Haves and Have Nots

Here in the United States, we’re one race into what’s affectionately known as “Philly Week.” I believe it’s officially dubbed the “Pro Cycling Tour” by promoter Threshold Sports, because there aren’t already enough permutations of “pro,” “cycling,” and “tour” in circulation. (Interestingly, I was going to link to the UCI ProTour rankings back there, but mentions of the allegedly prestigious series and its snazzy logo seem to have gone missing from their site. But that’s another story.)

The Philly Week races are sponsored by Commerce Bank, so some people – mostly from the Commerce Bank PR department – call it the "Commerce Bank Triple Crown of Cycling." Long before Commerce took over the sponsorship, no doubt encouraged by irritating spokesperson and deadly lead-out man Regis Philbin, the races were sponsored by CoreStates, another bank. Those were long and memorable years, so some people still call it the CoreStates series as well. But they’re usually old, and still wearing stretched-out lycra from that era, so they’re easy to spot. Wachovia took over for a few years there in the middle, but I don’t think anyone calls it the Wachovia series. At some point, Thrift Drug was in there as a sponsor as well, but at this point, that seems like a poor pairing with the sport. Anyway, that’s all confusing and a bit obtuse, so let’s just go with Philly Week. I’m sure that’s what the sponsors would want.

One of the big selling points for Philly Week has always been that a number of European squads make the trip over to race, which was far more rare before the rise of the Tour of California and Tour de Georgia. Sometimes the trip is for sponsorship reasons – Bjarne Riis’s CSC team has been a mainstay over the past several years, feting bigwigs from the government contractor in huge hospitality tents, and Liquigas is making the trip this year, likely at the behest of bike sponsor Cannondale. (Saeco also made several appearances during their long Cannondale tenure, with Stefano Zanini winning in 2003.) Suanier-Duval has made a few trips recently as well, giving then-cosponsor Prodir pens top billing on some special jerseys as they made a push in the U.S. market. (Full disclosure: All us media hacks got free pens that year. Ah, the perks.) Back when Philly was the USPRO championship race, some of the Euros came to support a U.S. title contender in their ranks, as Mapei, Domo and various Lotto permutations did for Fred Rodriguez over the years, while for U.S.-registered but European-focused squads, it’s a good chance to stoke the affections of the home crowd. Still other teams just come for the appearance money, a free stay in a nice Philly hotel, shopping, and maybe some prize money if they’re feeling frisky.

The arrival of the overseas teams, particularly the big budget ones, can lead to a bit of role reversal. Suddenly, it’s the traditionally hardscrabble domestic continental teams that are better equipped and on their home turf, while the usually pampered ProTour teams have to work out of rented Ryder box trucks instead of the custom-built DAF rigs they’re used to. Sure, Ryder can arrange to get you shipping blankets and a dolly, but they’re sure as hell not going to install a washer/dryer and a mini-fridge for you. And just try to find good muesli and Extran in Fishtown.

But between those extremes – the suddenly posh-looking continental squads and the rental-car driving European ProTour teams – there is some middle ground. The U.S.-registered squads like ProTour High Road and pro continental Slipstream-Chipotle keep a bit of heavy equipment over in the states, enough to look professional when they hit the bigger domestic races, but still lacking all the comforts of a safe European home. Slipstream has a nicely appointed and appropriately Euro Sprinter van, as well as a nice BMW wagon to terrorize the caravan with. But when you’re ProTour, like High Road, people expect a bit more, and you can’t just go turning up to the races without a team bus.

As evidenced by these (poor) shots taken at the CSC Invitational in Arlington, VA on Sunday, the High Road lads are a resourceful bunch. Shipping buses overseas is apparently crazy expensive, so they’ve suckered some Florida-bound Pennsylvania retirees into lending them one heavily armed recreational vehicle for the week, including an inspirational airbrushed mural on the back.

“Rocking Years” indeed. I mean, have you seen the number of wins these guys have racked up this season? Little do Bob and Janet Kowalski (retired and loving it!) of Phoenixville, PA, know, but that thing is going to reek of embrocation and ham when they get it back.

Though they’re one scant stop short of an “I’m Spending My Kid’s Inheritance” bumper sticker on the team bus side of the equation, the High Road boys pull it all back home with the caravan vehicles. While most stateside teams are content to piece together a suitable Yakima or Thule system for hauling bikes, High Road goes for the pure Euro solution – custom welding and hydraulics. No, not the kind of hydraulics that probably grace the undercarriage of the Rock Racing Escalades, allowing a range of suspension motion that would make the late Tupac blush, but roof rack hydraulics, which let everything fold down nice and tidy and flat when you want it to:

After all, if you think gas is expensive here, you should go to Europe. What’s more, they have the extra-special Y-shaped spare wheel mounts that let you hang nearly twice as many spare wheels off the back of a Passat (or a Skoda, or an Audi, or any other VAG product). Given the choice of vehicles, the fact that it’s U-bolted to the factory rack, and the limited supply of such fixtures in the U.S., I have to wonder if this is the exact same system that used to grace the roof of the VWs that Discovery Channel used stateside during their tenure.

Recycling of that sort is actually pretty common, both in Europe and here in the United States. For instance, Team Type 1’s flashy equipment truck was originally purchased by Tom Schuler for the powerhouse domestic Saturn squad of the day. When Saturn shut it’s doors, it was sold to Discovery Channel for domestic use during their tenure. With Discovery out, and Schuler back in the sport and managing Team Type 1, he repurchased the idle rig and, $6,000 worth of vinyl graphics later, she’s back. I’m headed up to Philadelphia on Sunday, so we’ll see what else we see there, on these and other life-and-death, thrill-of-victory-or-agony-of-defeat issues. In the meantime, I’ll try to throw out some other cutting-room floor material from CSC last weekend.