2009 Tour of California – Some Final Thoughts

The entire Astana team leads the peloton over Patterson Pass

The best rider won the Tour of California yesterday. Put under pressure and briefly isolated on Palomar Mountain by his closest GC rivals Levi proved he had the legs and the will to cover all the moves. In truth he could have stayed with his Astana teammates who were never more than 30 seconds behind and they'd have taken back any advantage on the descent, but Leipheimer made it clear that he was the man... and everyone was racing for second place.

Astana once again showed they are the strongest stage-race team on the planet, finishing with all eight starters, something no other team could match. The addition of Lance Armstrong operating as a super domestique only added to the confidence, leadership and tactical superiority of Bruyneel's squad. Add Contador and Kloden to the mix and the Tour de France lineup is a juggernaut, regardless of which GC specialist is on best form.

On one of the few occasions yesterday when Craig Hummer wasn't talking on Versus, we actually got to hear how impressed Leipheimer was with Armstrong who really "put the pedal down on Cole Grade" snuffing out any lingering hope for Zabriskie or Rogers attacking one last time. The record fan turnout, in spite of the miserable early-stage weather, testifies to LA's drawing power and the very strong field. Throughout the week Lance was the perfect teammate. He left the spotlight to Levi, put in some monster work at the front, made himself far more accessible to rest of the peloton and genuinely seemed to enjoy every minute of his racing. As I mentioned in my Stage 3 post, that low-five exchange with Hincapie spoke volumes about his motivation and attitude.

Look for Levi to repay Armstrong's investment later this year at the Giro or the Tour. Personally, I'd love to see Lance add the Giro to his palmares and then have him reprise his super domestique role to get Contador his second Tour win (and maybe a mountain stage solo win). That would be sweet.

Floyd Landis was another feel good story for me. Whatever he did or didn't do in the past, he rode well and finished a respectable 23rd ahead of Andy Schleck, Christian Vandevelde, and Stuart O'Grady to name a few. I don't think he quite knew what to expect from his body or the crowd his first race back. Fans cheered him all the way. I'm glad he's back.

For me the best solo performance all week was Francisco Mancebo's Stage 1 victory on the rain-soaked streets of Santa Rosa. Eventually I hope the Tour of California dispenses with the Nascar-style finishes; they're not necessary. It was thrilling to see the Spaniard ultimately prevail after he was caught. Rock racing can be proud of his KOM efforts all week. I was really disappointed to see him go down in Stage 7 and have to leave the race.

Other highlights and notes: Dave Zabriskie looked great on Palomar. Up till now he's been a TT specialist... I thought he looked lighter and leaner, perhaps he has GC aspirations. The prize for best team kit goes to Cervelo Test Team. The black stands out and I really like the stylized accented é as wings. Rock racing's "Rocks not Dead" kit was the other stand out. Worst kit (ignoring the smaller teams)... Columbia High-Road. Lose the fake abs Bob. TV coverage on Versus got better as the week progressed but there's still too much filler... I would like to hear from Phil, Paul and Bob more.

7 Responses to 2009 Tour of California – Some Final Thoughts

  1. NickM says:

    I have to agree with you about Mancebo! It was a heartbreaker to see him crash out after his superb stage 1 ride and his determined effort to secure the KOM jersey.

  2. I was reading on velonews that Gustav Larsson averaged 486 watts for the ITT in the ATOC (for 1/2 hr)! That is out of this world. What’s even more incredible is that he got 3rd. How does a little guy like Levi beat that time? You said it…the best man definitely won. This puts into perspective how strong he is.

  3. Matthew says:

    Nice summary, and great photos throughout.

    Regarding Moby, I can’t (likely will not) warm up to his style. I always find myself _wanting_ his to flip out, and pedal with anger. That’s just not his thing.

    Highroad shares the prize with Astana (sorry) for worst kit. Rock and Cervelo, bravo.

    I’m with you on FL. He’s hard not to root for. I was also really happy to see LA out there busting a**; I’m not one of those die-hards, but I respect the hell out of the man.

    I heard some buzz about moving the race to later in the year. For weather reasons. I call BS on that. The unpredictability of the weather is a huge component to all races. I wonder how many organizers of the Spring Classics are lobbying for such a thing? Ah, none(?).

  4. BR says:

    I’ll chime in. Astana was obviously the deepest team in the race, with or without Lance, and they won it before it started. I have mixed opinions about Armstrong’s comeback but generally it was great to see him racing again.

    On the coverage I thought it went extremely well – even the spaz comedian that roamed around the team vans. Yes, she was annoying but she did connect with some portion of the viewers. Let’s face it, how many of us have people sitting next to or near us that a) don’t care beyond the basic standings? b) don’t ride and don’t care to, C) really only care about our riding. Don’t deny that the leading story about the race for several days was the fate of the stolen TT bike. Hardly interesting to folks like us that get the big picture.

    Craig Hummer? He’s the bridge to the bigger picture and the bigger stage races for many viewers. He translated well, he asked very good questions of both Phil & Paul, and he filled in a lot of rained out miles. How many of us remember Sam Posey in the 80′s? OY!

    Michael, you mention the NASCAR finishes? US racing is roughly built on a calendar 1/3 road, 1/3 criteriums, 1/3 circuit races and the Santa Rosa finish caters to US based racers that can compete with an elite European Pro on such a finish. The final stage of the TdF (excluding 1989) is always a circuit around the Champs but it really is a straight course. Point to point road races won’t feature well in the US because it’s harder to get the average person downtown to see the final 8 seconds of a race. If they can come see 15 minutes of a finish via a giant TV, shake a bell, etc then they will get up. The Euro based teams hate these finishes for the very same reason. They don’t do a lot of criteriums in Europe. The US has its own racing style and it is based on 2-3 day events that include a crit, a TT, and a road race. Everyone has a chance to specialize in one of the the three and the rare one’s that do well in all three end up in Europe – longing to return back to the US one day where then can race against the Euro riders and kick their butts in US style races.

    Most of us are purists and really don’t need the commentators. That’s why we are fortunate to have live streams of the action that can pipe to a 42″ TV all backed up by an iPod. There was something for everyone in the ToC. The rookies laugh at the strange details that Craig/Phil/Paul mumble about. The purists complain about the “dumbed down” coverage and the commercials,etc. The most fortunate ones get to ride up the same hill and get run next to the riders on the very roads that we/they train and ride on. No other sport allows the spectator to coexist in the very same space that the competitors work in.

    As I watched the coverage all week I only wished that I could have been up on the remote hills with the local riders enjoying the day and the journey to and from the chosen spot. I did notice that the running freak show got more freaky as the race went South :-) My vote for best freak was the Sumo Team in the inflatable fat suits, 2nd place is the Grim Reaper, 3rd place goes to the speedo wearing dudes with TT helmets in 45 degree weather.

  5. BR says:

    oops…forgot some other rants. Jason McCartney gets my vote as the most exciting and hard driving rider of the event. That guy was everywhere. Floyd? He cheated to win in the TdF and has a lot of nerve coming back to race amongst some people that placed lower than he did because of his cheating. I was glad to see him back but I thought about the clean riders he beat and how much that bothers me. I hope that his appearance inspires others to ride clean and not rely on artificial means to create talent that isn’t there the next day. The story of the race for was the yellow chalk messages on the road. That’s all Lance and all good.

  6. Nick Holbrow says:

    It was great to read the continental tour and then the various online reviews of the race. It was great to see Mr Cavendish win two stages but the race also showed how important great teamwork in providing the lead out is. Witnessed by cervelo’s test team on s3 and husvolds win.
    I also wanted to add great Blog (even tho i admit i am the tiniest bit envious of your rapha collection, the bikes aren’t bad either, esp the trek fixie v.funky.) which helps to pass the night shifts.I love the photo’s and find them inspiring as a recent returnee the cycling after losing some weight. It has made me take the long commute home and stare at my new road bike longingly when i get in.

    • Thanks for tuning in Nick. No doubt our bikes make us healthier and happier (it’s kind of a theme for my next post). You may have picked up on the fact there’s been a lot of infrastructure work on the site since the first of the year. I’m hoping to finally finish all that shortly so I can get back more regular posts. Good riding.