Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare) is fully prepared to contest Saturday’s daunting second mountaintop finish this week on Mt. Baldy, the penultimate stage of the Amgen Tour of California. The Australian goes into the ‘queen’ stage in third place overall and is confident that he will maintain a podium position through to the event’s conclusion on Sunday in Thousand Oaks.
"It will come down to how the legs are tomorrow," Sutherland told Cyclingnews.
"You can have good days and bad days. Even when I had super legs two days ago, Horner still rode a minute away from us. I’m not saying I’m giving up on it and I’m going to try everything I can to get the time back. Is the [overall] win realistic? Probably not - but we are going to give it a really good throw down and a really good shot. It’s all or nothing."
Sutherland rode into an impressive third place during the event’s first mountaintop finish on Sierra Road, stage four. Current overall race leader, Chris Horner (RadioShack) won the stage by over a minute to the nearest group that included Sutherland along with runner up in last year’s Tour de France Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) and three-time overall event winner Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack).
"I came out in December and did the stage four by myself with Eric Greene, our directeur, behind just to get a feel for it and see what would happen," Sutherland said.
"As a Pro Continental team, as opposed to the WorldTour Teams, we didn’t have four or five guys up there. I had to profit from the other guys as much as possible and let them do the bears work of it. I didn’t really expect my legs to feel so good and sometimes you underestimate how good you are at the end."
"Could I have gone with Horner? I don’t think so," he added. "He definitely had an extra gear than what the other guys had. To catch up with Levi and come in with him and Ryder Hesjedal, guys that finish top ten in the Tour [like] Andy [Schleck] second in the Tour is special for us -and specifically for UnitedHealthcare."
Sutherland started the stage six time trial sitting in fifth place overall. He rode the 24kms parcours in a time of 31:34 minutes, good enough for ninth place on the day. The solid performance bumped him up into third place overall, 1:38 minutes behind Horner and 38 seconds behind Leipheimer.
"I’ve been working very hard on my time trial bike this year," Sutherland said.
"I’ve had some good results. We’ve revised my position countless times. Chris Boardman turned up this morning and we went through some secret strategy with him about how to ride his bike and see whether I can get some extra pointers. I hope it works out but we still have to get through Mt. Baldy."
The queen stage seven is relatively short at only 121kms, but it is one of the most challenging and decisive stages in the Amgen Tour of California. The race will start in Claremont and climb for roughly 20 kilometres to the top of Glendora Ridge Rd. The peloton will then continue into the base of the final climb on Glendora Mountain Rd. The general classification contenders will no doubt emerge over the next 25 kilometres up to the top of Mt. Baldy, where the finale six kilometres mark the steepest section.
"Mt. Baldy is a pretty daunting climb but we are in a fantastic and profitable position," Sutherland said. "Garmin has a lot of work to do and they will have to pick up the slack. Mt. Baldy has a pretty similar finally to what Sierra Road was."
When asked if he would be pleased to end the eight-day race with a third place in the overall, he replied,
"I’m pleased already. As a team of our size, we are sitting in third place on the team classification in the biggest race in the US, ahead of many of the bigger ProTeams. I think we should be very proud of the way the staff have worked, UnitedHealthcare has supported us all year and that is what has put us in this position. I think that is the benefit of being in this position, it’s that we have already won. Everything else, now, as the cliche goes, is a bonus."
"It is a great feeling of the training that I’ve been doing, the effort the team has put behind me and the support that I’ve been given to really give it a go," he added.
"It’s a very special feeling when you can repay that back to the team in how much work they do for you."