Tour of California review: Tejay too hot to handle

Tejay van Garderen took his first major stage race general classification victory with an impressive all-round performance in stifling heat at the eight-day Amgen Tour of California. In so doing, the 24-year-old American, who finished fifth at last year’s Tour de France, strengthened his claim to be BMC’s team leader at this year’s race.

Race summary

A late attack from Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) stymied the chasing peloton as the Dutch national time trial champion took a surprise victory on the opening stage in Escondido under brutally hot conditions. Only Francisco Mancebo (5-Hour Energy-Kenda) could follow Westra’s late attack but he was no match for the Dutchman in the final metres. The temperature and a late mechanical left Peter Sagan off the top step of the podium but he managed to be the best of the rest for third.

The riders were thrown from the frying pan into the fire on stage two with temperatures reaching 111ºF (44ºC) as they entered Palm Springs. An early break containing Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) gained an astounding 12:15 on the peloton before BMC and Saxo-Tinkoff gave chase and slowly reeled them in.

The final Tramway Road climb to the finish proved to be brutally challenging as it exploded the peloton with gaps emerging as soon as the ascent started. An elite group containing most of the favorites formed but it was Janier Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) along with Tejay van Garderen (BMC), who distanced everyone and rode to the red kite together. At 500 metres Acevedo pounced for the win and the overall GC lead. Van Garderen was second on the stage at 12 seconds and Philip Deignan (UnitedHealthcare) was third at 27 seconds. There were notably strong performances from the US domestic teams, who showed real quality against the might of the WorldTour teams.

Peter Sagan (Cannondale) won stage three by more than a pinch, outsprinting Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), who were second and third respectively.

Early crosswinds and several attacks ultimately resulted in a breakaway of four riders including stage one winner Lieuwe Westra. He was joined by Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Leopard) – yes, that Andy Schleck – Chad Beyer (Champion System), and Gavin Mannion (Bontrager).

The four held off the main field until about 16km from the finish, where multiple teams attempted to take control. Garmin, OPQS, UnitedHealthcare, Cannondale, and Saxo-Tinkoff all tried but no team could manage the chaos as the riders came into Santa Clarita. After the final turn at about 800 metres, the action hit boiling point. Orica-GreenEDGE flew up the right-hand side with Matthews in tow but Sagan came sizzling off his wheel to take his ninth career win in California.

American veteran sprinter Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) won in Santa Barbara in commanding style, taking a second win for Garmin on the same day after his teammate Ramunas Navardauskas won stage 11 of the Giro d’Italia.

Stage four seemed destined for a bunch sprint and Farrar took full advantage, out-kicking Ken Hanson (Optum) and Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step). Sagan came in a disappointing fifth after having to sprint from way back due to poor positioning in the final metres.

The general classification remained unchanged with Janier Acevedo maintaining his overall lead.

With 50km to go in stage five, strong winds splintered the peloton into six echelons as RadioShack purposely hammered on the front causing major damage behind.

18 riders made the elite, high-powered front group, including van Garderen, Michael Rogers (Saxo-Tinkoff), Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Leopard), Mitchell Docker (Orica-GreenEDGE), Tyler Farrar, Thor Hushovd (BMC), Peter Sagan and Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM). This group of mostly WorldTour riders would not be seen again by the rest of the field. Missing from the group was race leader Acevedo.

With 5km to go, ‘the Jensie’ attacked his companions and instantly opened up a 10-second gap. Docker and De Gendt tried to chase the German down but Jens would not be denied. Voigt rolled over the line celebrating his devastating final move – a popular winner with the American fans. Farrar finished second and Hushovd nabbed third.

Van Garderen took the overall race lead, with Rogers 42 seconds down in second place. Acevedo dropped to third, 50 seconds back.

Van Garderen bolstered his position at the top of the standings by winning the 31.6km individual time trial, putting over a minute into Michael Rogers to extend his overall lead to 1:47. On a flowing course with a draining 3km climb at the end, van Garderen judged his effort beautifully as he charged up the ascent to finish 23 seconds ahead of stage one winner Lieuwe Westra in a time of 48:52, who in turn was five seconds quicker than third-placed man Rohan Dennis (Garmin-Sharp).

Rogers was fourth in 49:57, building a sizeable cushion over new third-placed man Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEDGE), with van Garderen’s BMC teammate Matthias Frank now fourth. Janier Acevedo dropped to fifth.

Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura) won stage seven at the summit of Mount Diablo with a late attack on Acevedo as the two approached the final metres on the summit of Mt. Diablo. With 3km remaining, Acevedo surged out of the group of remaining elite riders in an effort to steal the third podium spot from Cameron Meyer. Seeing an opportunity for the stage win, Konig quickly bridged up. With 300 metres to go Konig turned on the afterburners leaving Acevedo, who just did enough to recapture third overall.

Van Garderen kept his cool as his team drilled on the front to keep the time gaps under control.  He retained his lead over Michael Rogers, with Acevedo restore to third spot.

The final stage ended in an inevitable bunch sprint, with Sagan and Farrar vying for the honour of a second stage win to close the race. Cannondale’s sprint train eased ahead of Garmin-Sharp’s in the final kilometre and duly delivered Sagan to an easy victory ahead of the American. The top of the GC was unchanged, confirming van Garderen as overall winner.

Analysis & opinion

There were some strong performances by riders from domestic teams, not least third-placed Janier Acevedo, but the star of the race was Tejay van Garderen, one of US cycling’s brightest hopes on one of the biggest ProTeams. He will have done his case for leading BMC at July’s Tour de France no harm whatsoever with a pair of strong climbing performances and a dominating time trial win. Overall victory here came off the back of a fourth-placed finish in 2012 and fifth in 2011.

It’s incredible to think he’s still only 24, having first emerged as a bright prospect at HTC-Columbia with his third place at the Criterium du Dauphine in 2010 while still aged just 21. Last season he was fifth at the Tour and fourth in the individual time trial at the World Championships. It will be intriguing to see which way BMC choose to go in terms of their Tour leader – Cadel Evans represents proven experience, whereas van Garderen is very much about the future.

And, of course, it’s always good to see the indefatigable Jens Voigt putting one over on his rivals, many of whom are young enough to be the 41-year-old’s children. Even Jens admits his time as a pro is coming to an end, so his legion of fans must savour these moments while they still can.

General classification

1. Tejay van Garderen (BMC) 29:43:00

2. Michael Rogers (Saxo-Tinkoff) +1:47

3. Janier Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) +3:26

4. Matthias Frank (BMC) +3:32

5. Camerom Meyer (Orica-GreenEDGE) +3:33

6. Matt Busche (RadioShack-Leopard) +3:50

7. Francisco Mancebo (5-Hour Energy-Kenda) +4:52

8. Lawson Craddock (Bontrager) +5:24

9. Philip Deignan (UnitedHealthcare) +5:33

10. Chad Haga (Optum) +5:52

Link: Official website

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