Last chance for sprinters at Amgen Tour of California

The Amgen Tour of California concludes on Sunday with a circuit finish in Thousand Oaks. The mountains are over for this year, and the final day is for the sprinters. Team Sky won two stages with Ben Swift and Greg Henderson, while Liquigas-Cannondale took the third sprinters’ stage in Paso Robles with Peter Sagan. Sagan also currently leads the points classification. Several teams have missed out, and now just one chance remains for the sprinters.

One rider who has missed out in this year’s sprints is Juan José Haedo of Saxo Bank. In the past, Haedo has found success at the Amgen Tour of California with five stage victories to his credit.

This year, he has yet to stand on the highest step of the podium. “It’s been all right, some good days and some really hard days,” Haedo said before Saturday’s massive climbing stage. “I think today’s probably the toughest day of the whole week, especially for guys who are not climbers. We go straight up into the hills.”

In the shortened opening stage from Nevada City to Sacramento, Haedo managed fifth on the fast, wet circuit. The sprint went better for him in Modesto, where he finished second behind a flying Greg Henderson of Team Sky. Henderson intended to lead out stage 1 winner Ben Swift, but Swift lost the wheel, and Henderson won for himself instead.

Then, Haedo suffered badly on the long stage from Seaside to Paso Robles, and did not make the sprint. “I was having a rough day, and I just had to give up. In the last 5 kilometers, there was a crash and I wasn’t able to come back,” he explained. He is looking forward to one last chance in Thousand Oaks.

Förster chasing first win

Over at UnitedHealthcare, Robert Förster has also yet to win a stage in this year’s race. “The first day, the body was not ready for racing, because the first day was cancelled and also the snow and the altitude. The legs were very bad on the first day,” he said of the stage finish in Sacramento. Förster finished well down in the standings in thirteenth.

“The second day was much better, but the crashes. I had a good position, but I think Henderson had too big of a gap after the last corner,” he explained. Still, Förster finished higher than the previous day with a seventh.

Though he had help over the climbs from Charly Wegelius during the rolling stage from Seaside to Paso Robles, Förster met with bad luck in the finale and came home empty-handed. “With five kilometers to go, there was a little crash with two BMC riders, and I had to brake, and I stood there for like not more than two seconds, but it was already too late,” Förster recounted. It was a frustrating day for the UnitedHealthcare sprinter. “I fight all the time for the sprint, and then, to lose it in the last five kilometers was not the best, it was frustrating.”

Förster was uncertain about his chances for Sunday’s sprint. The team began Saturday’s queen stage with Rory Sutherland in third position in the general classification. Sutherland’s placing meant that it was all hands on deck for the team. Even the sprinters would need to share in the work of protecting Sutherland for as long as possible.

“We’ll try to work for him, maybe only in the first 5 kilometers, but we try it,” he said, laughing at his chances of staying with the field on the hilly stage to Mount Baldy. “Today we cannot save the power for tomorrow, because we have to stay in the race,” Förster explained. Sutherland hung with the top riders until close to the finish, but slipped to seventh in the general classification by the end of the day. “Tomorrow is another race,” said Förster. “If it’s a sprint, it’s a sprint, and I hope I have good legs.”

Howard to lead HTC-Highroad charge

Over at HTC-Highroad, Matthew Goss and Leigh Howard have shared sprinting duties. Goss got caught up in a crash in Modesto, and did not make the finish. Howard, meanwhile, finished second behind a flying Peter Sagan in Paso Robles.

Who is the designated sprinter for Sunday’s stage? HTC-Highroad sports director Allan Peiper said before Saturday’s stage, “We're going to ride for Leigh [Howard] tomorrow. He already showed in Paso Robles that even without a lead-out he's capable of contesting the stage win. With a little more help he has a good chance of pulling off the stage.”

World Champion Thor Hushovd of Garmin-Cervélo finished third in Modesto, but has since left the race. Three-time World Champion Oscar Freire (Rabobank), meanwhile, has not really figured in the sprints. Freire was last seen riding in a breakaway on the road to Paso Robles with Stefan Denifl. Denifl crashed, and Freire was eventually caught by the field.

One of the sprint surprises of this year’s Amgen Tour of California is Kevin Lacombe of SpiderTech-C10. Lacombe finished fourth in the sprint in Sacramento after he jumped early. “At the end, I tried to do my best, but in the last 50 meters, I got passed by three guys,” he said of his finish. “We still have a lot of stages to do, so we will try the same again, and maybe it will work,” he commented.

Now that this year’s Amgen Tour of California has come down to its final stage, a closely-fought finish awaits in Thousand Oaks.


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