By Kirsten Robbins in Savannah, Georgia
Team Toyota-United Pro Cycling proved to be the unbeatable team in the Tour de Georgia's opening stage, after leading its Cuban sprinter Ivan Dominguez into victory. The team seized the early lead in both the overall and the sprint classifications against the 14 other invited domestic and ProTour teams.
Dominguez had not anticipated the early stage win, nor the race lead due to a serious knee injury that effected his early season and lead him to abandon February's Tour of California.
"A lot of guys, other sprinters, told me yesterday that this was a good stage for me because it is short and the way I like usually it - I was thinking, yeah right," he said. "But, I guess it was a good one.
"It's hard for me to say whether I'm going to win a race or not and I was very surprised when I won now because I'm not feeling 100 percent," added Dominguez, who claimed 15 victories last year. "I've been up and down this season with a knee injury that started before the Tour of California and so this is great for the team and our motivation."
Dominguez felt the aggression coming from teams Gerolsteiner and High Road, who were all vying for a top position before the technical finale. But the rider's team didn't crack, instead executing a terrifically timed lead out at the 200 metres remaining mark.
"It was a little dangerous but I felt safe for the most part and the positioning really depended on who had the strongest lead out and which team made the right move at the right time," said Dominguez, who was led into the final kilometre by team-mates Henk Vogels and Dominique Rollin.
According to Toyota-United team director Len Pettyjohn, the team will start Stage 2 prepared to defend the overall leaders jersey and team standing. "This is the first time we have had the whole team together and healthy - I'm really happy with the guys performance," said Pettyjohn. "Honestly, I came into this race expecting to win here and expecting what we saw today. We will defend this."
In order to achieve that the squad will need to shake off some bad luck its experienced in the major American tours. At last year's Tour of Missouri, Toyota-United was unable to defend its lead after winning the opening stage due to multiple injuries and illness.
While Pettyjohn may be convinced a defending strategy is the right approach, his marquee rider Dominguez is not. "One of the things about the Tour of Missouri last year was that some people got mad and I had to explain that I'm not a GC guy, I'm a sprinter," said Dominguez, regarding the team's loss of the general classification lead at last year's Tour of Missouri. "My time trial was one of the last guys and there was no point in defending the jersey, just to go for stages victories. I don't want to make all my guys work all day tomorrow and the next few days or they are going to be dead, so we will see."
Dominguez has a track record for winning field sprints in large city settings like today's downtown Savannah stage. The soon-to-be father had landed 15 race victories in 2007 to include stages in the Tour of California, Tour de Georgia, Tour of Missouri and Las Vegas criterium.
"I do well in the larger cities," said Dominguez. "Someone came up to me after I won Las Vegas last year and said, 'you know, you don't win much, but when you do win you make sure everyone is watching'. These are great races so something I have inside of me likes this style but when you have a team like mine it makes my job a lot easier."