The final finish line of the 2016 Amgen Tour of California delivered two winners — Mark Cavendish freelanced his way to a sprint win ahead of Peter Sagan, while Julian Alaphilippe sealed his victory on the general classification exactly one year after losing the California overall on the final stage due to time bonuses.
“It’s just one of the most beautiful days of my career, because I believed in myself and all of my team believed in me, also,” Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) said of his overall victory.
“It was stressful today, because everyone wanted to stay at the front and fought for a better position. Usually, I’m not nervous, but today things were different, as the victory was closer and closer. Thankfully, I had a powerful team around me, which was always in charge.”
The BMC Racing duo of Rohan Dennis and Brent Bookwalter finished second and third overall, 21 seconds and 43 seconds behind Alaphilippe.
Cavendish, who beat out Sagan and Alexander Kristoff to the stage win, said the victory was just part of what matters in his line of work.
“You know it’s nice to win a stage, but it’s not important,” Cavendish said. “We ride with Dimension Data for a cause. We ride to promote the charity Qhubeka and if we can get raising bicycles for people in Africa through that, that’s the main cause of why we ride our bikes and why we race.
“It’s nice to get a stage, it’s important to show ourselves on the biggest stage of the world, but we have been consistently visible throughout the week and that’s the main thing that matters to us.”
America’s new kid on the block, Neilson Powless (Axeon Hagens Berman), lost time when he was caught up in a crash and dropped from fifth to ninth overall, but still took home the Best Young Rider classification, while Evan Huffman (Rally Cycling) claimed the King of the Mountains classification.
Sagan, who claimed two stage victories at this year’s Amgen Tour, took home the green Points Classification, which replaced his rainbow jersey for the majority of the week.
How It Played Out
After an aggressive and taxing last couple of stages in the fight for the general classification, the final stage of the Amgen Tour, starting and finishing in downtown Sacramento, was a pan-flat 138km stage.
American Robin Carpenter (Holowesko-Citadel) kicked the racing off quickly after the flag dropped and six riders soon joined him in the lead. Chris Jones (UnitedHealthCare), Krists Neilands (Axeon Hagens Berman), Taylor Sheldon (Jelly Belly), Alan Marangoni (Cannondale) and Jake Kelly (Team Wiggins) joined Carpenter.
A breakaway at the 2016 Amgen Tour wouldn’t be complete without a Rally Cycling rider — the American team rode in every breakaway of the race — and on Sunday it was Emerson Oronte representing the orange team.
“It was a windy day and it was going to be hard to predict exactly what was going to happen,” Carpenter said. “It was not easy to chase, and we had a good group of six or seven guys who were all fully committed.”
A crash about 15 kilometres into the race brought down Angus Morton (Jelly Belly) and Dylan Groenwegen (LottoNL-Jumbo); Morton would abandon the race later in the stage.
The leading seven only managed to build a maximum advantage of two and half minutes before the teams of the sprinters began reeling them in to ensure a bunch gallop.
Haimar Zubeldia (Trek-Segafredo), who began the day 12th on GC, and Dennis Van Winden (LottoNL-Jumbo) hit the deck with 58 kilometres to go, as the pace in the peloton was exceptionally high with a cross-tailwind buffeting the riders. Zubeldia would not finish the race.
The teams of BMC Racing and Dimension Data had brief moments of panic as Bookwalter and Cavendish each punctured with 27km to go and the peloton charging ahead to reel in the breakaway, which was one minute ahead. Both riders received quick wheel changes and made it safely back into the peloton.
As the breakaway entered the finishing circuits in the downtown California capitol, they still led by a minute. Once across the finish line for the first time, three laps of 3.5km awaited them.
The twisting finishing circuit did lend way to a possible escape and it appeared the breakaway might sprint for the win.
With 7km remaining a crash in the peloton brought down a number of riders, including Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo). The crash would split the peloton, and end up causing a shake up on the general classification, with Powless the biggest loser, dropping from fifth overall to ninth.
“There was a crash just before two laps to go, on the last corner of the third lap, there were a bunch of riders on the ground. I was on the outside and got pushed to the gutter,” Powless said. “It took a while to get out of it. There were full lead-outs going at that point. Geoffrey [Curran] and Will [Barta] helped me minimize the damage, and I kept the jersey, but it was a big scare.
“I was pretty frustrated to drop from fifth to ninth overall, but I came here to get experience, and I still came away with more than I expected coming into the race. I kept the jersey, too, so I think the good outweighed the bad. I’m still happy.”
Into the final lap, the breakaway was still working together, but the peloton was nipping at its heels a mere 10 seconds behind. Dimension Data and Tinkoff sacrificed their lead-out trains to bring back the leaders.
Katusha stormed the front inside the final couple of kilometres, sweeping up the breakaway and stringing out the peloton.
“Yeah, close,” Carpenter, who had been trying to get into the break all week, said after the stage. “We got caught in the last kilometre, which isn’t too bad. I mean obviously with a headwind on that finishing straight, we probably needed about 20 more seconds to really have a chance of making it, with just the strength of the sprinters teams here.”
Onto the long finishing straight Kristoff appeared set for back-to-back wins, with the Norwegian in third position behind two-teammates.
Sagan opened the sprint with about 200m to go, but Cavendish came around quickly and beat the Slovakian comfortably. Kristoff finished third.
“We were pulling early on, but we also knew we needed a full team for the final kilometers,” Cavendish said. ”The break got a second wind at the end, and they pulled away, they were really strong.
“Tinkoff was on the front, but they were not that fast, to be honest. We thought we wouldn’t catch the break, so we put everyone on the front, and everyone committed to catching them. I knew that then I’d have to freestyle. I knew I’d have to be on Peter’s wheel, and I went from there.”
The win marked the 10th for Cavendish at the Amgen Tour, and gives him confidence heading into the final lead up to the Tour de France, which begins in six weeks.
Alaphilippe didn’t just comfortably finish in the peloton; he mixed it up in the sprint, finishing 11th on the stage. He successfully took revenge at the race that eluded him by a mere three seconds last year, as he looks to a possible start at the Tour de France in July.
“I only realized I’d won when I passed the finish line today,” Alaphilippe said. “It was a really nervous last few kilometers, and I was really happy when I crossed the finish line. I didn’t think too much about the victory, look what happened last year, I was in yellow on the last stage, but Peter took the time bonus.
“You never know what can happen, there could be a crash. The roads were bad in the final before the circuits, it was really dangerous. You can lose anywhere. I stayed very concentrated.”
“This was really important, because it’s my first win of the season, and also my first time to win a general classification,” Alaphilippe said. “It’s really something special to win this race, especially here in California.”