First it was 19-year-old Ruben Guerreiro (Axeon Hagens Berman), then it was Nathan Haas (Dimension Data) attempting to take a flyer and solo to stage 4 victory at the Tour of California, but in the end, as happened on 14 previous occasions, it was Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) enjoying a Tour of California stage win.
Arriving on the Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, the reduced peloton recognised the danger of arriving at the line with the world champion but could only watch as the Slovakian powered past Haas and Greg Van Avermaet for his second win in four stages at this year's race.
"I'm very happy," Sagan said. "I have to thank all my teammates because they pulled all day. Today was 220km almost, and they were all the day in the front. In the last two climbs it was very hard, and then I was alone because the other riders did their job before. It was very hard to stay with the climbers, and everyone was attacking."
Sagan and Van Avermaet have enjoyed several duals over the years, most notably on stage 14 of the 2015 Tour de France, although the BMC man is in his first race back since breaking his collarbone. Once Sagan opened up his sprint it was a foregone conclusion who would be raising his arms in triumph.
"When we came into the final kilometers it was in a descent, and Van Avermaet was the big favourite and he was always on my wheel. After the last turn I let one guy go in front of me, and he pulled my sprint. I was very happy to win," said Sagan, who also extended his lead in the points classification.
Tinkoff sport director Patxi Vila echoed Sagan's comments in praising the Tinkoff riders, adding that when you have a rider with Sagan's capabilities it's hard not to fully commit to his cause.
"It's a really nice win after the effort the guys put in. The team was fantastic – we didn't get any help in chasing and it was a long, long stage, but they were 300 percent committed to the task," Villa said."Even though we knew the final would be hard for Peter, when you have a leader like him then everybody pulls together and gives that extra bit to make it work."
Villa added that after another taxing day for his team in the saddle and a day of working on the front of the peloton, he will assess his riders ahead of stage 5 and determine the tactics accordingly.
"After today's effort the guys will feel it on tomorrow's tough stage and it will probably be a day of survival for most. There's a lot of climbing to come up to Lake Tahoe and it will be a hard day," he said.
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