All last week Hernando and his paramour were trying to goad me into writing a retraction on my Bontrager-Livestrong opinions. Mostly because they are master shit talkers, but also because the Bontrager Boys hit it hard at Gila went to the presses saying how their stage win and third GC proved they can compete in the big leagues. I started to craft a clever reply that went like this…
- I like the boys. Dombrowski’s got big ones.
- It proves nothing
Then the thing that bothered me the most is how the Bontrager Tifosi were handling them with kid gloves. The whole time that i was crafting this clever, witty, spectacular reply in my head I kept thinking about Peter Sagan. The dude is only 22, very close in age to the Bontrager boys. He was probably brought up by parents who lived through crazy soviet style, WARSAW Pact country, depravity. Their desperation likely drove them to genetically enhance their offspring through arranged marriages at the “sporting college” of their particular region. When i see Peter Sagan come to the Tour of California as a ProTour veteran at the age of 22, with several major wins under his belt, winning with apparent ease, on an italian team no less – a team which probably makes him eat rice and water for dinner – he doesn’t strike me as a boy in any sense. When he wins one of these US races, which seem to suit him for some reason, he has that look I’ve seen on lots of Eastern Europeans in the US. Kind of like…”This place is nice! Everything is so easy… i can take what i want and nobody can stop me.” He’s a Merckx/Scarface hybrid, riding a Cannondale of all things.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that Bontrager-Livestrong did well at Gila. Frankly – Joe Dombraski is quickly becoming my personal favorite. He chimed in on the NCCN comments section to tell me i was full of shit, and then went on to get third overall at Gila with several big rides. Ian Boswell’s ride at the U23 Liege also impressed me, but he was already a NCCN favorite since he’s the current king of Nevada City, one of the coolest races in the world. Lawson Craddocks win at Gila was a major surprise, i figured he would be a junior that faded into obscurity – I got that one wrong… i hope.
Still, is it fair to match up a bunch of awesome US U23 guys against the worlds best like Boonen, Horner, and Sagan? I don’t think so. Sticking the boys onto other Pro Tour teams would be a better experience for them, especially since they will most likely be in the worker roles they will have to fight out of once they make the leap. These guys have not had a reality check yet like many of the 30 year old pro’s who make up the domestic peloton. Most guys get into cycling thinking the goal is the Tour De France, to quickly find out the goal is; can you make a base salary of $16,000 and get married on the winnings your team is ‘supposed’ to split with you at the end of the year.
The riders on Bontrager Livestrong are argueably the best the US has to offer, so don’t coddle them. Expect a lot from them. I expect them to be taking on Sagan. That’s success. Not finishing a fucking protour race. Wait till they go to Belgium or Italy for a full year, and god forbid they become a race contender. Over there they will be fodder for the gossip columns if they have any success or meltdowns. I even think that while sticking a U23 team into a pro-tour race is a mistake, it’s great the Bontrager-Livestrong was willing to pony up the cash and, i’m speculating here, likely waive the Armstrong “personal appearance” fee as part of the entry package. That’s serious sponsor commitment.
But let me throw my disappointment in US teams a little more broadly. Sadly – at least Bontrager-Livestrong is noticeable on camera. From the video feed it looks Bissell the only American team riding this race! I suppose Exergy can drop out since they actually got a podium, but the rest seem to be hurting. The most news that Optum Health has made is when they asked to review the film of the sprint for Stage 3 into Livermore. BMC seems to be loosing riders every day. They must have a case of the whiney-prima donnas. United Healthcare is in there, and I assume they are just saving bullets to try and get Sutherland into the 10 ten. I think we could create a drinking game about the number of times that Matt Busche (Radi0Shack) falls off his bike. You’ll be drunk by 2 PM. If they don’t have the ability to contend for a victory the American teams should be in the long break every day. Take a cure from the French at LeTour… if you can’t win, get on camera.
Anyway… back to my point about not coddling the youth and domestic riders. For every Phinney there is a Matthew Kelly. Raise your expectations, be hard on the riders when they come in second, harder when they crash out, and encouraging when they are surviving with the protour in the laughing group. There aren’t any ribbons for participation anymore so grow the fuck up people. To me this means Bontrager-Livestrong, and the rest of the domestic teams, will prove they deserve to be in the Amgen Tour of California when they win a stage. Nothing less will suffice.*
Time to pony up American teams. Peter Sagan holds you in contempt and is taking candy from you like your a baby. No more of this wait for the TT BS. Go win something.
*I’m calling this the “Hinault Gambit.” In 1985 Lemond threw away his chances at a tour victory to help teammate Bernard Hinault who promised to help Lemond win the next year. Then come 1986, when it was Lemond’s turn, Hinault took a full tilt run at the race later insisting his efforts were to demoralize the competition and inspire Lemond. When Lemond won, Hinault insisted his efforts were part of the success. I’m not sure Lemond saw it that way, but there is a certain historical perspective that, if you squint really, really hard, makes it look like he could be right.
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