Twenty-two-year-old sensation Peter Sagan (SVK) of Liquigas-Cannondale remains unbeatable at this year’s Amgen Tour of California, outsprinting some of the world’s top sprinters to win his fourth consecutive stage, a remarkable accomplishment rarely achieved in major international stage racing. He now also holds the record for most stage wins – seven – in the history of the Amgen Tour of California.
For the fourth consecutive day, Heinrich Haussler (AUS) of Garmin-Barracuda finished in second place. Michael Matthews (AUS) of the Rabobank Cycling Team took third. The 2012 race has featured four consecutive sprint finishes, but the critical Individual Time Trial, often referred to as a “race against the clock,” coming up on Thursday will prove to be decisive.
“Tomorrow I think I say bye-bye to the yellow jersey,” Sagan said, noting his overall race lead will most likely be handed over to the winner of the Time Trial in Bakersfield. “My team said to me before the race, ‘Peter, I think you can win four in row.’ It is difficult to win one stage. To win four, I am very happy.”
The longest stage of the 2012 Amgen Tour of California at 130.2 miles, Stage 4 took the riders from the small goldmine town of Sonora, up over six climbs and through two sprints before ending in front of massive crowds in Old Town Clovis. Before the mad dash through the streets of downtown, it appeared that Dave Zabriskie (USA) of Garmin-Barracuda might take the stage, breaking away within the final five kilometers of the race. But Sagan’s team reeled in the U.S. National Time Trial champion and it was Sagan who crossed the finish line first once again.
After a two-mile neutral rollout, the race officially got underway, mostly on a downhill course, allowing the peloton to reach speeds of up to 43 miles per hour. At the first King of the Mountain (KOM), Sebastian Salas (USA) of Optum Powered by Kelly Benefit Strategies attacked off the front of the peloton to take maximum points. He was followed by Bram Tankink (NED) of the Rabobank Cycling Team, Dries Devenyns (BEL) of Omega Pharma-QuickStep and Ben Jacques-Maynes (USA) of Bissell Pro Cycling.
Shortly thereafter, a breakaway of 11 riders established themselves and increased their gap to four minutes. The riders included: Markel Irizar Arranburu (ESP) and Ben King (USA) of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek; Devenyns; Yannick Eijssen (BEL) of BMC Racing Team; Wilco Kelderman (NED) of Rabobank Cycling Team; Alex Howes (USA) of Garmin-Barracuda; Timothy Duggan (USA) of Liquigas-Cannondale; Wesley Sulzberger (Orica-GreenEDGE); Mikael Cherel (FRA) of AG2R La Mondiale; and Jhon Atapuma (COL) and Carlos Julian Quintero of Colombia-Coldeportes.
Atapuma took top points for the second KOM of the day, followed by Howes, King, Quintero and Cherel. The break riders also swept the first sprint points, with Aranburu crossing first, followed by Howes and Kelderman. With the break dwindling to two minutes and 40 seconds, the riders crossed the fourth KOM of the day, with Kelderman reaching it first, Howes second, Quintero third and Sulzberger fourth. Shortly thereafter, Quintero dropped from the break, leaving 10 men in the front with a lead of only one minute and 20 seconds.
On the fifth KOM of the day, Howes crossed first, followed by Sulzberger, Aranburu, Kelderman and Atapuma. Points for the second sprint of the day were scooped up by Howes, King and Kelderman. The break was caught shortly after the final sprint, but a new breakaway emerged, including George Bennett (NZL) of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek, Thomas Peterson (USA) of Garmin-Barracuda and Michael Rodriguez (COL) of Colombia-Coldeportest. A rider from Liquigas-Cannondale set the pace at the front of the peloton, while three riders went out to catch the break, including Tankink, Cherel and Brian Vandborg Bach (DEN) of Spidertech Powered by C10. Together, the six men formed the new breakaway, and points for the sixth and final KOM went to Rodriguez, Bennett, Peterson and Vandborg.
After the final KOM, the break was caught and the peloton, being led by Liquigas-Cannondale, spread wide across the road. At the front of the peloton was a Garmin-Barracuda rider, followed by riders from Omega Pharma-QuickStep, Rabobank Cycling Team and BMC Racing Team. After a short-lived break by Jonathan Clarke (AUS) of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team, the peloton spread across the road again and the pace slowed in anticipation of the sprint to the finish.
Zabriskie launched an attack and secured a substantial gap right away. With about 2.5km to go, Zabriskie had a lead of 30 seconds, but was caught by a rider from Omega Pharma-QuickStep. Garmin-Barracuda was lined up at the front for Haussler, but it was Sagan who once again bested his competition by reaching the finish line first to claim his fourth win of the 2012 Amgen Tour of California.
“Winning today is a surprise,” said Sagan. “Today was a very hard day and the weather was very hot. In the climb, I put water on my head because of the heat. I wasn’t expecting another victory but after the last climb my teammate, Daniel Oss, said to me, ‘Today we win another stage.’ And I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ But, after he made the suggestion, I said to myself, ‘Yeah, okay. We’ll try.’ We did and now we are very happy. Thank you to all my teammates.”
At the end of Stage 4, Sagan retains the Amgen Leader, Visit California Sprint and Rabobank Young Rider Jerseys. Because Sagan will wear the Amgen Leader Jersey at the start of Stage 5 tomorrow in Bakersfield, Haussler will remain in the Visit California Sprint Jersey, and Kelderman will wear the Rabobank Best Young Rider Jersey. Eijssen will wear the Exergy Most Aggressive Rider Jersey and Arranburu will be in the Amgen Breakaway from Cancer® Most Courageous Rider Jersey. Salas will remain in the Nissan King of the Mountain Jersey.
“There was a lot of talk today that it was going to be a big day [to win the KOM],” said Salas. “I went for the first KOM and tried to get in, but none of the teams were letting me get up the road for the breakaway. As chance would have it, [David] Boily wasn’t able to get as many points today, so I increased my buffer on him. Hopefully there will be another showdown on Big Bear.”
· Amgen Leader Jersey – Peter Sagan (SVK), Liquigas-Cannondale (ITA)
· Nissan King of the Mountain Jersey – Sébastian Salas (USA), Optum Powered by Kelly Benefit Strategies (USA)
· Visit California Sprint Jersey – Peter Sagan (SVK), Liquigas-Cannondale (ITA) (Heinrich Haussler (AUS), Garmin-Barracuda (USA) will wear the green Visit California Sprint Jersey tomorrow since Peter Sagan cannot wear three jerseys)
· Rabobank Best Young Rider Jersey – Peter Sagan (SVK), Liquigas-Cannondale (ITA) (Wilco Kelderman (NED), Rabobank Cycling Team (NED) will wear the Robobank Best Young Rider Jersey tomorrow since Peter Sagan cannot wear three jerseys)
· Amgen’s Breakaway from Cancer® Most Courageous Rider Jersey – Markel Irizar Arranburu (ESP), RadioShack-Nissan-Trek (LUX)
· Exergy Most Aggressive Rider Jersey – Yannick Eijssen (BEL) of BMC Racing Team (USA)
Stage 4 Top-3
· First – Peter Sagan (SVK), Liquigas-Cannondale (ITA)
· Second – Heinrich Haussler (AUS), Garmin-Barracuda (USA)
· Third – Michael Matthews (AUS), Rabobank Cycling Team (NED)