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One year after taking a breakthrough win in the race, Skujins again took a victory in the Tour of California as he emerged as the strongest from a breakaway on stage 5; Alaphilippe was the best of the favourites and retained the lead

Photo: ANSA - PERI / DI MEO / ZENNARO

DECEUNINCK - QUICK-STEP

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EF PRO CYCLING

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JULIAN ALAPHILIPPE

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TOMS SKUJINŠ

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TOUR OF CALIFORNIA

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XABIER ZANDIO

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20.05.2016 @ 01:01 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

One year after taking a hugely surprising breakaway win at the race, Toms Skujins (Cannondale) continued his love affair with the Tour of California by taking his first victory as a pro on stage 5 of the American race. Having joined a big 18-rider group after a hectic start, he made it into the trio that sprinted for the win on the final climb where he held off Adam De Vos (Rally) and Xabier Zandio (Sky). Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) won the peloton’s sprint and so retained the lead on the eve of the time trial.

 

Last year Toms Skujins created a massive surprise at the Tour of California. Riding for the small Hincapie team, he got the better of all the professionals by riding to a breakaway win on stage 3 of the biggest race he had ever done.

 

The win allowed Skujins to spend a few days in the yellow jersey until he lost it in the time trial but the result set him up for a great final part of the year. Several strong results were enough to convince Cannondale to offer him a pro contract for the 2016 season.

 

Skujins has had a slow start to his professional career, getting his first taste of the classics and working for his teammates. However, he was always keen to grab his own chance in the race that was the scene of his breakthrough and today he did just that when he again emerged as the strongest from a breakaway in the Californian event.

 

Skujins had been attentive and strong in the hectic and aggressive first part of the stage and made it into the big 18-rider group that went on to decide the stage. With all the major teams having a rider in the group, it soon became apparent that it would be a day for the escapees and Skujins showed great tactical skills to come away with the win.

 

Knowing that there were better climbers in the group, he knew that he had to anticipate the final 1.7km climb to the finish and so he attacked twice before getting clear in a solo move. He was later joined by Adam De Vos (Rally) and Xabier Zandio (Sky) before he easily beat the pair in the three-rider uphill sprint.

 

After yesterday’s long, tricky stage, it was another long day for puncheurs in stage 5 which brought the riders over 212km from Lodi to South Lake Tahoe. After a flat start, the riders faced a long uphill drag for around 100km to get to more than 2000m of altitude where they hit a rolling plateau with two category 2 climbs. The final of those ascents was located 45.5km from the finish and from there it was mainly descending until the riders got to the final 1.7km climb that averaged 5.9% and led straight to the finish.

 

All riders that reached the finish yesterday were present as the peloton headed out for the neutral ride under a sunny sky but the conditions were rather windy, making for a nervous and hectic start. It was expected that a breakaway could have a chance and so it was a very fast start with lots of attacks.

 

Rally and Cannondale were among the most active teams but nothing would stick for a long time. It wasn’t until a 9-rider group got clear that it seemed like a break had gone clear but with both Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff9 in the move, it was quickly brought back.

 

The windy conditions meant that echelons were starting to get formed and in this hectic phase, a big 28-rider group got clear. Adam Blythe (Tinkoff), Maxime Bouet, Nikolas Maes (Etixx-QuickStep), Xabier Zandio (Sky), Jacques van Rensburg (Dimension Data), Jacopo Guarnieri (Katusha), Danilo Wyss (BMC), Mark Christian, Owain Doull (WIGGINS), Toms Skujins (Cannondale), Jasper Stuyven (Trek), Angelo Tulik (Direct Energie), Caleb Fairly (Giant-Alpecin), Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo), Chris Jones (Unitedhealthcare), Logan Owen (Axeon), Jacob Rathe (Jelly Belly) and Adam De Vos (Rally) quickly got a 2-minute advantage while the peloton took time to regroup.

 

Six riders were not contributing to the work in the break but the rest of the group worked well together to increase the gap 5.40, making Boeut the virtual leader of the race. This allowed Etixx-QuickStep to sit back in the peloton and instead it was Trek and LottoNL-Jumbo that started to chase to defend their podium positions in the GC. Meanwhile, Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly) who crashed yesterday, had to leave the race.

 

Trek and LottoNL-Jumbo slowly reduced the gap which was down to 4.15 when Bouet beat Maes and Owen in the first intermediate sprint. Here they slowly started to climb and this was took much for Owen who was the first rider to get dropped from the break. However, he managed to get back as they continued the steady climbging.

 

BMC joined forces with LottoNL-Jumbo and Trek in the peloton and they had reduced the gap to 3.35 when they got to the feed zone. Entering the final 100km, it was down to 3 minutes where it was kept stable, hovering between 3.00 and 3.30 for a while.

 

While the gap briefly dropped to less than 3 minutes due to the hard work mainly by BMC, Owen managed to rejoin the front group after a puncture. It was Jempy Drucker (BMC), Markel Irizar (Trek) and Dennis van Winden (LottoNL-Jumbo) who did the early work and they had allowed the gap to go out to 3.15 as they entered the final 65km.

 

Tinkoff eyed another stage win with Sagan and so they asked one of their riders to join forces with Drucker, van Winden and Irizar. The added firepower paid off as 25 seconds were shaved off during the next five kilometres.

 

The break reached the top of the first categorized climb with an advantage of 2.50 where Skujins and De Vos sprinted for the KOM points. The latter came out on top while Jones and Bouet were next across the line.

 

Skujins and De Vos decided to continue their attack and they quickly got a 20-second advantage. Meanwhile, Tinkoff again stopped their work in the peloton, leaving it to Irizar, Drucker and van Winden to set the pace.

 

Skujins and De Vos were working well together and had pushed the gap out to 45 seconds as they entered the final 50km. They were also gaining on the peloton which was 3.50 behind as they headed up the second climb.

 

Hitting the climb, Stuyven went full gas in the chase group which he splut to pieves. Only Wyss, Bouet, Jones and Zandio could keep up with him and the quintet caught the two leaders just as they got to the top where De Vos again beat Skujins in the KOM sprint, with Jonas and Wyss being next across the line

 

While Rathe rejoined the front group on the descent, Irizar cracked in the peloton after having been working hard all day, and the peloton was now losing ground quickly. Entering the final 40, they were 4.35 behind the 8 leaders.

 

On the descent, 16 riders gathered in front as only Groenewegen and Owen failed to get back. Meanwhile, Tinkoff took over the pace-setting in the peloton and they went so fast in the windy conditions that the bunch split into several groups. As they returned to flat roads, Drucker went back to work alongside Kiel Reijnen (Trek) and Taylor Phinney also came to the fore for BMC.

 

Skujins again decided to attack and no one joined the Latvian who quickly got an advantage of 25 seconds. Meanwhile, Reijnen and Ducker had blown up and it was now Phinney leading the rest of the BMC team and a very small peloton 3 minutes behind the lone leader.

 

Skujins was the first rider to get to the intermediate sprint at the top of a small climb. Zandio and De Vos had taken off in pursuit and were next across the line before rejoining the lone Latvian.

 

The front trio entered the final 20km with a 1.10 advantage over their 13 chasers and they were still 3.05 ahead of the peloton which was still led solely by Phinney. This allowed a big group to latch onto the back and it was a rather big bunch that continued its chase.

 

Having dropped Doull and Blyte, the chasers were getting closer and reduced the gap to 50 seconds as they finished a long descent with 13km to go. Further back, the peloton had clearly given up and Phinney was content with just keeping the gap at around 3 minutes.

 

The situation remained stable until the riders entered the final 10km where Axeon decided that Bouet was still a GC danger. The continental team started to chase hard in the peloton and quickly brought the gap down to less than 3 minutes. Giant-Alpecin also came to the fore with Koen De Kort while Michael Schär took over from Phinney. The Axeon team soon disappeared, leaving it to Schär and De Kort to do the work.

 

There was no great cooperation in the chase group which was 40 seconds behind with 7km to go. There were constant attacks and it was Tulik and Maes who surged clear befor being joined by Wyss. However, the group came back together before Bouet made another failed attack.

 

Christian managed to escape but the attacking had done nothing good for the chase group as the young Brit was 55 seconds behind as he entered the final 4km. He was joined by Stuyven and Guarnieri and they immediately started to cooperate.

 

The front trio hit the final 1.7km with an advantage of 50 seconds while Stuyven rode away from his companions as soon as the road pointed upwards. However, it was too late and even though the game of cat and mouse had started in the front group, the Belgian quickly realized that he had to settle for fourth.

 

Zandio did most of the work in the front group but he was distanced as soon as De Vos launched his sprint. Skujins responded immediately and easily came around the Canadian before sitting up to celebrate his second win in the American race.

 

Stuyven crossed the line 25 seconds later while the rest of the break was caught as the GC riders came out to battle on the final climb. Jhonatan Restrepo (Katusha) and Rob Squire (Holowesko) managed to escape to take fifth and sixth before overall leader Julian Alahilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) led the bunch across the line 43 seconds behind the Latvian winner.

 

Alaphilippe retained his 22-second lead over Peter Stetina (Trek) and so will wear the golden jersey again tomorrow. He now faces the final big GC stage in the race, the 20.3km time trial in Folsom. It is held on a flat, non-technical out-and-back course, meaning that it is a stage suited to powerful specialists.

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