Notes from the road: Season openers and the All-Star break

While some may consider Redlands to be the unofficial “season opener” to the U.S. road-racing calendar, it’s not like there’s really an Opening Day when everybody gets under way. Health Net-Maxxis has been racing for a week now in Malaysia, Navigators has the Tour Down Under and an Italian one-day race under its belt, and a number of pros have probably tested the waters in some warm-weather locales across the southern part of the U.S. But there’s no “pre-season” races in cycling, no exhibition games – once you start racing, everything counts. With that in mind, this weekend’s Valley of the

By Bryan Jew, VeloNews managing editor

While some may consider Redlands to be the unofficial “season opener” to the U.S. road-racing calendar, it’s not like there’s really an Opening Day when everybody gets under way. Health Net-Maxxis has been racing for a week now in Malaysia, Navigators has the Tour Down Under and an Italian one-day race under its belt, and a number of pros have probably tested the waters in some warm-weather locales across the southern part of the U.S. But there’s no “pre-season” races in cycling, no exhibition games – once you start racing, everything counts. With that in mind, this weekend’s Valley of the Sun stage race in Arizona is as good an Opening Day as any other.

Things kick off today, and particularly in the women’s race, Valley of the Sun will be a good chance for some early season bragging rights. Among the entrants will be full squads from RONA, T-Mobile and Genesis Scuba.

Valley of the Sun will be the first chance to see what effect, if any, last year’s end-of-season controversies have had on RONA’s Geneviève Jeanson, who first was prevented from riding the world’s road race because of a high hematocrit, and then had her name surface in the trial of a Canadian doctor charged with illegally administering EPO to a female professional cyclist.

Jeanson’s RONA team has some new faces, including Americans Katrina Grove and Anna Milkowski, who will be on the start in today’s time trial.

T-Mobile’s main focus is on the international race calendar, but the squad has four riders on the Valley of the Sun start list – Mari Holden, Lynn Gaggioli, Lara Kroepsch and Kim Anderson – and it is always looking to make an impression in its U.S. appearances. One rider to watch may be Gaggioli, who shone last year while often riding alone, and who may benefit from strong team riders around her.

Also keep an eye on the Genesis Scuba team, which is looking to take another step up the ranks in 2004. They’ll likely be led by Sue Palmer-Komar at Valley of the Sun, but the race also marks the debut with the team of Laura Van Gilder, who along with Tina Mayolo-Pic was part of Genesis Scuba’s big roster upgrade for the new season.

On the men’s side, the team to watch will clearly be Colavita-Bolla, which is in the middle of its Arizona training camp. Not only will the team’s entry into the race include its four Saturn imports – Nathan O’Neill, Will Frischkorn, Ivan Dominguez and Mark McCormack – but also Valley of the Sun defending champion Aaron Olson, last year of Schroeder Iron.

The race kicks off with a 13.6-mile time trial today, followed with a road race tomorrow (89 miles for the men, 57 for the women) and a downtown Phoenix criterium on Sunday.

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In other news, the Redlands Bicycle Classic has finalized its schedule for its 2004 race, and included on the docket is a brand new point-to-point race. The Crestline road race will take place the second day of the race, covering 90 miles between Phelan and Crestline. A release from the Redlands organizers states that “the stage could, perhaps, be considered the most difficult stage in the 20-year history of the Redlands Bicycle Classic.” Technical director Ron Mutter says of the course: “There are rolling hills, sharp turns and a lot of climbing.”

With the Crestline race taking the place of the Highlands circuit race, sandwiched between the Mount Rubidoux time trial and the Oak Glen road race, this year’s Redlands could heat up sooner than ever.

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Also on tap this weekend: The NBA All-Star weekend. Only a couple of thoughts here.

First, whatever happened to the slam-dunk contest? You know, Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Spud Webb, Cedric Ceballos. There used to be a reason to watch this thing. This year’s line-up: Chris Andersen, Ricky Davis, Fred Jones, Jason Richardson. C’mon, give me T-Mac, Vin-sanity, KG, LeBron, Kobe, Earl Boykins … give me something.

Second: the All-Star celebrity game. I scoured the Web trying to find the line-up for this game, but try as I might, I came up empty. Nevertheless, all I can say is, Is there any reason for a celebrity game? Can’t we just relegate these things to late-night MTV and be done with them? Oh, oh, wait. I take that back. I think Frankie Muniz and L’il Bow Wow (or is he just Bow Wow now) are playing. Never mind. Can’t miss the celeb game.

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Biggest, most important event of the weekend: Cal-Stanford. Saturday night.

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Happy Friday the 13th.