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September 11 - Weekly Rap

Before we get to the racing, we've got exciting news for cycling fans as the Amgen Tour of California has been nominated by Sports Travel Magazine as the "Best New Sporting Event" of 2006.  And guess what?  Your vote counts!  Please go to www.sportstravelmagazine.com and click on the "2006 Sports Travel Awards" icon in the upper right corner of the page.  Voting closes this Friday, September 15th so please cast your vote today.  Thanks for your support.

We're well into September, but the racing action in Europe and the U.S. is as sizzling as summer.  Another week has gone by in the final Grand Tour of the season and it's still a tight battle at the Vuelta a Espana between Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) and the "Evil Twins" from Team Astana: Alexandre Vinokourov and Andrei Kashechkin.  After back-to-back stage wins by Vino before the first rest day, Astana made it three-in-a-row when Sergio Paulinho won stage 10 after attacking the fifteen-man break in the final mostly uphill kilometer.  The break formed after 40 kms in the 199-km stage and the peloton finished four minutes after the winner.  A tired and frustrated Carlos Sastre (CSC) angrily criticized Caisse d'Epargne's tactics, which goes back to the Tour de France when Oscar Pereiro was allowed to make up thirty minutes in a break.  With Caisse d'Epargne putting Vladimir Karpets in a break, at one point holding the GC lead on the road, CSC was forced to do all the work to limit the time gained by the stage leaders.  Discovery Channel's Egoi Martinez won stage 11, finishing fifteen minutes ahead of Valverde's gold jersey pack.  Martinez attacked early in the stage and again later successfully.  The win gave Disco the rare triple-double: they've won stages and held the leader's jersey in all three Grand Tours this season.  Luca Paolini of Liquigas won the 169-km stage 12, successfully attacking the twelve-man break with four km to go, which he was able to hold to the finish.  The pack finished nine minutes back, but there weren't any GC changes.  Astana and Caisse d'Epargne both had three men in the Top 15 up to this point.  Daredevil Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) won the 180-km stage 13 after taking off on a twisting and narrow descent with 5 km to go.  He was able to hold the gap he opened to the line.  Stage 14 was a 32-km individual time trial, which was going to be a big test for the GC leaders on a tough course with cobblestones on the stage's lone significant climb.  Brit David Millar (Saunier Duval-Prodir) got his first win after coming back from a two-year suspension.  CSC's Fabian Cancellara was a very close second, with Vino claiming third, only five seconds down.  Valverde only gave up eight seconds to Vino and put time into Kashechkin, thus passing the day's test looking like a strong contender for the overall win.  Stage 15 came down to a bunch sprint with Gerolsteiner's Robert Forster taking the 182-km day.  Cancellara, Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) and Tour de France yellow jersey wearer Cyril Dessel (AG2R) all checked out of the Vuelta after stage 15 to prepare for the World Championships.  The last week of the Vuelta will be much harder and more challenging than the middle week so expect lots of fireworks as the race returns to the high mountains.                  

At the Tour of Poland, Daniele Bennati (Lampre) won the group sprint in the 120-km second stage.  A three-man break went after just eight km and made it stick until the final 3 km.  Sprinter Fabrizio Guidi of Phonak won stage 3 and gained the GC lead after conquering the longest stage of the tour at 225 km.  Bennati came back to win stage 4, which gave him the GC lead.  Incredibly Bennati won stages 2 & 4 in last year's Tour as well.  A two-man break comprised of Stephane Auge (Cofidis) and American Aaron Olsen (Saunier Duval-Prodir) went at 12 km into the 192-km stage.  At one point, they built up a fourteen-minute advantage before the peloton reeled them back in.  Auge held on for the win with the peloton finishing twenty-one seconds back.  The queen stage, stage 6, was 162 merciless kilometers over seven mountain climbs.  Gerolsteiner's Stefan Schumacher snagged the big win, with teammate Fabian Wegmann right behind.  The final stage wasn't much kinder to the rider's tired legs as the 126 km course went over five climbs, ending with a mountain top finish.  Again Schumacher took the stage win and brought home the GC title as well in impressive fashion.  Davitamon-Lotto's Cadel Evans was second overall at eighteen seconds back with Lampre's Alessandro Ballan claiming the final podium step at just thirty-one seconds down.  It was Schumacher's second ProTour win in the past few weeks after he won the controversial Eneco Tour over George Hincapie.  This time he left little doubt as to who was the strongest racer.

At the Tour de l'Avenir, Agritubel's Moises Duenas Nevado won the ten-day stage race "of the future" for racers under age 23, which he made possible by winning stage 6.  Of note was Norwegian Edvald Hagen, who took out four stage wins.

Up next for the Euros, the 3-Lander Tour in Germany runs September 13-17.  Look for a powerhouse T-Mobile squad to go for the win lead by Tour de France podium finisher Andreas Kloden and Patrik Sinkewitz.  Gerolsteiner is also sending a strong line-up and you know the tenacious Jens Voigt (CSC), recent winner of the Tour of Germany, always comes to fight to the finish.     

On the domestic front, the Univest Grand Prix took place last Saturday in Souderton, Pennsylvania.  The 107-mile road race was won by Navigators Insurance Shawn Milne in a close contest with Mexico's Fusto Munoz (Tecos).  The two men broke away with three short laps remaining and were chased by a hard-charging Sean Sullivan of Toyota-United.  Sullivan's presence likely forced the leaders to work well together as they managed to finish a scant eleven seconds ahead of him.  Munoz had crashed earlier in the race in the feedzone, but proved resilient and tough as the course featured three King of the Mountains climbs with grades as steep as 20%.  The next day, the peloton raced the nearby Doylestown Criterium, with Amgen Tour of California winner Floyd Landis in attendance to watch the action.  The winning break went at just six laps into the 55-lap affaire and consisted of Munoz, German Christian Lademann (Sparkasse-Etta Maes Antiques), Mark McCormick (Colavita-Sutter Home) and last year's winner, Mike Friedman of TIAA CREF.  Lademann proved fastest, getting the win over Munoz, who again had to rebound after crashing during the race.     

The National Racing Calendar for this season comes to a close September 15-17 in Parker, Colorado at the Parker Main Street Omnium.  

 
The Cool Down

USA Cycling announced the riders that will be representing the U.S. team at the upcoming World Championships.  In the time trial, we're sending recently crowned national champ Dave Zabriskie (CSC) and last year's national champ, Chris Baldwin (Toyota-United).  Leading the American squad in the road race will be the Davitamon-Lotto duo of Chris Horner and Fast Fred Rodriguez.  They'll be joined by CSC's Christian Vande Velde, Guido Trenti (Quickstep), Tyler Farrar (Cofidis), Patrick McCarty (Phonak), Danny Pate (TIAA CREF) and Jackson Stewart (Kodak Gallery.com/Sierra Nevada)…  

If bad things really happen in threes, then TIAA CREF's Rahsaan Bahati has finally cleared his path for success.  The sprinter crashed out of the wealthy Bank of America race while being the best sprinter in the winning three-man break.  In the closing laps of the USPRO National Criterium Championship, Bahati flatted in the closing laps, which robbed him of a shot at the title.  After returning home to train in Southern California, Bahati was T-boned by a car on the Pacific Coast Highway.  Thankfully he wasn't injured seriously and he's healing quickly.  Look for Bahati to be super-motivated for the upcoming track national championships…

In this corner, wearing the blue, black and white Milram kit, Italian sprint star Alessandro Petacchi.  In the opposing corner, the huge pink and blue Lampre team bus, weighing in at several tons.  Who do you think won that battle?  During the finish of Vuelta a Espana stage 15, Petacchi felt that he was boxed out of the sprint by Lampre's Danilo Napolitano, who took third place.  The angry Petacchi went to the Lampre team bus to confront Napolitano after the stage.  Petacchi threw a punch, hit the bus and ended up breaking a bone in his hand, effectively taking him out of the Vuelta and the upcoming World Championship.  An ashamed Petacchi has been apologizing profusely for his unsportsmanlike behavior ever since…