With a new Amgen Tour of California champion to be decided as America’s premier annual road race concludes tomorrow, Team Sky and their former Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins (GBR) played it steady today to keep his 30-second lead in tact. But with a difficult course ahead for Stage 8 in Thousand Oaks, the quest to take home the prestigious yellow jersey is far from a foregone conclusion.
“It depends who’s there, how the race pans out at the start,” Wiggins said about the final stage. “I haven’t really looked at the route yet, so I have to take a look at it and try to think of all the scenarios that could happen tomorrow and try to work out a strategy for those. But I guess Peter [Sagan] will have another go if he’s there.”
Today’s Stage 7 presented by Crunchies Natural Snacks was finally the day the peloton’s top sprinters have been trying to materialize all week, with Cannondale Pro Cycling’s Peter Sagan (SVK) sprinting to his first Amgen Tour of California stage victory this year, and furthering his record stage wins in this race to 11. Marking his 66th career victory, Sagan will remain in the Visit California Sprint Leader Jersey, which he has won four years running.
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“Today, I am very happy for this victory,” said Sagan. “It was big work of my team, all the team, because they were all pulling from the start to the finish. It was a very big stage for us. I am very happy for a victory because I’m a finish man and today we did very, very good work.”
The 88.7-mile stage from Santa Clarita to Pasadena began with a breakaway of seven cyclists around mile 13. Nearing the top of Angeles Crest, at more than 4,000 feet elevation, the final climb before a speedy descent into Pasadena, Team Garmin-Sharp’s Ben King (Charlottesville, Va.) attacked, narrowing the group to four, with the peloton trailing by about two minutes. Determined to deliver Sagan first over the line, Cannondale Pro Cycling propelled the peloton forward, steadily gaining on the lead group even as the elevation continued to rise.
As the breakaway descended into downtown Pasadena at speeds near 60 mph, rider by rider fell back until King and BMC Racing Team’s Greg Van Avermaet (BEL) punched up the speed to become the last two standing out front with 10 miles left to ride. As they crossed the iconic Colorado Street Bridge onto the first of three 3-mile circuits, the peloton bore down and finally caught the two just before the final lap. King’s ride earned him the Amgen Breakaway from Cancer® Most Courageous Rider Jersey.
In the final lap, Cannondale Pro Cycling, Team Giant-Shimano and BMC Racing Team maneuvered to put their sprinters into prime position to pounce, with Team Sky taking turns at the front to ensure their leader would not lose time at the line. In the final kilometer, BMC Racing Team’s Taylor Phinney (Boulder, Colo.) led out former world champion Thor Hushovd (NOR) in a bid for the stage win. At his heels were Team Giant-Shimano’s John Degenkolb (GER) and Sagan.
Sagan used three tight corners leading to the finish to his advantage, moving around to the front to claim the stage win by a clear margin. Hushovd, who has racked up stage wins in every Grand Tour, including nine in the Tour de France, placed second, with Trek Factory Racing’s Danny Van Poppel (NED) in third, Zakkari Dempster (AUS) with Team NetApp-Endura in fourth and Degenkolb settling for fifth.
There was no change to the overall lead today, and Wiggins will ride the final stage in Thousand Oaks wearing the Amgen Race Leader Jersey (+:30) over Team Garmin-Sharp’s Rohan Dennis (AUS). Lawson Craddock (Austin, Texas) of Team Giant-Shimano remains in the Crunchies Best Young Rider jersey and in third place overall (+1:48) with Team NetApp-Endura’s Tiago Machado (POR) in fourth place (+2:02). Will Routley (CAN) of Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies further cemented his hold on the Michelob Ultra King of the Mountain Jersey today, which he alone has worn all week.