5/13/2012 12:00:00 AM - TEAM NEWS!
Tour of California: Peter Sagan wins in Santa Rosa
Sagan wins stage and takes race lead
Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) pulled out a thrilling performance to win the opening stage of the Amgen Tour of California. The 22-year-old had to recover from a puncture inside the final 10 kilometres as well as avoid a crash with 3 kilometres to go, before beating Heinrich Haussler and Freddie Rodriguez into second and third.
"Daniel Oss did a really great lead-out and I'm really happy to win the stage," Sagan said.
"It was a really confusing sprint because it was a small field. With 10km to go I flatted, but I knew there was time to get back in. Thanks to the work of my teammates I didn't panic, and we were able to get back on easily. With 3km to go one of my teammates Ted King crashed, and I hope he's okay, but thanks to Daniel Oss, he piloted me to the finish and I was able to win."
While seemingly in good form, today's stage winner admitted that it will be an uphill task to hold on to the overall lead.
"It is going to be very hard to hold onto the yellow jersey," Sagan admitted. "I'm okay on the smaller climbs, but it's only going to get harder and harder as the week goes on."
Haussler (Garmin-Barracuda) now sits second overall with the same time as Sagan. Rodriguez (Team Exergy) finished third but is fourth on GC behind United Healthcare's Jeff Louder, who spent much of the day in a breakaway and gobbled up enough time bonuses to move into the third spot overall, also with the same time as the leader. Rodriguez is fourth overall, six seconds back.
The riders wasted little time attacking on the first stage, with a breakaway of eight forming within the first few kilometres past the neutral start. AG2R's Maxime Boulet jumped away from the bunch immediately and was quickly joined by Jeff Louder (UnitedHealthcare), David Boily (Spidertech-C10), Andrew Dahlheim (Bissell), Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell), Sebastian Salas (Optum pro Cycling-Kelly Benefit Strategies), Josh Atkins (Bontrager-Livestrong) and Sam Johnson (Team Exergy).
Johnson said the French rider was nailing the pace at the front, and the rest of the riders in the break were happy to let him set the early pace. The field also seemed happy to let the breakaway ride away early, and the gap ballooned almost immediately to five minutes, then nine minutes before finally topping out at more than 11.
"We were all thinking, you know, the stage could be ours," Johnson said. "When you have that much time and you're over halfway through the stage at that point, gosh it was pretty exciting."
With their gap growing into two digits, the eight riders in the breakaway cooperated well, drilling it up the Kings Ridge climb, where David Boily grabbed maximum points on the two King of the Mountain sprints up for grabs on the ascent. The young Canadian, who finished second at the Tour d' Lavenir in 2011, earned the KOM jersey for his efforts, but paid the price in the finale.
"It was a long day in the saddle, but it feels good to be in the jersey. It's very important for the team and it's a big step," Boily said. "I had to work really hard, the rider from Optum [Salas] was very strong. I definitely had to go very hard to beat him on the line. I spent a lot of energy today, and I finished the stage at the very back. I will put all of my effort into the KOM jersey since my overall chances are pretty much done. "
The pace before the the second KOM was too much for Dahlheim, who dropped out of the group but soldiered on in no-man's land until the bunch turned up the last the one-lane climb of Coleman Valley Road.
By then RadioShack-Nissan squad of defending champion Chris Horner came to the front to coax some of the other WorldTour teams to pick up the chase. The gambit worked as the gap shrunk to just 5:20 by the time they hit the bottom of Coleman Valley. The gap continued coming down rapidly, and Boulet, Louder and Jacques-Maynes, who earned the jersey for most aggressive rider, set out on their own.
"The whole goal is to go out and wave the Bissell flag," he said. "We have our home base up here. Getting the most aggressive rider jersey – I'll take it."
But the shattered breakaway was doomed when Rabobank sent its riders to the front, hoping to bring things back together for sprinter
Michael Matthews. "In the finale it was mostly team Rabobank from the last climb on," said team director Koos Moerenhout. "It didn't work out for us in the sprint, but I think it shows how strong we are."
The Dutch team's effort paid off when a group of about 70 riders came back together with less than 20 kilometres remaining. The sprinters' teams moved to the front to pick up the pace and discourage attacking, and a sprint in Santa Rosa looked inevitable.
A the crash on the right-hand side of the road with about three kilometres to go took out Matthews and and three of the four Bissell
riders who were still in the front group. The sprint trains for Liquigas and Garmin avoided the crash and launched Sagan into first
and Haussler into second.
Haussler said he had a hard day, but he was happy with his second place finish.
"It's always a bit up in the air about how my form is after altitude," Haussler said. "And I'm just coming off a big altitude block. So second today shows my form is there, and that's a good sign. We're very motivated here in California, and we'll keep looking for
Rodriguez was right there in a tight battle for third.
"It was chaotic," Rodriguez said of the sprint. "Boonen and myself and a couple sprinters came off on Coleman Valley and we had to chase and came on in the last 10-12km. I think Sagan flatted at the same time, so Rabobank were trying to take control. But then they crashed, and then next thing you know the swarm came on the left and then Boonen flatted. I went around him and got on Sagan's wheel and I jumped a little too early. My legs were tired from chasing back on, so I just
didn't have it today, but it's nice to get back to this level of racing again."
The race continues Monday with a 188.5 km stage from San Francisco to Santa Cruz County.
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