May was a full gas type of month. The Assault on Mt. Mitchell, which is a big deal in the Carolinas, was just as the Amgen Tour of California was kicking off mid-May. After covering the Assaults we flew to California to catch up on Stage 4, the first big mountain stage. After that there was the US Pro Championships invading my hometown of Greenville, South Carolina. It’s finally slowing down from a couple of projects so that I can sit back and reminisce.
As we all know the Tour of California got off to a stuttered start. Stage 1 was canceled and day 2 was relocated and shortened. It was a shame as those two stages would have been majestic on television. However, there were still plenty of beautiful stages. A personal favorite was Solvang. Even though I get zero cell reception in that town, I still like it there. Maybe it’s exactly that fact why I enjoy it so much. Of course the Queen stage was special for me. I’m from that area and as a university student I worked in a sheet metal shop in the town at the base of the climb. I know the Baldy climb well and I miss the training rides in that area.
I’m going to assume that the AEG press release I missed stated that this was the most attended edition in its six year history with the deepest talent ever. If a press release did go out worded like that, I would have to disagree.
The addition of two true hill and mountain top finishes was a long awaited addition to the race but it didn’t provoke the type of racing we all hoped for – aggressive attacking that would leave the winner undecided until at least Stage 7. Even the time trial, which in the past had been the lynchpin in Leipheimer’s Amgen victories, stuck to the plot. By Stage 6 the Tour of California had been decided.
Don’t get me wrong. Chris Horner of RadioShack was a well deserved winner, but I wish there had been more actual racing rather than the Shack just laying the smack to everyone. Other than RadioShack, who else had their sights set on California? Defending champion Michael Rogers (Sky) had been felled by a glandular fever. Andy Schleck of Saxo Bank openly said he wasn’t at his best and was preparing for the Tour de France. The Garmin-Cervelo brought a contingent of potential winners: 2010 and 2006 second place finisher David Zabriskie, Ryder Hesjedal and Christian Vande Velde. While Zabriskie dominated the time trial at every time check, the key stages were too tough. Hesjedal showed panache on Sierra Road, but was not strong enough to go with the moves when it counted. Vande Velde rode solidly, but seems to have his eye on the prize in July. And with the current level playing field (read: relativity clean) he could top-five with Horner. USA, USA, USA.
I’ll spare you the blow by blow but it was a RadioShack domination. On the Baldy stage we all hoped there would be attacks. Instead it was the red and black kits leading it out on the climb blowing everyone away. There were no attacks. In the end it was just Leipheimer at the front with teammate Horner killing it to the summit. Not the most exciting racing – just a display of how RadioShack wanted to take this race back and how the others were using California for training instead of Italy. Even as I wrote this many Tour favorites are stating that the Dauphine is just training. That’s too bad and frankly disrespectful to the race. I guess that’s a sign of how the sport is getting cleaner. Riders aren’t able to maintain these long peaks and specificity rules the race calendar.
While in California I took the time to catch up with folks I know from the interwebs. I connected with the guys from Kitten of Flanders who gave me a flag of the same name. Thanks guys! I was also interviewed about social media and the effects of Twitter by Stephanie Gutowski of Podium Insight. She also quotes the recent exchange I had with Lance Armstrong and the unexpected consequences. NBC obviously doesn’t get social media.
Next up on the docket is the Tour de France and this will be one to watch. Alberto Contador, even with the Sword of Damocles hanging over him is the odds on favorite. He destroyed the competition at the Giro and I don’t see anything changing in July. I’ll be hosting Tour de France live chats again. We’ll be talking mad smack and I’m hoping I can line up some guests as well.