Record crowds were on-hand for Stage 1 of the Amgen Tour of California to watch the world’s best cyclists travel over some of California’s most scenic highways, from Sausalito to Santa Rosa, culminating with a climactic finish in downtown Santa Rosa as Juan Jose “J.J.” Haedo (ARG), of Team CSC, sprinted to an impressive win, his fifth stage win in the Amgen Tour of California (2006-2008), ahead of Gerald Ciolek (GER), of High Road, and Heinrich Haussler (GER) of Gerolsteiner.
“The final 60km (40 miles) of the race were very fast; I barely made it to the finish. That was a really hard part for me,” said Haedo, Stage 1 winner. “Everyone was really fast today, but when you see the last 200 meters, you go as hard as you can and don’t look back. We have a lot of good sprinters in the Amgen Tour of California, really a good level of competition.”
Haedo’s teammate Fabian Cancellara (SUI), the overall race leader after yesterday’s Prologue, retained the Amgen Leader's Jersey after an exciting day of racing.
The 98.6-mile stage from Sausalito to Santa Rosa took the scenic coastal route along Highway 1 before turning inland for a difficult ascent up the 827-ft. Coleman Valley Road climb, 64 miles into the race. After about 10 miles, Jackson Stewart (USA) of Team BMC, who lives in nearby Los Gatos, Calif., found himself in a solo lead after attempting a breakaway move with three other riders.
“Suddenly I was a minute ahead of the field and I thought I’ll just keep it going and try for the KOM (California Travel and Tourism King of the Mountains classification points),” said Stewart.
Stewart achieved this goal by remaining clear of the field over the summit of Coleman Valley Road, where he backed off as the field raced up to reabsorb him about 20 miles before the Santa Rosa finish. Stewart also claimed the three intermediate Herbalife sprint prizes, at Point Reyes Station, Tomales and Bodega Bay.
With 40 miles covered, Stewart’s lead over the peloton had grown to as much as 13 minutes, but as the field approached the steep Coleman Valley climb, with gradients up to 15 percent, the pace intensified and Stewart started to come back.
The peloton fragmented as it powered up Coleman Valley Road, and Jens Voigt (GER) of Team CSC showed strong form by following Kevin Seeldraeyers (BEL) of Saunier Duval – Scott over the top, second in the peloton.
In the undulations following the summit, more attacks came and the group broke up into three, with 80 riders in the first group, 11 in the second and 33 in the third.
The tight Santa Rosa finishing circuits have gained a reputation in the short history of the Amgen Tour of California for producing thrilling action in front of a vast, roaring crowd. This year was no exception as the riders sped around the closing laps. QuickStep lined up its two World Champions, Tom Boonen (BEL) and Paolo Bettini (ITA), for the sprint, as did the formidable Team CSC and Slipstream Chipotle Presented by H30.
George Hincapie (USA) of High Road also found himself in a good position for the sprint. Going around the final corner, with only a few hundred yards remaining, Hincapie touched wheels with Tom Boonen and crashed heavily, but made it to the finish in 74th place, despite being grazed from head to toe. High Road reported that he had no broken bones and is expected to start tomorrow.
“So far, the race has been fantastic; exceeding expectations,” said Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports, presenter of the race. “We’ve been doing this for three years now and it keeps getting better. I think we’re getting to the point where we are one of the most important races on the calendar. We want to continue to grow bigger. We want to be one of the races that people plan their calendars around.”
Showing an impressive performance on Stage 1, the California Travel & Tourism Commission King of the Mountain (KOM) Jersey and the Tachyon Most Aggressive Jersey were both claimed by Jackson Stewart (USA) of Team BMC. And the Herbalife Sprint Jersey went to Haedo (ARG) of Team CSC. Gerald Ciolek (GER) of High Road took the Union Bank of California Best Young Rider Jersey. Team CSC, winner of the 2006 and 2007 overall team classification, leads the overall team classification.
The top-three general classification leaders after today are Cancellara (SUI) of Team CSC, Team Slipstream Chipotle Powered by H30’s Tyler Farrar (USA) in second and High Road’s Bradley Wiggins (GBR) in third.
Defending champion, Levi Leipheimer (USA) of Astana rode into a hometown welcome from the cheering crowds lining the roads in Santa Rosa. Fourth overall after today’s stage, Leipheimer heads into Stage 2 with high hopes for his team’s performance over the rest of the week.
“Compared to last year, the crowds just get bigger and bigger. Every year, I’m astonished at how many people are here,” said Santa Rosa resident Leipheimer. “Cycling has really grown around here and I think that is due in large part to the Amgen Tour of California. It feels great to have people cheer me on and to race on the roads that I know every inch of and have trained on for the past twelve years; it’s really special.”
As a new component to the 2008 Amgen Tour of California professional road cycling race, Stage 1 featured a category Pro 1,2 Women’s Criterium. Using portions of the Stage 1 men’s finishing circuit in Santa Rosa, the Women’s Criterium was enthusiastically welcomed by the fans lining the course. Brooke Miller from Tibco won the inaugural race.