High Road closed out an extremely successful Tour de Georgia on Sunday with a 2nd stage win for their sprint specialist Greg Henderson, who nailed down the sprinter's jersey, and the overall victory for Belorussia's Kanstantsin Sivtsov.
High Road ran a tempo clinic, letting a group of 14 hold a minute or so all the way to the final lap, where Rock Racing came to the front to close down the breakaway, which included Tom Danielson, Justin England, Aaron Olson, and Sebastian Lang, among others. Danelson, England, and Cameron Evans attempted to hold off the chase, but it all came together in the last mile.
Rock, riding in special orange jerseys just for the stage, hoped to set up Freddie Rodriguez, who won the Tour de Georgia's first Atlanta finish. But on the line, it was Henderson who won the uphill sprint to the line ahead of CSC's Juan José Haedo and Symmetrics Andrew Pinfold, with Rodriguez in 4th.
In the overall categories, Sivtsov closes out the victory in his first US race, Trent Lowe of Slipstream, 2nd overall, took the young rider's jersey (which he also won in 2005), Jason McCartney took the king of the mountains jersey through his long Stage 6 breakaway, and Henderson took the overall sprinter's jersey. Astana, which didn't have much else to show for its week, took the overall team competition.
The Broadband Racer has video of Siutsou's big win, and a brief interview immediately afterward. The Belorussian gave a shout-out to George Hincapie, who advised Siutsou on the climb and the best point to launch his attack.
It must have been pretty good advice, as neither Levi Leipheimer nor Trent Lowe was able to match the pace when the new race leader made his move.
Kanstantsin Siutsou burned the field today at Brasstown Bald, outfoxing Team Slipstream and Astana, whose team leaders marked each other and let Siutsou escape at 500 meters.
Team High Road takes its 2nd stage win, and now holds two leader's jersey, with Siutsou in the yellow and Greg Henderson the leading sprinter.
This is the sort of stage that Jason McCartney always seems to dominate, and Iowa's greatest climber didn't disappoint. McCartney powered the day's longest break, and won himself the Tour de Georgia's overall King of the Mountains jersey for his trouble, while breakmate Neil Shirley of Jittery Joe's took the day's Most Aggressive Rider award.
Team Slipstream's Trent Lowe rode a tactically smart race -- until that final 500 meters. Astana's activity in the breaks effectively isolated Lowe at the bottom of the climb, but the young Aussie didn't panic. Instead (shades of Floyd Landis 2006) he marked the man he thought was the biggest threat to his leader's jersey, daring Leipheimer to break him and holding his wheel to the summit, where Lowe finally dropped Leipheimer in the final 150 meters. In retrospect, I'm sure he wishes he had marked Siutsou.
Woe to Astana -- their ride looked pitch perfect. They put riders in all the good breaks, and had Leipheimer well placed with Rubiera, Horner, and Colom at the bottom of the day's last climb, but Leipheimer couldn't deliver. The miss leaves Astana without a stage win or a day in an individual leader's jersey, but puts them in the lead in the team competition.
Slipstream can take some consolation from the young rider's jersey, firmly in Lowe's grasp, and sprinter Tyler Farrar, 8 points back of Henderson in the sprint jersey competition.
I was on the scene yesterday when one of the race motorcycles hit two spectators crossing the road.
The caravan had come through, but a photo motorcycle hadn't left. The crowd started to cross the road (in fact I had just crossed the same road) when I heard the unmistakable sound of plastic sliding on asphalt.
As it almost always does, the Tour de Georgia comes down to who can survive the climb to Georgia's roof, Brasstown Bald, elevation 4600 feet.
The GC is still fairly tightly bunched, with Trent Lowe, David Zabriskie, and Christian Vande Velde in a virtual tie for the race lead, and Astana's Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner 4 seconds back. Leipheimer took this stage last year, 49 seconds ahead of then-teammate Tom Danielson, and 1:38 ahead of Vande Velde (who, by virtue of last year's 29-minute breakaway, had nothing to prove here).
This is a stage Rock Racing's Oscar Sevilla, 53 seconds back, has apparently circled on his calendar, and Tom Danielson has commented that he sees the stage as a test of his recovery and fitness. Those two and Leipheimer are my favorites for the stage win, with CSC's Jason McCartney a dark horse.
The stage to Brasstown changes almost annually, and this year, the climbing is back-loaded. We'll get underway with a rolling loop that brings the riders back through Blairsville, the stage start, for a sprint at 38.9.
Then, after a feedzone at mile 50, riders hit the 1st-category Hogpen Gap climb around mile 50 (cresting at 57), the 2nd-cat Unicoi Gap climb starting at about 66 miles (cresting at 74), and the beyond-category climb to Brasstown kicking riders in the quads starting just after mile 80 and finishing at 88.4.
Most of the spectators will be lining the spur road that covers the final 3+ miles up to the summit.
Action kicks off at 11, and I will be providing Twitter updates through most of the stage.
Team Slipstream took off fairly early today, edging CSC's leading lap times as they rode. They were amazingly smooth and disciplined, quietly storming around the course.
When Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner's Astana squad took the course, they quickly outpaced Slipstream's time on Laps 1 and 2 of the Road Atlanta race course, and it looked like we might have a new best time of the day, but a slow third lap left Astana 3 seconds short of the Argyle Army.
Last to leave the start house was George Hincapie and race leader Greg Henderson's Team High Road. Again, their early laps set the standard, but they faded late, charging to the line 5.2 seconds slower than Team Slipstream. High Road's Greg Henderson holds the lead by virtue of a few bonus seconds earned on the road, but Slipstream's got a strong quartet sitting at 15 seconds -- Tom Danielson, Trent Lowe, Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie.
CSC was 4th on the day at 12.72 seconds, Toyota-United 5th at 23.43. One team that has to be disappointed is Rock Racing, 10th at 52.35. If one of Rock's riders is going to contend, they'll have to climb over a lot of bodies to get there.
Between 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., a $40 entry fee gets you onto the 2.54-mile road course, where you can check out the tough and twisty course the Tour de Georgia teams will circle 4 times tomorrow. Mike Ward (at right, '07 TdG) and Nathan O'Neill will also be on hand.
Proceed benefit the Aflac Cancer Center and Blood Disorders Service of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
So just a little bit more on the controversy over Rhys Pollock of Marco Polo being awarded the “Most Aggressive Rider” orange jersey based on his ride yesterday.
VeloNews has a reasonable story, linked above, detailing what happened. Most of the press, canvassed at the finish line, felt that Justin England (at right, 2006 TdG) of Toyota-United, who initiated the day's longest break before being joined by Pollock and Bryce Mead of Jelly Belly, was the day's most aggressive rider.
Race organizers instead awarded the jersey (which the TdG website presciently calls the race's “most subjective”) to Pollock (below) instead. This is nothing new: I've come to think of the Tour de France red race numbers as “the Award for Frenchmen Who Get Into a Breakaway,” because organizers have shown a clear bias for their countrymen over more deserving candidates.
But Pollock isn't a bad pick -- he had been in a couple of previous breaks on Tuesday, and you could characterize his involvement as more aggressive, because England's ride played an important strategic role for his team, freeing them up from having to ride herd all day. More importantly to organizers, Pollock wasn't riding for Toyota-United, which already had a stage victory, the overall leader's jersey, and the sprint jersey to show for its week. I suppose that's politics, but it's didn't strike me as particularly shocking or unusual, and I'm sure Neal Rogers, who wrote the article, has seen much worse favoritism in the sport.
Don't get me wrong: I agree England would have been a more deserving pick. That said, I can't find any evidence in the VeloNews article that justifies the headline “Did politics and money work their way into the Tour's ‘most subjective’ award?” Yes, GE is a sponsor of Marco Polo and of the Tour de Georgia. So what? So are Rock Racing and Bissell, neither of whom have anything to show for their TdG so far.