It was on today in the longest stage of the Amgen Tour of California, and by on, we mean hard, fast racing with a raging duel for the King Of The Mountain Points between KOM leader Jonathan Patrick McCarty (Spidertech p/b C10) and Jesse Anthony (Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth).
But the battle really started yesterday when the first KOM points were finally awarded following the cancellation of the first stage and the shortening of the second. The duelists held different strategies into stage 4 which included the tough climbs of Mt Hamilton and the finale, the mountaintop finish on Sierra Road.
McCarty chose to stay in the field and see how the stage shook out. “My plan on the day yesterday was to see how well I could do for the overall, just wait with the leaders, the best climbers but if there was a chance, and I was in the front for the HC to go for it, and that’s what happened. It was perfect, I didn’t mess around with the early break, saved my legs, hit the front and it was hard enough on Hamilton that I was able to do my thing.”
Anthony had his eye on the jersey from the start. “We wanted to get someone in the break yesterday and we were hoping that they would give us more of a leash but yeah we wanted to get into the break and get the KOM jersey.”Anthony made it into the break and battled for the KOM points with other riders but the Radioshack-led peloton kept the break on a short leash. “It was one of those things, if we could have hit Mt Hamilton with a pretty good gap, we could at least get a few points maybe over the top but they caught us on the climb, and then there were points on the finish climb as well.”
The break was caught before the top of Mt Hamilton, an HC climb with top KOM points taken by McCarty putting him in the red 2011 California Travel & Tourism Commission King of the Mountain Jersey with Anthony three points down.
Go time. With 4 KOMs in today’s stage, both knew that it was go time.
Anthony commented, “I had to go on the attack today, try to get as many points possible, obviously trying to take over the jersey but Pat is a good climber, he was riding really well but he was trying to protect his jersey too.”
With three point opportunities in the first 50km of the 217-km stage, it was imperative to get into the break, but when four riders escaped after non-stop attacking neither had made the move. The first KOM came and went with no points gained for either rider. But their luck turned. With Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervelo) in the move who was at 2 minutes down on GC, the break was never allowed to get more than one minute, and McCarty jumped on the fluctuating gap with the help of his teammate Svein Tuft.
“I was pretty bad at the beginning, I didn’t get any points on the first climb, I kind of got blown off the back.” McCarty said. “I was sitting there, cursing to one of my teammate about it because four guys got up the road, there were all category 4s so all places for points were gone. . I was sitting next to Svein and we were looking at each other and a Rabobank guy attacked and I was like ‘what is he doing?’ because I thought the break had already over a minute and we weren’t, Svein said ‘no they just showed 45 seconds, want to go?’, I’m like ‘yes’, so he went with me on the wheel and it actually ended up working out, a few other guys had the same idea but we got lucky and it was perfect timing with Svein.”
Anthony was paying attention and jumped on. “I actually got dropped from the field on that Laureles Canyon Road, I was back in the caravan chasing and I caught on at the bottom of the descent. I was not feeling very good at the beginning of the stage, I think it just took some time to open up. But I when saw Pat go, it was now or never and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to hang or not so I went for it and I ended feeling okay and I got up there, it worked out.”
A few more riders bridged up , and a group of 11 was off the front with only McCarty and Anthony interested in battling for the points.
“At least with a smaller group, it’s more manageable, I could focus on the KOMs and not wonder where the hell Jesse is in an entire peloton, it was just eight guys. And I knew I was climbing good, I had confidence in that scenario.” McCarty commented.
The two went at it on the second KOM, 25 miles (41 km) into the stage.
McCarty crested first for top points followed by Anthony. “I just went at a K[ilometer] to go, I know that Jesse is quicker than me so if it’s any kind of sprint, he can get it on the easier KOMs so I had to go at a k[ilometer] to go, I was able to get it.”
The break stayed together, working hard and the third KOM hit at 32 miles (52 km) into the stage. This time, Anthony got the better of McCarty. “It was kind of flat,” laughed McCarty, “and I waiting for it to get harder and it never did. I kind of saw a moment where I could go but he ended up coming around me, I was kind of annoyed at that point.”
The break settled down to work but the field never let them have more than four minutes. The pace was so high, that the expected finish time was fifteen minutes ahead of the fastest time.
The front group disintegrated on the final KOM, just 21 miles (33 km) from the finish. McCarty attacked for the points while others were thinking of the stage victory.
“The last KOM was just hard, the guys started to race for the stage at that point, I kind of feel bad because everyone wanted to stick together but I had to go, I had to race and I had to race early to get rid of Jesse and I ended up splitting with Oscar and the Leopard guy and I got them off the front and all the other guys got blown out. I felt bad about that but I had to do my own race.” said McCarty who took top points.
While Anthony was fourth across the KOM line. “The last one was a bit of a challenge, some of the other guys in the break were attacking at the same time so I ended up fourth on that one because two guys got in between Pat and I, so I lost a big chunk of points there which is hard going onto the last days of this race.”
Both were reeled in by the charging field on the mad dash to the finish.
“Once the field caught us, with 12 k to go or so, I was just hanging on for dear life.” Anthony said.
It’s not over. With two stages left with KOM points, McCarty remains in the King Of The Mountain jersey with a 6-point lead on Anthony.
The battle will continue on Saturday’s Queen Stage with 3 KOMs, two category 2 and the finale, the HC climb on Mt Baldy. One more opportunity to get points on the last stage.
Anthony admitted to being tired after being in long breaks for the past two hard days. “It was very hard, I think everyone knew that it was going to be hard but we didn’t know that Radioshack was going to make us earn our keep out there. I’m pretty smoked but it’s bike racing, it’s what we’re here for, it’s what we train for I’m not super surprised but it’s hard and I like hard bike racing.”
But he is not giving up. “I’ll absolutely go for it. I can’t promise any spectacular performance but there’s no reason not to go for it and I’m going to try. Those are much different climbs than what we’ve been doing and I haven’t been specifically training for big long climbs like that but I’ll try, give it my best shot and see how it goes. It’s not over until it’s over.”
McCarty knows that Anthony will be going for the points but likes his chances with the longer climbs on Saturday. “Knock on wood, I need to be riding well but those are more my style of climbs than today were. Today I was having to sprint for it and do it right but I think if things are normal, things are pretty tough on Baldy, I’m riding well it will be easier to maybe get points on a climb like that, we’ll see. Just like Hamilton, a big tough climb like that I’m able to do well.”
Getting the jersey would mean a lot for McCarty. “It’s great to race in America in such a big race, it’s really an awesome race and for the team its great. I know they took a chance signing me a bit and so it’s nice to pay them back for that and I know they’re happy and I’m extremely happy, I know it’s good.”
A truce in the hostilities during Friday’s time trial, and then the two will go back at it on Saturday and we’ll be watching.