Stage 1 of the Amgen Tour of California (TOC) started out in the brilliant sunshine of Sausalito but ended 156.2 kilometers (km) later under a cloud of controversy in downtown Santa Rosa. In between, riders faced heavy winds, multiple crashes, and an entertaining collection of breakaways and points sprints. When it was all said and done though, Levi Leipheimer was still the hometown golden boy.
This was a stage for cycling geeks to Tivo and watch over and over. From a rolling start, the peloton quickly pulled a Category 4 climb up and over the shoulder of Mt. Tam and down the Panoramic Highway to Stinson Beach, following Highway 1 through beautiful West Marin. Local roadies finally got a chance to see how the international cycling elite handle our regular rides. On the Versus network television coverage, legend Phil Liggett praised the beauty of the Panoramic Highway, but commented that it was a little narrow to ride when open to vehicle traffic. Ha!
By the way, Monday was our first chance to see the Versus coverage and it was excellent. Truncated into an hour yes, but it was all cycling coverage, no marketing fluff, rider personal interest stories, or gratuitous product placement BS. Just racing footage and lots of Phil and Paul Sherwen. Tip o' the helmet to Versus.
In addition to a minor dustup involving Christian Vandevelde and Omer Kem that briefly clogged the peloton on the rolling flats of Highway 1, and a one-bike accident that forced race favorite Dave Zabriskie to abandon the tour, there was a major imbroglio as the main peloton entered the final portion of the course, two circuit laps through downtown Santa Rosa.
Just as the lead pack surged into town, two riders went down at the front of the peloton and took out at least 20 riders, including race leader and Santa Rosa resident Levi Leipheimer. The crash cost Leipheimer and others at least 45 seconds and really disrupted the flow and strategy of the teams, especially those with sprinters in the mix.
With close quarters and tight turns like these on the streets of Santa Rosa, it's surprising there weren't more crashes in the furious lead out to the final sprint finish. Check out the crowds. Photo from SFgate.com.