Amgen Tour of California: A day in the team car

With an available seat, Health Net-Maxxis team director Mike Tamayo offered VeloNews's Neal Rogers a spot in its Tour of California caravan vehicle for Tuesday’s wet stage from Santa Rosa to Sacramento. What follows is his account of a day riding with Tamayo and team mechanic Eva Barabas.

By Neal Rogers

Phil Zajicek

Phil Zajicek


With an available seat, Health Net-Maxxis team director Mike Tamayo offered VeloNews‘s Neal Rogers a spot in its Tour of California caravan vehicle for Tuesday’s wet stage from Santa Rosa to Sacramento. What follows is his account of a day riding with Tamayo and team mechanic Eva Barabas.

Because of its position on team general classification, Health Net-Maxxis sat as car 10 of 17, behind Crédit Agricole and in front of Saunier Duval-Scott. Health Net started stage 1 as car six, but dropped to tenth in team GC standings after top prologue finisher Karl Menzies, one of many riders in the peloton stricken with a violent stomach virus, lost time on the Coleman Valley climb Monday. Health Net’s second-placed rider in the prologue was 24-year-old rider John Murphy, who finished 20th, posting the fastest split of the day for the first 35 riders until Slipstream-Chipotle’s Dave Zabriskie bettered his time.

10:00: The race begins, and caravan vehicles slowly proceed out of Santa Rosa behind the peloton.

10:05: Tamayo responds to radio check after missing the stage 1 radio check while attending to Karl Menzies’ illness.

10:10: After a 2.4-mile neutral procession, Tamayo resets the car’s odometer to zero. Quick Step-Innergetic rider Tom Boonen and Paolo Bettini both drop back and then roll past, apparently dealing with clothing.

10:15: Health Net rider Rory Sutherland calls Tamayo to the back of the field to discuss the route. “You good?” Tamayo asks.

“Well, not that good,” a wet Sutherland smiles before rolling up to the back of the peloton.

10:16: BMC rider Scott Nydam attacks the field.

10:18: Kelly Benefits Strategies-Medifast rider Jonny Sundt takes off in pursuit of Nydam.

10:18: Race radio announces that Mark Renshaw (Crédit Agriclole) did not start the race.

10:24: Tamayo’s thoughts on the fight for the Tour of California general classification: “It’s interesting with the Discovery Channel team disbanded and Levi, George, Jason McCartney, and Tom Danielson no longer teammates. It makes the racing more interesting.”

Tim Johnson

Tim Johnson

Photo: Neal Rogers

10:25: Tamayo rolls up to the back of the field to Johnson, who passes back his rain jacket and informs Tamayo that his computer had died. Meanwhile, after dozens of riders pull off for a nature break, several Health Net riders ditch their clothing while passing through the caravan.

10:30: Race radio announces that Nydam has 2:55 on the field, and that Sundt is 1:15 behind Nydam.

10:30: Tamayo’s thoughts on whether the Amgen Tour of California developing into a ProTour event would be a positive or a negative for U.S. Cycling, given that domestic teams would no longer be able to compete: “I think it would be bad for U.S. cycling. Look at the ProTour. You have the Giro jumping ship, the Tour de France jumping ship. You have to wonder if it’s working. I think there is just enough international flair at this race to make it interesting. We are used to races like Joe Martin or Toona or Gila, where we can control things, whereas here we take a backset and have to look for opportunities. It’s a nice twist to the season.”

10:35: Nydam’s solo move has gone up to 4:15, while Sundt is two minutes behind the BMC rider. It’s shaping up into a second consecutive day of a BMC rider alone off the front.

10:40: Tamayo knows these roads well from team camps during his days as director of the Victory Brewing women’s team. He warns his riders that there is a turn approaching in 2km. “Every time we make a turn for the next three turns, the road gets narrower and narrower, all the way to Trinity Grade.” Nydam is at the bottom of the climb with a 5:10 lead as the field passes through the town of Warm Springs.

10:45: Tamayo asks Barabas, one of a select few female team mechanics, to check the GC standings to confirm that Nydam was dropped over the Coleman Valley climb yesterday and lost time on the main GC contenders. (Nydam dropped his chain and lost contact with the lead group.) “Then the CSCs, the Astanas, they’re not going to care. They’ll let him go all day.”

10:47: Tamayo explains that he’s got a Garmin GPS unit programmed with every stage route, so he can easily inform his riders of upcoming turns. “It’s easier than consulting with the race manual,” Tamayo said. “I’m a geek. I get picked on for enjoying my gadgets, and being a little OCD in the things that I do.”

10:49: Health Net’s Matt Crane drops his chain but quickly resumes riding, and laments the incident over team radio.

10:51: Tamayo gets word that team mechanic Jeff Dykzeul has come down with the stomach virus that is working its way through the race, affecting team riders and staff.

10:55: Tamayo explains that there is much more to team staff’s duties than just what occurs during the race. “Our day starts so early before the bike race. This morning was nice and peaceful, the guys were just going to ride to the start, but then it started raining, and we didn’t want guys to ride and then just stand around in rain. So we had to load up the bikes, load up the guys in the van. All of a sudden we had to hustle, everyone went from sitting around drinking coffee to running around.”

[nid:72485]11:00: Jelly Belly rider Matt Rice, another rider to come down with the stomach virus, is trailing off the back the peloton. The temperature on the Trinity Grade climb is 48 degrees. Setting pace are riders from CSC, as well as Health Net’s Roman Kilun.
“Kilun is at the front, watching what goes up the road so that Phil [Zajicek] and Rory don’t have to. Today is a non-GC day, but we want to make sure we’re represented if anything goes away.”

11:04: Johnson comes over the radio, warning his riders to watch the yellow line paint on the descent, which, he says, is “super slick.”

11:10: Race radio announces that Hilton Clarke and Rock Racing’s Doug Ollerenshaw crashed on the descent but quickly remounted

11:15: Race radio announces the riders to receive KOM points atop Trinity Grade. Yesterday’s solo breakaway, Jackson Stewart, received more KOM points and appears to have recovered from his efforts.

1. Scott Nydam (BMC)
2. Jonny Sundt (Kelly Benefit Strategies-Medifast)
3. Jackson Stewart (BMC)
4. Jens Voigt (CSC)
5. Alexander Moos (BMC)

11:25: Worried that he might also have contracted the stomach virus, Tamayo dropped back in the caravan to ask a team doctor for an anti-nausea pill.

11:30: Nydam’s gap to the field is 9:45, while Sundt is 6:15 behind Nydam, or 3:30 ahead of the field.

11:35: Murphy pulled over for a nature break, and on the way through the caravan asks Tamayo for a bottle. However feeding from team cars is not allowed until 50km into the race, and Tamayo sends him back to the field empty handed. Meanwhile up ahead, Menzies goes to visit the race doctor looking to treat his stomach. Nydam’s lead has grown to 12:05. Former Health Net team director Jeff Corbett, who is working at the race with organizer Medalist Sports, phones Tamayo to let him know of what the latest weather report looks like.

Frank Pipp

Frank Pipp

Photo: Neal Rogers

11:45: Health Net rider Frank Pipp drops back to the team car to retrieve his booties, and pulls over to put them on. “It is not warm out here,” Pipp says. “It doesn’t help that you guys are crawling,” Tamayo replies. “Yeah, everyone is just chatting at the front,” Pipp says.

11:50: Race radio announces that feeding is now allowed from team cars. Johnson drops back while Barabas passes bottles from the back to Tamayo, who then relays them to Health Net’s team captain.

12:30: As the peloton approaches the day’s second climb, Lake Berryessa, Tamayo tells his riders to start thinking about their layering. “We’re probably going to start racing bikes here soon,” he says. “Some of you might start to overheat, so keep that in mind.” Sutherland immediately drops back and hands off his rain jacket. Minutes later, the team car passes through the feed zone, where soigneur Joby Bazzan hands Barabas a musette bag full of panini sandwiches, gels and bottles in case any riders missed their feed.

12:35: At mile 47.3 Nydam’s gap is holding at 11:25. Bazzan informed Tamayo that the field would soon catch Sundt, who has also ridden alone for nearly two hours and is three minutes ahead of the peloton.

12:45: Race radio announces the riders to receive KOM points atop Lake Berryessa. Only four riders received points because of the climb’s Cat. 4 ranking. Clearly BMC is looking to own the KOM jersey, with Nydam taking today’s maximum points and Stewart and Moos keeping any other teams from taking points.

1. Scott Nydam (BMC)
2. Jonny Sundt (Kelly Benefit Strategies-Medifast)
3. Jackson Stewart (BMC)
4. Alexander Moos (BMC)

1:00: Sutherland asks Tamayo how far they have to the finish. The answer: 90km. Nydam is 5km from the first intermediate sprint in Winters.

1:10: Riders are furiously dropping back for bottles and abandoning layers as the peloton prepares for the first intermediate sprint and an inevitable picking up of the pace.

1:15: Chris Horner is drinking a Coke in the field while the entire Rock Racing team drops back to bring Mario Cipollini back from a wheel change. The gap to Nydam is 12:25.

1:20: Tamayo fields a call from a local ABC affiliate in Sacramento, and answers a few questions about the race. Though the rain is not falling on the race, he’s told it’s raining in Sacramento. As the peloton rolls through agricultural fields on the roads into Davis, it passes an older woman on a quad ATV with an American flag who is furiously shaking a cowbell. Race radio announces the riders to receive points and time bonuses following the first intermediate sprint in front of an enthusiastic crowd in the town of Winters.

1. Scott Nydam (BMC)
2. Gerald Ciolek (High Road)
3. Tyler Farrar (Slipstream-Chipotle)

With his one-second bonus for third place, Farrar is now just one second behind race leader Fabian Cancellara. Nydam will likely stay away for the next sprint in Davis, and with two seconds available for second place and one second for third, Farrar needs to take second on the next sprint to become race leader on the road — assuming Nydam is brought back. The next sprint comes in 12km. The pace has picked up and field is now strung out single file.

1:35: Because of the day’s slow pace, the back of the car isn’t swimming in wet, used rain gear like it might otherwise be. “Normally you dump all those clothes in the back and let the riders figure it out,” Barabas says. “But I’m shoving their individual clothes into their individual bags, because there’s plenty of time.”

1:55: The field is seeing 1km from the sprint in Davis. As he has been all day, Nydam was first across the intermediate line, this time by 8:05. The questions are: Will Nydam be brought back? Can Farrar take the virtual race lead, and if so, can he keep it at the line? Because Ciolek took second at the first intermediate sprint, he’s only six seconds behind Farrar. With three, two and one seconds up for grabs in Davis, and ten, six and four seconds available at the finish line in Sacramento, scenarios exist for either rider to move into the race lead.

2:00: Race radio announces the riders to receive points and time bonuses following the second intermediate sprint in front of an enthusiastic crowd in Davis.

1. Scott Nydam (BMC)
2. Tyler Farrar (Slipstream-Chipotle)
3. Gerald Ciolek (High Road)

With Farrar in the virtual race lead, assuming Nydam is brought back, the responsibility now falls on Slipstream-Chipotle to chase down the BMC rider. High Road will also be motivated to pit Ciolek, second in Santa Rosa, against Farrar, who placed fifth. However High Road has several riders who are not at one-hundred percent, including Aussie Adam Hansen, who has the stomach flu, and George Hincapie, who crashed badly in Santa Rosa while leading out Ciolek. However with Ciolek, Mark Cavendish and Edvald Boussan Hagen, High Road has perhaps the deepest sprint team in the race.

2:15: The new gap from Nydam to the field is 5:45. Slipstream is at the front bringing down the gap. “CSC was smart today,” Tamayo says. “Tomorrow is a hard day. They are going for the overall win, and instead of pulling all day, they let Tyler go for the time bonuses. They’ve forced Slipstream to take control of the race, and now they can rest.”

2:25: Tamayo tells his riders to take position for the finishing circuits, instructing Johnson and Sutherland to help Pipp to be ready for the sprint, Menzies to stay on Pipp’s wheel, Kilun to stay with Zajicek and make sure he makes it in safely, and Crane and Murphy to look for opportunities. The gap is just below three minutes.

2:30: The field is 96 miles into the stage, and just 8 miles from circuits, where riders will face three two-mile circuits. Weather reports are that the rain, which is light, is coming down harder in Sacramento, which fortunately has wide, flat, straight roads. Setting pace at the front are High Road, Quick Step and Rock Racing. The gap has come down to 1:20. Nydam’s solo ride has almost perfectly mirrored Stewart’s effort of yesterday.

2:38: Nydam has finally been reeled in, at the 99-mile mark, meaning he rode 90 miles alone.

2:40: While there are plenty of sprinters in the field, Tamayo admits Health Net doesn’t have a true sprinter. Their best chances are Pipp and Menzies, however in a field that boasts world-class riders like Tom Boonen, Mari Cipollini, J.J. Haedo and Oscar Freire, a sprint win isn’t likely for the domestic team.

2:53: With less than 20km to the finish, Tamayo gets on the radio and tells Pipp, “Alright, Frank, it’s time for some real bike racing. Don’t be afraid to take a risk or two.”

3:00: With 4km remaining until the final circuits in Sacramento, CSC and Slipstream-Chipotle are setting the pace at the front. It’s been a long, hard day for Sundt, who just punctured, just after his teammate Alex Candelario, and is standing on the road holding his wheel in the air. Ahead, the field is strung out single file. Matt Rice of Jelly Belly has survived the day with the stomach flu, but he’s off the back and has to ride it in alone.

3:05: With three laps to go J.J. Haedo has flatted on the backside of the Capital building. Race leader Fabian Cancellara has given him his wheel, confirming that a stage win is more important to CSC than another day in yellow.

3:10: Haedo is back on the field, while High Road and Saunier Duval are setting the pace at the front.

3:14: Tamayo informs his riders that they’ll be seeing one lap to go as they cross through the finish line. Producing hard time trial efforts on the long straight-aways but taking it careful on the wet corners, Cancellara has bridged back on to the field — an effort few riders in the pro peloton could duplicate. High Road remains at the front.

3:17: Race radio incorrectly informs the caravan that Rice, who is now lapped, has attacked the field on the final lap. The mistake is quickly corrected.

3:20: Tamayo is deviated off course on 15th Street, four blocks from the finish on 11 Street. Word is announced over race radio that Boonen has won the stage. Crane is the top Health Net rider on the stage, in 13th, with Murphy in 22nd and Pipp in 23rd.

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