While the contenders, Trent Lowe (Slipstream-Chipotle) and Levi Leipheimer (Astana) , were busy marking each other up Brasstown Bald, High Road’s Kanstantin Sivtsov attacked in the final 500 meters to win the Queen Stage and take the yellow jersey by only four seconds going into the final stage.
“I dream for this day,” said 2004 under-23 World Champion Sivtsov, of winning his first stage in a U.S. “The last mountain is very hard, very steep and the last kilometers is very, very steep.”
Great strategy shown by High Road as they put a man in the break, in the chase group and kept the powder dry for Sivtsov in the main group.
|Photo by Ken Conley|
The riders started off the day under sunny skies arming themselves to face two climbs, a Cat 1 and Cat 2, before finishing up at the top of the the killer Brasstown Bald. With 17 riders all within 30 seconds of the leader, strategy was paramount in the day with each GC team hoping to put a man in the break so they wouldn’t have to chase.
Multiple attempts were made until a break stuck after 24 kilometers and seven hardy riders went up the road.
The break consisted of Jason McCartney (CSC), Ivan Stevic (Toyota-United), Andrey Mizurov (Astana), Craig Lewis (High Road), Stephan Schreck (Gerolsteiner), Neil Shirley (Jittery Joe’s), Svein Tuft (Symmetrics). The group worked together except for one, and managed to create a gap of almost three minutes on the run up to the first KOM, Hogpen Gap. Mizurov sat at the back of the break to do his job as Leipheimer’s lieutenant, and just monitor the break.
The steepness and pace started to take their toll on the beak with 2 riders, Lewis and Schreck popping out in the back at 1 km to go to the KOM. McCartney sprinted to take the KOM points and waited for his break companions to tackle the second KOM.
The peloton was also feeling the heat under the high tempo set by the Slipstream team who missed the break, and attacks from other teams and the numbers were decreasing rapidly.
“The first climb separated the group and then on the second climb it dwindled even more,” said BMC’s Scott Nydam. “On the descent of the first climb Botero and Rubiera were attacking, so it was pretty strung out the whole day.”
With 37 k to go, a 6-man group rolled away from the field to chase the 4-man break on the climb to the second KOM, Unicoi Gap. The group, consisting of José Luis Rubiera (Astana), Bradley McGee (CSC), Craig Lewis (High Road), Thomas Lövkvist (High Road), Stephan Schreck (Gerolsteiner), and Santiago Botero (Rock Racing) chased hard, so hard in fact that they lost 3 riders, Lewis, Lövkvist and Schreck on the climb up.
The break crested Unicoi with McCartney taking the KOM points with only 30 seconds ahead of the chasers, and the peloton further back at 1:40.
As soon the chasers caught the break, to create a group of 8 riders, Shirley attacked with 14 kms to go and opened up a small gap. But the grade of the climb was too much for him, and he was caught and passed by Rubiera, McGee and the charging lead group.
An isolated Lowe was glued to Leipheimer’s wheel as the elite group raced up the climb.
At the four kilometer mark, only a few riders remained, including Sivtsov, Lowe, Leipheimer, Oscar Sevilla (Rock Racing), Moises Aldape (Team Type 1) and Rory Sutherland (Health Net-Maxxis).
Then, there were only three, Lowe, Leipheimer and Sivtsov, with Lowe still sticking to Leipheimer’s wheel.
With about 450 meters to go, Sivstov powered up the climb, with no reaction from the other two riders, opened up a gap and that was all she wrote. Lowe attacked Leiphemer in the final meters to get second place crossing the line 10 seconds behind, and Leipheimer third. (In a case of WTF, the streaming video feed chose to not show the duel to the line between Lowe and Leipheimer so we never saw the final attack by Lowe but I’m sure it was great).
“This is a very important race for my team,” explained the 25 year old Belorussianm Sivtsov. “I was waiting for this stage. George told me that it was very, very steep at the top and that I should wait to make one good attack. With three kilometres to go I felt good but I waited.”
|Photo by Ken Conley|
In strong showings, Sutherland finished fourth and four Team Type 1 riders finished in the top 20, including Aldape in sixth place.
“To have five guys come to the bottom of this climb together would have been great for a ProTour team,” an ecstatic Team Type 1 Sport Director Ed Beamon said. “So I’m gushing right now. I’m so proud of these guys. They did a great job.”
|McCartney received the KOM jersey for the day and the overall as no KOM points will be awarded in the final stage.
Lowe is still the leader in the Best Young Rider competition and Shirley was awarded the Most Aggressive.
|Photo by Ken Conley|
The final stage, Stage 7, is a stage for the sprinters, if they still have the legs after the brutal climbs of today. The 10-lap circuit race (101 km), in downtown Atlanta, will give sprinters their last three opportunities to win sprint points.
With only four seconds separating Sivtsov and Lowe and with time bonuses on the line at each sprint line and at the finish line, the GC could still be shuffled in tomorrow’s stage. But it unlikely, as typically the GC contenders step back, and let the sprinters have a go at it, but you never know.