Race: Amgen Tour of California stage 3 (WorldTour)
Date: May 15, 2018
Weather: Sunny and warm
Winner's quote: "California is always fun and always cool. I'm super-happy to be here. Last year didn't pan out as I wanted it to, but three out of four is still pretty good. I'm super-stoked about it. Today was definitely a hard one. There is never an easy one. The breakaway was super-strong, and that obviously played into our advantage, because it whittled down the field pretty quickly. As you saw in the final, there weren't that many people. Sean Bennett was super-strong. I was on the limit a couple of times there, but I've done this course before. On Hincapie [team] we raced Sea Otter, and I knew that whoever gets over the top first, even if it's a small gap, can make the gap can stick. I got Bennett on the ropes a little bit there – I had two more pedal strokes in me – and that final 500 metres is so fast you don't even know it happened."
Critical point: When Skujins jumped away with Logan Owen (EF Education First-Drapac) and bridged to the early leaders, the peloton should have paid more attention. The 26-year-old Latvian has a knack for winning in California – something he proved again today.
Final kilometre: Bennett and Skujins turned onto the steep climb into the race track with just a hair's breadth of a gap over the field. Skujins had more experience with the finish, however, and knew if he could come over the top of that entrance climb and onto the track with a gap, he could likely hold it to the line. He did just that, distancing Bennett just enough to hold off the Axeon rider and the field.
Early break: After two days of watching the first move of the day roll away from the peloton, people expected a harder battle to establish the break today. Those expectations didn't pan out as Rally Cycling pair Robin Carpenter and Evan Huffman joined Hagens Berman Axeon's Ian Garrison in a move up the road in the very first kilometre. Although the first move eventually stuck, they had to fight off several bridge attempts before the peloton decided to let them go.
"That was hard fought," Hagens Berman Axeon director Jeff Louder told Cyclingnews. "But that just shows it's a group of three strong guys. They had to earn it. They just sat there at 20 seconds for a long time, and it seemed like in my mind I was thinking, 'OK, it's going to be the next move that makes it.' But they were there and strong, so hats off to Huffman and Carpenter as well. They're both solid riders, and I was glad to have Ian in there with them because I knew they'd be a good group.
Unsung hero: Bora-Hansgrohe's Michal Kolar rode like a champ for his team leader Peter Sagan throughout the stage. The 25-year-old Slovakian got some help from Juraj Sagan, but he kept the breakaway in check almost singlehandedly until the real fireworks started going off. Sagan wasn't able to win, but Kolar certainly did everything he could to set up his leader with a chance.
Most aggressive rider: We agree with the race organiser's decision again today, as Ian Garrison was a solid candidate for the daily prize. The 20-year-old jumped away into the breakaway from the start and rode hard until he was caught with less than 20km to go.
Unluckiest rider: Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) punctured at the perfectly wrong time just after Laureles Grade Summit less than 10km from the finish. With the peloton rushing headlong for the finish and another steep climb into Laguna Seca, Gaviria had no chance to get back on and his team pulled out of the chase. It's uncertain whether the addition of Quick-Step's efforts would have been enough to have helped pull back Skujins and Bennett, but it certainly didn't help that they weren't there. Gaviria also crashed on the climb up King Road Summit earlier in the day.
"It was a really hard finish, but I had some bad luck," he said in the finishing straight. "First came the crash on the climb, and after the last long climb I got a flat tyre. But OK, it's cycling, no? The course was OK, but I'm really happy with our team's performance, and the race continues. The next sprint [stage 5 on Thursday] is easier, and flatter, and we are a really strong team."
Expert says: "I thought it would be an aggressive day, and sort of a semi-GC, or at least competitive day, and that's what happened. I expected there to be a bigger group at the finish, but I'm glad there wasn't. We talked in the meeting about being aggressive and taking our opportunities, and they came, obviously. First, we had Ian Garrison in the break; that was really great. He rode really strongly, and it's great to see him get the most-combative jersey. That motivated the next guy, and Sean Bennett stepped up and went with the right moves, then had the tenacity and strength to go to the end." – Jeff Louder, Hagens Berman Axeon director.