The 2009 Amgen Tour of California sloshed into Santa Rosa and it was Rock Racing's Francisco Mancebo, of Spain, who was off the front for 102 of the 107 miles in this stage, taking the victory. On a day when the elevation profile looked to allow the field to re-group after each of the three moderate climbs, mother nature, some dodging radio communications, and some last minute modifications to the race rules conspired to give Mancebo the opportunity to take the stage and potentially the overall Tour of California title.
Because of the cold, rainy conditions the peloton allowed Mancebo, Tim Johnson (Ouch Medical) and David Kemp(Flying V Australia Successful Living Foundation) to breakaway only five miles into the stage. Poor communication from race radio, which keeps the teams up to date on the time gaps for breakaways, allowed the gap to grow to epic proportions. When Mancebo attacked his two companions and went free over Howell Mountain, that information was slow in reaching all the other teams. When word did get back to the pack, Team Astana went ballistic and shattered the field over Howell Mountain putting five of its riders in the 20-man chase group. Armstrong, Leipheimer, Horner, Rubiera and Jani Brajkovic spent the better part of an hour and a half trying to bring back Mancebo.
When the race entered the streets of Santa Rosa, a territory quickly becoming known as the Bermuda Triangle of UCI race regulations, the officials decided to take the finishing times at the start of the first of the three finishing circuits. This decision, which was made sometime during the course of the stage basically robbed the chasing teams of about 7 miles of extra distance in which to try bring back Mancebo.
OK. We can all debate the advantages and disadvantages of race radios(personally, I don't like them), but the current rules allow them, maybe this time around it was a case of those who live by the radio, die by the radio. In any event, the overall standings of the AToC have been turned completely upside down. Mancebo is a good time trialist, but Levi Leipheimer has owned the Solvang TT the past two years and if Levi doesn't lose anymore time to Mancebo between now and then, the 1'02" he is down to Mancebo could easily be won back with a standard Leipheimer TT effort. For that matter, any of the 19 riders in the chase group who are now within about 1'30" of Mancebo are still in the hunt and could win the overall with a superb TT effort.
Here are some photos of the race. I was playing around with soft focus a bit, please bear with. Graham Watson and I are good friends because 1) he can drink me under the table with one hand tied behind his back, 2) I am not going to be taking any food out his mouth with the cycling publications.
Here is a shot of Mancebo on the finishing circuits out in front solo.
Lance, with Horner on his wheel, are chasing hard.
After he crossed the finish line, Mancebo headed down my way. Ben Delaney, Editor of VeloNews, and I were the first to approach him, but he wanted to do the interview in Spanish so we decided to leave it to the interpreters this time.
On Saturday night, thieves broke into the Team Astana's bike trailer at the Residence Inn Sacramento and stole the first four bikes in the line-up. Taken were Popovych's, Brajkovic's and Morabito's road bikes as well a Lance's one-of-a-kind TT bike on which he had just finished 10th that day in the prologue. Luckily, all the riders had spare bikes, but the team had to borrow three road bikes from Trek Travel for additional spares for Popo, Jani and Steve to have on top of the car for the day's stage.
I talked with Ben Coates who is the liaison with Trek for the team and who was upset that the incident occurred. He was upbeat that this situation would demonstrate the advantages of US-made Trek bicycles in that replacement frames were in the process of being painted and sent out in the next few days to the team.