Sylvain Georges (FRA) of AG2R La Mondiale won Stage 6 of the 2012 Amgen Tour of California in thrilling fashion, riding solo out in front of the break for a majority of the finishing stretch and crossing the line in front of thousands of screaming fans who were cheering him on.
The Frenchman, overcome with emotion after such a grueling stage, crossed the line with his hands in the air, but quickly collapsed into the arms of his teammates after holding off a charging peloton that included race leader Dave Zabriskie (USA) of the Garmin-Barracuda team and Peter Sagan (SVK) of Liquigas-Cannondale, who has won four stages of this year's race and finished second Friday.
"This is the fifth win of my career - but the biggest win of my life," said Georges at a post-race press conference. "This is also my biggest win with the biggest team I've been a part of. I thought I'd tempt fate on the second KOM because I knew I had the legs, and from that point on, it was all or nothing. I held it in my head and was able to hold it until the end."
With only two stages remaining in this year's Amgen Tour of California, Zabriskie holds a 34 -second lead over fellow American Tejay van Garderen of the BMC Racing Team heading into Saturday's decisive mountainous stage from Ontario to the summit of Mt. Baldy.
Stage 6 took riders from Palmdale to Big Bear Lake, repeating a similar route from the 2010 edition of the race. A fan and rider favorite, the stage featured four King of the Mountain (KOM) climbs and two sprints before finishing at the Snow Summit ski area, more than 7,000 feet above sea level.
The attacks came fast and furious at the start of Stage 6 in Palmdale. Right away a break formed, including Gregory Rast (SUI) of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek; Mikael Cherel (FRA) and Georges of AG2R La Mondiale; Yukihiro Doi (JPN) of Team Argos-Shimano; David Boily (CAN) of Spidertech Powered by C10; Jeremy Vennell (NZL) of Bissell Pro Cycling; and Andrew Bajadali (USA) of Optum Powered by Kelly Benefit Strategies.
As the break reached the first climb of the day - Mt. Emma - they had a three minute, five second advantage on the peloton. Boily picked up maximum King of the Mountain Points (KOM) after crossing the line first, followed by Sebastian Salas (USA) of Optum Powered by Kelly Benefit Strategies, Bajadali, and Rast. After the decent from Mt. Emma, the break increased their lead over the peloton, stabilizing around seven minutes, 15 seconds about 13 kilometers from the second climb. As the break reached the top, they had increased their lead to a solid eight minutes, as the peloton clipped along comfortably.
At the top of the second KOM, Salas attacked and Boily couldn't keep up. Bajadali countered, edging out Boily, forcing him to cross the line third, while Rast crossed shortly thereafter. On the decent, the riders picked up speed and the gap narrowed to six minutes, 33 seconds. As the race rolled along Highway 15, there were a few attempted attacks, but none that stuck. The gap stabilized at six minutes, 20 seconds.
Salas drove the break to the top of the third KOM of the day, crossing first, followed by Boily, Bajadali, Doi and Georges, further fueling the fight for overall
KOM points between Salas and Boily. After a short sprint competition, the gap was four minutes, five seconds, and Vennell began fading off the break while Boily and Salas turned up the heat as they worked toward the next KOM of the day. Boily couldn't keep up the rapid pace, leaving Salas to go forward with Georges and Doi. Liquigas-Cannondale, working for initial race leader Sagan, pedaled hard at the front of the peloton.
Salas reached the fourth and final KOM of the day first, all but securing the Nissan King of the Mountain Jersey for good, followed by Georges. The peloton remained behind with a gap of four minutes, 45 seconds, Liquigas-Cannondale still working hard at the front. As the peloton crested the climb, it was Georges who rode out in front solo, with Rast, Salas, Vennell and Doi working together to reel him back. However, Georges worked up a two minute, 10 second lead on Rast and Vennell, and a three minute, 10 second lead over Salas and Doi. The break stayed at five minutes, five seconds ahead of the peloton.
Showing incredible resolve, Georges continued to go it alone at the front, working four minutes, 50 seconds ahead of the peloton. Salas and Doi were pulled back as Pieter Weening (NED) of Orica-GreenEDGE went out on the attack. Garmin-Barracuda and Liquigas-Cannondale continued to work hard at the front of the peloton as Wilco Kelderman (NED) of the Rabobank Cycling Team counterattacked Weening. As the peloton inched closer to Vennell and Rast, Vennell dropped back. Georges was still four minutes, 10 seconds up the road.
Weening caught and passed Rast, so he began working with Kelderman to catch Georges, but there was no catching him. As the chasers were caught, Sagan, Jens Voigt (GER) of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek and Peter Velits (SVK) of Omega Pharma-QuickStep launched one last attack, but Georges remained one minute ahead and crossed the finish line alone, arms raised in triumph.
After a grueling day of racing, Georges walked away with the Stage 6 win, followed by Sagan in second and Velits in third. Georges was also awarded the Exergy Most Aggressive Rider Jersey for his impressive efforts. General Classification standings after Stage 6 remained nearly the same, with Zabriskie in the yellow Amgen Race Leader Jersey, van Garderen in second and Robert Gesink (NED) of the Rabobank Cycling Team moving into third.
"The gap Sylvain was holding was pretty impressive," said Zabriskie. "A lot of other teams came up to help, and my team was amazing all day. We got the gap down enough in the end. Hats off to this guy [Sylvain Georges]."
When asked about keeping the yellow Amgen Race Leader Jersey, Zabriskie continued, "I expect people to attack me. That's pretty much the only way they're going to win. I expect me to try and follow and try to retain this jersey and my dream."
After putting in a tremendous effort on the climbs, Salas remains in the Nissan King of the Mountains Jersey. Also retaining jerseys at the end of Stage 6 were Sagan in the Visit California Sprint Jersey and Luke Durbridge (AUS) of Orica-GreenEDGE in the Rabobank Young Rider Jersey. Timothy Duggan (USA) of
Liquigas-Cannondale won the Amgen Breakaway from Cancer® Most Courageous Rider Jersey.
"For more than 30 years, Amgen has tapped the power of pioneering science and innovation to discover and develop innovative human therapeutics," said Stuart Arbuckle, vice president and general manager, Amgen Oncology. "That's why Amgen is proud to sponsor the Amgen Tour of California and to continue Breakaway from Cancer as a vehicle to raise awareness of the important resources available to people affected by cancer - from prevention through survivorship."
Amgen created the national Breakaway from Cancer initiative in 2005 as a complementary component to its sponsorship of the inaugural Amgen Tour of California. Through Breakaway from Cancer, Amgen and its four nonprofit partners offer a broad range of support services complementing those provided by a patient's team of healthcare professionals.
Today's activities featured cancer survivor Becky Stafford who fired the official start gun to begin the stage, and cancer survivor Nigel Holland had the honor of awarding Duggan with the Amgen Breakaway from Cancer Most Courageous Rider jersey.
For access to resources or to learn more, visit breakawayfromcancer.com.
STAGE 7 TOMORROW:
Saturday, May 19 - Ontario to Mt. Baldy (78.3 mi/126 km)
Start Time: Noon PT
Estimated Finish Time: 3:17 - 3:56 p.m. PT
Stage 7 of the Amgen Tour of California will be the ultimate test of the rider's resolve to capture the Amgen Leader Jersey. It's been called the "Queen's Stage" and compared to the epic stages of the European Grand Tours - a return to the mountain top finish that thrilled so many during Stage 7 of the 2011 race.
This is the training ground for many of the local racers in southern California, but only a handful have done the entire route, and none have done it after six days of racing nearly 750 miles. It is very possible that the winner of the 2012 Amgen Tour of California will be decided on the final 15 switchbacks to the finish on Mt. Baldy.
The race will begin in the thriving city of Ontario, situated just 35 miles east of Los Angeles. Just a few miles from the start, the riders will start a 13-mile climb to the Village of Baldy. After an acute left, the racers will face another mile of climbing up Glendora Ridge Road to their first of three monster KOMs. From there, they will have 12 miles of narrow and twisting roads that gradually descend to a fast and technical descent down the backside of Glendora Mountain Road. Riders and fans alike can expect spectacular vistas throughout the Angeles National Forest.
Another descent down East Fork will take the riders to Highway 39 and the town of Azusa. Heading east, they'll race through the City of Glendora for the only Sprint of the day. At this point, the remaining number of flat miles for Stage 7 will have dwindled to less than two,
and there are still nearly 30 miles to the finish.
A left turn onto Glendora Mountain Road and it will be game on. The next KOM will be a nine-mile climb, followed by 12 miles of a slight climb back to Baldy Village. A left turn back onto Baldy Road will see the race gain 1,000 feet in just three miles…and the real climbing has not even started! At Ice House Canyon, the route will make a hard left turn where the sign to the ski area points towards the sky. Over the next 2.5 miles, the riders will face 10 switchbacks on a road that is so steep that many of the race vehicles cannot make it to the top. With 1.2 miles to go, the road will straighten out and the finish will be seen ahead. At .25 miles to go, the route will make a hard left and the racers will face the final five switchbacks to the finish line. This will be the stage where legends are made and winners are decided.