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Despite using his lead-out to bring back a dangerous break, Cavendish was clearly the fastest in the bunch sprint on the final stage of the Tour of California as he held off Sagan and Kristoff; Alaphilippe took the overall win

Photo: Brian Hodes/Velo Images

ALEXANDER KRISTOFF

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BRENT BOOKWALTER

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DECEUNINCK - QUICK-STEP

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JULIAN ALAPHILIPPE

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MARK CAVENDISH

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NTT PRO CYCLING TEAM

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PETER SAGAN

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ROHAN DENNIS

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TOUR OF CALIFORNIA

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22.05.2016 @ 23:40 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After seven days of waiting, Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) finally got a chance to show his speed at the Tour of California and the Brit proved his class by taking a hugely dominant win in the bunch sprint on the final stage. Despite having used his lead-out to bring the break back, he easily came around Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and Alexander Kristoff (Kristoff) to beat them by more than a bike length while Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) finished safely in the bunch to claim the overall victory.

 

The Tour of California has traditionally been a great race for sprinters and so it is no coincidence that Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish are the riders with most stage wins in the American race. However, the 2016 edition has been harder than ever and so it has been a frustrating affair for Cavendish.

 

While Sagan has clocked up two stage wins and found the many puncheur stages to his liking, Cavendish knew right from the start that he would only get a chance in stages 1 and 8. When he was boxed in during the sprint on the opening stage, he faced six days of frustrating suffering before he would maybe get his chance to take revenge in Sacramento on the final time.

 

Cavendish bided his time and suffered in the many hilly stages, always hoping to get the chance to show his speed in the completely flat final stage. He made it to the end of the race and today he proved that it was worth all the suffering as he took a hugely dominant sprint win on the final day.

 

It was a not a straight forward sprint for Cavendish as he had to use Mark Renshaw to bring back an early break with less than 2km to go. Hence, he had to do his sprint on his own but he did everything right to stay on Peter Sagan’s wheel and when the world champion went head to head with Alexander Kristoff, the Brit easily came around to distance the pair by more than a bike length.

 

After yesterday’s hilly stage, the pure sprinters were finally expected to get another chance on the final stage. The short 138km route started and finished in Sacramento and saw the riders travel along flat roads to the southern outskirts of the city. Here they turned around and headed back along equally flat roads to the city centre where they ended the race by doing three laps of a flat 3.5km circuit.

 

It was a sunny day when the riders gathered for the start in Sacramento and all riders that reached the finish were present as they rolled through the neutral zone. Here Tyler Farrar (Dimension Data) suffered a mechanical but he was back in the peloton by the time the flag was waved to signal the official start.

 

As expected, it was a fast start with numerous attacks but the break was still formed relatively quickly. After seven riders had been reeled in, Robin Carpenter (Holowesko) took off and he was joined by Christopher Jones (Unitedhealthcare), Alan Marangoni (Cannondale), Krists Neilands (Axeon), Emerson Oronte (Rally), Taylor Sheldon (Jelly Belly) and Jake Kelly (WIGGINS) to make it a front septet.

 

The peloton sat up and so the gap quickly went out to 40 seconds. In spite of the calm atmosphere, Angus Morton (Jelly Belly) and Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) hit the deck but all riders got back on their bikes and chased back to the peloton.

 

The gap reached a maximum of 2.30 before the chase got organized. The group immediately shaved 25 seconds off the lead and it was even down to 1.30 before the peloton realized that it was too early. Hence, they allowed the gap to go out to 2.10 as they entered the final 65km.

 

It was a great alliance between Etixx-QuickStep, Katusha and Dimension Data as Maxime Bouet, Martin Velits (Etixx-QuickStep), Tiago Machado (Katusha), Daniel Teklehaimanot and Jacques van Rensburg (Dimension Data) were sharing the pace-setting as they headed along the flat roads south of Sacramento.

 

There was a bit of nervous in the windy conditions which saw the Tinkoff team briefly surge forward but things quickly calmed down, with Machado, Bouet, Velits, van Rensburg and Teklehaimanot continuing their work. They again started to bring the break back and the gap had dropped to 2 minutes when Dennis van Winden (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Haimar Zubeldia (Trek) went down in a small crash 57km from home. Meanwhile, Morton abandoned the race after his previous tumble

 

Entering the final 50km, the gap was down to 1.45 and now the gap was coming down fast. It was only 1.00 five kilometres later.

 

Groenewegen dropped back to the medical car to get his injuries treated after he had gone down earlier in the stage. Further up the road, Jones led Marangoni and Neilands across the line in the first intermediate sprint.

 

The peloton slowed down a bit to keep the gap stable at around a minute for several kilometres until they got to the final 30km. Here Tinkoff tried to make a big attack in the crosswinds, with Peter Sagan and Oscar Gatto hitting the front. However, the rest of the team was unaware and their attempt ended as a complete failure.

 

While Sagan shoed his dissatisfaction with his teammates, Macado, Velits, Bouet, van Rensburg and Teklehaimanot went back to work and as calm was restored, Brent Bookwalter (BMC) easily rejoined the peloton following a puncture. Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) even took time to take one final natural break as they entered the final 25km.

 

The gap stayed around a minute during the next five kilometres and then the peloton gradually became more nervous. While the sprint trains started to move up, Etixx-QuickStep took complete control and led the peloton towards Sacramento.

 

Entering the city, it was a huge fight for position and the Etixx-QuickStep team disappeared from the front. Matthew Brammeier (Dimension Data) took a turn for Dimension Data before Katusha and Tinkoff sprinted for the front position. Sagan’s team came out on top and it was Nikolay Trusov who hit the front for the yellow-fluo Russians.

 

Neilands led Oronte and Jones across the line for the first time to win the final intermediate sprint before Michael Gogl (Tinkoff) led the peloton to the finish 41 seconds later. The Austrian was sharing the work with teammates Trusov and Gatto and Nathan Haas also took turns for Dimension Data.

 

At the second passage of the line, the gap was still 35 seconds and the peloton had to ride full gas to catch the break. In the chaos, a crash split the field, with Peter Stetina (Trek) hitting the deck.

 

Gatto, Trusov, Gogl and Haas swung off, leaving it to Michal Kolar, Erik Baska and Juraj Sagan to set the pace for Tinkoff. However, they had a hard time bringing the gap down and so Dimension Data moved to the front with Bernhard Eisel and Tyler Farrar who took control.

 

Entering the final 5km, the gap was still 25 seconds and when Farrar led the peloton onto the final lap, it had been reduced by another 10 seconds. The American and Eisel swung off and then Baska took one final turn.

 

When the Slovakian exploded, Mark Renshaw took a huge turn to bring the first five escapees back and finally also caught Marangoni and Carpenter as the final escapees with 1300m to go. From there Katusha took complete control with their strong train.

 

Michael Mørkøv did the final lead-out for Alexander Kristoff who could start his sprint from the perfect position. Peter Sagan launched his sprint next to the Norwegian but the world champion had Cavendish in tow. The Brit easily passed his two rivals and proved to be in a class of his own as he won the stage by more than a bike length, with Sagan taking second and Kristoff third.

 

Julian Alaphilippe took no risk, sprinting to 11th place, and so he won his first ever stage race with a 21-second advantage over Rohan Dennis (BMC). Brent Bookwalter was 22 seconds further adrift in third.

 

Sagan won the points competition and Evan Huffman (Rally) was the best climber. Neilson Powless (Axeon) lost time due to the late crash but still won the white jersey. BMC took a dominant win in the teams classification.

 

With the Tour of California done and dusted, attention in the US turns to the National Championships which are held on Friday and Saturday. The next major international race is the Tour of Utah in early August.

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