Stage 5 (121.5 miles/195.5 km) took the riders through the heart of California’s San Joaquin Valley and into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. After the neutral start in Visalia, the cyclists headed due south through Exeter and Lindsey and up the narrow and twisty Old Stage Road; the day’s first of two KOMs. The race got to a rough start, with a big crash less than thirty minutes after the start in Visalia as the road narrowed heading out of town, that included Leipheimer and Armstrong, along with several other riders. Proving to be a devastating crash to the group, Stuart O’Grady (AUS) of Team Saxo Bank and Armstrong abandoned the race to secure medical attention (both are being treated for their injuries and will not be returning to the race). Heinrich Haussler (GER) of Cervélo TestTeam abandoned the race shortly after as well, but had not been involved in the crash.
With incredible crowds lining the street, the first sprint of the day took place in Lindsay and was taken by Robbie Hunter (RSA) of Garmin-Transitions, followed by Michael Rogers (AUS) and Mark Cavendish (GBR) both of HTC-Columbia. About 20 miles into the stage, Thomas Leezer (NED) of Rabobank and Davide Cimolai of Liquigas-Doimo broke away from the pack, creating a small gap, but were quickly swallowed back up. Shortly after, another breakaway formed that included Marcus Berghardt (GER) of BMC Racing Team, Tony Martin (GER) of HTC-Columbia and Jeremy Hunt (GBR) of Cervélo TestTeam and as the group neared the second sprint of the day additional riders joined to form a break of 15.
The second and final sprint of the day in Porterville was nabbed by Karl Menzies (AUS) of UnitedHealthcare Presented by Maxxis, followed by Jeremy Powers (USA) of Jelly Belly Presented by Kenda and Martin. In a chase led by HTC-Columbia, the break of 15 was brought back in, which was promptly followed by several counter attacks until one finally took, which included Paul Mach (USA) of BISSELL, Ben Day (AUS) of Fly V Australia, Grischa Nierman (GER) of Rabobank, Mark Renshaw (AUS) of HTC-Columbia, Kurt Hovelynch (BEL) of QuickStep and Will Dicksen (AUS) of Jelly Belly Presented by Kenda.
Continuing on to Bakersfield, the route headed into the Kern River oil field, the fifth largest in the United States, where the riders encountered several short, steep climbs. The route then took the riders further inland to tackle the narrow and twisty Old Stage Rd. climb (Cat. 3 – 3,345 ft.), which was taken by Mach, followed by Nierman and Hovelynch. The breakaway powered on, but an elite chase group led by Team RadioShack was following at about four minutes behind. As the riders continued on the way to the final climb of the day, Round Mountain Rd. (Cat. 4 – 1,421 ft.), which was just 21 miles from the finish line in Bakersfield, different teams took turns leading the chase group. From the apex of the final climb, the cyclists will be able to look down onto the finish at Bakersfield College. On the ascent, Day took the opportunity to launch an attack and pulled out ahead of the breakaway, followed closely by Renshaw, but they were caught by the remainder of the breakaway on the descent.
The final obstacle of the day was a 10 percent climb up China Grade, which was part of two finishing circuits in Bakersfield. With one lap to go Day pulled away from the group and the rest were caught by the chase, but at the base of the grade on the final circuit, he too was absorbed by the group. In an all out sprint to the finish, Liquigas-Doimo pushed Sagan to the front for the win, followed by Rogers in second and David Zabriskie (USA) of Garmin-Transitions, who started the day as the race’s overall leader, in third.
“It was a pretty tough day today with the hard climb, the strong wind and the breakaway that got away. With two laps to go, it was Liquigas-Doimo and Garmin-Transitions who did the work to bring it back,” said Sagan. “Dave Zabriskie took off early in the sprint and with a couple meters to go. It was the right moment and I found a gap.”
“Once again, my team delivered for me pretty well. I’m very happy to put on the Amgen Leader Jersey…and every second counts,” said Rogers.
George Hincapie (BMC): 22nd on the stage; 23rd GC
Chris Butler (BMC): 48rd on the stage; 43th GC
Matt Crane (UnitedHealthcare): 34th on the stage; 68th GC
Davide Frattini (Team Type I): 72nd on the stage; 59th GC