Race: Amgen Women's Race (Women's WorldTour)
Date: May 19, 2018
Weather: Sunny, blue skies, 22-25°C
Winner's quote: "I'm very happy to have won. Things went very badly for me on the first stage. A rider fell and crashed into my wheel. And yesterday was hard for me as well, and I felt like I wasn't going to finish," said stage winner Arlenis Sierra.
A top sprinter and capable hill climber, the Cuban national champion and rising international star was a favourite to take a stage win ahead of the race, but suffered throughout the event with a molar infection that required medical attention.
"I was worried that I wasn't going to finish the race, so I really have to thank my teammate Sofia Bertizzolo and the rest of the team for their help to allow me to win today. I'm now looking forward to my next race."
The overall win, meanwhile, went to Katie Hall and her UnitedHealthcare team. After her dominant performance on the hilly stage 2, the GC lead was fairly secure going into the last stage, barring any disasters.
"It feels amazing," said an ecstatic Hall. "This is the third year that I have worn the yellow jersey, but the first year that I've managed to keep it. I've been working on this win for a couple of years now, and it feels really good to get to go home with the win.
"This is a really big win for us because we're a domestic American team, and there are a bunch of UCI teams from Europe here. So for a hometown team to win here is a pretty big deal."
Where the race was won: In her heart-breaking loss at the Amgen Women's Race in 2017, Katie Hall had gone into the final stage with a mere one-second gap over Anna van der Breggen and her powerful Boels-Dolmans team. While Hall is among the best in the mountains, flatter sprint stages don't come easy to a rider of her tiny stature. And despite UnitedHealthcare's incredible team effort to control the race last year, Van der Breggen netted two very valuable seconds in the intermediate sprint and secured the win.
This year, Hall was again in the yellow leader's jersey as she entered the third and final stage of the Amgen Women's Race. But, unlike last year, there was far less tension as the peloton of 78 riders lined up in sunny downtown Sacramento.
Hall had earned herself a comfortable 29-second lead over second-placed rider Tayler Wiles (Trek-Drops), and, barring any disasters, would merely have to finish with the main pack in order to confirm her overall win.
The final stage consisted of a fast and flat 3.5km circuit course to be completed 20 times for a total of 70km. It was a day for the sprinters. And for teams outside of the GC, it was their last chance to attempt to nab a stage win.
While short, the racing was action-packed. Team Sunweb, Hagens Berman-Supermint and Team USA had all come out to make the most of the final stage, firing off one attack after the other.
Each time, the UnitedHealthcare team moved to the front to close down gaps with yellow jersey wearer Hall safely sitting in third or fourth wheel.
But it was a hard 1.5-hour race for the blue train. The straights were windswept, and the attacking relentless. Ruth Winder, Pernille Mathiesen and Liane Lippert took turns for Sunweb, Liza Rachetto and Lily Williams did the same for the Supermint team, and cyclocross star Katie Compton and Megan Guarnier were active for Team USA.
Yet nothing stuck, and when the intermediate sprint came with five laps to go, there was little interest from the big teams to contest it. Instead, Shannon Malseed of Team Tibco snuck off early with Brenda Santoyo Perez (Swapit) on her wheel. The two were given enough leeway that they easily claimed the sprint points and bonus seconds. Twelve seconds behind them, stage one winner Kendall Ryan (Tibco) claimed the final bonus second.
The duo was reeled in quickly after that, and while attacks continued throughout the remaining five laps, the race would come down to the sprint finish, as predicted.
Final kilometre: Team Sunweb took control of the peloton at the start of the last lap and set the pace ahead of the final sprint. As the peloton headed for the line, Rally set up a train on the left in support of youngster Emma White. On the right, Coryn Rivera (Sunweb) was seeking a repeat win in downtown Sacramento where she's been claiming wins since she was just a teenager. But, in the end, it was Astana's powerful sprinter, Arlenis Sierra, who took the victory, just ahead of Canyon-SRAM's Alexis Ryan and Rally's White.
Most aggressive team: Team Sunweb. Winder's first attack came within the opening five kilometres of the race, setting the tone for what was to come. The white-and-black team would relentlessly attack throughout the race, and every teammate had her turn while sprinter Rivera saved her legs at the rear of the peloton. Rivera, however, was later outpaced, and only narrowly missed the podium. But Sunweb wouldn't come away completely empty-handed: Lippert's tireless accelerations were rewarded with the blue 'most courageous rider' jersey.
Unsung hero: UnitedHealthcare were a united front today. Defending Hall's GC lead, a string of blue jerseys dominated the front at all times. They closed down any and all gaps, kept the pace high, and safely delivered Hall to the finish, and with it the overall victory.
Unluckiest rider: Canyon-SRAM's 2017 Zwift finalist, Leah Thorvilson, struggled today. She got popped off the back of the bike race barely one lap into the 20-lap race. She then soloed on for another 10 laps before being pulled from the race. Thorvilson told Cyclingnews later that the race marshals had got confused, as Team Illuminate's Alexandra Millard also got dropped and lapped by the peloton, but had been allowed to finish the race.
Expert says: "The last stage of the Amgen Women's Race has traditionally been flat and fast, and it's always hard for a breakaway to go. The wind is a little buffered by the tall buildings, so it can be a little swirly. A couple of teams will always attack and make it fast, and try to get the 'most courageous rider' award.
"But ultimately it comes down to a sprint finish, and today that is exactly how it played out. UHC were of course protecting Katie Hall's overall lead and did a fantastic job at that, while the sprinters also got to have their day.
"I'm really happy to see international talents excel at the Tour of California and that we can really showcase women's cycling around the world."
– Alison Tetrick, retired American pro cyclist and proud Californian.