Friday, 21 May 2010

Sagan achieves 2nd win, can he make it a hat trick tomorrow?

After some fantastic efforts in yesterday's action, and with a time trial coming up tomorrow that is sure to sort the men from the boys, the pelaton made its way 217.7km from Palmdale to Big Bear Lake. Day was in the "Most Courageous Rider"'s jersey following yesterday's heroic riding. Early on a breakaway containing McCartney (RSH), Fuglsang and Schleck of Saxobank, Wilson (GRM), Rabou (TT1), Clement (RAB) and Hincapie clocked up a lead of 6.25 mins, effectively moving Hincapie into the yellow jersey. With 7 KOM climbs and 2 sprint opportunities, it was clear early on that this stage was going to be just as eventful as the others that had preceded it.

With less that 75km to the finish, the main bunch had split into two groups, with the futherest riders 14 minutes down on the leaders of the breakaway, and once again it was Garmin and HTC Columbia who charged the peloton on, determined to whittle the time gap down, leaving it up to the other teams to stay in contact. It wasn't long before their hard work paid off, with Clement of Rabobank being brought back into the fold. Meanwhile up ahead, Rabou (TT1) took the max points in the KOM competition to keep him securely in the lead. As the breakaway approached the only Cat 3 climb, they slowed to a crawl, but with Fulsang (SAX) and Hincapie (BMC) in the breakaway, the pressure was on for the pelaton to bring the time gap down.

As the breakaway approached the sprint point and with 60 Km to go, Andy Schleck was out of his saddle, but Hincapie attacked, pushing away from the others in the escaping group. His valiant solo effort was short lived however with the others catching up to him as the peloton worked hard to bring the time gap down in the last 50km.

With a little under 45km to go, Schleck began to suffer a little, and dropped off the back of the breakaway group. Shortly after Brajkovic (RSH) put a dig in to kick away from the peloton, as it worked to bring the time down to a little over two minutes, but he was soon realed back in, as the bunch brought Schleck back into the fold. Horner (RSH) was next to give it a go as the rest of the field kicked up the pace having been inspired by catching Schleck. Meanwhile up ahead, McCartney attacked to kick away from Fuglsang with just 40km to the finish. This left just 3 riders, Hincapie, McCartney and Wilson to maintain a lead of a little over a minute. Back in the chasing group Leipheimer was next to attack but again any effort to bridge the gap was quickly shut down as Garmin and HTC worked hard to maintain control. Further back in the grupetto of riders, mainly sprinters, who struggled to keep up with the main bunch were as much as 17 minutes down on the race leaders.

As the leaders approached the 30km to go mark, the time gap, having come down to around a minute had increased to almost 2 minutes, as Brajkovic attacked again, this time taking Danielson (GRM), Martin (THR)and TeJay VanGarderen (HTC)with him. The four managed to acummulate a few seconds advantage over the rest of the chasing field, but again it was a short lived attempt. But with a little under 27km left to the finish, the breakaway were a mere 40 seconds up the road. Breathing down the necks of the breakaway, at 25km to go the peloton roared up the road just 20 seconds down, with the yellow, green and white jerseys all 40 seconds back from the leaders.

With the bunch catching the breakaway at 24.60km, United Healthcare's De Maar kicked away to gain a solo lead over the rest of the peloton. His gap building as he approached the 21km mark, the peloton responded as they woke up to the possibility that he could take a stage win. Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin-Transitions was first to respond, shortly joined by Brajkovi, Pujol (CTT) and Zajicek (VAU). Again the attempt to attack was short lived, and as De Maar approached the last 18km and the descent into the area of Big Bear Lake, the pressure was on for the peloton to catch him.

Wilson of Garmin-Transitions was the only rider to bridge the gap between De Maar and the chasing field on the descending section of the final uncategorised climb, and with 16km to go to the finish, their lead began to increase. With less than 8km to go to the finish, HTC-Columbia came to the fore to reel in the leaders, as Rogers worked hard to make sure he was in the leaders jersey by the end of the day.

With just 2km to the finish, the breakaway pair were finally caught by the field as they stormed into the view of the last km marker. Columbia were in front with their all now familiar train as Garmin brought their man Zabriski up to contention, but it was Sagan who kicked off with the last few meters in sight. Brought back as the field stormed to sprint for the line they could only watch as Sagan pulled away again just in time to claim the victory, his 2nd in a row.

Sutherland of UHC came in 2nd, with Mick Rogers of HTC-Columbia finishing third, along with Leipheimer, Hesjedal and Zajicek, who finished 4th, 5th and 6th respectively, all with the same time. Rogers ensured he took the yellow leaders jersey, while Sagan remained in the green jersey.

Tomorrow's time trial of Los Angeles will be a short 33.6 km of nail-biting action as Sagan aims to make it a hat trick.

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