Amgen Tour of California: Skujiņš and Guarnier Take Wins in South Lake Tahoe


After a long day in the breakaway as the peloton cruised from Lodi to South Lake Tahoe, Cannondale Pro Cycling Team’s Toms Skujiņš (LAT) led a group of three out ahead of the leaders, up the mountains where elevations approached 8,600 feet at the apex, and over the finish line at Heavenly Mountain Resort.

“It wasn’t easy to get in the break, of course, because people knew that the break might stick,” said Skujiņš. “I luckily managed to get in the right one.”

The speeds were high on the flattest part of today’s 131.7-mile course, the second longest of the 2016 Amgen Tour of California , as the peloton rolled out along Lodi’s vineyards and orchards, a reprieve before the rising altitudes approaching South Lake Tahoe, where crowds were 10 deep for long stretches.

A breakaway of 18 riders escaped at about 45 minutes into the race day and was holding a 3-minute advantage around today’s midway point. Cannondale’s Skujiņš attacked at Kirkwood summit, the first of three King of the Mountain (KOM) categorized climbs today. Now down to 16, the leaders had increased their lead to four minutes with 20 miles left to ride, and with the second KOM at Carson Pass in their sights.

Photos © Darrell Parks

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BMC Racing Team picked up the pace between the two climbs, pulling the peloton to steadily close the gap, while 24 year-old Skujiņš, who claimed the mountainous San Jose stage and a three-day stint as race leader last year, launched a solo attack on the leaders at the front. He was soon joined by Rally Cycling’s Adam De Vos (CAN) and Team Sky’s Xabier Zandio (ESP), the oldest rider in the race at 39.

The three quickly built their lead to nearly one minute over the remaining breakaway riders. The peloton containing Etixx – Quick-Step’s Julian Alaphilippe (FRA) wearing the Amgen Race Leader Jersey, and World Champion Peter Sagan (SVK) of Tinkoff was about three minutes back from the leaders with less than 10 miles to go.

With less than four miles left to ride, the chase group remained about 50 seconds back from the race leaders, splintering with various attacks and counters to pull it back together. The three leaders held strong on the final uphill mile to Heavenly Mountain Resort, all vying for the stage win, with Skujiņš ultimately coming to the line the clear winner of the day ahead of De Vos and then Zandio. In addition to the stage win, Skujiņš came away from today’s stage with the Breakaway from Cancer® Most Courageous Rider Jersey.

Riding in the main peloton today, Tinkoff’s Peter Sagan (SVK) retains the Visit California Sprint Jersey. The SRAM Best Young Rider Jersey stays with Roseville, Calif. native, Neilson Powless (USA) of the Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team for the third consecutive day, and Rally Cycling’s Evan Huffman (USA) retains the Lexus King of the Mountain (KOM) Jersey, which he’s worn since Stage 3.

The leader board remains mostly in tact after today, with Alaphilippe retaining the overall lead by 22 seconds over Trek – Segafredo’s Peter Stetina (USA), followed by George Bennett (NZL) of Team Lotto NL – Jumbo, who held onto third place overall despite a flat tire on the descent of the second KOM today, and BMC Racing Team’s Brent Bookwalter (USA) in fourth; Team Giant-Alpecin’s Laurens ten Dam (NED) moves up to fifth place.

Stage 5 Podium
1. Toms Skujiņš (LAT), Cannondale Pro Cycling Team (USA)
2. Adam De Vos (CAN), Rally Cycling Team (USA)
3. Xabier Zandio (ESP), Team Sky (GBR)

Stage 5 Jersey Winners
Amgen Leader Jersey – Julian Alaphilippe (FRA), Etixx – Quick-Step Pro Cycling Team (BEL)
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 – Neilson Powless (USA), Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team (USA)
Breakaway from Cancer® Most Courageous Rider Jersey – Toms Skujiņš (LAT), Cannondale Pro Cycling Team (USA)

Results

WOMEN’S RACE
Today also marked the start of the four-stage Amgen Breakaway from Heart Disease™ Women’s Race Empowered with SRAM, a 197.8-mile road race that was selected as the first of only two U.S. events on the first-ever UCI Women’s WorldTour.

Eighteen teams containing the best women cyclists in the sport, including the all-time winningest women’s cyclist Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv Women Cycling Team) and two-time Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong (TWENTY16 – Ridebiker), lined up this morning for a 72.7-mile ride around Lake Tahoe, beginning and ending on the same mark at Heavenly Mountain Resort where the men would finish two hours later.

The peloton of 106 was still together heading into the Emerald Bay QOM climb but the climb split the peloton into three groups. Riding for Podium Ambition Pro Cycling p/b Club La Santa, Sarah Storey, Great Britain’s most decorated female Paralympian in history including six gold medals in cycling to her credit, took the opportunity to attack at the descent, creating a gap as she rocketed down the mountain at over 40 mph that increased to more than five minutes over the peloton after two hours of racing.

The final descent before the second QOM to the finish saw the peloton steadily closing the gap to Storey, with Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team leading the charge at the front and reaching her with about three miles left to ride. Storey, who was born without a functioning left hand and holds 18 Para-Cycling World Championship titles, was awarded the Breakaway from Cancer® Most Courageous Rider Jersey today.

“We wanted to be in the break today, it just so happened that it was a solo break,” said Storey.

Rally Cycling and Team TIBCO-SVB took turns at the front heading into the final mile and climb to the finish, which averages 6 percent gradient (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team’s Oakland, Calif.-based rider Katie Hall won a similar stage here last year). This time, another American rider and current National Champion
Megan Guarnier (Glen Falls, New York) of Boels-Dolmans pulled ahead of the pack to claim the first stage of the 2016 women’s race and the Amgen Race Leader Jersey as well as the Visit California Sprint Jersey. Guarnier also is the UCI fourth-ranked cyclist and will represent the U.S. at the Summer Olympic Games.

“Today Sarah Story made a great effort off the front. She went early and the gap ballooned up to five minutes and thirty seconds, and we were trying to wait and to see what teams would take initiative,” said Guarnier. “It ended up being our team, Boels-Dolmans.”

UCI’s top-ranked Emma Johansson (SWE) of Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling came four seconds behind to take second place, followed across the line seconds later by Kristin Armstrong (Memphis, Tenn.) of TWENTY16 – Ridebiker in third, and World Champions Evelyn Stevens (USA) of Boels-Dolmans in fourth and Marianne Vos (NED) of Rabo-Liv in fifth.

Other prizes today go to Rally Cycling’s Sara Poidevin (CAN), who will wear the Lexus Queen of the Mountain (QOM) Jersey going into stage two tomorrow, and Cylance Pro Cycling’s Rossella Ratto (ITA) was awarded the SRAM Best Young Rider Jersey.

Stage 1 Podium
1. Megan Guarnier (USA), Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team (NED)
2. Emma Johansson (SWE), Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling (GBR)
3. Kristin Armstrong (USA), TWENTY16 – Ridebiker (USA)

Stage 1 Jersey Winners
Amgen Leader Jersey – Megan Guarnier (USA), Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team (NED)
Lexus King of the Mountain (KOM) Jersey – Sara Poidevin (CAN), Rally Cycling (USA)
Visit California Sprint Jersey – Megan Guarnier (USA), Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team (NED)
SRAM Best Young Rider Jersey – Rossella Ratto (ITA), Cylance Pro Cycling (USA)
Breakaway from Cancer® Most Courageous Rider Jersey – Sarah Storey (GBR), Podium Ambition Pro Cycling p/b Club La Santa (GBR)

Results

MEN’S STAGE 6 & WOMEN’S STAGE 2 TOMORROW, PRESENTED BY SRAM
Thurs., May 19 – Folsom Time Trials

Women’s Team Time Trial
Start Time: 10:30 a.m. PDT
Estimated Finish Time: 12:03 p.m. PDT

Men’s Individual Time Trial
Start Time: 12:50 p.m. PDT
Estimated Finish Time: 3:45 p.m. PDT

Top Photo ©  Christy Nicholson / EchelonDesignPhoto.com