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Navigator Insurance Pro TeamTour of California Stage 1
 
By Vaughn Trevi
Date: 2/20/2006
Navigator Insurance Pro TeamTour of California Stage 1
 

Navigator Insurance Pro Cycling Team Tour of California Report
"You do not have to understand the tactics of a bike race to love the have to feel for the riders as they pedal over hills and mountains at speeds more similar to automobiles in order to understand how hard they work. But it helps."

By CG Baldwin

This race is so far provocative and unpredictable. It is surrounded on all sides by the well-wishes of every legitimate cycling fan in America and gazed at lovingly by the passive others. You do not have to understand the tactics of a bike race to love the spectacle, you do not have to love the competition to feel the excitement. You do not even have to feel for the riders as they huff and puff and pedal over hills and mountains at speeds more similar to automobiles in order to understand how hard they work.

But it helps.


Fans on the road wave to the passing peloton courtesy CSC

The prevailing logic today in the Navigators' camp was that world-leading ProTour team CSC would come to the front of the peloton soon after the climb across Marin and the side of Mt. Tamalpais, and then hammer away in a side-wind driven echelon headed north. The brawn and broadside pedaling power of CSC would be so overwhelming and so intense that all the other teams would be squeezed into the tiniest of lines along the side of the road, begging and pleading for some respite out of the wind.

When this did not happen this morning, there was surprise. Didn't CSC want to win? Doesn't their charismatic guru-esque Directeur Sportif want to test the mettle of his battle-ready troops? Don't they feel happy to be in California?


Gerolsteiner at the front courtesy CSC

Instead, Gerolsteiner and rode an enormously fast pace up through the posh homes of Marin. In defending the leader's jersey, something they obviously decided upon prior to this morning's sun-drenched start in Sausalito, this team took it upon themselves to control the gates at the front of the bike-racing factory. They rode to where the mountains meet the ocean at the point where California's Highway One turns towards Oregon, and then stayed there as a break of just two riders was allowed up the road.

The Navigators are a scrappy team, and they understood the significance of letting team Gerolsteiner run the show. Their star rider Levi Leipheimer lives in the finishing town of Santa Rosa, and no doubt wanted to arrive in style this afternoon. So the Navs, their brains on and their legs firing, stayed in the bunch and rode pacifically. The ocean sprawled to their left, great green hillocks to their right, and ahead of them lay only curves and straight-aways until the arrival at the end.


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Only towards the finish, in the final 20 miles, did Gerolsteiner relinquish their ownership of the front. In no way did they want to reel in the two breakaway riders too early, as that would spur counter-attacks that might jeopardize their chances at delivering Leipheimer safely. The other teams would have to send their lieutenants to the front, and soon they did.

First the Swiss team Phonak took the helm. Three of their strongest traded jabs and slaps with CSC riders over a set of rolling suburban streets until finally, at a point when the pace of the race's middle portion became supplanted by the furious first few moves of the endgame, the sprinter's came to the fore. Then came Davitamon-Lotto team, charging into the second of three laps.

Finally the Navigators came up, with Ukrainian track specialist Valeriy Kobzarenko helping to bring Vassili Davidenko to take a turn at the tip. Kobzarenko rode in the team pursuit as a younger man, and his power and tenacity have remained. He dove through the corners with Davidenko behind him, the fluid front of the race changing hands as each team sought the best lines.

David O'Loughlin came over to assist, bridging from the rear third of the pack up to his teammates at the front. As he did he punctured his rear tire, effectively ending his day on a note of dismay. The 32-mile an hour peloton would miss him, but they would not wait.

Davidenko lay in fifth position on the second-to-last corner. He had a good feeling in his legs and was ready to contest the sprint.

Then something happened. Into the turns an opportunistic rider from another team made a risky and slashing cut across the road. He swerved sharply to the right and, because he was directly in front of Vassili, nearly put the Russian into the barriers at the side of the road.

"I had to brake extremely hard and I thought I was going to fall," said Davidenko. "I thought that was it for me, but by some miracle I stayed up and stayed whole. Unfortunately my race ended right then and there. It's a bummer because I was in fifth position and it was the second-to-last corner and I felt great today."


Crowds at Santa Rosa Finish c.CSC

The Navigators' finish was strong but unfortunate. Organizers estimate that 130,000 people lined the roads from Sausalito to Santa Rosa on this federal holiday to watch the Tour of California's first stage go by. The weather was outstanding.

Tomorrow is a climber's stage, and the very steep forty five minutes the race will spend on just one 10 percent gradient above the East Bay among the four-plus scheduled hours on the road will go far in determining the true character of this race. Many riders will come out the back end and just cruise home, content to finish and contest another sprint in the future. For others it will be the day to show what winter's training and early-season racing has wrought.

Stage Result:
1 Juan Josť Haedo (Arg) Toyota-United Pro 3.14.13 (39.88km/h)
2 Olaf Pollack (Ger) T-Mobile Team
3 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team CSC

Overall GC:
1 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner 3.19.06
2 Bobby Julich (USA) Team CSC 0.05
3 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel 0.06
28 Phil Zajicek (USA) Navigators Insurance 0.19

 
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