Majka keeps calm on summit finale to take second spot on important Tour of California stage.
Day two of the Tour of California and the race went straight into the mountains, with some hard third category climbs topped off by the race’s first HC climb – the 12km ascent to the summit finish. The GC riders knew this was where the race would really come to life, and BORA-hansgrohe’s Rafał Majka impressed on the climb, keeping a cool head and not allowing the late attacks to push him into the red by trying to respond. As other riders suffered from their efforts, Rafał took second position and managed to create a time gap over some of the other GC favourites.
Today the Tour of California went from a totally flat opener to a dramatic mountain stage, and this stark contrast would leave its mark. Starting the day at sea level, the race would leave the Pacific Ocean behind them, climbing 7,700 feet in total over the day, before a summit finish on Gibraltar Road, 157km later. The race would cross four third-category climbs before the final climb, each one of these ranging from short but steep, to longer but gentler climbs to sap the riders’ energy reserves. Just a short distance after the penultimate climb, with the efforts of the previous 8.1% climb of Valley Road still in their legs, it was the ascent to the summit finish – a 12km HC climb with an average gradient of 8% and a maximum gradient of 14% - that would be the day’s decider.
The Team Tactics
With today’s stage potentially playing a deciding factor in the outcome of the GC race on only the second day, all eyes would be on the final climb to see who had the legs and the team support to make an impact. Much of the team’s tactics would depend on how the stage unfolded as the day went on, but the team would be riding to keep Rafał Majka safe in the GC race and ensure the Polish rider was in the right place to avoid any time losses, as well as to capitalise on any opportunities that might arise in the finale.
The peloton was once again treated to some beautiful Californian weather, and in spite of the difficult day awaiting them, a three-man breakaway took the chance to make their escape. With the group’s advantage hitting more than five minutes, it was clear that this escape was determined and could steal the stage win from the GC favourites, spurring on the peloton to chase. Michael Kolar took over on the front of the chasing group, swiftly bringing the gap down to a little over three minutes with BORA-hansgrohe the driving force in bringing the break back in, before making the catch at the foot of the final climb. As the GC teams put the pressure on, the peloton began to string out and the effort was beginning to show, but as the kilometres ticked by and the bunch hit the harder sections of the climb, Rafał was still up there as other riders dropped off, looking comfortable and ready to react. When the attacks came, the Polish rider didn’t panic, and although he didn’t have the legs to go for the stage win, he kept a cool head and beat the other contenders to the line for second position, taking all-important seconds in the GC race.
01 E.Bernal 4h14’00”
02 R.Majka + 0:21
03 A.Yates + 0:25
04 A.Tolhoek + 0:30
05 D.Martinez + 0:30
From the Finish Line
"After nearly a month out of racing, I'm happy with my result today. It was a hard climb but I managed to keep my pace and finish second. We have five more stages to go and, together with the rest of the squad, I will do my best to aim at the GC." – Rafał Majka
"We knew that today's stage and its final climb on Gibraltar Road would be hard and that Bernal would be the toughest opponent. He's a young rider, a pure climber and his attack with 2km to go was strong. Still, Rafał Majka was able to finish second, ahead of the main contenders, taking bonus seconds. I think we can be satisfied with the result, Rafał had good legs and the team worked well to position him in the front at the bottom of the climb. There are still five stages and five more opportunities for us." – Patxi Vila, Sports Director