Peter Sagan takes first stage of Amgen Tour of California
SANTA ROSA, May 14, 2012 (Menafn - San Jose Mercury News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --Peter Sagan of Slovakia didn't flinch Sunday after pedaling 110 grueling miles through the dramatic Sonoma countryside.
With about six miles left in Stage 1 of the Amgen Tour of California he experienced a flat tire, a common malady for bike racers. But this time, his usually trusty mechanic had trouble replacing the wheel to cost the world's fourth-ranked rider precious time.
Sagan, 22, didn't panic because he rides for elite pro team Liquigas-Cannondale. His teammates controlled the final miles to help Sagan win the opening stage of the eight-day tour that ends next Sunday in Los Angeles.
"I didn't stress out too much," he said in Italian after finishing in 4 hours, 42 minutes, 36 seconds.
The rising star won by two bike lengths in a wild finish that saw flat tires and crashes on an overcast day along a 116-mile rolling course that included four climbs.
Sagan's fourth stage victory in this event didn't overshadow a crowning moment for the Bay Area's best racers who had pivotal parts in kicking off the seventh edition of America's biggest cycling race.
Berkeley's Fred Rodriguez, who came out of retirement in June, surprisingly took third place behind Sagan and Garmin-Barracuda's Heinrich Haussler.
"You miss it," Rodriguez said of taking 1 1/2 years off.
For Santa Rosa's Levi Leipheimer the stage served as a test in his first race since suffering a broken leg on a training ride last month
in Spain. Leipheimer, 38, rode strongly throughout the day to win the "most courageous rider" award.
He didn't look confident while leaving his team trailer seven minutes before the start Sunday. Leipheimer leaned on a burly fan while mounting his bike to head to the starting line.
A few minutes earlier defending champion Chris Horner continued to call Leipheimer a race favorite.
"We all know he's been training," Horner said. "He's going to be a marked man. We'll see if he's telling the truth."
The Omega Pharma-Quick Step cyclist struggled after returning to training 2 1/2 weeks ago. He plans to use this race as preparation for the Tour de France and a possible appearance in the Summer Olympics in London.
"It was a little foreign to be back in the peloton," Leipheimer said after finishing 46th out of 128 riders. "As time passes I'll get more comfortable. There's a lot of races left in the season."
For Watsonville's Ben Jacques-Maynes nothing is bigger than the Tour of California, an event that provides a canvas to spotlight lesser known American pros.
The Bay Area veteran has become known for sacrificing his body when the tour runs through his home region, and he did it again Sunday. Jacques-Maynes, 33, was part of a breakaway group that led from the onset until the final five miles.
He looked impressive in placing fifth and winning the "most aggressive rider" award. But he's not sure his legs will hold up Monday when the tour rolls through his backyard in another long stage from San Francisco to Aptos.
As hard as they tried Jacques-Maynes and two others couldn't slip away from the likes of Horner, Leipheimer, Garmin-Barracuda's Tom Danielson and Liquigas-Cannondale's Vincenzo Nibali.
Their dreams were doomed just outside of Santa Rosa when the race got messy. After Sagan's flat tire teammate Ted King crashed with 1.3 miles left. His error knocked out top stage contender Michael Matthews of Rabobank.
Then No. 1-ranked Tom Boonen of Belgium suffered a flat just before the finish. Ultimately, though, it was tough for anyone to stop Sagan from rocketing across the line to seize the yellow jersey.
"It's a gift," Rodriguez said of Sagan's talent. "I haven't seen it in a long time."
--A spokesman for RadioShack said Sunday that he couldn't confirm whether manager Johan Bruyneel was issued a federal subpoena upon arriving at San Francisco International Airport for the race. Two cycling news outlets reported the former manager of Lance Armstrong's Tour de France teams had been met by federal agents.
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/elliottalmond.
If you're thinking about taking in either of the next two stages of the race, make sure to check out our list of the best viewing places on
Best viewing areas
--Neutral start on Marina Green
--Highway 1 at Pacifica
--Highway 1 at Half Moon Bay
--Empire Grade climb in Bonny Doon
--Bear Creek Road climb from Highway 9 near Redwood Estates
--Summit Road after Highway 17
--Finish at Cabrillo College
--Start at Berryessa Community Center in San Jose
--Calaveras Road at Calaveras Reservoir on uphill climb
--Livermore Avenue and 1st Street in Livermore
--North Gate Road on Mount Diablo
--Bryon Highway from Camino Diablo in Bryon
--Patterson Pass climb on Patterson Road from Midway Road
--Finish at M and 1st Street in Livermore.
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