Tour of California: Alaphilippe narrowly in control with two stages left
Rohan Dennis wins stage 6 time trial but fails to unseat Frenchman from the overall lead
As advertised, the stage 6 Folsom time trial at the Tour of California reshuffled the general classification heading into the final two days of racing, sorting out who could realistically contend for the final yellow jersey over the next two days of racing.
Stage winner Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) climbed to second overall, while his teammate, Brent Bookwalter, moved from fourth to third. The BMC riders trail overall leader Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) by 16 and 38 seconds, respectively, while stage runner up Andrew Talansky (Cannondale) made the biggest jump among the GC contenders, moving from 11th to fourth, just 47 seconds behind.
Dennis stormed over the course in 24:16.04, beating Talansky by 17 seconds and BMC's Taylor Phinney by 20, but Alaphilippe's eighth-place effort, just 45 seconds down on Dennis, saved his jersey. Dennis heaped praise on Alaphilippe for his Friday result.
"He's not a pure time trialist, but today he really did ride well, and hats off to him," Dennis said in the post-race press conference, which Alaphilippe did not attend. "We underestimated him a little bit when it came to the time trial. I thought I could take a minute out – on a really good day a minute and a half.
"It was 43 seconds or so in the end," Dennis said. "He rode really well, but it's not over yet. There are still two stages to go, but 16 seconds isn't easy to bring back when he's put the time in over Brent and myself, or everyone really. It's all about trying to see the best way to make him crack, and hopefully we can do it. If not, then I guess we have to battle it out for second."
Among the other riders who started the day in the top 10, Trek-Segafredo's Peter Stetina fell the furthest out of contention. Stetina started the day second overall, just 22 seconds behind Alaphilippe, but he finished 2:25 down on the stage and dropped to 13th, now 2:02 down on Alaphilippe in the general classification.
"In a perfect world, I wanted to keep on the podium, or at least top five," Stetina said. "I really did not want to let everyone down and fall out of the top 10, and that is what happened. It's a disappointment. There is no other way to put it right now."
Stetina's teammate, Haimar Zubeldia, who finished 25th on Friday, also slipped in the general classification, dropping from 10th to 12th.
LottoNL-Jumbo's George Bennett suffered a similar fate as Stetina, finishing 38th on the day and dropping from third to ninth, 1:45 behind Alaphilippe, while Laurens ten Dam (Giant-Alpecin), dropped from fifth to eighth.
Riders on the upswing included talented newcomer Neilson Powless (Axeon Hagens Berman), who moved up one spot to fifth, and BMC's Samuel Sanchez, who moved from eighth to seventh. Lawson Craddock (Cannondale), who started the day 11th overall, jumped to sixth with a seventh-place finish on Friday.
The top four riders in the race are now separated by just 47 seconds, with fifth-place Powless 1:08 down and Craddock waiting in the wings at 1:17. The gaps aren't huge, but there is also only one stage left – barring major crosswinds in the final day's Sacramento circuit – in which the GC hopefuls can unseat Alaphilippe.
Saturday's 175.5km stage that starts and finishes in Santa Rosa features six categorized climbs, including a category 1 and two second category ascents. The final run-in to Santa Rosa is flat, but the saw-tooth profile leading up to it should provide plenty of opportunities for the others to try and sneak away, or, as Dennis said, to try and crack Alaphilippe.
With two guys in the in the top three and another in sixth, BMC looks well positioned to put the pressure on Alaphilippe and his Etixx-QuickStep team, while Talansky and Craddock will also have multiple cards to play.
So far this week, however, Alaphilippe has been unflappable, and his teammates should have relatively fresh legs going into Saturday's stage. Pulling back any amount of time on Alaphilippe looks like a tall order, although in a race where Peter Sagan saved his chance for an overall win last year by climbing with the best up Mt. Baldy, almost anything could happen.
General classification and changes after stage 6
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1 -||Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Etixx - Quick-Step||24:26:46|
|2 (+5)||Rohan Dennis (Aus) BMC Racing Team||0:00:16|
|3 (+1)||Brent Bookwalter (USA) BMC Racing Team||0:00:38|
|4 (+7)||Andrew Talansky (USA) Cannondale Pro Cycling||0:00:47|
|5 (+1)||Neilson Powless (USA) Axeon Hagens Berman||0:01:08|
|6 (+2)||Samuel Sanchez (Spa) BMC Racing Team||0:01:17|
|7 (+5)||Lawson Craddock (USA) Cannondale Pro Cycling||Row 6 - Cell 2|
|8 (-3)||Laurens ten Dam (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin||0:01:24|
|9 (-6)||George Bennett (NZl) Team LottoNl-Jumbo||0:01:45|
|10 (+5)||Jurgen Van den Broeck (Bel) Team Katusha||0:01:48|
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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.