By Neal Rogers
It seems the biggest news of the past week is Lance Armstrong’s decision to race at the 2005 Tour de France. His announcement on Tuesday, February 16th, confirmed, changed or confused the plans of racers, product managers, publicists, tourists, executives and journalists everywhere.
Oh, like he wasn’t going to race. Come on, Lance! You couldn’t really skip the Tour, could you? Even if he had announced he wasn’t planning on racing, couldn’t you see him having a change of heart some time around the Dauphine Libéré?
I can picture him watching Iban Mayo, Ivan Basso and Roberto Heras battle it out in the mountains, thinking to himself, “Man, I could drop all those fools.” Next thing you know, he’s out on the bike, feeling out the legs, liking what he sees and dialing up Johan on the mobile.
Lance’s decision had an immediate effect on my own little microcosm, as I will be attending the Tour of Flanders, which he had already announced he would contest, and the Dodge Tour de Georgia – I learned I would be attending right after I learned Lance would be. And while Flanders would be Flanders with or without “The Boss,” the Tour de Georgia would unquestionably be a completely different event without the Lance factor.
The first year of the Tour de Georgia, in 2003, saw modest crowds, as do most stage races in the United States. Sure, Philly and San Francisco draw a large audience, and a handful of stage races pull in the numbers, especially for the downtown criteriums, but last year was unlike anything I’ve seen in the U.S.
Lance may be an international sports figure, but his star power in the United States is unrivaled. He is the biggest American sports hero of the new millennium, and the folks in Georgia are most definitely flag-waving folks. Throngs of autograph seekers flocked to the U.S. Postal team bus each and every day. We’re talkin’ rock-star status –every day –and I’m sure we can expect more of the same this year.
Not that I’m complaining. One of my favorite spectator memories was riding in the race caravan, passing a family on the road after the peloton had gone through, and overhearing the matriarch of the family asking, “Was that him?” as if the presidential caravan had just whizzed by too quickly.
My other favorite spectator memory was the guy in Alpharetta holding the sign that said, “Lance who? Horner is my hero.”
I wonder how many people in the crowd had any idea what that meant.
I still think back to the pre-racepress conference at the Tour de Georgia last year, when Armstrong said, “”I don’t think I have the condition to win here. It’s been almost three weeks since I’ve last raced. I suspect my rivals – our rivals – will have done some races more recently. It would be nice to win; it’s always nice to win, but I don’t think I have the condition to win.”
I remember thinking, “R-i-i-i-i-g-h-t.”
Sure. Okay, you’re here to train for the Tour de France, which is still over two months away. And you’re in America, your homeland, with a legitimate challenger in Chris Horner, the guy that’s the big fish in the U.S. — in your absence. And you’ve got Bobby Julich, a guy who finished on the Tour podium in 1998, with the same Cofidis team that flicked you when you were down, while you were wondering if you’d ever race again. It probably still feels good to beat Julich, eh Lance? And then there was Julich’s CSC teammate Jens Voigt, the feisty German that can beat you when you’re not at your peak form. Throw in a pesky Cesar Grajales, jumping away on Brasstown Bald, and a spotlight-stealing Mario Cippolini, and…
Wait, where am I going with this? Oh, nowhere really, other than, if his statements about this year’s Tour de France and last year’s Tour de Georgia are any indication, then Lance is probably wearing that familiar poker face, and Georgia is shaping up to be even more competitive this year. Five ProTour teams will be there, including Phonak, with Floyd Landis, Lance’s former right-hand man. Shoot, Tyler Hamilton maybe even be there, depending on the outcome of his upcoming hearing. The latest news on that front is that there won’t be a decision until mid-March.
Horner will be back in Georgia with Prodir, the Swiss pen company that has the larger North American interest out of the Saunier Duval-Prodir title sponsors. And it sounds as though Julich, the Olympic bronze medalist, and Voigt will return, possibly with American teammate David Zabriskie. And what about Christian Vande Velde? Let’s not forget CSC is an American company; this team could give Discovery some real trouble.
“I’ve been looking forward to coming back to the Dodge Tour de Georgia since it ended last year. The course just gets better and better, and I can tell that this year is no exception,” said Horner. “I’m coming with a great team that is expecting me to lead them against the ProTour teams as well as the best domestic teams in the U.S.”
Also coming over to contest the six-stage, 650-mile event, held April 19-24, is the French Credit Agricole team of 2003 Tour de Georgia best young rider Saul Raisin. The official 2005 Dodge Tour de Georgia route map can be found at www.dodgetourdegeorgia.com.
Lance’s announcement had to come as good news to the folks at OLN, who, while giving the Giro d’Italia the one-hour-a-week treatment this year, will still be broadcasting live Tour coverage each and every day. Welcome to the new “Cyclysm Sundays,” airing every Sunday at 5 p.m.
“Cyclysm Sundays” will feature same-day coverage of many major cycling races, including the spring Classics, and will be hosted by Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen and Bob Roll — OLN’s rotating team of cycling experts. (What? No Al Trautwig? Maybe for the Tour. Let us pray.)
Armstrong has announced he will compete in Paris-Nice, the Tour of Flanders, the Tour of Georgia and the Tour de France, all which are part of OLN’s “Cyclysm Sundays” schedule.
“Cycling is hugely important to OLN, and the spring Classics are some of the most exciting races out there,” said Gavin Harvey, president of OLN. “By presenting cycling every Sunday, we’re creating a basis for the entire season. Fans, even those who only recently caught the cycling bug, can turn to OLN to watch the season unfold and experience the building drama of this punishing sport.”
That’s cool, Gavin. We’ve met, and you’re a nice guy. I know you’re doing what you think is best for the network. But man, this hurts. Bring back live daily coverage of the Giro and the Vuelta, and we’re hunky dory. As it is, I’m not sure if I can justify the $45 I spend each month on basic cable, largely for OLN. It used to be a guarantee that, from May through September, we would see daily coverage of the three grand tours, rebroadcast ad nauseum, as well as some Classics and domestic events sprinkled in there. Now, we’re looking at cycling coverage once a week, at a time that I’m not likely to be watching. And since I can’t afford TiVo, I guess I’ll have to set the VCR…
In addition to race coverage, Cyclysm Sundays will feature a weekly update on Lance Armstrong and the Discovery Pro Cycling Team; training tips from Chris Carmichael, Armstrong’s personal coach; and coverage of something OLN is calling the “National Championship Series,” a U.S.-based cycling series in which “the top domestic cyclist is crowned at the end of each season.”
Hmm, do they mean USA Cycling’s National Racing Calendar (NRC), or has OLN created its own national series?
The format of Cyclysm Sundays will change somewhat in June, when the show focuses mainly on previewing the Tour de France.
“We’re excited about this new format,” said John Carter, vice president of production and executive producer. “It’s going to be a fantastic showcase for Lance’s team as they take on the heaviest schedule ever for these great classic races.”
The race schedule for Cyclysm Sundays is as follows (same-day unless indicated; subject to change):
March 6th Paris-Nice (France)
March 13th Paris-Nice (France)
March 20th Milan San Remo (Italy)/Tirreno-Adriatico (Italy)
March 27th Criterium International (France)
April 3rd Tour of Flanders (Belgium)
April 10th Paris-Robaix (France)/Redlands* (USA)
April 17th Amstel Gold Race (Netherlands)
April 24th Liege-Bastogne-Liege (Belgium)/Sea Otter* (USA)
May 1st Tour de Georgia* (USA)
May 8th Giro d’Italia (Italy)**
May 15th Giro d’Italia (Italy)
May 22nd Giro d’Italia (Italy)
May 29th Giro d’Italia (Italy)
June 12th Road to the Tour (Tour de France preview)
June 19th Road to the Tour
June 26th Road to the Tour
July 3rd – 24th Tour de France (France)***
Sept 18th Vuelta a España (Spain)
Oct 15th Giro di Lombardia (Italy)*Tape delay
**Giro d’Italia coverage may be expanded to include Saturday coverage
***Tour de France will include daily coverage
Team TIAA-CREF launch
I had the opportunity to attend the team launch forTIAA-CREF, the developmental race team run by sometimes OLN commentator — and Tour de France stage winner for life — Jonathan Vaughters. (Okay, sure, it was a team time trial with Credit Agricole, at the 2001 Tour, but have you ever stood on the winner’s podium at the Tour? I didn’t think so. So we’re gonna go with Tour de France stage winner, and let’s just leave it that.)
The team launch came at the end of a weeklong training camp that wasn’t without incident, as the team’s rider/manager ColbyPearce had an old-fashioned square off with an enraged motorist. Ah,enraged motorists, when will you learn?
Vaughters hosted the event at Adega, a very swanky wine bar/restaurant in Downtown Denver that also sponsors the team. Team sponsors and press were invited, and seats were sold to benefit Tsunami victims, a noble cause. On hand to emcee the event was the one and only Phil Liggett, flown in from his home in England especial for the event. A few other recognizable names were in attendance, including Frankie Andreau, Marc Gullickson and Andy Hampsten.
While the team rode as an Under-23 developmental team last year, the age limit was raised to 26 for 2005, accommodating the addition of team leader Will Frischkorn, who comes over after a year at Colavita Olive Oil. Also different in 2005 is the division of the team’s juniors into their own program. The Denver-area magazine 5280 was a co-sponsor of the team in 2004, but is now the title sponsor of the junior program, which will, in turn, feed into the U26 team.
Following a quick video presentation — that highlighted Frischkorn, the incredible comeback story of Craig Lewis, who was struck by a vehicle during a time trial at the Tour de Georgia last year, and Ian MacGregor, the national espoir road champion — the 5280 junior program was introduced. Phil Liggett had a few words with the boys, brought out the TIAA-CREF team, handed the mike to Vaughters, and then it was time for a four-course meal and what turned into a bottomless goblet of wine.
By the end of the evening, about four hours after dinner, all that was left of the party was a dozen or so of the team’s riders, Vaughters, Gullickson, a few straggling journalists, and Phil Liggett, who was clearly enjoying himself, charming any and everyone within arm’s reach. All in all, sponsors were introduced to riders, new acquaintances were made, and plenty of wine was consumed.
Team TIAA-CREF 2005 Roster
Team Maxxis 2005 roster
While we’re talking about team announcements, I would be remiss not to inform the good VeloNews readers out there that Geoff Kabush, last year’s NORBA cross-country and short-track cross-country overall champion, has re-signed with Team Maxxis for 2005.
Actually three riders are returning: Kabush, along with downhillers Colin Bailey and John Kirkcaldie, and the addition of cross-country racer Mathieu Toulouse. Toulouse placed sixth in the final general classification of the 2004 Sea Otter Classic stage race, after taking fourth at the time trial and sixth in the short track and cross- country
Bailey and Kirkcaldie both return for a fifth year with Team Maxxis. Kabush, who finished ninth at the 2000 Olympic Games, is also a mechanical engineer, and works closely with the Maxxis research and development team.
Northern California/Nevada Cycling Association Premier Series
Lastly, some news out of my old stomping grounds: The Northern California/Nevada Cycling Association (NCNCA) has announced the events and sponsors for the inaugural NCNCA Premier Series. The NCNCA Premier Series includes five of the oldest and most prestigious races in Northern California: the Testarossa Vineyards Cat’s Hill Criterium in Los Gatos, on May 7; the Nevada City Classic, on June 19; the Fidelity Investments Burlingame Criterium, on June 26; the 4th of July Criterium in Davis, California; and the Giro di San Francisco, on September 5. The NCNCA anticipates that the series will attract a total of over 3,000 entrants, 20,000 spectators, and pro racers including the Webcor Builders and McGuire-Langdale squads, the Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada team of defending Cat’s Hill champion Ben Jacques-Maynes, and defending Giro di San Francisco winner Eric Wohlberg of Symmetrics Cycling. The NCNCA has designed the series to provide each event with centralized promotion from the NCNCA at no charge, while sponsors can access all five events and other benefits through a single sponsorship with the NCNCA itself. Additionally, the structure and promotion of the NCNCA Premier Series will not require the events or the NCNCA to increase race entry or membership fees. NCNCA president Tom Simpson said, “We’ve put together a series that’s a win-win-win for our members, the race organizers, and the sponsors. The NCNCA Premier Series is going to do great things for cycling in Northern California and Nevada.” NCNCA Premier Series Dates and Event Information
Testarossa Vineyards Cat’s Hill Criterium
May 7, 2005
Los Gatos, California
Nevada City Classic
June 19, 2005
Nevada City, California
Fidelity Investments Burlingame Criterium
June 26, 2005
4th of July Criterium
July 4, 2005
Il Giro di San Francisco
September 5, 2005 (Labor Day)
San Francisco, California
www.velopromo.comFor more information about the NCNCA, please visit www.ncnca.org