10 Observations from Tour of California.
1) Like the rain, snow and miserable conditions in the Giro d’Italia, the scorching temperatures in Southern California altered the race to a significant degree.
Tejay Van Garderen essentially won the Tour of California on stage two’s climb up Tram Road in 110 degree weather. The same goes for Janier Acevedo from domestic squad Jamis who was young and skinny and loco enough to handle the furnace conditions on the climb. Meanwhile Garmin-Sharp’s Dave Zabriskie, a rider who’d been second in California three times, blew spectacularly, losing ten minutes.
2) Bontrager-Trek continues to deliver impressive results and exciting young riders. Season after season, DS Axel Merckx’s crew punches far above their weight — and age and experience.
A few years back it was Taylor Phinney, then Joe Dombrowski’s fourth on Mt Baldy last year and now Lawson Craddock who finished eighth overall. That’s an impressive set of performances from a development squad operating on a fraction of the budget of a WorldTour squad. Bontrager-Trek riders were a constant presence in the breakaways and no team has more fun at the race. Chapeau, kids.
3) Janier Acevedo looks like the real deal and probably rode himself onto a WorldTour team. We don’t need to be the 100th person to say Colombian climbers are back to their glory days. There’s even a slight resemblance to Contador in his appearance and climbing style.
Two years ago he rode for DS Santiago Botero’s Gobernacion de Antioqia along with future Sky climber Sergio Henao. Props to Jamis for being smart enough to sign him for their domestic squad. I don’t know if a Continental squad has ever cracked the podium at the Tour of California but I know it hasn’t happened in at least four years. Jamis hit the jackpot.
4) Francisco Mancebo told the media he wanted a top ten but his DS Frankie Andreu was hoping for top five and secretly Paco aimed for a podium spot. Hopping onto the podium might have gotten him a shot at a final, career ending contract back in Europe. So split the difference and he got 7th overall. Not a bad result for little 5 Hour Energy but not enough for a 37 year old to nail his Euro ride.
5) Tyler Farrar is back on track.
That’s a huge accomplishment given how many crashes, bad luck and violent ups and downs he has endured in his career. He beat Peter Sagan in Santa Barbara, took second in Avila Beach and a third in Santa Rosa. Is he ready to challenge Cavendish in the Tour de France? That’s a big maybe but if everything goes perfectly on a given stage, well, like I said … maybe. Good to see one of the nicest and most thoughtful guys in the peloton back at the front of the race.
6) Wassup Dave Zabriskie?
Like Garmin teammates Tom Danielson and Christian Vande Velde, Zabriskie was coming off his short six month suspension for his doping admissions to USADA.
Danielson said he was “humbled” on his return to racing and Vande Velde admitted to many “sleepless nights” but we have no idea how the private Zabriskie was dealing with things.
However, we can’t help but wonder a little about his state of mind. Is his head still in the game? He was Garmin’s GC captain but lost 10 minutes on stage two and later crashed out of the San Jose time trial on his practice run. Maybe this in just off-base speculation but taken together, those two events seem to show that Zabriskie isn’t 100% back in the groove — for whatever reason.
7) Tejay Van Garderen made a strong case for Tour de France leadership. Yes, we all know that Cadel is the captain and he’s doing unexpectedly well in the Giro d’Italia and yes, two stars are better than one and yes, the road will decide.
All that said, Tejay has taken another step forward and as he said at the end of the Tour of California, he’s still a few percentage points away from 100%.
So far Evans has proved us wrong in Italy but riding one grand tour and assuming you’ll be in Sky-beating shape for a second grand tour a month later seems like a tall order. Factor in that the miserable cold and wet conditions in this Giro have placed an extra physical and mental burden on riders and we still think old diesel Cadel Evans will be number two in France.
8) Pro Continental squad UnitedHealthcare has been trying to put a rider on the podium at the Tour of California for years. Rory Sutherland was stuck at seventh overall twice in the race before he signed with Saxo-Tinkoff this season.
It looked like finally good fortune decided to smile on Mike Tamayo’s squad when Philip Deignan put in a fabulous ride up Tram Road in stage two to climb up to third overall. But Deignan was one of several GC riders who missed the RadioShack-BMC crosswind attack that split the peloton and shredded his hopes.
Despite Deignan’s off-season work in the wind tunnel, he only managed 24th in the time trial, losing 3:35 to winner Tejay van Garderen. Even old guy Paco Mancebo posted a faster time. Deignan finished in 9th which wasn’t exactly the plan.
Tamayo doesn’t like the word luck. He’s slowly and steadily built up an impressive and deep squad at Unitedhealthcare and they will get their Tour of California podium. Still, they could use some good fortune, too.
9) Alberto Contador is happy.
No, the Spaniard wasn’t racing the Tour of California but he was thrilled with the performance of teammate Michael Rogers because he desperately needs the Aussie at the Tour de France.
Contador is matching up against a powerful Team Sky with Froome and Wiggins and Porte and an equally impressive BMC squad with both Cadel Evans and Tejay Van Garderen. Rogers is rounding into form just at the right time to provide Contador the kind of serious support he gave Wiggins last year in France.
10) Tour of California scores big with 2013 route.
The switch to a South-to-North route was a resounding success and most of all, they managed to prevent the feared “Sagan wins five stage” outcome that made the previous edition so predictable. Sagan got two stages wins and fans got a thrilling race.
It’s unfortunate that the 110 degree weather down south had an effect on the race but that scenery was beautiful and the Tram Road climbed delivered an exciting finish. And really, how often to you get to see riders melt?
The sprint into Santa Barbara was stunning and the uphill ending at Avila Beach was superb with Jens Voigt holding off Farrar, Hushovd and Sagan. Diablo was a fitting queen stage with lots of tactical battles on the road, multiple attacks and a terrific win by NetApp’s Leopold Konig.
Let’s not forget a break-out performance by Colombian climber Janier Acevedo and of course, Van Garderen’s first overall stage victory. Last August, the US Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado put on a dramatic show with huge crowds. It was obvious that California needed to step up their game and they did just that.