Sports

Vuelta a España, U.S. Open, Champion's League and More Updates

| by Sports Nickel

CYCLING TAKES ON A SPANISH FLAVOR FOR LAST GRAND TOUR…

Last Saturday the Vuelta a España kicked off its 75th anniversary with a nighttime start in Sevilla. Not every rider loved the team time trial in the streetlight, but by and large the quarter-million fans along the 14.4-kilometer route were giddy at the spectacle. Since then we’ve seen sprint finishes, wicked climbs, and more. We’ve seen the passing of a cycling legend. Through all of this past week and in the weeks to come, I’ve been following the race stage by stage here at Sports Nickel; below are excerpts along with links to all the daily coverage:

  • STAGE 1 (Sevilla TTT): The only team left with any hope was Rabobank, looking to place their contender (and the only former champion in this year’s race) Denis Menchov into a strong position heading into the Vuelta’s first week. But the longtime standard-bearer for Dutch cycling teams has never been that strong in the team time trial discipline, lacking the engines to drive the echelon a la Columbia or Garmin or Saxo Bank or Liquigas. Finishing 18th out of the 22 teams, they forfeited 36 seconds on the road to the leaders. In the process, Menchov begins the rest of the race already down 26 seconds to Kreuziger and Nibali, 24 seconds behind the Schlecks and 23 seconds from Carlos Sastre. It isn’t an insurmountable gap, but it is a wider margin than the Rabobank leadership had hoped to see. Once the dust settled into the Spanish night, no team had managed to come within ten seconds of Columbia’s winning time, and Cavendish wrapped himself in another leader’s jersey after his team also won the team time trial at the opening stage of the 2009 Giro d’Italia….   READ MORE HERE
  • STAGE 2 (Alcalá de Guadaíra to Marbella): After their head-to-head battle on the Pruna, though, the three remaining riders off the front returned to their cooperative effort in hopes that they might still be able to stay away to the finish line long enough so that they could battle for the stage victory amongst themselves. The heat started to take its toll, though, the mercury in Spanish thermometers spiking near 100 degrees in the region through which the cyclists were riding. The leading trio started to fracture, as each man started to form visions of a solo ride into Marbella. The scrambling and dysfunction up in the leading group allowed the peloton to reel the gap in, teams like Columbia and Garmin and Lampre preparing for the big finish. The long downhill stretch did little to energize the flagging chances of Delage, Ramírez and Walker, minutes melting away from their lead as their hopes of a stage win began to look more and more futile with each passing kilometer. And thus the catch came, 12 kilometers from the finish in Marbella….   READ MORE HERE
  •  

    The Columbia squad, with its heavy firepower lined up in Sevilla, captured the first lead in the 2010 Vuelta with their masterful performance in the nighttime TTT in Sevilla...

    STAGE 3 (Marbella to Málaga): It was bound to be a day when Mark Cavendish finally lost his hold of the red jersey as race leader, with first- and second-category climbs spiking up out of the route as well as a punishing last two kilometers that ramp up to pitches well into the double digits in grade. Cavendish, a pure sprinter, would have been fine without the finishing ramp added into the finale. Instead it would be another man gracing the podium on the day, the Manxman enjoying his two days in the sun and now left to try to regain his points jersey. By the end of this stage, one man would assert his dominance on this particular chunk of roadway. Philippe Gilbert, the Belgian classics specialist who has conquered the Het Volk twice and the 2009 Giro di Lombardia and this spring’s Amstel Gold Race along terrain similar to Stage 3, basically conquered everything in his path, ascending the podium thrice on the day….   READ MORE HERE

  • STAGE 4 (Málaga to Valdepeñas de Jaén): The mood at the start in Málaga was solemn as the peloton and assembled media, fans and team and race personnel learned of the passing of two-time Tour de France champion Laurent Fignon. Remembered more by fans — and especially American fans — as the blond-haired, granny-spectacles-wearing Frenchman who turned a 50-second lead heading into the final-day time trial at the 1989 Tour into an eight-second deficit at the finale than one of the most dominant stage racers and all-around powerful cyclists during the 1980s, Fignon lost a long battle with cancer and passed away at age 50 in Paris. Fignon was a rider whose candid tale of what drug use really meant back in those pelotons twenty, thirty years past and how their use of chemicals of ever-increasing potency might just have led to the ultimate breakdown of their bodies to damage no drug nor level of endurance can mend. “In those days everyone was doing it,” he explained in his recent book We Were Young and Carefree. “But it is impossible to know to what extent doping harms you. Whether those who lived through 1998, when a lot of extreme things happened, will get cancer after 10 or 20 years, I really can’t say.” It is a rough wake-up call of the fact that even the best of champions, whose natural abilities would have them far ahead of the pack regardless of the situation, feel the same need to “keep up with the Joneses” as any other athlete (or us fans, for that matter)…   READ MORE HERE
  • STAGE 5 (Guadix to Lorca): It was a day where GC leader Philippe Gilbert, after muscling his way to the stage victory and the red jersey on Monday and keeping grip on it Tuesday despite a second straight leg-busting uphill finish, could finally sit back in the pack with his Omega Pharma-Lotto teammates and preserve his strength and his jersey. And with absolutely no categorized climbs on the stage, Serafin Martinez (Xacobeo Galicia) didn’t have to worry about hitting any summits and could likewise sit back and relax. Instead it was Cavendish’s prime chance to capture his first individual stage victory of his career at the Vuelta. He was forced to freelance his way to the finish line, though, as his lead-out man Matthew Goss lost contact in the final five kilometers and left the Manxman on his own. It would be a recipe for disaster, as Cavendish opened up his sprint with half a kilometer still left to race. It would prove about 200m too early…   READ MORE HERE

Popular Video

A police officer saw a young black couple drive by and pulled them over. What he did next left them stunned:

Popular Video

A police officer saw a young black couple drive by and pulled them over. What he did next left them stunned:

TENNIS SLAMS ITS WAY TO NEW YORK CITY…

The last Grand Slam event of 2010 has officially commenced amidst the sweltering, muggy conditions of Flushing Meadows, Queens and the concrete confines of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Conditions on court  have been in the triple digits, prompting many an athlete to melt in the soupy air — Victoria Azarenka is but the most prominent of a slew of players affected by the heat. Some of it comes down to conditioning, some comes down to individual physiology… but no matter how you slice it, we’ve been witness to some amazing tennis so far despite the effects the rising thermometers have had one some. Like the Vuelta I’ve been offering daily coverage of the season’s final Grand Slam; read on for excerpts and links to the nightly musings:

  • DAY 1 (Monday/30 August): Some of the seeded players had real trouble advancing through. Five different seeds were battled all the way to a fifth set on Monday — and only four emerged from the quagmire to advance to the second round. The one that couldn’t survive the test, though, was a former winner a decade removed from his best. Lleyton Hewitt, who came into the tournament seeded #32, was dealt a healthy dose of humble pie when he left Louis Armstrong Stadium a defeated man. Paul-Henri Mathieu scored one of the biggest wins of his career with the defeat, leaving the 29-year-old Hewitt to wonder whether sticking with the sport is the wisest decision for another few years or whether it’d be better to simply cut his losses. Down two sets heading into the third, it appeared as though all was d0ne for the Aussie. But Hewitt pulled back one, reeled in another and it was winner-take-all from there. He was gassed by that point, though — the Frenchman got the better of his more esteemed opponent this time through, capturing the upset 6-3 6-4 5-7 4-6 6-1…   READ MORE HERE
  • 2001 champion Lleyton Hewitt couldn't catch up enough to what Paul-Henri Mathieu was returning and bombed out of the 2010 U.S. Open in the first round...

    DAY 2 (Tuesday/31 August): The biggest upset yet at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center came right off the bat in men’s doubles play, as the defending champions Lukas Dlouhy and Leander Paes blew their #3 seed in an opening-round loss to the Czech/Slovak pairing of Martin Damm and Filip Polasek. The champs would take the first set in a tense tiebreak, prevailing 9-7 in the extra frame for the 7-6 set victory. But it seemed as the match went on as though Damm and Polasek were starting to figure out their more decorated opposition. Sweeping the next two sets 6-3 6-4, the underdogs slid out from under their deficit to emerge victorious… and things just got a whole lot easier for the other favorites, the Bryan brothers and Nestor/Zimonjic and the rest. Rajeev Ram and Bobby Reynolds are one of the main beneficiaries. I had this team meeting up against the #3 seed in the quarterfinals, and their sudden absence from the draw opens that entire quarter of the bracket for everyone to begin dreaming….   READ MORE HERE

  • DAY 3 (Wednesday/01 September): In addition to Azarenka’s sad demise, there were other upsets sprinkled throughout the women’s draw. In the first match of the day in Arthur Ashe Stadium, for instance, former world #1 Ana Ivanovic continued her resurgence against #21 seed Zheng Jie. The 27-year-old Chinese woman, who in the most recent hard-court Grand Slam reached the semifinals of the Australian Open in January, couldn’t find a way to thwart the ambitions of her Serbian opponent. Ivanovic finished the match off before noon even struck, a 6-3 6-0 victory sending her through to the next round. There she will meet not #13 Marion Bartoli but Virginie Razzano, Bartoli’s fellow Frenchwoman who took their second-round encounter 7-5 6-4 on Court 13. Razzano, who reached the fourth round in Queens four years ago in the 2006 U.S. Open, is playing well as of late after seeing her ranking plummet twenty spots following the Australian Open. This third-round tie will be a battle between women trying to return to their previous competitive apex. #28 Alisa Kleybanova was far too easily dispatched by Sara Errani 6-2 6-3 over on Court 4. And the last upset for the women on the third day of play came for the last seeded player amongst the 32….   READ MORE HERE

NO WORLD CUP HANGOVER ALLOWED AS SOCCER HITS FULL FORCE…

After this summer’s World Cup reawakened the world to all that is good (and bad) in the sport, soccer leagues have been getting their start once again all over Europe. The action kicked into gear in Spain and Italy recently, joining the already-begun German and English leagues in getting domestic play started. National teams are gearing up already throughout Europe for the long road of qualification that leads to the Euro 2012 tournament in Poland and Ukraine.

This non-traditional sports fan had to watch as my main Italian rooting interest, Inter Milan, came back for 2010-11 hot off its historic treble season last year and promptly drew against Bologna. Emiliano Viviano was insane in net for the home side. Inter unleashed 22 shots, seven of which challenged Viviano in the net. The defending Serie A champions had seven corner kicks and numerous set pieces, but couldn’t find the back of the net. Júlio César, Viviano’s opposite for the visitors, was far less challenged in keeping his own clean sheet. So instead of nabbing an early lead in the standings, it is instead cross-town rival AC Milan which takes the first lead of the Serie A season on the strength of their 4-0 win at the San Siro over hapless Lecce.

After a huge World Cup campaign with Uruguay, Diego Forlan needed just 68 minutes to net two more goals for Atlético Madrid in the Spanish season opener...

Seeing as how Real Betis is no longer a top-flight team, I have to once again go to my second choice in Spain this year. Real Madrid nabbed me early with their history (and the fact that they had Davor Suker when I started looking for a replacement for the weak sister of Sevilla soccer to follow in the Primera Liga after their drop), but they could only secure a point this weekend as well after going scoreless in Mallorca. Instead, just like Inter (the team new Real coach Jose Mourinho left behind for his new gig after winning everything possible last year in Milan), it is their local rivals who sit atop the inaugural table of 2010-11. Atlético Madrid, with their Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan leading the charge, made short work of Sporting Gijon in their opener. Forlan got two goals in the 4-0 victory, putting the less-heralded of the teams from the capital city as the team to beat at this point in Spain.

And then there was England. My main team there, Newcastle United, is back in the top flight after a year spent in relegation at the Championship level. Returned to the Premiership, it has been a Jekyll-and-Hyde season for the Geordies so far. They opened the year with a 3-0 blanking by Manchester United in Old Trafford that frankly wasn’t that shocking to see. The next week offered a bigger surprise in their home opener at St. James’ Park, when visiting Aston Villa — the team who sealed Newcastle’s relegation fate at the end of the 2008-09 season — was dealt a bit of payback for their previous ouster of the Magpies with a 6-0 drubbing that served as young striker Andy Carroll’s coming-out party at the Premiership level. This past weekend, though, things came crashing back to earth once again. On the road at Wolverhampton, Newcastle could only muster a draw this time. Sylvan Ebanks-Blake opened scoring for the home side just before halftime; Carroll clawed back the point for his team with a beautiful header in the box that beat Wanderers keeper Marcus Hahnemann and allowed Newcastle to stay at mid-table for another week.

But that’s not even the most exciting thing happening in Europe at this point. While domestic league play is the backbone for the rest of the structure, it all is a build-up for who gets to compete in the Champions League these days. When the draw came out earlier this week, I couldn’t help but break down what this year’s edition might hold in store. So read on to see my thoughts on how things might end up in the premier intercontinental club competition:

Just as one continent wraps up their tournament of champions, another gets theirs ready to start anew. On the heels of Internacional’s Copa Libertadores victory over Chivas last week, Italy’s Internazionale gears up for its Champions League title defense after their defeat of Bayern Munich in the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid last May. Inter has a lot easier path back to the knockout stage than their cross-town Milanese rival, for certain… but how do all these teams fare after UEFA released the final draw on Thursday? With plenty of powerhouses amongst the 32 chosen ones, there is going to be some fierce competition amongst these groups. The preliminary stage begins its regular slate of Tuesday/Wednesday match days on September 14-15, teams getting a few domestic contests under their belts before European competition commences. Let’s take a quick look group by group and see who is likely to break through to the Round of 16 from each one, shall we?   READ MORE HERE

TOOLING AROUND THE NET…

It’s been a rough week for reading things. Between my BlackBerry being replaced with a pre-defective unit last week and the company that seems to be cycling through my domicile with alarming regularity, there’s been little time to sit down and really tuck into some in-depth articles around the net. What little time I have had has been spent writing (or, as this column’s tardiness can attest, drinking)… but between work and deep-cleaning the house, those times have been few and far between. I couldn’t be completely held back, though, so here are a few things I’ve definitely enjoyed the past week:

  • What’s left for Michael Phelps to prove? (Wayne Drehs/ESPN.com/25 August 2010) After a less-than-stellar showing at the Pan-Pacific Championships in Irvine last week, it’s a reasonable question to ask. Phelps has been the undisputed star of the swimming pool for the better part of the past decade, with his unprecedented eight gold medals in Beijing only the culmination of the work he’d put in four years earlier in Athens (where he won six golds and two bronzes). So with London 2012 just a few summers away and the world championships looming next summer, and Phelps’ commitment to training seemingly waning, it is a fine time for Drehs to dig into this vexing question…
  • Cricket cleans up … baseball could learn a lot from the sport (Jeff Pearlman/SI.com/01 September 2010) Perhaps you didn’t hear about it, but Pakistan (one of the traditional powerhouse squads of international cricket) is now under investigation for the possibility that as many as eighty of its matches might have been fixed in the recent past. If the allegations prove true, it might just be one of the biggest scandals to ever hit international sport. But unlike Major League Baseball, which perpetuated another scandal throughout the 1990s and beyond, cricket has proven much more proactive in nipping corruption in the bud. Pearlman does a great job comparing and contrasting the approaches, and shows precisely why the national pastime of many a former British protectorate has gotten it so right when that national pastime of the most prosperous former British protectorate has gotten it so wrong…
  • Roddick deserves to be called out for behavior (Jon Wertheim/SI.com/02 September 2010) So I didn’t catch writing about this aspect of the Roddick ouster… but that’s fine, because senior SI tennis correspondent Jon Wertheim got it exactly right when he dropped the hammer on ol’ Andy. The American tennis star proved that there is no shortage of petulance in the professional game, berating a hapless official that is trained to turn a cheek no matter how blatant the attack coming their way. For a man who has long been the standard-bearer for American men’s tennis, it was the most shameful display possible…
  • Bulgarians remain in shadow of class of ’94 (Jonathan Stevenson/BBC Sport/02 September 2010) As England gears up to play Bulgaria in the first match of a long journey that has all of Europe’s teams hoping for a coveted spot in the sixteen-team Euro 2012 tournament coming up in Poland and Ukraine in two years, Stevenson remembers the benchmark by which all other Bulgarian squads are measured. Traditionally an afterthought in European play, that one glorious summer sixteen years ago yielded a Cinderella story for the ages. Reaching just their second World Cup in two decades, that 1994 squad came to America and promptly ran all the way to the semifinals of the tournament — knocking off defending champions Germany along the way. This is definitely a touching tale, and something for the current incarnation of Bulgaria’s national team to strive for…
  • Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay: Arch-enemies? (Matt Stroup/Universal Sports/01 September 2010)After the Jamaican world-record holder at 100m lost his first race at the distance in two years, he had some interesting words about his vanquisher in a recent interview. Stroup looks at the budding rivalry between Bolt and Tyson Gay, the American that pipped Bolt in Stockholm for the biggest win of his 2010 comeback campaign. We’ve got some fuel for the fire, as 2011 (a world-championship year) promises to yield plenty of fireworks on the track between these two men (as well as Bolt’s compatriot Asafa Powell, 2010 IAAF Diamond League 100m runner-up to Gay, and current European championship holder Christophe Lemaitre)…

A NICKEL’S WORTH…

  1. Congrats to all the champions of the inaugural IAAF Diamond League. On the strength of three victories in the final three meets with 100m races, Tyson Gay swept in to take that title over injured Jamaican Asafa Powell. Other American men’s titlists included Wallace Spearmon (200m), Jeremy Wariner (400m), David Oliver (110m hurdles), Bershawn Jackson (400m hurdles), Dwight Phillips (long jump) and Christian Cantwell (shot put). On the women’s side, Allyson Felix swept both the 200m and 400m titles, giving the United States the clean sweep in the sprints by both sexes after Carmelita Jeter sealed the deal for the women at 100m as well. Brittney Reese (long jump) rounds out a successful year for the American track-and-field contingent as they gear up for next year’s worlds…
  2. The return of Formula 1 racing last weekend at the Belgian Grand Prix was not the prettiest of races, but ultimately Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) beat out Mark Webber (Red Bull) for the victory. In the process the British driver swapped spots with the Australian in the hunt for the driver’s championship, reclaiming the top spot by a mere three points on the strength of his win at Spa-Francorchamps. The series takes a break this weekend before heading to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix. There the Ferrari contingent will be hoping Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa can enjoy a good showing on the team’s home soil, but the way McLaren and Red Bull are racing this might be a two-horse race to the end. (Special mention also goes to Adrian Sutil of the Force India team. After reaching the podium last year at this race, Sutil returned for another top-five finish. As a small upstart in the powerhouse-dominated sport, it was a fine result for the financially-beleaguered Force India crew.)
  3. Tiger Woods might have just endured the worst year of his life, but things seem to be turning around for the troubled golf legend. His marriage may be officially over now, but there’s no reason why his golf career should be with it. Woods finally found his groove at the Barclays Championship at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey. Despite his middle-round slump, ol’ Eldrick shot a 65 on the opening Thursday and a closing 67 on Sunday to vault back up into the top 70 in FedEx Cup points and put himself in position after a feeble 2010 to at least redeem himself with a shot at the championship. While I’m still going to be pulling for the next generation to develop and emerge as champions, a field without Tiger is just a little less intriguing — after all, you have to beat the best to truly be the best…
  4. How about a round of applause for Daiki Ito, who took the lead in the ski-jumping Summer Grand Prix series with his third victory of the summer in Hakuba? (Or, better yet, did you even realize that there was such a thing as ski jumping in the summer?!) On the heels of victory in Courcheval, Ito has been having a dominant summer on the ramp. He’s outshined Olympic medalists such as Poland’s Adam Malysz and Austria’s Thomas Morganstern so far this year, and despite not showing as strong as he would’ve liked in February’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver Ito is setting himself up for a strong 2010-11 winter World Cup campaign…
  5. And Americans just keep winning at the FIBA World Basketball Championships. Wow… big deal. So a team stocked with nothing but NBA talent can beat countries like Croatia and Tunisia and Slovenia. I’m stunned. The biggest shocker is not that the Americans are winning, but that they nearly came close to losing their 5-0 record in group play. As my Sports Nickel colleague John Mitchell wrote, the Americans nearly lost to Brazil in a 70-68 thriller that finally provided some battle testing for a green American side. They haven’t had to be at their best in group play, but if the USA wants to win their first world championship since 1994 they’ll have to be a lot better once knockout play begins…

ON THE DOCKET…

Naturally the two biggest events on this Non-Traditional Sports Fan’s radar are the big tournaments already in action. The U.S. Open and the Vuelta a España dominate the calendar at the moment. And with the conclusion of the IAAF Diamond League season and no Formula 1 this weekend, the cupboards are looking a little bare in the non-traditional sense. But that doesn’t mean I’ll be discouraged… no, here’s my recommendations for the week to come:

  • Vuelta a España (through Sunday/19 August 2010)The last grand tour of 2010 has been a mountainous, question-filled race so far. With Andy Schleck looking to assist his brother Frank to a grand-tour victory, Saxo Bank has tipped its hand as to its intentions. Denis Menchov still looks plenty hungry for a third Vuelta, and a group of Spaniards (led by Igor Anton and Joaquin Rodriguez) is hoping to keep the red leader’s jersey on home soil this time around. Be sure to catch the live daily feeds at Steephill.TV, and I’ll be here throughout the next fortnight to bring you daily news and notes on the race as well…
  • U.S. Open (through Sunday/12 August 2010) The best men and women of the tennis world are congregated in Flushing Meadows for the final Grand Slam of the 2010 tennis season, and this is the best chance (for those of you who may not be as insomniac as I am) to catch a good chunk of a major tournament during the year. We’ve already witnessed some stark surprises on both sides of the singles draw, but don’t forget also about all the doubles action — men’s, women’s and mixed — to be found at the National Tennis Center in Queens. A full TV schedule promises lots of viewing opportunities for fans in the United States all through the tournament…
  • College football begins! (beginning tonight and through the weekend) Sure, it may be something that is wholly traditional for most sports fans in America, but the start of the college football season is certainly something that’ll be captivating this Non-Traditional Sports Fan as I try to follow the games on the radio and my phone at work. For those of you who don’t have to punch the timeclock this weekend, be sure to stock up on refreshments and prepare your favorite chair, because as the air takes on a slight chill it can mean only one thing: football season is here, back and as good as ever. Be sure to check out the Tailgater Week 1 breakdown tomorrow and keep an eye open for the wrap-up on Monday…
  • UEFA Euro 2012 qualifiers (Friday/03 September 2010 & Tuesday/07 September 2010) Been missing the pageantry, the excitement (and the free labor) of soccer’s biggest stars as they ply their trade for national glory? You’ve got your chance to root once again for your favorite European side as qualification gears up for the European Championships still nearly two years down the road. This is the opportunity for Spain to maintain their dominance of the continent and global soccer; an opportunity for teams like England and Germany to pick themselves up after disappointing knockout eliminations; and a chance for France, Italy and others to try to rebound from disastrous campaigns in South Africa. Be sure to catch all the action tomorrow between England and Bulgaria on Fox Soccer Channel

FOLLOW NON-TRADITIONAL SPORTS FAN
ZACH BIGALKE HERE!

So I learned my lesson in the end: Refrain from any beers that have more than 7% alcohol by volume if you intend to get a column written within its deadline. But while it may be five or six hours late in coming, know that a Non-Traditional Sports Fan in America is always going to come through in the end. After all, it is far better to be tardy and on your game in life than absent altogether. Another week is behind us, another big one yet to come. And all along the way, tipsy or sober, we’ll be here every step of the way…

So gear up for a big weekend to come. It’s that time of year when we break out both hats, the traditional and the non-traditional, and prepare for a fun-filled fall and winter to come. Don’t let yourself get sucked solely into football, because there’s plenty of diversity to find on the smorgasbord of sports offerings in the week to come. We’ll be back again next week to cover it all — hopefully in a more timely fashion, and hopefully exercising a little more moderation…

NTSF 102: Final majors of 2010 in cycling and tennis, soccer’s tournament cycle begins anew and more… is a post originally from: SportsNickel.com - In Sports We Trust

NTSF 102: Final majors of 2010 in cycling and tennis, soccer’s tournament cycle begins anew and more… ©, .

Related posts:

  1. NTSF 098: FIFA sanctions, tectonic shifts in cycling, new F1 leader and more…
  2. NTSF 099: Bolt bettered in Stockholm, wider meanings of relegation, Spanish bullfight ban and more…
  3. NTSF 101: Rushida sets new record, cycling gears up for Vuelta, U.S. Open previews and more…