May 20th, ’14. Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky successfully defended his 30 second advantage in the overall standings to claim his first ever Amgen Tour of California crown; the first triumph by a British rider in this race’s history. Jesse Sergent of Trek Factory Racing put in a terrific turn of pace in the final stage in support of his team sprinter to come home in the top 15 to complete an action packed final two stages.
May 20th, ’14. Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky successfully defended his 30 second advantage in the overall standings to claim his first ever Amgen Tour of California crown; the first triumph by a British rider in this race’s history. And while Rohan Dennis of Garmin-Sharp and Lawson Craddock of GIANT-Shimano rounded out the top three on the GC it was the turn of two fast-finishers to grab the limelight in stages 7 and 8 to Pasadena and then to Thousand Oaks; with Cannondale’s Peter Sagan and Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Mark Cavendish lighting up proceedings.
Stage 7 was the final stage where a serious attack on the lead could realistically be made, although the chances of Wiggins coming under serious threat were pretty minimal. The climbs of the day were all done and dusted with about 50km of racing left; but that did not make them insignificant in deciding the stage by any means. Peter Sagan knew that for the first time since 2010 he was on the brink of not winning a single stage; with Mark Cavendish having won one of the bunch sprints and breakaways hampering Sagan’s hopes in two other stages. If Sagan was going to win stage 7 from Santa Clarita to Pasadena he needed to rid himself of the fastest man on two wheels in the mountains. His Cannondale team, featuring George Bennett, set about doing just that.
Cavendish was dropped in the mountains and was stuck in a chasing group, eliminating Sagan’s principle rival from contesting the sprint finish. That didn’t stop several attacks going in the finishing circuits as the finish line came closer; including a rather unfortunate one by one rider who attacked on the penultimate lap, and crossed the line celebrating while thinking he’d won the stage, when in fact there was still one lap to go. But all was together in the main bunch of over 50 riders with Peter Sagan’s principle competition for the stage win coming from the big Norwegian Thor Hushovd of BMC Racing. But Sagan had the legs in the sprint and won comfortably with time to enjoy his win too. Hushovd came home second and Danny Van Poppel of Trek Factory Racing completed the podium in third. With Bradley Wiggins rounding out the top 15 it only left the final stage for him to tackle before he could claim the overall title.
Stage 8 was a shorter stage at 135.2km, starting and finishing in Thousand Oaks and taking on just the one climb; but it was a circuit that the field would tackle three times in all, and nearly saw a repeat of stage 7. Once again Peter Sagan and his Cannondale squad drove the peloton on the climbs, with Sagan flying down the descent, and once again Mark Cavendish was dropped. But this time he was able to regain contact with the bunch as the field came careering in towards the finish. In the sprint it looked like a straight man vs man with Peter Sagan leading out Cavendish and the two going head-to-head to the line. But Cavendish showed why he is one of the most feared riders in the sprint finishes, taking his second win; while John Degenkolb of GIANT-Shimano came tantalisingly close again to beating his British rival, edging Sagan out for second and coming within centimetres of Cav’s front wheel.
Afterwards Cavendish revealed that he was originally uncertain if he’d even start the day, “To be fair I wasn’t anticipating a sprint today, I wasn’t going to start today, let alone finish. But then I just thought I’d start. I’d maybe get dropped the first time, maybe do another lap for training, and then that would be it.” But thankfully for us he stayed on, and it was well worth his while too, “I just wanted to follow Peter [Sagan]. Then GIANT-Shimano came, so I got in there, squeezed in, and that’s about when Peter launched. I knew with 200m to go, on that finish, I would be able to have the speed after a week’s racing. So I just went and I was a bit fortunate. I celebrated early and John [Degenkolb] nearly beat me.”
Race winner Bradley Wiggins gave credit to his team for their help to defend his lead, “I’ve said it every day but without those guys I wouldn’t be in this position. You can’t do it on your own and as strong as my performance was individually in the time trial, my team have taken the strain all week.”
A brilliant ride by Trek Factory Racing’s Jesse Sergent on the final day of racing saw him place 14th in the sprint with his teammate Danny van Poppel coming home fifth. It’s been a great week for New Zealanders on the road with Sergent taking third place in the time trial and George Bennett taking ninth place on the summit finish to Mountain High. We look forward to seeing them racing again soon.
By: Ed Wright