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RICHMOND, Virginia (VN) – The 2015 UCI world championships in Richmond, Virginia, are still nearly a year away, but the initial reviews of the road and time trial courses are in.
Top contenders for the U.S. world championship team gathered in the Virginia capital on Wednesday and Thursday to take a first tour of the road and time trial courses, hold team meetings, and build the foundation of the nation’s first home-field advantage in nearly three decades.
After two police-escorted laps of the 16.5km course, the verdict was unanimous. Technical. Tactical. Unpredictable.
“It could be for anyone. It doesn’t suit a climber, it doesn’t suit a sprinter. It’s an all-rounder, that’s my prediction,” said Carmen Small, a medalist in the 2013 world time trial championship. “But it could be a climber, and it could be a sprinter. It’s pretty open. There are so many turns, and if someone gets away it could potentially stick.”
“I like the course. I think it could be a little bit harder, but it’s definitely Americanized with a bit of a Euro feel to it,” said Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing). “You have a lot of turns in town, a lot of right hand turns, criterium-style, then you go out and do this little cobbled climb. It’s going to be a punchy race, a hard race, but it’ll take a big team effort to make it selective.”
From the start, the road races will roll out through a flat, open 12 kilometers that would be a well-controlled sprinter’s delight, were it not for what follows. Packed into the circuit’s last four kilometers are the three principal challenges – the cobbled, switchback climb of Libby Hill, quickly followed by the short 18-percent ramp of 23rd Street and the final 350-meter ascent up Governor’s Street. By its crest, riders will be left with only some 700 meters to the line.
“Position will be probably more important than any worlds I’ve ever done,” said Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp). “I think it’ll make for an exciting final. There’s places to launch, there’s places to chase, and there’s places where chasing will be really hard.”
Late escapees will be aided by the technical finale, where the series of turns could help keep well-timed moves away from the prying eyes of a chasing peloton. And while Libby Hill might not be long or hard enough to have the decisive effect of a Flandrian climb, the battles for position as the race approaches the technical climb each lap will be fierce — and draining — especially if riders face a headwind on the run-in as they did on Thursday.
“It’s not the hardest cobblestone section I’ve ever done, but it is a cobblestone section, it is a small climb,” said two-time U23 Roubaix winner Phinney. “The main thing with the cobblestones is that you force 180 guys onto a really small road, so there’s a big fight for position before you go in. It’s almost less about the hill itself than the approach to it, and crashes, and staying safe, and being where you need to be. Then being able to gun it over the top while other guys are still on the climb, you’re kind of riding away off the front, and that’s how you make the race really hard.”
With an unpredictable course and an entire cycling season to run before the cycling world rolls into Richmond, few riders were willing to venture a strong favorite for the road race just yet.
“I think it’ll be sort of similar to the classics. Anyone who’s doing well in something like Flanders or Liège will do well here,” said Howes. “On paper, I think if a guy like [Simon] Gerrans is going as well as he was last year, it’s a good race for him. He’s probably better in the field than a lot of people, and he’s got a good finish. But maybe he’ll party too much this off-season and have a terrible year.”
On the U.S. squad, Howes cited a departing Garmin-Sharp teammate as a man to watch.
“I think Tyler Farrar could potentially get to the end here, and if he does he’s going to be pretty quick,” Howes said, “I think we’ll see him playing a new leadership role on MTN. If they don’t burn him out early and use him up at the beginning of the season, if he gears more towards the classics like he wants to and then takes a good break, he could be a serious contender for this course. And we have a lot of guys who can help him.”
As for the women’s peloton, Evelyn Stevens said she expects the usual suspects to be battling for the rainbow jersey.
“I think it’s the same women who are competitive nowadays: Marianne Vos, Lizzie Armitstead, Pauline [Ferrand-Prévot], the current world champion, and Elisa Longo-Borghini,” Stevens said of the elite women’s contenders. “I think there’s just a lot of talent out there, and it keeps increasing each year, so I think we’ll have a lot of good candidates who could win on this course.”
Could Stevens, a past winner of the women’s Flèche Wallonne, and a threat on punchier courses, be one of those candidates?
“I would like to be one of them,” she said. “It’s extra motivation. This is leading up to the Olympics as well, and I think to have the world championships in Richmond as you’re leading up to that Olympic year, for me, I couldn’t imagine anything better than winning here.”
Time Trial Washout
While riders had the privilege of a postcard blustery fall day to preview the road course on Thursday, Wednesday’s scheduled crack at the time trial course did not pan out. Heavy rain and temperatures in the low 50s engulfed the region, all but scuttling the day. Only Phinney, perhaps the United States’ best chance at a men’s worlds medal, braved the elements, shivering as his road bike was unloaded in the sprawling parking lot of the King’s Dominion amusement park, where the elite men’s time trial will begin north of Richmond proper.
“I figured, we flew all the way out here. It’s kind of cold and rainy, but I have a new appreciation for being able to ride my bike now since I was forced off it a couple months ago due to a crash,” Phinney said. “I had a great time, though. I had 10 police escort motos just for me, and as we started to get into town people were cheering me on. It felt like I was back in a race, and that’s not a feeling I’ve had in awhile.”
The course itself, Phinney said, is a fairly traditional world’s route that will suit the specialists well. Among them will be men who have already collected striped skinsuits, including Fabian Cancellara, Tony Martin, and, if he rides, reigning champion Bradley Wiggins. And Phinney?
“It’s rolling, it takes a lot of power but a lot of pacing strategy as well. It’s a good course for people who win time trials, basically,” he said. “I like to think of myself as one of those people.”
When it comes to battling Europe’s time trial monsters, Phinney may get an unlikely home field advantage from King’s Dominion itself, where the park’s one-third scale Eiffel Tower will preside over the TT start.
“I’m sure [the Europeans] will get really excited about starting in a theme park, because Europeans typically get really excited about American things like that. Maybe that’ll create a distraction and be beneficial to us,” he said.
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After a successful year racing for UnitedHealthcare in the U.S. and internationally, Alison Powers will retire from professional cycling. She plans to focus on her coaching business, ALP Cycles Coaching.
Looking back on her career, Powers said, “It has been a pretty amazing career! I have won or been part of a team that has won almost every single race in the United States. All of my cycling goals have been accomplished and I feel very satisfied leaving the sport. I’m proud to have won the Tour of the Gila criterium in 2006, my first year doing NRC races, and then to have won it again this year, my last year racing.”
Powers, 34, came into 2014 with a long list of accomplishments: a Pan American time trial championship title, the U.S. national criterium championship title, and general classification wins at the Joe Martin Stage Race, Cascade Classic Stage Race, and Redlands Classic.
In her final season, Powers won the overall classification at the Tour de Femenino de San Luis, took victory in the Amgen Tour of California time trial, and claimed U.S. national titles in both the road and time trial disciplines. Powers said, “Being a part of the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team has been wonderful. This year felt like I was getting my ‘master’s degree’ in bike racing. I am so proud and happy to have been part of the team — and also sad to leave the program, my teammates, and the staff. They are all really wonderful people who took great care of me and taught me to become a better and more complete bike racer.”
In retirement, Powers plans to spend more time at home with family and friends in Colorado, while remaining active on her bike and Nordic skis. She will put more emphasis on her coaching business, allowing her share her racing skills and training expertise with other athletes.
“The past 10 years of my life as a bike racer have been really wonderful,” Powers said. “I feel so lucky to have had this kind of hard work, team camaraderie, and success in my life. I really love riding my bike, and to know I have accomplished so much feels really wonderful and happy. I can leave the sport with a smile on my face and two current national championship jerseys.”
General manager Mike Tamayo said, “Alison was instrumental in creating this program and yielding the one of the most successful seasons for a women’s team ever, especially a debut season. Not only is Alison an extremely valuable rider in terms of her own results, the knowledge she brought as a coach, mentor, and racer was invaluable to the rest of the team. Alison will always be a part of the UnitedHealthcare Blue Train family, and will continue to stay involved with the team as a high-performance advisor and mentor to riders.”
USA Cycling issued a statement Thursday, addressing the planned participation of Lance Armstrong in this weekend’s Gran Fondo Hincapie, declaring that, under WADA Code, Armstrong’s lifetime ban prohibits him from riding in the USA Cycling-sanctioned “non-competitive” event.
As reported earlier this week, Armstrong had intended to reunite with several former U.S. Postal Service teammates, including George Hincapie, Christian Vande Velde, and Kevin Livingston, as well as several active American professional riders, at the gran fondo bearing Hincapie’s name.
That participation came into question, however, due to the event’s sanctioning with USA Cycling.
USA Cycling’s website lists the Hincapie Fondo as permitted as a “Fun Ride or Tour,” rather than a competitive event which has “agreed to submit results to the National Rankings System.”
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency told VeloNews on Wednesday that it had reached out to USA Cycling Tuesday, following the publication of a VeloNews story about Armstrong’s involvement, to determine whether or not the Hincapie fondo “qualifies as an authorized event under the rules.”
“The WADA Code rules dictate that a sanctioned athlete cannot compete in an authorized event during that athlete’s period of ineligibility,” USADA’s media relations manager Annie Skinner wrote in a statement on Wednesday. “After this question was brought to our attention, we reached out to USA Cycling, and we are awaiting their determination as to whether or not this Gran Fondo qualifies as an authorized event under the rules.”
That question was answered Thursday morning, in a statement sent from USA Cycling to VeloNews, which declared that, after conferring with USADA and the UCI, USA Cycling determined that Armstrong is, indeed, banned from participating.
“USA Cycling has been asked by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to look into the Hincapie Gran Fondo in the face of questions concerning rider eligibility,” the statement read. “USA Cycling has informed USADA that the Hincapie Gran Fondo constitutes a cycling ‘activity’ that is ‘authorized’ by USA Cycling as those terms are used in the World Anti-Doping Code and in the Anti-Doping provisions of the UCI (International Cycling Union) Cycling Regulations. Under these provisions, an athlete’s suspension bars participation in an authorized activity such as this. The UCI has confirmed USA Cycling’s interpretation.”
Because they are considered “non-competitive events,” and racing licenses are not required, gran fondos are difficult to police.
In this case, there would be no one to stop Armstrong, or anyone else, from riding. USA Cycling’s statement went on to address what might happen in the event that Armstrong should disregard the rules and choose to ride in the fondo.
“The World Anti-Doping Code vests jurisdiction in UCI and in USADA to determine whether an athlete has violated the terms of any suspension, as well as to assess any sanctions that might accompany an adverse determination.”
As a non-competitive event, the Hincapie fondo is in no way required to be sanctioned through USA Cycling; the sanctioning amounts to rider insurance coverage, which USA Cycling offers to myriad cycling events.
Under USA Cycling permitting guidelines, one-day trial licenses are optional for gran fondos and fun rides/tours, but USA Cycling’s excess medical coverage is only provided with purchase of a one-day (or annual) license.
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We roll away from a coffee shop glow and into blue ink air. Cold presses in, as it always does just before sunrise at 8,000 feet, but a climb comes first on this dawn patrol. Warmth lies just a few minutes up the road.
Creatures of the dark, we are. Working stiffs, mostly. Real jobs, or as close to real as is possible in this industry. It’s not nine-to-five because it’s 24/7, 365. We’re on-call like doctors, without the intelligence or pay. But these schedules leave some time to play, albeit often on the edges of daylight.
The sun is sleeping, for another 20 minutes at least. A hum of thick rubber on asphalt dampens blue-lipped conversation before the road turns to dirt. Climb through a small mountain enclave, through 9,000 feet, up and away from email and smartphones and deadlines and work fires waiting to be put out.
The five of us sometimes light fires for each other, back in that other world. We are two editors and three marketers, living in a tug-of-war of content and coverage. Two contrasting sides of the media you consume every day.
But here, in the cold before sunrise, headed toward secret singletrack, where the phones show “no service” and the only pitches are topographical, that salaried world may as well not exist. Maybe it never existed, I think. But that’s just pre-dawn meta nonsense.
The trail is on the right, somewhere. A mile more, perhaps. It is marked by nothing, a blank face of forest, invisible to the unfamiliar. We pass the entrance … oops … even though I rode this trail just three days ago. Double back; spot a ribbon of pressed earth through the trees. Pick up the bikes, walk in 20 yards. Leave no trace.
Maybe build a little cairn so we can find it next time? Stack three rocks. No, best keep the forest face blank. Knock the tower over, throw rocks back in the woods.
Look back, East, at cotton candy clouds on fire.
Pleased that the singletrack has survived the night, we roll first tracks on dewy hero dirt. The climb is steep, rocky, and full of technical moves; it feels like New England, to me, like home. On this northwestern face, there is more soft dirt, less decomposed granite than we usually deal with. A few groves of aspens let the first light through, so striking it raises the hair on the back of my neck, before we dive back into shadowy tunnels of pines.
The top, two miles above sea level, provides a look toward home, 5,000 feet below. We rise out of the canyon, and cell service returns. A collection of bling-bloop-buzzes radiate out from our packs. The Europeans are up, and emailing.
Nobody steps back into that other world.
This is the dawn patrol, a murky reflection of real life below. Cold starts and steep climbs, hard work and occasional discomfort — each pedal stroke is rewarded in kind. Little happens down there that doesn’t happen here; it’s all just a matter of scale.
The UCI and the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) will appeal the decision made last month by the Czech Olympic Committee to clear Roman Kreuziger of anomalies in his biological passport, taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
“After reviewing the full case file, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), joined by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), has decided to appeal the Czech Olympic Committee hearing panel’s decision to acquit Roman Kreuziger following anomalies that were found in the rider’s Athlete Biological Passport (ABP),” the UCI said through a statement Thursday.
“Having carefully considered the decision, the UCI and WADA are filing an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) with the request that consideration be given to a sanction for Kreuziger that is fully compliant with the rules of the World Anti-Doping Code.”
Both bodies indicated that they would not comment further until a decision had been made by CAS “in order to fully respect the integrity of the legal process.”
The anomalies in his biological passport relate to the periods between March and August 2011, and April 2012 until the end of that year’s Giro d’Italia. At that time Kreuziger rode for Astana. He joined Tinkoff-Saxo in 2013, and that year, he won the Amstel Gold Race, and finished fifth at the Tour de France, riding in support of Alberto Contador.
Following his 2013 Amstel Gold win, Kreuziger admitted to having worked with controversial Italian doctor Michele Ferrari, during 2006 and 2007. In 2002, the Italian Olympic committee (CONI) banned Ferrari from working with athletes in Italy.
His Tinkoff-Saxo team withheld him from competing in the Tour de France, but then grew frustrated by the UCI and attempted to start him in the Tour of Poland. Kreuziger was then provisionally suspended on August 2.
On September 22, the Czech Olympic Committee said that Kreuziger “did not violate anti-doping rules,” adding that, “the values in the cyclist’s biological passport did not exceed the basal (extreme) values.”
UCI president Brian Cookson announced last month that starting in 2015, a new independent and international anti-doping tribunal will handle doping cases, instead of the rider’s national federation or Olympic Committee.
Kreuziger returned to competition on October 1 in Italy’s Milano-Torino race, knowing full well that the UCI would be appealing his case to CAS. Thursday’s announcement confirmed that was the case, with WADA joining the UCI in the legal battle.
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