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October 6 - Weekly Rap

With the Grand Tours and the various national championships now behind us, for many of the best professional cyclists the final goal of the season is the biggest: The World Championships.  Winning the right to wear the rainbow jersey for the next year is an honor that can make a career.  In fact, it is a victory that does last throughout a career as the winner can wear the rainbow stripes on the sleeves or collar of their jerseys until they retire.  This year's Worlds were held in Salzburg, Austria.  The favorites heading into the 50-km time trial were three-time defending champion Michael Rogers (Australia), Ukrainian Serguei Honchar, recent Vuelta a Espana winner Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan), Germany's Sebastian Lang and Andreas Kloden, and Fabian Cancellara.  In April, Cancellara won the famed Paris-Roubaix, but was disappointed when he was left out of the Tour de France by Team CSC.  Cancellara, who won the Swiss national time trial championship this season, smoked the competition at Worlds to win by 1:29 over his CSC teammate Dave Zabriskie.  Zabriskie, who finished 2nd at the Amgen Tour of California, was the first American male ever to medal at the Worlds time trial.  Vino completed the podium.     

The 265-km road race course consisted of twelve 22-km laps with two climbs per lap.  It favored all-rounders like Vino, Alejandro Valverde (Spain) and Italian Paolo Bettini.  There were 198 starters and it turned out to be the fourth fastest Worlds ever.  Attacks were abundant throughout the race, which came down to a 50-man final sprint.  Twenty-five men, including American Tyler Farrar and stars like Cancellara, Stuart O'Grady, Danilo DiLuca, Carlos Sastre and Andrei Kashechkin broke 44 kms into the race that was eventually shut down by the Austrian and Dutch squads.  A group of 14 men closed the gap with three laps to go after the break had gained almost fifteen minutes on the field.  Fully regrouped with two laps remaining, Bettini rode strongly up the 15% grade climb and was able to go clear on the last lap.  He was caught on the descent by an elite group including Vino, David Millar, Fabian Wegmann, Karsten Kroon and Michael Boogerd.  There were lots of small attacks during the final lap comprised of groups of two or three men.  Spain worked attentively in support of Valverde, chasing down a couple breaks in the final 7 kms.  Italian Davide Rebellin attacked and was countered by his countryman Bettini and then Wegmann.  But nothing stuck so the big group thundered toward the finish together.  Spain's Samuel Sanchez rocketed away from the group just 500 meters to the line to lead-out his teammate Valverde.  A small gap formed, which effectively took the sprinters out of the mix leaving things to be decided between the two Spanish men, Bettini and German sprinter Erik Zabel.  Valverde launched off his teammate's wheel, but Zabel came around him.  In the final 50 meters, Bettini, the reigning Olympic road race champion, easily came around Zabel to take the biggest win of his career.  Zabel held onto silver and Valverde scored the bronze.

Unfortunately Bettini didn't have a great debut in the rainbow jersey the following weekend at Zuri Mietzgete, also known as the Championship of Zurich.  Bettini was defending champion, but apparently his hectic media and promotional schedule the week after Worlds left him exhausted.  He retired from the race after just 40 kms.  Big names left to battle it out in the 241 km hilly ProTour event in rainy conditions were Cancellara, Vino, Rogers, Rebellin, Wegmann, DiLuca and Millar.  Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) scored his first Classics victory after jumping away from the lead breakaway group with 12 kms to go.  There were plenty of attacks all day long, including an early break that went 40 kms into the race, which eventually gained eleven minutes on the peloton.  The Sanchez group, which became the winning break, went on the final lap.  They were chased by a threatening group, who were only able to get as close as 25-seconds back.  The final time up the Pfannenstiel climb, Discovery Channel's Stijn Devolder, Cancellara and O'Grady were dropped, but O'Grady waited for his CSC teammate Cancellara and the two were able to catch back on.  After an attack by Boogerd on the final trip up the Wetzwil climb with 13 kms remaining, Sanchez attacked at the summit.  He swiftly opened up an 11-second gap while fearlessly descending on wet roads.  Cancellara drove the chase, burying himself for O'Grady, but Sanchez managed to add to his lead and powered away to victory.  O'Grady finished 2nd at 48-seconds back with Rebellin claiming 3rd.

The 100th running of Paris-Tours is up next on the dwindling 2006 ProTour calendar.  The event is often called the "sprinter's classic" because of the primarily flat course.  Zabel won the 254-km race through France last year and returns as one of the favorites this year along with O'Grady, Lampre's Daniele Bennati, and former World Champion Tom Boonen.  

Down under where spring has just sprung, the Herald Sun Tour takes place in Australia from October 8-14.  AG2R's Simon Gerrans will defend his title from last year.  Davitamon-Lotto's sprinter Robbie McEwen will race in his home country to wrap a long season that included his points jersey win at the Tour de France.  U.S.-based HealthNet will be sending a squad into battle lead by Aussie Karl Menzies and Greg Henderson.  Henderson just inked a pact to race with T-Mobile next season so his battles with McEwen in the Sun Tour are just the beginning of things to come for the New Zealander.                     

The Cool Down

With only two final ProTour races left this season, Valverde is guaranteed the ProTour season title.  Sanchez's recent win boosts him to 2nd with Davitamon-Lotto's Cadel Evans in 3rd.  

Wanted to give you an update on the condition of Saul Raisin (Credit Agricole), who suffered a near life-ending brain injury after crashing last April in France racing at the Circuit de le Sarthe.  The 23-year-old Amgen Tour of California finisher continues his remarkable recovery as he recently traveled back to train in Europe where he's riding as much as 28 hours per week.  However, he won't be racing for another 12-18 months because he can't sustain another injury to his head this soon.  Raisin is physically getting stronger and stronger although he still suffers from some of the effects of the injury he sustained to his brain.      

Many of the top professional cyclists past and present were in Las Vegas last weekend for InterBike, one of the largest conventions for bicycle dealers and the bike industry in the world.  InterBike is where they showcase and introduce new products for the coming year.  Bike geeks and skinny guys with shaved legs were seen partying up and down The Strip.  Since this is a coming out party for the new line of bikes and gear, in this case what happens in Vegas won't stay in Vegas...