Robert Gesink ripped the legs off his competition on the queen stage of the Amgen Tour of California, but his comeback story was only one of many that unfolded on the agonisingly tough Mount Baldy climb.
Gesink looks forward to his next catch, as Horner hopes to avoid getting caught by more riders. (Getty Images)
The winner, the comeback
Robert Gesink (Rabobank), 1st, 1st overall
But first, the guy who came first, Robert Gesink. The Dutchman was in disbelief at the finish, and considering the setbacks he's had in the last six months it's understandable as to why. A broken femur in the European autumn has meant the Dutchman has had to rebuild himself mentally and physically to even be at the start line in California. He's had an anonymous spring, but the result today is confirmation of his immense talent, and a reminder of what he can, and has done on the past if in top form. Honestly I can't believe it really. After I've all I've been through to do something like this. This is really incredible. In January I was still learning how to walk again, and now I'm here beating some of the best guys in the world.The revelations
Darwin Atapuma (Colombia-Coldeportes), 2nd, 16th overall & Fabio Duarte (Colombia-Coldeportes), 3rd, 5th overall
I was lucky enough to meet both Atapuma and former under 23 world champion Duarte in Decemeber of last year at a Colombia-Coldeportes training camp, and it was clear then that the team was going to be making waves come 2012. With a philosophy "inspired by climbing", a motto that harks back to the days of Lucho Herrera in the 1980s, the team is essentially built to animate the mountains, and animate they did in California.
Darwin Atapuma took the team's first win at the Giro del Trentino when he finished ahead of the likes of Ivan Basso, Domenico Pozzovio and Damiano Cunego and he showed again today what he rare talent he is. He was probably slightly unlucky to be riding on the same day as a rampaging Robert Gesink, but along with his team-mate Duarte is one to watch for the future.The stage win was so close, but second place in such an important stage at such an important race is a very good result.Special mentions: Joseph Dombrowski and Wilco Kelderman who are both only 21 years of age, and finished inside the top 10. Kelderman donned the best young rider's after helping to setup Gesink for the win. Big futures ahead for both riders.
Tom Danielson (Garmin-Barracuda), 5th, 3rd overall
The Colorado native was one of the big movers on Baldy, given carte blanche by Garmin-Barracuda while overnight leader Dave Zabriskie rode his own rhythm behind. Though he came close to the overall win, dehydration cost him when Gesink made his move, and once dropped could only minimise his losses. The Tour de France remains the bigger goal for Danielson, but if he is to better last year's result, he'll still need to improve against the clock. I just did a huge month and a half block of training for the Tour [de France], so I expected to come here with good form. I felt strong all week and I felt strong today. I wanted to win, but Gesink was simply stronger.Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan), 6th, 8th overall
The defending champion went out swinging, but though gutsy, it wasn't quite enough. RadioShack-Nissan placed four riders in the early break including Horner, but ultimately were unable to keep the American with enough of an advantage to stave off the chase. Like Danielson, a better time trial would have been nice, but with the climbing he showed he'll be an asset or even a potential co-captain for the Schlecks come Tour time.
I was happy to gamble everything for the GC. Even with all the work I did today, you just can't make up that kind of time against guys like there are here. I made a mistake in the time trial (losing time) and it we couldn't make it up today. We had a good advantage, and I would've liked to see the Colombian guy (Atapuma) do more work. I get he wants to win the stage, but we can't win if we don't start the bottom of the Baldy climb with a two minute advantage.
Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), 9th, 6th overall
The three-time former winner was lying on the side of a road six weeks ago, and to even be in California was an incredible feat. The ride he did today however showed just how much grit the near-40-year-old still has, and it's encouraging for Omega Pharma-Quickstep which will no doubt be relying on the American, along with Peter Velits and Tony Martin to step up in July.
I haven't been playing games. The injury I had was the biggest I've had in my career and I've had to use all my experience, and knowledge to be here today. I've got to keep on top of the rehabilitation and just be as good as I can now (for the Tour de France).
Tejay Van Garderen (BMC), 10th, 4th overall
Another year, and another example of almost but not quite for the young American. Van Garderen brought his full BMC team to the front late in the race, and looked to be the most comfortable of the favourites before the field reached Baldy. But when Gesink jumped, Van Garderen was immediately in trouble. Of course, it's easy to forget that he's still only 23, and his potential is scary. He finished fifth overall last year, and his fourth place this year is an improvement. Patience is the key for the American.
You get to a certain level really quickly. As a first year pro, I was third at the Criterium du Dauphine and thought I was going to start winning everything the year after. But the thing is, it doesn't work that way. You have to be patient. You have to keep working hard. One of these times, it's all going to come together and I'm going to win. It's just too bad it didn't happen here.The Aussies
Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEDGE), 15th, 11th overall
A top-10 performance at Tirreno-Adriatico combied with a track points world championship behind him, Meyer's season has already been superb considering the juggling act he's had to put on. California was the first real test of his return to the road, and to finish just outside the top-10 is impressive. Meyer is only going to get stronger this season now that his focus in 100 per cent on the road.
I'm still trying to adapt to big climbs like that. I was going well, but at about 5k to go I had to tail off a bit and ride my own rhythm. It's another confidence booster to what I want to achieve in my career.
Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare), 17th, 13th overall
Like Tejay Van Garderen, Rory Sutherland was very self-critical after the stage, his 17th position on Mount Baldy the best he could muster. After two previous years of top-10 performances at Cali, Sutherland came to the race this year on what he felt to be career-best form. His win at the SRAM Tour of the Gila was the best possible lead-up, but Sutherland says that while the race still has climbs like Baldy, his dream of getting on the podium, may just be out of reach.
It's really difficult for guys like myself and George (Hincapie) to do a climb like Mount Baldy. That's the second year I've done it and the second year I haven't been able to go with the lighter guys. I went as hard as I could and that's all you can do... It's slightly frustrating when you do all the right things, and you don't quite have it at the end of the day. You can only work with the body you have and maybe that means you need to start reassessing what you can do at races like this.