Tour of California stage 5 – Race debrief

Race: Amgen Tour of California stage 5 (WorldTour)
Date: May 17, 2018
Distance: 176.5km
Weather: Sunny, 80 degrees Fahrenheit

Podium: 1st Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors)
2nd Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott)
3rd Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe)

Winner's quote: "I'm feeling really good. It was a really fast race, a really fast stage, and sometimes in the final it was really crazy. There was one big crash with 4km to go, but I went on the right side and the crash was on the left side, so I didn't have any problem. The last K was really fast, but my teammates did a really good job for me, and I'm really happy to take the victory."

Critical point: Ewan described the straightforward stage, which featured just one category 3 KOM and two intermediate sprints, as fairly boring for the riders. That all changed, of course, as the pace ramped up in the final 20km as the peloton started bearing down on the breakaway in earnest and the sprinters' teams started to think about positioning for the final sprint. A series of punctures inside the final 15km claimed Ewan, Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) and Dimension Data's Cavendish, and their chases back to the bunch required extra effort at the worst possible time. It's not clear how the punctures affected the outcome, but the circumstances certainly didn't make it any easier to take on Gaviria and Quick-Step.

Final kilometre: Just like they did on the previous stage, the Quick-Step riders set themselves up on the front and brought Gaviria into the final 1,000 metres in prime position. Mitchelton-Scott, with Ewan in tow, briefly challenged Quick-Step's train, but the Belgian team was too powerful and launched Gaviria up the right side of the road with Sagan starting his sprint right behind the Quick-Step rider. Sagan never really challenged Gaviria, and Ewan was able to come from behind the world champion and get past him at the line to take second and duplicate the same podium order as on stage 1 in Long Beach.

Early break: The Tour of California peloton has apparently determined that whoever attacks first at this race is entitled to make the day's main breakaway, and just like on stage 1 and 2, the day's escapees made their way off the front as soon as the start-flag dropped. In the five-rider move were Hagens Berman Axeon's Michael Rice, UnitedHealthcare's Tanner Putt, AG2R La Mondiale's Stijn Vandenbergh and the Holowesko-Ciatdel duo of Fabian Lienhard and Ruben Campanioni. The peloton kept the move well in check, never letting their advantage jump much past 3:30. But the escapees fought hard, with Vandenbergh, Lienhard and Putt surviving until just before the final kilometre.

"Two breakaways now, and both went from kilometre zero," Putt told Cyclingnews after the stage. "Today was really long: kilometre zero to 1km to go. At 20km to go I think we had 1:30, and I didn't think it was going to be enough, but then we really started turning it up, especially me, Fabian and Vandenbergh. Then, with about 5km to go, the gap still looked decent, and it looked close, but I think we were kind of fading a little bit. Vandenbergh is strong. He's a unit. I kept trying to always be behind him, because it's like being behind a semi-truck."

Most aggressive rider: We always like seeing Stijn Vandenbergh in a breakaway. The 34-year-old Belgian spends plenty of time on the front of the peloton chasing down other escapees for his team leaders, so when the big man gets a chance to peel off the front for a day, it's always fun to watch. Vandenbergh was among the final trio that held on until just outside the final kilometre, but even his power couldn't hold off the sprint trains as they tried to set up their fast men.

Unluckiest rider: There were a lot of contenders for this one on stage 5, given the number of punctures inside the final 15km and a big crash just inside 5km. Ewan punctured and had to use some teammates to get back on. Kittel punctured, and, while his team waited at the back of the bunch, the big German had to make his way back through the cars on his own. Hagens Berman Axeon sprinter Jasper Philipsen and a number of his teammates went down in the crash at 4km. They were all able to continue, but Philipsen was transferred to a local hospital after the finish to have an injured right arm checked. Of all the contenders, however, it was Dimension Data's Mark Cavendish who suffered both a puncture and was caught behind the crash, bringing an end to his hopes of contesting the final bunch kick.

"Yeah, it was a bad day," Cavendish's lead-out man Mark Renshaw told Cyclingnews. "Cav destroyed a wheel and had to change it. He had to get back on, and as soon as he got back on, all the guys went down there on the left. I didn't really see what happened, but Julien Vermote and I had nowhere to go and ended up on the deck. Somehow Cav got around it, but that was it. The day was over."

Talking point: Gaviria is now the man to beat in the Tour of California sprints this year. He and his team dominated the stage 1 bunch sprint, and although Kittel, Cavendish and Ewan all had some bad luck on stage 5, it may not have made a difference given Gaviria's obvious good form and the strength of his lead-out here.

"He's obviously going really well at the moment," Ewan said of Gaviria. "He's always tough opposition for me to beat. I don't know if there's that much my team can do. Maybe I just need to go a bit faster. But, yeah, we were a bit unlucky today with the puncture, and we had to use guys early that we wanted to use later on in the race, and then we ran a little bit short, so that wasn't ideal. But they still did a great job to get me to where I needed to be. I was just a few wheels behind Fernando in the sprint. I don't know; he's obviously a tough one to beat."

Expert says: "The peloton was pretty stressed because we were worried about how windy it was going to be out there, but in the end it was really easy. The roads were very open, and there was a bit of a breeze, so being in the bunch was the best place to be. The finale was pretty fast, and the best won, but we also did well to get third place with Peter [Sagan]. There was a crash at 500m to go, and one before that, as well as some punctures, so a lot of the teams were having to reorganise themselves in the bunch. But then it was a pretty good, clean sprint, and not that big of a fight. Now we'll see what we can do on the climb up to the finish tomorrow with Rafal Majka."
– Daniel Oss (Bora-Hansgrohe)

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