March 20, 2006
I'm back with the second half of my report on the Amgen Tour of California. We finished off with stage 4, the longest and most scenic stage of this years tour. I hopped off my bike with a bit of a sore knee after an epic breakaway but hoped a bit of stretching would fix it...
Stage 5: San Luis Obispo - Santa Barbara, 169km
Another fine sunny day in the saddle which is always welcome when riding a bike and especially in a tour! The main action of the day was going to come at the 136km mark where we started the Cat 1 climb of San Marco's Pass. The pace was on again from the gun - I wasn't too keen to get up the road as I was still having a bit of a knee problem from the day before. So for me it was a case of looking after myself till the climb; if you made it over that up front it was a nice 12km open highway descent into Santa Barbara and onto the finish line. The lead up to the climb was very important as well - the pace was pretty furious as teams tried to keep their main men up front. Apparently Levi Leipheimer knew that the yellow jersey was a bit out of his reach now and was keen to take a jersey home with him so next up was the KOM jersey, and upon hitting the foot of the climb it was clear that he was hungry for the points. The smack went down and the bunch thinned right out; I couldn't go with the initial attack, my knee was still annoying me but as everything else started to hurt with the climbing I didn't notice it as much - I settled into a rhythm that suited me more and managed to work my way back up to them by the 1km to go to the KOM sprint. Not the best time to get back on, as the pace was lifting due to the points on offer at the top. But I hung on and would of hated to have seen my race face going over the top! Once again Discovery were thick in numbers so it was a matter of sitting back and watching them drive it to the finish. We were represented with four riders up there - Phil, Sergey, Valeriy and myself. Coming into the sprint finish Phil tried hitting out but had Discovery all over him. So a bunch kick it was to be. Sergey ran home in eighth with Valeriy in 11th, a good effort for the team and a strong showing with four riders in the front group of 30.
To end a ruff day in the saddle we were put up at the Four Seasons in Santa Barbara with a couple of other teams - a very flash set up indeed and what proved it even more was the sighting of movie and TV director Jerry Bruckheimer staying there as well. Cha-Ching!
Stage 6: Santa Barbara - Thousand Oaks, 143.7km
Greeted once a again with a sunny Californian day and two stages left to ride no one was complaining. Setting off with a fast pace once again, many riders were trying to make it into the one lucky move that was going to be let go by the controlling teams. Several moves went but nothing stuck. The day went rather fast even though there were four KOMs to contend with, the last one being a nasty wall up through Balcom Canyon 50km from the finish. Halfway up the steep ascent a motorbike covering the race on TV ran out of room on the narrowest section and when they had no where to go they ended up riding into the bunch, tangling with a couple of CSC riders and stopping half the bunch. The bunch split in two and it made for a bit of a chase down the other side. Just after getting back onto the main bunch my rear wheel decided to break a spoke, so after a quick wheel change and another chase back on through the convoy of team cars I was again safely tucked up in the peleton. We hit the finish line at the 127km mark and had three laps of 6km to go which turned out to be a full-on sprint the whole way around as teams set their quick men up for the win. T-Mobile took the win, which was their first for the tour, and the finish was close to their bike sponsor's factory - bet they were happy!
From here in Thousand Oaks we had a bit of a transfer to LA which wasn't so far in kilometres but the traffic was going to hurt big time. I got to hang out a bit longer with my DS Ed Beamon and shoot a segment for Clif Bar (great race food). It was aired on ESPN in between the coverage of the final stage. It was fun to do and I had lots of laughs doin' it. Thanks Dylan from Clif Bar for giving me my first acting job (and probably last).
Hey Ed, what's a Chinchilla?
Stage 7: Redondo Beach Circuit Race, 123km.
The last and final stage of this year's tour, Another sun shiny day by the coast and another massive, enthusiastic crowd. Always great to see and hear that the sport is still as popular as ever! So we lined up, the current jersey holders were introduced and called to the front, we listened to star spangled one more time and set off for a fast and furious stage. The tactics were pretty simple - be aggressive and try and get up the road. I started near the front so I didn't have to work too hard to get there early on. I followed a move but didn't go anywhere; the front eased up and that was my chance to go! Three kilometres into it I was heading up the road, there was a nice little hill just after I went which I didn't think was as tough as it looked; but when ya legs aren't too warmed up it's nasty! It was a good place to give it some and force a few more metres on the bunch - three other riders came across to me and we numbered four by then. We were giving it everything we had as the bunch weren't going to let us get get anywhere unless we were willing to put it on the line. I was sitting in second wheel not long after the escape when I nailed a pothole, sending my bidons flying out - I was lucky I was holding on properly. I wasn't the only one to hit that hole hard and not long after we had gone through it the bunch came across the hole too, causing absolute chaos. Several riders went down hard including our GC rider Phil Zajicek; he grazed his whole chest pretty bad and hurt his recently operated on and pinned hand. Phil wasn't able to get going again which was unfortunate for the team. He's not having a lot of luck this season but I'm sure it will change.
Back to the race...due to the crash the bunch eased up to wait for riders and settle down, which was lucky for us - not the best way you'd like to get a gap but that's racing. We all worked well together and before long we had pulled out to over seven minutes from the main field. That put me as virtual tour leader on the road, so I guess I could say I led the tour, (at least for 40km or so). It was going to be close now as some of the not-so-in-form sprinter's teams started to chase. They weren't making heaps of ground on us as we kept the pressure up front. One of the guys up front punctured on the lap that we had really planned to give it some, so we had to ease up a bit and wait for him to catch back up (better with four than three).
The crowds were really getting behind us, especially on the climb. I could always hear "Go Navigator" and even heard a "Chady" from time to time. With 20km to go we were still two and a half minutes up but the pack was really starting to set up for the finish as more teams moved to the front to help - they saw it was possible to catch us. With 12km to go which the gap was still holding at a minute, and one of the lads in the break who had been soft pedalling for a few kilometres decided he was going to try for a solo attempt. Who knows why? We were better off working together, but ah well...I think he thought that if he threw in an attack he would get the most aggressive jersey for the stage, but I chased him hard to make sure he didn't get far and shook my head at him as we caught and rode past him. By now we were cresting the climb one last time, but four guys had shot out of the pack and caught us by the top and I was able to just tag on the back of them. Six kilometres to go and it was all back together. Time for me to set myself up at the back of the peloton and get sucked along to the finish, pop my head up 200m out and see who's throwing their hands up in victory. Once again it was a T-Mobile guy taking the win, plus a surf board and wet suit for his efforts. Sergey battled to a well-fought eighth in a wild sprint! Brave man!
So that was that, stage over, tour over and the award of most aggressive rider going to me for the stage. I got to climb up onto the stage, pull on the jersey, pop a big bottle of champagne which I managed to spray into my left eye before I sprayed the crowd. Plus I got to line up next to overall winner Floyd Landis, who I rate as a damn good rider!!!
Definitely a tour for the future and one that can only get bigger and better! Well run and organised, awesome accommodation and minimal transfers (very important). I'm back in Belgium now and have done a few races, but not much to report on. I can sum it up like this: cold, wind, rain, snow, cobbles and crashes! Next up Coppi Bartoli in Italy which starts on Tuesday and goes till Saturday. But Belle could pop anyday now so will see how that turns out, eh?
So till next time thanks for reading, and thanks for all the support and emails sent to me during and after the tour.
All the best,