Carter Jones (Bissell Pro Cycling) hung onto his polka dot climber's jersey Monday at the Tour of California after a brutal stage contested in triple-digit heat.
With temperatures topping 110 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the 200km stage, riders ascended two major climbs and more than 3,000 meters of elevation gain before arriving at the Tramway climb in the desert outside of Palm Springs. Jones finished 39th on the stage, 10:14 behind winner Janier Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman), but he added two more points to his mountains classification lead over 5-hour Energy/Kenda's James Stemper on the Category 1 climb up to Mountain Center.
Jones took a solid hold on the jersey during Sunday's opening stage, which featured three KOM spots on the climbs of Mesa Grand, Palomar and Cole Grade. He slipped away early in the race with Stemper, Zakkari Dempster (Net App) and Marsh Cooper (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) for an all-day adventure on another brutally hot day.
"It was a super-hot stage, and they only let four of us go, so I knew it was going to be a long day and a lot of effort to put out there," Jones said. "Once I got in the break I decided that it was a good day to go for the KOM. And they gave us a big leash, so we were able to pick up all three of [the KOMs], which was nice."
The breakaway's leash extended to more than 12 minutes during the stage, and Jones picked up ultimate points on the final two KOMs after Dempster took the first and then faded from the group on Palomar. Jones ended the day with a three-point lead over Stemper and seven over Cooper.
"I wasn't surprised that they let it go out to 12 minutes, but I was surprised we had such a large gap over Palomar and then really over Cole Grade," Jones said. "We still had four or five minutes, and there were only 30 kilometers to go. There were only two of us by then, and we were starting to really wear ourselves down, but if we had had an extra guy or two it really could have been a dangerous move."
The move was actually plenty dangerous, with Jones and Stemper staying away until just five kilometers to go. Jones said he started dreaming of a possible stage win, or at least a podium, as they approached the finish in Escondido.
"Oh yeah, you always have to be optimistic," he said. "That's why you go out there and put out the effort. It's the closest I've ever come to the finish from a break in a race like this. So I was psyched."
But after Jones and Stemper were reeled in, eventual stage winner Lieuwe Westra (Vancansoleil-DCM) countered with Francisco Mancebo (5-hour Energy/Kenda), and the pair held off off the field to finish one-two. Jones finished with the main bunch, just six seconds behind the leaders, and got the polka-dot reward for his day's effort. Stemper earned the day's Most Aggressive Rider prize.
With a five-point lead over Stemper in the mountains classification after stage 2, Jones is now completely focused on holding his climber's jersey through the end of the race, forgoing other goals he had before the stage race started.
"I was really looking forward to the time trial before the race," Jones said. "We get to race against world-class competition, so it's a chance to see how I stack up. But right now the big priority is the KOM jersey. So I'll take the time trial how it comes."
Jones has a very clear vision of what will be required of him if he wants to earn the final polka dot jersey when the race ends in Santa Rosa on Sunday.
"More breakaways," he said.
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