Tour of California 1: Leipheimer clears first hurdle

Stage 1 of the Tour of California saw Graeme Brown recording his first 2007 win. But there was contr

Stage 1 of the Tour of California saw Graeme Brown recording his first 2007 win. But there was contr

DAVE ZABRISKIE PIC BY GARY J. BOULANGER

In a matter of seconds, the race judges decided the outcome of the overall classification of Monday's Amgen Tour of California Stage One from Sausalito to Santa Rosa. In a matter of seconds, Graeme Brown (Rabobank) nipped Greg Henderson (T-Mobile Team) and Allan Davis (Discovery Channel Pro Cycling) at the line in a dramatic photo finish. And in a matter of seconds, race favourite David Zabriskie (Team CSC) crashed out of the race, requiring a quick trip to the hospital for X-rays.

Australian sprinter Brown won Monday's Stage One after golden jersey wearer and race leader Leipheimer went down in a 50-rider pile-up with two three-mile laps of a downtown finishing circuit remaining in the 97 mile stage. Zabriskie's crash was separate, coming about 70 miles into the race and forcing him to abandon the event. He was taken to a local hospital for tests and was released in good condition with a mild concussion and no fractures or other injuries.

Just about 80km later, Leipheimer was picking himself up off the tarmac, his golden jersey and team shorts visibly battered, chasing to save his race lead. He finished with a group that crossed the line more than 60 seconds down on the front group of nearly 40 riders, which would ordinarily have cost him the overall lead. But the race officials granted all finishers the same time, keeping Leipheimer in the leader's golden jersey. This gave Leipheimer some breathing room, but sucked the life out of a visibly frustrated but reserved Ben Jacques-Maynes (Priority Health), who could've been in gold if the officials had stuck to UCI rules.

"To me, it doesn't matter who gains or who loses - the rules are clear," said T-Mobile general manager Bob Stapleton about the crash that occurred with 9km to go (the UCI rule is 3km to go). "I don't know what their process was, but it looks a little like hometown favouritism."

"You just race to make sure that no one is hurt," race director Jim Birrell said. "You want to make sure everyone can get back up on their bike, and that we don't cause an accident while we're trying to help the accident. This was a tough call to make."

Birrell said he and the race officials declined to neutralize the race when they felt they could get the injured riders - and the on-course ambulance - up and away before the leaders came back through the start/finish.

"Obviously the decision is good for me, but I think most of the riders would be happy with it," a jubilant Leipheimer added. "We come onto these circuits, there are metal blocks on the course, there's not much space, the sprinters are fighting, the GC guys have to stay at the front. They don't want me there and I don't want to be there. It's dangerous. You don't see these circuits at the Tour de France, the Tour of Italy, and there is a reason for that."

King of the mountain contenders Jurgen Van de Walle (Quick Step-Innergetic) and Tom Peterson (Team Slipstream presented by Chipotle), initiated the key attack of the day at 64 miles (103km), taking a group of four away from the peloton on the second King of the Mountain competition climb - a steep category 3 ascent that rose 827 feet (252m) in only 1.5 miles (2.4km).

According to Van de Walle, if you look at the field in this race, it is the best field before the ProTour races start. "I hope we can build on this," he added. The race came back together shortly before entering Santa Rosa for three laps of a 2.9-mile (4.9km) circuit. After one lap, a rider's hand slipped off the handlebars, which resulted the large crash that prompted the controversial decision. Peterson's performance earned him the king of the mountains jersey; Allan Davis (Discovery Channel Pro) took the sprint jersey, while the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team leads the overall team classification.

Stage 1 results

1 Graeme Brown (Aus, Rabobank) 4:17:19 2 Greg Henderson (NZL, T-Mobile) 3 Allan Davis (Aus, Discovery Channel) 4 Thor Hushovd (Nor, Credit Agricole) 5 Fred Rodriguez (USA, Predictor-Lotto) 6 Stuart O'Grady (Aus, Team CSC) 7 Peter Wrolich (Aut, Gerolsteiner) 8 J.J Haedo (Arg, Team CSC) 9 Sbastien Hinault (Fra, Credit Agricole) 10 David Vitoria (Swi, BMC)

General classification after stage 1

1 Levi Leipheimer (USA, Discovery Channel) 4:22.08 2 Jason Donald (USA, Slipstream-Chipotle) 0:00:01 3 Ben Jacques-Maynes (USA, Priority Health) 0:00:05 4 Fabian Cancellara (Swi, Team CSC) 0:00:06 5 George Hincapie (USA, Discovery) 6 Adam Hansen (Aus, T-Mobile) 7 Mauricio Alberto Ardila Cano (Col, Rabobank) 0:00:07 8 Ben Day (Aus, Navigators) 0:00:08 9 Ryder Hesjedal (Can, Health Net-Maxxis) 0:00:09 10 Michael Rogers (Aus, T-Mobile)

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