Cycling is filled with life lessons.
Sometimes things in life just aren't fair. You think you deserve something and for whatever reason it doesn't happen. This week in cycling we had a bit of that going around.
I'm sure my European readers are well aware of the Amgen Tour of California. Its UCI ranking of 2.HC makes this eight-day stage race a highly desirable event. So desirable for domestic American squads that potential sponsorship is tied to their participation. In the States, the Amgen Tour of California is our Tour de France. It doesn't get the same amount of eye-balls watching it as its big brother in France, but quite a few tune in from across the pond to watch. And with sponsors having an interest in the European market it's important to have a team showcased.
This past week the list of teams invited was made public. The usual suspects made the cut: Omega Pharma-Quick Step for Levi Leipheimer, who will the undisputed leader of that squad; RadioShack-Nissan is bringing defending champion Chris Horner - and the list of invited teams goes on. What's interesting is a little further down the list.
Project 1t4i, Colombia-Coldeportes, Team Exergy and Bontrager-Livestrong appeared on the "save the date" invitation for the 2012 Amgen Tour of California.
Some of these picks were a bit of a surprise. Project 1t4i is a decent squad and deserves a shot - plus two of their main sponsors are Shimano and Felt bikes - both located just 45 minutes from downtown L.A. (of course that time may vary due to traffic on the infamous 405 freeway).
Colombia-Coldeportes could be a spoiler in what many are calling the toughest route yet. Depending on who they bring, the squad could spice up the Mt Baldy stage.
Team Exergy is an interesting pick. They have one marquee rider on the squad - the recently un-retired Freddy Rodriguez. He is guaranteed to mix it up in any of the sprint finishes. And the final stage finishes in the afore mentioned City of Angels, not far from where the sprinter used to call home - the town of Whittier. However how nice that may be, I think Exergy might have gotten the nod due to their attacking style in the Tour of Colorado.
To everyone's surprise the Bontrager-Livestrong Development squad was invited to the Amgen Tour of California. While the team does have a strong affiliation with Lance Armstrong, who in turn is BFF with the Shack squad, it is not legally part of Team RadioShack.
Bontrager-Livestrong director Axel Merckx made it very clear to Cyclingnews.com that there will be zero collaboration between the two teams.
"The Bontrager-Livestrong team is obviously an American-registered team. Separate company. Separate paying agent," said Merckx.
Regardless of their affiliation it was surprising that they were selected for any sporting accomplishments until you look at one of the title sponsors - Livestrong. The Livestrong Foundation is closely aligned with Amgen. From a business standpoint it makes sense that they invite the U-23 squad. It's good publicity for both Amgen and Livestrong. While I feel that the Bontrager-Livestrong Development squad is a team to watch in U-23 races, this selection is quite the step beyond. I have a feeling that Merxkx is leading his lambs to the slaughter - but hey - they'll get the Livestrong brand out there.
As you might be guessing by now, what a team may or may not bring to the Tour of California table from a non-sporting standpoint is also equally important. That certain something isn't calculated in UCI points - it's cash money - aka sponsorship activation. Sponsorship activation is marketing terminology for "sponsor the race with a booth in the expo or a VIP area."
One team that didn't activate was Team Type 1 - Sanofi.
In an interview with Cyclingnews, Phil Southerland said that they were not invited to California because they did not "activate" on a sponsorship proposal by race organizer AEG. AEG doesn't deny that they offered a sponsorship to Team Type 1, but they say that it wasn't contingent on their admittance to America's biggest stage race. As mentioned in the article, Team Type 1 was always an "on the bubble team" for selection. This year it popped.
In a press release team owner Phil Southerland said, "We are shocked and disappointed. So far this season we are the most successful Professional Continental team in the United States, with a deep race program that goes around the world."
The excellent blog, Inrng, also pointed out that Sanofi is a French pharmaceutical company in direct competition with Amgen. So yeah, that is awkward.
Kenda/5 Hour Energy presented by Geargrinder was also flicked, even as they continue to rack up domestic victories. It's these teams with smaller budgets that I hope can ride out the rejection from AEG. Team manager Chad Thompson told Cyclingnews that he had a sponsor lined up if they secured an invite. Now, not so much...
And as much as we like things to be fair in the world, they just aren't. Families get hosed by bad investments losing everything they own. Mother Nature unleashes and destroys towns. It's horrible and in comparison to a bunch of guys riding their bikes in California, much more devastating. Regardless, from a sporting standpoint I'm disappointed that Kenda isn't invited - they deserved a shot.
Disappointment comes in the form of race finishes too. This past Sunday the first one-day classic of the year rolled out from Milan and finished in San Remo (race video highlights). On the climb of the Poggio, Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) attacked with Simon Gerrans (Greenedge). Bridging across like a locomotive was Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Nissan). From there Cancellara gave a 10 kilometer leadout to the finish line. Sure Gerrans did a half-assed pull at the front - once- but I think that was more of an opportunity to peer into Fabs eyes and see if the Swiss rider had the spark to finish the sprint off.
As Gerrans crossed the finish line the criticism started. The Australian deserved none of that - it just showed how those who were criticizing knew little of the nuances of bike racing. That's why Radioshack manager Johan Bruyneel tweeted after the race, "The strongest rider didn't win but that's bike racing. Congrats to @simongerrans for his win today." So true.
If a bike race is finishing with more than one person it's going to be a knife fight. Each rider is looking for the other's weakness and waiting to strike. In Milan-San Remo it was Cancellara who was willing to pull as he was apparently happy with a shot at the podium rather than nothing at all. Gerrans was cagey, waited and with just a couple hundred meters remaining swung out from the slipstream to take the win. And like Bruyneel said, "that's bike racing."
So bike racing is full of life lessons. Don't expect life to be fair. Get out there and work hard, but make sure you understand the game you are playing too.
Be sure to check out Roadcycling.com's video highlights from the Tour of Catalonia all week in our video section and please spread the word.