FOLSOM, California (VN) — After a hot day of racing 20 kilometers against the clock, there was no shortage of upsets and disappointments — of winners and losers — in Folsom, at the Amgen Tour of California.
As expected, Sky’s Bradley Wiggins won the stage 2 time trial, and took the overall race lead.
What few may have expected, however, was how significant Wiggins’ lead would be, or how lackluster many of his opponents would perform.
Wiggins was the clear-cut winner on the day, finishing in a time of 23:18 on the mostly flat, 12.4-mile course, for a blistering average speed of 51.7 kph, or 32.12 mph. He finished a staggering 44 seconds ahead of his closest competitor, Rohan Dennis (Garmin-Sharp).
For perspective, over a rolling 20km course, Wiggins went more than two seconds per kilometer faster than Dennis, the next-fastest rider on the stage.
“I didn’t plan to have taken as much time as that, but it was a great course for me, and I’d prepared well for it,” said Wiggins.
BMC Racing was easily the biggest loser on the day. The team’s GC contender, Peter Stetina, lost a full 2:30, while TT specialist Taylor Phinney could only muster a third-place finish, 52 seconds behind Wiggins, and eight seconds behind Dennis.
“It was not my best ride,” Phinney said. “I wasn’t feeling amazing the whole time. I think Wiggins was in a whole other category. It was an interesting distance. It’s not as aerobic as a longer, 40- or 50-minute time trial, and not as anaerobic as a prologue. So it was kind of an interesting distance to wrap your head around.”
BMC had hoped for a stage win and a well-placed GC contender after Monday’s time trial. Instead, in addition to Phinney, three other BMC riders — Larry Warbasse, Greg Van Avermaet, and Martin Kohler — placed ahead of Stetina, who had hoped to contend for the final podium, but now sits 42nd overall.
“I was suffering out there. I was really hot. I was hoping to be closer. I lost a fair amount of time to Wiggins, but we have two big days in the mountains,” Stetina said. “I’m going to have to attack in the hills. I knew I was going to have to do that before the time trial. I hope I can make some of that time up.”
Behind Wiggins, Garmin’s Dennis was the big winner on the day. After crashing in the crosswinds on the run-in to Sacramento on stage 1, Dennis finished second on the time trial, 44 seconds down on Wiggins.
Among GC contenders, Dennis is closest to Wiggins, though he’s fully aware that 44 seconds is a large margin to overcome with two summit finishes remaining — a final podium spot is likely, but the overall win is not.
“It was pretty warm out there. It wasn’t as windy as it was yesterday. I’m pretty happy with how it went,” Dennis said. “I was right on, with my power, in the first half. It dipped a little in the second half, but that’s how things work. ‘Wiggo’ is the one to beat. He’s one of the best there has ever been, and unless he has a problem midway through the race, that’s out of his control, he’s going to be tough to beat.”
Another loser on the stage was national TT champion Tom Zirbel, of Optum-Kelly Benefits, who finished 11th on the stage, 1:28 down on Wiggins.
“The course suited me really well this year and it was an honor to wear the stars and stripes in the biggest race on American soil, but I’m a little disappointed that I wasn’t in the hunt for a podium today,” Zirbel said. “I wasn’t quite able to ride at the level that I was hoping for.”
If there’s a question about Wiggins’ advantage, it surrounds his Sky team, which consists of several young riders, including Americans Joe Dombrowski and Ian Boswell. BMC director Max Sciandri went as far as to call the team “weak,” though Sky director Servais Knaven told VeloNews that the team was more than capable.
“We have a pretty strong team,” Knaven said. “Maybe not all the names that everybody knows, but we have three American guys who are decent bike riders. We have Christian Knees, we have Luke Rowe for the flats, we have Nathan Earle and Josh Edmondson. It’s a young group of riders, but also with older riders like Knees, and Danny Pate. I think we have a pretty solid team. I think they’re ready to control it.
“The other teams will attack us, on the mountaintop finishes, and in other moments,” Knaven continued. “Dennis is a good rider. He’s the big rival for the week. We’ll have to keep an eye on the time bonuses for the stages. It’s not going to be easy.”
Belkin’s Laurens Ten Dam also came up on luck’s bad side Monday. After crossing the finish line in 41st, 2:20 down on Wiggins, Ten Dam collided with another rider immediately after crossing the finish line.
“We’d hoped to end up in the top 20 with Laurens,” said Belkin director Nico Verhoeven. “Now, it looks like he’s out of the GC battle. Tomorrow, we’re facing the queen stage. We have to wait and see how Laurens gets through the night after his crash.”
Monday’s stage was the first of an expected three critical stages for the overall classification at the eight-stage Amgen Tour of California. Tuesday’s third stage finishes atop Mount Diablo, in an expected 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit. Though the climb is not steep, heat could well play a factor.
After a few transitional days down the coast, stage 6, on Friday, finishes at the Mountain High ski area, at an elevation of 6,000 feet.
“I’m in a good position, and I’m climbing well,” Wiggins said. “We’re used to being in this position now, as a team, after the last few years, so we know what to do.”