With the weather and mountains in check, for a little while at least, the peloton rolled out of Santa Clarita for a 134.6km (83.6mi) stage to Santa Barbara, the fourth of the race. Nominally, this is the reverse of earlier stages that started in Santa Barbara and finished in Santa Clarita, but that was when the race ran north to south. That route threw in some hard hills to test the peloton. This iteration gave the pace an easier ride.
The course profile, with gentle ascents, fast descents, and a downhill run into Santa Barbara heavily favored Cannondale Pro Cycling presented by Sho-Air's Peter Sagan. The speedy Slovak won yesterday by using great speed and lightning reflexes to get out of the box he was stuck in. Fewer hiccups and the victory will be easy.
The race sped out of Santa Clarita, riding at 48kph (30mph) until Bissell's Frank Pipp decided it wasn't tough enough for him. Just 16km (10mi) into the race he threw down. He was joined by Champion-System's Chad Beyer, Bontrager's Nathan Brown, Optum's Marsh Cooper, 5 Hour Energy's James Stemper, and Pipp's teammate Chris Baldwin.
The US-based sextet was out there hoping against hope they could keep the field at bay for the next 118km. Baldwin and Pipp had a second goal; take the KoM points on offer so that Stemper couldn't overtake their teammate Carter Jones, currently styling the KoM jersey.
The escape rode smoothly through the first intermediate sprint, fought out the first KoM, which Baldwin took, rode smoothly through the second sprint. Then things got interesting at the second KoM. The youngest rider in the escape, Brown, attacked the KoM early. He won the points and hoped to break up the escape. With 32km (20mi) remaining and only a one-minute lead on the peloton, it seemed a little ambitious. He was caught by his companions and they picked up their pace.
The gap wasn't coming down as fast any more. The field, led by a consortium of riders from Cannondale, Garmin-Sharp, Omega Pharma-Quickstep, and Orica-Greenedge, had to work harder.
With 19km (11.5mi) remaining, the gap was down to only fifteen seconds. Then Brown went again. First with Cooper for company. Then he dumped him. And the young rider's lead went up to 50 seconds at 14km (9mi) to go, when the oldest man in the race, RadioShack's Jens Voigt attacked the chase. And on him was Sagan—no need to wait for the sprint if the moment is right and the horses are raring to go. This sent alarm bells through the pack. Several kilometers of furious attacking and countering began, eating up and dispatching the young Bontrager rider.
Order resumed, Garmin took over driving the race into Santa Barbara for Tyler Farrar, with the entire Cannondale squad lined up behind the Garmin train. And going into a roundabout with 2.5km (1.5mi) remaining, Champion-System's Irish champion Matt Brammeier went the long way around a roundabout to burst into the lead on his own.
The sprinters teams started to panic and gave everything to bring back the Irishman. He ran out of steam and was caught just inside of a kilometer to go, where the Optum team took advantage of the chaos to burst to the front for their man Ken Hanson. Farrar capitalized off their burst and went around Hanson. Sagan, washed back in the chaos got out of traffic and opened up his sprint on the left side of the road. But it was too late. Farrar won from Hanson, with Omega Pharma's Gianni Meersman in third.
While he didn't win the stage, the points earned for finishing fifth were enough to move Sagan into the green Points Jersey, an honor he could hold until the finish.
Ted King, who took up the lion's share of tempo duties along with teammate Kristijan Koren had a front row saddle for the finish. "The team worked very well together setting Peter up. The roundabout was a surprise and the confusion afterwards messed up a race's worth of teamwork. Tomorrow is another opportunity, Peter is in green, and we'll keep riding the way we do and bring Peter to the line as best we can."
Sagan and the Cannondale team have another chance at a stage victory tomorrow. Stage Five starts in Santa Barbara and rides 186km (116.25mi) to Avila Beach. The major difficulty of the stage will occur at the start. The 11.3km (7mi)San Marco pass will open the stage. While it will offer attackers an opportunity to escape, the field will have plenty of time to catch them on the road to Avila. Every day has featured a long breakaway. If the field isn't vigilant, this could be the one that gets away. Cannondale will do everything to make sure it doesn't.
Amgen Tour of California
Santa Clarita to Santa Barbara 134.6km
1. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Sharp in 3:14:09
2. Ken Hanson (USA) Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies at same time
3. Gianni Meersman (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quick Step same time
4. Kris Boeckmans (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team same time
5. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale Pro Cycling pb Sho-Air same time
Stage Results Cannondale Pro Cycling presented by Sho-Air
11. Guillaume Boivin (Can) same time
38. Edward King (USA) same time
48. Lucas Sebastian Haedo (Arg) same time
53. Maciej Bodnar (Pol) same time
54. Kristijan Koren (Slo) same time
58. Brian Vandborg (Den) same time
1. Janier Alexis Acevedo Colle (Col) Jamis-Hagens Berman 17:13:59
2. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:00:12
3. Philip Deignan (Irl) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team 0:00:27
4. Mathias Frank (Swi) BMC Racing Team 0:00:45
5. Michael Rogers (Aus) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:00:55
General Classification Cannondale Pro Cycling presented by Sho-Air
20. Edward King (USA) 0:04:17
22. Brian Vandborg (Den) 0:05:07
54. Peter Sagan (Svk) 0:19:34
82. Kristijan Koren (Slo) 0:28:53
86. Lucas Sebastian Haedo (Arg) 0:30:00
93. Maciej Bodnar (Pol) 0:32:28
101. Guillaume Boivin (Can) 0:38:22