Two-time winner of Paris-Roubaix, Franco Ballerini, has died as a result of injuries sustained in a rally car event. He was 45.
A professional from 1986 to 2001, Ballerini won Paris-Roubaix in 1995 and 1998. The Hell of the North was also his last race as a professional in 2001.
Other significant victories include Paris-Brussels and the Omloop Het Volk. In 1993 he was second to Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle on the line at the Roubaix velodrome.
Ballerini was serving as the co-driver (navigator) for driver Alessandro Ciardi at an event in the municipality of Larciano. The vehicle left the road and crashed. Ballerini and Ciardi were rushed to the nearest hospital, in Pistoia, but despite doctors’ efforts, Ballerini died soon after.
After retirement, Ballerini became the coach of the Italian national team, guiding the Squadra Azzurra to victory at the world championship in his first year, 2002. He was able to rally the team to support Mario Cipollini, giving the team its first victory since 1992. He was universally praised for managing to unite a team whose infighting had resulted in years of silvers and bronzes.
Following Cipollini’s win, the team would go on to support Paolo Bettini to win gold at the 2004 Olympics plus two rainbow jerseys—in 2006 and 2007. The next year Alessandro Ballan made it three years in a row for Italy.
Ballerini leaves a wife and two children.
Images: John Pierce, Photosport International
Of all the writing I do, some of my very favorite work is travel writing. More than ten years ago, in a job review, I was asked what I wanted my job to be in five years. I responded, “Sniper.” Feature writing is in my blood and bringing to the reader an extraordinary experience in a far-flung locale is more fun than video games.
Some years back, when I was in graduate school and facing an ennui only those privileged enough to go to grad school can experience, I wondered what the hell I was up to. (Big surprise.) Over Christmas break I ran across the book “Out of the Noösphere,” a collection of features from Outside Magazine. It recalibrated my mission, so to speak and has informed my travel writing ever since.
Currently, the only real travel work I do is for Road Bike Action Magazine. Their editor, Brad Roe has given me pretty broad latitude to work. As I’ve written elsewhere, it’s as fun a relationship with a magazine as I’ve had. And given that Hi-Torque’s Mountain Bike Action was only the second magazine I developed a real affinity for (after Sufer Pub’s Skateboarder), to work for a Hi-Torque publication on a regular basis is big fun.
Zap even remembers my name now.
There are those days on the bike, days that are revelations. While a day can be memorable because of your form, your results, your company or your location, the way memory works, the more of those elements you pull together, the more memorable they are.
I had one of those days at the Tour of the Unknown Coast. Held in Humboldt County, California, it is the hippiest of the hippy holdouts. A different sort of place, and a different sort of ride. While there are a great many century rides, the TUC seemed to draw only those riders with a certain love for suffering. Harder than your average bear, Booboo.
If you enjoy travel writing, whether mine or not, I hope you’ll pick up the March issue of Road Bike Action. You might even want to check out the ride, which I can assure you, is one for the scrap book.
OK. Circle up. Circle up. Zip up your jackets. Straighten your knee warmers. Adjust the velcro on your shoes. It’s time to roll out.
I got to thinking recently that, though the TDU wrapped up and the pros are moving on to minor races and mini-camps and whatnot, the season still hasn’t really begun. It’s torturing me a bit actually. I’ve read the Cycle Sport Season Preview twice. I’m ready.
The Etoiles de Bességes is on, but I can’t watch it. Tour of Qatar is coming. Yawn. Hot. Flat. Sandy. It’s a training ride.
So, absent my first choice of cycling entertainment, let’s turn to my second: equipment.
This week’s question is this: What bike, that you’ve owned and ridden, has been your absolute favorite and why?
Mine is the red Peugot CPX-100 dirt bike I got for Christmas when I was eight. I’ve loved a lot of bikes, but no other machine proved as great a revelation as that one. That bike gave me a style and independence that I had wanted so badly without even knowing it. It gave me access to miles of trails and jumps, tucked back in the woods near the house, and gave me, for the first and last time in my life, the nicest ride among my friends.
I have an old, steel Moser that I’m quite fond of. I have a Surly Cross-Check that has seen me through a couple of winters, but that old red BMX is my all-time favorite.
When Lance Armstrong came back to cycling in 2009, it was as though a tidal wave of mixed messages, mixed feelings and mixed blessings crashed on pro cycling. Immediately, Alberto Contador, cycling’s next big thing, had his program turned upside down and shaken. A cycling press that had watched its readership ebb away slowly during the retirement years, suddenly found itself in high demand again. And race promoters salivated as record crowds thronged the roadside to cheer and/or jeer the return of the king.
(To be completely and entirely clear about my own stance on Lance, I will say that I am almost completely agnostic and ambivalent as regards the Texan. To be sure, he’s done a lot, both for the sport and for cancer survivors, but his methods and manner don’t appeal to me much. He’s done amazing things, but he’s been ungracious, immature, bullying, etc. in doing them. Perhaps like Contador, I feel respect, but not admiration.)
To me the oddest aspect of Lance’s return to the peloton is the shadow he seems to cast over all those who come near him. We have written recently in these digital pages about both Contador and Greg LeMond, two great champions in their own rights. And yet, in writing critically (or even neutrally) of each of them, there has been some assumption that that criticism equates to tacit support of Armstrong.
There was the issue of Contador’s wheels, and whether or not he had been denied the use of wheels that Armstrong had been given. In trying to parse the rider’s statements, corroborate them with quotes from his mechanic and looking through dozens of photos, we tried to see if the underlying controversy was real. What we came up with was inconclusive. Contador’s story is completely plausible, however the causes and behind the scenes machinations are unclear. Was there a misunderstanding? Was there malice? All possible, and yet circumstantial evidence doesn’t equal truth, and perhaps in this case finding the truth isn’t all that important in light of a larger truth. Contador fell out with Armstrong and Bruyneel but still won the race.
To examine the situation, to call into question the various stories and sub-stories circulating as regards a pair of bicycle wheels does not entail either endorsing or condemning the behavior of the parties involved. To say that Contador’s mechanic may have gotten it wrong is not to say that Amstrong and Bruyneel behaved correctly.
Simultaneous to the summer saga at Team Astana, was the slowly unwinding legal dispute between Greg LeMond and Trek Bicycles. LeMond felt Trek had done a crappy job of selling his bikes. Trek felt LeMond had done damage to the brand himself. There was evidence to suggest that both sides had legitimate arguments to make, and yet, somehow, Armstrong’s shadow fell over this proceeding too. Did Lance tell Trek to can LeMond for the perceived insinuation that Amstrong doped? Did LeMond intend to leverage his beef with Trek into an inquisition into Armstrong’s alleged doping practices?
To say that LeMond ought not go after the prized asset (Armstrong) of his primary business partner (Trek) in this way is not tantamount to asserting that Armstrong is clean or nice or better than LeMond in any way. The two issues CAN be mutually exclusive of one another.
The unfortunate part about Lance Armstrong’s return to bike racing is that the shadow he casts is very long. You can’t take the publicity he brings, the dollars, without also taking the drama. Everything becomes polarized. If you are not for Contador, you must be for Armstrong. If you comment on a rider that once road with Armstrong being suspended for doping, you are required to suggest that Armstrong is probably also guilty. Logic goes out the window. Feeling comes to the fore.
And yet, not everyone views cycling through these prisms. Lance Armstrong is not cycling. He is not Alberto Contador. He is not Greg LeMond. He is not Bradley Wiggins or Mark Cavendish or Ivan Basso or Tom Boonen. He is not the UCI or WADA. He is not the entire history of the sport.
They say that power corrupts. At the top of the sport, where the real money changes hands and the real decisions get made, that corrupting influence must be profound. It leads people to say and do things that the rest of us view with mouths agape. We watch it like a soap opera, like gladiatorial combat.
We are fortunate here at RKP that no one pays us to say things we do not believe. There is no power that accrues to a web site like this one that allows us to dictate the behavior of top racers or industry players. When Lance Armstrong’s shadow falls across what we do, we can simply get up, throw our legs over our bikes and ride away into the sun.
Now, some will interpret what I’ve written here as some defense of the work we’ve done, a riposte to the uncivil comments and calls for I’m-not-sure-what. And to a degree, I suppose, that’s what it is. More than anything, really, it’s an attempt to stop talking about Lance Armstrong. It is perhaps ironic that to do so, in the end, requires so much talking about Lance Armstrong.
USA Cycling, in response to a request from the UCI, has banned race radios in almost all road and track events. With the exception of UCI HC or Category 1 races, radios and audio playback devices (iPods and MP3 players to us normal folk) may not be used. Effectively, that means you’ll see radios still in use in all the events that actually result in race-watching tourism: the Amgen Tour of California, the Tour of Missouri, the Philadelphia International Classic (men) and Liberty Classic (women).
Last fall, the UCI banned race radio use in all races with a .2 classification. USAC’s action extends that ban to non-UCI-sanctioned events, thereby ensuring that you won’t see radios in use in any Pro/I/II events. The same is true for similar category European-held events, as was announced a few months ago, but this expansion of the ban—which also includes “audio playback devices”—moves things a small step closer to an outright ban on race radios in the events we cycling fans really follow.
For radio bans to extend further one of the best developments that could take place is for race organizers elect to ban them from their races. The Amaury Sport Organization is the obvious candidate for this as they could try it in a race such as Paris-Nice before considering it in an event such as Paris-Roubaix or the Tour de France.
Team can be expected to fight any expansion of this rule with the fervor of a gang war, but the arbiter will be race outcomes. The success of a suicide break or two will give the UCI all the ammo it needs to push its will into all the ProTour events.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Greg LeMond and Trek Bicycle Corporation have reached an out-of-court settlement. The agreement spells out an end to all legal proceedings between LeMond and Trek, bringing a 15-year relationship to a close. While most of the terms of the settlement were confidential, both parties agreed to disclose that Trek will pay $200,000 to 1in6.org, a charity with which LeMond is affiliated.
Trek will make two $100,000 payments to the California-based charity. Its purpose is to educate people about childhood male sexual abuse and takes its name from the rate of incidence of that abuse. LeMond is a member of the organization’s board of directors.
While the impasse between LeMond and Trek seemed to hinge as much on LeMond’s belief that Lance Armstrong was attempting to intimidate him as it did on LeMond’s believe that Trek really wasn’t supporting the LeMond brand to the degree spelled out in their licensing agreement.
In preparing for a possible trial, LeMond had begun deposing witnesses, including Kristin Armstrong, Lance Armstrong’s ex-wife. The possibility that LeMond might try to depose Armstrong himself loomed over the proceedings and threatened to turn a fairly straightforward business dispute—nonperformance—into a three-ring doping circus.
Due to the fact that most of the terms of the settlement are sealed, we’ll never know just what brought the case to resolution. However, by any estimation, the single least desirable result would have involved Armstrong on the stand. In this regard, LeMond had Trek over a barrel; they had two reasons to avoid testimony by Armstrong. While it is safe to assume Armstrong would have said nothing to incriminate him or Trek, his mere presence would have turned the proceedings into front page news. And then there’s the aftermath to consider. Armstrong’s ire has a history of its own and Trek really can’t afford to take any action that would alienate the seven-time Tour winner.
Litigation for LeMond isn’t at an end with the resolution of the Trek suit. As one of the creditors of the bankrupt Yellowstone Club, LeMond, joined by his in-laws, David and Sacia Morris, is contesting the sale of a parcel of the millionaire-only Yellowstone Club in Montana. Membership in the club is ultra-exclusive and includes Microsoft founder Bill Gates and L.A. Dodgers owner Frank McCourt. LeMond and the Morrises wish to make their own bid for the property.
The parcel in question was the “family compound” for Yellowstone Club co-founder Edra Blixseth and her family. It is being sold as part of a liquidation of Blixseth’s assets due to bankruptcy.
LeMond and the Morrises are taking issue with the price offered by CIP Yellowstone Lending, LLC, another Yellowstone Club creditor. Less than two years ago CrossHarbor Capital Partners offered Blixseth $56 million for the 160-acre parcel. Recently, CrossHarbor offered Blixseth a mere $8.5 million, with only $500,000 coming in actual cash; $8 million would be “paid” in debt relief to Blixseth in the form of debt forgiveness. Court papers filed by LeMond and the Morrises argue that the bid has no relation to its actual value.
When the real estate market crashed, sales at Yellowstone Club stalled. Blixseth and her then husband Tim Blixseth took out a $375 million loan with Credit Suisse. Rather than using that to help the faltering Yellowstone Club, the Blixseths put the money into other ventures. When the pair’s marriage hit the skids in 2008, bankruptcy followed, both individually and for the club.
While Blixseth’s parcel is only 160 acres within a 13,600-acre resort, the location of the land make it particularly attractive and its sale is seen by some as key to reviving sales of new parcels in the Yellowstone Club.
As original investors in Yellowstone Club, LeMond and the Morrises should have shared in the proceeds of the $375 million Credit Suisse loan. That suit was settled for $39.5 million, and while a settlement was reached, a fair chunk of that settlement remains outstanding. As a result, LeMond and the Morrises hold a $13.5 million lien on the Blixseth family compound—more than the value of the CrossHarbor bid.
John Shaffer, one of the attorneys representing LeMond and the Morrises asked the judge overseeing the bankruptcy to reject the CrossHarbor bid and to give them 120 days to put together a bid of their own. A ruling on that request is still to come.
The full text of the Trek/LeMond joint press release:
Joint Press Release of Greg LeMond and Trek Bicycle Corporation
Cycling legend Greg LeMond and Trek Bicycle Corporation announced an agreement to close out all remaining issues for the business venture they began in 1995, and to provide funding for a charity near Greg’s heart.
“Greg has a hard-won place in the Pantheon of bicycle racing, and we are proud of what we were able to accomplish together,” said Trek’s President John Burke. “Trek respects Greg’s efforts and commitment to the charitable foundation, 1in6.org, and Trek is pleased to lend its support to that very worthwhile endeavor.”
Three-time Tour de France winner LeMond said: “I am pleased to resolve the issues between Trek and myself and am happy to be able to move forward with the things important in my life. I appreciate Trek’s support for the work of 1in6.org. I take deep satisfaction in this resolution and believe it will have a positive impact on those that can benefit most from the purpose of 1in6.org.”
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Oh, ye of little faith. The status quo arises to dampen future hope. But in that dragon of a peloton, slinking and slithering across the countryside, there is ALWAYS one who thinks he’s fast, who will test himself against the dragon’s might.
What am I talking about? No. Me neither. No clue.
So most of you expect Mssr. Cavendish to continue to blow the wheels off the competition, and you know, that’s probably a safe bet. He’s young. He’s hungry. He’s got things to prove.
I hold out hope that an angry Hushovd is a strong Hushovd, and that once Cavendish first sought to rattle the bars of that Cervelo Test cage, it was wholly and fully on. I also believe that Tyler Farrar will mature. Quite what that means for a guy who puts his head down and pedals like his ass is on fire, I’m not sure, but I think he’ll win more races this season.
What many of you pointed out was that a certain measure of the Manxman’s might is in his lead out train, and that without Big George Hincapie ®, the Columbia train will be somehow less strong. Further, it’s difficult at this early juncture to gauge the strength and organization of the Sky set up. It stands to reason that they’ll be good, but how good is anyone’s guess.
Perhaps Mr. Brailsford of Team Sky will force young Cavendish to leave Columbia-HTC by denying him the easy victories he must have grown accustomed to in 2009.
And finally, let me just address the contention that sprint stages are boring. They are. That’s my opinion. I often ask myself what the point of riding 170kms was if they were just going to finish in a humping, writhing mass at the end anyway. Without a hill of any sort, a flat stage abhors a breakway. I’d rather they just gathered at the race start and had a 400m drag race, myself.
Oh, I know, there’s more to it than that. Heinrich Haussler and Philippe Gilbert showed us that, but there are exceptions, and there are rules. Let the lead out begin.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Since 1998 the Belgians have had a stranglehold on cyclocross the way the moon has a stranglehold on werewolves. Before today, ten of the last twelve men’s world championships have been won by Belgians. The two years they didn’t win were taken by Dutch riders. From 2003 to 2005 the Belgians swept the podium; they would have done it again in 2006 were it not for interloper Francis Mourey stealing bronze.
World Cup champion Zdenek Stybar has been on form all season, and put everyone on notice that yet another silver at worlds (following his second place finishes in 2008 and 2009) wouldn’t suffice. But did anyone really think he could overcome the Belgian mafia? Home court advantage or no, the Belgian team showed up with three—three!—former world champions. They could in-fight their way to another podium sweep.
But it wasn’t to be. While the Belgian team did put two riders and the podium and three in the top ten, the best-placed Belgian was newcomer Klaas Vantournot. Sven Nys was the only former world champion to finish on the podium, in third. Meanwhile, Bart Wellens was tenth and Erwin Verveckin finished a dismal 16th.
You think that’s surprising? That’s not the half of it. The Czech Republic team had plenty of ammo, not just Stybar. The Czech team placed four riders in the top ten—Martin Bina in fourth, Martin Zlamalik in sixth and second-generation ‘crosser Radomir Simunek in eighth. As a result, the Czech Republic and Belgium accounted for seven of the top-ten spots.
Post-race Nys said he had to admit that retirement age loomed for him and the other riders of his generation. But is this the end of Belgian dominance in cyclocross? Hardly; in taking the other two podium spots, the Belgian team shows depth and consistency. The real story is that 2010 will be remembered as the year of the emergence of the Czech Republic as a cyclocross superpower, a team prepared to go toe-to-toe with the Belgians and the Dutch.