Race: Tour of California stage 2 (WorldTour)
Date: May 14, 2018
Weather: Sunny and warm
Winner's quote: "I'm so happy today because the team did a really good job," Bernal said in the post-stage press conference. "They gave me confidence during this stage, and in the final part of the stage they were so strong. Tao [Geoghegan Hart] did a good job in the final part. He just attacked it and all the guys were full gas. I arrived alone but it was for the team."
Critical point: BMC Racing set a fast pace at the bottom of the climb that shed most of the sprinters and domestiques. But it was the attack from Team Sky's Geoghegan Hart that started dropping some of the pre-race favourites as the 23-year-old Briton whittled the lead group down to a handful. Bernal took over from there.
"Tao was really impressive," Bernal said. "He's my friend, and he's so strong. You all saw what he did on the climb. All the guys at the front were having to go full gas because he was so strong. I'm happy because he did a good job, and also because he finished in 12th position. I think he can be one of the best riders in the future."
Final kilometre: After a long pull at the front from teammate Geoghegan Hart, Bernal rode alone. He checked his power meter and had plenty of time to point to his jersey for a few seconds approaching the line. One kilometre earlier, the stage winner's attack was sudden and convincing. Bernal's 21-second margin meant the rest were racing was for second and third, with Majka finishing four seconds in front of Yates.
Early break: As with stage 1, the breakaway went away from kilometre zero and faced little-to-no resistance from the bunch. Maybe the summit finish was intimidating for the rest, but Rally Cycling's Adam de Vos, Holowesko-Citadel's Ruben Campanioni and UnitedHealthcare's Jonny Clarke were up to the challenge. The trio built an advantage of nearly six minutes before the peloton started to chase in earnest, and even then they stayed away much longer than expected, holding a 45-second gap almost all the way to the bottom of the climb. But they were caught with 16km to go after 134km and about 3 hours and 40 minutes out front.
"I didn't really think they'd want us back before that last KOM, but after we got over Casitas the gap really dropped, so I just started doing a lot of work to make sure we made it to the last one, even though Ruben was roasting me in all the KOMs there," De Vos said. "I still wanted to stay away and make a longer play for the jersey in the rest of the week. They were just four category 3 climbs today, which didn't have a ton of points, but we had a good little group, and I love those roads. I can't count the number of times I've done that loop, so it was a fun day out there."
Unsung hero: Maybe today this should be the 'sung hero', because Geoghegan Hart received plenty of praise for his effort on Gibraltar that launched his teammate's winning move. It was a stellar effort from a rider who finished eighth overall last year. Geoghegan Hart sacrificed his own chances for his teammate, yet still finished 12th on the stage.
Most aggressive rider: The race organisers awarded the prize for most aggressive rider to Campanioni, and it's hard to argue with that when the 27-year-old Cuban won all four KOMs, lacking only the summit finish on Gibraltar for the clean sweep. Campanioni won the Joe Martin Stage Race in April and is always aggressive on the bike. He's now third in the mountains classification, one point behind Majka and three points behind Bernal.
Unluckiest rider: Holowesko's Brendan Rhim crashed just after the Balcom Canyon KOM. The 22-year-old was able to remount his bike and finish the stage in the 'laughing group' 18:30 back, but the back of his jersey was ripped to shreds and he appeared to have scraped up his shoulder fairly seriously.
Talking point: Bernal came into the stage as the favourite for the win, and he lived up to those expectations. The 21-year-old Colombian continues his spectacular rise during his first year with Team Sky, and he seems oblivious to the pressure that goes along with such high expectations.
"No, I don't feel any pressure because I have a really good team here, I was sure that they would do a really good job, and I just like to attack," he said. "I was not thinking about winning the stage, just to attack and to then see what happened. I thought that maybe Yates could come with me or Majka or another guy. But when I attacked, I was alone, and in that moment part I thought that I could win the stage."
Expert says: "It played out exactly like I thought it would. Geoghegan Hart was MVP, man. That was the best ride of the day. What he did was impressive. Obviously Bernal is an unbelievable talent, but Tao... That was a really special ride. I think he dropped everyone but about six or seven riders." – Jonathan Vaughters, EF Education First-Drapac general manager.
Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake before studying English and journalism at the University of Oregon. He 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.
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