Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Doimo) won stage 5 of the 2010 Amgen Tour of California in a spectacular sprint among the GC hopefuls after a six-man breakaway disintegrated and was retrieved on the finishing circuits in Bakersfield.
It was race leader David Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions) who led out the sprint after three punishing trips up the short, steep climb of China Grade, but he started too soon — Sagan was on his wheel, as was Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia).
And the outcome was a double loss for Zabriskie. He saw Sagan easily overpower him for the stage victory, while Rogers crossed the line second to strip him of the overall lead, thanks to a time bonus he had grabbed earlier in the stage.
“Today was really great for me,” Sagan said. “When there’s a small climb that finishes in a sprint, that’s good for me.”
The steep drag to the finish proved great for Rogers, as well, who ended up tied with Zabriskie based on the time bonus. Since he finished one spot better than the Garmin rider, Rogers moved into the race lead.
“First and foremost I’m very happy with the team’s ride,” Rogers said. “We were active all day with Mark Renshaw in the break. And it’s an honor to put the gold jersey on. I’m feeling good — I’m climbing well, and I even have a bit of a sprint. I’m expecting the teams will throw everything at me tomorrow, and we’ll do the best we can to keep it.”
How it began
The 121.5-mile stage from Visalia to Bakersfield took the riders through the heart of California’s San Joaquin Valley and into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, taking in the narrow and twisty Old Stage Road into the town of Woody, several short, steep climbs through the Kern River oil field, and up the 10 percent ascent of China Grade. The day’s labors concluded with two and a half laps of the finishing circuit in Bakersfield.
It was not your typical day in the saddle at the Amgen Tour. Before the start in Visalia, RadioShack’s Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel were peppered with questions about Floyd Landis’ revelation that he had indeed used performance-enhancing drugs — and his charges that Armstrong, Bruyneel and others were equally tainted.
Both men dismissed the allegations, with Armstrong saying, “Floyd lost his credibility a long time ago.” And shortly thereafter, Armstrong lost his chance to continue in the race when a rider skidded on gravel five miles from the start — the resulting pileup took Armstrong down and out of the Amgen tour.
The herd thins
Bruyneel announced via Twitter that Armstrong would be taken to a hospital for X-rays. Photos showed him with a bloodied left cheekbone and a swollen left eye, and word from team spokesman Philippe Maertens was that he required eight stitches under that eye and sustained a bad bruise to his left elbow.
“It was a shame to have to abandon early and not be able to help Levi (Leipheimer) to another victory,” Armstrong said. “It was one of those crashes that put a bunch of us down. I tried to give it a go but my eye was swollen so I couldn’t see properly and the pain in the elbow prevented me from holding the bars for the remainder of the stage.”
Also going down in the mishap was teammate Levi Leipheimer, who was able to continue, and Saxo Bank’s Stuart O’Grady, who was not. Other riders who were at least delayed by the pileup included Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell), Jason McCartney (RadioShack) and Bernie Eisel (HTC-Columbia).
Robbie Hunter (Garmin-Transitions) took the first Herbalife sprint at the 16.2-mile mark in Lindsay. More importantly, the savvy Rogers took second ahead of teammate Mark Cavendish, moving to within two seconds of race leader Zabriskie on the general classification.
By the 20-mile point, Thomas Leezer (Rabobank) and Davide Cimolai (Liquigas-Doimo) were off the front, but only briefly. Next to make a break were Marcus Burghardt (BMC Racing Team), Tony Martin (HTC-Columbia) and Jeremy Hunt (Cervélo). That move grew to about 15 riders, among them Karl Menzies (UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis), who took the next intermediate sprint at Porterville ahead of Jeremy Powers (Jelly Belly) and Martin. The Garmin boys pulled that move back, too.
The break du jour
More riders called it a tour along the road — Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo TestTeam), Dan Holloway (Bissell) and Jay Thompson (Fly V Australia) all abandoned. Then, at the 41-mile mark, the break of the day formed up:
The men in the break:
- Paul Mach (Bissell), 25th at 1:49
- Ben Day (V Australia), 39th at 11:18
- Grischa Nierman (Rabobank), 32nd at 4:38
- Mark Renshaw (HTC-Columbia), 90th at 33:54
- Kurt Hovelynck (Quick Step), 99th at 33:54
- Will Dickeson (Jelly Belly), 119th at 37:04
The break quickly took two and a half minutes, then doubled that by the 50-mile mark. By Old Stage Road the escapees had more than six minutes, and RadioShack was leading the chase.
When Mach took the Category 3 California Travel and Tourism KOM at Old Stage Road ahead of Niermans and Hovelynck the lead chase group had closed to within four and a half minutes of the break. A second chase was motoring along about a half-minute back.
With 40 miles to go the break was clinging to an advantage of just over four minutes over the main chase, which included all the usual suspects: Brett Lancaster (Cervélo), Jonathan Cantwell (V Australia), Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis), George Hincapie (BMC), Rogers, race leader Zabriskie and defending champ Leipheimer.
The big name most notable by his absence was sprinter Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia), who was with Quick Step’s Tom Boonen in a gruppetto some eight minutes behind the first chase.
Garmin was getting some help from Liquigas and UnitedHealthcare in the pursuit. And then V came forward, despite having Day in the break; to be sure, he was not doing any work up there, perhaps waiting for a chance to slingshot Cantwell toward the stage win. Mach, meanwhile, was the leader on the road with 31 miles to race.
Up front, Nierman and Hovelynck got lively and their duel briefly shed Dickeson going into a sharp left-hand corner. The Jelly Belly man tugged himself back up, though, and the six-man break soldiered on.
Their advantage was beginning to dwindle, however, to just under four minutes with 25 miles to go and the Cat. 4 Round Mountain KOM just ahead.
The break battles
As the break approached the final KOM Renshaw was sitting in, skipping his pulls, and the bunch was nibbling at its lead. Then Day nipped away and Renshaw woke up and followed. Day took the KOM ahead of Renshaw and the two kept on going with 21 miles to race. Some 10 seconds later, Mach took third atop Round Mountain.
The break reformed on the descent and its lead was back out to just over three minutes. Behind, Thomas Rabou (Team Type 1) flatted out of the chase, got a fresh front wheel and began the long, lonely chase back.
With 12.4 miles to go Nierman tried a move, reprising Rabobank’s aggression in the finale of stage 4. Everyone followed instantly save Dickeson, who once more had to drag himself back to his mates. All the fiddling about did no good for their advantage, now just 2:20.
Then Renshaw jumped, and he took an authoritative gap. After a moment’s hesitation Day followed with Hovelynck on his wheel. Nierman came along, too, and after a short while the break was all together once again.
Then Hovelynck punched it. Again the others paused, and finally Nierman began a chase. Next Renshaw lit it up and it was a three-man lead group. Day fought his way back to make it four. Dickeson and Mach were chasing. The greatly reduced peloton was at 1:45.
“It’s a game,” Mach said. “Renshaw knew he could win the sprint. Ben Day knew he had Cantwell back
there who could win the sprint.”
Day’s perspective was similar.
“Cycling is a game of chase and once I heard through my radio what was going on behind through the climb in the middle of the stage with peloton splitting into three different groups, I was notified that most of our team’s sprinters were in that front group and that we had to play our best cards at the right time,” Day said. “Those guys are sprinting very well at the moment, so I was happy to sacrifice myself so they could be in position to win the stage. We’re here to win as a team and not to win as individuals, so I kind of sat on a bit and pissed a few people off, but that’s bike racing, it’s the nature of the game.”
Making the (China) Grade
The 3.6-mile finishing circuit in Bakersfield included three trips up China Grade, a short, painful stretch of 10 percent grade — just what a guy likes to see in the finale to a long day in the saddle.
Mach used the first trip up to bridge to the lead foursome. The plucky Dickeson latched back on, too, just as they passed under the Kenda bridge marking the final kilometer. The peloton followed 90 seconds later.
As the break completed its U-turn and headed back for a second assault on China Grade Dickeson had a go, but Day pulled him back. The cat-and-mouse was costing them time — the peloton was just 40 seconds back.
Nierman was next to launch. This time Dickeson and Hovelynck both cracked, as did Nierman, but Day and Renshaw carried on.
And then it was one — Day dropped Renshaw and crested China Grade alone.
The final miles
Saxo Bank’s Jens Voigt attacked out of the chase as it swallowed up the remnants of the break and charged away after Day. He couldn’t outfight the Liquigas and Garmin teams, though — they dragged the shrinking peloton up to him at the 180-degree turn.
Day was next — they chewed him up him at the foot of China Grade. HTC-Columbia and Garmin were on the front, battling for Rogers and Zabriskie, respectively, and Popo’ was pulling Leipheimer up to the front. Sagan was there, too, but Andy Schleck (Saxo) was not — he was popped off the back.
Over the top of the Grade they went with HTC on the front. Knowing he had but two seconds’ advantage over Rogers in the overall, Zabriskie lit the afterburners, but too soon — he had Sagan on his wheel and Rogers, too.
Sagan powered away for the stage win with Rogers second, and with the time bonuses on hand at the line — 10, six and four seconds, respectively — Zabriskie and Rogers found themselves tied on time.
And the countback gave the lead to Rogers. What a difference two seconds makes.
“Today was another beautiful stage,” Zabriskie said. “Everyone rode an aggressive race. Unfortunately we lost a few guys from the peloton in a crash but our team rode great all day. We did everything we could to retain the jersey. Hats off to Michael Rogers for his time bonuses and capturing the yellow jersey.”
- 1. Peter Sagan (Liquigas)
- 2. Mick Rogers (HTC-Columbia)
- 3. Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions)
- 4. Chris Horner (RadioShack)