The decisive climb up Sierra Road in the outskirts of San Jose lived up to expectations, as Team CSC
PIC BY GARY J. BOULANGER Bjarne Riis’ number one-ranked Team CSC faltered at the beginning of the 2007 Amgen Tour of California by not getting either time-trial specialist Dave Zabriskie or Fabian Cancellara, who went one-two at the 2006 world time trial championships, on the podium in the opening prologue in San Francisco Sunday afternoon. Then during Monday’s stage one into Santa Rosa, three of its riders – Christian Vande Velde, Karsten Kroon and Zabriskie – went down in crashes, and Zabriskie left the race with a concussion. To make matters worse, the team’s new sprinter JJ Haedo couldn’t make it work during the stage one sprint in Santa Rosa, and was forced to hit the brakes, watching Graeme Brown and Greg Henderson battle for the stage win. But the tables turned quickly for Team CSC: Haedo took his first stage of the 2007 Tour of California (he snagged two last year) by a noticeable margin in stage two. And in San Jose Wednesday afternoon under cloudy skies, teammate Jens Voigt, the affable German who wore yellow in the 2006 Tour de France, drove a breakaway with race leader Levi Leipheimer (Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team) and Chris Horner (Predictor-Lotto) before scooping the stage win. “On stage one we lost David Zabriskie, and J.J. almost won but got hooked in the sprint,” Voigt said. “Nothing worked out. But with two stage wins, we are happy now.” After spending the day in a 17-man breakaway, Voigt and Jason McCartney (Discovery Channel) hit the day’s decisive climb up Sierra Road with enough of a head start to hang on to hard-charging climbers Leipheimer, Horner and Robert Gesink (Rabobank). The five-man group then stayed away over the remaining 10 miles, its one-minute advantage dwindling to just a handful of seconds over a group of 30 riders. With Gesink sitting on, McCartney allowed a gap to open, leaving just Voigt, Horner and Leipheimer to contest the sprint, which Voigt easily won. Leipheimer finished second, allowing him to keep the yellow jersey with a three-second lead over the German CSC rider. As expected, the Sierra Road climb separated the riders and shook up the general classification. With Discovery’s Leipheimer retaining the overall leader position by three seconds, Voigt and Health Net Pro Cycling Team Presented by Maxxis’ Rory Sutherland (Aus) overtook second and third place respectively. San Jose’s Ben Jacques-Maynes of the Priority Health team entered the day’s stage in third place heading into his hometown, but faltered to finish 3 minutes and 3 second behind the leaders, falling to 38th place overall. Nine riders failed to cross the finish line within the qualifying time and were eliminated from the race. Voigt rode with a breakaway that formed within the first five miles and quickly opened a gap that grew to five minutes by mile 55. 17 riders were in the breakaway, spurred on by Voigt, who in addition to the stage win was awarded the Adobe Most Aggressive Rider Jersey and the Herbalife Sprint Jersey. At the start of the decisive Sierra Road climb 73 miles into the race, which gained about 1,700 feet (518 m) in 3.9 miles (6.3 km), the peloton was only 60 seconds behind the breakaway. Discovery Channel Pro riders George Hincapie (USA) and Ivan Basso (Ita) launched Leipheimer’s attack as he pursued the leaders up the climb, and the entire field cracked under the pressure of the 10plus percent gradient. Predictor-Lotto’s Horner and Rabobank’s Gesink (Ned) managed to keep Leipheimer’s wheel, and the trio caught Voigt a little more than halfway up. Voigt and another breakaway rider, Leipheimer’s teammate McCartney, hung onto this speeding trio and a group of five crested the summit together. “I never even saw the Rabobank rider with us because he never took a pull,” Horner said. “I never looked back, so I never saw him. I don’t understand his strategy. You can’t play cat and mouse with Jason McCartney after all the work he did in the break. So McCartney just rode him straight out of the break.” Voigt said the young Rabobank rider simply couldn’t pull through. “I think Gesink was on the limit on the climb,” Voigt said. “I think he needed to save his legs a little but. There was nothing odd about it.” In only four miles on Sierra Road the race changed almost beyond recognition. A group of 12 riders containing the world champion, Quick-Step-Innergetic’s Paolo Bettini (Ita), followed the new leading group over the summit, about 30 seconds back. But the leaders descended faster on the narrow roads, and by the bottom, with only 12 miles (20km) remaining to the finish, the group had a lead of about one minute over a chase group that had grown to 27 riders. With the large chase group bearing down hard on the leaders, it was a frantic flight into downtown San Jose. With a little under two miles to go, Leipheimer attacked the group, and a counter attack quickly came from Voigt. But the drama quickly unfolded on the big screen at the finish with the main group swinging around a corner, catching the breakaway with less than 30 seconds behind the leaders. Leipheimer led the charge into the finishing straight, but Voigt came around him and powered to the win. The time bonuses Voigt picked up during the day – three seconds for winning an intermediate sprint at Livermore and 10 seconds for the line honours – put him within easy reach of Leipheimer for the time trial. “Sure, we’ve got a fair chance, but also Levi’s got a fair chance. He’s a great rider, and it was only 15 seconds to the group behind us… it’s hard to say where it goes from here,” said Voigt. Leipheimer was of a similar mind: “Jens Voigt can time trial pretty well. I’m a long way from the overall victory… I would’ve liked to have got to the finish with a minute over the group.” As the group of 30 riders closed in on the trio in the final kilometre, Voigt timed his sprint to perfection, easily pulling ahead of Leipheimer, with Horner taking third. Just three seconds behind, Bettini took the bunch sprint for fifth. “I would have liked to have gotten to the finish with a minute on everyone else,” Leipheimer said. “That doesn’t make me feel secure, and on top of that, Jens can time-trial pretty well. I am a long way from overall victory. I am going to give it everything, and hope that I have a good day on the time trial.” With 13 seconds picked up in time bonuses, Voigt moved to within three seconds of Leipheimer. Health Net rider Rory Sutherland moved into third overall, 15 seconds down, while Horner moved into fourth, 16 seconds down. In all, 37 riders are within one minute of Leipheimer heading into Thursday’s Queen Stage from Seaside to San Luis Obispo. The decisive time trial awaits Friday in Solvang. “As they say, it’s not over until the fat lady sings,” Voigt said. “We have a fair chance, but also Levi has a fair chance. He is a great rider. He’s a great TT rider. It’s still really open.” Stage 3 Results 1 Jens Voigt (Ger, Team CSC) 3:43:44 2 Levi Leipheimer (USA, Discovery Channel) 3 Christopher Horner (USA, Predictor-Lotto) 4 Robert Gesink (Ned, Rabobank) 0:00:04 5 Paolo Bettini (Ita, Quick Step-Innergetic) 6 Stuart O’Grady (Aus, Team CSC) 7 Enrico Gasparotto (Ita, Liquigas) 8 Dimitri Fofonov (Kaz, Crdit Agricole) 9 Bram De Groot (Ned, Rabobank) 10 Sergey Lagutin (UZB, Navigators Insurance) General classification after stage 3 1 Levi Leipheimer (USA, Discovery Channel) 12:46:25 2 Jens Voigt (Ger, Team CSC) 0:0:03 3 Rory Sutherland (Aus, Health Net-Maxxis) 0:00:15 4 Christopher Horner (USA, Predictor-Lotto) 0:00:16 5 Ardila Cano Mauricio Alberto (Col, Rabobank) 0:00:17 6 Ben Day (Aus, Navigators Insurance) 0:00:18 7 Ryder Hesjedal (CAN, Health Net-Maxxis) 0:00:19 8 Michael Rogers (Aus, T-Mobile 9 Sergey Lagutin (UZB, Navigators Insurance) 0:00:20 10 Stuart O’Grady (Aus, Team CSC) Got a comment? Discuss this in the Procycling forum. What else is new? Check out the Procycling blog.