May 14th, ’14. New Zealand’s George Bennett was climbing in more ways than one in stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California. The Cannondale rider put in a top 15 performance, coming in behind Garmin-Sharp’s stage winner Rohan Dennis; second in the time trial yesterday.
May 14th, ’14. New Zealand’s George Bennett was climbing in more ways than one in stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California. The Cannondale rider put in a top 15 performance, coming in behind Garmin-Sharp’s stage winner Rohan Dennis; second in the time trial yesterday. In doing so he also climbed the GC table while Dennis made up ground on Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins but not enough to dislodge him of the overall lead as the race returns to the flatter stages for a couple of days tomorrow.
Oppressive heat covered the first big mountain stage of this year’s race, 177km from San Jose to Mount Diablo. Prior to the start it was well known that the critical element to the stage would be the climb of Mount Diablo itself, going from 7% and rising to 16% in gradient for the final 150m. That didn’t stop a healthy sized group of riders heading out alone early on. Will Routley of Optym p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies was amongst the key riders in the move as leader in the mountains classification. Alongside him were Ruben Zepuntke of Bissell Development, Robbie Squire of Jamis-Hagens Berman, Luis Davila of Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis, David Lozano Riba of Novo Nordisk, Paul Voss of NetApp-Endura, Jonny Clarke of UnitedHealthcare and Maarten Wynants of Belkin Pro Cycling.
At one stage the move looked quite threatening with their gap going out to six minutes but Team Sky looked to be firmly in control throughout as they began the task of bringing the move back, while preparing for the final big climb to Mount Diablo. Crisis struck twice in the final 20km though, as two crashes brought down a number of riders. The first saw Bissell Development Team riders James Oram and Ryan Eastman go down, the second saw Orica GreenEdge’s Matthew Hayman get caught up with a number of other riders. Oram courageously made it to the finish though, although somewhat battered and bruised. We wish the young kiwi rider a speedy recovery as he continues his race and prepares for racing with the New Zealand road team at the Commonwealth Games.
Onto the climb and Sky had already brought the gap to the leaders back to three minutes at the bottom of the slopes and the breakaway riders had also begun to attack each other; in desperate attempts to make it to the line ahead of the bunch. Eventually though Team Sky brought the breakaway to heel and settled in for a challenging finish. With six kilometres left Bradley Wiggins took over, void of any further assistance from his teammates, but tapping out a consistent rhythm on the climb that brought back the early attacks.
As the climb began to properly bite though it was his compatriot Simon Yates of Orica GreenEdge who launched the first properly threatening attack. He would eventually be caught by a select handful, but not before Rohan Dennis had launched a counter move, one that Wiggins, nor anybody else, could respond to. Dennis seized his opportunity, dancing on the pedals all the way to the line, and with no time to zip his jacket up he threw his arms in the air at the finish; exhausted, but having earned a brilliant win that took 20 seconds out of the overall lead of Bradley Wiggins.
George Bennett’s fine display in the mountains was enough to move him up into the top 20 overall on the GC; a great result for New Zealander and the highest overall placing on his Cannondale team. Later Bradley Wiggins explained what riding in such hot conditions was like, “It doesn’t get much hotter than in a race, and my biggest concern today was just exploding,” he said, “I was drinking all day and the boys were just incredible. They rode all stage and minimised the break.”
Tomorrow sees the race tackle the 165km between Monterey and Cambria. Look for the sprinters to be back playing their cards with Peter Sagan, John Degenkolb, Mark Cavendish and the rest gunning for glory. The final 40km are almost completely downhill or flat, but much of the race is set along the coastline so it will be interesting to see what part the wind plays in the stage.
By: Ed Wright