The Amgen Tour of California's stage 6 to Big Bear turned into a battle royale for the King of the Mountains jersey when the top two riders in that competition made it into the all-day breakaway that also launched stage winner Sylvan Georges.
KOM leader Sebastian Salas (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) and second-placed David Boily (Spidertech-C10) joined Georges, Salas' teammate Andrew Bajadali, Yukihiro Doi (Argos-Shimano), Gregory Rast (RadioShack-Nissan) and Jeremy Vennell (Bissell Pro Cycling) in a move that started immediately after the field passed the neutral roll out for the 186.3km stage from Palmdale to Big Bear Lake.
The KOM fireworks started about 22km into the race with the category 4 climb up Mt. Emma. Boily drew first blood, grabbing maximum points ahead of Salas, Bajadali and Rast. But Salas responded by winning the next three sprints to close out his competitor.
“I panicked there and led him out,” Salas said of the first KOM. “So the following sprints I took it from a couple kilometres out. I have more of a diesel, so I don't have that punch.”
Salas got a lot of help from Bajadali, who not only denied Boily the second spot on the next KOM, the category 1 ascent to the tiny
mountain town of Wrightwood, but also played water carrier for his teammate in the polka dot jersey.
“That was really good,” Salas said. “Having Bajadali getting some more points was really good and really helpful. Having him there today was instrumental. He took longer pulls, brought me bottles, really turned himself inside out to help me out today.”
Optum team director Jonas Carney said the team plan at the beginning of the day was for Salas and Bajadali to infiltrate the breakaway, and in a rare example of a pre-race plan materializing, the strategy worked perfectly.
“We wanted Sebastian and Andrew to get in the break and have Sebastian take as many points as he could,” Carney said. “When we knew Boily was in there, we knew it was going to just come down to a battle between those two guys. I think it was a good fight, and Sebastian was just a little bit stronger. It was a good week going back and forth with those guys battling it out.”
Salas now leads Boily by 17 points, an almost insurmountable lead with only one more stage remaining that offers KOM points. There are a total of 28 points up for grabs during Saturday's stage 6 test to Mt. Baldy; the first two are worth 8 points each, and the finish is worth 12. It would take a miraculous ride for Boily to overcome his current deficit.
“It's a real long shot,” Carney said. “I haven't personally looked at the points, but from what I heard, Boily would have to win tomorrow's stage or something. I'd have to go look at it, but we feel pretty confident. We just have to take care of Sebastian for the next few days.”
Salas agreed with Carney's assessment, adding that he's only got two more KOM spots he needs to worry about. “The last KOM is going to go for the GC boys,” he said. “So the first two will be the ones to watch out for, then after that I think we can be proud of what we accomplished.”
Boily was obviously disappointed at the end of the day, but he said he gave the KOM battle all he could on stage 6, and, like his rival, he was proud of his effort. “It was a good fight all day,” an exhausted-looking Boily said after the race. “I tried, but Salas was very strong, and he had a teammate to help him, too, so definitely a very hard day. One of the hardest days of my career so far. I'm still happy with what I did, and chapeau to Salas, he did a very good job.”
Although Boily sounded after the stage like he was conceding the fight, there's still a slim chance he could reclaim the jersey he wore for the second and third stages. Carney said his team would remain vigilante and aggressive.
“We're going to just do what we've been doing all week – make sure that we're represented,” Carney said. “Ultimately, the main goal for us will just be to protect Sebastian so hopefully he can go home with the jersey on Sunday.”