The queen stage of the 2012 Amgen Tour of California likely crowned its new king, as Robert Gesink (Rabobank) grabbed the stage win and the yellow jersey, with a crushing attack on a group of GC rivals on the final climb up Mount Baldy.
Gesink began the day 39 seconds behind Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Barracuda), and although Zabriskie was able to hang in most of the way, Gesink dropped him with his initial attack midway up the finish climb. Gesink took 1:23 seconds on the American time trial champion at the line, and grabbed the overall lead.
“This is amazing. At the end of last year I crashed and broke my leg. In January I still had to learn how to walk. Now I’m back,” said the Dutchman. “I’ve been working really, really hard the last few months.”
Zabriskie held on to second overall, 46 seconds back, and Tom Danielson (Garmin-Barracuda) moved into third, 54 seconds behind.
Gesink caught and passed the leader on the road, Colombian Jhon Atapuma (Colombia-Coldeportes) – who had gone clear with American defending champion Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan) early on the climb — and stayed away most of the way up before dropping him the with less than 1km to go.
The Colombian held Gesink’s wheel and then attacked the Rabobank rider in the penultimate corner, taking a sharp inside line. The move caught Gesink out and Colombian forced him to the edge of the road exiting the corner. Gesink countered, however, heading into the final corner and almost going too wide and into the barriers, but he held on for the win on the line.
“Still I got surprised at the last corner,” said Gesink. “I saw the blue and thought I was at the finish. That’s what happens when you’re going hard and your heartrate is at 200.”
Atapuma’s teammate Fabio Duarte followed up in third, 14 seconds back.
“It was a really hard day,” said Atapuma. “I got in the break and I marked Horner. I saw him attack and followed. Later, I was able to attack, but wasn’t able to get the stage victory. But to be second and third on such a big stage and such a big race is very good.”
Horner made the day’s main break with three teammates, Jens Voigt, Grégory Rast and George Bennet. RadioShack drove the break to a gap of over three minutes on the pack, but the peloton would not allow Horner much leash. With Voigt the last RadioShack man to blow, Horner went to the front of the group low on the return over Glendora Mountain Road and slowly ticked up the pace to an agonizing level 40km from the finish.
The acceleration popped two solid climbers in Lucas Euser (Spidertech-C10) and Chris Baldwin (Bissell). Next to go were Maxime Bouet (Ag2r La Mondiale) and then the virtual leader on the road, Marc de Maar (UnitedHealthcare).
Horner accelerated again and with 38km to go, the only man to match the defending champ was Atapuma. With 35km to go, the new leading tandem held 3:35 on the peloton and their advantage was growing.
But by the first of two false flats on the way up to Mount Baldy, their gap had started to fade, and when the mountain turned up for its final pitch to the summit, it was clear they would be caught. Their lead shrinking to just a minute, Atapuma attacked sharply twice. The second jump was the last time Horner would see the Colombians face until the finish.
With 5km to go, Gesink opened the affairs and attacked behind the leaders. The acceleration dumped off Zabriskie but Danielson closed down the Dutchman. Behind were Tejay van Garderen (BMC) who also had his sites on the GC, and Joe Dombrowski (Bontrager-Livestrong). Soon, though, Gesink attacked again and was alone with Danielson.
It was van Garderen’s plan to remain calm and consistent, avoiding the trap of his rivals’ sharp accelerations. That plan appeared to play out for a while, but after a look at Dombrowski, van Garderen was gone. And so, too, was the race for the young BMC rider.
Gesink soon gapped Danielson too, and only the Colombian was left. Atapuma made a valiant effort to finish what he had helped start, but the Dutchman was determined to put his stamp on the race.
And that stamp should hold, since tomorrow will almost certainly be one for the sprinters to battle out, meaning there should be no threat to Gesink’s yellow jersey.