By Mark Zalewski in Santa Rosa, California
An untimely puncture during a vital moment in the Tour of California's first stage may have cost Floyd Landis (OUCH-Maxxis) a chance at an overall podium placing.
The inaugural Tour of California champion was in perfect position to keep himself in contention for an overall win, making it into the main chase group during the cold and rainy ride to Santa Rosa, with two key teammates, Rory Sutherland and Pat McCarty.
He suffered the flat tyre on the descent of the final KOM towards the finish in Santa Rosa, and although McCarty sacrificed his bike for his leader, the damage was already done; Landis finished almost five minutes behind stage winner Francisco Mancebo.
"He got a flat at the worst time," teammate Tim Johnson told Cyclingnews. "We had three guys in the group of 20, with Rory and Pat there too. And to have them in that group with Grand Tour winners... it was a star-studded group. But after that last KOM when the s**t was hitting the fan, he got a flat. Pat gave up his bike but he wasn't able to catch. We just had Rory in the group but it was totally disastrous!"
With Landis 4:54 down on the other GC contenders, the sole responsibility will fall on the defending NRC champion Rory Sutherland.
We would love to get Floyd back in but one in the GC is what we have. A lot of teams lost their GC guys today, but this also allows us to race more aggressively." said Johnson, adding that being down on time will allow Floyd more of a leash in terms of breakaway attempts. "For Floyd it just handed him what he wants!