Saturday, December 28, 2013

Former UHigh Guy Pat Meek qualifies for Sochi in speedskating



Here's something for the guys at St. Louis University High to crow about: One of their own is an Olympian.
Patrick Meek, class of 2004, qualified for the U.S. speedskating team that will travel to Sochi by finishing third in the 5,000 meters on Friday in Salt Lake City.

Though he's a native of Chicago and a bit of a Blackhawks fan, Meek has looked back fondly on his time at the UHigh, when he was a member of the cross country team. Following graduation, he moved to Salt Lake City, where he has spent almost a decade devoting himself to his dream. Pat's the national champion at 25K and 50K. Sadly for him, those are not Olympic distances.

The road has been tough. Long track speedskating -- the old-school style on a huge oval with ice specially frozen to maximize the effort from long, graceful strides -- isn't a glamour sport. It's sort of like distance running in that respect. Pat has worked hard to wrangle sponsors and fund his dream. Here's an excerpt from an interview with Team USA.org:

"For Torino, I was so young. I set a PR in the 10K at trials. I thought: Oh, this is awesome, great race, done, sweet. I wasn’t so emotionally invested. I really thought Vancouver was my opportunity to make the team. [At the trials for Vancouver,] I went faster than I’d ever gone before. I just wasn’t fast enough that day. You want to be happy — and people are telling you to be happy — but you set this very binary goal for yourself: either you make the team or you don’t. At that moment, I couldn't get past the fact that I didn’t make the Olympic team. Sitting on the couch watching the Opening Ceremony, really hoping you were going to be there with those same people, was not a fun experience. It was tough watching the event you’d committed your life to."

His commitment yielded sweet fruit Friday, when he finished third in a time of 6 minutes, 27.9 seconds, trailing winner Jonathan Kuck and 17-year-old Emery Lehman. In true Jr. Bill-Latin student fashion, his mantra in qualifying: Audentis fortuna juvat: Fortune favors the bold.

Magistra should be smiling.

Meek raced in a heat with Kuck, the nation's best shot at a medal in the distance events. The superior competition helped Meek set a pace that almost ensured that he would qualify. He stretches to 12 the streak of Olympics in which a St. Louis skater has competed.

Meek is the first of many locals who could qualify for Sochi, which could make this Olympiad  the biggest ever for St. Louis athletes. Joining Meek could be goalie Ben Bishop and a slew of Blues: David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Kevin Shattenkirk, Jay Bouewmeester, Alex Pietroangelo, Jaroslav Halak, Roman Polack, Vladi Sobotka, Vladi Tarasenko, Alexander Steen.

Can't wait.

As your St. Louis hockey brethren would say, Way to go, Meeker.



Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Fun and games and serious running combine at GO! Halloween event



Given the inordinate number of costumed runners in the Great GO! St. Louis Great Halloween 10K race, it's easy to assume that all who gather at Soldier's Memorial on October 13 will be there for fun and games. For some of the competitors, though, this is serious stuff. The race, the largest 10K in Missouri, has attracted an elite field as well as the goblins, fairy princesses and refugees from ComicCon and the Renaissance fair.

Among the elite runners scheduled to compete in the 10K are three members of Team RunFan, coached by former St. Louisan Ben Rosario:

  • Jordan Chipangama, 25, who finished second in the 2013 GO! St. Louis Half Marathon, with a time of 1:03:22.
  • Matt Llano, who finished sixth at the GO! half, seventh in the U.S. 20K championships and and has a PR of 28:43 in the 10K. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Put this guy on your Olympic radar: SLUH grad Pat Meek



Photo courtesy of patrickmeek.com
We're long overdue for giving a shoutout to Patrick Meek. A 2004 graduate of St. Louis University High, Pat ran cross country for the local powerhouse. But his running was a means to an end. Pat was a skater. A speedskater. He still is.

Pat moved to Park City, Utah, the mecca for longtrack speedskating in the United States, hoping to qualify for the Olympic team. He made his first national team in 2005 but was a bit young in 2006 and just missed in 2010.

He has served as an eloquent spokesman for GoFundMe, a group of athletes using crowd funding to defray their expenses as they train. He's also proud of his 28-inch circumference thighs. Mine are almost that big. I have no reason to be proud.

This year could be his time. He finished third the past two years in the U.S. Allround Championships and was the U.S. marathon champion earlier this year in both the 25K and 50K distances. The longest Olympic distance is just 10K. Just 10K.

Pat just finished the Olympic media summit, a one-stop shop where Olympic hopefuls meet the press. He has a few more pressing engagements on his calendar, though. First comes the World Cup single-distance trials later this month. Four World Cup events serve as warm-ups to the U.S. Olympic Trials at the end of December.

The best way to stay up-to-date? The U.S. Speedskating site and USOC pressbox are good places to start. But Pat is media savvy. He's appropriately terse on twitter and poetically introspective on his web site. 

His composition instructors on Oakland Avenue should be proud.


Monday, September 30, 2013

Tickets are on sale for Musial Awards


The news that tickets are on sale for the Musial Awards should have made me happy. For as little as $35, you can be an eye witness to the retelling of stories of unselfish acts of sportsmanship that honor the memory of their namesake. All the honorees November 9 at the Peabody Opera House will display the class and character of Stan Musial, and the organizers at the St. Louis Sports Commission made a smart move in rebranding the night formerly known as the National Sportsmanship Awards.

Instead, selfishly, I'm a little wistful, bordering on melancholy. In years past, the days leading up to the evening gave me a chance to write the most satisfying stories of my career. Talented, unselfish athletes put personal glory aside to help a rival. In each case, the honoree was mystified by the adulation. Each said he/she was just doing what was right.

The simplicity in that truth always moved me to tears and inspired to find the best inside me as a writer.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Biggest winners at world cycling championships? UCI, Brian Cookson


With the victory of Rui Costa in the UCI Road World Championship on Sunday, the cycling season has the feeling of finality. Costa defeated everybody's favorite bridesmaid, Joachim Rodriguez, by a whisker. The second-place finish was the third of note this season for Rodriguez, who also "took silver" in the Giro and Vuelta and was left in tears each time.

Likewise, Tony Martin's win in the World Time Trial Championship felt inevitable. Martin has gotten the best of Fabian Cancellara for the better part of two years. It's high time to declare Martin the pre-eminent racer against the clock. Even Cancellara seems to have conceded. The time trial remains near and dear to his heart, and he takes the losses hard. But he's expanded his repertoire to dominate in the one-day spring classics of Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix as well.

Cancellara finished third, with Sir Bradley Wiggins in second. You wonder how Lord Wiggins feels about his placement. The early part of his season couldn't have gone worse. He dropped out of the Giro because of injury, and despite being the defending Tour champions, he was cast aside by Sky in favor of Chris Froome, who fulfilled his promise by winning in France for Sky. Wiggins' second-place this week in Florence and his victory in the Tour of Britain earlier this month seems to have helped heal the wounds.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Quinn's three sacks earn him title of NFC defensive player of the week

Rams defensive end Robert Quinn tackles Cardinals
quarterback Carson Palmer and forces a fumble in the
Rams' season-opening victory. Quinn was named NFC
defensive player of the week. Photo courtesy of Chris Lee.
Three sacks proved a charm for Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, who was named NFC defensive player of the week Wednesday.

“He had an outstanding game," defensive coordinator Tim Walton said. "He flew around and he had sacks, he had quarterback pressures, quarterback hits. He affected it really good and that’s the strength of our team, those guys up front. But, he did an outstanding job.”

The recognition was reward in itself for Quinn, who wasn't expecting cash, a fabulous gift to come with the honor, much less a new car.

"Are you going to buy me one?" he asked, saying the title came with "nothing that I know of unless they have a surprise for me. I was just told I was the NFC defensive player of the week. I'll add it to my resume, I guess, and move on from it."

Monday, August 26, 2013

Hats off to Sports Commission Associates' scholarship recipients

The event I shall miss most covering: the Musial Awards. You might know them better as the National Sportsmanship Awards, hosted annually by the St. Louis Sports Commission. I could have written page after page about each of the dozen or so annual recipients, who were as big as 6-6 Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnette, playing catch in the dark with children who have extreme light sensitivity, or 12-year-old Nick Kirkpatrick, who loaned his wheelchair to a fellow competitor. Each selflessly gives of himself or herself to help someone else achieve his or her athletic goals. The commission announced the name change at last year's ceremony.

Part of the group's overarcing initiative includes awarding scholarships to local high school athletes through funding from the Sports Commission's Associates, the organization's young professionals group. This year, four athletes won $8,000. Each has a story that is priceless.

I'm thrilled to share them, if only in brief form.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Tejay Van Garderen enjoys home cookin' in Colorado


Some might say Peter Sagan has a big head. It's not nearly as
big as his fans'. Courtesy of fabbricadella.com.
Home cookin' -- or, at least, home racin' -- seems to have cured what ailed Tejay Van Garderen. BMC's young GC rider rode smart in earning the overall title at the USA Pro Challenge on Sunday in Denver. He attacked with the other superior climbers on stage four, then won the time trial Friday to solidify his position. Van Garderen finished 1:30 ahead of teammate Mathias Franck and 1:42 ahead of Garmin's Tom Danielson, who won two weeks ago in Utah.

The victories bookended a disappointing Tour de France in which Van Garderen finished, 45th, more than an hour and a half behind winner Chris Froome. Sunday's victory seemed especially sweet, given his second and third place finishes in Colorado the past two years.

"I felt like it was a long time coming because I've been so close both the other times," Van Garderen told Velonews. "It amazing to get it. Other years, I maybe wanted it too bad."

Combined with his victory in the spring at the Tour of California, the win solidifies Van Garderen's position as the premiere stage young American stage racer. Just in time. Last year' winner in Colorado, Christian Vande Velde, was one of the old guard to admit to doping as a member of U.S. Postal a decade ago and retired from cycling at the end of this year's race. Other than Danielson, none of the admitted dopers has taken a turn in the spotlight and all are winding down their careers.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Danielson rides like a liberated man in winning Tour of Utah

 

Tom Danielson finally stepped out of the shadows and into the sunlight.  He attacked, unleashed his climbing talent, and was rewarded with the overall victory in the Tour of Utah.
Tom Danielson, courtesy of tomdanielson.com

Danielson, of Garmin-Sharp, rode away from Chris Horner on the final climb of the final stage. Danielson wound up 1 minute, 24 seconds ahead of Horner. Entering Sunday's finale, the two were tied on time, though Horner held the overall lead based on finishing ahead of Danielson. The bold move followed five days of smart riding that put him in position for victory.

Injury and doubt filled Danielson's career. Some of the latter might have been brought on by the proclamations of Danielson as the next Lance Armstrong. He followed Armstrong's lead via doping, admitting last year to blood doping in an affidavit filed in USADA's case against Armstrong. He showed flashes in winning the 2005 Tour de Georgia and an eighth-place finish at the 2011 Tour de France. Other than that, though, the promise was unfilled. His attack Sunday was bold, the kind made by a man comfortable with his talents and unafraid to put them on display.

His fans had been waiting to see this, through his years at Fassa Bortolo and Discovery and even Garmin.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Business is booming at GO! St. Louis and RunFanShop


The wheels of commerce continue to turn at a brisk pace for a pair of our favorite running organizations. Close to home, less than  1,000 spots remain for the inaugural Great GO! St. Louis Halloween Half-Marathon, 7:30 a.m. October 13. The even also includes a 10K, 5K and mile fun run. Part of the half-marathon and 10K courses traverses the riverfront, a rarity for runs.

Registration for the half is $65 until August 31.

Say No To EPOSecond, former St. Louisan Ben Rosario is one month into his newest venture, RunFanShop. In his recent monthly newsletter, Ben reports that in less than a week, he blew past his sales forecasts for the first month. The shop has blazed a new path. Rather than hawk running shoes, technical clothing and gear available at a plethora of local stores, including his former venture, Big River Running, RunFanShop caters to running fans. Pictured here is one of its best sellers. Also going like hotcakes is Nick Symmonds 2012 training log. The site also features lots of books and videos.

Rosario and his wife, Jen, are most adept at social media. They have facebook, twitter, and YouTube sites and host a weekly online radio show. They don't need no stinkin' legacy media, but they have a fan in an old codger like me.

In each case, I'll lend my old school skills to help their causes. Not that they need it.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Worlds converge at St. Patrick Center's Walk a Mile in Our Shoes 5K

The lack of posts since the end of the Tour de France would be easy to attribute to a cycling hangover. Or to burnout or cynicism. The confessions of doping 15 years ago have come thick and fast, as have the subsequent firings. The scenario has played out so many times, so predictably, that the drama can leave one mentally and psychologically weary, in need of a break from what seems like a hopeless dilemma with no end in sight.

Instead, the reason for my absence is a happier one. I started a new job as communications specialist at St. Patrick Center. The organization moved in across the street from the Post-Dispatch more than two decades ago, and I have been an eye witness to the good deeds of the center in helping people who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless. I admired the center and its workers for their ability to improve lives -- to build permanent, positive change, as we say, or to be at the center of change --  while so many others mean to do good but get lost in the red tape and hopelessness.

I am humbled to join their ranks, to apply and adapt my skills in the hope that in some small way, I can further their mission.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

EPO revelations from '98: timing is never right for doping confessions


Fifteen years ago, Stuart O'Grady won a stage and wore the yellow jersey at the Tour de France. One day after the most recent Tour, O'Grady announced his retirement. Some were stunned, others were suspicious.

Suspicions were verified the next day, when the list of riders from 1998 who failed tests for EPO, performed retroactively. O'Grady was on the list, as was St. Louis native Kevin Livingston, who failed twice that year. Livingston rode as a lieutenant for Lance Armstrong in the 1999 and 2000 Tour victories, then switched to Telekom/T-Mobile, where he rode as a lieutenant for Jan Ullirch, another doper. He retired following the 2002 season.

Just more proof that everybody was doing it. Phil Liggett echoed the chorus of the apologists for O'Grady, saying that he felt he had to do it. In my book, though,  the proof of rampant use doesn't excuse the guys who justify it with "everybody was doing it." Each of them made the decision to do something both illegal and and potentially dangerous to their health. They will tell you they did it to keep doing something they loved. They're leaving out an element: they also did it to do something they love AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Fresh faces turn the page for 100th Tour de France

All hail the Arc d'Triomphe, which the riders
should circle every year.
 When you celebrate a century of doing pretty much anything, you have a tendency to look back. Given the fresh faces that dominated the 100th staging of the Tour de France, though, the event has every reason to look forward.

The sport is trying to ride away from its past, filled with doping scandals for the past two decades. We can't guarantee that the newcomers who dominated the Tour this year are clean, but it's a good sign for the race that the old guard was all but absent from the podiums this year for a sport looking for a new start. Among the riders we hope  to see more of for years to come:

Chris Froome: Like last year's winner, Bradley Wiggins, he has answered every question about doping. Both grew tired of the subject, especially since they vow that they are riding clean. Unlike Lord Wiggins, he answered with dignity, rather than profanity.

Nairo Quintana: He makes climbing look like flying. Easy, effortless, like a 15 mph loll along the Grant's Trail. Only when you see the faces of his competitors do you realize how hard it is to keep up with him. It is a magical sight. Let's hope there's no smoke and mirrors behind the magic. Phil and Paul were prone to hyperbole on the final stages, predicting he might someday win the Tour. He has to learn to time trial, and his slight frame make him prone to being caught out in crosswinds and on hard, rolling stages.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Big Jens attacks for love of the bike; Contador loses that lovin' feelin'

For the better part of Stage 20, the peloton got a view of the back bumper of Big Jens Voigt's bike. True to aggressive form, Big Jens joined the breakway group early, then took off on his own on the next-to-last climb when the pace of the others backed off. He was finally caught with 8K left on the final climb, when the overall contenders got serious about finishing on the podium.
"Basically, really, I knew I didn't have a chance. But hey, did that ever stop me? Of course not," Voigt told reporters after he had earned the daily prize as most aggressive rider. "I said, 'Hey, I'm Jens Voigt. I'll give it a go and give them a run for their money.'
"I just wanted to finish the Tour de France on a good note. I don't want to finish the Tour like a beaten-up old man and people say, 'Ja, ja, ja, that's Jens, he was a former good rider.' No, I just wanted to finish on top of things and say, 'Hey, look, I'm still here and I still have something left in me.'"

No one attacks with as much joy as Big Jens. He may be suffering like a dog, yelling "Shut up, legs!" to himself the whole time, but he's a showman. He's 41 but pedals like that bike is his first love and he is forever young. The crowd loves him, because he shows them how much he loves to ride. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Lots of TV time for Rui and Ryder, but no change at the top

Hooray for Rui Costa, at left, proud owner of the biggest, whitest teeth in the peloton. He got another chance to flash his smile Friday, after riding away from Pierre Rolland for his second stage win of this year's Tour.

The peloton climbed so many mountains that the stage took everyone but Costa at least 6 hours to finish. So, by stage's end, it was tough to recall that adoptive St. Louisan Ryder Hesjedal charged up the toughest climbs, the HC Glandon and Madeline, as the leader with Rolland. Getting up at 5:30 a.m. proved satisfying when I saw Hesjedal, husband of McCluer grad Ashley Hofer, in fine form. He cracked a rib on the first stage and has been riding at the back of the pack, arriere du peloton for those following in French. The injury usually takes about 3 weeks to heal, and Hesjedal gave evidence that the doctors know what they're talking about.
Ryder Hesjedal's glasses, photo courtesy of
The Inner Ring

Meanwhile, back in the pack, there was lots of strategery playing out.  Riders in second to fifth place were separated by just 47 seconds, and the team competition is just as tight.The end result: few fireworks and no change in the standings.

Alberto Contador took a defensive position, setting a tough pace with teammates Roman Kreuziger and Mick Rogers. The tempo prevented Nairo Quintana from attacking and perhaps moving from third overall past Contador. Joaquim Rodriguez gave it a shot on the final climb the Col de la Croix Fry but was quickly returned to the fold and finished the stage where he started, in fifth place overall, 5:58 behind Chris Froome.

The acceleration temporarily isolated Froomie, but Faithful Richie Porte managed to find his own rhythm after being dropped and caught up on the descent.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Poor, poor Tejay, and a bonking yellow jersey gets penalized


Froomie bonked.

But, really, so what? With others failing to pull away, even on a bad day, leader Chris Froome managed to gain ground on second-place Alberto Contador.

I felt bad for Tejay Vangarderen on that second ascent of Alpe d'Huez. Had he not suffered a mechanical problem with his gears on the previous descent of the Col de Sarenne, he wouldn't have been forced to waste energy chasing his breakaway mates, Christophe Riblon and Moreno Moser.

He paid for the chase dearly with about 5 kilometers to go on the second climb of Alpe d'Huez. You could tell he was tired when he flapped and slapped away at the annoying spec-TA-tors running at his side. He was too tired to focus on the task at hand and allowed the Bodystocking and Thong Goofballs to distract him. Then, he wasted what little energy he had shooing them.

His misfortune allowed Riblon to reconnect, then storm away to victory.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Hate to say 'Told you so,' but Froome will stay in charge


The outcome seems inevitable, but that doesn't mean that the intrigue and surprises are gone from this year's Tour de France.

Chris Froome turned himself inside out to win atop Mont Ventoux. He didn't have to finish first to remain in first place at the second rest day. It seemed important to him, though, that the overall winner take first atop the toughest climb in the 100th anniversary. He's branding his victory. I learned one thing at the end of the stage: riders are allowed to take oxygen to recover. Never saw that before. Froome wanted that win bad. Good for him: evidence of a champion's heart.

Froome honors the yellow jersey.

Because another time trial is coming up and because none of the other contenders can touch him in the discipline, expect him to expand his lead over his closest rival, Bauke Mollema,which stands at 4:14. As long as Froome stays on his bicycle, no one will catch him. His team, Sky, might have off-days, but he doesn't.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Stage 13: Was that Paris-Roubaix, or Flanders, or the Tour de France?


Mark Cavendish sprints to victory, after
 sprinting to catch the lead echelon,
 which formed in the crosswinds
 on Stage 13.
Courtesy OPQS/Tim de Waele
If you didn't have a calendar handy this morning, you might have thought it was early spring, rather than July, and the cyclists were riding the northern classics, rather than the 13th stage of the Tour de France.

Those races in the early part of the season are subject to crosswinds, which break up the peloton and lead to groups scrambling in vain to catch on, then minimize their losses. The savvy teams tend to be the ones based in northern Europe, the ones that put a premium on capitalizing on the moment when the winds have the potential to break up the pack.

So, seeing Omega Pharma-QuickStep split the peloton in two wasn't much of a surprise. The team, based in Belgium, thrives on the tactic in such races as the Three Days de Panne and the Tour of Flanders. It managed to shed Marcel Kittel, who has surprised the teams of the established sprinters by winning three stages in the first two weeks.

Omega didn't intend to dispatch Alajandro Valverde, who started the day second in the overall standings. But a flat tire, followed by a slow tire change, cost him dearly. The scene was reminiscent of Big George Hincapie, king of the untimely flat in Paris-Roubaix, his white whale. Like Big George, Valverde was left behind, as the elements and bad luck conspired against him. Valverde ended up losing more than nine minutes to leader Chris Froome and fell from second to 16th, more than 12 minutes in arrears.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Spectator -- not Cavs -- stinks, distracts from Froome's dominance


Mark Cavendish, as seen
on Twitter
All the hubbub about Sky losing control of the yellow jersey that surrounded the off-performance on Stage 8 became a distant memory on Stage 11, when Chris Froome finished second and put at least two minutes between himself and each of the other GC hopefuls.

We hate to say "told you so," but check this out.

Far more deserving of hubbub and outrage was the treatment of Mark Cavendish by tifosi, which is Italian for "cycling goofballs." Cavs' team manager, Patrick Lefevere, confirmed that fans threw urine on Cavendish as he rode the time trial course from Avranches to Mont-Saint-Michel on Wednesday.
"Some spectators were not very pleased with what happened yesterday, and one idiot put urine on him," Lefevere told cyclingnews.com. "Maybe you have a smell of his jersey before you believe. I don't know the taste of urine, but he's a little bit upset at the moment, and down, because he doesn't deserve this."

Monday, July 8, 2013

Rest day analysis: Tour is more interesting but remains Froome's to lose

Chris Froome, from his Twitter profile

Stage 9 provided hope that Team Sky's dominance, which began last year in a boring romp for Sir Bradley Wiggins, had ended. Attacks by Garmin-Sharp and Movistar blew apart Sky and dislodged Richie Porte from second in the overall classification to 33rd. 

Not so fast.  Yes, the script has changed. Sky will not have the two best riders this year, as it did in 2012 with 1-2 Wiggins and Froome. And eight of Sky's guys had a bad day Sunday, which is understandable after the effort they put in Saturday. But one had a good day, and he's the guy that counts. Froomie was isolated but matched every acceleration that Movistar's Nairo Quintana threw at him -- to the point that the attackers gave up and rode together at the end. Movistar could come to rue the decision to call off the dogs.

Ben Rosario launches another new endeavor: RunFanShop.com


One of the original T-shirts available from RunFanShop.com
St. Louis native Ben Rosario is a restless soul. But a successful one: two-time Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, former Read, Write and Run director of GO! St. Louis, co-founder of Big River Running, meet director of the Big River Festival of Miles, coach and marketing guru at McMillan Running.

It's been a little more than a year since he left St. Louis for Flagstaff, Ariz., and McMillan, but already he's opening a new online retail store. It debuts today. Unlike other sites for runners, this one, RunFanShop.com, caters to running fans.

"We have long been frustrated that fans of running have never been able to show their support in the same way that fans of all other sports can," Rosario said in his announcement. "Well, rather than sit around and complain, we are going to do something about it."

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Thrilled to apologize and report that Stage 9 was anything but boring

Animate. Animate. Animate.

Dan Martin, as seen on Twitter
We're relieved to admit that we might have jumped the gun and are happy to report that this might not turn out to be a repeat of the summer of Wiggins. Last year, Sky's Sir Bradley Wiggins took the lead on the first mountain stage of the Tour de France, built a lead on the next day's time trial and cruised to victory two weeks later. He went on to win the Olympic gold medal. Victory after victory for Wiggins and Sky got a little bit boring and predictable.

Lord Wiggins' lieutenant last year, Chris Froome, seemed poised to repeat the script. Sky dominated on Stage 8, riding the other hopefuls into submission. Their dominance was so thorough that it forced teams to get aggressive for Stage 9, which led to one of the most entertaining mountain stages since Lance Armstrong and Iban Mayo got tangled on a little girl's souvenir bag in 2003.

The biggest threat following Saturday, Alejandro Valverde, marshaled the formidable forces of the Movistar team, setting a pace that shed all of Froome's lieutenants, including second-place Richie Porte. The strategy seemed to have two prongs. Young climber Nairo Quintana would attack on the final climb and ride away. Failing that, the group would stay together, and Valverde would outsprint Froome to pick up a few seconds.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Well, that didn't take long: Froome stamps his authority on the Tour


Fans hoping for a suspenseful Tour look to be sorely disappointed for the second successive year.

Sky's Chris Froome let the climbing specialists have a go, then reeled them in on the final slope, Ax 3 Domaines. By the time he reached the top, soon-to-be Sir Froomie had built a lead of 51 seconds on teammate Richie Porte and 1:08 on his closest rival, Alejandro Valverde.

We were treated to a predictable launch from Thomas Voeckler on the next-to-last climb. He was caught quickly by Movistar's youngster, Nairo Quintana. His style said Easy Sunday Ride, but he flew past the laboring Voeckler. Pierre Rolland was next, hoping to catch Quintana and ride together to the finish. He never caught the Colombian, who built a 1-minute lead over the contenders at the top of the Col de Pailheres.

His descending skills didn't match his climbing, though, and he lost half his advantage by the start of the final climb to Ax 3 Domaines. Sky set a nasty tempo on the lower slopes and dispensed with all but a half-dozen riders by the time Froome accelerated 5K from the finishing line. Only Porte could finish within a minute of the leader.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Sagan consolidates, as Phil Liggett would say


I don't often make the kind of absolute statements that my fellow sport writers are prone to pronouncing, but in this case, I'll make an exception.

Peter Sagan has just about sewn up the green jersey, thanks to well-timed and well-executed tactics of his teammates at Cannondale.

By winning the intermediate and final sprints, Sagan has built a 94-point lead in the green jersey competition. This means that Sagan will be a regular visitor to the podium and will collect enough of those green PMU cycling action figures, awarded to the daily green jersey wearer, that he could stage a re-creation of the Battle of the Bulge on the team bus with the trophies as army men.

Cannondale used a second-category climb near the middle of the stage to its advantage. The team rode at the front of the peloton and picked up the pace, which shed the bulk of the sprinters from the main field. Sagan is one of a handful of gifted sprinters who can maintain the pace on such a climb. His main rivals --  Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel -- were left behind.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Tour de France organizers stake their reputation on petty decisions

Token race shot. This from Cycling Illustrated.
My heart broke this morning when I saw Ted King in tears, unable to finish a sentence about how his parents were waiting to see him ride into Marseille.

Instead of entering on a bike with the peloton of the Tour de France, King hit town in the team bus, eliminated from the race.

King broke his collarbone in the opening stage on Corsica and had soldiered on, taking the start for the team time trial in Nice. Unlike his teammates, who rode time trial bikes, King switced to his road bike with aero bars, to minimize the pain.

One problem: the official time chip was on his TT bike, and his SRM wasn't calibrated the same way.
He lost his teammates before leaving the starting straight but rode solo, pressing forward. As he crossed the line, his power meter registered 32 minutes, 24 seconds. The cutoff time turned out to be 32:25.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

What to do with Simon Gerrans now that Orica has put him in yellow?


They didn't put a lot of time into preparing for the team team trial. They weren't among the favourites. But Orica Greenedge won the discipline that some teams invest lots of time and effort into, edging Omega Pharma Quick Step by one second and Sky by three on Stage 4 in Nice.

Omega entered as the world champion. Sky was favoured because of its dominance this year. BMC and Garmin make no secret of the amount of time they put into practicing the subtleties and tout the aerodynamic innovations they champion.

Then, along comes Svein Tuft, former Canadian time trial champ who finished third in the 2008 Tour of Missouri. He casually mentions to Velo's Neal Rogers, after his Australian-based team stole the TTT from the faves, "we didn't really practice."

Allen Iverson must be very proud. We wonder if Jonathan Vaughters and Jim Ochowicz will reconsider the amount of time they put into the discipline. Probably not.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Great GO! Halloween races: Location, location, location


Despite joining an ever-expanding menu of 13.1-mile races, the Great GO! St. Louis Halloween race, scheduled for October 13, is more than holding its own. Officials at GO! sent out a release, stating that the field was filling quickly and that a sellout was expected.

The advantage the newest race holds goes back to the Realtors' mantra: Location, location, location.

As the map indicates, the tight course highlights downtown, Soulard and the Riverfront, a coup for organizers. Kudos to them for securing permission to stage the 10K and half with views of the Mississippi River.

Its major competitor, the Quinn Family Foundation Rock n Roll St. Louis Marathon and Half-Marathon on Oct. 27, appears to be using the same course it has used the past two years, which includes the parks of South St. Louis and Forest Park.

The fledgling Mo Cowbell Half is staged in St. Charles; the longstanding St. Louis Track Club half will use its traditional course through Clayton and Forest Park.

Combined with Missouri's largest 10K, a 5K and fun run, GO! expects 7,000 runners for its Halloween extravaganza, which also features a costume contest and pumpkin pies for the top three in each age group.

Register here.

When will the peloton learn that you don't mess with Simon Gerrans?

Danny Pate, Egoi Martinez and Simon Gerrans
Simon Gerrans trailed Danny Pate and Egoi Martinez but earned his first Tour stage win, in 2008,
thanks to a broken promise, according to his breakaway mates. Cycling Weekly
Monday's outcome proved again that just because Simon Gerrans is 2-foot-nothing, you must not underestimate him.

But before celebrating Gerrans' crafty victory on Stage 3, let's quickly look back to 2008, when Gerrans had broken away on Stage 15, a mountainous escapade that finished in Prato Nevoso, Italy. By his own admission, Gerrans was cooked on the final climb. According to his breakaway mates, Garmin's Danny Pate and Euskatel's Egoi Martinez, Gerrans admitted as much and asked them to slow down for him. Both have said he promised that he'd serve as set-up man for the others on the final descent.

Then riding for Credit-Agricole, Gerrans used his superior turn of speed to slip past both for the victory. Martinez seemed to take the double-dealing especially hard.

"Gerrans said that he would settle for reaching the finish line with me and being second. So when he was not able to follow on the ascent ... we waited for him," Martinez was quoted as saying. "I committed a fatal error, and I have paid for it very dearly."

If true, that was pretty low. I chose to believe Egoi at the time. Since then, Gerrans has been known in our house as The Little Turd, but Tour history didn't prevent me from including him on my fantasy team today.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Despite Bakelants' win, order is restored on Stage 2 of Tour de France


Jan Bakelants rides to victory.
Courtesy Radio Shack Leopard Trek.
No bus crashes. No rider crashes. Sunday's stage of the Tour de France was what the Spanish like to call Tranquilo.

The surprises were more delightful than shocking or horrifying, some not entirely unexpected. Thomas Voeckler launched a solo attack on the toughest mountain in the hope of breaking away for a lone escapade. It was unsuccessful. The pace was enough to set the sprinters more than six minutes in arrears by the time they reached the top of the climb. Marcel Kittel's reign in yellow proved short-lived, though he retained the green jersey.

Voeckler's teammate, GC contender Pierre Rolland, gave it a go on the final, short climb, only to be reeled back in.  Betting favourite Chris Froome took a flyer on the last climb as a show of strength, then quietly rode back into the group of contenders.

Ooooooooooh.

Cannondale's Peter Sagan was one of a few sprinters who kept up the pace of the GC teams and had a chance to take the win. Sagan's appearance with the leaders was all the more remarkable, considering the nasty pileup he found himself on the bottom of Saturday. Though bruised and stiff, Sagan was there for the finish.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Throw the Tour organizers under the bus for the chaos in Corsica


I have to be, like, the millionth, stand-up wannabe to say this, but I just can't resist a bad pun:

Don't throw the Orica-Green Edge driver under the bus.

The chaos at the end of the opening stage rests entirely on the shoulders of the organizers. Do any of them own a tape measure? How many times have they set up a finishing line? Why would the banner over the finishing line be lower in Corsica than on any of the 2,000 other stages that the Amaury Sport Ooganization has set up?

No way a bus should have been unable to clear the finishing banner. But, when it happens, you gotta, as the Brits say, "Keep Calm and Carry On," figure out how to get it out of the way of the riders and avoid causing panic amongst the peloton.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Chris Froome: the favourite still has to make it around France



The overwhelming support flowing the way of Sky's Chris Froome takes one back to the days of the dominance of Lance Armstrong. But Froome should thank Sir Bradley Wiggins.

Odds on Froome are better than even money, according to Europe's online betting sites. The reason: he followed the blueprint that led to Lord Wiggins' victory last year. Wiggins won every race he entered in the run-up to his Tour victory: Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie and Dauphine. He then used his formidable time trialing skills and  Froome's support to dominate in France, some would say boringly so.

If it worked for one gangly Brit, it will work for another, right?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Climbers to watch at this year's Tour de France

Thomas Voeckler facial expression (cropped).jpg
Everybody loves -- or loves to hate --
 Voeckler

The polka dot jersey can be such a tease. The maillot gaudy is supposed to go to the best climber in the Tour de France. Last year's winner: Thomas Voeckler.

Voeckler: What a joke.

But, he was just the most recent rider to exploit a scoring system that awards the opportunists and marginalizes the ability to climb over three weeks. Among the recent winners are Anthony Charteau -- Remember him? It's OK. Nobody does -- and Sammy Sanchez, who excels at the Olympics and hilly classics but isn't the best at sustaining his climbing prowess.

In 2008 and 2009, Bernhard Kohl and Franco Pellizotti, respectively, took the jersey but were stripped after doping suspensions.

Here's the winning formula: The organizers classify climbs on the route. The higher the classification, the more points are available. So, riders will pinpoint a stage or two with tons of categorized lumps, get in a breakaway and scoop up points. Repeat the procedure on multiple stages and you build an insurmountable lead.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Green jersey predictions: Sagan successfully defends his title



Fun fact: The winner of the yellow jersey at the Tour de France earns $600,000, give or take, depending on the exchange rate. The winner of the green jersey earns $33,000. No, I didn't forget a zero.

Peter Sagan
But, based on the number of stages that come down to a sprint and the amount of air time that Phil and Paul devote to discussing it, the green jersey is worth nearly as much to sponsors as the maillot jaune. If the jersey is a worthy topic for Phil and Paul, it's worthy of our attention as well.

Besides, we love these guys. They ride so close and fast that they have to engage in "serious argy-bargy," bumping shoulders and butting heads, to maintain their position or bully their way past others. Wipeouts and crashes are inevitable. That's hockey, baby, as it would be played on two wheels at 50 mph.

Because of the anomalies -- hills -- of the early stages, expect Peter Sagan to wear the jersey for nearly three weeks. The lumpy terrain of Corsica favors a rider with the ability to climb. Though the opening stage is tailor-made for a bunch sprint, the next two stages will favor the youngster from Slovakia with a penchant for exuberant celebrations. Last year, he mimicked Forrest Gump and The Incredible Hulk, even did a wheelie over the line when he soloed to victory. He took it a little too far this year, when he grabbed the derriere of a podium girl after finishing second at the Tour of Flanders.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Biding our time while the Tour de France pieces fall into place

No more jousting Tours of France
 for Sir Wiggins?

Just a week from the start of the Tour de France, but it's still too early to write a proper preview of the contenders for the overall title.

We've been too amused with the backpedaling of Team Sky and Sir Bradley Wiggins on his immediate future. A couple days ago, rumors circulated that His Grace was sour about having to ride the Vuelta, the plan proffered when he withdrew from the Giro because of illness and, later, injury. Given the release today from Team Sky, apparently royalty has triumphed in the battle of wills. The team announced on its site that he would race in the tours of Poland and Great Britain before setting his sights on the world time trial championship.

He also took a longer view in an interview with AFP, suggesting that his Tour days were over: "If I'm honest, I don't think I'm prepared to make those sacrifices again that I made last year, with my family and so on."

Cycling media and fans seem quick to pounce whenever adverse news surfaces about Wiggins. They seem to begrudge him his success more than any of those either convicted or suspected of doping. Seems unfair. I make fun of the royalty hoo-ha and his prickly personality, but respect the effort it took to pull off his amazing 2012. Success in such abundance is so rare. It should be enjoyed, not mocked after the fact.

Besides, I'd hate to lose reasons for using that jousting photo.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

St. Louis weekend races attract different breeds




Did a little quick math: a dangerous practice most often. But crunching the numbers from Saturday's Race for the Cure and Sunday's All-American 5K shows an interesting dichotomy.

Of the 40,000-plus participants in the Komen race, 1,460 competed in the timed 5K. The GO! St. Louis event on Father's Day attracted more, surprisingly: 1,548 finishers. The advantage might have been bigger if not for a downpour Sunday morning.

The quality of the GO! field also appears to have been higher. The winning time of Matthew Chesang: 14:51. Neville Miller's winning time Saturday was 16:09. Congrats to both. In addition, 85 runners finished in less than 20 minutes at GO!. That's 5.4 percent of the field. At Komen, 23 of 1,460 finished in less than 20 minutes, or 1.5 percent.

The Race for the Cure might not be much of a competitive race, but it is so much more. It is a happening. It is a celebration of survivorship. It is a day of recollection. It is transcendent for the participants.

The difference adds up to variety, which equates to a vibrant running scene for St. Louisans of all levels and abilities.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Tidbits on Sarah Haskins and the local triathletes


We're overdue for a pop-in with our local Olympic triathlete, Sarah Haskins, so without further ado:

More than 30 weeks pregnant, Haskins has taken a hiatus from competition but has conducted clinics nationally and locally, including her alma mater, Parkway South. She also recently hosted a webinar on how to maximize performance on the middle leg, aka cycling.

Haskins is the premier U.S. athlete in triathlons in which drafting is illegal, so she has learned how to hammer on the bike without the advantage of riding in a competitor's slipstream, which helps a rider conserve energy. The Olympics and the ITU pro circuit, in contrast, are draft-legal. Haskins qualified for the 2008 Olympics and finished 11th in Beijing.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Nothing like an oversized Alpe d'Huez graphic to grab your attention


Wanted to make sure that you didn't miss a chance to read the excellent work of editor Antoine Vayer, Frederic Portoleau, Stephane Huby and Jean-Pierre de Mondenard in "Not Normal? An insight into doping and the 21 biggest riders from LeMond to Armstrong to Evans." The publication casts a long, dark shadow on the performances of almost every Tour de France winner over the past three decades.

 You can order the full version for $9.95 or squint at the miniversion.

The publication's centerpiece is a graphic that uses a photo of Alpe d'Huez as a backdrop; the route features 21 turns, with a rider pictured at each corner. Riders pictures are plastered at various heights, based on the suspiciousness of their performances. The rides are divided into four classifications: Unremarkable, Suspicious, Miraculous and Mutant.