After a day spent on support duties for the GC leader, Rafał Majka, the chances of any normal rider having anything in reserve for the sprint would be considered impossible. However, for a rider like Peter Sagan, ‘impossible’ isn’t a word in his vocabulary. The UCI World Champion put in an incredible effort, surging ahead on a long, uphill sprint, to take his sixteenth stage victory in the Tour of California, the race’s points jersey and BORA-hansgrohe’s second stage win of the race.
After the testing, mountainous terrain of stage 2, the third day of the Tour of California took on a more gentle character. The single third category climb – the Tepusquet Road Summit – came at the 84km point. This was too far out to have much impact on this 192.5km stage, while the flat run to the finish made sure the sprinters would have their chance to go for the win after the terrain of yesterday’s stage put them well out of contention. However, a slight uphill for the last 500m meant there was every chance that the pure sprinters would struggle maintaining the pace on such a finale.
With the yellow GC leader’s jersey on his shoulders, it would fall to Rafał Majka and his BORA-hansgrohe teammates to defend the race lead, making a tough day in the saddle that much tougher. On a relatively flat day, the pace would be high, especially towards the finale, and from the drop of the flag, a group of five went on up the road. While their lead quickly reached the five minute mark, none of the escape group was a threat to the GC riders, and so the peloton was in no hurry to reel them back in – instead taking in the ocean views on the California coastal roads before the race headed inland. In spite of this, the speeds were high and it was clear nobody was taking it easy today.
While the speeds were high, the winds were high too, and while the break was holding its advantage, the blustery weather was taking its toll, and the strength in numbers that the peloton provided was giving the chasers the advantage. As the race hit its final 50km, the gap had dropped from four minutes to just two, and this dropped to just a minute with 30km remaining. Back in the bunch, Rafał was well-protected – the BORA-hansgrohe team massed around the Polish national champion. With the break all but caught, preparations were being made to ensure the GC leader was protected in what could be a hectic finale. With a few kilometres to go, the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, changed from support duties to what he does best – winning sprints. Moving his way up the sprint trains, expertly using the available space, before his final kick pushed the Slovak rider from sixth rider back to the front of the sprint, taking his sixteenth victory at the Tour of California with clean air between him and second place.
As always, Peter’s first act was to show his gratitude to his BORA-hansgrohe teammates. “I’d like to thank the entire team for their effort today and in particular my brother Juraj. He was probably the most visible rider on TV today – he was pulling all day. They all did a great job – they positioned me in the front in the last moment and then I had an amazing finale. I’m very happy with our performance of yesterday and today. This Tour of California has been very good for BORA-hansgrohe so far but we still have to see how it finishes. I didn’t feel very well yesterday in the climbs – maybe because I came from a high altitude training camp and I have to get used to lower altitudes. I feel my condition improving and again I’m happy with this result. I was a little back in the last 600m but I had a strong finale and took the win.”
Keeping hold of the leader’s yellow jersey, Rafał Majka was glad to have his teammates’ support on what turned out to be a tough day. “It was a hard day with the wind. You had to be focused all day long. All the boys did an amazing job and showed excellent spirit in the end with Peter taking another stage. We can be really happy with two stages in hand and also still leading the GC.”
While the aim was to protect the GC lead, Directeur Sportif, Patxi Vila, knew Peter had it in him for the sprint. “After yesterday’s tough stage and with the wind today, we set out this morning to protect Rafał and make sure he finished safe in the front. We wanted to avoid him getting caught in a split and jeopardising the yellow jersey. We had Juraj Sagan pulling in the peloton to keep the breakaway under control, and he did a superb job, working very hard for most of the race. However, out of respect for Peter, we left the option of going for the sprint open. He saw the opportunity after the last corner and his long effort in the finale and his incredible sprint proved he’s one of the strongest riders in the peloton. With this stage win and the yellow jersey we can be happy with our performance, although we still have four more stages and the Tour of California isn’t over yet.”
The road turns upwards again tomorrow, with four categorised climbs ready to sap the energy from already tired legs – the short but tough Balcom Canyon Road bringing with it an average gradient of 11.8%. While the climbs aren’t likely to decide the stage winner, the long slow uphill drag to the line – around 50km of steady ascending – will prove pivotal peter sagen, tour of california