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Rory Sutherland (United Healthcare) signs autographs.
Domestic riders taking the fight to ProTour boys
For the second consecutive stage, UnitedHealthcare's Rory Sutherland was the best placed rider of the non-ProTour teams at the Amgen Tour of California.
Following his fourth place yesterday, Sutherland sprinted into Santa Cruz behind Liquigas' Peter Sagan to claim fifth on the stage. He now sits eighth overall, with teammate and stage one breakaway rider Marc De Maar in fifth behind overall leader David Zabriskie.
Sutherland placed his bid for victory on the climb of Bonny Doon Road, the final mountain of the stage with 25km remaining. He pushed the pace of a select group with four-time champion Levi Leipheimer, Garmin-Transition's Zabriskie, fellow Australian Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia), and Leipheimer's Radioshack teammate Lance Armstrong.
While he kept the pace of the group for the first half of the climb, it wasn't long before Sutherland himself was dispatched by the intense tempo of Leipheimer.
"It was close enough, but I'd like to have been with the three that went away. They got a little time on me, but there is a lot of racing to go," Sutherland said.
"I think it went pretty well. I just missed reaching Levi - he attacked but didn't catch us off guard - it doesn't mean I could have made it, but I went after those three. I had Lance and Horner with me, so if I wasn't able to get on myself, I wasn't going to get on," he added.
Sutherland isn't quite satisfied with the title of best non-ProTour rider in the tour, however. "It's not a competition I'm going for," he said. "The interesting thing about a race like this is normally the domestic teams are working against each other, but here we're helping each other out.
"Phil [Zajicek - Fly V Australia], Chris Jones [Team Type 1] and I all let each other slide in and try to stick together to beat ProTour riders."
In the coming stages he said his team would look for opportunties to gain some time here and there, but he expects the race to come down to the final three days. Gaining big time is not going to be simple against the quality field that as is assembled in California.
"It's easier to follow a wheel and make it over a major climb, but there's a big difference from attacking and getting away from those guys," he explained.
"We'll just play it day by day, try to get back some time if we can."