Tour of California: Skujins grabs his second win in the Golden State

After Thursday's stage 5 win at Lake Tahoe, 24-year-old Latvian Toms Skujins is two-for-two at the Tour of California.

He's raced the 2.HC event just twice, last year with Hincapie Racing and then again this year with Cannondale Pro Cycling, and he's left his mark on each edition. In 2015 he soloed away from a breakaway and won atop a barren hillside outside of San Jose, taking over the race lead and wearing yellow for three stages.

On Thursday, he soloed away from a breakaway again, but this time he had some company after Adam de Vos (Rally Cycling) and Xabier Zandio (Team Sky) bridged up to add more horsepower to the move.

"Yeah so it wasn't easy to get into the break, of course, because people knew that the break might stick, and we were covering moves pretty good," he said. "I luckily managed to get in the right one. We had a pretty big group. As is always the case with big groups, not everyone was committed. Of course, that's understandablebecause people have different objectives for different days, but in the end it worked out pretty well."

Skujins attacked that group with de Vos on the Kirkwood climb about 153km into the 212km stage when he felt the breakaway was losing its impetus.

"The break wasn't working that well together, especially on the downhills we were just losing time," he said. "No one was pulling and we would go down without even pedaling. So I knew that guys were suffering at altitude. I knew I wouldn't be able to win if we came together in the last 15km because it would be attack after attack."

Skujins temporarily dropped the Rally rider with 32km to go, but when de Vos and Zandio bridged, he actually seemed relieved.

"Once I hit the second climb and the two guys bridged up, we were pretty much in the clear," he said.

In the finishing straight, de Vos jumped first and Skujins countered, while Zandio could not match the acceleration and conceded the win, settling in for the final podium spot. Just a few metres up the road, Skujins was able to come over de Vos with enough time for an exuberant celebration, something he's making a habit of in California.

"Both years I've done it, it hasn't been super hot so I can't complain about the weather because the heat wouldn't make my days that tolerable," he said when asked what it is about California that has led to his success. "But I do like the people here. The stages are always exciting, and the racing is super fun, so I hope to get to come here as often as I can."

Skujins' win is the second at the 2016 race for Cannondale, coming on the heels of Ben King's stage 2 win on Monday. But the team's general classification hopes took a hit when Lawson Craddock failed to climb with the leaders during the queen stage that finished with the climb of Gibraltar Road the next day. Skujins' win will no doubt lift the team's morale as Cannondale prepares to fight for a general classification result over the next three days.

"We weren't too bummed about Lawson because in the end it's the legs that decide, you know?" Skujins said. "There is nothing you can do about it, especially on that day. We played it perfectly and put Lawson where he needed to be and [Andrew] Talansky was there to help.

"There are still a couple of hard days to come, and Lawson will definitely get back time because he flies in time trials, and we'll reassess after tomorrow."

Skujins has a lot to look forward to beyond the next three days of racing in California. When the race is over he'll return to Latvia for the European marathon mountain biking championships, where he'll return to his roots as an off-road specialist,.

"Cannondale has set me up with a sweet bike," he said, "and I'm really looking forward to ripping on some gravel with that." 

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