Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Total Carnage!--and A Controversy

The Carnage: Well, after a peaceful yet shocking start to the Amgen Tour of California, with Leipheimer taking the prologue time trial and who-the-hell-is-Slipstream's Jason Donald!? taking 2nd over world tt champ Fabian Cancellara, American wunderkind Dave Zabriskie and everyone else, a not-unusual rolling Stage 1 with a bunch sprint finish descended into total chaos and controversy in a flash two 3-mile circuit laps from the finish line, when apparently very fine youngster Gerold Ciolek, about 6 boys back, hit a traffic spot marking the road and shot sideways, taking down 50 riders including most of the leaders and sprint contenders and, by the rules, blowing not only Leipheimer's chance to keep the yellow leader's jersey on the day, but as far as I'm concerned, with the minute they lost, his chance to win the whole show.

What's so surprising about this, to any newcomers to the sport who may be joining us, is everyone was doing everything right here. While we're at it, although it's the start of the season, most of the European riders have already got their racing legs back under 'em at Challenge Mallorca or the Tour of Qatar, so they should've gotten most of the usual post-rest awkwardness kinked out of them already. Anyhow, T-Mobile's sprint lead-out is on the front left (facing the finish line), controlling the pace. All other the sprint contenders--Quick Step, Ag2R, Predictor/Lotto--are on the front or near to it to set up their boys. And Discovery is exactly where they should have been, up front on the right wrapped around Levi Leipheimer like a blanket. This is the safest place, though frenetic, to be--when a crash happens, it's generally smack in the middle of peloton hell, with about 40 km/hour and 2 inches separating everyone's wheel with no room to swerve to ensure maximum numerical and bodily damage. Ciolek losing it at the front is a freak of the sport. Anyhow, the overall leaders are knocked out of contention in a split-second, half the sprinters are gone, Levi's bloody (and sore today I'm sure) but okay with his left short, calf, and forearm shredded, and the only sprinters left in one piece are Graeme Brown, American Fast Freddy Rodriguez and Thor Hushovd and T-Mobile's Greg Henderson. So Brown takes it, but who cares? Dave Zabriskie already crashed and abandoned earlier, but is luckily fairly unscathed, after banging his head on the tarmac, so so much for his Stage 5 time trial and shot at the overall. Basso's whacked his knee in a lousy start to his season. The rest of the GC is decimated. Which brings us to...

The Controversy: The crash happened in the second-to-last lap--waaaaay back. If you're close enough to the line, generally 3 km I think, the race organizers will often "comp" the field some time in the event of a crash order to keep the general classification playing field even by not punishing the main contenders with the actual amount of time they lost so that a lesser rider will inevitably take the overall a few days (or seconds, if we're just talking a one-day race) from now. No excuse this far back--in what the European teams must be seeing as colossal home-town coddling for the second-rate Americans, the organizers comp everyone anyway, ironically taking the rightful lead from a boy on a US team, but giving every other American in the race a colossal bull@#$% advantage and Levi Leipheimer the unearned gift of wearing the yellow jersey. I love Levi--but this is total crap. The rules are what they are for a reason--a recognition of the leader's talents close to the line, but an acceptance of the dangers of cycling for even them farther back. And like the Europeans need another reason to think of US cycling as the fruitless training camp for perpetual talentless neo-pros wishing they had the ability to race with the big boys overseas? I call bull@#$% Amgen Tour of California!

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