After the joy and hullabaloo that surrounded Lance Armstrong?s comeback on Saturday, the Tour of California got the result it didn?t want today when Francesco Mancebo, a rider heavily implicated in Operacion Puerto, won the stage and took the leaders yellow jersey.
The Rock Racing rider broke away early on in the race. Two riders got across to him on the finishing circuit but he still managed to win the sprint. The result matters not, as many would believe that he shouldn?t be riding at all.
Last year the organisers of the Tour of California, AEG Sports, did the right thing to protect their event and prevented three riders, Oscar Sevilla, Tyler Hamilton and Santiago Botero, from starting using the fact that there was an open investigation against their names.
This year AEG did not prevent anyone from riding, and as they say in America, it just came back and bit them on the ass.
Mancebo was prevented from riding the 2006 Tour de France when, on the eve of the race riders who?s names were on Dr Fuentes? list were sent home by their teams. Mancebo in fact left before his then team AG2R sent him home and immediately announced plans to retire.
Today he squirmed his way through the press conference in Santa Rosa, saying that he never retired, and that the reason he promptly left his team?s hotel in Strasbourg in 2006 was because his team didn?t believe him.
Andrew Merrick, the President of AEG sports defended the decision to let Mancebo ride in 2009. ?The issue that we have with Operacion Puerto and the implicated riders is that there?s no kind of process by which athletes are accused, by which the athletes are able to present a defence, or a structure in place by which they can be acquitted. We don?t have grounds to not let them ride.
?According to USA cycling and the UCI, Tyler Hamilton is absolutely eligible to race in events, he?s eligible to race in world championships, he?s eligible to represent his country in the Olympic games, and so are the other guys.?
Behind Mancebo’s lone break Astana were putting several of their opponents out of the running. Pushing the pace on the climb of Howell Mountain road and forcing a group of around 23 riders clear. That group contained four Astana riders including Levi Leipheimer and Lance Armstrong. Seeing the chance to whittle down the number of overall contenders they kept the pace high and left the remainder of the bunch behind.
Race leader Fabian Cancellara had abandoned the race before this point due to a fever, while Tour champion Carlos Sastre crashed heavily on a descent before getting back to the peloton. To add to the organiser’s woes no TV pictures were broadcast from the motorbikes as the plane that relays the signals was grounded due to ice above four thousand feet.
Prior to the race start, news had filtered through that Lance Armstrong’s time trial bike had been stolen from the Astana truck during the night. Armstrong broke the news himself on his Twitter feed, and asked the 109,000 people who follow his Twittering to look out for the yellow and black machine.
It shouldn’t be too hard to spot – it’s the only one of its kind in existence.
Tour of California stage one: results
1. Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Rock Racing 173.2km in 4-11-07
2. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana at 1-07
3. Michael Rogers (Aus) Columbia-Highroad
4. Jens Voigt (Ger) Team Saxo Bank
5. Christopher Horner (USA) Astana
6. Steve Morabito (Swi) Astana
7. Oscar Sevilla (Spa) Rock Racing
8. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas
9. Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank
10. Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana all at same time.
66. Mark Cavendish (GB) Columbia at 13-38
General classification after stage one
1. Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Rock Racing in 4-15-46
2. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana at 1-02
3. David Zabriskie (USA) Garmin-Slipstream at 1-03
4. Michael Rogers (Aus) Columbia-Highroad at same time
5. Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana at 1-05
6. Christopher Horner (USA) Astana at 1-09
7. Thomas Lovkvist (Swe) Columbia-Highroad at 1-13
8. Jose Rubiera (Spa) Astana
9. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas at same time
10. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank at 1-14
64. Mark Cavendish (GB) Columbia at 13-36
A bedraggled Lance Armstrong
Nice day for it
Tyler Hamilton and Ivan Basso (centre)
Francesco Mancebo goes it alone in the appalling weather on stage one
Francesco Mancebo wins stage one
Photos by Graham Watson
2009 TOUR OF CALIFORNIA: LINKS
Prologue: Cancellara Express derails the Armstrong show
NEWS & FEATURES
Cancellara abandons Tour of California
Armstrong’s bike stolen in California
Cavendish poised to take leaders jersey
Tour of California blog
Armstrong and Astana train for Tour of California
Mark Cavendish: Rider Profile
Lance Armstrong: Rider Profile
2009 TOUR OF CALIFORNIA STAGES
Saturday, February 14 Prologue details
Sunday, February 15 Stage one details
Monday, February 16 Stage two details
Tuesday, February 17 Stage three details
Wednesday, February 18 Stage four details
Thursday February 19 Stage five details
Friday, February 20 Stage six details
Saturday, February 21 Stage seven details
Sunday, February 22 Stage eight details
Tour of California official website