Tour of California: Westra foils the bunch sprint with stage one attack
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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Tour of California: Westra foils the bunch sprint with stage one attack

by Kyle Moore at 7:11 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Race Reports and Results, Tour of California
 
Tops Mancebo and the sprinters in Escondido

Tour of CaliforniaAn unconventional opening stage got proceedings underway in the Amgen Tour of California on Sunday evening, and Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) got a much-needed win for his squad in an unconventional manner. Westra dashed away with five kilometres remaining in a hot and hilly stage one, and got help from Francisco Mancebo (5-Hour Energy) to hold off a disorganized chase from the sprinters’ teams.

Westra easily dispatched Mancebo on the final straight, and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) led the sprinters home ahead of Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). The Sagan and Meersman battle was expected to decide the stage win, but it instead decided the final step on the stage podium, as Westra flashed his sponsors and pumped both fists ahead of them over the finish line.

Zak Dempster (NetApp-Endura), Marsh Cooper (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies), James Stemper (5-Hour Energy), and Carter Jones (Bissell) featured as the primary breakaway for most of the day, and Stemper and Jones looked for a while as if they would hold off the chase and decide the win amongst themselves. But the peloton got things together and reeled them in, and just as the catch happened on a dual carriageway, Westra sprinted away. Mancebo emerged and chased down the Dutch time trial ace, and they were surprisingly able to stay ahead of a charging but disorganized main bunch.

“With the temperature, it was really hard,” Westra admitted in regards to the heat of the day. “On the last climb, I really felt it in my legs, and I was dropped. But I came back, and in the last 10km I saw a lot of teams were not complete so I went for it. It was perfect that there was a rider there [Mancebo] to go with me, and he was very strong. It was perfect. It is very good for me and for the team that we won, and we have the yellow jersey.”

The heat is on high as the Tour of California gets underway:

With temperature gauges reading nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit, almost 40 degrees Celsius, much of the day was a battle to survive a scorching and hilly opening stage. Three categorized climbs welcomed riders to the Golden State, but a large portion of the stage, including most of the first 100 kilometres, were raced uphill. Dempster, Cooper, and Stemper formed a breakaway after 12km were gone, and Jones bridged up to them, in what would be a fruitful move by the Bissel rider. The peloton was quick to shut off and start downing fluids, and after 25km, the quartet had 3 minutes of advantage.

Jones nailed the only intermediate sprint point after 32 kilometres, and as the course continued steadily uphill, the breakaway continued to add to its advantage. Their gap exploded to nine minutes after 40km, before Mancebo and Chad Beyer (Champion System) were denied an opportunity to form a chase of their own. The first hour of racing was slower than the slowest projected time, as the pace was under 35kph. The peloton finally heated up over the first climb of the day, Mesa Grande, and brought their deficit down to 9’30”. Jones attacked for the points, but Dempster came around him at the line. Behind, Cannondale was now doing most of the work, hoping Sagan could add to his Tour of California record eight stage wins.

With 86km left to race, the breakaway swung into the start of Palomar Mountain, the summit of which was highest point of the week-long race, a 16km climb averaging just under five percent in gradient. Dempster was the first to fall out of the break, more than halfway up the climb, and the main bunch continued to chip away at their advantage. It was down to seven minutes as Jones hit the summit uncontested, and BMC worked the front of the peloton alone.

As the main bunch hit the summit, 6’35” in arrears, Lucas Euser (UnitedHealthcare) won the sprint for the line ahead of Tyler Wren (Jamis-Hagens Berman), and Euser kept the pressure up on the long and winding descent. The American eventually caught Dempster on the downhill, but both were soon back in the peloton, leaving a lonely trio up the road. With 40km to go and the descent finished, the main bunch called time out to rehydrate under the scorching sun, and the ever-reliable Bert Grabsch (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) took a pull on the front for Meersman.

On the day’s final ascent, the category-three Cole Grade, Cooper faded almost right away out of the breakaway, and it was Jones who led over the top again, securing the mountains jersey for the next day. With 36km to go, the duo had 4’45” on the peloton.

Some top European names were suffering in the heat on the steep but short Cole Grade climb, including Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). NetApp-Endura stepped on the gas and put the pain to many, including Chavanel, Sagan, world champ Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing), American champion Timmy Duggan (Saxo-Tinkoff), and Jens Voigt (Radioshack-Leopard). Meanwhile, Voigt’s team-mate Andy Schleck was looking smooth and strong at third wheel, behind NetApp-Endura captain Leopold Konig.

Over the top of the climb, Sagan quickly received two Cannondale lieutenants to pace him back, a job that was accomplished relatively quickly. Cooper was back in the peloton just as Sagan was brought up from behind, but the peloton would be faced with a difficult battle, as Stemper and Jones were still driving up front, with 3’50” in hand and just 26km to go.

With Sagan in touch, Cannondale wasted no time in getting back on the front, and though the gap still held for another seven kilometres, it began to seriously tumble with 19km left. Omega Pharma-Quick Step pitched in and the deficit was less than two minutes, when former race champion Michael Rogers (Saxo-Tinkoff) kicked off a series of accelerations. Schleck was aggressive, as was Konig. Behind, Luis Romero (Jamis-Hagens Berman) was laid out by a high-speed crash, and the series of accelerations had done serious damage to the breakaway. With 13km to go, they were under a minute up the road and struggling to hold their pace. Sagan lost one team-mate when Brian Vandborg cramped up, but Ted King took over and held the pace high.

Jones would earn the KOM jersey and Stemper got the most courageous prize, but both were unceremoniously caught with 5km to go, and Westra lit out in what seemed to be a brave, if relatively unthreatening flier. But the Dutchman quickly built a gap, which Mancebo bridged, and the two riders were sharing the pacing with four kilometres left.

Their lead was never more than ten seconds, but the two-kilometre banner, and then the one-kilometre kite passed by with the duo still holding fast out front. In the main bunch, riders fanned out across the wide road, either unable or unwilling to pull back Westra and Mancebo.

The duo negotiated the final left-hand bend with enough room to decide the victory, and it was Westra who was unquestionably stronger. Vacansoleil-DCM got the stage win and yellow jersey in its first ever Tour of California stage, an invitation it took seriously.

The viewing public can expect to see Juan Antonio Flecha, Thomas De Gendt, Tomaz Marczynski, Kris Boeckmans, and Bertjan Lindeman amongst the leaders of the peloton on Monday, with 200 kilometres from Murrieta to a hilltop finish in Palm Springs on the menu.

Amgen Tour of California Stage One - Escondido Loop (166km) Brief Results:

1. Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM)
2, Francisco Mancebo (5-Hour Energy)
3, Peter Sagan (Cannondale)
4, Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)
5, Jasper Stuyven (Bontrager Cycling Team)
6, Jacob Rathe (Garmin-Sharp)
7, Alex Candelario (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies)
8, Mitchell Docker (Orica-GreenEdge)
9, Jeremy Vennell (Bissel)
10, Tanner Putt (Bontrager Cycling Team)

 

General Classification after stage one:

1. Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM)
2, Francisco Mancebo (5-Hour Energy) at 4"
3, Peter Sagan (Cannondale) at 12"
4, Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) at 16"
5, Jasper Stuyven (Bontrager Cycling Team)
6, Jacob Rathe (Garmin-Sharp)
7, Alex Candelario (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies)
8, Mitchell Docker (Orica-GreenEdge)
9, Jeremy Vennell (Bissel)
10, Tanner Putt (Bontrager Cycling Team)

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