By Kirsten Robbins in Pasadena, California
After a week of cold, rain and lack of representation during the Tour of California, the AG2R La Mondiale team mastered its tactics on the penultimate stage to Pasadena, with Rinaldo Nocentini the beneficiary. The Italian out-sprinted what was left of a star-studded breakaway to take his season's first victory.
"This is our first victory of the year so I'm very pleased," said Nocentini. "I think this might even be my most important victory. We had two riders in the front group and I'm really happy with how we played our tactics."
The other break away contenders included strong men Fränk Schleck (Team Saxo Bank), Markus Zberg (BMC Racing Team), George Hincapie (Team Columbia - Highroad), Hayden Roulston (Cervélo TestTeam), Chris Baldwin (Rock Racing), Pieter Weening (Rabobank), Addy Engels (Quick Step), Christian Vande Velde (Garmin - Slipstream).
On the final lap, Nocentini, Roulston and Weening got away from the rest of the break, and the threesome managed to hold their slight lead despite some last-minute cat and mouse action. Nocentini admitted that he thought he had the fastest legs on the final finishing circuits and proved himself correct when he won the sprint to the line.
"Today was a beautiful route but it was a difficult climb. The mountains are very hard for me. This race has been a little difficult with crashes and the bad weather but I stuck with it today and I'm very happy with the stage win."
See Cyclingnews' coverage of stage seven of the Tour of California