One of the most aggressive races in National Racing Calendar history saw Rock Racing pull back multiple threatening breakaways to maintain its yellow jersey leader Oscar Sevilla's eight second lead. The bunch sprint finale saw Argentina's Alejandro Borrajo (Colavita/Sutter Home) claim the stage victory over Henk Vogels (Toyota-United) and Jonathan Cantwell (Jittery Joes).
"I felt really nervous at the start of this race because it is my first time doing a race of this caliber here in the USA," said race leader Oscar Sevilla. "But I had complete faith and security in my team that they were going to be able to do a good job to keep the lead of this race.
"I was very happy with Tyler Hamilton today because he was really communicating well with the riders to tell them exactly what to do to control the race for me," he added. "I'm very happy and I started feeling very good toward the end of the race."
With the field intact and one lap to go, the yellow jersey was tucked away safe in the peloton while the sprinters came out to play. According Borrajo his team made it possible for him to win, though not in the conventional lead out style but rather to put him in good position and bid him adieu at the bottom of the final climb.
"It is the kind of climb on the circuit that is really hard because it is so fast but it suits my kind of strength and to be able to sprint at the end is really suitable for me," said Borrajo. "I told my team-mates that I needed to be in good position over the top of the climb so they brought me to the bottom of it in 10th position and all I had to do was hold that over the top."
Borrajo elaborated on his Colavita/Sutter Home team tactics by describing the last lap in further detail. "Because of the climb, this is the kind of finish where there is no lead out for a sprinter on any team," Borrajo continued. "If a sprinter gets over the climb all the teams usually only have two or three riders left and everyone is tired. The first key moment was when Luis Amaran took me through the park and all the way to the front of the field before the climb.
"Second, there was an attack with three riders over the top of the climb and my brother Anibal Borrajo sacrificed himself to bring those riders back before the finishing straight away," he added. "Then I was able to work my way through the field for a good sprint and I'm comfortable with that."
It was chillier than the typical California day but the peloton warmed up after the first few laps of cat and mouse where riders Chris Baldwin (Toyota-United) and Ben King (Kelly Benefit Strategies/Medifast) worked to put some time between themselves and the field. However, Rock Racing was quick to shut down any break away to protect Sevilla, its leader on the road.
According to Borrajo he was not certain the leader's team would be able to continue its immense effort in chasing every break away attempt but changed his mind when he saw they had decided to revise their strategy and unite at the front to control the race by setting tempo instead.
"I thought that after two laps that there was no way they could continue that without suffering in the end," said Borrajo. "When the break of three got up the road I noticed Rock Racing were very organized and worked together to keep the break close enough for their leader and I was confident they were going to be able to bring it back together for a field sprint, this worked out very well for me."
Riders Edward King (Bissell), Stefano Barberi (THF Racing) and Javier Zapata (Caico) rolled off the front of the field during the fourth lap and maintained a steady lead of more than one minute on the peloton that was diligently controlled by Rock Racing. One rider noted to have acted out against Rock Racing's control over the peloton was Luis Amaran (Colavita/Sutter Home) who wound up caught between the leading trio and the bunch for several laps. King went on to gather enough points during his break away to take the lead in both the KOM competition and the sprint competition before being reeled in with three laps to the finish.
"It was a very aggressive race today," said the double jersey leader King. "We had three riders in the GC so we wanted to take the pressure off of them and put it onto Rock Racing so it was our plan to race aggressive and get in the break. Also, it was a dangerous course due to the islands in the middle of the roads through the park and so being in a group of three was much safer than being in a group of one 140."
During the final three laps, with the bunch back together, riders from Symmetrics, Toyota-United, Colavita/Sutter Home and Rock Racing flexed their legs by taking flyers off the front until it was clear that with one kilometer to go a bunch sprint was going to happen.
"We wanted to attack them as much as possible," said Vogels, who lost four riders from the front group due to mechanicals. "I knew it was a hard finish and I missed the boat a bit when Borrajo jump early with 500 meters to go.
"We didn't think he was going to make it but he did," he added. "I hate running second place but I know it was a good result given how hard the race was. Most of the guys were pushing more watts on today's course than they were in the Tour of California."
Race leader Sevilla acknowledged his excitement of racing in the San Dimas stage race, saying that it was everything he had expected North American racing to be like. "I'm very emotional about racing in the USA and it is very hard racing, everything that I expected it to be," said Sevilla. "I have raced all over the world and on big teams but I feel very privileged to be able to race here and I am very passionate about cycling in general. Where ever I'm racing in the world, I always give it my all."