February 21, 2009 (Paso Robles, CA) – Canadian Cameron Evans was one of the lucky contestants to make the break of the day during Stage 5 of the Amgen Tour of California. His prize: 200 km off the front on the longest stage of this year’s Tour.
He was joined by five other riders at just over 11 km into the 216 km stage. The six worked well together to take their advantage over the peloton out to nearly nine minutes at one point.
“The group never really wanted us to get too far up the road because of Weening,” Evans said, referring to Rabobank’s Pieter Weening, who was just over six minutes down on GC.
Team captain Tim Johnson agreed with the assessment. “On stages like that, sometimes the race leader’s team will let a break get out to 15 minutes or more if there aren’t any riders in the break to threaten the lead,” he said, “and then maybe the gap gets to big to bring the break back in time.
“We wanted someone in the break, and Cam scored because there was enough horsepower in there that it wouldn’t be too taxing, so maybe he’d have a chance at the stage win,” Johnson said.
But with Weening there, and the sprinters’ teams keen for another shot at a bunch finish, Evans knew the break was probably doomed.
“There were no guys from Saxo, Columbia or Quick Step up there with us,” Evans said. “And you had to figure they wanted a sprint finish because this may have been the last opportunity for one.”
With the pack closing in and the break fragmenting, Evans put in one last attack. “Yeah, I had a digger at the end, but I pretty much figured it was over,” he said. And at the 5 km to go mark, after nearly 200 km in the break, he was overtaken by the peloton.
But it wasn’t a seamless run into the finish for the sprinters’ teams. With 3 km to go, Johnson took a flyer off the front.
“The chase was going at a good speed but it wasn’t super fast,” Johnson said. “I knew the road going in to the finish was a bit rough, so with 3 km to go, I had a dig.”
Unfortunately he was caught with a kilometer to go, on a slight uphill going over an overpass. “It was a bit harder than I thought going over,” Johnson said. “Looking back, I would rather have attacked at that point instead of where I did.”
The remaining one kilometer gave Columbia-Highroad just enough time to set up the train for their sprinter, Mark Cavendish, who took a clear victory and his second stage win in a row.
So what does one do in a 200 km break through the flatlands of the Central Valley of California? “We tried to ride hard, and otherwise entertain ourselves,” Evans said. “It was like a team time trial for 200 km.”
At one point, during one of the long, straight and pancake flat stretches, they passed a road sign that said “Dangerous Descent.”
“Right there in the middle of the Central Valley,” Evans said. “It was totally flat. We all got a good laugh out of that one.”
Once caught, Johnson stayed up near front to try and get Karl Menzies into the mix for the sprint. “Rory (Sutherland) and I wanted to get Karl to the right wheel,” he said. “At about 200 meters to go, we dropped him off on Boonen’s wheel.”
The effort paid off as Menzies scored the team’s first top-10 finish of the Tour, with a 10th place.
Meanwhile, back in the peloton
With Evans up the road and Astana riding the front most of the day, until Columbia and Quick Step threw several riders apiece into the chase with 40 km to go, it was a pretty easy ride in the bunch, Johnson said. At least, as easy as it gets for 216 km.
“The wind was actually pretty light,” he said. “If it had been up, it would’ve been a different story. But we did the stage in something like five hours, which is pretty quick to cover 134 miles.”