Rock is not your average squad

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SAVANNAH, Ga. --- Rock Racing is a cycling team unlike any other, which is by design.

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Cuban cyclist Ivan Dominguez (center), with team Toyota-United, celebrates as he wins the first stage of the sixth annual Tour de Georgia on Monday. Twelve Georgia communities have been selected as the official host venues for the event.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Cuban cyclist Ivan Dominguez (center), with team Toyota-United, celebrates as he wins the first stage of the sixth annual Tour de Georgia on Monday. Twelve Georgia communities have been selected as the official host venues for the event.

The racers wear flashy lime-and-black outfits, called "kits" in the cycling world. Rock's roster boasts an Olympic gold medalist and a former world champion, a tattoo aficionado and riders with checkered pasts. The riders ooze attitude, and they even have a fleet of Cadillacs adorned with the team logo to carry their gear.

Those involved with cycling either love 'em or hate 'em.

"I really think that what we're doing is great for the sport," Rock racer Tyler Hamilton said. "People will have to see that."

If Rock Racing posted a classified ad looking for riders, it might read something like this: "Talent a must. Past doping issues OK. Call Michael Ball to apply."

Ball is the outspoken founder, one of cycling's most polarizing figures. His team is filled with riders scorned by other teams in the cycling establishment, especially now, when the sport tries to escape its darkest chapter, the doping era.

Hamilton won Olympic gold for the United States in 2004, just before he was suspended for blood doping, which he still denies. Santiago Botero was world time trial champion in 2002 and a stage winner of the Tour de France, but he was linked to the massive "Operation Puerto" doping scandal before being cleared by Colombian officials.

Spanish rider Oscar Sevilla also was linked to "Operation Puerto," keeping him from the 2006 Tour de France. And Kayle Leogrande, the American racer known for his numerous tattoos, is involved in a legal dispute with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Even Floyd Landis, stripped of his Tour de France victory in 2006 after testing positive for abnormally high levels of testosterone, has been an adviser of sorts to Ball.

But when asked about the consistent trend among some of his riders, Ball -- who says his team is committed to anti-doping -- cringes.

"I don't want to get into the whole thing about the guys that have questionable pasts, because there's a lot of guys in the peloton that have questionable pasts," Ball said. "But I think it's a new day, and I think the sport is cleaner today than it ever has been. ... We have to clean it up. It's cleaner. It'll continue to be cleaner."

Ball was a highly successful racer once and still is an avid cyclist.

His fashion company, Rock and Republic, appeals to the high-end shopper. He once was considered too brash for fashion.

Many in cycling think the same thing.

"Maybe they don't go about everything the right way or the way people like," said George Hincapie, the veteran American star who now rides for Team High Road. "But I think it's a good thing to have them around."

Some companies that were aligned with Rock Racing have broken deals because of Ball's involvement with Hamilton and others.

He offers no apologies.

"You bring in new eyeballs, which ultimately means more dollars, new dollars, that will help grow this sport. And that's what is needed," Ball said.

But not everyone is lining up for business with Rock Racing.

Rock's spot at the invitation-only Tour de Georgia wasn't settled until an out-of-court settlement was struck last week.

Rock Racing reportedly paid a $500,000 sponsorship fee to the Tour of California and is listed this week as a "founding partner" of the Tour de Georgia.

Ball insists his financial involvement has nothing to do with his team getting into either race.

"The passion of the team and of Michael Ball certainly is applauded," Tour de Georgia event director Chris Aronhalt said.

THE ROAD AHEAD


The 2008 Tour de Georgia covers 591.7 miles in seven stages:


STAGE 1: Monday, Tybee Island to Savannah, 71.8 miles.


STAGE 2: Today, Statesboro to Augusta, 115.7 miles.


STAGE 3: Wednesday, Washington to Gainesville, 109.7 miles.


STAGE 4: Thursday, Road Atlanta, Braselton; 10-mile team time trial.


STAGE 5: Friday, Suwanee to Dahlonega, 133.4 miles.


STAGE 6: Saturday, Blairsville to Brasstown Bald Mountain, 88.4 miles.


STAGE 7: Sunday, Atlanta circuit race, 62.7 miles.


WHAT TO EXPECT TODAY


THE TIME: Cyclists are expected downtown between 3:30 and 4 p.m.


THE ROUTE: The 2008 Tour de Georgia bike race route in the Augusta area will include Gordon Highway, Fifth Street, Reynolds Street, 13th Street into North Augusta, Georgia Avenue, a turnaround at Arlington Heights, back into Georgia onto Broad Street. The race will end on Reynolds Street.


THE TRAFFIC: There will be some parking and traffic adjustments downtown today.
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DonC75
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DonC75 04/22/08 - 10:50 am
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Great article! In receint

Great article!

In receint years the sport hasn't had much in the way of "characters" to make people take notice (other than negative doping issues). Rock Racing might be able to bring new fans to the sport by adding a little fun. There is a poll on
http://cyclingfans.com/ asking what readers think about Rock Racing. I voted and enthusiastic "Yes".

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