresh from the Tour of the Basque Country, look for more wins in a fashion similar to Saturday's--perhaps with the roles reversed.

2. Sticking with the Classics: I’m not sure about you, but the news of Frank Vandenbroucke’s death hit me harder than I was expecting. I’m not sure why the pathetic death of someone so troubled had such an impact, but the news stopped me—literally—dead in my tracks. The image of VDB climbing the snowy Col de la Republique in Stage of 5 of the 1998 Paris-Nice is forever etched in my memory as the most perfect visual expression of all I love about cycling. Living in Belgium at the time, I was able to bear witness as his exploits unfolded live. Like Jan Ullrich in 1997, once sensed the beginning of a new era; the sky seemed the limit for young VDB. But suddenly, as shocking as Oscar Freire’s upset victory in the 1999 World Championships, the winning stopped and the drama began. A quick perusal of his Wikipedia entry tells the tale. Headings such as “Family Problems”, “Drug Problems”, “Impersonation”, “Suicide Attempt”, and “Death” dwarf the story his "Career" by comparison, unfortunately echoing what most think of when they hear his name today.

The Service Course, Red Kite Prayer, and Sam Abt have all contributed articulate responses on VDB’s passing. I’m sure you can find more. What remains to be seen is VDB's legacy. Like Mike Tyson, is VDB doomed to live in our memories as a caricature of himself and his own fragile ego? Or will time heal his reputation's self-inflicted wounds--a reputation that was (for many) damaged way beyond repair?

3. Speaking of Red Kite Prayer, Padraig’s provided a terrific overview of the 2010 route. It looks to be a stunner! And yes, we haven’t overlooked the fact that 13km of pavé are included. It’s a bold, but not unheard of move for the organization. They really seem to be pulling out all the stops to create a more exciting Tour than this year’s. Case in point: no TTT. As Competitive Cyclist rightfully points-out, no TTT works against The Shack, seeming giving Contador—and whatever he team he rides for—a bit of a of cushion before the race has even started. Otherwise, book those tickets now for Stage 3!

That's it for this Monday. Share your thoughts and comments below!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Tour of Lombardy - Live Stream

Here's a USA-friendly live stream of today's Tour of Lombardy. Thanks Cyclingfans!


Friday, October 16, 2009

Tour of Lombardy - Preview - "Five Leaves Left"

The “race of the falling leaves” is named for its calendar placement, but it’s also a race when many of the peloton’s leaves have fallen from the tree as well. With so many riders having ended their seasons, the list of contenders for this weekend’s Tour of Lombardy is relatively short. It’s a shame though; the race takes place in the region around Lake Como—one of Italy’s most beautiful—and features several daunting, yet scenic climbs. (One can only wonder what the race would be like if it had an April start list.) Even though the potential for a dark horse victory exists, let’s take a look at the “Five Leaves Left” to contend for victory in Sunday’s final Monument.

1. Damiano Cunego was relatively quiet following his less-than-stellar showing at Worlds in Mendrisio. He took 14th and 9th last weekend at Emilia and Beghelli though, and it looks like he’s been riding within himself, measuring his efforts to save his last bit of September fitness. A 3-time winner here, Cunego certainly has a team capable of getting him where he needs to be for his fourth. His only obstacle comes in the form of Silence-Lotto’s Gilbert-Evans duo. If he can capitalize on the possible tension between the two (they both stated a desire to win), and use his teammate Ballan to his advantage, look for him to move one win closer to tying Fausto Coppi’s record of 5.

2. Philippe Gilbert put his stamp on the fall with an authoritative win in last Sunday’s Paris-Tours. Then he won the Giro del Piemonte, declaring that he’s in the best form of his life. Frankly, it’s hard to argue with him. On Sunday, Gilbert’s biggest asset might just be his teammate, Cadel Evans (if they decide to work together to exploit their numerical advantage). I give the slight edge to Gilbert in one area over the other favorites: if he arrives in a small group, he’s easily the strongest and most savvy sprinter. Should he come through for Belgium, it will cap an impressive late-season run, making him an early favorite for next year’s Spring Classics. When its all said and done, Gilbert could prove to be the most complete Classics rider since Michele Bartoli.

3. I’m starting to wonder if Cadel Evans’ form from the Vuelta and Worlds is starting to wane. He could be saving himself for Saturday, but I can’t help but think he’s a tad below his teammate Gilbert. Regardless, he’s dangerous enough that should he find himself at the front inside the last 50km, he’ll have to be taken seriously. It might be the best thing for Gilbert, having a teammate dangerous enough to make other teams chase could give him a safe ride into the finale. Or Gilbert’s presence could give Evans carte blanche to win his first race in the rainbow jersey.

4. Robert Gesink won a little vindication by winning the Giro dell’Emilia two weeks ago. It was a terrific win in an underrated semi-classic. But after a season of ups and downs (literally), Gesink would love to end with his first big win. His team is certainly up to the challenge, stocked with riders able to place him well for the attacks to come late in the race. His greatest challenge will be overcoming the difficult descents Lombardy’s known for. Often more strategic than the climbs that precede them, Gesink will need to tackle these “downs” with confidence in order to stay in contact with men like Cunego and Gilbert. When it matters, he might not be taken seriously—something he can hopefully exploit. If he becomes the first winner since Hennie Kuiper won’t Michael Boogerd be jealous?

5. Samuel Sanchez is the last of my top favorites for Lombardy. He was present in the finale of Paris-Tours, but couldn’t deliver the goods when it counted. He too might be losing his form following the Vuelta and Worlds, but he’s certainly capable of one last gasp before calling it a season. He’ll need to let the other favorites’ teams do the lion’s share of the work, following wheels and attacks until the final selection has been made.

Granted, there are several riders capable of spoiling the party—Alessandro Ballan, Ivan Basso, and Filippo Pozzato (if he starts)—come to mind, but they just don’t seem on par with the five already mentioned.

And my pick? While I’ll be rooting for Gilbert, I have a feeling Cunego will do just enough to take his 4th win. If he does, expect to see a pink moon over Italy tomorrow night.

Thanks for reading—please share your thoughts below.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wednesday Cross Report

Here’s the latest installment of the Wednesday Cross Report, courtesy of Erik Mitchell. We hope you enjoy Erik’s insights. Feel free to visit him at his own site, and as always, we welcome your comments below.

In a weekend where we saw no less than 12 UCI races, including the start of the GVA Trophy and Superprestige series, the major story is Sven Nys' return to the top. However, while the European scene returned to normal, the North American scene was blown apart. Split between a three-day affair in Ohio and back-to-back races in Rhode Island, two names have emerged as the definitive heads of state: Jeremy Powers and Tim Johnson. Katie Compton also returned stateside just in time to decimate a powerful women’s field in Ohio. Jonathan Page finally headed over to Europe where he produced less than lack luster results. It's hard to believe that only a few years ago any European result by an American would be earth shattering. How the times have changed.

Sven Nys' return to prominence seems like a long time coming. However, the rollercoaster ride may not be over. Remember the optimism over his 3rd-place finish at Houtlandcross, followed by a disastrous World Cup race? While he's the first to crack Niels Albert, even Nys needs to prove it was more than a one-time deal. Also, Albert still leads the UCI rankings, World Cup rankings and GVA Trophy, all of which Nys won last year. While Nys has expressed his desire for a 10th Superprestige title, he's not one to settle for less than the top spot in any of these other series—unless, perhaps, he can pick-up a World Championship.

The story behind the Nys/Albert battle was the solid performance of Zdenk Stybar. As I've said before Stybar's biggest asset could be the fact that nobody pays attention to him. The usual names were also all floating around this weekend, but at this point in the season consistency is key. The two exceptions are Martin Bina and Sven Vanthourenhout. While both produced impressive results, they could only produce on one day, thus dropping them to the bottom of the rankings. Page's top-20 results were a good sign considering he flew back to Europe on Friday, but after a lot of hype last week on my part, he has dropped-off the list. The biggest addition is Dieter Vanthourenhout who returned to action only a few weeks after a horrific crash that left many wondering if he would ever recover.

Domestically, after the previous weekend’s double-header in New England, the North American scene was spread across the continent. There was a triple-header in Ohio, a double-dip in Providence and a two-day Canadian affair. As previously mentioned, Powers and Johnson took top honors in the US, while Geoff Kabush grabbed a National Championship and UCI win up north. Behind them, there was a mad dash for points, cash and pride. Barry Wicks went to Ohio and landed on the podium every day, while Jamey Driscoll was right behind his teammate in Providence.

As I said before, one of the biggest criteria for the power rankings—especially in the US—is consistency. In Europe there are fewer races, so the best of the best are always on hand. As we saw this weekend though, the North American scene has become very spread-out when it comes to UCI races. While I won’t get into the “too many UCI races” debate right now, it makes it challenging to pick the best of the best. Obviously, priority is given to the riders who were more consistent over three days versus two. However, especially this weekend, if you had a DNF, you didn't make the cut (i.e. Ryan Trebon and Jerome Townsend). Some guys got knocked off the list due to bad luck, while others didn't race and will likely return next week.

All I can say is that it was an exciting and action-packed weekend on both sides of the Atlantic. The European season is truly in full swing and the usual cast of characters is back on top. North American races continue to give opportunities to many unknowns, all of whom are taking full advantage. In both places, the usual big names are back on the podium, but there are plenty of riders quietly racking up UCI points and putting in solid performances. So, without further delay, here’s this week’s ranking:

International Rankings:

1. Niels Albert (1) – Finally, something to talk about! Albert decided to “let” somebody else win. However, he still dominates virtually every series that matters, so he remains Number One. Could this be the last week?
2. Zdenk Stybar (3) – Stybar's consistency moves him up one spot. He has yet to win a major cross race this year, but unlike virtually everyone else on this list, he's consistently at the front. Stybar is still young and may find himself on the top step of the podium sooner than anyone thinks.
3. Sven Nys (na) – Welcome back? Nys still remains a huge question mark; after all he was dropped from the rankings last week. He doesn't need to win; he just needs to find the consistency that has made him the legend he is. Winning always helps though.
4. Klaas Vantornout (4) – While I'm impressed with his consistency, I'm still waiting for Vantornout to “wow” me. Two top-5’s are nothing to hang your head about, especially in this company. But I still feel like something's missing.
5. Katie Compton (5) – I was very tempted to move Compton up a spot this week, but the return of Nys negated that option. However, Compton's utter dominance continued stateside with three-straight victories despite having only one bike in the US, not pre-riding the course on Friday, and crashing twice. Her margins of victory: 3:41, 2:39 and 1:49. Ridiculous.
6. Bart Aernouts (na) – Aernouts is another rider known for a ton of top-10’s, but very few podiums—especially in World Cup races. He did pick up a win this year, but now he needs to prove that he can win when all the big boys are around.
7. Kevin Pauwels (9) – Pauwels bounced-back from a lackluster World Cup result with two top-10 finishes. I still expect a major result from him, but it takes a lot of skill/fitness and a bit of luck to stay with the lead group, especially on the very challenging courses the Europeans are facing this year.
8. Dieter Vanthourenhout (na) – Generally an 8th and 9th-place finish don’t get you into the rankings, but the fact that Dieter's career almost ended a few weeks ago shows what this kid is made of. That said, I expect better results over the next few weeks.
9. Sven Vanthourenhout (10) – Sven moves-up one spot due to a very solid 4th-place finish at the first round of the Superprestige. His DNF at the GVA Trophy makes me wonder if he deserves this spot, but I think he's on par for a big result this weekend at the World Cup race in Plzen.
10. Martin Bina (7) – Bina won a round of the TOI TOI Cup, but elected not to participate in the two bigger European races. Stybar did this a few weeks ago and it worked well for him. Both Bina and Stybar will be under a lot of pressure as the World Cup heads to Plzen this weekend.

Dropped-out This Week: Jonathan Page (2), Francis Mourey (7) and Christian Heule (8).

North American Rankings:

1. Jeremy Powers (6) – Three is always better then two, and Powers managed to put up three consecutive wins to his teammate’s (Tim Johnson) two. Last year, Powers surprised a lot of people with his results. This year, he's eliminated any doubters and looks like a very strong candidate for a National Championship.
2. Tim Johnson (2) – Johnson's return from a separated has been nothing short of remarkable. The bad news: he'll have to leave New England this weekend. The good news: he'll have an opportunity to go toe-to-toe with Powers to try and prove that he's the best.
3. Barry Wicks (na) – Wicks' teammate, Ryan Trebon, didn't make the rankings this week, but left his mark. Trebon's second on Sunday prevented Wicks from picking up three-straight 3rd’s. Wicks has proven he can win in the Mid-Atlantic, and will have the perfect opportunity this weekend.
4. Jamey Driscoll (1) – How much does this suck? Driscoll's two second-places in Providence make him the worst rider on his team. He'll go head-to-head-to-head with Johnson and Powers in Toronto this weekend with bragging rights on the line.
5. Joachim Parbo (5) – I'm still working on a good nickname for Parbo, and with three straight podium finishes in Ohio, I better come up with one quickly. The Danish Destroyer looks destined for a UCI win on North American soil this year.
6. Chris Jones (3) – Jones played his part in Providence to make sure the podium looked the same both days, with two third-place finishes. So much for a roadie with some fitness, Jones looks like he's here to stay.
7. Mark LaLonde (na) – LaLonde continues to ride with the leaders and it's time that I take notice. While some media outlets have called him the revelation of the season so far, I think LaLonde still has some work to do to prove he truly belongs (three top-10’s do help though).
8. Geoff Kabush (na) – The pressure is squarely on Kabush's shoulders this weekend. The newly crowned Canadian National Champion has two rounds of the NACT in his backyard. Can the Canadian hold off the American invasion?
9. Dan Timmerman (8) – Timmerman continues to ride solidly in New England. A pair of top-10’s helped him extend his lead in the NECCS and he will finally travel south (to the Mid-Atlantic) to continue his stellar season.
10. Troy Wells (na) – Wells has always seemed destined for great things. Much like Jesse Anthony, there may have been too much pressure on Wells to produce at the elite level. A breakthrough year seems eminent; perhaps this is the start.

Dropped-out This Week: Andy Jacques-Maynes (4), Jesse Anthony (7), Luke Keough (9) and Davide Frattini (10).

As I mentioned earlier, the upper echelon of the US scene heads to Toronto this weekend for two rounds of the NACT. The Mid-Atlantic features the King and Queen of the MAC series, where the rest of the US field will battle it out. There's a midweek cross race in Belgium that may see some sparks fly, but the big action will be at Round Two of the World Cup in Plzen, Czech Republic. Round Two is only for the men, so the European women will either take a weekend off or head to Switzerland for a race there. Both Toronto and the Mid-Atlantic feature a pair of races for the women, but I have been unable to confirm where Katie Compton is racing. The odds are she'll be in Toronto, but she's visited the Mid-Atlantic before. Regardless, the two main story lines will be the Powers/Johnson/Driscoll trio in Canada and Nys' second-chance to the World Cup--should be exciting!

What about you? Share your comments below!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Monday Musette - Paris-Tours, T-Shirts, and Classic Wheels

1. If you didn’t see it yesterday, you missed quite an exciting finale to Paris-Tours. Here’s a video that pretty much gets it all—from just after Philippe Gilbert’s attack through the final sprint.

Give Gilbert credit for riding aggressively, even with two sprinters on his wheel. Other men would have stopped working, not content to pull two sprinters to a seemingly easy win. Not Gilbert though, he rode the front consistently, nervous that any diminished effort would lead to his group being caught. It was a textbook case of a rider racing to win, not racing not to lose. Also interesting was Van Avermaet closing the gap to Gilbert’s initial move only to get dropped moments later. Could he have been ordered back to the field? (Ed Note: A reader pointed-out that it was Van Avermaet who attacked first--makes much more sense.)

In the finale, when Gilbert launched his sprint (from 3rd wheel—the best option), Boonen hesitated for a split-second, wavering as to whether to stay on Borzic’s wheel or go after Gilbert himself. It cost him dearly, for Gilbert chose the perfect gear for his final effort—big enough that he couldn’t spin it out, yet small enough to keep the others at bay. A truly fantastic win!

As for Boonen, credit him with countering Gilbert’s attack 8km from the line, then holding-on to the finish. It was a reminder that when he wants to be, the big Belgian is one of the finest classics riders in the world. If these men race like this come April, it’s going to be an exciting spring!

Expect to see Borzic make the move to a Pro Tour team soon—perhaps Silence-Lotto? He would go a long way toward filling the sprinter's hole left by McEwen’s departure last year. (Ed Note: Borzic has renewed through 2011 with Vacansoleil--smart move by the management.)

Next on Gilbert’s program: the Tour of Lombardy. Silence-Lotto will have a tough choice, as Lombardy is likely on Cadel Evans’ list as well. Regardless, with two aces up its sleeve, the team’s great October looks set to continue. Can Cunego spoil the Belgian party?

2. And speaking of Saturday's Lombardy look for a preview following Thursday’s final tune-up, the Giro del Piemonte. In Belgium, the road season officially ends with tomorrow’s Nationale Sluitingprijs - Putte-Kapellen, which roughly means: normally the season’s over--go and watch cyclocross directly.

3. Last week I mentioned a care package I received from Mike and Kaiko at Gage & Desoto and cassette.. Take a look at the photos below, then head to their sites and order some for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

The stylish graphics are printed on American Apparel tees—some of the best-fitting, most comfortable shirts on the market. Graphics are classic, simple, and evoke some of the sport’s most iconic images. (Note the cleverly disguised Flemish lion.)

And yes, while mine were indeed a gift, if they hadn't been, I would have gladly ponied-up my allowance for them anyway.

4. Have you visited our friends at Handspun recently? They’ve unveiled their new Belgian Series of wheels—did you notice the spoke nipples? More on these to come.

5. And while we’re on the subject of wheels for the classics, what are your thoughts on the good folks at Competitive Cyclist offering a handbuilt set of Ambrosio Nemesis tubular wheels—practically right out of Quick Step’s truck—for $1275? In my opinion, you can't really put a price on true quality--espcially when it involves handbuilding wheels with imported rims and gluing tubulars. (Heck, the description alone has to be worth something.) If you've been lucky enough to buy a set, I'll gladly make it worth your while to share your experience with us.

6. And finally, pick-up the latest copy of Readymade for an article on the Portland handbuilt bicycle scene by Embrocation's Jeremy Dunn. As always, Jeremy has a terrific way of telling a story through photos and words.

That's it for today--what's on your mind? Share your comments below.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Paris-Tours Live Stream

Here's a link for a live stream of today's Paris-Tours.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Paris-Tours Preview

It’s mid-October. Leaves are turning, cyclocross is in full swing, and Lance Armstrong's already tweeting about the beer he's drinking. It must be time for France’s fall monument: Paris-Tours. Traditionally known as a sprinter’s classic, Paris-Tours has been known to see its fair share of breakaway winners. In fact, seven of the last ten victors have done so via an escape .

This year’s start list is packed with riders capable of following both the traditional and the contemporary scripts—it will be up to their teams to decide how things ultimately play-out.

So let’s group the most relevant teams according to what could be considered their strategies heading into Sunday’s event. We'll start with the teams “Hoping for a Sprint”:

Garmin –Slipstream is the first team that comes to mind when discussing teams working for a field sprint. Tyler Farrar won two stages and the overall at the Circuit Franco-Belge, and he’s certainly capable of winning his second classic of the year. He’ll have some tough competition from the other sprinters' teams, but if his colleagues can hold things together, he just might deliver the goods. One final note: my list has Will Frischkorn taking the line for what could be his last professional race in the Europe. Does a final suicide breakaway--a la Jacky Durand--beckon? I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: stranger things have happened.

Along with Garmin, Columbia-HTC—with Andre Greipel—will be the team everyone looks to on Sunday to control the field. They have a deeper team than Garmin with both Boassen Hagen and Tony Martin able to play the role of “dangerous breakaway rider”. If one of these two gets in a move late-race, look for Garmin to assume the pressure to chase, possibly giving Greipel a first class ticket to the line. Furthermore, I still sense some bad blood between Boassen Hagen and Columbia's management; I doubt they’ll work too hard for the young Norwegian--especially at the expense of Greipel.

On paper, Quick Step’s a sprinter's team for Sunday. With Tom Boonen one must imagine the team will be working to deliver him to the line. To me though, the real favorite from Lefevre’s boys comes in the shape of Allan Davis. Davis has been knocking on the door of a big win all season—he just might come through here. If I were driving the car and I thought Boonen’s ego could handle it, I’d get him to lead-out Davis for the win, not vice versa. Otherwise, Sylvain Chavanel will be there to cover dangerous attacks—possibly enabling him to get the win himself. Notice the absence of Stijn Devolder--again--it gets more and conspicuous with each race.

And finally, Milram’s on the line, hoping Gerald Ciolek can score the big win he and the squad have been craving all season. It would be a fitting response to the UCI’s decision to grant the team only a 1-year renewal at the Pro Tour level. If Ciolek takes it, few will be surprised; he's got talent to spare, but a team yet to prove itself able to help him exploit it.

Now let's turn our gaze to those squads “Gunning for a Breakaway”.

Silence-Lotto comes to Paris-Tours brimming with confidence. Cadel Evans just won Worlds, then promptly helped Philippe Gilbert take a well-fought win in the Coppa Sabatini. If Gilbert gets to the line in any sort of selection, look for him to take his team’s second major win in a fortnight. What impressed me most about his Sabatini victory was the fact that he beat 23 other riders to get it—practically a field sprint! Granted, the competition Sunday will be much more fierce, but Gilbert’s clearly in the midst of the best form he’s had in years. And let’s not forget Greg Van Avermaet. He’s riding well and could be ready to step-in should Gilbert’s day not go as planned, particularly in the event of a sprint.

Katusha also comes to the race looking to emerge victorious due to the efforts of its escape artists. Filippo Pozzato’s their clear leader with men such as Mikhail Ignatiev and Sergei Ivanov able to take advantage of opportunities if they arise. Pozzato won the Memorial Cimurri after a strong (maybe too strong?) ride in Mendrisio, but his season’s missed the big win he looked certain to take when it began. Paris-Tours would be a terrific way to end on a high note. And don’t forget, Danilo Napolitano can hold his own in a sprint; he deserves mention should things finish gruppo compatto in Tours.

Another Italian, Lampre's Alessandro Ballan, comes to Paris-Tours also hoping to make-up for a season that fell short of expectations. He has the team and the form to take a win in his second-favorite race that begins in "Paris". If he emerges victorious here, and Damiano Cunego can do his part in Lombardy next week, it will mean a terrific winter for Saronni and his boys.

Rabobank’s another team with several aces up their sleeves: Juan Antonio Flecha, Oscar Freire, and Nick Nuyens to name a few. Yes, Freire’s a sprinter, but I think he and his team will be looking to break things apart, with Flecha and Nuyens the primary protagonists and King Oscar ready pounce from a small to mid-size group. A win Sunday would mark a successful fall for a team noticeably absent from the one-day scene this year. Who would have thought the oranje would win the Giro and Ventoux without winning a classic?

And finally, we have Saxo Bank, a team with many riders able to win from a breakway. With Arvesen, Bak, Breschel, Kroon, Ljungqvist, and O’Grady, this team has to like it’s chances. Attack, attack, and attack some more will the name of the game for Riis’ men, while Juan José Haedo sits-in and awaits a possible field sprint. If forced to pick one, I'd say Arvesen’s the best bet to end the season with a win—perhaps vindication for his early exit from the Tour.

You want Wild Cards?

Vacansoleil brings Borut Borzic hoping he can score a big win in an ASO race. With so many deeper teams, he’ll face long odds. But he did beat several of the other favorites in the Vuelta’s first week, and could certainly repeat the feat here. If he can, it will go a long way toward helping the team earn an invitation to next year’s Tour. As for his teammates, Johnny Hoogerland and Bjorn Leukemans will try their hands in late-race breakaways, while at least one of the team’s other riders will likely be on the front when live coverage begins. Aart Vierhouten anyone?

And speaking of wild cards, we have to mention the French. Agritubel will be hoping for a sprint in which Romain Feillu might just be able to squeak through and surprise the rest. The same can be said for Besson Chaussures and Jimmy Casper. In both cases, a win at Paris-Tours would be a tremendous finalé to their continental seasons—and on home turf, no less.

Cofidis puts its chances on the back of the Belorussian, Alexandre Usov, a sprinter who seems to coming into form at just the right time. Francaise des Jeux will be pinning its hopes on the sprinters Sébastien Chavanel and Yauheni Hutarovich, with former winner Frédéric Guesdon and Anthony Geslin hoping for breakaway success. Like Agritubel and Besson Chaussures, a win Sunday for either of these teams would drive the French crazy.

Overall, note that the strongest teams come to the race with several options—all but resisting my attempt to categorize them. In the end, the winner will most likely come from a team with enough depth and talent to keep the rest guessing when decisions need to be made.

Therefore, Columbia-HTC has to be considered the top overall favorite to take the win. Garmin’s plan is too transparent: keep things together for Farrar; as is Silence-Lotto’s: make the race as difficult as possible to set-up Gilbert. In the end, it could be a star from a less-favored squad—Pozatto, Flecha, Arvesen—that takes the title by virtue of being overlooked.

For my money, I’m going with Greipel to cap another fine season with the win Sunday. Since Zabel’s win in 2003, Paris-Tours has alternated having a sprint winner with a breakaway winner. Gilbert got his victory last year following a last gasp effort to stay clear of the peloton--so this year a sprinter shall reign supreme. Here’s my Top-5:

1. Andre Greipel
2. Tyler Farrar
3. Oscar Freire
4. Alexandre Usov
5. Romain Feillu

And what about you? Who are your picks?

Share your comments below--and enjoy the race!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Midweek 'Cross Report

Here's the latest of Erik's Midweek Cross Report. You can read last week's column here.

After several weeks of racing, this past weekend was supposed to be the first where we would get some answers as to who really will be battling for wins this season. However, it ended up leaving us with more questions than answers, and me scratching my head. With the European season in full swing, things will become clearer this weekend as the Superprestige and GVA Trophy series begin. Stateside, things will again splinter as riders crisscross the country in pursuit of UCI points.

Treviso, Italy hosted the first round of the World Cup on Sunday. Niels Albert dominated the race and continued to show that he's capable of riding away from everyone early and riding his own pace to victory. Sven Nys had his self-proclaimed worst ride in five years. Nys abruptly promised a stellar ride during the first round of the Superprestige race this weekend, where he will begin his campaign for a 10th overall title. Obviously my prediction last week (that he would take the win) was wrong, but more importantly, is Nys' domination over? Only time will tell.
Zdenk Stybar and Klass Vantornout rounded-out the top three spots with very solid rides. Stybar's result was not surprising and it appears that Vantornout picked-it-up a notch and is capable of holding pace with the leaders. Sven Vanthourenhout and Erwin Vervecken failed to make the podium, finishing 16th and 17th respectively. Kevin Pauwels didn't come close to the lead group, but did hang-on for a respectable 15th. Christian Heule continued his strong start to the season by finishing 10th--perhaps his time in the US will continue to pay off.

Much like Albert, Katie Compton decimated the competition in the women's race. She is clearly rid of the traveling issues that plagued her last year. The absence of Hanka Kupfernagel (and lack of information of her whereabouts) marks the only footnote on Compton's win. Hopefully Kupfernagel will re-appear soon and we can see what kind of shape the World Champion is in.
Across the pond, the top US crossers gathered in Gloucester, Massachusetts for two rounds of the NACT and NECCS. Jonathan Page dominated Day 1 and looked poised for the win on Day 2 before losing ground to Tim Johnson after “the crash”. Chris Jones rode well, as did Andy Jacques-Maynes and Jesse Anthony, with all of them placing in the top-10 both days. The rest of the usual suspects made it a great race, however the Kona boys were noticeably absent, as they stayed home and raced locally. It will be a few weeks before everyone gets back together, which means the rankings will continue to jump around a bit.

Obviously it was a very exciting weekend of racing and a lot of questions were answered. Several of my predictions were way off though, so it was a bit of a rough weekend for me. The two big stories are Page and Nys, both of whom will have to make a statement this weekend. Clearly all the pressure is on Nys, but Page needs to ride well as he transitions to European races. And hopefully the weekend will be much kinder to me and my predictions as well. Here are this week's rankings:

North American:
1. Jamey Driscoll (2) – Driscoll seems to be living-up to the reputation he created for himself last year at Nationals. His second and fourth place finishes prove that he is one of the most consistent riders of the year, no matter how big the stage.
2. Tim Johnson (na) – If you felt the earth shake this weekend it was the return of Johnson in front of a “hometown” crowd. After taking some time off due to a separated shoulder at Star Crossed, Johnson pulled off a fourth place on Saturday and a victory on Sunday. Needless to say, he's back.
3. Chris Jones (5) – Jones picked up a third in the slop on Day 1 and a sixth under dryer conditions on Day 2. Clearly he doesn't plan on fading anytime soon and remains an early season surprise.
4. Andy Jacques-Maynes (na) – After what appears to be a misstep last weekend, Andy is back with two fifth places (talk about consistent). Next weekend will be a real test.
5. Joachim Parbo (na) – The Danish National Champ continues to spend the bulk of his season stateside. He had a rocky first few weeks, but is clearly coming-in to form. He's committed to another full season of US racing and should stay in the rankings for the next few months.
6. Jeremy Powers (1) – After a strong 3rd-place on Saturday, Powers missed the podium on Sunday. He probably burned a few bullets trying to crack Page (as part of the trio) and will have his chance at redemption as the team will be split-up this weekend.
7. Jesse Anthony (10) – Anthony has finally justified me keeping him in the rankings with two top-10 finishes in Gloucester. As with several other riders on this list, hopefully his results will become more consistent and we'll see the Anthony of old.
8. Dan Timmerman (4) - After a mid-pack finish on Saturday, the breakout NECCS leader finished a respectable seventh on Sunday. Timmerman appears to be here to stay; he'll have another crack at the big boys in a few weeks.
9. Luke Keough (9) – The revelation of the early season, this youngster still has a lot to learn. His remarkable 8th-place effort on Day 1 was hindered by his mid-pack performance on Day 2. In order to compete with the best, Keough has to learn how to recover and put in back-to-back hard races.
10. Davide Frattini (na) – After two dominating wins during the first weekend of cross in the US, Frattini failed to produce a result. His back-to-back 12th-places show that he's still around, but for how long?
Dropped from the ranks: Ryan Trebon (3), Geoff Kabush (6) and Barry Wicks (7).

1. Niels Albert (1) – No surprise here. Albert won by nearly a minute and made it look effortless. At this rate he's going to ride by himself the rest of this year—and won't mind it one bit.
2. Jonathan Page (4) – If you think Albert's performance was impressive, try this one on for size: Page won on Saturday by nearly two minutes! That's just silly. He finally heads to Europe this week and appears to be on pace for a top-5 performance.
3. Zdenk Stybar (9) – Clearly I dropped Stybar too far down the list last week due to his desire to race at home against a less powerful field. Stybar's the only man who seems capable of toppling Albert, but I'm not holding my breath—enjoy 2nd-place!
4. Klass Vantornout (8) – Klass took a big step forward last weekend, landing him on the podium in third. I still have reservations about his ability to win, but he's moving in the right direction.
5. Katie Compton (10) – Is Katie Compton the Niels Albert of women’s racing, or is Niels Albert the Katie Compton of men’s racing? Better yet, is Katie Compton the next Sven Nys? It's a long season, and a lot of pressure, but she seems more than capable of crushing the competition at will.
6. Francis Mourey (na) – Mourey's a strong road rider who found his way into the top-10 at most of the World Cups last year. He rides a condensed, but tough cyclocross schedule. 5th at a World Cup is always a good start to the season.
7. Martin Bina (na) – Bina rode very well last year at the smaller European cross races, but his World Cup results were mediocre at best. Only time will tell if his 4th-place finish was a fluke.
8. Christian Heule (7) – Heule had strong start to the season in the US and it seems to be carrying over to Europe. I'm very curious to see his results this weekend since he won't have to travel half way around the world to race.
9. Kevin Pauwels (9) – There are two important things to note as we get to the bottom of the rankings. First, the top 20 riders were separated by less then two-minutes this weekend. Second, several spots were taken-up by roadies whom we'll never hear from again, most notably Steve Chainel and Enrico Franzoi. Still, I expected a better result from Pauwels.
10. Sven Vanthourenhout (2) – Sven tumbled down the rankings this week due to a lackluster Treviso result. The only good thing: he finished just ahead of Vervecken, which kept him in and Vervecken out.
Dropped from the ranks: Sven Nys (6) and Erwin Vervecken (3).

After a relatively simple weekend this past week (only three UCI races), we head back to the madness. There are 12 UCI races this week, including the first rounds of the GVA Trophy and Superprestige series. Stateside there's the three-day Cincinnati UCI Cyclocross Festival and two days of racing in Providence, RI. Canada will crown new National Champions and host a UCI C2 race. Britain, Slovakia and the Czech Republic will also play host to UCI C2 races. As you can tell, this weekend promises to be a doozy.

That's it for today--share your comments below! And be sure to visit Erik at his blog for more in-depth reporting on all things cross.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Monday Musette - Interbike, Fall Monuments, Posting, and Good Design

We're starting to see more and more coverage from Interbike:

IF's Grasstrack bike is a thing of beauty--fixed, extra clearance, and steel. I want one.

The Boulder Report published a report on the training-with-power trend--some great reading. Remember when HRM's were all the rage? How time flies!

Padraig posted an insightful piece on Interbike at Red Kite Prayer. It's beginning sound like Interbike just isn't what it used to be. Does the model need to change? I remember the East Coast version in Philadelphia; it's hard to believe that this year's Vegas event was no better than the last stop in Philly. But, as the market changes, so must the industry; it will be interesting to see how Interbike evolves over the next few years.

In racing news:

Tyler Farrar took the overall and several other classifications in the Circuit Franco-Belge. Can the young American take Paris-Tours? He has to be considered one of--if not the--top-favorite.

Pippo Pozatto took the Memorial Cimurri Saturday. Look for him to be a major protagonist in Paris-Tours as well.

This week sees more build-up for the fall monuments with Paris-Bourges and the Coppa Sabatini on Thursday. It will be interesting to see who shows the cards for Sunday. And when will we see Mr. Evans and his new jersey?

Niels Albert won the first cyclocross World Cup race in Treviso, but the bigger story was Sven Nijs abandoning mid-race. Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of an era?

Other food for thought:

Sprinting for Signs posted a great video from the 1981 Paris-Roubaix a while ago that I think is worth revisiting. Just count the number of wins in that lead group! Is it spring yet?

And speaking of posting, Frank Vandenbroucke announced he will be posting his blood values online. Thank goodness! I was wondering how we were to explain his impressive string of results as of late! This might be the first case of a rider posting blood values just to prove how bad he is. I'm sure scores of Danish scientists are lining-up to get a look!

And finally, if you haven't done so yet, head over to cassette. and Gage and Desoto for some really nice off-the-bike wear. They've sent me some treats which I'll be sharing with you soon. All I'll tell you for now is that they involve waffles and the Cannibal--so they're pretty much awesome.

Enjoy your week! And feel free to share your comments below.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Weekend Preview

Let’s take a quick look at this weekend’s program, shall we?

The Circuit Franco-Belge holds a special meaning for me as it was my last race with Mercury in 2001. The event kicked-off yesterday with Tyler Farrar taking the win from Boonen and Napolitano. He repeated himself today, winning in Poperinge over Usov and Casper. (Where was all this speed during the Vuelta?)

The field in the Franco-Belge is always a bit of a crapshoot. This year, several teams have brought some of their A-list riders—Boonen, Farrar, Flecha, Nuyens, Ivanov, and Gilbert, Van Avermaet all took the start. But it remains to be seen just how seriously they will take it. For some--like the men I just mentioned--this 4-day stage race along the western Franco-Belgian border is their final serious preparation. For the rest—continental teams and stagiaires especially—this is one final shot to be recognized or earn a contract for 2010.

I’m also interested to see Stijn Devolder was left-off the list. It goes to show that my hunch a few weeks ago might have some validity. Don't be surprised to see him as the latest--and perhaps final--big Radio Shack signing this fall.

Moving on, Saturday and Sunday see three 1.1 races in Germany, France, and Italy. The Münsterland Giro has returning champion Andre Greipel taking the line backed by a strong squad including Edvald Boassen Hagen and Tony Martin. Milram will be pinning its hopes on Gerald Ciolek, while Saxo will most likely back the legs of Matthew Goss. Other names to watch include Sebastien Lang, Kenny Dehaes, Philip Deignan, and Kenny Van Hummel.

The Tour de Vendée used to be run in April; now it occupies a late-fall slot, no doubt hoping to attract one or two riders in advance of Paris-Tours. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case as most of the bigger teams went elsewhere or left their riders at home. Look for another battle of the Frenchmen as teams like Cofidis and BBox try to show the world that their Pro Tour exclusions were a mistake. (Yeah, because winning the Tour de Vendée will totally prove the UCI wrong.)

Finally, the Italian season trudges-on with the Memorial Cimurri. Alessandro Ballan and Filippo Pozatto are the biggest names here—Basso was supposed to start, but was replaced at the last minute. Maybe Alessandro Petacchi will try and put his late-season money where his mouth is?

Moving from road to mud, the Cyclocross World Cup begins this weekend in Treviso, Italy. Whenever I think of cyclocross in Italy I can’t help but think of the sport’s own Keebler elf, Daniele Pontoni. Remember him? He made frosted tips and cocaine all de rigeur on the European cyclocross circuit in the late-1990’s.

While Erik, Pavé’s new cross columnist, thinks Sven Nijs will begin to re-assert his dominance this weekend, I think Niels Albert still has the form to win. Nijs will take 2nd and Stybar will fill-out the podium.

And you? Any thoughts on the weekend? How about Gloucester? Who are your picks for the first big cross races of the year?

Share your comments below.

And if you haven’t had a chance to yet, be sure to check-out my latest column at Embrocation Cycling Journal.

Have a great weekend!