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.