Breakaway Holds on ATOC Stage 4

by editors on May 17, 2017

Coming the day before a fearsome mountain stage, the riders could only hope that the peloton would take it easy to allow some recovery. This being the 2017 Tour of California though, there was no way this was going to be allowed to happen. While the sprinters were confident they’d be able to catch the day’s break, the escapees had other ideas, and as the peloton tore itself apart trying to make the catch, the five plucky riders took the stage, leaving BORA-hansgrohe’s Peter Sagan the first of the chasers to cross the line, adding to his points tally and retaining his green jersey, while Rafał Majka (pictured above) arrived safely, keeping hold of his GC leader’s yellow jersey for another day.

For the rest of the Amgen Tour of California story from BORA-hansgrohe’s perspective, please follow the jump.

At 159.5km, stage 4 wasn’t the longest stage of this year’s Tour of California, but with a possible sprint finish to end the day, the sprinters and their teams were going to make the going tough. However, before arriving at the finish line, there was the small matter of four categorised climbs – none of them particularly long, but with the final climb hitting an average gradient of 11.8%, the ascents were going to hurt. A final 50km drag to the finish followed, before the sprinters planned on fighting it out for the stage win – that is, if a breakaway didn’t make it there first.

With some King of the Mountains points to take in the first 100km of the stage, an escape was guaranteed as the climbers’ contest was hotting up, and with barely 7km of the stage covered, a group of six made their way ahead. The sprint teams were confident of their ability to pull them back before the end of the day, and allowed the gap to grow – the escapees pushing hard to increase their advantage, going so hard that they lost one of their number as a result. After 40km the gap was up to almost five minutes, and they were showing no sign of slowing down. By the 80km to go mark, the break had almost nine minutes on the peloton.

DOWNLOAD | photo credit: ©BORA-hansgrohe / VeloImages
While the peloton had been working to reduce the break’s advantage from the 50km point, the sprint teams really started to take charge from 20km out. While the gap was falling quickly, there was still some way to go before the catch was made and at the head of the chasing group it was clear some of the bunch were wondering if the breakaway was going to stick. While the break didn’t pose a threat to Rafał Majka’s GC lead, the holder of the green jersey, UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, would be hoping to add some more points to his total. The brutal pace of the chasing peloton, while gradually closing the gap, was tearing the group to pieces. As the break made it to the end, with Rally’s Evan Huffman taking the victory, all the chasers could do was fight amongst themselves for the remaining points – and of course, Peter was the first across the line after the break, taking sixth spot.

While he was denied his second stage win of the race so far, Peter was happy to see a brave move stick until the end. “Today was a really hard stage, but actually I’m very happy for the break. I’m happy because it means different winners and a different style of racing. We already did two hard days before, we won two stages, and today we wanted to take it easy. In the end it wasn’t possible, because a lot of teams were surprised at the breakaway when they took a lot of minutes at the start and it was very hard to catch them. In fact, it was impossible to catch them. Every team had their own strategy when it came to chasing, but that’s just how cycling is. It’s been nice here in California – I feel good with my team and I’m happy to have my brother here with me. We’ve been riding together on the same team for six years now and there’s a really good atmosphere in the BORA-hansgrohe team.”

After the peloton’s fast pace in the finale, Rafał Majka was concentrating on recovering ahead of tomorrow’s tough stage in the mountains. “Today was a really hard day but I had my team to support me – also Peter. We did our best to catch the breakaway, and in the group we stayed at the front. I suffered a little bit, but tomorrow is the important day for me and hopefully I’ll be better then. I had a great team supporting me today and I hope to have a great day tomorrow, and hope to keep the jersey. I think it’s going to be a really hard climb, so at the end we’ll see how my legs respond after five days of racing. It will be the first time I do that climb and it all depends on my legs. If I have good legs, for sure I’ll try to attack, otherwise I’ll try to follow. We’ll see how my condition is after these four days. Today I’m suffering, but lots of riders are – it’s a little bit warmer as well and we went really fast today but I hope I’ll have good legs tomorrow.”

BORA-hansgrohe’s Directeur Sportif, Patxi Vila, was working to ensure both Peter and Rafał had support to do their best in the race. “I wasn’t expecting the breakaway to win, but I’m not surprised it did. Each team had a different strategy and ours today was to make sure Rafał stayed safe and avoided any splits that could cost him the yellow jersey and, if we had the opportunity, to go for the sprint with Peter. We put Erik Baška in the front to pull, not so much to bridge the gap to the breakaway, but more to keep the GC under control. Juraj put in a tremendous effort yesterday, so he had to take it easy, while the others either had to lead out Peter for the eventual sprint or stay fresh to help Rafał tomorrow in the all-important stage to Mount Baldy. We have two very crucial stages ahead where the GC is at stake, so, with two stage wins so far, our main goal is to keep Rafał in the yellow jersey.”

There are only three climbs on tomorrow’s 125.5km stage, but with all three being either first category or Hors Catégorie climbs, it’s going to be a brutal, testing day. The GC riders and climbers will relish the opportunity to stretch their legs and show what they’ve got, but for the sprinters it’ll be a battle of survival – particularly on the summit finish on Mount Baldy.

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