Home Court Advantage?UnitedHealthcare’s Rory Sutherland’s probably didn’t think about it at the time, but when he and his family pulled up stakes to move to San Luis Obispo, California over the off-season, the Australian rider was putting himself just 280 miles from one of the 2012 Amgen Tour of California’s most crucial destination – Big Bear Lake.
“We packed up the house in Boulder, Co and my wife, son, and dog drove to California for a 6-week training session in better temperatures! We based ourselves in San Luis Obispo and really fell in love with the town and the surrounding areas for both training and living.”
While it might be too far for Sutherland to include Big Bear in his training regimen, he undoubtedly has yet to forget the epic finish of 2010 when the race last visited the well-known ski resort. Following the 213km and 14,000 feet of vertical gain on the road from Pasadena to Big Bear, Sutherland and a handful of other top Tour of California contenders were in sight of the finish. The finish was somewhat uphill and to make matters worse there was a headwind to contend with as well.
“That was a long, hard day!” Sutherland remembers. “I think the stage was nearly too hard, so there wasn't as much action in the race. It was definitely a race of attrition!”
Sutherland found himself facing off against not only current race leader Mick Rogers, but three time winner Levi Leipheimer and the up and coming all around-er Peter Sagan riding for Liquigas. While many of the other riders were just looking to survive the day, Sutherland was in position to take the stage victory, but fell just behind the young Italian when the group crossed the line. But despite nabbing only second place, Sutherland retains fond memories of the day.
“It ended up being a pretty special finish by us getting on the podium. My wife, son and many friends were (there) at the finish line.”
Sutherland’s podium position that day brought him significant dividends. All of the riders hunting the general classification, he benefited most from sticking with the other heavy hitters and moved into fifth position overall and just 29 seconds behind Rogers. For 2012 he’s fairly certain the same scenario will play out.
“I think it will always be a bunch sprint--be it with 4 guys, 10 guys or a 25 man group like we had in 2010. The difficulty is that it's a long way from the top of the last climb around the lake to the finish. This makes attacks nearly fruitless.”
The Amgen Tour of California is always a huge goal for Sutherland and his UnitedHealthcare teammates, and they are ready and eager to face off against the World Tour level competition that awaits them there.
“The mentality is like any other race. Whether it's World Tour squads, pro continental or continental squads, our tactics remain the same. We are there to race the race, not the individual teams. However, It does spur you on and push you a little harder when the big names turn up to race.”
This year the squad will be returning to the race on a set of new high tech steeds, produced by a company that’s better known for it’s footprint in the wind surfing world as opposed to the realm of cycling. NeilPryde’s designs hope to bring the same aerodynamics advantages the company has seen on the water to the road.
“We're only 4 months into working with NeilPryde and so far the commitment from the company has been fantastic. They are eager, intelligent and really looking to produce bikes for the world stage. It's a young company with regards to bikes and we are in the beginning stages with them right now. So far things have been great and they are developing some exciting things for the future.”
What Sutherland looks forward to most, however, is racing his new bike amongst some of the most enthusiastic and supportive fans in the entire cycling world.
“My favorite memory of the Amgen Tour of California has always been the same--it is the people. My first experience with the race was in 2007 and since then I have been consistently amazed at the support we receive from the local communities. The crowds are awesome and to have so many people supporting all the riders makes it such a special event.”
And this year, he’ll be able to count several of them as new neighbors.