From the stage profile, the final stage of the Tour of California looked as though it were tailor-made for a fast finale, with a long descent into Pasadena giving the sprinters every chance to pull back any breaks that might have formed. However, as the finish drew close it was clear that the break would take the victory for the second time in this year’s edition, with a group of five frustrating the fast men. In spite of this, UCI World Champion confirmed his win in the points contest, while Rafał Majka fought off multiple attacks to defend his second position in the GC.
After a hard week of racing, taking in some of the best scenery California has to offer, the end was finally in sight. The 125km route was the shortest road stage of this year’s edition of the Tour of California, but it was to be full on from start to finish, with points available for the climbers and sprinters, and with time still up for grabs for the GC riders. Three categorised climbs dotted the route, before a fast and furious descent into Pasadena for the race’s grand finale. Starting with a downhill, riders would have to lay their cards on the table from the very beginning of the stage in order to stay in contention until the end.
The descent from the start made it difficult for a break to form – the relentlessly high speeds of the peloton meaning it was virtually impossible to accelerate off the front. In spite of this, as the road flattened out slightly, a group of seven, including BORA-hansgrohe’s Michal Kolar, made their escape, but this break was short-lived, as the peloton quickly made up the lost time at the bottom of the first climb of the day. While the GC contenders marked each other on the climb, another small group attacked, and this time the break stuck. The advantage was slim, sitting at less than a minute, but the breakaway was determined, and that had the potential to make all the difference. With many of the out and out sprinters dropped on the climbs, there was every chance that a smaller bunch would contend the finale, and the escapees would hope to use that to their advantage, pushing their lead out to 1:30 with 50km remaining. While attacks came from the GC contenders, Rafał Majka was on the ball and confidently protected his second spot in the overall.
Having completed the day’s climbing, it was downhill all the way to the finish. Here, the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, showed his exceptional descending skills, reaching incredible speeds in the chasing group as the bunch struggled to hold his wheel. With the BORA-hansgrohe team pushing hard to pull in the gap, it was clear there were concerns about there being a repeat of stage 4 – the break holding a lead of 45 seconds as the stage – and the race – reached its final 10km. The kilometres ticked down and it was clear the break was going to stay out until the end, the sprinters being frustrated at being denied their chance for glory on the final day. After the five breakaway riders crossed the ride, Peter was the first of the bunch to cross the line, taking the sprint for sixth with ease, confirming his victory in the points contest.
Riding the race for only the second time in his career, Rafał Majka rode an excellent Tour, taking a stage victory and holding the GC lead over four stages. ”It was a really nervous final stage at the Tour of California with many attacks and crashes. We would have liked to see Peter win the stage but it wasn’t possible to catch the breakaway. I’m happy with my results here and the way we raced. The team worked well, so overall it was a good Tour of California for us.”
Having taken the green jersey for the fifth time, as well as his sixteenth stage victory in the race, Peter Sagan was pleased with his performance and was looking to improve his form, staying a while longer in the USA. “It was a complicated stage to Pasadena, affected by the crashes in the descent. We had two goals today – firstly to try to win the stage and secondly to defend Rafał’s position in the GC, and even attack if possible. However, the falls and the dangerous descent made it impossible to reel in the escapees. I was in good form at the sprint and I tried to take the group sprint, which I did. The Tour of California concludes with good sensations and I will now focus on another high altitude training camp here in the USA.”
With the race over and the chance to look back on both the stage and the Tour as a whole, Directeur Sportif, Patxi Vila, was pleased with how the whole team pulled together. “When the group went, I already knew it would be hard to catch them – they were strong riders. So, we decided before the last climb to pull. We used a lot of our forces there, and ended up with Peter, Rafa and Pawel in the chasing group. In the end, Trek-Segafredo helped, but it was too late. Still, the whole team did a great job this week with two stage wins, the green jersey and a second overall. We can be very pleased with what we achieved at the Tour of California.”