Bissell Development Team's Tao Geoghegan Hart, a UK rider who only recently turned 19, spent the majority of his first day in "America's Greatest Race" off the front of a peloton packed with some of the best riders in the world.
Geoghegan Hart joined a breakaway of six riders that escaped the Tour of California bunch just 8km into the 193km stage that traversed the hills and valleys surrounding Sacramento. Geoghegan Hart joined Belkin's Tom Leezer, UnitedHealthcare's Issac Bolivar, Optum Pro Cycling's Eric Young and Jamis-Hagens Berman's Matt Cooke in a move that animated most of the day's racing.
"There were a couple little skirmishes going on," he said of how the breakaway formed. "There was one in front of me, so I just went with it, and that was the break that stuck. So then it was just all about trying to get the most out of the day as possible and use my energy in the best way."
Geoghegan Hart made the most of his day's effort by finishing second in two intermediate sprints along the way, grabbing four seconds in time bonuses and eventually boosting himself into the jersey for best young rider.
He also attacked the breakaway briefly and got a small gap on the way to the day's only KOM. Although that effort fell short, it proved the young rider was up for a battle on any terrain.
"I was just having little look, having a test in the water really," he said. "I was just seeing what the reaction would be like. Nothing too committed."
The breakaway eventually succumbed to the chase by an elite group of about 20 riders that contained eventual stage winner Mark Cavendish and his Omega Pharma teammate Tom Boonen, Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky, Taylor Phinney and Greg van Avermaet of BMC, and Matthew Goss of Orica-GreenEdge.
That group eventually lost it's advantage, and the bunch approached the finish line in Sacramento for a full-on field sprint. Geoghegan Hart held on to finish the stage in 51st place with the same time as Cavendish. Geoghegan Hart's time bonuses lifted him past Trek Factory Racing's Danny Van Poppel - who finished fifth on the stage - in the best young rider competition. The achievement meant Geoghegan Hart got to share the podium presentation with Cavendish, his countryman.
"It's pretty special," he said of the post-race festivities. "He's a good friend of mine, and it's nice to be up there with one of the biggest stars in the sport and a British guy as well, of course. We're lucky this year in California there are so many Brits. It's pretty damn cool."
Now Geoghegan Hart will defend the green-argyle jersey that goes to the best U25 rider as he heads into Monday's time trial. With the likes of 23-year-old Phinney champing at the bit to win that stage, it could be a tall order.
"We'll just see how it goes," he said. "I'll just do my TT and see what happens, really."
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