Friday, March 30, 2012

Ronde Van Vlaanderen looks to be war of attrition

The 96th running of the Tour of Flanders is this Sunday in the Flemish region of Belgium, and it's sure to be one for the ages as no less than 15 teams in the field boast at least one man that can win at the finish in Oudenaarde. The odds on favorites are the on-form Belgian, Tom Boonen of the Omega Pharma - Quickstep team and Swiss star Fabian Cancellara of the RadioShack-Nissan outfit. However neither rider will be assured a shot at victory until their teammates neutralize numerous attacks from such power house teams as Italy's Liquigas-Cannondale, the American BMC and Garmin-Barracuda squads, Britain's Team Sky and Australia's rookie entry Greenedge.

A new course will be utilized for the first time this Sunday so not much is known about how the field will react, however, given the Monument status of the race, the many short, steep hills known as the hellingen, and the 260 kilometers in distance, one can expect the typical grind it out battle of attrition that is commonplace at this highest level of the sport. One thing is for certain, last year's standout, the Belgian Phillipe Gilbert, will have his hands full even getting to the finish having had numerous troubles so far this season. There are signs that Gilbert is returning to form but it seems that he will have to wait a little longer for his chance to climb back onto the podium.

Given the vacuum that Gilbert's suffering has created and so many contenders from so many teams, this Sunday's race is a classic "anything can happen in cycling" scenario. Still, some things are predictable and sure to go down, such as Cancellara's inevitable attack. Spartacus is clearly the strongest rider in the peloton this spring but he lacks the speed of a sprinter and needs to come to the finish solo to ensure victory. This means that RadioShack-Nissan will strive to set him up with the best chance to launch a devastating blow in the finale. Simultaneously, Omega Pharma-Quickstep will be looking to control the race for their main man Boonen.

These two story lines are not likely to go exactly as planned however because of the combined strength of all of the other contenders, not the least of which is Liquigas-Cannondale's 22 year old sprinter Peter Sagan. Other strong men that could really mess things up for the top two favorites are: Team Sky's Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen, Garmin-Barracuda's Sep Vanmarcke, Vancansoleil's 2-time winner Stijn Devolder and Farnese Vini's Italian playboy Fillipo Pozzato.

With many strong sprinters contending, look for the upstart teams with multiple leaders to make things difficult. BMC, Garmin-Barracuda and Vaconsoleil will want to pile on the pressure and hope for a surprise such as last year's winner Nick Nuyens or Paris-Roubaix champ Johann Vansummeren. Omega Pharma-Quickstep seems best tooled to deal with the trouble as Boonen can count on Sylvain Chavanel and Niki Terpstra to cover things up the road if the situation gets out of control. However RadioShack-Nissan seems to lack the support on paper for Cancellara. If Boonen marks Cancellara out of the race, look for a total cluster in the finale. As they say in cycling, anything can happen.

Here's my favorites for Sunday:

Tom Boonen, Omega Pharma-Quick Step
Fabian Cancellara, RadioShack-Nissan

Edvald Boasson Hagen, Sky
Sylvain Chavanel, Omega Pharma-Quick Step
Juan Antonio Flecha, Sky
Peter Sagan, Liquigas-Cannondale
Greg Van Avermaet, BMC
Sep Vanmarcke, Garmin-Barracuda
Johann Vansummeren, Garmin-Barracuda
Heinrich Haussler, Garmin-Barracuda
Stijn Devolder, Vacansoleil
Fillipo Pozzato, Faranese Vini

Alessandro Ballan, BMC
George Hincapie, BMC
Oscar Freire, Katusha
Luca Paolini, Katusha
Svein Tuft, Greenedge
Thomas Vaitkus, Greenedge
Daniel Oss, Liquigas-Cannondale
Matti Breschel, Rabobank
Martin Maaskant, Garmin-Barracuda
Andreas Klier, Garmin-Barracuda
Bjorn Leukemans, Vacansoleil
Liewe Westra, Vacansoleil
Thomas Voeckler, Europcar

That's a ton of talent that can affect this race and sifting through it all to pick a podium is a difficult task, but if I look through my crystal ball I'm sensing a lot of trouble for the top two favorites. I've been way off the mark before picking like this and I'll probably be wrong again, but here goes:

96th Ronde Van Vlaanderen podium prediction:
1. Edvald Boasson Hagen, Sky
2. Sylvain Chavanel, Omega Pharma-Quickstep
3. Stijn Devolder, Vaconsoleil

I could probably theorize another ten podiums as this race appears to be wide open. One thing I know is that I'll thoroughly enjoy the race on Sunday and am looking forward to NBC Sports Network's first ever live coverage broadcast of the toughest one day race on the planet. 8:30AM Eastern, 6:30AM Mountain. Enjoy!!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Ski/wax recommendations for the Grand Mesa Skyway Shuffle on Saturday

SKYWAY, CO - The snow on the top of the Grand Mesa is deep enough for the groomers to continue to work fairly regularly leading up to Saturday's event. This means that the snow surface will be different than the more common hardpack found throughout much of the state due to low snow levels. For instance, the trails in Aspen are very firm right now due to shallow snow depth and an inability to groom and soften and freshen the surface.

The snow for the Skyway Shuffle should run more Colorado "normal" as well as typical of the Grand Mesa...cold. 

Ski recommendation: Your best "Standard Colorado Cold" setup will most likely be the best. Hard pack cambers have been working well around the state but I would be ready for more of a powder type snow for this one. There is substantial shade on the course and low temps the night before will still be well below the freezing mark. This could be a great ski testing day if you are into it, you may want to set up many skis with the same waxes to check things out.

Wax recommendation: Not much need for high flouros for this one, ski selection will be a bigger issue than the wax or the grind. LF or CH level wax should be sufficient, but the correct flex match up with the snow will probably pay off big time. If you see someone out there with super fast skis, it will probably be "great skis" rather than "hit the wax".  I would put 6 on the colder pair and 7 on the warmer option and if you only have one I would err on the colder side of things.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Kikkan wins 4th World Cup race with solid tactics and execution

Duesseldorf, GER - Anchorage, AK's Kikkan Randall picked up her 4th career World Cup win with a solid performance on a wet track in Duesseldorf, Germany on Saturday. Randall qualified in 10th and skied like she had a plan in the heats to advance to the final. Always dropping into a following position initially, Randall moved up as early as was comfortable and then pushed solidly from the halfway mark to the finish line.

The semi-finals and finals were marked by a strong battle between Randall and Canadian rival and friend Chandra Crawford. Looking to execute the same plan, the two sprint stars challenged each other for second position behind Russian Natalia Matveeva. Randall came out on top both times and in the championship final, secured the second spot coming into the finish. The last straight was fast, and Randall used a no-pole free skate flawlessly to "Bonnie Blair" past Matveeva to win for the 4th time in her career.

As a lifetime Nord, it's still quite unbelievable that I'm writing about Kikkan's 4th WC win, she really has become America's biggest ever super star in a sport that ranks as the toughest aerobic activity in the world. Way to go Kikkan, you continue to thrill us as fans and make as proud as compatriots!

Tandem wins for two G.O.A.T.s

Tandem wins for two of the greatest skiers of all time

Beaver Creek, CO- Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn laid down two of the finest downhill runs of all time within two hours of each other on Friday and added to their already sizeable legend along the way. Miller’s win on Beaver Creek’s Birds of Prey course brought him all the way back to the top after several tumultuous seasons while Vonn’s 1.95 second victory at Lake Louise, Canada was nothing less than mind blowing.

Miller was all in when it came to his approach to the Birds of Prey downhill on Friday.

“Bode was committed to win this race.” said U.S. Ski Team Vice President Luke Bodensteiner, who witnessed the race in Beaver Creek. “He was nervous this morning and he said that the line he was going to try and ski was do or die.”

To say that this race was vintage Bode is an understatement. It was a new standard of excellence from the wise old veteran that is still oozing with talent and has the nerve to use it.
“It was an absolute risk filled run.” said Miller after the finish.

Yet the skiing flowed and at times looked effortless. For a skier that has made a career out of riding the ragged edge, Miller showed a maturity and panache we have rarely seen.  When he crossed the line Miller took a sizeable lead and gave a victorious fist pump of both relief and happiness.

“When I crossed the line I was 100% satisfied.” he said after the race.

Didier Cuche, last years World Cup champion in the Downhill was still to attack the Birds of Prey, as were several other contenders. Cuche could only manage 9th after a couple of mistakes in the top half while Switzerland’s Beat Feuz and Austria’s Klaus Kroell, with the help of excellent skis, challenged Miller in the final third of the course and finished just behind the American star.

Meanwhile, in Lake Louise, Alberta, Vonn was making her own kind of history. Starting within two hours of Miller’s winning run, Vonn; stunned, embarrassed, blew away, dusted off, and took to school, the class of what was supposed to be the same league as her. It took an unbelievable run from bib #40, Tina Wierather from Lichtenstein, to keep the winning margin under two seconds.

Vonn’s main rival from last year, Maria Hoefl-Riesch struggled as did many other favorites. The course conditions were variable and high winds with intermittent sun led many to consider the race a “wax race”, where technicians and ski companies can spell the difference in the final results.

Even TV analyst and former Olympic Champion Picabo Street commented on the situation after Julia Mancuso, who started just in front of Vonn, took the lead at half-way and then faded to 16th.

“It really does appear to be a bit of a wax race.” Street said after Mancuso’s finish.

Then Vonn charged out of the gate with a couple of powerful skates and settled into a winning run that was a clear cut above the rest. Her split times leapt away from the field and half way down, with over a second lead, Street was beside herself.

“This is embarrassing, embarrassing for the field. Riesch is going to be pissed.”

Vonn crushed the field, finishing over 2 seconds ahead of the next skier at the time and her final winning margin of 1.95 seconds is a career best.  Her run was strong and in control the entire time. Maybe it was a wax race and maybe it wasn’t, but when you’re as good as Vonn it rarely matters.
Bodensteiner talked about Vonn, arguably the greatest woman ski racer of all time, and discussed her current form.

“She is ultra-motivated this season. I think losing the World Cup by such a close margin allowed her to find even another gear. She is a totally determined woman right now and you can see for yourself the results.”

Beaver Creek will host several more races over the coming days and Bodensteiner didn’t hesitate to throw in a plug for Team USA fans.

“The team is super strong right now. We saw Vonn and Ligety win a GS earlier this season. It is really fun right now to be a part of this and it’s going to be a great week at Beaver Creek. You should come check it out!”

Mike Trecker is a freelance writer and can be reached at and followed on Twitter: @nordictrecker

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tour of Lombardy - Race of the Falling Leaves

Saturday Oct. 15th is the annual fall classic, the Tour of Lombardy or the Race of the Falling Leaves. The final "Monument" of the year, the Lombardia is a tough, hilly classic that has been won by many of the sport's greatest riders. This season's standout cyclist has been Phillipe Gilbert from the Wallonia region of Belgium. Gilbert has dominated any time the courses have been selective and Lombardy is as selective as they come. Unless he and his Omega Pharma - Lotto team stumble, look for another classic 'W' to be notched on the belt of Gilbert.

Riders to watch: Gilbert, Nicholas Roche, Emmanuel Sella, Alessandro Ballan, Domenico Pozzovivo, Giovanni Visconti, Michele Scarponi, Damiano Cunego, Jacob Fuglsang, Vincenzo Nibali, Ivan Basso, Carlos Barredo, Laurens ten Dam, Simon Gerrans, Rigoberto Uran, Dan Martin, Matt Busche, Marco Marcato.

My podium picks: 1. Gilbert, 2. Cunego, 3. Visconti

Sunday, May 1, 2011

It keeps on keepin on. The winter that wouldn't let go.

4 huge powder days in one week, and all after the lifts have closed. This is the winter that wouldn't let go, and for powder hounds, it has been a fantastic...ahem...spring. The week started with the closing of Aspen Highlands, the last of the Power of 4 to call it a year. The powder in The Bowl was incredible but the big story was the party, a non-stop, 10 hour celebration of the end of an awesome season. But for me the week was just beginning.

I was fortunate enough to get an invite to the Eiseman Hut north of Vail at the foot of the Gore Range. Tess Weaver, contributor to Powder Magazine, was doing a story on the 10th Mountain Huts, and the Eiseman was the chosen destination. Billed as one of the most Alpine of the 10th Mountain system, the Eiseman did not disappoint, there must be almost 600 inches up there with the hut being almost invisible among the depth of the drifts and cornices. Along with Tess to make the trip a true "hut trip", several Aspen locals and a couple of out-of-towners made the trek. Snowmobiles were used to haul extra gear to the hut, but when the machines encountered epic conditions (can I say that cause we were "close" to Vail?) and side hills, they were abandoned a mile or so from our destination. With light waning, the 11 trekkers made their way up the final pitch with the aid of a GPS that took us right to the door in a dead heat with the dark. Tess shouted Hallelujah!, and the anxiety of looking for the hut was replaced with the exuberance of finding it. Party on!

The next morning we awoke to 10" of fresh on top of fresh. Stability was always a question, so we kept it safe doing hot laps and building a big kicker OVER the hut. Colter Hinchliffe, Greg Ernst, Willie Volkheisen and Derek Koster threw big over the hut to the oohs and ahhhs of the neophytes like myself. Once again the celebration of an amazing season was in full swing, topped off that night with rousing games of Egyptian Rat Screw and BB target practice in the wood chopping room until 3:30am.

Sleep was definitely in order but Colter was on a mission and the 6am roust only partially worked. Finally out the door, another 10" of fresh awaited. The radio barked...."Siiiiiick" and I went to work. A couple quick laps on the steeper side of the ridge behind the hut proved to be my best lines of the season, shared with Steamboat Nordic coach Josh Smullin. The smiles could not be removed from our faces, even as we dug fresh paths for the snowmobiles to get out, and back to the Red Sandstone Creek trailhead. Chris Tatsuno(Tats), Mike McCabe, JF Breuger and Derek piloted the machines out, while Colter and Willie got a tow on the back for fun. The stoke just wouldn't subside and the group left each other to their separate ways vowing to "do this again next year".

Upon returning to Aspen I went into a mini hibernation to recover from the extended Highlands Closing that we took on the road. My knees were tired and the fatigue was too much to take advantage of the sun. I did manage to hook up with a few friends for some afternoon Bocce but the forecast said snow and we knew spring was not really here yet. Sure enough, by Saturday morning the Bocce lawn had been covered in another fresh 14" of fluff, GAME ON ONCE AGAIN, It's still not over. The calls went out and this time it was KDUNK, Brad Yule, Natalie and myself, joining hundreds of other Aspen locals to shred all four mountains of Aspen/Snowmass without the aid of a single lift. While snowmobiles and skiers shuttled each other up Bell Mountain, we skinned up Spar Gulch. 2 laps on Backside of Bell to Gents to Jackpot proved to trump my earlier lines at the Eiseman Hut just days prior. UNBELIEVABLE was heard all day, and the Apres smiles and stories live on in my mind as proof of the best day of the year, yes that's right, on April 30, 2011.

The forecast is finally calling for more seasonable weather starting mid-week, just in time for many scheduled float trips by all those same powder hounds. Truly blessed are we in the mountains of Colorado. We are reminded every day how lucky we are and if you haven't noticed....slow down, take it all in, and notice the smiles. A big thank you to Tess Weaver for the invite to the Eiseman Hut and to all of the Eiseman hut trippers, it was an adventure I'll never forget. And special thanks the Aspen/Snowmass for finally closing for real and leaving the sick pow to those of us who could actually earn our turns, that was indeed special. Old Man Winter...that was one of the best yet, glad you hung in there. Mother Nature....we're ready for spring, give us your best shot!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Upside Down Spring

Spring has sprung around the north but for many of us it has been completely upside down. Here in the Rockies, we're used to the sunny, warm days and cold nights that produce the epic crust/corn season that many refer to as the best skiing of the year. However, the sun has barely shown here while powder hounds can get no rest. Highlands Bowl has been freshly stocked nearly every night and the conga line up the ridge has been re-set every day around 10am. The rainy/snowy valleys remind me more of the roads of Northern Europe and the spring classics than those of the Western Slope.

Meanwhile Belgium, France and Holland have experienced un-seasonably warm conditions this spring. Typically fought over roads covered in manure due to the excessive rain, the spring classics have been run under bright sun with temps in the 70s and old gits from Flanders had to go scrambling for sunscreen not used since August. The crowds in Flanders and at Roubaix looked to be near record as the mild weather encouraged the ladies in sundresses to visit Wallers Arenberg for the first time or to venture to the top of the Mur. Even though the spring classics "should" be run in adverse weather to add to the challenge, I always enjoy watching the classics under the sun. The crowds are massive and the country is breathtaking. I can only imagine how awesome it is to be in top shape and crushing the pedals in front of thousands on a warm, almost summer like day.

Tomorrow is Easter and real spring is just around the corner but I can handle just a little more of this upside down season, one more day of sick pow for us in the Rockies and one more day of brilliant sun in Wallonia will be much appreciated. My picks for Liege tomorrow: 1. Gilbert, 2. Vinokourov, 3. F. Schleck. My predictions for Highlands closing? A foot+ in the Bowl, perhaps two, Slightly White will crush the MGR, and the PBR tall boys will flow like the spring melt-off through Slaughterhouse Falls.