The Amgen Tour of California rolls into San Jose on Friday
after five days of intense racing with weary cyclists facing an individual time
trial sure to test the sturdiest of heart.
After a surprise shake-up in the standings Thursday during a 115-mile stage from Santa Barbara to Avila Beach, tour favorite Tejay van Garderen of BMC Racing Team has a 42-second lead over Australia's Michael Rogers of Team Saxo-Tinkoff. Colombian climber Janier Acevedo, who led by 12 seconds at the start of the day, is 50 seconds behind in third place.
The shuffle on the leader board came 33 miles from the Stage 5 finish, thanks to RadioShack-Leopard's Jens Voigt, at 41, the oldest rider in the field. He took off in cross winds with van Garderen, Rogers and some other race favorites following him. But Acevedo got caught out of position and couldn't recover.
Voigt, though, wasn't finished. The German made another bold attack near the finish to steal the stage victory. Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Sharp was second in the stage, followed by sprint stars Thor Hushovd of BMC and Peter Sagan of Cannondale Pro Cycling.
Now the question is whether van Garderen can hold off the challengers in one of the defining moments of the tour that ends Sunday in Santa Rosa and includes a climatic finish atop Mount Diablo on Saturday.
The time trial starts on Bailey Avenue and ends 19.6 miles later at Santa Clara County Motorcycle Park. Cyclists have a long,
flat stretch along Santa Teresa Boulevard before encountering an exhausting, twisting climb to the top on Metcalf Road.
Even considering the surprise racing Thursday, the ascent could be the most important mile of the 750-mile race.
"If you don't push hard enough on the flat you will lose too much time, but if you push too hard the final climb is going to eat you alive," said Jim Miller, vice president of athletes for USA Cycling.
"The person who wins that will be the one who can combine the speed and aerodynamics with the brutal effort of a climb," 2012 Olympian Timmy Duggan, Rogers' Saxo-Tinkoff roommate.
The time trial is a race against a clock instead of competitors. It is the one moment of a road race the cyclists are laid to bare.
"They call it the 'race of truth,' " Duggan said. "It's you out there on the road and there is nowhere to hide."
Unlike other stages, competitors are not permitted to help each other with drafting and other ways to conserve energy. They take off in 30-second intervals, with the overall leaders going at the end.
The idea sounds easy: keep a steady pace just below the anaerobic threshold -- in cycling terms, "the red line." If only it were that simple for the tricky course that almost immediately starts with a climb on Bailey Avenue.
U.S. Olympian Evelyn Stevens, one of 15 elite females competing in a women's time trial that starts just before the men's event, said the course has a little bit of everything: rolling hills, a long straightaway, curves, wind and, oh yeah, that leg-burning finish.
Stevens, who tested the course a few days before the race, welcomed the climb.
"You just turn off and not think too much," she said.
But those who want to take control of the Tour of California had better spend time strategizing before tackling the course, USA Cycling's Miller suggested.
The favorites probably will break down every mile of the route to figure out when they can push their maximum threshold and when to back off.
"Almost every good time trialist is an AA or AAA type personality -- just obsessive with detail," Miller added. "There are a lot of people who technically should be good at the time trial but it comes down to what's happening between their ears."
Time trials also take special equipment, including tricked out bicycles, clothing, helmets and handlebars. Riders usually pedal in what is known as a tuck position to overcome drag from air flow. Everything is designed to save seconds.
But a specially designed bike for a typical time-trial course is inefficient for the Metcalf climb, which has grades of 10 percent.
"It becomes the domain of a different type of rider, even a different type of bike and strategy," Duggan said.
Stevens, a two-time U.S. time trial champion and world silver medalist in the event, can't wait to see how others handle the climb.
Do they switch bikes at the bottom of Metcalf, costing them 15 seconds to 20 seconds in hopes of making up the difference on the climb?
Racers can't just have a bike waiting for them at the side of the road. They must get a new bike off a support vehicle. Miller doesn't expect anyone to switch to a road bike for the final push but expects some teams to lighten their bicycles to handle the climb.
Duggan, for one, has a simple plan to survive the painful experience.
"I'm going to focus on my breathing and pedaling," he said.
(c)2013 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)
Visit the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) at www.mercurynews.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
Most Popular Stories
- Criminal Investigation Opened Into James Foley's Death
- Swiss Suicide Tourism Doubled Since 2009
- Florida's Largest Insurer Says 'Bailout' Attacks Unfair
- Wealth Gap Widened in Past Decade: Census
- Gap Reports Higher Profits, India Plans
- International Revulsion Grows Over James Foley Death
- James Foley Beheading Sparks Anger, Little Action
- Beyonce, Jay-Z Cuba Trip Was Legal After All
- Chinese Stock Funds Are a Late-summer Bloomer
- Sears Holdings Loses $573 Million