Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions) scored a dramatic stage win ahead of Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) and Mick Rogers (HTC-Columbia) on Tuesday’s third stage of the Amgen Tour of California, the 113.3-mile leg from San Francisco to Santa Cruz.
The three overall favorites broke away together on the critical Bonny Doon climb outside Santa Cruz, gaining a maximum advantage of 90 seconds, before a hungry chase group closed to within a handful of seconds.
Zabriskie, the reigning national time trial champion, attacked the others with less than a kilometer to go and held them off, taking the win and a 10-second bonus that put him into the overall lead, displacing overnight leader Brett Lancaster (Cervélo TestTeam).
Leipheimer said he fumbled the finish, which featured a lefthand corner at about 800 meters to go.
“I definitely screwed up the finish. I knew about this corner, but Dave got the jump on us, and there was a tailwind there,” Leipheimer said.
Leipheimer, who initiated the critical split up Bonny Doon, was similarly lukewarm about the results.
“Once we got away I wasn’t really committed because they’re the two most dangerous guys in the race,” Leipheimer said. “We were gaining time on everyone else, but that wasn’t really what my goal was. In fact I ended up losing a little bit of time because of the bonuses.”
Zabriskie, on the other hand, was pleased with the yellow result he got to zip on at day’s end, plus the form that put him there.
“The feelings I had (on Bonny Doon) were good feelings,” Zabriskie said. “It was the first time I’ve been able to go that deep this season.”
The day got going down the coast in beautiful conditions. Despite the best efforts of dozens of riders to get clear, the pack stayed together past the day’s first two intermediate sprints. HTC-Columbia set up their man Mark Cavendish to win the first and reclaim the points lead from Lancaster — “It’s good practice for the Tour,” Cav said — and Karl Menzies (UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis) took the second.
As the riders turned off the coastal highway to head inland, a break of five riders went. The race leader pulled over for a nature stop, thereby granting the break clearance for takeoff. As on Monday, the break was composed of non-ProTour riders, including local Andy Jacques-Maynes of Bissell:
- Ryan Anderson (Kelly Benefit Systems), 41st at 1:27
- Davide Frattini (Team Type 1), 48th at 2:57
- Will Routley (Jelly Belly), 49th at 2:57
- Eric Boily (SpiderTech), 102nd at 17:30
- Jacques-Maynes, 106th at 17:30
Frattini and Anderson battled for the KOM points throughout the day; Frattini took the first two, and Anderson the third. The break built a lead of over four minutes, giving Anderson the honor of being the race leader on the road.
RadioShack led the field in a chase, keeping the break within a comfortable margin of two to three minutes.
As the race shot back onto the coastal highway and headed toward Bonny Doon, RadioShack and Lancaster’s Cervélo team ratcheted up the pace. While his breakaway companions began to resign to the inevitable, Routley launched an attack that held for a few miles.
Then it was time for ProTour business.
RadioShack’s Chris Horner took a big dig on the early slopes, marked by most of the GC favorites, including Rogers and Zabriskie.
After Horner softened up the group, Leipheimer attacked, bringing Rogers and Zabriskie.
In a pre-race interview, Leipheimer named the two as among his biggest challengers to his overall title defense.
Now the defending champion had the two with him, opening a 20-second gap on the climb that grew to over a minute as RadioShack’s Lance Armstrong and Garmin’s Tom Danielson marked any attempt to bridge.
“Everybody was for a second in the red when they went,” said Saxo Bank’s Jens Voigt. “Then it was stop and go. There was still a large number of RadioShack riders in the chase group. I have to say they controlled the race pretty well. There were 3 or 4 guys in our group. And they were controlling everything behind.”
Leipheimer led the trio over the summit of Bonny Doon with a 90-second gap over the chasers.
After the descent, the chase became furious as Cervélo and Liquigas — home of the first and second place riders on GC — fought to get their men back in the game, as the race’s three most dangerous riders went up the road.
The lead trio — containing a former time trial world champion (Rogers), the reigning U.S. TT champion (Zabriskie) and a former U.S. TT champion (Leipheimer) — worked well together, but so did Liquigas at the front of the chase, and with less than 9 miles to go, it was touch-and-go, with the gap down to 55 seconds.
One Liquigas rider flatted out of the chase, giving the lead trio enough advantage to keep the gap at a half minute at 10km. The three were not giving up, although Rogers appeared to be weakening in the final Ks. With 2km to go, the trio had just 20 seconds.
Zabriskie launched an attack at 800 meters to go and Leipheimer was first to respond, but Rogers drag-raced him to the line to take second and a 6-second bonus. Leipheimer had to settle for the 4-second third place bonus.
Liquigas’ Peter Sagan, who had been second on GC behind Lancaster, led the field in for fourth at 17 seconds.
Wednesday’s stage 4 from San Jose to Modesto is almost a carbon copy of the 2009 stage between the same two cities won by Thor Hushovd in a mass sprint finish. The 195.5km route includes the rugged Sierra Road climb and a grind up the narrow, twisting Mines Road to almost 3,000 feet elevation before descending to the Central Valley and the flat finale. (Related: 2010 Tour of California route).
- 1. Zabriskie
- 2. Rogers
- 3. Leipheimer
- 4. Peter Sagan (Liquigas) at 17s
- 1. Zabriskie
- 2. Rogers at 4s
- 3. Leipheimer at 6s