Amgen Tour of California: 7 Stages
Once again on “home soil” (3000 miles from home), I felt healthy, recharged, and eager to race. Our team was a fun mix of experience and confidence and youthful enthusiasm. I’d call us strong and hungry underdogs. The week was especially fun because my fiancé, Jenna, followed the race and my parent's came out for a few stages as well.
Stage 1: 170 km
This year we began with the final stage of the 2016 edition of the Amgen Tour of California. The wind pushed us to the side of the road and we swerved around, jumped over, and smashed into deep potholes. At times they appeared too late. Youtube search “ghost holes,” and that will give you a picture of the day. We organised a functional lead out train for Reinhardt van Rensburg. I hit the front 3 km to go, then Bernie, Renshaw, and Scott. Reiny placed 6th.
Stage 2: 145 km
Our tactic to repeat my stage two victory from the breakaway failed, but we executed perfectly. The difference this year was forty km of dead flat road before the first climbs. I raced like a maniac for the breakaway averaging 330 watts for an hour and attacking over and over again. Scott eventually made the six man escape, but when Lotto attacked the first climb I paid for my early aggression. In defiance, I made a selection of thirty riders, clinging to the last wheel in the group. Then 2 km from the summit, George Bennett attacked. Our Lachlan Morton, Ian Boswell, and Rafael Majka marked him. But the acceleration, as they hurtled up the climb, chopped me off the back. I paced myself over the climb forty seconds behind the leaders, and closed the gap to twenty seconds on the technical descent, but never rejoined the action. Lachlan placed fourth.
Tom Skuijns's upsetting crash, concussion, and subsequent delirium created an ugly drama.
Stage 3: 195 km
A long boring day lead to a hectic sprint. I hit the front at 7 km to go with the whole team. After my pull I found Lachlan further behind the dangerous shoulder bumping and risky business. I tailed him through the melee, and we closed a few gaps in the uphill sprint. Reiny placed 6th again.
Stage 4: 160 km
Another medium mountain day offered a glimmer of hope breakaway opportunists, but the team wanted me to stick close to Lachlan to support our overall ambitions. It took an hour for the breakaway to establish, and I felt confident on the initial intense climbs. The sprinter’s teams bluffed each other and the break’s advantage swelled to nine minutes. They began a desperate chase late, but with ten km to go the breakaway still had over a minute. Crosswinds split the peloton to thirty riders, but we were well positioned. I lead Reiny under 1 km to go and he sprinted but the breakaway survived. Evan Huffman who I battled for the stage two win last year won the stage.
Stage 5: 125 km
This iconic mountain stage plays out the same way in every edition, but that never makes it easier or less dramatic. My task was to stay with Lachlan and place him at the front for the steepest part of the summit finish. Lotto repeated their team attack at the base of the second climb. We were ready. The group thinned on every pitch of the forty km uphill. At the right moment I shepherded Lachlan to the front and we hit the critical point first and second wheel. I hit it and split the group down to under twenty riders then settled in at the front for as long as I could maintain Lachlan’s pace. Lachlan attacked four km from the finish, but underestimated the effort. He slipped back to 7th overall.
Stage 6: 24 km TT
Big Bear Lake sits at 7000 ft above sea level. The thin atmosphere creates fast conditions but makes me feel like a fish out of water struggling to breathe. Although I couldn’t get in my biggest gear for most of the race, I paced myself for a top ten finish, exploded and finished 17th.
Lachlan suffered a mechanical right out of the starting gate and had to switch bikes twice. He fought to the bitter end but lost huge chunks of time and dropped to 9th overall.
Stage 7: 125 km
With nothing to lose we planned an all out assault on what looked like a sprint stage. After one serious crash happened on the long very dangerous downhill start, we neutralised ourselves until the bottom. That meant the first climb was ballistic. Everyone who still hoped for a better overall finish attacked with passion. I marked moves with Lachlan until he blasted after a five man move. It was early and reckless. Behind the other GC favourites attacked the leader, George Bennett, with everything they had. I sprinted after their moves, welding gaps, and watching them tire themselves out. Lachlan’s gap hovered around one minute. The peloton exploded and regrouped over and over until just thirty of us remained in the chase. Lachlan’s breakaway held off the pursuit and he stepped up to 7th overall and regained leadership in the Best Young Rider competition. I tried my hand in the sprint, fought for the right wheel and placed 9th on the stage.