Notes From the American Desk

Ford McClave-US PRESSWIRE

We need something to fill the gap between Grand Tours - sometimes Eneco just doesn't cut it, I guess - so we have racing a plenty in America in August. And you know what? We've got a desk for that.

Is this the first American desk? I think so, which is both startling and none to surprising. I mean, once the Peter Sagan Invitational Amgen Grand Tour of California was over, all the attention in the world turned towards France, Switzerland, and then France again for the Grand Boucle. But way over the Atlantic (and I mean WAY, because we're talking about little east of Mountain Standard Time), there's some pretty sweet bike racing going on, plus assorted news of the sort that gets gathered at a news desk, however infrequently used.

  • The Tour of Utah starts today. Billed as "America's Toughest Stage Race," it takes a page out of the Tour of Colorado USA Pro Cycling Challenge playbook with some stages at very high altitudes. Starting at 9,600 feet? Now that's just cruel. But with only six stages and less foreign firepower, Utah remains more of a warmup for USAPCC. That doesn't mean it's not interesting, though. Last year, it was the coming out party for Joe Dombroski, who finished second on the queen stage and fourth in the overall classification. This year the route has climbs aplenty and a tough downtown circuit in Salt Lake City. Bonus? MTN-Qhubeka has a team composed of almost entirely African riders - four from South Africa and one each from Ethiopia and Eritrea. It will be interesting to see how they fare since they've been more or less shielded from the bigger races the team has been invited to this year.
  • Bonus - the Tour of Utah has a race tracker with free video and commentary! It's streamed by the same company that did the Tour of California, though fortunately we are spared the Phil and Paul show and instead get treated to commentary in part by Tim Johnson, cyclocross racer extraordinaire and former road captain for United Health Care. Here's a linky.
  • Speaking of Utah, Chris Horner is back in action here this week. Yep, that's right, he has been disappeared for a few months - since a knee injury obtained at Tirreno, specifically - but is apparently not done racing. And though he's 41, Horner is not making any plans for retirement, continuing to talk some smack about how he's one of the best climbers in the peloton, about how it was him who helped make the selection on that stupid crazy hard stage in Tirreno, and how he is aiming his sights on the Vuelta this September. Is it just me, or did Horner's smack talk volume go up a few notches when he cut back on the Big Macs?
  • Some Euro teams warmed up for the Tour of Utah by taking part in the Tour of Elk Grove in Chicago this past weekend. Who exactly thought that 120-160km circuit races through neighborhoods was the best way to prep for racing at altitude is beyond me, but Cannondale Pro Cycling and MTN-Qhubeka were there. Elia Viviani won both road stages and the overall. Really, is it fair to pit a Grand Tour sprinter against American crit-focused teams? Perhaps not, but I'm sure Cannondale got some nice publicity out of it.
  • The period for earning World Tour points for national rankings is closed and the United States ended some 18 points out of the top 10 nations, which means they will be not have a full nine man contingent but instead will have to make do with six riders. For a team with no clear leader for the circuit in Firenze, this is a harsh blow. With three less riders, it is much harder to play a spoiler role. In addition to national champion Freddy Rodriguez, Andrew Talansky and Tejay van Garderen have earned automatic selections based on USA Cycling criteria, should they decide to accept their nominations. It's hard to see Rodriguez, an aging sprinter on a domestic team, doing much of anything on a course as hilly as this besides hauling bottles for the first 100km, but Talansky could be a darkhorse for the win. He did win that stage of Paris-Nice and almost won a Tour stage out of a big break, after all. The "Pitbull" has a decent kick for someone who goes uphill so well.
  • Oh, don't forget the USA Pro Cycling Challenge - it starts on August 19. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this race is the failure to find a new, much less silly, name for it by now. Can't we all just agree on the Tour of Colorado? USA PCC is just way too much of a mouthful. This year the race looks like it will continue where the Tour of California left off, gifting Peter Sagan stage wins left and right. By some counts, up to four of the seven stages look like a lock for the sprinter who can survive really big hills.
  • Since we're looking far into the future... The death of the US Grand Prix of Cyclocross series has claimed its first victim. The former Smartwool Cup in Fort Collins, Colorado, has announced that it was not able to secure sufficient funding to continue hosting UCI level races. The other three weekends in the series - races in Madison, Louisville, and Bend, look locked and loaded for hosting at least C2 level races this year.
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