Hepburn, Beppu time cut on blistering stage in Escondido
The overall plans of the Orica GreenEdge team were hampered on the opening stage of the Amgen Tour of California after two of its main helpers, Michael Hepburn and Fumiyuki Beppu along with Taylor Shelden of 5 Hour Energy/Kenda, finished outside the time limit on the 165.2km circuit in Escondido.
The trio finished well outside the cut, which was nine per cent of the winner's time - Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) came across the line in 4:31:33. They lost 36:59 after being distanced on the climbs of a very hot and difficult stage which featured three difficult ascents.
The team's director Matt Wilson explained that Hepburn and Beppu struggled to cope with the extreme conditions - the temperatures reached well into the 90's Farenheit, and on the pavement was measured at over 100 - as well as the jet lag from their travel form Europe.
"They had a really bad day, and a bad reaction to the heat. They've come from a really cold spring in Europe, where at its warmest was 20 degrees (Celsius) cooler than it was here today," Wilson said.
"We're very disappointed, but hoping they're not coming down with something. [Hepburn] said he had some stomach problems during the stage, but that normally comes from drinking so much fluid during the race."
The team did manage to keep its general classification contender, Cameron Meyer, up in the front group. He finished just behind Mitchell Docker in 19th place, and is only 16 seconds off of Westra's lead despite having suffered from a bout of food poisoning this week.
"Our goals remain the same," Wilson said. "We have Michael Matthews here for the sprints, and Meyer for the overall, but we lost two key guys.
"Meyer was good today, he hasn't had the ideal preparation, and the heat is a real shock to the system, but he's a real trooper."
The riders took on plenty of fluids to rehydrate over the evening, and ice baths to cool down their core temperatures, but Wilson is concerned that the predictions for the second stage to Palm Springs could bear out.
"Tomorrow they're predicting 43 degrees (C, or 109F), it's borderline crazy racing in those conditions."