The Tour of California attracting more and more stars

February 14, 2008

This weekend marks the beginning of my cycling season as the Tour of California starts.  While the race is still young, it has succeeded in attracting a growing number of the sport’s biggest names.  Names like Paolo Bettini and Fabian Cancellara are back.  Joining them on the start line will be some newbies led by Tom Boonen himself. 

Rainbows will abound with former and current world champions strutting their stuff on US soil.  Why come here?  California is pretty far from the epicenter of cycling, Europe, and the center of Spring cycling, Belgium.  Let’s examine the motivation.

  1. The race is well organized
  2. California
  3. Better hotels
  4. California
  5. The crowds
  6. California
  7. Competitive racing
  8. California
  9. Course design
  10. California

Well, I’m beginning to understand why the world is coming to California.  Or as the Governator says, Cah-le-fornia.  He also said “I’ll be back.”

So has the peloton.

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US To Olympians – B.Y.O.

February 11, 2008

When a caterer working for the United States Olympic Committee went to a supermarket in China last year, he encountered a piece of chicken — half of a breast — that measured 14 inches. ”Enough to feed a family of eight,” said Frank Puleo, a caterer from Staten Island who has traveled to China to handle food-related issues.”We had it tested and it was so full of steroids that we never could have given it to athletes. They all would have tested positive.”

So begins an article is yesterday’s New York Times. While over 25,000 pounds of lean protein to feed some 600 athletes is being shipped from stateside, much of the food eaten will be sourced locally. Nowadays, the food must pass nutritional and other guidelines.

So athletes beware, if you are feeling a little stir crazy in the athlete compound and want to get out for a little sightseeing, watch what you eat. That reminds me of a story when my wife and I left the hotel in Cancun for a little ‘authentic’ Mexican food… Never mind.


Superhero vs. Villain

February 11, 2008

Good and evil, there is never one without the other.

Merlin, Excaliber (1981)

In all the comics, books, and movies I have read and seen, whenever a superhero is born, so is a super villain. Batman had the Joker. Obi Wan and Darth Vader. Pick the superhero and I’ll give you their nemesis.

Now I guess I should not be surprised that as the world is anointing Slipstream as the new superteam in the fight for a clean sport, I hear the ominous music of John Williams in the background. Yes, the man who wrote the one score that has kept a generation out of the water along with a sinister score that accompanied the center of evil for the entire universe. Cue the new supervillain. Rock Racing.

This follows the Hollywood script to the letter. Each side even has a member who was turned. David Millar, turned from the dark side and now fights for Slipstream while the boy next door, Tyler Hamilton, sports the dreaded skull of Rock Racing.

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Ground breaking anti-doping program vs. rule breaking ex-cons. Argyle vs. body art. Who will win in the fight for the golden fleece of the Tour de France?

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Is cycling still a working man’s sport?

February 10, 2008

The tradition of cycling has men escaping from the fields and mines to find a life pushing two wheels.  When an outsider pointed at the anemic salaries of your run of the mill donestique, the response always included a reference to the salary the rider left behind so in comparison, cycling paid generous salaries.

Even sponsors used to be local businesses with small budgets.  So the romantic story continued for generations.

Then came the ProTour forcing a budget well beyond the reach of your local bakery. Large corporations took center stage.  The rider’s salary increased when compared to his predecessors but are still anemic when compared to other professional sports.

Is cycling entering a new phase? That of the plaything of the very rich?  This month, VeloNews has an editorial posing that question.  In recent years, billionaires with a passion for cycling have taken to sponsoring their own teams.  In Europe, you have Bob Stapleton (High Road), and Oleg Tinkov (Tinkoff Credit Systems).  In the US, you have Doug Ellis (Slipstream) and Michael Ball (Rock Racing).

Sure this has happened before.  Many corporate sponsors were driver to sponsorship agreements by a cycling fanatic CEO and not objective ROI.  But this time it is different.  We are not talking about just sponsoring, we are talking about full ownership with no sponsors.

This reminds me of the world of America’s Cup sailing.  It started with Bill Koch and Ted Turner.  Now Larry Ellison and Ernesto Bertarelli have the helm. Seeing Larry Ellison trying to skipper his America’s Cup yacht during a qualifying race still gives me shivers.  Then again, similarly frustrated sportsman Oleg Tinkov took to riding with his team and insinuating a place as rider/owner was in the offing.


Clean kit for a clean team

February 9, 2008

I love this time of the year.  I get to see all the fresh new kits as they hit the roads.  One in particular that stands out.  Team CSC.  Gone are the fairly even distributions of red, black, and white.  Gone too are the ‘six pack’ abdominal wings symbolizing the nickname of Riis Cycling’s owner, Bjarne “The Eagle” Riis.

In it’s place is a kit that is mostly white with a smattering of black on the left side of the jersey.  The black carries around the back where you will see some red spread across the shoulders like a sunburn from riding too long.

Designer Inger Tanderup Klixbull, creative director at the add agency Ogilvy in Chicago wanted the design to reflect the team’s unity especially around riding clean. 

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Look closely where the black and red begin to fade into the white of the uniform.  There you will see the signatures of the members of the team. I just think it looks cool.

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