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Clarity, questions for Amgen Tour GC after Bakersfield time trial

BAKERSFIELD, California (VN) — The Amgen Tour of California wasn’t going to be won in Thursday’s time trial. But it may have been lost.

Defending champion Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan) found himself buried in rubble when the dust had settled after the 29.7km time trial in Bakersfield — BMC Racing’s Tejay van Garderen passed him early on and Horner ended up 2:50 off the winning pace of Garmin-Barracuda’s Dave Zabriskie. In the general classification, Horner now sits 2:50 back as well.

The race didn’t end Thursday, and won’t on Friday either, but the time gaps exposed in the time trial revealed the general classification contenders. After four days of broken-record results — Sagan wins, again — the overall standings saw a shakedown.

The very likely candidates to win this race now include van Garderen, Robert Gesink (Rabobank), Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), and Andrew Talansky and Tom Danielson (Garmin). The time trial is behind them and each can climb, and that’s all the Amgen Tour has left, aside from a sprinter-friendly drag race into Los Angeles.

What about Horner? Who knows. Everyone in the peloton knows he can climb, and everyone also knows he was waiting for Saturday’s haul up Mount Baldy to win the race. He told VeloNews earlier this week that the race’s final climb, where he secured his 2011 title, was the only place he had to make a winning difference.

Horner knew he’d lose time in the time trial, but this can’t have been what he had in mind. His gap is 2:50 to the Zabriskie, but the real time differences worth minding are those to van Garderen (2:16), Gesink (2:11), Talansky (2:02), Velits (2:01), and Danielson (1:43).

“I wasn’t surprised when I was caught by van Garderen but I was surprised that he caught me so soon,” Horner said Thursday. “I was expecting 50 seconds, maybe a minute. I wasn’t too concerned about Zabriskie’s time because I figured on Mount Baldy I could make that time up. I knew he would pull some time out of me but I didn’t think it would be so much.”

Expect Horner to go on the attack — maybe a day earlier than he’d thought, but the low-angle, grinding run-in on the Big Bear Lake finish may prohibit that. He can win the Baldy stage, but by how much?

One day short of a year after blowing up on Sierra Road under the pressure of Horner’s pace, van Garderen fortified his place as a favorite to win with his blistering effort Thursday. He finished third on the stage, behind Zabriskie and Jens Voigt (RadioShack) and sits at 34 seconds out of the lead. That’s real time to Zabriskie, sure, but it’s time that should come down in the coming two days.

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