Adieu Oz, hello Kentucky
The cycling season is not supposed to be like this. It's still January. "News" should consist of riders goofing around in sunny training camps, not breakout performances in road races six months before the Tour de France, nor massively important, unprecedented dirt races happening in the heartland. Marianne Vos in Texas! Belgians in Cincinnati! What the hell is happening???
First, from what I saw and the rider comments, the Santos Tour Down Under continues to grow into a race befitting a top tier cycling nation like Australia. Thanks to the World Tour status, riders from all over the world have come a-hunting points, at least the ones who can do so as part of their program. Tom-Jelte Slagter, Javier Moreno, Geraint Thomas, Simon Gerrans, Tiago Machado, Philippe Gilbert and especially Andre Greipel put on a great show. After a truly shitty winter, it's nice to see bikes on pavement, doing cool stuff.
More than that, though, I think I'm really beginning to appreciate what this race means. I only saw it in bits, since it coincided every night with our rather sacrosanct evening dinner/bath/stories/bedtime routines. But whereas before I regarded it as a regional race for the fit Antipodeans, its meaning has obviously grown beyond that. Australia never stops growing as a cycling nation, both Bruces and Sheilas, so it's a little weird to think that this race, where the top Aussie on GC finished 15th -- behind the top New Zealander -- was so significant. But I believe it was. The Cycling World is now coming to Australia, for real, and not just to humor the locals. Ursula may yet win our half-decade-long argument about wrangling the TDU into the FSA DS, at this rate.
Still, how can Australia of all places not come up with a better mascot than a semicircle with an arrow and a dot attached to it? Think of it -- the Giro conjures up a nearly-nonexistent goat creature. The Tour? Nuthin. The Ronde van Vlaanderen? Bubkis. Maybe a smiling frite or something. Why? Because these places don't really have a lot of mascot-looking things running around in meatspace anymore. Australia, meanwhile, could supply the entire world with mascots. Stick an oversized have-a-heart trap anywhere outside of the Sidney harbor area, bait it with an oversized beer, and presto! Dozens and dozens of mascots.
The only real challenge would be convincing people that these animals actually exist. My favorite is the platypus. Why does it lay eggs? It's a mammal. Yes, a duck-faced, beaver-backed, otter-footed mammal. It's really an amalgam of some countries' favorite mascots, all in one. And yet, it's not completely made up. In fact, they're splashing around streams just off to the side of the STDU (worst acronym ever) right now as we speak. They're pretty ineffectual -- again, why do they still exist? -- so just give Bernard Hinault a giant beer and a net, and he'll be back with a platypus in a half hour. Better yet, an animated one. Since the Santos TDU can't seem to pull this off, I will. I give you a real mascot for a great race. Perry the Platypus.
He's actually a character in my kids' favorite show (OK, my favorite show), so they'd have to pay royalties... unless they do something slick like sue the American producers of the show for not securing the image rights of a platypus, and then settle for unlimited use of Perry. Really, other than convincing Fabian Cancellara to contest the overall, I don't see how else the race could improve more than this.
Switching gears to a more serious subject, in France a guy who did hard time for manslaughter won the GP Overture La Marseillaise. His name is Justin Jules, a 26-year-old sprinter who has been making a name for himself in the lower ranks of French cycling since his release from prison in 2010. He's obviously had a hard life, but since I don't know anything about him, at most, I'll just say that he's paid his dues and is back to being a cyclist now, so it'll be interesting to see if he can parlay a big season into a bigger contract. The Honor Roll for the GP La Marseillaise is pretty much exclusively Pro Tour or Pro Continental. Jules currently races for Continental outfit La Pomme Marseille.
Niels Albert won the Cincinnati
shadowbox, er, Cyclocross event, and with that everyone is shifting to Louisville. We will have lots and lots of coverage all week, starting with previews of all the top contenders. There are a lot of them, so we will keep them short and fun. I'll email out some party details to the people who responded and told me they'd be around. Bottom line, it's Saturday evening, albeit after several of us have been out at a place that has about 1000 beers. Not that I'll be drinking 1000 beers (though I've seen Drew put that many away, and then repair a drive train flawlessly). Point is, we will be having a later thing. It'll be fun anyway.