Written by: Jonathan Tessler
Italy’s Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R) out lasted New Zealand’s Hayden Roulston (Cervelo Test) in a sprint finish in Pasadena, CA. for the seventh stage of the Tour of California on Saturday as Levi Leipheimer retained the overall lead. In what turned out to be a break away free for all. With attempted breakaways being launched as fast as they were being caught. When the final breakaway got a decent gap it was the big names of George Hincapie (Team Columbia), Frank Scheleck (Saxo Bank), and Christian VandeVelde (Team Garmin) that was able to get as much as almost 5 minutes on the peloton.
Leipheimer, the two-time defending champion, is poised to claim his third straight title on Sunday, when the race concludes in San Diego. With the race going over the HC Palomar climb, which is in Floyd Landis’ home town, it will most likely turn out to be another day with breaks going off the front and Team Astana controlling the peloton to keep the break within a manageable distance.
Leipheimer’s compatriot and Astana teammate Lance Armstrong, riding in support of the leader, also finished in the main peloton, more than two minutes behind the winner. But it was without question the sheer overwhelming force of the complete Astana Team. With all their riders still in the race, you had the likes of Chris Horner and Yaroslav Popovych driving the pace to keep the leading group at a time gap that did not threaten the lead of Leipheimer.
Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France champion who launched a comeback this season after an absence of three and a half years is poised to finish sixth in the Tour of California, less than a month after his 29th-place finish in the Tour Down Under. The race in Australia was the first of a comeback campaign that is slated to include the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. Armstrong is showing that even after his retirement comeback he is still at the top of his game. At one point in todays race Armstrong bridged up to a breakaway to close the door on it. Armstrong has made it very clear that he is riding in complete support of Leipheimer, and Leipheimer has made it clear that he will ride for Armstrong in the Giro and Tour de France.
The penultimate stage saw a serious crash by Spain’s Paco Mancebo. Bicycle.net talked with Michael Ball (Team Owner) about Mancebo’s condition and he stated “he was in the hospital with what is believed to be a slight concussion, and what appears to be a broken hand and elbow.” It is believed that he will be okay and should be back on his bike fairly soon. At the time of the crash Mancebo was put on a stretcher and taken to the hospital by ambulance. The crash happened at a high rate of speed, so it is very fortunate that Mancebo was not seriously injured.
Nocentini was part of a 10-man breakaway that also included George Hincapie, Frank Schelck and Christian Vande Velde, who ran in front for much of the stage. They showed great cooperation, and seemed to work well together, until the reached the circuits around the Rose Bowl when they started to attack each other.
Nocentini, Roulston and Dutch rider Pieter Weening (Rabobank) finally were able to separate themselves with less than four kilometers to go and battled to the finish.
In the shadow of the famous Rose Bowl stadium, which hosted competition at the 1932 and 1984 Olympics as well as football’s World Cup final in 1994, Nocentini out-raced Roulston in the final 100m to edge the Kiwi by centimeters.
“I think it’s my best victory,” the 31-year-old Italian said. “I won the Mont Faron stage of the Tour of the Mediterranean in 2007, but here in California, with the top riders in the world, it is more important.”
It was also a huge win and moral booster for his French team, which has seen four of its riders fall by the wayside in California. Tadej Valjavec arrived in California ailing, Cyril Dessel crashed, John Gadret has a bad knee and Stephane Goubert threw in the towel Saturday, shortly before Nocentini triumphed.
Leipheimer goes into the final stage, which finishes in Escondido near San Diego, with a 36-second overall lead over American David Zabriskie.
The tough stage features the four climbs, including the highest elevation the race has ever reached at Palomar Mountain.
Bicycle.net was able to catch up with Floyd Landis after the stage and we were able to ask him the following question; You were away from cycling for two and ahlf years making your return at the Tour of California, it is obivious that you are still a fan favorite and a Rock Star here, how does it feel? In which Landis replied, “it feels great, the crowds have been supportive and I appreciate them.”
On a final note, Lance Armstrong has taken the I and E in LIVESTRONG and switched them to read LEVISTRONG. Pretty cool.
1. Rinaldo Nocentini (ITA/AG2R) 3hr 24min 43sec (avg 41.911 km/h), 2.
Hayden Roulston (NZL) same time, 3. Pieter Weening (NED) s.t., 4. Markus Zberg
(SUI) at 7sec, 5. Martin Elmiger (SUI) s.t., 6. Chris Baldwin (USA) s.t., 7.
George Hincapie (USA) s.t., 8. Frank Schelck (LUX) s.t., 9. Chritsian Vande
Velde (USA) s.t., 10. Addy Engels (NED) s.t.
Overall standings after stage seven
1. Levi Leipheimer (USA/Astana) 27hr 39min 02sec, 2. David Zabriskie (USA) at 36sec, 3. Michael Rogers (AUS) 46, 4. Jens Voigt (GER) 1:10, 5. Thomas Lovkvist (SWE) 1:29, 6. Lance Arsmstrong (USA) 1:46, 7. Robert Gesink (NED) 1:54, 8. Janez Brajkovic (SLO) 1:59, 9. Christopher Horner (USA) 2:13, 10.
Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) 2:21
Selected: 17. George Hincapie (USA) 4:23, 32. Floyd Landis (USA) 10:26, 86.
Carlos Sastre (ESP) 37:09
Amgen Race Leader Jersey- Levi Leipheimer (USA), Astana
Amgen’s Breakaway from Cancer Most Courageous Rider Jersey- Christian VendeVelde (USA), Garmin-Slipstream
Herbalife Sprint Jersey- Mark Cavendish (GBR), Team Columbia-High Road
Rabobank Best Young Rider Jersey- Robert Gesink (NED), Rabobank
California Travel & Tourism Commission King of the Mountain (KOM) Jersey- Jason McCartney (USA), Team Saxo Bank
Photo by: CorVos Pro