What's a BRILF?

  • Are you a BRILF? Let everyone know you think so. brilf.net is the proud supplier of gear to Bike Racers I'd Like to... Fork over a few bucks for t-shirt while you're here, will ya?


Subscribe to brilf.net

Popular Products

Can the Tour of California be both Boring and Successful?

Maybe a better question is, "Can the Tour of California be successful without being boring?"

This year's Amgen Tour of California had all the suspense, excitement, and drama of - well, of 8 days in a row of races. But with a wire-to-wire victory and any meaningful order in the race determined almost wholly over less than 20 miles of prologue and time trial, the event was decidedly unlike the grand tours it aspires to be.

The pre-race favorites were guys like Fabian Cancellara, Michael Rogers and David Zabriskie, simply because they're time trial specialists. These guys are all amazing racers. I'm a huge Zabriskie fan and know that he's one of the world's fastest men on a bike (when he can stay on it). But he's not an all-arounder. Granted, Levi Leipheimer is an all-arounder. But he won because of his time trialing. And his team, who were challenged, and rose to the occasion.

But they were only challenged by the other teams. In the Grand Tours, racers are challenged by the terrain and the result is a continuing narrative about the race's outcome. The major distinction between the Tour of California's climbs and those in the grand tours is not their length or pitch or category or quantity - but their location. The Tour of California had no mountaintop finishes, meaning that even stages with the area's most epic climbs were won by sprinters. J.J. Haedo conquers Trinity Grade and wins Stage 2 of the Amgen Tour of California!

The answer to every "why" question you can conjure up about American cycling is the same: "Because of the economics." No cities in California with big tourism budgets are on top of mountains. And stages have to begin and end in sizable towns to draw in enough spectators to satisfy event sponsors, and enable the race to receive the continued funding it needs to grow.

The only reason The Tour of California wasn't brutally insipid to American cycling fans (or at least the American mainstream media) this year is because an American won. Again. What happens next year if Paolo Bettini comes as a racer instead of a tourist, or Sergei Gonchar shows up at all?

A boring race with world class riders and deep-pocketed sponsors is a huge win for a race promoter, and a coup for any mayor whose city is a host. But another ingredient is essential if the race wants to achieve Grand Tour status, and not plateau as a training stage race, like the Dauphine Libere (no offense, Levi). If it's not a true battle for the racers, challenging legitimate GC contenders to come fit and race earnestly, the Tour of California - like its stages - will peak early and end predictably.

The Tour of California needs a Nickname

I can't remember the last time I saw a feature story in the mainstream press here in the U.S. on cycling, that wasn't somehow about an American in the Tour de France. Until this year's Tour of California, that is. Race reports, personal interest pieces, community perspectives and a handful of other story types are showing up everywhere, from the New York Times to the San Jose Merc and the Tahoe Daily Tribune, even Wired Magazine.

One of the best pieces I've seen so far is in today's USA Today. It digs into the business side of the Tour of California, and gives some background behind the man driving it - Philip Anschutz. He owns AEG, the sports management company that's producing and promoting the Tour of California. He's also financially involved in the LA Kings, LA Lakers, Staples Center, and the MLS, and is cited by the paper as being the guy responsible for bringing David Beckham to play soccer in the U.S.

Anschutz' objective with the Tour of California is for it to evolve into one of the Grand Tours, on par with the Tours of France, Italy and Spain.

Or rather, on par with the Tour, Giro, and Vuelta.

Now I'm not saying the Tour of California needs a distinct single word moniker to continue its growth, but its current naming convention is designed to pay homage to the Grande Boucle, making it difficult for the Tour of California to demonstrate how it is uniquely qualified to be one of the world's most prestigious cycling events. Here's an analogy: If you start a new job, and you call your boss - the Vice President of the department - "Mr Smithers", you're setting a precedent that's difficult to break. If your ultimate objective is to be promoted to Manager, then Director, then VP as Smithers' peer, plan for that ascension now and call your boss simply "Adlai."

The Tour of California faces the same conundrum. Assuming it rises through the ranks, how will we refer to the 4 Grand Tours in future? As the Tour, Giro, Vuelta and The Tour of California? Not going to happen, just like Smithers is not going to promote to VP some lackey who calls him "Mr", instead of addressing him by name and showing that in his mind, he's already a peer.

20/20 hindsight, I know. Where was this line of thinking last year, before the race painted itself into a corner with the "Tour" label? Changing at this point is marketing suicide, even if a synonym for "Tour" existed and carried the perfect connotation for this event. Something that nods to California's unique properties, and alludes to the history of the event and the location, somehow.

But American cycling differs from European in that it's grounded in economics, not history and tradition. So maybe the best way to ensure the Tour of California's escalation into the Grand Tour ranks is to henceforth refer to it simply as "The Amgen."