Chad Haga, battling through more than five hours of 100-plus degree temperatures and relentless sunshine, finished sixth place after a grueling mountain top finish outside of Palm Springs. The result moves Haga into seventh place on general classification, 1:13 behind new yellow jersey holder and stage winner Jose Acavedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman), and was another display of the young rider’s potent stage racing ability.
The finishing climb, which assaulted the peloton with 2000 feet of rapid elevation change over six kilometers, was a true test of willpower for some of the greatest climbers in the world. Haga stayed cool and confident after nearly 200 kilometers of racing, the longest stage of the week, and had nothing but praise for his teammates after the finish.
“My team was amazing today, kept me sheltered all day in preparation for the final climb. They were constantly running back and forth to the cars to get water, mix, and ice bags,” said Haga. “There was a constant stream of bottles – I had to chug them just to keep up with how many they were bringing me. It was chaotic through Palm Springs as everyone was racing to the bottom of the climb, and positioning was key. Every one of my teammates helped me get to where I needed to be today.”
The result continues a hot streak that has included second overall at the Volta ao Alentejo in Portugal, second overall at the Redlands Classic and his general classification victory at Joe Martin Stage Race last month. He surged past Matthew Busche (Radioshack-Leopard-Trek) over the closing meters to claim what Performance Director Jonas Carney considered the most impressive finish of his burgeoning career. He collapsed off of his bike after crossing the line, as thermometers around the finish line were peaking at 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
“We had a lot of confidence in Chad going into today, but he still surprised us. 6th place on a stage with these conditions, against this competition, is the most impressive thing he’s done so far,” said Carney. “The guys now realize what is possible, and it’s really exciting for our team.”
Scott Zwizanski, jumping into an early breakaway that included Bissell’s Pat McCarty, Ben Jacques-Maynes (Jamis-Hagens Berman), and WorldTour powerhouse Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), started things off on the right foot for Optum p/b KBS. The four riders gained over twelve minutes on the field through the sweltering desert and over the category one Mountain Center climb, which topped out at 4900 feet. Unfortunately for the peloton, the added elevation offered zero relief from the sunshine and heat, and hydration and core temperature became the the key ingredients to success once again.
“It was a little advantageous to be in the break all day, because the team car is right there with you, and can quickly get you water, ice and food,” said Zwizanski. “We definitely had to gauge our efforts because of the heat – you can’t burn yourselves out. We wanted to make it to the base of climb alone, but unfortunately we had a GC threat (in McCarty) in the move with us, so that made it tougher for us to stay away.”
Zwizanski’s breakaway was reeled in as the peloton closed in on the final climb. The four man group was caught at the base, and it was up to Haga to bury himself on the difficult slope.
“I was able to set a personal power record today on the final climb,” said Haga. “After five hours of racing in conditions like that, I definitely couldn’t have done it on my own.
Haga’s power numbers were certainly impressive – he averaged 430 watts over the final 20 minutes of racing.
After a long morning transfer, the team saddles up and attacks stage three, 177.5 kilometers from Palmdale to Santa Clarita. A different kind rider may be the focus of the day for Optum p/b KBS, as a long downhill run-in and a flatter elevation profile has Carney thinking field sprint.
Race Report from Jonas Carney
Today was stage 2 of the Amgen Tour of California…200 kilometers from Murrieta to Palm Springs. The stage had a category 1 climb in the middle and it also finished on a brutally steep category 1 climb. The climb gained over 2000 feet in less than 6 kilometers. As if the distance and climbing wasn’t hard enough, the temperature stayed over 100 degrees for almost the entire race. Our car indicated 113 degrees when we entered Palm Desert with around 20 miles to go!
Our plan was to again put someone in the early break, and also protect Chad Haga for the mountain top finish. Zwiz covered the early break for us and spent over 100 miles off the front in a group of only four riders. The remainder of the team focused on keeping Chad out of the wind, and stocked with cold water bottles and ice packs.
Unfortunately Zwiz’s break was doomed from the start because Bissell covered it with Jason McCarty…who finished in the front group yesterday. If he had not been there, the break may have gone all the way to the line. But after over 100 miles off the front, the break was caught at the bottom of the final climb with 6k to go. The field exploded and dozens of riders were just trying to survive at that point as there was no shade on the climb. It was so brutal that a coupe riders succumbed the the heat and had to be sent the the hospital.
Haga entered the climb a great position. When the strongest climbers surged, the group split just a couple places ahead of Chad. He found himself in the second group with about 5 riders…and about 6 riders ahead of him. Half way up the climb Chad was able to ride away from his companions. Over the last 2k, he clawed his way back up to Matt Busche of Radioshack and past him just before the line to take 6th on the stage.
It was an amazing day for Chad and for our team. To finish 6th place on a mountain top at the TOC against this competition is impressive. Chad now sits 7th overall!
Tomorrow is another difficult day. We expect a select field sprint and we like that because Candelario and Hanson look good. Hopefully the riders won’t have to continue racing in this epic heat for much longer.