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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Armstrong breaks collarbone in race crash

By Al Goodman
CNN Madrid Bureau Chief

(CNN) -- American cyclist Lance Armstrong suffered a shattering blow in his comeback bid on Monday when he broke his right collarbone after falling on the first stage of a five-day race in northern Spain.

American Armstrong was competing in Spain to regain full race fitness after coming out of retirement.

American Armstrong was competing in Spain to regain full race fitness after coming out of retirement.

Emerging from a hospital with his arm in a sling, Armstrong said he will return to the United States, where doctors will determine whether he needs surgery.

"I'm miserable," said the record seven-time Tour de France champion. "I just need to relax a couple of days and then make a plan."

Astana rider Armstrong crashed about 16 kilometers (10 miles) from the end of the 168-km stage and later said it was the first time he had suffered such an injury in his 17 years as professional.

"It's pretty painful," he said. "Just wait and see how it heals."

The crash took down several riders but Armstrong appeared to be the only one injured.

"That's cycling," he said. "It's nobody's fault. Crashes happen all the time."

As they came within a few miles of the finish, Armstrong said, racers started picking up speed and jockeying for position.

"It happens quick when it happens," he said. "It could have been worse."

Armstrong could be out for three to four weeks said Jacinto Vidarte, spokesman for the Vuelta Ciclista Castilla y Leon race.

The injury looks certain to end Armstrong's hopes of challenging for the Giro d'Italia from May 9-31 -- he admitted race plans are now "problematic" --and must cast doubts on his ambition of winning an eighth Tour crown from July 4-26 in France.

The 37-year-old Armstrong, who was taken to Clinico Universitario Hospital in Valladolid, was seen pointing to his collarbone as he sat by the roadside after the accident.

A group of 15 to 20 riders fell, according to Bartosz Huzarski, a cyclist racing for the Italian team ISD. Huzarski, who saw the fall, said he did not know what had caused it. Only Armstrong appeared to indicate he was hurt, the Polish cyclist said.

One of Armstrong's teammates told velonews.com that he did not see the crash but that the accident happened on a tough patch of road.

"I was in the front," Levi Leipheimer told Velonews, a journal of competitive cycling. "It was on really narrow, bumpy roads. It was a pretty bad road, super-rough and narrow. The edges were deteriorating, with cracks and parts missing, It was worse than typical [Spanish roads]."

Armstrong came out of retirement after more than three years to return to competitive cycling in January.

This was his first race alongside Alberto Contador, a Spaniard who won the Tour de France in 2007, two years after Armstrong's last event victory.

But Armstrong denied there was any friction with Contador, who is also riding for Astana.

"I have to respect the current results and he's the best there is right now. Until that changes, he's the leader," Armstrong told CNN before the accident.

Armstrong recently said Contador "still has a lot to learn," but the Spaniard shrugged it off.

"Anyone can say what they like during the race, but I'm not at all nervous," Contador said.

The fall took place a on a beautiful sunny day on a stretch of two-lane highway, Goodman said.

Armstrong's first comeback came in 1998, two years after he was diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain. Doctors gave him a less than 50 percent chance of survival.

He has become a highly visible cancer activist at the head of his Livestrong foundation.

Armstrong, whose Tour triumphs came between 1999-2005, announced in September last year that he would be returning to the saddle.

He launched his comeback in January when he raced in the Tour Down Under in Australia, finishing 29th.

Armstrong then played a key support role as Leipheimer won the Tour of California title in February before finishing 125th in last Saturday's Milan-San Remo in Italy.

He was riding in this week's Castilla and Leon race to continue his bid to reach peak form ahead of the Giro and then the Tour.

Armstrong returned to the sport not only to attempt to become the oldest Tour winner, but also to raise awareness about cancer.

"The most important issue is taking the global epidemic of cancer really to a much bigger stage," explained Armstrong, who previously fought a battle with testicular cancer.

"The best way to do that is to race the bike all over the world. So you race in Australia, South Africa, South America, Europe, America -- that is the first priority," added the Texan.

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Q&A: Assessing troubled QB class of ’06

By Jason Cole, Yahoo! Sports

The past seven months have been brutal for the once highly touted 2006 NFL draft class of quarterbacks.

From Matt Leinart’s failure to seize a starting job that the Arizona Cardinals wanted him to win to Vince Young’s meltdown in the season opener with the Tennessee Titans and Jay Cutler demanding this week to be traded by the Denver Broncos, none of the three seem to be on any type of normal career path after three seasons.

The questions for each are obvious: Can their situations be fixed and if so, what’s the solution?

With that in mind, Yahoo! Sports talked to former St. Louis Rams head coach Mike Martz and a current offensive coordinator with an NFL team who didn’t want to be identified about the future of each. Here’s a look at what they thought of each player …

CUTLER

Martz: “I really think the thing with Jay and [Broncos coach] Josh [McDaniels] isn’t an issue at all. To me, it’s more about the posturing that goes on, probably from people around Jay, like his agent. Really, that stuff happens all the time in the NFL and you just deal with it. You get in a room with just the quarterback and the coach and you start to talk about what you’re going to do, what’s the offense going to be and all of a sudden that stuff fixes itself … it’s like with Kurt [Warner] in St. Louis. His wife got involved in it on a radio program and it made news, but that was a short-term thing and it gets resolved pretty quickly.

Photo Things haven’t gotten much better for Cutler since the season-ending loss to San Diego.
(Chris Park/AP Photo)

“To be honest, I think that Jay and Josh will work really well together once they’re able to sit down, away from other people, and just talk about football … Whether it’s the agent, management or the media, a lot of this stuff can take on a life of its own that really doesn’t matter once the player and the coach sit down and talk about the system, what the practices are going to be like, all of that stuff.

“I think that Josh will love Jay as a player when they finally are able to do that. I love Jay Cutler. When he was coming out in the draft, really, I was enraptured by his talent. I thought he was really, really special. We brought him in to Detroit before the draft and I talked to him for a long time. I like his makeup. I think he’s physically tough and mentally tough. I think he’s got everything you want in a quarterback.

“Yes, trust is a crucial part of the coach-quarterback relationship. No question, it’s all about trust. But that trust will develop. I know people are saying that Josh wanted to get Matt Cassel, but I think that if Jay and Josh give it time working together, there will be trust. Really, it would be different if this happened a year from now after they’d had a year to work together. If that were the case, then you could see there’s a problem. But that’s not where this is right now.”

Offensive coordinator: “I agree that Cutler’s agent [Bus Cook] is driving this problem a lot. I’m not sure that I buy that Cook was the problem with what happened in Green Bay [where Cook client Brett Favre and the Packers went through an ugly divorce] or Tennessee [where Cook client Steve McNair and the Titans also parted on bad terms]. In both of those, the teams clearly wanted to go another direction. That wasn’t going to be pretty.

“But in Denver, this is one where Cook needs to be calming the situation, not feeding it. The Broncos have built that team around Cutler. They have Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal and a good tight end [Tony Scheffler] if he can stay healthy. If you’re an agent for a quarterback with those guys, you keep him there because your quarterback has a chance to win and make a lot of money.

“To me, the owner [Pat Bowlen] has to tell the player, ‘You’re not going anywhere and that’s it.’ All this wishy washy crap about how they might trade him if they get a young quarterback or whatever, that’s ridiculous. It just feeds the frenzy. We’re talking about a franchise quarterback. This guy is the real deal when it comes to pure talent … Yeah, he has some issues that bug you. He’s kind of surly, from what I hear, and not a great leader yet and I emphasize yet because he was a great leader at Vanderbilt. All that stuff between him and Philip Rivers is just a waste of time. As a coach, you’re saying to yourself, ‘Who cares?’ But you know that there’s jealousy out there. If it makes him work harder, hey, that’s not a bad thing.”

LEINART

Martz: “There is a maturation process you have to go through as a quarterback. He’s lucky that he’s on a good team where he hasn’t had to play a lot yet and he’s had Kurt to watch and learn from. That can be really valuable for a quarterback. Eventually, he’ll have to go in there and get beat up a little and succeed under duress.

Photo Leinart appeared in just four games last season.
(Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire)

“By that, I mean that he’ll have to go against a good team, with maybe his receivers hurt and be down in the game and find a way to win, which Kurt has done consistently. When you do that, you win the confidence of your team. To be frank, when I was in Detroit, we didn’t really look at Matt. I was so caught up in Cutler that we didn’t bring in Matt or Vince, so I don’t know those guys as well, personally. I know what I’ve studied and Matt has the ability to be a good quarterback, but he needs the time and the action out there.”

Offensive coordinator: “I have the same concerns about Matt Leinart as I do about Vince Young. It’s all about mental toughness … when you watch Leinart, he flashes some ability. He’s had some games where you go, ‘Wow, he has a chance, especially when he first started playing.’ But then you see how he reacts in games where he’s getting knocked around and he gets sketchy. He’s a great front-runner. When everything is going as planned, he’s fine. When it gets hairy, he almost looks scared.

“Think about it, he’s on a team that’s loaded with receivers and he loses that job in preseason. The Cardinals wanted him to win the job. Absolutely were begging him to win it. We all know that. We’re talking about setting up the future of your team for the next eight years. Instead, he was awful and gave the job to Warner. Gave it to him.

“Now look what happens: Warner takes control of the job, the Cardinals have to re-sign him and unless Warner gets hurt, Leinart may never play before his contract comes up. He’ll be in the league for five years and nobody will have a good idea what kind of player he is … nice way to run your career into the ground.”

YOUNG

Martz: “He has some terrific ability to win games on his own. He’s unbelievable that way. But he has to develop the ability to be consistent with what he does. Again, I don’t really know the professional side of Young because we didn’t interview him when I was in Detroit that year … I don’t know what his study habits are, how much work he puts in during the week and during the offseason.

Photo Young watches from the bench after getting knocked out of the opener.
(Mark Humphrey/AP Photo)

“That’s the part that’s going to determine his future. If he’s able to turn his athletic ability into something consistent so that the Titans can win games with him, then he’ll succeed. But he has to work at it because he’s an unusual player. His throwing ability needs work, everybody understands that. But if the offensive coordinator there can work with his ability and get him through it, he has a chance to be great.”

Offensive coordinator: “Martz was being polite. The kid can’t throw. He just can’t. Worse, he still can’t read coverages. The Tennessee passing game with him is either throw it underneath or throw it deep because he’s scary on the mid-range stuff. He has no touch on half his throws and no idea where the defenders are on the other half … I’m being brutally honest and this is hard because he’s not a bad guy, but he’s soft and he doesn’t understand how much work he has to do to get better.

“When he was at Texas, they just let him improvise all the time. He’s such a great athlete, he could get away with anything. Just run around until he made a play. In this league, you can’t do that. That stuff about how coaches should draw up a whole new offense for him is crap. The defenses are too good in this league. In college, you have about four games every year where you really have to be sharp. In this league, you have to be sharp every game.

“Now, I wasn’t there for what happened last season when he supposedly didn’t go back on the field and [coach] Jeff [Fisher] had to chew him out, but that doesn’t surprise me. Like I said, he’s soft. He doesn’t like it. I mean, he talked about quitting after his first season? Are you kidding me? Frankly, if my team brought that guy in and said, ‘Make him a starter,’ I’d ask for battle pay or I’d quit … OK, I probably wouldn’t quit, but I’d make it clear that this wasn’t going to be easy.”

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Yankees Grass Is Now a Brand

Yankees Sod, which is grown on 80 acres in South Jersey, will soon be available at New York City-area Home Depot stores.

By JOHN BRANCH

BRIDGETON, N.J. — Just when it seemed that all the sports-licensing ideas had been exhausted — coffins with team logos, unveiled a few years ago, could have reasonably been the presumed end — along comes something that has been growing in plain sight all along.

Yankees Sod.

A tuft for the windowsill? A pallet for the backyard? Officially licensed grass is about to be sold, in the form of sod or seeds, to fans who want a patch to call their own.

“It’s just capitalizing on what we have and what we’ve done,” said Rick DeLea, vice president of DeLea Sod Farms, which his grandfather founded in 1928 and has supplied turf for Yankee Stadium since the 1960s.

On a recent morning, Mr. DeLea swept his hand across a portion of the 80 acres of Yankees Sod on a vast hillside in South Jersey. Last fall, some of the secret blend of bluegrass was peeled in broad strips, hauled north on trucks and laid inside the new Yankee Stadium. But most of it was still here, greening under a late-winter sun.

“It’s going to be one of those ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ stories,” said David Andres, the energetic and entrepreneurial man who came up with the idea of selling sod and grass to fans.

A former consultant with the company and now Mr. DeLea’s vice president for business development, Mr. Andres saw a field of bluegrass far bigger than the two and a half acres needed to cover the grassy portions of the new Yankee Stadium. The team had asked Mr. DeLea to reserve 10 acres for the stadium, apparently in case of some horrific horticultural incident in the Bronx, but that left a lot of leftover sod.

“I said: ‘Rick, you’re sitting on it. Why not do something with it?’ ” Mr. Andres said.

Actually, Mr. DeLea had been doing something with it. He sells the same three-variety blend of Kentucky bluegrass from this field to other clients. A high school in West Long Branch, N.J., had 16 acres installed last fall, when it was just called sod. Not Yankees Sod.

Mr. Andres, a self-described “sell ice to Eskimos kind of guy,” took the idea of licensing the product to the Yankees and Major League Baseball. He received the requisite stamps of approval and started a company called Stadium Associates to market Yankees Sod and Yankees Grass Seed.

It makes one wonder if other licensed permutations will follow — Cubs Ivy or Daytona Asphalt or Cameron Indoor Hardwood Floors, using the same vine, road mix or batch of trees as the sports arenas.

For now, Mr. Andres and three partners have visions of Cubs Sod and Red Sox Sod and other licensed sod. They have reached out to the farms that supply the other 27 major league teams with natural-grass fields.

But Major League Baseball is taking it one team at a time.

“We want to see how this goes,” Howard Smith, baseball’s vice president for licensing, said. “But we want all of our licensees to be wildly successful.”

Yankees Sod will be available at New York City-area Home Depot stores near the end of the month. A patch a little bigger than five square feet — 16 inches by 4 feet — will cost $7.50, Mr. Andres said. It may cost a few thousand dollars to cover a large backyard, but the sod comes with a certificate of authenticity from Major League Baseball, complete with the counterfeit-proof hologram, declaring it to be the official grass of the New York Yankees.

Yankees Grass Seed will also be available, in gift-friendly novelty sizes of three ounces and eight ounces, at Yankee Stadium and other places. Home Depot will carry bigger bags of seed.

Mr. Andres wants to sow grass seed in small planters, too, for fans who may want a little patch to water and cut, kind of like bonsai groundskeepers. He is even pondering miniature desktop replicas of the stadium filled with blades of Yankees Sod.

“It is something that is green,” Mr. Andres said, referring to the environmental benefit of the product, if not the awe-inspiring color that greets fans as they step through the stadium portals. “It is something that is connected to America’s pastime. It is something that is affordable. And it is something that every fan can appreciate.”

Except Mets fans, perhaps.

Mr. DeLea, an unassuming man who oversees a 13-farm sod empire with the help of a helicopter he pilots, supplies various varieties of turf, from bluegrass to bentgrass, to clients that include well-known golf courses and small municipalities.

He said that the bluegrass developed for the Yankees took about 14 months to mature. The DeLea sod laid in Yankee Stadium last fall, like the sod remaining on this hillside parcel, was planted in the spring of 2006. More is being planted at various sod farms for fans.

Mr. DeLea said that Yankee Sod was fine for a lawn that receives full sun, drains well and is reasonably maintained.

As the men turned to walk off the lush grass and into a van parked in the dirt, where sod once grew — the sod now in Yankee Stadium, perhaps, or maybe just at a high school in New Jersey — Mr. Andres mindlessly flicked the ashes of his cigar onto the turf.

Mr. DeLea scolded him and rubbed out the embers with his shoe. After all, this was not ordinary sod.

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