Let’s face it, it became déjà vu all over again fairly quickly at the Amgen Tour of Califonia with Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) winning the first four stages in similar fashion. In all four stages, he took the sprint out of a diminished field after the early break had been reeled back in. Heck he would have done it again on stage 6 if Sylvain Georges (AG2R La Mondiale) had not taken a successful solo flyer out of the break to take the win ahead of Sagan, fastest out of the 20-rider field sprint.
Is the course design to blame for repetitious results? Or is it the peloton?
The first three stages followed the same design, at least one tough climb during the stage with a fast downhill of at a minimum 10 miles dash to the finish. One promising stage was stage 2 with the finish in Santa Cruz County but once again, flat and rolling roads led to the finish after the climb up Bear Creek Road.
“We saw the stage in the Redwoods, over Bonny Doon road, and then down into Santa Cruz [Country], it could have been a stage where only 10, 15 guys of the GC would have been in front but in the end, it’s the riders who make the race. If they decide not to attack, not to do anything then still, it will be a bunch sprint and then Sagan will win.” overall winner Robert Gesink (Rabobank) said with a smile.
There’s the rub. With the toughest course – yet - at the Amgen Tour of California, the GC contenders were conserving their strengths for the back to back climbing stages of Big Bear followed by Mt Baldy at the end of the eight-day stage race.
The 16 teams at the 2012 race was comprised of eight UCI ProTeams, four UCI Pro Continental teams and four UCI Continental squads. Seven out of the eight ProTeams and two Pro Conti squad had either at least one GC contender or a sprinter on board, some had both. This meant that their power was used to reel in anything that was up the road.
That left seven teams to hunt for opportunities in breaks and attacks. The two most successful at this were the Bissell and Optum p/b Kelly Benefit squads who put at least one rider in the break almost every day. They were rewarded for their efforts by time on the podium and on television.
“I think I calculated it to be 483 km and then probably the same out of the back” laughed Jeremy Vennell (Bissell) who spent three stages in the long breakaways. He was rewarded for his effort with the Breakaway From Cancer Most Courageous jersey on stage 2 and then, on stage 3, with the Exergy Most Aggressive rider jersey. He initiated the break again on the Big Bear stage and was given the race’s Most Aggressive rider jersey after the final stage.
It was all about the polka-dot jersey for the Optum-KBS team. Their rider Sebastian Salas fought hard to win and the defend the KOM jersey.
“The team was amazing, all my teammates really helped me. After the first day in the break, day two I didn’t think I was going to make it to the end but the legs kept coming back, my teammates helped me through the rough spots. It’s an amazing accomplishment for Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies.” said a tired Salas after the final stage.
For both Vennell and Salas, it was a great feeling to stand on the final podium, wearing their special jerseys and surrounded by ProTeams riders.
“It’s awesome. Sitting here with those guys makes you think [that] you’re doing alright.” concluded Vennell.
Salas agreed with Vennell, “At the continental level to be able to be here with the ProTour guys is just a dream and it shows that we as a team deserve to be here, racing against the big guys.”
To go back to the original question: Is the course design or the peloton to blame for repetitious results?
I’d say a bit of both. Having a fast descent after the final climb to the finish leads to a break being reeled in. Having two very difficult back-to-back stages late in the race leads to conservative racing. But also, the mix of teams also influences the racing.
Should the race be made even more difficult? No.
“I’ve been riding around a bit in California. I think of course you can make the race even more difficult but in the end it’s the riders who make the race.” Gesink commented..
The 2012 overall winner concluded, “I think California like this is a perfect race, as well as for preparation as for the guys. You have to do a good time trial, you have to be good uphill if you want to win so it’s a perfect race. I think a lot of European riders love to come out here, and see all the fans who are super enthusiastic, much more than in Europe.”
The organizers have to ask themselves a question for next year. Is the race to serve primarily as preparation for the Tour de France? If the answer is yes, then the course design is perfect. Or is the goal of the event to offer up entralling racing while pushing back the GC fight to later in the week? Either way, the composition of the peloton is important and in our opinion, having one or two more US-registered Continental teams can only lead to more aggressive racing.