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Clarity, questions for Amgen Tour GC after Bakersfield time trial

Garmin tactics at Big Bear Lake

Friday’s Big Bear Lake stage could see a group of 20 or so riders finish in the front. If van Garderen is there and Zabriskie isn’t, BMC Racing could find itself in control of the race Saturday morning for the assault on Baldy. Each of the squad’s five remaining riders (in addition to van Garderen) are wholly dedicated to the American, which sets the team apart from Garmin, a team with three riders in the top 10 on GC, but a full, eight-man roster.

That is a big “if,” however. Zabriskie finished eighth when the Amgen Tour went to Big Bear Lake in 2010, in a group of 21 riders. (Yes, that stage was won by Peter Sagan.) And Garmin has proven to be amongst the strongest teams — and certainly the most willing to animate the GC battle — in this race, asserting itself on the front of the field at will. How the team rides in the next two days will be fascinating.

Does it protect and support the yellow jersey of Zabriskie on the climbs as long as it can, or will Garmin go to the front of the bunch and drill the pace on Friday and Saturday, in hopes of launching Talansky or Danielson? It’s worth noting that after two hard days earlier this week, a sleek Danielson appeared fresh as a daisy at the finish, eager for the climbs to commence.

“It was a beautiful stage… great scenery,” Danielson told VeloNews after Wednesday’s six-climb scorcher to Clovis. “I’m not playing mind games with anyone… I just really enjoy my job.”

But rest assured BMC Racing will be fired up at the front, trying to tear the jersey from Zabriskie’s back. And with George Hincapie and Brent Bookwalter each carrying the yellow armbands indicating Tour de France-winning palmarès, the team has the pedigree.

“I’m feeling pretty comfortable on the climbs,” van Garderen told VeloNews Thursday. “The guys I need to watch more carefully are Robert Gesink and Peter Velits. Hopefully they’ll keep more of a steady tempo and if I can hold their wheel, then I can win the race.”

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