Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo) has won stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California after soloing to victory at Laguna Seca Recreation Area (Monterey County).
It marked a winning return to the race for Skujins who was forced to abandon last year on stage two after crashing and suffering a concussion.
“The only time I actually dreamed I would win was in the last 300 [meters],” exclaimed Skujins. “I’m serious. I expected someone to come from the back, full throttle, but I guess it had been a hard day for everyone with the wind and hard pace. Also, the breakaway was really strong that went away in the beginning, and that all played into my advantage.”
Skujins explained: “When the break was almost back, we slowed down on one of the GPMS (categorized climbs) and Logan Owen attacked, and I was on the lookout and just followed him. We caught the two guys remaining from the break just at the top. We ripped the downhill and got like 45-55 seconds.”
Coming into the penultimate climb, the Laureles Grade Summit, the peloton had reduced the lead to the leaders and had them in sight. Skujins pressed on. The riders with him fell off the pace, while a few others attacked out of the bunch.
“At the bottom of the next [climb] we didn’t have much time, but I knew that there weren’t that many guys left in the field, so I just went full gas from the bottom and was solo for a little bit until I was caught by Howes and Bennett” continued Skujins. “Bennett attacked and dropped Howes, and I couldn’t believe that the group wasn’t closer.”
The peloton, only five seconds back at the start of the climb, had fallen a little further behind. Sean Bennett (Hagens Berman Axeon) was the only rider to stick with Skujins as the gap hovered between 17 and 25 seconds, but with more than 10 kilometres and a few stiff climbs to go, it seemed futile.
Entering the race track circuit of Laguna Seca the pair held no more than a fistful of seconds. One short but stiff climb remained, followed by the corkscrew descent and a fast, final meters to the line. Somehow Toms found reserves. He powered to the top of the last ascent, distanced Bennett, and soloed the final meters for an incredible victory.
“We got into the speedway, and I know this circuit when I raced with the Hincapie team here. I knew that it was a question of whoever goes over the top of that last climb first, and I wanted to be the first guy. And then I saw Bennett crack a little bit and I just did five more pedal strokes tucked, and by the bottom, I had a gap. It was enough to enjoy it the last 300 meters.”
“It’s not the easiest run-in to the line, but luckily I had raced on Laguna Seca before, and that definitely helped me. I’ve done this stage – a similar stage – before and I knew how to play it. I was never feeling really good, but once I saw my breakaway compatriot crack a little bit, that’s the only time I believed it might happen.”