Posted by Editoress on 05/16/11
SpiderTech's Keven Lacombe came within half a wheel of winning the opening stage of the Amgen Tour of California, and centimetres from a podium appearance, finishing fourth in the abbreviated stage. Ben Swift of Sky took the stage, and the gold leader's jersey, followed by Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Matt Goss (HTC-Highroad). Lacombe is also fourth in GC, ten seconds back after time bonuses.
After the cancellation of the first stage yesterday because of snow at Lake Tahoe, organizers made an early morning decision to shorten the first (actual) stage, moving it from Squaw Valley to last year's opening stage start in Nevada City. This dropped the distance to 76.3 miles (123 kilometres) from the orginal 137.3 miles (214 kilometres) - including two extra laps of the finishing circuit in Sacramento. More significantly, the move cut out the major climb, over the 7000 foot-plus Donner Pass, and the long, twisty high-speed descent into Nevada City. Ironically, the weather around Lake Tahoe was gorgeous...
The race rolled out of a hastily cobbled together start in Nevada City with little fanfare, and still attracted a very respectable crowd for the start despite the last minute change.
After a flurry of attacks, a breakaway group of four formed approximately 20 kilometres into the stage - Laszlo Bodrogi (Team Type 1-Sanofi Aventis), Timon Seubert (Team Netapp), James Driscoll (Jamis-Sutter Home) and Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell Cycling). Bodrogi, Seubert and Driscoll started the attack, with Jacques-Maynes bridging up.
The break hovered at less than 30 seconds for some time, before finally being allowed to roll away, and stretched their lead up to nearly five minutes with 60 kilometres to go. However, the teams of the sprinters had no intention of letting this group take the glory, and Matt Goss's HTC-Highroad team was the first to start bringing the gap down, joined by Peter Sagan's Liquigas-Cannondale squad and Rabobank.
In the last 50 kilometres the lead began to drop significantly, as the headwind also took its toll. The last of leaders (Jacques-Maynes) was finally absorbed with 13 kilometres to go - three kilometres before the riders entered the three kilometre finishing circuit around the California state legislature.
Garmin-Cervelo led through the first circuit, with Saxo Bank (for JJ Haedo) and Sky putting battling trains at the front on the second and third circuits. SpiderTech was also in the mix, with Martin Gilbert working hard for Lacombe as the race entered the final lap.
Lacombe chose the wheel of world champion Thos Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo) for the sprint, but went to the front a little early, fading in the final 50 metres. Lacombe went wide to the right, while Swift and the other sprinters stayed to the middle of the wide boulevard.
"I rode in Thor's wheel with one kilometre to go," explained Lacombe. "I felt very good with 300 metres left in this gruelling race. That being said, I left at the wrong time, but I had to go because I had the momentum. I left for the sprint about 50 meters too soon... I must learn to better gauge myself. Pat McCarty and Svein Tuft worked hard to position me in the last two laps, in the heavy rain. Saxo Bank took us at the sound of the bell announcing the last lap. Martin and I parted, and I jumped on the wheel of Thor with three turns to go."
"We were 100% 'on' for the sprint today for both Lacombe and Gilbert," said Steve Bauer, Directeur Sportif for Team SpiderTech. "We wanted to take the front early on the circuit to ensure they would not have to fight for position. Keven narrowly missed the podium. He came with momentum of off Thor. Since he had the momentum, he had to commit and go for it early."
- Tahoe residents are still gung-ho for the race to return, and one member of the organization said that while it will not happen next year, it is a possibility for the following year (2013).
- The finish camera for host broadcaster Versus caused some havoc in the finish. Mounted on a crane out over the center of the road, the operator had it too low, and did not lift it much even after yells from photographers and race staff. Sure enough, as the SRAM neutral support vehicle came through behind the field the Specialized bikes on top smashed into it, definitely causing some serious damage. Incredibly, he STILL didn't lift it until just before the riders entered the finishing straight.
- Canadian cycling legend Alex Stieda is also at the race, driving a VIP vehicle for Netapp.
- Tomorrow's stage starts in Auburn and travels to Modesto, directly southfor 196 kilometres. After a downhill run for 25 kilometres, it levels out for the rest of the stage. There are three intermediate sprints and no KoMs, so this is almost guaranteed to be a sprinter's stage.