Posted by Editoress on 02/20/07
Tour of California
Coverage sponsored by: Maxxis, Shimano, Enervit
The Amgen Tour of California headed to the state capital of Sacramento for stage 2, where new Team CSC hire J.J. Haedo proved his worth by easily besting the rest of the sprinters in a drag race in front of the state legislature and thousands of appreciative fans. Race leader Levi Leipheimer finished safely in the pack, surrounded by his Discovery team mates, who had spent the day at the front of the peloton riding tempo. Top Canadian in the standings, Ryder Hesjedal (Health Net) dropped from 9th to 11th in the overall after the results were revised from yesterday's stage to include some riders who had been caught behind the crash on the finishing circuit. Top Canadian for the day was Charles Dionne (Colavita-Sutter Home) in 21st place.
Today's 186 kilometre stage took the riders east through the Sonoma and Napa wine regions, from yesterday's finishing city of Santa Rosa to Sacramento. The riders faced two rated climbs - the first a Category 2 over the Trinity Grade and the second a much easier Category 4. Both of these climbs happened in the first half of the stage, with the riders battling crosswinds on the flats for the second half of the stage.
Three riders attacked almost immediately - Christophe Laurent (Credit Agricole), David McCann (Colavita-Sutter Home) and Omer Kem (Priority Health). The gap quickly climbed to over five minutes, before Discovery went to the front to keep things in check. Once they did, the break hovered at just over four minutes as they went over the two KoM climbs.
Kem was the weakest link in the trio, and the other two shed him on the flat after the second of two intermediate sprints. However, it made little difference in the end, as the relentless pace of Discovery ground them down. The catch was put off for possibly an extra 10 kilometres when Slipstreams Danny Pate jumped across to add power to the flagging pair up front. The break briefly rallied to 45 seconds, before Pate dropped the other two for a solo attempt.
However, it was ultimately a failed effort as the sprinters' teams hunted him down as the race entered Sacramento and then set up for a sprint finish. Navigators tried to set up Hilton Clarke for the win, since the time bonus would have put him in overall lead. But CSC wasn't having any of it, and for Haedo - a stage winner twice last year - it was a dream situation to have Jens Voigt and then Stuart O'Grady to lead him out.
"I was on Stuey's wheel, he was in about fifth place coming around the last corner. When I saw the 300 metre sign I told him go, so he went from probably 350 to 200 to go. When I went, I probably opened a gap and was lucky to keep it."
The gap Haedo opened was substantial, allowing him to sit up some 10 metres from the line and throw his arms in the air. Last year, Haedo won without the same level of support, and he was properly appreciative.
"Good thing he's (O'Grady) on my side so I don't have to race against him! On the lap before the final one, we were back in about 60th place, but he was really calm and that made me calm too so we didn't have to do anything crazy to get in the front."
"When I started my sprint yesterday I had to brake and I lost my momentum. It was crowded, and somebody moved in front of me. Sometimes that happens. There was not time to recover ... We had a hard day yesterday and put everything into today for the win. I'm sure tomorrow everyone is going to make an even bigger effort to bring me to the line. It's a good thing to win a race here because it gives the team confidence in me."
"I am in really good form now. I had a very good training camp with the team recently. I am taking it one step at a time. It's going to be a good combo for the season. You have the CSC jersey and you get a little respect for that so you have to use it. Every team has a different strategy ... My job is a lot easier than before, I just have to follow him (O'Grady) and make sure I don't lose my win."
- The other teams had a relatively easy day of it, as Discovery had to do the work of chasing. Hesjedal commented "it was a pretty straighforward day; we didn't have to do too much."
- Nicolas Gates (Predictor-Lotto) receives the 'tough guy' award - his crash yesterday earned him a cracked rib and possibly a cracked tailbone (or at least a heavy bone bruise). But he still finished with the field today.
- Tomorrow is possibly the hardest stage of the race, with the only Category 1 climb of the race, plus three other climbs. The 152 kilometre stage starts in Stockton and finishes in downtown San Jose. The current weather forecast is for rain, which will make things more difficult
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