Tour of California: Crucial time trial looming after queen stage didn't decide race
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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tour of California: Crucial time trial looming after queen stage didn't decide race

by Bjorn Haake at 9:04 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour of California
 
Three-time world time trial champion looks for overall win

Michael RogersThe time trial around the Staples Center in Los Angeles will decide this year's Tour of California, after the favorites stayed together in the queen stage up to Big Bear Lake. Three of the strongest time trialers in the peloton - Michael Rogers, David Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer - are within 14 seconds of grabbing glory.

Despite the more than 12,000 feet of climbing in yesterday's run up to Big Bear Lake, the finish was flat and there was a sprint of a select 21-rider group in the end, won by Peter Sagan.

In his typical humor, Zabriskie called some of the finishing circuits on the flatter stages steeper than the Big Bear ending. The only rider profiting a bit was Rogers, who took out a four-second time bonus for his third place. An ending that went according to how he wanted it to play out, as he said before the race.

"My job is just to be on the front for the last kilometers and defend the lead," he had said at the start. "If it comes to a sprint finish I am very confident outsprinting the other guys [GC favorites Zabriskie and Leipheimer ]."

Rogers went into the queen stage as the leader. "The other guys have to attack me," he said with a smile, as he got ready for stage six. While there were some attacks, they came mostly from RadioShack helpers like Yaroslav Popovych and Chris Horner. Especially Rogers' teammate Tony Martin chased down everything that moved away from the group of favorites. "I have some strong guys here," Rogers said in a satisfied voice.

Bruyneel confirmed this in comments made after the stage, posted on the livestrong.com website. "HTC did an unbelievable job. They only had two guys [Martin and Tejay Van Garderen -ed.] for the second half and they controlled the whole race."

It didn't look so bad initially for RadioShack and Garmin, with Jason McCartney and Matt Wilson, respectively, in the break. But in the end the move was caught and there was no scenario where Leipheimer or Zabriskie would have been able to move off the front. "Levi at least saved some energy," is how McCartney put it.

Decisive time trial in downtown LA

Bruyneel was happy with how the team raced, but now the overall will be decided without the help of teammates. Everybody is just looking ahead to today's decisive race against the clock in Los Angeles. "The last three years Levi won the time trial, hopefully he can pull it off again." Leipheimer needs to make up 14 seconds on Rogers and 10 on Zabriskie. "On a time trial of 33 and a half kilometers it is possible to make up that time and I am confident that Levi is up to it."

But Bruyneel admitted that a fourth victory for Leipheimer is not a given. "I definitely would have hoped we would be a little ahead or at least equal," Bruyneel said.

Zabriskie may have extra motivation, as he made Los Angeles his hometown recently. He has already checked out the course, although wasn't able to ride some of it, as it is on one way streets. Rogers is no slacker to time trialing, either. He won three time trial World Championships from 2003 to 2005.

Sagan moved to third overall, but his time trial ability over this distance remains to be seen. He finished fifth in the Paris-Nice prologue and second in the Tour de Romandie. But in the longer Romandie time trial over 23.4km he lost 1'07 against Rogers.

One thing is for sure, this afternoon will be one of the most exciting in the short history of the Tour of California. The riders tackle two laps of almost 17km, taking in some of the sights of Los Angeles: After the start at the L.A. LIVE, the race heads south, past the Los Angeles Convention Center, the University of Southern California, Exposition Park and the LA Coliseum. Then it loops back north, with two short, but steep climbs, bringing the riders past the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and the Los Angeles City Hall. The finish is at L.A. LIVE again.

Leipheimer will start at 3:24 pm PDT, followed by Sagan (3:26) and Zabriskie (3:28). Rogers is the last rider to leave, at 3:30pm.

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