Professional cycling scoffed when Linda McCartney Foods announced they would sponsor a team, and the riders would eat its food.
Why? Linda McCartney Foods is a vegetarian food company, and everyone knows a pro cyclist needs meat to make it. Or so everyone thought.
David Macca McKenzie hung on to win stage 7 by 51 seconds, after a 100-mile solo breakaway, lauded by La Gazzetta dello Sport, an Italian sports paper which has sponsored the race since its inception in 1909, as "a feat worthy of the old-time greats."
"I didn't believe I was going to do it because the speed of the bunch when they wind it up in the finale is incredible. I just had to bite the bullet and give it everything," a tearful McKenzie, 25, said at the finish.
"It looked like an impossible enterprise, but I did it ... I had a difficult time on the final uphill section, but I regained confidence in the downhill. I'm a sprinter, and I could not think it was possible for me to complete this kind of long-range attempts. It's a great victory for me and the team."
McKenzie's surprising victory, and his teammate Max Sciandris solid second place in the next days stage, has put an end to sarcastic comments by the Italian media about the unimpressive results of the Linda McCartney team, reputedly due to their all-vegetarian diet. Each rider signed a contract saying he would uphold a vegetarian diet throughout the season.
The day after McKenzie's victory, the Italian papers, displaying their willingness to acknowledge a dramatic effort, featured self-mocking headlines such as "McKenzie wins on salad" and playful sample menus of Linda McCartney food.
Former Beatle Paul McCartney, husband of the late Linda, maintains a low-profile interest in the team and may visit the race at some point.
In one week of racing at the Giro, the Linda McCartney team has scored five top-ten placings, quite a feat for any team. Tofu, anyone?
Remembering 1988: The Gavia Pass
On a pleasant day, the 17K climb over Passo di Gavia in the Dolomite Mountains of northern Italy is a very hard ride. Add snow and it quickly becomes epic.
On a June day in 1988, American Andy Hampsten, riding for the 7-11 team, did an incredible ride as a freak blizzard hit the summit of the Gavia Pass and took over leadership of the Giro dItalia, which he would win a few days later. He finished second that day, while behind numerous riders abandoned in the hellish conditions.
Hampsten had the benefit of a fully outfitted team car waiting for him at the summit (where the road turned to dirt) to hand off a skiing jacket, gloves and goggles so he could navigate the axle-deep snow. He finished that epic race with hypothermia, as did all the riders.
Although this years Giro dItalia Stage 14 over the 2,621-meter pass probably wont encounter snow (the riders hope), cycling fans remember that day in 1988 as one of the most memorable bike races ever.
This year the two Dolomite Mountain stages include six major passes, and will likely determine the races outcome.
Stage 13 includes the steep Falzarego, Fedaia and Marmolada passes; Stage 14, on Sunday, May 28 will cover 205 kilometers along the Adriatic coast between Selva Val Gardena and Bormio, including the legendary Gavia.
Race leader Francesco Casagrande thinks Sundays stage will be the battleground for his pink jersey.
"I will attack there as I did on the San Pellegrino climb last Monday," he said.
"Of my rivals, Pavel Tonkov is the more experienced and definitely the most dangerous," said Casagrande, realizing that the race is far from over.
Worth every penny
Few people would argue that professional athletes are underpaid. But its hard to begrudge cancer survivor Lance Armstrong his current salary and endorsement deals worth $7.5 million this year.
Since being shunned by every professional cycling team in 1997 and signing with the U.S. Postal Service squad for the paltry sum of $250,000, the man who beat cancer and then went on to win the Tour de France has seen his stock rise faster than the daunting roads he climbed in the French Alps. This in relation to both his popularity, and his marketability.
In a report by USA Todays Bruce Horovitz, Armstrongs income from 16 companies totals $7,550,000. After winning the Tour last year, Armstrong signed a contract extension with the U.S. Postal Service, that will pay him $2 million in 2000, eight times his original base salary. But thats only the start.
Bristol-Myers-Squibb signs a check for $700,000 for his promotion of cancer treatment drugs; Penguin Putnam Books paid him $525,000 for his autobiography, Its Not About the Bike; Nike is thinking that Lance might be as big as Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan and sends him a check for $500,000; at the bottom of the list, Shimano is happy to have Lance riding on its parts for $100,000.
"Lance is somewhat astounded by what's happening now," said Armstrong's agent, Bill Stapleton, who has said that future deals for endorsements will start at $1 million. "The numbers are pretty staggering and he's really flattered."
"The illness was the best thing that ever happened to me as person, an athlete and a marketing figure, said Armstrong. I dont do anything just for the money anymore. I did before my illness, but not anymore. Its the wrong reason."
Immediately after he signed his extension, Armstrong pledged to donate at least $250,000 from his 2000 salary to his Lance Armstrong Foundation for cancer research. The LAF has raised $10 million since 1997, including Lances personal donation of $600,000.
But the dollars might only be beginning to flow towards Armstrong. In this Olympic year, with the extremely all-American Texan at his height of popularity even if he doesnt win the 2000 Tour, according to marketing experts Armstrong and his incredible story could garner huge attention in Sydney, where every company willing to pay endorsement fees would love to sport a little bit of Armstrongs magic.
IMBA President meets President
Its not often that a member of the cycling community meets the President of the United States.
Lance Armstrong met President Clinton after he won the Tour de France last summer, and now mountain bikers have had their turn in the Oval Office.
International Mountain Bike Association president Ashley Korenblat met with Clinton to discuss mountain bike access to newly designated National Monuments such as the Grand Canyon Parashant in Arizona.
Korenblat urged Clinton to change language in the Presidential Proclamation, which will create new monuments, to state that mountain biking is allowed on monument roads and trails.
Clinton said he understood the issues and would look into IMBAs questions.
The President, who recognized Korenblat as a member of his 1992 Massachusetts election campaign, praised her as my secret weapon from Massachusetts.
Hopefully Clinton will continue to be a secret weapon for mountain bikers on trail advocacy issues.