It was a day that would change the Amgen Tour of California. It was a finishing move that Jens Voigt has pulled time and again since the Pleistocene — according to the German himself — and he made it work, yet again.
A sharp headwind pelted the race with 60 kilometers to go, and when Voigt saw opportunity in a forthcoming change of direction, he called his RadioShack-Leopard team to the front of the peloton and blew the bunch into six groups.
Seventeen riders made the front split, a mix of GC favorites and sprinters, including Voigt; Tejay van Garderen, Thor Hushovd, and Michael Schär (BMC Racing); and Peter Sagan (Cannondale). Missing was race leader Janier Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman).
Why did Voigt make his move so far from the finish?
“Just to cause chaos and mayhem. Isn’t that a good enough reason?” said Voigt.
“Serious now, all riders get more alert with 20, 25km to go. With 60 to go, not many expect a split is going to happen. We dropped the yellow jersey, we dropped a few good riders. We stretched everybody’s legs. Two reasons: Make everybody suffer, make everybody tired — those were the two main reasons.”
Sitting second overall, at 12 seconds, van Garderen stood to gain the most in the split, and would stand atop the podium in yellow by day’s end. His teammates and other GC contenders coordinated to give the move staying power. The front group quickly took 35 seconds before Acevedo’s yellow jersey group could get organized.
Up ahead, RadioShack, BMC, and Saxo-Tinkoff were driving the breakaway, the overall standings up for grabs. The pressure was working, and with 20km to go, the gap was above 1:00.
Voigt attacked the group on a short rise 5km from the finish. The German veteran rolled over the top with more than 10 seconds and his former companions didn’t appear to have the urgency to follow.
“I thought, ‘I’m a little bit stronger than the other guys in the break, but of course, less fast,’” Voigt said. “I said, ‘Now or never, now or never. Everybody’s hurting now.’ And it worked. It worked, once again.”
Sagan looked to chase, but no one had the impetus to pull the group toward the line. Voigt still led by 10 seconds with 2km to go and the pursuers began looking back. They wouldn’t see Voigt again until the final rise to the finish. The German rolled through the final corners in Avila Beach and, after a look back, finally celebrated at the top of the block-long slope to the finish.
“I’ve done that move, basically, since many, many years. Almost since the last ice age I’ve been doing the same move,” Voigt said. “Sometimes, like in Colorado [at the 2012 USA Pro Challenge], I do it with 140 kilometers to go, and today, with five to go.
“They know what my plan is. They know I cannot win a sprint. They know I have to be alone. You’ve got to catch them by surprise. They watch each other. Peter Sagan looks at [Thor] Hushovd; Hushovd looks at Tyler Farrar. And they go, ‘Yeah, it’s just old Jensie, let him go.’”