Posted by Editoress on 02/24/08
Tour of California
The third annual Amgen Tour of California finished today after eight stages and 1069.1 kilometres, with another hard day of rain and cold. George Hincapie gave his new team High Road the win it was desperately looking for after the break he was part of held off the thoroughly wet and miserable (and shrinking) peloton. Levi Leipheimer (Astana) cruised in to take his second consecutive AToC title, while Dominique Rollin (Toyota United) finished one spot behind JJ Haedo (CSC) in the field sprint to lock up the Points Jersey.
The 150 kilometre stage had had the possibility of being shut down, after weather forecasts showed that torrential rain and snow were scheduled to greet the riders at the top of the Millcreek climb (1495 metres). The race organizers sent out a crew to check the pass at 6:30 am, and they reported back that everything was fine. The alternate plan was to have the teams sign in at Santa Clarita, then drive to Pasadena for the finishing circuits.
Up until the main climb, the weather wa actually fairly reasonable, with a few scattered showers blowing through, and even some sunshine. The break formed 10 kilometres into the stage, through the Vasquez Canyon on the first section of climbing.
10 riders from 10 teams made it into the selection - Michael Creed (Rock Racing), George Hincapie (High Road), Jason McCartney (CSC), Yannick Talabardon (Credit Agricole), Oliver Zaugg (Gerolsteiner), Dimitri Champion (Bouygues Telecom), Danny Pate (Slipstream Chipotle), Taylor Tolleson (BMC), Rory Sutherland (Health Net - Maxxis) and Tom Zirbel (Bissell). With none of them a threat to Leipheimer, Astana was content to let the group dangle off the front, and none of the teams represented had an interest in chasing.
This also suited Rollin, since the group took the intermediate sprint points, denying them to Haedo.
"Our hope was a break would go, so that we could relax and I could save my energy for the finish," explained Rollin.
At three minutes the group was no threat to Astana, but when the race hit the base of the climb, a more serious group broke away, containing Robert Gesink (Rabobank), Victor Hugo Pena (Rock Racing), Tom Peterson (Slipstream Chipotle) and David Zabriskie (Slipstream Chipotle). Astana quickly picked up the pace to bring this back.
Over the top, it was misty and cold - down to three degrees (Celcius). The treacherous descent was made worse by rain, and everyone took it cautiously. Rollin had a bit of a scare when he suffered a rear flat just as he was about to rejoin the front peloton (it split into several groups over the climb). After a quick change from Mavic he was up to the group, and further along he stopped to have his team change the wheel to a team one.
The lead group came into the 7.2 kilometre circuit around the Rose Bowl stadium intact for six final laps, but the fighting began in the middle of the first lap, when Zirbel went off the front. For a few seconds the rest of the group looked at each other, and then Sutherland started the chase, quickly followed by Hincapie.
The pace split the group, with only McCartney and Creed joining Hincapie and Sutherland in the chase. For four laps Zirbel stayed away, hovering between 15 and 25 seconds, while the peloton was at two, to two and half minutes. However, Hincapie wasn't too worried.
"Zirbel did a great ride, but I could see that he was struggling on the climbs, and we had him in sight the whole time."
He was caught just before the start of the last lap, and then the cat and mouse action started, which was a dangerous move as Quick Step and Rabobank were driving the peloton to bring up their sprinters.
In the end, the five riders stayed away by a mere 12 seconds, with Hincapie easily coming by McCartney to take the stage. Cavendish took the bunch sprint for sixth, followed by Haedo and Rollin.
"I was placing myself to be up there," explained Rollin "and I got third behind JJ, and ahead of Boonen and Cipollini, which was pretty nice."
- This is the final year of Amgen's sponsorship, although they have an option for the next two years. Michael Roth of AEG says that he expects to sit down with Amgen in the next few weeks to discuss the future of their sponsorship.
- Rollin agreed that this was a superb result. "For sure it is a big week for me, and for the entire team. It is just incredible to know that a domestic team is capable of such a result. It makes a lot of difference in my confidence, for sure. I came here to help the team, and now I know that I can do more."
We also asked him if he has had any interest from bigger teams after his strong showing. "So far, the only thing I am focussing on is this year, and riding with Toyota. We have barely started this season!"
Rollin's next big race will be the Tour de Georgia. "We lost all our guys through sickness, it was a harsh week. We'll see a totally different team in Georgia."
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