Posted by Editoress on 02/13/09
Our coverage ot the Amgen Tour of California made possible with the support of Shimano
If there was any doubt that the return of Lance Armstrong (Astana) would overshadow the Amgen Tour of California, it was dispelled last night at the pre-race press conference. Some people lined up for nearly an hour to get credentials, and maybe one in twenty actually had some connection to cycling. As Sacramento mayor, and former NBA star, Kevin Johnson said "I played in an NBA final in 1993, and I've never seen so many reporters in a room, until today."
Carlos Sastre (Cervelo Test Team) agreed, commenting: "This feels like the Tour de France. I have never seen so many journalists at any other race, except the Tour."
We have copious amounts of video from the press conference, which will get edited down and posted today, but here are some notes:
- There may have been ten other athletes participating in the press conference (in two waves), but Armstrong was the clear focus, with the announcer at times pleading for questions to other riders.
- It was an unusual conference, in the way that Armstrong clearly took control of the proceedings. There was a significant proportion of the attendees who were clearly partisan to the cancer survivor, and the mood at times felt almost like a love-in, instead of a press conference, with Armstrong joking and razing certain people that he knew well.
There was little follow up to any questions (with one exception), once Armstrong made a statement. An example was the abrupt decision to drop the personal drug testing program by Don Caitlin that he was to publicly post on the web. Armstrong said (paraphrasing) - 'too expensive, too complicated' - and that was it, no follow up.
- The one exception to the love-in was an acid exchange with Irish ex-pro Paul Kimmage, the author of the award winning 'A Rough Ride' autobiography about his time in the pro peloton in the 1980s, when doping no-holds-barred. Kimmage asked a question about the return of riders Basso, Landis and Millar after suspensions for doping infractions.
"You've spoke about the return of Ivan Basso and Floyd Landis, who have returned after their suspensions, compared to David Millar â€“ that they should be welcomed back like he was ... What is it about these guys that you seem to admire so much?"
Armstrong eventually answered Kimmage's questions [they made mistakes, he admires them as men, and they deserve a chance], but not before blasting the Irishman for comments he had made previously, comparing [Armstrong's] return to a return of cancer to the sport of cycling after a remission.
"You are not worth the chair you are sitting on with a statement like that, with a disease that touches everyone around the world ... I'm not sure I will ever forgive you for that statement. And I'm not sure that anybody around the world affected by this disease will forgive you."
Kimmage blasted back that Armstrong doesn't hold a patent on cancer [fighting], and that he [Kimmage] has also lost people to the disease, but is battling doping in cycling.
"You don't have a patent on cancer ... I'm interested in the cancer of doping in cycling ... I raced as a professional and I exposed it. Then you come along and the problem disappears."
After a shocked silence, the press conference got back on track.
- We reported last night that Floyd Landis crashed in training and landed on his replacement hip. An OUCH Team spokesperson is now reporting that the injuries are fairly minor and Landis will be racing. Landis is the inaugural winner of the Amgen Tour of California, just back from a suspension from the 2006 Tour de France [which he, of course, won before being stripped of his title for doping infractions - which he still denies].
- Race director Jim Birrell discussed the new courses, which for the first time take the race all the way down to San Diego, making it a true 'tour' of California, and that they have added a mountain stage for the first time - Palomar at 4500 feet (1375m). Birrell injected a note of caution, with his comment that Palomar currently has 18 inches on the road at the top and is closed. He said that the organizers have contingency plans, but would not discussed what they were.
- So, the favourites? Defending two-time champion Levi Leipheimer, (Astana) without a doubt. He admitted that he has been training all winter with this race in mind.
"The Amgen Tour of California is very near and dear to my heart. When we first announced that there was going to be an Amgen Tour of California, I recognized right away that it was going to become one of the best races in the world in a very short amount of time, and that it would require the best effort that I could put forward. The philosophy from the first Amgen Tour of California was to train extremely hard and just be as good as possible. We have a fantastic team. It's an unbelievable team and we're really motivated to race. This is a huge race and it deserves our best effort."
Ivan Basso (Liquigas) played down his chances, saying he is still building for the Giro, and Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Slipstream) said that he hadn't had the opportunity to train as much as usual because of the severe winter in Chicago (where he lives). Team Columbia seems to be focussed on stage wins with their super sprinter Mark Cavendish, who will go up against JJ Haedo (Saxo Bank), the rider with the most stage wins in AToC history (5).
A dark horse (and I am not the only one thinking this) for the podium is Canada's Svein Tuft (Garmin-Chipotle), who has a history of riding well in the early season, and in tough conditions. Rain, wind and cold are expected for the entire week.
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