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.
The 2009 Vuelta a Espana(Tour of Spain to us 'Mericans) is finally getting interesting. Not that the race hasn't had a few surprises and some great moments for Americans and American teams, but the race for the overall has been, well, uh, er, a bit boring. There have been a number of marquee names vying for the top step of the podium such as Alejandro Valverde, Ivan Basso, and Cadel Evans. But, until Sunday's summit finish at La Pandera, all the GC riders seemed to be spending more time watching each other than actually trying to win.
The result of all this cat and mouse is that a number of lesser riders have been stealing the show from the stars. Hey, it is great to see more riders get a chance to shine, but it makes the racing a bit jaded if we have to wait five minutes after the stage winner to see the overall contenders cross the line. That might be OK on the flatter stages, but in the mountains, the big boys should be at the head of affairs and not trying to share TV time with racers who arrived at the bottom of the last climb with a ten minute lead.
Having said all that, it was great to see Tyler Farrar win his first ever stage of a grand tour. He was oh, so close in both the Giro and the Tour on numerous occasions and while his main rival Mark Cavendish was not in Spain, last time I checked they aren't just giving stage victories away for showing up. This is a great result for the Garmin-Slipstream rider in his first full season as a pro. I think it bodes well for his future in the sport. Also, having an American who can win a bunch sprint will definitely make watching the flatter stages of the grand tours much more interesting for American fans.
Garmin-Slipstream also won a mountain stage with Ryder Hesjedal taking the stage to Velefique. While he was one of those lesser riders off the front stealing the stage from the GC contenders, Ryder rode smartly and made his opportunity count. I really like Ryder and hope that this is a portent of big things to come.
Which leads us to Sunday's stage and the finish at La Pandera. The final 5-mile climb is really tough and provided a cornucopia of drama when overall race leader Alejandro Valverde was dropped by Ivan Basso and Robert Gesink with about three miles to go on the climb's steepest section. It looked like Valverde was going to have his usual one bad day in a grand tour and drop out of contention until he got a second wind and started chasing down his competitors.
Valverde not only succeeded in catch Basso, but he also bridged up to Gesink who was on his way to taking the overall race lead from the Spaniard. It was a display of determination worthy of a champion and it might just be the winning moment of the race. Finally, the Vuelta is getting interesting.
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!
I took a few photos that didn't fit into the earlier blogs(OK, how does something not fit into a blog, you ask!) so here they are with appropriate comments.
Will Frischkorn was the star of stage 3 of the Tour de France initiating a 200km+ breakaway with three other riders and almost winning the stage. For his actions he was rewarded the most aggressive rider for that day. Will was also off the front for over 200km in the season's first classic, Milan-San Remo. Hopefully in 2009, Will gets to stand on the podium.
Ryder Hesjedal has ridden at the highest levels in both professional road cycling and mountain biking. He is totally capable of winning one-day and stage races, but during the 2008 Tour de France he was a super-domestique for team leader Christian Vande Velde. Ryder was there on that critical day on the Col de la Bonnette to help Christian limit his losses when he was dropped halfway up the massive, 6000-foot climb. Unfortunately, Christian crashed on the descent and lost a further two minutes which ultimately cost him a podium place. Ryder's crucial role was all but forgotten, but he did his job well. As did Christian!
Christian Vande Velde's father, John, was also an elite bike racer. He was a member of the 1972 Olympic team as part of the team pursuit squad. BTW, Jim Ochowicz was also on that team pursuit squad. However, John is probably best remembered for his role as one of the four Italians on Team Cinzano in the Academy Award winning movie 'Breaking Away.' John wasn't the one who put the pump in Dave Stoller's spokes; that was Eddy Van Guyse. A devoted track racer, John had a portable board track constructed nicknamed the 'Vandedome' which was used for a few European-style six day races throughout the US in the 1980's. John sold the track for $5 to another passionate cyclist and word is that it might be re-assembled for some races in New York next year.
While the actual 2009 Garmin-Slipstream jersey has yet to be unveiled, here is a look at what might be very close to the final design. Note that long-time sponsor Chipotle is still part of the team, they are just not one of the primary sponsors so are not included in the official team name. Those of you worried about the departure of argyle need not be concerned. The power of the argyle is still strong!