The moment wasn’t lost on Chaves, who crossed himself and raised his hand to the sky as he rode across the line. “This is a very, very, very important win,” said Chaves. “With my crash and my big injuries last year, I didn’t know if it was going to be possible to be a professional cyclist. To win stage six today at the Tour of California, it’s something amazing.”
Chaves was part of six-man break that got away after 29 kilometres of racing. As they hit the foot of Mountain High, the six had become four and Jack Bobridge (Belkin) soon dropped off the back, making them three. By that point it looked certain that the stage winner would come from the break, but the team admitted that they thought it was all but over as the peloton began to close them down.
“With about 40 kilometres left, I gave the move a 30 percent chance,” said Orica-GreenEdge directeur sportif. “A lot depended on how hard the guys would ride in the bunch. When they hit the ten kilometre mark, I realised there was a really good chance the move would stay away. At the five kilometre mark, I thought: ‘Yep, that’s it. They’re not getting caught.’ From there, it was just a matter of Esteban making the most of the opportunity and taking the win.”
The remaining escapees worked well together, knowing that they could hold off the peloton, until the Colombian attacked with just four kilometres to the top of Mountain High. Chaves held onto his slim advantage to lead David De La Cruz (NetApp-Endura) across the line by 13 seconds. The result moves him into seventh in the general classification, 2:39 down on race leader Bradley Wiggins.
“Last night I did some homework with Mat Hayman. I studied the climb on the Internet. I knew that the last five kilometres were very steep. I picked out this place and said if the bunch isn’t close, this is where I will attack. I did it exactly as I planned,” explained Chaves.
His victory is vindication for the belief that Orica-GreenEdge showed in him. A little over 12 months ago the 24-year-old thought that his career was all but over, after a crash at the Trofeo Laigueglia left him struggling to ride his bike - let along race it. Orica-GreenEdge gave him a contract while it was still unclear if he could make it back. The Colombian has been strong this season with fourth at the Tour de Langkawi. Chaves hopes his climbing talents will help him get a spot in the Vuelta a España team and his victory on Mountain High will boost his opportunities.
The Tour of California will finish this Sunday 18 May, with a circuit race around Thousand Oaks.