Posted by Editoress on 02/23/07
Tour of California
Coverage sponsored by: Maxxis, Shimano, Enervit
Levi Leipheimer (Discovery) virtually assured himself victory in the Amgen Tour of California after a stunning 18 second victory over main rival Jens Voigt (CSC) in today's 23 kilometre time trial. Leipheimer now goes into the final two stages with a comfortable 21 second lead on his rival. Top Canadian Ryder Hesjedal (Health Net) surprised even himself with a respectable 17th place ride that leaves him in 10th overall, 1:57 behind Leipheimer.
The 23 kilometre loop began and ended in the town of Solvang, a kitschy tourist town with a strong Danish influence (lots of 'Ye Olde...' stores along the main street). The course had a gradual climb over the first 9 kilometres, with a final 'kick' up to the highest point on the circuit. After a short and twisty descent, the riders headed along a rolling valley road to the second small climb, before dropping into the finish over the final two kilometres.
The major factor turned out to be the wind - a strong, gusting wind for the way out, with tailwind to take the riders home. "It was brutal" commented Hesjedal. "The wind was definitely a major issue; it was over 20 miles an hour at times."
The early leader was Tom Zirbel of the California-based Priority Health squad. His time of 30:56.87 held up while over half the field finished, until world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara (CSC) knocked 39 seconds off. Neither Giro champion Ivan Basso (Discovery) nor his team mate George Hincapie could best Cancellara, but another Discovery rider - the breakaway rider from Stage 3, Jason McCartney - finally took 12 seconds off of Cancellara's time to put Discovery back in the lead.
This was the way it remained until the final two riders hit the course - Voigt and Leipheimer. Voigt began the day 3 seconds behind Leipheimer, and appeared to be the stronger time trialist. He set a new fast time at the halfway point, but Leipheimer immediately knocked 4 seconds off of Voigt's record, and did not slow down, taking an additional 14 seconds in the second half of the circuit.
Leipheimer told the crowd after the race: "My major motivation today was I did not want to go to the dinner table tonight and tell my teammates I couldn't defend the lead after all the work they did this week."
- Leipheimer said that team director Johan Bruyneel "Lied to me during the race. He told me that I was only 5 seconds ahead with 5K to go, and only 2 seconds ahead with 2K to go. It definitely pushed me to go harder in the final kilometres."
- McCartney has no riding time since the Discovery training camp, but credits his current strength to cross-country skiing. "I went home after the camp to Iowa and we got a cold snap, down to 0 (Fahrenheit), so it was impossible to ride. So I just went skiing every day for 2 to 4 hours. It's perfect."
- Race organizers announced that the race has surpassed one million roadside spectators in the first 5 days and 467 miles of racing. Media are becoming increasingly skeptical of attendance numbers, and one wag murmured "I wonder if they are including television viewers in that number?"
- Hesjedal initially told us that he did not have a good ride: "I think I was probably outside the top-20." When informed that he had actually finished 17th on the stage and was 10th overall, he was initially disbelieving. "It's my first time trial of the year, so I didn't know what to expect. I'm lighter this year, so I expected to lose some raw power. But now, I am pleased with my ride; everything went better than I expected."
- CSC and Discovery owned the day, with the top nine finishers in the stage and the top six in the overall standings. Tomorrow the race goes from Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita over 170 kilometres with 4 rated climbs. Expect CSC to put lots of pressure on Discovery.
- Not all the locals were in favour of the race. The Santa Barbara News-Press had a front page story "Cyclists push events aside". The West Coast Greyhound Fest (featuring events such as "Kiss a Greyhound" and the "Greyhound Streak") was postponed, and the Flying Leap Storytelling Festival (NOT a Floyd Landis event) was cancelled for this year.
A local doctor tried to get an injunction to cancel the road closures, and also had his lawyer try to have the closures declared unconstitutional! "It's a criminal thing." he seethed. He has contacted Amgen to say that he will be boycotting their products.
Finally, someone went around the course ripping down all the No Parking signs. Emotions obviously run high in Solvang
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