Stage 4 the Amgen Tour of California started off as a tactical battle for the King of the Mountains jersey, but morphed into a frenetic pursuit into Santa Clarita, pitting a plucky five-man breakaway against a full on WorldTour team time trial-style chase. Despite unthinkably small odds of success, Evan Huffman (Rally Cycling) held on to win the stage, with teammate Rob Britton taking second for a historic first WorldTour win by the Continental team.
"For our team it's huge," Huffman said. "This team has been steadily improving every year. We have a lot of new riders, and I think this year we've been racing really, really well."
At the start of the race, Mannion focused his energy on helping his UnitedHealthcare teammate Daniel Jaramillo protect the climber's jersey.
"The goal at the start of the day was to get Jaramillo in the break, but it's bike racing, so it doesn't always happen," Mannion said. "Initially I was just trying to keep it together, keep him towards the front and get him in the move, but by being up there, I ended up in it myself. From there on it was trying to take as many of the points as possible."
After 70km of racing through the Ojai Valley and several KOM climbs, the break gained over nine minutes on the peloton. The break's confidence waxed and waned as time splits came in.
"We never knew whether we were really going to make it," Mannion said. "It was touch and go the last 30km when we still had almost four minutes, and then with 20k to go, it was still over two minutes, so we knew we had a shot.
"It was still close at the end so we never really got to screw around for too long. Only inside the last kilometre did we take a breather and start to think about the sprint."
With two men in the breakaway, Rally had the most cards to play. Britton and Huffman decided their biggest threat in the group would be Sunweb's Hofstede. Britton marked Hofstede and waited for Huffman to make his move. Hofstede was caught unprepared when Huffman jumped.
"The other guys let the winner go, and then I thought, 'Aw shit, they are really letting him go!'" Hofstede said. "They just let him ride, and I tried to close the gap, but I was actually delayed.
"I thought the guys would be on my wheel, but only his teammate was on my wheel. Then I started sprinting again, but yeah, they were two, and the other guy also passed me."
Huffman made the decisive move and held on for the win, followed by Britton and Hofstede.
"I definitely want to go back and watch the sprint," Huffman said. "I went way, way too early, but people started to look at each other in the last kilometre, and I had a couple of bike lengths, so I just did the old seated acceleration trying to sneak away.
"Then I saw 200 metres and was fully cramping in both legs. I was like, 'Oh no, this might not work.' But I think I had the advantage of having a teammate in the break, and he was able to just follow the guys sprinting up to me, so Rob finished second."
Mannion finished at the back of the break in fifth place but managed to suck up enough KOM points to keep his teammate Jaramillo in the climber's jersey.