Posted by Editoress on 02/20/09
Our coverage of the Amgen Tour of California made possible with the support of Shimano
Levi Leipheimer (Astana) solidified his hold on the Yellow Jersey at today's individual time trial in Solvang, although it may not have been by as much as he hoped for, with David Zabriskie (Garmin-Slipstream) finishing a scant 8 seconds behind him at after 24.1 kilometres. Olympic silver medalist Gustav Larsson (Saxo Bank) took third, at 17 seconds.
Zabriskie is now 36 seconds behind Leipheimer with two tough stages remaining, followed by Michael Rogers (Team Columbia-High Road) at 46 seconds. Lance Armstrong (Astana) did not fare as well as many of his fans expected, struggling to finish 14th, 1:15 down on Leipheimer. Svein Tuft (Garmin-Slipstream) was the top Canadian in 20th place, at 1:23.
Weather conditions were near perfect, at 20 Celcius and little to no wind. The 24.1 kilometre circuit is almost unchanged from previous years, except for the finish line being moved over one street. After heading down the start ramp on the main street of the Danish Disneyland that is Solvang, the riders make a left and face an immediate steep, short climb. Dropping straight down the other side, they then head out into the flat horse farm country for almost half the circuit, before facing another steep climb and descent. Heading along a picturesque but twisting narrow road, there is one more climb before descending back into the town.
Stef Clement (Rabobank) set the early fast time of 31:24, which was good enough for ninth at the end of the day. His time stood up for some 35 riders, until Jason McCartney (Saxo Bank) knocked a couple of seconds off, followed 17 riders later by Tom Zirbel (Bissell), who took it down by two more seconds.
But Larsson was only three riders later, and he lopped off a significant 22 seconds. Larsson's time would hold up against strong rides by George Hincapie (Team Columbia-High Road) and Jens Voigt, and he remained the fastest rider until Zabriskie, the US national champion took the time down by a further 9 seconds. Armstrong was next, well back, and there were only two riders left on course - Rogers, a three-time world champion, and Leipheimer.
An initial report from the course put Rogers a staggering two minutes up at the split, but this turned out to be a timing mistake, and the Australian came in 14 seconds behind Zabriskie. However, Leipheimer had set a new fastest split, and he kept the speed up over the final half of the course to win his third straight Solvang time trial.
"This was certainly the hardest one," commented Leipheimer afterwards. "If you look at the calibre of the field, and that I won by only 8 seconds, it shows that it gets harder every year."
- Tuft was a little disappointed with his time and placing, but pointed out "I don't have my top end yet. This is the first race of the year, and I need to get some more racing miles into my legs before I'll be able to really go. But I can feel myself getting stronger each day of the race, and I'm happy to be able to work for the team here and do what I can to support [Zabriskie]."
- Ivan Basso (Liquigas) did not start after a crash while warming up injured his knee..
- While the crowds weren't as spread around the course as in previous years, they were much larger at key places on the climbs and downtown at the start and finish. There were at least 30,000 spectators, according to estimates.
- Tomorrow's stage goes around the northern edge of Los Angeles, starting in Santa Clarita and ending in Pasadena (where the overall race finished last year. The 143 kilometre route has one significant climb over the Millcreek Summit - at 1495 metres (4906 feet), it will be the highest point, to date, that the Tour has ever reached. However, it will be eclipsed a day later by the Palomar climb. From the top of Millcreek the race drops into Pasadena for five laps of an 8 kilometre circuit. Leipheimer said in the press conference that he expects it will come down to either a sprint finish or a small break.
- Zabriskie was asked if there is still a chance to overtake Leipheimer. "Only if they screw up really badly" was his blunt assessment.
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