Overall leader makes a clean sweep ahead of Thursday's time trial
Peter Sagan kept his streak alive Wednesday, winning stage 4 of the Amgen Tour of California in Clovis. Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) waited late to uncork his sprint and for the fourth day in a row, the race’s overall leader edged Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Barracuda).
Michael Matthews (Rabobank) was third.
With a 10-second time bonus at the finish, Sagan extended his overall lead over Haussler to 16 seconds, unofficially.
“Today was a harder stage,” said Sagan. “Today I was thinking it was not possible for me to win, but Daniel (Oss) said, ‘today we work for you.’
“I think tomorrow I will say good-bye [to the] yellow jersey, but maybe tomorrow I recover for Big Bear and try for another [stage] there.”
For Haussler, the stage marked his fourth close call to Sagan, but also his fourth disappointment in California.
“I felt really good during the stage today. I was comfortable on the climbs. And the team had another strong day despite the brutal heat,” he said. “Sagan is the fastest guy at the moment and he proved it again today. I believe we’ve got one more opportunity for a sprint. And I’m very motivated, but there’s some serious racing to get through in the next few days.”
The theme of the day was more that of a long, hot grind to set up Thursday’s time trial than a thrilling spectacle of racing. Six categorized climbs lay in the first 140km of the stage, but the last of them, the third-category Crane Valley Road, came more than 60km from the finish.
On a day like this, only the strong make the breakaway and when an 11-rider move materialized on the second climb, it was filled with names of the top domestiques from many of the race’s biggest teams.
Markel Irizar and Ben King (RadioShack-Nissan) were there, with Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Yannick Eijssen (BMC Racing), Wilco Kelderman (Rabobank), Alex Howes (Garmin-Barracuda), Timmy Duggan (Liquigas-Cannondale), Wesley Sulzberger (Orica-GreenEdge), Mikael Chérel (Ag2r La Mondiale), and Darwin Hurtado and Carlos Quintero (Colombia-Coldeportes).
RadioShack turned Jens Voigt loose on the front of the peloton after the penultimate climb, however, and the German drew in the breakaway low down on the Crane Valley Road climb.
Tom Peterson (Garmin) and George Bennett (RadioShack) countered the catch 4km from the summit of the climb and rolled off the front easily, chatting as they built a lead of a handful of seconds over 2km. Michael Rodriguez (Colombia) got the pair going with a more serious tone when he bridged across, and Bram Tankink (Rabobank), Brian Vandborg (Spidertech-C10) and Mikael Chérel (Ag2r La Mondiale) set out in pursuit.
With RadioShack and Garmin both represented in the move, Liquigas went to the front of the peloton and ticked up the pace.
The three chasers led the peloton by 45 seconds over the summit of the climb and before long all six riders were together at the front. They pushed out to over a minute on the field, but with Vandborg and Chérel at just 30 seconds back on GC, and Bennett and Tankink also within a minute, Sagan’s green-clad mates had no appetite for letting the break breathe.
With 70km to go, the race was back together, with the familiar sight of Ted King pulling the peloton downhill toward Clovis.
The inertia of wide, downhill-trending roads carried the peloton toward Clovis for 55km. At times, it appeared as though a large, very professional charity ride was taking place with little reason for anyone to attack.
UnitedHealthcare’s Jonathan Clarke took the initiative 15km from the line, however, and set out solo. No one was biting on the move and the Aussie rode solo for a handful of kilometers before Ag2r and Rabobank led the bunch around him 9km from the finish.
With 5.3km to go, a Bontrager-Livestrong rider and Exergy’s Logan Loader found themselves with a gap and tested the waters, but to no avail. David Zabriskie (Garmin) countered that move on the right, however, and with 4.5km to go, the U.S. time trial champion carried an almost 15-second advantage on the field.
The move caught the field napping and looked dangerous, but Tom Boonen told VeloNews this morning that today was his last shot at a stage win and Omega Pharma shut the move down.
The attack did what Garmin had hoped, however, and the leadout developed without any real organization in the final 2km. Marcel Kittel’s Argos-Shimano squad did show itself at the front inside the final kilometer, but once again, Daniel Oss navigated his way to the front inside 500km with Sagan on his wheel.
The 22-year-old opened up throttle inside 300 meters to go and once again edged out Haussler for his record-setting seventh stage win in the one-week race.
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