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Random Reporting, Tour of Utah

August 13, 2011

So far, after the fourth of six days in this race, it seems to be a battle between RadioShack and the Columbian team, Gobernacion Indeportes Antioquia. @BenKing89 emphasized this during the TT on Friday when he tweeted, “Levi and Jani. In the background sevilla and henao. Warming up for a gc battle,” with this photo.

I found Ben sitting at the end of a row of chairs near the opening to the garage-like setting the teams warmed up in for the TT at the Miller Motorsports Park. He wore his TT helmet already, even though he wasn’t starting for 30 minutes or so. I asked him who he thought would win today. “Levi,” he said. Then he went on to say, “It will make my job easier if he wins by a lot, to defend.”

Unfortunately Ben didn’t get his wish. After stage 3 Levi holds yellow by 27 seconds over his teammate, Jani Brajkovic, 29 seconds over third place rider Oscar Sevilla, and 56 seconds over fourth place Sergio Henao. This foursome pushed the pace on stage 1 to build their lead.  It doesn’t seem far-fetched, depending on how they are feeling, for two or four of them to get away on the last climb up past the capitol on Thursday. Can we expect to see Henao work for Sevilla, or Jani for Levi, on Saturday or on Sunday up to Snowbird? Sevilla can’t be counted out for a first place overall finish, not until after the finish at Snowbird — which is sounding awfully nice given how hot it’s been and how intense the sun is here.

The crowds at the stages here in Utah seem pretty light. This concerns me because this race ought to continue and not solely because it’s a high caliber race in the U.S. that helps to strengthen the sport.

The Americans who ride in Europe love racing at home. They seem to be more at ease in familiar territory. And then there are the little bonuses: after the TT George Hincapie tweeted there was nothing like racing in the U.S.; he had ordered a burrito by room service in his hotel.

Everything is so accessible here. The Tour of Utah stages are centered within 35 – 40 miles of Salt Lake City; it’s easy to base yourself there and take in all of the stages without hours of driving. The TT venue in particular creates a fabulous fan experience. The teams set-up and warm-up in a strip of garages that open on two sides so you can cruise around either side to catch a look at your favorite riders. The start and finish line runs adjacent to these garages; spectators can move back and forth between the start area and the garages within a space of about 25 feet. I’d love to see this race continue and spectator attendence up next year. Now that it’s a higher ranked UCI race, which is an advancement over last year, and with Medalist organizing it, it’s a great race that ought to draw more attendance and thrive.

Smaller crowds mean the riders are more accessible too. It’s been pretty easy to visit with them. Spectators arriving at the start time of middle of the pack got close enough to the TT start ramp to watch the riders’ chests expanding and contracting as they took in several deep breaths before speeding down the ramp, as well as observe them clenching their teeth as they worked to gather speed. The guys are so focused while they are warming up; in general they seemed more nervous before the TT than at yesterday’s stage. I found Lucas Euser of Spidertech spinning on the trainer and asked him how he was feeling and liking Utah. He was working so hard on the trainer there was a constant drip of sweat from his face and I had to ask him to repeat his response because it blew out in the rush of a deep breath. “It’s treating me pretty well so far,” he said.

Tom Danielson and Peter Stetina sat in a couple of chairs in their warm-up space about an hour from the start time. Peter wore bandages on his forearm and calve. I was pretty horrified when I saw him roll in after stage 2, his right shoulder bloody and his jersey torn from one of the late crashes just before the finish. “I lost some time,” he said before the TT, “and I’ve got some road rash, but there’s nothing broken.” Hopefully the road rash should be well-healed before he starts down his next ramp in Colorado Springs on August 22nd.

I also spied more tattoos on riders warming up. Viviani, the sprinter on Liquigas-Cannondale who placed second in the stage 2 sprint, sports a heart concealed on his inner left bicep. One of the RadioShack guys carries a word tattooed across his chest, but I wasn’t able to identify him.

TJ’s win of the TT on his birthday was a highlight of the day. He beemed on the podium. He beemed on his way from the presentation to the doping tent, autographing everything fans held before him and posing for photographs. As I stood on a concrete barrier watching him on the top step smile before a couple hundred spectators an idea pooped into my heart: how cool would it be to have 200 people sing happy birthday. So I started the song. While not everyone sang (how could they not have?), a good dozen or so around me chimed in. Our small band of voices may have carried just far and loud enough for him to hear; I thought I detected a new smile on his face.

[many thanks to the angel at McDonald’s who told me they have wifi]

From → Pro-Cyclists

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