Monday, March 14, 2005

Nicely done

Team CSC rider Bobby Julich became the first American to win the spring classic Paris-Nice race yesterday, neatly cruising into the port city without a mishap - or so it looked on OLN's coverage last night. However, VeloNews is reporting that close to the finish, the veteran rider very nearly hooked his handlebars with a photographer's motorbike. The story is here: http://www.velonews.com/race/int/articles/7688.0.html

During yesterday's race, Liberty Seguros rider Alberto Contador broke away with a small group early on, holding off the peloton through the many climbs. As they began the final five-kilometre climb of the day before circling back into Nice for the finish, Contador stomped on the pedals and left the others behind.

As he sped down the twisting descent toward the finish, Contador had a heart-stopping moment when one of his cleats appeared to suddenly come free from the pedal. At high-speed, he veered toward the cliff face and looked poised to go over the bars in what would have been a serious crash when he miraculously recovered and continued on to the city.

In the main pack, some 45 seconds behind, Alexander Vinokourav of T-Mobile once again showed his climbing prowess, bursting free of the pack and catching Contador on the last downhill of the day. But coming into the finish line, it was clear that Contador had nothing left. A clearly frustrated Vinokourav towed the rider toward the line, but with only 100 metres to go, the pack swallowed them up and Alejandro Valverde riding for Illes Balears took the sprint and the stage.

During the post-race interview, Julich - who lives and trains in Nice alongside Vinokourav - told OLN that he actually disobeyed his race director's orders and sat back a bit, hoping to give Vinokourav the stage win.

So where was Lance Armstrong in all this? The six-time Tour de France winner begged off in Stage Four with a sore throat and high-tailed it back to Spain.

Interestingly enough, this is the first year the pro teams are required to ride all of the spring classics as part of the newly formed Pro Tour. Armstrong has largely avoided those races in the past, choosing to train for the Tour. This year it could mean that he either rides a number of uninspiring spring classics and then wins the Tour or tries to capture some of the early races, but risks losing the coveted seventh win at the Tour. Right now, it appears he's employing the former strategy.

Certainly, new Armstrong sponsor Discovery Channel couldn't have been too thrilled with their star rider's lackluster performance in the first major race of the year.

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