The Amgen Tour of California's Third Stage, the 177.7km (110mi) ride from Palmdale to Santa Clarita promised a change. First, the temperatures were much more seasonal, starting at a mere 89 degrees Fahrenheit and windy. Second, the stage seemed almost designed for a victory by Cannondale Pro Cycling's Peter Sagan.
But with 119 starters all interested in a taste of glory, this race was going to be no simple parade. As if to underscore this point, the oldest rider in the race, RadioShack's Jens Voigt, a headbanger of some repute, put in a hard attack the moment the race started. The field, not interested in having the senior citizen of the pack, 41 years old, put 20-somethings to shame, chased him down. And then a big escape of 23 riders bolted from the field.
Sagan was in the move with teammate Guillaume Boivin, along with fellow sprinters Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Sharp and Alex Candelario of Optum. Also in the split were overall contenders BMC's Tejay Van Garderen and 5 Hour Energy's Francisco Mancebo, along with King of the Mountain leader Carter Jones of Bissell. This was a serious move, and it quickly amassed a 50-second lead heading up the first climb.
The Jamis-Hagens Berman team of race leader Janier Acevedo, even though they were not the equal of the ProTour teams in the race, knew they could not let this aggression stand. They threw everything into the chase and caught the escapees shortly after Jones took KoM points atop the first climb. The effort cost them, as two riders were dropped by the pack and had to quit the race.
The serious threat checked, a less dangerous move rolled off the front. This time, former Tour de France winner Andy Schleck teased out points leader Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM), Gavin Mannion (Bontrager), and Chad Beyer (Champion System). The foursome, while little threat to the overall leaders, were a threat to a sprint finish, and the Cannondale team patrolled the front with occasional help from Garmin-Sharp and Omega Pharma-Quickstep. The three teams were interested in a sprint finish and refused to give the escapers a long leash.
The gap, even with all four riders contributing equally, never went above five minutes. And they were brought back with 13km (8mi) left to race.
With a sprint considered the most likely outcome, Cannondale, Garmin-Sharp, and Omega Pharma-Quickstep returned to the front and controlled the pace until the streets of Santa Clarita. There, RadioShack's Markel Irizar struck out on his own. But it was never a serious threat and he was pulled back with 4km (2.5mi) left to race.
Cannondale got to the front en masse and ramped the pace up. With three kilometers remaining, Saxo Bank-Tinkoff rushed by the green team for their man Jonathan Cantwell. And under the Flamme Rouge signifying one kilometer remaining, Orica-Greenedge made their move, trying to set up Michael Matthews.
With everyone fighting desperately to get in Matthews' slipstream, Sagan swung right out of the crowd and blasted for the line. No one had a chance. He came by so quickly and so stealthily he flashed across the line before anyone realized it was he. Matthews had to settle for second and Farrar third.
The victory was Sagan's ninth at the Tour of California, a record, his ninth of the season, and his 51st as a professional. It's always good to win, but even for the winner, there were difficulties. "My teammates did very good work taking the break back when they did. I had luck with Boivin pulling me to the last 200 meters. When everyone is sprinting it is difficult. With the wind where it was, it was best to go at the last moment, so I went in the final 100 meters. I'm very happy for the win."
With the sprint points available for the victory. Sagan tied for first in the sprint classification, but with Westra contesting more sprints, he keeps the points jersey, at least for another day. Thanks to most of the pack finishing together, the general classification remained unchanged. Acevedo still leads Van Garderen and UnitedHealthCare's Philip Deignan.
Tomorrow's stage from Santa Clarita to Santa Barbara is not only short at 134.6km, but relatively flat, and with long descents, so it too could fall to the Slovak Sensation. As Sagan has shown great form thus far, the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team will once again have to take responsibility at the front early on and keep any breakaway near in order for Sagan to win at the end.
Amgen Tour of California 2013 - Stage 3
Palmdale - Santa Clarita 177.7km
1. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale Pro Cycling in 4:20:31
2. Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge at same time
3. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Sharp same time
4. Gianni Meersman (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quick Step same time
5. Boy van Poppel (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team same time
Stage Results Cannondale Pro Cycling
17. Guillaume Boivin (Can) same time
39. Edward King (USA) same time
42. Lucas Sebastian Haedo (Arg) same time
53. Brian Vandborg (Den) same time
86. Kristijan Koren (Slo) same time
111. Maciej Bodnar (Pol) 0:03:35
1. Janier Alexis Acevedo Colle (Col) Jamis - Hagens Berman 13:59:50
2. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:00:12
3. Philip Deignan (Irl) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team 0:00:27
4. Michael Rogers (Aus) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:00:55
5. Francisco Mancebo Perez (Spa) 5 Hour Energy p/b Kenda 0:01:03
General Classification Cannondale Pro Cycling
20. Edward King (USA) 0:04:17
23. Brian Vandborg (Den) 0:05:07
56. Peter Sagan (Svk) 0:19:34
90. Kristijan Koren (Slo) 0:28:53
91. Lucas Sebastian Haedo (Arg) 0:30:00
98. Maciej Bodnar (Pol) 0:32:28
104. Guillaume Boivin (Can) 0:38:22