Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Rainy-Day Racing Rambles

Wow, it seems like the 2007 racing season just ended a few weeks ago, but here we go again! Sitting here with a huge mug of home-made Mocha on a very rainy day, I feel like rambling a bit about the upcoming season...

What will be different this year? Who's going to be strong? Which teams will come out attacking and which ones will cave?

I still think of the Boulevard RR and the Mothballs crit as the unofficial kick-off races of the new season, but for those itching to go already, head out to Vegas next weekend for the Southern Nevada Stage Race. Then, between NorCal and SoCal, it's Game On every weekend through September. We lost some good races, but if you're willing to travel you can still get all you would ever want. We are so lucky to be here in California.

Here on the South Coast of SB county, I think you'll see some great battles early on in the cat 3 races with motivated guys from both Chicken Ranch and Platinum. With Matt, Blinger, and Corey working together, they'll be one of the strongest 3's teams in SoCal. Especially if they also bring out secret weapons Druber and Dave Lettieri. All bases are covered with those guys. But they won't get a free pass because my Platinum mates Prof Smitty and Jason-the-hammer are fit and motivated and looking for upgrade points. If they race enough, every one of those names above will be 2's or 1's by summer. The potential exists in SB to field the largest and most talented group of cat 1's and 2's since the late 80's and early 90's. It's hard to imagine, but back then we put teams in the Redlands Stage Race consisting entirely of SB riders!

Keep your eyes on SB's promising newer rides like Brandon Droese, Steve Weixel, and Chester Gilmore. These guys are all on a steep upward trajectory and no limits are in sight.

A few Santa Barbara X-factors might surprise you this year. Keith Horowitz turns 35 in 2008 and if he decides to enter a few Masters crits, he'll make guys like Evan Teske and Mark Scott look pedestrian. Relatively unknown Larry Niday is training and quite fit. He'll be in the mix for sure in the 35+ road races. And I think you'll be seeing a strong showing from Gene Raphaelian because climbing Fig and doing Ladera repeats pays off ...COUNT ON IT!

I'm more excited about the SB P/1/2 crowd than I have been in years. Cookie is quietly intense and motivated. Yeah I know, "Cookie" and "quiet" aren't often used in the same sentence, but with a kid on the way, he's looking at the end of his freedom this summer. He'll be stepping it up a level until then. Ben Haldeman could be the best roadie in SoCal if he had time to train, but even at a few days a week, he'll be a factor. And Gary D'Velo can be as good as he wants to be, as long as his big-shot job doesn't interfere too much. Our local arch rivals Adrian Gerritts and Crispy Walker will have very good years. Adrian will win some big SoCal field sprints, hopefully for victories if his gigantic team (see below) can control the field. And Walker is looking again to Elite Nationals which are being held in the OC in August. That would be awesome to have a 47-year-old dude win!

...and former pros Matt Dubberley and Zac Walker will win a lot of group rides...

Peering out beyond SB to the rest of SoCal... The P/1/2 races will be interesting because LaGrange has a HUGE team this year, having recruited some fast Germans they met at Superweek, plus rising stars Anthony Aker and Thomas Githens, along with former Kodak/SierraNevada pro Jamiel Danesh. On paper LaGrange is very strong, but will they be too big for their own good? We'll see. Not sure which other SoCal P/1/2 teams will be strong but I was very impressed with 5 Star Fish in 2007 so if they can return with their core group, they'll animate a lot of races. And of course you'll see plenty of other assorted gun slingers and assassins out there. Rigo Meza may dominate April and May like he's done the last couple years. Gnarly vets CW and Thurlow will always be feared, and of course all bets are off when pros like Daniel Ramsey, Neil Shirley, and Rahsaan Bahati make an appearance. Gawd I can't wait to see the action (hopefully from somewhere other than the very back!)

The Masters scene in SoCal will be very interesting in 2008. KK and Jerry Jayne have built the Amgen/Giant Masters Team into a true power-house. They've recruited Thurlow, Steve Strickler, and Malcolm Hill from defunct Sonance/Specialized. Plus, Wayne Stetina and Thom Doughty from AMD Masters have joined up. There must be near a hundred stars-'n-bars jerseys between those guys. My prediction is that those superstars will cause strongmen like Jerry, Pete Sullivan, Mike Onkels, and Gus Corona to step up to an even higher level. As long as they don't get in each others way, Amgen/Giant will dominate SoCal masters racing. But, count on Cynergy to capitalize on any mistakes, because they're very strong too. The Cynergy core returns for 2008, including Hawk Worthington, Greg Leibert, and Mark Scott. But they've also added some real fire power including perennial top finishers like Kirk Bausch, Mark Fluss, Gary Wall, Larry Shannon, Joe Wenninger, and (sadly) Matt Hahn. I say sadly re Matt because there was talk of my bud Chris Hahn coming out of retirement to race with his older bro, but it doesn't look likely now. Anyway, Cynergy looks very strong and will do epic battle with Amgen/Giant. Any other strong Masters teams out there in SoCal for 2008?

[add/edit] And now I've been told that a couple additional superstars have signed up with Amgen/Giant... Kent Bostick and Rich Meeker! So let me up my estimate of the Stars-'n-Bars hanging in their closests to, oh, how about 200!? Can you say "juggernaut"?

And in more Masters news... in case you missed it, good ol' Roger G. Worthington, esq. is cackling on about making a comeback. Read it
here on Truesport.

Looking to NorCal, most likely Cal Giant Strawberries will be the dominant P/1/2 team. They've added a few studs to their already-strong roster, including SB's Ken Hanson who is as fast as any sprinter in California and I predict he'll win 5-10 races in 2008. Not sure who the other mega-teams are (?) but I read on CN a few weeks back that the ZTeam would be fielding a young elite squad, including SB native Uthman Ray. NorCal racing is notorious for guerilla warfare, so also look for some rebels to upset the big teams. I'll be watching my fav youngster Grant Van Horn who'll be splitting his time between US U-23 duties and the WasteManagement Elite Development team. That kid is hard to contain. I'd also expect to see some animation from Jon Eropkin and Vince Owens 'cause those two aren't happy unless they're attacking or already off-the-front. And then there's Hernando... 'nuff said.

It appears that NorCal Masters racing will be dominated by the merger of Spine and Morgan Stanley/Specialized. Nobody will climb away from Chris Phipps or Mike Hutchinson and the MS leadout train is pretty hard to beat. That said, you can never count out guys like Larry Nolan, Dean LaBerge, and Kevin Metcalfe on the latest incarnation of the AMD Masters team (now called Specialized Racing). They have the innate killer instinct and a nose for the finish line. And all bets are off if former euro-pro teammates like Dylan Casey and Scott McKinnley get fit.

What I really want to see is a showdown of the best NorCal and SoCal masters. A knockdown, drag-out, fight-to-the-death race to claim supremacy of ALL OF CALIFORNIA. Who would it be? Thurlow and Amgen/Giant? A knife fighter like Mark Scott? Hutch and the MS/Spinies? Nolan's F-Truckin' A-Team? Hernando or Crispy Walk? Dang, my heart rate elevates just thinking about it.

What about the North American pro scene? I know nothin' about that stuff, but I'll be pullin' for BJM and our new home-boy Aaron Olson with Bissell. Plus, I hope those canucks from Symmetrics kick some US butt in retaliation for the ATOC snub. Gimme a break, Symmetrics is better than Kelly Benefits or Jelly Belly for a race like the Tour of California.

Hmmm, what else... I wish I knew more about the women's racing scene, 'cause I think it's on the rise. I'll be paying closer attention in 2008. In SoCal the talk is all about the new Rock Racing women's team. They'll be in the spotlight and under pressure to perform. Nationally, Webcor and High Road should be the dominant teams and us SB'ers will be cheering for our latest pro resident Kim Anderson (and of course, Laura Van Gilder who's a regular spring-time visitor).

Well, this is getting long and the booming thunder and lightening are threatening my power and internet connection, so I need to wrap it up.

Don't hesitate to comment if you've got ideas, opinions, and/or prognostications for the 2008 racing season. It's gonna be a fun one...


Vincenzo said...

It's going to be an interesting year and a lot of fun. Are you doing Boulevard or Mothballs? Boulevard would be very good for you, but mothballs is in your backyard. Tough decision.

Marco Fanelli said...

Hey Vince! Good to hear from you. I've been casually following your new team's adventures. Must be exciting times over in the valley. Yeah, I'm 90% sure I'll stay in town for Mothballs rather than suffer at Blvd. I see you're signed up...good luck to you! But have you seen the list of guys you'll be racing against down there?!? Sheesh!

TnA said...

What? No love or prognostications for us old fart Cat 4s???

Marco Fanelli said...

TnA- I don't know diddly about Cat 4s beyond SB but I do know that SB has some good ones. You, for example, will get some nice results if you race often enough. Cat 4 is a weird category to handicap because it's made up of guys stuck there who either don't race often, or rarely get results, plus those transient uber-studs who just pass through in a month or two on their way to higher categories. It's tough to survey the landscape and say anything meaningful, but I'll bet somewhere in California there's a 2008 cat 4 who will one day be a pro. Who is it?

TnA said...

I'll let you know in a month or two ;-)

Vincenzo said...

Boulevard will be really tough! It should be good experience though. A top 20 would be like winning a regional race

blue squirrel said...

hey marco
the inside scoop is that our [team becher+] big boy tim "masiguy" jackson will be back this season to draw blood and dominate the masters 35+ crit season down here in soCal. i am mending well and looking to burn some matches at the most inopportune moments this year. i just hope that my new TI plate and torn tendons in my other arm can keep me on the bike during blvd.

on a central cal side note, we have a young rider going to santa cruz this year, that could use some good ol' master's tutelage, do you know anyone in that area he can ride with?

good luck this year and take it easy on me while i am in the "break at the back"

Anonymous said...

Great write-up Mark, but you overstate (drastically I'm afraid)my promise! Success for me in 2008 will be keeping up w power mongerer extraordinaire TnA!

The Chicken Rancher who is flying under the radar and FLYING in the early season is Aaron Long, he who can be seen at the front on Saturday or Sunday! Watch out for the A-Long, who is riding like a beast, despite becoming a first time father in the past month!

gene r (aka old AND slow and proud of it)

Marco Fanelli said...

Blue- Glad you and Masiguy will be mixing it up in the 35+. Somebody needs to shake up the pecking order a bit! Re the Jr going to Santa Cruz... Mike Hernandez is a main dude up there and I'm sure he's willing to help out a young rider. I hear he's often out on some regular lunchtime rides. Also, I'll ask the gf of one of my teammates since she just moved here from SC. Anyway, Santa Cruz has always seemed to be friendly cycling community so I'm sure he'll hook up with good people.

Gene- Don't sell yourself short... Admit it, your fitness is looking good and you are fired up for racing! And yes, Aaron is going great too. I guess I forgot to mention him because I haven't seen him racing since he's been in SB but if he starts doing the races he'll get some good results for sure. He's a 3 too? If so, man-o-man that's a strong 3's team!