By Neal Rogers
Toyota-United’s Dominique Rollin may be celebrating Thursday’s 7 1/2-hour march as his best-ever day as a professional cyclist, but he’s likely the only rider in the Amgen Tour of California peloton to feel that way.
Twelve riders abandoned during the 135-mile stage, which dished out rain, 55-degree temperatures and 40mph headwinds, while the stomach virus that has plagued the peloton — claiming race leader Tyler Farrar of Slipstream-Chipotle and others on Wednesday — prevented three riders on Gerolsteiner from starting. Among the non-starters was points leader Heinrich Haussler. Two more Gerolsteiner riders dropped out during the race, lopping its team from eight riders to three. Of the 132 riders to start the prologue, just 105 remained to cross the line in San Luis Obispo.
Once on the road the attrition rate was constant. Riders dropping out included Tom Danielson (Slipstream-Chipotle), Burke Swindlehurst (Bissell), Ivan Dominguez (Toyota-United), Johnny Sundt (Kelly Benefit Strategies-Medifast) and Matt Crane (Health Net-Maxxis). The Bissell Clean Sweep broom wagon was so overloaded with bikes that the driver was forced to unload them in a feed zone.
The first rider from the day’s 11-man breakaway to call it quits was Julien Belgy of Bouygues Telecom. However the biggest bomb to come over race radio was the report that BMC’s Jackson Stewart, the solo breakaway artist from stage 1 into Santa Rosa, had left the breakaway and abandoned after taking three KOM points and effectively reclaiming the KOM jersey from his teammate Scott Nydam.
Stewart left his bike around mile 80 and immediately climbed into an ambulance to be treated for hypothermia, marking the third time in three days that a rider leading a jersey competition had left the race, after Farrar and Haussler.
“I am sure Jackson will take home some valuable lessons in terms of managing resources,” said BMC team manager Gavin Chilcott. It wasn’t just the weather, but the length of the stage, he added.
“These guys are used to riding 135 miles, but it doesn’t usually take them eight hours. The cold temperatures and the winds made it a big day. The wind was constant, so there was a lot of wind chill, and the temperature was about 55 with no sun. Also, the riders didn’t go that hard; there was not a lot of attacking. The riders went through the day riding the most efficient way possible. They might have been able to get through it better if the racing was a little more aggressive.”
Chilcott added that team staff stayed busy managing their riders’ clothing.
“Even the best guys in the world were spending time at cars with vests, jackets, etc.,” Chilcott said. “Mechanics were going into the back seat, pulling out specific clothing items all day. We had guys coming in wearing some of their casual clothing. For instance, I don’t have my own jacket on right now because it rode in the last 20km.”
High Road’s George Hincapie, a veteran of the cobbled classics, said Thursday’s stage wasn’t the worst day on a bike he’d ever had, but that it ranked up there.
“The conditions were terrible,” said Hincapie, who was one of only three men from the day’s breakaway to finish ahead of the peloton. “It was a headwind all day, really just amazingly strong winds. It wasn’t so much that my hands or my feet were frozen, but my core was just so cold, the wind just went right through you. It’s hard to compare to a World Cup like Flanders or Paris-Roubaix, where you are going all out all day, but it was epic.”
Health Net’s Phil Zajieck summed the day up more concisely, saying, “That was probably the most miserable day I’ve spent on my bike — ever.”
Rollin, however, had a different take.
“The last time I raced in this kind of weather I won,” he said, referring to stage 2 of the 2005 Tour de Beauce. “Even if when I am on the bike I think ‘I can’t stand this,’ the worse it is, the better I do, so keep it coming.”
The remaining riders have little to look forward to: Rain is forecast for the next three days in California.
Riders who did not start stage 4:
Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner)
Johannes Frohlinger (Gerolsteiner)
Heinrich Haussler (Gerolsteiner)
Riders who abandoned during stage 4:
Dmytro Grabovsky (Quick Step-Innergetic)
Patrice Halgand (Credit Agricole)
Jonathan Hivert (Gerolsteiner)
Mathias Frank (Gerolsteiner)
Peter Wrolich (Gerolsteiner)
Julien Belgy (Bouyges Telecom)
Tom Danielson (Slipstream-Chipotle)
Jackson Stewart (BMC)
Jonathan Sundt (Kelly Benefit Strategies-Medifast)
Matt Crane (Health Net-Maxxis)
Ivan Dominguez (Toyota-United)
Burke Swindlehurst (Bissell)
Riders that were time-cut after stage 3:
Cyril Lemoine (Credit Agricole)
Karl Menzies (Health Net-Maxxis)
Jonathan Clarke (Toyota-United)
Riders that did not take the start of stage 3:
Eros Capecchi (Saunier Duval-Scott)
Adam Hansen (High Road)
Riders that abandoned during stage 3:
Edvald Boasson Hagen (High Road)
Laurent Lefevre (Bouyges Telecom)
Tyler Farrar (Slipstream-Chipotle)
Kevin Lacombe (Kelly Benefit Strategies-Medifast)
Hilton Clarke (Toyota-United)
Matt Rice (Jelly Belly)