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Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood: OLN’s Harvey on Vuelta coverage

Howdy, folks, and welcome back to another installment into the all-encompassing grab bag known as my weekly Web column. It’s been a busy time for me, as the “neighborhood” has twice in the past two weeks extended to California — two trips that reconfirmed my view of my native state as simultaneously the best and worst in our nation. (I think Robert Pielke put it best in the epilogue to his 1996 book “You Say You Want A Revolution” when he wrote: “California has been cursed and blessed with virtually every paradox imaginable. Physically, the state is an incomparable paradise as well as a

Don't miss a moment from Paris-Roubaix and Unbound Gravel, to the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta a España, and everything in between when you join Outside+.

By Neal Rogers

Mike “Bling-Bling” Jones

Photo: Phil Marques

Howdy, folks, and welcome back to another installment into the all-encompassing grab bag known as my weekly Web column.

It’s been a busy time for me, as the “neighborhood” has twice in the past two weeks extended to California — two trips that reconfirmed my view of my native state as simultaneously the best and worst in our nation.

(I think Robert Pielke put it best in the epilogue to his 1996 book “You Say You Want A Revolution” when he wrote: “California has been cursed and blessed with virtually every paradox imaginable. Physically, the state is an incomparable paradise as well as a veritable pit of desolation, the two often existing nearly side-by-side.”)

First off was the junior track world championships, held July 28-August 1 in the densely-populated traffic corridor known as Los Angeles, followed by a return trip to the Golden State one week later to attend distributor Veltec Sports’ 2005 product launch, held in beautiful Santa Cruz.

Having lived in Santa Cruz for nine fantastic years, I still hold on to my pipe dream of returning to the least affordable place to live in the United States — thanks, Silicon Valley — just as soon as I fall into about half-a-million bucks. And being back in town for two beautiful summer days, well … it was akin to running into the old girlfriend you always secretly thought you might marry. Only now she’s loaded and won’t talk to you until you get rid of your mom’s old Cadillac and start rolling in a BMW 740.

The full VeloNews story from the junior track worlds has already been shipped to the printers and will be a part of our upcoming issue 15, which will also feature coverage from the Olympic road races, the HEW Classics and San Sebastian World Cups, and last weekend’s NORBA event held in Snowmass, Colorado. Look for copies to start popping up Monday, August 23.

Glimpses of Veltec’s new 2005 product lines (Sidi, Easton, Look, Ciclosport, Vredestein and Enervit) can be found in the future here at velonews.com and in an upcoming issue, but I will say this: Easton has got some pretty sweet equipment headed your way. Beyond its acquisition of VeloMax wheels earlier this year, the new buzz with the brand is, in a word, nanotechnology, which is being hailed as one of the most important developments in scientific research, on a par with antibiotics, man-made polymers and the integrated circuit. In a nutshell nanotechnology, or the manipulation of materials on an atomic or molecular scale, promises to deliver an entire new generation of products that are cleaner, stronger, lighter, and more precise.

* * *

Like many of you who wrote in to our Web letters page, I was dismayed to find out that Outdoor Life Network will not be airing live daily coverage of this year’s Vuelta a España. It’s been a great race the past few years, often decided on the penultimate day’s time trial. Who could forget Roberto Heras coming from 1:55 down last year to topple Isidro Noval on the Alto de Abantos uphill time trial? Or Aitor Gonzalez’s betrayal of Kelme teammate Oscar Sevilla on the slopes of the steep l’Angrilu in 2002?

It may seem that OLN has forgotten, as the network decided to drop its live daily coverage in favor of a recap show to be aired October 27, one month after the race has ended. But as it turns out, the powers-that-be over at OLN truly are concerned with what our readers think, and contacted me for a one-on-one conversation with network president Gavin Harvey to explain why the decision was made, and what the network hopes to do with cycling in the future. Basically, it was a question of profitability, and it sounds as though cutting back to a one-hour recap wasn’t an easy decision for Harvey to make.

“As I sit here thinking about getting on my bike this weekend,” Harvey said, “it’s a very disappointing scenario. Cycling is more than just another bit of programming; it’s a passion for us. A lot of folks at OLN spent six weeks in France, working 20 hours a day. But the Vuelta is one of the worst performing franchises that we have. That is the cold, hard reality. We can’t afford to have it perform as it has in years past. We just don’t have the resources at our network right now.”

I said I thought that the momentum following the network’s highest-ever rated Tour would feed nicely into the Tour of Spain, where U.S. Postal will once again be racing, admittedly without Lance Armstrong. But Harvey said the ratings drop-off for cycling coverage “is very steep once the Tour is over.”

“The cycling community is passionate, and we’re glad they are vocal,” he said. “If we could have done something to make it work, we would have. I wish the cycling community counted as more rating points than it does. But for three weeks, devoting the hours and coverage and manpower, predicting the return we would get…. We realize this event is a crown jewel for the cycling community, but in all the years it’s severely underperformed in its time period. Frankly, so does the Giro, and everything else other than the Tour.”

I asked how much cost is involved with setting up Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen in one of OLN’s Connecticut studios to do voiceover on top of Spanish TV’s live feed. Sadly, it turns out the return is better when the network airs an “American Shooter” rerun.

“Even the live coverage, for three weeks every morning, is a huge investment,” Harvey said. “There are many more costs than simply putting Phil and Paul in the studio. The fact is the Vuelta does not really hit the [ratings] radar. This is our challenge — to find some really focused way to shake this thing up. It just wasn’t working to take the feed and put a couple of guys in the studio, and devote that much airtime.”

Harvey did say that it’s conceivable that Vuelta coverage could return in 2005 or beyond, in some form. “We’re hopeful and optimistic. There are ideas from other places we’re looking into, ways to try and extend the OLN brand – using newer technology such as video on demand, broadband, high-definition TV. We’re trying to see how can we be more than a linear channel. Maybe there is opportunity there. We cover certain sports that we know we can never grow beyond a small community, but we would still like to figure out ways to target them as well. With this particular event we’re at a wall that we can’t get over, but we’re still climbing.”

Harvey added that OLN’s long-term plan with cycling programming is to build up the spring classics and the Giro d’Italia, both of which serve in its build-up to the Tour de France, and focus more on domestic events.

“People want to make domestic events happen in a big way,” Harvey said. “What it’s going to take for the sport to really pop is to tap into the passion people have in Georgia, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and to figure out how we turn that into a great TV event. It’s going to take a massive effort to get people to understand there is cycling beyond Lance and the Tour.”

The remainder of OLN’s 2004 cycling schedule:

Lance Armstrong post-Tour two-hour interview
Thursday, August 19, 8 p.m. EST

T-Mobile International
Saturday, October 2, 4:30 p.m. EST

Tour de Suisse
Wednesday, October 13, 12 p.m. EST

Vuelta a España
Wednesday, October 27, 12 p.m. EST

* * *

Check out this shot of Health Net-Maxxis rider Mike “SoPro” Jones sporting a serious bling-bling chain at The International/Tour de ‘Toona a few weeks back in Altoona, Pennsylvania.

When asked what inspired the less-than-aerodynamic adornment, Jones replied: “I don’t know. Everyone’s got these big necklaces at the Tour. Some dude in the parking lot had it at the start, and I asked him if I could borrow it. Maybe it’s the reason I was 26 minutes down that day. I was on the front most of the day, and when I wasn’t on the front I was off the back.”

Maybe so, but Jones did note that photos of him and his chain were on the covers of both the local papers the following day.

* * *

Hot Oregonian amateur Evan Elken will be joining the Jittery Joe’s Pro Cycling Team for the remainder of the season. The former Broadmark Capital rider has had some strong finishes this year, including eighth place at the U.S. Olympic Trials, third place at the elite national road championships and a stage win at the Cascade Classic, where he finished seventh overall.

“Evan adds a bit of power to the middle of our team,” says Micah Rice, the team’s director. “We already have one of the best climbers and one of the best sprinters, but we need riders like Evan to get these guys to the finish. He has proven that he is a strong rider in any situation.”This addition comes on the heels of the announcement that the Jittery Joe’s team will be working with Kalahari, a brand of red tea in the United States. The new sponsor will be using the team to market their Kalahari FruitTrekker, a 100 percent dried fruit bar. Like the team’s namesake sponsor Jittery Joe’s Cycling Coffee, Kalahari FruitTrekkers will be available in bike shops and proceeds will go straight to the team.For more information, please check out www.thebeanteam.com.

* * *

Got this story of a sting operation with a twist from Webcor Builders rider/manager Ted Huang, who’s over in Athens accompanying his girlfriend, Christine Thorburn.

“This spring [at the Dodge Tour de Georgia], while waiting for the awards ceremony in the small Georgian town of Dahlonega, a spare [Webcor] team bike was snatched off the Webcor team car. Three months later, while randomly surfing EBay, one of Webcor’s team members found a LeMond bicycle for sale advertised as an official Webcor team bike that looked remarkably similar (including parts) to the one stolen in Georgia.

Webcor immediately got to work trying to determine if the bike was definitely the stolen one, and if so, how to get the bike back. LeMond Bicycles provided a letter that stated Webcor was the only team provided with frames of that color/decal scheme. The bike was purchased C.O.D. over EBay by Karen Scioscia, wife of Webcor team consultant Frank Scioscia, with the story that she wanted to purchase it for her husband.

Instead of accepting delivery, the bike was to be positively identified at UPS with a police officer present and then shipped back to the Dahlonega police department to be held as evidence while the police tracked down the suspect. In researching the case, the Dahlonega police investigator called the suspect’s place of work to ask if the suspect indeed worked there. Unfortunately, the suspect answered the phone and the investigator quickly made an excuse and hung up.

Fearing he’d botched the case, the investigator apologized to Webcor management, thinking that bringing the suspect to justice might prove challenging. Instead, the next morning found the investigator sitting with the suspect, who had driven all night to the Dahlonega police station to turn himself in. Worried that he was about to be arrested, the suspect came clean and confessed everything.

In the end, Webcor got its bike back after a creative sting operation and very good investigating on the part of the Dahlonega police department.”

* * *

Recent Tour of Qinghai Lake winner Phil Zajicek (Navigators Insurance) will lead the U.S. National Team at the upcoming 2004 Tour l’Avenir, the year’s most prestigious U-26 race, held in France September 2-11. Selection for the team was discretionary, and based upon current race results.

The 2004 U.S. National Tour l’Avenir squad also will include Saul Raisin, Patrick McCarty, Shawn Milne, Kevin Bouchard-Hall, and Timothy Duggan.

Raisin is a graduate of the U.S. Postal Service U23 National Road Team, and has made an impressive debut year with the Crédit Agricole squad with a fifth-place finish in the Liége-Bastogne-Liége U23 race and a second-place finish at the Ronde de l’Isard d’Ariége. Raisin was also named the Best Young Rider of the 2003 Tour de Georgia.

Zajicek, known for his strength in time trials and stage races, won the 2004 Tour of Qinghai Lake. The former junior national champion also took third place in the race’s fifth stage.

McCarty (U.S. Postal Service) finished in 21st place in last year’s Tour de l’Avenir despite losing all five teammates to sickness and injury. The time trial and climbing specialist was one of only 13 cyclists in the U23 category to earn more than 100 UCI points in 2003.

Milne (Team Fiordifrutta) had an impressive beginning to his 2004 season with a convincing win at the 104km Trofee Disputation Alicante in Spain. He also took the win in the sixth stage of the Volta Ciclista a Lleida. The top sprinter represented the U.S. at the 2002 and 2003 U23 road world championships.

Duggan (TIAA-CREF-5280) earned an impressive fourth spot in Stage 2 of the Ronde d l”Isard d’Ariege earlier this year, and was able to hold onto fourth place in the overall classification. Duggan was a member of the squad representing the U.S. at last year’s World Cycling Championships.

Bouchard-Hall has had a great season thus far, earning the distinction of Best Young Rider at the Tour de Georgia. Earlier in the year, Kevin placed 13th at the 52nd Volta Ciclista a Lleida.

* * *

The 2004 edition of the Mid-Atlantic Cyclo-Cross Championship Series has been announced, with nine events taking place from October through until the beginning of December, with an additional two pre-season events in early October. This year’s edition of the MACC includes seven UCI-sanctioned events, along with two top regional events, which will kick off the series on October 16-17. The UCI action gets under way the following weekend and the “UCI doubles” continue straight though to the end of November. The final UCI event will take place in Virginia with the return of the Reston event.

2004 Mid-Atlantic Cyclo-Cross Championship Series
Round 1 – October 16: Blue Diamond Cross, New Castle, DE
Round 2 – October 17: Evo Cross, Buckingham, PA
Round 3 – October 23: Wooden Wheels (UCI), Granogue, DE
Round 4 – October 24: Philly Cross (UCI), Philadelphia PA
Round 5 – November 6: Lower Allen Classic (UCI), Camp Hill, PA
Round 6 – November 7: Rockville Bridge (UCI), Harrisburg , PA
Round 7 – November 20: Beacon Cross (UCI), Bridgeton, NJ
Round 8 – November 21: Highland Park (UCI), Highland Park, NJ
Round 9 – December 5: Capital Cross (UCI), Reston, VA

Additional information and series details will be available at www.monkeyhillcs.com/mac and www.midatlanticcross.info.