In one of the finest performances of his career, Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia) won the fifth Amgen Tour of California on Sunday after withstanding relentless attacks from his closest rivals in the final miles of the hilly concluding circuit race at Westlake Village, Thousand Oaks.
“It was a huge day for us.” Rogers said. “I was so excited to hang on and win.”
The Australian’s victory ended a three-year streak at the California tour for Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack), who wound up third overall, behind runner-up Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions).
“There was a lot of pressure, mostly from myself and that’s to win and nothing else,” Leipheimer said. “Am I disappointed? Not at all. I rode well, I gave it everything I had. I think I was the main animator of the race and I think I have to take pride in that.”
Zabriskie’s teammate Ryder Hesjedal won stage 8 by out-sprinting a five-man breakaway group that included George Hincapie (BMC Racing) and Carlos Barredo (Quick Step), with Chris Horner (RadioShack) in fourth.
“I think a win on the last stage goes really well,” Hesjedal said. “That was kind of the focus near the end there. For Dave to get away from Mick and overcome that (nine-second) deficit was obviously a tall order, and I think we did the best we could and came out the best we could.”
Indeed, Zabriskie and Leipheimer did everything they could to get away from Rogers in a thrilling finale, and both paid homage to the man who defeated them. “I salute Michael for how he clawed back each time.” Leipheimer said.
Garmin-Transitions in control
The final stage was an 83.5-mile circuit race in the hills that overlook the Pacific Ocean northwest of Los Angeles, comprising four laps of a technical 21-mile circuit. Zabriskie’s team signaled from the start that it intended to take control of the stage, driving the pack for the first lap and a half, preventing any breakaway from getting more than a few seconds’ advantage.
“We wanted to ride aggressive today and show ourselves well,” Hesjedal said.
By the end of the first lap the front group was down 31 riders, including all the favorites, while a group of 15 including fourth-place overall Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank) was a half-minute back. He was helped by his teammate Andy Schleck and Fabian Cancellara to close the gap. Things settled down after that because, as Rogers said, “We could see from the first lap that the big attacks were going to come on the last lap.”.
KOM leader Thomas Rabou (Team Type 1) was aggressive the second time up the infamous Rock Store climb, getting into several small attacks, including one with Quick Step’s Barredo on the second lap that built a small gap and then was absorbed by a larger group, forming a breakaway of seven riders:
- George Hincapie (BMC), 18th at 6:03
- Jeremy Vennell (Bissell), 25th at 30:57
- Thomas Rabou (TT1), 33rd at 40:39
- Yaroslav Popovych (RadioShack), 37th at 44:21
- Carlos Barredo (Quick Step), 41st at 50:08
- Oscar Pujol (Cervélo), 44th at 55:07
- Sebastian Langeveld (Rabobank), 77th at 1:36:52
“I woke up this morning and I was thinking it would be really cool to be in the breakaway with the KOM jersey,” Rabou said, “so I tried to do it and my goal was achieved.”
Hincapie was the best-placed rider in the break, and HTC-Columbia paid attention, taking over at the front as the pack tackled its third lap, with some assistance from RadioShack.
On the penultimate descent, Hincapie, Popovych and Pujol got away from the others, but the group of seven came back together to start the final lap with a gap of nearly three minutes.
Final lap throw-down
With Zabriskie’s ambitions slipping away, Garmin began chasing in earnest at the start of the last lap and the gap was down to a minute as they approached the final haul up Rock Store, where tens of thousands of fans rivaled crowds seen at the Tour de France. The yellow jersey group strung out single file and the gap began plummeting as Garmin’s Matt Wilson drilled it at the front, with Rogers and his guard and the RadioShack group keeping close to the front.
Leipheimer had an untimely flat near the base of the climb, taking a new rear wheel from teammate Jason McCartney and moving back up through the caravan with help from teammates Jani Brajkovic and Horner.
When asked whether that chase affected how Leipheimer raced on the climb, Horner said, “No, not one change. We got back to them in time and we played out the exact same tactics regardless. I don’t think Levi spent much energy with the flat tire. They changed the wheel pretty fast and as a team we were really good.”
On the final climb for the break, Barredo and Pujol each launched some attacks, shedding Vennell, Popovych and Rabou, but not Hincapie. But the gap was dropping precipitously.
After his chase back from the changed wheel, Leipheimer recovered briefly before launching a sharp attack with just over 10 miles to go. Rogers marked the move immediately, but Zabriskie missed it, relying on Hesjedal to bring him back up.
The attack separated the top of the GC podium from the rest of the pack. On the steep, double-digit-percentage slopes, the elite group was Leipheimer, Zabriskie and Rogers, accompanied by Hesjedal, Horner and Popovych — who faded back from the breakaway to lend a hand.
Right at the 1,824-foot summit, Zabriskie put in a strong surge that set off a series of attacks and counterattacks. “On that climb Levi was going way too hard, and then I tried as hard as I could,” Zabriskie told VeloNews, “but it didn’t work out for me but I set it up well for Ryder.”
Rogers was the only podium player lacking a teammate in the group, and Garmin and RadioShack made the most of it, trading attacks and counter-attacks until Horner and Hesjedal separated themselves along the rollers along the windswept ridge overlooking Malibu.
“It was just my turn to put in an effort and I was able to go away,” Hesjedal said. “I wasn¹t scared of taking Chris along to overtake Dave. It was still up to Mick to keep that in check.”
Hesjedal and Horner closed on to the Hincapie down the rapid, twisting descent where Zabriskie said he took things conservatively. “I didn’t want to fall over a cliff,” he said.
The new gang of five — Hincapie, Pujol and Barredo from the original break and newcomers Horner and Hesjedal — entered the last kilometer together, trailed at half a minute by the three GC kings, Rogers, Zabriskie and Leipheimer.
Barredo led out the sprint before Horner took over and Hesjedal kicked around him. Hincapie was poorly positioned behind Horner and unable to react to Hesjedal’s jump, but came around Horner and Barredo to take second.
A few seconds later, Rogers crossed the line in eighth place with a one-armed salute, secure in his golden leader’s jersey despite the relentless attacks on the final lap.
Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Doimo) led in what was left of the main pack in 11th place to secure not only the Best Young Rider’s white jersey but also the green points jersey. Peter Sagan “I am really happy with these two jerseys,” said the 20-year-old Slovak sensation, “because I didn¹t know I could win two jerseys like this in a really important race.”
Three dominant teams
“Three teams have really put on a show every day of this Tour of California,” RadioShack’s Horner said. “Between Garmin, HTC and RadioShack, it was just a good battle. Unfortunately, we lost Chechu (Rubiera) and Lance (Armstrong) and that really changed the outcome for us and how we could play the race basically.”
The team race went right down the wire, and when all the times were added, Garmin took the well-fought team award by just three seconds over RadioShack.
When Rogers was asked what he’ll take away from this race, besides the trophy and his Amgen golden jersey, he said, “I’ll remember the way that the team really stepped up. Like Bernie Eisel and Bert Grabsch doing 130K on the front on the mountain stage to Big Bear Lake, and they are not mountain climbers.”
He also complimented his younger teammates Tony Martin and Tejay Van Garderen, who were there all day on Sunday to help their leader, enabling him to be in position when those attacks from Leipheimer and Zabriskie finally came.
- Popovych was awarded the Most Courageous jersey, Rabou took away the final KOM award and Peter Sagan was the Best Young Rider and won the points jersey.
- 1. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions)
- 2. George Hincapie (BMC)
- 3. Carlos Barredo (Quick Step)
- 4. Chris Horner (RadioShack)
FINAL GC standings:
- 1. Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia)
- 2. Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions)
- 3. Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack)
- 4. Chris Horner (RadioShack)
- 5. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions)
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