Posted by Editoress on 04/25/04
Tour de Georgia Georgia, USA
This report made possible by Human Kinetics Publishers
Stage 6: Athens to Hiawassee/Young Harris, 206.4 km
Cesar Grajales (Jittery Joe's) had the ride he has been dreaming about all spring, winning the Queen stage of the Tour de Georgia today ahead of Jens Voigt (CSC) and Lance Armstrong (US Postal). The top four positions in the overall classification will not change. Gord Fraser (Health Net), after a brilliant effort in a long breakaway, has recaptured the Points Jersey - no other jerseys changed hands.
The 206 kilometre stage began in Athens, home of the famous Twilight Criterium (which took place last night), and ended on Brasstown Bald Mountain, the highest point in Georgia. This incredibly steep climb tops out at 1426 metres, with final mile containing sections of over 22%. The only climb in Europe to match the steepness of this grade is the Angriliu in the Vuelta. Unlike that climb, the roads are in excellent condition on Brasstown Bald. Bobby Julich (CSC) said "We never do climbs like this in Europe; they are too steep." Before they even get to Brasstown Bald, the riders also had to tackle Hogpen Gap, a Cat 1 climb at 1061 metres.
The stage featured three intermediate sprints, and Fraser was very aggressive at trying to get into an early break that would allow him to grab some points.
"I was one of the most aggressive from the start, because I figured it was a good opportunity to get the jersey back. It took a while to get the right mix that Postal and the other leaders would let go. We had a good one, except George (Hincapie - US Postal) was there, so we had to try again a little later."
By the 35 kilometre mark a satisfactory mix had been established, and the group of 10 (containing Fraser). Other notables include Jacky Durand (Landbouwkrediet - Colnago) and Alessio Galletti (Domina Vacanze). After 15 kilometres the gap was two minutes, and at the first sprint, taken by Fraser, nearly four minutes.
Fraser also took the second sprint at the 110 kilometre mark, as the road began to climb to Hogpen Gap, and the gap was up to 4:15, which put Galletti in the overall lead on the road. It looked like the break was going to sit up at this point, but Galletti attacked and was joined by Gord Fraser.
The pair quickly gained 50 seconds on the break, which completely broke up, and was soon going backwards to the peloton. Four kilometres into the climb Galletti dropped Fraser - "I'm not going to be able to stay with a guy on a climb like this who's 30 pounds lighter than me." - and soloed over the top, over four minutes up on the Armstrong group. Fraser came across 1:45 down on Galletti and, with a descent to the third and final sprint of the day, kept going rather than waiting for the field. He took the second place points in the that sprint about a minute in front of the US Postal led peloton, and was caught with 32 kilometres remaining in the stage.
The chase was getting more serious, and Galletti's lead was yo-yoing around three and a half minutes. The riders began to climb with 20 kilometres remaining, but the real climbing begins at 10 to go, with the tougest part of the climb being the final 5 kilometres. By 15 kilometres to go Galletti's lead was below two minutes, and it was obvious he would get absorbed, which he did in the final 10 kilometres.
As the climb went vertical in the last 5 kilometres, there was an elite group at the front, including Armstrong and his team mates Viatcheslav Ekimov, Daniel Rincon and George Hincapie, Tim Johnson (Saunier Duval), Scott Moninger (Health Net), Chris Horner (Webcor), Jens Voigt and Bobby Julich (both CSC), Eric Wohlberg (Sierra Nevada), Dominique Perras (Ofoto) and Cesar Grajales. Hincapie and Wohlberg came off on the lower portion of the climb, and then Grajales attacked with three kilometres to go, completely shattering the group.
Grajales has been keying on this stage for months, staying in Athens, and riding the climb multiple times. The young Colombian was in a class of his own, flying up the climb to the cheers of thousands of fans, many of whom had camped out overnight to be on the climb before the road closed.
After Grajales' attack, Julich went as well, to try and set up Voigt, but Armstrong immediately reacted, taking Horner with him. Horner was dropped when Voigt surged again, and then it was just Armstrong and Voigt matching pedal strokes to the line, with the race leader rolling in half a bike length behind the German rider, both 17 seconds behind Grajales.
- Dominique Perras was the top Canadian in the stage, finishing 19th, with Eric Wohlberg 23rd and Charles Dionne 25th. Perras was sitting in the top 15 with 400 metres to go, but cracked a bit in the final two switchbacks.
- The marshals were vigilant about no pushing, which Euro riders were not happy about. Mario Cipollini (Domina Vacanze) rolled by us right against the side of the ride, calling "Push, push".
- Sheryl Crowe did show up, as rumoured, following Armstrong up the climb in a race car and making an appearance at the podium ceremony. She and Armstrong disappeared quickly after the presentation of the yellow jersey.
- The GC appears to be pretty much set, barring any unforeseen incidents. Voigt admitted that he had very little hope of catching any time on Armstrong. Today's final stage is a flat 145 kilometre run from Dawsonville to the outskirts of Atlanta, with four finishing circuits of 5.9 kilometres. The jersey still not locked up is the Points Jersey. Fraser leads, but Ivan Dominguez (Colavita-Bolla Wines) is not too far back. We can also expect Mario Cipollini (Domina Vacanze) try for his second stage win.
- It's different down here... Early in the stage, a group of us photographers pulled over for a scenic shot, and a woman was kind enough to let us shoot next to the pond on her property (see Stage 6 photos page). She chatted with us while we were waiting, and casually mentioned that her father had imported some alligators from Florida, which grew to over 8 feet long. We nervously enquired where they were, since we were about a foot from the edge of the water. "Oh, we got rid of them after one nearly got Daddy", she casually informed us.
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