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.


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 --

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.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Star-spangled summer races can keep you motivated

Kathleen Nelson photo
The heat and dew point at 6:30 this morning, 76 and 69, respectively, was like a hard slap on the back, a reminder of how much more motivated I need to be to keep at it in the summer. Felt like my lungs were wrapped in Saran Wrap.

Math comes into play here. I add the humidity and dew point. Any sum higher than 140 means that it's going to be a slog.

Winter? Piece of cake. Again, I have a magic formula: temperature minus wind chill. I brave the elements until it hits negative numbers.

But, back to summer. Some motivation to carry on comes from the star-spangled schedule of races coming up.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Big River Running earns kudos from Indies

All hail, Big River Running, which has caught the eye of Independent We Stand, a group that honors independently owned businesses: what used to be known as Mom and Pops. Big River is featured in a story on the group's web site

In this case, the founders were Pop and Pop, Matt Helbig and Ben Rosario. The duo opened their first store in 2006  in West County, offering pizza parties for high school cross country teams to build a loyal customer base. Big River has expanded to two other stores, race management, group runs, race teams, coaching and joined with the St. Louis Sports Commission to bring the 2012 and 2013 USA Cross Country Championships here. With Big River's appearance, the rest of the running stores in the area also have stepped up, making St. Louis a much friendlier place to run.

Big River has been honored as one of the Top 50 Running Stores in the Country each year since 2007 and was a finalist in 2012 for store of the year.

They are a treasure. An independent treasure.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Hesjedal suffers bruising, head and neck injuries at Tour de Suisse

Ryder Hesjedal (left). Kathleen Nelson photo.
What is it about last year's Grand Tour winners? They seem snake-bitten this year.

First, Sir Bradley Wiggins departed the Giro with respiratory problems. Then, he was ruled out of defending his Tour de France title.

A tougher pill to swallow for the locals is the plight of our adopted townie, Ryder Hesjedal. Canadian by birth, he married into St. Louisan-ism by wedding McCluer grad Ashley Hofer. Hesjedal won the 2012 Giro d'Italia but has endured hardship after hardship since. He left last year's Tour de France because of a crash on Stage 6 and cut short his defense of the Giro, when illness overcame him halfway through.

None was tougher to watch than today, when he crashed out of the Tour de Suisse and suffered bruises and injuries to his head and neck.

Friday, June 7, 2013

100 Missouri miles in six months? Piece of cake

The office of Gov. Jay Nixon and Missouri Tourism have come up with a novel way to capitalize on an honor recently bestowed on the state.
Missouri was named Best Trail State by American Trails, a nonporfit group that promotes hiking, biking and riding trails.

"The state places a high value on trails, recognizing their potential support healthy, thriving communities," the group said, citing the Lewis and Clark and Santa Fe trails, as well as the Trail of Tears and 500 miles of recreation trails. "The states continued commendable dedication to the design, construction and maintenance of trails is what allows Missouri to offer such a wide range of outdoor recreation opportunities," American Trails noted in it announcement in April.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Ways to celebrate National Running Day

Happy National Running Day. 

Kind of a silly holiday, actually. Most runners don't need a day to remind them to run. It's already part of a lifestyle that, try as they might, they can't shake.

But, for those who need an extra nudge to celebrate -- i.e., run -- here's some inspiration.

The national campaign has gathered news from around the country of how cities, running stores, clubs plan to mark the day. You can get ideas there. Or, you can join the local efforts.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Dauphine leader left his mark at Tour de Grove

A daring solo escape allowed David Veilleux of Team Europcar to take the lead after the first stage of the Criterium du Dauphine, which he maintained after Monday's sprint stage. 

That's quite a dizzying height -- leader of one of two Tour de France preludes -- from the soggy mess that Veilleux found himself in a little less than three years ago at the first Tour de Grove. He was racing for Kelly Benefits at the time, and the race was in its first year in the Grove neighborhood, southeast of Forest Park. Organizers moved the event from Winghaven in suburban St. Charles County, in the hope of attracting a larger, hipper crowd, despite being scheduled on Father's Day.

Instead, weather conspired against it. Heat and humidity combined to put the heat index into triple digits for the first two hours of racing, at which point a thunderstorm whipped up. About 20 laps into a race scheduled for 33 circuits, organizers pulled the pin when the finishing banners came loose and blew uncontrollably west on Manchester Avenue.