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Belgian romance in Missouri, and other notes from the Tour of MO

– Now that the Tour de Georgia has died, the Tour of Missouri has become our local PRO race. The closeness of the race to us and the quality of the field (the ProTour contingent of the field, that is) has made following the race doubly appealing. Some random notes scribbled down during the week:

* When it comes to the domestic squads trying to hang with the ProTour boys, I’ve gotta give huge props to Team Type 1. In Stage 1, they had a rider (along with an Astana & a SaxoBank rider) in the main breakaway. It appears that they’ll win the overall KOM, and they were active all week in the attacking. I’ve never been attentive to Team Type 1 in the past, but I damn will in the future. The only rider on the squad I have much awareness of is Mike Creed. (Part of that is because of the largeness of his presence in US peloton for nearly a decade, part of it is because I chat from time to time with his distractingly beautiful wife in her capacity working for SRM.) So, anyway, chapeau to Team Type 1 for their aggression, their evident lack of intimidation, and their success throughout the week.

* In terms of the domestic squads, the biggest disappointment has been Bissell. I’m under the impression that they’re the baddest squad in the domestic peloton, but they were wholly MIA in MO. I think maybe they helped out Garm*n a bit when Columbia’s TT phenom Marco Pinotti attacked near the end of Stage 6, but otherwise they were invisible. The only reason for their sad performance, I think, is that 3 of their riders got caught up in the Stage 1 crash that took out Christian Vandevelde. Maybe the damage to their best riders was worst than anyone knows. And yes I know that Tom Zirbel finished 4th in GC. But we struggle to celebrate the minor placings, especially when the result is achieved with little team panache. Given their large presence in the last couple of Tours of California, I guess I was just expecting more giddy-up throughout the week…

* The difference in strength levels between the ProTour squads (and ProTour equivalents, i.e. Cervélo Test Team) and the domestic squads proved to be as huge as you’d expect. Let’s not even talk about stage wins (which was almost a shutout: I extend props to Planet Energy for their highly unlikely win in Stage 7. As a big fan of Steve Bauer, I’m stoked. But from an analytical standpoint, I feel compelled to say that this win was possible largely because of the short length of the stage. The domestic dudes are gods in sub-3hr races. When it’s 4hrs+, they’re doomed. I have no intention to diminish Planet Energy’s accomplishment, but there are important distinctions to be made here.) While BMC, Team Type 1, and Jelly Belly all found themselves in some good breakaways, based on our viewing literally every km of pulling was done by ProTour squads. I saw some Colavita guys, for example, trying to lend a hand to Columbia’s chase mid-way through Stage 1 and the Cervélo/Garm*n chase on Stage 6, and as soon as their noses hit the wind they had to pull off. I don’t mention all of this as an insult to the domestic guys. Rather, it’s simply a statement of the difference in baseline fitness/pain threshold/hardness between guys who have to endure racing in Europe vs. the ‘rigors’ of the domestic scene.

* Stage 6: 180km at 48kph average. That’s impressive. More impressive is the passel of ProTour guys who trained another 50km afterwards in preparation for the World’s RR and the Tour of Lombardy. That is PRO.

* Interesting to contrast Columbia and Garm*n vis a vis their respective defensive tactics when each held the leader’s jersey. For Columbia, they were happy to let a breakaway get up the road, police the time gap with more or less no help from other teams, then increase their pace to warp speed in the last hour to pull them in. In contrast, Garm*n spastically chased down every breakaway attempt in an effort to enforce a gruppo compatto throughout Stage 6. And in Stage 7, arguably the most exciting of the race, at best they supplied half the firepower to reel in the 3x SaxoBank + Mike Barry (+ another Team Type 1 stalwart) break. Cervélo was so intent on getting Thor Hushovd another stage win, they put all their muscle in the chase. In comparison to the ‘we’ll take care of it ourselves’ approach of Columbia in stages 1-3, Garm*n looked kinda fragile, especially in Stage 7. They better hook up the Test Team with a round of free 705’s as thanks for bailing helping them out in Kansas City.

* European romance lives strong in Missouri. From Jeremy Powers of Team Jelly Belly: ‘…through the feedzone I watched this Quickstep dude hang onto his feed bag for 5K before tossing it to a cute girl. He said ‘DID YOU SEE?’ I said ‘yeah…nice job buddy’. He then explained: his soigneur puts a Polaroid picture of himself with his number on the bags. In his deep Belgie voice finishes it off with ‘YAH, old Belgian trick it works everytime.”

* We’re hoping beyond hope that we’ll see the Tour of MO happen again next year. The only criticism we have (other than the spotty traffic control in the TT) is that the course could’ve used some nastier climbing. The Ozarks have some nice, sustained climbs (i.e. ~5km in length) and the organization needs to figure out how to integrate these into the race. As it stands for 2009, the race came down to nothing but the time trial, which makes for a sleep-inducing GC battle. With complete respect & appreciation, I welcome the race director to give me a call to discuss how we could get a stage finish here in AR in 2010. The stage could come south from Springfield (or Branson) and come across the state line into Harrison and then down into Jasper (a town that is our definition of paradise, BTW) and we could wrap up the stage with a couple of 5km climbs. A mountain top finish would be easy. Tell us how we can help. We can raise money; we can sire volunteers. Once you take a well-deserved post-race vacation, give me a call!

– The main downside to the Tour of MO is that I’ve been all-but- inattentive to the Vuelta. I’ve watched just enough to know a little:

*I know I love this photo.
*I know that Tyler Farrar dropped out of the Eneco Tour -- a race he dominated -- with only a 13km TT to go in an effort to optimize his immediate preparation for the Vuelta. While I applaud his one Vuelta stage win, it was hardly the dominating performance required by such an act of hubris.
*I know that Garm*m started Farrar in all 3 Grand Tours and that seems unjustifiable no matter how you cut it.
*I know that Tom Danielson’s problems always revolve around his stomach.
*I know that this is amongst the most amusing articles about the Vuelta.

– I feel very off the back for never having seen these photos before. Look very closely at the design of that velodrome. This must be like scripture in hipster fixie culture.

– I heartily applaud the Assos équipecampionissimo concept for no other reason that as part of the application process to get on the team you must submit the names of your top 3 favorite restaurants in the world, your cars, your aircraft, and your boat.

– Best bike race news analysis of 2009 .

– Quick technical bulletin: We’re often asked what chainring/cassette combinations are compatible with what rear derailleurs. Intrinsic compatibility aside (i.e. 10 speed Shimano STI levers are not compatible with a Campagnolo 11 speed cassette), the main consideration is what is known as chain wrap capacity. To compute your bike’s chain wrap, you need to do this math: Chain wrap = (Big ring – small ring) + (big cog – small cog), e.g.: You’d have a chain wrap of 27 if you’re riding a 53/39 with a 12/25.

Here are the chain wrap capacities of the best-known derailleurs:

Campagnolo 11-speed (all models): 28, w/largest cog allowable 27t
Campagnolo 10-speed (all models): 27, w/largest cog allowable 26t
SRAM (all models): 31, w/largest cog allowable 28t
Shimano Dura Ace 7900: Chain wrap capacity not provided, but we’ve calculated a value of 33 based on the conceivable combo of 50/34 & 11/28. This is available in one version only -- there is not a short-cage and a long-cage version.
Shimano Ultegra 6700 SS (Short Cage): Chain wrap capacity not provided, but given that unlike 7900, this derailleur is available in both short cage and rear cage, we strongly suspect a chain wrap capacity of 29, w/largest cog allowable 27t. However, this is subject to change.
Shimano Dura Ace 7800: 29, w/largest cog allowable 27t
Shimano Ultegra SL 6600: 29, w/largest cog allowable 27t