Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia) showed on Saturday in downtown Los Angeles that he is back at the top of his game. He didn’t win the stage 7 time trial in the Amgen Tour of California, that victory went to his German teammate Tony Martin, but Rogers came in second and extended his lead on his nearest challengers, to go into Sunday’s final stage with a nine-second lead on Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions) and 25 seconds on Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack).
Martin, who was third in last year’s world time trial championship, took his first win of the season with a superb effort. His winning time of 41:41 represented an impressive average speed of 48.364 kph (30.052 mph) over a two-lap 33.6km (20.9-mile) course that featured rough roads, tight corners and squally conditions.
He finished 22 seconds ahead of runner-up Rogers, with Zabriskie in third (at 27 seconds) and Leipheimer fourth (33 seconds back). Potential challenger Peter Sagan (Liquigas) was a disappointing 17th on the day, and dropped from third to seventh overall, while Aussie Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis) was ninth fastest in the TT and moved up to fifth on GC.
After his big day, Rogers said, “A lot of people doubted us before the start of this stage and said that we couldn’t do it, “but we did. It’s not over, but in the meantime, we’re one step closer.”
The overall win is still in play on Sunday’s circuit race at Thousand Oaks, but the task has become much tougher for Zabriskie and Leipheimer. The two Americans did good time trials, but not quite as good as they expected.
“I was disappointed, of course,” Zabriskie said. “I was a little bit off, but went pretty good. I don’t think the race is over yet. I’d say that, even if I was in the leader’s jersey.”
Leipheimer said, “It’s not the best I’ve ever been. I don’t want to be making excuses, but I was hoping for about two percent more. I think Dave and Mick have just been that fraction better than me all week.”
Great day for LA
Saturday dawned bright, clear and windy in Los Angeles as the Amgen Tour of California took over the downtown streets so familiar from television and movies — the riders even passed the office building made famous by the vintage TV series, “Dragnet.” The course was two laps on a dogbone-shaped route with a long, straight drag strip book-ended by a bumpy loop around the Coliseum at the southern end and a hilly, rectangular sweep at the northern end.
Bert Grabsch (HTC-Columbia), the 2008 world time trial champion, set an early top time of 42:47 that stood for more than an hour, before his teammate Martin took over the hot seat with his 41:41. Martin, who was prominent at the front of the pack Friday working for Rogers, was not a GC contender but set a time that his teammate could target.
“I was getting the split times from my trainer (Brian Holm),” Martin said. “I heard I was 30 seconds faster than Bert, then a minute, so I knew I was doing a good ride. I didn’t know I had the legs to win because I had to dig really deep yesterday.”
Martin’s time for the first lap of 20.52 was faster that all the splits of the men at the top of the GC leader board. Leipheimer came through in 21:04, Zabriskie in 20:57 and Rogers in 20:53 — one second behind his teammate.
Asked about the course and its many turns, Martin said, “I saw the road this morning and saw it was not too technical. I didn’t take any chances, I’m known as a careful rider, so I just tried to stay on my bike.”
The day’s biggest surprise was Saxo Bank’s veteran German Jens Voigt, who was fifth on the stage with a time of 42:40. which moved him into fourth overall.
The big guns
The three GC rivals had contrasting styles: Leipheimer was compact, often dipping his head down onto his forearms. Rogers looked muscular and powerful, with some rocking of the shoulders and head. Zabriskie’s upper body was nearly motionless, with a flat back and narrow shoulders.
They were so evenly matched that they set almost identical times on the second of their two laps. Rogers and Leipheimer both rode the last 17km in 20:10, while Zabriskie was one second slower. In contrast, Martin came through much stronger with a second split of 20:49.
“Everyone started tired this morning,” Rogers said. “I went as hard as I could and tried to hold onto it. I just saw a bunch of roads in front of me. I didn’t see too much.”
Leipheimer used similar words, saying, “For the way I felt, I pushed it as hard as I could and didn’t make any mistakes. It was really windy and rough out there and hard to hold onto the bars.”
But neither Leipheimer nor Zabriskie is conceding the overall title. Garmin’s Zabriskie said, “It’s not over until it’s over. Tomorrow’s a very hard course. I’ve surveyed the course. It can be windy and there are a couple of good climbs. Not that much fun.”
Leipheimer said, “Of course, when I come to the Tour of California when I don’t win, I lose. So there are a lot of expectations. Considering tomorrow, I don’t think it’s over. This Tour of California has been very, very hard and among the top few there hasn’t been much selection. It’s been very tight all week. But overall it’s been very hard and tomorrow won’t be any different.”
The final stage of this year’s Amgen Tour of California is Sunday’s Thousand Oaks-Westlake Village-Agoura Hills circuit. This challenging finale will likely see the overall leaders marking each other, giving the lesser lights a chance at winning the stage. Four times up the infamous Rock Store climb (4km at 7 percent) will make this a race of attrition, much like a world road championship, but the 134.4km distance is only half that of a worlds. (Related: 2010 Tour of California route).
- 1. Martin, 41:41
- 2. Rogers, 42:03
- 3. Zabriskie 42:08
- 4. Leipheimer, 42:14
- 5. Voigt, 43:13
- 1. Rogers
- 2. Zabriskie
- 3. Leipheimer
- 4. Voigt
- 5. Sutherland