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”I will say this now, but I'm really glad Evan didn't know that with one K to go - I felt amazing all day - but then my legs started to cramp. So I was like, 'Oh boy.' I crossed the line with full cramps in both legs....

Photo: Sirotti


17.05.2016 @ 14:23 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Ben King (Cannondale) proved that he is back on track after an injury-marred start to the season when he took a hugely surprising win on stage 2 of the Tour of California. Having joined a four-rider break in the tough and fast start to the race, he managed to beat Evan Huffman (Rally) in a two-rider sprint just eight seconds before Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) beat race leader Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) in the reduced bunch kick for third. The win allowed King to take the yellow jersey on the eve of the queen stage.


We have gathered several reactions.


Ben King: I am glad that Huffman didn’t know about my cramps

American Ben King won a two-up sprint in Santa Clarita on Monday to secure his first victory of the season on stage two of the Amgen Tour of California. The 27-year-old was one of two survivors of a four-man breakaway that escaped the peloton’s stronghold with around 120-kilometers remaining in the 148-kilometer day. Finishing eight seconds ahead of the peloton and snagging a ten-second bonus for the stage win, King now leads the Amgen Tour of California general classification.
“This is my fifth time doing this race, and it’s the first time I’ve won a stage here,” said King. “It’s really exciting for me.”

“I had a broken fibula in January, so I had to restart from scratch to build towards this,” added King, who spent much of January and February logging big mileage on his Kinetic home trainer. “California was the first race that I had marked off with the directors to try to be back at 100 percent so that I could try to make our Tour de France squad. I got my face kicked in a lot this spring in Europe.”

A week out from the race start, King had set his sights on getting into the breakaway on stage two.

“It was the team plan,” said King. “I followed a lot of moves and did a lot of attacking today to make it happen.”
Attacks flew as soon as the flag dropped, and when a dangerous 22-rider group took shape, King was there. Direct Energie had missed the breakaway and immediately took to the front of the peloton. With the first KOM line in sight, the bunch regrouped and the overall contenders contested the category one Angeles Crest climb that topped out at 22 kilometers.

Shortly after the KOM, King forced his away clear again. This time he had Evan Huffman (Rally Cycling), Will Barta (Axeon Hagens Berman) and Sindre Skjostad Lunke (Giant-Alpecin) for company.
“I knew with the uphill start, it was going to be difficult to get into the breakaway,” King noted. “I just went crazy attacking and attacking and attacking and finally slipped off the front with four guys. I thought: ‘Well, this isn’t ideal because it’s less guys to share the work with.’, but in the end, we did build up a significant advantage.”
Eighty kilometers from the finish, the quartet had eight minutes, and Tinkoff-Saxo began to chase in earnest. Trek-Segafredo and Direct Energie contributed riders to the chase, and the gap began to plummet.
“Once you commit, there’s no point in holding back,” said King. “You always do the math in your head. I’ve been the guy chasing the breakaway so many times. I know pretty much exactly what they’re doing in the chase, and I know what I needed to do up front in the hopes of holding off the catch.”
Back-to-back second category climbs on Little Tujunga Canyon Road allowed the peloton to creep closer to the breakaway. Lunke, unable to match the pace set by his breakaway companions, dropped from the group.

“I think a lot of the other sprinter’s teams had their helpers dropped,” noted King. “The other three guys in the breakaway with me were super strong, especially Evan. No one skipped a turn all day. We were super cohesive. Ultimately, that’s what did it.”

“We didn’t have to slow down on the last two climbs but the other teams working for their sprinters had to slow because they didn’t want to drop their sprinters,” King added. “I was just watching my power meter. I’m glad the other guys in the group couldn’t go any harder because that’s as hard as I could go.”
Puncturing on the descent of the final climb, Barta was forced to change bikes. He lost contact with King and Huffman but fought hard to rejoin the move a few kilometers later. Behind, BMC replaced Tinkoff at the head of the peloton.
The trio hit the ten-kilometer mark with a one-minute advantage. Barta dropped off the breakaway as the grueling pace continued toward the line.

“With around five kilometers to go, I was confident we were going to win,” said King. “I knew Evan is a pretty quick sprinter. He smoked me in both the KOM sprints. I was hesitant to let it come down to a sprint, but I couldn’t drop him on the climbs either. In the end, we were both fully committed to making the break stick to the finish.”
King started cramping when he went under the flamme rouge.

“I felt amazing all day and then my legs started to cramp,” King said. “I’m really glad that Evan didn’t know that.”
Forced to the front, Huffman pulled for nearly the entire final kilometer before opening the sprint. King came around Huffman just before the line. 

“Evan was super strong all day,” said King. “Hats off to him. He was great company in the breakaway. I’ve been in this situation before and been a little too antsy in the finish and tried to attack in the finish because I didn’t trust my sprint. I wasn’t going to do that again today.


”I will say this now, but I'm really glad Evan didn't know that with one K to go – I felt amazing all day – but then my legs started to cramp. So I was like, 'Oh boy.' I crossed the line with full cramps in both legs. I'm glad he didn't know that."


"Every result I've had in my career has come from a breakaway like this, where people just kind of underestimated the break and gave us a little too much time, like the stage at Criterium International last year when I snagged the yellow jersey," he said.


"I followed a lot of moves today at the beginning of the race. Finally the one that stuck was just four guys. So we're out there with 120km to go and four guys, it's kind of suicidal. You don't think you have much of a chance."


"It was a little bit touch and go, to the point where I knew we had a chance. You just gotta be stubborn. If you start to think that you don't have a chance then you don't.


"Evan took a really, really hard pull over that last kicker with 10km to go, and I finished it off and came over the top. We actually pulled a few seconds out of the chase."

King will line up in yellow in Thousand Oaks on Tuesday. He starts stage three with an eight-second advantage over Huffman and 14-seconds on stage one winner Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo).

“The timing of how the stage went today put me in yellow, but it doesn’t change the team’s objective of supporting Lawson [Craddock],” said King.


"This changes absolutely nothing for tomorrow. "Lawson's our man. After my effort today, I'll be lucky to get to Gibraltar in one piece.


"That's a big deciding day for the overall classification, so it may end up that we keep the jersey on the team, it just changes shoulders and goes to Lawson, which is the best-case scenario. That's what we want.


"Obviously the yellow jersey comes with a lot of pressure, and some of these stages are petty wild and will be tough to control for any one team, but we have an incredible team here with a lot of guys who are fully committed to the team's objectives."


“Having raced around the world all season for multiple years, it’s always a pleasure to come back to the state of California and do this race,” King added. “The spectators, the cycling culture, the roads, the scenery – everything about this race is just about as good as it gets. It’s such a special race to me, and I’m so proud and so happy to wear yellow tomorrow.”


Stromg Evan Huffman narrowly misses out on breakthrough win in California

Evan Huffman continued his stellar season with a second place finish in stage two of the Amgen Tour of California. En route to the podium, Huffman claimed the King of the Mountains jersey and moved into second place on the general classification.


“One of the goals of the day was to get in the break and get the KOM jersey,” said Huffman. “Once in the break I just tried to wait until the last 200 meters on the climbs and sprint. Ben (King) was close on the first two KOMs but I was able to edge him out. On the last one, he kind of let me have it. It’s great to have a jersey and a podium in my home state.”


The day started with a rapid pace out of downtown South Pasadena. On the first climb of the day a break of 22 riders distanced themselves from the peloton. The break contained Rally Cycling riders Jesse Anthony and Adam De Vos. With most of the general classification riders on the wrong side of the split, the peloton chased hard and the race came back together just before the first KOM at the top of Los Angeles Hwy. In the sprint for the first KOM, Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-Quick Step) crossed the line first.


Once over the top of the first KOM, Huffman, King (Cannondale), Sindre S Lunke (Giant) and Will Barta (Axeon Hagens Berman) went clear and quickly established a gap. The gap quickly grew, topping out at 7:30. With a comfortable margin on the peloton, the fight for the King of the Mountains took center stage. The second KOM of the day was at the top of Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road. In the sprint for the line Huffman edged King with Barta and Lunke taking third and fourth. As the fight for the KOM raged, the peloton slowly started to eat into the quartets lead and by the start of the final two category climbs of the day the gap was down to just 3:30.


On the run up to the third KOM, Lunke was dropped, leaving Huffman, King and Barta to continue the fight. Despite a strong move from King, Huffman took the sprint to claim maximum points. The result put Huffman in the lead, with 10 points against King’s 8. The day’s polka dot jersey would be decided on the final KOM of the day. Coming to the line, Huffman rolled across uncontested to claim his first leader’s jersey at the Amgen Tour of California.


Despite claiming the KOM, Huffman wasn’t done. He charged down the final descent, powering back towards Santa Clarita. On the long, rolling run to the line, the peloton, lead by BMC slowly ate into the break’s advantage. With 10 kilometers remaining the gap was under a minute with Will Barta dropping off the pace. The catch looked inevitable but Huffman and King refused to lay down arms and with a kilometer to go the gap was still at 40 seconds. In the sprint Huffman kicked first but King had the measure of him and crossed the line with arms raised. Huffman now is 8 seconds behind King on the general classification.


“I was surprised we didn’t get caught,” added Huffman. “At one point it came down to 40 seconds and then with 3 kilometers to go it went back out to a minute. At that point I knew we had it because it was all flat, downhill with tailwind. There wasn’t enough road for the peloton to catch us. We both wanted to win the stage. I led it out with 200 meters to go but Ben was just faster than me.”


Alexander Kristoff after third place on tough day: This shows that I am back

A second day on the bike in the 11th Amgen Tour of California wasn’t billed as a sprint stage, and indeed a breakaway succeeded, but coming in just behind for third place was Team KATUSHA’s Alexander Kristoff to claim the last spot on the daily podium. Helping him along on the day were teammates Michael Mørkøv, Marco Haller, Jacopo Guarnieri, Jurgen Van den Broeck and Jhonatan Restrepo.


”We tried to close it there at the end, but the break was too strong, and we didn’t manage to come back. The team did a great lead out for me. Michael and Marco, and also Van den Broeck and Restrepo all helped me, so we didn’t win but it was a good stage,” said team leaderAlexander Kristoff.


“I knew this would be a hard stage, and I barely made it over the last two climbs. I had been dropped at the start on the first climb, but I came back. Usually for me when the stage is like this and I do make it over the climbs, it’s a good stage for me, because I usually have a good sprint even when I’m tired. We knew we could win the stage, but the break was just too strong this time and they held us off. So, we kind of blew it by not winning, but on the other hand we got a result on a stage where we didn’t expect anything. So at the end we will be happy with third place,” said Kristoff. 


Monday’s stage 2 began in South Pasadena and immediately went to the first KOM on the Angeles Crest Highway for the first of four mountain summits on today’s 148,5 km stage before finally dropping into Santa Clarita for the final. The stage was a hard one for only the second day of racing and daylong winds on course didn’t help much. But clear skies and plenty of sunshine motivated the peloton to try their luck in a breakaway. Initially a large group of 20 went clear, including Team KATUSHA’s Tiago Machado, but later a more manageable break of four stayed clear and established a gap of more than seven minutes. King and Huffman later made their move to go clear from this group.


”Today for the team it was opposite of yesterday – we worked all day and in the last 200m I dropped to 16th place. Today we mostly stayed hidden and didn’t do so much and we got third, so we were a little bit paid for the previous work. I was satisfied with my sprint and Michael did a good lead out with me on the wheel, he left me at 200 m to go and it was actually perfect. I was sprinting head-to-head with Peter Sagan so it shows I’m back,” concluded Alexander Kristoff. 


No repeat win for Peter Sagan on hilly day in California

Race leader going into stage 2 of the Amgen Tour of California, Peter Sagan was to lose his yellow jersey by the end of the day after two riders from the early breakaway managed to stay clear and take the stage honours as well as the overall race lead. Behind these two, Sagan put in a strong finish to take fourth on the stage, swapping the GC leader’s jersey for that of the points classification.


The two riders still out front in the final managed to hold onto the smallest of margins as the game of cat and mouse unfolded, but despite the peloton breathing down their necks they had enough to sprint for the stage victory between themselves and cross the line eight seconds ahead of what was left of the peloton.


“It was a really hard stage and we knew from the start that it would be tough to control the race but I’m proud of what the guys did today,” Sport Director Patxi Vila told us from the finish. “They were exceptional and everyone gave 110% - after winning yesterday and fourth today the guys can still be very happy.”

The stage got underway with a tough first category climb from the drop of the flag, rising for 14.1km at an average of 5.1%. The peloton wasn’t hanging around and the attacks soon started to fly with a group of nearly 30 riders moving clear with Sagan present with support and the team in a strong position. This group edged out a 30 second advantage but over the top four riders pulled clear and that was to be the break of the day.


A second category climb soon followed and this was where the advantage started to rise, eventually reaching over seven minutes before Tinkoff really started to apply the pressure behind.


Vila explained the difficult but controlled start to the stage.


“From the first climb the race exploded and the bunch was in pieces. There was a big group of about 30 in front and Peter was there with Juraj Sagan and Michael Gogl. After this the break went and gained over seven minutes before the guys brought it back down to 2’30”. The final few climbs started to take their toll and at this point the other teams took over the chase to help close the final gap. I don’t think we could have done much more today, and at the end Peter did a strong sprint to take fourth.”

 The break of four was reduced to three on the final categorised climb of the day, a second ascent of Little Tujunga Canyon Road, with their advantage under three minutes. Sagan was still well positioned at this point with brother Juraj for company on the ascent as many riders began to lose contact with the front peloton. At 10km to go it looked like all was set for a reduced bunch sprint with the gap down to just one minute, but the two remaining riders out front kept fighting to the end, just holding off the chase behind.


The fourth place on the stage, coupled with his stage win from yesterday, gives him enough points to lead and wear the points classification jersey on tomorrow’s third stage. He also now sits third overall, just 14 seconds off the race lead.


Strong Nizzolo Bonifazio shows climbing legs in California

A four-man breakaway led for most of the 148.5-kilometer stage two at the Amgen Tour of California, a hilly parcours that was touch-n'-go for many sprinters.


With two back-to-back category-two rated climbs situated near the race end, it was a calculated chase by a peloton keen on keeping its fastmen intact for the finish.


In the end, two escapees were successful in holding off the bunch and contesting a two-up sprint, won by Ben King (Cannondale). King also claimed ownership of the race lead.


Niccolo Bonifazio was third from the field that rushed across the line only eight seconds later for fifth place on the stage.


"It was not easy today, I suffered so much on the first climb and was very happy I made it over with the group," explained Bonifazio. "I felt that effort in the second half of the stage. The guys helped me really well, and with 300m to go I was in good position and the sprint was on. It's too bad the two guys were ahead and in the end, Sagan and Kristoff were faster."


"The climbs were hard but not enough to drop all the sprinters so we had Niccolo for the sprint," added Reijnen. "Same as yesterday, the job was to lead him out. It was a little chaotic; we were all together with 5kms to go and then lost each other a little bit but found each other when it mattered in the last kilometer or so. I pulled until I think 350 meters to go and pulled off for Jasper (Stuyven) to finish. If it was a field sprint we would be on the podium, so we are confident in Niccolo, but I don’t think we will see another field sprint until the last day now."


After a tough stage with over 11-thousand feet (4-thousand meters) of climbing, Trek-Segafredo finished with six men in the peloton. The team was aggressive from the start with Stuyven and Julian Arredondo joining a dangerous move that was eventually brought back.


Soon after, the peloton allowed four men to escape and the day's breakaway formed. Markel Irizar did a lion's share of work in aiding the pursuit of the quartet knowing the fast legs of Bonifazio had made it over the hills.


Jasper Stuyven said: "The start was pretty hard, I managed to get in a break with 22 guys and also Julian was there. I think all the teams were represented except Direct Energie and they pulled it back. It was pretty hard racing in the first hour. 


"We knew the break was strong because they went away at a very difficult moment. BMC started to ride at the last KOM but then sprinters were being dropped so it was difficult to have any sprinters team at the front [in the chase].


”In the last two kickers, I felt good again, and we had Markel riding to get the break back. Yeah, we didn't make it, but we had a good lead-out for Niccolo and he got third from the field. It's a pity, but sometimes it's nice to see a break also make it to the end."


Sky: Our mistake was not to have joined the chase

Danny van Poppel sprinted to sixth place on stage two at the Tour of California as the breakaway just held on in Santa Clarita.


After a tough and undulating run-in the peloton fell just short in the closing stages, finishing eight seconds behind eventual winner Ben King (Cannondale).


Van Poppel hung in well over a tough sequence of late climbs, placing fourth from the bunch after 148.5-kilometres in the saddle.


King was able to fend off Evan Huffman (Rally Cycling) in a two-up sprint, and a productive day out ensured the American moved into the race lead. Stage placings also bumped Van Poppel up to 10th overall, 24 seconds back on the gold jersey.


Team Sky finished with numbers in the peloton, with Pete Kennaugh, Lars Petter Nordhaug, Alex Peters, Gianni Moscon and Xabier Zandio all crossing the line without major time loss.


Vasil Kiryienka finished the stage despite a high-speed crash while descending off the day's final categorised climb. After taking time to find his feet the Belarusian made his way back into the race, eventually finishing the stage flanked by team-mate Andy Fenn.


The day got off to a tough start with an immediate first-category climb out of South Pasadena. The peloton quickly became stretched on the Angeles Crest Highway, with Kennaugh pushing on up the road among a big group of escapees.


Sport Director Gabriel Rasch took up the story, explaining: "It was a really hard day. Pete went into a big group at the start with 22 riders. There was only one team who didn't have a rider in there, so it could have gone pretty far. In the end it came back and the other break went.


"Our guys rode well together. The only thing we could have done differently was to ride in the final kilometres. With 12km to go we heard over the radio that the gap was just 40 seconds. So at that point we thought okay it's no problem. Then six kilometres later the gap was out to a minute. So there was a bit of a miscalculation from everyone.


"Kiry crashed on a super fast descent. There were a lot of holes in the road and he had two flat tyres and went off the road. It could have been a lot worse than it was. His ribs are a bit sore but the doctor is with him and we'll make sure he is checked out.


"Tomorrow we'll go all in for Pete. Lars Petter is also feeling good so we'll also try to let him have a bit of a free role on the climbs. We'll see what we can do."

Nathan Haas takes over from Cavendish in California

Nathan Haas was Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka’s best placed rider on the day. He crossed the line in 8th place, less than 10 seconds behind the winner.


The African team focussed on keeping Jacques Janse van Rensburg out of trouble. The South African rode strong and stayed the whole race over near the front of the peloton. He was accompanied by Haas and Daniel Teklehaimanot.


After keeping Janse van Rensburg out of trouble, Haas earned the team the first top10 finish at this years edition of Amgen Tour of California.


He said:


“A stage like today is always something where it’s hard to make a call. We have the fastest man in the world with Mark Cavendish here, but it all depends on how the race is ridden in the end. Today, unfortunately, he didn’t have the legs to get over all of the climbs. But he gave me the opportunity to show myself in the finish. After dealing with injury for a few weeks it’s nice for me to see that I’m in a good shape now. It’s all good momentum for the future. I hope we can get a big result here.”


Sports director Roger Hammond added:


“It was a difficult day today with a lot of climbing. We had a bit of a plan. The crucial role today was to help Jacques not to lose any time on GC. We knew one wouldn’t win the race here, but it’s possible to lose it on a stage like today. So I think we achieved that goal. To have Nathan coming back from injury and being up there in the sprint was a real good bonus. It’s nice to know that we’ve got somebody that can be competitive on the hilly bunch sprint days.”


Tom Boonen back in the mix in California sprints

The Tour of California riders started the second stage like there was no tomorrow, setting a fast tempo at the front and stretching out the peloton less than five kilometers from the gun. Not long after, 22 riders made their way into a huge break, including Etixx – Quick-Step's Maximiliano Richeze, and had a gap of 30 seconds as they approached the first – and most difficult – climb of the day, the 15-km long Angeles Crest. On the tough ramps of the first-category ascent it was all back together, but this didn't mean the tempo dropped, as the riders went full gas until the top, where Julian Alaphilippe claimed the points.


On the descent, William Barta (Axeon Cycling), Evan Huffman (Rally Cycling), Benjamin King (Cannondale) and Sindre Lunke (Giant-Alpecin) broke clear off the pack and worked hard to build a lead of more than seven minutes. The rolling terrain and high temperatures of over 35 C took their toll on many men, who lost contact on the next three ascents. The scorching heat saw the riders make countless visits to the team cars for bottles in order to stay hydrated and it also played into the favour of the escapees, the teams being reluctant to organize the chase.


As a result, although disintegrating on the last climb, the break made it until the finish in Santa Clarita, were Ben King won in a two-up sprint ahead of his countryman Evan Huffman. The bunch came just eight seconds later and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) rounded out the podium, while Tom Boonen was once again the best placed Etixx – Quick-Step rider, in 11th.


"Today we rode from South Pasadena to Santa Clarita, a short stage of 147 kilometers, but at the same time, an extremely tough one. The riders pushed some huge watts in the first hour and it only made things even more difficult. Because of this and the heat wave, everyone was tired today, and after a stage like that, it will be very important to recover properly, as other difficult days will come", said sport director Brian Holm.

Californian climbs too hard for Dylan Groenewegen

LottoNL-Jumbo’s Mike Teunissen finished 13th in the heavy second stage of the Tour of California on Monday. Ben King (Cannondale Cycling Team) won the 148.5-kilometre stage to Santa Clarita by beating his escape companion in a sprint à deux. The two rode free for most of the day after starting with a group of four. King also took over the race lead. 

The riders tried hard to join the escape from the start, when it was raining attacks on the first category mountain. The pace uphill was too much for many riders. 

"It was a real tough stage today," Sports Director Frans Maassen said. "On the first category climb, Dylan Groenewegen was dropped with Van Winden and Robert Wagner, as was Kristoff, Cavendish and 60 other riders. Alexey Vermeulen rode with a leading group of 22 riders. After the summit, all riders came back together and the four-man group formed. " 

The foursome gleaned over seven minutes until Tinkoff, Trek-Segafredo and BMC came into action. However, they could not catch the two ahead. 

"In the final, the peloton had to climb two more mountains of second category. That was too much for Dylan, Robert and Dennis. Mike Teunissen climbed over the mountains well and sprinted to 13th place. " 

On Wednesday, the peloton faces another tough ride uphill.


"It’s an important day for the classification,” Maassen said. “The finish is up a 12-kilometre climb. Bennett is our man. We are unsure because he has not raced in a while due to illness, but he trained at altitude in Colorado. We'll lead him to the foot of the last mountain and then we will see."


BMC: We just chased to make sure that the gap didn’t get too big

With 30 kilometers to go, the BMC Racing Team started to apply pressure at the front of the chase but eventually the peloton were unable to catch the two remaining riders from the day’s breakaway.


Sport director, Jackson Stewart said: “It was a short but a really hard stage today and we were almost always climbing. We new it would be a good breakaway stage so early in the race we had Jempy [Drucker] and Michael [Schär] in the 22 rider break but it was a really strong group with a couple of GC guys in there and eventually it all came back together before the four guys went out in front.


“At that point we weren’t that nervous as we thought the sprinter teams would control the race and maybe pass the climbs to try to go a sprint finish. In the end that kind of fell apart, it seemed to be too much climbing for them so we ended up having to start chasing in the last 30km as we didn’t want the breakaway to get to the finish line with such a big gap.


“We didn’t really want to catch them, we just wanted to make sure that the gap wasn't over a minute and then eventually they made. It was definitely a good day for a breakaway and you don’t see that all the time. Of course we want to win in the race but it was definitely an exciting race to be part off today.”


Greg van Avermaet said: “It was a really tough stage today, especially at the beginning when breaks were going off the front and being pulled back in quite quickly before one breakaway eventually stuck.


“At 30 kilometers to go, we really started to push hard at the front to close the gap as much as possible. We weren’t able to catch them but, as usual, we worked really well as a team and brought the gap down to less than ten seconds.


“I’m feeling pretty good right now. I’m happy with my shape and I’m getting better every day. Today, on the climbs, I was feeling strong and I was really really happy about that.”


Young American earns praise after tough stage in California

Will Barta's day in the breakaway Monday at the Amgen Tour of California did not go unrewarded, despite the Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team rider being reeled in with a kilometer to go.

While two of his fellow escapees - Benjamin King (Cannondale Pro Cycling Team) and Evan Huffman (Rally Cycling) - battled it out for the stage win, Barta rolled in with the peloton eight seconds later to earn the Amgen Breakaway from Cancer® Most Courageous Rider jersey. 

"The team planned to get in the break today," Barta said. "In the beginning, we had three of us (Geoffrey Curran, Neilson Powless and Barta) in that first big breakaway group of 22. Then, that came back. I just tried to be patient and watch for things to go and eventually it went."

King went on to narrowly beat Huffman for the stage win and take the overall lead two stages into the eight-day race. Barta is sixth overall, 21 seconds off the lead.

"It was a really hard day," said the 20-year-old from Boise, Idaho. "This is one of the biggest races on our calendar all year. So it was nice to get the jersey."

Barta was one of four riders who slipped the pack just after the second of four categorized climbs, 96 kilometers from the end of the 148.5-km race from South Pasadena to Santa Clarita. Joined by King, Huffman and Sindre Skjoestad Lunke (Team Giant-Alpecin), the quartet rapidly built up a lead that maxed out at more than seven minutes.

Several teams shared the pacemaking to chase the escapees: first Tinkoff and Direct Energie and later Katusha Team and the BMC Racing Team. That sliced the lead of Barta's group in half. On the final categorized climb, Skjoestad Lunke was dropped and not long after that, Barta had to stop with a mechanical problem. 

"We did a quick change to get Will a new bike and he made a monster effort to get back to the break," Axeon Hagens Berman Sport Director Jeff Louder said. "It was not a small feat. When anything like that happens in the last 30 kilometers, it is a tough ask to come back."

With Louder encouraging him from the team car, Barta fought back to rejoin King and Huffman. But a final uncategorized climb within 10 km of the finish proved to be his undoing.

"I tried to ride hard all day but just got popped on that last climb and that was it," Barta said.

Coincidentally race leader King and SRAM Best Young Rider, Daniel Eaton (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team), join Barta as past or present members of the Axeon program that has graduated 18 riders to the WorldTour in its nine years of existence.

King expressed his gratitude to Axel Merckx's development program after donning the yellow jersey. 

"Will Barta is riding for the team that got me started, along with Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing Team) and so many other good riders in this race," King said. "It just goes to show how valuable that is for the next generation. It gives them the opportunities and the experience and the mentorship to learn how to do things correctly and also to really have a good time because it is a fun team."

Four of Barta's teammates join him in the top 20 in the overall standings. Ruben Guerreiro is 12th, Logan Owen is 17th, Tao Geoghegan Hart is 19th and Neilson Powless is 20th. All are 24 seconds off the lead.

Tuesday's stage is 167.5 km from Thousand Oaks to a summit finish up the twisting slopes of Gibraltar Road. 


John Degenkolb shows first signs of form in California

Team Giant-Alpecin were part of the early action on today’s 148km stage from South Pasadena to Santa Clarita. Norwegian rider, Sindre Skjøstad Lunke broke away inside the first 40km of the stage with three other riders. Skjøstad Lunke and his companions worked well together to forge out a gap of a maximum of eight minutes over the Tinkoff led peloton.


There were in total four category climbs to tackle for the riders today but the main features of the stage only came in the last 50km though, with two categories two climbs to overcome in quick succession. Skjøstad Lunke had ridden well in the breakaway but he eventually got dropped on the third climb of the day and rejoined the peloton.


Behind, the bunch sprint was won by Alexander Kristoff  (Team Katusha) with John Degenkolb finishing in 19th place. In the general classification, Skjøstad Lunke is 7th, 23″ behind the new leader Benjamin King.


Coach Aike Visbeek said: “Today was a hard hilly stage which was ideal for a breakaway to make it to the finish or for a shake-up in the general classification.


“The plan was to be presented in the break with and Sindre did a good job in being in the breakaway of the day. Unfortunately, dropped from the break on the last climb and the two of his companions made it all the way to fight out for the victory.


“In the bunch sprint for third place, we prepared the lead-out for John but he didn’t have enough energy in the end as he finished 19th.”


Novo Nordisk Spaniard ready for California queen stage

Team Novo Nordisk’s Javier Megias finished in the front group and currently sits in the top 25 overall.


“The plan was to get someone into the breakaway but the beginning was really fast, and it was difficult to get someone up there,” Megias said. “The pace wasn’t easy, but I felt comfortable. Tomorrow is a big stage with Gibraltar, so we will see how the legs feel. I’m taking on this race one day at a time.”



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