Last week's Tour de Georgia (April 21-27) was Rock Racing's first real chance to get their assembled collection of biking 'bad boys' into the international media spotlight by actually riding their bikes. In a stage race.
Tyler Hamilton, Oscar Sevilla and Santiago Botero were all there on the start line resplendent in the loud Rock Racing team kit. Extrovert team owner Michael Ball's squad is right on the edge of credibility, as befits a squad that is willing to take on this trio of riders who have been embroiled in past doping scandals. But there's no denying that Ball knows how to work the press.
Hamilton, Sevilla and Botero had already been banned from riding the Tour of California earlier in the year, instead riding the route of the race behind the peloton, waving to the crowd and signing autographs. Coupled with the on-off relationship with Mario Cipollini that saw the veteran sprinter back in action for the team in California, albeit briefly, it was a media hit for Ball and his clothing brand that sponsor the team.
As it panned out in Georgia, only Sevilla made a dent on the final top ten, placing sixth. Belarusian Kanstantin Siutsou (High Road) won the overall. Hamilton finished 92nd, some 41 minutes 32 seconds adrift of Siutsou, and Botero failed to finish the final stage in Atlanta.
You'd be forgiven if you missed the Tour de Georgia. Just a few years ago the event was billed as America's top stage race - and boasts Lance Armstrong as a previous winner, in 2004 - but has been quickly eclipsed by the Tour of California as the States' premier multi-day road race.
Santiago Botero shows off his Rock Racing team strip
... As does Oscar Sevilla, looking happy to be riding
Botero in action
Tyler Hamilton strikes a familiar shirt-open pose, but didn't have the legs to pose a serious challenge in the race
Tyler Hamilton is still a big star in the States, and was there to sign autographs for fans
Levi Leipheimer ended up third overall for his Astana team
Take it to the bridge: the six-stage Tour de Georgia comprises over 600 miles of racing
Those riders that made the trip were treated to better weather than their Europe-bound counterparts
All photos by ISPA
Tour de Georgia official website: www.tourdegeorgia.com
Cipollini quits Rock Racing
Cipollini signs with Rock Racing
Tour of California starts with a spat
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