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Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) won the Amgen Tour of California with a bike throw on Sunday.
Sagan began the day in second place overall, and Etixx-Quick-Step did its level best to keep him there, behind race leader Julian Alaphilippe. Teammate Mark Cavendish won both the intermediate bonus sprint and the final stage in Pasadena, denying Sagan a bunch of critical bonus seconds.
But Sagan fought back — taking second in the intermediate sprint and third in the final dash to the line — to snatch the final leader’s jersey from Alaphilippe by just three seconds.
A five-man break went early in the 65.4-mile stage, which began with an hour of racing in downtown Los Angeles and finished in Pasadena. But the quintet — Yves Lampaert and Matteo Trentin (Etixx-Quick-Step); Jacques Janse Van Rensburg (MTN-Qhubeka); Ruben Zepuntke (Cannondale-Garmin); and Danny Pate (Sky) — couldn’t stay away long enough to suck up the bonus seconds on offer in the intermediate sprints at mile 37 (three, two and one seconds for first, second and third).
But Etixx and Sky kept at it, sending off rider after rider, putting pressure on Sagan and his Tinkoff-Saxo team.
Just ahead of the line Etixx went again, but Sagan was vigilant, sitting second wheel. And come the sprint, it was close — but Cavendish took it by a whisker ahead of the Tinkoff strongman, with race leader Alaphilippe third. Sagan was now just one second off the overall lead.
There were more bonus seconds on offer at the finish — 10, six and four for first, second and third — but as soon as the intermediate sprint was in the bag, another break went clear.
This time it was Manuel Senni (BMC Racing); Jesse Anthony (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies); and Hincapie Racing teammates Oscar Clark and Joseph Lewis. They built a 30-second lead with four laps of the finishing circuit remaining.
UnitedHealthcare and Drapac contributed men to the chase as the break worked itself over, with Senni, Anthony and Clark all trying attacks. The field kept it steady and pulled them all in, with Clark the last man standing. He got knocked off with just over two laps to go.
Another quartet went then, but was quickly snatched back. Then a trio, likewise retrieved.
As the bunch heard the bell for last lap MTN-Qhubeka tried to get itself organized for Tyler Farrar. Trek Factory Racing likewise moved up for Danny Van Poppel.
Gregory Daniel (Axeon) tried a last-ditch attack, but it fell short. Then Trek took the front and ramped up the pace. Etixx likewise moved up, as did MTN-Qhubeka.
Sagan was sitting second wheel as the final sprint erupted. In the chaotic rush to the line it was Cavendish who took the stage win ahead of Wouter Wippert (Drapac) — but Sagan took a photo-finish third from Farrar, collecting a four-second bonus that put him over the top, and he celebrated with a wheelie.
Alaphilippe hung on for second overall with Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Sky) third.
“It was very close,” said Sagan, who won the Tour of Poland in similar fashion a few years back, bouncing back in the final stage to take the overall by seconds.
“I’m very happy. This year I lost the green jersey and I had to do something to be on the podium.”
Cavendish tipped his hat to Sagan, saying “we tried our best.”
“Full credit to Tinkoff,” he added. “They were strong. They rode hard today. Especially Peter.”