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Sprinter JJ Haedo Takes Stage One in Tour of California
 
By Cathy Mehl
Date: 2/20/2006
Sprinter JJ Haedo Takes Stage One in Tour of California
 
It was another picture perfect d

It was another picture perfect day for the Amgen Tour of California as it rolled out of Sausalito on a bright and sunny day under clear skies and warm temperatures. With large crowds of 15,000 waiting to cheer the cyclists on their way, Stage One of the race wound it's way up Highway 1 through the Muir Woods along the Pacific Ocean. Panoramic views added a dramatic element to the day's racing, as the peloton wound north along the coast and eventually into the city of Santa Rosa. One breakaway with riders Jackson Stewart from Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada and Jean Marc Marino from Credit Agricole lasted for awhile, but by the time the race rolled into Santa Rosa, the peloton was all together and the race was on. With three finishing laps of 3.5 miles each, the peloton whipped through the city with the boys in the blue kits of Gerolsteiner keeping the pace high to protect the overall lead of their man Levi Leipheimer. After the first lap Davitamon-Lotto moved up front and the buzz through the crowd was that "Fast" Freddie Rodriquez must have the legs today. But soon after, T-Mobile moved to the front in what looked like a two-team race to the line when out of nowhere Toyota-United Pro's J. J. Haedo launched himself from 250-300 meters out and smoked the other sprinters. T-Mobile's Olaf Pollack held on for second, with CSC's Stuart O'Grady finishing third in a photo finish with Charles Bradley Huff of TIAA-CREF.

Looking extremely pleased with his efforts in front of a huge crowd that numbered more than 130,000 for the day, Haedo stated that the win was the biggest in his career and he was especially happy to get the first win for his new team Toyota-United Pro in their first stage race. "The last part was a little bit crazy. Levi's team was trying to keep him safe and all the sprinters were trying to get in the front. My team did a great job trying to keep me safe and on the last lap I went a little bit on my own." When a journalist noted that he'd won by a pretty big gap, Haedo grinned slyly and said, "Yeah, yeah" to the amusement of the crowd.

Levi once again could hardly contain his enthusiasm and pride as he retained the jersey in his home town. He couldn't believe the size of the crowd and was very impressed and grateful for the support of his local community. Many of the city's residents were wearing black and yellow t-shirts with the words "Go Levi" emblazoned on the front, and signs and banners proclaiming his name were hung from many store fronts. If he hadn't kept the jersey today, there would have been many, many disappointed Santa Rosans.

"On the entire route today there were fans along the road. We didn't go 500 meters without some group of people or someone cheering us on. It was extremely special. We took off out of Sausalito and climbed up the other side to the coast there and it was just a beautiful road. There was a moment there when the peloton took a break and it was a beautiful to see the scenery and to see what the Tour of California was all about."

Leipheimer gave full credit to his team for staying on the front and burying themselves during the stage to defend the jersey. "They all knew how important this was to me and they were extremely motivated. They were fantastic and dominated the stage today. I won the Prologue, but they made it possible for me to win the yellow jersey again today."

Tuesday's stage is 94.9 miles from Martinez into San Jose, with several small climbs and one Category One climb near the end. "The big question (for tomorrow's stage) is what happens before the climb. What teams are attacking and what groups get away. And how difficult it is for my team to control. It's going to be tricky because it's a long way from the finish. Hopefully we can get it down to a small group and get rid of some guys so the race will be on for the Time Trial the next day," said Leipheimer.

The support for all the cyclists was incredible today. People were lined 5 and 6 deep along the finishing circuits, and three-story parking garages had people perched from every opening. The promoters of the race are pleased with the turnouts to the stages as well as the hits they are receiving on the web site and numbers coming in for the nightly shows on ESPN2.

The Amgen Tour of California rolls south tomorrow and hopefully the upcoming stages will continue to thrill the fans along the roads of the Golden State.


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