Posted by Editoress on 02/23/08
Tour of California
Stage six of the Amgen Tour of California saw the first ever Brazilian win of a stage, when Luciano Pagliarini (Saunier Duval) was bumped to top spot after the apparent winner - Mark Cavendish (High Road) - was relegated. JJ Haedo (CSC) was second, and has crept to within three points of Dominique Rollin's (Toyota United) lead in the Points competition, while Levi Leipheimer (Astana) continues to hold the overall lead.
The 170 kilometre stage from Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita was expected to come down to a bunch sprint, and that is exactly what happened. After a number of aborted attempts to establish a break group, six riders finally managed to get away before the first KoM climb.
In the group were Christophe Le Mevel (Credit Agricole), Steven Cozza (Slipstream Chipotle), Karsten Kroon (CSC), Rory Sutherland (Health Net - Maxxis), David Canada Gracia (Saunier Duval) and Alexandre Pichot (Bouygues Telecom). None were a threat to the GC, and the move played into Rollin's hands for the points competition, since it kept intermediate sprint points away from his rival Haedo.
The group worked well together, with Sutherland doing a lion's share of the effort, which later netted him the Most Aggressive Rider Jersey. The gap went up to seven minutes, but on the final highway run in to the finishing circuit, High Road and Quick Step went to the front to reel them in and set up their sprinters.
At the start of the three circuits the gap was back down to a minute, and they were caught with a lap and a half to go. However, it was just before the end of the first lap that the problems began which would culminate in Cavendish's win and subsequent relegation.
Cavendish and three Rock Racing Riders went down, including Mario Cipollini. Both Cavendish and Cipollini chased back up, and both contested the sprint, with Cavendish rocketing up the left side to apparently win.
Rollin took the early lead in the sprint, straight down the centre of the road. But he started too early and faded. "With one kilometre to go my team mates brought me to the top five and I came out of the last corner on fourth wheel. But my inexperience caused me to react a bit too early. With a 100 metres to go I thought I had it, but they were coming by me fast at the end."
When Cavendish looked to have it, his team mate Ciolek, sprinting on the opposite side of the road, backed off, allowing Pagliarini the chance to nip around Haedo for what he though was second place, with Haedo in third and Rollin seventh. However, both Cavendish and Cipollini were relegated after officials determined that they had received assistance from their team cars in coming back up to the field. High Road argued that Cavendish was receiving technical support for a damaged rear derailleur, but to no avail - Cavendish was out and Pagliarini was in.
"I am happy, but it was not like a win with my hands up. I was second, but now I am the first."
Levi Leipheimer's lead in the overall standings now looks unassailable with one stage remaining, a 150 kilometre run from Santa Barbara to Pasadena with six laps of a finishing circuit. The final stage is dominated by one major climb - the Millcreek Summit at nearly 1500 metres, the highest point of the entire race.
"We have shown that we are the best team for the mountains, and I feel confident for the team to control things tomorrow. Certainly they are tired, but everyone is tired. They've done this before in the Grand Tours, so they have the experience."
- The event continues to lose riders at a rapid rate, with 11 abandoning and two not starting today. There are now 91 on tomorrow's start list from an original peloton of 132. Probably the most serious loss today was Astana's Vladimir Gusev, who crashed and has a suspected broken collarbone. He was back at the team vehicle collecting bottles when his front wheel hit a raised road reflector and twisted, sending him down. Team official say it is a clean break and that hopefully he will be back in time for the Classics.
- Rollin's Toyota United squad is down to three riders (Henk Vogels and Heath Blackgrove are the others) after being decimated by the virus making the rounds. But Rollin is still optimistic about defending the jersey. "There is only one sprint before the climb, and so we have to make sure that we cover that one [against Haedo]. The best would probably be a break up the road, so we will have to see what happens."
- Team High Road was, to put it mildly, not pleased with the ruling, pointing out that last year when Leipheimer crashed in Santa Rosa with ten kilometres remaining, he was given the same time as the peloton. However, this year, they apply the rules strictly by the book.
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