Amgen Tour of California: Stage 6

Peter Sagan takes back to back stage wins

In a stage characterized by consistent climbing on the route from Palmdale to Big Bear Lake, Peter Sagan (SVK) of Liquigas-Doimo emerged victorious. In the longest and most challenging day of the 2010 Amgen Tour of California included the race’s first-ever mountain finish. Michael Rogers (AUS) of HTC-Columbia came in third place in the stage, securing the Amgen Leader Jersey heading into day seven and the individual time trial at L.A. LIVE in downtown Los Angeles.

“When we’re riding, I hear the crowds calling out ‘Mick Rogers’ or ‘HTC-Columbia’ and it is encouraging. We came here to race,” said Rogers.

Palmdale City Hall served as the backdrop for Stage 6 of the Amgen Tour of California, the most difficult stage in the five-year history of the race, a mountainous 135.3-mile leg from Palmdale to Big Bear Lake with more than 12,000 ft. of climbing. After a five-mile neutral section heading south on Sierra Rd., the route made a left turn onto Angeles Forest Highway. Facing the riders next was the imposing San Gabriel mountain range, and within a few miles, the first of seven King of the Mountains (KOM) competitions. The first real break of the day occurred on the lead into the first KOM at Mill Creek Summit (Cat. 4 – 4,906 ft.), and included Jason McCartney (USA) of Team RadioShack, Carlos Barredo (ESP) of QuickStep, Matthew Wilson (USA) of Garmin-Transitions, George Hincapie (USA) of BMC Racing Team, Stef Clement (NED) of Rabobank, Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) of Team Saxo Bank, Andy Schleck (LUX) of Team Saxo Bank and Thomas Rabou (NED) of Team Type 1. Taking the KOM was Wilson, followed by Rabou and Schleck.

Hincapie won Most Courageous Jersey

Behind the breakaway, Darren Lill (RSA) and Ben Day (AUS) both of Fly V Australia, along with Ryan Anderson (CAN) of Kelly Benefit Systems began to form a chase group, but were quickly pulled back in by the peloton, which was being led by HTC-Columbia. The second of seven KOMs, at Hwy. 2 (Cat. 3 – 5,046 ft.) was taken by Rabou, followed by McCartney and Clement. This KOM was the kick-off to a series of four almost back-to-back climbs that would truly challenge the cyclists. As the break approached Coldburst Summit (Cat. 2 – 6,924 ft.), the KOM was taken by Rabou, followed by Clement and Hincapie, while Barredo fell off the back and rejoined the peloton.

After passing through the feed zone, next up was the Dawson Saddle KOM (Cat. 3 – 7,900 ft.), followed almost immediately by the Blue Ridge Summit KOM (Cat. 3 – 7,302 ft.). The Dawson Saddle climb, which is the highest point the 2010 Amgen Tour of California will reach, was taken by Rabou, with McCartney and Clement following behind. With the peloton now split into two chase groups, the break crested Blue Ridge Summit with Rabou in first, Clement in second and Wilson in third. This series of climbs was followed by the first sprint competition of the day, which was taken by Schleck, in Wrightwood where the streets were lined with cheering fans.

At the lowest elevation in the mountain portion of today’s stage the leaders held a gap of 6:10 on the peloton, and nearly nine minutes on the gruppetto. On the way to the next climb, Clement lost contact with the break and fell back, eventually rejoining the peloton. Shortly after, as the cyclists made their way through the second feed zone, the first crash of the day occurred, but everyone was able to recover.

The sixth climb of the day came next at Hwy. 138 (Cat. 3 – 4,649 ft.) and was taken, once again, by Rabou. With no time to rest, the cyclists were then faced with the second and final sprint of the day at Crestline, which was taken by Schleck. Then, the cyclists faced the final challenging climb of the day at Hwy. 18 (Cat. 3 – 5,628 ft.), the “Rim of the World” Highway, which was won by Rabou, followed by Wilson and Schleck.

Following the climb, the break was taken down to just five riders – Hincapie, Fuglsang, Rabou, Wilson and McCartney – with a gap of only 2:40, but within only a few minutes and an attack, it was taken down to only three – McCartney, Wilson and Hincapie.

Hincapie said the 217 km stage with seven climbs was harder than he imagined. Still, he thought his group might make it to the finish. “Unfortunately two guys weren’t working too hard because they had team obligations,” Hincapie said. “It was relentless with the wind and the climbs all day. It was slow torture out there.”

Entering the Big Bear area, the riders took the northern route around Big Bear Lake to reach the finish line at the Snow Summit ski area for the Amgen Tour of California’s first-ever alpine finish. With only about 15 miles of racing to go, the break was caught as they traveled along the final stretch into Big Bear Lake. At this point, Marc De Maar (NED) of UnitedHealthcare Presented by Maxxis took the opportunity to make a break for it and was eventually caught by Matt Wilson (USA) of Garmin-Transitions. Keeping the break for most of the final stretch into town, they were caught with just about half a mile to go, giving Sagan the opportunity to take the win – his second consecutive stage win in the 2010 Amgen Tour of California.

“I wanted to win a stage and now I’ve won two. So I’m very happy,” said Sagan.

Moving into second and third overall were U.S. National Time Trial Champion Zabriskie and Sagan, respectively.

Southeast Riders

Stage Notes: Chris Butler crashed in the feed zone but he was okay.

George Hincapie (BMC): 16th on the stage; 19th GC; Winner Most Courageous Jersey
Chris Butler (BMC): 35th on the stage; 42nd  GC
Matt Crane (UnitedHealthcare): Did not make time cut
Davide Frattini (Team Type I): 72nd on the stage; 64th GC