Stage seven of the 2012 Amgen Tour of California was the explosive stage race organizers had hoped it would be, with defending champion Chris Horner (Radioshack-Nissan) blowing things up at the start and driving a relentless pace. In the end, he was unable to make up the two minutes he lost in the individual time trial, and he was chased down for a wide-open fight on the climb up Mt. Baldy. In the end it was Rabobank's Robert Gesink who made the key attack, motoring to the top to take the stage win and the overall lead.
Horner opened the day in an early breakaway, joined by four of his teammates. Together they made a desperate attempt to put enough space between him and the peloton that he would have a shot at making up the time he lost in the TT, and the pace they drove the breakaway was enough to break their fellow escapees one by one. From a dozen men it was whittled down to Horner and Darwin Atapuma (Colombia-Coldeportes), a young Columbian climber who managed to stay out in front until the very end.
Horner and Atapuma had as much as 3:50 over the peloton at one point, but by the time they reached the foot of the final climb the gap was less than a minute and a half. The GC contenders would catch Horner on the climb, and it became a fight between Gesink, Tejay Van Garderen of Santa Rosa based BMC, Garmin's Tom Danielson, and Atapuma. Danielson was the first to fade, and when Gesink attacked Van Garderen had no response. The Dutchman motored away, and he was quick enough to catch Atapuma before the finish, taking the stage win along with the yellow leader's jersey.
Van Garderen had entered the day in second place, and the Bay Area team had high hopes for his finish today. He gave it a strong effort, but the result has to be disappointing.
The provisional GC standings following stage 7:
1) Robert Gesink (RAB) - 29:14:52
2) Dave Zabriskie (GRM) - :46
3) Tom Danielson (GRM) - :54
4) Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) - 1:17
The second place finish for Zabriskie is his fourth such finish in the Tour of California. An incredibly strong time trialist but not an elite climber, he always manages to make up just enough time in the TT to almost win. Stage eight is a short, flat run into Los Angeles that will see a sprint finish and have no impact on the overall standings. Gesink made his statement today, winning the decisive queen stage and the race itself.
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