The Amgen Tour of California Crystal Ball Gazing
The Amgen Tour of California wraps up and what does it predict for the Tour de France 2012?
Like I mentioned in last week's column, cycling fans' attention has been divided between the Giro d'Italia and the Amgen Tour of California. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) took the well-deserved overall win in California and Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) won an amazing five stages and a second place on the Big Bear stage. This edition was billed as the toughest in its seven year history and gives us pundits a chance to do some crystal ball gazing.
As expected the overall winner was going to come from the penultimate Mount Baldy stage. Gesink attacked and only Garmin-Barracuda's Tommy Danielson was able to follow. Later Danielson told me that he'd cramped in those last five kilometers, but regardless Gesink was on fire. He outsprinted Colombian Jhon Atapuma for the stage win and the golden leader's jersey.
Last September in an accident while training the Dutchman broke his leg in four places. This can be a career ender, or at the least an incident that a rider never fully recovers from. The now retired Robbie McEwen broke his leg, and while he returned to the professional peloton, never won a grand tour stage again. Thankfully this doesn't seem to be the case with Gesink.
"In January I still had to learn how to walk. Now I'm back," said Gesink.
For the Tour de France, Gesink needs to be on the long list of favorites. Yeah, I'm not getting carried away and predicting a Dutch win, but a top five seems like a strong possibility. He finished third in the Bakersfield time trial under hot conditions. The stage was one that favored a power rider (no surprise that David Zabriskie won the day followed closely by Jens Voigt in second place). The course wasn't technical and instead rolled up and down. The riders were hitting over 30 miles per hour going out due to a tailwind, and it became a headwind on the return leg. Gesink showed that the strength has returned.
Chris Horner of RadioShack-Nissan was also a pre-race favorite, but a poor time trial killed that chance. However, I have to give Horner major props for going on an "all or nothing" attack on the Baldy stage - that was gutsy! It showed he wasn't satisfied with finishing top 10. He wanted the win or why bother? When the peloton crossed the finish line in downtown Los Angeles the defending champion finished eighth on the final general classification, 2:49 behind Gesink. What happened to the five-star favorite?
To put it mildly, team RadioShack-Nissan hasn't gelled together like they had hoped. Someone close to the organization said that basically they are a first year team all over again, which is code for, "the riders are still getting used to the new boss."
Speaking of the new boss, Johan Bruyneel flew from London to California for apparently only a few days and then returned. That's odd as it is a long way to fly for such a short stay. The rumor was he was subpoenaed on his arrival to the States, spoke to whomever he had to, and jumped on the first jet out of LAX for Europe. I guess the threat of losing Tour de France titles might drive a person to get out of town ASAP.
Perhaps this drama, combined with what Horner himself described as a bad day, killed his dreams of repeating in California. I'm not sure this ruins his chances of a good 2012 Tour de France result, and I still think he has a top 10 overall in those 40 year old legs. To make that happen RadioShack-Nissan needs to make some adjustments. Frank Schleck dropped out of the Giro and that made Bruyneel grumpy stating in the press that the final Tour roster wasn't set - a not so subtle way of telling Schleck that he needs to get his act together.
I'm going to deviate from my Tour of California crystal ball gazing to state I no longer think a Schleck will win this year's Tour de France. Also, I expect by the Tour to hear numerous rumors that several members of the squad are jumping ship to a stable team. Let me throw this out there - Jens Voigt transfers to Garmin-Barracuda in 2013. He has a huge fan base here in the States and is a proven worker/leader. I say Vaughters needs to dig deep in the team coffers and makes this happen.
David Zabriskie has finished in second place, four times at the Amgen Tour of California. With 100 kilometers of time trialing in the Tour, Zabriskie will undoubtedly be a member of the Garmin-Barracuda Tour squad. Expect Dave to place well or even win in one of those races of truth. The US is holding their national championships this upcoming weekend, so let's see if the reigning time trial national champion can hold onto that jersey.
In third place in the final Amgen Tour of California classification is Zabriskie's teammate Tom Danielson. After taking some time off from racing, the Colorado resident was using California as a barometer to gauge his form. His time trial was okay - finishing in 9th place, 1:07 behind Zabriskie. However, he was able to respond to a super strong Gesink, only faltering in the final kilometers as he started to cramp under the hot Southern California sun.
Having heard that he's pulling down some of his best watts in training, I'm thinking this is the year Danielson moves up the Tour G.C. due to his new found confidence. According to Tom, this confidence is due to a lens from Staar Surgical that is implanted behind his iris, improving his vision - something critical on a winding decent or determining how close to a rear wheel he might be drafting. Tommy D is also heading to Greenville, South Carolina for the national championships - let's see how he bounces back after an eight day stage race.
Levi Leipheimer had circled this race on his calendar. Unfortunately he was hit by a car while out training, fracturing his leg. The recovery was not as quick as he had liked and it was only a couple of days before the Tour of California rolled out that he decided to suit up. While he was never a factor, he did finish and hopefully this is a blessing in disguise. He won't come into the Tour de France overly raced and perhaps with fresher legs than the other favorites.
I would be remiss to not mention the retirement of Team GreenEdge's Robbie McEwen. The Australian hung up his bike at the conclusion of the Tour of California, taking a managerial position on his team. His palmarès alone would be an article of considerable length, but let me give you a few highlights: 12 Tour de France stage wins, three points jerseys (Tour de France), 12 Giro d'Italia stage wins and not to mention the numerous wins at the Tour Down Under. This sprinter will be sorely missed.
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