UCI World Road Race Champion Peter Sagan put in an incredible effort 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 – Danny Pate (Rally Cycling), Federico Zurlo (UAE Team Emirates), David Lozano (Team Novo Nordisk) and the Jelly Belly-Belly Maxxis pair of Sean Bennett and Ben Wolfe – 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.
As the race hit the final 50 kilometres, the gap had dropped from four minutes to just two, and this dropped to just a minute with 30 kilometres remaining. After the break was caught, Sagan moved up through the bunch and 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 placed Rick Zabel (Katusha-Alpecin).
“I’d like to thank the entire team for their effort today and in particular my brother Juraj,” said Sagan. “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.”
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.