Janier Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) won stage 2 of the Amgen Tour of California in Palm Springs on Monday. Acevedo attacked late on the Tramway Road climb to distance an elite group and take victory after 200 brutally hot kilometers.
Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) was second on the stage, 12 seconds off Acevedo’s pace. Philip Deignan (UnitedHealthcare) was third, at 27 seconds.
“It’s never been this hot in Ireland,” said Deignan. “The heat reminds me of the Tour of Spain. But when you race that in August/September, your body is more used to it. The conditions today were a bit of a shock to the riders.”
With his victory, Acevedo took command of the general classification. Overnight leader Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) lost contact with the front of the race early on the finish climb and finished more than eight minutes off the pace.
“I knew Tejay was the rider to beat. I knew when to attack and felt strong enough to beat him today,” said Acevedo. “I think of it [the leader’s jersey] every day, and I’m happy to have this win today.”
Chavanel rides breakaway into the heat
Four breakaway riders shed the peloton just 7km into the stage: Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Ben Jacques-Maynes (Jamis-Hagens Berman), Pat McCarty (Bissell), and Scott Zwizanski (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies). The foursome pushed to a maximum advantage of 12:15, but with McCarty positioned within 20 seconds on GC, the peloton wasn’t keen to see the breakaway get anywhere near the finish and began a long, hard chase under the desert sun.
The mercury pressed upwards of 115 degrees Fahrenheit as the stage dragged on. With two Cat. 1 climbs — the Mountain Center KOM halfway through the stage and the steep finish ramp above Palm Springs — on the profile, the race’s second day was a brute.
“Insane,” van Garderen said of the conditions at the finish. “It was unlike anything I’ve ever done.”
Westra mounted a long chase back through the caravan after suffering a mechanical on the descent from the first climb. He rejoined the peloton with 44km remaining, just before the bunch rolled into Palm Desert.
Up ahead, the breakaway continued to roll. BMC Racing, Saxo-Tinkoff, NetApp-Endura, and Champion System each put riders on the front to lead the chase, but with 35km to go, the gap was still 5:25. The heat was oppressive enough that officials left feeding from team cars open until the base of the finish climb (regulations ordinarily see feeding end with 20km to go).
With 32km remaining, the gap was down to 4:35. The escape’s advantage was plummeting under pressure from Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing) at the head of the bunch. Four kilometers later, the gap was at 4:00.
The gap plummeting to just three minutes with 22km to go, Jacques-Maynes rode off the front of the breakaway on his own. Behind him, McCarty and Zwizanski chased, Chavanel tucked in the back of the group. The two Americans pulled the French time trial champion through Palm Springs and drew Jacques-Maynes back over a couple of kilometers.
When the group was back together, Chavanel began chipping into the work again. Behind the four escapees, NetApp and Champion System continued to lead the peloton.
Five-time Amgen Tour stage winner J.J. Haedo (Jamis) stepped off the bike and abandoned the race, but Optum teammates Marsh Cooper and Jesse Anthony, a stage winner at the 2011 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, were feeling more sprightly. The duo jumped out of the bunch on the flat, wide roads leading out of Palm Springs and team time trailed to a quick 10 seconds.
With 14km to go, the Optum tandem was 2:30 behind the leaders. But with 9.5km to go, they held just 200 meters over the UnitedHealthcare-led bunch. The breakaway was 1:35 up the road.
Reset for the Tramway Road climb
With 8.5km to go, Cooper and Anthony were back in the bunch. Up ahead, Chavanel knew the escape’s 45-second gap wouldn’t hold on the climb and sat at the back. He was right, and with 6km to go, the four escapees saw the peloton roar past, led by BMC Racing teammates Michael Schär and world champion Philippe Gilbert.
“People went hard at the base, and guys just came off one by one,” said Bissell’s Phil Gaimon. “I knew I wasn’t going to win the stage, so my plan was never to follow anything or attack. It was just basically set a time trial pace from the bottom. I’ve ridden this [climb] a couple times in the past couple months.”
Gilbert stood and accelerated, splitting the bunch. He soon faded and a group of roughly 25 riders were left at the front of the race. The pressure split Westra and Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Leopard) off the back of the race and the yellow jersey would not see the front again.
“It was a really hot,” said Schleck. “We were pulling in with the team before the climb, and I had [Matthew] Busche behind me, and I went for it on the bottom, but I didn’t have the legs today. Yesterday, I had a good day, today a bad day. I’m not in the big shape, you know? I’m getting better and better. I’ll have more chances.”
One man who had his chance was 21-year-old Lawson Craddock (Bontrager).
“We worked really well as a team,” he said. “They delivered me right to the front … and from then on, it was survival of the fittest. At least for me, it was just kind of hold on as long as I could.”
Fresh off his overall win at the Silver City’s Tour of the Gila, Philip Deignan (UnitedHealathcare) attacked and wedged eight seconds of tarmac between himself and the chasers. Mathias Frank took up the chase for BMC Racing teammate Tejay van Garderen, shredding the group down to five riders with 3.3km to go.
“I turned around and saw there were only four guys behind me, so I tried to go as long as I could,” Frank said. “I can maybe handle the heat a bit better than the other guys. I’m happy with the way it turned out.”
Michael Rogers (Saxo) was in the group, but Sunday’s runner-up, Francisco Mancebo (5-hour Energy-Kenda), lost contact. Craddock dropped off the pace aw well. Acevedo was there, however, with Matthew Busche (RadioShack).
Deignan stood on the pedals as the gradient mellowed briefly with 2.6km to go. Acevedo attacked up the right gutter. Frank pulled the Colombian back, but Deignan continued on alone, 10 seconds up the road.
It wasn’t to be for the Irishman, however. Frank continued pulling the chasers and slowly cut into his lead. The Swiss pulled off inside 2km to go, leaving van Garderen to do the work. The American closed on Deignan, distancing Rogers and Busche, and only Acevedo could follow.
As soon as the road pitched up in the final 500 meters, Acevedo jumped. Van Garderen did not react, leaving the Colombian to the stage win.
“I was just trying to stay as relaxed as possible because in this heat if you go into the red zone one time, sometimes you can’t recover,” said van Garderen. “So I just tried staying as calm as possible, which is easy when you have a team as strong as ours to follow their wheels.”
Acevedo looked over his right shoulder with 150 meters to go and accelerated again. He stood and pushed over the line, van Garderen 12 seconds behind.
“There are no words to describe what it feels like. I was just focused on the race and trying to win the stage,” Acevedo said through an interpreter.
The American continued to press, taking time on Rogers and his other GC rivals, save for the stage winner. Deignan came through third, with Frank fourth.
Rogers came through just inside a minute after Acevedo. Craddock was ninth, 1:32 back, and pulled on the best young rider’s jersey — after he was taped stuffing ice cubes into his jersey and bibs while seated on the ground just beyond the finish.
“It’s racing. Everyone has to deal with it. It was a brutally cold winter and spring for everyone over in Europe. And so, with all the racing they’ve done in the cold weather, no one’s really acclimated to the heat. It’s just like altitude. You climb at 8,000 feet and some people do better, some people do worse,” said Craddock. “I think some people adapt better to it, others don’t. It’s just racing the bike.”
The Amgen Tour of California continues Tuesday with the 177km third stage from Palmdale to Santa Clarita.