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NYT ToC Article

Old 02-25-07, 12:00 PM
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NYT ToC Article

The New York Times
February 25, 2007
Tour of California
California Event Faces Growing Pains

SANTA CLARITA, Calif., Feb. 24 — The organizers of the Tour of California say that more than a million people turned out through Friday to watch the race. The number, while virtually impossible to verify, speaks to the popularity of an event that, in only in its second year, has become the biggest in American cycling.

In Europe, meanwhile, one of the legendary cycling events, an eight-day race from Paris to Nice that was first held in 1933, is threatening to unravel over a dispute between the race sponsor and the federation that governs professional cycling.

The dispute in Europe, which could eventually affect other major races, may turn out to be no more than a speed bump. But as professional cycling gains in popularity and in the ability to attract dollars, such disputes may grow more common.

The talk among organizers of the Tour of California this week has been about trying to build on the success of this year’s race, which ends Sunday with a 77.5-mile circuit race in Long Beach. The 105-mile stage Saturday, to Santa Clarita from Santa Barbara, was won by Juan José Haedo, an Argentine sprinter for the CSC team, who won his second stage this week and his fourth in the California tour’s two years.

Levi Leipheimer, who finished with Haedo and the rest of the riders, continued to lead the race by 21 seconds over CSC’s Jens Voigt. But Leipheimer’s teammates on the Discovery Channel team had to work hard to preserve his lead after another CSC rider, Stuart O’Grady, joined a nine-man breakaway.

At one point, that group gained more than a two-minute advantage over Leipheimer and the rest of the pack, making O’Grady, who started the day in fifth place, 1 minute 20 seconds behind Leipheimer, the virtual race leader on the road.

But with about 40 miles to go, Leipheimer’s teammates began actively pursuing the breakaway, with George Hincapie, Ivan Basso and Tom Danielson doing most of the work. They caught the lead group about two miles from the finish. Hincapie sustained a fractured wrist in an early crash and will not race on Sunday.

A large crowd turned out to watch the riders travel three 3.5-mile circuits around Santa Clarita, encouraging the race organizers, who would like to expand the tour to 10 or 12 days in the next two years from eight. They also have said they want to make it part of the prestigious ProTour series of races managed by the International Cycling Union, the sport’s European governing body, which is known by its French abbreviation, U.C.I.

There are no ProTour races outside Europe. But such a designation in California could have adverse effects. The U.C.I. says the 20 ProTour teams must take part in all ProTour events. That would probably leave little room in the Tour of California for the lower-level domestic teams that this year make up half of the field.

Excluding them in favor of European teams with riders who are largely unknown in the United States could hurt the event, some critics say.

Phil Liggett, a television commentator who has followed professional cycling for more than two decades, said Friday that the Tour of California should forgo joining the ProTour.

“I think it would be a very bad move,” he said. “It’ll double the budget,” because the tour organizers pay for some of the teams’ lodging and travel expenses.

“But it’ll never guarantee the top riders,” Liggett said. “All it will guarantee is the top teams.”

It could also drag the Tour of California into a nasty dispute. ProTour teams are now caught in the fight between the U.C.I. and the Amaury Sports Organization, the promoter of the Tour de France and other races, including Paris-Nice. The Paris-Nice race is scheduled to begin March 11.

Amaury wants to be able to decide which teams to invite to the races it sponsors. The U.C.I., however, wants its ProTour teams to race in all the events in its sanctioned series.

When Amaury said it would allow only 18 ProTour teams to participate in Paris-Nice, the U.C.I. retaliated by ordering all ProTour teams, including Discovery Channel, not to ride in the event. If it succeeds, the U.C.I. will significantly undermine the quality of Paris-Nice, which many ProTour teams use to train for the Tour de France.

In short, it is a fight over money and influence. But because the organizers of the Tours of Italy and Spain have backed Amaury, the fight pits the cycling federation and the teams against the organizers of many of the sport’s biggest events.

The dispute has upset the managers of the nine ProTour teams racing in the Tour of California. “I hate this mess,” said Wilfried Peters, the director of Quick Step-Innergetic, a team from Belgium. “These people have to understand that they are playing with our future of cycling.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
Tom Hagen: 'Thank you for the dinner and a very pleasant evening. If your car could take me to the airport - Mr. Corleone is a man who insists on hearing bad news immediately.'
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Old 02-25-07, 12:27 PM
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Yep....yet another example of the endless supply of examples that shows that upper management can **** up anything and everything they touch.
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Old 02-25-07, 01:48 PM
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F the Pro Tour. Keep the Tour of California the way it is. Up the ante, the sponsorship dollars, keep the domestic teams, increase the crowds, make it 10-12 days. And the best Euro teams will still show up. Who the hell wants to race in Europe in friggin February when you could be racing in (mostly) sunny California? That does two things: you still get top Euro pros and you give a great domestic venue for top domestic pros (like JJ Haedo) to shine - and potentially catch the attention of top UCI teams. More American cyclists may wind up racing in big time Euro cycling. And maybe establish an identity for American bicycle racing on the world stage.

Keep the crowd pleaser in-town circuit finishes, but add two hilltop finishes on the new stages.

Euro morons. God help pro cycling. I wonder if they can kill it. They're trying.
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Old 02-25-07, 02:00 PM
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^^^Absolutely right. Look at the excitement generated by Jason Donald in the prologue. Bet he won't be on Team Slipstream Powered by Chipotle, for much longer! It would be very unfortunate if the UCI got its mitts on this race, considering the mess in Europe right now. Like Liggett says too, the auspices of the UCI would never guarantee that the big name riders would come here, only which teams would participate. And at the expense of the domestic teams that have added so much more than anyone expected, both last year and this year.
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Old 02-25-07, 03:01 PM
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Originally Posted by GuitarWizard
Yep....yet another example of the endless supply of examples that shows that upper management can **** up anything and everything they touch.
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