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By Neal Rogers
What a week for Davitamon-Lotto. Or, as team rider Chris Horner mightsay, what a week for Davitamon-Lotto, huh?
First, Fast Freddie Rodriguez summons all of the gremlin power availablein the universe to take a stagewin at the Tour de Georgia on April 21. Unfortunately, Casey Gibson’sshutter speed was faster than Freddie’s supernatural changeling powers,and his ability to transform into a gremlin was revealed to the cyclingworld. Still, it’s a small price to pay to snap his streak of bad luckand second- and third-place sprint finishes that dated back to the 2005season.
Next up was Davitamon’s ace sprinter Robbie McEwen, silencing the criticswith a stagewin at the Tour of Romandie. Though it wasn’t against a field oftop sprinters, it was a huge confidence boost for McEwen, who has spentmuch of the spring nursing a broken rib and an illness.
McEwen’s win was also a shot in the arm for his Davitamon team, whichwas oh-for-the classics, and saw Peter Van Petegem’s third-placeParis-Roubiax finish nullified when he was disqualified, alongwith Discovery Channel’s Leif Hoste and Vladimir Gusev, after the trioignored a barrier at a railway crossing and continued racing without waitingfor the train to pass.
Of course, you probably know by now that Horner followed up McEwen’sstage win with a solo, mountaintop stage win of his own, throwing whatshould now be known as the “HornerShocker” victory salute. Switzerland has been good to Horner, ashe’s taken twostage wins in the past 12 months in the land of chronometry andneutrality. Isn’t this the guy who was just racingfor Webcor Builders a few years ago?
Not to be outdone, Aussie Cadel Evans put to rest, at least temporarily,rumors of management dissatisfaction with his performances at the springclassics with a huge time-trialwin at Romandie’s final stage, taking the overall win by 27 secondsover Alberto Contador (Liberty Seguros).
Tally up four wins between April 21 and April 30, and things are startingto look up for the Belgian squad. McEwen will look to add to his eightstage wins at the Giro d’Italia when the race gets underway in Seraing,Belgium, this Saturday. The 33-year-old, who won three stages last year,will head up the Davitamon team and will be supported by two other Australians, Nick Gates and Henk Vogels. Meanwhile, back here in Boulder, Colorado,Vogels returned to his hometown of five years after the Ford Tour de Georgia,and paid a visit to the Stazio Criterium series made famous earlier thisseason by acertain suspended rider’s involvement.
As reported earlier, Tyler Hamilton isn’t racing at the unsanctionedStazio series, even though the Tyler Hamilton Foundation is involved, buthe was on hand, chatting with spectators and cheering on racers. As forVogels, he made the day’s first breakaway of the 90-minute pro-1-2 criterium,along with Health Net-Maxxis’s Scott Moninger and VeloNews managingeditor Ben Delaney, before it was reeled in.
The fast pace, at 5440-feet of elevation, clearly had its effect onVogels, who later said he was glad when the break was reeled in. But afterspending some time recovering at the back of the field, Vogels perked upfor a $400 mid-race prime, jumping out of the field with Vitamin Cottage’sDirk Friel and easily out-sprinting him across the line for some extratravel money.
A four-man breakaway consisting of Moninger, Chris Baldwin (Toyota-United),John Tarkington (Vitamin Cottage) and Ian Macgregor (TIAA-CREF) eventuallyaccelerated away, with Moninger taking the bunch sprint over Baldwin. Vogelstook the field sprint for fifth place. (I’m not sure whythe results list TIAA-CREF’s Mike Lange in fifth. I didn’t seehim in the breakaway, but maybe he jumped the field when I wasn’t lookingand came through before the field sprint.)
After the race I had a chance to toss a few questions Henk’s way regardinghis spring campaign, Davitamon-Lotto’s turning fortune, and the upcomingGiro d’Italia.
VeloNews: Tell me about your outlook on the Giro d’Italia.
Henk Vogels: First and foremost, the main reason I am going tothe Giro is to help Robbie win some stages. He won three last year, andthat’s my job. Pretty much Rodriguez does the Tour for Robbie, and I dothe Giro for him. Number one is to get those wins on the board for us,which are so important. A stage win in the Giro would be the biggest winof the year.
VN: I’ve been hearing that the final week of the Giro might weedout a few sprinters.
HV: I’m pretty sure Robbie is going to do his stock standard10-14 days in the Giro, stop, rest and recover for the Tour. I’ve heardthat the last 11 days are just crazy, crazy hard. Having said that, theywere last year, too, and I made it to the finish. I dragged my ass overall the climbs, and finished seventh or ninth [10th, -ed] or whatever itwas on the last stage in Milan. You don’t go to the Giro thinking you’regoing to pull out, but the last 11 days are going to be pretty hard toget through. A lot of good guys are saying there may only be 60 guys atthe finish in Milan.
VN: How many days of racing do you have in your legs this year?
HV: Well, I’ve been racing since January 1st. I have about 40days of racing in my legs. I’m pretty tired. I’ve done all the classics,and now I’ve got this last opportunity for Robbie.
VN: How does that compare with last year?
HV: Last year I was coming into the Giro fresh, I’d only doneGhent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix, and I hadn’t done any of the other classicsor stage races, so I was getting better through the classics and even strongerafter. This year I came in quite strong, rode through the classics, didmy job, and did all the races. I’m a little more tired than I was thistime last year.
VN: With Freddie, Horner and Cadel taking wins in the past week,does that take some of the pressure of the squad?
HV: Yeah, you know, we didn’t get the big wins earlier on inthe season, but the Tour of Romandie was absolutely incredible for us.It’d be nice having Cadel and Horner hitting the Giro, it’d be a fantasticsquad. But they have their sights set on the Tour. I think [team management]is really going to want to see some results from us in Belgium. The Tourof Italy starts in Belgium, and Davitamon-Lotto is a Belgian sponsor, sohopefully we can get Robbie up for a stage win there. But they forget veryquickly who won the last race, so the pressure will still be on at theGiro.
A few years ago, the Tourof Utah was nothing more than a regional stage race, organizedby brothers Jason and Scott Preston, that evolved out of the 2003 Fazoli’sSundance Hill Climb.
As a first-year stage-race promoter in 2004, Jason Preston admits hehad no idea what he was getting himself into. Preston said not only wasthe 2004 race marred with terrible weather and a course snafu that sawracers follow a volunteer car off course, but it was also the most stressfulweek of his life.
“We bit off more than we could chew that year,” Preston said. “We neededmore experience, and more education. I hadn’t taken any classes, or beentaken by hand and shown how it’s done. There were a lot of sleepless nights.”
Entry numbers were low in 2004, but the race saw a substantial increasein last year. Now, with the backing of the Larry H. Miller Group, the Tourof Utah hopes to become a third national grand tour on a par with the AmgenTour ofCalifornia and the FordTour de Georgia. Larry H. Miller, a prominent Utah businessmanand philanthropist, is the owner of the NBA’s Utah Jazz and the owner ofthe Larry H. Miller Auto Group, one of the largest collections of automotivedealerships in the United States.
Race courses, teams and dates were announced Tuesday at a press conferencein Salt Lake City for the 2006Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.The six-stage, 500-mile Tour of Utah,held August 7-12, is being billed as “America’s Toughest Professional CyclingRace” and will traverse through some of northern Utah’s most scenic andchallenging terrain. The race is presented by Zion’s Bank in partnershipwith the Utah Sports Commission and hopes to attract up to 100 racers frommany of the nation’s top teams including Health Net-Maxxis, NavigatorsInsurance, Toyota-United, Successfulliving.com and TIAA-CREF. The totalcash purse is listed as $40,000.
Stage five is scheduled as a 100-kilometer circuit race to be held indowntown Salt Lake City on the evening of Friday, Aug. 11. Stage six, thefinal stage, begins in Salt Lake City and ends at the Snowbird Ski andSummer Resort. The 114-mile stage includes 17,000 vertical feet of climbing.Riders will climb through Salt Lake City, Park City, Midway, Sundance,Alpine, Draper and Sandy before reaching the finish line at Snowbird.
While the race won’t have USA Cycling’s National Racing Calendar statusthis year, Jason Preston told me earlier last month that it hopes to haveNRC status, if not UCI sanctioning, in 2007. The idea is to create a mountainousthird national tour to complement those already in existence on the westand east coasts.
“We have been very fortunate to work with the Larry H. Miller Group,”Preston said. “We meet with [Larry’s son] Greg Miller almost on a dailybasis. He has taken this thing and gotten behind it almost as if it’s hisevent. He’s invested a ton of time and passion and been with me to makepitches to different sponsors. The Tour of California and Tour de Georgiahave been huge successes, and in working with the Utah Sports Commissionand Larry H. Miller Group, it’s clear that’s where they want this to go.We’ve been working feverishly to get the right people on board to get itthere, and outsourcing the right people who have the capabilities to helpus put this together. I have no doubt this will become a Tour de Georgiain the next few years. We’ll get there as quickly as we can, in 2007 or2008.”
“We’re looking at the time of year, and the amount of climbing involved,”Preston continued. “There is a real need for a Tour of Utah that can finishwith epic climbs like at the Tour de France, and that’s something we haveto offer. We’re envisioning something that can one day run from the redrocks of southern Utah to the beautiful mountains of northern Utah.”
After racing the Tour of Utah in 2005, Navigators Insurance rider BurkeSwindlehurst formed a relationship with Preston, and is now consultingwith Preston to improve the event for 2006 and beyond.
“I don’t think people have a real appreciation for how much legworkgoes into securing courses, getting permits to get roads and working withlaw enforcement to close down roads for a safe event,” Swindlehurst said.“Something as simple as a downtown criterium requires an enormous amountof networking just to secure the streets.”
TOUR OF UTAH STAGES
Based in Salt Lake City, the host city for the 2002 Winter Olympics,the Tour of Utah will span Salt Lake, Wasatch, and Utah counties to coversome of the most difficult and beautiful cycling terrain in the country.All Tour of Utah stages are tentative and subject to road closure and permittingrequirements. Exact route details are yet to be announced.Stage One: Utah Lake Road Race – Monday
Distance: 177 KilometersStage Two: Miller Motorsports Park Road Race – Tuesday
Distance: 168 KilometersStage Three: Time Trial – Wednesday
Distance: 32 KilometersStage Four: Mountain Road Race – Thursday
Distance: 160 KilometersStage Five: Circuit Race – Friday
Distance: 100 KilometersStage 6: Mountain Road Race – Saturday
Distance: 185 Kilometers