Team Sky's Egan Bernal may have been a little too strong on the finish up Gibraltar Road on stage 2 of the Tour of California, but Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) now sits comfortably in second place overall, and is ready to pounce.
Strong work leading into the final climb by his Bora-Hansgrohe teammates, including world champion Peter Sagan, put Majka in the ideal position for the finish, and although he wasn't able to follow Bernal, he was able to distance himself from third-placed Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), and now sits second overall, six seconds in front of Yates, and just 25 behind Bernal.
"After nearly a month out of racing, I'm happy with my result today," Majka said in a team press release. 'It was a hard climb, but I managed to keep my pace and finish second. We have five more stages to go and, together with the rest of the squad, I will do my best to aim at the GC."
While this 2018 Tour of California has a number of stages more suited to the sprinters – and the world's best have come in their numbers, including Sagan, Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Alexander Kristoff, Caleb Ewan and stage 1 winner Fernando Gaviria – there are still plenty of opportunities for the likes of Majka, Bernal and Yates to test themselves.
"We knew that today's stage and its final climb on Gibraltar Road would be hard and that Bernal would be the toughest opponent," Bora-Hansgrohe directeur sportif Patxi Vila said. "Bernal's a young rider, a pure climber and his attack with two kilometres to go was strong. Still, Rafal was able to finish second, ahead of the main contenders, taking bonus seconds.
"I think we can be satisfied with the result. Rafal had good legs and the team worked well to position him in the front at the bottom of the climb. There are still five stages and five more opportunities for us."
One stage that Majka is unlikely to be looking forward to is the individual time trial in Morgan Hill on Wednesday. Last year, he lost the race lead in the time trial stage here in California to LottoNL-Jumbo's George Bennett, who went on to win the race overall. Majka finished second overall, 35 seconds behind Bennett.
But with Bennett riding the Giro d'Italia this year, it might be the psychological boost Majka needs to show that, at least going by last year's GC, he's the best rider in California this year.