Although he’s one of the most accomplished cyclists in the history of the Amgen Tour of California, David Zabriskie had never experienced the taste of victory until Tuesday — and he couldn’t have picked a more dramatic way to notch his first ever triumph.
Zabriskie eked by Michael Rogers and Levi Leipheimer in a dramatic three-person sprint to the finish in Santa Cruz to capture the third stage and vault into the overall lead of the eight-day race.
All three racers were considered top contenders for the overall title of the Amgen Tour, and the trio showed their considerable prowess by pulling away from the field during the daunting seven-mile ascent up Bonny Doon, a rolling climb 90 miles into the 113.3-mile stage.
Fighting off a chase group that was rapidly closing in on them, Zabriskie, Rogers and Leipheimer rolled into the Santa Cruz boardwalk in a near deadlock, with Zabriskie barely squeezing by Rogers in a photo finish. The dramatic conclusion was so close that Zabriskie admitted afterward that he thought “Rogers caught me there at the line.”
Zabriskie captured Stage 3, which ran from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, with a time of 4 hours, 26 minutes, 9 seconds — a mark that puts him into the overall lead. By virtue of winning the stage, Zabriskie received a 10-second bonus, while Rogers got an extra six seconds, and Leipheimer four, putting the trio 1-2-3 in the general classification standings.
Zabriskie, an American who races for Team Garmin-Transitions, finished second in the 2006 Amgen Tour of California, and was the runner-up again last year.
“I’ve never won a stage here, and I’ve never touched the jersey in the time this race has been going on,” said Zabriskie, who leads overall with a time of 13:09:32 seconds. “Just to touch this jersey is quite an honor. This is my favorite race on the calendar, and I’m very proud and very excited to wear the jersey.”
Bonny Doon was the locale last year when Leipheimer made a key surge en route to his third straight Tour title. While he once again broke away from the pack on Tuesday, he couldn’t shake Zabriskie and Rogers.
Stage 3’s close finish could set up a dramatic Stage 7 time trial, an event that all three cyclists excel at, and one that could determine the winner of this year’s Tour.
Brett Lancaster, who captured the second stage on Monday and entered today’s race as the overall leader, received little help from his Cervelo teammates and finished well behind the leaders.
Levi Leipheimer: While the Santa Rosa resident was unable to catch David Zabriskie in the end, Leipheimer still sits in prime position to defend his Amgen Tour title. Locked in a three-way battle between Zabriskie and Michael Rogers, the key test for Leipheimer could come in Los Angeles during the Stage 7 time trial, a race that will pit him against two of the world’s best individual time-trial cyclists.
David Zabriskie: The Team Garmin-Transitions rider specifically targeted the Amgen Tour as an event he wanted to capture, and Zabriskie took a major stride toward completing that task with an impressive Stage 3 win on Tuesday. Zabriskie stayed with Leipheimer during the grueling ascent up Bonny Doon at the race’s 90-mile mark, and then beat out Michael Rogers by a nose in a captivating finish on the Santa Cruz boardwalk.
Michael Rogers: The HTC-Columbia veteran continued his resurgent year by putting together a mistake-free performance in Stage 3. Rogers played a major role in helping teammate Mark Cavendish win Stage 1, but HTC-Columbia will now shift its focus to helping the Australian speedster capture his first overall Amgen Tour title.
27 Seconds behind the leaders Lance Armstrong sits after three stages
0 Stage wins in the Amgen Tour for David Zabriskie before Tuesday’s victory
7 Total length, in miles, of the Bonny Doon climb that was part of Stage 3