Chris Horner is expecting a round of attacks to be fired at his RadioShack team on Sierra Road, the decisive climb that will end stage four of the Amgen Tour of California on Wednesday. Horner and his teammate, three-time overall winner Levi Leipheimer will start the race with a 15-second advantage in the overall classification, ahead of other notable climbers.
"I hope we can do a good performance and I’m confident because Levi has never had any problems on Sierra Road and in the past it has treated me good too," Horner told Cyclingnews. "We are confident going into it."
Race officials enforced time gaps throughout the peloton following the stage two final sprint in Sacramento. Horner and Leipheimer finished that stage in 16th and 24th position respectively. Other climbers who finished in the front group were Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Cervelo), Chris Froome (Sky ProCycling), Linus Gerdemann (Leopard Trek) and Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad).
A number of riders were however caught behind the split. Steve Morabito (BMC Racing) lost 11 seconds, while Dave Zabriskie and Dan Martin (Garmin-Cervelo), Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare), Aleksandr Efimkin (Team Type 1-Sanofi Aventis), and Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek), lost 15 seconds.
"It’s nice to have the cushion and I’ll take any amount of seconds going into the climbing stages, that’s a plus," Horner commented.
"Levi has a good advantage over riders like [Dave] Zabriskie and [Dan] Martin and a lot of other guys who lost time on the first stage. There were at least five good riders that lost some time yesterday and that is a big help to us. It could change the outcome of tomorrow’s race and certainly the outcome of the Amgen Tour of California."
Horner is fully anticipating a series of attacks on the stage’s back-to-back Mt. Hamilton and Sierra Road climbs. He understands that with the stage six time trial in Solvang still ahead, riders who lost time in the general classification during the first two stages will be looking to make a difference in the finale of tomorrows stage.
Leipheimer is the odds-on favourite to win the time trial having won it for three consecutive years.
"Levi is one of the best time trialists in the world and if the other riders don’t want to go against him in the time trial then they are going to have to attack us going up Sierra Road," Horner said.
"They have to attack us on the climb tomorrow. Garmin has a great team of climbers with Zabriskie, Martin, Danielson and Hesjedal and they are going to be strong. We have to assume that they are under pressure to drop Levi and myself on Sierra Road. Otherwise, they will have to go into the time trial on par or 15 seconds behind Levi. He has won that race three times so tomorrow’s stage is highly stressful for us. It is very important for us."
Meantime, Horner was caught up in a crash on the stage three finishing circuits in Modesto. With a broken wheel, he was forced to take a bike change from teammate Markel Irizar. Ben King and Haimar Zubeldia were then responsible for bringing him safely back up the field.
"I thought for sure that I was going down," Horner said. "I had fantastic teammates all day but in that particular moment. But, I was panicked. The field was split into pieces just before that and I thought it would come back together but you never know. The group was doing Mach 10 at that point. I had to get back up to the front right away."