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Alaphilippe wins dramatic queen stage in California

With an excellent performance, Alaphilippe dropped Henao and rode solo up Mount Baldy to win the Tour of California queen stage and take the overall lead; Sagan is just 2 seconds behind with one stage to go

IAN BOSWELL

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JULIAN ALAPHILIPPE

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PETER SAGAN

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SERGIO LUIS HENAO

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TOUR OF CALIFORNIA

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17.05.2015 @ 00:48 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Julian Alapahilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) proved that there is no limit to his potential when he took a very impressive solo victory in the Tour of California queen stage. The young Frenchman dropped Sergio Henao (Sky) after the Colombian had tried to attack and held the Sky duo of Henao and Ian Boswell off to take the win. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) dug extremely deep to finish sixth on the stage and now sets second in the overall standings, just 2 seconds behind Alaphilippe who takes the yellow jersey.

 

It has never been a secret that Julian Alaphilippe was a rider for the Ardennes classics and even though his big breakthrough in the hilly one-day race came earlier than most had expected, it was no big surprise to see the young Frenchman battle for the win in those events. However, he has never been regarded as a stage race rider and so he flew a bit under the radar as he went into the Tour of California was he was mainly expected to support Mark Cavendish.

 

However, there seems to be no limit to his potential. Yesterday he did an excellent time trial to finish third and so he found himself in a good position as he headed out on today’s queen stage to the top of Mount Baldy. He had never shined in the high mountains before but with his good ride in the time trial, it was clear that another surprise could be in store.

 

Alaphilippe delivered on his promises when he took a fantastic solo victory after a great duel with Sergio Henao who was the big favourite and had used his Sky team to whittle down the peloton. After the pair had traded blows a few times, he dropped his Colombian rival and rode away with the victory. Henao briefly seemed to make a comeback but even though he was later joined by his teammate Ian Boswell, the Sky pair were unable to match Alaphilippe’s pace and had to settle for second and third respectively.

 

However, the real battle was not against Henao. A surprisingly strong Peter Sagan again confirmed that he is back to his best by delivering his best ever performance in the high mountains.

 

When Boswell had whittled the group down to just five riders, Sagan was still there alongside the top 3 of the stage and Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale). He was unable to follow Alaphilippe and Henao but went into time trial mode on the steep slopes. With an incredible performance, he only slowly lost ground and even though he was dropped by Dombrowski and passed by Riccardo Zoidl (Trek), it was clear that the overall victory was still within reach for the talented Slovakian.

 

With a time loss of 47 seconds, Sagan rolled across the line in sixth, falling to the ground completely exhausted. As he started the stage with a 45-second advantage over Alaphilippe, he lost the lead by the narrowest of margins, dropping to second with a deficit of 2 seconds, while Henao slots into third.

 

However, Sagan finds himself in a perfect position to win the race overall and so add a third overall stage race victory to his palmares. The race ends with a short, flat 105.2km stage in Los Angeles that is expected to end in a bunch sprint. With bonus seconds on offer in both the intermediate sprints and at the finish, Sagan has all options open in what will be a hugely exciting end to the race.

 

The queen stage

After the time trial, it was time for the second big GC day in the Tour of California in stage 7 which brought the riders over just 128.7km from Ontario to the top of Mount Baldy. After a short flat section, the riders went up the category 2 Glenora Ridge Road before they headed down a long descent. The final 50km were all uphill as the riders first tackled the Glendora Mountain Road again but this time they didn’t do the descent. Instead, they continued all the way to the top of the HC climb of Mount Baldy.

 

It was a cloudy and cold day when the riders gathered in Ontario for the start and as it has been the case in every stage, it was a fast opening phase. Evan Huffman (Smartstop) was the first to get a small advantage and he was joined by Jorday Kerby (Drapac) to form a solid move of rouleurs.

 

A strong group gets clear

The gap went out to 20 seconds but when it had been brought down to 5 seconds, 8 riders managed to bridge across. However, they had no luck and after 17km of fast racing, it was all back together.

 

The riders hit the bottom of the first climb and here Daniel Oss (BMC), Lasse Norman (Cannondale), Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly) Johann van Zyl (MTN-Qhubeka), Gregory Brenes (Jamis), Daniele Ratto (Unitedhealthcare) and Chris Butler (Smartstop) managed to escape. A small chase group with Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) took off and the Belgian dropped his companions. However, he was quickly reabsorbed by the peloton while the escapees fought hard to maintain a 25-second advantage.

 

The break splits up

Kristoffer Skjerping (Cannondale) left the race while the gap went out to 45 seconds. Ratto and Norman were dropped but the four surviving members worked well to extend their advantage to 2.55. Moments later Oss led van Zyl, Morton, Brenes and Butler over the top. At this point, Ratto and Norman were already one minute behind.

 

Butler was dropped on the descent and later van Zyl also lost contact. They joined forces with Norman and Ratto and were just 30 seconds behind with 80km to go. At this point, the peloton was 3.50 behind after they had briefly brought the gap down to 2 minutes near the top of the climb.

 

LottoNL-Jumbo come to the fore

Ratto and van Zyl both made it back but Butler was constantly losing ground. With 65km to go, he had lost more than a minute and he was not getting any closer.

 

In the peloton, Tinkoff-Saxo and Sky had been setting the pace but now LottoNL-Jumbo were coming to the fore. Tom Van Asbroeck and Dennis van Winden were taking some huge turns as they started to work with Matti Breschel (Tinkoff-Saxo), Danny Pate and Nathan Earle (Sky).

 

Butler is caught

Butler decided to sit up and as they entered the final 60km, he had been brought back. He could only hang onto the peloton which rode extremely fast in this flat section and with 50km to go, they had brought the gap down to 2.45.

 

Norman led Brenes and Oss across the line in the intermediate sprint at the bottom of the Glenora Ridge Road and now the serious climbing started. The escapees hit the climb with an advantage of 2.45 while a huge battle for position was going on in the peloton.

 

Van Zyl attacks

Unsurprisingly, Norman was dropped on the lower slopes while riders immediately lost contact with the peloton as LottoNL-Jumbo had now taken complete control, with Sep Vanmarcke, Jos van Emden, Maarten Robert Gesink and Laurens Ten Dam lined out on the front.

 

Van Zyl was feeling good and he launched an attack almost right from the beginning of the climb. As he increased his advantage, Oss realized that something had to be done and so he took off in pursuit. Meanwhile, the hard work by Vanmarcke constantly brought the gap down.

 

Sky take over

Oss made the junction with 37km to go while van Emden took over the pace-setting in the peloton. He whittled the group down to 50 riders before Xabier Zandio took over for Sky

 

The three chasers constantly lost ground and when they had lost 30 seconds, Brenes was the next rider to try to bridge the gap. However, he never made the junction as Oss and van Zyl were working well together, maintain a 2-minute advantage over the peloton.

 

Skujins is dropped

Zandio swung off and instead Pate went back to work for Sky. His fast pace spelled the end for Norman and Morton who were brought back and later Ratto also had to surrender.

 

With 30km to go, Pate ended his job at a time when the gap was 1.35. Earle took a short turn and then Philip Deignan took over for Sky, bringing Brenes back while he whittled down the peloton significantly. Toms Skujins (Hincapie) was among the riders to get dropped.

 

The break is caught

Oss led van Zyl over the top of the category 2 climb while Deignan was first from the peloton just 1minute later. As soon as they started the descent, his teammate Christian Knees took over the pace-setting.

 

It was mission accomplished for Oss who had now secured the win in the mountains classification and so he decided to wait for the peloton. This left just van Zyl to press on but he couldn’t hold off the hard-working Knees who brought it all back together with 21km to go.

 

Deignan takes over

Knees set the pace all the way on the slightly rising plateau that led to the bottom of the Mount Baldy, constantly sending riders out the back door. With 15km to go, the German finally swung off and Deignan was back on the front.

 

Deignan led a 35-rider peloton onto the climb and he immediately put everybody under pressure. Jesus Hernandez (Tinkoff-Saxo) suffered a very untimely puncture while the peloton exploded. Janez Brajkovic, Jacques van Rensburg, Matthew Busche and Lawson Craddock were among the riders to get distanced.

 

Bosweel makes the group explode

Ian Boswell took over the pace-setting and he whittled the group down to himself, Kennaugh, Henao, Sagan, Gesink, Ten Dam, Zoidl, Dombrowski and Alaphilippe As Gesink sffered, more riders dropped off until just Henao, Alaphilippe, Dombrowski, Boswell and Sagan were left.

 

With 5km to go, Henao made his attack but Alaphilippe quickly responded. The Frenchman even countered the move and seemed to be riding away.

 

Alaphilippe gets clear

However, Henao had more left in the tank and he got back, launching an immediate acceleration. He was unable to shake his rival off though and they were still together when they entered the final 5km. Boswell was the nearest chaser followed by Dombrowski and Sagan a bit further back.

 

As Boswell was about to regain contact, Henao made his next attack but again Alaphilippe responded. Moments later he kicked again and this time Henao was unable to match him.

 

Alaphilippe takes the win

From there it was a huge battle between Alaphilippe and Henao. The Colombian briefly seemed to get closer to the Frenchman after he had been distanced by 10 seconds but with 2km to go, Alaphilippe accelerated again and again started to gain ground.

 

At the flamme rouge, Henao had been distanced by 20 seconds and here he was joined by Boswell. At the same point, Riccardo Zoidl passed Sagan who had been distanced by 45-50 seconds. Sagan and Alaphilipp both dug extremely deep in the final kilometre and 47 seconds after Alphilippe had taken the win, Sagan rolled across the line in sixth.

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