Alex Candelario (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) added another result to his list of top-10 finishes at the Amgen Tour of California Sunday during the stage 1 field sprint in Escondido, crossing the line behind Garmin-Sharp's Jacob Rathe for seventh after stage winner Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) sneaked away in the final kilometers with Francisco Mancebo (5-hour Energy-Kenda) to get the top two spots.
A cramping Peter Sagan (Cannondale) won the bunch sprint for third ahead of Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) and Jasper Stuyven (Bontrager). Candelario - who has finished eighth three times in California; seventh twice; and fourth and fifth once each - may have been able to climb even higher in the final results on Sunday if he hadn't been so accustomed to sprinting on his own.
"Today was the first day where I actually had a teammate there, Chad Haga, and unfortunately I'm not used to that scenario," said Candelario, who generally contests sprints on hard days when a group of 40 or 50 riders comes to the line. "So I didn't take full advantage of his power. But I think he's proven that he can do a proper lead out. So hopefully we'll get another chance this week."
As the 51-rider main field approached the line, Haga said, he was sitting fourth wheel in the long string of riders. He was ready to make his final jump to propel Candelario to the finish, but when he checked his wheel his teammate was gone. Candelario had jumped onto Sagan's wheel, but he couldn't stick with the powerful Slovakian sprinter, winner of last year's points jersey in the Tour de France.
Sunday's sprint was an odd finish after a tough day in the saddle for the riders, who dealt with temperatures topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit as they made their way over Mesa Grand, Mt. Palomar and Cole Grade in succession. A breakaway of four riders that escaped early in the day to provide the impetus for the chase, and the field caught the final two survivors with just five kilometers to go. That's when Westra and Mancebo counter-attacked, and none of the teams seemed willing to pick up the final chase.
"Ironically, no one was really working to bring it back," Candelario said. "I thought BMC was going to pull them back because it was Mancebo, but I guess they weren't too worried about him getting 20 seconds or whatever, so unfortunately we were playing for third."
Candelario took up the Optum flag after team sprinter Ken Hanson, who finished more than 10 minutes down, had trouble getting up and over Palomar in the intense heat.
"We knew the climb might be a little too much for Ken," said Optum assistant director Eric Wolhberg. "But Ken's going to live to fight another day. So we just have to get the guys back to the hotel and get them hydrated up, get them treated, and we'll start all over again tomorrow."
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