The rain poured down, the hills rose abruptly and sharply, and the race ended in Santa Rosa — the only thing missing from an ideal day for Levi Leipheimer was a first-place finish.
While the Santa Rosa native couldn’t pull out a victory in the second stage of the Amgen Tour of California, the three-time defending champ of the event still put on a remarkable performance, finishing seventh in the 109.5-mile trek to position himself nicely for another shot at the title.
Australian Brett Lancaster, racing for team Cervelo, proved his mettle by outsprinting a group of two dozen cyclists to capture Stage 2, which was marked by rainy, cold conditions throughout the day. Peter Sagan of team Liquigas-Doimo came in second, and Lars Boom of Team Rabobank was third. By capturing Stage 2 with an official time of 4 hours, 38 minutes, 48 seconds, Lancaster catapulted to the overall lead of the Tour after two stages, followed by Sagan and Karl Menzies of United HealthCare, who both trail him by four seconds.
Leipheimer and his Radio Shack teammate Lance Armstrong are tied with 20 other riders, 10 seconds behind Lancaster for the overall lead.
With the wet weather creating slippery conditions on the road, and the cyclists consistently challenged by rising ascents, Stage 2 couldn’t have been more different than the flat, dry run that marked Stage 1.
Led by Armstrong and Leipheimer, team Radio Shack led an assault up the last of the stage’s four main climbs, a 1,200-foot raise in elevation over Trinity Road at the 86-mile mark of the race. Of the 27 riders who managed to stay with the lead pack over the hills, five were from team Radio Shack.
The daunting combination of the slick weather and the mountainous course proved costly for several riders, as at least 10 cyclists — including Juan Jose Haedo, second-place finisher in the opening stage — crashed during Monday’s run. Mark Cavendish, the British sprint specialist who won the first stage, had a miserable follow-up performance on Monday, finishing a distant 17 minutes behind the lead group.
Leipheimer, a climbing specialist who has proved his toughman credentials by consistently excelling in the Tour when the event played out in the historically cold and drizzly month of February, will get a chance to eat into Lancaster’s 10-second lead during Stage 3, which covers 113 miles from San Francisco to Santa Cruz today.
Levi Leipheimer: While the Santa Rosa native couldn’t pull off a victory in front of his hometown fans, he gutted out a grueling day on the course with a seventh-place stage finish, putting him in prime position to once again compete for the overall title of the Amgen Tour of California. Leipheimer and his phalanx of Radio Shack teammates made their push at the 86-mile mark, pulling away with the stage’s attacking group during the steep ascent up the Trinity Grade.
Mark Cavendish: On Sunday, the cocksure British star insisted that he was more than just a sprint specialist, but his performance in Stage 2 did little to back up those claims. Cavendish finished the mountainous Stage 2 race 17 minutes, 20 seconds behind the top finishers, severely diminishing his title prospects.
Brett Lancaster: The unheralded Aussie wasn’t on many people’s radars preceding this year’s Tour, but after two days, the former Olympic gold medalist is leading the pack. Lancaster, who captured gold in the team pursuit in the 2004 Olympic Games, fought off a group of attackers to cap off an impressive stage victory in Santa Rosa.
— Will Reisman
10,597 Total feet climbed Monday by the riders, who endured a hilly Stage 2 race after a relatively flat start to the Tour on Sunday
54 degrees Afternoon temperature in Santa Rosa on Monday, some 20 degrees cooler than the historic May average for the Sonoma County city
8:43:24: Brett Lancaster’s time after two days of the event, a mark that puts him four seconds ahead of Peter Sagan and Karl Menzies