The 2010 Amgen Tour of California wrapped up on Sunday and as predicted, there was nothing ceremonial about the last stage. Michael Rogers was under constant attack on the final ascent of the Rock Store climb by Dave Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer who trailed the Australian by only nine and twenty five seconds respectively.
Adding to the drama, both Zabriskie and Leipheimer had teammates with them on that final ascent. Rogers, who found himself with no teammates, was definitely vulnerable, but the Aussie rallied to bring back every single attack. This was the type of action the race organizers were looking for when they selected this as their final stage and the three protagonists didn't disappoint.
What the spectators saw was undoubtedly some of the most exciting racing in the five year history of the AToC. Everything hung in the balance and Leipheimer and Zabriskie attacked at will hoping to gap Rogers. At one point, Leipheimer looked to have broken Rogers. Zabriskie quickly joined the Team Radio Shack rider in the move, but Rogers somehow found a way to claw his way back to the two.
Ahead of the fight for the overall championship, George Hincapie was leading the remnants of the day's major breakaway in hopes of salvaging his AToC with a stage win. Hincapie was clearly the crowd favorite and it would have been an emotional victory, but Ryder Hesjedal(Garmin-Transitions) spoiled the show with a late race move that put him in a sprint with Hincapie for the win.
The organizers couldn't have planned the finale any better, other than maybe having an American winner. The eight-day race was exciting from start to finish and should be back next year with even more competitive racing and unforgettable stages.
Michael "Mick" Rogers was the big winner today in the Amgen Tour of California's stage 7 time trial. While his HTC-Columbia teammate, Tony Martin, won the 20-mile test, it was Rogers who beat his two chief rivals Dave Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer by five and eleven seconds respectively.
Going into tomorrow's final stage, Rogers leads Zabriskie by nine seconds and Leipheimer by twenty five seconds. Normally, that would be enough to call it a wrap, but the AToC's final stage is deceptively difficult and could allow a late race challenge to succeed.
Sunday's stage is four laps of a 21-mile circuit in the Santa Monica mountains. The first 10 miles are flat and fast. The second half of each lap starts with the 2.5 mile Rock Store climb which is followed by another, less difficult, ascent and concludes with a very tricky downhill into the finish.
Because the first half of each lap is flat that will allow a concerted chase to peg back any significant moves. If Zabriskie or Leipheimer wants to gain time on Rogers, their best bet is to put everything into a last lap attack on the Rock Store climb and then hope they have the legs to drive it all the way to the line.
So, the race is far from over. Look for the Garmin-Transitions and Team Radio Shack to be putting pressure on HTC-Columbia from the gun in hopes of softening up Rogers and his mates for a late race attack.
As three-time winner of the Amgen Tour of California(AToC), Levi Leipheimer, predicted the race for the overall title will once again come down to the time trial. With the move of the race from February to May, it was hoped that the longer and more difficult courses would provide some separation, but that was not the case with the top four riders separated by only 14 seconds after 29 hours of racing.
To uplevel the discussion a bit, the race really does need a mountain top finish if it wants to provide a bigger challenge. Leipheimer has been vocal about the lack of such a finish, luckily for him, he is a very good time trialist. But, with the move to May, difficulty means not just adding more climbing, but making that climbing relevant. The fact that critical breakaways were chased down on both Stage 3 and Stage 6 demonstrates that it is not sufficient to put the final climb within 10-15 miles of the finish line.
So, without a mountain top finish, Saturday's time trial will be about as exciting as possible. The three strongest riders, Michael Rogers(HTC-Columbia), Dave Zabriskie(Garmin-Transitions) and Levi Leipheimer(Team Radio Shack) are all excellent time trialists. Michael Rogers is a three-time World Time Trial Champion. Dave Zabriskie has won time trials at the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia and is a medalist at the World Championships. Levi Leipheimer has won time trials at the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana and an Olympic bronze medal.
The one big unknown is the time trialing ability of Slovakian Peter Sagan. The 20 year old is the revelation of the 2010 season. He has shown he can sprint with two convincing stage wins at the AToC (as well as at Paris-Nice and Tour of Romandie) and that he can climb. But, can he go fast in the race against the clock?He is only fourteen seconds out of the lead and could take the jersey with an inspired ride.
Almost all of the time the story at a bike race is about the riders. But, every once and a while something comes along which seems to be a bit more interesting. With apologies to Levi Leipheimer, Mick Rogers and Dave Zabriskie, here's an insight into my last 24 hours.
Stage 3 in the Amgen Tour of California started in San Francisco right down the street from comedian Robin Williams' house. Robin was on hand sporting a gray mustache apparently necessary for an upcoming movie role. Besides Lance Armstrong, Robin is friends with Jim Ochowicz, the president of the BMC Racing Team. Robin came onto the BMC team bus and spent a few minutes putting the riders and staff in stitches.
After the start, I drove directly to the finish in Santa Cruz to watch the race in the press room and work on my articles for the day. I am covering the race for active.com, Cycle Sport Magazine and Cycling Weekly Magazine. That means at least two articles a day.
Once the stage had concluded, I headed to the post-stage press conference. The Amgen Press Officer entered and asked if anyone spoke Italian. I replied in the affirmative and the next thing I knew I was up on the stage seated next to Peter Sagan of Liquigas who was wearing the Best Young Rider Jersey. Peter and I exchanged greetings and I told him to please talk slowly so I could understand what he was saying.
Peter Sagan is one of the huge names in the 2010 racing season. Only 21 years old he has already won two stages of Paris-Nice and a stage at the Tour off Romandie. This guy is going to be a big star. That's a good thing unless you are the interpreter since it seemed like just about everyone had a question for the Italian. Needless to say, everything went well.
After the press conference, I filed my stories and headed over to the Versus TV trailer to pick up Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. I was emceeing a charity fundraiser with Phil and Paul at the Testarossa Winery in Los Gatos. We had a great time. Phil and Paul told stories that had us all laughing our heads off. They are truly the best.
I got home around 10:30pm and had just enough time to proof my articles for the UK magazines and websites before hitting the sack at midnight.
Unfortunately, I was up at 5am to head down to the start in San Jose to do several TV interviews for KNTV-11 and KRON-4 for their morning shows. It is tough to be awake that early in the morning. Trying to be awake and upbeat is even more difficult.
The sun was coming up as we finished the last interview. I actually had time to drive home and get a couple more hours of sleep before heading back to the start line to catch up with the riders and record a few more interviews including a very nice chat with Johan Bruyneel about Lance's fitness level.
Well, that's how those 24 hours were spent. I didn't stop any terrorists or expose any dishonest members of the Presidential staff. That stuff I leave to Jack Bauer.
The first two stages of the Amgen Tour of California are complete and while the winner of Stage 1, Mark Cavendish, was no surprise, Brett Lancaster's victory on Stage 2 was not as predictable. In the race for the overall championship, three-time and defending champion, Levi Leipheimer (Team Radio Shack) is still on track for win number four. But, his main challengers, save for Fabian Cancellara, have also finished at the front meaning the race is still far from over.
Stage 1 from Nevada City to Sacramento was held in warm, dry weather and until the race hit the three 2-mile laps of the finishing circuits in downtown Sacramento it was a pretty boring affair. That's not to say that the first day's four man breakaway wasn't deserving of their time off the front, it is just that with the powerful HTC-Columbia team driving the chase, a field sprint was inevitable.
Drenching rain greeted the peloton for stage 2 and it was another breakway which dominated the early and mid-race action, but as in the first stage, the escapees were caught. But, unlike the first stage it wasn't the whole field rather a select group of the overall contenders including Leipheimer, Dave Zabriskie(Garmin-Transitions), Mick Rogers(HTC-Columbia) and Andy Schleck(Team Saxo Bank).
Noticably absent was Fabian Cancellara who started the race sick and succumbed to his illness and ultimately losing fifteen minutes by the stage finish.
Twenty five riders contested the sprint into Santa Rosa with Brett Lancaster(Cervelo Test Team) taking the win over emerging spring sensation Peter Sagan(Liquigas). Lance Armstrong, whose fitness had been called into question before the race, was also part of the lead group. Radio Shack had five of its eight riders in the front at the finish, a strong showing by their team which bodes well for the difficulties ahead.
Because of his stage 2 win and the accompanying time bonus, Lancaster assumed the overall race lead from Stage 1 winner Mark Cavendish. Tomorrow's stage, a hilly test from San Francisco to Santa Cruz will most likely cause a change in overall race leadership as well.
Whoever wears the yellow jersey into Paris will definitely earn it as the drama expected in the high Alps didn't disappoint. As Jens Voigt predicted in my interview with him yesterday, Team Saxo Bank came out firing and launched a number of attacks to try and climb onto the podium at the Tour. Schleck's accelerations succeeded in dropping Cadel Evans, Christian Vande Velde, defending Tour Champion Carlos Sastre and Lance Arsmtrong.
But, in clearly one of the biggest highlights of this Tour, Armstrong erased a 30+ second deficit on himself to the Schleck/Contador/Wiggins group and put saved his current second place overall. It was a display of climber prowess that we were used to seeing from the Texan during his record-setting seven Tour wins, but frankly, many had felt that after his performance to Verbier, those accelerations were a thing of the past.
Garmin-Slipstream's Bradley Wiggins continues to look casual climbing with the leaders and kudos to teammates Christian Vande Velde and Dave Zabriskie for regaining the yellow jersey group on the climb of the Petit Saint Bernard. Zabriskie is finally regaining the climbing form we saw him display in the 2005 Giro when he rode exceptional tempo for his team leader Ivan Basso.
One negative moment was a horrific crash on the final descent by Saxo Bank rider Jens Voigt. It is unclear what caused the crash, it just looked like his front wheel slipped out on a white center line which can be slick if wet. In this case it was dry conditions so the mystery remains for the rider who is known as one of the best bike handlers in the pro peloton. Personally, I really like Jens. He always has time for my interview requests and give honest, heartfelt if not a bit humorous interviews. The Tour has lost some of its enjoyment for me as a result of his crash and abandon. Heal quickly Jens!
I talked with Astana director sportif, Johan Bruyneel, before the start of today's stage.
Bruce: what is the strategy for the team in this third week?
Johan: From now on we just want to bring the yellow jersey to Paris. We know it is going to be difficult today and tomorrow. We expect attacks. A lot of attacks. We will just wait and see what happens and keep our team together and defend the jersey.
Bruce: is everyone working for Contador now?
Johan: Well, we want to win the Tour. Anything else we can get we will try to get itm but not at the cost of the potential of losing the Tour de France.
I spoke with Garmin-Slipstream director sportif, Matt White, before the start of today's stage and asked him about Bradley Wiggins and the team strategy for the third week.
Bruce: Is Bradley Wiggins climbing better than you expected?
White: Not really. A little bit better, but the level we saw at the Giro he has improved and that was the plan. We had some goals at the Giro. One was to win the team time trial and the other was for him to win the final TT in Rome. We came second in both of those. After the second week of the Giro we deliberately eased him off so he would be able to perform here and it certainly worked.
Bruce: What is the strategy for the third week?
White: We are not here just to ride. That's for sure. We have Bradley in third place on GC and we are going to just take that day-by-day. It is the perfect place for us to be. Last year Christian did a great finish in Paris on his own. He had to play off of other teams. Now we have two cards to play.
Bruce: Wiggins is an exceptional time trialist. With the TT coming up in Annecy in two days, does this put extra pressure on his rivals?
White: It does put a lot of pressure on the other teams because Bradley is one of the world's best time trialers and will be in contention for the stage win in Annecy. So it does put a lot of pressure on them and give us a bit of a buffer zone on the mountain stages.
Bruce: How do you prepare Wiggins mentally for what is coming ahead?
White: One thing that is Bradley's forte is his mental strength. You don't win three Olympic gold medals and five world titles with luck. He has a very, very strong belief in himself and it is a new place for him to be in, but one of his big, big strengths is that he believes in himself. What result comes of that, time will tell. But, he has a big faith in himself and he has had that for a long, long, time. You don't acheive what he has achieved with luck. That is for sure.
Bruce: the team was riding for Tyler Farrar in the sprints and now will be riding for Bradley Wiggins on the climbs. Is this a cohesive team?
White: Tyler is definitely not on vacation in the mountains. He is on survival mode until we get to Paris. All the team is helping out as much as they can. Julian and Tyler are coming back for bottle. We have a very tight team and it has shown here at the Tour de France.
Bart Knaggs is one of Lance Armstrong's closest friends. He is currently working on helping to put together Lance's new professional team for 2010. Look for information on that development near the end of the Tour. I asked Bart about how he felt Lance's 2009 Tour was progressing. He is pictured here with his daughter Caroline.
Bruce: Lance looked a bit vulnerable on the Verbier stage. Was that just a one-day thing or was his form a bit off?
Bart: I think he is getting better week by week by week. I think if the Tour had been three of four weeks further away he would be better still. I think the shoulder hurt, the broken collarbone. You forget that you come back to 90% pretty quickly. To get back to that 99-100% take racing; it takes time for the edge to get sharp. I think that is what we are seeing. He is just not quite right on the edge when he wants to be. But, he will be better day in, day out from here to the finish, too.
Bruce: Lance has stated that he can't win the Tour and will be working for Alberto Contador. Is he really going to work for Contador?
Bart: I think you are going to see Lance recognizing team strategies and hierarchies and the way cycling works. First and foremost the objective of this team was always to win the yellow jersey. I think he very good about what he has done. I think he would like to be a little sharper sometimes. In one year to come from where he was to where he is and to be one guy, who is your teammate, out of first place is impressive.
On a day which didn't change the overall classification one second, it might seem like the race was a bit on the boring side. That was far from the case as a number of the favorites for the overall launched their bids to unseat Team Astana at the top of the heap.
The stage started off with a 14-mile(23.5km), 4200' climb right out of Andorra. Because of the aggressive nature of the Tour this far, a number of riders were seen warming up before the stage, something that rarely happens, especially since the first three miles were neutralized. But, when the flag dropped, the attacks started as the AG2R-La Mondiale team of race leader Rinaldo Nocentini was unable to control the peloton.
There were at least three major groups on the climb at one point and with 5km remaining to the summit of the massive Port d'Envalira, Cadel Evans went clear. Dave Zabriskie covered the move for Garmin-Slipstream. That move was partially brought back, though a group containing Thor Hushovd and George Hincapie did escape on the descent into France(see race notes below).
Things seemed to cool down until the final climb, the Col de Agnes, where Andy Schleck put in a strong attack. All of Astana's heavy hitters were there, but Cadel Evans and Carlos Sastre missed the move so even Lance Armstrong took some pulls at the front trying to widen the gap back to Evans.
In the end the fire went out at the front and all the overall contenders were together at the finish. Again, another exciting day at the Tour even if the results at the end of the day didn't reflect it.
The stage victory went to Casse d'Epargne rider Luis-Leon Sanchez. Here is a photo of him celebrating his victory.
For some reason, I seem to be a magnet for stage winners. Sanchez rode right up to me and stopped. I snapped this photo just as the scrum for the first interview began.
I talked briefly with yesterday's stage winner, Brice Feillu. He picked up the polka-dot climber's jersey for his efforts yesterday. He told me he was very happy to have won a stage and have taken the polka dot jersey. He also said that even though he lost the jersey today to Christophe Kern he would fight to get it back.
Because this was a very hilly stage, the organizers had a difficult time deciding where to place the intermediate sprints. These sprints award points for the first three finishers and count toward the green, sprinter's jersey. In the end, the two of the three sprints were only 11 miles(19km) apart. Thor Hushovd, who trailed Mark Cavendish in the race for the green jersey by only one point, broke away before the first sprint. Cavendish's Columbia-HTC teammate, George Hincapie, covered the move, but Hushovd took the first sprint and is the provisional leader in the green jersey competition on the road.
Hushovd beat Hincapie in the next sprint to increase his provisional lead by another six points over Cavendish. The third sprint is after the final two big climbs so most likely neither Hushovd or Cavendish will be contesting that sprint or the stage finish sprint as well. Because of this making the most of these kinds of opportunities is how you maximize your output, but conserve energy. It was a very good tactical move for the Cervelo Test Team. Thor will be in the green jersey tonight.
Garmin-Slipstream rider Bradley Wiggins was a major revelation on the climb to Arcalis in Andorra. Not only was he in the lead group, but even managed an attack with about a kilometer to go. Wiggins, or Wiggo as his teammates call him, has quite the engine as witnessed by his Olympic gold medal in the 4000m pursuit from the Beijing Olympics. He was hired by the Garmin-Slipstream team to help Christian Vande Velde in the mountains and because of this he lost nine pounds in the off season to improve his climbing form.
That Wiggins is nine pounds lighter than last year makes the fact that he was generating a mind-blowing 550 watts during his turns at the front in the team time trial even more impressive. Its one thing to lose weight, but to not sacrifice any power is the best scenario possible. I think we have only seen a brief glimpse on what may be possible for Wiggins.
Yesterday's 135-mile stage from Barcelona to Arcalis-Andorra was medium-tough by Tour standards. It was six hours in the saddle for the riders and two major climbs. Christian Vande Velde burned over 5000 calories during the stage.
The Garmin-Slipstream team announced its 9-man roster for the Tour de France. Not surprisingly, Christian Vande Velde will lead the squad. He finished fourth last year and looked very good doing it. The only question will be can he regain the fitness necessary to be competitive after a serious crash in the opening stages of the Giro? Recently, at the Tour de Suisse (Tour of Switzerland) he looked like he is on the way back, but there is some more fitness needed to contend for the overall. Luckily, Christian knows how to make it happen.
The team will also include Bradley Wiggins who came within one second of winning the final TT at the Giro. Besides being counted on to place highly in the time trials he has lost a reported 9 pounds(4 kilos) and will be a key support role for Vande Velde in the mountains. The multi-Olympic gold medalist will also be part of the leadout train for Tyler Farrar. Bradley will be earning his money at the Tour.
David Millar and Dave Zabriskie are included on the team for their time trialing abilities. The team time trial on stage 4 is a goal for the squad and they have the horsepower to win it. Also, look for Millar to go for stage wins in a small breakaway on the flatter stages.
Ryder Hesjedal and Dan Martin are included for their climbing abilities and to support Christian in the mountains. Ryder played a key role in the Alps at the 2008 Tour and Dan Martin is one of the up and coming stars in the pro peloton with some outstanding performances in hilly stage races last year and this spring.
Tyler Farrar was one of the revelations of the Giro. He sprinted to several second place finishes behind Mark Cavendish. While he didn't get a stage win, he showed that he was ready to mix it up in the finale and had no fear in doing it. He could definitely win a stage of the Tour.
Julian Dean is the final cog, after Bradley Wiggins, of the Farrar leadout train. Look for Wiggins to go from 1km to about 600m with Julian taking it from there to about 200m. This train, which was new for the Giro, had lots of practice in Italy and is ready to launch.
Danny Pate also has immense time trialing skills, but as he proved on the stage to Prato Nevoso in last year's Tour he can sense an opportunity for a stage win and go for it. He was oh so close last year.
The Garmin-Slipstream team is a well-balanced squad that includes riders for all the tasks necessary to be competitive in the mountains, flats and time trials. Good luck boys!
Even though there are two more stages to go in the 2009 Giro d'Italia the race is all but over as Danilo Di Luca was unable to drop overall leader, Denis Menchov, and gain any significant time before Sunday's concluding stage, a 9-mile individual time trial. Barring any sort of mechanical mishap or a crash, Menchov will undoubtedly best Di Luca in the race against the watch and wear the final pink jersey in Rome.
The last major climb of the Giro, Monte Vesuvio, showed once again that Carlos Sastre was the best climber in the race as he notched his second stage win in three mountain top finishes. The defending Tour de France champion on the newly formed Cervelo Test Team had been unable to produce the goods on the Blockhaus stage, but on the 6-mile, 2500 foot climb of the volcano he was unbeatable.
Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer were in the lead group chasing Sastre with five kilometers remaining. Lance, who suffered a scary-looking crash early in the stage faded a bit at the end, but his condition is definitely improving.
Here are a few photos from the day. The first photo shows Carlos Sastre dropping Ivan Basso halfway up the climb.
I have posted a number of photos of Armstrong and Leipheimer, here is a shot of Michael Rogers of the Columbia-Highroad squad. He was the team's leader, but has faded over the last week. Jani Brajkovic is over his right shoulder.
Dave Zabriskie(Garmin-Slipstream), who won a stage of the Giro in 2005, has had a pretty quiet race. Here is a photo of him in the grupetto. As he came by I asked him how he was doing. "Eh, OK," was the reply.
Franco Pellizotti won the big Blockhaus stage. I snapped this photo him at the team busses after the race.
Tom Danielson(Garmin-Slipstream) has also had a quiet Giro. On Vesuvio, he climbed well and was close to the leaders at the finish. It is good to see Tommy D up at the front.
One of the unfortunate side affects of the economic downturn is that burglary is on the rise. Dave Zabriskie returned from his excellent second place from the Amgen Tour of California(AToC) to find his home in Salt Lake City cleaned out. A week before the start of the AToC, three-time Canadian Olympian and now Team Bissel director, Eric Wohlberg, returned from racing in Argentina to find his place had been broken into. This past Thursday, top Master's rider, Billy Innes, had his two team bikes and several wheelsets taken out of his garage.
Let's face it. Any burglary is bad. But, when it involves cyclists and their bikes it really hits home. I guess it is just a sad fact of these times that we need to be extra-diligent and supremely vigilant in protecting our own valuables, but also watch out for others valuables as well. When one of our friends gets ripped off, we need to keep our eyes peeled for any bikes or parts for sale, especially on the Internet, that seem suspicious.
There are a few silver linings here. The guys who burglarized Eric Wohlberg's place got caught breaking into another house the next night. Salt Lake City Police have arrested two suspects in the Zabriskie robbery and Dave and his wife Randi have gotten some of their stuff back.
Unfortunately, Billy's two 2009 team Specialized S-Works SL2's w/Sram Red components and several wheelsets(Zipp 404's, Zipp 900 and Zip 808) have still not been recovered.
Again, there are several things we can all do to keep burglaries to a minimum. Keep your houses, garages, cars, etc. locked at all times. Use your home burglary alarms. Keep your eye out for suspicious items for sale in-town and on the Internet. Also, keep your eye out for suspicious behavior such as a 6-foot man riding a 50cm bike.
It's tough out there and it is not clear when it will be getting better anytime soon. Be careful out there and keep your eyes peeled.
Lance Armstrong was caught up in a late stage crash on the first day of the Vuelta Castilla Y Leon and suffered a broken collarbone. Lance returned to his home in Austin, Texas on Tuesday and is scheduled for surgery on Wednesday morning. This is definitely a blow to Armstrong's comeback. With many questions yet to be answered, just how big a blow has yet to be seen.
It is not clear exactly what will be done during the surgery, the expectation is that a plate will be attached to the collarbone to span the break and help speed up the recovery time. What is also not clear is the extent of the break. A CT scan was performed on Tuesday evening to determine the exact details of the break. Once the surgery is performed, Lance is going to need some down time to allow the break to start to heal.
A broken collarbone is one of the most common injuries in cycling and is really the first major injury from a crash that he has suffered since he started racking up his seven Tour de France wins. Racers have returned to competition within three to four weeks after breaking their collarbone, but laws of average don't necessarily apply in medical cases.
The effect on Lance's comeback is not really known at this time and may not be known for several weeks. Clearly, since the Giro d'Italia starts in just five weeks, Lance's quest for an overall title there is probably in jeopardy. In fact, his participation in the event may also be in question. The Giro seems to be a much more crash-prone event due in part to the fact that many of it's stage finishes include multiple circuits around the finish town on roads that vary dramatically in width.
If Lance doesn't ride the Giro, he is going to need to find some other races to sharpen his skills if he wants to contend for another Tour de France title. Whatever happens, don't count out the Texan. While circumstances may completely scuttle his comeback, if he can recover quickly and get back his motivation, there is no reason to doubt that he will be ready to rage in July.
ps - Levi Leipheimer demonstrated how quickly he recovered from his hip fracture at the Amgen Tour of California to win the much-anticipated time trial at the Vuelta Castilla Y Leon besting Astana teammate Alberto Contador by 16 seconds over the 15-mile course. Garmin-Slipstream's Dave Zabriskie recovered from his home burglary to take take third just 22 seconds behind Leipheimer.
Returning to his Salt Lake City house on Tuesday after taking second place in the recently concluded Amgen Tour of California, Dave Zabriskie and his wife discovered that their house had been burglarized and over $150,000 worth of electronic gear, cycling equipment and memorabilia had been taken. Here is a chance for you all to help out and find the scumbags. Below is a list of sum of the items taken. Please keep your eyes and ears open for any leads:
Black 2008 Subaru Outback, Utah license plate A189NC
Black 2006 Toyota Scion, Utah license plate 094VWM
Giro d'Italia race medal (approx. 6" circumference)
Olympic Seiko watch
Beijing Olympic ring (silver) with initials "DZ" engraved ($4,000)
Felt Olympic Time Trial bike, plus 12 other bikes (combined value of $100,000)
Cervelo (black/red) bike frameset - team issued ($5000)
Tag Heuer watch ($6,000)
Bose speaker/receiver system ($15,000)
Sony 52" flat screen TV ($4,000)
Two Apple MacBooks and one Apple Mac desktop, plus hard drive ($8,000)
A pair of Space legs, a recovery compression system for legs ($5,000)
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.
For the third year in a row, Levi Leipheimer owned the Solvang individual time trial cementing his lead on the overall title. A three-peat looks more and more likely even though the time gaps between Dave Zabriskie(Garmin-Slipstream) and Michael Rogers(Columbia-High Road) are only 36 and 46 seconds, respectively the next two stage, while difficult, will not be decisive. For Leipheimer it was, yet again, confirmation that he is the strongest rider in the race. But, for Dave Zabriskie, who finished just second seconds behind Leipheimer, it was the ride that we had all been hoping he would finally perform at the Solvang TT.
Zabriskie was on the podium at the first ever AToC, but in the last two editions, he has come into the event with high expectations, but no brass ring. In 2007, an ugly crash on the race's first stage put paid to his chances whereas in 2008, an intestinal bug robbed him of the power so necessary to do well in the race of truth. Temporarly setting the course record, the Z-Man finally delivered the goods and was clearly pleased with his efforts bringing his son with him on the podium.
The big question of whether Lance would get the green light to go full gas was answered in a chat with Astana Team Director Johan Bruyneel. "He will go as fast as he can. It is going to be a very good test for him. It is a long time trial and it is more than three years since he has done a long time trial so it is basically discovering a lit bit the feelings again. We don't know what to expect."
"Maybe he feels good in the beginning and blows up. We don't know. We are really going to play it by the feeling and see how far he can get. But, at the same time we know that there are a handful of riders here who are in really good shape and they are going for the win. I don't expect him to be in the very front. Somewhere between fifth and tenth would be a very good result." After yesterday's stage, Lance told reporters that he would most likely lose about a minute to Levi in the TT. Lance ended up 14th, 1'16" back of Leipheimer.
When asked about how he felt Levi would perform, Bruyneel replied, "Well, Levi has won the time trial the last two years and he wants to win again. The main goal is to defend the lead and if we can get that we will be happy."
Levi's better half, Odessa Gunn, was in Solvang to support her man. I asked Odessa how she felt Levi would perform. "This is one of his favorite days. Certainly in the race, but in general. He loves this stage. He loves this town. He loves time trialing."
And how does Odessa give her support? "Staying out of his way. Because I have this uncanny ability to always ask him the wrong question at the wrong time. So, I just keep my distance and say good luck."
When Levi crossed the line, he held up three fingers signifying a three-peat. It was unclear if he was
talking about his third straight victory in the Solvang TT or his third overall win.
Dave Z heading out of the starting gate. He is the picture of concentration.
It's Back!!!!!!!! Lance's stolen TT bike was found in an alley in Sacramento sans wheels. City of Sacramento officials brought the bike back to the team for the TT.
Mark Cavendish won his second stage of the Amgen Tour of California (AToC) in as many days once again besting Tom Boonen. The Columbia-High Road sprinter won the race's longest stage at 134 miles, but all eyes were looking southward toward Solvang where the most decisive stage of the race, a 15-mile individual time trial, will most like decide the winner of the 4th edition of America's biggest and best race.
While two-time overall champion Levi Leipheimer goes for the three-peat, the big question is whether Team Astana boss Johan Bruyneel will let Lance Armstrong go all out in the time trial. There may seem to be an obvious answer to the question, but with two difficult days in the mountains looming, Lance may need to save his strength to be able to defend Levi's jersey.
That, of course, is assuming that Levi keeps the jersey. He has owned the Solvang TT since its inception and his fitness and drive seem to indicate that he will continue his domination. With Lance as the closest placed teammate in fourth, just 30 seconds back, it might make sense to play it safe and let Armstrong go full gas. If Levi flats, crashes or just has a bad day, having someone who can step in and take over the race leadership is a big plus. That's exactly the role Levi played for Alberto Contador in last year's Vuelta a Espana. Levi finished second overall, but if Contador had come to grief, Team Astana would still have won the race. After all, it is all about the team.
However, if Levi does ride to the level we can expect, Lance may be needed to help defend the jersey in the final two days. If you remember the 2007 Tour of California, Jen Voigt was in second place behind Levi going into the time trial. The German went all out and almost won the race. But, in 2008, Jens held back inthe time trial because his teammate, Fabian Cancellara, was in second place to Levi and if Cancellara beat Levi and took the jersey, Jens' strength would be needed to defend the jersey.
All this discussion may be moot because Team Astana is the strongest squad in the race and even if Lance does go full gas, rider like Yaroslav Popvych, Jani Brajkovic, Chechu Rubiera and Chris Horner are clearly capable of working at the front to keep the jersey on Levi's shoulders.
Personally, I would like to see Lance unleashed just to see what he can do and where his fitness is at this time of year. I think Levi is a tad bit stronger than Lance so I still see Leipheimer winning, but a one-two finish is not out of the question.
Also, I like both Mic Rogers and Dave Zabriskie, the riders in second and third place overall and hope that they both ride well. It might be a bit too early for Rogers to ride the type of time trial we expect from a three-time World Champion in this discipline, but you never know. Dave Z is supremely motivated to do well, I hope he can pull out a good ride and keep his spot on the podium.
Sort of race notes:
Here are photos of some of the spectators along the course: