It was expected one of the general classification contenders could land a knockout blow on the Amgen’s Tour of California stage to Big Bear Lake, but instead a headwind kept the race for overall honours tight. That the race wasn’t blown apart could mean the bonus seconds at stage’s end will make a huge difference come Sunday’s concluding stage.
Garmin-Transitions had a busy day trying to setup the race for its man Dave Zabriskie, with riders in the breaks and peloton working hard to shutout Radioshack’s attacks. Tom Danielson believes teammate Zabriskie is in a strong position ahead of the penultimate stage.
“Zabriskie is the best time trialist in the race and we really wanted to go head-to-head with RadioShack today, but keep Dave as conservative as possible,” he explained. “The team rode a phenomenal race today. Everyone from Matt Wilson in the breakaway to Tom Peterson doing a great job pulling to young Pete Stetina making that move at the end.
“Ryder and I covered Horner and Janez in the end to make sure if there was a move we were with it,” added Danielson. “We tried to be a little bit aggressive but not too aggressive and it was a great finish for us.”
Danielson admitted that Radioshack’s tactics made it a brutal day on the bike, with the more than 200 kilometre stage featuring over 7,000ft of climbing. He believes Johan Bruyneel’s team was trying to compensate for what he described as a weakness against Garmin in the time trial.
“RadioShack did that same thing they've been doing, they light it up and then sit up,” he said. “They seemed really aggressive and they got aggressive at the top of the climb.
“They were probably the most nervous of the teams because maybe on paper Levi is not time trialing as well as Zabriskie,” he said. “Levi has won this time trial the last three editions, not this particular course, but Dave seems motivated. We have a lot of faith in Dave and we will get it done.”
Radioshack’s co-director Viatcheslav Ekimov admitted his team’s tactic wasn’t successful on the Big Bear stage. The squad’s leader Levi Leipheimer was one of the day’s losers, albeit by the tiniest of margins. Leipheimer lost four seconds to race leader Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia) and slipped out of an overall podium position, thanks to stage winner Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Doimo) moving into third with his 10 second time bonus.
“The guys have been trying to destroy the race and leave out Michael Rogers and Zabriskie but that did not work today,” said Ekimov. “There was a pretty strong headwind so you can't make such a difference in wind like that. The peloton really slowed down because of the break away and the HTC team was keeping under control but the pace just wasn't high enough.
“The climbs are long enough but not steep enough,” he added. “Someone like Janez or Chris can push high watts the other guys can push that too. 14 seconds won't be easy to gain tomorrow and at the end of the day it could make a big difference.”
Zabriskie also conceded four seconds to three time UCI World Time Trial Champion Rogers ahead of the 33.6 kilometre Los Angeles time trial. If Ekimov is right and there’s negligible difference in the Leipheimer-, Zabriskie- and Rogers’ times tomorrow, it could setup a blockbuster finish for Sunday’s Agoura Hills road race.
George Hincapie (BMC Racing Team) hoped to claim victory from the breakaway on Big Bear, but he believes the presence of riders from the general classification teams made it too hard to stay away.
"Unfortunately two guys weren't working too much because they had team obligations [Jason McCartney and Matthew Wilson], and on a course like this you really need everyone going full gas," he said.