Team Sky’s Ben Swift won the opening stage of the 2011 Amgen Tour of California on Monday, coming off a long team leadout train after a shortened stage from Nevada City to Sacramento.
The British rider will don the race’s golden leader’s jersey for Tuesday’s stage.
And he’s looking for more wins at this race.
“I identified five stages that I liked,” he said.
“Now I’ve got another three or four opportunities (for stage wins) and we’ll look to defend (the jersey).”
Short, fast and downhill
Race organizers delayed and moved the start of Monday’s stage, which unexpectedly became the opening stage of the 2011 Amgen Tour of California, due to the cancellation of Sunday’s opener because of cold weather.
Originally the stage was planned to be 214km and include a jaunt over Donner Pass. The revised stage was 123km (76.3 miles) including three laps of a finish circuit around the state capital building in Sacramento. While not completely downhill, the stage lost about 3,000 feet elevation, mostly in the first 30 miles, and was expected to give the race’s speedsters an opportunity for a field sprint.
Less than 20km in to the stage, Laszlo Bodrogi (Team Type 1), Timon Seubert (NetApp) and Jamey Driscoll (Jamis-Sutter Home) established a tenuous lead, with riders continuing to spit ahead of the main pack in an effort to join their party. Among the crashers was breakaway specialist Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell), who added some horsepower and drove the four out to a 20-second gap.
And soon after, the powers that be in the peloton answered the call of nature and the gap blossomed out to 1 minute. By the time the quartet reached Beale Air Force Base, 30 miles in to the stage, the gap was over five minutes. Jelly Belly’s Sergio Hernandez tried to make a bridge but had to settle for a pier. He hung in No Man’s Land for a long time, but finally retreated to the pack.
HTC, Liquigas and Garmin all contributed to the chase early on.
With 30 miles to go and the roads flattening, HTC began getting serious about closing the gap, and the leaders’ margin fell to near 3 minutes in no time.
The break was finally within grasp as the race entered the finish circuits. Jacques-Maynes was the last survivors as Saxo Bank, HTC and Liquigas fought for control of the front of the field, with Garmin’s Ryder Hesjedal represented his team at the front.
Team Sky took control with a lap to go, gingerly taking the wet corners, as Garmin’s Thor Hushovd hovered just behind and Liquigas’ Peter Sagan looked for openings.
But Sky had firm control and no one could break into its train. In the final meters Swift charged up the left line while SpiderTech’s Kevin LaCombe went up the right on the wide boulevard.
LaCombe’s jump was a hair too early, however, and Swift lived up to his name, gravitating to the center of the road, where he held off a charging Sagan. HTC’s Matt Goss was third. Lacombe faded to fourth and JJ Haedo was fifth.
Swift said the wet road on the finish circuits helped his team maintain control of the front.
“When the rain started, it was better because you don’t have as many people challenging you.
“Your team’s just got to stay relaxed.”
Although Sunday’s stage 1 was canceled, organizers (and VeloNews) are sticking with the original stage numbering. Tuesday’s stage 3, from Auburn to Modesto, is another one for the sprinters. The 196km ( 122-mile) route has no KOM sprints, but will offer three intermediate points sprints.
Driscoll said it was the luck of the draw that found him in the break of the day.“That was my duty, to try and get in the break. … there were four of us on my Jamis-Sutter Home team designated to do that and it was my rotation fortunately that was in the move that stuck.“Today was a classic, formulaic sprinter’s stage, so I knew it was almost certain the big sprinters’ team would reel us in.
“It was good to get in the break and ride aggressively.”