SANTA CLARITA (VN) — In a race that will be decided by a monster 7km climb, it’s risky to deduce too much from a relatively flat 10km time trial. However if one were to draw conclusions from Friday’s stage 6 TT at Magic Mountain, Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-Quick-Step) is sitting in good position among the race’s main GC protagonists.
Alaphilippe was fastest of the major GC contenders in Santa Clarita, finishing third on the stage, 19 seconds behind stage winner and new race leader Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo).
The young French phenom — who recently finished second to Alejandro Valverde in his first attempts at both Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège — now sits third overall, 45 seconds behind Sagan, with former race leader Toms Skujins (Hincapie Racing) sitting second overall, 28 seconds back.
“I felt good at the start and wanted to do my best to defend my third place in the GC,” Alaphilippe said. “I have been taking it day-by-day, because I came here after some hard racing at the Ardennes Classics. I’ve had good legs so far, including today. I was super pleased with how I performed. Sagan was really strong today, so congratulations to him on the victory. I am really happy to be on the podium and to go into the queen stage having protected my overall placement.”
Sky’s Sergio Henao finished seventh on the stage, 26 down on Sagan, and is now 55 seconds off the GC lead, and 10 seconds behind Alaphilippe, plotting him second on the “virtual GC” of major overall contenders.
Also putting in a solid ride was Gesink, who finished ninth on the stage, just one second slower than Henao; the LottoNL-Jumbo rider now sits 11 seconds behind Alaphilippe.
One man who exceeded expectations on Friday is BMC’s American rider Joey Rosskopf, who finished fourth on the stage, 20 seconds down, and now sits fourth overall. Rosskopf, who has flown relatively under the radar thus far in California, finished sixth overall at the USA Pro Challenge last August, a few weeks after he nearly beat Cadel Evans on a summit finish at the Tour of Utah. If he’s able to climb at his best on Baldy, the 25-year-old American could land himself on the final podium in Pasadena.
Also sitting in strong position is Giant-Alpecin rider Lawson Craddock. He finished the time trial 19th, 18 seconds behind Alaphilippe, and now sits fifth on the “virtual GC,” 21 seconds behind Alaphilippe.
Heano’s teammate, British champion Peter Kennaugh, sits 23 seconds behind Alaphilippe, sixth in the “virtual GC” of main contenders.
Optum’s Phil Gaimon is within striking distance of the overall podium, 29 seconds behind Alaphillipe, but he will need to uncork a special ride on Mt. Baldy to reach the final podium.
Young American climber Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin) finished 39th on the stage, 50 seconds behind Sagan and 31 seconds behind Alaphilippe. SmartStop’s Rob Britton is tied with Dombrowski and American Matthew Busche on GC, 34 seconds behind Alaphilippe.
Given these 10 riders, who are all sitting within 34 seconds of one another, any rider further down on the classiciation will have a very difficult time making it onto the final podium in Pasadena on Sunday.
The Amgen Tour stacks the Baldy climb on top of the 9-mile climb up Glendora Mountain Road — a climb that is used as an uphill time trial for the San Dimas Stage Race — followed by 12 miles of a twisting, uphill traverse back up Glendora Ridge Road. There’s only a brief respite before hitting the switchbacks of Mt. Baldy Road; all totaled, from the bottom of Glendora Mountain Road, across Glendora Ridge, and up to the Mt. Baldy Ski Area, it’s a 26-mile slog, with 5,300 feet of elevation gain and very little flat or downhill.
Earlier this week Alaphilippe told VeloNews that he was uncertain how he might perform on Baldy, saying that California was his first weeklong stage-race.
Alaphilippe expanded on that after the time trial, saying, “This is my first time at an eight-day stage race, and so far I did well at the time trial. We will see how I do on a key mountain stage tomorrow. I know that Mt. Baldy will not be easy, but we will see what can happen. We have a very motivated team here, as you can see with three victories of Mark Cavendish and my two podium placings. We also have the white jersey and green jersey. I will do my best to honor my third place in the GC on Saturday, and to also learn from the experience with the support of my teammates.”
As for Skujins, who has spent three days in the leader’s jersey, he’s not expected to contend for the overall podium on Baldy. Earlier this week he told VeloNews, “For sure I will do my best on Baldy. I haven’t seen it, I have heard only… legends. I have seen some videos from previous years. It looks hard… it’ll be fun.”
Asked on Thursday how he thought Alaphilippe might hang on Mt. Baldy with world-class climbers like Henao and Geisnk, Cavendish answered succinctly: “To be honest I have no idea. He’s a hard little bastard. He’ll be chewing his stem.”
A look at the race’s top 10 major GC contenders:
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-Quick-Step)
2. Joey Rosskopf (BMC Racing Team), at 0:04
3. Sergio Henao (Sky), at 0:10
4. Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo), at 0:11
5. Lawson Craddock (Giant-Alpecin), at 0:21
6. Peter Kennaugh (Sky), at 0:23
7. Phil Gaimon (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies), at 0:29
8. Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin), 0:34
9. Rob Britton (SmartStop), at 0:34
10. Matthew Busche (Trek Factory Racing), at 0:34