The Tour of California — a second tier tour or a better alternative?

Over the weekend, the Amgen Tour of California concluded with a final circuit race through the Thousand Oaks area, as Michael Rogers clinched the overall title by just nine seconds over Dave Zabriskie and former champ Levi Leipheimer.

The prior day featured the Downtown L.A. time trial, which failed to live up to predictions as the deciding stage when no one took control of the race. Will got there just in time to catch Leipheimer leaping past, while others focused on the bikes that weren’t in the race and the Daily News looked at the more extreme bike race fanatics. And some complained that it was just too bad that all those bikes blocked access to the action inside the Staples Center.

But the real action was further off the course, of course.

After destroying what little was left of his own credibility, admitted doper Floyd Landis attended the L.A. time trail, but didn’t talk to reporters about his accusations against Lance Armstrong, Zabriskie, Leipheimer and George Hincapie, as the Times suggested he has nothing left to lose and disappointment abounded in his hometown.

On the other hand, he may soon have company as reports indicate that at least two of the riders Landis pointed his drug-stained finger at have been offered leniency in exchange for cooperating with investigators. And not everyone loves or believes Lance Armstrong, despite his denial of Landis’ charges.

Meanwhile, in the race that carries a much higher profile among most serious cycling fans outside of California, Ivan Basso bounced back from a suspension for the Operation Puerto doping scandal — notice a theme here? — to win Sunday’s stage of the Giro D’Italia and swears he’s now clean, while David Arroyo kept the leader’s pink jersey.

And that’s the problem.

The Tour of California has the potential to be a great race — something the Coors Classic only briefly managed and the Tour of Georgia never quite achieved.

But it will never be more than a second tier tour until it can find a place on the cycling calendar that doesn’t conflict with the great classics. Most European based pro teams, and most high-level riders, would rather compete in the Giro than make the trip here for the relatively short, low profile and only modestly challenging ToC.

And given a choice, I would have much rather have watched Vinokourov, Basso, Wiggins, Evans, Sastre, et al, battle it out, if only Time Warner carried it.

On the other hand, while the men’s pro calendar is crowded, the women’s schedule is desperately in need of an American grand tour of its own. And to the best of my knowledge, there hasn’t been a high-profile multi-stage women’s tour in the U.S. since I watched Jeanie Longo, Maria Canins and Connie Carpenter battle it out in the Coors Classic before the ’84 Olympics.

So maybe it’s time for the people behind the Tour of California to consider a second race, either in conjunction with the men’s tour or on a date of its own later in the year. Because the men’s race will never be more than an alternative for the top pro teams until it can find its own space on the calendar.

But there’s a real opportunity to create the world’s most important, high profile women’s race.

And in a state that would readily embrace it.

………

The Source names their 10 Essential Bikes as Transportation Blogs, eight of which are already on my daily reading list. There was a time when L.A. bike planners actually thought big. Long Beach’s bike-touring expats make their way from Denton TX — home of the world’s greatest nuevo polka band — to Shreveport LA. The struggle to strike a balance between bikes and motorists on one of the nation’s best roads for riding. Several cyclists are injured — two seriously — in an amateur race in New Hampshire; at least one of the commenters fails to grasp the concept of racing. Cincinnati requires bike parking in any motor vehicle parking facility with 60 or more spaces. Toronto considers switching to a complete streets model. A Montreal rider offers an extensive list of safety tips, yet oddly seems to consider a bell a life-saving safety device. A Brit woman claims to have lost eight dress sizes riding in her sleep under hypnosis. A London truck driver who killed a female cyclist last year admits to being on his cell phone at the time, as the prosecutor presses for stiffer charges. Jakarta cyclists get a Bike to Work Center, not just a day. In an ecumenical approach to peace, 120 Bedouin children join 10,000 Israeli cyclists on bikes donated by a fellowship of Christians and Jews. A Cervélo rider who crashed out of the ToC crashes again, this time while driving drunk in Germany .

Finally, Australia turns into a battleground as an Aussie rider is severely beaten by a driver after flipping him off, and a cyclist provides tragic proof that cyclists can be homicidal assholes, too, by fatally pushing the 71-year old mother of a former rugby star; he told a bystander “the bitch was in my way” before pedaling anonymously away.

9 comments

  1. eatmee says:

    The Giro is available live daily on Time Warner via the Universal Sports Network, as it was last year for the first time.

    I don’t know which specific “tier” USN is included with, but I do not have the sports-specific package required for most of the other specialty sports networks. It’s channel 226 for Hollywood/Westside, despite not being included on the channel lineup cards.

    • bikinginla says:

      Thanks — I owe you one. I’ve been searching the TV schedule/channel guide for Universal Sports and the Giro for two weeks now, and neither one showed up. I’ve already set tomorrow’s race to record so I can watch it after I ride.

      • Marcotico says:

        Unfortunately on Cox Cable Universal Sports carries the Giro, but it is grainy, like watching it on the internet, while Versus which carries the Tour of California is in glorious HD!

  2. Digital Dame says:

    I can get it on my tv, with no cable, antenna only. Of course the channel it comes in on here in Portland is no help to you, but it may be an option if you want to try it.

    I’ve heard almost nothing about the ToC this year, in contrast to last year when I somehow ended up on their e-mail list so I got daily updates that way.

    • bikinginla says:

      I kind of suspected that. It was in the news every day here in California, but I can’t recall seeing a single item about it online from out of state until Landis reared his ugly head.

  3. MTS says:

    The ATOC was second tier?? Schleck, Cancellara, Cavendish, Boonen, Armstrong, Zabriske, Hincapie, etc. What more do you want? Contador? He isn’t even racing right now. Not all pros want to do the Giro because they think its three weeks is too close to the Tour. Lance had never even ridden the Giro until last year.

    • bikinginla says:

      I’ll stick with my contention that the Tour of California is a very good second tier race. And here’s the proof:

      In the ToC, the leaders stayed bunched together as closely as riders in a local crit throughout the race, with only a few seconds separating them from the first day to the last — which suggests that either the course wasn’t tough enough to separate them or the competition wasn’t. Or both.

      Now contrast that with the Giro, where the leaders got dropped like freshman English in a wicked breakaway in stage 11, with Vinokourov falling from the leader’s jersey to almost 10 minutes behind. And they’ve been fighting their way back into contention ever since. Now that’s a great race; when and if that happens in the ToC, I may re-evaluate my position.

      As for what I want, I want to see great racers compete, not great races. I want to see Zabriskie outsprint Basso for the finish line, and Leipheimer play chess with Vino to see who makes the podium.

      I want to see a race that starts in Denver and ends in SoCal, so the riders have to cross the Rockies and the Sierra. I want to see a stage that starts in the desert and ends on Mt. Wilson. It doesn’t have to be three weeks, but how about 12 stages tough enough to make them work hard enough to shakeup the standings at least a couple times before the race ends.

      And I want to see the best women riders compete in a tour of their own right along with them.

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