Robert Gesink (NED) of Team Rabobank took one of the most difficult stages of the 2012 Amgen Tour of California. The last few meters saw the lead switch between Jhon Atapuma (Columbia-Coldeportes) and Gesink. But Gesink managed to hold on, barely beating Atapuma to the finish.
The Queen Stage went from Ontario up to Mount Baldy. There were three rated climbs. The most difficult was called the “Hors Categorie.” The altitude at the finish line is 6,445 feet.
Today was a day of tactics and strength. Riders opted out of their rooms in Big Bear Lake and headed down to sea level, to help with their recovery. Since the riders informed the USADA officials, no violations were issued.
The race began with a 2.2 mile neutral zone. Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan) made the first attack along with Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-QuickStep). They maintained a slight advantage over the main group.
Michael Matthews (Rabobank) and Nathan Brown (Bontrager Livestrong Team) moved up to replace Dries Devenyns. The breakaway group had a ten second lead over the peleton. The peleton picked up the pace and kept the leaders close.
At eight kilometers from the top, there was a large breakaway group of 14 riders representing seven teams. Team RadioShack-Nissan had four riders in the group. The break had a 1:10 advantage.
As the break crested the climb, the peleton was back 1:50. Team RadioShack-Nissan took the top three spots in the first King of the Mountain. The winner was George Bennett, followed by Jens Voight and Chris Horner.
The peleton tightened the gap on the descent. Meanwhile, T.J. Van Garderen (BMC Pro Cycling) punctured, but was quickly set back in the race. The top of the descent is technical and extremely fast. It’s followed by an open stretch along the reservoir to Glendora.
Rabobank did the work at the front of the peleton as the gap widened to two minutes. They were joined by Garmin-Barracuda. Garmin-Barracuda was interested in keeping Chris Horner manageable. Horner has three teammates in the group.
The men in the breakaway group included: Christopher Horner (USA), RadioShack-Nissan; George Bennett (NZl), RadioShack-Nissan; Grégory Rast (Swi), RadioShack-Nissan; Jens Voigt (Ger), RadioShack-Nissan; Timothy Duggan (USA), Liquigas-Cannondale; Maxime Bouet (Fra), Liquigas-Cannondale; Marc de Maar (Ned), United Healthcare; Bradley White (USA)United Healthcare; Darwin Atapuma (Col) Colombia-ColdePortes; Alexandre Geniez (Fra), Agros-Shimano; Lucas Euser (USA), SpiderTech; Christopher Baldwin (USA), Bissell.
Brad White (United Health Care) dropped from the breakaway group, along with Lucas Euser (Team Spidertech Powered by C10). Euser had mechanical troubles but quickly returned to the break. Chris Horner was the last Radioshack-Nissan man left in the break.
Horner stormed away from the front of the peleton with Darwin Atapuma (Colombia – Coldeportes) and powered past the break, creating a gap of 3:25 on the peleton.
BMC Pro Cycling took up the work at the front of the peleton keeping T.J. Van Gardener in the race.
Atapuma took the second KOM, with Chris Horner second. The gap of 3:45 caused a move out of the peleton. David Zabriskie (Garmin-Barracuda) was surrounded by his teammates and looks relaxed.
BMC Pro Cycling’s work started to pay off. The gap diminished to 2:55. There was still 13 miles to the summit which was mostly uphill. Jeff Louder (United Health Care) popped and abandoned the race.
Chris Horner has been a professional cyclist since 1994. He let Jhon Atapuma, a renowned climber, take the second KOM. The motto of the Columbia-Coldeportes team is “Inspired by Climbing.”
Jens Voight recovered and returned to the main group. He was responsible for propelling Chris Horner into the lead. Luke Durbride (Orica GreenEDGE – Stage 6 Young Rider’s Jersey) moved up to fifth place. Vicenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) was suffering and slipped away.
With six and three quarter miles left to go, the peleton was strung out along the mountain. Zabriskie still looked calm. The BMC Pro Cycling was still shouldering much of the work.
The peleton closed the gap to 1:20 at nine and a half kilometers. BMC Pro Cycling was putting the hammer down and forcing Garmin into a defensive response. BMC Pro Cycling was interested in setting up T.J. Van Garderen for the win.
David Zabriskie was down to one teammate, Tommy Danielson. The Spanish Rabobank rider, Luis Leon Sanchez, along with teammate Wilco Kelderman and Robert Gesink (a top sprinter) picked up the pace. The riders were into the steepest part of the climb.
Levi Leipheimer moved into sixth place. He was the overall winner of the Baldy stage last year.
With the last five kilometers to go, Atapuma broke from Chris Horner, but Horner soon caught him. Meanwhile George Hinncapie (BMC Racing Team) popped, along with yesterday’s stage winner, Sylvan Georges.
Jhon Atapuma launched another acceleration. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) powered out along with Joseph Dombrowski (Bontrager Livestrong Team). Zabriskie looked like he had nothing left.
Gesink continued driving hard. He had Van Garderen and Danielson on his wheel. They managed to close Atapuma’s gap to 35 seconds.
First Gesink bridged the gap and caught Horner. This is the same man who broke his leg in September of last year. He passed him, but it was momentary. Horner quickly caught back up. Dombrowski and Danielson were still in the chase group along with Duarte Arevelo (Columbia-Coldeportes).
With one kilometer to go, Dombrowski left the chase group, leaving Danielson on his own.
Gesink powered through the uphill and finally caught Atapuma’s back wheel. The two sprinted towards the finish. As Atapuma cut the angle, it looked like he was going to take the stage.
Gesink poured it on, barely remaining in control at the final curve. He powered past Atapuma to take the Queen’s Stage of the Tour of California.
Stage 7 Results
1. Robert GESINK, Rabobank at 3:37:08
2. Darwin ATAPUMA HURTADO, Colombia-Coldeportes at s.t.
3. Fabio Andres DUARTE AREVALO, Colombia-Coldeportes at :14
4. Joe DOMBROSKI, Bontrager-Livestrong at :18
5. Thomas DANIELSON, Garmin-Barracuda at :26
6. Christopher HORNER, RadioShack-Nissan at :38
7. Wilco KELDERMAN, Rabobank at 1:04
8. Tiago MACHADO, RadioShack-Nissan at 1:06
9. Levi LEIPHEIMER, Omega Pharma-Quick Step at 1:08
10. Tejay VAN GARDEREN, BMC Racing at 1:22
1. Robert GESINK, Rabobank in 29:14:52
2. David ZABRISKIE, Garmin-Barracuda at :46
3. Thomas DANIELSON, Garmin-Barracuda at :54
4. Tejay VAN GARDEREN, BMC Racing at 1:17
5. Fabio Andres DUARTE AREVALO, Colombia-Coldeportes at 1:36
6. Levi LEIPHEIMER, Omega Pharma-Quick Step at 2:13
7. Wilco KELDERMAN, Rabobank at 2:30
8. Christopher HORNER, RadioShack-Nissan at 2:49
9. Tiago MACHADO, RadioShack-Nissan at 2:54
10. Pieter WEENING, Orica-GreenEdge at 3:05