Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Little things...

I'm thankful for lots of things, but my kids are the biggest thing I am thankful for.


My dinner date tonight... they made my day, for sure.


My co-pilot on my drive to work yesterday; meet Li-li (pronounced "lie-lie"). I don't know about you, but I felt safer.

I guess I'm actually pretty thankful for potato chips too, especially ones with my name on the bag.

Tim

Tagged again...

My blogging/ cycling buddy James Thomas at Bicycle Design tagged me in a new round of Q&A. So, for a momentary break from the craziness I have here, I'm gonna make my stab at answers...

If you could have any one — and only one — bike in the world, what would it be?

One is the loneliest number in the world! The obvious answer is a Masi, but given my role in the bike universe, it'd be a Masi made custom for me by the Tailor himself- Faliero Masi. Since I am tasked with keeping his legacy alive now, it would only be fitting for me to have a firsthand relationship with his genius and vision. One of these days, I'll finally find a vintage Masi that fits me and that I can afford... one day.

Do you already have that coveted dream bike? If so, is it everything you hoped it would be? If not, are you working toward getting it? If you’re not working toward getting it, why not?
I can't have it now because Faliero is no longer with us. I'd love to consider working with his son Alberto to have a custom frame done as well, but that probably isn't too likely to happen. I respect the man immensely, but there are folks who have gone to great lengths to cause a history of animosity between Masi USA and Alberto Masi. I have inherited this animosity and if I can accomplish one thing here before finally getting fired, it would be to reunite the two "families" of Masi. That would be my greatest personal accomplishment in this industry. Hopefully, others who wish to perpetuate the animosity will not continue to pursue that result... but I have my doubts...

If you had to choose one — and only one — bike route to do every day for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?
This is the one question I don't think I could ever answer. The route I took, growing up in Alabama, from my home down to Gulf Shores AL is one. The route I rode training in the farm country around my dad's old house in Northern AL is another. Many of the wonderful routes here, the rides in Montreal, the rides in Australia, the route in the MS150 in Texas. This question I fail.

What kind of sick person would force another person to ride one and only one bike ride to do for the rest of her / his life?
Apparently a real sicko. Somebody who probably would deprive his/ her own children of the joy of even ever riding a bike. A real sicko.

Do you ride both road and mountain bikes? If both, which do you prefer and why? If only one or the other, why are you so narrowminded?
I ride everything, but road and track are my "specialty". But I love my single-speed 29r with drop bars- it is one of my all time favorite rides.

Have you ever ridden a recumbent? If so, why? If not, describe the circumstances under which you would ride a recumbent.
I have only ever ridden one out of curiosity and when I worked in a shop and test rode one after a repair. It felt all wrong to me... but I can't ride a unicycle at all. So what do I know? I'd ride a recumbent if I was told I could never ride any other bike ever; I'd take riding a recumbent over never riding again.

Have you ever raced a triathlon? If so, have you also ever tried strangling yourself with dental floss?
I've done one triathlon in high school as a team relay and we won. I railed the bike section and our runner kicked ass. Our swimmer had never even tried to swim like that before and flailed bravely. It was a blast. I have a ton of respect for triathletes because I know I'll never be able to do one. My knees were bad before the accident in April, so I know they aren't going to suddenly be better. We sponsor pro triathlete Jenna Shoemaker and I'm extremely proud to be working with such an athlete. She got 7th at the Escape from Alcatraz, 4th in Athlone Ireland and just got 6th in the recent ITU World Cup in Poland. She's kick ass! Dental floss strangulation; why yes... hasn't everybody?

Suppose you were forced to either give up ice cream or bicycles for the rest of your life. Which would you give up, and why?
Ice cream would go away. It would make me a better rider anyway and would be just like when I thought I was going to be the next LeMond... I didn't eat ice cream for years. But don't even think of asking me to give up beef jerky.

What is a question you think this questionnaire should have asked, but has not? Also, answer it.
Q- Why is Tim Jackson such a visionary genius?
A- Because he really tries to understand the cyclist mind, as he is one still himself, his intimate knowledge of the bike and rider is what makes him such a genius. And I hear that the ladies really think he's incredibly good looking too. He's a modern day Leonardo DaVinci- he can do it all. I wish I was that smart...

You’re riding your bike in the wilderness (if you’re a roadie, you’re on a road, but otherwise the surroundings are quite wilderness-like) and you see a bear. The bear sees you. What do you do?
I'd keep an eye on Yogi and just keep a safe distance from him/ her. Live and let live, I say. I'd feel lucky to see a bear and would probably get eaten trying to get my camera out of my jersey pocket in time to get a picture... but that's how I roll.

There you go...

I'd tag some other folks, but I need to get back to work.

Tim

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Getting back to the routine...

Last week's sales meeting was great- the overall energy was higher than I have felt in the past few years. Haro MTB, Haro BMX, Premium Products and Masi all seemed to be received well by the sales reps and the consensus is that things are looking good for the next group of products coming out this Fall.

Something romantic to set the mood...


MTB Brand Manager, Jill Hamilton, along with her partner in crime, MTB Product Manager- Pat Crosby.


Eastern Regional Sales Manager, James Ayres, looking terribly brilliant as always.


BMX Brand Manager Tony D, looking spiffy as always... probably mouthing the words "get that thing outta my face"...


THE Boss- Joe Hawk- opening the Sales Meeting first night. (Note the Corona in the background...)


The parent company- Haro Bikes. This year is the 30th anniversary of Haro- that's pretty damned cool.

Ok- more pics and tales to follow.

Two days in to this week and it's already a doozy. Lots of follow-up projects after the meeting and in preparation for Interbike. I'll be in Vancouver, BC in mid August to help with the Norco sales meeting as they plan their distribution of Har and Masi up in Canada. I'll be in the city for a couple days, so let me know if you're in the area for a possible drink/ coffee somewhere.

Alright... I'm calling it quits for tonight. More regular posting to follow now... I promise.

Tim

Sunday, July 27, 2008

More Video from Sales Meeting.

Here's a snippet of a discussion on fixed gear bikes. (This is a lower quality version of the file- so let me know what the image quality is like... and yes, I know the sound quality is not all that stupendous.)

video

Tim

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Fall Sales Meeting- SoulVille Introduction

A little video fun for you from our National Sales Meeting. Here I am speaking a little about our SoulVille series of bikes.

video

Tim

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Yes, I'm that busy...

Yes, with all that has been going into preparing for our sales meeting this week, I've been floored with work that has left it nearly impossible for me to blog very much. It sucks too because the tour has been pretty cool the past few days.

Sastre wins today and CSC has the Schleck brothers flogging Evans as well. I sure wish that Cadel would've tried some aggression this year. If he loses this Tour it will be for two reasons alone; 1) Silence-Lotto does not have the team to support a GC contender and B) he has gifted the race to Sastre, or whoever wins, by riding too conservatively. Christain Vande Velde is one of my new favorite riders too. He's exceeded ALL of my expectations of him and has surprised many by how well he has done. Garmin-Chipotle has to be applauded for the performance of the team. They've done a stellar job- nobody can doubt their legitimacy.

Sales Meeting begins officially tomorrow night with the opening ceremonies and dinner. It'll be great to get started and move on to the part of the job I really love the most- talking about the bikes! We run through Saturday and then I get Sunday off to relax and HOPEFULLY try to ride a bike again. The PowerPoint presentation is done and I am stopping myself from making any more changes to it... I have to stop!

I had the punkin until this morning when I took her to Y-Camp. I already miss her.


As I've said before- she's my buddy.

Posting may or may not happen over the next few days. I have been trying to set up my camera phone to work with Blogger, but so far it is not working. I'll keep trying because it would be great to be able to do quick posts from the meetings. I am also going to try to get video of my presentation/s... so keep an eye out for that too.

Ok... tomorrow is a LONG day, so it's time for bed.

Tim

Busy...

Super busy...

Tim

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tour de France- It's a race

Suddenly the Tour is looking like a race. It would be unfair to say that Evans cracked as he lost the yellow to CSC's Frank Schleck, but he did at least have that dreaded "bad day" in the mountains that tend to define most Tours.

Simon Gerrans, the young Aussie on Credit Agricole, won the stage today after spending nearly the entire day in a small four-man break that also had Garmin-Chipotle's Danny Pate. Pate rode an incredible Giro as well, so his Tour performance is even more impressive for a rider who had never ridden a Grand Tour before. He finished the day in third place behind the impressive and deserving Gerrans and made the sponsors proud- I hope. Christian Vande Velde also rode very well today, slipping a few spots down to 5th overall (:39 down overall) and 10th on the stage- 3 spots ahead of Evans.

The climbs into Italy today were impressive and the break rode valiantly to stay away to the finish line as the GC battle raged on the slopes below them. Evans was isolated and surrounded by 3 CSC riders- all punishing Evans at every chance. Silence-Lotto left their leader vulnerable and in trouble today, proving the concerns that many have had for Evans. Not being a dominating rider himself, he needs a strong team to support him and Silence-Lotto proved today to not be that team. I'm sure the conversations on the team bus were less than joyous. However, now the pressure to defend yellow is on the shoulders of CSC and maybe now Evans can enjoy the view from behind their train for a bit. None of the three CSC riders can really TT very well and Evans has beaten each of the three handily in TT's before. This is far from a done deal and Evans can still think of yellow in Paris. But he's got competition and will certainly have to fight for it. Conveniently, Garmin-Chipotle is looking very good for a podium at least with Vande Velde, if he stays strong in the coming mountains. He is the superior TT rider of the main contenders at this point and looks very good so far. Could he even be a possible yellow jersey wearer by Paris?

Tomorrow is the 2nd and last rest day for the riders and I am sure there are some tired and thankful legs. Tuesday is another day of big climbs with two huge Haute Categorie climbs to deal with. Thankfully, for the GC contenders, the finish is after a 24km descent that should allow for some regrouping of the favorites... but those high speed descents have "put paid" to many a Tour. If it is once again wet and slippery, the real drama of the day could come on the treacherous descents- just ask Oscar Pereiro who crashed out of the race today after going over a guard rail and down the embankment to the road below.

Here's to an exciting (and drug free) day tomorrow!

Tim

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Stuff and whatnot and etcera...

"What a week!" How many times have you read those words here? Countless times, I know.

Last night I had my MRI of my right knee, so hopefully in a few days I'll get good news from my orthopedist. The knee is still pretty swollen and I can not straighten the leg fully yet. It still hurts too, but then again- I have a double fracture... so, ya know. Getting the pin out of my thumb on Monday was a highlight for sure. Dr. Perlman was awesome and I am lucky that I have been able to work with some great doctors- even if the process and system has left me feeling gutted at times by the unending red tape and setbacks. The doctors and nurses have been fantastic though and I DO feel lucky to work with them. My new physical therapist for my thumb/ elbow is awesome too. Throughout this whole dreadful process, I've tried to hold onto and remember my blessings.

Yesterday, was an accidentally monumental day for me; I walked into the R&D area of our workshop/ warehouse and walked past the new personal fixed gear "creation" of our creative director, Pete Demos. As I walked by, out of morbid curiosity, I pulled the bike from the rack, tossed a leg over the top tube and rode it around the work area for a couple minutes to get a feel for his concept. I rode it! I rode a bike for the first time since April 29th when I crashed. It felt heavenly when I realized what I had just done. It was honestly about a minute or two after I got rolling before I realized what I was doing- I was feeling so "normal" that I simply followed my usual ingrained instincts and hopped on the bike. Sincerely, after I had the realization, I nearly cried. It sounds so stupid, but it was overpowering to be ON a bike. I rode for only 2-3 minutes, but it didn't hurt at all. I could grip the bars, I could stand up and I could fully pedal without pain. It was a momentarily euphoric event. People- let me reinforce the belief that little things in life really do matter. It was a far cry from a training ride, but it was a ride on a bike... and I hadn't had one in a long time.

Speaking of Pete's bike...

For obvious reasons, it's called The Skittles Bike. It hurts my eyes to look at it... but I admit that "there's an ass for every seat" in this world. Pete is asking for comments and thoughts about his bike... so let him have it!

Oscar Freire won today's Tour stage. Oscar is one of my favorite riders (God I hope he's clean) and it makes me happy to see him win in the green jersey. He's always shown great class as a rider and sprinter. I surely wouldn't mind seeing him finish the Tour in green. Tomorrow's stage will be a real test for the remaining GC riders. Finishing on a climb into Italy, it should make for a very interesting day. Should make for great racing drama.

Next week is our National Sales Meeting again. Posting will be hit-n-miss, but I'm going to try to post as much as possible... amybe even from the sales meeting itself. You just NEVER know with me...

Tim

Tour de France

I love the sport of cycling and I love the Tour de France. Mark Cavendish is one helluva sprinter- even McEwen says, he's "just too strong." That's saying a lot, considering the source. He's dominating the sprints in the way Cippolini once did.

But, the real dominator of this Tour is once again the drug scandals. It really sucks too. I am not so naive that I believed nobody would be doping at this Tour, but I hoped that it wouldn't be this bad and that it would only be riders that were clinging on for hope- the domestiques who slave away on the roads all day for their team leaders. Those drug cases seem to fade away from the press quicker since they are less sensational. But deep in my heart, I hoped nobody was doping... knowing that was foolish all along. It is a pathetic situation at the Tour, again. I still love the racing and I'm still reading the results and catching little bits of the coverage on TV... but it feels a lot like last year all over again. A little too much so. I'm not giving up, but I'm admittedly a little jaded.

The Tour rolls on towards Paris with Cadel still in yellow. Plenty of excitement still lies ahead. Maybe Evans will go down in the history books as the first Australian winner of the Tour. One thing is sure though- the peloton has gotten a little thinner because of riders taking stupid risks or just not caring about their fellow riders (or their teams) and the sport.

I'll be watching to see who gets crowned as winner this year and I'll be hoping (against hope) that nobody else is dumb enough to try and cheat. But even if they do and they (hopefully) get caught, I'm still in love with the sport. Kinda like me, it's battered and bruised but not broken.

Tim

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Random bits and Tour stuff...

Sorry I've been gone the past few days, but I've had lots of decent excuses. It's been a busy week... even busier than all the other busy weeks I've been complaining about.

Monday was a big day for me; the PIN came out of the right thumb! It's out and the bone looks good and like it is healing well. Today I had my first session of physical therapy specifically for the thumb and the elbow. Things are looking better, little by little. I am now 100% hardware free and it feels pretty good. I was supposed to have an MRI on the right knee tonight as well, but somebody apparently didn't tell the MRI office and I ended up wasting my time waiting for an appointment that wasn't.

The tools of medieval torture... and pin removal.

Nervousness kicking in...


UGH... that's an ugly image, but the bone looks good.

Pin free- yep, that's a hole in the end of my thumb!

That's a big pin!

The Tour de France continues. Another rider has been tossed out of the race for a "non-negative" test result. The teams of the ProTour have decided to leave the ProTour and will not be renewing their ProTour licenses with the UCI next year. ASO is now worked up in a lather over their self-importance. The doping lab behind the tests this year is the same lab (AFLD) that mishandled the Floyd Landis tests and was chastised by the CAS for their shoddy procedural record. L'Equippe has been instantly leaked the results of the failed tests seconds after the tests are done and before the teams even know. The power-brokers of the sport continue to make cycling look like a minor three-ring circus- the kind that drives around in a beat-up old van with fake wood panel sides and 4 bald tires. It's a farce. Maybe the teams pulling out of the ProTour will for the UCI to try to work better with all the other parties involved. ASO needs to grow up as well before they help to kill the sport for good. The dopes in the sport need to be driven out on a rail and never allowed to return. I really like guys like David Millar and others who have seamlessly returned to racing, but being able to return to the sport means there is less strength behind enforcement of the rules- which ever rules we end up trying to defend and enforce. This has been a great race so far and I am really excited to Evans in yellow, as he is a great bloke by all accounts, even if he doesn't like the press very much. All of the drama surrounding the race is sucking the joy out of the experience for me. Once again, it is the circus and the dopers that are grabbing headlines and not the riders on their bikes. It's another year of having to defend cycling to my non-cycling friends and family. To say it makes me angry is an understatement. I look forward to the day when we simply talk about the riders and their bikes... that'll be a great moment.

An old friend and former co-worker of mine, John Holderness, is the man behind a cool new cycling social media site called CyclingNutz.com. I'm a cyclist and a social media geek... so I took a look through the site and it's pretty damned cool, so I suggest you give it a look. Adding to the Six Degrees of Masiguy, the photos scrolling through the header are by one of my former Excel Sports Boulder teammates- Mark Johnson/ Ironstring. Join me in welcoming John's site to the family (and in singing a verse of "It's a Small World After All..."). Seriously, go check it out... it's cool... I promise.

Speaking of cool and speaking of speaking... the latest Spokesmen Podcast is up and ready for your listening enthrallment.

The new Masi Fall 08/09 catalog is now done! All the hard work has paid off the create what I can unequivocally say is our best catalog to date. It's a beautiful catalog, the bikes look great, the photography is excellent... the only weak link is the copy I wrote. But the bikes are pretty.

Next week is out National Sales Meeting, so I'll be in and out of the online world again/ as usual. Posting might be sparse again... ok... WILL be sparse again. But I promise I'll get pictures and I'll do my best to post and get more Tour coverage for you too.

Ok... my eyes are crossing, so I'm heading to bed.

Tim

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Non-Tour post

Lots more than the Tour has been happening lately, but the Tour posts have been eating up the little blogging time I can find.

So, as a little recap...

I am now off the crutches, out of the knee brace and out of the neck brace. The pin is coming out of my thumb on Monday. I am having an MRI on the knee on Wednesday, as well as starting hand physical therapy. My blood levels have been good with the Coumadin too. Basically... I'm making progress. I didn't get the chance today, but tomorrow I hope to finally go back to the gym and test my knee on a stationary trainer and see how much it can handle before I begin riding my trainer here at home. I can not begin to tell you how good it feels to get a little of my life back. I also have to thank all of you for your support and well wishes- it is no exaggeration to say that it has been a part of my recovery.

This afternoon, Masidaughter and I walked together to get lunch for the first time since the crash. I walked... without crutches or a knee brace. It was heavenly! It is amazing how great something so small can feel.


On this past Tuesday, she and I also went down to the velodrome and said thanks to MANY people who had been so fantastic when I crashed, and since then as well. It was hard, I admit, to keep from losing it. More than once I was told how frightened people were for me and how scared people had been by my crash. Even people in the stands watching the racing seemed to know who I was- "that's the guy who crashed really hard". I left a mark on the track too- bending a steel post and cracking a sheet of plywood. BUT... aside from a dent in the top tube from the handlebars and slight hop in the rear wheel, the bike looks straight and still rideable. WOO-HOO! I love that frameset, so I'm happy to be able to keep it around. One friend suggested I get a band-aid painted over the dent with the date of the crash (4/29) and I have to admit that I love that idea. Oh yeah... the Deda steel sprint bars are pretty bent on the right side too- they're a little wider and have a little "flare" to them now. Masidaughter was happy to be at the track and did not want to leave- she was getting lots of attention and praise for her bravery the night of the crash. She also found a few other children to play with, so she was on a cloud! All in all, it was a really great night. A few people I really wanted to see were not there, so I will be trying to get to the track this coming Tuesday so I can complete my thank you tour.

On Friday, minus some last little tweaks still to be done, we wrapped up the new fall catalog. I can honestly say that it is the best one we've done yet. I am very proud of the work that has gone into the catalog (outside of the copy I wrote- worst writer's block of my life). Pete Demos, Rick Ortiz and Wayne Doran did some incredible work to make the catalog happen. It's a great one... and I'm already fired up for the next one.

Earlier in the week, the VeloNews with my "At the Back" contribution came out. I can not tell you how proud I am to have something printed in VeloNews. I always dreamed as a rider that I would one day be on the cover of VeloNews, but life was cruel and I found out that being a pro was not going to happen. Later, as a writer and cycling enthusiast, I wanted to write for VeloNews. To get the chance to be a contributor is something else. If you haven't seen the mag, here's the David Brinton illustration;
That might just be my next tattoo!

Needless to say, though the Tour has been dominating the space here... there's been a lot more going on lately. It's good to be alive- that much I can tell you for sure.

Tim

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tour de France- Stage 8

Well, today was about what I expected to see; a break rolled off during the first half of the transitional stage through the mountains and then was caught just before the line, as the sprinter's teams wanted another shot at a sprint win.

To that end, Mark Cavendish notched win number two of this Tour and was followed directly by his teammate Gerard (Gerald?) Ciolek. Team Boring Kit is proving to be one helluva team this Tour. Cavendish is easily the best sprinter so far and Columbia has shown great depth and strength. They are riding like a sprinter's team, so I am curious to see how they expect to protect the jersey in the mountains... and they are coming tomorrow. Third was Jimmy Casper- the French sprinter who just seems to keep on going year after year. Sadly, McEwen was in 17th and is just not showing his old form... and one has to wonder now if it just is not to be for him this year.

4th was Oscar Freire and 6th was Erik Zabel; it makes my heart glad to see the "old sprinters" still in the thick of things. As one friend has said- maybe the lack of dope is keeping them in the hunt this time. (I'm not going into the whole Beltran fiasco...)

One significant turn of events was a bad crash towards the end of the day, in a roundabout, with Riccardo Ricco. Ricco was slow to get up and spent some time with the race doctors, but managed to make it back to the field and finished on same time as the winner. However, any crash like that means soreness the next day and tomorrow would normally be a day perfect for Ricco. Will he be in too much pain to go on the expected attack?

Stage 9 is going to be very hard, with 7 categorized climbs, including two Category 1 climbs; the fabled Peyresourde and Col d'Aspin. These are epic climbs with great history and I can't wait to see what happens. Will the contenders simply sit on and mark each other? Will somebody attack and stamp their name on this race? Will Cadel Evans answer his critics who say he is too conservative and go on the attack himself? Will Cunego and/ or Ricco be recovered from their recent falls and try to make an impression on this race? Can Kirchen defend on real climbs? It should be very interesting to watch. Sylvain Chavanel had the KOM jersey, so I'd expect him to be on the attack early so he can get it back from David de la Fuente (Saunier-Duval). The one saving grace for some riders is that there is a 26km descent to the finish line and a regrouping is likely... but will it be enough for riders dropped off the back on the final climb?

Tomorrow should be a very interesting stage, indeed.

Tim

Friday, July 11, 2008

Tour de France- Stage 7

I know- I skipped Stage 6 yesterday (though I did predict the winner with Ricco), but I had a good excuse; my best friend's wedding... so we'll just say that Ricco's ride was great and the little loud mouth fought hard to earn it; something tells me he won't blame his teammates for his win.

Ok, so now on to today's stage 7.

The stage was littered with climbs that split the field apart a number of times and saw a few of the contenders losing time and the others working hard to not go into deficit. About 60km into the race, Damiano Cunego crashed fairly hard. Even though "the little Prince" got help from his teammates and returned to the field after a very hard chase, he ultimately lost time today as he faded at the end of the race.

By all accounts, the stage was hard with the numerous climbs and some nasty winds. CSC tried to take advantage of the winds- as they have in other races in the past- and shattered the field with hard efforts at the front. The pace was driven hard enough that a handful of riders were forced completely out of the race due to the time cuts- including emotional favorite Magnus Backstedt (Garmin-Chipotle). France's Christophe Moreau abandoned the race and put to rest any remaining hope he would somehow ride from the near-dead to win the Tour (when will people learn he's NOT EVER going to win the Tour).

In the end, Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne) ended up taking a solo win with a gutsy attack. A few moments later, Stefan Schumacher sprinted to second- just ahead of Pozzato, Kirchen and Valverde. Sanhcez was jubilant in victory and seemed to be truly on cloud nine as he took the stage. Cadel Evans finished in the main group to remain in 2nd behind Kirchen, while Schumacher sits in 3rd and Vande Velde rests in 4th. Due to his crash and time loss today, Cunego now sits in a disappointing 17th- more than 2min down.

Saturday is a transitional stage, though far from easy. The first half is littered with category 3 and 4 climbs that should further damage some legs, but the last half is nearly flat- save two "hills" 20km from the finish. The sprinters, should they make it to the front before the finish, will likely be hoping to get another shot at a stage win. Me... I'd be looking at Thor Hushovd, as he is more than capable of getting over tough climbs

Sorry for missing things yesterday and for the very late posts this week... it's been one helluva week!

Tim

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Tour de France- Stage 5

I just have to say this; I picked the winner in a conversation this morning. I am SO smrt!

Today, as expected, was a sprint finish. Unexpectedly though, the drama was in the fact that the early break away was only caught in the closing meters- not kilometers- of the stage. Mark Cavendish provided Team Boring Kit (Columbia... seriously Bob, I'll help you for free) with their first ever stage win. Cavendish is considered to be the new McEwen- brash, cocky, mouthy, aggressive and damned, damned fast.

The day was marked with a long breakaway- as always- of three riders; Nicolas Vogondy- the current French National Champion (Agritubel), Florent Brard (Cofidis) and Lilian Jegou (Francaise des Jeux). Jegou was part of the stage 1 break that stayed away for the day and almost to the line- his legs obviously recovered. At a very close 1.5km from the line, the break was still just in front of the peloton as Vogondy launched himself in a last ditch effort to get his National Champion jersey onto the podium. It didn't work as the sprinters had worked their teams into a lather racing to the finish. Columbia was nearly upset in the sprint by an impressive ride by Credit Agricole as Mark Renshaw once again launched an amazing leadout for Hushovd. Cavendish, not wanting to lose this chance to win a Tour stage, launched his sprint a bit earlier than usual and won easily enough to sit up and celebrate the moment.

The sprint was a great finish and the top 5 riders was a blend of the best of two generations of sprinters with Cavenidsh winning in front of Oscar Freire and Erik Zabel, with Hushovd in 4th and a resurgent Baden Cooke (Barloworld) in 5th. Oddly, Robbie McEwen was a surprising 8th and has not shown his usual flash of sprinting brilliance... but we're only 5 stages into this race and I predict that the pocket rocket will find a way.

Sadly, after just 12km, Mauricio Soler of Barloworld abandoned the race. The wrist fracture proved to be too painful for him to continue the Tour. His presence will be missed in the mountains this year- his less than beautiful climbing style was a welcome sight last year. Hopefully he'll be back next year to contend. Gerolsteiner managed to have an easy day protecting the yellow jersey of Schumacher, since the sprinters were unwilling to let the break stay away and had their teams at the front reeling it back. Schumacher had an enjoyable first day with the jersey, but will have his hands full tomorrow.

Stage 6 is gonna hurt. It isn't the Alps or Pyrenees... but it's real climbs after a few days of not climbing and people still working their legs into the race. Expect the GC contenders to be paranoid of losing time to each other and also expect the unexpected. The first day of real climbing always seems to hurt a few people in ways nobody expected. Valverde had a crash today that might prove to be a problem tomorrow- he'll heal for later in the race, but tomorrow is gonna sting a bit. Schumacher can climb well enough that he should be able to defend, but it is not a given- especially if one of the other contenders wants to really test their legs. Of the GC contenders, I'd expect to see Cunego try something tomorrow and if not him, possibly Riccardo- nobody understands my genius- Ricco. Mr Mouth now sits over 4min down in 59th and is surely itching to pick a fight with somebody/ something.

The GC might look a good bit different tomorrow... so it should be fun to watch.

Tim

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Tour de France- Stage 4

Wow! Didn't see that coming at all- I would not have believed you if you told me before the start of the TT today that we would end up with the winner we had. Pretty amazing...

The day wasn't "ideal" for a time trial, but the course offered very little resistance to the riders and the varying winds ended up helping many in the closing kilometers. The rains of earlier days played no role in the outcome as riders rolled off to fend for themselves in this Tour's first test against the clock.

Many of the usual suspects litter the top 20 finishers on the day- guys like Hincapie (9th), Kirchen (2nd), Pate (14th), Vande Velde (8th), Millar (3rd), Voigt (7th), Menchov (6th) and Evans (4th). However, two riders in the top 20 really stuck out to the other riders and to many people following the race- reigning two-time Time Trial World Champion Fabian Cancellara finished a surprising 5th (33 seconds down) on stage winner Stefan Schumacher of Gerolsteiner. Huh? Schumacher is not a terrible TT rider, but he is certainly known more for his one day race prowess and not as a specialist against the clock. By besting Cancellara by 33 seconds, he astounded more than a few observers and riders in the race.

Schumacher's ride was truly amazing and Cancellara offered little more than praise for the German rider and professed, "I’m not a robot. I'm not a machine. I don’t know what happened. I felt good, but I couldn't get my speed going. I'm disappointed. I'm the defending world champion. I'm not here just to show off my jersey. I wanted to win."

The GC was turned on it's head for now, but the real GC contenders all faired reasonably well. Valverde drops to 17th, just one spot behind Cunego, but Evans now sits comfortably in 4th and looks to be in the driver's seat after this first TT. Team Boring Kit's Kirchen now sits in second, but his overall chances really are pretty dismal by the end of three weeks. Schumacher now sits in yellow and his as-yet-with-title-sponsor-for-next-year Gerolsteiner team will be working to keep the yellow for as long as possible. For Gerolsteiner, this is a fantastic opportunity to showcase the team and help find a new sponsor, but Schumacher has a snow-cones chance in Arizona in August chance of winning the race. Still, he'll be fighting to stay in yellow and the team will slaughter itself for him, since this represents an entire season of glory for the team. In a way, that really plays into the true contenders hands, allowing their teams to rest until the real race begins in the mountains. They can't allow Schumacher, or anybody, to build too big a lead early on, but this does give them the chance to simply sit back and enjoy the free ride for a bit. Schumacher and Gerolsteiner want the jersey and many other teams/ riders do too, so they'll have to fight to keep it... but guys like Evans, Valverde, Cunego, Menchov and Sastre (23rd/ 1:43 down) can all relax a bit for now.

Tomorrow will produce a new stage winner, I'm pretty sure. The stage is pretty damned flat and straight, so it should be very fast- even as the race's longest stage at 232km. Expect to see the sprinters team's trying to make up for the their screw-up of stage 3. I'm thinking the really big boys like Hushovd, McEwen, Freire, Cavendish and other speedsters are going to be flogging their leadout trains to the finish line. Thursday brings real work with 4 categorized climbs- two of them Category 2 and an uphill finish- so the sprinters will be hungry to get a day for themselves. Look for fireworks on the day. Many will likely try to get away, but the fast guys will be wanting to show their quads and speed to the world.

Don't blink... you might miss the finish.

Tim

Monday, July 07, 2008

Tour de France- Stage 3

Sorry this is late- but hard to do these updates from work and things have been busy outside the office as well. Tour posts might be like this during the week through the tour... sorry.

Today's stage was finally won by a nice little breakaway. Four teams had a rider in the break and the quartet worked very well together to keep the field at bay until the line, by just over 2 minutes.

3km into the race today, Will Frischkorn (Garmin-Chipotle) lept from the peloton and was joined shortly by his day's companions of Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis), Romain Feillu (Agritubel) and Paolo Longo Borghini (Barloworld).

The nearly board flat stage was battered by intermittent rain and some strong winds- though that wind would come in handy at the end of the day. The peloton was just a bit too complacent and misjudged the strength of motivation in the four breakaways. Valverde's Caisse d'Epargne team was not too interested in the fight to reel the four riders back, assuming the sprinter's teams would all do the work to bring the escapees back- and in turn give Valverde a free ride to the finish to keep his yellow jersey.

In the end, the sprinter's teams did take up the chase, but just too late to bring the quartet of under dogs back in time. Once the four riders were assured of success, the attacks between them began. But it was clear that all four riders were very tired from their hard work all day. None of the four was able to shake the other three and they warily rode towards the finish line. With around 1km to go, Dumoulin took off for the line but was chased down by both Frischkorn and Feillu, with Longo getting dropped. Shortly after, Feillu launched and looked good for a moment but was chased and passed by Dumoulin who made it to the line before Frischkorn could close the gap. Frischkorn managed to hold on for sceond on the stage and moved into second on GC... meaning that Feillu slipped into the yellow jersey, which is pretty good consolation for getting third on the stage.

The big news of the day was the split that occurred in the field with a crash 25km from the finish. Riccardo Ricco, Christophe Moreau and Denis Menchov were all caught behind the crash and finished over 2 minutes down (almost 5min for Moreau). Now, that may not seem like much, but without time bonuses in this Tour... it could end up being huge. Also, Valverde's stated goal was to do Tuesday's time trial in yellow so that he could see the times of all his competitors... but now he'll be followed by the top three riders suddenly ahead of him.

Tomorrow's time trial is just over 29km and is nearly flat and not very technical at all. This should keep the main GC contenders from really hurting their rivals and should also allow the TT specialists a chance to really torch things up and get some podium time. Should be a good day for going really fast, especially if the winds and rains are in check. If not... look for some nervous GC riders trying not to crash and a few of the fringe contenders possibly riding on the edge of smart and dumb. If it's dry, I'd put my money on Cancellara... if it's wet, I'd put my money on Cancellara.

It's gonna be a cool stage tomorrow- I promise.

On a personal note- I'm very proud of the Garmin-Chipotle team. I've always thought highly of Jonathan Vaughters. He's a good guy doing some great things with his team and it's awesome to see them doing so well. JV- Good job!

Tim

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Tour de France- Stage 2

Stage 2 is in the bag- a rain soaked, crash filled, soggy bag... but it's still done, just the same.

The day, as expected, was a tough one that did have the usual escape and it almost paid off for Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), as he was caught with about 1km to go. Chavanel and Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom) spent nearly the entire day on the attack and were joined late in the race by Christophe Moreau and David le Lay (both Agritubel). Amazingly, as the break was being caught in the closing moments of the race, it was still Chavanel and Voeckler with the most courage to keep fighting for the win as the field closed in. Hats off to both! Chavanel netted himself the Most Aggressive award for the day- his solo attempt to hold off the field was an inspired ride of courage.

But, in the end... as expected... Chavanel was caught by the hungry teams behind him. As he has done successfully in the past, Fabian Cancellara (CSC) launched an incredible last Km attack that almost worked again. He looked like he might just get the win again, but he was caught with less than 500m to go. As the group caught him, the sprinter's teams were salivating at the front- tongues dragging in their spokes as they set an unreal pace up the finishing climb. With 400m to go, Luke Renshaw of Australia unleashed an amazing leadout for his sprinter Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole), who took the win with a brutal sprint ahead of Kim Kirchen and Gerald Ciolek (both Team Boring Kit... I mean Columbia... Bob, call me).

It was a great day of racing, but there were still many crashes as the field is nervous and aggressive. The day's break rode admirably and Chavanel and Voeckler were great antagonists. It was amazingly close at the end and watching the big teams set things up for the finish was amazing. Those last few kilometers were painful to watch as you could see the break struggling and the main peloton at warp speed bringing them back. Sadly, it looks as though Soler (Barloworld) is suffering with more pain than he can handle. He bravely rode the stage with an apparent fracture of his wrist, but faded at the end and is a big question mark for tomorrow. If he can manage to stay out of trouble until the real mountains come, there is a chance he can salvage his Tour by hunting for another KOM jersey, but his GC chances are clearly over. Thus is the nervousness of the early days of the Tour.

The hunt for yellow in Paris is still handily controlled by Valverde and he looked like a possible stage winner again today. Team Boring Kit looked great with two riders in the top three and is clearly trying to stay in contention for the GC... though I have serious doubts Kirchen can make the podium in Paris. Cadel Evans continues to ride smartly with the help of of his Silence-Lotto team. He's riding like a real contender for the jersey and is staying out of trouble so far. The opening week of the Tour can be a very frightening time for all the GC riders, with all the crashes and nervousness in the field, but so far Cadel has shown that he intends to be ready for the real racing in the coming weeks.

Tomorrow looks to be a real stage for the sprinters. The green jersey is currently worn by Kirchen after his 2nd and 4th place finishes so far, but I expect Hushovd to make a real run on the jersey tomorrow. The stage is almost flat- for that region of France- and lends itself to the sprinters. Expect to see another break get away, but a field sprint is more than likely... it's almost assured. Look for Team Boring Kit to be setting up Mark Cavendish, who could very well win. Hushovd will be on his tail looking for green jersey points- as his mission is the jersey, especially after he has already netted a stage win. My "dark horse" for the stage win is McEwen (Silence- Lotto). He's one of the very best opportunists in the world and can feed off of other teams better than any sprinter I've ever seen. If Columbia doesn't shut the door on him, they'll be leading him out, as much as Cavendish, and Robbie is still one of the fastest men alive. In the end, it should be a great sprint... as long as early crashes don't spoil the day. As with the usual rider hazards, the final kilometers are littered with more roundabouts and they are notorious for causing crashes- especially when many riders are simply staring at the tire in front of them, due to the high speeds approaching the finish. I hate to say it, but expect to see more bloody riders limping across the line tomorrow.

And there you have it folks. Day two is over and the Tour has already been exciting. Looks like we might just have a race this year... and I couldn't be happier.

Tim

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Tour de France- Stage 1

Wow! THAT is what the TdF is all about! Great opening stage today that netted a worthy winner in Alejandro Valverde.


The opening stage of this year's Tour was a traditional road stage, rather than the usual prologue time trial. Some purists have complained that this would remove some of the beauty of the Tour. Though I see their point, I don't think anybody would argue that today's winner was deserving. Plus, with no time bonuses in this year's race, every second truly counts and the racing was aggressive all the way to the line.


An early break of 8 riders set off for the finish line in Plumelec- which sits at the top of a challenging climb (not good for the true sprinters). Included in the break was fan-favorite Thomas Voeckler, who coincidentally won the GP de Plumelec earlier in the year on the very same roads and finishing climb. The group stayed away for most of the day and the last two riders were not caught until 7km to go... then things got heated.


Team (boring kit) Columbia took control of the pace setting for their teal leader Kim Kirchen. The pace was fast enough that nobody seemed really capable of taking things over, or they were just complacent to let Team Boring Kit do all the work. The finishing climb was challenging enough that it did a good job of breaking up the field and keeping things together for a final effort by Kim Kirchen with just 250m or so to go. Amazingly, it looked like Kirchen would win until Valverde- resplendent in his Spanish champion colors and matching bike- shot from the field and through the final turn on the climb. He made the field look sill-slow! His speed around that final turn was impressive and he overtook Kirchen and had enough of a cushion to sit up and celebrate the win. Belgian Classics specialist Philippe Gilbert (FdJ) was 2nd with Jerome Pineau (Bouygues Telecom) in 3rd. Valverde slipped on his first ever yellow jersey and also took the first Sprinter's jersey as well (though it will be worn by Gilbert tomorrow).


The ever-clever Voeckler did just enough work on the day to earn himself the first KOM jersey of the Tour and will be smiling in the polka dot jersey tomorrow. Sadly, the winner of that jersey last year, Mauricio Soler of Barloworld, was involved in a crash with less than 10km to go and had to chase feverishly with two teammates... but was unable to catch the field and lost 3:21 by the finish. As a podium contender before the race, this puts him at a huge disadvantage- he can't rely on time bonuses won on mountain finishes to close that gap. Another sad loss on the day was the abandonment of Herve Duclos-LaSalle (the son of Paris-Roubaix winner Gilbert) of Cofidis; he crashed in the very early kilometers of the race and had to leave with a broken wrist. His crash came in the first feedzone of the race with another rider's mussette bag became tangled in his front wheel. Feedzones are like minefields and you have to be extra attentive- for reasons like this.


The stage was marked, as usual, by several crashes. Some of which might prove to be very significant in the coming weeks. Soler now finds himself with a huge hole to climb out of and Cadel Evans could be in trouble, as his main support rider was involved in a crash as well. Even though Yaroslav Popovych got up and finished the stage, every crash takes a toll on a rider. With the real racing far ahead, it is possible that "Popo" can recover in time to be useful to Evans. Still, you have to believe that Cadel will be worried. As is tradition in a Grand Tour, the early stages are frequently filled with crashes as nervous riders make mistakes of inattention. Many riders, knowing they are not contenders for the GC or likely to finish strongly at the end of three weeks, will slaughter themselves to try and get a win early before they are forced into hard labor for their team leaders. The product of all that nervousness and anxious energy is endless crashes. In recent years, many riders have had their GC hopes dashed in the first week of the race. If nothing else, the main contenders this year, minus Soler, have passed the test today.


Tomorrow's stage rolls through the Brittany region- famous for being the birthplace and home of 5-time winner Bernard Hinault- over several smaller climbs. Four rated climbs will greet the riders, though three are Category 4 climbs and one is a Category 3. Still, it's enough to sting the legs of riders if the pace is high... which it will be. Expect to see another break go early and try to build a lead over the numerous hills. A perfect stage for a rider like Jens Voigt (CSC). However... the finish is flat, after a short hill, and should suit the sprinters just fine. I'd personally expect to see a break caught before the line and the sprinters out banging elbows. Some are calling it an uphill finish, but it has enough of a flat and short enough climb that the sprinters should be there... unless a suicide break makes it to the line first. So we'll see what happens.


Valverde has stamped his intentions on this race already. Cadel looked very good riding smart at the front of the field and the team looked strong supporting him. We might be seeing a nice tete a tete between these two over the next 3 weeks... I hope.


Until tomorrow, au revoir.

Tim

Friday, July 04, 2008

Tour de France- It's anybody's race...

Welcome to the 4th annual Masiguy Tour de France daily coverage. As in years past, all I do is read the same news the rest of you do- maybe watch the stage highlights on TV- and then write my coverage with my own spin... and my amazing insight and wit... or something like that. Now and again, I might get a touch of insider news from a few contacts here and there, so stay tuned for that possibility.

Today, on this fabulous 4th of July, we'll start off with a bit of team coverage before tomorrow's Stage 1.

And here we go...

In the order listed by the Tour organizers, based on their position in the Tour's finish last year and some willy-nilly, arbitrary system the ASO has put together;

Silence-Lott0: Led by Tour favorite Cadel Evans, the team shows up to this Tour ready to rumble. Sprinter Robbie McEwen will essentially be on his own this year, as the team is rallying it's forces behind the hopes of Evans. Evans was second at the Tour last year and with last year's winner, Alberto Contador, and his Astana team disallowed to compete this year, he becomes the odds-on favorite to win. But... hold on a sec'- can the team do it? Evans is a tough rider, perhaps a bit too congenial and timid, but he's lacking a true heavy hitting team to back him up. His main lieutenant will be former Tour hopeful Yaroslav Popovych... who has thus far fallen apart in each of his previous Tours. Cadel certainly has the ability to win the race, but with EVERYBODY in this Tour marking him, can his team support him and will he EVER actually attack? I like the guy and I like the team, but I fear he'll need more support and will need to forge alliances on the road. I'm also hoping that McEwen finds his way to some daylight on the finishing straights. He's one of the best in the world when a sprint gets ugly. I haven't seen the same speed of years past, but he's an emotional favorite for a win or two. His new arch rival, Mark Cavendish of Team Columbia (formerly Team High Road, formerly T-Mobile), looks to make it really interesting. More on that in a bit...

CSC-Saxo Bank: Admitted doper and former Tour winner ('96) Bjarne Riis is one of the greatest minds in cycling. He has resurrected countless careers and started others. He's a genius at building teams that fight day in and day out. I have immense respect for his talents (especially his bike tossing talent). Although Riis once again has one of the very best teams in the world, it looks like a Tour win as a director remains out of reach. Carlos Sastre is a great rider with some great top ten finishes in the Tour... but he won't be taking the top step of the podium unless a meteor hits the peloton while he's off in the bushes taking a "nature stop". He's won a stage before... but he's no Tour champion. That said, Riis still has some of the best riders in the race. Fabian Cancellara has been en fuego this year and looks to be in great form again. I expect to see him take another stage win. How the peloton can even think of letting him get up the road is beyond me. He's the world TT champ for a reason, you dumbasses- why let him escape? Jeesh! Stuart O'Grady is one of my favorite riders in the world and I'm rooting for this Roubaix-winning Aussie to take a stage. He's just all class. Jens Voigt is still one of the peoloton's toughest tough guys. The German rider is notorious for long breakaway attempts and occasionally they net him the win. Everything I've ever read or heard about the guy points to a good guy I'd love to have a pint with. The two Schleck brothers look to be future Tour contenders and might surprise and even inch up to the podium, but I have a feeling the legs are still a bit young on these Luxembourg boys. BUT... don't rule either out- not now or ever.

Euskaltel-Euskadi: A whos'-who of Spanish climbing aces. This team has launched many careers for Spanish riders and is always one to watch in the mountains. You'd think they were giving out free bowls of paella at the top of every mountain with the way these guys climb. It's straight up insanity. Still, you have to marvel at these guys because they NEVER stop trying. Full of riders you might have never heard of, the team really is kind of at the Tour to keep things exciting. Without them, the mountains just seem like big hills where everybody rides really slow. With them... it's fireworks. The only "big name" rider on the team is Samuel Sanchez. This kid is the real deal and could possibly become a real threat if he ever pieces it all together- and ever has a strong enough team to supoort him on stages without hills. If the Tour ever does a climbing-only race, this would be the team to watch. Until then, they are a blast to watch climb and frightening to watch on flat ground.

Caisse d'Epargne: Another Spanish team that has the potential to do great things. With 2006 Tour runner-up-turned-winner Oscar Pereiro on board, the team looks good on paper. What really makes them look good though is Alejandro Valverde. Fresh off his win at Daupine-Libere, Valverde is the dark horse favorite. He's never shown that he can win a Grand Tour yet, but nearly everybody believes he can and will. He's got awesome climbing skills and can sprint very, very well from a small group. He's a proven tough guy in one day events as well and has improved in the time trials too. He can win a Tour, but will he? Hmmm. The rest of the team is French and Spanish climbing specialists, so the flatter stages will be spooky, especially if they end up with Valverde or Pereiro in yellow. I think Valverde can do it, but can he do it with this particular team? I kinda doubt it.

Team Columbia: Formerly Team High Road, which was the reborn T-Mobile, Columbia has probably the most boring team kit in the peloton... still. High Road was bad enough, but this new kit is just as bad if not worse. I will gladly design a new team kit for you Bob- for free- so just gimme a call. Get your people in touch with mine. Columbia is the home of George Hincapie now. He's been riding well this year, though not great, and I think he'll prove to be one of the team's best riders for a stage win. They don't really have a GC contender, no matter how many times they try to tell us Kim Kirchen can win it. Kirchen is good, but the Schlecks are the better Luxembourg riders. The real threat of Columbia is the sprinting powerhouse they have with Bernhard Eisel, Gerald Ciolek and Mark Cavendish. That is one of the fastest groups in the peloton right now. Cavendish is young and brash and not afraid of bleeding. He'll stick his nose out in the breeze for a sprint even when there is nowehere to go- a la Robbie McEwen. I predict the sprint battle between these two will be epic. Without a great leadout train, Robbie will have to privateer his way to the line... and if I were him, I'd be sitting on Cavendish. If Robbie has the legs this year, these two will have an epic fight. If not, I expect Cavendish to scare the piss out of all the other sprinters.

Barloworld: Barlo-who? Yeah, that's what everybody said until last year's Tour when Mauricio Soler lit up the climbing stages and took the KOM jersey and nearly finished on the podium. The team comes back as another question mark and Soler will be a marked man this time, but I expect they'll be a good team again. South African sprinter Robbie Hunter is back again and should be one to watch. I really like Hunter and I bet he can still win a stage. He's always ridden well and has just missed that big win several times, but he's got class and is bloody fast in the right sprint. He's not Boonen or Cavendish fast, but he can't be allowed to get in front of you by much. Also on Barloworld is former Sprint jersey winner Baden Cooke. Cookie Monster has had a few rough years, in many ways, but he's back to the Tour and is one of the most determined riders you'll meet this year. His career is nearing an end and I'm sure he'd like to prove a point or two before going away. I'll be watching him closely.

Liquigas: This team has a bunch of good riders, but one has to admit they aren't at the Tour to contest the GC. These guys are looking for stage wins. Their best known rider is probably Filipo Pozzato. He's a race winner and an aggressive rider, so he'll be sure to make things interesting. Outside of him though... it's a barren wasteland. I mean, they're great riders but none of them are going to be the rider to watch in this race. They are stacked with talent, but not really stage winning talent or GC contending talent. I wouldn't let them ride off en masse or anything, but I'm not expecting much from them this year... sorry guys.

Lampre: Here's a team to watch. It's been awhile since Lampre has been to the Tour to actually contend for the win with a rider who can actually do it. Damiano Cunego, the Little Prince, is at this Tour with fresh legs after skipping the Giro this year. Cunego is a pure talent, though he's proven a little fragile at times. Not a very good time trialist, but he can climb with all but the very best... accept for on those days when he IS the best. He's a bit spotty in his performances, but he has the talent to do it and I expect to see him make the race lively. He's not at all afraid to attack and could really put Evans into trouble if he does... well, at least until the time trials. Outside of Cunego, the team still brings great riders to support him. They bring great climbers and TT riders as well as sprinters. Alessandro Ballan is a fantastic Classics rider and will be on the hunt for a stage win... and he can certainly do it. Lampre goes on my short list of contenders.

Credit Agricole: Thor Hushovd is the main attraction here, again. The former Sprint jersey winner is always one to watch. He's not a sprinter in the pure speed style, but more of a brute strength guy. I always feel sorry for the front end of his bikes in a sprint- look closely and see how much force he puts on the bar, stem and fork/ headtube- it's insane! I remember seeing a photo of him sprinting at the Tour once and it looked like the front of the bike was going to rip off in his hands. You can't count him out for the Green Jersey competition... you just can't. Outside of Thor, the team brings nobody again. With the exception of the two great Aussie riders Simon Gerrans and Luke Renshaw, the team is full of filler for Thor. Gerrans and Roberts have both proven to be tough riders willing to work hard and suffer. This Tour might just reward one of them for that work ethic.

Quick Step: Why are they even in the race this year? Without Tom Boonen, who was uninvited because of a little cocaine problem, the team really has no purpose. Hell, they don't even have Paolo Bettini in the race. I'd be happy to have any of the Quick Step riders on my team, but they are way outgunned as a team here. They can hope that their non-contender status allows a rider or two to get in a good escape and fight off the field for the win, but that's about it. Hmmm... next team...

AG2R- La Mondiale: I love these guys. Perennial underdogs, they keep coming back for more and they are almost always sending riders off on long breaks to get the TV time for the sponsors. Their fighting spirit is akin to Euskaltel. They lack any real contenders for anything- GC or stage win- but you KNOW they'll still be trying. Cyril Dessel is probably the best known rider on the team and if you aren't French, you still might not know who he is. That said, I still like these guys and I hope they manage a win... just because.

Gerolsteiner: This German team NEEDS to do well as they will have no title sponsor soon and they need to attract a new one. I expect to see them fighting hard in this race to secure a paycheck for next year. Fabian Wegmann and Stefan Schumacher are the two best riders on the team this year. This group is strong though and has proven time and again that they know how to win bike races. Schumacher has a Tour stage win under his belt already and is a tough rider for those crappy stages in the rain or long distances. In the tradition of most great Classics teams, these guys just go out and flog themselves to make the race happen. If they fancy a certain stage, expect to see them hurting the field. However, without a GC contender on the team, they are fighting for stage wins only.

Agritubel: Here's one of those French wild card teams that is in the race simply because they are French and the race organizer chose them. It's that simple. Their team leader and GC hope is the permanent also-ran Christophe Moreau. Moreau is one of those riders who has been around for a long time and has some nice results and might have been a contender in a different decade... but not during the years he's ridden against the riders who he has raced against. He's a very popular rider with the French public, even after being on the Festina team of years past. Outside of Moreau, the team doesn't really have anybody with the possible exception of Jimmy Casper. Casper has won a stage in the past, but this likable French sprinter (an oxymoron there) is probably past his best years and a stage win now against the current crop of sprinters is not likely. If you are French, you are required by law to like these guys- even the one Spanish rider on the team.

Rabobank: Ugh... these poor guys. Last year they were having the Tour of the team's history! Danish rider Michael Rasmussen was leading the race, even as rumors swirled about missed doping controls and his unknown whereabouts during a secret training camp. In the end, Rasmussen was pulled from the race, while in yellow and near the finish, by his own team. In an attempt to avoid even worse publicity, he was sent home and later fired and has since been suspended from racing during a long appeals process. The team this year has no clearly defined super power, but does have Vuelta a Espana winner in Denis Menchov. Menchov is about as exciting as a blank sheet of paper, but the guy can ride a bicycle. He's yet to have a really solid Tour ever, but he looks like he is always due for one. I wouldn't rule him out, but I also wouldn't bet the house on him. The rest of the team is also solid with great riders like Juan Antonio Flecha and Oscar Freire. Freire has been World Champion a couple times and is a very fast finisher. In a long and nasty sprint, I'd look for him and Hushovd to be looking for the win. If he's healthy, he's a sprint contender. Flecha is a Classics specialist, so if the stage is hard and it starts to rain, I'd keep my eyes on him. The rest of the team is made up of great support riders who will do their best each and every stage.

Bouygues Telecom: Another of the French teams, but this one actually has riders in it who will race hard. None of them can contend for the podium, but they will make the rabid French fans happy with countless meaningless attacks. Fan-favorite Thomas Voeckler is a few years older since his 10 days in yellow back in the 2004 Tour, but the fans will still line the roads screaming his name. He's a very likable rider and is always trying to be in the thick of the action. Without Voeckler though, the team is really more of a B-Team squad. Sure, they're all better riders than me (for now), but don't expect too much from them over the next 3 weeks.

Milram: Well... they've got Erik Zabel anyway. Zabel holds the record for most consecutive Green jersey victories, but he's past his prime and might not have the legs to get a win anymore. He can still finish in the elite sprinter's group, but it'll be hard for him to get a win. Besides Zabel, the team is made up of good riders who are probably asking themselves, "what's our plan for the next 3 weeks?"

Francaise des Jeux; Director Marc Madiot is one of France's greatest riders of years past and is a great director. He's often able to get wins out of riders that don't look like winners, but they do it anyway. This team is here for a stage win and most likely in the lone Belgian on this all-French Tour squad, Philippe Gilbert. Gilbert is a great Classics rider and a likely Roubaix contender/ winner in the future. He's here at this Tour to snag a stage win and has the potential to do it. He's a classy rider who rides bravely and is not afraid to attack. The rest of the team will be cheering for him from the middle of the pack. It's a good thing they have race radios so they can hear about the finish of the stage...

Saunier Duval-Scott: The attraction here is the HUGE mouth and personality of Giro second place getter, Riccardo Ricco. I wonder how many times he'll insult his team for not helping him win the Tour. After narrowly losing the Giro to Contador, I suspect Ricco will be at the Tour looking to prove something. The only problem is that the'll have to contend with a bunch of other riders looking to do the same thing with fresher legs. The Giro is a very hard race and he was a contender for the title fighting hard every day. He's got overcooked legs, like a pot of pasta left boiling for too long- sure, with the right sauce, the noodles are still edible, but it's just not the same. The rest of the team is very strong and has some great names, most notably the amazingly evergreen Leonardo Piepoli. Honestly, I'd love to see Piepoli get a stage win... just to piss off Ricco. Can you imagine his tyrade?

Cofidis: This is one of the best French teams ever and they have always earned their pay at the Tour. However... don't go looking for a GC contender here. The team is loaded with talented riders, but that talent won't win this Tour- no way in hell. Sylvain Chavanel is a great rider with a lot of class. He likes to attack and knows a little more about tactics and timing than most other French riders. He could take a stage win along the way, but you can at least expect him to be fighting in it. The rest of the team is made up of great workaday riders, but none of them are really superstars. Chavanel is their one "big gun" and was once considered a contender for the Tour. He's yet to live up to that hype, but this is his year to try. Can his team support him though if he gets into yellow?

Garmin-Chipotle: Here's the little team that could. These guys are an emotional favorite for a lot of folks just because of who they are and what they represent. Jonathan Vaughters has put together an impressive team program and an even more impressive anti-doping program. The team won the opening team time trial at May's Giro, after specifically targetting it. This team is full of talented riders and surprises. Nobody can argue the Tour credibility of riders like David Millar and Magnus Backstedt. Christian Vande Velde has a few Tours under his belt as well. The rest of the team, though powerfully talented, is pretty new to Grand Tours. Danny Pate, the former U23 World TT champion, just finished his first Grand Tour at the Giro and might not have much left in the legs... but we'll find out in a few days. It's hard to not want to see these guys pull off a win along the way to Paris. I don't think they would deny that they aren't looking to win the GC, but are really at this year's Tour learning how to handle the pressure and logistics of the Tour. Give'em another couple years and I am confident Vaughters will have them at the race to contend for the win. Oh... and their new team kit, since switching to Garmin as title sponsor, still looks good. (I swear I don't know what Team Columbia was thinking. Seriously Bob... call me.)

So there's the team breakdown. Looks like a good race on paper, without any real clearcut favorite. Evans is leading in the oddsmaker's books, but his team will have to do something special to support his efforts. Cunego could do it. Valverde could do it. It's an open race- a really open race.

Since I'm the one writing all this crap, I'm going to hold off on selecting my podium predictions for a few days. I wanna see a few stages before I say anything- that's how close this thing is gonna be.

Like you, I'm looking forward to tomorrow and watching the race begin. So until then... sweet dreams of the Tour.

Tim

Independence Day...

Today is the 4th of July here in the US. As a country, we celebrate our independence (and watch fireworks) and the formation of our nation. It's a big deal here. I'm not always "proud to be an American", but I am proud of where I'm from. Sometimes my government does things I'm not proud of. But I am free to say that without fearing that I will be punished for my viewpoints. I never take that for granted because I was never allowed to- both of my grandfathers served in the second World War, I have an uncle who was in the Air Force and stationed in England during the Vietnam War and my father was in the Army during that time. My step-father served in the Navy for more than 20 years as well.

I'm not crazy about the choices my country makes and how it is seen throughout much of the world, but I'm proud of what I am- American. Just as much as I'm proud to be from Alabama. Being in California and saying you're from Alabama can be a bit like farting in church, but I'm very proud just the same. I've often found these weird regional prejudicies to be supremely idiotic. I can't tell you the number of times I've been called an ignorant hick just for stating where I was born and raised. I tell you, that type of prejudice is just insanity to me... but I digress.

Another thing I am proud of is the men and women in this country's military who serve bravely. They're not all fans of what this country says or does either, but they still serve courageously across the globe and at home. Though I take issue with how our military is used, I 100% support those who have to wear the uniforms of this country's military.

While we're on the topic of "independence"... yesterday was my round of doctor visits and multiple x-rays. The pin remains in my thumb for now and will be there for another 1-2 weeks as I wait for my insurance to approve the doctor's request for me to see a hand specialist to remove the pin. Apparently it's more complicated than simply "pulling out" the pin. So I still have the Bionic Thumb. However... the x-rays of the knee and elbow both looked really good. As of yesterday, I am no longer on crutches and the knee brace is off! AND... I've been given the go ahead to try and exercise my right leg... and you ALL know that means that a bike is getting mounted to my stationary trainer and ridden as soon as possible. I'll also be going back to the gym as soon as possible to begin some strength training again. WOO-freakin-HOO! I'm going to do my best not to over do things and go nice and slow. My knee still hurts a good bit and my right arm still doesn't straighten all the way... but I'm committed. Next Tuesday I see the neurologist again and will hopefully get the official ok to remove the neck collar completely too. Closer... getting closer all the time now.

I'm still taking Coumadin, the blood thinner, in a fairly high dose (10mg/day) for the next several months. It will be 6 months total from May, so around the end of October or so. BUT... the ortho feels that I am safe to travel- physically- and my GP doesn't see a problem if I take the right precautions (some aspirin before and during the flight and getting up to walk around during long flights). I'm gonna be able to travel again! So, unless told to stay away, I'll be in Vancouver, BC for a few days in August and then a week in Montreal in September for the BTAC show that I love so much. Canada- I'm coming to see you! November will mean Taiwan and Japan again. I plan to return for the Cycle Mode consumer show in Japan and add in some time in Taiwan also.

As you can see, I'm excited at the moment. I'm far from being out of the woods altogether, but I am finally feeling like I am making real progress towards getting my life back. I can not tell you how much I look forward to that first bike ride with my daughter. It's been too long. I have to give thanks to all of you who have offered support and encouragement during this time. I feel blessed and lucky to even be alive and the outpouring of support and freindship has been far more than I ever dreamed I'd receive. Believe me when I say that your support has been part of what has given me the strength to get to where I am today. Sincerely- thank you.

It's time to get something to eat and have some coffee before my brain implodes. My sister and her husband and son are coming over to splash in the pool here, grill some food and have a few beers. Masidaughter is with her mom, but might get to come play too... which would be awesome. If I don't fall asleep on the couch first, I'll be back here to kick off the Tour de France coverage with a pre-race post and maybe even a few Masiguy (R) Patented Predictions...

Enjoy this day- and all others.

Tim

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

That was good...

Today was the catalog photoshoot to get some good lifestyle/ image photos with a new bike in the line. The model was one of my very good friends and it went really well. I am very happy with how the photos came out and look forward to seeing one in the catalog... which is due to the printer ASAP.

Pete Demos and I headed out of the office and into downtown a little early, around 3:00, so we could get to our spot and scope out a few places and use the good daylight. Paul joined us downtown and we set up and shot in a couple different spots and got some really great pictures. It was put together, as always, at the last second, but the end result was really great. Somehow, Pete always manages to get "the" shot. Never fails.

Once I am able to get the pitcures off the camera and uploaded (I am at folks house for the week), I will share a few of my "behind the scenes" shots.

Tomorrow is my visit to the ortho. I am praying I get the pin out of my thumb and that the x-rays of my knee and elbow look good. I have to get x-rays of my neck done as well, for the neurologist, so I'll be glowing in the dark when I'm done. But hopefully glowing without a pin. Think I'm gonna save the pin- maye make a necklace pendant out of it or something else cool... dunno yet. More than anything- hoping to get the ok to remove the knee brace and begin riding my trainer to start rehab'ing the knee... a boy can dream, right?

More soon... including some Tour prognostications.

Tim

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A little different...

House-sitting for my mom and step-dad as they go on a second honeymoon to celebrate their 20th anniversary. I'm very happy for them and am excited that they are getting to do this.

With them being gone though, I'm having to work from their PC, as I am unable to get online with my own computer. So I'm using a keyboard I'm not used to and a computer that seems to be mad at me. I'm going to try to figure out how to get my laptop to work here, but so far... it's not looking good.

That said, blog posting might be a little on the light side, which stinks with the Tour starting on Sunday- this could impact my daily coverage of the stages. So far, it seems like you folks want me to do the daily coverage like year's past... so I'm leaning towards it (sorry to those of you who voted that you would prefer I just keep my mouth shut).

Tomorrow I will be working on a photo shoot of a new bike in the line. A very good friend of mine will be the model with the bike. Should be fun- it's a sexy bike and my friend photographs well, so it will hopefully work. The catalog is coming together and promises to be as sexy as ever.

Ok, I'm getting cross-eyed from this headache that's brewing out of the tension in my neck and shoulders. I'm pulling the plug and heading to bed.

Ciao,
Tim