Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Giro d'Italia - Entering the Final Crucial Weekend

After a year without an entry, I was compelled to put some thoughts about the Giro into writing.

Today's stage 17 had about 15,000' of climbing.  Stage 19 has almost 17,000' and then stage 20 has almost 20,000'.  Follow those with the 30km flat TT in Milan and you can see why everyone said this final week was going to be the most important.  There are realistically only four guys left in the race who can win:  JoaquiRodriguez (note spelling of first name with the letter "m"), Ryder Hesjedal, Ivan Basso and Michele Scarponi.  From what I saw today, Ryder Hesjedal was the big winner in stage 17.  He's the best against the clock of the contenders, and he finished another very challenging day in a very enviable position:  only 30" from the overall lead, and not having to defend the Pink jersey.  Rodriguez has said that he thinks Ryder will put 2' into him in the final TT, Basso is thinking he will loose 1' and Scarponi was on the ropes today and is similar in ability to Basso in a TT, generally.  Obviously, there are no guarantees that Ryder would out-perform the others in the TT with the gaps mentioned here, but it looks good for him at this point.  But it's far from over, when you look back at the history books, neither Rodriguez nor Hesjedal have ever been this good this late in a grand tour, so this is uncharted water for them.  Basso knows what it takes as he has two Giro titles (2006, 2010), and Scarponi is also more accomplished over the three-week timeframe in being the defending champion.  What does this all tell me?  This race is still open, but only to these four guys.

Let's look further into stage 17.  Basso looked the strongest to me.  He set the bulk of the pace on the Passo Giau once he had used up his team.  Though it was a brutal day in the saddle, the fact that it wasn't a summit finish turned it into a bit of a stalemate up the final climb, so it was more of a race of attrition - eliminating some who were previously still in the hunt for the GC like Roman Kreuziger and outsiders like his teammate Paolo Tiralongo.  Michele Scarponi was in big trouble, dropped and cramping, but he retooled somehow and chased back on, and managed not to loose any time.  To see Ivan Basso's strength in the sprint, that was also telling for a guy who's sprint isn't legendary.  

I have also spoken with Joaquim's DS, Valerio Piva, since the finish of stage 17.  He told me that though stage 20 to the Stelvio via the Mortirolo (22% max gradient) is very famous and will be spectacular he actually thinks that stage 19 is harder and will be more selective.  Think about that, more selective than the a stage with 20,000' of climbing, five categorized climbs, including one with a 22% max gradient, followed by a summit finish at 9,000' - the highest ever for a Grand Tour.  Piva actually believes that stage 19 is one of the hardest stages of the Giro in years, and he was there last year when the stages were so challenging that the director of the Giro was relieved of his position after the race.  So what's all the fuss over stage 19 about?  All the big climbs come in succession in the last half of the race, and the Pampeago (which they do 2x), is consistently over 11% and has a 16% pitch just 1.4km from the finish.  So, it's the classic juxtaposition, length of grade verses severity of grade, and we will find out in the next couple days what creates greater separation.

Here are my predictions:
Stage 19 is going to be a free-for-all.  Rodriguez knows he needs more time for the stage 21 TT in Milan.  He's got the punch to put the other GC men into serious trouble on steep climbs, and there is an actual summit finish for stage 19 on the Alpe di Pampeago so there's no time to catch back up on the run-in to the finish.  It's not a super long climb at 7.7km/4.8mi, and Rodriguez is the best in the world at climbs like that when he's on.  Rodriguez will go on the rampage and leave the others scrambling to limit their losses.  If Rodriguez gains over 1' 30" on Hesjedal, he's in the driver's seat to win the Giro.  But the next day, will he crack after such a huge effort?  On long climbs in a Grand Tour he's always had at least one bad day, and the finish on the Stelvio is plenty long at 22.4km/13.9mi.  So he won't be out of the woods until the Stelvio is over.  

Ultimately, there is nobody who has yet shown that they will be the winner of the overall in Milan, and stages 19 and 20 can show the advantage swing one way and then the other before the TT settles the score.

Currently Hesjedal has won the battle, but will he win the war?

It's going to be a great weekend.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Chris Horner Interview re: US Pro Nationals, Vuelta, Lombardia

In 2010, Chris has had his best season ever with 10th overall and best American at the Tour de France, winning the Tour of the Basque Country, 4th overall at the Amgen Tour of CA, and three top 10 placings in the spring classics - including 7th at La Flèche Wallonne and 8th at Lìege-Bastogne-Lìege (a race he told me earlier this year was one of the most beautiful races in the world).

While he was traveling to Sacramento to participate in a cycling festival ride @clarkscornerca, I got the chance to talk with Chris about the upcoming National Road Championships in Greenville, SC on Sunday, Sept 19, RadioShack not being invited to the Tour of Spain, and his prospects for participation in the Giro di Lombardia on Oct 16 - the last Monument of the road cycling season.

I apologize for the audio quality - I had some very bad feedback when I asked Chris questions, so I had to re-record the questions after the fact and drop them into the audio - so you might notice that in the recording.

Photos courtesy of Ebers Garcia

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Horner Storms the Time Trial and Wins the Vuelta a Pais Vasco! & Post-Victory Interview

Chris Horner (RadioShack) won his first European stage race ever today, beating Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) by 8 seconds in the Time Trial, Stage 6. Going into today's stage, Horner was down by 1 second on GC to Valverde, but when I spoke with him after Stage 5 and asked him how he planned to get time on the leader, he told me "I'll just have to beat Valverde in the Time Trial." He had a phenomenal ride.

After his win, I interviewed him for Universal Sports, available here following the commercial (if you're on a Mac, use Firefox as your browser, not Safari):

The same 7-minute-long interview is also available at the video link below, done with Horner when he's in the car with his Director Sportif, two-time Olympic gold medalist Viatcheslav Ekimov (aka Eki), after the race. It's worth a listen - he talks about his strategy, race preparation for the TT earlier that morning, what Eki was telling him from the car, and what he was thinking when he crossed the line. Horner came to the Basque country first in 1997-98, and has wanted a win for twelve long years. Congrats, Redneck! You made us all proud today as the first American ever to win this race. Enjoy your chapelas!

Horner Interview after Stage 4, Tour of the Basque Country

I interviewed Horner for our Universal Sports TV broadcast after Stage 4, and here are his thoughts as he looks ahead to the final two days.

This video is all about the audio - please ignore the image quality. Photo is of the final podium after Stage 6.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Horner and Valverde on the Hunt at Vuelta a Pais Vasco, 2010, and Horner Interview Stage 1

Thursday, April 8, 2010--The 50th edition of the Vuelta de Pais Vasco is currently underway in Spain, and today’s mountainous Stage 4 confirmed that Chris Horner of Radioshack is feeling good. On the final Category 1 climb, after Robert Gesink (Rabobank) wound up the pace and whittled down the numbers in the leading group, Horner countered with a blistering move of his own. Down only 1" second on GC behind Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne), he threw himself into the virtual race lead as he road away from the main contenders, with about a mile to go the top of the climb, and only another mile from there to the finish line.

Hormer’s solo attempt didn’t last, although he put about 15 seconds into the leaders. First he was joined by Sammy Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), and they worked together as a duo over the summit and on the descent. Close on their heels were Valverde and Robert Gesink (Rabobank) – and as these two pairs neared the finish, Valverde lit it up to close the gap to Horner and Sanchez in order to protect his preeminent position as overall race leader at the end of the day. Sanchez (about 1’40” down after losing serious time on Stage 1) countered for the stage win, super stoked as he crossed the finish line and letting out an almost primordial roar as if he were lunging at a woolly mammoth (featured photo)! The Lion of Flanders has nothing on Sanchez!

Valverde and Horner crossed the line together two seconds behind Sanchez. Although Valverde’s comeback took some serious effort, I was sad to see Horner not stay away for a major win in this European stage race he has enjoyed so often over the years since his first attempt in the late 90's.

A few days ago, at the start of the Tour de Basque, Horner spent a fair amount of time at and off the front of the peloton. Clearly he’s been feeling good. I called him up after that stage to interview him for NBC Universal Sports, which is covering the race daily on US TV in the major urban areas that carry their station. We tried to fit the interview into the broadcast during Stage 2, but were not able to, so I’m posting it here, with thanks out to Horner and to Universal Sports. To watch videos from the broadcasts (less optimal on a Mac with Safari, by the way, and better on Mozilla Firefox), go to:

To contextualize his comments about the final sprint between Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Valverde, if you didn’t see Universal Sports' TV coverage, here’s what happened. As the sprint came to the line, Freire’s path took a straight line from slightly right of center of the road diagonally toward the left side. Because Valverde was on his left, as Freire neared the left side of the road, Valverde was forced up against the barriers, with still a few meters left to go in the sprint. He raised his hand in protest, just before Freire crossed the finish line in first place with Valverde on his wheel. The officials relegated Freire to second place and gave Valverde the win.

Here are Horner’s thoughts on Stage 1 and that sprint: (btw, I had trouble with audio file upload of the 5-minute Horner interview after Stage 1, below. The video here is all about audio - please ignore the image quality).

FYI, I always thought the rule was that a rider couldn’t change his line during the sprint, and because Freire’s line was consistently straight – but just on a diagonal path – it seemed open for debate whether he violated the rule. Further thought offered a couple of options: as he got to the left side of the road in front of the finish line, in fact his line had to change from diagonal to straight in order to cross the line, or else he also would’ve hit the barriers. Also, the current UCI rule (2.3.036) has changed its wording slightly, modifying it in 2005 to now read: “Riders shall be strictly forbidden to deviate from the lane they selected when launching into the sprint and, in so doing, endangering others.” I don’t have the original wording before the modification, but by using the word “lane” rather than “line,” it seems to reference parallel paths straight down the road, like car lanes or lanes on a track. Similarly, by calling out “endangering others,” it leaves room for an official’s discretion about what that means in each particular case.

Ironically, in the sprint the very next day at the Stage 2 finish line, Valverde and Freire went at it again, this time starting from the far left side of the road with Valverde in the lead and Freire on his right but slightly behind. Valverde’s line moved diagonally toward the right, then straight, then diagonally right again, then straight, then diagonally right again as he crossed the finish line, with Freire still on his right and therefore pushed up against the barriers. The officials didn’t say a thing, maybe because Freire chose not to raise his hand in protest. So despite similar tactics and positioning during two back-to-back sprints for Stage 1 and Stage 2, Valverde came out with two wins and Freire with two second-places, even though Freire crossed the line first on day 1.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Team RadioShack - First Training Camp for this Powerhouse Team

With cycling becoming more and more of a global sport, Team RadioShack's camp in Tucson, AZ, in early December is likely the only time that the entire team will be on U.S. soil for the 2010 racing season. I was invited to attend the media day, which brought journalists from around the U.S. and the world, because Lance was giving a press conference and introducing his new team.

Training camps require a ton of logistical planning: setting up interviews, finalizing team equipment adjustments, arranging travel for riders from 16 different nations, meeting sponsors' needs, setting rider schedules for the upcoming season, scouting appropriate training routes, dealing with the constant public curiosity of the team, making a comfortable environment for the riders to start to get to know each other, etc. The camp actually served more as a team-building, meet and greet exercise than it did as a place for the riders to log long hours in the saddle. Though seven of the riders will kick-off their racing season at the Tour Down Under in Australia from January 17 - 24, most of them still have a bit more time to gradually build their fitness for the racing season which lies ahead.

Here's a picture of Chris Horner and me with Levi in the Astana kit right behind and between us.

I had the opportunity to join the team on one of its training rides - a short and easy ride of just over two hours. One highlight from the ride was spending a considerable amount of time chatting with Chris Horner. It's always fun to see Chris, and he's a rider who has interesting insights into the world of the professional peloton. Chris had an unusual season in 2009 - he's had great fitness but also numerous injuries: crashing out of the Tour of CA with a knee injury, crashing out of the Tour of the Basque Country with a broken clavicle, crashing out of the Tour of Italy with a hairline fracture in his leg and rounding out the season with a broken hand in the fourth day of the Tour of Spain. The amazing thing about Chris is he shrugs it all off and keeps looking forward. He's really an eternally positive guy, who loves to race his bike and deals with all of the ups and downs along the way with little complaining - even when his Astana team from this season (2009) got months behind paying salaries. He controls the things he can (like coming to Team RadioShack to move to a more stable team and work environment), and makes the best of the things he can't - like keeping a positive attitude when he's injured. He's also quite a character, and one can't help but laugh when hanging out with Chris.

I also got the chance to catch up with Lance Armstrong on the bike as well that day. It was great to ride with him again, after being teammates way back in 1991 on the Subaru Montgomery team. One thing about Lance that most are aware of is how exceptionally busy he is. But most of you probably don't know that he constantly emails and texts while on his bike. Spending ten minutes riding shoulder-to-shoulder with him was a real treat. I realized at one point when we were bumping elbows and shoulders, gesturing, etc., that I was right back in that place of some 18 years ago - two guys out doing what they love - riding their bikes - and talking about many things cycling related. At one point, I realized how rare it is to get to rub elbows with him - literally - because of the inherent risks of doing so.

We led the RadioShack train back into town, and as we approached the resort, the ride ended. With that, we said goodbye and he slipped through a side door to avoid the people who invariably are waiting for him to try to get a picture, an autograph, to say hi or just get a chance to see the man who is trying to beat the odds, and win his eighth Tour de France in 2010. By the way, when I asked Lance if he could "put it together" (referring to winning the Tour in 2010), he told me he wouldn't be out here if he didn't think he could.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tour of Spain Stage 12 Winner Ryder Hesjedal on Electronic Shifting

Ryder has proven to be a valuable asset to the Garmin - Transitions team. He spent the first 11 days of the 21 day Vuelta a Espana largely helping to control the race to set up the team's sprinter, Tyler Farrar, for his first taste of a Grand Tour stage victory. In stage 10, Ryder put himself into the winning four rider break but ultimately had to settle for second after being out-sprinted by Australian breakaway specialist Simon Gerrans of the startup Cervelo Test Team.

In stage 11, everything clicked and Tyler Farrar picked up his first, and in fact his team's first, road stage win of a Grand Tour (they had previously won a team time trial at the 2008 Giro d'Italia).

After a rest day, stage 12 again saw Ryder in the nearly day-long breakaway group. Today was going to end differently, however, as the finish was atop the massive climb up the Velefique. Ryder had to contest the sprint with David Garcia - the only other man who survived from the break all the way to the finish to contest the win, and he chocked up his first Grand Tour stage win! Amazingly, for the former mountain bike racer now in his sixth Grand Tour appearance, it was his FIRST road victory on European soil. After he won he said it was a "lifetime worth of work" to get this stage victory on the Velefique. Congrats, Ryder!

I had a chance to ride with Ryder doing some winter training at his home away from home in Maui, in late November. He was on the exact bike he used to finish out his season in Europe, including his Vuelta stage win. I asked him a little bit about his electronic Dura Ace shifting:

If you experience trouble playing the video after it downloads, try grabbing the progress icon in the progress bar and moving it to get things started.