Posted by Editoress on 02/24/07
Tour of California
Coverage sponsored by: Maxxis, Shimano, Enervit
Strong riding by Team Discovery virtually assured Levi Leipheimer overall victory at the Amgen Tour of California with one stage remaining, but the victory comes at a heavy cost: a broken wrist to George Hincapie after he and team mate Tony Cruz crashed 5 kilometres into the stage. Hincapie finished the stage, but it was subsequently announced that he had a fractured radius of the left arm and will not start tomorrow. JJ Haedo (CSC) took his second win of the Tour in a field sprint finish.
Michael Barry (T-Mobile) predicted before the race that it would be very aggressive as CSC and T-Mobile tried to crack Discovery, and it was. After a brief slowdown at the start in Santa Barbara, when a photo moto crashed into the back of police cruiser (sending the photographer flying off the back onto the roof of the cruiser - luckily, he was not injured) and spilled gasoline on the opening circuit, the riders headed east for 170 kilometres. Four KoM climbs (one Cat 3 and the others Cat 4) and a lot of rolling terrain gave many opportunities for the other teams to put pressure on Discovery. Jens Voigt (CSC) was 21 seconds back of Leipheimer, and his team mates Bobby Julich, Stuart O'Grady and Christian Vandevelde were all within 90 seconds of the lead.
For Discovery, the indication that was going to be a hard day started when Cruz touched wheels with team mate Ivan Basso, sending him to the ground and launching Hincapie over him to land heavily and awkwardly. The peloton didn't wait around for them, and it was a long chase back for the pair, while the remainder of the squad tried to keep the lid on things.
At around the same time that the two Discovery riders were hitting the deck, Shawn Milne (Health Net) and Mauricio Cano (Rabobank) attacked and quickly open a gap of nearly three minutes by the 26 kilometre mark. The pair were eventually caught shortly before the first intermediate sprint (after the first two KoMs).
Voigt went off the front (possibly to gain the time bonus), which stirred things up considerably, and caused the peloton to split into two segments. All the top contenders made the front group, but Hincapie and Cruz were back in the second group, and Leipheimer was running out team mates.
After the sprint a small group rolled off the front, including O'Grady, and with the third KoM only 6 kilometres after the sprint, stretched things out even more. Over the top of the climb a group of 5 got away and shortly after are joined by 4 more, making the front group: Stuart O'Grady (CSC), Mathew Hayman (Rabobank), Josep Jufre Pou (Lotto), Michael Rogers (T-Mobile), Bram Tankink (Quick Step), Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step), Enrico Gasparotto (Liquigas), Viktar Rapinski (Navigators) and Danny Pate (Slipstream).
This was a serious problem for Discovery, and the group motored to a nearly 3 minute advantage while the peloton reorganized itself and Cruz and Hincapie rejoined the main bunch. Despite a broken wrist, Hincapie took his turns at the front in the effort to chase down the break, which had O'Grady as the virtual leader of the race, since he started the day only 1:20 down on Leipheimer.
Basso, Danielson and Hincapie were doing damage control at 50 kilometres an hour, and the gap finally began to come down slowly with 40 kilometres remaining. However, the leaders entered the finishing circuit in Santa Clarita with over a minute in hand, and it began to look as if it could be a close thing for the race leadership.
Hincapie went to the front again for a massive effort at 60 kilometres an hour to take the gap to less than 30 seconds with a lap remaining. Health Net came to the front at this point, to set up their sprinter, and CSC appeared to be reorganizing for a sprint finish with Haedo as their man. At the front, O'Grady was still charging, assisted by Rogers, but in the process they were shredding the break apart, and the two groups finally came back together with less than 3 kilometres remaining.
At the finish - a wide, sweeping curve to the right - Haedo came off of Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) to move to the front with 100 metres to go and barely managed to hold off a late charging Greg Henderson (T-Mobile), while Paolo Bettini (Quick Step-Innergetic) came off of Haedo's wheel to take third.
- The first thing Leipheimer did afterwards was to roll up to Hincapie and give him a hug of thanks. The U.S. champion was clearly in pain, and could not put any weight on his left arm.
"We weren't exactly calm out there" admitted Leipheimer "but this is a very strong team. It was like a war out there - everyone came out with all guns firing. Everyone came out to crack this team today, but there is a reason this team won seven Tours."
- Both Ryder Hesjedal (Health Net) and Michael Barry (T-Mobile) finished with the main field, but Charles Dionne (Colavita-Sutter Home) lost over 13 minutes. Dionne said before the start that he was suffering through a cold and sore throat.
- A post-race press conference was held with UCI president Pat McQuaid joining race organizers. After praising the race, McQuaid appeared to endorse the possibility of the Amgen Tour of California joining the ProTour at some future date, when it became more international. However, first the UCI needs to deal with the ongoing battle with the Grand Tour organizers.
McQuaid pointed out that erroneous reports had circulated that some ProTour teams would defy the UCI and enter Paris-Nice. Those reports have since been retracted, and Rabobank, Gerolsteiner and T-Mobile have stated that they will stand on the side of the UCI. McQuaid reiterated the UCI position, and that ASO refuses to try and negotiate a settlement. He has spoken with a number of team managers at the race, and pointed out "we (the UCI) are the government of cycling."
We will be posting video coverage of McQuaid's comments on the issue soon.
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