Tour of California: García Cortina breaks through in Ventura
Young Spaniard Iván García Cortina gets his first professional road victory after years of coming up short
VENTURA, California (VN) — The last time Iván García Cortina won a bicycle race, he had no brakes.
García Cortina (Bahrain-Merida) out sprinted Max Richeze (Deceuninck-Quick Step) Thursday to win the fifth stage of the Amgen Tour of California. The victory marked the first official pro road victory for the 23-year-old Spaniard.
García Cortina’s most recent bicycle win came in 2017 at the Milano round of the Red Hook Criterium, the global series of fixed-gear criteriums that recently went on hiatus. García Cortina won that race aboard a fixed-gear track bicycle. No brakes, no problem.
“For sure, this win is much better, but the Red Hook win was more cool,” García Cortina told VeloNews. “Because after [Red Hook] I got to party and celebrate, and tomorrow we have another hard stage.”
Thursday’s victory came after two year of close calls for García Cortina, who is a classics rider who can also sprint. He was second in a stage of Paris-Nice this year, and second at a day of Ruta del Sol, and third in a sprint at the 2018 Vuelta a España. García Cortina said he often starts his sprint too early, only to be pipped at the line.
“I get so nervous and I want to sprint and I lose so many races because of that,” he said. “I was concentrating today to start my sprint as late as possible. I saw Richeze go with 200 meters to go and I think this is my opportunity, and I get on his wheel and at 100 meters I go full gas.”
García Cortina rode this year’s heavy classics and bolted into the late breakaway alongside Peter Sagan and Sep Vanmarcke that eventually rode into the finale. A flat tire with 50km to go stopped García Cortina at the race, but the effort showed that he has promise in the cobblestone races.
“I think my best is to be a rider like [Juan Antonio] Flecha—he is one of my reference riders,” García Cortina said. “To do the classics and the rest of the season have the big tours is my dream.”
García Cortina’s victory came after a hilly 218km stage along California’s central coast that was the longest of the 2019 edition. The course included five total climbs: twice up Foxen Canyon Road, then San Marcos Pass, and two ascents of Casitas Pass Road. Rohan Dennis, Bahrain-Merida’s leader, said the team decided to work for García Cortina early in the day because the climbs were bound to derail some of the heavy sprinters.
“We thought it was going to be a hard sprint and Ivan showed he could get over the climb on the big stage to Morgan Hill,” Dennis said. “We planned for this to be his day to have a crack.”
Gusting crosswinds battered the peloton for much of the day, and a 12-man breakaway containing Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Brandon McNulty (Rally-UHC), Michael Schar (CCC Team), and Neilson Powless (Jumbo-Visma), among others.
The riders started the day with the coastal wind at their backs, and they flew through the opening 100km of the race far ahead of schedule. The extra speed caused the men’s field to almost catch the 96.5km women’s pro race, which started and finished in Ventura. Organizers sent the women’s field off 10 minutes early to avoid being caught by the men.
The peloton caught the breakaway with 8km remaining, and riders then took turns attacking the group into the gusting crosswinds. Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-Quick Step) attacked with 5km to go, and was caught and passed by George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) who bolted off the front in the final 5km alongside Sergio Higuita (EF Education First). The duo was absorbed in the final kilometers.
As the peloton rumbled to the finish, riders were shot out the back in strong headwind. Just 26 riders finished in the front group.
Overnight leader Tejay van Garderen retained his lead in the overall. Van Garderen said he is prepared for the final battle for the GC on Friday’s stage to Mt. Baldy Road.
“[Mt. Baldy] comes off the back of two other major climbs and it’s 100 kilometers less than we did today,” Van Garderen said. “I expect a really intense day from start to finish. A lot of guys will want to be in the breakaway, but once you get to the bottom of Baldy, it’s like one climb left in the race and you just have to empty the tank from bottom to the top.”