Dennis wins California time trial, but Alaphilippe hangs on to GC lead
On Friday in Folsom, Rohan Dennis added to his long list of accomplishments racing against the clock, putting an Amgen Tour of California stage win alongside his Hour Record, national title, and Tour de France stage victory.
This win, however, could have been sweeter, as Dennis was unable to unseat race leader Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) from the top of the general classification.
Though Dennis beat the Frenchman by 45 seconds, he needed 62 seconds to take the race lead, and now sits second overall, 16 seconds behind with two stages remaining.
Dennis took the stage win by 17 seconds ahead of U.S. national champion Andrew Talansky (Cannondale), with Dennis’ teammate Taylor Phinney rounding out the podium another three seconds back.
The win came as redemption for Dennis after he lost out to Bradley Wiggins (Team Wiggins) on the same course at the 2014 Amgen Tour.
However, Dennis would leave the stage missing one thing — the yellow jersey.
“We underestimated him a bit,” Dennis said of Alaphilippe. “I thought I could take a minute out of him, maybe even a minute and a half, but it was 45 seconds. He rode really well.”
Alaphilippe crossed the line mouth agape and proceeded to dismount and collapse to the ground, but his mission had been accomplished. He was still in yellow, but the rest of the GC had been turned inside out.
Dennis now sits second overall, while his teammate Brent Bookwalter had a solid ride to move up to third, 38 seconds down.
It wouldn’t be a stage of the 2016 Amgen Tour if Neilson Powless (Axeon Hagens Berman) didn’t exceed everyone’s expectations. The sky seems to be the limit for the 19-year-old who rode himself inside out to finish tenth on the stage, climbing back into fifth place on the general classification, 1:08 behind Alaphilippe.
The biggest loser on the day was American Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo) who dropped from second overall to 13th, now over two minutes behind Alaphilippe.
New Zealander George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo), who started the day third overall, didn’t have quite as bad a day, but now sits ninth overall, 1:45 behind.
How It Played Out
The individual time trial around the town of Folsom, while only 20 kilometers in length, dipped and climbed, inflicting pain as it came after a tough stage at altitude on Thursday.
The out-and-back course required great discipline — go out too hard and the legs would pay for the effort on the way back.
The fourth rider to start was former world time trial champion Bradley Wiggins. Many wondered how Wiggins would do as he focuses on the track, and is 12 kilos heavier than he was in 2014.
Wiggins had only gotten up to speed when disaster struck. One of his carbon fiber aerobar extensions, which had been modified for his position, snapped.
Alex Wassemann, former SRAM marketing director who is serving as a driver at the Amgen Tour of California, was in the Wiggins follow car.
“The initial part of the course is super windy, and on the transition over the bridge, there were some pretty bumpy sections,” Wassemann said, explaining where Wiggins broke his aero bar. “Brad was hitting it and it kind of looked like he wanted to go for the day, and hit just a really solid piece, something that was chewed out, like a really solid hit and it cracked off his extension, which the guys had modified for him.”
After that, Wiggins eased off the gas, eventually having a bit of fun playing with his minute-man, Mark Cavendish, whom he won a world title with in the Madison back in February.
“It was funny because we actually caught Cavendish and then they started cat and mousing a bit, which drove the [commissaire] crazy,” Wassemann said. “It was super funny. Those guys get along really well.”
Wiggins did not speak with reporters at his team truck at the finish line. His team mechanics whisked away his bike and covered the broken aerobar extension.
World TT champion Vasil Kiriyenka (Team Sky) came through with a blistering time of 25 minutes even, that was poised to set the standard for the day. His time in the hot seat would not last long, however, as Phinney was out on course and bested the Sky rider by 11 seconds at the midway checkpoint.
Phinney extended his advantage on the way back to the finish on the 20 kilometer out and back course, setting a time of 24 minutes and 36 seconds — for an average speed of 49.5kph. The two-time national time trial champion got comfortable in the hot seat as he would not be unseated until the heavy hitters of the general classification had blitzed the course.
“I was proud of my ride,” Phinney said. “I suffered out there. I gave it everything I had… all of those clichés. Jens brought me a beer while I was in the hot seat, so that made it more enjoyable. It was an interesting course to watch, some guys went fast through the halfway point, then died. I was hoping that was going to happen to Andrew [Talansky], but it didn’t. When I saw him afterwards, he looked like he had seen some dark times out there, so I respect him for that. I knew Rohan was the guy to beat today, and he deservedly took the win.”
The Belgian national TT champion, Jurgen van de Broeck (Katusha) looked set to unseat Phinney after bettering the American by an astonishing 27 seconds at the midway time check. But the course had the final say as the Belgian faded. He would ultimately finish the stage in ninth place, 49 seconds behind Dennis.
The one to unseat Phinney was Talansky, who was racing in the stars and stripes for the first time on U.S. soil. Talansky was able to match van der Broeck at the halfway mark, and stayed strong until the end, getting the better of Phinney by three seconds.
“I race TTs by feel, I don’t really like to hear time splits,” Talansky said after his effort. “They told me I had the best time at the turnaround, and that was pretty motivating. I was pleased with my ride. I went hard. I suffered. I went hard in the first half, and I paid for it on the way back.”
Talansky wouldn’t have time to get comfortable before Dennis stormed across the line with a time of 24:16 and an average speed of 50.19 kph.
“During the last 5km I had the taste of metal in my mouth, it was just lactate the whole way,” Dennis said after the stage. “I didn’t know I had it won until the last 500 meters. The wind had picked up after our recon ride, and I had to keep telling myself to keep my head down, and stay as aero as possible.”
Nobody would be able to match the speed, but with the general classification still tight and only the finish on Gibraltar Road creating gaps, the riders had everything to fight for.
Bookwalter had a top-five finish, but conceded 43 seconds to his teammate.
Laurens Ten Dam (Giant-Alpecin), who crashed on Thursday on the way to South Lake Tahoe, fell to eighth overall, 1:24 behind Alaphilippe.
Alaphilippe, who admitted on the days leading up to the time trial that he had spent little time on his TT bike, proved his class to retain the race lead. The Frenchman showed the power that sometimes only a yellow jersey can provide by pulling out a stellar ride.
“Today it was very important to do a good job,” Alaphilippe said. “The course didn’t suit me, as it had big flat roads and some heavy wind, but I really wanted to put in a big effort so I could defend my yellow jersey. It wasn’t easy, but I rode full gas those 20 kilometers and now I’m still first in the rankings, which is great.”
Saturday’s stage around Santa Rosa will take the riders on a 175km circuit with 10,000 feet of climbing on narrow, twisting, rough roads through the redwoods and along the coast. With a flat circuit race around Sacramento on Sunday, Stage 7 could be the final day for any riders to make a final move on the general classification.
“There are still two stages to go, and taking back 16 seconds isn’t going to be easy,” Dennis said. “[Alaphilippe] put the time in on the climb, so it’s all about trying to see the best way to make him crack. If not, we’ll have to battle it out for second place.”
Regarding his GC lead, Alaphilippe pointed to the strength of his Etixx team, which includes classics stars Tom Boonen and Zdenek Stybar.
“I am optimistic, because we have a solid team here, ready to fight and help me retain the jersey,” said Alaphilippe, who is now two days away from becoming the youngest winner in the history of the race.
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