Courtesy of Flik'r.
Colorado's first ProTour level stage race in 23 years wrapped up yesterday, and I'm pleased to report it exceeded most expectations. Having attracted serious star power to the start line, including half of the top ten finishers from the Tour de France plus the likes of George Hincapie, Christian Vande Velde, Ivan Basso, the race was something of a success even before it began.
The big winner was RadioShack's Levi Leipheimer, who put on an impressive display of brute strength and tactical prowess to win two stages (Stage 1 to Crested Butte and the Stage 3 time trial) and seal up the overall in spite of his young, fairly inexperienced team. The other beneficiary was team Liquigas-Cannondale, which took three out of six stage wins with sprinters Elia Viviani (Stages 4 and 5) and Daniel Oss (Stage 6). And the runner-up award goes to the hapless but forever-likeable team Garmin-Cervélo: Tom Danielson was sitting pretty going into Stage 3 before a bad case of gastroenteritis gave his GC hopes a boot to the gut, while Christian Vande Velde lost the prologue by an excruciating two seconds and missed out on the time trial win by an even-more-agonizing 58/100ths of a second. Those near misses, among others, were a boon for the spectators though, as the tight racing made for some exciting stages.
Successes aside, the inaugural USA Pro Cycling challenge wasn't perfect. Over coffee this morning, as I watched the Versus recap of Stage 6, I started making a list of my gripes, critiques, and quibbles. I offer them now, if not humbly, at least with the hope that someone who matters might be listening and take a bit of this into account for next year. If not, I'll still be out there watching anyway.
1. First of all, what's up with the terrible coverage on Versus? I watched a number of stages firsthand, and when I saw the recap later that day I barely even recognized the race purportedly being covered. Case in point Stage 2, where the network didn't even show the pivotal moment the racers crested Independence Pass, and Stage 6, in which they neglected to mention (much less air) the high-power break that formed over Lookout. Come on guys: at least give us a recap of the action. And another thing, how about a bit of off-air coaching for Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen? Their pronunciations of local towns ("Bona Vista" and "Saleeda") were entertaining, I suppose, but Liggett's reference to the American tent ("I think they call them wigwams in this part of the world.") left a bit to be desired.
2. Over a year in the making, and the best name you could come up with was The USA Pro Cycling Challenge? Granted it's a step up from the original Quiznos Pro Challenge moniker, but you have to admit that both names are pretty terrible. And it's not like this was a tough one. You have the Tour de France, the Tour of California, the Tour of Utah, the Tour of Georgia—any guesses what name you should have chosen? Don't worry, though, everyone calls it the Tour of Colorado anyway.
Courtesy of Flik'r .
3. Ahead of the Vail time trial, I saw Levi riding around in a peculiar green kit, and, when I checked my race manual to see why, I found out he was wearing the SmashBurger Sprinter Jersey. I realize that we're the world's greatest capitalists, but must we sell everything? Further reading told me that there was also the UPCC Quiznos Leader Jersey, and that on course racers could contest for, among other things, Nissan King of the Mountain points and Exergy Most Combative Rider points. Call me old fashioned, but I'd be happier with the TDF's maillot jaune naming convention. That said, I think Sheets, the company that makes strange-sounding "energy strips" that you put on your tongue, made out best with the stylin' baby blue argyle Young Rider's Jersey.
4. The course panned out better than expected, with some real suspense thanks to the surprisingly decisive finish in Crested Butte, the killer TT in Vail, and the exciting finale into Aspen. (Though the route planners just lucked out with bad weather on that one; if it had been warm and dry, it would have been a yawn.) But after Stage 3, there was no terrain that could really change the GC. I'm sure you've heard it a million times, but this race needs a couple of steep finishes. How about racing up Loveland Pass from the west? Or a gut-buster of a finish atop Fremont? I realize it's tough to get towns to invest in a stage that doesn't finish on their streets, but in the long run it will be even tougher to get fans excited if there are no mountaintop finishes to mix up the results.
5. The spectator turnout was unbelievable. I've been to the Giro and the Tour, and the crowds atop Cottonwood Pass, Rabbit Ears Pass, and linking the TT course in Vail were just as massive and easily as raucous. However, I have two notes for the fans: First, please get out of the way—especially those of you who insist on running alongside the riders. Yes, we all see your fancy banana costume and your hilarious Deer Antlers. What we don't want to see is you getting that voluminous outfit caught in a racer's bars or inadvertently spearing someone with your antlers (unless it's Jens Voigt, who might just retaliate, which would make for some great spectating). Second, guys, before you decide it's a good idea to wear nothing but a thong to the race, please take a good, long look in the mirror first. Ask yourself this: wouldn't my girlfriend normally make me turn out the lights if I were wearing this? And if you're still uncertain, ask a couple of your buds what they think. Seriously, nobody wants to see drunk, fat, hairy men in their skivvies. Ever.
One more thing: Did anyone notice a major absence? Lance Armstrong put the race on the map, but as far as I could tell El Patron was nowhere to be seen in seven days of racing. You have to assume that has something to do with his ongoing legal (and credibility) issues, and to me his failure to show seems to presage the fall of the legend. With all due respect to Mr. Armstrong, though, it's nice to see American cycling riding forward.