Prior to the Tour of California, John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) had said that he was just happy to be a cyclist again after the training accident that saw him nearly lose a finger. The German didn't even contest the opening sprint in San Diego but by the time the race rolled into Sacramento following Sunday, he was showing signs of improvement.
An eighth place on the penultimate day was the first sign of progression and, despite finding himself without his lead-out, he would improve on that in the final sprint to take fifth behind Mark Cavendish. Degenkolb knows that there is still a long way to go but he is happy with the way he is progressing.
"That was almost Tour-level in the way that the teams approached the sprint," he told the German Radsport-News website. "We were a little too far back and then had to still move up. This gave me frankly, in the end, no teammates in front of me and was practically on the wheel of Cavendish and Kristoff. But in the sprint, I still lack the punch.
"The sprint train is working better and better now," Degenkolb added in a team press release. "We lost each in the last 3km but managed to find each other again. The routines are coming back, as well as the confidence to go for a result in the sprint. I really enjoyed riding with the guys again here in California."
Degenkolb has been forced to adapt his sprinting style since that training crash in January and explained to Cyclingnews early last week that he was unable to use his injured finger when sprinting. Giant-Alpecin coach Aike Visbeek has been with the team in California and he too is happy with Degenkolb's improvement over the past week.
"The lead-out train is starting to get things dialled in more and more now and John is also gaining fitness and confidence from this race. He has made big steps over the week," said Visbeek.
There were mixed emotions for Degenkolb's teammate Laurens Ten Dam, who finished the race in 10th overall. The Dutchman had started the day in eighth place in the GC but was caught behind a crash with two laps to go and rolled in 49 seconds down on the stage winner, dropping him down the standings. An injured shoulder compounded his problems.
"My shoulder was very painful today, and it was difficult on the last three laps with all the accelerations out of the corners. There was a crash with 5km to go and I was behind it, meaning I had to chase all the way to the finish. I lost some time and so I am a bit disappointed," said Ten Dam.
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