Two men dominated the 2012 Amgen Tour of California, one from the start and one when it really counted. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) won five of eight stages, taking every sprint finish in the race with relative ease. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) launched a well timed, perfectly executed attack on the slopes of Mt. Baldy that won him the tour in a single move.
There wasn't much distance between most of the general classification contenders as they entered stage seven, the race's queen stage, and Gesink took full advantage of that. Defending champion Chris Horner opened stage seven with a blistering pace in the breakaway, trying to crack the peloton and make up the 2:50 he had lost in the individual time trial. The peloton proved resiliant, though, and chased down Horner by the slopes of Mt. Baldy.
From there it was between the GC heavyweights, and with 4.5km to go on the stage Gesink motored away smooth and clean. No one could match his pace, and he won the stage and the race in that single effort. Gesink had an incredibly rough 2011: after showing good form in the early part of the year his father passed away and he broke his leg in a crash while training. Unlike many of the hairline fractures that characterize cyclist injuries, Gesink's leg was broken in four places and required major surgy to reset it. It's never clear if a cyclist can come back like an injury like that, but Gesink put all doubts to rest with his attack on stage seven. The Dutchman spent January learning to walk again, to stand atop the podium in America's biggest stage race only months later is a massive accomplishment.
Peter Sagan is a 22 year old sprinter, and though his talent wasn't a secret, his success at the Tour of California surprised many. It wasn't just success, Sagan was dominant. He won the first four stages with ease, beating Henrich Haussler (Garmin-Barracuda) each time. Haussler tried sticking to Sagan's wheel and coming around at the line, he tried jumping off early and beaing him with aggression. Nothing worked. As a sprinter, Sagan wasn't expected to do much but make it through the time trial and the mountain stages, and he was able to do just that and still have enough left to win the final sprint of the tour with the same ease he won the first four. Winning five of eight stages against the kind of competition he faced in the Tour of California is the kind of result that marks a rider's arrival, and people are excited to see how he'll stack up at the 2012 Tour de France.
Sagan won the race's points competition and takes the green jersey. The polka-dot jersey for the King of the Mountains went to Optum Pro Cycling's Sebastian Salas, who fought it out in breakaways to collect the points needed to claim the jersey. It wasn't the best tour for Southern California natives: Chris Barton (Bissel Pro Cycling) of Ojai had to abandon the race, but the young man is only 23 and experience in a race like this will go a long way in toughening him up. Ken Hanson (Optum) of Santa Barbar managed to finish the race, but he did so 7th from the bottom. Still, that's an accomplishment for Hanson, who excells in long, one-day races.
2012 saw another exciting Amgen Tour of California, with Robert Gesink and Peter Sagan doing their best to thrill fans and take home victories. You can expect a long line of men looking to do the same at next year's Tour.
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