29 November 2012

Tour of California vs. USA Pro Challenge

Which race is your favorite ?

After yesterday's route announcement for the 2013 Amgen Tour of California, I had a friend claim I preferred ATOC because I am a "Caligirl", whereas he prefers the USA Pro Cycling Challenge (I claim because he has never been to ATOC and because he likes races with really long confusing names). Sure I was born and raised in California, but I have lived in Colorado for over 22 years. Forget what I say in the right-hand column of this blog about "light on opinion, ... heavy on joy of the sport" because I have an opinion when it comes to pro racing in America. Okay in any country.

Without a doubt the Tour of California is better

I tried to find the hard facts on fan turnout and viewers who watched and tracked and tweeted, but I am no fool - they fudge those numbers, "almost 1 million fans" last year became "over 1 million fans" this year, as if they would report "slightly less than almost 1 million fans for year two of the USA Pro Challenge." Who are we kidding - I went to both, and both races had fewer fans this year. So instead I will argue my case with pure emotional opinion (this is after all a blog).

Amgen Tour of California (ATOC), now in it's 8th year, is in a whole different league above both the USA Pro Challenge and the Tour of Utah. ATOC attracts much better teams, much better riders, full out new matchy-matchy team equipment and major team support. The race actually means something on the race calendar and so do the results. The USA Pro Challenge is a notch above Tour of Utah which I am told really is the hardest of the three races and deserves much more attention than it gets. Truth is, sadly few care about the USA Pro Challenge abroad and the poor TV coverage didn't help. The name is vague and no one knows where Colorado is located. Most Europeans and Americans do know where California is located - thanks to Baywatch.

Maybe it was the name, the hyped marketing, the poor timing of the Armstrong news, or that the Vuelta was just so darn good last year, but the USA Pro Challenge drew light traffic. In my view, the Pro Challenge is more like a community race, not an international race, but perhaps that is exactly why my friend preferred the "PCC" as he calls it, because it has that hometown race feel (after all every stage included a town that was reportedly Tom Danielson's hometown).

In contrast, in the years I attended the Amgen Tour of California, I watched some truly awesome riders race - Mark Cavendish, Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara, Oscar Freire, Peter Sagan and others. Most of the best in the sport have paraded through the rosters of the teams in California. Also if you love bikes and top equipment, ATOC is a bike junkies delight. The best frames and wheels, shinny new apparel, big buses, top staff members. "Come on," I said to my friend, "Levi was in a Cruise America RV at the Pro Challenge."

I was a total sucker for, and in great admiration of, Timmy Duggan's American National Road Championship win in 2012 with hardly any team support (other than the fabulous Ted King, et al) because it was real grass roots and no smoke and mirrors. I believe the USA Pro Challenge however should know it's place in year two. Honesty is best and promising huge crowds to these small mountain towns, while charging large fees to be host cities, without delivering, is misleading. Also it is noticeable that the number of sponsors for the Pro Challenge are fewer than for the Tour of California. This stuff matters for the longevity of a race.

Tour of California is really the only big race this country has so far, with the USA Pro Challenge building steam. I'd rather see one strong well-supported race that will last. Amgen heroically contributes over 4 million a year to fund the Tour of California (which costs almost 1.5 million a day to operate and is still not profitable). The Pro Challenge (with similar operating costs) is costing the major financial backer Rick Schaden far more in personal millions (over 10), than they receive simply because they are trying to develop a good race into the future, which I appreciate, but please don't over-inflate the status. According to the Sports Business Journal the Tour de France has an estimated operating budget of $100 million and is thought to net $30 million to $50 million in profit, the majority from TV rights, and has been going strong since 1903.  

Signs of Change

The United States only has five races sanctioned by the sport’s international governing body, the Union Cycliste International (UCI), with one possible new addition in 2013 - the Keystone Open. But just today CyclingNews reports that the Tour of Battenkill, now in it's 9th year, has thrown away it's connection as a UCI sanctioned race, stating "It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to have that UCI tag on an event, at least at our level, because it has such a negative connotation with the public and sponsors." Also the long-running Philadelphia TD Bank International (29th year) has been renamed the American Cycling Classic race and downgraded from 1.HC to 1.2. The Tour of California, Tour of Utah, and USA Pro Challenge remain the three big stage races in America.

7 golden rules of travel

I further support this emotional argument (or as my friend called it "quite a rant") with the 7 golden rules of travel - cost, convenience, calendar, companions, consumption, activities, and bang for the buck.

Hotels in both states will run you $120-$160 a night. Colorado however has far more camping available. Flights to major cities are less costly. Denver is a major hub but you will need to rent a car and add on a day to drive deep into the Rocky Mountains.

Getting to a stage-race start in Durango, Colorado, takes a bit more logistics than arriving into San Diego, Los Angeles or San Francisco, which probably explains the low turn out at the start of the 2012 USA Pro Challenge (and why Durango did not bid for the race to return in 2013).

A fairly basic 1-week stage race in May has a better chance of fitting into a team's training plans than a race late in the season when rider health and fitness and availability becomes a question.

I have a family who routinely gathers for stages of the Tour of California. They also travel to the Tour de France, Giro, Criterium du Dauphine, but they won't come here to Colorado. Why - because the feel of the race just doesn't compare.

Food in California is fresh and wonderful, so is the wine, although Colorado specializes in small micro-breweries. Let me just say, a meal in Santa Barbara or San Francisco will always top a meal in Colorado Springs or Steamboat Springs.

Chasing the tour is easier in Colorado, with plenty of outside activities before and after each stage available nearby, but the day at the race (in my opinion) is more fun in California. 

Bang for buck
If you are looking for that European grandiose mood of a pro race - go to California. If you want to have more exposure to the riders and Directeur Sportifs - go to California. If you want better VIP - California. If you want to ride to a tough and fun mountain top finish - California. If you want to ride incredible mountain scenery in between the stages (except for the tradition of hostile throwing of tacks on the road in this state) - Colorado. If you want knowledgeable fans - Colorado. If you want tender small town moments along the routes with riders (the reverse high-five gestures) - Colorado. If your want spectacular scenery and smaller roads - Colorado. If you want the ultimate ProTour fan experience - go to Belgium. I know, I love France and I will always take a small stage of the Tour de France on a weekday, or any mountain top finish, but Belgium (not Boulder) is the cycling center of the Universe.

The results speak for themselves

Winners of the 2012 Tour of California - Peter Sagan / Robert Gesink (GC) 
Winner of the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge - Christian Vande Velde
Winner of the 2012 Tour of Utah - Johann Tschopp 

Inside view

This past year I got to experience these races from the perspective of being Press. The level and professionalism of the Press at the ATOC was far above the USA Pro Challenge. Press at Tour of California worked hard and were better organized, they seemed more selectively chosen, and produced a good variety of news. USAPro had a lot of unafiliated photographers who were simply posting to their private Facebook pages. It was like the Open category compared to the Junior category at a local race. It feels good to be part of a well run race.

In 2012, I was fortunate to attend the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Tour of California, Tour de France, and the USA Pro Challenge. I experienced excitement, thrills, hard bike climbs, fantastic food, and moments that far exceeded expectations. I met amazing fans and got to know many of the riders much better. But I can honestly say - I didn't have fun at the USA Pro Challenge. Traveling should be fun, being a fan should be fun, cycling should be fun. The Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix were FUN!

I will attend both the Amgen Tour of California and the USA Pro Challenge again this year, although I must admit a loud cheer rang out when I heard that Boulder was not bidding for a stage in 2013. I saw Boulder's stage last year as an attempt to secede from the Union. It was as if Boulder was creating a race within the race and taking full personal credit when truly none of the USA Pro Challenge would be possible without the backing of Rick and Rich Schaden and the organization of Medalist Sports. Plus I can easily envision all those Boulder cyclists riding their bikes north to Loveland or Estes Park for 2013.

Give it to me straight

Eight years of planning a race versus two years probably explains much when I compare the Tour of California to the USA Pro Challenge, but I am tired of people not being direct about this sport, not everything is peachy and I would want to know where to best spend my time and money. I spoke with both cyclists and non-cyclist this past year who had gone to the USA Pro Challenge the first year, but hadn't managed to get out to a stage the second year. "You gotta go," I said. It is vital that fans turn out on race day. We need to fight for these races to stay viable, and honesty is the best policy. Don't tell us that over 1 million fans came, tell us that every one of those 1 million fans were important. This is not the time to fake that all is okay.

Don't deny that we face a challenge to sustain and build the sport of cycling in the United States. 2012 was a rough year, but we are Americans, we know how to rebuild from the ground up.

So back to the topic of the route of the 2013 Amgen Tour of California - yes, the route is much better than last year - so GO! I have already made 2 hotel reservations and called family to 'save the date'.

See you at the race!

Update 12/11/12: VeloNews.com says the USA Pro Challenge is better. But keep in mind they are a Boulder, Colorado, based publication and extremely dependent on a good PR relationship to keep their place as the number one news source for the race, so if the race grows, so will VeloNews' access. And we all know that access and not stepping on toes, and reporting the right news, is good for journalists, never mind the fans. This close relationship in cycling journalism, may also be why Lance Armstrong was left to run his empire for years. But VeloNews shockingly calls the best race in America the USA Pro Challenge, and the best day of racing - the Flagstaff stage, held out their back door. I guess we all like going to see a pro race after sleeping in our own beds and then create history out of convenience. Read: Velo Best Race: USA Pro Challenge; Most Dramatic Day of Racing: Rory Sutherland wins on Flagstaff.

In my opinion that little local stage did not compare to this - the most dramatic stage win of 2012 - Stage 15 of the 2012 Giro d'Italia when an attack 18km into the race held all the way until the end, even when challenged within the last hundreds of meters.

I would however like to give praise to the online Tour Tracker announcing by Neal Rogers and Brian Holcombe (VeloNews staff members). Their race announcing was a highlight from the 2012 USA Pro Challenge. I hope to hear more from those two. 

27 November 2012

2013 Tour of California Route Announced

May 12-19, 2013
8 stages 
750-mile race
16 teams
128 riders
Start: Escondido, CA (San Diego County) - southern California
Finish: Santa Rosa, CA (Sonoma County) - northern California

Mt Diablo  -  Time Trial in San Jose  -  South to North Route -  Santa Barbara  -  Golden Gate Bridge  

The route for the 2013 Amgen Tour of California is about to be announced (see info on the route below ...). You can watch the Press Conference LIVE in just a few minutes at 1:00pm PST (California time) at this link: [COMPLETE] Watch Tour of California Route Announcement Live. I'm excited for this year's race. Setting a good route for 2013 is important for the health of the race and to keep it's place as the #1 stage race in America - "America's Greatest Race". I will be there, for sure.

Amgen Tour of California Press Conference


The 8-day stage route runs from south to north this year and has a mountain top finish on Mt Diablo! (The last 100 meters are 17% grade). Finally finishing in Santa Rosa where a nice local glass of Sonoma County grown wine will be well-deserved.

How brilliant to flip the direction of the race. I love it, the mountains included are great, and Santa Barbara is back on the schedule. Fantastic news for the fans for one of the most beautiful cities in California to again be included in the race. I have missed Santa Barbara's inclusion, I am sad not to see Solvang as the host of the ITT (the town will always be my favorite) but San Jose has earned the right. The community of San Jose has been a host city every year since the beginning of the Tour of California and has the ability to be impressively organized.

Huge news - the 2013 Tour of California is going across the Golden Gate Bridge again!

Stage       Date                           Route  (Exact stage route to be announced in January 2013)
Stage 1    Sunday, May 12        Escondido
Stage 2    Monday, May 13       Murrieta to Greater Palm Springs
Stage 3    Tuesday, May 14       Palmdale to Santa Clarita
Stage 4    Wednesday, May 15  Santa Clarita to Santa Barbara
Stage 5    Thursday, May 16     Santa Barbara to Avila Beach
Stage 6    Friday, May 17          San Jose (Individual Time Trial) (mens & womens)
Stage 7    Saturday, May 18      Livermore to Mt. Diablo
Stage 8    Sunday, May 19        San Francisco to Santa Rosa
Link to full map at Amgen Tour of California

Last year Pedal Dancer had a crew at the race, read more at: 2012 AMGEN TOUR OF CALIFORNIA. We'll be back in 2013, see you at the race in May!

Comments: They should have filled the seats (or had no seats) at the press conference today to make it appear like it was well attended, because it was not, which was not a good sign. Although a very good sign is that the stage-race includes the major biking counties of San Diego, Santa Barbara and Sonoma. I say - take the race to the cycling fans! With this route, the organizers of the Tour of California have done just that! This is a route where we can ride our bikes to the race!

Is it a good route?
There are climbs in them hills! This year's route includes the cycling communities of San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Sonoma counties, there is no reason why the first stages could not include some punchy climbs, especially if they are placed early in the stages and early in the tour. "Show up ready to race on day 1" is what the ATOC needs. I remember last year gave us a solo breakaway into Big Bear which actually held - that was excitement. And the look of pain on the rider's faces up Mt Baldy - that was real. Take this race back to the small cities (give them a break on the price), to the beautiful roads, to the cyclists/fans who like to ride to a stage, to the people who stroll through the expo area, to the GC who must race from day one - and this race will be one worth watching and attending. I don't need epic, I want good racing. I also don't need it to be hyped as anything other than what it is - the best stage race America has to offer. And please - give the sponsors more exposure, in these rocky days of cycling, if money still talks, we need to show up and listen.

Note: The Tour of Romandie is April 22-28, 2013 in Switzerland. The Giro d'Italia runs from May 4-26, 2013 in Italy (thus riders in the Giro will not be at ATOC).  The Criterium du Dauphine takes place June 2-9, 2013 in France.

25 November 2012

Colorado Cyclocross Photos

Race photos from last weekend

Tis' the season for cyclocross and this race had a run up. The Run Up from Hell they called it, and it was pure entertainment. Spectators gathered to watch riders attempt a steep half-frozen muddy hillside on a cool morning in Colorado. Most times I try not to post pictures that make people look bad, but in this case bad was good. How could I not laugh (and heckle) at people falling and slipping all over a hillside. I was laughing so much (and I was not the only one) my lens was shaking. Lots more pictures at this link from Big Ring Cyclocross, Parker, Colorado, November 24, 2012 - by Karen at Pedal Dancer. Or at 303Cycling.com
looks like they are taking the ridge
Gage Hecht
friends - a day at the race
See you next Sunday at Castle Cross (Castle Cross Gold).

Update 11/30/12: Also news from VeloNews: USA Cycling changes road and cyclocross upgrade requirements

19 November 2012

Cyclocross and Puppies

A Weekend of Cyclocross in Colorado

Now that I am back it Colorado - it was time to get back to some weekend cyclocross races! The weather was perfect and my camera cards empty, it was time to head out to watch riders hop, skip and jump their way around a random course set out in a local park. I took a bunch of pictures of cyclocross racers this weekend. Some turned out, some didn't. Still learning, but having a great time at it.

I went to the Bouder Racing Cyclocross Series #4 at Valmont Bike Park in Boulder, Colorado on Saturday, and to Alpha Cross in Centennial (South Denver) on Sunday. Saturday I took hundreds of photos I have yet to sort through completely, the day was sort of serious, racing in Boulder is sort of that way. Sunday was pure fun, mostly talking to friends, meeting new friends, taking some fun shots, enjoying perfect weather, and getting puppy kisses.

You know that kind of cyclocross day when everyone brings their dog? Well Sunday was that kind of day. Next weekend I hope the weather is good because I'm bringing my dog.

New puppies
Ron's new puppy Bella
Laurie and Brian's new puppy Ludo, with his big brother Ulle
Cyclocross Racers

Saturday at a cyclocross race in Boulder, Colorado
Sunday at a cyclocross race in Centennial, Colorado
The amazing 14-year-old Gage Hecht, competing in the SM Open category, a great cyclocross racer from Parker, Colorado
Four more weekends of cyclocross races on Saturday and Sunday and then the season will draw to an end, uwhh. Colorado Cyclocross Calendar

More Photos

14 November 2012

High Desert Road Trip in Utah

The beauty and expanse of Utah

Inspired by my post yesterday, my friend Willie (and photographer for Pedal Dancer) mentioned that he and his wife Liz have always wanted to take a driving tour across the state of Utah in the United States. For Willie and Liz I thought I would map out the highlights of a loop tour. I have two other good friends from France, Jean Paul and Jeannine, whom I have always thought would enjoy this auto tour as well. I have spent years in this area for both work and play and highly recommend Utah for a driving tour.

If you enjoy a road trip through wide open landscape and expansive views - you will love this tour. I warn you it gets hot in the deserts of southwestern United States, so this drive is best done in spring or fall. The roads are great, hotels are plentiful, so are campgrounds, hikes and bike rides are easy, and this is the land of the American Native Indian. You may visit (fee required) National Parks, or free trails.

You'll want to load up your bikes, hiking gear, camping gear, camelbaks, kayaks, climbing racks, or just jump in the car with a good pair of shoes and a camera. Definitely bring a day pack, water, sunscreen, and old fashioned maps (you'll be off the grid at times).

The United States is huge. This is big country, land of gas stations, rest stops, and miles of seeing nothing but horizon and wide open spaces. This recommended loop tour entails about 21-hours of driving. It must be mind-boggling to a visitor from Europe, considering that if you live in Belgium, it takes a mere 2-hours to drive your car from Brugge to Liege, nearly the width of your country. Two hours of driving is nothing in the United States.

Both Utah and Arizona have mind-blowingly gorgeous natural scenery made for a camera lens and a car radio. You may begin your drive from the major cities of nearby Las Vegas, Nevada, or Phoenix, Arizona. This loop is a 6-hour drive from my home in Denver, Colorado. Allow a few days to stay and play in Moab, Utah, where you will find good bike trails and roads, hikes and restaurants. I recommend a vacation of one week for plenty of play time.

The highlighted cities and sites located within the loop tour include: Zion National Park; Bryce Canyon; Boulder, Utah; Moab, Utah; Monument Valley; Grand Canyon; and Sedona, Arizona.  There are over 7 National Parks on this automobile loop route - be sure to buy a National Park Pass.

Zion National Park, Utah (website)
Natural beauty, grand walls of rock, with interesting hikes. Driving in and out of this park is a real treat. The park claims that "Kolob Arch, located deep in the backcountry of Zion National Park, is one of the largest freestanding arches in the world" There are park maps in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.
Zion National Park. Photo from nps.gov website

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah (website)
Millions of years of wind and water have formed delicate rock spires. Views of the park are mostly from the top down.
Bryce Canyon. Photo from bryceviewlodge.com

Boulder, Utah (website)
A beautiful drive along Hwy 12 near the slot canyons of Escalante Canyons National Monument and Capital Reef National Park.
Hwy 12 through Utah  Photo by Karen at PedalDancer.com
Moab, Utah (website)
Moab - Mountain Biking capital of the west, with Jeep and great hiking trails
Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park 
Interesting Ranger led slot canyon walks through Arches National Park
Home of the Skinny Tire Festival bicycle rides (road rides in March and September)
and 24 Hours of Moab mountain bike race (every year in October)
A good Moab Information (visitor) Center in town, and a couple good restaurants
The end-point of the epic Kokopelli Trail a 142-mile trail from Colorado to Moab.
And the Incredible White Rim Trail camping/mountain biking adventure loop.
River rafting trips on the tame local stretch of the Colorado River
* warning - Utah has weird (restrictive) alcohol laws.
Photos by Karen of Pedal Dancer
that's me!
Shaffer's Canyon on the White Rim Trail ride.  Photo by Karen at PedalDancer.com
Mountain biking and camping with friends. Photo by Karen at PedalDancer.com
The Moab Century ride passes Castleton Tower (one of my first rock climbs ever!). Photo by Karen at PedalDancer.com
Fisher Towers - good hiking.  Photo by Karen at PedalDancer.com
Monument Valley, Utah (website)
Is a movie-set picturesque valley of rock structures and spires, spectacular at sunrise and sunset.
Monument Valley  Photo by TourWestAmerica,com

Kayenta, Arizona
A small city for a hotel stop in the middle of nowhere. Also Tuba City, Arizona, is another choice for a quick overnight stop.
You can drive straight to this viewpoint at Horseshoe Bend near Kayenta.  Photo found on TripAdvisor.com photos of Kayenta
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (website)
Sometimes considered one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, a river trip down the Colorado River through the canyon remains on my bucket list. Reservations are often taken years in advance (river rafting companies). Good visitor center and short to long hikes. Grand Canyon NPS' photostream
The mighty Colorado River flows from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf near Baja, Mexico
 National Geographic video of the Grand Canyon - leave the best for last

Sedona, Arizona (website) (optional detour)
A small artist community with vivid red rocks

... complete the Loop back to Zion (near St George, Utah)

What else is nearby -
Nearby cities of Saint George, Utah,  Flagstaff, Arizona, and Grand Junction, Colorado (with Colorado's National Monument) also have plenty of hotels to begin your loop tour. Lake Powell is located within the loop and is a great lake to rent a house boat in spring or summer and float with friends and family, exploring the various rocky coves. I have fond memories of canoe, kayak and house boat vacations on Lake Powell. Scottsdale, Arizona is located next to Phoenix, AZ and has large hotels with nice spas and golf courses.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, is also an interesting southwestern art and cultural city and home to the Santa Fe Century bicycle ride (May).
A festival in Santa Fe. Photo by www.santafe.org
The Loredo Chapel in Santa Fe, NM  Photo by Karen at PedalDancer.com
Enjoy the Santa Fe art walk along Canyon Rd    Photo by Karen at PedalDancer.com
Major airports near the loop car tour are: Phoenix (2-4 hr drive), Las Vegas (3 hr drive), Salt Lake City, (4.5 hr drive), Denver (6 hr drive),  Los Angeles (7 hr drive), not San Francisco (it is not recommended to drive across northern Nevada).

Tour of Utah
The professional road cycling 6-day stage race known as the "Toughest Stage Race in American" takes place every August and is centered north of this loop tour, closer to Salt Lake City, Utah. (website: Larry H Miller Tour of Utah). The stage race is similar to the Tour of California (May) and the USA Pro Challenge (August).
Cities of the Tour of Utah
Little facts: The name Utah is from the Ute Indians. Those who reside in Utah (UT) are called Utahans or Utahns. Utah was the 45th state to join the Union in 1895.
State flag of Utah (their state emblem is a beehive)
Reference books: Fodor's Utah, other Utah guidebooks

So much to do, and right in our own backyard!