In what will be remembered as the most competitive peloton in Amgen Tour of California history, Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins (GBR) fended off his challengers to claim the top prize in the fourth-closest finish that the race has ever seen.
“It’s a lot more strenuous, said Bradley Wiggins referring to wearing the Yellow Jersey all week. “And then, obviously, the guys have to take the strain as well. No matter how strong you are individually, you’re nothing without a team behind you. They put themselves on the line and they really raised the game, especially the young guys on the team. I’m very grateful to them.”
The 2014 Amgen Tour of California proved to be both a showcase for the “new class” of young talents and for the time-tested “gladiators” of the sport. Up-and-comers proved their mettle, taking chances that paid off big in surprise stage wins while time-tested champions claimed their due with the likes of Wiggins, Sagan and Cavendish – some of cycling’s all-time winningest competitors – taking home prizes.
The conclusion of the prestigious eight-day stage race, which aired live on NBC, featured an inspired ride by Wiggins who will leave the Golden State wearing yellow after handily defending the Amgen Race Leader Jersey in today’s 76.1-mile Stage 8 presented by Amgen. With a final time of 28 hours, 22 minutes and 05 seconds, Wiggins has led the race since the Stage 2 time trial where he overtook first day leader and fellow British rider Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Cycling Team), who won the closest finish in race history on opening day, and pulled out another narrow win in today’s finishing stage sprint.
A former World Champion and current National Champion, Cavendish’s well-earned victory today is the 133rd of his career. After being dropped on the third pass up the infamous 2.6-mile Rock Store climb during the first of three 20-mile circuits of Thousand Oaks, headquarters of the race’s title sponsor Amgen, he clawed his way back to the main group in the final miles of the race with enough reserves to accelerate to the front of the pack. Up against several other world-class sprinters in the final 500 meters, Cavendish mirrored his day one result, tearing over the finish line just inches ahead of Team Giant-Shimano’s John Degenkolb (GER). Earlier in the race, Cavendish had flatted on the second circuit and considered abandoning the race.
“To be fair I wasn’t anticipating a sprint today. I wasn’t going to start today, let alone finish, said Mark Cavendish. “I had a small breakfast and then we started. Rode with a few guys with the first lap, then on the second lap I actually punched it on my own during the climb. I did the whole second climb alone. Over the top, I could see the group. I was chasing the group. I finally got back to them on the descent.”
Also in contention for today’s stage win was Cannondale Pro Cycling’s Peter Sagan (SVK), who ended up third and will take home the Visit California Sprint Leader Jersey the fifth year in a row. A consistent performer this week, Sagan also increased his record for most Amgen Tour of California stage wins to 11 with a sprint victory at yesterday’s finish line. Noteable sprinters Matthew Goss (AUS) of ORICA-GreenEDGE and Trek Factory Racing’s Danny Van Poppel (NED) rounded out today’s top-five.
Earlier in the day, a breakaway of eight men rode up to four minutes ahead of the peloton during the large circuits, including Trek Factory Racing’s Jens Voigt (GER), who has competed in every Amgen Tour of California since its inception. On the precarious technical descent during the second circuit, two riders moved ahead and held their lead with an ever-thinning peloton trailing by about 1:30 on the final climb. Cavendish’s teammate Niki Terpstra (NED), celebrating his 30th birthday today, and Belkin Pro Cycling Team’s Jack Bobridge (AUS) held the gap until the final descent when the field was pulled back together by Cannondale and Team Garmin-Sharp’s Tom Danielson (USA) leading the charge.
“This is not the same Tour of California that you had in 2006. It’s almost like a World Tour now, said Tom Danielson. “You look down at your power and you see 60 kilowatts and you look around and you’ve got 60-70 guys. Before there’d be like five guys. It’s a much higher level and with the wind direction this year, it’s just impossible to bring back the break.”
A group of three escaped into the flats to begin three smaller 4.6-mile circuits of Westlake Village to finish the day, with Bobridge bridging to them soon after and claiming the Amgen Breakaway from Cancer® Most Courageous Rider Jersey for his performance today. Sagan and Wiggins led the main group down the mountain at speeds over 50 mph, with their teams and others vying for a result today rejoining about :25 back from the breakaway.
With Team Jamis-Hagens Berman p/b Sutter Home’s Eloy Teruel (ESP) the last holdout, all of the breakaway riders were reabsorbed for the final circuit, and the sprinters and their teams began jockeying for position during the wide, flat final miles leading to the sprint shootout.
Rohan Dennis (AUS) maintained his position of second overall (+:30), with his Team Garmin-Sharp taking the team honors. Finishing third (+1:48) was Team Giant-Shimano’s Lawson Craddock (Austin, Texas), who at age 22, will also go away with the Crunchies Best Young Rider Jersey for the second consecutive year (eighth overall last year). In fourth place, Team NetApp-Endura’s Tiago Machado (POR) was the top finisher of the continental teams (+2:02).
Will Routley (CAN) of Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies won the Michelob Ultra King of the Mountain Jersey, which he alone has worn every day since Stage 1.
“It’s incredibly exciting to watch the evolution of cycling in the U.S., and you can see it in the teams and riders who came to compete in California this year – it’s the strongest, most impressive field we’ve ever hosted at the Amgen Tour of California,” said
Kristin Bachochin, executive director of the race and senior vice president of AEG Sports. “The 2014 Amgen Tour of California is dedicated to our fans, partners, teams and host cities – the thousands who support us and work so hard to make this event better year after year. What’s even more exciting is that we are already beginning to make plans for our tenth-race next year.”
Amgen returned as the race’s title sponsor for the ninth consecutive year.
“Amgen was born and is still headquartered in Thousand Oaks, the beautiful backdrop for today’s final stage of the Amgen Tour of California. Our staff members here and around the world come to work every day motivated by the chance to make a dramatic difference in the lives of patients,” said Ray Jordan, senior vice president, Corporate Affairs, Amgen. “At Amgen, we are proud of the fact that the Amgen Tour of California has become synonymous with celebrating cancer survivors, thanks to Amgen’s Breakaway from Cancer initiative.”
Founded by Amgen in 2005 as a complementary component to its title sponsorship of the Amgen Tour of California, Breakaway from Cancer® continues to raise awareness of the important resources available to people impacted by cancer – from prevention to survivorship.
From iconic ocean vistas to mountaintop finishes to desert scapes, the cyclists covered more than 720 miles of beautiful and varying California terrain this week as they rode from the north to the south of the state in the ninth annual Tour de France-style competition.
Photo © Christy Nicholson / EchelonDesignPhoto.com