Peter Sagan wins at Big Bear, his second Amgen Tour stage, as overall race remains tight.

Peter Sagan (LIquigas) won Friday's Queen Stage of the 2010 Amgen Tour of California, his second consecutive win, moving him past Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) and into third overall, behind Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia) and Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions).
Sagan celebrates two in a row, and the third stage win for Liquigas.

On a day of bright sunshine and strong winds, Peter Sagan (Liquigas) scored his second consecutive stage win of the 2010 Amgen Tour of California on Friday, this time taking the toughest mountain stage in the race’s five-year history. His victory showed that the 20-year-old Slovak can climb as well as sprint, and the 10-second time bonus he earned moved him past Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) into third overall, just nine seconds behind race leader Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia), while Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions) stays in second, four seconds back.

Commenting on his consecutive stage wins, Sagan said, “Yesterday was hard because of the final climbs there on the circuit, but today was even harder, because obviously a lot more climbing. For me to arrive in a small group like that is always good. I had to work a little harder on the climbs, but I stayed with them and that’s where I’m going to win.”

Sagan’s winning uphill sprint came at the Snow Summit ski resort ahead of a group of 20 riders who survived the grueling 135.3-mile stage 6 from Palmdale to Big Bear Lake, which included more than 12,000 feet of climbing. Fifteen riders didn’t finish the stage, including an injured Tom Boonen (Quick Step), while another 11 men finished outside the time cut, including stage 1 winner Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia)

Rogers told VeloNews: “When I saw Sagan there I knew he was going to win the stage. He’s like a bullet. It was just a matter of getting second or third to get some more time bonuses.”

Rogers finished third on the stage to retain his narrow overall lead over Zabriskie, Sagan and Leipheimer heading into Saturday’s critical stage 7 time trial in downtown Los Angeles.

Early fireworks

The stage route was new for the race, and analysts were mixed on how critical it would be for the overall battle. While the last kilometer was uphill, most felt that the day’s seven categorized climbs were not steep enough to cause major shifts on the GC. But most pundits agreed an early break was likely, and teams spent the first few kilometers trying to get into the right move.

The day’s work group got together before the first KOM of the day, the Cat. 4 Millcreek Summit, which trimmed the breakaway from 12 to eight before they headed on the long uphill trek toward the Angeles Crest Highway, which summits at almost 8,000 feet elevation.

Schleck and Hincapie in the breakaway

The break:

  • George Hincapie (BMC), 21st at 3:12
  • Jakob Fuglsang (Saxo Bank), 24th at 3:18
  • Thomas Rabou (Team Type 1), 33rd at 13:22
  • Carlos Barredo (Quick Step), 37th at 16:57
  • Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank), 42nd at 18:38
  • Matt Wilson (Garmin-Transitions), 55th at 34:47
  • Stef Clement (Rabobank), 60th at 37:18
  • Jason McCartney (RadioShack), 62nd at 37:38

Rabou began the day second on the KOM standings, and soon was gobbling up enough points to put him past KOM leader Ryan Anderson (Kelly Benefit Systems). Anderson took off from the bunch in an attempt to catch the leaders, accompanied by Darren Lill and Ben Day (both V Australia), but the attempted bridge was more like a pier and the threesome was soon pulled back.

Up front, Andy Schleck was showing his first good legs of this race, leading on the climbs and putting the hurt on his breakmates. Barredo came unglued on the Cloudburst KOM climb, about 40 miles into the race, and Clement fell back another 40 miles up the road.

The others continued, with varying motives. Hincapie was looking to move up on the GC, Schleck — who enjoyed the advantage of having a teammate with him in the break — could use a stage win to make up for an undistinguished week so far.

Horner leads Leipehimer, with Rogers behind

Rabou wanted KOM points. And McCartney and Wilson were there to protect the interests of their team leaders, Leipheimer and Zabriskie, respectively.

The result was that HTC-Columbia, for Rogers, and Liquigas, for Sagan, were left with most of the tempo duties on this marathon stage, with Garmin-Transitions taking up the slack occasionally.

“The whole team was just fantastic today,” HTC-Columbia team director Allan Peiper told VeloNews. “It’s not Mark Cavendish’s terrain but even Mark Renshaw did some work at the start. and then we used Bernie Eisel and Bert Grabsch for something like 140Ks … climb after climb.”

Over the mid-race climbs, the group maintained a six-minute gap as Rabou took KOM points and Schleck grabbed first place at the first of two intermediate sprints, in Wrightwood.

Under pressure from HTC-Columbia, the gap narrowed to just over five minutes with 45 miles to go. The pace divided the main peloton into a chase group and a gruppetto, and by mid-stage, a dozen riders had retired from the race, including top sprinters JJ Haedo and Francesco Chicchi. All the major GC contenders were in the chase group, where RadioShack’s Chris Horner was contributing to the chase.

Hincapie aggression

Soon after the second and last intermediate sprint at Crestline — which was actually the steepest climb of the day, with a near-20-percent wall just before the sprint line — Hincapie took a flier and got a gap on the others, going solo with 50km to go.

Fuglsang dragged the break back to the U.S. national champion and the group continued with a shrinking advantage.

Hincapie was the only one of the leaders who was constantly at the front. “You want everybody to work, especially today because it was so hard and windy,” he said. “I had good legs today; unfortunately we didn’t make it, but I gave it everything I had. It was just relentless all day long, up and down. It was like slow torture all day, even for the guys in the break.”

Ten miles later, Schleck blew up, dropping off the back of the break. Now just Hincapie, Fuglsang, Rabou, Wilson and McCartney remained.

Approaching the final KOM before the Big Bear climb, the gap fell under two minutes and RadioShack began what appeared to be coordinated attacks, in the break and the chase group.

“That’s all you can do, man,” Horner said. “A lot of the stages are hard but none of them are hard enough. That was a big ring climb pretty much, except for the very start.”

While The Shack’s Horner and Janez Brajkovic traded jumps out of the chase, McCartney jumped ahead of the break. J-Mac’s attack shed Fugsland and Rabou but Hincapie and Wilson clung to his wheel.
On the upper slopes of the crowd-lined climb, which topped out at 7,120 feet before descending to Big Bear Lake, Brajkovic continued to throw in attacks off the front of the chase group, marked by Garmin-Transistions’s Danielson and HTC-Columbia’s Tony Martin and Tejay Van Garderen.

We were down to three guys,” Peiper added. “Martin and Tejay held it together on those climbs in the last 50 kilometers; they bridged every gap. Every time The Shack went one of them went with them, and closed it down, and then started riding again. And this happened time after time. They were absolutely amazing. Mick Rogers didn’t have to lift a finger the whole day.”

Garmin’s Ryder Hesjedal countered a Brajkovic move and Horner dodged a running fan in a red unitard to get on Hesjedal’s wheel. But HTC-Columbia brought that pair back, too.

Garmin's Matt Wilson caught De Maar on the descent

All the aggression sucked in the Hincapie group with 25km to go, putting an end to all the hopes that drove the break for more than five hours.

As the three came back, UnitedHealthcare’s Marc De Maar — fifth on the GC — threw in a committed attack, opening a 45-second gap quickly, making him the virtual race leader with less than 20km to go.

The Rabobank team, which doesn’t have a rider in the top 20 on GC, probably regrets getting rid of De Maar to the American team. On the UHC team Web site, De Maar’s riding strength is described as: unpredictable, and he has been the sleeper at the top of the GC.

But the Dutchman could stay in the shadows no longer. Garmin’s Matt Wilson, apparently nicely recovered after spending much of the day in the breakaway, set out
after De Maar and caught him on the descent to Big Bear Lake.

Lake-side battle

The pair powered along the shore with a 35-second gap before HTC-Columbia got itself organized again and dragged them back to within striking distance, letting them dangle at 10 seconds. They snapped them up at the 1k kite as the road tilted up again to the Big Bear ski resort.

Rogers sat third behind two teammates, who kept the pace high well into the last kilometer, providing Sagan, Leipheimer and others with a shot at the stage win, but discouraging any attack that could produce real time gaps.

In the last 200 meters, Sagan, who won on a tough uphill finish Thursday, jumped past Rogers. The race leader was also passed by UnitedHealthcare’s Rory Sutherland.

“It was getting a little choppy,” Sutherland said, “and I had a few hits with Levi because he wanted Sagan’s wheel. I politely apologized and said that I was going to have that wheel and that if he wanted to sprint, he should do it behind me because I’m going to go for the win.”

Rogers’ time bonus was enough to end the tie at the top of the standings and move him 4 seconds ahead Zabriskie. Sutherland’s second place moved him past teammate de Maar and into fifth place on the GC.

“Everyone threw everything they had today,” Rogers said, “so I’m happy to hold on.”

With just 86 riders left in the race, every team is looking for some compensations. For the Canadian team Spidertech it was the performance of its U.S. rider Lucas Euser. “It was pretty rough today for us,” team member François Parisien said. “But Lucas was in the front group, so we’re in the game.”

Up next

Saturday’s stage 7 is the critical Los Angeles individual time trial. The 33.6-kilometer (20.9-mile) route is not the picturesque course the organizers had first envisioned at Venice Beach, but it remains critical to the GC race and is an unusual venue. The start and finish are at LA Live, the entertainment center that’s the crown jewel of AEG, the race owner. With 20 turns on each lap, along with two short climbs, it’s a TT course that demands good bike handling as well as outright strength. (Related: 2010 Tour of California route).

Complete results

Quick results

Stage results

  • 1. Peter Sagan
  • 2. Rory Sutherland
  • 3. Mick Rogers
  • 4. Levi Leipheimer

GC standings

  • 1. Michael Rogers,
  • 2. Dave Zabriksie at 4s
  • 3. Peter Sagan at 9s
  • 4. Leipheimer at 14s
  • 5. Sutherland at 29s