Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-Quick-Step) took his first victory of the year atop Mt. Baldy in stage 7 of the Amgen Tour of California, and in doing so he rode into the race leader’s jersey. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) started the day with a 45-second lead over Alaphilippe in the general classification, and crossed the 47 seconds behind the 22-year-old French all-rounder, giving up his lead by just two seconds with only one stage remaining in the race.
A breakaway of six riders got clear of the peloton early on in the stage. Among the group of riders out front was Daniel Oss (BMC), who spent his day hunting KOM points to build a strong lead in that classification. When the peloton ramped up the pace with Mt. Baldy looming, the gap started to fall and the bunch began closing down the breakaway. The last of the breakaway riders was swept up with around 20km to go in the stage.
The challenging climb to the finish saw one rider after another dropped from the peloton, until Alaphilippe and Sergio Henao (Sky) attacked out of a small group (which still included Sagan) and managed to open up a gap. The two riders traded attacks for a few hundred meters before Alaphilippe put in a powerful dig that left Henao behind.
Alaphilippe maintained his advantage over Henao and those behind through the steep gradients of the upper slopes of Mt. Baldy, but Sagan tapped out a steady rhythm in pursuit of the riders up the road to limit the damage. After laboring into the final kilometer, Alaphilippe got out of the saddle and powered to the line for the stage victory, with Henao and Henao’s Sky teammate Ian Boswell 23 seconds behind to take second and third, but Sagan was not far off. Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin) and Riccardo Zoidl (Trek Factory Racing) nabbed the fourth and fifth spots before Sagan pushed himself across the line for sixth—although he lost his hold on the GC lead, Sagan was able to stay within just two seconds of the top spot on the leaderboard.
“Henao was attacking, stopping, attacking, stopping. He was relentless.” Alaphilippe said. “At a certain moment at about four kilometers to go I decided to try to attack, and see if I could improve my classification. I went, and Henao didn’t respond immediately. When I saw he didn’t follow me I thought he was playing with me, and that he would arrive at any second and pass me. But I kept going and going anyway. The last two kilometers were the hardest of my life. I gave everything to go the distance, my legs felt like they were exploding. In my mind I was always thinking that Henao could come back. But I was doing my best to stay away.
“It wasn’t until the final 200 meters when I finally understood I had won the stage,” he continued. “I enjoyed the moment, but I kept going 100 percent until the finish line. It was a great emotion for me because this is the second victory of my career. But, what makes me so happy is the way I won. I won a mountain stage in the Tour of California, the first stage race of eight days in my professional career. For me that is really special.”
Tomorrow’s eighth and final stage from L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena will offer bonus seconds at the finish line that could decide the general classification of the race.