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Tales from the peloton, April 23, 2007
Domestic squads on par in Georgia
With ProTour teams forced to split their top riders between the Spring Classics in Europe and America's Tour de Georgia, many of the domestic teams had a chance to steal the spotlight reports Cyclingnews' Kirsten Robbins.
American ProTour squad Discovery Channel was clearly the dominant team at the 2007 Tour de Georgia. However, results suggest parity across the remaining teams, both ProTour and domestic.
With many of Europe's Classics taking place during the month of April, and with the Tour de Georgia under financial uncertainty less than a month before the start, it was difficult for the ProTour teams to commit all of their top riders. Team CSC's team director in Georgia Dan Frost elaborated on the decision for some teams to keep their GC riders in Europe. "The Spring Classics and the races in Europe now are our main focus for this time of year," Frost said. "I think that makes a big difference in terms of which ProTour riders are available to come to Georgia. We have come here for the last four years and we love this race. It's a hard race and the organization is much better every year. This year it was our decision to bring a couple of strong riders and a mix of development riders because Georgia is a good place to introduce racing to them."
Team Slipstream-Chipotle was among the domestic teams represented in several of breaks throughout the course of the event and its director Jonathan Vaughters commented that the placing of the event within the European calendar as being in the best place it can be, given the number of races each year. "I think it comes down to the time of year and nothing more than that," Vaughters said. "We are right in the middle of really important Classics plus coming upon the Giro and the Tour. This race is a little bit harder course-wise and it is a great race but it is in a tougher time slot. During February, at the time of the Tour of California, there is nothing else going on and the weather is great compared to European conditions so teams can send their A squads. At this time of the year teams are split racing all over Europe."
Vaughters added: "It should not reflect poorly on the organization of the Tour de Georgia because they have a great race - its just that most of the ProTour teams have diluted squads to send to races in general because there are so many other races happening in April."
All of the domestic teams proved a force to be reckoned with while they worked the breakaways stage after stage. The general classification contention came down to 13 riders during stage three's 29 minute breakaway, where half of those riders represented domestic teams. Brasstown Bald was another indicator of how strong the domestic climbers were and Colavita/Sutter Home presented by Cooking Light's Anthony Colby took the third placed spot on the podium behind Discovery Channel team's Levi Leipheimer and Tom Danielson. Several domestic power houses climbed up Brasstown Bald in the hunt for a top ten finish, Health Net's Nathan O'Neill, VMG US National team's John Devine and BMC's Alexander Moos all placed with in the top ten.
The domestic teams showed they were able to compete with the European riders and their preparations for a race as important as the Tour de Georgia were noticed as a result. Health Net team's director Jeff Corbett acknowledged the lack of intimidation that the domestic squad have when confronted by ProTour teams in the US. "I don't think anyone comes to a race with intimidation," admitted Corbett. "No one came to the race to cower away from the ProTour teams but instead to race hard. I think that when you come to a race like this you are there to race aggressive and at the same time to be realistic but certainly not to be intimidated. We are happy with our results this year but I think that we can always do better."
Navigators' Glen Chadwick won the overall most aggressive rider's jersey after he repeatedly attacked the field. His director Ed Beamon commented on the team's equal playing field. "I think there was a really strong showing amongst all of the teams here, not just the domestic teams," Beamon said. "All of the teams were up in the breaks and raced really hard. After losing our GC position we were happy with having the most aggressive riders jersey."
Other notable results came from Health Net's Ryder Hesjedal who won the KOM competition and Jittery Joe's Tommy King and Cesar Grajales were voted winners on individual stages for the most aggressive rider jerseys. And when push came to shove, it was Toyota-Untied that organized its team at the front to chase down a break or keep the speeds high enough for its sprinter Ivan Dominguez and opportunistic stage two winner Ivan Stevic.
Toyota-United team director Harm Jansen acknowledged that the team's display of strength was part-in-parcel to stage three's 29 minute break away combined with the ProTour teams' lack of a general classification riders. "If that 29 minute break did not happen, Discovery would [still] clearly have shown us, after Brasstown Bald, that they were the strongest team here this week," Jansen said. "We have been strong here at this race. But, it has been in our interest to have field sprints so we have been doing a lot of work on the front, more than other teams, including the ProTour that do not have their best sprinters here."
"But that is just here at this race and maybe because the ProTour teams did not bring their best teams to race against [us]," added Jansen. "Discovery Channel brought a very strong team, stronger than we are. But because of that break, and because we have a strong sprinter in our team, and because of the way the race turned out, we were able to display our efforts a lot more."
The race had a contingent of world-class riders on each team that included Saunier Duval's Gilberto Simoni and David Millar, Team CSC's David Zabriskie and Juan Jose Haedo - but partial squads made tactics a little unusual. Vaughters commented on the tactics during the race as being a little odd. "I think the racing has been good but it lost some of the previous year's dynamic without another top GC rider to contend against Discovery Channel," noted Vaughters. "It may have been a little bit odd because Discovery had three strong GC contenders and the other teams didn't bring their strongest riders, with the exception of CSC's Dave Zabriskie and Saunier Duval's Simoni."
Discovery Channel team director Johan Bruyneel is more than pleased with his team's performance here even though they found an unexpected win in Janez Brajkovic from his usual American general classification threats of Levi Leipheimer and Tom Danielson. Leipheimer's win on Brasstown Bald was all that was needed to demonstrate who the race favourite should have been. "You have to consider the field of course," said Bruyneel regarding the various strength of the other teams. "But when racing against a guy like Simoni who is training for the Giro d' Italia now, it is a good barometer. I am very happy with the performance - you cannot ask for anything more."