Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) couldn’t have cut it any closer at the Amgen Tour of California on Sunday, winning the overall by less than a tire width after taking third place on the final stage and collecting a four-second bonus that lifted him past Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep).
Sagan started the day two seconds behind the French QuickStep rider after losing the jersey to him the day before on Mt. Baldy, but the small margin between them meant Sunday’s time bonuses at the intermediate sprint and at the finish would make the difference.
“I’m very happy, and I want to thank all of my teammates because they did very good work,” Sagan said in the post-race press coneference.
“We lost two riders in the third stage because Michal Kolar was sick -- he had allergy -- and Maciej Bodnar crashed really bad. I was very happy, because I won just by a little bit. I never thought I could do the general classification. It is a surprise also for me.”
With 13 stage wins in California over six years, Sagan is the most prolific rider in the history of the race, but he was never considered a contender for the general classification.
That all changed on Friday, when Sagan won the shortened 10.6km time trial at Six Flags Magic Mountain and took the yellow jersey. Unfortunately for the sprint specialist, the Queen stage to Mt. Baldy loomed the following day. But Sagan kept his hopes for the overall alive during the stage by ceding just 47 seconds to stage winner Alaphilippe to set up Sunday’s sprint duel.
Sagan said the effort during Sunday's stage – which included more than 3,500 metres of climbing – was different from what is required for the classics, but he gutted it out on the fnal 7km climb.
“All the stage was incredible because all the climbers did the stage very hard,” he said. “I have to say I felt good. For me, the last 4km was very hard. My legs were burning but I just kept going up.
“After I heard the gap between me and Alaphilippe was one minute, I said ‘It’s done.’ But I kept going, and when I got to the finish it was 47 seconds. It was very hard, but I believed I could do it.”
Sagan trailed the Etixx rider by just two seconds heading into Sunday’s stage, and with time bonuses up for grabs halfway through the day and again at the finish, he went into the finale as the favourite to win the overall despite not having the lead.
QuickStep threw multiple attacks up the road, hoping to create a breakaway that could gobble up the bonuses, but Tinkoff and Sagan neutralised all of the moves.
The race was back together when the stage reached the closing circuits at the Rose Bowl for the first intermediate sprint, where Sagan finished second and Alaphillipe was third. Sagan earned two seconds while Alaphilippe got one, and the gap between the two stood at just one tick of the clock.
With bonuses of 10, six and four seconds at the finish, the entire week of racing came down to a final bike throw at the line, where Sagan grabbed third from Tyler Farrar (MTN-Qhubeka) by less than a tire width.
“I didn’t know if I was third or fourth,” he said. “I had to wait, and after the masseuse was running over to me and said, ‘You are third, you are third.’ I asked, ‘Are you sure?’ The organisation said, ‘Yeah you are third.’ They said it three times, and then I believed.”