Stage 4 at the Amgen Tour of California followed the expected scenario to a T, the sprinter’s teams let the break dangle only to reel them in with 5 miles to go.
What was unexpected today is how hard the stage was, from the start in San Jose to the finish in Modesto. The field was single-filed for most of the 121.5 miles (195.5 km) course, with two KOMs and gnarly descents, rough roads with so many flats I lost count in the caravan and unexplained crashes.
Italian Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas-Doimo) won the bunch sprint at stage 4 of the Amgen Tour of California. JJ Haedo (Saxo Bank) was second and Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) third.
“I’m dedicating this win to my teammates who worked incredibly well for me today and this season. I’m really proud to win again in the US. This is a great race,” said Chicchi who had his teammate, Best Young Rider Peter Sagan leading him out in the finale, “I love to race hard and win in America.”
No changes on GC. David Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions) is still in the lead with 4 seconds on Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia) and 6 seconds on Levi Leipheimer (Radioshack). Highest placed domestic rider is Marc de Maar (UnitedHealthcare p/b Maxxis) at 21 seconds with his teammate Rory Sutherland, Phil Zajicek (Fly V Australia) and Francois Parisien (Spidertech p/b Planet Energy) at 27 seconds down.
Just after the neutral start, Rabobank didn’t waste any time and launched an immediate attack with Lars Boom. With the only Cat 1 climb coming in at only 8.1 miles into the stage, seven other riders jumped on to form a break. Team Type 1 duo of Davide Frattini and Scott Stewart were in the move to protect their teammate Thomas Rabou‘s KOM lead while Ryan Anderson (Kelly Benefit Strategies) jumped in to get more KOM points and try and get the lead in the competition. Other riders in the break, hoping for some luck, were Max Jenkins (UnitedHealthcare), Jurgen Van de Walle (Quick Step), Rob Britton (BISSELL) and Jeremy Powers (Jelly Belly presented by Kenda).
The gap quickly went up to over two minutes with high pace put in. Stewart, Frattini who had been in yesterday’s break and Jenkins fell off the pace on the climb and dangled in no man’s land for quite a while after before being reabsorbed by the pack. Anderson took the KOM points as the break crested the climb followed by Britton and Boom.
The break and field with Garmin-Transitions at the front came down the twisty descent with Calaveras Rd. alone having more than 40 switchbacks as they made their way to Livermore for the first sprint of the day taken by Boom followed by Powers and Anderson.
Gap was holding at around 3:20 as the break started up the second climb and final climb of the day, Mines Rd. (Cat. 4 – 1,512) with nearly 30 miles of a narrow, twisting road, climbing most of the way before a long descent into Patterson. Anderson took the points, putting him in the lead in the KOM competition and securing the jersey, followed by Van de Walle, Britton and Boom. Once Anderson attained his goal, he sat up and was reabsorbed by the field, leaving four at the front.
The field, single-filed, with Garmin-Transitions still riding tempo followed by Radioshack was happy to give the break a 5 minute gap. Facing potholes and cattleguards on the descent, riders were raising their hands left and right requesting new wheels.
Boom took the second sprint of the day in Patterson followed by Van de Walle and Britton. With 18 miles to go, crosswinds and a crash almost derailed the scenario. As the crash happened, a number of the favorites had just hit the front, riding an echelon that forced a major split of 20 riders. The yellow jersey of Zabriskie was the last rider to make it across to the front bunch. After a turn, hard chasing and headwind, the pack was all back together chasing the four up the road.
With the gap down to around one minute with 10 miles to go, Boom attacked but was chased down by his breakmates. He went at it again with 6 miles to go but he was caught with 5 miles to go. But Rabobank tried again, this time it was Martijn Tjallingii who tried his luck with less than 2 miles to go. The lone attacker was caught as lead outs battle at the front. Fly V Australia for Jonathan Cantwell, HTC-Columbia for Mark Cavendish and Liquias-Doimo for Chicchi. Coming into the final corner, Fly V Australia took over the pace setting from HTC-Columbia.
Chicchi came around to take the stage ahead of Haedo and Cavendish. Rabobank’s Theo Bos was fourth and Cantwell fifth. Cantwell had come off his leadout man’s wheel with 350 meters to go and wound up his sprint only to discover that he had broken his shoe in the earlier crash at 18 miles to go.
Boom was awarded Amgen’s Breakaway from Cancer® Most Courageous Rider Jersey. Anderson took the California Travel & Tourism King of the Mountains (KOM) Jersey. The other jersey winners remain unchanged with Zabriskie in the Amgen Race Leader Jersey, Sagan in the Rabobank Best Young Rider Jersey and Cavendish in the Herbalife Sprint Jersey.
The Amgen Tour of California continues on Thursday with stage 5, 121.5 miles (195.5 km) from Visalia to Bakersfield. Newly adjusted start timeis now 10:30, 15 minutes earlier than previously published.
After departing Visalia, the race heads due south through the towns Farmersville, Exeter Lindsay and Porterville. The route then heads further inland and tackles the narrow and twisty Old Stage Rd. into the town of Woody. Continuing on to Bakersfield, the route heads into the Kern River oil field where the riders encounter several short, steep climbs.
The final climb before the dash to the finish is Round Mountain, an exposed mountain where it can get extremely hot. A nice descent takes the riders to the bluffs of Bakersfield with some rough roads. The final obstacle is a 10 percent climb up China Grade, part of two finishing circuits in Bakersfield.
Many riders will be saving themselves for the Big Bear stage coming up and a break might make it to the finish.