Enthusiastic crowds welcomed riders to the finish of Stage 2 of the 2011 Amgen Tour of California in Sacramento this afternoon after beginning in Nevada City, California. For the second year in a row, the small Gold Rush town of Nevada City was host to the first official day of racing in the Amgen Tour of California (the city hosted Stage 1 of the 2010 race), after dangerous weather and road conditions required a last-minute change from the original Stage 2 start host city, Squaw Valley, to ensure rider safety and guarantee a complete day of racing. After three adrenalin-pumping circuits through the streets of downtown Sacramento, Ben Swift (GBR) of Sky Procycling won the stage and solidified himself as the overall race leader.
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“Luckily, we got to start today and it was my opportunity to go for the win,” said Swift. “The shortened circuit we raced today meant fresh riders and a quicker finish. We had a plan to hit the front of the circuit with one lap to go. It was a pretty long circuit and you needed to ride fast. We were able to come over the top and take control on the final lap. You need to ride together and everyone did the job 100 percent.”
Beginning with a mostly downhill route, the race got off to a fast start with two, three-man breakaways that were quickly reeled back in by the peloton. The third breakaway, made up of Laszlo Bodrogi (FRA) of Team Type 1 – sanofi-aventis, Timon Seubert (GER) of Team NetApp and James Driscoll (USA) of Jamis-Sutter Home, was quickly joined by Ben Jacques-Maynes (USA) of Bissell Pro Cycling, and together they stretched their lead to one minute and 15 seconds. At their peak, the breakaway had a five-minute lead over the peloton, sharing the work to fend off the group of 140 cyclists, which was being led by HTC-Highroad.
“It was my duty today to try and get in the breakaway and fortunately four of my teammates were able to join me. It was my rotation and that was the move that stuck,” said Driscoll. “We were working well together as team; it was a classic formulaic sprint and we knew the Pro Tour teams would reel us in. It was good to race aggressive like we were told to do.”
Once hitting the streets of downtown Sacramento, the breakaway’s lead was down to one minute, and Saxo Bank Sungard, HTC-Highroad, Sky Procycling and Team Spidertech Powered by C10 all positioned riders at the front of the peloton. With 17.5 kilometers to go, the breakaway was all but gone, with only a 30-second advantage and Jelly Belly Cycling p/b Kenda driving the peloton.
At 1 kilometer out from the finish line, two teams were at the front of the group, with Ryder Hesjedal (CAN) of Team Garmin-Cervelo followed by four riders from HTC-Highroad. With two laps to go, Saxo Bank Sungard and HTC-Highroad moved to the front and began to position their sprinters, but by the time the riders had one lap left, it was an all-out battle between Sky Procycling, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling and Liquigas-Cannondale.
Even a little bit of rain at the end of Stage 2 couldn’t dampen the riders’ enthusiasm for getting on their bikes and starting the competition.
“I think everyone was just really motivated to get going again, but because it was raining, guys respected each other and gave each other enough space,” continued Swift. “The rain actually helped me a little bit because, coming from Britain, you get to experience riding in rain. It puts a fear in some people and helps you control things more. Even with the rain, the circuit was lined with fans.”
“We have an eight-day race. Statistically, when you race in the north and south, you are going to have a rainy day or two,” said Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports, presenter of the race. “We were unlucky with the conditions we faced in Lake Tahoe, but a few rainy days isn’t the end of the world. What we saw with Ben (Swift) today is that it can rain a little bit and still be a great race and the best guy still wins.”
After a short, but intense day of racing, Swift claimed the Amgen Race Leader Jersey, as well as the Herbalife Sprint Jersey. Amgen’s Breakaway from Cancer® Most Courageous Rider Jersey was awarded to Driscoll to recognize his strong performance in the breakaway, and the Rabobank Best Young Rider Jersey went to Peter Sagan (SVK) of Liquigas-Cannondale. The California Travel & Tourism King of the Mountains (KOM) Jersey was not awarded today, as the revised route eliminated the stage’s only KOM.
“It’s a huge deal to get the jersey that I got today during a sprinter stage,” continued Driscoll, “especially racing in the backyard of our sponsor Sutter Home.”
The top-three general classification leaders after today are Swift in first, Sagan in second and Matthew Goss (AUS) of HTC-Highroad in third.