Due to a slight error in judgment by the race organizers, Stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California traveled from Modesto to San Jose. Modesto and San Jose? Really? Anyway, as we struggle to overlook the numerous shortcomings of the host cities for a moment, it should be noted that this was a great course which succeded in reshuffling the GC without giving away the final winner. Oh, the drama.
I usually try to provide some interesting local information for the ToC host cities but I am kind of stumped by Modesto. And the promotional city commercial they aired during the Versus coverage was one of the most depressing things I have ever seen. Perhaps all you need to know are these four facts:
1) Modesto is commonly referred to as "a great place to live, a horrible place to visit."
2) Modesto's official slogan is "Water Wealth Contentment Health," which is emblazoned on a large arch downtown near the start line. A contest was run in 1911 to determine the slogan. The original winning slogan was: "Nobody's got Modesto's goat". The second place entry was the final winner.
3) The area is plagued by some of the worst air quality in the nation, on occasion surpassing even that of Los Angeles.
4) Modesto is also reported to have had the highest car theft per capita rate in the United States in 2005 and 2006, although it dropped to fifth in 2007. So they’ve got that going for them. Which is nice.
Okay, now that we know where not to visit when in California…let’s get to some race action.
BMC got Nydam in the early break and he secured enough mountain points to take the jersey from his teammate Jackson Stewart. I have always wondered if this kind of jersey swapping within teams ever causes any conflict. I am pretty sure it’s not an issue with these guys but it’s yet another one of the fascinating dynamics of bike racing.
The break ended up being joined by Steven Cozza of Slipstream/Chipotle, who seems to be dueling with Dave Zabriskie for the most suave mustache in the peloton. I'm just jealous because I couldn't grow a lip warmer like that even if I stopped shaving for the rest of my life.
The whole facial hair thing reminds me of the Cheers episode where the guys have a beard growing contest. Hilarity ensues as Cliff ends up winning due to a little artificial follicular enhancement. I miss that show.
Sadly, one Slipstream rider who will not be competing in the mustache contest this week is Tyler Farrar. The overnight leader of the race was forced to take a seat in the sag wagon as he was apparently suffering from a stomach bug that is making its way through the event. It’s amazing how quickly the tides can change in this sport and it was pretty rough seeing the dejected rider try not to boot in front of the cameras. Not good times.
Once the contenders got to the base of Mt. Hamilton, it became the Postal/Discovery flashback show as Chechu Rubiera got on the front and proceeded to shell all but a select few riders by the summit. Apparently Jose Luis Rubiera Vigil (no wonder they gave him a nickname) still has the goods and Levi stepped right into the Alpha Dog role by barking tempo instructions for the entire climb.
Team Astan-ostal-overy was certainly riding with a lot of motivation putting Horner, Gusev, Brajkovich, Rubiera and Leipheimer in the front group all the way to the base of the final climb up Sierra Road. Others in the lead selection included David Millar, Christian VandeVelde, Fabian Cancellara, Bobby Julich and George Hincapie.
Eventually Robert Gesink from Rabobank took the front and quickly dropped everyone except Leipheimer, Horner and Zabriskie. With C-Ho occupying the tail-gunner position, the foursome rode at the Dutchman’s pace until Zabriskie lost contact near the summit. Horner continued to mark the Slipstream rider and the duo reached the peak about a minute behind Leipheimer and Gesink.
After a quick descent the current and former Rabobank riders desperately tried to maintain their advantage over a chase group that had swelled to about fifteen riders. In full pursuit of the leading duo, a veritable All Star Time Trial Team including Millar, Julich, Cancellara, and Zabriskie were able to take back much of their deficit but not enough to catch Gesink and Leipheimer by the finish in Downtown San Jose.
Fittingly, Levi granted the stage win to the lanky Dutchman who was largely responsible for the final time gap. With no time bonuses awarded at the finish, the gap of 18 seconds to the chase group was enough to give Leipheimer the overall lead. Fabian Cancellara was impressive yet again, finishing in the front group and ending the day in second place overall at 13 seconds back.
The race seems to be leading toward a big showdown in Solvang on Friday as a host of excellent time trialists will do their best to overthrow the man in the Retro Shooting Star kit.
Stage 4 begins in Seaside and ends in San Luis Obispo. Much better than Modesto and San Jose.