A Full Weekend of Racing
The applause for the champions is well deserved, but there's more to life than that.
What a weekend in racing. The big news of course was Ryder Hesjedal winning the Giro d'Italia. The Garmin-Barracuda rider is the first Canadian to win a Grand Tour and it's also the first Grand Tour win for the Jonathan Vaughters led squad. Congratulations all around! If you're located in the U.S. you can relive video highlights from the Giro in our video section.
Another round of congratulations needs to be sent to the organizers and specifically Michele Acquarone of the Giro d'Italia organization RCS. There was a gradual buildup of a sporting tension. The pink leader's jersey was swapped around and the sprint finishes were an exciting conclusion to the first week. But before I go further, the beginning of the Giro belonged to BMC Racing's Taylor Phinney. What a fantastic ride by that young man. I know it's a worn out cliché, but he is part of the new growth in professional cycling. As one generation of American cycling readies to retire, another is stepping in to take its place.
The final week of the Giro kept everyone tuning in to see where the pink jersey might land. Also interestingly this last week showed who has potential and who hasn't. A man that was on a lot of people's short list for the overall victory in the Giro was Roman Kreuziger of Astana. He finished stage 17 over 11 minutes back. Ouch!
Thankfully for him he was able to bounce back and take a victory on stage 19. That might have saved him a bit of face, however it might be a little too late as Astana is probably reevaluating his contract and realizing they don't have a Grand Tour winner. The Contador days seem so far away now when he was winning everything for the breakaway republic.
Another rider who failed to deliver was Ivan Basso of Liquigas-Cannondale. His team sure looked the strongest - setting the pace on the climbs during the last week like they had the pink jersey in their ranks. When the peloton finished the time trial in Milan, Basso was fifth on the general classification. The strength he's had in past years seems to have left him.
Enough with those who didn't, let's mention those who did. Mark Cavendish had three stage wins - not too bad, but there were some missed opportunities to add to the tally. Of course the already mentioned Phinney for his prologue win deserves another shout-out. The man of the Giro is without a doubt Hesjedal.
Ryder was Mr. Consistency the entire Grand Tour. He was staying with his opponents when necessary, but also putting them under pressure such as in stage 19 and of course in the final time trial in Milan. I'm hoping that team manager Jonathan Vaughters is able to keep Hesjedal in the fold for a couple more years, but that may be a hard thing to do. And it also puts a question mark behind the other G.C leaders on the squad. Christian Vande Velde has shown promise, but perhaps he now views himself as a solid support rider. The same thought for Tommy Danielson. He has high aspirations to be a Tour de France team leader. While Hesjedal hasn't stated whether he'll do the double of the Giro and the Tour, he's now in a commanding position within the team. Perhaps the best thing is for Hesjedal to support Danielson and if the American falters take over. Sometimes it must be a blessing to have so many talented riders under one roof. I bet there are many directors who wish for that.
Here in the States we had our professional national championships this past weekend. No surprise, Dave Zabriskie won his seventh national time trial title. Two days later Garmin-Barracuda lined up a solid squad for the road race hoping to accomplish the double: time trial and road titles in the same year.
It didn't happen as once again a rider with little team support took the title - Timmy Duggan. He took an impressive solo win about nine miles from the finish line.
I'm not sure what it is about the Greeenville course that seems to favor the smaller squad. The course does have its sections of straight roads where a team can chase down a dangerous break. Perhaps it's the combination of the usually hot, humid southern weather and the climb of Paris Mountain that wears down the riders to a select few who are truly in great form. Regardless, congratulations to both David Zabriskie and Timmy Duggan for their respective championship titles.
There's a day between the Greenville time trial and road race. During that day I was a guest of the UnitedHealthcare team as they visited the Greenville Children's Hospital. Nothing sets your priorities more straight than seeing sick children, and in the case of that day's visit, mostly babies.
UnitedHealthcare professional rider Brad White stopped by each room and talked to the parents and cooed at the babies. As a father of a nine-month old and two year old, White had the empathy that comes naturally for a parent.
He spoke about how these visits put everything into perspective and in the case of his team sponsor UnitedHealthcare, there was something more than throwing money at a team to promote the brand. Riders were taking the time to visit hospitals - approximately 25 a year. Sure, the babies or even the older children don't fully understand the concept of a professional racer, but it breaks up the day for both the patient and the care givers. It also showed to me that someone cares about them and that they matter.
It's easy to forget about that. Often we get so wrapped up in vitriol and spew forth without thinking - like a cornered animal. I'm not going to say I've never done that, but what I am going to say is visiting a hospital and seeing patients hooked up to a machine puts things into perspective. Life is a fragile and limited thing. Again, I'm not saying I'm going to turn the other cheek or devote myself to writing only about the warm fuzzy side of life as injustices and the darker sides must be exposed. What I am saying is that I am going to let go of some of the more petty things in life.
So while I applaud the sporting achievements of all the racers this weekend - let's remember the important things in life. Often it's not about who finishes first, but what kind of person you are once the cheers die down and there's only fading memories.