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Fourth time was the charm for Tinkoff-Saxo’s Peter Sagan. For three days at the Amgen Tour of California, the Slovakian national champion had to settle for silver medals, but on Wednesday, he sprinted to victory in Avila Beach.
“I never looked back,” said Sagan. “I was just in the group, and I trust my teammate. He bring me on the front for the last corner left. Also, Mark Cavendish was behind me, maybe I did some turn better, and from the last corner I just sprinted. I’m very happy.”
What appeared to be a straight-forward sprint finish came apart at the seams as BMC’s Daniel Oss launched a desperate final attack with one kilometer left. He had a gap going into the final corners, and as the disorganized peloton exited the last left-hand turn, Sagan wound up his sprint and used a gradual rise to launch around Oss for the win.
Wouter Wippert (Drapac) was second, and Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step) finished third.
“I think this victory is good for everybody, for me and for the team,” Sagan said. “I’ve been a pro for six years and perhaps it’s getting more difficult to win, as everybody is looking to me in the finales unlike my first years, where I was surprising everybody. Pressure or no pressure, sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t, and today I’m just happy to take the victory.”
Five riders made the early move in stage 4: Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare), Daniel Teklehaimanot (MTN-Qhubeka), Jesse Anthony (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies), William Clarke (Drapac), and Gregory Daniel (Axeon).
At one point, their lead went over three minutes, but once the day’s only categorized climb was done, the gap stabilized around two minutes.
As the race neared the ocean, 20 miles from the Avila Beach finish, the lead had fallen to 35 seconds.
Hincapie Racing was riding at the front in defense of Toms Skujins’ overall race lead, won in a brilliant solo breakaway yesterday, and Cavendish’s sprint-centric Etixx team also lent a hand.
With the field breathing down their necks, Daniel and Clarke made a last-ditch effort to stay away.
Daniel then attacked his Australian companion once, then a second time, and got a gap, stretching his advantage on a short downhill, tucking low on his bike, pedaling while sitting on the top tube.
But it was not long before the peloton put an end to his escape.
With nine miles to go, the crosswinds began to lash the peloton, and Sagan put in a dig to try splitting the peloton. But he didn’t succeed in catching out the other sprinters. Etixx-Quick-Step was ready and shut down the move.
Coming into the finish, it looked to be another day for a straight-up field sprint, but then, something unexpected happened.
As the peloton went beneath the one-kilometer to go kite, Oss launched a desperate final attack, and the timing was impeccable.
Etixx had used up most of its riders during the day’s long chase, especially given the winds. This left a power vacuum at the front of the field, and only Trek Factory Racing could jump to the front in pursuit.
Oss kept his gap into the final chicane before the short finish straight, but the gradual uphill to the line was a bridge too far.
Despite being positioned a bit far back in sixth, Sagan turned on the afterburners, sprinting out the final corner, hopping on the Drapac team’s lead-out and dispatching Wippert.
Toms Skujins (Hincapie Racing) will hold his overall lead for another day, 22 seconds ahead of Sagan.
“It was pretty big for us,” Skujins said of his team’s first day defending the lead. “It was pretty hard because it was windy, but we kept it in check, and Quick-Step did a lot of work for us which was awesome. It worked out for us, so all is well.
“We’ll see what happens with the time trial and the weather. We’ll just take it day by day.”
It’s likely the young leader will hang onto the yellow jersey after Thursday as well. Stage 5 rides from Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita over 95.7 miles of lumpy road, with a long run-in to the finish.
Lost my balls today in the last few corners & ended up coming from WAY too far back in the sprint. Bit pissed I let down @Etixx_QuickStep.
— Mark Cavendish (@MarkCavendish) May 13, 2015