Bold BORA - hansgrohe performance on Tour of California Queen Stage sees Rafał Majka increase GC lead.
Confidence was the name of the game on stage 5 of the Tour of California. First, the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, joined the breakaway to collect points for the green jersey contest, before Rafał Majka kept a cool head while his GC rivals were trying to take time from him in the yellow jersey race. The Polish national road champion finished the day in second spot, narrowly beaten to the line on a tough climb up the bumpy road surface of Mount Baldy to a challenging summit finish.
On the Tour of California’s Queen Stage, there were only three climbs on the 125.5km route. However, these climbs made up the entire stage – dominating the profile and doubtless making the riders’ legs ache just by looking at the route map. After barely being given an opportunity to recover from the relentless pace at the end of yesterday’s stage, an already tough stage was made all the more difficult by the efforts of the past four days. The first climb started from the drop of the flag – almost 10km at 6.8%, before another 12.6km climb at an average gradient of 5.1% would set riders up for the finale – the race’s second Hors Catégorie ascent to the summit finish on Mount Baldy, where the GC riders would have their eye on gaining some time in the overall standings.
With the BORA-hansgrohe team having started the day with two of the Tour’s jerseys – Rafał Majka in the yellow leaders’ jersey and UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan in the green points jersey, the Slovak rider decided to try to add to his fourteen point lead in the contest, jumping in the break. With sprints at 11.5km and 82km, there would just be the small matter of staying in touch over the first category Glendora Ridge Road for the second lot of points. While the escape group started out large, with BORA-hansgrohe’s Erik Baška alongside Peter in the break, another group attacked the front, again with Peter in their midst. There was no real threat to the GC standings in the break, and those with their eye on the stage win would be looking to make their move on the final climb of the day.
Having taken second in the first intermediate sprint, Peter took all of the points in the second, tightening his grip on the green jersey. With this sprint out of the way, it would be uphill more or less all the way to the finish, and this was when everyone would really start to suffer. With the attacks coming from the front, the break was starting to show signs of their efforts, and at the foot of Mount Baldy, more and more members of the break were caught by the peloton. The gap to the remaining riders was down to less than two minutes, but in just a few kilometres, this was down to forty-five seconds. The catch made shortly after, a small bunch of GC riders was starting their own fight for the finale, with Rafał Majka in the mix, responding well to attacks and staying calm when it was clear his rivals were eager to take time from him.
With just 2km remaining, the Polish national champion attacked, surprising his rivals, who were slow to pull him back in. With the finish line looming and the climb taking its toll, it was down to five on the front – with Rafał confidently responding to every move made, even on the steepest sections. Fighting it out on the rough road surface, a slightly wide line on the last corner saw Rafał just beaten to the line by Cannondale-Drapac’s Talansky, but this second spot gained him a few precious seconds over his rivals in the GC, going into tomorrow’s time trial with a six-second advantage.
“I didn’t win but I think that second was still a good result. I'd like to thank all my teammates for the excellent work they did today. Tomorrow I’ll try to keep the jersey, but it’ll be difficult with Talansky. I wanted to gain some time today but it wasn’t easy. I didn’t know the finish – there were a lot of corners and with 100m to go I tried to sprint, but Talansky passed me on the left hand side. Congratulations to him on his win. I’m still happy with this second place but tomorrow we need to try to keep the jersey. When we look at the race so far, I’ve been strong and I don’t feel too bad. For the time trial tomorrow it’s 24km and I’ll try to keep the jersey.” – Rafal Majka