The Tour of California, sometimes know as The Pete Sagan Show, is now “done and dusted” as race announcer Dave Tolle likes to shout. Here’s our take on the seventh edition that had thrills, surprises, a French twist and also repetition and dominance.
Let’s start with the dominance. The phenomenal Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) won the first four stages and the final sprint in Los Angeles and if Frenchmen Sylvain Georges hadn’t held off the peloton by 28 seconds at Big Bear Lake, Sagan would have won that stage — instead he finished second.
All told that’s eight stages wins in three visits to California. Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Barracuda) was Nearly Man, setting for second three times and Tom Boonen had no luck against Sagan either — the best effort was second on the final day. Sagan was so superior to every other sprinter in the race that it felt like Mark Cavendish in Le Tour — repetitive and automatic wins.
Nike sponsor Cannondale is delirious with corporate joy. The squad wins almost every stage in the United States that remotely qualifies as a possible sprint finish. In the inaugural US Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado, Elia Viviani won two stages and his lead out man Daniel Oss scored a victory,too.
Somehow the lime green machine gets it done no matter what the race situation. We’re handing out major props to Americans Timmy Duggan and Ted King for closing down all breakaways and ramping up the speed for Sagan. It seemed like Duggan was at the front of the race for the final hour every day Sagan won.
The only drawback was Vincenzo Nibali who didn’t listen to the media hoopla that had him in with a chance to win the overall. Still, five stage wins is as sweet as it gets. Final grade A+ with honors.
The Three Garmin-Barracuda’s
The Argyle Army has been knocking on the door in Cali for a long time. Dave Zabriskie has now finished in second place overall three times (2006, 2009 and 2012). Boss man visionary Jonathan Vaughters had three three cards to play in the race and two of them paid big, but no jackpot again.
While Andrew Talansky, fresh off his Tour of Romandie breakthrough performance, finished back in 41st, veterans Dave Zabriskie and Tom Danielson delivered the goods with second and third. In particular Zabriskie rode a brilliant time trial and proved that when motivated, he can hold his own even on the terminal grades of Mount Baldy. The shy and enigmatic Captain America showed off his superpowers. Plus he was at his quirky and comedic best at the press conferences.
Props also go to Heinrich Haussler who had terrific form but still not enough in the legs to beat Sagan. He deserved a win for his efforts but at least he was close and did better than Boonen against the all powerful Sagan. Finale grade: A-
The Return of Robert Gesink
At the start of the race, Chris Horner openly questioned whether his arch rival Levi Leipheimer was “playing possum” about his recovery from a broken fibula. Uhh, right idea, wrong leg. The guy he missed was the other rider coming back from a broken leg.
Robert Gesink announced plans to win the Tour of California with a surprising third place in the Bakersfield time trial. Until that result, Gesink was mentioned as a possible contender but not feared. In fact, Gesink embarrassed Twisted Spoke as we wrote him off before the race even began.
Gesink had done his homework with high altitude training up in Lake Tahoe. He likes this race, vacations in the state and now he’s got himself a big win in the toughest edition of the Tour of California. His final acceleration on Mt Baldy blew everyone away. He’s looking forward to the Tour de France because he’s finally back to two strong legs. Final Grade: A+ and winner of “Playing Possum” award.
Levi and Peter
Omega-Pharma Quickstep’s hopes for overall victory in the Tour of California ended in early April when a Spanish lady used her car to break Levi Leipheimer’s fibula. He made a courageous attempt to get back in shape for the start of the race in his hometown of Santa Rosa. He clearly stated he wasn’t a contender but not everyone believed him. They did after he came in 17th in the time trial and lost 1:44.
At that point, talk switched to Plan B, Peter Velits who preceded to grab third place the very next day at Big Bear Lake and jump into fourth overall. If he had the legs for Baldy, he was on the podium. Didn’t happen, not even close, as he dropped almost six minutes and fell to 24th.
For the fresh-off-vacation Tom Boonen, he had no success against Sagan but claimed second place on the stage eight sprint around Los Angeles. Leipheimer did crack the top ten which is an accomplishment given the circumstances. Final grade: B-
You don’t win the Tour of California by coming in 42nd in the time trial and dropping 2:50. It was a disastrous performance, what the French call “un jour sans” — a day without. He said he wasn’t good in the warm-up and he got worse on the road. Tejay Van Garderen blew by Horner on the course and was so excited he over-cooked himself on the back half.
The bald, 40 year and his RadioShack Nissan Trek boys made on audacious attack early on Mt Baldy and at one point Horner was the virtual leader. Much respect to a real pro and showman who didn’t care about settling for a top ten or the stage win — he wanted the whole enchilada and was willing to roll those dice. We wish more riders had that kind of attacking attitude. Hopefully his bad luck in California will be reversed in France in July. Fellow geriatric Jens Voigt had a fabulous ride for second place in the time trial. Final grade: C
TVG and BMC
Last year the young and talented Van Garderen came into California saying loud and clear that he was racing for the win. Old men Horner and Leipheimer schooled him good but Tejay learns as fast as he climbs mountains.
He took a less vocal approach this year and when he finished second in Bakersfield, he became the odds-on favorite to win the race, the climber with the best time against the clock. His team rode hard on Baldy but there just wasn’t enough gas left in the tank. The old bald guys both beat him up the mountain and he settled for tenth place and worse, just one step away from third overall. A huge disappointment. Final grade: C-