Tour of California: Voices after stage 3

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21.02.2008/ Robert Gesink yesterdays third stage victory at the Tour of California showed that Rabobank's young gun could have a great future. Astana's Levi Leipheimer sis an important step for his goal: defending the overall title. Here some quotes after stage 3.

Rock Racing is shaking the traditional cycling world... (©

Robert Gesink won the queen stage of the Tour of California with defending champ Levi Leipheimer coming in second. Leipheimer took over the overall lead.

“This win is really great for me because the field of riders is very competitive in the Amgen Tour of California,” said Gesink. “Today was a really big win for our team; we were strong as a team today.”

After struggling early on due to a stomach virus, Tyler Farrar of Slipstream Chipotle Presented by H30, who won the Amgen Leader Jersey the day before in Sacramento, abandoned the race after the second climb. After Farrar abandoned, Team Slipstream regrouped and went on the attack. The team as a whole worked hard to regain the leader’s jersey.

“We knew we were perhaps the strongest team in the race before today, but today we proved it,” said David Millar. “The hard work the whole team has put in over the winter has paid off. ”

Though the two riders stayed away, Slipstream/Chipotle managed to put Tom Peterson in position for a 6th place finish on the stage. He is now second with an 18 second gap in the race for the Best Young Rider jersey.

“The race is only half way through, there is still a lot to do,” Millar continued. “The best bit is we’re having fun, and the peloton is starting to respect the Argyle which was one of our main goals before coming to this race.”

High Road's George Hincapie attacked on the descent of Mount Hamilton.  “My plan was to get away and to get the stage win,” said Hincapie. “I made a break for it today, which was risky.” But Hincapie was caught again and after that the final attack of Leipheimer and Gesink decided the stage.

Despite the ferocious charge from the chasers, Leipheimer held a 19-second lead when he hit the line on the wheel of Gesink. Jurgen Vandewalle (BEL) of QuickStep took the bunch sprint to place third. After tabulating the times, Cancellara stood in second overall, just 13 seconds behind Leipheimer. The stage also propelled Gesink, who was the overall best young rider in the 2007 Amgen Tour of California, into third overall, just 15 seconds behind Leipheimer.

“We knew that today was going to be important,” said Leipheimer. “I think this stage was the hardest stage in the three-year history of the Amgen Tour of California. It was a day with a few tough, but really beautiful, climbs. The Mt. Hamilton climb turned out to be really hard, and our team had something to prove today.”

Fabian Cancellara (CSC) is only 13 seconds behind Leipheimer in the overall and could beat the US rider at the ITT. "It was both a good and a bad day for us. Bad because we didn't managed to catch Leipheimer and Gesink, but good because we're still in the competition and we still have a good shot at the time trial. I was very satisfied with the way I did in the mountains today and I hope I'll be able to maintain this level. If that's possible we might be able to gain back some of the time during the time trial. This race is not over yet," said Cancellara after the stage.

Toyota - United had a difficult day: The results were not expressly met by the team as difficulties took their toll.  Ben Day said after the race, "His legs felt like lead all day." Heath Blackgrove had an excellent climb up Mt.Hamilton and was seconds behind the first group with world champion Paulo Bettini, who made it to the first group after the descent.  Unfortunately, Heath crashed descending down Mt.Hamilton and as he went off the road the team car didn’t even see Heath go off the cliff. The car came around the turn and he had disappeared from sight. The car continued down 5 minutes attempting to catch the group. Another team informed the Toyota-United car that Heath had indeed crashed. "When we heard the news, we were all freaking out, concerned for Heath’s safety, as we pulled over to locate Heath, he came screaming by with blood on his shorts and hands, but was yelling he was ok."  Heath looked worse than his actual injuries due to the explosion of his gel packs on his hip side.  Heath at this point, had lost contact with the first group as Bettini did and had to be content with finishing in 42nd place. To further add to Toyota-United’s day Hilton Clarke abandoned the race at mile 45 due to a hip injury he sustained during stage 2.  Hilton’s younger brother Jonny missed the time cut by two minutes due to contracting food poisoning after stage 1 which was exacerbated by two flat tires and a dropped chain on the Sierra Road grade. That was the difference in him not making the time cut this afternoon.

Rock Racing’s Victor Hugo Peña sent a clear message Wednesday that he is a threat to contend for a strong overall finish at the Amgen Tour of California.

Peña was one of only five riders in the lead group as the race crossed its highest point, the 4,100-foot summit of Mount Hamilton, midway through Stage 3. The Colombian would go on to finish among a group of 15 riders who were 19 seconds behind stage winner Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and runner-up Levi Leipheimer (Astana).

Peña’s impressive performance in 102.7-mile (165.3 km) race from Modesto to San Jose moved him up 23 places in the overall standings to 10th place, 31 seconds behind Leipheimer, the new overall race leader and defending champion of the Tour of California.

Rock Racing Team Owner Michael Ball said seeing Peña race wheel-to-wheel with the best at the head of the peloton – on the toughest stage to date – was both satisfying and a disappointment.

“We came here to make the moves and win stages,” Ball said. “Like Mario Cipollini’s podium finish yesterday, Victor’s ride today proved that Rock Racing has top talent,” Ball said. “At the same time, this stage played to the strengths of our three riders who were not allowed to compete in this race: Tyler Hamilton, Santiago Botero and Oscar Sevilla.”

Peña, whose impressive credentials include wearing the yellow leader’s jersey for three stages of the 2003 Tour de France and winning an individual time trial stage in the Giro d’Italia, agreed with Ball’s assessment of the talented trio who are unable to compete in the most prestigious race in the United States.

“The only thing I can say is that at training camp, they were better than me,” Peña said. “Santiago and Oscar were much better than me. Tyler was always with me. So I think those three guys would have been good contenders for Levi.”

On a stage when only 16 of 120 riders in the race finished within four minutes of the winner, Peña said he felt comfortable on the day’s five categorized climbs. His performance, he said, made him recall the years he spent shepherding Lance Armstrong to several Tour de France victories when both were riding on the U.S. Postal Service team.

“Mt. Hamilton was a steep climb,” he said. “It reminded me of some of the steeper climbs in Colombia. In Colombia, we have long climbs, but not so steep as Hamilton.”

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Picture gallery: Tour of California, Stage 3, February 20, 2008.

Special Coverage Tour of California 2008

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