The 2009 Amgen Tour of California ended today and Levi Leipheimer locked up his three-peat. Leipheimer was clearly the strongest rider in the race, he proved it on the climbs and in the TT's which is where stage races are won. It was a great event, race organizer AEG estimated that two million people watched the spectacle live, obviously countless more viewed it on TV as the feed went out to 60 countries across the globe. It is safe to say that in just four year, this race has grown exponentially in size and stature and is truly one of the best events on the pro cycling calendar. Yes, there are some issues such as whether the race should move to a more weather-friendly date and if it should become a Pro Tour event, but there is no doubt the 2009 edition was an unqualified success.
In my report from yesterday, I noted that the final stage would be difficult, but not decisive. That was indeed the case, but there was one incident high on the slopes of Palomar Mountain that deserves some discussion. About three miles from the top of the massive 4200' climb, Jens Voigt, who was placed fourth overall about one minute behind Levi, broke away from the peloton and took a group of riders with him. Because Jens had a teammate in the group and the group was about five riders, there was a real chance that if they could work together, they might threaten to stay away to the finish and change the overall outcome of the race.
What happened next is the interesting part. The rider who initiated the chase of Voigt and who ultimately drove the chase group to catch Jens and his crew was Michael Rogers of team Columbia High Road who was in third place overall. Also in the chase group was Dave Zabriskie of Garmin-Slipstream who was in second place overall. With those two guys in the chase group, Levi jumped up there as well. Unfortunately, Levi didn't have any teammates in the chase group while both Rogers and Zabriskie had one each.
This may seem like a huge tactical error by Levi and his Team Astana because they allowed Levi to be isolated in a group with his closest rivals. However, it was really a very big tactical error by Michael Rogers. Because the time gaps between the first five riders were so small, if Jens Voigt and his group succeeded in staying away, Voigt, who was in fourth place, threatened not only Michael Rogers' third place and Dave Zabriskie's second place, but he also threatened Levi's race lead. That means that it was really the responsibility of Leipheimer's Team Astana to chase down Voigt and not Michael Rogers.
Looking at the bigger picture, Roger's should have seen Voigt's escape not as a need to defend his third place position, but as an opportunity to attack the race lead of Leipheimer. Instead of initiating the chase and driving the group up to Voigt, he should have sat at the front of the peloton and forced Team Astana to chase Voigt. Then, once that chase and catch has been performed and Team Astana was tired from the effort, he then could launch a counter-attack and try to get away.
The fact that Rogers decided to defend his third place and not attempt to go for the win might indicate that he felt Levi was too strong to be beaten, but in any case, he should have left the chasing up to Team Astana.
Dave Zabriskie rode tactically correct when he was in the chase group. He sat on Levi's wheel looking for any weakness and if Leipheimer had faultered, it would have been a perfect scenario for Dave to attack him and go for the overall win. Dave Z did it right, Michael Rogers didn't. Well, that's the way I saw it.