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Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia) is shaping up as the strongest rival to Radioshack in California.
Rogers in top condition, US squad hopes for better luck
HTC-Columbia is confident that Michael Rogers can win the overall title at the Amgen Tour of California after he placed second in stage three on Tuesday. Rogers rode away from the peloton on the day's decisive final climb over Bonny Doon Road with eventual stage winner Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions) and three-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack), who placed third.
Zabriskie's stage three win also lifted him into the overall lead, four seconds ahead of Rogers and an additional six seconds to Leipheimer. "Dave doesn't look any stronger than Levi or myself," Rogers said. "He just got the jump on the tight finish today. The race is far from over yet."
Rogers arrived at Amgen's eight-stage race with hopes of improving on his third place performance last year. He displayed top form in winning the early season Ruta del Sol and most recently placed fourth at the Tour de Romandie.
"We know Michael Rogers can win and we saw that at the early races before we started here," said the squad's directeur sportif Brian Holm. "Michael is really skinny, he's been on a strict diet and has been training really hard. This race was one of the targets, like the Ruta del Sol, and he wants to win here. He was very close to winning Romandie two weeks ago so he is riding very well. He has a good chance to win here."
RadioShack is the odds-on favourite to produce the overall winner in California and finished the rainy jaunt from Davis to Santa Rosa on Tuesday with five riders in the front group. Likewise, Garmin-Transitions finished with four riders up front. A total 26 men made it to the finish line in the lead bunch after the damaging climbs and slick descents in the last quarter of stage two took their toll on the peloton.
"I think judging by how RadioShack went yesterday, they have a good set up here, based on having five riders in the front group in the overall," Holm said. "They are going to have to control the front group because they are the big favourites here but we are going to take our own responsibility also because we know Michael can win."
Bad luck meant HTC-Columbia finished stage two with only two riders amongst the top contenders, Rogers and Lars Ytting Bak the duo to make the selection. It left the team with fewer cards to play in the overall classification than they had hoped for so early in the race.
"It seemed like Michael was good on the stage two climbs," Holm said. "Unfortunately Tony Martin punctured in a very bad moment right when the peloton was going over the second to last climb and the officials were barraging. There was no wheel support and he was just standing there for a couple of minutes. Mark Renshaw gave him his wheel and he had to chase."
"Right in that same moment Rogers hit a pot hole and flatted," he added. "Tejay Van Garderen gave his wheel to Rogers, so the two got their spare wheels from their teammates. Otherwise, we would have had four of our guys in the front group."
Holm is hoping the team has better luck during the next four stages through the mountains before reaching the decisive stage seven individual time trial in Los Angeles.
"Normally the time trial is the decisive day but never say never," Holm said. "Everyone thinks it's the same and then a big group goes away. There are good riders out there and they are going to attack sooner or later. Anything can happen even though normally it is the time trial that decides."
"There are a lot of other good cyclists here too, so winning is not going to be easy," he added. "We also need to have a little bit of luck."