George Bennett has finished third in stage 6 of the Amgen Tour of California, moving up to 4th in the GC battle as the fight for the overall win exploded into life.  The stage belonged to Tadej Pogačar of UAE Team Emirates – who also took the race lead – with Sergio Higuita in second place.

Stage 6 of the Amgen Tour of California was always going to be the decisive stage in terms of the general classification.  The 127.5km from Ontario to Mount Baldy featured a final 44km that possessed precious little by way of downhill racing with Glendora Mountain Road acting as the warm up to the final climb up Mount Baldy which could prove to be George Bennett’s ideal opportunity to launch a final assault on the general classification.

An early attack got things underway with Owain Doull of Team Ineos, Mikkel Bjerg of Hagens Berman Axeon, Lennard Hofstede of Jumbo-Visma, Matteo Fabbro of Katusha-Alpecin, Pawel Bernas of CCC Team, Fabio Jakobsen of Deceuninck-Quick Step, Michael Storer of Team Sunweb, Juraj Sagan of BORA-Hansgrohe and Bernhard Eisel of Dimension Data forming the early break of the day along with Herman Pernsteiner of Bahrain Merida and Hugo Houle of Astana.  Eisel, Jakobsen and Pernsteiner dropped back as the leaders formed an advantage of 2.20mins early on.

Trek-Segafredo and EF Education First paid close attention to the goings on at the front of the peloton, keeping the break at a manageable gap before letting it out to 3 minutes with almost half the stage covered.  The stage was illuminated briefly by an attack from the peloton by Ben King of Dimension Data, who appeared interested in going for a long-range attack.  It didn’t last long though and as the grupetto formed at the back of the race with Cavendish, Sagan et al; at the head of the race the breakaway continued on – fracturing and reforming over the tough gradients before the two big climbs of Glendora Mountain and then Mount Baldy.

With Mads Pedersen of Trek-Segafredo on the front of the peloton on Glendora Mountain the break’s lead were reeled in to within 1.30mins with 25km to go.  EF Education First were right on his wheel, benefiting from Pedersen’s workload that was leaving the break at high risk of surrendering their lead before the climb up Mount Baldy even began.  The gap had come down to just a minute with 23.5km to go and was hastily being wiped out; with George Bennett sitting in the peloton ready to strike.

With 19km to go George Bennett was sat right on the wheel of Tejay van Garderen as the peloton got to within 40 seconds of the fragmenting breakaway.  Gradually though, the rest of the break that featured Matteo Fabbro, Pawel Bernas, Hugo Houle and Lennard Hofstede pulled out a lead once again to 1 minute.

Behind the break a couple of early skirmishes rattled EF Education First, who still had Trek-Segafredo providing the pace-setting as Mount Baldy finally approached.  Maximilian Schachmann of BORA-Hansgrohe was the strongest of the early attackers, making light work of the gap between the break and the yellow jersey group.  Schachmann caught the leaders with 11km as behind them Trek-Segafredo appeared unconcerned about his attack.  They continued to tap out the pace as behind them George Bennett sat in about 20th wheel.

The climb to the line saw Schachmann drop the rest of the break with less than 8km to go and fearlessly go ahead on a solo move, with the peloton 40 seconds behind him.  That gap stabilised as behind him Gianni Moscon cracked among a number of other riders, with EF Education First beginning to take control of bringing back the German GC threat.  Steadily the peloton clawed him back, although the ‘peloton’ was now down to around 18 riders with 5km to go.  George Bennett had used his teammates up at this point but he was well positioned in the middle of the pack.

Kasper Asgreen of Deceuninck-Quick Step was the next to take up the pace but then Bennett made his move with just over 4km to go.  The Kiwi attacked and blitzed the group including Tejay van Garderen who completely cracked.  Coming with Bennett, however, were Richie Porte, Tadej Pogačar, Sergio Higuita and Simon Spilak of Katusha-Alpecin.  They quickly brought back Schachmann and as soon as they did so Pogačar and Higuita went on an attack that nearly caught Bennett out.

The three riders gapped the rest of the group and managed to just keep Richie Porte at arm’s length with 3km left to race; but gradually the Tasmanian bridged across.  Next to attack was Porte himself, forcing Higuita to bridge across and then make an attack of his own, with Pogačar taking up the chase with Bennett and Porte with him.  Higuita looked strong, and he held a significant advantage over Pogačar and Bennett; who in turn had dropped Richie Porte.  Pogačar and Bennett chased until with 1.2km to go Bennett was dropped; leaving the Slovenian to go across to the Colombian leader on his own.  Bennett didn’t give up though, keeping the intensity up behind the leaders as Bennett also tried to keep Porte and co at bay.

Higuita and Pogačar wouldn’t be caught as the pair neared the line; with the Colombian forced to lead out the sprint.  With 300m to go though Bennett very nearly caught the leaders only for the leading duo to wind up the sprint and kick for the line.  It looked like it was advantage Higuita until he took a wide turn; robbing of the chance to take the stage as Pogačar took his chance, passed Higuita and claimed the stage and with it the race lead.

Bennett sprinted to third place, just 5 seconds behind Pogačar.  Bennett’s result was part of a big day of GC shuffles.  Pogačar took over the race lead by 16 seconds from Higuita, with Kasper Asgreen holding third overall and George Bennett moving into 4th place at 29 seconds.

Hamish Schreurs finished in the main grupetto alongside Mark Cavendish, John Degenkolb and Peter Sagan.

Photo: @cauldphoto

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