Posted by Editoress on 02/14/09
Our coverage ot the Amgen Tour of California made possible with the support of Shimano
An estimated 100,000 spectators lined the streets of Sacramento to watch the opening stage of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California (AToC), with a significant proportion drawn, no doubt, by the opportunity to watch Lance Armstrong (Astana) race on U.S. soil for the first time since 2005. Armstrong did not win (to the surprise of many non-cycling Lanceophiles, who assumed he would win everything), but was a respectable tenth, five seconds behind winner Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), the Olympic time trial champion. Canada's Svein Tuft, making his racing debut with Garmin-Slipstream, was a fraction of a second ahead of Armstrong for ninth, while defending AToC champion Levi Leipheimer (Astana) was second, two seconds behind Cancellara.
The four kilometre circuit around the state capital buildings started with a 180-degree turn shortly after leaving the starting ramp, then a quick right-left combination, followed by a long straightaway north and two quick lefts before a final run back down the other side of the state buildings to the finish line. The rain, which everyone had worried about, held off, although it was really touch-and-go with the final 15 riders to go, when the skies got quite grey and a few drops actually fell.
Had it rained, the outcome could have potentially been quite different. Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell), sixth rider off, was the first to go under 4:40, and then Canadian national TT champion Tuft, the 14th rider off, knocked a second off that time, to 4:37.
Team Columbia's sprinter Mark Cavendish came within fractions of a second of overtaking Tuft, but it took Cavendish's team mate Mark Renshaw, the 49th rider off, to take the leading time down to 4:36.
These three riders remained at the top of the standings for over an hour, as early patchy clouds accumulated and turned darker. It took Cervelo Test Team's Thor Hushovd, the 15th rider from the end of the field to finally bump Renshaw out of the lead, and then only by tenths of a second.
Tom Boonen (Quick Step) and George Hincapie (Team Columbia-High Road) slotted in behind the big Norwegian (with Hincapie reportedly suffering from a slow leaking rear tire), but it took U.S. TT champion David Zabriskie to finally take the best time down by another second, to 4:35.
There were seven riders remaining after Zabriskie, with the first being Armstrong, followed by Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Slipstream), who finished nine seconds off the pace. Cancellara was next, and he was clearly on a superb ride, carving through the turns and using the entire width of the road, not losing any more speed than necessary. His time of 4:32 was a full three seconds faster than Zabriskie.
Ivan Basso (Liquigas) cruised the course in 4:49, while former TT world champion Michael Rogers (Team Columbia-High Road) could only manage to bump Hushovd for fourth. Floyd Landis (Ouch), making his return to racing after his doping suspension, had a very slow ride of 4:53, suggesting that his crash on Thursday may have caused more damage than the team had let on.
Then there was only Leipheimer left and, while the two-time defending champion was faster than the rest of the challengers, he wasn't fast enough to take the leader's jersey for the race into his hometown of Santa Rosa tomorrow.
- Cancellara holds the Yellow and Green (points) jerseys, but Leipheimer will wear the Green tomorrow, while Cavendish is in the Best Young Rider jersey. The Climbers Jersey will not be awarded until after tomorrow's stage. Lance Armstrong was awarded the Blue, 'Breakaway from Cancer' jersey, which is given to the person each day that best exemplifies the battle against cancer. A cynical person might think that this will be awarded to Armstrong every day as a way of making sure he appears on the podium in each city ....
- Tuft admitted that the team had used the tactic of seeding him early in case the weather did turn for the worst. "For sure, that was the idea. I'm seen as a bit of a wild card. It would have been nice to have seen some of the faster times before I rode, but at the end of the day it just came down to givin 'er everything."
"I'm happy with this, because it is my first race of the year, and it is hard to prepare completely without racing. Maybe I was a little conservative in the corners, but it wasn't worth risking it. Overall, I don't think I've ever been at this level at this time of year.
- Tomorrow, the race starts close to Sacramento in the university town of Davis, and finishes 173 kilometres later in Santa Rosa after zig-zagging across the Napa Valley. There are three ranked climbs - two Cat. 4's and a Cat. 2, but it is highly unlikely that the riders will get a chance to enjoy the sight of the vineyards at all, because the forecast is for strong winds and heavy rain, with a slight chance of snow at the top of the Cat. 2 climb.
"If the wind is like predicted," said Tuft "it could be a wild day. There's a very good chance it will split up and we will see a GC group of maybe 30 or so. It's going to be a hard day."
Of course, this bodes well for Canadian tough guys Tuft and Rollin...