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Dutchman benefits from lack of numbers in the sprinters' teams to set off with 5km to go and sets himself well up for the general classification by beating Francisco Mancebo in the sprint







13.05.2013 @ 01:10 Posted by Jesper Johannesen

All was set for another Peter Sagan show when the peloton hammered along the flat roads into Escondido in the first stage of the Tour of California. On a very hot and tough day the Slovakian had, however, used up all of his domestiques to catch a dangerous breakaway and so he had no answer when time triallist Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil) powered away with 5km to go. Joined by Francisco Mancebo (5 Hour Energy), the Dutchman managed to hold off the peloton in the final kilometers and he took a convincing sprint win to set himself well up for the overall classification.


The start of the season has been terrible for the Vacansoleil team. Until yesterday the time had only managed to come out triumphant once and that was all the way back on March 24 when Thomas De Gendt outsprinted a small breakaway group to take the final stage of the Volta a Catalunya. That was a far cry from last year's exploits as the team had already bagged 8 wins at this time of the season in 2012.


Yesterday the team finally managed to break the drought when Lieuwe Westra used all of his time trial strength and some weakened sprint teams to power away from the peloton as it sped along flat roads towards Escondido at the end of a very hot and hilly first stage of the Tour of California. With 5km to go he was alone in the lead and as he was later joined by Francisco Mancebo (5 Hour Energy) he managed to keep the peloton at bay and take a convincing sprint win.


The sprint came at the end of a day that had been a very tough opening to the 8-stage race. Sweltering heat with temperatures reaching 39C and a tough course had taken its toll on the peloton from the very beginning of the race and it was three domestic American riders who made the race that much harder.


Marsh Cooper (Optum) and James Stemper (5 Hour Energy) were joined by Zakkari Dempster (Team NetApp-Endura) to form the day's early move and when Carter Jones (Bissell) also managed to get into the break, the quartet started to build up a huge advantage. Composed by mostly unknown riders from the domestic scene the peloton regarded the breakaway as no threat and very early into the race, the quartet was already more than 11 minutes clear.


That was when Vacansoleil started to control and moments later Cannondale kicked into action. Peter Sagan won no less than five stages last year and finished 2nd in another and he was eager to get another California campaign off to a good start in a stage that seemed tailor-made to his characteristics.


The gap started to come down but when the riders started to climb the mighty Mount Palomar - the highest mountain of the entire race - the peloton was unable to make any further inroads into the advantage of the break. Saxo-Tinkoff who has a very ambitious former winner Michael Rogers in the race was not happy to see an unexpected break run away with the race on its very first day so team riders Jonas Aaen and Jonathan McCarthy were asked to assist Cannondale in the chase.


The gap was now stable at around 7.30 with around 70km to go and that was when Sagan appeared to be struggling somewhat on the steep slopes. His Cannondale team stopped chasing and for some time it was left to Saxo Bank to keep the break under control.


Up ahead Dempster had lost contact with his companions on the lower slopes of the climb and he was now caught in no-man's land in between the break and the peloton.


The race' major favourite is Tejay Van Garderen and he was another one unhappy to see an unexpected break threaten his overall ambitions. With the break now on the descent he sent all of his troops to the front and the hard pace by Brent Bookwalter and Marco Pinotti significantly reduced the gap while riders started to drop off in large numbers.


The BMC kept up the pace on the descent but as soon as they hit the flat roads at the bottom, they stopped their effort and instead it was for a very short moment once again Cannondale who hit the front. However, the Italian team was unwilling to do all the work themselves and soon after they once again disappeared from the front.


An in-form Gianni Meersman was always expected to be the most dangerous rival for Sagan in a final sprint and the Belgian Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider showed his intentions by asking the strong Bert Grabsch to up the tempo on the approach to the day's final climb with 40km left to race. As soon as they hit the bottom, the German dropped off and instead it was the NetApp-Endura team - Dempster was now caught - who hit the front in large numbers.


The German team set a furious pace on the climb and that had a massive effect on some tired legs in the peloton. At the top no more than 20 riders were left in the main group while riders like Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and even Sagan and Westra had lost contact. Assisted by Kristijan Koren, Maciej Bodnar and Edward King the Slovakian managed to regain contact and Westra was also safely back in the peloton moments later.


With 30km to go the gap had now been brought down to around 3 minutes and for the first time the break - which had lost Cooper on the climb - now appeared to be under control. As soon as Sagan was back in the group, the Italian team hit the front with Bodnar, King, Koren and Brian Vandborg all working hard to reel in the escapees.


With 20km to go Cannondale once again stopped their effort and instead it was left to a lone Pieter Serry (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) to keep up the pace.  As he tired Rogers decided to test his legs and the Australian set off in a surprise attack and was joined by the Radioshack duo of Haimar Zubeldia and Andy Schleck and Sagan himself in some aggressive racing. However, BMC reeled the move back in and instead Cannondale and Omega Pharma-Quick Step were back at the front.


Just as the duo was about to be caught with 5km to go, Westra saw that a tough day had taken its toll on the riders on the front and he decided to go off on his own. The tired domestiques dropped off immediately and the Dutchman quickly built up a huge gap while Jones and Stemper were now back in the peolton.


Mancebo responded and managed to join the Dutchman to make up a very dangerous duo. Both are capable of winning the race overall and so the situation was dangerous for both Van Garderen and David Zabriskie who asked their BMC and Garmin teams today. At the same time Sagan had a puncture but the Slovakian was quickly back in the group.


As they passed the flamme rouge it was clear that the duo would stay clear and Mancebo did all the work in the final kilometer to take as much time in the GC as possible. Westra had not troubles beating him in the sprint while behind Sagan beat Meersman in the sprint for third.


Westra is now also in the first leader's jersey with a 4 seconds gap to Mancebo and 6 to Sagan while most of his GC rivals are now 16 seconds behind. The runner-up in the 2012 Paris-Nice is now well-positioned to challenge for the GC and could be a dangerous man for the likes of Van Garderen, Rogers and Zabriskie.


The race continues today with a 199,7km stage to Palm Springs. The stage finishes at the top of a tough climb which averages more than 9% and will give the first indications of the strength of the GC riders.



1. Lieuwe Westra 4.31.33

2. Francisco Mancebo

3. Peter Sagan +0.06

4. Gianni Meersman

5. Jasper Stuyven

6. Jacob Rathe

7. Alex Candelario

8. Micthell Docker

9. Jeremy Vennell

10. Tanner Putt


General classification:

1. Lieuwe Westra 4.31.23

2. Francisco Mancebo +0.04

3. Peter Sagan +0.12

4. James Stemper +0.13

5. Carten Jones +0.14

6. Gianni Meersman +0.16

7. Jasper Stuyven

8. Jacob Rathe

9. Alex Candelario

10. Micthell Docker



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