GLENDORA, Calif. (VN) – Eight inches and almost 35 pounds separate Rory Sutherland from Amgen Tour of California stage 7 winner Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack). That difference caught up to the Aussie on Mount Baldy Saturday when Leipheimer accelerated, dislodging Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare) midway up the brutally steep 5.1-mile finish climb.
“It was a tough day at work, man,” Sutherland told VeloNews. “I think we as a team today rode the most perfect race we could. There’s no regrets; it is what it is.”
Sutherland came off the elite group that included Leipheimer and his teammate Chris Horner, Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek) and Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) just before Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) and Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervélo) did the same. He eventually lost 2:34 to the RadioShack riders, who finished one-two on the second summit finish of the week, bringing him from third to seventh overall, 4:12 in arrears.
Two days ago, Sutherland stuck with the elite chase group on Sierra Road, where Horner took the stage and leader’s jersey by over a minute. On Friday, he finished ninth in the time trial to move into third overall.
“The day on Sierra Road I had phenomenal legs,” said Sutherland. “I felt better than I had in a long time. The last two days I’ve been back to feeling human again.”
That human feeling meant that when the road pitched above 10 degrees on a number of switchbacks five kilometers from the finish on Saturday, Sutherland couldn’t hold on. “It was just the consistent pressure on the pedals all day,” he said. “The pace just got to be a little too much. We had 11,000 feet of climbing in 120 kilometers.”
Sutherland said that with Charly Wegelius, Christian Meier and Chris Jones around him, his team was perfect, but in the end it was a matter of going as hard as possible to the finish.
“As a team, we’re thrilled with the way the tour has gone as a whole,” he said. “I think under these circumstances, the riders that are here and the level they’re at, we as a Pro Continental team have been competing with the ProTeams… It is what it is and there’s no regrets.”
With a likely bunch sprint on tap for Sunday, Sutherland said he would turn his attention to paying back the work his UHC mates have done for him this week. “Tomorrow if it’s a sprint day, it’s definitely not a day off for me,” he said. “I have responsibilities to the guys that have helped me during the week. I’ll be there to help Robert (Förster) and Karl (Menzies) tomorrow.”