They threw everything at him but Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia) survived an onslaught of attacks on the final stage of the Amgen Tour of California to win the overall, in what he called the biggest stage race victory of his career. David Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions) finished second overall at 9 seconds back and 3-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer (Radioshack) finished third at 25 seconds down.
“The finish line was within reach, of course I was hurting, everyone was hurting. Just so happy to hold on, this will go down as one of my biggest victories of my career.” said Rogers after the very tough 2010 edition of the Amgen Tour of California. Only 63 riders out of the original 128 starters finished the race, and if the time cut had been enforced on the final day that number would have been 37.
“It’s huge.” said Rogers about the importance of winning in California. “Riding for HTC-Columbia, we’re a team based in California so it’s of great importance to us. For our team, there’s only one race more important to us and that’s the Tour de France. This is a huge result for us, also winning two stages. I think we can really walk from the 2010 Amgen Tour of California with big smiles on our faces.”
The onslaught started immediately on the first of the four 21-mile circuits with riders trying to force breaks. The field was all together with Garmin-Transitions sweeping the first KOM with Hesjedal first, Tom Danielson second and Zabriskie third. The squad was at the front setting a high pace after reeling in an early break.
The high pace after brutal days of racing took its toll with the field splitting into three groups, and riders pulling out on every lap. At the end of the first lap, there were 28 riders in the front with 15 chasing behind, but as they neared the second pass at the Rock Store, the group joined together to form a pack about 45 riders strong.
The next move came on lap 2 when Thomas Rabou (Team Type 1) in his KOM leader’s jersey and Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) escaped on the Rock Store climb. Rabou has the jersey sown up with a commanding lead after the Big Bear stage but decided to go in a move anyway.
“I woke up this morning and I was thinking that it would be really cool to be in the breakaway in the KOM jersey and I tried to do it and apparently I was in the breakaway,” said a dry Rabou, “my goal was achieved today.”
A chase group of Yaroslav Popovych (RadioShack), Sebastian Langeveld (Rabobank), George Hincapie (BMC), Oscar Pujol (Cervélo TestTeam), Jeremy Vennell (BISSELL) and Brad White (UnitedHealthcare p/b Maxxis) caught the duo as they crested with Rabou taking the KOM points. With each circuit taking approximately 40 minutes, the break held for the next lap, and Rabou once again took the KOM heading into the final circuit of the race.
“It was certainly a very tough day. We saw from lap one the pace of the race was very high, Garmin attacked very hard. I was just lucky to have two strong riders in Tejay van Garderen and Tony Martin, they controlled the race up until the last lap.” sad Rogers.
The two HTC-Columbia riders set the pace at the front of the group with help from Max Jenkins (UnitedHealthcare p/b Maxxis) starting on the third lap. By the start of the fourth and final lap the gap was down to 1:45.
Mano y mano y mano. After numerous attacks, Hincapie, Barredo and Pujol dropped the rest of the break. At the same time, pulling away from the chase group were Leipheimer, Rogers, Horner and Zabriskie, who were soon joined by Hesjedal.
“It wasn’t always a perfect situation for me having two guys from Radio Shack and two guys from Garmin. I just had to certainly just limit my losses and make sure first and foremost that Dave or Levi didn’t get away from me.” said Rogers.
The remaining riders from the original break began to fall back to the main group, while Horner and Hesjedal went forward to join the break.
Rogers continued. “With the time buffer to Ryder and Chris Horner I was able to let them go which made it more a three-man race which is something I could control a lot easier.”
“It’s up to Michael, he’s got the lead, he has to defend it.” said Leipheimer. “When David attacked I let Michael do the work and when I attacked Dave let him do the work. If that goes on long enough you can get away or you can break that person but we give it a good try unfortunately it didn’t happen.”
Zabriskie and Leipheimer took turns launching attack after attack to drop Rogers but the Australian always managed to cover the moves.
“There was a moment where I jumped and he wasn’t making up the ground, he started losing a little bit of the ground and Dave came across to me ad we both each had a teammate 10 seconds up the road and I thought here’s our real opportunity to win the race but somehow Michael clawed his way back and showed why he’s the winner of the Amgen Tour of California. ” concluded Leipheimer.
In an all out sprint to the finish, Hesjedal took the win to the cheers of enthusiastic fans lining the streets of Thousand Oaks. George Hincapie (BMC) finished second and Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) third.
“Once me and Chris made it up to the remainder of the break I knew that I had a shot at the win so I was just focused on getting myself in the right position and getting to the line. It worked out, the team was awesome right from the beginning today and all week. To be able to win on the last day against a field like this is really a highlight for me. ” said Hesjedal.
Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Doimo) retained the Herbalife Sprint Jersey and the Rabobank Best Young Rider Jersey. Rabou held onto the climbing lead to take the California Travel & Tourism King of the Mountains (KOM) Jersey. Yaroslav Popovych (RadioShack) claimed Amgen’s Breakaway from Cancer® Most Courageous Rider Jersey. With a celebratory champagne fight on the awards stage, Garmin-Transitions claimed the overall team classification.
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