SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, California (VN) — Who says cobblestone crushers can’t climb?
On Monday Danish classics hero Kasper Asgreen soared through the thin Sierra Nevada mountain air to take a dramatic stage win on the uphill drag to Heavenly Ski Resort. Asgreen, 24, surged away from Tejay van Garderen (EF Education First) and Gianni Moscon (Team Ineos) in the waning meters to take his first career victory.
“It’s my first pro win so I’m really happy right now,” Asgreen said after the stage. “It’s a huge for me and to take it on a hard stage makes me really happy.”
Van Garderen put on the yellow jersey as the new overall leader of the Amgen Tour of California.
Asgreen’s win came after a punishing 215km stage from Rancho Cordova to the southern bank of Lake Tahoe that took in 4,500 total meters of climbing. Organizers added 12km onto the stage after snow on Mormon Emigrant Trail highway forced a reroute. The day still took in Carson pass, which at 2,627 meters (8,600 feet) is the highest point in the history of the race.
Aggression started early with a breakaway of seven riders attacking into the bunch. Evan Huffman (Rally-UHC) attacked alongside Davide Ballerini (Astana Pro Team), Luke Rowe (Team Ineos), Michael Hernandez (USA National Team), Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), Pawel Bernas (CCC Team), and Michael Storer (Team Sunweb).
A surge by EF Education First over the Kirkwood summit closed the breakaway down, and Australian Lachlan Morton attacked on a solo move. Behind, a group of 14 riders attacked, among them Asgreen, who at one point tried and failed to bridge to the Australian.
“We don’t really have a big favorite here,” Asgreen said. “I felt like I was on a good day to do something, so we could have a free roll.”
The final 50km saw a series of moves and countermoves amongst this group, with GC favorites van Garderen and George Bennett bridging to the move on the final major climb of the day, Luther Pass.
The group split on the ensuing descent, and a cat-and-mouse game ensued on the final 10km to the finish amongst 10 riders, among them van Garderen, Asgreen, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), and Rob Britton (Rally UHC).
Van Garderen surged up the final hill with Moscon and Asgreen in tow, and the Danish rider made his move on the final left-hand turn before the run-in to the finish.
Asgreen recently rose to stardom in the European peloton after he finished second place at the Tour of Flanders with a cunning attack in the final 10km. Standing six-foot-three and tipping the scales at 165 pounds, Asgreen has the powerful frame that seems designed to churn through the cobblestone roads of Belgium and Northern France.
He can also soar through the mountains. After his win, Asgreen said he prefers the cobblestone roads to the long climbs, and plans to focus his career on the Belgian classics rather than stage races.
“I never had as much fun on the bike as I did during the classics this year the classics will be my big goal for the next many years,” he said.
EF Education First set to defend
Van Garderen’s yellow jersey now puts the pressure on EF Education First to defend the race lead over the next five stages. The American team has come to California with no sprinters and a roster built to challenge for the overall lead.
Van Garderen leads a squad that includes climbers Rigoberto Uran, Morton, Sergio Higuita, Lawson Craddock, and Alex Howes, as well as time trial rider Taylor Phinney.
Riders are still eyeing the stage 6 climb to Mt. Baldy as the defining GC feature of this year’s race. But van Garderen said the team cannot underestimate the other stages.
“When you look at the course, there’s no day you want to sleep on,” van Garderen said. “Any of these days there is an opportunity to gain time, like we saw today.”
The Amgen Tour of California continues with Tuesday’s third stage from Stockton to Morgan Hill.