Road

On Tap at AToC: Sunday belongs to the sprinters

The first road stage of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California will take riders from the cycling crazy college town of Davis west into Santa Rosa, home of two-time race champion Levi Leipheimer. While there are three categorized climbs on this 107.6-mile stage, it still appears to be one for the sprinters. [nid:87869] The two main obstacles for the fast-twitch finishers will be the Howell Mt. Road climb, which tops out at about 1,800 feet and comes at mile 60, and the Petrified Forest Road climb, which is much shorter — only about 600 feet of elevation gain — and comes at mile 82.

By Ben Delaney

2009 ATOC, stage 1: Mancebo was an early leader on Sunday, later joined by Tim Johnson and David Kemp.

2009 ATOC, stage 1: Mancebo was an early leader on Sunday, later joined by Tim Johnson and David Kemp.

Photo: Neal Rogers

The first road stage of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California will take riders from the cycling crazy college town of Davis west into Santa Rosa, home of two-time race champion Levi Leipheimer. While there are three categorized climbs on this 107.6-mile stage, it still appears to be one for the sprinters.

On Tap at AToC: Sunday's course profile

On Tap at AToC: Sunday’s course profile

Photo:

The two main obstacles for the fast-twitch finishers will be the Howell Mt. Road climb, which tops out at about 1,800 feet and comes at mile 60, and the Petrified Forest Road climb, which is much shorter — only about 600 feet of elevation gain — and comes at mile 82.

Another challenge for the riders will be the weather. Riders woke Monday morning in Sacramento to wind and rain with dark, stormy skies, and the forecast only calls for more of the same. At the start, a large crowd wearing ponchos and slickers waited in pouring rain while riders stayed under cover as long as they could.

Although the route itself is new to the tour, the finish is not. Three finishing circuits in downtown Santa Rosa will give the sprinters a good look at the finish line before it’s game on.

Saxo Bank sprinter JJ Haedo won here last year after a chaotic crash where race leader Levi Leipheimer, among many others, was delayed behind a pile-up through the start/finish with two laps still to go.

Stage 1 pics

Using the highly scientific method of arguing over drinks, the VeloNews editorial team assembled the following predictions for the stage podium:

1. Mark Cavendish (Columbia-Highroad). WHY: Team Columbia, as a unit, is flying, and this race is “second only to the Tour de France” in importance for America’s ProTour team. With a fit squad including the likes of George Hincapie, Kim Kirchen, Adam Hansen, Mark Renshaw, Michael Barry and more, Cavendish will be properly delivered to the finish.

2. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) WHY: How can you look at a roster than includes Big Boonen and not include him in your picks for the finish?

3. Oscar Freire (Rabobank). WHY: Um, because he’s sprinted to win at three world championships?

THE PRIOR PICKS
Yesterday for the prologue podium we picked Fabian Cancellara, Thor Hushovd and Levi Leipheimer. Early in the race we bumped into Specialized founder Mike Sinyard (his company sponsors Saxo Bank and Quick Step, among others), who picked Fabian Cancellara, Levi Leipheimer and Lance Armstrong. Using our tried-and-true scoring system from the Tour de France, where you get 1 point for the right name in the wrong podium spot, and 3 points for the right name in the right spot, the score is now VeloNews 4, Mike Sinyard 7. Shoot.

This year Haedo’s competition is formidable. Quick Step’s Tom Boonen is here, fresh off his second consecutive victory at the Tour of Qatar. With a seventh place prologue, he’s obviously going well. Judging from the results in the Qatari desert, Columbia-Highroad’s Mark Cavendish is neck-and-neck with Boonen. The young sprinter from the Isle of Man took two Qatar stages against Boonen and also finished well Saturday. Cervélo TestTeam’s Thor Hushovd can never be ruled out in a sprint. And Garmin-Slipstream’s Tyler Farrar is also eager for a win. Last year the American finished just off the podium in Santa Rosa, and this year he laid down a good time in the prologue.

Other sprinters who will certainly be looking for the finish include former U.S. criterium champion Brad Huff (Jelly Belly), currently 15th on GC, three-time world champ Oscar Freire (Rabobank), and former U.S. road champion Fred Rodriguez (Rock Racing), among others.

With 28 men — including all those listed above — within 11 seconds of the leader’s jersey, today’s finish is about more than the stage win. There are time bonuses on the line for the top three finishers of 10, 6 and 4 seconds. Further, the two intermediate sprints each pack 3, 2 and 1-second bonuses for the first three men across the lines in Winters (mile 14) and Calistoga (mile 79).

Last year, thousands of noisy fans packed the Santa Rosa finishing circuit. This year should only be bigger.

In addition to following our live text coverage of the prologue as it unfolds and results and stories afterward, be sure to check out our new video show, VeloCenter, for analysis, highlights and tech features from each day’s stage.
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