By Neal Rogers
There was some pretty big news coming through on the domestic front this week, as it was announced Wednesday that five-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong will be competing in the inaugural two-day PCT Rocky Mountain Classic, scheduled for September 4-5 in Vail, Colorado.
With Armstrong’s commitment comes not only a major boost to the initial running of the Pro Cycling Tour event but also a likely sigh of relief for organizers of the T-Mobile International, held the following weekend in San Francisco.
Armstrong hasn’t yet made any official announcements regarding his participation at the widely popular San Francisco event, and the race hasn’t been listed on his Web site’s racing schedule. Additionally, at the start of the 2003 T-Mobile International Armstrong hinted he might not return in 2004 due to the relative proximity of the Olympic Games (the Olympic time trial event is held August 18, just three weeks after the Tour de France wraps up.)
But with the new revelation of Armstrong’s intent to race in Colorado a week prior to the T-Mobile International comes the inevitable speculation that if he’s good to race on September 4th, he should be fit to race a week later as well. And lest we not forget that Tailwind Sports, the management company behind his U.S. Postal Service team, is based in San Francisco — a major factor in both that event’s origins and Armstrong’s three consecutive appearances at what began as the San Francisco Grand Prix.
There’s also some guesswork going on that Armstrong’s bolstered U.S. racing schedule might lend some credence to rumors of his impending retirement, i.e. a “farewell tour”, but an educated guess would assume his plans beyond 2004 would largely depend on his performance at this year’s Tour.
What also remains to be seen is whether newly-elected San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom shares the enthusiasm for the pricey event — reported to cost the city $500,000 per year — as did the flamboyant, fedora wearing Willie Brown. Perhaps the city’s recent rise in marriage license revenues might offset the cost….
The PCT Rocky Mountain Classic at Vail will commence on Friday, September 3 with a “Gran Fondo,” a 100-mile amateur road race from Denver’s Invesco Stadium, elevation 5280 feet, to Vail, elevation 8120 feet. Pro racing starts on Saturday, September 4, with UCI-sanctioned road circuit races for pro men on a challenging course throughout Vail Valley. Sunday, September 5, features men’s and women’s pro circuit races in Vail Village.
More from the Rockies
Riding the wave of growing enthusiasm for the Rocky Mountain Classic is the Estes Park Cycling Challenge , now in its fourth year. A six-day stage race held in and around the Rocky Mountain National Park, August 25-29, the Estes Park event will undoubtedly attract racers from across America anxious to acclimate themselves to the high elevations they’ll face in Vail.
After three years of relative obscurity, Estes Park race promoter Todd Plummer has to be smiling about the scheduling of this year’s event, which ends just six days before the Vail event kicks off. The two strongest programs racing in North America, Health Net-Maxxis and the T-Mobile women’s team, have already confirmed they will be sending teams to Estes, and with NRC points on the line and an unusually high concentration of the road racing community living in the neighboring Boulder area, don’t be surprised if the Estes Park Challenge proves to be a big-time late-season stage race showdown between top domestic teams.
Could the combination of Estes Park and the Vail event herald the return of a “Coors Classic” week of racing in Colorado? Time will tell, but Armstrong’s commitment to the Rocky Mountain Classic is a major step in that direction.
Turning to Georgia…
The season’s big early-season stage race showdown, the Dodge Tour de Georgia , is also enjoying the fanfare that comes with Armstrong’s commitment to attend. The race organization recently released a list of 13 teams that have accepted invitations to the seven-stage, six-day race held April 20-25. Race officials confirmed that nine domestic and four international teams have accepted invitations to compete, with three additional teams remaining to be named to a final field of 16. Each team is expected to field eight athletes, with a total of 128 professional athletes competing.
A final roster of athletes will not be determined until after the Sea Otter Classic (in California, April 15-17), but already some big names in cycling are expected in Georgia, including American Bobby Julich, currently third overall at Paris-Nice, who will be riding with his new CSC squad, the No. 2-ranked UCI Division I team last month. Also expected is American David Clinger, winner of Stage 5 of the 2003 Dodge Tour de Georgia with Prime Alliance, who is now a member of the Italian Domina Vacanze squad.
Confident as ever, returning champion Chris Horner (Webcor) claims he’ll be there to defend his title. “Webcor Builders will be bringing its most talented climbers and guys with the biggest engines, and I’m optimistic about our chances to defend my title,” said Horner. “We’ll find out a lot during stages three and four (a 77-mile stage race followed by a 20-mile individual time trial). We’ll figure out which teams are riding the most effectively and then which individuals are strongest. You can’t hide in the time trial.”
Professional teams who are planning to compete in the 2004 Dodge Tour de Georgia include:
Div I Trade Teams
• Landbouwkrediet-Colnago (Denmark)
• U.S. Postal Service, presented by Berry Floor
• Team CSC (Denmark)
Div II Trade Teams
• Barloworld-Androni Giocattoli (Italy)
• Domina Vacanze (Italy)
• Navigators InsuranceDiv III Trade Teams
• Colavita Olive Oil, presented by Bolla Wines
• Health Net, presented by Maxxis
• Jelly Belly-Aramark
• Jittery Joe’s Coffee
• Sierra Nevada
• Webcor Builders
• Ofoto/Lombardi Sports
One non-trade team that has been announced for Georgia is the U.S. National team, utilizing the infrastructure of Team TIAA-CREF presented by 5280 Magazine, the newly formed developmental squad headed up by recently retired pro and former Tour de France stage winner Jonathan Vaughters.
Representing the U.S. at the Tour de Georgia from the TIAA CREF-5280 squad will be eleven-time junior national champion Blake Caldwell, seven-time junior national champion Zak Grabowski, runner-up in last year’s espoir national time trial championships and 2003 U.S. junior world championship team member, Timothy Duggan, the top American finisher at the 2003 junior world championships, Craig Lewis, and Dan Bowman, 12th overall at last year’s Cascade Cycling Classic.
Colby Pearce, a 2004 U.S. Olympic track hopeful and coach of the TIAA CREF-5280 team, will also suit up alongside his riders to contest the event. Rounding out the U.S. national team will be Kevin Bouchard-Hall and Stuart Gillespie.
With the announcement of the U.S. national squad there remains two teams yet to be announced; however Tour de Georgia officials insist both remaining teams will be European-based.