The 2012 Amgen Tour of California is about two stories, the emergence of Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) and the comeback of Robert Gesink (Rabobank). Gesink had a rough 2011; he showed good form in the early part of the year but the second half of the year was characterized by the death of his father and a terrible crash in training. He broke his leg in four places in that crash, a far cry from the kind of hairline fractures that characterize a lot of cyclists' broken bones. He needed surgery to reset the leg with pins, and as with any athelete it's never clear how they'll recover from such a significant operation.
Any questions about whether or not Gesink could return to form have to be answered by his performance in the Tour of California. Gesink didn't make much noise through the first portion of the race, but he placed well and avoided losing much time to his fellow general classification contenders. When stage seven, the race's queen stage, came around, Gesink was ready to make his move. After the peloton chased down Chris Horner's inspired breakaway, the GC heavyweights slugged it out in the last 10km of the climb. 4.5km from the finish line Gesink motored away, and no one had an answer. He gained 26 seconds on the closest man, and more than a minute over most of his fellow contenders. In one single move the race was one, and the man who spent January learning to walk had won America's biggest race.
That Peter Sagan is a talented rider was not a secret to cycling fans, but the dominance he showed in the 2012 Tour of California has everyone taking note. Sagan's background is in mountain bike racing, and the Slovak National Champion had three stage wins in his first grand tour, the 2011 Vuelta España. This year he's shown even better form, and even considering that his performance at the Tour of California stands out. He won the first four stages, taking each in convincing fashion. The next three stages were time trials or mountains, stages not likely to favor a sprinter like Sagan, but he gritted his teeth and made it through with legs fresh enough to take stage eight's sprint. Winning five out of eight stages against the kind of competition he faced in the Tour of California is no small thing, and plenty of people will be eager to see what Sagan can do when he rides the Tour de France in July.
Sagan's performance earned him the race's points competition, but the days that Sagan was in the leader's yellow jersey, the green points jersey went to Garmin-Barracuda's Henrich Haussler. Haussler is a talented cyclist, with a second place finish in Milan-San Remo and a Tour de France stage win to his credit. He had no answer for Sagan, though, despite getting repeated chances at cracking the riddle. He tried to latch on to Sagan's wheel and come around him at the end, he tried to jump out early and make an aggressive move for the win. Nothing worked. He finished second to Sagan on the first four stages, and sixth in the final sprint. Team Optum Pro Cycling's Sebastian Salas took the polka-dot King of the Mountains jersey, winning it with aggressive riding in breakaways and on the steep climbs.
Cyclists with ties to the Bay Area had some good results in the 2012 Tour of California, but it's hard for them not to be disappointed. Team BMC Racing, based out of Santa Rosa, had GC contention in mind for Tejay Van Garderen. The 23 year old rider was in second place heading into the climb to Mt. Baldy, but he was unable to keep up with the more experienced riders as the climb progressed and he ended the tour just off the podium in fourth place. Still, that kind of experience is worth a great deal to young rider, and he'll likely continue on to big things for BMC. Ben Jacques-Mayne, a Bay Area native riding for Bissel Pro Cycling, spent the tour doing the kind of thing a rider for a lower-level team should do: He got into the breakaways, got his sponsor some time on television and discussion in the announce booth, he showed he can contribute strong riding to any team effort. His results weren't much to speak of, but in terms of showing off his value as a bike racer he had a successful Tour. Oakland-based UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling had a number of riders make similar efforts.
The Tour of California grows bigger every year, and the decision to move it up the calendar to avoid some of the nastier weather has proven to be a good one. Robert Gesink and Peter Sagan made this year's tour an exciting one, and next year will have no shortage of men looking to do the same.
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