February 20, 2006 — Americans took the first five places in the 3.1K Prologue at the Tour of California on Sunday in San Francisco. Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) had the fastest time of 4:53.43, taking the leader’s jersey just ahead of fellow Americans Bobby Julich (CSC) and George Hincapie (Discovery Channel). Among these big names in international cycling, Martin Gilbert (Kodak Gallery/Sierra Nevada) tried to make his mark at this first key race with his new team.
The Quebecois’ objective was to “give “˜til it hurt” on the hill-climb style prologue, where he achieved the second fastest time, just losing the Best Climber’s Jersey. “I had a special tactic that I had discussed with our Director Sportif, Jonas Carney. We decided I would take it easy until the base of the climb, and then to attack and try to earn the Climber’s Jersey. It was pretty close as I finished second in that section. It was too bad as it put me relatively far back in the GC, but it was a good challenge, and if I had won, it would have been cool to wear the Best Climber’s jersey for two days — there’s no Climber’s Classification on Monday,” Gilbert commented, making sure he was well inside the time delay cut-off. “The thirty seconds that I lost because of that tactic were really worth it,” the resident of ChÃ¢teauguay explained after placing 111th, 50.82 seconds behind Leipheimer.
Austrian Bernhard Kohl (T-Mobile) beat Gilbert for the Climber’s Jersey – the time delay between the two riders was not yet available at the time of this release.
Gilbert’s teammate Dominique Perras finished 96th, (at 37.95 seconds). “I wasn’t really at my best, but I did make myself hurt enough for those five minutes. It’s always fun to put the jersey back on and start racing again – even more so here because there are so many spectators. I would have liked to have had a better result, but I’ve got all week to have a great stage,” said Perras.
The other Quebecois in California is Charles Dionne (Saunier Duval-Prodir), who placed 122nd with a time of 1:00.72. “It’s not a long course, but it’s intense. I did what I could,” commented Dionne, who added he is not a specialist in prologues. Dionne will try his hand in stages where the race is expected to finish with a final sprint. “I’m the only guy on my team who is more of a sprinter, so I still have the chance to show them what I can do. On the other hand, unfortunately I can’t rely on my teammates to set me up for the final sprint, so I’ll be battling it out with the other teams.”
Stage 1 of the Tour of California takes place on Monday, a 129.1K route from Sausalito to Santa Rosa.