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Welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the 2013 Amgen Tour of California.
The riders are about to get underway from Escondido for the first stage of the 2013 Amgen Tour of California. And what a doozy! It's already hot, and on top of the 1600m summit of Palomar Mountain, it's reportedly in the 90's. There will be a lot of water bottles being dumped over riders' heads today.
The peloton is off for a 2.7km neutral lap and then it's 165.1km of racing today with the first KOM coming at 61.3km into the race on Mesa Grande.
Before the first climb, however, the sprinters will have a chance to show themselves at the sole intermediate sprint in Ramona at km. 31.1. They're past the 0km mark now and rolling along at 42mph - that's a quick start!
While today's main peak - Palomar Mountain - rises to a mile in elevation, it does so over 10.8 miles, and averages 4.5%. That isn't the worst climb one can imagine, but given today's high temperatures it will be a bit more difficult.
The riders who were here in 2009 might remember the climb in reverse: they went up the steeper side that year, and descended the side they'll climb today.
The Jamis-Hagens Berman directeur Sebastian Alexandre called today's stage "perfect for Peter Sagan". He thinks that Cannondale and Omega Pharma-Quickstep, with Gianni Meersman, will try to distance the sprinters who can't climb as well on the final ascent of Cole Grade. If they don't, then his rider, JJ Haedo, might have a chance to win the stage and take the first leader's jersey.
The only non-starter of the day is RadioShack's Ben King. The former US champion crashed in a pre-race training ride and scraped up his hands so badly that he couldn't hold onto the handlebars.
Cyclingnews spoke to the team's DS Alain Gallopin, and he was very sorry that Ben isn't able to race.
"He did a lot of training for the race and he was ready to do a good result," Gallopin said. "He would have been a good guy to put in the breakaway.
"Starting with only seven riders means there is less you can do with strategy. But we have some good riders - we may not have the big favorite of the race, but we have several options."
The peloton is being controlled by Garmin-Sharp, who might want to put Tyler Farrar into the sprinter's jersey this week. It will be hard, Farrar said, to be at the front in today's finale.
"It's going to be a group sprinting for the win, but how big that group will be is the question," Farrar said. "This will be a stage for guys like Sagan or Philippe Gilbert."
Farrar also predicted that it would be a while before any breakaway could go clear today, and it looks like his prediction is coming true: the bunch is all together and hurtling out of town at top speed - 35mph!
We have three riders trying to slip off the front, despite the high pace. They'll be using up a lot of energy to do that at this speed, and in these temperatures. It's 93F outside the media car at the moment.
The Bissell team had to do a late substitution to its roster: Julian Kyer fell ill, and manager Omer Kem called up Michael Torckler to fill in. Kyer had a fever, and Kem said there's no way a rider could start a stage race like this feeling that way. The team needs guys who can go the whole way.
The leaders now have a 45 second advantage - it's Zak Dempster (NetApp), Marsh Cooper (Optum), James Stemper (5 Hour Energy) in the lead, with Carter Jones (Bissell) having bridged up.
The leaders are holding onto their gap for now, despite the chase from UnitedHealthcare. It's so hot outside - now 102 according to the car - that the officials opened up feeding from the cars early.
The gap for our four leaders has grown large enough that their team cars: Bissell, Optum, NetApp-Endura and 5 Hour Energy have been allowed to move forward into the gap.
The gap is now 3 minutes for our quartet up front, and that confirms the pre-race prediction by UHC's Jeff Louder, who said he thought today's race would be "formulaic" - ie. a break goes, the big teams keep it to a controllable distance then bring it back exactly when they want to.
The riders are currently making their way uphill on CA 78 toward Ramona, it's a long, gradual slog and they're doing it rather steadily. Only 11mph at the moment for the break, and they're still extending their lead to 4:10.
The area has a very wild west feel to it out here, with barren hills dotted with big, smooth boulders. If any of our readers is a geologist and can explain how those rocks got up on top of the hills, I've always wanted to know!
Comments? Questions? Photos to share? Hit us up on Twitter! Just use the hashtag #atoc2013.
Cyclingnews spoke to Nate English (5 Hour Energy) this morning, and he said he was happy to have all of the team's strongest guys together in the same race for the first time. He is also excited to race on his home turf - he comes from Los Angeles and lives in the Bay Area, and is very familiar with the climb up Mt. Diablo as a result.
The breakaway is only a few kilometers from the first sprint, and has a gap of five minutes.
And Carter Jones gets the sprint ahead of Stemper and Cooper. Dempster pulls up the rear.
A bit about our breakaways: Carter Jones, who now leads the sprint classification on the road, is 23 years old, and came up through the Jelly Belly and Trek-Livestrong teams before joining Bissell. He was the best young rider in the San Dimas Stage Race this year, and had a top 10 finish at the Tour of the Gila.
Marsh Cooper (Optum) is from British Columbia, and is 27. He started his career with the Symmetrics team and was a junior national champion of Canada, but he took some time away from bike racing before returning with the Optum team.
The leaders have a whopping 7:50 lead as they continue to climb out of Ramona. There isn't much shade out here in the ranch lands, and the temperatures are soaring into the 100s.
The road continues to gain elevation: over the next 15 miles they'll climb up to 3000 ft (900m or so) and then hit the Mesa Grande climb.
The breakaway is 40km into today's stage and has a whopping 9 minute advantage. I guess the peloton is preoccupied with staying hydrated and cool in the blistering heat.
James Stemper has transformed himself from a notable criterium rider into an important helper for his team leader. He rode a strong race at the Redlands Classic, taking second in the mountains classification.
While he and his three companions battle the heat and the undulating roads, there are two riders trying to get away from the field: it's Chad Beyer (Champion System) and Paco Mancebo (!) of 5 Hour Energy marking him. I don't expect that to be allowed to go anywhere, and it might help close down the now 10:50 gap.
As expected Mancebo's move with Beyer has been reabsorbed, and the gap has gone back out over 11 minutes now.
It appears the Vacansoleil-DCM team has decided to take responsibility for the chase. They've gone to the front but haven't made a dent in the gap. It's still at 11:10 at 50km into the stage.
Maybe the peloton can stop at Dudley's World Famous Bakery if they need some more energy to pull back that 11 minute gap. It's just up the road from them. Best pies in San Diego County, or so we're told.
We're told that former US 'cross world champion Tim Johnson was one of the top riders in the L'Etape du California yesterday - along with Wayne Stetina, who at age 59 recovered from hip surgery in February. It took them 5:30 to do today's stage route. We expect the pro peloton to be a shade quicker.
The peloton is really not willing to push too hard on such a hot opening stage, and as a result, they're averaging less than the 35kph slowest estimated speed for the stage (22mph).
Perhaps inspired by the thought of pie, the peloton is now being headed by Cannondale, who has whittled away one minute of the leaders' gap. They're heading through Santa Ysabel now, and BMC and Garmin are also contributing to the chase.
Just a few more kilometers and the leaders should be starting up the first KOM. There is a steep kicker at the start that brings them to the sprint line, but there isn't a good descent right after. It twists and turns across the mesa for about 10km before plunging down a steep, technical descent.
The break is seeing 5k to the first kom #atoc
@hunter_veloz Sun, 12th May 2013 20:59:59
The leaders now have 1km to the first KOM, and the gap is down below 10 minutes - 9:30, thanks largely to Cannondale and the other World Tour teams.
Carter Jones has attacked to go for the KOM, but Stemper is on his wheel.
Dempster came over the top of Jones to steal the points atop Mesa Grande, with Stemper and Cooper behind in that order.
The peloton is now strung out single file going up Mesa Grande, bringing down the gap to 8:40 with Cannondale working hard for Sagan.
BMC is also working up front in the peloton for Tejay van Garderen - the gap is consistently falling. Fortunately the temperature appears to be dropping a touch as well - it's only 90. "only".
The four breakaway riders have pulled the gap out to 8:45 thanks to the descent, but the peloton is about to go down it. This descent scared the pants off of me when I last rode it in 2004... I don't expect it's gotten any less dicey!
The four leaders are now making their way toward the base of Palomar Mountain, their gap is down to 8:30 and with the long, gradual ascent not far ahead, we expect the heat and effort to start to take their toll. Luckily there is only 1km to the feed zone for the breakaway so they can get some energy.
Here we go! The breakaway has made the turn onto East Grade road and is beginning the long haul up the slopes of Palomar Mountain!
The breakaway is climbing, and the peloton descending, flat out in pursuit. The gap is falling to 7:40 now, but as the peloton picks up lunch that might go back out a touch.
Jamis-Hagens Berman's Seba Alexandre said that he expects Palomar to cause splits in the peloton, but that the Cole Grade climb after it is where they'll have to really work. There are 36km to go after the top of the last climb, which could be enough to allow riders to chase back on.
Currently the gap is still hovering over 7 minutes, with 85km done for today. They're past the halfway point.
Although he was first across the Mesa Grande climb, Zak Dempster is struggling on the Palmoar climb and is behind the other three at the moment.
There is a gruppetto forming at the back, about four minutes behind the main peloton. The gap between the leaders and the peloton is still wavering around the seven minute mark.
Dempster has been well and truly left behind by the other three, Stemper, Cooper and Jones. The climb was a bit up and down but is now going steadily up toward the summit, which is still about 8km away.
Stemper is leading Jones and Cooper, and the trio are keeping the peloton at bay for the moment. Cannondale is leading the chase for Sagan, but it's no panic yet - there are still more than 5km to go before the top.
We've got a Saxo-Tinkoff rider on the front of the peloton now, the race going to script for Tour of California: the domestic teams doing what they can to show their jerseys to the television audience, while the WorldTour riders are forced to do the chasing.
Thor Hushovd (BMC) has been left behind by the peloton, or maybe was just going back to chat with the team car. There is no big effort coming from the bunch, as one NetApp rider has stopped to answer the call of nature, and the rest are 10 riders wide across the road.
Saxo-Tinkoff has faith in Mick Rogers, they've got several riders up front leading the chase, as the trio up front have 5km to the top of the climb. The descent will be very fast and twisty.
The "easy side" of Palomar isn't causing much problem for the peloton, which is still in a compact mass, not yet in full pursuit. The gap is going up a bit to 7:40.
While the peloton makes Palomar look easy, Cooper seems to be having a bit of a hard time at the back of the leading trio. The gradient gets slightly easier toward the top, but that is almost worse, when the stronger riders drop it into the big ring and start to hammer is when cramps can form.
1km to go for the leading trio.
Carter Jones leads the trio across the KOM line ahead of Cooper and Stemper, but there was no sprint, the trio are determined to stick together, and they will need to in order to stay away.
The three leaders are on the descent now and are bombing around the wide turns to stay ahead of the BMC train that is currently in charge of chasing them down.
Andy Schleck has decided that it's time to move up - he's up and out of the saddle trying to get to the front, maybe so he can have a good look at the descent. Only 1 km to the top for the peloton.
Official KOM results for Palomar: Carter Jones (BPC), James Stemper (5HR) and Marsh Cooper (OPM). The rest of the spots will be determined shortly.
With that KOM win, Carter Jones will be in the climber's jersey tonight. A UHC rider has taken the top spot from the peloton - Chris Jones perhaps?
The peloton is chasing after Lucas Euser (UHC) who was the rider who attacked the peloton at the top. BMC is in the lead of the chase.
Euser is showing his mad skills, having an energy bar - even unwrapping it, while heading down the twisty descent.
Dempster was still in the middle of the gap between the break and the field at the top, and took fourth on the KOM.
Official results: Jones, Stemper, Cooper, Dempster, Euser, Tyler Wren (JHB) and Laurent Didier (RLT)
Euser is going hell-bent for leather on this descent, getting in a tight aero tuck on his top tube. He can see Dempster up ahead and will catch him in a moment.
Euser passes Dempster like he's standing still, but the Aussie is carrying a jersey full of bottles to take back to his team, so he might be a bit off balance from the sloshing.
NetApp's Benedetti has had a flat tire, not a great time since the peloton is flat out on the descent. Let's hope he stayed upright when it went out.
The gap is now down to 6:25 to the leaders.
The chase is now on a flatter part of the descent and are reeling in Dempster and Euser. A slight uphill before the rest of the plunge.
Stemper, Cooper and Jones are doing everything they can to stay clear, getting into their tight aero tuck to maximize their speed on the descent. The climb up Cole Grade is still 15km away.
BMC is riding so hard they've pulled their team away from the rest of the peloton.
The breakaway has as of yet resisted the chase, they are nearing the turn onto Cole Grade road. They have 5:40 -will it be enough?
<p>The peloton fans out across the road as the various WorldTour teams figure out who will take up the chase of the break, which currently has a 5:45 advantage.</p>
2010 champion Michael Rogers (Saxo-Tinkoff) looks comfortable, rolling along in the peloton.
The break has begun to climb the day's final KOM, the Category 3-rated Cole Grade.
At the head of the race it looks like Marsh Cooper (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) has cracked.
Carter Jones and James Stemper ascend Cole Grade and hold a 5:20 lead over the peloton, which is slowing beginning to diminish in size.
The two breakaway riders have just passed the 1km to go marker for the KOM on Cole Grade
Carter Jones is across the KOM on Cole Grade in first place, followed by Stemper. That seals up the mountains jersey for the Bissell rider. Now 4:45 for the bunch which is being led by NetApp.
The OPQS team is having issues with the climb, Chavanel has been shelled, as has Tyler Farrar, and Timmy Duggan is also at the back as the gaps start to form.
Gilbert is also in difficulty, but there's plenty of time to chase back on after the top. Present at the front behind NetApp is one Andy Schleck, looking like he's enjoying the climb.
200m to go for the peloton and the bunch has been shattered byt he pace of NetApp. Lucas Euser attacks them to take third on the KOM.
The group of Sagan is now coming up to the KOM, and he has several teammates with him - his group may be able to rejoin over the top.
No worries for Sagan, his teammates pulled him back into the main peloton, which is still chasing two riders, as they absorb Marsh Cooper.
4:10 for Jones and Stemper, but that gap will be hard to maintain as all manner of riders are chasing through the team cars to rejoin the main bunch - Gilbert is the latest to make it through.
Now Cannondale has firm control at the front, they have three men to chase two, and 30km to do so.
20km to go and Omega Pharma are at the front bringing the gap down under the three minute mark. Stemper and Jones are still looking strong, taking even turns up front with 2:40 advantage.
Gilbert might have been tipped for today's stage before the race, but he's off the back now, trying to get back on as Cannondale's Koren goes backward after doing his job for the day.
There wa sa bit of an attack from Saxo-Tinkoff, which was followed easily by Andy Schleck - he may have gone on the record to count himself out of the GC, but he certainly looks on form.
Crash. The attack has been neutralized, but we've got Luis Amaran on the floor. He is sitting up but looks in pain.
Daniel here, taking over for the final 14km. BMC continue to set the pace on the front, trying to assert some control over the pace setting. This will play into Sagan's hands as the lead to the break is now down to 1'20.
It looked like the two man break had a chance 10 km ago but it's all changed and the leaders are really struggling. That attack from Rogers, formerly of Sky, now of Saxo Bank, really increased the pressure within the peloton.
The advantage is now under a minute for Jones and Stemper. 13km to go.
Sagan has put his team on the front but he himself smartly drifts back to the end of the group to see who is present. Farrar has apparently made contact after being dropped earlier.
Meersman is also in the main group, hence why QuickStep have moved to help Cannondale on the front of the peloton.
The two leaders have just 10km to race but the gap is down to 35 seconds.
It's a long sweeping downhill section and the bunch are lined out around the corners.
Mancebo is sitting third wheel in the bunch. He's been there for most of the last 20 km.
Onto the flat section with 8km to go and the bunch can see the leaders just ahead of them.
Stemper is about to take his last turn on the front. After that it'll be all over for the two leaders.
Meersman looks to have glued himself to Sagan's rear wheel.
An attack from Vacansoleil, just as the catch is made with 5km to go.
It's Westra who has attacked, and Sagan is just off the back of the bunch
Sagan has a mechanical and Mancebo is coming over to Westra.
The two riders have joined up together on the front of the race.
Westra and Manceho have a short gap here and they're working well together.
Sagan seems to have recovered and he's moving up the bunch.
Looked like a RadioShack rider just threw a punch there.
2km to go for the two leaders and they're pulling clear.
BMC have to chase for van Garderen because Mancebo is a GC threat. It's 9 seconds.
1km to go .
Still 9 seconds.
Mancebo opens the sprint.
Westra takes the win, Mancebo second and then Sagan leads the bunch home for third.
So Westra leads the race by four seconds ahead of Mancebo, Sagan in third.
Cannondale just couldn't hold the peloton together in the final 5km and Westra and Mancebo took advantage.
Thanks for joining us today. You can find our report and results, right here. Stay tuned tomorrow for more action from the Amgen Tour of California.