April 26 - Stage Four: Dalton to Gainesville, 122 miles
Today's stage most likely will provide the final selection of the podium for
the Dodge Tour of Georgia. The weather is predicted as "mostly cloudy, highs in
the lower to mid 70s. Northwest winds 10 to 15 mph." An almost perfect day for
racing through the mountains of north Georgia.
A 122 mile (196 km) stage awaits with approximately 6000 ft of climbing; with
climbs that average six to seven percent with sections at 17%, it will be a day
that divides the peloton and will most likely shatter the riders into chasing
groups. The teams will all seek to bring their leaders to the finish and set up
the mountain assault to gain time or preserve their position. Riding in support
of the team leader the domestiques will sacrifice themselves in the initial
climbs to conserve and protect their leader, this effort will continue until
they have sacrificed all they have.
The race begins after three laps around Dalton, leaving the festival
atmosphere of the beginning circuit to hit the roads hard only fifteen miles out
of Dalton. After a few rollers the road goes straight up with a 2000 ft climb in
eight miles to the first King of the Mountains sprint at Fort Mountain State
Park. Shortly before the climb begins at Chatsworth the first points sprint
After a five mile descent and a few rollers, the peloton will approach the
last series of climbs to the top of Woody Gap and the second Mountain King
sprint. Early attacks at the first climb would not surprise, though early breaks
are rarely successful; we could see the first fracturing of the peloton early on
in the race. The real action should start shortly after the points sprint at Ellijay or in
the first feed zone seven miles later.
A quick look at the G.C. shows that
enough class riders are within striking distance of the Yellow Jersey to make it
a rough day for the leaders. In fact, sixty five riders are separated by a mere minute, and with a
hard fast day with a final selection at hand many of the riders in this range
could challenge for the leader's jersey. An old rivalry of Chris Horner's and
Henk Vogels' is in full bloom and Vogels, a talented all rounder, should match
Horner and Saturn wheel to wheel to hold onto his leader's jersey.
Almost a year
ago, Chris Horner (at the time with Prime Alliance) won the Sea Otter Classic
when he succeeded in escaping from Henk Vogels (then Mercury) on the finishing
climbs of the road race. Chris Horner and his Saturn teammates will do all they
can to unseat Vogels and the Navigators. Vogels and the Navigators should play
the waiting game, forcing Saturn to chase the attacks once again and save Henk
Vogels' efforts for the final miles.
Saturn's aces in hand Horner, Nathan O'Neill and Tom Danielson will make a
formidable triumvirate, assuming they can stay unified if Horner
falters. Remember, the early season has seen the Saturn trio trade the leader's
jerseys amongst them in the early stage races on the West Coast.
After Friday's stage when the Navigators forced Saturn to work to pull back the
break, a tactic Horner criticised, expect Horner et. al. to play their cards
tight, and to attack late in the final climbs to take the lead. If I recall
correctly at Sea Otter last year, it was Horner and Prime Alliance who forced
Mercury to chase in the final stage to protect Henk Vogels' second place before
Prime Alliance joined in the chase.
One can't forget that the Navigator's have their own aces within seconds of
the G.C. in Jeff Louder and Chris Baldwin - both capable of supporting Henk or
taking the heat if their mate Vogels falters. Vogels is a capable climber when
required, witnessed by his chasing back twice after flat tires during the San
Francisco Grand Prix last year over the bitterly steep climbs and finishing with
the lead group.
The ever present and original tough guy John Lieswyn (7Up/Maxxis) has the
super Dougie Ziewacz and Kevin Monahan within 36 seconds to lend support, and
John is a present danger to any G.C. in a stage race when he is in striking
distance in the mountains.
Prime Alliance sports Klinger, Pate, Decanio (fresh off a stage win at Sea
Otter), Candelario, Peters and Svein Tuft are all within the top forty second
window. Having taken hold of the top team honors after Friday's stage, Pate,
Decanio and Klinger could be the major threats on a mountain stage of this
type. Jonathan Vaughters could be the spark that lights the fire. After a crash
on the prologue Jonathan, four minutes down, could raise an attack or force the
climbing pace for a Pate victory. Prime Alliance has position and the talent to
make a major commotion and challenge both Vogels and Horner on this mountainous
Lest we forget, US Postal has several formidable riders (no strangers to the
rigours of the final stages) and Roland Green (Trek/VW riding Postal), in fine
form, is not to be underestimated along with his team mates, Michael Barry,
David Zabriskie, Damon Kluck and Floyd Landis. Landis, still on the mend and on
track to join Lance Armstrong for a Tour de France berth, is only 50 seconds
down - more than impressive, just awesome!
Scott Guyton, Jamie Drew and Alan Iucone of Flanders-IteamNova are in the top
minute; racing in Belgium is not the preparation one needs to prepare for this
stage and I expect they will not likely challenge in this stage, but I could be
wrong. More likely, Flanders' tactic will be limiting losses for the with an eye
on a stage victory on Sunday.
Meza, McRae, Livingston, Jankowiak, Jakob Erker, Bausch and Pete Knudsen of
Shroeder Iron, also all within the "miracle minute" could provide fireworks as
Frankie Andreu, their new Directeur Sportif, pulls the best from the men
of Iron for this stage. Certainly, Jankowiak, Erker, Knudsen and Mcrae, all
capable climbers, could make a hard day for Saturn, Prime Alliance and the
visiting Italian and Dutch teams.
Ofoto/Lombardi Sports, a growing domestic threat, has David O'Laughlin, Tim
Larkin, Saul Raisin, Peter Roman, Andy Bajadali, Russel Hambey and Captain Eric
Saunders inside the sixty second mark. Among these, Hamby, Bajadali,
Larkin and Saunders are excellent climbers. Saunders is a rider with
Continental experience and palmares that show he can mix it with the best. Ofoto is a team ready to step into the spotlight, we can wait with anticipation
to see if this is the day they will make their mark.
Sidermec, with Fast Fred Rodriquez, has Mauro Gerosa, Gabrielle Balducci, and
Mauro Radelli living in the fast lane with him. Stinging from a 20 second time
penalty that would have put Fred in the top four, revenge would be sweet for
Freddie to gain more time during this stage. Saturday will make the call for
redemption to the hard man in gentleman Fred. With Balducci, Radelli and De La
Fuente, Freddie should have the support he needs in the mountains; can he parlay
that into gaining time on the Saturn triad?
Grischa Niermann, Ronald Musaars, Kevin Deweert, and Marten Den Bakker of
Rabobank are in the select sixty-five - one would not count them out.
Jelly Belly with three riders in the "minute" - Brooks, Wilkerson and
Fitzgerald - are followed by Mariano Friedick. Friedick is a strong and
aggressive climber just outside the "minute;" they could make their mark if
Mariano can find his legs in the mountains today.
Jittery Joe's will need a cup or two of their "Riders Blend" to support Chad
Hartley as he rides to win the U-23 best young rider. Perhaps Jonny Sundt,
better known for his hard riding in XC racing, will be a help at only fifty
Some notable young guns and climbers lie lower down the G.C. who might be
allowed to gain time in a breakaway as they might not be considered a threat. One of these and an excellent climber is carrying the lanterne rouge at the
moment, neo pro young Michael Jones of the West Virginia team.
Others of note in the climbing and high on the aggressive side are: Adham
Sbeih (Sierra Nevada), Moreno DiBiase (FPF), Bobby Traksel (Rabobank), David Mc
Kenzie (Flanders), Ciaran Powers (Navigators), Jos Pronk (Ned), and Nathan
Russell (Col) each capable of a surprise inclusion in making a break or arriving
at the finish improving their G.C. position. Don't be surprised to see these
names in a break today.
With so much international class this queen stage is likely to select the
winner; today will be the toughest day in a fast and tough week. The prize is
to forever have your team and name carved in the record books as the first
winner of the inaugural Tour of Georgia, a prestigious honor. Desire, effort,
teamwork and strategy will decide the winner. The stage is set, the riders have
taken their positions. Let the race begin!