Massive mountain stands between Amgen Tour contenders and the finish

Tejay van Garderen brings a 1:47 lead into Saturday's decisive stage at the Amgen Tour of California

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (VN) — For the podium contenders, or those daring to fly the coup solo today, there is but one true mountain remaining in the 2013 Amgen Tour of California.

And it’s a big one. Saturday’s stage, from Livermore to Mount Diablo, ends on the hors categorie climb and represents the last real chance to knock Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) from what would be his first major stage-race win. The South Gate Road ascent of Diablo covers 16.4 kilometers at an average of 5.7 percent.

According to Strava, the rider with the best ascent time via South Gate is none other than 5-Hour Energy’s Nate English — so who better to ask about the climb that will make or break the Amgen Tour for van Garderen than the King of the Mountain holder. English has ridden the mountain in 45:28 at an average clip of 23 kilometers per hour.

“It’s a relatively long climb, 40-45 minutes. It’s not a climb for pure climbers necessarily. There’s even some flat parts in it. Definitely helps to know it because there are some parts where you can attack and get out of sight pretty quickly,” English told VeloNews. “The wind can definitely make a couple minutes difference. It’ll probably be hot this year. It’s a good day for someone like Tejay who’s not a pure climber but is super strong and is able to hold it if he attacks early. A lot of people want to win that stage.”

Well, KOM, would you like to win it?

“I would love to win it, but it’s a super tall order for someone like me,” he said. “[There’s] definitely people who can climb better than me. It’s one of my favorite climbs and I’d like to be in a position to go for it.”

The climb, English said, flattens out a bit in the middle, kicks up again, and serves up a harsh final 200 meters. The move, English and van Garderen said, will come in the final third of the climb.

Van Garderen said he knows the climb, and thought much of the same.

“I expect it to come on the upper third of the climb. That’s where it gets a little bit steeper. And that’s where guys are going to start to suffer a little bit. But I think we’re going to have a strong team,” he said. “I think the usual suspects are still the dangerous guys. Like [Michael] Rogers and [Janier] Acevedo and [Philip] Deignan.”

As it stands now, van Garderen has more than a minute on his rivals. Rogers is in second, but seems to know that unless he pulls off something brilliant, the writing is on the wall.

“It’s uphill, I know that,” Rogers said of the climb. “I only know what’s on the course profile. It’s not so steep, I’m not expecting it to be like the finish into Palm Springs. At the end of the day it’s the riders who make the race. I’m sure a lot of the guys who are just out of the top 10 will be trying to make an attack from a long way out. Obviously BMC have a very strong team, and all the reason in the world to defend the jersey, and I’m sure they will.”

What about Rogers’ GC chances?

“Every kilometer that passes and every second more makes it that much more difficult to close. I’ve been around long enough to know that anything can happen,” he said. “As I said it gets harder, and Tejay has a strong team. It will be hard to bring back, but it’s certainly not over until you cross the line.”

As for that KOM, English thought it may stand.

“If people are just looking around at each other I could see Acevedo going in the last half mile and holding it,” he said. “If it’s all together going into the climb there’s no reason to go hard from the bottom. I see it more likely playing out that people won’t go hard until at least halfway.”

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