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Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood: 2007 domestic racing news, Vegas rumors

Not all the news coming out of Las Vegas at last week’s Interbike trade show was product related. Some North American teams and riders used the occasion to announce their plans for the 2007 season — a season that looks to see some big changes. Some had more immediate objectives, such as Fred Rodriguez’s announcement that he plans to race the final four events of the upcoming Crank Brothers U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclo-cross. And even when news wasn’t officially released, trying to quell a rumor on the Sands Convention Center showroom is about as likely as trying to find a ray of sunlight in a

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By Neal Rogers

Revamped schedule or not, GH is still the king of the American road... for now.

Revamped schedule or not, GH is still the king of the American road… for now.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Not all the news coming out of Las Vegas at last week’s Interbike trade show was product related. Some North American teams and riders used the occasion to announce their plans for the 2007 season — a season that looks to see some big changes. Some had more immediate objectives, such as Fred Rodriguez’s announcement that he plans to race the final four events of the upcoming Crank Brothers U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclo-cross. And even when news wasn’t officially released, trying to quell a rumor on the Sands Convention Center showroom is about as likely as trying to find a ray of sunlight in a smoke-filled casino. Here’s a look at some of the biggest news (and rumors) from the showroom floor.

USA Cycling splits road schedule into ProTour, National Racing Calendar
The biggest news affecting the 2007 North American road racing circuit is the word that USA Cycling’s National Racing Calendar will be split into two categories.

For the first time in its 11-year history, UCI events will not be included on the NRC calendar or its rankings. Instead, UCI events will make up the newly created 2007 USA Cycling Pro Tour, leaving the National Racing Calendar to showcase the top domestic events in the country. The 2007 USA Cycling ProTour is slated to consist of 13 events, while the 2007 NRC will consist of between 25-30 events (see box). No official comment coming from the federation, but expect an announcement from USA Cycling later this week.

USA Cycling’s expected ProTour
(based on U.S events listed on the UCI’s America Tour calendar)

(* indicates new event in 2007)Amgen Tour of California (February 18-25)U. S. Open Cycling Championships (April 14)* Tour de Georgia (April 16-22) Commerce Bank Lancaster Classic (June 3) Commerce Bank Reading Classic (June 7) Commerce Bank International Championship (June 10) Austin Men’s International (June 17)* Saturn Rochester Twilight Criterium (June 23) Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah (August 12-19) Colorado International Cycling Classic (September 7-9)* Univest Grand Prix (September 8) Tour of Missouri (September 11-16)* Tour de Leelanau (September 15)

I’m not yet sure what I think of this change. Given the fact that there is already a UCI ProTour, as well as the
UCI’sAmerica Tour, I think the creation of USA Cycling’s ProTour will just confuse a public that seems eager to embrace the sport but still can’t quite wrap its collective brain around its intricacies. Similar to professional boxing’s many different world titles, a rider — say Discovery Channel’s George Hincapie — could hypothetically lead the USA Cycling ProTour, sit third on the USA Cycling National Racing Calendar. One thing Hincapie won’t be able to do is be ranked in the UCI America Tour. He and other UCI ProTour riders can’t score points in the UCI Continental Tours.

On the other hand, the fact that Floyd Landis won the 2006 NRC individual ranking — when he only participated in the Amgen Tour of California and Ford Tour de Georgia — shows just how lopsided this season’s NRC rankings were. Landis actually only won two stages in those races, both time trials, but held on for the overall victory in both. The fact that he never actually crossed a road-race finish line in first place all season long in the U.S., yet beat Health Net-Maxxis’s Karl Menzies by 17 points, 1270 to 1253, shows that the current system needed some readjusting.

Tour of Utah gains UCI status; more Medalist stage races announced
Jason Preston, the race director for the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, confirmed that the event has gained status as a UCI 2.2 stage race for 2007, joining the Tour of California and Tour de Georgia as a national-level UCI-sanctioned stage race. Preston said that the event’s dates aren’t yet certain, but that it would likely begin on either the last week of July or the third week of August. It’s listed on the UCI’s America Tour as having a date of August 12-19.

Murmurs of new stage races in Colorado and Missouri, both scheduled for September, were rife in Las Vegas, and Medalist Sports managing partner Jim Birrell confirmed that Medalist, the organizers of the Tour of California, Tour de Georgia and USA Cycling Professional Championships, is currently involved in planning both events.

“We’re going to be hired as consultants if [the Colorado event] comes to fruition,” Birrell said, explaining that proposed September 7-9 event is being organized by the Vail ValleyFoundation, the group behind the 2001 world mountain-bike championships and the annual Beaver Creek Birds of Prey World Cup ski event. Birrell said logistics are currently more concrete for the Missouri event.

“Missouri is very similar to the Tour de Georgia,” Birrell said. “It’s an initiative that’s supported from the governor’s office to look at a statewide branding campaign wrapped around a pro tour like the Tour of Missouri. The governor has committed compete support of the event. They are in the market place, soliciting sponsors and have reached out to all the communities. We have some proposed courses already selected, and we’ll start engaging conversations with all the prospective host cities to connect a six-day Tour of Missouri.”

Birrell added that Medalist would likely make an announcement on October 24 concerning host cities for the 2007 Tour de Georgia.

Austin International scheduled
Nature Valley Grand Prix race director David LaPorte revealed that his event will move its dates one week forward, to June 20-24, to make room for a new one-day UCI event in Austin, Texas. The Austin International, a UCI 1.1 event, is scheduled for June 17 and will be organized by the new g4 Productions, an event-production company led by four women formally affiliated with Threshold Sports, organizers of the USPRO and Liberty Classic events in Philadelphia. g4 currently is promoting the Crank Brothers U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross.

Robin Morton of g4 explained that the Austin event will showcase women’s racing, with the men competing first, in the morning, followed by the women. Morton said g4 hopes to see the race added to the UCI women’s World Cup in 2008, but said there were no short-term plans to see the men’s race added to the UCI ProTour.

“We had some conversations with [UCI president] Pat McQuaid when he was over for the Tour of California,” Morton said. “As you know, Liberty used to be women’s World Cup, and I worked on that event. Pat talked to us about the need to have a women’s World Cup back in U.S. Obviously there’s the World Cup in Montreal, but that’s a Canadian event. He said it would be great if you guys, being new in business and four women, kind of made your mark with a women’s event.

LaPorte added that the Nature Valley Grand Prix would return as part of the Women’s Prestige CyclingSeries, along with the Tour de Toona, the Bermuda Grand Prix, and LaPorte hopes, the Redlands Classic, which was not part of the series this year. No word yet on how Nature Valley’s new dates will affect the Tour de Nez, which was held June 22-24 this year.

Morton also shared her views on USA Cycling’s upcoming ProTour. “It’s very odd,” she said. “Nobody knows too much about it. It doesn’t really impact us too much. I was never all that involved in the NRC, because our races, at Threshold, were all UCI races, so they were automatically entered into the NRC. I was not too involved with that process, but I was talking to several organizers at the world championships and Interbike that were quite upset because they have NRC events that no longer mean as much, in their mind, and felt that they would have thought of putting their event on the UCI calendar had this been explained to them in advance. They would have at least liked to have the opportunity to put their event on the UCI calendar, now that there are two different standings.”

NBC Sports to air inaugural U.S. Open
Another recent race announcement that came as a surprise was that of the inaugural U. S. Open Cycling Championships, which will run from Williamsburg to Richmond, Virginia, on Saturday, April 7. The race will be broadcast nationally on NBC Sports from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Featuring both men’s and women’s pro fields, the UCI-sanctioned event, developed in partnership with USA Cycling, will showcase the historic attractions of the State of Virginia just weeks before the 400th Anniversary of America’s first permanent English settlement in Jamestown, Virginia. Race direction will be handled by Red Five Sports Group, whose principal Tim Miller also runs Virginia’s CapTech Classic. Miller explained that landing NBC Sports was a result of hard work and a little luck.

“It was a combination of things,” Miller said. “Cycling is an Olympic sport, and NBC broadcasts the Olympics, so that helped. I had a connection that got me in the door, and as it turns out, the president of NBC Sports [Ken Schanzer] is a cycling enthusiast. And I think the fact that the event is called the U.S. Open is alluring to potential sponsors. I think the name immediately carries a certain amount of prestige. Initially, people think of tennis or golf, so it’s associated with a certain amount of prestige and grandeur. That’s a big part of what NBC is interested in, the potential to partner with an event called the U.S. Open. They’re looking at presenting this as a major sporting event, not just a cycling event.

“It took us a while to pull this all together,” Miller continued. “There was a business development guy [at NBC] that saw the potential, and he convinced the programming people, and when those two guys realized that their president is a cycling enthusiast, that certainly helped the cause. It was a number of factors, but [NBC] is really excited about it now. They like what it can be in the first year and what it can become long term. My goal is to make this into, potentially, the first ProTour event in America in a few years. We want to build this into something very significant and long term.”

BMC goes bigger
The biggest domestic team-development news concerns the upgrading of the amateur BMC team to UCI-continental team status. The squad, led by early-1980s American pro Gavin Chilcott and former Volvo-Cannondale team manager Charlie Livermore, has signed Health Net-Maxxis veterans Scott Moninger and Mike Sayers as well as Kodakgallery.com-Sierra Nevada speedsters Jackson Stewart and Dan Schmatz. Also reportedly joining the BMC team is Einstein’s Bagels rider Jonathan Garcia, and Chad Hartley, who spent 2006 at TIAA-CREF. Returning to the team is Scott Nydam, who split his season racing for BMC and the Boulder, Colorado-based Rio Grande-Sports Garage squad.

Swiss rider Alexandre Moos, who spent 2006 riding for the otherBMC-sponsored team, Phonak-iShares, will likely race for the squad in a split-season role, with mountain-bike and cyclo-cross racing also a priority. Former 7-Eleven, Motorola and Mapei team doctor Massimo “Max” Testa and former Olympic speed-skating and national road champion Eric Heiden, both of the UC Davis Sports Performance Program, will reportedly serve as the team’s medical advisors.

The team’s upgrade reportedly came together as a byproduct of the relationship between USA Cycling president Jim Ochowicz, who continues to work as a paid consultant for Phonak, and Phonak team owner Andy Rihs, who also owns BMC Bicycles. (So no, there is no need to speculate on what kind of bikes they’ll be riding.) I asked Chilcott if the team is essentially Rihs’s way of pulling out of the big-budget, high-risk ProTour and instead investing far less money on a lower-risk North American program.

“The whole Floyd thing was unfortunate for everybody,” Chilcott said. “I don’t have an official position on that. The whole doping situation is a disaster. I hope that this is a painful period we endure and survive. We’re going to be a clean program and a fresh new story — that is without the trappings of the top level. In terms of the direct relationship between Phonak and us, it’s uncertain. What we do know is that there’s been an emphasis on the American team, there’s an interest in the American market, which [Rihs] believes is significant, and I think the primary driver behind the whole thing is that he loves cycling and he believes in the sport as a redeeming activity. He believes that there should be bike racing, and that puts the onus on us to run a good program that stands on its own merits.”

Also rumored to be in discussions with the BMC team is 2003 national road champion Mark McCormack, who has yet to re-sign with Colavita Olive Oil-Sutter Home.

Management of the Colavita team, which has been run for years by Colavita Olive Oil general manager John Profaci, Jr., was recently transferred to Tom Schuler of Team Sports, Inc. Schuler, formerly the general manager of Saturn Cycling and the current manager of Targetraining, took over management of the Colavita-Cooking Light women’s team when it merged with Quark at the end of the 2005 season.

Rumor is that neither McCormack, nor his older brother and Colavita team director Frank McCormack, have re-signed with Colavita for 2007. “As of right now I am unsigned for 2007,” McCormack wrote in an email. “I am talking with a few different programs at the moment. I prefer not to name them at this point but will say that it’s untrue [that I am close to signing with BMC]. Beyond that I can’t comment.”

Moninger, who turns 40 later this month, shows little sign of slowing down, winning the NRC individual ranking in 2005 and taking the Tour of Utah overall in August. The veteran said the move to BMC was right for him given the current climate.

“It’s never easy to leave a team that you’ve been involved with for a number of years,” Moninger said. “Health Net has been my family since the beginning of 2004, but there have been a lot of changes happening there, guys retiring and moving on. The timing was right for a change. Sometimes change is good, and I’m hoping it will be in this case. Gavin is a stage-race fanatic, and he wants to focus mostly on stage racing and not focus too much on one-day criteriums, so that’s a good fit for me. It sounds like he’s building a stage race team, with guys like Garcia and Nydam, and a guy like Alexandre Moos is a pretty big name as well.”

Cruz back to Discovery, Haedo confirmed for CSC
Like Gerolsteiner’s Levi Leipheimer, Toyota-United rider Tony Cruz will return to Discovery Channel in 2007. Cruz, who won the Tour de Nez omnium in June, said that the primary reason was a desire to return to the sport’s highest level, with the Tour de France as his biggest motivation.

“The Tour is the biggest motivation for me for next year,” Cruz said. “The racing in general in Europe is a lot more motivating. Every race you go to is so prestigious, and the riders, the calibers, the teams, are all more motivating.”

Though he’s not yet at liberty to discuss the details, Cruz’s Toyota-United teammate Juan Jose Haedo couldn’t confirm nor deny the rumors that he will join ProTour team CSC next year. But man, that smile on his face seemed to say it all. Look for an official announcement in coming days.

T-Mobile interested in Henderson
Just like CSC’s acquisition of Haedo, newly revamped ProTour squad T-Mobile, led by American Bob Stapleton, is reportedly interested in another top domestic-based sprinter from south of the equator. In this case, it is Health Net-Maxxis rider Greg Henderson.

Henderson, winner of the Philadelphia International Championship, has one year remaining on his contract with Health Net, leading to speculation on whether Health Net will release him or insist that T-Mobile to buy out Henderson’s contract. Health Net, the top team in the NRC rankings three years running, has watched some of its brightest stars head to ProTour teams in the past few off-seasons, including Jason McCartney, who left for Discovery Channel in 2005, and Tyler Farrar, who jumped across the Atlantic to the French Cofidis squad this year. And heading into 2007, the team returns without veteran Gord Fraser, who has retired, as well as team leaders Sayers and Moninger.

“It definitely seems as though there’s a bit of a youth movement happening over [at Health Net],” Moninger said. “At some point a team does need to reload and restructure after a core of guys move on or move into another direction. It’s a difficult task to do in one season, especially when you’re talking about guys like Gord Fraser, or Mike Sayers, or myself.”

Health Net-Maxxis team owner Greg Raifman did not immediately return calls seeking comment for this story. Team director Jeff Corbett declined comment about Henderson, saying the rumor cup tends to overflow at this time of year.

“The other day I had a rider ask if Tyler Hamilton was going with us to the Sun Tour. And no, he’s not. I don’t want to add any more fuel to the fire. In a way, I think these rumors can be bad for riders, because you hear he’s going somewhere and you don’t make him an offer because you think he’s taken, and it turns out that was just a rumor and he was available. There are a thousand and one rumors flying around right now.”

Confirmed for T-Mobile’s 2007 squad are Canadian Michael Barry from Discovery Channel, and American Aaron Olsen, from Saunier Duval.

Rapinski returns to revamped to Navigators
Alongside team bike sponsor Ernesto Colnago, Navigators Insurance team director Ed Beamon used Interbike to announce the team’s 2007 roster. Next year’s squad see no major changes, as the team will retain Sergey Lagutin and Hilton Clarke, sixth and eighth on the NRC rankings, respectively, as well as Ben Brooks, Phil Zajicek, Bernard Van Ulden, Glen Chadwick, Oleg Grishkin, Valeriy Kobzarenko, David O’Laughlin and Ciaran Power. New to the squad are Aussie time-trial specialist Ben Day and South African Darren Lill, as well as U.S. elite national road champ Matt Cooke (LSV-Kelly Benefit Strategies) and Kyle Wamsley (Colavita-Sutter Home).

Also returning to the team after a two-year absence is 25-year-old Belarusian powerhouse Viktor Rapinski, who spent 2006 with Colavita after a failed campaign with Phonak in 2005. Rapinksi was one of the strongest riders in North America in 2003, when he rode for Saturn, and in 2004, when he rode with Navigators.

Navigators’ Russian sprinter Vassili Davidenko raced his last event at September’s Univest Grand Prix, and will return to the squad with a role in team management, alongside his brother Sergey, who has worked as a soigneur for the squad for several years.

Beamon didn’t say where rider Shawn Milne was headed in 2007, although rumors have him linked to Health Net-Maxxis. Milne, winner of the Fitchburg Longsjo Memorial Stage Race, Bank of America Invitational and the Univest Grand Prix, finished 10th in the NRC individual rankings. Rumors have Navigators’ Burke Swindlehurst headed to Toyota-United, while Jittery Joe’s team director Micah Rice has confirmed that Colombian climber Cesar Grajales will leave Navigators and return to the Jittery Joe’s squad in 2007.

Other trade rumors have Mike Jones leaving Health Net-Maxxis for Jelly Belly, Aussie Caleb Manion leaving Jelly Belly for Toyota-United, Kodakgallery.com-Sierra Nevada’s Ben Jacques-Maynes and Scot Zwizanski headed to Priority Health (along with Garrett Peltonen from Health Net) and Health Net signing Frank Pipp from Targetraining.

Slipstream to change title sponsor, add voluntary drug testing
Slipstream Sports owner Jonathan Vaughters announced at Interbike that his team, which ran under the title sponsorship of TIAA-CREF, was looking for a new title sponsor for 2007. The team, which is currently being referred to as simply Team Slipstream, will retain most of its riders, including Danny Pate, Mike Creed, Will Frischkorn, Brad Huff, Craig Lewis, and Ian Macgregor. New to the team in 2007 are Pat McCarty (Phonak), two-time French U23 national champion Kilian Patour (Crédit Agricole) and Jason Donald (Einstein’s Bagels).

Vaughters also listed Paris-Roubaix as an event on his team’s 2007 schedule, along with the Tour of California, Tour de Georgia, Route du Sud and the Four Days of Dunkirk. The news of a team spot at Roubaix came as a surprise to Creed, who said, “Man, I hope I’m sick that week.”

Along with team physiologist Dr. Allen Lim, Vaughters announced that his team would undergo a new, voluntary drug-testing program beginning in January in conjunction with the newly announced Agencyfor Cycling Ethics.

On its Web site, the Agency for Cycling Ethics describes itself as “a community of teams and riders committed to a cycling environment free of performance enhancing drugs. ACE’s programs include education, counseling and legal resources for riders and teams coupled with an innovative drug testing program. We are the advocates for the riders and the teams.”

Spearheading the Agency for Cycling Ethics are Paul Scott, who works at the UCLA drug-testing laboratory run by Don Catlin, and Paul Strauss, M.D., a physician at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and a USA Cycling certified coach. Scott was a chemist at the UCLA drug-testing lab early on in his professional career before he decided to go to law school. He practiced corporate law for six years before deciding to return to the UCLA lab as its director of clients. His responsibilities at the lab include overseeing drug testing protocols and interacting with outside agencies to ensure the integrity of those testing protocols and the anti-doping system.

Essentially, ACE will help Slipstream by independently monitoring its riders’ bio-stable markers in urine and blood along with power data collected. During an athlete’s first month with the program, his steroid profile, blood profile and several other relevant performance-enhancing drug reactive markers will be tracked. These profiles, ACE claims, though variable between individuals, are stable over time for any one person. The use of performance enhancing drugs, even when not detectable by conventional means, can be detected if these profiles change. Riders will have their blood and urine tested every three days for the first four weeks. During weeks 5 through 12, their urine will be tested once a week and their blood tested one to two times per month. From week 13 on, their urine and blood will be tested one to two times per month. Because most blood-doping regimens are cyclical, Scott explained, even if a rider was doping during the initial month of testing, sooner or later his levels would have to normalize.

Vaughters said he believes Slipstream will be the first of many teams to adopt this sort of policy, because it not only prevents riders from being penalized for potential false positives, but also because the ACE certification will appeal to potential sponsors.

“It’s a program to certify our riders are clean before they make it a start line,” Vaughters said. “If a rider’s biomarkers are off, we will internally suspend them until their biomarkers return to normal. And if they don’t race often, they’re going to be out of a job.”

Vaughters said every Slipstream rider would probably be tested 50 times each in 2007. Team rider Mike Creed said that was okay by him.

“It will look good for our team,” Creed said. “If anybody on our team was involved with doping, we would banish them. I’m fine with it.”

Rodriguez, Kintner, Pruitt and Nash to race cyclo-cross
As mentioned above, and discussed on his VeloNewsTV interview Davitamon-Lotto sprinter Fred Rodriguez will join his teammate Chris Horner on the national cyclo-cross circuit. Rodriguez will race the final four events of the Crank Brothers U.S. Gran Prix series as well as the national championship. Rodriguez said he’s racing for fun, and to raise money for his FastFreddie Foundation benefiting youth cycling programs and the NorCal High School Mountain Bike League.

Also hitting the national ’cross circuit for the first time this fall are a handful of well-known women from the mountain-bike circuit: downhill star Kathy Pruitt (Jamis); cross-country racer Kelli Emmett (Scott) and world mountain-cross champion Jill Kintner (GT-Red Bull) will all race USGP events this year. Likewise, NMBS short-track series winner Katerina Nash will join her teammate, national cross-country champion Georgia Gould, at the USGP series.

The world around the Sands Convention Center was that two-time national ’cross champion Katie Compton (Spike Professional-Primus Mootry) is no longer competing as the pilot of a Paralympic tandem team, and will compete a full ’cross schedule. On September 18, Compton and blind partner Karissa Whitsell rode their last race together, winning the gold medal in the 16.8km time trial by 27 seconds at the International Paralympic Committee Cycling worldchampionships in Aigle, Switzerland.

Compton will face Gould and Canadian national champion Lyne Bessette (Cyclocrossworld.com) on October 21 at the UCI-sanctioned opening weekend of the Verge Mid Atlantic Cyclocross Series outside of Wilmington, Delaware. Compton is a former Verge MAC series champion, Gould is the current Verge MAC champion and Bessette is the defending champion of both races where they will meet.

Check back for more details on velonews.com, and in VeloNews issue 20, featuring a full report from Las Vegas, on sale October 24.

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