Tour of California review: Sagan squeezes past Alaphilippe in last-gasp photo finish

Mark Cavendish won the battle of the sprinters, taking four stages, but it was Peter Sagan who stole the show, snatching GC honours in the final moments of the tenth edition of the Tour of California.

Rider of the race

You might think that by winning half of this year’s stages Mark Cavendish would have easily secured rider of the race. Cavendish was marvellous, but it was Peter Sagan’s performance in the last three stages that stole our hearts and the GC title from Etixx-Quick Step’s young revelation Julian Alaphilippe.

Before the Tour of California, Peter Sagan had only won once this year, a stage at Tirreno-Adriatico. His classics season was mediocre at best considering previous results and high expectations. The pressure to win was only fuelled by demeaning public statements from team owner Oleg Tinkov.

Overall victory was probably never in Sagan’s dreams but after winning stage four and then unexpectedly destroying the competition in the stage six time trial that was shortened and relocated to Santa Clarita because of bad weather, Sagan took the GC lead and began to believe he could hold it to the end.

Sagan followed his TT win with maybe the most panache-tastic performance of any rider this year, finishing sixth on Mount Baldy, where he fought for every last second all the way to the summit, losing the jersey to Alaphilippe by just two seconds. To put this performance in perspective, Sagan beat mountain goats such as Haimar Zubeldia, Robert Gesink (the previous winner on Baldy), Peter Kennaugh, Laurens ten Dam, Janez Brajkovic and Matthew Busche on one of the toughest mountains in US racing.

This set the stage for the final day, which was epic. Sagan needed to gain two seconds to claim the GC prize and Etixx-Quick Step did everything they could to stop him but it was not enough. Cavendish won both the intermediate and final sprint in Pasadena but Sagan claimed the crucial bonus seconds he needed by a bike throw at the finish to claim third on the stage and win the general classification. It was a performance for the ages.

Three things we liked

1. Christian Vande Velde and Jens Voigt commentating. In the United States the race was covered by NBC who wisely added Christian Vande Velde and the Jensie for colour commentary. It was great to have experienced racers describe the race.

2. Mt. Baldy. The performances by young Julian Alaphilippe, Joe Dombrowski and Ian Boswell, as well as the miraculous ride by Peter Sagan, made this stage a stand out. Combine that with the elevation and beauty of Mount Baldy and we had a stage that we’ll be talking about for years.

3. The final sprint. This race could not have been closer and when the peloton came to the Rose Bowl and crossed the finish line, no one knew if Peter Sagan had done enough to win.  After several minutes, the finish line photo was posted showing that Sagan had claimed third spot over Tyler Farrar – and with it four crucial bonus seconds – by millimetres. After his efforts the previous day, fans could not help but cheer for Sagan as he completed what many thought was impossible.

The race in numbers

2 – The number of seconds Peter Sagan needed to gain over Julian Alaphilippe to win the GC battle on the final stage.

13 – Total number of stages won by Sagan in his Tour of California career, including two this year.

0 – Number of days on which Sagan finished outside of the top six. He finished in the top three on seven out of eight stages, including a sprint win and victory in the individual time trial.

General classification

1. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) 28:13:12

2. Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-Quick Step) +0:03

3. Sergio Henao (Sky) +0:37

4. Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin) +1:14

5. Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) +1:15

6. Haimar Zubeldia (Trek) +1:16

7. Ian Boswell (Sky) +1:23

8. Riccardo Zoidl (Trek) +1:24

9. Peter Kennaugh (Sky) +1:44

10. Rob Britton (SmartStop) +2:10

Link: Official race website

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