Posted by Editoress on 02/26/07
Tour of California
Coverage sponsored by: Maxxis, Shimano, Enervit
No surprises in the final stage of the Amgen Tour of California, as Levi Leipheimer (Discovery) cruised to the finish tucked in behind his team mates to take the overall victory in a race that he led from the very first stage eight days ago. Ivan Dominguez (Toyota United) gave the non-ProTour teams their first victory of a race that has been dominated by a battle between Discovery and CSC. Ryder Hesjedal (Health Net) and Michael Barry (T-Mobile) finished safely in the peloton, keeping Hesjedal in tenth overall. Charles Dionne (Colavita-Sutter Home) did not start due to a fever, according to his team.
The 12.1 kilometre circuit took the riders along the waterfront in Long Beach - a straight and almost flat run south with two left turns and then back past the start-finish for another turnaround 1.5 kilometres before the finish. The southern portion had a tailwind, but the headwind in the other direction was not very significant. The riders faced 10 laps to finish off the Tour.
This seemed to be the day for domestic teams to have a go, as Tim Johnson (Health Net) and Danny Pate (Slipstream) spearheaded an effort to break clear. By the first turnaround a group of seven had formed, with Pate and Johnson joined by Steven Cozza (Slipstream), Karl Menzies (Health Net), Sean Sullivan (Toyota United), Ben Jacques-Maynes (Priority Health) and Adam Hansen (T-Mobile) - the only ProTour rider.
The break worked well together, and quickly took the gap to 3 minutes. making Pate the virtual leader by 30 seconds. However, despite the absence of George Hincapie (out after a broken wrist suffered in a crash yesterday), Discovery was vigilant and kept the gap from growing too large. The effort was clear from the way the peloton was strung out in one long line chasing the leaders.
Discovery brought the gap down to a more manageable (for them) one minute with a couple of laps remaining, after receiving some assistance from BMC and Credit Agricole, and then the sprint teams began to set up, which was the final nail in the coffin of the break.
The overwhelming favourite for the stage was CSC's JJ Haedo, with two wins to his credit. CSC began setting up with a lap to go, and made the catch of the break as the race went by the start-finish for the northern portion of the course. T-Mobile was working to get Espoir world champion Gerald Ciolek in position, and Credit Agricole was setting up Thor Hushovd as the riders rounded the final turn for the one-plus kilometre tailwind-assisted run in to the finish line.
Haedo was at the front, neck-and-neck with Dominguez with 200 metres to go and appeared to back off, virtually ceding the win to Dominguez. But it was a close one, as stage one winner Graeme Brown (Rabobank) threw his bike to take second just ahead of Ciolek.
"With four laps to go I went to Graeme's wheel and stayed there. Then, at 500 metres his team mate peeled off and I stayed with him (Brown). But it was a close one, a photo finish."
Afterwards, Leipheimer called the win "one of the most significant of my career. This year the race was extremely competitive; I said to Jens (Voigt) 'thanks for a great race'. There was blood, sweat and tears here - we lost Allan (Davis) and George (Hincapie)."
- Organizers put the final official count at 1.6 million spectators for the entire race; up 300,000 from last year. They also said that they will begin to look at the route for next year (and start and finish towns) in 30-60 days. There is a definite possibility of extending the race to 10 days from the current 8, and going as far south as San Diego is a strong possibility, according to AEG Sports president Shawn Hunter.
- Leipheimer was asked what he would like to see added to the race and his response was immediate: "A mountain top finish." While the race is unlikely to go into the high mountains (it is February - both snow and the fact that it is early season are factors), race director Jim Birrell did agree that they were looking into a stage that finishes at the top of a climb.
- Both Leipheimer and Bobby Julich agreed that the Sierra Road climb (stage 3) was the hardest of the race. "The key climb was Sierra; that's where I had to put in an immense effort to catch Jens." commented Leipheimer. Julich: "I agree, that is the only real significant climb, and it was critical in the race."
- Leipheimer said at the post-race press conference that George Hincapie will likely miss the Classics, after having surgery on his broken (left) arm today. "It is a big blow for Discovery to lose our Classics rider. We all wish him a quick recovery; he is one of the mainstays of the team."
- Organizers pointed out that in 16 days of racing they have had sun for the finish of every single stage; a remarkable record for February. "God must be a cyclist" said a member of the organization.
- While there is deservedly strong praise for the race - only in its second year, the organization has done a remarkable job of building up a world-class race from scratch - there are some logistics still to be worked out. The California Highway Patrol police seem to have a good grasp of how a race fits together, and media, TV, teams, etc. generally were able to work well together. However, there is a problem with local police, who seem to not understand that a road closure means closed to NON-race people. In various towns along the way, overzealous local officials tried to lock down the course so that no one could get on it, culminating at today's stage when a local motorcycle officer threatened to arrest me if I didn't stop standing on the course! (Despite the fact that I was credentialed, wearing a photo bib and on the opposite side of traffic cones from the way the race was going...) A marshal who observed the whole incident commented "don't they know that you people are supposed to be doing your job? How are you going to get pictures of the race?" Exactly..
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