long live kazahastan / by Warrior Ant Press Worldwide Anthill Headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri, USA.

Cycling has changed considerably over the last decade as money from corporate sponsorship has increased dramatically. Kazakhstan, before they stopped paying the bills, was shelling out in the neighborhood of 15 million US dollars per year to underwrite the Astana team. Now Astana riders sport faded jerseys sans the Astana logo and yellow bracelets that symbolize their hope for a payday. Luckily the country is still independent.

Cycling has long been a sport where one goal was for riders to get the sponsors name out in front of the peleton. For lesser riders, meaning those who aren't likely to contend for the General Classification in stage races, a long breakaway means a chance to get the sponsors name mentioned numerous times during the race coverage.

Stage victories are even more prized because the rider, wearing the sponsors jersey, stand each day at the podium to receive the blessings of the crowd and cheeky kisses from young women. In the last few years, teams have been padding their rosters with sprinters whose only job is to try and capture stage wins. Mark Cavendish, the little guy with a big Isle of Man attitude, is probably the best at winning the bunched field sprint. His team, Columbia High Road, doesn't have a rider in the race for the General Classification, so they are content to bag stage wins. Before he withdrew from this year's Giro, Cavendish stood on the top of the podium after 3 stage wins. He also won three in last year's Tour de France. In total, Cavendish has won 37 stages in the past 2 years, but no Grand Tours. He rarely loses in a mass sprint, in part because he's so damn fast, but also because his teammates work very hard to set him up for the win.

Once opportunities for sprint finishes disappear from the Grand Tours (they usually account for about one-third of the stages), he frequently withdraws from the race. He did this in last years Le Tour and he did the same thing in this years Giro. I understand why he does it, to save himself from the grueling aspect of the mountain stages. These withdrawals, some argue, lessen the stage wins--that Cavendish really belongs on the track from whence he came. Under this approach the prima donna rules the peleton and dictates the race strategy; if you know you're not racing for the full three weeks, then you can blast away on the flat stages and go for broke at the end. It's not likely to change as long as the price tag to keep a team up and running is so steep. And, like any sport cycling benefits from repeat winners who love to talk smack about their competitors to the press.