Tour of California

So, I’ve made a point of following this year’s Tour of California. Watching pro cycling motivates me to ride more, myself, and the racing this year has certainly been motivational.

Cases in point:

1. Cancellara dominates the Prologue. Naturally, Fabian Cancellara is a multiple world champion in time trial. If there’s someone who’s going to have pretty even odds to win a time trial, this is the guy. Still, watching his form on the bike–head up, smooth, powerful pedaling all the way down the course–it’s a graduate class on the proper approach to the time trial. Compare this to say, certain Americans who seem determined to ride while looking at their cycling computer, giant wind-resistant helmet fin a-flying in the air like some sort of wheeled shark. Bobbing and weaving, standing on the pedals, lurching around: these are not the hallmarks of a time trialist. Lance does it remarkably well. Levi is pretty darn good, too. Cancellara is among the best I’ve ever seen.

2. Mancebo’s flyer and subsequent win in Stage 1 was amazing, although I feel his sprint may have been won more on his companions’ bad tactics and poor attention-span than his “awesome sprinting.” If you watch that footage again, you can see Nibali and Van de Walle looking at each other while Mancebo drifts right and takes off. They responded VERY slowly and subsequently lost the stage.

3. Levi took it to the boys in Stage 2. His attack up Bonny Doon (although our commentators called it “Donny Boon” more than once) was spectacular, and displayed a dominance rare in early season racing under such conditions. Has the Tour of Flanders seen this kind of hammering? Although it’s hard to tell from the VS coverage, it seemed as Levi bridged the gap and subsequently left them as though they were standing still. A pretty remarkable sort of ride, and I was only disappointed that he didn’t contest the sprint against Peterson. Peterson has to be happy to have held on to Levi to the end. Nipping him for the win must seem like a gift, no matter how hard he struggled to stay with him.

4. Thor had a great lead out in Stage 3. It seemed as though the other teams weren’t even in the game, and they looked like a Cat 4 sprint on a Sunday morning rather than the world’s preeminent teams in a stage race. Cervelo led the final couple of kilometers with a 3-man train, powering Thor Hushovd straight to his first win of the season. Cavendish and Freire were hard to find in the crowd. And where was Boonen!? Tornado Tom was back in the crowd proper, in 13th place. Comments have been made about the bad weather, but Boonen is from Belgium; don’t they have the whole “bad spring weather” thing pretty much down by now? Maybe he should move back home from Monaco. Ah, well. Such is racing. Still, it was pretty disappointing for this Boonen fan. Still, Thor was impressive, and it’s hard not to like a sprinter named Thor.

Some pretty amazing stuff, to say the least. I’m glad VS is sticking with the ToC and giving us coverage that certainly rivals that of the TdF coverage of the past few years. I wish the highlights show at 11pm had a bit more coverage of the breakaways early in the stages, some more climbing, and a bit of descending. It seems they’re sticking with the roll-out, a few highlights, then the last 15 mins as a script. This may be interesting to the novice viewer, but we cyclists are being driven batty by the omissions. In addition, technical issues have kept some of the best highlights off television, but the photography coming out of California is certainly top notch. Check out Pez or Cycling News or Velo News to check out some of the stuff you’re missing on the 11pm show.

More than friend has recited some of the commercials we’re seeing…over and over and over and over again. I tell them to look past the negative parts of the advertising–particularly the incessant cut-aways–and look instead at the quality of advertising that the ToC has drawn. It’s important that VS is receiving valuable commercial consideration for the event, which makes the volume of cycling coverage rise in the US. More coverage, more interest, more bikes. It may suck to have to watch it (see what Fatty, whose wife Susan (WIN!) says about these horrible cancer commercials over at Fat Cyclist), but it’s good in the long run. Besides, you can always use a DVR.

So, the ToC has me pretty stoked about cycling this year. That’s a pretty good thing in February, when I spend most of my time in the weight room or reading about cycling rather than doing it. After the “meh” of the past couple of years, I might consider actually consider purchasing the race wrap-up DVD for this one.

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