Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Americans In Spain

American pro cyclists are racing very well at the Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain) this month. It's too bad that most Americans think the Tour de France is the only race worth watching. In fact, OLN dropped daily coverage of the three-week Spanish race this year; they are promising only a one-hour summary a month after the race. Figuring that they will have to fit 20 days of racing into 40-45 minutes of air time (factoring in commercials), coverage will be superficial at best. That's a shame because the Vuelta has earned a reputation as the most exciting and competitive of cycling's grand tours. In recent years, the Vuelta has not been decided until the last few days of the race.

Since today is the first rest day of the Vuelta and we're still riding the patriotic crest of Olympic fervor, let's review what Americans have done. The race started with a team time trial which was won by the best time trialing team in the world, US Postal Service. They won the time trial at the Tour as well, and what's really impressive is that the Vuelta team includes only two of the nine riders from the Tour team. Their victory is a testament to the team's depth. One of the riders who helped Armstrong win the Tour, American Floyd Landis, became the first leader of the Vuelta.

After passing the leader's gold jersey around to a few teammates, Landis got back on top with a strong ride in stage eight, an individual time trial. Landis was third, eighteen seconds behind another American, Olympic time trial champion Tyler Hamilton. Hamilton, my favorite rider, showed that he still has the form that won him the gold in Athens a month ago, riding a steady 31.5 mph over the flat 25-mile course (I could do that, but only if it was downhill!). Taking the victory on September 11, Hamilton dedicated the win to those who died that day in 2001. Landis will be joining Hamilton's Swiss Phonak team next year, as will the second place rider sandwiched between them, US Postal's Victor Hugo Pena.

Landis has held onto the gold jersey through some difficult, mountainous terrain. His lead is shrinking, but he has fought valiantly. Yesterday, however, Landis was overshadowed by the incredible riding of American teammate Dave Zabriskie. Zabriskie attacked just two miles into the race and stayed away for 100 miles to win. Such breakaways rarely succeed, but the US time trial champion managed to win by more than a minute. According to
procycling.com, he had a little help from Axl, Slash, & co.:
When asked what [he] was thinking about [during] the time off the front, he added, "I had a Guns N' Roses song in my head. I'm not sure which one, though. It's the one where he says, 'They can't catch me, I'm innocent.'"
That song is "Out Ta Get Me" from Appetite For Destruction, of course (one of my all-time favorite records). I could imagine Zabriskie quoting Axl as he crossed the finish line: "Take that one to heart!"

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