Phil Zajicek (Fly V Australia) called it before the start when he said that Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Doimo) was a favorite to take the stage with its tough finishing circuits.
Best Young Rider Sagan, all of 20, had been knocking on the door to finally took the win at the tough stage 5 of the Amgen Tour of California. Mick Rogers (HTC-Columbia) was second on the stage and David Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions) was third.
The story of today’s 121.5 miles (195.5 km) stage can be summarized by crash, the break, the finish and those precious seconds.
Stay tuned for more videos with Michael Rogers, Ben Day, and Paul Mach.
Every second counted for Rogers today who came into the stage 4 seconds down from leader Zabriskie. The Australian took 2-seconds on the first intermediate sprint and 6 more at the stage finish. It was enough to tie with Zabriskie who got 4 seconds at the finish. The tie breaker was the stage standings giving the leader’s jersey to Rogers.
The crash. After the neutral start in Visalia, the cyclists headed due south through Exeter and Lindsey and up the narrow and twisty Old Stage Road; the day’s first of two KOMs. The race got to a rough start, with a big crash less than thirty minutes after the start in Visalia as the road narrowed heading out of town, that included defending champion Levi Leipheimer and his Radioshack teammate Lance Armstrong, along with several other riders. Proving to be a devastating crash to the group, Stuart O’Grady (Saxo Bank) and Armstrong abandoned the race to secure medical attention. Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo TestTeam) abandoned the race shortly after as well, but had not been involved in the crash.
The battle for GC started early with the first sprint of the day. Robbie Hunter (Garmin-Transitions) took the points and the time bonus to protect his teammate and yellow jersey Zabriskie. He was followed by Rogers and Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia). Attacks flew and short-lived moves occurred for the next 15 miles but the bunch was all together for the second and final sprint of the day. Karl Menzies (UnitedHealthcare p/b Maxxis) who took top points followed by Jeremy Powers (Jelly Belly p/b Kenda) and Tony Martin (HTC-Columbia).
The break – a game of chess. Six riders went off the front in the move that would stick. Paul Mach (BISSELL), Mark Renshaw (HTC-Columbia), Ben Day (Fly V Australia), Will Dickeson (Jelly Belly p/b Kenda), Grischa Nierman (Rabobank) and Kurt Hovelynch (Quick Step) all tried their luck. So far, the Jelly Belly squad has had a man in the significant break on every stage.
The chess match starts. Mach was the highest-placed rider at 1:49 down, a fact that some of the other riders in the move did not like and made that known to him, especially by Renshaw. Renshaw was definitely the best sprinter in the group and no one wanted to bring him to the line. Both Renshaw and Day played the team card and sat on to launch attacks to try and drop the others. Let the games begin.
Mach was the first rider to crest the narrow and twisty Old Stage Rd. cat 3 climb followed by Nierman and Hovelynch. At that point, the gap was over 6 minutes to the field. Behind them, the field splintered under an attack by the Radioshack team. As the riders continued on the way to the final climb of the day, Round Mountain Rd. at 21 miles from the finish line in Bakersfield, different teams took turns leading the chase group. Day made his move on the climb with Renshaw jumping on but the duo was caught by the break on the descent. The cat and mouse games continued as the break made its way to the finish line, Renshaw and Day trading blows. Behind them, the field regrouped.
The final obstacle of the day was a 10 percent climb up China Grade, which was part of two finishing circuits in Bakersfield. The break had a gap of 1:45 by the time they entered the circuits. Would today be the day that the break would stick? The large crowd was certainly cheering for them, and the cheers got even louder when Day put in an all or nothing attack with one lap to go. The rest of the break were reeled in by the chase with Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank) leading the charge.
But it wasn’t to be for Day who was caught the final time up the climb. Rogers matched Zabriskie’s attack and Sagan came around both for the win.
Ryan Anderson (Kelly Benefit Strategies) remained the KOM leader. Sagan is the new sprint leader and remained Best Young Rider.
Back to seconds being important. Rogers leads GC, tied with Zabriskie. Leipheimer is third at 10 seconds down , Sagan is fourth at 15 seconds and Marc de Maar (UnitedHealthcare p/b Maxxis) rounds out the top 5 at 28 seconds.
Friday brings the Queen Stage, the doozy of a stage with 7 KOMs, yes that’s right, 7 KOMs on the 135.3 miles (217.7 km) stage from Palmdale to Big Bear Lake with a 20km flat from the final climb to the finish line. To make it even more fun, 2 sprints with their time bonus come late in the stage. Will the stage be decisive for the GC? Most riders say no and expect a select group of around 20 riders to make it to the finish together. Some of the climbers have been salivating about this day and want to make their mark.
Photo Gallery (Click for larger images)
Top 10 Stage Results
1. Peter Sagan (Loquigas-Doimo) 4:52:28
2. Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia) st
3. David Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions) +0:01
4. Chris Horner (Radioshack) st
5. Paul Martens (Rabobank) st
6. Tony Martin +0:02
7. Levi Leipheimer (Radioshack) st
8. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) +0:03
9. Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank) st
10. Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare) st
Top 10 GC after Stage 3
1. Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia) 22:56:59
2. David Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions) st
3. Levi Leipheimer (Radioshack) +0:10
4. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Doimo) +0:15
5. Marc de Maar (UnitedHealthcare) +0:28
6. Janez Brajkovic (Radioshack) +0:31
7. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) st
8. Peter Stetina (Garmin-Transitions) st
9. Tom Danielson (Garmin-Transitions) st
10. Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare) st