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By Ben Delaney
At the Tour de Georgia, mechanics spent the night before Saturday’s decisive Brasstown Bald stage switching cassettes on wheels. In place of 10-speed units with a 21, 23 or 25 as the lowest gear, riders’ rear wheels for today have 26, 27 and even 28 teeth. Unfortunately for most riders, adding that metaphoric “extra gear” isn’t quite so easy — either you have it or you don’t to make it up Brasstown near the front.
Astana’s Chris Horner currently sits in fifth overall, sandwiched between teammates Levi Leipheimer and Antonio Colom. After creating a good position for itself with the team time trial in stage 4, Astana rode the front of the field yesterday to keep a four-man breakaway under control.
“Yesterday the legs felt good, strong,” Horner said. “All the other [Astana] guys were doing work, so it was normal numbers for me. Colom, Levi and myself were tucked in the group. If Colom and I had had to ride yesterday at the end, we would have, but there wasn’t any reason to do more work. Once we got to 1:35, we were happy to let the break win the race if that was the case.”
Horner, Leipheimer and Colom are only 4 seconds down on GC, behind Slipstream-Chipotle’s Trent Lowe, Dave Zabriskie and Christian Vande Velde, respectively.
Horner is riding a 28-cog cassette for the day.
“Brasstown is super steep, as steep as they come,” Horner said. “You can’t get them any steeper. We’re riding 28s [12-28 cassettes] up it. There aren’t many races where you need to ride 28s. At Pais Vasco we ran a 28, and that was a 2km climb instead of a 5km climb. You can find some stuff in Europe as steep, but you can’t find anything steeper.”
Slipstream-Chipotle’s Tom Danielson is riding a SRAM Red 11-27 cassette, with the distinctive back side covered up with black ink. He has a 38-tooth small ring. Danielson lost 17 seconds on stage 5 after he dropped his chain on the day’s final KOM that came just 2km from the finish.
“I started the hill in my small ring, then we sped up, and I put it in my big ring and dropped it,” Danielson said. “I felt good yesterday, but we’ll see. Coming back after injury, I’m definitely still lacking a little bit in the punchy stuff. I’ll have to be creative today in what I do.”
Danielson’s Slipstream boss Jonathan Vaughters was in a good mood at the start, saying he was very happy with what his team had done in the race thus far.
“But Brasstown is effectively a 10k running race,” Vaughters said. “Teamwork doesn’t have a whole lot to do with it. Either you’ve got it or you don’t. It’s great that we have three guys there. But physics-wise … maybe they could give each other slingshots.”