The Amgen Tour of California's epic mountain stage resulted in only insignificant changes to the overall leaders on Stage 6 on Friday, but it delivered plenty of excitement along the way.
For the second day in a row, Peter Sagan won the final sprint at the end of the 135-mile bike race from Palmdale to Big Bear Lake.
HTC-Columbia's Michael Rogers finished in 3rd place in the sprint, which gave him a time bonus that put him four seconds ahead of Garmin-Transition's David Zabriskie. Rogers and Zabriskie started the day in a dead heat with Rogers holding the leader's yellow jersey thanks to higher finish results.
Dogfight looms in LA
Sagan's win enabled him to pass over three-time champion Levi Leipheimer of Team RadioShack to take 3rd place overall. Leipheimer, who finished 4th in the spring, dropped to 4th overall.
With those four in the lead separated by 14 seconds, the 20.9 individual time trial in Los Angeles for Stage 7 on Saturday promises to be a dog fight. Leipheimer, Sagan, Zabriskie and Rogers will be the final four to launch down the ramp. All but Sagan are known time-trial specialists.
Zabriskie and Rogers hold the time trial championships for their respective countries — the US and Australia, and Leipheimer holds a bronze medal in the individual time trial from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. At 20 years old, Sagan's time trialing abilities aren't known.
Tour of California fans have been waiting for five years for a real-life mountain stage at the race that started in 2006. Organizers had to move the week-long race from February to May in order to ensure the passes into the Sierra Nevada would be open for such a stage.
An eight-man breakaway containing George Hincapie tested the peloton on the climb. Members in the break kept dropping off on nearly every King of the Mountain challenge — there were 7 of them — until just Hincapie (BMC), Jason McCartney (RadioShack) and Matthew Wilson (Garmin) were left out front.
It appeared they might challenge the overall standings, until RadioShack launched a series of attacks splintered the chase group and reduced the gap to the breakaway.
The chasers caught the break about 15 miles from the finish. Marc DeMaar attacked a couple of miles later and was joined by Wilson, who had just been reeled in by the peloton. The duo remained out front until the chase caught them with just 1 kilometer to go.
For his efforts, Hincapie was awarded the most aggressive rider jersey.
Top 10 overall
1. Michael Rogers (Columbia)
2. David Zabriskie (Garmin) 4 seconds
3. Peter Sagan (Liquigas) 9 seconds
4. Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) 14 seconds
5. Rory Sutherland (Unitedhealthcare) 29 seconds
6. Marc DeMaar (Unitedhealthcare) 32 seconds
7. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin) 35 seconds
8. Janez Brajkovic (RadioShack) same
9. Chris Horner (RadioShack) same
10. Tom Danielson (Garmin) same
Results and details at CyclingNews.