New Kit! Saxo Bank

Ladies and gents, I think we have an early contender for my favorite kit of the season. Saxo Bank has really stepped up this season and took their kit from one of the ugliest to one of the best.

Last year saw the introduction of the “crotch eagle.” No one who came up with the idea of the crotch eagle or why they thought it would be a good idea to make it look like said eagle was coming out of the shorts for a look-around, but it made for some great joke fodder:

Crotch eagle!

I didn’t have a problem with the feather sleeves but the color…! It was as if the soigneur threw the jerseys in with some new blue jeans and the color bleed all over their nice white jerseys. Since Saxo Bank’s budget was decimated by taking on Contador, they had no choice but to wear the slightly blue jerseys. With the crotch eagle.

This year, the crotch eagle is still there, but the color…! It’s fabulous! This year’s bright blue is the total opposite of last year’s washed out blue. The  bold blue is sure to stand out in a peloton sure to be full of minimalist kits. I also approve of the bold branding on the back.

And you know what? The crotch eagle is growing on me. It’s silly and inexplicable but it’s unique and I admire how they’ve stuck by it!

So you go Saxo Crotch Eagle! Kick some butt this season (and for your sake, I hope Bert isn’t suspended…)

EDIT: I’ve since learned that the eagle comes from “Eagle from Herning”- Bjarne Riis’ nickname.

2012 Team Roster: Continue reading “New Kit! Saxo Bank”


New Kit! Lotto-Belisol

January 1st means lots of things: hangovers, resolutions to break, a crowded gym, etc. January 1st also means new team kits! The first of the year is when everyone can finally wear their new team kit. Before this date, riders are contractually obligated to wear their kit and ride the bikes from their previous team. Now, as the racing season starts with the Jayco Bay Cycling Classic in Australia this week and the Tour Down Under on the 17th (the first official UCI race), all the teams are officially revealing their new kits. And all the armchair sports fans, like myself, are officially critiquing them! So, first up: Lotto-Belisol. This is one of the teams to come out of the break up of Omega Pharma-Lotto.

Not Jedward

Separately, I like the parts. I like the colors and the design of the jersey and shorts on their own. However, the two design teams clearly didn’t consult each other, as there no continuity between the two! There is no flow from the shorts to the jersey and it just looks mismatched. The shorts are all vertical and the jersey is all horizontal. I wish they had done a better job integrating the two, because this coulda been a contender for a standout kit of 2012- based on what I’ve seen so far, the Leopard-Trek theme is holding strong. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it’s relatively unimaginative.

Anyway, here’s a comparison picture of the Omega Pharma-Lotto kit from last year. I like that one better. Takeaway lesson- keep the shorts simple.

EDIT: Here’s a roster of the team, so you know who will be wearing this kit!

  • Greg Henderson (from Sky)
  • Lars Bak (from HTC-Highroad)
  • Jurgen van den Broeck
  • Jelle Vanendert
  • Adam Hansen
  • Andre Greipel
  • Jurgen Roelandts
  • Bart De Clercq
  • Joost Leijen
  • Brian Bulgac
  • Frederique Robert
  • Dennis Vanendert
  • Jonas Vangenechten
  • Mehdi Sohrabi
  • Sander Cordeel
  • Gaetan Bille
  • Tosh Van der Sande
  • Kenny Dehaes
  • Marcel Sieberg
  • Olivier Kaisen
  • Frederik Willems
  • Jens Debusschere
  • Jurgen Van De Walle
  • Vicente Reynes Mimo
  • Francis de Greef
  • Maarten Neyens
  • Jurgen Roelandts
  • Gert Dockx

In the mind of a pro: Taylor Phinney’s blog

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on inside the peloton and inside the head of a pro cyclist, look no further than Taylor Phinney’s blog. He’s been doing a fabulous job blogging every day of his first Grand Tour, the Vuelta a Espana. Phinney has just started his first year as a pro (which makes him a neo pro!) and expectations are sky high to become the next big American cycling thing. Although he had a rough start to his year (sore knee, crashes, poor race results), he seems to finally be on the right track. He writes a lot about riding in the peloton, which seems exotic to recreational cyclists like myself. But he also writes about familiar things- pushing through pain, questioning his career choice, wanting to die, but then ultimately remembering that he loves the bike and everything it puts him through. Even as a recreational cyclist, these are things I can relate to. And it makes me happy to know that even the pros suffer like I do, even if it is at a much higher pace and for a longer time!

Click the picture to go through to his blog!

Click to visit his blog

Tour de France: A Feelings Index

This a modified version of an article I wrote for US Pro Cycling News.

Disclaimer: If you use this list to predict who will do well at the Tour, you will probably lose.

It’s so weird to think that the Tour de France is going to be starting TOMORROW! It seems like only yesterday that I turned on the TV, one bored summer afternoon and, without knowing how it would change my life, started watching the Tour de France. Little did I know that watching this race was the start of a long, sordid affair with the cycling world. If I known that watching this race would result in my eating, drinking, and breathing cycling, would I have turned on that TV? Who knows. The only thing I do know is watching that race marked a changing point in my life.

So as the 2011 edition of the TdF draws near, it is custom for everyone and their mom, their dog and their grandparents to make predictions on what they think different riders’ chances are at the podium, the different jersey’s, a top 10 finish, etc. I find prediction, and making them, to be rather useless, as form and fitness are only one tiny (albeit important) part of the overall equation in winning any race. You can’t predict bad luck, bad weather, or what others might do on the road. Oh yeah, and I suck at them. However, this will not stop me from throwing my hat into the predictions ring. However, this will be no ordinary predictions list. Mainly because I suck at prediction and am still not familiar enough with the riders to really know their chances. In fact, it won’t be a predictions list at all. This will be a feelings list, as I talk about my feelings towards those riding the TdF this year.

Anna’s 2011 Tour de France Feelings Index Ratings

Andy Schleck

If you’ve ever read any of my blog, you know exactly how I feel about Andy. He’s the rider that got me into cycling in the first place, as my schoolgirl crush on him kept me watching the Tour until the very end and motivated me to continue after it had ended. So he will always rate high on the Feelings Index. I’m very nervous about his form coming into the Tour- he has not had a very impressive season so far. I don’t think his lack of results means too much, but I wasn’t very impressed with his climbing during the Tour of California or the Tour de Suisse. I’m also concerned with the growing pains his team seems to be experiencing. I don’t know if I can point to a specific incident, but overall I wonder the stress and expectations of starting a new team built around him is a bit much. Now, I wasn’t around last year when Sky was starting its inaugural year, but based on reports, expectations were sky high (see what I did there?) and there wasn’t much delivery. This year, they’ve mellowed out, reevaluated their goals and had a much better year. I’m seeing a bit of repeat with Leopard-Trek- expectations are high but there hasn’t been much delivery. My fingers are crossed that this whole season has been a big bluff and Andy’s gonna shred it up those mountains and make Bertie wish he’d never ridden the Giro.

Feelings Index rating: 10/10

Alberto Contador

If you had asked me last year where Bertie fell on my feelings index, I would’ve said right at the bottom. He was Andy’s sworn enemy! But after watching him climb in the Giro this year, he’s also climbed up my Feelings Index as well. I’m trying not to think too much about the whole doping issue. While it drives me crazy to think that his wins might get stripped, denying another deserving rider a chance at the podium, I can’t really blame him for this, as it is the UCI/CSA that seems to be dragging their feet in deciding the final verdict. So, I’m going to put that out of my head and enjoy watching him ride. He’s clearly a man who loves to race and ride his bike and dang has he got some skill! I don’t care what others said; I loved watching him dominate this year’s Giro. Normally I’d never say this, but you never knew when he was just going up and leave the peloton in his dust, and that was so exciting to watch. Now, do I want him to do that at the Tour? Not really. I’d like the competition to be a little closer!  However, if he can hold over his form from the Giro, I feel he’ll be hard to beat. But, riding the Giro like it was his last race on Earth might have sapped precious strength and prevent him from being at his best. Not to mention that pretty much his entire support squad rode the Giro as well, and I can’t imagine they’re all ready to ride the Tour at top form.

Feelings Index rating: 7/10

Chris Horner

I will admit. Horner does not rank high on my Feelings Index, despite the fact that he is an American rider that everyone seems to love. In fact, I really don’t love him. I do not know why this is. Maybe because everyone else does? Maybe because I don’t love RadioShack? I’m not sure. While I know he is a nice guy that everyone loves, and he doesn’t seem to have a mean bone in his body (even his pain face is surprisingly pleasant), I cannot get excited about him. In fact, once he got the leaders jersey in California, I stopped caring about the race and how it would end. However, I cannot deny he’s been having a great season and seems to have the legs and the form for a great Tour.

Feelings Index rating: 3/10

Cadel Evans

I would say I’m indifferent towards Cadel. He seems to have a lot of intense fans, but I’m still not sure what the fuss is all about. I do follow a lot of Australians on twitter and they are loyal to Cadel to the death, which might be why it seems to me that everyone loves him. When I ask people why they love Cadel, most cite his defense of the rainbow jersey last year and his performance at the 2010 Giro. As I was not watching cycling last year, I did not get to witness his panache-filled performances of last year and even though there have flashes panache this year, it hasn’t been much to make an impression on me. Plus, he’s a very strange looking man. I get so distracted about how strange looking he is when I see him, that I often can’t concentrate on anything else.

Feelings Index rating: 5/10

Thor Hushovd

Poor Thor has been getting some flack this season. Many people feel he isn’t defending the world champs jersey as he should, but I’m not really sure what that means. I mean, sure, it seems that Cadel really became a different racer when he was wearing the jersey, but I’m not sure that means everyone needs to. He was doing what he was doing before- riding and winning when he could. It seems to me that Hushovd is very good on a very specific type of course and then is just middling on anything else. He’s got speed and he’s got power, but not enough speed to beat the fastest on the flattest courses, and not enough power to beat the best climbers. So, he wins on the courses he’s suited for- like last year’s worlds course! Anyway, I think he’s a classy rider and a classy guy (even though his teeth drive me crazy). I think maybe he could win a stage, but that’s about it. (Oh and I also love him because of this.)

Feelings Index rating: 7/10

Tyler Farrar

Speaking of Garmin-Cervelo and their awesome Tour argyle, there’s also Tyler Farrar. I’ve always felt a little bad for Tyler. It’s “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” with him. Or more accurately, “always the slightly late wedding guest who misses the important bits, never a bride.” He just can’t quite seem to keep up with the fastest guys and their lead out trains. Or his lead out train keeps getting jostled out of position by the other sprinter’s lead out trains. Either way. While he’s usually a top 5 finisher of the sprint stages, even if he’s got a good position going into the sprint, something always happens and he’s boxed out. But I still like him. He seems like a super chill guy, he’s American, he’s a ginger- all wins! I’d love for him to get a stage win, although I’m not holding my breath.

Feelings Index rating: 8/10

Mark Cavendish

And now speaking of sprinters! I. love. Cav. Love him. Yes, he’s brash. Yes, he’s obnoxious. Yes, he thinks very highly of himself as a sprinter. But he looooves his job and he loooves his teammates. And he’s very emotional- he wears his heart on his sleeve and I like that. He’s not afraid to speak his mind, even if it makes him sound a bit stupid sometimes. My first memory of him is him crying after he won his first stage at the TdF last year. I didn’t understand it, but I loved it even then. And let’s not forgot about the fact that he’s a fabulous tweeter

Feelings Index rating: 9/10

Ivan Basso

I mainly like Basso because he tweets awesome pictures of himself getting massages and such. I really have no opinion of him as a rider, as I’ve yet to see him race. Although, I was watching highlights of last year’s Giro on Versus awhile ago and the little I saw of him was impressive. So, between his awesome tweets and the fact that he’s pretty cute, he gets a higher ranking on my Feelings Index.

Feelings Index rating: 7/10

Philippe Gilbert

When the season started, I didn’t have an opinion on Gilbert. And even as the season progressed and he started winning a lot, I was still pretty indifferent towards him. I saw that everyone loved him, but didn’t really understand why. I also found him to be pretty unattractive (yes, I’m shallow). But then he was winning, winning, winning. And he started bringing his little baby on the podium with him. And he had awesome helmet hair. And he seemed genuinely excited about winning. And he was FUN to watch! After he won the Belgian championships and you could feel his excitement, I was sold. He’s such a strong, silent rider that is capable of animating a race to the fullest extent. There’s a lot of talk about “panache” in the peloton, and I think he’s got it. He attacks, he’s not afraid of racing hard, he knows where his strengths are and he’s not afraid to use them. It would be fun to see him win a TdF stage!

Feelings Index rating: 8/10

Alexandre Vinokourov

I don’t like him. He creeps me out with his eyebrow-less face and his seemingly emotionless face. I hope he doesn’t win anything.

Feelings Index rating: 1/10

Photo: Fitzalan Gorman

US Pro Championship Road Race: Busche beats Hincapie

This is a reprint of the article I wrote for US Pro Cycling News.

It took Matthew Busche (Radioshack) about 5 minutes to find out that he was the new owner of the stars and stripes jersey. During that 5 minutes, Busche had plenty of time to think about whether his bike throw to the line was enough to beat George Hincapie (BMC). Both Busche and Hincapie were part of a four man break that got away after many, many attacks from the field. When Hincapie sprinted for the line, it was only Busche who was able to go with him, and he took the win through a photo finish.

Under oppressive heat, the 99 riders took the start in Greenville, SC. The route was the same as it had been the past few years, with three 4.2 mile laps around town, then four 22.5 mile laps around the Paris Mountain loop, finishing with three short laps around the town. After last year, when breakaway which allowed Ben King to solo to a win got a 17 minute gap, the peloton was not going to allow that to happen again this year. The pace was kept high, and breaks were chased down.

First break

Right before the first ascent of Paris Mountain, a break with Cameron Cogburn (Jelly Belly), David Williams (Bissell), Julian Kyer (Kelly Benefit Strategies) and Nick Frey (Jamis-Sutter Home) got away. However, by the top of the climb, they only had 10 seconds on the group, with Jeff Louder of BMC pulling the peloton up the climb.

This high pace destroyed the field and caught the break. Out of a group of about 40 who made it to the top of Paris Mountain, Brookwalter, Jason McCartney (RadioShack), Timmy Duggan (Liquigas-Cannondale), Jesse Anthony (Kelly Benefit Strategy), Quinn Keough (Exergy), and Robert Bush (Chipotle Development Team) attacked and caught Williams (the only original break member left) on the downhill.

High pace

The pace was kept high, even though they got over two and a half minutes on the group. By the last ascent up Paris Mountain, only Duggan, Bookwalter, Anthony, and McCartney were left. They had a minute, but that didn’t last long. From the field emerged a chasing group of Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad), Matthew Busche (RadioShack), George Hincapie (BMC), and they were soon joined by Louder, Jason McCartney (RadioShack), Ted King (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Pat McCarty (Spidertech).

This group was away and out of it, and as the group came into the last 3 town circuits, the formative four person break emerged.

The last break

Van Garderen’s atack attempt enabled him to pull away with King, Hincapie, and Busche. There were no real attacks out of this group, as they watched each other carefully. There was a fear of going to early and not having enough to stay away, then being dropped, or being caught by the chase group as well. So, the group stayed together until the last 300 meters. It was then that Busche attacked. Hincapie was soon able to jump on his wheel and at 250 meters to go, he pulled around Busche. But he couldn’t shake him. Busche hung on his wheel and surged again, but Hincapie still lead by about 20 meters. However, one last surge from Busche, and a desperate bike throw, let him take the win from Hincapie. The finish this close wasn’t able to be called right away, and the officials had to look at the photo finish before they called it officially for Busche. So, the Stars and Stripes jersey stays in the RadioShack team and another young pro takes it for the 2nd year running!

Top 5 results

  1. Matthew Busche (RadioShack)
  2. George Hincapie (BMC)
  3. Ted King (Liquigas-Cannondale)
  4. Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad)
  5. Kyle Wamsley (Bissell)

From Hate to Love (or, from intense dislike to grudging admiration)

I’m very conflicted at this moment. I want to hate Alberto Contador. I want him to be a bad person and do bad things so I can hate him. But he’s making it very hard and I’m finding myself wavering.

Of course, my original dislike of Contador started during the Tour last year. I had eyes only for Andy and saw Contador as the evil enemy, denying Andy a win. His reaction during the chain-dropping incident really sealed my dislike for him. I was so angry when Contador attacked after Andy dropped his chain. It just seemed so sneaky and wrong! But, the more I thought about it and the more people talked about it, I realized that while I didn’t like that he had taken advantage of Andy’s misfortune, he wasn’t necessarily wrong to have done it. It’s a race, not a sleepover party and it’s certainly not about making friends. But, my dislike ran deep, and I couldn’t stomach hearing him say how he didn’t see Andy’s mechanical or that he didn’t realize it was so serious. Bull doody. Watching the video it is very clear that Contador saw the chain drop. When Andy’s chain dropped, Vinokourov, who was right behind him, immediately sat up. Even if Contador doesn’t see the chain drop (yeah right!), wouldn’t he have wondered why his teammate sat up all of a sudden? So when Contador tries to explain his attack by saying “I didn’t see anything!” it reeked of dishonesty. You attacked, fine. Own up to it. You did it to win the race. If he would’ve said “Sorry I hurt your feeling Andy, but I had to attack- I wanted to win. Hope we can still be friends,” my opinion of him might have eased. But he didn’t, so I didn’t. After the Tour was over, I vowed to hold him in contempt.

When I read Tour de Lance, my impression of him seemed to be founded. While it was clear Contador got the short end of that stick when it came to being on the same team as Armstrong, I wasn’t willing to let Contador off the hook. As I said in my review of the book,

[Contador seems like] a quiet guy with a wounded personality problem who’s a bit selfish. Not that it’s so bad to be a bit selfish, but when you climb over others to serve yourself, you can’t expect everyone to love you for it.

The divisions on the team came just as much from Armstrong as Contador – one seemed just as capable as the other when it came to underhanded, subtle criticism. They are too similar to co-exist peacefully on the same team.

Then there was the doping positive. And what I perceived as a whining reaction to it all – “whaa, be nice to me or I’m gonna quit cycling!” Another strike.

When the season started, his racing the Giro and potentially stealing the podium from more deserving cyclists fit right into my evil Contador storyline that I had created. But as this Giro has progressed, my intense dislike of him has been wavering. When he attacked for the first time on Stage 8, I was simultaneously impressed and angered. The way he blazed by everyone and bridged up to Gatto, no problem, impressed me. But it still angered me that he attacked at all angered me. If he was going to ride this race, he darn well better not make any attempt to win!

But then, on stage 9, he took the imposing Mt. Etna to showcase his climbing prowess, and powered to a win in a way that made climbing up a volcano look easy. Then during stage 11, he didn’t exactly attack, but he seemed unable to just sit in the peloton, watching the race play out in front of him. Same for stage 13. And stage 14. And 15. And today’s stage 19. Watching his mellow, but unrelenting, attacking style, the way he seems to pass riders as though they are standing still, and the way he can’t seem to not attack has confused my dislike of him. I want to dislike him, but I can’t help but admire his go big or go home attitude. I also can’t help but admire the way his attacking seems to come from a place of intense love of cycling. In all his interviews, he says he attacks because when your legs are good, you can’t say no to them. Even though he has the GC sewn up, he won’t stop attacking and I kinda love him for it. Haven’t we all been lamenting the “defensive” style of riding lately, where riders get their lead through one good attack, then sit and protect it for the rest of the race? Well, here’s someone who’s attacking left, right, and center and it’s awesome to watch.

The way he’s been treating his fellow riders has impressed me as well. While he took stage 9 for himself, he’s not show any interest in taking any more stages. He could’ve handily, at the very least, taken stage 13 and today’s stage, 19. But instead, he let Rujano take stage 13, the little guy who worked so hard to stay on his wheel both that day and on stage 9. Then he helped Tiralingo get the stage win today. Whether or not that was his intent when he attacked, when he did get up to Tiralingo, he pulled his former teammate to the line, then let him have it. Tiralingo might have gotten the stage on his own, but it would have been very, very close, as the chasers were closing fast. He seemed genuinely happy to help his former domestique get his first win of his career.

So now I’m confused! I want to dislike him for racing in the face of an impending ban and for what he did to Andy. But I can’t. He’s racing like it’s his last 3 weeks on Earth and it’s wonderful to watch. He might be a doper, but after watching him race this Giro, I think Contador would still be amazing whether he doped or not. He has a love for cycling that is evident every time he gets on his bike. He has a grace on the bike that is beautiful to watch. His attacking style is amazing to behold. As I come to the end of this post, it seems I am no longer conflicted. I have convinced myself that it is okay to support Contador, because I love cycling and when he’s on the bike, he makes it possible for me to love it even more.

Tour of California Wrap-Up

Let’s talk Tour of California. 

First, I was SO excited for this race. It was so cool too see all these big riders and teams talking about coming to the US and California. I was reeeally sad that I wasn’t able to go to Cali to have a chance to see some of the riders I love so much. 

It was crazy weird to see the peloton racing on American streets- I’m so used to watching them navigate small European roads, with roundabouts and weird road furniture. But I LOVED seeing the domestic teams and riders racing! Jeremy Powers, Jamey Driscoll, Ben Jacques-Maynes, Mike Creed, Mike Friedman, Bissel, UnitedHealthcare, Kelly Benefits Strategies- guys and teams I followed on twitter and read about in news were racing ON MY TV! So cool. And man, did they work their butts off. They were in all the breaks and worked hard in the bunch. I would’ve loved to see one of the domestic teams take a stage win or see a domestic rider in the top 5, but no luck. 

The race did not get a lot of love at the beginning. What with the first stage being cancelled for weather and the second stage being shortened, the start of the race missed a lot of the fabulous scenery that is standard for bike races. The majority of the shortened second stage was raced through suburbs, so there wasn’t too much to see. Many watchers were not impressed. There were lots of complaints about strip malls, parking lots, etc. I don’t know if I was especially sensitive because it was a race in my home country, or if people were being extra mean, but all the hate was pretty upsetting! I mean, yeah, it’s not super exciting and scenery isn’t awesome, but don’t a lot of bike races have this? Strip malls, parking lots, malls- the US isn’t the only country to have those! And the race has only just started! Give it time! But as the race went on, and as it moved into the more mountainous and more scenery-laden stage, it definitely improved. 

However, once Chris Horner soloed to the win on stage 4, I kinda lost interest. His lead was so big that it was clear no one was going to be able to catch him. All the riders I supporting were really far down on the GC, with no chance of even breaking into the top 3. Andy Schleck, my top favorite, barely seemed to be riding! And, I don’t really care for Horner. Or Levi. They both seem like a nice guys, but they just doesn’t do it for me. In addition, while it was cool to see RadioShack lead the race so decisively, I also don’t really like RadioShack. Of all the American teams, it’s the one I care for the least. So, after stage 4, I watched, but wasn’t invested. BUT, it was still fun to watch, I loved seeing my American cyclists ride their hearts out, and seeing the top 5 spots occupied by Americans was pretty awesome! I’ll watch again next year, hopefully from the sidelines.

OH, let’s talk about the Shack Tour Tracker! Now, I don’t like RadioShack much, but they had an awesome set up that allowed people to stream on the web AND on their smartphones/tablets. It was a great way to share the race and allow those without access to Versus a way to watch. I hope more races follow their lead!

Photo:  Doug Pensinger/Getty Images North America