After what can only be described as an epic battle to the 6,445-foot summit atop Mt. Baldy, Robert Gesink (NED) of the Rabobank Cycling Team emerged victorious and took over the race lead, outclimbing two Colombia-Coldeportes riders to take the Stage 7 win of the 2012 Amgen Tour of California.
The 25-year-old Dutch rider, who suffered a serious four-place fracture in his leg last September, took the leader's jersey from American David Zabriskie of Garmin-Barracuda, by making up 39 seconds while adding another 46 to his lead going into the final day's finish in at L.A. LIVE in Los Angeles on Sunday, May 20. Zabriskie, who has finished second overall in the 2006, 2007 and 2010 editions of the Amgen Tour of California, slipped into second overall, while his American teammate Tom Danielson climbed from 7th to 3rd overall with their finishes Saturday. American Tejay van Garderen of the BMC Racing Team entered the day in second place, but lost two places and out of podium range after Saturday's stage.
"I am very happy to take the stage victory, and of course am very happy with the effort the team put in," said Gesink, who finished 6th overall and wore the Best Young Rider Jersey in the 2010 Tour de France while only a 23-year-old. "We started riding very early because we saw [Chris] Horner in the first group. A guy who does an attack like that has to be a really big rider to make a race as he did today. It was an incredible chase today; everyone was suffering. On the last climb I decided to go with five kilometers left. I think I looked back and the remaining group was small; it worked out perfectly. In the end, I was happy to take the stage victory. It's a great day for me and also for my sponsor, Robobank."
Gesink overtook Jhon Atapuma (COL) of Colombia-Coldeportes with a little under 1 kilometer to the finish on Saturday, crossing the finish line first after a stage that took the cyclists 78.3 miles from Ontario to the top of Mt. Baldy. Atapuma's teammate and fellow Colombian, Fabio Andres Duarte Arevalo, finished third.
Defending Amgen Tour of California champion Chris Horner (USA) of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek rode alone with Atapuma for more than 20 miles during Saturday's race, but faded in the final three miles to finish in sixth place on the day. Danielson finished in fifth place, moving him to third place overall.
What the stage lacked in distance, it more than made up for in vertical climbs, featuring two brutal King of the Mountains (KOM) at Glendora Ridge Road and Glendora Mountain Road and 15 switchbacks before the finish. Compared to the epic stages of the European Grand Tours, Stage 7 of the 2012 Amgen Tour of California routed cyclists from the city of Ontario to the top of Mt. Baldy.
As with yesterday, the attacks started early after the official start of the race. Initially, it was Jens Voigt (GER) of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek and Dries Devenyns (BEL) of Omega Pharma-QuickStep that took off in front of a break of about 10 riders, but Devenyns dropped back and Voigt was joined by Michael Matthews (AUS) of the Rabobank Cycling Team and Bontrager Livestrong's Nathan Brown (USA).
About eight kilometers from the first KOM of the day, there was a big group off the front with a one minute, 10 second advantage on the peloton. The group consisted of Voigt, Horner, George Bennett (NZL), Gregory Rast (SUI), all of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek; Timothy Duggan (USA) of Liquigas-Cannondale; Maxime Bouet (FRA) and Mikael Cherel (FRA) of AG2R La Mondiale; Marc De Maar (AHO) and Bradley White (USA) of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team; Atapuma; Alexandre Geniez (FRA) of Team Argos-Shimano; Lucas Euser (USA) of Spidertech Powered by C10; Christopher Baldwin (USA) of Bissell Pro Cycling; and Brown.
Points for the first KOM competition of the day went, in order, to Bennett, Voigt, Horner and White, and as the riders descended the twisty and technical road, the gap was at one minute, 45 seconds. The Rabobank Cycling Team, Garmin-Barracuda and Omega Pharma-QuickStep were taking turns at the front the group, and the gap held at two minutes. Shortly thereafter, Euser and White dropped from the break, leaving the initial eight riders.
Horner and Atapuma began working alone at the front of the break, while the rest continued to chase or dropped back to the main group. With a three minute, 40 second lead, they continued on as BMC Racing Team worked at the front the peloton for teammate van Garderen (USA). Atapuma and Horner were the first riders of the second KOM of the day, followed by Duggan and De Maar. With 20km from the finish, Atapuma and Horner's lead held steady at two minutes, 25 seconds.
The two leaders continued to work together as they headed toward the base of Mt. Baldy one minute, 25 seconds ahead of the nearest chasers. The BMC Racing Team continued to push the pace at the front of the peloton. As Atapuma attacked and Horner responded, Gesink moved out in front of the peloton, attempting to catch the race leaders alone. He was followed by Danielson and van Garderen. Gesink and Danielson rode ahead of van Garderen, with Gesink just 35 seconds behind Atapuma.
Moving swiftly up the hill, Gesink dropped Danielson, then caught and passed Horner, but Horner didn't give up easily, hanging onto Gensink's wheel. Meanwhile, Arevalo began moving up, passing van Garderen and charging upwards. With less than one kilometer to go, Gesink passed Atapuma. Atapuma answered the attack, but was no match for Gesink, who crossed the line first.
"It was a very hard day," said Atapuma during the post-race press conference. "I got in the break and I was looking at [Chris] Horner when I attacked so I could stay in his wake and contest for a stage win until the last climb. Then I moved away from Horner and couldn't get the stage win. But, for our team to get second and third in a tough stage, and in such an important race, is a very good result anyway."
With only one stage remaining in the race, the leader jerseys are as follows: Gesink is in the yellow Amgen Race Leader Jersey; Peter Sagan (SVK) of Liquigas-Cannondale remains in the Visit California Sprint Jersey; Sebastian Salas (USA) of Optum Powered by Kelly Benefit Strategies remains in the Nissan King of the Mountains Jersey; Wilco Kelderman (NED) of the Rabobank Cycling Team wears the Rabobank Young Rider Jersey; Atapuma is in the Exergy Most Aggressive Rider Jersey; and Horner wears the Amgen Breakaway from Cancer® Most Courageous Rider Jersey.
"Amgen is proud to be part of this amazingly successful race, which is helping advance the popularity of cycling in America while also helping increase awareness of the resources that are available to those affected by cancer," said Stuart Arbuckle, vice president and general manager, Amgen Oncology. "The Breakaway from Cancer nonprofit partners collectively offer people affected by cancer a broad range of support services complementing those provided by a patient's team of healthcare professionals."
Founded by Amgen in 2005 as a complementary component to its title sponsorship of the Amgen Tour of California, Breakaway from Cancer continues to raise awareness of the important resources available to people impacted by cancer - from prevention to survivorship.
As part of the today's race activities, Ontario resident and cancer survivor Ruben Estrada fired the official start gun, and Mike Monroe had the honor of awarding Horner with the Amgen Breakaway from Cancer Most Courageous Rider jersey. In fact, Monroe designed this year's Amgen Breakaway from Cancer Most Courageous Rider jersey.
"As an avid cyclist, I'm well aware of how great an event the Amgen Tour of California is, and I'm blown away by being selected as the winner of the jersey design contest," explained Monroe. "The biggest honor is to be part of such a great initiative like Breakaway from Cancer. When I first heard of the contest, I was excited to combine my love of cycling and art in the same project. I really wanted to design a piece where the Breakaway from Cancer logo stands out, and I believe my design does that," Monroe added.
For access to resources or to learn more, visit breakawayfromcancer.com.
STAGE 8 TOMORROW:
Sunday, May 20 - Beverly Hills to L.A. LIVE Downtown Los Angeles (42.6 mi/68.5 km)
Start Time: 10:10 a.m.
Estimated Finish Time: 11:42 - 11:58 a.m. PT
Stage 8 of the 2012 Amgen Tour of California will start in what is quite possibly the most quintessential L.A. city - Beverly Hills. A first in the history of the race, the start line will be just across Rodeo Drive, where the Ferraris, Lamborghinis and the occasional Bugatti Veyron will be replaced with Giants, Treks, BMCs, and Specialize bikes. Designer dresses will give way to high-tech lycra.
A quick turn after the start will take the riders onto Santa Monica Boulevard and then north on Doheny Drive into the city of West Hollywood. Following the route of the famous LA Marathon, the race will reach Sunset Boulevard and then make a right turn, heading towards Hollywood. Heads in the peloton are sure to turn as the riders pass the likes of Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, Kodak Theater, Mann's Chinese Theater, the intersection of Hollywood and Vine, and the Pantages Theater. The route will then turn southeast and travel past Dodger Stadium.
At Grand and Caesar Chavez avenues, the riders will enter the five-mile long circuit that will take riders through Chinatown, past Los Angeles City Hall, the historic Biltmore Hotel, Disney Hall and the LA Music Center as they race past STAPLES Center and L.A. LIVE to the finish line.
The winner of the 2012 Amgen Tour of California will be crowned on a special awards stage in Los Angeles at L.A. LIVE, a suiting location given the countless number of winners who have also tasted victory here, including GRAMMY, American Music Award, Emmy, ESPY, MTV and American Idol winners. At the end of the race, the winner, along with the team who supported him, will take top honors for having survived the longest and most difficult stage race ever contested in the America.
Also taking place tomorrow, for the first time in the race's history, cycling fans and enthusiasts will have the opportunity to participate in the Amgen Tour of California by riding on the actual race course just prior to the eighth and final stage of the 750-mile, Tour de France-style competition.
The 'Nissan Ride Before the Pros,' taking place in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday, May 20, 2012 from 8-9:30 a.m., will allow cyclists of all levels to ride on a 5-mile, closed-circuit course that will be part of the 2012 Amgen Tour of California's eighth and final stage taking place that same day. Free to participants of all experience levels, the 'Nissan Ride Before the Pros' will begin and end at the official finish line where the professional riders competing in the 2012 Amgen Tour of California will cross to complete the 42.6-mile stage they started in Beverly Hills on Rodeo Drive earlier in the day.