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With a fantastic solo effort, Skujins held off the hard-chasing peloton to win the hilly third stage of the Tour California and take the overall lead; Sagan beat Alaphilippe in the uphill sprint for second

Photo: Sirotti

JULIAN ALAPHILIPPE

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PETER SAGAN

RIDER PROFILE
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TOUR OF CALIFORNIA

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13.05.2015 @ 00:43 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Toms Skujins (Hincapie Development) took a hugely impressive breakthrough win when he successfully completed a long-distance breakaway on the hilly third stage of the Tour of California. Having distanced his companions on the big Mount Hamilton, he held off the hard-chasing peloton to take both the stage victory and the overall lead while Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) beat Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) in the sprint for second.

 

A few months ago the Hincapie Development Team proved its ability to develop great talent when they animated the Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Challenge. Joey Rosskopf earned himself a pro contract by nearly winning a stage in the former event while Robin Carpenter won a hard mountain stage in the latter.

 

Today the team put another name in the spotlight when Toms Skujins became a hugely surprising victory in the first hilly stage of the Tour of California. With an impressive solo ride, the young Latvian held off a reduced peloton that was led by several WorldTour teams.

 

Skujins had been part of a strong 7-rider break that had escaped early in the stage and they worked well together to build an advantage of over 4 minutes before they hit the big climb of Mount Hamilton with 60km to go. Here he dropped his companions and started an impressive solo ride in the hilly terrain.

 

With 8km to go, he had hit the rising final part and still held an advantage of 3 minutes over the peloton which was being led by Laurens Ten Dam (LottoNL). At this point, Sky started to show their cards when Peter Kennaugh attacked and he was joined by Lawson Craddock (Giant-Alpecin) and Peter Sagan. At the same time, Jesus Hernandez (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Ten Dam were distanced and so there was no one left to chase when Sagan trio was caught.

 

Kennaugh started to ride on the front before Philip Deignan launched the next attack for Sky. However, he didn’t get clear either and so he started to set the pace.

 

Kennaugh and Deignan rode as hard as they could but Skujins still had an advantage of 2.40 when he hit the final 5 hard kilometres. Christian Knees also came to the fore to work for Sky but the gap was only coming slowly down.

 

As they hit the bottom of the final climb, Deignan, Boswell and Kennaugh worked hard for Sky and they didn’t respond when Laurent Didier (Trek) took off. The Luxembourger stayed clear for a little while but he was quickly back in the fold.

 

As they passed the flamme rouge, Deignan was giving it his all before Phil Gaimon (Optum) took over. However, everybody was now looking at each other and so the pace went down.

 

When they passed the 500m mark, Skujins was already at the line and had plenty of time to celebrate the win. Further back, one of his teammates hit the front before Daniel Jaramillo (Jamis) took off. The Colombian got a big gap which forced Sagan to react. With Julian Alaphilippe glued to his wheel, the Slovakian passed the Colombian just metres from the line and his French rival didn’t even try to pass Sagan, taking third behind the Tinkoff-Saxo rider.

 

Skujins held an advantage of 1.06 on the line and as Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) was far back, he also took over the overall lead. He goes into the fourth stage with a 32-second advantage over Sagan and should have a good chance of defending the lead tomorrow. A mostly flat course only has a category 4 climb at the midpoint but there is always the risk of strong winds in this part of the state.

 

A stage for puncheurs

After two days for the sprinters, it was finally time for some climbing action on stage 3 which brought the riders over 169.8 hilly kilometres around San Jose. After a flat first half with only a small category 4 climb, the riders tackled two small category 4 ascents before they went up the HC Mount Hamilton which summited with 48km to go. From there it was a long descent – with a category 2 climb along the way – before the riders got to the final 10km which were gradually uphill. The final kilometre were the steepest with an average gradient of 6%.

 

Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) who crashed yesterday, and Tyler Magner (Hincapie) were the non-starters when the riders gathered for the start under beautiful sunny conditions. They got the race off to an incredibly fast opening part with lots of attacks that created numerous splits in the peloton.

 

BMC aggressive

BMC were among the most active while Jamis, Hincapie and Unitedhealthcare also tried to mix it up in the attacking. A four-rider group first got clear and when they were brought back, BMC tried again.

 

Riders were getting dropped when Michael Schär (BMC), Travis Meyer (Drapac), Gregory Brenes (Jamis), Gregory Daniel (Axeon) and Chris Butler (Smartstop) got clear after 11km of fast racing. Daniel Summerhill (Unitedhealthcare) bridged across at a point when the gap was up to 35 seconds. However, the peloton was chasing hard and at the 18km mark, it was back together.

 

More attacks

A six-rider break swelled to six but they were also brought back before the race briefly calmed down. That’s when Robin Carpenter (Hincapie), Roy Curvers (Giant-Alpecin), Meyer, Ben King (Cannondale) and Daniel took off and they were joined by Campbell Flakemore (BMC), Jos van Emden (LottoNL), Kiel Reijnen (Unitedhealthcare), Brenes, Oscar Clark (Hincapie), Dion Smith (Axeon), Geoffrey Curran (Axeon) and Evan Huffman (Smartstop) to form a big group that looked promising.

 

There was no big cooperation in the group that had a 25-second advantage and so Meyer and Curvers attacked again. While the rest of the break was caught, they were joined by Jonathan Clarke (Unitedhealthcare), Daniel Oss (BMC), Toms Skujins (Hincapie), Clark and Huffman and those five riders had an advantage of 40 seconds after 46km of fast racing.

 

The peloton slows down

Tinkoff-Saxo hit the front as the peloton which slowed down and when Meyer beat Clark and Huffman in the intermediate sprint, the gap was 1.30. Moments later they hit the first climb and here Oss attacked while Curvers took off in pursuit.

 

Oss was the first at the top of the climb followed by Skujins, Huffland and Meyer and on the descent he waited for the rest of the group. Meanwhile, Tinkoff-Saxo were maintaining a stable gap between 2.20 and 2.40.

 

The gap grows

In the feed zone, the gap had gone out to 3.15 and while Marco Canola (Unitedhealthcare) abandoned, it went out to 3.25 with 80km to go. Moments later Oss took maximum points on the second climb when he led Skujins, Huffman and Curvers over the top.

 

As the break approached Mount Hamilton, the gap had gone out to 4.30 but first they tackled the third climb of the day. Oss and Skuijins sprinted for the points, with the Italian coming out on top. Clark was third and Huffman fourth.

 

The break splits up

As they started to climb the Mount Hamilton, the break quickly split into three. Curvers was distanced while Skujins took off alone. 5km from the summit he had an advantage of 1.10 over his two chasers.

 

Oss, Clarke and Huffman distanced Meyer and Clark while Curvers was caught by the splintering peloton where Michael Woods (Optum) was making the race explode to pieces. Oss managed to distance Clarke and Huffman but those three riders found back together with 50km to go. At this point, they were 1.30 behind while Clark and Meyer were at 20 seconds. The peloton had lost 4.40.

 

Sky do the damage

Sky had now hit the front and it was Ian Boswell who did a lot of damage, sending several riders out the back door. The American rode strongly, followed by his teammates Peter Kennaugh, Sergio Henao and Philip Deignan.

 

Skuijns crested the summit as the lone leader while Oss led Huffman and Clark over the top 2.10 later. At this point, Meyer had been caught by the peloton which was down to around 30 riders. Boswell led Kennaugh, Henao and the rest of the bunch over the top 4 minutes behind the leader while Michal Kolar (Tinkoff-Saxo) abandoned. At this point, Clark, Tao Geogheghan Hart (Axeon) and Michael Woods (Optum) had a small gap but they were quickly brought back.

 

Huffman is dropped

On the descent, Huffman was distanced from the chase group as Oss went very fast down through the many turns. Nonetheless, the group lost ground and the same was the case for the peloton which was being led by Kennaugh.

 

Clarke nearly crashed on the descent and so he lost contact with Oss as they hit a small uncategorized ascent halfway through the descent. The strong Australian managed to rejoin the Italian but as they again started to descend he had apparently become nervous and was again losing ground.

 

Mechanical for Sagan

At the bottom of the category 2 climb with 30km to go, Skujins was 2.00 ahead of Oss and 4.00 ahead of the peloton which was still led by Kennaugh. Again Clarke made it back to Oss as they started to go up the ascent.

 

Sagan had a very untimely mechanical and he had to spend a lot of energy on the lower slopes of the climb to rejoin the peloton. While he fought his way back, Skujins had crested the summit and was on his way down the descent. Unfortunately, he went down in a turn but he was quickly back on his bike and maintained his advantages that were now 3.05 and 4.30 respectively. Oss led Clarke over the top while Xabier Zandio and Henao were first from the peloton.

 

Skujins maintains advantage

Clarke nearly went down in the same corner that had taken Skujins down and now he lost contact with Oss for good. Meanwhile, Rob Britton (Smartstop) suffered a puncture and he received a wheel from Huffman who had been caught.

 

With 20km to go, the riders had finished the descent and Skujins still had advantages of 2.35 and 4.40 respectively. Sky were still setting the pace in the bunch but they didn’t seem to be intent on catching the Latvian.

 

The chase gets organized

That changed when they hit the flat terrain as the Brits got some assistance from Tinkoff-Saxo. Danny Pate, Xabier Zandio and Jesus Hernandez chased hard and now the gap was coming down. However, it was still 4.00 with 15km to go and Oss was not getting any closer either.

 

LottoNL-Jumbo now also started to chase with Kaurens Ten Dam but the gap was not coming down fast enough. Hence, Tinkoff-Saxo also asked GC leader Jay McCarthy to work on the front.

 

As they entered the final 10km that were slightly uphill, Clarke was brought back but Skujins still had an advantage of 3.20. Moments later, it was also over for Oss. Hernandez, Pate and Zandio had now blown up and so it was left to Ten Dam and McCarthy to set the pace

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