Toms Skujins has made himself a regular feature on Tour of California podiums in recent years, taking his first big career win there in 2015 with Hincapie Racing, adding another in 2016 with Cannondale-Drapac and collecting a third last year with Trek-Segafredo – his current team – while also earning the final polka-dot mountains jersey.
California has been good to the 27-year-old Latvian, but he came up empty this year after several tries to make something happen from breakaways. His best chance from a big escape group on stage 5 fell short as the tailwind blew the peloton up to the break and then into the finish in Ventura.
"This has definitely been a hard edition," said Skujins, speaking about the 20,725 metres of climbing over 1,251 kilometres and seven stages, four of which were more than 200km. "We did get unlucky on a few days, like the Morro Bay day, where it was just a headwind the whole day and it made for kind of boring racing.
"But I enjoyed it," Skujins told Cyclingnews before the final stage. "It was definitely a hard edition just because of the kilometres, and because the peloton just gets stronger and stronger each year. Even if I go away from this race without a stage win, I'm just happy to be alive, because it's been either winning or not finishing, so just to finish and feel the way I feel, and contributing to the team – contributing yesterday and contributing in the sprints – then I'm still going to be pretty, pretty happy about it."
Skujins has taken all three of his California wins from breakaways. In 2015, he escaped over Mt. Hamilton and soloed to the uphill finish at a motorcycle park outside of San Jose. In 2016, Skujins made the move to South Lake Tahoe and then won a three-up sprint at Heavenly Resort to take the top stage prize. Skujins was on the attack again in 2017 on Mt. Hamilton when he crashed hard and left the race with a concussion. He returned triumphantly last year, winning from a two-up sprint at Laguna Seca Raceway with enough time to treat fans to a dancing celebration on the way to the line.
This year, Skujins is happy to come away from the race having helped team leader Richie Porte into fourth on Mt. Baldy and fifth overall, all the while putting needed kilometres and intensity into his legs to set up the second half of his season.
"Before this I didn't really do too much intensity, so getting the intensity in now in, I'll have to recover a little bit, and then the build up to the Dauphiné, which is going to be really good," he said. "Hopefully, if I can't get a stage win here, then I can get one at the Dauphiné."
Skujins wasn't able to win in California but is now hoping to ride his second Tour de France in July. He made the most of his opportunity in 2018, taking the polka-dot mountains jersey on stage 9 before surrendering it to Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep).
"Obviously, the Giro is not going to happen," Skujins joked with Cyclingnews, with the Italian Grand Tour currently in progress. "I don’t think they'll let me in after everyone has raced a week. However, this California week was not that easy.
"To get on the Tour team is always a little bit complicated. For one, you have to be fit. For the Tour you also have to fit in with the plan. I feel like the team has confidence in me, and I'll obviously will do my best to be there, but if not, then we'll shoot for the Vuelta a España," he said.
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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.
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