SAN JOSE -- The Amgen Tour of California's elite racers surveyed a demanding route Friday morning in South San Jose in preparation for the event's toughest time trial course in history.
The 19.6-mile route starts on Bailey Avenue next to the IBM Silicon Valley Lab and ends with a 1.1-mile climb up Metcalf Road to Santa Clara County Motorcycle Park. A women's race featuring 15 of the world's top cyclists will commence at 12:45 p.m. The men's field begins at 1 p.m. in 30-second intervals with the tour leaders going at the end.
"It's certainly not over," said BMC Racing Team's Tejay van Garderen, who took over first place in a surprising result Thursday." With the time trial and Diablo to come, everything's still tight."
No matter who comes out on top Friday, riders competing for the yellow jersey have another chance Saturday in a stage from Livermore to Mount Diablo. The tour ends Sunday with a stage from San Francisco to Santa Rosa.
After starting the 750-mile tour last weekend in Escondido with temperatures hovering in the high 90s the cyclists were greeted by sunny, prime conditions Friday in the Bay Area.
Van Garderen, a pre-race favorite who finished fifth in last year's Tour de France, expects serious challenges Friday from Australians Cameron Meyer (Orica GreenEdge) and Michael Rogers (Team Saxo-Tinkoff), and Americans Matthew Busche (RadioShack Leopard and David Zabriskie (Team Garmin-Sharp).
"It is a good time trial," van Garderen added. "It's definitely dynamic, and it requires a lot of thinking and not just going out and riding hard."
A bold attack Thursday by RadioShack's Jens Voigt shook up the standings and left van Garderen in first, trailed by Rogers with Colombia's Janier Acevedo -- the previous leader -- in third.
Voigt struck with 33 miles left in the stage from Santa Barbara to Avila Beach as cyclists faced tough crosswinds. The question is whether the move will affect the individual time trial.
It "definitely cost a little bit of energy," van Garderen acknowledged. "In my mind, I was thinking Mick Rogers is here, and he's the best time trialer, so as long as he's turning, I'm going to keep turning."
Voigt, at 41, the tour's oldest competitor, should have a secondary role Friday after enjoying one of the biggest days in the event's history. The German not only started the breakaway, but then attacked the lead group to easily win Stage 5.
"I think maybe the last time I was feeling good was when I was 21," he said in the post-race news conference.
Why make the move on a day expected to end with a big sprint finish?
"To cause chaos and mayhem isn't that a good enough reason?" Voigt said.
It also helped Busche, his teammate, who is fourth overall.
"We stretched everyone's legs," Voigt said. "Hopefully this will give us an advantage in the TT. So making everyone suffer and be tired was part of our plan and to gain some precious seconds. It was hard work, yes, but no one ever said cycling was easy."
Voigt, who won a tour stage that finished in San Jose in 2007, took a chance near the end.
"To win from that group, I knew I would have to go alone," he said. "I had hopes they would look at one another to chase me and give me 20 seconds. Once you do that, I'm gone.
"They know what my plan is and that I cannot win a sprint. You have to catch them by surprise. That's why it works. Sometimes they underestimate me."
But his competitors should have known better.
"I have been doing the same moves for a long time in my career, almost since the last ice age," Voigt said.
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.