If A Bike Race Occurs Without Lance Armstrong, Does It Really Exist?

Captech Classic. Richmond, VA. May 26, 2005. If I happened to be a pro, this is the type of race I’d like to win: a real tough guy course with oodles of climbing packed into 100 savage kilometers. As one can gleen from the results, this was an exceptionally demanding event. The race paid 30 deep and only 30 men finished. Actually, it appears that only 27 made it. The final three look like they were pulled and had their times pro-rated. The largest group finishing together contained only 8 riders. Well, that’s what happens when you cram about 8000′ of climbing into 100km.

The race promoters certainly improved on last year’s lack of spectators by switching the date from a Saturday afternoon (when downtown Richmond is apparently deserted) to a Thursday evening, hoping to entice thousands of downtown office workers to stick around and enjoy the show. If one happens to offer beer, a Jumbo-tron at the start finish showing the entire race, palatable music, spectacular weather, enthusisastic announcers, plus exciting racing courtesy of nearly every domestic professional cycling team, you’ve got a recipe for success. Well, all you really need is beer and a giant tv. And if you want to meet every single spectator in attendence, walk around the venue with a couple of greyhounds like my wife and I did. They are the ultimate gawker magnets. I think a naked super model would garner less attention than our canine companions. It was actually getting hard to watch the race while we fielded questions from the peanut gallery.

I mentioned it last year, but I’ll say it again. Richmond has an impressive population of fixed gear bikes. It seemed that most trees, fences, and parking meters around the course had track bikes stacked up in droves. I don’t know how they negotiate the steep hills without brakes. That’s just me channelling my inner geezer. I’m still stumped about surviving my Evel Knievel-esque youthful BMX shennanigans without breaking a bone, totally devoid of protective gear.

“I don’t win anything, but at least I ride faster than other pros with websites”:
5th Erik Saunders
11th Mike Jones
DNF Todd Herriott (in his defense, stricken with illness)

Downtown Raleigh Criterium. Raleigh, NC. May 27, 2005. This event kicked ass, especially for its first incarnation. This has the ingredients of Athens, GA’s Twilight Criterium. The course was fast, demanding and spectator friendly. It was a Friday night in the part of downtown with an active nightlife. And the weather was perfect. Crowds estimated to be about 10,000 in number lined the course for the men’s event and the Endeavor and Aerospace Engineering pro teams showed up with strong squads eager to take home their share of $10,000. Also in attendance were the odd Health Net, Seasilver, and Jelly Belly pros plus all of the Southeast’s strong amateur squads. The pace was fast, but not too crazy fast. Unfortunately for me, my three solid weeks of training were not enough to undo 6 months of riding once a week. Or perhaps it was the lungful of pot smoke I inhaled inside the porto-john prior to racing. Somebody was flaming up at the race and left a cloud behind for unsuspecting racers to enjoy while seeking relief from pre-race jitters! Anyway, I was unceremoniously shelled after only about 12 of the 50 miles. Next year I’ll be back with a vengeance, hopefully not disappointing my legions of fans turning out to witness the action in person.

While I was stuffing my face with a heaping plate of Chinese food the previous night in Richmond, standing by the course’s KOM line, I was thinking, “Damn, I’ve got to race against some of these dudes tomorrow night in Raleigh.” And when I rolled up to the start line next to Aerospace Engineering’s Eric Murphy, a strong 4th place the previous evening, and looked a few guys over and spied Karl Menzies, 2nd in Captech, I knew there’d be trouble. At least my teammate Charlie Storm had a romping evening, finishing third in a late-race break behind Endeavor’s Garrett Peltonen and the aforementioned Eric Murphy. Here’s my bold prediction for Philly next week: watch out for Aerospace Engineering. Ivan Stevic, Eric Murphy, and Clement Cavliere are ready to light it up.

The one puzzling element of the race was the lack of media coverage in the paper the following day. The race was sponsored by Raleigh’s News & Observer newspaper, yet the only article (a weak, brief account of the women’s race) appeared in the City section with a box score of the women’s results tucked away in the sports section. It certainly seemed that the reporter split after the women’s event. I don’t think that the 10:30pm finish of the men’s race should have been too late to file for Saturday’s paper. It was perplexing that an event that attracted possibly 10,000 people put on by the city’s newspaper didn’t even garner an article on the front page of the sports section with solid accounts of both the men’s and women’s events. I guess it’s not too surprising, considering the weak newspaper coverage afforded to major events such as Philadelphia’s USPRO race. Equally as bizarre was the weekend’s other criterium taking place in Raleigh on Sunday, sponsored by Durham’s ABC News Channel 11. Curiously, no reporters from the tv station seemed to be in attendance. A piddly neighborhood parade attracted oodles of attention on the news, but not a sporting event the channel sponsored. At least USPRO shows live coverage of the men’s and women’s events start-to-finish on a local tv channel, but that’s an anomaly. Otherwise, cycling events seem to take place in a black hole outside the realm of space and time unless Mr. Armstrong happens to be in attendance. And that gravy train ends in July, 2005.

Giro d’Italia: Father Guido Sarducci vs. Davide Bramati

I hate the Giro Honey, you'll never guess whose ass I kicked today...

Since I don’t really have a job right now, and I don’t really have grad school to deal with (and I’ve got a spare $5.95 kicking around), I decided to send the cash OLN’s way for their live, commercial-free, announcer-free Giro feed. And I must admit, it’s been quite an experience watching the drama unfold live on my computer screen. Today for instance, at about 42km to go, some crazy, drunk fool (who bore an uncanny resemblance to Father Guido Sarducci) stood out in the middle of the road and threw punches at the Giro competitors. Quick Step had some riders on the front working to bring back the Aussie, Russell Van Hout, away on a solo break and Davide Bramati, riding 3rd in line, beaned doppleganger Sarducci full-on with a water bottle. Great aim! That just enraged faux Sarducci, and he started flailing about with his arms and legs all the while getting nailed with more bottles from pissed off pro cyclists. And after a frightening span of about 20 seconds for the peloton to pass, the guy just walked off the street like nothing happened. I thought for sure some amped up Italian cops would kick his ass, but no such luck.

And then about 30km later it was…

Koldo Gil Perez (Liberty Seguros) vs. Moto 1

Poor Koldo was about to be swept up by a super-charged, Di Luca led group near the summit of the stage’s sole KOM when Moto 1 got up close and personal. Koldo either blew up or missed a shift resulting in a significant de-acceleration and crazy-close Moto 1 rammed his rear wheel and put him out of commission. Doh! What a sickly sound as his back wheel got crunched. Well, this is Italy after all. Eight of the top 10 riders of today’s stage were Italian and Liquigas tried their damndest to take the pink jersey off of McEwen’s shoulders and onto its rightful place on an Italian’s. Di Luca came up short, but Bettini will do for the tifos’s sake. That some hapless Spaniard had his Giro dreams crushed is inconsequential…

I was initially hoping that some Italian would rub off on me from listening to hours of Italian commentary, but to my surprise there’s actually no commentary whatsoever. Just the whirring of chopper blades or the revs of motorcycle engines. I’ve translated the few Italian words that pop up on the screen and can now carry on a conversation revolving around chasing people a few minutes ahead of me, or my position either at the head or tail of the peloton. So much for my grand plan to speak cycling Italian in 3 easy weeks.

and last week, on my way to Southern Pines for Tour de Moore it was…

Peter Hymas vs. North Carolina State Police

I have never, NEVER, seen any cops lurking north of Sanford on 15/501 but The Man was ready and waiting this particular morning. I was doing maybe 63 in a 55, but The Man had a heart and let me off with a warning even though my driving was “conduct constituting a potential hazard to the motoring public”.