Lancaster rolls into Tour of California lead

Aussie moves in front of pack on day many riders opt to play it safe

May 18, 2010 

SANTA ROSA -- Near the finish line of the second stage of the Amgen Tour of California on Monday, there was three-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer shivering under an umbrella near his RadioShack team bus, rain dripping off the bill of his baseball cap.

David Zabriskie, last year's race runner-up, was looking similarly miserable at his Garmin-Transitions trailer. He described himself as "having the shivers."

Conditions were messy again at the Santa Rosa finish of the race -- same as in 2009, except that the event was in February and winter weather had been expected.

The bad weather also meant minimal television on Versus because the Federal Aviation Administration banned low-flying planes and helicopters.

Australian Brett Lancaster of the Cervelo TestTeam took the overall lead after he crossed the finish line first in a time of 4 hours 38.48 minutes over the 109.5-mile course that began in Davis and took the riders through Napa Valley wine country, on a scenic ride along Lake Berryessa, across four rated climbs and into downtown Santa Rosa where crowds three deep lined the finish area on Third Street.

Most of the overall race contenders played it safe.

Zabriskie summed up the goals of the big favorites.

"We don't want to risk too much on a day like this," Zabriskie said. "We don't want to crash.

"We just want to be there at the finish in the same time as the main guys."

There was a momentary rumor that Lance Armstrong may have taken a tumble.

With a television blackout for most of the day, it was hard to know exactly what was happening on the course. But it was a false alarm.

RadioShack team director Johan Bruyneel made a driving error and maneuvered a team car with an Armstrong replacement bike into a tree limb. The bike was damaged, but Armstrong wasn't on it.

"The road was really slippery," Bruyneel said. "As a team, we didn't want to take much risk today."

As a team, RadioShack is where it wants to be, with five riders including Leipheimer (12th) and Armstrong (18th) in the top 25.

Garmin-Transition has four riders among the top 25 as well, with overall contenders Tom Danielson (13th) and Zabriskie (14th) among them.

Mark Cavendish, the stylish sprinter from HTC-Columbia who was the leader after Stage 1, had a tougher go of it. The 24-year-old had won Sunday's opening stage, but the punishing climbing sent him closer to the back of the pack than to the front on Monday and he finished in the last of the seven main groups and a whopping 17 minutes, 20 seconds behind the winner.

Lancaster, 30, credited four weeks of altitude training in Boulder, Colo., for his win Monday.

"I put in a lot of hard work there," he said. "But a win like this with a field like this is just incredible for me."

The forecast for Tuesday's 113.7-mile stage from San Francisco to Santa Cruz is better. No rain, partly cloudy, chance of sun.

It was on the stage into Santa Cruz last year when Leipheimer made a decisive move and took the lead for good. Bruyneel was giving away no hint of what to expect Tuesday, though.

"Not telling," he said.

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