» Neal Rogers Competitive Cycling News, Race Results and Bike Reviews Thu, 26 Nov 2015 16:18:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Phil Gaimon Q&A: Danielson, doping, and WorldTour return Thu, 19 Nov 2015 20:32:20 +0000

Phil Gaimon will have another chance to race in the WorldTour, returning to the Slipstream organization for 2016. Photo: ©Sam Wiebe (File).

Phil Gaimon talks about his second chance at racing the WorldTour, how clean the peloton really is, and what to make of Tom Danielson.

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Phil Gaimon will have another chance to race in the WorldTour, returning to the Slipstream organization for 2016. Photo: ©Sam Wiebe (File).

As the calendar readies to flip to 2016, Phil Gaimon would like to put the last 12 months behind him. The 29-year-old American entered the 2015 season reeling from a demotion; he’d been cut from the Cannondale-Garmin team, after just a season, one of the many who were collateral damage as two WorldTour programs merged.

Gaimon’s opportunity to race at the WorldTour level had seemingly ended before it began. He landed a spot at the Continental squad Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies, and started the 2015 season with a second-career GC win at the Redlands Cycling Classic.

From there, however, it was mostly downhill. A strong climber with a decent time trial, Gaimon’s spot as a protected GC leader ran parallel to another Optum rider, Canadian Michael Woods, a former runner with similar cycling talents.

When Woods finished fifth on a summit finish at Volta ao Algarve, alongside Geraint Thomas and Michal Kwiatkowski, and then won Clássica Internacional Loulé, it was clear that Gaimon would spend some of 2015 riding as a super-domestique, rather than for personal results. Such was the case at the Tour of the Gila, where Woods finished fourth overall, and the Tour of Utah, where Woods was second to Joe Dombrowski.

Behind the scenes, Gaimon struggled with personal issues. His father, a professor at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, was diagnosed with cancer. He coped with the news during the Tour of Utah and abandoned the USA Pro Challenge to return to Atlanta to be with his family. In the same week that he received a contract offer to rejoin Cannondale in 2016, Gaimon’s father died.

There was also the news of Tom Danielson’s positive drug test, in August, for an anabolic agent.

After time spent training together in Tucson, Arizona, ahead of the 2013 season, Danielson introduced Gaimon to Cannondale manager Jonathan Vaughters; his recommendation played a major role in Gaimon’s contract with Garmin-Sharp in 2014. The two had become teammates and friends, with Danielson riding in support of Gaimon at the Tour de San Luis, where Gaimon won a stage and finished second overall. Gaimon returned the favor later in the 2014 season at the Tour of Utah and USA Pro Challenge, where Danielson finished first and second, respectively.

Gaimon, who writes a column for VeloNews and authored a book published by VeloPress, sports a “clean” tattoo on his right bicep. A few other riders got the tattoo — Brad Huff, Nick Waite, Isaac Howe, Michael van den Ham, and Adam Myerson — and each promised to allow the others to scrape it off with a cheese grater if ever proven to have used performance-enhancing drugs.

So the news of Danielson’s positive, on top of everything else during the second half of the 2015 season, was tough to accept.

Gaimon spoke with VeloNews this week, and discussed Danielson, his views on doping in today’s peloton, and his return to the WorldTour in 2016 after a season away.

VeloNews: Was returning to the Cannondale team, which you rode for in 2014 [when it was Garmin-Sharp], always in the back of your mind? Did you stay in touch with Vaughters throughout the year? How did that come about?

Phil Gaimon: I earned a spot on the [2014] team, I learned a lot, I did what I was supposed to do at every race, within reason. As the 2014 season was winding down, when it came down to it, with the sponsors, and everything that was going on, there wasn’t space for me. I had to be careful, and go to Optum, rather than try to wait out Vaughters. I don’t think it would have worked. I was careful not to burn bridges, and be cool about it. A month after I knew I was leaving the team, I showed up fit at the Tour of Beijing and kicked some ass there. That was the hole in my game, that I hadn’t done a lot of WorldTour races. I hadn’t proven myself at the top level. Then I’m kicked off the team — nicely, but still — and then I proved myself, but it was too late.

VN: When you say you ‘kicked some ass,’ what exactly did you do at Beijing?

PG: I just ripped it at the front. The stage that Dan Martin won, I attacked with 8km to go on a mountaintop finish. I made all the splits. I helped Tyler [Farrar], and he won a stage. At the Japan Cup I was on the front a lot. I didn’t do anything spectacular, but I did something that most guys aren’t doing in the first year on the WorldTour, that the team didn’t really know I was capable of. I trained hard for that. I think I earned it with my legs, and Vaughters appreciated my loyalty, on the bike and off the bike. The media was calling me, everyone wanted me to complain about JV [Vaughters] not keeping me, and I wasn’t going to go there, because I understood. I wasn’t going to play the victim. This year rolled around, and I was good in the spring, and JV said, ‘Hey, we’ll do our best to make room and see if we can have you back.’

VN: The time period that you signed with the team overlapped with the period that your father was dying. What was that like for you, emotionally, to have something positive and something so painful happening at the same time?

PG: I signed a WorldTour contract, which is the dream I have been chasing for 10 years, and it was still the worst week of my life. They were days apart. I was a wreck. We sort of had it worked out before Utah started. It wasn’t to ink yet, but I knew, and that was a good thing, because the personal stuff just completely tanked Utah and Colorado. I wasn’t able to do much there. And JV knew. Halfway through, I told him, ‘Here’s why I suck this week,’ and he said, ‘Don’t worry about it, I understand.’

VN: When you first went to the team, Tom Danielson played a big role in that. We know what’s happened since. Have you had contact with Tom? You’re a guy with a ‘clean’ tattoo on your arm, and Tom is facing a lifetime ban, based on a second offense. Where do you stand, with Tom, and with the whole situation?

PG: I wish anybody knew what was going on. I wish I knew. I’ve spoken with Tom. He’s my friend. We all know he’s made mistakes in the past. Maybe he made another bad decision, maybe he didn’t. I don’t know. He met me on a group ride, and I ripped his legs off at a Florida gran fondo event. He invited me to Tucson. He trained with me. His whole lesson, the takeaway I got from him in a year and a half of being with him, was ‘Yeah, I used to do this stuff, and now we don’t have to. This is how we do it now.’ He called Vaughters, to help make my dream come true. He pulled me to the top of the climbs in San Luis, where we were hugging and crying on top of mountains together. So it’s really confusing to my entire understanding of the world, and human beings. I don’t know what’s going on, but that’s not the guy I know. I hope it gets sorted out, and I hope that my instincts, and my feelings about him, are proven true.

VN: You’ve got a ‘clean’ tattoo on your arm. You’ve raced at the WorldTour level. If you’re to be taken at your word, as a clean rider, what was your take on the sport’s highest level? Being one of the top guys in the U.S., you know it is the next level, you know it’s going to be harder, but were there instances where you had to question what you were seeing?

PG: There were some moments where I was like ‘That’s insane, what that guy is doing.’ What I learned is that there’s a thing called real talent. I have some talent, and then there is Dan Martin, who is clean as a whistle, and his worst day is better than my best day. Take, for example, the Japan Cup. We were swapping off at the front of the pack for three hours, to help Nathan Haas. This is a race Dan doesn’t care about — he wouldn’t have doped for this — no one cares, really, it’s the last race of the year. He got bored of flicking his elbow, and just rode the front, by himself, for three hours. And every time we went up a hill, guys were blowing up, and getting dropped. I was suffering on his wheel, and it was a realization. Or look at Taylor Phinney. He broke himself as badly as any pro could. I heard a rumor he was never going to race again. And in his first race back, he’s on the podium at Utah. Then he wins a stage at the Pro Challenge. He’s better than us with one leg. And Taylor’s not doping. I’m sure it’s still there, there are still guys doing stuff, but I don’t think it’s rampant. You hear rumors, but I don’t think it’s that bad. At my best, I was able to win a race, and play with the hitters, top 10 on mountaintop finishes, and I’m thinking, ‘If that guy could only put 15 seconds on me, how could he be dirty?’

VN: You have this second chance at the WorldTour. What’s your objective? Will you only be riding in support of other riders? Do you have a personal goal? What would make it a success?

PG: I’ve learned that I can’t control what happens with my career. I can make the most out of the opportunities that I have. I finished this season, and looked back at the last two years, at my training logs, and asked myself what mistakes I may have made, what might have slowed me down. How many nights did I sleep poorly, and what might have caused that? I shut down small businesses I was running on the side — a small clothing company, and a recovery product — which were making a little money, but ended up being a distraction. The writing that I do, I think it’s therapeutic. Journaling, I think that is healthy. It’s not like I have hard deadlines, or massive word counts. Everything else, I put away. I’m going to rent out my house in Los Angeles, and move to Girona, and that’s going to be home. I think that mental shift will help my focus. I told the team that, and they appreciated it. I think that will turn into a few more race starts, and a few more chances to prove myself. Obviously I hope to do a grand tour. I just want to do all the biggest races I can. I know I won’t get a third shot at the WorldTour. Before I get too old, I want to see what my physical potential is, if I give it that focus, and put in all the work, and don’t screw up. That’s my goal, and hopefully that turns into a fat raise, and more years with the team. Then I’d be happy with it.

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Role reversal: After years of mentorship, Hyde tops Powers Fri, 13 Nov 2015 17:33:17 +0000

After developing as a 'cross racer under the mentorship of U.S. 'cross champ Jeremy Powers, Stephen Hyde has arrived, beating Powers twice in Louisville. Photo: Wil Matthews |

U.S. 'cross may be seeing a changing of the guard as Stephen Hyde beats his longtime mentor and American champion Jeremy Powers.

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After developing as a 'cross racer under the mentorship of U.S. 'cross champ Jeremy Powers, Stephen Hyde has arrived, beating Powers twice in Louisville. Photo: Wil Matthews |

The moment when an apprentice surpasses his mentor is one that neither forgets.

Last weekend, in Louisville, Kentucky, that happened twice when Stephen Hyde defeated national cyclocross champion Jeremy Powers at the Derby City Cup.

Saturday night, under the lights, Hyde took his first UCI C1 win, out-sprinting Powers, who struggled with punctures and mechanicals throughout the race. The following day, Hyde and Powers battled at the front until the national champ crashed on the final lap, allowing Hyde to solo to victory.

Over the last three seasons, Hyde has benefitted greatly from mentorship, support, and coaching from Powers, as well as the JAM Fund team. It’s no overstatement to say that Powers took Hyde under his wing, and taught him everything he knows about cyclocross racing.

Hyde had won big races before, but in terms of significance, and symbolism, these wins in Louisville were the biggest of his nascent career. Asked about his reaction to twice beating the three-time national champion — the man who has helped developed his career — Hyde said emotions were mixed.

“Powers has been the first to say, ‘You’re going to beat me, it’s just a matter of time,’” Hyde said. “Everyone around me had the faith in me, so I think for neither of us was it a surprise, but it was kind of emotional. There was a bit of … maybe not passing of the torch, but it was a real step forward. He was very complimentary and respectful. It’s a very respectful relationship.”

Powers admitted that he’d had a series of mechanical mishaps early on during Saturday’s race, but he also acknowledged that Hyde was a deserving winner.

“I had a good chance to win the race,” the Rapha-Focus rider said. “I was riding strong. I did have some mistimed flats, and I was stuck behind a crash at start, so that was never going to lend itself to winning. But when I look back at the last eight races we’ve done together, it’s taken me a full 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the course, to get rid of Stephen, when I time my race right. When I’m not at the front until 45 minutes in, if he rides a different race, it will change the dynamic, as I have to immediately attack, even though I might not be as sharp. Saturday’s race wasn’t a straight-up battle, but on Sunday, it was much more tactical. I didn’t have great legs, and then I made a mistake, slipped, and hit the deck. But that doesn’t take anything away from his races. On Saturday, we went to the line, and he won the sprint.”

The path to the podium

Though he’ll be 29 years old in March, Hyde is young in race years. His background is in BMX and mountain biking; his exposure to road and cyclocross racing came circuitously, working in bike shops.

“I’ve always been an avid cyclist. I started with BMX and dirt jumping, with a bit of racing here and there, and some bike touring,” Hyde explained. “I’ve worked at a few bike shops, and did some mountain bike racing in my earlier 20s. I floundered around, and eventually I fell in love with cyclocross.”

After soloing to victory ahead of veteran pro Adam Myerson at the 2012 Cheshire Cross race in Connecticut, Hyde — who hails from Pensacola, Florida — was invited to join the non-profit JAM Fund program for the remainder of the 2012-13 season.

Hyde spent the last two seasons with the 12-year-old JAM Fund team, which Powers helped establish, basing himself in Easthampton, Massachusetts, just down the road from Powers, working at a bike shop to pay the rent while also racing, training, and learning. He also spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons racing with the Continental road team Astellas, though he won’t be returning in 2016, as all of his training will be “built toward the cyclocross season.”

Hyde won four UCI races during the 2014-15 season, earning a spot on the 2015-2016 squad, his first pro ‘cross contract. He also had his first taste of European cyclocross last year, traveling across the Atlantic twice. His first trip, in November and December, saw him register several top-30 finishes, including 21st at GP Hasselt.

He returned to finish sixth at nationals, in Austin, while nursing an ankle injury. The result was enough to earn a discretionary selection to the world championship squad and a phone call from Cannondale’s team manager Stu Thorne, with an offer to fill the spot left by Tim Johnson’s retirement.

Hyde returned to Europe later that month, alongside Powers and his Rapha-Focus entourage, placing 37th at the Hoogerheide World Cup, one week before worlds. Worlds, in Tabor, Czech Republic, was a bit of a disaster. He double-flatted in the start after compatriot Jamey Driscoll crashed, and Hyde ran over his wheel. Hyde ultimately ran out of spare wheels, and did not finish.

Making the jump

Though the JAM Fund, and his coach, Alec Donahue, in particular, played a critical role in his progression, Hyde said his jump to Cannondale was “massive.”

“It’s made a huge difference. It’s not just eight people in a sprinter van, filled with bikes, with me gluing wheels at races, using what we have, making the best of the situation,” Hyde said. “With Cannondale, my bikes show up in a giant trailer, there is three staff, four riders, and we are well taken care of. The equipment is top-notch; we have some of the best sponsors you could ever want to have. I didn’t have much expectation going into the program, but it’s been a phenomenal step-up. Stu knows so much, Tim is around, willing to be a mentor. Same goes for Ryan [Trebon]. And we have a great mechanic. There is all this wealth of knowledge that people are willing to give, if you are willing to listen.”

In a June interview with The Bicycle Story, Hyde said he was “in tears,” after signing his contact with Cannondale. In that interview, he was also asked his goals for the 2015-16 season, and beyond. “I haven’t won a C1 race yet,” he said. “Somebody has to beat Powers. I’d love to be the guy to do it. That’s what Powers wants. That’s why he created the program.”

On Saturday, Hyde ticked two boxes at once — he won his first C1 race, ahead of Powers, who had become almost unbeatable in North America. On Sunday, he did it again.

“It was a good course for me,” Hyde said. “And it’s been coming. I’ve been second to [Powers] several times this year. I’ve been battling with him up front. I’m learning every single race. I felt confident, finally. It wasn’t just him pushing me. On Saturday, we both had problems. We were both outside the top 30 at the start. We both had flat tires; we both managed to come back and keep cool. It came down to the last quarter of the race. I beat him over a long drag, followed by a punchy climb. I got in front, dove into the technical section, and I managed to hold him off. I made it onto the pavement with a bike length, sprinted as hard as I could, and managed to get it.”

Powers was pragmatic about the defeat. His race on Saturday, with more UCI points on the line, was a comedy of errors — he chose the wrong tires, swapped bikes to correct that, punctured, got back on the first bike, still with improper tires, and ran into rotor-size conflicts on spare wheels. Still, that’s all part of racing, he said.

“I mean, I’m not pumped. I don’t want to lose to anyone in the U.S.,” Powers said. “Any time any of the Euros come to the U.S. I am bringing my A game. I don’t want to lose to anyone [in the U.S.] until I hang up the wheels.

“That said, we are proud of what we’ve been able to do, to have had a big hand in helping riders, including those who haven’t made it to Hyde’s level. Seeing him come up, he’s making a living racing cyclocross bikes, and that makes us all happy. It’s a mixed emotion — I’m a bit bummed I lost a race, but that comes back to me. I’m also proud to have helped someone change his life. It’s a way for us to reinvest into the community. I’m pissed I didn’t execute on race day, but that comes second to what a cool achievement and impact we’ve made in someone’s life. That’s important, and I do rest on that. I do care about how I leave the sport, and what I’ve left behind.”

Still scratching the surface?

Based on his trajectory, it’s fair to ask just how far Hyde can go. If Powers is capable of top-10 finishes in Europe, does that mean Hyde is as well?

It appears the sky is the limit, and it helps that Hyde is unmarried, without kids, and fully committed to pursuing pro cyclocross racing for the next five years.

“We’re just going to take it one step at a time,” Hyde said. “There is still a steep learning curve. We can benchmark where I’m at, against other riders, in other situations. I’m a pretty adaptive person. I’d love top be in the top 10 in Europe in the next three years. I don’t think it’s unreasonable. It’s wild, but it’s not unreasonable.

“I’d live in Europe. I’d like to make it viable for other Americans, not just for me. I’d like to help make that pathway more accessible for younger Americans, riders like Curtis White, Logan Owen, and Gage Hecht, who could really make a name for themselves. It’s still a hard pathway to get over there as an elite rider. I’d be willing to try, to try to make it easier for me, to make it easier for everyone.”

“I don’t think we know,” Powers said of Hyde’s potential. “The thing he has going — he’s able to learn, he’s able to listen. It’s always valuable when a rider can listen, can take intel, can take critiques, and make changes, and not be hurt by it, but grow from it. I’m not surprised to see him ride well. He’s made a huge jump this year. I don’t know what he can do in Europe, there are too many variables, but I think he’s riding well currently.”

The rest of Hyde’s season includes a training camp and cyclocross clinic in Pensacola, followed by Jingle Cross, and a trip to Europe, where he’ll race the Namur and Zolder World Cup races in late December. He’ll return to the States for nationals — where will be one of the heavy favorites — and back to Europe for the World Cups in Lignières-en-Berry and Hoogerheide. Assuming he’s selected, he’ll cap the trip off with a return to the world championships.

“I live a life around all of these people, who have all of these years of experience, and I’m still tapping into it,” Hyde said. “I am a few years deep into the program, and I am still scratching the surface, still figuring out how to train. I am breaking barriers every step of the way. I’m still learning every single day, every training ride, every race. It sucks to lose, but it’s not the end of the world. It’s more, ‘How did I mess that up? What did he [the winner] do right?’ It’s one step forward, every day. As long as I can continue to do that, I think the progression is endless.”

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The confusing case of Tom Danielson Fri, 06 Nov 2015 23:17:07 +0000

Tom Danielson at the Tour of Utah press conference, August 2, 2015. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

Danielson's B sample confirms failed doping test from August, so why don't we know where things stand and what's next?

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Tom Danielson at the Tour of Utah press conference, August 2, 2015. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

It’s been nearly 100 days since Tom Danielson left the Tour of Utah after announcing on Twitter that he had tested positive for synthetic testosterone. Since then, there has been no update on his standing in the sport.

Not even Danielson’s team manager, Jonathan Vaughters, seems to know what’s going on.

“The amount of official information that I have is very small,” Vaughters said. “I was never officially informed by USADA that he tested positive. I haven’t been informed by the UCI, either. I have no idea where the B sample is or isn’t. Not a clue. I don’t know if Tom is taking the case to arbitration. From an official standpoint, the only thing I know is that on August 3, Tom Danielson tweeted that he had tested positive for synthetic testosterone. When I called [USADA general counsel] Bill Bock, he confirmed that there had been an adverse A.”

Generally, B sample analysis occurs within two weeks after an athlete has been notified of an adverse A sample. And on November 6, United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) spokesperson Annie Skinner confirmed that Danielson’s B sample had been tested and that it had confirmed the results of the A test.

So why don’t we know where things stand?

When a B sample confirms the findings of the A sample, the next step is for the evidence to be presented to USADA’s anti-doping review board, which determines if the organization should charge the athlete with a violation. The athlete has the opportunity to provide information in his or her defense before the board makes its recommendation.

There’s no set timeline for all of that, according to Skinner, who said “the length of the process is dependent on the individual circumstances in each case.”

Danielson’s decision to announce the A results on Twitter, rather than wait for an announcement through official channels, make his an unusual one, as does his statement that the finding had been for synthetic testosterone. That is a very specific result that USADA is not willing to claim, even now. Skinner would say only that, since Danielson had already spoken publicly about the case, she could confirm that he had returned an adverse finding for “an anabolic agent,” a broad term that is much more open to interpretation than “synthetic testosterone.”

The UCI’s list of license holders currently serving provisional suspensions was last updated on October 30, and though USADA confirmed that Danielson signed a provisional suspension agreement in August, his name wasn’t on the list.

Danielson said he can’t help clear up the confusion.

“I will give the whole story when I have the whole story,” he said. “For now, these are the facts: I did not take any anabolic agent or doping substance. I am not interested in anything but the truth. I’m not interested in PR, or a defense, or anything but the facts.”

What We Know

There are plenty of other facts, of course. The ones in Danielson’s favor include the fact that he has not missed an out-of-competition test or had a whereabouts violation in over seven years.

There’s also the fact that Danielson’s A sample was flagged for a 4.1:1 ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone. When synthetic testosterone is introduced into the body, testosterone becomes elevated while epitestosterone does not, skewing the ratio. A T-E ratio of 4:1 or higher is considered abnormal and triggers a more advanced carbon isotope ratio test (CIR), which, in this instance, detected a banned substance.

But Dr. Don Catlin, inventor of the CIR and an early pioneer of drug testing in sport, has said that USADA’s testing protocol doesn’t distinguish between synthetic testosterone, which is a clear performance enhancer, and DHEA, a testosterone precursor found in many supplements that Catlin says has little to no benefit. DHEA is a banned substance regardless. But if that’s what Danielson tested positive for, it could open the door to a tainted-supplement defense.

Still, Danielson served a six-month ban from September 1, 2012, to March 1, 2013, after admitting to blood doping while with the Discovery Channel team. So it’s hard to imagine an arbitration panel showing any leniency for a second offense, even if — as one wild rumor has it — the FBI is investigating the possibility that Danielson was sabotaged by someone who slipped DHEA into his food or drink. (Deborah Sherman, Public Affairs Specialist at the FBI’s Denver Field Office, said the FBI does not confirm active or inactive investigations, with the exception of a visible active crime scene or operational activity.)

Though it sounds far-fetched, sabotage wouldn’t be unprecedented. In 1993, after Russian hurdler Ludmila Narozjilenko tested positive for steroids, she claimed her ex-husband spiked her medicine. The International Amateur Athletic Federation overturned her four-year ban after her ex admitted to the tampering.

Something that won’t help Danielson’s case, certainly not in the court of public opinion, is his admission that Levi Leipheimer has been coaching him since April. Leipheimer, of course, admitted in 2012 to having doped throughout his career. And he said he realizes how their working arrangement might look to outside observers.

“It’s understandable that people would doubt him,” Leipheimer said. “I’m sure there will be people who will question me coaching him. When we were teammates on Discovery Channel, he often asked me for advice. And more recently, he wanted me to coach him. It’s something I enjoy doing. I feel confident I know what I’m doing, and I wanted to help him to succeed. But there’s no way I would tell him, or anyone, to take drugs. Not after what we’ve been through.”

Danielson struck a similar tone. “I hate doping,” he said. “I got fucked up from it, left it, and would never go near it again. It makes me sick that people call me a cheater. I’ve had people tell me I should kill myself, that I am a cheater, a doper, a criminal — you name it. I’ve been spit on on rides. I had my car keyed … But I am out there, still training hard, still waving at people. I didn’t do anything wrong, and I’m not going to change who I am.”

Ultimately, it may not matter exactly which substance was in Danielson’s system, nor the amount, nor how it got there. Even if he were able to prove it was a tainted supplement or something more nefarious, every athlete is responsible for everything they put into their body. And with a second offense, he would have a hard time getting the benefit of the doubt.

Already, Danielson is without a team for 2016. “The last time I spoke with Tom was when I informed him, directly, that we wouldn’t be renewing his contract,” Vaughters said. “That was about three weeks ago.” Vaughters says he informed Danielson’s agent back in July — before the positive A sample — that he wouldn’t be pursuing a contract for 2016.

So one thing, at least, seems clear: At 37 years old, with a second offense against him and no contract for 2016, Danielson will likely never again race at the sport’s highest level, if at all.

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Cannondale signs promising youngster Toms Skujins Tue, 27 Oct 2015 23:44:45 +0000

Toms Skujiņš (Hincapie Racing) led the Amgen Tour of California after four stages. Photo: Neal Rogers |

Cannondale has signed promising young Latvian rider Toms Skujins, who won a stage of the Tour of California in 2015.

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Toms Skujiņš (Hincapie Racing) led the Amgen Tour of California after four stages. Photo: Neal Rogers |

Cannondale has signed promising young Latvian rider Toms Skujins, the team announced Tuesday. He attended the team’s recent camp in Aspen, Colorado.

Skujins, who spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons with Hincapie Racing, had a breakthrough season this year, registering several wins at UCI races, including the Winston-Salem Classic in May and three stages of the Tour de Beauce, where he finished second overall.

His biggest result came at the Amgen Tour of California, where he won stage 3 with an impressive solo effort into San Jose to take the race lead, which he held for three stages. He also finished eighth overall at the USA Pro Challenge, and led the UCI’s America’s Tour after finishing second at the Reading 120 in September.

With that result in Reading, the 24-year-old Skujins secured the individual NRC ranking and the top team ranking for the Continental Hincapie Sports team.

Even with those results, Skujins was without a WorldTour contract in mid-September, telling VeloNews he would accept a Pro Continental contract if it came along.

“If I had a good Pro Continental deal, I would take that,” he said. “If they raced in Europe, I’d probably go there. I want to do big races, and a good Pro Continental team with good race calendar would be a good fit.”

Skujins, Cannondale’s final roster signing for 2016, has now made the jump from Continental to WorldTour, bypassing Pro Continental status altogether.

Hincapie Sports manager Tom Craven was effusive in his praise for Skujins earlier this year, describing the young Latvian as a true hardman of the sport.

“The harder the race, the better he goes,” Craven said. “He has an innate ability to fight for position. He’s skinny, like a climber, but he has this massive power, and he seems to have the ability to put it out forever. He was second at U23 Flanders, and he won the Peace Race, those are hardman races. He’s built for that stuff. He’s an incredible bike handler — he’s doing wheelies all over the pace — and with his strength and bike-handling skills, every race he does well in, the longer and harder it is, the more he’s going to shine. He loves being dirty, he loves being wet, he loves being cold — he shines when it gets cold. When it’s raining, and everyone else is trying to hide under doorways, he’s out riding around, giggling.”

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WADA: Doping should not be a criminal offense Mon, 26 Oct 2015 17:45:03 +0000

WADA leader Craig Reedie has stated that cheating athletes should not be punished under criminal code. Photo: AFP PHOTO | LIONEL BONAVENTURE

World Anti-Doping Association issues formal statement that opposes laws that seek to criminalize sports doping offenses.

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WADA leader Craig Reedie has stated that cheating athletes should not be punished under criminal code. Photo: AFP PHOTO | LIONEL BONAVENTURE

The World Anti-Doping Agency [WADA] issued a statement Sunday saying that it does not believe doping should be made a criminal offense for athletes. Responding to “recent commentary via the media suggesting that doping in sport should be made a criminal offence for athletes,” WADA stated that the organization “does not wish to interfere in the sovereign right of any government to make laws for its people.”

Pointing to the existing process, which includes a right of appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport for every athlete, as well as a longer, four-year period of ineligibility for serious doping offenses, WADA stated that the current system has “been globally accepted by sport and government,” while acknowledging that, “countries that have introduced criminal legislation for doping have been effective in catching athlete support personnel that possess or traffic performance enhancing drugs.”

The announcement was made in conjunction with the start of Play The Game, a biannual international conference, held in Denmark, focused on “strengthening the ethical foundation of sport” and “promoting democracy, transparency and freedom of expression in sport.”

Earlier this year, the German government passed draft legislation making it illegal for athletes to use performance-enhancing drugs inside Germany’s borders. The law cites jail terms of up to three years for professional athletes caught using or possessing performance-enhancing drugs. The law, which still must be approved by Germany’s parliament, would affect the approximately 7,000 elite athletes who are subject to the regulations of Germany’s National Anti Doping Agency (NADA). It does not apply to amateur athletes.

Several of Germany’s neighbors — France, Italy, and Austria — have passed legislation that has also criminalized doping.

The German Olympic sports association has voiced reservations, saying the authority of sports federations’ own disciplinary bodies could be affected. A December 2014 Vice Sports editorial, titled “Germany’s Absurd New PED Law and Why It Won’t Fix Anything,” argued that pressure on athletes, whether based on financial incentives or performance, is overwhelming and all encompassing.

On Monday, The Daily Mail reported that Colin Moynihan, Lord of the British Olympic Association, has proposed a new law that would see those caught using performance-enhancing drugs sent to prison for up to two years. The article reports that Moynihan hopes the law will be in place for the 2017 world athletics championships in London, the Sunday Times reported. The law would be framed so any athlete, regardless of nationality, caught doping in the UK could be arrested and made to stand trial in the United Kingdom.

WADA’s statement on Sunday echoes a sentiment expressed by its president, Craig Reedie, in November of 2014, in advance of Germany’s anti-doping law.

The full statement:

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has noted the recent commentary via the media suggesting that doping in sport should be made a criminal offence for athletes.

WADA does not wish to interfere in the sovereign right of any government to make laws for its people. However the Agency believes that the sanction process for athletes, which includes a right of appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), is a settled process, accepted by all governments of the world, and further that the sanctions for a doping violation by an athlete, which now includes a longer, four-year period of ineligibility, have been globally accepted by sport and government. As such, the Agency does not believe that doping should be made a criminal offence for athletes.

WADA and its partners in the anti-doping community do however encourage governments to introduce laws that penalize those who are trafficking and distributing banned substances; those individuals who are ultimately putting banned substances into the hands of athletes. This is a commitment that governments made in ratifying the UNESCO International Convention against Doping in Sport in 2005.

The Agency acknowledges that countries that have introduced criminal legislation for doping have been effective in catching athlete support personnel that possess or traffic performance enhancing drugs. It seems that, given the threat of being imprisoned, these personnel are often more cooperative with anti-doping authorities. We have seen evidence of this in Italy, for example, with a large number of Italian nationals currently listed as having ‘disqualifying status’ under the Prohibited Association clause of the Code – a list that was first issued by WADA in September.

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Quintana’s 2016 homework: Time trials Wed, 21 Oct 2015 18:12:54 +0000

Nairo Quintana has proven himself as a great climber, but the time trials may keep him from taking yellow next year. Photo: Tim De Waele | (File).

Nairo Quintana is a perennial grand tour favorite, but he needs to improve his TT skills to contend for the 2016 Tour title.

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Nairo Quintana has proven himself as a great climber, but the time trials may keep him from taking yellow next year. Photo: Tim De Waele | (File).

In all the discussion following Monday’s Tour de France route announcement, names like Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Fabio Aru, and even Thibaut Pinot have been mentioned. So why has Colombian Nairo Quintana been largely disregarded?

Perhaps that’s because Froome and Pinot attended the route announcement in Paris, while Quintana did not.

Perhaps that’s because, unlike Froome and Contador, Quintana has never won the Tour. However, his track record at the race — a pair of second-place finishes — is staggering for a 25-year-old. Quintana is already a grand tour champion, winner of a difficult 2014 Giro d’Italia, and he rides for the strongest team in pro cycling over the past three years, based on WorldTour team rankings. There’s just one problem: He’s never been a formidable time trialist like Froome or Contador.

The diminutive Colombian climber — he stands at just 5 feet, 5 inches, and 128 pounds — shines in the mountains, but has yet to deliver a time trial at the Tour de France that demonstrates he can hold his own against Froome or Contador. While those men have won TT stages at the Tour, Quintana is still, for the moment, a pure climber, a specialist in power-to-weight, rather than pure power.

At the 2013 Tour, Quintana conceded 3:16 to Froome on the power-heavy 33km TT at Mont Saint-Michel on stage 11, and he lost 1:11 on the hilly 32km stage 17 TT from Embrun to Chorges, won by Froome.

At the 2015 Tour, Quintana held his own in the short, technical, 13.8km opening time trial in Utrecht, losing 11 seconds to Froome and 18 seconds to Vincenzo Nibali, best of the pre-race favorites. Quintana’s Movistar team then rode superbly in the 28km team time trial on stage 9 in Plumelec, conceding only four seconds to BMC Racing, and three seconds to Team Sky.

In 2016, however, there will be no team time trial. Instead, Quintana will face 54km alone in two individual races against the clock — a hilly, 37km course on stage 13, and a 17km uphill effort in the Alps, with its climbs of Domancy and Chozeaux, that will cater to Quintana’s strengths.

And it’s on the 2.5km-long Domancy climb, with its 9.4 percent average gradient, where Quintana could, finally, deliver a Tour de France time trial performance that puts him into yellow — or at least within striking distance. On his way to Giro victory in 2014, he won the stage 19 uphill time trial on the Cima Grappa.

The 2016 Tour will feature four summit finishes, one less than in 2015, but several stages that include a tough climb followed by a short, tricky technical descent to the finish line. In all, the 2016 Tour will include 28 high-categorized climbs, three more than the last two years. The final climbing stage could offer Quintana another chance to shine late in the Grande Boucle. In 2013, he won the final climbing stage, Annecy-Semnoz, and this year, he took 1:20 out of a clearly fatigued Froome on the final climb, l’Alpe d’Huez, on the penultimate stage.

But to have a shot at riding to win yellow in stage 20, Quintana will need a standout time trial in stage 13.

“With much of their 54 kilometers on uphill roads, the time trials will be decisive,” Movistar team manager Eusebio Unzué said. “The final time trial includes lots of mountains, a symbol of the whole race this year, finishing with a crucial stage with its end on the foot of the Joux Plane. There are many deceptive stages, not finishing with a climb, but set to be really spectacular.”

In announcing next year’s route, race director Christian Prudhomme acknowledged, “The Tour is always for the climbers.” Quintana has proven to be arguably the best pure climber in the sport. But he’ll need to refine his TT talents in order to challenge the likes of Froome and Contador for the yellow jersey.

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Rohan Dennis channeling anger for Richmond worlds time trial Wed, 23 Sep 2015 13:01:48 +0000

Rohan Dennis (BMC) put in the ride of his life to win the Tour de France's stage 1 time trial and claim the first yellow jersey of 2015. Photo: AFP PHOTO / ERIC FEFERBERG

When Rohan Dennis finishes Wednesday's world time trial championship, he’ll have fueled his ride with a mix of talent and raw emotion.

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Rohan Dennis (BMC) put in the ride of his life to win the Tour de France's stage 1 time trial and claim the first yellow jersey of 2015. Photo: AFP PHOTO / ERIC FEFERBERG

Whether or not Rohan Dennis wins the world time trial championship in Richmond on Wednesday, he says his admittedly short fuse will have helped him across the line.

The 25-year-old Australian has enjoyed a dream season in 2015, with overall victories at the Santos Tour Down Under and the USA Pro Challenge, a time trial stage win at the Tour de France, a stint as the world Hour Record holder, and team time trial wins at the Tour and world championships.

Yet for all that success, Dennis is also known for his temper. It came up at the USA Pro Challenge in August, where Dennis dominated by winning two of seven stages and finishing second on two others. After winning the opening stage, his BMC Racing teammate Taylor Phinney — who took on painting during his yearlong recovery from injury — referred to Dennis as a “temperamental artist type, a creature of inspiration.”

“I have been known to sort of have a short fuse,” Dennis says, “and I think cycling is the way I let that anger out. That’s how I vent.”

When dealing with the media — something he’s done a lot this season — Dennis comes across as thoughtful and courteous, one of the better interviews in the sport. It’s out on the battlefield, Phinney says, that his temper sometimes shows.

“Rohan is super interesting, and I feel like he trusts me well enough to talk to me,” Phinney says. “For sure, he’s got this temper. He’s kind of like the Hulk. He can just blow up and turn green. I find that you see that a lot with creative types, they have these outbursts of emotion — because that’s kind of what a temper tantrum is.”

That Dennis can be angry is not news. His mid-season switch from Garmin-Sharp to BMC Racing in 2014 was unprecedented and was understood to be, in part, due to differences with team management. More recently, his involvement in a dispute during the USA Pro Challenge — Dennis threw something at a Jamis-Hagens Berman rider who attacked during a BMC-led nature break — showed his confrontational side.

“I’ve always liked things in order,” Dennis says. “So when something really simple hasn’t been done, or something isn’t organized, and I’ve asked for it to be organized — which doesn’t happen very often on BMC — it’s something that can set me off a bit. That’s one of the main things. I’m a bit OCD. That’s the nice way of putting it.”

The mid-season switch last year was also based upon a desire to ride under the mentorship of fellow Australian Allan Peiper, who left Garmin at the end of the 2012 season to join BMC, just as Dennis was coming into the Garmin squad.

“He’s an exciting prospect,” Peiper says. “He has the big motor for us in the TTT, he can climb, and he can time trial. There is pedigree there that says there is GC potential.

“He’s also an angry young man. His reputation proceeds him, and that’s good. You need that tenacity as a rider. It’s not kindergarten out there. It’s war when you go to a race, so you need that edge to rise above adversity.”

But Dennis almost let adversity get to him at the 2014 Australian national championships, where, he admits, he almost quit cycling at age 23 after a crash during the time trial; a gust of wind blew him off his bike, ruining his race and leaving him injured.

“I did everything right, I didn’t deviate from my program, either on or off the bike. I never went out, and I was in an altitude tent for eight weeks, 10 to 14 hours a day,” Dennis says. “Everything came crashing down when I went down on the bike. It was almost like all that emotion and all that effort, and then everything in a split second was all over. Obviously that’s not how I feel now, but it was a very emotional time, and I got caught up in the heat of the moment.

“Now I take a deep breath, and count to 10. And if that doesn’t work, I count to 100.”

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Craddock to Cannondale-Garmin in 2016 Thu, 17 Sep 2015 17:30:30 +0000

Lawson Craddock (Giant-Alpecin) rode the 2015 Vuelta a Espana in support of teammate Tom Dumoulin. Photo: Jim Fryer / BrakeThrough Media |

After spending the past two years with Giant-Alpecin, Craddock, 23, will join the American team as a support rider for grand tours.

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Lawson Craddock (Giant-Alpecin) rode the 2015 Vuelta a Espana in support of teammate Tom Dumoulin. Photo: Jim Fryer / BrakeThrough Media |

American Lawson Craddock will ride for Cannondale-Garmin in 2016. After spending the past two years with Giant-Alpecin, Craddock, 23, will join the American team as a support rider for GC leaders Andrew Talansky and Pierre Roland, as well as a protected GC rider in weeklong stage races.

Craddock joins an impressive list of riders that have signed with Cannondale, including Rolland, Colombian Rigoberto Urán, Dane Matti Breschel, Canadian Mike Woods, and Dutch sprinter Wouter Wippert.

A podium finisher at the 2010 junior Paris-Roubaix, Craddock turned pro last year, finishing third overall at the 2014 Amgen Tour of California. His 2015 season started with a dramatic crash at the Santos Tour Down Under in January, resulting in a broken wrist, rib, and sternum.

The Texas native returned to racing in March, but struggled to find form through the first half of the season. He recently rode the Vuelta a España in support of Tom Dumoulin and John Degenkolb. Dumoulin won two stages and led the race for six days, with Craddock often the last man with him on difficult climbing stages; Degenkolb won the final stage, in Madrid.

“Lawson has proven to be a very versatile rider,” said Cannondale manager Jonathan Vaughters. “I’ve followed Lawson since he was a junior and always thought he was a big talent. But his work for Dumoulin showed me he is also a selfless team player when needed. Ambitious and selfless … Can’t beat that.”

Asked about how he envisions his role at Cannondale-Garmin, Craddock said he would be there to learn, as well as to strive for his own results as the opportunities present themselves.

“I’d like to start getting more personal results,” he said. “I think I have a lot of room to grow as a cyclist. I think I can be a support rider in grand tours. I’d like to be there, to learn as much as I can from the older guys who have been competitive over three weeks. With how the Cannondale team races, they go into some of these harder weeklong races, like Catalunya or Suisse, with a couple of options. Everyone gets opportunities, and they help each other out. I think there will be opportunities to prove myself.”

Craddock was the final rider chosen for the six-man U.S. national team at the Richmond world championships, where he will compete in both the time trial and road race.

“I’m happy to make the team, it’s been a big goal of mine from the beginning of the year,” Craddock said. “I think I’m capable of a good result in time trial. I think I’ve shown that in longer TTs, when the power really matters, I’m able to hold it for an hour. I’ve done well in the past, and I’ll be giving that a good shot. We’ll be seeing how my body adapts, after the Vuelta, but I think I can hit both the time trial and and road race with good form.”

Signing with Cannondale will also reunite Craddock with his close friend and sometimes roommate, Nate Brown. The two rode together for three years at Bontrager-Livestrong. USA Cycling’s athletics director, Jim Miller, coaches both riders. At the 2013 elite national time trial championship, Brown finished third and Craddock fourth — the difference between them was less than one second.

“We’ve been teammates off and on since we were 16,” Craddock said. “When we went to Europe, we moved in together. I know I’ll be able to work well with Nate. I’m really happy to join forces with him again.”

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Top domestic riders question what it takes to make the WorldTour Tue, 15 Sep 2015 19:44:24 +0000

An ecstatic Rob Britton shows off the winner's trophy, alongside second-place finisher Daniel Jaramillo, and third-place finisher Gavin Mannion. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

What does it take for a top domestic rider to make it to the WorldTour? That’s a question several pros are asking themselves.

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An ecstatic Rob Britton shows off the winner's trophy, alongside second-place finisher Daniel Jaramillo, and third-place finisher Gavin Mannion. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

Just what does it take for a top domestic rider to make it to the WorldTour?

That’s the question several pros are asking themselves as the 2015 season comes to a close, and 2016 rosters are filling up.

While it’s possible for some to make a living on the North American circuit, for almost every domestic racer, a WorldTour contract brings increased salary, better team infrastructure, and the chance to compete at the most important races on the calendar. A season spent racing full-time in North America is akin to a season spent in minor-league baseball. The domestic circuit is a stepping-stone — a proving ground — to the big league, and it’s an unspoken understanding that most riders would jump at the opportunity to jump to a WorldTour squad.

Yet this year, few top domestic pros are getting the call up to the big show.

Canadian Mike Woods is one exception; the Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies rider will join Cannondale-Garmin in 2016. It’s likely that his Optum teammate, Phil Gaimon, will join him there. Gaimon is rumored to return to the American squad where he rode in 2014 — before he lost his spot due to the merger between Cannondale and Garmin squads.

American Kiel Reijnen, of UnitedHealthcare, is also set to sign with a WorldTour squad, though he is currently unable to disclose which squad he will join.

However for every rider making the jump, there is a handful whose dream will go unfulfilled next year. And what’s most frustrating, they say, is that there is little rhyme or reason for it.

Canadian Rob Britton was arguably the best domestic stage racer in North America this season, winning the overall at the Tour of the Gila and finishing in the top 10 at the Amgen Tour of California, Tour de Beauce, and, most recently, the USA Pro Challenge, where he finished on the podium behind BMC Racing’s Rohan Dennis and Brent Bookwalter.

Ordinarily, these results would merit a contract to race in Europe, but that hasn’t been the case for Britton, who, at 31, is running out of time to make the leap to the sport’s highest level. With news that his SmartStop team is folding, due to lack of sponsorship, Britton’s search for a 2016 contract intensified. Yet no WorldTour offers have come, and Britton has a letter of intent to sign with an undisclosed domestic Continental squad.

“I think my results have been enough, over the past few years, to prove that this year wasn’t a fluke,” Britton said. “But no, I haven’t had any WorldTour offers. I can’t even get an email returned. Part of me would like to have at least had the opportunity, or at least the opportunity to say, ‘No, but thank you.’ I’ve seen guys go over [to Europe] with significantly lesser results. So, when you ask, ‘What does it take to get a WorldTour contract?’ I’m still looking for the answer.”

Age is not a factor, however, for American Gavin Mannion, 24. A graduate of Axel Merckx’s development program, Mannion rode as a stagiare for Garmin-Sharp at the end of the 2014 season, but remained in North America in 2015, riding for Jelly Belly.

Like Britton, Mannion had stellar results at the biggest UCI stage races in North America this year, finishing second overall at the Redlands Classic, third overall at the Tour of the Gila, and fourth overall at the USA Pro Challenge. He also rode well at the U.S. national road championships, finishing sixth, between Chris Horner and Andrew Talansky.

And like Britton, Mannion will be racing domestically again in 2016. (Mannion also was not able to disclose his 2016 team.)

Though he works with a high-profile agent, Andrew McQuaid — son of former UCI president Pat McQuaid — Mannion said no WorldTour offers have come in. Asked if he’s frustrated by the lack of recognition, Mannion was diplomatic.

“There was maybe more frustration at the end of my last year as U23 [2013],” Mannion said. “Coming from Axel’s team, I spent four years racing with those guys, where the only goal is to end up in the WorldTour. All the guys you are teammates with are making the jump, and I felt like I had good enough results in 2013 to do that — I was eighth overall at Tour de L’Avenir, but it just ended up not working out that year. I came really close. I thought had a contract in September, but it fell through at the last minute. That was the most frustrating fall, or contract season, so far.”

Results in North America ≠ results in Europe

Mannion had a subpar 2014 season, hampered by injuries and illness. His 2015 season was markedly better, but he now faces the prospect of turning 25 next season while racing domestically. He’s not too old to make the jump, yet, but it weighs in the back of his mind.

“I can see why WorldTour teams are a little hesitant to take guys from the U.S. as they get older,” Mannion said. “Racing in Europe, there is such a steep learning curve. You can be the strongest guy in America, but you don’t have to have amazing bike-handling skills, or the ability to ride in the peloton, to win the [National Racing Calendar]. In Europe, all that is amplified. I did a lot of racing there as a U23 and junior. The past two years are the only seasons that I haven’t raced in Europe. I feel like the longer you spend racing in America, and not doing some of the European stuff, the harder it is to get used to that racing style.”

Asked about riders like Britton and Mannion, and Cannondale’s signing of Woods and Gaimon, Jonathan Vaughters said that bringing domestic riders over to Europe is always a risky endeavor, adding that it was Woods’ results in Portugal in March that opened the door, rather than his results at the Tour of the Gila or Tour of Utah

“Racing well in the USA on big roads, high altitude, where it almost never rains… it’s not the same beast as Europe,” Vaughters said. “I signed Mike Woods on what he did in Portugal, not Utah [Woods won the one-day Clássica Internacional Loulé; he also finished fifth on the mountain stage of the Volta ao Algarve]. Europe is whiskey-and-cigarette racing. U.S. racing is organic kale, and then hold hands afterwards.”

Vaughters said that no matter the natural talent, signing a domestic rider to race in the WorldTour almost certainly brings with it difficult process — something Vaughters refers to as “the meat grinder.”

“You have to spend two years waiting for the guy to build in Europe, waiting for them to stop getting sick each week, wait for them to learn to maneuver a huge peloton in small roads,” he said. “It kills them. They suck for two years. Then, the really talented ones start to bounce back, and can race in Europe and the USA. But it’s a long process.”

Latvian rider Toms Skujins (Hincapie Racing) faces a unique dilemma — he’s a young rider with top results in the U.S. looking to get back to Europe.

Skujins had a breakthrough season in 2015, registering several wins at UCI races, including the Winston-Salem Classic, in May, and three stages of the Tour de Beauce, where he finished second overall. His biggest result, however, came at the Amgen Tour of California, where he won stage 3 with an impressive solo effort into San Jose, to take the race lead, which he held for three stages. He also finished eighth overall at the USA Pro Challenge.

Like Mannion, Skujns is working with McQuaid as an agent. He said he’s spoken with a few teams, but is undecided at this point.

“If I had a good Pro Continental deal, I would take that,” Skujins said. “If they raced in Europe, I’d probably go there. I want to do big races, and a good Pro Continental team with good race calendar would be a good fit. So far it looks like that might be a possibility, but I can’t say anything more than that. I don’t have a deal just yet. There are two Pro Continental teams that have shown clear interest, but I’m still on the edge of going there or not. The Hincapie team is really great.”

Results only part of the equation?

One thing that Britton, Mannion, and Skujins share in common is the lingering question of what more they could have done to get the attention of WorldTour team directors. All three riders alluded to the fact that in today’s peloton, for those who are not winning at the highest level, results are only part of what makes a rider attractive to team directors who are constantly looking to bring return on their sponsors’ investments. Britton said he’s seen riders who are very active on social media, but have achieved lesser results than his, receive WorldTour contracts.

“Honestly, not joking, for North American guys, a good social media presence brings value,” Britton said. “People know your name. I think results should speak louder than that, but I think that’s kind of the reality of the world we live in now. It’s not just results, it’s what value you can bring value to the team. And for that, having an awesome Twitter or Instagram account is pretty handy.

“Maybe I train too hard to get off the bike and take pictures,” Britton continued. “Maybe I should take pictures after dinner. I don’t know. Social media hasn’t been a focus for me.”

Skujins agreed, saying that both marketability and nepotism both play a role in how contract decisions are made.

“Social media has become a bigger part of it,” Skujins said. “Sponsors want a return on their investment, and on social media, it gets noticed. That’s what makes the difference sometimes. I think at end of the day, if you are super strong, if you have the results, there’s no way you won’t find a contract, but sometimes it feels like some of the guys get there more because of who they know, rather than their results.

“I feel like I have proven, in terms of results, that I am one of the best guys at the Continental level, and that I would deserve an opportunity to jump to a higher level, but it’s not always just about results,” he continued. “You have to have contacts. You have to have friends. It feels like it’s also who knows who, who can help you. When there are so many guys at a similar level, it becomes ‘Oh, I know that guy is cool, I’ll just take him.’”

Hope springs eternal

As the cycling world descends upon Richmond, for Skujins and Mannion, there is one last opportunity to prove themselves. Skujins will race the team time trial, with Hincapie Racing, and potentially the road race as well, if Latvia secures an unused starting spot from a nation that does not fill its roster. Mannion will also be riding the team time trial, with Jelly Belly.

Last weekend Britton raced the WorldTour events in Canada with his national team, placing 111th in Quebec, and DNF in Montreal, still affected from a training crash in the lead-up to the races; he will not be at worlds, racing in front of WorldTour directors. But if the WorldTour contract never comes for Britton, he’ll be just fine.

“It’s always easier to say, ‘Oh well, I’ve got a comfortable life. It’s not hard living in North America. I did one year with [British Continental team] Raleigh, so I got a bit of a taste of it. I enjoy my quality of life. I love riding my bike, and being a pro cyclist, but there are other things that bring balance to my life. I can’t just do the ‘live, eat, breathe cycling’ 24 hours a day, all year long. I think being over there [in Europe], away from everything … It could kind of crack me.”

Britton added that he’s “genuinely excited” about his new domestic squad for 2016. “I made the choice to sign early and commit to this team not from lack of interest from others, but because they really believe in me and I want to race for them and see what more I can do in North America,” he said.

For Mannion, taking a more relaxed approach to the sport was integral to his 2015 success, he said, so there’s no reason to change a formula that’s worked.

“Ever since the 2013 season, I thought the goal was to make it to the WorldTour,” Mannion said. “Coming into this year, on Jelly Belly, after a tough last year with 5-Hour Energy, I wanted to come in and have fun racing my bike again. Last year wasn’t fun for me, and having Lachlan [Morton] on the team, coming back from the WorldTour looking for the same thing, it was pretty great. I didn’t stress out half as much as I had in past. There was not as much emphasis on results, and I went to races way more relaxed.

“Of course I’m going to race as hard as I can, but I’m not worrying as much about the final result,” Mannion continued. “It ended up way easier for me. Hopefully I’m making a step up to a bigger team. Hopefully I’m working my way towards the WorldTour. I may put a little more pressure on myself next year, but after this year, I’ve come to realize you can be focused and professional, and still have fun. I don’t need to make this sport any harder than it needs to be.”

As for Skujins, hope springs eternal. He’s trying to take it all in stride, hoping that incremental steps will bring him the WorldTour contract he’s dreamed of.

“I was hoping this would be the year I made the jump. I’ve been hoping for it every year, as everyone does,” Skujins said. “But the year is not over yet. Maybe there are not too many races left, but there are still some opportunities for teams that might be looking for one or two more riders.”

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Todd Wells gunning for off-road triathlon nationals Mon, 14 Sep 2015 20:02:59 +0000

Photo: USA Cycling

Todd Wells is branching out and trying his hand at an Xterra triathlon, aiming for stars-and-stripes at national championships in Utah.

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Photo: USA Cycling

American Todd Wells, multi-time U.S. national cross-country and cyclocross champion, will take the start at the Xterra USA National Championship this weekend in Ogden, Utah.

Wells, who has been sponsored by Specialized for nearly a decade, has never competed in an Xterra race, yet he a safe bet to post the fastest bike split of the day, which includes a 1,500-meter swim, 28km cross-country bike and 10km trail run. Though he has virtually zero triathlon experience, Wells, 39, did win his first attempt in March, beating pro triathlete Branden Rakita at the TriZona Triathlon in Tucson.

“That was just a fun triathlon, nothing serious,” Wells said of the TriZona race. “To give you an idea how serious it was, there was a staggered start, and you start by going down a water slide into a lazy river, where you swim two laps against there current. It was a six- or seven-minute swim, and you’re not going to drown, because you can just stand up.”

In that race, Wells, opened up time over Rakita on the bike leg, but lost time during both transitions. “I didn’t have my shoes clipped into pedals, nothing like that,” Wells said. “I caught up to Brandon on the bike, and passed him and opened a gap, but he nullified that in the transition area, where I was pinning on my number before the run. We came out of the transition area just a few seconds apart, and I buried myself to stay with him. Because it had a staggered start, I just had to keep him close enough, I didn’t have to beat him, just stay within the gap of our time slots. It was just a fun race, but it was cool for me to be able to compete with someone who focuses on triathlon.”

A three-time Olympian, Wells has won off-road races as varied as La Ruta de los Conquistadores, the notoriously difficult stage race in Costa Rica, and Leadville Trail 100 MTB, the high-altitude ultra-endurance event. He took national cross-country titles in 2010, 2011 and 2014, and national cyclocross titles in 2001, 2005, and 2010; he’s also the current national marathon cross-country champion, a title he’s won on four occasions.


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BMC Racing owners address rumors of sponsorship concern Fri, 28 Aug 2015 17:37:39 +0000

BMC Racing team owners Jim Ochowicz (left) and Andy Rihs at the 2015 USA Pro Challenge. Photo by Neal Rogers.

BMC Racing team owners addressed rumors that the team’s future is uncertain beyond 2016, saying that they are actively building towards

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BMC Racing team owners Jim Ochowicz (left) and Andy Rihs at the 2015 USA Pro Challenge. Photo by Neal Rogers.

BMC Racing team owners Andy Rihs and Jim Ochowicz have addressed rumors that the team’s future is uncertain beyond 2016, saying that they are actively building towards 2017 and 2018.

Amid late-season transfer news and rumors, questions about BMC’s long-term future have arisen, due to the fact that several of the team’s biggest signings for 2016, including Richie Porte and Samuel Sanchez, are on one-year deals. Likewise, American Tejay van Garderen is on contract only through 2016.

In June, Ochowicz, the team’s general manager, downplayed reports of a possible merger with IAM Cycling in 2017, to form a Swiss-registered WorldTour team, though he acknowledged that he was seeking additional sponsorship.

At the USA Pro Challenge last week, Ochowicz would not comment on any rider contracts beyond 2016 but insisted that the team is “full speed ahead,” and that he is currently planning well beyond next season.

“Half of the stuff I read doesn’t even come close to the truth,” Ochowicz said. “People are speculating. We’re not uncertain about anything. We’re planning, and building, the team, for the future. I’ve got riders, and staff, we’re thinking far ahead in our planning. My job is to plan ahead. The strategy within the team is going that direction. I can’t predict when it’s going to stop, but we’re full steam ahead right now… my head is already in 2017, 2018.”

Rihs and Ochowicz are co-owners of Continuum Sports, which holds the UCI license for the WorldTour team based in Santa Rosa, California. Rihs is also the owner of BMC Switzerland, the team’s bike partner and long-term title sponsor.

Rihs, who is Swiss, made his money with Phonak Hearing Systems and sponsored a team under the Phonak brand from 2000 through 2006. He ended that association after Phonak rider Floyd Landis won the Tour de France but was stripped of the title. The following year the BMC program began in California as a Continental team managed by Gavin Chilcott. The team made the jump to Pro Continental in 2009 and to the ProTeam level in 2011. The team won that year’s Tour de France with Cadel Evans.

At the USA Pro Challenge, Rihs confirmed that the team is looking for additional sponsors but that BMC will “always come first. It’s not a question of the team, it’s a question of sponsorship only,” Rihs said. “The team will probably continue as long as BMC exists, but we are looking for additional sponsors. But BMC will always be first. Then, if Apple wants to come on, okay, we’ll be BMC-Apple. We can live with that.”

F0r his part, Ochowicz says he is open to all options, including that of the title sponsor position.

“We live on sponsorship dollars,” he said. “We don’t have a ticket gate to sell, and we don’t have TV rights to share. The only money we get is sponsorship dollars. So, of course we’re always looking for more money. I can’t predict whether BMC will always be the title sponsor, we may find someone that wants to take over the team — maybe, maybe not — but BMC will always be a bike partner, for sure.”

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BMC, Jamis directors address tensions from USA Pro Challenge Fri, 28 Aug 2015 04:07:17 +0000

Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly) helped BMC Racing chase down the break on Independence Pass during the early part of stage 4, from Aspen to Breckenridge. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

In pro cycling, there are at least two sides to every story, with unwritten rules interpreted differently by varying parties.

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Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly) helped BMC Racing chase down the break on Independence Pass during the early part of stage 4, from Aspen to Breckenridge. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

BMC Racing steamrolled the competition at the USA Pro Challenge last week, winning four of seven stages, with three different riders, and taking first and second on the general classification. Behind the scenes, however, domestic riders complained of the team’s strong-arm tactics in the peloton.

Previously documented, both here on VeloNews and in a column by Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies rider Phil Gaimon on, tensions were high between visiting UCI WorldTeams and the domestic teams that race in North America all season long.

Some references to the tensions within the bunch were purposefully opaque. Robbie Squire of Hincapie Racing sat third overall after four stages, and complained that those “riding at the front” had hassled him. When pressed, he said he preferred not to name specific riders or teams. However BMC led the race, riding at the front, from stages 2 through 7.

“People like to ask me what I’m doing, riding at the front, that sort of stuff, ‘show some respect’ … on the climb, at the base of the climb, people don’t like to give us wheels,” Squire said. “But hey, do what you want? We’re here to race bikes.”

After four stages, Squire’s teammate Robin Carpenter had a similar complaint. Without naming any riders or teams, he tweeted:

Not everything was vague, however. There was video footage of Trek Factory Racing’s Laurent Didier, wearing the orange jersey of most aggressive rider, purposefully blocking Daniel Jaramillo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) from passing on Independence Pass, forcing the Colombian off the road, which resulted in a crash.

The following day, Trek’s press officer Tim Vanderjeugd told VeloNews Didier would apologize: “He made a wrong decision and there’s no excuse. That’s very clear to us. Laurent tells me they spoke during the race already, but maybe both their heart rates were still too high then.”

Jamis director Sebastian Alexandre confirmed that Didier apologized to Jaramillo during Friday’s stage 5 time trial, in Breckenridge.

The incident with Didier wasn’t Jaramillo’s only brush with a WorldTour rider on stage 4. Earlier, when he attacked from the peloton on Independence Pass, his move was met with hostility from BMC, resulting in yelling and something being thrown at the Colombian.

What exactly was thrown was has been debated, with Jaramillo and several of his Jamis teammates telling Alexandre that a water bottle was thrown.

BMC Racing director Jackson Stewart, who spoke with Alexandre about the incident after stage 4, said that it was only a wrapper from a panini sandwich and that the act of aggression must be understood in the context of when it happened — after, he said, the day’s breakaway had been established and race leader Rohan Dennis had pulled over for a nature break.

“Supposedly there was a water bottle thrown at a Jamis rider. I hadn’t heard anything about it until Sebastian called me,” Stewart said. “The funny thing is, I saw this whole situation. … I didn’t see anything thrown, because they went around a corner on the climb. I don’t know what kilometer it was, but it seemed like we’d controlled, maybe 15km up this climb. Maybe 10km. The break was gone. It was five, seven guys. I don’t know if [the breakaway] was together yet, or whatever.

“Watching the race, it seemed like things were established, and it was a good, acceptable time to call the truce and do the piss break,” Stewart continued. “And of course, it’s to the yellow jersey’s advantage to do a piss break on the climb, or any time, really. And I see this left-side attack. I could tell it was a Jamis rider, but I didn’t see the number. And I see Brent [Bookwalter] and [Michael] Schar sprint after it, and then they went around the bend. I was certain there were words exchanged. I’m not sure how anyone would think otherwise. I didn’t know anything was thrown. … It’s one thing to be a bully, and trust me, anyone that races bikes knows that stuff goes on … but they accuse us of throwing a water bottle, and I have two guys telling me it was the paper from the Panini that Rohan was eating when they called the piss stop. So it was a Panini, it bounces off your back. I’m assuming. I didn’t see it. There’s no video or anything. But I talked to my guys, and I believe them.”

Stewart said that the aggression was because Jaramillo broke an unwritten rule in cycling that no riders will attack the race leader during a nature break — a tactic often employed by the race leader to ensure a suitable breakaway is given sufficient leash to go clear.

“Sebastian called me, and said, ‘Look, we’re a small team, we need some respect. This is unacceptable.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, of course, if Rohan did this, I’ll talk to him, it’s not acceptable,” Stewart said. “But you also have to understand, if you attack our guys, with the yellow jersey’s foot out, pissing, you’re going to make someone angry. If you had the jersey, it’d be the same.’ Those are just little rules that we follow…. It’s not a bullying thing, it’s a respect thing. Those guys are totally right, we don’t need to be throwing anything at them, or bullying anyone. But it’s also a respect thing, you know?”

When asked to address an incident that took place two weeks earlier on stage 6 of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, when BMC’s Joey Rosskopf attacked from the peloton after race leader Mike Woods (Optum) had called a nature break, Stewart said that situation had been different because the day’s breakaway had not yet been established.

“[Optum] tried to call it when things were totally out of control,” Stewart said. “So that’s the difference. Joey said the race was still going. And that’s the difference. When you have the yellow jersey, you call it when you’ve demonstrated that the race is under your control. It’s like a truce: ‘Seven guys are there, those are the ones that made it, otherwise we’ll bring it back, and we’ll let this go.’ That’s how it always is. And they tried to use the yellow jersey as a trick. It’s like saying, ‘Guys, I’m taking a piss’ at 1km. It just doesn’t work that way. And it’s not their fault. You try every trick you can. But everyone can see the race, and it was still full gas. They were losing control, they weren’t as strong. And at that point, it’s not an acceptable time to call it.”

Alexandre’s version of what happened on Independence Pass differs from Stewart’s. According to the Jamis director, the breakaway had not yet been established.

“The team plan was to try to get Jaramillo into the break,” Alexandre said. “We know he is close on GC. The BMC guys were not confident in letting him get too many minutes. On stage 3 he was in the break, as well and Dion Smith (Hincapie Racing), so that is the why [BMC] needed to ride all day and keep the break close. But Jaramillo was dropped on the climb. So on stage 4, there was an uphill start, we tried to get him to get some KOM points, that was one of the goals for us. BMC didn’t want him in the break. They yelled at him, and actually threw a bottle at him, and to [Jamis rider] Stephen Leece they throw something, we don’t know what it was, but apparently it was food.

“It’s not something you can tolerate,” Alexandre continued. “We understand when they didn’t want to stop… the break wasn’t established. We know the unwritten rules, but we are here to race. We need to represent our sponsors. BMC is the best team in the race, they are one of the best teams in the world. They don’t need to do that. They don’t need to yell at the rider because he is trying to represent his sponsor and his team. Throwing a bottle or food, that’s not something we need.”

Later in that stage, after BMC reeled in the breakaway containing Jaramillo and Didier, BMC’s Damiano Caruso went into the daylong breakaway, sitting on his companions before attacking alone. With Cannondale-Garmin driving the chase, Caruso was caught with about 30 kilometers remaining, and Dennis went on to win the stage.

One domestic team director, who spoke on condition of anonymity, complained that BMC had been “greedy” by having Caruso sit on the breakaway.

“BMC has got a $30 million budget. They’ve got two stage wins, and first and second on GC, and then Caruso sits on the breakaway for 100 miles before attacking? Couldn’t they have just let the smaller teams fight it out for a stage win?”

Stewart said if Jaramillo had not attacked on Independence Pass, the initial breakaway would have gone to the line without BMC’s representation.

“We would have let that break go,” Stewart said. “We tried to, with that pee stop. That pee stop didn’t have Caruso in the breakaway. We would have let that go. It was gone. It was going to the line. It didn’t have anyone under 1:30 down. The guy who attacked us [Jaramillo] was 1:30 down. We didn’t ruin it for anyone. We protected our interest. We were letting the stage go away, and then a GC threat went up the road, and we had to chase it. Trust me, in the meeting, it was like, ‘Guys, let’s give this away.’ We don’t have interest in winning the stage. We have the jersey, let’s take it home. Caruso got into the next move out of defense, so that we wouldn’t have to chase it back. Because it had [Roman] Kreuziger, it had big names, and we had no one really looking to chase. And we had no one helping us, either.”

In his online column, Gaimon, a rider who has raced on both sides of the WorldTour/Continental divide, addressed both perspectives.

To the WorldTour riders, Gaimon wrote, “The rider that attacks the pee break is only doing it because he wasn’t strong enough to go when everyone else was attacking. He can’t make it across. He’ll fry in no man’s land for a while and come back before the feed zone, his jersey covered in salt. When he does, you should yell at him. He’s not attacking to disrespect you. He’s doing it so he can keep his job.”

And to the Continental riders, Gaimon wrote, “You know how you get annoyed when an amateur tries to take your wheel at a local race? To the WorldTour guys, you’re an amateur. If they gave you a chance to make the break, but you’re not fit enough be at the front, that’s your fault. Accept it. Don’t worm your way up when it’s gone… Sometimes, you might have to break the rules. Make sure it’s worth it. And expect to get yelled at.”

As for Alexandre, he said he’s directed teams in the U.S. for eight years without complaining about interactions with other teams, but felt that BMC’s actions on stage 4 crossed the line.

“For people who know me, and know our program, we’ve never had any issues, so I just feel like I have to say something,” he said. “I could stay quiet, and just forget it, but I just needed to speak up for my riders. Respect to the others is something that is very important to me, no matter if is the best rider in the race or an amateur. The idea with all this is to stop it from happening in the future. Everyone deserves respect. We got the support of several riders and teams. That was something very nice to my boys, as they didn’t do anything wrong. They were just trying to race. Whether it’s someone throwing a bottle or Panini, it’s the same for me in this case. It’s violence, and we don’t need it in cycling.”

Stewart said that he believes his riders understand where the line is drawn, and that as a former rider for the third-division Ofoto and Nevada teams, he’s cognizant of the struggles small domestic teams face.

“Yelling at someone is one thing,” he said. “I raced bikes, I got yelled at every friggin’ day. Even assaulted. And assaulted, that’s unacceptable. Throwing, crashing, pushing, that’s unacceptable. But words are just words. Yelling is going to happen, no matter what. These guys, they want to win. And they’re going to do everything they can to win. If they cross the line, they need to be reprimanded for it. I’m glad Sebastian called me. We don’t need to be doing things that are unacceptable. And honestly, I don’t think we did.

“But it’s like there’s this thing, where we’re the bad guy, because we’re the biggest,” Stewart said. “But we’re not always the biggest. At Utah, we couldn’t win a single stage. We’re in the bike race, just like everyone else. In America, we have to separate this from a big-team, little-team thing, and that we want to squash you. We’re all here in the same competition. They always seem to exaggerate it. I’m just getting tired of this bullying thing. I came from those teams. That’s the last thing I want to do, is to step on a small program that’s trying to develop riders.”

Unlike perhaps any other pro sport, professional cycling is rife with unwritten rules as 15-20 teams simultaneously battle one another for various objectives. With its fast pace, varying abilities and team budgets, and language barriers, it’s a perfect scenario for tension at 50kph. And while there’s much that is unclear, what is clear is that, in the pro peloton, there are at least two sides to every story, with unwritten rules being interpreted differently by varying parties as it suits their own interests. And that’s not likely to change.

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Kiel Reijnen, America’s best rider not on a WorldTour team Mon, 24 Aug 2015 17:52:24 +0000

Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare) won his second consecutive green jersey at the USA Pro Challenge Sunday. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

Reijnen's career is on a different course than some of his peers, but he's worked his way to the very front of the young U.S. peloton.

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Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare) won his second consecutive green jersey at the USA Pro Challenge Sunday. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado (VN) — For a second consecutive year, American Kiel Riejnen of UnitedHealthcare finished the USA Pro Challenge wearing the green jersey. Just as he did in 2014, Reijnen won one stage, and finished on the podium, or close to it, often enough to seal the points competition.

This year, his stage win and green jersey came on the back of a stage win, and three days in the leader’s jersey, at the Tour of Utah, which followed a third-place at the U.S. pro road championship — a result that very likely would have been a victory, had Reijnen not punctured on the final, closing circuit in Chattanooga. Reijnen was the strongest sprinter in a small bunch when his rear wheel lost air crossing the finish line with one small lap remaining.

Last year, Reijnen’s stage win and green jersey in Colorado came after a win at the UCI 1.1. Philadelphia Cycling Classic, which was his second consecutive victory there, on a course that features a kilometer-long uphill finish on the Manayunk Wall.

All totaled, the picture emerges of a rider capable of winning reduced-bunch sprints, uphill finishes, and defending both yellow and green jerseys at major U.S. races. Though he’s not an outright sprinter, climber, or GC rider, Reijnen, 29, is a proficient all-rounder — a rider in the mold of a Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), albeit with less horsepower. (He’s also finished third overall at the Tour of Qinghai Lakes, in 2010, and won the king of the mountains at the Tour de Langkawi, earlier this year.)

The national championships in particular have been a thorn in Reijnen’s side. A fiercely patriotic American, who hails from Bainbridge Island, Washington, but lives in Boulder, Colorado, Reijnen has stated several times that he dearly wants to wear the stars-and-stripes jersey of national road champion. Instead, however, he’s finished third an agonizing four times since 2010.

An intelligent athlete — he’s still just six credits shy of completing a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Colorado — and one of the better interviews in American cycling, Reijnen is a popular and well-respected rider among fans, the media, his teammates, and his competitors.

All this begs the question — why is Kiel Reijnen the best American rider without a WorldTour contract?

In part, he said, it’s because the right offer hasn’t come his way. And it’s also because, for Reijnen — whose UnitedHealthcare Pro Continental squad races internationally, including at events like Milano-Sanremo, Strade Bianche, and Fleche Wallonne — a European contract isn’t the ultimate goal.

“Some of that is in my control, and some of it is out of my control,” Reijnen said, when asked why he’s not racing at the WorldTour level. “It’s a very subjective sport that way. There are only so many teams, and only so many directors. Those directors get an idea in their head of what they are looking for, in riders, for each year, and there’s a lot of thought that goes into that. There’s definitely a lot of pressure on them to put together a team. … It’s not easy. In the defense of the many directors out there, they don’t know who is going to get injured, how one rider is going to get along with another rider, there’s so many dynamics on the road, and at races. It’s a tough job.”

“I’m not the best at promoting myself,” he continued. “I have a hard time doing that. And at the same time, it’s not like I’ve spent the last four years desperately looking for any WorldTour contract I can get my hands on.”

Reijnen said that his age — he turned 29 in June — probably plays a factor, as well as the fact that he’s quite content living and racing in the U.S. on the strongest team in the States.

“Part of it is because I haven’t gotten the right offer, and part of that is because I love what I do here,” he said. “I’m not so enchanted with the idea of living and racing in Europe. I know what that takes. I’ve seen a lot of guys do it, for better and for worse. It’s not me, by default. But I’m sure I could make it work, for the right situation.”

Last October, Reijnen was among about 20 American riders invited by USA Cycling to preview the upcoming world championships course in Richmond Virginia.

With the technical urban circuit, and short, punchy climbs in Richmond, Reijnen — along with Alex Howes (Cannondale-Garmin), Brent Bookwalter and Taylor Phinney (both BMC Racing) — is among Team USA’s best shot at taking a medal. His performance in Colorado, and the favorable Richmond course, almost certainly merits him a spot on the national team.

Racing for his country, wearing national colors, is an honor Reijnen doesn’t take lightly, and it’s something he said he desperately would like to do in Rio de Janeiro next summer. And he knows that, in order to do that, he’d likely need to either medal at worlds or get a major result at a WorldTour event.

Though the UHC team has tried, repeatedly, it has yet to garner a wildcard invitation to the Giro d’Italia, often overlooked for Italian teams such as Androni Giocattoli, Bardiani-CSF, Nippo-Vini Fantini, and Southeast.

“For the right offer, for the right team, for the right situation, I’d [move to Europe to live and race], for sure,” Reijnen said. “There are some goals I have yet to accomplish. I’d really like to make the Olympic team, and that’s hard if you’re not doing a grand tour. But I also have a lot of faith in this program. I’m not typical in the sense that my one and only goal is to make a WorldTour team.

“I love my team. I would do … almost anything for the guys on this team,” Reijnen added. “They have a lot of faith in me, and I have a lot of faith in them. I love the program, and having that mutual faith is really important to me. If I was just floating on a team, I wouldn’t be happy, and I wouldn’t be performing, if I didn’t have that ‘Band of Brothers’ feeling. That’s what is really important to me. And it’s not just riders, it’s staff, it’s everybody, management. I’ve found that at UHC, and I’ve thrived with it. It’s made a big difference for me. So I’m not quick to leave them.”

UnitedHealthcare’s John Murphy won the final stage of the USA Pro Challenge on Sunday -Ed.

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Squire seeks respect with USA Pro Challenge podium in his sights Fri, 21 Aug 2015 14:30:17 +0000

Robbie Squire is outnumbered on the Pro Challenge podium, but he's looking to stay there. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

Robbie Squire of Hincapie Racing is third overall entering Friday's time trial, but he says the peloton hasn't been kind to him.

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Robbie Squire is outnumbered on the Pro Challenge podium, but he's looking to stay there. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado (VN) — Heading into Friday’s stage 5 time trial in Breckenridge, the top three riders of the USA Pro Challenge are a Tour de France maillot jaune wearer, a veteran super domestique, and… Robbie Squire?

You heard that right. American Robbie Squire, 25, is having the ride of his life in Colorado, sitting third overall at 26 seconds down on Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing).

The Hincapie Racing rider put in a monstrous, late-race attack on Moonstone Road into Breckenridge Thursday, shattering the front group and forcing Dennis to leave behind his teammate, race leader Brent Bookwalter, in order to chase Squire down. From there, Dennis went on to solo to victory, while Bookwalter caught Squire on the descent and out-sprinted him for second place.

“I remembered doing this climb last year,” Squire said. “I remembered the suffering … turning and going up, further and further. It was two pitches more than I was hoping. The crowds were so far down the hill, I thought I was going to crest sooner than I did.”

Still, Squire’s ride moved him from fifth overall to third, 26 seconds behind Dennis and 13 seconds behind Bookwalter. And while there are still three hard days of racing left, Squire’s current form and aggressive racing bode well for an overall podium finish in Denver on Sunday.

Either way, it’s been an impressive week for the 6-foot-1, 150-pound rider from Utah who has bounced from team to team and battled with health issues over the past five years as he’s sought to capitalize on the potential he first showed with an under-23 national road title in 2011.

After two years with Slipstream Sports at the Chipotle-First Solar development team, Squire did a short-lived stint with the Italian team Ceramica Flaminia-Fondriest squad in 2013. That fell apart quickly, and he joined Amore & Vita for the remainder of the 2013 season. He spent last year with Jamis-Hagens Berman before joining Hincapie Racing this year.

Squire finished ninth overall at the Tour of Utah earlier this month, and looks set to improve on that result in Colorado.

“The biggest thing is the confidence boost this team has put behind me,” Squire said. “When you are having health issues, it’s easy to get into a downward spiral, but from the beginning of the year, the team has had confidence in me.”

A lack of respect?

On Wednesday, after Squire finished 15th in Aspen and held his fifth overall position, he was asked if he was “quietly” moving into podium contention. His answer was as surprising as it was defiant.

“If you were in the bunch, you’d see it’s not so quiet,” he said. “Everyone likes to give me a hard time. Everyone knows my name, and they love to hate. Whatever.”

Asked for clarification, he answered, “People like to ask me what I’m doing, riding at the front, that sort of stuff, ‘show some respect’… on the climb, at the base of the climb, people don’t like to give us wheels. But hey, do what you want? We’re here to race bikes. I’m here to race bikes. It’s a bike race. Some people like to tell me how to race my bike, but … whatever. I don’t care about them.”

Though Squire preferred not to name any riders or teams that were hassling him, the intonation was clear — since winning the first stage and taking the yellow jersey, the team controlling the front of the peloton has been BMC Racing.

Squire’s wasn’t the first complaint about interactions between UCI WorldTeams and domestic teams at this Pro Challenge. On Thursday, Squire’s teammate Robin Carpenter took to Twitter to vocalize his displeasure over the actions of some WorldTour riders in Colorado:

Also on Thursday, on the early ascent of Independence Pass, Trek Factory Racing’s Laurent Didier could be seen clearly elbowing Jamis rider Daniel Jaramillo as the Colombian rider attempted to pass on the inside of a turn in the battle for KOM points. The effect of Didier’s movement left, and the elbow, caused Jaramillo to run off the road and crash.

Regardless of the dynamics between the bigger-budget WorldTeams and the smaller-budget domestic teams, Squire is confident heading into the time trial that he would hold his podium position among GC contenders.

“I’ve been on the podium before at UCI races — the little Latin American races, in the Dominican Republic, and Guatemala,” he said. “It’s nice, it’s one on one, and I think the TT course is good for me. It’s not pan flat, out and back, it’s got a bit of a kick in it. I think the steepest hill we climb this entire race is in the time trial.”

Asked if he felt his options for winning were limited — because of his GC position, he won’t be able to ride into breakaways, and it will be almost impossible to unseat both Dennis and Bookwalter for the GC victory — Squire seemed unfazed.

“Every day, I’m trying to win,” he said after stage 3. “I tried to win today, I’m trying to win tomorrow. I think at altitude, the breakaways are sometimes forced. It’s too hard. BMC is strong as hell, but there’s always a chance, with this parcours, to force something. I think our team is known for attacking, and for racing, and we’re going to try to race, regardless of what the formula typically is.”

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Dennis takes Pro Challenge lead from Bookwalter, likely for good Fri, 21 Aug 2015 13:04:30 +0000

Rohan Dennis now leads the USA Pro Challenge with three stages left. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

The BMC rider wins stage 4 in Breckenridge, snatching the leader's jersey from teammate Brent Bookwalter (left) ahead of Friday's TT.

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Rohan Dennis now leads the USA Pro Challenge with three stages left. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado (VN) — With a demonstrative solo stage win in Breckenridge, BMC Racing’s Rohan Dennis proved Thursday he is the strongest rider at this fifth edition of the USA Pro Challenge. And with a technical, undulating 14-kilometer time trial on tap Friday — Dennis is expected to take the stage win and expand his lead — the young Australian will almost certainly open an insurmountable gap atop the general classification.

Dennis took the leader’s jersey from teammate Brent Bookwalter in Breckenridge, ending any and all speculation as to whether or not he would ride for GC victory or ride to support Bookwalter, the American super-domestique who is seven years his senior.

Those questions were answered via a late-race attack by young American Robbie Squire (Hincapie Racing), who surged ahead of a reduced bunch on the short, steep climb of Moonstone Road on Boreas Pass with 4km remaining. Dennis was positioned ahead of Bookwalter when Squire attacked, and for a moment, both BMC riders allowed the Hincapie rider to open a small gap.

As they grew closer to the summit, Bookwalter drifted back, while Dennis was compelled to chase — Squire started the stage fifth overall, 13 seconds behind Bookwalter and seven seconds behind Dennis.

Dennis caught Squire and accelerated over the top, riding solo to victory. Bookwalter caught Squire on the quick descent into Breckenridge, finishing second on the stage. It was the third BMC stage win in four stages by three different riders, and it kept the race lead within the squad, which has won the Pro Challenge the past two years under American Tejay van Garderen, who skipped the Colorado race to instead compete at the Vuelta a España.

“I was in the red,” Dennis said. “I kept looking at my power, making sure I didn’t go too far. I sort of let Robbie go a little bit, and then used him as a bit of a carrot. I was honestly playing mind games with myself. I was waiting for 1km to go, and I never saw it. Then I saw 200m to go, and the crowd was going nuts. I clicked it into a bigger gear and went. It hurt, I won’t lie. But there was a lot of adrenaline, knowing you are over the top first, and there is a gap. It gives you a boost.”

Dennis’ stage win served as confirmation of the aggressive, all-out racing he’s exercised since the opening stage. Though he initially downplayed his GC chances, claiming he was not yet acclimated to Colorado’s high altitude, Dennis has demonstrated on every stage of this race he is the strongest rider in the peloton.

Thursday morning, prior to the stage 4 start in Aspen, VeloNews asked Dennis his thoughts about the fact that, while a Pro Challenge victory would be the biggest result of Bookwalter’s career, for Dennis, it wouldn’t even be the biggest result of his stellar 2015 season. Dennis was frank in his answer.

“I’ve thought about that, and… I can’t control other people’s results,” he said. “[Bookwalter] is a really good mate. He’s the best teammate you could have. But I can’t really let that get in the way. Obviously I have to make sure I don’t lose time today, because if anything does happen to one of us, we need to have more options. If we’re both 1-2 after the time trial, it’s just better that way. As long as one of us wins, it doesn’t matter.”

If there were any hard feelings at the finish line in Breckenridge, Bookwalter deserves an Academy Award for downplaying them. Seconds after crossing the finish line, Bookwalter hugged Dennis emphatically, high-fiving his teammates and BMC team staff.

“All in the family, man,” Bookwalter said. “It’s all good.”

“Robbie Squire put in hard acceleration, and I had to say ‘no can do,’” Bookwalter said. “Rohan gave it a little bit of a gap. Our tactic going into the stage was to save a bit for the last 200 meters over the top. That’s when you are loaded with lactic acid, totally anaerobic, with no oxygen. Rohan smacked it over the top. I did the same to get on terms with Robbie, and then I sat on him over the downhill.”

Asked later about his emotions of losing the race lead, and to a teammate, Bookwalter expanded.

“There is some disappointment in losing the jersey,” he said. “As I’ve said, opportunities to wear a leader’s jersey don’t come along every race for me. That said, I had a great two days in jersey, and that came about from teamwork, and especially teamwork from Rohan, and that put me there. There are no hard feelings. I’m really happy for him. In hindsight, this was good team tactic, coming into the race — Rohan was quick to deflect his ambitions, he didn’t want the pressure. The best thing we could do was tell him to ride as hard as he could on the front. He did, and he’s now in great position to win the race.”

Dennis said he was sincere when he initially thought he wouldn’t be adapted to altitude in time to compete for the overall in Colorado.

Asked if he’d been coy about his GC ambitions, Dennis answered, “I’ve tried to flick myself every day. On the first day, at 40km to go, then again at 20km. On the second day I rode from the bottom to the top of the final climb [Arapahoe Basin], thinking I’d get dropped. Yesterday I rode up Independence Pass, start to finish, with a bit of help from Michael Schar. Today I rode up [Moonstone Road] as hard as I could. I honestly wasn’t planning on riding for GC, it just happens I’ve stepped up a few levels, the last few years, and altitude doesn’t affect me as much as I’d thought.”

For Dennis, a time trial specialist with a track background, the emotion of a solo victory on road stage that featured a late-race climb, at altitude, was significant.

“That doesn’t happen too often, I’m usually on the podium in a team time trial, or an individual time trial, so a stage with a hilltop and a small descent is pretty special,” Dennis said. “I was excited, it was electric, just like Brent and Taylor [Phinney] said after their stage wins this week. On the podium I was looking around at the crowd, and it was one of the special moments of my career, that’s for sure.”

Next up is Friday’s time trial, a short effort that features the same steep ascent of Moonstone Road and a quick descent back into town. Three of the best TT riders in the bunch all wear BMC jerseys — Dennis, Bookwalter, and Phinney.

“The time trial was my initial goal, and I’m aiming to take that stage win as well,” Dennis said. “Then it’s all about protecting that lead, and then second with Brent. Unless I have a bad one, and he smokes me, and then we’ll swap around again.”

As for Bookwalter, he said losing the jersey might actually help him in his race against the clock.

“If anything, I have a little bit less pressure, which might help me do a better time trial,” he said. “I’m inspired to finish off this week of racing. My dream scenario would be to go 1-2 in the GC. It will be hard to do, but it’s not impossible. That will be my motivation. Finishing on the podium of the USA Pro Challenge would be a highlight of my career.”

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Bouchard-Hall wants USAC to ‘establish itself as vehemently anti-doping’ Thu, 20 Aug 2015 21:09:32 +0000

USA Cycling's new CEO, Derek Bouchard-Hall is on what he calls a "listening campaign" to gather feedback from the organization's many stakeholders, from racers to organizers, to officials, and more. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | USA Cycling

Derek Bouchard-Hall, the new CEO at USA Cycling doesn't want to dwell on past mistakes, is on a "listening campaign" to gather feedback.

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USA Cycling's new CEO, Derek Bouchard-Hall is on what he calls a "listening campaign" to gather feedback from the organization's many stakeholders, from racers to organizers, to officials, and more. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | USA Cycling

ASPEN, Colorado (VN) — Imagine coming in to take over an organization as vast, and troubled, as USA Cycling.

The scope of the national cycling federation ranges from Tour de France stars to passionate volunteers, from aspiring Olympians to veteran age-groupers, from corporate sponsors to intrepid race officials. If it involves competitive cycling in the United States, it concerns USA Cycling, whether or not the federation is directly involved.

Though he wasn’t quite an outsider when he was appointed CEO and president by USA Cycling’s board of directors in late April — he is a former national criterium champion and member of the 2000 Olympic track squad — Derek Bouchard-Hall is now running the federation without having served a day in any other role at the organization.

And while Bouchard-Hall, 44, has a substantial racing pedigree, USA Cycling chairman Bob Stapleton stressed that it was his impressive management and business experience that saw the federation select him from a pool of 47 qualified candidates put forth by executive recruitment firm Korn Ferry.

Bouchard-Hall holds degrees from Stanford, Princeton, and Harvard, and served as an executive with Wiggle, one of the world’s largest online retailers of cycling equipment, from October 2011 until May of this year.

And that’s a good thing, as Bouchard-Hall has his work cut out for him. He has taken over leadership of a federation that has struggled for years to connect with many of its members. More gravely, it is also still reeling from accusations that outgoing CEO Steve Johnson knew of doping practices at the U.S. Postal Service team as far back as 2006.

Some are looking to him, and USAC, to take on a more firm position when it comes to fighting doping in cycling. Bouchard-Hall called the doping issue “a real black eye,” saying he intends to see USA Cycling “firmly establish itself as vehemently anti-doping,” and the “voice of moral authority.”

Asked if his hiring was part of a regime change, Bouchard-Hall answered, “I think there is a change. It’s a natural evolution of the organization, to go through changes in direction and leadership.”

“USA Cycling is a very interesting organization,” he said. “I was part of it as athlete. I knew what the organization had evolved and matured a lot, that there were a lot of strengths to organization, and that is great to see. We are in a strong financial position. We have a good staff here, it works well together. There is a lot to build off of, but it is still a small, mature organization.

“The board is very interested in building on where it is now, going forward,” he continued. “It’s not lost on me that there are many people who feel let down by USA Cycling in some disciplines. There are areas where people would like to see us do more. I’ve gained a sense of the areas we want focus on. I don’t want to dwell on the errors of the past. I’d rather focus on the opportunities that we have in front of us.”

More than anything, since his hiring, Bouchard-Hall — who is attending the USA Pro Challenge in Breckenridge, Colorado, on Thursday and Friday — said he’s been on a “significant listening campaign,” listening to feedback from various groups and individuals.

Anti-doping aside, other issues included working to ensure athlete safety at events; focusing more on core members, rather than just elite athletes; listening to cycling organizations and communities that don’t work directly with USA Cycling, such as the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association (OBRA); investing in the grassroots side of the sport; and increasing a focus on women’s racing.

On women’s cycling, he said that increasing investment and attention is not only “the right thing to do,” but that the U.S. has the advantage of already having “some of the finest women’s athletes in the world.”

Asked what has been the biggest surprise with the new position, Bouchard-Hall said he’d been shocked by USA Cycling’s complexity.

“We are network of volunteers that put on races, local associations, race promoters, officials, and I’ve just been surprised by how complex the ecosystem really is,” he said. “There are so many different groups, different parties, different entities, all involved in the execution of our sport. Ours is not a cohesive sport that is centrally run, there are a lot of different groups. It’s been surprising to me how many individuals and parties are involved. It’s a complex challenge.

“I think part of that surprise is the pure number of people who are passionate about bike racing, and who are volunteering to make events happen. I don’t think I appreciated how many people are involved in running a race, from officiating, to results, to promoting. … It’s just incredible how many people are involved in our sport.”

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BMC in control at USA Pro Challenge, but for which rider? Wed, 19 Aug 2015 14:00:39 +0000

Brent Bookwalter (left) and Rohan Dennis sit 1-2 in the overall standings through two stages in Colorado. Photo: Neal Rogers |

Brent Bookwalter and Rohan Dennis are first and second on GC at the USA Pro Challenge, and it's not entirely clear who the leader is.

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Brent Bookwalter (left) and Rohan Dennis sit 1-2 in the overall standings through two stages in Colorado. Photo: Neal Rogers |

ARAPAHOE BASIN SKI RESORT, Colorado (VN) — Professional road cycling is a team sport. It doesn’t matter who wins, riders and directors will often tell you, as long as the team wins.

Yeah, right.

While pro cycling is most definitely a team sport, the rewards most often go to individuals. Entire teams aren’t brought onto the podium to celebrate an individual’s win. Every rider on a team isn’t awarded UCI points based on an individual rider’s result. Every rider on a national team isn’t awarded an Olympic medal when one rider finishes on the podium. Contracts are written up largely based around individual results; it’s much harder to quantify selflessness, or team contributions to another rider’s results.

Pro cycling is a team sport, except in the ways that it isn’t.

Which is why what’s happening within the BMC Racing Team at the USA Pro Challenge this week is so fascinating.

What’s been made abundantly clear after only two days of racing is that BMC has the two strongest riders in the race, in race leader Brent Bookwalter and second-placed Rohan Dennis.

Bookwalter came into the race after finishing third overall at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. The other two riders from that podium, Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin) and Mike Woods (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) are not in Colorado, meaning that, of the riders who are on form and climbing well at altitude, Bookwalter was at the top of the list at the start in Steamboat Springs.

Dennis came into the race downplaying his GC ambitions, citing a lack of acclimation to the high elevation in Colorado. “My goals for GC here aren’t huge,” he told VeloNews on Saturday. “I’m looking for a stage win, especially the time trial. Maybe, if the opportunity is right, I’ll go up the road, and maybe get a road stage.”

Worth a mention: Dennis was asked to attend the pre-race press conference, along with BMC’s Colorado son, Taylor Phinney; Bookwalter was not, though it would be uncommon to have three riders from one team at an event such as that.

In the finale of stage 1, Dennis launched a vicious attack that only Guillaume Boivin (Optum) could attempt to match; they were brought back in the last kilometer, with Phinney winning the stage from a reduced bunch. Bookwalter finished third.

On stage 2, Dennis went to the front on the 8-kilometer climb to Arapahoe Basin, and drove such a fierce tempo that the entire field of GC contenders was shed off his wheel, save for Bookwalter. When the American came around, Dennis wasn’t sitting up — both men were sprinting for stage victory, and the race leadership that came with it.

“When I saw 300 meters to go I started to basically attack from the front, and I saw on the TV screen that Brent was sort of next to me, so I tried to get on him, but he went straight past me and got into position to win,” Dennis said. “It’s great we got one-two, and I sort of surprised myself. I rode pretty well from the bottom to the top, and I was expecting to blow at least 3km to go when people started attacking.”

Dennis was clearly trying to win on both of the first stages, and instead, in both instances, his teammates did. Those wins came off of the back of Dennis’ efforts, but whether or not that was direct or indirect was difficult to ascertain. On stage 1, Bookwalter said Dennis had “changed the plan.”

“We had some tentative plans going into today,” Bookwalter said after stage 1. “When you have a strong Rohan, plans change. Taylor and I were going into the same climb saying, ‘what is happening?’”

On Tuesday, Bookwalter said Dennis had him “cross eyed, biting my stem” on the climb up to A-Basin. “It was actually nice to get to that last climb and have Rohan put the hammer down. Then it was simple: hold the wheel, ride as hard as we can and it’s done.”

After the stage, Dennis essentially said he’d gone as hard as he could, for as long as he could, only falling off pace in the final 200 meters.

“I just set my own tempo and I sat on my own power,” Dennis said. “I was just chasing whoever attacked, and Nathan Brown [Cannondale-Garmin] was out front. I thought when he was gone people would start attacking full gas, but they just never did.”

To be clear — there’s nothing wrong with Dennis trying to take the race by the horns. He is one of the strongest riders in the world, as evidenced by his Santos Tour Down Under victory, his Hour Record, and his TT stage win in Utrecht at the Tour de France, which brought a maillot jaune along with it. He’s very likely a future grand tour winner, and he wears No. 1 at this race, as the anointed leader of BMC in Tejay van Garderen’s absence. The Australian came to Colorado to compete, as well as to build his fitness toward the Richmond world championships. And he’s clearly feeling better than he’d expected.

However there are certainly many U.S. fans hoping to see Bookwalter, an American rider on an American team, win one of the biggest races in the States. The fact that Bookwalter’s career has been more of an unsung domestique is all the more reason why many American fans are questioning the tactics, and loyalties, within the BMC team.

“Brent has always been the guy who led out our other guys to get there,” said BMC team director Jackson Stewart, a former teammate of Bookwalter’s. “For me, he deserves so many more results than he ever got. He was so close to being national road champion and national time trial champion in the same year. Little things like that, where he has been so close in results before. And that was in the few times he was able to try for himself. Most of the time, he was working for others. So to win a race like this and take the jersey like this is huge for him and his career. It is a big payoff for all the work he has done in the past.”

When asked whether he would ride to support Bookwalter, Dennis essentially said he’d continue riding the same way he had during the first two stages — aggressively.

“Obviously Brent is showing that he’s strong, and I’m going to keep going like I did the last two days,” Dennis said. “I think we don’t want to throw both our bullets down the drain. We’re going to do the same thing we’ve done for the last two days. I’ll probably put my hand up to work for him later on in the stage and do some pulls or whatever I have to do, sort of like today. If we can hold one-two we will, but if either one of us wins it’s good.”

As things stand, Bookwalter heads into stage 3 wearing yellow, but Dennis is almost certainly going to perform better in Friday’s stage 5 time trial, a 14km race that includes a climb over Moonstone Road and a descent back into Breckenridge.

Asked which rider the TT course might favor, Dennis said he viewed himself as the favorite.

“I’d say myself, only because I do train a lot on the time trial bike and it feels just as comfortable as the road bike,” said Dennis. “My power output is the same on the time trial bike, if not more than on the road bike. It’s a specialty of mine. Look, Brent has been training and practicing on it a lot the past week, and I think he’s pretty motivated, as you saw today. For sure [the time trial] is going to be decisive.”

One thing that is certain — there is still plenty of racing to come before Friday’s TT.

“Yeah, it’s possible,” Bookwalter said, when asked if Friday’s TT could come down to the BMC teammates fighting for overall GC supremacy. “But [Wednesday] we finish on Independence Pass and the descent down to Aspen. Then the next day we start with Independence Pass and have some really hard climbs toward the end. Hoosier Pass is super high altitude, and last year we had that really nasty weather there. So it’s by no means even close to being over.

“But I think we’re in a good position,” Bookwalter continued. “The team showed over the last two days that we’re really strong. And I was pleased, obviously, with how I rode today as well. So I think we couldn’t ask for more up to this point, but we can’t take that for granted. And we can’t be overly confident.”

Another thing that’s certain — for Dennis, 24, an overall win at the USA Pro Challenge would not rank as the highest achievement in what’s been a career-making season. For Bookwalter, 31, an overall win would be a career highlight.

Does that matter? Should it?

It’s doubtful that will be going through Dennis’ mind during the stage 5 time trial. If he wins, and seals the overall, the strongest man will have won.

And if Bookwalter wins, he’ll have beaten a worthy adversary, wearing the same team colors.

For the rest of us, either way, it will be fascinating to watch.

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Phinney back on top with Pro Challenge stage victory Tue, 18 Aug 2015 12:41:19 +0000

Taylor Phinney was on the top step of the podium Monday in Steamboat Springs. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

Taylor Phinney sprints to victory in the opening stage of the USA Pro Challenge 15 months after shattering his left leg in a crash.

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Taylor Phinney was on the top step of the podium Monday in Steamboat Springs. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colorado (VN) — One need not look closely to see the scar on Taylor Phinney’s left leg. It runs from the top of his kneecap down to the middle of his shin, deep and wide, with visible suture marks on both sides. It’s the scar of a leg that was broken into pieces and put back together.

The same could be said of Phinney’s pro cycling career, which was temporarily shattered, in tandem with his left leg, on the descent of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga on Memorial Day 2014. The compound fracture to his tibia turned out to be the least of his worries; the severed patella tendon was much more serious, causing atrophy and weakness that he still hasn’t overcome.

That all seemed light years away, however, at the finish line of the opening stage of the USA Pro Challenge Monday in Steamboat Springs, where Phinney flew across the finish line, arms stretched aloft, several bike lengths ahead of his friend and training partner Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare). Phinney’s teammate Brent Bookwalter finished third after perfectly setting up Phinney for the win by easing off in the final 200 meters with Reijnen on his wheel.

It wasn’t Phinney’s first stage win at the Pro Challenge; that came in 2012, at a final-stage time trial in Denver. It wasn’t Phinney’s first result since he returned to racing earlier this month; that came at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, where Phinney finished third on the opening stage behind Reijnen and Alex Howes (Cannondale-Garmin). What it was, however, was Phinney’s first win since the U.S. national time trial championship in May 2014. And it was, without question, Phinney’s most emotional victory.

At a pre-race press conference on Sunday, Phinney spoke about the long-term effects of his injury.

“I still have a significant strength difference between my right side and left side,” he said. “I was testing that at Utah, and the left side is not as strong. There are times when my right leg can compensate, and by doing that, it can bring my power output to where I can contend for a stage win.”

On Monday, Phinney did more than contend for a stage win — he took a demonstrative victory from a reduced bunch after a hard 96-mile circuit race.

His win was also a storybook opening for the USA Pro Challenge, which has been criticized for a lackluster field this year, one that includes no riders from last year’s podium, no grand tour winners, and no former champions. Instead, the race opened with a sensational comeback victory from a Colorado native that marked the return of an American cycling hopeful.

“I was pretty much blown away crossing the finish line,” Phinney said. “I can tell you the feeling crossing the line and the roar of the crowd — it was special, and emotional. It’s that electric moment we all live for. I was happy to pay back the guys for working so hard today.”

For a moment, it looked as though Phinney’s teammate Rohan Dennis might steal the stage win. Dennis went on the offensive late in the race, after the daylong breakaway had been caught, pushing forward with Guillaume Boivin (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies). With Dennis doing the majority of the pace making, the pair wasn’t brought back by UnitedHealthcare’s chase until the final kilometer.

“Things went a little haywire on the climbs. I got dropped, but I made it back. I like to call it a little ‘Davis Phinney special,’” Phinney said. “There’s a little dip in the road at 400 [meters] to go. I knew I didn’t have the pop, but figured I’d diesel it through. I had a slight moment of panic that I was going to lose it, but I put my head down and pushed it through. I’ve had 15 months, thinking about what it’d be like to put my hands up in the air.”

At the post-race press conference, Phinney opened up about the life-changing experience.

“The first eight weeks, when I was on crutches, was the worst part,” he said. “Just losing general mobility. I couldn’t go out with friends. I tried to stay in the cycling world for the first three weeks, and then I realized I needed to eject myself from the sport as much as I could. I removed myself, and tried to find things that inspired me. I went to flight school, and got a pilot’s license. I also started painting, and realized I’m a weird artist. I embraced that. It’s been a roller coaster. But through all the down times, art and painting gave me creativity. Those times were painful, but I embraced them through painting and art.”

Phinney also spoke about the experience of watching last year’s Pro Challenge, which included a final stage, starting in Boulder, right in front of his apartment.

“Seeing the Pro Challenge last year was tough, but I never tried to make it about me,” he said. “I went to Colorado Springs to visit the team. I had to leave before the race. I didn’t want to be there. The atmosphere, and limping around, it sucked. I saw them come into Boulder. I saw some people at the team bus. I couldn’t avoid that because it started right outside of my old apartment. It was a bit too much. It was at that point that I needed to pull myself out of the sport. I had to do what I could as a human.”

Bookwalter, third on the stage, also attended the post-race press conference and spoke about how the stage played out, as well as Phinney’s return — to the sport, to the team, and to the top step of the podium.

“We had some tentative plans going into today,” Bookwalter said. “When you have a strong Rohan, plans change. Taylor and I were going into the same climb saying, ‘what is happening?’ It was nice to have [Dennis] up there taking the pressure off us. We didn’t know if we were gonna catch them until about a kilometer to go. We were trying to get the sprint organized. I caught Taylor’s wheel and thought it’d be a good lead out. I saw him shoot around, and then I saw him post up.”

Asked about his relationship with Phinney — they’ve been teammates at BMC since 2011 — Bookwalter said Phinney’s accident had brought them closer together.

“To be honest, I think we relate to each other a lot better than we did before,” Bookwalter said. “His injury, and comeback, gave him time to grow mentally and emotionally. Before that, I valued his friendship and respected him, but before the accident, we weren’t on the same wavelength. He was the young crazy guy, I was the old guy. He was an asset to the team before, but he’s even more important now. The last 15 months gave him time to appreciate his team and value them.”

There will be at least one more opportunity for a stage win for Phinney on home soil, however — the stage 5 time trial in Breckenridge. During Sunday’s pre-race press conference, Phinney said it was a stage he’d had his eye on for some time.

“It’s tough to say. I’m not sure what to expect. It’s something I’ve been thinking about,” he said. “I feel good on the TT bike, the power is there, we’ll see how the week goes. There is a tough little climb, so I’m not really sure. I can’t give a definite answer. Rohan is here, and he’s coming off wining a time trial at the Tour de France. I’ll try to give him as much a run for the money as I can, but I’m not used to time trialing at 9,000 feet.”

Along with Dennis and teammate Damiano Caruso, Bookwalter is one of the riders pegged as a GC favorite. Phinney will start stage 2 in yellow, but with a summit finish at Arapahoe Basin, Phinney knows he will have his work cut out for him as a domestique in the days to come.

“I am not a climber. I can survive some climbs. But climbing isn’t my cup of tea,” Phinney said. “Our focus is to work for the GC guys. I’ll prance around in yellow for a bit, but we’re here for them.”

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Bookwalter quietly confident as GC favorite at Pro Challenge Mon, 17 Aug 2015 22:08:01 +0000

A combination of good late-season form, a strong BMC team, and acclimation to altitude may be the winning combination for Brent Bookwalter at the USA Pro Challenge. Photo: Neal Rogers |

Brent Bookwalter proves himself a capable captain for BMC with podium result in Utah, but says he'll be opportunistic at USA Pro Challenge.

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A combination of good late-season form, a strong BMC team, and acclimation to altitude may be the winning combination for Brent Bookwalter at the USA Pro Challenge. Photo: Neal Rogers |

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colorado (VN) — In the absence of any former USA Pro Challenge winners, or any riders from last year’s podium, American Brent Bookwalter is quietly confident in his role as de facto GC favorite at this year’s race.

Bookwalter slides into that role by virtue of his third-place overall finish at the Tour of Utah earlier this month, a race also chock-full of long climbs at high altitude. The top-two riders in Utah, Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin) and Mike Woods (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies), are not at the Pro Challenge, and by process of elimination, Bookwalter is the top rider in Colorado who has recently shown good form as well as high-altitude acclimation.

Also working in Bookwalter’s favor is his BMC Racing Team, indisputably the strongest in the race, and the fact that, unlike at Utah, there is a time trial in Colorado, which plays to the American’s strengths. BMC placed Rohan Dennis in a dangerous breakaway in stage 1 of the Pro Challenge, and then Taylor Phinney sprinted to victory, with Bookwalter taking third Monday.

On paper, riders like Damiano Caruso (BMC Racing) and Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) have much better GC results, both top-10 finishers at grand tours. However, a weeklong race in August in Colorado is not a spreadsheet comparison, and based on current results — Bookwalter was also fourth overall at the Tour of Austria, in July — the BMC rider could well be the man to beat.

Before the start of the stage 1 in Steamboat Springs Monday, Bookwalter told VeloNews that he considers himself among the favorites, but far from the top favorite.

“I think it’s a pretty open race, like everyone has been saying,” Bookwalter said. “I think by the end of the week, we’ll have some new names on the tip of our tongues that we didn’t have earlier. I think I’m riding well right now. I’m confident. I had a good week at Utah. But I wouldn’t put my name above a those of a lot of other guys here.”

Bookwalter said that it’s hard for him to quantify his abilities as a GC rider at altitude, because, as a domestique, he’s rarely been in the position to race for GC at the end of stages in Utah or Colorado.

“Altitude has been a love/hate relationship with me,” he said. “Utah was interesting. I’ve done a fair amount of altitude races in recent years, in Utah and Colorado, but I’ve always been riding for someone else. It was a unique experience, in Utah, to be able to save my bullets for the end of the stages. Racing here in the past, it was always all-in for Tejay [van Garderen]. I’ve had some really good days, and some really bad days. But when I look back, I’ve emptied myself really early on some of the stages here. At the very least, I think I’ll be looking for more of an opportunist role than a full GC role, but I’ll be looking to save more of those matches for the finals of the stages.”

As far as the opportunity for an American to ride as the leader of an American team at a major American race, Bookwalter said that was something to soak up, regardless of the outcome. “I’m relishing that, in itself,” he said. “That’s something I think I should enjoy, and appreciate that experience for what it is. I want to enjoy that journey as a leader, and not just be looking to the final result.”

Asked if there is any one rider that he will be closely watching, Bookwalter said there were “maybe 10 or 15 guys” he’d put in the same category.

“I think there are a lot of guys I’d put in the same category as myself — most of the year they are working for others, and you never know what’s in a guy when they are not reserved to be the last man standing for their team,” he said. “I think, whether it’s the WorldTour teams, or the U.S teams, there are a lot of guys here, where the stage is set for them to step up. And you have to respect everyone.”

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Tinkoff-Saxo brings triple threat to Colorado Mon, 17 Aug 2015 21:13:37 +0000

Roman Kreuziger may be a key favorite at the USA Pro Challenge, but he says his teammates Ivan Rovny and Chris Anker Sorensen may also vie for GC win. Photo: Neal Rogers |

Russian Tinkoff-Saxo outfit says it has three riders capable of challenging for GC win in USA Pro Challenge.

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Roman Kreuziger may be a key favorite at the USA Pro Challenge, but he says his teammates Ivan Rovny and Chris Anker Sorensen may also vie for GC win. Photo: Neal Rogers |

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colorado (VN) — Tinkoff-Saxo may not have an outright favorite for victory at the USA Pro Challenge, but the team has brought three riders capable of mounting a real challenge for the general classification.

In Czech rider Roman Kreuziger, Russian Ivan Rovny, and Danish national champion Chris Anker Sorensen, Tinkoff has a squad of skilled GC riders all seeking form amid jetlag and high-altitude acclimation.

Kreuziger finished 34th at the 2012 edition of the race. Rovny finished 11th overall at the 2012 Pro Challenge, with RusVelo, and 11th at the inaugural edition, in 2011, with RadioShack. Sorensen is racing in Colorado for the first time.

“The season is pretty long, I had the program through the Ardennes, then the Giro d’Italia, and the Tour de France, and I prefer to be here, to race in Colorado, rather than Eneco Tour or the European races,” Kreuziger said. “I raced here once, in 2012, and enjoyed it.

“I think we have Chris Anker, who is in really good shape. He’s also out of contract, and I’d like to help him, as he’s helped me a lot in the past. I’m the guy with more experience, so I’ll take a look at the guys and try to help them as much as possible. Of course, if there is the opportunity to do well, I will try, but I’m looking ahead to the Canadian races, in Montréal and Québec, I think they can suit me pretty well. Of course, if I have the opportunity here, and the legs are there, I will take the opportunity.”

Kreuziger said after Clásica San Sebastián, he spent a week of altitude training at Trepalle, near Livigno, with his family in tow. He said that because of that trip, he was feeling the effects of jet lag more than the altitude in Steamboat Springs.

“Even though the altitude here is higher than in Trepalle, it’s not so bad,” Kreuziger said. “You can feel it in the air, though, it’s much drier here than in Europe. I was fighting the jet lag, but now it’s getting better.”

Asked how he’s felt in training during his time in Colorado, Sorensen answered succinctly: “Terrible!”

“No, the last couple of days have been better, but I had a few days where I was really in the hurt bag, with jet lag, and altitude. But now it’s better.”

Asked about assuming team leadership, Sorensen deflected sole responsibility.

“I think we have three good possibilities, with Ivan, Roman, and myself. We’ll see how we are feeling. We’re a bit open here. We have an open card for all seven of us, we all have the possibility to give it a go. We’ll see, in these first days, how the race goes, and then we’ll lock in on a general tactic after that. It’s one thing, riding at sea level in Europe. It’s another thing, riding here at 3,000 meters [9,843 feet].”

Kreuizger said that he believes Rovny can do a good time trial in Breckenridge on Friday, and is perhaps one of the best TT riders of the GC contenders in the race.

“Rovny has twice done well here, and he has a good time trial,” Kreuziger said. “Of course he’s not Rohan Dennis, or Taylor Phinney, but of the GC guys who are here, I think he can perform pretty well. We have our feet on the ground here. We will fight for a top-five finish, and we’ll fight for some stage wins as well. A stage win would be really nice for the team.”

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