The final stage of the 2010 Amgen Tour of California was anything but ceremonial, as overall leader Michael Rogers had to fend off attack after attack to defend his yellow jersey.
But defend he did, finishing the 84-mile circuit race in Thousand Oaks in a small group that included rivals Dave Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer. It was a hard-earned victory for the HTC-Columbia rider, who began Stage 8 with a nine-second lead over Zabriskie of Garmin-Transitions and a 25-second lead over Leipheimer of Team RadioShack.
Just before Rogers could officially celebrate, Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin-Transitions used a timely acceleration to take the stage victory ahead of BMC Racing Team's George Hincapie.
It wasn't until the final lap of the stage that the fireworks really began. A seven-man breakaway held a three-minute gap on the chase group. Hincapie was the best-placed rider in the front, but at 6:03 back it wasn't a small enough margin to worry the yellow jersey. As the peloton neared the final climb up Mulholland Highway, Garmin-Transitions began to drive the pace, and the gap started to diminish. With 20 kilometers to go it was down to 1:45.
Nearing 19K to the finish, Leipheimer pulled to the side of the road to change a wheel. Shortly after catching up with the peloton, the defending champion launched an attack on the ascent. Rogers stuck to his wheel, but Zabriskie was delayed in catching up. When he did, he brought Leipheimer's teammate Chris Horner with him. Hesjedal and Yaroslav Popovych of Team RadioShack eventually joined the group, leaving Rogers the only contender without a teammate.
Zabriskie launched a quick attack with just over 12K to go, but Rogers kept him close. Then Hesjedal and Horner took off and Rogers was content to let them go. Zabriskie tried again. Caught. Next it was Leipheimer's turn. Rogers countered his move, too. Zabriskie came to the front and began to push the pace, followed by Leipheimer. But Rogers was able to keep his rivals in check and the group began the descent together, along with Rabobank rider Sebastian Langeveld, who had dropped off the back of the breakaway.
With less than seven kilometers to the finish line, Horner and Hesjedal joined Hincapie, Barredo and Oscar Pujol of Cervelo TestTeam in the lead. As they came within the final kilometers, Hincapie kept himself in second wheel, never letting anyone solo away off the front.
When the group reached the final straightaway, Horner led, followed by Hincapie. Hesjedal, in third position, accelerated with Carlos Barredo on his wheel. Hincapie's reaction was too late to make the catch, though he was able to put himself in front of Barredo. Horner finished fourth.
Hesjedal's victory propelled Garmin-Transitions to the top spot of the overall team classification by just two seconds over Team RadioShack. In addition to winning Stages 5 and 6, Peter Sagan of Liquigas-Doimo also came away from the race with the Sprinter's Jersey and the Best Young Rider award. Thomas Rabou scored a big victory for the American continental squad Team Type 1 by dominating the King of the Mountain standings.
In moving the race to May, organizers looked to take advantage of the climbs of the Sierra Mountains in an effort to create a tougher race. By structuring Stage 8 in circuits over undulating terrain, organizers hoped to keep the drama high until the final crossing of the finish line. The increased difficulty of this year's race was evident in the number of teams that finished with all eight riders still in the race: zero.
Michael Rogers (middle) celebrates his overall victory as he crosses the finish line with Levi Leipheimer (right) and David Zabriskie (left). -- Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Stage 8 Results
- Ryder Hesjedal - Garmin-Transitions 3:21:56
- George Hincapie - BMC Racing Team +00:00
- Carlos Barredo - Quick Step +00:00
- Chris Horner - Team RadioShack +00:00
- Oscar Pujol Munoz - Cerv?lo TestTeam +00:05
- Sebastian Langeveld - Rabobank +00:28
- Levi Leipheimer - Team RadioShack +00:28
- Michael Rogers - HTC-Columbia +00:28
- Dave Zabriskie - Garmin-Transitions +00:28
- Yaroslav Popovych - Team RadioShack +00:34
Final Overall Classification
- Michael Rogers - HTC-Columbia 33:08:30
- Dave Zabriskie - Garmin-Transitions +00:09
- Levi Leipheimer - Team RadioShack +00:25
- Chris Horner - Team RadioShack +01:04
- Ryder Hesjedal - Garmin-Transitions +01:08
Sunday, May 23 — 83.5 miles
The final day of the Tour consists of four circuits passing through Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village and Agoura Hills. The curvy up-and-over on Mulholland Highway could be a good place for a stage winner to attempt a break from the peloton.
? Sprints points at: Finish line (2x)
? KOM points at: Mulholland Highway