Race: Amgen Tour of California Stage 1 (WorldTour)
Date: May 13, 2018
Weather: Overcast, 18-20°C
Winner's quote: "I felt pretty good during the race and had pretty good legs. I'm really happy with the really good job from my team, and we are happy to win the stage," said Gaviria, who is in his third race since returning from an injury suffered at Tirreno-Adriatico. "I don't know if I'm surprised. I've been training at home for this, and I think it's good to come back and win. I tried to come back really strong at Romandie, but it was difficult because of the climbs. After that I went to Eschborn-Frankfurt, and the legs were better, and now I've come back to win here, which I'm really happy about."
Critical point: When Mitchelton-Scott's Roger Kluge flatted inside two laps to go, Ewan's final lead-out man had to chase back and expend energy he could have used to launch his teammate's sprint. It's not clear how much Kluge's chase took from his lead-out, but it certainly didn't help.
"Roger Kluge had a puncture – I can't remember if it was the last lap or the second to last lap – which wasn't ideal, and then he had to come back," Ewan said at the post-race press conference. "We were kind of waiting in the middle of the bunch for him, and that kind of left our train to get to the front a bit later. I waited for them, and eventually we got there inside the last K."
Final kilometre: With the wide streets in downtown Long Beach, several teams jockeyed to move to the front across the road. The Quick-Step train moved Gaviria into position and he powered past Ewan, but not before a few bumping sessions with Hagens Berman Axeon's Jasper Philipsen. But the stage winner wasn't rattled, and was able to surge again, raising his hands well before the line, a few bike lengths clear. Sagan made a final charge to the right of the winner, nearly catching Ewan but ended up third ahead of Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) and Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates).
Early break: Saturday's breakaway could not have gone away any earlier in the stage, as Holowesko-Citadel's Andrei Krasilnikau jumped away at kilometre zero and was soon joined by UnitedHealthcare's Tanner Putt. Krasilnikau told Cyclingnews the team plan was to infiltrate the breakaway, and he made it happen with his early attack as the field allowed him and Putt to roll away.
"Actually I didn't see," Krasilnikau said when asked if he was surprised to get away so early without counter attacks from the field. "I was the first guy who attacked. I was fully in and I didn't look behind. After, like, one minute, I looked back and it was Tanner on my wheel. They just let us go."
The move paid off for both Putt and Krasilnikau who swallowed up the majority of the time bonuses on offer and placed themselves well in the GC after stage 1. Putt is now third overall, four seconds behind Gaviria, while Krasilnikau is fifth, tied with Sagan at six second back.
Unsung hero: Jhonatan Narvaez (Quick-Step Floors) helped tow Gaviria back to the bunch after the Colombian ended up back in the cars in the latter third of the race. It's not clear if Gaviria had a mechanical, a medical issue or just went back his team car, but Narvaez was there with him for the entire chase. Gaviria made it back to the bunch in time to recollect himself, get on the Quick-Step train and then take out the win. He probably couldn't have done it without Narvaez’s help, and Quick-Step would have missed out on the team's 30th win of the year.
Most aggressive rider: Putt got the official most-aggressive prize from the race, but it was Krasilnikau who launched the day's breakaway as soon as the neutral flag dropped. The two-time Belarus road champion ceded the intermediate sprints to Putt, but he contributed mightily to the escape and held on just a touch longer than his breakaway partner. After riding on the front for nearly three hours and more than 125 kilometres, the 29-year-old said he'll be back at full strength for Monday's stage to Gibraltar Road.
"We have good soigneurs who will give us the best massage in the world," he told Cyclingnews, "and I'll be at my best tomorrow, for sure."
Unluckiest rider: Kittel had a good lead-out and a big head of steam coming into the finish line, but he was forced to brake as he and Alexander Kristoff were up against the barriers. The loss of momentum cost the big German fast-man.
"I think I had the same speed as the others but at the end I had to brake, and of course there is no chance when that happens," he said. "But I feel good and the team worked well together today so I'm still looking forward to stages 5 and 7. It was a messy sprint, as we expected, so it's never easy to be there as a team."
Kittel ended up fourth, just ahead of Kristoff, who told Cyclingnews he had to start from too far back.
"It was not perfect today," Kristoff said at the finish. "I knew it would be difficult because it was a quite easy race, and usually, for me, that's not the best. I came from too far back, and so I just went full-gas from 500 metres, and in the end I didn't have any more sprint. I got a decent place, but when you have to sprint for 500 metres, it's too far."
Talking point: The pre-Tour de France showdown among so many sprinters who will be at the big show in July began in earnest on Saturday, and Gaviria proved himself the fastest in a chaotic sprint on a relatively short and easy day. Gaviria benefited from what is probably the most well-drilled lead-out train in the race, having competed with most of Quick-Step's California riders at the Vuelta a San Juan and the Colombia Oro y Paz. The next tests for the pure sprinters will likely come on stages 5 and 7, although the stage 3 finish at Laguna Seca will also test which of the fast men still have their climbing legs.