Amgen Tour of California presented by AEG seemed likely to end with a shootout featuring riders known for sprint finishes, but instead was claimed by Cannondale Pro Cycling Team’s super domestique and breakaway specialist Ben King (Charlottesville, Virginia), a 2010 U.S. National Champion, just besting Rally Cycling’s Evan Huffman (Elk Grove, Calif.) to move into the overall lead.
The peloton of 144 world-class riders took off from South Pasadena just after noon today for a 92.3-mile twisting, turning up- and downhill ride to Santa Clarita. But bearing down on the finish line, it came down to a battle of just two U.S. riders who had spent most of the day out ahead of the field.
Photos © Christy Nicholson / EchelonDesignPhoto.com
“I knew Evan was a pretty quick sprinter. He smoked me in both of the King of the Mountain sprints, so I was hesitant to let it come down to a sprint,” said King. “I couldn’t drop him on the climb, so in the end we both fully committed to make the breakaway stick to the finish, and in the end, Evan let out the sprint, and I was able to come around him in the finish.”
After several attempts to get a breakaway going, finally a group of four that also contained Team Giant-Alpecin’s Sindre Skjoestad Lunke (NOR) and another U.S. rider Axeon Hagens Berman’s Will Barta (Boise, Idaho), the second youngest rider in the race at 20, made it clear from the field more than an hour into the race.
The breakaway group containing King, who is coming back from a broken fibula after a January fall, had racked up a 7.5-minute lead over peloton by mid-race. The peloton started reeling them back on the decent of the second of four KOMs in the Angeles National Forest, where speeds reached upwards of 50 mph. Lunke was the first to be absorbed by the field.
With about 15 miles to go, Barta suffered a flat tire but had the wherewithal to get back to the breakaway after a tire change. He fell back with about five minutes to go but remained in the chase group, which came in seconds behind today’s stage leaders, landing him the Breakaway from Cancer® Most Courageous Rider Jersey as well as sixth place overall.
“We were rolling all day, then at the end, that incident happened [flat tire]; I just tried to stay calm and get back in a good amount of time,” said Barta. “The gap wasn’t huge then, so was just trying to do that with the least amount of work, but get back quickly.”
Photos © Darrell Parks
With 10 miles left to ride, Team KATUSHA led the chase to catch the four leaders, angling to position their star sprinter Alexander Kristoff (NOR), and bringing the gap down to less than two minutes. Race leader and World Champion Peter Sagan (SVK) of Tinkoff rode in the main chase group wearing the yellow jersey he earned yesterday in San Diego, as did Team Giant-Alpecin’s John Degenkolb (GER) and Trek-Segafredo’s Santa Rosa-based rider Peter Stetina, both of whom are coming back from career-threatening injuries themselves.
However, the two remaining in the breakaway were able to hold their lead, which stood at 20 seconds on the chase group and one minute on the field with one mile left to ride. With the finish in sight, the Rally rider attacked first, only to be overtaken in the final meters. King, at age 27, is the first U.S. rider to win a stage at the Amgen Tour of California since BMC Racing Team’s Taylor Phinney (Boulder, Colo.) took Stage 5 in 2014.
Still in the wings, Kristoff rode across the finish in third place for today’s stage. Huffman earned the Lexus King of the Mountain (KOM) Jersey on the hilly route, a good warm-up for the cyclists who must face the infamous Gibraltar Road at the close of tomorrow’s stage.
Stage 2 Podium
1. Ben King (USA), Cannondale Pro Cycling Team (USA)
2. Evan Huffman (USA), Rally Cycling Team (USA)
3. Alexander Kristoff (NOR), Team KATUSHA (RUS)
Stage 2 Jersey Winners
Amgen Leader Jersey – Ben King (USA), Cannondale Pro Cycling Team (USA)
Lexus King of the Mountain (KOM) Jersey – Evan Huffman (USA), Rally Cycling Team (USA)
Visit California Sprint Jersey – Peter Sagan (SVK), Tinkoff (RUS)
SRAM Best Young Rider Jersey – Daniel Eaton (USA), UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team (USA)
Breakaway from Cancer® Most Courageous Rider Jersey – William Barta (USA), Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team (USA)
STAGE 3 TOMORROW, PRESENTED BY BREAKAWAY FROM CANCER®
Tues., May 17 – Thousand Oaks to Santa Barbara County (104.1 miles)
Start Time: 11:15 a.m. PDT
Estimated Finish Time: 3:45 p.m. PDT
Amgen Tour of California fans can catch the action daily with live coverage of the race on NBC Sports Network (live conclusion on NBC on May 22), follow along on the Microsoft Tour Tracker App for mobile and desktop, and connect with the race through all of their favorite social media platforms. Links are available at the Social drop-down menu at www.amgentourofcalifornia.com and fans can use #AMERICASGREATESTRACE to join the conversation.