Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tour Update

Rinaldo Nocentini wins Pasadena stage 7 in a sprint with three, Hincapie, Schleck and Vandevelde. source

Rinaldo Nocentini of AG2R holds of Hayden Roulston (CTT) and Pieter Weening (RAB) in another photo finish to win stage 7 of the Amgen Tour of California. The day can be summed up by two expressions, "attack" and "counter attack." From start to finish an aggressive tempo was set by riders looking for a stage win.

Levi Leipheimer (AST) keeps the yellow jersey, but GC contenders George Hincapie (THR), Christian Vande Velde (GRM) and Frank Schlek (SAX) keep things interesting as the race enters stage 8 tomorrow as they took back a few minutes on Leipheimer's lead.

Stage one winner and King of the Mountain jersey wearer Francisco Mancebo (RR) had an unfortunate crash on the descent into Pasadena causing him to abandon the race. Jason McCartney (SAX) is now the new King of the mountain jersey wearer.

In arguably the most breathtaking stage of this year's tour, the riders set out on an 88.8 mile trek from Santa Clarita to Pasadena. A hilly and technical 25 mi gradual climb out of Santa Clarita was sure to get the blood pumping before the riders tackled the colossal Millcreek Summit (Cat 3, 4906 ft). A technical descent led into the final climb of the day (Angeles Crest), before the stage took a down hill turn into Pasadena. The stage concluded with five circuits around the Rose Bowl.

After winning yesterday's time trial, Levi Leiphemer began stage 7 as top man on GC. Leiphemer and team Astana had a tall task of trying to keep control of things early on. All the early commotion made it tough to keep an eye on the handful of GC contenders left in the race.

The stage set up nicely for the stage hunters as the early climbing provided an opportunity for separation from the main field. Realistically in the GC Astana had to keep their eyes on

It did not take long for the attacks to begin as Bernard Van Ulden of team Jelly Belly attacked at 0 km. Aggressive riding set the tone early as a floorie of attacks stung the peloton out early.

Oscar Sevilla (RRC) and Frank Schleck (SAX) pushed the pace on the first little descent of the day separating the peloton momentarily. They were followed by 15 riders, but 12 sec were all that were managed as the peloton stayed in tact. Separation from the front peloton was tough to come by for the attacks, unfortunately separation from the back seemed all too easy for tired legs as many riders failed to keep pace early.

Riders continued to ride aggressively as Rabobank rider Niermann Grischa and Trent Lowe of Garmin-Slipstream slipped off the front. Ben Jack-Maynes (BPC) and Tim Johnson were the first two to bridge the early gap but a handful of riders not wanting to be left out of the break chased them down before being reabsorbed by the peloton.

Over and hour of racing went by and riders from Garmin Slipstream, Rock Racing, Cervelo Test Team, and Saxo Bank continued to push the pace at the front of the peloton with attacks and counter attack. None of the attacks were maintained.

Familiar faces appeared near the front of the peloton in Jason McCartney (SAX) and Serge Pauwels (CTT) as the two attempted to separate from the group as they neared the first Herbalife Sprint. The sprint was won by Serge Pauwels pver Tyler Farrar and Michael Rogers.

Breaks of 10 riders, 11 riders and 8 riders continued attacks as they moved up the climb an hour and a half into the race. Team Astana continued to break up the attacks as Lance Armstrong (AST) chased down a break 31.5 mi into the race.

The pressure continued to be turned on as GC threats Frank Schleck +6'22" (SAX), George Hincapie +6'35" (THR), and Christian Vande Velde +7'13" (GRM) looked to cut into Leipheimer's lead as they joined in on a six man attack. The attack grew to seven as riders passed through the feed zone before the final push for the Millcreek Summit of. Others in the attack were Chris Baldwin (RRC), Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R), Pieter Weening (RAB), and Hayden Roulston (CTT).

The riders were greeted by a huge crowd as they approached the Millscreek KOM. Results: 1. Baldwin (RRC), 6 pts 2. Hayden Roulston, 5 pts 3. George Hincapie, 4 pts.

Astana continued to pull the peloton along over the top of the summit as the break looked to grew the lead to 2:55. Martin Elmiger (AG2R), Addy Engels (QST), and Marcus Zberg (BMC) joined in on the break away fun as the bridged the gap to the leaders at 48.3 mi.

Up over the Angeles Crest (55 mi) and the break began it's descent to Pasadena with at 3:40 lead on the peloton.

On the descent to Pasadena, Francisco Mancebo of Rock Racing, stage 1 winner and KOM jersey leader, went down hard and had to abandon the race. Jason McCartney is now the KOM leader on the road. Christian Vande Velde suffered a little misfortune as he caught a rear flat but was able to rejoin the break.

With the Rose Bowl in sight, the 10 man break entered the circuits with a 4:25 lead on the peloton. Massive crowds lined the streets to greet the riders.

Four laps to go in the circuit and the break (still working together) had a 3:35 lead.

Anxiety filled the break as early on in the second of five laps, Markus Zeberg (BMC) attacked the break. Without working together the gap fell to 3:28 and Astana continued to push hard on the front of the peloton.

Nocentini (AG2R) attacked next with Hincapie countering by jumping on his wheel. Zberg (BMC), Pauwels (CCT) and Frank Schleck (SAX) joined the two riders as the initial break split into two groups. Raston and Zberg.

On lap three of five the chase group regained the break to make it 10 strong once again. The gap back to the peloton was 3:30.

The break continued to jocky with two laps to go. Schleck (SAX) darted from the back of the break and took off. His effort looked like it might stick, but story of the day, he was brought back in.

Nocentini (AG2R), Weening (RAB) and Roulston (CTT) attacked next. Their attack broke out to 15 sec. Astana seemed content to allow the break to stay away as the gap held around 3:00. One km to go and it was on between the three.

Duking it out down the stretch each of the three tried to land the knock out punch, but in the end Rinaldo Nocentini of AG2R inched out Roulston for the victory at the line.

Provisonal Results Stage 7
1 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) Ag2r-La Mondiale
2 Hayden Roulston (Nzl) Cervelo TestTeam
3 Pieter Weening (Ned) Rabobank
4 Marcus Zberg (Swi) BMC Racing Team
5 Martin Elminger (Swi) Ag2r-La Mondiale
6 Chris Baldwin (USA) Rock Racing
7 George Hincapie (USA) Team Columbia-HighRoad
8 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank
9 Christian Vandevelde (USA) Garmin-Slipstream
10 Addy Engels (Ned) Quick Step

General classification is unchanged after today's stage. With Levi Leipheimer of Astana in the Golden Fleece followed by Dave Zabriskie (Garmin) and Michael Rogers (Columbia-HighRoad) in the top three spots.

Tomorrows final stage: Stage 8: Rancho Bernardo-Escondido, 155,8 km
The final stage from Rancho Bernardo to Escondido over 155,8 km is not a usual one with a sprinters festival, but the riders have to face another climbing stage. The question is can Leipheimer and Astana hold off the attacks of Garmin, CSC and Columbia for the overall win.

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Saturday, Feb. 21 – Pasadena (88.9 mi/143 km)
Start Time: Noon PT
Estimated Finish Time: 3:15-3:50 p.m. PT
Satellite Feed Time: 4:30-4:45 p.m. PT (7:30-7:45 p.m. ET)

The race from Santa Clarita to Pasadena proved to be a difficult one during the final stage of the 2008 Amgen Tour of California, and this year will be no different. The first 25 miles of Stage 7, sponsored by Herbalife, includes a gradual climb from Santa Clarita, through Acton, to the intersection of Angeles Forest Road. The route continues uphill, showcasing the beauty of the San Gabriel Mountains, to the second highest elevation ever reached by the Amgen Tour of California on the towering Millcreek Summit (4,906 ft.). Descending with a 15-mile run to Angeles Crest Highway, the route begins a fast plunge to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. After more than 65 miles from Santa Clarita to Pasadena, with the mountains and the Rose Bowl serving as the backdrop, the peloton will complete the stage with five, five-mile laps on a very demanding circuit through the area surrounding the Rose Bowl. This course will provide a challenging, action-packed day leading up to the finale on Sunday.

Levi Leipheimer moved closer to a third straight Tour of California title with a triumph in the sixth stage, a key 24km individual time trial. source

Leipheimer Pedals Furiously to Inch Closer to Title
Published: February 20, 2009

SOLVANG, Calif. — As Levi Leipheimer’s legs furiously churned several final revolutions Friday, he was too exhausted to lift his arms over his head as he crossed the finish line at the Tour of California time trial.

Instead, he raised three fingers on his right hand.

Leipheimer’s gesture might have signaled to the crowd lining Copenhagen Street that he had just won his third consecutive time trial here.

But to the rest of the field, Leipheimer’s three-fingered salute could be taken as a sign that, once again, there would be no catching the two-time defending champion.

The pack of riders that began Friday trailing Leipheimer by at least 24 seconds had hoped to use the 15-mile time trial through the verdant hills surrounding this central California town as an opportunity to reel him back in.

Instead, Leipheimer won the stage by eight seconds to build his lead to 36 seconds over David Zabriskie and 46 seconds over Michael Rogers, a three-time United States time-trial winner and a three-time world champion time-trial winner. Of the 15 riders who began the day within a minute of Leipheimer, the only ones who remain are Zabriskie, who rides for Garmin-Slipstream, and Rogers of Columbia-Highroad.

Now, any assault on Leipheimer over the tour’s final two days will have to be undertaken against the entire Astana team, which has Lance Armstrong among its stable of support riders to protect Leipheimer.

Asked what it would take to beat Leipheimer, Zabriskie took a moment to ponder the question.

“It would take a lot of screwing up on their part,” Zabriskie said. “With the experience they have and the depth of their team — they know what they’re doing.”

Zabriskie paused again, before adding with a grin, “It would take a huge screw-up.”

As Zabriskie spoke, Leipheimer sat to his right, smiling sheepishly. Leipheimer is feeling so comfortable on his bike that he rode it into the news conference.

The only time he seemed to squirm in his seat was when it was suggested that the tour is over. Saturday’s 120-mile stage includes a gradual 3,200-foot climb before descending into the Rose Bowl, followed by Sunday’s finale, which includes a 11.7 mile climb up the 5,123-foot Mount Palomar, replete with 21 switchbacks.

“There are two tough stages left and anything can happen,” Leipheimer said. “After today, people have less and less to lose, so they’re more willing to throw caution to the wind, so they’ll come at us with everything. It’s going to be really tough.”

One of those who will not be gambling is Armstrong.

Racing in his first time trial since returning from a two-year retirement, Armstrong had an outfit that included black socks to match his black bicycle. It was the same $10,000 bike that had been stolen after last Saturday’s prologue in Sacramento and that was recovered by the police on Wednesday.

Despite having his bicycle back, Armstrong finished 1 minute 16 seconds behind his teammate Leipheimer. But with his eyes trained on this summer’s Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, he was not disappointed.

“I haven’t done anything like that in a long time,” said Armstrong, who dropped to sixth from fourth and is 1:46 behind Leipheimer. “It was a new sensation. I went as hard as I could. I wanted to be in the top 10, top 15, so I’m pleased with the result. There’s no pressure on me. This race is about Levi.”

Of course, that is not exactly true of any race that involves Armstrong. The cheers and clanging cowbells that greeted riders along the course were more vigorous when Armstrong rode by.

The course began and finished in Solvang, traversing through the undulating hills and passing Shetland pony farms, fruit trees and wineries that were the backdrop for the movie “Sideways.”

Such a serene setting belies the task of time trials. There is none of the relaxed riding that inevitably occurs in other stages, when riders might joke and chat during flat stretches. There are no breaks from the peloton.

“There’s no external motivation,” said Jonathan Vaughters, the director of Slipstream Sports and a former United States time-trial champion. “Nobody’s going to take off from the pack and dangle a carrot in front of you. In a time trial, all the motivation has to come internally. It’s all on you.”

The idea, he said, is to ride at such a steady, strong pace that 80 meters from the finish line, you are completely spent.

In that case, Leipheimer could not have ridden a better race. When he crossed the finish line late Friday afternoon, he only needed the strength to lift three fingers.

1 min Video Clip: Levi Leipheimer swoops in to win Stage 6


2009 Tour of California Set to Make a Big Finish
Reported by: Antonio Castelan
Last Update: 1:13 am

The final stage of the 2009 Tour of California begins in Rancho Bernardo and will wind its way to the finish-line in Escondido on Sunday. Businesses all along the bike route are getting ready for the race, which is projected to bring as much as $100-million to local merchants.
Workers at Vinz Wine Bar in downtown Escondido can't wait. Typically closed on Sundays, the bar will be open for business this weekend - and ready for the crowds.

She said, "We are just going to be crazy busy all day," said Tiffany Paster, who works at Vinz. "I hope the business stays, because our economy now is so low. I think this is a real good thing for our city."

The welcome signs are popping up all over. Nicole Madison from Escondido is beginning to scope out a spot to see the race. She tells San Diego 6 News, "It's a big thing for Escondido. It's great. I have two kids and they are excited."

Routes along San Pasqual Valley Road and El Norte Parkway will be shut down for the race, but that doesn't bother Escondido city leaders.

Escondido City Councilman Sam Abed said, "The entire city is excited about this event...and we are looking forward for Sunday. It's going to put our city on the international map."

The appearance of Lance Armstrong is enough to draw thousands, and Palomar Mountain is supposed to be one of the most exciting sections of the race.

"Palomar Mountain is an incredible challenge, because it has 21 switchbacks," explained Cami Mattson, the CEO of the North San Diego Visitors Bureau. "It is very comparable to the Alp Huez in France. There is a seven percent grade."

The 96.8 mile race is going to end right on Grand Avenue in Escondido. More than 40,000 people are expected to jam the streets, and that means parking is going to be rough. Mattson advises spectators to come early.

The racers are expected to start hitting the finish line at around 3:30 on Sunday. There will be designated parking lots for spectators to park their car and take a shuttle.

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