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.