Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia) will start Saturday's time trial stage of the Amgen Tour of California with the upper hand, wearing the golden leaders jersey, but will have to hold off time trial favorites Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions) and three-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) if he wants to secure final victory in this year's race.
Rogers is currently leading the overall classification by four seconds ahead of runner up Zabriskie, the US National Time Trial Champion, and nine seconds ahead of Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Doimo). Leipheimer is positioned in fourth place with a 14-second deficit to race leader Rogers.
Rogers took over the race lead following stage five where he tied with Zabriskie. He added four additional precious seconds when he took the third place time bonus offered at the finish line during the event’s queen stage six at Big Bear Lake on Friday.
“We took everything that they threw at us and we still have the jersey,” said Rogers proudly. “Everyone is going to start the time trial with tired legs. Everyone had to spend a damn load of energy, some more than others, but everyone will start the time trial with sore legs, let me tell you.”
“You can’t base the time trial off the mountain stage, it is really like comparing apples to oranges,” he added. “But they [Dave Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer] are both in good shape and have a lot of experience in time trials. But we are hopeful to tomorrow. We are quietly confident.”
There is no discounting Rogers, who has not placed outside the top four in a time trial all season and he is in the running the win the Amgen Tour of California.
“I haven’t seen the time trial course but I’m in good shape,” Rogers said. “That event is always about the best rider who wins it. I am confident in my time trial. I have been doing well in time trials all season and hardly outside of the top four. All these stage races this year have been decided by seconds so it doesn’t surprise me that that is what is happening now.”
Leipheimer confident of pulling back time
For the first time in three editions of the Amgen Tour, Leipheimer will not be starting the decisive time trial in the golden leaders jersey. He has won the individual event for three consecutive years. This year, he was hoping stage six would tire some legs before the time trial. However, he believes that he can make up the 14 seconds he needs to move into
the overall lead.
“I was looking forward to today and tomorrow which are two of the most important days of the race,” said Leipheimer. “I think that today might not change the GC too much but it is going to affect the time trial
tomorrow for sure because it is a long hard day. I think that favours me. I haven’t lost a time trial in this race for three years so I’ve got that going for me.”
“There is no denying that Dave [Zabriskie] is going well and he is obviously one of the best time trialists in the world,” he added. “Michael Rogers is a three-time World Champion so it is just going to be a battle
and I’m confident. I’ve done my homework, I’m feeling good and feeling better and better every day so this thing ain’t over. I think I can make that [14 seconds] up.”
The organizers of the Amgen Tour of California moved the time trial from its traditional location in the quaint Danish town of Solvang into the hustle and bustle of downtown Los Angeles. The parcours has also changed from being a hilly course that suited Leipheimer, to a predominantly flat one better suited to Zabriskie.
“I’m looking forward to the time trial regardless if I was a resident [of Los Angeles] or not,” Zabriskie said. “Being a new resident it has a special place in my heart. I went down and took a look at the course on Mothers Day, you have to go down very early in the morning because of the traffic. It’s not that far away from my house. I went down and took a look and it was great. I’m looking forward to it.”
Saxo Bank is putting its money on the current UCI World Time Trial Champion, Fabian Cancellara to win the time trial. He is also the Swiss National Road Champion and recently won the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. He took a two-week recovery period before traveling stateside to compete in the Amgen Tour of California. He won the opening prologue in last year’s race but his highest placing in the Amgen Tour time trial was a fourth place in 2007 and a fifth place in 2008.
US National Road Champion, George Hincapie (BMC) reminded that Rogers arrived to the Amgen Tour in great form having won the Ruta Ciclista Del Sol and placed second in the Criterium International, sixth in
Tirreno-Adriatico and fourth at Tour de Romandie. Hincapie said that all three riders look to be in strong contention of the overall win.
“I’m not sure how Levi is doing because I haven’t talk to him much but he is racing great,” Hincapie said. “Rogers is having, in my opinion, his best year to date, even today at the finish he pretty much lead it out with 300 to 400 metres to go in an uphill and headwind finish is a testament to how strong he his. Dave is riding great as well so it is going to be an interesting battle.”
Leipheimer’s trusted teammate, Chris Horner recently won the time trial at the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco to win the overall title. Although he is hopeful that Leipheimer can pull off a winning time trial, he believes Zabriskie will be the man to beat.
“I think I’ll put out a good time trial, top five probably,” Horner said. “But, Zabriskie is a specialist and he can always time trial. When he has this kind of form he can time trial better than his good time trials. He is going to be a hard guy to beat. I think that anyone who wants to win this race is going to have to have some time on him before we go into stage seven. With that kind of form he is going to put on a show for sure.”
“Levi is very motivated and he has won the time trial every year,” he added. “Now we are on a different course and certainly we have a different Zabriskie than we’ve had in years past. I think maybe Mick too, but Levi is the only guy at this point that can give him a run for his money and stand a chance of beating him.”