5/14/2013 12:00:00 AM - TEAM NEWS!

Tour of California: Westra wins in Escondido

May 12, Stage 1: Escondido 165.1km

Mancebo second as duo stays clear of the bunch

Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) has won the opening stage of the Amgen Tour of California, outsmarting Franciso Mancebo (5-Hour Energy p/b Kenda) in a two-up sprint in Escondido.

Peter Sagan (Cannondale) led home the chase bunch six seconds in arrears of Westra, having recovered from a rear derailleur issue with around five kilometers left to race.

It's the first time that Vacansoleil-DCM has attended the U.S. race and just the second win of the season for the team, following Thomas De Gendt's win at the Volta a Catalunya in March.

"I was actually dropped on the last climb, the legs were not so good. But I came back and saw a lot of teams with only one or two riders. I said why not, I'll attack. I was lucky to have Mancebo with me, he was really strong. In last kilometer, I played it hard, but you will win when you play it hard," said Westra following his win.

"It’s very good for me and also the team, Vacansoleil-DCM, that we won and we have the yellow jersey."

Westra attacked around five kilometres ahead of the finish, with the remnants of the day's break - Carter Jones (Bissell), James Stemper (5-hour Energy-Kenda) - caught on the wide open roads following a long, hard chase in the heat. Mancebo took off in pursuit and the pair had clear air with BMC leading the peloton.

The Spaniard took the lead rounding the 90-degree left-hand bend with 300 metres to go, but Westra ducked around Mancebo and cruised in for victory.

"I worked more than him, but he was still faster than me anyhow," Mancebo told Cyclingnews. "I'm happy to stay on the podium and to not lose time for tomorrow. Tomorrow is an important day for GC and we will try again. Three seconds is nothing but it's better to be in the front than behind."

For Sagan, the third place finish on the stage was not so much a disappointment, but a relief in a stage that was a big shock to the system after a three-week break from racing.

"I am not used to the heat, because in Europe it was much colder," Sagan told Cyclingnews. "I had cramps at the end, but I don't know. I was tired, but I sprinted through the cramps."

Sagan polished off the work of his Cannondale team, which took the majority of the responsibility for closing down the more than 11-minute lead that four riders accumulated during the stage, and expressed a little frustration that more teams didn't pitch in earlier.

"Every rider is thinking how to beat me. My team did very good work today from the start. It was a very hot, hard stage, and in the finish the team only had a few riders left on the front. The other teams didn't want to pull with us, but finally Vacansoleil put in a few riders in, and then they won."

How it unfolded:

The opening stage to the 2013 Amgen Tour of California, with the mile-high climb of Palomar Mountain, might have been more decisive for the general classification favorites had it not been for the intense heat that descended upon Southern California for the stage.

With temperatures soaring over 100 degrees, the peloton was content to let the stage go to the usual formula we've seen over the eight years of the Tour - the domestic Continental teams form a breakaway, fight it out for the sprint and climber's points, and then get reeled in by the WorldTour teams for the finale.

It seemed as if the break might have to wait until after the first sprint at 31km into the stage, but James Stemper (5 Hour Energy), Zak Dempster (NetApp-Endura) and Marsh Cooper (Optum) had other ideas. Once they were joined by Carter Jones (Bissell), the formula was complete, and the peloton allowed the break to gain over 10 minutes over the course of the next 70km.

Jones took the first sprint, and the quartet worked well together across the barren landscape on the way to Palomar. The first climb on Mesa Grande went to Dempster, and finally, with 75km under their belt, the peloton finally awoke and started whittling into the gap.

By the time the leaders started up Palomar, the gap had fallen to 8:30, and it held steady over the course of the 10-mile, 4.5% grade ascent. Dempster was the first to lose contact, but he managed to stay ahead of the peloton until the better part of the descent was over before he was caught.

BMC, Cannondale, Saxo-Tinkoff and Vacansoleil all contributed to reducing the gap to the leaders on Cole Grade, where the breakaway lost Marsh Cooper and the peloton briefly shattered.

After the top, Sagan was dropped but not for long, as his Cannondale team pulled him back into the bunch not long after. The pace was such that many riders were able to rejoin, even as first NetApp, then Sagan's team and finally the Omega Pharma-Quick-Step squad of Gianni Meersman contributed to bringing the gap down under three minutes with 20km to race.

An attack from Michael Rogers (Saxo-Tinkoff) seemed to spark new life into the peloton with 17km to go, as RadioShack was quick to mark the move with Andy Schleck, who was looking more like his old self than in a long time.

That move was countered by UnitedHealthcare's Marc de Maar, but that too was brought back and BMC did the work to close down the remaining seconds of the leading duo, finally bringing them into the fold with 5km to race.

That catch was quickly countered by Westra, and only Mancebo was fast enough to respond. The pair only built up a 10 second lead, but with Sagan cramping, other teams lacking numbers and BMC only concerned with keeping van Garderen in the front, the impetus was just not there to bring them back.

Photo credit © Jonathan Devich

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