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February 07, 2009

Tour of California Lance, Floyd, Levi, and George

In one week (February 14th), the Tour of California kicks off. It's a bicycle race on public roads, contested by teams of bicyclists.

Bicycle racing by itself is a funny kind of sport in the way that Wrestling or Arena Football are funny - there's athletes, scandal, hokey drama, but usually there's enough apparently virtuous contenders to make you want to believe it's plausible.

When bicycle racing happens with teams of riders, crammed into a pack (the peloton) of elbows and knees, the sport gains all the strategy and purity of Roller Derby. The costumes are pretty similar, too.

There are big names among the riders, and big-money companies sponsoring teams in hopes of burning their logos into the national consciousness. The main sponsor of the event is Amgen, a biopharmaceutical company. One of Amgen's products is EPO, which is the blood-doping agent most often seen in cycling scandals, and Amgen is sponsoring the ride, proving that somebody at Corporate has a sense of humor.

Each day, these jerseys will be awarded:
Points LeaderMost
King of the
Best SprinterBest Young Rider

One key bit of drama will be Team Astana. Johan Bruyneel is the Director, and the riders include Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador, Andreas Klöden and Levi Leipheimer. Levi Leipheimer is a favorite of mine, he seems a quiet guy that works at it, the ToC is in his backyard, and he's never failed a drug test. Lance's return will provide a spectacle, especially with his former Postal teammates now on opposing teams.

Team Columbia Highroad features George Hincapie, Lance's former domestique (subordinate). Always the bridesmaid rarely the bride, George is getting long in the tooth.

Team Ouch (formerly HealthNet) features Floyd Landis' return to pro cycling. He won the inaugural 2006 ToC, and has had a new hip installed since his 2006 Tour de France win and debacle. Team Ouch is sponsored by Floyd's physician, and seems more like a vehicle for Floyd's reintroduction than a serious team.

Let us not forget that Lance made his name by winning the Thrift Drug Classic in Pittsburgh in 1992, '93, and '94. In the 1995 photo below, Andrea Peron (L) leads Lance Armstrong (R) across the crest of Mt. Washington. Ah, the things that used to be here.
(photo credit: Doug Pen)

The ToC will be on television via Versus.

By the way, I'd like to rollout my favorite jersey, which I received as a Christmas gift and hope to get a lot of use out of in the spring: The Old Guys Who Get Fat In Winter team jersey.


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