I was supposed to interview Phil Southerland of Team Type 1 today. He called me early this morning before the stage start when my cell phone battery died. Aaagh! We've rescheduled for tomorrow morning, and Kristian will take a couple of photos of Phil for me.
Enthusiastic crowds turned out at the start of the race today in Visalia as race leaders Levi Leipheimer (USA) of Astana, Michael Rogers (AUS) of Team Columbia-Highroad, David Zibriskie (USA) of Garmin-Slipstream and Lance Armstrong (USA) of Astana led the peloton into Stage 5 of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California. Equally impressive crowds lined the streets in Paso Robles to witness the incredible sprint to the finish line that saw Mark Cavendish (GBR) of Team Columbia-Highroad take his second consecutive stage win in the 2009 Amgen Tour of California. Leipheimer maintained the overall lead after coming in 15th place in the longest stage of the race. Day six of the 2009 race included no King of the Mountain competitions, but two sprint competitions on a flat, fast day of racing that took the riders from Visalia to Paso Robles.
Moving into second and third overall were Rogers and Zabriskie, respectively.
“This was the day that I was planning on winning this year,” said Cavendish. “It was a hard day; harder than expected. It seems like they’ve replicated the Tour de France with the speed and the par course. It has been incredibly hard.”
Team Columbia-Highroad again delivered Cavendish to the finish line at the front, where he sprang off the lead-out wheels to win with ease. And once again it was Quick Step's Tom Boonen (BEL) who finished second in the stage, just ahead of Pedro Horrillo (ESP) of Rabobank.
“This stage win is massively important,” added Cavendish. “Any stage in the Amgen Tour of California is big. It’s big for the team, and this one is a bit more personal because it’s close to home. Every other stage is important, but this one is a bit more personal.”
Despite the apparent ease of victory for Cavendish, it was a long, hard stage for him and the rest of the field. A six-man group escaped only seven miles into the 134.3- mile route from Visalia to Paso Robles, with early attacks led by Jelly Belly's Matthew Crane (USA), who was eventually joined by Jeff Louder (USA) of Team BMC, Robert Gunn (AUS) of Fly V Australia Powered by Successful Living, Glen Chadwick (NZL) of Rock Racing and Cameron Evans (CAN) Ouch Presented by Maxxis.
Cruising through the flat San Joaquin Valley floor under sunny skies, the escapees steadily opened the gap to a maximum of eight minutes mid-way through the race, with Astana leading a steady tempo in the field. At 50 miles to go, Quick Step, Team Columbia-Highroad and Saxo Bank began sharing the load at the front, and the time differential decreased rapidly. The breakaway splintered under the pressure, with Chadwick being the last one reeled in with less than three miles to go, when Team Columbia-Highroad led Cavendish to take over.
With the sun hanging high in a flawless baby blue sky in Paso Robles, all of the top riders finished in the main group, completing a long, flat stage leading into the critical Individual Time Trial in Solvang tomorrow.
It’s going to be a big showdown tomorrow,” said two-time defending champion and overall leader Leipheimer. “You have the three-time World Champion Michael Rogers and Dave Zabriskie, the National Champion, so it will be special. I’m actually really looking forward to it. I feel good; I’ve felt great throughout the whole race. I feel pretty awesome about keeping the lead.”
There were only two changes in the jerseys today, with Amgen’s Breakaway from Cancer™ Most Courageous Rider Jersey going to Matthew Crane (USA) of Jelly Belly Pro Cycling and the Herbalife Sprint Jersey going to Cavendish. The other jersey winners remain unchanged with Leipheimer in the Amgen Leader Jersey, Robert Gesink (NED) of Rabobank in the Rabobank Best Young Rider Jersey and Francisco Mancebo (ESP) of Rock Racing in the California Travel & Tourism Commission King of the Mountain (KOM) Jersey.
“The crowds today in Paso Robles were absolutely amazing,” said Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports. “It was great to see such an enthusiastic response from a new host city. We had a great race today, and the best part is, it is still anyone’s race tomorrow. Tomorrow should prove to be a critical day for the world-class cyclists and a remarkable day for the spectators who come out to see the always popular time trial.”